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Friday, February 27, 2015

NASA Remembers Leonard Nimoy...

The original cast members of STAR TREK pose in front of the prototype space shuttle Enterprise at her Palmdale manufacturing facility in California...in 1976.
NASA

The Shuttle Enterprise (Press Release)

In 1976, NASA's space shuttle Enterprise rolled out of the Palmdale manufacturing facilities and was greeted by NASA officials and cast members from the Star Trek television series.

From left to right they are: NASA Administrator Dr. James D. Fletcher; DeForest Kelley, who portrayed Dr. "Bones" McCoy on the series; George Takei (Mr. Sulu); James Doohan (Chief Engineer Montgomery "Scotty" Scott); Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura); Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock); series creator Gene Roddenberry; U.S. Rep. Don Fuqua (D.-Fla.); and, Walter Koenig (Ensign Pavel Chekov).

NASA is mourning the passing today, Feb. 27, 2015, of actor Leonard Nimoy, most famous for his role as Star Trek's Vulcan science officer Mr. Spock. The sci-fi classic served as an inspiration for many at NASA over the years, and Nimoy joined other cast members at special NASA events and worked to promote NASA missions, as in this 2007 video he narrated before the launch of the Dawn mission to the asteroid belt. Nimoy also was there for the 1976 rollout of the shuttle Enterprise, named for the show's iconic spacecraft.

Source: NASA.Gov

Monday, February 23, 2015

A Selfie Above Earth...

NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore poses for the camera during a spacewalk held outside the International Space Station...on February 21, 2015.
NASA

Astronaut Barry Wilmore on the First of Three Spacewalks (Press Release)

NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore works outside the International Space Station on the first of three spacewalks preparing the station for future arrivals by U.S. commercial crew spacecraft, Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015. Fellow spacewalker Terry Virts, seen reflected in the visor, shared this photograph on social media.

The spacewalks are designed to lay cables along the forward end of the U.S. segment to bring power and communication to two International Docking Adapters slated to arrive later this year. The new docking ports will welcome U.S. commercial spacecraft launching from Florida beginning in 2017, permitting the standard station crew size to grow from six to seven and potentially double the amount of crew time devoted to research.

The second and third spacewalks are planned for Wednesday, Feb. 25 and Sunday, March 1, with Wilmore and Virts participating in all three.

Source: NASA.Gov

Friday, February 20, 2015

CST-100 Update: Breaking Soil For Its Maiden Launch in 2017...

An artist's concept of the crew access tower that astronauts will use to board Boeing's CST-100 spacecraft at the Atlas V launch pad...at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
United Launch Alliance

Ceremony Kicks Off Crew Access Tower Construction (Press Release)

Boeing and United Launch Alliance teams held a ceremonial groundbreaking Feb. 20 to begin construction on the first new crew access structure at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in decades. The preparations will enable Space Launch Complex 41 to host astronauts and their support personnel for flight tests and missions to the International Space Station.

The tower will be used for launches of Boeing's CST-100 spacecraft atop an Atlas V rocket. Boeing was selected to finalize the design of its integrated crew transportation system and work with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to certify it for crew launches to the station by 2017.

"Fifty-three years ago today, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth, launching on an Atlas just a few miles from here,” said Jim Sponnick, vice president of ULA’s Atlas and Delta programs. “The ULA team is very proud to be collaborating with Boeing and NASA on the Commercial Crew Program to continue that legacy and to return America to launching astronauts to the station.”

Boeing and ULA finished the design for the 200-foot-tall, metal latticework crew access structure in the summer of 2013. The design was made modular so crews could build large sections of the structure away from the pad then truck them in and stack them up to complete the work in between Atlas V launches. It will take about 18 months to build the tower.

“This is truly an integrated effort by a lot of partners and that’s really represented here today by the guests celebrating this groundbreaking with us,” said John Mulholland, Boeing Vice President of Commercial Programs. “This is the first construction of its type on the Cape since the 1960s, so building this crew tower, returning of the human launch capability to the United States, is very significant.”

Construction crews will face all the usual challenges of building a 20-story-high tower beside the ocean, plus the fact that one of the busiest launchers in the American catalog is not going to take time off during the construction phase.

The crew access structure will visually stand out at SLC-41, largely because the launch complex is a "clean pad" design with only the reinforced concrete hard stand and four lightning towers in place. About 1,800 feet to the south is a building called the Vertical Integration Facility, which houses the cranes and work platforms to assemble an Atlas V.

"Besides the VIF and the lightning towers, the crew access tower will be the tallest structure at the launch site," Biegler said.

The Atlas V launch pad has been used only for non-crewed spacecraft to this point, hosting Titan rockets beginning in 1965 and then the Atlas V since 2002. NASA missions launched from SLC-41 include the Viking robots that landed on Mars, the Voyager spacecraft that toured the outer planets, the New Horizons probe now headed to Pluto, and the Curiosity rover currently traversing Mars.

Although the pad has proved adept at servicing those extremely complex spacecraft and probes, the demands for handling a capsule that will carry humans are far greater. For instance, the rocket cannot be rolled to the pad and fueled while astronauts are aboard. Safety considerations also require a way to get away from the rocket quickly in case of an emergency before the rocket lifts off.

Missions flown on commercial crew spacecraft are vital to the national goal of restoring to America the ability to launch astronauts to the station so the unique orbiting laboratory can continue to fulfill its promise of achieving cutting-edge research for the benefit of all on Earth. With the new spacecraft, the station's crew can expand by one, which will enable research time on the station to double from its current 40 hours a week to 80 hours a week.

“This is a shining example of the progress we’ll see along the Space Coast as industry works toward safely flying our astronauts to and from the station,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “Once this crew access tower is complete, this historical launch complex will be an integral part of a new era in human spaceflight.”

Source: NASA.Gov

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

EFT-1 Update: Lessons Learned From the Historic Flight...

A Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying the Orion spacecraft lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...beginning Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1 on December 5, 2014.
NASA / Sandra Joseph and Kevin O'Connell

NASA’s Orion Flight Test Yields Critical Data as Engineers Improve Spacecraft for Next Mission (Press Release)

NASA’s Orion spacecraft continues on the agency’s journey to Mars as engineers analyze data from the spacecraft’s December flight test and make progress developing and building the spacecraft for its first mission atop NASA Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket. On future missions, Orion will send astronauts to an asteroid and onward toward the Red Planet.

At machine houses across the country, elements of the primary structure for the next Orion to fly in space are coming together. Avionics components are being built and simulators for the ESA (European Space Agency)-built service module that will house the spacecraft’s propulsion and solar arrays are being delivered. By the end of the year, engineers hope to have the primary structure for Orion’s next mission to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for processing. Meanwhile, every piece of data and each element of the spacecraft flown in the December test is being analyzed and compared to pre-flight models to improve Orion’s design.

“Orion’s flight test was a big success and what we learned is informing how we design, develop and build future Orions that will help us pioneer deep space destinations,” said Mark Geyer, NASA’s Orion Program manager. “Taking a look at all the flight test data is a huge part of the development process and a key part off in why we flew a test flight. We have critical work happening this year, both on the data analysis and development side, to keep us moving toward our first mission with SLS.”

Engineers and technicians at Kennedy, where Orion was assembled and returned after its flight test, recently took off the back shell and heat shield that protected Orion during its reentry to Earth’s atmosphere, to unload unused propellants and allow for a close-up analysis of the spacecraft’s systems.

One of the main objectives of Orion’s flight, which sent the vehicle 3,600 miles into space during a two-orbit, 4.5-hour test, was to test how the spacecraft would fare returning to Earth at high speeds and temperatures.

“The heat shield looks in great shape,” said Michael Hawes, Orion Program manager for Lockheed Martin, NASA’s prime contractor for the spacecraft. “The char on the shield is consistent. If you look at it now, you’d see a few big holes because we’ve taken core samples. We’ve also done a total laser scan of the surface of the heat shield. That’ll give us a very detailed engineering base of knowledge of what the heat shield did.”

In March, the heat shield will be shipped to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where the ablative material on the heat shield will be taken off. From there, the heat shield structure will be shipped to the agency’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, where it will be reused on a test capsule for water impact testing. NASA and Lockheed Martin also are taking a look at potential modifications to the heat shield’s design to make it even stronger.

Evaluating how the thermal protection system fared during Orion’s reentry wasn’t the only critical objective of the flight. The test also provided important insight into key separation events, including whether the Launch Abort System and protective fairings came off at the right times, how the parachutes assisting Orion during its descent fared and how the operations to recovery Orion from the Pacific Ocean progressed.

According to Hawes, all of the spacecraft separation events happened within fractions of a second of when predictive models said they would occur; Orion’s 11 parachutes worked to allow the spacecraft to touchdown in the Ocean relatively gently; and the recovery team of NASA, U.S. Navy and Lockheed Martin personnel recovered it within about six hours.

The flight also examined the performance of a 3-D printed vent. It performed well, so teams will be looking at other hardware that could be made using the additive manufacturing process.

Engineers are taking a closer look at the crew module uprighting system airbags on top of the crew module, which help keep Orion stable in the water after splashdown. Only two of five of the bags properly inflated during the December flight test. Initial analysis of the gas and plumbing system for the bags came up clean, and engineers suspect a possible issue with the bags themselves.

“We’re in the midst of troubleshooting that now,” Hawes said.

Orion’s flight test yielded millions of elements of data, every piece of which is providing unique insight into how to improve the spacecraft’s design so that it can safely send astronauts on their way to Mars and return them home.

Source: NASA.Gov

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The USS Anchorage approaches the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft in preparation for the capsule being towed back to the ship for securing aboard the vessel, on December 5, 2014.
NASA

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Honoring Our Fallen Explorers...

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and his wife, Alexis, lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns to commemorate NASA's Day of Remembrance at Arlington National Cemetery...on January 28, 2015.
NASA / Joel Kowsky

NASA's Day of Remembrance 2015 (Press Release)

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and his wife, Alexis, lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns as part of NASA's Day of Remembrance, Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015, at Arlington National Cemetery. The wreaths were laid in memory of those men and women who lost their lives in the quest for space exploration.

Source: NASA.Gov

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The crew of Apollo 1.

The crew of mission STS-51L.

The crew of mission STS-107.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

ISS Update: A Spectacular View Outside the Window(s)...

A view from inside the International Space Station's Cupola...taken on January 4, 2015.
NASA

Interior View From the International Space Station Cupola (Press Release)

This image of the interior view from the International Space Station's Cupola module was taken on Jan. 4, 2015. The large bay windows allows the Expedition 42 crew to see outside. The Cupola houses one of the space station's two robotic work stations used by astronauts to manipulate the large robotic arm seen through the right window. The robotic arm, or Canadarm2, was used throughout the construction of the station and is still used to grapple visiting cargo vehicles and assist astronauts during spacewalks. The Cupola is attached to the nadir side of the space station and also gives a full panoramic view of the Earth.

Source: NASA.Gov

Saturday, January 10, 2015

SpaceX Update: The Dragon Starts the New Year by Embarking on Flight CRS-5...

A Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon spacecraft launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on January 10, 2015...beginning the CRS-5 mission.
NASA / Jim Grossman

NASA Cargo Launches to Space Station aboard SpaceX Resupply Mission (Press Release)

More than two tons of supplies and NASA science investigations are on the way to the International Space Station aboard SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft. The spacecraft launched Saturday on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 4:47 a.m. EST.

The mission is the company's fifth official cargo delivery flight to the station through NASA's Commercial Resupply Services contract. Dragon's cargo will support more than 250 experiments that will be conducted by the station’s Expeditions 42 and 43 crews.

“We are delighted to kick off 2015 with our first commercial cargo launch of the year,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “Thanks to our private sector partners, we've returned space station resupply launches to U.S. soil and are poised to do the same with the transport of our astronauts in the very near future. Today’s launch not only resupplies the station, but also delivers important science experiments and increases the station’s unique capabilities as a platform for Earth science with delivery of the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System, or CATS instrument. I congratulate the SpaceX and NASA teams who have made today’s success possible. We look forward to extending our efforts in commercial space to include commercial crew by 2017 and to more significant milestones this year on our journey to Mars.”

The CATS instrument measures the location, composition and distribution of pollution, dust, smoke, aerosols and other particulates in the atmosphere. CATS will be attached outside the station on the Japanese Experiment Module. By gaining a deeper understanding of cloud and aerosol coverage, scientists can create a better model of their role in Earth's changing global climate.

A new biological study will use flatworms as a model organism to see how gravity affects tissue regeneration and the rebuilding of damaged organs and nerves. Flatworms regenerate their cells, replacing them as they age or are damaged. This investigation studies the cell signaling mechanisms the worms use while regenerating their tissue in microgravity. Its results could provide insight into how wounds heal in space.

Also making the trip as model organisms will be fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster). Scientists will study the flies’ immune systems as a model for the human immune system, to explore how spaceflight can make organisms more susceptible to disease, especially since microbes can become more virulent in space.

The new Micro-5 investigation aims to understand the risks of in-flight infections in space explorers during long-term spaceflight. It will study the interactions between the host and bacteria, cellular responses and the effectiveness of countermeasures during spaceflight. The model organism Caenorhabditis elegans (roundworm) will be studied along with the microbe Salmonella typhimurium, which is known to cause food poisoning in humans.

Dragon will be grappled at 6:12 a.m. Monday, Jan. 12, by Expedition 42 Commander Barry "Butch" Wilmore of NASA, using the space station's robotic arm to take hold of the spacecraft. European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti will support Wilmore in a backup position. Dragon is scheduled to spend about a month attached to the space station before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean, west of Baja California, Mexico, carrying more than 3,800 pounds of cargo, including crew supplies, hardware and computer resources, science experiments, space station hardware and trash.

The International Space Station is a convergence of science, technology and human innovation that demonstrates new technologies and makes research breakthroughs not possible on Earth. The space station has been occupied continuously since November 2000. In that time, more than 200 people and a variety of international and commercial spacecraft have visited the orbiting laboratory. The space station remains the springboard to NASA's next great leap in exploration, including future missions to an asteroid and Mars.

Source: NASA.Gov

Friday, January 9, 2015

SLS Update: A Mega-Rocket's Engine Roars to Life...

An RS-25 engine is test-fired inside the A-1 test stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi...on January 9, 2015.
NASA

RS-25 Engine Testing Blazes Forward for NASA's Space Launch System (Press Release)

The new year is off to a hot start for NASA's Space Launch System (SLS). The engine that will drive America's next great rocket to deep space blazed through its first successful test Jan. 9 at the agency's Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

The RS-25, formerly the space shuttle main engine, fired up for 500 seconds on the A-1 test stand at Stennis, providing NASA engineers critical data on the engine controller unit and inlet pressure conditions. This is the first hot fire of an RS-25 engine since the end of space shuttle main engine testing in 2009. Four RS-25 engines will power SLS on future missions, including to an asteroid and Mars.

"We’ve made modifications to the RS-25 to meet SLS specifications and will analyze and test a variety of conditions during the hot fire series,” said Steve Wofford, manager of the SLS Liquid Engines Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where the SLS Program is managed. "The engines for SLS will encounter colder liquid oxygen temperatures than shuttle; greater inlet pressure due to the taller core stage liquid oxygen tank and higher vehicle acceleration; and more nozzle heating due to the four-engine configuration and their position in-plane with the SLS booster exhaust nozzles.”

The engine controller unit, the "brain" of the engine, allows communication between the vehicle and the engine, relaying commands to the engine and transmitting data back to the vehicle. The controller also provides closed-loop management of the engine by regulating the thrust and fuel mixture ratio while monitoring the engine's health and status. The new controller will use updated hardware and software configured to operate with the new SLS avionics architecture.

"This first hot-fire test of the RS-25 engine represents a significant effort on behalf of Stennis Space Center’s A-1 test team," said Ronald Rigney, RS-25 project manager at Stennis. "Our technicians and engineers have been working diligently to design, modify and activate an extremely complex and capable facility in support of RS-25 engine testing."

Testing will resume in April after upgrades are completed on the high pressure industrial water system, which provides cool water for the test facility during a hot fire test. Eight tests, totaling 3,500 seconds, are planned for the current development engine. Another development engine later will undergo 10 tests, totaling 4,500 seconds. The second test series includes the first test of new flight controllers, known as green running.

The first flight test of the SLS will feature a configuration for a 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capacity and carry an uncrewed Orion spacecraft beyond low-Earth orbit to test the performance of the integrated system. As the SLS is upgraded, it will provide an unprecedented lift capability of 130 metric tons (143 tons) to enable missions even farther into our solar system.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Monday, December 22, 2014

Private Spaceflight: The Year in Review...

The side hatch is opened on the Dragon V2 capsule during its unveiling at SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, California...on May 29, 2014.
Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

NASA Commercial Crew Partners Complete 23 Milestones in 2014, Look Ahead to 2015 (Press Release)

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and the agency’s industry partners completed 23 agreement and contract milestones in 2014 and participated in thousands of hours of technical review sessions. The sessions focused on creating a new generation of safe, reliable and cost-effective crew space transportation systems to low-Earth orbit destinations.

“To say we’ve been busy would truly be an understatement,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of the Commercial Crew Program. “Our partners at Blue Origin, Boeing, Sierra Nevada Corporation and SpaceX have made tremendous strides in their respective systems throughout the year and we’re happy to have supported them along their way. My team and I are excited to continue to work with our partners in the coming year.”

Blue Origin continued the development of its Space Vehicle spacecraft designed to carry people into low-Earth orbit. The company also continued work on its subscale propellant tank assembly through an unfunded Commercial Crew Development Round 2 (CCDev2) agreement with NASA, which was recently extended until April 2016. In the coming year, Blue Origin will further test its propellant tank and BE-3 engine.

Both Boeing and SpaceX began work on the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts to develop systems to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

In 2014 Boeing closed out its Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreement and Certification Products Contract (CPC) with NASA. The company also completed its first two CCtCap milestones. Boeing worked with the agency to set an operating rhythm and path toward certification of the CST-100 spacecraft and United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. NASA evaluated the designs of the company’s ground-based systems that will be used to carry crews to the station, including the launch complex, crew training, countdown operations mission control facilities, landing locations and post-landing operations.

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) performed incremental tests of its reaction control system that will help maneuver its Dream Chaser spacecraft in space. SNC achieved its CCiCap milestone in November and built on previous propulsion system development efforts by implementing a compact prototype thruster operating in a vacuum chamber to simulate an on-orbit environment. This year, the company also performed wind tunnel and risk-reduction testing under its CCiCap agreement and closed out its Certification Products Contract with NASA. In 2015, the company will perform the second free-flight of its Dream Chaser test article at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center.

SpaceX performed two milestones, its Dragon Primary Structure Qualification and Delta Crew Vehicle Critical Design Review, in November as part of its CCiCap agreement. Under that agreement, SpaceX also performed other critical design reviews of its systems and operations this year. The company continued to provide NASA with data in preparation for the company’s Certification Baseline Review under its CCtCap contract, which was approved this month. SpaceX also closed out its CPC contract with NASA in 2014. Next year, SpaceX will perform two abort tests for its Crew Dragon spacecraft under its CCiCap agreement.

"Our partners and providers are working on real hardware and will be doing exciting tests next year,” Lueders said. “Pad infrastructures, processing facilities, hardware and crew training mock-ups, which are all key elements crucial to flying crew safely in just a few years, will take a more cohesive shape next year.”

NASA's goal for the Commercial Crew Program is to facilitate the development of a U.S. commercial crew space transportation capability with the goal of achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station. With the CCtCap contracts announced Sept. 16, NASA’s goal is to certify crew transportation systems in 2017 that will return the ability to launch astronauts from the United States to the International Space Station.

Source: NASA.Gov

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A full-scale mockup of Boeing's CST-100 vehicle...unveiled at the company's Houston Product Support Center in Texas on July 22, 2013.
NASA / Robert Markowitz

Friday, December 19, 2014

SpaceX Update: A Major Achievement for Dragon V2...

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

SpaceX Completes First Milestone for Commercial Crew Transportation System (Press Release)

NASA has approved the completion of SpaceX’s first milestone in the company’s path toward launching crews to the International Space Station (ISS) from U.S. soil under a Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract with the agency.

During the Certification Baseline Review, SpaceX described its current design baseline including how the company plans to manufacture its Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 v.1.1 rocket, then launch, fly, land and recover the crew. The company also outlined how it will achieve NASA certification of its system to enable transport of crews to and from the space station.

“This milestone sets the pace for the rigorous work ahead as SpaceX meets the certification requirements outlined in our contract,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “It is very exciting to see SpaceX's proposed path to certification, including a flight test phase and completion of the system development.”

On Sept. 16, the agency unveiled its selection of SpaceX and Boeing to transport U.S. crews to and from the space station using their Crew Dragon and CST-100 spacecraft, respectively. These contracts will end the nation’s sole reliance on Russia and allow the station’s current crew of six to increase, enabling more research aboard the unique microgravity laboratory.

Under the CCtCap contracts, the companies will complete NASA certification of their human space transportation systems, including a crewed flight test with at least one NASA astronaut aboard, to verify the fully integrated rocket and spacecraft system can launch from the United States, maneuver in orbit, and dock to the space station, and validate its systems perform as expected.

Throughout the next few years, SpaceX will test its systems, materials and concept of operations to the limits to prove they are safe to transport astronauts to the station. Once certified, the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket will be processed and integrated inside a new hangar before being rolled out for launch. This will all take place at the historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The Crew Dragon is expected to be able to dock to the station for up to 210 days and serve as a 24-hour safe haven during an emergency in space.

“SpaceX designed the Dragon spacecraft with the ultimate goal of transporting people to space,” said Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer. “Successful completion of the Certification Baseline Review represents a critical step in that effort—we applaud our team’s hard work to date and look forward to helping NASA return the transport of U.S. astronauts to American soil.”

By expanding the station crew size and enabling private companies to handle launches to low-Earth orbit -- a region NASA has been visiting since 1962 -- the nation's space agency can focus on getting the most research and experience out of America's investment in ISS. NASA also can expand its focus to develop the Space Launch System and Orion capsule for missions in the proving ground of deep space beyond the moon to advance the skills and techniques that will enable humans to explore Mars.

Source: NASA.Gov

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A glimpse of Dragon V2's cabin during the capsule's unveiling at SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, California...on May 29, 2014.
EPA