NASA: 60 Years of Exploration and Discovery
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For more than 90 years, Caterpillar has been building the world’s infrastructure. And we plan to continue, whether that effort happens in a great city, a developing village, or even beyond our planet. Caterpillar has proudly partnered with NASA for decades. We may not have excavators in space (yet), but by collaborating in progressive research opportunities like the 3D Habitat Centennial Challenge, we’re able to develop disruptive technologies that help solve our customers’ challenges now, and in the future. One example: the Cat® Next Gen Excavator. Next Gen Excavators have been designed with a digital “heart” that can evolve over time as technology and customer needs change. So wherever and whenever building the world’s infrastructure happens, Caterpillar will be there.
CONGRATULATIONS TO NASA FOR 60 YEARS OF PIONEERING
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Looking to the Future by Building on the Past We are proud to have supported NASA every step of the way and look forward to continued scientiďŹ c discovery and deep space exploration. Thank you NASA for a great 60 years of out-of-this world achievement and we look forward to an even brighter future!
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60 Years of Exploration and Discovery
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover used the camera at the end of its arm in April and May 2014 to take dozens of component images combined into this self-portrait where the rover drilled into a sandstone target called “Windjana.” The camera is the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), which previously recorded portraits of Curiosity at two other important sites during the mission: “Rock Nest” (PIA16468) and “John Klein” (PIA16937).
Foreword From its founding in 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has stretched the boundaries of science and exploration. The agency’s achievements in human spaceflight have captured the imaginations of dreamers around the world, from the first suborbital flight of the Mercury Program, through the groundbreaking Gemini missions, to Apollo and the first steps of the human race on the Moon, and the Space Shuttle Program’s 135 missions into orbit that made possible, among many other achievements, the construction of the International Space Station, now continuously occupied in orbit for 18 years. These achievements have come at a high price, however, and the losses of 17 astronauts over the years aboard Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia cannot be forgotten. While NASA’s human spaceflight successes have inspired Americans by showing ordinary humans doing extraordinary things, people have been just one aspect of the agency’s quest to explore and learn. NASA’s scientists and engineers have delved into the mysteries of the Earth, the solar system, and our universe, and their scientific discoveries have fundamentally transformed our understanding and vastly expanded our knowledge. Nearer to Earth, NASA’s aeronautical breakthroughs have helped humans fly higher, farther, faster, and more economically and safely, and science and technology developments have made their way into our everyday lives. Today, as the agency celebrates a 60-year history of pushing the boundaries of knowledge, NASA is poised to enter a new era of exploration and discovery, striving as it has since its beginning to reveal the unknown for the benefit of humankind.
Congratulations NASA on 60 years of innovation & discovery
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To the NASA Family:
Congratulations on your 60th Anniversary. It was a great honor for me to be welcomed into your family by becoming the first biologist to serve as NASA Chief Scientist (May 1999-April 2002). It was part of Mr. Goldin’s vision and foresight to integrate basic biology into all aspects of our space program. As a neuroscientist who studied sex differences in the brain, I was quite surprised when I received a call to consider this position. While I had the privilege to work with NASA on the Neurolab Shuttle Mission, I kept thinking, why me? Once I arrived at NASA, I totally understood the power of biology for the Space Program. While it always played a pivotal role for the health and safety of the astronauts, biology needed to be an integral part of space science (e.g. astrobiology and the search for life), earth science (e.g. ecological impacts on global climate change) and aeronautics (e.g. biological-inspired technologies). Since the Chief Scientist Office had been vacant for several years prior to my arrival, my first action was to develop a strong team to coordinate science across NASA. This outstanding group included Mayra M. Montrose, Arthur (Art) Poland, Louis Ostrach, Mary Cleave, Ann B. Carlson, and Doreen Simms Abdul-Malik. None of the accomplishments of this Office would have been possible without this incredible team working together for NASA’s science mission. Although my first charge from Mr. Goldin, NASA Administrator, was to develop a strategic plan for biology, the concept of “Living With a Star” also became a top priority. George Withbroe had presented ideas for this new initiative at my first Science Council on August 3, 1999. What was so invigorating about this research opportunity was that the Living With a Star initiative was an agency wide activity. The major research focus was on elucidating the Sun-Earth connection and the physics of space weather. The findings would also contribute to enhanced understanding of the Sun’s role in global climate change and to developing protocols for protecting our astronauts and our hardware/satellites from solar activity. We took a very pro-active approach to communicating its importance for our country and, to our surprise, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) provided full support for the initiative even though it was not in the original budget request. The Program remains a major component of NASA’s Space Science program today. We did also create the roadmap for biological research across NASA. One of the major outcomes was the establishment of Office of Biological and Physical Research (OBPR), the Fifth NASA Strategic Enterprise. Its mission was to use the synergy between physical, chemical, and biological research in space to acquire fundamental knowledge and generate new possibilities
for space travel and Earth applications. What was incredible was that we were able to increase the OBPR budget allocation from $350M to more than $800M by developing and successfully advocating two new research initiatives to OMB and Congress. One initiative, “Generations,” focused on fundamental biology and included free-flyers for long-term, autonomous studies. The other involved improving our understanding the effects of long term exposure to cosmic radiation. Both initiatives included elements of understanding survival, variation, selection, and speciation in the space environment which contributes to evolution, replication and repair. NASA’s vision has always been on the forefront of exploration, which includes humans in space beyond low-earth orbit. However, as pointed out by Mr. Goldin, “there are no emergency rooms in space.” Based on this concern, our office was responsible for developing a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to foster & support research in nanotechnology as a new biomedical tool to facilitate detection, diagnoses, and treatment of disease—one of the very first research programs to recognize the potential revolutionary contributions of nanotechnology and other transformational approaches. The activity resulted in establishing a jointly funded NASA/NCI peer-review grant program. I am so proud of the accomplishments of our team! We worked together to initiate programs and to foster new activities that advanced NASA’s mission for space exploration and to improve life here by advancing humanity’s understanding of our Earth. Again, congratulations on your 60th anniversary!
Kathie L. Olsen Founder, Managing Director KLO International, LLC Former Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer of National Science Foundation (NSF) Former Associate Director and Deputy Director of Science, Office of Science & Policy (OSTP), Executive Office of the President.
POWER The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) is proud of our six decades of collaboration with NASA. We look
forward to shaping the future of aerospace in the decades to come.
AIAA is dedicated to bringing together government, industry, and academia to shape the future of aeronautics and astronautics. Thank you to everyone at NASA for your passion, innovation, and energy, all of which is an inspiration to us and the world. Not a member of AIAA? See how you fit into AIAA at
Dear NASA Team, Our world has changed in the 60 years since President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), less than a year after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1. The technology developed in the past six decades has enhanced our quality of life globally. From scientific discoveries, to new technologies used in hospitals to save lives, to our improved understanding of planet Earth and the solar system, we have all benefited from NASA-related innovations—socially, economically, and educationally. On behalf of the 30,000 members of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, we salute the work of the scientists, engineers, and professionals of NASA and thank them for their dedication to shaping the future of aerospace. We are proud that AIAA members have played instrumental roles in helping create the NASA legacy and that their passion for the mission runs unabated across science, aeronautics, and space. The hard work, perseverance, and creativity that led to the lunar landings, planetary missions, scientific achievements, aeronautical innovations, and so many other accomplishments are fueling a new wave of visionaries and groundbreaking research. As Sir Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Our exploration of space has taught us to view Earth, ourselves, and the universe in a new way. While the tremendous technical and scientific accomplishments of NASA demonstrate vividly that humans can achieve previously inconceivable feats, we also are humbled by the realization that Earth is just a tiny "blue marble" in the cosmos. Congratulations to all those across industry, academia, and government who have been a part of NASA’s countless successes over the past 60 years—I can only imagine what “giant leaps” we will be celebrating 60 years from now.
John S. Langford President American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
NASA’S 60 YEARS OF EXPLORATION AND DISCOVERY
AERONAUTICS UNDER NASA
PUSHING THE ENVELOPE OF SPACE TECHNOLOGY
NASA SCIENCE: AT WORK IN AN ENDLESS FRONTIER
BY EDWARD GOLDSTEIN
BY EDWARD GOLDSTEIN
BY CHUCK OLDHAM
BY EDWARD GOLDSTEIN
NASA’S HUMAN EXPLORATION AND OPERATIONS MISSION DIRECTORATE AND HUMANKIND’S NEXT GIANT LEAP BY CRAIG COLLINS
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Cover image: NASA has released an official logo for use in observing this milestone anniversary. Created by NASA graphic artist Matthew Skeins, the logo depicts how NASA is building on its historic past to soar toward a challenging and inspiring future. Credit: NASA Image
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60TH ANNIVERSARY OF NASA
NASA’s 60 Years of Exploration and Discovery By Edward Goldstein
aving been born two months after Sputnik, and spent most of my professional career working for the agency, its contractors and the major aerospace industry trade association, I have a special affinity for NASA. One of my earliest historical memories is of the live television coverage of John Glenn’s Mercury Friendship 7 launch in 1962 – coverage that President John F. Kennedy approved over the advice of cautious aides who worried about the impact to the space program of a launch explosion. The magic of NASA, of course, is that its power to inspire reaches all Americans and billions of people throughout the world who aren’t intimately involved with the space program. You can see the impact of NASA in the many people one can view on public streets throughout the country and abroad wearing t-shirts or polos bearing the iconic NASA meatball logo. You can measure NASA’s influence on the public as a portal to scientific engagement by the 88 percent of adult Americans – 216 million – who viewed the August 2017 solar eclipse, often with guidance from NASA’s public outreach efforts. You can sense NASA’s power to inspire dreams of lives lived with great purpose by the record number of 18,300 citizens who applied for the 12 – yes 12 – slots in its latest class of astronauts. You are presented evidence that NASA is held within high esteem within the federal government by the fact that the agency consistently tops the list of the best federal places to work in the annual survey of the Partnership for Public Service. And you just know that NASA is more than an ordinary government agency, by the fact that practically everyone you talk to will tell you of where they were, and what they felt, when they witnessed an indelible moment spun from a bold NASA mission. For my generation, the sight of Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong taking humankind’s first steps on an extraterrestrial body in 1969 was that moment. I’m more partial, however, to the incredible Christmas Eve of 1968 when the crew of Apollo 8
– Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders – live broadcast from lunar orbit the first close-up views of the Moon’s forbidding surface, reading from the Book of Genesis in a grace note to a year of war, assassination and civil unrest. And there was more. That same evening, in an unplanned moment, William Anders took the famous “Earthrise” photo that help spark the environmental movement, and a new consideration of our place in the universe. Anders told me when recalling the mission, “I think that one of the things that has not really emerged from that flight but one day will, is that our Earth is quite small, almost physically insignificant, yet it is our only hope. …I’ve thought and said it’s too bad we couldn’t put all the members of the U.N. in orbit around the Moon to look back at the Earth so that they could see how delicate our planet is, and we ought to quit fighting over it.” I was not alone in viewing Apollo 8 as a special moment in the pantheon of NASA’s firsts. When interviewing former President George H.W. Bush for NASA’s 50th anniversary, President Bush told me that his son Jeb was irked at having to attend Christmas Eve church services, but upon returning home and seeing the astronauts’ broadcast was profoundly affected. “It was a lifechanging experience for him,” the 41st president said. Over the decades, NASA has produced many such moments: • From 1969-1972, the visits of six astronaut crews to the lunar surface, including three missions aided by an ingenious exploration enabler – the 11.2 miles per hour maximum speed Lunar Rover. Over time, the demands of the Apollo program for advanced microelectronic circuitry for its spacecraft helped give birth to Silicon Valley. And throughout NASA’s existence, microelectromechanical systems, supercomputers, microcomputers, software and microprocessors were all created with technology developed by NASA. • The 1977 launch of Voyagers 1 and 2, the robotic spacecraft that jointly explored all the giant outer planets, 48 of their moons and the unique system of rings and magnetic fields those
Astronaut John H. Glenn Jr. shown in the Mercury-Atlas (MA-6) Friendship 7 capsule during the first American orbital flight.
planets possess. As an added bonus, both Voyagers contained a 12-inch gold-plated phonographic record that thanks to the late Carl Sagan conveyed through sounds and music the story of our civilization to any extraterrestrials who, like modern Americans, still have an interest in vinyl. • The 1981 first launch of the Space Shuttle Columbia on STS-1, the most daring test mission NASA has flown, which proved the concept of a reusable spaceship designed for routine low-Earth orbit operations. I was fortunate enough to witness Columbia’s unpowered winged landing at Edwards AFB in California, as the Rockwell International (prime Space Shuttle contractor) host for the first Chinese space delegation to officially visit the United States. The then-modest Chinese space program had only a couple of satellite launches under its belt at that time. The senior official from the Chinese delegation didn’t speak English but his broad smile when he shook my hand after Columbia landed bespoke NASA’s tremendous power to generate good will for our country. • The 1990 deployment from the Space Shuttle Columbia of the Hubble Space Telescope, the first of NASA’s four great observatories along with the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory (1991), Chandra X-Ray Observatory (1999) and Spitzer Space Telescope (2003). All have recorded images and obtained data that have helped dramatically alter our understanding of the universe. The mother of NASA’s space astronomy program and the first key advocate for a large observatory in space is Nancy Roman, the brilliant astrophysicist who was told by her Swarthmore College physics professor in a view typical of her time, “You know, I usually try to convince women not to go into physics, but I think you might make it.” • The launch in 1998 of the first element of the International Space Station (ISS), followed by the launch in 2000 of the Expedition 1 crew to the International Space Station, the football field-sized facility that has greatly enabled microgravity research and technology development, Earth observations, and the human factors research needed to send astronaut crews to Mars. Because of the ISS, we’ve had humans living and working in space permanently for 18 years.
Above: NASA Voyager 2 was launched on Aug. 20, 1977, from the NASA Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. The Voyager probes were the first to explore all the outer planets. Voyager 1 entered interstellar space in 2012. Voyager 2 is following Voyager 1 out of the solar system, and has been operating for more than 41 years. Right: Astronaut William Anders’ famous “Earthrise” photo, taken from lunar orbit during the Apollo 8 mission, that helped spark the environmental movement and forced many to think, for the first time, of how fragile our planet is and how small it is in the vast universe.
• The 2014 test flight of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Module, the vehicle designed to take astronauts on missions beyond lowEarth orbit. Orion and the in-development Space Launch System are designed to allow NASA to send human missions to the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, the next step in sending humans back to the Moon, for sophisticated long-term operations, and onward to Mars. For those space enthusiasts frustrated that we aren’t at Mars yet, or that hundreds of people are not living in space, someone who takes the long view of history might respond by noting that it took 115 years from the time Columbus first came to the New World to the establishment of the Jamestown Settlement in Virginia. Viewed in this light, let’s appreciate how far and how fast NASA has come. When NASA was first established in 1958, there was no human space program, no large rocket in place, only three legacy facilities from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) – the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in
On Sept. 8, 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower visited Huntsville, Alabama, to dedicate a new NASA field center in honor of Gen. George C. Marshall, Eisenhower’s wartime colleague and the founder of the famous Marshall Plan for European Recovery after World War II.
Virginia, the Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory in Ohio and the Ames Aeronautical Laboratory in California – and the equivalent of a $732 million budget in today’s dollars, or 0.1 percent of the federal budget. (Incidentally, while NASA’s budget peaked at 4 percent of the federal budget for two fiscal years (1965-1966), at the height of the Space Race with the Soviet Union, the space agency has in recent years been only allocated roughly 0.5 percent of the federal budget, a far cry from the massive amounts the public seems to believe are given to NASA, as illustrated in several polls.) But what the fledgling space agency did have were incredibly talented NACA legacy people, the likes of spacecraft designer Maxime Faget, flight controller Christopher Kraft Jr., Space Task Force leader Robert Gilruth, who John Glenn told me was his unsung hero, and yes, the launch and flight trajectory “Hidden Figures” wizard Katherine Johnson. From its infancy, NASA had the advantage of people whose abilities matched the magnitude of the task ahead.
60TH ANNIVERSARY OF NASA
From Ike to JFK: The Commitment to the Great Leap
Even from the start, the promise of the space program to advance U.S. exploration, scientific and technological interests was clearly recognized. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in the 1958 report to the nation “Introduction to Outer Space,” wrote, “(There are) many aspects of space and space technology…which can be helpful to all people as the United States proceeds with its peaceful program in space science and exploration. Every person has the opportunity to share through understanding in the adventures which lie ahead. This statement [of the President’s Science Advisory Committee] makes clear the opportunities which a developing space technology can provide to extend man’s knowledge of the earth, the solar system, and the universe. These opportunities reinforce my conviction that we and other nations have a great responsibility to promote the peaceful use of space and to utilize the new knowledge obtainable from space science and technology for the benefit of all mankind.” Following the shock of Sputnik, Eisenhower pushed for the creation of a civilian space agency to carry out an open program of scientific activities and to engage in international cooperation to enhance U.S. prestige and leadership – a vivid demonstration of the idea of “soft power.” He also wanted a civilian space agency to draw attention away from clandestine efforts to develop the military Corona spy satellite. Eisenhower approved the first NASA man-in-space program, Project Mercury, and dictated that the first seven astronauts come from the ranks of military pilots, but resisted attempts to give NASA a larger mission. It was President John F. Kennedy, who had little initial interest in space, who determined that we would have to defeat the Soviet Union in the “Space Race” after the headline-making first human flight of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and the humiliating defeat of an American-backed Army invading communist Cuba in the Bay of Pigs. In his May 25, 1961 address to Congress, Kennedy called for the goal of placing a man on the Moon “before this decade is out,” and albeit less remembered, for investments in the ambitious Rover nuclear rocket (never developed), and satellites for worldwide communications and worldwide weather observations, a nod to the larger purposes NASA fulfills.
Dr. Robert R. Gilruth (left), Manned Spacecraft Center Director, presents President John F. Kennedy with a mounted model of the Apollo spacecraft at the end of a visit by the president.
Kennedy is often viewed by space enthusiasts as the great champion of space, whose inspirational leadership on behalf of NASA hasn’t been matched since. The reality is more complex. Yes, Kennedy initially was all-in for the Moon initiative. In a November 1962 tape-recorded White House meeting with James Webb, the NASA Administrator who the current NASA boss, Jim Bridenstine, believes was the best NASA leader has had – as many others in the field also agree – Kennedy argued that while space applications and scientific activities were desirable, they were a lesser priority than the lunar program. When Webb labeled the lunar program “one of the top priorities” including the knowledge that could be developed in several scientific disciplines, Kennedy demurred. “Jim, I think it is the top priority. I think we ought to have that very clear. Some of these other programs can slip six months or nine months and nothing strategic is going to happen. But this is important for political reasons, international political reasons. This is, whether we like it or not, in a sense a race. If we get second to the Moon it’s nice, but its like being second any time. So, that if we’re second by six months because we didn’t give it the kind of priority, then of course that would be very serious. So, I think we have to take the view that this is the top priority.” But a year later, in a September 1963 address to the United Nations General Assembly, Kennedy wondered why the U.S. and
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Soviet Union should carry out “parallel efforts that would include duplication of research, construction, and expenditures.” Kennedy then said, “Why, therefore, should man’s first flight to the Moon be a matter of competition,” in offering to cooperate with the Soviet Union on a Moon voyage. The son of then Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev later said his father was prepared to accept Kennedy’s offer. But Kennedy’s assassination two months later left the proposal as one of history’s great what ifs. There is one other aspect of the Kennedy era that bears retelling. Sometimes NASA’s story is viewed as being separate from the social and cultural changes that were overtaking our country in the 1960s. That was never the case. Take for example the issue of civil rights. In researching a 2002 speech to the National Technical Organization – the professional organization for African American engineers – that was to be given by NASA Deputy Administrator Fred Gregory, one of the three first African American astronauts, I discovered in the NASA archives a 1962 letter that James Webb sent to Werner von Braun, the German rocket scientist who led NASA’s George C. Marshall Space Flight Center. Webb’s letter informed von Braun that he had just been called on the carpet by Vice President Lyndon Johnson and Attorney General Robert Kennedy due to the lack of progress at Marshall in the hiring of “qualified Negroes” for technical positions, and told von Braun that he expected results. An audience member came up to Gregory after he relayed this story in his speech, and with a gleam in his eye said, “I was hired at the Kennedy Space Center (then known as the Launch Operations
An astronaut’s boot and footprint in the lunar soil during the Apollo 11 mission. Astronaut Neil A. Armstrong was the first man to set foot on the Moon on July 20, 1969, followed by Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin. Astronaut Michael Collins orbited above in the Command Module. The first manned lunar mission launched via a Saturn V launch vehicle from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida on July 16, 1969 and safely returned to Earth on July 24, 1969. With the success of Apollo 11, the national objective to land men on the Moon and return them safely to Earth had been accomplished. More than 500 million people viewed the landing on television.
Center) as a result of that letter!” And since that time, NASA has striven to throw out the broadest possible net in recruiting talented scientists, engineers, administrators and astronauts.
Footprints on the Moon, Sophisticated Activities in Low-Earth Orbit and a Return to Deep Space
On July 20, 1969, our planet stood figuratively still as two young Americans – Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin – set foot on the Moon’s surface at Tranquility Base. This signal American and NASA triumph was viewed by a global television audience, with the exception of the people of China, North Korea and North Vietnam, whose leaders denied them the opportunity to see Armstrong take “One small step for (a) man. One giant leap for mankind.” One American in Vietnam at that time, John McCain, the uninvited guest in
60TH ANNIVERSARY OF NASA
as was the case with the loss of the Apollo 1 crew during a launch rehearsal test in 1967, NASA and its contractors learned hard lessons about problems that were left to fester and the warnings of engineers that went unheeded. Fortunately, throughout these tragedies the public has been willing to allow NASA to take corrective action and move forward, and the space agency has demonstrated a genuine commitment to self-improvement. The Space Shuttle experience, which featured strong cooperation between NASA and its partners with the European Space Agency, Canadian Space Agency, Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency and eventually the Russian Federal Space Agency Roscosmos, helped pave the way for NASA to lead the formation of the partnership that led to the International Space Station (ISS), permanently occupied since November 2000, which now involves the participation of 15 countries. Five years ago, at the 64th International Astronautical Congress in Beijing, NASA Space Station program scientist Julie Robinson listed ten significant scientific achievements from ISS activities: Saving astronauts from much of the troubling bone loss • experienced during long-duration weightlessness with a combination of diet, vitamin D and exercise. • Understanding the metabolic processes that lead to osteoporosis and developing medications and therapies for prevention. • Using optical instruments to assess water quality in the world’s coastal bays. • Manipulating nanoparticles with electrical fields through the self-assembly of colloids. • Combustion research that is revealing more efficient processes of fuel consumption. • Studies that reveal increased virulence of bacteria in space. The findings point to possible vaccines, perhaps one to combat salmonellla. • The engagement of millions of students with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) learning through interactions with ISS astronauts and with ISS science missions. • Studies of dark matter using the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, an external observatory installed by space station astronauts in 2011. • Improvements in robotics accomplished with the ISS’s Canadian-built robot arms that are leading to improvements in brain surgery techniques. • Using the weightless environment to develop drugs that can attack specific tumors with chemotherapy. The last decade has seen NASA’s steady development, with the support of commercial partners, of the launch vehicles, crew vehicles
The Space Shuttle Endeavour docked to the International Space Station, flying at an altitude of approximately 220 miles. The image was taken by Expedition 27 crew member Paolo Nespoli from the Soyuz TMA-20 following its undocking on May 23, 2011. Endeavour had delivered the final module to mark the “assembly complete” stage of the ISS program, and this image was among the last ever taken of a Space Shuttle docked to the station, as the Space Shuttle Program officially ended soon after. Continuously manned since November 2000, the ISS now involves the participation of 15 countries.
the prisoner of war camp known as the Hanoi Hilton, later related how he learned about the Moon landing as a result of a slip up in a propaganda broadcast meant to sap his spirit and that of his fellow POWs. “In that brief mention of glorious news, our morale soared,” wrote McCain in 2012 upon Armstrong’s death, “We felt almost physically strengthened as we communicated with each other in whispers and tap code: “Did you hear that? Did you? We put a man on the Moon. My God, we did it.” McCain noted that when he told Armstrong this story when they met years later, this modest “brave man who made his countrymen proud … seemed moved by the recollection.” There has been recent controversy about the Neil Armstrong biopic First Man, because it doesn’t include the epic image of Armstrong and Aldrin planting the American flag on the Moon, based on the filmmakers’ view that Apollo 11 deserves to be viewed as a global, not solely American, triumph. In truth, the crew’s actions and words on the Moon reflect both American pride, with the flag planting and televised phone call from President Richard Nixon in the White House, and a spirit of global brotherhood. Armstrong’s words about the “giant leap for mankind,” were influenced by direction from NASA Headquarters, NASA Chief Counsel Paul Dembling, the author of NASA’s enabling legislation told me. Dembling said he and three colleagues – Willis Shapley (associate deputy administrator), Arnold Frutkin (assistant administrator for international affairs), and Julian Scheer (assistant administrator for public affairs) – “worked on a statement regarding what should be said. The fear was that somebody might say, ‘I’m taking this for the United States,’ which would be contrary to what the Outer Space Treaty said. So rather than leave it to the astronauts to make up their own idea, there was the thought that maybe we ought to give them something that might lead them. I don’t think he [Neil Armstrong] said it exactly the way it was written down, but he transmitted the meaning.” And once at a NASA Headquarters lunch, Buzz Aldrin related to me that left on the Moon at Tranquility Base was a goodwill message signed by all the world’s leaders, some 70 at the time. With the triumph of Apollo came a public sense of “let’s move on,” and President Richard Nixon made a number of consequential decisions in that direction, including cancelling the final three scheduled Apollo moon landings, forgoing human travel to Mars, postponing serious planning for a space station, and greenlighting the Space Shuttle program with the idea of making the costs of space activities less expensive and more sustainable for scientific, commercial and national security purposes. Nixon also toyed with the idea of using NASA as a domestic technology agency. The Space Shuttle program largely lived up to its promise, with milestone missions such as the first launch of the European Spacelab Module for enabling advanced scientific missions (1983), the first untethered spacewalk with astronauts Bruce McCandless and Robert Stewart (1984), the first satellite repair mission of the malfunctioning Solar Maximum Mission (1984), the deployment of the Galileo satellite mission to Jupiter (1989), the mission to repair the faulty optics of the Hubble Space Telescope (1993) – which involved five intensive spacewalks, and the first docking with the Russian Mir space station (1995). With triumph also came tragedy: the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger crew (STS-51L) in 1986 during launch and the Space Shuttle Columbia crew (STS-107) during reentry. In both tragedies,
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and other spacecraft that will once again see NASA aim its exploration sights higher, in the vicinity of the Moon, on the lunar surface with extensive surface operations that may involve the extraction of lunar resources to provide the consumables (including water), fuels, propellants and materials that will enable the industrialization of near Earth space, and eventually for humans to send expeditionary missions to Mars. Space Policy Directive One, issued by President Donald Trump last December, instructs NASA to “lead the return of humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and utilization, followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations.” In NASA’s plan to implement the policy, its exploration campaign combines the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion Multi-purpose Crew Vehicle with the development of a cislunar habitat called the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, and the development of lunar landers of increasing capability, ultimately leading to human manned landers and lunar facilities. As NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine recently tweeted: “We are committed to lunar exploration @NASA….More landers. More science. More exploration. More prospectors. More commercial partners. Ad astra!” For at least 50 years, Mars has been viewed as the next logical target for NASA’s human exploration ambitions. And while many in the space community wistfully say that we always seem to be 20 years away from the red planet in NASA’s reckoning, the fact is that NASA developed hardware such as the SLS and Orion, combined with detailed planning undertaken by NASA’s Human Exploration Mission Directorate through its Design Reference Architecture 5.0, and technology investments in high power solar electrical propulsion and cryogenic propellant storage and transfer, is demonstrating that the building blocks are steadily being put in place to engage in a serious attempt – given a greater national and international commitment – to send humans to the most Earth-like planet in our solar system. The return to the Moon, said Bridenstine, “will allow us to prove and advance technologies that will feed forward to Mars,” such as precision landing and life support systems, that “will enable us to land the first Americans on the red planet.” Although there is yet no firm commitment for human Mars exploration, NASA’s 5.0 architecture document discusses at length potential landing sites such as Eberswalde Crater, which preserves a Martian river delta system and could hold evidence of early life embedded in its rock record, and Jezero Crater, where a standing body of water existed during the Noachian period, an early time in the planet’s history.
The Triumph of NASA Science and Aeronautics
As much as the story of astronauts and the human exploration of space is central to the 60-year NASA narrative, so also is the remarkable record of accomplishment by the agency’s Science Mission Directorate, and the orbiters, landers, rovers, telescopes and sensors that have led to fundamental discoveries in planetary exploration, astrophysics, Earth science and heliophysics, and of its NACA-heritage Aeronautics Mission Directorate. Largely because of NASA’s robotic missions, we now know there are many locations in the solar system – Mars, Jupiter’s moons Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, and Saturn’s moon’s Titan and Enceladus – that may have had in the past or currently harbor microbiological life. And NASA’s Europa Clipper mission, planned for launch in the 2022-2025 time frame, will study Europa and the ocean beneath its icy surface for signs of extant life.
Opposite: The Space Shuttle Atlantis remote manipulator system arm lifts the Hubble Space Telescope from the cargo bay and is moments away from releasing the orbital observatory to start it on its way back home to observe the universe.
In NASA’s six decades we’ve come from speculation about whether there are planets orbiting nearby stars in the Milky Way galaxy, to the Kepler Space Observatory’s confirmation, along with that of other telescopes, of more than 3,000 exoplanets, including several potential Earth analogue planets that orbit within habitable zones of the stars they orbit. When the James Webb Space Telescope is launched in 2021, Nobel Prize Laureate and Senior Project Scientist John Mather told me, it will have the capability to image a planet transiting a nearby star “and measure the chemical constituents of the atmosphere of that planet. We’re pretty sure we can see if there’s water vapor — enough to have an ocean underneath. We should be able to tell if there are clouds and various other things. In good cases, we should be able to look at Earthlike objects.” Because of NASA, the question of whether we are alone in the universe, once the province of philosophical speculation, is now in the realm of epistemology, or the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion. The development of science based on the potential discovery of extraterrestrial life is just among the major NASA contributions to planetary science and astrophysics. At the time of NASA’s founding, “Our level of knowledge of the solar system was so primitive by today’s standards that it is almost incomprehensible how far it has come,” Alan Stern, NASA’s former associate administrator for space science, told me. “We did not know, for example, what the appearances of most of the planets and their satellites were. We didn’t know that worlds in the outer solar system would be diverse. We didn’t realize that there are numerous oceans in the solar system, with most of them on the inside of planets. We didn’t know that the third zone of the solar system, the Kuiper Belts, exists. We didn’t know what the comets were. We didn’t know that ring systems are ubiquitous and that they come and go with time. We did not know that Venus is a tropic wasteland, 700 degrees Kelvin. We didn’t know the importance of giant impacts. And we just didn’t understand that most of the solar system’s planets are in fact dwarf planets — like Pluto. We basically didn’t know anything.” Now, thanks to NASA, we know. Similarly, thanks to NASA’s commitment to the construction of large observatories and other telescopes in space, we have witnessed a new era of scientific discovery that has transformed human understanding of the universe. One of those telescopes, the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite, launched in 1989, confirmed that our universe originated from the expanding fireball known as the big bang. John Mather, of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, was one of two recipients of the 2006 Nobel Prize for Physics in recognition of his role as COBE principal investigator. “The COBE satellite discovered that the Big Bang theory is basically right, although it should be called the Expanding Universe theory,” Mather told me, “People misinterpret the word. They say, ‘Big Bang,’ and they should say, ‘Infinite Bang.’ ‘Big’ just isn’t big enough. … Now we have the most amazing ability to calculate with tremendous precision from the conditions of the early universe to now. I had no clue that would be possible when we proposed that project back in 1974.” Of course, there is also the tremendous legacy of accomplishment from the Hubble Space Telescope, arguably the most important astronomical instrument since Galileo Galilei’s modest telescope discovered the moons of Jupiter. Among Hubble’s key findings are the following: • The accurate estimation of the age of the universe at 13.7 billion years. • The finding, based on observations of distant supernovae, that the expansion of the universe may be accelerating. • The confirmation that black holes are probably common to the centers of all galaxies. • Observations of the collision of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter in 1994. • The discovery of proto-planetary disks in the Orion Nebula, providing evidence for the presence of extrasolar planets around sun-like stars.
Above: A Hubble Deep Field image of a small region in the constellation Ursa Major that was constructed from a series of observations assembled from 342 separate exposures taken by Hubble’s Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2. Almost all of the 3,000 objects shown in the image are galaxies.
Right: A composite photo, assembled from separate images of Jupiter and comet ShoemakerLevy 9, as imaged by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope in 1994. Hubble enabled those on Earth to view the extraordinary impact of a comet on a planet within the solar system.
• The finding that Jupiter’s moon Ganymede has a subsurface saltwater ocean. • The Hubble Deep Field, Hubble Ultra-Deep Field, and Hubble Extreme Deep Field images, revealing galaxies billions of light years away, providing a new window on the early Universe. As much as NASA’s outward looking focus has led to profound discoveries like those mentioned above, perhaps its most societally beneficial role has been to mount a comprehensive Earth Observation System (EOS) program to understand the interactions that affect our home planet’s climate, oceans, atmosphere and land masses. Through the broad objectives of the program, EOS has been successful on a number of fronts, including: • Pioneering new Earth-monitoring technologies. • Successfully launching and operating a constellation of sophisticated EOS satellites that provide the scientific community 24 key climate measurements. • Utilizing Earth measurements to improve climate models and to enhance monitoring and understanding of extreme events such as hurricanes and tsunamis.
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Of all the planets NASA has explored, none has matched the dynamic complexity of our own. Earth is constantly changing, and NASA is working constantly to explore and understand the planet on scales from local to global. In visible light and many invisible wavelengths, NASA and its science partners are observing the entire planet every day. The image above was captured on March 30, 2014, by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite. The composite image of the eastern hemisphere was compiled from 8 orbits of the satellite and 10 imaging channels, then stitched together to blend the edges of each satellite pass. NASA Earth Observatory image by Robert Simmon, using Suomi NPP VIIRS imagery from NOAA’s Environmental Visualization Laboratory.
famine relief in Africa during droughts, to the continuing discussion on global climate change. Satellite observations provide the sole means to observe the whole planet almost every day using the same instrument.” NASA’s Heliophysics Division, often out of the public spotlight, had its well-deserved moment in the sun, so to speak, during last year’s solar eclipse, when the space agency and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) combined to mount over a dozen operating missions studying and tracking the eclipse. Madhulika “Lika” Guhathakurta, NASA’s lead scientist for the eclipse, mentioned to me that “the exceptionally large land mass of this total eclipse will provide an unprecedented opportunity for cross disciplinary studies of the sun, Moon, Earth, and their interactions.” She notes the whole field of heliophysics as developed by NASA, other scientific agencies and research universities, has important practical implications. “We often have radio blackouts, disturbances in the ionosphere caused by x-ray emissions from the Sun. Then we have solar radiation storms, elevated levels of radiation that occur when a large-scale magnetic eruption on the Sun, often causing a
Michael Freilich, who for over a decade headed NASA’s Earth Science Mission Directorate, told me that “using data from Earth-observing satellites, NASAsupported researchers are monitoring ice cover and ice sheet motions in the Arctic and the Antarctic; quantifying the short-term and long-term changes to Earth’s protective shield of stratospheric ozone, including the positive impacts of the Montreal protocols; discovering robust relationships between increasing upper ocean temperature and decreasing primary production from the phytoplankton that form the base of the oceans’ food chain; and using a fleet of satellites flying in formation [the ‘A-Train’], making unique, global, nearsimultaneous measurements of aerosols, clouds, temperature and relative humidity profiles, and radiative fluxes. Our improved understanding of Earth system processes leads to improvements in sophisticated weather and climate models, which in turn, when initialized using the satellite data, can be used to predict natural and human-caused changes in Earth’s environment over time scales of hours to years.’ One of my NASA heroes, the astronaut Piers Sellers, who was the director of the Earth Science Division at the NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center until his untimely death from pancreatic cancer two years ago, said the following to an audience at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in 2004: “Our technical ability to view the Earth from space is incident with our ability to change our planetary environment. So at the very time we are able to see our planetary home in its entirety, we are powerfully motivated to do so — to understand how the Earth system works, to help us assess the kind and degree of changes, both manmade and natural, that are ongoing, and ultimately to help us predict the future consequences of these changes. …The public and their representatives in government need better information on which to base all kinds of decisions involving the planetary environment; from targeting
coronal mass ejection and associated solar flare, accelerates charged particles in the solar atmosphere to very high velocities. When you have a major solar radiation event, you have to be concerned about what’s happening in nearEarth space with respect to satellites, to astronauts on the International Space Station and lower down to high altitude passenger airlines. The third category (of solar events) is a geomagnetic storm, a disturbance in the Earth’s magnetosphere caused by a solar wind shock wave that interacts with the Earth’s magnetic field. Through ground conductance this shock wave can affect electric transformers and render critical systems useless for a while in either a complete collapse or blackout. So being able to give people working in critical sectors enough time with forecast warnings to take mitigation steps is very important. NASA missions like STEREO (Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory), SOHO (NASA/ESA Solar Heliospheric Observatory), Solar Dynamics Observatory, Advance Composition Explorer (ACE) along with NOAA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) provide such warning, further demonstrating NASA’s societal relevance. While the scope of NASA’s activities is helping to extend humanity’s scientific reach to the edges of the observable universe, true to the agency’s heritage, NASA’s Aeronautics Mission Directorate continues to do the essential work of contributing to the safety and efficiency of the airplanes we fly in every day. Indeed, it is no stretch to say that NASA has provided the experimental capabilities and facilities used in the development of practically every domestically produced commercial transport in the past 60 years, with innovations such as the supercritical wing, which reduces drag, increases flying efficiency and helps lower fuel costs; winglets, which increase an aircraft’s range and save billions of dollars in fuel costs; the digital “fly-by-wire” system, which replaced heavier and less reliable
An artist’s conception of the Parker Solar Probe spacecraft approaching the sun. Launched in August 2018, the Parker Solar Probe will provide new data on solar activity and make critical contributions to our ability to forecast major space-weather events that affect life on Earth.
hydraulic systems with a digital computer and electric wires to send signals from the pilot to the control surfaces of an aircraft. And today, through its 10-year New Aviation Horizons initiative, NASA aeronautical research is paving the way for the low-polluting, low-noise supersonic aircraft of aviation’s next great era. “All of our aeronautics research has at its core service to the nation,” said Jaewon Shin, NASA’s associate administrator for aeronautics research. “What we’re doing should ultimately benefit American citizens, whether it’s safer and cleaner skies or next-generation air travel. But to make those advances you first have to understand the basics. That’s why aeronautics research is so important.”
The Promise of NASA
Although now at the age of many baby boomers, the great thing about NASA is that it is by no means an institution headed into a quiet retirement or content to rest on its laurels, as its ambitions to extend its exploration reach and scientific quest for extraterrestrial life attest. NASA at its best is a bold, adventurous organization, seeking to carry the torch of exploration and discovery to heights unimagined and into frontiers unknown. Perhaps NASA’s outsized role in our society was explained best by Neil Armstrong when he said, “Mystery creates wonder, and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.”
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Aeronautics Under NASA By Edward Goldstein
throughout NASA’s existence has largely been the same. Somewhat out of sight, but definitely not out of relevance.
The Spirit of Innovation Continues
Despite the lack of high-level attention and funding – NASA’s aeronautics function is proposed by the administration for $634 million in FY 2019 funding, or 3 percent of the agency’s funding – the results of NASA aeronautics research can be found in practically every domestically produced commercial transport or military aircraft flown today, making the skies safer, more efficient, and more environmentally friendly. NASA’s research has also greatly influenced the development of modern rotorcraft, unmanned aircraft systems, and our national air traffic management system. “Aviation as we know it today worldwide would not have the capabilities that it has, had it not been for the NACA/NASA investment in aeronautics,” said noted aerospace historian Dr. Richard Hallion. “I would stress that continuum, one to another. And the fact that you will rarely meet people as dedicated as those that have worked for NASA in this field. When you look at the challenges they faced, it’s extraordinary what they accomplished.” Indeed, aeronautics is often called
Test pilots Scott Crossfield, Maj. Robert White, USAF, and Neil Armstrong with the first and second X-15s. This photo was taken on the occasion of North American Aviation’s delivery of the second X-15 to NASA.
n Oct. 1, 1958, NASA, an agency required by its founding legislation to pursue both aeronautical and space activities, officially opened for business with five facilities inherited from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA): Lewis Research Center in Ohio, Langley Research Center and the Wallops rocket test range in Virginia, and Ames Research Center and the Muroc aircraft test range in California. By executive order, President Dwight D. Eisenhower transferred existing space projects from other government agencies to NASA. NASA began with a staff of 8,240 (8,000 from the NACA) and a budget of approximately $340 million. If there were any doubts in the public’s mind about where the fledgling agency was headed, they were eliminated six days later when NASA officials announced Project Mercury, the attempt to put a human in orbit. By April 9 of the following year, NASA introduced its first class of astronauts, and the space race was on. But while astronaut Alan Shepard’s first suborbital flight was still two years in the distance, North American Aviation test pilot Scott Crossfield was only two months away from the maiden flight of the X-15, the joint NASA-Air Force-Navy project to demonstrate experimental high-speed rocket-powered high-altitude aircraft. The long and cylindrical X-15 was conceived in 1952 as part of the NACA’s experimental aircraft program. The world’s first hypersonic research aircraft was carried into the atmosphere on a NASA B-52 that lifted off from Edwards Air Force Base, California, on Sept. 17, 1959, for the X-15’s first powered flight. Dropped from under the wing of the B-52, Crossfield engaged the X-15’s powerful Reaction Motors XLR11 engines and flew above 52,000 feet and beyond Mach 2 before he landed at Rogers Dry Lake, where the first Space Shuttles also ended their flights 22 years later. For nine years, the three X-15s flew 199 times, seven of them with Neil Armstrong in the cockpit, setting records for speed (4,520 mph, or Mach 6.7) and altitude (354,200 feet or 67 miles), often reaching the edge of outer space and returning with valuable data on aerodynamic heating, high-temperature materials, reaction controls, and space suits. Although the X-15’s flights did receive a due amount of publicity and honors, including the 1961 Collier Trophy for test pilots Maj. Robert White (USAF), Joseph Walker (NASA), Forrest Petersen (USN), and Scott Crossfield, news coverage paled in comparison to the live network broadcasts accorded to every human spaceflight of that era. Going forward, the story of aeronautics
the “quiet A” in NASA, but sometimes actions speak louder than words.
Changing Research Themes
While there certainly was continuity between the NACA’s and NASA’s dedication to conducting and building upon research into the fundamental problems of aeronautics, there are definitely themes that are unique to aeronautics research during the NASA period. One was the recognition that aviation was becoming a mature form of transportation in the latter part of the 20th century, and that research focused on discrete matters such as improving aviation safety margins, taking advantage of computers and composite materials to improve aircraft performance, and looking at ways to improve engine efficiency and to incorporate alternative jet fuels to reduce aviation’s environmental footprint would reap significant benefits. “As the technologies matured significantly, there were incremental things to take on that NASA took on and did so very effectively,” said Roger Launius, the associate director of collections and curatorial affairs at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum and former NASA historian. “I’m very much enamored with small projects that yielded major results, like the wind shear project that Langley did in the 1980s that yielded the warning system that’s on every airplane now for wind shear.” Another theme related to aviation’s advances was NASA’s focus, or lack of focus, on supersonic (Mach 1.25-5)
Above: The X-15-1 released from the NB52A carrier aircraft on May 12, 1960, with NASA test pilot Joe Walker at the controls. The flight reached Mach 3.19 and an altitude of 77,382 feet. Right: North American Aviation test pilot Scott Crossfield climbs into the cockpit of an X-15 after it has been jacked up to be mounted beneath the wing of NASA’s NB52B mother ship.
B I O S
L I G H T I N G
S A LU T E S
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Above: The M2-F1 lifting body is seen here under tow at the Dryden Flight Research Center (later redesignated the Armstrong Flight Research Center), Edwards, California. The wingless, lifting body aircraft design was initially conceived as a means of landing an aircraft horizontally after atmospheric re-entry. The absence of wings would make the extreme heat of re-entry less damaging to the vehicle. In 1962, Dryden management approved a program to build a lightweight, unpowered lifting body as a prototype to flight test the wingless concept. It would look like a “flying bathtub,” and was designated the M2-F1, the “M” referring to “manned” and “F” referring to “flight” version. It featured a plywood shell placed over a tubular steel frame crafted at Dryden. Construction was completed in 1963. The first flight tests of the M2-F1 were over Rogers Dry Lake at the end of a tow rope attached to a hopped-up Pontiac convertible driven at speeds of up to about 120 mph. These initial tests produced enough flight data about the M2-F1 to proceed with flights behind a NASA C-47 tow plane at greater altitudes. The C-47 took the craft to an altitude of 12,000 feet where free flights back to Rogers Dry Lake began.
Right: NASA research pilot Milt Thompson sits in the M2-F2 “heavyweight” lifting body research vehicle before a 1966 test flight. The M2-F2 and the other lifting-body designs were all attached to a wing pylon on NASA’s B-52 mothership and carried aloft. The vehicles were then drop-launched and, at the end of their flights, glided back to wheeled landings on the dry lake or runway at Edwards AFB. The lifting body designs influenced the design of the Space Shuttle and were also reincarnated in the design of the X-38 in the 1990s.
and hypersonic research (Mach 5 and above). Decisions made in this research area were heavily influenced by the large expense of high-speed flight. For instance, during the 1960s, when NASA was aiming toward the Moon, the agency rejected taking a lead role in conducting research and development on a proposed American Super Sonic Transport (SST) airplane to compete with the French-British Concorde Consortium and the Russians (TU-144). Deputy Administrator Hugh Dryden wisely argued that, with Apollo underway,
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bootstrapped wind tunnel time.” Of course the downside of this approach was that large aeronautics projects had to compete with the more amply funded space projects, and in many cases, the funding was not always there.
Enter the Lifting Body
That said, one of the agency’s most inventive aeronautical research efforts of the 1960s and 1970s, NASA’s Lifting Body Vehicles Research Program, was the opposite of a large project in its origins. It was largely driven from the ground up by enthusiastic engineers such as R. Dale Reed at the Flight Research Center (now Armstrong Research Center) in California. Using the motto, “Don’t be rescued from outer space – fly back in style,” Reed and his colleagues pushed for wingless lifting body designs first conceptualized at the Ames Aeronautical Laboratory – utilizing air flowing over a fuselage to generate lift – that would enable a spacecraft to fly through the atmosphere to a controlled landing on an airstrip rather than parachute back to an ocean splashdown, as was the case during the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. Encouraged by Reed’s passion, Center Director Paul Bikle approved discretionary funding to construct a homebuilt lifting body featuring a plywood shell placed over a tubular steel frame, the M2-F1. Using volunteer help from center personnel, Reed built the M2-F1 for the princely sum of $30,000. Because the M2-F1 was unpowered, it was first tested at Rogers Dry Lake Bed by being towed around by a hopped-up 1963 Pontiac convertible speeding at 120 mph. It later attained free flight and had 77 air-towed flights. The larger M2-F2 and subsequent manned lifting bodies, the HL-10, X-24A, M2-F3, and the X-24B, contributed to the design and construction parameters
NASA/DRYDEN FLIGHT RESEARCH CENTER PHOTO
NASA didn’t have sufficient resources and managerial personnel to take on this massive and ultimately controversial project. But NASA never totally abandoned supersonic research. Today, “Innovation in Commercial Supersonic Aircraft” is one of six research thrusts defined in the agency’s “Aeronautics Research Strategic Implementation Plan,” with flight tests collecting data on the perceptions of sonic booms on the ground being one element of the research. In the area of hypersonic research, following the X-15 program, budget tightening and a lack of technological maturity affected programs such as the National Aerospace Plane, X-33 suborbital space plane, and X-38 wingless lifting body. Despite all the fits and starts with hypersonics research, Hallion believes that “NASA contributed greatly to the technology of high speed flight in terms of its studies of shapes, configurations, materials, guidance and control issues and pilot protection. That was tremendously useful.” A final theme related to aeronautics during the NASA period was how NASA’s approach to managing large-scale mission-oriented research forced the aeronautics component of the agency to alter its way of doing business. As Robert G. Ferguson points out in NASA’s First A: Aeronautics from 1958 to 2008, “Over time, the original intention to maintain a sharp distinction between an operational space program and basic research began to give way to a belief that all of NASA should be run in the same fashion as the space program,” he wrote. “In the NASA era, knowledge production gave way to the completion of big projects. The size of research expanded, and, increasingly, it involved teams of researchers working in conjunction with subcontractors. With big projects came big money and big management. This was in marked contrast to the lone researcher working on a topic of personal interest on
of the Space Shuttles, although the actual shuttle design rejected the lifting body concept.
The Genius of Richard Whitcomb
The NASA aeronautics story is also a legacy story of brilliant engineers who began their careers at the NACA and contributed greatly to modern aeronautics in the shadow of the space program. One person affected by the demise of NASA’s SST work was research engineer Richard Whitcomb, already celebrated for developing the Transonic Area Rule. “When he got out of the SST program, he threw up his hands and said, ‘It’s not going to happen,’” said colleague Joseph Chambers, who ran Langley’s Large Scale Wind Tunnel next door to Whitcomb’s 8-foot Wind Tunnel. “He went back to subsonic transport, trying to increase the speed capability of aircraft, which led to supercritical wing [a swept-back wing airfoil that delayed the onset of aerodynamic drag].” NASA tests of a supercritical wing design on the Vought F-8A Crusader aircraft in 1971 confirmed measurements from Whitcomb’s wind tunnel tests, which showed increased cruising speed, improved fuel efficiency and greater flight range than conventional-wing aircraft. This research led to the design being utilized on new airliners and business jets to reduce fuel costs and lower operational costs. Later in the decade, Whitcomb developed the winglet, a barrier at the tip of a wing in the form of a supplementary vertical wing that has improved aircraft efficiency by reducing another source of drag. The winglet technology was initially used for business jets, and has since been incorporated into most modern commercial and military transport jets. Aviation Partners Boeing (APB), the company that manufactures and retrofits winglets for
Opposite: This photo shows the HL-10 in flight, turning to line up with lakebed runway 18. The pilot for this flight, the 29th of the HL-10 series, was Bill Dana. The HL-10 reached a peak altitude of 64,590 feet and a top speed of Mach 1.59 on this particular flight. Above: NASA selected a Vought F-8 Crusader as the testbed aircraft (designated TF-8A) to install an experimental Supercritical Wing (SCW) in place of the conventional wing. The unique design of the SCW reduces the effect of shock waves on the upper surface near Mach 1, which reduces drag. In the decades since the F-8 SCW testbed flew, the use of such airfoils on airliners has become common.
commercial airliners, projects its Blended Winglet technology will have saved 10 billion gallons of jet fuel worldwide through the end of 2019. “If you take a look at Whitcomb as a focal figure, really the airplane today reflects his shaping genius about the way we approach aircraft design,” noted Hallion. “That was rooted very much in the NACA, but he was very effective at securing support in the Langley environment and continuing support through the NASA era.”
Results that Matter
In May 1970, NASA announced Neil Armstrong’s appointment as deputy associate administrator for aeronautics for the Office of Advanced Research and Technology. Although Armstrong, ill suited for a bureaucratic management position, would only last in that post for a year, NASA’s aeronautics function started to climb in importance within the agency, because it continued to produce results that mattered, and because the White House, Congress,
Over 20 Years of Impactful Scientific Partnerships UMBC-NASA Cooperative Centers:
Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology (JCET) since 1995 Center for Space Science and Technology (CSST) since 2006 Goddard Planetary Heliophysics Institute (GPHI) since 2011 And introducing UMBC’s Earth and Space Institute (ESI), which opened in fall 2017 Above: JCET’s Jay Herman is the instrument scientist for NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC), a CCD camera and telescope mounted on the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite that captured this image of the Moon crossing the face of the Earth. (Credit: NASA/NOAA)
Bottom Left: CSST’s Sander Goosen is a lead analyst of satellite data providing unprecedented detail on the Moon’s Orientale basin, shown in this visualization. (Credit: Ernest Wright, NASA/ GSFC Visualization Studio) Bottom Right: ESI Director and Physics Professor Vanderlei Martins prepares a Hyper-Angular Rainbow Polarimeter (HARP) CubeSat satellite. (Credit: Marlayna Demond ’11, UMBC)
and other stakeholders wanted to see more balance in the NASA portfolio of activities following the end of the Apollo era. The breadth and depth of NASA aeronautics innovations from the 1970s on are truly impressive: • The development of the NASTRAN integrated software package, which became the standard structural analysis code for the aviation industry. • Flight Research Center engineers validated digital fly-bywire aircraft, or all-electronic flight control systems. Digital fly-by-wire systems allowed computers to control military and commercial aircraft and the Space Shuttles, increasing stability and maneuverability. • Spurred on by Ames Research Center Director Hans Mark, researchers at Ames as well as Langley revolutionized the use of Computational Fluid Dynamics, utilizing high-speed supercomputers that could solve demanding aeronautical research problems by using many processors in parallel. • As transport aircraft instrument design increased in complexity, engineers at Langley joined with industry to develop and test electronic flight display concepts, culminating in test flights on a Boeing 737 using Rockwell Collins hardware that became the modern full-color, multifunction, electronic flat panel display glass cockpit. The technology went on to be standard equipment for commercial, business, and military aircraft and the Space Shuttle. • A push to make airplanes more efficient in response to the 1973-1974 oil embargo imposed on the U.S. and other Western countries by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting
Top: F-8 Digital Fly-By-Wire aircraft in flight. The computer-controlled flight systems pioneered by the F-8 DFBW created a revolution in aircraft design. The F-117A, X-29, X-31, and many other aircraft have relied on computers to make them flyable. Built with inherent instabilities to make them more maneuverable, they would be impossible for human pilots to fly if the computers failed or received incorrect data. Above: Original configuration of the NASA Boeing 737 with monochrome flight displays. This first “glass cockpit” paved the way for the full-color, multifunction electronic flat panel displays that equip aircraft flight decks today.
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Countries (OPEC) and subsequent high jet fuel prices. NASA’s Aircraft Energy Efficiency Program expanded research on: Engine Component Improvement, Fuel Conservative Engines, Fuel Conservative Transport (aerodynamic design, active controls) Turboprops,1 Laminar Flow Control and Composite Primary Structures. NASA’s work to make airplanes more fuel efficient and to reduce their carbon footprint continues today under its Environmentally Responsible Aviation program. The program has the goal by 2025 of reducing aircraft drag by 8 percent; aircraft weight by 10 percent; engine specific fuel consumption by 15 percent; oxides of nitrogen emissions of the engine by 75 percent, and aircraft noise by one-eighth compared with current standards. • Following several high profile airline crashes involving wind shear, or dangerously strong downdrafts of wind currents affecting planes during takeoff and landing, Langley engineers teamed up with the Federal Aviation Administration to develop sensors to alert pilots of the imminent approach of hazardous weather. • A joint Army-NASA project on tilt-rotor research aircraft culminated in flights at NASA/Dryden of the Bell XV-15, the first tilting-rotor vehicle to solve the problems of “prop whirl.” Its success directly led to development of the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Air Force V-22 Osprey. • Thirty years before unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, became all the rage, NASA’s Highly Maneuverable Aircraft Technology (HiMAT) demonstrated the viability of pilotless, radio-controlled aircraft. Composed of various metal alloys, graphite composites, and glass fiber materials, and with sharply swept wings, winglets, and canard surfaces, HiMAT also pointed the way to the high-performance military aircraft that would eventually contribute to U.S. air dominance in modern conflicts. • In the 1990s, NASA engineers at Ames, Langley and Lewis developed a computer-assisted engine control system that enabled a pilot to land a plane safely when its normal control surfaces are disabled. The Propulsion-Controlled Aircraft system uses standard autopilot controls already present in the cockpit, together with new programming in the aircraft’s flight control computers. • In response to a 1994 crash of a commuter aircraft caused by severe icing conditions, NASA Glenn developed a cooperative icing flight research
Top: An artist’s conception of NASA’s Low Boom Supersonic Demonstrator aircraft. The program’s goals are to design and build a piloted, large-scale supersonic X-plane to lower the effects of a sonic boom; and to fly the aircraft over certain U.S. communities to study human responses to the low-boom flights. Above: A possible future hybrid wing body or blended wing body aircraft. The aerodynamics of such a design hold great promise for dramatic reductions in fuel consumption, noise and emissions. This concept also would use two wing-tip-mounted gas-turbine-driven superconducting electric generators to provide power to drive the electric fans propelling the aircraft.
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program with the FAA, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and the Atmospheric Environmental Service of Canada. Ninety research flights focused on Supercooled Large Droplets, resulting in improved instrumentation and icing weather models, giving pilots a better chance to avoid this phenomenon. Today, NASA’s NextGen contributions include the development of advanced automation tools to provide controllers with more accurate predictions about the nation’s air traffic flow, weather and routing. The NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD) is led by Dr. Jaiwon Shin, a South Korean-born expert in aerodynamics and heat transfer. Under the present project structure, ARMD is seeking to achieve a strategic vision that builds upon current U.S. aerospace leadership and enables revolutionary advances. The structure is based on six strategic thrusts: 1) Safe, Efficient Growth in Global Operations (NextGen technologies); 2) Innovation in Commercial Supersonic Aircraft; 3) Ultra-Efficient Commercial Vehicles (breakthrough technology for leaps in efficiency and environmental performance); 4) Transition to Low-Carbon Propulsion (alternative fuels and low-carbon propulsion technology); 5) Real Time System-Wide Safety Assurance; and 6) Assured Autonomy for Aviation Transformation (high impact aviation autonomy applications). These goals will be advanced by mission programs, including: Airspace Operations and Safety (e.g. Airspace Technology Demonstrations; Air Traffic ManagementExploration, System-Wide Safety, and UAS Traffic Management); Advanced Air Vehicles (e.g., Advanced Air Transport Technology, Revolutionary Vertical Lift, Commercial Supersonic, Advanced Composites, Aerosciences Evaluation and Test); Integrated Aviation Systems (e.g., Low Boom Flight Demonstrator, UAS Integration into the National Airspace System, Flight
Tower controllers test out NASA surface automation tools in a simulation at NASA’s Future Flight Central air traffic control tower simulator. NASA researchers have developed a number of decision-support tools for air traffic controllers and aircraft crewmembers in order to make air travel safer and more efficient now and in the future.
Demonstrations and Capabilities); and Transformative Aeronautics Concepts (e.g., Transformational Tools and Technologies, Convergent Aeronautics Solutions). What all this adds up to, according to Shin, is a determination that if the agency is the “world premier R&D organization, we will be leading all the technologies in aeronautics for the world.” Shin added, “In my view, our country is asking us to put ourselves 10, 20 years ahead of U.S. industry and work on revolutionary, fundamental research. At the moment, at the present time, industry may not even realize that they actually need these certain technologies, or they cannot foresee the certain technologies needed for their market or product. We are responsible for having this vision that would put us way, way ahead of industry, and we will continue to work on achieving that. I believe that is our role and that is our mission, to stay ahead of everybody else in the world and continue to push the envelope of aeronautics technologies.”
1. The NASA Lewis Research Center and the NASA/Industry Advanced Turboprop Team received the 1987 Collier Trophy “for the development of advanced turboprop propulsion concepts for single rotation, gearless counter rotation, and geared counter rotation inducted fan systems.”
60TH ANNIVERSARY OF NASA
Pushing the Envelope of Space Technology By Chuck Oldham
hen the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) was created in February 2013, it marked both a step into the future and another into the past, all the way back to NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). “There is a really strong tie-back to NACA, from a culture and purpose perspective. They were doing R&D to solve problems. One striking thing is they were tackling real problems industry didn’t know how to solve. It also was a very test-rich program – flight tests, wind tunnels – a very applied, go-figurethis-out approach,” said then-Associate Administrator for STMD Michael Gazarik in a 2015 interview. Today, Gazarik is vice president of engineering for Ball Aerospace. “We are here because technology drives exploration and trying to really get back to the NACA culture of workforce in the labs – flying, testing, occasionally breaking – and that’s OK because we’re learning along the way, developing technology and knowledge broadly applicable to the national aerospace community.” STMD also represents a return to the early years of NASA itself, when the space agency was charged with sending a man to the Moon – and returning him alive – in less than a decade. At the dawn of the 21st century – more than 40 years after the last human walked on the lunar surface – STMD has turned its focus on new, piloted missions to the Moon and Mars. “This time it’s not going to be about placing flags and footprints on the surface of the Moon, and it’s not about winning the Cold War,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said during a visit to NASA’s Langley Research Center. “It’s about having a permanent presence around the Moon for economic activity and eventually taking all of that sustainable architecture and replicating it on Mars.” Some of the programs and projects associated with the new exploration mission include the Orion spacecraft, Exploration Ground Systems, the Space Launch System, the Human Research Program, the Lunar Orbital Platform – Gateway, Advanced Cis-lunar and Surface Capabilities, Exploration Advanced Systems, International Space Station, and the Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program.
Key areas in which STMD is invested in this new drive into the future include entry, descent, and landing on another planet, such as Mars. Going to Mars with humans requires a capability of landing much more than a metric ton, a challenge that has spurred a number of ideas on how to slow down a large spacecraft and land safely on the planet. These technologies will benefit both robotic and manned missions. Technologies STMD is pursuing include the ability to get data back from deep space – increasing the throughput of communications. Most of the images robotic probes have taken on Mars, for example, remain there because there is not sufficient bandwidth to transmit them back to Earth. Another example is propulsion. One of the most efficient ways to move is solar electric propulsion (SEP), which provides a low-level but steady thrust. The first major SEP spacecraft, Dawn, was launched in September 2007 to visit the two largest objects in the Asteroid Belt – one year orbiting the 330-mile-diameter protoplanet Vesta in 2011-12, then 16 months circling Vesta’s big sister, the dwarf planet Ceres (590-mile diameter), beginning in March 2015. Dawn became the first spacecraft to orbit an object in the asteroid belt, and the first spacecraft to orbit two extraterrestrial bodies. Dawn’s mission has been extended several times, providing much more than the research originally hoped for, and while it is now drawing to a close, it also succeeded in pushing the limits of solar electric propulsion.
STMD is working to enhance the power available from the sun, with a goal of 50 kilowatts, twice what current Earth satellites are able to generate. Increasing that power level means bigger solar arrays, pending the development of future new technologies that might pull more power from smaller arrays, as well as a better thrusting system. Pioneering these systems benefits not only NASA, but the entire aerospace industry, as well as military and commercial spacecraft. One indication of how important the exploration mission has become was the recent proposal to restructure STMD into a new Exploration Research & Technology (ER&T) organization to make its primary mission to support exploration. “NASA is restructuring the agency to align with the new focus on exploration,” according to the 2018 ‘NASA Strategic Plan.’ “As a first major step, the former Space Technology Mission Directorate and advanced technology work in the Advanced Exploration Systems program will be merged into a new Exploration Research & Technology organization. Two further options for the next step in aligning NASA’s organizational structure with the agency’s focus on exploration are currently under review:
This artist’s concept shows NASA’s Dawn spacecraft arriving at the dwarf planet Ceres, the most massive body in the asteroid belt. Dawn was the first mission to visit a dwarf planet. The blue cloud trailing Dawn comes from the xenon ions of its Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) system.
Option 1: Eliminating the current Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) and STMD structure and creating two new exploration-focused mission directorates: • Human Exploration Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD), which will focus on the International Space Station (ISS), commercial low-Earth orbit operations, and crosscutting support areas required to support exploration, such as communications and rocket propulsion. • Exploration Systems and Technology Mission Directorate, which will focus on deep space mission elements and technology development needs for sustainable human exploration. Option 2: Creating a single “super” exploration-focused mission directorate by pulling together all the exploration-focused areas in the current HEOMD and STMD organizations.” NASA planned to choose one of these two options (or potentially a hybrid option) in the spring and prepare for implementation with the FY 2019 budget, but after presentation to Congress, the decision on which of the options to take, if any, has been delayed. In the meantime, STMD continues to mature near-term technologies needed to support the exploration mission as well as pushing leading-edge research that could contribute to the
IMAGE BY TAYLOR L. GOODWIN
disruptive technologies that may be necessary for the challenging deep-space exploration missions of the future. According to the 2018 “Strategic Plan,” these efforts include: • Continued development of high-powered solar electric propulsion (SEP) technologies. SEP will enable efficient orbital transfer as well as meet the increasing power demands of satellites, but perhaps most importantly will be incorporated into the “human exploration architecture for deep space missions.” • In-space demonstration of a deep-space atomic clock for advanced navigation while out of range of existing technologies such as GPS and ground-station navigational systems. • In-space demonstration of a new high-performance propellant alternative to hydrazine, which is efficient but highly toxic. • Completing flight hardware development for the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration and four other technologies for the Mars 2020 mission. • With industry partners, conducting “In-Space Robotic Manufacturing & Assembly ground tests to reduce the risk associated with robotic manipulation of structures and remote manufacturing of structural trusses.”
Team AI. SpaceFactory of New York was the second-place winner in NASA’s 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge, Phase 3: Level 1 competition.
• Developing “a diverse portfolio of early-stage research and technology creating a technology pipeline to solve the agency and the nation’s most difficult exploration challenges by partnering with researchers across academia and industry. • Continuing “to prioritize ‘tipping point’ technologies through public/private partnerships and early-stage innovation with over 600 awards to small businesses, private innovators, and academia to spark new ideas for the benefit of U.S. aerospace and high-tech industries. In pursuit of these goals, STMD has conducted an array of technology developments, running from early-stage research to flight demonstrations, with a primary focus on problems NASA faces in future deep-space exploration missions. Like the NACA did in the pioneering years of aviation, STMD is forging strong partnerships with industry and academia that fuel the development of high-payoff technologies. The directorate’s merit-based competition model spans a wide-ranging portfolio of discipline areas and technology readiness levels (TRL), from basic technology research (TRL 1,2) to technology demonstrations and even system and subsystem
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development (TRL 7,8). STMD sponsors, supports, or enables research through a number of prizes and challenges, support to NASA Centers through the Center Innovation Fund, supporting relevant industries and institutions neighboring NASA Centers, and through Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer, among other programs, including: Centennial Challenges NASA Centennial Challenges began in 2005, offering incentive prizes to generate revolutionary solutions from diverse and non-traditional sources to problems of interest to NASA and the nation. Awards are made to successful teams when the challenges are met. A 3D-Printed Habitat challenge, for example, has now progressed to the third of three stages with an On-Site Habitat Competition, where teams are required to autonomously construct a habitat, culminating in a head-to-head habitat print in April 2019. Emerging Space Office NASA’s Emerging Space Office, managed by STMD, supports private-sector individuals and organizations investing their own time and money in space activities. The success of a number of emerging private space firms such as SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Scaled Composites, as well as the space flight divisions of corporations such as Boeing and Northrop Grumman, demonstrate that commercial spaceflight is becoming a major force in American space developments. “Right now, the United States of America is on the precipice of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil for the first time since the retirement of the Space Shuttles in 2011,” wrote NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a September 2018 blog post. “Unlike previous human launches, NASA will not own and operate the rockets. Instead, NASA will be a customer of a robust, domestic, commercial industry currently providing access to low-Earth orbit.
An artist’s conception of a Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling Technology (KRUSTY) system on the Moon. The STMD program successfully demonstrated a new nuclear reactor power system that could enable long-duration crewed missions to the Moon, Mars, and destinations beyond.
“The industry itself is a NASA success story and an American victory,” Bridenstine wrote. “Because of NASA’s investments in the American launch industry, space launch now represents a net export for our country. In fact, from 2011-2017, the United States grew its market share of commercial launch from 0 percent to 54 percent in the global economy. In 2018, the United States could reach 65 percent.” Flight Opportunities The Flight Opportunities program provides access to space-relevant environments through the use of commercial reusable suborbital launch vehicles (sRLVs), rocket-powered vertical takeoff vertical landing (VTVL) platforms, high-altitude balloons, and parabolic aircraft flights. The program consists of Suborbital Flight Testing and Capability Development, where NASA selects promising technologies from industry, academia, and government, and tests them on commercial suborbital platforms; and Small Launch Vehicle Technology Development, where NASA accelerates the development of commercial capabilities to allow frequent launch of small satellites to low Earth orbit (LEO) at a much lower cost per kilogram of payload than current platforms. Some of the fruits of the Flight Opportunities program include developments in printing in space and radiation-hardened computers, as well as funding the parabolic and suborbital flights that matured NASA’s Kilopower technology’s titanium water heat pipes by exposing them to space-relevant environments through the use of commercial reusable suborbital launch vehicles. Game Changing Development This program seeks to identify and rapidly mature capabilities and technologies that have the potential to revolutionize future space missions, and that are at the mid Technology Readiness Level (TRL) range of (3-5/6) generally taking technologies from proof-of-concept through component or breadboard testing in a relevant environment. The goal is to advance space technologies that may lead to entirely new approaches for future space missions. Just one of many promising projects under STMD’s Game Changing Developments program is the Kilopower program mentioned above. The Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling Technology (KRUSTY) is a small, lightweight fission power system. “The prototype power system uses a solid, cast uranium-235 reactor core, about the size of a paper towel roll. Passive sodium heat pipes transfer reactor heat to highefficiency Stirling engines, which convert the heat to electricity,” according to NASA, capable of safely providing up to 10 kilowatts of electrical power continuously for at least 10 years. Four Kilopower units could power an outpost on the Moon or Mars. “Safe, efficient and plentiful energy will be the key to future robotic and human exploration,” said Jim Reuter, NASA’s acting associate administrator for the STMD in Washington. “I expect the Kilopower project to be an essential part of lunar and Mars power architectures as they evolve.” NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program supports ideas at the low technology readiness level (TRLs 1,2,3) concepts that could create breakthroughs to future NASA missions through radically better or entirely new aerospace architectures, systems, or missions. NIAC engages American entrepreneurs and innovators to study early, innovative, technically credible, advanced concepts.
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The iTech Initiative NASA’s iTech initiative is a yearlong effort to find innovative ideas that address challenges and will fill gaps in five critical areas identified by NASA as having a potential impact on future exploration. The critical technology areas are: artificial intelligence; augmented reality advancement; autonomy; highperformance computing; medical breakthrough; and x-factor innovations – solutions for unspecified future challenges. NASA iTech is an initiative by the Space Technology Mission Directorate and managed by the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) in Hampton, Virginia. Small Spacecraft Technology Program The Small Spacecraft Technology program identifies and supports the development of new subsystem technologies to enhance or expand the capabilities of small spacecraft; supports flight demonstrations of new technologies, capabilities, and applications for small spacecraft; and uses small spacecraft to test and demonstrate technologies and capabilities that might be applied to spacecraft of any size. Some of the program’s missions include investigations of integrated solar arrays and “reflectarray” antennas; high-speed optical transmission of data and small spacecraft proximity operations; CubeSat rendezvous, proximity operations, and docking; CubeSat testing of new propulsion systems and laser communications systems that will greatly increase data throughput from the spacecraft to the ground. Space Technology Research Grants Space Technology Research Grants (STRG) seek and empower a range of academic researchers to aid in the development of high-risk/high-payoff technologies to support future space science and exploration
Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket lifted off July 18, 2018 carrying five NASA-supported technologies to flight test in space as part of STMD’s Flight Opportunities program.
needs. STRG consists of competitively selected research grants from four solicitations: Early Career Faculty (ECF), Early Stage Innovations (ESI), Space Technology Research Institutes (STRI) and NASA Space Technology Research Fellowships (NSTRF). Technology Demonstration Missions NASA’s Technology Demonstration Missions program seeks to mature laboratoryproven technologies to flight-ready status. Some of the technologies being matured in Technology Demonstration Missions include the Deep Space Atomic Clock (DSAC), Deep Space Optical Communication (DSOC), Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM), In-space Robotic Manufacturing and Assembly (IRMA), Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD), Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID), Satellite Servicing, and Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP). Technology Transfer NASA’s Technology Transfer Program maximizes benefits of technologies developed for missions in exploration and discovery by making them more easily available to the public. Some technologies developed in whole or in part by NASA include water filtration systems that are eliminating waterborne diseases worldwide, the technology behind computed tomography (CT) and MRI scanners, advanced pacemakers, lightweight advanced firefighting equipment, lightning protection, grooved highways, aircraft winglets, and other devices to increase safety and efficiency, and hundreds of other processes and technologies. This time around, the way to the Moon and on to Mars will be paved with greater commercialization of low-Earth orbit (LEO), and
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partnerships between NASA, international partners, academia, and commercial aerospace and other firms working hand in hand in this next giant leap. “Technology takes time to mature – problems to solve, things to learn,” said Gazarik. “So by default, the trick is to learn quickly, ‘fail quickly,’ we call it, and keep a sustained investment. NASA’s ‘failure is not an option’ culture is important, certainly for human spaceflight, but for technology, risk intolerance probably is a failure. We are trying to do things more the DARPA way – doing the hard things and, on occasion, breaking things, in an agency that is not used to failing in any shape or form. Technology drives exploration, and we have a lot of exciting work to do, now that we are established and on our way, pushing boundaries and developing new knowledge and technologies the nation needs to explore. “In just a few more years, we will have more exploration capability than the world has ever seen. We’re in the trenches right now, but in a few years, we’ll look back and say, ‘Wow.’ One paradigm shift we’ve seen already is the use of commercial capabilities to get to LEO and eventually to the Moon, and dealing with the resources there. American industry has always built the hardware we use, so it’s just a slight paradigm shift to greater involvement by the private sector, as with NACA and the airline industry. We will do this together and I think that will prove to be the smart way to pave the way for future exploration.”
Above: NASA’s Pathfinder Technology Demonstrator (PTD) project will test the operation of a variety of novel CubeSat technologies in low-Earth orbit, providing significant enhancements to the performance of these small and effective spacecraft. The PTD mission is managed and funded by the Small Spacecraft Technology (SST) program within the Space Technology Mission Directorate. Each of the planned five PTD missions consists of a 6-unit (6U) CubeSat weighing approximately 25 pounds (11 kilograms) and measuring 12 inches x 8 inches x 4 inches (30 centimeters x 20 centimeters x 10 centimeters), comparable in size to a common shoebox. Right: STMD’s Restore-L mission will rendezvous with a U.S. government satellite and refuel and relocate it to demonstrate satellite servicing and refueling capabilities, proving that satellites can be serviced on orbit to extend their lifespans.
60TH ANNIVERSARY OF NASA
NASA Science: At Work in an Endless Frontier
n January 2015, attendees at the 225th meeting of the American Astronomical Society were among the first to see retro-style travel posters (available for download on the internet) inviting visitors to see the sights of “Kepler-186f, Where the Grass Is Always Redder on the Other Side,” or “Relax on Kepler-16b, The Land of Two Suns Where Your Shadow Always Has Company,” or perhaps to “Experience the Gravity of HD 40307g – A Super Earth.” These fanciful renderings of alien planets by NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory visual strategists Joby Harris and David Delgado were based on discoveries by the agency’s Kepler Space Observatory, launched in 2009, of the first validated Earth-sized planet to orbit a distant star in the habitable zone (Kepler-186f), and a planet that, like Tatooine in the movie Star Wars, orbits two stars (Kepler-16b) but would not be suitable for Luke Skywalker because it has a temperature similar to dry ice (-109°F); as well as by groundbased observatories of a planet eight times more massive than Earth where skydiving would be a thrilling endeavor (HD 40307g). What’s remarkable about the Kepler observatory and its discovery of 2,652 confirmed exoplanets along with a further 2,737 unconfirmed planet candidates as of September 2018, is that until 1992, not a single planet had been found outside our solar system. More broadly, Kepler is representative of a NASA science enterprise that through its Science Mission Directorate has more than fulfilled the expectations of the nation at the time of the agency’s founding, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower observed “a developing space technology can … extend man’s knowledge of the Earth, the solar system, and the universe.”
A Quarter Century of Achievement
Thanks to NASA’s science enterprise, in the last 25 years alone, the space agency has made huge strides in advancing astrophysics, planetary exploration, heliophysics, and Earth science. Among NASA’s greatest science hits are: • The launching, repair, and operations of the Hubble Space Telescope well beyond its planned operating life, leading to fundamental discoveries about the size and age of the universe, the existence of supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies, the galactic environments in which quasars reside, and the processes by which stars form. • The Cosmic Background Explorer Satellite (COBE), whose work in validating the Big Bang theory of the universe earned NASA senior astrophysicist and project scientist John Mather the 2006 Nobel Prize for Physics, which he shared with George F. Smoot. • The operations on Mars of the Sojourner (1997), Spirit (2003-2010), Opportunity (2003-present), and Curiosity (2011-present) exploration rovers, which have helped characterize the red planet’s geography and document evidence of water in Mars’ ancient history. • The orbiting of Saturn by the NASA-European Space Agency and Italian Space Agency Cassini spacecraft (2004-2017), leading to the discovery of three new moons (Methone, Pallene, and Polydeuces) and observations of water ice geysers erupting from the south pole of the icy moon Enceladus, and the placement of the Huygens probe on the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan (2005). • The placement at the Earth-sun Lagrangian (L1) point of the NASAEuropean Space Agency Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO)
IMAGE BY NASA, ESA, J. DALCANTON, B.F. WILLIAMS, AND L.C. JOHNSON (UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON), THE PHAT TEAM, AND R. GENDLER
By Edward Goldstein
Spread: The largest NASA Hubble Space Telescope image ever assembled, this sweeping bird’s-eye view of a portion of the Andromeda galaxy (M31) is the sharpest large composite image ever taken of our galactic next-door neighbor. Though the galaxy is over 2 million light-years away, the Hubble telescope is powerful enough to resolve individual stars in a 61,000-light-year-long stretch of the galaxy’s pancake-shaped disk. It’s like photographing a beach and resolving individual grains of sand. And, there are lots of stars in this sweeping view – over 100 million, with some of them in thousands of star clusters seen embedded in the disk.
Below: The Hubble Space Telescope in a picture snapped by a Servicing Mission 4 crewmember just after the Space Shuttle Atlantis captured Hubble with its robotic arm on May 13, 2009, beginning the mission to upgrade and repair the telescope.
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mission (1995), a mission that demonstrated we could detect and provide early warning of coronal mass ejections, which can harm power grids and other infrastructure, and the launching of the twin STEREO spacecraft (2006), which allowed scientists to witness the solar wind in 3-D for the very first time. • The operations of the Earth Observing System, a series of satellites that provide long-term global observations of our land surface, biosphere, the solid Earth, atmosphere, and oceans, thus giving scientists much of the data they need to characterize and understand the interaction of these natural systems on Earth.
The Influence of Scientific, Technological, and Social Advances
What sets NASA’s Science Mission Directorate apart today from the earliest incarnations of scientific pursuits at the agency are the significant opportunities that recent scientific, technological, and social advances have enabled. For example, following on its scientific successes with robotic missions to the planets and with its orbiting observatories, NASA has the compelling overarching mission to search for evidence of extraterrestrial biological life in places like Mars, the subsurface oceans of Europa, or in the atmospheres of Earth-like planets orbiting other stars’ habitable zones. The 2021 launch of the NASA-European Space Agency-Canadian Space Agency James Webb Space Telescope to the second Lagrange (L2) point 1.5 million kilometers from Earth will put in place the successor to Hubble; it can peer farther into the universe as well as more effectively look for biosignatures of liquid water and atmospheric gases such as oxygen that might indicate the presence of life. The Mars 2020 Rover, which will select a collection of rock and soil
Top: This artist’s conception depicts NASA’s Mars 2020 rover on the surface of Mars. The mission takes the next step by not only seeking signs of habitable conditions on Mars in the ancient past, but also searching for signs of past microbial life itself. The Mars 2020 rover introduces a drill that can collect core samples of the most promising rocks and soils and set them aside on the surface of Mars. A future mission could potentially return these samples to Earth. Mars 2020 is targeted for launch in July/August 2020 aboard an Atlas V 541 rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Above: An artist’s conception of the James Webb Space Telescope, due to be launched in 2021. The instrument promises to see far out into the universe as well as look for planets that might contain life.
Congratulations NASA for 60 years of moving forward and expanding our Horizon
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samples that could be returned to Earth on a future mission, will also further our search for life in the universe. New technological capabilities associated with human spaceflight, such as the heavy-lift Space Launch System slated for its first flight in late 2019 (though 2020 is more likely), could serve the functions of launching larger space telescopes and facilitating the Europa Clipper mission, which will send a robotic spacecraft to fly by Jupiter’s moon Europa. And once we do mount a Europa mission, said David Lavery, NASA program executive for solar system exploration, in 2014, “The further out applications that you are going to see will be much more radical in terms of their operations, capabilities, and autonomy when we start to look at having what is essentially a robotic submarine that’s going to have to be able to go through the ice cap on Europa all the way down to the liquid ocean underneath, and be able to self deploy and actually have autonomous navigation under the ice cap and transmit all the data back. To operate in an environment that we’ve never seen before and only have a hint of what it’s going to be like is going to be a huge step forward in terms of robotic capability.” Related to the relatively recent social phenomenon of crowd-sourcing, NASA has invited citizen-scientists to help astronomers discover embryonic planetary systems hidden in infrared data from the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, launched in 2009. “I think citizen science is tremendous,” said Geoffrey Yoder, Deputy Associate Administrator of the NASA Science Mission Directorate. “We’re using taxpayer money for everything that we’re doing, and to be able to have gains from citizen science is just phenomenal.”
The Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2, or ICESat-2, is a laser altimeter that will measure the heights of Earth’s surfaces. With ICESat-2’s high-resolution data, scientists will track changes to Earth’s ice-covered poles, which are witnessing dramatic temperature increases. The mission will also take stock of forests, map ocean surfaces, characterize clouds and more. ICESat-2 continues key elevation observations begun by the original ICESat satellite (2003 to 2009) and Operation IceBridge (2009 through present), to provide a portrait of climate change in the 21st century.
Linking Science to Human Spaceflight
Growing linkages between the human spaceflight world and NASA’s scientific undertakings, as illustrated by the Space Launch System, are another positive development. These links have helped bridge the historic divide between factions supporting either human space activity, or robotic exploration, but not both. On the International Space Station (ISS), science has been given a big lift from the development of commercial cargo capabilities that have enabled more experiments to be sent to the orbiting research laboratory. Increasing demand for research time on the facility has resulted in the adjustment of schedules in the last few years to allow for more hours allocated for science. Further bolstering the utility of the designated U.S. National Laboratory onboard the ISS is the fact that ISS operations have been extended until at least 2024. The range of ISS experimentation is quite broad. In human health studies, for example, the ISS added a new capability for medical and pharmaceutical
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research using lab animals in 2014. Astronaut Scott Kelly’s one-year stay onboard the ISS, which ended in March 2016, enabled medical researchers to examine how his body responded to extended exposure to microgravity as compared to his identical twin brother, Mark, who remained on Earth. Kelly’s extended stay also helped the agency prepare for the significant medical and psychological challenges of sending crews to Mars. Earth Science has seen the completion of the successful Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS) investigation, which ran from January 2015 to October 2017, and used a light detection and ranging (LiDAR) system to investigate clouds and aerosols for climate research. In Astrophysics, the Cosmic Ray Energetics and Mass (CREAM) instrument was sent to the ISS in 2017, officially becoming “ISS-CREAM,” where it measures – without interference from Earth’s atmosphere – the energy of cosmic rays and their effect on the composition of the universe, and the Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) is studying the exotic states of matter inside neutron stars, where density and pressure are higher than in atomic nuclei. “I spent five years at the Johnson Space Center and I’m seeing science on the ISS that I never thought I’d see,” said Yoder in 2014. “It’s great to see that marriage happening. The same goes for humans to Mars. We’re laying the foundation for human spaceflight to Mars. It’s just a tremendous opportunity if we work as a team.”
Expanding Our Scientific Horizons
NASA’s stated science vision is, in part, to use “the vantage point of space to achieve with the science community and our partners a deep scientific understanding of our planet, other planets and solar system bodies, the interplanetary environment, the Sun and its effects on the solar system, and the universe beyond. In so doing, we lay the intellectual foundation for the robotic and human expeditions of the future while meeting today’s needs for scientific information to address national concerns, such as climate change and space weather.” The Science Mission Directorate’s work is organized into four divisions: Heliophysics, Earth Science, Planetary Science, and Astrophysics. NASA’s Heliophysics Division studies the sun in many wavelengths in order to better understand why it is so dynamic and how its constant radiation affects the space around
A set of NanoRacks CubeSats is photographed by an Expedition 38 crew member after the deployment by the Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (SSOD). The CubeSats program contains a variety of experiments such as Earth observations and advanced electronics testing.
Maintaining the environmental quality of the community, together.
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PHOTO BY ROBERT MARKOWITZ, NASA, JOHNSON SPACE CENTER
Expedition 45/46 Commander Astronaut Scott Kelly (right) along with his brother, former Astronaut Mark Kelly speak to news media outlets about Scott Kelly’s 1-year mission aboard the International Space Station.
it, Earth, and all the planets. Such information can enable detection and prediction of extreme conditions in space that will help to protect life and society and to safeguard human and robotic explorers beyond Earth. Some current and near-future Heliophysics missions include: • Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS), an undertaking with partners in Japan and Europe, launched four spacecraft in 2015 to study the mystery of how magnetic fields around Earth connect and disconnect, which is helping us understand magnetic reconnection in the atmosphere of the sun and other stars, in the vicinity of black holes and neutron stars, and at the boundary between our solar system’s heliosphere and interstellar space. • The Parker Solar Probe was launched on Aug. 12, 2018, on a mission to travel into the sun’s atmosphere – flying closer to the sun’s surface than any previous spacecraft – to understand how the sun’s corona is heated and how the solar wind is accelerated. • The Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) mission features an imaging instrument flying aboard a commercial communications satellite in geostationary orbit to image the Earth’s thermosphere and ionosphere. The satellite carrying the GOLD instrument launched in January 2018, and science operations will commence later this year. • The Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) satellite, with a planned October 2018 launch, will explore the boundary between Earth and space to understand the physical environment between our world and our space environment.
• Solar Orbiter Collaboration, a joint NASA/European Space Agency mission with launch currently foreseen in 2020, will orbit the sun and study it from a close-up distance of 26 million miles every five months to help improve understanding of how the sun determines the environment of the inner solar system. NASA’s Earth Science Division aims to develop a scientific understanding of Earth as an integrated system of diverse components (its atmosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, and biosphere) and that system’s response to natural or human-induced changes, and to improve prediction of climate, weather, and natural hazards. Some key Earth Science missions are: • Soil Moisture Active/Passive (SMAP), a probe to map the moisture content of the Earth’s soil every three days has been helping scientists to better understand weather and hydrological cycle processes since it launched in January 2015. • Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2), which launched on Sept. 15, 2018, will measure changes in ice sheet height, a key indicator of climate change. • The Planetary Science Division explores and observes objects in the solar system to understand how they formed and how they have evolved, which can shed light on Earth’s development as a life-sustaining body. This in turn can help inform exploration and finding locations elsewhere in the universe where life could have existed or could exist today.
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• The division’s New Horizons mission is helping researchers understand worlds at the edge of the solar system. With its 6-month flyby study of Pluto in 2015 (with closest approach on July 14 of that year), New Horizons completed NASA’s close-up reconnaissance of – International Astronomical Union be damned – the nine solar system planets. Since then, the mission has ventured deeper into the Kuiper Belt and soon will conduct – on Jan. 1, 2019 – a flyby of the small Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 (nicknamed Ultima Thule). The encounter with Ultima Thule, which orbits a billion miles beyond Pluto, will mark the farthest ever exploration of any planetary body. As the New Horizons mission makes its way to its next flyby target, the Dawn spacecraft’s mission exploring Ceres and Vesta, the two most massive objects in the asteroid belt, is drawing to a close – once its supply of hydrazine, a key fuel, runs out in September-October 2018, communication with Earth will cease. But in the time it has been in operation (the spacecraft was launched in 2007, spent 14 months in Vesta’s orbit starting in 2011, and began transmitting data from Ceres in 2015), Dawn has returned valuable information that gives researchers insight on the origins of the solar system: the number of craters in Vesta’s northern hemisphere revealed during mapping suggests that the planet-like object experienced more large impacts and that there were more large objects in the asteroid belt earlier on than scientists thought, and the chemistry of an ancient ocean was found on the surface of Ceres – data analysis suggests there may still be liquid under the surface. Elsewhere in the solar system, the Cassini spacecraft embarked on the final phase of its mission to Saturn, during which the spacecraft performed nearly two dozen daring loops around the planet, passing through the gap between Saturn and its innermost ring, before plunging into the planet’s atmosphere (to protect moons that could have conditions suitable for life)
Top: An artist’s conception of the Parker Solar Probe spacecraft approaching the sun. Launched in August 2018, the Parker Solar Probe will provide new data on solar activity and make critical contributions to our ability to forecast major space-weather events that affect life on Earth. Above: The marked asymmetry of the debris disk around the star HD 181327 (shown here in a Hubble image) suggests it may have formed as a result of the collision of two small bodies. Disk Detective aims to discover many other stellar disks using volunteer classifications of data from NASA’s WISE mission.
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NASA’S GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER
on Sept. 15, 2017. The agency also placed the Juno spacecraft in orbit around Jupiter in July 2016 to investigate the planet’s atmosphere, including possible water content, and to advance understanding of the planet’s origin and evolution. In May 2018, NASA launched InSight, a robotic Mars lander equipped with a seismometer and heat flow probe to study Mars’ early geological evolution. It will land on the Martian surface in November 2018. The Planetary Sciences Division also performs planetary defense work, which entails finding and tracking near-Earth objects (NEOs) that pose a hazard of impact with Earth; characterizing those objects to determine their orbit trajectory, size, shape, mass, composition, rotational dynamics and other parameters, so that experts can determine the severity of the potential impact event, warn of its timing and potential effects, and determine the means to mitigate the impact; and planning and implementation of measures to deflect or disrupt an object on an impact course with Earth, or to mitigate the effects of an impact that cannot be prevented. Mitigation measures that can be taken on Earth to protect lives and property include evacuation of the impact area and movement of critical infrastructure. Missions that address this planetary defense effort include the retasking of the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) astrophysics spacecraft, now labeled NEOWISE, to look for NEOs, and the launch in 2016 of OSIRIS-REx, a mission to robotically approach and return a sample from Bennu, a carbonaceous asteroid, the most common variety of asteroid. The spacecraft is scheduled to return to Earth with the sample in 2023. DART, or Double Asteroid Redirection Test, is a mission planned to demonstrate an asteroid deflection technique for planetary defense. According to Lindley Johnson, planetary defense officer at NASA headquarters, “DART would be NASA’s first mission to demonstrate what’s known as the kinetic impactor technique
This artist’s conception shows the Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security - Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft contacting the asteroid Bennu with the TouchAnd-Go Sample Arm Mechanism or TAGSAM. The mission aims to return a sample of Bennu’s surface coating to Earth for study as well as return detailed information about the asteroid and its trajectory.
– striking [an] asteroid to shift its orbit – to defend against a potential future asteroid impact.” Finally, the Astrophysics Division studies the universe to understand how it works, how it began, and how it evolved, and searches for life on planets around other stars. On April 18, 2018, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) launched from Cape Canaveral, beginning a two-year mission to detect small planets with bright host stars in the solar neighborhood. TESS will monitor the brightnesses of more than 200,000 stars, searching for telltale temporary drops in brightness caused by planetary transits. The mid-2020s will see the launch of the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), a NASA observatory designed to investigate dark energy, exoplanets, and infrared astrophysics. With its 2.4-meter primary mirror, Wide Field instrument, and coronagraph, TESS will be able to survey large areas of the sky to measure the effects of dark matter and energy on the shape and distribution of galaxies in the universe, survey the inner Milky Way to find approximately 2,600 exoplanets, and conduct high-contrast imaging and spectroscopy of dozens of nearby exoplanets. NASA marks the 28th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope launch this year, even as it readies the James Webb Space Telescope to succeed Hubble. Scheduled to launch in 2021, Webb will study every phase in the history of our universe, from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang, to the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, to the evolution of our own solar system. The telescope will be the premier observatory of the next decade, and will provide a wealth of information to thousands of astronomers. “Today, NASA is leading efforts to answer a host of important questions for humanity,” said Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen in 2016, when he was named head of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, “Where do we come from? How did life originate? How are Earth’s environments changing? There has never been a more pivotal time to solve these mysteries.”
60TH ANNIVERSARY OF NASA
Space Pioneers NASA’S HUMAN EXPLORATION AND OPERATIONS MISSION DIRECTORATE AND HUMANKIND’S NEXT GIANT LEAP By Craig Collins
t happened at 7:05 a.m. on Dec. 5, 2014, just as the morning sun began to whiten the sky above Cape Canaveral: A 234-foot-tall Delta IV heavylift rocket, carrying NASA’s new Orion spacecraft, blasted off from Launch Complex 37, trailing three orange plumes that glowed like sparklers. “Liftoff at dawn,” said Communications Specialist Mike Curie, via NASA’s live feed of the event. “The dawn of Orion and a new era of American space exploration.” Orion’s first mission took the uncrewed capsule farther than any spacecraft designed for humans had gone since the Apollo program ended more than 40 years ago: past low-Earth orbit (LEO), through the inner Van Allen radiation belt, to an orbital altitude of about 3,600 miles above Earth. Though it lasted only four-and-a-half hours, Orion’s first mission yielded valuable data about critical procedures and on-board systems, avionics, computers, separation events, and the capsule’s heat shield and parachutes. The spacecraft hit speeds of up to 20,000 mph; during re-entry, it endured temperatures approaching 4,000°F before splashing down into the Pacific Ocean, about 600 miles southwest of San Diego. A mission known officially as Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1), Orion’s test flight was a critical step in achieving NASA’s ambitious vision for the nation’s space program. Orion was designed specifically to take up to six astronauts into deep space, much farther than any person has ever traveled: eventually, to become pioneers on the surface of Mars. Establishing a lasting human presence on Mars might seem a farfetched idea if NASA hadn’t already, nearly 50 years ago, fulfilled the equally preposterous quest to put men on the Moon. As Project Apollo began to wind down in 1972, President Richard Nixon announced NASA’s new Space Shuttle Program, which he said would provide “routine access to space.”
An artistâ€™s conception of Orion and the European Service Module joined to the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS). Here, the vehicle stack is preparing to engage its engine to transfer to a different orbit.
Routine manned spaceflight has been a remarkable accomplishment, enabling a sustained human presence aboard the International Space Station (ISS), the largest artificial body ever to orbit the Earth, since 2000. But it’s also an achievement viewed with ambivalence among the far-sighted thinkers at NASA – an agency conceived to view the routine with profound restlessness. The impending end of the Space Shuttle era (it came in 2011) left NASA with a critical choice for its Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate: It could continue to pour its expertise and resources into work it had already mastered – designing a new generation of transport vehicles to bring cargo and crew to the ISS and other destinations in LEO – or it could foster competition for these tasks among private-sector innovators, while freeing its own visionaries to turn their gaze farther outward, to Mars and beyond. It chose the latter.
Commercial Space Transportation
The transition to commercial service of the ISS began in 2006, when NASA launched its Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program and invited private companies to submit competing designs for commercial cargo vehicles. These efforts bore fruit in May 2012, when the SpaceX Dragon became the first commercial spacecraft to deliver cargo to the ISS, and in September 2013, when Orbital Sciences Corporation’s (later Orbital ATK and finally Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems) Cygnus followed with its own resupply mission. NASA considers the COTS program an unqualified success – an $800 million investment that yielded two new medium-class launch vehicles and two automated cargo spacecraft. COTS, which ended with Orbital’s 2013 demonstration flight, has transitioned into the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program, which now focuses on actual deliveries to the ISS:
The SpaceX Dragon cargo craft approaches the International Space Station (ISS) on Jan. 12, 2015, for its grapple and berthing and the start of a month attached to the complex. Dragon carried more than 2 ½ tons of supplies and experiments to the station.
deliveries by SpaceX, which launched the Dragon vehicle with the company’s Falcon 9 rocket, now depart from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral, while Cygnus capsules are launched from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, Virginia. A second round of contracts was awarded in 2016 to Orbital ATK (now Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems), SpaceX, and Sierra Nevada Corporation for cargo delivery to the ISS through 2024. A parallel initiative, the Commercial Crew Program, was launched in 2010, the year before the Space Shuttle’s retirement. On Sept. 16, 2014, after several phases of preliminary development and competing designs, NASA announced that two private companies – Boeing and SpaceX – had been awarded contracts to complete development and provide initial crewed launch services to the ISS. Both companies were assigned the same set of requirements: to develop and certify the crew vehicle and to fly up to six operational flights to the ISS after successfully completing the NASA certification process. As of August 2018, first crewed flights of certified transportation systems – Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon – are anticipated to take place in 2019, with test flights preceding. The Crew Dragon will be launched with a Falcon 9, while the CST100, designed to be used with multiple launch vehicles, will initially be launched with an Atlas V 412 rocket. The model used to develop these cargo and crew transports is remarkably different from the way hardware and capabilities were developed in the space program’s past: The three-person Apollo spacecraft, for example, was built largely by North American Aviation, but its design and development were controlled almost completely by engineers from NASA – who needed to integrate it with the Apollo Service Module, Saturn V launch vehicle, and Lunar Excursion Module to accomplish the Apollo program missions.
60TH ANNIVERSARY OF NASA
By contrast, said Phil McAlister, director of HEO’s Commercial Spaceflight Division, today’s cargo and crew transport systems are public-private partnerships to provide a service on a commercial basis to an existing outpost in space — the ISS. “Our responsibility is to establish our requirements and then to certify that those requirements have been met,” he said. While NASA has much insight – and, in fact, has personnel stationed on the factory floors at both Boeing and SpaceX to learn and evaluate whether the crew transports will meet NASA’s requirements – it leaves design decisions up to the private sector. “They make the decisions about how their systems are going to operate, what they’re going to look like, and what the hardware is going to be,” said McAlister. “We want them to be able to take these systems and sell them not only to NASA, but to other customers as well. They’re going to be the owner-operators of these systems.” Over the long term, said McAlister, the commercialization of space will create a new service economy – delivering cargo and crew not only to the ISS, but also to other LEO destinations – while freeing NASA and other space agencies to work together on the big questions facing crewed spaceflight: how far, how fast, and for how long crews can function in flights long enough to require crew members to look to somewhere other than Earth for resupply – “Earth-independent” space travel. “We want low-Earth orbit to be a profitable, robust enterprise with multiple service providers and multiple users,” McAlister said. “We’d like to be a part of making these operations less dominated by the government.”
To Mars and Beyond
In December 2017, the Trump administration issued Space Policy Directive 1, which charges the NASA administrator with leading “an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with
The Cygnus unmanned cargo spacecraft, with its cymbal-like UltraFlex solar arrays deployed, is pictured departing the ISS on Dec. 5, 2017, during Expedition 53.
commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities. Beginning with missions beyond low-Earth orbit, the United States will lead the return of humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and utilization, followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations.” Space Policy Directive 1 differs from the 2010 National Space Policy issued by the Obama administration by a single paragraph, but that small amount of text represents a significant shift, with priority now placed on returning to the Moon rather than aiming for Mars outright. Important to note also is the emphasis on “commercial and international partners” going forward. To carry out the directive, NASA has devised a national agency effort called “the Exploration Campaign,” released in April 2018, which centers on three domains – low-Earth orbit, lunar orbit and surface, and Mars and deep space – and lists four strategic goals: • Transition U.S. human spaceflight in low-Earth orbit to commercial operations, which support NASA and the needs of an emerging private sector market. • Extend long-duration U.S. human spaceflight operations to lunar orbit. • Enable long-term robotic exploration of the Moon. • Enable human exploration of the Moon as preparation for human missions to Mars and deeper into the solar system. Low-Earth Orbit The name of the game in low-Earth orbit is commercialization. The Exploration Campaign’s objectives in LEO include ending direct U.S. government funding for the ISS by 2025 while stimulating commercial industry to develop capabilities that the agency and the private sector can utilize. Such industry capabilities would be required to meet NASA’s exploration risk mitigation and science requirements.
Honored to soar with NASA on what promises to be a truly
NASA PHOTO BY TIM TERRY
A Delta IV Heavy rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida carrying NASAâ€™s Orion spacecraft on an unpiloted flight test to Earth orbit. Liftoff was at 7:05 a.m. EST. During the two-orbit, fourand-a-half hour mission, engineers evaluated the systems critical to crew safety, the launch abort system, the heat shield, and the parachute system.
60TH ANNIVERSARY OF NASA
Lunar Orbit and Surface The overarching objective on the Moon and in its orbit – to “establish a long-term presence in the vicinity of and on the Moon, realizing science and human exploration advancement, while also enabling other national and commercial goals” – divides more specifically into lunar orbit activities and lunar surface activities. Currently, the first integrated flight of Orion (uncrewed) and the Space Launch System rocket, the workhorse designed to propel people and equipment into deep space, is planned to the lunar vicinity in 2020. A crewed flight of Americans will travel around the
Above: A mock-up of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and the astronauts assigned to the first two flights, from left to right: Sunita Williams, Josh Cassada, Eric Boe, Nicole Mann, and Christopher Ferguson. Opposite page, top: NASA Astronauts Victor Glover (left) and Mike Hopkins in front of a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule. The two are among the first four NASA astronauts who will fly into orbit aboard a Crew Dragon (or Dragon 2) spacecraft, which will return human spaceflight capability to the United States for the first time since the Space Shuttle Program was retired in 2011. Opposite page, bottom: The Orion crew capsule mock-up with spacesuited personnel shown during filming of a feature by Space City Films. The Orion will carry four to six astronauts to the Moon and beyond.
NASA PHOTO BY ROBERT MARKOWITZ
Additionally, the campaign calls – beginning this year – for increasing the breadth and depth of commercial and international LEO activities by expanding ISS partnerships to new nations (including new international astronaut visits); expanding public-private partnerships to develop and demonstrate technologies and capabilities to enable new commercial space products and services; and drawing on input from current ISS partners, commercial partners, and stakeholders to plan for the transition of LEO activities from direct government funding to a commercial basis on independent commercial platforms or a non-NASA operating model for some form of the ISS by 2025.
Moon in 2023. Essential to the plan to return humans to the Moon is establishment of the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G). The human-tended platform for crews to visit from Earth, to transit to and from the lunar surface, and to depart to and return from Mars will consist of at least a power and propulsion element (PPE) as well as habitation, logistics, and airlock capabilities, and will enable science and technology activities such as lunar sample return and operation of lunar, robotic, and in-space systems. “The power and propulsion element will be the initial component of the gateway, and is targeted to launch in 2022,” according to a February 2018 NASA release. “Using advanced high-power solar electric propulsion, the element will maintain the gateway’s position and can move the gateway between lunar orbits over its lifetime to maximize science and exploration operations. … The power and propulsion element will also provide high-rate and reliable communications for the gateway including space-to-Earth and space-to-lunar uplinks and downlinks, spacecraft-to-spacecraft crosslinks, and support for spacewalk communications. Finally, it also can accommodate an optical communications demonstration – using lasers to transfer large data packages at faster rates than traditional radio frequency systems.” “The Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway will give us a strategic presence in cislunar space. It will drive our activity with commercial and international partners and help us explore the Moon and its resources,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator of the HEO Mission Directorate, in February 2018. “We will ultimately translate that experience toward human missions to Mars.” Endeavors on the lunar surface center on a lunar robotics campaign. “Drawing on the interests and capabilities of industry and international partners, NASA will develop progressively
NASA graphic of the planned Exploration Mission-1 flight test for an uncrewed Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket.
complex robotic missions to the surface of the Moon with scientific and exploration objectives in advance of a human return,” according to the agency. These missions include a small commercial lander on the Moon no later than 2020, development of a mid- to large-scale lander (working toward a human-rated lander), and support for an early science and technology initiative involving Lunar CubeSats and a Virtual Lunar institute, among other activities. In September 2018, NASA issued a Request for Proposals for Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS), services that it envisions as a means of sending instruments, experiments, and small payloads to the Moon to achieve a variety of exploration, science, and technology demonstration objectives. And in March 2018, NASA issued a “Lunar Surface Transportation Capability Request for Information” to “assess commercial interest in development of domestic lunar lander capabilities that would evolve to meeting the identified performance towards human-class landers.” Responses from the RFI are helping the agency to mature plans for the first two upcoming landers built through public/ private partnerships. “The agency’s two lander demonstration missions will help NASA understand the requirements and systems needed for a human class lander starting with the development of a minimum 1,100 pound (500 kilogram) lander, which is targeted to launch in 2022,” states a March 2018 press release. It explains that the ongoing small payload delivery missions enabled by CLPS will provide important data on landing precision, long-term survivability, guidance, and navigation for future landers, and that the landers will be capable of sample return, resource prospecting, and demonstrating use of in-space resources, which will reduce the risk when building landers for humans.
Mars and Deep Space While Space Policy Directive 1 and the Exploration Campaign place focus on returning to the Moon for science, exploration, and commercial activities, that focus is still seen as a stepping off point and preparation for missions to Mars and beyond. As such, the Exploration Campaign includes plans for the red planet as well. A Mars rover mission in 2020 will serve as the first step of a samplereturn strategy searching for past life and demonstrating oxygen production. That mission, in turn, will serve as a building block for a subsequent round-trip robotic mission with the historic first launch off another planet and sample return through the LOP-G. Standards for human long-duration deep space transportation vehicles will also be developed and investments and partnerships in technology areas and resource characterization needed for exploration of Mars and other deep space destinations will be prioritized and guided. In an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek in late July 2018, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine summed up the agency’s near-term plans and made clear its ultimate objective: “The vision is: NASA does things that nobody else can or will do. So if there’s a robust commercial space industry in low-Earth orbit, then NASA doesn’t need to be there. We want to be one of many
An artist’s conception of the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, planned to orbit the Moon and serve as a communications hub, science laboratory, short-term habitation module, holding area for rovers and other robots, and a jumping-off point for missions farther into space.
customers in the mature economic domain we’re hoping low-Earth orbit will become in a matter of years. “What NASA can do is go further. So we use our resources to go to the Moon, and we build an architecture around the Moon that includes landers that can get us to the surface, initially with robots and rovers and eventually with humans. And we build a gateway, an outpost around the Moon [the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, planned for the 2020s], so that everything is reusable. We want to build an architecture that has NASA’s critical infrastructure, so that our commercial partners can go to the surface of the Moon, and our international partners can go to the surface of the Moon, and NASA can go to the surface of the Moon. We call it the Gateway, but it’s really an outpost that has human habitation capabilities. “President Trump’s [first] Space Policy Directive says he wants our return to the Moon to be sustainable. In other words, it’s going to be there forever. We’re not going to leave the Moon as we did in 1972. We’re going this time to stay. Then the next step is taking the architecture we’re building around the Moon and applying it to Mars. Everything feeds forward, and this is our objective: to get to Mars. It’s a lofty ambition, but it’s eminently doable.”
60TH ANNIVERSARY OF NASA