August 12, 2010

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Dot Are You a Planet or Are You Not? (Source: WIRED)
The faint celestial object TMR-1C has had a checkered past — and now it has a checkered present. In 1998, NASA proclaimed that a picture taken of the body with the Hubble Space Telescope — a fuzzy white dot — might go down in history as the first planet beyond the solar system to be photographed. The discovery team suggested that the object’s location — at the end of a long, luminous filament emanating from two newborn stars — indicated that TMR-1C was a planet cast off by those incipient suns.

Many researchers were skeptical, noting that the apparent association between the object and the youthful stars might be a chance alignment on the sky. Only a year later the discovery team leader declared that the body was too hot to be a planet and could be just an old background star. Now two independent studies indicate that the team may have written off TMR-1C prematurely. Both reports provide evidence that the object is closely linked to the pair of youthful stars. While one of the studies suggests TMR-1C is just another low-mass star associated with the pair, the other suggests it could indeed be a planet. (8/12)

Citizen Scientists Make First Deep Space Discovery With Einstein@Home (Source: WIRED)
While your computer is running idle, it could be finding new pulsars and black holes in deep space. Three volunteers running the distributed computing program Einstein@Home have discovered a new pulsar in the data from the Arecibo Observatory radio telescope. Their computers, one in Iowa (owned by two people) and one in Germany, downloaded and processed the data that found the pulsar, which is in the Milky Way, approximately 17,000 light years from Earth in constellation Vulpecula. (8/12)

Europe Makes Plans for Physics Experiments in Orbit (Source: Science Insider)
With the increasing convergence of particle physics, astrophysics, and cosmology, the European Space Agency (ESA) this week published a road map of space missions and technology development that it will aim for between 2015 and 2025. Besides testing the fundamental laws of physics, the program includes the search for gravitational waves and their sources, quantum mechanical experiments in space, the elucidation of the nature of dark energy and dark matter, and the search of antimatter in space.

Researchers in these fields are increasingly turning to space missions to answer fundamental questions in physics. They are in something of a catch-22 situation at the moment: To better understand the structure of the universe, they need a better knowledge of physics, but to get a better understanding of physics, they have to improve their understanding of the structure of the universe. (8/12)

OHB Revenue, Profits Soar on Galileo Work (Source: Space News)
German space hardware manufacturer OHB Technology on Aug. 11 reported a 42 percent increase in revenue and a 55 percent increase in backlog for the first six months of 2010 as its work on Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation constellation began to ripple through the company's accounts. OHB is prime contractor for 14 Galileo satellites, with the first due in time for launch in late 2012. (8/12)

Asteroid Near Neptune Found in Gravitational Dead Zone (Source:
Astronomers have discovered a new asteroid in a region of Neptune's orbit where no previous object was known to exist -- a so-called gravitational "dead zone." The asteroid, which follows Neptune's orbit around the sun, may help shed light on fundamental questions about planetary formation and migration. (8/12)

Jupiter Swallowed a Super-Earth (Source: New Scientist)
Jupiter might have secured its position as the solar system's mightiest planet by killing an up-and-coming rival, new simulations suggest. The work could explain why the planet has a relatively small heart, and paints a grisly picture of the early solar system, where massive, rocky "super-Earths" were snuffed out before they could grow into gas giants. Jupiter and Saturn are thought to have begun life as rocky worlds with the mass of at least a few Earths. Their gravity then pulled in gas from their birth nebula, giving them dense atmospheres. (8/12)

Indian Satellite To Study Solar Corona (Source: Aviation Week)
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is gearing up for a unique satellite mission to study the solar corona — the outermost region of the Sun — in visible and near-infrared bands. The satellite, called Aditya, will be launched in 2012 during the solar maximum, a high solar activity period. The solar maximum occurs roughly every 11 years. (8/12)

Jacksonville Teacher Receives "Gold Star" Honors from NASA (Source: DCPS)
Sheree' Kearns, the facilities director of the Challenger Learning Center at Kirby-Smith Middle, is one of 14 educators in the nation to receive "Gold Star" honors in the NASA-sponsored Top Stars contest, which invited U.S. formal and informal educators to submit their best examples of using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope in science, technology, engineering or mathematics education.

Gold Star status was awarded to the best of the best, and Kearns was awarded a Gold Star for her lesson, Galactic Brain Buster Brawl. Kearns will receive an official letter of commendation from NASA, an invitation to present her entry to other educators nationwide using the NASA Digital Learning Network, a pair of IMAX movie tickets that can be used to see "Hubble 3D," and a "Hubble 3D" movie poster for classroom display. Click here for more. (8/12)

Doom, Ultima Creators Talk Space at QuakeCon (Source: WIRED)
QuakeCon, the annual LAN party and celebration of “peace, love and rockets”, kicked off Thursday in Dallas. In keeping with tradition, id Software co-founder and Doom lead programmer John Carmack will address the computer-toting QuakeCon masses with a keynote speech Thursday evening. Immediately following, Carmack will share the stage with fellow Texan Richard Garriott, creator of the classic Ultima role-playing games.

They won’t be discussing videogames. Instead, they’ll talk about their shared enthusiasm for space travel. In 2008, Garriott spent millions of his own money and shed one-sixth of his liver to gain a seat on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft and visit the International Space Station. Carmack hasn’t been to space yet, but he founded Armadillo Aerospace in 2000. Armadillo rockets have participated in several X Prize competitions. In 2009, Carmack’s team took second place and a $500,000 purse in the Lunar Lander Challenge.

This year, Carmack forged a deal with Space Adventures, the Virginia-based firm that made Garriott’s trip to space possible. The plan: Use Carmack’s knack for rocket science to put more tourists in space. Click here to read he article. (8/12)

Space & Missile History Center To Open At Cape Canaveral (Source: Florida Today)
A new museum devoted to preserving the hardware and the history of the birthplace of the nation's space program will open this week just outside the gates of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The U.S. Air Force Space & Missile History Center is located in the auditorium of the old Space Florida building next to Gate 1, also known as the South Gate, at the air base. An offshoot of the Air Force Space & Missile Museum, which is located in a secure area of the base, the new museum will be free and open to the public six days a week. (8/12)

Editorial: Boeing's Commercial Crew Push Good for Space Coast (Source: Florida Today)
The premise of President Obama’s plan to use private companies to ferry astronauts into space is that it will spur competition, create jobs and close the gap between the shuttle’s end and the rockets that will replace it. It’s a tall order, but a new development brings cautious optimism the approach is starting to take hold.

It came a few days ago when Boeing announced it’s getting into the game with an Apollo-like spacecraft it says will be ready to fly astronauts from Cape Canaveral to the International Space Station by 2015. The crews would be launched aboard proven Atlas 5 or Delta 4 rockets, or Falcon 9 rockets. Florida is currently competing with Alabama, Texas and Nevada for the program's manufacture and assembly work, and a decision is expected within three months, with Space Coast economic development officials involved in the hunt.

Pending congressional approval, NASA plans to request formal proposals for private space taxi services to the space station late this year or early next year. Two companies are expected to be selected, with SpaceX and Boeing the top contenders. Getting Obama’s commercial crew idea off the ground still remains to be accomplished. Setbacks could dash schedules, diminish hopes and cause more political problems in Washington. Nonetheless, Boeing’s decision shows the plan is gaining traction and brings needed momentum to the effort. (8/12)

Gates Lays Out Details to Cut Pentagon Spending (Source: AIA)
Defense Secretary Robert Gates detailed his plans Monday for cutting wasteful programs and practices in the Pentagon to save money for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and to modernize the military. Among key proposed cuts are the elimination of the Joint Forces Command, which trains troops from the services to fight together; a 10% cut for three years for spending on contractors; and cuts of 50 generals and admirals and 150 top civilians over the next two years. (8/12)

Lawmakers Say Base Closure Rule May Make Gates' Reduction Plan Illegal (Source: AIA)
Lawmakers in Virginia say a military downsizing rule could make Defense Secretary Robert Gates' plan to close down the Joint Forces Command illegal. The plan was announced on Monday as part of a broader initiative to reel in spending, but Virginia politicians say they were caught off guard by the announcement -- and that the Base Realignment and Closure process, requiring legislative input on decisions to close any base that employs more than 999 people, may apply. (8/12)

NASA Ames Looking to Pay for Hangar One Restoration with its Own Funds (Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel)
NASA Ames Research Center is gearing up to restore Hangar One, an official said, and despite the agency's long-running claims that it couldn't afford to do the work, the money may come from within NASA after all. Deborah Feng, director of center operations at NASA Ames, said a "request for information" the agency issued this week will help it pinpoint a price for putting new walls on the structure, after the original toxic panels are removed by the Navy, Moffett Field's former operator.

While some money may still come from industry partners or a $10 million federal appropriations request by U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, Feng said NASA is "now looking around for money internally." No specific sources of cash have been identified to pay for the new siding, which, according to previous estimates, could cost between $15 million and $40 million. (8/12)

NASA Leader Says Bright Future for SoCal, JPL (Source: Pasadena Star News)
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory will have a key role in President Obama's push to reinvigorate the nation's aerospace technology, NASA's new chief technologist said Wednesday. Touring NASA centers in effort to promote Obama's plans for a new Space Technology Program, technology chief Robert Braun said JPL's long history of research and design make it a strong contender in the program, which will be built around competitive bidding. (8/12)

NASTAR Center Completes Spaceflight Training Class for Researchers (Source: NASTAR)
The NASTAR Center, the premier commercial space training and research center in the world, completed its third Suborbital Scientist Training Class this year. The Suborbital Scientist Training Program provides researchers with hands-on space flight physiology training to prepare them to design and perform experiments on suborbital vehicles. Eight (8) researchers from U.S. universities, including a NASA astronaut candidate, successfully completed the three-day course held August 2-4th, 2010.

The NASTAR Center has trained over 220 trainees to date for upcoming commercial space flights. These flights offer low-cost, repeatable access to space with 2-5 minutes of microgravity. By performing the NASTAR Suborbital Scientist Training Program, researchers, professors, and graduate students gain first hand insight into how the physiological stresses experienced during spaceflight will affect them and their ability to operate their experiment. (8/12)

Might Just Right for Tricky Fix on Space Station (Source: Florida Today)
American astronauts will try to restore full cooling capability to the U.S. side of the International Space Station next week after the successful removal Wednesday of a broken ammonia pump. Four days after a failed first attempt, spacewalker Doug Wheelock violently shook a jammed connector, finally freeing a frozen coolant line. The feat cleared the way for the pump's removal and its planned replacement on Monday. "So, when in doubt, brute force overcomes everything," NASA mission commentator Rob Navias said. (8/12)

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