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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Photo of the Day: Orion's Wiring...

An engineer tends to wiring that will be used aboard the European Service Module that will fly with NASA's Orion spacecraft on Exploration Mission 1.
OHB

Propelling Orion (News Release)

Even the most complex of systems comes down to properly configured wires and cables, such as those pictured here on the Propulsion Qualification Model of the Orion service module.

ESA’s contribution to NASA’s Orion spacecraft is the European Service Module, designed to provide the spacecraft’s propulsion, electrical power, water and thermal control. The model, designed by Airbus Defence and Space, was assembled by OHB Sweden.

Made from steel and containing propellant and helium tanks, among various electronics and command systems, the Propulsion Qualification Model allows engineers to determine how well systems are working together.

The model was built in January in Stockholm, Sweden and has since been shipped to the White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico (USA), where it will undergo more extensive testing by NASA, ESA and main contractor Airbus DS.

Source: European Space Agency

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An artist's concept of NASA's Orion spacecraft flying above the Moon.
NASA

Sunday, February 19, 2017

SpaceX's Falcon 9 Rocket Finally Lifts Off from Historic Apollo and Space Shuttle Launch Pad in Florida...

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on February 19, 2017.
SpaceX

NASA Cargo Headed to Space Station Includes Important Experiments, Equipment (Press Release)

Major experiments that will look into a range of scientific disciplines from human health to atmospheric conditions on Earth are on their way to the International Space Station following liftoff at 9:39 a.m. EST aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. About 5,500 pounds of research equipment, cargo and supplies are packed into the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft that is now in Earth orbit and headed to the station on the CRS-10 mission.

SpaceX’s Dragon cargo craft launched from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This was the first commercial launch from Kennedy’s historic pad.

Astronauts Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) and Shane Kimbrough of NASA will use the space station’s robotic arm to capture Dragon when it arrives at the station. Live coverage of the rendezvous and capture will begin at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 22 on NASA TV and the agency’s website, with installation coverage set to begin at 8:30 a.m.

Research materials flying inside the Dragon's pressurized area include a crystal growth experiment that will crystallize a monoclonal antibody that is undergoing clinical trials for the treatment of immunological diseases. Growing the crystal in space will allow it develop more than it could on Earth where gravity causes crystals to collapse on themselves. Preserving these antibodies in crystals allows researchers a glimpse into how the biological molecules are arranged, which can provide new information about how they work in the body. So far, Earth-grown crystalline suspensions of monoclonal antibodies have proven to be too low-quality to fully model.

Better defining how some bacteria become drug-resistant is the focus of another experiment that aims to develop medicines that counter the resistance. Stem cells like those used to treat strokes and other occurrences also will be studied using experiment supplies brought up on this flight.

The equipment aboard the Dragon includes a major instrument that will survey Earth's upper atmosphere in a continuation of one of NASA's longest-running Earth-observing programs. Called SAGE III for Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment, the instrument examines the levels of ozone, aerosols, nitrogen dioxide and water vapor in the stratosphere and troposphere high above Earth. It is the latest version of an experiment that began in 1979 and has created a multi-decade record of measurements. The 2,200-pound instrument will be connected to the outside of the station to make daily observations for several years.

The mission is the company's tenth cargo flight to the station under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract. Dragon's cargo will support dozens of the more than 250 science and research investigations during the station’s Expeditions 50 and 51.

Dragon is scheduled to depart the space station in late March, returning nearly 5,000 pounds of science, hardware and crew supplies.

For more than 16 years, humans have lived and worked continuously aboard the International Space Station, advancing scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth that will enable long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space. A global endeavor, more than 200 people from 18 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 1,900 research investigations from researchers in more than 95 countries.

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SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on February 19, 2017.
SpaceX

The Falcon 9 first stage booster is about to touch down at a Cape Canaveral landing site following a successful launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center a few miles away...on February 19, 2017.
SpaceX

SpaceX's Dragon capsule separates from its second stage motor following a successful launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on February 19, 2017.
SpaceX

Friday, February 17, 2017

Photo of the Day: A Rocket Will Soon Soar Away from Kennedy Space Center Once More...

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket stands vertical at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A in Florida.
SpaceX

Just thought I'd share this pic that SpaceX released today showing its Falcon 9 vehicle—with the Dragon cargo freighter now installed atop the rocket—poised for launch atop Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Falcon 9 is set to lift off towards the International Space Station at 10:01 AM, Eastern Standard Time (7:01 AM, Pacific Standard Time) tomorrow...assuming that engineers will be able to rectify an upper stage issue as mentioned in Elon Musk's tweet below. Cross your fingers.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

EM-1 Update: Astronauts to Fly Aboard the Space Launch System on Its Maiden Flight?

An artist's concept showing the Space Launch System soaring through a layer of clouds following lift-off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA / MSFC

NASA to Study Adding Crew to First Flight of SLS and Orion (News Release)

NASA acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot has asked Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, to initiate a study to assess the feasibility of adding a crew to Exploration Mission-1, the first integrated flight of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft. The study will examine the opportunities it could present to accelerate the effort of the first crewed flight and what it would take to accomplish that first step of pushing humans farther into space.

The SLS and Orion missions, coupled with record levels of private investment in space, will help put NASA and America in a position to unlock the mysteries of space and to ensure this nation’s world preeminence in exploring the cosmos.

Source: NASA.Gov

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An artist's concept of NASA's Orion spacecraft flying above the Moon.
NASA

Friday, February 10, 2017

SpaceX Update: A Rocket Will Launch from Kennedy Space Center's LC-39A for the First Time in Almost Six Years...

In preparation for a static fire test that will take place tomorrow morning, a Falcon 9 rocket is raised vertically at Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on February 10, 2017.
Elon Musk

While repairs continue to take place at its main launch site at Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) following a pad explosion in September of last year (see video below), SpaceX is ready to launch a Falcon 9 rocket from nearby Kennedy Space Center (KSC) less than three weeks from today. Set for tomorrow is a static fire test of the Falcon 9's Merlin 1D engines at KSC's Launch Complex (LC)-39A...which last saw a rocket lift off from its perimeter in July of 2011. It was on July 8 of that year that Atlantis lifted off from this pad to begin mission STS-135, the final flight of the space shuttle program.

Assuming that everything goes well during the static fire tomorrow morning, the Falcon 9 will launch on February 18 to send a Dragon cargo freighter to the International Space Station. LC-39A will be the East Coast launch site for Falcon 9 rockets until Space Launch Complex 40 at CCAFS is back in operation. Along with the Falcon 9, LC-39A will also be the permanent site where SpaceX's Falcon Heavy vehicle lifts off from terra firma to venture beyond Earth's atmosphere...its maiden flight set for later this year. Stay tuned!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

EM-1 Update: A Major Milestone For SLS Is Achieved At NASA's Kennedy Space Center In Florida...

The 20th and final work platform that will be used to grant workers access to the Space Launch System is installed inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on January 12, 2017.
NASA / Frank Michaux

Final Work Platform Installed in Vehicle Assembly Building for NASA's Space Launch System (News Release)

NASA reached a key milestone in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A year of platform installations came to conclusion in January as the final work platform, A north, was lifted, installed and secured recently on its rail beam on the north wall of High Bay 3 inside the iconic facility.

The installation of the final topmost level completes the 10 levels of work platforms, 20 platforms halves altogether, that will surround NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the Orion spacecraft and allow access during processing for missions, including the first uncrewed flight test of Orion atop the SLS rocket.

"Just a year ago, we were meeting the challenges of getting the first half of the first platform installed," said Mike Bolger, Ground Systems Development and Operations (GSDO) Program manager, "It's a great testament to the creativity, persistence and hard work of the team, and it's a terrific indicator that GSDO is on track to process the SLS and Orion flight hardware for the first test mission."

The A platforms will provide access to the Orion spacecraft's Launch Abort System (LAS) for Orion lifting sling removal and installation of the closeout panels. LAS Antenna Testing also is performed on this level.

The platforms were mated with two, 60,000-pound rail beam assemblies that allow the platforms to move towards and away from the vehicle, as well as tie the entire system to the VAB structure. Each platform will ride on four Hillman roller systems on each side — much like how a kitchen drawer glides in and out. The process to lift and install each of the platforms takes about four hours. Each platform weighs more than 300,000 pounds, and measures about 38 feet long and close to 62 feet wide.

"I am very proud of the amount of work that the team accomplished. I am also humbled to have been able to lead this group of amazing people who have been able to complete this very complex and challenging project," said Jose Perez Morales, GSDO VAB Element senior project manager. "I am very pleased with all the work performed by the NASA and contractor team."

Engineers began installation of the first halves, the K-level platforms, about a year ago, followed by the J, H and G platforms. In July 2016, platform installation reached the halfway point, with the fifth of ten levels of platforms, the F-level, completed.

The remaining platforms installed are E, D, C, B and A. Each of the platform levels is strategically located to allow technicians and engineer’s access to different systems on the rocket, Orion spacecraft and the Launch Abort System during processing and stacking operations on the mobile launcher.

"This is a huge day for us," said Darrell Foster, GSDO Project Management Division chief. "We cherish these milestones. We're all working toward launch day success."

GSDO, with support from the center's Engineering Directorate, is overseeing upgrades to the VAB, including the installation of the work platforms.

NASA awarded a contract to modify High Bay 3 to the Hensel Phelps Construction Co. of Greeley, Colorado, in March 2014. Hensel Phelps, along with its subcontractors, Institutional Services Contract, Engineering Services Contract, and Test and Operation Support Contractor, supported crane operations, lifting, installation and initial inspection of each of the platforms.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Sunday, January 29, 2017

EM-2 Update: A Significant Milestone Achieved for the Space Launch System's Second Stage Motor...

An artist's concept of the upgraded Space Launch System rocket that will send astronauts towards the Moon on Exploration Mission 2 in 2021.
NASA

Major Review Completed for NASA’s New SLS Exploration Upper Stage (News Release - January 27)

NASA has successfully completed the exploration upper stage (EUS) preliminary design review for the powerful Space Launch System rocket. The detailed assessment is a big step forward in being ready for more capable human and robotic missions to deep space, including the first crewed flight of SLS and NASA's Orion spacecraft in 2021.

"To send humans and even more cargo farther away from Earth than ever before, NASA decided to add a more powerful upper stage -- the upper part of the rocket that continues to operate after launch and ascent," said Kent Chojnacki, EUS team lead and preliminary design review manager.

"With the completion of this review, our teams will start developing components and materials for the EUS, and build up tooling," he added. "Full-scale manufacturing will begin after the critical design phase is completed." Critical design review is the next programmatic milestone that will provide a final look at the design and development of the EUS before beginning full-scale fabrication.

Starting with that first crewed mission, future configurations of SLS will include the larger exploration upper stage and use four RL10C-3 engines. The EUS will replace the interim cryogenic propulsion stage that will be used on the initial configuration of SLS for the first, uncrewed flight with Orion. The EUS will use an 8.4-meter diameter liquid hydrogen tank and a 5.5-meter diameter liquid oxygen tank. A new universal stage adapter will connect the EUS to the Orion spacecraft, and be capable of carrying large co-manifested payloads, such as a habitat.

The preliminary design review kicked off Nov. 30, 2016, with approximately 500 experts from across NASA and industry assessing more than 320 items on the EUS, including documents and data. This review had a new "techie" touch to it with the incorporation of virtual reality glasses, which gave teams enhanced visuals of how the EUS is put together and a broader perspective on the size of the hardware. The preliminary design review board was completed Jan. 19, with the board voting unanimously that the EUS is ready to move to the critical design phase.

"I couldn’t be prouder of the SLS Stages team completing this review," said SLS Program Manager John Honeycutt. "We continue to make progress on hardware for SLS’s first flight, while also working on the next-generation rocket that will take astronauts to deep-space destinations, like Mars."

The powerful stage will be built at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. Massive welding machines, like the Vertical Assembly Center, currently building the SLS core stage, also will help build the EUS liquid hydrogen tank. New tooling and assembly areas will be put in place to manufacture the liquid oxygen tank.

Once built, the EUS structural test article will undergo qualification testing at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, to ensure the hardware can withstand the incredible stresses of launch. "Green run" testing on the first flight article will be done at NASA's Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. For the test, the EUS and RL10 engines will fire up together for the first time before being sent to Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the 2021 launch.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Friday, January 27, 2017

50 Years Later: An Exhibit That Honors the Crew of Apollo 1...

An exhibit honoring the crew of Apollo 1 has opened at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

NASA Unveils Tribute to Crew of Apollo 1 (Press Release)

A new tribute opened Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, at the Apollo/Saturn V Center at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, dedicated to the lives, accomplishments and memories of the three astronauts who perished 50 years ago in a launch pad fire while training for the flight of Apollo 1. The tribute exhibit stands only a few miles from the long-abandoned Launch Complex 34, the launch pad where the fire took place. The pad was dismantled in 1968 after the launch of Apollo 7.

Called "Ad Astra Per Aspera - A Rough Road Leads to the Stars," the permanent exhibition carries the blessings of the families of Apollo 1 astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White II and Roger Chaffee. It showcases clothing, tools and models that define the men as their parents, wives and children saw them as much as how the nation viewed them.

The tribute also displays for the first time the three-section hatch from the Apollo 1 capsule that caught fire at Launch Complex 34 on Jan. 27, 1967. The astronauts were not able to escape the smoke and blaze inside the spacecraft before they asphyxiated despite their own efforts and those of numerous pad crew members who braved thick fumes and scorching temperatures to try to get the men out.

"Although the fire took place across the river on Launch Pad 34, their story didn’t end there and their legacy lives on today," said Sheryl Chaffee, daughter of Roger Chaffee.

The new tribute features displays that tell the full story of the lives of the astronauts, the fire and the work the NASA team put in to rebound from the devastating loss.

"Ultimately, this is a story of hope, because these astronauts were dreaming of the future that is unfolding today," said former astronaut Bob Cabana, center director at Kennedy. "Generations of people around the world will learn who these brave astronauts were and how their legacies live on through the Apollo successes and beyond."

The main focus was to show the astronauts to generations who never met them and may not know much about them or the early space program.

"This lets you now meet Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee as members of special families and also as members of our own family," said NASA's Luis Berrios, who co-led the tribute design that would eventually involve more than 100 planners and workers to realize. "You get to know some of the things that they liked to do and were inspired by. You look at the things they did and if anyone does just one of those things, it's a lifetime accomplishment and they did all of it and more."

For Grissom, one of NASA's Original Seven astronauts who flew the second Mercury mission, a hunting jacket and a pair of ski boots are on display, along with a small model of the Mercury spacecraft and a model of an F-86 Sabre jet like the one he flew in the Korean War. There is also a slide rule and engineering drafts that typify his dedication to detail.

The small handheld maneuvering thruster that Ed White II used to steer himself outside his Gemini capsule during the first American spacewalk features prominently in a display case of the West Point graduate whose athletic prowess nearly equaled his flying acumen. An electric drill stands alongside the "zip gun," as he called the thruster.

"It was great to juxtaposition it with a drill which was also a tool that Ed loved to use," Berrios said. "He had a tremendous passion for making things for his family."

Roger Chaffee, for whom Apollo 1 would have been his first mission into space, was an esteemed Naval aviator who became a test pilot in his drive to qualify as an astronaut later. Displayed are board games like those he played with his wife and kids on rare evenings free of training.

The three men had worked an earlier mission together as astronauts, but not as crewmates. During Gemini 4, the mission in which Ed White made his landmark spacewalk, Grissom and Chaffee served as CAPCOMs, talking to White and mission commander James McDivitt.

After the fire, NASA set out on an exhaustive examination of every element of the spacecraft and launch systems.

Beside the failed hatch is one element of the improvements, a redesigned hatch that would fly on all subsequent Apollo missions. Full of modifications that let the hatch open in five seconds in an emergency, the redesigned hatch is displayed as a symbol of all the improvements made throughout the Apollo spacecraft and NASA itself that would set the agency on a successful course to land 12 men on the moon.

"That part of the exhibit is a story of determination and resolve and also something as elemental as a hatch – the complexities of just one component in a vehicle that has over 2 million parts," Berrios said. "After the loss of the crew in that tragic event, NASA learned how to really look at every piece of a rocket and imagine what could happen and it made the spacecraft safer and allowed us to get to the moon, land on it and even with Apollo 13, to recover that crew safely."

After seeing the hatches, visitors will walk through a gateway and down the same metal walkway astronauts used later to get to the Apollo spacecraft as it stood on a Saturn V rocket poised for the moon.

"Grissom, White, Chaffee, President Kennedy - I think these names are appropriately mentioned together," said Michael Collins, the command module pilot for Apollo 11. "Apollo 1 tragically cost three lives, but I think it saved more than three lives later. Without it, very likely we would've not landed on the moon by the end of the decade."

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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

CST-100 Update: The Starliner Spacesuits Have Been Unveiled!

An infographic showing the different features on the spacesuit astronauts will wear aboard the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft.
Boeing

New Spacesuit Unveiled for Starliner Astronauts (News Release)

Astronauts heading into orbit aboard Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft will wear lighter and more comfortable spacesuits than earlier suits astronauts wore. The suit capitalizes on historical designs, meets NASA requirements for safety and functionality, and introduces cutting-edge innovations. Boeing unveiled its spacesuit design Wednesday as the company continues to move toward flight tests of its Starliner spacecraft and launch systems that will fly astronauts to the International Space Station.

A few of the advances in the design:

- Lighter and more flexible through use of advanced materials and new joint patterns
- Helmet and visor incorporated into the suit instead of detachable
- Touchscreen-sensitive gloves
- Vents that allow astronauts to be cooler, but can still pressurize the suit immediately
- The full suit, which includes an integrated shoe, weighs about 20 pounds with all its accessories – about 10 pounds lighter than the launch-and-entry suits worn by space shuttle astronauts.

The new Starliner suit's material lets water vapor pass out of the suit, away from the astronaut, but keeps air inside. That makes the suit cooler without sacrificing safety. Materials in the elbows and knees give astronauts more movement, too, while strategically located zippers allow them to adapt the suit's shape when standing or seated.

"The most important part is that the suit will keep you alive," astronaut Eric Boe said. "It is a lot lighter, more form-fitting and it's simpler, which is always a good thing. Complicated systems have more ways they can break, so simple is better on something like this."

Of course, the suit has to be as functional as it is safe, Boe said. If an astronaut gets strapped in but can't reach the switches or work the touchscreen, the spacesuit would not be effective. That's why astronauts have spent some of their time sitting inside a Starliner mock-up wearing the spacesuit. They climb in and out repeatedly and try out different reaches and positions so they can establish the best ways for astronauts to work inside the spacecraft's confines.

"The spacesuit acts as the emergency backup to the spacecraft's redundant life support systems," said Richard Watson, subsystem manager for spacesuits for NASA's Commercial Crew Program. "If everything goes perfectly on a mission, then you don't need a spacesuit. It's like having a fire extinguisher close by in the cockpit. You need it to be effective if it is needed."

Boe and astronauts Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley and Suni Williams are training for flight tests using spacecraft under development for NASA's Commercial Crew Program, including Boeing's Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon systems. Flight tests with astronauts aboard are slated to begin in 2018.

The spacesuits astronauts wear for walking in space are already aboard the station. Heavier and bulkier than launch-and-entry suits, spacewalking ensembles – called EMUs for extravehicular mobility units – have to function as a spacecraft unto themselves.

Standing inside the company's Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, former astronaut Chris Ferguson, who is now director of Crew and Mission Systems for Boeing, modeled the new suit in front of a mock-up of the Starliner spacecraft. On launch day, astronauts will don the suit in the historic Crew Quarters before striding across the Crew Access Arm at Space Launch Complex 41 and boarding a Starliner as it stands atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

"We slogged through some of the real engineering challenges and now we are getting to the point where those challenges are largely behind us and it's time to get on to the rubber meeting the road," Ferguson said.

Carrying up to four astronauts at a time for NASA, operational Commercial Crew missions are to take astronauts to the space station on a regular basis permitting the crew on the orbiting laboratory to grow to seven residents. That will mean more science and research time for NASA to seek vital answers for the challenges of future deep-space missions.

From this point, Boeing will continue fit checks and other testing alongside the astronauts as all the teams train for the missions and push toward flight tests.

"To me, it's a very tangible sign that we are really moving forward and we are a lot closer than we've been," Ferguson said. "The next time we pull all this together, it might be when astronauts are climbing into the actual spacecraft."

Source: NASA.Gov

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Monday, January 16, 2017

Honoring Apollo 17 Astronaut Gene Cernan...

NASA astronaut Gene Cernan was the last human to set foot on the Moon...during Apollo 17 in 1972.
NASA / Harrison J. Schmitt

NASA Administrator Reflects on Legacy of Last Man to Walk on Moon (Press Release)

The following is a statement from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the passing of Gemini and Apollo astronaut Gene Cernan:

“Gene Cernan, Apollo astronaut and the last man to walk on the moon, has passed from our sphere, and we mourn his loss. Leaving the moon in 1972, Cernan said, ‘As I take these last steps from the surface for some time into the future to come, I’d just like to record that America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow.’ Truly, America has lost a patriot and pioneer who helped shape our country's bold ambitions to do things that humankind had never before achieved.

“Gene first served his country as a Naval Aviator before taking the pilot's seat on the Gemini 9 mission, where he became the second American to walk in space and helped demonstrate rendezvous techniques that would be important later. As a crew member of both the Apollo 10 and 17 missions, he was one of three men to have flown twice to the moon. He commanded Apollo 17 and set records that still stand for longest manned lunar landing flight, longest lunar surface extravehicular activities, largest lunar sample return, and longest time in lunar orbit.

“Gene's footprints remain on the moon, and his achievements are imprinted in our hearts and memories. His drive to explore and do great things for his country is summed up in his own words:

‘We truly are in an age of challenge. With that challenge comes opportunity. The sky is no longer the limit. The word impossible no longer belongs in our vocabulary. We have proved that we can do whatever we have the resolve to do. The limit to our reach is our own complacency.’

“In my last conversation with him, he spoke of his lingering desire to inspire the youth of our nation to undertake the STEM
(science, technology, engineering and mathematics) studies, and to dare to dream and explore. He was one of a kind and all of us in the NASA Family will miss him greatly.”

Source: NASA.Gov

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With the Earth above him, NASA astronaut Gene Cernan poses with the American flag on the surface of the Moon...during Apollo 17 in 1972.
NASA / Harrison J. Schmitt