Sunday, August 2, 2015

ISS Update: Manned Spaceflight Epitomized By This Photo...

The International Space Station (to the right of the Moon's center) transits our lunar neighbor on August 2, 2015.
NASA / Bill Ingalls

Space Station Lunar Transit (Press Release)

The International Space Station, with a crew of six onboard, is seen in silhouette as it transits the Moon at roughly five miles per second, Sunday, Aug. 2, 2015, Woodford, VA. Onboard are; NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren: Russian Cosmonauts Gennady Padalka, Mikhail Kornienko, Oleg Kononenko, and Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui.

Source: NASA.Gov

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The CST-100 or Crew Dragon... Which of These Will Carry NASA's First Commercial Crew Astronauts in 2017?

The four astronauts—Robert Behnken, Eric Boe, Douglas Hurley and Sunita Williams—selected by NASA to fly on the first commercial spaceflight in 2017...either aboard Boeing's CST-100 or SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule.

NASA Selects Astronauts for First U.S. Commercial Spaceflights (Press Release)

NASA has selected four astronauts to train and prepare for commercial spaceflights that will return American launches to U.S. soil and further open up low-Earth orbit transportation to the private sector. The selections are the latest major milestone in the Obama Administration’s plan to partner with U.S. industry to transport astronauts to space, create good-paying American jobs and end the nation’s sole reliance on Russia for space travel.

“I am pleased to announce four American space pioneers have been selected to be the first astronauts to train to fly to space on commercial crew vehicles, all part of our ambitious plan to return space launches to U.S. soil, create good-paying American jobs and advance our goal of sending humans farther into the solar system than ever before,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “These distinguished, veteran astronauts are blazing a new trail -- a trail that will one day land them in the history books and Americans on the surface of Mars.”

NASA named experienced astronauts and test pilots Robert Behnken, Eric Boe, Douglas Hurley and Sunita Williams to work closely with The Boeing Company and SpaceX to develop their crew transportation systems and provide crew transportation services to and from the International Space Station (ISS).

“Today, NASA announced that it has selected four, veteran astronauts to be the first to fly to space on commercial carriers,” said John Holdren, assistant to the President for Science and Technology and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. “Their selection allows NASA to move forward with the training necessary to deliver on President Obama’s ambitious plan for returning the launch of U.S. astronauts to U.S. soil, while creating good-paying American jobs, and moving us closer to the President’s goal of sending astronauts to Mars in the 2030s.”

The commercial crew astronauts will work closely with company-led teams to understand their designs and operations as they finalize their Boeing CST-100 and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and operational strategies in support of their crewed flight tests and certification activities as part of their contracts with NASA. “This is a new and exciting era in the history of U.S. human spaceflight," said Brian Kelly, director of Flight Operations at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. "These four individuals, like so many at NASA and the Flight Operations Directorate, have dedicated their careers to becoming experts in the field of aeronautics and furthering human space exploration. The selection of these experienced astronauts who are eligible to fly aboard the test flights for the next generation of U.S. spacecraft to the ISS and low-Earth orbit ensures that the crews will be well-prepared and thoroughly trained for their missions."

The Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts with Boeing and SpaceX each require at least one crewed flight test with at least one NASA astronaut on board to verify the fully-integrated rocket and spacecraft system can launch, maneuver in orbit, and dock to the space station, as well as validate all systems perform as expected, and land safely.

To meet this requirement, the companies also must provide the necessary training for the crew to operate their respective vehicles. NASA is extensively involved with the companies and reviews their training plans.

“We are excited to have such an experienced group of astronauts working with the Commercial Crew Program, Boeing and SpaceX and ultimately flying on the companies’ flight test missions,” said Commercial Crew Program Manager Kathy Lueders. “Naming these astronauts is a key step forward and consistent with past approaches to involve the crew in the design and development of new systems.”

Once the test program is completed successfully, and the systems are certified by NASA, the companies will conduct between two and six crew rotation missions to the space station. Each mission will transport four NASA crew members and at least 220.5 pounds of pressurized cargo to and from the orbiting laboratory.

Commercial Provider Statements

“Congratulations to Bob, Eric, Doug and Sunita and welcome to the Commercial Crew team,” said John Elbon, Boeing Vice President and General Manager, Space Exploration. “We look forward to working with such a highly-skilled and experienced group of NASA astronauts as we carve a path forward to launch in 2017.”

“Congratulations to Bob, Doug, Eric and Suni on being the first group of astronauts selected for flight training as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program,” said Gwynne Shotwell, President and COO of SpaceX. “We look forward to working with them even more closely as we prepare for the first human missions to the space station on Crew Dragon. Human spaceflight is why SpaceX was founded, and we look forward to supporting our nation’s exploration efforts by launching astronauts from America again.”

The Commercial Crew Astronauts

Robert Behnken is a U.S. Air Force colonel from St. Anne, Missouri, who accumulated more than 1,300 flight hours in more than 25 different aircraft types. NASA selected Behnken as an astronaut in July 2000, and he reported for training in August 2000.

Behnken flew on space shuttle missions STS-123 in March 2008 and STS-130 in February 2010, logging more than 29 days in space, including more than 37 hours during six spacewalks. He earned bachelor’s degrees in physics and mechanical engineering from Washington University in 1992, and a master’s and doctoral degree in mechanical engineering from the California Institute of Technology in 1993 and 1997, respectively. Behnken has served as chief of the Astronaut Office since 2012. U.S. Navy Capt. Chris Cassidy is replacing Behnken as chief of the Astronaut Office.

Eric Boe, also a U.S. Air Force colonel, was born in Miami and grew up in Atlanta. As an Air Force pilot, he flew more than 5,000 hours in more than 45 different aircraft before NASA selected him as an astronaut in July 2000. A veteran of two spaceflights, STS-126 in November 2008 and STS-133 in February of 2011, Boe has spent more than 28 days in space.

While in the Astronaut Office, Boe’s technical assignments included serving as the NASA director of operations at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia, and as the deputy chief of the Astronaut Office. He earned a Bachelor of Science in astronautical engineering from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1987 and a Master of Science in electrical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1997.

Douglas Hurley, a retired U.S. Marine colonel, was born in Endicott, New York, and considers Apalachin, New York, his hometown. Hurley retired from the military in 2012 after more than 24 years of service as a Naval aviator who flew more than 4,500 hours in more than 25 different types of aircraft. He also was selected as an astronaut in 2000, and spent more than 28 days in space, flying as the pilot of STS-127 in July 2009 and STS-135 in July 2011, the last flight of the Space Shuttle Program.

Hurley served in several technical assignments within the Astronaut Office including as the NASA director of operations at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia. His most recent assignment was as the assistant director of New Programs for the Flight Operations Directorate at Johnson. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering from Tulane University in New Orleans in 1988.

Sunita Williams, a U.S. Navy captain, was born in Euclid, Ohio, and considers Needham, Massachusetts, her hometown. Williams received her commission in the Navy in May 1987 and became a helicopter pilot, logging more than 3,000 flight hours in more than 30 different aircraft. NASA chose Williams for the astronaut program in 1998.

A veteran of two long-duration spaceflights, Williams spent a total of 322 days in space and currently holds the record for total cumulative spacewalk time by a female astronaut (50 hours and 40 minutes). She now ranks sixth on the all-time U.S. endurance list, and second all-time for a female astronaut. She graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1987 with a bachelor of science in physical science, and from the Florida Institute of Technology in 1995 with a master of science in engineering management.

Source: NASA.Gov


An artist's concept of Boeing's CST-100 capsule approaching the International Space Station.

The Dragon V2 capsule is unveiled to the public at SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, California...on May 29, 2014.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

SpaceX's CRS-7 Mission Ends in Failure...

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket disintegrates more than two minutes into its flight after launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...on June 28, 2015.

NASA Administrator Statement on the Loss of SpaceX CRS-7 (Press Release)

The following is a statement from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the loss Sunday of the SpaceX Commercial Resupply Services 7 (CRS-7) mission.

“We are disappointed in the loss of the latest SpaceX cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. However, the astronauts are safe aboard the station and have sufficient supplies for the next several months. We will work closely with SpaceX to understand what happened, fix the problem and return to flight. The commercial cargo program was designed to accommodate loss of cargo vehicles. We will continue operation of the station in a safe and effective way as we continue to use it as our test bed for preparing for longer duration missions farther into the solar system.

“A Progress vehicle is ready to launch July 3, followed in August by a Japanese HTV flight. Orbital ATK, our other commercial cargo partner, is moving ahead with plans for its next launch later this year.

“SpaceX has demonstrated extraordinary capabilities in its first six cargo resupply missions to the station, and we know they can replicate that success. We will work with and support SpaceX to assess what happened, understand the specifics of the failure and correct it to move forward. This is a reminder that spaceflight is an incredible challenge, but we learn from each success and each setback. Today's launch attempt will not deter us from our ambitious human spaceflight program.”

Source: NASA.Gov


Thursday, June 25, 2015

SLS Update: Another Successful Test-Firing for the RS-25...

An RS-25 engine is test-fired inside the A-1 test stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi...on June 25, 2015.

Longest SLS Engine Test Yet Heats Up Summer Sky (Press Release)

South Mississippi was hotter than usual on June 25 when the fire and heat produced by the longest test firing yet of a Space Launch System (SLS) RS-25 rocket engine at NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center combined with already climbing summer temperatures. Engineers conducted a 650-second test of a RS-25 developmental engine as part of its preparation for a return to deep-space missions aboard the new Space Launch System rocket.

NASA is designing the SLS to carry humans deeper into space than ever before, to such destinations as an asteroid and Mars. The core stage of the new vehicle will be powered by four RS-25 engines, former space shuttles main engines operated at slightly higher power levels to provide the additional thrust needed to power the SLS. The main goal of the series is to test the engine under simulated temperature, pressure and other changes required by the SLS design. The series also supports the development of a new controller, or “brain,” for the engine. The controller monitors the engine status and communicates the programmed performance needs. The first test in the series was in January.

Testing resumed in May after scheduled work was completed on the high-pressure industrial water system that provides the tens of thousands of gallons of water needed during an engine test. Today’s test firing, the fourth in the series, expands on the performance objectives of the first two firings, allowing engineers to better understand the engine under a range of operating conditions. Three additional tests are scheduled in July and August before the initial series is completed. Each test moves NASA a step closer to a new national era of space exploration.

As the SLS evolves, it will provide an unprecedented lift capability of 130 metric tons (143 tons) to enable missions farther into our solar system to places like Mars.

Source: NASA.Gov

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Earth's Turbulent Weather As Seen from the ISS...

Tropical Storm Bill as seen by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly aboard the International Space Station...on June 15, 2015.

Tropical Storm Bill From the International Space Station (Press Release)

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly), currently on a one-year mission to the International Space Station, took this photograph of Tropical Storm Bill in the Gulf of Mexico as it approached the coast of Texas, on June 15, 2015. Kelly wrote, "Concerned for all in its path including family, friends & colleagues."

Source: NASA.Gov

Monday, June 15, 2015

Happy Belated Flag Day!

A U.S. flag is displayed inside the Cupola aboard the International Space Station...on June 14, 2015.

Stars and Stripes From the International Space Station (Press Release)

Celebrating Flag Day on June 14, 2015, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly took this photograph in the Cupola of the International Space Station. Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) wrote, "Stars and stripes from @Space_Station. Happy #NationalFlagDay! #YearInSpace"

Kelly and Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko launched to the International Space Station on March 27, 2015, beginning their one-year mission in space. Most expeditions to the space station last four to six months. By doubling the length of this mission, researchers hope to better understand how the human body reacts and adapts to long-duration spaceflight. This knowledge is critical as NASA looks toward human journeys deeper into the solar system, including to and from Mars, which could last 500 days or longer.

Source: NASA.Gov

Monday, June 8, 2015

A Great Day for SpaceX's Crew Dragon Capsule...

SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule roars away from Space Launch Complex 40 during a pad abort test at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...on May 6, 2015.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

NASA Commercial Crew Partner SpaceX Achieves Pad Abort Milestone Approval (Press Release)

NASA has approved a $30 million milestone payment to SpaceX under the agency’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreement with the company following a recent and successful pad abort test of its Crew Dragon spacecraft.

Data gathered during the test are critical to understanding the safety and performance of the Crew Dragon spacecraft as the company continues on the path to certification for crew missions to the International Space Station, and helping return the ability to launch astronauts from the United States.

The Crew Dragon’s eight SuperDraco engines fired at 9 a.m. EDT on May 6 for about six seconds, each instantly producing about 15,000 pounds of thrust and lifting the spacecraft off a specially built platform at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida. The spacecraft traveled 3,561 feet (1,187 meters) up before jettisoning its trunk and safely splashing down under three main parachutes in the Atlantic Ocean, 3,606 feet (1,202 meters) from the launch pad.

“This test was highly visible and provided volumes of important information, which serves as tangible proof that our team is making significant progress toward launching crews on American rockets from America soon,” said Jon Cowart, partner manager for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “The reams of data collected provide designers with a real benchmark of how accurate their analyses and models are at predicting reality. As great as our modern computational methods are, they still can’t beat a flight test, like this, for finding out what is going on with the hardware.”

The successful test of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon launch escape capabilities demonstrated the spacecraft’s ability to save astronauts in the unlikely event of a life-threatening situation on the launch pad.

“This is the first major flight test for a vehicle that will bring astronauts to space for the entire Commercial Crew Program," said Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX. "The successful test validated key predictions as it relates to the transport of astronauts to the space station. With NASA’s support, SpaceX continues to make excellent and rapid progress in making the Crew Dragon spacecraft the safest and most reliable vehicle ever flown.”

The approval of the pad abort test milestone payment follows NASA’s authorization for Boeing to begin work toward its first post-certification mission. These steps ensure continued progress in the agency’s effort to return to U.S. soil American crew launches to the International Space Station. SpaceX is expected to receive its authorization to proceed with work on a post-certification mission later this year. The determination of which company will fly the first mission to station will be made at a later time.

Source: NASA.Gov


Recovery boats wait offshore as SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule splashes down into the water near Space Launch Complex 40 after a pad abort test at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...on May 6, 2015.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Back in the Day: The Florida Straits As Seen from Space 50 Years Ago...

The Florida Straits and Grand Bahama Bank as seen from aboard the Gemini IV spacecraft...on June 4, 1965.

June 4, 1965, Earth Observations From Gemini IV (Press Release)

This photograph of the Florida Straits and Grand Bahama Bank was taken during the Gemini IV mission during orbit no. 19, on June 4, 1965, with a Hasselblad camera and a 70mm lens. The Gemini IV crew -- astronauts Jim McDivitt and Ed White -- conducted scientific experiments, including photography of Earth's weather and terrain, for the remainder of their four-day mission following White's historic first American spacewalk on June 3.

Astronauts have been photographing Earth from space since the early Mercury missions beginning in 1961. Today, they observe the Earth from their unique point of view aboard the International Space Station, providing researchers with key data and recording changes over time from human-caused changes like urban growth and reservoir construction, to natural dynamic events such as hurricanes, floods and volcanic eruptions.

Source: NASA.Gov

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Marking A Milestone: Five Decades of Extravehicular Activities...

STS-41B astronaut Bruce McCandless guides his Manned Maneuvering Unit hundreds of feet away from the space shuttle Challenger (not visible)...on February 7, 1984.

NASA Celebrates 50 Years of Spacewalking (Press Release)

In this Feb. 7, 1984 photograph taken by his fellow crewmembers aboard the Earth-orbiting Space Shuttle Challenger on the STS-41B mission, NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless II approaches his maximum distance from the vehicle. McCandless became the first astronaut to maneuver about in space untethered, during this first "field" tryout of a nitrogen-propelled, hand-controlled backpack device called the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU).

For 50 years, NASA has been "suiting up" for spacewalking. The first American to conduct a spacewalk, astronaut Edward H. White II, floated into the vastness of space on the Gemini IV mission on June 3, 1965. For more than 20 minutes, White maneuvered himself around the Gemini spacecraft as it traveled from over Hawaii to the Gulf of Mexico--making his orbital stroll 6,500 miles long. At the end of the 20-minute spacewalk, White was exuberant. "This is the greatest experience," he said. "It's just tremendous."

Since this historic first, NASA astronauts have performed spacewalks, or extravehicular activity (EVA) in NASA-speak, on the Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, Space Shuttle and International Space Station programs. Astronauts have explored the lunar surface, completed 82 spacewalks outside of the space shuttle, and 187 spacewalks, to date, outside the International Space Station. A total of 166 hours of spacewalks were carried out to service the Hubble Space Telescope. Today, NASA is developing new advanced spacesuits for use by astronauts as they travel to new deep-space locations on the journey to Mars. The next-generation suit will incorporate a number of technology advances to shorten preparation time, improve safety and boost astronaut capabilities during spacewalks and surface activities.

Source: NASA.Gov


NASA astronaut Sunita Williams (center frame) and JAXA astronaut Aki Hoshide (seen as a silhouette to the right of Williams) participate in a spacewalk outside of the International Space Station, on August 30, 2012.

Friday, May 29, 2015

SLS Update: Resuming Testing on a Monster Rocket's Engine...

An RS-25 engine is test-fired inside the A-1 test stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi...on May 28, 2015.

Steamy Summer Begins for SLS with RS-25 Test (Press Release - May 28)

A billowing plume of steam signals a successful 450-second test of the RS-25 rocket engine May 28 at NASA's Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. The hotfire test was conducted on the historic A-1 Test Stand where Apollo Program rocket stages and Space Shuttle Program main engines also were tested. RS-25 engines tested on the stand will power the core stage of NASA's new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), which is being developed to carry humans deeper into space than ever before.

The heavy-lift SLS will be more powerful than any current rocket and will be the centerpiece of the nation's next era of space exploration, carrying humans to an asteroid and eventually to Mars. Four RS-25 engines will power the SLS vehicle at launch, firing simultaneously to generate more than 1.6 million pounds of thrust. RS-25 engines are modified Space Shuttle Main Engines, which powered 135 successful low-Earth orbit missions.

One of the objectives being evaluated in this test is the new engine controller, or "brain." The RS-25 is unique among many engines in that it automatically runs through its cycles and programs. The controller monitors the engine conditions and communicates the performance needs. The performance specifications, such as what percentage of thrust is needed and when, are programmed into the controller before the engines are fired. For example, if the engine is required to cycle up to 90 percent thrust, the controller monitors the fuel mixture ratio and regulates the thrust accordingly. It is essential that the controller communicates clearly with the engine; the SLS will be bigger than previous rockets and fly unprecedented missions, and its engines will have to perform in new ways.

Tests at Stennis will ensure the new controller and engine are in sync and can deliver the required performance to meet the SLS requirements. NASA engineers conducted an initial RS-25 engine test on the A-1 stand Jan. 9. Testing then was put on hold for scheduled work on the Stennis facility high-pressure industrial water system that provides the tens of thousands of gallons of water needed to cool the stand during an engine test. RS-25 testing now is set to continue through the summer.

Source: NASA.Gov