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!

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Commercial Spaceflight Training: A New Series!

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I’d like to share with you my journey.  It’s the physical manifestation of my aspirations.  I’m going to document my progress as I complete milestones on the path of commercial spaceflight training.

(I will post my disclaimer now: I will in no way refer to myself as an astronaut, nor an astronaut candidate, nor make any assumptions or predictions concerning my competitiveness to ever be selected for a flight.)

What I will do is share my experience as I work through the various practical aspects of spaceflight training.  Each post in this series will focus on a specific skill or event required for human spaceflight.  From flight training to microgravity simulation, I will document my accomplishments and discuss how they pertain to preparing an astronaut for space.

My goal is to inform and entertain.  And maybe, if I do this well, I will be lucky enough to inspire someone too.  I will make no arguments suggesting commercial astronautics is superior or inferior to federal programs, nor extol one spacecraft manufacturer over another.  I will, however, be an advocate for the potential of commercial spaceflight.  This series will focus on the commercial space industry, not NASA. That is not to say I won’t reference NASA’s astronaut training – how could I not?  Expect though that my posts will discuss training specifically addressing commercial suborbital and orbital projects.

Please follow along and share this at your leisure.  I will post to this series on a semi-regular basis, or as often as I have the opportunity to complete another milestone.  I do this not because it is easy, but because it is hard – to keep a schedule!

Casey Stedman, Fairview Heights, Illinois – February 23rd, 2016

NASA Astronaut Application: Goals, Expectations, and Reality

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This last Monday, December 14th 2015, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, better known as NASA, began accepting applications for the Astronaut Corps. The link can be found HERE

Unlike the period in which NASA operated the space shuttle and the U.S. government regularly recruited new astronauts, the post shuttle period has seen a diminished requirement for new applicants and flyable candidates.  The most recent opportunity to apply to be an astronaut was announced in 2011, and in 2013, just 8 individuals were chosen from a pool of 6,372 applicants.

My interest in spaceflight began early- But I I’m not going to rehash a story so many others have stated before. Instead, I will say that I had many other interests too, some of which were more achievable in the near-term, which ultimately became the path I followed.

It is interesting to have become involved enough in space community to know more than a few highly competitive individuals who will be submitting application to NASA this round. One those who applied in 2011 and made it to the interview portion of the process was Brian Shiro, a geophysicist working for NOAA. (read his blog here) He has written several posts documenting his experience, as well as recent article in Forbes about the recent call for applications.

In his article, Shiro states a list of observations about he NASA astronaut selection process. Number two on the list is “set realistic expectations”.  We all have a plan for ourselves, a series of accomplishments we hope to achieve in our lifetimes. We set these expectations – and if we’re focused enough, we can achieve them.  I’ve always held myself to a high standard, competitively focused and dedicated to my goals. But along the way, life happens, and managing my expectations has been an often bitter aftertaste to the reality of events.

Unfortunately, I made a choice in my past to expedite my undergraduate education and received my BA before heading to flight school with the Air Force. That degree, a Bachelor of Arts in Geography, provided me with a background in cartography, culture, and geopolitical affairs that has aided me every day as an officer in the Armed Forces.  I made a decision then to ensure I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to fly as a military aviator. Unfortunately, the degree I earned is not one sought by NASA for applicants to the Astronaut Corps.

While I’m disappointed, I understand the limitations indicated in the application. I do wish there was a recourse- some allowance for comparable experience or skillset. But that is not the case.

Rather than see this as the end of a dream, I choose to see this as the affirming of my belief in the emerging commercial spaceflight opportunities.

For anyone who knows me well or follows this blog, you know that not only am I an advocate for the commercial spaceflight industry, but that I have been working diligently to prepare myself to work in that sector.  From my graduate studies to my flying experience and more recently practical training courses, I am attempting to build a foundation of applicable achievements that can be utilized in commercial spaceflight.

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While it is true that any market for commercial astronauts is still in the future, and that any such men and women won’t be part of NASA’s missions to Mars, the cornerstone of that industry is being made possible today.  From CubeSats to commercial space stations, new space enterprises other than those operated by federal institutions are being launched all the time.  NASA may soon become just one of many pathways to becoming an astronaut.

That is not to say the commercial path will be easier- the existing commercial spaceflight companies have had their pick of former NASA astronauts who’ve left the agency in recent years, following the retirement of the space shuttle. These men and women will set a high standard for the potential applicants that follow.  NASA’s astronaut corps is still a rather small collection of individuals, however, and it can’t sustain an emerging industry alone. Even pessimistic assumptions imply that these new space companies will need to employ more commercial payload specialists and pilots than are currently working for America’s space agency.

Despite the limitations of my education to date, I’ve sought opportunities to demonstrate my talents to commercial spaceflight industry wherever I can.  From analog simulations to training as a candidate for suborbital payload operation, I look for ways to add new skills and increase my knowledge in the subjects sought by NASA for the astronaut corps. I read informative books and papers on a wide spectrum of subjects related to aerospace and astronautics. When my schedule allows, I attend conferences and summits in order to meet with and network professionals in the industry. And I write about my experiences in order to help others learn about these opportunities as well.  Every decision I make is one to better myself, and better my chance at being selected to take part in future spaceflight projects.

I won’t be submitting an application to be astronaut with NASA this round. Maybe sometime in the future, my accumulated education and experience will meet the requirements laid out by the space agency. For now, I will continue to improve myself and work toward helping to a build a future where there is more than one pathway to the stars.

The author free-floating on a parabolic flight to test a commercial spacesuit design, 2015

The author free-floating on a parabolic flight to test a commercial spacesuit design, 2015

 

Historical Parallels: Astronaut Field Geology Training at #HISEAS

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When President Kennedy made his famous address at Rice University in 1961 calling for human mission to the moon, the impetus behind that goal was a political one.  The Cold War between the United States and the U.S.S.R was threatening to overwhelm the world. The spheres of influence of both nations led to an ever increasing “one-upmanship” in national pride. At it’s core, the American space mission of the 1960s was a political contest, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t knowledge to be gained from it.

Even as NASA’s human spaceflight programs began, there was a tremendous interest to use the missions to investigate extraterrestrial phenomena.  Space science was in it’s infancy, and aside from astronomy, there was very little understanding of the natural processes that existed beyond Earth.  Scientists representing a wide spectrum of the natural sciences sought to incorporate payloads and experiments onto the spacecraft in order to better the understanding of the space environment.

The Apollo missions in particular represented an astounding opportunity to increase our knowledge of our solar system.  Although by 1969 several unmanned space probes had made flybys of our neighboring planets, very little was known about the structures of these words. Our very own moon was as alien to us the stars in distant galaxies.  A new field was about to be born: lunar science.  And NASA intended to maximize the ability of the astronauts on the Apollo missions to bring back information about our celestial partner.

All of the NASA astronauts selected before 1965 were military test pilots by trade. Most had backgrounds in engineering as opposed to the physical sciences.  In order for them to conduct scientific experiments on the lunar surface, the astronauts had to complete basic courses in geology.

Like the Apollo astronauts, the HI-SEAS crew and I needed to learn about geology before beginning our mission.  None of the crew is a geologist or planetary scientist.  (I have some interest in the subject, but I don’t have any formal education in geological sciences) As part of our preparation for our mission, the HI-SEAS science team organized a 3 day field course in Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park.  In an interesting historical parallel, the Hawaiian volcanoes were one of the locations where the Apollo astronauts did their own geology field training as well!

Our training was led by Dr. Sarah Fagents of the University of Hawaii at Manoa. As a geologist, she not only teaches on the faculty at UH, but has participated in numerous planetary science missions.  Like Dr. Eugene Shoemaker and Dr. Farouk El Baz did for the Apollo astronauts, Dr. Fagents instructed us in the basic principles of rock formation igneous processes, mineralogy, volcanology, and  field techniques.  Over a period of 3 days, Dr. Fagents led us across the volcanic landscape of the island of Hawaii.

The planet Mars exhibits the most massive volcanoes found anywhere in our solar system. These  mountains are shield volcanoes, formed when repeated eruptions poured fluid lava, building layer after layer until they formed mountains of incredible height.  Remarkably, the Hawaiian islands formed the same way.  So what better place to better understand Martian volcanoes than to explore the best analog found on Earth?

The HI-SEAS crew traveled to the Kilauea volcanic complex to see actual volcanism in progress. Forming the centerpiece of the Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park, Kilauea is the most continuously active volcano on our planet. For over 30 years, the caldera has produced periodic lava flows and vented gases.  Although not yet the picturesque, peaked mountain like its neighboring Mauna Loa or Mauna Kea, Kilauea has a greater variety of volcanic features present.  This made it the ideal site for our field training.

So why didn’t we just include a trained geologist on our crew? Future astronauts exploring Mars will need to be able to be the eyes of the scientific community – not just for their own field of study, but as multidisciplinary generalists too.  The energy and resources it will take to safely land a crew on the surface of Mars makes it likely that future crews will consist of only a few persons per mission, so each astronaut will be required to be familiar with many sciences.  During the Apollo program, it was more imperative that the astronauts were experienced pilots, so their geological training was secondary.  It wasn’t until Apollo 17- the last lunar mission- that NASA flew a trained geologist, Dr. Harrison Schmidt, to the moon.

During the remainder of our analog mission, the HI-SEAS crew and I will be given tasks to explore, map, and catalog the geological features we encounter on the surface of “Mars”.  These tasks simulate the goals future astronauts will accomplish during planetary exploration missions.  Like the Apollo astronauts before us, we are using terrestrial parallels to help mankind understand the solar system.

For a thorough review of all the sites where the Apollo astronauts conducted field geology training, follow this link: http://www.hq.nasa.gov/alsj/ap-geotrips.pdf