September 13, 2010

Explore Mars Launches the Mars Education Challenge (Source: Explore Mars)
The Mars Education Challenge asks high school science educators to develop and submit ingenious ways to fit Mars science and exploration into their classroom lessons. “The science required to study Mars is largely the same 'Earth' science that is currently taught in school districts around the country,” said Chris Carberry, Executive Director, Explore Mars, Inc. “By showing that the study of Mars is highly relevant to the study of Earth, we want to find new ways to excite students not only in space exploration, but in science and engineering.”

The inaugural Challenge will recognize six curricula entries – five regional and one national -- with awards of $2500-$5000. Winners will also have opportunities to do field research with well-known planetary scientists. The national prize will be presented during the NSTA National Conference on Science Education, taking place March 10-13, 2011 in San Francisco. Winning lesson plans will be shared with classrooms nationwide. Visit (9/13)

NASA Does a Dry Run for Deep Space (Source: MSNBC)
NASA's Desert RATS exercise is in full swing, and that means astronauts in mocked-up spacesuits and monster rovers are roaming the Arizona desert to practice for a journey to Mars. Desert RATS is the space agency's high-profile field trip to test the prototypes for contraptions that could go along with the astronauts on honest-to-goodness trips to the Red Planet, or an asteroid, or the moon, or wherever NASA wants to go in the future. The acronym stands for "research and technology studies." This month's exercise has been going on at Black Point Lava Flow in northern Arizona for nearly two weeks. (9/13)

KSC: Water's Fine After Pipe Repair (Source: Florida Today)
Kennedy Space Center has fully recovered from the water main break that briefly closed the center last week. An advisory distributed today says bacteria tests have determined it's safe for employees to drink the water from all facilities, including some Launch Complex 39 area offices that were most directly affected by the break. (9/13)

Lunar Land Bridge Found (Source: Discovery)
We’ve found the astronomical equivalent of the “bridge to nowhere.” It’s 250,000 miles away on the far side of the moon. The 60-foot-long span (the length of a small New England covered bridge) is wide enough to carry two-lanes of traffic, and stretches across a gorge 40 ft deep. The bridge looks like the result of a lava flow that followed the formation of the 50 mile-wide King Crater. The crater contains several smooth “ponds” that are thought to be melted and re-hardened surface material heated by the asteroid or comet that collided with the moon. (9/13)

Grains of 'Star Stuff' Found in Meteorite (Source: Discovery)
One of the most mind-blowing revelations to come from astronomy is that, as Carl Sagan so succinctly put it, "We are star stuff." Elements heavier than hydrogen and helium were made in the cores of stars or in supernovae, blasted into space to seed the next generation of stars and, eventually, planets. So although you can see the results of supernovae everywhere, some scientists are extracting the remnants of specific explosions in tiny particles in ancient asteroids. (9/13)

Hair Dryer Glitch Pushes Private Danish Rocket Launch to 2011 (Source:
A powerless hair dryer was apparently to blame for thwarting the debut launch of a privately built Danish rocket, pushing the novel booster's first flight back to sometime in June 2011. The suborbital rocket launch was scrubbed when a liquid oxygen valve in the rocket became stuck after a hair dryer lost electric power, exposing the valve to the frigid temperatures near the Danish island of Bornholm, the Copenhagen Post newspaper reported after a press conference with the rocketeers. (9/13)

14 Big Space Rocks Discovered Beyond Neptune (
Astronomers have discovered a cache of 14 large space rocks beyond the orbit of Neptune while sifting through archival observations from the Hubble Space Telescope. Icy rocks like the newfound objects are known as trans-Neptunian objects because they typically reside outside Neptune's orbit. These objects include the former planet Pluto, now classified as a dwarf planet, as well as comets like the famed Halley's comet. The newfound objects range from 25 to 60 miles across (40 to 100 kilometers), said the researchers. (9/13)

New NRO Charter on the Verge of Approval (Source: Space News)
A new charter that would give the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) full budget authority for its own programs is expected to be approved in the coming weeks by the secretary of defense and director national intelligence. The NRO, which builds and operates the nation’s classified spy satellites, currently can decide when most of its programs are ready to move from the research and development phase to production. For select programs, however, the so-called milestone decision authority is controlled by the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The NRO will take charge of all its programs under the new charter. (9/13)

Asteroid Science Advances (Source: AFTAU)
Though it was once believed that all asteroids are giant pieces of solid rock, later hypotheses have it that some are actually a collection of small gravel-sized rocks, held together by gravity. If one of these "rubble piles" spins fast enough, it's speculated that pieces could separate from it through centrifugal force and form a second collection — in effect, a second asteroid. Now researchers at Tel Aviv University, in collaboration with an international group of scientists, have proved the existence of these theoretical "separated asteroid" pairs. (9/13)

Space Project 'Would Change Australia' (Source: WA Today)
Australian astronaut Andy Thomas has thrown his support behind Western Australia's bid to be part of one of the largest international space projects in history, saying it would have a profound impact on the nation. Dr Thomas, who has racked up 177 days in space across four NASA missions, is in Perth until Wednesday and will give a public lecture at Curtin University tonight to raise awareness of the $2.5 billion Square Kilometer Array (SKA) telescope project. (9/13)

United Launch Alliance Misses Out on NASA Funds (Source: WAFF)
Decatur's United Launch Alliance has learned that it will not be getting NASA funding for the current post Constellation program, with the largest chunks of money going to Utah and Huntsville. Now many worry what that may do to jobs. The Senate Authorization Bill calls for the use of solid rocket motors that would not be common with ULA's Delta IV. Representatives say the payload requirements can only be realistically met by using solid-rocket motors which are made in Utah, which could save thousands of jobs there. (9/13)

Homans, Spaceport America Are In on the Ground Floor (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Rick Homans is not a know-it-all. The director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority has been a successful entrepreneur, a political candidate and has served as cabinet secretary for the state with two different departments. Overseeing the construction and development — and everything else involved — with what he calls "the world's first purpose-built commercial spaceport," can keep a man humble, though.

"I know that I'll never get to the point where I know it all; I'd like to get to the point where I know 5 percent or 10 percent," said Homans, director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority. He works out the authority's office in Las Cruces. "The key to it is knowing how much you don't know and making sure you bring on the different types of expertise and different types of opinions too." (9/13)

NASA Launch From Wallops Postponed Indefinitely (Source: DelMarVaNow)
The third rocket test of a new flight safety system developed at NASA Wallops Flight Facility that was scheduled for launch Wednesday has been postponed indefinitely. The delay is due to extended testing of the payload system which will examine several new rocket technologies, according to NASA officials. The Suborbital Technology Experiment Carrier III mission is designed to demonstrate multiple technologies, improve sounding rocket capabilities and support range development initiatives, according to NASA. (9/13)

Why is it America's Job to Save the World From Asteroids? (Source: Foreign Policy)
The U.S. currently spends about $5.5 million per year to track NEO's and less than a million on researching ways to counter them. Some might say that's already too much, given the more terrestrial problems the U.S. faces. On the other hand, the United States spends more than $1 billion -- the amount NASA says it needs to meet its goal of detecting all potentially dangerous objects by 2020 -- on far less lofty goals than saving humanity from the fate of the dinosaurs. Even an asteroid just one kilometer in diameter would be enough to cause worldwide crop failures and a shift in the earth's climate. One just a few meters wide could wipe out a major city.

But why, in this supposedly post-American world, is the U.S. expected to take the lead on this? Unlike, say, missile defense, asteroid detection and deterrence benefits all countries -- if NASA does detect a potentially dangerous asteroid, chances are it's probably going to hit somewhere else. And unlike global warming, smaller developing countries can't say that the U.S. should accept more of the blame for asteroids. Scientists have been urging the United Nations to coordinate international asteroid detection efforts for years. But progress seems to be slow-going. (9/13)

Orion Capsule Will Use Harris Corp.'s OS/COMET (Source: Harris Corp.)
Harris Corp. announced that Lockheed Martin will use its OS/COMET® telemetry, tracking, and command software for the Orion Program's Telemetry System to serve NASA's new Orion crew exploration vehicle. The OS/COMET product will be a vital part of LMSSC Integrated Electrical Ground Support Equipment located at multiple labs in Denver and Houston, and test facilities in Ohio and Florida. (9/13)

ILS and SES Extend Launch Services Deal (Source: Space News)
International Launch Services (ILS) will loft a sixth satellite for fleet operator SES aboard a Russian Proton rocket before the end of 2014 under an extension of an agreement originally signed in June 2007. ILS in April launched the first satellite as part of the Multi-Launch Agreement, SES-1, and two more missions under the deal are slated for 2011 and 2012. Three more ILS missions under the agreement will be conducted in the 2012-2014 timeframe, with satellites to be assigned on an as-needed basis. (9/13)

Engineers Assess Space Station's Structural Integrity (Source:
While politicians in Washington debate the future of America's space program, engineers across the globe are dutifully verifying the International Space Station can safely survive another two decades in orbit. The extension of the space station through at least 2020 is a key tenet in the Obama administration's NASA budget proposal. It's also one of the least controversial. (9/13)

Building Blocks for Life on Mars Possibly Seen By Viking Probes (Source:
Samples of Mars dirt collected by NASA's Viking Mars landers back in the 1970s may have contained carbon-based chemical building blocks of life as we know it, a new study suggests. During their missions, the two Viking landers vaporized Martian dirt and scrutinized the samples for signs of organic - or carbon-based - molecules that could serve as the raw ingredients for life. At the time, all they found were chlorine compounds attributed to contamination, but the new research suggests the Viking probes' heat-treatment may have generated these chlorine compounds from naturally occurring Martian organics, destroying them in the process. (9/13)

Norm Augustine Visits Embry-Riddle as Part of Lecture Series on Nov. 22 (Source: ERAU)
Norman Augustine, recent chairman of the Review of United States Human Space Flight Plans Committee; past Chairman and CEO of Martin Marietta Corporation and then President and CEO of Lockheed Martin; professor at Princeton University and also past Chairman of the Academy of Engineering, will speak on “Aerospace: Past, Present, and Future” during a free lecture at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach on Nov. 22. (9/13)

EUMETSAT Chooses Arianespace Soyuz to Launch Metop-C Satellite (Source: Arianespace)
The European meteorological satellite organization EUMETSAT has chosen Arianespace to launch its new satellite, Metop-C. Metop-C will be launched into polar orbit during the last quarter of 2016 by a Soyuz launch vehicle from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana. (9/13)

Sirius XM-5 Satellite Delivered to Baikonur for October Launch (Source: RIA Novosti)
A giant An-124 Ruslan cargo plane has landed at the Baikonur Space Center in Kazakhstan with a telecommunications satellite that will be launched for Sirius XM radio in mid-October. The Sirius XM-5 satellite and an array of support equipment were unloaded and taken to a clean room for final assembly and testing. The launch is expected to take place on October 14. The satellite will function as an in-orbit spare for the Sirius XM satellite radio network. All four previous Sirius satellites were launched on Proton rockets. (9/13)

Astronaut: Solution to Energy Woes May Lie Out of This World (Source: Ottawa Citizen)
Space exploration may pay off in the quest for renewable energy supplies for all of the globe’s inhabitants, the president of the Canadian Space Agency said. “There is a tremendous amount of energy out in the universe,” Steve MacLean said during a speech that urged delegates to look beyond the boundaries of Earth. That untapped energy is manifest in such things as black holes, said MacLean.

Space assets are already collecting massive amounts of precise data which can help find new energy sources on Earth or track energy use and climate change. There are now 70 Earth observation satellites but in 10 years that number is expected to grow to 300, he noted. The 21st World Energy Congress is billed as the largest international gathering devoted to all sources of energy. (9/13)

Debating the Future of Human Spaceflight (Source: Space Review)
Congress returns to work this week with a NASA authorization bill among the many items up for consideration. Jeff Foust reports on the continued debate about what should be in that legislation, which will shape the future direction of NASA's human spaceflight program. Visit to view the article. (9/13)

The Real Mistakes of the Space Shuttle Program (Source: Space Review)
As the space shuttle programs winds down, some wonder if the entire program was something of a mistake. Paul Torrance argues the real errors were in the agency's inability to learn from past experience to prevent accidents. Visit to view the article. (9/13)

Politics Create Uncertainty for Pentagon Budget (Source: AIA)
Defense companies are "in limbo" as they wait for the Senate to take up a defense authorization bill for fiscal 2011, which begins Oct. 1. Republicans have vowed to block the bill until after the November elections due to objections over the repeal of "Don't ask, don't tell." A delay would force the Pentagon to operate under a continuing resolution, which effectively bars new programs. (9/13)

BAE Planning Sale of Some U.S. Aerospace Operations (Source: AIA)
British defense giant BAE Systems is looking to sell parts of its U.S. manufacturing business as it shifts its focus to maintenance and support operations. Sources say the aerospace businesses under consideration could fetch about $2 billion in an auction. (9/13)

New NASA Heavy-Lift Design Looks A Lot Like DIRECT Concept (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Dozens of Kennedy Space Center engineers and more at other NASA centers have been working to design a new rocket made from parts of the space shuttle — a project similar to one that an agency official only two years ago said defied the laws of physics. The design uses most of the existing shuttle hardware, including its current four-segment solid rocket boosters, the big orange external fuel tank and versions of the shuttle's main engines. The plan puts the engines underneath the tank, with the boosters on the sides and a capsule on top, to create a launcher capable of lifting 70 tons into orbit.

The engineers' aim is a test flight by 2014 and a fully operational rocket able to take cargo — and possibly crew — to the International Space Station by 2016. The rocket is almost identical to one promoted for the past four years by Team Direct, a group of moonlighting NASA engineers and rocket hobbyists. The group touted its project as a more viable and cheaper alternative to the agency's expensive and troubled Constellation moon program and its family of Ares rockets.

It's quite a change from two years ago, when the proposal was a threat to the Ares I crew launcher and Ares V cargo lifter. Then, NASA engineers and officials dismissed Direct's "Jupiter" rocket as unworkable. What's changed, according to engineers and NASA officials interviewed for this story, is that with money running out for Constellation at the end of this month and no clear direction from Congress and the White House, the agency is desperately looking at ways it can launch astronauts into space quickly and affordably after the space shuttle is retired next year. (9/13)

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