April 22, 2010

Embry-Riddle University President Endorses NASA’s New Direction (Source: Parabolic Arc)
In a sign of growing support in Florida for President Obama’s new space policy for NASA, the president of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University has endorsed the plan in a letter sent to several of the state’s newspapers. University President John P. Johnson wrote:

"To narrow the post-Space Shuttle gap in U.S. human access to space, the plan will rely on commercial rockets like the Atlas V, Delta IV, and Falcon IX. This puts the commercial space transportation industry in a situation similar to the early days of aviation, which grew rapidly after the government established contracts to carry air mail. Some in the industry believe commercial launchers may not be up to the task, but the President clearly believes they can. We agree. Back in 1927, Embry-Riddle’s founders helped establish our nation’s first air mail service, so we know something about the power of entrepreneurship." (4/22)

Shelby: Obama’s Plan Abandons America’s “Only Chance to Remain a Leader in Space” (Source: Parabolic Arc)
During a hearing this morning in Washington, Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby fired a blast at the White House and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who appeared in person to testify. The Republican senator accused the White House of surrendering America’s lead in space to the Chinese, Russians and Indians by canceling the Constellation program and trying to squander money on an unproven commercial market that will fail to deliver. (4/22)

Lockheed Beats Estimates Despite Health Care Charge (Source: AIA)
Health care reform forced a $96 million charge at Lockheed Martin Corp., contributing to an 18% drop in first-quarter profit. The company also said health care issues -- specifically the elimination of a tax deduction for Medicare costs -- would shave 15 cents per share off its full-year earnings. Despite those caveats, Lockheed reported a "pretty clean operational quarter," according to CFO Bruce Tanner, with none of the company's four divisions seeing a decrease in sales. (4/22)

AIA's Blakey Urges Support for Obama Space Plan (Source: AIA)
Congress should fully support President Obama’s $19 billion proposal for the NASA budget, but should pay particular attention to a number of issues, said AIA President and CEO Marion C. Blakey in testimony today. Blakey repeated her call for a specific strategy that sets clear goals, milestones and timelines for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit with the necessary funds to achieve the desired goals.

“We are encouraged that NASA’s proposal extends the International Space Station through at least 2020, funds valuable Earth and space science missions, renews technology development and innovation and promotes commercial spaceflight,” Blakey said at a hearing of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies. “However, the proposed cancellation of the Constellation program at the same time as the retirement of the Space Shuttle will cause residual impacts to the space industrial base and its highly trained workforce.”

It is critical to remember that it is the workforce – the engineers and skilled technicians – who are the backbone of our space leadership, Blakey continued. Blakey also expressed alarm at the state of education for our young people, citing evidence of poor preparation for science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers. (4/22)

NASA Has Yet to Decide on Final Destinations for Space Shuttles (Source: Business Week)
NASA has yet to decide on the final homes of the space-shuttle fleet as museums and other institutions across the country clamor to display the vessels following their retirement later this year. The agency is weighing requests from more than 20 institutions vying to host a retired shuttle, a NASA spokesman, said. Those include the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, a former aircraft carrier in New York City, and Space Center Houston, the visitor center of Johnson Space Center in Texas.

One shuttle, Discovery, is heading to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington. The Smithsonian got the first space shuttle, Enterprise, in 1985 and displays it at Dulles airport near Washington. Atlantis and Endeavour will be available no earlier than July 2011, and NASA plans to make a decision on their destinations a year before, according to the February request for information. (4/22)

Key Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski Reluctant to Endorse Obama’s NASA Plan (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
President Barack Obama still has some work to do to sell his NASA plan to Congress, as a key Democratic senator Thursday did not commit to supporting his proposal that would drastically alter how the United States sends its astronauts into space. The reluctance of U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland could prove problematic for Obama. She heads the Senate panel with oversight of NASA's budget and could block his plan to rely more on commercial rocket companies to send astronauts into orbit.

"Right now I feel like a deep-space probe; I'm in reconnaissance," said Mikulski, after a Thursday hearing of the commerce, justice and science appropriations subcommittee. A key issue, she said, was whether commercial companies would be held to the same safety standards as NASA. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said safety remains the agency's highest priority and that NASA was developing human-spaceflight safety requirements for commercial companies.

"I can assure everybody, before we put a human in a vehicle and launch him off this planet, we are going to have the safest possible vehicle," he said. "That's going to be the case with every astronaut that I launch, whether they're on a privately produced vehicle, a foreign-produced vehicle or any other vehicle." (4/22)

Editorial: NASA Reboot (Source: Chicago Tribune)
Last week Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, released an open letter to President Barack Obama, the first Trekkie in the White House. The former astronaut is riled because Obama canceled a planned 2020 U.S. moon mission and yanked NASA funding for the rocket that was supposed to take astronauts there. Obama intends to outsource some of the spacecraft business to commercial space companies, which he thinks are more innovative, nimble and cost-conscious than NASA.

Armstrong warned that pulling the plug on the rocket program, called Constellation, dooms the U.S. to a "long downhill slide to mediocrity." Without the ability to loft humans into orbit for many years to come, he wrote, the U.S. is destined to become a "second- or even third-rate" space power. Sorry, Neil. But that's one giant leap … of unwarranted pessimism. Obama is charting a fresh course for American space exploration that is grounded in reality. Click here to read the editorial. (4/22)

Nelson Aims to Save Ares I Testing (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida had nothing but praise for President Barack Obama last week when the commander-in-chief visited Florida and touted a new White House plan to rely on commercial rockets to launch a new era of space exploration. But Nelson still isn’t 100 percent happy and on Wednesday inserted language into Senate budget plans that could revive a NASA-run rocket that Obama wants to cancel. While this budget outline is ultimately non-binding, the resolution shows Congress isn’t yet sold on Obama’s space vision.

Nelson’s provision calls on NASA to reinstitute testing of the Ares I rocket, which was designed to carry a crewed capsule named Orion to the International Space Station by 2015. Problems have dogged the program, however, and Obama proposed killing the Ares I after an independent space panel concluded last year that it would not be ready before 2017 — even with an increase in funding.

Editor's Note: This is a curious move by Sen. Nelson. The rhetoric during his announcement referred to the need for a heavy-lift rocket (which Ares-1 is not), the use of such a rocket to replace aging silo-based ICBMs, and classified military requirements. (4/22)

Will Private Spaceships Have the Right Stuff? (Source: MSNBC)
The White House's policy for future spaceflight relies on a crucial unknown: Can private companies build and operate space vehicles safe enough to carry astronauts? Many veteran engineers from NASA are skeptical about the idea that less experienced teams with fewer resources could possibly replicate the space agency's success at developing spacecraft to carry humans.

But the task may be far less daunting than the skeptics think. This is because the "goal posts" in human spaceflight have shifted over the decades, and the required know-how has spread as the general level of aerospace engineering capabilities has risen. The commercial space shippers of the 2010s will not be recapitulating the research, development and designs of the 1960s.

First of all, the space taxis being created to serve the new policy are being designed for an entirely different mission. Unlike America's previous spaceships, these new taxis will be focused only on delivering passengers from Earth’s surface to an existing space facility and back again. There’s no need for long periods of independent orbital cruising. There’s no need for carrying equipment to be later used for moon flights. Click here to read the article. (4/22)

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