St. Louis and Space: Site of ISDC 2017

By Gloria Lloyd

Since the International Space Development Conference will be in St. Louis in May, 2017, it is appropriate to learn about the St. Louis connection with space.

“This is a frontier good for millions of years. The only time remotely comparable was when Columbus discovered a whole new world.” – James S. McDonnell in an interview with TIME Magazine, 1967

“Spring break in Ibiza or Miami? I’d rather be in St. Louis, with the future.” – Will.I.Am at the FIRST Robotics World Championships at the Edward Jones Dome, April 26, 2014

The Stealth Bomber - based in Missouri - flies over the Gateway Arch.

St. Louis first became a city of exploration when it was just a river town on the edge of a vast expanse of unknown wilderness, where Lewis and Clark set out to explore the West. So it is fitting that St. Louis has played a key role in both aviation and space history, designing, engineering and manufacturing the planes and spaceships that some of the world’s greatest explorers used to travel around the world – and out of it.

The steel arches of the Eads Bridge. Photo by Gwendolyn Mercer.

St. Louis first secured its spot in engineering history in 1867 when James Eads connected Missouri and Illinois with the world’s first steel bridge, the Eads Bridge (up to that time, steel was not used as a construction material, and no bridges had ever been built across a river as wide as the Mississippi). Skeptics told Eads such a contraption could never work. Andrew Carnegie kicked off the modern steel industry, and America’s Industrial Age, when he saw how difficult it was to get steel to St. Louis to build the bridge. Before the Arch, the Eads Bridge became an iconic symbol of St. Louis, compared to the Eiffel Tower in Paris and called the seventh wonder of the modern world. The bridge is still in use today, for cars, pedestrians andMetroLink light rail trains.

The St. Louis airport, Lambert Field, has a rich history of amazing experimental flights and of innovation – it was a key link in the first transcontinental air-rail service, the first airport with an air traffic control system and housed manufacturing facilities that produced the United States Navy’s first jet fighter – and America’s first spaceship.

Charles Lindbergh and his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis.

Although Charles Lindbergh is undoubtedly the headliner of St. Louis aviation history, the city already had an esteemed list of record-holders even before his flight, including a long-held record for thelongest hot-air balloon flight, set in 1859 by John Wise on a flight between St. Louis and Henderson, N.Y. At the 1904 World’s Fair – thebiggest spectacle the world had ever seen up to that point – aeronauts dazzled spectators with the first-ever public powered flights, of airships. Theodore Roosevelt became the first president to fly here in 1911, and military installation Jefferson Barracks saw the first parachute jump from a plane in 1912.

But it was Lindbergh’s first transatlantic solo flight in 1927 – and the St. Louis spirit that got him there – that changed the course of the 20th century. When Lindbergh wanted to do what no one had done before – fly nonstop across an ocean – it was nine entrepreneurs in St. Louis, where Lindbergh lived and flew airmail flights, who funded his unlikely transatlantic dream. He honored them by naming his plane the Spirit of St. Louis, and he successfully flew between New York and Paris (after a record-setting long-distance stopover in St. Louis) in 1927.

A McDonnell F3H Demon in flight in 1956.

As the headquarters of the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation from its inception in the 1930s, as well as many other aviation companies that formed in the wake of Lindbergh’s successful flight and the resulting aviation mania, St. Louis produced many legendary civilian and military aircraft – including, as one example, the 1929 Curtiss Robin used by “Wrong Way” Corrigan for his famous flight across the Atlantic, and the St. Louis Robin that set a world endurance record.

U.S. astronauts Gordon Cooper (right) and Pete Conrad celebrate after returning from the Gemini 5 mission in 1965.

Even before the Soviet Union launched Sputnikin 1957, James S. McDonnell tasked 45 engineers in St. Louis to start working on the first manned spaceship. That foresight made St. Louis ground zero for America’s first human spaceflight program, Project Mercury, and McDonnellmanufactured 20 space capsules to send the first Americans – and chimpanzees – into space, and much of the simulation and training America’s first astronauts underwent happened in St. Louis. Through the Mercury program, America sent its first man to space, Alan Shepard, and John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth in the Friendship 7 capsule, now on display at the Smithsonian alongside theSpirit of St. Louis.

Mercury astronaut and future Senator John Glenn in orbit on the Friendship 7.

“It is essential that the United States be first, and I can imagine no action, no adventure, which is more essential and more exciting.” – President John F. Kennedy, in remarks to McDonnell employees working on America’s first spaceship following his visit to St. Louis to see the Mercury space capsule in September 1962.

“At the president’s departure, he stated that he was greatly impressed by what he saw in St. Louis.” – newscaster in historic newsreel footage, recounting Kennedy’s visit.

NASA’s follow-up program, Project Gemini, saw the second American in space, astronaut Gus Grissom, arrive in St. Louis to assist McDonnell engineers in building their next spaceship. Gemini astronauts spent time in St. Louis at McDonnell on training simulators for their missions.

Gemini 6 in space, as seen from Gemini 7 during their rendezvous.

In all, 10 manned Gemini capsules were made in St. Louis and launched from Cape Canaveral in 1965 and 1966 as a runup to the Apollo program, which had the lofty goal of landing Americans on the Moon by the end of the 1960s. Gemini astronauts took some of the first spacewalks, stayed in the spacecraft long enough to reach the Moon and perfected rendezvous and docking in preparation for the eventual Moon landing.

Route-66-CruisinDuring the successes of the Gemini program and just past the heyday of Route 66 – when a generation of travelers traveled to St. Louis to “get their kicks” on the Mother Road – the Gateway Arch was erected on the downtown riverfront, serving as the city’s foremost symbol of its status as the Gateway to the West. It is America’s largest man-made monument.

Although NASA’s space shuttles were not entirely manufactured in St. Louis like their spaceship predecessors had been, Space Shuttle Enterprise at Lambert FieldSt. Louisplayed an important role in the space shuttle program. NASA later noted that native St. Louisan and McDonnell Douglas engineer John Yardley, who helped design and develop the shuttle while at McDonnell and then headed the entire program for NASA, was “as responsible as any individual for getting the Space Shuttle program off the ground.” McDonnell Douglas also manufactured the aft propulsion pods that helped the shuttle get into orbit and turn once it reached space. As a mark of appreciation for McDonnell Douglas’s impact on the space shuttle program, NASA flew the first space shuttle, theEnterpise prototype, to St. Louis. Today, the most storied of the space shuttles,Discovery, is housed at the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in the James S. McDonnell Hangar, a fitting nod to McDonnell’s enduring and continuing contributions to America’s space program.

St. Louis astronaut Bob Behnken returns from one of his many spacewalks.

Nine current or former astronauts were born in, raised or went to school in Missouri, including Eileen Collins, the first female spaceship commander. McDonnell Douglas engineer Charlie Walker was the first non-government astronaut to fly in space, during the space shuttle program. Sandra Magnus, from St. Louis suburb Belleville, Ill., flew on the final space shuttle flight in 2011. Dick Richards flew four space shuttle flights. Tom Akers flew four space shuttle flights, including the maiden flight of Endeavour, and is now a professor at nearby Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla,STS-135_Official_Crew_PhotoMo. Other Missouri and Illinois native astronauts include active astronaut Bob Behnken of St. Ann, who has flown in space twice and is currently the Chief Astronaut, Janet Kavandi, who is active and has flown on three space shuttle flights, Linda Godwin andSteven Nagel, who are married and both now professors at the University of Missouri at Columbia,Scott Altman of central Illinois and Michael Hopkins, who recently returned from the International Space Station, after tweeting a picture of St. Louis from space.

First commercial astronaut Mike Melvill after piloting his spaceplane to X-Prize victory.

Since St. Louis was at the forefront of aviation and America’s space program, it comes as no surprise that it has also played a key role in the emergence of commercial spaceflight. In 2004, at a ceremony held at the St. Louis Science Center, the St. Louis-based X-Prize Foundation awardedits $10 million Ansari X-Prize to SpaceShipOnefor the first successful private spaceflight.

Today, St. Louis continues its longtime legacy of exploration as an aerospace hub, serving as the headquarters of Boeing’s $33 billion Defense, Space and Security Division, with 58,000 employees worldwide – a combined division of the company that emerged after the 1997 merger of Boeing, then based in Seattle and the world’s largest aircraft manufacturer, with St. Louis-based McDonnell Douglas, then the world’s second-largest aircraft manufacturer. The combined company now gets 45 percent of all American military contracts and designs and engineers and manufactures some of the most sophisticated aircraft ever seen.

The Blue Angels fly F-18 Hornets, made in St. Louis.

Three military jets, the F-15 Eagle, the E-18 Growler and the F-18 Hornet, are manufactured in St. Louis, and military operations and logistics around the world are commanded from the Department of Defense’s mobility and transportation hub at Scott Air Force Base. St. Louis is also home to Boeing Phantom Works, which is Boeing’s cutting-edge, classified military technology prototyping division and manufactures cutting-edge aircraft in St. Louis under a veil of secrecy.

After the retirement of the space shuttle and completion of the International Space Station, NASA’s focus has turned to commercial spaceflight to take cargo and supplies to the astronauts that are now a permanent presence on the space station, with an eye toward moving out of low-earth orbit to land humans on an asteroid and then Mars. During this transition, St. Louis still remains at the forefront of space: Boeing engineers in St. Louis are designing and building parts of Boeing’s Crew Space Transportation-100 (CST-100) capsule that, along with SpaceX’s Dragon capsule and Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaserspaceplane, is one of NASA’s top contenders to ferry America’s astronauts to space for the Commercial Crew Program, NASA’s new commercial spaceflight program and partnership.

Rendering of Boeing's CST-100 in space.

Meanwhile, scientists at Washington University in St. Louis have taken the lead scientific roles in the Mars Opportunity rover mission, and many scientists right here in St. Louis are currentlyconducting groundbreaking scientific research on Mars in collaboration with Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory on the Mars Curiosity rover mission.

The Mars Curiosity Rover takes a self-portrait from Mars.

Oh, and did we mention that Apollo 13 flight director Gene Kranz (“Failure Is Not an Option”), graduated from St. Louis University’s Parks College of Engineering, Aviation and Technology? In addition to Washington University (which has had 22 Nobel Laureates) and SLU, St. Louis is a university town where many colleges and universities are currently training future stars of space and science, even before the debut of a newly-formed aerospace consortium among community colleges and universities. Every day, children take field trips and simulate missions to space at the St. LouisChallenger Learning Center. St. Louis also hosts the FIRST Robotics World Championships every year – where teams of the world’s smartest high school students work together to build robots to compete in a challenge that changes every year.

The view from Apollo 13, whose flight director Gene Kranz graduated from St. Louis University.

St. Louisans continue to witness aviation history – in 2013, the first solar-powered airplane, Solar Impulse, stopped in St. Louis on its first cross-country flight to follow in Lindbergh’s footsteps (watch it land at Lambert Field in a time-lapse video here). And on the silver screen, the plane-themed movie Up in the Air filmed in St. Louis.

St. Louis's space-themed hotel, the Moonrise.

Since St. Louis has played – and plays – such an esteemed role in America’s space program, it is fitting that one of the world’s few – if not only- space-themed hotels can be found right here on the world-famous Delmar Loop: the Moonrise Hotel, built by local developer (and space enthusiast) Joe Edwards. Appropriately for St. Louis, the Moonrise’s rooftop bar features the world’s largest man-made moon, eight feet in diameter.

Visitors to St. Louis have the opportunity to see some of the city’s space history through exhibits on display at the St. Louis Science Center and the James S. McDonnell Planetarium, one of the premier facilities in the country for space education. A Mercury and Gemini capsule manufactured in St. Louis (like all Mercury and Gemini capsules were) are on display at the Science Center and planetarium, which are connected by a skybridge over Interstate 64.

Exploration buffs can also find the replica Spirit of St. Louis used in the movie about Lindbergh’s flight hanging from the ceiling at the Missouri History Museum, also in Forest Park. At times, the History Museum has extensiveCharles Lindbergh exhibits, since Lindbergh chose to donate his papers, artifacts and memorabilia from his storied career in aviation to the museum. The museum also features many St. Louis aviation artifacts and special exhibits.

Missouri History Museum's Spirit of St. Louis replica, used in the movie.

The Creve Coeur Spirit of St. Louis Airport hosts a museum that displays one of the largest collections of vintage aircraft in the country. The Boeing Prologue Room is a museum of McDonnell Douglas and Boeing history that is open to the public in the summer.

The Greater St. Louis Air and Space Museum features many McDonnell Douglas aircraft and is located in a historic hangar at the St. Louis Downtown Airport in Cahokia, Ill., which was a stop of almost all the notable early aviators, including Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart.

One of Lindbergh’s iconic planes – donated by Lindbergh himself – hangs in the terminal at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.

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St. Louis Union Station Hotel: Home of ISDC® 2017

by Christine Nobbe, EdS, NBCT
ISDC® 2017 Conference Chair

St. Louis Union Station Hotel, “the grandest station in the Nation,” is the chosen site for the 2017 International Space Development Conference® because of its historic significance, beauty, and convenient location. The St. Louis Union Station website explains the historic significance:

image02“St. Louis Union Station, once the largest and busiest passenger rail terminal in the world, is now one of America’s great historic destinations. Union Station first opened in 1894, but ceased operation as an active train terminal in 1978. Union Station reopened in August of 1985 as the largest adaptive re-use project in the United States. Today, this 122 year-old National Historic Landmark of unmatched beauty and elegance is home to the 539-room St. Louis Union Station Hotel – a DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, a conference center, shops and restaurants, a lake and plaza for festivals, concerts and other special events. And, of course, the stunning Grand Hall is a destination in its own rite.”

For those who “geek out” on railroad history or architecture, St. Louis Union Station is a treasure trove. The website states, “St. Louis architect and former railroader, Theodore C. Link, designed three main areas: the Headhouse, the Midway, and the Train Shed. The Headhouse contained the Terminal Hotel, ticket offices, waiting rooms, a restaurant, and offices for the Pullman and Terminal Railroad Association Companies. The Midway was the covered transfer area for passengers [and will be the ISDC Exhibit Midway]. The Train Shed was a large, roofed area covering the loading platforms and track.

image00On September 1, 1894 St. Louis Union Station opened as the largest, most beautiful terminal in the United States. This enormous project was built at the cost of $6.5 million. The gem of this new Station was the Grand Hall with its gold leaf, Romanesque arches, 65-foot barrel vaulted ceiling and stained glass windows. The most magnificent of these stained glass windows is the ‘Allegorical Window’ which is majestically framed by the famous ‘Whispering Arch.’  

image01Just beyond the Head house was the Midway, which was the midway point where friends bid farewell or welcomed home visitors from across the nation and around the world. In its heyday (as shown in image) in the mid 1940’s, the Midway was the spot where over 100,000 passengers a day traversed on their way to or from a train. The platform area was covered by an enormous single-span train shed designed by George H. Pegram [now called the Pegram Room]. This was not only one of the largest train sheds ever built, but it also covered the greatest number of tracks. After World War II, the general public began choosing other forms of transportation. In 1976, this magnificent station was designated a National Historic Landmark. Finally, on October 31, 1978, the last train pulled out of St. Louis Union Station.”

image03NSS and St. Louis Space Frontier are delighted to host the International Space Development Conference® at Union Station May 25-29, 2017. It’s a bit too early to make your room reservations at the hotel, but you can register for the conference now! Visit to register at the very reasonable early bird prices.


St. Louis Union Station Image: Dustin Batt (Wikipedia)

The Grand Hall image: Wikipedia

The Midway image: Charles O’Rear, 1941-, Photographer (NARA record: 3403717) Record creator – Environmental Protection Agency. (12/02/1970 – )

Information about St. Louis Union Station:

Find Your Spirit of Exploration and Discovery postcard: Maggie Duckworth, 2016

Wikipedia article:

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BEAM Fully Expanded and Pressurized

The space station now hosts the new fully expanded and pressurized Bigelow Expandable Activity Module attached to the Tranquility module. Credit: NASA

The space station now hosts the new fully expanded and pressurized Bigelow Expandable Activity Module attached to the Tranquility module. Click image for larger version. Credit: NASA

BEAM was pressurized May 28 on the International Space Station, where it will remain attached for a two-year test period.

The module measured just over 7 feet long and just under 7.75 feet in diameter in its packed configuration. BEAM now measures more than 13 feet long and about 10.5 feet in diameter to create 565 cubic feet of habitable volume. It weighs approximately 3,000 pounds.

Leak checks are being performed on BEAM to ensure its structural integrity. Hatch opening and NASA astronaut Jeff Williams’ first entrance into BEAM will take place about a week after leak checks are complete.

BEAM is an example of NASA’s increased commitment to partnering with industry to enable the growth of the commercial use of space. The project is co-sponsored by NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems Division and Bigelow Aerospace.

Expandable habitats are designed to take up less room on launch but provide greater volume for living and working in space once expanded. This first test of an expandable module will allow investigators to gauge how well the habitat performs and specifically, how well it protects against solar radiation, space debris and the temperature extremes of space.

For more information about BEAM, visit:

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Petition: USA Must Lead the Transition to Space-Based Energy

Your signature on this petition will have a very real and positive impact on the United States of America and on all future generations of humankind worldwide.

Sign this petition and send the following urgent message to the United States Congress, to the President of the United States, and to future congresses and administrations:

Pass and support legislation to ensure national energy security and to protect the worldwide environment by establishing congressionally chartered public-private corporations for space-based energy, space mining, and spacefaring logistics. These corporations shall provide the United States, its allies, and trading partners with sustainable and carbon emission free space-based energy.

The United States of America faces a looming national energy security threat due to its dependence on a finite supply of fossil fuels.

Humankind worldwide faces an environmental security threat due to its dependence on fossil fuels that release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when burned.

Sustainable, carbon emission free energy from space-based solar power (SBSP) is the solution. Simply put–and challenging to accomplish–SBSP consists of orbiting solar power satellites continuously harvesting the sun’s intense energy in space. The energy is beamed wirelessly to rectifying antennas on the Earth, and then transmitted to existing electrical power grids. Unlike terrestrial renewable energy sources, space-based solar power is nearly infinitely scalable. It is also continuous, so it can supply the planet’s baseload energy requirements.

For more information see the NSS Space Solar Power Library (

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Smithsonian Science Education Center and National Space Society Team Up for Next-Generation Space Education Program “Enterprise In Space”

Enterprise In Space (EIS), an international program of the National Space Society (NSS), is excited to announce the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC), the only unit at the Smithsonian Institution that is solely dedicated to formal K-12 science education reform.

As a part of its mission to send a 3D printed spacecraft into low Earth orbit with more than 100 student experiments aboard, EIS has established a robust online educational platform, the EIS Academy, which includes several Enterprise Centers for Excellence, dedicated to hosting knowledge from experts in space science. The SSEC is dedicated to the establishment of effective science programs and professional learning experiences for all teachers and students. Together, the SSEC and EIS will support one another in developing educator and student experiences in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) that enhance awareness in the exploration and development of space and extend the reach of SSEC and EIS programs.

EIS and SSEC plan to collaborate on two projects dedicated to space education. The first is a mission patch design challenge in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Education to present at Space Day at the National Air and Space Museum, tentatively set to occur this summer. The second is the development of a space science summer course for the Smithsonian Science Education Academies for Teachers (SSEATs) that will enrich and enhance space education in the participating educators’ classrooms.

To provide teachers with powerful classroom tools and lessons, EIS, in conjunction with SSEC, will be creating a space science curriculum for leaders and learners that will be taught as a week-long SSEAT course. The course will use resources from the Smithsonian and its affiliates in the Washington, D.C. area, including access to museums, scientists, historians, and researchers at those facilities. Class lessons created by participating teachers will be shared further by being uploaded to the EIS Academy. The program will also include an online course preceding the summer Space Science Academy and post-academy activities for follow-up networking and teacher collaborations.

“The decision to collaborate with the Smithsonian Science Education Center was a natural one,” says Lynne Zielinski, EIS Education Program Manager and NSS Vice President of Public Affairs. “The Smithsonian has a prestigious reputation for its educational initiatives and will provide the ideal network and support necessary for bringing the EIS program to the public.”

“Space science topics are a timely and exciting subject area that motivates student learning,” said Carol O’Donnell, SSEC Director. “The EIS Academy offers a pathway for our SSEATs teachers to build long-lasting professional learning communities that will provide them with confidence and reinvigorate their enthusiasm while embracing cutting edge applications and best teaching practices.”

Both organizations wish to establish a sustainable relationship for space science education, launching their collaboration on a trajectory where the Sky is NOT the Limit!

Enterprise In Space Mission Profile

For more information about Enterprise in Space, see

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Program Manager Pete Worden to Present Interstellar Mission at International Space Development Conference

Pete Worden, former director of NASA Ames Research Center, will present “Starshot, Mission to Alpha Centauri,” at the Thursday (May 19) luncheon during the National Space Society’s International Space Development Conference®. NSS Governor Janet Ivey will emcee the luncheon which also features the presentation of the Heinlein award to Dr. Jerry Pournelle. Rich Pournelle of Nanoracks will receive the award for his father. The conference is open to the public and is set for May 18-22, 2016 at the Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel and Casino in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Breakthrough Starshot is a $100 million research and engineering program aiming to demonstrate proof of concept for light-propelled nanocrafts. These could fly at 20 percent of light speed and capture images of possible planets and other scientific data in our nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, just over 20 years after their launch.

The program will be led by Pete Worden, the former director of NASA AMES Research Center, and advised by a committee of world-class scientists and engineers. The board will consist of Stephen Hawking, Yuri Milner, and Mark Zuckerberg.

ISDC is the yearly conference of the National Space Society, a non-profit organization that has hosted the gathering since 1982. The event brings together leading managers, engineers, scientists, educators, and business people from civilian, military, commercial, entrepreneurial, and grassroots advocacy space sectors.

Online registration is currently open with a variety of options, from single-day registration passes to full conference registration with meals. Discounts are provided for youth, full-time students, seniors, and members of the National Space Society and its affiliates.

“We would like to invite local attendees interested in space to the annual conference of the world’s premier space public interest group,” stated Aggie Kobrin, the conference organizer and NSS board member.

For more information, visit

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SpaceX to Receive the National Space Society’s 2016 Space Pioneer Award for Science and Engineering

Josh BrostSpaceX is the winner of the National Space Society’s 2016 Space Pioneer Award for Science and Engineering. This award recognizes the company’s recent major achievement, the historic first landing of the Falcon 9 rocket on Dec 21, 2015, which was a major step toward fulfilling one of the major “holy grail” quests of the space community – reusability. This flight marked the first successful vertical landing by a large first-stage rocket, which reached space and whose second stage carried a payload into orbit. Creating reusable rockets is a fundamental requirement for spaceflight to be inexpensive enough for general and large-scale use. Josh Brost, Director of Government Business Development at SpaceX, will accept the award in the name of SpaceX on May 20 at the National Space Society’s 2016 International Space Development Conference® ( This will be the 35th ISDC and will be held in San Juan, Puerto Rico, at the Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel and Casino. The conference, open to the public, will run from May 18-22, 2016.

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 right, 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 the greatly respected Michael Hall’s Studio Foundry of Driftwood, TX. NSS has several different categories under which the award is presented each year, starting in 1988. Some of the recent winners of Space Pioneer Awards include Elon Musk, Ray Bradbury, Robert Bigelow, citizen astronaut Anousheh Ansari, Dr. Kip Thorne, and the European Space Agency (ESA) Rosetta mission team.

About SpaceX

SpaceX designs, manufactures, and launches the world’s most advanced rockets and spacecraft. The company was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk to revolutionize space transportation, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets. Today, SpaceX is advancing the boundaries of space technology through its Falcon launch vehicles and Dragon spacecraft.

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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.

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NSS Space Ambassadors Program Update

The NSS Space Ambassadors Program is a venue to allow people worldwide to communicate the benefits of space exploration to our daily lives and to inspire and educate young people and the public to pursue careers in science, engineering, and mathematics. The goal is to inspire the next generation of leaders to embrace and pursue the vision of people living and working in space. Lots of people have participated, and NSS is now completing the first phase of the Space Ambassadors Program. The Top Ten Ambassadors will present examples of their work at the upcoming ISDC 2016 in Puerto Rico on May 19, 2016. Based on their work, the Top Ten will be rank-ordered, and they will select an NSS training assignment from the following sponsors:

  • Aurora Aerospace: Two zero-G training assignments in their Rockwell-700 aircraft (2 awardees)
  • Kepler Space Institute: A $5000 scholarship
  • ETC’s The NASTAR Center: One assignment to their Basic Suborbital Space Training program
  • Zero Gravity Corp: One ZERO-G experience in their Boeing-727 aircraft

For more information see

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International/U.S. Students and Teachers Head to Puerto Rico for International Space Development Conference

Hundreds of students and teachers from the United States and countries across the globe will converge in Puerto Rico next month for the National Space Society’s (NSS) 35th annual International Space Development Conference® (ISDC) to celebrate and engage people in the goal of space settlement. The event is set for May 18-22, 2016 at the Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel and Casino in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Students attending the conference, grades 6-12, will be sharing their imaginative ideas about how people will be living and working in space. They are attending the conference as a result of their participation in this year’s NSS/NASA Ames Space Settlement Contest, co-sponsored by the National Space Society and NASA Ames Research Center. The contest challenges students to design a space settlement, which must realistically address concerns such as atmosphere, food, gravity, radiation shielding, energy production, and recreation for human space colonists.

“The students attending the ISDC are so passionate and excited to be there to share their ideas and projects. There is so much to learn from them, their cultures, and creative insights,” said Lynne F. Zielinski, NSS vice president of public affairs and chair of NSS’ education and outreach committee. “We are always dazzled by their insightful and futuristic designs. Their enthusiasm is infectious and gives us all hope that we will soon be living and working in space ourselves. These students are the ones to take us there.”

Project Divinity Team

Each year, NSS invites contest participants to attend the organization’s ISDC. Throughout the conference, students will provide oral presentations about their space settlement designs, along with colorful artwork related to the contest. The NSS/NASA Ames Space Settlement Contest’s Grand Prize winner, Project Divinity team, will receive the $5,000 NSS Bruce M. Clark, Jr. Memorial Scholarship.

The Project Divinity team is comprised of five students, SeungHyeon Do (Kongju High School, grade 12), JaeHun Jang (Korea Science Academy, 12), DongHyun Kim (Korea Science Academy, 12), YongSung Park (GwangJu Munsung High High School, 11), HwanSung Jang (Korean Minjok Leadership Academy, 11) under the mentorship of KangSan Kim, from Incheon, Republic of Korea (South Korea). (

“Project Divinity is a space settlement for 10,000 individuals situated in the Equatorial Low Earth Orbit (ELEO), 500 km altitude above the equator. It is built in the near future where space tourism, coupled with commercial development of launch vehicles, provides enough incentives for primitive forms of space industry to grow. Project Divinity describes how the Divinity space settlement and its neighboring facilities can become the foundation for a new market for outer space.”

This year’s competition received 996 entries from 4,017 students. Entries came from 23 countries: Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, England, India, Ireland, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Poland, Republic of Korea (So.Korea), Romania, Taiwan, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, and Venezuela. U.S. entries were received from 15 states and territories: California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

ISDC is the yearly conference of the National Space Society, a non-profit organization that has hosted the gathering since 1982. The event brings together leading managers, engineers, scientists, educators, and business people from civilian, military, commercial, entrepreneurial, and grassroots advocacy space sectors.

Online registration is currently open with a variety of options, from single-day registration passes to full conference registration with meals. Discounts are provided for youth, full-time students, seniors, and members of the National Space Society and its affiliates.

“We would like to invite local attendees interested in space to the annual conference of the world’s premier space public interest group,” stated Aggie Kobrin, the conference organizer and NSS board member. “Kids today are somewhat lacking in inspiration to pursue STEM fields and this conference is making giant strides to solve this problem.”

For more information, visit

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