Orion Spacecraft Recovery Rehearsal Underway

Orion Underway Recover Test 6 aboard the USS Anchorage in the Pacific Ocean.
As part of Underway Recovery Test 6, the Orion test article is pulled in by a winch line at the rear of the USS Anchorage’s well deck that brings the capsule into the ship, along with four manned LLAMAs (Line Load Attenuation Mechanism Assembly) that control the capsule’s side-to-side movement and a tending line attached to a rigid hull inflatable boat for controlling Orion’s movement behind the ship. Photo credit: NASA/Bill White

NASA’s new deep space exploration systems will send crew 40,000 miles beyond the Moon, and return them safely home. After traveling through space at 25,000 miles per hour, the Orion spacecraft will slow to 300 mph after it passes through the Earth’s atmosphere. The spacecraft then slows down to 20 mph before it safely splashes down in the Pacific Ocean.

When astronauts come back from deep space, they will need to be picked up as quickly as possible. That’s where Kennedy Space Center’s NASA Recovery Team comes in.

Under the auspices of Exploration Ground Systems, Melissa Jones, NASA’s recovery director, and her team will recover the Orion capsule and crew. NASA and the U.S. Navy are working together to ensure they are ready before the first uncrewed Orion mission aboard the agency’s new Space Launch System rocket, known as Exploration Mission-1.

This week, the integrated NASA and U.S. Navy team are aboard the USS Anchorage, testing out new ground support equipment and practicing their procedures.

After Orion completes its mission out past the Moon and heads to Earth, Jones will get the call Orion is coming home. Then, it is her job to get the joint NASA and U.S. Navy team to the capsule’s location quickly and bring it and the astronauts safely aboard the U.S. Navy recovery ship.

“We are testing all of our equipment in the actual environment we will be in when recovering Orion after Exploration Mission-1,” Jones said. “Everything we are doing today is ensuring a safe and swift recovery when the time comes for missions with crew.”

Wreath Honors Gemini, Apollo, Space Shuttle Astronaut John Young

In memory of NASA astronaut John Young, Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana placed a memorial wreath at the Heroes and Legends exhibit at the center’s visitor complex. The brief ceremony took place on the afternoon of Jan. 11, 2018. Young died Jan. 5, 2018, at the age of 87 in Houston. He was the only astronaut to fly in NASA’s Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle Programs.

Gemini, Apollo and space shuttle astronaut John Young in a portrait taken in 2002. Photo credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz
Gemini, Apollo and space shuttle astronaut John Young in a portrait taken in 2002.
Photo credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz

“NASA and the world have lost a pioneer,” acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot said in a statement. “Astronaut John Young’s storied career spanned three generations of spaceflight; we will stand on his shoulders as we look toward the next human frontier.”

Cabana also praised Young for his constant focus on flight safety.

“He tried bringing attention to technical problems so they could be dealt with,” Cabana said. “Safety was foremost in his mind. He knew we are in a very risky business, but he also knew the importance of paying attention to detail and always doing things right.”

Apollo 16 commander John Young leaps from the lunar surface as he salutes the United States flag at the Descartes landing site during the mission's first moon walk. The Lunar Module is on the left and the Lunar Roving Vehicle is parked in front. Photo credit: NASA/Charlie Duke
Apollo 16 commander John Young leaps from the lunar surface as he salutes the United States flag at the Descartes landing site during the mission’s first moon walk. The lunar module is on the left and the lunar roving vehicle is parked in front.
Photo credit: NASA/Charlie Duke

Young served as pilot on Gemini III, command pilot on Gemini 10, command module pilot for Apollo 10 and commander of the Apollo 16 moon landing mission.

Young was selected to command the first flight of the Space Shuttle Program, STS-1. He later was commander of STS-9, the first shuttle mission to carry the European Space Agency’s Spacelab module. During STS-9, Young became the first person to fly in space a sixth time.

Among his many awards and honors, Young was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame on March 19, 1993.

“John was one of that group of early space pioneers whose bravery and commitment sparked our nation’s first great achievements in space,” Lightfoot said. “But, not content with that, his hands-on contributions continued long after the last of his six spaceflights.”

Photo credit: NASA/ Frank Michaux


Commercial Crew 2018 Preview

Combined image with Boeing Starliner in production on the left, and SpaceX Falcon 9 build on the rightNASA and industry partners, Boeing and SpaceX, are targeting the return of human spaceflight from Florida’s Space Coast in 2018. Both companies are scheduled to begin flight tests to prove the space systems meet NASA’s requirements for certification in the coming year.

Since NASA awarded contracts to Boeing and SpaceX, the companies have matured space system designs and now have substantial spacecraft and launch vehicle hardware in development and testing in preparation for the test flights. The goal of the Commercial Crew Program is safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station from the United States through a public-private approach. NASA, Boeing and SpaceX have significant testing underway, which will ultimately lead to test missions when the systems are ready and meet safety requirements.

Boeing’s Starliner will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon will launch on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A.

After completion of each company’s uncrewed and crewed flight tests, NASA will review the flight data to verify the systems meet the requirements for certification. Upon NASA certification, the companies are each slated to fly six crew missions to the International Space Station beginning in 2019 and continuing through 2024.

Here’s a look at (some of) what’s ahead in 2018:


Spacecraft: In 2018, Boeing will continue with the production and outfitting of three crew modules and multiple service modules inside the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Boeing already has a structural version of its spacecraft going through loads, shock and separation test events in Huntington Beach, California. It will conduct a series of service module hot-fire tests in White Sands, New Mexico, as well as environmental testing to include thermal, vacuum and electromagnetic frequency in El Segundo, California.

Spacesuit: Boeing’s spacesuit will continue to undergo integrated system verification tests. These include environmental control and life support system testing, immersing the suit in water, egress demos with the aid of virtual reality, suited launch and landing cabin operations, prelaunch emergency exit with ground crews, ascent simulations with mission operations teams and post-landing egress.


Spacecraft: SpaceX is making significant progress on the six Crew Dragon spacecraft that the company currently has in various stages of production and testing. SpaceX’s structural qualification module has undergone extensive testing, which is scheduled to be complete in the first half of 2018. The company will continue ongoing hardware and software testing on its Environment Control and Life Support System, or ECLSS, module, through early 2018. The crew module that will be used to support SpaceX’s upcoming Demonstration Mission 1 has had its critical onboard avionics powered up and has completed integration of the module’s pressure section and service section’s structural components with preparations ongoing for its flight in 2018. Progress continues on SpaceX’s spacecraft for Demonstration Mission 2 and both of the company’s initial crew rotation missions.

Spacesuit: SpaceX will continue ongoing qualification and validation testing on its advanced spacesuits next year, including NASA’s four CCP flight test astronauts for a variety of the assessments, including suit-fit, reach and visibility assessments, and pressure tests. The company is in the process of manufacturing custom suits for each of the four astronauts, which will ensure a proper fit and comfortable ride to and from the International Space Station in the Crew Dragon spacecraft.

Read the full feature here:

Commercial Crew Program 2017 Year in Review

In this composite image, at left, an astronaut wears the SpaceX spacesuit design. At right, an astronaut wears the Boeing spacesuit design.
Left: SpaceX unveiled the first look at its new spacesuit design that astronauts flying to and from the International Space Station will wear inside the Crew Dragon spacecraft. Right: Boeing unveiled the company’s new, blue spacesuit astronauts will wear while aboard the Starliner spacecraft to and from the International Space Station.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and commercial partners, Boeing and SpaceX, made significant strides in 2017 to return human spaceflight to the United States. Each company continued to develop and test unique space systems to fly astronauts for the agency to and from the International Space Station. Both companies are targeting flight tests in 2018.

Here’s the 2017 year in review:

Crew Rotation Missions Secured
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program started the year by securing an additional four crew rotation missions from Boeing and SpaceX. The missions will carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station through 2024. The four additional missions fall under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contracts and bring the total number of crew rotation missions awarded to each provider to six. The missions will fly following NASA certification.

To meet NASA’s requirements, the commercial providers must demonstrate that their systems are ready to begin regular flights to the space station. Two of those demonstrations are uncrewed flight tests, known as Orbital Flight Test for Boeing, and Demonstration Mission 1 for SpaceX. After the uncrewed flight tests, each company will carry out a flight test with crew prior to being certified by NASA for crew rotation missions.

The Crew
NASA’s four astronauts training to fly the test flights on Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spent time evaluating both providers’ progress during 2017. The astronauts are learning about the systems, being fitted for spacesuits and readying for flight tests to and from the International Space Station.

The International Space Station
The International Space Station continued to prepare for the new commercial spacecraft to arrive. During Orbital ATK’s resupply mission to the space station in November, the cargo spacecraft maneuvered above the Harmony module prior to its release. There, it gathered data relevant to future rendezvous and docking operations for U.S. commercial crew vehicles that will be arriving for a linkup to Harmony’s international docking adapters. Other work included the space station crew installing and performing check-outs of a control panel on Harmony for the docking adapter.

Check out more progress – the full feature here: