Today’s Tidbits: October 23, 2017

Today’s Tidbits: October 23, 2017

Here are our tidbits for October 23, 2017:  AIAA chooses Dan Dumbacher as new Executive Director; Tom Stafford laments NASA’s “lost years”; Skylab and shuttle astronaut Paul Weitz dies from cancer at 85.  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

AIAA Chooses Dan Dumbacher as Next Executive Director

Purdue University Professor Dan Dumbacher. Photo credit: Purdue website.

The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics has picked former NASA engineer and current Purdue University professor Dan Dumbacher as its next Executive Director.  He will succeed former astronaut Sandy Magnus, who announced her decision to leave last spring after 5 years of leading the aerospace professional association.

Dumbacher will take the reins on January 4, 2018, just in time for AIAA’s annual SciTech conference in Kissimmee, Florida.  Magnus will stay until April 2018 to ease the transition.  Dumbacher has been a member of AIAA for 30 years and is an Associate Fellow.

Dumbacher spent more than 30 years at NASA, mostly at Marshall Space Flight Center, but also at NASA Headquarters.  His last position was at HQ, serving as deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development in the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. He has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue and a master’s in business administration from the University of Alabama-Huntsville.  Read more: []

Tom Stafford on the Lost Years of the U.S. Human Spaceflight Program

Lt. Gen. Tom Stafford, USAF, (Ret.) testifying to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, February 16, 2017. Screengrab.

During an interview with Popular Mechanics, venerable Gemini and Apollo astronaut Tom Stafford lamented the lost years in human spaceflight as politics slowed implementation of a plan he helped develop to return astronauts to the Moon and go on to Mars.

Stafford orbited the Moon in Apollo 10 as a test prior to the Apollo 11 and subsequent lunar landings.  That was one of his four spaceflights, the last of which was the U.S.-Soviet Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975.  He remains very active in the space program today, chairing NASA’s International Space Station (ISS) Advisory Committee, routinely meeting with Russian counterparts to review and assess ISS operations. He testified to the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee on February 16, 2017.

Stafford chaired a study for President George H.W. Bush’s National Space Council (America at the Threshold: America’s Space Exploration Initiative (SEI), available on the NASA History Office website).  The “Bush 41” Administration was never able to convince Congress to fund SEI and human trips to the Moon or Mars were not pursued by the Clinton Administration.  President George W. Bush (“Bush 43”) announced a Vision for Space Exploration to return astronauts to the Moon — the Constellation program — but did not follow through with promised funding increases to make it a reality.  The Obama Administration concluded Constellation was not affordable, cancelled it, and embarked on a new direction — the Journey to Mars, bypassing a return to the lunar surface.  Returning humans to the lunar surface has only recently come back into vogue with the Trump Administration, although it remains to be seen if the Administration will request the requisite funds to make it happen this time.

Skylab Astronaut Paul Weitz Passes Away

Former NASA astronaut Paul Weitz passed away today.  Born in 1932, he was selected as an astronaut in 1966 and flew to the Skylab space station in 1973 and on the space shuttle 10 years later.

Skylab was the first U.S. space station and Weitz was a member of the first three-man crew to visit it.  The space station was damaged during launch when its micrometeoroid shield was torn off by aerodynamic forces, taking one of the two space station solar arrays with it and damaging the other.  Weitz and his crewmates — Charles “Pete” Conrad and Joe Kerwin — had to rescue the space station by deploying a parasol sunshade from an airlock to cover a portion of its external surface and by releasing the remaining solar array, which was stuck in a partially deployed condition. The fixes worked and they accomplished almost all the scientific tasks that had been set for them.  Skylab went on to host two more crews in the 1973-1974 period.  Weitz’s mission, Skylab 2, set a record for the longest duration in space at the time — 28 days.  (Skylab made an uncontrolled reentry in 1979, spreading debris over the Indian Ocean and western Australia.)

In 1983, Weitz commanded the STS-6 space shuttle mission, the maiden flight of the Challenger orbiter.  He was joined on STS-6 by Karol Bobko, Story Musgrave, and Donald Peterson.  The primary task for the 6-day mission was deploying a Tracking and Data Relay Satellite.

Weitz was a Navy pilot before joining NASA.  He retired from NASA in 1994, at which time he was Deputy Director of the astronaut office.  He died from cancer according to a report in Erie News, which was posted by Keith Cowing on NASAWatch.  He was 85.

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