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Weather Forecasters Balance Experience with Technology

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER - When people talk about a meteorologist cooking up a weather forecast, they may be more right than they realize, said one of the forecasters NASA counts on to predict conditions ahead of a launch.

"I compare forecasting a lot to cooking, to be honest," said Joel Tumbiolo, a meteorologist with the Air Force's 45th Weather Squadron, the unit that handles forecasting for rockets launched at the Eastern Range on the Atlantic Coast of the United States. "In cooking, you have recipes that you follow, but to be a good cook you have to have a certain taste and feel for it, and I feel there's a lot of that in weather forecasting."

The weather team monitors conditions from the ground level to a few thousand feet in the air, a region the rocket will fly through in a minute or two at most. But even a low-hanging cloud can be enough to call off a launch.

"If those couple minutes don't go right, bad things happen," Tumbiolo said. "You always wonder, 'How can a rocket going at that velocity be affected by a cloud?' But we've learned through trial and error that it does affect it."

The launch teams quickly learn the impact of weather on a countdown, said Omar Baez, launch director for NASA's Launch Services Program, or LSP.

"Weather is one of those things you never think about coming into the rocket business and you quickly learn how it affects our business," Baez said. "And it's not just during the launch phase."

Weather conditions dictate many of the activities around the launch site, not only the launches themselves. For instance, high winds can prevent crews from hoisting a spacecraft onto the top of a rocket. Thunderstorms can stop all activities on the launch pad. So getting a prediction wrong for even minor preparation work can result in a launch delay down the road.

Florida weather doesn't make it any easier on forecasters. From the thunderstorm that appears almost out of nowhere on a sunny afternoon to invisible winds thousands of feet up, the state's weather patterns offer plenty of seeming contradictions.

"In a recipe, if you have A, B, C and D, you get a certain result," Tumbiolo said. "In weather, you can have all the data that tells you something's going to happen and at the end of the day having something totally different happen. Not only does that challenge me, it interests me."

Learning to expect and predict frequent changes is perhaps the most important lesson. That is a significant departure from the conditions he saw growing up in the Midwest, where whatever conditions were to the west would reliably become the conditions to the east in a short time.

"Here, a lot of weather comes in off the ocean, of course," Tumbiolo said. "That was my biggest transition, getting my hands around the fact that weather comes in from all different directions depending on what kind of day we're having."

The key to deciphering changes is experience, Tumbiolo said. Still, the weather holds a few surprises.

"Sometimes things happen, and to be honest, you just don't know, 'Why did it happen?' But that's part of being a meteorologist."

Tumbiolo, who has been performing the job for 21 years, forecasts for about a dozen launches a year, including missions for LSP.

And, yes, weather forecasters keep score on how many predictions they get right.

"You always want to know that you're doing well or what you can improve, so, yeah, I keep a batting average. Over the past 21 years, I'd have to say my batting average is in the 80 to 85 percentile. If I can get over 80, I'm pretty pleased."

For Tumbiolo and the group of five weather officers, the payoff for a correct forecast is a spectacular rocket launching into the sky to begin a multimillion-dollar mission. The penalty for an inaccurate prediction can be dire.

"We have to forecast for a very specific time, a specific location," Tumbiolo said. "So we can't give a general, broad-brush (forecast), like, 'There's a 30 percent chance of showers today.' "

The meteorologists work from a set of rules that everyone must agree are "go" before a launch is allowed. Each rule covers a specific condition, such as the likelihood of lightning occurring during launch.

"We are evaluating rules, not just making subjective judgments," Tumbiolo said.

The good news is that the forecasters have a lot of technological help to show them everything from clouds, rain and humidity levels to wind high above the surface. From weather balloons to Doppler radar and sophisticated computer models, the forecasters aren't working alone to decipher the future.

"We probably have the densest network of weather instrumentation than any other place that I know of," Tumbiolo said.

Sometimes, though, forecasters want their own perspective. As a countdown moves toward zero, Tumbiolo makes his way to the roof of the Morrell Operations Center at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The view covers most of the sprawling base and the sky.

"To me, your best instrument is your eyeballs," Tumbiolo said.

There have been a few times when instruments were overruled by the forecasters. For example, radar picked up a small cloud ahead of an Atlas launch. The cloud was predicted to dissipate quickly. When it started growing, Tumbiolo went outside for a firsthand look.

"We have a rule called the 'good sense rule' where it's just that," Tumbiolo said, "If all the other rules are not in violation but it just doesn't look right to you, things are happening fast, or clouds are forming fast or it just doesn't feel good, we can invoke the rule and in all the time I've been here there's been maybe once or twice when we invoked that rule.

"The rules are a safety net. They're conservative, they're restrictive, and that's a good thing. You want that safety net. It gives you confidence."

That confidence can be especially welcome on those occasions when the rocket and spacecraft are ready, but the weather is not cooperating. It's up to the launch director to give a final "go" to liftoff, but Tumbiolo said he's never felt pressure from them to green-light a forecast just to get the mission started.

"Most of the launch directors are very weather-knowledgeable," Tumbiolo said. "They don't get on your case."

Baez said he trusts the forecasters to know their field and relies on them heavily.

"I have learned more than I had ever thought about weather, and I keep the literature handy," Baez said. "It's the one section in the launch console notebook that I dog ear and put tabs in to be able to reference it quickly."

There is one weather criteria the forecasters don't determine: upper-level winds. Instead, the data from the weather balloons and other instruments is sent to launch vehicle engineers who have specific computer models at hand that quickly simulate the launch of a specific rocket through specific conditions. If the computer says it is not safe, the engineers could call off the launch.

"It could be a picture-perfect, chamber of commerce day and we stand down due to upper level winds which we can't visibly see but have the potential of disturbing or tumbling a launch vehicle," Baez said.

Although he's been predicting the weather in the same place for more than two decades, Tumbiolo said he has no trouble getting motivated each day to do it some more.

"The weather involved in every launch is always different," Tumbiolo said. "There's always a different weather scenario involved, so to me that's always challenging and motivating."


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Glenn Launch Highlighted Changing World

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER - The Beatles were eight months away from releasing their first single, "Love Me Do," when John Glenn rocketed into space on Feb. 20, 1962, to become the first American to orbit Earth.

The flight set NASA on course to meet ever-more ambitious goals. Glenn’s three orbits in five hours was eclipsed on the next flight and each one afterward steadily pushed Americans further out from the cradle of Earth, ultimately leading to a series of landings on the moon from 1969 to 1972.

"The whole program shifted rapidly from, 'Can we do this?' to basic research," Glenn told a packed press conference conducted among the displays and consoles that made up Cape Canaveral's Mercury control center.

Fifty years after the Mercury-Atlas 6 mission, Glenn, 90, still draws a capacity crowd. He returned to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Friday to begin a weekend of events celebrating the milestone.

The events come a few days before the 50th anniversary, but that did not diminish the excitement of those on hand to see Glenn. Fellow Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter, who served as CapCom during Glenn's mission before flying his own mission three months later, also made the trip to Florida to celebrate NASA's first orbital missions.

"It is a special pleasure to go back to where the times were so magical," Carpenter said.

Glenn orbited as a pivotal time in world and American history. The year he flew, 1962, would also witness the Cuban Missile Crisis, a see-who-blinks-first standoff between American and Soviet leaders that threatened nuclear war.

The American community was also substantially smaller then, with the nation’s population standing at 186 million people compared with some 300 million people today. An average family made $6,000 a year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, a little over $4,000 per year for families living in Florida or other parts of the South.

On the other hand, things didn’t cost as much as they do now. A gallon of gas ran 31 cents in 1962, and a house cost less than $19,000. The whole federal budget totaled $106 billion and the Dow Jones Industrials, the stock market, stood at just over 700 points.

Kennedy Space Center didn't even exist yet – it's 144,000 acres was still more citrus groves than launch site.

Glenn climbed inside the Mercury capsule he had named Friendship 7 at Complex 14 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Florida’s Atlantic coast. The launch team worked inside a blockhouse near the launch pad.

"It was not a solo effort," Carpenter said. "It took thousands of people to get him safely up there and back." At that point, two American astronauts made short trips into space, but did not reach orbit. They flew on the Redstone, a rocket that was extremely reliable, but not strong enough to send a person into orbit.

That was the job of the Atlas, a missile whose strength was without question, but whose reliability left something to be desired.

"The very first time we saw a missile launch, it went up and blew up at 27,000 feet and that wasn't a confidence builder," Glenn recalled, laughing at the memory. They followed the Atlas development and when it was ready, Glenn said the astronauts didn't have a qualm about getting on it. "You became the best-trained person you could be and that's what we did."

Glenn was supposed to remain in space longer, but Flight Director Chris Kraft cut the mission short after a malfunction light came on showing that the heat shield might have come loose. The heat shield remained in place and Glenn splashed down safely in the Atlantic Ocean and picked up by the destroyer USS Noa.

Although the Soviets had already put two of their own cosmonauts in orbit by the time Glenn was catapulted into orbit, the American was treated on his return with the pomp and circumstance normally reserved for royalty. His tiny spacecraft has been displayed at the Smithsonian.

The flight also changed Glenn’s course. A record-setting test pilot before he became one of America’s original astronauts, Glenn left NASA soon after the Mercury mission and entered the political world. He would serve in the United State Senate from his home state of Ohio and make a run for the White House.

While it seemed for decades that Glenn’s space experience was limited to those three orbits in 1962, the astronaut was enlisted to fly again in 1998, this time aboard space shuttle Discovery. While the Mercury capsule was snug with just one person inside, the shuttle was comfortable with seven people inside. Glenn, then 77, conducted numerous experiments to see how his body had changed since his first mission.

Now retired from space and politics, Glenn said the challenge of spaceflight continues to press today's designers and engineers to keep making strides.

"These things depend on people," Glenn said. "Nothing's going to happen unless you have people to do it."

The Atlas rocket carrying John Glenn and his Mercury capsule lift off Feb. 20, 1962, from Launch Complex 14 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Photo credit: NASA

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17 Month Manned Mars Simulation Ends In Russia

 The record-breaking simulated mission to Mars has ended with smiling faces after 17 months. Mars500’s six brave volunteers stepped out of their ‘spacecraft’ today to be welcomed by the waiting scientists – happy that the venture had worked even better than expected.
Mars500, the first full-length, high-fidelity simulation of a human mission to our neighbouring planet, started 520 days ago, on 3 June 2010, at the Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow.

The international crew were isolated in their interplanetary spacecraft mock-up, faithfully following the phases of a real mission: a long flight to Mars, insertion into orbit around the planet, landing, surface exploration, return to orbit, a monotonous return flight and arrival at Earth.

During the ‘flight’, the crew performed more than 100 experiments, all linked to the problems of long-duration missions in deep space.  

To add to their isolation, communications with mission control were artificially delayed to mimic the natural delays over the great distances on a real Mars flight.

The crew of three Russians, one Chinese and two Europeans have performed exceptionally well. They have kept together and showed that motivation and team spirit can keep humans going under very difficult conditions. Scientists are pleased at their exceptional discipline.

“Thank you very much for your outstanding effort,” said ESA’s Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain in his greeting from Paris after the crew stepped from their module.

“I welcome the courage, determination and generosity of these young people who have devoted almost two years of their lives to this project, for the progress of human space exploration.”

Touching reunions
The hatch was opened at 14:00 local time (11:00 CET, 10:00 GMT) and the ‘marsonauts’ walked out from their modules and greeted the mission directors.

After their first taste of freedom, they were led to meet doctors and their families and close friends.

“It is great to see you all again,” said Diego Urbina, ESA’s Italian crewmember, after emerging.

“On the Mars500 mission we have accomplished on Earth the longest space voyage ever so that humankind can one day greet a new dawn on a distant but reachable planet.

“And, as a European Space Agency crewmember, I am honoured to have been part of this remarkable challenge together with five of the most professional, friendly and resilient individuals I have ever worked with.

“I’ll be forever thankful to those who, even from a distance, always stood close to me during this space odyssey.”
 Romain Charles, ESA’s French crewmember, noted: “One year and a half ago, I was selected by the European Space Agency to be part of the Mars500 crew. Today, after a motionless trip of 520 days, I'm proud to prove, with my international crewmates, that a human journey to the Red Planet is feasible.

“We have all acquired a lot of valuable experience that will help in designing and planning future missions to Mars.

“We're ready to embark on the next spaceship going there!”

During their first few days of liberty, the crew will undergo extensive medical checks and psychological evaluation. They will also enjoy some private time and relaxation before talking to the media on 8 November in Moscow.

Their mission continues into early December, as they go through an exhaustive series of debriefings, tests and evaluations to collect the mission’s final data.



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SPACEX Completes Key Milestone To Fly Astronauts To ISS

Hawthorne, CA – Today, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) announced it has successfully completed the preliminary design review of its revolutionary launch abort system, a system designed for manned missions using its Dragon spacecraft. This represents a major step toward creating an American-made successor to the Space Shuttle.

NASA’s approval of the latest design review marks the fourth successfully completed milestone under the agency’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program and demonstrates the innovation that’s possible when NASA partners with the private sector.

“Each milestone we complete brings the United States one step closer to once again having domestic human spaceflight capability,” said former astronaut Garrett Reisman, one of the two program leads of SpaceX’s DragonRider, which is adding capabilities to the Dragon spacecraft for astronaut carriage.

Now that the Space Shuttle program has ended, the United States relies on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft for astronaut transport, costing American taxpayers as much as $62 million a seat. By comparison, Dragon is designed to carry seven astronauts at a time for an unparalleled $20 million per seat.

As with all SpaceX designs, increased safety and reliability are paramount. “Dragon’s integrated launch abort system provides astronauts with the ability to safely escape from the beginning of the launch until the rocket reaches orbit,” explained David Giger, co-lead of the DragonRider program. “This level of protection is unprecedented in manned spaceflight history.”

With the latest design review approved by NASA, SpaceX can now start building the hardware at the heart of its innovative launch abort system. The SpaceX design incorporates the escape engines into the side walls of Dragon, eliminating a failure mode of more traditional rocket escape towers, which must be successfully jettisoned during every launch. The integrated abort system also returns with the spacecraft, allowing for easy reuse and radical reductions in the cost of space transport. Over time, the same escape thrusters will also provide Dragon with the ability to land with pinpoint accuracy on Earth or another planet.

In its first flights, on June 4 and December 8, 2010, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch vehicle achieved consecutive mission successes. The December mission, which was the first demonstration flight under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, marked Dragon’s historic debut and established SpaceX as the first private company to launch and recover a spacecraft from orbit. As a result, many Falcon 9 and Dragon components required for transporting humans to Earth orbit have already been demonstrated in flight.

Artist's rendering of SpaceX Falcon 9 conducting a launch abort. Photo Credit: SpaceX



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Reuse, Reliability Will Launch Future, Study Says

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER - Driving down the price of taking people and cargo into space or to the other side of the world in two hours will depend on developing a system so reliable and reusable that a thousand flights or more can take place in a year, a space launch expert told a group of engineers and others Aug. 31 at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

It's not a launch scenario envisioned for the immediate future, but it could develop in the decades afterward, Jay Penn of Los Angeles-based The Aerospace Corporation said during his "Beyond Next Generation Access to Space" presentation. The company studied potential business cases for pursuing different launch strategies.

The cost of taking a pound of anything into space ran about $10,000 aboard the space shuttle, but that price tag would fall dramatically if space agencies and companies model their research on developing launch systems on the commercial airline and air cargo industries, Penn said.

"Commercial aircraft operate at $2 to $3 per pound of payload around the world, but space is 5,000 times that," Penn said.

Getting the space transportation business down to that cost means building vehicles that are designed for operability – that is much less maintenance between flights with rapid turnaround to support much higher flight rates. Evolving systems that deliver people and cargo to anywhere on the planet in less than two hours, for example, will need to make multiple trips in the same day and operate out of three or more hubs around the world.

His study has shown that some new applications could emerge in the coming years to accelerate the demand for frequent and lower cost access to space. In fact, the development of such reusable and operable systems will require the promise of higher demand to justify their development. Among the markets that could provide that spark are orbital space tourism, even limited demand for space-based solar power generation, and high speed transport services to travel from point-to-point on the planet.

"That's where you need to spend your energy, to make aircraft-like operations for these kinds of vehicles," Penn said.

Kennedy, with unique facilities such as the Vehicle Assembly Building and a runway long enough to host space-going vehicles, could find itself in key support roles for the new spacecraft.

Jim Ball, the deputy of Kennedy's Center Planning and Development Office, said his office is leading the effort to craft a future development concept and revised master plan for KSC to position it for future needs. The plan will provide a guide for the overall development of the center for the next several decades, Ball said.

Penn's study was not necessarily a prediction of where the space launch industry will be in the coming decades as much as a look at what it could be. For now, NASA is focused on a budding commercial industry aiming to launch cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station. The agency is also working toward a launch and space infrastructure supporting astronauts on missions to an asteroid, the moon or Mars.

So what would the spacecraft look like that could accomplish an unprecedented flight rate? Well, it would have a large first stage booster with wings and landing gear so it could land on a runway. It would weigh about as much as today's jumbo jets but may be a bit smaller.

The booster's main engines would operate on existing fuels, either kerosene or liquid hydrogen and it might even make its own oxygen in flight. Penn emphasized using fuels that can be handled easily on Earth between flights, and both kerosene and hydrogen have a long history of safe handling and remote loading.

The second stage would be either a similar winged booster with a small cargo bay, or a second stage holding a satellite. If the design is versatile enough, then two first stage boosters could be combined to launch a particularly large payload.

Getting that kind of design will start with combining new technologies rather than trying to come up with a single revolutionary invention, Penn said. Pulse detonation engines powering a Waverider-type craft made from carbon nanotubes would be a possible combination.

Designers also must focus on modular concepts that give operators flexibility. But mostly, they need to come up with space-worthy craft that operate like airplanes, with one kind designed for space operations and another destined to fly in and out of the atmosphere without going into orbit for carrying passengers and cargo between destinations on earth.

"It's going to be very challenging to build one vehicle to do both roles," Penn said.

In both cases, Penn said it is not necessarily an advantage to design a spacecraft that takes off from a runway like an airplane because additional weight would mean the craft would weigh up to three times more than a 747 or A380.

There is also the prospect of space tourism, he believes, with most of the demand being for going into orbit instead of just going into space briefly.

"We think there's a sweet spot where you can have 1,000 flights a year and get the ticket prices down to the point where people will want to pay," Penn said.

His advice for the future development of KSC? Be flexible and ready to adapt to these potential future markets that could dramatically increase flight rates and spur the development of vehicle systems that require much faster turnaround, and efficient ground servicing.

A reliable and reusable booster that encompasses several emerging technologies will be crucial to developing a space launch architecture that drives down the price of delivering passengers and payloads into space or for carrying cargo around the world in two hours or less, according to a study of spaceflight's future. NASA artist concept.

Steven Siceloff
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center

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Russia, European Space Agencies To Team Up For Mars Mission

MOSCOW -  With just months to go before the end of a Moscow-based simulated journey to Mars, the European Space Agency (ESA) head said on Wednesday a joint mission with Russia to the Red Planet was in the pipeline.

Speaking to reporters at an air show near Moscow on Wednesday, ESA head Jean-Jacques Dordain said ESA and Russia's Roskosmos space agency would "carry out the first flight to Mars together."

Dordain said it was too early to define a timeframe, but added that the Mars500 project was a factor in the preparation for a real mission to Mars. The 520-day simulated Mars500 project, run by Russia's Institute of Biomedical Problems with ESA's participation, aims to investigate just how well humans can cope with a return trip to the Red Planet. The six crew members are due "to return to Earth" in November.

Experts say a manned journey to Mars is still decades away because of the technological and financial challenges involved

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Boeing Selects Atlas V Rocket for Initial Commercial Crew Launches

HOUSTON - The Boeing Company [NYSE: BA] today announced it has selected the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket to launch the Boeing Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 spacecraft from Florida’s Space Coast.

"This selection marks a major step forward in Boeing's efforts to provide NASA with a proven launch capability as part of our complete commercial crew transportation service,” said John Elbon, vice president and program manager of Commercial Crew Programs and the source selection official for Boeing.

If NASA selects Boeing for a development contract with sufficient funding, ULA will provide launch services for an autonomous orbital flight, a transonic autonomous abort test launch, and a crewed launch, all in 2015.

The addition of ULA to the Boeing team enables the start of detailed design work on an integrated system for launch and spacecraft operations. The team also will refine launch abort operations that will meet NASA's stringent human rating requirements to safely transport crew and cargo to the International Space Station. Boeing conducted a best-value competition among U.S. launch service providers prior to selecting the Atlas V.

"We are pleased Boeing selected the Atlas V rocket and believe it is the right vehicle to help usher in the new commercial era in human spaceflight,” said George Sowers, ULA vice president of Business Development. “The Atlas V is a cost-effective, reliable vehicle and ULA stands ready to support Boeing's commercial human spaceflight program."

Boeing plans to begin wind tunnel testing of the Atlas V and the CST-100 this year and will use the results to complete a preliminary design review of the integrated system in 2012 under the second round of its Commercial Crew Development Space Act Agreement with NASA.

The Commercial Crew program consists of developing, manufacturing, testing and evaluating, and demonstrating the CST-100 spacecraft, launch vehicle and ground/mission operations – all part of Boeing’s Commercial Crew Transportation System – for NASA’s new Commercial Crew human spaceflight program that will provide access to the International Space Station.

The CST-100 is a reusable, capsule-shaped spacecraft that includes a crew module and a service module. It relies on proven, affordable materials and subsystem technologies that can transport up to seven people, or a combination of people and cargo.

A unit of The Boeing Company, Boeing Defense, Space & Security is one of the world's largest defense, space and security businesses specializing in innovative and capabilities-driven customer solutions, and the world’s largest and most versatile manufacturer of military aircraft. Headquartered in St. Louis, Boeing Defense, Space & Security is a $32 billion business with 64,000 employees worldwide. Follow us on Twitter: @BoeingDefense.

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Gantry's First Splash Test Is a Booming Success

LANGLEY - The principle is the same one that allows a kid to swing from a bank into a pond on a long rope hanging from a tree to beat the summer heat.

On Wednesday, the "kid" was 2,300 pounds of steel, covered in buoyant pink material normally used to wrap computers for shipping. Duct tape kept it all in place. The package hung by four short cables from its 9,000-pound Integration Platform – a steel frame – at the Langley Landing and Impact Research Facility: AKA, the Gantry.

When the frame swung back, from below the wrapped package it looked like a multi-petal pink-and-gray bow.

A long cable pulled the platform back excruciatingly, almost imperceptibly slowly. It stopped when it was 38 feet above the ground. The distance was measured by a surveyor.

A voice came over a loudspeaker: "One minute." And then, "15, 14, 13 …." At zero, a pop indicated that a small pyrotechnic devices had cut through two steel cables between the spreader bar and frame, and it began to swing toward its target, the 20-foot-deep Hydro Impact Basin at the west end of the Gantry.

Past its deepest descent and on its way back up, the frame swung out and explosions, sounding like shotgun shells, severed bolts and threw the pink package into the basin, nose slightly down.

It didn't take much imagination to visualize a capsule full of astronauts, hanging from parachutes and hitting the Atlantic Ocean at an angle to end the return flight of a mission to Mars or an asteroid.

As the pink-wrapped package bobbed in the water, a half-dozen checklists -– the one dealing with pyrotechnics was 65 pages long – were complete. The angles and measurements drawn in black and red on test engineer Richard Boitnott’s clipboard had proved out.

Lessons were learned that will turn into improved checklists and clipboard alterations for the future.

"We wanted two things: for the pyrotechnics to work and to hit the water," said Lisa Jones, chief of Structures Testing Branch and on Wednesday, head of test safety.

"We did it. It was a success."

Eight high-speed cameras and seven high-definition cameras said so. The high-speed videos – shot at 1,000 frames per second -- will be scrutinized for a Technical Readiness Review on June 24, after which the Jones and Boitnott say they will be ready for the primary purpose of the Hydro Impact Basin: test-dropping the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle.

"We got everything out of this we wanted," said Boitnott. "We got data. We got video. We've got to dissect this and see how it went. All of the data was in testing the gantry and the test; in effect, testing the test."

First indications were that the test graded out "A."

It was different. For one thing, it was the first time workers wore life preservers for a Gantry test.

"In the past, we would swing all the way to the ground," Boitnott explained about tests that have included aircraft, even automobiles over the half century of the Gantry's existence.

"This (with the basin) has much more mystery and possibilities. … In this case, we're not swinging into a fixed spot on the ground. We're throwing it into, ideally, a fixed spot in the pool."

Ahead are the review and then a different problem when the heavier, more sophisticated boilerplate Orion Ground Test Vehicle (GTA) is hung from the platform in 2013. Before the Orion GTA arrives the Langley-built Boilerplate Test Article (BTA) will be swung from the Gantry.

"For one thing, we'll go through a lot more instrumentation," Boitnott said. "We'll have 96 channels of data on the first three BTA tests and then 192."

The Orion GTA will have 608 channels of data. That’s going to add complexity.

"And we'll be dealing with a lot more load," Boitnott said.

At Wednesday’s end, everyone was pleased.

"This was a big step," Boitnott said. "We couldn't practice everything. We weren't practicing the pressures of 96 channels of data having to do with the impact of the water."

It's something for the coming weeks, as was something that will be more apparent to the layman's eye.

"Expect a bigger splash," said Boitnott, laughing. "A much bigger splash."

That’s because a 22,700-pound kid will be going into the pond.

By: Jim Hodges


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NASA To Man-Rate Atlas V Booster

DENVER -- Through a new agreement, United Launch Alliance (ULA) will provide technical information to NASA about using the Atlas V rocket to launch astronauts into space. The announcement was made Monday at ULA headquarters in Denver.

"I am truly excited about the addition of ULA to NASA's Commercial Crew Development Program team," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "Having ULA on board may speed the development of a commercial crew transportation system for the International Space Station, allowing NASA to concentrate its resources on exploring beyond low Earth orbit."

NASA and ULA's unfunded Space Act Agreement requires ULA to provide data on the Atlas V, a flight-proven expendable launch vehicle used by NASA and the Department of Defense for critical space missions.

NASA will share its human spaceflight experience with ULA to advance crew transportation system capabilities and the draft human certification requirements. ULA will provide NASA feedback about those requirements, including providing input on the technical feasibility and cost effectiveness of NASA's proposed certification approach.

"This unfunded SAA will look at the Atlas V to understand its design risks, its capabilities, how it can be used within the context of flying our NASA crew and maturing ULA's designs for the Emergency Detection System and launch vehicle processing and launch architectures under a crewed configuration," said Ed Mango, manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program which is based at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The majority of the work will be completed by the end of this year. As part of the agreement, NASA will:
-- participate in milestone and technical review briefings and provide technical feedback on milestone completion
-- assist in identification of risks and possible mitigation strategies

ULA will:
-- continue to advance the Atlas V CTS concept, including design maturation and analyses
-- conduct ULA program reviews as planned
-- perform a Design Equivalency Review
-- develop Hazard Analyses unique for human spaceflight
-- develop a Probabilistic Risk Assessment
-- document an Atlas V CTS certification baseline
-- conduct Systems Requirements Review

"We believe this effort will demonstrate to NASA that our systems are fully compliant with NASA requirements for human spaceflight," said George Sowers, ULA's vice president of business development. "ULA looks forward to continued work with NASA to develop a U.S. commercial crew space transportation capability providing safe, reliable, and cost effective access to and return from low Earth orbit and the International Space Station."

Credit: ULA

In 2010, NASA awarded $6.7 million to ULA to accompany its own $1.3 million investment to develop an Emergency Detection System prototype test bed. The EDS will monitor critical launch vehicle and spacecraft systems and issue status, warning and abort commands to crew during their mission to low Earth orbit. EDS is the sole significant element necessary for flight safety to meet the requirements to certify ULA's launch vehicles for human spaceflight.


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July 01, 2011
What's Next For NASA?
What's Next For NASA?

WASHINGTON - The end of the space shuttle program does not mean the end of NASA, or even of NASA sending humans into space. NASA has a robust program of exploration, technology development and scientific research that will last for years to come. Here is what's next for NASA:

NASA is designing and building the capabilities to send humans to explore the solar system, working toward a goal of landing humans on Mars. We will build the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, based on the design for the Orion capsule, with a capacity to take four astronauts on 21-day missions.

We will soon announce the design for the heavy-lift Space Launch System that will carry us out of low Earth orbit. We are developing the technologies we will need for human exploration of the solar system, including solar electric propulsion, refueling depots in orbit, radiation protection and high-reliability life support systems.

International Space Station
The International Space Station is the centerpiece of our human spaceflight activities in low Earth orbit. The ISS is fully staffed with a crew of six, and American astronauts will continue to live and work there in space 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Part of the U.S. portion of the station has been designated as a national laboratory, and NASA is committed to using this unique resource for scientific research.

The ISS is a test bed for exploration technologies such as autonomous refueling of spacecraft, advanced life support systems and human/robotic interfaces. Commercial companies are well on their way to providing cargo and crew flights to the ISS, allowing NASA to focus its attention on the next steps into our solar system.

NASA is researching ways to design and build aircraft that are safer, more fuel-efficient, quieter, and environmentally responsible. We are also working to create traffic management systems that are safer, more efficient and more flexible. We are developing technologies that improve routing during flights and enable aircraft to climb to and descend from their cruising altitude without interruption.

We believe it is possible to build an aircraft that uses less fuel, gives off fewer emissions, and is quieter, and we are working on the technologies to create that aircraft. NASA is also part of the government team that is working to develop the Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen, to be in place by the year 2025. We will continue to validate new, complex aircraft and air traffic control systems to ensure that they meet extremely high safety levels.

NASA is conducting an unprecedented array of missions that will seek new knowledge and understanding of Earth, the solar system and the universe. On July 16, the Dawn spacecraft begins a year-long visit to the large asteroid Vesta to help us understand the earliest chapter of our solar system's history. In August, the Juno spacecraft will launch to investigate Jupiter's origins, structure, and atmosphere. The September launch of the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project is a critical first step in building a next-generation Earth-monitoring satellite system.

NASA returns to the moon to study the moon's gravity field and determine the structure of the lunar interior with the October launch of GRAIL. In November, we launch the Mars Science Laboratory named Curiosity on its journey to Mars to look for evidence of microbial life on the red planet. And in February 2012, we will launch the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array to search for black holes, map supernova explosions, and study the most extreme active galaxies.


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