Topics in Human Spaceflight

Photo @MarcoMilanesi, 2017.

Since the mid-20th century, humans have developed and maintained new capabilities in spaceflight. However, achieving sustainable human spaceflight has remained an ongoing challenge. Today, commercial spaceflight providers have the potential to offer robust, sustainable access to flight profiles that range from suborbital to LEO and beyond, as part of a diverse ecosystem of organizations working on a range of topics in human spaceflight.

Topics in Human Spaceflight curates our members’ initiatives for the advancement of human mission profiles. Based on ASP’s member base that draws from an extensive background of experience, research, and expertise, this is where you can stay updated on the latest in human spaceflight from the perspective of our members that continue to advance them.
  • 22 Feb 2021 8:46 PM | Brett Bennett (Administrator)

    Last week’s successful landing of NASA’s Perseverance rover in Jezero Crater showcased the ongoing capacity of NASA and JPL to design, build, and fly sophisticated interplanetary robotic missions. Through the drama of Entry, Descent, and Landing, and the subsequent confirmation of a healthy rover and helicopter, the global community has been shown the key role that robotic platforms have to play in the exploration of deep space.

    Perspective from the descent stage during the sky-crane maneuver, with rover approximately 6m from the surface. Photo @NASA Feb 2021.

    With Perseverance, NASA has delivered a highly capable rover to Mars, with major improvements over previous generations. The rover’s suite of instruments has the capacity to directly address questions in astrobiology, the groundwork for which has been decades in the making.

    From November 2020, China’s Chang’e 5 mission to the lunar far side also showcased the role of increased sophistication and capability in lunar exploration. As a part of China’s lunar exploration program, Change’5 was notable for key advancements in China’s lunar science and technology.

    While this generation of sophisticated robotic explorers constitutes major engineering achievements, they also hold a central role in the development of human flight profiles. In combining robust engineering, science, and technology development initiatives, they fill the role of pathfinder, paving the way for further robotic flights as well as human exploration-class missions.

    In the case of Perseverance, JPL’s team has dedicated significant resources to a mission architecture designed to support future human exploration. In context, it is part of a larger program that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for Mars human exploration; demonstrations of heavy landing systems, sample caching, and resource utilization are all key components of exploration-class risk management. The rover will be testing methods for producing oxygen, identifying subsurface water, improving landing techniques, and characterizing weather, dust, and other potential environmental conditions, correlating with the needs of future Mars crew. Critically, even if Perseverance finds no evidence of astrobiology, it will still be successful in demonstrating techniques for ongoing exploration.

    As discussed in previous articles (for example, on the development of crew health paradigms), NASA and its partners are continuing to address key concerns for the maintenance of crew health and performance in exploration-class missions. Human research and crew training will take a central role in preparing crews for successful expeditionary spaceflight. And as we continue to develop these capabilities, robotic explorers will continue to address the technology and knowledge gaps to allow us to place humans on other planets.

    First post-landing high-resolution color image from Perseverance rover. Photo @NASA Feb 2021.

    Following on the success of Perseverance in landing and in beginning surface operations, we can look forward to robust science and sophisticated technology demonstrations that will support our plans for living and working on Mars.

    Congratulations to NASA and its national and international partners on an incredible success!

    ASP’s membership shares a mission to develop the next generation of spaceflight professionals, and in doing so, to provide the means for achievement of key milestones in human spaceflight. To support professional development in this way, ASP continues to advance a spectrum of funding facilitation and professional opportunities.

    Learn more about ASP’s work here.

  • 4 Jan 2021 10:00 PM | Brett Bennett (Administrator)

    Happy New Year to the entire human spaceflight ecosystem! After a very busy end-of-year, ASP’s membership and team are initializing our core efforts for 2021. Strategic goals for the year include:

    1. Continue development of human-in-the-loop space prototypes and experiments

    2. Continue development of core member services, including funding opportunities and professional certification roadmaps

    3. Increase our capacity to build and iterate technologies and experiments through educational content creation and industry partnerships

    4. Author articles, presentations, and reports as updates on member work

    Starting in January, this will include the submission of several new grant applications, as well as ongoing collaborations with academic institutions.

    First Falcon Heavy launch, 2018. Photo @billjelen.

    ASP’s membership shares a mission to develop the next generation of spaceflight professionals, and in doing so, to provide the means for achievement of key milestones in human spaceflight. To support professional development in this way, ASP continues to advance funding facilitation and professional opportunity in a variety of areas.

    Learn more about ASP’s work here, and be sure to follow us as we move ahead.

    We are looking forward to 2021.

  • 23 Nov 2020 11:15 PM | Brett Bennett (Administrator)

    At last week’s ASCEND event, an international audience took part in discussions focused on enabling milestones for a robust space economy as well as exploration-class human spaceflight. Despite a change of venue and the need to support a diversity of research and panel-based content on a newly developed platform, ASCEND showcased in-depth conversation from leaders and newcomers across the space industry. Ranging in scale from focused technical reports to strategic-level, multidisciplinary talks, ASCEND’s agenda provided a platform for discussing the next major milestones in space commerce, human research, and policy.

    As we discussed last week, ASP’s team moderated several talks that examined the role of performance training and space medicine for the successful completion of these milestones. These contributions, alongside a published research outline, underscore the role of clinical and performance considerations in supporting the development of a qualified body of spaceflight professionals.

    Earlier this year, Serena Aunon-Chancellor offered insights into long-duration spaceflight based on her experience as Flight Engineer on ISS Expedition 56/57. Part of her perspective afforded key directions for closing risk gaps for exploration-class mission profiles.

    “Key obstacles for the cruise-phase to and from Mars are behavioral issues focusing on resilience and care of the self and team… The most important medical resource is the human, which provides a physician’s sixth sense that is not data-driven.”

    Serena Aunon-Chancellor, right, discussing her long-duration experience on Expedition 56/57. Photo Brett Bennett, 2020.

    These types of insights have informed ongoing work by HRP and TRISH, including other accounts from NASA personnel and flight crew. In presentations from James Picano and Mike Barratt, the role of individual and team resilience is emphasized as a crucial component for behavioral health and performance. A subset of talks at ASCEND continued the conversation on this topic, illustrating the importance of core performance traits for the success of long-duration flights and exploring new methods for supporting these traits. In addition to the work on space medicine and performance mentioned above, work from NASA JSC and Marshall, for example, highlighted ongoing work in technology development and training for keeping crew happy, healthy, and productive.

    Launch providers like SpaceX and Blue Origin have clear visions for the future of human spaceflight, from the establishment of a sustainable cis-lunar economy to large-scale Mars colonization. Advancing this vision will necessitate a building-block approach to increasing flight complexity and duration; insights into retiring risk for behavioral health and performance will directly support this approach.

    NASA crew inside the Crew Dragon spacecraft for commercial crew Crew-1 launch. Photo NASA 2020.

    ASP’s membership shares a mission to develop the next generation of spaceflight professionals, and in doing so, to provide the means for achievement of key milestones in human spaceflight. To support professional development in this way, ASP continues to advance funding facilitation and professional opportunity in a variety of areas.

    Learn more about ASP’s work here.

  • 16 Nov 2020 9:48 AM | Brett Bennett (Administrator)

    Last night saw the return of operational crewed launches to the ISS from Cape Canaveral. SpaceX successfully launched its Crew-1 mission in partnership with NASA, and in so doing established the foundation for regular commercial crew launches. This achievement was based on more than a decade of engineering and programmatic advances, as well as a progressive vehicle qualification schedule, and is a key step in the sustainable commercialization of low Earth orbit. Crew Dragon Resilience is planned to deliver the 4-person crew to ISS tonight.


    Crew-1 second stage. Photo @NASA, 2020.

    This launch is part of a larger ecosystem of crewed mission development. NASA’s Suborbital Crew Office recently conducted an industry-oriented RFI, with the goal of better understanding commercial capacity to fulfill NASA demand categories for suborbital crew. These categories include astronaut training, testing and qualification of spaceflight hardware, and human-tended microgravity research, for which providers have offered their newest vehicles to provide these services. This includes Blue Origin’s New Shephard, whose team continues to develop flight profiles that will accommodate each of these categories. This process also allows SubC to specify its role in qualifying commercial partners, alongside the FAA.

    The successful Crew-1 launch coincides with the start of ASCEND, a unique industry conference built on a framework of innovation and collaboration. This year’s event, designed to accommodate COVID realities, is oriented toward space industry, commercialization, and policy, as well as interdisciplinary state-of-the-research. Part of this event are discussions on the latest lines of inquiry for retiring risk to human spaceflight profiles. ASP has contributed to this discussion, sharing some of the latest work by its membership in human research, as well as collaborations on the future of space medicine. These sessions will highlight member advancements as well as frontiers in human spaceflight.


    ASP’s latest conference contributions: ASCEND 2020 PANEL-44 and META-11.

    Beyond LEO, public and private entities will need to address key research gaps for human health and performance, as part of the advancement of crewed flight profiles. For example, NASA’s Behavioral Health and Performance Flight Operational Support has indicated the importance of operationally-relevant performance thresholds and metrics of resilience to key concerns for maintaining crew performance in long-duration settings. Ongoing research, including under the auspices of NASA’s Human Research Roadmap, has the capacity to enable this type of sustainable human presence within and beyond LEO. Contributions to this body of work include research proposals aimed at developing innovative approaches to training for expeditionary performance. Neurofeedback protocols, for example, have the potential to support health and performance using noninvasive neuromonitoring.

    Crew Dragon is an example of rapid technological advancement that rewrites what is possible for crewed architectures. The vehicle’s team has demonstrated accelerated development timelines while continuing progressive safety demonstrations. As we build upon the success of the Crew-1 launch, we look to the horizon for crewed flight profiles and the research and engineering gaps that will enable them.

    ASP’s membership continues its work in the advancement of spaceflight milestones. Find out more about this work here.



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