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NASA’s new head of human spaceflight speaks out

Kathy Lueders
NASA’s Kathy Lueders beams with joy as the hatches are opened between SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule and the International Space Station on May 31. (NASA Photo / Joel Kowsky)

NASA’s newly named associate administrator for human exploration and operations, Kathy Lueders, says that SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule “has been doing great” at the International Space Station — and that the NASA astronauts who rode it to orbit are likely to come back down to Earth in early August.

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NASA’s head of human spaceflight bows out

Doug Loverro
Doug Loverro speaks at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana shortly after taking his place as the space agency’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations in 2019. (NASA Photo via Twitter)

NASA’s top executive concentrating on human spaceflight, Doug Loverro, has resigned just a week before the scheduled start of a milestone space mission.

Loverro became NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations last December, and was playing a leading role in NASA’s Artemis moon program as well as preparations for next week’s launch of a SpaceX Crew Dragon mission to the International Space Station.

That mission, set for liftoff on May 27 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is due to send NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the station for a stay that could last as long as four months. It’ll be the first launch of an orbital crewed mission from U.S. soil since the retirement of NASA’s space shuttles in 2011.

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NASA lays out Artemis Accords for moon trips

Artemis moon mission
An artist’s conception shows astronauts conducting a mission on the moon. (NASA Illustration)

NASA today unveiled a list of 10 principles for a set of bilateral international agreements for participation in the moon exploration program known as Artemis.

The Artemis Accords would apply to missions aimed at sending astronauts to the lunar surface beginning as early as 2024.

NASA has been discussing international participation in the Artemis moon program for months. During a conference last October, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said “we need all the international partners to go with us to the moon.”

The first moonwalkers are virtually certain to be Americans, but at October’s International Astronautical Congress, Bridenstine implied that astronauts from other countries would get their chance based on the “levels of contribution” to the effort.

Today, Bridenstine said in a tweet that bilateral agreements would “establish a shared vision and a set of principles for all international partners that join in humanity’s return to the moon.”

“It’s a new dawn for space exploration!” he tweeted.

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UW wins NASA grant to create a spacey contest

Cave rover team
NASA’s robotics team drives a test rover called CaveR into Valentine Cave at Lava Beds National Monument in California. One of the CaveR engineers is perched on a lava ledge, a marker of one of the lava flows in the cave. (NASA Photo)

NASA has awarded the University of Washington a $499,864 grant to develop a competition that calls on students to turn a simulated lava tube into a habitat suitable for harboring humans on the moon or Mars.

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These landers made the list for lunar missions

Blue Moon lander
An artist’s conception shows Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lander, equipped with an ascent module built by Lockheed Martin. (Blue Origin Illustration via NASA)

NASA has selected teams led by Blue Origin, Dynetics and SpaceX to develop lunar landing systems capable of putting astronauts on the moon by as early as 2024.

“We want to be able to go to the moon, but we want to be a customer,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told reporters today during a teleconference. “We want to drive down the costs, we want to increase the access, we want to have our partners have customers that are not just us, so they compete on cost and innovation, and just bring capabilities that we’ve never had before.”

Fixed-price contracts totaling $967 million will go to the three corporate teams over the next 10 months to flesh out their proposals for lunar landing systems that would carry astronauts to and from the lunar surface.

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SpaceX wins cargo contract for NASA’s Gateway

SpaceX Dragon XL
An artist’s conception shows SpaceX’s Dragon XL cargo ship as it is deployed from the Falcon Heavy’s second stage in high Earth orbit, on its way to the Gateway in lunar orbit. (SpaceX Illustration)

NASA has tapped a type of SpaceX cargo craft that hasn’t yet been built to deliver supplies to a moon-orbiting outpost that hasn’t yet been launched.

SpaceX’s robotic Dragon XL, a cylindrical, supersized version of its workhorse Dragon spacecraft, will handle shipments to the Gateway space platform as the first commercial provider to receive a Gateway Logistics Services contract from NASA.

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Moon shines in White House budget proposal

Blue Moon crewed lander
A stretch version of the Blue Moon lander can accommodate astronauts and an ascent vehicle. (Blue Origin Illustration)

While most discretionary spending is getting the axe in the White House’s newly released budget request, NASA and its Artemis program to put astronauts on the moon by as early as 2024 would receive a big boost.

For fiscal year 2021, which starts in October, NASA would be in for a 12% increase over current-year levels, with a budget of $25.2 billion.

Nearly half of that money, $12.3 billion, would go toward programs focusing on Artemis and the follow-up push toward a human landing on Mars in the 2030s.

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Blue Origin ramps up team for Blue Moon lander

Jeff Bezos and Blue Moon lander mockup
Jeff Bezos shows off a mockup of the Blue Moon lunar lander in May 2019. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture has posted more than 50 job openings for its Blue Moon lunar lander program, which is currently under consideration for NASA funding.

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Dynetics and SNC team up for lunar lander

Lunar lander
An artist’s conception shows Dynetics’ design for a lunar lander. (Dynetics Illustration)

Alabama-based Dynetics says it’s leading a team of companies proposing a crew-carrying lunar lander for NASA, in competition with other companies including Blue Origin and Boeing.

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NASA goes public with astronaut graduation party

Graduating astronauts
The newest astronauts in the corps for NASA (and the Canadian Space Agency) wave from the stage during their graduation ceremony at Johnson Space Center. From left: Kayla Barron, Zena Cardman, Raja Chari, Matthew Dominick, Bob Hines, Warren Hoburg, Jonny Kim, Joshua Kutryk (CSA), Jasmin Moghbeli. Loral O’Hara, Jessica Watkins, Jennifer Sidey-Gibbons (CSA) and Frank Rubio. (NASA Photo / James Blair)

Over the course of six decades, NASA has celebrated the selection of its astronauts in groups ranging from the Mercury 7 of 1959 to the Turtles of 2017 — but there’s never been much of a public celebration for their graduation from astronaut training. Until today.

The 11 astronaut candidates selected in 2017, plus two Canadian astronauts who joined them in training, received a grand send-off at Johnson Space Center in Texas from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and other VIPs to mark their eligibility for assignment to future space missions.

NASA raised the graduation ceremony’s public profile in part to build up enthusiasm for this year’s expected debut of U.S.-built commercial space taxis, as well as the drive to land astronauts on the moon by 2024 — a campaign known as Artemis.

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