Tag Archives: Human Spaceflight

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.

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Dedication

Last week there was a tweet that came through in my stream that disturbed me and I felt it was important to say something back to this person.  It doesn’t matter who it was or why it was tweeted, what I want to focus on is the tweet itself and what it meant to me.   It evoked emotion and sadness.  I did not find it funny and it was hardly sarcastic.  The person apologized.  This post is not about them, it’s about my strong reaction to the tweet.

The tweet mentioned disgruntled shuttle workers.

I found it insulting to the thousands of people who have dedicated their lives to the shuttle program and human spaceflight.  All of us, regardless of whether we support shuttle or station work day and night, even holidays, to ensure the safety of the astronauts, the ground crew, and the public.  I can’t tell you how many holidays I have worked or even volunteered to work because I believed what we do at NASA is so important to the future of our planet.  I’m not the only one that feels this way, and I’m sure many if not all of us would sacrifice our lives before that of others.  All of us who support shuttle and space station are a part of what makes it successful, we each play an integral role which allows it all to come together in successful and safe missions.

To make matters worse, on Friday not long after I saw the tweet, a mis-communication occurred that caused an unplanned drill at NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, OH based on information that a gunman was on-site and had shot at least one person.  There was no gunman.  No one had been shot.  But, that did occur at JSC a few years back and it triggered flashbacks to that occasion.  In reality, people do get desperate and rationalize horrible solutions that are nightmares to the rest of us.

Now, as for the reality of the situation we find ourselves in regarding the end of the shuttle program, the statement “disgruntled shuttle workers” could be taken very seriously.  In 2004, the administration and NASA decided to end the Shuttle program after completion of the ISS.  Their plan was to have a new program (with a minimized gap of launch capability) in place in order to maintain the U.S. lead in human spaceflight and to transition a number of shuttle workers, many whom have specialized skills due to the existence of the space shuttle program.   Today we find ourselves with just two planned shuttle flights left (STS-133 Discovery and STS-134 Endeavour) and a possible third (STS-135 Atlantis) with no follow on program to start any time soon.  Even if the Constellation Program was not canceled, we were still years away from flying.  In my opinion the government has let down thousands of workers who have learned specialized skills to support a 30 year program.  The government failed to fund the program of record, the government canceled the program of record, the government is having trouble deciding which direction this nation should pursue in terms of human spaceflight and long term exploration goals.  Is it the government’s responsibility to take care of these workers, not necessarily, but I do think it’s the government’s responsibility to put us on a sustainable path forward for space exploration, one with meaning and one which will make a difference.

Back to the thousands of workers in the process of being laid off.  Regardless of the situation we find ourselves in, I do not know a single person who would jeopardize the safety of the crew, ground crews, or the public.  Yes, we will have a hard time mentally, emotionally, and financially transitioning from the shuttle program.  But, we will not hurt the program in any way whatsoever regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in.  I ask those of you who do work in the program to look out for each other and utilize your company’s EAP (Employee Assistance Program) because it will be a tough transition.

 

Mom, I’m no longer a virgin

Over the past few days I’ve had to come to terms with a huge realization in my life.  It can be equated to

  • No longer a virgin
  • Crushed childhood dreams
  • Oh $hit! What do I do with my life now?

What am I saying all of this silly stuff about?  Why write such a title for this post?  It all goes back to Wayne Hale’s post the other day.  He is right you know.  I have been tossing words around my head for weeks now.  But, it wasn’t until he posted his thoughts that I admitted something to myself.  Something huge.

I am no longer a naive dreamer.

And this saddens me deeply.

Last week, Camilla SDO wrote this nice post about me.  As a baby, my dad would hold me in his arms while watching Star Trek.  I didn’t know this until just a few years ago but it explains so much.  I’ve always felt that space exploration was my calling, that it is something that I was meant to do.  It’s not just a passion that is excited through the unknown, engineering challenges, and scientific discoveries, but by the dream that we were really going to go out there.  To explore.  To stay.

On February 1st, 2010 and the weeks that followed I joked that I felt NASA had broken up with me.  It was partly true.

Last week when the House accepted the Senate’s version of the FY2011 Budget (Authorization) for NASA I knew it was game over.   Why?  I refer you back to Wayne Hale’s post.  It’s happened time and time again.  Plus, don’t forget the Administration wants a 5% budget cut across non-essential agencies of which NASA is included.  So the $19B that NASA may get is going to be 5% less yet they will be tasked with a tall order.

NASA is NASA and the men and women who make up that agency (civil servants and contractors) do their best to meet every tall order given to them by changing Congress’ and Administrations.

So in reality, it wasn’t NASA that broke up with me.  It was my government.  Or was it?  Hasn’t this always been my government?  Hasn’t this always been a reality?  Space Exploration is not done to explore, push our boundaries, to move mankind off or planet.  It’s politics.  Has been since Sputnik launched  in 1957 shocking and scaring a planet.  It’s war.  Has been since WWII and the V2 rocket.

*sigh*

I’ve always been the dreamer.  The one to say anything is possible if only you put your mind to it.  I was told I wasn’t going to college unless I found a way to pay for it.  I sat in front of my Congressman’s committee my senior year in high school and told him why he should send me to a Military Academy – in essence because of my passion for space exploration.  I got the nomination.  He then continued to vote against the continuation of the space station.  I felt like a double standard and left the Prep School at one of the Academies for many reasons.  One of them being I couldn’t be there because someone didn’t believe in what I believed in for our country.  Space exploration.

Where are we today?  We have a Congress that’s primary purpose is to save jobs in their districts.  An Administration that confuses me.  And we are not on a path to truly explore space.

I no longer think we can get *there* in my lifetime.  And for this I am sad.

So I mourn.  And then I write this post.

So, now that I am an adult it’s time to take matters into my own hands.  I wonder, is this what New Space did all those years ago?  Am I finally awakening?  Can it be done without the government holding our dreams back?

Then there is the House Version of the NASA Bill

While the Senate attempted to compromise on a path forward for human spaceflight through their bill, the House decided to take a vastly different approach last week.

If you watched the open debate last week, while it was refreshing to see, it was also incredibly sad that the  issue of the day that garnered the most attention was on where the shuttles should be located post shuttle retirement rather than the direction this country should take when it comes to the future of human spaceflight.

A quick summary of the House version (with Amendments)

Adds

  • Government launch vehicle/capsule to deliver crew to ISS with initial operational goal of no later than December 31, 2015.  If a commercial vehicle is available and meets safety standards, then government system will be for
  • Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle operational by end of decade

Adds an additional Shuttle Flight in FY2011

Guts Commercial Crew yet adds Loan Guarantee Program

Appears to gut the Flagship Technology Demonstration Missions, yet funds Space Technology for lower TRL technologies.

What surprised me the most was the comment by Pete Olson (U.S. Representative that includes JSC), that help is on the way implying that he believes this bill will save JSC and NASA.  In my opinion it is a short-term solution, that while it employs people for the next few years it does not nothing to sustain human space exploration long term.

I’ve maintained through conversations and tweets that the path to success is a balanced portfolio where NASA (aka Congress and the President) invest in current exploration missions and investing in R&D for the future.  Companies do this every year.  They have a product line they sell, they invest in upgrading their product line, and they invest in R&D for future products.  This isn’t rocket science.

We shall see what happens when the House and Senate bills meet one another in conference.

Thoughts on National Space Policy

I’ve been wondering about what to say regarding the new National Space Policy that was unveiled on June 28, 2010, however I don’t think there is anything for me to add that hasn’t already been said.

For me, The Space Foundation provided a great summary of stating the pros and cons of the National Space Policy and its possible effects on Human Spaceflight.

Additional National Space Policy Sources:  White House Fact Sheet, NASA Statement

How we can explore Beyond Earth Orbit in the next 5-7 years

(Originally posted on April 19, 2010 on the Space Tweep Society blog.)

If you are interested in how we could and why we should explore Beyond Earth Orbit in cislunar space in the next 5-7 years, please read my white paper.

I encourage you to post comments with your thoughts.

*Comments have been ported over.

How could NASA’s New Vision Fail?

(Originally posted on February 11, 2010 on the Space Tweep Society blog)

Is this the new vision the solution?  Maybe.  The idea is to have NASA do the Research and Development (R&D) work to raise the TRLs from low to high so that they can be turned over the commercial industry.  While NASA has continued to do R&D all of these years, they have not been able to invest in everything they’d like to do because human spaceflight is expensive.  The concept is, make NASA an R&D institution and have the commercial industry pick up the flying into space portion.

My concern is this looks all grand on paper but at the end of the day where is the money and where is the implementation plan.  This plan is subject to the same perils that have doomed previous NASA programs and is at the whim of Congress and the next President(s).  What’s to keep Congress from cutting the funding (line by line remember) of specific NASA R&D departments?  What’s to keep the next President from coming in and saying this was a horrible plan and redirect the agency again?  Nothing.  Remember, there are no guarantees.

How could the new vision fail?

  • If Congress does not fully fund (for all the years to come) NASA to do the R&D work that is required to increase the TRL levels.
  • If the commercial industry does not invest significant amounts of their own money to develop human-rated launch vehicles and spacecraft.
  • If each NASA center does not secure funding to enable it to keep its contractor workforce
  • If NASA does not put together a procurement strategy such that the contracts can be in place to start spending the money right away.

Is this the right time? Is there ever truly a right time? While the budget is an increase in dollars over the FY2010 budget, it is less than what was submitted by NASA as a request for FY2011. Do you jeopardize thousands of jobs across the nation at a time when the nation is still recovering from a recession/depression?  Because, while the white house is saying this will create jobs, it will actually put NASA contractors out of work as their services are no longer required under the new vision.  The old contracts will be terminated and since this is a government agency, it will take time to start up new contracts.  How long will companies need to “hide” employees (cover costs) before those companies lay off or go out of business?  Which of the companies that exist purely to service NASA will go out of business because their services are no longer needed?  Just because a service was needed at one time, does that mean it should always be required?

Let me share with you the possible worst-case impact this could have to Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, TX.  JSC has been the home to three major programs, Shuttle, Station, and Constellation which includes their program offices, crew and flight controller training, and mission operations (mission control).  This is by no means all that takes place at JSC, but it is its major purpose for existing.  Since 2003, the plan has been to phase out the Shuttle program in 2010 and that is not changing.  So JSC has been planning the end of an era and working on transitioning some workers to other opportunities.  Lay-offs are in progress and will continue.  NASA Administrator, Bolden mentioned last week that crew training and mission control for the new spaceflight companies will not be done by NASA.  Astronauts don’t even have to be employed by NASA.  This is all still to be figured out as the new vision unfolds.  What we do know is that JSC just took a zinger under the new vision.  Shuttle retirement was already planned, but Constellation died unexpectedly and along with it the core competencies that JSC offers which is crew training and mission operations.  So, what will JSC do under this new vision?  What skill base can they maintain?  You are going to see the space centers battle it out for funding over this next year to keep their centers and the communities that surround them alive.

The Clear Lake area surrounding the Johnson Space Center exists because of NASA JSC.  If JSC is unable to think outside of the box and embrace this new vision then there will be a ripple down effect throughout the area affecting everyone.

So what does this mean to you?  It means everyone needs to do their part to make sure that the new vision is a success, regardless of your relationship to space exploration.  Do what it takes because failure only hurts our nation and our children’s future.

*Comments have been ported over.