Planetary LEGO Blocks Take Shape in Hawaii

Planetary LEGOs (Credit: PISCES)

HILO, Hawaii (PISCES PR) — These LEGO blocks are not the familiar plastics bricks you may have pieced together as a kid or given to your children to play with. In fact, these blocks could one day form the foundations of habitats and infrastructure supporting astronauts on places like Mars, the Moon and other worlds.

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NASA Selects US Companies to Advance Space Resource Collection

WASHINGTON, May 31, 2018 (NASA PR) — NASA has selected 10 companies to conduct studies and advance technologies to collect, process and use space-based resources for missions to the Moon and Mars. NASA placed a special emphasis on encouraging the responders to find new applications for existing, terrestrial capabilities that could result in future space exploration capabilities at lower costs.

The practice of in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) could increase safety and affordability of future human spaceflight missions by limiting the need to launch supplies, such as oxygen and water from Earth. NASA issued Appendix D of the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships-2 (NextSTEP) Broad Agency Announcement on Dec. 4, 2017. With it, the agency sought three areas of work focused on producing propellant and other exploration mission consumables using water from extraterrestrial soils and carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere.

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Scientists Shrink Chemistry Lab to Seek Evidence of Life on Mars

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — An international team of scientists has created a tiny chemistry lab for a rover that will drill beneath the Martian surface looking for signs of past or present life. The toaster oven-sized lab, called the Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer or MOMA, is a key instrument on the ExoMars Rover, a joint mission between the European Space Agency and the Russian space agency Roscosmos, with a significant contribution to MOMA from NASA. It will be launched toward the Red Planet in July 2020.

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NASA’s ISS Transition Report — Executive Summary

The International Space Station is featured in this image photographed by an STS-133 crew member on space shuttle Discovery. (Credit: NASA)

International Space Station Transition Report
NASA
March 30, 2018

Full Report (PDF)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 (P.L. 115-10) provided for an ISS Transition Report under section 303:

The Administrator, in coordination with the ISS management entity (as defined in section 2 of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Transition Authorization Act of 2017), ISS partners, the scientific user community, and the commercial space sector, shall develop a plan to transition in a step-wise approach from the current regime that relies heavily on NASA sponsorship to a regime where NASA could be one of many customers of a low-Earth orbit non-governmental human space flight enterprise.

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Cruz, Nelson Criticize Plan to End Direct ISS Funding in 2025

International Space Station (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Sharply conflicting opinions about the future of the International Space Station (ISS) and America’s path forward in space were on view last week in a Senate hearing room turned boxing ring.

In one corner was NASA Associate Administrator Bill Gerstenamier, representing a Trump Administration that wants to end direct federal funding for ISS in 2025 in order to pursue an aggressive campaign of sending astronauts back to the moon. NASA would maintain a presence in Earth orbit, becoming one of multiple users aboard a privatized ISS or privately-owned stations.

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Mars Needs Women — NASA Needs Everybody

Credit: American International Television

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In the 1967 film, Mars Needs Women, a team of martians invades Earth to kidnap women to help repopulate their dying species. Shot over two weeks on a minuscule budget and padded out with stock footage, the movie obtained cult status as one of those cinematic disasters that was so bad it was unintentionally hilarious.

A half century later, NASA finds itself in a not entirely dissimilar situation. Only this problem is not nearly as funny.

The space agency lacks sufficient personnel with the proper skill sets to undertake its complex missions to the moon, Mars and beyond. A number of key programs have been affected by the shortfall already.

NASA’s workforce is also aging. More than half the agency’s employees are 50 years and older, with one-fifth  currently eligible for retirement. Finding replacement workers with the right mix of skills is not always easy as NASA faces increased competition from a growing commercial space sector.

The space agency is addressing these challenges, but it’s too early to tell how successful these efforts will be, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessment.

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With Dragon 2 Still Unfinished, Musk Rolls Out an Even More Ambitious Plan

Dragon Version 2. (Credit: SpaceX)

When on May 29, 2014, Elon Musk unveiled the Dragon 2 spacecraft at a gala ceremony at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., the future of American human spaceflight seemed assured and tantalizingly close.

By 2017, the new spacecraft would begin making crewed flights to the International Space Station, restoring a capability that had ended with the last space shuttle mission in 2011. NASA’s dependence on  Russian Soyuz spacecraft would come to an end.

Four years after its unveiling, Dragon 2 is still months away from making an automated flight test to the space station. A test flight with astronauts aboard might not occur until next year. The Government Accountability Office believes additional delays could push certification of the spacecraft to carry NASA astronauts on a commercial basis to December 2019. (Certification of Boeing’s crew vehicle might not occur until February 2020).

It’s good to keep all this in mind as Musk prepares to unveil his latest transportation plan this evening. At 7 p.m. PDT, Musk will hold a town-hall style meeting in Los Angeles to discuss plans by The Boring Company for tunneling under the city. The event will be webcast at https://www.boringcompany.com/.

Musk might have given a preview of the session on Twitter this week when he made a connection between his tunneling work and the mega rocket/spaceship that he is designing to render Dragon 2 and its Falcon 9 booster obsolete.

The spaceport in question is apparently the offshore platform where passengers will board the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), which Musk says will be capable of going anywhere in the world in about 30 minutes. The rocket is also being designed to launch satellites and transport people and cargo to the moon and Mars.

It sounds as ambitious as anything Musk has attempted to date. If the past is any guide, his estimates on cost and schedules will be extremely optimistic.

A Pale Blue Dot, As Seen by a CubeSat

The first image captured by one of NASA’s Mars Cube One (MarCO) CubeSats. The image, which shows both the CubeSat’s unfolded high-gain antenna at right and the Earth and its moon in the center, was acquired by MarCO-B on May 9. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Voyager 1 took a classic portrait of Earth from several billion miles away in 1990. Now a class of tiny, boxy spacecraft, known as CubeSats, have just taken their own version of a “pale blue dot” image, capturing Earth and its moon in one shot.

NASA set a new distance record for CubeSats on May 8 when a pair of CubeSats called Mars Cube One (MarCO) reached 621,371 miles (1 million kilometers) from Earth. One of the CubeSats, called MarCO-B (and affectionately known as “Wall-E” to the MarCO team) used a fisheye camera to snap its first photo on May 9. That photo is part of the process used by the engineering team to confirm the spacecraft’s high-gain antenna has properly unfolded.

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2018 Humans to Mars Report Released at Humans to Mars Summit

WASHINGTON, DC, May 8, 2018 (Explore Mars PR) — Explore Mars, Inc. is pleased to announce that the 2018 Humans to Mars Report (http://exploremars.org/the-humans-to-mars-report) was officially released today on the opening morning of the three-day Humans to Mars Summit (H2M.ExploreMars.org) in Washington, DC.

“Now in its fourth year, the annual Humans to Mars Report (H2MR) has become one of the most influential publications in the space community”, said Rick Zucker, Explore Mars’ Vice President (Policy). Added Zucker, “H2MR provides a unique snapshot of the progress that has been made in mission architectures, science, domestic and international policy, human factors, and public perception regarding human missions to Mars, and thereby serves as an invaluable resource for both stakeholders and policymakers alike.”

The past year has seen a large number of milestones in policy and leadership that will certainly impact the future of human spaceflight for decades. As noted in this report, through these changes support for humans to Mars remains strong, but important decisions will need to be made soon so that humanity can finally start exploring deep space again.

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NASA Sending a Helicopter to Mars

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA is sending a helicopter to Mars.

The Mars Helicopter, a small, autonomous rotorcraft, will travel with the agency’s Mars 2020 rover mission, currently scheduled to launch in July 2020, to demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet.

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GAO: SLS Making Progress, Major Milestones Lie Ahead

Space Launch System with Orion capsule. (Credit: NASA)

When Congress insisted that NASA build the Space Launch System (SLS) some years back, the argument was simple: just adapt all this technology  from the space shuttle program using the workers and infrastructure that already exist to develop a new heavy-lift booster.

It all sounded deceptively simple — and deceptive it was. NASA and its contractors soon ran into a problem that affects many such projects: it’s often easier to build something from scratch than to modify systems that already exist. And there you have the problem with the SLS program in a nutshell.

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Video: Jim Bridenstine Addresses Humans to Mars Conference

Video Caption: NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine delivered the keynote address at the Humans to Mars Summit 2018, on Wednesday, May 9 at The George Washington University, in Washington. The annual event addresses the technical, scientific and policy challenges of making human exploration of Mars a reality.

Video: Bridenstine Addresses Lunar Industry Day

Video Caption: NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine asked commercial companies to help get the agency back to the Moon as quickly as possible during an ‘industry day’, Tuesday, May 8, 2018, held at NASA Headquarters in Washington. NASA is calling for commercial proposals for delivering instruments, experiments, and other small payloads to the surface of the Moon as early as next year. This solicitation is part of a broader Exploration Campaign that will pave the way for a human return to the Moon.

GAO: Mars 2020 Mission on Track But Faces Technical, Schedule Problems

Artist’s concept of the Mars Science Laboratory entry into the Martian atmosphere. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover is facing a number of technical challenges, but space agency officials say it is on track for launch two years from now, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessment.

“In commenting on a draft of this assessment, Mars 2020 project officials stated the project matured all its new technologies to the appropriate level by critical design review,” the report stated. “Further, officials stated the project had backup technologies but none were required. Officials also stated the project has accommodated schedule delays within available schedule reserves and continues to maintain robust schedule reserve along the critical path.”

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GAO: Orion Program Plagued by Delays, Cost Overruns

NASA’s Orion with the European Service Module (Credit: ESA–D. Ducros)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Cost overruns and schedule delays continue to plague NASA’s Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle, according to a new assessment by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

NASA expects the Orion program to exceed its $11.28 billion baseline budget, which covers expenditures through the Exploration Mission-2 mission, the report stated. The space agency expects to complete a new cost estimate by June.

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