January 11, 2010

Mysterious Death of First Man in Space Solved? (Source: ABC News)
A study by Russian investigators claims to have pinpointed the circumstances around the mysterious 1968 death of Yuri Gagarin, the first man to go into space. The investigation concludes that the first Soviet cosmonaut was flying a Mig-15 fighter jet on a training mission in 1968 when he realized an air vent was open in the cockpit which was supposed to be hermetically sealed. Gagarin quickly put the plane into a dive, plunging the plane from 13,000 feet to 6,500 feet as he had been instructed to do. Plummeting towards the earth, Gagarin and his trainer blacked out and crashed into the forest below. (1/11)

Ex-NASA Official Stadd Charged (Again) in Mississippi (Source: AP)
A former high-ranking NASA official pleaded not guilty Monday to nine federal charges accusing him of steering a $600,000 contract to Mississippi State University, a client of his consulting firm. Courtney A. Stadd had already been convicted of steering a different contract for almost $10 million to the university. Stadd was sentenced in November to three years probation. Stadd, 55, was NASA's chief of staff and White House liaison from 2001 to 2003. U.S. Attorney Don Burkhalter said Monday that Stadd faces up to 55 years in prison if convicted of the nine new charges, which include conspiracy, false statements, false claims, obstructing a grand jury and fraud. The contract was for a remote sensing study awarded by NASA's Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, Miss. (1/11)

Pulsar Bursts Move 'Faster Than Light' (Source: Physics World)
Every physicist is taught that information cannot be transmitted faster than the speed of light. Yet laboratory experiments done over the last 30 years clearly show that some things appear to break this speed limit without upturning Einstein's special theory of relativity. Now, astrophysicists in the US have seen such superluminal speeds in space – which could help us to gain a better understanding of the composition of the regions between stars. Superluminal speeds are associated with a phenomenon known as anomalous dispersion, whereby the refractive index of a medium (such as an atomic gas) increases with the wavelength of transmitted light. When a light pulse – which is comprised of a group of light waves at a number of different wavelengths – passes through such a medium, its group velocity can be boosted to beyond the velocity of its constituent waves.

However, the energy of the pulse still travels at the speed of light, which means that information is transferred in agreement with Einstein's theory. Now, astrophysicists claim to have witnessed this phenomenon in radio pulses that have travelled from a distant pulsar. The discovery has been made at the University of Texas at Brownsville, where Frederick Jenet and colleagues have been monitoring a pulsar – a rapidly spinning neutron star – more than 10,000 light years away. (1/11)

NASA Moves Forward with Mars Exploration Plan (Source: CNN)
NASA has big plans for its Mars Exploration Program. As it decides the future of one of the two rovers exploring the planet, the agency is looking to the launch of the newest generation of robotic explorer next year. In addition, NASA tells CNN Radio that the agency is close to a deal to merge its Mars program with that of the European Space Agency, a big step toward manned missions. NASA is preparing for the launch of its newest robotic space exploration vehicle, the Mars Science Laboratory, late next year. It weighs roughly one metric ton and is about the size of a small automobile. (1/11)

North Florida Airport Becomes FAA-Licensed Spaceport (Source: Discovery)
Move over Cape Canaveral. There's a new player in town able to launch people into space. Jacksonville, Florida's Cecil Field became the country's eighth commercial spaceport on Monday, after a four-year effort to win an operator's license from the Federal Aviation Administration. The license means Jacksonville can start selling itself as a launching spot for space vehicles that take off and land horizontally, like airplanes. Potential customers include Virgin Galactic, which last month unveiled the first of six planned commercial spaceships designed to ferry passengers beyond Earth's atmosphere. The company is selling seats for the suborbital venture for $200,000.

For now, Jacksonville is the only spaceport on the east coast licensed to fly these types of spaceships, but Kennedy Space Center is looking at commercial uses of the shuttle's landing runway, which won't be needed for NASA's use much longer. Just five shuttle missions remain before the fleet is retired and the agency's next-generation of spaceships are capsules that will parachute into the ocean instead of gliding down a runway. Spaceport operators at Cecil don't plan to limit themselves to suborbital operations either. "We'll be researching and working with orbital launches staged from the air," Jacksonville's Todd Lindner tells us. (1/11)

The Future of American Human Space Exploration and the "Critical Path" (Source: Space Review)
While the future of NASA's human spaceflight program is currently uncertain, some aspects of future policy appear inevitable. Roger Handberg argues one likely change is how the US works with international partners. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1543/1 to view the article. (1/11)

Big Black and the New Bird: the NRO and the Early Space Shuttle (Source: Space Review)
As the shuttle program winds down, some are studying the early history of the shuttle and the policy decisions that led to its development. Dwayne Day describes how some documents help explain how the NRO came to use the shuttle and the concerns it had on relying on it. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1542/1 to view the article. (1/11)

The Exoplanet Explosion (Source: Space Review)
Over the last 15 years astronomers have discovered over 400 planets around other stars. Jeff Foust reports on how a NASA mission promises to generate a flood of additional discoveries, including the first exoplanets similar in size and orbit to the Earth. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1541/1 to view the article. (1/11)

Smashing RORSATs: the Origin of the F-15 ASAT Program (Source: Space Review)
There has been increased interest in recent years in antisatellite weapons, but this is not the first time major space powers have pursued them. Dwayne Day discusses how newly-released government documents shed new light on the US decision in the 1970s to pursue one ASAT program. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1540/1 to view the article. (1/11)

Missing Hawaiian Moon Rocks Turn Up (Source: Honolulu Advertiser)
Priceless lunar rocks from the first and last historic Apollo moon landing missions turned up last week during a routine inventory of gifts given to the governor's office over the years, a top adviser to governor Linda Lingle said. The rocks, which were given to the people of Hawaii as part of an international celebration of mankind's age-old quest to travel to the moon during the Richard Nixon administration, became news in October when a noted moon rock tracker and former NASA senior special agent said the whereabouts of Hawaii's moon rocks was not known.

NASA itself has seemed confused by the worth of a moon rock. Over the years, the agency has estimated the value of lunar mission moon rocks, if they could be purchased at any price, at $55 million an ounce (1970), to $1 million for 10 ounces (2003). In 2004, the Associated Press reported that a 1.4 gram piece of moon rock stolen from the Museum of Natural History in Malta had an estimated value of $5 million. (1/11)

Russia Reserves Site for Vostochny Spaceport (Source: Construction Russia)
The Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) has signed a decree to reserve, for seven years, a 103,546-ha site in the Amur Province for the construction of the Vostochny spaceport. The document stipulates that any activity associated with the sale of the land, ownership or the construction of buildings which is not related to the spaceport on the reserved site is prohibited without the consent of Roscosmos. The Vostochny spaceport project will be implemented in stages, with construction due to begin in 2011. In 2015 the first unmanned launch will take place, and the launch of the space shuttle is planned for 2018. The construction of Vostochny will require an investment of €8.7bn. (1/11)

Learning To Love the Moon (Source: Slate)
I recently embarrassed myself by admitting that I know nothing about astronomy and can't fathom my kids' passion for it, even when we are standing under the night sky with a super-telescope. I've written many mortifying family columns over the years, but the responses to this one stand out for their earnest and gentle efforts to correct my know-nothing ways. And so I'm passing along the best suggestions I got for appreciating the solar system beyond our own dear planet (and the best chidings from space lovers, too). Consider this a "Learn To Love the Moon" guide for everyone who thinks a Kuiper belt sounds like a nice fashion accessory. Click here to read the article. (1/11)

NASA To Test Spacesuit Designs (Source: Aviation Week)
Engineers at Johnson Space Center (JSC) have scheduled four days of testing with three different versions of NASA’s planned new spacesuit to begin melding the suit with the Orion crew exploration vehicle that is also under development there. Astronauts and engineers will don the prototype Constellation suits to compare their utility for a number of tasks in a mockup of the latest configuration of the Orion crew cabin. Scheduled for testing are a prototype built by David Clark Co., Inc., for Oceaneering, the prime contractor for the new spacesuit. A separate suit built by ILC Dover, another Oceaneering subcontractor, also will be tested, as will one built in-house at JSC. (1/11)

NASA Weighs Potential Delay to Next Shuttle Mission (Source: Space.com)
The failure of cooling system hoses during a test for a new space station module has engineers scratching their heads and NASA officials weighing the potential impact to the planned February launch of the space shuttle Endeavour, set to carry the module to space. Two of four ammonia cooling system hoses for NASA's new Tranquility module for the International Space Station burst unexpectedly during a preflight check. While the hose ruptured at a higher pressure than required for flight, engineers are now discussing whether it can be completely cleared for flight in time for Endeavour's planned launch. It is too early to determine whether the hose glitch will force NASA to delay Endeavour's flight or require a modification to the mission plan, NASA officials said. (1/11)

Life on Mars, Continued (Source: MSNBC)
Do rocks from Mars bear the tiny fossilized signs of life? Scientists who think so say they'll subject meteorites from the Red Planet to a new round of high-tech tests in hopes of adding to their evidence. For years, only one meteorite has figured in the controversy: ALH84001, a rock that was blasted away from Mars 16 million years ago, floated through space and fell through Earth's atmosphere onto Antarctica about 13,000 years ago. Scientists reported in 1996 that the rock contained microscopic structures that looked like "nano-fossils," but skeptics said the structures could have been created by chemical rather than biological reactions. In November, the scientists who were behind the earlier research reported fresh findings that they said answered many of the objections from the skeptics - and they said two other space rocks traced to Mars seemed to have "biomorph" structures similar to those found in ALH84001. (1/11)

Public Encouraged to Vote for NASA Twitter Award (Source: Huntsville Times)
NASA can be nominated for an online award - Shorty - which honors people, businesses and government agencies for the best use of the microblogging site Twitter.com. The site allows people to send short - 140 characters or less - messages online and via cellphones. Nominations opened this month and will be narrowed to five in February. NASA as an agency, along with individual research centers and space agency offices, has been using Twitter.com to send updates and news for more than a year now. To vote for the space agency go here: http://shortyawards.com/NASA. (1/11)

Director Talks About Challenges at KSC (Source: Florida Today)
NASA aims to launch five final shuttle flights this year and then shut down the nearly three-decade-old program. Former astronaut Robert Cabana, now director of Kennedy Space Center, talked with FLORIDA TODAY about challenges that lie ahead. QUESTION: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing Kennedy Space Center and its work force in this pivotal year? Click here to read the interview. (1/11)

Let's Remind Obama of His Space Campaign Promises (Source: Florida Today)
We will know what President Obama has decided to do with America's space program soon and definitely no later than the release of the next federal government budget on Feb. 1. As we head toward the announcement, it seems a good time to remind everyone of the promises that Obama made throughout the 2008 presidential election campaign. In particular, I wanted to revisit his extensive discussion of the subject at his August 2008 rally in Titusville. So, you might want to hang on to this column and compare what the candidate said against what he ultimately decides to do. Click here to view the article. (1/11)

Space Junk: A Solution Looking for a Problem (Source: Puebly Chieftain)
Dear NASA: A recent article in Popular Science points out that at least 15 private companies plan to launch space tourism ventures in the near future, moving either people or freight into low earth orbits. This, as you are well aware, brings up the unsolved issue of space junk. Current estimates are that there are between 20,000 and “billions upon billions” pieces of harmful debris orbiting our planet, whizzing around at 17,000 mph. Last year, a piece of something-or-other even winged a communications satellite, prompting your official response that the growing amount of space litter is not a big problem. Get your heads out of the moon sand.

More people in space will mean more debris, and not the kind of thing you’re used to: spent rocket parts, paint chips and faulty O-rings. The new generation of space junk also is going to include Walmart bags, McDonald’s cups and plastic water bottles. I’ve seen what these people can do. And, after paying $20 million for the privilege of venturing into space, these people are not going to put up with having their view obscured by all that stuff that mankind has left up in the cosmos. They will not appreciate having a stray piece of fabric from a torn G-suit or a pile of uneaten french fries congealed in milkshake obscuring their cell phone shot of the Pacific Ocean. So, you’re going to need to clean things up. (1/11)

Daring Asteroid Probe On Course to Reach Earth in June (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
Japan's gritty Hayabusa probe isn't the first mission to be called the little spacecraft that could, but the small robot is on the verge of concluding a remarkable journey through the cosmos. Running three years late after a harrowing fuel leak and cascading system failures, Hayabusa is on the home stretch of a remarkable seven-year journey through the solar system. Hayabusa was primarily conceived as a demonstration mission to test satellite technologies, including an innovative and highly-efficient ion propulsion system that consumes xenon gas. The mission's secondary, but more visible, objective was to fly to an asteroid and scoop samples off its rocky surface for return to Earth. (1/11)

Scientists Hope Phoenix Will Rise Anew (Source: Arizona Daily Star)
The return of sunshine to Mars' north pole brings with it a long-shot hope for resurrection of the Phoenix Mars Lander, which is presumed to have fatally frozen after being encased in dry ice during the long Martian winter. Scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory have scheduled a series of overflights this month by NASA's Odyssey orbiter, which will listen for telltale transmissions from an awakening Phoenix. Nobody expects the lander to come back to life, but hey — it is called Phoenix. (1/11)

No comments: