Why YOU should join the National Space Society



There has never been a better time to become involved in policy as a citizen.

Access to information has never been greater, and the ability of the motivated person to share a message is unprecedented.  From municipal levies to national reform, Americans benefit from active participation in public policy.  For those interested in space industry and science, the ability to promote measures of protection for research or ensure funding for programs is incomparable.

The National Space Society is America’s largest public space advocacy organization.  There are chapters in every state, and in many cases, one in each metropolitan center.  NSS is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and therefore is not an entrepreneurial venture. Under NSS’ 501(h) regulations, NSS is allowed to conduct grassroots lobbying, which permits a limited amount of activity aimed at influencing U.S. legislation.

Unlike a number of other space-oriented associations, the NSS takes a broader approach to the various topics encompassed by the space industry.  While some organizations focus their energies to promote aerospace engineering, Martian colonization, or satellite technology, NSS looks to bring together all proponents looking to further space exploration and utilization. The advent of commercial space enterprises has provided NSS with a boon for promoting nascent launch opportunities.

NSS was formed in 1987 after two previously established space advocacy groups, the L5 Society and National Space  Institute, were merged. While the initial intent of the society was aimed at promoting space settlement, it has evolved into something more. The organization states it’s mission to be: “to promote social, economic, technological, and political change in order to expand civilization beyond Earth, to settle space and to use the resulting resources to build a hopeful and prosperous future for humanity.”  The vision of NSS is: “People living and working in thriving communities beyond the Earth, and the use of the vast resources of space for the dramatic betterment of humanity.”  The society also publishes a monthly periodical, Ad Astra, which members may contribute to.

Each May, NSS hosts one of the largest space-oriented conferences:  The International Space Development Conference, or ISDC. As stated on the NSS website, “The annual conference of the NSS, bringing together NSS leaders and members with leading managers, engineers, scientists, educators, and businessmen from civilian, military, commercial, entrepreneurial, and grassroots advocacy space sectors”. For space professionals and enthusiasts, ISDC offers an opportunity to learn from and network with those who practice in the industry.

ISDC 2017 will be held in St. louis, Missouri, May 25-29.  Organized by the St. Louis Space Frontier (the local NSS chapter), this year’s event is conveniently located in the Central United States, within minutes of Lambert Field.  While living in St. Louis last year, I had the privilege to take part in the planning process for the conference.  What I found most remarkable about this was that this enormous challenge, all of the logistics and fundraising, was being conducted by space enthusiasts like myself.  Professionals in their fields for sure, but not one of the individuals involved was being compensated for this effort.  Instead, these were dedicated volunteers, working every week to ensure that this event is organized thoroughly.

Members of NSS are encouraged to provide input regarding their opinions and interests for the exploration and/or utilization of space.  Few advocacy organizations provide opportunities for their membership to shape policy to the extent NSS does.  From regular surveys to gauge interest in contemporary NASA and commercial space concepts to inviting members to participate in visits to the legislature in Washington DC, NSS desires proactive involvement.  The space message boards, letter-to-the-editor, and social media sites are inundated with the opinions of space enthusiasts.  So many people with so many ideas and thoughts on the direction of national space policy- but few who make any effort to effect that policy.

Like any grassroots initiative, the National Space Society’s efforts to effect policy by advocating STEM initiatives, supporting tech development, and contributing to legislative process requires proactive participation.  It is never enough to cynically call for change without offering to be an engine for said change.  NSS Chapters lead local efforts to promote space policy, both regionally and nationally. By taking advantage of this organizational framework, the membership is given a voice.  And while citizen petitions, legislative blitzes, or other forms of advocacy may not change the direction of congressionally derived authorizations, it certainly won’t without trying.

Wherever you are, there are ways to take part in the efforts to explore and utilize space.  I encourage you to follow the links below and read about the NSS.  Decide for yourself if this is an organization that you would like to take part in.  Why not be a participant instead of an observer?

To learn more about ISDC and register for the conference, follow the link before:


To Join NSS, follow this link: https://www.nss.org/membership/new_member_form.shtml

Atacama Chile 2017 #MarsOnEarth


My next adventure takes me to the Southern Hemisphere- To Chile, where the Patagonia and Andes meet, to one of the most inhospitable landscapes found on this planet- the Atacama desert.

Save for the dry valleys of Antarctica, no other places on Earth replicates the surface of Mars like the Atacama. High on the altiplano (high plane) and puna (windswept tableland) plateaus of Northern Chile, the Atacama resists life. Rainfall is exceedingly rare (some sites have never received a drop in the historical era), plantlife struggles in the volcanic ash and salt pans, and there are localized conditions that keep even bacteria at bay.  If one wishes to study what the Martian environment might exhibit, this is the place.

I will be taking part in an expedition led by Dr. Ulyana Horodyskyj, a geologist and founder of Science in the Wild, an investigative research outfitter. She is also a fellow commercial suborbital candidate from Project PoSSUM as well a veteran of NASA’s HERA analog simulation.  She has assembled a team of adventurers: scientists, climbers, photographers, (and myself) to accomplish this task.  So I travel now to join her team and take part.

I will not be able to share the entirety of this endeavor in real-time because of the remoteness, but I will be keeping a journal of the expedition and will post about it following our return. For updates, follow Science in the Wild on Facebook.  I will use the hashtag #MarsOnEarth in my social media.

Two Men and a Campfire- Saving our Wild Places

Via the National Park Service

Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir, 1903

In my ceaseless efforts to read nearly everything, I occasionally come across a passage that is both enlightening and inspiring.  These are the moments when I’m scrambling to find a post-it note to mark the page, or a pen and a napkin to scribble what is often an indecipherable transposition. This time I chose to copy-paste for your benefit:

“In the spring of 1903, while visiting Yosemite, President Theodore Roosevelt slipped his Secret Service detail to go camping with John Muir. The first night, the President, the naturalist, and two park rangers camped out by a grove of sequoia; the second, in a hollow at Glacier Point. Roosevelt emerged from the woods to learn that an elaborate banquet had been planned for him, complete with fireworks. He stayed long enough for a glass of champagne, then announced that he was skipping the rest of the festivities. He and Muir spent a third night camping in the shadow of El Capitan.”

“Roosevelt and Muir camped the first night, […] bedding down in a pile of about 40 wool blankets, and the second night was spent in the vicinity of Sentinel Dome during a snow storm that left five inches of new snow on top of the existing five feet of snow. The third night of camping […] President Roosevelt was Muir’s captive audience to hear a convincing plea for Yosemite wilderness and for setting aside other areas in the United States for park purposes.”

“The only record of what passed between Roosevelt and Muir during their trip comes from one of the rangers, Charles Leidig. According to Leidig, among the topics the two discussed were: lion hunting; Muir’s theory—controversial at the time—that Yosemite had been shaped by glaciers; the importance of forest conservation; and the need for more national parks. Roosevelt and Muir had some difficulty communicating, Leidig observed, “because both men wanted to do the talking.” Nevertheless, their journey has been described as the most consequential camping trip in American history. Roosevelt went on to create eighteen national monuments, five national parks, and a hundred and fifty national forests. All told, he conserved some two hundred and thirty million acres—an area larger than Texas.”

(Source: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/09/12/obama-the-conservationist)

The preservation of natural spaces not a uniquely American tradition, but the concept of designating tracts of wild land for the citizenry is.  Theodore Roosevelt’s continuation of western conservation led to the passage of the Antiquities Act in 1906. This law gives the President of the United States the authority to, by presidential proclamation, create national monuments from public lands to protect significant natural, cultural or scientific features.

Before the end of his last term, President Barrack Obama exercised the powers authorized by the Antiquities Act to preserve 2 additional wildlands as National Monuments.  Gold Butte (pronounced “beaut”) in Nevada, and Bears Ears in South Eastern Utah.  These two federally administered monuments will be added to the list of national treasures that include the memorials in Washington, DC and the greatest of America’s national parks.


Native American ruins in what is now Bears Ears National Monument

Bears Ears (named for a geological outcropping) will encompass 1.35 million acres, to include the existing Natural Bridges National Monument, the Dark Canyon Wilderness, portions of the Manti-La Sal National Forest, and numerous culturally significant Native American ruins.  With Canyonlands National Park to the North and Navajo lands to the South, the region is not unaccustomed to unique jurisdictions.  This proclamation in fact strengthens the existing protections.

In Nevada, the newly designated Gold Butte National Monument formally protects a unique geological and biological oasis in the high desert. The isolated habitat is home to ecologically threatened Desert Bighorn Sheep and Mojave Tortoise, and the monument’s borders envelope numerous historical and archeological  sites that would otherwise be vulnerable to unregulated development. Over 300,000 acres will now administered by the Bureau of Land Management.

Gold Butte has been targeted for preservation by local grassroots leaders for over 20 years. Environmental activists, the Paiute Indian Tribe, and supporters of U.S. Representative Dina Titus (NV, D) have sought monument status for the region. Legislation to do so was introduced in 2008, but Congress failed to pass any such bills.  It wasn’t until the nations’ highest executive intervened that Gold Butte would be recognized.

Gold Butte National Monument

Gold Butte National Monument

Unfortunately, no government action today can be accomplished without the cloud of political partisanship.  The establishment of these monuments is no exception.  The lengthy process by which grassroots supporters, environmentalist, archeologists, and most importantly, a coalition of 5 Native American tribes, worked for years to see this Bears Ears region become federally protected. (The first efforts to designate this land as a protected tract began more than 80 years ago) However, there remains considerable opposition: Elected officials from the State of Utah have announced their intention to protest- and if possible reverse– the president’s decree.

Senator Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah has stated publically that the establishment of Bears Ears N.M. is  an “attack on an entire way of life.”  The state legislature of Utah accused the President’s decision as “unilateral tyranny”.  There is some irony here- as the state of Utah receives millions of dollars in revenue from tourism every year because of the National Parks found there, not in spite of them.

Emboldened by the incoming Presidential administration, several lawmakers have already drafted legislation to counter existing conservation and environmental policy.  Efforts to reduce the scope and role of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began with a gag order on January 23rd.  House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (Utah, R) has begun seeking support to invalidate the Endangered Species Act. Even today, as I was typing this, the twitter account operated by Badlands National Park, (SD), was abruptly silenced after it shared several facts about carbon dioxide saturation and the effect it has on the climate.

One can infer from this that not only are our public lands in danger, but that elected officials are actively pursuing policy contrary to will- and safety- of the people.

Conservation is not a practice of static achievements.  If our American history is any indication, advocates for the preservation of natural places must be willing to oppose a strong willed, and financially influenced adversary, without respite.

Arguments against the preservation of wild places have but one common root- and that is financial gain by those who oppose.  Efforts to delegitimize the Antiquities Act and the lands protected by it are being pushed forward with only resource extraction as an end state.  The sale of public lands to private (read corporate) interests is a singularly linear path.  Once sold, the inevitable result will be the commercial gain for some, and the loss of wild places for all.

The insidious counter to Roosevelt’s vision is alive and well in American politics.  Every lawmaker espousing state’s rights, or federal overreach, with regards to the establishment of public lands,  ought to be carefully reconnoitered.  For efforts to sow doubt upon the premise of our wild places has never been with the common citizen in mind.  These places such as Gold Butte and Bears Ears belong to us all- with those protections negated, you can expect that any monetary value intrinsic to them will be extracted, repackaged, and sold to you at market price.  (Profits collected by the few lucky enough to be given “rights” by whichever political body reneges it’s mandate to the people.)

We, the people, have the power to save our wild places.  Short-sighted politicians have introduced bills that intend to diminish the size, protections, and    of our public lands.  If you find this as abhorrent as I do, I strongly encourage you to contact your representatives.  A failure to stop this legislation is to gamble there won’t be a fracking station where a petroglyph or campsite used to be. We owe it ourselves, and we owe it to our future.

To find your Representatives in Congress, click Here:



All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants and animals, or collectively the land.”

Aldo Leopold, “The Land Ethic”, A Sand County Almanac.


For more information:







Duty and Deployment


I don’t often write about my experience or responsibilities as a member o the American Armed Forces.  I’ve chosen to focus my writing on my participation and aspirations pertaining space science and exploration.  But that isn’t the primary means of my employ and doesn’t reflect my “day-to-day” life.  As a bit of a disclaimer, I will write more about it, but for so many reasons, my opinions and observations are going to be guarded. I want to be able to share my experiences in the military but  there are systemic and personal limitations that will prevent me from being as frank as in my prose. In the mean time:


I am typing these words from a small room in a prefabricated building in a guarded compound on a military base in the Arabian desert.

In a place where almost no sound occurs naturally, I am bombarded with the din of machines, be they the struggling fans of the ever-present and overworked air conditioners or the rumble of B-52 bombers climbing away towards their targets.

Although I am a reservist, my obligation to the Air Force does require me to activate for National service when necessary.  I have periodically been called to duty to take part in the ongoing war against terror over the last decade.  I wasn’t able to deploy with my squadron that last time they were called to war (read more about that here).  When the call came again, I volunteered.

My last deployment to the Middle East was at a time when U.S. forces were withdrawing from Iraq and being repositioned to support operations in other theaters of the campaign. I served in a capacity then to plan many of those missions (and flew several myself). I was able to see much of Iraq that has since been occupied by the aspirant caliphate and fundamentalist terror group known as ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).  I remember specifically Mosul now the “capital” of ISIS ‘ would-be state and the objective of our Coalition’s campaign to unseat the invaders.

I flew some of the last sorties into Iraq before the Coalition force turned over facilities and air bases to the reconstructed Iraqi military.


Today, I am back in that very same squadron serving in a different conflict in those very same countries.

Promoted and several years wiser, I now return as part of the leadership of this squadron.  For this tour, I will serve as the Assistant Director of Operations, supervising the daily flying missions of the 746th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron.  My role is no longer to fly as a crew member (to my lasting regret), but to prepare those crews and ensure the completion of their objectives.  Monitoring flight schedules, crew duty periods, ensuring coordination between various military units that will be my responsibility.  It is not a glamorous position there is no recognition and I own any errors that are made on my watch.  But after all, I’m an officer first and an aviator second.

As part of Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), our task is to conduct airlift and airdrop in Iraq (or Syria) to support the Coalition forces fighting against ISIS.  Alongside sister units operating out of Kuwait, the 746th flies multiple sorties everyday to move troops and supplies where they are required.  Although based at Al Udied Air Base in the small country of Qatar, we are responsible for mission to any country in U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM).

As tactical aircraft, our planes are especially equipped to handle missions in this war. The C-130H “Hercules” can carry up to 5 standard pallets of cargo or 60+ troops, or a combination of both, depending on our assigned mission.  The aircraft is also equipped with defensive systems and sensors that allow the crew to protect themselves from surface-to-air threats, like those utilized by extremists in Iraq.  Our planes are also designed to handle “short field” (as in shorter runways) than the other  transport aircraft in the war.  The C-130 is designed to be able to deliver its payload by parachute, a mission we refer to as “airdrop”.  If any of our objectives are too remote or occupied by enemy forces, our squadron is ready to fly there and release our cargo while airborne to see it delivered safely and accurately without having to land.

746th C-130H at an airbase in the Middle East, 2016

746th C-130H at an airbase in the Middle East, 2016

Our crews will also continue to support missions in Afghanistan, now under the auspices of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel (OFS).  As many of the NATO partners diminish their presence, U.S. military units are bolstering the Afghan National Army (ANA) and security for critical sites.  With the presence of the Khorasan ISIS “franchise” gaining foothold in several Afghan provinces, it is critical that military aid continues to be flown there.  These are some of our more taxing sorties, as the distance the crews must fly is so great.  That distance also limits the cargo that can be carried aboard, as the fuel quantity (and therefore, weight) must be increased and compensated for. Our planes, though capable – flew at the edge of their capacity in order to complete each mission.  The performance can be diminished enough to limit the “ceiling” at which the planes can cruise.  Sometimes this means flying at only 17,000 feet, far lower than the peaks of the Hindu Kush mountains that form the landscape of war-torn Afghanistan.

Although most of our sorties in this conflict are mundane at worst, one role we play that continues to have a tangible positive outcome is Aeromedical Evacuation. “AE” missions consist of transporting medical patients from the forward bases to “hubs” from which they are flown on jet transports to surgical hospitals in Europe or the states.  Our squadron acts as a link in the chain from battlefield rescue to repatriotization and recovery.  In place of palletized cargo, the C-130 can be configured to carry litters , stacked 3 high, within the cargo compartment.  Patients are tended by nurses and critical care technicians who are specially trained to treat while flying. This has been an essential factor in the survival rates of troops wounded in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Outside the 746th EAS- 2016

Outside the 746th EAS- 2016

My own contribution to the fight against ISIS will be insignificant.  There are so many others here right now who are accomplishing greater things to win this war.   I wish that I was in a better position to do more:  I’m not sure the current structure of this branch allows for reservists like myself to participate in more direct roles.  Despite my professional desires to be a part of the space industry and take part in the many space events that I  miss in the coming months, I could not turn away from this fight.  I only regret that I cannot accomplish more.

My relief comes from knowing I will learn from this experience and hopefully one day be able to apply it to a command of my own.  Each day I’m here I watch as young men and women step to their aircraft to engage in a particularly hazardous occupation.  The responsibility I bear is not lost on me.  When I was a new lieutenant, I was responsible for navigating my aircraft.  As a captain, I became responsible for planning and leading formations of aircraft.  Now as a major, I am responsible for a squadron of aircraft and crews while on my watch.

For the next few months, as the Coalition takes the fight to ISIS in the battle for Mosul, I will be here, behind the scenes.  My experience in this conflict is not going to be the exciting enough to warrant any lengthy journal. Given time, I may write more-  although I am the first to admit that there is little I can say that others haven’t said considerably better.  But I’m open to sharing more if readers are interested.

Flying the line over Iraq, 2016

Flying the line in OIR, 2016



Peter James Collins

RAF pilot Peter J. Collins

RAF pilot Peter J. Collins

I was distressed to learn today of the passing of a legend- prolific test pilot Peter James Collins, formerly of the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force, died this August, 2016.

Collins lived the epitome of a fast jet pilots life- fighter pilot, flight demonstration pilot, test pilot, and contract aviation consultant.  His service record was noteworthy in in its own right.  But it was his contributions to field of test flying that made him famous in the aviation community. He continued his pursuit advancing aviation through flying and writing until his unexpected death this month.

Peter Collins joined the UK’s armed forces in 1975. While serving in the Royal Air Force, Collins was assigned to a Harrier GR.3 squadron in Germany.  The Gr.3 operated in the ground attack and reconnaissance role.  The unit’s mission was to provide responsive tactical support to NATO forces against Warsaw Pact armies.

Collins and his Harrier, early 1980s

Collins and his Harrier, early 1980s


During his assignment in Germany, the  military Junta in Argentina directed the Argentine armed forces to invade and hold the Falkland Islands.  Collins’ tour in Deutschland was cut short and he was given orders to report to the Royal Navy for conversion to the Sea Harrier FRS.1, in time to sail aboard the carrier HMS Illustrious to the contested South Atlantic.

He flew Sea Harriers with the decorated 809NAS (Naval Air Squadron) during the UK’s operations to reclaim and hold the Falklands following Argentina’s capitulation.

Collins returned to the RAF- now as an instructor, teaching Tactics and Weapon techniques to advanced students at the RAF Tactical Weapons Unit.  This prestigious posting lead him to another- that of a pilot for the RAF’s Red Arrows flight demonstration team.  This in turn gave him the opportunity to propel his career even further- to the world of test flying.

Collins was accepted to the Empire Test Pilot School and graduated in 1989. At RAF Boscombe Down, the UK’s primary test and evaluation flight center, he had the opportunity to participate in numerous aircraft development programs.

Peter Collins chose to leave the RAF in 1993, opting for the flexibility of a civilian flight test career. He lent his experience to several major aerospace manufacturers over the last decades of his life. Some of the aircraft he contributed to were the Fokker F70 and F100, Mirage 2000, Panavia Tornado, Dassault Rafale, Dassault Falcon jet series, Pilatus PC-12 and PC-21, Aeromacchi M346, Saab Gripen, Eurofighter Typhoon, and Lockheed-Martin F-16  He eventually rose to the position of Chief Test Pilot for Raytheon UK. With that company, he was responsible for delivery of the Sentinel R.1 and Shadow UAS projects. Both of those aircraft now fly with the Royal Air Force as part of the counter-ISIS Coalition air campaign.


Collins in a Red Arrows Hawk trainer


Over the course of his life, he flew over 10,000 hours in 119 different aircraft types.  In an era of diminishing budgets and risk averse contractors, that number is noteworthy.  It wasn’t just that he flew so many, it’s significant that he test flew  so many of those designs. It is unlikely that records such as his will ever be broken or matched.

Test pilot for Dassault Aviation

Test pilot for Dassault Aviation

I never had the opportunity to meet him in person.  However, he and I did converse online about our shared interests in military aviation history, flight test, and opportunities within the industry. Mr. Collins offered advice about my career in aerospace, and answered every question I posed about his own. I took to heart his mentoring, as brief as it was. He was pragmatic in his suggestions and simultaneously encouraging.  I regret that I didn’t have the foresight to be more proactive in my correspondence.  But I am thankful for the brief chance to speak with a legend.

Clear Skies, sir.











(All photos were retrieved from the public domain via Mr. Collins’ personal Twitter account)



HERA X: Looking for Public Outreach support


In my effort to share the story of human spaceflight (Including the various federal and commercial programs as well as my own endeavors), I would like to find ways to share my upcoming participation in NASA’s HERA analog study.

If you would like to follow the details of the simulated mission, the crew and I will be posting on Twitter to this account: @HERA_Crew_X

From April 19th through May 2nd, the other crew members and I will be training on the Johnson Space Center campus in Houston, Texas.  Each of us will be assigned a role on the crew.  Two of the selected participants will train as Mission Specialists, another will play the role of Flight Engineer, and one will be responsible as Mission Commander. During training, we will learn the tasks associated with our respective roles.

I will continue to post to this blog until the start of the mission study, and follow up afterward with more after the flight profile is completed.

If you have a webpage, write a blog, host a space/science/STEM social media account (or know someone who does) and would like to know more about the HERA X mission, feel free to contact me and I will do my best to answer your questions.  I would love to share this experience with a wider audience.




HERA Crew 10 Mission Patch

HERA Crew 10 Patch (Design by Oscar Mathews)

HERA Crew 10 Patch (Design by Oscar Mathews)

As with every mission that preceded it, Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA) mission 10 will have its own unique patch.  It will be worn by the 4 crew members, adorn equipment and apparel, and one day hang alongside the previous mission’s symbols on a wall at Johnson Space Center.

The patch design reflects the various aspects of the HERA campaign. This particular missions simulation is C3M2- or, “campaign three, mission two”.  Counting the total number of HERA crews that have used the analog habitat module, ours will be number ten.  Hence the big Roman numeral “X”.  The X has another significance this particular study will take place during the 50th anniversary of Gemini 10, which also used the large Roman numeral 10 in the mission patch design.

Each of the crew members names appear, as do 4 stars representing the number of crew.  Occupying the foreground is the asteroid Geographos, an actual asteroid found near Earth, one that actually crosses our planet’s orbit, and the simulated target for this mission. (Conveniently closer than the asteroids found orbiting the sun in the asteroid belt).  Earth is to the right, eclipsed behind the asteroid representing both the origin and final destination of the spaceflight. Mars is there too- always in the background, on the horizon of all NASA’s human spaceflight projects.

Finally, you can see our spacecraft or a representation of what a craft might look like if one were to attempt a human mission to a nearby asteroid.  The design we chose to use was NASA’s “Nautilus X“, a conceptual deep-space craft for beyond Earth orbit  (BEO) exploration.  Although such a vehicle is likely decades away from actually transporting astronauts anywhere, it follows the existing engineering principles necessary for such a journey.

I’m really looking forward to wearing this patch on my uniform!

I Return to (Simulated) Space

Photo Credit: Ron Garon

Photo Credit: Ron Franco

Continuing my goals of playing a role in human spaceflight, I recently applied to and was accepted as a participant in the Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA) campaign.

HERA is a “high-fidelity research venue for scientists to use in addressing risks and gaps associated with human performance during spaceflight.” (according to NASA’s website.) It is a project operated by NASA’s Human Research Program, or HRP, located at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Like my experience in the HI-SEAS analog (You can read my post about that HERE), I will be serving as a subject for NASA’s investigation into mitigating the risks of future space missions.  As a “stand-in” for an astronaut, I will be simulating the duties and tasks necessary to conduct a long-duration spaceflight.  Whereas in HI-SEAS the mission was one of Martian exploration, this time I will be simulating the launch and flight to a nearby asteroid.

After a several decades of learning to live and operate in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) using the Skylab, Space Shuttle, and International Space Station, NASA is beginning to plan for deep space exploration missions again.  There are a number of mission concepts and targets proposed, with all choices eventually leading up to human landings on the planet Mars.  But before a rocket carrying astronauts can reach the red planet a number of milestones need to met.

Graphic courtesy of NASA

Graphic courtesy of NASA

One of the precursor missions being developed is rendezvous and exploration of an asteroid.  Either by direct observation and sampling, or retrieval and sampling from a safer lunar orbit, it promises to be one of the most ambitious human spaceflight missions ever undertaken.  Such a mission would provide NASA an operational test of the techniques and technologies required for the much riskier Martian exploration flights, just as Gemini preceded the Apollo Lunar missions.  (For more about the proposed Asteroid Retrieval Mission, check out NASA’s page)

The HERA study profile will be that of a human spaceflight mission from launch to recovery, featuring a rendezvous and virtual EVAs to collect samples from the target asteroid.  To do this, myself and three other crew members will train for and conduct a 30 day simulation.  This will provide the HRP researchers with an opportunity to record and evaluate our ability to complete all of the duties required of astronauts during that period.

Astronauts collecting samples from an asteroid Credit: NASA

Astronauts collecting samples from an asteroid
Credit: NASA

Similar to HI-SEAS, I will be the subject of a multitude of human factors experiments.  Participating institutions will incorporate ways to evaluate our physical and mental health, our cognitive skills, problem solving, time management, nutritional balance, and team building.  Feedback from surveys (and video cameras placed throughout the HERA hab structure) will be the primary methods of collecting the data from the crew/subjects.

The HERA project us centered around a versatile habitat module structure that has been used in several NASA programs.   Initially devised as an engineering test article, the 3 story structure was known as the “Deep Space Habitat” or DSH.  As a generic design not specific to any particular mission, it has been used as a static and mobile research platform.  In 2011, the whole unit was trucked to Arizona and assembled to take part in the Desert RATS (Desert Research and Technology Studies) analog.  Today the DSH serves as the core module of the HERA project and is located on the campus of Johnson Space Center.



As you can see in the diagram above, it is not a large living space. The interior is designed to reflect the cylindrical shape of space structures launched from Earth (as each component of ISS was).  It features a laboratory, storage, crew quarters, galley, and fitness equipment.  Attached to the main DSH are hygiene and airlock modules. Windows are replaced with video screens that will play vistas appropriate for each phase of the mission profile. (The depiction above doesn’t show the 2nd or 3rd stories, in what is known as the “Badger X-ploration Loft). Like a real spacecraft, there is no unnecessary space.  Astronauts are creative with small living spaces, and I suppose I will learning to cope soon too.

My return to (simulated) space is just a month away.  I will post more about my experience here, so check back for updates. During the study however, I will be not be able to access social media, so you’ll need to be patient. There will also be restrictions as to what I can share because of the nature of the study, but I will do my best to answer any questions that you have. Thank you for following along on my journey!

For more information about HERA and NASA’s other analog research projects, follow this link: http://www.nasa.gov/hrp/research/analogs/hera