The Race to Commercialize Space Travel – a New Approach

Post by Jim Lee

 
shuttle launch. shuttle liftoff. rocket launches into space.-slight graininess, best at smaller sizes

Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle… all were US manned space programs from 1961 through 2011.  Why is it so different now with SpaceX, Orbital ATK, Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada Corp., Virgin Galactic, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin competing to put man in space?  Why is a commercial crew program such a big deal?  I asked these questions at the Collaboration on Quality in the Space and Defense Industries conference and got a variety of opinions about the collaboration between government and these industries. Here’s my takeaway from the conference.

  • NASA wanted to take their 50 years of manned space flight experience with Mission Assurance and partner with the innovative aerospace industry to come up with cutting edge solutions to take astronauts into space.  This included design, development, manufacturing, and operation in rapid succession that is more efficient and effective than the US government could do on their own.
  • All of these industry players are either private companies or large corporations, not the US government.
  • NASA wants to be a customer for these services, but doesn’t want to be the only customer.  If an interested company didn’t have other customers and uses for the technology and solutions, then NASA wasn’t interested in partnering with them.
  • You might have to take 2 steps backward to take 10 steps forward for continual improvement.  NASA learned that they had to let go of some of their oversight and restrictions, and let these other companies take responsibility for what happens in their buildings.  NASA’s Kennedy Space Center just created new values of being helpful, building relationships, and knowing what matters.  Part of this speaks to their focus on the safety of the astronauts and total mission assurance, and leaving the innovation companies at KSC to take their own responsibility for safety, quality and internal mission assurance. NASA wouldn’t get involved unless one of these tenants would affect stakeholders outside their buildings.  This is a big change in philosophy and culture.
  • Taking 2 steps backward to take 10 steps forward cannot include loss of life.
  • NASA has to rely on these new companies that have never put a human in space.  There is lost organizational knowledge from NASA that has to be relearned with these new technologies and innovations.
  • Where it doesn’t matter, get out of the way and let capitalism and entrepreneurs provide innovations never imagined.  If you’ve never seen the SpaceX first stage rockets return to earth and land, it’s like throwing a pencil and it landing upright on its eraser.  That’s just one example of the many innovations.
  • I also asked about Russia’s and China’s manned space programs, both of which are fully government funded. Is this possibly our opportunity to leave them in the dust by taking an approach to draw funds from a broader pool, and leap past current technology using more government/corporate resources?
Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Discovering Earth While Reaching for the Moon

On December 24, 1968 the Apollo 8 astronauts, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders shared this iconic “Earthrise” photo during the first manned mission to the moon.  The first astronauts to orbit the moon and spend Christmas in space.

Knowing that millions of people would listen to their transmission on Christmas Eve, and as NASA’s only guidance was to do something appropriate, the astronauts decided on the book of Genesis. Lovell explained, “The first ten verses of Genesis is the foundation of many of the world’s religions, not just the Christian religion,” added Lovell. “There are more people in other religions than the Christian religion around the world, and so this would be appropriate to that and so that’s how it came to pass.”

So while orbiting above the lunar surface, the astronauts shared images of the Earth and moon and took turns reading from the book of Genesis, closing with a wish for everyone “on the good Earth.”

Seeing Earth rise beyond the barren lunar surface gave us a new perspective of our home planet and became the icon of the environmental movement. Anders has said that despite all the training and preparation for an exploration of the moon, the astronauts ended up discovering Earth.

The crew launched into orbit on December 21, and after circling the moon 10 times on Christmas Eve, prepared to return home. On Christmas morning, mission control anxiously waited to hear that Apollo 8’s engine burn had successfully propelled it outside the moon’s gravitational pull. Confirmation arrived when Lovell radioed, “Roger, please be informed there is a Santa Claus.”

In 2013 NASA recreated the historic moment when the crew first saw and photographed the Earth rising from behind the Moon. The visualization captures the view from both inside and outside the spacecraft and is synced with the onboard audio of the astronauts. Watching and listening in, you can’t help but feel their wonder and excitement.

Wherever you are on Earth, our team at simpleQuE wishes all a Merry Christmas, cherished holiday celebrations and a New Year filled with peace and the spirit of innovation and exploration!

Ready for Lift-off!

16429259005_e12a49eb23_zGuest post by Shirley Kennedy, simpleQuE Program Manager.

Last month while representing simpleQuE at the 43rd Space Congress in Cape Canaveral, FL, I couldn’t help but be inspired by the innovators, entrepreneurs, visionaries and astronauts who are changing the face of human spaceflight. This 3-day conference included a range of topics from space exploration and aviation to emerging technology and the need for disruptive innovation, as well as manufacturing and support industries and infrastructure. Continue reading “Ready for Lift-off!”