May 31, 2011

Shuttle’s Last Flight Could Cede Space Dominance to China (Source: Washington Times)
Given the past few years of economic hardship, it’s easy to think the era of boundless opportunity that has characterized the American story is coming to an end. In times such as these, it’s comforting to remember that as long as we retain our inquisitive nature, our discoveries could yield possibilities for better days ahead.

It’s hard to know if any of NASA's recent discoveries about the universe will have any practical application for improving life on Earth, but there is seldom certainty on the frontiers of discovery. Too few are predisposed to venture beyond their comfort zones, but those who do are often the ones who change the world. Recent history has shown that an inordinate proportion of those who are inclined to do so have been Americans.

That’s why it is sad to see the U.S. space-shuttle program grounded next month after a 30-year run, just as Beijing appears ready to kick off its own space-exploration program with the ultimate goal of sending a manned mission to Mars. Let us hope that the next generation of Americans can rekindle the inquisitive spirit that has characterized our national identity and restore U.S. preeminence in space. The same irrepressible zest for knowing what’s out there is bound to help us hurdle the obstacles that now confront us down here. (5/31)

Americans Can Take Pride in Space Station's Completion (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
With all the attention being given to the Shuttle's retirement, a major milestone in the history of engineering seems to be passing with little fanfare. Spacewalking astronauts from the shuttle wrapped up more than a dozen years of construction on the International Space Station, the $100 billion outpost orbiting 220 miles above the Earth.

Gregory Chamitoff, one of Endeavour's spacewalkers, nailed it: "This space station is the pinnacle of human achievement and international cooperation." And a source of national pride. It reflects an enormous investment of time, talent and treasure from 15 nations led by the United States. There has never been anything quite like it. Editor's Note: NASA should be announcing this month which team it has selected to manage the ISS National Laboratory. Space Florida is a major partner on at least one team. (5/31)

US Astronaut Fears 'Memory' Gap After Shuttle Ends (Source: AFP)
US astronaut Mark Kelly, who is commanding the shuttle Endeavour's final space flight, said Tuesday he is concerned about a drain of NASA talent once the US shuttle program ends later this year. "I think what is always at risk is, as we transition to a new program and a new vehicle there is going to be a period of time when Americans aren't flying on US spacecraft, so that's a challenge," he said. (5/31)

Enceladus Named Sweetest Spot for Alien Life (Source: Nature)
Saturn's icy moon Enceladus is emerging as the most habitable spot beyond Earth in the Solar System for life as we know it, scientists said last week at a meeting of the Enceladus Focus Group at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. But it may be too late to get a mission there the fast way, via a gravity boost from Jupiter. This would cut the journey time from ten years to as little as seven, but the next Jupiter-assist window hits its peak in 2015-17, and then closes until the 2030s.

That leaves scant time to plan and build a mission, even if engineers start immediately – something that is unlikely, many scientists believe, given the current emphasis on Mars. That's too bad, because Enceladus may trump Mars as the Solar System's most likely abode for extraterrestrial life. "It has liquid water, organic carbon, nitrogen [in the form of ammonia], and an energy source," says Chris McKay. Besides Earth, he says, "there is no other environment in the Solar System where we can make all those claims". (5/31)

Arsenic Life: Fact or Fiction? (Source: Discovery)
To chemists, the discovery of a microbe that has incorporated arsenic into its DNA would be akin to finding that the formulation for water can shift from H2O -- two hydrogen atoms paired up with an oxygen -- to H3O. Which is not to say that it couldn't happen, just that 100 years of organic chemistry says otherwise.

That doesn't really bother Felisa Wolfe-Simon, an oceanographer working under a NASA fellowships at the U.S. Geological Survey and the lead researcher of a paper to be published this week claiming evidence for just such a microorganism. The paper's pre-publication in December led to such howls of protest that the esteemed Science magazine on Friday posted eight critical assessments of the research. Click here to read the article. (5/31)

NSBRI, Center for Space Medicine Moving to New Texas Facility (Source:
The National Space Biomedical Research Institute's (NSBRI) headquarters and Baylor College of Medicine's (BCM) Center for Space Medicine (CSM) are relocating this week. The two organizations will open for business June 6 in the BioScience Research Collaborative at Rice University, just across the street from the Texas Medical Center.

The 16,000-square-foot consolidated research facility is located on the ninth floor of the BioScience Research Collaborative (BRC) and features multiple reconfigurable laboratories, meeting rooms and office space for NSBRI headquarters and BCM personnel, as well as space for visiting NSBRI researchers from leading institutions from across the country. (5/31)

Struggling to Save Hangar One at Ames (Source: Preservation Nation)
Last month, workers began stripping the siding and windows from Hangar One, a former U.S. Navy airship station located near Mountain View, Calif. Coated with PCBs, asbestos, and lead, the building's skin was polluting area wetlands. But the remediation project has preservationists concerned about the future of the hangar, a cavernous 1932 structure that once housed the largest airship in the world, the USS Macon. The question is, What will happen to the landmark after it has been stripped to its steel frame?

Hangar One was declared a superfund site and has sat abandoned since 1994, when the site was decommissioned and ownership was transferred to NASA. In 2008, amid fears the building might be demolished, the National Trust included the site on the annual America's 11 Most Endangered Places list. U.S. Navy was charged with managing the clean up and has contracted the project to AMEC Earth and Environmental, Inc., an international consulting company.

But according to a determination made by the White House's Office of Budget and Management, NASA is responsible for rebuilding the hangar once the project is finished. In the proposed 2012 federal budget, NASA is slated to receive $32.8 million to fund restoration. But preservationists worry that allocation may be cut when the final budget is drafted, and the hangar will be left to deteriorate. (5/31)

The Case Against SpaceX, Part II (Source: Forbes)
My main concern in raising issues with SpaceX was that NASA not become overly dependent on an unproven launch provider — one that only achieved its first launch success 32 months ago, but now says it will soon be ready to loft U.S. astronauts into orbit. With that in mind, I thought I would focus this week on how the company’s track record compares with that of established launch providers, and why the assumptions made in its business strategy aren’t likely to pan out in the real world.

SpaceX has only mounted seven launches since its inception, three of which were catastrophic failures. By way of comparison. Lockheed Martin’s family of Atlas boosters has seen 97 consecutive launches without a single failure. United Launch Alliance has had 50 successful Atlas and Delta launches in a row. SpaceX supporters contend this is an unfair comparison, because all of the company’s launch failures occurred with the Falcon 1 vehicle that the company no longer offers. Click here to read the article.

Editor's Note: The comparison of Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 (both developmental) to the long-operational Atlas and Delta rockets is inappropriate and misleading. HobbySpace and others commenting on the article believe the author (Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute) is trolling on behalf of Lockheed Martin, not only to generate doubt within NASA, but also to cast SpaceX in a bad light before the Air Force. SpaceX hopes to add Falcon 9 to the Air Force's EELV contract, at a time when Lockheed and Boeing are seeking to raise their EELV Atlas and Delta prices. (5/31)

Astronauts4Hire Announces TargetProcess Sponsorship (Source: A4H)
Tampa-based Astronauts4Hire is pleased to announce its sponsorship by TargetProcess, Inc., an agile project management software provider. As part of the sponsorship, Astronauts4Hire is receiving complimentary licenses for TargetProcess’s online project management system. Astronauts4Hire uses TargetProcess to track tasks and concentrate on applying members’ volunteered time in the most productive way. (5/31)

National Academies Releases Orbital Debris Workshop Summary (Source: NAP)
This document summarizes a two-day workshop held on March 9-10, 2011, where various stakeholders presented diverse perspectives on matters concerning NASA Micrometeoroid and Orbital Debris (MMOD) programs, NASA mission operators, the role and relationships of NASA MMOD programs to other federal agencies, MMOD and the commercial industry, and orbital debris retrieval and removal. Click here. (5/31)

Ka-Sat Enters Service as European Broadband Market Heats Up (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator Eutelsat on May 31 began commercial broadband service with its Ka-Sat satellite and said it is sticking to its forecast that the spacecraft, which cost 350 million euros ($490 million), will generate 100 million euros in fresh revenue per year within three years. Eutelsat, which has been planning Ka-Sat since 2007, expects Ka-Sat will reach profitability by the three-year mark with around 300,000 subscribers. (5/31)

Maryland Report Offers Recommendations for Space Industry Growth (Source: MDBED)
Maryland: The Business of Space Science is a competitiveness research project initiated by the Maryland Department of Business & Economic Development. The report inventories the state’s space and satellite sector, identifies key assets and opportunities, and sets forth a policy to guide strategic planning and investments. Maryland has an impressive array of space industry assets. NASA Goddard Space Flight Facility, which manages NASA’s observation, astronomy and space physics missions, has called Maryland home for more than 50 years.

The space sector is an important cog in Maryland’s economic engine. Each year, NASA contracts $1.4 billion with Maryland companies. NASA’s 10,000 employees and thousands of other Marylanders work in space enterprises related to NASA, NOAA, the U.S. Geological Survey and national security agencies. Space industry partners in Maryland are adapting existing space science to explore and address climate change in the nation and the world. NASA Goddard scientists are expanding our understanding of the Earth and its life-sustaining environment, the sun, the solar system and the universe. Click here to view the report. (5/31)

Weather Promising for Endeavour's Final Landing (Source: Florida Today)
Crosswinds at Kennedy Space Center are no longer expected to pose a problem for Endeavour's final landing, planned at 2:35 a.m. EDT Wednesday. KSC will be the only active landing site Wednesday morning, and Endeavour has two opportunities to touch down on its three-mile runway: at 2:35 a.m. and 4:11 a.m., after 248 and 249 orbits, respectively.

If Endeavour can't land Wednesday morning at KSC, the shuttle and its crew of six would stay in space another day and NASA would plan to bring them home early Thursday to Florida or Edwards Air Force Base in California. (5/31)

NASA’s Finger-Sized Pump Cools Tiny Spaces (Source: Gizmodo)
This little pump will be sent off on a rocket mission in June to test whether it can survive the vibration of being blasted off, and if it's well-equipped to cooling down ducts. There aren't any moving parts in the pump, and it only consumes around .5W of power, making it unlike traditional pumps you've used before.

NASA is hoping the electrohydrodynamic technology will be enough for space, and help ensure heat-sensitive circuitry stays cool. Given the technology is scalable, NASA is also working on shrinking the EHD pumps to minuscule levels, so they can cool down circuit boards. Click here. (5/31)

Zenit Shipments Resume for Sea Launch (Source: Sea Launch)
Sea Launch has resumed shipments of Zenit-3SL hardware in preparation for its return to launch operations in the third quarter of 2011. The two-stage Zenit-2S booster, manufactured by Yuzhnoye of Ukraine and the Block-DM-SL manufactured by Energia of Russia departed on May 31, 2011 for transit to Sea Launch Home Port facilities in Long Beach, California where launch vehicle integration and combined operations take place.

Production oversight for the Zenit-3SL vehicle is carried out by Energia Logistics, with facilities in Moscow (“ELRF”) and Long Beach, California (“ELUS”). Energia Logistics’ responsibilities focus on closely monitoring hardware production schedules with regular visits to contractor and subcontractor facilities alongside Sea Launch customers to verify and assure on-time delivery and performance.

“Sea Launch has ten Zenit-3SL’s on order, covering requirements for missions # 31 through # 40 which will satisfy existing and future customer requirements for launches through the end of 2013” said Kjell Karlsen, President of Sea Launch. “We are very pleased with having achieved yet another important milestone towards the resumption of launch operations later this year”. (5/31)

Apollo's Dark Safety Legacy: Hubris and Poor Quality (Source: Satellite Spotlight)
With the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's call to put a man on the moon and "return him safely to the earth," there's a bitter irony that Apollo was one of the most unsafe spacecrafts put on the launch pad. It is important to examine Apollo's safety record as we look back on the shuttle program and forward to future commercial manned spaceflight systems and the multi-purpose crew vehicle.

Between 1967 and 1975, the Apollo Command Module/Service Module combination was prepared to fly manned missions a total of 15 times. Over eight years of operation, the Apollo command module killed three men and injured three others, while the Apollo service module nearly killed three more crew on the way to the moon. Dividing out the incidents by the number of flights gives a historical probability that something bad would happen for every 1 flight in 5.

Some NASA executives had warned about poor quality control issues before Apollo 1. In 1965 -- a bit more than a year before the pad fire -- Program Director Samuel Phillips sent a report to North American Aviation noting a history of delivery slippages, escalating costs, inadequate procedures and controls in bonding and welding, along with a "diversely spread" workforce that had too much overhead and was incapable of catching manufacturing defects. (5/31)

Finally, Results From Gravity Probe B (Source: APS)
Over 47 years and 750 million dollars in the making, Gravity Probe B was an orbiting physics experiment, designed to test two fundamental predictions of Einstein’s general relativity. According to Einstein’s theory, space and time are not the immutable, rigid structures of Newton’s universe, but are united as spacetime, and together they are malleable, almost rubbery.

A massive body warps spacetime, the way a bowling ball warps the surface of a trampoline. A rotating body drags spacetime a tiny bit around with it, the way a mixer blade drags a thick batter around. Click here to read the article. (5/31)

North Carolina Students Look To Support Manned Mars Mission (Source: NC State)
What would it take to make a manned mission to Mars a reality? A team of aerospace and textile engineering students from North Carolina State University believe part of the solution may lie in advanced textile materials. The students joined forces to tackle life-support challenges that the aerospace industry has been grappling with for decades.

The student team will present their project at the NASA-sponsored Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts Academic Linkage (RASC-AL) competition, held June 6-8 in Cocoa Beach, Fla. The project will be judged by NASA and industry experts against other undergraduate groups from across the country. (5/31)

NASA RASC-AL Challenge Comes to Cocoa Beach on Jun. 6-8 (Source: NIA)
The Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts Academic Linkage (RASC-AL) program was formed to provide university-level engineering students the opportunity to design projects based on NASA engineering challenges as well as offer NASA access to new research and design projects by students. Graduate and undergraduate teams will come to Cocoa Beach on Jun. 6-8 for final judging. Click here. (5/31)

Who Will Shuttle The Last Shuttle? The Crawler Crew (Source: NPR)
Before space shuttle Atlantis can carry astronauts up on the very last shuttle mission ever, workers on the ground first have to carry Atlantis to the launchpad. The last shuttle launch is planned for July 8. But the shuttle's final trek to the launch pad is Tuesday night. It's a historic milestone for NASA — and a very personal one for the people in charge of taking the shuttle on this first leg of its final journey.

"It's a bittersweet feeling. You hate to see anything come to an end," says Bill Couch, one of only six people certified to drive "the crawler," a massive beast of a machine that carries the shuttle to the pad. The crawler looks like a cross between a flatbed truck and a tank. The crawler guzzles gas — going only 32 feet per gallon — and is the biggest self-powered land vehicle in the world. (5/31)

Editorial: Orion Provides Some Clarity for NASA, But Fog Remains (Source: Florida Today)
As NASA gropes through the fog toward its future, there are more questions than answers about where it’s headed. However, the clouds parted just enough the other day to provide one ray of clarity: Senior officials announced NASA plans to use the Orion crew vehicle — designed as part of the canceled Constellation moon program — as its new spacecraft to carry astronauts into deep space.

The idea had support in Congress among members trying to salvage parts of the program, and we backed it too as a smart approach to take the best of what Constellation had produced and apply it to the next generation of spaceflight. It’s a welcome development for Kennedy Space Center because the spaceport had been picked for final Orion assembly under Constellation, and the decision is expected to save several hundred jobs.

Congress wants to spend $4 billion next year on a heavy lift rocket to carry Orion, but the White House wants to allocate only $2.8 billion, with the difference going to get the private carriers up and rolling. The latter makes the most sense. It increases chances the companies will be ready to fly astronauts around 2015 and creates the best shot to create new space jobs faster. (5/31)

Analyzing the New Kennedy Tape (Source: Space Review)
Last week, on the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's speech calling for a human mission to the Moon by the end of the decade, his presidential library released a new recording of space deliberations by Kennedy. John Logsdon examines the new tape and what it says about Kennedy's interest in spaceflight and support of NASA. Visit to view the article. (5/31)

Bad Moon Rising (Source: Space Review)
As NASA struggles to develop a new heavy-lift launch vehicle, commercial entities are cobbling together existing systems for new applications, like Space Adventures' plans for a lunar flyby mission. Stewart Money argues that the latter approach might offer a more expedient approach to near-term exploration than developing a big booster. Visit to view the article. (5/31)

Fifty Years of NASA Art (Source: Space Review)
A traveling exhibition of artwork created under NASA's art program has made its way to the National Air and Space Museum. Jeff Foust explores the collection and the origins of the agency's art efforts. Visit to view the article. (5/31)

Spacepower Versus Bin Laden (Source: Space Review)
Special operations forces justifiably got the credit for the raid a month ago that killed Osama bin Laden. However, Taylor Dinerman notes that the mission would not have been possible with a variety of space assets, from reconnaissance to communications. Visit to view the article. (5/31)

Thaicom Poised To Order a Satellite from Orbital and Launch from SpaceX (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator Thaicom of Thailand said May 31 it will contract with satellite builder Orbital Sciences and launch-services provider SpaceX for the construction and launch of a Thaicom 6 telecommunications satellite following approval of the $160 million project by Thaicom’s board of directors. (5/31)

NASA Analysis: Falcon 9 Much Cheaper Than Traditional Approach (Source: Parabolic Arc)
"Under methodology #1, the cost model predicted that the Falcon 9 would cost $4.0 billion based on a traditional approach. Under methodology #2, NAFCOM predicted $1.7 billion when the inputs were adjusted to a more commercial development approach. Thus, the predicted the cost to develop the Falcon 9 if done by NASA would have been between $1.7 billion and $4.0 billion.

SpaceX has publicly indicated that the development cost for Falcon 9 launch vehicle was approximately $300 million. Additionally, approximately $90 million was spent developing the Falcon 1 launch vehicle which did contribute to some extent to the Falcon 9, for a total of $390 million. NASA has verified these costs." (5/31)

Turkmenistan Creates Own Space Agency (Source: RIA Novosti)
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has signed a decree authorizing the creation of a National Space Agency. The document, signed on Monday, stipulates that the agency is being set up "to ensure the implementation of scientific achievements in the national economy and to supervise future space exploration." (5/31)

Space: The Ascent of Manx (Source: Independent)
The wind from the Irish Sea whips across the former airfield at Jurby on the north-western tip of the Isle of Man. It was from this bracing spot during the Second World War that the RAF flew missions to protect the cities of Liverpool and Belfast from the Luftwaffe bombs. The hangars still stand today, although the armed forces left nearly four decades ago.

The structures provide a startling symbol of this small island's soaring ambition to one day slip the shackles of the Earth and head for the stars. Next month international journalists, potential investors and local schoolchildren will be invited to Jurby to view two Almaz space stations housed here. The island-based company Excalibur Almaz bought them from the Russian government earlier this year – for what it describes as a "good price". Click here. (5/31)

We Can’t Do Anything Big Until Terrestrial Problems Get Fixed (Source: Washington Times)
Even before Apollo 11 blasted off in July 1969, Vice President Spiro Agnew predicted that America would put a man on Mars by the end of the 20th century; he would not be the last to blithely assume that Mars (and beyond) represented the next and inevitable stage in human colonization.

Mike Griffin, who once told the Washington Post that one day, “there will be more human beings who live off the Earth than on it. … We may have people living on the moons of Jupiter and other planets.” Really? Our fascination with the exploration of our own moon lasted only from 1961 until 1972, when the Apollo program was canceled because of lack of public interest. Bush’s Constellation was nixed by his successor. The shuttle program is winding down with a whimper.

Countries that require billions of borrowed dollars each day to meet their obligations soon have trouble projecting power across the globe, much less the stars. Countries that carry $14 trillion in debt do not go to Mars - they hide from creditors and, maybe quietly, maybe messily, expire. (5/31)

Azerbaijan Buys First Communication Satellite, Sets 2012 Launch (Source: Bloomberg)
Azerbaijan, the third-largest oil producer in the former Soviet Union, agreed to buy the country’s first communications satellite with U.S. funding and plans to launch it next year. AzerSat is being developed by Dulles, Virgina-based Orbital Sciences Corp. and will cost $120 million. A loan from the U.S. Export-Import bank will cover 85 percent of the total. Arianespace will launch the satellite. (5/31)

NASA Looks for Antimatter. It’s Not Just Some Sci-Fi Idea? (Source: Washington Post)
Astronauts from the space shuttle Endeavour recently attached the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, or AMS, to the International Space Station. It will attempt to detect the presence of antimatter in outer space. Since the device has the potential to change the way we think about the universe, this is a good time to brush up on what, exactly, antimatter is.

In the 1920s, British physicist Paul Dirac was trying to make Einstein’s special relativity principle jibe with some of the rules of quantum mechanics — a mathematical system that explains the behavior of small particles. No matter how many times Dirac ran his equations, he couldn’t eliminate a pesky negative sign that he thought didn’t belong there. Click here to read the article. (5/31)

Asteroids: In Search of Stardust (Source: Guardian)
NASA has announced the ultimate smash-and-grab raid: the first attempt to collect a handful of asteroid rock and bring it back to Earth. There are three reasons why astronomers and space buffs should cheer the seven-year, $800m robot mission and one reason why they should sob.

Asteroids and comets are the rubble left over from the making of the solar system: this pristine stardust, unchanged for 4.5bn years, is of immense scientific interest. Asteroids and comets are packed with an astonishing array of organic chemicals, including amino acids, the building blocks of proteins: there is an enduring suspicion that they may have played a role in triggering life on Earth. (5/31)

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