Former NASA Astronaut & Armstrong Research Pilot Rick Searfoss Passes Away

Rick Searfoss

EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — Former NASA research pilot and astronaut Richard “Rick” Searfoss died Sept. 29 at his home in Bear Valley Springs, California. He was 62.

Searfoss, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, served as a research pilot in the flight crew branch at NASA Dryden (now Armstrong) Flight Research Center in California from July 2001 to February 2003, having brought with him over 5,000 hours of military flying and 939 hours in space.

He flew on three space flights, onboard space shuttles Columbia and Atlantis, logging 39 days in space. Searfoss was the pilot for his first two space missions, STS-58 and STS-76, landing both times at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Once at Dryden, medical staff was standing by for the astronauts as well as personnel who supported the NASA convoy team in preparing the shuttle for its return ferry flight to Florida.

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Review: Scott Kelly’s Memoir About a Year in Orbit

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery
by Scott Kelly with Margaret Lazarus Dean
Alfred A. Knoff
2017
369 pages

Scott Kelly was failing out of college when he spotted a book at the campus store that would utterly change his life: The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe’s classic tale of Cold War-era test pilots and the Mercury astronauts.

As he read Wolfe’s prose, Kelly realized that flying jets had the same type of adrenaline rush he felt working as an EMT, which had been the only thing he had excelled at thus far. He decided he would pursue a career as an U.S. Navy aviator.

Decades later, he would call Wolfe in the midst of a year-long stay aboard the International Space Station (ISS) to thank him and ask for advice about how to write a book of his own.

Endurance is the result. The memoir doesn’t live up to Wolfe’s stylistic brilliance, but what the book lacks in style it more than makes up for in inspiration.
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Bridenstine Nomination to Run NASA Remains Blocked in Senate

Rep. Jim Bridenstine

Bloomberg has an update on the impasse in the Senate over the Trump Administration’s nomination of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) to become the next NASA administrator.

Bridenstine has been blocked by all 49 Senate Democrats. Florida’s Congressional delegation enjoys an outsized influence on NASA because of Cape Canaveral, and Senator Bill Nelson, who flew on the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1986, isn’t a Bridenstine fan. His colleague Marco Rubio, the junior senator for the Sunshine State and a Republican, doesn’t want Bridenstine, either. With fellow Republican John McCain of Arizona absent for cancer treatment, that leaves confirmation 50-49 against….

Beyond [Acting Administrator Robert] Lightfoot, the lack of movement on Capitol Hill effectively leaves NASA leadership to Scott Pace, executive director of the National Space Council, which [Donald] Trump revived last summer. The council has taken a direct role in overseeing NASA’s priorities, including the administration’s 2017 directive to return astronauts to the moon, but doesn’t have the same hands-on role an administrator would. Bridenstine has attended both National Space Council meetings, in October and last month, but only as an observer.

Rubio has argued that the NASA post shouldn’t be occupied by a politician, particularly one with stridently partisan positions. “It’s the one federal mission which has largely been free of politics, and it’s at a critical juncture in its history,” he told Politico in September.

Bridenstine, a member of the highly conservative House Freedom Caucus, has drawn Democratic opposition for his views on gay marriage and abortion rights, as well as past statements dismissing climate change. And he may have rubbed Republican Rubio, and possibly McCain, the wrong way on account of his past support for their primary opponents.

In the 2016 presidential primaries, Bridenstine, a former Navy fighter pilot with an interest in space issues, produced several advertisements supporting Texas Senator Ted Cruz in his failed quest for the Republican nomination. Those ads criticized Rubio, also a candidate, for his position on immigration and attacks on Cruz. Rubio has reportedly denied a connection between Bridenstine’s past barbs and his opposition to the NASA nomination. Bridenstine also supported McCain’s Republican rival, Kelli Ward, in a fierce 2016 primary campaign that McCain eventually won.

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Richard Branson’s Latest Memoir Gets Lost in Space

SpaceShipTwo Enterprise after being released for its final flight on Oct. 31, 2014. (Credit: Virgin Galactic/NTSB)

Mogul’s Account of Virgin Galactic Most Revealing for What It Doesn’t Say

Part 1 of 3

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Finding My Virginity: The New Autobiography
Richard Branson
Portfolio
Oct. 10, 2017
482 pages

One day in mid-2003, Virgin Atlantic pilot Alex Tai wandered into a hangar at Mojave Airport and discovered SpaceShipOne, a  suborbital rocket plane that Scaled Composites’ Founder Burt Rutan was secretly building to win the $10 million Ansari X Prize for the first privately-built crewed vehicle to reach space twice in two weeks.

The chance discovery would eventually solve separate problems the famed aircraft designer and Tai’s boss, Richard Branson, were trying to solve. Rutan’s spaceship was being funded by Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen, who wanted to win the prize but had no plans to finance a commercial follow-on spacecraft.

Four years earlier, Branson had registered a new company named Virgin Galactic Airways and set off in search of someone to build a vehicle capable of carrying passengers into space. Those efforts had come to naught until Tai made his discovery at the dusty airport in California’s High Desert.

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Sally Ride Postage Stamp Set for Next Year

The first American woman to fly in space, Sally Ride, will be honored with a postage stamp in 2018, the U.S. Postal Service has announced.

Ride, who passed away in 2012, was selected as an astronaut in 1978. She made her first flight aboard the space shuttle Challenger in 1983. Ride flew again the following year aboard Challenger on her final flight into space.

During her time at the space agency, Ride helped to develop the space shuttle’s Canadarm and directed NASA’s first strategic planning effort. She also founded and served as the first Director of NASA’s Office of Exploration.

Ride was the only person to serve on the boards that investigated the Challenger and Columbia shuttle accidents. She also was a member of the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology for eight years.

In 2001, she co-founded Sally Ride Science, a company that creates educational programs and products for students and teachers in elementary and middle school. The company has a special focus on encouraging girls to pursue science careers.

Ride passed away from pancreatic cancer on July 23, 2012, at the age of 61.

A Niche in Time: First Flight

Richard Branson addresses the crowd before SpaceShipTwo’s glide flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Part 5 of 5

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The morning of Dec. 3, 2016, began like so many others in Mojave. The first rays of dawn gave way to a brilliant sunrise that revealed a cloudless, clear blue sky over California’s High Desert.

This was hardly newsworthy. For most of the year, Mojave doesn’t really have weather, just temperatures and wind speeds. It had been literally freezing overnight; the mercury was at a nippy 28º F (-2.2º C) at 4 a.m. As for Mojave’s famous winds – an enemy of roofs, trees and big rigs, but the lifeblood of thousands of wind turbines that cover the landscape west of town – there really weren’t any. It was basically a flat calm.

In other words, it was a perfect day to fly.

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A Niche in Time: One Chute

SpaceShipTwo after being released for its final flight on March 31, 2014. (Credit: Virgin Galactic/NTSB)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Pete Siebold and Mike Alsbury heard the sound of hooks disengaging and felt a sharp jolt as SpaceShipTwo was released from its WhiteKnightTwo mother ship. Relieved of a giant weight, WhiteKnightTwo shot upward as the spacecraft plunged toward the desert floor.

“Fire,” Siebold said as the shadow of one of WhiteKnightTwo’s wings passed across the cabin.

“Arm,” Alsbury responded. “Fire.”

The pilots were pushed back into their seats as SpaceShipTwo’s nylon-nitrous oxide hybrid engine ignited behind them, sending the ship soaring skyward on a pillar of flames.

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A Niche in Time: “Lock the doors”

Debris is visible coming from the left wing of Columbia about two minutes before the shuttle broke up. The image was taken at Starfire Optical Range at Kirtland Air Force Base.

Part 3 of 5

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The space shuttle Columbia glowed brightly as it streaked across the predawn skies of the western United States on Feb 1, 2003. Decelerating from an orbital speed of 28,165 km/hr (17,500 miles/hr) at an altitude of 70,165 m (230,200 ft), the shuttle and its seven crew members were enveloped in super heated plasma as they descended deeper into the thickening atmosphere on their return from a 16-day science mission.

Three observers on the ground who were filming the fiery reentry suddenly noticed something odd. There was a sudden flash on the orbiter, and then bright objects streaked behind the ship and burned up.

“Look at the chunks coming off that,” one shouted. “What the heck is that?”

“I don’t know,” his friend replied.

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So Exactly How Safe Will SpaceShipTwo Be?

Richard Branson rolls out Virgin Galactic's Spaceship Unity in Mojave. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
Richard Branson rolls out Virgin Galactic’s Spaceship Unity in Mojave. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Part 5 of 6

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

With the recent roll out of VSS Unity, Virgin Galactic marked a symbolic milestone in its recovery from the October 2014 accident that destroyed the first SpaceShipTwo and killed pilot Mike Alsbury.

Two questions loomed large over the celebrity-studded event. When will it fly? And how safe will it be when it does?

Company officials gave no timeline on the first question. Their answers about SpaceShipTwo’s safety differed significantly from previous claims they made over the last 11.5 years.

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Remembrance Day, Challenger & NewSpace

The space shuttle Challenger explodes. (Credit: NASA)
The space shuttle Challenger explodes. (Credit: NASA)

“There was ice on the ship,” I said quietly to no one in particular.

I was standing in the hallway at work with some co-workers, watching the space shuttle Challenger explode over and over again on a television in one of the offices.

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NASA Remembers Its Fallen Heroes, 30th Anniversary of Challenger Accident

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and his wife Alexis lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns as part of NASA's Day of Remembrance, Friday, Jan. 31, 2014, at Arlington National Cemetery.  The wreaths were laid in memory of those men and women who lost their lives in the quest for space exploration. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and his wife Alexis lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns as part of NASA’s Day of Remembrance, Friday, Jan. 31, 2014, at Arlington National Cemetery. The wreaths were laid in memory of those men and women who lost their lives in the quest for space exploration. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA will pay will tribute to the crews of Apollo 1 and space shuttles Challenger and Columbia, as well as other NASA colleagues, during the agency’s Day of Remembrance on Thursday, Jan. 28, the 30th anniversary of the Challenger accident. NASA’s Day of Remembrance honors members of the NASA family who lost their lives while furthering the cause of exploration and discovery.

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NASA Honors Fallen Astronauts on Day of Remembrance

Challenger crew. Back row, left to right: mission specialist Ellison Onizuka, payload specialist Christa McAuliffe, payload specialist Gregory Jarvis, mission specialist Judith Resnik. Front row left to right: pilot Michael J. Smith, commander Francis "Dick" Scobee, mission specialist Ronald McNair. (Credit: NASA)
Challenger crew. Back row, left to right: mission specialist Ellison Onizuka, payload specialist Christa McAuliffe, payload specialist Gregory Jarvis, mission specialist Judith Resnik. Front row left to right: pilot Michael J. Smith, commander Francis “Dick” Scobee, mission specialist Ronald McNair. (Credit: NASA)

Message from the Administrator:
Day of Remembrance – Jan. 28, 2015

Today we remember and give thanks for the lives and contributions of those who gave all trying to push the boundaries of human achievement. On this solemn occasion, we pause in our normal routines and remember the STS-107 Columbia crew; the STS-51L Challenger crew; the Apollo 1 crew; Mike Adams, the first in-flight fatality of the space program as he piloted the X-15 No. 3 on a research flight; and those lost in test flights and aeronautics research throughout our history.

The crew of STS-107. From left to right are mission specialist David Brown, commander Rick Husband, mission specialist Laurel Clark, mission specialist Kalpana Chawla, mission specialist Michael Anderson, pilot William McCool, and Israeli payload specialist Ilan Ramon. (Credit: NASA)
The crew of STS-107. From left to right are mission specialist David Brown, commander Rick Husband, mission specialist Laurel Clark, mission specialist Kalpana Chawla, mission specialist Michael Anderson, pilot William McCool, and Israeli payload specialist Ilan Ramon. (Credit: NASA)

These men and women were our friends, family and colleagues. They still are. As we undertake a journey to Mars, they will be with us. They have our eternal respect, love and gratitude.

Today, their legacy lives on as the International Space Station fulfills its promise as a symbol of hope for the world and a springboard to missions farther into the solar system. Our lost friends are with us in the strivings of all of our missions to take humans to new destinations and to unlock the secrets of our universe. We honor them by making our dreams of a better tomorrow reality and taking advantage of the fruits of exploration to improve life for people everywhere.

Apollo 1 astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. (Credit: NASA)
Apollo 1 astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. (Credit: NASA)

Let us join together as one NASA Family, along with the entire world, in paying our respects, and honoring the memories of our dear friends. They will never be forgotten. Godspeed to every one of them.

Charlie B.

Book Review: Safe is Not An Option

safe_not_optionSafe is Not an Option: Overcoming the Futile Obsession with Getting Everyone Back Alive that is Killing Our Expansion into Space
By Rand Simberg
Interglobal Media LLC
2013

On May 26, 1865, Captain J. C. Mason pushed off from a dock in Vicksburg, Miss., and steered the steam-powered paddle wheeler SS Sultana north along the rain-swollen Mississippi River. The Sultana’s decks groaned from the weight of more than 2,500 passengers and crew members.

At 2 a.m. the following morning, the ship’s boilers exploded north of Memphis. As many as 1,800 people died in the explosion and fire or drowned in the fast flowing river. The majority of the dead were Union soldiers recently released from a pair of hellish Confederate prison camps. Their ticket home had become a death warrant.

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NASA’s Day of Remembrance Pays Tribute to 3 Brave Crews

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden speaks to NASA personnel and others during a wreath laying ceremony as part of NASA's Day of Remembrance, Friday, Jan. 31, 2014, at Arlington National Cemetery.  The wreaths were laid in memory of those men and women who lost their lives in the quest for space exploration.  Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden speaks to NASA personnel and others during a wreath laying ceremony as part of NASA’s Day of Remembrance, Friday, Jan. 31, 2014, at Arlington National Cemetery. The wreaths were laid in memory of those men and women who lost their lives in the quest for space exploration. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Message from the Administrator: Day of Remembrance

Today we pause in our normal routines and reflect on the contributions of those who lost their lives trying to take our nation farther into space. On our annual Day of Remembrance, please join me in giving thanks for the legacy of the STS-107 Columbia crew; the STS-51L Challenger crew; the Apollo 1 crew; and Mike Adams, the first in-flight fatality of the space program as he piloted the X-15 No. 3 on a research flight.

These men and women were our friends, family and colleagues, and we will never forget their lives and passion to push us farther and achieve more.  They have our everlasting love, respect and gratitude.

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