Stellar Group Named to Advisory Board for Drake State Space Construction Research Program

A nine-member advisory board has been named to oversee Drake State Community  & Technical College’s new Frontiers Research Program.

The Frontiers Research  Program was established after Drake State was selected by NASA’s Marshall Space  Flight Center as a partner to develop 3D printing technologies to support the Artemis  mission

The Frontiers Advisory Board, made up of technical experts, NASA officials and  community leaders will provide guidance to the research team throughout the year long project. 

“NASA is calling on us to help develop construction techniques suitable for use on the  moon,” said Dr. Pat Sims, president of Drake State Community & Technical College. “Our advisory board has the expertise to help guide our efforts as we complete this  significant work.” 

In addition to the advisory board, the Frontiers Research team will be supported by  representatives from NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and ICON, a construction technologies company leading the 3D space construction research efforts for NASA. 

Drake State is the first community college and only Historically Black community college to receive a cooperative agreement award from Marshall’s CAN opportunity since its inception in 2013.

The Frontiers Research Program team – which consists of students, instructors and administrators from the college’s Engineering Design program  – will test 3D-printed concrete structures to help develop construction techniques for building landing pads, roads, and other large structures on the Moon. 

Frontiers Research Program Advisory Board Members 

Joe Fitzgerald – Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army for Alabama 

Jeff Haars – Vice President and Deputy Program Manager, Jacobs Space Exploration

Laura Hall – State Representative (D) District 19 

Larry Lewis – Cofounder and President, PROJECTTXYZ, Inc. 

John Mankins – President, Artemis Innovation Management Systems 

John Meredith – President Pro Tem, District 5, Huntsville City Council 

Raymond Pierce – President and CEO, Southern Education Foundation 

Ritchie Whorton – State Representative (R) District 22 

Lisa Williams – Cofounder and President, 3D Research Corp.

Failure Not an Option: Space & Rocket Center Launches ‘Save Space Camp’ Campaign

The U.S. Space & Rocket Center and Space Camp are in jeopardy of permanent closure due to devastating economic challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

In an effort to remain open for future generations of visitors and campers, the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and Space Camp are launching a “Save Space Camp” campaign. The campaign is seeking donations from Space Camp alumni, residents of Alabama and fans and visitors to continue Space Camp’s mission of education and inspiration.  

In a news release, the center said it must raise a minimum of $1.5 million to keep the U.S. Space & Rocket Center museum open past October and to reopen Space Camp in April 2021.

The Space & Rocket Center closed in March due to the surge in coronavirus cases in the U.S. The museum reopened in late May, but with far fewer than normal visitors.

Space Camp did not reopen until June 28, and then with only 20 percent of its usual attendance. With limited admission from international students and school groups this fall and winter, Space Camp will again close for weeklong camp programs in September. 

Facing a nearly 67 percent loss of revenue, the Rocket Center laid off one third of its full-time employees in May and was unable to employ an additional 700 part-time employees who typically work in all areas of Space Camp and the museum. The majority of the remaining full-time employees have been furloughed since April. 

At this time, local, state and federal agencies have not been able to help the Rocket Center though these difficult times.

“However, we firmly believe that failure is not an option, and we are turning to the public for support,” the center said in the news release.

As an educational facility, the center has helped launch thousands of successful careers in aerospace, engineering, science, education and other fields.

According to the most recent economic impact studies, the Space & Rocket Center generates $120 million in annual revenue for the state of Alabama and serves as a magnet for visitors to Huntsville. The Rocket Center has been the top paid tourist attraction in the state for seven straight years. 

 

Teledyne Brown Completes Major Hardware for NASA’s Artemis Rocket

One of the largest pieces of hardware for NASA’s Space Launch System left Marshall Space Flight Center recently to begin its voyage to Kennedy Space Center in the coming weeks.

Teledyne Brown Engineering, the prime contractor on the project with several small business partners, designed and built the Launch Vehicle Stage Adapter. LVSA provides the fundamental structural strength required to withstand the launch loads and the maximum dynamic pressure.

It also provides the critical separation system used to separate the core stage of the rocket from the second stage, which includes the astronauts in the Orion crew vehicle. The cone-shaped adapter is roughly 30 feet in diameter by 30 feet tall and consists of 16 aluminum-lithium alloy panels.

“LVSA is not only a significant achievement for our company, but it is monumental for Marshall Space Flight Center and the Huntsville Community,” said Jan Hess, president of Teledyne Brown Engineering.  “It’s the largest hardware to be completed for the SLS in Huntsville.

“Our company was an integral part of the country’s first rocket programs with Werner Von Braun, and we continue our legacy and support of space programs with this successful hardware completion for the latest Space Launch System.”

LVSA will be moved by barge to Kennedy Space Center where it will join the rocket’s Core Stage to the ICPS and Upper Stage.  It will be incorporated into the final configuration of the SLS for the first Artemis lunar mission.

The SLS is the only rocket able to send the Orion capsule, cargo and astronauts to the Moon in a combined mission.

The Artemis Mission, including this hardware, will be a part of the first moon landing since Apollo 17 in 1972.

Teledyne is building an LVSA for the second Artemis lunar mission and starting work on the LVSA for the Artemis III mission, which will land the first woman and next man on the Moon in 2024.

With $915M Contract Extension, Boeing to Support International Space Station Through 2024

Boeing, NASA’s lead industry partner for the International Space Station (ISS) since 1993, will continue supporting the orbiting laboratory through 2024 under a $915 million contract extension.

This award comes as the world marks 20 years of constant human habitation on the ISS — a record no other crewed spacecraft has come close to achieving.

“As the International Space Station marks its 20th year of human habitation, Boeing continues to enhance the utility and livability of the orbiting lab we built for NASA decades ago,” said John Mulholland, Boeing vice president and program manager for the International Space Station. “We thank NASA for their confidence in our team and the opportunity to support the agency’s vital work in spaceflight and deep-space exploration for the benefit of all humankind.”

Boeing employees in Huntsville work closely with NASA at the Marshall Space Flight Center and perform sustaining engineering and advanced studies, providing technology advancements, including engineering and manufacturing support for the ISS.

An international crew of six astronauts work and live on the ISS while traveling at the speed of 5 miles per second, orbiting the Earth every 90 minutes. More than 240 people from 19 countries have visited the ISS and conducted almost 3,000 experiments onboard.

Boeing in Huntsville supports additional NASA programs including the Space Launch System, the world’s most powerful rocket, and Starliner commercial crew capsule.

U.S. Space & Rocket Center Reopening to Public

The U.S. Space & Rocket Center is reopening to museum members Friday and to the general public Saturday. The Rocket Center has been closed since March 13 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

To maintain social distancing, visitors will enter at the Rocket Center’s Davidson Center for Space Exploration. The Davidson Center, Rocket Park and Shuttle Park will be open, but some exhibits and all simulators will remain closed.

The traveling exhibit, “Playing with Light,” in the original museum building will be open.

Enhanced cleaning measures are in place, and other safety measures include:

  • Timed tickets are required for admission.
  • One-directional paths are laid out through exhibits.
  • Plexiglass shields are in place at visitor service and ticketing desks.
  • Masks are strongly recommended for visitors and required for staff.

Reopening hours are Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The museum will be closed Mondays for cleaning.

To purchase tickets, visit rocketcenter.com.

Speaking from Experience, Astronaut Hoot Gibson on Living Through Quarantines and Confined Spaces

Up until now, he was one of only a handful of people on Earth who knows what it feels like to go through self-quarantine, and live with other people in a small, confined space for more than five weeks.

Retired NASA astronaut and Navy pilot Robert “Hoot” Gibson was a bit puckish with his opening advice to the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce on a teleconference this week.

“Hoot” Gibson experienced quarantine and cramped quarters while flying on five space shuttle missions. (Photo courtesy UAH)

“Well, we had a big advantage once we got into orbit,” he said. “We were flying at zero gravity or weightlessness so when the floor got cluttered, we just floated to the upper deck. When your floor at home gets cluttered with too many people and their stuff, just fly over the top … okay, okay, that is not meant to be serious,” he said to laughter.

A resident of Murfreesboro, Tenn., and still a familiar face at Space Camp graduations, Gibson is no stranger to living in close quarters. He flew five space shuttle missions and spent 36 days with up to seven astronauts in the tight quarters of the shuttle.

Vice President of Communications for the Chamber Claire Aiello asked him about his experiences then and now as people find themselves confined to home for the first time during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We really did have an advantage in that a crew is formed months before launch and we trained together for a year, knew each other very well by the time we actually went into space, we knew exactly what we were going to face, and we had experience with the tight confines of the space shuttle,” he said.

“On three of my five missions, we had 8 feet by 15 feet on the upper deck, and on the lower deck, we had about 15 feet by 15 feet. Two of my missions, we did not have the Spacelab, which gave us double that much room, about 5,000 square feet, so comparatively speaking, we had a lot of room.

“But if I think back on it, the mission where I would say, ‘How in the world did we not strangle each other?’, that was my second mission. There were seven of us aboard and we only had the flight deck and the mid-deck, 2,500 square feet for all of us to live in.”

He said being in space was easier that preparing for it in the simulator because they couldn’t fly and couldn’t use the ceiling.

“Knowing and expecting that you’re going to be hampered in your mobility around people is probably one of the biggest parts of it,” Gibson said. “You realize and understand you’re going to be all over each other, so I guess training and experience are things that always carry the day.”

He said containing the coronavirus has been a challenge for most because few people have ever been quarantined at all and in the case of COVID-19, there was little time to prepare before they were asked to self-quarantine with no previous knowledge or experience doing it.

“Again, as a crew we had the advantage of going into quarantine seven days before we launched,” Gibson said. “That kept us away from anyone who could give us the flu or any kind of disease. And anyone who came within 15 feet of one us, would have had to have passed a physical by one of our NASA flight surgeons.”

He said he never flew a mission where anyone had a cold or flu outbreak, or any illness at all.

“And then there is your own personal attitude toward it,” said Gibson. “We never had a crew member who was grumpy or difficult to work with, or who said, ‘I need all these people out of my hair’, you know. We never heard anything like that, so I think attitude is probably the biggest part.”

He said a thankful attitude helps too, in which they are going into quarantine because that’s what it will take to protect them and the people with whom they come into contact.

“We have all been self-quarantining everywhere, trying to stay six feet apart and I think it has for the most part worked,” Gibson said.

The lessons of aerospace he said are training, simulation, preparation, having a plan, and executing the plan.

“We had a saying in flight-testing: plan the flight and fly the plan and don’t deviate,” Gibson said. “I say the more rigorous we are, the more adherence to the plan we can do, and the better off we are going to be. It has paid off (so far) and it works.

Gibson in the cockpit of the Space Shuttle Discovery. (NASA Photo)

“Things that work are good. That is the attitude to take toward it.”

Gibson said his family and neighbors have obeyed the stay at home orders, but they are getting a little more ambitious. A doctor in the neighborhood suggested bringing their own folding chairs and having 5 o’clock Happy Hour – six feet apart. Gibson has even hosted one himself.

“Cautious optimism is where I’m headed in the days ahead,” he said. “But another thing we have been sure to do is order food from local restaurants to help keep them in business. Panera Bread delivers and there are others where you drive there and pick it up.

“One restaurant we go to said to us, ‘Thank goodness for the people in Murfreesboro!’ He initially laid-off all of his employees, but because of the support he is getting from people here in town, he’s hired back five of them, so I think we can all help.”

Responding to a question about 5:00 Happy Hour in the cul-de-sac compared to 5:00 in the cockpit of a spacecraft, Gibson quips, “We weren’t supposed to have cocktails in orbit and of course I never did – unless you count that thing with the Russians … but that’s a whole other story!”

Speaking of Russians … he was asked whether it was true that he helped end the Cold War.

“When we docked with the Russian Space station Mir, it was 1995 and only the second international docking, 20 years after the Apollo Soyuz docking in 1975,” said Gibson. “When we arrived, the protocol was that I would shake hands with the Mir commander. I was the Space Shuttle commander, and so the plan was the two of us would shake hands in the hatch,

“I opened the hatch and shook hands with Russian Air Force Col. Vladimir Dezhurov. He had been a Russian fighter pilot training to shoot down and kill me all those years I was trained to shoot down and kill him. That day, President Bill Clinton made the comment, ‘Well I guess this means the Cold War is over.’

“I tell everyone I ended the Cold War – it’s a little bit of a joke!”

Chamber President Chip Cherry asked about a picture on Gibson’s desk of an F-4 Phantom II fighter jet.

“What was your favorite plane to fly?” asked Cherry.

Gibson gives a ‘thumbs up’ in the Tomcat. (NASA Photo)

“Initially, I flew the F-4 in Vietnam, and flew two cruises over the Coral Sea in it. After the Phantom, I flew the first F-14 Tomcat and of course that’s the airplane that was in the movie ‘Top Gun,’” Gibson said. “It could do everything the Phantom could do and, at the time, the Phantom was the world’s best all-around fighter plane.

“When the Tomcat came out, it could do everything the Phantom could do 15 to 20 percent better, so it was a superior airplane and it should have been. It had 15 years of evolution over the Phantom.

“Both were a lot of fun. Flying jet fighters was really something!”

No one on the call could resist asking – where did he get his call sign “Hoot” Gibson?

“I joined a squadron aboard the aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea in 1972,” he said. “I was a new guy and the operations officer looked at me and said, “Hey kid. You got a nickname?’

“My real name is Robert, so I said, ‘Yes sir, it’s Bob.’

“He said, ‘No, no, no, come on. You need a real nickname.’

“I said, ‘Well, occasionally I’ve been called Hoot after the rodeo champion and silent movie star cowboy.’

Gibson in his NASA T-38 aircraft. (UAH Photo)

“From that moment on, April 1972, I’ve been ‘Hoot’ Gibson. It went on the canopy of my airplane, on my coffee cup, and Hoot Gibson was sewn onto my flight suit.”

On April 17, NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Drew Morgan, and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka returned to Earth after nearly a year on the International Space Station. They returned to an Earth where people are wearing masks and where they have been living in a sort of quarantine.

What does Hoot Gibson think it is like for them?

“I’m sure Mission Control has told them all about what’s going on, and what life is like back here on Earth,” Gibson said. “I suspect they’re going to be a bit dismayed because they’re not going to be quite prepared for what they’re going to see because it’s far more dramatic than it comes across to you by someone explaining it to you.

“When you come back from space, it’s always such a joyous celebration with everybody enthusiastically hugging everybody and shaking hands. They’re not going to get any of that, so it’s going to be a little bit of a letdown I’m sure after the experience of flying in space, which is pretty spectacular.”