“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.”
President John F. Kennedy submitted this challenge to NASA and the nation 50 years ago. NASA and the nation met this challenge and we have gone on to achieve great things in space exploration since the historic moon landing in 1969.
With the end of the moon landings and the Apollo program, a new era began with the space shuttle program and the first launch in April 1981. The shuttle orbiters allowed this nation to expand its space operations. With this spacecraft we have been able to deploy in space satellites and observatories, such as the Hubble Space Telescope, and service them. We have been able to conduct life, space and Earth science studies aboard the shuttles as they became orbiting laboratories. Finally, the shuttle has been the workhorse in the construction of the International Space Station.
Soon, after 30 years of spectacular achievements, the shuttle program will come to an end with the last flight of the orbiter Atlantis. For many of us, we grew up with the space shuttle. To many, it has come to symbolize the nation’s technological capabilities.
The end of the shuttle program does not mean an end to space exploration or that we are abandoning our competitiveness. We are entering a new era of exploration — one that will include more commercial companies in our exploration efforts, continued support of the International Space Station and expansion of our presence beyond Earth orbit.
NASA will continue to be a vital partner in the International Space Station, which is currently scheduled to remain operational through at least 2020. With the end of the shuttle era, NASA will rely on commercial vehicles to take supplies to the space station. One of those vehicles is the Taurus 2, built by Orbital Sciences Corp. in Dulles, Va. Standing nearly 130 feet tall, the rocket will launch from Wallops Flight Facility.
NASA Wallops, the Spaceport, and Orbital have been working together to prepare for the flights of the Taurus 2. Approximately $100 million has been spent on infrastructure at Wallops to support this endeavor, which is vital to NASA’s space station operations.
NASA’s Horizontal Integration Facility, in which the Taurus 2 is being assembled, was opened in March. During the ribbon-cutting ceremony for this 37,500-square-foot facility, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden stated: “With this state-of-the-art building, NASA demonstrates its commitment to the success of the nation’s commercial launch industry. We have already seen some fantastic progress, and are looking forward to more this year. Wallops, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, and Orbital have cooperatively worked together to bring the Taurus II2 vehicle to the launch pad under tough mission schedules. That effort is impressive and a model we should emulate whenever possible.”
A new Spaceport launch pad to support Taurus 2 is undergoing construction. The majority of the pad is complete. The task at hand is to prepare the plumbing from the various tanks that will house the liquid fuels for the rocket to the launch pad. This new launch pad is expected to be completed by the end of the summer.
NASA is upgrading its payload processing facility at Wallops to support the integration of the space station supplies into Orbital’s Cygnus cargo carrier. The facility should be ready to begin to support processing in the fall, the first launch of the Taurus 2 is expected later this year, and the first supply mission to the space station is expected in 2012.
With the end of the space shuttle, we begin a new era of space exploration — one that I feel is exciting, will provide new opportunities, and will expand our reach into space. Virginia has positioned itself as a part of this new era. I, for one, am looking forward to it.
Bill Wrobel is director of NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Va. 23337; email: Bill.wrobel}nasa.gov. He wrote this for The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.).