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

Retired CEO of Orbital ATK named Space Trophy recipient

February 1st, 2019

David W. Thompson will receive the 2019 National Space Trophy.

The Rotary National Award for Space Achievement Foundation has selected David W. Thompson, retired president and CEO of Orbital ATK, to receive the 2019 National Space Trophy. The banquet honoring him will be held Friday, April 26, at the Houston Hyatt Regency in downtown Houston.

“The RNASA Foundation is extremely excited about recognizing Mr. Thompson as the guest of honor at the 2019 RNASA Space Award Gala,” Foundation President Rodolfo Gonzalez said, going on to invited the public and the aerospace community to attend the black-tie event.

Thompson was nominated for the award by Northrop Grumman Corp. Space Systems Group President Frank Culbertson. In recommending Thompson, Culbertson cited his “four decades of outstanding leadership and pioneering innovations in the development and operation of launch vehicles and satellite systems, which have transformed scientific, exploratory, commercial and defense applications of space.”

Thompson said, “It is with great enthusiasm, and even greater humility, that I accept the 2019 National Space Trophy! My heart-felt thanks to the RNASA Board of Advisors for selecting me for this highly-regarded honor.” Thompson began his four-decade long career in space technology as a young engineer at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in 1978, following summer internships during college and graduate school at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Johnson Space Center and Langley Research Center.

His career as a space entrepreneur and business leader accelerated in the early 1980s when he and two Harvard Business School classmates founded Orbital Sciences Corp., a startup that focused on the development of space systems for commercial, military and scientific customers. Over the subsequent 35 years, Thompson led his company from its infancy to Fortune 500 status, reaching more than $5 billion in annual revenue and employing nearly 15,000 people in 2018.

As one of the world’s first commercial space enterprises, Orbital pioneered the investment of private capital for space systems development and manufacturing in the 1980s and 1990s. During this time, the company created a family of six new launch vehicles, including the Pegasus rocket and several missile defense vehicles, as well as an array of lower-cost satellites for both low-Earth orbit (LEO) and geosynchronous (GEO) applications. Thompson’s vision was that diverse customers – from traditional government agencies to new privately-owned satellite operators – would use these products, and that commercial-style business practices would reduce their costs and delivery times. The success of this strategy is reflected in the more than 1,000 rockets and satellites delivered by the company to over 50 customers since the 1980s.

Under Thompson’s leadership, Orbital expanded beyond its original business of research and manufacturing into providing space-based services in the 1990s and 2000s. More recently, the company partnered with NASA to develop the Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft commercial cargo system for the International Space Station, which has conducted 12 supply missions to ISS over the past six years. And later this year the company plans to inaugurate the world’s first in-space robotic servicing and repair of GEO communications satellites, launching an exciting new form of commercial space logistics operations.

In 2014, Orbital and its long-standing industry partner, Alliant Techsystems, merged to form Orbital ATK, a larger, more diversified space and defense systems company with a broader product line, including rocket propulsion for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift vehicle as well as motors for tactical and strategic missiles. Finally, last year Northrop Grumman purchased Orbital ATK for over $9 billion, forming Northrop’s Innovation Systems business sector. The merger with Northrop is expected to generate faster growth and new products, as well as creating greater opportunities for thousands of the company’s space engineers and scientists.

Thompson earned his B.S. in Aeronautics and Astronautics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a M.S. in Aeronautics from Caltech, and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

He is an Honorary Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), a Fellow of the American Astronautical Society and the Royal Aeronautical Society, and a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and the International Academy of Astronautics.

He was AIAA’s president for the 2009-2010 year, and today serves as a member of the Boards of Trustees of Caltech, the Aerospace Corp., the Carnegie Institution for Science, the Hertz Foundation, and the Princeton University Astronomy Council. He was recently appointed to the National Space Council Users’ Advisory Group and has been honored with numerous awards including the National Medal of Technology by President George H.W. Bush, as well as Virginia’s Industrialist of the Year and High-Technology Entrepreneur of the Year by Inc. Magazine.

Visit www.rnasa.org/tables.html to reserve a table for the RNASA Banquet and find information about sponsorships and tickets. To reserve a room at the Houston Hyatt Regency, visit www.rnasa.org/houston.html or call 713-654-1234 and request the RNASA group rate.

NASA History Overview

November 1st, 2018

A new era in space flight began on April 12, 1981, when Space Shuttle Columbia, or STS-1, soared into orbit from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is responsible for unique scientific and technological achievements in human spaceflight, aeronautics, space science, and space applications that have had widespread impacts on our nation and the world.

Forged in response to early Soviet space achievements, NASA was built on the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics and other government organizations, as the locus of U.S. civil aerospace research and development.

When NASA opened for business on Oct. 1, 1958, it accelerated the work already started on human and robotic spaceflight. NASA’s first high profile program was Project Mercury, an effort to learn if humans could survive in space. This was followed by Project Gemini, which used spacecraft built for two astronauts to perfect the capabilities needed for the national objective of a human trip to the Moon by the end of the 1960s.

Project Apollo achieved that objective in July 1969 with the Apollo 11 mission and expanded on it with five more successful lunar landing missions through 1972. After the Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz Test Projects of the mid-1970s, NASA’s human spaceflight efforts again resumed in 1981 with the Space Shuttle program that continued for 30 years. The shuttle was not only a breakthrough technology, but was essential to our next major step in space, the construction of the International Space Station.

Over the last 60 years NASA has continued to push the boundaries with cutting edge aeronautics research that has dramatically changed the way we build and fly airplanes. NASA has also completed the reconnaissance of our solar system, with intense investigation of all the planets. Using orbital spacecraft like the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA has also dramatically changed our understanding of the universe around us, as well as our own planet.

NASA’s early work on launch vehicles, communication satellites, and weather satellites has fundamentally changed daily life and created whole new industries. As a catalyst for international cooperation, NASA has also changed how and why humanity conducts space exploration. Now, NASA is preparing to take humankind farther than ever before, as it helps to foster a robust commercial space economy near Earth, and pioneers further human and robotic exploration as we venture into deep space.

The NASA History Office Program publishes a quarterly newsletter, as well as an array of books (print and digital), hosts social media, provides fellowships, and runs the Historical Reference Collection (our version of an archive) to assist the public in finding more information on aeronautical and space history. In addition, the staff produces the Aeronautics and Space Report of the President.

The National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 directs NASA to produce an annual report that includes a “comprehensive description of the programmed activities and the accomplishments of all agencies of the United States in the field of aeronautics and space activities” during the preceding year.

Apollo 7: The race heats up

November 1st, 2018

The Apollo 7 prime crew, from left to right, are astronauts Donn F. Eisele, command module pilot, Walter M. Schirra Jr., commander; and Walter Cunningham, lunar module pilot. Photo: NASA

By Bob Granath
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida

On Oct. 11, 1968, three American astronauts launched to Earth orbit aboard Apollo 7. It was the first piloted mission of the spacecraft designed to meet President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to land on the lunar surface.

The 11-day flight took place as the race to the Moon was heating up between the United States and the Soviet Union. A month earlier, the Soviets launched the unpiloted Zond 5, a simplified version of their Soyuz spacecraft designed for cosmonauts. The capsule became the first to circle around the Moon and return safely to Earth.

Both nations also were recovering from tragic losses. Three Apollo 1 astronauts perished in a launch pad fire on Jan. 27, 1967. That same year, the lone cosmonaut aboard Soyuz 1 died when the spacecraft crashed on April 24.

Following almost two years of Apollo spacecraft redesign and testing, Paul Donnelly, Launch Operations manager at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, expressed confidence in the men and women who worked tirelessly to prepare for the flight.

“We have a great group of specialists from government and industry trained to work as a team,” he said. “Just as the astronauts are ready to fly to orbit, we are ready to get them there.”

COMMANDER
Serving as commander of Apollo 7 was NASA veteran Wally Schirra, a U.S. Navy aviator and captain. He flew Mercury 8 on Oct. 3, 1962, and commanded Gemini VI on Dec. 15-16, 1965.

Schirra was joined by two members of the third astronaut class, both making their first spaceflight.

Command module pilot Donn Eisele was a U.S. Air Force colonel and test pilot. Walt Cunningham had been a colonel and fighter pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. Although there was no lunar module on this flight, as the third member of the crew, Cunningham was designated LM pilot.

Following a flawless liftoff atop a Saturn 1B rocket from Launch Complex 34 at Cape Kennedy (now Cape Canaveral) Air Force Station, the command-service module (CSM) separated from the second stage. Eisele then practiced a simulated LM docking. During launch with a LM, it would have been housed inside the adapter between the second stage and the CSM.

KEY OBJECTIVE
A key objective of Apollo 7 was testing spacecraft systems, especially the crucial service propulsion system (SPS) engine at the base of the spacecraft. On lunar missions, the SPS would be used to place the spacecraft in lunar orbit and later, fire the crew on a trajectory back home. On Earth orbital flights, the SPS would be fired to slow Apollo for reentry.

The first test of the powerful SPS took place on flight day two. When it fired with 20,500 pounds of thrust, Schirra radioed that it was a real kick.
“Yabbadabbadoo,” he exclaimed in a favorite saying of the television cartoon character Fred Flintstone. “That’s like a ride and a half!”

George Low, manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office at NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center (now Johnson Space Center) in Houston, later noted that all eight firings of the SPS went extremely well.

“We had a tremendous workout of the service propulsion system,” he said. “I believe that is more than any space propulsion system has ever been used in any one flight”

WORLD WATCHES
Another goal was broadcasting live television from the spacecraft. Three days after liftoff, the Apollo 7 camera was turned on, allowing Mission Control and viewers around the world to watch the crew in orbit.

“I can see Eisele there,” said spacecraft communicator Tom Stafford, a fellow astronaut. “He’s holding a sign and it says, ‘From the lovely Apollo room, high atop everything.’ “

The crew fired the SPS engine on Oct. 22, splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean eight miles from the recovery aircraft carrier, the USS Essex.
After the flight, Schirra described the Apollo CSM as “a magnificent flying machine.”

Lt. Gen. Samuel Phillips, director of NASA’s Apollo Program Office, considered Apollo 7 a perfect mission.

“We were able to accomplish a major step in our progress toward the lunar landing,” he said. “I have every confidence that the progress of this mission will let us accomplish that by the end of next year.”

One Giant Leap For Mankind

November 1st, 2018

Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong working at an equipment storage area on the lunar module.

Official crew photo of the Apollo 11 Prime Crew

July, 1969.

It’s a little 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.”

Pence has high praise for JSC

August 28th, 2018

“The Johnson Space Center is a national treasure, and all the men and women who work here are a national asset,” Vice President Mike Pence said as he addressed the standing room only crowd in JSC’s Teague Auditorium.

By Mary Alys Cherry

“America will lead mankind to the stars once again,” Vice President Mike Pence told a standing room only crowd in Johnson Space Center’s Teague Auditorium, “and,” he continued, “there are plans to send man back to the moon for the first time in nearly 50 years.

“We’re not content with leaving behind footprints or even to leave it all. This time has come, we believe, for the United States of America to take what we’ve learned over so many decades, put your ingenuity and creativity to work and establish a permanent presence around and on the moon.”

Welcome words for a group of hard-working engineers and space scientists, after a decade of nearly being ignored by government officials.

LAST STOP

“The vice president was at JSC after a stop in the hard-hit city of Rockport, where Hurricane Harvey made landfall Aug. 25, 2017 and where he and Gov. Greg Abbott made a helicopter tour to survey the recovery. Then it was on to Houston for several events before ending his Texas journey at the place he said “has been at the forefront of America’s journey to the stars,” bringing smiles to the faces of JSC Director Mark Geyer and Deputy Director Vanessa Wyche and the hundreds of other employees looking on.

It was his second visit to NASA’s lead space center. Earlier, he was here to introduce NASA’s newest astronauts. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who introduced Pence, also was back for his second visit in three weeks, much to the delight of the audience, most of whom couldn’t recall this much attention from Washington in years.

Pence, who serves as chairman of the National Space Council, admitted to being a space geek. In fact, he said he was like a kid in a candy store while touring JSC with Apollo 17 astronaut Jack Schmitt, one of the last two men to walk on the moon. Together, they visited NASA’s big swimming pool – also known as the Neutral Buoyancy Lab – and JSC’s eye-popping collection of moon rocks. Schmitt flew on the nation's last mission to the moon 46 years ago in 1972.

MANTLE OF GREATNESS

For more than 50 years, this storied center has been at the forefront of America's journey to the stars,” Pence continued. This is the ‘home of the Astronaut Corps.’ And, here, from the Mission Control Center, you have guided every American-crewed space expedition since 1965. The names and the voyages that you directed from this place adorn the mantle of American greatness. In Project Gemini, you steered some of our earliest astronauts high above what they called the “Blue Marble”, into low Earth orbit.

“In the Apollo Program, you navigated the first members of the human family to the moon and back.

“At this very hour, you walk with our astronauts through their duties as they walk 200 miles above us, orbiting the Earth every 90 minutes, on the International Space Station.

NATIONAL TREASURE

“The Johnson Space Center is a national treasure, and all the men and women who work here are a national asset,” he continued to great applause. “I have to tell you, I’m just speaking as a small-town guy from southern Indiana, but I know the American people admire — they admire the work done here — past, present — and they look for even greater things in the future here at Johnson Space Center. And let me to say to all of you, and all of those that might be looking on: The most important work and the best days for the Johnson Space Center are yet to come.  Count on it.”

He went on to talk about the work of the National Space Council and the proposed U.S Space Force and how it may be needed in the future, noting that “the need is real,” as the Pentagon has just released a report that China and Russia are weaponizing, “developing and testing new and dangerous weapons and technologies to counter America space capabilities.”

Then, looking to the future, he added, “Sadly, for more than seven years we’ve been forced to hitch a ride to space. Those days are over. Soon – and very soon – American astronauts will return to space on American rockets launched from American soil.”

Fans witness historic handoff at Creek-Lake football game

December 1st, 2017

Former JSC Director Mike Coats, in black, and NASA astronaut Col. Shane Kimbrough, at left, assist Lorna Onizuka during the Historic Handoff of the soccer ball that was aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger when it went down and was found and taken to the space station before the presentation to Clear Lake High Principal Karen Engle at CCISD Challenger Columbia Stadium. At right are Cheryl McNair, widow of Challenger astronaut Ronald McNair (immediately to Lorna’s left), and JSC Acting Deputy Center Director Vanessa Wyche.

By Eva deCardenas

Nov. 3, 2017 marked the poignant end of a 31-year journey for a soccer ball, a family and a school.

During halftime of that Nov. 3 Clear Lake High versus Clear Creek High Friday football game, a special reunion took place bringing people bound together by a soccer ball that was intended to fly on the Space Shuttle Challenger 51L mission in 1986.

Challenger Astronaut Col. Ellison Onizuka had originally intended to take the ball on his journey into space on the ill-fated flight. His daughter, Janelle Onizuka, was a member of the Clear Lake High soccer team in 1986. She and her teammates had signed the soccer ball before giving it to her father before the flight.

Soon after the Challenger accident, the soccer ball was discovered in the accident debris and eventually returned to Clear Lake High School. Expedition 50 Commander Shane Kimbrough offered to take the soccer ball with him on his recent mission to the International Space Station, allowing the ball to complete its journey into space.

The Nov. 3 game was the backdrop for the very special return of the soccer ball to its original owners. After the Clear Lake High marching band set the stage with their halftime performance, Space Odyssey, Col. Kimbrough presented the soccer ball to Janelle Onizuka.

“This ball has been on quite a journey,” Col. Kimbrough said. “Over 73 million miles, it’s orbited our planet 2,768 times, it’s been in every module of the International Space Station and now it’s my distinct honor to present it back to the Onizuka family.”
The Onizuka family in turn handed over the space artifact to the principal, Dr. Karen Engle, and Clear Lake High, where the ball may continue to signify a journey of many miles, and perseverance, to all who view it.

Lorna Onizuka also presented a signed photograph of the Space Shuttle Challenger crew to Dr. Engle. “It is very special because there are not very many of them. But I would like very much for Clear Lake High School to have this,” Onizuka said.

Also on field for the special presentation were several members of the 1986 soccer team and their coach, Amy Woolsey; Cheryl McNair, widow of Challenger astronaut Ronald McNair; former astronaut and former Johnson Space Center Director Mike Coats; former astronauts Loren Shriver, Jim Buchli and Mike Fincke; JSC Acting Deputy Center Director Vanessa Wyche; Clear Creek ISD Superintendent Dr. Greg Smith, Dr. Engle and Clear Lake High School Soccer Coach Jered Shriver.