Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Dragon Has Landed

The SpaceX Dragon cargo vehicle floats in the Pacific Ocean after splashdown. Photo credit: SpaceX.

Viewed worldwide through grainy imagery that reminded an older generation of Apollo capsule re-entries, the SpaceX Dragon cargo vehicle splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 8:42 AM local time, 11:42 AM here on the Space Coast.

These are articles I've found so far on the latest chapter in this historic flight. More links will be posted as time permits.

CBS News "SpaceX Dragon Returns to Earth, Ends Historic Trip"

CNN "Dragon Returns to Earth After 'Grand Slam' Space Mission"

MSNBC "SpaceX's Dragon Splashes Down, Ending Historic Mission"

The Christian Science Monitor "As Dragon Capsule Splashes Down, SpaceX Begins to Convert Skeptics"

Florida Today "SpaceX Scores 'Grand Slam'"

Los Angeles Times "SpaceX's Mission Ends with a Splashdown in the Pacific"

Los Angeles Times "In a New Space Race, the Dragon, and Musk, Have Landed"

The New York Times "Home With the Trash, SpaceX Looks to More Private Flights"

The Wall Street Journal "SpaceX Splashdown Goes Smoothly"

Washington Post "SpaceX Capsule Returns to Earth, Ends Historic Trip to Space Station with Pacific Splashdown" "SpaceX Chief Elon Musk 'Overwhelmed' by Private Spaceship Success"

Click the arrow to watch Dragon land in the Pacific Ocean. Video credit: NASA.

There's No Red Button

I was invited yesterday to join a group visiting Firing Room 4 in Kennedy Space Center's Launch Control Center. Below are some photos.

The Vehicle Assembly Building seen from the west side of the Launch Control Center.

On the Firing Room 4, looking towards the Launch Director and the windows.

Looking down the crawlerway at LC-39A from Firing Room 4.

LC-39B from Firing Room 4. It's gone back to "clean pad" for Space Launch System.

The Launch Director console. There's no big red launch button. Sorry, folks.

The Launch Director's view of the Firing Room 4 floor.

The Public Affairs Officer console. It's two positions to the right of the Launch Director.

The test director row below the Flight Director console.

Friday, May 25, 2012

"A Dragon By The Tail"

Expedition 31 crew members aboard the International Space Staton captured this video of the approach, grapple and berthing of the SpaceX Dragon cargo vehicle to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module. Video source: NASA.

"Looks like we've got us a dragon by the tail."

Those were the words spoken by U.S. astronaut Don Pettit as he grappled the SpaceX Dragon capsule to berth with the International Space Station.

They might be this generation's equivalent of Neil Armstrong's famous quote when he first stepped on the Moon. "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."

Homer Hickam, former Space Shuttle engineer, echoed that sentiment in a Twitter message:

@elonmusk @SpaceX That's one small step for a ‪#dragon‬, one giant leap for dragonkind!

And once again, NASA was the top story this week for many mainstream media.

For me personally ... I've spent the last year telling people why the Space Shuttle was retired, and how the United States would soon have an entirely new spacecraft fleet designed and mostly funded by the private sector. That day arrived today. Instead of having tell people it will be here one day soon ... it's here now. The dream is alive.

And here's a thought ... An American astronaut, aided by a Dutch astronaut, used a Canadian robot arm to grapple and berth to an International Space Station a spacecraft built by a South African emigrant to the United States. Such a uniquely American story, and an example of what the future of human spaceflight should be about. It's not one nation going to space. It's one species.

Below are links I've found to stories. More will be added as circumstances permit.

ABC News "SpaceX Dragon Docks With Space Station; Success for Private Enterprise in Orbit"

CBS News "SpaceX Docks with International Space Station: Up Next, Public Travel?"

CNN "Private Spacecraft Connects to Space Station" "SpaceX's Dragon Craft Makes Historic Hookup with Space Station"

PBS Newshour "International Space Station Catches 'Dragon by the Tail'"

Aviation Week "Dragon Capsule Berths To ISS To Set Space Milestone"

Florida Today "SpaceX Makes History as Dragon Capsule Becomes Part of ISS"

Los Angeles Times "SpaceX Completes Historic Docking with the Space Station"

The New York Times "SpaceX Capsule Docks at Space Station"

Space News "SpaceX's Successful Mission Boosts Commercial Credibility"

Washington Post "Private Dragon Capsule Makes History with Space Station Docking: ‘First of Many to Come’"

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Remembering Aurora 7

Click the arrow to watch the video.

Fifty years ago today, Scott Carpenter became the second American to orbit the Earth.

The flight was far from perfect. But little was in those early days.

Aurora 7 was essentially a test flight, as were all the Mercury flights. Humanity was dipping its toe into the celestial ocean for the first time. Much could go wrong, and it usually did.

In remembering Commander Carpenter's historic flight, you may wish to stop by his official web site at

Fifty years later, the SpaceX Dragon just made its closest flyby of the International Space Station. Carpenter's flight helped lay the foundation.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Future Begins

Click the arrow to watch the video of the SpaceX COTS-2 launch. Video credit:

The future began on May 22, 2012, at 3:44 AM Eastern Daylight Time, in what had been for millennia a swamp that was home for hundreds of alligators and billions of mosquitoes.

The mosquitoes returned in full force just in time for the launch, as if to remind Humanity that Nature still has its way here.

But the launch was Humanity's response that, one day, we may leave from this old swamp to go somewhere that mosquitoes never bite.

I took my share of mosquito bites as I filmed the historic launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, sending the Dragon capsule to the International Space Station.

(By the way, hand sanitizer is a quick and effective remedy. The swelling goes right down.)

Most "mainstream" media outlets on the Internet are reporting this as their lead story. Hopefully this will correct the general public's misperception that the United States no longer has a space program.

Here are links to articles about the launch. Start with this wonderful clip from CNN's John Zarrella:

Click the arrow to watch the video. You may be subjected to an ad first.

Then watch tonight's PBS Newshour report with Judy Woodruff and Miles O'Brien:

Click the arrow to watch the video.

Associated Press "Private Rocket Blasts Off for Space Station"

CBS News "SpaceX Cargo Ship Blasts Off to International Space Station in NASA's First Commercial Flight"

CNN "Historic Launch of Private Rocket Heralds New Era"

MSNBC "SpaceX Rocket Begins Milestone Mission to Space Station"

PBS Newshour "Miles O'Brien on SpaceX Launch: Space for the Rest of Us"

Aviation Week "SpaceX ISS Resupply Mission Off To Successful Start"

The Christian Science Monitor "SpaceX Launch: Private Industry Inspires New Generation of Rocketeers"

Florida Today "SpaceX Makes History as Dragon Capsule Speeds Toward ISS"

Houston Chronicle "While You Were Sleeping: Private Company Makes History with Successful Launch"

Los Angeles Times "NASA Hails SpaceX Launch as 'a New Era' for Spaceflight"

New York Times "Private Cargo Rocket Heads to Space Station"

Washington Post "Private Supply Ship, SpaceX Dragon, Rockets Toward Space Station, Opens New Era of Spaceflight"

More links will be posted as time permits.

The Falcon 9 launches from LC-40. Image credit: NASA.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Mark Kelly on Commercial Space

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy
Click the arrow to watch the video. You may have to watch an ad first.

Retired astronaut Mark Kelly was interviewed by MSNBC about his thoughts on commercial space and SpaceX.

The interview did not mention that Kelly has a working relationship with SpaceX. On March 29, SpaceX announced that Kelly joined an independent safety panel to oversee development of the company's human spaceflight program.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Relaunch for CASIS Web Site

Click the arrow to watch the CASIS video, "CASIS: Bringin Home the Magic of Space."

The Center for Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) has relaunched its web site. The new site is well worth the visit.

According to the web site:

In 2011, NASA chose the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) to be the sole manager of the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory. The mission of CASIS is to maximize use of this unparalleled platform for innovation, which can benefit all humankind and inspire a new generation to look to the stars.

The organization has been awarded by NASA the responsibility of inciting the imagination of entrepreneurs and scientists alike, accelerating and facilitating space-based research as well as creating public awareness of National Lab research and making space science more accessible to the world.

By carefully selecting research and funding projects, by connecting investors looking for opportunity to scientists with great ideas, and by making access to the station faster and easier, CASIS will drive scientific inquiry toward developing groundbreaking new technologies and products that will tangibly affect our lives.

If At First You Don't Succeed ...

Click the arrow to watch the video of the aborted COTS-2 launch attempt. This was filmed from NASA Causeway East about four miles west of Launch Complex 40. Video credit:

SpaceX was one half-second from history this morning when a faulty value on the middle of its nine Merlin engines caused the Falcon 9 engine to turn itself off.

The company issued the below press release this evening:

Update on SpaceX COTS 2 Launch

Today’s launch was aborted when the flight computer detected slightly high pressure in the engine 5 combustion chamber. We have discovered root cause and repairs are underway.

During rigorous inspections of the engine, SpaceX engineers discovered a faulty check valve on the Merlin engine. We are now in the process of replacing the failed valve. Those repairs should be complete tonight. We will continue to review data on Sunday. If things look good, we will be ready to attempt to launch on Tuesday, May 22nd at 3:44 AM Eastern.

NASA and SpaceX have constantly reminded us that this is a test flight. In that sense, the test worked because the system detected a problem with the #5 engine before launch. It appears to be a simple fix.

These engines have been lit twice now. They were lit on April 30 as part of a static test fire:

Click the arrow to watch the April 30 static test fire.

Click here for the Florida Today report earlier today on the abort.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Big Deal

Click the arrow to watch the PBS Newshour report on SpaceX. Featured are Hari Sreenivasan and Miles O'Brien.

How big a deal is the SpaceX Dragon launch scheduled for Saturday May 19?

On the scale of American spaceflight, comparisons can be drawn to various historical firsts, but let's begin with some context.

Since the retirement of the Shuttle — announced in January 2004 and planned for after completion of the International Space Station — the United States has lacked a domestic option for delivering cargo and crew to the ISS.

Cargo delivery was not an immediate concern. The STS-135 Atlantis flight was added by the Obama administration to build up supplies until the commercial cargo vehicles were ready.

Other ISS partners have a cargo capability — Russia (Progress), Japan (HTV-2) and the European Space Agency (ATV). None of those vehicles, however, has the capability of returning a payload to Earth from the ISS. They all burn up on re-entry.

The Dragon capsule was initially designed with the eventual intent of being a crewed ship, so a safe soft landing was always planned.

This, then, is why the Dragon mission is "a big deal."

Once operational, the United States will have the only vehicle on Planet Earth capable of returning experiments and other payloads from space.

The Orbital Sciences Cygnus module, the other vehicle in NASA's commercial cargo program, will also burn up on re-entry. SpaceX, therefore, will have the monopoly on payload return from the ISS.

What if SpaceX fails?

SpaceX founder Elon Musk and NASA constantly remind us that this is a test flight. Officially designated COTS-2, this is a combination of what was originally planned to be two test flights. The first was to demonstrate that Dragon could maneuver in space, but it would not berth at the ISS. The second test flight was to attempt a berth with the station.

(The difference between docking and berthing? With docking, the vehicle would directly approach the ISS and attach itself to a port. With berthing, the Dragon will park alongside the station, then a Canadarm operator will grapple the ship and manually attach it to the docking port.)

Now both test flights have been combined into one, raising the stakes and the risk. That's one reason why this flight has been delayed for months.

The worst case scenario is that the Falcon 9 rocket blows up on the pad or after launch. If that happens, it could be comparable to the Vanguard TV-3 launch attempt on December 6, 1957.

Click the arrow to watch the failure of the Vanguard TV-3 launch.

Vanguard TV-3 was a test flight, but it was framed by the media as the American response to the Soviet Union's Sputnik 1 and Sputnik 2 launches. It was never intended to be that, but the media love drama and TV-3 fit the bill. It lost thrust two seconds after liftoff and fell back to the pad, exploding in a fireball. The failure was telecast live on national television, and was derided by critics as a "flopnik."

Popular history has forgotten that, once operational, Vanguard was extremely successful. The first two satellites launched by Vanguard are still in orbit and are projected to remain there until at least the year 2200.

Although Saturday's launch is a "test flight," those who want to protect the status quo eagerly await Dragon's failure. Many members of Congress have claimed that the private sector can't be trusted, even though the private sector has always built NASA's vehicles. All that's changed is the financial model — the commercial companies assume the risk and development costs up front, and only get the NASA contract if they prove they have a viable system. The real reason these members of Congress attack commercial space is that, with their positions on key committees, they can direct pork to established aerospace contractors that bring jobs to their districts.

In their minds, the status quo equates to re-election. They couldn't care less about new technology that reduces NASA's costs.

Others mistakenly see commercial space in a zero-sum game with deep space exploration. They think that if only the ISS and commercial space were cancelled, all that money could be transferred to a national mandate that would return more rocks from the Moon. Some Apollo-era astronauts fall into this category.

This assumption is simply a conceit. These astronauts, although national heroes, have no grasp on the political context that led to the Apollo program. All they know is that in the mid-1960s, NASA had nearly 5% of the federal budget. The reason was President John F. Kennedy had framed the "space race" in a context of national survival, a demonstration of prestige to show the world that American technology was superior to the Soviet Union.

But that era no longer exists. It now rots in the dustbin of history. Many presidents since then have quoted Kennedy in proposing new space programs. But they seem to forget why Kennedy proposed a Moon program, and those reasons are no longer valid — which is why today NASA's budget is less than one-half of one percent of the federal budget. Cancel the ISS and commercial space, and the money simply goes to other porkery unrelated to space.

Click the arrow to watch an NBC News report on May 5, 1961 after the launch of Freedom 7.

Watch the above video of NBC News reporting the night of Alan Shepard's historic Freedom 7 flight. Are those life-and-death assumptions valid today? Of course not.

In some ways, I see similarities between Shepard's flight and the Dragon mission, but those are only superficial. Shepard's Redstone flight was a test of the Mercury technology on a suborbital trajectory. Orbital flight was already on the drawing board.

Had the launch failed, if — heaven forbid — Shepard's life had been lost, the damage to national prestige would have been incalculable, but I suspect the program would have continued. Kennedy would not have included the Moon mission in his "On Urgent National Needs" speech on May 25. Most likely, NASA and human spaceflight would have continued at a much slower and cautious pace. But we would never have gone to the Moon, because Kennedy wouldn't have mustered the political courage to propose it in the wake of a tragedy.

If COTS-2 fails, no lives will be lost, and NASA will have a redundant delivery option with Cygnus. But the world will still lack a means of returning experiments from the ISS. So SpaceX will try again, and one day there will be a COTS-3.

Does this compare to STS-1, the first Shuttle flight? That was certainly risky. The Shuttle was incapable of unmanned test flight. Astronauts had to be onboard. Dragon won't have a crew, just supplies and student experiments.

The biggest risk, in my opinion, is what a failure will mean to the future of commercial space.

Congressional porkery aside, commercial space once viable will give the United States a new and unique industry no other nation on Earth will have.

Click the arrow to watch the Astrogenetix video on salmonella and MRSA vaccine research.

We've just begun to investigate the implications for life and physical sciences research in microgravity. As demonstrated in the above Astrogenetix video, potential vaccines for salmonella and MRSA are being tested for approval, thanks to research aboard the ISS. By the end of the decade, we may have found clues that lead to fighting cancer, muscular dystrophy, and aging. Benefits to humanity aside, this also jump-starts an entirely new economy here in the United States that other nations will envy.

Bigelow Aerospace is ready to start deploying its private space station modules in low Earth orbit. But it must wait for commercial crew to deliver customers. Boeing is already a partner. Last week, SpaceX and Bigelow announced plans to jointly market flights. Seven nations have signed memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with Bigelow to use its modules.

Entrepreneurs are poised to invest hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in commercial exploitation of space. Planetary Resources recently announced plans to harvest asteroids for minerals rare on Earth.

And there are those such as Virgin Galactic that are marketing commercial tourist flights into space.

If COTS-2 fails, commercial space critics will lump all these together, although they really have nothing to do with another, and insist the only means to space is through a bloated government bureaucracy, funded by politicians who steer programs to their districts.

That's what's at stake on Saturday. Only the future of the American economy.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Kennedy Space Center 2012 and Beyond

Click the arrow to watch the video on the NASAKennedy YouTube channel.

The NASAKennedy YouTube channel has published the above 6½ minute video about the future of Kennedy Space Center. It's an excellent summary of all the programs about to arrive.

An article about upgrades to the Vehicle Assembly Building was posted today on NASA's web site. Click here to read.

The Russian Way to Space

Click the arrow to watch the NASA video.

The next three-member crew to join the International Space Station launches tonight at 11:01 PM Eastern Daylight Time. The TMA-04M crew members are American Joe Acaba, and Russians Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin.

When they arrive, they'll join American Don Pettit, Russian Oleg Konenenko (who is the ISS commander) and ESA representative Andre Kuipers from the Netherlands. Collectively they form the Expedition 31 crew. Click here for the Expedition 30/31 press kit.

The above video is a great overview of how the Soyuz crew vehicle works.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Florida Today Double-Teams Congress

Two opinion columns in the Sunday Florida Today strongly criticized the House of Representatives for its vote last week to end prematurely the commercial crew competition.

On the Opinion page, Matt Reed's column "A Terrible Vote on Spaceflight" pulled no punches:

NASA is on budget, on schedule and ready to show us something new and exciting in human spaceflight for the first time since today’s fortysomethings were in grade school.

But the U.S. House, including both representatives from Brevard, voted last week to wreck the program — nine days before the high-stakes launch of a “commercial crew” rocket and capsule from the Cape.

For those just tuning in, an assortment of privately developed flying machines are scheduled to begin key test launches this week, competing for a contract to carry U.S. astronauts into orbit.

Privatization has sparked the aerospace version of a TV season of “The Apprentice,” pitting a capsule designed by a PayPal inventor against a mini-space shuttle and a classic rocket that up to now has launched only satellites. Seven companies, four with NASA seed money, have moved as fast as the early Mercury and Apollo programs, but at a fraction of the cost to taxpayers.

Now, Congress wants to cancel the show midseason.

Reed reserved particular criticism for Brevard County's two House representatives.

What I can’t understand is why House members, including Reps. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, and Sandy Adams, R-Orlando, would vote to halt the only bargain NASA has going.

This year, NASA spent $406 million on four companies to build new spacecraft, with another three developing rockets and components for free. Before Thursday’s vote, the [White] House had boosted investment in the privatized rocket program to $830 million ...

I can’t wait to see if SpaceX can launch its Dragon Capsule from the Cape on Saturday and rendezvous with the space station. Or see Sierra-Nevada’s Dreamcatcher mini-shuttle blast off next year and try the same. Or see an Atlas V saddled up for passengers.

Why would Posey and Adams vote to stop that?

Posey told FLORIDA TODAY he would be willing to narrow the contest to two competitors, but voted for the bill because he’s afraid impatience in Congress could lead to cuts.

Adams said something about getting “the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars.”

But if they want lower costs and a fast track to space, Congress should leave NASA’s competition alone.

On March 20, Adams sent a letter to the House Appropriations Committee urging their space subcommittee to cut the Obama administration's proposed $830 million commercial crew budget to just $500 million:

The request includes $829.7 million for the Commercial Crew program. While this request is $329.7 million over the authorized levels for the program, the prioritization of human space flight within the budget is encouraging. I believe the Commercial Crew Program can continue on schedule under the agreed upon authorized level of $500 million and I support such an allocation of funds. This level of funding will enable NASA to continue encouraging the private development of safe and affordable space transportation systems to carry American astronauts on American rockets built by an American workforce to and from the International Space Station.

I wrote Ms. Adams the month before asking her to fully support the Administration's request, so that the United States could cease relying upon Russia for flights to the ISS. Ms. Adams' office did not respond.

Elsewhere in the Sunday paper, space columnist John Kelly published an article titled, "Congress Could Kill Rocket Builders' New Space Race".

You should be concerned about a Congressional vote this week for NASA to immediately end its successful competition among multiple contractors vying to deliver a new, privatized system to carry astronauts to and from the space station.

So far, a layered approach with multiple companies competing to build a new space transportation system is showing signs of working, with the most obvious evidence being a Falcon 9 rocket set to launch a Dragon spacecraft to the space station as early as Saturday.

Private firms are competing against one another, with potentially lucrative contracts as a prize. They are coming up with innovative ways to design and operate a human space transport that would have cost billions more and already be years behind schedule, if it were developed under NASA’s old way of doing business, with one big contractor handed a single multi-billion dollar contract.

Kelly quotes Rep. Posey as commenting:

“I wish there was more money available. That would solve a lot of problems. It would be great if there were 10 competent launch teams competing to do the job. Unfortunately, the reality is that there is not enough money to water all the trees in the forest. At some point NASA is going to have to decide to focus on proceeding with one or two launch providers and this bill tells NASA to move to the down select date sooner ... In a perfect world with unlimited funds you wouldn't have to do that, but that is not the world we live in today.”

This is, of course, nonsense.

The commercial crew funding was shifted by the House to the Space Launch System, a heavy-lift vehicle mandated by Congress in 2010 to keep employed Shuttle-era contractors.

Dubbed the "Senate Launch System" by critics, the SLS has no missions or destinations.

It's all about priorities, and in the world of these House members the priority is preserving the status quo.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Liberty and the Pursuit of NASA

An artist's concept of Liberty arriving at Launch Complex 39B. Image source: ATK via

Solid rocket booster manufacturer ATK held a press conference yesterday to unveil its Liberty commercial crew design, which includes a composite crew capsule from Lockheed Martin.

While attention has been focused on SpaceX, Boeing and the other funded commercial crew candidates, little has been heard about Liberty since ATK entered into an unfunded Space Act Agreement with NASA in September 2011.

Three of the four commercial crew candidates — Boeing, Sierra Nevada and Blue Origin — are partnered with United Launch Alliance to use the Atlas V as their launch vehicle. SpaceX will use their Falcon 9 rocket to launch the Dragon capsule.

The next phase of the commercial crew competition requires entrants to submit a complete integrated system — launch vehicle, crew vehicle, mission control and ground support. Lacking a partner, ATK solved that problem by resurrecting a composite crew module design formerly tested by NASA.

Click the arrow to watch the ATK promotional video.

The press conference unveiled a promotional video that includes a child reading an essay about wanting to fly into space. ATK also has a Liberty web site.

When asked if ATK would proceed with Liberty should they not win NASA funding, ATK spokesperson Kent Roeminger said:

"Without that, yes, we continue on with discretionary funding but the pace is much slower. By no means would we be flying in this decade. And so, it delays us years."

In other words ... No NASA funding, no Liberty.

The design, using existing Shuttle and Constellation hardware, would seem to appeal to Congressional lawmakers who have demanded that NASA end the commercial crew competition and simply select one vendor. Many space subcommittee members in recent Congressional hearings have stated that they don't care about innovation or competition.

ATK and Lockheed Martin are lobbying heavyweights on Capitol Hill. According to, ATK has already spent $390,000 on lobbying in 2012 after spending $1.36 million in 2011. classified Lockheed Martin as a "heavy hitter" which spent $15.1 million in 2011 on lobbying.

The SpaceX political action committee, in contrast, has spent $78,000 in 2012. A blog called The BLT reported in December 2011 that SpaceX spent $500,000 in lobbying in 2011 but did not cite a source for that claim.

Media articles about the press conference are below.

Florida Today "ATK Lobbies for Liberty" "ATK Announce Liberty KSC Test Flights, Reveal Crew Spacecraft with MLAS" "ATK Pitches Liberty Rocket for Commercial Crew" "ATK Adds Crew Capsule to Liberty Rocket Proposal"

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Articles of Interest

The replica orbiter Explorer parked at the Kennedy Space Center press site awaits delivery to Houston. Image credit:

Taking a lap around the Internet for articles of interest ...

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will finally rid itself of the replica orbiter Explorer.

Space Center Houston will take custody on June 1, when Explorer will arrive in Houston by barge. KSCVC gave Explorer to Houston's visitor center last fall, before breaking ground on its new orbiter Atlantis museum. Space Center Houston was supposed to pick up Explorer last February, so they're three months late. The name "Explorer" has been removed from the replica.

Video game designer and tourist-astronaut Richard Garriott de Cayeux wrote on his Huffington Post that, "I spent this past weekend at the World Science Festival in Washington D.C. alongside numerous NASA officials, and on a panel discussing the future of spaceflight with Elon Musk of Space X and George Whitesides of Virgin Galactic."

The event was attended by many tens of thousands of students and it was clear that interest in science and space was far from dead. Lockheed Martin (builder of NASA's new Orion spacecraft) was the main sponsor and their new capsule sat center stage. NASA, Space X and the whole pantheon of new commercial contributors were well represented too. It was a festival of the future; it was great to see the enthusiasm for STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) as well as space.

Sadly, while there, I heard yet again, something I have heard from old and young across the country almost every time I give a speech. Just after I finished sharing a presentation of my own trip to the ISS with the many eager conference participants, a young girl of about age 11, came up to me and said "Wow it's so cool you got to go into space, and sad that I will never get the chance because we are no longer going to send astronauts into space." When I told her, that "In fact, we do still send astronauts into space, and new rockets are being built right now, so don't give up your dream of space flight" her face lit up, and she yelled out "Yes!" as she fist pumped into the air.

I get that a lot too, Richard ... I often encounter visitors to the Space Coast who've been duped by certain media and politicians into believing that the U.S. space program is over. Once I explain the truth, they're at first very relieved and then some wonder why they were misled. I wish more people would think about that.

A non-profit called Change the Equation published a study which concluded that science-related jobs survived the recession much better than other professions.

If you were unemployed in the past three years, you probably faced stiff odds. On average, unemployed people outnumbered online job postings by well more than three to one. Yet if you have a strong background in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM), your odds may have been very different. Across the STEM fields, job postings outnumbered unemployed people by almost two to one.

Our analysis of online job postings and unemployment data in the past three years finds that, even in a tough economy, STEM opens doors.

Click here to download the report.

Four-time Shuttle astronaut Tom Jones was interviewed by the Washington Post about his involvement with asteroid mining company Planetary Resources.

To date, no one has figured out how to make money from space. How will Planetary Resources do so?

It begins by finding the resource-rich destinations in near-Earth space. Those are the asteroids. The company’s initial steps will involve a small and affordable search telescope to identify nearby asteroids. The next step will then measure their reflected sunlight to figure out their composition.

Isn’t a lot of this work already being done by NASA? Are there undiscovered asteroids?

Oh, yeah. NASA is funding at about $6 million a year a search program for the largest asteroids, the ones that are global hazards. By accident, we’ve found about 8,500 total near-Earth objects. But we think there are about a million big enough to both be a hazard and a resource, because they do come close to the Earth. So there’s a huge job ahead of finding the undiscovered asteroids. And I think NASA’s funding is such that the pace is too slow. Partnering with the commercial sector is a great thing for the country to do.

Here's a different spin on the notion of commercial space ... MSNBC reports that the European Space Agency wants to develop a "Made in Space" brand.

The European Space Agency is hatching plans for a branding campaign aimed at making people more aware of the benefits of spending their hard-earned taxes on the International Space Station.

The list of products and technologies that have their roots in space research is long, from memory foam to the in-ear thermometer, but in a world struggling to pay the bill from the financial crisis, the billions of dollars spent on space exploration can be challenging to justify.

The branding plan is an indication that space scientists are concerned about cuts to space agency budgets, and worried that their contribution to economic growth is not fully recognized.

Florida Today reports that the interim chief scientist for CASIS believes it's time for the International Space Station to prove it was worth the investment.

But the Brevard County-based Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, or CASIS, says there’s still much work to be done to raise awareness about the lab’s existence and potential commercial benefits, and no guarantee of medical breakthroughs.

“The real tough scientific question is, is it really better in space than on Earth?” said Dr. Timothy Yeatman, the center’s interim chief scientist, of the research environment. “Now it has to be answered, so now’s the time to do that.”

Yeatman led a panel of scientists in reviewing more than 135 biological experiments NASA flew in space over a decade. Of that batch, he said, there were “no real standouts” that definitively proved commercial opportunities.

Click the arrow to watch the Florida Today video. You may be subjected to an ad first.

Space Launch System Project Manager Scott May spoke yesterday before the monthly meeting of the National Space Club Florida Committee. Florida Today reports that the SLS remains on schedule, but just what it will be used for remains undefined.

NASA’s new super-sized rocket will be ready by late 2017 to launch an unmanned Orion spacecraft on a looping mission around the moon and a high-speed return to Earth, a senior agency manager said Tuesday.

A similar mission with astronauts onboard would follow in 2021 from Kennedy Space Center, a flight that will clear the way for a new era of human space exploration.

“From that point, we’ll be ready to go anywhere you want to go in the solar system,” said Todd May, manager of the Space Launch System Program Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. “The question is, ‘Where do you want to go?’ ”

In closing ... If you like to watch sausage being made, then you'll love the debate on the House floor in Washington, D.C. as members propose amendments to further cut NASA's budget. has some of the motions made, but deliberations continue as I write.

Aviation Week reports that Apollo-era astronauts Neil Armstrong, Eugene Cernan and James Lovell signed a letter urging Congress to end commercial crew competition. These astronauts have repeatedly criticized the Obama administration in the past for emphasis on the ISS, prefering NASA concentrate its efforts on returning to the Moon.

The Senate will eventually pass its own budget measure, then the two Congressional houses will go to conference committee to come up with a compromise that will return to both houses for passage or defeat. The federal budget year begins October 1, but considering this is an election year it's unlikely Congress will pass a budget on time. I wouldn't be surprised if they leave it for the next Congress seated in January to pass a budget.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Next Generation

Click the arrow to watch the video.

This wonderful video is about a group of high school STEM students who are sending an experiment to the International Space Station via the SpaceX Dragon COTS-2 launch.

For those who claim the only way to "inspire" the next generation of scientists is to build a monster rocket to collect more Moon rocks ... watch this video.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

AHOF Inducts New Members

Click the arrow to watch the NASA webcast of the AHOF induction ceremony.

Florida Today reports that the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame inducted three new members Saturday at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

[Franklin] Chang Díaz, Kevin Chilton and Charles Precourt bring the number of enshrined astronauts to 82. They are the 11th group of shuttle astronauts to join a select group that includes Neil Armstrong, John Glenn, Buzz Aldrin and Sally Ride.

Below are a few photos I shot with my cameraphone:

Astronaut Robert "Hoot" Gibson is introduced.

Astronaut Franklin Chang Diaz is inducted as Costa Ricans wave their national flag.

Hall of Fame astronauts depart the ceremony. That's Jim Lovell in the middle.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Sierra Nevada Seeks State Incentives

Click the arrow to watch a Florida Today video report of the press conference. You may be subjected to an ad first.

Florida Today reports that Sierra Nevada is seeking "incentives" from the State of Florida to locate its Dream Chaser spaceplane activities in the Space Coast.

Sierra Nevada Corp. this week formally submitted an application for state incentives to help it set up facilities and hire the work force needed to operate the Dream Chaser, which resembles a miniature shuttle orbiter launched atop a rocket.

In a press conference Friday at the Cocoa Beach Hilton, Mark Sirangelo, head of Sierra Nevada’s Space Systems division, said the reusable Dream Chaser would launch, land and be maintained in Florida, leveraging shuttle program experience.

“All that experience and knowledge, much of which is based here in Florida, is going to make us able to move forward with our program much more safely and much more quickly, and we intend to use as much of that as possible,” he said.

Sirangelo said that Florida operations are dependent upon NASA awarding Sierra Nevada money in the next round of commercial crew competition.

Click here to visit the Dream Chaser page on the Sierra Nevada Corporation's web site.

ULA Launches Military Satellite

Click this arrow to watch the ULA version of the launch.

Click this arrow to watch my version as filmed from NASA Causeway East near the entrance to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station

United Launch Alliance launched the AEHF-2 military communications satellite yesterday from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

I went to NASA Causeway East to film the launch. This was at a site just northwest of the entrance to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, grandstands set up for guests of the 45th Space Wing. It has speakers broadcasting the play-by-play from ULA.

Click here for the Florida Today report on the launch.

Friday, May 4, 2012

CNBC's Kudlow Report Interviews Elon Musk

Click the arrow to watch the interview. You may be subjected to an ad first.

Larry Kudlow of The Kudlow Report conducted a four-minute interview of SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

The show's Twitter account sent out a tweet claiming:

Tonight on @CNBC: @ElonMusk, @SpaceX CEO, talks about the future and the business of Space travel. Don't miss that at 7p ET.

But after watching 20 minutes of drivel promoting Mitt Romney, we were finally told we had to go the CNBC web site to watch the interview.

You can watch the video embedded above, or click here to watch it on CNBC's web site.

Kudlow compared Musk and SpaceX to the moon colony proposal by Newt Gingrich, then later claimed he was kidding. Most of the interview was similarly clueless. But please feel free to watch and judge for yourself.

I'll close with the comment that falsehoods and misleading rhetoric spewed by people like Mr. Kudlow are one reason why so many Americans are under the mistaken impression that the U.S. human spaceflight program is over.

If At First You Don't Succeed ...

This afternoon SpaceX sent out a press release announcing May 19 as their next launch attempt date:

SpaceX and NASA are nearing completion of the software assurance process, and SpaceX is submitting a request to the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for a May 19th launch target with a backup on May 22nd.

Thus far, no issues have been uncovered during this process, but with a mission of this complexity we want to be extremely diligent.

We will send out updated information on launch activities in the coming days.

A Johnson Space Center tweet stated the launch time will be 4:55 AM Eastern Daylight Time.

As noted by, the two-week delay allows time for Roscosmos to dock a Soyuz capsule at the International Space Station with three new crew members.

UPDATE May 5, 2012NASA issued this press release in response to the SpaceX announcement:

"After additional reviews and discussions between the SpaceX and NASA teams, we are in a position to proceed toward this important launch. The teamwork provided by these teams is phenomenal. There are a few remaining open items but we are ready to support SpaceX for its new launch date of May 19."

Shuttle Director to Appear at Cape Museum

Former Shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach. Image source: Jason Rhian,

Long-time Space Shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach will be the guest speaker Monday May 7 at the monthly docents meeting of the Air Force Space & Missile Museum.

As reported by, Mr. Leinbach joined United Launch Alliance last year as the company's Director of Human Spaceflight Operations. Mr. Leinbach will be talking about ULA's involvement in NASA's commercial crew program.

The meeting is for museum docents but members of the public are permitted to attend.

The meeting begins on Monday at 7 PM. It's at the museum's History Center located outside Gate 1 of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, next to the SpaceX Launch Control Center. Click here for more information about the History Center, including directions.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

United Launch Alliance Faces Potential Strike

Click the arrow to watch the WHNT TV video. You may be subjected to an ad first.

Huntsville television station WHNT posted an article and ran a segment on its newscast about a potential strike at the United Launch Alliance plant in Decatur, Alabama. The strike could impact operations at ULA sites in the Space Coast and in California.

The contract affects about 450 employees in Decatur and another 400 at the company’s sites in California and Florida.

Those employees are set to meet on Sunday to vote on the company’s final offer.

If they vote it down, the next vote they’ll take will be whether or not to strike, which is something they say they don’t want to do . . .

The workers’ contract is set to expire at midnight on Sunday, May 6th.

Wednesday, union representatives filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board claiming ULA company officials refused to bargain in good faith.

They claim on several occasions, company officials didn’t even show up for bargaining meetings.

Major thanks to Florida SpaceReport author Edward Ellegood for posting this on Twitter.

UPDATE May 5, 2012Florida Today reports that the union's negotiating committee recommends its members reject the ULA offer.

The contract would affect 277 union workers involved in launch operations at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It also would cover workers at ULA’s production operations in Decatur, Ala., and at launch operations at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Earlier this week, ULA presented what it called its “final offer” to the IAM negotiating committee. On Wednesday, that committee recommended that its members reject ULA’s proposed contract and vote to authorize the IAM leadership to call a strike.

Voting on the new contract takes place from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday.

PBS Boldly Goes to SpaceX

Watch SpaceX Boldly Looks to Blast 'Millions of People to Mars' on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

Click the arrow to watch the PBS NewsHour segment on SpaceX and the current state of NASA.

The PBS NewsHour ran a segment tonight on SpaceX and the Dragon capsule, Space Launch System and the Orion capsule, and the general state of government-funded space exploration. It even covers Constellation.

A lot of ground to cover in an eleven-minute segment. But it was hosted by former CNN space reporter Miles O'Brien, so you know it was done right.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

SpaceX Postpones COTS-2 Launch Again

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Dragon capsule. Image source: SpaceX.

At 1:15 PM EDT, SpaceX issued this brief press release in e-mail:

At this time, a May 7th launch appears unlikely. SpaceX is continuing to work through the software assurance process with NASA. We will issue a statement as soon as a new launch target is set.

I found this a bit odd, because last week NASA and SpaceX proclaimed they were happy with the last software simulation and were ready to launch on May 7.

There's some speculation that this may be due to the Soyuz TMA-04M launch on May 14 sending three Expedition 31 crew members to the International Space Station. If SpaceX has to delay or runs into trouble approaching the ISS, such as the Dragon fails and becomes a derelict, it could become a navigation hazard for Soyuz.

So perhaps this is just NASA's way of preferring they wait until after Soyuz docks at the ISS. Just my speculation.

Commercial Crew: In Their Own Words

Click the arrow to watch an interview with NASA Commercial Crew Program Deputy Manager Brent Jett.

The NASAKennedy YouTube channel published this five-minute interview with NASA Commercial Crew Program Deputy Manager Brent Jett. A good basic overview of why the commercial crew program exists.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

National Media Starting to Pay Attention to SpaceX

I'd hoped that as we draw closer to the historic SpaceX Dragon launch, we'd see more attention from the national media which for the most part has pretended that the United States no longer has a space program.

In recent days, we've seen a glimmer or two of awareness.

The Washington Post published an article today titled, "SpaceX Launch of Dragon Capsule to Space Station to Put NASA Strategy on Display."

What SpaceX and NASA hope to do is part of a plan begun under President George W. Bush and enhanced by President Obama to turn travel to and from the space station into a largely private and less costly venture, freeing up NASA to plan for deep-space journeys to asteroids, the moon and ultimately Mars.

“It’s proving to be harder and more complicated and more expensive than [SpaceX founder] Elon Musk anticipated,” said Dale Ketcham of the Spaceport Research and Policy Institute at Central Florida University. “But it’s still more efficient than NASA.”

On April 29, the Tampa Bay Times ran an article titled, "A New Era for the Space Coast."

Tourists began booking rooms weeks ago, making plans to see what is more than a routine rocket launch from Cape Canaveral.

The next chapter in U.S. space exploration should begin in about a week, when California-based Space Exploration Technologies — SpaceX for short — expects to become the first private company to send a rocket to the International Space Station. Once it perfects its delivery system for cargo, the company will turn its focus to transporting U.S. astronauts.

And CNBC posted on April 27 a feature on SpaceX and founder Elon Musk called, "Elon Musk on Why SpaceX Has the Right Stuff to Win the Space Race."

The key to SpaceX's success, assuming its equipment functions as planned, is to convince customers to pay for services on a used spacecraft.

Musk thinks each Dragon capsule could be used ten times, eventually bringing down the current price per flight of $60 million for use of the Falcon 9 rocket and $60 million for shipping cargo--and eventually humans--aboard the capsule.

SpaceX is also building a much more powerful rocket, the Falcon Heavy, which Musk believes can launch a full payload for under $1,000 a pound--"in the space industry, that's like the four minute mile."

The CNBC article also has several video clips of an interview with Musk, none of which can be embedded.

ISS Research Finds Anti-Aging Enzyme

As reported by, "New research in the FASEB Journal suggests that the 5-lipoxygenase enzyme mediates microgravity-induced lymphocyte programmed cell death and its inhibition could help astronauts and the elderly."

(FASEB is the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.)

New research published online in the FASEB Journal suggests that a specific enzyme, called 5-lipoxygenase, plays a key role in cell death induced by microgravity environments, and that inhibiting this enzyme will likely help prevent or lessen the severity of immune problems in astronauts caused by spaceflight. Additionally, since space conditions initiate health problems that mimic the aging process on Earth, this discovery may also lead to therapeutics that extend lives by bolstering the immune systems of the elderly.

"The outcomes of this space research might be helpful to improve health in the elderly on Earth," said Mauro Maccarrone, Ph.D., a researcher involved in the work from the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Teramo in Teramo, Italy. "In fact, space conditions [cause problems that] resemble the physiological process of aging and drugs able to reduce microgravity-induced immunodepression might be effective therapeutics against loss of immune performance in aging people. 5-lipoxygenase inhibitors, already used to curb human inflammatory diseases, may be such a group of compounds."

Maccarone and colleagues made this discovery by conducting experiments involving two groups of human lymphocytes that were isolated from the blood of two healthy donors. The first group of lymphocytes was exposed to microgravity onboard the International Space Station (ISS). The second group was put in a centrifuge onboard the ISS, to have the same "Space environment" as the other group, but a normal Earth-like force of gravity. When programmed cell death (apoptosis) was measured in both groups, the lymphocytes exposed to microgravity showed an increase above what is considered "normal." The group exposed to the simulated Earth gravity showed no unusual differences. Specifically, the researchers believe that this difference is caused by different levels of the 5-lipoxygenase enzyme.

Just another example of how using commercial space to open access to Low Earth Orbit will kick-start an entirely new economy.