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Three history-making space fliers to enter Astronaut Hall of Fame in May

February 27th, 2020

Photos: NASA

By Robert Z. Pearlman

A record-setting spacewalker, one of only two women who commanded the space shuttle and the American who logged the longest U.S. spaceflight to date will be inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame this spring.

Michael Lopez-Alegria, Pamela Melroy and Scott Kelly, who between them flew on 10 missions to the Hubble Space Telescope and International Space Station, will be honored for their careers as veteran NASA astronauts. Their enshrinement, at a public ceremony to be held at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida on May 16, will raise the Astronaut Hall of Fame’s ranks to 102 members out of the almost 350 men and women who have been part of NASA’s corps since 1959.

“As we enter the year 2020, we are particularly excited to welcome these accomplished astronauts into the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame,” Curt Brown, a 2013 inductee and the board chairman of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, which oversees the selection process, said in a statement. “They exemplify bravery, dedication and passion and their hard work has paved the way for what promises to be an unprecedented new decade of space exploration and interplanetary travel.”

Reacting to their selection, Lopez-Alegria, Melroy and Kelly each said they were honored in interviews conducted individually with collectSPACE.com. “I really had no idea what the odds were, but I am very, very proud of having been picked,” said Lopez-Alegria. “I am humbled that my peers and the distinguished people who made this decision were even considering me,” Melroy said. “I am also very excited, it is going to be a wonderful thing.” “It is an honor,” said Kelly. “It is a career that I put 20 years of my life into, so it is great to be recognized and appreciated.”

Chosen to be astronauts as members of consecutive NASA classes in 1992, 1994 and 1996 respectively, Lopez-Alegria, Melroy and Kelly had overlapping careers.

Michael Lopez-Alegria
Michael Lopez-Alegria flew four times to space, logging more than 257 days off the planet. A retired U.S. Navy captain, naval aviator and one-time aquanaut as a member of a NASA NEEMO mission aboard the Aquarius undersea laboratory in 2001, Lopez-Alegria helped to assemble the International Space Station on shuttle missions STS-73 in 1995, STS-92 in 2000 and STS-113 in 2002.

Lopez-Alegria then commanded Expedition 14, the space station’s 14th resident crew, from September 2006 through April 2007, during which he set records while working outside the orbiting laboratory. He retains the title as the American with the most cumulative time on spacewalks at 67 hours and 40 minutes, and is tied with former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson for the most extravehicular activities (EVAs) by an American at ten.

Beyond his spacewalking feats, Lopez-Alegria said his personal history also sets his astronaut experience apart from many others.
“If you look at my 23andMe [DNA profile], I am not American in any way, shape or form,” he said with a laugh, referring to his being born in Spain. “That might be an inspiration for kids in a similar situation.”

“It doesn’t necessarily have to do with the human factors of space, but it is spaceflight done by someone who doesn’t look or feel like everyone else,” he said.

Since leaving NASA in 2012, Lopez-Alegria has served as the president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation and as a consultant to traditional and commercial space companies. He also is the past president of the Association of Space Explorers, an international professional and educational organization of current and former astronauts, including Melroy and Kelly.

Pamela Melroy
Pamela Melroy flew the first of her three space shuttle missions with Lopez-Alegria as a crewmate.

“She was the only rookie on the crew and she was drinking from a fire hose the whole time but never spilled a drop,” said Lopez-Alegria of his fellow inductee. “It was so amazing to watch her transform from ‘the rookie’ throughout training and even on launch day to the time we were ready to deorbit to the seasoned veteran.”

“Her metamorphosis was brilliant to watch,” he said.

“Mike has always been a fantastic friend,” Melroy told collectSPACE. “And to carry on that relationship from flying together as crewmates to now being colleagues in a different place in our careers, as well as friends, is terrific.”

A retired U.S. Air Force pilot with over 5,000 hours of flight time in over 50 different aircraft, Melroy was only the second U.S. woman to pilot and then command a space mission. (The first, Eileen Collins, was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2013.) Melroy was pilot on STS-92 and STS-112 in 2002, before she led the STS-120 crew in 2007. All three of her flights contributed to the assembly of the International Space Station.

“When I talk about my career as an astronaut, you have to talk about building the station. For my generation of astronauts, that was our contribution,” Melroy said.

After retiring from the astronaut office in 2009, Melroy became the acting deputy associate administrator for commercial space transportation at the Federal Aviation Administration and held positions with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. She is now CEO of Melroy & Hollett Technology Partners and the director of space technology and policy at Nova Systems in Australia, as well as serves on the User Advisory Group for the National Space Council and advisory group to the Australian Space Agency.

SCOTT KELLY
Scott Kelly holds the title for the longest single space mission by a U.S. astronaut, a record that was once held by Lopez-Alegria.

“The record represents a lot of hard work by a lot of people, not just me, but also my colleagues who have spent progressively, increasingly longer lengths of time in space,” said Kelly. “I look at it as a continuation of our spaceflight experience. I expect that within the next few years, an American will have stayed in space longer than I,” he said.

A retired U.S. Navy captain, test pilot and also a NEEMO aquanaut, Kelly shares the distinction with his brother, Mark, of being the first identical twins to both become astronauts. Kelly flew four times to space, including serving as pilot on the third mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope, STS-103 in 1999. His next flights were to the International Space Station, including a 12-day shuttle mission, STS-118 in 2007, and five-month stay, Expedition 25/26, in 2011.

Kelly’s fourth flight marked the first “one-year” mission on board the International Space Station, 340 days long, bringing his total time in space to over 520 days.

“I got to do some incredible things and I feel like I’ve been very privileged with the opportunities I had at NASA,” he said.

Since leaving the U.S. space agency in 2016, Kelly was appointed United Nations Champion for Space and has become a best-selling author.

Following their induction ceremony, which will take place under the display of the retired space shuttle Atlantis at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Lopez-Alegria, Melroy and Kelly will be celebrated at a black-tie gala hosted by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.

Lopez-Alegria, Melroy and Kelly were selected for enshrinement by a panel of Astronaut Hall of Fame members, flight controllers, historians and journalists. To be eligible, astronauts need to be U.S. citizens trained by NASA who first orbited Earth at least 17 years prior to their induction.

Founded in 1990 on the suggestion of the then-surviving Mercury astronauts, the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame is a featured part of Heroes & Legends, an attraction at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

NASA to Hire More Astronauts

February 13th, 2020

NASA is hiring new astronauts to explore the Moon and Mars! If you have what it takes to be an Artemis Generation astronaut, apply online March 2-31.
Photo by NASA

As NASA prepares to launch American astronauts this year on American rockets from American soil to the International Space Station – with an eye toward the Moon and Mars – the agency is announcing it will accept applications March 2 to 31 for the next class of Artemis Generation astronauts.

Since the 1960s, NASA has selected 350 people to train as astronaut candidates for its increasingly challenging missions to explore space. With 48 astronauts in the active astronaut corps, more will be needed to crew spacecraft bound for multiple destinations and propel exploration forward as part of Artemis missions and beyond.

We’re celebrating our 20th year of continuous presence aboard the International Space Station in low-Earth orbit this year, and we’re on the verge of sending the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “For the handful of highly talented women and men we will hire to join our diverse astronaut corps, it’s an incredible time in human spaceflight to be an astronaut. We’re asking all eligible Americans if they have what it to takes to apply beginning March 2.”

The basic requirements to apply include United States citizenship and a master’s degree in a STEM field, including engineering, biological science, physical science, computer science, or mathematics, from an accredited institution. The requirement for the master’s degree can also be met by:

  • Two years (36 semester hours or 54 quarter hours) of work toward a Ph.D. program in a related science, technology, engineering or math field;
  • A completed doctor of medicine or doctor of osteopathic medicine degree;
  • Completion (or current enrollment that will result in completion by June 2021) of a nationally recognized test pilot school program.

Candidates also must have at least two years of related, progressively responsible professional experience, or at least 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft. Astronaut candidates must pass the NASA long-duration spaceflight physical.

Americans may apply to #BeAnAstronaut at: www.usajobs.gov

As part of the application process, applicants will, for the first time, be required to take an online assessment that will require up to two hours to complete.

After completing training, the new astronauts could launch on American rockets and spacecraft developed for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to live and work aboard the International Space Station, 250 miles above Earth, where they will take part in experiments that benefit life at home and prepare us for more distant exploration.

They may also launch on NASA’s powerful new Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft, docking the spacecraft at the Gateway in lunar orbit before taking a new human landing system to the Moon’s surface. After returning humans to the Moon in 2024, NASA plans to establish sustainable lunar exploration by 2028. Gaining new experiences on and around the Moon will prepare NASA to send the first humans to Mars in the mid-2030s.

NASA expects to select the new class of astronaut candidates in mid-2021 to begin training as the next class of Artemis Generation astronauts.

For more information about a career as a NASA astronaut, and application requirements, visit: NASA Astronauts Homepage

Powerful Plasma Propulsion –the Future of Space Flight

February 1st, 2020

Dr. Franklin Chang Díaz and Mayor Donna Rogers discuss the next milestones for the famous VASIMR® rocket engine that has already set new records.

Ad Astra Rocket Company’s High Power Electric Rocket Sets New Milestones

For the past 12 years, Webster has been home to one of the world’s most innovative aerospace firms—Ad Astra Rocket Company. Dr. Franklin Chang Díaz, inventor of the VASIMR® engine (Variable Specific Impulse Magneto-plasma Rocket), founded Ad Astra Rocket Company in 2005, after serving for more than 25 years as a NASA astronaut. Chang Díaz, a veteran of seven Space Shuttle Missions, credits his tenure as an astronaut and work at MIT in the late 1970s to developing the future of space flight—a high power electric rocket with plasma propulsion system.

Chang Díaz and his team have persevered in their development of the VASIMR®—a high power electric rocket engine, despite being labeled “radical” and despite having to continuously raise private funding to maintain the pace of development for the technology. The in-space transportation market that requires fast human transport, lunar resupply logistics, orbital debris removal, satellite refueling, servicing, and repositioning, and rapid robotic deep space operations is the perfect niche for Ad Astra Rocket Company’s invention.

Whereas chemical rockets require massive amounts of propellant that constitute most of a ship’s mass, Ad Astra’s VASIMR® rocket engine requires 1/10 of the propellant. The engine operates on electricity—from solar arrays or panels—that heat and accelerate a plasma—a superheated gas at millions of degrees. The rocket structure is insulated from the hot plasma by magnetic fields that also direct the plasma as it is ejected from the engine—creating thrust for the spacecraft. The VASIMR® is ten times more fuel efficient than chemical rockets, which means more payload per flight and reusable components. Also, in the future, when nuclear power is available in space, the VASIMR® engine could propel humans on shorter transits to Mars and beyond.

The VASIMR® has been undergoing rigorous testing since its inception and has passed with flying colors. Through a decade of research, Ad Astra Rocket Company has carried out this development without government funding, with more than $36M in private investment, and has brought the engine from a technology readiness level (TRL) of 2 to nearly 5. In 2015, a $9M NASA partnership contract was awarded to help complete the TRL-5 activities.

Ad Astra Rocket Company has successfully completed on budget and on schedule more than 30 milestones in fulfillment of this contract. However, there are three milestones remaining: first, a demonstration in vacuum of the VASIMR’s® new power processing unit (PPU), an advanced radiofrequency power source built for Ad Astra by Aethera Technologies Limited of Canada with partial support from the Canadian Space Agency; second, a five-to-six hour continuous firing of the VX-200SS, the VASIMR® engine test article operating at 100 kilowatts; and third, a long duration (100 hour) continuous firing of the VX-200SS at 100 kilowatts.

Ad Astra expects to complete these milestones before the end of the NASA contract in June 2020. Then, Ad Astra expects to “graduate” to TRL-6 and obtain additional contracts that will help the company finish the design, construction, and testing of its first space flight prototype, called the TC-10. Once proven in space, the VASIMR® engine will officially enter the commercial sector and begin to revolutionize space transportation and space logistics—the way people, services, and supplies move in space.

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 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

Houston Spaceport slowly turning dream into reality

August 1st, 2019

Taking part in the Spaceport groundbreaking were, from left, Houston City Councilman Mike Knox, Intuitive Machines President Steve Altemus, Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership President Bob Mitchell, San Jacinto College Chancellor Dr. Brenda Hellyer, Houston Airport System Executive Director Mario Diaz, Ellington Airport General Manager Arturo Machuca and FAA Deputy Regional Administrator Rob Lowe.

By Mary Alys Cherry

The Houston Spaceport has been a dream for the past four years. Now it is moving toward reality after a groundbreaking ceremony June 28 for the first phase of the project at Ellington Field.

“When complete, Phase 1 will provide the ground work to support the companies that produce the cutting-edge innovations needed to take commercial space travel and aviation into the sub-sonic, super-sonic and hyper-sonic realm,” Diaz said, no doubt remembering a day four years ago on June 30, 2015, when Houston received its license from the FAA and became the nation’s ninth spaceport.

Phase 1 of the project required an $18.8 million investment to provide the ground level infrastructure – streets, electrical power, water, wastewater, fiber optic and communication facilities — to attract commercial space travel and aviation companies to Houston. That came in May when Houston City Council approved the funds.

Joining Diaz in turning the first shovels of dirt were Ellington Airport Director Arturo Machuca, Houston City Councilman Mike Knox, San Jacinto College Chancellor Dr. Brenda Hellyer, Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership President Bob Mitchell, Intuitive Machines CEO Steve Altemus and FAA Deputy Regional Administrator Rob Lowe.

Altemus’ Intuitive Machines, is the first company to sign on as a Spaceport tenant. Back in May, the company received a $77.2 million contract from NASA to create, launch and land its Nova-C lunar lander spacecraft to the surface of the moon with a payload of experiments from both NASA and private companies.

And then there is the need for training, for which the Spaceport has partnered with San Jacinto College. To help train that workforce, San Jacinto Chancellor Dr. Brenda Hellyer, says the Spaceport’s Edge Center for Advanced Manufacturing Training will serve as a workforce training center, providing a talent pipeline for new businesses.

“When you’re bringing in and trying to recruit new companies to the area, they need to know you have partners like that at the table to meet their needs,” Hellyer said.

Meanwhile, BAHEP President Bob Mitchell could hardly conceal his excitement as he spoke to the group.

“We are currently working with six companies which are looking to expand operations at the Houston Spaceport,” he said. “The Houston Spaceport’s certification is already acting as a catalyst to spur new interest and development at Ellington Airport.

“Over the last several years, more than $200 million worth of new projects have been  completed, or announced, at Ellington Airport, including the Lone Star Flight Museum,  the new Army Innovation Command … and its battle command center. New public hangars are under construction … and the new 117,000 square foot U.S. Coast Guard regional campus, a $57 million investment, has been completed and further expanded. Today marks a great day for Houston, for Ellington Airport and for the Houston Spaceport!

Intuitive Machines: The Future is HERE

July 2nd, 2019

Steve Altemus hoists the lightweight long range drone coming off the drone production line at Ellington Airport. Photography by MoonBridge Media

Intuitive Machines’ 12 foot high Nova-C lunar lander model. Photography by MoonBridge Media

By Rick Clapp

Intuitive Machines is an incredibly unique space and aviation company located on the Space Port Facility at Ellington Field in Houston. The company was founded in 2013 by president and CEO Steve Altemus with the goal of bringing decades of human spaceflight know-how, technology advances, and innovative thinking into low-cost solutions aimed at serving the complex needs of our world. Since then, Altemus has steered the company back to his passion, space, with the objective of taking the space business to new frontiers.

Steve Altemus started his journey into space and aviation as a student at the Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, where he originally wanted to pursue a career as an aviator. A few years later, he graduated with an Aeronautical Engineering Degree and later earned a Masters Degree from the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

Inside the mobile command center for lunar propolsion testing. Photography by MoonBridge Media

Upon graduating from Embry Riddle, he soon found himself up the coast of Florida at the Kennedy Space Center. That’s where Altemus’ career took off into space. After several years at the Kennedy Space center he was promoted to manage the space shuttle launch countdown. He directed the many successful shuttle operations over the years and then unfortunately the Columbia Shuttle disaster occurred. Altemus was assigned to reconstruct over 85,000 pieces of the shuttle. For his efforts in completing this arduous task , he was promoted by NASA to head the engineering directorate at the Johnson Space Center culminating with a position as deputy director of the Johnson Space Center. After 25 incredible years with NASA, Altemus had the desire to revolutionize the space business and he founded Intuitive Machines.

“At Intuitive Machines, we take ideas from concept to completion. We engineer systems starting from concept, through design and development, build and test.” Altemus says.
Intuitive Machines has three major areas of specialization, Aviation, Space Systems, and Additive Manufacturing and Generative Design. They all work in unison to produce outstanding engineering wonders.

Well-deserved congratulations go to Altemus and his team of nearly 90 employees and interns, for earning the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contract as one of the first US companies to provide commercial services to the Moon. As part of NASA’s Artemis Program, Intuitive Machines will land NASA-provided payloads on the surface of the Moon to conduct science investigations and demonstrate advanced technologies, paving the way for astronauts to land successfully on the moon by 2024.

Intuitive Machines accomplished this tremendous feat in less than six years, which is nothing but remarkable.

“It is incredibly exciting and coincidental that 50 years ago Houston landed Apollo 11 on the lunar surface and this year, Houston-based

Intuitive Machines was awarded the contract to return NASA to the moon. We look forward to developing our systems and flying our missions to the moon from where it all started right here in Houston,” Altemus said.

On a personal note, Steve Altemus is a wonderful family man, married to his wife, Brunella, for over 30 years. His daughter, Dr. Samantha, is a resident veterinarian and internist at OSU. His son Joseph is a mechanical engineer who builds robots for Jacobs Engineering.

Houston we do not have a problem, Intuitive Machines is taking US back to the moon!!

Thanks to the pioneer spirit of the people at NASA and the talented, creative contractor Intuitive Machines, we will continue further our space travels to the Moon, Mars and beyond. God Bless America.

Altemus shows the inside of their 3D printer where stainless steel engine parts are built. Photography by MoonBridge Media

Global icon Neil Armstrong lived and died a humble man

July 2nd, 2019

A young Neil Armstrong is photographed in the cockpit of the Ames Belt X-14 aircraft at NASA’s Ames Research Center.

By Mary Alys Cherry

As the first man to walk on the Moon in July 1969, Neil Armstrong quickly became the most famous man in the universe, which, being the humble man he was, was not to his liking.
This was brought out at his funeral in August 2012. “You’ll never get a hero, in my view, like Neil Armstrong,” Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders said after the service, praising Armstrong for both his wisdom and humility in the way he handled becoming a global icon.

“America has truly lost a legend,” astronaut Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, said.

“He was the embodiment of everything this nation is about,” then NASA Administrator and former astronaut Charles Bolden said about the famously shy, almost taciturn man, adding that Armstrong was a man with a courageous drive to explore, yet “incredibly humble.”

Neil Alden Armstrong was born Aug. 5, 1930 on his grandparents’ farm in Wapakoneta, Ohio and developed a love for flying early in life while becoming an Eagle Scout.

FLYING LESSONS
When he was just six, he made his first flight with his father, who worked for the state government, and formed a passion for flying that would last all his life. His hero was Charles Lindbergh. He took flying lessons and received his flying license on his 16th birthday — before he earned his driver’s license.

His education was interrupted when he was called to active duty in 1949 but continued after pilot training in Pensacola, Fla., and 78 combat missions over Korea, including one when his Navy fighter was severely damaged and he was forced to eject. However, he landed near a South Korean base and was safely rescued.

After completing his service, Armstrong earned a Bachelor’s degree in Aeronautical Engineering at Purdue University in 1955. He would later add to his education with a Master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Southern California in 1970.

TEST PILOT
After graduating from Purdue, he became a test pilot for NASA’s forerunner, the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, serving as one of an elite group selected to pit technology against nature’s limitations.

In 1962, he became an astronaut, and after serving as a backup for Gemini 5, he was chosen to command Gemini 8. But shortly after he and David Scott conducted the first successful docking in space, the joined spacecraft began spinning out of control when a thruster failed. Armstrong finally regained control by using thrusters intended for reentry, saving their lives.

Armstrong’s successful action, averting disaster on Gemini 8, and his flying skills led to his selection as commander of Apollo 11.

OFF TO THE MOON
By 1969, the team was ready to fulfill President Kennedy’s promise to put a man on the moon in that decade. In a spacecraft reported to have had control systems with less than a thousandth of the computing power of a modern laptop, Armstrong and his colleagues Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins made for the Moon.

People across the world bought television sets for the first time to witness their endeavor, and more than 500 million watched every moment of Apollo 11’s arrival on the lunar surface on July 20.

After steering to avoid large rocks, Armstrong had only 20 seconds of fuel left when he finally landed the module safely between boulders. From inside the capsule, he reported back to an emotional Mission Control in Houston that “the Eagle has landed.”

ONE SMALL STEP
And as he disembarked, he uttered his carefully prepared phrase, that what he was making was “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Then, as an awe-struck world watched, the humble man from Ohio, with Aldrin by his side, planted an American flag on the Sea of Tranquility. A little later, he talked by phone and received congratulations from President Nixon.

Back on Earth, the crew received global adulation, and were treated like movie stars wherever they went. But, after the initial celebrations, Armstrong refused to cash in on his celebrity.

The man who was revered as a hero by the American public and awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Richard Nixon for his work, shunned the limelight and the prospective fortune that came with it.

Instead, he lived in the seclusion of his Ohio farmhouse, taught engineering at the University of Cincinnati and later went into business. He refused to give interviews or sign autographs and disappointed many fans with his requests for privacy and gave only occasional speeches. He reportedly once said, “I don’t want to be a living memorial,” and remained happy to “bask in obscurity.”

HERE FOR 20TH
Only reluctantly did he join his fellow astronauts for anniversary celebrations of the Moon landing. In 1989, he came back Clear Lake for the 20th anniversary of the lunar landing, joining some 10,000 Johnson Space center employees for a picnic at JSC. Then, that evening he and Collins and Aldrin and their wives were honored at a big party at the Hilton Hotel in Nassau Bay, across the street from the space center.

All three astronauts mingled with the crowd and smiled for pictures.

In 1999, 30 years after the moon landing, he stood with Aldrin and Collins to receive the Langley medal for aviation from then Vice President Al Gore before returning to his quiet life, hoping to be forgotten.

Then in April 2004, Armstrong returned to the Bay Area when the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement Foundation honored him with the National Space Trophy at the annual Space Gala – believed to be the last large function he attended.

But, the millions around the world who sat glued to their television sets in July 1969 saw their most fantastic dreams made real. For them, the shy man from Ohio opened a fresh frontier and there will be no forgetting Neil Armstrong and his awe-inspiring achievement.

NASA ready to accelerate man’s return to lunar surface

May 2nd, 2019

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine is ready to send astronauts back to the moon – and soon. Here’s what he said after the March 26 announcement by Vice President Mike Pence, at the fifth meeting of the National Space Council, about putting American astronauts back on the Moon in the next five years:

“Today, I joined leaders from across the country as Vice President Mike Pence chaired the fifth meeting of the National Space Council. Vice President Pence lauded President Donald J. Trump’s bold vision for space exploration and spoke to NASA’s progress on key elements to accomplish the President’s Space Policy Directives.

“Among the many topics discussed during our meeting at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, was to accelerate our return to the Moon:

NASA is charged to get American astronauts to the Moon in the next five years.

We are tasked with landing on the Moon’s South Pole by 2024.

Stay on schedule for flying Exploration Mission-1 with Orion on the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket next year, and for sending the first crewed mission to the lunar vicinity by 2022.

NASA will continue to ‘use all means necessary’ to ensure mission success in moving us forward to the Moon.

“It is the right time for this challenge, and I assured the vice president that we, the people of NASA, are up to the challenge.

“We will take action in the days and weeks ahead to accomplish these goals. We have laid out a clear plan for NASA’s exploration campaign that cuts across three strategic areas: low-Earth orbit, the Moon, and Mars and deeper into space.

“I have already directed a new alignment within NASA to ensure we effectively support this effort, which includes establishing a new mission directorate to focus on the formulation and execution of exploration development activities. We are calling it the Moon to Mars Mission Directorate.

“Earlier today I was also at Marshall Space Flight Center for an all-hands to reinforce our commitment to SLS with the workforce. We discussed my recent announcement that NASA would consider all options to fly Orion around the Moon on schedule. I shared the analysis we conducted to assess flying the Orion on different commercial options. While some of these alternative vehicles could work, none was capable of achieving our goals to orbit around the Moon for Exploration Mission-1 within our timeline and on budget. The results of this two-week study reaffirmed our commitment to the SLS. More details will be released in the future.

“There’s a lot of excitement about our plans and also a lot of hard work and challenges ahead, but I know the NASA workforce and our partners are up to it. We are now looking at creative approaches to advance SLS manufacturing and testing to ensure Exploration Mission-1 launches in 2020. We will work to ensure we have a safe and reliable launch system that keeps its promise to the American people.

“I know NASA is ready for the challenge of moving forward to the Moon, this time to stay.”

To learn more about NASA’s Moon to Mars plans, visit: www.nasa.gov/moon2mars