JSC director Geyer speaks of America’s space leadership role today, in the future

October 1st, 2018

By Mary Alys Cherry and Kathryn Paradis

Knowing the human tendency to overlook the value of many outstanding things in our daily lives – things that become “old hat” – Johnson Space Center Director Mark Geyer reminded Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership members of the great value of the International Space Station, which has been circling the Earth for the past 18 years.

“Station is an incredible international achievement,” he said as he opened his address, “and I want to talk about the different pieces that make ISS so special. People may not be aware of the details surrounding the amount of utilization that is happening every day on Space Station.

“There are payload experiments – things we are pushing the envelope on – on how to live and work in space, which is really going to be important when we go to the moon and on to Mars. A Mars journey could take three years or longer. We’re learning about how the human body behaves and how it changes. We’re learning how to mitigate those things through exercise and nutrition. There’s an incredible amount of work that goes on every day; plus, we get some cool pictures!”

It also has helped the United States and Russia become space buddies, he explained.

Their space friendship began back at the turn of the century when the first international crew, commanded by American astronaut William M. Shepherd, arrived on a Russian Soyuz that launched on Oct. 31, 2000. Since that day, he said there has always been an American onboard Station.
“Station brings a symbol of national leadership in the world. We lead the rest of the world in space. I had a chance to meet with the U.S. ambassador in Russia when I was over there for a launch. He told me that as difficult as relationships are with the Russians, Space Station is the one thing, the one positive thing that we are doing together. That’s important.”

Then he cautioned, “Another thing to remember is that if the United States doesn’t lead in space, there’s another county that cannot wait to lead in space, and that’s China. We know that they are making efforts to do that.”

After briefly talking about the commercialization of space, he took the crowd into the future — the commercial opportunities the ISS offers and plans to build the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway in the 2020s to launch the Orion spacecraft on 21-day missions past the moon and back. And, how JSC will continue to be a key part of the integration of that program.

And, what about new NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine? “He is extremely personable and very open, Geyer says. “He really likes to meet with teams and talking with the interns. He’s trying very hard, listening to people. I love working for him; he’s a great guy.”

Geyer, who was introduced by BAHEP Chairman and San Jacinto College Chancellor Dr. Brenda Hellyer, began his NASA career in 1990 at JSC and has been here ever since. He has witnessed much during the ensuing years – both triumph and tragedy. His presentation left many with the feeling, however, that the best is yet to come both for NASA and for Johnson Space Center.

Senate panel hears BAHEP president on importance of International Space Station funding after 2024

August 1st, 2018

BAHEP President Bob Mitchell

The Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership has been an avid supporter of NASA, and specifically of the missions of the NASA’s Johnson Space Center, for decades. Elected officials and the media often consult with BAHEP President Bob Mitchell to share his expertise in regard to the aerospace industry.

In May 2018, Sen. Ted Cruz, chairman of the Space, Science, and Competitiveness Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation invited Mitchell to provide testimony before his subcommittee regarding the International Space Station.

Given just five minutes to state his support for federal funding for the ISS beyond 2025, Mitchell testified before the subcommittee on June 6, 2018. Following is his testimony in full.

Chairman Cruz, Ranking Member Nelson, distinguished members of the committee:

Thank you for the opportunity to be here today and to testify on the important topic of the International Space Station.

I serve as the president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership, a member-driven, 501(c)( 6) nonprofit economic development organization located just outside the gates of the Johnson Space Center in Bay Area Houston. We have over 268 members, which include a diverse mix of businesses in aerospace, medical, life sciences, petrochemicals, and maritime.

We also are proud to work on initiatives that contribute to the economic growth of the 13 cities and two counties in the area around the Johnson Space Center. Although aerospace companies make up a fraction of our membership, the entire business community understands and values the contributions of NASA and the space community in making all of our lives better.

The ISS is a critical element of the work performed in Houston at the Johnson Space Center and the backbone to maintaining a number of key elements of our success in human spaceflight: the astronaut corps, mission control, countless technical resources, and world-class researchers. The Johnson Space Center offers an unparalleled national capability that has been built over decades of experience. The loss of or weakening of its capabilities would have dramatic implications to our outcomes in deep space exploration.

The Return on Investment (ROI) on the ISS can be calculated in many ways. It is difficult to quantify the exact dollar value of many of these returns, but the overall impact is undeniable. The International Space Station – by its design and enactment – has established the foundation for sustained generation of technology that improves life on earth.

Each year, spinoffs like new drugs, materials, and scientific technology become licensed and begin generating new revenue streams for companies large and small.

Beyond the ability to show an ROI, the International Space Station positions us to tackle the challenge of deep space by buying down cost and risk now to give missions to the Moon and Mars a head start. The station is a critical, inexpensive test bed for exploration hardware that needs to work perfectly on its first live mission. It allows us to test, tweak, and perfect life support systems, radiation abatement methods, and other advanced materials. These breakthroughs will eventually make it from the launch pad into our homes and businesses across America.

Through engagement with the Russian space agency and 13 other ISS partners, the U.S. has led an era of peaceful collaboration and exploration that has provided stability in space leading to the current level of space commercialization.This commitment to the ISS — uninterrupted for the last 25 years — has provided more than just a destination in space. The ISS has cultivated:

  • A cultural learning lab for diplomacy, education, and inspiration
  • A learning lab for technology applications – testing performance machines, materials, and humans in space
  • A science lab for comparing terrestrial knowledge in a new frontier of weightlessness
  • A lab for exploring both our earth and outer space in preparation for the next exploration endeavors

I think it is important to take a detailed look at the overall ISS budget, which is often cited at $3 billion per year. What is misleading about that estimate is that the Commercial Crew and Cargo programs are funded out of those funds, along with overhead costs at the centers housing the programs and other expenses. The real ISS budget is a fraction of that total cost, ranging from $1B – $1.5B/year. Saving this much each year will have a minimal impact on our overall exploration efforts in terms of a funds transfer. Commercial alternatives would likely cost significantly more than sustaining the ISS, essentially creating an entirely new development program, while providing a fraction of the existing capabilities.

If the U.S. government terminates its support of the ISS in 2025, and we step away from ISS before an equivalent long-term engagement is created, there will be a disruption in the space program and the emerging commercial space industry.

Not very long ago, NASA’s Constellation Program was cancelled at the same time as the retirement of the Space Shuttle Program, which had a profoundly negative impact on America’s leadership position in space.

I sincerely hope that we all learned a valuable lesson from this and trust that you will not allow history to repeat itself! My position is that the U.S. government should commit to the ISS for as long as it is safely feasible to do so.

However, as we succeed, others look to follow. As you have probably seen, just last week China invited other nations to partner with them on their space station. They realize, as we do, the power of these partnerships and the leadership and the technology that can be gained from them.

As we question our commitment to the future of ISS, the Chinese space program is actively seeking to leverage this moment in time to provide an alternative path and platform for our traditional international partners in space. This has very serious implications for our national security, trade and technology partnerships and leadership if this is not managed carefully. At the end of the day, the ISS program is the culmination of all of the reasons we are so passionate about the entire space program – it represents America’s future in global leadership, education, innovation, healthcare, and our quality of life.

Thank you for the invitation to speak on this topic, and I look forward to your questions.

Babin takes BAHEP on space journey

December 1st, 2016

BAHEP President Bob Mitchell, right, welcomed a number of elected officials to the reception featuring an address by Congressman Brian Babin. Joining him are, from left, Mayors Jon Keeney of Taylor Lake Village and Michel Bechtel of Morgan’s Point, State Rep. Dennis Paul, Galveston County Commissioner Ken Clark, Dr. Babin, Seabrook Mayor Glenn Royal and Galveston County Commissioner Ryan Dennard.

BAHEP President Bob Mitchell, right, welcomed a number of elected officials to the reception featuring an address by Congressman Brian Babin. Joining him are, from left, Mayors Jon Keeney of Taylor Lake Village and Michel Bechtel of Morgan’s Point, State Rep. Dennis Paul, Galveston County Commissioner Ken Clark, Dr. Babin, Seabrook Mayor Glenn Royal and Galveston County Commissioner Ryan Dennard.

Brian Freedman of Boeing, from left, visits with Kevin Templin of NASA and Dr. David Kring of the Lunar and Planetary Institute at the BAHEP reception at Lakewood Yacht Club.

Brian Freedman of Boeing, from left, visits with Kevin Templin of NASA and Dr. David Kring of the Lunar and Planetary Institute at the BAHEP reception at Lakewood Yacht Club.

By Mary Alys Cherry

With space so much a part of our lives locally, Congressman Brian Babin decided to update members of Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership on how the industry is faring on Capitol Hill when he addressed them at Lakewood Yacht Club.
While a lot has been happening in Washington, Dr. Babin, chairman on the House Subcommittee on Space, decided to focus solely on the space industry, using the title, “The Reality of Deep Space Exploration – Leadership, Policy, Planning, Resources and Partnerships.”

“I hope you have on your flight suits because you’re going to feel like you’ve been to Mars and back…I am going to give you an update on things at the deep space level, all the way down to sea-level, right here in Houston!” with quite a bit of politicization in the mix.

Everything is politicized, he told the crowd at the Oct. 26 gathering. Even the space program has been driven by politics, he said before taking them back to the early days of the Obama administration when the local area took a big hit as the Constellation Program that focused on space exploration was canceled and thousands lost their jobs.

“Just a few weeks ago, the president published an (opinion article) saying that he wanted to send humans to Mars. While I appreciate his sentiment, I only wish that eight years ago he had not abandoned that path. For nearly eight years, President Obama’s space policy has lacked specificity – basically we will go somewhere, sometime  on a vehicle. . . and while his words now about going to Mars are encouraging, they are about eight years too late.

“It is unconscionable how NASA and its industry team have been whipsawed over questionable priorities,” Dr. Babin said, pointing out that the administration had diverted billions of NASA dollars “from exploration and human space flight to global warming and climate change research. Protecting the space agency’s human space flight budget and exploration budget are my priorities, and quite frankly I’m ready to get on with our exploration program,” he added.

Brandy Gates of UTMB, Janet Brown of Space Center Houston and Joan McKinney of Norman Frede Chevrolet, from left, arrive at Lakewood Yacht Club for the BAHEP reception.

Brandy Gates of UTMB, Janet Brown of Space Center Houston and Joan McKinney of Norman Frede Chevrolet, from left, arrive at Lakewood Yacht Club for the BAHEP reception.

Babin said he strongly supports full funding of the space agency’s commercial programs. “It’s in our best interest to have this domestic capability — the sooner the U.S. has safe and reliable commercial transportation to the ISS, the sooner we can end our reliance on the Russians and invest that funding for our initiatives. I want American astronauts flying on American rockets, from American soil as soon as possible,” he told the crowd, going on to praise Boeing’s installation of its first two simulators for training astronauts at the Johnson Space Center for flights aboard the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft.

Turning his thoughts to the International Space Station, Dr. Babin said “it’s important for Congress to fully fund this program and keep it flying as long as it’s sustainable. It’s an enabler, a test-bed for our deep space human exploration missions and we still have much to learn about the long-term impacts to astronaut health.”

The congressman also updated the audience on the establishment of the Texas Space Congressional Caucus, which is co-chaired by Babin and Rep. John Culberson, along with many members of the Texas congressional delegation.

“For decades, in large part due to you all, our region has had a very active space industry advocacy team of local industry leaders, led by BAHEP, with strong support from local, state and federal elected officials to promote the broader interests of NASA and the human space flight programs at the federal and state level.

“However, the acute interests of JSC and the local space industry have not been watched as closely as I would like, and we have created this Caucus to bring focus on JSC and the programs that are essential to JSC. I believe a strong JSC leads to a stronger human space flight program and a more robust overall space industry.

With the Caucus in place, he said, “You can bet, when there is space work to be done in these areas, we are well positioned to fight like hell for it to be done right here at JSC!”

Boeing’s Starliner project stirs excitement over at JSC

November 1st, 2016

11-1xaxpicturexofExcitement is beginning to build over at the Johnson Space Center as the date for a trip to the International Space Station by American astronauts grows closer and closer.

You can feel it in the air as you walk up and down JSC’s halls and in the eyes of those working to make it a reality.
Boeing and NASA marked the installation of its new CST-100 Starliner spacecraft simulator systems by inviting area media to the historic Jake Garn Mission Simulator and Training Facility at JSC, where they were welcomed by JSC Director Dr. Ellen Ochoa and  Boeing Commercial Crew Program Deputy Manager Chris Ferguson.

“There’s a lot going on in the Commercial Crew Program,” Ochoa said, “many operational aspects are being tested. . . procedures are being developed. And, we are starting to see these things coming to fruition.”

“It’s handy for astronauts to have their offices just right across the way from the simulators. It makes it easy to do their training here, and we’re just really glad to see this come forward,” she added, going on to mention the unique relationship JSC has with Boeing through other current and past contracts.

Others joining in the welcome included astronauts Suni Williams and Bob Behnken, JSC Commercial Crew Program Deputy Manager Steve Stich and Boeing Space Vehicle Program Manager Pete Meisinger.

Boeing, awarded a $4.2 billion contract to develop the Starliner and one of two companies NASA’s Commercial Crew Program contracted to return crew launch capability to the United States — the other is Space X — invited media representatives to participate in a roundtable discussion with NASA and Boeing representatives and also observe astronauts operate the Starliner Crew Trainers.

The training devices, Boeing officials explained, ensure mission success by providing realistic rehearsals for all scenarios that may arise between launch and recovery of the space capsules. “Astronauts learn how to handle any situation that could arise in the hash environment of space, even with a spacecraft that is designed to be autonomous.”

“This is a big project for Boeing,” Ferguson, a former astronaut said, explaining that Boeing also was training the astronauts for the journey to the space station.

Currently, astronauts are training on Part-Task Trainers, which replicate flight conditions, including rendezvous and docking with the ISS, while the company is constructing a full-scale, high-fidelity Starliner simulator in St. Louis that will allow astronauts to practice all the aspects of a mission. Delivery to JSC is expect in early 2017.

Besides Williams and Behnken, astronauts Eric Boe and Douglas Hurley also have been selected by NASA to train for the U.S. Commercial Crew missions.

NASA orders second SpaceX crew mission to International Space Station

August 4th, 2016

This artist's concept shows a SpaceX Crew Dragon docking with the International Space Station, as it will during a mission for NASA's Commercial Crew Program. NASA is partnering with Boeing and SpaceX to build a new generation of human-rated spacecraft capable of taking astronauts to the station and back to Earth, thereby expanding research opportunities in orbit.

This artist’s concept shows a SpaceX Crew Dragon docking with the International Space Station, as it will during a mission for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. NASA is partnering with Boeing and SpaceX to build a new generation of human-rated spacecraft capable of taking astronauts to the station and back to Earth, thereby expanding research opportunities in orbit.

NASA has taken another important step in returning U.S. astronaut launches from U.S. soil with the order of a second post-certification mission from commercial provider SpaceX in Hawthorne, Calif.

Commercial crew flights from Florida’s Space Coast to the International Space Station will restore America’s human spaceflight launch capability and increase the time U.S. crews can dedicate to scientific research, which is helping prepare astronauts for deep space missions, including the Journey to Mars.

“The order of a second crew rotation mission from SpaceX, paired with the two ordered from Boeing will help ensure reliable access to the station on American spacecraft and rockets,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “These systems will ensure reliable U.S. crew rotation services to the station, and will serve as a lifeboat for the space station for up to seven months.”

This is the fourth and final guaranteed order NASA will make under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts. Boeing received its two orders in May and December of 2015, and SpaceX received its first order in November 2015. Both companies have started planning for, building and testing the necessary hardware and assets to carry out their first flight tests, and ultimately missions for the agency.

At a later time, NASA will identify which company will fly the first post-certification mission to the space station. Each provider’s contract includes a minimum of two and a maximum potential of six missions.

SpaceX met the criteria for this latest award after it successfully completed interim developmental milestones and internal design reviews for its Crew Dragon spacecraft, Falcon 9 rocket and associated ground systems.

“We’re making great progress with Crew Dragon, with qualification of our docking adapter and initial acceptance testing of the pressure vessel qualification unit completed” said Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX president and chief operating officer. “We appreciate the trust NASA has placed in SpaceX with the order of another crew mission and look forward to flying astronauts from American soil next year.”

SpaceX is building four Crew Dragon spacecraft at its Hawthorne facility — two for qualification testing and two for flight tests next year. The company also is in the process of modifying Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, from which the company will launch future crewed missions to the space station.

A standard commercial crew mission to the station will carry as many as four crew members and about 220 pounds of pressurized cargo, and remain at the station for as long as 210 days, available as an emergency lifeboat during that time.

“With the commercial crew vehicles from Boeing and SpaceX, we will soon add a seventh crew member to space station missions, which will significantly increase the amount of crew time to conduct research,” said Julie Robinson, NASA’s International Space Station chief scientist. “Given the number of investigations waiting for the crew to be able to complete their research, having more crew members will enable NASA and our partners to significantly increase the important research being done every day for the benefit of all humanity.”

Orders under the CCtCap contracts are made two to three years prior to actual mission dates in order to provide time for each company to manufacture and assemble the launch vehicle and spacecraft. Each company also must successfully complete a certification process before NASA will give the final approval for flight.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manages the CCtCap contracts and is working with each company to ensure commercial transportation system designs and post-certification missions will meet the agency’s safety requirements. Activities that follow the award of missions include a series of mission-related reviews and approvals leading to launch. The program also will be involved in all operational phases of missions.

NASA names Kirk Shireman manager of the ISS Program

September 1st, 2015

The space station is one of the brightest objects in the sky. Photo: NASA

The space station is one of the brightest objects in the sky. Photo: NASA

Kirk A. Shireman has been named manager of the International Space Station Program by William H. Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.

Shireman has served as deputy director of the Johnson Space Center since 2013.

He replaces Michael T. Suffredini, who is leaving the agency to take a position in private industry after 10 years as manager of the ISS Program.

Kirk A. Shireman

Kirk A. Shireman

“Kirk brings considerable space station experience to this new leadership role. He will manage the overall development, integration and operation of the program,” said Gerstenmaier. “As ISS program manager, Kirk will work directly with the program’s international partners to ensure safe and reliable operation of the orbiting laboratory, and foster scientific research that benefits humanity and helps prepare us for our journey to Mars.”

Prior to his role as deputy center director, Shireman served as deputy ISS program manager from 2006 to 2013. He also served as the chairman of the ISS Mission Management Team after managing several subsystem offices, and managed multiple offices for NASA’s Space Shuttle Program. He earned a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from Texas A&M University and began his career with NASA in 1985 in the Navigation, Control & Aeronautics Division.

“During Mike’s tenure as head of the program, the international project successfully completed construction and transitioned into a fully functional microgravity laboratory,” added Gerstenmaier.

“Under his leadership, the station opened avenues for a new commercial marketplace in space and established a platform for groundbreaking research.”

Since Suffredini became program manager in 2005, the space station evolved to become the springboard to NASA’s next great leap in exploration, enabling research and technology developments that will benefit human and robotic exploration of destinations beyond low-Earth orbit, including asteroids and Mars. To date, more than 1,700 research experiments have been conducted aboard the station, bringing together researchers from over 80 countries in an effort to better the lives for all of humanity.

Suffredini joined NASA in January 1989. He has a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas at Austin.