May 5, 2011

Editorial: U.S. Space Program Coming Full Circle (New Jersey Star-Ledger)
With the penultimate launch of Endeavour expected sometime next week, only one mission will stand between the shuttle program and permanent mothballing. A combination of budget cuts, tepid support among the American public, and lack of vision from political leaders have brought us to this point. It will be a sad ending for the once-storied program that stood at the heart of NASA’s mandate for three decades.

And consider this for disturbing symmetry: Today marks the 50th anniversary of Alan Shepard’s brief, suborbital flight that made him the first American to experience the weightlessness of space. A quick history lesson: Ever since shocking the world in the fall of 1957 with the launch of Sputnik, Russia has enjoyed a sizable lead in the exploration and conquest of space.

Much of the blame for America’s slow start falls squarely on Dwight Eisenhower. As a fiscal disciplinarian with a near pathological hatred of deficit spending, Ike had little regard for “distracting excursions” such as space exploration. He thought it expensive, risky and fairly pointless. The last thing the penurious Eisenhower wanted was to “be involved in a pathetic space race,” he told advisers. (5/5)

Top 5 Things You Didn't Know About Alan Shepard (Source: ABC News)
Fifty years ago, Alan Shepard squeezed into a tiny Mercury capsule and challenged the heavens. He called his ship Freedom 7. His flight lasted all of 15 minutes and 28 seconds. He flew 116 miles above the earth's surface, was weightless for about five minutes, and splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean 300 miles from Cape Canaveral. He became, that day, the first American ever to fly in space, and he is being quietly celebrated now.

Shepard died in 1998, and most Americans alive today were not born yet at the time of Freedom 7. So here are five things worth remembering about America's first astronaut. Ten, nine, eight, seven, six.... Click here. (5/5)

FAA Says it Will Hire 50 for New Spaceflight Tech Center (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Officials with the FAA released more details Thursday about a proposed commercial spaceflight facility at Kennedy Space Center, noting the center would hire 50 workers over the next two years. The center – initially, part of $40 million pledge last year by President Obama to help the Space Coast -- is all that remains of that promise; the money was cut during budget negotiations earlier this year.

The White House has proposed $5 million for the center in 2012, in an effort to ameliorate the impact of the loss of 7,000s in Florida after the space shuttle's final mission this summer. Workers with the Commercial Spaceflight Technical Center would be tasked with spaceflight safety, safety investigations and accident prevention. Hoping to head off criticism, George Nield, FAA associate administrator for commercial space transportation, said it wouldn't overlap with NASA. (5/5)

On Becoming A Country That Can Get Things Done: Lessons From NASA (Source: Forbes)
NASA's history after landing a man on the moon is less glorious than before the accomplishment. In 1970, NASA had a budget of $18.7 billion (in 2007 constant dollars). NASA’s 2011 budget is roughly the same size: $19 billion. In effect, NASA has spent much of the last forty years defending its budget and somewhat less successfully trying to define something meaningful to do with the money.

over the forty year period, NASA has been struggling to find a meaningful role. It tried the space shuttle but that ultimately made no business sense. It toyed with the idea of manned flight to other planets but that made less sense than unmanned flights. It now devotes itself to scientific experiments, and running a television channel with programs as exciting as watching paint dry.

NASA has become another bureaucracy grinding along, with untouchable budgets, living largely on its glorious past with the help of its legislative defenders. It is another bubble in need of puncturing. Click here to read the article. (5/5)

Giants Hitting Coach Plans Trip to Outer Space for 2014 (Source: Yahoo! Sports)
San Francisco Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens is going to be blasted into orbit during a space expedition that's being planned by his native Curacao. The former player has been selected as an inaugural "astronaut" for "Space Expedition Curacao," a commercial space tourism program the Caribbean nation is trying to launch by 2014.

Luxury Launches says it'd cost about $90,000 for a regular person to buy a seat aboard the space craft, which is being designed by XCOR, an American company. Meulens, though, is cashing in the miles he accrued by becoming Curacao's first major leaguer in the mid-'80s. (5/5)

ATK Beats Wall Street with Record Earnings (Source: Minneapolis Business Journal)
ATK beat Wall Street predictions and recorded it's highest annual earnings per share in history. ATK had strong sales growth in military small-caliber ammunition, as its armament systems division grew 10 percent for the quarter and 9 percent for the year. Security and sporting sales grew 39 percent in the quarter and 22 percent for the year. The company suffered double-digit sales declines in its aerospace and missile products divisions. (5/5)

SpaceX: Glib Salesman Takes NASA For A Ride (Source: Lexington Instiute)
Elon Musk's inspiring rhetoric about making access to space cheap and easy just isn't panning out in real life. In fact, compared with the performance of SpaceX, the traditional launch providers he regularly derides seem like paradigms of efficiency. Musk looks to be a big beneficiary of the Obama Administration's move to commercialize space travel, mainly because he is willing to make promises nobody else will.

Nobody ever said that getting into space would be easy, but when a company has suffered three catastrophic launch failures in a mere seven missions, that's not a good sign. Nonetheless, NASA can't seem to get enough of SpaceX, shelling out $2 billion to get its launch vehicles to a point where they can begin lifting payloads into orbit to support the Space Station and other missions.

Journalists should be looking a lot closer at whether the SpaceX business model is going to work, or this is just another taxpayer subsidy for rich investors. When even the Chinese say they can't match a company's prices, there's only two likely explanations. Either Elon Musk is an alien visitor from some superior off-world civilization, or his prices are going to rise later. Guess which possibility is already coming true for NASA. (5/4)

Lexington Institute Takes on SpaceX (Source: Space News)
One day after SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk posted a blog on the company's website detailing spending on its Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets and its Dragon cargo capsule, Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute called out the Internet billionaire as more talk than action. It's not clear where Thompson got a $2 billion figure to represent the government's investment in the company.

SpaceX does have a $1.6 billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA that when coupled with other agency investments in the company gets into the $2 billion ballpark. However, SpaceX has received only a small fraction of the CRS funding to date; the bulk of that money will be paid out over the next several years once SpaceX begins routine space station logistics runs with Falcon 9 and Dragon, and those flights won't begin until next year. (5/5)

Shuttle Endeavour's Launch Date Likely to Move Again (Source: Florida Today)
Endeavour's next launch attempt appears likely to slip later into next week as NASA tries to pin down the cause of a blown circuit that scrubbed last Friday's planned blastoff. A second attempt officially still is listed as no sooner than Tuesday, but it looks like system tests and other countdown preparations could stretch into early next week. An official target launch date is expected by Friday. (5/5)

Bigelow Tests Life Support System (Source: Space News)
Bigelow Aerospace completed an initial closed-loop test in March of a prototype environmental control and life support (ECLS) system designed to support extended crew stays inside the inflatable habitats the company is building to provide research facilities and hotel accommodations in space. The March 31 demonstration was conducted inside the company’s Las Vegas headquarters.

In a newly constructed test chamber, the test involved locking three Bigelow engineers inside the 180-cubic-meter structure for about eight hours, during which they performed a variety of tasks that demonstrated the ECLS system’s ability to control temperature, humidity, pressure, oxygen content and the removal of carbon dioxide and trace-gas contaminants from the environment. (5/5)

WSGI Advances UAS Program With Space Florida Contract (Source: SatNews)
World Surveillance Group Inc. (formerly Sanswire Corp.), a Florida-based developer of lighter-than-air unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and related technologies was awarded a $200,000 contract from Space Florida to create a Performance Data Package in connection with the flight testing of WSGI’s Argus One UAV at the U.S. Army’s proving ground facility in Yuma, Arizona.

This contract follows a financing commitment of up to $1.5 million from Space Florida, which WSGI intends to use to expand its Florida-based operations and to finance the previously announced potential acquisition of Global Telesat Corp., a provider of satellite tracking services to the Department of Defense and other customers.

Michael K. Clark, WSGI's Chairman, added, "We are looking forward to flight testing and demonstrating our Argus One UAV's capabilities at Yuma and are delighted to be working with Space Florida and our other partners in this effort. We continue to work aggressively with our partners to accelerate the development and commercialization of our airships." (5/2)

Who’s Short-Sighted? (Source: Air & Space)
Apollo 17 Commander Eugene Cernan recently voiced his doubts and concerns over the future of the human spaceflight program, while former Lockheed-Martin CEO Norman Augustine reflected on the current state of our space “vision” and/or the possible lack thereof. I found these perspectives by two giants of our national space program remarkable not in terms of what they think, but rather in how those in the space blogosphere have reacted to their positions.

Some “New Space” advocates accuse people who disagree with the new direction of being too stupid and stubborn to understand its benefits or too parochial and selfish (or a combination thereof) to realize that government sponsored spaceflight is simply political pork. Many in the New Space media have disparaged Cernan’s comments about this administration’s direction in space. In contrast, Augustine’s remarks are praised, mostly on the grounds that he has embraced the “new direction” of using “commercial” space entities to transport people and cargo to low Earth orbit.

What did Cernan actually say? He has doubts about many of the claims made regarding “New Space,” specifically claims in the press about costs, schedule and capabilities. Cernan’s point is that it’s easy to design paper rockets and make hyperbolic claims about “new approaches” but in the business of space, things don’t always work as expected. Click here. (5/5)

Who Is Short Sighted? (Source: Transterrestrial Musings)
In Air & Space, Paul Spudis defends Gene Cernan's skepticism about commercial launchers. Included in his piece, though, he inadvertently describes exactly why it’s hard to take Cernan seriously... The Atlas Vs and Delta IVs that reliably launch defense satellites, and have been for years, are not “paper rockets.” Was it a “paper rocket” that put the Dragon into orbit in December? Was the Dragon a “paper capsule”? Beyond that, Cernan doesn’t just “question” the markets, he completely ignores their existence. Click here. (5/5)

Former Florida Official Cleared of Ethics Violations on Space Tourism Project (Source: Pensacola News Journal)
A former employee of the Andrews Institute in Gulf Breeze was cleared of charges he violated Florida ethics regulations. An administrative law judge dismissed charges alleging Brice Harris used his position at the Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development to secure $500,000 space tourism project grant for Andrews, and then took a $150,000-a-year job at the sports medicine clinic.

The Judge said there was not enough evidence to prove that Harris’ employment with Andrews violated ethics laws because his employment with OTTED did not substantially or significantly contribute to the funding or creation of Project Odyssey. “It has been my belief all along that the personal and publicly stated allegations were politically motivated,” Harris said.

Harris’ attorney said there was never any evidence Harris played a decisive part in the OTTED decision, approval, disapproval, recommendation or investigation of “any project” while an employee of OTTED. Project Odyssey was designed to provide research data on human spaceflight effects for Space Florida, a state-run agency that promoted space flight in the Sunshine State. (5/4)

Space Shuttle Engineer Jumped to Death from Launch Tower Fearing Redundancy (Source: Scotsman)
A Shuttle engineer leaped 130ft to his death from the top of Endeavour's launch tower after becoming depressed over medical problems and the looming loss of his job after 28 years. James Vanover, 53, had continued working on the upper reaches of the tower at KSC's pad 39A, one of NASA's most safety-sensitive and high security areas, despite one week seeking treatment for a psychiatric illness.

An investigation into his death on 14 March concluded that he died of multiple blunt force injuries. Mr Vanover, a father of three and grandfather of one, had been worried that he may be have been losing his sight. A post-mortem found no evidence of this. However, he also faced being made redundant by NASA, as it prepares to retire its space shuttle fleet this year.

Mr Vanover had reported for work at 6am on 14 March, one hour early, and had been due to meet colleagues on a lower level of the launch tower at pad 39A, where Endeavour was being prepared for it last mission. "A security camera on top of the structure recorded [him] deliberately sliding off the platform and falling," the medical examiner revealed. Mr Vanover had worked at KSC since 1982 and had won plaudits including a Silver Snoopy Award presented by astronaut Eileen Collins. (5/4)

United Launch Alliance Donates $50,000 to Alabama Disaster Relief Efforts (Source: ULA)
United Launch Alliance (ULA) will donate $50,000 to Alabama disaster relief efforts in hard-hit counties through the American Red Cross. Much of ULA's manufacturing, assembly, and integration operations are located at its Decatur, Ala., factory. Several ULA employees suffered property damage from the severe weather. ULA also has established a relief fund for its employees. (5/4)

Lunar X Prize Team to Withdraw From Competition Over Agreement Changes (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Google Lunar X Prize’s Team Selene said it will withdraw from the global competition to land a rover on the moon over what it calls unacceptable and unilateral changes in the Master Team Agreement (MTA) and bullying tactics by the X PRIZE Foundation (XPF). A second team, Mystical Moon, has invoked a dispute resolution clause in its agreement, while other competitors are also reported to be upset over the changes and what critics view as efforts by the foundation and Google to exercise excessive control over the competitors. (5/3)

New Study Examines Orbital Tourism Demand (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Increasing interest in orbital space tourism has been generated by recent developments of projects and organizations such as Excalibur, Galactic Suite and Bigelow's Space Complex Alpha, as well as the Russian Orbital Technologies plans. There have been, until now, few detailed studies available on the market demand for orbital personal spaceflight.

This 2011 study offers a new analysis and perspective for industry, taking into account that since 2008 the financial landscape has changed considerably, highlighting the need for up-to-date data on the demand side of Orbital Space Tourism. It considers a market outlook including evaluating the price elasticity in a price range of $5-20 million per flight and assesses the potential market for the period 2012-2022. Click here. (5/3)

SpaceX Envisions Dragons on Mars (Source: Parabolic Arc)
During an event at NASA Ames, the questions turned to Elon Musk’s plans to colonize Mars. Moderator Chris McKay said that Elon Musk had told him that at every point where SpaceX had to make choices on Dragon about materials, heat shield strength and other issues, they chose to design the vehicle for Mars flights. Dragon's side-mounted retro-rockets are useful not just for targeted touchdowns on Earth but also for missions elsewhere.

McKay also revealed NASA is conducting a study on how the agency might send a drill to Mars aboard an unmanned Dragon capsule. I’m not entirely sure how the drill would be deployed, but it’s a really interesting idea. This would be a great way to test out a Dragon on the Red Planet. (5/3)

The IT Lessons of 50 Years of Space Flight (Source: Washington Technology)
In today’s world, the ability to instantly communicate and share information across the globe is pretty much taken for granted. But obviously it wasn’t always that way. On May 5, NASA will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Alan Shepard’s flight as the first American in space.

And I had the opportunity to talk to Art Cohen, who managed IBM Corp.’s team that ran NASA’s Space Flight Center for the Mercury program. “We were the first real-time system,” Cohen said. That statement was about as close to bragging as Cohen got when talking about the historic mission. Click here to read the article. (5/4)

JPL Releases Updated NASA's Space Images App (Source: Pasadena Star-News)
An updated version of NASA's free Space Images app, created by the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is now available and optimized for iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch and Android, JPL announced Tuesday. Higher-resolution images and improved user interface in Space Images Version 2 allow users to zoom in on and rate their favorite images and share photos from NASA/JPL spacecraft on Facebook and Twitter. (5/4)

SETI Shutdown (Source:
The only known intelligent beings in the universe have quit listening for signs of others. The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, Institute, headquartered in Mountain View, switched its radio signal receivers into “hibernation mode” on April 15 when funding—mostly from UC-Berkeley—to operate the Lassen County facility ran dry. (The SETI Institute is not related to SETI@home, the crowdsourcing operation that lets volunteers donate their computer processors’ downtime to the search for alien intelligence.)

The suspension of the search for extraterrestrial life comes just when astronomers have gained a key advantage in identifying habitable alien worlds. NASA’s Kepler telescope, launched two years ago, has detected hundreds of planet groups in the past year that experts say could contain intelligent life. (5/4)

Holdren's Response to Ban on China Science Partnerships Draws GOP Ire (Source: Science)
The Obama Administration has carved out a loophole in the recent congressional ban on scientific interactions with China that would permit most activities between the two countries to continue. But that interpretation doesn't sit well with Republicans in the House of Representatives who drafted the language, one of whom said today that ignoring the ban could imperil funding for NASA or other science agencies.

The ban language was crafted by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), a fierce critic of China who chairs a House spending committee that oversees several science agencies. The ban says that no funds can be used by NASA or OSTP "to develop, design, plan, promulgate, implement or execute a bilateral policy, program, order, or contract of any kind to participate, collaborate, or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China or any Chinese-owned company." It also prevents any NASA facility from hosting "official Chinese visitors."

John Holdren told Wolf that, in effect, the ban doesn't apply to the president's ability to conduct foreign policy. That authority, Holdren explained, extends to a bilateral agreement on scientific cooperation that Holdren and China's science minister signed in January that builds upon a 1979 pact that has spawned activities between many U.S. agencies and their Chinese counterparts. (5/4)

White House: China is Potential Partner in Future Mars Exploration (Source: Space News)
President Obama views China as a potential partner for an eventual human mission to Mars that would be difficult for any single nation to undertake, a senior White House official told lawmakers. Testifying before Congress, White House science adviser John Holdren said near-term engagement with China in civil space will help lay the groundwork for any such future endeavor. (5/4)

Ruppersberger Pushes For Billion-Dollar Missile Defense Satellite (Source: Huffington Post)
A powerful House Democrat announced Wednesday that he will fight for a billion dollar-plus space tracking system for missile defense, despite the fact that Republican lawmakers have dropped funding for the system from the defense policy bill.

"Dutch" Ruppersberger (D-MD), the top Democrat on the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee who also sits on the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, said he will push for an additional $168 million in the defense policy bill to cover costs of the Precision Tracking and Surveillance Satellites (PTSS).

He told his colleagues they were pursuing the "wrong course of action," pointing to China's strong support for space exploration and technologies as one reason to fund the satellite program. The other reason, he argued, is that the country must improve its knowledge of space objects and their locations, or "space situational awareness." (5/4)

Major New Spaceport Contract Awarded (Source: KRWG)
The New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) has selected a contractor to provide systems integration services to Spaceport America. B & D Industries, Inc., of Albuquerque, NM, was selected to configure, install and service the many technical systems and networks needed at the spaceport.

The $3.66 million contract will cover a wide range of systems and services to the spaceport. B & D Industries, Inc., will be responsible for configuring Spaceport America's communications distribution system, fire alarm and public address systems, the Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN), in addition to a Closed Circuit Television (CCT) system and Security Access Control System (SACS). (5/4)

Xtraordinary Adventures Announces its New Updated Space Flight Website (Source: Xtraordinary Adventures)
Xtraordinary Adventures, LLC, a newly formed space travel agency located in Boca Raton, Florida, has updated their website. Mitchell J Schultz, Space Tourism Specialist, avid space enthusiast, adventurer and world traveler, as its director, created the informative website representing RocketShip Tours, the exclusive agent for XCOR's Lynx space plane.

Schultz refers to the RocketShip Tours program as “Preparing for your Pinnacle Life Event, The Ultimate Space Flight Experience”. Further, he invites anyone interested in learning more about commercial suborbital space flight to 'come meet our website host, Barbara, and get a tour of what we are all about.' Click here. (5/4)

ESA and the World Bank Join Forces (Source: ESA)
Recognizing the value of using Earth observation satellite data to support development activities, ESA and the World Bank will work together on several projects through the 'eoworld' joint initiative. ESA and the World Bank first started collaborating two years ago when ESA carried out small-scale pilot projects that demonstrated the potential of Earth observation for the Bank’s operations.

Based on the pilots’ promising outcomes, Earth observation information will now be scaled up and incorporated into 12 World Bank activities in the marine environment, water resources management, urban development, urban and disaster risk management, and agriculture and forestry. (5/4)

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