June 13, 2010

Space Probe Returns After 7-Year Asteroid Voyage (Source: Reuters)
A Japanese space probe landed in the Australian outback on Monday after a 7-year voyage to an asteroid, lighting up the night sky and bringing what scientists hope is a rock sample, witnesses said. The Hayabusa probe blazed a spectacular trail as it came in to hit the ground at a blistering speed, ending a journey to the near-Earth asteroid Itokawa that began in 2003.

An Australian defence spokesman told Reuters scientists monitoring the probe's return had confirmed it had landed and identified its location, but it would not be retrieved until daylight. Only then would it become clear if a capsule thought to contain the precious sample was intact. Hayabusa, which means falcon in Japanese, landed on the irregularly shaped asteroid in 2005 and scientists think it managed to pick up a small sample of material. If successful, it would be the first time a spacecraft has brought such a sample back to Earth, other than from our own Moon. (6/13)

Bolden Talks Space Exploration With California Radio (Source: Southern California Public Radio)
No return to the moon; unmanned trips to Mars; the possibility of private companies launching government payloads on commercial rockets--what has the U.S. space program come to? The United States’ space program has always been notable, but the Obama Administration is making some major changes including shutting down the moon shuttle program, Constellation. NASA’s new direction seems to be pointing toward more research heavy and un-manned space exploration. Budget constraints have forced the scaling down of the big dreams and ambitions of NASA, but can man still make an impact in space with limited funds? What does it all mean for the space program? NASA Administrator Charles Bolden is here to discuss the new budget, research programs and the future of NASA. Click here to listen. (6/13)

Constellation Decision is a Blow to US Pride, But the Economy Comes First (Source: Times Online)
By shelving the Constellation program, President Obama is writing the next chapter of America’s history. Compared with previous ones, it does not look uplifting. Half a century ago another charismatic Democratic President led the US into a massive, state-funded gamble on human space exploration. The Cold War required it. After the shame of Sputnik, the idea of the Hammer and Sickle being hoisted on the Moon was simply intolerable. Congress and the public backed it, NASA delivered on time (if not under budget) and the result was a masterclass in courage and resourcefulness.

In 2010 Mr Obama had to decide whether to match John Kennedy’s dramatic challenge with a pledge to boldly go where no astronaut has been before. America today has at least as much to prove as it did in 1961, but it does not face the sort of existential threat that galvanised the nation behind Apollo. Its fascination with space peaked long ago, and in financial terms its cupboard is bare.

President Obama is nothing if not rational. He came to office facing the collapse of the US economy and has since ordered a freeze on discretionary non-security spending. He has ring-fenced his education budget, committed the Treasury to paying $1 trillion over ten years on health insurance subsidies, and still has two wars to fund. In the circumstances, NASA’s quixotic lunge toward Mars with a “new generation” of distinctly old-fashioned rockets looked vulnerable at best. If Mr Obama has his way, it will be doomed. Click here to read the article. (6/13)

Space Tugs: Filling The Space Jobs Gap and Privatization Too! (Source: SpaceRef.com)
US space workers are currently faced with both the loss of the Shuttle program (correctly set in motion by the Bush administration years ago), and also by the temporary gap in space jobs caused by the probable cancellation of the Ares Program. Understandably they are all very concerned about their personal future, and also the seeming end of the manned space program. There is a way to at least partly alleviate both of these problems: (one financial and the other perceptual).

What can we do that will both pave the way to on-orbit re-fueling operations and station expansion in 5-10 years, and also soak up a good measure of the out-of-work NASA employees and contractors? What is the capability that we most need right now? One of the features of the original space station and shuttle concept was a space tug. The concept was called the S.T.S: (Space Transportation System), which would have allowed access to other locations in LEO (in the same or similar orbital plane) from the station. Such a tug would be able to capture large payloads, either modules or large cargo containers, and deliver them safely back to the station. (6/13)

Editorial: Why Are We Inviting Alien Predators? (Source: Decatur Daily)
First, let us congratulate homo sapiens for successfully populating and dominating the earth. Then, let us ask the smartest minds among our two-legged species a question: What are you thinking? While the rest of the animal kingdom is using stealth to avoid being eaten, mankind is inviting predators on other planets to come and get it. NASA and others are trying to contact extraterrestrials and invite them aboard the blue planet.

Perhaps they envision the Pilgrims and Indians sitting down to share an idyllic feast. I have no problem with discovering life on other planets, but do we really want to bring it back home with us? What if we stumble upon creatures with long claws and big teeth? Haven’t these scientists seen the “Alien” movies? While most extraterrestrial life would be like microbes, Stephen Hawking said, advanced forms of life might be nomads, trying to conquer and colonize. We might get back in touch with the acute senses and survival abilities we forgot when our species lost the fear of being eaten every time we left the cave. (6/13)

Russian Rocket Primed for Space Station Mission (Source: AP)
A Russian rocket set to carry a three-person U.S.-Russian crew to the international space station was moved Sunday to a launch pad in preparation for blastoff. The rocket will carry U.S. astronauts Douglas Wheelock and Shannon Walker and Russia's Fyodor Yurchikhin to the international orbiting laboratory on Wednesday for a mission lasting about six months. Under the Central Asian sun, a train carrying their Soyuz booster rocket rolled on a flatbed train Sunday through tinder-dry steppe on its way to the launch pad known as Gagarin's Pad. It is the site from which the Soviet Union sent off Yuri Gagarin in 1961 to become the first human in space. (6/13)

Air Force Deems TacSat Craft Ready for Operational Mission (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
U.S. Air Force officials were planning to hand over a small experimental imaging satellite to Space Command on Saturday, the first time one of the Pentagon's low-cost responsive missions has been thrust into an operational role. Launched in May 2009, the TacSat 3 satellite accomplished all of its planned objectives, including 2,100 image captures from a hyperspectral camera called ARTEMIS, which stands for the Advanced Responsive Tactically Effective Military Imaging Spectrometer. (6/13)

Editorial: More Cash for NASA? That's One Giant Misstep (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Compared to the towering Saturn 5 or the brawny space shuttle, the Falcon 9 is an anorexic bottle rocket. But the flight of the Falcon this month was a milestone of Apollo proportions. It proves we still have the brilliant young entrepreneurs and engineers out there who can lead us into the 21st century. Let me explain the difference between SpaceX and the existing space program with this analogy.

You hire NASA to build a whittling knife. NASA assembles its best and brightest. They add a screwdriver to the knife, and then a can opener and nose-hair trimmer. Soon they have a Swiss Army knife contraption with 67 attachments. and nose-hair trimmer. Soon they have a Swiss Army knife contraption with 67 attachments. It will cost $3,000 and take two years to build. The work is divided among three NASA centers and 67 contractors in 67 different congressional districts. Memos and e-mails fly. A bigger knife is needed for the blades and attachments. So they enlarge it and add a mascara brush.

The knife now costs $15,000 and will take eight years to build. When completed, it is unwieldy and attachments keep breaking off, so you can only whittle once every two months at a cost of $250. Now, if you decide to hire SpaceX... It checks out what is best about other knives. It then designs one with a simple blade and handle, and builds it in-house for $20. SpaceX is a mini-version of what NASA was a long, long time ago, before it morphed into an aging, bloated bureaucracy. NASA is could-do, SpaceX is can-do. (6/13)

Will NASA Give Shuttle Atlantis an Encore? (Source: Florida Today)
NASA is pushing for a decision by month's end on a proposal to fly one additional mission to the International Space Station before shuttle fleet retirement. "The sooner we know, the better. That's for sure," said Mike Moses, shuttle launch integration manager at Kennedy Space Center. "We can't stay in limbo forever," added NASA space operations chief Bill Gerstenmaier.

An extra shuttle mission would help NASA get more supplies to the space station, and hedge against any delay in commercial cargo deliveries to the outpost. It also would slow down the layoffs at Kennedy Space Center, keeping thousands on the job through the end of another school year. But it carries some risk. There would be no backup shuttle ready to rescue the crew if they ran into trouble. And adding one more station supply run doesn't come cheap. NASA officials put the cost at anywhere between $600 million to $1 billion. Click here to read the article. (6/13)

Feds, Locals Hope Modernizing KSC Means Construction Jobs Now, Space Jobs Later (Source: Florida Today)
While the Obama Administration's plans to upgrade KSC mean more space business down the road, the multi-billion dollar stimulus could create jobs and boost the Space Coast economy before the first next-generation rocket launches. The proposed expenditure of $1.9 billion to modernize KSC over the next five years could create up to 1,000 construction jobs, according to some in the industry, while transforming the center into a modern spaceport.

If that budget is approved, KSC managers are preparing to spend $429 million -- the first year's allocation -- to upgrade infrastructure at the center possibly starting as soon as 2011. NASA sent out a Request for Information early this month, asking for suggestions that KSC could implement to help commercial launch companies set up operations there. Even before the RFI, NASA has announced changes. At an Industry Day in March, officials unveiled relaxed rules for bringing private industries to KSC after the shuttle stops flying. "We're targeting commercial companies," a NASA official said. (6/13)

Capsule Plunges to Earth After Historic Visit to Asteroid (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
Cutting across the night sky at more than 27,000 mph, a small Japanese capsule returned to Earth from the surface of an asteroid Sunday and landed in the remote Australian outback. The 16-inch-wide capsule plunged into the atmosphere over Australia at 9:51 a.m. EDT on the second-fastest re-entry of a manmade spacecraft ever attempted. Streaming video from Australia showed a luminous fireball appear in the sky near the correct position, indicating the Hayabusa craft was on track toward a touchdown. (6/13)

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