It’s not easy being NASA…
Two generations ago we looked to NASA to put a man on the moon (the Apollo program). Forty five years ago today the world watched as Apollo 11 launched to take Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon. With every Apollo launch there was only one thing on the TV and everyone tuned in.
A generation ago we looked to NASA to send astronauts and payloads into space and return in vehicles which could be reused (the Space Shuttle program). Whenever a shuttle launched it was something so special to see – both in person as well as on TV. As a nation we experienced great tragedy along with amazing triumphs with the Space Shuttle program. To this day the Space Shuttles (on display across the nation) are rock stars that attract fans by the tens of thousands every day.
Today we don’t have an exciting headline grabbing space program that grabs our attention and makes us stand up and take notice. But that isn’t the problem NASA faces.
Today we live in a connected world where every question we have can be instantly answered in seconds on a cell phone that is thinner than a Hershey Bar. We use GPS to always know where we are and we can even talk with our devices and get an immediate response. With all of the technology at our disposal (that fits easily in a pants pocket) who wouldn’t think that it’s easy to send something in to space?
Well the truth is – it’s still very difficult to send something in to space. For over 5000 consecutive days we’ve maintained a crew on the International Space Station (the ISS) and to keep them there we have to send them supplies. Without the Space Shuttle program this task is almost impossible. But every day the men and women at NASA do the impossible in facilities like the one I visited on Wallops Island. As I stood with the media and had my first up close look at the Antares rocket (scheduled to deliver supplies to the ISS) I was absolutely blown away. There was nothing about what I saw that seemed “easy”.
Sending an unmanned spacecraft into a perfect orbit to rendezvous with the ISS requires amazing engineering (the window for a launch is only five minutes long). It might seem impossible but I watched the launch with my own eyes and today the payload arrived at the ISS. Right now I believe that the men and woman at NASA can still accomplish whatever they put their minds to.
In a time when federal budgets are shrinking the people at NASA have to do more with less. But the people I met don’t seem to notice when they’re doing their jobs every day. Quite the opposite, in fact.Just spend a few minutes with Denise Gramlich (our Subject Matter Expert on the Scientific Balloon Program – pictured below) and you instantly know how excited she is about what she does every day.
One of the first stops I made on my NASA adventure was the Scientific Balloon Center. It’s a little known program but a NASA Scientific balloon can take up to 8000lbs of payload 26 miles high and stay there for two weeks (all without the cost of launching a rocket). And the next generation of scientific balloons (the Ultra-Long Duration Balloon or ULDV) will be even bigger, go even higher and be able to achieve flights as long as 100 days.
NASA flies an average of 25 scientific balloon missions each year and I got a look inside the facility where NASA employees are creating these amazing balloons from polyethylene film that is only .0008 inches thick (about the size of a sandwich bag). The balloons were amazing but the people working in the Scientific Balloon Program made the biggest impression on me. They are super excited to be part of such an important scientific mission (even if most of the world has no idea they’re doing what they’re doing).
The Scientific Balloon Center was just my first stop on my three day adventure and I have plenty more to share about what I saw inside the NASA Wallops Flight Facility.
NASA has a mission and, even though everyone gets more excited about the new debut of the latest cell phone, it’s far more important. In fact – those cool pieces of tech we take for granted wouldn’t be possible without the hard work and dedication of the NASA team. NASA has always been at the cutting edge of what’s possible and they continue to do the things many would consider impossible.
I spent three days at the NASA Wallops Island Flight Facility where the NASA Social team gave me unbelievable access. I met the people and saw the places where amazing things happen every day. I even attended press conferences where I was able to ask questions directly to the highest ranking people at NASA and Orbital Sciences. And it was all highlighted by the launch of Orb-2.
So the next time you fire up your smart phone say a silent “thank you” to the brave men and women of NASA and our space program who put their careers on the line every day (and for some their very lives) to make our world the high tech place it is today.
I’ll have more to share about my three day adventure soon…
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