Category Archives: Human Spaceflight

How did Sally Ride inspire you?

A week ago we were shocked to learn that Sally Ride died from pancreatic cancer.  We quickly shared memories with one another – whether they were of her first spaceflight, getting her autograph, or participating in a Sally Ride Science event.

Not only was Sally Ride just 25 when she was selected as a member of the first Shuttle class of Astronauts, she was also one of a handful of women chosen for the first time to be a NASA Astronaut. When she was the first American woman to fly in space in 1983 she became broke down barriers that people today don’t even question.

I “discovered” human spaceflight in late 1985 as a fifth grader.  Sally Ride being the first woman to fly in space was a reality that I didn’t examine.  It simply was what it was.  The thought that I couldn’t become an astronaut because I was a girl never crossed my mind.  And honestly, until her death I didn’t realize that it was only a period of two years between her first flight and the birth of my dream to become an astronaut.  What if I discovered spaceflight three years earlier?  Would society have taught me it was something not for girls?  What if I was born in the 60s?  Would I not be an aerospace engineer today?  I am who I am because of how history was shaped.  What if  just one of the Mercury 13 members had been chosen by NASA? Who would they have inspired to reach for the stars?

While I never attributed Sally Ride for directly inspiring me, without a doubt she was part of the NASA that did inspire me to follow my dreams.

Now the question is how did Sally Ride inspire you?


Houston, we have a shuttle!

June 1st marked quite a treat for Houston.  After the disappointment of not being selected to receive one of the space shuttle orbiters we were given a mock shuttle from the KSC Visitor’s Center.   I couldn’t help but participate in the festivities, appropriately called Shuttlebration. NASA and Space Center Houston put on a great party June 1st to celebrate the Shuttle’s arrival with MaxQ (the Astronaut Band, the Space Exploration Vehicle, an Orion Booth, and more).

I joke that this is our wooden shuttle, and it is a wooden shuttle.  But, I really do think the potential for greatness comes with our wooden shuttle.  Why?  Because people get to go INSIDE this wooden shuttle.  Unlike the real orbiters which are  national treasures and are closed up.  While this shuttle allows people to walk inside and see what the Payload Bay looks like and get the feel for the size (a school bus can fit inside) imagine if they took it one step further and held small classes inside the payload bay?  Or offered a session in the flight deck where you can sit in the pilot or commander seat and work with an instructor to flip the switches to simulate a launch or a docking?  Lots of potential to excite people of all ages.  What would you suggest Houston do with their new wooden shuttle?

A Smile As Big As the Moon

Last night I had the wonderful opportunity to watch the Houston Premiere of “A Smile As Big As the Moon” at Space Center Houston.  The movie will be shown January 29th, 2012 on ABC and is a Hallmark Hall of Fame feature. There will be a virtual tweetup on twitter during the Eastern/Central viewing time of the movie on January 29th.  You can follow along and join in the fun using the hashtag #smilemovie.  Also, Space Camp (@spacecampusa) will be tweeting differences between the book and the movie.

The movie is based on a true story (and book) about a special education teacher who takes the first group of special needs students to Space Camp.  Book Description (from Amazon):

“Mike Kersjes always believed that his students could do anything—even attend the prestigious Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, where some of America’s best and brightest high school students compete in a variety of activities similar to those experienced by NASA astronauts training for space shuttle missions. The challenge was convincing everyone else that the kids in his special education class, with disabilities including Tourette’s syndrome, Down’s syndrome, dyslexia, eating disorders, and a variety of emotional problems, would benefit from the experience and succeed. With remarkable persistence, Kersjes broke down one barrier after another, from his own principal’s office to the inner sanctum of NASA, until Space Camp finally opened its doors. After nine months of rigorous preparation, Kersjes’s class arrived at Space Camp, where they turned in a performance beyond everyone’s expectations.”

I wanted to share this movie with you because it gets to the core of inspiration, motivation, and dreams.  I’ve always been a believer that anyone can do anything if provided the opportunity.  While over the years I’ve become less of a believer in this statement, this movie brought a smile to my face and reminded me of my own space dreams and ambitions.  I was very lucky to have gotten the chance to attend Space Academy Level II when I was a sophomore in High School.  It was (at that time) 8 days of non-stop learning, teamwork, fun, and it all culminated in a 24 hour space mission involving the shuttle, a space station, and of course included EVAs.

For years I had wanted to attend Space Camp and my parents simply could not afford such an expensive venture.  I had never been to any camp whatsoever in fact.  Back in the days before we had this thing called the world wide web you used what still exists today – a library.  I used the library to get contact information for NASA and for Space Camp so I could learn all that I could about how to become an astronaut.  Somewhere along the way I learned that you could apply for a scholarship to Space Camp by writing an essay that was on one of their featured topics for the year.  I applied three times for a scholarship.  And on that third try I still remember being the one to get the mail as soon as it arrived and a thick envelope was addressed to me from Space Camp.  I do believe I screamed out various sentiments of joy that day.

After Thanksgiving in 1991, I went off to Space Camp and a dream came true.  What I did not realize before going was that the experience was more than just a week at camp or learning that I could do anything.  I walked away from Space Camp feeling for the first time in my life that I belonged.  And that meant the world to me.  I learned there were others like me passionate about space exploration with the desire to learn all they could.  Those who dreamed about being scientists, engineers, or even astronauts.  Those who wanted to make a difference in the world.  It wasn’t until I attended Purdue for my B.S. in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering that I again felt this sense of belonging.  After graduation I continued to belong when I moved to Houston to work at NASA Johnson Space Center and that belonging hasn’t left me ever since.  I returned to Space Camp in 1996 as a counselor.  It was my turn to give back.

That’s what Space Camp gave me.  A family.  I still keep in touch with friends I made during my space camp experiences including one of my counselors from 1991, friends from 1991, and fellow counselors from 1996.

I hope you’ll tune into the movie because it truly is inspiring.


Here we are just a few weeks away from the release of the 2013 President’s Budget Request (PBR) and I can’t help but ponder the future.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t get the feeling that Congress is dedicated to making sure the path NASA is on will succeed.  And my fear is with the transition to the next President (assuming the current one doesn’t win re-election) the current plan will be scrapped once again and a re-direction of NASA will take place.  Is the current path sustainable?  Is a re-direction needed?

For those who have followed me on twitter the past few years and are readers of this blog, you know that I’m focused on manned space exploration and that’s what I pour my heart into.  So, we have three aspects to consider regarding manned exploration; commercial crew, Orion/SLS, and exploration infrastructure to enable missions to moons, asteroids, and Mars.

Regarding Commercial Crew, if the purpose is to close the gap between the end of the Shuttle Program and first flight of Commercial Crew then why does Congress keep cutting the Commercial Crew Budget?  The 2012 PBR asked for $850M to allow at least two companies continue developing their spacecraft and launch vehicle to fly to the International Space Station (ISS) by 2016.  Now, with the cut to $406M the date is pushing back to 2017 or even 2018 for first flight.  Does Congress lack the trust in the aerospace companies who either have been doing this for decades or have hired experts in the field who have been doing this for decades?  It can be done.  And safely.  The only thing missing is the money to do it because as of today there simply is no market for Low Earth Orbit.  But, once these companies succeed (thus proving the capability) then I foresee a great change in what happens in Low Earth Orbit.  I’m not saying anything anyone doesn’t already know or think.  But, the more we pull back from Commercial Crew the less chances of seeing a market develop.

I have to admit that Orion getting $375M more to do a test flight in 2014 amazes me from a process perspective.  Here we are with a Commercial Crew Program that is responsible for funding at least two companies if not three on a yearly budget of $406M and Orion gets an additional $375M for a test flight on top of the $1.2B for 2012.  I don’t doubt that most of the $375M will go to pay for the Delta IV and integration, but with a yearly budget of approximately $1B I think about what all we could do with that money.  But, the bottom line is when NASA is responsible for running a program (like Constellation, Shuttle, ISS, etc) you are embedded in the processes that exist at NASA which runs the cost up.  It would be great to see NASA go through Lean and streamline their processes to be more effective and timely.  I think in the long run they would save a significant amount of money thus allowing it to be spent on additional capabilities and programs taking us to the stars.  But, as with any government program when you mention streamlining or leaning out processes that means the elimination of people’s jobs because you have made things more effective.  And, in this economy that is the last thing people (those working the jobs) want to hear or experience.  I don’t blame them.  In the end, it’s all a Catch-22.

If we did streamline processes what would that extra money be used for?  I personally would want to put it towards exploration architecture.  Once you have SLS (the rocket) and Orion (the spacecraft) you still need more to go Beyond Earth Orbit (BEO).  Perhaps a Lunar Lander to visit the moon.  A Habitation Module to go deeper into space to visit the Moons of Mars or Mars itself.  There is still so much to be developed and so little money.

But then again I think I should be grateful we have the 2012 budget we do given the realities of the economy.  It’s our job, the engineers to do our best and give the taxpayers the best value of every dollar.

Beware of passion

Is there such a thing as having too much passion?  For wanting to change the world, one space vehicle at a time?

We are engineers.  We work at NASA or for a NASA contractor.  The programs we slave away on are given unrealistic budgets and schedules and we are the ones who think outside of the box to try and make all of the jigsaw pieces fit together.  Technically, we can do anything we set our minds too.  All of us have that mindset.  Anything is possible.

What does stop us in our tracks?  Or at least slow us down to a slow crawl? Politics.

In my first blog post for this site back in January 2010, I wrote that sometimes dreams need course corrections and that was written about NASA changing directions from the Constellation Program to some unknown future.  Here we are 21 months later and not a whole lot further down the road.  NASA is saying 2017 instead of 2015 for first flight of the Commercial Crew vehicle to the International Space Station (based on funding forecasts), the heavy-life launch vehicle has only recently come to life as a reincarnation of Saturn V (at least in paint colors), and I’m trying my best to stay positive and believe in a future  in the Aerospace Industry.

But I keep coming back to my naive dreamer post from October 2010.   It’s now 13 months later and I’m still a naive dreamer and keep getting hurt.  Why do I keep letting the government and thus NASA dim the lights on my passion?  NASA will never get the funding to do what we as children were told was going to happen in our adult lives.  At least they won’t in our lifetimes.  So why are we still here?  Why are we holding on?  Is it for the paycheck?  Do we think we can really make a difference so our children or grandchildren can experience what we dreamed of?

Why am I here?  What good am I providing?  How am I making a difference in the world?  Do I have too much passion for this field and thus destined to be disappointed? These are questions I’m currently exploring and I simply don’t know how to answer them right now.  Another phase of the naive dreamer coming to an end.


The end of an era

I’ve been searching for eloquent words about the end of the Shuttle Program, a program which inspired me to dream of becoming an astronaut, of leading me on the path to study Aeronautical/Astronautical Engineering at Purdue, and spending the past 13 years supporting the International Space Station, Constellation, and now Commercial Crew at NASA Johnson Space Center.

I simply don’t have the words.  I have tears.

And I technically only worked on the shuttle program for 6 months.  My heart goes out to the thousands who dedicated their lives to the program and the vehicle at NASA Johnson, Marshall, and Kennedy Space Centers and to the men and women who built them in California.  And of course, to the astronauts who flew them.

Enterprise, Columbia, Discovery, Challenger, Atlantis, and Endeavour will forever be a part of our generation.

A friend of mine, Scott (@poindexterbjj on Twitter ) shared these words with me:

“…While there are new things on the (seemingly distant) horizon, the shuttle remains NASA’s (and McDonnell-Douglas/Boeing’s) greatest achievement.  It is the manifestation of genius and greatness.  It is an icon of our generation.

We grew up with the shuttle.  Perhaps as I did, you watched the launch of STS-1.  If you were like me, you wondered why the fuel tank had changed from white to orange (pretty astute for a 5-year-old).  We watched two of them leave but never return.  And yet, through it all, the shuttle always came back greater than it was before.  It was the shuttle that served as one of the first bridges between Russia and the US when Atlantis went to Mir.  It was the shuttle that allowed us, along with many others around the world, to establish the greatest technical achievement in human history, the ISS.  People would come from all around the world to watch the shuttle fly because it was the physical manifestation of hope for a brighter future for all humanity.

So, yes, a little emotion is understandable.”

Yes.  What he said.

I had the great honor of being able to view the last shuttle launch from the KSC Press Site.  I purposely stood behind the countdown clock so I could intensify the sound and the feeling of the launch.  I felt my organs shake within my body and the sound was amazing.  Here is the video I captured and it was edited with the help of my friend, Romeo (@romeoch on Twitter).

There was no “wow, oh wow” from me.  I was too busy crying.  I couldn’t stop thinking “This is it. This is the last time for perhaps 5-6 years that we launch humans into space from U.S. soil.”  I understand why we can’t keep flying the shuttle.  I’m okay with saying goodbye.  I’m not okay with such a gap in human spaceflight launch capability due to political decisions.  We could have avoided this.  But, we didn’t.  Why? Because no one pays attention until it’s too late.

After the launch I followed some friends to partake in the tradition of beans and corn bread.  Along the way, we stopped to visit the Close Out Crew and found out one member’s last day after 33 years was launch day.  What a way to go out.  If you haven’t seen this video yet from the Close Out Crew, I hope you will take the 90 seconds to watch it.  I cried my eyes out.

If you’d like to experience the past few days through my eyes, I invite you to take a look at my pictures on Flickr:  DLSR pics, iPhone pics, and Boeing’s Commercial Crew CST-100 Tent.

And I invite you to share your thoughts about the shuttle’s last flight and our future.  Please keep in mind the rules of posting on this blog: I request that we keep this civil.  We will not attack any individuals, companies, or administrations.  We will look at facts, we will question plans, talk about the unknown, offer solutions, and dream about the future.

The End.

It’s more than a Space Shuttle

I am amazed.  Simply amazed that the U.S. Government thinks politics can be played when retiring the space shuttles and determining where they should be displayed.

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s spaceflight – the first time man left the planet. April 12th also represents the 30th anniversary of the first space shuttle flight, the first of 133 missions with only two remaining in all of history.  And this is the day our government and the NASA Administer decided to shun the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX.

Known as the epicenter of human spaceflight since the early days of NASA, JSC is where the astronauts are trained for their shuttle missions.  It’s where each mission is planned years prior to flying, where the mission timeline is laid out to the last detail.  This is where people sacrifice time with their families to work night shifts during missions, adjusting every time a launch has slipped a day, a month, or 6 months. Houston is what makes it all possible.  It being the dream we all had at one point in our lives-to fly and do remarkable things in space.

For NASA to select NYC and for  three of the locations to be on the east coast to receive shuttles was a slap in the face to the thousands of employees at JSC who had dedicated their lives to the space program. Or so it feels.  I’m not saying there aren’t valid reasons for any of the four establishments to not have a shuttle, although I do have trouble understanding the historical significance NYC has played in the space shuttle program.

They say politics did not play a role. How can that be a true statement?  Ever since this administration came to office, JSC has seen their scope and purpose significantly reduced. A message has been sent to Houston from Washington D.C. and we know hear it loud and clear.  JSC has laid out the requirements for every manned vehicle since its inception and yet the commercial crew program office goes to KSC. A center that knows everything about launching vehicles safely but very little about designing a spacecraft + integrating that vehicle with the international space station.

(For a different perspective on the shuttle announcement see Wayne Hale’s Blog)

I fear for the future of human spaceflight in our country. I see bad choices continually being made and I have to come to terms that my dreams may not become a reality no matter how dedicated I am or how hard I work.  Last night many friends sent me a link to a shuttle tribute video made by KSC employees entitled “We all do what we can do.”   I cried through the whole thing. The shuttle program is ending and this country, supposedly the greatest country on Earth failed.  We failed to fund Constellation, we failed to select the appropriate design solution, and we (the people) failed to stand up and demand more from our government. Yes, we failed. Apparently failure is an option on Earth.

And guess what, we are still failing. Congress and the Administration are bickering like 5 year olds over the future of NASA and exploration of the cosmos.  Congress believes that anything is possible even when given small amounts of money to do technological breakthroughs.  NASA believes it can forge the future with the bureaucracy that comes with government.  Changes must be made.  Leaning out processes and procedures must occur.

Feel a vicious cycle?  I do. Will we ever leave low earth orbit? Not at this pace. Why is an evolvable heavy lift a bad idea? Because if you start with 70MT you’ll never see 130MT. It simply won’t get funded down the road. Look at the track record.

Do it. Do it big. Do it now. Else don’t complain later if we don’t leave Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Imagine what we could do if only the capability existed. The sooner the better. Let NASA build the launch vehicle and the crew exploration vehicle. But, want to test vehicles and structures on the moon? Maybe Industry will build them using their own requirements and processes.  And in a new partnership with NASA, they can be launched on the NASA heavy lift launch vehicle at no cost to industry. That is one way way how America can think outside the box.  There are a gazillion other ways.

Think big. Dream big. Do big.

Leave LEO.