Today NASA announced a plan that was largely expected but is now official: Orion, the scrapped then not-scrapped crew module from the definitely scrapped Constellation Program, will serve as the backbone of a new NASA crew module slated to go into service by 2016. Lockheed Martin, which never stopped working on its Orion capsule, will continue developing the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), the next-gen rocket-launched capsule that will carry a crew of four on missions lasting up to three weeks.
After a rollercoaster year for NASA, it looks like Congress isn't quite done tinkering with the space agency's future. A return to the moon is back on the table after a Florida congressman introduced a moon-centric bill in the House of Representatives, which he's calling the "Reasserting American Leadership in Space Act," or the REAL Space Act. Really.
With just two shuttle mission left on the schedule, NASA’s next-gen crew vehicle had a big coming out party today as Lockheed Martin unveiled the first Orion spacecraft as well as a sprawling $35 million training center near Denver, Colo. Both the spacecraft and the astronauts that will eventually fly on it will undergo extensive testing here as the program ratchets up for operational deployment within just five years.
Instructed by his father, 9-year-old Jose Hernandez marched up to the family television set to wriggle the rabbit-ears antenna, hoping to sharpen the black-and-white image of American men walking on the moon. It was December 1972, during Apollo 17, and Hernandez was transfixed.
"I would go outside, look at the moon, and come back inside and look at the images on TV. I remember being all of 9 years old and telling my parents, 'That's what I want to do when I grow up,'" he recalled. And he did it. He became an engineer and applied to be an astronaut 12 times before he finally made the cut in 2004. Then he made just one trip to space before hanging up his flight suit for good last month.
It wasn't because he'd realized his dream and moved on. It was because there was nothing in this country for him to fly.
In Utah today, NASA completed a successful test of the world's largest, most powerful solid rocket motor, the DM-2. For two minutes, the motor, designed to provide up to 3.6 million pounds of thrust, roaringly fired a column of flame, while some 760 instruments monitored its every aspect. Best to turn down your speakers before the countdown in this video hits zero.
A Senate committee vote this afternoon should keep the Space Shuttle Program alive for at least one more mission and grant NASA the leeway it wants to continue developing a heavy-lift rocket capable of carrying crews into deep space. The Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee unanimously approved the authorization bill earlier this afternoon, sending it up to the full Senate for review sometime in the near future.
With a budget battle looming and its Ares I rocket program all but dead, today NASA test-fired its $220 million Orion crew capsule, which it is currently repurposing into an escape vehicle, per President Obama's new vision for NASA. Conducted at the Army's White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, the launch came off without a hitch, launching Orion more than a mile skyward before deploying parachutes and drifting back to the desert floor a mile from the launch site.
"Wow, that went like clockwork from what I can see," said Jay Estes, NASA's deputy manager of the Orion project office. "That's an amazing test."
In a speech to NASA employees and the nation on April 15, President Obama unveiled a vision for U.S. space exploration that didn't include Constellation or development of its Ares I rocket. The next day, Constellation Program Manager Jeff Hanley issued his response to Obama: Not so fast.