Houstonian rounds out SpaceX expedition crew

April 1st, 2020

Shannon Walker

By Mary Alys Cherry

Houston native Dr. Shannon Walker has been assigned by NASA to the first crewed flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station.

So rest assured, the eyes of Texas will be on Walker as she joins NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover Jr., as well as Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), for a six-month expedition aboard the unique space laboratory.

This mission, the space agency said, will be the first in a series of regular, rotational flights to the station following NASA’s certification of the new crewed system following completion and validation of SpaceX’s test flight with astronauts, known as Demo-2. This test is expected to take place in mid-to-late May as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Once it proves to be a success, the four will launch aboard Crew Dragon on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, currently planned for later this year.

After  graduating from Westbury High in Houston in 1983, Walker received her B.A. in Physics from Rice University in Houston in 1987 and began her career as a robotics flight controller for the space shuttle with Rockwell Space Operations Co. at NASA’s Johnson Space Center soon afterwards. From 1990 to 1993, she took a leave of absence to attend graduate school, where her area of study was the solar wind interaction with the Venusian atmosphere.

She joined NASA in 1995, working on robotics and avionics hardware for the space station with the program’s international partners after earning her Master of Science and Ph.D in Space Physics from Rice in 1992 and 1993, respectively. NASA selected her in the 2004 astronaut class. As an astronaut, she spent 163 days as a flight engineer aboard the ISS for Expeditions 24 and 25 in 2010. She is married to astronaut Andy Thomas.

Previously, NASA had assigned Glover and Hopkins to the first SpaceX crewed mission in August 2018. This will be the first spaceflight for Glover and the second for Hopkins, who lived aboard the space station from September 2013 to March 2014 as part of Expeditions 37 and 38.

It will be the third spaceflight for Noguchi, who flew on the STS-114 space shuttle mission in 2005 and was a ISS crew member from December 2009 to June 2010 on Expeditions 22 and 23.

NASA said its “Commercial Crew Program is working with the American aerospace industry as companies develop and operate a new generation of spacecraft and launch systems capable of carrying crews to low-Earth orbit and to the space station. Commercial transportation to and from the station will provide expanded utility, additional research time and broader opportunities for discovery on the orbital outpost.”

The station is a critical testbed for NASA to understand and overcome the challenges of long-duration spaceflight. As commercial companies focus on providing human transportation services to and from low-Earth orbit, NASA is free to focus on building spacecraft and rockets for deep space missions.

Leidos Webster

March 30th, 2020

Tanya Hanway and Ernest Sanchez explain that Leidos’ name comes from the word “kaleidoscope” to represent the company’s ability to solve difficult problems by applying different perspectives, unlocking new insights, and making new discoveries.

A Kaleidoscope of Space Supplies and Innovation to the ISS and Beyond

From a 55,000 Sq Ft facility on Forge River Road in Webster, Leidos supports human spaceflight and deep space exploration to enable NASA’s next great discovery. Leidos’ local team of innovators works on numerous NASA programs spanning mission operations, research and engineering, payload processing, food development, human spaceflight, and IT support. Just about everything astronauts aboard the International Space Station touch, wear, consume, and do bears Leidos’ signature. From laptops to space suits, tortillas, toothpaste, and experiments, Leidos has shipped more than 210,000 pounds of supplies to the International Space Station.

In Webster, Leidos’ focus is enabling NASA’s mission of driving innovation in science, technology, aeronautics, and space exploration. The 129-member team inside the Forge River Road facility and 284-member team on site at Johnson Space Center prepare astronauts for space travel, zero-gravity living, and daily work aboard the largest spacecraft ever built—the International Space Station (ISS)—which circles the earth at 17,000 mph and is the astronauts’ habitat for an average of six-month intervals.

Inside Leidos’ Cargo Processing Facility, Cargo Mission Contract Program Manager Ernest Sanchez; Division Manager of NASA Programs Nan Hardin; and Research, Engineering, Mission Integration Services Program Manager Tanya Hanway hold kits of essential supplies, like food and hygiene towels, bound for the ISS. Prior to transport, cargo undergoes about 200 different processes inside the Webster facility.

Special Delivery to the ISS and Beyond

Leidos’ development of clothing, gear, food, and equipment for those aboard the ISS holds significant ramifications for space colonies on the moon, Mars, and beyond. Logistics falls into this category, as well. Just as astronauts on the ISS require regular deliveries of experiment equipment, spare parts, food, air, and water, those who inhabit space outposts will need resupplies, too. Leidos’ expertise in planning, processing, and packing more than 400,000 pounds of supplies annually to the ISS is of critical importance—especially when every ounce matters. Leidos inventories, labels, and fit-checks each piece of hardware and soft goods, like a puzzle, to fit within a cargo transfer bag. Leidos’ very name, which appears in the word “kaleidoscope” to convey a constantly changing shape and form, represents the company’s innovative mindset toward solving problems and making new discoveries. Leidos’ prowess in technology and its far-reaching science and research applications play a vital role in human space activity.

kaLEIDOScope Leidos Innovates

Under NASA’s Cargo Mission Contract (CMC) in the Webster facility, Leidos processes cargo to enable astronauts’ daily health, welfare, and work aboard the ISS. The sheer number of steps and scope of work involved in making, assembling, processing, inventorying, labeling, testing, imaging, certifying, and integrating everything that is sent to ISS crewmembers is mind-boggling. Shipments often include crew provisions, hand tools, equipment, cameras, batteries and power supplies, research experiments, and ISS hardware.

Space-rated Yeti™

The majority of the thousands of different experiments and critical systems hardware that are bound for space are developed at various facilities and sent to Leidos’ Webster team for packaging and packing for launch to orbit.  However, Leidos also plays a critical role in fabricating and developing products for use in space. For example, when NASA wanted to research a low cost, low risk alternative for passively transporting frozen items to the ISS, Leidos’ engineers were charged with developing a custom Passive Cold Stowage Box (PCSB) that could maintain subzero temperatures for up to a week without battery or vehicle power.  Essentially, NASA asked if Leidos could develop and certify a space-rated Yeti®, and within months, the ISS crew was surprised with a shipment of frozen fruit bars to the ISS to enjoy as proof of concept. Leidos has developed many useful and innovative solutions, including a reliable power supply for laptops, a larger, safer, and more efficient food warmer, and a multi-layer insulation blanket needed to protect cargo from extreme temperatures that is fully compatible with the ISS robotic arm.

Inside the Decal Lab, 8,000 to 10,000 decals are created each month to support ISS missions. Decals, labels, and placards are generated for everything—contents, barcodes, tracking info, serial numbers, operating instructions, and safety.

Shipments to ISS average between 4,000 and 7,700 pounds

Inside Leidos’ Webster CMC facility, packaging takes on a completely new meaning. Bubble bags, Ziplocs, and Velcro abound inside the main cargo processing room, as well as the ubiquitous cargo transfer bags that come in various sizes to hold just about everything. Special shipping containers and lifts to handle heavy equipment are complemented by imaging services, HAZMAT assessments, and Department of Transportation coordination. Cargo kits become part of cargo transfer bags, which are clearly labeled and contain stringent inventory data to ensure that all hardware is handled in accordance with safety protocols. Electronic Launch Return On-Orbit Data Sets (eLRODS) protect hardware during all phases of processing—from receipt, ground handling, and delivery to the ISS. Custom foam enclosures made in the Foam Operations Lab protect flight hardware, just as decals, labels, and placards created in the Decal Lab protect and aid astronauts, so they know the precise sequencing for unpacking, setup, and operations. Labels are created in accordance with stringent NASA flight-approved materials and certifications and contain essential safety, inventory, tracking, and operating information.

Leidos’ work is not all inventorying, packaging, and labeling. The Webster team also works to ensure astronauts are healthy and comfortable. In fact, Leidos touts a seamstress who tailors clothing for astronauts and fabricates specialty items and equipment. Buttons on shorts or pants must be replaced with Velcro closures, and pockets with straps or closures must be added. Special equipment and soft goods are also fabricated inside the Webster facility. For instance, Leidos designed a camera covering that allows an astronaut’s huge, thick glove to handle and actuate buttons on the camera during a spacewalk or extra vehicular activity (EVA).

Leidos also considers toiletries and astronaut hygiene in its cargo preparation.  Every kilogram counts for payloads; water must be imported to the ISS, as no method for cleaning clothes currently exists. This means astronauts receive a single clothing kit, clearly labeled for two weeks’ worth of wear. A change of outfit might transpire twice a week. Astronauts can choose among their favorite brands for hygiene products, such as shampoo, toothpaste and deodorant—many of which will be outfitted with a Velcro backing.

Ernest Sanchez displays a 3D printed mock-up of the Keyence BZ-X800E All-In-One Fluorescence Microscope, an automated microscope with high-resolution imaging and analysis system, that was recently certified by Leidos for use on the ISS.

Manifest to Delivery: Six Weeks 13-15 Flights to ISS Annually

While food is made off-site, all of it is labeled, packaged, and processed in Webster where it’s categorized, numbered, placed into kits, and pressurized for transport. Factors, like nutrition, digestion, dietary conditions, shelf life, and zero-gravity have a huge role in determining what astronauts eat. A four-pound bag labeled “fruits and nuts,” for example, contains individual bags of almonds, apples with spice, applesauce, berry medley, cashews, dried apricots, dried pears, fruit cocktail, macadamia nuts, peaches, peanut butter, peanuts, and more—clearly listed in alphabetical order with tracking or inventory number.

Just as Leidos processes nearly all of the cargo that goes to the ISS, the Webster facility is the repository for returning payloads, as well. This includes time-sensitive or temperature-critical experiments, research materials, malfunctioning hardware, and used, but valuable, gear and equipment. The constant challenge to innovate and develop new modes for life and work in space is Leidos’ focus in Webster and at Johnson Space Center.

Next Stop: Lunar Station

Leidos is poised now to be the supplier to Gateway—the lunar orbital platform that brings astronauts to the moon to operate a space station and serves as a “gateway” for deep space missions. Under the Research, Engineering, Mission Integration Services (REMIS) contract, Leidos is currently developing the navigation and alignment aides for the Gateway Program to ensure safe docking of the various modules. Additionally, as commercialization of low earth orbit continues to ramp up rapidly, Leidos’ unparalleled expertise in logistics, research, engineering, IT, and mission integration services is in demand.

With a track record of success at NASA centers across the country, Leidos provides the mission understanding and technical expertise necessary to support advancements in space exploration and human spaceflight across the public and private space sector. From enterprise IT modernization to operations and logistics to systems engineering and integration, Leidos stands ready to support NASA in achieving its next discovery.

NASA Selects First Commercial Destination Module for International Space Station

January 28th, 2020

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 12:29 p.m. EST on Dec. 5, 2019, carrying the Dragon spacecraft on the company’s 19th Commercial Resupply Services mission to the International Space Station. Credits: NASA/Tony Gray, Tim Terry and Kevin O’Connell

NASA has selected Axiom Space of Houston to provide at least one habitable commercial module to be attached to the International Space Station as the agency continues to open the station for commercial use.

“NASA has once again recognized the hard work, talent, and experience of Houstonians as we expand the International Space Station and promote commercial opportunities in space,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas. “I’m proud Axiom will continue to build upon Texas’ legacy of leading the nation in human space exploration.”

This selection is a significant step toward enabling the development of independent commercial destinations that meet NASA’s long-terms needs in low-Earth orbit, beyond the life of the space station, and continue to foster the growth of a robust low-Earth orbit economy.

Today’s announcement is an exciting and welcome step forward in the efforts to commercialize low-Earth orbit,” said Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. “This partnership between NASA and Axiom Space – a Houston, Texas original – illustrates how critically important the International Space Station is, and will continue to be, for developing new technologies for low-Earth orbit and beyond, and for continuing America’s leadership in space. Congratulations to Axiom Space on this exciting award – Houston is known as Space City for a reason, and I look forward to this great Space City company and NASA turning this announcement into reality.”

The element will attach to the space station’s Node 2 forward port to demonstrate its ability to provide products and services and begin the transition to a sustainable economy in which NASA is one of many customers. NASA and Axiom next will begin negotiations on the terms and price of a firm-fixed-price contract with a five-year base performance period and a two-year option.

“Congratulations to Axiom Space! This is not only a win for Texas, Johnson Space Center, and the International Space Station, it is also a great step forward for NASA as we move towards an increased commercial presence in low-Earth orbit,” said Rep. Brian Babin of Texas. “I am proud to see this work coming to Space City – Houston, Texas – as the Lone Star State continues to lead in space exploration well into the future.”

Developing commercial destinations in low-Earth orbit is one of five elements of NASA’s plan to open the International Space Station to new commercial and marketing opportunities. The other elements of the five-point plan include efforts to make station and crew resources available for commercial use through a new commercial use and pricing policy; enable private astronaut missions to the station; seek out and pursue opportunities to stimulate long-term, sustainable demand for these services; and quantify NASA’s long-term demand for activities in low-Earth orbit.

“Axiom’s work to develop a commercial destination in space is a critical step for NASA to meet its long-term needs for astronaut training, scientific research, and technology demonstrations in low-Earth orbit,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “We are transforming the way NASA works with industry to benefit the global economy and advance space exploration. It is a similar partnership that this year will return the capability of American astronauts to launch to the space station on American rockets from American soil.”

NASA selected Axiom from proposals submitted in response to a solicitation through Appendix I of NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) 2 Broad Agency Announcement, which offered private industry use of the station utilities and a port to attach one or more commercial elements to the orbiting laboratory.

Because commercial destinations are considered a key element of a robust economy in low-Earth orbit, NASA also plans to issue a final opportunity to partner with the agency in the development of a free-flying, independent commercial destination. Through these combined efforts to develop commercial destinations, NASA is set to meet its long-term needs in low-Earth orbit well beyond the life of the station.

The agency will continue to need low-Earth orbit microgravity research and testing to enable future missions to the Moon and Mars, including the arrival of the first woman and next man on the Moon with the Artemis III mission as part of the agency’s Artemis lunar exploration plans.

Learn more about NASA’s efforts to develop a robust low-Earth orbit economy at: https://www.nasa.gov/leo-economy

Follow station activities on the station blog at space station blog, or on social media at @space_station, @ISS_Research, ISS Facebook and ISS Instagram.

 

SpaceX Crew Dragon flight test a success

April 1st, 2019

A two-stage SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for Demo-1, the first uncrewed mission of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. Photo: NASA

For the first time in history, a commercially-built and operated American crew spacecraft and rocket, which launched from American soil, successfully made its way to the International Space Station and back home.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft lifted off March 2 on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

About six hours after departing the space station March 8, Crew Dragon splashed down at 8:45 a.m. EST approximately 230 miles off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Fla. SpaceX retrieved the spacecraft from the Atlantic Ocean and transported it back to port on the company’s recovery ship.

“Today’s successful re-entry and recovery of the Crew Dragon capsule after its first mission to the International Space Station marked another important milestone in the future of human spaceflight,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “I want to once again congratulate the NASA and SpaceX teams on an incredible week. Our Commercial Crew Program is one step closer to launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil. I am proud of the great work that has been done to get us to this point.”
Later on Crew Dragon’s return, Bridenstine added, “Today’s successful (return) marks a new chapter in American excellence, getting us closer to once again flying American astronauts on American rockets from American soil. I proudly congratulate the SpaceX and NASA teams for this major milestone in our nation’s space history. This first launch of a space system designed for humans, and built and operated by a commercial company through a public-private partnership, is a revolutionary step on our path to get humans to the Moon, Mars and beyond.”

Known as Demo-1, SpaceX’s inaugural flight with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is an important uncrewed mission designed to test the end-to-end capabilities of the new system. It brings the nation one-step closer to the return of human launches to the space station from the United States for the first time since 2011 – the last space shuttle mission.
Teams still have work to do after this flight to prepare the spacecraft to fly astronauts. The best way to advance the system design was to fly this spacecraft and uncover any other areas or integrated flight changes that might be required.

The program demonstrates NASA’s commitment to investing in commercial companies through public-private partnerships and builds on the success of American companies, including SpaceX, already delivering cargo to the space station. Demo-1 is a critical step for NASA and SpaceX to demonstrate the ability to safely fly missions with NASA astronauts to the orbital laboratory.

“I’d also like to express great appreciation for NASA,” said Elon Musk, CEO and lead designer at SpaceX. “SpaceX would not be here without NASA, without the incredible work that was done before SpaceX even started and without the support after SpaceX did start.”

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.