While growing up in Indianapolis, NASA senior engineer Dan Dumbacher never missed a chance to watch a space launch on television. Today, he is doing more than just watching spacecraft lift off - he's helping build the next generation of launch vehicles. These vehicles will play an integral part in NASA's Vision for Space Exploration, returning humans to the moon and traveling to Mars and beyond.
Dumbacher, deputy director of the Exploration Launch Projects Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., helps manage and lead overall development and integration of the Ares I and Ares V launch vehicle systems.
NASA's Ares I is the launch vehicle that will transport the Orion crew exploration vehicle to space. Ares V will serve as NASA's primary vessel for delivering resources to space - from large-scale hardware and materials to establish a permanent moon base, to food and fresh water needed to extend a human presence beyond Earth orbit.
"Designing and developing America's new fleet of launch vehicles is both exciting and challenging," said Dumbacher. "Each step in this effort, from the intricate design process to the building, ground testing and, ultimately, flight testing the vehicles, provides challenges to those of us at NASA and hopefully, excitement for all Americans."
It's an opportunity Dumbacher, who received Purdue University's Outstanding Mechanical Engineer Award in 2003 and attended Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis, says is a team effort.
"Launch vehicle design and space flight require the efforts of many dedicated individuals, all working together to achieve the mission," said Dumbacher. "It is an honor to work with such a capable and motivated team."
In addition to transporting astronauts in Orion, the Ares I's 25-ton payload capacity also could deliver small cargo to space. It could re-supply the International Space Station or drop payloads off in orbit to be retrieved and transported to exploration astronauts on the moon. Ares V can carry about 130 tons of payload to low Earth orbit and 65 tons to the moon.
Recently, Dumbacher shared NASA's exploration goals and benefits, and talked about development of the next-generation space launch vehicles at Taylor University in Upland, Ind. He spoke this summer at an economic development conference hosted by "Access Technology Across Indiana," an alliance among state universities, research institutions and industry to promote educational and technological partnerships that improve Indiana's business standing through scientific and aerospace endeavors.
Dumbacher believes "great nations always push to extend their knowledge and expand their horizons."
"As we probe space, we create new markets and technologies that benefit life here on earth and lead to new economies," he added.
Dumbacher, who joined NASA in 1981, has a breadth of experience advancing space systems technologies, having worked hardware development programs throughout his career. From 1989 to 1991, he managed the project that oversaw hot-fire testing of large liquid propulsion technologies and worked on the team that first tested today's flight test configuration of the shuttle main engines. He was the space shuttle main engine project manager at NASA Headquarters in Washington from 1991 to 1992. He returned to the Marshall Center in 1992 as assistant manager of the Space Shuttle Main Engine Project.
Dumbacher has also managed vital technology development and flight-test efforts. From 1995 to 1996, he managed development of the Delta Clipper-Experimental Advanced Flight Vehicle, a subscale single-stage-to-orbit demonstration vehicle. For the next three years, he was deputy program manager for X-33, a technology demonstrator of a single-stage launch vehicle. He served from 2000 to 2002 as program manager of the research and development effort that laid the groundwork for NASA's ambitious goal to return astronauts to the moon and send explorers to Mars and beyond in coming decades.
Prior to his current position, Dumbacher served as deputy director for safety and mission assurance at Marshall, overseeing the safe return to flight of the space shuttle on STS-114.
With the shuttle continuing its mission to complete the space station, Dumbacher is dedicated to not only helping NASA take the next step in exploration, but also helping educate the public about NASA's vision. For future generation of explorers, Dumbacher has a few words of advice.
"Never stop asking questions," he said. "Always ask, 'why.' Exploration is about pushing the envelope to expand our knowledge of the next frontier."
For information about NASA's Ares projects on the Web, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/ares
For more information about NASA programs on the Web, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/home