March 22, 2010

Virginia Editorial: New Plan will Allow NASA to Return to Real Exploration (Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch)
By shedding itself of mundane tasks like driving trucks and taxis (it has been 50 years since our government began "shuttling" to and from orbit) not only will NASA be able to get back to real space exploration and stop flying in circles, but it will save billions of dollars -- and what it does spend on getting to and from orbit will help kick-start a new high-technology U.S. space transportation industry.

Of course, states that stand to lose lucrative contracts based on the old failed space program are raising a huge stink about this shift in priorities. Several of them, led by states like Florida and Alabama that are bastions of old space, are trying to thwart the president's plan and protect their feeding troughs and local jobs based on projects that are more make-work in nature than having anything to do with opening space to Americans.

On the other hand, Virginia has everything to gain from this new policy, if its leaders are smart enough to see the big picture and are willing to fight for a whole new generation of space businesses and jobs that not only will open the space frontier to our children, but will make this state a leader in high technology and education for decades to come. (3/22)

Can Commercial Space Win Over Congress? (Source: Space Review)
A key aspect of the proposed new NASA plan is to rely on the commercial sector to launch astronauts, a provision that has encountered resistance in Congress. Jeff Foust reports on efforts to win support for commercial crew, and whether time might be running out for commercial advocates. to view the article. (3/22)

Celebrate Suborbital (Source: Space Review)
There is growing interest in using commercial suborbital vehicles currently under development to carry out research and educational missions. Alan Stern describes what more the government can do to help encourage such applications. to view the article. (3/22)

Virgin Tests Tourist Rocket Over Mojave Desert (Source: AP)
Virgin Galactic's new space tourism rocket has been taken aloft over the California desert by a mothership aircraft on its first "captive-carry" test flight. Virgin Galactic says in a statement on its Web site that Monday's flight from the Mojave Air and Space Port was successful. The spaceship remained attached to the specially designed jet-powered mothership throughout the flight. (3/22)

Moonwalker Edgar Mitchell: Fix NASA, Then Explore the Solar System (Source: EE Times)
The Obama administration, boxed in by a collapsed global economy and corporate excess, has made the correct, albeit unpopular, decision on reinventing the nation's space agency while providing a needed course correction for manned spaceflight. I only wish the President and his advisers hadn't been forced to make their decisions under the present economic circumstances.

I would have preferred that the U.S. attempt to maintain a leading position in returning to the moon, then going to Mars. After spending nearly three decades in low-Earth orbit, it is time to refocus NASA's priorities and get the space agency back on track to explore the solar system. There are vital reasons to do so. The human race is on an unsustainable path; our sun will cease to shine in the far-distant future. It is therefore incumbent on each generation to undertake the work of exploring new worlds, initially as a source of raw materials. When humans reach Mars, they will not identify themselves by nationality. They will say, "We came from Earth." Click here to view the editorial. (3/22)

Additional Spaceport Funding Will Expand Virginia Spaceflight Authority (Source: The Daily Press)
Virginia's 2010-11 budget, awaiting the approval of Gov. Bob McDonnell, includes $837,875 annually for the next two years to help staff the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority. That's up from the $100,000 the authority has received in recent years. The authority needs additional workers, said Billie Reed, executive director. His statement was backed up by the state Auditor of Public Accounts, which issued a report in November stating the authority "does not have dedicated staff or resources to support its program operations."

The authority has six full-time employees, said Reed. It will use the $837,875 to hire six additional contractors. The authority hoped to hire an additional four full-time employees, but it shelved the plan after not receiving the $1.38 million it requested from state lawmakers. Given the state's budget problems (education, public health and other departments are facing cuts), Reed said he is pleased with the boost in funding. The authority earlier this year announced it inked a deal with NASA valued up to $43 million to continue its build out of the spaceport. (3/22)

New Proof Unknown "Structures" Tug at Our Universe (Source: National Geographic)
"Dark flow" is no fluke, suggests a new study that strengthens the case for unknown, unseen "structures" lurking on the outskirts of creation. In 2008 scientists reported the discovery of hundreds of galaxy clusters streaming in the same direction at more than 2.2 million miles (3.6 million kilometers) an hour. This mysterious motion can't be explained by current models for distribution of mass in the universe. So the researchers made the controversial suggestion that the clusters are being tugged on by the gravity of matter outside the known universe.

Now the same team has found that the dark flow extends even deeper into the universe than previously reported: out to at least 2.5 billion light-years from Earth. After using two additional years' worth of data and tracking twice the number of galaxy clusters, "we clearly see the flow, we clearly see it pointing in the same direction," said study leader Alexander Kashlinsky, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. "It looks like a very coherent flow." The find adds to the case that chunks of matter got pushed outside the known universe shortly after the big bang—which in turn hints that our universe is part of something larger: a multiverse. (3/22)

Editorial: Shuttle Extension Is Not the Answer (Source: Space News)
The prevailing congressional discontent over U.S. President Barack Obama’s plan for NASA’s human spaceflight program has opened the door for a concerted push on the part of some lawmakers to extend operations of the space shuttle beyond its currently scheduled retirement date at the end of this year. John Shannon, NASA’s space shuttle program manager, recently said an extension is possible, but explained how expensive the shuttle is to fly, and said that restarting shuttle production would require rehiring idled workers who would then have to go through the pain of being laid off again.

With enough money, NASA could extend the shuttle program, at a cost of about $2.5 billion to $3 billion annually, whether or not the fleet is actually flying. (By the same token, NASA with enough money could have executed Constellation as planned.) The big problem with extending space shuttle operations is that it only postpones the inevitable, while costing billions of dollars that otherwise could go toward a replacement vehicle and other capabilities necessary to explore space beyond low Earth orbit — something the space shuttle cannot do.

Congress should be focusing its energies not on extending shuttle operations or reinstating Constellation, but rather on working with the administration to come up with a plan that provides a space station crew transport capability sooner rather than later and offers a logical pathway for getting astronauts out of low Earth orbit. One thing everybody can agree on is that to do that, NASA needs a heavy-lift rocket, regardless of whether the destination is the Moon, Mars, an asteroid or someplace else. (3/22)

Editorial: Saving Constellation is a Noble Mission (Source: Tallahassee Democrat)
For anyone who has gone to see the awe-inspiring film "Hubble" at the five-story IMAX Theatre in the Challenger Learning Center on Kleman Plaza, the importance of NASA to the vitality of our world, nation and state is simply irrefutable. We salute Florida's temporary U.S. Sen. George LeMieux for working mightily in Washington to stop the de-escalation of America's space programs, most specifically termination of the Constellation Program as submitted in a budget proposal by the president.

Mr. LeMieux, offering an amendment to the FAA Reauthorization bill regarding NASA, knows the importance of space missions to Florida. If diminished, hundreds of jobs will be lost along the Space Coast, but the loss of science, research, technology and space travel aspirations will create a negative ripple effect in myriad ways well beyond our state.

Along with Mr. LeMieux's effort in the U.S. Senate, the Florida Legislature can also support investment in new space business development, space-related and applied science research as well as enhancing science, technology, engineering and math fields of education. We must launch all efforts to save this signature Florida industry. (3/22)

Satellite Manufacturers, Launch Providers May See Downturn (Source: AIA)
The telecom satellite industry will likely continue to withstand the economic downturn, but the trend may not extend to satellite manufacturers and launch providers. Satellite sales are expected to peak in 2011 and begin tapering off in 2012 through 2013, and while an upswing in low-Earth-orbit telecom and Earth-observation satellites will help compensate, the total value of LEO spacecraft will be less than 20% of GEO sales, experts predict. (3/22)

Enterprise Shows How Shuttles Should be Displayed (Source: Florida Today)
The first of America's space shuttle orbiters was not Columbia. No, the first of the six orbiters built was named Enterprise. Though it never flew in space, Enterprise helped blaze a trail that made possible 30 years of shuttle missions and the building of the International Space Station. I got to see Enterprise up close as the National Air & Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles International Airport.

I went to see how one of the best museums in the world displays a space shuttle orbiter. How might a retired Atlantis or Endeavour look parked in a museum hangar at Kennedy Space Center? The display did not disappoint, and I'd highly recommend a visit for anyone who's a fan of aviation. The Smithsonian has made Enterprise super accessible, viewable from up close, from underneath and from above. You can study the vehicle from a variety of angles. You get a sense of the difference from the five flight vehicles: mockups instead of real space shuttle main engines, awkward-looking outer mold lines, and the unscathed patchwork of fake, non-functional heat-shielding tiles. (3/22)

March 22, 1995: Longest Human Space Adventure Ends (Source: WIRED)
1995: Cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov returns to Earth from the longest-ever stay in space by a human. He spent just over 437 days in the Mir space station. Thanks to a strenuous workout regimen, he returned to Earth looking “big and strong” and “like he could wrestle a bear,” in the words of NASA astronaut Norman Thagard. Polyakov, a medical doctor, said that he volunteered for the extra-long mission to prove that the human body could survive microgravity long enough to make a trip to Mars. As such, he took pains to show that he was no worse for the zero-g wear when he got back onto terra firma.

“[W]hen his capsule landed in Kazakhstan he walked from it to a nearby chair, a tremendous achievement,” Philip Baker wrote in his book The story of manned space stations. “He also stole a cigarette from a friend nearby, but could hardly be blamed for that. He sipped a small brandy and inwardly celebrated his mission. His record still stands, and it is unlikely to be broken until man ventures to Mars.” Reportedly, his first statement back on Earth was to tell a fellow cosmonaut, “We can fly to Mars.” (3/22)

Venus Orbiter Arrives at Japanese Spaceport (Source: SpaceFlightNow)
The next time Japan's Akatsuki spacecraft is packed up for another move, the probe will be strapped to the tip of an H-2A rocket taking aim on Venus. About the size of a compact car, Akatsuki was shipped last week from its assembly plant in suburban Tokyo to the Tanegashima Space Center. During the next two months, technicians will finish adding parts to the spacecraft, load maneuvering propellant and test Akatsuki's systems to ensure their readiness for flight, with a current launch date of May 17. (3/22)

Another Good Reason Not to Shoot Nukes at Asteroids (Source: Discovery)
"Sir, the explosion successfully ripped the asteroid to shreds! The world is safe!" This could be the victorious statement to conclude the next Armageddon-style blockbuster movie after the world's nations clubbed together to construct an awesome nuclear missile designed to wipe out the threat of an incoming asteroid. The hero gets the girl, mission controllers give each other high-fives as we cut to a cheesy montage of international celebrations, firework displays and teary-eyed world leaders pledging a new era of world peace.

Unfortunately, this "happy ending" storyline could have a nasty twist. Scientists have found that if a nuclear weapon did blow an asteroid apart, it could reassemble itself in a very short period of time, continuing its path to death and destruction. "Um, sir, the pieces of asteroid have re-formed. We have incoming! Again!" Cut to another montage of screaming people on the streets, babies crying and the hero suggesting the cast should get hammered on a 200 year-old bottle of whisky he'd been saving for a "special occasion" (or doomsday).

Don Korycansky of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Catherine Plesko of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico have simulated the nuke versus asteroid scenario and demonstrated that if the explosion of an interceptor nuke was too small, the asteroid will reform under its mutual gravity much faster than expected. (3/22)

No comments: