December 14 News Items

Chairman Gordon Announces His Plans to Retire at the End of the 111th Congress (Source: U.S. House)
House Committee on Science and Technology Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) announced that he would not be seeking reelection in 2010. Chairman Gordon has completed more than a quarter-century of public service as a representative of his home state of Tennessee. He first served on the Science and Technology Committee when he arrived in Congress in 1985. Gordon served in leadership roles on several Subcommittees before becoming Ranking Member in 2004 and then Chairman in 2007. (12/14)

Proton Launches Russian Navigation Satellites (Source:
Flying for the 350th time, a Proton rocket launched three new GLONASS satellites for Russia's space navigation network Monday to ensure the system continues providing coverage of its home territory. Roscosmos head Anatoly Perminov had pledged that six satellites for the Glonass satellite system would be launched by the end of 2009. However, Monday's launch will be the last in 2009, with the launch of three other satellites delayed until February 2010. (12/14)

Aspiring Astronauts Run 'Space Camp on Steroids' in Florida (Source: St. Petersburg Times)
A Czech-made fighter jet spins above the Gulf of Mexico. Passengers inside another aircraft start to float, feeling like astronauts, as their plane soars up and dips down. As jobs go, it's not bad. Since May, entrepreneurs Howard Chipman and Veronique Balsa Koken have been carving out an interesting little niche in the Tampa Bay tourism industry by offering what they call "astronaut training," based at the St. Petersburg Clearwater International Airport. Chipman, a physician with a clinic in Oldsmar, and his fiance, Koken, provide flight training in the fighter jet. And they offer simulated weightless flights in the other aircraft, a Rockwell 700 Commander. Ultimately, they hope their company, Aurora Aerospace, could become involved in privately financed space flights, a dreamy sounding concept that many experts believe is already on the launch pad. While zero-G simulators have been around for years, commercial space travel is still far away from reaching the general public. Dozens of small companies are devising ways to launch into space, build housing and live there, but costs for travel remain extreme, said John Olivero, chairman of the physical sciences department a Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. (12/14)

US Inquiry Into Sale of Virgin Galactic Stake to Arab Investor (Source: London Times)
The United States has launched a national security investigation into the proposed sale of a stake in Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic space company to Arab investors. The Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States (CFIUS) is understood to have begun a review of Sir Richard’s sale of a 32% stake in Galactic to Aabar Investments for $280 million. The move has caused alarm in banking circles in Abu Dhabi and could raise tensions between the US and the Gulf.

Bank insiders told The Times that there was a growing concern locally that the deal could be amended or even blocked because Aabar, Sir Richard’s proposed partner, is ultimately controlled by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, a member of the Abu Dhabi ruling family. CFIUS, part of the US Treasury Department, reviews all acquisitions by foreigners in companies deemed important to national security. The committee, chaired by the Secretary of Treasury, includes representatives of Government departments including Defence and Homeland Security. (12/14)

Congressional Debate on NASA Could Linger Through 2010 (Source: Florida Today)
In Florida, which will endure the biggest impact of space shuttle retirement, it might seem like folks in Washington are taking too long to decide NASA's future. At the White House and in Congress, however, space exploration is far lower on the priority list for most elected officials than the economic recovery at home, the war against terrorists overseas and the possible overhaul of the health care insurance system. It's becoming more likely that President Obama's plan for adjusting NASA's course will be included in the broader national budget release sometime in February. Setting impatience aside, that could be a good thing, politically. Seen in the broader perspective of a voluminous nationwide budget, a few extra billion dollars a year for NASA might not stick out as much as it would if announced independently. (12/14)

Editorial: Stage Now Set for Grand Human Space Flight Plan (Source: Houston Chronicle)
The Augustine Panel report is truly exciting and inspiring. But that is hard to tell from its title, its text, or listening to the folks presenting it. It is dry, technical, and full of caveats. Nor would you know it from the media coverage — which is mostly about the negatives of NASA not having enough money. But the panel said, in essence, that America should now engage the other spacefaring nations in a collaborative program to lead humankind from this planet to the only other world we can reach that is capable of sustaining life: Mars. We should do this on a flexible path, matching the expenditure of resources with the technical progress in rocket development, life support and crew safety, and robotic exploration—-not just by the United States but with those who want to make it an international effort of planet Earth.

It is now up to our political leadership to seize and implement the recommendations. The panel recommended heavy-lift launch vehicle development with Mars as its goal. It recommended that NASA de-emphasize its focus on reaching low Earth orbit, letting the private sector do that routine; until it succeeds, we always have international partners to do the mundane missions while our new rocket goes beyond. The committee recommended using our new rocket and crew vehicle to go into interplanetary space with steps away from Earth toward Mars. It recommended giving the International Space Station new purpose and new life as an international way station preparing humans for long-duration interplanetary travel. And It recommended that the government provide adequate support and adequate authority to allow NASA to truly and efficiently meet the challenges in space “worthy of a great nation.” We might rephrase that based on the new understanding of the importance of international cooperation and using space benefits to protect Earth as, “worthy of a great planet.” (12/14)

Delta-2 Launches Space Telescope for NASA (Source:
A Delta-2 rocket launched from California delivered NASA's WISE telescope into space where it will map the Universe and uncover millions of new objects never seen before. This was the 92nd consecutive successful Delta 2 rocket launch dating back to May 1997. The Delta 2's overall history since debuting in 1989 has achieved 145 successes in 147 flights. Four more Delta-2 rockets are on the manifest over the next two years, including NASA's Aquarius oceanography spacecraft and the Italian COSMO 4 radar imaging satellite, both slated to fly in 2010 from Vandenberg. The NPOESS Preparatory Project weather satellite and NASA's GRAIL mission to the moon will follow in 2011 from Vandenberg and Cape Canaveral, respectively. ULA also has five additional Delta-2 vehicles it hopes to use for additional launches in the future. (12/14)

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