Human Spaceflight

Competing visions

By Jon Kelvey

April 1, 2024

NASA and DARPA think nuclear thermal propulsion could be the best way to get humans to Mars. Elon Musk is keeping his faith in the brute force of burning hydrocarbons. Who is right? It turns out either could work, but there are a lot of “ifs” for both strategies. Jon Kelvey has the analysis.

The ‘Wild West’ of space research

By Jonathan O'Callaghan

February 1, 2024

As it stands, unregulated medical experiments could be conducted aboard the coming class of privately run space stations and capsules. A cadre of scientists and ethicists is sounding the alarm and suggesting solutions. Jonathan O’Callaghan looks at the issue.

Space adventurer

By Cat Hofacker

October 1, 2023

Per Wimmer, a founding astronaut at Virgin Galactic

The harshest reality

By Jon Kelvey

April 1, 2023

Hardly a day goes by without a space visionary somewhere promising to expand humanity into outer space for good, and billions of dollars are being spent in the belief that this is possible. Among the challenges lies one that is most fundamental: Our human biology cannot survive the radiation for long. Jon Kelvey looks at a possible solution that is struggling for funding.

Train ’em. Trust ’em. Set ’em loose.

By Debra Werner

January 3, 2023

Since the Apollo program concluded 50 years ago, NASA’s astronaut corps has accumulated thousands of hours of flight time in low-Earth orbit. As the agency now prepares to send astronauts back to the moon under the Artemis program, Apollo veterans told Debra Werner that a new set of skills — and a new mindset — may be needed.

In their words: Veterans of the last moon landing share their views

By Debra Werner

November 1, 2022

When Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt rode their rover back to the Lunar Module on Dec. 14, 1972, they knew they would be the last humans on the moon for a while. The Nixon administration had removed the final three missions from the Apollo plan. Now, after what has grown into a half-century hiatus, the moon is back in play under the Artemis program. As the 50th anniversary of Apollo 17 approaches, Debra Werner posed this question to four of those involved:

The choice

By Jon Kelvey

September 30, 2022

We’ve all heard of the Sea of Tranquility where the Eagle touched down in the historic Apollo 11 mission. In a few years, if things go as NASA plans, another region could become world famous as the place where the United States made its human return to the moon. Jon Kelvey spoke to scientists who aim to help NASA choose a safe but scientifically exciting area to land.

The right stuff for rocket joints

By Keith Button

January 1, 2022

The next version of NASA’s expendable Space Launch System rockets will likely rely on adhesive film rather than metal fixtures to join sections of composite in parts of the structure. Keith Button tells us how engineers earned the trust of designers to incorporate the technique into rockets that will carry astronauts.

Preventing a bad day for SLS

By Keith Button

November 1, 2021

High up the stack of NASA’s first Space Launch System rocket is a component that will play a critical role in proving the rocket’s safety during the upcoming Artemis I mission. This is its story as told by Keith Button.

Walking on rocket propellant

April 1, 2021

Returning to the moon to stay will require making rocket propellant on site, so that crews can rotate back to Earth. As it turns out, mining water ice may not be the fastest or easiest way to produce lunar rocket propellant.

Putting our minds to space travel

By Sarah Wells

January 1, 2021

Virgin Galactic is getting ready to send its first paying customers to the fringes of space. NASA and European space leaders are talking about establishing a Moon Village for scientists, miners and tourists. Elon Musk famously wants to establish colonies on Mars. What kind of psychological training will people need for these and other bold endeavors? Sarah Wells spoke to psychologists and a space travel veteran to find out.

5 necessities for thriving in space

By Debra Werner and Cat Hofacker

November 1, 2020

Expanding civilization off Earth will require incredible breakthroughs. Resources must be mined on site and turned into fuel, drinking water and other supplies for settlers, who can’t carry adequate food and health care infrastructure with them. The transportation challenges will be enormous. Also, linking future settlers to each other and Earth will require high-throughput communications that today do not exist in deep space.

Shopping for a spaceship

By Cat Hofacker

July 1, 2020

Now that SpaceX has proven it can launch NASA astronauts to the International Space Station, Boeing is preparing for its turn, likely early next year. When astronauts climb inside Starliner, space enthusiasts and casual viewers alike will notice some differences that could help future passengers decide which capsule they’d rather book for a trip to space.

Astronaut Kavandi’s new mission

By Amanda Miller

January 1, 2020

Janet Kavandi arrived at the Space Systems headquarters of Sierra Nevada Corp. in September to lead its space work as senior vice president of programs. Space Systems is in the midst of a growth plan as it prepares to launch cargo to the space station and is vying for roles in human spaceflight. In an interview at headquarters, Amanda Miller asked Kavandi about these initiatives, how she became an astronaut and about milestones for women in aerospace.

Inside NASA’s moon suit plan

By Tom Jones

November 1, 2019

The current International Space Station spacesuit, designed 40 years ago for extravehicular activities from space shuttle orbiters, would frustrate any moonwalker. Veteran spacewalker Tom Jones looks at how NASA will build a moon suit in time for the planned 2024 lunar return.

Artemis must learn from Apollo

By John M. Logsdon

October 1, 2019

The Apollo program proved to be unsustainable. If NASA and the Trump White House want to avoid the same fate for their Artemis lunar program, they should learn from Apollo’s history. Space historian John Logsdon shares some of the lessons he sees.

The necessity of returning to the moon

By Tom Jones

September 2, 2019

For 50 years, Americans have taken the moon for granted. Planetary scientist and former astronaut Tom Jones argues that returning there soon is an essential step toward other worlds, and continued leadership on this one.

Winning the moon race

By John M. Logsdon

July 1, 2019

The Apollo 11 moon landing still amazes, not just as a technological achievement but as a feat of political will by a democratic society. Space scholar John Logsdon has spent a good part of his career thinking about why and how this bold mission succeeded. Logsdon depicts how the U.S. made what is arguably humanity’s greatest achievement.

Homo sapiens astronauta

By Adam Hadhazy

July 1, 2019

Gene therapy could one day make it possible to biologically enhance humans to live and work in deep space. Adam Hadhazy checks in on this nascent idea.

A safer spacesuit

By Amanda Miller

May 1, 2019

U.S. astronauts on the moon or Mars will need a spacesuit that won’t injure or exhaust them. One hurdle is that no one knows exactly what goes on in a physical sense when an astronaut inside one of today’s spacesuits moves his or her limbs. Amanda Miller visited with student researchers in Colorado who think they know how to find the sore spots in today’s suits, a breakthrough that could point the way to better designs, perhaps including one of their own.

A bridge to Mars

By Tom Jones

May 1, 2019

Beyond the moon, sending astronaut explorers to near Earth asteroids in the 2030s would open intriguing, resource-rich objects to in-depth inspection and exploitation, smoothing the daunting path to Mars. Former astronaut Tom Jones makes the case.

Talking (space) trash

By Adam Hadhazy

March 1, 2019

An easily overlooked, yet critical element of long-duration lunar or Martian missions will be dealing with all of the garbage we humans inevitably produce.

Space nuclear power — seriously

By Tom Jones

March 1, 2019

NASA is testing technologies to bring nuclear fission power to human spaceflight. Former astronaut Tom Jones explains why the move is long overdue.

Countdown to Commercial Crew

By Amanda Miller

January 31, 2019

Boeing and SpaceX are poised to make 2019 the breakthrough year in the nearly decadelong effort to get the U.S. back in the business of launching astronauts to the space station and bringing them home. Amanda Miller looks at the stakes and steps ahead for the Commercial Crew program.

Stepping stone

January 2, 2019

Assuring safety to the maximum extent possible for a human mission to Mars depends in large part on proving technologies and procedures through human exploration of the moon. Once those techniques and procedures are proven, there should be no need for a human precursor orbital mission to Mars. Mike Helton, a retired risk management expert who once worked on the Apollo missions, explains.

Returning to flight

By Tom Jones

January 2, 2019

In spaceflight, failures are inevitable. If a commercial launch vehicle fails while flying NASA astronauts, how would NASA and the service provider return their systems to flight and assure astronaut safety? Veteran astronaut Tom Jones examines how NASA might cope with catastrophe.

Safety requires the right culture

October 31, 2018

Russia’s botched launch last month of an astronaut and cosmonaut to the International Space Station was good news in that no one died, and in another sense too. NASA and Roscosmos received a non-fatal wake-up call about spaceflight safety. Those involved in this brush with tragedy should dig below the proximate technical causes of the failure of the Soyuz rocket to examine cultural factors. James Oberg, a Houston-based space expert, explains. 

The perilous road to Mars

By Adam Hadhazy

October 31, 2018

Mission planners are now fully coming to grips with the twin hazards posed to astronauts by long durations in weightlessness and exposure to cosmic radiation. Scientists and engineers are working on faster propulsion technologies to cut down on trip time, as well as a suite of countermeasures, aimed at bringing the red planet safely within human reach.

Once we went to the moon

By John M. Logsdon

September 27, 2018

The circumstances that led the U.S. to undertake the Apollo 11 lunar mission 50 years ago next July, and the five landings that followed, were unique, and they won’t be repeated. Even so, space historian John M. Logsdon sees reason to anticipate that U.S. astronauts will in the next decade return to the moon.

Quantum promises

By Amanda Miller

September 27, 2018

Precise navigation will be a necessity for safe human exploration of Mars and other celestial bodies in deep space. A pair of experiments about to get underway could change the way this navigation is done, and for the better.

Moon ship rising

By Tom Jones

August 31, 2018

NASA’s Orion spacecraft is intended to fly astronauts into lunar orbit on regular visits to a planned deep-space platform called the gateway. Veteran astronaut Tom Jones recently visited the Orion assembly line at Kennedy Space Center to assess the craft’s progress and path into translunar space.

Dreaming big

By Amanda Miller

July 1, 2018

If all goes as Sierra Nevada Corp. hopes, you’ll soon be hearing a lot more about Dream Chaser, the spacecraft with a history of ups and downs. Amanda Miller toured the new Colorado facility where the first spaceflight version of Dream Chaser will be built.

An astronaut remembers John Young

By Tom Jones

May 31, 2018

Astronaut John W. Young died at age 87 on Jan. 5. He was the ninth human to walk on the moon, flew six space missions, and served as an astronaut for over four decades. Veteran astronaut Tom Jones, who trained and flew (aircraft) with Young, remembers his personality and character.

2001: Space futurism

By Tom Risen

March 30, 2018

Michael Benson chronicles the making of the Oscar-winning film 50 years later

Reaching Europa

By Tom Risen

March 30, 2018

The White House wants to steer the launch of NASA’s proposed Europa Clipper spacecraft to a commercial rocket

Exploration telepresence

By Tom Jones

September 28, 2017

Astronauts in Mars orbit could orchestrate complex exploration of the surface

Lunar thriller

By Tom Risen

August 31, 2017

“The Martian” author Andy Weir weaves science with more complex characters living in a city on the moon.

Strategizing about Mars

By Tom Risen

May 1, 2017

Scientists and policymakers talk about the best path ahead for human space exploration

Blackout busters

By Keith Button

April 17, 2017

Engineers to test a solution to re-entry communication problem

Fly when it’s safe

By Tom Jones

April 17, 2017

It would be a mistake to rush a crew aboard untried NASA vehicles

Correcting NASA’s course

By Tom Jones

January 27, 2017

While we should expect a hard look at NASA from his administration, President Donald Trump should give NASA the tools and resources it needs to open space to explorers and commerce.

Building Orion

By Tom Jones

November 22, 2016

NASA prepares its deep-space module to fly past the moon

An asteroid companion

By Tom Jones

November 21, 2016

NASA planners see opportunities for robotic and human exploration

Destination Mars

By Kristin Davis

September 13, 2016

Leonard David’s “Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet”


By John Cook

August 31, 2016

Lessons for exploration from the International Space Station