NASA astronauts launch from America in historic test flight of SpaceX Crew Dragon

May 31st, 2020

President Donald Trump, right, Vice President Mike Pence, and Second Lady Karen Pence watch the launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley onboard, Saturday, May 30, 2020, from the balcony of Operations Support Building II at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission is the first launch with astronauts of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. The test flight serves as an end-to-end demonstration of SpaceX’s crew transportation system. Behnken and Hurley launched at 3:22 p.m. EDT on Saturday, May 30, from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. A new era of human spaceflight is set to begin as American astronauts once again launch on an American rocket from American soil to low-Earth orbit for the first time since the conclusion of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011. Photo by NASA/Bill Ingalls

For the first time in history, NASA astronauts have launched from American soil in a commercially built and operated American crew spacecraft on its way to the International Space Station. The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley lifted off at 3:22 p.m. EDT Saturday, May 30 on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“Today a new era in human spaceflight begins as we once again launched American astronauts on American rockets from American soil on their way to the International Space Station, our national lab orbiting Earth,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “I thank and congratulate Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley, and the SpaceX and NASA teams for this significant achievement for the United States. The launch of this commercial space system designed for humans is a phenomenal demonstration of American excellence and is an important step on our path to expand human exploration to the Moon and Mars.”

Known as NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2, the mission is an end-to-end test flight to validate the SpaceX crew transportation system, including launch, in-orbit, docking and landing operations. This is SpaceX’s second spaceflight test of its Crew Dragon and its first test with astronauts aboard, which will pave the way for its certification for regular crew flights to the station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

“This is a dream come true for me and everyone at SpaceX,” said Elon Musk, chief engineer at SpaceX. “It is the culmination of an incredible amount of work by the SpaceX team, by NASA and by a number of other partners in the process of making this happen. You can look at this as the results of a hundred thousand people roughly when you add up all the suppliers and everyone working incredibly hard to make this day happen.”

The program demonstrates NASA’s commitment to investing in commercial companies through public-private partnerships and builds on the success of American companies, including SpaceX, already delivering cargo to the space station.

“It’s difficult to put into words how proud I am of the people who got us here today,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager. “When I think about all of the challenges overcome – from design and testing, to paper reviews, to working from home during a pandemic and balancing family demands with this critical mission – I am simply amazed at what the NASA and SpaceX teams have accomplished together. This is just the beginning; I will be watching with great anticipation as Bob and Doug get ready to dock to the space station tomorrow, and through every phase of this historic mission.”

SpaceX controlled the launch of the Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy’s Launch Control Center Firing Room 4, the former space shuttle control room, which SpaceX has leased as its primary launch control center. As Crew Dragon ascended into space, SpaceX commanded the spacecraft from its mission control center in Hawthorne, California. NASA teams are monitoring space station operations throughout the flight from Mission Control Center at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft is scheduled to dock to the space station at 10:29 a.m. Sunday, May 31. NASA Television and the agency’s website are providing ongoing live coverage of the Crew Dragon’s trip to the orbiting laboratory. Behnken and Hurley will work with SpaceX mission control to verify the spacecraft is performing as intended by testing the environmental control system, the displays and control system, and by maneuvering the thrusters, among other things. The first docking maneuver began Saturday, May 30, at 4:09 p.m., and the spacecraft will begin its close approach to the station at about 8:27 a.m. Sunday, May 31. Crew Dragon is designed to dock autonomously, but the crews onboard the spacecraft and the space station will diligently monitor the performance of the spacecraft as it approaches and docks to the forward port of the station’s Harmony module.

After successfully docking, the crew will be welcomed aboard the International Space Station, where they will become members of the Expedition 63 crew, which currently includes NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy. NASA will continue live coverage through hatch opening and the crew welcoming ceremony. The crew will perform tests on Crew Dragon in addition to conducting research and other tasks with the space station crew.

Demo-2 Astronauts

Three astronauts aboard the International Space Station will participate in a live NASA Television crew news conference from orbit on Monday, June 1, beginning at 11:15 a.m. on NASA TV and the agency’s website.

Behnken is the joint operations commander for the mission, responsible for activities such as rendezvous, docking and undocking, as well as Demo-2 activities while the spacecraft is docked to the space station. He was selected as a NASA astronaut in 2000 and has completed two space shuttle flights. Behnken flew STS-123 in March 2008 and STS-130 in February 2010, performing three spacewalks during each mission. Born in St. Anne, Missouri, he has bachelor’s degrees in physics and mechanical engineering from Washington University in St. Louis and earned a master’s and doctorate in mechanical engineering from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Before joining NASA, he was a flight test engineer with the U.S. Air Force.

Hurley is the spacecraft commander for Demo-2, responsible for activities such as launch, landing and recovery. He was selected as an astronaut in 2000 and has completed two spaceflights. Hurley served as pilot and lead robotics operator for both STS‐127 in July 2009 and STS‐135, the final space shuttle mission, in July 2011. The New York native was born in Endicott but considers Apalachin his hometown. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering from Tulane University in New Orleans and graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School in Patuxent River, Maryland. Before joining NASA, he was a fighter pilot and test pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Mission Objectives

The Demo-2 mission is the final major test before NASA’s Commercial Crew Program certifies Crew Dragon for operational, long-duration missions to the space station. As SpaceX’s final flight test, it will validate all aspects of its crew transportation system, including the Crew Dragon spacecraft, spacesuits, Falcon 9 launch vehicle, launch pad 39A and operations capabilities.

While en route to the station, Behnken and Hurley will take control of Crew Dragon for two manual flight tests, demonstrating their ability to control the spacecraft should an issue with the spacecraft’s automated flight arise. On Saturday, May 30, while the spacecraft is coasting, the crew will test its roll, pitch and yaw. When Crew Dragon is about 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) below the station and moving around to the docking axis, the crew will conduct manual in-orbit demonstrations of the control system in the event it were needed. After pausing, rendezvous will resume and mission managers will make a final decision about whether to proceed to docking as Crew Dragon approaches 20 meters (66 feet).

For operational missions, Crew Dragon will be able to launch as many as four crew members at a time and carry more than 220 pounds of cargo, allowing for an increased number crew members aboard the space station and increasing the time dedicated to research in the unique microgravity environment, as well as returning more science back to Earth.

The Crew Dragon being used for this flight test can stay in orbit about 110 days, and the specific mission duration will be determined once on station based on the readiness of the next commercial crew launch. The operational Crew Dragon spacecraft will be capable of staying in orbit for at least 210 days as a NASA requirement.

At the conclusion of the mission, Behnken and Hurley will board Crew Dragon, which will then autonomously undock, depart the space station, and re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. Upon splashdown off Florida’s Atlantic coast, the crew will be picked up by the SpaceX recovery ship and returned to the dock at Cape Canaveral.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with SpaceX and Boeing to design, build, test and operate safe, reliable and cost-effective human transportation systems to low-Earth orbit. Both companies are focused on test missions, including abort system demonstrations and crew flight tests, ahead of regularly flying crew missions to the space station. Both companies’ crewed flights will be the first times in history NASA has sent astronauts to space on systems owned, built, tested and operated by private companies.

Learn more about NASA’s Commercial Crew program at:

NASA names companies to develop human landers for Artemis Moon Missions

May 1st, 2020

Illustration of Artemis astronauts on the Moon — NASA

NASA has selected three U.S. companies to design and develop human landing systems (HLS) for the agency’s Artemis program, one of which will land the first woman and next man on the surface of the Moon by 2024. NASA is on track for sustainable human exploration of the Moon for the first time in history.

The human landing system awards under the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP-2) Appendix H Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) are firm-fixed price, milestone-based contracts. The total combined value for all awarded contracts is $967 million for the 10-month base period.

The following companies were selected to design and build human landing systems:

  • Blue Origin of Kent, Washington, is developing the Integrated Lander Vehicle (ILV) – a three-stage lander to be launched on its own New Glenn Rocket System and ULA Vulcan launch system.
  • Dynetics (a Leidos company) of Huntsville, Alabama, is developing the Dynetics Human Landing System (DHLS) – a single structure providing the ascent and descent capabilities that will launch on the ULA Vulcan launch system.
  • SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, is developing the Starship – a fully integrated lander that will use the SpaceX Super Heavy rocket.

“With these contract awards, America is moving forward with the final step needed to land astronauts on the Moon by 2024, including the incredible moment when we will see the first woman set foot on the lunar surface,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “This is the first time since the Apollo era that NASA has direct funding for a human landing system, and now we have companies on contract to do the work for the Artemis program.”

Fifty years ago, NASA’s Apollo Program proved it is possible to land humans on the Moon and return them safely to Earth. When NASA returns to the Moon in four years with the Artemis program, it will go in a way that reflects the world today – with government, industry, and international partners in a global effort to build and test the systems needed for challenging missions to Mars and beyond.

“We are on our way.” said Douglas Loverro, NASA’s associate administrator for Human Explorations and Operations Mission Directorate in Washington. “With these awards we begin an exciting partnership with the best of industry to accomplish the nation’s goals. We have much work ahead, especially over these next critical 10 months. I have high confidence that working with these teammates, we will succeed.”

NASA’s commercial partners will refine their lander concepts through the contract base period ending in February 2021. During that time, the agency will evaluate which of the contractors will perform initial demonstration missions. NASA will later select firms for development and maturation of sustainable lander systems followed by sustainable demonstration missions. NASA intends to procure transportation to the lunar surface as commercial space transportation services after these demonstrations are complete. During each phase of development, NASA and its partners will use critical lessons from earlier phases to hone the final concepts that will be used for future lunar commercial services.

“I am confident in NASA’s partnership with these companies to help achieve the Artemis mission and develop the human landing system returning us to the Moon” said Lisa Watson-Morgan, HLS program manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “We have a history of proven lunar technical expertise and capabilities at Marshall and across NASA that will pave the way for our efforts to quickly and safely land humans on the Moon in 2024.”

NASA experts will work closely with the commercial partners building the next human landing systems, leveraging decades of human spaceflight experience and the speed of the commercial sector to achieve a Moon landing in 2024.

The HLS program manager will assign NASA personnel to support the work of each contractor, providing direct, in-line expertise to the companies as requested in their proposals (e.g., design support, analysis, testing). The HLS program will also perform advanced development and risk reduction activities, working in parallel to better inform the approach for the 2024 mission and the necessary maturation of systems for the future sustaining architecture.

Charged with returning to the Moon in the next four years, NASA’s Artemis program will reveal new knowledge about the Moon, Earth, and our origins in the solar system. The human landing system is a vital part of NASA’s deep space exploration plans, along with the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, Orion spacecraft, and Gateway.

NASA is returning to the Moon for scientific discovery, economic benefits, and inspiration for a new generation. Working with its partners throughout the Artemis program, the agency will fine-tune precision landing technologies and develop new mobility capabilities that allow robots and crew to travel greater distances and explore new regions of the Moon. On the surface, the agency has proposed building a new habitat and rovers, testing new power systems and much more to get ready for human exploration of Mars.

Learn more about each HLS concept:

https://www.nasa.gov/feature/nasa-selects-blue-origin-dynetics-spacex-for-artemis-human-landers​

Learn more about America’s Moon to Mars exploration approach at: Moon to Mars

Houstonian rounds out SpaceX expedition crew

April 1st, 2020

Shannon Walker

By Mary Alys Cherry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SpaceX Crew Dragon flight test a success

April 1st, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Business Buzz

March 4th, 2019

Space test flights are delayed again
The first crewless test flights have been delayed again, NASA has announced. The space agency said the first uncrewed test flight by SpaceX’s Crew Dragon – previously planned for around Feb. 23 – is now scheduled for no earlier than March 2, with its second test flight with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken now scheduled for July.
Meanwhile, Boeing’s uncrewed test flight of the CTS-100 Starliner in March is now scheduled for no sooner than April, and its crewed test flight with Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson and NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Mike Fincke scheduled for no sooner than August.

NASA awards $2.9B contract to Leidos
NASA has awarded Leidos of Reston, Va., a contract for information technology (IT) end-user services to support the agency’s headquarters, centers and other performance sites.
NASA End-user Services & Technologies (NEST) is a firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract that has a maximum value of $2.9 billion and includes a two-year, three-month base period followed by a two-year option, one-year option, and five one-year award term options that would extend the period of performance to May 31, 2029.
NASA personnel use IT to support the agency’s core business, scientific, research and computational activities. Leidos will provide, manage, secure and maintain these essential IT services for the agency.

Two firms donate $500,000 to SJC
As the building of the new San Jacinto College Center for Petrochemical, Energy and Technology nears completion, two companies have donated a total of $500,000 for an analyzer lab and for education and training.

Siemens has donated $250,000 to add an analyzer lab to the new center that is expected to open this fall while Dow Chemical has donated another $250,000 to ensure that training and the education curriculum in the center will align with the needs of petrochemical manufacturing employers.

Siemens, a global powerhouse focusing on electrification, automation and digitalization, has been among the college’s industry partners providing input and donations toward the project since the start of discussions about the San Jacinto College petrochemical training center.

San Jac broke ground for the $60 million center in September 2017. In addition to an associate degree and certificates, the college is pursuing the approval and development of a bachelor’s degree in applied technology.

Besides being an industry partner and member of the College’s Petrochemical Advisory Council, Dow Chemical Deer Park has hired 25 SJC graduates as operators in the past four years – or 23 percent of the site’s new hires. Dow also has established an apprenticeship program at the college.

Port has another outstanding year
In highlighting a host of achievements this past year, Port Houston Executive Director Roger Guenther announced several records were broken in 2018, including that total tonnage at the port set a record of 35.7 million tons – an increase of 9 percent from 2017.

“The strength of cargo activity helped drive operating revenue to $366 million for the year, shattering the previous record set in 2017 of $333 million.” Guenther said as he delivered his 2018 year-end report to the Port Commission of the Port of Houston Authority during its first monthly meeting of 2019.

Combined business through the port’s public facilities also generated a total cash flow of $162 million, surpassing the previous record of $151 million set in 2017.

Presenting AMOCO Federal Credit Union’s sponsorship check for the Keep Kids in School Golf Tournament is (right) Stacey Malbrough with Communities In Schools-Bay Area’s Hillary Gramm, resource development director, and Dr. Peter Wunschel, executive director.

Amoco FCU gives $5,000 to CIS-BA
Since 2006, Amoco Federal Credit Union has supported at-risk students through the annual Keep Kids in School Golf Tournament sponsorships totaling $109,000. The golf tournament benefits Communities in Schools-Bay Area, a dropout prevention program serving 26 campuses in Clear Creek and Dickinson ISDs.

This year’ shamble tournament will be Monday, April 15 at Bay Oaks Country Club in Clear Lake.

In addition to sponsoring the tournament, Amoco staffers serve the students in different ways. Amoco’s Stacey Malbrough, culture and communications manager, mentors a League City Elementary School student in the program and works on the Raise Your Glass to CIS wine tasting event committee. Josh Ryding, Friendswood branch manager, works on the Keep Kids in School Golf Tournament Committee.

For sponsorships or golf tournament information, contact Hillary Gramm at hillaryg@cis.org or 281-486-6698.

NASA assigns first crews to fly commercial spacecraft

September 1st, 2018

Kennedy Space Center Director Robert Cabana addresses the standing room only crowd at JSC’s Teague Auditorium as NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Johnson Space Center Director Mark Geyer look on.

By Mary Alys Cherry

“We’re back,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told a rousing audience in the Johnson Space Center’s Teague Auditorium.

“This is a big deal for our country, and we want America to know that we’re back – that we’re flying American astronauts on American rockets from American soil,” he said as the crowd’s roar reached heights probably not heard around JSC in years.

Sweet words to everyone’s ears, especially the nine astronauts who were introduced as America’s first commercial crew astronauts – those who will help increase commercial companies’ involvement in low Earth orbit and possibly take over operation of the space station some day in the future and allow NASA to focus on deep space exploration.

A NEW ERA
“Today,” Bridenstine continued, “our country’s dreams of greater achievements in space are within our grasp. This accomplished group of American astronauts, flying on new spacecraft developed by our commercial partners, Boeing and SpaceX, will launch a new era of human spaceflight. Today’s announcement advances our great American vision and strengthens the nation’s leadership in space.”

Joining him on stage for the presentation were Johnson Space Center Director Mark Geyer, Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, Boeing Defense, Space and Security CEO Leanne Caret and SpaceX CEO Gwynne Shotwell, who each spoke briefly of their hopes for the future before the new NASA chief introduced the astronauts – five who will fly on Boeing’s Starliner and four who will man SpaceX’s Dragon.

NASA introduced the first U.S. astronauts who will fly on American-made, commercial spacecraft to and from the International Space Station – an endeavor that will return astronaut launches to U.S. soil for the first time since the space shuttle’s retirement in 2011. The nine astronauts introduced to crew Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon are, from left, Sunita Williams, Josh Cassada, Eric Boe, Nicole Mann, Christopher Ferguson, Douglas Hurley, Robert Behnken, Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover.

NASA intern and University of Texas student Stephanie Zeller shares a light moment with Sen.Ted Cruz, one of a number of elected officials at the ceremony at JSC’s Teague Auditorium.

“All of us are here today because we stand for something new and profound, built upon an amazing legacy, and it is personal for all of us,” Boeing executive Leanne Caret said. “Today we start a new chapter, and we’re so thrilled to be on this journey.” Both companies bring unique approaches and ideas to the development and testing of their systems, which is why NASA selected both companies in September 2014.

“The 7,000 women and men of SpaceX understand what a sacred honor this was for us to be part of this program, and for us to fly [NASA astronauts],” said SpaceX executive Gwynne Shotwell. “So thank you very much, we take it seriously, we won’t let you down.”

SEVERAL APPEARANCES
The stage presentation was one of several appearances by Bridenstine during a three-day visit to JSC. On his first morning, the 43-year-old Michigan native got a up-close look at the Orion mockup that is being readied for its major safety test in April to verify that its launch abort system can steer the capsule and astronauts inside it to safety in the event of an issue with the Space Launch System rocket when the spacecraft is under the highest aerodynamic loads it will experience during ascent for deep-space missions.

Next, he met with a select group of local reporters, answering a variety of questions about the future of the space station, the Gateway moon orbiting project that involves returning to the moon and is seen as a stepping stone to Mars, and the delays on the James Webb Telescope.

“NASA is doing things it has not done before, using government resources never done before,” he told reporters in a sit-down roundtable session, “and we want to be sure we do not have another gap.”

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, left, looks over the work being done in Building 9S at Johnson Space Center for the launch of the Orion mockup.

Bridenstine started his visit here at a reception at Space Center Houston where he addressed aerospace executives, local business people and elected officials, discussing a change in national space policy providing for an American-led integrated program with private sector partners for a return to the moon, followed by missions to Mars and beyond.

The new policy, he said, calls for the NASA administrator to “lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities.”

Bridenstine emphasized the importance of the word “sustainable” in the policy. He said, “When we talk about going to the moon, this time to stay, we want the entire architecture between Earth and the moon to be sustainable — in other words ‘reusable.’ We want tugs that are going back and forth from low Earth orbit to lunar orbit to be reusable. We want the lunar landers to be reusable so that they can go back to the surface of the moon over and over again.

“That entire architecture is going to be built on an American backbone. We will have critical infrastructure developed by NASA, by those in this room and at Johnson Space Center, that will give us a sustainable infrastructure on the moon… When we go to the moon this time, we’re going to stay.”

Boeing, SpaceX win Commercial Crew contracts

October 1st, 2014

ISSBy Mary Alys Cherry

NASA took another step toward ferrying its astronauts to the International Space Station Sept. 16, announcing that it was awarding the Commercial Crew contract to two American companies — Boeing and SpaceX.

Boeing was given a $4.2 billion contract and SpaceX was awarded a $2.6 billion pact, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told the assembled crowd at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The SpaceX Dragon and Boeing CST-100 crew capsules will launch from KSC and eventually put an end to the space agency’s reliance on Russia and the $71 million cost per seat.

“From day one, the Obama Administration made clear that the greatest nation on Earth should not be dependent on other nations to get into space,” Bolden said. “Thanks to the leadership of President Obama, the hard work of our NASA and industry teams, and support from Congress, today we are one step closer to launching our astronauts from U.S. soil on American spacecraft and ending the nation’s sole reliance on Russia by 2017.

“Turning over low-Earth orbit transportation to private industry will also allow NASA to focus on an even more ambitious mission – sending humans to Mars,” he added, apparently hopeful they could meet the November 2017 deadline when the current contract with Russia expires.

“Boeing has been part of every American human space flight program, and we’re honored that NASA has chosen us to continue that legacy,” said Boeing Space Exploration Vice President and General Manager John Elbon.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk added, “SpaceX is deeply honored by the trust NASA has placed in us. We welcome today’s decision and the mission it advances with gratitude  and seriousness of purpose.”

In making the announcement, NASA officials said the contracts include “at least one crewed flight test per company with at least one astronaut aboard to verify the fully integrated rocket and spacecraft system can launch, maneuver in orbit, and dock to the space station, as well as validate all its systems perform as expected.”

Once the tests are successfully completed and certified by NASA engineering experts, each contractor will conduct at least two, and as many as six, crewed missions to the space station. These spacecraft also will serve as a lifeboat for astronauts aboard the station, officials added.

“We are excited to see our industry partners close in on operational flights to the International Space Station, an extraordinary feat industry and the NASA family began just four years ago,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

“This space agency has long been a technology innovator, and now we also can say we are an American business innovator, spurring job creation and opening up new markets to the private sector. The agency and our partners have many important steps to finish, but we have shown we can do the tough work required and excel in ways few would dare to hope.”

NASA said the companies will own and operate the crew transportation systems and be able to sell human space transportation services to other customers in addition to NASA, thereby reducing the costs for all customers.

Why the difference in amounts given the companies? They were given the amount listed in their proposals, the amount each company felt their system would cost, a spokesman said.

Blue Origin and a Sierra Nevada/Lockheed Martin partnership also competed for the awards.