Friday, August 30, 2013

Drift or Sanity

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.”

— Attributed to Albert Einstein
but probably Rita Mae Brown

Above the fold on Page 1 of this morning's Florida Today is an article titled, “'Drift' is Plaguing NASA.”

Written by space reporter James Dean, the article is about opinions expressed by John Logsdon and Scott Pace in a teleconference with reporters about the direction of U.S. space policy. Logsdon is the former director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, and the author of John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon published in December 2010. Pace is the current director, and was NASA's Associate Administrator for Program Analysis and Evaluation in the mid-2000s when the Bush administration crafted the Constellation program. Pace chaired Mitt Romney's space policy advisory group during the 2012 presidential election.

Logsdon faults President Barack Obama for not inviting global space powers to coordinate their efforts, an idea Logsdon proposed in May 2011. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev floated the idea of a global space summit in April 2010, but he's out of power and Vladimir Putin seems to have different ideas about U.S.-Russian relations.

Pace is quoted as saying, “We're currently in a very, very fragile situation, particularly as it regards human spaceflight. It is not at all inevitable that human spaceflight will continue as we look in the years ahead.” He also claims that when the International Space Station is deorbited, “There will be an end to U.S. human spaceflight, and an end to a near-term government market for the commercial sectors.”

The fundamental flaw in Pace's thinking is that he equates NASA with U.S. human spaceflight.

The truth is that human spaceflight is about to take off — literally and metaphorically — here in the United States, thanks ironically to the commercial space programs begun while Pace was at NASA in the mid-2000s.

NASA's commercial cargo and crew programs are a true American success story.

SpaceX flies a 21st Century robotic spacecraft called Dragon to deliver cargo to the ISS, and intends to fly a crewed version within two to three years. Next month, Orbital Sciences will launch its Cygnus vehicle on a demonstration cargo run; if successful, they begin a contract for eight cargo deliveries.

Three companies — SpaceX, Boeing, and Sierra Nevada — are developing 21st Century craft for taking up to seven crew members into Low Earth Orbit. All three vehicles are well along to crewed test flights around 2015, assuming Congress doesn't cut the funding again.

The ISS, contrary to Pace's claim, is not the only market. Bigelow Aerospace is developing inflatable habitats for LEO deployment. A demonstration version will be attached to the ISS in 2015, and full-scale versions are scheduled for launch in 2017. Seven nations have signed memoranda to use the habitats. They will use one of the commercial crew vehicles to get there.

Pace also overlooks the adventure tourism market. Within the next two years, Virgin Galactic and XCOR will take crewed test flights beyond the international standard for space, 100 kilometers (62 miles). XCOR also plans to use the Lynx for satellite deployments, and their long-range goal is orbital flight to and from a runway.

U.S. human spaceflight is not adrift. It's simply changed course.

NASA was never intended to be Starfleet. If you read the original 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act, it simply directs the new agency to “ contribute materially to one or more” of a list of objectives. NASA wasn't to be the leader, only “contribute.” Nowhere in that list is a directive to launch people into space, or to send them to explore other worlds, or even to own its rockets.

That all changed when President Kennedy proposed the Apollo program. We've spent the last forty years trying to figure out what to do with all that Apollo infrastructure.

Apollo was a fluke of political currents that coalesced in 1961. Those circumstances ended long ago. They will not return.

Thinking that Congress will end its porking ways and somehow spend untold billions on an Apollo rerun is not realistic.

Under the current administration, NASA is returning to its originally intended purpose — an aerospace research and development agency. It partners with the private sector. It contributes materially by signing Space Act Agreements with these companies, helping them develop 21st Century technology that no other nation on Earth will have. Some partners receive awards for achieving milestones. Other agreements are advisory.

Perhaps the most significant will be the March 2013 unfunded SAA between NASA and Bigelow Aerospace which could lead to a commercial lunar program. The Golden Spike Company is already developing a commercial lunar lander.

If you look only at NASA's budget, then you might conclude that U.S. human spaceflight is “adrift.” But if you combine it with the billions being spent by the U.S. commercial space industry, then U.S. human spaceflight has a bright future.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What Goes Up ...

Click the arrow to watch the video on YouTube.

NASA posted on YouTube today a video of the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser's first captive-carry test conducted August 22 at the Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base.

According to the NASA press release:

During the two-hour test, an Erickson Air-Crane helicopter picked up a test version of the Dream Chaser flight vehicle and flew it over a dry lake bed at Edwards Air Force Base at a maximum altitude of approximately 12,400 feet. The spacecraft followed the projected path it will fly during future approach and landing tests at Dryden. Dream Chaser's flight computer, along with its guidance, navigation and control systems were tested. The landing gear and nose skid also were deployed during flight.

Unmanned free-flight tests are planned for this fall.

Fifteen Years and Counting

August 26, 1998 ... A Delta III explodes shortly after launch from Pad 17B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

August 26 of this week marked the fifteenth anniversary of the last rocket launch explosion at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

It was the maiden launch of the Boeing Delta III from Pad 17B on August 26, 1998. The payload was the Galaxy X commercial communications satellite.

According to Delta II & III Space Operations at Cape Canaveral, 1989-2009 by Mark C. Cleary:

Between 55 and 65 seconds into the flight, roll oscillations around 4 Hertz (4 Hz) prompted the launch vehicle's control system to gimbal its three swiveling GEMs to compensate for the oscillations until the hydraulic system ran out of fluid. At 65 seconds, the GEMs ceased to swivel, and two of them were stuck in positions that helped overturn the vehicle. The DELTA III's main engine gimbaled to correct the overturning movement, but, as it fought against its big, 13.1-foot-diameter fairing and its GEMs, it quickly lost the battle. The vehicle yawed about 35 degrees, and it began to disintegrate at an estimated altitude of 60,000 feet about 71 seconds after lift-off. In accordance with safety guidelines, the Mission Flight Control Officer on duty sent destruct functions 75 seconds into the flight, and that action completed the destruction of the vehicle. All debris fell into the Atlantic Ocean between 10 and 15 miles east of Cape Canaveral.

Amateur video of the Delta III launch and explosion.

Fourteen days earlier on August 12, a Titan IV-A blew up after launch from Pad 41. The payload was a satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office. It was the last Titan IV-A to be launched.

To quote from Mr. Cleary's Atlas and Titan Space Operations at Cape Canaveral, 1993-2006:

At T plus 39.463 seconds, an alarm issued — input voltage to the Missile Guidance Computer (MGC) had fallen, causing the start of a "power down" sequence for the MGC. At T plus 39.650 seconds, the MGC recovered power and reinitiated the timing reference signal to the IMU, but the IMU came back with a false indication, prompting the MGC to command the TITAN IVA into a full pitch down with a yaw to the right at T plus 39.818 seconds. In less than two seconds, the disaster ensued. When the TITAN IVA’s pitch drifted 13 degrees off the planned trajectory, the vehicle started coming apart. At T plus 41.545 seconds, SRM #1 separated from the core vehicle and triggered the Inadvertent Separation Destruct System (ISDS). The explosion destroyed the core, and SRM #2 was destroyed by its ISDS at T plus 41.709 seconds. At T plus 45.529 seconds, flight controllers sent command destruct signals to the vehicle to ensure its destruction. Based on telemetry, the TITAN IVA reached an altitude of 17,047 feet when it exploded. It was 4,422 feet downrange, and it was traveling at 1,007 feet per second when it disintegrated. Several thousand pieces of propellant and vehicle fragments scattered themselves over a five-mile by three-mile area, but no debris impacted land. No one was in any danger from the mishap, and a 20-knot wind took the cloud of unspent rocket propellant harmlessly out to sea.

August 12, 1998 ... A Titan IV-A is destroyed 45 seconds after launch from Launch Complex 41.

One of the more infamous explosions occurred more than a year earlier. On January 17, 1997, a Delta II exploded thirteen seconds after launch from Pad 17A. The payload was an Air Force NAVSTAR GPS IIR-1 satellite.

According to Mr. Cleary's Delta II & III history:

Approximately 7.2 seconds after ignition, GEM #2 developed a 71-inch-long split in its casing. The split grew to 254 inches before the motor failed catastrophically about five seconds later (e.g., T plus 12.6 seconds). The casing failure prompted the first stage automatic destruct system, which destroyed the vehicle's first stage. The second stage, third stage and payload remained largely intact.

Observing those developments, Mission Flight Control Officers (MFCOs) sent command destruct functions to control the disintegration of the vehicle at approximately T plus 22.3 seconds. Their actions destroyed the second and third stages, which, in turn, released the payload fairing and payload. Unfortunately, the payload and fairing exploded on impact with the ground.

According to McDonnell Douglas' subsequent analysis of the mishap, there were no telemetry or visual indications of the explosion prior to the actual event. Weather was not a factor, and the cause of the explosion was unknown. Regarding events immediately after the mishap, the vehicle was about 1,590 feet above the ground and 100 feet downrange when the explosion occurred. The detonation of GEM #2 destroyed a GEM next to it, and the automatic destruct system took out the remaining GEMs and the first stage. Between 2,000 and 2,500 "firebrands" were released by the exploding GEMs and another 2,100 fragments were released by the disintegrated vehicle.44 Many of those firebrands left craters, and four fragments (e.g., the payload/PAM-D motor and three large GEM pieces) caused secondary explosions estimated at between 1,250 and 2,000 pounds of TNT. Workers found small fragments and unburned pieces of solid propellant as far away as the USAF Space & Missile Museum and the north end of Complexes 31 and 32, but all debris fell well within the Flight Hazard Area, up to 6,500 feet from the launch pad. The toxic cloud from the explosion drifted quickly out to sea.

No one was killed or injured as a result of the accident, but 26 vehicles, including a tractor trailer and a golf cart, were totally destroyed. Forty-six other vehicles were damaged. Four modular trailers were destroyed, and seven others received some degree of damage. The launch pad was not seriously damaged, and the Mobile Service Tower and Umbilical Tower sustained no more damage than they experienced during a normal DELTA II launch. Private property damage (including the leased trailers and the vehicles mentioned above) came to approximately $429,000.

There were 73 people in the blockhouse when the accident occurred. A large piece from one of the GEMs landed on the northeast corner of the blockhouse. The explosion caused damage to the protective berm, but it did not penetrate the blockhouse.47 The occupants were shielded from the fire caused by the explosion, though an appreciable amount of smoke filtered in via a cableway. As one observer noted, the inside the blockhouse took on the appearance of a "smoky bar." All occupants donned breathing apparatus, and firefighters and emergency response teams escorted them out of the area. There were no injuries due to smoke inhalation.

A documentary showing the Delta II explosion. The producers unfortunately added a lot of phony sound effects.

The proximity of the blockhouse to the LC-17 pads led to the construction of the Delta Operations Building the year before just inside the station's Gate 1 to the southwest, but it was not yet operational at the time of the explosion.


An image of the RD-180 engines as displayed on the Russia Today web site. The caption: “A RD-180 rocket engine used in the first stages of American rockets Atlas-3 and Atlas-5 is displayed at the Glushko Energomash Research and Production Association, Khimki. (RIA Novosti / Sergey Pyatakov).”

When I was in college in the mid-1970s, I had delusions of joining the Foreign Service upon graduation.

My specific interest was Soviet foreign policy. I took two years of Russian language, an entire year of Russian history and every Russian-related foreign policy course my university offered.

Our resident Soviet foreign policy and history experts practiced Kremlinology, the fine art of divining the intrigues within the Soviet government. The Kremlin itself is an ancient Russian fortress that over the decades became the heart of Soviet political power. I remember one professor had on his office door an organization chart depicting officials within the Communist Party and Soviet government. When one disappeared from power, he'd put a big “X” through the man's portrait.

Key to Kremlinology was Pravda, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. (In Russian, pravda means “truth.”) Kremlinologists would parse the words in articles, attempting to read some deeper intent or message.

The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and Pravda along with it. Greek investors bought the paper, but after years of intrigue it is once again owned by the Russian Communist Party.

You can read Pravda online at There is an English-language version available on the home page.

The Communist Party is no longer in power, therefore Pravda is no longer a semi-official mouthpiece for the Russian government.

That role now appears to lie with RIA Novosti, which also has roots in Soviet history.

Novosti (Russian for “news”) was formed in 1961 as an alliance of nominally public Soviet news-gathering agencies. Think of it as an alliance of the Soviet equivalents of the Associated Press, United Press International, Reuters, etc.

RIA (Russian Information Agency) Novosti was formed in 1991 after the Soviet Union fell, an organ within the Press and Information Ministry of the new Russian Federation. Today it has its own television and radio stations, as well as the Russia Today web site at RIA Novosti receives government funding but claims to be independent of government policy.

Which leads us to an article that appeared yesterday on the Russia Today site titled, “Russian Rocket Engine Export Ban Could Halt U.S. Space Program.”

Russia’s Security Council is reportedly considering a ban on supplying the US with powerful RD-180 rocket engines for military communications satellites as Russia focuses on building its own new space launch center, Vostochny, in the Far East.

A ban on the rockets supply to the US heavy booster, Atlas V, which delivers weighty military communications satellites and deep space exploration vehicles into orbit, could impact NASA’s space programs — not just military satellite launches.

An unnamed representative of Russia’s Federal Space Agency told the Izvestia newspaper that the Security Council is reconsidering the role of Russia’s space industry in the American space exploration program, particularly the 2012 contract to deliver the US heavy-duty RD-180 rocket engines.

Previously, Moscow has not objected to the fact that America’s Atlas V boosters, rigged with Russian rocket engines, deliver advanced space armament systems into orbit. If a ban were to be put in place, however, engine delivery to the US would probably stop altogether, beginning in 2015.

Deeper in the article is a quote from Ivan Moiseyev, scientific head of the Space Policy Institute. “In my opinion, stopping the export of rocket engines to the US is stupid, as we would suffer financial and reputational losses. The US would not suffer much and would definitely continue with military space launches, while Russia would have to stop production of the RD-180, because no one else needs the RD-180 engine.”

The story has found some traction in the Twitterverse and space advocate web sites, speculating on the impacts from such a shutdown.

Allow me to indulge in my own amateur Kremlinology.

As Mr. Moiseyev noted, it would be глупый (stupid). The Russian space industry is in sad enough shape now without losing a major customer.

The relationship between the United States and Russia has chilled in recent months. My guess is this article reflects the Russian government sending a message to protest pending American intervention in Syria. The Assad regime has long been Russia's closest ally in the Middle East. A BBC News article quotes a tweet by a Russian deputy prime minister alleging that “the West is playing with the Islamic world like a monkey with a grenade.”

Russia's options, however, are limited. The U.S. and other Western powers know that Russia would exercise a veto at the United Nations Security Council to prevent any global condemnation. If the U.S. and its allies launch missile strikes as anticipated, there's little Russia can do other than perhaps expel the U.S. ambassador from Moscow.

A September 2010 Russia Today report on RD-180 engines being shipped to the United States. Click the arrow to watch on YouTube.

But there's another subtext with the RD-180 that deserves mention.

The rights to the RD-180 engine were acquired by General Dynamics (which was later purchased by Lockheed Martin) in the early 1990s after the Soviet Union fell, when the Russian economy was in tatters and Western capitalists swooped in to buy up assets. Pratt & Whitney would produce the engines, through a joint venture with the Russian company NPO Energomash. The limited liability company is called RD AMROSS. It was intended that one day the RD-180s would be built in the United States, but that never transpired. (My guess is it's cheaper for the capitalists to build them with the Russian labor pool.)

Orbital Sciences wants to buy the RD-180 engines for use on the Antares. That booster will launch Orbital's Cygnus commercial cargo vehicle next month from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Wallops, Virginia.

The Antares' engines are descended from another Soviet-era engine called the NK-33. Once intended for the N-1 moon rocket, they were produced then warehoused for decades. Thirty years later, they were sold to Aerojet General, which modified and renamed them AJ-26.

After four decades, the AJ-26s showed some corrosion, so they have undergone extensive testing, but NASA has made it clear they want another engine on future flights. Orbital is therefore interested in using the RD-180s.

United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, holds exclusive rights to the RD-180 in the United States. In June, Orbital sued ULA, claiming the partnership is in violation of anti-trust laws by monopolizing the domestic launch market.

That same month, Pratt & Whitney was acquired by Aerojet's parent company to form Aerojet Rocketdyne, pushing Orbital further into its corner.

The Boeing Delta IV uses the Rocketdyne RS-68 as its first stage engine. That's now owned by the newly formed Aerojet Rocketdyne merger. So no love there for Orbital.

The mergers have created quite the nice monopolistic market for the RD-180. Which might be why the Russian government thinks it somehow threatens the U.S. launch market by shutting down RD-180 production.

But they've overlooked one company — SpaceX.

Would SpaceX be willing to sell Merlin engines to its commercial cargo competitor?

In any case, it proves the wisdom of Elon Musk's decision years ago to internalize production of critical Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy parts, including the engines.

SpaceX is already bringing back to the United States commercial satellite launches that fled overseas years ago because the ULA monopoly drove up the price. One of those overseas competitors is Russia.

If Russia did manage somehow to adversely impact ULA operations, it would only drive more business to SpaceX.

As Mr. Moiseyev said ... глупый.

So enjoy the saber-rattling. But don't expect it to happen.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

CASIS in a Box

Click the arrow to watch astronaut Greg Johnson visit a Medina, Ohio high school in December 2011.

On the same day that NASA announced two-time Shuttle pilot Greg Johnson was leaving, the Center for Advancement of Science in Space announced that Johnson has been named their new executive director.

“As executive director, Col. Johnson will lead the CASIS organization to identify novel applications and new partnership opportunities advancing use of our nation's orbiting laboratory,” according to the CASIS press release.

Florida Today noted that Johnson will take over for an interim director in place for over a year after “its first leader resigned over differences with the board.”

As with all astronauts, Johnson has an impressive résumé, but his expertise appears to be aeronautical engineering. Early CASIS success stories have been in the biomedical sciences, and protein crystallization appears to be a priority. He does have a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Texas Austin.

Johnson is nicknamed “Box.” Multiple stories exist for how he got the nickname.

In the above video, Johnson says it came from entering restricted airspace near Nellis Air Force Base. Wikipedia has a different explanation, suggesting it came from an incident during Operation Desert Storm.

The choice of a recently retired astronaut is an intriguing choice. He delivered modules and supplies to the International Space Station, but did not serve on any six-month expeditions. It may be that direct ISS experience doesn't matter, but at least finally CASIS now has a leader in place.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Asteroid Initiative Update

Click the arrow to watch the video on YouTube.

NASA has released a new video and images depicting the proposed asteroid initiative submitted to Congress in April.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Speed Bump

Florida Today publishes a weekly editorial column titled, “Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down.”

In this week's column is this passage:

Thumbs down: To NASA — and Congress and the White House — for budget and scheduling news that makes us want to lie down in the middle of U.S. 1. Flat funding and technical challenges for the Orion crew capsule almost certainly mean delays of the next human spaceflight by the U.S. government, scheduled for 2021. Moreover, the U.S. House passed a budget that cuts NASA by 6 percent. Equipment that would enable Orion to land somewhere (like the moon) appears decades out.

Friday, August 16, 2013


Ridge Bowman of NASA's Office of the Inspector General delivers a summary of the Orion audit.

NASA's Office of the Inspector General issued a report on August 15 confirming what anyone paying attention has known for years.

The Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle is underfunded, overweight and has no purpose.

To quote from the summary on Page i (Page 3 of the PDF file):

Originally known as the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV), the MPCV is an outgrowth of NASA’s defunct Constellation Program. Following cancellation of the Constellation Program in February 2010, Congress passed the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 requiring the Agency to use, to the extent practicable, the existing contracts, investments, workforce, and capabilities of the CEV to develop the MPCV. The Act also set the goal of achieving full operational capability for the MPCV no later than December 2016.

The MPCV Program has seen its funding reduced from what the Program expected to receive during the Constellation Program, and now anticipates receiving a flat budget profile of approximately $1 billion per year for the remainder of the 2010s and into the 2020s. Given this budget profile, NASA is using an incremental development approach under which it allocates funding to the most critical systems necessary to achieve the next development milestone rather than developing multiple systems simultaneously as is common in major spacecraft programs. NASA officials expect this approach will allow the Program to make early progress and use test flights to reduce risk on several key systems. However, prior work from the NASA Office of Inspector General has shown that delaying critical development tasks increases the risk of future cost and schedule problems. Moreover, NASA Program officials admit that this incremental development approach is not ideal, but assert that it is the only feasible option in the current budget environment.

This shouldn't come as any surprise.

NASA warned in January 2011 that they wouldn't have the money to launch Orion atop its Space Launch System as ordered by Congress. “... [O]ur SLS studies have shown that while cost is not a major discriminator among the design options studied, none of the design options studied thus far appeared to be affordable in our present fiscal conditions, based upon existing cost models, historical data, and traditional acquisition approaches.”

Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), architects of the Space Launch System, reacted angrily.

According to the January 11, 2011 Orlando Sentinel:

“[T]he production of a heavy-lift rocket and capsule is not optional. It's the law,” they said. “NASA must use its decades of space know-how and billions of dollars in previous investments to come up with a concept that works. We believe it can be done affordably and efficiently — and, it must be a priority.”

Nelson himself issued a two-sentence statement: “I talked to [NASA Administrator] Charlie Bolden yesterday and told him he has to follow the law, which requires a new rocket by 2016. And, NASA has to do it within the budget the law requires.”

Seven months later, an independent analysis by Booz Allen Hamilton concluded:

Due to unjustified, sometimes substantial, assumed future cost savings; the [Independent Cost Assessment] Team views each Program’s estimate as optimistic. Reserve levels were not based on a quantitative risk analysis and do not cover each Program’s Protect Scenario. Furthermore, each Protect Scenario excludes estimating uncertainty and unknown-unknown risks, which history indicates are major sources of cost growth on programs. Due to procurement of items still in development and large cost risks in the out years, NASA cannot have full confidence in the estimates for long-term planning.

Time and again, Congress has been told over the years that underfunding NASA would lead to cost overruns, delays and failures, but Congress fails to listen. As I wrote in December 2012, a number of independent entities have warned Congress that they were ordering NASA to perform too many tasks with too few dollars.

But Congress ignores them, ordering NASA to build a “monster rocket” (to use Nelson's pet phrase for SLS) without adequate funding. When NASA points out the funding is inadequate, Congress orders them to ignore the lack of funding.

It's an appalling failure of leadership that, at other times in this nation's history, might get them voted out of office. But we seem not to live in one of those eras.

A NASA animation of the Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 scheduled for September 2014.

According to the new OIG report:

  • “[T]est dates have slipped 4 years on the Ascent Abort-2 test and 9 months on the Exploration Flight Test-1. NASA has also delayed development of many of the life support systems required for crewed missions.”
  • “[U]nless NASA begins a program to develop landers and surface systems, NASA astronauts will be limited to orbital missions using the MPCV. Under the current budget environment, it appears unlikely that NASA will obtain significant funding to begin development of this additional exploration hardware, thereby delaying such development into the 2020s. Given the time and money necessary to develop landers and associated systems, it is unlikely that NASA would be able to conduct any surface exploration missions until the late 2020s at the earliest.”
  • “The $3.6 billion received by the MPCV Program [during Fiscal Years 2011 through 2013] was a reduction of over $1.8 billion or 34 percent of the funding NASA expected to receive in the last CEV budget request submitted prior to cancellation of the Constellation Program. Moreover, the MPCV Program anticipates a flat budget profile of approximately $1 billion per year for the remainder of the decade and into the 2020s. Assuming this budget profile and current development schedule, NASA plans to spend approximately $16.5 billion developing its crew vehicle by the time of the first crewed flight currently planned for 2021.”
  • “In addition, the Program faces significant technical challenges, including heat shield issues, delays in producing engineering drawings, and concerns about vehicle weight.”

In the “Management Action” section, the OIG concludes:

We believe it vital that Congress and the public recognize that incremental spacecraft development is not an optimal way to sustain a human space program.

Good luck with that.

A NASA animation showing the first uncrewed Space Launch System launch in late 2017. Don't count on seeing this for real.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

SpaceX Taken Aside

Click the arrow to watch the video on YouTube. Video source: SpaceX.

SpaceX released yesterday a video of a recent Grasshopper test flight.

According to Alan Boyle of NBC News:

SpaceX's Grasshopper rocket demonstrates in a new video how future launch vehicles may well lift off, do their job and then maneuver themselves for a precision landing.

During Tuesday's test, the modified Falcon 9 test rig blasted off from its Texas launch pad and rose to a height of 250 meters (820 feet) with a 100-meter (330-foot) lateral maneuver.

The rocket hovered for some moments, then swung back and made a rapid, controlled descent onto the pad.

Lots of Cape Canaveral rockets did this in the 1950s and 1960s, only it wasn't intentional . . .

UPDATE August 16, 2013 — SpaceX posted this video of the launch from a different angle, showing cattle stampeding in reaction to the launch.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Vision Thing

Click the arrow to watch NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver address NewSpace 2013 on July 26, 2013.

Two columns this week lamented the supposed lack of space visionaries.

In his Sunday weekly space column, Florida Today journalist John Kelly wrote that “NASA needs some of what Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Sir Richard Branson bring to the table: gutsy, all-in leadership.”

NASA needs a leader who will say what he or she thinks, do what is right, and not worry about squishing toes . . .

They need a bigger-than-life, bold and courageous thinker who is willing to stop trying to “get by” with stagnant budgets and keeping a bunch of outmoded legacy programs on life support.

NASA needs someone who starts the game over. It needs someone who can take the billions the space agency gets, set audacious goals and priorities, and build a team of leaders to get after it.

Author Edward Hujsak published a similar column Monday, labelling NASA astronauts a bunch of hitchhikers, which he claims is an “embarrassment.”

The U.S. manned space program has lost both vitality and direction. It needs a new compass. The administrators of human activity in space deserve criticism, even a measure of excoriation for poor performance. We can do better.

In my opinion, both columnists miss the point, although John is closer to what I think is the answer.

For the last half-century, our cultural fantasy is that one day President John F. Kennedy strode down to the floor of Congress and, feeling his Kennedyesque vigor, declared we would put a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s. If only someone would do that again, the 535 members of Congress would magically arise as one and unanimously vote to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on collecting more Moon rocks.

As with many myths, the truth was lost somewhere along the way.

As I wrote on July 29, NASA was never intended to be Starfleet.

NASA was created in 1958 as a political overreaction to a perceived military threat from the Soviet Union. The Republican Eisenhower administration was in the White House, but the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. When the Soviets launched the first Sputniks in late 1957 as part of the International Geophysical Year, it was an easy opportunity for the Democrats to ratchet up the political hysteria. Among those were Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson (D-TX) and ambitious young Senator John F. Kennedy (D-MA).

Kennedy alleged that a “missile gap” existed, defined as the Soviets being able to lift heavier payloads than the United States. The fact of the matter was that the U.S. had a significant scientific and military advantage, but the Eisenhower administration couldn't reveal all in public as it would give away military secrets. Kennedy repeated the claim throughout the 1960 presidential election.

Once in office, he was briefed by military personnel who told him he was totally wrong, but of course he wouldn't admit that publicly.

On April 12, 1961, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space, and once again the hysteria arose. Five days later, the Bay of Bigs invasion began, which failed miserably. It was Sputnik all over again.

Alan Shepard became the first American in space on May 5, 1961. With a success fresh in the public's mind, Kennedy had the political opportunity to challenge the Soviets to a space race. Destination: Moon.

The definitive work on this period is John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon by John M. Logsdon. I reviewed his book in March 2011.

The legendary speech to Congress was actually a rather boring speech listing a number of projects he proposed to show American might in the face of Soviet triumphs, as well as a stimulus for a mild recession. The famous Moon passage was only a few paragraphs near the end of the speech.

The more lyrical “Not because it is easy, but because it is hard” speech was at Rice University on September 12, 1962. The two speeches are often confused, but they were at different times of political tension. By September 1962, the immediate embarrassment had receded, and Kennedy was having second thoughts about the Moon program as its budget became, well, astronomical. Rice also happened to be in the district of Rep. Albert Thomas (D-TX), who chaired the House Appropriations subcommittee responsible for NASA's budget. I have to wonder how much influence Thomas' re-election campaign might have had on Kennedy's presence in Houston, and if they felt it was necessary for Kennedy to justify the expense. We'll never know.

Click the arrow to watch President John F. Kennedy address the United Nations on September 20, 1963.

One year and eight days later, Kennedy addressed the United Nations to propose that the U.S. and U.S.S.R. combine their space programs. What had changed in the last year? Not just the bloated NASA budget, but also both nations had survived the Cuban Missile Crisis.

As Logsdon wrote in his book, Kennedy commissioned three different reviews in 1963 questioning whether the Moon program was worth the cost. The third review was under way when he addressed the U.N. — and was delivered to the White House a week after his assassination.

It would have been politically impossible for Johnson, elevated to President, to have pulled the plug on Kennedy's iconic propaganda program. So it continued, although the report reminded everyone Apollo was primarily for prestige, not for the sake of exploration or any significant scientific research.

So here we are fifty years later, with an Apollo-era bureaucracy of space centers scattered across the nation, littered with Apollo-era infrastructure, and NASA unable to do anything about it because those centers are represented by members of Congress who zealously protect their pork.

I respectfully disagree with John Kelly's assumption that anyone appointed to lead NASA can change Congress' porking ways. The NASA Administrator is selected by the President, but reviewed and approved by Congress. I can't imagine Congress giving the okay to an administrator who says centers have to close and money will be transferred from their districts.

To further the point, earlier this year members of Congress proposed a bill transferring control of NASA from the President to Congress. Among them were Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) and Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), representing districts with space centers. The bill failed in the last session and looks doomed for this one too, but it demonstrates a total disinterest within Congress to tolerate “the vision thing,” a phrase reportedly coined by George H.W. Bush in 1987.

In his column, John Kelly lamented the pending departure of NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver. Kelly wrote, “She was one of the people trying to break NASA’s mold, change it from within, and champion innovative projects such as the commercial cargo and crew ventures.”

But the reason for the commercial programs was specifically to liberate NASA from the very problem that has plagued it for a half-century.

“NewSpace,” as it's come to be known, didn't begin with Garver or the Obama administration. It began with the George W. Bush administration in 2004, in the wake of the Columbia accident.

As I wrote on March 29, the Aldridge Commission report in June 2004 called for the creation of a “robust space industry” to liberate space from government.

The Commission finds that sustaining the long-term exploration of the solar system requires a robust space industry that will contribute to national economic growth, produce new products through the creation of new knowledge, and lead the world in invention and innovation. The space industry will become a national treasure.

The report called for “the breaking down of barriers to commercial and entrepreneurial activities in space, as well as a cultural shift towards encouraging and incentivizing more private sector business in space. Such a change in both perspective and posture is essential if we are to develop a broad-based, societal change in space business.”

The commission noted that “It is the stated policy of the act creating and enabling NASA that it encourage and nurture private sector space.”

Almost ten years later, the first commercial cargo vehicle is flying. The SpaceX Dragon, the first 21st Century spacecraft and a robotic one at that, has been to the ISS three times, with a fourth visit scheduled in December. A second vehicle, the Orbital Sciences Cygnus, is scheduled for its demonstration flight in September.

As I wrote on August 9, three commercial crew vehicles are on the verge of human test flights. NASA astronauts have sat in all three vehicles for fit checks or simulation runs. Unless Congress cuts the program's funding yet again, test flights with people may be within the next two years.

Click the arrow to watch the NASA fit check of the Boeing CST-100 spacecraft.

So that's five brand new American spacecraft, three capable of carrying people, all developed within about ten years. Never has the U.S. space program in its half-century developed so many spacecraft with so few dollars. And that doesn't include Bigelow Aerospace, developing a private space station in partnership with SpaceX and Boeing. Bigelow recently signed an agreement with NASA that could lead to commercial lunar colonies and commercial operation of the ISS.

Edward Hujsak seems to be totally unaware of any of this.

Now the nation with the most muscle in space endeavors finds itself in the hitchhiker’s position, forced to rely on another country to lift its astronauts into orbit. Granted, the U.S. ponies up $70 million a seat, but that only heightens the embarrassment. Not only that, but it admits to a willingness to accept a transport method that has not advanced since the 1960s — sealing astronauts inside a vessel and hoping for the best, the same as inanimate cargo. Little can now be said in admiration of NASA regarding its current plans to adopt the same methods in the future.

Does NewSpace sound like “The U.S. manned space program has lost both vitality and direction,” as Hujsak wrote?

The vision, the vitality and direction were on display for all to see last month at the NewSpace 2013 conference in the Silicon Valley. It was organized by the Space Frontier Foundation. According to their web site:

We are transforming space from a government-owned bureaucratic program into a dynamic and inclusive frontier open to people. We are determined to convert the image held by many young people that the future will be worse than the present, and we reject the idea that the world’s greatest moments are in its past.

Their keynote speaker was Lori Garver, who announced two weeks later that she would leave NASA in early September for a management position with the Air Line Pilots Association.

Only Lori can tell us if this was intended to be her farewell speech, but she was unusually blunt for a government agency executive who has to beg Congress for scraps.

So what's the challenge? It's still gonna be a little too much about the pork. We definitely know that we have self-interested constituencies in everything we do. It's government dollars, it's what it's about.

That's not going to change, and the sooner space advocates accept it then the better for all concerned.

Lori Garver is the only space advocate I can think of who made the transition from activism (as the second executive director of the National Space Society) to a leadership position in NASA. She was admired by some (including me) and loathed by others, in particular those with a vested interest in OldSpace.

In retrospect, it's astonishing that she was able to take a nearly forgotten Bush-era program and prime it into a wave of next-generation space technology that will liberate space from the clutches of Congress. We're not quite there, as some in Congress still scheme to defund commercial crew, but the metaphorical genie is out of the bottle and NewSpace's triumph is inevitable.

Within the next year or two, Virgin Galactic should achieve powered suborbital space flight and begin commercial space tourism. That historic first flight will signal the death of OldSpace. No longer will you have to be a government employee to go into space.

America's space program is not NASA. America's space program is the NewSpace crowd, guided and sheparded by an agency born in 1958 to be an aerospace research and development agency.

The visionaries are all around us. We just need to let NASA return to being NASA.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Meanwhile, at Stratolaunch ...

Click the arrow to watch a Stratolaunch simulation on YouTube.

Curious to see if there was anything new on Stratolaunch, I checked their web site and found they'd posted on YouTube in June an updated simulation video, which is above.

A December 2012 Florida Today article reported that Stratolaunch could be at Kennedy Space Center as soon as 2017 for test flights.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Commercial Crew Suits Up

The interior of the Boeing CST-100 spacecraft. Click here to see a larger version. Image source: NASA.

Wearing a Space Shuttle-era ACES suit, astronauts Randy Bresnik and Serena Aunon climbed into a mockup of the Boeing CST-100 spacecraft recently in Houston as part of a fit check evaluation.

According to a July 22 NASA article, the capsule uses “tablet technology” in place of a traditional console.

Chris Fergsuon, STS-135 commander and now Boeing's Director of Crew and Mission Operations, said:

“What you're not going to find is 1,100 or 1,600 switches,” said Ferguson. “When these guys go up in this, their primary mission is not to fly this spacecraft, their primary mission is to go to the space station for six months. So we don't want to burden them with an inordinate amount of training to fly this vehicle. We want it to be intuitive.”

Bigelow Aerospace, more famous for its inflatable habitats, helped build the capsule's outer shell. A 2010 promotional video showed the CST-100 docking at the Bigelow space station projected for the end of this decade.

Watch the 2010 Boeing CST-100 promotional video.

According to, “Boeing turned to Bigelow Aerospace to construct the outer shell of the 14.8-foot-wide (4.5 meters) model, but outfitted most of the interior itself.”

The surprisingly-spacious module has room for two rows of crew seats and cargo storage, including a freezer used to transport science experiments to and from the station. In its current configuration, the capsule seats five, trading two additional seats for more cargo room.

The flight controls, which are mounted on a console that is suspended above the front row seats, employs shuttle-era switches and hand controllers, augmented by touch-panel digital displays.

A window located forward of the control console offers the pilots a view, with additional portal windows to either side. A side hatch allows entry and exit into the cabin, while an overhead hatch leads into the space station after docking.

A NASA video reporting on the CST-100 fit check.

The crewed version of the SpaceX Dragon underwent a similar evaluation in March 2012. They completed their crew accomodations milestone two months later.

NASA astronauts and others pose inside a mockup of the crewed Dragon vehicle in March 2012. Image source: NASA.

As for Sierra Nevada, astronauts flew a Dream Chaser simulator in May 2013 at the Langley Research Center.

Watch a NASA video on the Dream Chaser simulator flights.

Zero "Gravity"

Click the arrow to watch on YouTube an extended trailer for the movie “Gravity.”

What's wrong with this picture?

This isn't the “official” trailer for Gravity, coming in October from Warner Bros. It was cobbled together by the YouTube channel MovieClips Trailers from various trailer and teaser releases promoting the film.

Click here for the film's official web site.

You can't judge a book by its cover, nor can you judge a movie by its trailer.

But there is so much stupidity and inaccuracy in these five minutes that I can't imagine myself going to see it.

This is what it looks like when you really have a spacewalk emergency:

Luca Parmitano aborts a spacewalk due to water in his helmet.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Boeing Delta IV Launches WGS 6

Click the arrow to watch my video of the WGS 6 launch on YouTube.

I went out to NASA Causeway to film last night's launch of the sixth Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS 6) atop a Boeing Delta IV at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Launch Complex 37.

In the past, this has never been a problem. Anyone with a badge could watch from there. This time, however, a diligent security officer was racing up and down the causeway, chasing away anyone who wasn't media. He claimed it was due to wind direction.

So I opted for Plan B, going to Static Test Road which is about three miles due west of LC-37.

While we waited, I had the pleasure of standing near someone who was telling everyone that Elon Musk and Barack Obama are secretly in business together. “Everyone here knows it,” he claimed. He explained this is why Obama is “giving” Kennedy Space Center's 39A to SpaceX. I was tempted to point out (1) the Bush administration recruited Musk and gave SpaceX a commercial cargo contract in 2006, and (2) he's an idiot, but decided to focus on the work at hand.

(Based on the hatred spewing from his mouth for all things SpaceX, I got the impression he's a United Launch Alliance employee.)

In the video, you'll see launch, solid rocket booster jettison, nose cone separation, and second stage ignition.

Click here to read Todd Halvorson's report for Florida Today.

Click the arrow to watch the United Launch Alliance video of the launch. They have nicer, but more expensive, camera equipment.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Lori Garver Leaving NASA

June 2, 1993 ... National Space Society Executive Director Lori Garver appears on C-SPAN to debate Space Station Freedom.

NASA Watch broke the news on August 5 that Deputy Administrator Lori Garver is leaving NASA.

Various media, including Florida Today, confirmed the report today.

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and OSTP Director John Holdren issued statements today thanking Garver for her service.

According to Space News, Garver will take “the top staff job at the Washington-based Air Line Pilots Association.” Her final day at NASA is September 6.

Lori was one of the rare few to make the leap from space advocacy to space policymaking. I knew her when she was the Executive Director of the National Space Society. She left in 1998 to head the space policy office at NASA under administrator Dan Goldin.

Once the Bush administration took office in 2001, Garver went to the private sector as an aerospace management consultant. She attempted to raise money to fly herself to the International Space Station as the “AstroMom” but lost out to pop star Lance Bass.

Over the next decade, Garver consulted for various Democratic presidential candidates, including John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

How much Garver contributed to the Obama administration's space policy will be determined by future historians, but I suspect those historians will credit her with much of the organizational policy and cultural changes that attempted to end decades of bureaucratic inertia marked by two Shuttle orbiter and crew losses, a fundamental design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope, a space station delivered years late and billions over budget, and a boondoggle Constellation program that claimed to shoot for the Moon but in reality was a jobs program for the districts and states of key members of Congress.

During the last four years, NASA ended Constellation to save the International Space Station. The commercial cargo program was accelerated, and the commercial crew program funded to close the “gap” during which NASA would rely on Russia for ISS access. The commercial program began in 2004 under the Bush administration, but it was the Obama administration that made it a priority.

Congress underfunded commercial crew for years, extending NASA's reliance on Russia, and imposed the Space Launch System upon NASA to continue protecting “OldSpace” jobs. For the last three years, key people on Capitol Hill threatened to strangle commercial crew in the crib if SLS wasn't given highest priority — never mind that Congress to this day still hasn't given NASA a use for it. It was a frustrating compromise that Bolden and Garver accepted to save “NewSpace.”

Under Garver, NASA pursues unfunded Space Act Agreements with NewSpace companies to help the industry stand on its own. Perhaps the most historic will be the one quietly signed in March. NASA will partner with Bigelow Aerospace to “facilitate and explore, in a manner that meets both national and commercial goals and objectives, joint public/private arrangements that would continue to build the ability for humans to live and work in space through the expansion of exploration capabilities beyond low Earth orbit.” That implies a commercial lunar program, the next logical step beyond commercial cargo and crew. Congress may not fund a lunar landing mission, but the private sector might if NASA and enough other clients come forward.

NASA has embraced social media, with a presence on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other online services. NASA now hosts tweet-ups for Twitter users who win online contests; they get a behind-the-scenes look at space center operations and VIP treatment at launches. The mainstream media may ignore NASA, but under Garver NASA reaches out directly to space advocates through the Internet.

In one of her final public appearances, Lori spoke at last month's NewSpace 2013 hosted by the Space Frontier Foundation. In her remarks (which so far haven't surfaced in an online recording), Garver referred to unnamed key members of Congress who try to block space progress to protect “pork” — she used that word — for their districts and states.

UPDATE August 11, 2013 — Lori Garver's keynote speech at NewSpace 2013 is now on YouTube:

Click the arrow to watch Lori Garver's speech.

I was shocked that she was so blunt. The cardinal rule in politics is to never bite the hand that feeds you. But it may have been that Lori already had her departure planned, and found herself in a friendly forum where she could say what she's been thinking all these years.

Garver appeared on C-SPAN over the years in various capacities. I've included at the top and bottom of this article two appearances from the 1990s.

And if by chance Lori reads this ... I sure hope you're going to write a tell-all book so the public knows just how badly Congress screws up America's space program.

October 25, 1998 ... NASA Office of Policy & Plans Acting Associate Administrator Lori Garver appears on C-SPAN to discuss John Glenn's Space Shuttle flight.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Plot Thickens

NASA commercial crew program manager Ed Mango today at the commercial crew summit conference at Kennedy Space Center. Image source: NASA.

Back on July 23, I wrote about the competition between SpaceX and Blue Origin for the future of Kennedy Space Center's historic launch pad 39A.

In an updated version of his July 23 article, NBC News space reporter Alan Boyle included this quote from a SpaceX representative about their plans for 39A:

SpaceX spokeswoman Christina Ra told NBC News that 39A wouldn't take the place of a future commercial launch facility. "SpaceX would focus on our commercial satellite customers with 39A but could launch any mission from our East Coast manifest. We could also use it for launching crew and Falcon Heavy,” Ra said in an email.

That last sentence was a curious clarification, because it asserted that SpaceX might use 39A for any vehicle in their fleet.

Two articles in the August 1 Florida Today updated the competition for 39A.

In an article about comments by NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, journalist James Dean reported that NASA was also looking for a secondary tenant at neighboring 39B, along with the agency's Space Launch System.

Bolden said NASA had talked to United Launch Alliance about launching crews from pad 39B instead of modifying its existing Atlas V launch pad at the Cape.

He wasn’t sure if a final decision had been made.

“We would like to have multiple vehicles (there),” he said. “Interestingly, no one yet has expressed a desire to take us up on that offer.”

This is intriguing.

Would the chances for the commercial crew bids by ULA partners Boeing and Sierra Nevada be improved if they agree to go to 39B? That might explain why SpaceX clarified their position to indicate they would launch their commercial crew vehicles from 39A.

All three companies anticipate flying to the Bigelow Aerospace habitats later in the decade, so their business model doesn't rely solely on NASA. But it's interesting that they would all agree to consider assuming the burden for legacy equipment designed fifty years ago. That includes not just 39A, but implicitly the Vehicle Assembly Building's High Bay 1, a transporter-crawler with a mobile launch platform, and a Launch Control Center firing room.

It might also explain why ULA wrote the letter in support of Blue Origin's bid to be the manager of a multi-user 39A. If ULA is at 39B, they wouldn't want to see SpaceX at 39A. Would Ford want to see a Chevrolet dealership move in next door?

Politicians Frank Wolf and Robert Aderholt, both members of Congress with ties to ULA partners Boeing and Lockheed Martin, wrote a letter to Bolden opposing the lease of 39A to one company. They implicitly endorsed the Blue Origin multi-user bid backed by ULA.

It appears that ULA, well versed in D.C. political lobbying, is pulling out all the stops to prevent SpaceX from taking over 39A.

It may be that ULA never goes to 39B, nor cares if Blue Origin ever launches even a bottle rocket off 39A. SpaceX is becoming the commercial launch industry's juggernaut. In addition to all their other plans, SpaceX is preparing to send their reusable Falcon-9 rocket technology to Las Cruces, New Mexico for test flights. Blue Origin is also working on reusable rockets, but seems years away from any flights at KSC.

So it appears that ULA and Blue Origin have become strange bedfellows, because they have a common enemy in SpaceX.

Space Florida sent a letter July 31 to Bolden criticizing efforts by Wolf and Aderholt. President and CEO Frank DiBello wrote:

Recently, key members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Commerce, Justice and Science appear to have inserted themselves into a competitive process already underway, and moreover, are taking the role of advocating the merits, feasibility and timeliness of a multi-use launch pad where deconfliction around launch may be problematic to meet multiple customer requirements. This is a concept that has been proposed for decades and yet has never been implemented successfully by the government, much less the more cost conscious and deeply competitive private sector. There are many valid technical reasons for this, but the impact of this attempt to influence the ongoing process, is to slow the process towards turnover of this excess asset to commercial operators that are attempting to be market responsive in a timely and cost-competitive way.

For the uninitiated, Space Florida is a state agency created “for the purposes of fostering the growth and development of a sustainable and world-leading space industry in Florida,” according to its web site.

DiBello continued:

... [M]uch of the motivation and rationale for this intrusion finds its origins in launch vehicle communities that will stand to benefit from slowing the rapid progress that the commercial space industry is making. This at the same time as several other Congressional voices are actively seeking to transfer the budget responsibility for the development the ground support infrastructure at KSC to the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Alabama. It is this budget line that also supports NASA efforts to further accommodate the growth of the nation’s commercial space activity, which is primarily centered at KSC. This too would constitute a step backward for NASA and this nation’s commercial space competitiveness.

Huntsville neighbors Aderholt's district. Boeing and Lockheed Martin have contracts at Marshall.

The second article in today's paper reported the commercial crew summit conference scheduled for this morning at Kennedy Space Center. The meeting was to outline for the three remaining competitors the final certification process beginning later this year.

The article noted, “The draft proposal leaves open the possibility that extra seats on the flights could be sold to space tourists.” Another interesting notion. Who would sell the seats? Who would train the tourists? Where would they stay on the ISS? Russia has flown tourists on the Soyuz to their ISS modules through Space Adventures.

The Bigelow habitats will have space tourists along with customers from nations and private industry. So commercial crew flights with tourists could be considered pathfinder technology for Bigelow.

UPDATE August 2, 2013 — Reading back through my archives, I found this September 2010 article about Boeing and Space Adventures agreeing to market space tourism and other commercial flights to non-governmental passengers aboard the CST-100.

Perhaps that's the space tourism component referenced in yesterday's draft proposal. Boeing (and others) could sell rides aboard the vehicles to help defray operational costs to the ISS. The customers might not stay long, just go along for the ride.

This evening, Florida Today reported on the summit's first day.

Watch the video that opened today's commercial crew summit. Video source: NASA.

From Alan Shepard’s Redstone rocket and Freedom 7 capsule through the space shuttle, a video showed the first launches of each American spacecraft that has carried people into orbit.

Ed Mango, head of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, told an industry audience Thursday at Kennedy Space Center that one of their vehicles would someday be added to that highlight reel.

“The people in this room . . . are going to put the next U.S. vehicle into low Earth orbit,” he said, prompting applause.

A run at that achievement will start with the hefty contract NASA plans to award next July to one or more companies.

Called the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contract, it will include orders for at least two flights of four-person crews to the International Space Station, the first of which NASA hopes to fly by late 2017.

Those will be preceded by at least one crewed test flight to the station, leading to final certification of the systems as safe enough to fly crews to the ISS.

The NASA press release about today's meeting opens with this quote:

“No one person, no one company, no one government agency, has a monopoly on the competence, the missions, or the requirements for the space program.”

— Lyndon B. Johnson, 36th President of the United States

It's a shame no one thought years ago to turn this competition into a reality show. I find out quite entertaining.