July 15, 2010

Senate Committee Passes NASA Bill (Sources: Orlando Sentinel, Space Politics, Space Policy Online)
NASA's plans to return astronauts to the moon by 2020 died a quiet death this morning when a key Senate panel approved a new course for the agency that terminates the Constellation moon-rocket program and instructs NASA to build a new rocket for a yet-undefined mission. "I believe we have reached a sensible center," said committee chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller. "We're challenging NASA to do more with the resources that it has." Sen. Bill Nelson said that the bill was a necessary compromise to break a congressional stalemate that threatened to paralyze NASA. "If we don't pass a bill now, it'll effectively shut down the Cape," said a press spokesman.

Sen. Rockefeller said he thinks that Sen. Mikulski, who chairs relevant appropriations subcommittee, "likes what we're doing" with the NASA bill. Senator Nelson stated that the Senate Appropriations Committee will mark up the appropriations bill that includes NASA next week. (7/15)

Sen. Shelby Praises NASA Compromise (Source: Huntsville Times)
U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, called a proposed NASA budget compromise announced in Washington today "a clear path forward for the agency" and a "good first step" toward resolving a fight over NASA's future. "This proposed authorization bill provides a significant new direction for NASA," said Shelby. "It wisely rejects the administration's outright cancellation of NASA's human space flight program, and instead provides a clear path forward for the agency's exploration program." (7/15)

Sen. LeMieux: “Bill Takes NASA Off Life Support” (Source: Sen. LeMieux)
“This Administration has put NASA on a path that effectively ends our nation’s leadership in space exploration and now Congress is left to try to salvage the most critical elements. What this bill does is take NASA off life support so it can prepare the shuttle for ‘launch on need’ and move ahead with the heavy lift rocket program and the next generation space vehicle by 2016, which is a big improvement compared to the Administration’s plan. But it is unfortunate we are in the position we are today and I wish we could do more, but this Administration’s antipathy toward the space program and years of inadequate funding have brought us to this point.” (7/15)

Sen. Hatch: New Bill May Save ATK Jobs (Source: Salt Lake Tribune)
A Senate committee on Thursday adopted language that Sen. Orrin Hatch says takes a giant step toward saving a host of jobs in Utah that would have been lost under President Barack Obama’s plan to jettison NASA’s Constellation program. The Senate Commerce Committee passed language that the Utah Republican’s office believes will ensure solid-rocket motors, like those built by ATK in Utah, will continue to be part of a government-owned and run space program.

Obama’s spending plan jettisoned the delayed and over-budget Constellation program. “After six months of work, we have taken the first major step away from the abyss,” Hatch said in a statement Thursday. The bill passed by the Commerce Committee “holds the promise of maintaining our civilian solid rocket motor rocket capability.” (7/15)

Sen. Vitter Secures Provisions in NASA Bill to Keep Michoud Open (Source: Sen. Vitter)
Sen. David Vitter secured key provisions in the bipartisan NASA Reauthorization Act of 2010 that will ensure Michoud Assembly Facility’s continued viability and help keep Louisiana as an integral part of human space flight for years to come.

“The Obama administration was planning to make radical changes to our space program that would have closed Michoud and killed hundreds of high-paying jobs in our state,” said Vitter. “With this bipartisan bill, we’re not only going to start making the changes we need to save Michoud, we’re going to ensure these jobs stay in Louisiana and bring NASA back in line with its original mission as the world’s leader in manned space flight.” (7/15)

Inquiry Relights Tensions in South African Astronomy (Source: Physics World)
A new inquiry into the management of one of South Africa’s biggest science facilities is to be held by the science and technology committee of the country’s parliament. The inquiry will look into the South African Large Telescope (SALT), although there is confusion over the specific allegations and what has levelled them.

This year has been a turbulent time for the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO), which operates SALT. In March, the director of the SAAO, Phil Charles, was reinstated to his post after having been cleared of allegations by the National Research Foundation (NRF) of leaking confidential information on telescope and management proposals. (7/15)

Caltech Scientists Measure Changing Lake Depths on Titan (Source: CalTech)
On Earth, lake levels rise and fall with the seasons and with longer-term climate changes, as precipitation, evaporation, and runoff add and remove liquid. Now, for the first time, scientists have found compelling evidence for similar lake-level changes on Saturn's largest moon, Titan—the only other place in the solar system seen to have a hydrological cycle with standing liquid on the surface. (7/15)

Russia to Start Testing New Angara rocket in 2013 (Source: RIA Notosti)
Test launches of Russia's new booster rocket, the Angara, are to start in 2013, the rocket designer said. Vladimir Nesterov, head of the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, said the rocket assembly would be completed in the first quarter of 2011, adding that the first-stage engine was "99% ready" and the second-stage engine had already been tested three times.

He said the only problem that could affect the schedule of tests was delays in the purchase of ground-based equipment that the center was unable to order due to underfunding. Angara rockets, designed to provide lifting capabilities between 2,000 and 40,500 kg into low earth orbit, are expected to become the core of Russia's unmanned launcher fleet, replacing several existing systems. (7/15)

Was Our Universe Born Inside a Black Hole in Another Universe? (Source: Daily Galaxy)
The current explanation of the universe's origins relies on clumsy assumptions and can't explain most subatomic particles. A small tweak to general relativity solves these problems - and seemingly proves the universe must have come from a black hole elsewhere. As it stands right now, the explanation for the universe's beginnings is built around a combination of Einstein's general relativity and observation of the ancient universe.

However, the universe is impossibly large according to its current rate of expansion, so astrophysicists have to invoke the idea of inflation, in which the early universe expanded at a tremendous rate within the first second after the Big Bang. General relativity, however, can't explain inflation, so another theory is required to account for it. Physicists tend to prefer an all-encompassing explanation to a bunch of piecemeal solutions. Click here to read the article. (7/15)

Loral To Build Satellite for Eutelsat-Qatari Government Venture (Source: Space News)
Loral will build a mixed Ku- and Ka-band telecommunications satellite for fleet operator Eutelsat and the government of Qatar under a contract the companies announced July 15. The satellite, to be launched in early 2013, will be stationed at Eutelsat’s 25.5 degrees east orbital slot to provide services throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. (7/15)

White House May be Inclined to Support Senate NASA Bill (Source: Houston Chronicle)
Although the Senate's budget differs substantially from the vision proposed by the White House, there's reason to believe that President Barack Obama may be inclined to support the legislation. First, there's this quote from an administration official obtained by my colleague:

"While we are still in the process of reviewing the details of the draft, the bill appears to contain the critical elements necessary for achieving the President's vision for NASA and represents an important first step towards helping us achieve the key goals they President has laid out. We look forward to continuing to work with Congress to help advance an ambitious and achievable space program -- one that helps us blaze a new trail of innovation and discovery." White House officials also note a number of areas in which the Senate bill supports the President's plan. (7/15)

New Mexico Spaceport Working on Water Problem (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Spaceport America officials are taking steps to solve problems for households near the spaceport that saw their water supplies cut off or curtailed because of heavy pumping tied to spaceport construction. But some residents still have concerns about the attempted remedies. The four households, located about seven miles north of the spaceport site, began to notice declining water supplies in April, after a Spaceport America contractor - FNF Construction Inc. of Albuquerque - had acquired access to a private well about a mile away and was using it to supply water for spaceport construction. (7/15)

Asia Takes Stock of New US Space Policy (Source: Asia Times)
A new National Space Policy issued by United States President Barack Obama's administration in late June emphasized the important role of international cooperation in space and demonstrated the apparent willingness of the US to begin work on a space weapons treaty. As the three major space powers in Asia - China, India and Japan - assess the new policy, they must pay close attention not only to the details, but also to the harsh political winds that are buffeting Obama these days.

Some see China as the big winner in this instance, while others see India and Japan coming out on top. "[The new US space policy] which lays out broad themes and goals, does not lend itself to such determination for a specific country," said Subrata Ghoshroy, a research associate at MIT. However, he added, "countries like India and Japan are expected to benefit more".

It is not just US conservatives who do not want the US to embrace China in space. "Many members of the Obama administration and a large majority of the members of Congress are opposed to cooperation with China in space. They want to deny China status as a member in good standing of the international community of space-faring nations," said Gregory Kulacki, senior analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "Many believe they have not earned that right. At the same time, however, they have not specified what China must do to earn it. Some tie cooperation in space to human rights. Others ... to other troublesome issues in the bilateral relationship." (7/15)

Editorial: Better Course on Space (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Bill Nelson's plan is not perfect — not surprising for the product of a bipartisan compromise. But it's better than the likely alternative. We found more to like than dislike in the president's proposal. While ending shuttles would cost thousands of jobs on Florida's Space Coast, prolonging the program would tie up billions of dollars that NASA could invest in more-advanced rockets.

But if Congress doesn't agree on an alternative, current space policy would survive by default. That would mean another year of work on Constellation — billions over budget and years behind schedule — and no real effort to reorient NASA's course. An earlier version of Mr. Nelson's plan also would have diverted money from commercial space launches, but his office said Wednesday that he had backed off that idea. That's progress. His plan also incorporates the $2 billion space-center upgrade. (7/15)

Nelson Proposal Unsettles Space Coast EDC (Source: Florida Today)
A NASA Authorization Act that is likely to clear a U.S. Senate committee today could squander a rare opportunity for the Space Coast to transform its economy, local economic development officials said Wednesday. "The risk that this future may be bargained away for one more attuned to the needs of Alabama, Texas and Utah, in the name of political expediency, demands a response," leaders of the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast wrote in a letter to Sen. Bill Nelson.

Nelson, D-Orlando, has promoted a bill that would accelerate development of a heavy-lift rocket as a compromise that could earn support from harsh critics of President Barack Obama's space proposals, including some in the states cited in the letter and elsewhere. He argues that an immediate heavy-lift project -- five years sooner than had been planned -- and an extra shuttle flight next summer would help Kennedy Space Center make necessary changes through the shuttle program's end.

But the draft legislation would significantly cut back spending proposed during the next three years for technology research and development and to help private companies build vehicles that would fly astronauts to the International Space Station. Those Obama administration proposals have generated a "flourish of inquiries" and "rush of interests" from companies and universities attracted to Brevard County, EDC officials said. (7/15)

NASA Wants to Help You Stop Throwing Up (Source: KSEE)
Can't go on a long car ride without feeling queasy? Don't worry -- you're not a wimp if you get green in the gills in the minivan. Even astronauts (up to 50 percent of them!) get airsick. And as it turns out, whether your summer travel plans include a cross-country flight or the boats at "It's a Small World," an unlikely source might help ease your motion sickness: NASA.

"Motion sickness won't kill you -- you just wish it would," says Dr. Patricia S. Cowings, a research psychologist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. Cowings and colleague Dr. William B. Toscano have a six-hour anti-motion sickness training program called AFTE for autogenic-feedback training exercise. It works even better than the anti-nausea injections given to queasy astronauts. (7/15)

NASA Outreach Program 'Confirmed' Despite White House Denial, Rep Says (Source: Fox News)
The White House is disavowing a plan to have NASA conduct outreach to Muslim countries, but a congressman who talked to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden about that plan last month said the initiative was very real until somebody slammed the brakes on it. Rep. Pete Olson, ranking Republican on the Space and Aeronautics House Subcommittee, told FoxNews.com that Bolden described the outreach program as part of the administration's space plan during a conversation they had in June. "He confirmed it to me," Olson said. The Texas Republican said he thinks the program existed until the "uproar" compelled the administration to rethink it. (7/15)

SETIcon: Convention on the Search for Life in the Universe, Aug. 13-15 (Source: SETIcon)
The First-Ever Public Convention Focused on the Search for Life in the Universe in Science Fact and Science Fiction will be held on Aug. 13-15 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Santa Clara, California. Visit http://www.seticon.com for more information and tickets. (7/15)

NASA Hopes to Launch High-Tech Demos Early and Often (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
NASA's new space technology development program is taking a page from Google. The innovative Internet firm's mantra of launching products early and often could be the tagline for NASA's consolidated initiative to develop revolutionary space capabilities, according to the agency's chief technologist. President Obama proposed spending $5 billion over the next five years to put a charge into NASA's technology development programs, which have suffered from draining budgets and a decentralized management structure. Congress has not acted on the proposed budget, but if it is passed and the technology office is funded, NASA could fill its mission roster with an array of new demonstration missions. Click here for more. (7/15)

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