November 1, 2010

At NASA, a Quiet Quest to Send a Humanoid Robot to the Moon (Source: New York Times)
For $150 billion, NASA could have sent astronauts back to the Moon. The Obama administration judged that too expensive, and in September, Congress agreed to cancel the program. For a fraction of that — less than $200 million, along with about $250 million for a rocket — NASA engineers at Johnson Space Center say they can safely send a humanoid robot to the Moon. And they say they could accomplish that in a thousand days.

The idea, known as Project M, is almost a guerrilla effort within NASA, cooked up a year ago by Stephen J. Altemus, the chief engineer at Johnson. He tapped into discretionary money, pulled in engineers to work on it part time, and horse-traded with companies and other NASA units to undertake preliminary planning and tests. “We’re doing impossible things with really very little, if any, money whatsoever,” Mr. Altemus said.

Project M also draws on other NASA projects that were already under way, including rocket engines that burn liquid oxygen and methane — a cheap and nontoxic fuel combination — and an automated landing system that could avoid rocks, cliffs and other hazards. Project M’s planners say that a robot walking on the Moon would capture the imagination of students, just as the Apollo Moon landings inspired a generation of scientists and engineers 40 years ago. (11/1)

China Sets New Record for Annual Launch Activity (Source:
Sunday's launch of a navigation satellite was the 12th flight of a Long March rocket in 2010, eclipsing the record for most Chinese space missions in a single year. This weekend's flight broke an annual record China set in 2008, when it conducted 11 launches of human, scientific and military payloads. This year, the country's burgeoning space program has launched 12 rockets, all successfully.

Payloads include four Beidou navigation satellites launched in January, July, August and October. China plans to continue a rapid pace of Beidou flights over the next two years, eventually reaching an intermediate stage of deployment by 2012, when it will provide positioning services over China and neighboring regions. (11/1)

U.S. Needs Shift in Science/Technology Strategy (Source: National Academies)
The U.S. will need to shift from a national S&T strategy predicated on the 1950s paradigm of "control and isolation" to a global innovation environment focused on "engagement and partnerships," according to a new National Academies report. S&T Strategies of Six Countries: Implications for the United States provides an overview of national science and technology strategies in Japan, Singapore, Brazil, China, India and Russia.

The report concludes that the U.S. should focus on improving its balance of "top-down" and "bottom-up" innovation. The report also suggests that the U.S. should improve its global exchanges in education and R&D talent, international and national recruitment of R&D talent, and multinational corporate collaborations. Click here to read the report. (11/1)

Shuttle Discovery's Retirement Plan in Limbo (Source: CollectSpace)
Space shuttle Discovery is ready to fly its final flight this week, but where it will make its last landing is still up in the air. Long thought destined for the Smithsonian, NASA's oldest flying orbiter may actually end up elsewhere unless the Washington, DC institution can find the millions of dollars needed to prepare Discovery for delivery and display, collectSPACE has learned.

The first of NASA's three remaining space shuttles set to retire after flying its last mission, Discovery has been set aside for the Smithsonian. Like the 20 other organizations that applied to NASA for a retired orbiter though, the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum would need to pay the $28.8 million (current NASA estimate) to prepare and transport Discovery to the museum. This sum is still beyond the Smithsonian's reach and NASA is not in the position to underwrite the cost, sources close to both the museum and space agency said.

"What if" the Smithsonian cannot afford Discovery? "At this point, we're not in a position to go down the 'what if' road," said Robert Jacobs, NASA's deputy associate administrator for communications. "...The process has been put on hold." He said Charles Bolden "has tabled all discussion of where Discovery or any of the orbiters are going for museum display." (11/1)

Finding Bumper (Source:
As a volunteer docent for the Air Force Space and Missile Museum at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, Stephen Smith has access to unrestricted areas of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS). "Today I sought out Launch Complex 3 (LC-3), where on July 24, 1950 the first rocket was successfully launched from Cape Canaveral... After Dr. Wehrner Von Braun and his scientists surrendered to the U.S. Army, they were sent to White Sands, New Mexico where they conducted a series of launch tests" using Nazi V-2 rockets with WAC Corporal upper stages attached to the top. "Only one of the six White Sands launches, Bumper 5, was deemed successful."

"The Bumper program moved to Cape Canaveral for several reasons, the main one being that rockets could be launched over the ocean where if they failed they wouldn't land on anyone. Two remaining rockets, Bumpers 7 and 8, were shipped to the Cape. Bumper 7 misfired, so Bumper 8 was the first to successfully launch. Bumper 7 flew five days later. I knew from the bus tour that remnants of LC-3 survived..." Click here to see photos of the abandoned, historic launch pad. (11/1)

Can NASA Save a Struggling America? (Source: Clean Technica)
If we took a moment to rank every government agency in the United States on the basis of tackling complex problems, NASA would have to be at the top of everyone’s list. NASA has proven time and again that they know how to execute. Imagine for a moment any other agency being charged with getting a 4.5 million-pound payload into outer space on a regular timetable. Never mind time and again performing these miracles on a budget. But as the country became worried about more pressing issues such as record unemployment, terrorism, climate change and healthcare, NASA was becoming irrelevant.

So the agency started looking around for a little side project. So NASA quietly embarked on a program called “space-based solar.” They were determined to solve, once and for all, the growing need for clean, renewable energy, for the American people and every man, woman and child on the planet. The idea behind space-based solar was to install solar cells high above the Earth’s atmosphere where the yield is more intense. The energy would be transmitted in the form of diluted, harmless wavelengths to a small satellite dish attached to the roof of every home and business (think satellite TV dish).

But what would you say if I told you that NASA has this technology today? What if I said that NASA has been banging at the door of the U.S. Department of Energy for over a decade and no one will answer. Every time they get a foot in the door they are chastised for “mission creep” and “overreach.” NASA? Those scientists need to stick to pictures of Mars. Editor's Note: No, this is not a work of fiction...but it might as well be. Click here to read the article. (11/1)

Deep Ops (Source: Space Review)
On the first KH-9 reconnaissance satellite mission, one of its reentry capsules missed its midair capture and plummeted to the bottom of the Pacific. Dwayne Day recounts the effort by the US Navy to recover that capsule. Visit to read the article. (11/1)

Bigelow Still Thinks Big (Source: Space Review)
For over a decade Bigelow Aerospace has been quietly working on inflatable habitat modules for use on commercial space stations. Jeff Foust reports on how, as the company's profile grows, so do its ambitions. Visit to read the article. (11/1)

Secrets of the Red Planet (Source: Space Review)
The movie "Capricorn One" hardly put NASA in a good light, yet the movie uses props like a lunar lander replica. Dwayne Day examines how the movie producers got access to that hardware. Visit to read the article. (11/1)

Crash Course: Florida's Economy Sinks as Space Shuttles Make Final Flights (Source: ABC)
Florida's unemployment rate is reported to be 12 percent, but people around here say they cannot believe it is that low. NASA is winding down the space shuttle program, which has employed thousands of people around here for 30 years -- and the Obama administration has canceled the program that would have come after it.

In the heady days of John Glenn and Neil Armstrong, this part of Florida began to call itself the Space Coast, but today, except for the Space Coast Credit Union, there are few signs that astronauts used to hang out in Cocoa Beach. Florida has moved on. Blame the Democrats. And the Republicans. Both the Republicans and the Democrats have made their share of enemies around here. They're blamed for wasteful government spending -- and for cutting off spending when local jobs are involved. (11/1)

'100-Year Starship' on the Drawing Boards at NASA (Source: AOL News)
A NASA official's brief mention of a spaceship that could could travel to the stars has set off a flurry of speculation over the space agency's plans. "We just started a project with [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency]," Simon "Pete" Worden, the head of the NASA Ames Research Center, said last month at an event sponsored by the Long Now Foundation in San Francisco. "It's called the 100-year starship."

This is no round-trip flight to the moon, or even Mars. The astronauts wouldn't come back. The goal of this starship would be a one-way flight for humans to colonize other planets. "The human space program is now really aimed at settling other worlds," Worden said. The project is getting about $1 million in seed funding from DARPA, the far-out research and development arm of the Pentagon. That's not a lot of money by Pentagon standards, but DARPA's support has sparked even more interest in the mysterious project. (11/1)

Journeying to Mars -- On a One-Way Ticket (Source: Discovery)
Finished having kids? Perhaps it's time to think about moving to Mars. Scientists Dirk Schulze-Makuch and Paul Davies figure that sending astronauts -- particularly ones past their reproductive years -- on one-way journeys to Mars is the most economical way to pioneer the space frontier and establish humans as a multi-planet species.

"This is not a suicide mission. The astronauts would go to Mars with the intention of staying for the rest of their lives, as trailblazers of a permanent human Mars colony," Schultz-Makuch, with Washington State University, and Davies, at Arizona State, write in this month's Journal of Cosmology. "Their role would be to establish a base camp to which more colonists would eventually be sent, and to carry out important scientific and technological projects," the scientists wrote. (11/1)

Space According to Martin Sweeting (Source: Space News)
Sir Martin Sweeting, chairman of Surrey Satellite Technology, predicts the glamour of manned space exploration will return within the next 10 years after the discovery of significant amounts of water on the Moon. He believes nations will shift their priorities back to human travel, which, he claims, could mean big business for the UK. His vision is that the UK will ‘own’ large areas of space, as countries like China and India vie to establish colonies on the Moon. His plan is to surround the Moon with small satellites to provide internet and communication capabilities. (11/1)

A Last Go for the Go-To (Source: Houston Chronicle)
After more than a quarter century of ferrying crews, satellites, space station parts and even the Hubble Space Telescope to orbit, Discovery will begin one final voyage Wednesday afternoon. One of just two or three space shuttle missions remaining before the program's end, Discovery will deliver the final component of the International Space Station, essentially a large storage closet, as well as more than a ton of scientific experiments, plentiful supplies and the first humanoid robot in space, Robonaut 2.

Since the shuttle program reached a peak 2½ years ago with nearly 16,000 employees, NASA and its contractors have shed more than half that total as the program winds down. All but a few hundred will be gone or shifted into new jobs in another year. (11/1)

Space Tourism: Will It Be Worth the Money? (Source: TIME)
Even before Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon's surface in 1969, people were planning their holidays to space. A year earlier, when Apollo 8 showed the world the first image of Earth from orbit, airline Pan Am started taking advanced bookings for its first flight to the moon. But 40 years on, just a handful of private citizens have flown into space, and that's only after going through rigorous medical examinations, enduring months of training and shelling out between $20 million and $45 million for the privilege.

This could be about to change. Virgin Galactic is now offering $200,000 trips to space. The spacecraft will set off attached to a mother ship, which will climb to 50,000 feet before detaching. Then the ship will accelerate to three times the speed of sound, taking it up over the Earth's atmosphere. At that point, the engines will shut off, leaving passengers weightless, able to somersault freely, and, most importantly, see Earth from space. After four or five minutes gravity will begin to drag the Enterprise back down to earth. The whole trip is over in less than an hour.

While Virgin Galactic is offering quick sub-orbital jaunts, Space Adventures is planning to take its customers even further, for longer. The company has already sent seven private citizens on orbital flights — which travel hundreds of thousands of miles, as opposed to sub-orbital's 100 miles, and last around 10 days. CEO Eric Anderson says going orbital is "absolutely a real space-travel experience." "It's the difference between tickets to the World Cup where you're sitting in the front row and a five-second view of it on TV. It's just not the same thing." Click here to read the article. (11/1)

Is the International Space Station Worth $100 Billion? (Source:
Asking the International Space Station to justify its existence is a tall order. NASA estimates the station has cost U.S. taxpayers $50 billion since 1994 — and overall, its price tag has been pegged at $100 billion by all member nations. To put that in perspective, the Large Hadron Collider — the world's largest particle accelerator, near Geneva — was a relative bargain at a total of $9 billion, and even its contributions are likely to be too abstract to hold most people's attention. (11/1)

Critical Factors Go Into Shuttle Launch Delay Decisions (Source: AIA)
A wide variety of critical factors needs to be considered when the launch of a space shuttle is delayed, as occurred when the space shuttle Discovery launch was delayed from today until Wednesday to make last-minute repairs. Those factors include the two 10-minute windows per day in which the International Space Station flies over the Kennedy Space Center, the angle of the Earth's rotation at that time, and even the astronaut crew's sleep cycle. (11/1)

Editorial: Naming Spaceport Runway After Governor is Missed Opportunity (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
By naming the runway at Spaceport America after Gov. Bill Richardson, a needed opportunity to help recoup taxpayer money was missed. Going the corporate sponsorship route would have been a much better idea. Local taxpayers in Doña Ana and Sierra counties have a huge stake in this facility that will be used to send civilians into space in as soon as nine months. And it will be quite some time before this space-age private facility becomes financially profitable.

Whereas Richardson helped push this Virgin Galactic project through the New Mexico Legislature, it is not his money that built the 10,000-foot runway at Spaceport America in Upham, some 45 miles north of Las Cruces. Also, Richardson has turned into a unpopular governor, especially in the second half of his second term in office. The "pay-to-play" culture clouding his administration has left sour tastes in many mouths.

Since this Virgin Galactic endeavor is so huge on a worldwide scale, one would think major, worldwide corporations would want to get in on the sponsorship act. It would have been better to name a road in honor of Richardson's part in the project. Or a plaque could be mounted when construction on the terminal-hanger facility is completed. (11/1)

U.S. Diplomacy: A Holding Pattern in Space (Source: All Things Nuclear)
Every year since the early 1980s, the United Nations General Assembly’s “First Committee,” which deals with international security issues, has voted on a resolution calling for efforts toward “Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space” (PAROS). Every year since 1983 it has passed overwhelmingly-—and without the support of the United States. During that time the U.S. abstained 19 times and voted “no” 8 times (most recently from 2005 to 2008)—sometimes alone, sometimes in the company of a few other states.

The Bush administration opposed discussions on space, maintaining that “there is no arms race in space, and therefore no problem for arms control to solve.” The Obama administration abstained from voting on the resolution in 2009. However, on June 28, 2010, the administration released . So there was some hope that the administration might support this year’s resolution in the First Committee as a way of showing its interest in getting discussions of these issues started.

However, on October 27 the U.S. once again abstained from voting, along with Israel. The 170 countries that did vote all supported the resolution. It’s not clear how strong the U.S. allergy to discussing space security at the CD remains. Click here to read the article. (11/1)

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