February 25, 2011

Space Camp Changing Direction With NASA's New Vision (Source: WAFF)
The U.S. Space and Rocket Center's Space Camp lifted off with the space shuttle program, but it won't end with the last mission. Shuttle veteran Robert "Hoot" Gibson gave hundreds of kids a play by play for Discovery's last launch Thursday. The retired astronaut said he is confident interest the space program will remain high as NASA moves towards more commercial space flight. The Space Camp theme now is "The Moon, Mars, and Beyond"

"Here at Space Camp, we focused for quite a few years on the space shuttle and the things that it did. And as we move into future and retire the space shuttle, Space Camp is going to pick up the reins and move into the next phase," said Gibson. Marcia Lindstom, the Space Camp's Director of Operations said they are revamping the Mission Center Complex to mirror NASA's changing direction.

"You can have a lunar-themed mission, or a Mars mission. Or even an asteroid,. So it's moon, Mars and beyond. Children are still interested. They still want to discover, explore, understand. And we still want to inspire and teach and encourage them to dream huge dreams," Lindstrom said. (2/25)

Will Our 'Sputnik Moment' Fizzle Out? (Source: MSNBC)
One month after President Barack Obama urged America to rise up and respond to a "Sputnik moment" in international high-tech competition, there are rising worries that the trend line for civilian research and development spending is going down rather than up. The most worrisome development came last Friday, when the House approved a spending plan for the rest of the current fiscal year that would make deep cuts in spending for science and tech programs.

The budget for the Energy Department's Office of Science, for example, would be cut by 18 percent. Ned Sauthoff, head of the U.S. ITER fusion research program, said such a reduction really translates into a roughly 30 percent cut, because a whole year's worth of spending reductions would have to be spread over about seven months. If the House's budget becomes law, that could mean the shutdown of all the particle accelerators at federal labs, as well as a premature end to dozens of experiments in next-generation biofuels, batteries and nuclear reactors.

Biomedical research would take a hit as well — which carries a particularly deep sting for geneticist Eric Lander, president and founding director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard as well as co-chair of the President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology. He believes the 21st century will be "the century of biomedical research," and worries that the United States could lose its lead in the field to other countries. Click here to read the article. (2/25)

Suborbital Research Contracts Adding Up (Source: Hobby Space)
With the 2011 Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference coming up next week in Orlando, we might soon see more announcements like the one last week from XCOR about the purchase by SwRI of research flights on their Lynx spaceplane. There have been several other publicly announced contracts for research payloads to fly on commercial reusable suborbital rocket vehicles. Click here for a summary. (2/25)

Pentagon Picks Boeing over EADS for Tanker Contract (Source: AIA)
The Pentagon announced on Thursday that it had selected Boeing as the winner of a long and tumultuous bidding battle for a $35 billion contract to build 179 aerial refueling tankers for the Air Force. "This competition favored no one, except the taxpayer and the war fighter," Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn said. However, the decision is expected to strengthen perceptions in Europe that the U.S. defense market is virtually closed to European defense suppliers. The losing bidder was EADS North America, a unit of European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co.

Editor's Note: When the EADS/Northrop Grumman team initially won this contract (which Boeing protested), many of the resulting jobs were to be at Northrop Grumman's facilities on Florida's Space Coast. This was one of the projects that locals hoped would employ workers who were leaving the Space Shuttle program. (2/25)

Defense Contractors Bracing for Big Budget Cuts (Source: AIA)
Defense contractors are bracing for major cuts in the defense budget, as underscored by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen's statement last week that debt is the "greatest threat to our national security." Companies "should be concerned," said Michael Herson, president of American Defense International. "They need to adapt to the changes that are coming," he said. (2/25)

Florida High Speed Rail Lost in Space (Source: Transportation Nation)
Florida Gov. Rick Scott will make no formal announcement about his final decision to kill the Tampa-to-Orlando high speed rail line. It seems that the people of Florida and the nation will have to settle for a brief interview Scott gave to a local Fox News affiliate. “I’m not convinced that project is a good project,” he said. “There’s a significant risk of cost overruns for construction. Historically that’s what’s happened with those projects.”

Neither the reporter nor the Governor seemed to appreciate the irony that these remarks were delivered at the Kennedy Space Center, where Discovery departed on its final mission yesterday. NASA’s shuttle program, a rather expensive mode of transportation enjoyed by only a few, has nevertheless brought great economic development to the region, and the winding down of the shuttle program will mean many layoffs.

Constructing America’s first high speed rail line in Florida, while not as difficult as building a space station, would more than make up for that dip in employment. Senator Nelson, who was also on hand at the launch, told Fox that the Governor “has made a mistake that’s going to cost people 24,000 jobs in the immediate future.” Nelson called the Governor’s decision to reject $2.4 Billion in federal high speed rail funds “pitiful,” “a monumental mistake,” and “hasty and ill-informed.” (2/25)

Sen. Rubio Subcommittee Assignments Include NASA Oversight (Source: St. Petersburg Times)
Marco Rubio announced his four subcommittee assignments on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee for the 112th Congress. Rubio’s assignments include the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard, the Subcommittee on Science and Space, and the Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security.

As a member of the Subcommittee on Science and Space, Senator Rubio will have oversight responsibility over NASA and space policy, which is not only important to Florida but our nation. “These subcommittee assignments represent the broad economic diversity of Florida. From the men and women of NASA to those who work in the fishing industry along our coast, these subcommittees will allow me to focus on crafting the policies necessary to promote private sector job creation in Florida while ensuring that our space program continues to play an important role in our national security,” said Senator Rubio.

Editor's Note: Sen. Rubio and several other members of Congress lately have conveyed their beliefs that NASA's mission is critical to national security. Perhaps NASA should take the hint and promote itself in those terms to the 112th Congress, or perhaps even pursue new collaborations with the Department of Defense. Of course, "national security" isn't necessarily the same as "national defense" and plenty of folks would argue that remaining at the forefront of space exploration and development is vital to our national economic security. (2/25)

Space Tourism Poised to Blast Off in the Next Two Years (Source: MSNBC)
As a self-described “adventure junkie,” Yanik Silver of Potomac, Md., has raced cars in Baja, run with the bulls in Pamplona and swum with great white sharks off the coast of South Africa. Still to accomplish? A trip into suborbital space, a goal the founder of Maverick Business Adventures hopes to achieve as space tourist No. 144 on the Virgin Galactic passenger list when the company begins commercial service in the next 18 months to two years.

The experience won’t be cheap — Silver has already put down a $175,000 deposit on the $200,000 trip — but he’s convinced it will be worth it. “It’ll be an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he told msnbc.com.
'As fans of space travel are well aware, NASA’s space shuttle program is on a glide path toward retirement. On Thursday, Discovery blasted off on its final trip to the International Space Station, to be followed by the final flights for Endeavour (April) and Atlantis (June).

In their stead, a handful of entrepreneurs are hoping to offer commercial space travel for the general public — or at least its most deep-pocketed members. Last month, Space Adventures, which has already taken seven “space tourists” to the space station, announced it would offer three similar trips on Russian Soyuz spacecraft starting in 2013. Factoring inflation, exchange rates and mission profile, the estimated tab for a seat on the 10- to 12-day trip is “probably close to $50 million,” said company President Tom Shelley. (2/25)

Scott, Nelson, Rubio, Many from Congress Watch Launch From Spaceport (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
The list of VIPs who attended the launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery included Florida Gov. Rick Scott, both Florida U.S. senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio and a host of U.S. Congress members including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. They joined several top administration officials such as Ray Mabus, secretary of the Navy, and a handful of celebrities such as musician Herbie Hancock, international dignitaries and space industry leaders to witness the final launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery.

Among others: Florida Congressmen Ander Crenshaw, Sandy Adams, Dennis Ross and Frederica Wilson, Mike McIntyre from North Carolina, Ralph Hall from Texas, Roscoe Bartlett from Maryland, David Wu from Oregon, Candice Miller from Michigan, Donna Edwards from Maryland, Chellie Pingree from Maine and Randy Hultgren from Illinois. Editor's Note: Several state legislators attended the launch too. (2/25)

NASA Chief Reflects on Budget Cuts (Source: CNN)
CNN's John Zarrella sits down with NASA chief Charles Bolden about the budget cuts for the United States space program. The chief also talked about his disappointment of the lack of progress on developing a vehicle to replace the space shuttle. Click here to see the interview. (2/25)

NASA Targets June Merger of Operations, Exploration Divisions (Source: Space News)
NASA expects by June 5 to combine its Exploration Systems and Space Operations mission directorates into a single organization, dubbed the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, according to internal briefing charts. The new organization is expected to better-align NASA’s manned spaceflight goals as the U.S. space agency retires its fleet of shuttle orbiters and outsources crew and cargo transportation to and from the international space station to private firms. (2/25)

Two Planets Found Sharing One Orbit (Source: New Scientist)
Buried in the flood of data from the Kepler telescope is a planetary system unlike any seen before. Two of its apparent planets share the same orbit around their star. If the discovery is confirmed, it would bolster a theory that Earth once shared its orbit with a Mars-sized body that later crashed into it, resulting in the moon's formation.

The two planets are part of a four-planet system dubbed KOI-730. They circle their sun-like parent star every 9.8 days at exactly the same orbital distance, one permanently about 60 degrees ahead of the other. In the night sky of one planet, the other world must appear as a constant, blazing light, never fading or brightening. (2/25)

California Rocket Launch Scrubbed Again, Delayed Until Next Month (Source: Santa Maria Times)
With crews still troubleshooting a problem that led them to scrub Wednesday's liftoff attempt, the Taurus XL rocket launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base has been delayed for at least a week. Liftoff of the rocket carrying NASA's Glory satellite reportedly has slipped to early or mid-March as crews have suspended launch preparations until they solve a problem with ground support equipment, officials said this morning.

Just before 2 a.m. Wednesday, with less than 10 minutes before the rocket was scheduled to lift off, ground controllers spotted a glitch before transitioning the Taurus to internal power. A 47-second launch window - essentially just one shot a day - left no time for the launch team to troubleshoot the problem and proceed with blastoff. "We had an indication that a ‘hold-fire' command was sent when indeed it had not," said Omar Baez, NASA launch director. (2/25)

Affording the Final Shuttle Launch (Source: Space Politics)
NASA administrator Charles Bolden suggested that NASA stretched out the shuttle program far longer than it should have. “It was time for the shuttle to go a long time ago, in deference to a vehicle that was going to take humans to the Moon,” he said, suggesting that the Challenger accident 25 years ago forced NASA “to stick with the shuttle and break off our exploration dreams for a while.” He also criticized the situation the current gap of several years between the retirement of the shuttle and a replacement system to carry US astronauts to orbit.

“What is not acceptable is the fact that the most powerful nation in the world, the United States of America, finds itself in a situation that we didn’t do the proper planning to have a vehicle in place to replace shuttle when it lands its last landing in June,” he said.

Bolden said it likely would. “We are budgeted for 135 and unless something disastrous happens, it’s our intent to fly it,” he said. Shuttle managers are also confident the money will be there. “We have a plan in place to shuffle the money around and fund the flight, STS-135,” said shuttle launch integration Mike Moses, the Orlando Sentinel reports, adding that “we’ve gotten the letter from headquarters saying we’ll be able to fly STS-135 regardless of what happens in the next budget.” (2/25)

Texas Congressman Less Optimistic on Final Shuttle Flight Funding (Source: Space Politics)
Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX) told Houston TV station KTRK that “it’s still a fight” over whether NASA gets sufficient funding to fly the final (STS-135) Shuttle mission, suggesting yet again that money be taken from NASA earth sciences programs to pay for the shuttle mission, should it come to that. While the House has passed a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government through the rest of fiscal year 2011 (cutting NASA’s budget by several hundred million dollars in the process). “We’re optimistic it’s going to be there when we get there,” Chris Ferguson, commander of STS-135, told KTRK. “If it is, fantastic and if it’s not, well it’s the will of taxpayers.” (2/25)

Last Shuttle Lunch Casts Doubt on Future of NASA's Prestige in U.S. (Source: UF Independent Alligator)
The space shuttle Discovery took its final voyage Thursday to the International Space Station. It was NASA’s third-to-last shuttle launch, which for some students represents a saddening finality for a staple of scientific and American pride. Some students think the U.S. will lose something special when NASA’s shuttle program ends.

“The space exploration is the stuff that everyone loves,” said Peter Nguyen, a UF physics and astronomy double major. “It’s a source of national pride.” Evan Kassof, a UF physics and music composition double major, said a big loss will be the diminishing role of an iconic hero: the astronaut. “The sad thing is we won’t have astronauts, and that will make American kids even less interested in science,” he said. (2/25)

First-Time Viewers Flock to Cocoa Beach (Source: Florida Today)
As Discovery edged heavenward at 4:53 p.m., Don and Joyce Joy turned their faces toward the sky, too. Broad smiles flashed as the crowd of between 350 and 500 on Cocoa Beach Pier erupted. The Joys, retirees and first-time shuttle launch viewers, from Yakima, Wash., spent the afternoon near Mai Tiki Bar at pier’s end. They passed the time chatting with Don’s sister, Jean Clement of Marinette, Wis., who is visiting The Villages. (2/25)

Would Finding E.T. Change Our View of God? (Source: Discovery)
Probably one of the highest risk/reward activity in modern science is being conducted by a very small group of astronomers: the search for signals from extraterrestrial civilizations (SETI). Because they are trying to answer a purely hypothetical question, SETI astronomers certainly have detractors that wonder if the pursuit is worth even a modest investment. But answering the question “are we alone?” would have a profound cultural and theological impact on our view of our place in the universe. Click here to read the article. (2/25)

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