National Space Society Congratulates Blue Origin on First Return to Launch Site of New Shepard

On November 23, 2015, Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket successfully flew to the edge of space, reaching the Karman line (100 km/329,839 ft) before a picture-perfect landing in West Texas. During the flight, the vehicle reached Mach 3.72, nearly 4x the speed of sound. This marks the first time that a re-usable vertical take-off/vertical landing vehicle has reached space and returned to its launch site.

“Although the New Shepard is a sub-orbital vehicle rather than an orbital rocket, this is a significant milestone for space tourism.” said Dale Skran, NSS Executive Vice President. “The successful landing clears the way for a program of sub-orbital research flights over the next year or so, expected to lead to sub-orbital tourist flights.” With this success, Blue Origin becomes the company to beat in sub-orbital tourism, with rival XCOR yet to make a first flight, and Virgin Galactic recovering from the loss of SpaceShipTwo. Powered by the 110,000 pound thrust BE-3 liquid hydrogen/oxygen engine, the New Shepard consists of a two parts – a re-usable booster that returns to the launch site and a cargo/passenger capsule that lands separately via parachute. A future crew of up to six would experience 3x the force of gravity on takeoff and 5x the force of gravity during part of the descent.

NSS believes that space tourism, including sub-orbital tourism, can be a driving force toward lowering launch costs and increasing access to space. “Blue Origin’s successful landing of the New Shepard booster after reaching the edge of space represents a major step toward a fully re-usable sub-orbital vehicle,” said Bruce Pittman, NSS Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. “We congratulate Jeff Bezos and the entire Blue Origin team for their hard work, dedication, and vaulting ambition.”

Blue Origin has a contract with United Launch Alliance (ULA) to develop the BE-4, a new methane/liquid oxygen engine for the planned ULA Vulcan launch vehicle. On September 15, 2015 Bezos announced plans to spend over $200 million annually in Florida to build a Blue Origin “big rocket” to be launched from Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to orbit using the BE-4 in the first stage and the BE-3 in the second stage.

“The recent passage of the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act by the House paves the way for the future success of companies like Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and XCOR in the sub-orbital space tourism business,” said Mark Hopkins, Chair of the NSS Executive Committee. “NSS has been working diligently to create a favorable regulatory environment for space tourism, and we are delighted to see Blue Origin advancing toward lower cost space launches.”

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National Space Society Applauds Presidential Signing Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act

On November 25, 2015, President Obama signed the landmark Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (CSLCA). NSS congratulates President Obama and the Senate and House leadership for their hard work in hammering out a compromise between the previously passed House and Senate versions.

“It is hard to over-emphasize the importance of the CSLCA,” said Dale Skran, NSS Executive Vice President. “There are a lot of excellent provisions in this legislation, and we want to thank House Majority Leader McCarthy for guiding the final version to the President’s desk.”

Perhaps the most historically significant part of the CSLCA calls for the establishment of a legal right for U.S. citizens to mine asteroids in a fashion consistent with international law, including the Outer Space Treaty. Milestone 18 of the NSS Space Settlement Roadmap calls for the exploration, utilization, and settlement of the asteroids. “NSS looks forward to the CSLCA enabling a new age of asteroid mining led by companies like Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, making the vast resources of space available for the benefit of humanity,” said Bruce Pittman, NSS Senior Vice President.

NSS has been working hard to support this legislation. NSS is a founding member of the Alliance for Space Development (ASD). The 2015 ASD objectives can be found at They include extending the learning period for commercial suborbital spaceflight and changing regulations to allow space tourism companies to conduct both experimental and operational flights under the same permit. Both of these items, which NSS believes are key to lowering the cost of access to space via supporting the growth of a vibrant space tourism industry, were included in the CSLCA just signed by the President. Another ASD objective for 2015 called for “increasing the utilization of the International Space Station,” something that has been accomplished in part by the CSLCA’s extension of ISS operations to 2024.

Throughout 2015, ASD member organizations, including NSS, worked to forward the above goals. The SFF (Space Frontier Foundation)/NSS March Storm Congressional Blitz focused attention on extending the “learning period.” In May, both NSS and SFF submitted public letters supporting the precursor legislation to the CSLCA (see for example our Open Letter to House in support of the SPACE Act of 2015). Next, the NSS/SFF August Home District Congressional Blitz pushed the case for ISS utilization. Finally, ASD submitted a private letter of comment to the House/Senate conference committee.

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Help Support Space with the 2016 February Blitz and March Storm

By Dale Skran, Chair, NSS Policy Committee

February 21-23, 2016 SEA Blitz

NSS will be participating in the Space Exploration Alliance (SEA) 2016 legislative Blitz.  During the SEA Blitz teams of up to four space advocates from various organizations visit Congressional offices in Washington, DC. NSS encourages all members to sign up for and participate in the SEA Blitz as described at

We are currently planning on holding a special dinner for NSS members only on the evening of Sunday, February 21st, following the SEA training session. Dale Skran, Chair of the NSS Policy Committee will be coordinating NSS members. Please send him a short email message at indicating you plan to participate in the Blitz and whether you will be attending the Sunday evening NSS dinner.

Also, when registering for the SEA Blitz we request that you answer the last question by saying that you will represent NSS. SEA includes groups ranging from NSS and Explore Mars to AIAA, the Moon Society, the Mars Society, the Planetary Society, the National Society of Black Engineers, SEDS, and Buzz Aldrin’s ShareSpace Foundation.  The major goal of the SEA Blitz from an NSS perspective is to provide as much support for the NASA budget as possible during these difficult budgetary times. Now is the time to stand up for space and be counted. I look forward to seeing you in Washington, DC, February 21-23, 2016.

March 13-17, 2016 SFF/NSS/ASD March Storm   

If February in Washington DC is too cold for you, consider joining the MARCH STORM Congressional action event sponsored by the Space Frontier Foundation, NSS, and the Alliance for Space Development (ASD) from March 13-17, 2016. ASD includes groups like the Space Frontier Foundation, NSS, the Lifeboat Foundation, The Mars Foundation, The Mars Society, the Space Development Foundation, the Space Development Steering Committee, the Space Tourism Society, Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, Students on Capitol Hill, the Tea Party in Space, and the Texas Space Alliance. You can find out more about ASD at

MARCH STORM is more focused on commerce and development than the SEA Blitz, and is an integrated part of a year-long legislative campaign managed by ASD that is designed for maximum legislative effectiveness. You can expect topics being pushed to include items like a Low Cost Access to Space Prize, full funding for Commercial Crew, and supporting a gapless transition from the ISS to commercial space stations.  The basic commitment is to a training session on Sunday, March 13, and to one day on the Hill on March 14th. Supporters with more time can join additional Congressional visits on March 15/16/17. If you are interested, register at I plan on joining the MARCH STORM, and look forward to seeing you there.

March 21-25, 2016 SFF/NSS/ASD 2016 March Storm Home District Blitz

This year we are also organizing the 2016 March Storm Home District Blitz for those who can’t make it to DC. Using the same materials as the DC March Storm, local groups will arrange to visit their Congressperson’s home district offices during the March 21-25 recess, just like the NSS/SFF 2015 August Home District Blitz. Signup is via Since I am organizing this effort, you will hear from me with more details after you sign up.

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Blue Origin Makes Historic Rocket Landing

Van Horn, Texas – November 24, 2015 – Blue Origin today announced that its New Shepard space vehicle successfully flew to space, reaching its planned test altitude of 329,839 feet (100.5 kilometers) before executing a historic landing back at the launch site in West Texas.

“Now safely tucked away at our launch site in West Texas is the rarest of beasts—a used rocket,” said Jeff Bezos, founder of Blue Origin. “Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard space vehicle flew a flawless mission—soaring to 329,839 feet and then returning through 119-mph high-altitude crosswinds to make a gentle, controlled landing just four and a half feet from the center of the pad. Full reuse is a game changer, and we can’t wait to fuel up and fly again.”

Bezos stated: “This flight validates our vehicle architecture and design. Our unique ring fin shifted the center of pressure aft to help control reentry and descent; eight large drag brakes deployed and reduced the vehicle’s terminal speed to 387 mph; hydraulically actuated fins steered the vehicle through 119-mph high-altitude crosswinds to a location precisely aligned with and 5,000 feet above the landing pad; then the highly-throttleable BE-3 engine re-ignited to slow the booster as the landing gear deployed and the vehicle descended the last 100 feet at 4.4 mph to touchdown on the pad.”

Named in honor of the first American in space, Alan Shepard, the New Shepard vertical takeoff and vertical landing vehicle will carry six astronauts to suborbital altitudes beyond 100 kilometers, the internationally-recognized boundary of space. The New Shepard space vehicle is a fully reusable and operated from Blue Origin’s West Texas launch site. The vehicle is comprised of two elements—a crew capsule in which astronauts would ride, and a rocket booster powered by a single American-made BE-3 liquid hydrogen, liquid oxygen engine. At liftoff, the BE-3 delivers 110,000 pounds of thrust. During ascent, astronauts would experience 3x the force of gravity as the spacecraft accelerates through the atmosphere.

Following powered flight, the crew capsule would separate from the booster and coasts into space, providing several minutes of weightlessness. As the crew capsule descends, it reenters the atmosphere with astronauts experiencing about 5x the force of gravity before deploying three main parachutes for landing. Meanwhile, the booster descends under guided flight to the landing pad. Just prior to landing, the booster re-ignites its BE-3 engine which slows the vehicle to 4.4 mph for a gentle, powered vertical landing, enabling vehicle reuse.

Flight Details

  • Launched at 11:21 a.m. Central Time, November 23, 2015
  • Apogee of 329,839 feet (100.5 kilometers) for the unmanned crew capsule
  • Mach 3.72
  • Re-ignition of rocket booster at 4,896 feet above ground level
  • Controlled vertical landing of the booster at 4.4 mph
  • Deployment of crew capsule drogue parachutes at 20,045 feet above ground level
  • Landing of the crew capsule under parachutes at 11:32 a.m. Central Time

A video is below (with a somewhat confusing inclusion of some animated segments):

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NASA Orders SpaceX Crew Mission to International Space Station

NASA took a significant step Friday toward expanding research opportunities aboard the International Space Station with its first mission order from Hawthorne, California based-company SpaceX to launch astronauts from U.S. soil.


Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida undergoes modifications by SpaceX to adapt it to the needs of the company’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, which are slated to lift off from the historic pad in the near future. A horizontal integration facility has been constructed near the perimeter of the pad where rockets will be processed for launch prior of rolling out to the top of the pad structure for liftoff. SpaceX anticipates using the launch pad for its Crew Dragon spacecraft for missions to the International Space Station in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Credits: SpaceX

This is the second in a series of four guaranteed orders NASA will make under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts. The Boeing Company of Houston received its first crew mission order in May.

“It’s really exciting to see SpaceX and Boeing with hardware in flow for their first crew rotation missions,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “It is important to have at least two healthy and robust capabilities from U.S. companies to deliver crew and critical scientific experiments from American soil to the space station throughout its lifespan.”

Determination of which company will fly its mission to the station first will be made at a later time. The contracts call for orders to take place prior to certification to support the lead time necessary for missions in late 2017, provided the contractors meet readiness conditions.

Commercial crew missions to the space station, on the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, will restore America’s human spaceflight capabilities and increase the amount of time dedicated to scientific research aboard the orbiting laboratory.

SpaceX’s crew transportation system, including the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket, has advanced through several development and certification phases. The company recently performed a critical design review, which demonstrated the transportation system has reached a sufficient level of design maturity to work toward fabrication, assembly, integration and test activities.

“The authority to proceed with Dragon’s first operational crew mission is a significant milestone in the Commercial Crew Program and a great source of pride for the entire SpaceX team,” said Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX. “When Crew Dragon takes NASA astronauts to the space station in 2017, they will be riding in one of the safest, most reliable spacecraft ever flown. We’re honored to be developing this capability for NASA and our country.”

Commercial crew launches will reduce the cost, per seat, of transporting NASA astronauts to the space station compared to what the agency must pay the Russian Federal Space Agency for the same service. If, however, NASA does not receive the full requested funding for CCtCap contracts in fiscal year 2016 and beyond, the agency will be forced to delay future milestones for both U.S. companies and continue its sole reliance on Russia to transport American astronauts to the space station.

Orders under the CCtCap contracts are made two to three years prior to actual mission dates in order to provide time for each company to manufacture and assemble the launch vehicle and spacecraft. Each company also must successfully complete a certification process before NASA will give the final approval for flight. Each contract includes a minimum of two and a maximum potential of six missions.

A standard commercial crew mission to the station will carry up to four NASA or NASA-sponsored crew members and about 220 pounds of pressurized cargo. The spacecraft will remain at the station for up to 210 days, available as an emergency lifeboat during that time.

“Commercial crew launches are really important for helping us meet the demand for research on the space station because it allows us to increase the crew to seven,” said Julie Robinson, International Space Station chief scientist. “Over the long term, it also sets the foundation for scientific access to future commercial research platforms in low- Earth orbit.”

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manages the CCtCap contracts and is working with each company to ensure commercial transportation system designs and post-certification missions will meet the agency’s safety requirements. Activities that follow the award of missions include a series of mission-related reviews and approvals leading to launch. The program also will be involved in all operational phases of missions to ensure crew safety.

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National Space Society Urges Presidential Signing of the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act

On November 10, 2015, the Senate passed H.R. 2262, the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (CSLCA). The House responded on November 16, 2015 by passing the final version as well. NSS congratulates both the Senate and House leadership for their hard work in hammering out a compromise between the previously passed House and Senate versions. “The CSLCA is a large and important pro-space bill that contains some vitally important steps toward space development and settlement,” said Dale Skran, NSS Executive Vice President. “NSS has been campaigning for the extension of the International Space Station, and NSS is delighted to see that the CSLCA formally extends the ISS to 2024.”

Other provisions in the CSLCA extend the so-called “learning period” for commercial human space flight by seven years, allowing the nascent space tourism industry to get a running start before full-on FAA regulations are put in place. Additionally, commercial space operators are allowed to both operate experimental and operational spacecraft at the same time, which was previously prohibited by law. “NSS has been working hard for both of these changes over the last year,” said Mark Hopkins, Chair of the NSS Executive Committee. “NSS believes that space tourism, including sub-orbital tourism, is one of the best routes to creating a low-cost road to the high frontier of space.”

The CSLCA calls for the establishment of a legal right for U.S. citizens to mine asteroids in a fashion consistent with international law, including the Outer Space Treaty. Milestone 18 of the NSS Space Settlement Roadmap calls for the exploration, utilization, and settlement of the asteroids ( “The establishment of the right to mine asteroids and profit from the results is an event of historic importance,” said Bruce Pittman, NSS Senior Vice President.

The CSLCA contains a large number of additional provisions, each important in some fashion to advancing the development of space resources. “Of particular interest are the provisions encouraging U.S. leadership in space commerce, including remote sensing,” said Stan Rosen, a member of the NSS Policy Committee. “When combined with initiatives related to space traffic management, orbital debris and others, they make the CSLCA the most important space legislation in many years.”

One hurdle remains for the CSLCA – signing by President Obama. “This legislation is critical for our future in space. NSS urges that the President sign the CSLCA,” said Dale Skran.

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Making the Overview Effect Real

By Gary Barnhard & Uma Shri Verma

Being in space and looking down at the Earth, astronauts are hit with an astounding reality: our planet is a tiny, fragile ball of life, “hanging in the void,” shielded and nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere. This phenomenon is known as the Overview Effect.

Why do we explore? Surely it’s to discover the vastness of something outside of ourselves, something surreal and sublime.

What happens when you put yourself in the position to experience something astonishing? You are simultaneously filled with humility as you bask in the silence and are awed by beauty that is the reality of our planet.

The impossibly significant and insignificant merge as you seek to comprehend the part of the universe that you inhabit.

mccandlessThe image of U.S. astronaut Bruce McCandless using a manned maneuvering unit drives this home. Virtual reality can bring this experience to everyone and inspire the next generation of explorers.

Today we are at the cusp of witnessing one of the major technological breakthroughs in Virtual Reality (VR), the next disruptive technology that will redefine the future. It is an immersive experience that makes you feel like you’re physically present in an environment that you are not a part of. You’re transported to a virtual world and the result is spell-binding. It is possible for everyone to have the opportunity to experience the truly infinite, boundless universe that we live in…through virtual reality.

Through virtual reality you will be able to see the entire Earth pass underneath you, seeing exactly what astronauts do. Watch fireworks shoot off the planet on July 4th or a SpaceX Dragon module dock with the station as if you were floating right there!

Space is the final frontier, and everybody should have a chance to be a part of exploring it and, in turn, being influenced by it—to experience the Overview Effect. There’s a lot of excitement about exploring space by the people, for the people, and it will not happen unless people choose to be involved.  Together we can make the universe accessible to everyone, inspire the next generation of explorers and get people excited about STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) fields.

SpaceVR is a San Francisco based start up working on sending a virtual reality camera to the International Space Station for everyone to experience what it’s like to see the world like an astronaut.  They plan to use 360-degree cameras placed in the International Space Station’s (ISS) Cupola observatory to capture and downlink imagery to Earth so a broader community can experience space travel in immersive virtual reality. From there their future plans include the Moon, asteroids, Mars and beyond. More details on their work can be found on their website at

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New Worlds 2015, October 16 and 17 in Austin

The Alliance for Space Development, of which the National Space Society is a member, is a cosponsor of the October 16-17 New Worlds 2015 conference in Austin, TX. ASD and NSS Board Member Al Globus will be one of the speakers and will host the free-space settlement session. Members of ASD member organizations (that includes NSS) can get a 25% discount by using a promotional code: speakerglo15. This code is good for the first 150 applicants who use it.

New Worlds 2015 is the first comprehensive gathering of the people, companies and institutions that will open space to human development and settlement.  New Worlds 2015 will include academic sessions, interactive discussions and business presentations, blended with education, and the art, vision and the culture of the New Frontier.

New Worlds 2015 is the inaugural annual space conference and celebration presented by the New Worlds Institute. Featuring top level academic sessions on such topics as space habitats, resources, transportation systems and international policy, New Worlds brings together the best of the best when it comes to those setting our course towards the Moon, Mars and the Free Space between worlds, from NASA to commercial New Space companies. In parallel, specialized workshops and a cutting-edge student design competition and educational program will create a fully rounded experience that can speak to and inspire people of all types and all generations.

Unlike any other space conference ever, New Worlds, while built on a foundation of hard-core science and engineering, is also a celebration. Including art and music with diverse events ranging from recognizing those educating the next generation to an electronic dance festival that will inspire the next generation. It creates a platform for the heroes and experts who got us where we are today in space to inspire new ideas and concepts in the minds of those who will disrupt today’s conception of what tomorrow can be.

More information:  New Worlds 2015.

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NASA is launching a 4K TV channel

NASA is partnering with Harmonic, a worldwide leader in video delivery infrastructure, to launch NASA TV UHD, the first ever non-commercial consumer ultra-high definition (UHD) channel in North America.

The channel will stream on the Internet, which will require at least 13 MBps access connectivity to receive the signal and enjoy the UHD experience. Harmonic currently is in discussions with pay TV operators to carry the channel on the satellite, cable and optical networks for consumer access. The new UHD channel is expected to launch on Nov. 1, following preliminary tests.

Using an end-to-end UHD video delivery system from Harmonic, NASA Television will have the capability to deliver linear 2160p60 video content, allowing viewers to enjoy footage on a wide range of television and internet-connected devices. The partnership is the result of a Space Act Agreement between Harmonic and the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

“Partnering with Harmonic gives NASA an outlet for its UHD content, which has four times the resolution of HD and is the next iteration of digital television,” said Robert Jacobs, deputy associate administrator for NASA’s Office of Communications at the agency’s headquarters in Washington.

Leveraging the 8-megapixel resolution of UHD, the channel will showcase the breathtaking beauty and grandeur of space. NASA TV UHD video will be sourced from high-resolution images and video generated on the International Space Station and other current NASA missions, as well as re-mastered footage from historical missions.

“As NASA reaches new heights and reveals the unknown, the NASA TV UHD channel can bring that journey to life in every home. And as organizations at the forefront of innovation, together we are leading the adoption of this exciting technology,” said Peter Alexander, chief marketing officer at Harmonic. “As the leader in UHD development, Harmonic provides a complete solution for Ultra HD video production and delivery, enabling content and service providers to offer better video quality at a low total cost of ownership.”

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Astronaut Buzz Aldrin talks to “Face the Nation” about Mars this Sunday September 6th

In CBS’ first interview with the Apollo 11 astronauts on Face the Nation in 1969 (5-minute segment shown below), Buzz Aldrin discussed future goals for space exploration. Aldrin will be back on Face the Nation this Sunday September 6, 46 years later, to talk about his vision for Mars. Check local listings for times.

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