Sierra Nevada Challenges NASA’s Space Taxi Deal With SpaceX, Boeing – OPINION (AND SPECULATION!)

AdminCadet:  First, here is the story – taken from NBC New’s website.  I recommend you glance at this first:

http://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/sierra-nevada-challenges-nasas-space-taxi-deal-spacex-boeing-n212916

Now for the Opinion/Speculation on my part.  First, let me say that I have no true idea why NASA chose Boeing and SpaceX over Sierra Nevada Corp (SNC) in the bid to design and deliver a US crew transport vehicle to take astronauts to/from Station.  But I can cogitate on it based on my years in the aerospace business as much as anyone.  Second, fortunately or unfortunately, there will probably be nothing that comes out of SCN’s challenge of the final NASA decision.  I personally have never seen any company win such a challenge.  But maybe this will be a first time.  Who knows.

Let’s look at what we do know (you can do this research yourselves – it all comes from Internet searches with my personal comments interspersed throughout):

Boeing Space Operations – It’s design for crew transport to Station is a 5-man capable capsule (with a required launch-abort system) called the CST-100 to be launched on the Atlas V.  Boeing-Space has many many years of crewed space vehicle experience.  They (or their previous incarnation Rockwell) designed and assisted in flying the Space Shuttle for over three decades with all its successes and failures.  They formed United Launch Alliance (ULA) with Lockheed Martin in 2006 as a 50-50 joint venture to provide launch services for the US government using the Atlas V, Delta II, and Delta IV launch vehicles.  While these expendable vehicles are not yet “man-rated”, they or earlier versions of them have supported America’s launch needs for over half a century.  And these launch systems have had excellent mission success.  For example, The Delta II has flown 97 consecutive successful launches to date.  The Atlas V has achieved 100 percent mission success since its debut in 2002 (49 flights) except for an upper stage anomaly due to a leaky valve in 2007 which resulted in leaving a payload in a lower than intended orbit (the customer still deemed the flight a success).  These launch vehicles have also seen continual upgrades and enhancements since they were first launched.  Boeing comes to the table with extensive experience with human space flight and is part of a company that provides very successful launch capability.  Now the negatives – ULA’s large launch systems utilize the Russian built RD-180 engines and, as I’m sure you are aware, things have been “uncomfortable” between the United States and Russia in the recent year.  So ULA has brought in the company Blue Origin to provide a possible replacement to the Russian engines: the BE-4 engine which uses a newer technology than the Russian engines (liquid natural gas as its fuel in combination with liquid oxygen).  Having to verify and incorporate a new engine technology into its launch systems has its own “start up” risks.  Also, Boeing is “old school” with all the expensive infrastructure, methodology practices, and hardware traceability that entails.  Some would argue (definitely not me, who is also old school and proud of it) this makes Boeing less likely to attempt cutting edge methods to lower cost and achieve improved performance (I would counter this argument by saying this makes them less likely to take unnecessary or mis-informed risks with human lives and to be able to perform failure analysis and corrective action in a reliable and tried-and-true fashion).   We who have worked side by side with Boeing for decades have been through many years of successes and crushing failures with them.  We can tell you they are definitely a worthy company whose people and management all want to do the right thing.

CST100B_Boeing02

Image: Boeing CST-100 Capsule

Now for the wunderkind company, SpaceX – the darling of the media and the company that has ignited the imagination of Americans and Washington politicians alike.  SpaceX also is proposing a capsule (also with a required launch-abort system) for its crew transport vehicle – the Dragon 2 to be launched on SpaceX’s own Falcon 9 rocket.  Unless you’ve been living on the Moon, you should know that SpaceX is the brain child of Elon Musk, the South African-born Canadian American inventor and investor who holds bachelor degrees in both Physics and Economics.  He co-started the web software company Zip2, then co-founded a company some may have heard of called PayPal, from which he reaped over 150 million dollars when the company was sold.  After this, Musk went on to co-found and become CEO of Tesla Motors – a company dedicated to building efficient and high performing electric cars (I don’t mind telling you, I’d love to have one).  He also co-founded SolarCity, a solar panel plant production company.  If you looked up “entrepreneur” in the dictionary, I’d have no doubt you’d find Mr. Musk’s photograph next to the definition.  Musk founded Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) in 2002.  The company focus is on its launch vehicles the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets, and its cargo spacecraft the Dragon capsule.  In 2009, SpaceX’s Falcon 1 rocket launched and put a satellite into Earth’s orbit.  In 2008, NASA awarded SpaceX funding to design and fly 12 flight of its Falcon 9 / Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station, replacing the Space Shuttle (retired in 2011).  SpaceX has always advertised its intention to evolve to a crew transport space company, with highly set goals of reduction in cost and improvement in reliability.   It designs, tests, and fabricates most of its hardware components in house, and NASA is not its only customer.  In 2012, the SpaceX Dragon (cargo version) was berthed with the ISS for the first time, the first “commercial” company to launch and bring a vehicle to the ISS for berthing.  [I put quotes here because, except for the type of contracts used, all NASA vehicles could be considered “commercially” built – after all, they’ve all been built by private-sector companies using NASA funding.]  Since 2012, SpaceX has successfully traveled to and been berthed to the Station five times.  It is scheduled for an early December return to station in 2014 and an early February return in 2015 with several more to follow through 2016.   From this discussion you can see that SpaceX has accrued a lot of experience in launching and getting capsules to Station.  This is definitely a huge positive in its favor.  And its non-convential methods in design and cost savings also are an exciting aspect of this company.  Now for the negatives:  SpaceX has demonstrated quick turnaround from failures. While none of these failures have resulted in a loss of a cargo vehicle to Station, they have resulted in delays in launch and actual loss of secondary cargo.  Failure may not have been an option during Apollo 13, but we in the aerospace business know unfortunately it happens and will happen.  It’s how an organization responds to failure which demonstrates its true worth.  To simply take a failed piece of hardware, fix it, and then re-fly, is not enough.  That is called remedial action.  Like fixing a flat tire on your car and driving away.  Corrective action is when you understand in-depth what caused the failure in the first place and you either (1) change the design so the failure cannot re-occur, or (2) you mitigate recurrence as much as technology and budget allow with workarounds in place should the failure recur.  In-depth safety analysis and acceptance is a big big play in both of these processes.  A company like Boeing, which has “been around the space block” before, knows how to do this intimately.  They’ve learned the hard way (as have we who worked with them) that this is how you protect your vehicles and save people’s lives.  There are some who question if SpaceX has the experience, the documentation, the traceability, and the practical know-how to understand the difference between fixing a problem and performing true corrective action.  But, since we do not have insight into the company’s policies, it is hard to argue for or against if this policy is being practiced.  Unfortunately, we only can “wait and see”.

Dragonv2 image

Image: SpaceX Dragon 2 capsule

So we come to our challenger Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) – Space Exploration Systems.   SNC proposed a small winged “mini-shuttle” vehicle (with a required launch-abort system) called the Dream Chaser to be launched on ULA’s Atlas V rocket as its crew transport vehicle to the Station.  SNC is an American privately held electronic systems provider and integrator.  They specialize in micro satellites, energy, telemedicine, nanotechnology, and commercial orbital transportation services.  They operate under CEO Fatih Ozmen and President Eren Ozmen.  The company holds contracts with the US military and private spaceflight companies as well as NASA.  SNC was founded in 1963 and was later acquired by the Ozmens in 1994.  The company has just started providing aircraft to the US Air Force for reconnaissance and training to the Afghanistan military in 2014.  It acquired SpaceDev in 2008 and started developing the orbital spacecraft called the Dream Chaser as a potential crew transport vehicle to the International Space Station under the Commercial Crew Program.  [As an old Shuttle engineer, I really like SNC’s Dream Chaser winged vehicle.  It looks like a min-Shuttle in many aspects.  I’m putting my bias out for all the world to see.  Love them capsules, but a winged vehicle is my first love.]  The vehicle was designed to be a reusable composite spacecraft which could carry two to seven people and cargo to the ISS.  It could fly autonomously if needed.  It was planned to to be launched on a human-rated Atlas V, and would return from space by gliding and landing on any airport runway that handled commercial air traffic.  Its thrusters burned ethanol based fuel which is non-toxic / non-volatile, so can be handled directly after landing (unlike the Shuttle).  Its thermal protection system was an ablative tile that can be replaced in large sections instead of tile by tile.  It’s on-orbit propulsion was handled by two rocket engines that utilized non-toxic and easily stored propellants.  It’s rockets have seen hundreds of successful rocket firing tests to date, and the company still plans to develop these rocket engines for other customers besides NASA.  In 2013, the Dream Chaser test article performed its first flight after being released from a “sky crane” helicopter.  Just prior to landing the left main landing gear failed to deploy (possibly due to failure of the landing gear door to open) resulting in a crash landing.  All systems were found still working and the crew compartment was intact.  The failed landing gear design on the test vehicle was never meant to be used on the final vehicle design (though I’m uncertain if the door design would have been the same).  And in September 2014, as the attached article above attests, SNC lost the Commercial Crew Contract to SpaceX and Boeing, a decision which SNC is now challenging.  So let’s look at the positives of this company and its proposed design:  First building a crew transport vehicle based on a mini-Shuttle design has many pluses.  It can leverage upon three decades of flight and ground data – data such as aerodynamic, aerothermal, thermal protection concerns and repair, ground turnaround issues, etc.  Also, this vehicle was planned to be launched at the top of the Atlas V, so the external tank foam concerns which caused the last Shuttle accident would not exist.  Its use of non-toxic propellants would be an excellent assist in turnaround operations.  The ability to land at any landing field was an obvious plus.  This vehicle appeared to be more flexible in many ways than the Boeing and SpaceX capsules which require parachute assisted landings.  All good things.  Now the negatives.  First, unlike Boeing, SNC does not have years and years of human space flight experience.  And unlike SpaceX, it doesn’t have recent experience launching to and successfully berthing (or docking) with the Station.  And finally, unlike both Boeing and SpaceX, it does not have its own launch system – it will utilizing ULA’s launch system separate from its own company adding an integration complexity that the other companies may not have.  Finally, some concerns exist that the belly tile would be exposed to micro-meterorite orbital debris (MMOD) and possible damage as the vehicle stayed docked on the Station for its required six month stay (a requirement for all the commerical crew designs to provide an emergency return vehicle).  The Shuttle tile had a known concern with MMOD.  Also, the vehicle’s landing gear tires could potentially lose pressure during the six month period, also a risk that required monitoring during the Shuttle’s relatively 1-2 week stays at Station (as compared to 6 months for the CC vehicles).  So on-orbit issues with this vehicle could have required re-address if this design had been chosen.

snc_dream_chaser_ksc_launch1

Image: SNC “Dream Chase” vehicle

In conclusion, why did NASA pick Boeing and SpaceX over SNC’s Dream Chaser?  Of course, none of us on the outside really know.  But I would suggest that NASA wanted a tried and true company like Boeing, in conjunction with a cutting edge, young, but “gaining experience” company like SpaceX.  These two companies provide NASA with what we in the business call “unlike redundancy”.  If one vehicle has a failure or is grounded due to a problem, the other is there to step up.  Both also utilize different launch systems, so if there is an issue with one launch system, the other company will most likely not have a similar problem with its hardware.  I would therefore suggest that SNC’s relative inexperience and reliance on a second party launch system may have hurt it in the long run.

Now let’s tag on some “out of this world” speculation [and let me stress this is definitely just speculation on my part].  The White House and NASA’s current Administration is looking beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO) toward Mars as NASA’s next mission (though many of us would like to go to the Moon first of course).  The NASA capsule, the Orion, also known as the MPCV (Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle), is working diligently toward this endeavor.  The Orion capsule is being built by Lockheed Martin for NASA and is a 2-6 crew capable vehicle that is planned to be launched on the large SLS (Space Launch Systems) rocket.  The SLS is being designed and built by Boeing under the Marshall Space Flight Center’s direction.  The Orion and SLS vehicles originally came from the Constellation Program, a program started under the Bush Administration which has since been cancelled by Mr. Obama, that was to take America back to the Moon.  The Orion capsule is similar to the Boeing capsule and the SpaceX capsule, except potentially for its weight.  For example SpaceX is advertising the Dragon 2 will weigh under 7 tons.  The Orion design currently has it at almost 10 tons.  (I have not found information yet on the proposed weight for the Boeing CST-100 capsule).  The Orion is currently 2.5 times the volume of the original Apollo capsule. So let’s be honest, as much as we applaud the continued success of the Orion capsule and want it to succeed, Orion is heavy and big for a capsule.  And lets be honest again, the SLS rocket is proving to be extremely expensive to design and build.  This is one big rocket.  Due to its size and cost, it will be difficult to launch even one of these rockets per year.  Some nay-sayers speculate the SLS will not be able to launch more than once every two or three years.  In parallel, there are fears that future NASA budgets may not be sufficient to support the SLS.  Without the SLS, the Orion and its Service Module would have to depend on the Falcon “Heavy” (a larger version of SpaceX’s Falcon 9) to launch it into LEO and beyond.  And due to its size and the other hardware needed, to get into deep space this would probably require multiple launches  (as many as four launches to land on the Moon).  A lighter crew vehicle for missions beyond LEO may be desired.  This may be especially true for a mission to land on the Moon (versus a Mars mission) where mass is more important than crew volume due to the shorter duration trip.  What if NASA and the White House is considering other vehicles that could be modified for these future goals besides Orion?  Which of the Commercial Crew vehicles would have the edge on this?  Much as I love the Dream Chaser, it is possible this winged vehicle would be difficult to modify for exploration beyond LEO if NASA wanted to extend the design. I’m not sure the belly tiles or wings could take the higher velocity entry aero heating associated with return from deep space exploration missions. The capsule designs perhaps would be more amenable to mods to allow this type of entry making them possible contenders for beyond LEO missions.

I titled this long writeup as “OPINION” and “SPECULATION”.  I am not in the know here.  But it sure is interesting to think about the political and economic environment we live in and discuss these excellent crew transport vehicle designs and cogitate on why NASA picked Boeing and SpaceX over SNC.  The above writeup constitute my thoughts.  We may not know the full story unless SNC’s legal challenge allows more facts to surface.  Maybe you have some other thoughts on this too…

News Article credit: nbcnews.com – September 26, 2014.

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NASA Space Shuttle Data Tapped To Combat Climate Change – OPINION

AdminCadet: First let me say that I am not a “believer” that human produced CO2 is the prime cause behind the climate change that our Earth is apparently experiencing today.  Recent analysis results produced by several of my colleagues, strongly suggest that any climate change that is occurring is most likely due to a natural cyclic phenomenon seen throughout the history of our planet and not human produced CO2.   “The wonderful thing about science” Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson likes to say, “is that it doesn’t care if you believe in it or not.  It is based on data.”  Well someone needs to look closer at the data.  But that is neither here nor there for this article.

The bottom line is that the White House is going to allow release of data collected by the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission or SRTM which flew onboard the space shuttle Endeavor in the year 2000 to assist in this nation and the world’s “fight” against climate change.  This is the same Administration who allowed the cancellation of the Shuttle Program with two-thirds of life still remaining on our vehicles, and left America without a US crew transport vehicle to our International Space Station.  I find it grimly humorous that the Administration now has turned toward Shuttle produced data for assistance.  I guess the Shuttle Program was actually good for something?

If this more accurate topography data is used, as claimed by many, to understand Earth’s topography more clearly and thus prepare for the negative impacts of global warming (such as rising sea levels and coastal erosion) then the sharing of this data is a good thing.  If the data is also used to put more pressure on the US Congress to legislate CO2 producing industries out of existence, then, in my humble opinion, that is a very bad thing.  I guess, if the second result were to occur, not only can our current Administration claim that they eliminated the Space Shuttle Program in their attempt to downsize NASA in favor of the private sector, they can also say they crippled America’s energy production industry in favor of a belief system based on emotional pseudo-science.  But then, our Administration does not seem to embrace science-based facts except when doing so furthers its political goals.

Here is the story

http://www.livescience.com/48044-nasa-space-shuttle-data-climate-change.html

Shuttle Radar Topography Mission 2000

Article credit: livescience.com / Megan Gannon, News Editor / September 26, 2014.  Image credit: goldensoftware.com/Newsletter/Issue52s

OPINION – Upcoming Flight of NASA’s Orion Spacecraft will be a Mission of Firsts and Should be Applauded

AdminCadet: The following article by NASA’s Kennedy Space Center concerning the upcoming flight test of NASA’s Orion spacecraft is very good.

http://www.nasa.gov/content/flight-test-preparations-draw-on-launch-services-programs-expertise/#.U_j0A0vlPa4

Also, here is a good 2013 “infographic” by space.com (designed by Karl Tate/ Jan. 16, 2013) which explains Orion:

http://www.space.com/19292-nasa-orion-space-capsule-explained-infographic.html

Quote from the first article: “The upcoming flight test of NASA’s Orion spacecraft will be a mission of firsts. This new crew vehicle, making its debut on Exploration Flight Test-1, will become the first of its kind in four decades to venture beyond low-Earth orbit. The mission also marks the first time a spacecraft designed to carry humans will be lofted to orbit by a modern-day expendable launch vehicle.  Orion, built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, will fly aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket. NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP), based at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, specializes in the management of missions flying on expendable rockets, single-use vehicles that aren’t reused. The program is providing its expertise in an advisory capacity for Orion’s first flight.”

Image one: Orion Spacecraft [Image Credit: Space.com’s info graphic “Orion Explained” by Karl Tate – Jan 16, 2013]:

Orion Capsule - 2 2013

Image two: Launch personnel in Hangar AE at KSC in a joint integrated simulation of Orion’s first test [Image Credit: NASA]:

EFT-1 Simulation in Hanger AE

Image three: Artist’s concept of the Orion Spacecraft including the service module [Image credit: NASA]:

Orion_Service_Module-300x225

AdminCadet:  The following reflects some of my personal thoughts on the first test of the Orion spacecraft – (these are thoughts from an old “Shuttle-hugger” looking from the outside in, not someone who is deeply familiar with the day-to-day operation of the Orion program):

One day, if all testing is successful, and America and Congress allow it, Orion’s crew module will eventually house four astronauts for deep space missions lasting up to three weeks. It will be launched on the new Space Launch System (SLS), a rocket larger and more powerful than the Apollo Program’s Saturn V.   It’s service module, built by the European Space Agency supposedly based on their current Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), will provide it with propulsion after it leaves the SLS.  It will be America’s first manned spacecraft in 40 years to take humans beyond Low Earth Orbit.  It could be a vehicle we use to go to the Moon or Mars.  The initial unmanned tests (starting with the Exploration Flight Test-1 mentioned above) are scheduled to start in 2017.  The first crewed flight, utilizing the SLS rocket, is currently scheduled for the early 2020’s possibly in association with the Asteroid Retrieval/Redirect Mission (ARM).

Some nay-sayers talk a lot about the limitations of this version of the Orion spacecraft that will be used in this first test.  They point out the lack of life support hardware and displays and controls (and the thermal control systems that go with this hardware) since it will be unmanned, they point out it may have less redundancy and less margins of safety in some areas than a manned craft should have, that this will be Lockheed’s first vehicle designed for a human crew and the risks this inexperience brings, that it will not launch during its first test on the vehicle it is ultimately designed to launch on, that the time between the test and the actual first manned flight is unbelievably long.  Finally, in an over-reaching argument, they point out that the Orion capsule design was originally built for the large SLS rocket under the now cancelled Constellation Program – it has weight limitations that could make it difficult to adapt for lunar missions utilizing other less powerful launch vehicles…

Even if you are in agreement with the criticisms above, try this on for size:   It is a very difficult time in the United States for the NASA agency to be building a new spacecraft.  This country apparently has lost much interest in human space flight (as indicated by the cancellation of both the Constellation Program and the Space Shuttle Program, and the continued under-funding of the Commercial Crew Program) and seems to be losing interest in unmanned science missions also.  Our country is worrying more about its social issues than its space program and technical excellence.  With this in mind, the fact we are even building and testing an Orion capsule is a miracle.  Any triumphs made by the Orion team are worthy of sincere congratulations!  And, no matter what any of the critics say, this upcoming test of Orion will be a momentous milestone that is very important not only for the new vehicle, but for our NASA space agency as a whole.  First, concerning the vehicle itself, this test will exercise the vehicle in the harsh environments of lift-off, spaceflight, and splash down as an integrated spacecraft for the first time (including its thermal protection system, avionics and associated cooling systems, structures, re-entry parachutes, software, operational concepts, so much more…).  It will test the US-built capsule and the ESA-built service module as an integrated spacecraft in space for the first time.  The NASA agency will also experience many “firsts” with this test:  As the KSC article above points out, it’s been a long time since the human space exploration portion of the NASA agency has ventured beyond Low Earth Orbiter (LEO – the orbit Station resides in, and the orbit the Space Shuttle launched into) with a vehicle that will eventually become man-rated.  We’ve also never launched a spacecraft developed to transport humans with today’s Delta rocket before.  And this test will utilize KSC’s launch support facilities and JSC’s mission control, adding greatly to KSC ground operational expertise with the new vehicle which will be vital in this and future missions, and giving JSC personnel needed “flight control” experience in handling a spacecraft outside of LEO.

It’s easy for nay sayers to knock a new space program.  As an old Shuttle engineer, I fall into that nasty trap all the time if I don’t catch myself.  But, just the pure grit and grizzle of getting a program started and having it continue in today’s toxic environment, the act of melding NASA and Lockheed engineers together in a common goal, the determination to do the nuts-and-bolts requirements and design work, pushing thru the inter-center politics associated with 10 NASA centers scrambling for limited budget, getting the hardware through all stages of design under ever changing budget and political constraints and “the flavor of the term” policies imposed by Washington, being wire-brushed by the Asteroid Retrieval/Redirect Mission (ARM) critics and yet still keeping the eye on the ball, getting the first vehicle built and into test at KSC, working out the multitude of technical and integration issues as each arise, and eventually (hopefully) seeing the Orion spacecraft go into space for the first time, are a series of monumental victories that should NOT be discounted by anyone who has worked in the public or private sector on any large project.

They say space flight is hard.  The stresses this country puts on its space agency make it infinitely more harder.  Anyone who can win through this quagmire deserves high praise indeed.

Best of luck Orion on your preparations for your first test.  Best of luck to JSC, KSC, and to Lockheed.  We of NASA-current and NASA-past all want you to succeed!

First Article Credit: NASA-KSC by Anna Heiney – August 19, 2014;  Second “article”/First Image Credit: Space.com by Karl Tate – Jan 16, 2013.  Second Image Credit: NASA/August 2014.  Third Image Credit: NASA/Date Unknown.

Ways that Space Can Try to Kill You Especially on Long Distance Journeys

AdminCadet:  I really like the article I’m posting below. It goes into details about why flying in space is dangerous and how it can be deadly. I think its a really good article:

http://science.howstuffworks.com/10-ways-space-kill-you.htm

It was published by science.howstuffworks.com – looks like they did their homework.

space-kill-1

Some additional observations on my part:

First please note that not everything in the article is covered by my level of expertise.  I was a Shuttle engineer but did work on a moon lander and moon rover study plus some other projects (after Shuttle was cancelled) which touched on some of the bio issues the article addresses. But I am no means an expert on these issues.  I’m more of mechanisms kind of engineer.

I of course knew about the radiation issues and concerns with micro-debris from my Shuttle days. The article didn’t mention the latest rather “interesting” idea being bandied around in space exploration circles (SpaceX has even mentioned it) of sending older men and women (who are past “reproductive age”) on any long multi-month space trips we may attempt.  My understanding is older folk may have a leg up because studies show they can handle the radiation a bit better (plus they have a shorter life span ahead of them so statistics are in their favor of having less chances of getting cancer – sad but true). Also it would take a lot of mass to protect against radiation – actually I heard water or a liquid barrier around a vehicle would be more effective than a metal barrier.  But my understanding is it would take a lot of liquid to do this. And space radiation comes from all directions, so the protection would need to be around the total living area.  “Up mass” is always the Achilles heel of any launch system.  Studies are continuing on this important issue.

Also protection against micro debris again involves installing a barrier between space and the crew and sensitive hardware.  Some suggestions have been perhaps using some type of material that can absorb impact energy instead of just acting as a shield.  Again, this design issue would have to be addressed, and balancing “up mass” versus the odds of being impacted would have to be weighed by the vehicle designers and project management.  I can tell you the Shuttle windows and other structure did indeed see debris strikes during each relative “short” mission (days instead of multi-months), and Station has had its fair share of impacts as you can imagine during its long stay in Earth’s orbit – some quite close to delicate and vital hardware.  One fact greatly in our favor is as you get farther from Earth’s orbit, the debris that humankind has personally introduced into space gets farther and farther behind you.  But this doesn’t eliminate the threat, just makes it smaller.  There’s still a lot of small pieces of rock whizzing around out there.

I am ashamed to admit I hadn’t heard (or didn’t recall hearing ) about the fatal accident the three cosmonauts suffered in 1971 from vacuum exposure prior to re-entry. Terrible. I was interested to hear that a human body (at least as shown thru canine tests (which seems rather cruel but then I love dogs)) can suffer the terrible effects of vacuum exposure but can pretty much recover if the exposure is kept under 90 seconds. If that’s true maybe that stupid scene near the end of the original “Total Recall” movie where Arnold and his girlfriend are thrown out onto the surface of Mars without suits but lived to tell the tale wasn’t so stupid after all (I still think its stupid that they were able to get up afterwards with no apparent soreness or disability or even a headache!).  Also, the recent great “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie with its scene with Star Lord rescuing Gamora in space maybe could be possible too.  Who knows…  But I am traveling into geek-dom here [yes – once a geek, always a geek]…  Let’s get back to the article.

I appreciate the article mentioning the concerns about dust getting into suits and vehicle hardware. I remember hearing the Apollo astronaut suits had a lot of trouble with this issue.  This is on the money and is a definite concern for lunar and Mars missions, especially for long duration stays.

One thing I noticed missing was the concern with solar flare radiation.  As many know the Apollo lander had little to no protection against the intense radiation of a solar flare.   This was primarily to limit Moon down and up mass, I assume.  It would have been bad news if a crew had been hit by a flare while they were still on the Moon. Again, solar radiation shielding means mass.  So for long distance trips perhaps a shielded “safe room” or barrier directed toward the sun would be needed for the crew to get in or behind if a flare would occur.  At least its uni-directionally and not omni-directional like space radiation.  And at least the crew should have warning and time to respond. Again this is an up-mass and vehicle design issue to be tackled by any long distance vehicles that may be built.

In conclusion:  All in all, I think article explains very well why going to places like Mars and other far away destinations is going to be hard.  And also why building hardware and practicing through missions to our nearest neighbor, the Moon, at least in the beginning (with potentially longer and longer stays) will be of major benefit for any Mars mission.   But of course it will not give us all the info we need since there still will be lunar gravity to deal with during long stays – which is why micro-gravity testing on Station is so important.  But it would be an excellent way to begin and learn in preparation to any trips to our far away neighbors.

Big kudos to the writer of the article.

Article / Art Credit: science.howstuffworks.com – author: Patrick J. Kiger  – 2014

UPDATE:  A friend of mine who works suit testing and test design sent me the following 3 minute video currently on YouTube about a NASA spacesuit test that had a failure with the pressure line during vacuum testing in the mid 1960’s and exposed the test subject to approximately a minute of full vacuum.  My friend pointed out to me that in these conditions, the human passes out within just a few seconds (this information is re-inforced in the video).  [So I’m back to saying the “Total Recall” scene was just plain wrong!  Haha!  The Guardians scene was more realistic, I guess, since Star Lord and Gamora passed out.]  Anyway, enjoy the video called “Space Suit Testing” and uploaded by “NaOHKDBO” on June 2, 2010.  A side note: The statement at the end of the video that, to date, no American astronaut has ever perished due to vacuum exposure (thank goodness) does not obviously take into account the three Russian Cosmonauts who died in 1971.

Video Credits: Author NaOHKDBO – YouTube – NASA, June 2, 2010 [Reference testing: Mid 1960’s]… This video can also be found at http://www.spaceanswers.com/space-exploration/incredible-footage-of-a-nasa-test-subject-being-exposed-to-a-space-like-vacuum/ published on November 13, 2013.

Opinion: NASA’s Brain Drain in the Post-Shuttle Era Is Damaging the Agency

AdminCadet: The brain drain occurring at NASA is a huge concern.   Especially in the human space exploration arena.  Young folks are joining the agency less and less – either by their own decisions or because NASA has no slots to give them (due to the constant push from Washington to decrease NASA’s numbers) – and many are outright leaving in frustration after they come to NASA.  In addition, our contractors who have worked by our side are being laid off right and left.  For example, when the Shuttle Program was cancelled, tens of thousands of United Space Alliance, Boeing, Lockheed, etc. contractors, our brain trust for human space flight design and ground operations in America, were let go from Kennedy Space Center, Johnson Space Center, and other NASA centers – all of that huge talent and expertise vanishing in just over a year and scattering to the winds with the blessings of Washington and little-to-no protest.  And finally, older experienced NASA folks, many who have worked for NASA for decades, are being encouraged to retire or take “early outs” by their management, and many of them are doing so.  I know, because I am one.

I retired from NASA at 56 years of age about one and a half years after the Shuttle Program was cancelled.  I’d been working for NASA for 33 years, from right before the first flight of the Shuttle Program to the last and beyond.  Working for NASA in the human space exploration program was all I had wanted to do since my early teens – a dream that started when America first landed on the Moon.

I tried to stay on at NASA after the Shuttle Program ended.  I lasted about a year and a half. I just couldn’t take the lack of any true mission, the constantly changing requirements, the ever increasing cancellation of design projects even when the projects were successful, the scrambling for what little budget was available between projects, the James Webb telescope over-runs eating into human space exploration budgets, the Congress using NASA as a work program for their states without really caring what anyone is working on, the budget battles in Congress between Commercial Crew and NASA (so that no one is now being funded to sufficient levels).

Let’s be honest – the situations described above are all really symptoms of a complete lack of any logical direction being handed down from “on high”.

I think one of the worse things that made me finally bow out of the Space Program was the absolute disinterest by our United States President in anything related to human space exploration. He keeps telling the world we are going to Mars in the 2030’s.   But he okays no new infrastructure to get us in that direction except for continuation of the Orion capsule at JSC and Marshall’s huge SLS rocket (both projects which the President originally tried to cancel when he cancelled the Constellation Program but was stopped by Congress).   And both projects are underfunded.  And don’t get me started on the Asteroid Retrievel/Redirect Mission (ARM) currently being touted by Washington – never in the history of NASA have we had to contend with such an ill thought-out mission mandated by our Administration which has no real pay back except to string the Orion and SLS programs along for two decades.  But when we suggest that the next truly logical step to get to Mars is to first go to the Moon to build up our expertise and experience (a mission all of our international partners are clamoring for us to do),  the President’s response is: “Moon? Let’s be honest. Been there, done that…”  Excuse me, Mr. President – aren’t we glad Louis and Clark and the courageous Americans who came west didn’t have that attitude or many of us wouldn’t be here.

I am terribly afraid NASA has been forced into a downward spiral that will be very difficult to recover from. Our Administration, in just a few short years, has decimated the finest space program the world has ever seen.   I’m very concerned our NASA space program is spinning downward faster and faster as our talented and experienced space cadets give up and disappear from the agency.

The following excellent article talks about some examples of this concern.  It was published by houstonpress.com and is entitled: “Space Flight: Increasingly, Gifted Individuals Are Opting For the Private Sector Over NASA”:

http://blogs.houstonpress.com/hairballs/2014/08/space_flight_some_of_the_best_and_brightest_engineers_are_leaving_nasa_for_the_private_sector.php

One quote from this article is as follows:  “… the average American taxpayer thinks NASA receives nearly a quarter of the federal budget. In reality, the agency gets less than 0.5 percent. During the 1960s, when funding for NASA was about 4.4 percent of federal spending, it delivered the moon landing and kickstarted the international computer industry, raking in ten times the cost of space programs in returns. Yet in the post-space-race new millennium, NASA’s budget has become increasingly difficult to defend in Washington. Its public-relations message of hope, discovery and pushing the boundaries of human potential into the final frontier isn’t hitting home for politicians….”

A final sad thought on my part:  Maybe we are seeing the end of an era.  Maybe, if things continue as they are and Washington doesn’t wake up and start supporting its NASA space agency, NASA will become a collection of “think tanks” and “after thought” launch facilities.  If that happens, then we will have to look to the new “commercial” side of American’s space agency to continue our human exploration of space to the Moon and beyond.  And, if that is our destiny, we’d better hope Commercial Crew (Boeing, SpaceX, Sierra Nevada or others who may come along) and the follow-on missions that come from their achievements are successful.  Either that, or humankind will need to rely on the Chinese, Japanese, India, and the Europeans to take the human space exploration baton from us and go forward.

If you had asked me four years ago, when our beautiful Shuttles were still flying and we were completing the build of the great International Space Station, if we’d ever get to this state, I would have shook my head in total disbelief.  Of course not – Americans are proud of their space program!  I’m afraid my answer today would not be so positive or naive.

NASA Meatball

Article credit: Houston Press / blogs – Susan Du / author – Aug 13, 2014; Image credit: nasa.gov.

Three Commercial Companies Compete in New Space Race

AdminCadet:  Here is a very interesting Houston Chronicle article on the three commercial crew teams, Boeing, SpaceX, and Sierra Nevada, who are battling each other for “the prize” – to build a vehicle to safely ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station and act as an emergency return vehicle if needed (see photos below).

http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/nation-world/article/HED-5680379.php#/0

Quote from the article: “NASA should make its decision on the “commercial crew” competition in the next few weeks. At stake is not just a $4 billion contract, but prestige. The next spacecraft that flies U.S. astronauts will have an American flag, yes, but also a prominent corporate logo. That company will also join the elite club – whose only members include the United States, Russia and China – that has flown humans in space.”

I have to say I’m personally torn between these three different designs and am excited to see which one wins (I wish all three could be given the prize to give America “unlike redundancy” but I know our budgets wouldn’t allow this).  As an old NASA space cadet, I’ve worked with Boeing for over three decades and sincerely appreciate their capabilities, engineering, and design skills, and their diligence to safety.  So a Boeing capsule win would be great.  The negative here is we would be going back to a capsule design and would not utilize many of the lessons learned from our three decades of Shuttle flights.  I also am interested in SpaceX’s capsule since it is a rush to see Elon Musk’s team work “outside of the box”, doing such things as 3D printing of hardware and their intent to ultimately land their capsule vertically on land.  And their cargo flights to Station have been very successful, though I do wonder about some of the failures they have experience which they have not explained to the public (their privilege).   This does raise personal concerns about this “quick-acting” company’s adherence to safety, failure analyses, and self-documentation, but I’ll hold judgement and am very willing to see them given their chance. Of course, the comment about Boeing’s capsule is true here too.  And, finally, Sierra Nevada’s vehicle is extremely exciting to me because it’s a winged “glide” vehicle like the Shuttle, which NASA flew for 30 years.  This third vehicle can benefit greatly from the lessons learned from Shuttle which is a big plus.  And I love the idea of its ability to be flown to different orbiting destinations, such as Hubble (though this would take a different launch trajectory than going to Station just like it did for Shuttle).  A couple of concerns do arise in my mind with this design.  All three vehicles have to stay on the Station, I believe, for a minimum of six months to act as an emergency rescue vehicle.  I would think this could mean the Sierra Nevada vehicle’s underside heat shield would be exposed to micro-meteoroid debris (and possible damage) for it’s total docked time especially if it is facing into the velocity vector of the Station. Also, I recall the Shuttle tires had pressure loss issues over time due to exposure to the cold temperatures of space.  Will Sierra Nevada’s vehicle have similar issues during its six month?  I’m not saying they can’t overcome these potential issues, but that they may need to be addressed.

It is very exciting to see three companies striving for excellence in the realm of human space exploration in this manner.  I’m looking forward to a crew vehicle going to and from the Station with an American flag on its side.  Kudos to all three.  May the best team win.

Boeingcapsule

SpaceXcapsule

Sierra Nevada

Article Credit: Houston Chronicle – by Eric Berger – August 10, 2014; updated August 11, 2014.  Photo Credits: unknown.

Europe’s Rosetta Probe Reaches Climax of Its Mission / Opinion

ROSETTA PROBE MISSION:

AdminCadet:  Europe’s Rosetta probe is reaching it’s comet destination after approximately ten years.  The first image below is a view of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko taken on June 28, 2014, at a distance of about 86,000 km (approx 53,000 miles) between the probe and the comet.  The second image is a Rosetta navigation camera (NavCam) view of the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko, taken one month later on August 3, 2013, at a distance of approximately 300 km (186 miles).

An nbcnews.com discussion of the ESA (European Space Agency) mission, published August 3, 2014, is available at the following link:

http://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/europes-rosetta-probe-reaches-climax-its-comet-chasing-mission-n171626

Image of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 28 June 2014 (approx 86,000 km / 53,000 miles):

67P:Churyumov-Gerasimenko taken June 28, 2014

Image of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 3 August 2014 (approx 300 km / 186 miles):

Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Further images and information on the Rosetta mission can be found at the following ESA sites:

http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Rosetta

http://blogs.esa.int/rosetta/

OPINION: AdminCadet: On a separate discussion more related to our US NASA program, note the non-spherical shape of the comet in the second image compared to the fuzzy round shape that appears in the first image.  As the two images show, it is very difficult to ascertain the real shape of the comet depending on distance from the object.  The comet’s real shape and characteristics are much more evident when taken from a closer distance, as would be expected.  However, the differences between the two images demonstrate pretty clearly how difficult it will be for NASA to select an asteroid from a great distance for the Asteroid Retrieval/Redirect Mission (ARM) currently in planning.   NASA management has mandated the ARM as NASA’s new human space exploration mission. It entails robotically retrieving an asteroid and returning it to Earth-Moon space to allow astronauts to physically sample and retrieve material from the asteroid.  Some space cadets worry that the inability to accurately determine the shape and make up of an asteroid from a distance will make designing the initial robotic retrieval portion of the mission very difficult, if not impossible.  [On a side note: It will be interesting to see what detection methods will be developed to select the right asteroid target for the ARM].

Another issue of the ARM mission concerns the delays this would establish in human exploration activities.  Once the asteroid is brought to Earth-Moon space, the astronauts would utilize the in-design / build Orion capsule and Space Launch System Rocket (SLS) to reach the retrieved asteroid.  Unfortunately, the retrieval portion of the mission could take as long as seven to ten years due to the propulsion systems required for the robotic vehicle, resulting in no human space operations until potentially the late 2020s or early 2030s (depending when the mission was initiated).  This would mean further postponement of US human exploration activities (and potential loss of skills) in the meantime except for those related to the international space station.

Per Wikipedia:  “As of June 2014 more than 1,000 new near-Earth asteroids have been discovered by various search teams and catalogued by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observation Program.   Twenty of those identified so far could be good candidates for ARM. On June 19, 2014, NASA reported that asteroid 2011 MD was a prime candidate for capture… perhaps in the early 2020s… 2011 MD is an… asteroid that passed relatively close to Earth’s surface – at a distance of about 12,000 kilometers (7500 miles), roughly the diameter of the Earth… on June 27, 2011… 2011 MD was observed by the Spitzer Space Telescope in February 2014 and estimated to be 6 meters (20 ft) in diameter.  The asteroid is a porous rubble pile with a density similar to water…”

The third image below shows 2011 MD viewed in February 2014 by the Spitzer Space Telescope, IRAC.

Image of 2011 MD Asteroid in February, 2014:

2011 ND asteroid

IN CONCLUSION:  Perhaps going back to the Moon, a well mapped Near-Earth Object, would make more sense instead of chasing after an asteroid of imperfectly determined size and composition in a mission that could take up to two decades to initiate and complete.  Planning and conducting robotic and human missions to the Moon are sensible and well-advised first steps toward future Mars and outer planetary human exploration missions.  The ARM mission, except for enabling improvements in long distance detection sensors (admittedly a worthy goal), does not seem to provide a reasonable stepping stone toward direct human exploration of our solar system.

CREDITS:

Rosetta Article credit: nbcnews.com – Mike Wall – August 3, 2014

Photo Imagery Credits:

Images 1 and 2 (and accompanying information): Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA, June 28, 2014 and August 4, 2014 [taken from ESA site:  blogs.esa.int/rosetta/]

Image 3: Asteroid 2011MD, Spitzer Space Telescope, IRAC, February 2014.

2011 MD Asteroid Information Credit: Wikipedia.

Do You Know Why America Put A Man On the Moon? Neil deGrasse Tyson video

AdminCadet: You can say what you want about Space Cadets.  But, at our core, we are all about one common belief: the human space exploration program and the expansion of human presence in our Universe.  We love this dream, we support it, we want it to succeed.  It is what we think our small world should be constantly working toward.  Without it, we believe Mankind will eventually falter and become no longer relevant.  Well, Mr. Neil deGrasse Tyson is a Space Cadet.  And he has put together a small video on why we all should be one.

George Takei, the Guest Curator of http://www.upworthy.com (the site that published Mr. Tyson’s video) states it like this: “Neil deGrasse Tyson is… a true voice for our endangered space program.  In this piece, he reminds us how our passion for space missions began and makes a compelling case that we must not abandon our quests and dreams.”

I don’t always agree with Mr. Tyson on everything he says.  Sometimes he makes me shake my head.  Sometimes he makes me laugh.  Sometimes he makes me frown.  This time, he made me want to sing.  This video should be required viewing for all people in Congress, the Administration, and the American public.

Enjoy the five minute video – it is worth your time (go to this link):

http://www.upworthy.com/do-you-know-the-silly-reason-why-america-put-a-man-on-the-moon-do-you-know-why-we-stopped-going?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+upworthy+%28Upworthy%29

Image from the video:

Neil deGrasse Tyson video image 1

Video Credit: Neil deGrasse Tyson;  Video Site Credit: http://www.upworthy.com – George Takei/Guest Curator; July 25, 2014.

 

NASA James Webb Space Telescope – Background and Status

The James Webb Space Telescope – Background and Status (and a bit of opinion):

James Webb Image 2James Webb Primary Mirror Segment Cryogenic TestingJames Webb sunshield 2014James Webb orbit

AdminCadet: The first graphic above is artwork provided by NASA on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) as it would appear in orbit.  [www.nasa.gov}.  The second image is a photo taken during preparation for cryogenic testing of the primary mirror segment of the NASA James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).  [Image Credit: NASA/MSFC/David Higginbotham/April 15, 2011].  The third image is a photo of a full-sized test unit of the Webb Telescope’s sunshield – it was stacked and unfurled for the first time in July 2014 in a clean room at the Northrop Grumman facility, California.  [Photo Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn].  The final image is a graphic illustrating roughly where the James Webb Telescope will be placed in orbit when it is launched in 2018.  [Art provided by jwst.nasa.gov].

The following background information was taken from the NASA James Webb Space Telescope website, jwst.nasa.gov:

About the Webb – “The James Webb Space Telescope (sometimes called JWST) will be a large infrared telescope with a 6.5-meter primary mirror.  The project is working to a 2018 launch date.   The Webb will… study every phase in the history of our Universe, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang, to the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, to the evolution of our own Solar System…  Webb is an international collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).  The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center is managing the development effort.  The main industrial partner is Northrop Grumman; the Space Telescope Science Institute will operate Webb after launch… There will be four science instruments on Webb: the Near InfraRed Camera (NIRCam), the Near InfraRed Spectrograph (NIRSpec), the Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI), and the Fine Guidance Sensor / Near InfraRed Imager and Slitles Spectrogaph (FGS-NIRISS).  Webb’s instruments will be designed to work primarily in the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum, with some capability in the visible range… Webb has four main science themes: The End of the Dark Ages: First Light and Reionization, The Assembly of Galaxies, The Birth of Stars and Protoplanetary Systems, and Planetary Systems and the Origins of Life.”  [Information provided by jwst.nasa.gov]

About Webb’s Orbit:  “The James Webb Space Telescope will observe primarily the infrared light from faint and very distant objects… To avoid swamping the very faint astronomical signals with radiation from the telescope, the telescope and its instruments must be very cold. Therefore, Webb has a large shield that blocks the light from the Sun, Earth, and Moon, which otherwise would heat up the telescope, and interfere with the observations. To have this work, Webb must be in an orbit where all three of these objects are in about the same direction. The answer is to put Webb in an orbit around the” Earth-Sun “L2 point.  The L2 orbit is an elliptical orbit about the semi-stable second Lagrange point.  It is one of the five solutions by the mathematician Joseph-Louis Lagrange in the 18th century to the three-body problem. Lagrange was searching for a stable configuration in which three bodies could orbit each other yet stay in the same position relative to each other. He found five such solutions, and they are called the five Lagrange points in honor of their discoverer.”   [Information provided by jwst.nasa.gov]

[Reference the fourth image above to see the locations of the five Earth-Sun Lagrange points.]

AdminCadet – A bit of discussion and opinion:

As exciting as this program is, the cost of the JWST has increased substantially as the project has progressed.  The Webb will cost approx $8.8 billion from development, launch, and five years of operations and science – several billion higher than originally projected. The money for this over-run is being approved by Congress on a year by year basis, mostly taken out of the NASA overall budget.  [Personal note: I can remember a few years ago, when the Webb overruns were first made evident, that we were told all programs at NASA, including human space flight, will absorb this overrun – there will be no increase in NASA’s budget due to this issue.]  As stated by space.com:  “Before JWST entered development, around the turn of the century, program officials projected it would cost $1 billion to $3.5 billion and launch between 2007 to 2011, according to a Government Accountability Office report released Jan. 8, 2014.” [space.com – Dan Leone, Space News – Feb 5, 2014].

Many in NASA will breath a sigh of relief when the Webb is launched, since its high ticket price and overruns have been impacting several NASA programs including the human space exploration program.  However, there are some who are concerned about the complex operations needed to autonomously deploy the Webb.  The following video (see link below) was produced by Northrop Grumman and shows the over 30 day deployment sequences and operations that will be required to fully position and activate the James Webb.  Since the telescope is so far away (on the far side of the moon’s orbit) there are no vehicles to reach it if anything goes wrong (unlike how the Shuttle was able to repair Webb’s predecessor, the Hubble telescope, and service it several times).  And, as many know, and as Murphy can attest, complexity provides a host of opportunities for mechanical and electrical systems to go wrong.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTxLAGchWnA

The following NASA graphics illustrate how far away James Webb will be from the Earth – note the Hubble’s orbit shown in the second image [Graphic provided by jwst.nasa.gov]:

James Webb going to L2

Here’s hoping this beautiful telescope is completed on its current schedule and launched and deployed with no issues. Success of this program will be a magnificent milestone in better understanding the universe we live in.

Credit for information and images are annotated above.  For more information, visit  http://www.jwst.nasa.gov

NASA’s Next Giant Leap?

On mars

AdminCadet: Forgive me. I put the “?” in the title on this NASA produced article. I’m attaching the link here. What do you think? I really love the optimistic statement: “…Then bam: Americans take the first steps on Mars!”  I know this article is geared for kids, but really?

If America wants to get to Mars by the 2030’s we need to start building an extensive infrastructure today and set distinct and clear technological goals now, like our NASA mentors did for the Moon missions.  Many talented people have left NASA due to the current unrealistic and chaotic policies being set by the Administration.  Many talented people are gritting their teeth and staying on board in the hopes that something will change for the better.  We need all hands on deck if we really are going to Mars.  And even if you believe the private sector can do a better job getting us there, we need to give them the funding and support they need.

Your comments (in agreement or not) are most welcome…

http://www.buzzfeed.com/nasa/nasas-nextgiantleap-hwrm

Art and Article credit: http://www.buzzfeed.com/nasa

3D Image of Apollo 11 Moon Landing Site

AdminCadet:  This small video published by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center on July 18, 2014, is excellent.  This is a video of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing Site as imaged by the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) currently orbiting the Moon.  Apollo 11 was the first NASA moon landing with humans, occurring 45 years ago on July 20, 1969.

As the NASA Goddard LRO Facebook Site states: “LROC imagery makes it possible to visit the landing site in a whole new way by flying around a three-dimensional model of the site. LROC scientists created the digital elevation model using a stereo pair of images. Each image in the pair shows the site from a slightly different angle, allowing sophisticated software to infer the shape of the terrain, similar to the way that left and right eye views are combined in the brain to produce the perception of depth…”

Further information on the LRO is available at http://www.lunar.gsfc.nasa.gov and at the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Facebook site.

Video Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center – Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter – July 18, 2014.

Apollo 11 in 100 Seconds – 45th Anniversary of the First Landing on the Moon

AdminCadet: To all the Space Cadets out there, here is a fabulous compilation of video and images from Apollo 11, the first mission to take humans to touch the Moon.  Our astronauts first stepped onto the Moon on July 20, 1969, 45 years ago today.  The compilation was put together by Spacecraft Films, one year ago.

I hope one day our NASA human space program will reach out to touch the Moon once again, and, if all goes well, stay to build a permanent or semi-permanent infrastructure.

Further information on the Apollo 11 mission: Apollo 11 was launched July 16, 1969, at 9:32 AM local time, from Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Florida, with the following crew: Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin.   Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed the Lunar Module “Eagle” in the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility on July 20, 1969, with Michael Collins remaining in the Command/Service Module “Columbia” in orbit around the Moon.  The astronauts stayed on the lunar surface for approximately 21-1/2 hours with their moonwalk lasting approximately 2-1/2 hours.  They departed the Moon in the ascent stage of the Lunar Module with nearly 50 pounds of lunar material, leaving the descent stage of the LM behind.  Also left behind, attached to the ladder on the descent stage, was a stainless steel plaque that read:  “Here Men From Planet Earth First Set Foot Upon The Moon, July 1969 A.D.  We Came In Peace For All Mankind”.  After re-docking the Lunar Module with the Command / Service Module, the Lunar Module was released, and the three astronauts returned to Earth in the Command / Service Module, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24, 1969 in the Command Module (cabin/capsule), the Service Module (propulsion, electrical generation, and environmental control segment) cast off and allowed to burn up in the atmosphere.

Video Credit: Spacecraft Films – 2013.

How NASA Sold the Moon, and Why It Can’t Seem to Sell Mars – Article and Opinion

http://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/how-nasa-sold-moon-why-it-cant-seem-sell-mars-n153061

How NASA Sold the Moon - July 2014

AdminCadet: The attached NBC-News.com article, which references a new book on how the Apollo Lunar Program was marketed to the American public, tries to explain why no one is buying into NASA’s current space exploration missions and vision for the 2020’s and 2030’s.  The article and the book’s authors insist that NASA in the past had goals that were aligned with the greatest problem of the day – getting to the moon, and “…what NASA” of today “is missing is a global imperative; a ‘need to have’ rather than a ‘nice to have.'” The article suggests NASA should focus on such things as “resource depletion and the future of humanity.”

I agree with this article in many ways.  However, there is one major flaw in the writeup:  I disagree that NASA’s publicized goals for the mid 20’s and 30’s represents what the NASA community as a whole thinks NASA should be working on.  NASA is a government funded and directed agency.  It is at the mercy of who ever sits in the Oval Office.  Many personnel who work for NASA, who have retired from NASA, or who monitor NASA’s policies and performance from the “outside” are not proponents of the current Administration’s force-fed NASA vision.  In particular bringing back an asteroid to lunar-earth space so Orion astronauts can rendezvous and perform sampling operations is a mission with no purpose except to find something for Orion and the SLS to do in the “near term” (if you believe the mid 2020’s is near term).  The best that can be said of this mission is it will help refine asteroid detection technologies.  Also, the plan to go directly to Mars without returning to the Moon first makes no sense to many of us, including our international partners.  Many believe we should first return to the Moon to establish a permanent or semi-permanent lunar infrastructure in order to gain valuable experience in the technologies, protocols, and in-situ resource gathering required for any Mars endeavor.

Unfortunately, the press and the American public judge everyone in the NASA organization by what the current NASA administration and our President state as our policies.  They forget that NASA is made up of many scientists and engineers who are limited by what they can say officially.  And I honestly believe that much of these publicized policies will be heavily modified when a new US Administration is elected.  As one of my friends said to me recently:  “The policies under a new President may not be better, but they will be different…”  Sadly, this is a realistic commentary on what NASA has to deal with when it comes to political guidance on its mission statement every four to eight years.  No wonder America can’t buy into NASA’s plans.  They are always changing, and not always for the better…

Art Credit: “MARKETING THE MOON” / MIT PRESS – date unknown
Article Credit: Alan Boyle – NBCNews.com – science/space – July 10, 2014