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All the major structures that will form the core stage for NASA’s SLS (Space Launch System) rocket for the agency’s Artemis III mission are structurally complete. Technicians finished welding the 51-foot liquid oxygen tank structure, left, inside the Vertical Assembly Building at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans Jan. 8. The liquid hydrogen tank, right, completed internal cleaning Nov. 14. NASA/Michael DeMocker As NASA works to develop all the systems needed to return astronauts to the Moon under its Artemis campaign for the benefit of all, the SLS (Space Launch System) rocket will be responsible for launching astronauts on their journey. With the liquid oxygen tank now fully welded, all of the major structures that will form the core stage for the SLS rocket for the agency’s Artemis III mission are ready for additional outfitting. The hardware will be a part of the rocket used for the first of the Artemis missions planning to land astronauts on the Moon’s surface near the lunar South Pole. Technicians finished welding the 51-foot liquid oxygen tank structure inside the Vertical Assembly Building at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans Jan. 8.
The mega rocket’s other giant propellant tank – the liquid hydrogen tank – is already one fully welded structure. NASA and Boeing, the SLS core stage lead contractor, are currently priming the tank in another cell within the Vertical Assembly Building area called the Building 131 cryogenic tank thermal protection system and primer application complex. It completed internal cleaning Nov. 14.
Manufacturing hardware is a multi-step process that includes welding, washing, and, later, outfitting hardware.The internal cleaning process is similar to a shower to ensure contaminants do not find their way into the stage’s complex propulsion and engine systems prior to priming. Once internal cleaning is complete, primer is applied to the external portions of the tank’s barrel section and domes by an automated robotic tool. Following primer, technicians apply a foam-based thermal protection system to shield it from the extreme temperatures it will face during launch and flight while also regulating the super-chilled propellant within.
“NASA and its partners are processing major hardware elements at Michoud for several SLS rockets in parallel to support the agency’s Artemis campaign,” said Chad Bryant, acting manager of the Stages Office for NASA’s SLS Program. “With the Artemis II core stage nearing completion, the major structural elements of the SLS core stage for Artemis III will advance through production on the factory floor.”
The two massive propellant tanks for the rocket collectively hold more than 733,000 gallons of super-chilled propellant. The propellant powers the four RS-25 engines and must stay extremely cold to remain liquid.
The core stage, along with the RS-25 engines, will produce two million pounds of thrust to help launch NASA’s Orion spacecraft, astronauts, and supplies beyond Earth’s orbit and to the lunar surface for Artemis III. SLS is the only rocket that can send Orion, astronauts, and supplies to the Moon in a single launch.
Through Artemis, NASA will send astronauts—including the first woman, first person of color, and first international partner astronaut—to explore the Moon for scientific discovery, economic benefits, and to build the foundation for crewed mission to Mars. SLS is part of NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration, along with the Orion spacecraft, exploration ground systems, advanced spacesuits and rovers, Gateway, and human landing systems.
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Jennifer Kunz, associate director, technical, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, participates in a virtual Town Hall meeting on Jan. 13, 2022, for Kennedy employees. NASA/Kim Shiflett Jennifer Kunz, associate director technical of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, released the following statement after speaking Thursday at the SpaceCom / 50th Space Congress in Orlando, Florida.
“NASA’s Moon to Mars strategy rests on three pillars: pursuing science to better understand the universe and our origins; inspiring the next generation to achieve the seemingly impossible; and building on American preeminence in science, technology and exploration while strengthening economic and diplomatic ties with other nations. Kennedy is proud to be at the forefront of helping achieve the agency’s ambitious Moon to Mars Objectives for the benefit of all.
“Most people know Kennedy for launching rockets, but our spaceport also is home to new technologies needed to establish a sustained human presence on the Moon and exploration throughout the solar system. Today, Kennedy teams are working on the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft for the Artemis campaign, which will return humans to the lunar surface after more than 50 years. Kennedy is the only place on Earth where the SLS rocket is fully assembled prior to launch. Once built, the rocket, spacecraft, and ground systems will undergo rigorous testing and validation in preparation for launching astronauts further and deeper in space than ever before.
“Engineers also are developing technologies that our astronauts will need on the lunar surface. These include 3D printing capability to build structures on the Moon; rovers, and instruments to find water, minerals, and other resources to help sustain a long-term presence; and electrodynamic dust shield technologies that repel the abrasive Moon dust and protect vehicles and sensitive equipment.
“Kennedy’s plant researchers continue working hard to find new ways to grow food in space to supplement the diets of astronauts with key nutrients. And as we advance these technologies, we also administer a number of programs that enable university researchers to help solve other key Moon to Mars challenges.
“While we focus on Moon and Mars, NASA continues to enable the growth of the commercial space sector. Beyond supporting Artemis, our industry and international partners make it possible to launch crews and conduct critical research on the International Space Station. We also rely on commercial expertise to launch many of our robotic science missions that study the Earth, the solar system, and beyond.
“As we stand at the dawn of a new age of space exploration, I can’t wait to see the innovations and advancements to come. We often hear that “space is hard,” and we at Kennedy take great inspiration from our history, which is full of stories of NASA engineers solving seemingly impossible problems. As we make the next giant leap to the Moon and Mars, Kennedy Space Center is proud to do our part to advance science, inspire the Artemis Generation, and strengthen America’s standing in the world.”
Kunz’s biography is available online, and file images are available from NASA’s image library in vertical and horizontal formats.
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In honor of Black History Month, we recognize the contributions of Black astronauts to our nation’s space programs. Coming to NASA from a variety of backgrounds as military pilots, engineers, scientists, and physicians, these astronauts have made history-making contributions participating in space shuttle missions to perform critical tasks such as deploying and retrieving satellites, performing spacewalks, conducting science and technology research, and piloting and commanding space shuttle missions. More recently, Black astronauts have played key roles in the assembly of the International Space Station, performing numerous spacewalks and robotic operations, and conducting research as expedition crewmembers. Several have distinguished themselves as senior leaders at NASA, including as the agency’s administrator. Looking to the future, Black astronauts are among those eligible for space station as well as exploration missions in the Artemis program.
List of Black astronauts who have flown in space.
Robert H. Lawrence
Robert H. Lawrence holds the honor as the first Black astronaut selected for a space program. In June 1967, the U.S. Air Force selected Lawrence as a member of the third group of aerospace research pilots for the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) Program, a joint project of the Air Force and the National Reconnaissance Office to obtain high-resolution photographic imagery of America’s Cold War adversaries. Tragically, Lawrence lost his life in an aircraft accident in December 1967, and the Air Force cancelled the MOL Program in June 1969. Two months later, seven of the MOL astronauts transferred to NASA’s astronaut corps and all flew missions on the space shuttle. It is highly likely that had Lawrence lived, NASA would have selected him in that group, and he would have flown as the first Black astronaut.
Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez
The first person of African heritage to fly in space, Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez of Cuba, spent eight days aboard the Soviet Salyut-6 space station in 1980. The Cuban Air Force selected Tamayo Méndez as part of the Soviet Union’s Interkosmos program that flew cosmonauts from friendly socialist countries on short visiting flights to their space stations to conduct experiments for their national space programs and academic institutions.
Left: Portrait of U.S. Air Force astronaut Robert H. Lawrence. Middle left: Lawrence, second from left, with his fellow Group 3 Manned Orbiting Laboratory astronauts. Middle right: Portrait of Cuban cosmonaut Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez. Right: Tamayo Méndez, second from left, with his Soviet crewmates aboard the Salyut-6 space station.
Guion S. Bluford
In January 1978, NASA selected its largest group of astronauts up to that time, 35 pilots and mission specialists, for the space shuttle program then under development. For the first time, NASA included women and minorities in the selection group, including three Blacks, one pilot and two mission specialists. One of the three, Guion S. “Guy” Bluford, became the first Black astronaut in space as a mission specialist aboard space shuttle Challenger’s STS-8 mission in 1983. During the six-day flight that featured the first night launch and night landing of the shuttle program, the astronauts deployed a communications satellite for India and performed tests with the remote manipulator system.
Left: Selected in 1978, NASA astronauts Ronald E. McNair, left, Guion S. “Guy” Bluford, and Frederick D. Gregory. Middle: Bluford exercises on the treadmill in the middeck of space shuttle Challenger during the STS-8 mission. Right: Bluford, right rear, with his fellow STS-8 crew members.
Bluford returned to space in October 1985 on Challenger’s STS-61A flight, serving as a mission specialist on Spacelab D1, a scientific mission sponsored by the West German space agency DLR. The flight marked the first and so far only time that eight astronauts launched aboard a single spacecraft. During their seven days in orbit, the international crew conducted 75 experiments in a variety of scientific disciplines.
Left: Guion S. “Guy” Bluford, left, works on an experiment during the Spacelab D1 mission. Right: Bluford, lower right, with the rest of the eight-member international STS-61A crew.
Making his third trip into space, Bluford launched aboard space shuttle Discovery in April 1991 on STS-39, the first flight to carry five mission specialists. During the eight-day unclassified mission for the Department of Defense (DOD), Bluford and his crewmates divided into two teams working around the clock. They conducted a series of observations of Earth’s upper atmosphere and its interactions with the shuttle orbiter. The mission’s unusually high 57-degree orbital inclination allowed the astronauts to observe most of the Earth’s landmasses. Using the shuttle’s remote manipulator system, they deployed and retrieved the Shuttle Pallet Satellite-II that conducted independent observations for two days, including monitoring shuttle thruster and engine firings.
Left: Guion S. “Guy” Bluford on the flight deck of space shuttle Discovery. Right: Bluford, at left in the back, poses for the crew photo during STS-39.
For his fourth and final spaceflight, Bluford lifted off aboard space shuttle Discovery in December 1992. During the seven-day STS-53 flight, the final DOD-dedicated mission, Bluford and his four crewmates deployed the third Satellite Data System-2 military communications satellite and conducted several unclassified experiments. On his four missions, he logged 688 hours of spaceflight time. Bluford retired from NASA in 1993 to join the private sector.
Left: Guion S. “Guy” Bluford photographs the Earth with a video camcorder through the shuttle’s overhead window. Right: Bluford, left, poses with his STS-53 crewmates.
Ronald E. McNair
Also selected in the 1978 astronaut class, physicist Ronald E. McNair made his first space flight aboard space shuttle Challenger in February 1984. During the STS-41B mission, McNair and his crewmates deployed two commercial satellites and two of the astronauts tested the Manned Maneuvering Unit during the first two untethered spacewalks. McNair, an accomplished jazz saxophonist, became the first person to play a soprano sax in space. Space limitations in the shuttle precluded flying McNair’s favorite tenor sax, so he learned to play the smaller version of the instrument for his space flight. The eight-day mission ended with the first space shuttle landing back at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.
Left: NASA mission specialist Ronald E. McNair plays the soprano saxophone in the middeck of space shuttle Challenger. Right: McNair, front and center, with the rest of the STS-41B crew.
McNair’s next flight assignment was also on Challenger, the January 1986 STS-51L mission that included the first teacher in space. Although the mission plan did not include a spacewalk, McNair trained as one of the two astronauts to conduct one in case of a contingency. Tragically, the mission ended 63 seconds after liftoff when an explosion caused by a faulty solid rocket booster O-ring, resulted in the loss of the seven-member crew and the space shuttle Challenger. McNair had planned to play a saxophone solo during the STS-51L mission for composer Jean-Michel Jarre’s album Rendez-Vous, including participation in a concert via a live feed. As a tribute to McNair, Jarre entitled the album’s sixth and last piece Last Rendez-Vous (Ron’s Piece) – ‘Challenger’.
Left: Astronaut Ronald E. McNair dons his spacesuit for contingency spacewalk training in the Weightless Environment Training Facility at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Middle: McNair, front row right, in the official STS-51L crew photograph. Right: McNair, third in line, walks with the rest of the STS-51L crew to the Astrovan for the ride out to the launch pad.
Frederick D. Gregory
The third Black member of the class of 1978, U.S. Air Force pilot Frederick D. Gregory, made his first flight into space in April 1985 aboard space shuttle Challenger. On the STS-51B mission, Gregory became the first Black astronaut to pilot a space shuttle. During the seven-day Spacelab-3 science mission, the seven crew members divided into two teams to conduct 15 experiments in five different disciplines around the clock.
Left: Astronaut Frederick D. Gregory on the flight deck of space shuttle Challenger. Right: Gregory, left and upside down, and the rest of the STS-51B crew in the Spacelab module.
On his second trip into space, Gregory flew as the first Black commander of a space shuttle, the STS-33 mission of Discovery in November 1989. During the five-day flight, the five-member crew completed the primary goal of the DOD mission to deploy a Magnum electronic intelligence satellite.
Left: STS-33 Commander Frederick D. Gregory displays a banner drawn and signed by Japanese students and by the superintendent of the Department of Defense Dependents School in Japan. Middle: Gregory takes photographs through the shuttle’s aft windows. Right: Gregory, left, with his STS-33 crewmates.
Gregory once again served as commander on his third and final spaceflight, the DOD-dedicated STS-44 mission. During the seven-day November 1991 flight aboard space shuttle Atlantis, Gregory and his five crewmates deployed a Defense Support Program satellite designed to detect nuclear detonations and missile and space launches. After his third spaceflight, Gregory served at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., in several high-level management positions. He served as NASA’s first Black deputy administrator from 2002 until his retirement from the agency in 2005.
Left: STS-44 Commander Frederick D. Gregory talks to Mission Control from the middeck of space shuttle Atlantis. Middle: Gregory, front row left, in the onboard STS-44 crew photo. Right: Official NASA portrait of Gregory as deputy NASA administrator.
Charles F. Bolden
Selected in 1980 in the second group of space shuttle astronauts, U.S. Marine pilot Charles F. Bolden’s first spaceflight took place in January 1986 aboard space shuttle Columbia. He served as the pilot for the six-day STS-61C mission, the last mission before the Challenger accident, to deploy a commercial communications satellite. The flight also featured the first flight of a U.S. Congressman, C. William “Bill” Nelson, whose district included KSC, and who now serves as NASA’s 14th administrator. STS-61C marked the only mission to carry two future NASA administrators.
Left: Charles F. Bolden in the pilot’s seat of space shuttle Columbia prepares for reentry. Right: Bolden, upper right, with his fellow STS-61C crew members.
Bolden again served as pilot during his second trip into space in April 1990, the five-day STS-31 mission to deploy the Hubble Space Telescope, the orbiting observatory that has changed our view of the Universe in its more than 30 years of surveying the skies. The space shuttle Discovery reached a then-record altitude of 380 miles to place Hubble in its operational orbit well above the Earth’s atmosphere.
Left: STS-31 pilot Charles F. Bolden in the airlock of space shuttle Discovery assists with contingency spacewalk preparations. Right: Bolden, upper left, with his STS-31 crewmates following the deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope.
On his third spaceflight, Bolden flew as commander of STS-45, a nine-day mission aboard space shuttle Atlantis in March 1992. The seven-member crew, divided into two teams to provide uninterrupted data gathering 24-hours a day, operated 12 instruments from 7 countries mounted in the payload bay as part of the Atmospheric Laboratory for Applications and Science-01 mission. Bolden and his crew completed 250 maneuvers to bring Atlantis into the correct positions to obtain the required measurements.
Left: STS-45 Commander Charles F. Bolden communicates on the amateur radio. Right: Bolden, front row right, poses with the rest of the STS-45 crew on the shuttle’s flight deck.
Bolden returned to space for a fourth time as commander of Discovery’s STS-60 mission, the first flight of the Shuttle-Mir Program. Russian cosmonaut Sergei K. Krikalev flew as a mission specialist during the nine-day space shuttle mission that included a Spacehab module to conduct a variety of scientific experiments. During his four flights, Bolden logged more than 680 hours of spaceflight time. Shortly after STS-60, he retired from NASA and returned to the U.S. Marine Corps, serving there until 2004. In 2009, President Barack H. Obama nominated, and the Senate confirmed, Bolden as NASA’s 12th and its first Black administrator, a position he held until 2017.
Left: STS-60 Commander Charles F. Bolden prepares space shuttle Discovery for reentry. Middle: Bolden, upper right, with his STS-60 crewmates. Right: Official NASA portrait of Bolden as the agency’s first Black administrator.
Dr. Mae C. Jemison
Selected as an astronaut in 1987, physician Dr. Mae C. Jemison became the first Black woman to fly in space in 1992 as a mission specialist on STS-47. She and her six crewmates conducted 44 life sciences and materials sciences experiments aboard Endeavour’s Spacelab-J mission, sponsored by Japan’s National Space Development Agency (NASDA), now the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Jemison retired from NASA in 1993 but continued to promote space exploration, including writing children’s books and appearing in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Left: Mission Specialist Dr. Mae C. Jemison in the Spacelab-J module during the STS-47 mission. Right: Jemison, right, with the rest of the STS-47 crew, poses in the Spacelab-J module.
Dr. Bernard A. Harris
Flight surgeon Dr. Bernard A. Harris, selected as a NASA astronaut in 1990, completed his first space flight in April 1993 as a mission specialist on STS-55, the German Spacelab D2 mission. During the 10-day Columbia flight, Harris and his crewmates split into two shifts and conducted 88 experiments sponsored by 11 nations in six scientific disciplines.
Left: Mission Specialist Dr. Bernard A. Harris works on a materials experiment in the Spacelab-D2 module during STS-55. Right: Harris, back row left, with his STS-55 crew mates.
Harris returned to space on his second flight, as the first Black astronaut designated as the payload commander for a mission, in charge of managing the scientific experiments conducted in the Spacehab module. Discovery’s STS-63 mission, the second Shuttle-Mir flight, included a rendezvous with the Mir space station. The February 1995 mission also featured the first woman to pilot a space shuttle, Eileen M. Collins. During the eight-day mission, Harris conducted a 4-hour, 39-minute spacewalk, the first American African astronaut to do so. Harris retired from NASA in 1996, remaining active in the fields of medicine, research, and education.
Left: Dr. Bernard A. Harris, right, prepares for a spacewalk during the STS-63 mission. Right: Harris, front row left, with the rest of the STS-63 crew on space shuttle Discovery’s flight deck.
Winston E. Scott
Aeronautical engineer Winston E. Scott, selected as a NASA mission specialist astronaut in 1992, completed his first spaceflight aboard the space shuttle Endeavour in January 1996. During the nine-day STS-72 mission, Scott participated in a 6-hour 54-minute spacewalk to test tools and techniques planned for use during the assembly of the space station. The six-person crew retrieved the NASDA Space Flyer Unit, a satellite launched in March 1995 to independently conduct materials science, biology, engineering, and astronomy research. The crew also deployed and two days later retrieved the Spartan-206 free-flyer satellite that carried four technology demonstrations and science experiments.
Left: Mission Specialist Winston E. Scott reviews rendezvous procedures on space shuttle Endeavour’s flight deck. Right: Scott, upper right, with the rest of the STS-72 crew.
For his second and final mission, Scott returned to space in November 1997 aboard the space shuttle Columbia. During the 16-day STS-87 mission, Scott participated in two spacewalks, bringing his total spacewalking experience to more than 22 hours. The crew conducted nine experiments in materials science, combustion science, and fundamental physics as part of the fourth U.S. Microgravity Payload. Scott retired from NASA in 1999 to return to his alma mater, Florida State University, as vice-president for student affairs.
Left: Winston E. Scott deploys a prototype free-flying experiment during a spacewalk on the STS-87 mission. Right: Scott, lower right, with his STS-87 crewmates in space shuttle Columbia’s middeck.
Robert L. Curbeam
Selected as a NASA astronaut in 1994, aeronautical engineer Robert L. “Beamer” Curbeam made his first trip into space aboard space shuttle Discovery in August 1997 during the STS-85 mission. With study of the Earth the main goal of the 12-day flight, the crew deployed and retrieved the Cryogenic Infrared Spectrometers and Telescopes for the Atmosphere-Shuttle Pallet Satellite-2 (CRISTA-SPAS-2) spacecraft, a joint venture between NASA and the German space agency DLR. The three telescopes and four spectrometers aboard CRISTA-SPAS-2 spent more than 200 hours of free flight observing the Earth.
Left: Mission Specialist Robert L. “Beamer” Curbeam photographs the Earth through one of space shuttle Discovery’s overhead windows. Right: Curbeam, left, poses for the inflight photo with the STS-85 crew.
On his second flight in space, Curbeam launched aboard space shuttle Atlantis in February 2001. As a crew member on the 13-day STS-98 mission, Curbeam participated in the installation of the Destiny U.S. Laboratory module onto the space station, becoming the first Black astronaut to visit the orbital facility. He conducted three spacewalks totaling nearly 20 hours to complete external connections between the space station and Destiny.
Left: Robert L. “Beamer” Curbeam during the second STS-98 spacewalk to install the Destiny U.S. Laboratory module onto the space station. Right: Curbeam, right, with the STS-98 and Expedition 1 crews.
On his third and final flight, Curbeam returned to space, and to the space station, in December 2006, as part of the STS-116 crew aboard space shuttle Discovery. The 13-day flight marked the first time that two Black astronauts flew on the same mission. The crew installed the P5 truss segment on the ISS, with Curbeam completing four spacewalks to help accomplish the task. With his previous spacewalking experience, Curbeam holds the record among Black astronauts for the most number of spacewalks, seven, and the most spacewalking time, 45 hours 34 minutes. Curbeam retired from NASA in 2007, remaining active in space-related activities.
Left: Robert L. “Beamer” Curbeam during the second STS-116 spacewalk to install the P5 truss segment onto the space station. Right: Curbeam, middle row at right, with the STS-116 and Expedition 14 crews.
Michael P. Anderson
Physicist Michael P. Anderson joined NASA’s astronaut corps in 1994 and made his first flight in space in January 1998 aboard the space shuttle Endeavour. As a mission specialist aboard STS-89, the eighth mission to dock with the space station Mir, Anderson was the first and only Black astronaut to visit the Russian orbital facility. He also conducted scientific experiments in the double Spacehab logistics module during the 9-day mission.
Left: Michael P. Anderson works on an experiment in the middeck of space shuttle Endeavour. Right: Anderson, lower right, with the STS-89 and Mir Expedition 24 crews, poses for the inflight crew photo in Mir’s base block module.
Anderson’s next spaceflight came in January 2003, the 16-day STS-107 research mission aboard space shuttle Columbia. With Anderson serving as payload commander, the seven-member crew split into two teams to work around the clock on more than 80 experiments in the fields of Earth and space science, advanced technology, and astronaut health and safety. Tragically, about 16 minutes before landing at KSC, space shuttle Columbia broke apart, with loss of the vehicle and the crew. Investigators traced the cause to a piece of foam that fell off the external tank during launch and struck Columbia’s left wing, creating an opening through which superheated gases during reentry impinged on the orbiter’s airframe, causing the vehicle to disintegrate.
Left: Michael P. Anderson works on a combustion experiment in the Spacehab Double Research Module during the STS-107 mission. Right: Anderson, at upper right, with the rest of the STS-107 crew, poses for the inflight photograph in the Spacehab module.
Stephanie D. Wilson
Selected by NASA as an astronaut in 1996, aerospace engineer Stephanie D. Wilson completed her first mission in July 2006 aboard the space shuttle Discovery. The 13-day STS-121 mission, the second return to flight mission after the Columbia accident, resumed outfitting of the space station, including returning its crew size to three. Wilson handled much of the robotics operations, including transferring the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) Leonardo from the shuttle’s cargo bay to the ISS and back again. The MPLM delivered the first of three scientific refrigerator/freezers and other facilities to the space station to expand its research capabilities.
Left: Stephanie D. Wilson at the controls of the space station’s robotic work station in the Destiny module. Right: Wilson, middle row left, with the STS-121 and Expedition 13 crews.
On her second spaceflight in October 2007, Wilson returned to the space station, this time on the STS-120 mission of space shuttle Discovery. During the 15-day flight, the crew delivered the Harmony Node 2 module to the station, with Wilson robotically assisting in the installation of the new element that enabled the subsequent addition of the European and Japanese research modules.
Left: Stephanie D. Wilson poses in front of the robotic workstation in the space station’s Destiny module. Right: Wilson, at left, poses with the STS-120 and Expedition 16 crews.
In April 2010, Wilson made her third trip into space and her third visit to the space station. During the 15-day STS-131 mission, the MPLM Leonardo in space shuttle Discovery’s cargo bay delivered three research facilities and other cargo to the orbiting laboratory, with Wilson using the station’s robotic arm to transfer the MPLM to and from the station. During STS-131, for the first time four women worked in space at the same time, three members of the shuttle crew and the fourth a member of the Expedition 23 crew. To date, Wilson has accumulated 43 days of spaceflight time over the course of her three missions. In January 2024, NASA assigned Wilson to the Crew 9 mission for a long-duration flight aboard the space station later in the year.
Left: Stephanie D. Wilson poses in front of one of the two windows of the space station’s Kibo module. Middle: Wilson, left, posing in the Cupola with three other women astronauts during the STS-131 mission, the first time that four women flew in space at the same time. Right: Wilson, front row second from right, poses with the STS-131 and Expedition 23 crews in Kibo.
Joan E. Higginbotham
Selected in the astronaut class of 1996, electrical engineer Joan E. Higginbotham completed her single spaceflight in December 2006, the 13-day STS-116 mission aboard space shuttle Discovery. With Curbeam on the same crew, this marked the first time that two Black astronauts flew in space at the same time. Higginbotham operated the space station’s remote manipulator system to assist in the installation of the P5 truss segment to the facility. She retired from NASA in 2007 to pursue a career in the private sector.
Left: Joan E. Higginbotham operates the controls of the International Space Station’s robotic work station in the Destiny module. Right: Higginbotham, front row to right of center, in the Destiny module with the STS-116 and Expedition 14 crews, the first time that two Black astronauts flew in space at the same time.
B. Alvin Drew
After his selection by NASA as an astronaut in 2000, physicist and aeronautical engineer B. Alvin Drew made his first spaceflight aboard space shuttle Endeavour in August 2007. During the 13-day STS-118 mission, Drew and his six crewmates installed the S5 truss segment on the space station, transferred 5,000 pounds of science experiments and other logistics from the single Spacehab module to the station, and returned 4,000 pounds of unneeded hardware to Earth.
Left: B. Alvin Drew transfers equipment into the space station. Right: Drew, middle row at left, with the STS-118 and Expedition 15 crews posing in the Destiny module.
On his second and final trip into space in February 2011, Drew returned to the space station, this time on STS-133, the final flight of space shuttle Discovery. During the 13-day mission, Drew carried out two spacewalks totaling nearly 13 hours to complete a series of maintenance tasks on the station’s exterior. Engineers on the ground converted the MPLM Leonardo into a Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM) to provide additional storage capacity for the station. Drew and his five crewmates installed the PMM on the orbital facility. They also added a third platform for holding external payloads onto the station’s truss segment, and brought the Robonaut-2 humanoid robot to the orbiting laboratory. Drew currently serves as the NASA liaison to the Department of Defense at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Left: B. Alvin Drew operates the space station’s robotic work station in the space station’s Destiny module. Right: Drew, front row at left, with his STS-133 and Expedition 26 crewmates.
Leland D. Melvin
Chemist and former National Football League player Leland D. Melvin, selected by NASA as an astronaut in 1998, made his first spaceflight aboard the space shuttle Atlantis in February 2008, the 13-day STS-122 mission. As a mission specialist, Melvin participated in the robotic operations to install the European Space Agency’s Columbus laboratory module on the space station.
Left: Leland D. Melvin operates the space station’s robotic work station in the Destiny module. Right: Melvin, at center in rear, during mealtime with his STS-122 and Expedition 16 crewmates in the Zvezda service module.
Melvin returned to space and to the space station in November 2009 aboard Atlantis. During the 11-day STS-129 mission, the crew installed two external carriers for payloads onto the station’s truss, with Melvin operating the shuttle’s robotic arm. After his second and final spaceflight, NASA managers recognized Melvin’s passion for engaging with students of all ages and named him associate administrator for the Office of Education at NASA Headquarters in 2010. He served in that position until his retirement from the agency in 2014. Melvin continues to promote human spaceflight and education.
Left: Astronaut Leland D. Melvin reflected in the lid of the Lada greenhouse in the Zvezda service module. Middle: Melvin, left of center, poses with his STS-129 and Expedition 21 crewmates. Right: Official photograph of Melvin as NASA associate administrator for the Office of Education.
Dr. Robert L. Satcher
Selected by NASA in 2004 as an astronaut, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Robert L. “Bobby” Satcher flew his only space mission in November 2009, an 11-day flight aboard space shuttle Atlantis. As a mission specialist on the STS-129 crew, Satcher participated in the installation of two external payload carriers onto the space station’s truss, including conducting two spacewalks totaling more than 12 hours. He retired from NASA in 2011 to join The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center’s orthopedic oncology department.
Left: Astronaut Dr. Robert L. “Bobby” Satcher floats in the space station’s Destiny module. Right: Satcher, second row at right, with his STS-129 and Expedition 21 crewmates.
Victor J. Glover
NASA selected U.S. Navy test pilot Victor J. Glover as an astronaut in 2013. He launched in November 2020 aboard Space Exploration Technology Corporation’s (SpaceX) commercial Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft. The Crew 1 mission marked the first use of the Crew Dragon for a space station crew rotation. Glover became the first Black astronaut to join a long-duration expedition crew aboard the station, and his arrival with his three crewmates marked the first time the facility’s resident crew size increased to seven people, significantly increasing the crew time available to conduct research. Glover logged 167 days in space during his mission as a member of Expedition 64 and 65. On April 3, 2023, NASA named Glover as the pilot for Artemis II, the first crewed mission on NASA’s path to establishing a long-term presence at the Moon for science and exploration.
Left: Astronaut Victor J. Glover conducts a spacewalk during Expedition 64. Right: Glover, left, with his Expedition 64 crewmates in the Cupola module.
Sian H. Proctor
Geologist Sian H. Proctor flew as one of the four crew members on the all-civilian Inspiration4 mission aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule Resilience. Proctor, the first Black woman pilot in space, carried with her a fragment of the Canyon Diablo meteorite that 50,000 years ago created the Barringer Crater in Arizona, also known as Meteor Crater. She also conducted experiments during the three-day flight in September 2021.
Left: Sian H. Proctor with a fragment of the Canyon Diablo meteorite she flew to space aboard the all-civilian Inspiration4 mission. Right: Proctor, right, with her fellow Inspiration4 crewmates.
Jessica A. Watkins
Jessica A. Watkins, selected for NASA’s 2017 astronaut class, launched aboard Crew Dragon Freedom as part of the Crew 4 mission in April 2022, becoming the first Black woman to join a long-duration mission. Watkins, the first NASA geologist to fly in space since Apollo 17’s Harrison H. “Jack” Schmitt in 1972, completed a 171-day mission aboard the space station, returning to Earth in October 2022. During her stay as a member of Expeditions 67 and 68, she conducted dozens of experiments. During the handover between Crew 4 and Crew 5, for the first time in history, five women worked in space at the same time, four aboard the International Space Station and one aboard China’s Tiangong space station. Watkins remains eligible for future mission assignments.
Left: Astronaut Jessica A. Watkins places biological samples into the Minus Eighty-degree Laboratory Freezer for ISS during Expedition 68. Right: Expedition 67 crew members help Watkins, center, celebrate her birthday aboard the space station.
Jeanette J. Epps
Selected as an astronaut in 2009, Jeanette J. Epps will make her first trip into space as a member of Crew 8, scheduled for launch in February 2024 aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon. Epps and her three crewmates will join the Expedition 70 and 71 crews for a planned six-month mission aboard the space station to conduct more than 200 experiments.
Left: NASA astronaut Jeanette J. Epps, right, poses with her Crew 8 crewmates for the official photograph. Right: Epps, left, and her Crew 8 crewmates during a training session.
To be continued…
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Celebrating Pride: Meet Bob Lutz
At NASA, diversity and inclusion drive workplace creativity, innovation and mission success. For #PrideMonth we’re celebrating the stories of our #LGBTQ community.
Bob Lutz skiing in St. Anton, Austria. What is your role at NASA?
I’m a computer engineer. I’m presently leading a task performing sustaining engineering for flight software on launched Earth and space science missions. I had worked for 10 years in the development of ground systems for two weather satellites: the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite and the Joint Polar Satellite System. I’m also Co-Chair of the LGBT Advisory Committee and a long-time member of the Engineering and Technology Directorate Diversity and Inclusion Committee.
How long have you worked here?
I worked 18 years a contractor and 19 years as a civil servant.
What is your background/what did you do before working at NASA?
I have a Bachelor and Master’s Degrees in Meteorology and Oceanography and a PhD in Remote Sensing – Geography. Before coming to NASA I was a graduate student at University of Maryland.
Why did you chose to work at NASA and what makes you stay?
I worked at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) when I was a graduate student in NYC. I have always been interested in the Earth and space sciences. I am a lifer here – I enjoy the campus-like atmosphere and the ability to grow intellectually by attending seminars and interacting with scientists and engineers with different backgrounds and expertise.
What has been your favorite project or memory from your time here?
My favorite project was supporting the establishment of a field experiment in the boreal forests of Canada (BOREAS) led by Piers Sellers (who became an astronaut). We had to bushwhack through the dense boreal forest with compasses to find the optimal place to build air chemical flux towers to be used in the experiment. Fun work, but not exactly your typical NASA-type work!
Why is working in a diverse environment critical to our mission?
Here at NASA we solve problems – lots of them are hard! People with different backgrounds and different ways of thinking contribute to a solution set that maximizes our chance for success.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I enjoy spending time with my partner Brian, where we have been together almost 34 years. We’re now living and having fun in DC. I’m also an avid skier (30 plus days a year), and I enjoy the outdoors – hiking, camping, biking and kayaking.
If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Having travelled quite a bit in Europe since we ski there – something very different – like seeing the pyramids.
What is your proudest accomplishment (personal or professional)?
Being successful in a long-term relationship, obtaining my PhD and running and completing the Marine Corps Marathon twice.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) is a great place to work and a big shout of appreciation to the leadership at GSFC in supporting LGBT as well as Diversity and Inclusion issues.
Ready to explore the extraordinary? View all of our current vacancies at nasa.usajobs.gov.
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In space since their launch on Nov. 16, 1973, Skylab 4 astronauts Gerald P. Carr, Edward G. Gibson, and William R. Pogue began the new year of 1974 roughly halfway through their planned 84-day mission. By the end of January, the three rookies held the records for the longest single space flight and the most cumulative time spent in space. Mission managers monitored the station’s and the astronauts’ health and weekly concurred with extending the mission to its full duration as the astronauts accomplished a record number of science observations of the Sun, the Earth, Comet Kohoutek, and themselves. Carr and Gibson completed the final Skylab spacewalk to bring inside external science experiments and the last film cassettes for return to Earth. They began preparations for their own return to Earth.
Left: Image of the Sun’s corona taken by the Apollo Telescope Mount spectroheliometer instrument. Middle: Skylab 4 astronaut Edward G. Gibson’s sketch of Comet Kohoutek, based on his observations. Right: Gerald P. Carr adjusts the Multispectral Photographic Camera System, part of the Earth Resources Experiment Package.
Following the Dec. 30 exchange of information and ideas during the space-to-ground conference regarding the crew’s scheduling, the astronauts felt that the second six weeks of their mission transpired much more smoothly than the first six. They accomplished all their tasks and even more, and no longer felt rushed or like they made mistakes. Taking some time out on their off-duty days, they enjoyed weightlessness in their spacious home. On Jan. 1, 1974, Carr, Gibson, and Pogue celebrated the coming of the new year, the first crew to observe that holiday in space along with Thanksgiving and Christmas. No American astronaut would repeat that for 23 years, until John E. Blaha‘s four-month stay aboard the Mir space station in 1996-7. On Jan. 10, Carr, Gibson, and Pogue enjoyed a day off from their regular science and maintenance tasks, with planners scheduling only one third of their time, freeing them to pursue their own activities. On the ground, mission managers held the 56-day review of the mission and based on the crew’s health, the station’s condition, and the amount of consumables, declared the mission go for 84 days, although strictly speaking, managers and flight surgeons approved the mission’s extension one week at a time.
A little levity in weightlessness. Left: Skylab 4 astronaut Gerald P. Carr conducts an “Upper Body Negative Pressure” test on one of his fellow crew members. Middle: Edward G. Gibson performs an in-depth inspection of his spacesuit. Right: Carr demonstrates his strength in weightlessness by “supporting” William R. Pogue on one finger.
During January, Carr, Gibson, and Pogue surpassed all previous human spaceflight endurance records. On Jan. 4, they surpassed Charles “Pete” Conrad’s 49-day mark for cumulative time in space – what took Conrad four missions to accumulate, the Skylab 4 trio accomplished in just one. Chief astronaut Donald K. Slayton congratulated them, saying “As far as we’re concerned down here, you’re doing an outstanding job all the way. Just keep up the good work.” On Jan. 14, they surpassed the Skylab 3 crew’s 59-day mark for the longest single spaceflight, and 11 days later passed Alan L. Bean’s record of 69 days for cumulative time that he had accrued over his two missions. NASA Administrator James C. Fletcher and Deputy Administrator George M. Low sent congratulatory messages to the astronauts for breaking the old records and “especially for the outstanding work you have done and are continuing to do in the field of space science, space applications, and in learning about man’s reaction to space.” After receiving the congratulations, Carr told capsule communicator (capcom) Richard H. Truly that records are made to be broken and sooner or later someone would break theirs. Indeed, four years later Soviet cosmonauts Yuri V. Romanenko and Georgi M. Grechko did so, completing a 96-day mission aboard Salyut-6.
Left: Gerald P. Carr exercises on the Thornton treadmill. Middle: Edward G. Gibson performs a session on the rotating chair to test his vestibular system’s response to weightlessness. Right: Gibson, left, performs an oral exam on William R. Pogue.
Left: Gerald P. Carr, left, monitors Edward G. Gibson during a Lower Body Negative Pressure test of his cardiovascular system. Middle: Gibson, right, prepares to draw a blood sample from Carr for a medical experiment. Right: William R. Pogue works with the Small Mass Measurement Device.
As they entered the record-breaking third and final month of their mission, Carr, Gibson, and Pogue continued to adhere to the strict regimen of 1.5 hours of daily exercise using a bicycle ergometer and the Thornton treadmill. They continued the comprehensive biomedical investigations to evaluate the effects of long-duration space flight on the human body. Using the eight instruments mounted in the Apollo Telescope Mount (ATM), Carr, Gibson, and Pogue continued their observations of the Sun. On Jan. 21, thanks to his dedicated vigilance at the ATM instrument panel, for the first time ever Gibson observed a solar flare from its inception until its expiration. His observations added greatly to astrophysicists’ understanding of solar flares. In a break with the tradition of having only the capcom speak to the astronauts in orbit, the Skylab 4 crew held several space-to-ground conferences with some of the scientists associated with various experiments. Beginning with the televised conference on Dec. 28 with astronomer Luboš Kohoutek, discoverer of the comet that bears his name, they held conferences with several of the ATM investigators, usually on the crew’s off duty days.
Left: Gerald P. Carr changes samples in the Materials Processing Facility. Middle: Edward G. Gibson, left, William R. Pogue, and Carr enjoy a meal together. Right: Gibson prepares to take his weekly shower.
The astronauts continued to observe Comet Kohoutek through January. Because the ATM instruments could no longer see the comet as it moved away from the Sun, they used binoculars for observations, and Gibson drew detailed sketches of the comet as its tail changed shape. Carr and Pogue completed the tests of the Astronaut Maneuvering Unit, a precursor of the Manned Maneuvering Unit used during the space shuttle program to retrieve satellites, “flying” it inside the large dome of the workshop. On Jan. 23, Pogue celebrated his 44th birthday, only the third person to celebrate a birthday in space. That same day, the three major television networks announced they would not be broadcasting live television of the Skylab 4 splashdown, the first time since live TV coverage began with the Gemini VI splashdown in December 1965. They felt the event not newsworthy enough to cover. On Jan. 31, Carr, Gibson, and Pogue held their second and final televised press conference. Capcom Truly read the questions submitted in advance by reporters and the astronauts gave their responses. Although time ran out to ask questions submitted by sixth grade students as part of a class project, the astronauts took time later to answer them.
A selection of Skylab 4 astronaut photography of the Earth. Left: Lakes Erie, left, and Ontario. Middle left: The Rio de Plata separates Argentina, left, and Uruguay. Middle right: The Japanese island of Kyushu. Right: New Zealand.
Skylab’s high 50-degree orbital inclination allowed its crews to observe and photograph parts of the Earth not previously seen by astronauts in orbit. They observed pre-selected sites using a suite of six instruments in the Earth Resources Experiment Package and photographed pre-selected sites and targets of opportunity using handheld cameras.
A selection of photographs from the final Skylab spacewalk. Left: Edward G. Gibson near the station’s airlock. Middle left: Gerald P. Carr at the Apollo Telescope Mount to retrieve the last film cassettes. Middle right: The second sunshield deployed by the Skylab 3 crew showing evidence of discoloration. Right: The Apollo Command and Service Module.
On Feb. 3, Carr and Gibson stepped outside their space station for the fourth and final spacewalk of their mission. The primary tasks for the 5-hour, 19-minute excursion involved the retrieval of the final film cassettes from the ATM as well as scientific instruments and samples from the lab’s exterior. During the three Skylab missions, the crews exposed and returned to Earth nearly 30 film cassettes, providing scientists with more than 150,000 photographs. The next American spacewalk would not occur for another nine years, during the STS-6 mission in April 1983. During their stay aboard Skylab, Carr, Gibson, and Pogue accumulated 22 hours 22 minutes of spacewalking time, an Earth orbital single mission record that stood until 1991. After finishing the spacewalk, they turned their attention to preparing for their return to Earth five days later.
For more insight into the Skylab 4 mission, read Carr’s, Gibson’s, and Pogue’s oral histories with the JSC History Office.
To be continued …
With special thanks to Ed Hengeveld for his expert contributions on Skylab imagery.
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