Who Will the Famous Astronauts of the 21st Century Be? The Atlantic

How Christina Koch Could Become a Spaceflight Legend

One of the astronauts in NASA’s current corps could be the first in a generation to walk on the moon—or the first to walk on Mars.

When Christina Koch returned to Earth earlier this month, feeling the full force of the planet’s gravity for the first time in a long time, it was the middle of the night in the United States. Her capsule parachuted into the Kazakh desert, and by morning, her name was all over the news. After spending 328 days living on the International Space Station, Koch had set a new record for American women in space.

The volume of attention that morning, however warranted, was somewhat unusual for a modern astronaut. Missions to the space station are routine now, and the last astronaut to have his full name flashing across headlines, as if in marquee lights, was Scott Kelly, who nearly four years earlier broke the American record for long-duration spaceflight.

All of this is to say that, in this era of space travel, most astronauts don’t become household names. Asked to think of an astronaut, most people would probably default to Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon—not to one of the dozens of astronauts who have flown to space in this century, or even one of the three who are there right now. The public today is more likely to be familiar with nonhuman explorers, like the Mars rover Curiosity and the New Horizons spacecraft, which photographed Pluto.

But this century holds potential for new milestones in space exploration, the kind that can turn spacefarers into celebrities. The next Neil Armstrong could already be in NASA’s astronaut corps, which is more diverse now than ever before. This person will have charisma and steely resolve—and probably a very compelling Instagram account.

There is no distinct formula that makes astronauts famous, but an obvious component is novelty, says Margaret Weitekamp, a curator in the space-history department at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. Firsts—Armstrong stepping onto the lunar surface, delivering his famous line after he put his boot down—become indelible in public memory. Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, is probably the most well-known American female astronaut.

Other superlatives, especially of the Guinness World Records variety—the most, the longest, the oldest—can make astronauts, if not flat-out famous, at least memorable. Peggy Whitson, for example, holds the record for most spacewalks by a woman. Seconds can be even less sticky. Do you remember, for instance, what the commander of Apollo 12, the second moon-landing mission, said when he descended from the lander and touched the gray surface? Or what his name was? Twelve men have walked on the moon, and even those in the space community might struggle to name all of them. Many people don’t realize that there was a third astronaut on the Apollo 11 mission: Michael Collins, who stayed behind in the command module while Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin went to the surface.

Some firsts, of course, can be eclipsed by later, bigger firsts. Alan Shepard was heralded as a national hero when he became the first American to reach space in 1961, less than a month after Yuri Gagarin did it for the Soviet Union. When John Glenn flew a year later, he didn’t just pierce the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space; he circled the planet three times. It was a more intense mission, and Glenn came up with a memorable tagline for it, which he repeated for years to come: “Zero G and I feel fine.” Today, Glenn is arguably the more famous of the two. As NASA grew its astronaut corps in the 1960s, astronauts “needed slightly more extraordinary circumstances to break out of the pack and become that household name,” Weitekamp says. Even milestone “firsts” didn’t always make a lasting impression in the national imagination; the first NASA astronauts of color to travel to space—Guion Bluford, who flew on the shuttle in 1983, and Mae Jemison, who followed in 1992—are icons in the space community, but less well known to laypeople.

The first all-female spacewalk, conducted last fall by Koch and Jessica Meir, drew a great deal of attention, and if it ever materialized, so would the first all-female crew on the ISS. When NASA astronauts launch on a brand-new SpaceX transportation system sometime this year, the first endeavor of its kind, the passengers’ names will most certainly cut through the news cycle. But such milestones, on their own, are unlikely to bestow astronauts with mythical status.

“When you start thinking about who’s going to be the next Neil Armstrong, you’re going to be looking for that combination of achievement and that personality that catches the public’s attention, the person who has the ‘it’ factor,” Weitekamp says.

Armstrong, she adds, had it. After he flew a couple of missions for Gemini, NASA’s pre-Apollo program, the agency sent him on a publicity tour through South America. Armstrong took a Spanish conversation class to prepare for the trip and name-dropped important South American figures, particularly in aviation, in his speeches, according to James R. Hansen’s biography of the astronaut. “He never failed to choose the right words,” recalled George Low, a NASA executive who traveled with Armstrong and was impressed.

Low would later manage the Apollo program and its crew assignments, including which astronaut should be the first one out of the lander. Armstrong had proved to NASA leadership not only that he could master the mission—he was one of the agency’s best pilots—but that he could handle the attention, too. Armstrong is famous in part because NASA chose him to be famous and, after he finished the mission, turned him into a spokesman for American spaceflight. Aldrin, meanwhile, may be better remembered for the persona he cultivated after visiting the moon, where he followed Armstrong onto the lunar surface. Whereas Armstrong, who died in 2012, is remembered for his stoic and amiable personality, Aldrin became known for a feisty attitude he has maintained into his 90s. (In recent years, he punched a moon-landing denier outside of a hotel and made a GIF-worthy range of facial expressions behind President Trump as he spoke about space exploration.)

In some cases, the “it” factor can outweigh a record-setting superlative. Chris Hadfield is the first Canadian to do a spacewalk, but he’s best known for his floating rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” on board the ISS, which has more than 45 million views on YouTube. Scott Kelly holds the American record for the most consecutive days in space, but he built his fan base through frequent Instagram posts of beautiful Earth shots. NASA does plenty of work to promote astronauts, especially those involved in the flashiest missions. But thanks to social media—which astronauts are encouraged to use—the spacefarers can take that much more ownership of their public image.

Fans have always been eager for such personal glimpses of astronauts’ personalities, Weitekamp says; in the 1950s and ’60s, Life magazine ran stories about the lives of the Mercury astronauts, ghostwritten but published under the men’s bylines. These days, every NASA astronaut has a professional Twitter account—a very different kind of launchpad for name recognition, but potentially nearly as effective. A tweet from Koch featuring a heartwarming video of the astronaut greeting her dog, adorably overjoyed after their long separation, quickly went viral.

To be a spaceflight legend, an astronaut will likely need, as Weitekamp puts it, extraordinary circumstances. Imagine the first woman on the moon, or the first people to set foot on Mars. It is not unrealistic to think that at the end of this century, the name of the first person to step onto the red planet will be more prominently woven into collective memory than the name Neil Armstrong. By the end of this century, 1969 will be 130 years in the past, as distant a memory as 1890 is now, when Nellie Bly made headlines by circumnavigating the globe, by ship and by rail, in just 72 days.

These explorers are probably already within NASA’s ranks. (Or, perhaps, working for a private company: The 21st century’s most famous spacefarer could end up being Elon Musk.) NASA recently added 11 new members to its active astronaut corps, bringing the total to 48. The new class, fresh off training, “may be assigned to missions destined for the International Space Station, the Moon, and ultimately, Mars,” the space agency said in a statement. These new astronauts can’t predict which among their ranks might be chosen for the next big feat in spaceflight history, but they can start daydreaming about what they might say as they take their own first step. Or they could go the Armstrong route and wait until the moment is near. Days before Apollo 11 launched, a reporter asked whether Armstrong, being “destined to become a historical personage of some consequence,” had come up with “something suitably historical and memorable” to say when he stepped onto the moon. “No, I haven’t,” Armstrong replied. Better to make history first.

Virginia Space Flight Academy Reviews and Ratings, Wallops Island, VA, Donate, Volunteer, Review, GreatNonprofits

Virginia Space Flight Academy

  • EIN 54-2040355
  • (757) 824-3800
  • 7536 Kearsarge Circle PO Box 188 Atlantic, VA 23303 Wallops Island VA 23337 USA
  • www.VASpaceFlightAcademy.org
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Nonprofit Overview

Mission: Educational camp for students

Target demographics: boys & girls aged 11-18

Direct beneficiaries per year: 146 residential campers, 120+ scouts

Geographic areas served: Wallops Island area

Programs: STEM initiatives of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math through robotics and rocketry. Week long summer residential programs. Day and weekend programs for school and scouting groups.

Community Stories

69 Stories from Volunteers, Donors & Supporters

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If any of you have a kid who is 11-16 and a space / rocket nut, I highly recommend the Virginia Space Flight Academy summer camp at Wallops Island (near Chincoteague). They offer a one-week sleepaway camp that my son tried last summer and absolutely loved. It was a bit of a leap of faith for us because we did not have a personal recommendation, but it was everything and more that they promised. At drop-off and pick-up, we met many families who had traveled farther than us, and were coming back year after year.

The idea is that the kids spend the week doing hands-on aeronautics activities, like building and launching model rockets and/or robotics. Then they also tour the fascinating facilities around there and hear from professionals in the field. So they tour the launch pad and launch control at Wallops, as well as the assembly area for the Northrop Grumman Antares rocket. They also tour the NOAA facility where weather balloons are launched every day. They go to the Navy’s Surface Combat System Center, too.

The kids sleep similar to a college setting – they have three to each room, with a counselor on each hallway of 12 kids. They use nice tour buses to travel to field trips, and they eat at the NASA cafeteria and local restaurants. My son said the food was good.

Overall it was a fantastic camp, and my son plans to return!

I had the privilege of attending the camp as a camper for 7 years and now a counselor for one. I have to say that the behind the scenes work done in order to achieve the result the camper experience is perfectly organized by Ms.Hellen and Mr.Dean giving the counselors the ability to really focus on the kids. In addition all the fun I had as a camper is just that much better when I have seen all the work and passion put into planning and executing activities like tours and the classroom experience.

Previous Stories

I have attended this camp for 6 years now and have loved it every year I am 16 now and hope to become a counselor. i was also surprised to hear we are the only annual camp that is able to tour working NASA facility. We are able to build a robot this year and we fought them against each other and i decided to build a wall using 12 motors and 3 cores. Overall the counselors are fun to be around all week making the camp even better than it already is. Also the camp is able to keep the tours we take informational and fun

AnnieMcShane77 General Member of the Public 10/27/2019

Through friends and family living on Chincoteague Island, Virginia, I know of the great work this organization does for young people. Its about education in the Sciences and the opportunity for young people to work together as a group which builds character. This is a wonderful program to inspire young people to see a world with limitless possibilities.
Annie McShane, Delaware

NASAcamper General Member of the Public 10/20/2019

My son attended for 6 years. He looked forward to all the different adventures they did -making and launching rockets – robotics – visiting NASA, live video chat with the astronauts in space.
He has made friends for a lifetime. One year they visited NASA and saw a rocket that was actually launched into space. Another year one of the campers Alyssa Carson he became friends will be the youngest woman astronauts to go into space. Campers come from all over the world. The counselors, staff, and employees and military from NASA share their experiences as well.
This past summer he returned as a camp counselor. Through his experiences he is now studying to be an aerospace engineer.
Big thank you to Helen for all she has done to make the program an experience of a lifetime for all the campers!

rrharley Professional with expertise in this field 10/14/2019

Enthusiasm for developing students in STEM shines through in every aspect of this camp. It is wonderfully run, and a great opportunity to be apart of, whether you are a camper or a staffer.

The Virginia Space Flight Academy. Director and Fruitland Community Center, Inc, Director have been working together for two years now to bring STEM education to our community. VSFA lends their expertise to help FCC students learn about rocketry, drones and coding. It’s fun and interactive. Together, we are reaching at risk youth to inspire them to become part of the next generation of a locally based space workforce.

Cpitts1496 Professional with expertise in this field 09/09/2019

My experience as a counselor was absolutely amazing. I enjoyed every moment of it learning about new information along with the campers about NASA and MARS that I did not know. After my time as I counselor I talked to my internship coordinator at my community college to intern at NASA. I was an intern for about a year and a few months later I got hired on full-time in the IT department. When I was a counselor I was able to see a lot of different buildings on the base that helped me when I received my internship because I was familiar with the areas and the different employees I met during my counselor position. It was a wonderful opportunity and I am blessed I was able to be a part of the Virginia Space Flight Academy.

This camp is unique among “space camps”. It’s physically adjacent to Wallops Flight Facility (an operational NASA installation), and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (a commercial spaceport). Campers, in addition to their fun, mind-stretching, hands-on activities, get to visit these facilities, observe operations, and interact with technicians, engineers and scientists. This emphatically demonstrates to them the broad range of space related careers available excites campers with varied interests, and generates their highly positive evaluations. Campers also often get to witness rocket and balloon launches, as well as unique research aircraft and unmanned drones conducting operations from Wallops.

A testament to the appeal and value of their camp experience is the return of campers in subsequent years, with some even becoming camp counselors during their college years.

This is my son Jacob’s 3rd year at the Virginia Space Flight Academy camp. He always enjoys building and launching the rockets, the tours and extracurricular activities. He has made friends from different areas that he stay in touch with. The administration and staff are wonderful to deal with. Jacob is looking forward to camp 2020.

My son went to the Virginia Space Flight Academy for the first time this summer had an absolute blast! He learned a lot and there was so much to do every day. He made wonderful memories and I absolutely recommend this camp to any child that wants to learn more about space. The counselors was all nice and we received a phone call every night from our camper which was a nice surprise as electronics are not allowed. My daughter is only 9 but can’t wait to go to this camp when she is older. We love this nonprofit organization!

GREAT EXPERIENCE thanks to GREAT PEOPLE, coordinators and counselors! First time away from home without parents for extended time, our son (David) gave it a 10 out of 10 (he’s 11). He learned about assembly of the rockets and dynamic balancing components. He built his own model rocket and launched it. The group did tours of the local NASA facility, visited an actual launch pad and spoke with aerospace engineers in a small setting. The night time activities, including meals at different area restaurants left no idle time . He was busy from 7:30am – 9pm, and really enjoyed.

This is a great program for kids interested in rocketry, robotics, space, and NASA. My son attended for the first time this year. He is 13 and has high functioning autism. His school had a robotics team this past year that he joined and did really well in so his coach recommended the space flight academy to us. He had also built and launched some model rockets with his grandfather in the past and has a general interest in space and engineering. We were very nervous about sending him since he, though very high functioning, is on the spectrum. He had never stayed anywhere without an immediate family member before. But he did great! The camp staff was great with him and everything was very well organized. We stayed nearby for the week just in case there were any problems and we even popped in a couple of times when there were activities scheduled and our son was having a blast! They learn a lot, make new friends, get to see a ton of really cool stuff, and do a lot of fun activities. This was a great experience for him and he is looking forward to coming back next year!

Writer General Member of the Public 10/11/2018

This past summer my son was employed by the Virginia Space Flight Academy. He served in an administrative role and helped with documenting the activities of the camp attendees. It was a great experience for him and was always eager to share stories of the day. The leadership and direction of Helen was key in making his job a success. I would recommend working at the VSFA for anyone interested in technology.

As the Camp Director, I have ran this camp for 2 years. Every camp, I have always been impressed with the quality of campers that attend. If your child is interested in STEM (Robotics, Astronomy, Coding, Rocketry) consider this camp. In addition to the curriculum, the campers get to meet other kids that share the same interest and passion. Watching the campers form friendships through the sharing of their knowledge and experience makes running this camp a worth while effort and joy.

My daughter went to Virginia Space Flight Academy for the first time this summer. She had the best time that she has ever had! Learning about rockets, robots, drones, astronomy, and ardunio coding was more in depth and more fun than any of of us had expected! What a professional and well run organization! I cannot say enough about it. My daughter is ready to visit again next summer.

Finishing up my second year at the Virginia Space Flight Academy, I am left with nothing but great memories. Not only are the activities in the rocketry camp fun and engaging, but the other students and I were able too see everything that we were doing on a much larger scale through NASA tours. I had an absolute blast (no pun intended) while making and launching my rocket. The excitement i have felt in this camp has not been exceeded in any camp and I feel great accomplishment and pride as well. This is what truly sets this camp apart, everyone is left with a feeling of satisfaction unmet by any other camp. There are so many wonderful experiences such as a live interview with an interview with an astronaut on the ISS (enclosed in this review is the question I asked). Not only did this make my summer exceptional, but it puts all the campers in a position for success in life with many wonderful things to include on an aerospace resume. Overall, this is one of the most exciting camps I have been to, and it was most definitely worth a 6 hour flight from Washington State!

i am now ending VSFA and it was amazing. this year I got to build a 2 stage rocket and it was great and i got to not even launch it but also not see it explode. i also built a 1 stage with Marco. it was the best rocket i built. its great to not build a rocket from a kit but to build it with freedom.

I came to VSFA advanced camp last year however returning this year was a new and exciting experience yet again just as the year before. While we did visit some of the same locations we got new information and saw how much changed in just a year; it was truly eye-opening how things changes in the industry, and how much of an impact we can make in our future. The rocketry aspects changed significantly allowing me to have a new invigorating and exciting experience with it. The campers here were mostly new to me so I was able to make new friends and some of my old friends from last year remained along with me. The councilors were quite energetic for this being the last week and many of them were very personable. Many of the councilors from last year were gone however the new ones were just as quality as before (In particular Madi and Gretchen). The most exciting part of the week started before camp even did; we were asked to submit questions for a down-link from the International Space Station (ISS). I asked a total of three questions beforehand which were then vetted by NASA and one of mine was selected. I got to ask a question to the Commander of the ISS! Currently I live abroad but still it was worth the trip because it is always an experience I will never forget.

I came to camp not really wanting to go because of my past experience with this camp but when I put my stuff down into the dorm, I immediately made a friend. This week I have made a lot of friends and I have learned so much cool stuff regarding robotics and NASA in general. I have even considered changing what I want to be when I grow up to a scientist-doctor to a space-scientist-doctor. I just have to appreciate how much work the counselors have done for this program to work. The counselors Maddie and Jake have been slaving at this with just about no break for three weeks. I really love and appreciate the effort that they have put into trying to make the curriculum as best as possible for the campers. Okay, so the tours that we have been doing all week are the same tours that we did last year when I came to camp and I would really appreciate to not have to repeat the same tours every year I come here, seeing as I plan to come here until I no longer fit the age requirements. It isn’t really a big deal, but I do have to say that I wish that there was some variety to the tours, rather than having the same tours every year. I suggest splitting the tours up into an A-B schedule, with the schedule switching every year from A to B and vice versa. I feel that doing this would make the whole camp a better experience in total. The time between the activities and the quiet time back at the dorms is well balanced and I can say I very much appreciate this, with me needing a break from social situations once in a while. Overall, I was not expecting to have an amazing time this year, because I was comparing it to last year but, still, I have a wonderful time this week and I am planning to come back next year.

I have now attended VSFA’s space camp two years in a row an both have been memorable experiences. My first year was an absolute blast and I particularly loved the robotics competition which our team won. There were multitudes of of hands on activities and we were kept busy and entertained. My second year was also fun but I had some issues. The food at lunch isn’t great and after a week the grease can make you feel a little funny. I also wish that they let us go to sleep earlier because most nights ended at eleven even though they didn’t have to. The robotics program this year was not what I expected. The thinsats we tried to use were finicky and incapable of accurate data collection. We were also only able to use party balloons which were not able to lift the thinsats very high. I want to make it clear though that the staff is fantastic and they tried so hard to get the sats working for us. I also had the opportunity to participate in a live ISS downlink at the NASA Wallops visitor center. That was an incredible experience to be sure and it is the reason this review reads three stars instead of two. Maybe i’m just not a sleep away camp person but I could go either way on this camp.

What an amazing week for my daughter who will be entering the 8ith grade this fall. To date she’s been one of the only girls on the LEGO Robotics team at her school, and she really wanted to explore and learn more, especially coding. This camp proved to be beyond what we had expected. Not only did she learn more about Robotics and Coding, she also explored Rockets and Drones, as well as tours of NASA and NOAA. Evenings were topped off with fun adventures and local culture. This really was everything I had hoped it would be. She hasn’t stopped talking about all the fun she’s had or the friends she’s made. Next summer can’t come soon enough for her.

Ashley Quinn O. General Member of the Public 07/30/2018

After, attending camp at only age 11 my son came back home wanting to be an Aerospace Engineer. He loves the tours and hands on experiences the camp has to offer. This year his love for rocketry grew. I felt extremely confident and safe with the staff and camp leaving him there for the week with a group of new friends. He was sad to leave them at pickup. The graduation ceremony is A+, just like everything the camp does. My son has been to this camp two times and can’t wait to go back next year!

High recommendations. I was very careful when deciding on when and where to send my only 13 year old son. He enrolled this summer in the camp with a friend from home. They had so much fun, but what I was amazed with is how much he learned! He wants to return next year. Both families felt that the program was a fine tuned machine. We felt that the boys were in a safe environment. He was NEVER bored even though he had no electronics for a week! I was amazed at the organization of the check in and check out procedures. I own a business and I really felt that this camp deserves to be recognized for the great work they are doing in getting kids involved in the STEM areas of rocketry and robotics!

The Virginia Space Flight Academy is a great summer camp. We get to go on the Wallops Island Flight Facility. We get to go on lots of tours around each facility and work hands on with lots of cool things including robotics and rocketry.

Virginia Space Flight Academy is a great nonprofit. It is run and maintained by a group of very nice people. Virginia Space gave me an experience i otherwise would not have had. We got to build rockets. We toured parts of the NASA that would otherwise be restricted. there were some serious times but we still had fun. The staff were very laid back. We got to ask questions with people who have worked for NASA. we got to go on the NASA base every day. We went to the Navy clubhouse and had a BBQ. We had a blast. i would recommend this to any kid who wants to work with technology in their future .

I came here thinking that this program would be the same as Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. It turns out that the two programs were different, but in a good way. They were different in a way that covered a large area of jobs and opportunities that the space industry provides. This program focused more on the technical sides with rocketry and robotics. It was nice to see that there are so many things to do that aren’t just being an astronaut or astronomer. I do have to say that Stephen is my favorite counselor. This was my first year at this camp, and I loved it. I would definitely recommend this camp to others, and I would come back next year and maybe the next, too.
A really good thing that this camp has is good counselors. They are really easy to work with and they all have fun personalities. Thanks for the opportunity.

i liked being able to make and test rockets and also being able to tour a lot of places in NASA and going to the visitors center. we fit a lot of tours and activities into the week and we went to dinner at different places every night which was really fun also when we did the simple machines project we worked with the people we shared a room with at night which was good because we had already known each other a little bit but it was a good way to work together on it. Stephen was my favorite counselor and Davis because they were fun. we got talked to by a lot of people who work here and i thought it was cool how they did the testing where you go into the space suit and have to see how long you can be in it (i think its called a stress test) a bad thing was that we couldn’t have phones but it was a really fun week and i would recommend it to people who are interested in space and who want to work at NASA or fly planes.

tivoli General Member of the Public 07/24/2017

The Virginia Space Flight Academy is absolutely the best camp experience my 13 year old son has ever had. The entire organization is professionally run, with staff that is of the highest quality and dedication. Real mentors through and through. Not a typical science camp – the VA Space Flight Academy provides a challenging, mind blowing week of enrichment. Truly hands on – they build multiple rockets and robots each and every day, with interesting additional challenges. The partnership with NASA, NOAA, and the Navy gives campers the once in a lifetime opportunity to learn directly from the professionals and see how their learning is applied. Inspiring the next generation of innovators – that’s central to their mission, and definitely had that effect on my child. Many thanks – we will be back!

levyab General Member of the Public 07/19/2017

My 12 year-old son attended the camp this summer and had an incredible and transformative experience! He still can’t stop talking about seeing the rocket launch, and seeing the hangar where they build the rockets. He really liked the counselors and the program. He is now talking about how he can get an internship down there when he is in college! Unique and impressive program.

My 11 year old daughter attended VSFA this year. This was her first ever experience at any type of camp, let alone a sleep away camp. As her mom, I was nervous about all the usual things: would she be safe? would she have fun? would my picky eater find food she liked? would she get along with roommates? did we pack the right/enough stuff, would she get enough sleep? My daughter on the other hand, was not nervous at all. She was so excited to go.

Turns out, I had no reason to worry. She had an absolute BLAST at space camp. She made great friends, she thought the counselors/staff were all incredible, and she loved all the great lesson, activities, and fun evening adventures. She is already planning to return next year and every year after.

One of my daughter’s comments really stuck with me. On our ride home, she said one of the best things about VSFA “was being with other girls who are into what I am.” It is wonderful to see a group of young ladies interested in space, robotics, and rocketry able to get involved in such great lessons and hands on activities.

Thank you VSFA for providing such a great experience for my daughter.

Cassandra E.
Cherry Hill, NJ

Brahosky General Member of the Public 07/17/2017

My 13 year old son absolutely loved every thing about his first experience at VSFA. He has already stated he wants to attend next year. His only complaint (which is not a complaint at all), more robotics. Thank you to the amazing organizers, donors and staff that make this camp possible for my son and all children that get excited about what VSFA has to offer.

kellypolk General Member of the Public 07/02/2017

As someone who has never gone to an overnight, week-long summer camp before, VSFA was an incredible experience that I will not soon forget. Not only was the food and dorm rooms terrific, the tours that were arranged were fantastic and thoughtful. As someone who always dreamed of standing on a launch pad while listening to a NASA worker explain how much they love their job, that dream is now a reality. The engineering activities that the campers had to do (such as building a crane to lift a box) made us think about every possible way to achieve our goal. The counselors truly enjoyed working at VSFA and were more than willing to help the campers whenever their aid was needed. You could tell they were passionate about and well educated in the topics they talked about. Even though I was worried about being away from what was ‘normal’ to me for six days, it pained me to leave camp Friday afternoon. On the drive back home, I reflected on the week I just had. Leaving VSFA, I now have a deep interest in robotics and a thirst for more knowledge on aerospace. I look forward to (hopefully) being able to return to Virginia Space Flight Academy next year to participate in the Advanced Robotics Camp. If I could rate more than five stars, I definitely would. (Pictures are from the VSFA facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Virginia-Space-Flight-Academy-209660522459582/ )

Melissa339 General Member of the Public 11/08/2016

My son enjoyed being a camper for several years, and this year returned as a counselor. VSFA is a wonderful program for STEM-interested students, and provides several levels of activity for different ages. My husband and I are so glad that our son has had the privilege of being involved as both a camper and counselor.

For the past twelve years we have supported the Virginia Space Flight Academy by donating the cost of tuition for one camper. In recent years, the VSFA has “spread the wealth” by splitting the donation so that more campers can attend. When a camper provides half the tuition, with the other half coming from a donation, that is a clear indication of how serious the camper is about learning more about rocketry as well as the worth of attending VSFA. We are proud to have been affiliated with the Virginia Space Flight Academy, especially as we’ve watched it grow in offerings and popularity over these twelve years.

This is a wonderful camp for kids aged 11-15 with a focus on rocketry and robotics. Hands on experience combined with fun activities located near NASA’s Wallops Island facility and Assateague Island, VA.

ammarsh43 Professional with expertise in this field 10/27/2016

This camp is an excellent opportunity for kids who are interested in math, science and space exploration to get together and share their interests. They can meet campers from all over the country who have like interests and can share ideas and learn to work together as a team. They have the occasion to meet with engineers, aviators and scientists who work on projects for NASA, Navy and HIF. It’s a chance of a liketime!

This camp was amazing! Our son attended and had an incredible time. So much so, he still talks about it four months later! There was a wide variety of activities giving him great exposure to the many aspects of space flight. The staff was wonderful—very enthusiastic and welcoming to such a variety of campers. We cannot say enough about them and their willingness to make this such a worthwhile experience for all attending. Five stars!

As a board member for the past 5 years, I am awed at every weekly graduation as I watch and listen to these young students. hopefully future engineers and rocket scientists. deliver their presentations. I see excitement and pride as these youngsters talk about the week’s experiences. Where else can they spend a week with such exposure to NASA’s machine shop, rocket launching areas, the flight control room, the Navy’s special operations areas, and more?!This is a terrific immersion for any young student interested In STEM studies. and it’s not all studies! There’s light-hearted fun time built into the program, too. Just a terrific program that grows every year!

Adam65 General Member of the Public 10/11/2016

I was lucky enough to have my son attend the camp this year and we travelled all the way from Australia. To say that he had a wonderful time is am absolute understatement.
Everybody form the facilitators to the counsellors and kids were all sensational.
The week has opened up a totally new world of learning and motivation that has continued on well after the camp finished.
My goal is to able to get him back for more camps in the future.

GeekGirl Professional with expertise in this field 10/06/2016

This is an outstanding co-ed residential camp for 11-16 year olds. The programs have expanded with new technology including a 3D printer. A program is only as good as the operations running it and the operation of this program/camp is smooth running. Counselors are chosen with great care and are trained well for many different situations.

Writer General Member of the Public 10/01/2016

My son went to this camp Summer 2015 and the Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama Summer 2016. When I picked him up form the camp in Alabama, he said that at least this camp didn’t have any horse flies like Wallops Island. Since bugs attack him in a crowd, this was good. But, he didn’t talk about friends he had made like his Wallops Island experience. There is something about this camp’s structure of interaction between the campers that is unique.

In Alabama, he shared a room with 6 other campers. The staff kept them busy until lights-out. Most of his roommates were in other groups and he didn’t interact with them all day. The one in his room didn’t have similar interests. He didn’t come home talking about any friendships he made. All in all, he enjoyed the Virginia Space Flight Academy more.

I don’t know if it’s the way Space Academy groups the kids to sleep/eat, gives them some time off to play cards at night, or the off base field trip to just get ice cream that fostered comrodery to grow, but your staff did a great job.

If you are reading this, don’t get me wrong- it IS full of rockets and robots, pizza and computers. He did mature a little and grow a little more independent. I would highly recommend this camp.

My son had the time of his life. I was worried at first because he never spent a night away from home. My fourteen year old didn’t want to leave space camp. As soon as he got in the car, he told me that we needed to start working on him coming back next year. You can’t ask for a better confirmation of the quality experience this bought to his life. I was overjoyed by the caring staff. They engaged my son’s mind to flourish the possibilities of his abilities by understanding and application. Ultimate experience, friendly-safe staff, five stars all the way.

This organization is truly an amazing one! It helps our young people discover the wonders of space exploration and science in general. The staff and volunteers were excellent. My son diagnosed in the high functioning autism spectrum was lucky enough to receive a scholarship from the Navy and this non-profit. It was such a great program in helping him realize his passion for weather science and robotics. The staff and volunteers where wonderful in guiding him – help him be with peers of his age in an overnight situation for the first time! I believe that the entire experience for my son will help shape him for the rest of his life and I owe VSFA a big thank you for providing him with such a positive experience and opportunity. Definitely a recommend for all aspiring young minds!

Writer General Member of the Public 08/26/2016

My brother and I had the privilege of attending Virginia Space Flight Academy’s Summer Camp this July and sincerely enjoyed it. Not only were we able to build and experiment with rockets and robots, but we also were given wonderful tours of an operational NASA facility. In addition to that, we heard from fantastic speakers and had exciting downtime activities. All in all, the VSFA does a superb job with its camps. Thank You!

Writer General Member of the Public 10/29/2015

The Virginia Space Flight Academy is a wonderful program. My 12 year old son spent a week at the academy this summer and had the time of his life. The program is run exceptionally well and the kids are engaged and gaining both knowledge and hands on experience. My son learned so much from the program and the councilors and furthered his interest in the sciences. I truly hope that this program continues in the future and that I will be able to send him again in a few years with the older group of young adults.

As a donor, we are proud of how the Academy conducts its camps, and pleased with the excitement level that the attendees display. Yes, it’s clear they had fun, but it’s also clear they have been exposed to opportunities and interests that may introduce them to a career path beyond their imagination. Much of what they experience simply isn’t on display or available elsewhere.

I was really impressed with the opportunities shown to these kids in a short period of time. It was wonderful to see the excitement and awe that translated from their on-site visits to the hands on experiences. Moreover, I saw the counselors engaging ALL of the kids – not just the ones who already knew how to interact well. The Virginia Space Flight Academy demonstrated a genuine interest in helping young people connect the dots to their possible futures, providing inspiration, camaraderie and challenge.

RocketGal Professional with expertise in this field 10/06/2015

Virginia Space Flight Academy encourages STEM development through robotics, rocketry, flying Unmanned Aerial Systems, and more! The location takes advantage of its proximity to NASA Wallops Flight Facility and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport by providing “behind-the-scenes” tours. Opportunities abound for camp participants to interact and learn from engineers working on cutting edge aerospace initiatives and launch facilities. The professional staff work hard to ensure each top notch session is fun, friendly and encourages campers to develop a lifelong interest in science and technology.

Writer General Member of the Public 10/02/2015

For the past 2 summers, Jenks Academy for the Arts and Sciences in Philadelphia has sent a students to VSFA. It has been an incredible experience for the students. They come back to school and share experiments and experiences with the larger student body. It is without a doubt a life changing week for our students!

George P F. Professional with expertise in this field 09/30/2015

As the summer camp Director of the Virginia Space Flight Academy I want to thank all of the parents and participants who have written positive reviews of our fine facility. Although parents grade us here based on the positive comments made by their child, it is the program that speaks for itself. What makes us unique is the access our participants have to a true NASA facility. Daily NASA briefings are given to our participants that focus on the research and achievements made by NASA almost daily. No other space themed camp offers the opportunity to witness the building of a real rocket, the testing of its components and the opportunity to stand yards away from a launch. We our give participants the opportunity to come face-to-face with the engineers who design, test, build the rockets. NASA pilots who fly the aircraft that do the groundbreaking research important to our everyday lives give tours of the specialized aircraft stationed at Wallops. Participants visit the NOAA or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and participate in weather balloon launches. Visiting a working launch control center and walking on a real launch pad are activities unique only to the Virginia Space Flight Academy. When something extraordinary is happening at the NASA Wallops Space Flight Facility, the participants get a front row seat. No other space camp provides these memorable opportunities.

As a professional educator, I fully appreciate that the participants of our camp get an extra bonus in participating in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) activities. They participate in NASA engineering challenges, build rockets, build robots, fly drones and star gazing that not only enhance their education but promotes teamwork and comradery.

The setting of our facility is within an educational compound with dorm style housing. Sleeping arrangements are done by segregating the ages and gender. Counselors are always there to supervise and advise twenty four hours.

Because we strongly support our community, we use local businesses as vendors for our sustenance and activities that our young people enjoy so much.

The Virginia Space Flight Academy offers a truly unique experience for ages 11 to 17. Our participants have testified about the fun and fellowship they have at our facility. One camper I met said it best, “If you don’t have fun here, it’s your own fault”.

George P. Fatolitis, PhD (ebd)
Director Virginia Space Flight Academy
Professional Educator

SSEP, Student Spaceflight Experiments Program

SSEP | Student Spaceflight Experiments Program

A Model U.S. National STEM Education Initiative for Grades 5-16
to inspire the next generation
of America’s scientists and engineers

NEW FLIGHT OPPORTUNITY – Mission 15 to ISS ( Go to 2/3/20 Announcement )
Experiment Design Phase: Fall 2020; Flight to ISS: Late Spring 2021 Download: Press Release PDF

Watch Video Clips describing SSEP: Clip 1 (NASA), Clip 2 (NASA)
STEM Impact in Era of Commercial Space: Video – SSEP Showcased at Congressional Hearing, 11/5/19
Scientific American
feature article on SSEP: February 17, 2015

Multimedia (click on toggles below)

ISS Current Location

The ISS Current Location tracker above was developed by the European Space Agency (ESA). ESA’s Columbus laboratory is a component of the ISS. Visit the ESA website for more information on the tracker.

HDEV Live View of Earth from ISS

This high definition video of your world is being telemetered to Earth LIVE from the International Space Station. To determine what portion of Earth is in view, use the ‘ISS Current Location’ toggle above. We invite you to get into the spirit of exploration on the frontiers of space – select an audio file below, expand the HDEV video window to full screen, and look down from 250 miles above Earth’s surface. Suggestions for other audio tracks are welcome:)

David Bowie’s Space Oddity, sung by Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield on ISS (watch his video)

About HDEV, from NASA: The High Definition Earth Viewing (HDEV) experiment aboard the ISS was activated April 30, 2014. It is mounted on the External Payload Facility of the European Space Agency’s Columbus module. HDEV includes four fixed cameras positioned to capture imagery of the Earth’s surface and its limb as seen from the ISS – one camera pointing in the direction the station is moving, two cameras aft (wake), and one camera pointing straight down at Earth (nadir). While the experiment is operational, views will typically sequence though the different cameras. Between camera switches, a gray and then black color slate will briefly appear. To learn more about the HDEV experiment, visit this NASA webpage.

Twitter Feed with Images from Astronauts Currently Aboard ISS

Spot the Station: When Will ISS Fly Over Your Town?

In late 2015, the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education suggested to NASA Headquarters that a Spot the Station widget, which could be easily embedded on any website, would be a wonderful way to extend ISS public awareness. The widget below was the result, and you’ll note that it is also found in the right column on all main pages of this SSEP website.

You are invited to use the widget to explore Station over-flights of your community, and even embed this widget on your website by clicking on the “About” button in the widget.

SSEP MISSIONS 14 to 16 TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION AND COMMEMORATION OF THE 50th ANNIVERSARY OF THE APOLLO MOON LANDINGS

The flight of Apollo 11 to the Moon, crewed by astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins, may be arguably the most remarkable journey ever undertaken by humankind. At 9:56 pm EST on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on another world.

In 2019 the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, and it is noteworthy that 1.5 billion people alive today were alive in 1969.

But the Apollo program included a total of 9 missions with a spacecraft traveling to the Moon, and 6 of those missions each landed 2 astronauts on the lunar surface. To date, 12 humans have walked on the Moon – a quarter of a million miles from our home world Earth. These missions took place 1968 to 1972 – from Apollo 8, with the first spacecraft to fly around the Moon, to Apollo 17, the final Apollo mission.

The National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) is using SSEP Missions 14 through 16 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of NASA’s Apollo Program, given SSEP program operations for these three missions span 2019-2022. SSEP Mission 14 started in September 2019, and SSEP Mission 16 experiments are expected to be launched in Late Spring 2022.

SSEP Mission 14 – 16 communities can therefore use their participation in SSEP as a 50th Anniversary Apollo celebration, with multidisciplinary connections to STEM, history, and art. What better way to celebrate the 50th anniversary than engaging a community of hundreds of students in the real space program, and real spaceflight, on the frontiers of human exploration.

SSEP Mission SSEP Program Operations Apollo Mission Dates
Mission 14 2019 – 2020 1969 – Apollo 11, 12; 1970 – Apollo 13
Mission 15 2020 – 2021 1970 – Apollo 13; 1971 – Apollo 14, 15
Mission 16 2021 – 2022 1971 – Apollo 14,15; 1972 – Apollo 16, 17

We invite your community to use your SSEP Mission Patch Art and Design Competitions to both capture your community’s participation in America’s Space Program through SSEP, and celebrate these most remarkable journeys undertaken by the human race 50 years ago. It is an opportunity to celebrate the past, embrace the present, and inspire in our next generation … the future.

We also invite you to explore the SSEP Launch and On-Orbit Operations History page, which provides a sense of the already rich history of the SSEP Program. Here you will find s list of SSEP missions and payload designations, videos of all SSEP launches, a list of all astronauts that have operated SSEP experiments, and videos of astronauts operating the experiments.

A careful read of this home page will provide an Executive Summary of the Program. The rest of this website provides a deeper understanding of program pedagogy and operations; guidance for how a community can come aboard; and resources to conduct the program.

The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) was launched in June 2010 by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) in strategic partnership with NanoRacks, LLC. Designed as a model U.S. national Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education initiative, the program gives students across a participating community the ability to design and propose real microgravity experiments to fly in low Earth orbit (experiments conducted in a “weightless” environment). SSEP was first carried out aboard the final two flights of the U.S. Space Shuttle Program in 2011 (STS-134 Endeavour, STS-135 Atlantis). In 2012 SSEP transitioned to operations on the International Space Station (ISS) – America’s newest National Laboratory.

SSEP is suitable for students in pre-college grades 5-12, 2-year community colleges, and 4-year colleges and universities. A participating pre-college community typically engages 300+ students (at least 100 students) in microgravity experiment design and proposal writing. For an undergraduate community, it is expected that at least 30 students will be engaged.

In 2012, SSEP was extended to international communities through the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education, NCESSE’s new international arm.

Click on the image and feel the magic. Shuttle Endeavour on its final flight (STS-134) docked at ISS, May 23, 2011. Aboard her are 16 SSEP Experiments. Read more at nasa.gov

SSEP is about immersing and engaging
students and their teachers in every facet
of real science—on the high frontier—so
that students are given the chance to be
scientists—and experience science firsthand.

More broadly, SSEP is about a commitment to student ownership in exploration, to science as journey, and to the joys of learning.

Of special note – SSEP is garnering extensive media coverage at local, regional, and national levels (over 1,200 articles to date). School districts are effectively leveraging media exposure from their participation in this high caliber STEM initiative, and at a time when STEM education is of national strategic importance, and is becoming a core element of the curriculum at the local level (see the SSEP in the News pages, and e.g., a recent Scientific American feature article).

Important note: SSEP is not designed for an individual class or a small number of students in a pre-college community. Implementing SSEP for an appropriate-sized student audience is straightforward, and Implementation Plans from a large number of communities that have participated in SSEP are available on request.

Each community participating in SSEP is provided a very real research asset – a flight certified, straightforward to use microgravity research mini-laboratory, and guaranteed launch services to transport the mini-laboratory to the International Space Station (ISS). It is a precious and limited research asset given that the mini-laboratory can only contain a single student team designed microgravity experiment. An astronaut aboard ISS will conduct the experiment, and after a typical 4 to 6 week stay in orbit, the experiment will be returned safely to Earth for harvesting and analysis by the community’s student flight team.

Mirroring how professional researchers formally compete to obtain limited research assets, the participating community carries out a “call for proposals”. More specifically, the community conducts a local Flight Experiment Design Competition , engaging hundreds of students in teams of typically 3-5, with each team vying for the community’s single experiment slot by proposing a microgravity research program that can be carried out in the mini-laboratory. The competition is conducted through formal submission of real (but grade level appropriate) research proposals by the student teams – as is standard practice for professional researchers. (A minimum of 50-80 flight experiment proposals are typically secured across a single pre-college community. At least 10 proposals are required for an undergraduate community.)

Each community’s flight experiment is selected through a formal 2-step proposal review process. The final selection is carried out by the SSEP National Step 2 Review Board, which meets at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. The flight experiment then undergoes a 4-month NASA flight safety review at Johnson Space Center; laboratory refinement by the student flight team; handover to NanoRacks in Houston for integration into the SSEP experiments payload; and payload integration into the ferry vehicle for flight to ISS. SSEP experiment payloads launch from either Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, adjoining NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, or from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), Wallops Island, Virginia, on a Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft.

SSEP is not a simulation – this is very real spaceflight. This is very real student immersion in space science research, and a remarkable opportunity for a community.

SSEP provides each community its own – very real – Space Program.

An annual SSEP National Conference held at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, immerses delegations of students in a real research conference where they formally present to their peers on experiment design and science results (explore the 2019 Conference page, and video clips of presentations archived on the Scientific Return and Reporting pages, see e.g., Mission 12 to ISS Scientific Return and Reporting and Mission 13 to ISS Scientific Return and Reporting).

A suite of SSEP program elements—the Community Program —leverages the flight experiment design competition to engage the entire community, embracing a Learning Community Model for STEM education. One element is a Mission Patch art and design competition allowing hundreds of students across the community (down to grade K) to capture through art and design their community’s SSEP experience. Up to two Mission Patches accompany the community’s selected flight experiment to low Earth orbit.

Strategic Curricular Connections to Science and STEM

Students can design experiments in diverse fields, including: seed germination, crystal growth, micro-encapsulation, chemical processes, physiology and life cycles of microorganisms (e.g. bacteria), cell biology and growth, food studies, and studies of micro-aquatic life. SSEP is therefore relevant across all science disciplines, and allows all teachers of science across a community to immerse students in a fully authentic process of scientific inquiry. A curriculum, and other resources for teachers and students, supports foundational instruction on both the cause and characteristics of a microgravity (weightlessness) environment; the science conducted in microgravity and why; guidance for proposal writing; and the experiment design process that flows from the key essential question–

The essential question driving experiment design:
What physical, chemical, or biological system would I like to explore with gravity seemingly turned off for a period of time, as a means of assessing the role of gravity in that system?

SSEP provides seamless integration across STEM disciplines through an authentic, high visibility research experience that correctly places content within a process landscape – an approach that embraces the Next Generation Science Standard s , but also requires –

  • a critical understanding of the space Technology , and associated spaceflight operations, used to transport payload to and from Low Earth Orbit and conduct microgravity experiments on ISS,
  • a critical understanding of the Engineering specifications for the mini-laboratory, which provide real-world constraints on experiment design,
  • Mathematics to design a viable experiment to operate in the mini-laboratory, through: refinement of sample (fluid and solid) concentrations and volumes, defining a timeline that is consistent with the experiment’s duration aboard ISS, and defining an approach to data analysis after the experiment returns to Earth.

In addition, student teams are writing real proposals that then go through a formal review process. This addresses vital skills in terms of historical research, critical writing and communications, and teamwork.

Through this authentic trans-disciplinary approach to STEM education, SSEP is designed to inspire and engage the next generation of scientists and engineers, and more generally, address STEM literacy. For school districts—even individual schools—SSEP provides an opportunity to implement a systemic, high caliber STEM education program tailored to community need. With the Mission Patch art and design competitions, SSEP is more appropriately designated a STEAM initiative .

Appropriate Lead Institutions to Conduct this Program

The program is open to 5 categories of community, which provides a great deal of flexibility in implementing SSEP at the local level:

  • Pre-College(the core focus for SSEP) in the U.S. , (grades 5-12), with a participating school district—even an individual school—providing a stunning, real, on-orbit RESEARCH opportunity to their upper elementary, middle, and high school students
  • 2-Year Community Colleges in the U.S., (grades 13-14), where the student body is typically from the local community, providing wonderful pathways for community-wide engagement
  • 4-Year Colleges and Universities in the U.S. , (grades 13-16), with an emphasis on Minority-Serving Institutions, where the program fosters interdisciplinary collaboration across schools and departments, and an opportunity for formal workforce development for science majors
  • Communities in the U.S. led by Informal Education or Out-of-School Organizations, (e.g., a museum or science center, a home school network, a boy scout troop), because high caliber STEM education programs must be accessible to organizations that promote effective learning beyond the traditional classroom
  • Communities Internationally: in European Space Agency (ESA) member nations, European Union (EU) member nations, Canada, and Japan with participation through NCESSE’s Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education. Communities in other nations should explore the potential for their participation by contacting the Institute.

Flight Opportunities to Date

Since program inception in June 2010, there have been 16 SSEP flight opportunities—SSEP on STS-134 and STS-135, which were the final flights of Space Shuttles Endeavour and Atlantis; and SSEP Missions 1 through 14 to ISS. A total of 191 communities have participated in the program, reflecting 42 States and the District of Columbia in the U. S., 5 Provinces in Canada, and a community in Brazil. Thus far 58 communities have participated in multiple flight opportunities – one community conducting their 9th flight with Mission 13 – reflecting the sustainable nature of the program.

Through the first 16 flight opportunities (through Mission 14), a total of 126,600 grade 5-16 students across 2,496 schools were fully immersed in microgravity experiment design and proposal writing, 25,518 flight experiment proposals were received from student teams, and 314 experiments were selected for flight. Through Mission 13, 147,400 students across the entire grade preK-16 pipeline were engaged in their communities’ broader STEAM experience, submitting 120,670 Mission Patch designs.

All 281 experiments selected for flight through Mission 13 have now flown. The Mission 13 experiments launched on SpaceX-18 on July 25, 2019, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, and returned to Earth on August 27, 2019. Another 33 experiments are expected to launch in Summer 2020 as the Mission 14 Apollo payload of experiments on SpaceX-21, launching from the Cape.

For more information on SSEP Missions to date–

Explore the SSEP Launch and On-Orbit Operations History page, which provides videos of all SSEP launches, a list of all astronauts that have operated SSEP experiments, and videos of astronauts operating the experiments.

Explore the Flight Opportunities to Date page, which provides launch and landing dates, and information on the ferry spacecraft, astronaut crews aboard ISS during experiment operation, and the SSEP flight experiment payloads.

Explore the separate SSEP website – the SSEP Community Network Hubsite – which is dedicated to the participating communities and the over 1,250 organizational partners at the local level. At the Hubsite, you can read profiles of the participating communities, see a map of the Community Network, read about the selected flight experiments and flight Mission Patches, explore the 1,000+ media articles on SSEP, and watch videos of student teams reporting out at the SSEP National Conferences in Washington, DC.

Latest Flight Opportunity

February 3, 2020 : Announcing SSEP Mission 15 to the International Space Station (ISS)

The National Center for Earth and Space Science Education, and the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education announce the seventeenth SSEP flight opportunity – SSEP Mission 15 to ISS – which provides for an experiment design competition Fall 2020, and a ferry flight for the selected flight experiments to ISS in Late Spring 2021. SSEP Mission 15 to ISS is currently the only SSEP flight opportunity available.

Time Available for Experiment Design:
Your Student Teams, led by your designated SSEP Local Team of Teacher Facilitators, will have 9 weeks from program start to proposal submission: September 1 to November 4, 2020. During this time, core activities include:

  • introducing SSEP curricular content for foundational instruction on: the nature of microgravity, science conducted in microgravity, mini-laboratory operation, and experimental design
  • defining student teaming, and facilitation of microgravity experiment design across all student teams
  • each team writing a formal 5-page, grade level appropriate flight experiment proposal

Key Milestones:

  • Experiment Design and Proposal Writing (9 weeks): September 1 – November 4, 2020
  • Flight Experiment Proposals due to your lead institution: November 4, 2020
  • Local Step 1 Review Board selects 3 finalist proposals, submits to NCESSE: November 13, 2020
  • Formal selection of your community’s flight experiment: December 17, 2020
  • Ferry Flight of SSEP Payload to ISS, estimated launch date: Late Spring 2021
  • Ferry Flight of SSEP Payload back to Earth: typically Launch Plus 4 – 6 weeks
  • SSEP National Conference for students: late June or early July 2021 and 2022, most likely held at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Washington, DC, the site of the 2011 through 2019 Conferences

TIME CRITICAL
Letters of Commitment of Funding from Participating Communities: due August 24, 2020
Mission 15 to ISS Starts in Participating Communities: September 1, 2020

ASAP: Interested communities are directed to contact NCESSE as soon as possible, but no later than March 27, 2020, to explore participation. It typically takes 3-4 months in advance of program start to plan and fund the program in a community (funding with assistance from NCESSE if required – see below).

Contact: Dr. Jeff Goldstein at [email protected], or 301-395-0770;
Download: Mission 15 Press Release, or view online

SSEP provides significant flexibility for a community to design a program to their strategic needs in STEM education—

  • A community of any size can participate, including a small school district, an individual school, a large inner city or suburban district, a cluster of rural districts, a college, or a museum/science center or other informal education led community-based effort
  • The baseline SSEP program provides for typically 300+ students participating in the Experiment Design Competition in each pre-college community; or at least 30 students participating in an undergraduate community
  • A community can open the competition to any grade level(s) in the grade 5-16 range, and through the provided elements of the SSEP Community Program , engage wider audiences (all grade levels, families, and the general public). The Community Program includes: a competition to design a Mission Patch to fly in space with your flight experiment, and a S SEP National Conference in Washington, DC. The Community Program also provides the means for a National Team of scientists and engineers to travel to your community for up to a week, and engage thousands of grade K-16 students—one classroom at a time; conduct family and public programs like those the Center conducts at the National Air and Space Museum; and provide professional development for grade K-12 teachers.
  • SSEP is a bold new commercial space venture in partnership with DreamUp PBC and NanoRacks LLC. The National Center for Earth and Space Science Education, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, must recover the actual costs for the program (lease of commercial space for the mini-laboratory in the flight payload and aboard ISS, all flight services to and from low Earth orbit, program delivery and community support), but also recognizes the significant challenge to a community in securing underwriting in the current financial climate. That said, the Center is committed to trying to find funding for any community in the U.S. and Canada interested in participating. The Center found full or partial funding for 224 of the 303 SSEP community programs undertaken as part of the first 16 SSEP flight opportunities, and we now have active relationships with a national network of a few hundred funders. If you are interested in this program, let us help.

Strategic, National, and Local Partners, and Event Sponsors

The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) is a program of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) in the U.S., and the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education internationally. SSEP is enabled through a strategic partnership with DreamUp PBC and NanoRacks LLC, which are working in partnership with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory. NCESSE, the Clarke Institute, DreamUp, and NanoRacks are therefore designated SSEP Strategic Partners. Visit the Strategic Partners page to read about their SSEP programmatic roles and responsibilities.

SSEP is the first pre-college STEM education program that is both a U.S. national initiative and implemented as an on-orbit commercial space venture.

NCESSE and the Clarke Institute are proud to be working with the following National Partners on SSEP
— in the U.S., the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory managed by the Center for the Advancement of Science in space (CASIS), and Subaru of America, Inc.
— in Canada, Magellan Aerospace.
To read more about these partnerships, visit the National Partners and Sponsors page.

Underwriting by Conference and Event Sponsors make events for the SSEP community network possible. Read more at the National Partners and Sponsors page.

Partnership is truly a hallmark of SSEP. Over 1,250 organizations have supported SSEP at the local level, including: school districts, private schools, NASA Space Grant lead institutions and other universities, corporate foundations, businesses, community foundations, and local research institutions. These organizations are designated the SSEP Local Partners. To explore the Local Partners, visit the Communities & Local Partners page at the Community Network Hubsite.

SSEP was designed to be a keystone initiative for U.S. National STEM education, and to help inspire America’s next generation of scientists and engineers. Through the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education, the International arm of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education, SSEP participation is also being expanded internationally to reflect the multinational complexion of ISS operations.

Phase 1 of SSEP was a unique and historic opportunity for students to propose experiments to fly aboard STS-134 and STS-135, the final flights of the U.S. Space Shuttle Program. We wanted the final voyages of the Space Shuttle to also mark a new beginning for student experiments in space, enabled by the new age of commercial space – the new private sector of companies providing transport services to and from low Earth orbit. This Phase 2 of SSEP provides communities of grade 5-16 students the ability to design and propose real microgravity experiments, just like professional researchers, for operation by the astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

We want SSEP to provide routine student researcher access to space via commercial payloads; to leverage the power of such access into a STEM education program delivered at the local level across an entire community; and to serve a network of such communities across the nation—even internationally.

To our children, who are America’s future in the 21 st century—
be part of history … by making history.

To schools and school districts committed to STEM education—
let us help your students step into the shoes of scientists and engineers … right now.

PLEASE SHARE THIS WITH SCHOOL DISTRICT SUPERINTENDENTS, DISTRICT SCIENCE OFFICES, PRINCIPALS, TEACHERS, AND OTHER COMMUNITY STAKEHOLDERS

INTERESTED? YOUR NEXT STEP: go to the About SSEP page for a comprehensive overview of SSEP, including a description of strategic STEM objectives, program elements, customization to community need, and cost.

All content on this website is Copyright 2020, National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE). Any use of this content without the permission of NCESSE is prohibited.

Success for SpaceX re-usable rocket – BBC News

Success for SpaceX ‘re-usable rocket’

These are external links and will open in a new window

These are external links and will open in a new window

California’s SpaceX company has successfully re-flown a segment from one of its Falcon 9 rockets.

The first-stage booster, which was previously used on a mission 11 months ago, helped send a telecommunications satellite into orbit from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center.

It marks an important milestone for SpaceX in its quest for re-usability.

Traditionally, rockets are expendable – their various segments are discarded and destroyed during an ascent.

The California outfit, in contrast, aims to recover Falcon first-stages and fly them multiple times to try to reduce the cost of its operations.

And to emphasise this point, Thursday’s booster was also brought back under control to land on a barge stationed out in the Atlantic.

“I think it’s an amazing day for space,” said Elon Musk, the chief executive of SpaceX.

“It means you can fly and re-fly an orbit class booster, which is the most expensive part of the rocket. This is going to be, hopefully, a huge revolution in spaceflight.”

The lift-off had occurred on cue at 18:27 EDT (22:27 GMT; 23:27 BST).

The satellite passenger, SES-10, was ejected some 32 minutes later.

This spacecraft is now being manoeuvred by its own thruster system to a position over the equator from where it can deliver TV and telecom services to the Caribbean, Brazil, and other regions in Central and South America.

SpaceX has become adept in the past two years at bringing first-stage boosters home after they have completed their primary task of getting a payload out of the thicker lower-reaches of the atmosphere.

The segments autonomously guide themselves back to the floating platform or a coastal pad to make propulsive landings.

Thursday’s mission was the first time one of these “flight proven” vehicles had been re-launched.

Other landed boosters will now be used on future missions. Another six this year, most likely.

Some customers may still insist on a brand new rocket, but if SpaceX can demonstrate routine, untroubled performance from these second-hand vehicles then satellite operators will get increasingly comfortable with the concept.

Getting away from expendable rockets has been a long quest.

Famously, Nasa’s space shuttle system was partially re-usable.

Its white solid-fuel strap-on boosters, for example, would parachute into the Atlantic after each launch. The casings of these boosters were then refurbished and re-used numerous times.

And yet the complexities of servicing the shuttle system after every flight swamped any savings.

SpaceX expects its simpler Falcon 9 rocket finally to deliver a practical commercial solution. It believes its technology will eventually permit rapid turnaround, with boosters flying perhaps 10 times before being retired; maybe even up to 100 times with a certain level of refurbishment.

“With this being the first re-flight we were incredibly paranoid about everything,” Mr Musk said.

“The core airframe remained the same, the engines remained the same – but any auxiliary components that we thought might be slightly questionable, we changed out. Now our aspiration will be zero hardware changes, re-flight in 24 hours – the only thing that changes is that we reload propellant.”

Other players are following close behind. The Amazon entrepreneur Jeff Bezos already has a re-usable sub-orbital rocket and capsule system that he has successfully launched and landed five times.

Mr Bezos now plans a recoverable orbital rocket called New Glenn. And United Launch Alliance, which puts up the majority of America’s national security payloads, is in the process of designing a new vehicle that will return its engines to Earth via parachute.

All this is welcome news for the likes of Luxembourg satellite operator SES, which is having to queue up for rocket rides and wait many months to get its valuable telecoms spacecraft in orbit and earning revenue.

“It’s a big deal for us. If we can get reliable re-usability then we will get better management of the manifest,” said Martin Halliwell, the chief technology officer for SES.

“We made a little bit of history today, actually. We just opened the door to a whole new era of spaceflight,”

This Space TV Startup Plans To Stream Live Videos Of Earth’s Surface From Space In 2021

This Space TV Startup Plans To Stream Live Videos Of Earth’s Surface From Space In 2021

Sen is planning a constellation of up to 100 video-streaming satellites.

A startup company that hopes to provide real-time video streaming of Earth from space has announced it will launch its first satellite in 2021, with four further satellites set to launch in 2022.

Sen, based in the U.K., said it had contracted Lithunia-based NanoAvionics to build the five satellites, together called EarthTV, which will be equipped with cameras to beam ultra-high definition (UHD) video to Earth from space. The satellites will be among the first to watch events on Earth unfold in real-time, enabling a wide range of services for companies and consumers.

“Sen’s vision is to become a space video company, to stream real-time video from space with a focus on environmental events and human movement,” says Charles Black, founder and CEO of Sen. “[There are already] companies capturing still imagery at different resolutions. What we’re doing is introducing a new type of data to the market, which is video.”

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The satellites will be launched into a Sun-synchronous orbit, one that remains constantly in sunlight, about 500 kilometers above Earth’s surface. Each so-called nano-satellite, less than two meters across, will have use its camera to view Earth in a variety of resolutions, ranging from 250 meters down to just 1.5 meters.

Events that will be observed will include environmental disasters, such as flooding and wildfires, along with the movements of large groups of people. “We feel that video data will help organizations help displaced people by providing real-time or very timely information,” says Black.

Each steerable satellite will be able to focus on these events unfolding on the ground below, and stream them in real-time. Companies will be able to pay Sen to access the service, while members of the public will be able to watch the stream and get a live glimpse of Earth’s surface through an app. “That will enable individuals to watch and track events,” says Black.

Sen has already demonstrated its capabilities on a satellite launched by the Russian organization RSC Energia in February 2019, highlighting the impressive quality of their video footage. But the ultimate goal is to operate a fleet of spacecraft in orbit, providing large amounts of video of Earth’s surface.

The company already has cameras orbiting Earth on a Russian-built satellite.

“I would like to target something like 100 [satellites in orbit],” says Black. “So it’s not going to be a ‘mega constellation’. But it’s going to be one where we have real-time video of pretty much any place on Earth.”

Sen’s goals do not just extend to Earth orbit, as the company hopes to also eventually send some of its video spacecraft to the Moon or even Mars. The goal here is to have spacecraft in place to watch the arrival of future human missions, planned by organizations like NASA and SpaceX, and stream video back to people on Earth.

“As people expand to the Moon, Sen wants to be telling that story,” says Black. “We believe society needs an independent media that can tell that story of both government agencies and private companies that explore the Moon. We’re aiming for the Moon in the mid-2020s at the earliest, and Mars in 2030 onwards.”

For now though the focus is very much on Earth. And with the launches beginning next year, the company hopes to deliver unique views of the planet from space. “With the real-time capability we believe there is very little similar data available at the moment,” says Black.

Testing opportunities missed ahead of ill-fated Boeing Starliner spaceflight, review finds

Testing opportunities missed ahead of ill-fated Boeing Starliner spaceflight, review finds

NASA: Boeing must come up with corrective plan prior to next spaceflight

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – An independent review of Boeing’s ill-fated Starliner spaceflight found testing opportunities were missed before launch and the next time Starliner will fly remains unknown, Boeing and NASA officials said Friday as they revealed the results of their joint investigation into Starliner’s December orbital test flight.

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner launched from Cape Canaveral in December without astronauts on board. The spacecraft was bound for the International Space Station to test its launch, docking and landing systems but the spacecraft was forced to return to Earth 48 hours after launch when it missed a critical maneuver to catch up to the space station.

NASA previously said three main issues were discovered during Boeing’s December orbital test flight, two were related to software errors and the third was an intermittent communication problem between the spacecraft and controllers on the ground.

On Friday, Boeing and NASA officials said an independent review team has made more than 60 corrective recommendations to Boeing and identified three specific issues that must be addressed before the spacecraft can fly again.

NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Doug Loverro said, specifically, the review team found Boeing did not run all possible software tests ahead of the first flight.

“There are four ways software could have run,” Loverro said. “We didn’t test all four ways it could have run.”

The independent review team found that too much authority was given to the software board before changes were made to the spacecraft software. Those changes should have been brought up to the design review board, Loverro said.

Last week, Boeing Starliner Program Manager John Mulholland said Boeing will now test the spacecraft software from start to finish prior to launch.

NASA Commercial Crew Program Manager Kathy Lueders said next Boeing will come up with a plan to correct the issues discovered during the review and present that plan to NASA, possibly by the end of the month. NASA will then need to approve or recommend changes to the plan.

Since 2011, the U.S. has relied on Russian rockets to get its crew to the space station.

NASA selected Boeing and SpaceX to build human-rated spacecraft to fly U.S. astronauts as part of the Commercial Crew program, awarding the private companies a combined $6.4 billion. Both companies have experienced delays as they work to certify their capsules to fly crew to the ISS and bring them home safely.

Due to the program delays, NASA is in negotiation with Russia to purchase extra seats to fly astronauts to the ISS.

The Boeing Starliner Orbital Test Flight on Dec. 20 was part of the process to certify the spacecraft to fly NASA astronauts.

Elon Musk’s company successfully launched Crew Dragon — without astronauts — to the ISS and brought it home for an Atlantic Ocean splashdown last year.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule is slated to launch with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley as soon as this spring, marking the first time Americans have launched from U.S. soil since the shuttle program.

After Friday’s call with NASA and Boeing, it’s still unclear if Starliner will have to repeat its orbital test flight before flying astronauts because it did not dock at the space station.

“Quite frankly we don’t know,” Loverro said when asked about another uncrewed test flight. “I can’t even tell you what the schedule will be on that.”

NASA will evaluate Boeing’s plan to correct the Starliner issues before it determines if there will be a second test flight, Loverro said.

Boeing’s Senior Vice President Jim Chilton said the company is ready to repeat a test flight without a crew, if NASA asks.

“’All of us want crew safety No. 1,” Chilton said. “Whatever testing we’ve got to do to make that happen, we embrace it.”

The results of the review will also roll over into another major NASA program Boeing is involved in, the Space Launch System, otherwise known as the Artemis program rocket. Boeing is the prime contractor for the rocket’s core stage and the developer of the flight electronics.

A high-visibility close call like Starliner’s triggers a review of Boeing as a whole in addition to the independent review just completed, according to NASA.

Loverro said this procedure allows NASA to formally document lessons learned from the Starliner flight and perform “an organizational root causes assessment,” meaning NASA will look at both Boeing and NASA organizational processes.

“I think we could all agree that it was a close call, we could have lost a spacecraft twice during this mission,” Loverro said, adding if it weren’t for Boeing’s actions, the orbital test flight could have ended very differently.

Mulholland said the changes from the larger review could help “the whole space ecosystem.”

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SpaceX Launch Calendar: Announced 2019 Schedule for Rocket Launches

Prepare for liftoff: Here are all the important upcoming SpaceX rocket launches

SpaceX is known for its nail-biting rocket launches that keep people glued to their screens, waiting to see if the mission will be a success or a fiery failure. Watching these launches has become so popular that SpaceX is now live streaming nearly every one. Want to watch a Falcon Heavy or the cutting-edge Dragon capsule take to the skies? Then check out this curated schedule of upcoming SpaceX launches below, so you know when to tune in. Dates listed are as up to date as possible, but due to changing weather conditions and a variety of other factors, launch dates frequently shift.

2/9/2019 NASA Falcon 9/Crew Dragon spacecraft Kennedy Space Center, Florida Crew Dragon Demo 1 – uncrewed test flight to the International Space Station.
Feb 2019 PT Pasifik Satelit Nusantara and SpaceIL Falcon 9 Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida Launch of the PSN communications satellite and the SpaceIL Lunar Lander, a privately funded lunar lander developed by Israel’s SpaceIL Launch window: TBD.
March 2019 Arabsat of Saudi Arabia Kennedy Space Center, Florida Falcon Heavy Launch of Arabsat 6A communications satellite.
3/16/2019 NASA Cape Canaveral, Florida Falcon 9/Dragon 17th Dragon cargo delivery flight to the International Space Station.
March 2019 Canadian Space Agency and MDA Vandenberg Air Force Base, California Falcon 9 Launch of three Earth-observation Radarsat satellites Launch window: TBD.
April 2019 U.S. Air Force Kennedy Space Center, Florida Falcon Heavy USAF’s Space Test Program-2 mission. Launch window: TBD.
2nd Quarter 2019 Spacecom Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Falcon 9 Launch of the Amos 17 communications satellite from Boeing and Spacecom. Launch window: TBD.
June 2019 NASA Falcon 9/Crew Dragon spacecraft Kennedy Space Center, Florida Crew Dragon Demo 2 – first manned test flight to the International Space Station and back with a sea splashdown landing. NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken will fly the spacecraft.
7/8/2019 NASA Cape Canaveral, Florida Falcon 9/Dragon 18th Dragon cargo delivery flight to the International Space Station.
Oct 2019 U.S. Air Force Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Falcon 9 Launch of the second GPS III navigation satellite (GPS3 SVO3).
10/15/2019 NASA Cape Canaveral, Florida Falcon 9/Dragon 19th Dragon cargo delivery flight to the International Space Station.
4th Quarter 2019 Conae Vandenberg Air Force Base, California Falcon 9 Launch of the Saocom 1B Earth observing satellite for Argentina’s Conae space agency. Launch window: TBD.

SpaceX is on a mission to make spaceflight affordable by creating a reusable rocket that can launch, land, and fly again — much like a passenger plane. The privately funded company has made great strides since its debut in 2002, and logged a record number of firsts — including the first retrieval of a private spacecraft from low orbit, the historic landing of a Falcon 9 rocket, and an impressive drone ship landing. Let’s also not forget that one time Elon Musk sent a Tesla Roadster into space, headed for Mars orbit.

Launch and landing are just the beginning though. In recent years, Space X has moved closer to its reusable rocket dreams by successfully reusing a Falcon 9 rocket to deliver a commercial satellite into orbit. This year, the company has an aggressive launch schedule that includes several ISS resupply missions, a Falcon heavy launch and even a demonstration of its cutting-edge Crew Dragon capsule which one day will shuttle crew to the ISS. Each successful flight brings the company closer to its goal of making rocket launches into space as safe and routine as airline flights.

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Weekly Space Hangout: March 11, 2020 – Dr. Jon Willis talks Galaxy Cluster XLSSC 122

This week we are airing Fraser’s PRERECORDED interview with Dr. Jon Willis, Associate Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Victoria, Canada.

Asteroid Bennu is Getting Some Official Names for its Surface Features

Late last summer, NASA and the International Astronomical Union’s Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (a.k.a WGPSN) approved the naming convention for features on Bennu, the asteroid currently being orbited and studied by the OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft. The naming theme chosen was “birds and bird-like creatures in mythology.”

The first twelve features thusly named have now been announced. But more importantly, some of these features will be instrumental in helping to guide OSIRIS-REx to the surface of the asteroid later this year.

SpaceX Launches its Last Dragon 1 Mission to the ISS

On Friday, March 6th, as part of the company’s 20th Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-20) mission, SpaceX launched a Dragon 1 capsule destined for the International Space Station (ISS). The mission involved the transport of supplies, as well as materials related to the more than 250 science investigations taking place aboard the ISS. More than that, it represented a milestone for the aerospace manufacturer.

OSIRIS-REx did its Closest Flyover Yet, just 250 Meters Above its Sample Site

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx is getting closer, physically and temporally, to its primary goal. The spacecraft arrived at Bennu at the end of 2018, and for just over a year it’s been studying the asteroid, searching for a suitable sampling site. To do that, it’s getting closer and closer.

Europe’s Mission to Jupiter’s Moons Just Got its First Instrument

The space agencies of the world have some truly ambitious plans in mind for the coming decade. Alongside missions that will search for evidence for past (and maybe present) life on Mars, next-generation space telescopes, and the “return to the Moon”, there are missions will which will explore Jupiter’s moons for signs of extra-terrestrial life. These include the ESA’s JUpiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE), which will launch in 2022.

As part of the agency’s Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 program, this spacecraft will conduct detailed observations of Jupiter and three of its large moons – Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa – to see if they could indeed harbor life in their interiors. Late last month (Feb. 25th), the first instrument that will fly aboard JUICE and aid in these efforts was delivered and began the process of integration with the spacecraft.

Every Part of Blue Origin’s New Glenn Rocket is Gigantic, Including its Nose Cone

Massive. Enormous. Huge. Gigantic. And whatever other words you find in the thesaurus all do the job when it comes to describing Blue Origin’s New Glenn Rocket. Especially its nosecone.

Artwork Inspired by Jupiter’s Great Red Spot

Artist Mik Petter has created a vibrant new piece of art based on JunoCam images of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot (GRS). The piece makes use of fractals, which are recursive mathematical creations; increasingly complex patterns that are similar to each other, yet never exactly the same.

Curiosity Finds Organic Molecules That Could Have Been Produced by Life on Mars

What do coal, crude oil, and truffles have in common? Go ahead. We’ll wait.

The answer is thiophenes, a molecule that behaves a lot like benzene. Crude oil, coal, and truffles all contain thiophenes. So do a few other substances. MSL Curiosity found thiophenes on Mars, and though that doesn’t conclusively prove that Mars once hosted life, its discovery is an important milestone for the rover. Especially since truffles are alive, and oil and coal used to be, sort of.

Mars 2020’s New Name is… “Perseverance”

Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity… For decades, NASA’s robotic rovers have explored the surface of Mars looking for clues about its past and subsequent evolution. With every success and discovery, their names became part of the public discourse, infiltrating our vocabulary the same way iconic figures like Armstrong, Einstein, and Hubble did. But what of the next rover that will be sent to explore Mars this summer?

NASA has serious plans for the Mars 2020 rover, the next installment in the Mars Exploration Program after its sister-rover Curiosity. But before this mission can launch and add its impressive capabilities to the hunt for life on Mars (past and present), it needed a proper name. Thanks to Alexander Mather (a grade 7 student from Burke, Virginia), it now has one. From this day forward, the Mars 2020 rover will be known as the Perseverance rover!

The Chemicals That Make Up Exploding Stars Could Help Explain Away Dark Energy

Astronomers have a dark energy problem. On the one hand, we’ve known for years that the universe is not just expanding, but accelerating. There seems to be a dark energy that drives cosmic expansion. On the other hand, when we measure cosmic expansion in different ways we get values that don’t quite agree. Some methods cluster around a higher value for dark energy, while other methods cluster around a lower one. On the gripping hand, something will need to give if we are to solve this mystery.



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Florida s 2019 rocket launch schedule: astronauts, moon landers and mighty rockets – Orlando Sentinel

Florida’s 2019 rocket launch schedule: astronauts, moon landers and mighty rockets

The new year is ramping up to be a historic one for the private space industry as it endeavors — along with its partners at NASA — to return humans to space from the United States.

The Space Coast will be ground zero for those launches and other notable flights in 2019. Though the overall number of liftoffs will likely be lower than in 2018, when the Cape played host to 20 launches, the high-profile nature of 2019’s launch manifest is likely to bring crowds back to the region.

Private space, led by SpaceX and Boeing, will play prominent roles as the purveyors of the first crewed U.S. space flights to low-Earth orbit since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011. In between, satellite, lunar lander and International Space Station resupply missions from SpaceX and United Launch Alliance will round out the year.

Mark your calendars, here are the launches coming to the Space Coast in 2019:

SpaceX

If current schedules hold, SpaceX would be the first to return astronauts to low-Earth orbit from American soil in eight years, beginning the process of easing the nation’s dependency on Russia to shuttle American astronauts to the International Space Station.

Before it can do that, though, SpaceX will have to perform a successful test flight of its Crew Dragon capsule without humans. That demo flight is scheduled for March 2 from Kennedy Space Center’s launch complex 39A. SpaceX will then perform an in-flight abort test in June.

If successful, astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will then hop inside Crew Dragon for the crewed launch, now on track for July.

SpaceX is also expected to draw big crowds for the return of the Elon Musk-led company’s mighty Falcon Heavy rocket, which had its debut in the Space Coast in early 2018 to a crowd of thousands. The three-booster, 27-engine Falcon Heavy will have its two first official contracted missions from the Space Coast in early- to mid-2019.

SpaceX is currently targeting as early as March for the first Falcon Heavy mission, carrying Saudi Arabia’s Arabsat 6A, a communications satellite providing coverage to the Middle East and North Africa region. A second mission, for the Air Force’s Space Test Program 2, which would launch more than two dozen military satellites, is also expected to come this year.

Also of interest will be the company’s Falcon 9 launch of a lunar lander for private Israeli company SpaceIL. The company competed for the Google Lunar X Prize, a moon race that would have awarded $20 million to the first company that built and launched a commercial lunar lander. The competition ended without a winner.

But SpaceIL kept working toward its mission and will make good on its promise to send the first privately developed lander to the moon. The mission is scheduled for mid-February.

If successful, the lander named Beresheet — Hebrew for “in the beginning” — would spend several weeks traveling to the moon before landing and taking images and videos.

Those missions will be the high points in a major year for SpaceX, while it also performs several resupply missions to the International Space Station and satellite launches, continuing to raise its profile as a go-to launch provider.

Boeing

Boeing will get its shot at making history this year, too, with its two launches of its CST-100 Starliner astronaut capsule as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew program.

The company is eyeing April for the test launch of its astronaut capsule — without crew — and May for a pad abort test from launch complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Then, in August, the company will endeavor to send astronauts Michael Fincke, Christopher J. Ferguson and Nicole Mann in a crewed launch to space. Due to unspecified medical reasons, astronaut Eric Boe, who was originally scheduled to be on the flight, was replaced by Fincke.

Following successful launches from SpaceX and Boeing, NASA will assign the two companies to crew rotation missions to the International Space Station.

United Launch Alliance

For United Launch Alliance, a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, 2019 will be a year dominated largely by launches from the Space Coast.

The company has seven launches planned for the year, one of which already took off from California. A Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying a classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base on Jan. 19.

The next six launches will be from the Space Coast.

First in the line up is a Delta IV rocket in a medium configuration carrying a Boeing communications spacecraft for the U.S. military called 10th Wideband Global SATCOM. The launch, scheduled for March 13, will take off from complex 37 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Several other military launches are also on the manifest for ULA, including one for the Air Force’s third-generation navigation satellites for the Global Positioning System. The satellite will be the second in a series of 10 ordered by the Air Force.

Built by Lockheed Martin, the GPS satellites have better accuracy, improved anti-jamming capabilities and 25 percent longer spacecraft lifespan. The first in that series was launched by SpaceX in December 2018.

When Will Astronauts Launch From U

When Will Astronauts Launch From U.S. Soil Again?

NASA is hopeful SpaceX and Boeing will soon free the country from dependency on Russia, but delays abound.

A Soyuz spacecraft, which carries astronauts to space, sits on the launchpad at Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Shamil Zhumatov / AP

In 2010, as the United States prepared to wind down the Space Shuttle program that carried Americans into orbit for three decades, NASA asked some commercial companies to start thinking about what came next. The space agency gave them a combined $50 million to design the transportation technologies of the future. Until then, NASA would pay Russia to send American astronauts to their shared home above Earth, the International Space Station.

On Wednesday, some of the people involved in this partnership convened on Capitol Hill to face lawmakers and provide an update on their progress.

On one end of the table sat Bill Gerstenmaier, the associate administrator for human exploration and operations at NASA, who gave a positive picture of the partnership, known as the Commercial Crew Program, as it’s going right now.

“This is a critical time in the program as manufacturing is in high gear, testing is being completed, and verification and validation requirements are being addressed by NASA,” he said. “The program is approximately one year away from the first crewed flights to ISS.”

On the other end of the table was Cristina Chaplain, the director at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) who has overseen multiple reviews of the Commercial Crew Program. Her testimony included some bad news on the effort to restore the country’s astronaut-launching capabilities.

SpaceX and Boeing, the two companies NASA ended up hiring to develop space transportation, may send a human crew on a test flight to the International Space Station in 2019, yes, but they would then need to undergo and pass rigorous safety tests—and the timeline for that is slipping. The companies’ contracts with NASA, established in 2014, had called for passing final certification tests in 2017. Based on a new GAO report released Wednesday, SpaceX may not get certified for regular flights to the ISS until December 2019, and Boeing until February 2020. The companies have a “considerable amount of work” to do to meet safety standards, Chaplain noted.

“Aggressive schedules and delays are not atypical for programs developing new launch vehicles or crew vehicles,” Chaplain said. “But in this case, the delays and final certification dates raise questions about whether the United States will have uninterrupted access to the space station beyond 2019.”

In between Gerstenmaier and Chaplain sat representatives for SpaceX and Boeing. Hans Koenigsmann, a SpaceX vice president, and John Mulholland, a Boeing vice president, both assured the members of Congress at the hearing that their companies would be ready to meet this demand on time.

But the GAO report suggests a different story, and Wednesday’s hearing, held by the House Subcommittee on Space, began with some sharp words from the subcommittee’s chairman about the report’s prediction of more delays.

Brian Babin, a Republican congressman from Texas, said SpaceX and Boeing are “behind schedule, may not meet safety and reliability requirements, and could even slip into cost overruns.”

“Both companies are making progress, but certainly not at the rate that was expected and not without significant challenges to safety and reliability,” Babin said. “In order to remedy these problems, NASA may seek additional funding or accept significant risks. Neither of those options is viable.”

The Commercial Crew Program has been plagued with delays since its inception. NASA’s initial target date of 2015 was pushed to 2017, and then again to mid-2018. Last week, NASA announced some more delays: Un-crewed demonstrations by both SpaceX and Boeing are now scheduled to take place in August, and crewed flights are expected to follow in November and December.

“The work completed took longer than originally planned, but many technical issues were discovered and resolved,” Gerstenmaier told the subcommittee. “This extra time that was taken in this development phase will help reduce the risk and magnitude of additional scheduled delays.”

Chaplain said SpaceX and Boeing have reported delays nine and six times, respectively, since NASA awarded them a combined $6.8 billion to work on crew transportation systems. She said both companies are currently working on addressing some safety problems. Boeing is trying to figure out how to prevent its spacecraft, the CST-100 Starliner, from tumbling during some mission-abort scenarios, which could threaten the safety of the crew. The company is also investigating the possibility that the spacecraft’s heat shield would damage the parachute system during reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. SpaceX, meanwhile, is trying to address safety concerns from NASA safety advisory boards about fueling its Dragon spacecraft while astronauts are inside.

Right now, the United States pays between $70 million and $80 million per seat for a ride on Russian Soyuz spacecrafts to the ISS. And the government has bought a couple more rides through 2019, just in case delays of the Commercial Crew Program continue. After that, if SpaceX or Boeing still aren’t ready to fly, NASA may be out of luck. If the space agency wanted to attempt to buy seats from Russia then, it may need to wait until new Soyuz launch vehicles are assembled and built, a process that takes three years.

At some point, the race between SpaceX and Boeing to test their crew capsules becomes a race that pits the two companies, together, against time. The United States and its international partners are committed to operating the station only through 2024. If the start of regular flight operations slips even further—from late 2019 and early 2020, as GAO now predicts, into later in the 2020s—the very purpose of this effort would be at stake. NASA has already picked the astronauts that will participate in the test flights of commercial transportation systems. Should delays continue or worsen, these astronauts may find themselves all dressed up with nowhere to go.