A plaque at Kennedy Space Center commemorates the end of an era for NASA and everyone interested in the future of space exploration. On July 21, 2011, the last space shuttle mission landed at the legendary facility in the heart of Florida’s “Space Coast.” For more than a decade, that runway has remained eerily quiet as humanity lost the ability to return from space with a comfortable low-G runway landing.
But a new era is about to begin…
Sierra Space is presently dedicated to bringing the Kennedy Space Center runway back to life with the Dream Chaser® spaceplane. As Dream Chaser Principal Systems Engineer Justin Corneau explains, “Something happened inside of me when the space shuttle went away. It was a really sad feeling—but I later gained perspective. We may have thought it was going to be the end, but it was just the end of a chapter, and the next chapter is just beginning.”
That next chapter is being written today by Corneau and the entire Sierra Space team who are pouring their incredible skill, dedication, and plenty of sweat into preparing the first Dream Chaser spaceplane, appropriately named “Tenacity,” for its unshakable mission to make space available to all humankind.
Serving this purpose, the Sierra Space team is laser-focused on the mission of democratizing space. After all, venturing beyond Earth has been a consistent dream of humankind since the dawn of time. It’s only intensified since the first astronaut pioneers proved our dreams of space travel are no mere flights of fancy but attainable.
Sierra Space President Dr. Janet Kavandi, who served on three space shuttle missions, found her own fascination with space sitting outside in rural Missouri with her father, also an aviator. As she explains: “Seeing the beautiful night sky, the Milky Way, you automatically dream of going up there. You can’t help but dream about that.”
That dream of discovery is universally shared amongst other astronauts, including NASA’s Dr. Ellen Ochoa, who recently said, “What everyone in the astronaut corps shares in common is not gender or ethnic background, but motivation, perseverance, and desire—the desire to participate in a voyage of discovery.”
Even so, dreams by themselves can’t turn the Dream Chaser’s design into a real-world spaceplane that can carry precious cargo to sustain a mission in orbit, autonomously dock with space stations, then return for a smooth runway landing—critical in protecting fragile science experiments, lifesaving medical tech, and the next generation of space advancements.
Creating a better future for humanity both on Earth and in space takes more that cutting-edge technology and a talented team. It requires tenacity, making Dream Chaser’s nickname even more apt. Or as renowned scientist Louis Pasteur said, “Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal. My strength lies solely in my tenacity.” Sierra Space takes Pasteur’s words to heart because safely and effectively operating in the vacuum of space is one the greatest engineering challenges ever tackled by humanity.
As Sierra Space Vice President, Space Transportation Kursten O’Neill explains, “Space exploration is really hard. We constantly ask ourselves, ‘How do we lead the effort to be a pioneer?’ and ‘How do we unite space exploration with advancement on Earth?’ I think tenacity sums up the embodiment of what it means to push forward in the face of challenges to do something great.”
O’Neill’s attitude toward tenacity mirrors that of the great astronauts of the past. The late Eugene Cernan, the last to walk on the Moon, once said, “You’ll never know how good you are until you try. Dream the impossible and then go out and make it happen. I walked on the moon. What can’t you do?”
Building the first Dream Chaser has also taught the Sierra Space team how tenacity is linked to teamwork. Structural engineer Gracie Peters explains, “Without the ups and downs, Dream Chaser wouldn’t be where it is today. We struggled at the beginning trying to figure out solutions that would work, but because we stuck together and worked really hard, it’s just more opportunity for us to grow and get better. We put our heart and soul into this.”
Already such grit is paying dividends. The Sierra Space team has demonstrated tremendous resolve in designing and building the Dream Chaser spaceplane, a true leap forward in technology from the space shuttle. Although the work is challenging, the team also finds it hugely rewarding. Systems engineer Mickey Mathew says, “I’m creating technology that will directly impact how people live in space in the future… that’s all I’ve ever wanted, to use my skills and my time here on Earth to make the world a better place.” O’Neill agrees. “When I come to work every day and I see Tenacity being built, I think about all of the discoveries she will make, and how much it will impact our children’s lives in the future.”
Emboldened by our resolve, our team is motivated to improve life on Earth by creating the tech to empower the next great leap into space. Tenacity is just the first of many Dream Chaser spaceplanes to come, and the beginning of our journey. If you wish to join the team that will change space travel forever, consider applying for a position or internship with Sierra Space today.