A Happy, Hopeful Astronaut

The gringa is happy to announce that she is one step closer to realizing her astronaut dreams! The media has given so much attention to SpaceX and their contractual relationship with NASA that the wonders of Blue Origin have not received their due. And, for aspiring astronauts like myself, this is a terrible injustice that the gringa hopes to rectify with this humble blog post.

Blue Origin is making it possible for astronaut hopefuls to reach dizzying heights above the Earth. Space pioneers will soon launch into Earth’s atmosphere in the New Shepard capsule that is perched above a sixty foot rocket that has proven its re-useable capabilities long before SpaceX claimed such fame. They had successful launches and landings November, 2015, and this month, January, 2016.

The New Shepard can sit a six man crew and accelerate past 3G’s, that’s faster than Mach 3. And, although each crewman does have duties aboard ship, there is plenty of time for space explorers to kick back and gaze out some enormous windows upon the vastness of outer space that surrounds our beautiful planet. Once the New Shepard capsule separates from the rocket booster, passengers then experience weightlessness in the perfect stillness of the vacuum of space.

Where does all of this amazingness happen? Practically in the gringa’s back yard, right here in Texas, west Texas to be more exact. Very soon Flyboys and Flygirls will begin arriving at the launch site and go through a two day training course on what to expect as well as what your astronaut responsibilities will be. There are flight simulations, safety briefings and in-depth flight training on procedures, communications and maneuvering.

Launch day starts at sunrise for pre-flight checks and final clearance. Once the go ahead is given, space explorers climb in, batten down the hatch, strap in, and COUNT DOWN. The launch is a 150 second burn of the ride of your life! In no time the blue sky fades to black, yeah, just like the Metallica song. Astronauts get to explore the weightlessness of zero gravity, contemplate man’s place in the Universe, and make spaceflight history.

Earthbound mission control will signal when it’s time to get your feet back on the ground. So, strap back in and be prepared for an even faster trip back down (over 5Gs!) that will be slowed by eight drag brakes (technical-speak for parachutes). Right before touch down the rocket engine fires up and slows the booster for a 5 mph landing very close to the launch area.

Blue Origin’s motto is “Gradatim Ferociter” which is Latin for “step by step, ferociously”. Step by step they have built upon one success after another and broken new ground in the spaceflight industry. They are making it possible for EVERYONE (that has enough money, that is) to be an astronaut. In fact, Blue Origin wants to make it possible for millions of people to eventually live and work in outer space.

Although SpaceX has gotten more media attention for building a reusable rocket system, Blue Origin experienced this success first. With each flight, the cost of spaceflight becomes more and more affordable. Maybe it will be within the gringa’s budget in another five or ten years. Who knows?! But, one day, I’m going!

Blue Origin is perfecting their New Shepard flight program with ongoing tests of unmanned test flights. They have yet to put a crew up into the heavens. But, each test brings the day closer when astronauts like you and I, dear reader, will climb on board and make history!

And, if you’re not interested in getting shot up into the sky, you can still be a part of history by working for Blue Origin because they need lots of folks with skills! Just a few slots they need to fill:  Aerodynamics Engineer, Aerospace Technician, Avionics Engineer,  Avionics Software Development Engineer, Composite Structural Engineer, Dimensional Inspector, Director of Safety and Mission Assurance,  Dynamic & Loads Engineer, HelpDesk Technician, and the list goes on and on.

And you don’t have to necessarily relocate to West Texas to have one of these fantastic jobs. Blue Origin has facilities in Washington State and Florida, too. So, if you believe in no limits, are passionate about the space industry, and have something to offer to Blue Origin’s collaborative efforts, you need to check them out.

Source & Photo Credit:  www.blueorigin.com






Robot Real Estate Developers

The gringa, most definitely a product of the eighties, has mental images of R2D2 rolling around beeping and twittering happily as he constructs a space hut, anticipating the imminent arrival of Mars colonists from Earth. Well, it could happen! Seriously. Well, maybe not the R2D2 part, but something very nearly like it.

As NASA explores creative, imaginative ideas and new technologies, 3D printing is at the forefront of their plan to robotically construct habitations that will await the arrival of new Earthling residents on the Red Planet. By doing so, they can save critical cargo space. If they don’t have to pack tools, parts, and building supplies that can instead be contrived on a 3D printer sent ahead to Mars, the astronauts can arrive with other critical cargo to further enable a long-term mission’s success.

The engineers and scientists hard at work at Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama are making this a reality. The envisioned plan is to have mobile machines that work like a 3D printer delivered to Mars by robotic space delivery. These machines could then be remotely controlled from Earth. These state of the art contraptions could be designed to work with the raw materials found on Mars. They could be designed to exude natural resources and “print” the building materials to create structures. Astronauts could arrive on Mars to find robot erected, 3D printed shelters already in place with a welcome mat outside to scrape off the space dust of their long journey.

This technology is already being tested at the International Space Station (ISS). Crews on board ISS have been creating all sorts of projects like building wrenches from layered plastic filament. Such items then undergo durability testing to see if they will even work. Advances in the technology will eventually, hopefully, make it possible to upgrade from plastic wrenches to wrenches manufactured from metals like titanium, nickel and other alloys.

NASA continues to search for talent throughout the civilian sector to help the dream come true of landing a manned space mission on Mars. One way this is done is by creating challenges and competitions in the fields of science and technology. In their 3-D Printed Habitat Challenge Design competition, Team Space Exploration Architecture and Clouds Architecture Office walked away with the grand prize depicted in the above picture of their design “Icehouse”.

By partnering with talent NASA is accelerating its own capabilities in advancing technology and manufacturing. 3-D technology is now in the proving ground to see if it can be used to create many things that humans will need in order to survive a long term stay on Mars. Being able to arrive at the Red Planet and survive in this galactic wilderness, create their own tools, survival and building materials with the natural resources at hand and a 3-D printer is beyond the gringa’s comprehension and that’s hard to believe considering my vast and somewhat quirky imagination.

Source: http://www.nasa.gov

Space Cadets, All Hail The Dragon!

The gringa wants to introduce you to the Dragon. This automated spacecraft, designed by SpacEx, is the first commercial spacecraft EVER to deliver cargo to the International Space Station and return cargo to Earth. Governments can move over because private industry has got this job covered. Refinements are underway so that very soon the Dragon will be able to achieve the ultimate goal it was designed for, to carry a human crew.

The configurations of the Dragon are versatile. It can be used, as it already successfully has shown, to be a perfect cargo vessel. It will very soon have the capability to house a human crew. However, it’s not your average space taxi. It can also be used as a DragonLab to conduct technology demonstrations and scientific experiments in outer space. The different configurations are so similar, that converting from one to another is relatively quick and seamless.

The Dragon’s pressurized section houses the cargo and crew. The outside base of this section carries the thrusters, guidance and navigation control bay as well as the ever critical heat shield. The Dragon even has a trunk. No, it’s not where the astronauts store a spare thruster and crowbar. This is the part of the spaceship that is the foundational support during ascent, houses the craft’s solar arrays, and can also carry cargo that does not need to be pressurized. Just before the Dragon enters the atmosphere of Earth, this section is jettisoned. The gringa thinks, “How many of us ladies wishes it was so easy to get rid of unwanted junk in our trunk?”

Presently, the primary mission of the Dragon is to routinely resupply the International Space Station. This is not your average delivery-man job. I don’t believe UPS or FedEx train their delivery personnel for the effects of anti-gravity. To accommodate these effects, the cargo hold is filled with honeycomb shaped racks constructed of a carbon-aluminum material.

After the first successful test flight in 2012, and many more resupply missions after that, the Dragon has been undergoing upgrades. Hopefully, very soon, perhaps within the coming months, NASA crews will perform the first manned test flight in a vessel that SpacEx says will be the world’s safest crew transport spacecraft. It will seat seven. The gringa doesn’t take up much room. For being so tiny I’m also awfully strong. I would make a perfect space delivery person. I’d be so happy to be a part of something this fantastic, I wouldn’t even expect the astronauts to tip me.


Source & Photo Credit: http://www.spacex.com/dragon

A Bit Of Sun & Hope For Humanity

Coming up in December is the one year anniversary of the test flight of the Orion spacecraft that launched from Kennedy Space Center December 5, 2014. The test flight was unmanned. Because of its success, the next time Orion punches through the Earth’s atmosphere, it will deliver astronauts to an asteroid in our Moon’s orbit to rehearse their Red Planet mission. That is the ultimate goal, after all, to have a full astronaut crew heading out to deep space with a final destination of Mars.

The amazing new technologies that will send astronauts farther than they have ever gone before is thanks, in part, to the students of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). NASA and Lockheed Martin offered students the opportunity to collaborate in this daring mission with a program called “Exploration Design Challenge”. What problem were these students asked to solve? The students were challenged to solve the most dangerous issue that faces humans in space – exposure to radiation. The gringa is very proud to say that these students rose to the challenge and their very own radiation experiment was on board for Orion’s test flight. If there was ever a reason for parents to encourage their children in STEM curriculum, parents, the time is NOW!

The emerging generation of scientists will inherit a planet that is rapidly changing. NASA needs this young talent more than ever. Researchers will manage the data collected from satellites and airborne missions. Engineers will keep these missions alive with their technological expertise. These are the critical thinkers the world needs to face the future challenges of rising sea levels and extreme weather events due to climate change. The next generation of astronaut explorers will be the ones to aid our planet in finding freshwater resources out in the cosmos to help replenish are own that are rapidly becoming depleted.

In 2014 NASA studies were published and revealed a rapidly melting western sheet of ice in Antarctica. This appears to be irreversible. Later in the same year, NASA, along with researchers at the University of California, Irvine, concluded that the potential threat of groundwater loss to America’s stable water supply may have previously been underestimated and things were worse than scientists thought. In August of 2014, NASA published research based on the discovery of a large amount of a compound creating ozone depletion. This was an unexpected surprise considering that for decades such a compound has been banned worldwide. Our world is in trouble and our best resource to solve these problems is in the minds of our youth.

The gringa is getting depressed with all this bad news so, let’s get back to the good news! The Orion! I simply must know all I can about this spaceship because the gringa is putting in that ship all her hopes that it is going to be the mother ship of a future fleet of ships that’s going to save humanity’s bacon.

The purpose of the test flight was to see if Orion was up to the task of the most dangerous parts of the mission. Those would be lift-off, entry, separations, the jettison of the Launch Abort System, descent and splashdown. However, most important of all was to test the heat shield that needed to be strong enough to protect astronauts, as well as all the technology on board, from 4,000 degree Fahrenheit temperatures and the related radiation. Is the dear reader dying to know Orion’s report card? The gringa is!

At 7:05am at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, Orion was prepped to lift off with the help of a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket. Three RS-68 engines created almost two million pounds of thrust which then pushed a 1.63 million pound spacecraft into orbit. After about four minutes the side boosters disengaged and fell away to Earth. The center booster remained with Orion for another ninety seconds. When its fuel was spent, it disengaged and also fell back to Earth. The next thing to release its hold on Orion was the structural supports and the Launch Abort System. Orion was headed out of Earth’s atmosphere.

Seventeen minutes and thirty-nine seconds after lift-off, Orion began its orbit. Two hours into its flight, Orion traveled through the Van Allen radiation belts which are 3,609 miles away. Data recorders provided critical calculations on the doses of radiation within the cabin. This determined if the craft was of sound design and safe to man with a human crew. Three hours and twenty-three minutes into its flight, Orion headed for Earth’s atmosphere where the heat shield withstood the brutal re-entry friction.

What is re-entry like? Orion hit Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of 20,000 mph. The gringa can only say, “Incredible!” The spacecraft gets so amazingly hot at that speed, it is eventually enveloped in plasma. Plasma is considered the fourth state of matter after solids, liquids and gases. When plasma is created on Orion upon re-entry, what happens is that the heat and friction become so energized that electrons break free from their nucleus and travel along with them. That’s what the Sun does all the time. It’s just a big, ol’ ball of plasma. Orion creates a little bit of Sun on re-entry. The gringa’s mind is filled with the Beatles refrain, “Here comes the sun, little darlin’. Here comes the sun. And I say it’s alright.” After all, ultimately that IS the plan, RIGHT? Orion is going to help launch the scientific efforts that hopefully will make everything wrong with the environment alright? Or, at least give humanity some viable options and hope?

After picking up Orion as it bobbed amongst the waves of the Pacific of the coast of Baja, California, NASA used the data to make improvements for the upcoming manned mission. Astronauts will continue their own preparations for a mission that is sure to make history in so many ways. If everyone at NASA is excited about the future, then they truly believe in the mission. The gringa will take her cue from them and toss out the doom and gloom and grab hold of hope and positivity. I will hold fast to an exciting future that most certainly is full of change, but change is not necessarily always a bad thing.