NASA’S FIRST ALL-WOMAN SPACEWALK

November 1st, 2019

NASA astronauts Jessica Meir (left) and Christina Koch are inside the Quest airlock preparing the U.S. spacesuits and tools they used on their first spacewalk together. The Expedition 61 flight engineers are holding the pistol grip tools they used to swap out a failed power controller, also known as a battery charge-discharge unit, that regulates the charge to batteries that collect and distribute power to the International Space Station. Photo: NASA

Astronauts Koch, Meir make first all-woman spacewalk

Astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir completed NASA’s first all-woman spacewalk on Friday, Oct. 18.

During the 7-hour, 17-minute spacewalk, the pair replaced a failed power controller and completed several other tasks in preparation for future spacewalks.

It was the first spaceflight for both women, who were selected as astronaut candidates in 2013 as part of the first class, of which 50% were women.

Meir was the 15th woman to spacewalk, and the 14th U.S. woman. It will be the 43rd spacewalk to include a woman. Women have been performing spacewalks since 1984, when Russian cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya spacewalked in July and NASA astronaut Kathryn Sullivan conducted a spacewalk in October.

Lockheed wins contract for Orion Moon missions

September 25th, 2019

Jim Bridenstine

By Mary Alys Cherry

NASA has awarded Lockheed Martin a contract to build the Orion spacecraft for up to 12 lunar missions, with the work to be managed here at Johnson Space Center.

Value of the initial contract is $2.7 billion, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in announcing plans for as many as a dozen Artemis, or lunar, missions, including the mission that will carry the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024.

“This contract secures Orion production through the next decade, demonstrating NASA’s commitment to establishing a sustainable presence at the Moon to bring back new knowledge and prepare for sending astronauts to Mars,” Bridenstine said. “Orion is a highly-capable, state-of-the-art spacecraft, designed specifically for deep space missions with astronauts, and an integral part of NASA’s infrastructure for Artemis missions and future exploration of the solar system.”

Spacecraft production for the Orion program will focus on reusability and building a sustainable presence on the lunar surface, he added.

“This is a great day for the men and women at Johnson Space Center. They are crucial to our national space program, and have an undeniable legacy and record of success in advancing America’s leadership in the human exploration of space,” said Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

“I am pleased that Administrator Bridenstine has heeded my calls and is taking significant steps to ensure that Johnson continues to grow with the exciting future of manned exploration that lies ahead. More needs to be done, and I look forward to production ramping up in the weeks and months to come and to more opportunities with NASA.”

The contract with Lockheed includes a commitment to order a minimum of six and a maximum of 12 Orion spacecraft, with an ordering period through Sept. 30, 2030. Production and operations of the spacecraft for six to 12 missions, NASA said, will establish a core set of capabilities, stabilize the production process, and demonstrate reusability of spacecraft components.

“This contract secures Orion production through the next decade, demonstrating NASA’s commitment to establishing a sustainable presence at the Moon to bring back new knowledge and prepare for sending astronauts to Mars,” Bridenstine said. “Orion is a highly-capable, state-of-the-art spacecraft, designed specifically for deep space missions with astronauts, and an integral part of NASA’s infrastructure for Artemis missions and future exploration of the solar system.”

With this award, the space agency explained that it is ordering three Orion spacecraft for Artemis missions III through V for $2.7 billion. The agency also plans to order three additional Orion capsules in fiscal year 2022 for Artemis missions VI through VIII, at a total of $1.9 billion.

NASA Satellite Spots a Mystery That’s Gone in a Flash

September 9th, 2019

Pops of bright blue and green in this image of the Fireworks galaxy (NGC 6946) show the locations of extremely bright sources of X-ray light captured by NASA’s NuSTAR space observatory. Generated by some of the most energetic processes in the universe, these X-ray sources are rare compared to the many visible light sources in the background image. A new study, published in the Astrophysical Journal, offers some possible explanations for the surprise appearance of the green source near the center of the galaxy, which came into view and disappeared in a matter of weeks.

The primary objective of the NuSTAR observations was to study the supernova — the explosion of a star much more massive than our Sun — that appears as a bright blue-green spot at upper right. These violent events can briefly produce enough visible light to outshine entire galaxies consisting of billions of stars. They also generate many of the chemical elements in our universe that are heavier than iron.

The green blob near the bottom of the galaxy wasn’t visible during the first NuSTAR observation but was burning bright at the start of a second observation 10 days later. NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory later observed that the source — known as an ultraluminous X-ray source, or ULX — had disappeared just as quickly. The object has since been named ULX-4 because it is the fourth ULX identified in this galaxy. No visible light was detected with the X-ray source, a fact that most likely rules out the possibility that it is also a supernova.

“Ten days is a really short amount of time for such a bright object to appear,” said Hannah Earnshaw, a postdoctoral researcher at Caltech in Pasadena, California, and lead author on the new study. “Usually with NuSTAR, we observe more gradual changes over time, and we don’t often observe a source multiple times in quick succession. In this instance, we were fortunate to catch a source changing extremely quickly, which is very exciting.”

Possible Black Hole

The new study explores the possibility that the light came from a black hole consuming another object, such as a star. If an object gets too close to a black hole, gravity can pull that object apart, bringing the debris into a close orbit around the black hole. Material at the inner edge of this newly formed disk starts moving so fast that it heats up to millions of degrees and radiates X-rays. (The surface of the Sun, by comparison, is about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, or 5,500 degrees Celsius.)

Most ULXs are typically long-lived because they’re created by a dense object, like a black hole, that “feeds” on the star for an extended period of time. Short-lived, or “transient,” X-ray sources like ULX-4 are far more rare, so a single dramatic event — like a black hole quickly destroying a small star — might explain the observation.

However, ULX-4 might not be a one-off event, and the paper’s authors explored other potential explanations for this object. One possibility: The source of ULX-4 could be a neutron star. Neutron stars are extremely dense objects formed from the explosion of a star that wasn’t massive enough to form a black hole. With about the same mass as our Sun but packed into an object about the size of a large city, neutron stars can, like black holes, draw in material and create a fast-moving disk of debris. These can also generate slow-feeding ultraluminous X-ray sources, although the X-ray light is produced through slightly different processes than in ULXs created by black holes.

Neutron stars generate magnetic fields so strong they can create “columns” that channel material down to the surface, generating powerful X-rays in the process. But if the neutron star spins especially fast, those magnetic fields can create a barrier, making it impossible for material to reach the star’s surface.

“It would kind of be like trying to jump onto a carousel that’s spinning at thousands of miles per hour,” said Earnshaw.

The barrier effect would prevent the star from being a bright source of X-rays except for those times when the magnetic barrier might waver briefly, allowing material to slip through and fall onto the neutron star’s surface. This could be another possible explanation for the sudden appearance and disappearance of ULX-4. If the same source were to light up again, it might support this hypothesis.

“This result is a step towards understanding some of the rarer and more extreme cases in which matter accretes onto black holes or neutron stars,” Earnshaw said.

NuSTAR is a Small Explorer mission led by Caltech and managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. NuSTAR was developed in partnership with the Danish Technical University and the Italian Space Agency (ASI). The spacecraft was built by Orbital Sciences Corp. in Dulles, Virginia. NuSTAR’s mission operations center is at the University of California Berkeley, and the official data archive is at NASA’s High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center. ASI provides the mission’s ground station and a mirror archive. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

To read more about NASA’s NuSTAR mission, go here: https://www.nustar.caltech.edu/

NASA Marshall to Lead Artemis Program’s Human Lunar Lander Development

August 16th, 2019

On Aug. 16, 2019, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., will lead the Human Landing System Program. Bridenstine was joined by Representatives Mo Brooks and Robert Aderholt of Alabama and Representative Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee. NASA will rapidly develop the lander for safely carrying the first woman and the next man to the Moon’s surface in 2024. The Artemis missions will start with launch by the world’s most powerful rocket, NASA’s Space Launch System, also managed by Marshall. Bridenstine made the announcement in front of the 149-foot-tall SLS liquid hydrogen structural test article, currently being tested to help ensure the structure can safely launch astronauts on the Artemis lunar missions.
Credits: NASA Television

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine was joined Friday by U.S. Representatives Mo Brooks and Robert Aderholt of Alabama and Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee at the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, to announce the center’s new role leading the agency’s Human Landing System Program for its return to the Moon by 2024.

“Marshall Space Flight Center is the birthplace of America’s space program. It was Marshall scientists and engineers who designed, built, tested, and helped launch the giant Saturn V rocket that carried astronauts on the Apollo missions to the Moon,” Brooks said. “Marshall has unique capabilities and expertise not found at other NASA centers. I’m pleased NASA has chosen Marshall to spearhead a key component of America’s return to the Moon and usher in the Artemis era. Thanks to Administrator Bridenstine for travelling here to share the great news in person.”

Bridenstine discussed the announcement in front of the 149-foot-tall Space Launch System (SLS) rocket liquid hydrogen tank structural test article currently being tested.

“We greatly appreciate the support shown here today by our representatives in Congress for NASA’s Artemis program and America’s return to the Moon, where we will prepare for our greatest feat for humankind – putting astronauts on Mars,” Bridenstine said. “We focus on a ‘One NASA’ integrated approach that uses the technical capabilities of many centers. Marshall has the right combination of expertise and experience to accomplish this critical piece of the mission.”

Informed by years of expertise in propulsion systems integration and technology development, engineers at Marshall will work with American companies to rapidly develop, integrate, and demonstrate a human lunar landing system that can launch to the Gateway, pick up astronauts and ferry them between the Gateway and the surface of the Moon.

“Marshall Space Flight Center, and North Alabama, have played a key role in every American human mission to space since the days of Mercury 7. I am proud that Marshall has been selected to be the lead for the landers program,” said Aderholt. “I am also very proud that Marshall has designed and built the rocket system, the Space Launch System, which will make missions to the Moon and Mars possible. We look forward to working with our industry partners and our NASA partners from around the country.”

NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, which manages major NASA human spaceflight programs including the Gateway, Orion, Commercial Crew and International Space Station, will oversee all aspects related to preparing the landers and astronauts to work together. Johnson also will manage all Artemis missions, beginning with Artemis 1, the first integrated test of NASA’s deep space exploration systems.

The trip to Marshall came the day after Bridenstine visited NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, where he viewed progress on the SLS core stage that will power NASA’s Artemis 1 lunar mission. With the start of testing in June on the liquid hydrogen tank article, and the recent arrival of the liquid oxygen tank at Marshall, which manages the SLS Program, NASA is more than halfway through SLS structural testing.

“The Tennessee Valley, including Huntsville and stretching across Middle Tennessee, is a dynamic, exciting region, home to thousands of men and women – working at both public and private institutions – who are leading the United States into the next age of space exploration,” said DesJarlais. “As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I am thrilled to visit one of our country’s premier facilities, near Arnold Air Force Base and others, developing the latest spaceflight technology. NASA’s Artemis program will help our country to create another American Century. We can be proud of our achievements, especially here at the Marshall Space Flight Center.”

NASA recently issued a draft solicitation and requested comments from American companies interested in providing an integrated human landing system – a precursor to the final solicitation targeted for release in the coming months. The agency’s human lunar exploration plans are based on a two-phase approach: the first is focused on speed – landing on the Moon within five years, while the second will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028. The agency will use what we learn on the Moon to prepare for the next giant leap – sending astronauts to Mars.

For more on NASA’s Artemis program, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/artemis/

NASA announces U.S. industry partnerships to advance Moon, Mars technology

August 1st, 2019

Illustration of a human landing system and crew on the lunar surface with Earth near the horizon. Credits: NASA

As NASA prepares to land humans on the Moon by 2024 with the Artemis program, commercial companies are developing new technologies, working toward space ventures of their own, and looking to NASA for assistance. NASA has selected 10 U.S. companies for 19 partnerships to mature industry-developed space technologies and help maintain American leadership in space.

NASA centers will partner with the companies, which range from small businesses with fewer than a dozen employees to large aerospace organizations, to provide expertise, facilities, hardware and software at no cost. The partnerships will advance the commercial space sector and help bring new capabilities to market that could benefit future NASA missions.

“NASA’s proven experience and unique facilities are helping commercial companies mature their technologies at a competitive pace,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). “We’ve identified technology areas NASA needs for future missions, and these public-private partnerships will accelerate their development so we can implement them faster.”

The selections were made through NASA’s Announcement of Collaboration Opportunity(ACO) released in October 2018. They will result in non-reimbursable Space Act Agreements between the companies and NASA. The selections cover the following technology focus areas, which are important to America’s Moon to Mars exploration approach.

Advanced Communications, Navigation and Avionics

  • Advanced Space of Boulder, Colorado, will partner with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, to advance lunar navigation technologies. The collaboration will help mature a navigation system between Earth and the Moon that could supplement NASA’s Deep Space Network and support future exploration missions.
  • Vulcan Wireless of Carlsbad, California, also will partner with Goddard to test a CubeSat radio transponder and its compatibility with NASA’s Space Network.

Advanced Materials

  • Aerogel Technologies of Boston will work with NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland to improve properties of flexible aerogels for rocket fairings and other aerospace applications. The material can result in 25% weight savings over soundproofing materials currently used in rocket fairings.
  • Lockheed Martin of Littleton, Colorado, will work with NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, to test materials made from metal powders using solid-state processing to improve the design of spacecraft that operate in high-temperature environments.
  • Spirit AeroSystem Inc. of Wichita, Kansas, will partner with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, to improve the durability of low-cost reusable rockets manufactured using friction stir welding. This welding method, already being used for NASA’s Space Launch System, results in a stronger, more defect-free seal compared to traditional methods of joining materials with welding torches.

Entry, Decent and Landing

  • Anasphere of Bozeman, Montana, will partner with Marshall to test a compact hydrogen generator for inflating heat shields, which could help deliver larger payloads to Mars.
  • Bally Ribbon Mills of Bally, Pennsylvania, will perform thermal testing in the Arc Jet Complex at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. The facility will be used to test a new seamless weave for a mechanically deployable carbon fabric heat shield.
  • Blue Origin of Kent, Washington, will collaborate with NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and Goddard to mature a navigation and guidance system for safe and precise landing at a range of locations on the Moon.
  • Sierra Nevada Corporation of Sparks, Nevada, will work with NASA on two entry, decent and landing projects. The company will partner with Langley to capture infrared images of their Dream Chaser spacecraft as it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere traveling faster than the speed of sound.
  • For the second collaboration, Sierra Nevada Corporation and Langley will mature a method to recover the upper stage of a rocket using a deployable decelerator.
  • SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, will work with NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to advance their technology to vertically land large rockets on the Moon. This includes advancing models to assess engine plume interaction with lunar regolith.

In-Space Manufacturing and Assembly

  • Maxar Technologies of Palo Alto, California, will work with Langley to build a breadboard – a base for prototyping electronics – for a deployable, semi-rigid radio antenna. In-orbit assembly of large structures like antennae will enhance the performance of assets in space. Such capabilities could enable entirely new exploration missions that are currently size-constrained and reduce launch costs due to improved packaging.

Power

  • Blue Origin will partner with Glenn and Johnson to mature a fuel cell power system for the company’s Blue Moon lander. The system could provide uninterrupted power during the lunar night, which lasts for about two weeks in most locations.
  • Maxar will test lightweight solar cells for flexible solar panels using facilities at Glenn and Marshall that mimic the environment of space. The technology could be used by future spacecraft to provide more power with a lower mass system.

Propulsion

  • Aerojet Rocketdyne of Canoga Park, California, and Marshall will design and manufacture a lightweight rocket engine combustion chamber using innovative processes and materials. The goal of the project is to reduce manufacturing costs and make the chamber scalable for different missions.
  • Blue Origin, Marshall and Langley will evaluate and mature high-temperature materials for liquid rocket engine nozzles that could be used on lunar landers.
  • Colorado Power Electronics Inc. of Fort Collins, Colorado, will partner with Glenn to mature power processing unit technology that extends the operating range of Hall thrusters, which are primarily used on Earth-orbiting satellites and can also be used for deep space missions. By integrating their technology with NASA and commercial Hall thrusters, the company expects to provide a propulsion system that can significantly increase mission payload or extend mission durations.
  • SpaceX will work with Glenn and Marshall to advance technology needed to transfer propellant in orbit, an important step in the development of the company’s Starship space vehicle.

Other Exploration Technologies

  • Lockheed Martin will partner with Kennedy to test technologies and operations for autonomous in-space plant growth systems. Integrating robotics with plant systems could help NASA harvest plants on future platforms in deep space.

Through ACO, NASA helps reduce the development cost of technologies and accelerate the infusion of emerging commercial capabilities into space missions. As the agency embarks on its next era of exploration, STMD is focused on advancing technologies and testing new capabilities for use at the Moon that also will be critical for crewed missions to Mars.

For more information about NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/spacetech

America Loses a Legend With Death of Chris Kraft

August 1st, 2019

By Mary Alys Cherry

Those were the words of NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstein as he announced the passing of the legendary Chris Kraft, who was not only NASA’s first flight director, but a man who played a key role in helping build the Johnson Space Center and create the concept of Mission Control, which is housed in the building aptly named the Christopher C. Kraft Jr. Mission Control Center.

Kraft died Monday, July 22, just two days after America celebrated the 50th anniversary of the landing on the moon, which he helped direct. He was 95.

“Chris was one of the core team members that helped our nation put humans in space and on the Moon, and his legacy is immeasurable,” Bridenstein said. His engineering talents were put to work for our nation at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, before NASA even existed, but it was his legendary work to establish mission control, as we know it, for the earliest crewed space flights that perhaps most strongly advanced our journey of discovery.

“Chris was flight director at some of the most iconic moments of space history, as humans first orbited the Earth and stepped outside of an orbiting spacecraft. For his work, he was awarded the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal by President John F. Kennedy. Chris later led the Johnson Space Center, known then as the Manned Spacecraft Center, as our human exploration work reached for new heights following the Apollo Program. We stand on his shoulders as we reach deeper into the solar system, and he will always be with us on those journeys.”

Christopher Columbus Kraft Jr. joined the NASA Space Task Group in November 1958 as NASA’s first flight director, with responsibilities that immersed him in mission procedures and challenging operational issues.

During the Apollo program, he became the director of Flight Operations, responsible for all human spaceflight mission planning, training and execution. After serving as deputy director of the center for three years, he was named JSC director in January 1972 – a post he held until his retirement in August 1982, playing a vital role in the success of the final Apollo missions, the Skylab crewed space station, the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project and the first flights of the space shuttle.

Kraft was born Feb. 28, 1924 in Hampton, Va. After high school, he enrolled at Virginia Polytechnic Institute (VPI, now Virginia Tech) and enrolled in mechanical engineering in 1941 but later decided to major in aeronautical engineering. In 1944, he graduated with one of the first degrees in that field awarded by the Institute and was hired by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the predecessor organization to NASA. He worked for over a decade in aeronautical research before being asked in 1958, when NASA was formed, to join the Space Task Group, a small team entrusted with the responsibility of putting America’s first man in space.

Kraft was invited by Robert Gilruth to become a part of a new group that was working on the problems of putting a man into orbit. Without much hesitation, he accepted the offer. When the Space Task Group was officially formed on Nov. 5, Kraft became one of the original 35 engineers to be assigned to Project Mercury, America’s man-in-space program.
As a member of the Space Task Group, Kraft was assigned to the flight operations division, which made plans and arrangements for the operation of the Mercury spacecraft during flight and for the control and monitoring of missions from the ground.

Since his retirement from NASA, Kraft has consulted for numerous companies including IBM and Rockwell International, served as a Director-at-Large of the Houston Chamber of Commerce, and as a member of the Board of Visitors at Virginia Tech. In 2001, he published an autobiography entitled “Flight: My Life in Mission Control.” His book is a detailed discussion of his life through the end of the Apollo program, and was a New York Times bestseller.

He has received numerous awards and honors for his work, including the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal; four NASA Distinguished Service Medals; the Distinguished Alumnus Citation from Virginia Tech, in 1965; and the John F. Kennedy Astronautics Award for 1996. In 1999, he was presented the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement for which he was cited as “A driving force in the U.S. human space-flight program from its beginnings to the Space Shuttle era, a man whose accomplishments have become legendary.”

Chris Kraft married his high school sweetheart, Betty Anne Turnbull, in 1950. They have a son and a daughter, Gordon and Kristi-Anne.

Business Buzz

August 1st, 2019

Port Houston Commission Chairman Ric Campos, second from left, arrives at the Bay Area Houston Transportation Partnership reception in his honor at the Marriott Hotel on the Gulf Freeway. Among those welcoming him were, from left, BayTran Chairman Carl Joiner and Lockwood Andrews Vice President Steve Gilbreath and Facilities Engineer Jack Drake.

BayTran welcomes new port chairman
Bay Area Houston Transportation Partnership members got a rare treat when they hosted a reception recently for the new chairman of the Port Commission of the Port of Houston Authority, Ric Campo.

BayTran President Theresa Rodriguez and Chairman Carl Joiner introduced him to the crowd.

The event was held at the Houston Marriott South, where Campo made his way around the room during a Meet and Greet, after which he updated the crowd on Port activities.
Campo, who is chairman and CEO of the Camden Property Trust, was appointed by Harris County and the Houston City Council earlier this year to replace Janiece Longoria, who was term limited.

NASA selects 142 proposals
Managing pilotless aircraft and solar panels that could help humans live on the Moon and Mars are among the technologies NASA is looking to develop with small business awards totaling $106 million. In all, NASA has selected 142 proposals from 129 U.S. small businesses from 28 states and the District of Columbia to receive Phase II contracts as part the agency’s Small Business Innovation Research program.

NASA selected the proposals based on a range of criteria, including technical merit and feasibility, as well as the organizations’ experience, qualifications, and facilities. Additional criteria included effectiveness of proposed work plans and the commercial potential of the technologies.

Three Kuraray facilities win safety awards
Three of Kuraray America, Inc.’s Texas facilities received top honors from the Texas Chemical Council at its annual award banquet June 6. They are:

  • Septon Plant, Pasadena: Best in Texas, Caring for Texas, Distinguished Safety Service, Zero Incident Rate, Zero Process Safety Incidents.
  • Bayport Plant, La Porte: Zero Incident Rate, Distinguished Safety Service, Zero Contractor Incident Rate.
  • La Porte Plant: Caring for Texas, Zero Process Safety Incidents.

TCC’s awards program recognizes member companies for their demonstrated commitment and exemplary results toward safe operations, community awareness, emergency response, security and pollution prevention. Applications are anonymous and judged by a group of industry peers and community members.

“At Kuraray, safety is at the cornerstone of everything we do,” said Tom Abrey, Kuraray’s director of health, safety, environment & security. “We are committed to providing a safe working environment for not only our employees but contractors and visitors alike.”

Kuraray America, Inc. took home 10 awards, including top honor – Best in Texas – for the Septon plant.

Area chamber is a winner
Pasadena Chamber’s website, Chambergram, took first prize honors at the Texas Chamber of Commerce Executives annual convention in El Paso June 17-20.

Not far behind were its entry in the newsletter competition, which took second place in the state competition, and the chamber’s Resource Guide, which also was a second place winner.

The conference provides chamber professionals an opportunity to network, attend educational sessions and take an in-depth look into issues related to leadership, workforce development, membership and how Texas communities fared following the legislative session.

Successful Orion Test Brings NASA Closer to Moon, Mars Missions

July 2nd, 2019

Ascent Abort-2 successfully launched at 7 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credits: NASA

During the approximately three-minute test, called Ascent Abort-2, a test version of the Orion crew module launched at 7 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on a modified Peacekeeper missile procured through the U.S. Air Force and built by Northrop Grumman.

The Orion test spacecraft traveled to an altitude of about six miles, at which point it experienced high-stress aerodynamic conditions expected during ascent. The abort sequence triggered and, within milliseconds, the abort motor fired to pull the crew module away from the rocket. Its attitude control motor flipped the capsule end-over-end to properly orient it, and then the jettison motor fired, releasing the crew module for splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.

A team is collecting the 12 data recorders that were ejected during the test capsule’s descent. Analysis of the information will provide insight into the abort system’s performance.

“We’re building the most powerful rocket in the world to send astronauts to the Moon in the Orion spacecraft for Artemis missions,” said Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “With this exploration system designed to safely carry humans farther into space than ever before, we’ll also have an equally powerful launch abort system that will pull the crew away if there is a problem with the rocket during the early portion of ascent.”

The tower-like abort structure consists of two parts: the fairing assembly, which is a shell composed of a lightweight composite material that protects the capsule from the heat, air flow and acoustics of the launch, ascent, and abort environments; and the launch abort tower, which includes the abort motor, attitude control motor, and jettison motor. The system is built specifically for deep space missions and to ride on NASA’s powerful Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.

“Launching into space is one of the most difficult and dangerous parts of going to the Moon,” said Mark Kirasich, Orion program manager at Johnson Space Center in Houston. “This test mimicked some of the most challenging conditions Orion will ever face should an emergency develop during the ascent phase of flight. Today, the team demonstrated our abort capabilities under these demanding conditions and put us one huge step closer to the first Artemis flight carrying people to the Moon.”

NASA was able to accelerate the test schedule and lower costs by simplifying the test spacecraft and eliminating parachutes and related systems. NASA already qualified the parachute system for crewed flights through an extensive series of 17 developmental tests and eight qualification tests completed at the end of 2018.

At NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, technicians are preparing to attach the Orion crew and service modules before testing at the agency’s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio, later this year. The crew module for Artemis 2 is being outfitted with thousands of elements – from bolts and strain gauges to parachutes and propulsion lines.

The agency recently reached major milestones for the SLS rocket, assembling four of the five parts that make up the massive core stage that will launch Artemis 1 and delivering the four engines that will be integrated into the core stage, along with the engine section, later this summer. When completed, the entire core stage will be the largest rocket stage NASA has built since manufacturing the Saturn V stages for NASA’s Apollo lunar missions in the 1960s.

Orion is part of NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration, along with the SLS and Gateway, that will land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024. Through the Artemis program, the next American Moon walkers will depart Earth aboard Orion and begin a new era of exploration.

Learn more about Orion at: Orion Spacecraft

For more information about NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration plans, visit: NASA: Moon to Mars

 

One Giant Leap for Mankind

July 2nd, 2019

July, 1969

It’s JUST over eight years since the flights of Yuri Gagarin and Alan Shepard, followed quickly by President Kennedy’s challenge to put a man on the moon before the decade is out.
It is only seven months since NASA’s made a bold decision to send Apollo 8 all the way to the moon on the first manned flight of the massive Saturn V rocket.

Now, on the morning of July 16, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins sit atop another Saturn V at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. The three-stage 363-foot rocket will use its 7.5 million pounds of thrust to propel them into space and into history.

OFF TO THE MOON
At 9:32 a.m. EDT, the engines fire and Apollo 11 clears the tower. About 12 minutes later, the crew is in Earth orbit. After one and a half orbits, Apollo 11 gets a “go” for what mission controllers call “Translunar Injection” — in other words, it’s time to head for the moon. Three days later the crew is in lunar orbit. A day after that, Armstrong and Aldrin climb into the lunar module Eagle and begin the descent, while Collins orbits in the command module Columbia. Collins later writes that Eagle is “the weirdest looking contraption I have ever seen in the sky,” but it will prove its worth.

ALARMS SOUND
When it comes time to set Eagle down in the Sea of Tranquility, Armstrong improvises, manually piloting the ship past an area littered with boulders. During the final seconds of descent, Eagle’s computer is sounding alarms.

It turns out to be a simple case of the computer trying to do too many things at once, but as Aldrin will later point out, “unfortunately it came up when we did not want to be trying to solve these particular problems.”

When the lunar module lands at 4:18 p.m EDT, only 30 seconds of fuel remain. Armstrong radios “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” Mission control erupts in celebration as the tension breaks, and a controller tells the crew “You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue, we’re breathing again.” Armstrong will later confirm that landing was his biggest concern, saying “the unknowns were rampant,” and “there were just a thousand things to worry about.”

FIRST STEP
At 10:56 p.m. EDT Armstrong is ready to plant the first human foot on another world. With more than half a billion people watching on television, he climbs down the ladder and proclaims: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Aldrin joins him shortly, and offers a simple but powerful description of the lunar surface: “magnificent desolation.” They explore the surface for two and a half hours, collecting samples and taking photographs.

They leave behind an American flag, a patch honoring the fallen Apollo 1 crew, and a plaque on one of Eagle’s legs. It reads, “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”

HEADING HOME
Armstrong and Aldrin blast off and dock with Collins in Columbia. Collins later says that “for the first time,” he “really felt that we were going to carry this thing off.”
The crew splashes down off Hawaii on July 24. Kennedy’s challenge has been met. Men from Earth have walked on the moon and returned safely home.

In an interview years later, Armstrong praises the “hundreds of thousands” of people behind the project. “Every guy that’s setting up the tests, cranking the torque wrench, and so on, is saying, man or woman, ‘If anything goes wrong here, it’s not going to be my fault.’”

In a post-flight press conference, Armstrong calls the flight “a beginning of a new age,” while Collins talks about future journeys to Mars.

Over the next three and a half years, 10 astronauts will follow in their footsteps. Gene Cernan, commander of the last Apollo mission leaves the lunar surface with these words: “We leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace, and hope for all mankind.”

Words that Set America on a Course to the Moon

July 2nd, 2019

President John F. Kennedy speaking at Rice University on 12 September 1962

By Mary Alys Cherry

We choose to go to the Moon — famous words that set America on a course to the Moon and words that will live in the hearts of Houstonians forever.

President John F. Kennedy, recognizing that the Russians had a head start on us in space, suggested in a speech to Congress on May 25, 1961 that we should make new efforts of our own to go to the Moon.

“For while we cannot guarantee that we shall one day be first, we can guarantee that any failure to make this effort will make us last. We take an additional risk by making it in full view of the world, but as shown by the feat of astronaut Shepard, this very risk enhances our stature when we are successful. But this is not merely a race. Space is open to us now; and our eagerness to share its meaning is not governed by the efforts of others. We go into space because whatever mankind must undertake, free men must fully share.

“Let it be clear,” he continued, “that I am asking the Congress and the country to accept a firm commitment to a new course of action, a course which will last for many years and carry very heavy costs: $531 million in fiscal ‘62–an estimated $7 to 9 billion additional over the next five years. If we are to go only half way, or reduce our sights in the face of difficulty, in my judgment it would be better not to go at all.” It was one of two speeches JFK made that helped send us to the Moon.

RICE SPEECH
Then on Sept. 12, 1962, Kennedy came down to Houston, where he reiterated his call to go to the Moon and delivered his famous “Moon speech” at Rice University.
“We meet at a college noted for knowledge, in a city noted for progress, in a state noted for strength, and we stand in need of all three, for we meet in an hour of change and challenge, in a decade of hope and fear, in an age of both knowledge and ignorance. The greater our knowledge increases, the greater our ignorance unfolds.”

With the speech Kennedy hoped to persuade the American people to support the Apollo program, the national effort to land a man on the Moon.

NEW FRONTIER
In his speech, the president characterized space as a new frontier, invoking the pioneer spirit that dominated American folklore. He infused the speech with a sense of urgency and destiny, and emphasized the freedom enjoyed by Americans to choose their destiny rather than have it chosen for them.

While there was grumbling about the cost and value of the Moon-landing effort. Kennedy’s goal was realized in July 1969, with the successful Apollo 11 mission.

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too. “