Today’s Tidbits: September 16, 2019

Today’s Tidbits: September 16, 2019

Here are’s tidbits for September 16, 2019.  We’re catching up on a bunch of things again from new jobs for Janet Kavandi and Chris Shank to the Schriever Wargames to Vikram’s somersault to Brad Pitt’s new movie Ad Astra to Maezawa-san’s plans for going to the Moon.  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

Our tidibts are even briefer than usual tonight, but hopefully will bring everyone up to date on recent goings on.

Janet Kavandi, who just announced her resignation as Director of NASA’s Glenn Research Center effective at the end of the month, will become Senior Vice President, Space Systems, at Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC).  [] The company does a lot of space business, but is probably best known for its Dream Chaser spacecraft that looks like a small space shuttle. Dream Chaser was one of the competitors for NASA’s commercial crew program, but lost out to SpaceX and Boeing.  SNC still plans to build a crew version, but for now is focusing on cargo.  It was selected in the second round of NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contracts (CRS-2) and plans to begin flights to the International Space Station in 2021.  Kavandi is a former astronaut who flew on three space shuttle missions, accumulating more than 33 days in space.

Chris Shank has joined Maxar Technologies as Vice President of National Security Space.  [] Shank was head of DOD’s Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO), but left after a disagreement with his boss, Mike Griffin, Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering.  Griffin wanted SCO to become part of DARPA, Shank didn’t.  The two were long-time friends and colleagues so the sudden break was a surprise.  Shank has a long résumé of working for Congress, NASA, and several aerospace companies.  He headed the “landing party” for NASA when the Trump Administration assumed office.

U.S. Space Command (USSPACECOM) and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) are demonstrating their new joint warfighting ethos, issuing a joint press release at the end of the 13th Air Force Space Command Schriever Wargames about how they are working together to protect, defend and operate the nation’s space systems.  []  Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire announced at the August National Space Council meeting that the two agencies had reached agreement that NRO, which is part of the Intelligence Community, will follow the direction of USSPACECOM if conflict extends into space.  The wargames apparently practiced that scenario.  NRO Director Chris Scolese said: “Exercises like the Schriever Wargames provide us an opportunity to test and improve our joint planning process and shared defensive action ‘playbook’ to preserve assured access to space.”

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is still trying to determine what happened to its Vikram lunar lander, part of the Chandrayaan-2 mission. Communications were lost before it touched down on the Moon  An official answer is yet to come, but India Today is reporting that Vikram inexplicably did a “somersault” about 11 minutes before landing. That meant its reverse-thrust landing engines were pointed upwards instead of downwards so “instead of slowing the craft down, the engines actually pushed the Vikram lander down towards the lunar surface.” []   Two U.S. companies, Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines, are building their own small lunar landers to deliver NASA payloads to the surface.  That task looks all that much more daunting following the failure of Vikram and Israeli’s Beresheet earlier this year.  A third company selected by NASA in June, Orbit Beyond, has already dropped out.  The Washington Post published an interesting article today about what’s at stake. []

Speaking of the Washington Post, it held a fun event today with Brad Pitt, star of the new movie Ad Astra.  Joining Pitt on stage was the film’s Director, James Gray, and two NASA experts: planetary geologist Sarah Noble and spacesuit engineer Lindsay Aitchison.  The film opens this week and as the trailer reveals [], it’s about an astronaut (Pitt) following in his father’s (Tommy Lee Jones) footsteps, but is suddenly told his father didn’t die on the first human exploration mission to the outer solar system after all.  Instead he may be hiding out at Neptune with nefarious intentions that could doom Earth. A clip in the trailer and shown at the Washington Post event shows a battle between good guys and bad guys on lunar dune buggies.  It sounds rather dystopian.  By comparison, Noble and Aitchison talked about NASA’s real life Artemis mission to return astronauts to the Moon by 2024.  Aitchison brought along a sample of a new spacesuit glove and Pitt, Gray and Washington Post moderator Ann Hornaday seemed genuinely interested in learning about spacesuits and what NASA is doing these days.  Pitt admitted that he is not the kind of actor who does a lot of research before playing his roles so didn’t learn anything new about space or science getting ready, but now he looks at space differently. “I can’t look at space the same way… It’s beyond our understanding. The mystery of it all is indelible and it makes me believe in something bigger than us …. That’s probably the most profound effect [it] had.”

Japanese billionaire Yusaka Maezawa is SpaceX’s first customer to fly on Starship around the Moon (not to land, though). That flight is notionally scheduled for 2023.  Business Insider reports [] that he is selling most of his stake in his online fashion-retail company, Zozo, and resigning as CEO so he can devote his time to training for the mission, although business considerations also seem to have played a part.  Before the Moon trip he plans to “fly on a less ambitious space mission.”  Presumably that will be to low Earth orbit on another SpaceX mission.

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