December 30 News Items

Editorial: Space Station's Mission Up In Air (Source: St. Petersburg Times)
NASA has some decisions to make. After a quarter-century of work and nearly $100 billion, the International Space Station is almost completed. But that is a bittersweet milestone since, just as the space station becomes fully functional, the United States is set to retire its space shuttle fleet and reassess NASA's mission. The Obama administration, Congress and the space agency need a plan for maximizing this asset, which contributes to both science and global security.

So far, America and the 14 international partners in the space station have spent most of their time building the orbiting lab. Once construction ends next year, the focus turns to research. But 2010 is also the date that the United States has set to retire its shuttle fleet, a workhorse for the space station. And NASA has no money budgeted for the station beyond 2015. Without a change in course, NASA will have just a five-year window for research at the space station after spending at least $49 billion in direct costs for the project since 1994. Walking away would be a waste of money and a loss for research and diplomacy.

The administration and NASA need to develop an action plan for the station, and Congress needs to show its support. Given the long lag time that research requires, especially to develop technology for the marketplace, the private sector will need to see a strong commitment by NASA and Congress before it steps up as a major partner in the station. Florida has much at stake, too, with the planned retirement of the shuttle. The station needs a clear, strong mission now that its astronauts can devote their time to research. (12/30)

Obama Set to Launch Vision for NASA (Source: USA Today)
President Obama will chart a course for NASA within weeks, based on the advice of a handful of key advisers in the administration and Congress.
Obama, who met Dec. 16 with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, hasn't said when or how he'll announce his new policy. The announcement likely will come by the time the president releases his fiscal 2011 budget in early February, because he must decide how much money the space agency should get.

In determining NASA's future policy, Obama must decide whether to increase the agency's budget to pay for goals such as sending astronauts to the moon or Mars in missions that could be decades away. The Augustine Panel urged Obama to increase the agency's budget by $3 billion a year — above the nearly $19 billion per year it receives now — to finance circumnavigating the moon and Mars, landing on one of Mars' moons, and landing on or docking with an asteroid during the next 15 years. The question is whether Obama will embrace one of those options or any of the others the committee suggested. (12/30)

Lost Couple Can't Blame GPS, Air Force Says (Source:
The U.S. Air Force wants to set the record straight: Neither aging GPS satellites nor a weak GPS signal were responsible for an elderly couple getting stranded in the woods for several days after following directions in their GPS-enabled SUV. On Christmas day, John Rhoads, 65, and his wife, Starry Bush-Rhoads, 67, drove their vehicle down a remote road in eastern Oregon, where it became stuck in 1-1/2 feet of snow. The couple was stranded for three days before authorities located them using a faint signal emitted by the couple's GPS-enabled phone.

Some news reports of the couple's adventure were accompanied by headlines such as "GPS Strands Couple and Then Saves Them: Aging Satellites?" On Tuesday, the Air Force Space Command (AFSPC), which operates the suite of satellites that make up the GPS system, used Twitter to clear up the misconception. AFSPC said: "While we do not want to speculate on what caused the couple to get stuck in the snow; the cause was not due to the GPS signal." (12/30)

Washington University a Finalist for NASA Space Mission (Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
A Washington University-led project is among three proposals selected by NASA to be candidates for the agency’s next space venture in our solar system. That project, led by Bradley Jolliff, a research associate professor of earth and planetary sciences, would place a robotic lander in a basin near the moon’s south pole and return two pounds of lunar rocks for study. Scientists hope the material would provide new insight into the early history of the Earth-moon system. (12/30)

Russia Weighs In on Asteroid Worries (Source: MSNBC)
Russia’s space chief said Wednesday that a spacecraft may be dispatched to shift an asteroid's course and reduce the chances of Earth impact, even though U.S. experts say such a scenario is unlikely. Anatoly Perminov, the head of Russia's Federal Space Agency, said officials would hold a meeting soon to assess a mission to the asteroid Apophis. He said his agency might eventually invite NASA, the European Space Agency, the Chinese space agency and others to join the project.

Studies have ruled out the possibility of an impact in 2029, when the asteroid is expected to come no closer than 18,300 miles (29,450 kilometers) from Earth’s surface, but they indicated a small possibility of a hit on subsequent encounters. Researchers currently put the chances that Apophis could hit Earth in 2036 at 1 in 233,000, and NASA says another close encounter in 2068 involves a 1-in-330,000 chance of impact. (12/30)

China Building Large Radio Telescope for Space Observation (Source: Xinhua)
Construction of a 65-meter-diameter radio telescope started Tuesday in Shanghai, an official from one of funders said. The telescope, a form of directional radio antenna used in radio astronomy, will be used in tracking and collecting data from satellites and space probes including Chinese astronomical projects like Chang'e lunar probe, YH-1 Mars exploration and other deep space explorations, said a deputy dean of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

The facility is also capable of receiving data for Jupiter and Saturn exploration, said Hong Xiaoyu, head of Shanghai Astronomical Observation, which will run the project after it is expected to be fully completed in 2015. The $29.3 million project, funded by CAS, Shanghai Municipal Government and Chinese lunar probe project, will have a bowl-like surface composed by 1,008 panels as large as eight basketball courts in total area. (12/30)

University of Colorado a Finalist for NASA Space Mission (Source: Boulder County Business Report)
The University of Colorado at Boulder received $3.3 million from NASA for a one-year concept study to explore the feasibility of landing a spacecraft on Venus. The CU study will focus primarily on Venus' surface, climate and atmosphere in order to better compare the planet with Earth, Mars and Mercury. The university will provide science leadership, data archiving, education and public outreach for the mission.

"It has been 25 years since a spacecraft last landed on Venus, and our curiosity and scientific capabilities have increased dramatically," said Larry Esposito, a CU professor and the team leader on the study. "This mission will be a big step forward in understanding planetary evolution both in our own solar system and in planetary systems around other stars." As part of the mission, the spacecraft would land on the edge of an active volcano, dig into the surface and collect data on the surface composition and texture. (12/30)

University of Arizona a Finalist for NASA Space Mission (Source: Arizona Daily Star)
The University of Arizona is a finalist for a NASA-funded space mission that would send a spacecraft to an asteroid. The project is one of three finalists for the third installment of NASA’s New Frontiers program. The spacecraft would be called the Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer, or Osiris-Rex. It would rendezvous and orbit a primitive asteroid, take measurements and collect surface samples, according to a NASA press release.

“The returned samples would help scientists better understand and answer long-held questions about the formation of our solar system and the origin of complex molecules necessary for life,” according to the press release. The winning project will be announced in 2011. The UA team will get $3.3 million to complete a detailed mission concept study in the coming year. The study has to include implementation feasibility, cost, management and technical plans, plans for educational outreach and small business opportunities. If the UA is selected, funding could be up to $650 million. (12/30)

No comments: