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NASA wants to help you develop cool new space tech
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NASA may be forced to rely on a commercial rocket to test its new crew capsule
NASA is betting big on its Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft as a one-two punch that will send astronauts on missions to the Moon and beyond. Both the Orion and SLS are currently in development, but they're not progressing at nearly the same rate.This leaves NASA in a bit of a pinch as it looks at its immediate schedule. A lunar test flight of the Orion, perched atop the SLS rocket to send it on its way, was supposed to take place by the middle of 2020, but the SLS is way behind schedule. The Orion program, meanwhile, appears ready to meet the date, and NASA leadership is now considering hiring a commercial rocket to send Orion around the Moon.As SpaceflightNow reports, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine spoke briefly about the potential of using a commercial rocket instead of the SLS on the uncrewed test mission known as Exploration Mission-1."Some of those options would include launching the Orion crew capsule and the European service module on a commercial rocket," Bridenstine explained during a Senate committee hearing. "Certainly, there are opportunities to utilize commercial capabilities to put the Orion crew capsule and the European service module in orbit around the moon by June of 2020, which was our originally-stated objective, and I've tasked the agency to look into how we might accomplish that objective."Unfortunately for NASA, it wouldn't be possible to just swap out the SLS for an already existing commercial rocket since there's currently no commercial options capable of delivering the power needed to push Orion and its service module around the Moon.Instead, Bridenstine suggested the potential of using two commercial rockets -- one to get Orion into Earth orbit and another rocket stage sent later that would dock with the spacecraft and further propel it to the Moon.It'll be interesting to see how this pans out, as both the dual-rocket option and a potential delay both mean big compromises and plenty of work to be done on NASA's end.
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NASA boss says first Martian ‘likely to be a woman’
An upcoming spacewalk at the International Space Station will feature two female astronauts for the very first time. NASA didn't specifically plan it as an "all-woman spacewalk," but things just kind of shook out that way, and as NASA's ranks are inching closer to an even split between male and female astronauts, some are wondering about how that might affect upcoming trips to the Moon and eventually Mars.When NASA's Apollo missions sent mankind to the Moon things were a lot different for women in NASA and, put simply, the agency was overwhelmingly male. Today, women make up 34% of active NASA astronauts, and while that's still well short of half, it's a lot closer than it has been in the past.So, is it time for a woman to walk on the Moon? NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine thinks so.In an interview with Science Friday, Bridenstine discusses the high probability of female astronauts playing a big role in upcoming missions to the Moon and, in the future, Mars. He even goes so far as to say that the next person to walk on the Moon is "likely to be a woman.""It's also true that the first person on Mars is likely to be a woman," Bridenstine explained. "So these are great days. We have the first all-female spacewalk happening this month at the end of March, which is of course, National Women's Month. So NASA is committed to making sure that we have a broad and diverse set of talent. And we're looking forward to the first woman on the Moon."Bridenstine didn't offer much in the way of specifics to back up his notion that women would lead the charge to the Moon and Mars, and that's not really that surprising. NASA wouldn't have chosen crew members for missions that aren't scheduled yet, and both the return to the Moon and a possible mission to Mars are still very much in the development stages at this point.
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NASA wants to help you develop cool new space tech
It's been decades since NASA and its government contractors handled everything in-house, but the recent push by the agency to bring private companies into the fold is truly unprecedented. NASA's agreements with companies like SpaceX make it clear that the group is ready and willing to pay others to develop its hardware, and a new announcement from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory helps to hammer that point home.NASA and JPL revealed today that they'll be accepting applications to be part of a group of 10 startups that will work with NASA to develop new space technologies. This "aerospace accelerator program," as NASA calls it, covers a wide range of potential applications, and NASA is very clearly open to partnering with companies that can prove they can aid future missions."We want to assist these companies in developing their own technologies and becoming commercial successes," Tom Cwik of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a statement. "NASA will also benefit by collaborating with these companies."The announcement from JPL and NASA includes a brief mention of the kind of thing they're looking for. "Geospatial analytics, digital design coupled to advanced manufacturing, autonomous systems, applied AI and machine learning," are all mentioned.NASA will be accepting applications for the program from now through April 7th. At that point NASA and JPL will review applications and select 10 startups to participate in the program which will last approximately three months.There's obviously no guarantees that all of the startups will pan out, but the idea here is clearly for NASA to find promising concepts and projects that are still in development. If it sees something it likes, and if the companies demonstrate the ability to rapidly iterate and follow guidance from NASA it would go a long way towards an eventual partnership."Industry is developing new technologies rapidly, using new tools and methods in software development and other areas," Cwik noted. "It's incumbent upon us to learn from developments in industry and contribute our vast expertise in technology as we prepare to use them in our future missions."
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