Safety is a top priority as NASA and SpaceX prepare for liftoff of the company’s second demonstration flight test (Demo-2), the first flight to carry astronauts to the International Space Station onboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The teams conducted an emergency egress exercise at Launch Complex 39A at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on April 3. The end-to-end demonstration is the latest in a series of similar exercises to ensure the crew and support teams can quickly evacuate from the launch pad in the unlikely event of an emergency prior to liftoff.
NASA and SpaceX personnel, including the Kennedy pad rescue team, participated in the exercise. The primary objective was to demonstrate the teams’ ability to safely evacuate crew members from the launch pad during an emergency situation. Teams rehearsed locating injured personnel on the 265-foot-level of the launch tower, loading them into the pad’s slidewire baskets and safely descending the tower, then successfully loading the injured participants into Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles staged at the pad perimeter.
Scheduled for launch no earlier than May 2020, Demo-2 will be the first launch of NASA astronauts from American soil to the International Space Station since the space shuttle era. It also is the final flight test for the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft system to be certified for regular flights to the station with crew onboard.
The assembly, test and launch operations team from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is working at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, making significant strides in preparing the agency’s Mars Perseverance rover for its planned July 2020 launch. Final assembly and testing of the rover continue at Kennedy, including the recent installation of its wheels and parachute.
The rover received its six flight wheels on March 30. The wheels are re-engineered versions of the ones NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has been using on the Red Planet.
Augmented reality, also known as AR, is a powerful tool that engineers are using to enable NASA to send humans to the Moon under the agency’s Artemis program. Lockheed Martin, lead contractor for NASA’s Orion spacecraft, is currently using AR to increase efficiency in building the spacecraft for Artemis II, the first crewed mission aboard Orion.
Mary Lakaszcyck, a technician with ASRC Federal Data Solutions, a subcontractor to Lockheed Martin, wears a pair of AR goggles as she places tape in locations where technicians will install parts on Orion’s crew module adapter. The work is taking place in the high bay of the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The goggle technology provides a unique function for understanding the dynamic work environment of assembling complex hardware, such as a spacecraft that will fly humans to deep space. Instead of interpreting the work procedure from text or models on a 2-D screen, the instructions appear overlaid in 3-dimensional space onto the physical spacecraft while wearing the goggles.
“I honestly cannot express how helpful, time-saving, and fun, the AR goggles are to use,” Lakaszcyck said. “For something we are used to doing in at least a week’s time, or eight to 12 shifts, we were able to complete in one shift.”
Lakaszcyck said looking through the goggles and seeing exactly where to place items on the spacecraft, what orientation to place them, and the reference number that accompanies them, makes the process more efficient than ever.
The goggles are not a passing fad. They are one of the specialized tools in Lockheed Martin’s repertoire used by the processing team to prepare the Orion spacecraft for its flight. The company started using the technology in 2017.
“We used the goggles on manufacturing activities for the Orion that will fly on Artemis I,” said Shelley Peterson, who specializes in augmented and mixed reality with Lockheed Martin. “Augmented reality is helping us push the boundaries to perform activities much more rapidly than with traditional methods.”
Carlos Garcia, NASA crew module adapter assembly, integration and test lead for Orion production operations, is pleased with the time-saving results from using AR technology for click bonds. Click bonds are fasteners that secure the miles of wiring harnesses to the spacecraft structure.
“For the crew module adapter effort, using this technology for locating click bonds for securing harnesses equated to up to a three week savings,” said Garcia.
AR goggle-wearers will place several critical spaceflight components on the Orion hardware, including the crew module and heat shield for Artemis II. They also will use augmented reality work instructions to assemble the crew seats for the spacecraft.
“Across four sites, we use augmented reality to complete spacecraft manufacturing activities in 90% less time than with traditional methods. For example, an activity that normally takes 8 hours could be completed in 45 minutes,” Peterson said. “If we look just at fasteners, one Orion space vehicle has more than 57,000 cable harness fasteners. Saving time per fastener adds up quickly!”
Peterson says using augmented reality work instructions removes almost all of the interpretation, and workers understand the task at hand immediately.
Manufactured by Microsoft, the HoloLens 2 is the second iteration of the goggles used by Lockheed Martin. Lockheed builds the content for the goggles in-house using WorkLink, an augmented reality software platform developed by Scope AR.
“Looking back even four years ago, I never would have pictured myself working hands-on with a spacecraft going into deep space,” Lakaszcyck said. “I’ve worked on three different vehicles, including the current one for Artemis II that will take humans into space. Now that I am a part of the Artemis generation, it is an irreplaceable feeling of not just excitement, but responsibility.”
Under the Artemis program, NASA will land the first woman and the next man on the Moon. Orion will launch on the agency’s Space Launch System rocket to carry the crew to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during space travel, and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities. NASA will develop a sustainable presence at the Moon and apply knowledge gained to send astronauts to Mars.
When the Mars Perseverance rover begins its seven-month journey to the Red Planet in mid-July, it will be carrying the names of more than 10 million people throughout the world.
Those names were etched onto three microchips, which were placed aboard Perseverance. On March 16, 2020, inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the “Names to Mars” logo was installed on the rover.
Those who took advantage of the special public promotion also had the opportunity to receive a souvenir boarding pass and obtain “frequent flyer points” as part of humanity’s first round trip to another planet. In total, 10,932,295 people submitted their names. Turkey (2,528,844), India (1,778,277) and the United States (1,733,559) all had more than 1 million submissions.
Perseverance will search for signs of past microbial life, characterize the planet’s climate and geology, collect samples for future return to Earth, and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet.
Earlier this month at Kennedy, activities to measure mass properties of the Cruise Stage vehicle were performed on the spin table inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility. Successful testing also was performed on NASA’s Mars Helicopter, which will be attached to Perseverance. The helicopter will be the first aircraft to fly on another planet.
NASA’s Orion spacecraft for Artemis I returned to the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 25 after engineers put it through the rigors of environmental testing at NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Ohio. At Kennedy, the spacecraft will undergo final processing and preparations prior to launching on the first in a series of increasingly complex missions to the Moon that will ultimately lead to the exploration of Mars.
The spacecraft – comprised of the crew module and service module – arrived in Ohio during the fall of 2019, where two phases of testing occurred inside the world’s largest space simulation vacuum chamber. First, the spacecraft demonstrated it could handle the extreme temperatures of space during thermal vacuum testing, simulating sunlight and shadow Orion will encounter during flight. During this test, the spacecraft was exposed to temperatures ranging from -250 to around 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Next, an electromagnetic interference and compatibility test verified all of Orion’s electronics work correctly when operating simultaneously and in the electromagnetic environments it will encounter during its mission.
“The test went exceptionally well, especially considering we were doing all of this for the first time,” said Nicole Smith, testing project manager at NASA’s Glenn Research Center. “We found a lot of efficiencies throughout the thermal vacuum phase, and overcame a few facility equipment challenges early during electromagnetic interference testing, but our combined NASA, Lockheed Martin, ESA (European Space Agency) and Airbus team was able to complete the testing ahead of schedule.”
Arriving at Kennedy in the agency’s Super Guppy aircraft, Orion is now ready to undergo its next phase of processing. Before it can be integrated with the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, the Orion spacecraft will go through a final round of testing and assembly, including end-to-end performance verification of the vehicle’s subsystems, checking for leaks in the spacecraft’s propulsion systems, installing its solar array wings, performing spacecraft closeouts and pressurizing a subset of its tanks in preparation for flight.
Orion will then begin its ground processing journey with Exploration Ground Systems. The first stop on the journey will be at Kennedy’s Multi-Payload Processing Facility for fueling and pressurizing of its remaining tanks, and after this, to the Launch Abort System Facility for integration with the spacecraft’s launch abort system (LAS). After installation of the LAS, engineers will transport Orion to the Vehicle Assembly Building, where they will stack the spacecraft atop SLS when the rocket arrives to Kennedy. Once integrated with SLS, a team of technicians and engineers will perform additional tests and checkouts to verify Orion and SLS operate as expected together.
“The Artemis program is the future of human space exploration, and to be a part of the design, assembly and testing of NASA’s newest spacecraft is an incredible, once-in-a-career opportunity,” said Amy Marasia, spacecraft assembly operations lead in Orion production operations at Kennedy. “Witnessing the daily transformation of numerous individual flight hardware components and parts into a fully equipped and operational spacecraft is one of my favorite parts of this job.”
NASA’s Super Guppy transport was assisted by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), who provide specialized equipment and services to load and offload the spacecraft from the Super Guppy, and the Ohio Air National Guard, who provided supplemental air cargo transport services for support equipment and overnight hangar storage for the spacecraft prior to the Super Guppy airlift. NASA, DoD and the Ohio Air National Guard made the decision to continue with the transport operation after a full assessment determined that the risks to personnel due to COVID-19 would be low and could be reduced by steps taken during the operation.
“NASA sincerely thanks the DoD personnel from the United States Air Force’s Air Mobility Command who helped us accomplish this mission essential operation during these trying times,” said Mark Kirasich, manager for the Orion Program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “Specifically, we’d like to thank the 437th Aerial Port Squadron from Joint Base Charleston and the 305th Aerial Port Squadron/87th Logistics Readiness Squadron from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst of the U.S. Air Force Air Mobility Command, the 45th Logistics Readiness Squadron from Patrick Air Force Base of the U.S. Air Force Space Command, and the 179th Airlift Wing from Mansfield-Lahm of the Ohio Air National Guard.”
Under the Artemis program, NASA will land the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024. Through the Gateway – an outpost in lunar orbit – the agency will develop a sustainable presence in deep space, taking what crew members learn on the lunar surface and applying that to the journey on to Mars. As the first integrated flight of SLS and Orion, Artemis I is critical to providing the foundation for human deep-space exploration.
“With Orion back at Kennedy, we’re ready,” said Scott Wilson, NASA Orion production operations manager. “Ready to finalize the vehicle and send it to be integrated for its voyage to deep space, tackling the next era of human space exploration.”
The Mars 2020 mission involving NASA’s newly named rover — Perseverance — received a significant boost following the completion of important testing at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Activities to measure mass properties of the Cruise Stage vehicle were performed on the spin table inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility. Successful testing also was performed on NASA’s Mars Helicopter, which will be attached to Perseverance. The functional test (50 RPM spin) was executed on the stand in the airlock. This marked the last time the rotor blades will be operated until the rover reaches the Martian surface.
The NASA Mars Helicopter will be the first aircraft to fly on another planet. The twin-rotor, solar-powered helicopter will remain encapsulated after landing, deploying once mission managers determine an acceptable area to conduct test flights.
On March 5, 2020, NASA announced Perseverance as the new name for the ars 2020 rover. Alexander Mather, a seventh-grader from Virginia, provided the winning name for the rover with his entry in the agency’s Name the Rover essay contest.
About the size of a car with dimensions similar to the Curiosity rover, Perseverance was developed under NASA’s Mars Exploration Program. The mission aims to search for signs of past microbial life, characterize the planet’s climate and geology, collect samples for future return to Earth and pave the way for human exploration of Mars.
Digging on the Moon is a hard job for a robot. It has to be able to collect and move lunar soil, or regolith, but anything launching to the Moon needs to be lightweight. The problem is excavators rely on their weight and traction to dig on Earth. NASA has a solution, but is looking for ideas to make it better. Once matured, robotic excavators could help NASA establish a sustainable presence on the Moon under the Artemis lunar exploration program, a few years after landing astronauts on the surface.
Engineers have tested various configurations of a Moon-digging robot called RASSOR – short for Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot – in a large lunar simulant sand box at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Now, NASA is asking the public to help design a new bucket drum, the portion of the robot that captures the regolith and keeps it from falling out. The regolith can then be transported to a designated location where reverse rotation of the drum allows it to fall back out.
RASSOR’s current bucket drums are hollow cylinders positioned on either end of the robot, with scoops around the circumference of the cylinders. The robot digs in opposing ends toward the other, which balances the excavation forces and makes it easier to dig.
NASA’s RASSOR Bucket Drum Design Challenge is open through April 20, 2020. The challenge, sponsored by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), seeks a better shape for RASSOR’s bucket drum and baffling, or sheet metal inside of it that can capture and hold more regolith. GrabCAD, a website people can join and post 3D models of almost anything, hosts the challenge and eligible individuals, with an idea can submit original designs that have not been previously published, exhibited or put into production for this important part of RASSOR.
“We’ve held challenges on GrabCAD in the past and they were very successful,” said Jason Schuler, a robotics engineer in the Exploration Research and Technology Programs at Kennedy. “As a repository for computer-aided design, the platform helps us reach professional designers, engineers, manufacturers and students outside of the space industry who may have an idea that could benefit NASA.”
Successful designs for this competition will have a fill ratio of higher than 50%, which means the design’s interior volume will be more than half full with regolith when it reached the maximum amount it can hold.
“With RASSOR, we’re no longer relying on the traction or the weight of the robot. It is possible to excavate on the Moon or Mars with a really lightweight robot,” Schuler said.
“RASSOR is excavation and transportation all in one, but we’d like to improve the design.”
At the end of the competition, the design entries will be judged on a set of criteria, including width of the scoops, bucket drum mass, diameter and length, volume of regolith captured and practicality of the design. In addition to the CAD files, entries must include a short description of how the design works.
A total of $7,000 will be awarded for the top five submissions. For more information about prize amounts and how to enter, visit:
The challenge is funded by NASA’s Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative within STMD, which champions technologies needed to live on and explore the Moon. NASA Tournament Lab, part of STMD’s Prizes and Challenges program, manages the challenge. The program supports the use of public competitions and crowdsourcing as tools to advance NASA R&D and other mission needs.
Learn more about opportunities to participate in your space program via NASA prizes and challenges: www.nasa.gov/solve
Artemis includes sending a suite of new science instruments and technology demonstrations to study the Moon, landing the first woman and next man on the lunar surface by 2024, and establishing a sustained presence by 2028. The agency will leverage its Artemis experience and technologies to prepare for the next giant leap – sending astronauts to Mars. RASSOR is a technology project being developed by Swamp Works at Kennedy that could be used on the Moon or Mars.
Maintaining a safe and healthy workforce remains a top priority at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and this year, that was reinforced through the center’s annual Safety and Health Days. The theme – Know What Matters – was amplified through a wide variety of events and presentations for employees to attend March 2–10, 2020.
Safety and Health Days kicked off Monday, March 2, with a presentation by NASA astronaut Stan Love, who was first selected to be an astronaut in 1998 and now serves as a crew representative for the agency’s Space Launch System. Love, along with six crew members, launched to the International Space Station in 2002 on STS-122, spending nearly two weeks in space to install the station’s Columbus Laboratory module.
“During that time, nothing scary happened. And that’s thanks in part to people in this room,” he said. Love, excited to witness astronauts launch from Florida once again in the near future, went on to discuss how activities at Kennedy are ramping up with commercial partners Boeing and SpaceX under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
“It’s good to see activity and optimism and looking forward here,” he said. “But these new vehicles may present us with some scary moments. And the big question we’re all asking ourselves – especially on safety day and especially here at the Kennedy Space Center – is are we ready?”
Kennedy Center Director Bob Cabana also provided some opening remarks on March 2 prior to introducing Love as the guest speaker.
“We’ve got some huge challenges in front of us this year, and we’re going to have to make some tough decisions,” he said. “My number one goal this year is to safely fly crews on U.S. rockets from right here at KSC to the International Space Station. I just want to make sure that we’ve done our very best to prepare so that when we fly our crews on these vehicles, we’re confident that we’ve played our role to make sure it’s as safe as it can possibly be.”
On Wednesday, March 4, Jim Wetherbee, a retired U.S. Navy captain and former NASA astronaut, spoke to Kennedy employees on the topic of controlling risk in a dangerous world, which focused largely on the importance of mental attitude and preparedness.
“We’re all humans, we all make mistakes. But in a dangerous business, the smallest mistake can quickly cascade to disaster,” he said. “You have to follow the rules – you have to have policies and procedures – but we supplement the rules with techniques, and largely those techniques are mental attitudes that are so critical and important for controlling risk, staying alive and accomplishing the mission.”
The subject of employee health and wellbeing, both at home and at work, was another main focus throughout the week.
“What we put in our bodies can directly affect how we feel and function. You would think that would be reason enough to motivate us to eat healthier, but for some reason, it just doesn’t. It’s my mission to redefine what healthy means by making it simple,” said Carly Paige, an integrative nutrition health coach and chef, during a presentation on Thursday, March 5.
Paige’s presentation included suggestions on how to improve health and energy levels throughout the day by incorporating simple food swaps into snacks and meals, such as using coconut sugar instead of white or brown sugar, lentil pasta in place of classic pasta or eating carrots with hummus instead of chips. She also discussed how healthy living habits stem from a change in lifestyle.
Extending into the weekend was the Tour de KSC – a bicycle tour of Kennedy open for all employees to attend. The tour included three different routes available for individuals to choose from, with lengths ranging from seven to 33 miles. All routes provided participants with photo opportunities with some of Kennedy’s most iconic structures and facilities, such as the Vehicle Assembly Building, Launch and Landing Facility, Launch Pad 39A and more. Also available for employees to attend was the KSC Walk Run, on Tuesday, March 10, at the landing facility. The Walk Run allowed participants to choose from a simultaneously occurring two-mile walk or run, 5K run and 10K run.
While these presentations and events may only happen once every year, one thing remains constant: The workforce at Kennedy knows what matters. And that involves taking care of one another and performing safe operations here on Earth to support safe and healthy crews in space, allowing NASA to continue pushing the boundaries of space exploration.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 11:50 p.m. EST on March 6, 2020, carrying the uncrewed cargo Dragon spacecraft on its journey to the International Space Station for NASA and SpaceX’s 20th Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-20) mission.