Today’s Deep Space Extra

July 9th, 2019

In Today’s Deep Space Extra… The U.S. Senate will convene a hearing today to discuss the past, present and future of space exploration. Many celebrated last week as NASA and its contractor team carried out a successful test flight of the Space Launch System (SLS)/Orion Launch Abort System from Florida’s Space Coast. It was a significant milestone in efforts to accelerate a human return to the surface of the Moon from 2028 to 2024. But there’s more work to come. 

Human Space Exploration

NASA exploration plans: Where we’ve been and where we’re going
Coalition for Deep Space Exploration President and Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Mary Lynne Dittmar, providing witness testimony
U.S. Senate (7/9): U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, chairman of the Subcommittee on Aviation and Space, will convene a hearing titled, “NASA Exploration Plans: Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going” today at 3:00 p.m. The purpose of this hearing is to honor the upcoming 50th anniversary of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Apollo 11 mission and the U.S. landing the first man on the Moon. The hearing will examine NASA’s plans for future human spaceflight missions. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a video of the hearing on youtube: ( and on

One small step for Orion
Space Review (7/8): Efforts to accelerate a human return to the surface of the Moon from 2028 to 2024 made a significant advance early last week last NASA successfully test flew the Orion crew capsule’s Launch Abort System from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The next significant milestone is Artemis Mission-1, an uncrewed, multi week test flight of the Orion capsule around the Moon and back to Earth. However, key components, especially the Space Launch System (SLS) core stage and its four rocket engines as well as the Orion capsule and its European Space Agency (ESA) service module must clear some ground test hurdles. NASA is striving for a 2020 launch.

The Moon is a hazardous place to live
New York Times (7/8): In all, a dozen of NASA’s Apollo astronauts spent about 10 days living and working on the Moon. They found a pervasive lunar dust unexpectedly difficult to deal with. The nights and days last two weeks, as the Moon keeps one side pointed to Earth as it orbits its home planet once every 30 days. Then, there’s no atmosphere, nor protection from solar radiation.

NASA’s lunar space station is a great/terrible idea
IEEE Spectrum (7/8): Those backing NASA efforts to accelerate a human return to the surface of the Moon from 2028 to 2024 continue to assess the role of a lunar orbiting human tended Gateway. The small lunar station is to receive NASA astronauts launched aboard the SLS and Orion crew capsule. At the Gateway, they are to depart Orion and board vehicles designed to shuttle them to the lunar surface and back.

Space Science

A jarful of Titan could teach us a lot about life there, and here on Earth
Universe Today (7/8): Just last week, NASA announced its decision to develop Dragonfly, a mission to Saturn’s moon Titan with a drone like spacecraft that will land in 2034 and take off and land dozens of times in order to explore a frigid, but Earth like terrain, where liquid ethane and methane take the place of flowing and pooling water. The findings may help to explain how life got its start and flourished on Earth.

India gearing up to launch 2nd Moon mission this weekend (7/8): India’s Chandrayaan 2 mission, which consists of a lunar orbiter, lander and rover and 13 experiments in all, are to launch Sunday night. The lander and six wheeled rover are to descend to the lunar surface on September 6 to a cratered region well to the south of the equator to explore a region believed to possess water ice. The payload includes a NASA reflector to help scientists on Earth accurately establish the landing site and measure the distance between the two bodies with a laser.

Robots, not humans, are the new space explorers
National Public Radio (7/8): Space exploration appears to be getting added attention as the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, the first human Moon landing nears on July 20. Some believe robotic missions like the Curiosity and Sojourner lander missions to Mars, Cassini to Saturn, Juno to Jupiter and New Horizons to distant Pluto deserve a share of the spotlight as well.

A new plan for keeping NASA’s oldest explorers going
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (7/8): NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2, history’s longest flying spacecraft, will keep flying to explore the outer reaches of the solar system and the environment beyond, if mission managers have their say. To preserve resources they are selecting which instruments and thrusters should remain active in the lower temperatures they will continue to confront. Launched in 1977, both spacecraft are more than 11 billion miles from the sun.

Other News

Fire at SpaceX Starship facility in Cocoa causes damages to equipment
Florida Today (7/8): A small fire at SpaceX prototyping facilities in Cocoa, Florida, on Monday damaged facilities and equipment, but did not result in injuries. The company is building a Starship prototype at the location. Fire department officials estimated the damages at $50,000 to $100,000. The cause is under investigation.

Richard Branson’s space unit to go public
Wall Street Journal (7/9): Virgin Galactic is preparing to become the first publicly traded human spaceflight company later this year. An estimated 600 people have made down payments for future flight opportunities.

Apollo 11

Apollo 11’s greatest hits and misses: A short reader’s guide
Space Review (7/8): Some of the best historical accounts of the Apollo era and the first human Moon landing, Apollo 11 on July 20, 2019, are out of print, but worth a search, or a visit to the library, notes retired librarian Thomas J. Frieling, who briefly reviews six efforts.

Archival footage, audio immerses viewers in APOLLO: Missions to the Moon
Ars Technica (7/8): A behind the scenes discussion on the making of “Apollo: Missions to the Moon,” a National Geographic documentary, with filmmaker Tom Jennings and former NASA engineer Frances “Poppy” Northcutt, the first female engineer to work in NASA’s Mission Control.

Top NASA manager: Price of Apollo Moon program was missing his kids growing up
Florida Today (7/8) Ike Rigell, now 96, recalls that is was a full time job and more working as NASA’s chief engineer and deputy director for Apollo program launches and watching over the activities of 400 employees and 8,000 contractors. The phone never seemed to stop ringing, even at home, and that is when he could break away for dinner and visit his young daughter. “We were so dedicated,” he reminisced, adding that many times the work days turned into nights. “You need to give a lot credit for all of this to the (wives). The women really sacrificed.”

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