May 25 News Items

Florida Tech and Embry-Riddle Among Top Five in NASA Rocketry Competition (Source: SPACErePORT)
Out of a field of 21 teams competing in this year's NASA Student Launch Initiative, the Florida Institute of Technology and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University took third and fourth place, respectively. Both were rookie teams in the competition. Utah State University and the University of Alabama in Huntsville won first and second place, and both were previous winners of the competition. Click here for information on the competition. (5/25)

Health Scare of the Week: The Threat of Martian Microbes (Source: The Week)
It sounds like the plot of a science fiction film, but it could possibly come true: If NASA brings Martian dirt samples back to Earth, says a new report by the National Research Council, they could contain previously unseen bacteria or viruses that spread like wildfire, endangering the planet. Both NASA and the European Space Agency have discussed missions that would bring soil samples back for more detailed testing. The report warns, though, that any Martian soil must be strictly quarantined to prevent the possible spread of alien microbes.

“Given that this is a very high-stakes game where we’re talking about a potentially global problem, we have to be inherently conservative,” report chairman Jack Farmer tells New Scientist. “I think the bottom line here is containment, containment, containment.” A proper isolation facility could take a decade to build, says the committee, so NASA should begin designing it now. (5/25)

Canadian Team Predicts Impact of Aurora Borealis (Source: CTV)
The brilliant, haunting phenomenon known as the Northern Lights can also be a potentially deadly source of energy in outer space -- but Canadian researchers have now found a way to help protect astronauts and equipment from the fallout of aurora borealis. Canadian researchers can now pinpoint the eye of such storms -- often hundreds of thousands of kilometers above Earth -- and warn when the powerful wave of energy is coming. Working in partnership with NASA, the team uses five monitoring satellites and a number of ground-monitoring stations in Canada's north to detect magnetic disturbances in space. (5/25)

Is the Constellation the Next Step for the Space Coast? (Source: Miami Herald)
Driving next year's retirement of the shuttle fleet is NASA'S desire to shift billions of dollars from the shuttle program to a next-generation human spaceflight program called Constellation. The aim of the new program is to return astronauts to the space station by 2015 and to the Moon by 2020. Constellation's components include a crew capsule called Orion, a crew-launch rocket named Ares I, a heavy-lift cargo launch rocket named Ares V and a lunar landing vehicle called Altair. The capsule and rocket designs are derived from both the Apollo and shuttle programs.

But serious questions have already been raised about the safety and performance of Ares I, including severe shaking at launch that some fear could cause it to drift into the launch tower. There also are questions about budgets and cost overruns in the Constellation program. Billions of dollars have already been spent. This year, for the first time, Constellation's budget ($3.03 billion) exceeded that of the space shuttle ($2.98 billion). While shuttle funding is slowing to a trickle after 2010 as its orbiters and other parts of the program are mothballed, by the time the shuttle budget reaches zero in 2013, projections call for a $5.4 billion annual Constellation budget. Click here to view the article. (5/25)

SES Paints Rival Intelsat as Too Debt-Laden To Compete (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator SES is rethinking its strategy with respect to its biggest rival, Intelsat, in light of Intelsat's recently demonstrated ability to maintain a global presence despite its huge debt load and its owners' ultimate goal of cashing out of the business. SES officials reiterated their view that, over time, SES's stable investor base and moderate debt load will enable it to outlast Intelsat in regions that, while profitable, would exhaust Intelsat's capital expenditure limits. SES Chief Romain Bausch said the eventual disposition of Intelsat assets as its current private-equity owners seek an exit will be more important than the current global economic crisis in shaping the commercial satellite telecommunications landscape in the coming years. (5/25)

A One-way Ticket to Mars (Source: Astrobiology Magazine)
A one-way mission to Mars? Who could possibly volunteer for such a thing? Isn’t this a suicide mission? Well, the answer is: no, this is not a suicide mission. Going to Mars on a return journey obviously involves a high level of risk. It shortens your life expectancy. Where does the risk arise? Well, as we know from the two Shuttle disasters, takeoff and landing are the most vulnerable times. By eliminating half of these (laughter), you would extend your life expectancy. Radiation in space is also a serious factor for a Mars mission, and during the journey there and back you’d be exposed twice, for many months each time, to cosmic rays in space. The zero G during the journey is also bad news. Again, by cutting out half, your life expectancy increases.

A lot of people think: if you don’t come back, you cut the costs in half. But actually you save very much more than that. By sending supplies and material ahead and using as much as you can on the surface of Mars, you would cut much more than 50% of the expenditures. It’s hard to know how much but I would reckon at least 80% could be cut. As Bob Zubrin has pointed out, Mars is the second-safest place in the solar system. And so it’s the one place humans can go where we could actually make a living, because it’s possible to use material on the martian surface, and crucially, Mars has water and carbon dioxide. Click here to view the article. (5/25)

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