January 2, 2011

NASA Names "2012" The Most Absurd Sci-Fi Film (Source: WorstPreviews.com)
NASA held a private meet at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California to discuss the movies Hollywood has been releasing and to plead for filmmakers to stick to more rational plots. Some of the movies that came under criticism include "Armageddon," "Volcano," "Chain Reaction," and "The 6th Day," but it was "2012" that was named the most absurd sci-fi film, taking the title from "The Core." NASA said that "2012" not only got all the facts wrong, but also managed to scare plenty of people into thinking that the end of world was really coming.

NASA is calling for more authentic science fiction and is joined by Dustin Hoffman, who was a chemist working for Maxwell House coffee before starring in "The Graduate." The only films that were praised were "Blade Runner" and "Gattaca." (1/2)

NRC: Stick to Decadal Survey; Don't Commit to Dark Energy Mission with ESA Yet (Source: Space Policy Online)
NASA should not commit to a joint dark energy mission with the European Space Agency (ESA) quite yet according to a new report from the National Research Council (NRC). Just three months after issuing its latest Decadal Survey for astronomy and astrophysics, the NRC convened a workshop, at White House request, to discuss how to implement those recommendations.

The need for such a workshop so soon after the report's release was fueled by the starkly changed fiscal circumstances at NASA's astrophysics division mostly as a result of cost growth in the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) program. Significant NASA cost overruns on JWST and a slip in its launch date could have a dramatic impact on how much money is available to proceed with the NWNH recommendations. (1/2)

SpaceX Seeks Military Launches (Source: Space News)
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, in recent public remarks, urged the government to scrap its cost-plus contracting scheme in favor of fixed-price contracts. The cost-plus formula, he said, makes “good people do bad things... You’re creating an incentive to maximize costs up to the limit of the program being canceled.”

“The Air Force has erected enormous barriers to entry at least in the launch market, and made it really very difficult to get in,” Musk said. “It’s sort of strange that we have over 30 missions on contract for Falcon 9 — which is a vehicle that has more capability than the Delta 4 Medium — but not one of those is with the Air Force. Why is that?”

Editor's Note: In order to bring down Atlas and Delta launch costs, the Air Force has committed to bulk purchases of the rockets under the EELV program. SpaceX has been working with the Air Force toward adding the Falcon 9 to the EELV program, so that future bulk purchases can include the Falcon 9. (1/2)

Where SpaceX Lights the Candle (Source: SpaceKSC)
The SpaceX Launch Control Center is just outside the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station south gate, just north of Port Canaveral. It's in the Space Florida complex that began life in the 1960s as a graduate engineering program annex for the University of Florida. In the 1970s, it became the first home for the Florida Solar Energy Center. The three occupants today are Space Florida, SpaceX and the Air Force Space & Missile Museum's History Center.

The SpaceX building rarely has substantive activity, except when they're approaching a launch date, so it's a very modest facility and indicative of how the company intends to show that commercial launches can be achieved more cheaply than now. Click here for some photos.

Editor's Note: SpaceX's launch control center was originally developed by the Spaceport Florida Authority as a quasi-universal launch control facility for missions from Launch Complex 46 and Launch Complex 20. It was connected via fiber optics to the Eastern Range data backbone. (12/31)

2010 Launch Tally: Russia Leads U.S. and China (Source: Parabolic Arc)
There were 74 space launches in 2010, four of them were failures. 31 were Russian rockets. The u.S. and China each launched 15 rockets. Europe launched six. India launched three. Japan launched two. And South Korea and Israel each launched one. Russian heavy-lift Proton rockets were the busiest, with 12 launches (twice as many as Europe's Ariane-5). (1/1)

China to Explore Mars with Russia this Year (Source: France 24)
China's first Mars probe is expected to be launched in October this year in a joint operation with Russia after a two-year delay, state media reported Sunday. The probe, Yinghuo-1, was due to blast off in October 2009 with Russia's "Phobos Explorer" from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan but the launch was postponed. The orbiter is due to probe the Martian space environment with a special focus on what happened to the water that appears to have once been abundant on the planet's surface. (1/2)

Editorial: Lost in Space (Source: Toledo Blade)
A failure by Congress has locked NASA — long the symbol of American innovation and technological ingenuity — into funding a program President Obama has killed. Lawmakers should quickly reverse that error. The current budget requires NASA to fund parts of the defunct Ares I rocket program to the tune of $475 million until March. It’s hard to overstate the waste this represents, when NASA is desperately trying to replace its space shuttle fleet and modernize the Kennedy Space Center.

Powerful lawmakers protected the space and aerospace industries in their home states with language to keep the money flowing until Congress passed next year’s budget. Since that hasn’t happened, NASA must spend an estimated $95 million a month during the budget extension. Some $165 million will go to Alliant Techsystems to build a solid-fuel first-stage rocket for the Ares. Most of the rest will be paid to Lockheed Martin for work on the Orion capsule, which was meant to take astronauts into space on NASA’s next-generation rocket. (1/2)

Space: A Frontier Too Far for US-China Cooperation (Source: Reuters)
The prospects for cooperation between the United States and China in space are fading even as proponents say working together in the heavens could help build bridges in often-testy relations on Earth. The idea of joint ventures in space, including spacewalks, explorations and symbolic "feel good" projects, have been floated from time to time by leaders on both sides.

But space appears to be a frontier too far for now, partly due to U.S. fears of an inadvertent technology transfer. China may no longer be much interested in any event, reckoning it does not need U.S. expertise for its space program. New obstacles to cooperation have come from the Republicans capturing control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the Nov. 2 congressional elections from Obama's Democrats.

Representative Frank Wolf, for instance, is set to take over as chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that funds the U.S. space agency in the House. A China critic and human rights firebrand, the Republican congressman has faulted NASA's chief for meeting leaders of China's Manned Space Engineering Office in October. (1/2)

NASA, Why Make a Rocket? (Source: Florida Today)
Private companies are already working to do it faster, cheaper and better. Why in the world is NASA developing its own supersized rocket when no fewer than three private companies already have one on the drawing board? Decades of experience shows a big-ticket space project developed wholly by the government will: take years longer than estimated to complete; cost taxpayers billions more dollars than advertised; and fly with less capability than originally envisioned... Unless, of course, the government changes the way it deals with contractors on those kinds of projects.

The difference that is being pushed under the new "commercial" space approach is not that NASA is using different companies. It's that NASA is employing a different way of paying those companies. The old system carries little consequence for delay or failure. If a project takes longer than estimated, the contracts call for the vendor to get paid more. If the spacecraft or rocket costs more to build than estimated, the contractor is reimbursed for those expenses. (1/2)

Hello, is Anybody Out There? Firm Sends Missives to Space (Source: Florida Today)
For Jim Lewis, the president of video and web production firm company Communications Concepts in Cape Canaveral, sending a virtual person into space is more than just a business venture. It's the logical next step in his five-year effort to contact aliens -- or, more specifically, to send messages to the edge of our solar system and beyond through the Deep Space Communications Network.

In his latest venture, he is making a second attempt to find a buyer on eBay for "Virtual teleportation into space (to boldly go)," at a starting price of $39,995. This service provides the buyer with extensive medical, DNA and psychiatric testing at a local hospital and university, all to build a thorough data and video profile. Not only will this information be transmitted to space, but it will be stored in a secure vault in the Colorado mountains for 30 years, so even if an alien can't rebuild you, maybe future Earthlings can. (1/2)

Mission Planned to Probe Uranus (Source: Skymania)
British space scientists are leading plans to send a probe to explore giant ice planet Uranus. They have put forward a detailed proposal to the European Space Agency to launch a joint mission with NASA to the distant world, 1.8 billion miles from the sun. It would give scientists their first close-up views of Uranus since NASA’s Voyager 2 flew past and captured fleeting pictures 25 years ago. The £400 million mission is designed to go in orbit to study the rings around Uranus and answer questions such as why it gives off so little heat. (12/31)

Martian Odyssey: Rovers Set to Celebrate 7 Years on Red Planet (Source: Space.com)
As folks here on Earth prepare to mark the passage of another year, two NASA robots a world away are creeping up on a big milestone of their own: seven years on the surface of Mars. The golf-cart-size rover Spirit landed on Mars on Jan. 4, 2004. Its twin, Opportunity, hit the planet's red dirt three weeks later, on Jan. 25. The rovers were originally supposed to tool around the Martian surface for a mere 90 days, looking for evidence of the planet's past water activity, but both have far outlasted their warranties. (1/2)

SpaceX’s Success Gets the Attention of Foreign Space Officials (Source: Parabolic Arc)
SpaceX’s success in launching two Falcon 9 rockets and recovering a Dragon capsule from orbit has captured the attention of foreign space officials, who are eager for the services the company can provide and believe that valuable lessons can be learned from how the California-based start-up operates.

ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain: First, he says, ESA must recognise that SpaceX is succeeding with a very different industrial structure than its own, making something like 80% of its rockets’ content in-house. But most significantly, says Dordain, SpaceX also represents an entirely new type of relationship between government and the space industry. He doubts that there is scope for a European counterpart of SpaceX because he does not believe the European launch market is big enough to support independent players whose business was based solely on government launch contracts. (1/2)

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