NASA Podcasts

In Their Own Words: Tom Simon
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What is NASA's Commercial Crew Program and how is it different from other human spaceflight programs?

Tom Simon/NASA's Commercial Crew Program: The Commercial Crew Program is really approaching human spaceflight in a brand new way. For years and decades, we've been approaching it as a government-managed, government-owned processes to set up systems to meet the government's needs. Now we're working with industry to help industry to be able to develop their own systems to meet our needs and the needs of other users of those systems. So, this means that we'll be able to get our people to space, but also other people will be able to get to space on those same systems.

What is the goal of NASA's Commercial Crew Program?

Tom Simon/NASA's Commercial Crew Program: For the last few years, NASA has been investing in industry to develop the capabilities for companies to be able to, with their own systems, take people to low-Earth orbit. And now we're beginning a phase where we're looking to reap the benefits from that investment and be able to take our astronauts to the International Space Station.

Tell us about what's going on aboard the space station.

Tom Simon/NASA's Commercial Crew Program: There's a lot of exciting research being done on the International Space Station. I like to think about it as two different groups. The first group of being of looking in a microgravity environment at the kind of things that happen when you mix different chemicals or you look at different materials forming and crystals, to help us really understand the fundamental science behind a lot of the things that we use every day and the things that we use to build the things that we need. And by that fundamental science, it will help us to make new medicines, be able to make materials to make lighter products or stronger things that we can use in airplanes, cell phones, anything. And the other group of the things that we're doing on the space station is related to getting ready to explore beyond low-Earth orbit. It is studying the effects of microgravity on our astronauts and also trying out new technologies that we can use for years in space before we venture all the way to Mars or something like that.

What's the purpose of certifying commercial systems for NASA's use?

Tom Simon/NASA's Commercial Crew Program: Going to space is not like walking down to the park. It's a dangerous endeavor, but with brave astronauts and working with the companies' innovative solutions that are making the systems good enough to meet our needs that are not pushing the envelope in either reducing safety or making things so fancy we can't afford it anymore, so the balance we're striking right now gives us a lot of confidence that we'll be able to make this work.

What's your confidence level that the certification approach will work?

Tom Simon/NASA's Commercial Crew Program: I'm very confident we're going to be able to not only produce these systems to meet our needs, but they will be safe. We've worked to come up with our safety requirements to help set what it is we needed in terms of safety. And we're allowing industry to address those needs in whatever ways they can come up with. We're unleashing American ingenuity to come up with the right ways to meet those safety requirements.

What do you see as the primary benefits of the Commercial Crew Program?

Tom Simon/NASA's Commercial Crew Program: The Commercial Crew Program has the near-term benefit of helping to allow us to get our crews to and from the space station. But it fits into the overall big picture for NASA's exploration plans. By allowing industry to take the lead on a lot of the getting cargo and crew to and from low-Earth orbit, it's going to allow NASA to be able to push beyond low-Earth orbit and to accomplish exploration objectives, whether it's to the moon, to asteroids, Mars. With industry helping to shoulder the burden and take advantage of a lot of the work NASA and industry has done to date in low-Earth orbit.

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