November 28, 2010

After Bush Canceled the Space Shuttle (Source: SpaceKSC Blog)
President George W. Bush proposed his Vision for Space Exploration on January 14, 2004. The VSE proposed the retirement of the Space Shuttle program upon completion of the International Space Station in 2010, followed by a minimum four-year gap where the United States would rely upon Russia to transport astronauts to and from the ISS. It called for a grand vision that would return astronauts to the Moon by 2020. How to pay for it? The President said:

"Achieving these goals requires a long-term commitment. NASA's current five-year budget is $86 billion. Most of the funding we need for the new endeavors will come from reallocating $11 billion within that budget. We need some new resources, however. I will call upon Congress to increase NASA's budget by roughly a billion dollars, spread out over the next five years... It's only a beginning. Future funding decisions will be guided by the progress we make in achieving our goals. Click here to read the article. (11/28)

Can We Grow Crops On Other Planets (Source: Space Daily)
Science fiction lovers aren't the only ones captivated by the possibility of colonizing another planet. Scientists are engaging in numerous research projects that focus on determining how habitable other planets are for life. Mars, for example, is revealing more and more evidence that it probably once had liquid water on its surface, and could one day become a home away from home for humans. Click here to read the article. (11/28)

Reusable Launch Vehicles – The Future of Space Missions (Source:
Several countries, including US, Russia and India, are working on the concept of a Reusable Launch Vehicle system. However, with several technological challenges involved, no major breakthrough has been achieved in this direction so far. India's space agency ISRO has conceived plans to design, develop and test a two-stage-to-orbit (TSTO) fully re-usable launch vehicle system. For this, a series of technology demonstration missions have been conceived.

The Indian RLV would significantly cut down launch cost from the present level of around $12,000 / kg. ISRO's RLV is a pure launcher. It is not designed to enter orbit. The RLV will loft a satellite into orbit and immediately re-enter the atmosphere and glide back for a conventional landing. The RLV and the rocket booster will be recovered separately, with the former making a conventional landing on a runway and booster making a parachute landing.

ISRO’s RLV will possess wings and tail fins, and will be launched atop a 9 ton solid booster called S-9, similar to the ones on the PSLV. The space agency plans to achieve RLV capability in three phases - Re-entry Technology Development, RLV Runway Recovery, and Scramjet Power. (11/28)

Deficit Commission Quietly Edits Space Recommendation (Source: Space Politics)
A proposal by the co-chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform to cut NASA’s commercial crew development program has generated criticism from space industry advocates. However, it appears the commission co-chairs (or, more likely, their staffs) have quietly edited that proposed cut. The original version reads as follows:

"24. Eliminate funding for commercial spaceflight. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) plans to spend $6 billion over the next five years to spur the development of American commercial spaceflight. This subsidy to the private sector is costly, and while commercial spaceflight is a worthy goal, it is unclear why the federal government should be subsidizing the training of the potential crews of such flights. Eliminating this program would save $1.2 billion in 2015."

The same recommendation in official version of the document, on the commission’s web site, now reads as follows: "24. Eliminate funding to private sector for spaceflight developments. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) plans to spend $6 billion over the next five years to invest in private sector development of space transportation capabilities, which NASA plans to competitively purchase once available. Eliminating this program would save $1.2 billion in 2015." (11/28)

Rare Earth Elements are in the News (Source: Naples News)
Rare earth elements, with strange names like neodymium, scandium, yttrium, are messy to dig out of the ground and difficult to refine. They are very useful, being important ingredients in lasers, superconducting magnets, batteries for hybrid automobiles, and the kinds of magnets used in computer hard disc drives. China produces roughly 97 percent of the world’s supply of rare earth elements.

A few weeks ago China tightened its exports of these elements. Japan is looking into the possibilities of opening a rare earth mine in Vietnam, and in the U.S. Molycorp Minerals plans to reopen a mine in California. But new facilities would have to be built to refine the ores. At present, the only operating refinery happens to be in China. Cynics believe the Chinese are trying to drive up the price. Conspiracy theorists see a plot in Beijing to control a natural resource that is vital for many high-tech industries.

Space enthusiasts, though, see an opportunity. The solar system contains millions, perhaps billions, of small chunks of metals and minerals, which are called asteroids. The largest of them, Ceres, is less than 600 miles wide. Most of them are much smaller. Many of these asteroids happen to be rich in rare earth elements. In fact, most of the rare earth mines on our planet are situated at the sites of ancient asteroid impacts. (11/28)

NASA History On Sale at Astronaut Store (Source: LA Times)
Want a chunk of the heat shield from the space capsule during the Apollo program? You’re in luck. The Astronaut Store has got you covered. With signed portraits of astronauts and items from nearly every era of space travel, the online store has gifts for even the most discerning NASA fanboy. Pick up a signed picture of John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth. Or get an autographed snapshot of Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon. Prices range from $40 to $150.

The store also offers pieces of spacecraft that reached the black sky in its Space Artifact Series. There are relics such as bits of a map used on the Moon and hunks of a tire belonging to the space shuttle. Shoppers are buying NASA history, but they could be influencing the agency’s future. Sales from the store benefit the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, a nonprofit set up by astronauts. Since 1984, the foundation has provided more than $3 million in college scholarships for students who exhibit exceptional performance in science and technology. Click here. (11/28)

High-Paying Jobs Scant Outside KSC (Source: Florida Today)
Laid-off space industry workers face the prospects of much lower wages as they head out into the Brevard County work force. The average annual salary for Kennedy Space Center on-site workers was $77,235 in 2008, which was nearly twice the wage level of the average Brevard County worker at that time, according to the latest NASA study.

There are likely several factors that contribute to that discrepancy: The Davis-Bacon Act, which requires employees on federal installations to be paid more than the market rate; the fact that federal work can be more complex or require more skills; and the longevity and older age of the KSC workers.

With approximately 2,000 KSC jobs already lost, another 6,000 or so space industry workers could lose their livelihoods by the time the last shuttle completes its mission sometime next year. With Brevard County's unemployment rate hovering near 12 percent and the tight economy keeping a lid of business expansion and job creation, the likelihood is small that space industry workers will find similar, high-paying jobs locally. (11/28)

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