April 29 News Items

Space Florida Takes Exception to Media Reports (Source: Space Florida)
In response to recent reports by the Orlando Sentinel, Space Florida President Steve Kohler has posted a website statement to the agency's stakeholders that asserts the Sentinel has an "agenda to discredit" the agency. "It is clear that quotes and references to conversations have been truncated or positioned to form negative positioning of all of our efforts...Space Florida is working to continue to advance the achievements that have been made to date. While this type of reporting can be distracting, our staff is aggressively proceeding with the work in front of us." Click here to view the Space Florida statement. (4/29)

Star Trek-Like technology Offers Noninvasive Monitor for Patients and Athletes (Source: NSBRI)
How long will it take to develop Star Trek-like medical technologies? The gap between science fiction and reality is closing faster than many people may think. The Venus prototype is a noninvasive, needle-free system that uses light to measure tissue oxygen and pH. Consisting of a sensor and a wearable monitor, Venus will soon be a real-time alternative to the painful use of needles to draw blood and the cumbersome equipment used to determine metabolic rate. Venus is being developed by the National Space Biomedical Research Institute for use by NASA astronauts. It will also have many applications for health care and athletic training on Earth. (4/29)

NASA Ames Offers Buyouts to Hundreds of Employees (Source: Mountain View Voice)
A source at NASA Ames has emailed the Voice a list of over 400 employees who have been offered buyouts worth up to $25,000 in exchange for leaving their jobs. The news comes after the local branch of the space agency realized it had to make $100 million in cuts to its $793 million budget last year. The source says layoffs have not been proposed yet. If layoffs are proposed, it would probably take at least a year and a half for Ames to get through the federal requirements for doing so.

Starting April 27, the eligible Ames employees can accept the buyout offer, which is equal to each employee's severance pay entitlement, up to $25,000. The eligible positions include biologists, engineers, psychologists and even the director of partnerships. An announcement sent to employees says that those who take a buyout must leave by June 30. (4/29)

Aerojet Completes Initial Vibration and Hot Fire Engine Testing for Orion (Source: Aerojet)
Aerojet successfully completed the first series of vibration and altitude hot fire tests on NASA's Orion crew module's 160 lb. thrust mono-propellant rocket engine. The objective of the test program was to verify engine performance after the thruster was subjected to Orion vibration loads which produced energy levels that were two times higher than those previously qualified. Under contract with Lockheed Martin, NASA's prime contractor for Orion, Aerojet provides propulsion for the crew module as well as all engines aboard the service module. (4/29)

Budget Authorizes $2.5 Billion for NASA Shuttle Fleet (Source: Wall Street Journal)
House and Senate leaders have agreed to authorize $2.5 billion to keep the U.S. space shuttle fleet flying through 2011, if such an extension is necessary to complete currently planned missions to the international space station. Funding to maintain shuttle operations past the current deadline of December 2010 is part of the nonbinding $3.4 trillion budget blueprint passed by the House and Senate on Wednesday. Extra budget authority for the shuttles – which was not requested by the White House or interim leaders of NASA -- is still subject to future House and Senate appropriations bills. But it's the strongest signal yet that lawmakers want to maintain the option of a one-year delay in phasing out the aging shuttle fleet. (4/29)

Dems: Space Florida a Symbol of Gov. Crist's "House of Cards" (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
A Florida Democratic Party spokesman issued a statement criticizing Gov. Charlie Crist for problems dogging the state's aerospace development efforts, including a controversial space tourism deal with the Andrews Institute: "Governor Charlie Crist once again ignored Republican corruption festering in the governor's office, when Crist refused to file an ethics complaint against Brice Harris. In doing so, Crist ignored his own Inspector General who recommended the governor file a complaint against Harris with the Ethics Commission." Click here to view the article. (4/29)

Boeing Completes Review for TDRS Satellite Series K-L (Source: Boeing)
Boeing has successfully completed the system-level Preliminary Design Review (PDR) for its Tracking and Data Relay Satellite system (TDRS) K-L program, an important design milestone as the program moves toward integration of the TDRS K satellite for NASA. The comprehensive five-day review was held in El Segundo in March and attended by NASA project, program and Headquarters officials. (4/29)

Committee Slashes Space Florida Budget in Half (Source: AP)
A legislative committee irked by Space Florida's spending on an out-of-state lobbying firm wants to cut the space economic development agency's budget nearly in half. Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, announced a cut Wednesday of more than $1.8 million in Space Florida's budget during a Wednesday meeting of the Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations conference committee. The panel is negotiating final budget details for fiscal year 2009-10. Fasano said later he was furious that the agency would spend state dollars to lobby.

"I think we should start looking at a proviso that says whatever we give Space Florida cannot be used for hiring lobbyists," Fasano said. "Let them seek other dollars to hire lobbyists." The agency spent nearly $300,000 of its $4 million state allocation last year on lobbyists, including $195,000 to a Pennsylvania firm with ties to Space Florida's president. "What have we gotten back for that $300,000, nothing," Fasano said. "I think the lieutenant governor does a great job advocating on behalf of Space Florida," Gov. Charlie Crist said. "So I can understand the concern that Sen. Fasano would have." Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp is chairman of the Space Florida board.

However, Sen. Thad Altman, R-Viera, was concerned about any space-related cuts. "I would hate for our effort to promote space in Florida be penalized based on that one issue...We must maintain our presence in space and we need an agency to do that." Altman said he would get Space Florida President Steve Kohler with Fasano to try and work out their differences. Altman said the prospect of losing thousands of high-paying jobs in his Senate district because of expected NASA cutbacks is more reason to promote the benefits of the program. "There is no bigger economic issue facing the state of Florida today," he said. "No other issue even comes close." (4/29)

Top NASA Candidate Lyles Takes Name From Hat (Source: Florida Today)
A top candidate for the NASA Administrator job reportedly has taken his name out of consideration because taking the post would cause too much of a financial hardship for his family. Retired Air Force General Lester Lyles, 62, told the Dayton Daily News that Obama Administration officials had indicated he was the top candidate for the job and appealed to his patriotism to try to get him to take the post. (4/29)

House Honors Lunar Images Recovery Project (Source: NASA Watch)
California House of Representatives member Zoe Lofgren led an observance honoring the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project and all those who have contributed their time and effort to ensure that historic images and vital data from the Lunar Orbiter missions of the 1960s are not lost to future generations. In 1965, Charles Byrne, an engineer with Bellcomm, Inc., had the foresight to propose that NASA record data from the Lunar Orbiter missions onto tape recorders. NASA agreed and the images returned from the Lunar Orbiters were backed up on AMPEX FR-900 tape drives.

To date, these images are some of highest resolution images we have of the Moon. Those images include a high-resolution version of “Earthrise,” the first picture of the Earth from the Moon’s vantage point. Time Magazine has called this image “the photo of the century.” The tapes also contain the first stereo imagery of the Moon’s surface. Indeed, these are some of the best images of the Moon ever taken, far superior from those received from the Hubble telescope.

Astonishingly, all of the images stored on the 1,500 14-inch diameter tape reels were nearly destroyed. With its focus turned to the Apollo mission, NASA saw little further use for the tapes. Fortunately, Nancy Evans, co-founder of NASA Planetary Data Systems, convinced her superiors at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to retain the tapes. Evans also salvaged three refrigerator-sized FR-900 tape drives, which she stored in her own garage for two decades. Evans and Mark Nelson, of Caltech, managed to get a few tape drives running but their project ultimately folded. NASA turned down her requests for assistance after placing an estimate of $6 million on the cost to restore the data. (4/29)

NASA May Abandon Plans for Moon Base (Source: New Scientist)
NASA will probably not build an outpost on the moon as originally planned, the agency's acting administrator, Chris Scolese, told lawmakers on Wednesday. His comments also hinted that the agency is open to putting more emphasis on human missions to destinations like Mars or a near-Earth asteroid. NASA has been working towards returning astronauts to the moon by 2020 and building a permanent base there. But some space analysts and advocacy groups like the Planetary Society have urged the agency to cancel plans for a permanent moon base, carry out shorter moon missions instead, and focus on getting astronauts to Mars.

Under Scolese's predecessor, Mike Griffin, the agency held firm to its moon base plans. But the comments by Scolese, who will lead NASA until President Barack Obama nominates the next administrator, suggest a shift in the agency's direction. He spoke to the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies of the House Committee on Appropriations. Scolese was asked repeatedly whether NASA could still make it to the moon by 2020 under the proposed 2010 budget, but failed to give a clear yes or no, and his answers suggested the agency's plans were in flux. (4/29)

Gamma Ray Burst Sets New Cosmic Distance Record (Source: SpaceToday.net)
A gamma-ray burst last week is the most distant object ever observed, astronomers announced Tuesday. The burst, GRB 090423, was detected by NASA's Swift spacecraft and observed in the following hours by several ground-based telescopes, looking for an afterglow in visible or infrared light. Those followup observations determined that the object had a redshift of 8.2, corresponding to a distance of just over 13 billion light-years and making it the most distant object ever observed. The previous record-holder, a GRB observed last September, had a redshift of 6.7, meaning it was 190 million light-years closer than this GRB.

Tickets Available for Shuttle Launch Viewing at Astronaut Hall of Fame (Source: Florida Today)
Launch viewing tickets are available to view the launch of STS-125 space shuttle Atlantis from the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, located just outside of Kennedy Space Center. This historic flight, targeted for May 11 at 2:01 p.m. EDT, marks the fifth and final space shuttle mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope, the most powerful telescope in history that has given mankind the ability to look deep within the universe. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 321-449-4400 and visit www.KennedySpaceCenter.com (4/29)

COTS-D Human Spaceflight to Get at Least $80 Million (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
NASA and the White House have agreed for the first time to release money to the human spaceflight option in its Commercial Orbital Transportation Services, or COTS-D program. Under an agreement hammered out with the White House, NASA will provide the COTS program with $150 million of the $400 million for human exploration given to NASA under President Barack Obama's stimulus plan.

According to industry insiders, about $80 million of the $150 million is specifically for a "crewed launch demo." The rest was broken down into $42 million for a docking system to the space station, $20 million for a cargo transportation demo and $8 million for miscellaneous aspects of the COTS program, including human rating. The remaining $250 million of the stimulus money for human exploration will go to the Constellation program.

While acting NASA administrator Chris Scolese told Congress today that the $80 million for a "crewed launch demo" is not technically COTS D -- the human transportation part of the COTS program -- COTS D advocates are hailing it as a victory. One industry insider pushing for the program said while $80 million is a far cry from what's needed, "I consider getting COTS-D started a major victory." (4/29)

NASA Shuttle Retirement Postponed ... Maybe (Source: Washinton Post)
NASA's Congressional supporters appear to have bought some time in their efforts to ease the Space Shuttle program's hard retirement date, as the House and Senate conference agreement on the budget resolution reached this week would fund Shuttle missions beyond September 2010. The storied Space Shuttle program is set to end at that time. There is wide concern that a hard end date could jeopardize the safety of the eight remaining Shuttle missions and the thousands of government and private-sector jobs tied to NASA. Without FY 2011 funding, NASA would be unable to continue any missions that did not launch in time. Missions regularly miss their scheduled launch dates. This week's agreement matches President Obama's FY-2010 budget requests for NASA and then forecasts spending $2.5 billion more in FY 2011, which would allow the agency to fly any of the remaining shuttle missions beyond the current deadline. (4/29)

President Medvedev Signs Amended Bill on Lease of Baikonur Spaceport (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ratified a Protocol signed by Russia and Kazakhstan that amends a previous bill on lease of Baikonur. The Protocol specified the legal status of Baikonur personnel and their families and guaranteed state protection of human rights and liberties to Russian citizens and their right to state defense and support away from Russia. Russian citizens on staff of Baikonur, workers of law enforcement bodies and bodies of power of the Russian Federation deployed in Baikonur and their families are under Russian jurisdiction in cases of illegal activities against the Russian Federation and its citizens, servicemen’s crimes and other offences committed beyond the Baikonur territory; all other offences fall under Kazakh jurisdiction. (4/28)

Space Florida Launch Pad Fails to Win Federal Funding (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
All three of Florida's top space advocates in Washington — Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican Sen. Mel Martinez, both of Orlando, and Democratic Rep. Suzanne Kosmas of New Smyrna Beach — recently turned down Space Florida's request for $5 million in federal money to help build its launch pad at Cape Canaveral. The decision is a setback to the $60 million project which is supposed to "entice a multitude of commercial space companies" to Brevard County.

Space Florida spokeswoman Tina Lange said the agency has not given up on Congress yet. "At the federal level, it is still very early in the appropriations process for this fiscal year," she said. "Space Florida remains in discussion with Senate offices." She added that the agency is also "aggressively" pursuing private funding sources. "We are confident that we will secure such funding at a time when a customer is publicly announced." (4/29)

X-37 to Land in Vandenberg After Canaveral Launch (Source: CSA)
The first flight of the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) is scheduled to land at Vandenberg Air Force Base in 2009. Prior to the landing, the OTV will be launched atop an Atlas-5 rocket from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport in Florida. The X-37 program began in 1999 at NASA. Boeing is the prime contractor and the winged spaceplane vehicle was built in California at Boeing's Phantom Works. (4/29)

Progress Continues on California Space Center (Source: CSA)
The California Space Center (CSC) continues to progress in its design and planning. The CSC site encompasses about 70 acres in Santa Barbara County on Vandenberg Air Force Base property. It would be developed under a 50-year Enhanced Use Lease to the California Space Authority. The public attraction will serve as a visitor complex for the spaceport, including elements to highlight Vandenberg and the state's involvement in space missions. (4/29)

Space Florida Finds Way to Fly Lobbying Deal 'Under Radar' (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Records obtained by the Orlando Sentinel show that Space Florida paid nearly $300,000 last year for lobbyists in Tallahassee and Washington. One contract paid $195,000 to a Pennsylvania-based law firm called Blank Rome with close personal ties to Space Florida's president, Steve Kohler, and was awarded without competitive bids. The money was paid in an unusual way — in two installments, apparently to get around a requirement that Space Florida's board of directors approve any contract of $100,000 or more. The move was so blatant that an executive in an agency under Gov. Charlie Crist worried it was a "potential misuse of funds." (4/29)

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)

General Dynamics Reports Growth in First Quarter 2009 (Source: General Dynamics)
General Dynamics reported first-quarter 2009 earnings from continuing operations of $593 million, compared with 2008 first-quarter earnings from continuing operations of $573 million. Revenues grew to $8.3 billion in the quarter, an 18 percent increase over first-quarter 2008 revenues of $7 billion. Net earnings for the first quarter of 2009 were $590 million, compared to $572 million in the first quarter of 2008. (4/28)

Pentagon May Reach Satellite Analysis Goal Early (Source: Reuters)
The U.S. military may reach its goal of doing collision analysis on 800 maneuverable satellites before October, and is examining the possibility of tracking 500 more satellites that cannot be maneuvered, a top Air Force general said. Lieutenant General Larry James, who heads U.S. Strategic Command's Joint Functional Component Command for Space, said the Air Force was working to respond to an increasingly complex and congested space environment, but many challenges remained.

He said the Air Force was adding dozens of analysts and more computer processors to better track satellites and space junk after a dead Russian military communications satellite and a commercial U.S. satellite owned by Iridium crashed in space on February 10. The collision, which was not predicted by the U.S. military or private tracking groups, had a big impact on future U.S. military planning "by tangibly demonstrating the vulnerability of our space assets," James told legislators. He said the Air Force did not track Iridium satellites before the collision, but began less than five hours after the collision, and now screens over 330 objects daily. (4/28)

Space "Junk" Could Endanger Hubble Mission (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
An expanding ring of space junk threatens to turn NASA's next space shuttle mission into one of the riskiest assignments ever for an astronaut crew. NASA officials estimate there is a 1-in-221 chance that the shuttle Atlantis would be destroyed by debris or meteorites during next month's repair mission to the Hubble Space Telescope -- greater than the 1-in-300 risk during typical shuttle missions to the space station. The reason is that the Hubble orbits Earth at about 360 miles, far higher than the station's roughly 200-mile orbit. This puts Hubble, and its repair crew, closer to the heart of the debris cloud that circles the Earth at 500 to 600 miles up. (4/28)

Budget Could Extend Shuttle Deadline (Source: Florida Today)
Congressional budget planners have agreed to funding that might allow NASA to fly out remaining space shuttle flights after the current 2010 deadline. The extra $2.5 billion needed in the 2011 fiscal year wouldn't be appropriated until next year. But Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, whose district includes Kennedy Space Center, said plans for the funding effectively eliminated an "arbitrary" retirement deadline and would benefit Kennedy Space Center workers facing layoffs next year. (4/28)

Experts Urge US to Sshare Data on Satellite Orbits (Source: New Scientist)
The US government's reluctance thus far to release precise data about the satellites it is tracking is hampering efforts to prevent collisions in space, a satellite industry executive told a congressional committee on Tuesday. The US tracks and predicts the orbits of the world's satellites and thousands of bits of space junk as small as 10 centimetres across, using radar and telescopes on the ground. But it closely guards its most precise data, and routinely releases only lower-precision data to satellite companies and other countries. (4/28)

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