NASA is committed to returning American space launches to U.S. soil, and an important step toward achieving that goal took place today as our commercial partner, SpaceX, undertook a flight test to see how its Crew Dragon capsule performed on a simulated escape from an emergency at launch.
SpaceX and The Boeing Company both are working on commercial space transportation systems to launch American astronauts from the United States by 2017 and end our sole reliance on the Russians to reach space. As we move toward certification of these systems, safety remains our number one priority. The pad abort test today gives us crucial insight into how SpaceX’s system would perform if a booster failed at liftoff or in any other scenario that would threaten astronauts inside the spacecraft.
The test was one of the milestones NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and SpaceX agreed to as part of the developmental effort for a privately owned and operated crew transportation system that can safely and economically carry crews to and from low-Earth orbit. The spacecraft was equipped to gather lots of information about the test and the engines, with 270 sensors and a life-sized dummy as part of the cargo.
Commercial crew is a critical component of our journey to Mars. It will enable regular service to low-Earth orbit with astronauts by 2017 while NASA develops technologies like solar electric propulsion and radiation shielding that will take us farther into the solar system. The innovation of our partners has opened a whole new segment of the economy, created good jobs, and yielded new technologies for traveling to orbit. Our investment in commercial space is paying off with achievements like this pad abort test, as well as regular cargo deliveries to the International Space Station. We must continue those investments if we are to meet our goal of launching from America again in 2017.
We’re proud of the continued progress our commercial partners are making and look forward to a robust commercial crew program as part of an integrated strategy for fully utilizing the International Space Station as a stepping stone to the rest of the solar system and sending humans to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars in the 2030s. Today’s test gets us closer to this challenging but achievable goal.
The Commercial Crew Program is four years old this week, and what a four years it has been — every year seems to bring accomplishments that outpace those of the year before! The program was formed to facilitate the development of U.S. commercial crew space transportation systems with the goal of achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from the International Space Station and low-Earth orbit.
In the past year, we’ve expanded our focus beyond the development stages of spacecraft and launch vehicle systems to complete crew transportation systems. We are working closely with four industry partners — Blue Origin, Boeing, Sierra Nevada Corporation and SpaceX — with our sights firmly set on the horizon of a new dawn of spaceflight in the very near future. We’re moving into the flight testing and certification phase with Boeing and SpaceX, the two companies chosen to take astronauts from American launch sites to the International Space Station.
We have a lot of work to do, but the goal is within reach! So let’s light these candles — one for each partner — and get on with our innovations! (By the way, we light our candles on the bottom for liftoff!)
We always get asked what our Commercial Crew logo means, so here’s a little bit of detail about the stylized swoosh and star that means so much to us here. The central design was inspired by the astronaut symbol of three lines converging at a point topped by a star and unified by a circle representing the goal of putting an astronaut into orbit, shown on the right.
For Commercial Crew, we brought the three lines together but gave them different colors – red, white and blue for America – and leaned the whole arrangement to the right to represent moving into the bright future of a stylized spacecraft represented by the star. The three lines also represent NASA working together with the American aerospace industry to accomplish the common goal of safely and cost-effectively launching astronauts into Earth orbit. We also retained a semi-circle representing orbital spaceflights, but we made it into two concentric partial circles that produce a pair of C’s for Commercial Crew.
It takes teamwork on a lot of levels to meet substantial goals and the logo was the result of a lot of hard work by Commercial Crew engineer Jon Cowart along with Carol Scott and Mike Sterling who took the time to get the feel just right. They created imagery we could all take pride in and something that would reflect America’s space-faring accomplishments and ambitions.
Former International Space Station commander and space shuttle astronaut Mike Fincke is part of the team working toward launching people again from American launch pads along Florida’s Space Coast on research missions to the station. The orbiting laboratory is a one-of-a-kind scientific platform built for microgravity research relating to fields of biology, technology and materials science. One more person on the station will allow the orbiting team to double the amount of crew time dedicated to research there to 80 hours a week. By carrying a fourth astronaut, for a total of seven crew members, NASA will be able to utilize the station to its fullest potential.
By working with the commercial aerospace industry, NASA is able to focus on sending astronauts deeper into space than ever before with the Orion Spacecraft and Space Launch System. How cool is that?
The International Space Station passes around the world once about every 90 minutes giving astronauts and cosmonauts spectacular views like this one that shows a pass over America with the familiar Florida peninsula in the frame. Florida will be the launch site for the next generation of American-built spacecraft carrying astronauts to the station. They won’t be going just for the chance to look on the world below, though. Like the current crew, station residents spend their day on station work and research. The new spacecraft from Boeing and SpaceX will increase the research performed on the station by adding a seventh crewmember. With seven people aboard, the research work will double from the current 40 hours a week to 80.
Astronauts Terry Virts and Barry Wilmore will make the third spacewalk Sunday to complete the first in a series of work to outfit the International Space Station with the mechanisms needed for Commercial Crew spacecraft to dock to the orbiting laboratory. The two adapters were built by Boeing and will be carried to the station on upcoming SpaceX cargo missions. The adapters will serve the Boeing CST-100 and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft when they fly astronauts to the station.
During Sunday’s spacewalk, Virts and Wilmore will deploy 400 feet of cable along the truss of the station and install antennas as part of the new Common Communications for Visiting Vehicles system that will provide rendezvous and navigational data to visiting vehicles approaching the station, including the new U.S. commercial crew vehicles.
NASA TV coverage Sunday will begin at 6 a.m. EST. The spacewalk will begin around 7:10 a.m. and is expected to last about 6 hours, 45 minutes. NASA TV is available online at https://www.nasa.gov/nasatv.
A set of three spacewalks by astronauts on the International Space Station will focus on preparing the orbiting laboratory for the arrival in coming years of spacecraft under development by partners of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Astronauts Barry Whitmore and Terry Virts will perform the extravehicular activities, or EVAs, on Saturday, Wednesday and Sunday, March 1. The spacewalkers will prepare two of the ports on the station to receive two docking adapters that are compatible with the hatches of Boeing’s CST-100 and the SpaceX Crew Dragon. Those two spacecraft are scheduled to be built and flight-tested then certified in 2017 leading up to operational missions to take astronauts to the station. Boeing built the adapters, and a cargo-only version of the SpaceX Dragon will be used to take them to the station later this year.
In addition to regaining America’s ability to launch astronauts to the station from U.S. soil, the new spacecraft will expand the crew of the station to seven people, which will double the amount of time astronauts can devote to research work on the station.
Spacewalks are complicated endeavors calling for detailed choreography and careful planning. You can learn more about the spacewalks and everything involved with achieving the objectives in this briefing from earlier this week.