April 28 News Items

Congresswoman Wins Battle to Eliminate Hard Deadline for Shuttle Retirement (Source: Suzanne Kosmas)
Congresswoman Suzanne Kosmas (FL-24) announced that the House and Senate conference agreement on the budget resolution (S.Con.Res 13) reflects her request to include a provision that removes the hard deadline for Shuttle retirement. The final budget resolution also provides an additional $2.5 billion in FY-2011 for the Shuttle program, giving NASA the flexibility it needs to fly the current manifest beyond 2010.

Congresswoman Kosmas voted against the original House version citing the lack of flexibility and funding for the Shuttle program past 2010. Last week, Kosmas sent a letter to the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Budget Committees outlining the risks associated with a hard deadline and urging them to include a Senate provision that would give NASA the flexibility to fly the Shuttle into 2011 if necessary. (4/28)

NASA Slashes Orion Crew Size to Four (Source: Huntsville Times)
NASA is slimming down its Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle by removing two seats and cutting its crew size from six people to four. The capsule, which is basically twice as large as the iconic Apollo moon ships, had grown in weight to more than 22,000 pounds. The spacecraft is slated to sit on top of the Marshall Space Flight Center-managed Ares I rocket.

A review board last week looked at options and settled on reducing the crew numbers, said NASA's Grey Hautaluoma, a spokesman in Washington DC. A memo directing Orion management, and its prime contractor Lockheed Martin, is in the works and should be issued soon. The capsule was initially planned to loft six crew members to the station and land on land or water. A soft touchdown on land has been delayed because of weight issues.

NASA made the crew size change "in order to improve schedule and cost confidence by minimizing multiple configurations under simultaneous development during the Program's early phases," said a NASA official. "While a four-person crew would save some mass, the issue of mass savings was not a major factor in the decision-making process." By removing seats, equipment, life support functions and the two bodies themselves, NASA may be able to carry additional cargo to and from the station, he said. (4/28)

California Students from NASA Explorer Schools to Meet in Houston (Source: NASA)
Students and teachers from throughout the nation will be gathering at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston April 29-May 1 to present research results to fellow students and NASA scientists and engineers. The 62 students and 31 educators will represent 31 NASA Explorer Schools at an annual national student symposium.

California schools participating will include: Edward Harris Jr. Middle School, Elk Grove, Calif.; Johnson Elementary, Magnet for Space Exploration and Technology, San Diego; Roosevelt Middle School, Glendale, Calif.; San Cayetano Elementary School, Fillmore, Calif.; and Sequoia Middle School, Porterville, Calif. (4/28)

Defense Firms, Labor Unions Lobby Against Weapons Programs Cuts (Source: AIA)
The Pentagon's plan to cut large weapons programs puts at least 100,000 defense jobs at risk as the nation continues to suffer from the ongoing economic recession, according to defense firms, labor unions and trade groups. The Aerospace Industries Association is among the groups speaking out against the proposed program cuts. "Aerospace and defense is a powerful economic engine. We must keep the industry strong," AIA President Marion Blakey said. Keeping defense workers employed is "a compelling argument...These are high-paying jobs," she added. (4/28)

Virginia Candidates Support Spaceport Funding (Source: Spaceports Blog)
Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidates Terry McAuliffe and Creigh Deeds have endorsed increased operational funding to enhance the staff size of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, as interest in the fledgling commercial space operations increases among the Virginia public. Deeds promised that he would seek increases in the spaceport's operating budget while McAuliffe assured the same adding that he would leverage his contacts to pull more commercial space launch firms to the Virginia Eastern Shore if elected governor. (4/28)

Spaceport America Offers Jobs (Source: KOAT)
Spaceport America is looking for local contractors. A group gathered in Albuquerque Monday to learn more about job opportunities at Spaceport America. Officials said they're looking to employ about 475 people to build the project and they want to hire New Mexicans. "There will be road contractors, fencing, electrical contractors -- there will be 14 general contractors on the job site," said construction manager John Roberts. (4/28)

Space Florida Spends Millions for Launchpad to Nowhere (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Space Florida has spent more than $2 million of state taxpayer money during the past six months on the early stages of a $60 million launchpad here that the agency can't find the money to finish and which so far no rocket company is committed to use. Despite intense lobbying and marketing efforts, the state's space-development agency has so far been unable to nail down its business case for the launchpad, which Space Florida promised would "entice a multitude of commercial space companies" to Brevard County, offsetting thousands of expected job losses when the U.S. space shuttle is mothballed next year. Click here to view the article. (4/28)

Space Coast County Considers Tax Incentive for "NewSpace Center" (Source: Florida Today)
The Brevard County Commission will consider a tax abatement package for NewSpace Center, LLC, a New Port Richey corporation that wants to build its research headquarters on 40 acres of Space Coast Regional Airport property off State Road 407 in Titusville, near Kennedy Space Center. County commissioners will consider granting a 10-year tax abatement totaling $1.3 million.

Included in the plans: The NewSpace Pavilion, featuring a replica of a Mars settlement and space-themed displays. Open to the public, this facility would serve as an "interactive development, business, museum and education forum with over 30,000 square feet dedicated to humans living and working in space," according to a project description. Estimated costs are $25 million for construction and $5.5 million for other items. The company projects a $1 million payroll, consisting of 25 workers with average salaries of $40,000. (4/28)

Virgin Galactic vs. XCOR: Who Will Be First? (Source: CSG)
Five years ago, optimism abounded that space tourism would the next big wave of adventure travel. SpaceShipOne’s builder, Scaled Composites, announced a deal with Richard Branson to bring space travel to the masses – or at those with a few hundred thousand dollars to spare. Soon hundreds – and eventually thousands – of people would experience the joys once reserved for professional astronauts. Today, those visions remain distant dreams. Commercial flights could be two years away. Branson’s Virgin Galactic – long the favorite to begin commercial service first – has experienced setbacks and tragedy along the way. And it is beginning to hear the footsteps of a rival company, XCOR.

If Virgin had followed its original plan to use the small, three-seat SpaceShipOne for tourist flights, it would probably have been flying passengers by now. However, the company heeded calls from customers for a larger cabin that would allow them to float around, "virtually weightless", in the same way that tourists do on parabolic airplane flights. Building the eight-seat SpaceShipTwo evidently proved to be more complicated than they thought.

XCOR, Virgin’s Mojave-based rival, is pursuing its much more modest Lynx vehicle, which will carry a pilot and one passenger to an altitude of 61 kilometers (38 miles). This is far below the 110 kilometers (68 miles) that SpaceShipTwo will reach which is close to the formally-designated "edge of space" at 118 kilometers. Passengers aboard Lynx will experience about three minutes of virtual weightlessness, albeit in a small cabin where movement will be restricted. Company officials say they hope to begin test flights in the latter half of next year, although that schedule could slip. Click here to view the article. (4/28)

Editorial: Shuttle's Past Says Time Isn't On Its Side (Source: Florida Today)
When we lost the Columbia astronauts, investigators blamed the accident in part on schedule pressure, saying it drove people to make bad tradeoffs favoring on-time flights over safety. They wrote, "Most of the shuttle program's concern about Columbia's foam strike were not about the threat it might pose to the vehicle in orbit, but about the threat it might pose to the schedule."

Fast forward to 2009. NASA's shuttle program is again working against the clock. I think managers, engineers and front-line shuttle workers learned the agonizing lessons of Columbia and will not repeat those mistakes on purpose. But, the influence of schedule pressure can be subtle. In a business demanding perfection, it's the little unnoticed decisions that can add up to a catastrophe. Subtle pressure is there in the form of the 2010 deadline. Click here to view the editorial. (4/27)

NASA Ames, Langley Win Invention of the Year Awards (Source: Parabolic Arc)
NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., has been named the recipient of the 2008 NASA Government Invention of the Year Award. NASA’s Langley Research Center, Hampton Roads, Va., won the 2008 NASA Commercial Invention of the Year Award. Ames won the award for developing a “High Speed Three-Dimensional Laser Scanner with Real Time Processing.” The scanner is used in a Mold Impression Laser Tool (MLT), a hand-held instrument used to scan space shuttle tiles to detect and measure the amount of any damage. (4/27)

Orbital Sciences Reports Earnings (Source: Orbital)
Orbital Sciences Corp.'s first-quarter 2009 revenues were $295.7 million, a 4% increase compared to $283.5 million in the first quarter of 2008. First quarter 2009 operating income was $11.2 million, compared to $20.0 million in the first quarter of 2008. Net income fell to $9.2 million, compared with $13.0 million a year earlier. "We...saw solid revenue growth in our launch vehicles and satellites and space systems segments. These encouraging results were offset by the operational failure of one of our space launch vehicles and by cost increases on certain programs in our advanced space programs segment.” Revenues increased $12.2 million, or 4%, in the first quarter of 2009 compared to the first quarter of 2008, primarily due to increased contract activity on missile defense and communications satellite programs. (4/27)

Editorial: Obama Should Speed Up Nomination of New NASA Chief (Source: Houston Chronicle)
As President Barack Obama approaches a much ballyhooed hundred days in office tomorrow, a puzzling leadership hole remains at the top of NASA. With crucial decisions looming on the phaseout of the space shuttle and a subsequent lengthy inability by the U.S. to rocket astronauts into orbit, Obama has yet to select a replacement for former NASA administrator Michael Griffin. The lack of presidential action is fueling suspicions by NASA supporters that the new administration is assigning a low priority to future manned exploration of the moon and Mars. (4/28)

Antimatter Scout to Hitch Last Shuttle Ride (Source: Discovery News)
The crowning glory of the International Space Station has nothing to do with preparing humans to live on the moon or finding a cure for Salmonella. It's a particle detector designed to hunt for an antimatter universe. This week, NASA resumes work to shutter the shuttle program at the end of 2010, but it is planning for one extra mission to ferry the 7.5-ton detector, known as the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, to the station in late 2010. Though Congress has authorized the mission, it has not yet allocated the funds (an estimated $300 million) to NASA for the flight.

"I have learned in the 15 years working with space experiments you are only confident once you are on the space station taking data," said Samuel Ting, the Nobel Prize physicist who leads the AMS team. "My main job at this moment is to make sure (in) the final phase of the assembly of the detector, that nothing goes wrong," Ting told Discovery News. (4/28)

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