Tag Archives: JSC

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.

Advertisements

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.

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.