Club Fellow to fly first NASA-funded research flight aboard commercial space flight

Explorers Club Fellow Dr. Alan Stern has been chosen to be the first to conduct NASA-funded science experiments while flying aboard a commercial spacecraft, the space agency announced yesterday.

Dr. Stern will fly aboard the Virgin Galactic commercial spacecraft called “SpaceShipTwo” on a yet unscheduled suborbital mission from the Spaceport America launch site in New Mexico.

“This is the first selection of a private-sector researcher to fly with NASA funding on commercial vehicles,” Stern said. He called the development a “potential sea change” in NASA-funded space research, opening the door to much more extensive experimentation in space by researchers.

In 2020, NASA updated the Flight Opportunities Tech Flights solicitation in part to allow “human-tended” experiments on board commercial spacecraft.

“Going to work in space myself for the first time after having spent so many years sending machines there to do the research for me is going to be a major career highlight, and something I am honored to be selected for,” said Stern, who has previously been involved in 29 space mission science teams but had not flown in space.

Dr. Stern was a recipient of the 2018 Lowell Thomas Award for his work on New Horizons, NASA’s renowned interplanetary space probe which took iconic photos of Pluto during its historic fly-by, and is now continuing on through the Kuiper belt.

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