SpaceX Awaits FAA Falcon 9 Launch License for 1st Pad 39A Blastoff on NASA ISS Cargo Flight

SpaceX crews are renovating Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center for launches of commercial and human rated Falcon 9 rockets as well as the Falcon Heavy, as seen here during Dec 2016 with construction of a dedicated new transporter/erector. New rocket processing hangar sits at left. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – With liftoff tentatively penciled in for mid-February, SpaceX still awaits FAA approval of a launch license for what will be the firms first Falcon 9 rocket to launch from historic pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center – on a critical NASA mission to resupply the space station – the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) confirmed today to Universe Today.

“The FAA is working closely with SpaceX to ensure the activity described in the application meets all applicable regulations for a launch license,” FAA spokesman Hank Price confirmed to Universe Today.

As of today, Feb. 7, SpaceX has not yet received “a license determination” from the FAA – as launch vehicle, launch pad and payload preparations continue moving forward for blastoff of the NASA contracted flight to carry science experiments and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a SpaceX cargo Dragon atop an upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A on the Florida Space Coast.

“The FAA will continue to work with SpaceX to provide a license determination in a timely manner,” Price told me.

SpaceX currently has license applications pending with the FAA for both the NASA cargo launch and pad 39A. No commercial launch can take place without FAA approval.

Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 on Dragon CRS-9 resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) at 12:45 a.m. EDT on July 18, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The goal of the 22-story tall SpaceX Falcon 9 is to carry an unmanned Dragon cargo freighter for the NASA customer on the CRS-10 resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

Dragon will be loaded with more than two tons of equipment, gear, food, supplies and NASA’s Stratospheric Aerosol Gas Experiment III (SAGE III) ozone mapping science payload.

Engineers at work processing NASA’s Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment III, or SAGE III instrument inside the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today in December 2016. Technicians are working in a super-clean ‘tent’ built in the SSPF high bay to protect SAGE III’s special optics and process the Ozone mapper for upcoming launch on the SpaceX CRS-10 Dragon cargo flight to the International Space Station in early 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The historic NASA launch pad was formerly used to launch both America’s space shuttles and astronauts on Apollo/Saturn V moon landing missions.

SpaceX, founded by billionaire CEO Elon Musk, leased Launch Complex 39A from NASA back in April 2014 and is modifying and modernizing the pad for unmanned and manned launches of the Falcon 9 as well as the Falcon Heavy.

The role of the FAA is to license commercial launches and protect the public.

“The FAA licenses commercial rocket launches and reentries to ensure the protection of public health and safety,” Price elaborated.

This FAA license situation is similar to that for last month’s Falcon 9 ‘Return to Flight’ launch from California, where the SpaceX approval was granted only days before liftoff of the Iridium-1 mission.

Last week SpaceX announced a shuffled launch schedule, whereby the NASA cargo flight on the CRS-10 resupply mission was placed first in line for liftoff from pad 39A – ahead of a commercial EchoStar communications satellite.

The aerospace company said the payload switch would allow additional time was to complete all the extensive ground support work and pad testing required for repurposing seaside Launch Complex 39A from launching the NASA Space Shuttle to the SpaceX Falcon 9.

The inaugural Falcon 9 blastoff from pad 39A has slipped repeatedly from January into February 2017.

The unofficial most recently targeted ‘No Earlier Than’ NET date for CRS-10 has apparently slipped from NET Feb 14 to Feb 17.

CRS-10 counts as SpaceX’s tenth cargo flight to the ISS since 2012 under contract to NASA.

Further launch postponements are quite possible at any time and NASA is officially stating a goal of “NET mid-February” – but with no actual target date specified.

SpaceX is repurposing historic pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida for launches of the Falcon 9 rocket. Ongoing pad preparation by work crews is seen in this current view taken on Jan. 27, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Crews have been working long hours to transform and refurbish pad 39A and get it ready for Falcon 9 launches. Furthermore, a newly built transporter erector launcher was seen raised at the pad multiple times in recent weeks. The transporter will move the rocket horizontally up the incline at the pad, and then erect it vertically for launch.

SpaceX was previously employing pad 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for Falcon 9 launches to the ISS as well as commercial launches.

But pad 40 suffered severe damage following the unexpected launch pad explosion on Sept 1, 2016 that completely destroyed a Falcon 9 and the $200 million Amos-6 commercial payload during a prelaunch fueling test.
Furthermore it is not known when pad 40 will be ready to resume launches.

Thus SpaceX has had to switch launch pads for near term future flights and press pad 39A into service much more urgently, and the refurbishing and repurposing work is not yet complete.

Pad 39A has lain dormant for launches for nearly six years since Space Shuttle Atlantis launched on the final shuttle mission STS 135 in July 2011.

To date SpaceX has not rolled a Falcon 9 rocket to pad 39A, not raised it to launch position, not conducted a fueling exercise and not conducted a static fire test. All the fit checks with a real rocket remain to be run.

Up close view of SpaceX Dragon CRS-9 resupply ship and solar panels atop Falcon 9 rocket at pad 40 prior to blastoff to ISS on July 18, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Once the pad is ready, SpaceX plans an aggressive launch schedule in 2017.

“The launch vehicles, Dragon, and the EchoStar satellite are all healthy and prepared for launch,” SpaceX stated.

The history making first use of a recycled Falcon 9 carrying the SES-10 communications satellite could follow as soon as March or April, if all goes well – as outlined here.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Shuffles Falcon 9 Launch Schedule, NASA Gets 1st Launch from Historic KSC Pad 39A

SpaceX is repurposing historic pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida for launches of the Falcon 9 rocket. Ongoing pad preparation by work crews is seen in this current view taken on Jan. 27, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – SpaceX announced Sunday (Jan. 29) a significant shuffle to the Falcon 9 launch schedule, saying that a key NASA mission to resupply the space station is moving to the head of the line and will now be their first mission to launch from historic pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center – formerly used to launch space shuttles.

The late breaking payload switch will allow SpaceX, founded by billionaire CEO Elon Musk, additional time to complete all the extensive ground support work and pad testing required for repurposing seaside Launch Complex 39A from launching the NASA Space Shuttle to the SpaceX Falcon 9.

Blastoff of the 22-story tall SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying an unmanned Dragon cargo freighter with NASA as customer on the CRS-10 resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) could come as soon as mid-February, said SpaceX.

“SpaceX announced today that its first launch from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida will be the CRS-10 mission to the International Space Station,” said SpaceX in a statement.

CRS-10 counts as SpaceX’s tenth cargo flight to the ISS since 2012 under contract to NASA.

SpaceX is renovating Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center for launches of commercial and human rated Falcon 9 rockets as well as the Falcon Heavy, as seen here during Dec 2016 with construction of a dedicated new transporter/erector. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Crews have been working long hours to modify pad 39A and get it ready for Falcon 9 launches. Also, the newly built transporter erector launcher was seen raised at the pad multiple times in recent days. The transporter will move the rocket horizontally up the incline at the pad, and then erect it vertically.

“This schedule change allows time for additional testing of ground systems ahead of the CRS-10 mission,” SpaceX announced in a statement.

The surprise switch in customers means that the previously planned first Falcon 9 launch from pad 39A of the commercial EchoStar 23 communications satellite is being pushed off to a later date – perhaps late February.

Until now, EchoStar 23 was slated to be the first satellite launched by a Falcon 9 from Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. It could have come as soon as by the end of this week.

However, the Falcon 9 launch date from pad 39A has slipped repeatedly in January, with this week on Feb. 3 as the most recently targeted ‘No Earlier Than’ NET date.

SpaceX successfully resumed launches of the Falcon 9 earlier this month when the first flock of 10 Iridium NEXT mobile voice and data relay satellites blasted off on the Iridium 1 mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Jan. 14, 2017.

NASA now gets the first dibs for using pad 39A which has lain dormant for nearly six years since Space Shuttle Atlantis launched on the final shuttle mission STS 135 in July 2011.

SpaceX leased pad 39A from NASA for launches of the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy back in April 2014 and was already employing pad 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for Falcon 9 launches to the ISS.

The last Dragon resupply mission to the ISS blasted off on July 18, 2016 on the CRS-9 mission. The Falcon 9 first stage was also successfully recovered via a propulsive soft landing back at the Cape at night.

SpaceX Falcon 9 launches and lands over Port Canaveral in this streak shot showing rockets midnight liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 12:45 a.m. EDT on July 18, 2016 carrying Dragon CRS-9 craft to the International Space Station (ISS) with almost 5,000 pounds of cargo and docking port. View from atop Exploration Tower in Port Canaveral. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The last successful Falcon 9 launch from Space Launch Complex-40 took place on Aug. 14, 2016, carrying the JCSAT-16 Japanese communications satellite to orbit.

Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying JCSAT-16 Japanese communications satellite to orbit on Aug. 14, 2016 at 1:26 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

But following the unexpected launch pad explosion on Sept 1, 2016 that completely destroyed a Falcon 9 and the $200 million Amos-6 commercial payload during a prelaunch fueling test, pad 40 suffered extensive damage.

Furthermore it is not known when the pad will be ready to resume launches.

Aerial view of pad and strongback damage at SpaceX Launch Complex-40 as seen from the VAB roof on Sept. 8, 2016 after fueling test explosion destroyed the Falcon 9 rocket and AMOS-6 payload at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Sept. 1, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

So SpaceX has had to switch launch pads for near term future flights and press pad 39A into service much more urgently, and the refurbishing and repurposing work is not yet complete.

To date SpaceX has not rolled a Falcon 9 rocket to pad 39A, not raised it to launch position, not conducted a fueling exercise and not conducted a static fire test. All the fit checks with a real rocket remain to be run.

Thus the current launch target of mid-February for CRS-10 remains a target date and not a firm launch date. EchoStar 23 is next in line.

“The launch is currently targeted for no earlier than mid-February,” SpaceX elaborated.

“Following the launch of CRS-10, first commercial mission from 39A is currently slated to be EchoStar XXIII.”

Once the pad is ready, SpaceX plans an aggressive launch schedule in 2017.

“The launch vehicles, Dragon, and the EchoStar satellite are all healthy and prepared for launch,” SpaceX stated.

The history making first use of a recycled Falcon 9 carrying the SES-10 communications satellite could follow as soon as March, if all goes well.

Incredible sight of pleasure craft zooming past SpaceX Falcon 9 booster from Thaicom-8 launch on May 27, 2016 as it arrives at the mouth of Port Canaveral, FL, atop droneship platform on June 2, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

SpaceX crews are renovating Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center for launches of commercial and human rated Falcon 9 rockets as well as the Falcon Heavy, as seen here during Dec 2016 with construction of a dedicated new transporter/erector. At new rocket processing hangar sits at left. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

International Space Station Achieves 15 Years of Continuous Human Presence in Orbit

The International Space Station (ISS) achieved 15 years of a continuous human presence in orbit, as of today, Nov. 2, aboard the football field sized research laboratory ever since the first Russian/American crew of three cosmonauts and astronauts comprising Expedition 1 arrived in a Soyuz capsule at the then much tinier infant orbiting complex on Nov. 2, 2000.

Today, the space station is host to the Expedition 45 crew of six humans – from America, Russia and Japan – that very symbolically also includes the first ever crew spending one year aboard and that highlights the outposts expanding role from a research lab to a deep space exploration test bed for experiments and technologies required for sending humans on interplanetary journeys to the Martian system in the 2030s.

The ISS was only made possible by over two decades of peaceful and friendly international cooperation by the most powerful nations on Earth on a scale rarely seen.

“I believe the International Space Station should be considered for the Nobel Peace Prize,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden last week during remarks to the Center for American Progress in Washington, DC., on October 28, 2015.

“Exploration has taught us more than we have ever known about our Universe and our place in it.”

“The ISS has already taught us what’s possible when tens of thousands of people across 15 countries collaborate so that human beings from different nations can live and work in space together.”

“Yet, for all these accomplishments, when you consider all the possibilities ahead of us you can only reach one conclusion; We are just getting started!”

6 person ISS Expedition 45 Crew celebrates 15 Years of operation with humans on 2 Nov 2015.  Credit: NASA
6 person ISS Expedition 45 Crew celebrates 15 Years of operation with humans on 2 Nov 2015. Credit: NASA

“No better place to celebrate #15YearsOnStation! #HappyBday, @space_station! Thanks for the hospitality! #YearInSpace.” tweeted NASA astronaut Scott Kelly from the ISS today along with a crew portrait.

The space station is the largest engineering and construction project in space combining the funding, hardware, knowhow, talents and crews from 5 space agencies and 15 countries – NASA, Roscomos, ESA (European Space Agency), JAXA (Japan Aerospace and Exploration Agency) and CSA (Canadian Space Agency).

NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson, an Expedition 24 flight engineer in 2010, took a moment during her space station mission to enjoy an unmatched view of home through a window in the Cupola of the International Space Station, the brilliant blue and white part of Earth glowing against the blackness of space.  Credits: NASA
NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson, an Expedition 24 flight engineer in 2010, took a moment during her space station mission to enjoy an unmatched view of home through a window in the Cupola of the International Space Station, the brilliant blue and white part of Earth glowing against the blackness of space. Credits: NASA

The collaborative work in space has transcended our differences here on Earth and points the way forward to an optimistic future that benefits all humanity.

The station orbits at an altitude of about 250 miles (400 kilometers) above Earth. It measures 357 feet (109 meters) end-to-end and has an internal pressurized volume of 32,333 cubic feet, equivalent to that of a Boeing 747.

The uninterrupted human presence on the station all began when Expedition 1 docked at the outpost on Nov. 2, 2000, with its first residents including Commander William Shepherd of NASA and cosmonauts Sergei Krikalev and Yuri Gidzenko of Roscosmos.

For the first station trio in November 2000, the vehicle included three modules; the Zarya module and the Zvezda service module from Russia and the Unity module from the US.

In this photo, Expedition 1 crew members (from left to right) Commander Bill Shepherd, and Flight Engineers Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev pose with a model of their home away from home.  Image Credit: NASA
In this photo, Expedition 1 crew members (from left to right) Commander Bill Shepherd, and Flight Engineers Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev pose with a model of their home away from home. Image Credit: NASA

Over the past 15 years, after more than 115 construction and logistics flight, the station has grown by leaps and bounds from its small initial configuration of only three pressurized modules from Russian and America into a sprawling million pound orbiting outpost sporting a habitable volume the size of a six bedroom house, with additional new modules and hardware from Europe, Japan and Canada.

The ISS has been visited by over 220 people from 17 countries.

The “1 Year ISS crew” reflects the international cooperation that made the station possible and comprises current ISS commander NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, who are now just past the half way mark of their mission.

“Over the weekend, I called NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who is currently halfway through his one-year mission aboard the International Space Station, to congratulate him on setting the American records for both cumulative and continuous days in space,” Bolden said in a NASA statement released today.

“I also took the opportunity to congratulate Commander Kelly — and the rest of the space station crew — for being part of a remarkable moment 5,478 days in the making: the 15th anniversary of continuous human presence aboard the space station.”

Scott Kelly, U.S. astronaut and commander of the current Expedition 45 crew, broke the US record for time spent in space on Oct. 16, 2015. Credit: NASA
Scott Kelly, U.S. astronaut and commander of the current Expedition 45 crew, broke the US record for time spent in space on Oct. 16, 2015. Credit: NASA

The complete Expedition 45 crew members include Station Commander Scott Kelly and Flight Engineer Kjell Lindgren of NASA, Flight Engineers Mikhail Kornienko, Oleg Kononenko and Sergey Volkov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Flight Engineer Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

For the first nine years, the station was home to crews of two or three. Starting in 2009 the crew size was doubled to a permanent crew of six humans after the habitable volume, research facilities, equipment and supporting provisions had grown sufficiently.

“Humans have been living in space aboard the International Space Station 24-7-365 since Nov. 2, 2000. That’s 15 Thanksgivings, New Years, and holiday seasons astronauts have spent away from their families. 15 years of constant support from Mission Control Houston. And 15 years of peaceful international living in space,” says NASA.

Expedition 45 Crew Portrait: Station Commander Scott Kelly and Flight Engineer Kjell Lindgren of NASA, Flight Engineers Mikhail Kornienko, Oleg Kononenko and Sergey Volkov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Flight Engineer Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.  Credit: NASA/Roscosmos/JAXA
Expedition 45 Crew Portrait: Station Commander Scott Kelly and Flight Engineer Kjell Lindgren of NASA, Flight Engineers Mikhail Kornienko, Oleg Kononenko and Sergey Volkov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Flight Engineer Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Credit: NASA/Roscosmos/JAXA

The US contributed and built the largest number of segments of the space station, followed by Russia.

NASA’s Space Shuttles hauled the US segments aloft inside the orbiters huge payload bay, starting from the first construction mission in 1998 carrying the Unity module to the final shuttle flight STS-135 in 2011, which marked the completion of construction and retirement of the shuttles.

With the shuttle orbiters now sitting in museums and no longer flying, the Russian Soyuz capsule is the only means of transporting crews to the space station and back.

The longevity of the ISS was recently extended from 2020 to 2024 after approval from President Obama. Most of the partners nations have also agreed to the extension. Many in the space community believe the station hardware is quite resilient and hope for further extensions to 2028 and beyond.

“The International Space Station, which President Obama has extended through 2024, is a testament to the ingenuity and boundless imagination of the human spirit. The work being done on board is an essential part of NASA’s journey to Mars, which will bring American astronauts to the Red Planet in the 2030s,” says Bolden.

“For 15 years, humanity’s reach has extended beyond Earth’s atmosphere. Since 2000, human beings have been living continuously aboard the space station, where they have been working off-the-Earth for the benefit of Earth, advancing scientific knowledge, demonstrating new technologies, and making research breakthroughs that will enable long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space.”

A key part of enabling long duration space missions to Mars is the 1 Year ISS Mission.

Scott Kelly recently set the US records for most time in space and longest single space mission.

In coming years, additional new pressurized modules and science labs will be added by Russia and the US.

And NASA says the stations crew size will expand to seven after the US commercial Starliner and Dragon space taxis from Boeing and SpaceX start flying in 2017.

NASA is now developing the new Orion crew capsule and mammoth Space Launch System (SLS) heavy lift rocket to send astronauts to deep space destination including the Moon, asteroids and the Red Planet.

In the meantime, Kelly and his crew are also surely looking forward to the arrival of the next Orbital ATK Cygnus resupply ship carrying science experiments, provisions, spare parts, food and other goodies after it blasts off from Florida on Dec. 3 – detailed in my story here.

Infographic: 15 Years of Continuous Human Presence Aboard the International Space Station.  Credit: NASA
Infographic: 15 Years of Continuous Human Presence Aboard the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

STS-135: Last launch using RS-25 engines that will now power NASA’s SLS deep space exploration rocket. NASA’s 135th and final shuttle mission takes flight on July 8, 2011 at 11:29 a.m. from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida bound for the ISS and the high frontier with Chris Ferguson as Space Shuttle Commander. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
STS-135: Last launch using RS-25 engines that will now power NASA’s SLS deep space exploration rocket. NASA’s 135th and final shuttle mission takes flight on July 8, 2011 at 11:29 a.m. from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida bound for the final flight to the ISS and the high frontier with Chris Ferguson as Space Shuttle Commander. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

NASA Names Four Astronauts for First Boeing, SpaceX U.S. Commercial Spaceflights

NASA today (July 9) named the first four astronauts who will fly on the first U.S. commercial spaceflights in private crew transportation vehicles being built by Boeing and SpaceX – marking a major milestone towards restoring American human launches to U.S. soil as soon as mid-2017, if all goes well.

The four astronauts chosen are all veterans of flights on NASA’s Space Shuttles and to the International Space Station (ISS); Robert Behnken, Eric Boe, Douglas Hurley and Sunita Williams. They now form the core of NASA’s commercial crew astronaut corps eligible for the maiden test flights on board the Boeing CST-100 and Crew Dragon astronaut capsules.

Behnken, Boe and Hurley have each launched on two shuttle missions and Williams is a veteran of two long-duration flights aboard the ISS after launching on both the shuttle and Soyuz. All four served as military test pilots prior to being selected as NASA astronauts.

The experienced quartet of space flyers will work closely with Boeing and SpaceX as they begin training and prepare to launch aboard the first ever commercial ‘space taxi’ ferry flight missions to the ISS and back – that will also end our sole source reliance on the Russian Soyuz capsule for crewed missions to low-Earth orbit and further serve to open up space exploration and transportation services to the private sector.

Boeing and SpaceX were awarded contracts by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in September 2014 worth $6.8 Billion to complete the development and manufacture of the privately developed CST-100 and Crew Dragon astronaut transporters under the agency’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) program and NASA’s Launch America initiative.

“I am pleased to announce four American space pioneers have been selected to be the first astronauts to train to fly to space on commercial crew vehicles, all part of our ambitious plan to return space launches to U.S. soil, create good-paying American jobs and advance our goal of sending humans farther into the solar system than ever before,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, in a statement.

“These distinguished, veteran astronauts are blazing a new trail — a trail that will one day land them in the history books and Americans on the surface of Mars.”

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (left) announces the winners of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program development effort to build America’s next human spaceships launching from Florida to the International Space Station. Speaking from Kennedy’s Press Site, Bolden announced the contract award to Boeing and SpaceX to complete the design of the CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft. Former astronaut Bob Cabana, center, director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Kathy Lueders, manager of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, and former International Space Station Commander Mike Fincke also took part in the announcement. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (left) announces the winners of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program development effort to build America’s next human spaceships launching from Florida to the International Space Station. Speaking from Kennedy’s Press Site, Bolden announced the contract award to Boeing and SpaceX to complete the design of the CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft. Former astronaut Bob Cabana, center, director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Kathy Lueders, manager of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, and former International Space Station Commander Mike Fincke also took part in the announcement. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

The selection of astronauts for rides with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) comes almost exactly four years to the day since the last American manned space launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis on the STS-135 mission to the space station on July 8, 2011 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Hurley was a member of the STS-135 crew and served as shuttle pilot under NASA’s last shuttle commander, Chris Ferguson, who is now Director of Boeing’s CST-100 commercial crew program. Read my earlier exclusive interviews with Ferguson about the CST-100 – here and here.

Since the retirement of the shuttle orbiters, all American and ISS partner astronauts have been forced to hitch a ride on the Soyuz for flights to the ISS and back, at a current cost of over $70 million per seat.

“Our plans to return launches to American soil make fiscal sense,” Bolden elaborated. “It currently costs $76 million per astronaut to fly on a Russian spacecraft. On an American-owned spacecraft, the average cost will be $58 million per astronaut.

Behnken, Boe, Hurley and Williams are all eager to work with the Boeing and SpaceX teams to “understand their designs and operations as they finalize their Boeing CST-100 and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and operational strategies in support of their crewed flight tests and certification activities as part of their contracts with NASA.”

Until June 2015, Williams held the record for longest time in space by a woman, accumulating 322 days in orbit. Behnken is currently the chief of the astronaut core and conducted six space walks at the station. Boe has spent over 28 days in space and flew on the final mission of Space Shuttle Discovery in Feb. 2011 on STS-133.

The first commercial crew flights under the CCtCAP contract could take place in 2017 with at least one member of the two person crews being a NASA astronaut – who will be “on board to verify the fully-integrated rocket and spacecraft system can launch, maneuver in orbit, and dock to the space station, as well as validate all systems perform as expected, and land safely,” according to a NASA statement.

The second crew member could be a company test pilot as the details remain to be worked out.

Boeing and SpaceX are building private spaceships to resume launching US astronauts from US soil to the International Space Station in 2017. Credit: NASA
Boeing and SpaceX are building private spaceships to resume launching US astronauts from US soil to the International Space Station in 2017. Credit: NASA

The actual launch date depends on the NASA budget allocation for the Commercial Crew Program approved by the US Congress.

Congress has never approved NASA’s full funding request for the CCP program and has again cut the program significantly in initial votes this year. So the outlook for a 2017 launch is very uncertain.

Were it not for the drastic CCP cuts we would be launching astronauts this year on the space taxis.

“Every dollar we invest in commercial crew is a dollar we invest in ourselves, rather than in the Russian economy,” Bolden emphasizes about the multifaceted benefits of the commercial crew initiative.

Under the CCtCAP contract, NASA recently ordered the agency’s first commercial crew mission from Boeing – as outlined in my story here. SpaceX will receive a similar CCtCAP mission order later this year.

At a later date, NASA will decide whether Boeing or SpaceX will launch the actual first commercial crew test flight mission to low Earth orbit.

Boeing’s commercial CST-100 'Space Taxi' will carry a crew of five astronauts to low Earth orbit and the ISS from US soil.   Mockup with astronaut mannequins seated below pilot console and Samsung tablets was unveiled on June 9, 2014 at its planned manufacturing facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Boeing’s commercial CST-100 ‘Space Taxi’ will carry a crew of five astronauts to low Earth orbit and the ISS from US soil. Mockup with astronaut mannequins seated below pilot console and Samsung tablets was unveiled on June 9, 2014 at its planned manufacturing facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

“This is a new and exciting era in the history of U.S. human spaceflight,” said Brian Kelly, director of Flight Operations at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, in a statement.

“These four individuals, like so many at NASA and the Flight Operations Directorate, have dedicated their careers to becoming experts in the field of aeronautics and furthering human space exploration. The selection of these experienced astronauts who are eligible to fly aboard the test flights for the next generation of U.S. spacecraft to the ISS and low-Earth orbit ensures that the crews will be well-prepared and thoroughly trained for their missions.”

Both the CST-100 and Crew Dragon will typically carry a crew of four NASA or NASA-sponsored crew members, along with some 220 pounds of pressurized cargo. Each will also be capable of carrying up to seven crew members depending on how the capsule is configured.

The spacecraft will be capable to remaining docked at the station for up to 210 days and serve as an emergency lifeboat during that time.

The NASA CCtCAP contracts call for a minimum of two and a maximum potential of six missions from each provider.

The station crew will also be enlarged to seven people that will enable a doubling of research time.
The CST-100 will be carried to low Earth orbit atop a man-rated United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. It enjoys a 100% success rate.

Boeing will first conduct a pair of unmanned and manned orbital CST-100 test flights earlier in 2017 in April and July, prior to the operational commercial crew rotation mission to confirm that their capsule is ready and able and met all certification milestone requirements set by NASA.

The Crew Dragon will launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It enjoyed a 100% success rate until last weeks launch on its 19th flight which ended with an explosion two minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral on June 28, 2015.

Umbilicals away and detaching from SpaceX Falcon 9 launch  from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 28, 2015 that was doomed to disaster soon thereafter.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Umbilicals away and detaching from SpaceX Falcon 9 launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 28, 2015 that was doomed to disaster soon thereafter. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX conducted a successful Pad Abort Test of the Crew Dragon on May 6, as I reported here. The goal was to test the spacecrafts abort systems that will save astronauts lives in a split second in the case of a launch emergency such as occurred during the June 28 rocket failure in flight that was bound for the ISS with the initial cargo version of the SpaceX Dragon.

SpaceX plans an unmanned orbital test flight of Crew Dragon perhaps by the end of 2016. The crewed orbital test flight would follow sometime in 2017.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Challenger and Columbia Crews Memorialized in Emotional New “Forever Remembered” Exhibit at Kennedy Space Center

An iconic section of the fuselage recovered from space shuttle Challenger with the American flag (left) and the flight deck windows recovered from space shuttle Columbia (right) are part of a new, permanent memorial, “Forever Remembered,” that opened on June 27, 2015 in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida – featuring shuttle hardware and personal crew items never before on display for viewing by the public. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Story/photos updated[/caption]

NASA’s two lost Shuttle crews from the searing Challenger and Columbia accidents are now memorialized in the newly opened, permanent and highly emotional “Forever Remembered” tribute display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.

The “Forever Remembered” memorial tribute was officially opened by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, both veteran shuttle astronauts, at a very special and moving small private NASA ceremony attended by families of the 14 fallen crew members and invited members of the media including Universe Today on June 27, 2015.

“I believe that it’s important to share this story with everyone, and not just push it aside, or try to hide it,” Cabana said at the ceremony, as tears welled up in everyone present.

The shuttle tribute is located on the ground floor of the Space Shuttle Atlantis pavilion at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and features shuttle orbiter hardware recovered from both the Challenger STS-51L and Columbia STS-107 accidents, as well as personal crew items from all 14 courageous astronauts who lost their lives – items never before on display for viewing by the public.

The 2000 square foot exhibit features an iconic section of the fuselage recovered from space shuttle Challenger emblazoned with the American flag and the flight deck windows recovered from space shuttle Columbia, that are part of the permanent “Forever Remembered” memorial that opened on June 27, 2015 – see photo above.

It also holds the largest collection of personal items of both flight crews in individual displays about the 14 crew members in a hallway that leads to a plaque with a quote from U.S. President Ronald Reagan.

“The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted, it belongs to the brave,” said President Ronald Reagan in remarks to the nation in mourning shortly after the explosion of Space Shuttle Challenger on Jan. 28, 1986.

Astronaut walkway exhibit in the permanent new “Forever Remembered” memorial  to the 14 fallen crew members of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, featuring personal crew items never before on display for viewing by the public.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Astronaut walkway exhibit in the permanent new “Forever Remembered” memorial to the 14 fallen crew members of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, featuring personal crew items never before on display for viewing by the public. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The “Forever Remembered” display was conceived in private by a very small circle spearheaded by Cabana and unknown by outsiders until the day it was formally opened. It completes the display inside the Atlantis pavilion, which commemorates NASA’s three decade long Space Shuttle Program that flew 135 missions from 1981 to 2011 with the reusable delta-winged vehicles that “captivated a generation.”

It is intended to be an emotional experience and “designed to honor the crews, pay tribute to the spacecraft and emphasize the importance of learning from the past” and the tragic consequences. This will enable safer flights in the future and fortify the spirit of never giving up on the exploration of space.

“The tragedies galvanized the agency to learn from these painful events, not only to safely return the shuttle fleet to flight, but to help assure the safety of future explorers,” NASA said in a statement.

Several dozen family members attended the tearful, heartfelt opening ceremony of “Forever Remembered” with very emotional remarks from Cabana and Bolden.

“These crews and these vehicles are part of who we are as an agency, and a nation. They tell the story of our never ending quest to explore, and our undying spirit to never give up,” Cabana stated at the ceremony.

Columbia and Challenger were the nation’s first two orbiters to be built. Columbia launched on the maiden space shuttle flight on April 12, 1981 on what is revered by many as the “boldest test flight in history” with NASA astronauts John Young and Bob Crippen.

“When I look into those windows, I see John Young and Bob Crippen preparing to launch on the boldest test flight in history, the first flight of America’s space shuttle, Columbia,” Cabana added.

“I see a much younger Bob Cabana launching to space on his first command, and I see Rick and Willie and the rest of the 107 crew smiling and experiencing the wonders of space on the final flight of Columbia.”

The idea to create a permanent memorial originated with a team led by Bob Cabana, and approved by Charlie Bolden only after every one of the astronauts families were in complete and unqualified agreement that this tribute display was the right thing to do in memory of their loved ones, tragically lost during the in flight accidents in 1986 and 2003.

“The crews of Challenger and Columbia are forever a part of a story that is ongoing,” Bolden said at the ceremony.

“It is the story of humankind’s evolving journey into space, the unknown, and the outer-reaches of knowledge, discovery and possibility. It is a story of hope.”

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden officially opens the “Forever Remembered” memorial tribute to the fallen crews of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida on Junwe 27, 2015.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden officially opens the “Forever Remembered” memorial tribute to the fallen crews of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida on June 27, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The wives of the two shuttle commanders, shared their thoughts on the new exhibit:

“It’s a beautiful remembrance of all the shuttles, with the marvelous display of Atlantis. Nothing compares to it in the world,” said June Scobee Rodgers, whose husband, Dick Scobee, commanded Challenger on STS-51L, in a statement.

“But Challenger and Columbia are not forgotten, and they’re well represented.”

“I knew it would be very emotional to see, but honestly, I didn’t expect to be so impacted by it. I just can’t stop thinking about it. As you walk in, you know you’re in a special place,” Evelyn Husband Thompson said of the memorial. Her husband, Rick, commanded Columbia on STS-107.

Up close view of the iconic section of the fuselage recovered from space shuttle Challenger with the American flag now on permanent display in the newly opened “Forever Remembered” public memorial tribute located in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Up close view of the iconic section of the fuselage recovered from space shuttle Challenger with the American flag now on permanent display in the newly opened “Forever Remembered” public memorial tribute located in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Here is a NASA description of both the Columbia and Challenger accidents and crews:

“Temperatures at Kennedy Space Center were just a few degrees above freezing on the morning of Jan. 28, 1986, as Challenger lifted off on its 10th mission, STS-51L. One minute and 13 seconds into the flight, a booster failure caused an explosion that destroyed the vehicle, resulting in the loss of the crew of seven astronauts: Commander Francis Scobee, Pilot Michael J. Smith, Mission Specialists Judith Resnik, Ellison Onizuka and Ronald McNair, and Payload Specialists Gregory Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe, a New Hampshire schoolteacher.”

“Seventeen years later, on Jan. 16, 2003, NASA’s flagship orbiter Columbia thundered into orbit on STS-107, a 16-day science mission. On board were Commander Rick Husband, Pilot Willie McCool, Payload Commander Michael Anderson, Mission Specialists Kalpana Chawla, David Brown and Laurel Clark, and Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut. On Feb. 1, 2003, the orbiter broke apart in the skies above east Texas as it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere on the way to a planned landing at Kennedy. Seven more lives were lost.”

“Forever Remembered” public memorial tribute to the fallen crews of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters is located on the ground floor of the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, visible just below the shuttle wing in this photo.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
“Forever Remembered” public memorial tribute to the fallen crews of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters is located on the ground floor of the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, visible just below the shuttle wing in this photo. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Today the fallen astronauts legacy of human spaceflight lives on at NASA with the International Space Station, the development of Commercial Crew manned capsules for low Earth orbit, and the development of the Orion deep space crew exploration vehicle and SLS rocket for NASA’s ambitious plans to send ‘Human to Mars’ in the 2030s.

Read more about both fallen shuttle crews and the Apollo 1 crew who perished in a launch pad accident in January 1967 in my tribute story posted here during NASA’s solemn week of remembrance in January.

The explosion of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket some two minutes after launch on June 28, 2015 is a reminder that space flight is never easy or routine. Starting sometime in 2017, astronauts will launch to the ISS in a crew Dragon atop the Falcon 9. It will be equipped with a launch abort system that the shuttles never had, in case of a launch emergency.

I urge everyone to visit this hallowed “Forever Remembered” memorial at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice to benefit all of us in the quest for new knowledge of the boundless expanse of space leading to new discoveries we cannot fathom today.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana officially opens the “Forever Remembered” memorial tribute to the fallen crews of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida on June 27, 2015.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana officially opens the “Forever Remembered” memorial tribute to the fallen crews of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida on June 27, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The new Space Shuttle Atlantis pavilion at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
The new Space Shuttle Atlantis pavilion at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Falcon Heavy Rocket Launch and Booster Recovery Featured in Cool New SpaceX Animation

SpaceX released a cool new animation today, Jan. 27, showing an updated look at their Falcon Heavy rocket and plans for booster recovery. See below.

The Falcon Heavy is the brainchild of billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO and founder, and illustrates his moving forward with the firm’s next giant leap in spaceflight.

The rocket is designed to lift over 53 tons (117,00 pounds) to orbit and could one day launch astronauts to the Moon and Mars.

The commercial Falcon Heavy rocket has been under development by SpaceX for several years and the initial launch is now planned for later this year from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.

The new rocket is comprised of three Falcon 9 cores.

The Falcon Heavy will be the most powerful rocket developed since NASA’s Saturn V rocket that hurled NASA’s Apollo astronauts to the Moon in the 1960s and 1970s – including the first manned landing on the Lunar surface by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in July 1969.

Here is the updated animation of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy flight and booster recovery:

Video Caption: Animation of SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch and booster recovery. Credit: SpaceX

The video shows the launch of the triple barreled Falcon Heavy from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Then it transitions to the recovery of all three boosters by a guided descent back to a soft touchdown on land in the Cape Canaveral/Kennedy Space Center area.

SpaceX, headquartered in Hawthorne, CA, signed a long term lease with NASA in April 2014 to operate seaside pad 39A as a commercial launch facility for launching the Falcon Heavy as well as the manned Dragon V2 atop SpaceX’s man-rated Falcon 9 booster.

Launch Complex 39A has sat dormant for over three years since the blastoff of the final shuttle mission STS-135 in July 2011 on a mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

Launch Pad 39A has lain dormant save dismantling since the final shuttle launch on the STS-135 mission in July 2011.  Not a single rocket has rolled up this ramp at the Kennedy Space Center in nearly 3 years. SpaceX has now leased Pad 39A from NASA and American rockets will thunder aloft again with Falcon rocket boosters starting in 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Launch Pad 39A has lain dormant, save dismantling, since the final shuttle launch on the STS-135 mission in July 2011. Not a single rocket has rolled up this ramp at the Kennedy Space Center in over 3 years. SpaceX has now leased Pad 39A from NASA and American rockets will thunder aloft again with Falcon rocket boosters starting in 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX is now renovating and modifying the pad as well as the Fixed and Mobile Service Structures, RSS and FSS. They will maintain and operate Pad 39A at their own expense, with no US federal funding from NASA.

When it does launch, the liquid fueled Falcon Heavy will become the most powerful rocket in the world according to SpaceX, generating nearly four million pounds of liftoff thrust from 27 Merlin 1D engines. It will then significantly exceeding the power of the Delta IV Heavy manufactured by competitor United Launch Alliance (ULA), which most recently was used to successfully launch and recover NASA’s Orion crew capsule on its maiden unmanned flight in Dec. 2014

STS-135: Last launch from Launch Complex 39A. NASA’s 135th and final shuttle mission takes flight on July 8, 2011 at 11:29 a.m. from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida bound for the ISS and the high frontier with Chris Ferguson as Space Shuttle Commander. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
STS-135: Last launch from Launch Complex 39A.
NASA’s 135th and final shuttle mission takes flight on July 8, 2011, at 11:29 a.m. from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida bound for the ISS and the high frontier with Chris Ferguson as Space Shuttle Commander. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX recently completed a largely successful and history making first attempt to recover a Falcon 9 booster on an ocean-going “drone ship.” The rocket nearly made a pinpoint landing on the ship but was destroyed in the final moments when control was lost due to a loss of hydraulic fluid.

Read my story with a SpaceX video – here – that vividly illustrates what SpaceX is attempting to accomplish by recovering and ultimately reusing the boosters in order to dramatically cut the cost of access to space.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk briefs reporters, including Universe Today, in Cocoa Beach, FL, during prior SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk briefs reporters, including Universe Today, in Cocoa Beach, FL, during prior SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

NASA Premiers New Countdown Clock for Orion’s First Launch

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER – Just in the nick of time, NASA powered up its new countdown clock at the Press Site to tick down towards blastoff of the first launch of the agency’s new Orion crew capsule on Dec. 4 that will carry a new generation of explorers to exciting new destinations further into deep space than ever before.

Without any fanfare, NASA premiered the new digital clock today, Monday, Dec. 1, to replace the world famous analog clock – seen by countless billions across the globe – that was recently retired and detailed in my story – here.

Check out and compare the new and old countdown clocks in my exclusive photos herein.

“We were in a race against time to remove the old clock and replace it with the new clock over the Thanksgiving holiday period,” said NASA Kennedy Space Center spokesman George Diller in an exclusive interview with Universe Today on Monday.

“The plan was to have it ready in time for the first launch of Orion on Dec. 4,” Diller told me.

A new countdown display has been constructed in the place of the former analog countdown clock at the Press Site at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida for Orion’s first launch. The display is a modern, digital LED display akin to stadium monitors. It allows television images to be shown along with numbers.  Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
A new countdown display has been constructed in the place of the former analog countdown clock at the Press Site at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for Orion’s first launch. The display is a modern, digital LED display akin to stadium monitors. It allows television images to be shown along with numbers. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

A team was working during the holiday.

Why replace the old clock?

“It was getting harder and harder to find the spare parts needed to fix the clock”.

“The original clock was designed in the 1960s”, Diller explained. It has been counting down launches, both manned and unmanned, for more than four decades.

“The clock has been in use since the Apollo 12 moon landing mission in November 1969.”

NASA’s 135th and final shuttle mission takes flight on July 8, 2011 at 11:29 a.m. from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida bound for the ISS and the high frontier with Chris Ferguson as Space Shuttle Commander. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA’s 135th, and final, shuttle mission takes flight on July 8, 2011, at 11:29 a.m. from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida bound for the ISS and the high frontier with Chris Ferguson as Space Shuttle Commander. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

It was used continuously throughout the remaining Apollo launches and then for all 135 shuttle launches until the final shuttle mission STS-135 blastoff in July 2011. Since then it has been used exclusively on a plethora of unmanned NASA science launches and resupply missions to the International Space Station.

The old countdown clock was last used in September 2014 during the SpaceX CRS-4 launch to the ISS, which I attended along with the STS-135 launch.

The clock and adjacent US flag are officially called “The Press Site: Clock and Flag Pole” and were listed in the National Register of Historic Places on Jan. 21, 2000.

In the past few days workers dismantled and hauled off the old clock and installed the new one in place.

But the original base was left in place. The new clock is about the same length as the historic one, with a screen nearly 26 feet wide by 7 feet high.

While not true high-definition, the video resolution will be 1280 x 360.The new countdown clock sports a widescreen capability utilizing the latest breakthroughs in outdoor LED display technology, says NASA.

Space Shuttle Endeavour blasts off on her 25th and final mission from Pad 39 A on May 16, 2011 at 8:56 a.m. View from the world famous countdown clock at T Plus 5 Seconds. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Space Shuttle Endeavour blasts off on her 25th, and final, mission from Pad 39 A on May 16, 2011, at 8:56 a.m. View from the world famous countdown clock at T-Plus 5 Seconds. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The display can provide images from multiple sources, as well as the countdown launch time. It was cool to see the new clock in action today.

As currently envisaged, the historic Countdown Clock was moved to the nearby Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (KSCVC).

It will be placed on permanent display for the public to see for the first time at the KSCVC main entrance sometime early next year, Diller explained.

The new countdown clock in contact view with the VAB, Launch Control Center (LCC), US Flag and SLS Mobile Launcher at the Press Site at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida used for the first time with Orion’s first launch on Dec. 4, 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
The new countdown clock in contact view with the VAB, Launch Control Center (LCC), US Flag, and SLS Mobile Launcher at the Press Site at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida will be used for the first time with Orion’s first launch on Dec. 4, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

NASA TV will provide several hours of live Orion EFT-1 launch coverage with the new countdown clock – starting at 4:30 a.m. on Dec. 4.

Watch for Ken’s ongoing Orion coverage and he’ll be onsite at KSC in the days leading up to the historic launch on Dec. 4.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orion and Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer
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Learn more about Orion, SpaceX, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Dec 1-5: “Orion EFT-1, SpaceX CRS-5, Antares Orb-3 launch, Curiosity Explores Mars,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

Iconic Kennedy Space Center Countdown Clock Retires

Iconic Kennedy Space Center Countdown Clock seen here retires
NASA’s 135th and final shuttle mission takes flight on July 8, 2011 at 11:29 a.m. from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida bound for the ISS and the high frontier with Chris Ferguson as Space Shuttle Commander. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Story updated and more photos[/caption]

In another sign of dramatically changing times since the end of NASA’s Space Shuttle program, the world famous Countdown Clock that ticked down to numerous blastoffs at the Kennedy Space Center Press Site and was ever present to billions of television viewers worldwide, has been retired.

Years of poor weather and decades of unforgiving time have visibly taken their toll on the iconic Countdown Clock beloved by space enthusiasts across the globe – as I have personally witnessed over years of reporting on launches from the KSC Press Site.

It was designed in the 1960s and has been counting down launches both manned and unmanned since the Apollo 12 moon landing mission in November 1969. And it continued through the final shuttle mission liftoff in July 2011 and a variety of unmanned NASA launches since then.

The countdown clock’s last use came just two months ago in September 2014 during the SpaceX CRS-4 launch to the ISS, which I attended along with the STS-135 launch.

The clock is located just a short walk away from another iconic NASA symbol – the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) – which assembled the Apollo/Saturn and Space Shuttle stacks for which it ticked down to blastoff. See photo below.

A new clock should be in place for NASA’s momentous upcoming launch of the Orion crew capsule on its inaugural unmanned test flight on Dec. 4, 2014.

Space Shuttle Endeavour blasts off on her 25th and final mission from Pad 39 A on May 16, 2011 at 8:56 a.m. View from the world famous countdown clock at T Plus 5 Seconds. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Space Shuttle Endeavour blasts off on her 25th and final mission from Pad 39 A on May 16, 2011 at 8:56 a.m. View from the world famous countdown clock at T Plus 5 Seconds. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Because of its age, it has become harder to replace broken pieces.

“Maintaining the clock was becoming problematic,” NASA Press spokesman Allard Beutel told Universe Today.

It displays only time in big bold digits. But of course in this new modern digital era it will be replaced by one with a modern multimedia display, similar to the screens seen at sporting venues.

“The new clock will not only be a timepiece, but be more versatile with what we can show on the digital display,” Beutel told me.

The countdown clock is a must see for journalists, dignitaries and assorted visitors alike. Absolutely everyone, and I mean everyone !! – wants a selfie or group shot with it in some amusing or charming way to remember good times throughout the ages.

And of course, nothing beats including the countdown clock and the adjacent US flag in launch pictures in some dramatic way.

Indeed the clock and flag are officially called “The Press Site: Clock and Flag Pole” and are were listed in the National Register of Historic Places on Jan. 21, 2000.

The clock was officially powered down for the last time at 3:45 p.m. EDT on Nov. 19, 2014.

Famous KSC Press Site Countdown Clock and US Flag with VAB during SpaceX CRS-5 launch in September 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Famous KSC Press Site Countdown Clock and US Flag with VAB during SpaceX CRS-4 launch in September 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

“The countdown clock at Kennedy’s Press Site is considered one of the most-watched timepieces in the world and may only be second in popularity to Big Ben’s Great Clock in London, England. It also has been the backdrop for a few Hollywood movies,” noted a NASA press release announcing the impending shutdown of the iconic clock.

“It is so absolutely unique — the one and only — built for the world to watch the countdown and launch,” said Timothy M. Wright, IMCS Timing, Countdown and Photo Services. “From a historical aspect, it has been very faithful to serve its mission requirements.”

The famous landmark stands nearly 6 feet (70 inches) high, 26 feet (315 inches) wide is 3 feet deep and sits on a triangular concrete and aluminum base.

Each numerical digit (six in all) is about 4 feet high and 2 feet wide. Each digit uses 56 40-watt light bulbs, the same ones found at the local hardware store. There are 349 total light bulbs in the clock, including the +/- sign (nine) and pair of colons (four), according to a NASA statement.

The new clock will be about the same size.

Fortunately for space fans, there is some good news!

The Countdown Clock will be moved to the nearby Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (KSCVC) and placed on permanent display for public viewing.

Details soon!

Space Shuttle Discovery awaits blast off on her final mission from Pad 39 A on the STS-133 mission, its 39th and final flight to space on February 24, 2011.  Prelaunch twilight view from the countdown clock at the KSC Press Site. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Space Shuttle Discovery awaits blast off on her final mission from Pad 39 A on the STS-133 mission, its 39th and final flight to space on February 24, 2011. Prelaunch twilight view from the countdown clock at the KSC Press Site. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Boeing Completes All CST-100 Commercial Crew CCiCAP Milestones on Time and on Budget for NASA – Ahead of Competitors

In the ‘new race to space’ to restore our capability to launch Americans to orbit from American soil with an American-built commercial ‘space taxi’ as rapidly and efficiently as possible, Boeing has moved to the front of the pack with their CST-100 spaceship by completing all their assigned NASA milestones on time and on budget in the current phase of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP).

Boeing is the first, and thus far only one of the three competitors (including Sierra Nevada Corp. and SpaceX) to complete all their assigned milestone task requirements under NASA’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative funded under the auspices of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.

The CST-100 is a privately built, man rated capsule being developed with funding from NASA via the commercial crew initiative in a public/private partnership between NASA and private industry.

The overriding goal is restart America’s capability to reliably launch our astronauts from US territory to low-Earth orbit (LEO) and the International Space Station (ISS) by 2017.

Hatch opening to Boeing’s commercial CST-100 crew transporter.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Hatch opening to Boeing’s commercial CST-100 crew transporter. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Private space taxis are the fastest and cheapest way to accomplish that and end the gap in indigenous US human spaceflight launches.

Since the forced shutdown of NASA’s Space Shuttle program following its final flight in 2011, US astronauts have been 100% dependent on the Russians and their cramped but effective Soyuz capsule for rides to the station and back – at a cost exceeding $70 million per seat.

Boeing announced that NASA approved the completion of the final two commercial crew milestones contracted to Boeing for the CST-100 development.

These last two milestones are the Phase Two Spacecraft Safety Review of its Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 spacecraft and the Critical Design Review (CDR) of its integrated systems.

The CDR milestone was completed in July and comprised 44 individual CDRs including propulsion, software, avionics, landing, power and docking systems.

The Phase Two Spacecraft Safety Review included an overall hazard analysis of the spacecraft, identifying life-threatening situations and ensuring that the current design mitigated any safety risks, according to Boeing.

“The challenge of a CDR is to ensure all the pieces and sub-systems are working together,” said John Mulholland, Boeing Commercial Crew program manager, in a statement.

“Integration of these systems is key. Now we look forward to bringing the CST-100 to life.”

Boeing CST-100 manned space capsule in free flight in low Earth orbit will transport astronaut crews to the International Space Station. Credit: Boeing
Boeing CST-100 manned space capsule in free flight in low Earth orbit will transport astronaut crews to the International Space Station. Credit: Boeing

Passing the CDR and completing all the NASA milestone requirements is a significant step leading to the final integrated design for the CST-100 space taxi, ground systems and Atlas V launcher that will boost it to Earth orbit from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser and SpaceX Dragon V2 and are also receiving funds from NASA’s commercial crew program.

All three American aerospace firms vying for the multibillion dollar NASA contract to build an American ‘space taxi’ to ferry US astronauts to the International Space Station and back as soon as 2017.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program office is expected to announce the winner(s) of the high stakes, multibillion dollar contract to build America’s next crew vehicles in the next program phase, known as Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap), “sometime around the end of August/September,” NASA News spokesman Allard Beutel confirmed to me.

“We don’t have a scheduled date for the commercial crew award(s).”

There will be 1 or more CCtCAP winners.

Boeing CST-100 capsule interior up close.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Boeing CST-100 capsule interior up close. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

On June 9, 2014, Boeing revealed the design of their CST-100 astronaut spaceliner by unveiling a full scale mockup of their commercial ‘space taxi’ at the new home of its future manufacturing site at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) located inside a refurbished facility that most recently was used to prepare NASA’s space shuttle orbiters for assembly missions to the ISS.

The CST-100 crew transporter was unveiled at the invitation only ceremony and media event held inside the gleaming white and completely renovated NASA processing hangar known as Orbiter Processing Facility-3 (OPF-3) – and attended by Universe Today.

The huge 64,000 square foot facility has sat dormant since the shuttles were retired following their final flight (STS-135) in July 2011 and which was commanded by Chris Ferguson, who now serves as director of Boeing’s Crew and Mission Operations.

Ferguson and the Boeing team are determined to get Americans back into space from American soil with American rockets.

Read my exclusive, in depth one-on-one interviews with Chris Ferguson – America’s last shuttle commander – about the CST-100; here and here.

Chris Ferguson, last Space Shuttle Atlantis commander, tests the Boeing CST-100 capsule which may fly US astronauts to the International Space Station in 2017.  Ferguson is now  Boeing’s director of Crew and Mission Operations for the Commercial Crew Program vying for NASA funding.  Credit: NASA/Boeing
Chris Ferguson, last Space Shuttle Atlantis commander, tests the Boeing CST-100 capsule which may fly US astronauts to the International Space Station in 2017. Ferguson is now Boeing’s director of Crew and Mission Operations for the Commercial Crew Program vying for NASA funding. Credit: NASA/Boeing

Boeing’s philosophy is to make the CST-100 a commercial endeavor, as simple and cost effective as possible in order to quickly kick start US human spaceflight efforts. It’s based on proven technologies drawing on Boeing’s 100 year heritage in aviation and space.

“The CST-100, it’s a simple ride up to and back from space,” Ferguson told me. “So it doesn’t need to be luxurious. It’s an ascent and reentry vehicle – and that’s all!”

So the CST-100 is basically a taxi up and a taxi down from LEO. NASA’s complementary human space flight program involving the Orion crew vehicle is designed for deep space exploration.

The vehicle includes five recliner seats, a hatch and windows, the pilots control console with several attached Samsung tablets for crew interfaces with wireless internet, a docking port to the ISS and ample space for 220 kilograms of cargo storage of an array of equipment, gear and science experiments depending on NASA’s allotment choices.

The interior features Boeing’s LED Sky Lighting with an adjustable blue hue based on its 787 Dreamliner airplanes to enhance the ambience for the crew.

Boeing CST-100 crew capsule will carry five person crews to the ISS.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Boeing CST-100 crew capsule will carry five person crews to the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The reusable capsule will launch atop a man rated United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket.

“The first unmanned orbital test flight is planned in January 2017… and may go to the station,” Ferguson told me during our exclusive interview about Boeing’s CST-100 plans.

Since 2010, NASA has spent over $1.5 billion on the commercial crew effort.

Boeing has received the largest share of funding in the current CCiCAP phase amounting to about $480 million. SpaceX received $460 million for the Dragon V2 and Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) has received a half award of $227.5 million for the Dream Chaser mini-shuttle.

SNC will be the next company to complete all of NASA’s milestones this Fall, SNC VP Mark Sirangelo told me in an exclusive interview. SpaceX will be the final company finishing its milestones sometime in 2015.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Boeing, Sierra Nevada, SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, Orion, Curiosity, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Boeing's CST-100 project engineer Tony Castilleja describes the capsule during a fascinating interview with Ken Kremer/Universe Today on June 9, 2014 while sitting inside the full scale mockup of the Boeing CST-100 space taxi during unveiling ceremony at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Boeing’s CST-100 project engineer Tony Castilleja describes the capsule during a fascinating interview with Ken Kremer/Universe Today on June 9, 2014 while sitting inside the full scale mockup of the Boeing CST-100 space taxi during unveiling ceremony at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Photos: Readers Share Memories Of NASA’s Final Shuttle Launches

With the three-year anniversary this week of STS-135 — the final launch of the program — we invited readers of Universe Today to send in your pictures of shuttle experiences. We’ve been spoiled with several entries into our Flickr pool, which we’ve posted below.

Also, noted space tweep Remco Timmermans generously provided us with dozens of pictures, of which we chose just a few to represent his experiences at STS-135. That picture at the top gave us goosebumps. Down below you can see more of Remco’s shots (thank you!) and some of the best other shots that readers sent in.

NASA astronauts Mike Massimino (left) and Douglas Wheelock flank Elmo during a NASA tweetup in July 2011 for the last shuttle launch, STS-135. Credit: Remco Timmermans
NASA astronauts Mike Massimino (left) and Douglas Wheelock flank Elmo during a NASA tweetup in July 2011 for the last shuttle launch, STS-135. Credit: Remco Timmermans
A sign points to the NASA Tweetup location for STS-135, the final shuttle launch, in July 2011. Credit: Remco Timmermans
A sign points to the NASA Tweetup location for STS-135, the final shuttle launch, in July 2011. Credit: Remco Timmermans
Shuttle Atlantis prior to the last launch of the program, STS-135, in July 2011. Credit: Remco Timmermans
Shuttle Atlantis prior to the last launch of the program, STS-135, in July 2011. Credit: Remco Timmermans
Launch Pad 39A is illuminated by light prior to the launch of Atlantis for STS-135 in July 2011. Credit: Remco Timmermans
Launch Pad 39A is illuminated by light prior to the launch of Atlantis for STS-135 in July 2011. Credit: Remco Timmermans
The "Astrovan" (right) ferries the STS-135 crew to Launch Pad 39A prior to the July 8, 2011 launch, the last of the shuttle program. Credit: Remco Timmermans
The “Astrovan” (right) ferries the STS-135 crew to Launch Pad 39A prior to the July 8, 2011 launch, the last of the shuttle program. Credit: Remco Timmermans
One of the shuttle's external rocket boosters is towed back to port following the launch of STS-135 in July 2011, the last of the shuttle program. Source: Remco Timmermans
One of the shuttle’s external rocket boosters is towed back to port following the launch of STS-135 in July 2011, the last of the shuttle program. Source: Remco Timmermans

Thanks also to numerous other Universe Today contributors who posted pictures to our Flickr pool. We’ll include some samples below. Nathanial Burton-Bradford who provided a 3-D picture of Atlantis lifting off on its last flight (use red and blue glasses to view properly):

A 3-D picture of Atlantis lifting off on the last shuttle mission of the program, STS-135, on July 8, 2011. Credit:  Nathanial Burton-Bradford
A 3-D picture of Atlantis lifting off on the last shuttle mission of the program, STS-135, on July 8, 2011. Credit: Nathanial Burton-Bradford

Robert Karma provided several stunning pictures of STS-131, which featured Discovery, including one showing the shuttle rising high in the sky beside the American flag, and another with the moment the solid rocket boosters separated from Discovery:

STS-131 Discovery flies high in the sky following its launch Feb. 24, 2011. Credit: Robert Karma
STS-131 Discovery flies high in the sky following its launch Feb. 24, 2011. Credit: Robert Karma
The solid rocket boosters separate from Discovery during the flight of STS-131 on Feb. 24, 2011. Credit: Robert Karma
The solid rocket boosters separate from Discovery during the flight of STS-131 on Feb. 24, 2011. Credit: Robert Karma

Also, thanks to Ralph Hightower for providing this image of STS-135 on Flickr:

The STS-135 Atlantis launch viewed from the NASA Causeway in Florida on July 8, 2011. Credit:  Ralph Hightower
The STS-135 Atlantis launch viewed from the NASA Causeway in Florida on July 8, 2011. Credit: Ralph Hightower