Tag Archive for 'space'

Human Space Flight Review Summary Released

Those of us interested in spaceflight have been holding our collective breath this summer while we wait for the results from the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee (a.k.a. the Augustine Commission). Now they have released a 12 page summary of their findings, and it’s got some exciting stuff! As Ryan said, the summary is well-worth reading on your own, but, if you lack the time, here are some of the key points, seasoned with a little of my own commentary:

“The Committee concluded that the ultimate goal of human exploration is to chart a path
for human expansion into the solar system.”

“The Committee finds that no plan compatible with the FY 2010 budget profile permits human exploration to continue in any meaningful way.”

“The Committee further finds that it is possible to conduct a viable exploration program with a budget rising to about $3 billion annually above the FY 2010 budget profile. […] The Committee believes an exploration program that will be a source of pride for the nation requires resources at such a level.”

“Once the Shuttle is retired, there will be a gap in America’s capability to launch humans into space. That gap will extend until the next U.S. human-rated launch system becomes available. The Committee estimates that, under the current plan, this gap will be at least seven years long. There has not been this long a gap in U.S. human launch capability since the U.S. human space program began.”

Even more sobering: the Committee found no alternatives that will decrease the gap below six years unless we extend the Shuttle program, which, since the external fuel tank assembly lines have been shut down, only means delaying already scheduled launches.

“The return on investment to both the United States and our international partners would be significantly enhanced by an extension of ISS life. Not to extend its operation would significantly impair U.S. ability to develop and lead future international spaceflight partnerships.”

“The United States needs a way to launch astronauts to low-Earth orbit, but it does not
necessarily have to be provided by the government. As we move from the complex, reusable Shuttle back to a simpler, smaller capsule, it is an appropriate time to consider turning this transport service over to the commercial sector. […] The Committee suggests establishing a new competition for this service, in which both large and small companies could participate.”

Government-encouraged LEO launch capabilities could lead to lower launch costs; it could also mean new and exciting jobs for young aerospace engineers like myself.

“The Committee strongly believes it is time for NASA to reassume its crucial role of developing new technologies for space.”

That one can be read a couple of different ways, but it kind of sounds to me like a slap in the face over the use-as-much-existing-technology-as-possible philosophy of the current Constellation program. Some of NASA’s major returns-on-investment have been in terms of new technologies that can be applied to life on earth, and it’s important to continue that tradition–and to draw more attention to it–so that the average citizen knows what they’re getting from the space program.

“If humans are ever to live for long periods on another planetary surface, it is likely to be on Mars. But Mars is not an easy place to visit with existing technology and without a substantial investment of resources. The Committee finds that Mars is the ultimate destination for human exploration; but it is not the best first destination.”

“Significant space achievements require continuity of support over many years. […] NASA and its human spaceflight program are in need of stability in both resources and direction.”

In other words–politics need to lay off of NASA and let it do its job of exploring without the constant stress of its budget disappearing or mission changing as politicians do.

I’m sure there will be more to discuss as the Committee’s full findings are released and we hear what President Obama thinks of them. In the meantime, what are your thoughts?

Riding The Vomit Comet: Cornell Flux-Pinning Microgravity Experiment

It’s no secret that I was terribly jealous this summer when Joseph, Laura, and the rest of the Cornell Flux-Pinning Microgravity Team got to fly on the Vomit Comet with their experiment. But now you and I can watch a little of what we missed:

My favorite moment is around 1:45. 😉

Apollo 11 Launch Anniversary

Saturn V EnginesBeing an aerospace engineer and all-around astronut, I’ve been getting very excited about the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission. I hear about all kinds of things through Joseph since he is working at Johnson Space Center this summer, but following NASA, Buzz Aldrin and various other astronauts on Twitter has also revealed some nice ways to celebrate.

First, get in the appropriate mood by looking at some stunning hi-res photos from all stages of the mission. The Big Picture has everything from the iconic portrait of Buzz Aldrin on the moon to less-known moments like the astronauts eating a breakfast of steak and eggs before launch. (Either these are brave men, or their stomachs have been lined with steel.) If you’re like me, the pictures will probably bring tears to your eyes and goosebumps to your arms.

If, as I am, you are too young to have experienced the wonder of this historic mission as it happened, there are a couple of ways to simulate the experience. The J.F.K. Presidential library has a dedicated We Choose the Moon website that is playing through the entire mission in real time (and will have the full mission available thereafter). They’re broadcasting mission audio alongside a Flash mission tracker that shows each stage in computer simulation as it happened. As each stage of the mission becomes active, new galleries of images and video are available as well.

Similarly, NASA is broadcasting the mission audio as part of its anniversary celebration. I’ve actually been following both as the background to my work today and it’s been pretty interesting so far. The two audio lines seem to be out-of-sync by about 10 minutes. I’ve tried reloading to sync them (Flash seems to be slowing down a lot under Ubuntu and Firefox), but no luck. Guess it just means that I get to hear all the great bits twice!

Of course, we shouldn’t forget that there is a current space shuttle mission, STS-127, aloft right now. It’s pretty quiet in my department today, in fact, because a lot of people are in FL for the Endeavor launch since it’s carrying our AggieSAT into orbit.

The space shuttle program is, sadly, on its way out, which makes this, more than ever, a time to look forward to what we want to do in space in the years to come. To that end, I’ll be eagerly awaiting word from President Obama’s commission to see what it will mean for NASA and the Constellation program. Personally, I would like to see a bolder course and one with a more ambitious timeline for manned exploration than what I’ve heard thus far. Of course, such a program requires funds to go with it, and, unfortunately, that’s about the last thing the public wants to think about right now. But space exploration is an investment in our future, short-term and long-term. I cannot say enough about how inspirational NASA’s manned space flight programs have been to me, personally, and I know many others who would not have pursued education and careers in science, math, and engineering were it not for those programs.

Fortunately, I’m not the only one calling for a more ambitious path: Buzz Aldrin has a piece in the Washington Post today:

Much has been said recently about the Vision for Space Exploration and the future of the international space station. As we all reflect upon our historic lunar journey and the future of the space program, I challenge America’s leaders to think boldly and look beyond the moon. Yes, my vision of “Mars for America” requires bold thinking. But as my friend and Gemini crewmate Jim Lovell has noted, our Apollo days were a time when we did bold things in space to achieve leadership. It is time we were bold again in space. #

Perhaps by the time the 60th Apollo 11 anniversary rolls around, we’ll have an even more impressive achievement on our records.