Friday, November 30, 2012

Filming the Cape

Click the arrow to watch “X Minus 80 Days,” about Explorer 1.

The Air Force Space and Missile Museum has begun a YouTube channel, along with a Twitter account @afspacemuseum and a Facebook page.

Eight videos already are on the YouTube page. My favorite is X Minus 80 Days, a 1958 21-minute documentary about Explorer 1, the first U.S. satellite. The documentary was a joint production by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Army Ballistic Missile Agency.

In January 1958, when Explorer 1 launched, NASA did not yet exist; it began on October 1, 1958. JPL and ABMA were Army operations. JPL was transferred to NASA in December 1958, and remnants of ABMA eventually followed in the early 1960s.

Subscribe to the YouTube channel, because lots more historic documentaries will be online soon.

KSCVC Banks on Atlantis

Click the arrow to watch the Florida Today video update on orbiter Atlantis museum construction.

Florida Today has an article and video update on construction of the orbiter Atlantis museum.

The article notes that the final angle for display is 43.21 degrees, as in a 4-3-2-1 countdown.

(The Space Coast area code is 321 for the same reason.)

Click here to see photos I shot on November 21 inside the construction site.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

A Flair for Flare

Before I moved to Florida from Southern California, I had a modest side business doing sports photography.

I always enjoyed playing with lens flare to add an artistic twist to an otherwise standard shot. That means keeping an eye open for sun angles.

Today I was passing through the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex's Rocket Garden near sunset, and noticed a possibility for some lens flare images. Here you go.

UPDATE November 25, 2012 — Here are some more lens flare photos taken this morning:

And these were on November 22:

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Decision to Build the Space Shuttle

Click the arrow to watch Dr. Logsdon's 2005 lecture on YouTube.

Dr. John Logsdon is the Professor Emeritus of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University. He is the author of John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon, the definitive work on the titular subject.

In the fall of 2005, the Massachusetts Insitute of Technology offered a course on aircraft systems engineering, focusing on the Space Shuttle. The course offered a series of lectures that were videotaped, all of which are online.

Above is Dr. Logsdon's lecture on the decision to build the Space Shuttle. It's a fascinating insight to the political compromises that led to the program we've known for the last thirty years. The video runs a bit short of two hours.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The RV Astrovan

When an astronaut needs to go to the pad for launch, the vehicle of choice is the Astrovan.

The Apollo-era astronauts used a Cortez motorhome built by the Clark Equipment Company.

The Apollo 10 crew board the Cortez Astrovan on May 18, 1969.

Because it could carry up to four astronauts, the Cortez was also used for the first six Space Shuttle missions, which carried from two to four astronauts.

Beginning with STS-9 in November 1983, the Astrovan was an Airstream Excella motor home.

The STS-135 crew board the Airstream Astrovan on July 8, 2011. It was the final flight in the Space Shuttle program.

The Airstream was used for every Shuttle launch from STS-9 through STS-135, which ended the program in July 2011.

But Houston, we have a problem.

STS-7 and STS-8 had five-member crews — too large to fit in the Cortez, and the Airstream wasn't available.

Videos of those two missions show a recreational vehicle being used to transport the astronauts:

Click the arrow to watch a video of the “RV Astrovan” on YouTube.

I've been unable to find any information on this vehicle.

If you know anything about it, please post here or e-mail me at

The Future According to Elon Musk

Click the arrow to watch Elon Musk's University of Oxford lecture on YouTube.

On November 14, Elon Musk appeared at University of Oxford to lecture on the subject, “The Future of Energy and Transport.”

The lecture runs about 90 minutes.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Preview of Coming Attractions

I was invited to tag along on a tour of the orbiter Atlantis museum construction at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Below are some photos.

The orbiter has been shrink-wrapped to prevent damage during construction.

All photos are credit

The Future of Space Exploration

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

KNBC Channel 4 in Los Angeles aired on its 11 PM news last night a three-minute segment titled, “Orion: The Future of Space Exploration.”

This must have confounded the casual viewer who's been told by much of the mainstream media and certain partisan political interests over the last three years that the space program has ended.

The piece made clear that the first unmanned test flight for Orion is scheduled for less than two years from now, but the reporter couldn't help but fall back into the trap of calling the program “Great news for Southern California's aerospace industry, because Orion means jobs.” Once again, someone tries to justify human spaceflight not on the benefits for humanity, but as workfare.

Back here at Kennedy Space Center, Space News reports that cracks have been found in three ribs of the Orion scheduled for an unmanned test flight in 2014.

The cracks were discovered during a proof pressure test the week of Nov. 5. Proof testing, in which a pressure vessel is subject to stresses greater than those it is expected to encounter during routine use, is one of the many preflight tests NASA is performing on Orion to certify the craft is safe for astronauts, agency spokeswoman Rachel Kraft said.

“The cracks are in three adjacent, radial ribs of this integrally machined, aluminum bulkhead,” Kraft wrote in an email. “This hardware will be repaired and will not need to be remanufactured.”

On the Road Again

Launch Complex 39's Crawler-Transporter 2 has spent the summer in the Vehicle Assembly Building undergoing renovations for use with the Space Launch System. Earlier this month, NASA rolled out CT-2 to Pad 39A for testing.

CT-2 rolled back to its outdoor parking place today. I was on a tour bus that passed CT-2 along Saturn Causeway. Below are photos.

UPDATE November 22, 2012Florida Today has this article and a video about the crawler test.

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

Hangar of the Future

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

Florida Today reports that renovations are under way to convert the former Shuttle orbiter hangar #3 into the future factory floor for Boeing's CST-100.

“It’s the first real example of the transition of existing shuttle hardware and facilities that no longer have a purpose, and giving it new meaning and creating an environment where new jobs can be created and exploration can continue further,” said Dale Ketcham, chief of strategic alliances for Space Florida, the state aerospace economic development agency.

The renamed Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility, or C3PF, and other nearby facilities are being readied for The Boeing Co. to manufacture, assemble and test its CST-100 commercial crew capsules, work that could eventually create 550 jobs.

The Magical Mystery Tour

Click the arrow to watch the Sunita Williams video on YouTube.

NASA has posted on YouTube a 25-minute tour of the International Space Station, led by Expedition 33 commander Sunita Williams. Suni returned Sunday night to Earth after a four-month tour of duty aboard the ISS.

It's a semi-sequel to an April 2011 tour during Expedition 27 by Cady Coleman.

Click the arrow to watch the Cady Coleman video on

Look Out Below

A bunker under Launch Complex 39-A built for the Apollo era. Image source: posted an article November 19 about the bunkers built in the bottom of the two launch pads at Launch Complex 39 that were to be used if the Saturn V rocket blew up.

Picture the mighty Saturn 5 moon rocket, fueled and poised for blastoff from the Florida spaceport. But something goes wrong and everyone at the seaside complex must evacuate to safety. The answer that designers created for men to survive a detonating rocket was this protective cocoon built under the sloping northwest corner of both twin pads at Complex 39.

For the astronauts or crew support personnel at the top of the rocket, they would rely on a high-speed descent elevator to reach the base of the mobile platform. They join technicians working on the platform to jump down a chute on the north-side of the platform that connected to the teflon-lined slide that rapidly gets them underground.

That 200-foot slide empties into the aptly-named "rubber room" with its rubber floors meant to absorb the impact of the explosion occurring on the pad surface 40 feet above them. Hopping off the landing ramp, the people would scurry to their left into the fallout shelter, a domed room suspended on shock-dampening springs and sealed off with massive blast-proof doors. Inside, the chamber held 20 chairs, a toilet and carbon dioxide scrubbing equipment to keep the occupants alive until rescue teams arrive.

Click the above link to see more photos and read the article. One for the history books.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

More SpaceX Anomalies Documented

The SpaceX Dragon arrives at the Port of Los Angeles on October 30, 2012 after returning from the International Space Station. Image source: SpaceX.

Marcia Smith of reports that the first SpaceX cargo service flight in October to the International Space Station suffered several anomalies not yet reported by the media.

The overall success of SpaceX's first operational cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) last month overshadowed the fact that the mission also encountered several problems, including the failure of one of the nine Falcon 9 engines.

Speaking to the NASA Advisory Council's Human Exploration and Operations Committee today, ISS program manager Mike Suffredini said that Space X is still trying to determine what happened to the engine. NASA is participating in the investigation, he said, and a fault tree analysis is underway.

Several other problems also arose during the mission. While berthed to the ISS, one of the three computers on the Dragon spacecraft failed. Dragon can operate with only two computers, and SpaceX chose to proceed with the two functioning units rather than trying to fix the faulty unit while on orbit. According to Suffredini's charts, Flight Computer-B "de-synched" from the other two "due to a suspected radiation hit" and although it was rebooted successfully, it was "not resynched." Dragon experienced other anomalies because of radiation as well. One of three GPS units, the Propulsion and Trunk computers and Ethernet switch all experienced "suspected radiation hits," but all were recovered after a power cycle. Suffredini said that SpaceX is considering whether it needs to use radiation-hardened parts instead, but noted that "rad-hardened" computers, for example, not only are more expensive, but slower. He speculated that the company would ultimately decide to use rad-hardened components in the future unless it is cost-prohibitive.

Problems with one of the Draco thrusters and a loss of all three coolant pumps after splashdown also marred the mission. The Glacier freezer onboard Dragon used to return scientific samples from the ISS was at -65 degrees Centigrade (C) instead of the required -95 degrees C when it was accessed three hours after splashdown. Suffredini said that some of the samples "exceeded limits" (presumably temperature limits), but that the limits were conservative. How much of a problem the warmer temperature could cause apparently is not yet clear.

Smith quotes Suffredini, "If NASA is not sufficiently confident that the system works, it will not put its cargo aboard and 'they don't get paid if I don't fly.'"

The meeting's agenda is online but the meeting minutes are not.

UPDATE November 19, 2012A blog entry on the Aviation Week web site offers much more detailed insight into the radiation tolerance issue.

AWST: So, NASA does not require SpaceX to use radiation-hardened computer systems on the Dragon?

John Muratore: No, as a matter of fact NASA doesn't require it on their own systems, either. I spent 30 years at NASA and in the Air Force doing this kind of work. My last job was chief engineer of the shuttle program at NASA, and before that as shuttle flight director. I managed flight programs and built the mission control center that we use there today.

On the space station, some areas are using rad-hardened parts and other parts use COTS parts. Most of the control of the space station occurs through laptop computers which are not radiation hardened.

The radiation environment is something people have known about for a long time. It's part of the natural environment, and it varies. It matters what kind of mission you're doing. With Dragon we're doing low-Earth orbit, short-duration missions and that drives a lot of the architecture.

So NASA didn't require radiation-hardened parts. It did, however, require us to do a hard analysis of the radiation environment, the effect of the environment on the Dragon systems and how we'd respond to that. We not only produced that analysis, but it was reviewed by an independent panel of experts. So NASA had very strong requirements for us to understand the environment and have planned out our responses to the environment, and we've done that.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Glimpse at a Gateway

A NASA proposal would station a deep-space human outpost at the L-2 Lagrangian Point. Image source: Wikipedia.

I wrote on Saturday about a November 7 article reporting that NASA is close to announcing a next-generation program for constructing on outpost at a Lagrangian point 38,000 miles beyond the Moon.

Space Politics publisher Jeff Foust posted today on its sibling site The Space Review an article titled, “A Glimpse at a Gateway.” The core of the article reports on a presentation last weekend by NASA physicist Harold White at the SpaceVision 2012 conference in Buffalo.

(Dr. White drew attention last year with his presentation of how a Star Trek warp drive is theoretically possible.)

White is the Advanced Propulsion Theme Lead for a project at Johnson Space Center called the Gateway Exploration Architecture. His Buffalo presentation, which Foust attended, presented new details about possible L2 missions.

The architecture starts in 2019 with the launch of the core spacecraft—a generic service module plus a docking node similar to those on the US segment of the International Space Station—on a Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket to the Earth-Moon L2 point. “Then we would have a cadence of missions, about once every year,” White said, “increasing the mission duration and, in some cases, also increasing the capability of the platform by bringing up additional modules.”

The initial crewed mission would fly to the platform at L2 on an Orion spacecraft launched by an SLS. That mission would last about 30 days, in order to gain experience on operations there. Before departing, the platform would transfer from the L2 to the L1 point on the other side of the Moon. After the crew left, the station would then move into a “near rectilinear orbit”, a stretched version of the halo orbits used to stationkeep around Lagrange points that, in this case, gives long dwell times over the lunar poles.

That new orbit would be maintained for the second crewed mission in order to support telerobotic operations on the lunar surface. On that second mission, White said, a robotic spacecraft would collect lunar samples and transport them to the platform for return to Earth along with the crew.

Foust notes that White warned this is an early proposal that may change significantly. The slide-show presentation was marked, “Pre-Decisional Study Material.”

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Space, the Private Frontier

Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) wrapped up SpaceVision 2012 today in Buffalo.

(How's about Cape Canaveral in 2013?)

The Buffalo News had an article yesterday about the convention, titled "Space, the Private Frontier".

I found this passage the most interesting:

Many of these college students grew up hoping one day to work for NASA.

But with the space shuttle program history and budget cuts on the horizon, the future of the space program would appear bleak – right?

“It’s just the opposite,” said Rick Tumlinson, co-founder of Space Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit space advocacy group. “The end of the shuttle really was emblematic of the end of the old, slow and expensive way of doing things. What we’re about to see is the real opening of the frontier.”

And that means transitioning from a space program heavily funded by the government to one with growing involvement by private industry.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Far Side

A NASA promotional film simulating a Space Launch System launch at Kennedy Space Center. Video source: ReelNASA on YouTube.

A September 22 article by the Orlando Sentinel reporting that NASA is considering a new outpost at a Lagrangian point may be closer to reality. reported on November 7 that, "The new plans have probably already been cleared with the Obama Administration but have been kept under wraps in case Republican candidate Mitt Romney won Tuesday night's (Nov. 6) presidential election, said space policy expert John Logsdon, a professor emeritus at George Washington University.

"NASA has been evolving its thinking, and its latest charts have inserted a new element of cislunar/lunar gateway/Earth-moon L2 sort of stuff into the plan," Logsdon told (The Earth-moon L2 is a so-called libration point where the two bodies' gravitational pulls roughly balance out, allowing spacecraft to essentially park there.)

"They've been holding off announcing that until after the election," Logsdon added, noting that Romney had pledged to reassess and possibly revise NASA's missions and direction.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Four More Years

April 15, 2010 — President Obama delivers a space policy speech at Kennedy Space Center. Video source: NASA.

Most space advocates would like to see the next Administration give a Kennedy-esque Moon speech, double the NASA budget and build Starfleet.

That will not happen.

It wouldn't have happened if Mitt Romney defeated Barack Obama yesterday. Romney's campaign issued a position paper in September which stated, "A strong and successful NASA does not require more funding, it needs clearer priorities. Romney will ensure that NASA has practical and sustainable missions."

During the Florida Republican primary, Newt Gingrich proposed the eventual goal of a private sector initiative to build a lunar colony. Romney replied, "If I had a business executive come to me and say they wanted to spend a few hundred billion dollars to put a colony on the moon, I'd say, 'You're fired.'"

When he campaigned in Cape Canaveral during the primary, Romney declined the opportunity to articulate a specific policy. He'd just appoint a committee to study it.

Space was not a priority for Romney.

Obama's critics have said the same of him, but the record is quite the opposite.

The President came twice to Kennedy Space Center during this first term.

The first was on April 15, 2010, when he articulated his space policy in an event at the Operations & Checkout Building. Obama also toured the SpaceX facilities at the Cape's Launch Complex 40.

April 29, 2011 — President Obama and family are shown an orbiter's thermal protection component. Image source: NASA.

He returned in April 2011, hoping to attend the STS-134 launch. It was scrubbed, so his family met with the crew and toured an Orbiter Processing Facility.

Some of us — me included — have hoped for more, but given the politics of the times that was wishful thinking.

So it's on to another four years, and I'm going to indulge in a little prognostication.

NASA and the rest of the government are held hostage by the hanging sword of sequestration. Let's not forget that the Fiscal Year 2013 budget still hasn't been passed, even though FY13 began on October 1. The government is operating on a continuing resolution, essentially extending the last fiscal year's funding authorization until a new budget is passed.

Outside of space advocates and the space-industrial complex, no one thinks the NASA budget is a priority in these times.

Most likely by early 2013 all this will have been resolved, and NASA's funding for the remainder of the current fiscal year will be defined. Some cuts are likely — but let's be clear that budgets and funding authorizations are determined by Congress, not the President.

Most of the members of Congress responsible for NASA's current budget mess are still in office. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) retired. She was the prime proponent of the Space Launch System. Dubbed the "Senate Launch System" by its critics, the SLS has no missions or destinations. Created by Congress in 2010, its proponents argued that it retained a government-owned heavy-lift capability for NASA, even though NASA has no use for it.

Congress directed NASA to propose to Congress potential uses. In August, NASA delivered that report, but since then Congress has done nothing with it — as expected. It's possible the next Congressional session might act differently, but I think that unlikely.

SLS critics across the Internet have speculated that sequestration might lead to its demise, but I doubt it. SLS was created specifically to protect voters' jobs in the states and districts of those on the Congressional space subcommittees, and most of those representatives are still in place. With Senator Hutchison out of the way, that leaves Florida Senator Bill Nelson, who comfortably won re-election last night. So did Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, who directs government pork to ATK. Richard Shelby of Alabama is mid-term and therefore wasn't up for a vote.

The last Congress was more inclined to cut funding for commercial crew, which meant continued reliance upon the Russian Soyuz for International Space Station access. Hutchison peddled the notion that it was a choice between SLS and "NewSpace" although that false perception existed only in her head.

Commercial crew companies SpaceX, Boeing and Sierra Nevada have said publicly they hope to better NASA's estimate that commercial crew won't be certified until 2017. SpaceX would seem the best bet for a 2015 flight, although any accident with commercial cargo will cost them the lead.

Rather than looking at NASA's bottom line, I think space advocates need to look at the total amount spent on space access by both the government and the private sector. If you lump NASA's budget with NewSpace spending, then overall space funding is way up.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on November 2, as the orbiter Atlantis moves to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Image source: NASA.

As for NASA leadership, I expect that administrator Charles Bolden will retire. I have enormous respect for General Bolden. In my opinion, he's probably the best administrator NASA has had since James Webb. He is a kind, decent and honest person burdened with convincing Congressional porkers to change their ways. At age 66, four years of that nonsense is enough for anyone.

Internet rumor-mongers have claimed in recent days that Bolden had a fallout with Obama. I ignore Internet rumors, especially when their source can be traced back to the same rumor-monger.

Webb and John F. Kennedy didn't get along either. Kennedy found Webb personally annoying, as Webb tended to babble. In a November 21, 1962 meeting with Webb, the President snapped at the administrator, reminding him that the Moon program wasn't about exploration, it was about prestige. But Kennedy backed Webb in inter-agency battles and gave Webb the final authority in critical decisions for accomplishing the lunar landing.

I doubt that Deputy Administrator Lori Garver will be promoted. I knew Lori years ago, when she was executive director of the National Space Society. She is extremely personable, and I think she's an effective public face for NASA. But I doubt the NASA bureaucracy or Congress would respect a NASA administrator lacking a strong technical background.

My guess is that the Obama administration will look for another astronaut to run NASA, or if you want a dark horse someone from the NewSpace industry. Congress is unlikely to respect a NewSpace executive, so look for a former blue suit.

Shuttle-era astronaut Mark Kelly, commander of STS-134 and husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, could be a candidate. He recently published an opinion column endorsing the Obama space policy. But his priority is helping his wife with her recovery from the assassination attempt. If you read his book Gabby, he doesn't seem to have the patience for political shenanigans, although he's stepped forward in recent months to support Obama.

I'd like to see the President articulate a space vision that's based not on destination, but on popularizing access to space. I wrote about this in a September 18, 2012 column titled, "The New Economy". This vision articulates a space program based not on collecting Mars dust or more Moon rocks, but on growing the U.S. economy by exploiting low Earth orbit. As I wrote in that article, space will be the next Gold Rush, and the gold is the absence of gravity.

All the pieces are in place for that Gold Rush. It's a vision that doesn't require massive government spending, just forming partnerships with the private sector already determined to reach low Earth orbit. It appeals to most Americans who couldn't care less about space exploration, but do care about their pocketbook.

An artist's concept of a Bigelow Aerospace inflatable habitat. Image source: Bigelow Aerospace.

As a demonstration project, I'd like to see NASA acquire a Bigelow Aerospace BA-330 inflatable habitat for deployment at the International Space Station. These habitats have more than twice the volume of an ISS module with only slightly more mass. They can be launched on existing rockets — no SLS required. The habitat has been proposed for use on the Nautilus-X project and perhaps even for a lunar colony. Seven nations have signed memoranda to use these habitats, and Bigelow has agreements with SpaceX and Boeing to ferry their customers.

In my opinion, Bigelow is the key to the New Economy.

All this may be just more wishful thinking, but then we space advocates tend to do that a lot.

The next four years promise to be some of the most exciting in NASA history. The International Space Station will be fully operational. Commercial crew will fly, offering the ability to increase the station's resident population. Bigelow may have its first habitat in space. And separate from NASA, adventure tourism will begin, as Virgin Galactic and XCOR take to the skies.

We may not have more Moon rocks, but we'll have lots more people in space.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Atlantis Moves In

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is allowing guests to visit the orbiter Atlantis through November 11, when construction requires closing access to the public.

Here are photos of what you'll see the next week when you visit Atlantis.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Here There Be a Dragon

In addition to XCOR and Sierra Nevada, SpaceX also had a presence today at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. An engineering model of the Dragon capsule was on display in the historic Rocket Garden, near the access arm used by Apollo 11 astronauts in 1969. Next to it was an Apollo capsule boilerplate and a leftover Saturn 1B.

Below are photos.

UPDATE November 4, 2012 — A friend pointed out a portal on the side of the Dragon mockup, so I climbed up and managed to shoot this photo of the interior.

Turns out it's a model of the crew version of Dragon.

Perchance to Dream

Sierra Nevada Corporation had a one-third scale mockup Dream Chaser orbiter today at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Below are photos.

The Space Corvette Comes to KSCVC

On August 23, XCOR announced its interest in launching and landing at commercial spaceports in Florida, including Kennedy Space Center.

XCOR has brought its Lynx suborbital spacecraft mockup to the KSC Visitor Complex, where it will remain through the end of 2012.

Popular Mechanics has dubbed Lynx "the Space Corvette".

Below are photos I shot today of the Lynx on display in KSCVC's plaza near the gift shop and Orion capsule mockup.

UPDATE November 4, 2012 — Here are photos today inside the cockpit of the XCOR Lynx mockup at the Visitor Complex.