Safety, Integrity and Accountability in Human Spaceflight

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

Part 1 of 2

Frank Borman only flew to space twice, but both flights were major milestones in the history of human spaceflight. In 1965, he and Jim Lovell flew for nearly 14 days aboard Gemini 7, proving that humans could function for long periods of time in the absence of gravity. Borman, Lovell and Bill Anders orbited the moon on Christmas Eve 1968 aboard Apollo 8 on the first human mission beyond low Earth orbit, an essential step toward the landing of Apollo 11 eight months later.

There was lesser known, but no less vital, mission that Borman undertook that was every bit as essential to the success of Project Apollo. The anniversary of a key event in that mission was earlier this month. Borman, who turned 94 last month, recounted the story in his autobiography, “Countdown.”

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

On the last Friday in January 1967, Frank Borman took a break from a punishing schedule of traveling from Houston to Project Apollo contractors in Massachusetts and California to spend some quality time with his family. He took his wife, Susan, and their two sons to a cottage on a lake near Huntsville, Texas, owned by family friends. In the era cell phones, there were only landlines. Since the phone number at the cottage was unlisted, Borman was looking forward to two uninterrupted of relaxation.

(more…)

Former Top Federal Regulator to Fly on Unregulated Spaceship

Jeff Bezos pins Blue Origin astronaut wings on actor William Shatner. (Credit: Blue Origin webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The first three passenger flights of Blue Origin’s New Shepard have been long on symbolism. On the first one, Jeff Bezos invited Wally Funk, who in 1960 was one of 13 women who underwent the same medical checks as the Original Seven Mercury astronauts. NASA wasn’t accepting female pilots at the time, so Funk had to wait 51 years to reach space.

New Shepard’s second flight included starship Capt. James T. Kirk, or more precisely, the actor who played the “Star Trek” captain, William Shatner. The third flight had Laura Shepard Churchley, the daughter of America’s first astronaut to fly to space, who launched aboard a vehicle named after her father, Alan.

(more…)

Reps. Takano, Casten, Foster, and Beyer Reintroduce the Office of Technology Assessment Improvement and Enhancement Act

WASHINGTON (House Science Committee PR) — Today, Reps. Mark Takano (D-CA), Sean Casten (D-IL), Bill Foster (D-IL), and Don Beyer (D-VA) reintroduced the Office of Technology Assessment Improvement and Enhancement Act to strengthen the existing Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) by making it more available and accessible to Members’ needs.

(more…)

Rep. Randy Weber Introduces U.S. Leadership in Space Act

Randy Weber

WASHINGTON D.C. (Randy Weber PR) – On Thursday,  January 13, 2022, Congressman Randy Weber (R-TX-14), introduced H.R. 6391, the U.S. Leadership in Space Act of 2021.

“We are at a critical juncture in our nation’s history. It is important that Congress does the job it was intended to do: authorize, and then subsequently fund, critical government programs. Especially those that strengthen national security and scientific discovery.

“Space is an important domain for several reasons. As any military leader will tell you, whoever occupies the high ground has the strategic advantage. Continued inaction by Congress to adequately address the growing threats posed by an expanding uncontrolled debris field in earth’s orbit; the irresponsible and reckless anti-satellite missile tests by Russia that recently endangered the lives of astronauts (and cosmonauts) aboard the International Space Station (ISS); and the years of intellectual property theft, critical supply chain control, and other nefarious practices by China, require that Congress and this Administration come together to pass meaningful legislation that will ensure continued American preeminence in space.

(more…)

More Boos for NASA’s Human Lunar Landing System Award to SpaceX

Artist concept of the SpaceX Starship on the surface of the Moon. (Credits: SpaceX)

Losing bidders Blue Origin National Team and Dynetics have major presence in Huntsville, Ala.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, Congressman Robert Aderholt (AL-04) released the following statement after NASA’s announcement about the Human Lander System or HLS.

“America’s space program is extremely important to me and returning Americans to the surface of the moon is a top priority. However, NASA’s award decision today raises a lot of questions. NASA and the U.S. Air Force recently agreed to very high SpaceX prices, several times the price on the company’s web site, for a launch of Gateway elements, and for national security payloads. The years of delay in the development of the Falcon Heavy, as well as recent tests of the Starship program as reported in the news, also raise technical and scheduling questions. Given the importance of our space program to our national security, I will be asking NASA a number of questions about today’s announcement and about their management of the program.” 

NASA Issues RFI for Europa Clipper Launch

Europa Clipper in orbit around Europa. (Credit; NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In a blow to Space Launch System (SLS) backers, NASA has issued a request for information (RFI) for the October 2024 launch of the Europa Clipper orbiter that will search for signs of life on Jupiter’s enigmatic, ice-covered moon Europa.

It’s a clear sign that NASA is seeking commercial alternatives to launching the spacecraft on SLS. Congress had previously mandated by law that Europa Clipper’s orbiter and a follow-up lander be launched on the massive rocket. However, the most recent spending law stipulated that NASA should use SLS if one is available.

(more…)

FAA Limits Evaluation of Spaceport Infrastructure Funding Options

U.S. commercial launch sites that are licensed to host or have hosted since 2015, a commercial space launch, as of August 2020 (Credit: GAO)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has rejected a recommendation from a government watchdog that it conduct detailed analysis of a broad range of financing tools for funding infrastructure projects at the nation’s spaceports.

In a report to Congressional committees, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said it recommended to the FAA that it analyze the trade-offs of using direct loans, loan guarantees, tax incentives and other tools to increase investment in spaceport infrastructure.

(more…)

Artemis Update From the Department of Well Duh

An astronaut descends the ladder to explore the lunar surface. (Credit: NASA)

NASA’s Office of Inspector General terminates audit of Artemis program with words of obviousness

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s Office of Inspector General (IG) has determined that the biggest problem the space agency faces in its Artemis lunar program is….wait for it….money.

“Based upon our audit work completed to date, we found that the most significant challenge NASA currently faces in returning humans to the Moon by 2024 is budget uncertainty, a challenge that could ultimately affect the Agency’s ability to safely accomplish the mission,” the IG said in a memorandum published on its website.

Well, yeah….

(more…)

Congress Directs NSF to Provide Report on Arecibo Observatory

Damage sustained at the Arecibo Observatory 305-meter telescope. (Credit: UCF)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Congress has directed that National Science Foundation (NSF) to provide it with a report on the future of the Arecibo Observatory (AO), whose main 305-meter radio telescope collapsed on Dec. 1.

(more…)

Space Weather Bill Passes Congress

The Sun sends out a constant stream of particles and energy, which drives a complex space weather system near Earth and can affect spacecraft and astronauts. NASA has chosen five new mission concept studies for further development to study various aspects of this dynamic system. (Credits: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A bill to reorganize the nation’s response to space weather has passed both houses of Congress and heads to the White House for President Donald Trump’s signature.

The Promoting Research and Observations of Space Weather to Improve the Forecasting of Tomorrow Act (PROSwift) assigns roles to federal departments and establishes an interagency working group to coordinate their activities.

(more…)

WFIRST Continues to Make Progress Despite Cancellation Attempts

Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) continues to making steady progress toward an October 2026 launch despite the Trump Administration’s repeated attempts to cancel it, according to a new assessment by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

(more…)

House Science Committee Leaders Johnson, Horn Criticize NASA Human Landing System Awards

Eddie Bernice Johnson

WASHINGTON, May 1, 2020 (House Science Committee PR) — Yesterday, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced that Blue Origin, Dynetics, and SpaceX have been awarded contracts to design and develop Artemis program human landing systems, one of which NASA plans to use for a 2024 lunar landing.

“I am troubled that NASA has decided to ignore congressional intent and instead press forward with Human Landing System awards to try to meet an arbitrary 2024 lunar landing deadline,” said Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). “As the Apollo program showed us, getting to the Moon and back safely is hard. The multi-year delays and difficulties experienced by the companies of NASA’s taxpayer-funded Commercial Crew program—a program with the far less ambitious goal of just getting NASA astronauts back to low Earth orbit—make clear to me that we should not be trying to privatize America’s Moon-Mars program, especially when at the end of the day American taxpayers—not the private companies—are going to wind up paying the lion’s share of the costs. I want our Nation to pursue the inspiring goals of returning to the Moon and then heading to Mars, but we need to do it sensibly and safely while we also protect the interests of the tax paying public.”

“America’s human space exploration program has inspired generations and led to discovery, development, and innovation,” said Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, Rep. Kendra Horn (D-OK). “Returning humans to the Moon safely is an important and worthy endeavor for our nation. It is also a challenging one that requires significant investment of taxpayer dollars to achieve. I was disappointed to see that NASA’s decision on lunar landing systems development starkly contrasts the bipartisan House NASA Authorization bill and the advice of experts on minimizing risk and ensuring the highest likelihood of success in landing humans on the Moon.”

“Unfortunately, more than a year after their announcement to accelerate the Artemis program, NASA has yet to provide Congress a transparent architecture and technical and cost assessment, despite our repeated requests. The American taxpayer deserves to know their money is being spent wisely, especially if they are being asked to invest billions of taxpayer dollars in a private lunar landing system. Our nation should dream boldly and pursue aspirational goals but we have to do so thoughtfully and intentionally. I look forward to working with NASA in good faith to steer our nation’s space program in a direction that allows our country to achieve inspiring goals and explore space in a responsible and measured way.”

Space Force Welcomes First Academy Graduates to its Ranks

Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, Chief of Space Operations, administers the U.S. Space Force Oath of Office to the Eighty-Six Space Force Cadets during the U.S. Air Force Academy Class of 2020 graduation at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., April 18, 2020. In all, Nine-hundred-sixty-seven cadets crossed the stage to become the Air Force/Space Force’s newest second lieutenants. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. J.T. Armstrong)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AFNS) — Eighty-six graduates from the United States Air Force Academy celebrated receiving their diplomas April 18 and moved directly into the U.S. Space Force, marking the first infusion of commissioned personnel into the new service since its creation last year.

Vice President Mike Pence was in attendance at the event and congratulated the entire graduating class.

(more…)

AIA CEO Urges American Leaders to Protect Aerospace Workforce

Arlington, Va., March 18, 2020 (AIA PR)  — Today, Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) President and CEO Eric Fanning released the following statement, which sets a path forward to ensure the resilience of the industry amid the COVID-19 pandemic. AIA represents more than 300 companies and the industry’s 2.5 million workers — ranging from multinational prime contractors to family-owned businesses.

“Unprecedented challenges present unprecedented opportunities for America’s leaders to work together to support our country’s economic and national security. Few industries are more inextricably linked to our nation’s continued success and global competitiveness than aerospace and defense. Our people, products, and common supply chain help to power our economy and to provide our warfighters—many of whom are currently deployed—the world-class capabilities and tools they need to defend our nation’s security.

(more…)

Commercial Spaceflight Federation Seeks Bailout Money for Industry

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

With the economy grinding to a halt, the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) is seeking billions of dollars from the federal government to keep the rockets launching on time.

In a March 18 letter sent to Congressional leaders, CSF President Eric Stallmer proposed establishing “a $5 billion grant and/or low-interest loan program to ensure the continued availability of critical aerospace infrastructure, capability, personnel, and mission readiness to maintain assured access to space for national security, civil, and commercial space missions.

(more…)