human picks

NASA picks new head of human spaceflight as astronaut launches return to US soil – CNN

New York (CNN Business)NASA has a new head of human spaceflight — a hugely important role to fill as the space agency returns astronaut launches to US soil and works toward landing the humans on the Moon for the first time in five decades.

Kathy Lueders, who has spent 28 years at NASA, will lead the agency’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, or HEO, NASA announced Friday. She will be the first woman ever to fill the role.
NASA’s previous chief of human spaceflight, Doug Loverro, abruptly resigned from the space agency last month, citing a “mistake” he had made earlier this year. CNN Business previously reported that Loverro’s departure was related to contracts that were awarded for the development of lunar landers, or vehicles that can carry astronauts to the moon’s surface, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Lueders’ appointment comes after she spent seven years leading NASA’s Commercial Crew program, a first-of-its-kind effort in which NASA asked the private sector to develop spacecraft capable of carrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Lueders’ leadership of that program culminated in the historic success of SpaceX’s Demo-2 launch last month, which carried NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Doug Hurley to the space station. It marked the first time humans have traveled into orbit from US soil since NASA’s Space Shuttle program ended in 2011.
The Commercial Crew Program is part of the HEO, but in her new role Lueders will also oversee NASA’s Artemis program — an ambitious effort announced by the Trump administration last year to return astronauts to the Moon by 2024. NASA had been working to put spaceboots on the Moon later this decade. The accelerated timeline has been widely criticized as unrealistic, given ongoing delays with the rocket NASA plans to use for the mission and the need to develop a lunar lander.
Relying more heavily on contracts similar to the ones Lueders oversaw under the Commercial Crew Program is at the core of NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine’s plans to make the Moon mission a reality.
“This is such a critical time for the agency and for HEO. We still need to bring Doug and Bob home safely and we’re not going to lose focus,” Bridenstine said in a statement, referring to astronauts Hurley and Behnken, who are slated to return home from the ISS in the next few months.
But, Bridenstine added, “we have our sights set on the Moon and even deeper into space, and Kathy is going to help lead us there.”
Steve Stich, the former deputy manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew program, will now lead the commercial crew program. He’ll continue working with SpaceX as the company gears up to take four more astronauts — three from NASA and one astronaut with Japan’s space agency — to the ISS later this year. He’ll also oversee ongoing development of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft, which suffered a significant setback during a botched test flight in December. Ken Bowersox, who served as acting head of human spaceflight after Loverro’s departure, will return to his role as the HEO’s deputy associate administrator.
NASA’s Office of the Inspector General announced an audit of the agency’s acquisition strategy for the Artemis program in March.
As Bridenstine works to sell members of Congress on NASA’s game plan for returning to the Moon, Lueders’ success with the SpaceX Demo-2 mission could help garner support for NASA’s efforts to rely on commercial partnerships more extensively.
Before Lueders took control of the Commercial Crew Program in 2013, she held roles managing the Space Shuttle Program’s maneuvering systems and later oversaw NASA’s commercial cargo resupply services, the precursor to the Commercial Crew Program.

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lander picks

NASA picks a lander to carry its water-hunting robot to the moon – The Verge

Space robotics company Astrobotic will carry a water-hunting rover to the Moon in late 2023, NASA announced today. Which rocket will launch the commercial mission is still being decided, but the golf-cart sized rover will head down to the Moon’s surface using an Astrobotic lunar lander.

NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, will hunt for water ice at the lunar south pole and try to figure out how much water is lurking in permanently shadowed craters in the region. NASA wants to map out where water is, in the hopes that it could extract water for future missions.

Astrobotic was chosen from a pool of other commercial providers as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. CLPS is designed to help NASA send payloads to the Moon in support of the agency’s Artemis program, which aims to put the first woman on the Moon by 2024. This CLPS contract to carry the rover is worth $199.5 million.

An artist’s impression of the VIPER rover exiting Astrobotic’s lunar lander.
Image: Astrobotic

Astrobotic hasn’t yet decided which rocket it will use to launch the VIPER mission. However, the company is set to launch another lander to the Moon in 2021, and on that mission Astrobotic plans to fly on United Launch Alliance’s next-generation Vulcan rocket. During the 2021 mission, the company will use a smaller lander, Peregrine, to deliver multiple small payloads to the Moon’s surface for NASA and others.

The VIPER rover will ride down to the lunar surface on Astrobotic’s Griffin lander, a lander that’s six feet tall and nearly 15 feet across. Once it lands, the solar-powered rover will start a 100-day mission. Researchers plan to cover about 12 miles with VIPER, and it’ll use a drill to try to locate and map out water resources on the Moon. Unlike Mars rovers, VIPER can be directly controlled by operators from Earth, allowing them to explore the area in near real time. Since it will be exploring shadowed spaces, VIPER will be the first rover to feature headlights.

NASA is particularly interested in finding water because that resource could be especially valuable for human exploration. Water could be turned into rocket fuel, oxygen, and of course, humans need it to live. But while NASA knows that there is water ice at the Moon’s south pole, researchers still aren’t sure how much is there or whether it’s possible to extract that water and use it.

“The key to living on the Moon is water – the same as here on Earth,” Daniel Andrews, project manager of the VIPER mission said in October 2019. “Since the confirmation of lunar water-ice ten years ago, the question now is if the Moon could really contain the amount of resources we need to live off-world. This rover will help us answer the many questions we have about where the water is, and how much there is for us to use.”

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