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NASA

FALL/WINTER 2019

2024

Lunar mission sets stage for next giant leap APOLLO 11 50 years later, legacy resonates

BEYOND THE MOON Flights include sun, asteroids and Mars

INNOVATION Robots, aircraft and disaster recovery


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CONTENTS

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2019 S PECI A L E D ITI O N

NASA

MISSION POSSIBLE Cold War challenge became triumph for mankind

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin stands next to the U.S. flag on the moon’s surface in this photograph taken by Neil Armstong on July 20, 1969.


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CONTENTS NEWS

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Space station could host first private travelers next year

HIDDEN NO MORE

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‘NATIONAL TREASURE’

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RAREFIED AIRBNB

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APOLLO 11

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Street near NASA headquarters renamed for pioneering figures

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Administrator Jim Bridenstine is mission-focused

BRAIN STEM NASA offers many ways for students to engage

SPACE CONFERENCES Events offer education and collaboration

New moon program named for Apollo’s twin sister

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LUNAR EXPRESS

Moon program’s legacy and influence are far-reaching

In natural disasters, NASA helps save people, property

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NO STONE UNTURNED

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DISASTER AVERSION

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Kate Rubins could be first woman on the moon

KEEPING WATCH

SPEED AND EFFICIENCY

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ARTEMIS RISING

ANOTHER GIANT LEAP

This is a product of

STILL RIDING APOLLO’S CHARIOT

EARTHBOUND

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED

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Michael Collins hoped for the best, prepared for the worst

EDITORIAL DIRECTOR Jeanette Barrett-Stokes

Tribute to NASA’s first flight director Christopher Kraft

ARTEMIS

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‘100 PERCENT TO PERFECTION’

NASA developing electric, supersonic planes

Lunar samples unveiled 50 years after collection

Program to test if impact can alter asteroid’s path

MISSION PARTNERS Broadening input could boost use of satellite data

ROBOTS, REIMAGINED Latest generation designed to go where humans can’t

jbstokes@usatoday.com

CREATIVE DIRECTOR Jerald Council jcouncil@usatoday.com

MANAGING EDITOR Michelle Washington mjwashington@usatoday.com

ISSUE EDITOR Harry Lister ISSUE DESIGNER Debra Moore EDITORS Amy Sinatra Ayres Tracy Scott Forson Sara Schwartz Debbie Williams DESIGNERS Hayleigh Corkey Gina Toole Saunders Lisa M. Zilka INTERN Amber Tucker CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Matt Alderton, Brian Barth, Jordan Culver, Jayme Deerwester, Gina Harkins, Emre Kelly, Ledyard King, Fiona Soltes, Adam Stone

ADVERTISING

Commercial payload services catalyze cosmic delivery

MARS & BEYOND

VP, ADVERTISING Patrick Burke | (703) 854-5914 pburke@usatoday.com

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SKIN IN THE GAME Increased equity stake required of lunar lander partners

ORION’S HUNT New spacecraft key to returning humans to the moon

TO BENNU AND BACK Scientists hope asteroid data will provide clues to life’s origins

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LIFE ON MARS

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HEATING UP

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Rover’s discoveries could spur human travel to Red Planet

Parker Probe, Solar Orbiter to get day in the sun

ON THE COVER While honoring the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, NASA undertakes aggressive plans for Artemis to take first woman to the moon in 2024. PHOTO BY GETTY IMAGES

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SPACE-BASED MANUFACTURING

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CREATIVE COMMUNICATION

3D-printing satellite designed to create solar panels

Engineering prowess keeps Voyager program running

ACCOUNT DIRECTOR Vanessa Salvo | (703) 854-6499 vsalvo@usatoday.com

FINANCE BILLING COORDINATOR Julie Marco ISSN#0734-7456 A USA TODAY Network publication, Gannett Co. Inc USA TODAY, its logo and associated graphics are the trademarks of Gannett Co. Inc. or its affiliates. All rights reserved. Copyright 2018, USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. Editorial and publication headquarters are at 7950 Jones Branch Dr., McLean, VA 22108, and at (703) 854-3400. For accuracy questions, call or send an e-mail to accuracy@usatoday.com.

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NEWS

Rarefied Airbnb NASA plans to open space station to deep-pocketed private travelers

GETTY IMAGES

Two private astronauts working on NASA-aligned projects can fly per year.

By Jayme Deerwester

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ONE DAY SOON, YOU won’t need to be a member of the traditional astronaut corps to visit the International Space Station (ISS). But you — or your corporate sponsors — will need very deep pockets. “We are announcing the ability for private astronauts to visit the space station on U.S. vehicles and for companies to engage in commercial profit-making activities,” Jeff DeWit, NASA’s chief financial officer, said at a June 7 launch event at NASDAQ headquarters in New York City. Up to two private astronauts — who must meet the same physical require-

ments as other NASA astronauts — will be allowed to fly per year and work on behalf of companies with NASA-aligned projects. Each seat is expected to cost more than $50 million, and the first private trip could come as soon as next year. Currently, NASA astronaut candidates must meet the following qualifications: uPass an exhaustive physical exam u20/20 distance and near vision in each eye (corrective lenses or corrective surgery permitted) uBachelor’s degree in engineering, biological science, physical science, computer science or mathematics uMinimum of three years of related professional experience obtained after degree or at least 1,000 hours pilot-incommand time on jet aircraft.

Those requirements may not seem daunting, but of the 18,600 applications received in 2016, only 120 candidates made it to the interview stage and a mere five were accepted into the program. Once they are accepted, astronaut candidates headed for the ISS undergo two years of basic training, during which time they must achieve competency in Russian language, the technical skills needed to operate the equipment on the ISS and perform spacewalks and land-and-water survival maneuvers in the event a Soyuz spacecraft launch is aborted or their capsule lands in the wrong place. “We are so excited to be part of NASA as our home and laboratory in space transitions to become accessible to com-

mercial and marketing opportunity as well as to private astronauts,” astronaut Christina Koch, currently aboard the ISS, said in a NASA video. “Enabling a vibrant economy in low-Earth orbit has always been a driving element on the space station program and will make space more accessible to all Americans.” In order to be considered, proposals must be connected to the agency’s mission, stimulate the low-Earth “We have orbit economy or benefit from no idea the unique what kinds environment of microgravity. The of creativity agency will make one of the ISS’ and literally ports available to out-of-thisprivate industry, providing the world ideas plans that will allow them to can come build modules from private suitable for docking commercial industry.” vessels. Eventually, — WILLIAM GERSTENMAIER, NASA hopes to leverage the special adviser to NASA’s deputy ISS as a service administrator rather than spend its own money and resources operating it — in other words, when the agency needs it, it can purchase time on board rather than owning it outright. This strategy has long been seen as a way to reduce costs and focus on exploration — such as NASA’s long-range goal to visit Mars. There are already about 50 companies operating science experiments on the ISS. “I’m really excited to think about all the possibilities this plan can bring,” said William Gerstenmaier, special adviser to NASA’s deputy administrator. “We have no idea what kinds of creativity and literally out-of-this-world ideas can come from private industry.” Florida Today writer Emre Kelly contributed to this article.


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NEWS

JOEL KOWSKY/NASA

From left, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, Sen. Ted Cruz, D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson and Hidden Figures author Margot Lee Shetterly unveil the Hidden Figures Way street sign in front of the agency’s Washington, D.C., headquarters.

Hidden No More Street near NASA headquarters renamed for pioneering figures By Jordan Culver

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IRST A BOOK, THEN a movie,

and now NASA’s “Hidden Figures” have been honored with a street in front of the agency’s Washington, D.C., headquarters. The 300 block of E Street Southwest was officially renamed Hidden Figures Way June 12 to honor three African American women who, “at the time were not celebrated,” according to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

Margot Lee Shetterly’s 2016 novel, Hidden Figures, was adapted into an Oscar-nominated film of the same name. Both focus on the lives of Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson — who overcame racial and gender discrimination to play significant roles in the early success of the space program. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), John Thune (R.-S.D.) and Bill Nelson (R-Fla.) introduced a bill in August 2018 to rename the street. The D.C. Council introduced a similar

bill the following month, and it was signed in January. Cruz was present for the unveiling, along with Shetterly, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson and members of Johnson’s, Jackson’s and Vaughan’s families. “Naming this street Hidden Figures Way serves to remind us, and everyone who walks here, who comes to this building, of the standard that was set by these women, with their commitment to science and their embodiment of the values of equality, justice and

humanity,” Shetterly said during the ceremony. “But, let it also remind us of the Hidden Figures way, which is to open our eyes to (the) contribution of the people around us so that their names, too, are the ones that we remember at the end of the story.” A week later, nearby George Mason University renamed the largest building on its Manassas, Va., Science and Technology Campus Katherine G. Johnson Hall, and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam proclaimed June 19 Katherine G. Johnson Day.


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Christopher Kraft during the Gemini 4 mission in 1965 NASA

‘National Treasure’ Christopher Kraft, NASA’s first flight director, dies at 95 By Emre Kelly

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HRISTOPHER KRAFT, NASA’S FIRST flight director and a

key architect of several of the agency’s early programs, died July 22 — two days after the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. He was 95. Kraft played a significant role in the Mercury and Gemini programs, precursors to the Apollo moon missions. He developed the first mission control system and became director of flight operations during Apollo at NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston,

now known as the Johnson Space Center. He also served as the center’s director. In a statement, NASA described Kraft as “a space legend who created the concept of mission control during the early human spaceflight program and made it an integral part of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions.” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said, “America has truly lost a national treasure ... with the passing of one of NASA’s earliest pioneers. We stand on his shoulders as we reach deeper into the solar system, and he will always be with us on those journeys.”

Christopher Columbus Kraft Jr. joined the NASA Space Task Group in 1958 as flight director, with responsibilities that immersed him in mission procedures and challenging operational issues. He is credited with the development of mission planning and control processes including go/no-go decisions, space-to-ground communications and crew recovery. During the Apollo program, Kraft became the director of flight operations at the Manned Spacecraft Center, responsible for overall human spaceflight mission planning, training and execution. He served in that role through the Apollo 12 mission in 1969, at which time he

became deputy director of the center. He then served as the center director from January 1972 until his retirement in August 1982, playing a vital role in the success of the final Apollo missions, the Skylab crewed space station, the ApolloSoyuz Test Project and the first flights of the space shuttle. In an interview with the Houston Chronicle published a month before his death, Kraft, who was born in Phoebus, Va., and graduated from Virginia Tech, said he never wanted to be an astronaut. “I liked my job better than theirs,” he said. “I got to go on every flight, and besides that, I got to tell them what to do.”


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NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine is a former congressman and Navy pilot. BILL INGALLS/NASA

Challenge Accepted NASA chief Bridenstine charts agency’s next chapter By Emre Kelly

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ASA HAS BEEN GIVEN yet another formidable task: Put a crew — including the first woman — on the surface of the moon by the end of 2024

in what is known as the Artemis program. To meet the Trump administration’s deadline, a confluence of factors will have to adhere to strict schedules. USA TODAY spoke with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine about the challenges posed by the expedited timeline for Artemis.


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With the Orion spacecraft in the background, Bridenstine talks to employees at Kennedy Space Center. AUBREY GEMIGNANI/NASA

NASA has tasked the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft with taking humans back to the moon. Can you give us an overview of where the agency stands on those components? BRIDENSTINE: We need a really big rocket that has enough boost that can take our astronauts all the way to the moon and we need a crew capsule that can sustain humans for weeks in deep space; that’s the SLS rocket and the Orion crew capsule. We of course have had pains in the past with those programs when it comes to cost and schedule, and one

Q

of my highest priorities is getting those programs back within a realistic cost and schedule. We now have about 95 percent of the SLS rocket complete. We made some investments to integrate the elements of the SLS rocket in the horizontal instead of the vertical, and the reason we did that is because the engine section was the critical path. And as a critical path piece, everything else was waiting on it to be complete so that it could be stacked to the vertical. It was just taking too long. So we said ‘OK, we’re going to assemble the rest of the rocket in the horizontal.’ That takes the engine

section out of the critical path. And we did that. Now that the rocket has been integrated in the horizontal, the engine section is complete. The section has now been integrated in the horizontal as well and now we are working towards getting the four RS-25 engines — which are a modification of the space shuttle main engines — we’re getting those integrated onto the rocket right now. The Orion crew capsule is complete. It’s going through some final testing down at (John F.) Kennedy Space Center (in Brevard County, Fla.) and then it will be shipped to the Glenn Research Center CONTI NUED


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Bridenstine in NASA’s Vertical Motion Simulator DOMINIC HART/NASA AMES RESEARCH CENTER

In August, Bridenstine visited the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, where the core stage for the SLS rocket is being manufactured.

“The bottom line is the more money we spend early, the more risk we get to reduce. And when I say risk, I’m not talking about to human lives, I’m talking about cost and schedule. But there’s a trade there because there are competing priorities.” — JIM BRIDENSTINE, NASA administrator

ASSOCIATED PRESS

in Cleveland, Ohio. And from there we will do the thermal vacuum testing, electromagnetic interference testing, acoustic testing, shape testing. We’ll run it through the paces. Once that’s complete, it will head back to Kennedy. And when it heads back to Kennedy, we will be ready to move the SLS rocket, which will have been tested in what we call a “green run.” So both SLS and Orion will be brought together at Kennedy. I don’t want to advertise a new date yet, but it’s looking like it will likely be in 2021. NASA has requested an additional $1.6 billion to fund Artemis through 2020. But looking at 2021 and beyond, how is your agency pushing forward to secure the full $20 billion to $30 billion necessary for the program? The years 2021 to 2024 are what we’re working on right now. There are a range of options that we could consider. The bottom line is the more

money we spend early, the more risk we get to reduce. And when I say risk, I’m not talking about to human lives, I’m talking about cost and schedule. But there’s a trade there because there are competing priorities. So what we’re trying to do is work out the trade space and there are different options. We could start off with four commercial landers for the moon with an intent to down-select (to) two. Or we could start off with fewer. If we start off with fewer, it’s a higher risk, it’s a lower probability of success. But those are the trades that are going through the analysis process right now. We are working with the National Space Council and the Office of Management and Budget to come to a consensus on what all the trades are, and the options in front of us. In February of 2020, when we do the budget submit, the president’s budget request will be made public. When that happens, we’ll have the full outlay for the Artemis program to get us to

Artemis 1 (an uncrewed test flight of Orion around the moon). Spacesuits have been in the news, especially when the first all-female spacewalk was canceled for suitrelated reasons. How do you see this being adressed in the future? We have spacesuits for the International Space Station. And I’ll be honest: They’re old. They’re very hard to maintain, they’re very expensive to maintain. And they were built for a previous era. We need new spacesuits. When we build spacesuits this time, it’s going to be a flexible architecture. What that means is the spacesuits are going to be usable for both the International Space Station and for the moon. That requires very different capabilities. The spacesuits we have now for the International Space Station are not intended (to be used) to walk on the moon and you couldn’t use them to walk on the moon. You don’t have the mobility in the lower torso that you

need. They’re not designed for the thermal differences (between low-Earth orbit, orbit and on the moon). And of course, the big thing is the lunar dust. The lunar dust is problematic for hardware in general, but of course very problematic for spacesuits. So we need to figure out how to build a spacesuit that is going to be able to sustain long durations on the moon given the wear and tear from lunar dust. But we also need to start with the idea that these spacesuits are going to be built for the smallest person and then we’re going to scale up. The problem is historically, we built what was necessary for an average-sized person. But the problem is that hardware, when you put it on a spacesuit for a small person, doesn’t work. It’s doesn’t fit. We need to start with smaller hardware and then scale up rather than starting with bigger hardware trying to scale down. We absolutely have to have new spacesuits — it’s not even a question. And we will.


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Interns at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Brain STEM NASA offers multiple ways for students to engage with its missions By Harry Lister

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F YOU’RE A STUDENT interested in a career in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) — or if you just think space science is cool and you want to experience it firsthand — NASA has opportunities for you. They include: TALYA LERNER/NASA GODDARD

INTERNSHIPS

MUREP

SPACE GRANT

EPSCOR

Internships provide specialized NASA research and development work experience for high school, undergraduate and graduate students, as well as educators. Interns work alongside a NASA mentor and other subject-matter experts, contributing to projects and being fully involved with the team. Spring, summer and fall internships are available at 19 NASA locations nationwide. In summer 2019, NASA had more than 1,700 interns across the agency. During fiscal year 2018, NASA provided 7,205 internships and fellowships to higher education students.

Through the Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP), NASA provides financial assistance via competitive awards to Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), including historically black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, Asian American- and Native American Pacific Islander-serving institutions, tribal colleges and universities, other minorityserving institutions and eligible community colleges. MUREP enhances the research, academic and technology capabilities of MSIs through multiyear grants. Awards assist faculty and students in research, provide authentic STEM engagement related to NASA missions and assist NASA in meeting the goal of a diverse workforce through internships, fellowships and scholarships. nasa.gov/offices/education/ programs/national/murep/ projects

Space Grant works to expand opportunities for students to understand and participate in NASA’s aeronautics and space projects by supporting and enhancing science and engineering education, research and outreach through a national network of 52 consortia with 850 affiliated colleges and universities. Space Grant stimulates cooperative programs among universities, industry and federal, state and local governments and encourages interdisciplinary education and research programs. nasa.gov/offices/education/ programs/national/spacegrant/ home

NASA is one of five federal agencies that conduct Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) partnerships among government, higher education and industry to create lasting improvements in a region or state’s research infrastructure and R&D capacity. NASA’s involvement in EPSCoR is directed at those jurisdictions that have not participated equably in competitive aerospace and aerospacerelated research activities. Twenty-four states, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam currently participate. nasa.gov/offices/education/ programs/national/epscor/ home

Application deadlines for 2020 internships: • Spring 2020 — Nov. 5 • Summer 2020 — March 8 • Fall 2020 — July 6 To determine eligibility and apply, visit nasajsc.force.com/ internshipeligibility


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Rocket Docket Schedule of upcoming U.S. space conferences NOV. 20-21 SPACECOM George R. Brown Convention Center, Houston SpaceCom, America’s Commercial Space Conference and Exposition, addresses strategic issues in the commercial space sector. In its fifth year, SpaceCom is operating under a Space Act Agreement with NASA. This year, the U.S. Departments of Commerce and Energy join NASA and the commercial space industry in development of the show. Conference tracks include: Returning to the Moon to Stay; The Trillion Dollar LEO (Low-Earth Orbit) Economy; Cross-Industry Opportunities; and Critical Regulatory Considerations. uspacecomexpo.com

OCT. 14-18 ASSOCIATION OF SPACE EXPLORERS XXXII PLANETARY CONGRESS Space Center Houston, Johnson Space Center, Rice University, Houston This year marks the 32nd Annual Planetary Congress and the fourth time it has been held in the United States. Astronaut/cosmonaut delegates from across the globe will gather to honor the accomplishments of the past five decades and look ahead to future missions. The congress is expected to be the largest in its history, with technical sessions featuring Apollo-era crew panels, updates on human activities and research in space and briefings on plans for low-Earth orbit and missions to the moon and Mars. uase2019.org

United Launch Alliance chief executive Tory Bruno speaks at SpaceCom 2018. GETTY IMAGES; SPACECOM

OCT. 17-20

OCT. 18-20

OCT. 21-25

DEC. 9–12

INTERNATIONAL MARS SOCIETY CONVENTION

WORKSHOP ON SPACE TECHNOLOGY FOR SOCIO-ECONOMIC BENEFITS

INTERNATIONAL ASTRONAUTICAL CONGRESS

INTERNATIONAL ORBITAL DEBRIS CONFERENCE

Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington, D.C. The International Astronautical Federation will present, and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics will host the 70th annual International Astronautical Congress, which is being billed as an intense week during which all space players will gather to discuss the advancement and progress of space exploration. uiafastro.org/events/iac/iac-2019/

Sugar Land Marriott Town Square, Sugar Land, Texas The goal of the inaugural conference, being convened by the NASA Orbital Debris Program Office, is to highlight and cover all aspects of micrometeoroid and orbital debris research, mission support and other activities in the United States and to foster collaboration with the international community. uwww.hou.usra.edu/meetings/ orbitaldebris2019

University of Southern California, Los Angeles The Mars Society, in conjunction with the Southern California Commercial Spaceflight Initiative, is hosting the 22nd annual International Mars Society Convention with the theme The Space Launch Revolution: Opening the Way to Mars. The event will bring together prominent scientists, policymakers, entrepreneurs and space advocates to discuss the discoveries and developments in the advancement of plans for human exploration of and settlement on Mars. umarssociety.org/conventions/2019

Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington, D.C. In conjunction with the International Astronautical Congress, the International Astronautical Federation and the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs are hosting the Workshop on Space Technology for Socio-Economic Benefits to provide emergent space countries with capacity-building opportunities. uunoosa.org/oosa/en/ourwork/psa/ schedule/2019/2019-iaf.html


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NASA

Peggy Whitson

NASA

Peggy Whitson, shown aboard the International Space Station in December 2016, holds the NASA record — 665 days — for spending the most time in space.


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Artemis Rising NASA names new moon program for Apollo’s twin sister By Ledyard King

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ERCURY. GEMINI. APOLLO. ARTEMIS. In

choosing the name of Apollo’s twin sister — and the Greek goddess of the moon — for the lunar return program, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said it’s important to showcase women’s past and future contributions to the space program. “How perfect is that?” he asked. “We have this diverse astronaut corps where we can actually send the first woman to the moon and name it after the twin sister of Apollo. I’ve been trying to communicate as much as possible to as many people who will listen that we are now the Artemis generation.” Though not as fast as some would like, the space agency has been transitioning from male bastion to diverse workplace. Roughly a third of the astronauts in the space shuttle program were women. The first civilian chosen for a mission was teacher Christa McAuliffe, who died when the shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986. The NASA record-holder for most total time in space (665 days) is Peggy Whitson. Women have occupied leadership positions in the agency, though all 21 acting and Senate-confirmed administrators have been men. Vice President Mike Pence announced during a National Space Council meeting in March that a woman would be part of the first team of astronauts to return to the moon. Two months later, NASA announced that the program would

bear the name of Artemis. NASA’s plans call for a lunar landing in 2028, although the White House has asked for extra funding in next year’s budget to accelerate the mission to 2024. When Gene Cernan became the last person to walk on the moon in December 1972, “there was no opportunity for a woman to participate,” said Janet Kavandi, a threetime shuttle astronaut who retired in September as director of NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. “The Artemis Generation changes that,” she wrote in a column for USA TODAY. “Our nation must take the next giant leap so long promised. As a female astronaut, I followed pioneers like Sally Ride to space and helped solidify their gains. Women’s next frontier will be the moon.” John Logsdon, who founded the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, said NASA has done a good job on equality since Apollo. About half of new astronaut recruits are women, he said. “I think it’s in the natural order of things. In a sense, NASA is ahead of the curve in giving equal treatment between male and female.” Bridenstine said NASA’s emphasis on equality is personal to him. He wants to make sure his 11-year-old daughter, Sarah, has “every opportunity” to envision herself as an astronaut if that’s what she wants to do. “The astronauts today are not the same as the astronauts of the 1960s,” he said. “This time, when we go to the moon, we’re taking all of America with us.”

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Three-time shuttle astronaut Janet Kavandi went on to direct the Glenn Research Center.

USA TODAY

Christa McAuliffe was the first civilian chosen for a space mission.


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ARTEMIS

Astronaut Kate Rubins in the Cupola module of the International Space Station after resupply from the SpaceX Dragon CRS-9 spacecraft, visible through the window NASA

Giant Leap for Gender Kate Rubins among candidates to be first woman on the moon By Brian Barth

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F THE MORE THAN 550 people who have traveled to space, nearly 90 percent are men — including all 12 of those who have set foot on the moon. But nearly one-third of NASA’s roster of 38 active astronauts are women, as are five members of the upcoming class of graduates from the agency’s astronaut training program. And NASA has declared that one of those 17 women will be among the group that journeys to the moon as part of the Artemis program — by 2024, if all goes as planned. Among this select group is Kate Rubins, a microbiologist who was the first person to sequence DNA in space. Rubins was selected for the astronaut corps in 2009 and has flown to the International Space Station (ISS) once, completing two spacewalks and spending 115 days in space. She spoke with USA TODAY about her journey and experiences as an astronaut.

This feels like a trivial way to start, but did you want to be an astronaut when you were growing up? RUBINS: I did. It’s one of those things that a 5-year-old said and everybody said, “Oh, that’s so cute.” Then in high school I was advised to consider a real career (laughs). I became a molecular biologist studying infectious disease and was working as a fellow at MIT when I decided to apply to be an astronaut. It was kind of a resurrection of that childhood dream.

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How exactly does one become an astronaut? Go to school for a long time — that’s my best advice (laughs). I also tell kids who ask me that to find things that they’re very passionate about. Most of my colleagues were doing something that was not just a job. We tend to draw people from fields in science, engineering, math and military aviation, so for folks that are interested in eventually pursuing this as a career path, I say CONTI NUED


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Rubins and fellow astronaut Jeff Williams outfit spacesuits in advance of an August 2016 ISS mission to install the first International Docking Adapter, which enabled the arrival of U.S. commercial crew spacecraft. NASA

12 ACTIVE NASA ASTRONAUTS ARE WOMEN

stick to STEM fields, study intensely and love what you do. A core element of Artemis’ mission is to land the first woman on the moon. As one of the candidates for that spot, what does that possibility mean to you? We have an incredible group of astronauts and dedicated teams at NASA. Many people are working to further humanity’s exploration of space, and it is always an honor to work alongside them in any capacity.

How significant is character when choosing people to be confined in a space station for months on end? Psychology does play a role in this selection process. We tend to pick people who are pretty good at getting along with each other. A lot of times we see people coming in who have either been in the military or remote locations doing science or some other kind of high-stress environment. So people usually come into the program with a good understanding of what it’s like to be part of a small crew on an expedition — essen-

tially to be an explorer under what can be some really challenging circumstances. Is that something that can easily be taught? It is hard to train (for) that, though part of the NASA training is you take a group and you put them in some harsh conditions. For example, we’ll go out into the wilderness for a two-week trip — everybody’s cold, hungry, tired. Your politeness and defenses break down CONTI NUED


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AUBREY GEMIGNANI/NASA

Rubins discusses her time aboard the ISS during a 2017 Facebook Live event at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

TAKAYUGA ONISHI/NASA

Rubins removes samples from the ISS laboratory freezer.

a little bit. It’s actually an incredible way to get to know your crewmates and realize that you can rely on each other in difficult conditions.

type things that I was doing before. I was fairly used to being the only female. I like to joke that I gained quite a few space brothers. It was really a fantastic crew.

What research are you working on? A lot of the work has been looking at how we can use modern molecular biology techniques in the incredibly extreme environment of space. One thing that I think is very fascinating is looking at the microbiome of a spacecraft — the composition of all the microbes that make up this environment and how they are changing it.

What do you see as the importance of having a diverse roster of astronauts at NASA? NASA looks for a wide variety of people in their astronaut selection. Hiring women as well as men is part of that, but they’re also looking for people from different backgrounds. I think it’s important because one element of our job is to go out and to do public education. It’s great when I show up at a school and say I’m an astronaut and there’s a 5-year-old whose eyes kind of get big and they go, “Wow.” It’s really important for kids to see who we hire as astronauts.

You were the only woman onboard during your time on the International Space Station. How was that for you? It’s not something I particularly noticed on a lot of the expeditionary-


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Artist’s rendering of the Peregrine lunar lander on the moon’s surface

Lunar Express Commercial payload services program catalyzes a cosmic delivery industry ASTROBOTIC

By Brian Barth

I

F ALL GOES AS planned, the Peregrine lunar lander will touch down on the moon in July 2021 with a smorgasbord of cargo in its holds. There will be a variety of sensors and robotic rovers, as well as a library archive inscribed on sheets of nickel microfiche, a time capsule with mes-

sages from 80,000 children and the equipment needed to shoot a music video. There will also be memorials containing tiny bits of human remains — even “hair from a family pet that passed,” said John Thornton, CEO of Astrobotic, the company behind the Peregrine lander. The company charges $1.2 million CONTINUED


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FOR AMERICAN SPACE TESTING As the undisputed leader in space testing, NTS is helping American companies—and the US government—launch a new era of space exploration. 844.332.1885 | www.nts.com 28 Laboratories

1,400+ Employees

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ARTEMIS per kilogram of payload to the moon’s surface, though their DHL Moonbox service offers options starting at $460 to place mementos the size of a wedding ring or dog tag in a time capsule designed to sit on the moon’s surface for eternity. “Previously, you’d have to be an astronaut to leave a picture of your family there,” said Thornton. “Now, anyone can have a part of their story on the moon.” The primary client for Astrobotic’s lunar delivery service is NASA. Astrobotic is one of nine companies selected to ferry equipment to the moon on behalf of the agency as part of the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. This is a crucial step in the mission to “If this model return humans to the moon as works, I would early as 2024. Steve love to be Clarke, deputy able to utilize associate administrator for commercial exploration at NASA’s services Space Mission eventually for Directorate, said CLPS Mars.” emerged from a desire to — STEVE CLARKE, find more NASA Space Mission efficient and Directorate cost-effective ways to deliver remotely operated scientific instruments to space. NASA has made use of commercial spacecraft for deliveries before. The difference, Clarke explained, is that these will be “commercial missions, not NASA missions, where we are one of many customers instead of being the only customer.” “I like to say, ‘We’re buying a ride.’ It’s a delivery service,” he said. Beginning with the Peregrine lander in 2021, the CLPS plan is to run two deliveries per year, Clarke said. These will consist of a range of NASA instruments for data collection, as well as demonstration projects intended to try out new technologies in the lunar environment. Among the agency’s planned payloads is a rover that will drill into an area of the lunar south pole in search of ice that scientists believe is hidden beneath the surface — potentially the raw material for producing rocket fuel, which could be made by splitting the hydrogen and oxygen molecules in the water. For this reason, Clarke says the south pole may be the site chosen for the Artemis manned

ASTROBOTIC

Beginning with Peregrine in 2021, NASA plans to run two Commercial Lunar Payload Services deliveries to the moon each year.

mission in 2024, when reconnaissance of the moon’s water resources will be a top priority. Not all CLPS deliveries will be related to Artemis, but in some cases the payloads may be directly connected, “delivering instruments and tools ahead of a human landing,” said Clarke. “This is

just a start. If this model works, I would love to be able to utilize commercial services eventually for Mars.” NASA’s commitment to commercial space delivery services is a boon to the nascent industry. After 12 years of development, Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic will be the first private enterprise to

go to the moon. “If Pittsburgh can land on the moon, Pittsburgh can do anything — Pittsburgh is a city of steel and hardworking folks and this is an exclamation point on a huge transformation that’s occurred as the city moves towards robotics and AI technology,” Thornton said.


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Skin in the Game NASA requiring increased equity stake from Human Landing System partners

The Human Landing System is a critical element of the Artemis mission. NASA

By Fiona Soltes

I

NDICATIVE OF “A DIFFERENT

approach for a new generation,” solicitation of proposals for NASA’s integrated Human Landing System shows the path back to the moon — as well as to Mars and beyond — will be increas-

ingly collaborative. With a growing number of entrepreneurial space initiatives, NASA is engaging private industry in fresh ways: retaining responsibility for setting performance requirements and certifying the spacecraft for astronauts, while allowing companies to design for long-term affordability,

maintain ownership of the vehicles and commercialize space capabilities. Earlier this year, the Trump administration announced its intention to move up the timeline for a human lunar landing from 2028 to 2024. The announcement was more “welcome challenge” than surprise, said Marshall Smith, NASA’s direc-


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ARTEMIS

NEXTSTEP APPENDIX E AWARDEES FOR HUMAN LANDING SYSTEM COMPANY

PROJECT(S)

Aerojet Rocketdyne

Transfer vehicle study

Blue Origin

Descent element study; transfer vehicle study and prototype

Boeing

Descent element study and two prototypes; transfer vehicle study and prototype; refueling element study and prototype

Dynetics

Descent element study and five prototypes

Lockheed Martin

Descent element study and four prototypes; transfer vehicle study; refueling element study

Masten Space Systems

Descent element prototype

Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems

Descent element study and four prototypes; refueling element study and prototype

OrbitBeyond

Two refueling element prototypes

Sierra Nevada Corporation

Descent element study and prototype; transfer vehicle study and prototype; refueling element

SpaceX

Descent element study

SSL

Refueling element study and prototype

NASA

NASA counts the Human Landing System among its high-profile entrepreneurial space initiatives.

tor of Human Lunar Exploration bear,” said Nantel Suzuki, program Programs. “I was extremely excited executive for the Human Landing that we have that kind of support System in the Human Exploration from our administration and our and Operations Mission Directorate country,” Smith said. at NASA headquarters. Industry, NASA was in the however, can be inherprocess of selecting 11 ently more nimble than companies to design elegovernment agencies. The Trump ments of a complete lunar NASA presented a administration total of $45.5 million to lander and develop key components through Next NextSTEP Appendix has moved the 11E award Space Technologies for recipients. Exploration Partnership Those companies are timeline for a (NextSTEP) Appendix required to pay at human moon E when the proposed least 20 percent of the schedule change was anoverall cost of each landing from nounced. The subsequent study or prototype and NextSTEP Appendix H complete the work 2028 to 2024. solicitation accelerates within six months. that effort by placing the Smith views the new role of integration in private hands, timeline as a rich opportunity for a with NASA providing engineering shift in approach, including reusabilsupport and expertise. ity and In-Situ Resource Utilization, “Our bread and butter is in or the use of local resources rather space exploration programs, so we than bringing everything from Earth. bring that history and expertise to Returning to the moon, for example,

will allow lunar rovers to uncover deposits of water ice and extract oxygen from the lunar soil to lower the cost of space exploration. Better to test those technologies on the moon, close to Earth, rather than nine months away on Mars. Through Appendix E, Sierra Nevada Corporation was tapped to contribute a descent element study and prototype, a transfer vehicle study and prototype and a refueling element study. John Roth, vice president of business development for Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Space Systems, said his company is excited for the challenge, but noted there is downside risk to NASA requiring “substantial corporate investments in the programs, whether or not there is a real commercial market that promises some return on investment for companies. You can’t stay in business very long if you are investing in every program you win.”


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Orion’s Hunt New spacecraft key to returning humans to the moon By Brian Barth

M

ARK KIRASICH WAS 9 years

old when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made their historic lunar landing in July 1969. He recalls dragging his dad and sister outside to see if they could spot the Apollo lander on the moon. “We couldn’t see it, of course, without a telescope,” Kirasich said. “But that event changed my life.” Kirasich is now NASA program manager of Orion, a new spacecraft expected to take humans back to the moon. Artemis 1, an unmanned mission to test Orion in lunar orbit, is planned for next year. Orion will travel 280,000 miles in three weeks, circling the moon and continuing thousands of miles past it — the farthest any spacecraft built for humans has flown, according to NASA. The two main components of Orion, the capsule and the Space Launch System, will undergo separate testing before being assembled next year in preparation for launch. The Orion capsule will be flown via NASA’s Guppy fleet,

the largest planes in the world, from the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the agency’s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio. Plum Brook is home to the Space Environments Complex, which includes the world’s largest vacuum chamber, the world’s most powerful acoustic test chamber (capable of simulating the noise of a spacecraft launch using 20 jet engines) and the world’s highest-capacity “spacecraft shaker system,” which simulates the intense vibrations of a launch. Nicole Smith, project manager for Orion testing at Plum Brook, explained that Orion will also be subject to the cryoshroud, a massive enclosure that can be chilled to 250 degrees below zero and heated to around 140 degrees simultaneously. “This allows us to simulate different flying configurations,” Smith said. “The backend of the spacecraft can be pointing at the sun, while the front end is pointing into deep space, so sometimes you have really, really cold temperatures on one end and really, really hot temperatures on the other end at the same time.”

Forward portion of Space Launch System’s core stage

Orion lifts off during a July test of capsule’s launch abort system. STEVEN SEIPEL/NASA; ASSOCIATED PRESS


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From left, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin NASA


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APOLLO 11

Mission Possible Long-shot Cold War challenge became triumph for mankind

Apollo 11 liftoff NASA

By Ledyard King

A

PRESIDENT WHO SET AN

ambitious deadline to reach the moon. A Cold War rival whose technological edge in space prodded Americans into action. The unsparing ingenuity of U.S. scientists and industry to overcome long odds. The landing of astronauts on the moon 50 years ago was the culmination of numerous factors: pressure, brilliance, perseverance ... and some luck. But most agree it would not have happened — at least not until much later — if President John F. Kennedy hadn’t pushed NASA to win the space race against the Soviets at the height of the Cold War. “He gave us a timeline, and I think that matters so much,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “When there is no end in sight, programs become just programs for the sake of being programs.” It seemed an impossible goal on May 25, 1961, the day Kennedy, in an address

to Congress, issued his challenge to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade — and bring him back safely. “It will not be one man going to the moon,” Kennedy told lawmakers. “It will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there.”

‘WE DIDN’T HAVE THE ROCKETS’ That call to action lit a fuse of American inspiration that still stands as one of humanity’s crowning achievements. The magnitude of the accomplishment is especially stark considering what little was known about space travel at the time, according to Charles Fishman in his book, One Giant Leap: The Impossible Mission That Flew Us to the Moon. At the time, Kennedy “was committing the nation to do something we couldn’t do,” Fishman wrote. “We didn’t have the tools, the equipment — we didn’t have the rockets or the launchpads, the spacesuits or the computers or the zero-gravity food — to go to the moon. And it isn’t just that we didn’t have what

we would need; we didn’t even know what we would need.” The Soviets had launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, in October 1957, a beach-ball-size portent of the future that startled — and panicked — America as it orbited Earth. Sputnik 2, much larger and carrying Laika, a female part-Samoyed terrier — rocketed into orbit a month later. On Jan. 31, 1958, the U.S. countered with its first satellite, Explorer 1, a much lighter object than either Soviet craft. Then, on April 12, 1961 — six weeks before Kennedy’s speech to Congress — Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit Earth. NASA wouldn’t match that feat for another year. Kennedy might not have given his speech at all had Alan Shepard not completed a short, suborbital flight in a Mercury spacecraft in early May that made him the first American in space. Shepard’s success gave the president CONTI NUED


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APOLLO 11 the footing he needed to make the case for a moon shot. When Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin walked on the moon on July 20, 1969, the milestone was viewed largely as a testament to the pioneering spirit and technological wizardry of all humankind. But it was chiefly about the U.S. beating the Soviets, who were reportedly very close to staging their own manned landing, according to Apollo 8 astronaut Frank Borman. “The Apollo program wasn’t designed to be a great scientific venture or means of exploration. It was a battle of the Cold War,” Borman said. “We were in a desperate battle with the Soviets, and that’s why we were pressing.” Borman, whose lunar orbiting mission in December 1968 paved the way for the Apollo 11 landing seven months later, believes that had the Soviets landed on the moon first, “it might have changed the whole nature of the post-World War landscape. I’m not certain we would have had the dissolution of the Soviet empire. I’d like to think that the success of the Apollo program was an important first step in the end of the Soviets.”

THE WHITE HOUSE WANTS TO RETURN TO THE MOON BY

2024 TO EXPLORE ITS ENTIRE SURFACE

MUCH TO OVERCOME Kennedy’s assassination could have derailed or delayed success, but President Lyndon B. Johnson proved to be just as fervent an advocate of the space program. Under his watch, NASA consumed about 4 percent of the annual federal budget — the peak spending years of the space program. Today, the agency makes up less than 0.5 percent of the budget. But public support for a moon mission in the mid-1960s was hardly universal, and was above 50 percent only at the time of the moon landing itself. The Apollo program won support from key policymakers because it was viewed as strategically important in trying to stay ahead of the Soviet Union. “People were saying, ‘What do we achieve by doing this?’ ” Bridenstine said. There were serious, sometimes tragic, setbacks along the way. Apollo 1 astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee died when fire swept through their capsule during a launchpad test in January 1967. The disaster — caused by a short circuit in the electrical system and exacerbated by the pure-oxygen environment in the capsule — forced NASA to overhaul safety protocols and redesign the Apollo spacecraft. The next crewed mission, Apollo 7, would not take place for 18 months. CONTINUED

Buzz Aldrin prepares to step on the moon. NASA


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APOLLO 11

An estimated 650 million people worldwide watched the first moon landing on TV.

There were constant day-to-day technological hurdles, such as keeping hardware and software in sync, the need to repeatedly retrain astronauts and programmers as systems changed and unforeseen challenges engineers had to tackle. In addition, agency scientists were sometimes at odds with each other over the best way to reach the moon and what it would take to get there. The lunar module, the vehicle that would take Armstrong and Aldrin from the orbiting command module to the moon’s surface, was a particularly thorny issue because “guidance, maneuverability, and spacecraft control ... caused no end of headaches,” according to a history of Apollo on NASA’s website. NASA was also aware of reports that the Soviets were preparing to launch their own manned lunar mission and, once again, beat the U.S. in space. So they pressed. The Apollo 8 mission that flew to the moon and back in December 1968 took 16 weeks from conception to launch, compared with at least a year for similar flights. Flight simulators couldn’t be used because they weren’t finished. It was the first time the Saturn V rockets would be carrying humans — and one of its two previous test flights, Apollo 6, had failed. It would fly without a lunar module that serves as the backup engine in case of a problem. Despite the long odds, Apollo 8 proved a roaring success. Seven months later, Armstrong and Aldrin captivated the world with their historic lunar landing.

BACK TO THE MOON NASA

“(President Kennedy) was committing the nation to do something we couldn’t do. We didn’t have the tools, the equipment ... we didn’t even know what we would need.”

Lunar footprint NASA

— CHARLES FISHMAN, One Giant Leap: The Impossible Mission That Flew Us to the Moon

Apollo carried on with six more missions over the next 3½ years — including the aborted Apollo 13 mission that proved inspiring in its own way — and 10 more astronauts walked on the moon. Then ... nothing. Plans for more moon missions faded amid exorbitant cost projections and a been-there, done-that mindset. The primary human exploration element of the space program recalibrated to setting up the International Space Station and sending astronauts via the space shuttle. Even that ended in 2011. The White House wants to return to the moon by 2024 and to explore the entirety of its surface, including the water ice discovered near the south pole. “We love the history of Apollo, (but) we don’t want to re-create Apollo. That’s been done,” Bridenstine said. “We want to go sustainably. We want to prove how to live and work on another world. We want to retire that risk and ultimately take that knowledge on to Mars.”


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APOLLO 11

Michael Collins practices docking-hatch removal from command module simulator. NASA


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APOLLO 11

‘100 Percent to Perfection’ As first men walked on the moon, Collins hoped for the best but prepared for the worst By Ledyard King

F

or Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins,

the success of the historic lunar landing in 1969 came down to ... mice? Collins was the pilot of Apollo 11’s command module, Columbia, which orbited the moon as astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the surface. He said the mission wasn’t fully considered a triumph until it was clear that the crew had not brought back deadly pathogens. For 21 days after their return, NASA quarantined the trio with a colony of white mice; if the mice survived without complications, the astronauts could go home. “The three of us went to the moon and came back successfully. Was that a great success? Was that good, terrific all the way around? It depended on the white mice,” Collins said. “So ... which were more important: the mice or the men? I came to the conclusion that the mice were more important.” Collins, now 88, recently spoke about his role in the first lunar landing, his worries that he might have had to return to Earth without Armstrong and Aldrin and his tepid enthusiasm for NASA’s

What do you remember most about the Apollo 11 mission? I consider a mission like that — a flight to and around the moon, back to Earth — as a long and very fragile daisy chain of events. And any one of those, if it broke, screwed up the remainder of the chain. What I remember is that it was a complicated trip and I was amazed by the fact that all our equipment worked 100 percent to perfection. I’m accustomed to things breaking in machines that fly in the air, and God knows there were plenty of things that could have broken on that flight along that fragile daisy chain.

Q

I read about the “secret terror” you harbored — that if the lunar lander failed to launch and return Armstrong and Aldrin from the moon’s surface, you would be returning to Earth without them. How big was that fear? We loved to have duplicates and redundancy in all of our equipment, but it was not possible in the case of the lunar ascent module. Just one tiny little thrust chamber. If it didn’t work, they were stuck forever on the surface of the moon. This was nothing that we had ever discussed. We just didn’t talk about things like that. Of course, (Armstrong and Aldrin) were intelligent men. They knew exactly what their odds were. Likewise, here. And, yeah, that concerned me a lot. I would have been “that guy who left them up there on the moon to die.” It would have been an awful, terrible national catastrophe.

BILL INGALLS/NASA

Apollo 11 astronauts, from left, Michael Collins, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin appear at a congressional ceremony in 2009.

How disappointed were you that you didn’t get to walk on the moon? Of course, I did not have the best seat on Apollo 11. But I can say with complete honesty I was absolutely delighted to have any seat on Apollo 11. It was a culmination of (missions), and in the back of (my) mind it was what John F. Kennedy had told us to do. We were going to do it. And my being able to be a part of it, even if it was a small part, suited me just fine. When did the scope of Apollo 11’s accomplishment sink in? We all recognized it, but it got reinforced to us after the flight when we were privileged to go on an around-theworld tour. I was amazed. I thought we would (hear people in other countries say), “Well you Americans finally did it.” And instead everywhere we went,

(people said): “We did it, not you. We human beings left our home planet and went elsewhere. We did it.” And I thought that was a wonderful reaction and, to me, a surprising one. As I look back on it 50 years (later), I try to think what (other) event has unified opinion worldwide. There may be other examples, but I don’t know what they are. I think Apollo was one of a kind in that regard. Does the prospect of returning to the moon excite you? No. Mars is a much more interesting place. I think there’s a lot of technical merit to going back to the moon before setting sail for Mars. (But) I just see activities in and around the moon as being a delaying ... factor that will not only drive the time scheduled (for a Mars mission) but it’ll drive the cost way up.


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Apollo 11 lifts off from Kennedy Space Center. NASA

Still Riding Apollo’s Chariot Moon program’s legacy and influence are far-reaching By Matt Alderton

A

MONG ANCIENT GREEK DEITIES, Apollo was a

jack-of-all-trades. Some know him as the god of sun and light, some as the god of archery. To others, he’s the god of poetry or of truth and prophecy. But to Abe Silverstein, the former director of NASA spaceflight programs who named the world’s most famous manned space program after the deity,

Apollo’s most important role was that of celestial spokesmodel. “Apollo riding his chariot across the sun was appropriate to the grand scale of the proposed program,” Silverstein once said of the Apollo program. It’s difficult to imagine a more fitting name for the program that landed astronauts on the moon six times. If Apollo symbolizes light, the moon’s glow has been humanity’s nightlight for millennia. If he represents archery, the moon was a distant bull’s-eye that America expertly

hit. If he embodies poetry, the moon to humanity has been a most prolific muse. And if at heart Apollo is a truth seeker ... well, isn’t that what space exploration is all about? Space historian Andrew Chaikin thinks so. “When you explore, you end up learning things and finding things you didn’t anticipate. That’s the whole reason you go — to make discoveries,” said Chaikin, author of A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts. Clearly, extraterrestrial discoveries

titillate scientists and scholars. But what about everyday Americans? Fifty years after the fact, one can’t help but wonder whether the first manned moon landing still matters to them. Lunar enthusiasts insist that it should. And they’ve got four good reasons why.

IT HELPED THE U.S. WIN THE COLD WAR When President John F. Kennedy set a goal in May 1961 of landing men on the moon by the end of that decade, the


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APOLLO 11 United States was losing the Cold War to the Soviet Union. The Russians had launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, in 1957 and put the first man in orbit six weeks before Kennedy spoke. “I don’t think people fully appreciate it now, but Sputnik 1 ... created quite a panic and frenzy in this country,” said James Donovan, author of Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Extraordinary Voyage of Apollo 11. “A lot of people thought, ‘What’s next? An enemy space station orbiting the Earth with the potential to drop nuclear bombs from the sky?’” Donovan places the space race within the context of the “global tug of war” between capitalist, largely democratic countries and authoritarian communist countries, led by the Soviets. “There were dozens of uncommitted nations — developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America — that were looking for (a form of government) and searching for indications as to which camp they should align themselves with,” he said. “Technology advances were one of the best indications they had, and the space race was the most visible technology advancement there was.” Although space alone didn’t win the Cold War, NASA chief historian Bill Barry said it deserves at least some of the credit. “Indirectly, us beating the Soviets to the moon was one of the major things that undermined Soviet legitimacy and eventually led the Soviet Union itself to collapse.”

IT EXPLAINED EXISTENCE Between 1969 and 1972, Apollo astronauts brought back more than 800 pounds of rocks and soil from the moon. Therein, scientists have found pieces of an existential puzzle whose solution will one day answer the most fundamental of questions: How did we get here? “Everybody wants to know where we came from; it’s part of what makes us human,” Chaikin said. “Understanding how the universe works and how the Earth was formed is a fundamental gift that the moon has given us. It’s the Rosetta Stone for decoding the earliest history of our solar system because it’s the place where that history is most clearly and cleanly preserved.” Thanks in part to samples gathered by Apollo astronauts, researchers at Rice University in Houston published a study in January that suggests Earth collided with a Mars-size planet more than 4.4

AFP/NASA

From left, NASA Administrator Robert C. Seamans Jr.; Wernher Von Braun, father of the Saturn V rocket that took U.S. astronauts to the moon; and President John F. Kennedy at Cape Canaveral in November 1963 — weeks before Kennedy was assassinated.

“(The first pictures of Earth from space provided) the sense that Earth is a very finite home for humanity, and that it should be protected and cherished for future generations.” — ANDREW CHAIKIN, space historian and author NASA

CONTINUED

Microscopic view of thin sections of lunar rock samples collected by the crew of Apollo 12.


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APOLLO 11

PHELAN M. EBENHACK/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, left, introduces a Blue Origin rocket.

Command module Columbia, part of the Apollo 11 Mission exhibition at The Museum of Flight in Seattle ASSOCIATED PRESS

billion years ago, the impact of which created the moon and imbued Earth with the essential elements it needed to spawn and sustain life. Even if you don’t care about the origin of life on Earth, you probably care about the future of it. And that, too, is a legacy of Apollo. “Astronauts talk about the sense of fragility they see in the Earth from space,” said Chaikin, noting that the first pictures of Earth from space provided “the sense that Earth is a very finite home for humanity, and that it should be protected and cherished for future generations.”

IT HERALDED THE INFORMATION AGE Modern life is a patchwork of technological trappings powered by semiconductors and satellites — both products of the space program. “There are more than 1,700 satellites — communication, military, weather,

navigation — orbiting Earth right now, and more than half of them are American. That’s because of NASA, and it affects virtually every single area of our everyday existence,” Donovan said. As for semiconductors, “microchips had just been invented when NASA placed an order for a million of them for its computers that were being developed at MIT,” he said. “That kick-started the entire computing industry.” Indeed, the program’s first contract was for the Apollo Guidance Computer that helped spacecraft navigate. “That shows you how important computing was to the space program,” said Barry, and the company that supplied NASA’s microchips, Fairchild Semiconductor, was an incubator for future Silicon Valley startups like Intel. “You can’t necessarily draw a straight line (from Apollo to Silicon Valley),” he said, but that initial contract “improved the semiconductor industry by leaps

and bounds in its ability to produce high-quality, cutting-edge chips at a bargain-basement price. And the people who learned to make those chips went off to found all these other semiconductor companies that are now the basis of our economy.” To get the science and engineering talent it needed for Apollo, NASA also granted millions of dollars to universities to build new STEM facilities and programs, graduates of which have made immeasurable contributions to the U.S. economy. “NASA ... built the educational infrastructure that allowed us to continue doing the space program — and lots of other things,” Barry said.

IT MADE THE IMPOSSIBLE POSSIBLE Studies have concluded that the space program returned between $7 and $14 to the U.S. economy for every $1 spent. When you consider intangibles like

GETTY IMAGES

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveils the company’s Dragon V2 manned spacecraft.

inspiration, however, the return on investment is much greater. Consider, for example, the incalculable economic, social and cultural effects of entrepreneurs like Tesla co-founder Elon Musk, Virgin Group co-founder Richard Branson and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos — each of whom has said he was inspired by Apollo to pursue big dreams, including starting commercial space ventures: SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, respectively. “As a nation, we funded a giant experiment in how to do hard things with very large groups of people,” Chaikin said. Although the Apollo model might not work with every problem, its ethos does. “The phrase, ‘If we can go to the moon, we can ... ’ is a throwaway phrase, but I think it does have a psychological impact,” Barry said. “It gives people confidence that big problems have been solved fast before.”


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EARTHBOUND

Astronaut Christina Koch took this photo of Hurricane Dorian from the International Space Station on Sept. 2. NASA


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EARTHBOUND

Keeping Watch When disasters strike, NASA helps save people and property

August 2018 wildfires in California’s Mendocino National Forest NASA

By Matt Alderton

I

F YOU’RE LOOKING FOR heaven on

Earth, the Bahamas might be it. Located just 50 miles from Florida, the archipelago nation is known for its idyllic beaches, pristine waters, hospitable people and superior snorkeling. But on Sept. 1, paradise became purgatory when Hurricane Dorian made landfall on Elbow Cay in the northern Bahamas’ Abaco Islands. For 40 hours, the Category 5 storm pummeled homes, businesses and infrastructure, leaving dozens dead and causing an estimated $7 billion in damage. When the storm finally passed, Bahamians emerged from attics, basements and bathrooms to a global humanitarian community that was mobilizing to support them. From rescue helicopters and relief boats to doctors and blood donors, the response was fast and far-reaching.

On the front lines were usual suspects like the American Red Cross and Mercy Corps. Behind the scenes, however, was a chorus of unsung heroes channeling relief to those who most needed it. Among them: NASA, whose Earth Science Disasters Program provides free and open satellite imagery to assist with disaster prediction, preparation, response and recovery. Using data from the European Union’s Sentinel-1 Copernicus satellite, image analysts at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, Calif., identified the areas that were hardest hit by Dorian, then created and publicly shared an interactive map for use by Bahamian officials, first responders and relief workers. NASA also provided high-resolution flood maps to help response teams reach victims who were stranded in floodwaters. CONTINUED


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EARTHBOUND OBSERVATION TO ACTION Some people might be surprised to see a space agency at the table during terrestrial crises. But NASA has a robust Earth science mission that dates to 1960 and the launch of TIROS-1, America’s first weather satellite. Twenty-six years later, the NASA Advisory Council called for a “robust, long-term implementation strategy for the study of Earth from space.” Following the tragic failure of the space shuttle Challenger earlier in 1986, scientists were searching for a way to restore NASA’s reputation and secure its future. Earth science seemed the ticket, and in 1991 NASA launched Mission to Planet Earth, whose centerpiece was satellites monitoring and measuring “NASA’s the Earth’s systems. longstanding About a decommitment cade ago, NASA established its to free and Earth Science open access to Disasters Program with satellite data the realization Earth has significant that observations could not only benefit, preserve the particularly for planet, but also protect its public safety inhabitants. applications.” In its early days, the Disas— DAVE APPLEGATE, ters Program U.S. Geological Survey provided maps, associate director for imagery and natural hazards analysis on an ad-hoc basis in support of disasters like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the 2015 Gorkha earthquake in Nepal. Since 2016, however, its operations have been permanent and ongoing under the direction of program manager David Green, who says NASA is effective during disasters because of its space expertise. “At any given moment on any given day we’re looking at the entire planet — the land, the water, the coasts. We know the history of how the planet has changed and how it’s behaving today. And when we put that into models, our analysis tells us how things will evolve and change in the future,” Green explained. “During disasters, we need to understand why and how events are happening. … Only NASA with its systems view of the planet can put all the pieces of the story together.”

Volcanic ash plume from Mount Kilauea on Hawaii’s Big Island as seen from the International Space Station in May 2018 NASA

SMART SATELLITES NASA’s Earth Observing System (EOS) satellite network can yield valuable information during a range of natural and man-made disasters, including earthquakes, tsunamis, wildfires, floods, landslides, hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, tropical cyclones, volcanic eruptions, oil spills and industrial accidents. But the satellites do more than observe the Earth; they also analyze it. Satellites comprising NASA’s Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission, for instance, use advanced radar to estimate how much water might be carried in a hurricane “and how that swirl of clouds and winds actually impacts the amount of rain that’s delivered to a coast or community,” Green said. Meanwhile, the Soil Moisture ActivePassive (SMAP) mission can forecast the effects of rainfall on the ground. “SMAP tells us, for example, if the soil is already saturated or if it’s really dry,” Green continued. “The impact is obviously very different when rain hits a dry surface or a saturated one. Trees might fall over or they might not. Buildings might get

flooded or they might not.” A third mission, the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), uses infrared sensors to see at night. “When Puerto Rico was pounded by Hurricane Maria in 2017, we could see the amount of rain, we could see what was happening on land and we could see when the power went off,” Green said. “And as the recovery was starting to happen, we could see the lights come back on. We put all these satellites together to tell the story of what was happening.”

SCIENCE TO THE RESCUE NASA’s clients are as diverse as the disasters to which they respond. Frequent partners include the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), not to mention state, local and international authorities, all of whom can access free and open datasets via NASA’s Disasters Mapping Portal — an online tool where Green’s team publishes “story maps” that contextualize disaster-related data for stakeholders. “We might work with FEMA or a state partner to determine areas that are

vulnerable or exposed, which can inform preparedness or mitigation,” Green said. “When a hurricane happens, we’ll work with them to provide situational awareness. And when the response agencies step away, we might work with a different set of partners on recovery and restoration.” The United States Geological Survey (USGS) works with NASA to monitor earthquakes and volcanoes. After the July 2019 earthquakes in Ridgecrest, Calif., for instance, NASA provided before-and-after synthetic aperture radar images to help USGS map associated surface ruptures. A year earlier, during the monthslong eruption of Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano, NASA worked with USGS to livestream video from drones to civil defense officials, who used the footage for situational awareness and at least one search-and-rescue operation. “NASA’s longstanding commitment to free and open access to satellite data has significant benefit, particularly for public safety applications,” said Dave Applegate, USGS associate director for natural hazards.


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NASA is developing the X-59 to break the sound barrier without generating a sonic boom. NASA

Speed and Efficiency NASA designing all-electric, quiet supersonic planes

By Adam Stone

W

HAT IF A PLANE

could break the sound barrier without rattling windows on the ground? Or an aircraft could fly on just one-fifth the typical amount of energy? With its latest experimental planes, NASA is out to prove the art of the possible. “NASA stands for National Aeronautics and Space Administration — the first ‘A’ is for aeronautics. Aircraft research is one of the major benefits that NASA has provided to the public,” said NASA scientist Sean Clarke. As principal investigator for the X-57 aircraft, Clarke is helping to

modify a four-seat Tecnam P2006T so that it can fly at its usual 150 mph using 80 percent less power. To do that, engineers have slimmed the shape of the wing and moved the propellers out to the wing tips. “But you can’t put a gas-burning engine at the wing tip. It’s just too heavy,” Clarke said. NASA’s solution: a battery-powered aircraft. Battery propulsion comes with other added benefits. There are no carbon emissions, for example, “and there’s basically no moving parts,” Clarke said. “The rotor is the only thing moving. There are no valves or pistons or anything else that could seize up and fail.” Engineers put long labor into devising a battery that would be powerful enough to loft a plane, but


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The X-57 team briefs NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, third from left.

KEN ULBRICH/NASA; STEVE PARCEL/AFRC TV

safe enough not to burst into flames. That was no small trick. “We set one of our battery cells on fire and the next one caught, and then the next one. Before you knew it, we had the entire module in flames,” Clarke said. “So we redesigned it and developed new technology to help isolate one cell from the next without making it too heavy.” Clarke said NASA expects to begin initial test flights of the X-57 sometime in 2021.

‘SONIC STOMP’ When a plane breaks the sound barrier, a pressure wave builds up, creating a sonic boom that can make the windows shake back on Earth. Another experimental aircraft, the X-59, aims to minimize the disruption caused by supersonic flight.

“It would be more like a ‘sonic stomp,’ where it almost sounds like a heartbeat just went by,” said David Richwine, deputy project manager for technology for the Low-Boom Flight Demonstration. To that end, NASA has teamed with Lockheed Martin to build an aircraft so slim it resembles a flying needle. “The essential engineering here is to reduce and to smooth out the profile of the aircraft,” Richwine said. “Then you have a soft rise and fall in pressure, instead of a fast rise and fall.” NASA expects to test-fly the X-59 over a handful of U.S. cities beginning in 2023. Researchers will measure the volume of the boom and survey residents to determine whether the flyovers were particularly disruptive. The hope is that a less-noisy leap across

the sound barrier might open the door to widescale commercialization of supersonic flight. “This is really about increasing the speed for the general public to get from point A to point B,” Richwine said. “Let’s say you’re on a nine-hour flight. Wouldn’t you rather be on a four-and-ahalf-hour flight?” A successful round of testing with the X-59 might lead to a new generation of supersonic private jets, and eventually to larger commercial aircraft — “probably 35 to 70 passengers,” Richwine said. “Our vision is that in the decades to come, this would be for the average person,” he said. “That’s why we need to reduce the sonic boom over land. That is the key to making this all commercially viable for the general public.”

INITIAL FLIGHTS OF THE

X-57 ARE SCHEDULED FOR 2021


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No Stone Unturned NASA making new lunar samples available after nearly 50 years

By Matt Alderton

A

POLLO ASTRONAUTS HARVESTED HUNDREDS

of pounds of moon rocks and lunar soil during the program’s six moon landings between 1969 and 1972. In conjunction with the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, NASA has launched the Apollo Next Generation Sample Analysis program (ANGSA) to “maximize the science derived from samples returned by the Apollo program in preparation for future lunar missions.” NASA will unseal three samples that have been completely untouched for nearly 50 years: 1.8 pounds of material encased in a “drive tube” that was pounded into the lunar surface and vacuum-sealed on the moon by

Apollo 17 astronauts Harrison Schmitt and Gene Cernan; another sample from Apollo 17 that was brought to Earth, then kept frozen; and one from Apollo 15 that has been stored in helium since 1971. Although no one knows what secrets they may hold, their pending release is an occasion to celebrate the insights previous samples have offered on humanity’s most cosmic questions. Juliane Gross, associate professor of earth and planetary sciences at Rutgers University and a 2013 participant in NASA’s Early Career Fellows program, considers NASA’s lunar samples to be “the most dramatic and exciting result of the Apollo missions.” For millennia, humans “have wanted to learn everything about the early

processes of planetary formation,” Gross said. “Unfortunately, we can’t look at very old rocks from that time period on Earth because Earth is a very active planet, and all the old geologic evidence that we could have used to satisfy our curiosity is gone. The moon is our nearest neighbor and is largely inactive, and therefore represents the best and most accessible place to study the planet-altering processes that have shaped our corner of the solar system.” Moon rocks have also helped scientists calibrate the instruments they use for remote sensing of the lunar surface, as well as refine the science of age dating planetary surfaces. Thanks to ANGSA, scientific literature soon will swell with more insights mined from moon rocks.

Astronaut Harrison Schmitt collects rocks during the Apollo 17 mission. NASA


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Illustration of DART on course to impact Didymos NASA AND JOHNS HOPKINS APPLIED PHYSICS LABORATORY

Disaster Aversion DART to test whether targeted impact alters asteroid’s path By Adam Stone

O

NE DAY, A HUGE rock could fall from the sky, with the potential to destroy a city or even an entire region. It’s happened before — and recently. In 2013, a massive asteroid exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk with at least 20 times the power of a World War II-era atomic bomb. “Up to this point, we’ve been very vulnerable,” said Lori Glaze, director of

NASA’s Science Mission Directorate’s planetary science division. “Now we are going to demonstrate a technique that could potentially be used in the future to help avoid an impact. That’s a pretty awesome opportunity.” The project is known as DART, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test. “Double” because the target is the twinasteroid system Didymos, comprised of a main object approximately one-half mile across and a secondary “moonlet” roughly 525 feet wide. The DART spacecraft, which is being

built by Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), will be programmed to fly roughly 6.8 million miles into space and crash itself into the smaller moon, slightly altering the rock’s orbit around its larger sibling. “Right now it has (an orbit) of a little less than 12 hours,” Glaze said. “If we have a good strike with the spacecraft, we should be able to change that period, make it about 10 minutes shorter.” Didymos is not on course to strike Earth — this is a practice run — but if it were, that small orbital shift would

in theory be enough to redirect it, thus avoiding a deadly collision.

REAL RISK How likely is it that a space object could cause catastrophic damage to Earth? It happened 65 million years ago, killing off dinosaurs and most other life on the planet. Scientists believe they are tracking everything that size, and none of those objects is on a collision course with Earth, said Nancy Chabot, DART project scientist for APL.


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Artist’s rendering of DART as it approaches Didymos NASA AND JOHNS HOPKINS APPLIED PHYSICS LABORATORY

“But for the smaller objects, asteroids that are 140 meters (460 feet) or larger, we think there’s about 25,000 total,” she said. “Out of those we’ve found about a third so far. There are still a lot of objects that could cause regional devastation.” International teams are collaborating to catalog thousands of suspected asteroids, but it’s slow going, Chabot said. “In the meantime, we shouldn’t just wait around and see. We should do something.”

‘SMART SPACECRAFT’ NASA’s launch window opens in midJuly 2021, with DART expected to make impact with Didymos in September 2022. Scientists and engineers are currently building the spacecraft and programming the algorithms that will power DART’s final approach to its target. Telescope observations reveal a bit about the size and composition of

the asteroid system but not a detailed picture, and DART’s cameras won’t actually see the target until an hour before the collision. That won’t be enough time for human operators to steer, so DART will leverage algorithms to select its own point of impact. “You’re coming in at 15,000 miles per hour, and you can’t make out the target until the last hour, so you have to have a smart spacecraft,” Chabot said. After the collision, Earth-based telescopes will gauge whether DART has shifted the smaller asteroid’s orbit. While NASA is aiming for a 10-minute adjustment, even a shift as small as 73 seconds would be considered a win. “If there were actually an asteroid out there that was headed towards Earth, and if we had enough warning, we would like to be able to make even a small amount of change to that orbit,” Glaze said.

“We are going to demonstrate a technique that could potentially be used ... to help avoid an impact. That’s a pretty awesome opportunity. ” — LORI GLAZE, NASA’s Science Mission Directorate


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JOEL KOWSKY/NASA

Lawrence Friedl, director of the Applied Sciences Program within NASA’s Earth Science Division, shares insights at the 2018 Annual Earth Science Applications Showcase.

Mission Partners Broadening input into NASA satellite programs could boost use of the data they collect By Gina Harkins

C

OMBATING THE MOSQUITOBORNE WEST Nile virus,

issuing better heat advisory warnings, predicting crop failures and managing farmers’ irrigation systems; these are examples of how researchers have used NASA’s satellite data for public good, and the agency’s leaders want to help others do the same. Satellites orbiting the Earth collect

loads of data about the planet, but not everyone knows it’s available or how best to use the information. The Applied Sciences Program within NASA’s Earth Science Division wants to bring partners from the business world, academia, and state and local government aboard to plan future satellite missions. “We’re always looking to see how we improve the public value,” said Lawrence Friedl, director of the Applied Sciences CONTINUED


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JPL-CALTECH/NASA/GFSC

The Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission produces high-resolution maps of global moisture levels and detects whether surfaces are frozen or thawed.

Program. “Knowing that we’re funded by the taxpayers, how do we increase the return to the taxpayers?” One way to do that, Friedl and his team found, is to get a better sense of how satellite data could serve the public good before new spacecraft are launched. But that would represent a significant operational shift for NASA. “I’ll be frank with you and say it’s a challenge,” Friedl said. “It’s new for NASA ... and it’s outside the current comfort zone.” The Applied Sciences Program is accustomed to working with the “usual suspects,” Friedl said. That typically includes agencies like the U.S. Geological Survey, the Department of Agriculture or the U.S. Forest Service. “Those are all great organizations

and really great partners,” he said. “But we’ve really been trying to target the private sector, states and (nongovernmental organizations). ... We’re continually looking for these new areas that we can really expand the breadth of where the data has value.” Now, before a satellite launches, officials are sharing with outsiders the types of data the team is likely to collect to give companies, universities and others time to adapt their processes to better utilize it. Groups interested in the environmental data collected by the program include reinsurance company Willis Re, agriculture and construction equipment manufacturer John Deere and the New York City Environmental Protection office.

In one example, the response from the user community interested in soil moisture data was so great that Applied Sciences created a new data format that could more easily work with Google Earth products. “We got so much input and feedback from them that we wound up providing it in the format that they requested,” Friedl said. Those kinds of changes could go a long way toward getting a more diverse group of users engaging with NASA data, said Mike Wimberly, a geography professor at the University of Oklahoma who used NASA satellite data to help curb West Nile virus outbreaks in South Dakota. “In looking at this specifically from the public health standpoint, I would see (NASA partnering with others

earlier on) as a big value add to the disease-tracking and -monitoring efforts that are happening,” Wimberly said. NASA has looked to partners such as Google Earth Engine, an earth science data and analysis platform, to help make their satellite imagery more accessible. Being able to engage new organizations and audiences will only help spur innovative uses of NASA’s science data, Friedl said. Wimberly agrees. Because so many diseases and public health risks have environmental links, there’s a huge opportunity to get NASA’s data to more people in user-friendly formats. “I think we’ve really only scratched the surface in how to use NASA earth science data,” he said.


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Axel, which could be moonbound as early as 2025, undergoes field testing. JPL-CALTECH/NASA

Robots, Reimagined Latest generation designed to go where humans can’t By Matt Alderton

P

ICTURE AN ASTRONAUT. CHANCES are, you probably conjured up the visage of Neil Armstrong or John Glenn. But what about an apelike golem that drives cars and climbs stairs? A mechanical worm that scales glaciers? Or a self-driving hoverboard that rappels caves using its onboard winch? Even as NASA pursues new frontiers in manned space exploration, roboticists at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Pasadena, Calif., are diligently working to develop a new generation of robots that can operate independently in all manner of challeng-

ing landscapes. Their long-term vision: autonomous astronauts that can do everything humans do in places humans can’t do them. The primary drivers are safety, practicality and cost. “The cost of sending humans to space is very high because humans require food, air, entertainment, waste disposal and reasonable temperatures,” said Aaron Parness, manager of JPL’s robotic climbers and grippers group. Robots, by contrast, need only two things: a power source and a communication link. Plus, robots can work 24/7 and withstand months- or yearslong journeys through space and lethal environmental conditions. A closer look reveals a family of otherworldly robots that portends a new chapter in planetary science:


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ROBOSIMIAN JPL’s entry in the DARPA Robotics Challenge — a competition hosted by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency from 2012 to 2015 — RoboSimian was conceived for use by emergency responders on Earth but could one day help NASA navigate rough terrain in space, including glaciers, rubble piles and boulder fields. Because its four articulated appendages are capable of mobility and manipulation, it can climb stairs, open doors, turn wheels and even operate power tools.

AXEL In 2009, Japanese researchers discovered open pits on the moon indicative of tunnels created during the eruption of lunar volcanoes. Because they provide natural shelter from harmful space radiation, these tunnels could be attractive sites for future moon colonies. But first, NASA must explore them, and Axel is made for exactly that task. Comprising two wheels connected by a single axle, it features a tether that attaches to an anchor — a lunar lander, for example — and unwinds as the spelunking rover lowers itself into a cave. JPL has proposed a Moon Diver mission for NASA’s low-cost planetary science program, Discovery; if chosen, Axel could be moonbound as soon as 2025.

LEMUR JPL’s Limbed Excursion Mechanical Utility Robots, or LEMURs, are climbers that look like mechanical spiders. The latest iteration, LEMUR 3, is a quadruped. Its feet feature “microspine” grippers that use tiny hooks to attach themselves to rocks. Using artificial intelligence, it can climb, map and analyze surfaces without human intervention. LEMURs have been tested in rocky locations like Death Valley, Calif., and might one day explore Martian caves and craters.

ICE WORM Made of spare RoboSimian parts that were reconfigured and animated using LEMUR software, Ice Worm was inspired by an inchworm and moves by curling and then straightening its body. Instead of trees and bushes, however, Ice Worm’s habitat is glaciers and ice caves whose surfaces it scales with grippers that attach using steel ice screws. Ice Worm has been field tested in glacial caves on Washington’s Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens and eventually could be deployed to volcanic vents on Saturn’s ice-covered moon, Enceladus.

PHOTOS PROVIDED BY JPL-CALTECH/NASA


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Artist’s rendering of Psyche, believed to be the metal core of a failed planet PETER RUBIN/ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY


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To Bennu and Beyond NASA hopes asteroid missions will provide insights into life’s origins

Bennu equator and northern hemisphere NASA/GODDARD/UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA

By Brian Barth

B

ILLIONS OF YEARS AGO,

our solar system was but a swirling cloud of space dust. Over time, particles collided, accreting in size to form boulders and eventually planets. Asteroids are essentially space rocks that never graduated to planet size. But in their obscurity, they may hold clues to the development of life on Earth. Among the nearly 800,000 known asteroids in the solar system is Bennu, a piece of rock more than 550 yards across. Located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, Bennu is a rare asteroid chosen for exploration by NASA. The OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral

Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security – Regolith Explorer) mission launched in 2016 and arrived late last year at Bennu, where it is currently in orbit. At some point next year the unmanned spacecraft will touch down to collect a small sample of Bennu’s regolith (surface material) before returning to Earth’s orbit to deposit the sample in a capsule that is expected to land in the Utah desert in 2023. This will mark the first time NASA has ventured to an asteroid with the intent of collecting a sample and returning it to Earth. There are multiple reasons Bennu was chosen for this mission, including its orbit, which happens to bring it closer to Earth than most asteroids. But more importantly, scientists are drawn to

Bennu because they believe it contains significant quantities of two of the most fundamental ingredients of biological activity — water and carbon — making it a prime candidate for studying the origins of life on Earth. “By visiting Bennu and returning with a sample, we get to look way back in history to the beginning of the solar system, at rocks that formed before the planets did,” said Dante Lauretta, the principal investigator for the OSIRIS-REx mission and a professor of planetary science and cosmochemistry at the University of Arizona. Lauretta noted that it is the collision of asteroids with the Earth that forms CONTINUED

“Studying those rocks in a laboratory may help us to understand more about how planets form.” — DANTE LAURETTA, Principal investigator, OSIRIS-REx mission


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MARS & BEYOND A

B B ABIGAIL WEIBEL/ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY

A

“We’ve never ever investigated a world made of metal. So (Psyche) will be a first.” — LINDY ELKINS-TANTON Principal investigator, Psyche mission

Image compilation of Bennu equator and northern hemisphere NASA/GODDARD/UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA

one theory for how the building blocks the surface for just a few seconds. A puff of life arrived on our planet. “Studying of gas is emitted to stir up the regolith for those rocks in a laboratory may help us collection in a device Johnston described to understand more about how planets as “an air filter on a pogo stick.” form, as well For the device as the delivery to work, the of materials rocks have to like water be smaller than and organic an inch in size compounds to — which is the the surface of sort of terrain the early Earth, that scientists and how that expected led to living for much of systems.” Bennu’s surStill, “when face. Instead, we got to the the project team asteroid it discovered that Psyche spacecraft was a more Bennu is almost challenging entirely covered environment PETER RUBIN/ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY with enormous than expected,” boulders. said Gordon Johnston, NASA’s program While there are rocks small enough executive for the OSIRIS-REx mission. to collect, they sit among boulders that NASA scientists knew that the lowrepresent a hazard to the spacecraft. The gravity environment of Bennu would OSIRIS-REx team needed help finding make it difficult to land, so they equipped places with the most open space to safely the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft with a collect a sample. In May, NASA invited robotic arm designed to touch down on the public to participate in a boulder-

mapping blitz through an app that allowed people to catalog the location and shape of the boulders. The effort was an unqualified success, and by August, four potential sites had been identified, keeping the project on track for sample collection next year. “We had an enormous amount of engagement,” Lauretta said. “Every image that we posted online was mapped. Thousands of people participated, counting millions of boulders. Some people really got serious about it. We have our star boulder counters who contributed an enormous amount of data, and we’re looking for ways to thank them. They’ll be hearing from us in the future.” Other asteroid research missions are in the works at NASA, including Psyche, which in 2022 will journey to a celestial body believed to be composed mostly of metal. Here, too, one goal is to better understand the formation of Earth. The Earth’s core is thought to be composed of metals, but no technology yet exists to find out for sure. The hypothesis about Psyche — the name of both the mission and asteroid — is that it’s essentially a tiny metal core

“of a little planet that failed,” said Lindy Elkins-Tanton, a planetary scientist at Arizona State University and principal investigator for the project. “We believe Psyche is the remnant core of a planet that got bashed apart through a series of collisions with other bodies instead of joining together into bigger planets,” she said. “Humans have investigated space worlds made of rock, of ice and of gas, but we’ve never ever investigated a world made of metal. So this will be a first.” NASA’s current asteroid research may pave the way for another first: resource extraction in outer space. While neither Psyche nor OSIRIS-REx are geared directly toward asteroid mining, the insights gained from these missions could advance future commercial endeavors of this sort. Extraction of minerals and metals is one possibility, though Lauretta said that extracting water to produce rocket fuel — which can be obtained by splitting the hydrogen and oxygen atoms — is closer to commercial viability. “The concept is actually pretty mature,” Lauretta said. “I would say within 20 years we could see this kind of (resource extraction) operation.”


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Life on Mars New rover’s discoveries could spur human travel to Red Planet By Gina Harkins

D

ID MARS EVER SUPPORT

life, and if so, could it do it again? That’s what scientists hope to learn when the carsize Mars 2020 rover launches next summer. The rover will not only be packed

with new capabilities to explore Earth’s smaller, frigid neighbor, but NASA is also on the hunt for ways to bring soil and rock samples back within a decade. When Katie Stack Morgan, the Mars 2020 rover deputy project scientist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, was in grad school about a decade ago, a Mars sample return was just a concept. “But

over the course of this past decade, it has become a real mission,” she said. Stack Morgan and NASA project executives state there are plenty of ways the rover could set the stage for human exploration. Here’s a look at the primary plans for NASA’s fifth Mars rover: CONTI NUED

Artist’s rendering of Mars 2020 rover exploring Mars JPL-CALTECH/NASA


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“We’re doing this in a way that allows every member of the public to come along and explore with us.” — DAVE LAVERY, NASA program executive for solar system exploration

JPL-CALTECH/NASA

The Mars helicopter will attempt controlled, sustained flight on the planet’s surface.

THE SITE

SMART LANDING

After much debate over three potential landing sites, NASA has opted to send the Mars 2020 rover to the Jezero Crater, a roughly 30-mile-wide area believed to have once housed an ancient Martian lake. That makes it one of the best spots on the planet for finding preserved life, Stack Morgan said. And if all goes well, the exploration won’t stop there. “We could consider extended missions outside the crater, exploring the northeast side of the terrain, which a good portion of the (space) community was really intrigued by,” she said. “If we’re able to visit both of those places, we’ll put together the most compelling, valuable (samples) cache.”

The rover will have a map of the landing site, marked with areas that could pose danger, according to Dave Lavery, NASA program executive for solar system exploration. As it lands, it’ll take pictures of the surface and change course if it spots trouble. That’s a “significantly improved capability” from the blind maneuver tactic the Curiosity rover used when landing on Mars in 2012, added Mars 2020 program executive George Tahu. It’s an important technology that humans could use to more safely land on the moon or other planets, Lavery said.

FLYING SIDEKICK A twin-rotor, solar-powered helicopter was attached to the belly of the Mars 2020 rover in late August, as NASA preps for the first-ever flight operations on another planet. “Its purpose is to demonstrate that we actually can achieve controlled, sustained flight in the Martian atmosphere,” Tahu said. The autonomous helicopter will fly five missions to start, each lasting approximately 90 seconds. “Take off, hover, show you can control your position and come back down and land safely,” he said. “That is the definition of success of flight on another planet for the first time.”

EXPERIMENTS

JPL-CALTECH/NASA

Mars 2020 rover’s 7-foot arm maneuvers from a deployed to a stowed configuration.

In addition to improved instruments like a new coring drill and high-definition cameras, the Mars 2020 mission will include other experiments that could help humans survive on the Red Planet. A device called MOXIE, which stands for Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, will suck carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere and produce oxygen, Stack Morgan said. That could be used for breathing, but also to produce fuel for humans to get back to Earth. And as the rover tries to answer whether Earth has been the only planet in the solar system to support life, NASA will be broadcasting the mission. “We’re doing this in a way that allows every member of the public to come along and explore with us,” Lavery said.


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A rendering of the Solar Orbiter, which is expected to provide the first images of the sun’s poles NASA, ESA ATG MEDIALAB COMPOSITE

Heating Up NASA’s Parker Probe, Solar Orbiter give solar science its day in the sun By Matt Alderton

I

T’S ONE OF THE first lessons

parents teach their children: Never look directly at the sun. Doing so can cause serious and sometimes permanent damage. NASA, on the other hand, has spent more than 60 years pondering what vision it might gain from close study of the sun.

“The sun affects our light and our life here on Earth. It shapes the Earth’s magnetic field, which of course protects us from all the sun’s nasty radiation. ... It really is the key to everything,” said Nicola Fox, director of the heliophysics division within NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. CONTINUED


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MARS & BEYOND In every sense of the word, the sun is central to planetary science. And yet, scientists know surprisingly little about how it actually works. That could soon change, however, thanks to two ambitious missions: NASA’s Parker Solar Probe and the joint NASA/European Space Agency (ESA) Solar Orbiter. Launched Aug. 12, 2018, the solar probe mission is named One question for Eugene Parker, an astroscientists physicist who discovered the most want phenomenon of the missions solar wind — a constant stream to answer is of solar-charged why the sun’s particles that emanates atmosphere from the sun’s atmosphere, the can be corona, causing space weather millions of that threatens degrees astronauts and satellites hotter than in space, as its surface. well as spacedependent systems on Earth, including GPS, radios and even electricity. “If a big explosion happens on the sun ... we can expect quite a bit of damage to equipment in space and on the ground,” explained Nour Raouafi, Parker Solar Probe project scientist. “If this event is really, really big, it can basically stop the power grid.” Parker Solar Probe could help prevent that by giving scientists the means to understand and predict activity in and around the corona. During its sevenyear mission, it will fly past Venus seven times, leveraging its gravity to gradually reduce the size of its orbit until it’s within 3.9 million miles of the sun’s surface — closer than any other spacecraft. Parker Solar Probe has completed three solar orbits and returned a wealth of data that NASA will summarize in late October in the journal Nature. Although the data wasn’t available at press time, Raouafi promised a significant solar shakeup. “What we are seeing in the data so far is a picture that is completely different than what we’re used to,” he said. “Parker Solar Probe will change our view of the solar wind forever.” That view will be supplemented when NASA and ESA launch Solar Orbiter from

Light-bar testing the Parker Solar Probe GLENN BENSON/NASA

Cape Canaveral, Fla., in February. Built in the U.K. and tested in Germany, the spacecraft will fly farther from the sun — 26 million miles — and will capture an entirely new vantage point. “The most important novelty of Solar Orbiter is its highly tilted orbit,” said Yannis Zouganelis, deputy project scientist for Solar Orbiter at ESA. “This will allow the first-ever images of the sun’s poles, which many researchers believe hold the key to understanding what drives the constant activity and eruptions on the sun.” Parker Solar Probe and Solar Orbiter were independently conceived and developed, but mission synergies will allow them to work in tandem. “Although Parker Solar Probe will be bathed inside the solar wind, it is ‘blind’ with respect to the sun, with no imagers to observe the sun at the same time. Combining measurements taken from both spacecraft at the same time ... will greatly enhance the context for

Parker Solar Probe to understand what it is flying through,” Zouganelis said. “If the Probe is the mission that ‘touches’ the sun, Solar Orbiter is the mission that sees it.” One of the questions scientists most want to answer is why the corona is so much hotter than the photosphere, the sun’s surface. The former can be several million degrees Fahrenheit while the latter is 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit; NASA likens it to a campfire that gets hotter instead of cooler as you retreat from it. “The atmosphere is blowing away from the sun and out into space, which is the solar wind,” said Chris St. Cyr, Solar Orbiter project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “We have tried to discover how that happens with ground-based methods and space-based telescopes, but Solar Probe and Solar Orbiter are the latest and possibly best chance we have to really understand it.”

Preparations for Solar Orbiter vibration test S. CORVAJA/ESA


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MARS & BEYOND

Space-based Manufacturing 3D-printing satellite could create solar panels in orbit

NASA AND MADE IN SPACE

Archinaut One’s mission will be to use in-space 3D printing and robotic manufacturing to create the solar panel beams shown in this artist’s rendering.

By Gina Harkins

A

NEW SATELLITE PROJECT COULD put an end to the

need to fold large materials and equipment into origamilike pieces to blast them into space aboard rockets. NASA this summer awarded a $73.7 million contract to Made In Space, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based company that develops state-of-the-art manufacturing technology. The contract marks the second phase of development for a project called Archinaut One, which will

NASA will create 33-foot satellite beams in space using a device the size of a coffee maker. print and assemble large items in orbit when it launches into space in 2022. Archinaut One’s mission: to use 3D printing and robotic manufacturing to create a pair of 33-foot beams in space. The beams will extend from each side of the satellite, unfolding to reveal a collection of solar panels capable of generating as much as five times the power of those found on spacecraft of a similar size.

While NASA has done some 3D printing in space (like the time it sent an astronaut a file via email that was used to create a wrench), it hasn’t done anything on this scale. “Everything we’ve ever sent to space goes up on a rocket,” Made In Space CEO and president Andrew Rush said, describing how larger items are designed to fold up to fit on top of a rocket, where it’s subjected to incredible

force. “But that’s an inherently inefficient way of doing design and build because we’ve designed our assets for the delivery mechanism. We haven’t optimized it for its operational environment.” Archinaut One is an ongoing publicprivate partnership between NASA and Made In Space. The contracts are part of NASA’s “Tipping Point” solicitations in which the agency seeks industrydeveloped space technologies from which it can benefit. Jim Reuter, the associate administrator CONTI NUED


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Archinaut project manager Eric Joyce, left, and fellow Made In Space engineer Deejay Riley fine tune the Extended Structure Additive Manufacturing Machine.

An artist’s rendering of the Archinaut payload during its deployment in space NASA AND MADE IN SPACE

for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, said when it came to robotic manufacturing and assembly, the agency wanted to find a commercial product the government could also use. “We kind of envision in-space manufacturing and assembly and servicing to be areas that really are transformative,” Reuter said. “We look for things that can just change the way we operate in space, and there are just so many things this potentially opens up.” Reuter said Archinaut One could someday allow astronauts to create power-generating panels and other items they’d need to survive on Mars or the moon. He also sees the potential to build massive telescopes or antennas in space. Because of the size of the beams and solar arrays NASA and “Everything Made In Space we’ve ever sent want to print and assemble up to space in orbit, they had to think goes up on a about the rocket (which is construct. “When you inherently inef- picture a 3D in your ficient) because printer mind, you we’ve designed picture a box that chunks our assets for out things that are smaller the delivery than itself,” mechanism Rush said. Made In Space (instead of) developed its operational an extendedstructure environment.” additive — ANDREW RUSH, manufacturing CEO, Made In Space device, which means it produces items that are much larger than itself. In this case, the device that will create the two 33-foot satellite beams in space is about the size of a coffee maker, Rush said. The Archinaut One demonstration will take several months once it’s in orbit. It will be equipped with cameras so Made In Space and NASA can observe its progress, Rush said, and they’ll study data the spacecraft sends back to Earth. Made In Space has contributed 25 percent of the project’s development costs, and Northrop Grumman is also serving as a subcontractor on the project. Made in Space has “a business case model for how this can work as they go forward,” Reuter said, “and for (NASA), it’s a critical and transformative capability.”


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An engineer works on a Voyager high-gain antenna in 1976. NASA/JPL-CALTECH PHOTOJOURNAL

Creative Communication NASA’s engineering prowess keeps Voyager program running By Adam Stone

I

MAGINE TRYING TO DRIVE in the

dark without headlights. Or a steering wheel. Or a gas pedal. And your car is 40 years old. NASA’s efforts to keep the two Voyager spacecrafts operating

in interstellar space is akin to that. “It’s really hard, and we knew it would be,” said Ed Stone, a project scientist on the Voyager program for 47 years. In his role, Stone helped launch the twin probes that have explored the outer planets and now are investigating the vast space

between the stars. It takes a high level of engineering wizardry to keep Voyager I and II up and running these days. Their finite power is dwindling, and the instruments were CONTI NUED


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Engineers with magnetometer boom in 1977 NASA/JPL-CALTECH PHOTOJOURNAL

never tested in temperatures this cold (presently 74 degrees below zero).

POWERING DOWN Voyager’s power plant is coming to the end of its life span. “It is using a nuclear power source that degrades at four watts a year, and we have probably precious few years left,” said Suzanne Dodd, director for the Interplanetary Network Directorate at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Voyager project manager. “We want to make that last as long as possible.” To do that, engineers have been selectively shutting down systems. Voyager I left the heliosphere — the protective gas bubble surrounding the sun — in 2012, and its sister ship crossed the interstellar line in 2018. That allowed engineers to shut down the cameras, which had been invaluable during the planetary-exploration phase of the mission but would serve no purpose in infinite blackness. After 42 years of flying, engineers are also willing to shut down some surplus systems to save power. “If you have any redundancies, you turn off one side and you leave on the side you think is going to last the longest,” Dodd said. They’re also saving power by shutting down some heaters. “We turned off the heater on the cosmic ray spectrometer subsystem and we saved 3.7 watts, so that’s almost a year of lifetime,” Dodd said.

PHONING HOME This balancing act between power and temperature serves a single purpose: to

keep the spacecraft antennae pointed toward Earth. “Once the antenna drifts off the Earth and we are unable to point it back to us, we would lose all transmissions with the spacecraft,” Dodd said. The Voyager spacecraft have internal mechanisms for remaining oriented toward the sun, ensuring the lines of communication remain open. But engineers must occasionally use onboard thrusters to gently adjust Voyager’s orientation. This also requires some ingenuity. When the original thrusters began to degrade, engineers opted to fire up a set of secondary thrusters not originally intended for that purpose. To do this, they had to dig up decades-old data and interface with Voyager using outdated software. All this effort helps to ensure Voyager will continue sending back data as it traverses what appears to be empty space. But interstellar space is crisscrossed by magnetic waves, as well as charged particles known as “plasma” that date to the earliest days of the universe. Data collected here can help us understand the origins and mechanics of the sun and, perhaps, other star systems. “When voyager was launched, the only known active volcanoes in the solar system were here on Earth. Then we flew by Jupiter and found a small moon with 10 times the volcanic activity of Earth,” Stone said. “That’s the kind of thing that Voyager has found time after time. Even in this interstellar space, we will still be finding things that we never expected.”

NASA/JPL-CALTECH PHOTOJOURNAL

NASA engineers work with the deployed magnetometer boom on one of the Voyager spacecraft in 1977. More than 40 years later, NASA continues to find creative ways to keep it and other systems operational.

Artist’s rendering of Voyager NASA/JPL-CALTECH PHOTOJOURNAL


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Profile for STUDIO Gannett

NASA 2019  

NASA 2019