NASA Awards Commercial Crew Certification Contracts

NASA announced December 10th the next step in its plan to launch American astronauts from U.S. soil, selecting three companies to conduct activities under contracts that will enable future certification of commercial spacecraft as safe to carry humans to the International Space Station.

The Certification Products Contracts (CPC) are the Commercial Crew Program’s first major, fixed-price contracts and will bring space system designs within NASA’s safety and performance expectations for future flights to the orbiting laboratory.

The CPC contractors are:
— The Boeing Co., Houston
— Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) Space Systems, Louisville, Colo.
— Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), Hawthorne, Calif.

Each contract is about $10 million. To read more about what the companies will do under the contracts and what this step means for the future of American human spaceflight, go to http://go.nasa.gov/T2igon.

Britain Adds Funds to Repurpose ESA ATV as Orion Service Module

ATV
European Space Agency (ESA) Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV)
Image Credit: ESA / CNES / Arianespace / Photo optique video du CSG

The European Space Agency (ESA) announced they will inform NASA they are ready to build an ATV derived Service Module for Orion, to be ready for the first launch of the Space Launch System (SLS) in 2017. The announcement came after the UK stepped up with additional funding, marking the country’s first real human Beyond Earth Orbit (BEO) commitment.

The Return of the Dragon

NASA press release about the successful completion of the first commercial resupply mission the the International Space Station:

RELEASE: 12-381

SPACEX DRAGON RETURNS FROM SPACE STATION WITH NASA CARGO

HOUSTON — A Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) Dragon spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 2:22 p.m. CDT Sunday a few hundred miles west of Baja California, Mexico. The splashdown successfully ended the first contracted cargo delivery flight
contracted by NASA to resupply the International Space Station.

In the Water
Dragon in the Water after Splashdown
Image Credit: NASA

“With a big splash in the Pacific Ocean today, we are reminded American ingenuity is alive and well and keeping our great nation at the cutting edge of innovation and technology development,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “Just a little over one year after we retired the Space Shuttle, we have completed the first cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. Not with a government owned and operated system, but rather with one built by a private firm — an American company that is creating jobs and helping keep the U.S. the world leader in space as we transition to the next exciting chapter in exploration. Congratulations to SpaceX and the NASA team that supported them and made this historic mission possible.”

The Dragon capsule will be taken by boat to a port near Los Angeles, where it will be prepared for a return journey to SpaceX’s test facility in McGregor, Texas, for processing. Some cargo will be removed at the port in California and returned to NASA within 48 hours. This includes a GLACIER freezer packed with research samples collected in the orbiting laboratory’s unique microgravity environment. These samples will help advance multiple scientific disciplines on Earth and provide critical data on the effects of long-duration spaceflight on the human body. The remainder of the cargo will be returned to Texas with the capsule.

The ability to return frozen samples is a first for this flight and will be tremendously beneficial to the station’s research community. Not since the space shuttle have NASA and its international partners been able to return considerable amounts of research and samples for
analysis.

The Dragon launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, on Oct. 7. It carried 882 pounds of cargo to the complex, including 260 pounds of crew supplies, 390 pounds of scientific research, 225 pounds of hardware and several pounds of other supplies. This included critical materials to support 166 scientific investigations, of which 63 were new. Returning with the Dragon capsule was 1,673 pounds of cargo, including 163 pounds of crew supplies, 866 pounds of scientific research, and 518 pounds of hardware.

The mission was the first of at least 12 cargo resupply missions to the space station planned by SpaceX through 2016 under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract.

SpaceX is one of two companies that built and tested new cargo spacecraft under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. Orbital Sciences is the other company participating in COTS. A demonstration flight of Orbital’s Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft to the station is planned in early 2013.

NASA initiatives like COTS and the agency’s Commercial Crew Program are helping develop a robust U.S. commercial space transportation industry with the goal of achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from the space station and low-Earth orbit. In addition to cargo flights, NASA’s commercial space partners are making progress toward a launch of astronauts from U.S. soil in the next 5 years.

While NASA works with U.S. industry partners to develop and advance these commercial spaceflight capabilities, the agency also is developing the Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System (SLS), a crew capsule and heavy-lift rocket to provide an entirely new capability for human exploration. Designed to be flexible for launching spacecraft for crew and cargo missions, SLS and Orion will expand human presence beyond low-Earth orbit and enable new missions of exploration in the solar system.

For more information about the International Space Station, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/station

For more information about NASA’s commercial space programs, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/commercial

Dragon – "The Ice Cream Truck Has Arrived"

At 3:56 AM Pacific Daylight time, Wednesday 10 October, the SpaceX Dragon space craft was successfully grappled by the Canadarm on the International Space Station (ISS). Referring to the fact that Dragon is capable of carrying powered equipment to and from the space station, the space station crew reported that they had captured Dragon and were looking forward to the chocolate-vanilla swirl ice cream in the freezer aboard the space craft.

Sunlight
Dragon Attached to ISS – In The Sunlight Above Earth
Image Credit: NASA TV

Earth Illuminated: ISS Time-lapse Photography

We recommend switching to HD full screen for this video if your bandwidth allows.

From high above the Earth, the International Space Station (ISS) provides a unique vantage point to view our home planet. Stunning time-lapse photography of cities, aurora, lightning and other sights are seen from orbit. Famed astronomer Galileo imagined these views from space and now through the technological marvel of the space station, we can see them for ourselves. For more time-lapse imagery, visit the NASA website:
http://eol.jsc.nasa.gov/Videos/CrewEarthObservationsVideos/
From here, NASA invites you to download videos or stills to enjoy or perhaps even create an ISS time-lapse video production of your own.

Seeking Your Input on NASA’s Plans, Programs and Priorities

Here’s your opportunity to contribute to the future direction of NASA’s plans, programs and priorities, in a study directed by Congress and led by the National Academies. This is your space program and your future. What do you have to say about it?

The input form can be found here. Deadline for comments is August 17 and length is limited to 300 words.

In the FY2012 appropriations bill that funds NASA, Congress requested an independent study of NASA’s strategic direction. The study is being conducted by a committee of the National Research Council.

The study statement of task directs the committee to “recommend how NASA could establish and effectively communicate a common, unifying vision for NASA’s strategic direction that encompasses NASA’s varied missions.” Strategic direction can be thought of as the steps NASA needs to take over time to accomplish its vision and mission.

NASA’s Strategic Direction Committee is reviewing a large amount of published material, including the law that created NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, most recently amended in 2010) and NASA’s 2011 Strategic Plan, which begins with NASA’s statement of its vision and mission.

The current NASA vision is “to reach for new heights and reveal the unknown, so that what we do and learn will benefit all humankind”, and its mission is to “drive advances in science, technology, and exploration to enhance knowledge, education, innovation, economic vitality, and stewardship of Earth.” The NASA Strategic Plan also states that NASA’s current direction lays “the groundwork for a sustainable program of exploration and innovation. This new direction extends the life of the International Space Station, supports the growing commercial space industry, and addresses important scientific challenges while continuing our commitment to robust human space exploration, science, and aeronautics programs.”

The Strategic Directions Committee is listening to a wide variety of experts in aeronautics and space science and technology, space policy and programs, and communications strategy, and it wants to hear from other stakeholders, including the public, as well.

The website will be available for comments only through August 17, 2012. The response to each question is limited to 300 words so that the committee can efficiently collate and analyze your responses. The responses each person submits, along with the author’s name and institution will be available for viewing at the NASA’s Strategic Direction Committee website.

Successful Landing of Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity) Rover – Historic Next Step in Mars Exploration

The successful landing of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover, Curiosity, early Monday morning marks a significant and historic achievement on the way to the eventual human exploration of Mars.

“Curiosity’s successful landing demonstrates the feasibility of delivering ever-heavier payloads to the martian surface, and paves the way for future missions to land, gather samples and return them to Earth,” said Paul E. Damphousse, NSS Executive Director. “The ongoing successes of these unmanned data-gathering missions will ultimately lead to manned Mars missions, thus bringing us ever closer to the realization of NSS’s vision – people living and working in thriving communities beyond the Earth and using the vast resources of space for the dramatic betterment of humanity.”

The MSL mission is not only about getting bigger and better equipment safely to the Martian surface. Curiosity is carrying the most technologically advanced instruments ever sent to Mars. This equipment is specifically designed to obtain samples from the rocks and soil and analyze their formation, structure and chemical composition in its onboard laboratory to determine whether the chemical building blocks of life exist and whether the Martian environment was capable of supporting life in the past.

The data gathered by Curiosity has the potential of greatly expanding our understanding of how life evolves in other planetary environments – in turn leading to increased knowledge, not only about the ability of planets outside our own solar system to sustain life, but also about what resources may be available on Mars that can be used to support and enable human exploration and settlement of it and other planets.

NSS Congratulates Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) Participants

The National Space Society (NSS) congratulates Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX), The Boeing Company (Boeing), and Sierra Nevada Corporation (Sierra Nevada) on their selection by NASA as Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) participants.

Through its CCiCap initiative, NASA seeks to facilitate American industry’s development of an integrated crew transportation system that includes spacecraft, launch vehicle, ground, and mission systems. Facilitating development of such a capability is intended to provide national economic benefits and support safe, reliable, and cost effective transportation to Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

“With recent successes in commercial launches to Low Earth Orbit, including a successful cargo mission to the International Space Station, the United States has entered a new era in access to space,” said NSS Executive Director Paul E. Damphousse. “NSS welcomes this next round of funding, which is designed to expand those capabilities to include crewed access to LEO.”

According to the NASA announcement, the selection of SpaceX, with its Dragon space capsule, Boeing, with its CST-100 capsule, and Sierra Nevada, with its Dream Chaser space plane, will help to foster the development of a diverse portfolio of launch vehicles and spacecraft.

NSS has long championed the advancement of commercial cargo and crew programs, as the development of such capabilities will help to enable robust space operations while providing dramatic reductions in overall costs and the creation of new high-paying jobs for Americans. The CCiCap initiative, and the awarding of funding under this program, is the next phase in the public-private partnerships that are so critical to the future of the United States in space.

NASA Announces Next Steps in Effort to Launch Americans from U.S. Soil

NASA Friday announced new agreements with three American commercial companies to design and develop the next generation of U.S. human spaceflight capabilities, enabling a launch of astronauts from U.S. soil in the next five years. Advances made by these companies under newly signed Space Act Agreements through the agency’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative are intended to ultimately lead to the availability of commercial human spaceflight services for government and commercial customers.‬

CCiCap partners are:
— Sierra Nevada Corporation, Louisville, Colo., $212.5 million
— Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), Hawthorne, Calif., $440 million
— The Boeing Company, Houston, $460 million

“Today, we are announcing another critical step toward launching our astronauts from U.S. soil on space systems built by American companies,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “We have selected three companies that will help keep us on track to end the outsourcing of human spaceflight and create high-paying jobs in Florida and elsewhere across the country.”

CCiCap is an initiative of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) and an administration priority. The objective of the CCP is to facilitate the development of a U.S. commercial crew space transportation capability with the goal of achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from the International Space Station and low Earth orbit. After the capability is matured and expected to be available to the government and other customers, NASA could contract to purchase commercial services to meet its station crew transportation needs.

The new CCiCAP agreements follow two previous initiatives by NASA to spur the development of transportation subsystems, and represent the next phase of U.S. commercial human space transportation, in which industry partners develop crew transportation capabilities as fully integrated systems. Between now and May 31, 2014, NASA’s partners will perform tests and mature integrated designs. This would then set the stage for a future activity that will launch crewed orbital demonstration missions to low Earth orbit by the middle of the decade.

“For 50 years American industry has helped NASA push boundaries, enabling us to live, work and learn in the unique environment of microgravity and low Earth orbit,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The benefits to humanity from these endeavors are incalculable. We’re counting on the creativity of industry to provide the next generation of transportation to low Earth orbit and expand human presence, making space accessible and open for business.”

While NASA works with U.S. industry partners to develop commercial spaceflight capabilities to low Earth orbit, the agency also is developing the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) and the Space Launch System (SLS), a crew capsule and heavy-lift rocket to provide an entirely new capability for human exploration. Designed to be flexible for launching spacecraft for crew and cargo missions, SLS and Orion MPCV will expand human presence beyond low Earth orbit and enable new missions of exploration across the solar system.

For more information about NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, visit: www.nasa.gov/commercialcrew

Sally Kristen Ride, 1951 – 2012

Sally Ride died peacefully on July 23rd, 2012 after a courageous 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Sally lived her life to the fullest, with boundless energy, curiosity, intelligence, passion, joy, and love. Her integrity was absolute; her spirit was immeasurable; her approach to life was fearless.

Sally was a physicist, the first American woman to fly in space, a science writer, and the president and CEO of Sally Ride Science. She had the rare ability to understand the essence of things and to inspire those around her to join her pursuits.

Sally’s historic flight into space captured the nation’s imagination and made her a household name. She became a symbol of the ability of women to break barriers and a hero to generations of adventurous young girls. After retiring from NASA, Sally used her high profile to champion a cause she believed in passionately—inspiring young people, especially girls, to stick with their interest in science, to become scientifically literate, and to consider pursuing careers in science and engineering.

In addition to Tam O’Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years, Sally is survived by her mother, Joyce; her sister, Bear; her niece, Caitlin, and nephew, Whitney; her staff of 40 at Sally Ride Science; and many friends and colleagues around the country.

More information at www.sallyridescience.com.