NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Apollo, Challenger, Columbia Lessons Learned Program (ACCLLP) focused on space shuttle Columbia and crew recovery efforts during an employee event Jan. 26. The theme of the presentation was “Columbia: Lessons and Legends of Recovery.”
When Columbia and her crew of seven were lost during re-entry 15 years ago, the recovery efforts became the largest ground search in the history of the United States. Federal, state, county and local agencies, in addition to thousands of patriotic American citizens, joined together to help with recovery efforts that focused mainly in Lufkin, Texas.
Kennedy Center Director Bob Cabana served as the moderator for a panel discussion that included several guests with powerful direct connections to that fateful day and the recovery efforts. They were Dave King, former director of Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and NASA Columbia Recovery director; Mike Leinbach, former shuttle launch director; Jonathan Ward, author and space historian; Gerry Schumann, NASA Mishap Investigation manager; Greg Cohrs, U.S. Forestry Service ranger, stationed in Hemphill, Texas, close to Lufkin; and Mike Ciannilli, ACCLLP manager.
“It’s important to have our day of remembrance,” Cabana said. “We have a huge challenge in front of us as we prepare for our next journey.”
NASA’s Recovery Team from Kennedy Space Center just finished a week at sea, testing and improving their processes and ground support hardware to recover astronauts in the Orion capsule once they splash down in the Pacific Ocean. Aboard the USS Anchorage, NASA and the U.S. Navy worked together to run through different sea conditions, time of day and equipment scenarios—putting hardware and the people through their paces.
Astronaut Stephen Bowen was aboard as an observer to better understand the recovery procedures and to offer an astronaut’s perspective. As a former Navy captain, Bowen has a wealth of knowledge to impart to the team—helping them better understand what the crew will be going through as they are bobbing up and down in the capsule after spending time in microgravity.
“I understand what it’s like to be on a boat that doesn’t have a keel (a structural beam that runs in the middle from bow to stern to give it stability) in the open ocean,” Bowen said. “It’s not necessarily the friendliest of places to be.” And add that to the physical manifestations of re-entering a gravity environment after several weeks, Bowen’s first-hand knowledge will be paramount for the team as they hone their plans to make recovery smooth.
During the weeklong testing, the team made strides in developing the final recovery plan and even shaved 15 minutes off their best time. “When the astronauts return to Earth, we are required to retrieve them within two hours,” said NASA Recovery Director Melissa Jones, “but our goal is to get to them as quickly and safely as possible—we are shooting for half that time.”
The team still has several tests scheduled between now and Orion’s first uncrewed flight atop the new Space Launch System rocket, known as Exploration Mission-1. The mission will pave the way for future crewed missions and enable future missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond. During the flight, Orion will travel thousands of miles beyond the Moon before splashing down into the Pacific, where NASA’s Recovery Team will be ready and waiting for her.
Each year Kennedy Space Center employees and guests join others throughout NASA to honor the contributions of astronauts who have perished in the conquest of space. The Day of Remembrance activities pay tribute to astronauts who acknowledged space is an unforgiving environment, but believed exploration is worth the risk.
In a message to NASA employees, Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot spoke of the meaning to the observance.
“The Day of Remembrance is a stark reminder that exploration can be a painfully unforgiving endeavor,” he said. “The task ahead for us will be no less challenging. I believe we best honor these brave explorers by continuing this exploration journey – with a stiffened resolve from the past buoyed by the spirit and passion of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
This year’s observance at the Florida spaceport was hosted by the Astronauts Memorial Foundation (AMF) with activities including a Jan. 25 ceremony at Kennedy’s visitor complex.
During Kennedy’s ceremony, Center Director Bob Cabana and AMF Board Chair Eileen Collins, both former space shuttle commanders, spoke emphasizing that flight safety must continue to be a paramount concern.
Sally Kneuven, daughter of NASA astronaut Elliot See, and Karen Stevenson, daughter of astronaut Charles Bassett, each spoke of their fathers who had been selected to fly the Gemini IX mission in 1966. Both See and Bassett were killed on Feb. 28, 1966, when their T-38 jet crashed into a McDonnell Aircraft building in St. Louis. They were attempting to land at nearby Lambert Field airport during inclement weather which caused poor visibility.
Also speaking was Beth Williams, who recalled her husband, NASA astronaut Clifton Williams. Following training at the Kennedy Space Center, he was lost when his T-38 went down near Tallahassee, Florida, on Oct. 5, 1967.
Brent Adams told of his father, U.S. Air Force astronaut Mike Adams. On Nov. 15, 1967, Mike Adams was making his seventh flight piloting the X-15 experimental rocket-powered aircraft. He flew the X-15 to an altitude of 50.4 miles, surpassing the threshold of space. But during flight there was a problem with the X-15’s control system causing the aircraft to crash north
During the Day of Remembrance event a musical tribute was presented by Tal Ramon, son of STS-107 payload specialist Ilan Ramon, a pilot in the Israeli Air Force. Ilan Ramon and his Columbia crew mates were lost when the space shuttle broke apart during re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003. Tal Ramon played two selections from his latest record, “Dmut,” a Hebrew word for character, and “Victoria.”
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.”
Although NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is famous for spectacular rocket-launch light shows, guests visiting the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on Wednesday night, Dec. 20, were treated to an entirely different optical experience.
The complex’s Holidays in Space 2017 kicked off with a dazzling performance by the dance group Fighting Gravity, which uses optical illusions, black light and the interplay of light and dark in its gravity-defying choreography. The group, which took home third place on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” is bringing its unique style to the spaceport with nightly performances in the towering Rocket Garden.
Visitors also were treated to some rockets’ red glare in the form of a fireworks finale.
Holidays in Space 2017 includes nightly performances from Dec. 20 through Dec. 31, excluding Dec. 25. All shows are open to park guests. For more information, visit:
Engineers and technicians gathered in the Prototype Development Laboratory at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 8, 2017, to sign a banner marking the successful delivery of a liquid oxygen test tank, affectionately named “Tardis” due to its large rectangular shape. The tank, made of aluminum, was built at the lab to support cryogenic testing at Johnson Space Center’s White Sands Test Facility in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
The tank is close to 12 feet tall and weighs 3,810 pounds. One side of the tank is curved to simulate the shape of a rocket for testing.
Engineers and technicians came together to work on the tank. It was designed by Robert Whited, a mechanical engineer at Kennedy. Following a critical design review in July 2017, construction of the tank began in August. Large sheets of aluminum were used to make the tank. All of the parts were welded together by Phil Stroda, a professional welder with NASA.
“This is a tremendous example of Kennedy’s engineering infrastructure being able to investigate and solve problems for major space programs,” said Pat Simpkins, Kennedy Engineering director.
Todd Steinrock, who is the chief of the Fabrication and Development Branch, and manager of the Prototype Development Lab, said this is a great example of the value of collaboration between engineers and engineering technicians.
“The technical input from the Prototype Lab technicians, especially our welder, had a huge impact on the design of the tank,” Steinrock said. “We refer to it as ‘Design for Manufacturability.’ The technician’s advice led to an improved design and fast fabrication.”
The test tank was loaded into a truck on Dec. 11 and transported to White Sands. At White Sands, the test tank will be filled with cryogenic fluids and simulate processing of flight hardware. The tank will be instrumented and the data that is collected will assist engineers in validating various structure, thermal and fluid models.
The Prototype Development Lab has been operating at Kennedy for more than 50 years.
Electronic devices such as televisions, computers and cellular telephones play a vital role in daily life. Over time, however, these modern wonders wear out and become waste. NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida recently partnered with Goodwill Industries and several other local organizations to collect these and other used household items as part of America Recycles Day.
The annual event is a nationally recognized program of Keep America Beautiful, dedicated to promoting and celebrating recycling in the U.S. Each year around mid-November, America Recycles Day organizers work to tell Americans about the value of not discarding no-longer-needed items.
Keep America Beautiful Senior Vice President of Recycling Brenda Pulley emphasized the organization’s goal while speaking at a congressional staff briefing during last year’s event.
“Since 1953, Keep America Beautiful has worked to fulfill a vision of a country where every community is a clean, green and beautiful place to live,” she said. “Our mission is to inspire and educate people to take action every day to improve and beautify their community environment.”
On Nov. 14 and 15, Kennedy employees worked to keep communities around the spaceport clean and green by bringing in items for recycling, dropping them off in the parking lots of the Kennedy Data Center and Vehicle Assembly Building. While much of what was turned in was electronic waste, items included everything from gently used household products, to greeting cards and serviceable eyeglasses.
All totaled, spaceport employees made approximately 295 drop-offs.
These efforts are paying off. According to the website of Keep America Beautiful, over the past 30 years the national recycling rate in the United States has increased by 34 percent.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that electronic products are made from valuable resources and materials. Recycling consumer electronics conserves natural resources and avoids air and water pollution, as well as greenhouse gas emissions caused by manufacturing. Recycling one million laptop computers saves the energy equivalent to the electricity used annually by more than 3,500 U.S. homes. For every million cellphones recycled, 35,000 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold and 33 pounds of palladium can be recovered.
When astronauts depart for missions to deep space, they will cross the Crew Access Arm about 300 feet above the ground to board their spacecraft. The access arm was delivered to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Oct. 17, 2017, to install on the mobile launcher in preparation for the first flight of the Space Launch System rocket, or SLS, and the Orion spacecraft.
The SLS will be the largest rocket in the world and will be stacked with Orion inside the historic Vehicle Assembly Building, or VAB, on the mobile launcher and rolled out to the pad prior to launch. The access arm will be one of 11 connection points to the rocket and spacecraft from the tower on the mobile launcher. After technicians install the arm, the mobile launcher will be rolled into the VAB for validation and verification tests.
For the first launch without crew, the access arm will provide a bridge to Orion for personnel and equipment entering the spacecraft during processing and prelaunch integrated testing while in the VAB and at the launch site. The arm is made up of two major components: the truss assembly and the environmental enclosure, or the white room. The arm will provide entry and emergency egress for astronauts and technicians into the Orion spacecraft. On future human missions, astronauts outfitted with newly designed space suits will enter the white room, where they will be assisted by technicians into the spacecraft for launch. The arm will retract before launch, and the other connections will release at liftoff, allowing the rocket and spacecraft to safely clear the launch pad.
Engineers lifted and installed a third umbilical on the mobile launcher at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for a fit check. The tower on the mobile launcher will be equipped with several connections or launch umbilicals like this one. After the fit check was completed, the umbilical was lowered down and will be installed permanently at a later date.
The umbilicals will provide power, communications, coolant and fuel. They will be used to connect the mobile launcher to the agency’s Space Launch System (made up of the core stage, twin solid rocket boosters, and the interim cryogenic propulsion stage) and the Orion spacecraft mounted on top of SLS.
An area on the SLS between the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen tanks is known as the core stage inter-tank. The core-stage inter-tank umbilical is the third in a series of five new umbilicals for the mobile launcher. Its main function is to vent excess gaseous hydrogen from the rocket’s core stage. This umbilical also will provide conditioned air, pressurized gases, and power and data connection to the core stage.
The Orion service module umbilical and the core stage forward skirt umbilical were previously installed on the tower. The service module umbilical will connect from the mobile launch tower to the Orion service module. Prior to launch, the umbilical will transfer liquid coolant for the electronics and purge air/gaseous nitrogen for environmental control. The SLS core stage forward skirt is near the top of the core stage, and the forward skirt umbilical provides connections and conditioned air/gaseous nitrogen to the core stage of the rocket. All these umbilicals will swing away from the rocket and spacecraft just before launch.
Several other umbilicals were previously installed on the mobile launcher. These include two aft skirt purge umbilicals, which will connect to the SLS rocket at the bottom outer edge of each booster and provide electrical power and data connections, remove hazardous gases, and maintain the right temperature range with a nitrogen purge in the boosters until SLS lifts off from the launch pad.
With the challenges involved in space exploration, NASA understands the need to fill its workforce with innovative employees and to help them maximize their capabilities.
On Oct. 5, schools, organizations and individuals from around the globe participated in a special webcast to learn from NASA employees with disabilities who have found rewarding, successful careers in the space program, including the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and this year’s theme — “Inclusion Drives Innovation” — is exemplified by NASA.
“We need people of different backgrounds and different experiences to help create innovation to solve those challenging problems that will allow us to go to the Moon, Mars and beyond,” said Kennedy Space Center Associate Director Kelvin Manning.
Employees shared their backgrounds, challenges and triumphs in pursuit of their dreams, highlighting how they have pushed NASA to meet the needs of every individual.
“In all my life, I never imagined that I would be working for NASA. I have been here for 26 years and I can say how proud I am to work here,” said Nicole Delvesco, a NASA systems accountant. Delvesco is co-chair of Kennedy’s Disability Awareness and Action Working Group, currently in its 25th year at the spaceport. “The agency is wonderful about hiring people with disabilities, and helping people with disabilities so that they can be successful in their jobs.”
According to the final tally, there were 456 webcast views from 23 states, Washington, D.C., and eight countries. Using a standard classroom ratio, it’s estimated the event reached 11,400 people.
“The best part of this event was that most of the questions coming in were from students who had disabilities similar to our experts, who never thought NASA was within their reach,” said NASA Project Coordinator Bethanne Hull. “I am still in awe of the amazing people across our agency. We reached the audience we hoped to inspire.”