Two Veteran NASA Astronauts Michael Foale and Ellen Ochoa Inducted into U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame at KSC

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER VISITOR COMPLEX, FL – In a moving ceremony, a pair of veteran NASA astronauts – Michael Foale and Ellen Ochoa – who once flew together on a space shuttle mission, were inducted into the U. S. Astronaut Hall of Fame at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Florida, on May 19. Between […]

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NASA Webb Telescope Structure is Sound After Vibration Testing Detects Anomaly

NASA GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER, MD – The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is now deemed “sound” and apparently unscathed, engineers have concluded, based on results from a new batch of intensive inspections of the observatory’s structure, after concerns were raised in early December when technicians initially detected “anomalous readings” during a preplanned series of vibration tests, NASA announced Dec. 23.

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Antares ‘Return to Flight’ Blastoff Soars to Stellar Success

NASA WALLOPS FLIGHT FACILITY, VA – The ‘Return to Flight’ blastoff of Orbital ATK’s upgraded Antares rocket soared to a stellar success this evening, Oct. 17, on a space station bound mission to stock the orbiting outpost with two and a half tons of science and supplies. The re-engined Orbital ATK Antares/Cygnus OA-5 mission lifted […]

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NASA Welds First Flight Section of SLS Core Stage for 2018 Maiden Launch

Space Launch System (SLS) core stage engine section finishes welding at the Vertical Assembly Center at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans for maiden flight of SLS rocket. Credit: NASA

One weld at a time, the flight hardware for NASA’s mammoth new Space Launch System (SLS) booster has at last started taking shape, promising to turn years of planning and engineering discussions into reality and a rocket that will one day propel our astronauts on a ‘Journey to Mars.’

The first actual SLS flight hardware has been assembled, leaping from engineering blueprints on computer screens to individual metallic components that technicians are feeding into NASA’s gigantic “Welding Wonder” machine at the agency’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

Technicians are bending metal and have now finished welding together the pieces of flight hardware forming the first major SLS flight component – namely the engine section that sits at the base of the SLS core stage.

The engine section of the core stage will house the four RS-25 engines that will power the maiden launch of SLS and NASA’s Orion deep space manned spacecraft in late 2018.

The core stage towers over 212 feet (64.6 meters) tall, sports a diameter of 27.6 feet (8.4 m) and stores the cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that feeds and fuels the boosters RS-25 engines.

SLS will be the most powerful rocket the world has ever seen. It will propel astronauts in the Orion capsule on deep space missions, first back to the Moon by around 2021, then to an asteroid around 2025 and then beyond to the Red Planet in the 2030s – NASA’s overriding and agency wide goal.

The SLS core stage welding work is carried out in the massive 170-foot-tall Vertical Assembly Center (VAC) at Michoud. Boeing is the prime contractor for the SLS core stage.

On Sept. 12, 2014, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden officially unveiled VAC as the world’s largest welder at Michoud.

“This rocket is a game changer in terms of deep space exploration and will launch NASA astronauts to investigate asteroids and explore the surface of Mars while opening new possibilities for science missions, as well,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden during the ribbon-cutting ceremony at Michoud.

Each of the RS-25’s engines generates some 500,000 pounds of thrust, fueled by cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. They are recycled for their original use as space shuttle main engines

For SLS they will be operating at 109% of power, compared to a routine usage of 104.5% during the shuttle era. They measure 14 feet tall and 8 feet in diameter.

The SLS weld team has been busy. Technicians have already assembled a qualification version of the engine section on the Vertical Assembly Center at Michoud. Later this year it will be shipped to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, to undergo structural loads testing.

In March, they also completed welding of a liquid oxygen tank confidence article on the Vertical Assembly Center. And in February they welded the liquid hydrogen tank confidence article.

According to the current schedule, NASA plans to finish all welding for the core stage — including confidence, qualification and flight hardware — of the SLS-1 rocket sometime this summer.

Engineers are constructing the confidence and qualification hardware units to verify that the welding equipment and procedures work exactly as planned.

“The confidence will also be used in developing the application process for the thermal protection system, which is the insulation foam that gives the tank its orange color,” say NASA officials.

Altogether , the SLS first stage propulsion comprises the four RS-25 space shuttle main engines and a pair of enhanced five segment solid rocket boosters (SRBs) also derived from the shuttles four segment boosters.

The maiden test flight of the SLS/Orion is targeted for no later than November 2018 and will be configured in its initial 70-metric-ton (77-ton) version with a liftoff thrust of 8.4 million pounds.

Meanwhile the welded skeletal backbone for the Orion EM-1 mission recently arrived at the Kennedy Space Center on Feb. 1 for outfitting with all the systems and subsystems necessary for flight.

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

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NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly Returns from a Historic Year in Space on Station

NASA astronaut and Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly and his Russian counterpart Mikhail Kornienko enjoy the cold fresh air back on Earth after their historic 340-day mission aboard the International Space Station.  Credits: NASA TV

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly and his Russian cohort Mikhail Kornienko successful returned to Earth late Tuesday night (March 1), after spending nearly a year in space aboard the space station on a mission to gauge the limits of human endurance in microgravity and blaze a path forward to eventual human expeditions to the Red Planet.

After boarding their Russian Soyuz capsule, Kelly and Kornienko along with the third member of their crew Russian cosmonaut Sergey Volkov safely landed in Kazakhstan at 11:26 p.m. EST (10:26 a.m. March 2 Kazakhstan time).

Kelly notched an American record for longest time in space on a single mission by living and working for 340 days straight aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Kelly and Kornienko share the history making distinction of comprising the first ever ‘1 Year Crew’ to serve aboard the massive Earth orbiting science research outpost in space.

“Scott Kelly’s one-year mission aboard the International Space Station has helped to advance deep space exploration and America’s Journey to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

“Scott has become the first American astronaut to spend a year in space, and in so doing, helped us take one giant leap toward putting boots on Mars.”
Kelly, Kornienko and Volkov touched down southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan inside their Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft.

Kelly and Kornienko served as human guinea pigs for studying the effects of long term spaceflight in zero gravity on the human body that will aid planning for sending people on years long expeditions to Mars.

NASA’s agency wide goal is to send humans on a ‘Journey to Mars’ during the 2030s and the ‘1 Year Crew’ marked a concrete step toward achieving that goal.

During the record-setting One-Year mission, the station crew conducted almost 400 investigations to advance NASA’s mission and benefit all of humanity.

“Kelly and Kornienko specifically participated in a number of studies to inform NASA’s Journey to Mars, including research into how the human body adjusts to weightlessness, isolation, radiation and the stress of long-duration spaceflight. Kelly’s identical twin brother, former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, participated in parallel twin studies on Earth to help scientists compare the effects of space on the body and mind down to the cellular level,” say NASA officials.

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

Ken Kremer

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NASA Orders First Commercial Crew Mission to Space Station from SpaceX

Restoring America’s ability to once again launch US astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) from US soil on US rockets took another significant step forward when NASA ordered the first the agency’s first commercial crew rotation mission from the Hawthorne, California based-company SpaceX. NASA and SpaceX hope that the blastoff with a crew of […]

NASA and Space Station Astronauts Salute Americas Veterans This Veteran’s Day

The entire NASA family on Earth and NASA’s two astronauts serving aboard the Earth orbiting International Space Station (ISS) salute all our country’s brave veterans on this Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11, 2015. NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren saluted America’s veterans today with out of this world salutes and beautiful photos of the American […]

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 […]

Boeing ‘Starliner’ Crew Spaceship; America’s Next Ride to Space Takes Shape

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – ‘Starliner’ is the new name of America’s next spaceship destined to launch our astronauts to orbit. It will restore America’s capability to launch American astronauts from American soil to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2017 and the first capsule is already taking shape. Built by The Boeing Company, ‘Starliner’ […]

Congressional Slashes to NASA Commercial Crew Force Bolden to ‘Buy Russian’ rather than ‘Buy American’

In the face of drastic funding cuts by the US Congress to NASA’s commercial crew program (CCP) aimed at restoring America’s indigenous launch capability to fly our astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), NASA Administrator Charles Bolden is being forced to spend another half a billion dollars for seats on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft instead […]