NASA: Actions Needed to Improve the Management of Human Spaceflight Programs

Nasa human spaceflight

Status Report From: Government Accountability Office
Posted: Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) three related human spaceflight programs are in the integration and test phase of development, a phase of the acquisition process that often reveals unforeseen challenges leading to cost growth and schedule delays. Since GAO last reported on the status of these programs in June 2019, each program has made progress. For example, the Orion program conducted a key test to demonstrate the ability to abort a mission should a life-threatening failure occur during launch. As GAO found in June 2019, however, the programs continue to face significant schedule delays. In November 2018, within one year of announcing an up to 19-month delay for the three programs—the Space Launch System (SLS) vehicle, the Orion crew spacecraft, and Exploration Ground Systems (EGS)—NASA senior leaders acknowledged the revised launch date of June 2020 is unlikely. In addition, any issues uncovered during integration and testing may push the date as late as June 2021. Moreover, GAO found that NASA’s calculations of cost growth for the SLS program is understated by more than 750 million dollars.

GAO’s past work has identified a number of lessons that NASA can apply to improve its management of its human spaceflight programs. For example, NASA should enhance contract management and oversight to improve program outcomes. NASA’s past approach in this area has left it ill-positioned to identify early warning signs of impending schedule delays and cost growth or reap the benefits of competition. In addition, NASA’s approach to incentivizing contractors through contract award fees did not result in desired outcomes for the SLS and Orion programs. Further, NASA should minimize risky programmatic decisions to better position programs for successful execution. This includes providing sufficient cost and schedule reserves to, among other things, address unforseen risk. Finally, realistic cost estimates and assessments of technical risk are particularly important at the start of an acquisition program. But NASA has historically provided little insight into the future cost of these human spaceflight programs, limiting the information useful to decision makers.

NASA is undertaking a trio of closely related programs to continue human space exploration beyond low-Earth orbit. These three programs include a launch vehicle, a crew capsule, and the associated ground systems at Kennedy Space Center. All three programs are working towards a launch readiness date of June 2020 for the first mission. NASA then plans for these systems to support future human space exploration goals, which include seeking to land two astronauts on the lunar surface. GAO has a body of work highlighting concerns over NASA’s management and oversight of these programs. This statement discusses (1) the cost and schedule status of NASA’s human spaceflight programs and (2) lessons that NASA can apply to improve its management of its human spaceflight programs. This statement is based on eight reports issued from 2014 to 2019 and selected updates as of September 2019. For the updates, GAO analyzed recent program status reports on program progress.

GAO has made 19 recommendations in these eight prior reports to strengthen NASA’s acquisition management of SLS, Orion, and EGS. NASA generally agreed with GAO’s recommendations, and has implemented seven recommendations. Further action is needed to fully implement the remaining recommendations.

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Human Spaceflight In 2020: What Lies Ahead

Human Spaceflight In 2020: What Lies Ahead

Last Thursday, NASA confirmed that The Boeing Company had completed readiness reviews for a December 20, 2019 launch of its uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT) to the International Space Station (ISS). The launch will be the first flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner vehicle developed under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, and the second flight overall for the Commercial Crew Program following SpaceX’s uncrewed Dragon 2 launch in March. Pending a successful OFT mission, Boeing plans to launch a crewed mission aboard its Starliner spacecraft early next year. Similarly, SpaceX plans to launch crew to the ISS using its Dragon 2 spacecraft in the near future, pending a successful In-Flight Abort Test in January.

For years, the industry has eagerly awaited SpaceX and Boeing’s first crewed launches. The last space vehicle to receive human-rating certification was NASA’s Space Shuttle in 1981. Since then, space agencies and private companies around the globe have poured significant financial and human capital into developing new crew vehicles, but none of these efforts has yet resulted a crewed mission.

As the year draws to a close, spacecraft manufacturers have begun looking towards 2020 for their next chance to launch humans into space. Below is a peek at what we can expect from the industry next year.

1. Crewed launches from both NASA Commercial Crew Program providers

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NASA introduced to the world on Aug. 3, 2018, the first U.S. astronauts who will fly on . [+] American-made, commercial spacecraft to and from the International Space Station – an endeavor that will return astronaut launches to U.S. soil for the first time since the space shuttle’s retirement in 2011. The agency assigned nine astronauts to crew the first test flight and mission of both Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. The astronauts are, from left to right: Sunita Williams, Josh Cassada, Eric Boe, Nicole Mann, Christopher Ferguson, Douglas Hurley, Robert Behnken, Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) has provided funding to U.S.-based private companies to develop orbital human spaceflight capabilities since the first phase of program awards (Commercial Crew Development 1, or CCDev 1) in 2010. The program was created in order to reduce U.S. reliance on Russia for human spaceflight capabilities after the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011. Since 2011, NASA has paid Russia approximately $86 million per seat to launch astronauts to the ISS aboard its Soyuz spacecraft.

After supporting 6 companies through the initial development and proposal phases of the program, NASA ultimately selected Boeing and SpaceX for Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts in 2014. The multibillion dollar CCtCap contract provides funding for each provider to complete an uncrewed mission to the ISS, verify its vehicle’s in-flight abort capabilities, and finally complete a crewed demonstration mission during which two NASA astronauts are successfully ferried to and from the ISS.

Though the program has experienced the delays common to human spaceflight development, it had a productive year in 2019, with one uncrewed test flight complete and another on the books for this month. While the program has not publicly released specific launch dates for its crewed flights, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has expressed confidence that the providers will launch crew in the first half of 2020.

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner

Boeing’s first CST-100 Starliner spacecraft sits atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on pad . [+] 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on December 4, 2019 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The Starliner crew capsule, designed to carry as many as seven astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), is scheduled to make its first unmanned test flight to the ISS on December 19. (Photo by Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

NurPhoto via Getty Images

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is scheduled to launch its OFT mission to the ISS aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on December 20. According to NASA’s press release, the spacecraft will dock to the ISS on December 21 and will remain attached for approximately a week. On December 28, the spacecraft will undock from the ISS and re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere before performing a parachute and airbag-assisted landing at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

The OFT launch comes on the heels of the Starliner Pad Abort Test, which the company successfully completed at the beginning of November. Boeing previously experienced a setback when during a 2018 attempt of the test, a propellant leak occurred during engine shutdown. Based on the results of the subsequent anomaly investigation, Boeing implemented an operational control to prevent the leakage from re-occurring.

Since Boeing has chosen to verify its vehicle’s in-flight abort capabilities via analysis rather than test, the OFT mission is intended to be the vehicle’s final flight test before it launches crew early next year. The vehicle’s crewed flight test (CFT) will provide ISS transportation for 3 crew: NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Edward “Mike” Fincke, along with Boeing Commercial Crew Director and former NASA astronaut Christopher Ferguson. Upon successful execution of the mission, Ferguson could become the first individual in history to travel to the ISS in both a government and commercial capacity.

SpaceX’s Crewed Dragon 2 Spacecraft

The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft which is designed to carry people and cargo to orbiting destinations . [+] such as space stations, is displayed at the SpaceX headquarters in Los Angeles on July 21, 2019. (Photo by Mark RALSTON / AFP) (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images)

SpaceX’s Dragon 2 vehicle (sometimes referred to as “Crew Dragon”) launched to the ISS for the first time this March, when it successfully completed an uncrewed 5 day mission before splashing down safely in the Atlantic Ocean. Shortly afterwards, the company experienced a setback when the same vehicle used for this mission exploded on a test stand in Cape Canaveral during a capsule static fire. SpaceX has since completed a full investigation of the anomaly, which traced the fault back to a leaky component that has since been replaced on its other capsules. A newly assembled capsule completed a successful static fire earlier this month, and the company remains on track for a January 2020 launch of its In-Flight Abort Test ahead of its crewed Demo-2 mission early next year.

SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission will provide ISS transportation for NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, who have undergone training with the company at SpaceX’s Hawthorne, California headquarters for several years. Though the company has been given the option to transport a SpaceX employee or private passenger to the ISS on this test flight in addition to the two NASA astronauts, it has not publicly announced any plans to do so.

2. Crewed launches of commercial suborbital vehicles

Suborbital human spaceflight has captured the public imagination since the 1990s, when renewed interest from investors in space tourism began spurring development of “affordable” spaceflight options. For the “low” price of $100,000 to $1M USD, companies such as XCOR Aerospace, WorldView and Armadillo Aerospace promised private citizens a taste of the astronaut experience with short “hops” into space. Though the experience would last only a few hours and provide less than 10 minutes of weightlessness, the substantial price reduction from orbital tourism opportunities (which often cost upwards of $20M USD) gave hope to those who dreamt of bringing space exploration to the masses.

Unfortunately, launching humans into space is difficult, and many early players in the commercial suborbital market faced technical and financial setbacks that forced them to shut their doors. Over time, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have emerged as leaders in the suborbital space race with their New Shepard and SpaceShipTwo vehicles. While both companies have experienced repeated delays in their flight schedules, both have been completing successful test flights on a regular basis. As of fall 2019, executives from both companies have publicly stated that they expect crewed flight to occur within the next few months. If things continue to go as planned, 2020 could finally be their year.

Blue Origin’s New Shepard

Participants enjoy the Blue Origin Space Simulator during the Amazon Re:MARS conference on robotics . [+] and artificial intelligence at the Aria Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada on June 5, 2019. (Photo by Mark RALSTON / AFP) (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images)

Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital rocket and capsule have been under development since at least 2006, when the program’s first subscale demonstration vehicle first flew. Since April 2015, the fully integrated New Shepard system has visited space regularly, and on its second flight the rocket became the first in history to land vertically on Earth after visiting space.

Named after Alan Shepard, the first American man to visit space, New Shepard was intended from the start to be a crewed transportation system. However, to date, the vehicle’s flights have carried only cargo beyond the Karman line. As of December 2019, Blue Origin has completed 12 test flights of the vehicle, 9 of which have carried commercial payloads. Recent tests have also carried a dummy named Mannequin Skywalker, which is outfitted with sensors to measure how future commercial passengers could be affected by the flight.

Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith has talked about the first crewed flight of New Shepard happening as early as 2018, but this date has repeatedly been pushed back. Smith has attributed these delays to the company’s desire to be “cautious and thorough,” so as not to jeopardize passenger safety.

As of December 2019, the company has not publicly announced a date for the first crewed flight of the capsule, but founder Jeff Bezos has hinted that he expects it to occur in the near future. The first passengers on New Shepard are likely to be Blue Origin employees, and the company has stated that it will not begin taking deposits for commercial passenger flights until these initial crewed flights have occurred.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo

MOJAVE, CA – FEBRUARY 19, 2016 – Sir Richard Branson, center, poses with the employees for photos . [+] by the new Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo at its roll out in the Mojave Desert, about a year and a half after Virgin’s last rocket plane broke into pieces and killed the test pilot. (Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Virgin Galactic’s human spaceflight capabilities have technically been in development since 1996, when the Ansari XPRIZE was created to award $10M USD to a team who could launch a reusable manned spacecraft into space twice in two weeks. Mojave Aerospace Ventures (MAV), a joint venture between Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites, ultimately won the prize with its SpaceShipOne reusable spaceplane design and White Knight launcher. Following the award, MAV signed a contract with Virgin Galactic to develop a suborbital spacecraft based on the XPRIZE-winning technology for space tourism. This deal resulted in the formation of The Spaceship Company, a joint venture between Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites, to manufacture the spacecraft.

Since 2004, the team has been hard at work developing Virgin Galactic’s spaceplane and launcher, dubbed SpaceShipTwo and White Knight 2. A mockup of the design was revealed to the press in January 2008, with a company statement that the vehicle itself was around 60% complete at the time.

UNSPECIFIED – JANUARY 24: Virgin Galactic Flight Simulator in January 24th, 2008 – Test pilot Brian . [+] Binnie in the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo flight simulator, which will take passengers a year to just over 100 km altitude; Virgin Galactic’s first world is the spaceline owning an (Photo by Thierry BOCCON-GIBOD/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

As is often the case in human spaceflight, the vehicle’s development has not been without hiccups. In July 2007, an explosion occurred during a SpaceShipTwo oxidizer test at Mojave Air and Space Port, killing three employees and injuring three others with flying shrapnel. The company suffered an additional setback in October 2014 when a SpaceShipTwo vehicle broke up during a crewed test flight and crashed in the Mojave desert. The vehicle’s co-pilot was killed and the pilot was seriously injured. A subsequent inquiry by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that the crash was caused by the co-pilot’s premature deployment of the spacecraft air brake device for atmospheric re-entry. The board also cited inadequate design safeguards against human error, poor pilot training and lack of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) oversight as contributors to the accident.

Since conclusion of the NTSB investigation in 2015, the SpaceShipTwo team has conducted 13 successful crewed test flights using its upgraded VSS Unity spaceship. These tests are in addition to the 54 successful test flights that occurred using the VSS Enterprise ship prior to its 2014 crash. Since the crash, Virgin Galactic has also taken over construction of the spacecraft from Scaled Composites, and has redesigned critical components in house to ensure passenger safety.

To date, more than 600 individuals have put down deposits for crewed tourist flights onboard SpaceShipTwo. The total price tag for a flight is $250,000 USD, and customers are asked to front half the ticket price to reserve their spot in advance. A specific launch date for the vehicle’s first commercial passenger flight has not been announced, but founder Sir Richard Branson said earlier this year that he hoped it would occur “in months not years.” In fall 2019, the company began its “Astronaut Readiness Program,” a preparatory course for customers that have reserved seats onboard one of the company’s first passenger flights.

3. Steady launch cadence for Russia’s Soyuz

KYZYLORDA REGION, KAZAKHSTAN – JUNE 6, 2018: A Soyuz-FG rocket booster carrying the Soyuz MS-09 . [+] spacecraft with the ISS Expedition 56/57 prime crew members, European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Alexander Gerst, Roscosmos cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev, and NASA astronaut Serena M. Aunon-Chancellor, aboard blasts off to the International Space Station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Sergei Savostyanov/TASS (Photo by Sergei SavostyanovTASS via Getty Images)

While NASA’s Commercial Crew providers continue their work towards operational flights, Russia’s Soyuz vehicle retains its monopoly on crew transportation to the ISS. Launching from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the Soyuz program has been transporting astronauts and cosmonauts into orbit since 1968. With a fatality rate of 1 in 63 people sent to orbit, Soyuz is thus far the safest human spaceflight system in history. (In contrast, the Space Shuttle’s fatality rate was approximately 1 in 56.)

As of December 2019, Soyuz Expeditions 62 and 63 are on the books for April and May 2020 launches, respectively. Each mission will ferry a crew of 3 astronauts between the Earth and ISS. While NASA hopes to reduce its dependence on the Russians for ISS transportation in the near future, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine stated in October 2019 that the agency was looking into purchasing an additional Soyuz seat for fall 2020 or spring 2021 to protect for additional Commercial Crew delays. Although both Commercial Crew partners are expected to launch crew in early 2020, Bridenstine noted that when it comes to human spaceflight development, “usually things don’t go according to plan.”

4. China’s Shenzhou 12 mission and Tiangong Space Station

BEIJING, Oct. 19, 2016 — Photo taken on Oct. 19, 2016 shows the screen at the Beijing Aerospace . [+] Control Center showing a simulated picture of an automated docking between the Shenzhou-11 manned spacecraft and the orbiting space lab Tiangong-2. The Shenzhou-11 manned spacecraft successfully completed its automated docking with the orbiting Tiangong-2 space lab Wednesday morning, according to Beijing Aerospace Control Center. (Xinhua/Ju Zhenhua via Getty Images)

As of 2019, China is the only nation with human spaceflight capabilities that is not a member of the ISS program. The Chinese manned spaceflight initiative, dubbed the “Shenzhou” program, successfully sent its first crew member into orbit in October 2003. Since then, the country has successfully completed 5 other crewed missions using its Shenzhou spacecraft and Long March rocket.

The last of these 5 missions – Shenzhou 11 – was launched in October 2016. After a 4 year hiatus, China plans to send its next crew up in 2020. As China does not participate in the ISS, the country plans to create its own Tiangong Space Station, which will be constructed, owned, and operated solely by the Chinese government. Tiangong is expected to have an orbital lifetime of at least 10 years and to be able to accommodate 3 to 6 astronauts at a time, making it a project of similar scale to the ISS. The Chinese government has stated that it aims to complete construction of the station by 2022.

Looking beyond 2020, the rest of the decade appears rife with opportunity for both the commercial space industry and for government programs with deeper space ambitions. NASA’s Artemis program aims to send “the first woman and next man” to the Moon by 2024. The program has yet to announce a launch date for its uncrewed Artemis 1 test flight, but earlier this month, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine stated that he believed it would be sometime in 2021 based on the current Space Launch System (SLS) development schedule.

A model of the SLS rocket on display during the 35th Space Symposium at The Broadmoor in Colorado . [+] Springs, Colorado on April 9, 2019. – NASA is preparing to use the SLS rocket to send US astronauts to the moon in 2024. The four day symposium is the largest space trade show in the world, attracting leaders focusing on space technology, satellite development, rocket design, and space policy. (Photo by Jason Connolly / AFP) (Photo credit should read JASON CONNOLLY/AFP via Getty Images)

SpaceX, in turn, looks to continue pushing the boundaries by exploring destinations beyond the ISS. The company’s #dearMoon project, which is scheduled for launch no earlier than 2023, aims to send Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa to orbit the Moon in a SpaceX Starship vehicle along with a crew of several artists. In addition to advancing human spaceflight, one of the project’s major goals is to inspire the creation of new art to promote peace across the world. Initial tests of the Starship system have commenced in Boca Chica, Texas, using subscale models of the spacecraft.

SpaceX Starship design as of September 2018, at the unveiling of the #dearMoon mission.

The successful certification and operation of any of the aforementioned vehicles will be a huge milestone, both for the space industry and for humanity as a whole. If the 2010s were the decade of SpaceX, perhaps the 2020s will be the decade where space tourism finally becomes a reality. With a little luck, it could even be the decade where humans once again venture beyond low-Earth orbit.

NASA, Apollo, and the Outdated Language of Spaceflight – The Atlantic

The Outdated Language of Space Travel

“Manned” spaceflight doesn’t make sense anymore.

Peggy Whitson, the American record holder for time spent in space NASA

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series reflecting on the Apollo 11 mission, 50 years later.

Half a century ago, there was only one kind of astronaut in the United States. Men launched atop rockets to space. Men maneuvered landers down to the surface of the moon. Men guided spacecraft safely home. From start to finish, they were at the controls. So it makes sense that the effort to send people to orbit and beyond was called “manned” spaceflight.

But when Peggy Whitson hears someone call the spaceflight program “manned” today, she can’t stifle her physical reaction.

“I cringe a little bit,” Whitson says.

The terminology is simply no longer accurate, and Whitson, a former astronaut at NASA, is just one example why. Whitson served as commander on two missions to the International Space Station, and spent 665 days in space, more than any other American astronaut, man or woman. NASA retired the description years ago, saving it for historical references to its early days, and now uses human and crewed. But as the country commemorated the 50th anniversary of the moon landing last week, the obsolete language cropped up in discussions about the modern American spaceflight program and its future, in congressional hearings, national headlines (some of which were edited quietly after publication), and elsewhere.

It shouldn’t happen again. Manned is a woefully outdated choice of vocabulary to describe the actions of an organization that has employed female astronauts for the majority of its existence. Language matters, and this particular vernacular reinforces the notion, once held to be true, that space exploration is for men only. It does a disservice to the dozens of women who became astronauts after Apollo, and to those who dream of doing the same. “You can’t be what you can’t see,” Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, once said. The same is true of what you can’t hear or read.

In 1962, Congress convened a hearing to discuss the possibility of training female astronauts, after a group of 13 women successfully completed the same tests NASA gave its male candidates, in some cases doing better than the men. “I think this gets back to the way our social order is organized, really,” John Glenn, who had become the first American to orbit Earth only months earlier, told members of Congress. “The men go off and fight the wars and fly the airplanes and come back and help design and build and test them. The fact that women are not in this field is a fact of our social order.”

The group of female trainees was disbanded, and NASA went on to send dozens of men into orbit around Earth and to the moon, their journeys carefully monitored from Mission Control in the appropriately named Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston.

That facility was renamed the Johnson Space Center in 1973, several months after the end of the sixth and final mission to touch down on the moon’s surface. The rebranding was a better match for NASA’s next chapter; the agency had just started sending robotic, passenger-free spacecraft beyond the moon and deeper into the solar system, the first in a long line of machines that would take over the work of exploring the cosmos. Of course, the agency had new terminology to go along with these new spacecraft, programmed and piloted from afar: unmanned.

The push into deep space coincided with the development of NASA’s next generation of astronaut transportation, the space-shuttle program. The massive shuttle could carry far more people than the cramped Apollo capsules, which meant the passenger list didn’t have to be limited, as it had been, to mostly military pilots such as Neil Armstrong. Suddenly, there was room for the astronaut corps to more closely resemble the general population, including the half who had long been excluded.

When NASA selected its first female astronauts in 1978, “manned” was still the standard label for spaceflight that included humans. It did not help that the needs of this new class of astronauts were often, and sometimes astonishingly, misunderstood. Before Ride became the first American woman in space, in 1983, NASA staffers asked her whether 100 tampons would be enough for her one-week mission in orbit.

“When you’re a bloke, terms such as ‘mankind’ automatically include you. You don’t have to think about it at all; you’re already in there,” Alice Gorman, an archaeologist who studies the history and heritage of space exploration, wrote on her blog in 2014. “Women have to ‘think themselves into’ such expressions, even if it happens at a subconscious level.”

Research has found that this feeling of exclusion can have real, measurable effects. Studies by the National Institute of Mental Health in the 1970s, when NASA first began to recruit women astronauts, showed that women were significantly less likely to apply for jobs with titles that ended in man rather than person. A similar effect was found among men, who avoided professions with feminine-sounding names.

Such thinking is difficult to dispel. A study of college students in 1988 found that those instructed to complete sentences about professionals using he and him were more likely to imagine men, even when the researchers said the pronouns applied to both men and women. When the students used gender-neutral language, they pictured fewer men as they wrote.

This subconscious reasoning can take root early. In a 2013 study, when elementary-school teachers described male-dominated professions, such as astronaut, using masculine rather than gender-neutral language, their female students were more likely to think that women in those roles were less successful.

Astronauts who joined NASA in the 1990s say the agency had shifted away from manned and toward gender-neutral language by the time they arrived. But vestiges of Apollo-era vernacular still floated around, in part because many engineers who worked those missions were still at NASA. “There was still a lot of the same—I don’t want to say mind-set in a negative sense—but, ‘We call it this because we call it this, and no one’s ever questioned it,’” says Danny Olivas, who became an astronaut in 1998.

Pamela Melroy, another now-retired astronaut, remembers the terminology coming up in jokes. She joined NASA in 1995, after working as a pilot in the Air Force. When Melroy and a female colleague boarded a T-38, a sleek two-seater jet that astronauts often use for commuting, “the guys out on the flight line would tease me that it was an unmanned mission,” Melroy says.

NASA formally codified its preference for crewed and human over manned to describe spaceflight in the early 2000s, as part of a “major overhaul” of the agency’s internal style guide, says Stephanie Schierholz, a NASA spokesperson. Today the entry appears as follows:

manned, unmanned. Avoid use. In many cases, the distinction is unnecessary or implied. Substitute terms such as autonomous, crewed, human, piloted, unpiloted, robotic, remotely piloted.

“Now if we could just get others to follow suit,” Schierholz says.

The shift in NASA nomenclature did not prompt a massive revision of history books, or a frantic rush to wipe any mention of manned from Apollo mission reports. It sought to capture the reality of the changing organization, an effort that is more common and less fraught than you might think. For example, in 2016, after the Pentagon opened all military combat roles to women, the Marine Corps removed man from 19 job titles.

These days, the idea of an American manned-spaceflight program is a phantom. The proposal for the next moon mission not only includes women astronauts; it is named for Artemis, Apollo’s sister in Greek mythology—a woman, albeit an imaginary one. Donald Trump’s administration has stressed that the crew of the next lunar journey, targeted for 2024, will include the first woman to walk on the moon. NASA needs buckets of money from Congress to carry out the effort, so its immediate future remains uncertain. But whether the next American trip to the moon launches five years from now or 50, it will not be a manned mission.

America Is About to Take Back Human Spaceflight, and It – s a Lot More Than Just Flag-Waving

America Is About to Take Back Human Spaceflight, and It’s a Lot More Than Just Flag-Waving

Crewed missions, launched by private companies, will be seen as an American achievement. But really, it’s a global one.

There’s an American flag affixed to a hatch on the International Space Station, circling about 250 miles above the planet. The crew of the first space shuttle mission, STS-1, carried that very flag in 1981. The final shuttle flight, in 2011, left the flag behind in orbit to be claimed by the next crew to fly into space from U.S. soil.

This is the year the flag comes home.

A Long-Awaited Return

After years of radical invention, aerospace design, political feuding, and faith in ingenuity—and eight years since the shuttle retirement—the United States is on the cusp of recapturing the ability to reach space from U.S. soil. Two companies, Boeing and SpaceX, are assembling hardware for testing capsule launches, a dress rehearsal for future crewed flights.

It’s a big moment for the U.S. For one, the launches represent a break from renting Russian hardware to launch astronauts. With recent feats by China in orbit and on the moon, the impulse among many Americans will be extreme pride verging on jingoism, and the return of the U.S. flag, stranded in orbit for the past eight years, will be a useful symbol.

The flights planned from Florida in 2019 will change the way the world approaches human spaceflight.

Of course, some pride is warranted. After all, the modern NASA space program is doing something uniquely American—unleashing the private sector by opening space to commercial interests. Instead of owning the spacecraft and rockets, NASA pays for their development and enables companies to sell rides to anyone who wants a ticket.

But it’s crucial that this achievement not be lost amid the flag-waving. There’s more at stake with these human launches than feeling good about the U.S. The flights planned from Florida in 2019 will change the way the world approaches human spaceflight.

Impending Astronauts

Observers and space freaks flocked to Kennedy Space Center yesterday to see the most tangible, dramatic sign of NASA’s commercial crew program progress yet. Shrouded in fog, SpaceX brought its Falcon 9 rocket, mated with the Dragon 2 capsule, to launch pad 39A for prelaunch testing. The capsule’s flight is scheduled for December 17, 2019.

Boeing will get its turn in March when its Starliner spacecraft will launch on an Atlas V rocket. These empty capsules will travel to orbit, rendezvous with the ISS, dock, detach, and return for splash-down in the Atlantic.

The second demonstration flights will have two test pilot astronauts each. NASA astronauts Robert Behnken, Eric Boe, Douglas Hurley, and Sunita Williams have been preparing for the missions for years, while also developing the capsules and training procedures for the operational missions.

This return to flight will likely happen this summer, around the time that the U.S. celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo lunar landing. Although reminiscent of the Cold War, these launches will be a declaration of independence from the Soyuz capsule.

A space program is still seen as a qualification of a true global superpower, but these manned space missions have an inflated importance when it comes to geopolitical perceptions. In terms of immediate economic impact and national security, CubeSats in low-Earth orbit are more important than any crewed spaceship.

But that will change as space programs mature and the exploration and industrialization of space begins. To see the full, dramatic impact of 2019’s flights requires looking at spaceflight on a longer timeline.

One of the things that becomes clear—looking past the contract to deliver astronauts to ISS—is that American spacecraft will also enable other nations to access space. The customer base for these spacecraft will extend to Europe, South America, Asia, and Africa. The Dragon 2 and Starliner will fly Americans at first, but the whole point is to sell them on the open market.

The American space program could even help geopolitical foes, particularly if export laws are relaxed. John Lodgson, founder of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, once listed some potential customers in an interview with Popular Mechanics.

“Thinking off the top of my head, the United Arab Emirates,” Lodgson says when prodded to name for possible customers. “Nigeria? Iran always wanted a human spaceflight program.”

He also said that China’s program could benefit. “China has said that its space station is open to non-Chinese visitors,” he said. “So where does that fit in to the future of human spaceflight?”

Entering a New Spacefaring Future

In the grand scheme of humanity’s exploration of space, the commercial crew achievement in Florida seems less like an American victory and more like a global moment.

It’s a major transition away from government control, and while this hopefully will have major economic and national security advantages, it’s hard to see NASA’s outsourcing as the pinnacle of government success.

Even with delays and engineering snafus, the coming success of this program should put an end to the debate over whether private businesses can be trusted with crewed spaceflight. NASA has adopted the model that the Commercial Crew program will create a new generation of lunar landers. If these work as planned, the NASA-sponsored landers will be touching down to start planning a lunar outpost, around the same time as other nations are doing the same.

There are many red flags surrounding the American timelines for human missions to the moon and Mars. Administrations change, budgets shift, and missions are killed off with spreadsheet keystrokes. But if—or when—Uncle Sam cuts exploration funds, the private companies who created the hardware will still be in the race, using the moon equipment originally designed for NASA.

The space industry could finally have what it always needed and something the Chinese already enjoy—a steadily funded space program with unchanging destinations and an immunization from political point-scoring. The private sector may be the way to keep some continuity in human space exploration. That is, if there’s money to be made.

2019: A New Era

So be proud of the American victory we will witness in Florida this year. Be happy that the Soyuz contracts will be replaced by something better. Be relieved that the space hardware will no longer be a political football between Moscow and Washington, DC. Be inspired by the engineering on display and the political courage inside and out of NASA to loosen their grip.

But don’t wave the flag too hard. If you do, you might just miss the bigger picture—2019 is the year humanity democratized spaceflight and created a reliable gateway to a new frontier for future generations.

NASA, SpaceX present united front on human spaceflight

Nasa human spaceflight

NASA, SpaceX present united front on human spaceflight
by Paul Brinkmann
Orlando FL (SPX) Oct 11, 2019

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine (L) and SpaceX CEO and lead designer Elon Musk met at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk presented a united front Thursday on the United States’ pursuit to return to human spaceflight.

“This is a big deal for our country,” Bridenstine said, standing next to Musk at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. “We can’t get it wrong. In fact, we have to get it right.” The joint appearance of NASA’s top executive and the leader in commercial space was focused on timing and budget for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which is the U.S. effort to once again launch people from Florida to the International Space Station. Since 2011, that has only happened aboard Russian spacecraft launched from Ukraine.

Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley stood next to the pair as they addressed a crowd at the SpaceX headquarters.

“We’ve launched [cargo] to International Space Station 19 times,” Musk said. “I think a lot of people don’t realize that we’ve done that 19 times.” He added, “Human spaceflight is the reason SpaceX was created. We’re honored to be doing that with NASA. It’s truly a dream come true.”

Musk and Bridenstine said it appears people will not launch, even on a test flight, for the rest of 2019. But they said up to 10 tests of new parachutes will happen over the coming months, and they hope for a crewed flight in early 2020.

The united front comes after Bridenstine issued a statement Sept. 27 calling out SpaceX for delays in the development of the company’s Commercial Crew capsule, Crew Dragon. Bridenstine made the statement on the eve of Musk’s big announcement in Texas that he’s proceeding toward a full prototype of SpaceX’s Starship – a big, next-generation rocket/spaceship designed to carry people, eventually, to Mars.

In the meantime, SpaceX has a $2.6 billion NASA contract to shuttle American astronauts to and from the International Space Station using the Crew Dragon capsule.

Musk responded to Bridenstine’s statement in a comment to CNN, saying maybe Bridenstine was referring to delays in NASA’s own program to build a big rocket called the Space Launch System that could travel to the moon, which is years behind schedule.

In their joint appearance Thursday, both men referenced their exchange, and said the safety of the astronauts is their top priority as they pursue return to U.S. human spaceflight.

“A lot of our programs have not been meeting cost and schedule. A lot of our programs are beyond cost and schedule,” Bridenstine said.

He said he was signalling to SpaceX that the nation’s top priority was getting astronauts back to the ISS from U.S. soil. But Bridenstine added that NASA is fully supportive of SpaceX’s Starship project.

Musk said he’s heard people complaining that NASA is preventing the capsule’s deployment with red tape.

“Is this like some kind of NASA bureaucracy that is delaying things? It is not,” Musk said. He said the purpose is to “ensure that American astronauts will be safe. Only at that point would we launch.”

Bridenstine was careful not to speak ill of Russia.

“The partnership with Russia is important and it’s good,” he said.

But he added, “We don’t want to have to pay $85 million every time we have to launch an astronaut on a rocket. We want to make sure we don’t have a day when we don’t have an American astronaut on the International Space Station.”

Bridenstein thanked Musk for a tour of SpaceX headquarters. He said it was good to shake hands SpaceX employees who are working on correcting problems with the Crew Dragon capsule that caused an explosion in a test firing in April.

Since then SpaceX found that a titanium valve caused the explosion when it came into contact with liquid oxygen propellant. SpaceX has reduced the number of valves in the spacecraft and is using a different type of connection.


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NASA: 60 Years and Counting – Human Spaceflight

60 Years and Counting

60 Years and Counting

Human Spaceflight

The Cold War between the United States and former Soviet Union gave birth to the space race and an unprecedented program of scientific exploration. The Soviets sent the first person into space on April 12, 1961. In response, President John F. Kennedy challenged our nation “to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to earth.” It took eight years and three NASA programs — Mercury, Gemini and Apollo – but the United States got to the moon.

Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the Moon. Look for Neil Armstrong reflected in Aldrin’s visor. During the following three-and-a-half years, 10 astronauts followed in their footsteps.
Image Credit: NASA

Project Mercury

Project Mercury, the first U.S. program to put humans in space, made 25 flights, six of which carried astronauts between 1961 and 1963. The objectives of the program were: to orbit a human spacecraft around Earth, to investigate a person’s ability to function in space, and to recover both the astronaut and spacecraft safely. More than 2 million people from government agencies and the aerospace industry combined their skills, initiative and experience to make the project possible. Mercury showed that humans could function for periods up to 34 hours of weightless flight.

Mercury Astronauts

Mercury astronauts, the “Original Seven.” On April 9, 1959, NASA introduced its first astronaut class. Front row, left to right: Wally Schirra, Deke Slayton, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter; back row, Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, and Gordon Cooper.

Freedom 7 mission

Liftoff of astronaut Alan Shepard Jr.’s Freedom 7 mission, powered by a Redstone rocket, May 5, 1961. Shepard became the first American in space, a flight that lasted 15 minutes, 28 seconds. He later made it to the Moon on Apollo 14.

Image Credit: NASA/Langley Research Center

Katherine Johnson

NASA research mathematician Katherine Johnson did the trajectory analysis for Alan Shepard’s historic mission. Johnson worked at NASA’s Langley Research Center from 1953 to 1986. She and many other women made critical technical contributions to the space program.

View of Earth

View of Earth from Shepard’s Freedom 7 Mercury capsule, a view of our planet that no American had ever seen before.

Mercury Mission Control

Mercury Mission Control, Flight Control Area. During Project Mercury, the front wall of the Flight Control Area featured a large world map display with the path to be followed by the capsule. A circle marked each station in the worldwide tracking network.

John Glenn

Astronaut John Glenn onboard the Friendship 7 Mercury spacecraft, Feb. 20, 1962. Glenn made history by becoming the first U.S. astronaut to orbit Earth.

The Gemini Program

The Gemini program primarily tested equipment and mission procedures and trained astronauts and ground crews for future Apollo missions to the Moon. The program’s main goals were: to test an astronaut’s ability to fly long duration flights (14 days); to understand how a spacecraft could rendezvous and dock with another vehicle in Earth orbit; to perfect re-entry landing methods; and to further understand the effects of longer spaceflights on astronauts. NASA selected “Gemini” because the word is Latin for “twins,” and the Gemini was a capsule built for two.


Gemini IV spacewalk, June 3, 1965. NASA astronaut Ed White became the first American to walk in space.

Gemini X

Time exposure image of Gemini X spacecraft, launched July 18, 1966. Astronauts John Young and Mike Collins carried out a three-day mission to rendezvous and dock in space with an Agena spacecraft that had lifted off 101 minutes earlier.

Image Credit: NASA/MSFC archives

Gemini III

Gemini III astronauts Gus Grissom and John Young (photographed in a spacecraft simulator), crewed the first human Gemini flight, March 23, 1965. This mission tested the new maneuverable spacecraft that let the astronauts control more of the flight.

Image Credit: NASA/Buzz Aldrin

Gemini XII

The Agena target vehicle as seen from Gemini XII spacecraft, which docked with Agena on Nov. 11, 1966.

The Apollo Program

Exactly eight years, one month and 26 days after President Kennedy challenged Americans to reach for the Moon, Project Apollo landed the first humans on the lunar surface and returned them safely to Earth. The Apollo program also developed technology to meet other national interests in space, conducted scientific exploration of the Moon, and developed humanity’s capability to work in the lunar environment.

The ascent stage of the Apollo 11 lunar module approaching the command module for docking before the crew returned to Earth. Image Credit: NASA

The Apollo program was hit by tragedy as the first crew prepared to fly. On Jan. 27, 1967, fire swept through the Apollo 1 command module during a preflight test on the Cape Kennedy launch pad. Astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee lost their lives. NASA was not deterred, but rather changed how things were done to ensure the safety and success of future missions.

Apollo 7

Commander Wally Schirra looking out the rendezvous window in front of the commander’s station of the Apollo 7 Earth orbital mission, Oct. 19, 1968. Fifty years ago, Apollo 7 transmitted the first live TV broadcast from a human U.S. spacecraft.

Apollo 8

The famous ‘Earthrise’ photo from Apollo 8, the first human mission to the Moon. On Christmas Eve, 1968, as one of the most turbulent, tragic years in American history drew to a close, millions around the world watched and listened as Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders — first humans to orbit another world – read from the Bible’s Book of Genesis.

Audio: Apollo 8 Christmas Eve

Apollo 11

On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong placed the first human footstep on the Moon. Here he’s shown working at an equipment storage area on the lunar module. This is one of the few photos that shows Armstrong during the moonwalk.

Audio: Apollo 11 One Small Step

Apollo 13

A makeshift arrangement of equipment, parts and duct tape on the Apollo 13 Lunar Module (LM) saved the crew’s lives after an oxygen tank explosion in the Service Module left them with the LM to use as a “lifeboat.” Using materials only found on the spacecraft, NASA engineers on the ground designed and tested a system that removed carbon dioxide from the LM; the Apollo 13 crew then made the system onboard, April 17, 1970, and returned safely to Earth.


In 1973, Skylab expeditions paved the way for the International Space Station. The four, windmill-like solar arrays were attached to the Apollo Telescope Mount. Observations of the Sun were one of this space lab program’s primary achievements.

Apollo Soyuz Test Project

In the 1970s, U.S.-Soviet political tensions that had accelerated the space race began to thaw. Competition gave way to cooperation between the two nations with the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. International collaboration among many nations would become the norm during the space shuttle era and current cooperation in human spaceflight with the International Space Station. These partnerships have taught us more about the universe, improved our lives at home, and expanded the possibilities for future exploration into deep space.


Astronaut Tom Stafford (foreground) and cosmonaut Alexei Leonov make their historic handshake in space on July 17, 1975. The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project docked together U.S. and Soviet spacecraft and paved the way toward international partnerships in space.

Space Shuttle Era

Over 30 years, NASA’s space shuttle fleet—Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour—flew 135 missions and carried 355 different people to space. Humanity’s first reusable spacecraft, the space shuttle carried people into orbit repeatedly; launched, recovered and repaired satellites; conducted cutting-edge research; and built the largest structure in space, the International Space Station. The space shuttle pushed the bounds of discovery ever farther, requiring not only advanced technologies but also the tremendous efforts of thousands of civil servants and contractors throughout NASA’s field centers and across the nation. Tragically, NASA lost two crews of seven in the 1986 Challenger accident and the 2003 Columbia accident.

Space Shuttle Columbia, the world’s first reusable space vehicle, landing at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center (now NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center) at Edwards Air Force Base, California, April 14, 1981. Image Credit: NASA

Hubble Space Telescope

Deploying the Hubble Space Telescope from Space Shuttle Discovery’s cargo bay, April 25, 1990. A shuttle could carry several satellites into low-Earth orbit on one flight. Go see Discovery at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles International Airport.

First Six Women

The first six women selected to be NASA astronauts, 1978: (back row, left to right) Kathy Sullivan, Shannon Lucid, Anna Fischer, Judy Resnik, (seated left to right) Sally Ride and Rhea Seddon. NASA’s 1978 class of astronauts also included the first African-Americans and the first Asian American. The shuttle brought diversity to space.

S0 Truss Structure

One of many steps in assembling the International Space Station, Space Shuttle Atlantis delivered the S0 Truss Structure (the big set of solar panels across the top of the picture), which the crew installed on top of the Destiny module.

Space Station Era

The International Space Station is a model for global cooperation and scientific advancements that is enabling growth of private industry in low-Earth orbit and development of new technologies to advance human space exploration. Built between 1998 and 2011, the space station has housed humans continuously since Nov. 2, 2000. Because molecules and cells behave differently in space, research in microgravity helps advance scientific knowledge.В The space station is a U.S. National Laboratory, which the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) manages for research investigations that improve life on Earth. NASA has contracted with commercial companies SpaceX, Orbital ATK, and Sierra Nevada Corporation to deliver science investigations, cargo, and supplies to the crews living in space, and soon Boeing and SpaceX will transport astronauts to and from the station.

This picture of the International Space Station was photographed from the space shuttle Atlantis as the orbiting complex and the shuttle performed their relative separation in the early hours of July 19, 2011 Image Credit: NASA

International Cooperation

Nine crew members gathered in the International Space Station’s Kibo laboratory represent four of the five participating space agencies. The station is a partnership of 15 nations through NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency), the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency. “Kibo” means “hope” in Japanese. All crew members speak English and Russian.


A SpaceX Dragon resupply ship nearing its capture point about 10 meters away from the space station. American, Japanese, and Russian cargo spacecraft bring science investigations and supplies to the station about 10 times a year. They don’t go away empty handed— the Orbital ATK Cygnus, JAXA’s HTV, and Russian Progress ships take out the trash and burn up during reentry while the SpaceX Dragon lands in the Pacific Ocean to return science and hardware to researchers on Earth.

300th Day

American astronaut Scott Kelly (left) and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko (right) celebrating their 300th day of working together in space, Jan. 21, 2016. The One–Year Mission helped identify and reduce the biomedical risks astronauts face during longer space exploration, a stepping stone to future missions to deep space.

Peggy Whitson

Peggy Whitson holds the U.S. record for the most cumulative time spent in space: 665 days.

Luca Parmitano

European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano, works with samples stored in the Minus Eighty-Degree Laboratory Freezer in the Destiny laboratory of the ISS. The crew members of each International Space Station expedition work on hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science aboard the International Space Station, humanity’s only permanently occupied microgravity laboratory.

Fresh Fruit

Fresh fruit and vegetables are a special treat for astronauts, so nearly every cargo resupply mission includes fresh fruit and veggies—and sometimes ice cream!

Spot the Station

Nighttime view of the eastern U.S. and Canada from the International Space Station. You can see the station too. Go to Spot the Station and sign up for text and email updates of sighting opportunities.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

House legislators want to hand NASA’s human spaceflight program over to Boeing, Ars Technica

House legislators want to hand NASA’s human spaceflight program over to Boeing

Lawmakers also appear to like cost-plus contracts.

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On Friday evening, a US House of Representatives committee released H.R. 5666, an authorization act for NASA. Such bills are not required for an agency to function, and they do not directly provide funding—that comes from the appropriations committees in the House and Senate. Authorization bills provide a “sense” of Congress, however and indicate what legislators will be willing to fund in the coming years.

The big-picture takeaway from the bipartisan legislation is that it rejects the Artemis Program put forth by the Trump White House, which established the Moon as a cornerstone of human exploration for the next decade or two and as a place for NASA astronauts to learn the skills needed to expand toward Mars in the late 2030s and 2040s. Instead, the House advocates for a “flags-and-footprints” strategy whereby astronauts make a few short visits to the Moon beginning in 2028 and then depart for a Mars orbit mission by 2033.

Space policy

Whatever one might think about NASA’s Artemis Program to land humans on the Moon by 2024, it attempted to learn from decades of space policy failure. Artemis set a near-term target, 2024, for a human return to the Moon that provided some urgency for NASA to get moving. It also sought to develop a “sustainable” path with meaningful activities on the surface of the Moon, including polar landings, efforts to tap lunar resources (the House bill specifically prohibits this), and establishment of a base.

Moreover, Artemis recognized that spaceflight has changed in 50 years. The Artemis program included new players in the industry, such as SpaceX and Blue Origin, as well as up-and-coming companies like Maxar, along with the established aerospace giants like Boeing and Lockheed Martin. NASA’s plans, essentially, invited everyone to the table. Over time, the companies that provided the most reliable services at the lowest costs were likely to get more contracts.

Further Reading

The Artemis Program also emphasized that NASA should be one of many customers, instead of the sole customer. It placed an emphasis on private investment in rockets and spacecraft—asking contractors to put more skin in the game. By opting for fixed-price contracts for the Human Landing System instead of cost-plus deals, the Artemis Program attempted to obtain services at lower costs while also giving contractors incentive to deliver on time.

The Boeing bill?

The House authorization act, which will now be considered in committee before going before the full House, rolls a lot of this back. Its proposed Human Landing System, which will take astronauts from lunar orbit, offers the prime example of this. The bill states that:

  • The United States should retain “full ownership” of the Human Landing System, and unfettered insight into its design and development. In other words, it must be let under a cost-plus contract
  • The lunar plans should utilize “the Orion vehicle and an integrated lunar landing system carried on an Exploration Upper Stage-enhanced Space Launch System for the human lunar landing missions.
  • The Gateway to Mars shall not be required for the conduct of human lunar landing missions.

The net effect of this is to shut down all potential competition and cost savings for the lunar lander. It is particularly telling that there is only one company—Boeing—that has proposed building an integrated lunar lander, has the contract for the Exploration Upper Stage, and is building core stages for the Space Launch System rocket. Boeing has also tried to minimize use of the Gateway.

With the House bill, legislators seem to be trying to take NASA’s human exploration program and give it over to the Boeing Company, going back to an era of cost-plus contracting.

What about Mars?

Some spaceflight advocates have cheered the legislation, as it refocuses NASA’s human spaceflight priorities on Mars. More likely, the House legislation returns NASA to the nebulous “Journey to Mars” days of the Obama administration, which talked about sending humans to Mars in the 2030s without ever putting out concrete plans or providing the requisite funding.

Further Reading

Pretty much everyone in the spaceflight community agrees that it would be amazing to see humans set foot on Mars. But it is hard to believe the House is serious about this activity unless it doubles the human exploration budget and actually requires that funding go to the big technical challenges, like landing large vehicles on Mars, surface habitats, power on Mars, and more. That is absent from this bill.

Effectively, this probably would consign NASA to another decade of spending billions of dollars on “capabilities” such as the Space Launch System without actually sending astronauts anywhere beyond low-Earth orbit.


NASA’s Advisory Council has been warmly supportive of the Artemis Plan proposed by the White House for a lot of the reasons described above—it provides the agency with a clear goal and timeline, involves both commercial and traditional aerospace, and moves beyond the “flags and footprints” of Apollo to something more sustainable.

The chairman of the council’s Human Exploration and Operations Committee, Wayne Hale, said he did not want to get ahead of his committee members when it came to the House legislation and what it would mean for NASA. However, he did tell Ars, “The proposed authorization bill is disappointing.”

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation was more blunt in a statement issued Sunday night: “As written, the NASA Authorization bill would not create a sustainable space exploration architecture and would instead set NASA up for failure by eliminating commercial participation and competition in key programs. As NASA and the White House have repeatedly stated, any sustainable space exploration effort must bring together the best of government and commercial industry to achieve a safe and affordable 21st century space enterprise.”

Further Reading

And Homer Hickam, a former NASA engineer and the author of Rocket Boys, commented, “If this or anything like it is approved, I will resign from the National Space Council’s User Advisory Group. After years of me and so many others urging NASA to get out of LEO and go back to the moon and this time to stay, it would be too much to bear to now watch at close range it being ruined by a Mars fantasy, probably while other nations make a lunar land rush.”

The House Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Technology will hold a hearing Wednesday to mark up this legislation. Further discussions will take place on February 10, when the White House releases its 2021 budget request, which will contain a five-year funding plan for Artemis along with a request for Congress to fund it.

NASA’s new human spaceflight chief is determined to make 2024 deadline

NASA’s new human spaceflight chief is determined to make 2024 deadline

In October, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced he was hiring Doug Loverro as his new associate administrator for human exploration and operations. For the space industry, it was a familiar name in an unfamiliar role. Loverro had spent his career up until now in national security space at the Air Force, National Reconnaissance Office and, most recently, at the Pentagon as deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy.

Doug Loverro, NASA’s new human spaceflight chief, wears a special lapel pin to count down the days left to meet a 2024 goal for landing humans on the moon. Credit: Lisa Nipp for SpaceNews

Loverro brings that extensive experience into a new setting. As the successor to Bill Gerstenmaier, who led NASA’s human spaceflight programs for years before being reassigned in July, Loverro is responsible for the Artemis program to return humans to the moon, as well as the commercial crew program and the International Space Station: all high-profile programs with their own sets of challenges.

In this excerpt from a “fireside chat” at the third annual SpaceNews Awards for Excellence & Innovation Dec. 10, Loverro discusses why he took on this new challenge and Bridenstine explains why he believes Loverro is the right person for the job.

After a long career in national security space, why did you decide to come to NASA and take on the challenge of human spaceflight?

Loverro: The short answer is because this man [Bridenstine] asked me to. The longer answer is, how can you resist a job like this? How can anybody who cares anything about space not go ahead and jump at the opportunity to put women and men back on the moon?

I mean, it’s the dream of a lifetime, because my dream started back in the ’60s when I watched the first human missions. I was in Spain with 600 of my high school friends on a foreign study tour. At 9 o’clock at night, some of us were huddled around a 19-inch black-and-white TV watching Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin land on the moon and, a couple of hours later, climb down the ladder.

I have been on that quest my entire existence. I joined the Air Force to go ahead and become an astronaut. But I realized it was much more fun to conceive and build space things than just to fly them. This job is got to be one of the best jobs I’ve had in my entire career, and I’ve had some great jobs. It’s going to be so much fun to succeed in this journey.

Why was Loverro the right person for the job after the nationwide search you said you undertook to fill it?

Bridenstine: Everybody knows that, to run Human Exploration and Operations (HEO), you have to have somebody technical, who knows the technical details. You have to have somebody who knows program management, who has run large programs before. Of course, Doug has done those things in a long career in the Air Force.

But there’s two things that make Doug unique. First is the political savvy. When you’re trying to steer a large organization like NASA, there are all kinds of things that you can do to get stuck in political never-never land, and there’s all kinds of things that you could even just say that get you in political trouble. Doug has the political background, which I think is important.

The other thing that stands out is, when you’re trying to steer a large organization, you got to have this “forcing function.” Doug has an understanding of how the machine works, and can create those forcing functions that a lot of times make bureaucrats uncomfortable. But he forces them to move in the direction he needs them to go. So those are the things that are needed at NASA, and I thought he fit the bill perfectly for the job.

What are you doing to get up to speed with your whole portfolio of programs?

Loverro: The way I learn how an organization works is you go out and meet people, and that’s what I’m doing right now. My important job right now is to understand from the people who work for me what they’re thinking, what their desires are, what their needs are, what their problems are. One of the things I do, and I hope I do well, is to make it permissible to tell me what they really think, tell me what our problems are, tell me what our issues are. We will not get to the moon successfully unless we can look ourselves in the mirror and tell ourselves the truth about where we are, what we’re doing, what our issues are and what strong actions we need to take to solve them.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, center, discussing Artemis during a fireside chat with SpaceNews Senior Staff Writer Jeff Foust, left, and NASA human spaceflight chief Doug Loverro, right, Dec. 10 in Washington. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

One of those issues is getting SLS and Orion ready for launch. Where are you in determining a launch date for Artemis 1?

Loverro: I’m at the beginning of assessing where the program is. I am not going to go ahead and tell you what the launch date is today because I don’t know. I’m putting together a team that the administrator has let me run that will be a baseline assessment team. I want to understand who all owns this program and how they connect together. Where do we stand right now? What are the individual technical issues that we need to solve? Following that review we will get into a huddle and we will all figure out what the right date is for Artemis 1.

Artemis 1 is important, no question. It will show we have made progress. But that’s another one of those steps on the journey on the moon, and we can’t overly focus on that. Simply delivering on the Artemis 1 launch date without making sure I can follow it with Artemis 2 or Artemis 3 is the wrong thing to do. We’re going to look at the whole program all the way up to the end of 2024, and not just the next step, because that would leave us blind to what lies ahead.

Bridenstine: A lot of people seem to believe that, if Artemis 1 slips, then Artemis 3 isn’t going to make it in 2024, and that is simply not accurate. Artemis 2 is an independent mission from Artemis 1, and if we needed to we could push Artemis 1 back and still make Artemis 2 go on schedule to make Artemis 3 successful. Yet make no mistake, we’re pushing as hard as we can to get going on all of them.

You’ve got a lapel pin with the number 1,848, the number of days until the end of 2024. What prompted that?

Loverro: It’s a reminder to me and all of us, but it’s more than just a reminder. It’s a celebration of, “What are you going to do today to help us get closer to our goal?” Day 1848 will count in our journey to the moon. What did each of the individuals working on this program — not just senior officials like myself or the administrator or my program managers, but everybody in the chain — do today to go ahead and get us one step closer to the moon?

I want to celebrate one of the heroes within our HEO family every day. Right after the new year we’re going to start doing the “HEO Hero.” Each day we will commemorate one of our HEO Heroes. I don’t care if it’s a Ph.D. engineer or somebody who’s keeping our facilities clean or anybody in between, because each day one of those individuals has led us one step closer to the moon, and that’s what this countdown pin represents.

So, do you have 1,848 pins lying around at home?

Loverro: It’s a trade secret how those pins generate themselves.

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 23, 2019 issue of SpaceNews magazine.

NASA names Douglas Loverro new director of human spaceflight operations – CBS News

NASA names new director of human spaceflight operations

October 16, 2019 / 3:30 PM / CBS News

Douglas Loverro, a veteran manager with broad experience in national security space operations, has been selected by NASA to lead the agency’s human space flight programs. He takes over at a critical moment as the agency assesses the readiness of new commercial crew ships amid a full-court press to land astronauts on the moon in 2024.

Loverro is “a respected strategic leader in both civilian and defense programs, overseeing the development and implementation of highly complicated systems,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement.

“He is known for his strong, bipartisan work, and his experience with large programs will be of great benefit to NASA at this critical time in our final development of human spaceflight systems for both Commercial Crew and Artemis.”

Trending News ›

Artemis is the name of NASA’s second-generation moon program, an accelerated Trump administration initiative to send astronauts back to the moon four years earlier than NASA originally had planned.

Douglas L. Loverro Department of Defense

Bridenstine announced Loverro’s appointment three months after dismissing long-time associate administrator Bill Gerstenmaier, a widely respected NASA engineer with decades of human spaceflight experience, in a major management shakeup intended to spark a fresh approach to running the agency’s most complex — and expensive — programs.

Former astronaut Ken Bowersox served as acting associate administrator of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate after Gerstenmaier’s departure. He now will resume is previous role as deputy associate administrator.

“It’s an interesting appointment,” John Logsdon, a noted author and space historian, said of Loverro. “He’s a good guy, very accessible, very easy to get along with. In his earlier life, he managed big procurement projects and has a reputation as a good manager.”

More recently, Logsdon said, Loverro “dealt with the White House, Congress and international partners on security space issues. I think he’s well fitted to negotiate the relationships in exploration going forward.”

Loverro holds a master’s degree in physics from the University of New Mexico, a master’s in political science from Auburn University and an MBA from the University of West Florida. He spent three decades working with the Department of Defense and the secretive National Reconnaissance Office.

He retired from the Air Force as a colonel in 2006 after selection as a member of the Defense Intelligence Senior Executive Service.

As chief of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at agency Headquarters, Loverro will be taking over top-level management of the International Space Station, the Commercial Crew Program and the Artemis project.

Boeing and SpaceX , working under NASA contracts to commercially develop new space capsules to ferry astronauts to and from the space station, are struggling to ready their ships for initial piloted test flights in the wake of budget shortfalls and technical issues.

Both companies now plan to launch astronaut crews on those long-awaited test flights early next year to pave the way toward operational crew rotation missions that will end NASA’s sole reliance on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft for ferrying astronauts to and from the station.

Even so, NASA likely will be forced to buy additional Soyuz seats to ensure a continuous U.S. presence aboard the lab complex if significant additional delays are encountered. As it now stands, the final NASA-contracted seat aboard a Soyuz will be used in April.

It’s not yet known when the first piloted Commercial Crew mission will take off, but Loverro will play a major role in assessing NASA requirements and launch targets as testing proceeds.

His biggest challenge will be overseeing the Artemis moon program in the midst of political wrangling over how much the project might cost and resolution of major technical challenges, from work to ready NASA’s huge new Space Launch System — SLS — booster for flight to development of a commercially procured lunar lander.

NASA originally hoped to send astronauts back to the moon in 2028, but the Trump administration reset the agenda and ordered NASA to move that up four years for a landing in 2024. The administration requested $1.6 billion in supplemental funding for the agency’s 2020 budget request to kick-start development of key systems, including a moon lander.

During a hearing Wednesday of the House appropriations subcommittee for Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies, Chairman José Serrano repeatedly pressed Bridenstine for an Artemis cost estimate beyond 2020.

“I remain extremely concerned about the additional costs to accelerate the mission to the moon by four years,” he said in opening remarks. “Some experts have said the additional financial resources needed to meet the administration’s imposed 2024 deadline could exceed $25 billion over the next five years compared to the original 2028 schedule.

“To date, NASA has not provided the committee with a full cost estimate despite repeated requests. At a time of huge financial needs across numerous government programs, all competing for funding within the budget caps, an additional $25 billion cost would severely impact vital programs.”

Bridenstine said later that NASA is working to refine schedules and cost estimates and will include projected costs for Artemis in the agency’s next budget proposal.

“We are working with the Office of Management and Budget and the National Space Council to come up with an administration consensus for what the total cost will be, and we will submit that in February,” he said.

NASA is relying on the huge Boeing-built SLS rocket to propel Artemis astronauts back to the moon aboard Orion capsules built by Lockheed Martin. The SLS is years behind schedule and is not expected to make its initial unpiloted test flight until 2021.

Assuming the rocket makes it through development and flight tests, current plans call for an astronaut crew to dock with a mini space station — Gateway — in lunar orbit in 2024 before descending to the surface in a commercially developed lander.

Managing how that program will play out in Congress and in space will be at the top of Loverro’s agenda.

“It’s really a management challenge,” Logsdon said. “There’s a flip side to his not having a background in human spaceflight, that is, he doesn’t have background in human spaceflight with all the culture that comes with that. He can take a fresh look.”

First published on October 16, 2019 / 3:30 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Bill Harwood has been covering the U.S. space program full-time since 1984, first as Cape Canaveral bureau chief for United Press International and now as a consultant for CBS News. He covered 129 space shuttle missions, every interplanetary flight since Voyager 2’s flyby of Neptune and scores of commercial and military launches. Based at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Harwood is a devoted amateur astronomer and co-author of “Comm Check: The Final Flight of Shuttle Columbia.”

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Meet NASA s New Leader of Human Spaceflight Operations, Space

Meet NASA’s New Leader of Human Spaceflight Operations

Douglas Loverro is now in charge of NASA’s Artemis and commercial crew programs.

NASA’s human spaceflight program just got a new leader.

Agency chief Jim Bridenstine announced last week that Douglas Loverro has been named the agency’s new associate administrator for its Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate — a position that puts him in charge of safely landing NASA astronauts on the moon in 2024 as well as the upcoming commercial crew missions to the International Space Station.

Although he’s new to NASA, he has decades of experience in national security space, has fostered international cooperation in space exploration, and is a vocal advocate of the Space Force.

“I worked with Doug for many years on the Hill, and he is a respected strategic leader in both civilian and defense programs, overseeing the development and implementation of highly complicated systems,” Bridenstine said in a statement. “He is known for his strong, bipartisan work and his experience with large programs will be of great benefit to NASA at this critical time in our final development of human spaceflight systems for both Commercial Crew and Artemis.”

Before coming to NASA, Loverro spent three decades working for the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Reconnaissance Office, where he developed policies for national security-related space activities. He was the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy from 2013 to 2017. Since then, he has operated an independent consulting firm.

“I have worked with Doug with space related matters for many years. He is highly qualified, competent, and will do a superb job leading NASA’s human exploration directorate,” Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) said in the statement.

Loverro holds a Master’s of Science in Physics from the University of New Mexico in addition to his Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from the U.S. Air Force Academy. He also has a Master’s of Political Science from Auburn University and a Master of Business Administration from the University of West Florida.

At NASA, he will be taking over the job of former NASA astronaut Ken Bowersox, who has been serving at the acting associate administrator since July. Before Bowersox received that temporary position, it was held by Bill Gerstenmaier for nearly a decade. Bowersox is now back to his old job as the deputy associate administrator.

Gerstenmaier became the associate administrator for space operations in 2005, and his title changed in 2011 when NASA merged its Exploration Systems Directorate and Space Operations Directorate to create the new Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD). In July, Gerstenmaier left HEOMD to serve as a special advisor to NASA’s Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard.

“I want to thank Ken and the entire NASA team for their commitment since I arrived at NASA. We have made incredible progress,” Bridenstine said. “Ken and Doug are respected members of their fields and will continue to lead these great people at the agency,” he added. “We have a lot of work to accomplish to safely get humans flying from America again and I believe we have the leadership to get it done.”

Now that Loverro has been named the new associate administrator, NASA expects to soon be able to come up with a new targeted launch date for the long-overdue first flight of its Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket, Bowersox said at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight on Oct. 10. The SLS rocket, which is supposed to launch astronauts to the moon, is currently scheduled for a test flight sometime in 2020, though Bowersox said it will likely slip to mid-2021.