The official confirmation has appeared: a scientist from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) will go on the first commercial space flight funded by NASA.
Dr. Alan Stern, planetary scientist and deputy vice president of space science and technology at SwRI, will fly aboard Virgin Galactic’s commercial spacecraft SpaceShipTwo on an as-yet unplanned suborbital mission from America’s Space Center in New Mexico.
Stern is the first selected private sector researcher to fly a commercial vehicle for NASA’s scientific missions. Such a decision will potentially transform NASA-funded space exploration, opening the door to more extensive space experiments. NASA’s choice to partner with Dr. Alan Stern is based on SwRI’s long history of work and internally funded research into the next generation of commercial suborbital vehicles such as SpaceShipTwo.
“Our commercial suborbital spaceflight program is almost ten years old,” said SwRI President and CEO Adam L. Hamilton. “Seeing the results of internal SwRI research leading to historic SwRI-focused suborbital experiments is exciting.”
Michael Colglazer, chief executive officer of Virgin Galactic, said the company is proud to be working with NASA and the Southwest Research Institute on Dr. Alan Stern’s SpaceShipTwo mission. “This will be Alan’s first space flight and we are very pleased to be taking part in such an important event. Scientific research aboard SpaceShipTwo allows scientists to actively participate in their experiments, testing theories and responding to events in real-time. This is a vital step towards expanding our understanding of space science. We believe there is significant value in conducting scientific experiments on suborbital flights and we hope to expand our capabilities in partnership with NASA’s Flight Opportunities Tech Flight program. ”
In one SwRI experiment, during the just-announced flight, Stern will operate a former space shuttle and NASA’s F-18 camera to determine how well space astronomical observations can be made. In particular, Stern will point the camera through several windows of the spacecraft. In addition, the scientist will be equipped with equipment that continuously monitors a person’s vital signs from the moment immediately before the two-hour flight to the moment of his landing, as well as a biomedical experiment. The results of both experiments will be published.
“This is my first time in space after spending so many years sending machines there for research. This will be an important event in my career, and it is a great honor for me to be chosen, ”admitted Dr. Stern, who was previously involved in 29 scientific groups of space missions, but has never flown into space himself. “But I hope this is just the first of the ongoing missions by SwRI researchers to be in space in the coming years and decades”.