April 26, 2010

Editorial: Humans on Mars? Forget It (Source: LA Times)
It's perhaps time to abandon the goal of sending astronauts to the Red Planet. Nearly half a century ago, we sent men to the moon because we had to stop the world from thinking that the Soviet Union, having put a man in orbit, had surpassed the United States in science and technology. When Americans walked on the moon, we were back in first place, with the Russians keeping the lead in ballet, caviar and vodka. So we halted continued moon landings.

On July 20, 1989, President George H.W. Bush announced the Space Exploration Initiative, which called for returning astronauts to the moon, this time to stay, and then on to Mars. The initiative died when Congress decided the cost was too high, but the national goal of putting an American on Mars remained. In 2004, President George W. Bush reiterated that objective. But is this a worthy goal? It appears increasingly doubtful that an astronaut could accomplish something useful on Mars not already being done by robots at far less cost and with little danger to humans.

Consider the enormity of an effort to send astronauts to Mars. When Mars is closest to Earth, the distance is still about 200 times that between Earth and the moon, which means it would take several months to reach Mars. The amount of food, water, oxygen and other basic supplies necessary for such a journey would require a far larger spacecraft than anything built yet. And it's by no means certain that humans could survive the trip. (4/26)

Lunar Polar Craters May Be Electrified (Source: Space Daily)
As the solar wind flows over natural obstructions on the moon, it may charge polar lunar craters to hundreds of volts, according to new calculations by NASA's Lunar Science Institute team. Polar lunar craters are of interest because of resources, including water ice, which exist there. The moon's orientation to the sun keeps the bottoms of polar craters in permanent shadow, allowing temperatures there to plunge below minus 400 degrees Fahrenheit, cold enough to store volatile material like water for billions of years.

"However, our research suggests that, in addition to the wicked cold, explorers and robots at the bottoms of polar lunar craters may have to contend with a complex electrical environment as well, which can affect surface chemistry, static discharge, and dust cling," said William Farrell of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. Farrell is lead author of a paper on this research published March 24 in the Journal of Geophysical Research. (4/26)

New Space Travel Initiative Will Match 21st Century Goals (Source: Purdue Exponent)
“NASA needs to explore new frontiers, not retrace 40-year-old footsteps,” said Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon. And those are words we can’t agree with more. President Obama decided to cut the Constellation Program, but NASA will be receiving more money than any proposed budgets in the past decade: $6 billion more over the next five years. This money will go toward researching a revolutionary propulsion system to travel deeper into space, building a new heavy-lift rocket and updating existing infrastructure at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport.

NASA hopes to be able to fly to near-Earth asteroids by the 2020s and reach Mars by the 2030s. It’s an ambitious goal, but so was reaching the Moon within a decade back in the 1960s. The president said more astronauts would go into space over the next decade than previously planned, which is in part due to the proposed expansion of the private sector. Obama wants to allow private companies, such as Boeing and Lockheed, who NASA has relied on in the past for their space ventures and have extensive knowledge of space flights, to expand the low-Earth-orbit space flight sector. (4/26)

ULA Gets New Contract for Cape Canaveral Launch (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
The U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center recently awarded United Launch Alliance a contract modification to perform the launch services for the Advanced Extremely High Frequency-3 (AEHF-3) satellite aboard an Atlas V Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle. The anticipated launch period is spring or summer 2012 at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. The AEHF-3 mission will be the third installment for the AEHF system. AEHF will provide 10 times greater capacity and channel data rates five times higher than that of the existing Milstar II communications satellites. These higher data rates will permit transmission of tactical military communications such as real-time video, battlefield maps and targeting data. (4/26)

Final Shuttle Mission Now Set for November — or Later (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Problems with a cosmic physics experiment will force NASA to delay the final flight of the space shuttle until at least November. The holdup means that shuttle workers at KSC will get at least a month more of work, as NASA previously had scheduled the last flight for Sept. 16. It also flips which orbiter and crew get the honor of flying the final mission in the nearly 30-year shuttle era. Now, a six-member crew led by Mark Kelly (who is married to U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona) will be the final team to launch from Florida.

Their mission was scheduled to fly on July 29, but glitches with the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer experiment means they can’t launch earlier than November. NASA officials said Monday that they still were evaluating the exact day in November, as they must schedule the mission to fit around other flights to the International Space Station, such as missions involving the Russian Soyuz vehicle and unmanned re-supply spacecraft. (4/26)

Chamber on an Ares Mission (Source: Huntsville Times)
Even if the president hadn't announced he wants to change the mission of NASA - much of which happens in Huntsville - many of the 175 registrants of the Chamber of Commerce's annual trip to Washington, D.C., would have come here with spaceflight on their mind. As it is, President Obama's plan to shut down the Ares program and make manned space flight more of a commercial venture has business and government folks in Madison and Morgan counties consumed with the hope of changing that agenda.

Included on their agenda are panel discussions on NASA appropriations and multiple interactions with members of Congress and the Senate. At a reception Sunday evening, U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby - ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that determines funding for NASA - said he is doing everything he can to save Constellation, in which the government has already invested $9 billion to establish human presence on the moon and beyond. "If (Republicans) were in control of the Senate, I would tell you exactly what we'd be doing to save Constellation," Shelby said Sunday evening. "If Obama's plan goes through, I'm afraid it's a death march for NASA." (4/26)

Yet Another Episode in America's RLV Soap Opera (Source: Space Review)
Once again the US military is showing interest in developing reusable launch vehicle technology, ultimately to replace existing expendable boosters. Taylor Dinerman describes this latest effort and what's needed in order for it to be successful. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1615/1 to view the article. (4/26)

Rocket Racers, Shuttles, and Tulsa (Source: Space Review)
The Rocket Racing League took to the skies Saturday in Tulsa, their first public flights in over 18 months. Jeff Foust reports on the flights and related efforts by the city to win a big piece of space history. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1614/1 to view the article. (4/26)

Towards a Smarter Future in Space (Source: Space Review)
The White House's new exploration plan for NASA has been criticized by some for having a vague set of destinations and deadlines for NASA. Mark Sykes argues that we need to move beyond such goals to understanding whether and how humans can live beyond Earth. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1613/1 to view the article. (4/26)

San Diego Reaps Benefits of Pentagon Spending (Source: AIA)
While other cities struggle, San Diego has enjoyed a big boost from Pentagon spending, providing a shelter from the slumping economy. San Diego County is home to the largest concentration of military forces in the world, and the Pentagon will spend $17.3 billion in the area this year, up from $16.7 billion in 2009, with big contracts going to local employers such as General Atomics and Northrop Grumman. (4/26)

Stephen Hawking: Humans Should Fear Aliens (Source: Huffington Post)
World renowned scientist Stephen Hawking believes extraterrestrial life almost certainly exists -- and humans should be extremely cautious about interacting with it. "To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational," Hawking says. "The real challenge is to work out what aliens might actually be like."

He suggests that aliens might simply raid Earth for its resources and then move on: "We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn't want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach."

He concludes that trying to make contact with alien races is "a little too risky". He said: "If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn't turn out very well for the Native Americans." (4/26)

Machinists in Houston Rally to Save Space Program Jobs (Source: IAMAW)
"It's time to let Congress know that American astronauts deserve better than a heavily outsourced space program that relies on Russian, Japanese and even Chinese contractors to provide transportation to the International Space Station (ISS)," said IAM President Tom Buffenbarger. "If NASA and the Obama administration have their way, American astronauts will be reduced to hitchhiking to the ISS." Speaker after speaker called on President Obama to reconsider his plans to terminate the Constellation program and commercialize the shuttle program. More than 20,000 direct and indirect jobs in Texas, Florida and other states are associated with the two programs." (4/26)

No comments: