May 14, 2010

Countdown Underway for STS-132 Launch (Source:
NASA is counting down toward Friday's launch of the space shuttle Atlantis on what may be that orbiter's final mission. The scheduled liftoff is at 2:20 pm EDT (1820 GMT) Friday from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport in Florida. Pre-launch preparations have been proceeding smoothly and forecasts call for a 70-percent chance of acceptable weather at launch time. Atlantis will deliver a Russian lab module to the ISS and its crew will also perform several spacewalks outside the station. The launch is one of three remaining on the shuttle manifest and the last scheduled mission for Atlantis. (5/14)

NORAD Chief: Radar System, Jets, Need to be Replaced (Source: AIA)
The four-star general who has headed NORAD, the nation's radar system, since 2007, says he is concerned the system, and its jet fighter fleet, are getting old and need to be replaced. Air Force Gen. Gene Renuart, commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and the U.S. Northern Command, is retiring on July 1 and says the system needs to be updated and integrated with a system of sensors that can better monitor space, maritime areas and U.S. border areas, in addition to the air. (5/14)

Unmanned Blimps, Balloons Could Help Beam Images from Planets (Source: AIA)
Unmanned balloons and blimps, like the ones commonly used for aerial surveillance on the earth, hold the promise of helping with space exploration and offering close-up images of far-away planets. Unlike the rovers that have been sent to the moon and Mars, which tend to get stuck in sand traps and have limited mileage coverage, the blimps could inexpensively cover large swaths of terrain without having to touch the planet's surface. (5/14)

Point-to-Point Group Explores NextGen Spaceflight Integration (Source: SPACErePORT)
A "study group" of industry, government and university officials has been studying common issues related to future global, high-speed point-to-point transportation (including passenger travel and fast package delivery). They are examining pre-competitive issues and questions key to understanding the technical and economic viability of future high-speed global transportation services based on either atmospheric or exo-atmospheric flight. Click here for information. (5/14)

Russian Generals Want Their Space Weapons Too (Source: WIRED)
Weeks after the Air Force launched the X-37B reusable space plane on a classified mission and DARPA launched a hypersonic glider over the Pacific, the Russians are looking at their own inventory of space weaponry — and are worrying of a serious lag behind the United States. A group of retired Russian generals has called for an upgrade to the country’s space defenses, saying that the Russian defense industry has fallen dangerously behind and that the country has a limited capability to counter possible threats from space. (5/14)

'Rich Debate' Continues Over Broader U.S. Space Policy (Source: Defense News)
The Obama administration remains engaged in a "rich debate" about its months-overdue Space Posture Review (SPR), U.S. Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said May 13. Initially slated for delivery to Congress in early February, Cartwright said the SPR "is not completed."

It was to be delivered along with the 2011 defense spending plan, the Quadrennial Defense Review, and other posture strategies on missile defense and nuclear weapons. The nuclear review was weeks late, and Cartwright gave no indication the space review will go to the Hill any time soon. "It has been the hardest of the reviews," the Marine four-star general said bluntly at a conference in Washington.

Officials are still debating a number of thorny issues. For instance, he said, "we need a management structure for how we do business out there." Years ago, Washington and other nations wanted to keep secret from one another the 10 or so satellites that were on orbit. And now that there are "tens of thousands" of orbiters, "we still want to keep it a secret." That's outdated thinking, he said. (5/14)

EADS Profit Drops 39% on Currency Hedges, A380 Costs (Source: Market Watch)
European Aeronautic Defense & Space Co. reported a 39% profit drop in the first quarter, as a hit from deteriorating currency-hedging rates more than offset savings from its Power8 restructuring program, slightly more plane deliveries and a better mix of sales. EADS earned 103 million euros ($131 million), down from €170 million euros. Revenue rose 6% to €8.95 billion. (5/14)

The Aliens Among Us (Source: New York Times)
Searching for alternative life on Earth might seem misconceived, because there is excellent evidence that every kind of life so far studied evolved from a common ancestor that lived billions of years ago. Yet most of the life that exists on Earth has never been properly classified. The vast majority of species are microbes, invisible to the naked eye, and scientists have analyzed only a tiny fraction of them. For all we know, there could be microbes with other ancestral origins living literally under our noses — or even inside our noses — constituting a sort of shadow biosphere, containing life, but not as we know it.

The denizens of the hidden “alien” biosphere — let’s call them Life 2.0 — might employ radically different biochemical processes than the life we know and love. Microbiologists could easily have overlooked their existence, because their methods are focused on the biochemistry of standard life. Obviously, if you go looking for A, you will find A and not B. (5/14)

Japanese Seeds Brought Back from Space Station Missing (Source: Mainichi Daily News)
Plant seeds that were taken into space last year and supposedly brought back to Earth last month on the space shuttle Discovery have gone missing, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency announced. The 120 grams of soybeans, hops and other seeds entrusted to JAXA by a Tokyo-based science education venture were taken to the International Space Station in August last year and were stored inside Japan's Kibo laboratory module until Discovery's flight back home in April.

But JAXA was notified by NASA in late April that the seeds were missing despite records showing they were brought back to Earth by the shuttle. JAXA officials said the organization will investigate what happened, while the venture said it is holding talks with JAXA over the matter. (5/14)

ISS Visitor Favors Commercial Space (Source: Florida Today)
One of the first private astronauts to reach the International Space Station supports President Barack Obama's contentious proposal to use commercial rockets to reach the orbiting outpost. "I'm very glad he did that," said Greg Olsen, an entrepreneur in Princeton, N.J. "If I had my wish list, I would like to see commercial space do all the taxi service and the local stuff, and I'd like to see NASA do the far-out stuff, get to Mars and beyond." (5/14)

Stern: Going Commercial Frees NASA for Deeper Space (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Fortunately, the Obama administration has proposed a game-changing solution that uses private industry to more cost-effectively take on the more mundane aspects of human transportation to low-Earth orbit, freeing up needed funds to send astronauts to explore deep space. The administration's wise commercialization approach echoes an immensely successful path taken by NASA in the past.

Consider: At the dawn of the Space Age, all satellites were built and launched by governments. But early on, communications satellites were encouraged to go commercial. The result: a $100 billion-plus spinoff industry that employs thousands of workers to build the satellites, their ground stations, launchers and associated command and control infrastructure. It also launches more satellites annually than any other form of spaceflight. The money saved frees NASA to do other things with its resources.

Why has the commercialization of human transport to low-Earth orbit been stymied? Are the complexities of Comsats and commercial human transport to low-Earth orbit really so different? Not fundamentally. Are governments the only entities that can build human spacecraft? No, actually every human spacecraft ever built for NASA was built by private industry. (5/14)

Senate Panel Restates Opposition to Killing Constellation (Source: Florida Today)
The Senate Appropriations Committee voted Thursday to repeat an existing prohibition against killing NASA's Constellation program without congressional approval. The action was largely ceremonial because current law governing NASA spending, which Congress passed last year, includes the same prohibition. But the committee's action reinforces opposition to President Obama's plans to change the space agency's priorities.

"It is a restatement of existing law," said Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, where Constellation's Ares rocket is built. "I'm sorry the administration needs this reminder." The prohibition is part of a $58 billion emergency spending bill that provides funding for the war in Afghanistan and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The bill now heads to the full Senate, where quick approval is expected. (5/14)

Hundreds of Workers in Palm Beach County Have Stake in NASA's Future (Source: Palm Beach Post)
The countdown has begun for hundreds of Palm Beach County workers whose jobs rely on the space shuttle program. Only two more shuttle launches are planned after today's scheduled liftoff at Kennedy Space Center, and the end of the shuttle will bring changes for 800 workers at Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne's plant in northwestern Palm Beach County.

Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne has the contract to build and maintain the space shuttle's main engine, and that work is done by Pratt employees in Florida, California and Mississippi. Pratt's Palm Beach County employees work on the shuttle's turbopumps, which deliver liquid oxygen and nitrogen to the shuttle's engine.

Florida Turbine Technologies of Jupiter sees little fallout for its operations. "We didn't really have a lot to do with the space shuttle," Chief Executive Shirley Brostmeyer said. But Brostmeyer is eyeing NASA as a source of growth. Florida Turbine Technologies last month announced it had entered a partnership with Aerojet of Sacramento, Calif., to compete for work on a NASA upper-stage engine. If that partnership is successful, Brostmeyer said, "It could double our company, and then some." (5/14)

Color-Changing Planets Could Hold Clues to Alien Life (Source:
A new way of comparing the color and intensity changes of light reflected off of Earth's surface to the flickers from exoplanets may help reveal the presence of oceans, continents and – possibly – life on alien worlds. Researchers came up with a color scheme for how our uniquely life-filled, ocean-soaked planet would appear to observers tens of light-years away. (5/14)

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