An approaching federal contract deadline may reveal the solution to an urgent problem facing the U.S. space program: how to safely deorbit the International Space Station in the event of an emergency or when its mission wraps up.
Companies have until March 4 to turn in their proposals to “design, develop, manufacture, test, integrate, achieve NASA acceptance, deliver, and sustain” what the space agency is calling the United States Deorbit Vehicle, envisioned as “a new or modified spacecraft using a large amount of propellant.”
NASA plans to award the contract in June for the one-of-a-kind vehicle meant to dock with the space station and safely “perform ISS attitude control, ISS translational maneuvers, and the final ISS orbit shaping and reentry burns” so that it hopefully — fingers crossed — ultimately crashes into the ocean without dropping debris over any populated areas.
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U.S. military astronauts have frequently served onboard the ISS since its first long-duration expedition, Expedition 1, launched in 2001 with then-soon-to-be-retired Capt. William Shepherd, a Navy SEAL, in command.
A total of 45 U.S. military astronauts have served on 59 of the 70 numbered ISS expeditions to date, according to a Military.com analysis, while others visited briefly or took part in its assembly during their space shuttle missions going back to 1998.
In fact, a military astronaut…