February 19, 2011

Mojave: Space Flight Test Center for the World (Source: Parabolic Arc)
California's Mojave Air and Space Port has emerged as the leading aerospace test center for commercial operations in North America. Click here to see a video describing the operations and tenants at the Mojave Air & Space Port in California. (2/19)

NASA a "Big Challenge" Holdren Says (Source: Space Policy Online)
Dr. John P. Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Science Adviser to the President, said last week that "NASA has been a big challenge." Though his talk focused on federal initiatives in other fields, such as energy and education policy, Holdren spoke for a few minutes about NASA.

Referencing the Bush Administration's Moon-and-Mars focused Vision for Space Exploration (VSE), Holdren said the Obama Administration had inherited a program in disarray in an agency that was largely dispirited after "years of mismatch of resources and vision." Because the VSE was not properly funded, NASA's scientific activities were "gutted [to] feed [the] Constellation [Program]." He described the Obama Administration's alternative plan for NASA, unveiled and hotly debated since February of last year, which canceled the Constellation program, extended the International Space Station, and opted to rely on the commercial sector for human space transportation to low Earth orbit.

This, he said, was a "comprehensive plan to balance NASA's programs." Holdren later mentioned the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, signed last year, which he described as "a compromise." While it "reflected Congressional preference for using existing technologies [and] contracts" for building a heavy lift launch vehicle, he said he was pleased because it had "a lot of what we wanted in it." (2/19)

Navy an Important Presence at Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: Florida Today)
The Naval Ordnance Test Unit (NOTU) supports land- and submarine-based tests of Trident missile systems and has been one of the most frequent users of the Eastern Range for its launches. NOTU also developed Launch Complex 46 at the eastern tip of the spaceport, which it shares with Space Florida for future Minotaur and Athena (and other) solid-fueled launch vehicles. Click here to see a video report on NOTU, with some visuals of the Trident infrastructure alongside Space Florida's launch tower. (2/19)

Dream Chaser Spacecraft Nearing Commercial Flights (Source: PC Magazine)
A private-sector spacecraft, in development by Sierra Nevada Corp., is on its way to proving to NASA it can bring passengers and cargo into low Earth orbit. Dubbed the Dream Chaser, the craft is meant to bring greater innovation to the transportation industry, both for cargo and for tourists. It's been described as being about the same size as a business jet by Technology Review, which also noted that the design and mechanics closely resemble an airplane.

The Dream Chaser's strong carbon-composite body houses motorized wheels underneath that will allow it to land on commercial runways. Another key difference between Sierra Nevada Corporation's vehicle and a typical commercial airliner is it doesn't have large side wings—and it will hang in the Earth's orbit. The ability to land on a runway is particularly exciting because it sets the Dream Chaser apart from other spacecrafts of its kind in development that all rely on parachute landing. (2/19)

Lynn: ‘Space is No Longer Private Preserve of US’ (Source: ExecutiveGov)
When the Defense Department released its first-ever national security strategy for space last month, that was just the beginning of exploring the final frontier, Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn said this week at a forum on space policy. “Space is no longer the private preserve of the U.S. and Soviet Union,” Lynn said at a Center for Strategic and International Security discussion Wednesday.

In fact, 25 years ago, the United States controlled more than 65 percent of the space market, he explained. Now, the U.S. presence is just below 40 percent, he said. Lynn first laid out the Pentagon’s vision of space in November, saying once the preserve of the globe’s superpowers, space had become increasingly congested, contested and competitive. (2/19)

Secret Mission: Bible on the Moon (Source: Fox News)
Houston is the home of NASA’s Mission Control so the history of the Apollo program’s lunar landings is practically in our blood. But leave it to an author named Carol Mersch to tell us something we probably didn’t know, something of biblical proportions. It’s a tale that begins in the office of former Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell. According to Carol Mersch:

"When I was leaving his office during that trip, I noticed a black and white photo on the wall of his office. And when I asked him about it, he said that he was handing a small packet of bibles to Reverend John Stout. That he had landed the first bible on the moon. Well, he said it rather matter-of-factly. And it wasn't matter-of-fact at all, to me... Apparently Mitchell had not told that story before. It's not widely known. And in early 2006, Mitchell arranged for me to have one of the bibles that landed on the moon. And they were microfilm bibles, due to the size and weight restrictions on the Apollo aircraft." (2/19)

KSC To Oversee Space Taxi Development (Source: WKMG)
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said he planned to formally announce "within the next few weeks, if not days" that KSC will be the home of the NASA office that oversees the development and operation of commercial space taxis. NASA's primary launch operations site never has hosted a human spaceflight project office.

That work historically has been done at Johnson Space Center in Houston or NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., and during Project Mercury, at Langley Research Center in Virginia. "That is a huge responsibility that has been entrusted to us. And we can't fail," KSC Director Robert Cabana told employees Thursday. (2/19)

Cerf: 2011 Will be Proving Point for 'InterPlanetary Internet' (Source: Network World)
Vint Cerf takes his title of Chief Internet Evangelist for Google seriously. He is knee-deep in several projects to bring the next versions of the Internet into the world -- or in some cases, beyond the world and into the solar system. One of his pet projects includes an extraterrestrial Internet that uses a protocol other than IP. Click here to read the interview. (2/19)

Can WISE Find the Hypothetical 'Tyche'? (Source: JPL)
WISE has scanned the entire celestial sky at four infrared wavelengths about 1.5 times. It captured more than 2.7 million images of objects in space, ranging from faraway galaxies to asteroids and comets relatively close to Earth. Recently, WISE completed an extended mission, allowing it to finish a complete scan of the asteroid belt, and two complete scans of the more distant universe.

So far, the mission's discoveries of previously unknown objects include an ultra-cold star or brown dwarf, 20 comets, 134 near-Earth objects (NEOs), and more than 33,000 asteroids in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter. Following its successful survey, WISE was put into hibernation in Feb. 2011. Analysis of WISE data continues. A preliminary public release of the first 14 weeks of data is planned for April 2011, and the final release of the full survey is planned for March 2012.

It is too early to know whether WISE data confirms or rules out a large object in the Oort cloud. Analysis over the next couple of years will be needed to determine if WISE has actually detected such a world or not. The first 14 weeks of data, being released in April 2011, are unlikely to be sufficient. The full survey, scheduled for release in March 2012, should provide greater insight. Once the WISE data are fully processed, released and analyzed, the Tyche hypothesis that Matese and Whitmire propose will be tested. (2/19)

Russian Spacewalkers Process ISS Experiments (Source: Aviation Week)
Cosmonauts Dmitry Kondratyev and Oleg Skripochka breezed through the installation of two experiments and the retrieval of materials science panels outside the International Space Station (ISS) during a Feb. 16 spacewalk that ended 1 hr. earlier than planned. In their 5-hr. excursion, the spacewalkers attached the Molniya-Gamma and Radiometria experiments to the exterior of the Zvezda service module. (2/19)

'Moon Tree' at Home in Atchison (Source: Topeka Capital-Journal)
Although the tree that stands in the International Forest of Friendship in Atchison is a sycamore, it is far better known as the "moon tree." The 40-year-old tree came from one of 500 seeds to fly to space alongside astronaut Stuart Roosa, who carried a canister full of the seeds partly as a tribute to the years he spent in the U.S. Forest Service, serving as a smoke jumper, and partly as an experiment to see the effect of space travel on seeds.

Upon returning to Earth, the seeds were planted and nurtured until they were saplings and then shipped throughout the country, where they were planted at capital buildings, schools, parks and other government buildings. Since the saplings were distributed more than 30 years ago, NASA hasn’t checked on the more than 400 trees believed to be growing around the country.

It took a third-grade class in Indiana inquiring about them to regain the space program's attention. Since then, NASA has been searching for the almost-forgotten moon trees. To the space program's knowledge, only one such tree resides in Kansas, the one in Atchison. (2/19)

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