NASA’s Use of Cadavers to Test the Orion Capsule

NASA is debating whether the new Orion capsule should land in the water, like Apollo, or on land, similar to how the Russian Soyuz capsule returns to Earth. To help them determine the potential for human injuries with each possible landing scenario, NASA has used human cadavers during their tests. At first, this revelation may seem quite morbid or even gruesome. But as Keith Cowing said in his expose article on Space Ref and NASA Watch on this subject, “Given the potentially hazardous nature of the tests required, cadavers must be used in the place of living persons.” Sometimes, crash-test dummies or computer simulations don’t provide the crucial information needed, such as the forces on the spinal cord or internal organs. If NASA doesn’t have that information, they can’t get accurate test results. Living test subjects could possibly be killed during the landing tests. Imagine the headlines if that happened. So they have used cadavers. The cadavers NASA used were donated to science to be used for exactly this type of purpose, and NASA, of course, went through the proper channels to obtain the cadavers and treats them in an ethical manner. So while this may seem a little grisly, NASA is doing the right thing.

Marc Carreau from the Houston Chronicle also wrote an article on this subject, and he interviewed David Steitz, a spokesman for NASA’s medical division. “It’s a socially awkward topic,” Steitz said. “The bodies are all carefully handled through all of the tests. We follow ethical medical procedures with these bodies that have been donated for science.”

Three human bodies were used during testing last year, said NASA seat engineer Dustin Gohmert, to help determine the potential for serious human injury during descent and landing. “The interface between the spacesuit and the seats is relatively complex, much more so than in an automobile, even one from the racing industry,” Gohmert said. “The (forces) we anticipate have never been studied before. We are using this research to help define and refine the suits and the seats.”

Tests using human bodies has been done for previous spacecraft, as well.

Cowing received this statement from NASA on the use of cadavers:

“In limited cases, postmortem human subject tests may be performed when insufficient data are available from simulations that use dummies or from mathematical modeling of the human body responses. This is particularly critical where the dynamic responses of internal organs and soft tissue must be evaluated. Using a combination of test methods, the engineering and scientific teams at NASA are able to enhance astronaut safety by designing landing attenuation systems that will minimize accelerations imparted to the crew and significantly reduce the potential for injuries.”

Personally, I could imagine donating my body for this type of research. Even if I never get to fly to space when I’m alive, I’d be proud to help the rest of the human race get there and return safely by giving my body for tests such as this.

News Sources: NASA Watch, Space Ref, Houston Chronicle

Problems Surface For Constellation Program

On the heels of news about NASA engineers who feel the Constellation program is using the wrong kind of rockets comes word that efforts to build the spacecraft which will replace the shuttle and return astronauts to the moon is running behind and over-budget. NASA Watch published a leaked internal NASA document showing the Constellation Program has encountered financial and technical problems, and the Associated Press quoted Doug Cooke, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for exploration as saying the first test flights for Orion may be delayed. However, the delay thus far is only of NASA’s internal goal of having the spacecraft ready by 2013. Cooke said they are still on target for NASA’s public commitment of first test flights by 2015, and returning to the moon by 2020. But unless the space agency can receive more funding, further delays may be inevitable.

The 117-page report shows an $80 million cost overrun this year for just one motor and a dozen different technical problems that the space agency put in the top risk zone, meaning the problems are considered severe. The report put the program’s financial performance in that category, as well.

Some experts say it’s too early to be worried, others say NASA’s design is flawed or the space agency is just repeating mistakes made in developing the space shuttle. But almost everyone agrees that NASA isn’t getting enough funding to do what they’ve been asked to do.

Additional funding from Congress is pending, but in an election year, don’t count on it.

News Sources: NASA Watch, Newsweek/AP

The “Other” Moon Rocket Some NASA Engineers Believe is Better Than Ares

There’s a group of NASA engineers who believe NASA is making a mistake with its new Constellation program to replace the shuttle, which will use the new Ares rockets for launches starting in 2014. Constellation is an all new program which requires everything to be built from the ground up. The group of engineers asks, why not use the systems we already have that work reliably? The engineers, who are working clandestinely after hours on their plans have been joined by business people and space enthusiasts, and they call the plan Direct 2.0. They believe this approach could be flying sooner than Ares, reducing the gap in the US’s access to space, and providing a smoother transition for the workforce. Additionally it is more powerful than Ares, has lower risks for the astronauts, adds additional servicing missions to the Hubble Space Telescope, and reduces the cost to orbit by half.

Proponents say the Direct 2.0 approach is more capable than Orion, can lift more mass into Earth orbit and boost more mass out of Earth orbit on to other destinations. The concept is simple: use the same orange external tank and booster rockets as the shuttle, but don’t use the orbiter. Put additional engines on the bottom of the tank, and the cone-shaped Orion capsule on the nose. They call the rocket system Jupiter, and not only would Jupiter have less cost per launch, but it would cost less per kilogram to put things in orbit. They also say the crew abort limits are safer than Ares 1, and would require only minor modifications to the current mobile launch platform.

Instead of having the separate Ares-I Crew Launch Vehicle (CLV) and Ares-V Cargo Launch Vehicle (CaLV) they use just one single Jupiter launcher, capable of performing both roles.

On their website,, they say “This change to NASA’s architecture completely removes the costs & risks associated with developing and operating a second launcher system, saving NASA $19 Billion in development costs, and a further $16 Billion in operational costs over the next 20 years.”

But recent articles by the Associated Press and the Orlando Sentinel say that NASA is not interested in this concept, and that its nothing more than a concept on the back of a napkin. Additionally, Ares is so far along, with test flights scheduled for next year, that there’s no turning back now.

But the Orlando Sentinel article says that NASA ended a study last fall which showed Direct 2.0 would outperform Ares. The initial results showed Direct 2.0 was superior in cost, overall performance and work-force retention, which is a big issue for Florida.

The engineers who work at NASA say they can’t speak out directly for fear of being fired, but an outside group who supports their efforts are trying to get the word out about the plan.

Check out their website includes a discussion forum, a presentation on their concept and much more. Here’s a video that explains the concept:

In short, they say the Direct 2.0 approach introduces many advantages over the current Ares Launch Vehicles, such as:

Shorter “gap” after the Shuttle retires (3 years vs. 5)
Earlier return to the Moon (2017 vs. 2019)
Deletes all risks and costs associated with a second new launch vehicle
Optimum use of the existing NASA & contractor experience

Original News Sources: AP, Orlando Sentinel, ABC’s Science and Society Blog,

The Latest in Space Fashion from NASA

NASA unveiled a new design of spacesuits for the Constellation program today. Astronauts will be donning the new suits on the first flights of the Orion spaceship, scheduled for 2015, on trips to the International Space Station, with additional EVA suits ready for the first missions to the moon, scheduled for 2020. The spacesuits feature rear entry, enhanced shoulder mobility and modular, interchangeable parts. The spacesuits will be designed and produced by Oceaneering International Inc. of Houston, Texas, which received a contract worth $183.8 million for 2008-2014.

NASA required two spacesuit system configurations for the Constellation program. The first type of spacesuit (Configuration One) will be used for launch and landing operations, as well as inside the spacecraft during an emergency like loss of pressurization of the Orion crew compartment.

Configuration Two will build upon Configuration One and will support lunar surface operations. While preparing to walk on the moon, the astronauts will be able to build their own personal Configuration Two spacesuits by replacing elements of Configuration One with elements specialized for surface operations.

Suits and support systems will be needed for as many as four astronauts on moon voyages and as many as six space station travelers. For short trips to the moon, the suit design will support a week’s worth of moon walks. The system also must be designed to support a significant number of moon walks during potential six-month lunar outpost expeditions. In addition, the spacesuit and support systems will provide contingency spacewalk capability and protection against the launch and landing environment, such as spacecraft cabin leaks.

Video of the new Constellation spacesuits.

Video of spacesuit tests.

Pdf. file for more info on the new spacesuits and the contract award.
Original News Source: NASA Press Release

Lower Gravity Will Help Lunar Dust Get Deep Into Astronaut Lungs

Dusting the house might be a chore here on Earth, but when astronauts return to the Moon, they’ll need to be neat freaks. Their lives might depend on it! According to researchers at the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, the health of lunar astronauts will depend on how well they can keep the fine lunar dust out of the air.

During the Apollo lunar missions in the 1960s and 1970s, astronauts realized how much this lunar dust was a hassle to their exploration of the Moon. The tiny particles clung to everything, and when the astronauts returned to their lander, it made a real nuisance. By the end of their missions, the astronauts said there was so much dust in their vehicles that they could smell it.

There are no known illnesses associated with the dust today; but the astronauts just weren’t exposed to it long enough. But scientists studying it back on Earth found that the dust was very similar to fresh-fractured quartz, which is highly toxic to humans. When astronauts return to the Moon in the next decade, they could be on the Moon for months, and exposed to much larger quantities of the dust.

And there’s another problem. Because of the reduced gravity on the Moon, and the tiny size of the dust particles, our respiratory system might not be able to handle the particles as well as we do on Earth. Here’s Dr. Kim Prisk, an adjunct professor in the Department of Medicine at the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego:

“In the moon’s fractional gravity, particles remain suspended in the airways rather than settling out, increasing the chances of distribution deep in the lung, with the possible consequence that the particles will remain there for a long period of time.”

To conduct their research, the scientists are taking participants on NASA’s Microgravity Research Aircraft. This is a special aircraft that flies on a parabolic path. At the height of each arc, people on board the aircraft experience a brief period of low gravity, or even weightlessness.

When the gravity is lowered to the same as the Moon, the participants breath in small particles, which the researchers then study as they move down the airways. They want to know how many end up in the lungs. The deeper the dust goes into the lungs, the more dangerous it’ll be.

Again, here’s Dr. Prisk:

“With the reduced-gravity flights, we’re improving the process of assessing environmental exposure to inhaled particles. We’ve learned that tiny particles (less than 2.5 microns) which are the most significant in terms of damage, are greatly affected by alterations in gravity.”

The next step will be to figure out how to limit the amount of exposure to the dust. The more dangerous the dust is, the more complicated an engineering task it will be to keep it all out.

Original Source: NSBRI News Release

Report: Constellation Program Has Serious Issues


NASA is facing some serious problems, and whether these problems are perception or truth remains to be seen. A government report presented at a congressional hearing on April 3 says NASA’s Constellation Program faces severe problems and the new spacecraft might never work as intended. The Government Accountability Office, (they call themselves the “the investigative arm of Congress”) issued the report which lists several critical issues, especially with the Ares I rocket, which is prone to violent shaking on liftoff and might not have enough power to reach orbit. NASA has requested an additional $2 billion over the next two years to boost development of the new spacecraft, but the GAO doubts whether that will be enough to overcome the design flaws and for the space agency to achieve timely success with the program.

The GAO identified several areas that could delay Constellation:
• Both vehicles have a history of weight issues;
• Excessive vibration during launch threatens system design;
• Uncertainty about how flight characteristics will be impacted by a fifth segment added to the Ares I launch vehicle;
• Ares I upper stage essentially requires development of a new engine;
• No industry capability currently exists for producing the kind of heat shields that the Orion will need for protecting the crew exploration vehicle when it reenters Earth’s atmosphere; and
• Existing test facilities are insufficient for testing Ares I’s new engine, for replicating the engine’s vibration and acoustic environment, and for testing the thermal protection system for the Orion vehicle.

In effect, the report says, NASA has a design for the Constellation project — but as yet there is no assurance that all the components will work as planned.

NASA has claimed that Constellation is on schedule, and the problems are manageable. “I’ve rarely seen more of a mountain made out of less of a molehill,” NASA Administrator Mike Griffin told the Space Transportation Association in Washington, D.C., last month.

NASA is expected to announce they have developed a strategy for dealing with Ares’ shaking problem. The Orlando Sentinel quoted special assistant to the administrator Chris Shank: “We have a mitigation strategy.”

The Sentinel also quoted a former NASA official who asked not to be named as saying the Ares rocket faces the perception problems that have dogged NASA throughout its history. Politicians and the public are skeptical the agency can complete its program on time and on budget. Without political and public support, NASA could face troubling times.

Here’s NASA’s video about the Constellation Program:

Original News Sources: Orlando Sentinel and the GAO Report

Jobs Eliminated as Shuttle Program Transitions to Constellation


As the space shuttle program winds down and NASA transitions to the new Constellation program, more than 8,000 NASA contractor jobs in the manned space program could be eliminated after 2010, the U.S. space agency said at a press briefing on April 1, 2008. A NASA report sent to Congress predicts that between 5,700 and 6,400 jobs will be lost at the Kennedy Space Center, where the shuttle processing takes place, before 2012. After that time, a few hundred jobs will be added yearly as the new moon-landing program gets started, with the first Constellation launch tentatively scheduled for 2015. Some NASA managers believe that an update to Tuesday’s report, which is due to Congress in six months, won’t be quite so bleak, but NASA said it could be more than a year before it has more dependable job forecasts.

The most dramatic job cuts will be among private contractors. Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator said that the estimates of job losses were preliminary and they do not take into account numerous factors of potential workload. “Don’t overreact to these numbers,” he said.

The report stated “Our (NASA’s) greatest challenge over the next several years will be managing this extremely talented, experienced and geographically dispersed workforce as we transition from operating the space shuttle to utilizing the International Space Station.”

Nationally, NASA said the number of full-time civil servants in its manned space program would fall to about 4,100 in 2011, a loss of about 600 jobs from this year. Including outside contractors, the number of jobs would fall to an estimated 12,500 to 13,800. About 21,000 are currently employed.

Rick Gilbrech, NASA associate administrator for exploration systems, said that many future contracts for the Constellation program to develop the new moon rockets and spacecraft to replace the shuttle fleet, could improve the local NASA jobs picture.

“There’s a lot of work that’s not folded into these numbers,” he said.

Gilbrech added that the next U.S. president and Congress might not support the Constellation program, which is President Bush’s vision for returning to the moon and going on to Mars.

“We do need stable support and long-term commitment,” he said.

KSC Director Bill Parsons said Tuesday he estimates the center’s 15,000 on payroll will drop to 10,000 people in the next few years before starting to climb slowly. He said, however, that there is hope that layoffs might be rare because up to one-third of KSC workers are eligible to retire before or around the time that the shuttle program ends in 2010. He does not expect workers to abandon their jobs for new careers before then.

“This is not a work force that panics,” he said, referring to the recovery from two shuttle accidents.

Retirement will provide a easier transition for some. However, younger workers may have to redirect their careers into the Constellation program. Those caught in the middle might have to learn new skills or relocate to avoid being laid off. There are also other ripple effects to other non-technical support jobs.

Original News Sources:, Florida Today

The Environmental Impact of a Return to the Moon


There are many ways space exploration can affect our environment right here on Earth: toxic chemicals used to manufacture the rocket, carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere and the energy used to manufacture the equipment and vehicles, just to name a few. For the next era in space exploration, the Constellation Program, NASA has released a 500-page document detailing its effect on the environment.

Back in September 2006, NASA solicited feedback from the public about their plans for the Constellation Program. They were looking for environmental issues and concerns that the people might have. The agency released a draft of their reply to these concerns in August 2007.

The document released Wednesday, is called the Final Constellation Programmatic Environmental Statement (PEIS), and it addresses the comments made to the draft version of the document.

The document explores each NASA centre across the United States, what parts of the Constellation Program it will work on, and the environmental impact the centre might have. This part of the document is fascinating to show how the whole program will come together – where each part will be built.

• Risks to the public associated with launch and Earth atmospheric entry
• Environmental impacts of the use of solid rocket fuels on the ozone layer and impacts associated with the deposition of combustion products near the launch area
• Impacts on local animal species (e.g., sea turtles and manatees) associated with construction and launch activities in the John F. Kennedy Space Center (KSC) area
• Noise impacts associated with launch events
• The relationship between the Constellation Program and the Space Shuttle Program, including how the socioeconomic impacts of the Space Shuttle retirement and the Constellation Program overlap.

Perhaps more interesting than the things they considered where the issues that the document won’t consider. For example, the document expressly refuses to study the environmental impact on outer space itself, such as orbital debris. It also doesn’t consider any military aspects associated with the program and the environmental impact of that. (If the Constellation Program helps launch orbital space lasers, and they’re used to zap sea turtle habitats, that’s not NASA’s problem.)

Although they put in their questions, several submitters won’t get an answer. For example, the document won’t address how the Kennedy Space Center could manage its light pollution, monitor bird strikes, or raise awareness of metals in the environment. And the environmental impact on the Moon is right out of the question.

Anyway, if you’re interested in this topic… and who wouldn’t be, you can access the whole document online.

Original Source: NASA

Engineering, Budget Problems for NASA’s New Spacecraft


NASA has discovered a potentially dangerous problem with the first stage of the Ares 1 rocket that will launch the new Orion crew capsule to the space station and to the moon. Engineers are concerned that during the first few minutes of flight, the rocket could shake violently, possibly causing significant damage to the entire launch stack. Meanwhile, reports that a budget review of the Constellation program found a short term deficit of $700m that will likely delay test flights and development of the yet-to-be built rockets.

The shaking problem is called thrust oscillation, and is typical in solid rocket motors. The phenomenon is characterized by increased acceleration pulses during the latter part of first-stage flight. Depending on the amplitude of these pulses, the impact on the vehicle structure and astronauts may be quite significant.

The Associated Press reported that NASA discovered the problem in the fall of 2007, but did not discuss the problem publicly until January 18, 2008 after the AP filed a Freedom of Information Act request and Keith Cowing of submitted detailed engineering questions regarding the oscillations.

In the response given to both NASAWatch and AP, NASA said they are working to understand how the thrust oscillation may impact the entire stack – the Ares first stage, upper stage and the Orion crew vehicle — and to determine how to minimize the impact. They have brought in experts from within NASA and outside industry to review the issues and to determine if lessons learned from previous launch vehicles will help solve the problems. NASA said they are studying multiple systems to identify all possible scenarios.

“This is a development project like Apollo. I hope no one was so ill-informed as to believe that we would be able to develop a system to replace the shuttle without facing any challenges in doing so,” NASA Administrator Mike Griffin said in a separate statement to the Associated press. “NASA has an excellent track record of resolving technical challenges. We’re confident we’ll solve this one as well.”

The first stage is a single, five-segment reusable solid rocket booster derived from the Space Shuttle solid rocket motors developed and produced by ATK Launch Systems.

The Ares I rocket is the core of the new space transportation system that will carry crewed missions back to the moon, and possibly on to Mars. The rocket may also use its 29-ton payload capacity to deliver resources and supplies to the International Space Station.

Concerning the problems of budget shortfalls, Ares program managers have offered a re-aligned development and test flight schedule in an attempt to protect Orion’s debut mission to the ISS in 2015.

The reason for the changes relates to additional costs associated with the challenges of Ares I’s development, creating a shortfall of funds for the financial year period 2008 to 2010.

Among numerous changes, a test flight of the Ares I originally scheduled for 2012 has been delayed by a year, while test flights with the Orion crew vehicle will possibly delayed between nine and three months. The Ares V’s lunar mission debut will now be an unmanned fly-by, according to

Original New Sources: Associated Press,

NASA Wants Your Opinion on the Lunar Lander


NASA’s Constellation Program has released an announcement that they are looking for people to evaluate the design of the Altair spacecraft that will land on the moon. So if you work in the science community or in a related industry, NASA wants your opinion. What they are looking for are evaluations of the current developmental concept for the Altair lander and the safety improvements that have been proposed, as well as recommendations for industry-government partnerships.

“By soliciting ideas and suggestions from industry and the science community, NASA hopes to foster a collaborative environment during this early design effort,” said Jeff Hanley, the Constellation Program manager. “Such collaboration will support the development of a safe, reliable and technologically sound vehicle for our crews.”

All you have to do is write a proposal and submit it to NASA by jumping through the various hoops found here. NASA expects to award contracts for the studies of the Altair spacecraft in the first quarter of 2008. A total of $1.5 million is available for awards. The maximum individual award amount is $350,000. The contract performance period is six months.

In NASA-speak, proposals are due “30 days from the issue date of Jan. 11.” By my calculations, that is February 10, which is a Sunday, an odd day to have a proposal due since most of NASA’s offices are closed. Maybe its a subtle hint to get your proposals in early.

The Altair spacecraft will bring four astronauts to the lunar surface, and missions are currently scheduled to begin late in the next decade. NASA plans call for establishing an outpost on the moon through their lunar missions beginning no later than 2020.

The Constellation Program, based at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston, manages the Altair Project for NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate. Constellation is developing a new space transportation system that is designed to travel beyond low Earth orbit. The Constellation fleet includes the Orion crew exploration vehicle, the Ares I and Ares V launch vehicles and Altair human lunar lander.

Find more information about the Constellation Program here.

Original News Source: NASA Constellation Program Press Release