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NASA’s head of human spaceflight resigns ahead of historic SpaceX launch – The Verge

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The head of NASA’s human exploration program, Doug Loverro, has resigned less than six months after assuming the position within the agency, according to a NASA memo. The drastic change in leadership comes just a week before NASA will launch its first astronauts from the US in nearly a decade, on top of SpaceX’s new Crew Dragon spacecraft.

This is the second time during the Trump administration that this role has been in turmoil. In July 2019, NASA demoted the original person in this position, William Gerstenmaier, who had been serving as the associate administrator for human exploration at NASA for nearly 15 years. Loverro took over the position in December after a long search by NASA, but now his tenure has been cut short.

“Loverro hit the ground running this year and has made significant progress in his time at NASA,” a memo to NASA employees states. “His leadership of [human exploration] has moved us closer to accomplishing our goal of landing the first woman and the next man on the Moon in 2024. Loverro has dedicated more than four decades of his life in service to our country, and we thank him for his service and contributions to the agency.”

Loverro resigned on Monday, May 18th, however NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine did not mention the change to Vice President Mike Pence during the meeting of the National Space Council, which took place on Tuesday, May 19th. In a memo to staff, Loverro attributes his resignation to a risk he took earlier this year, but doesn’t explain what it was. “Our mission is certainly not easy, nor for the faint of heart, and risk-taking is part of the job description,” he writes. “The risks we take, whether technical, political, or personal, all have potential consequences if we judge them incorrectly. I took such a risk earlier in the year because I judged it necessary to fulfill our mission. Now, over the balance of time, it is clear that I made a mistake in that choice for which I alone must bear the consequences.”

Ken Bowersox, who filled the position temporarily when Gerstenmaier was demoted, will take over the role once again now that Loverro is gone. Bowersox is a former astronaut and currently the deputy associate administrator for human exploration.

As the associate administrator for human spaceflight, Loverro oversaw the agency’s Artemis program, the plan to send the first woman and the next man to the Moon by 2024. Loverro had also been in charge of reorganizing NASA’s plans to help turn low Earth orbit into a more commercial domain. “I want to be clear that the fact that I am taking this step has nothing to do with your performance as an organization nor with the plans we have placed in motion to fulfill our mission,” Loverro wrote in a memo to staff. “If anything, your performance and those plans make everything we have worked for over the past six months more attainable and more certain than ever before. My leaving is because of my personal actions, not anything we have accomplished together.”

It’s a wild time for this kind of change, too, as Loverro has been effectively overseeing NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which has been developing new private vehicles to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station. SpaceX is set to fly its first two astronauts through the program on May 27th, a little more than a week away.

NASA argues that the change will not affect the program or the mission. “We have full confidence in the work [program manager] Kathy Lueders and her entire Commercial Crew team have done to bring us here,” NASA’s memo states. “This test flight will be a historic and momentous occasion that will see the return of human spaceflight to our country, and the incredible dedication by the men and women of NASA is what has made this mission possible.”

Update May 19th, 4:42PM ET: This article was update to include information from a memo from Loverro.

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NASA astronauts describe 'smooth' ISS docking after SpaceX launch – The Globe and Mail

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Astronauts describe ride to space aboard SpaceX Crew Dragon – CBS News

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The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that boosted astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken into space provided a slightly rougher ride than expected during the later stages of the climb to orbit, but both said Monday they enjoyed their historic trip and marveled at a sooth-as-silk docking with the space station.

And yes, the Crew Dragon brought a “new car smell” to the lab complex.

“It absolutely did,” said station commander Chris Cassidy, the lone American aboard the station until Hurley and Behnken arrived Sunday. “Then when we got that hatch open, you could tell it was a brand new vehicle, with smiley faces on the other side, smiley face on mine, just as if you had bought a new car, the same kind of reaction.

“Wonderful to see my friends, and wonderful to see a brand new vehicle,” he said.

Astronaut Robert Behnken, left, Douglas Hurley, center, and space station commander Chris Cassidy talk with reporters Monday during a news conference from the International Space Station. Hurley and Behnken arrived at the lab Sunday after launch and a flawless rendezvous aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. The flag Hurley is holding was left aboard the station in 2011 at the end of NASA’s final shuttle flight. Hurley was part of that crew and plans to bring the flag home when he and Behnken return to Earth.

NASA TV


Hurley and Behnken blasted off from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center Saturday afternoon, strapped into a Crew Dragon capsule atop a Falcon 9 rocket.

It was the first piloted launch to orbit from U.S. soil in nearly nine years, the first flight of a SpaceX rocket carrying astronauts and the first new crewed spacecraft to fly in space since the first shuttle mission 39 years ago.

Both Hurley and Behnken are space shuttle veterans, familiar with the initially rough ride when the orbiter’s powerful solid-propellant boosters were firing and the transition to a much smoother experience after the boosters were jettisoned and only the ship’s liquid fueled main engines were running.

The Falcon 9 is a two-stage rocket powered by liquid oxygen and kerosene. The first stage, featuring nine Merlin engines, generates 1.7 million pounds of thrust at liftoff. The rocket’s second stage is powered by a single vacuum-rated Merlin engine.

“Shuttle had solid rocket boosters, those burned very rough for the first two-and-a-half minutes,” Hurley said. “The first stage with Falcon 9 … was a much smoother ride.”

He said the shutdown of the first stage engines, the separation of the first and second stages and then the ignition of the upper stage’s single engine was similar to the memorable launch sequence depicted in the movie “Apollo 13.”

“So the first stage engines shut off, and then it took some time between the booster separating and then the Merlin vacuum engine starting,” Hurley said. “At that point, we go from roughly three Gs (three times the normal force of gravity on the ground) to zero Gs for, I don’t know, a half a second probably, and then when that Merlin vacuum engine fires, then we start accelerating again.

“It got a little rougher with the Merlin vacuum engine, and it’ll be interesting to talk to the SpaceX folks to find out why it was a little bit rougher ride on second stage than it was for shuttle on those three main engines.”

The Crew Dragon is designed to rendezvous and dock with the space station autonomously, without any direct input from the crew. But for the first piloted test fight, Hurley took over manual control twice to verify astronauts can fly the ship on their own if necessary.

060120-sideview.jpg
A view of the Crew Dragon capsule docked to the space station as seen by a camera mounted on the lab’s solar power truss.

NASA TV


There were no problems and when the Crew Dragon docked with the station Sunday morning, Hurley and Behnken were unable to detect the impact.

“The thing that really stood out to both of us, and we mentioned it as soon as we docked, is we didn’t feel the docking,” Hurley said. “It was just so smooth.”

Hurley is a former test pilot and Behnken, who holds a doctorate in mechanical engineering from Caltech, is a veteran Air Force flight test engineer. They were selected for the first piloted Crew Dragon flight in part so they could bring those skills to evaluating the spacecraft before it begins operational missions to the space station in the late-summer timeframe.

“We’re there to evaluate how it does the mission and so far, it’s done just absolutely spectacularly,” Hurley said. “It’s a very clean vehicle. … It does everything we need it to do for this mission, so we’re very happy with that part of it.”

Including the operation of the Crew Dragon’s toilet. While he did not provide any details, Hurley said it is “very similar to the one we were used to in the space shuttle, and it worked very well. We had no issues with it.”

NASA managers have not yet decided how long Hurley and Behnken will remain in orbit. The Crew Dragon is certified for up to four months in space, but the crew could be ordered home earlier depending on how the space environment affects the capsule’s solar arrays, the weather in the Atlantic Ocean splashdown zone and other factors.

Not knowing when they might be coming home is “a little bit strange,” Behnken said. “I’m trying to explain it to my son, just six years old, and from his perspective, he’s just excited that we’re going to get a dog when I get home. And so he’s accepting that uncertainty and continuing to send messages to me while I’m on orbit.”

The mission is expected to last at least six weeks and possibly up to four months, far longer than their relatively brief shuttle flights. Staying in touch with their wives, both veteran astronauts, and their two sons is a top priority for both Hurley and Behnken.

“One of the things I was most excited about (after launch) was being able to make a phone call home,” Behnken said. “It’s been a long time since I launched into orbit, and I’ve got a little boy who got a chance to watch me do that for the first time in his life. And I just wanted to understand what his experience was and share that a little bit with him.

“He was able to make the trip back to Houston after watching the docking from down in Florida and was pretty excited about the whole thing. So that was wonderful for me.”

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Elon Musk announces Twitter break, but it’s a mystery as to why – Digital Trends

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Elon Musk surprised his 35 million Twitter followers on Monday night when he announced he was taking a break from the platform.

The message was short and sweet, and offered no explanation as to why he’d decided to step back from the microblogging site, or when he might be back.

The timing may be seen as interesting by some. The SpaceX and Tesla CEO has, after all, courted controversy in the past with some of his Twitter posts. So it’s possible he’s taken advice — or decided for himself — to steer clear of the site during a particularly turbulent time as protests and social unrest continue in multiple states following the police-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week.

But Musk isn’t one to shy away from controversy, so other factors could also be at play. The billionaire entrepreneur may simply want some time off following an intense period of activity in recent weeks that included a dispute with the authorities over the reopening of his Tesla manufacturing plant in California following coronavirus-related stay-at-home orders, and also a critical SpaceX mission involving the first-ever astronaut launch using the Crew Dragon spacecraft.

He also recently become a father again, and so may want to spend more time with his new son without thinking about his next Twitter post.

Musk’s penultimate post was a retweet 10 hours earlier of a NASA tweet linked to the recent Crew Dragon trip to the International Space Station.

Besides Monday’s post, his last personal tweet came on May 31 to announce that the Crew Dragon had successfully docked with the space station.

The response to Musk’s five-word tweet was mixed, with some wishing him a nice break, and others saying in no uncertain terms how happy they were about his decision.

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