Improved manufacturing techniques, simplified control systems and cutting edge computers are some of the advancements industry partners of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program plan to employ to make their missions successful. This week, we’ll show you some of the notable innovations that each of the CCP partners have included in their designs up to this point in their own efforts to make spaceflight safe, reliable and cost-effective. NASA’s role in this is to offer expert advice drawn from 50 years of experience.
Astronauts today routinely conduct live interviews with Earthbound students and reporters from orbit aboard the International Space Station, but that was not always the case. NASA astronauts did not broadcast anything live from space for the Mercury or Gemini programs. The first Apollo mission changed that, however, and the Apollo 7 crew of Wally Schirra, Donn Eisele and Walt Cunningham showed the way to conduct a live show in a tradition that eventually included showing the first landing and steps onto the moon and then daily life aboard NASA’s first space station, Skylab. Shuttle astronauts spent considerable time on the flight deck in front of a camera to detail for viewers and chroniclers what it meant to work in space on some of the most sophisticated missions undertaken. Future audiences will see astronauts emerge from Commercial Crew vehicles into the space station. Check out the giant leap that broadcast quality has seen from Apollo 7’s October 1968 transmission to those seen today from the space station.
Light the candles because NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is three years old! The past three years have seen CCP and its industry partners make huge strides toward crewed spaceflight. The by-no-means-complete highlights include, from left, Blue Origin’s testing of its BE-3 engine, Boeing’s software evaluations using its new CST-100 simulator, Sierra Nevada Corporation’s glide tests of the Dream Chaser and parachute drop tests conducted by SpaceX. There is plenty of work to be done before any of them make their first flights with people on board, but the time to that milestone gets shorter every day.
Ever see the International Space Station in flight? It’s not that hard, you just have to time it right and know where to look. Depending on where your city lies as Earth rotates under the ISS orbit, there can be several chances to watch it soar over you. It will appear as a close, bright star and can take as long as six minutes to traverse the sky as it moves at 17,500 mph.
This weekend, folks in Central Florida around Orlando can see it tonight at 8:40 p.m. EDT for 2 minutes according to calculations by the station’s flight control team in Houston. It will appear 11 degrees above the south and disappear at 23 degrees. Friday morning at 6:27 offers a 5-minute pass that will see the station move from 11 degrees west-northwest moving to the south. There are more chances Saturday, the best being a 6-minute pass at 8:38 p.m. from 11 degrees southwest to 10 degrees northeast.
Of course, the station’s orbits around the world, so anyone can see the station from anywhere. To find out the best times in your area or get alerts when the station will be passing over your head, go to NASA’s Spot the Station website. It will give you a chart that looks like the one at the top and you will know exactly when to go outside and look for the Commercial Crew Program’s destination.
NASA’s own Maria Collura sat down for an interview with Kennedy Space Center’s new Spaceport Magazine. Collurra, who is certification manager for the Commercial Crew Program, details her career and inspirations for engineering in the story by Rebecca Regan. You can read the magazine in the digital newstand here or in a traditional pdf format here.
NASA’s Commercial Crew partners recently completed design reviews that are critical in producing safe and reliable spacecraft in a cost-effective manner. You can read the details here.
The flight deck is where the magic happens for a crew of space explorers. It’s the command center, the cockpit and the living area for astronauts during their missions. A great deal of research went into creating the flight deck for every spacecraft, from days when switches would only turn on an indicator light to the modern age of touchscreens. The Commercial Crew Program’s partners are designing their spacecraft to maximize the room the crew has in space and to optimize the information and actions they need to take during a flight. See if you can pick out which of these flight decks belong to which spacecraft. Your choices are: Apollo command module, Boeing’s CST-100, Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser, SpaceX’s Dragon and the space shuttle. Good luck!
Images are courtesy of their respective companies except the space shuttle, which is a NASA photo, and the Apollo cockpit which is courtesy of the National Air & Space Museum.
This afternoon, NASA announced a new commercial space initiative that could mirror the successes demonstrated by partnerships fostered through the agency’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services and Commercial Crew Program agreements. Called the Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities (CCSC), the new initiative is meant to expand human presence into the solar system and surface of Mars to advance exploration, science, innovation, benefits to humanity and international collaboration. Read more about CCSC here.
Not only have public-private partnerships secured a cargo supply line to our greatest asset in low-Earth orbit, the International Space Station, the agency also intends to certify and use commercial systems to fly astronauts from U.S. soil to the station and back.