Human Space Exploration Update (March 21-25, 2016)

2016 Elections

·         Don’t Reset US Exploration Program:  NASA's Human Spaceflight Program can't afford another reset from the next President  At six years old, the reigning U.S. civil space policy has come too far with its plans to reach Mars with astronauts in the mid-2030s with NASA's Space Launch System exploration rocket and Orion crew capsule to re-set, writes Peter Juul, a policy analyst at American Progress. In an op-ed, Juul cautions that an imminent change in White House administrations could prompt as much. It's unnecessary, he contends. "Those guidelines leave plenty of room for the next administration to put its mark on America's human space exploration program without ripping it up at the roots," he writes of the 2010 policy objectives.

International Space Station

·         New Crew for ISS: First American to live on ISS for 3 long missions arrives after Soyuz night launch and docking  Astronaut Jeff William joined Russian cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka for a Soyuz launch to the International Space Station late Friday. Their docking restored the space station to six person operations. Williams, the first from NASA to staff the Space Station for a third long mission, and his colleagues replace NASA's Scott Kelly, Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov, who returned to Earth Mar. 1, ending a 340 day flight for Kelly and Kornienko.

Orion and Space Launch System

·         Progress on SLS:  NASA moves ahead on Space Launch System tests  NASA is test firing the RS-25 engine at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi in preparation for future flight tests of the Space Launch System exploration rocket. One recent ground test firing spanned 500 seconds, long enough for the SLS to journey from the launch pad to orbit with astronauts seated aboard the Orion spacecraft.

·         Tooling for SLS:  For rockets going farther than ever, you need the best and biggest tools  Tooling at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility, near New Orleans, reveals the scope of U.S. efforts to reach Mars with human explorers. The welding tool for the first stage of the Space Launch System exploration rocket towers 170 feet. "[The tools here] are terrifically accurate, we're talking down to thousandths of an inch in accuracy," says Pat Whipps, the resident program manager at Michoud. "It's interesting. The tools are sometimes many stories tall, yet the manufacturing tolerance is down in thousandths of an inch."

Commercial Space Transportation

·         Cygnus Mission to ISS:  Second Cygnus ship in three months rockets to orbit aboard Atlas 5  An Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft filled with 7,500 pounds of supplies lifted off atop an Atlas V rocket for the six man International Space Station late Tuesday. The departure from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., placed the crew supplies, research equipment and other gear on a course to rendezvous with the orbiting science lab early Saturday. Astronaut Tim Kopra will be positioned at the internal controls of the station's robot arm to grapple the capsule which will remain berthed for about two months.

·         CST-100 Starliner:  NASA shows off access arm, "last place on earth" for astronauts on Space Coast  Early this week, representatives of NASA, United Launch Alliance and Boeing gathered in Oak Hill to preview the access arm and  "White Room'' that future International Space Station astronauts will use to board Boeing's CST-100 Starliner for commercial transportation to the orbiting science lab. Launches are to begin by the end of 2017.

Space Budgets, Policy, Missions, Benefits, International …

·         Mars Exploration:  Permanent Mars colony is 'long way down the road,' NASA says   NASA intends to establish a human research base on Mars during the 2030s, not a permanent colony, according to Ben Bussey, the chief exploration scientist in NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.