February 17, 2010

Mars Science Laboratory Expected to Revolutionize Planetary Research (Source: AIA)
Coming in at more than $2 billion and weighing nearly a ton, the Mars Science Laboratory is expected to revolutionize research on other planets and lay the foundation for future missions that will bring pieces of Mars back to earth. The project has faced more than a few technical challenges and has exceeded its original cost estimate, but experts say it has finally turned a corner. (2/17)

Holdren & Bolden: Keeping the U.S. in the Space Race (Source: Washington Post)
Charles Krauthammer was badly off target in his Feb. 12 op-ed, "Closing the new frontier," on the Obama administration's plans for the U.S. space program. As the blue-ribbon Augustine Committee concluded last year, the Bush plan, not the Obama plan, would have left the United States a loser in space. Despite valiant efforts by NASA and its contractors, Bush's Constellation program would not have been able to send astronauts to the international space station until two years after the station had crashed into the ocean. The Augustine Committee also concluded that America's dependence on Russia to get to low-Earth orbit is likely to be shorter under the new plan, with its increased participation of the private sector. As for returning to the moon, the last administration's target of doing so by 2020 was by now unachievable under any budget.

The Obama administration's plan adds $6 billion to NASA's budget over five years and extends the life of the space station to get full value from the nearly $100 billion invested in it. It partners with the private sector to develop quicker, cheaper, home-grown capacity to put astronauts in orbit; invests in R&D for game-changing technologies to take Americans to deep-space destinations faster; and revitalizes NASA programs in Earth observation, space science and aeronautics. The administration's plan for NASA is right for the agency, for the times and for continuing U.S. leadership in space. (2/17)

Nelson: Manned Space Program Isn't Dead Yet (Source: Florida Today)
The White House made two errors when announcing its plans for NASA, Sen. Bill Nelson said Tuesday. "I think they made two tactical mistakes that gave everybody the wrong impression," the Florida Democrat said. "The first one is that the president didn't set what the goal is, and everybody knows the goal and that's to go to Mars. "The second mistake was that they said they are canceling the Constellation program. That sounds like they were canceling the manned (spaceflight) program, when in the same breath he said we're doing the research and development for a heavy lift vehicle, and they were putting all their eggs in the same basket of getting to the space station with the commercial boys."

Nelson, who chairs the Senate space and science subcommittee, has scheduled a hearing next week to press NASA officials on their plans for human exploration of space. His hearing will feature testimony from NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and former shuttle commander Robert "Hoot" Gibson. Nelson said Congress will help form the goals of the space program, which he insisted will include the development of a heavy-lift vehicle eventually bound for Mars. Research and development from the Ares I rocket and Orion crew vehicle programs will be carried forward to the next manned space vehicle, Nelson said. (2/17)

Falcon-9 Launch Will Be Commercial Test (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Sometime next month, if all goes well, a 154-foot-tall white rocket will rise from a launchpad at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport in a crucial test of the ambitions of upstart space company SpaceX —- and of President Barack Obama's new policy for NASA. The Falcon 9 is brand new, built from scratch by SpaceX with the help of $234 million from NASA, intended to deliver cargo to the International Space Station after the space shuttle is retired later this year.

The test launch, tentatively set for March 22, will be the company's first since Obama spiked NASA's moon-rocket program in favor of an approach that outsources future human missions to businesses such as SpaceX. If Congress is to be persuaded to adopt Obama's policy, Falcon 9 must deliver. "There's a lot riding on the maiden flight of Falcon 9 …" said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden in a brief interview Tuesday, adding that SpaceX must prove that it can "safely get to orbit" and eventually dock with the station. "Those tests are critical." (2/17)

Obama Phones the Space Station (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
President Barack Obama made a brief phone call to the International Space Station on Wednesday to thank orbiting astronauts for their work in building the observatory, as well as to highlight his recent decision to extend the station’s operation until at least 2020. "[The space program is] just a testimony to human ingenuity, a testimony to extraordinary skill and courage that you bring to bear and also a testimony to why continued space exploration is so important,” said Obama, who called his commitment to NASA “unwavering.” “One of the things that we have done with our NASA vision for the future is to extend … our participation in the space station,” he added, speaking to the station crew and the space shuttle Endeavour team that was in orbit to install a bay window and new living module onto the station. (2/17)

Unions Planning Space Coast Rally to Save NASA Plans (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Angry, bitter and scared by the end of the shuttle program later this year and a proposed new national space policy shift that few understand and many dislike, aerospace workers are organizing a rally to “save” NASA’s human spaceflight program. According to the International Association of Machinists Local Lodge 2061 blogsite, the rally has been set for 3:00 p.m., Feb. 27 at Brevard Community College North Campus, Titusville. Among those supposed to attend: National AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka, presidents of national and international unions, Florida AFL-CIO President Mike Williams, elected officials and “perhaps some celebrity guests”. (2/17)

Cold Weather Delays Next Shuttle Launch Until April (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
NASA officials have postponed the upcoming launch of the space shuttle Discovery until April 5 at the earliest because cold weather in sunny Florida has prevented workers at Kennedy Space Center from processing the spacecraft in time for a scheduled March 18 liftoff. “The Space Shuttle Program has specific rules against transporting the shuttle when temperatures are below a certain level for extended periods. The vehicle has thrusters with seals that could leak under cold temperatures,” noted NASA in a release announcing the move. (2/17)

NASA Plans More Outreach to Muslim Countries (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said Tuesday that President Barack Obama has asked him to “find ways to reach out to dominantly Muslim countries” as the White House pushes the space agency to become a tool of international diplomacy. “In addition to the nations that most of you usually hear about when you think about the International Space Station, we now have expanded our efforts to reach out to non-traditional partners,” said Bolden, speaking to a lecture hall of young engineering students. (2/17)

NASA and White House Push Back Against Critics (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and President science advisor John Holdren wrote a letter that appeared in the Washington Post today, taking issue with columnist Charles Krauthammer for his Feb. 12 op-ed, “Closing the new frontier.” Krauthammer attacked President Barack Obama for proposing to do away with the agency’s Constellation moon rocket program in his 2011 budget request.

But Bolden and Holdren shot back. “Despite valiant efforts by NASA and its contractors, President George W. Bush’s Constellation program would not have been able to send astronauts to the international space station until two years after the station had crashed into the ocean. The Augustine Committee also concluded that America’s dependence on Russia to get to low-Earth orbit is likely to be shorter under the new plan, with its increased participation of the private sector. As for returning to the moon, the last administration’s target of doing so by 2020 was by now unachievable under any budget,” it said. (2/17)

Mikulski To Focus on Safety, Spaceflight Destination in Drafting NASA Bill (Source: Space News)
U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who chairs the Senate Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee that oversees NASA spending, said astronaut safety, mission destination and workforce transition would be among a half-dozen core principles she will use to draft the agency’s 2011 appropriations bill. In a Feb. 16 letter to Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), chairman of the Senate Commerce science and space subcommittee, Mikulski said she would be looking to the authorizing committee’s close examination of President Barack Obama’s $19 billion spending proposal for NASA in 2011, which would scrap the agency’s Moon-bound Constellation program in favor of fostering development of a commercial crew transportation service to low Earth orbit. (2/17)

Obama's New NASA Policy Opens Up Space Market (Source: Inc.)
SpaceX, PayPal founder Elon Musk's upstart aerospace company, last week began piecing together the first version of a new rocket that could someday launch American astronauts into the stratosphere. This is spacecraft on a shoestring: To avoid costly, custom-made parts, the 900-person, eight-year-old company relies on refurbishments of those already on the shelf. Among them: An Apollo-era 125,000 gallon liquid oxygen tank (price tag: $86,000, the price of the scrap metal). As a result, the estimated cost of one of Musk's launches is a relatively affordable $100 million.

It's all part of Musk's plan to usher in the era of low-cost space travel – well-timed, because last week's NASA 2011 budget request included a $6 billion boost over five years to privatize human space flights. SpaceX's isn't the only ride NASA can pimp – the new space policy opens up healthy market competition. Dulles, Virginia's Orbital Sciences is building its own rockets under a separate NASA contract. On Feb. 2, NASA also announced $50 million in awards to support the commercial spaceflight efforts of five other companies.

Colorado's Sierra Nevada Corp was the big winner, picking up $20 million to develop its seven-person Dream Chaser craft. Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin won $3.7 million to develop a launch escape system and build a crew-carrying module, and Paragon Space Development Corp. won $1.4 million to perfect its environmental control and life support air vitalization system. Other winners: Boeing, which picked up $18 million for its own seven-person space capsule, and the United Launch Alliance, a Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint project, which received $6.7 million to develop a way to monitor the health of unmanned rockets that could be recycled to launch manned spacecraft. (2/17)

Iridium: Motorola Demanding $24.7M for ‘Change of Control’ (Source: Space News)
Motorola is demanding $24.7 million in cash from mobile satellite services provider Iridium Satellite LLC and is threatening to deny Iridium access to Motorola-owned technology that is indispensable to Iridium as it designs a second-generation constellation of low-orbiting satellites, Iridium said Feb. 16.

In a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Bethesda, Md.-based Iridium says Motorola, which was the original sponsor of Iridium, is asking the Circuit Court of Cook County, Ill., to rule that Iridium’s purchase last September by GHL Acquisition Corp. constituted a “change of control” under the terms of a December 2000 loan Motorola made to Iridium. Iridium says Motorola is demanding “at least $24.680 million” under the loan agreement. (2/17)

Giffords Opposes Obama’s Space Plan (Source: Sierra Vista Herald)
While President Barack Obama is “doing a terrific job,” Democratic U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords said his decision to commercialize the U.S. space program is wrong. “I don’t agree with him on this particular point,” she said. Expressing concerns that the country’s national security could be harmed if private companies are given the opportunity to send missions into space, the Arizona Congressional District 8 representative said “it’s not a good idea.” And yes, there are some personal reasons, for her husband Mark, a U.S. Navy officer, is an astronaut and will be in command of the next-to-last shuttle mission.

Ever since the country went into space, the benefits of the mission have provided new ideas which helped the nation’s aviation industry and a number of health benefits have resulted, as well as other equipment and material, Giffords said. As the chair of the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee of the House Science and Technology Committee, Giffords said $9 billion has been spent on a much-needed new shuttle, and the program shouldn’t be deserted. “I don’t like putting all our space eggs into a commercial basket,” she said. (2/17)

Space Travel Unattainable For Now (Source: Springfield Republican)
The universe is such a vast and varied place that chances are advanced forms of extraterrestrial life exist somewhere, but will we ever detect, let alone see them? Right now, NASA is struggling financially and logistically to send a manned craft to Mars in the near future. With Earth's budget limited, how much more challenging will it be to send manned craft beyond our solar system, even to the nearest star? The problems of manned space flight over large distances are enormous.

Systems must be capable of supporting human life for years, with adequate food, water and a breathable atmosphere. The human body is not designed to function for long periods in weightlessness. Outside of Earth's protective magnetosphere, space travelers would need to be shielded from powerful cosmic radiation. Traveling large distances at high speed increases the chance of hitting objects in space. Collision with even tiny rocks could significantly impair the craft. And any major craft failure would most likely be fatal to the crew, as it would take too long for a rescue crew to arrive.

However, the main problem with space travel is the vast distances to be covered. Current space travel occurs at only a small fraction of the speed of light (about 0.005 percent); yet even at the speed of light, it would take more than four years to reach the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri; 20 years to reach Gliese 581, the nearest extra-solar planet likely to support liquid water; and 2 million years to reach Andromeda, the nearest galaxy. Click here to view the article (2/17)

Space: The Only Frontier (Source: Forbes)
Space travel was, and remains, fundamentally an energy problem of both the political and physical variety. Getting to the moon required a quantum leap in technology, not the least of which was building a rocket some 20 times more powerful than existed. Perhaps more challenging, to achieve the goal the president had to energize Congress and the citizenry to take on a budget twenty-fold bigger than America's already aggressive funding of the space program. That was, even by today's standards, serious political heavy lifting. (2/17)

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