December 11 News Items

Legislation Ends NPOESS Cost-Sharing Arrangement (Source: Space News)
Congress is on the verge of sending the White House an omnibus spending bill that provides no additional funding for the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) and eliminates a cost-sharing agreement between the Air Force and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for the troubled weather satellite program. The NPOESS provisions are included in the 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act (HR 3288) that passed the House of Representatives Dec. 10 and as of press time was awaiting a vote in the Senate. The $447 billion spending measure combines six separate bills, including a Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations act that funds NOAA for 2010. (12/11)

Russia Withholding Plutonium NASA Needs for Deep Space Exploration (Source: Space News)
Russia has reneged on an agreement to deliver a total of 10 kilograms of plutonium-238 to the United States in 2010 and 2011 and is insisting on a new deal for the costly material vital to NASA’s deep space exploration plans. The move follows the U.S. Congress’ denial of President Barack Obama’s request for $30 million in 2010 to permit the Department of Energy to begin the painstaking process of restarting domestic production of plutonium-238. Bringing U.S. nuclear laboratories back on line to produce the isotope is expected to cost at least $150 million and take six years to seven years from the time funding is approved.

U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a House Appropriations Committee member whose district is home to NASA’s planetary science-focused Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said Russia’s decision to withhold the promised plutonium is “certainly a concern” considering that the United States now will not be spending any money before 2011 to restart its own production. “Certainly, among other things, it would have helped our negotiating posture had funding been included and Russia could see that we were determined to move forward on our own,” Schiff said.

NASA for decades has relied on plutonium-238 to fuel long-lasting spacecraft batteries known as radioisotope power systems that transform heat from the decaying plutonium into electricity. The Pluto-bound New Horizons probe was launched in 2006 with 11 kilograms of the material onboard, and the Mars Science Laboratory rover will carry 3.5 kilograms when it launches in late 2011. The United States stopped producing plutonium-238 in the late 1980s. While U.S. nuclear laboratories remain able to process and package the material for use in radioisotope power systems, the Department of Energy has been meeting NASA’s demand from a dwindling stockpile supplemented by periodic purchases from Russia’s shrinking supply. (12/11)

Indian Scientists Detect Signs of Life on Moon (Source: DNA India)
Scientists at the Indian Space Research Organization (Isro) are on the brink of a path-breaking discovery. They may have found signs of life in some form or the other on the Moon. They believe so because scientific instruments on India's first unmanned lunar mission, Chandrayaan-1, picked up signatures of organic matter on parts of the Moon's surface, Surendra Pal, associate director, Isro Satellite Center (Isac), said. Organic matter consists of organic compounds, which consists of carbon -- the building block of life. It indicates the formation of life or decay of a once-living matter.

Pal, however, did not elaborate, but concluded saying "the findings are being analysed and scrutinised for validation by Isro scientists and peer reviewers". "It is too early to say anything," said the director of Isro's space physics laboratory R Sridharan, who is heading the team of MIP data analysis and study. He, however, did not deny the finding. (12/11)

Dec. 14 Marks 37 Years Since Humans Roamed the Moon (Source: SPACErePORT)
Thirty-seven years ago on Dec. 14, 1972, two Apollo 17 astronauts lifted off from the surface of the moon to rendezvous with their colleague in lunar orbit and return safely to Earth. Apollo 17 was last Apollo moon mission and Dec. 14 was the last time anyone stepped foot on the moon. Thirty-seven years later, far fewer than half of the world's current population were alive when Gene Cernan, Ronald Evans, and Harrison Schmitt left lunar orbit. Cernan likes to say that he wasn't the last person on the moon, he was just the most recent. (12/11)

Sally Ride on Her Mission to Inspire Future Scientists (Source: BBC)
America's first woman in space has set her sights on a new frontier - making science cool for kids. Dr Sally Ride's particular focus is to get more girls to stick with science and pursue it as a career. The National Science Foundation said women represent 46% of the workforce but only hold 25% of the jobs in science, engineering and technology. "I want to right this wrong and have made this the focus of my life at this stage," Dr Ride said. "Females are 50% of the population and we cannot afford not to tap into that group of people to the fullest extent possible. "In this country we don't put the priority on math and science education and it's incredible because our society depends on it so much. We are not raising the next generation of scientists and engineers," said Dr Ride. (12/11)

Another 'UFO' From Russia (Source: MSNBC)
Just a day after a Russian rocket launch set off a spate of UFO sightings in Norway, yet another missile test created a similar sky show over Siberia. Like Wednesday's launch of the submarine-based Bulava missile from the White Sea, Thursday's launch of the land-based Topol ballistic missile from the Kapustin Yar missile range on the lower Volga River sparked plenty of sightings. The rocket plume created a spiral pattern in the sky, though the pattern wasn't as striking as the one seen over Norway earlier in the week. "The difference in sunlight conditions from pre-dawn northern Norway may account for much of the visual differences," Oberg said. (12/11)

New Mexico Space Flights Could Happen by 2011 (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
As Virgin Galactic unveiled its high-tech spaceliner this week in California, one question surely cropped up in the minds of New Mexicans: How long before the vehicle launches from Spaceport America? That depends on a few factors, said Steve Landeene, executive director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority. The first is length of time it takes to wrap up development and testing of the vehicle, called SpaceShipTwo. That could take about 18 months, he said. "We're looking at 2011 as a potential time line," said Landeene, who witnessed the event in Mojave, Calif. However, Landeene said, in addition to ensuring the vehicle is safe and ready for routine flights, Virgin Galactic also must obtain a license from the Federal Aviation Administration. So how quickly that agency signs off on the vehicle is a variable. (12/11)

Alliant Techsystems to Cut 800 Jobs (Source: Deseret News)
Tough times continue for Alliant Techsystems as the defense contractor and aerospace company announced on Thursday that 800 jobs would be cut from its Utah work force early next year. It is second round of layoffs announced by the company this year. In October, about 550 workers — approximately 12 percent of the company's then-4,500-person Utah work force — were let go. The most recent announced cuts will lower that amount even further, to approximately 3,100 employees. Minnesota-based ATK blames the layoffs on the "ramping down" of NASA's space shuttle and the Air Force Minuteman III programs. The company estimates that it will lay off approximately 500 employees in February, with a second round of 300 cuts scheduled for May. (12/11)

Congress, Obama Face Off on NASA (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Congress and the White House have signaled that they envision sharply different futures for NASA and its manned space mission. NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said President Barack Obama wants the agency to embrace "more international cooperation" after the space-shuttle era ends in 2010 and hinted that its Constellation moon-rocket program could see major changes. "We are going to be fighting and fussing over the coming year," Bolden said Wednesday. "Some of you are not going to like me because we are not going to do the same kind of things we've always done."

But hours earlier, congressional appropriators reached a different conclusion, approving language declaring that any change to Constellation must first get the approval of Congress. That language, inserted by Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., should pass this month as part of a nearly $450 billion omnibus appropriations bill. It would require NASA to spend nearly $4 billion on the program this fiscal year, effectively tying Obama's hands as he attempts to forge a new NASA policy that is likely to cancel Constellation's Ares I rocket. According to industry sources, U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., also signed off on the language, at the urging of U.S. Reps. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., and Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz. Mollohan heads the appropriations subcommittee that handles NASA, while Gordon and Giffords have oversight responsibility for the agency. (12/11)

AIA to Congress: NASA Budget Woes Promote Aerospace Brain Drain (Source: Florida Today)
Continuing uncertainty over the future of NASA is hurting recruitment for both jobs and STEM education programs, industry experts told the House Science and Technology Committee on Thursday. "One of the reasons for a lack of interest in aerospace and defense could be the uncertainty of NASA programs," said Marion Blakey, president and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association. "A commitment to a robust human spaceflight program will help attract students and hold workers." Blakey and others warned that the U.S. has fallen behind Europe and China in science and engineering doctorates, and many U.S. doctoral students are foreigners who return home after earning their degrees. (12/11)

WISE Launch From California Rescheduled for Monday (Source: NASA)
The launch of NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, spacecraft aboard a Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California has been rescheduled for Monday, Dec. 14. The launch window extends from 9:09 to 9:23 a.m. EST. The first launch attempt scheduled for Dec. 11 was delayed because of a problem with the motion of a booster steering engine. (12/11)

First Eight Galileo Spacecraft Go to Germany’s OHB Technology (Source: Space News)
The European Commission has selected OHB Technology of Germany to build at least eight Galileo navigation and positioning satellites for about 350 million euros ($525 million) in a decision that postpones any award to competitor Astrium Satellites pending further negotiations with Astrium, industry officials said. (12/4)

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