April 26, 2011

Tallahassee Space Update (Source: Space Florida)
The 2011 Florida Legislative Session is scheduled to end on May 6, and Space Florida is working closely with other stakeholders to complete legislative action on multiple space-related issues. The state space agency's budget allocation remains in flux, with $10.04 offered by the Senate and only $7.84 by the House. The flagship "Space Business Incentives Act" appears destined for passage, but with a reduction (to $20 million) in the incentives available.

Making good progress is a proposed update to the process by which transportation funding would be available for spaceports in the state. Rather than applying airport definitions to spaceports, this would allow FDOT to use a federal spaceport definition to identify the types of infrastructure that would be eligible for FDOT funding. The measure could also remove a 50/50 match requirement for accessing up to $16 million in FDOT funding for spaceport infrastructure.

A "Jobs and Tuition Tax Credit" measure is making questionable progress and would provide $2 million in recurring tax credits. Meanwhile, versions of the legislative package aimed at restructuring the state's economic development agencies are substantially different between the House and Senate. Space Florida favors the House version that protects the agency's autonomy. (4/26)

Florida Spaceflight Liability Bill Making Progress in Tallahassee (Source: Space Florida)
A bill moving through the Florida Legislature would remove a 2018 sunset provision for Florida's existing spaceflight "informed consent" law. The law limits the liability exposure of commercial spaceflight companies that would carry human passengers and crew from Florida spaceports. The bill now under consideration would also extend the liability protection to spaceflight subcontractors. (4/26)

Florida Educational Experiments Flying on Endeavour (Source: FSGC)
The Florida Space Grant Consortium is sponsoring two student-led payloads that will be launching on space shuttle Endeavour’s final mission, STS-134. Under the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP), Crystal Lake Middle School's Apples in Space project compare the growth of a planted apple seed germinated in space to that of one germinated here on earth. The other experiment is from Maitland Middle School and will test the effect of microgravity on the ability of ethanol to kill E.Coli bacteria. Click here for details. (4/26)

Alabama Rep: NASA Has No Friend in White House (Source: Space Politics)
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) complained about a lack of support for NASA from the White House. “I am afraid that NASA does not have a friend in the White House,” he said when asked whether NASA will push to have the new Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lifter in service by 2016.

Brooks added that Bolden “did nothing to fight a $300 million budget cut to the space agency.” What budget cut he’s referring to isn’t clear: the final FY11 continuing resolution (which Brooks voted for earlier this month) funded NASA at about $240 million below FY10 levels, and more than $500 million below the FY11 request. (4/26)

Weather Day Before Launch Could Delay Liftoff (Source: WFTV)
KSC officials announced that the shuttle Endeavour has an 80 percent chance for a go on Friday. They are concerned, however, about the weather on Thursday. At approximately 7:00pm Thursday, the launch team is planning to roll the rotating service structure back away from Endeavour. The gray service structure shields the shuttle from the elements and allows workers access to the orbiter and its payload bay.

Workers can't perform the task if there is lightning or heavy rain, which is forecast for Thursday. NASA said the rules are in place to protect the shuttle and the people out at the pad. However, they do have some contingency time in the launch countdown to make up for a few hours if there is lightning on Thursday and they can't roll the service structure back. But they can't fuel the shuttle until the service structure is moved back and the pad is cleared. (4/26)

Funding Manned Space Exploration is Not Rocket Science (Source: Big Think)
After the space shuttle Endeavour lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center this week, there will only be one more space shuttle mission left before the era of NASA's manned space exploration comes to a close. Yes, nearly 50 years to the day that President John F. Kennedy called for a brave new era of space exploration, and 30 years after the launch of the space shuttle program, the U.S. is turning over the future of space exploration to the private sector.

By the end of 2011, NASA will no longer own, operate or develop its own spacecraft. In fact, until commercial space exploration takes off, the U.S. will pay as much as $50 million to the Russians each time we fly our astronauts to the International Space Station. So who lost this Sputnik Moment? The problem is, it’s probably not anyone’s fault. Take a look at the burgeoning U.S. deficit – there’s your culprit. It takes bucks to be Buck Rogers.

The all-out privatization of the space exploration program is simply the latest sign that the U.S. government no longer has the budgetary wherewithal to fund "non-core" programs (Beltway speak) -- like manned space travel. At a time when tax cuts pile up for the wealthy and billions of dollars are siphoned off to pay for healthcare and other government benefits, there’s just no longer room in the federal budget for space travel. (4/26)

Want to Travel to Space? It'll Cost You (Source: El Paso Times)
Space travel will soon be within the reach of ordinary people, provided that they have extraordinary bank accounts. A two-hour flight from New Mexico's Spaceport America will cost $200,000 per traveler. Test flights are still being conducted, and the first suborbital launch with passengers may not occur until 2013, said Will Pomerantz, a vice president of the company. But Virgin Galactic sees a ready market for high-dollar commercial space travel, Pomerantz said. About 400 people already have made deposits for flights. (4/26)

Search for Alien Life Put on Hold (Source: CNN)
Interstellar radio has lost one of its most avid and high-profile listeners. A collection of sophisticated radio telescopes in California that scan the heavens for extraterrestrial signals has suspended operations because of lack of funding.

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute operates the Allen Telescope Array, the field of dish-like scopes some 300 miles north of San Francisco. The telescopes are a joint effort of SETI and University of California-Berkeley's Radio Astronomy Lab and have been funded largely by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who donated more than $25 million to the project.

A state budget crisis and reduced federal dollars have choked the project of funding, said Karen Randall, SETI's director of special projects. SETI put the Allen Telescope Array on hold a week ago -- a situation publicly revealed by Franck Marchis, a principal investigator for SETI who doesn't work on the affected project, on his blog. (4/25)

Giffords Attending Space Launch to Aid Recovery, Doctors Say (Source: Arizona Republic)
Doctors announced Monday that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is not only "medically able" to attend the Friday launch of the space shuttle Endeavour but that traveling to Florida would be an essential step in her recovery. The family has used the launch as a goal in the congresswoman's recovery from being shot in the head at point-blank range at a town-hall event outside Tucson on Jan. 8.

"Obviously, this is something very important for her. This is something important for her family. It's important for her staff," said C.J. Karamargin, spokesman for Giffords' office. "It represents another significant milestone in her recovery." (4/26)

Missing Matter: Where Did Half the Universe Go? (Source: New Scientist)
Forget dark matter – a vast amount of normal matter visible in ancient gas clouds has gone AWOL. Now astronomers are finding clues to where it's hiding. When Isabelle Grenier surveys our galaxy, she sees things that aren't there. Atoms, specifically. Atoms that are present when she looks into deep space, to regions seen as they were just a billion or so years after the big bang.

They should still be in our cosmic neighborhood today. Except they aren't. "We lose them," says Grenier. "We see all this atomic matter in the past, but not around us now." Forget dark matter, dark energy or any other hypothetical substance postulated to plug gaping holes in the fabric of the universe. Here is a tangible scandal of cosmic bookkeeping right on our doorstep.

When we tot up all the everyday atoms in our galaxy - the sort that make up its stars, planets and people - about half of what we expect to see is missing. Grenier and others have started to see some of the missing matter: hidden pockets of extremely cold matter all but invisible to conventional telescopes. Problem solved? Not a bit of it. The new entries in the cosmic ledger leave us a long way from balancing the books, and are raising questions of their own. (4/26)

Astronauts' Families Arrive for Launch (Source: Florida Today)
With television cameras trained on them and journalists waiting by the side of the runway, the Endeavour crew is expected to fly their T-38 jets into Kennedy Space Center today to prepare for Friday's launch. Also arriving this week -- but largely without fanfare or publicity -- are the wives and children of the crew.

Endeavour's six-man crew are all husbands and fathers. Between them, they have about a dozen children ranging from school-age to adults. Other than shuttle Commander Mark Kelly's wife, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was given the go-ahead by her doctors to attend the launch, none is a household name, and so can quietly slip into town, courtesy of a NASA plane. (4/26)

Countdown Begins for China's Space Station Program (Source: China Daily)
Authorities in charge of the manned space program unveiled plans on Monday to build a 60-ton space station, made up of three capsules, and develop a cargo spaceship to transport supplies. The China Manned Space Engineering Office said at a news conference that it also wants the public to get involved by suggesting names for the space station, due to completed around 2020.

According to documents provided by the office, the space station, weighing about 60 tons, is composed of a core module and two others where experiments will be conducted. A cargo spaceship to transport supplies will also be developed. Click here to see the article and an artist's rendering of the station. (4/26)

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