Spaceflight Insider

8th Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium

Wernher von Braun and President Kennedy. Photo Credit: NASA

Wernher von Braun and President Kennedy. Photo Credit: NASA

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Last week, SpaceFlight Insider had the opportunity to attend the American Astronautical Society’s (AAS) 8th Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium at The University of Alabama, Huntsville (UAH). Here are a few highlights from the speakers:

Wednesday, Oct. 28:

Bill Hill, NASA Assistant Deputy Administrator for Exploration Systems Development:

  • Regarding the new Space Launch System (SLS) solid rocket booster (SRB) paint scheme: “We paint the boosters anyway, so this is just a different color paint in these areas;”
  • SLS Exploration Mission One (EM-1) is still targeted for late 2018 and is baselined for an uncrewed mission to a lunar distant retrograde orbit (DRO), lasting around 26 days, with nine days in DRO;
  • Currently defining and planning test objectives for Exploration Missions Three (EM-3), and beyond;
  • The intention is to fly SLS every year after Exploration Mission Two (EM-2) – if the budget allows.

Paul Marshall, NASA’s Assistant Program Manager for Orion / MPCV:

  • Two, of seven, welds on the EM-1 Orion primary structure have been completed at the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF);
  • The EM-1 Orion primary structure is expected to be delivered to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), for further assembly, in early Feb. 2016.

John Honeycutt, NASA’s SLS Program Manager:

  • Not painting the SLS core stage allows for an extra 1000 pounds of payload;
  • All Qualification Motor Two (QM-2) solid rocket booster (SRB) segments are cast;
  • Fabrication of the EM-1 SRB’s has begun;
  • Acceptance testing of the SLS RS-25 core stage engines should begin no earlier (NET) than late Jan. 2016;
  • The first SLS barrel to barrel welds (acceptance testing) took place on Oct. 26 at the MAF Vertical Assembly Center (VAC);
  • The new Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) SLS core stage liquid hydrogen (LH2) tank test stand is under construction and is already visible above the tree-line;
  • The new MSFC SLS core stage liquid oxygen (LOX) tank test stand construction is beginning.

Mike Griffin, CEO of Schafer Corporation, and former NASA Administrator:

  • Would a five percent (1/20) failure rate be accepted in any other industry – computer, automobile, etc.?
  • Questioned United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) George Sowers assertion that ULA has had 128 consecutive successful Atlas launches – based on a few payloads being placed in the incorrect orbit;
  • On Constellation / Moon program cancelation: “Late is not as bad as never” and asserted that the U.S. would have been on the Moon by approximately 2022-23 if the program hadn’t been canceled.

Steve Cook, Vice President for Corporate Development at Dynetics, and former NASA Ares I and Ares V Project Manager:

  • Noted that Mike Griffin was known as “Chief Engineer of the Universe” when he was NASA Administrator, to which Griffin replied that “there’s another word in there that you’re not allowed to say.”

Thursday, Oct. 29:

Wayne Hale, Director of Human SpaceFlight at Special Aerospace Services (SAS), and former NASA Space Shuttle Program Director:

  • Frustrated at rate of progress of human space flight – need to “get on with it;”
  • The space “family” is to blame for the lack of progress – must change financially and organizationally;
  • “In exploration, safety is not the most important thing. In exploration, the most important thing is to actually go;”
  • “Staying home is the short road to failure.”

Michelle Gates, NASA’s Program Director for the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM):

  • The launch (commercial vehicle or SLS) date for the robotic portion of the ARM mission is targeted for Dec. 2020;
  • Estimated two-year transit to the selected “asteroidal mass;”
  • Boulder will be removed from the asteroidal mass and placed in a lunar DRO;
  • The launch (SLS) date for the crewed portion of the ARM mission is targeted for Dec. 2025;
  • Two four-hour extravehicular activities (EVAs) are planned to select and retrieve samples from the asteroidal mass.

Curt Niebur, NASA’s Europa Mission Program Scientist:

  • The Europa mission launch window opens on June 6, 2022;
  • As of yet, there is no baseline launch vehicle. However, an SLS launch would shorten the transit time from seven / eight years to two and a half years;
  • Jupiter arrival will occur NET March 5, 2025;
  • 48 Europa flybys are planned;
  • Primary mission will end NET Dec. 26, 2028.

Dan Dumbacher, Purdue University Professor of Engineering Practice, and former NASA Deputy Associate Administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate:

  • NASA should seek “professional help” from Madison Avenue marketing experts to promote its “mission.”

Dante Lauretta, University of Arizona Professor of Planetary Science and Cosmochemistry, and Principal Investigator (PI) for NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission:

  • Target asteroid: Bennu;
  • The Osiris-REx spacecraft is now completed;
  • The launch window opens on Sept. 3, 2016;
  • Arrive at Bennu in Aug. 2018;
  • Depart Bennu in Mar. 2021;
  • The sample return is scheduled for 2023.

Scott Bolton, Assistant Vice-President of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) Space Science and Engineering Division, and PI for NASA’s Juno mission:

  • JUNO is scheduled to arrive at Jupiter on July 4, 2016;
  • Spacecraft is scheduled for 32 science orbits;
  • Mission will end due to spacecraft electronics being destroyed by Jupiter’s radiation.

Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations:

  • Targeting a one-year mission in the area of the Moon, around 2029, using a habitat that would later be used for Mars transit.



Scott earned both a Bachelor's Degree in public administration, and a law degree, from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. He currently practices law in the Birmingham suburb of Homewood. Scott first remembers visiting Marshall Space Flight Center in 1978 to get an up-close look at the first orbiter, Enterprise, which had been transported to Huntsville for dynamic testing. More recently, in 2006, he participated in an effort at the United States Space and Rocket Center (USSRC) to restore the long-neglected Skylab 1-G Trainer. This led to a volunteer position, with the USSRC curator, where he worked for several years maintaining exhibits and archival material, including flown space hardware. Scott attended the STS - 110, 116 and 135 shuttle launches, along with Ares I-X, Atlas V MSL and Delta IV NROL-15 launches. More recently, he covered the Atlas V SBIRS GEO-2 and MAVEN launches, along with the Antares ORB-1, SpaceX CRS-3, and Orion EFT-1 launches.

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