Mars Needs Women — NASA Needs Everybody

Credit: American International Television

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In the 1967 film, Mars Needs Women, a team of martians invades Earth to kidnap women to help repopulate their dying species. Shot over two weeks on a minuscule budget and padded out with stock footage, the movie obtained cult status as one of those cinematic disasters that was so bad it was unintentionally hilarious.

A half century later, NASA finds itself in a not entirely dissimilar situation. Only this problem is not nearly as funny.

The space agency lacks sufficient personnel with the proper skill sets to undertake its complex missions to the moon, Mars and beyond. A number of key programs have been affected by the shortfall already.

NASA’s workforce is also aging. More than half the agency’s employees are 50 years and older, with one-fifth  currently eligible for retirement. Finding replacement workers with the right mix of skills is not always easy as NASA faces increased competition from a growing commercial space sector.

The space agency is addressing these challenges, but it’s too early to tell how successful these efforts will be, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessment.

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Payload for 2022 SLS Launch Still Up in the Air

Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft on Pad 39B. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA has set mid-2022 for the second flight of the Space Launch System (SLS), but it’s not yet known what the massive booster will actually launch.

“Determination as to whether this launch will be SLS/Orion crewed mission (EM-2) or the SLS/Europa Clipper mission will be made based on risk and readiness of the Europa Clipper project,” according to a decision memo signed on Friday by William C. Hill, deputy associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development. Parabolic Arc obtained a copy of the memo.

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GAO: SLS Making Progress, Major Milestones Lie Ahead

Space Launch System with Orion capsule. (Credit: NASA)

When Congress insisted that NASA build the Space Launch System (SLS) some years back, the argument was simple: just adapt all this technology  from the space shuttle program using the workers and infrastructure that already exist to develop a new heavy-lift booster.

It all sounded deceptively simple — and deceptive it was. NASA and its contractors soon ran into a problem that affects many such projects: it’s often easier to build something from scratch than to modify systems that already exist. And there you have the problem with the SLS program in a nutshell.

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House Measure Would Boost NASA Budget to $21.5 Billion

The House Appropriations Committee has released a draft bill that would increase NASA’s budget to $21.5 billion for fiscal year 2019. The total would be an increase of $810 million above the enacted amount for FY 2018 and $1.6 billion more than the Trump Administration requested.

NASA would spend $5.1 billion on deep space exploration, an increase of $294 million. The total includes $504 million for the Lunar Orbital Platform — Gateway.

Science would also be boosted by $459 million to $6.7 billion. The total includes $740 million for a Europa orbiter and lander.

Complete details on the proposed budget are still lacking. Below is what the committee has released thus far.
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GAO: Orion Program Plagued by Delays, Cost Overruns

NASA’s Orion with the European Service Module (Credit: ESA–D. Ducros)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Cost overruns and schedule delays continue to plague NASA’s Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle, according to a new assessment by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

NASA expects the Orion program to exceed its $11.28 billion baseline budget, which covers expenditures through the Exploration Mission-2 mission, the report stated. The space agency expects to complete a new cost estimate by June.

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GAO Finds Concerns About Structural Integrity of SLS Mobile Launcher

Mobile crawler transporter (Credit: NASA)

Updated May 5 at 12:53 p.m. PDT with information about funding for a second Mobile Launcher.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

There are “emerging concerns about the structural integrity of the Mobile Launcher’s base” from which NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft will lift off, according to a new government assessment.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that “loads models have indicated low stress margins in critical locations in the Mobile Launcher base. The program attributed this issue to an error in their model.

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NASA’s Major Project Costs & Schedule Performance Deteriorated in 2018

NASA: Assessments of Major Projects
Government Accountability Office
May 1, 2018
Full Report

What GAO Found

The cost and schedule performance of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) portfolio of major projects has deteriorated, but the extent of cost performance deterioration is unknown. NASA expects cost growth for the Orion crew capsule—one of the largest projects in the portfolio—but does not have a current cost estimate. In addition, the average launch delay for the portfolio was 12 months, the highest delay GAO has reported in its 10 years of assessing major NASA projects (see figure below).

The deterioration in portfolio performance was the result of 9 of the 17 projects in development experiencing cost or schedule growth.

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Small Satellites to Get their Own Ride to Space With Venture Class Program

Technicians examine at CubeSat at Rocket Lab USA’s facility in California. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA is investing in a new commercial market that could answer the demand for affordable access to space for small satellites, including CubeSats. The agency’s Venture Class Launch Services brings together a smaller class of rockets with satellites small enough to hold in your hands.

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NASA’s Exploration Campaign: Back to the Moon and on to Mars

If the Moon has enough water, and if it’s reasonably convenient to access, future explorers might be able to use it as a resource. (Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

“The directive I am signing today will refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery. It marks a first step in returning American astronauts to the Moon for the first time since 1972, for long-term exploration and use. This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprints — we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars, and perhaps someday, worlds beyond.” 

-President Donald Trump

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — In December 2017, President Donald J. Trump gave NASA a new direction, telling the agency to work with international and commercial partners to refocus exploration efforts on the moon, with an eye to eventually going on to Mars and even beyond.

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NASA to Launch StemRad’s AstroRad Radiation Protection Vest on Orion EM-1 Mission

TEL AVIV, Israel and COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., April 17, 2018 (StemRad PR) — StemRad, a developer of revolutionary technology that shields first responders, astronauts and soldiers from harmful radiation exposure, announced today that NASA and the Israel Space Agency have signed an agreement for the launch of StemRad’s AstroRad radiation protection vest aboard NASA’s EM-1 mission around the moon, the last test flight before the space agency begins deep space manned missions. The deep space missions are the first since the Apollo missions.

The agreement was signed between NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot and Israel Space Agency Director Avi Blasberger today at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs.

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A Closer Look at NASA’s FY 2018 Budget


by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Despite a last minute threat of a veto, President Donald Trump signed an $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill on Friday that boosts NASA spending by about $1.1 billion to $20.7 billion.

So, with the fiscal year nearly half over, let’s take a closer look at NASA’s FY 2018 budget, which the Administration had tried to cut. The table below lays out the numbers from the omnibus bill, the Administration’s request and the FY 2017 budget.

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Omnibus Spending Bill Includes $20.7 Billion for NASA


by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Well, now that spring has arrived, it’s time for Congress to get around to passing the 2018 budget that was due in time for the start of the fiscal year last Oct. 1 — that is to say, nearly two seasons ago.

Yes, we went through all of winter, most of fall and a couple of days of spring before Congress got around to cobbling together a spending bill. On Wednesday, the House released a $1.3 trillion omnibus bill that is 2,232 pages long.

They say good things happen to those who wait; in this case, that patience may well pay off for NASA (not that the agency any choice in the matter).

The space agency’s budget would be boosted to $20.7 billion. The budget would be $1.1 billion above the $19.6 billion NASA received in FY 2017 and $1.6 billion above the $19.1 billion the Trump Administration proposed to spend in FY 2018.

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A Closer Look at NASA’s Proposed Human Exploration Plan

Credit: NASA

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA would launch the first element of a human-tended Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway in 2022 under a proposed exploration plan that would make use of commercial and international partnerships.

A power and propulsion module would be followed soon afterward by habitation, airlock, and logistics modules. The gateway would serve as a base for astronauts to explore the moon for the first time since Apollo 17 lifted off from the surface in 1972.

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Falcon Heavy: A Multi-User Spaceport Success Story

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy begins its first flight. (Credit: NASA)

By Bob Granath
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

The launch of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket on its demonstration flight is another sign that NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is continuing to grow as the nation’s premier, multi-user spaceport. The new vehicle lifted off from NASA’s historic Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy at 3:45 p.m. EST on Feb. 6.

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Lori Garver Says: NASA Should Dump Space Launch System

Lifting off at 3:45 p.m. from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, a SpaceX Falcon Heavy begins its demonstration flight. (Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

Former NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver has a op-ed in The Hill arguing that NASA should dump the Space Launch System in the wake of the successful maiden flight of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy.

The question to be answered in Washington now is why would Congress continue to spend billions of taxpayer dollars a year on a government-made rocket that is unnecessary and obsolete now that the private sector has shown they can do it for a fraction of the cost?

If lawmakers continue on this path, it will siphon-off even more funds that NASA could otherwise use for science missions, transfer vehicles or landers that will further advance our understanding of the universe — and actually get us somewhere.

NASA has spent more than $15 billion to try and develop their own heavy lift rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), with a first flight planned in roughly two years — assuming all goes according to plan.

Once operational, SLS will cost NASA over $1 billion per launch. The Falcon Heavy, developed at zero cost to the taxpayer, would charge NASA approximately $100M per launch. In other words, NASA could buy 10 Falcon Heavy launches for the coat of one SLS launch — and invest the remainder in truly revolutionary and meaningful missions that advance science and exploration.

Read the full piece.