Insider Exclusive: JSC’s Astronaut Office innovating a path forward
HOUSTON, Texas — A model of NASA’s Orion spacecraft is prominently placed within the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. We sat down with Rick Mastracchio, a four-time spaceflight veteran with more than 227 days on orbit about how the Astronaut Office at JSC is working to make the agency’s new Orion spacecraft more self-sufficient than those that preceded it.
At present, NASA is working to have Orion conduct its second flight in late 2018 (the spacecraft’s first mission, Exploration Flight Test 1, launched on Dec. 5, 2014). The upcoming flight, Exploration Mission 1, will be the first for NASA’s new super-heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System.
NASA and its family of contractors aren’t content with reinventing the wheel, they are looking to develop new, more self-sufficient systems which should be able to handle problems that crews have not had to face in more than four decades.
“We haven’t left low-Earth orbit since 1972, the last Apollo mission, so that’s a big change,” Mastracchio told SpaceFlight Insider. “Some of the changes that I foresee is that we’re going to have probably a much smarter vehicle than what we had on Space Shuttle or Soyuz, or on the Space Station in terms of it will be more autonomous.”
Autonomous was one word that was repeatedly used to describe how Mission Control, also located at JSC, and the crew will need to be as missions travel farther and farther away from our home world.
Mastracchio noted that, as these missions get underway, the Mission Control’s role will decrease as crews venture to possible destinations such as Earth’s moon, an asteroid, and Mars.
Mastracchio and Hasbrook spoke with SpaceFlight Insider for the better part of an hour. They informed SFI regarding contingency scenarios that were under development as well as about how astronauts are being trained to broaden their already diverse array of talents to support deep space missions – and more.
Upcoming SLS/Orion flights include the first integrated flight of the launch vehicle and spacecraft, EM-1, as well as the first crewed flight (Exploration Mission 2) and the Asteroid Redirect Mission, which, according to Jeff Foust at Space News, if funded, could fly in late 2021.
Some of their comments are contained in the video presentation below.
Video courtesy of SpaceFlight Insider
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.