April 17, 2010

New Mexico Spaceport Director Steps Down (Source: KOB)
The executive director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority has submitted his resignation. The Economic Development Department announced that Steve Landeene is leaving his position after meeting all legislative mandates and putting Spaceport America on track to be operational by the end of the year. Landeene was hired in January 2008 as the authority's first executive director. His resignation is effective May 15. Landeene said he needs to regain "some work/life balance" that cannot be accomplished given the stresses and time commitments of the executive director's role. (4/17)

Solar Eruption: Powerful Sun Activity Captured By NASA Spacecraft (Source: Huffington Post)
NASA's STEREO spacecraft has captured spectacular images of a solar eruption, the largest solar prominence in 15 years. The activity was caught on camera in extreme UV light as the prominence blasted away from the sun on April 12 and April 13. Prominences are cool clouds of plasma that hover above the Sun's surface, notoriously unstable and on occasion they erupt like this one. However, this one was much more dramatic than most, NASA says. (4/17)

Obama NASA Plan Cuts Jobs at Michoud (Source: WAFB)
The Michoud Assembly Center, once teeming with work from one end of the quarter mile long production plant to the other, now resembles a ghost town. The NASA facility in eastern New Orleans once had more than 4,000 workers on site, churning out 12 huge external fuel tanks a year for the space shuttle program. The Obama administration is now scrapping NASA's Constellation program that would have kept Michoud in the space business. Some Louisiana congressional leaders call the president's new plans for NASA "irresponsible." (4/17)

Obama's Deep-Space Plan Puts NASA on a Bold Course (Source: Politics Daily)
"I'm not that interested in space," President Kennedy once confessed to NASA Administrator James Webb in a budget meeting in 1962. Obama, on the contrary, seems very interested in it. "Nobody is more committed to manned space flight, to human exploration of space than I am," the president said on Thursday, noting that in one of his offices at the White House he has a photo of Jupiter taken through the Hubble space telescope. In referring to the technological challenges ahead, he wondered how scientists would shield astronauts from radiation on long-range space flights. (How, indeed?)

That level of enthusiasm may well come into play in determining what happens next for NASA, because it's not just the agency's mission that's under scrutiny, but also the public's interest in it. While space launches were once national events, they now fly largely under the radar -- untelevised, unwatched and often unnoticed. Even when the launches do garner public attention, most people would be hard-pressed to explain the specific purpose of the mission. All in all, there's a growing sense of space malaise -- and reigniting public interest with a dramatic new mission may be as much a goal of Obama's as any of the deep-space mile markers he's set. (4/17)

Virginia: Thoughts on the Coming of 'Space Tourist' (Source: DelMarVaNow.com)
The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport is rapidly becoming an important point, not only for upcoming launches of booster rockets with payloads headed to low-earth-orbit and the moon, but for the thousands of space tourists who will gather to watch the Wallops Island steely-eyed missile men "make it so" on a regular basis beginning early next year.

The Delmarva Peninsula is accustomed to tourists from throughout the Atlantic states over the years but something different is going to soon happen. The space tourist will be a unique visitor-type coming primarily to see, hear and actually feel the thunder of a mid-sized booster rocket climbing the sky to the International Space Station in day or night. (4/17)

Indian Rocket Lost, but Precious Payload Safe (Source: Express Buzz)
A fateful but providential decision by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) saved a precious Indo-Israeli science payload from crashing into the sea in the failed GSLV launch mission Thursday. Under the original plan, the ultraviolet telescope called TAUVEX was to be carried by GSAT-4, which plunged into the Bay of Bengal after the indigenously built cryogenic stage failed to fire up. But as it turned out, for technical reasons, ISRO decided at the last minute not to include the TAUVEX and the rocket flew without it. And now the payload is safe in Bangalore awaiting next launch. (4/17)

Texans Team Up Against Obama Space Vision (Source: Houston Chronicle)
Texas' congressional delegation presented a united, bipartisan front on Friday, saying President Barack Obama's compromise on his space budget doesn't go far enough and calling upon him to visit Johnson Space Center. Meeting with the media in the shadow of a massive Saturn V rocket like those that blasted Apollo astronauts to the moon, Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and four Houston-area representatives said America must not lose its capability of launching U.S. astronauts into space.

“We still have a long way to go before I feel comfortable with what we're going to do for the American people and Johnson Space Center,” said U.S. Rep. Gene Green, a Houston Democrat. “The Texas delegation is united. Democrat and Republican, we're working together.” (4/17)

Air Force Prepares to Launch First Minotaur IV, From California (Source; AFNS)
The first launch of the Minotaur IV Space Launch Vehicle is scheduled to occur April 20 at noon PDT from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The Minotaur IV is the newest variant in the Minotaur family of rockets built by Orbital Sciences Corp. It is a four-stage solid rocket vehicle consisting of three decommissioned Peacekeeper missile stages and a fourth commercially built stage developed by OSC. For this maiden lift-off, the rocket will be in a "lite" configuration consisting of only the first three stages and no fourth stage due to mission requirements.

The payload for this first launch is the Hypersonic Technology Vehicle, or HTV, built by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency scientists. The Falcon HTV-2 program is an innovative research and development joint venture of DARPA and the Air Force to develop and demonstrate hypersonic technologies that will help achieve a prompt global-reach capability. (4/17)

Air Force Space Command to In-Source Contractor Positions (Source: AFSPC)
Air Force Space Command is reviewing contractor positions to determine if they are eligible for in-sourcing as government civilian positions to meet Department of Defense goals outlined last year. In fiscal year 2010, AFSPC established 285 civilian positions to perform work currently being performed by contractors across the entire command; as part of the approximately 4,500 civilian positions expected to be established Air Force-wide in FY2010.

Approximately 1,800 AFSPC new civilian positions are expected to be created through in-sourcing contracts through FY2015; with the Air Force projecting approximately 14,000 new civilian positions Air Force-wide during the same period. In-sourcing is not a one-for-one conversion from contractor to civil service positions; the final number of AFSPC civilian positions will be approximately 75 percent of the total number of contractor positions in-sourced, depending on the mission being insourced. (4/17)

Meteorites in Them Thar Fields (Source: New York Times)
On the first day, there was light. On the third day, land — strewn with meteorites. A spectacular meteorite shower that lighted the sky in several Midwestern states Wednesday night sent meteorite hunters scrambling to southwestern Wisconsin for the pieces of rock from outer space. Terry Boudreaux took his two sons out of school Thursday to drive four hours to Livingston, Wis.

A dairy farmer approached them with a rock he had found in his driveway and asked if it was a meteorite. He gave the farmer $200 for the meteorite, which is about the size of a quarter, and planned to donate it to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. He would not disclose the farm’s location because he did not want competition when he went back to look for more. (4/17)

Shuttle Leaves Space Station for Monday Landing (Source: Reuters)
Space shuttle Discovery left the International Space Station on Saturday, wrapping up a 10-day stay to deliver supplies and spare parts before NASA retires its shuttle fleet later this year. In addition to delivering new experiment racks, a fourth sleeping berth and a darkroom for the U.S. Destiny laboratory, Discovery astronauts made three spacewalks to install a new ammonia cooling system on the station, though a valve problem remains to be resolved before the new gear can be turned on.

Discovery will land at Kennedy Space Center on Monday at 8:48 a.m., the same day that sister ship Atlantis is scheduled to be rolled out to the launch pad to begin preparations for its final flight on May 14. (4/17)

What's the (Dark) Matter? Physicist Says we May Not Know for 10 Years (Source: Scientific American)
Maybe science really is back in vogue. Or maybe "dark matter" is a case of remarkably successful scientific branding—-who wouldn't be drawn in by a name like that? Then again, maybe people just want to know what the heck makes up the vast majority of the universe, a question to which science has provided only sketchy answers.

Whatever the reason, a dark matter lecture by physicist Peter Fisher at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City drew a sellout crowd April 12 in a theater that seats more than 400, with museum staff turning away disappointed comers and at least one gentleman trying to talk his way in as if he were working to get past the velvet rope at a nightclub. Fisher gave his sizable audience a tidy roundup of what we know about dark matter and what we hope to find out in the coming years.

He began by explaining a well-known but nonetheless perpetually jaw-dropping consequence of modern cosmological theory: The matter we can see and touch, all the atoms and molecules in existence, accounts for only about 4 percent of the universe. The rest is dark matter, an invisible substance discernable only by its gravitational effects on large-scale structures such as galaxy clusters, and dark energy, under whose influence the expansion of the universe appears to be accelerating. (4/17)

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