Tag Archives: John Holst

Stage Two Engine Test


Right stage, wrong year. That is a Saturn V second stage in the hoist, but the picture was taken in 1967. Image is from NASA.

I wrote this “Apollo 50th Anniversary Moment” prior to the Space Foundation’s Space Symposium this year. While a lot of important things happened in April 1966 for the Apollo program, I thought the Saturn V second stage engine test was worth focusing on–especially since it helped with some wordplay. I think. And it’s kind of fun to link what was going on then through history to what’s been going on now.

Here’s the article: Stagecraft Through the Years.

By the way, NASA doesn’t call it the Mississippi Test Facility anymore. It’s now the John C. Stennis Space Center–a bit more unwieldy to pronounce, but right in line with NASA’s penchant for pulling complexity out of the simplest things. You can read about the center by clicking on this link.


Landing the Business of Launch


The history-making Falcon 9 Upgrade ready to launch at Space Launch Complex 40. Image from SpaceX.

SpaceX was very confident that today’s successful landing would happen. Instead of hedging the outcome as they had in previous launches, statements from people within the company before the launch today indicated that today was the day. And today was their day.

I’m assuming you’ve seen the footage of the Falcon 9’s first stage landing on a barge, and–and this is the most important part–staying upright and intact. If not, you should really watch the video, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEr9cPpuAx8. To see the rocket land, on a barge, is pretty nifty.

But after today, what will happen? Does the launch industry change? Does it get cheaper? Well, not right away. Some of it depends on whether SpaceX can just get down to the business of launching. According to SpaceFlightNow.com’s launch manifest, SpaceX has at least 11 other launches to clear this year. That’s quite a few, but perhaps not impossible to accomplish. But the company has barely launched slightly over half that number so far in the past few years. There’s also the possible launch of their Falcon Heavy, promised for many years but yet to make it past artist conceptions into reality.

SpaceX also must prove the Falcon 9’s first stage is reusable. Landing it on a barge is awesome, but how quickly can they turn it around and use it again? Blue Origin, another rocket manufacturer and potential launch provider, is kind of setting the standard with their New Shepard suborbital rocket. The company launched the same rocket and engine three times, supposedly with minimal inspections of the whole thing in-between. The average turn-around for their rocket seems to be about a month and a half. In fact, Blue Origin’s third launch of New Shepard occurred just last weekend, on April 2. Of course, they have a pretty cool video to watch as well: https://www.blueorigin.com/news/news/pushing-the-envelope.

Can SpaceX match or exceed Blue Origin’s turnaround time? How often will a reusable stage be reusable? Whatever the answer, there are quite a few companies ready to buy a berth on a reusable rocket. There’re a lot of plans and pressure for launch services. More importantly, there are markets hungry for the services and products coming from space. The price of a space launch needs to come down. SpaceX is one of the cheaper launch providers, and if it, or Blue Origin, or someone else, succeeds in incorporating a reusable space launch vehicle in their business, prices will, after a while, start falling.

But, while SpaceX deservedly got their time in the limelight today, tomorrow they need to do one thing: launch!

And then launch some more…

The Military Space Operator–After the Military, Part II: The 3 Categories

How can a USAF space operator make his/her military space job relate, using very simple terms, to the civilian space world (or possibly other industries)? One possible answer is to align those duties with categories and terms already used in the space industry.

Some space industry sector categories are useful in accurately describing the kind of jobs people do within space operations. The categories–space mission operations, space mission support, and space infrastructure–better describe professions within the over-applied “space operations” label in the USAF (in some ways, the label is about as descriptive as “leader” or “synergizing weasel”). These categories communicate to potential employers a a job candidate’s area of expertise, instead of unintentionally fogging it up under “space operations.” Again, space operations can mean a lot of different things to different people–including the hiring manager interviewing you.

Why would a military space operator go to commercial space industry when the option of working for a space contractor who works with the government might appear to be simpler, less risky, and maybe more lucrative? Consider that the U.S. government—military and civil—makes up a very minor portion of the amount of money passing hands in the global space industry. Government space operations are dwarfed by the fleets of commercial communications and Earth observation satellites. There’s also the problem that the contractor force has contracted—by about 17%–for almost a decade. This contraction hasn’t seemed to bottom out yet. If you’re a relatively new hire for a government program, how comfortable are you with the real possibility of being the first one to be cut?

How to define oneself for a job in a growing space industry? The challenge of finding work in commercial space industry is made more complex because many military space operators have experience in multiple roles: leader, system engineer, operator. How does a military space operator describe his or her talent so that a genuine civilian understands the capabilities a military space operator can bring to a civilian space organization? My suggestion is to align military space operations experiences, expertise, and talents with the categories previously mentioned.

Space mission operations, space mission support, and space infrastructure, don’t highlight the “most important” job in the space industry. They allow for a better job focus, with the option of drilling down within each category. Some cross over between categories might happen, depending on the job pursued. But perhaps initially starting with one category will help to build up a solid job-seeking story. The suggested categories are supposed to be a helpful and more meaningful way to pin down what space operators do—especially for those looking to leave the military soon.

The next post will be my attempt to define these categories.

The Military Space Operator–After the Military

Transitioning as The New Civilian

When I left the U.S. Air Force, I was a space operator. After working in the military space world for 11 years, it seemed very obvious to me and the Air Force, that I was a space operator, but not to anyone in the civilian world. I spent nearly six months applying for related positions, trying to convince others of my qualifications, before I found work. It was frustrating.

I had the training and experience in various sub-disciplines related to or directly involved in space operations. When the USAF trains someone like me in space operations, they assign a special prefix denoting the corresponding specialty: 13S or 1C6 (officer or enlisted). Add some extra letters and numbers to the end of those three letters and numbers and it SEEMS the Air Force stays pretty happy about how they keep track of their space operations force.

The Problem

However, there are some wrinkles within the Air Force which obfuscate what a space operator is. Such complications are what might have hindered my job searches. In the USAF, being a space operator might mean a person’s job is acquiring the systems for missions in space. It might mean a person installs fiber for ground networks to talk with space systems or runs computer network operations. It might mean conducting system engineering or mission assurance for particular systems. It might mean intelligence analysis. At one time it meant maintaining and launching nuclear missiles. Each of these was the Air Force’s way to appear to beef up its space cadre. Some of us benefited from the Air Force’s efforts to “spread space.”

So, while being a 13S or 1C6 still means a trained space professional sitting at a computer command console, operating a space system, making sure a missile, rocket, or a satellite and its payload responds to commands, there are some other professions within the space operations category without those prefixes that might be related but need more explanation. Don’t get me wrong: the multiplicity of jobs within the space operations career-field is great for those who are willing to learn about the different space systems. It’s particularly interesting to the many who gain the technical chops and experience in the USAF without any science, technology, engineering, or other types of technical educational backgrounds.

The problem though, is that while it’s very interesting and quite educational to work for the USAF, there’s the question “What happens after my USAF career?” The USAF isn’t doing you any favors with its broadly applied “Space Operator” category. Because, for example, being an acquisitions program manager is not the same as conducting communications satellite upkeep or running satellite warning or space intelligence missions. Hiring managers in the civilian world may become confused by all the great experience a person gained as a program manager while that person calls him/herself a space operator. There’s also the problem that a good portion of space operations occur in the classified world, and an involved person can’t really say what they were doing in that world. So how can a person define what their part in the military space world is, without getting into trouble? How can a USAF space operator make their military space job relate, in very simple terms, to the civilian space world? With the broader question being, what does it mean to work in the space industry in the United States?

Stay tuned…

I have a few ideas about this, just based on my experience in writing about this industry over the past few years. My next post will attempt to elaborate some of the terms to help make those connections in the civilian world. Hopefully it will help you in your job searches.

Gemini V

Gemini V astronauts Conrad and Cooper, practicing for yet another thing that could go wrong in a mission (but didn’t). Image from NASA JSC archive.

Last August was the 50th anniversary of the Gemini V mission. For this blog, the Gemini V mission begins a theme for a small series of stories about astronauts and their character. As my Apollo 50th Anniversary Moment article from August describes, astronauts are tough. They’re also smart and resourceful, traits Charles Conrad and Gordon Cooper displayed generally day-to-day, but especially useful for them throughout the Gemini V mission.

Why Gemini V for an Apollo 50th Anniversary series? It was NASA’s program to learn as much as they could about piloting, living, and surviving in space–things that were critical to know for successfully living through Project Apollo–NASA’s program to get astronauts to the moon. Space was new to everyone–Americans and Russians–and there was a lot to learn.

Gemini V was interesting for many reasons, including the few setbacks the astronauts faced. One particular setback would have radically cut the mission duration, but the astronauts faced the challenge very well. I described that one particular challenge, and how the astronauts handled it, in my article for the Space Foundation’s “Space Watch”: Eight Days or Bust–Gemini V.

There is no Clapper light switch in space…remember, it was over 50 years ago.