June 5, 2011

Russia Plans to Launch Six Glonass Satellites in 2011 (Source: Space Daily)
Russian Space Agency Roscosmos plans to launch five Glonass-M satellites and one Glonass-K satellite in 2011. The first launch of the Glonass-M satellite is scheduled for August and the second is slated for October. The Glonass-K new generation navigation satellite is expected to be launched in December. (6/5)

Did A Massive Solar Proton Event Fry The Earth (Source: Space Daily)
Close to the end of the last ice age there was a sudden disappearance of many mammalian species which some paleontologists say was the most severe since the disappearance of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. In North America 95 percent of the megafauna became extinct, these being predominantly mammals having body weights greater than 25 to 50 kilograms. But even small animals were affected, as in the disappearance of 10 genera of birds.

Although North America was most affected, it had a severe impact also in Europe, Siberia, and South America. The cause of the extinction has long remained a mystery. Theories that have been put forth have ranged from overkill by North American paleolithic hunters to the impact of a large comet or swarm of meteors. But all have been shown to have serious flaws.

Now, researchers have found evidence that this mysterious die-off may have had a solar flare cause, when a super sized solar proton event (SPE) impacted the earth about 12,900 years ago. This date roughly coincides with that of the Rancholabrean termination, a time boundary beyond which the numbers of extinct megafaunal remains are found to sharply decline. (6/5)

Science and Maintenance for Station Crew (Source: Space Daily)
The three residents of the International Space Station were busy with science experiments and maintenance activities Friday as they await the arrival of three additional crew members. (6/5)

Gliese's Hints of Habitability (Source: Space Daily)
An international team of astronomers has ruled out transits of a water-rich or hydrogen-helium atmosphere planet for Gliese 581e. The host star itself is relatively quiet which means good news for the potential habitability of at least one of its planets. At a distance of 20 light-years from Earth, Gliese 581 is a star with a radius only a third that of the Sun. Planet e is the innermost of the four (possibly up to 6) planets that orbit this star. It is also the least massive, with a minimum mass of only twice that of the Earth. (6/5)

Editorial: A Nation in Need of Awe (Source: Huffington Post)
On July 8th, space shuttle Atlantis will lift off from launch pad 39a, ending the 30 year space shuttle program. Launches have become so routine that the media barely take notice -- perhaps a few seconds of the rising rocket or crew maneuvers. More attention is given only when the unusual happens, such as the attendance of recovering Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

After 125 missions, perhaps this is to be expected. We can get used to almost anything, taking for granted what our energy, ingenuity, and dreams have granted us. The space program itself, now over half a century old, seems more the subject of budget battles and questions about relevance and priorities than it does about science.

The world is in need of awe. Beset by wars, debt, terrorism, climate change, religious fundamentalism, and poverty, humans are too focused on themselves and severely shell-shocked. Our lives need more of the miraculous. But the wonder that we need is not just the stuff of the conquest of space. It is the sense of our collective smallness in the universe, for some of our current troubles are also the products of our hubris. (6/5)

'Avatar' Director Rumored to Have Bought First Ticket to the Moon (Source: Seacost Online)
The first of two $150 million tickets for a pioneering tourist mission to the moon was off the market Sunday, and its owner was rumored to be the world-famous "Avatar" director James Cameron. Space Adventures, the American company offering the trip scheduled for 2015, said only that the buyer of the ticket was a "well-known" personality. The expedition will begin aboard a Soyuz spaceship launched from Kazakhstan.

The orbit of the moon during the 17-day trip also includes a stopover on the International Space Station (ISS). The trip marks a new departure for space tourism. Only seven tourists have traveled into space since 2001. Tom Shelley, the British president of Space Adventures, would not even disclose whether the buyer of the seat was male or female, saying the name must remain "top secret." (6/5)

Are People the Point? (Source: Star Tribune)
On April 17, 1967, the Surveyor 3 space probe lifted from Florida and landed on the moon 65 hours later, bouncing twice before it settled in on Mare Cognitum. It was equipped with a soil-sampling scoop and a television camera. It functioned until May 3, when lunar nightfall cut input to its solar panels, and controllers on Earth shut it down until sunrise, two weeks later. Unfortunately, the craft couldn't be revived at lunar dawn.

In 1969, the Apollo 12 crew landed 160 meters from Surveyor 3 and salvaged 22 pounds of parts for return to Earth, including the TV camera. The probe hadn't been sterilized before the journey, and back on Earth scientists discovered live streptcoccus mitis bacteria on foam in the camera. The bugs apparently survived two and a half years in an environment that ranges in temperature from minus 387 degrees to 253 degrees Fahrenheit, is airless, and is relentlessly seared by radiation lethal to humans.

The lunar landings of 1969-72 are perhaps the most notable human achievements ever, but appear to be little regarded only 40 years later. No one's been back, and when was the last time it was an issue? Click here to read the article. (6/5)

Editorial: NASA Needs to Reignite Spark (Source: Carroll County Times)
Perhaps it was seeing Neil Armstrong taking his "giant leap for mankind" on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969, perhaps it was a childhood fascination with the gadgetry displayed in Gene Roddenberry's original Star Trek television series, or perhaps it was just an insatiable curiosity about the secrets hidden amongst the stars in the galaxy, but I've always had a fascination for the U.S. space program.

A couple years after the final Apollo space flight on December 1972, we made a stop at Kennedy Space Center as part of a family vacation to Florida. The specifics of that visit are mostly gone from memory, but I do recall how huge everything was. I also recall that in the souvenir store at the facility they were selling little plastic space shuttle models.

Even at that young age I was keenly aware of the budget battles going on in Congress, and how some people thought the entire space program was a waste of money. I didn't think NASA's next phase had much of chance of making it to the launching pad. Thankfully, I was wrong. Click here to read the article. (6/5)

Revamped Soyuz Spacecraft Readied for Launch (Source: AP)
A revamped digital version of the venerable Russian Soyuz spacecraft was winched into place at its launch pad Sunday for its second manned run to the International Space Station. A crew comprised of Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov, NASA's Michael Fossum and Satoshi Furukawa of Japan's JAXA space agency is primed to blast off this week for a six-month stint onboard the orbiting laboratory. (6/5)

Is There Life on Mars? We May Soon Find Out (Source: Guardian)
Forty years after Mariner 9, Mars is still a place of fascination for humanity, though its investigation has been a rocky business. "Once, it seemed destined to support life. Then we thought it was utterly dead and featureless. Then we discovered – thanks to Mariner 9 – that it had a landscape through which water had poured. After that, craft found its soil contained no signs of biological material. Since then, we have bounced back and are hopeful life may exist deep underground," said an Oxford scientist.

As a result, a swath of missions to Mars is being planned for the next few years with the US, Russia, China, and Europe all preparing spacecraft. These will include automated rovers, with one, called ExoMars, that is being built in the UK; craft that drill deep below the planet's surface; another that will land on Mars's moon, Phobos, and survey the planet from there; and, ultimately, a robot spaceship that will fire samples of Martian soil and rocks back to Earth for analysis. (6/5)

Telescope Debacle Devours NASA Funds (Source: Florida Today)
NASA’s next great space telescope will cost taxpayers at least four times more than planned and launch at least seven years late. Considered by scientists the most important space mission of the decade, the James Webb Space Telescope project is being overhauled for the second time in five years because of skyrocketing costs and cascading schedule delays.

Decision-makers initially were told the observatory would cost $1.6 billion and launch this year on a mission to look deeper into space and further back in time than the Hubble Space Telescope, in a quest for new clues about the formation of our universe and origins of life.

NASA now says the telescope can’t launch until at least 2018, though outside analysts suggest the flight could slip past 2020. The latest estimated price tag: up to $6.8 billion. NASA admits the launch delay will push the bill even higher. (6/5)

Moons Like Earth's Could be More Common Than we Thought (Source: BBC)
About one in 10 rocky planets around stars like our Sun may host a moon proportionally as large as Earth's, researchers say. Our Moon is disproportionately large - more than a quarter of Earth's diameter - a situation once thought to be rare. Using computer simulations of planet formation, researchers have now shown that the grand impacts that resulted in our Moon may in fact be common. The result may also help identify other planets that are hospitable to life. (6/5)

Jupiter a 'Crash Program' to Orbit (Source: Alamogordo Daily News)
The Army's "'completely successful' test firing" of a Jupiter guided missile meant "competition in the controversial missile field" for the Air Force and Navy," The Associated Press reported on June 6, 1957. The Army had launched the Jupiter C on May 31, from Cape Canaveral. As to what that meant, though, the Army only offered "official silence." Click here to read the article. (6/5)

Community Pride Rises as Era Ends (Source: Florida Today)
With each passing week, we're seeing more people getting sentimental about the impending end of the space shuttle program. The shuttles are a cultural icon across the country, and certainly more eyes than ever are on the Space Coast as the last flight approaches.

Whether you're a lifelong resident, a transplant here or a visiting tourist, it seems the space program is a part of our local pride. The emotion is overcoming people more often lately, not just about the shuttles, but about our nation's entire human spaceflight program. People are hanging farewell signs on businesses. Kids are asking for posters. (6/5)

Congress Not Convinced Weather Sat Need Is Urgent (Source: Space Policy Online)
Why is Congress not willing to increase NOAA's budget to pay for the new Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS)? NOAA, DOD and Europe have complementary polar orbiting weather satellites. Their data are combined to provide the increasingly reliable forecasts available today. On average, a NOAA official said, forecasts would be 50 percent less accurate without the NOAA satellite data.

NOAA's satellites are getting older every day and there are no others awaiting launch. When the existing satellites die, there will be no more data. If JPSS is not funded quickly, NOAA asserts there very likely will be a gap of as many as 18 months in the 2015-2016 time frame. NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco has issued that warning to Congress in several recent hearings.

Why then would Congress not fund JPSS? The problem as a primarily structural issue in how Congress handles funding for these satellites. NOAA is part of the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill and Congress must set priorities between weather satellites and the varied other programs under that jurisdiction, including NASA and community police services. Also, appropriators feel they have to focus on today's problems, not something that will happen in 2015-2016. (6/5)

Hundreds of Michoud Jobs, Like Space Shuttles, Ride Off Into the Sunset (Source: Times-Picayune)
The launch of the 135th and final space shuttle mission will mean the elimination of most of the 300 remaining Michoud Assembly Facility jobs connected to work on the project's external tanks. But the announcement two weeks ago that NASA, under congressional directive, is moving forward with the Orion project means continued space-related work at Michoud.

Orion employment, however, will be only a small fraction of the numbers employed for the space shuttle program. Lockheed Martin said it anticipates that 200 employees now working on Orion will continue their work at Michoud for the foreseeable future. The Michoud workers are expected to begin welding on the Orion orbital flight test crew module later this summer. (6/5)

KSC Seeks To Turn Over Shuttle Processing Bay (Source: Aviation Week)
Space Florida is in discussions with NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) to take over one of the space shuttle’s processing hangars. “We have plans with Space Florida to turn over one of the Orbiter Processing Facilities for them to operate,” KSC Director Bob Cabana said.

Space Florida President Frank DiBello is negotiating for OPF Bay 3. He declined to discuss additional details, citing proprietary negotiations under way with an unnamed aerospace company. KSC is looking to off-load facilities that will no longer be needed after the shuttle program ends this summer. KSC is drafting a master plan for a revamped spaceport that, in addition to supporting future NASA spacecraft, will host commercial, military and international customers. (6/5)

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