OneWeb has been scouting a possible location on the Space Coast. The company hasn’t officially announced a Florida location yet, but its website shows job postings in Melbourne, about 40 miles south of Kennedy Space Center — a clear sign the company has plans for the region.
OneWeb’s arrival would add to a recent string of good news for Central Florida's Space Coast, which last year saw space company Blue Origin announce a new rocket-engine testing facility at Cape Canaveral.
Space Florida is about to award a major new contract to build a new 120,000-square-foot spacecraft-assembly building at Kennedy Space Center. Although Space Florida would not confirm the tenant, among many possibilities, one of the most likely occupants is OneWeb, which did not return requests for comment.
The article included this excerpt from a Space Florida document showing a “Spacecraft Integration Facility” at Exploration Park near KSC.
The Orlando Sentinel speculated the site might be for OneWeb, but other commercial suitors abound, including Blue Origin and Sierra Nevada.
Blue Origin already has announced intentions to build at Exploration Park and launch from the Cape's Complex 36.
Sierra Nevada recently won a NASA commercial cargo award for its Dream Chaser spaceplane. Sierra Nevada announced in January 2014 it intended to use KSC's Operations & Checkout facility for Dream Chaser, but that was before the company lost its commercial crew bid.
OneWeb announced in June 2015 that its microsats would be deployed using both Russian Soyuz rockets and a Virgin Galactic LauncherOne booster deployed beneath the left wing of a 747.
Both KSC's former Shuttle runway and the Orlando Melbourne International Airport can handle 747 takeoffs and landings.
Visitors to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida will soon be able to experience what it's like to walk on Mars, thanks to a new partnership with Microsoft. Using Microsoft's HoloLens headsets, the public will be able to take tours of parts of the Red Planet this summer, guided by astronaut great Buzz Aldrin.
HoloLens is Microsoft's augmented reality device, which is now shipping to developers, the company announced at its Build Developers Conference today. It's not quite the immersive virtual reality experience that true VR headsets like the Oculus Rift offer, but it's still capable of stitching together real imagery from NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover, which has been exploring the planet since August 2012.
When the exhibit goes live this summer, visitors who don the HoloLens will be greeted by Apollo 11 astronaut Aldrin, who serves as a holographic tour guide. He'll be joined by a Mars Rover driver, who will explain scientific discoveries and Mars facts while visitors are free to make their own way through the rocky terrain.
The report describes SCCS as “a software system that will control pumps, motors, valves, power supplies, and other ground equipment; record and retrieve data from systems before and during launch; and monitor the health and status of spacecraft as they prepare for and launch.”
The audit states:
The SCCS development effort has significantly exceeded initial cost and schedule estimates. Compared to fiscal year 2012 projections, development costs have increased approximately 77
percent to $207.4 million and the release of a fully operational version has slipped by 14 months from July 2016 to September 2017. In addition, several planned capabilities have been deferred because of cost and timing pressures, including the ability to automatically detect the root cause of specific equipment and system failures. Without this information, it will be more difficult for controllers and engineers to quickly diagnose and resolve issues. Although NASA officials believe the SCCS will operate safely without these capabilities, they acknowledge the reduced capability could affect the ability to react to unexpected issues during launch operations and potentially impact the launch schedule for the combined SLS-Orion system ...
In the past, NASA has encountered difficulties with large and complex command and control software development efforts, failing on two occasions to meet expected requirements despite spending more than $500 million. In something of a repeat of this pattern, the SCCS development effort is more than 1 year behind schedule and significantly over cost, and several planned software capabilities have been deferred.
NASA made its decision regarding the SCCS software architecture nearly 10 years ago, but in our view this may no longer be the most prudent course of action given significant advances in commercial command and control software over that time. For example, the two companies under contract with NASA to deliver supplies to the International Space Station — Orbital Sciences Corporation and Space Exploration Technologies — both use commercial software products to accomplish their missions. In our judgment, the GSDO Program’s reluctance to change course reflects a cultural legacy at NASA of over-optimism and over-promising what the Agency can achieve in a specific timeframe.
Criticism of the NASA culture is a recurring theme over the years in various internal audits and external reviews.
External criticism and doubt, rather than spurring NASA to change for the better, instead reinforced the will to “impose the party line vision on the environment, not to reconsider it,” according to one authority on organizational behavior. This in turn led to “flawed decision making, self deception, introversion and a diminished curiosity about the world outside the perfect place.” The NASA human space flight culture the Board found during its investigation manifested many of these characteristics, in particular a self-confidence about NASA possessing unique knowledge about how to safely launch people into space.
The initiative managed by KSC’s Ground Systems Development and Operations program faces ongoing challenges that could delay launches, prompting auditors to suggest that NASA consider scrapping it in favor of commercially available alternatives ...
In a response, Bill Gerstenmaier, head of NASA’s human spaceflight systems, acknowledged the work has proven more challenging than estimated and agreed to conduct an independent assessment after the first software system is ready.
The agency has “instigated a series of process improvements that are bearing positive results,” Gerstenmaier wrote last week.
A 2011 introductory film about Spaceport Command and Control System. Video source: ExploreKSCresources's channel YouTube channel.
UPDATE March 29, 2016 — Despite yesterday's events, the GSDO Program office which received the bad audit issued a press release today declaring all is well on the “Journey to Mars.”
“The team is working hard and we are making remarkable progress transforming our facilities,” said Mike Bolger, GSDO Program Manager. “As we are preparing for NASA's journey to Mars, the outstanding team at the Kennedy Space Center is ensuring that we will be ready to receive SLS and Orion flight hardware and process the vehicle for the first flight in 2018.”
UPDATE March 29, 2016 — More images from the last two days of the crawler on the prowl, including images of both crawlers near each other.
And here's an official photo from Kennedy Space Center of the crawler as it passed the Vehicle Assembly Building.
Click the image to view at a higher resolution.
UPDATE March 30, 2016 — Today the upgraded crawler was testing its lifting capabilities by transporting MLP-1, one of the original three mobile launchers going back to the 1960s.
When completed in 1965, it was designated Mobile Launcher 3. It carried Apollos 10, 13, 15, 16 and 17.
After it was modified in the 1970s for the Space Shuttle, ML-3 was renamed Mobile Launch Platform 1. MLP-1 was used for the first five Space Shuttle flights. It last use was for the Ares I-X test flight in 2009.
The upgraded crawler in the future will transport a new platform, originally built for the Constellation program but modified for Space Launch System. That's the gray tower you see in some of the photos in this article.
Leonard Nimoy performs “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” on a variety show in 1967. Video source: SputnikMonkey YouTube channel.
In 1975, actor Leonard Nimoy published a book titled I Am Not Spock to show the world that he as a person was far more than a character he'd performed for three seasons on a cancelled television show.
Twenty years later, Nimoy published a sequel, I Am Spock, as a tacit surrender to the inevitability that forever he would be identified with the character that became symbolic for the Star Trek universe and pop science.
Trapped in the same bubble was his castmate, William Shatner.
When hired for their Star Trek roles in the mid-1960s, both were young actors just entering the prime of their careers. Both were born in 1931 — Shatner four days older than Nimoy — so when the show premiered on September 8, 1966 they were 35 years old. Both had appeared on stage and on television. Both were lead characters on a television network series for the first time.
Shatner and Nimoy had crossed paths before, working an episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. in 1964. They had no relationship although, like thousands of other actors, they were struggling to raise families and keep the bills paid.
Yet fate brought them together on a low-rated TV show that, like it or not, would join them at the hip for the rest of their lives.
Many books have been published with Shatner's name on it, although in reality written by someone else. The TekWar universe was largely Ron Goulart. A series of Star Trek novels resurrecting Captain James T. Kirk after the events of the movie Star Trek Generations, starting with The Return, were written by Garfield and Judith Reeves-Stevens.
How much is Shatner, how much his writing partners, is known only to those who were in the room.
Leonard is co-written by David Fisher, a professional ghost-biographer for celebrities ranging from lawyer Johnnie Cochran to actor Leslie Nielsen to umpire Ron Luciano. Having been a writer-for-hire myself, I assure you a lot of money can be made if you're willing to allow someone else's name to be on the book.
In the acknowledgements, Shatner rightly gives credit to Fisher:
There are many people I would like to acknowledge, but this book would not exist without David Fisher, with whom I have worked before and hope to work with after (soon, David, because there isn't much time left). With a deep bow and a wave of my hand, I acknowledge my cowriter, David Fisher.
Shatner's comment “There isn't much time left” I think may be a clue to the inspiration for this work.
Shatner turns 85 on March 22.
In 2001, Shatner produced a 75-minute video titled Mind Meld in which he and Nimoy sat in the latter's backyard to discuss their careers, separate and together.
Near the end of that film, in the section titled, “Final Frontier,” Shatner comments on his compulsion to always find new projects:
Perhaps the reason I'm running as fast as I can is I see, very clearly, my own death. What with the death of my wife, and the lady I've married nursed her husband through cancer to his death, I see death and mortality very very clearly. It's just over there. He's coming on. And it still doesn't relieve me of all the irritations of every day life where I should be able to say, “Oh, I'm not going to let that bother me because, y'know, how many years do I have left.” You can count them. Very conscious of my death and my fear of dying. I'm truly afraid, and when I'm asked what am I afraid of, it's ... inchoate. Loneliness. Of loss. Of aloneness. Name the thing, and I'm afraid of it. I don't know how to deal with it.
As I read Leonard, I found much material lifted from Mind Meld and other works, such as Nimoy's two books, Shatner's earlier biographies with ghostwriter Chris Kreski, as well as the biographies written by other Trek actors. If you're a regular attendee of Star Trek conventions, you've probably heard many of the tales about on-set hijinks recounted in Leonard.
Watch the trailer for the 2001 documentary “Mind Meld.” Video source: Cinedigm YouTube channel.
The stories of their personal lives, including Shatner's marriage woes and Nimoy's alcoholism, have also been told before.
I found myself asking, “Why was this book written?”
The one revelation in Leonard I found, well, fascinating is that Nimoy had stopped talking to Shatner a few years before. Shatner claims it was a misunderstanding over Shatner's cameraman filming Nimoy without permission at a convention for a Star Trek documentary Shatner was producing called The Captains. Shatner writes that he and Nimoy were friendly on the flight back to Los Angeles, that Nimoy said nothing about it, so he doubts this incident was the cause. In any case, Nimoy rebuffed Shatner's gestures of reconciliation, to his deathbed.
As I closed the book, this revelation brought me back to that 2001 Mind Meld scene where Shatner discussed his fear of death and abandonment.
Nimoy's rebuff, if as described, had a purposeful motivation. Leonard is gone, so we'll never know what it was. But given Shatner's Mind Meld comments about his deepest fear being “aloneness,” denying him his best friend unto death may have sent a message only the two of them will truly comprehend.
If you read the other Trek actors' biographies, you'll find that most of them don't have kind things to say about Shatner.
In her 1994 book Beyond Uhura, Nichelle Nichols wrote about Shatner requesting to interview her for background material for Star Trek Memories. Nichols wrote on page 304:
Contrary to what Bill subsequently wrote in his first book, I did not “conspire” with other cast members to use these interviews to “confront” him. That is just one of many, many distortions and inaccuracies he presented ...
Over the course of twenty-eight years, I'd witnessed Bill change from my hero to an insensitive, hurtful egotist and had seen his callousness affect everyone around him, including myself.
Nichols proceeded to tell Shatner how thoughtless and insensitive he'd been to his castmates. In Mind Meld, Shatner tells Nimoy he believes that the two of them carried the bulk of the load during the series' three years of production, but that once the conventions began in the 1970s the other cast members began to believe that their contribution equated to those of Bill and Leonard.
Contrast that with the Next Generation cast, who always treat each other as equals, as an ensemble.
The 2009 documentary, “The Captains' Summit” featuring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Frakes. Whoopi Goldberg moderates. Video source: Nathan Travis YouTube channel.
None of us were there on the Desilu lot fifty years ago when all this happened, so none of us can truly judge whose version is true.
But in the context of Leonard, I have to wonder if Shatner's comments about mortality and loss may have been the driving force behind why he wrote this book.
Early in Leonard, Shatner recalls a near-death experience when he was in his 20s acting in Canadian repertory theatre:
One day while I was driving to Toronto in a tremendous rainstorm and as I crossed a bridge, a mammoth eighteen wheeler coming from the other direction raced by me, spraying water from its front tire wells. The combination of a massive blast of water and the wind generated by the truck almost blew me into the Ottawa River. I realized something about myself at that moment: if my car went into the river, I would have left no tracks on this earth. Beyond my family, there was no one who truly cared about me. I had no close friends; I knew a lot of people, I'd worked and shared experiences with a lot of people, but there was no one who woud miss me if I disappeared beneath the river. And conversely, there was no one other than my family that I cared enough about to miss if something happened to them. That understanding left me with a terribly empty feeling, but I didn't have the slightest idea what I could do to change that.
I've no doubt that Shatner's affection for Nimoy was genuine and sincere. But given comments by almost all of his castmates, I'm left to conclude he still hasn't figured out how to create and sustain loving relationships of self-sacrifice.
And that may be the reason why Leonard was written.
It may be Shatner's way of acknowledging what he lost.
But I'm left wondering why it had to be aired publicly.
I've known more than my fair share of celebrities — actors, politicians, athletes, astronauts.
It's hard for a celebrity to lower the guard. Most people want something of them other than a friendship. Maybe it's an autograph. Maybe it's money. Maybe it's exploitation.
Years ago, I joked to two actor friends, “How do I know you're really my friend and you're not just acting?”
They looked at each other, shrugged, and replied, “You got us.”
It was my metaphorical wink that this uncertainty goes both ways.
For someone who's a cultural icon like William Shatner, it must be incredibly difficult to establish a trusting relationship.
The media of books, of documentaries, of videos are all one way. Bill can be Bill, portray Bill as he wishes, and not risk a heartfelt rejection.
I have to wonder what the Nimoy family thinks of Leonard. The book is certainly loving, but I can see how they may view it as exploitative. Bill, not Leonard, gets the final word on their relationship.
A team engineer named Irv Culver was a fan of Al Capp's newspaper comic strip, “Li'l Abner,” in which there was a running joke about a mysterious and malodorous place deep in the forest called the "Skonk Works." There, a strong beverage was brewed from skunks, old shoes and other strange ingredients.
One day, Culver's phone rang and he answered it by saying “Skonk Works, inside man Culver speaking.” Fellow employees quickly adopted the name for their mysterious division of Lockheed. “Skonk Works” became “Skunk Works.”
The original Skunk Works team was working on a secret Army jet fighter project. They “broke the rules, challenging the current bureaucratic system that stifled innovation and hindered progress.”
It was in that tradition that the KSC EDL dubbed itself Swamp Works.
Many of the technologies I saw demonstrated were projects related to potential use with lunar or Mars regolith.
A simple example, demonstrated in the above video, was how to automatically remove dust and regolith from solar panels. The answer was to run an electrical current through the surface.
Photography was largely restricted, as many projects are in partnership with private companies and educational institutions testing proprietary technologies.
Videos of some projects exist on the Internet. Another example is this asteroid lander prototype.
An asteroid lander prototype demonstration. Video source: Public Domain TV YouTube channel.
You can take a virtual tour of the Swamp Works lab by going to this web page and then clicking on the image of the technology you wish to explore.
A 2013 NASA video demonstrating the RASSOR regolith excavator. Video source: NASA Observatory YouTube channel.