The National Space Society Applauds Alan Stern Winning the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal

The National Space Society congratulates Dr. Alan Stern on winning the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal. This award is the highest honor that NASA can bestow. NSS has also awarded one of our highest honors to Dr. Stern, the NSS Wernher von Braun Award, which he received at our International Space Development Conference last May in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Dr. Stern was Principal Investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto. “Leading New Horizons has been the greatest honor of my lifetime, but it’s important to recognize so many others who also contributed to the success of this mission,” said Stern. “I dedicate this award to the 2,500 men and women who worked so hard to build, launch, and fly New Horizons across the solar system to explore Pluto and its system of moons.”

Portrait of Dr. Alan Stern, associate vice president of the Space Science and Engineering Division at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) and the Principal Investigator of NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto. Image courtesy NASA/Bill Ingalls.
Portrait of Dr. Alan Stern, associate vice president of the Space Science and Engineering Division at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) and the Principal Investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto. Image courtesy NASA/Bill Ingalls.

Engineering an Impact on the New Frontier

By NSS Member Bradley Williams

It was a chilly December morning; I was 10 years old and sitting on the cold, hard floor of my elementary school library…too enthralled and focused on a 20-inch television screen to realize how uncomfortable I was. The TV was showing a live stream of Entry, Decent, and Landing (EDL) activities being commanded by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It was very quiet. And, expecting that at any moment the engineers and scientists on the television would burst into excitement and applause, I wasn’t about to be the first of my classmates to break the silence. We sat there for 45 minutes—what seemed like a lifetime to a group of 5th graders—before my teacher finally got up and turned off the TV. Mrs. Storar, being fluent in space history and blessed with an understanding of mission architecture, gently informed us that something had gone wrong and the Mars Polar Lander would likely never be heard from again. It was an unlikely experience to spur passion and inspiration in a 10-year-old, but from that moment I was completely hooked on space exploration.

Systems Engineer Bradley Williams with the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft in the Lockheed Martin cleanroom.
Systems Engineer Bradley Williams with the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft in the Lockheed Martin cleanroom.

My name is Bradley Williams and I am a Systems Engineer for the OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite (OCAMS). OCAMS is a set of three cameras on the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft that will provide the imagery of asteroid Bennu during the OSIRIS-REx mission. Driven by science and innovation, my goal has always been to make an impact in cutting edge space exploration and in the technology that gives us access to explore the truly NEW frontier—space.

I came to the University of Arizona looking for a way I could impact…I mean, leave an impression on the space industry (people in this field don’t like using the word “impact”). While studying mechanical engineering, I also submerged myself in planetary science and eventually gained a minor in the field. In no other field can you take courses taught by Dr. Alfred McEwen, Principal Investigator (PI) of the HiRISE camera onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and get the opportunity to request your own high resolution observations of Mars’ surface to write a paper on. I credit much of my career to the UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory’s unique ability to provide students with the opportunity to network with space community leaders and ground-breaking innovators. It was an astrobiology course taught by Phoenix Mars Lander PI, Dr. Peter Smith, that opened the door to the path that has led me to where I am today.

Whether it was my persistence or eagerness to get involved, Dr. Smith eventually found me a spot as a research assistant developing CubeSat applications through an electronics test and integration program. During my tenure in the UA’s L-CAVE (Lab of CubeSat Applications and Vehicular Exploration), I had the chance to meet several future members of the OSIRIS-REx OCAMS team. So when NASA awarded the OSIRIS-REx mission to the University of Arizona, things happened fast—and I am talking “rocket escape velocity” fast. In no time, I had transitioned over to the OCAMS team to work on numerous systems engineering tasks for Cat Merrill, the Lead Systems Engineer for OCAMS. The learning curve was steep but it was exhilarating at the same time.

Bradley Williams, who began working on the OCAMS instrument as a University of Arizona student, is now part of the team guiding OCAMS through the ATLO process.
Bradley Williams, who began working on the OCAMS instrument as a University of Arizona student, is now part of the team guiding OCAMS through the ATLO process.

While still a student, my early responsibilities included assisting in the maturation of the Integrated Master Schedule (IMS), and managing the OCAMS requirements. After graduating with my mechanical engineering degree, I was given the opportunity to remain on the project as a full-time engineer. Obviously, I was ecstatic. How many people get the chance to start their career with their dream job, RIGHT? As grateful as I was, my role rapidly evolved. My requirements role quickly turned into the responsibility to design a verification program that could be used to validate the 2,000 mission requirements levied upon the OCAMS instrument, its subsystems, and its components. Once you know how to verify that the right system was built and that it was built correctly, you then have to design an integration and test program. The goal was to incrementally satisfy these requirements while the three OCAMS cameras and control electronics were being built, thus buying down risk that large problems would occur later. This included working with vendors of critical parts, subsystems, and assemblies to ensure that the requirements in the statement of work were verified prior to their delivery to OCAMS.

Again, a unique experience emerged. I was thrown into the OCAMS cleanroom (not literally—you have to properly suit up first to protect the spaceflight hardware from contamination risks) to execute many of the procedures I had authored. From running performance tests in the thermal vacuum chamber to performing functional tests on electronics and cameras after coming off the “vibe table” (and trust me there are no good vibes about it—watching an instrument you’ve spent endless hours and weekends building and perfecting be strapped to a violently shaking table is terrifying). Prior to that, I worked side by side with our mechanical assemblers to verify that our mechanical interfaces met spec before the final torqueing and staking of fasteners. You don’t want to get to the spacecraft and realize that your instrument doesn’t fit the footprint allocated by the spacecraft.

One of the key tests I shepherded through the OCAMS environmental test program was the Electromagnetic Interference and Compatibility test (EMI-EMC for short). I worked with the RF experts at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center to identify the proper standardized test setups for our mission, and then conveyed those requirements to the vendor to itemize contract deliverables. Negotiating statements of work may sound dull and exhausting, but you obviously haven’t spent much time in an anechoic chamber. This is where EMI/EMC testing occurs. The chamber is designed to be non-reflective and completely silent to noise, from either external sounds or internal electromagnetic waves (so good luck getting a wifi signal in there). Through our testing, we determined that there were no excessive emissions by the OCAMS instrument, especially in the frequency band that the spacecraft uses to communicate. We also verified that the OCAMS camera performance is not susceptible to any of the emissions we may experience during operations near and around the asteroid Bennu. Recently, I also had the chance to support the same testing but at the vehicle (spacecraft) level. The difference with this test was that all of the payloads (instruments) were on the spacecraft and were actively and concurrently producing science data. This test validated our instrument level results and provided the verification necessary to prove there would be no impact to the launch vehicle (an Atlas V rocket) or the spacecraft during launch activities.

The three cameras of OCAMS sit in an anechoic chamber while undergoing EMI-EMC testing.
The three cameras of OCAMS sit in an anechoic chamber while undergoing EMI-EMC testing.

Fortunately, after the conclusion of the OCAMS test program and the delivery of the instrument to the spacecraft, I have been able to continue with OCAMS in providing ATLO (spacecraft Assembly Test Launch Operations) support. Being knowledgeable in OCAMS’s functionality and commanding, I work closely with the operations team to define system verification tests that prove out different phases of the mission before launch. This has given me insight into the future decisions that will have to be made during mission science operations to coordinate and balance science value with operational risk.

The OSIRIS-REx mission is awe-inspiring. It pushes the limits of current space exploration efforts and will help shape and guide future generations of scientists and engineers. Like the Phoenix rising from the ashes, my inspiration was derived from previous space endeavors, and I hope to continue this “pay-it-forward” attitude to help inspire this country’s future doers and dreamers.

New Horizons Team Wins the National Space Society’s 2016 Space Pioneer Award for Science and Engineering

Ten years ago today, a bold mission launched on humankind’s first journey to Pluto. The New Horizons Team, which conducted the stunningly successful mission to and flyby of Pluto, is the winner of the National Space Society’s 2016 Space Pioneer Award for Science and Engineering. The team is led by the Southwest Research Institute and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. This award will be presented at the National Space Society’s 2016 International Space Development Conference® ( It will be accepted by Dr. Alan Stern, the Team’s Principal Investigator and two other member of the mission team, Mission Systems Engineer Chris Hersman, and Deputy Project Scientist Dr. Leslie Young, on May 20, 2016. This will be the 35th ISDC and will be held in San Juan, Puerto Rico at the Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel. The conference will run from May 18-22, 2016.

Pluto senset
Pluto sunset

About the Space Pioneer Award

NSS Space Pioneer AwardThe Space Pioneer Award consists of a silvery pewter Moon globe cast by the Baker Art Foundry in Placerville, California, from a sculpture originally created by Don Davis, the well-known space and astronomical artist. The globe, as shown at left, which represents multiple space mission destinations and goals, sits freely on a brass support with a wooden base and brass plaque, which are created by Michael Hall’s Studio Foundry of Driftwood, TX. NSS has several different categories under which the award is presented each year, starting in 1988.

About the New Horizons Team and its Mission to Pluto

This Award recognizes the team’s success in conducting a mission that has lasted now over a decade, starting with the launch on Jan 19, 2006. Humanity went from seeing just a tiny dot of light to seeing a complex, geologically active world in just a few days during the flyby on July 14, 2015. Maintaining the spacecraft as it continues to send back more images is still a critically important task. Displaying a wide range of terrains, Pluto has been revealed to have multiple active processes on its surface, with huge ice mountains possibly floating in a probably deep sea of soft, deformable nitrogen ice. There may be liquid nitrogen deeper beneath the surface. The ice has formed large arctic polygon-like convection cells covering wide areas of icy plains, which are very young and totally free of impact craters. In some areas, nitrogen glaciers flow out of the mountains into the icy plains. Real water ice volcanoes may also have finally been found. Pluto’s thin but compact atmosphere sports amazingly high haze layers and the rate of atmosphere loss is much lower than expected. Many other types of spectacularly patterned terrains are still unexplained, and as more images are returned from the spacecraft, Pluto and Charon’s very different forms of “geology” will continue to be a major scientific topic for years to come. This mission has generated the largest public interest of any NASA mission in recent years, has completed NASA’s 50 year long quest to reconnoiter all of the planets known at the start of the Space Age, and represents the furthest exploration of a world by humanity.

About the NSS Video New Horizons

On July 14th, 2015, NASA’s New Horizons mission made its closest approach to the Pluto system, completing the first reconnaissance of the Solar System, begun over 50 years ago by NASA.

Epic Video Takes Pluto-mania Viral

Video on NASA’s New Horizons Mission Gets a Million Views in a Week; This Extended Director’s Cut Version Dropped Today on YouTube

This extended version of a viral video detailing NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto, entitled “New Horizons [Extended Version]” was released today to the public via YouTube. A shorter version of the video had gone viral just two weeks prior, amassing over a million views in less than a week.

The video, commissioned by the non-profit National Space Society, highlights the historical significance of the New Horizons mission.

The fastest spacecraft ever created, New Horizons will speed past Pluto on July 14, 2015, 50 years to the day after humans first explored Mars with NASA’s Mariner 4 on July 14, 1965. The spacecraft will beam back high resolution imagery and invaluable scientific data of the dwarf planet’s surface for the first time in human history, thus bringing a dramatic culmination to 50 years of NASA’s initial efforts in planetary reconnaissance.

“This extended version of the video, New Horizons, is amazing, showing why we explore the planets, and what an incredible and historic accomplishment human beings have achieved in the past 50 years – from the first missions to Venus and Mars to New Horizons at Pluto – in that pursuit,” said Alan Stern, NSS member and Principal Investigator of the New Horizons mission.

The National Space Society Releases a Stirring Video to Salute the Arrival of NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft at Pluto and the Completion of the First Reconnaissance of the Planets by NASA

(Washington DC, June 16, 2015) On July 14th, NASA’s New Horizons mission will make its closest approach to the Pluto system, completing the first reconnaissance of the Solar System, begun over 50 years ago by NASA. With the completion of the Pluto flyby by New Horizons next month, NASA will have completed successful missions to every planet in the Solar System from Mercury to Pluto.

To celebrate, NSS commissioned a short video film titled “New Horizons,” which is being released today. The stirring video recognizes the historic culmination of this era of first planetary reconnaissance, for which the United States will be forever inscribed in history. New Horizons, can be watched and shared here:

National Space Society’s New Horizons Video

Pluto and Charon art for NSS New Horizons Video
Pluto, its moon Charon, and the New Horizons spacecraft (small white dot near right edge) in a scene from the NSS Video

“NSS is delighted to support the New Horizons mission by helping to share this exciting milestone in space exploration with the general public in America and around the world,” said NSS Senior Operating Officer Bruce Pittman.

The New Horizons video was funded by contributions to NSS made by New Horizons mission partners Aerojet Rocketdyne, Ball Aerospace, Lockheed Martin, and United Launch Alliance. New Horizons was directed and produced by Erik Wernquist, whose video Wanderers, looking to the future of solar system exploration by humans, created a viral sensation last year. New Horizons principal investigator and NSS member Alan Stern served as advisor to the video.

“As both an NSS member and the Principal Investigator of New Horizons, I’m excited about this beautiful film—and very appreciative of the efforts of NSS and its sponsors to create this. It really is stirring; I hope you’ll think so too.” said Alan Stern.

NSS Enterprise in Space Orbiter Design Contest

NSS Enterprise in Space Orbiter Design Contest
NSS Enterprise in Space Orbiter Design Contest

The NASA Space Shuttle Enterprise never made it to orbit. While that was the original intent, subsequent redesigns undertaken during the Enterprise testing phase made this impractical.

Most tragically, another Enterprise – Virgin Galactic’s VSS Enterprise, crashed in the Mojave Desert on October 31, 2014 – a crash in which co-pilot Michael Alsbury lost his life. VSS Enterprise had undertaken more than thirty successful test flights and was the first of five planned suborbital spacecraft to be used to send tourists and experiments on suborbital trips to space.

Unfortunately the news media focus on the space tourism aspect of companies like Virgin Galactic and XCOR Aerospace while largely ignoring the fact that these spacecraft will be important platforms for conducting a wide variety of experiments in a microgravity environment.

But suborbital is not orbital. With luck and public support the first Enterprise to orbit the Earth will be the NSS Enterprise Orbiter which will carry approximately 100 competitively selected student experiments into low Earth orbit and after a week’s time return them safely to Earth.

Before the Enterprise can be built it must be designed. And this is where you can help. One feature of this program is that the Enterprise in Space team is calling on artists, engineers, science fiction fans, students, designers, space activists, and dreamers to come up with their own concept of what the NSS Enterprise Orbiter should look like. And unlike the overwhelming majority of art, graphics, and design contests that require entrants to pay a submission fee, entry in the Enterprise in Space Design Contest is free!

If designing spacecraft isn’t for you then you can support the Enterprise in Space project by:

As the newly appointed manager for the EIS Orbiter Design Contest I offer the following basic tips for those entering the contest.

My first tip is to do it. Not only are there some great prizes for the contest winner but the winner will have a place in the history of private/personal space exploration.

My second tip is that you don’t have to be a master of 3D or CAD software. I’ll remind you that such software is a very recent invention. It’s the design that counts and that can be illustrated using nothing more complex than paper, pencil, and ruler.

Third is to follow the rules. An important rule is to not design a spacecraft that looks like a spacecraft that is associated with a spacecraft from TV or film. It must be your own original design.

Fourth is to be mindful that the spacecraft you design will be housing somewhere around one hundred student experiments. That means avoiding a design that minimizes internal volume. Once manufactured, your orbiter will physically have as its maximum dimensions 8 feet by 8 feet by 6 feet so be mindful of the factors 8 x 8 x 6 in designing your craft.

So now is the time to either fire up your favorite graphics software or grab your drafting supplies and get to designing a spacecraft that is truly unique. The submission deadline is fast approaching so don’t delay. But first make sure you fully understand the contest by reading the Enterprise In Space Design Contest Rules.

Lastly, I would like to wish everyone entering the contest the best of luck and I look forward to seeing the designs you create.

Ad Astra, Jim Plaxco; Manager, Enterprise in Space Orbiter Design Contest

Britain Adds Funds to Repurpose ESA ATV as Orion Service Module

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.

Uwingu – New Startup to Fund Space Exploration, Research, and Education

Uwingu LLC, a space-themed start up is seeking crowd-sourced funding to launch an ongoing series of public engagement projects. Uwingu’s mission is to use those proceeds to generate funding for space exploration, research, and education efforts around the world.

Uwingu LLC (pronounced “oo-wing-oo” and which means “sky” in Swahili) consists of astronomers, planetary scientists, former space program executives, and educators. Included in the company’s portfolio of space heavyweights are space historian and author Andy Chaikin, space educator Dr. Emily CoBabe-Ammann, citizen science leader Dr. Pamela Gay, author and museum science director Dr. David Grinspoon, planet hunter Dr. Geoff Marcy, planetary scientist and aerospace executive Dr. Teresa Segura, planetary scientist and former NASA science boss Dr. Alan Stern, and planetary scientist and CEO of the Planetary Science Institute, Dr. Mark Sykes.

“Uwingu will employ novel software applications to game-ify space, with the profits going toward research and education,” says Gay. “Our projects will be fun to use, and the proceeds from their use will make a real difference in how space exploration, research, and education is funded.”

Adds CoBabe-Aummann, “Uwingu’s influence on space education is going to be both broad and deep, with applications we think will be very popular in classrooms around the world, and proceeds going to promote space education both at home and abroad.”

“Our ambitions at Uwingu are high,” states founder Sykes. “Simply put, we want to use commercial sales to generate a new funding stream for space research, space education, and even space exploration. Nothing like this has ever been done.”

Uwingu’s launch project is already built, but its being kept under wraps to generate excitement and suspense. The company is seeking the public’s support to raise funds for Internet and other business costs it will incur in early operations. “We’ve already put the equivalent of over $1M in software development into our first project through donated hours by our team,” says co-founder Stern, “and we’ve each contributed funds as well, but to build up the nest egg of capital we need to launch our web site, we are asking people who believe in our mission to help.”

Uwingu’s crowd funding campaign to raise these funds can be found at:

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.