A Gettysburg Address for new space

Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos speaks to AIAA

Sometimes we get asked, “Why is Blue Origin doing the things that we’re doing. What’s the purpose?” For me, it’s about putting in place infrastructure so that the next generation can do amazing things. If you look at Amazon.com and look at the entrepreneurial dynamism that you’ve seen in the internet space over the last two decades … we’re talking about an arena in which two kids in a college dorm can invent an entirely new kind of company and can grow very, very quickly. How is that possible? And how can we get the same dynamism and entrepreneurialism in space that we have seen on the internet?

Twenty years ago, I was driving the packages to the post office myself, hoping one day that Amazon would be able to afford a forklift. And 20 years later, it’s completely a different story. How do you get that kind of progress and speed … ? We were doing e-commerce but we didn’t have to deploy a package delivery system. It already existed. It was called the United States Postal Service and UPS and FedEx. If we had had to deploy that it would have taken billions and billions of dollars in cap-ex. The same thing with a remote payment system. We didn’t have to build that, it already existed. It was called the credit card. And so it goes on. The backbone of the internet was already deployed because it had been deployed for long-distance telephone networks. The internet could piggyback on top of that. Again, that would have been billions of dollars of infrastructure. And so, if you get all the infrastructure in place, the heavy lifting, high cap-ex infrastructure, then you can see entrepreneurial explosion.

And that’s really the mission of Blue Origin. We want to make it easy to get into space. We need to take what today costs thousands of dollars per pound and through diligence, hard work, methodical deliberate practice, get it to where it costs tens of dollars per pound. Get it to the point where the costs of propellants are a driving cost, just as they are in commercial aviation. And, that’s very possible. There are no laws of physics against this, and, what you do need is really good, operable usability …. Eventually we as a species will get there, and Blue Origin is dedicated to that. And believe me, if, when I’m 80 years old I can look back on my life and say “One of the things that Blue Origin achieved was to put that heavy-lifting infrastructure in place so that there could be a dynamic entrepreneurial explosion in space for the next generation,” I will be one happy 80-year-old. So thank you very much for this award on behalf of the team. ★

Preparing the way to Mars

Many of the smaller pieces needed to eventually achieve the goal of landing humans on Mars are already in progress.

“There are probably more human spaceflight vehicles in development than there ever have been in one time, and a lot of them are pointed to Mars,” said Frank Morring Jr., senior editor for space with Aviation Week and Space Technology, kicking off the “Next Stop Mars” panel.

William H. Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations, described a strategic pivot toward a journey to Mars.

“We are starting to see low Earth orbit taken over by the private sector, and that frees the government up to move farther out,” he said, emphasizing that the International Space Station has been a necessary learning environment for NASA. “The station is really the first piece of exploration. We’re learning how to do long-term life-support; we’re learning how to keep crews healthy. We took life-support systems that work fine on the ground and moved them to the station, and they work for a week.”

Those type of problems can be overcome where there is close access to supplies from Earth, but astronauts going to Mars will not have an entire planet full of redundant capabilities nearby, AIAA’s Hannah Thoreson reported.

NASA’s Michael Barratt also stressed that the ISS has been a good proving ground for eventually sending humans to Mars.

“One of the big things is just the practical operations of living in space,” he said. “We have a clear understanding of how to do that now.”

Barratt, an astronaut and medical doctor, said research has helped mitigate some of the health problems that result from spending time in space.

“One of our big enemies was always musculoskeletal decrease,” he said. “We are preserving bone and muscle fitness better now than any other time in history.”

NASA has had to change its mindset to adapt to longer spaceflight missions and the reality of humans living in space on board the ISS.

“The astronaut office has radically changed in the last 20 years,” Barratt said. “We have shifted paradigms from the short-duration shuttle flights to long-duration station missions.” ★

Juno mission explores our largest planet

What happens when you set out to explore Jupiter — our solar system’s largest planet with the largest magnetic field and fiercest radiation? Good things, according to Rick Nybakken, project manager of the Juno mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

AIAA’s Duane Hyland reported that during the William H. Pickering Lecture titled “The Juno Mission,” Nybakken took audience members through the entire Juno program, from inception to the current status of the mission, and shared some amazing video and images collected so far.

Launched Aug. 5, 2011, the Juno mission is studying the planet Jupiter by performing multiple polar orbits of the gas giant until 2018, when the spacecraft will deorbit the planet. Nybakken explained that the science gained from the Juno mission will “rewrite the history of how Jupiter was formed and the history of our solar system.”

The Juno spacecraft is packed with instruments set up to measure everything from the planet’s density, to the properties of its gaseous outputs, to the flow of liquid metal hydrogen on the planet’s surface, to the speed of its winds and the ferocity of its eternal storms. Equipped with a solar array “the size of an NBA basketball court,” the Juno spacecraft will be able to soak up all the available sunlight — only about .04 percent of what is available on Earth’s surface — to perform its mission.

Engineers built the Juno spaceship to overcome Jupiter’s radiation field and its overpowering magnetic field, which Nybakken explained is bigger than the sun.

To protect the craft from Jupiter’s massive radiation field, the engineers programmed it to travel a very narrow passage in the middle of the field where radiation is at a minimum. Nybakken described it as “flying through the eye of a hurricane” but noted that to be successful, they would have to do that 36 times during the mission. He explained that over time, Juno would drift into the larger field, effectively ending the mission.

Among the images Nybakken shared with the audience were views of Jupiter from both the northern and southern polar orbital tracks, infrared imagery of the planet’s auroras and a detailed photograph of the planet’s great “red eye,” which is about the size of Earth. ★

“We are closer to sending humans to Mars today than anyone has ever been.”

Charles F. Bolden Jr., administrator of NASA, on the prospect of landing astronauts on the Red Planet in the 2030s

A Gettysburg Address for new space