July 19, 2011

Griffin Now Favors Saving Space Shuttle (Source: Houston Chronicle)
As NASA administrator under President George W. Bush, Mike Griffin wanted to wind down the space shuttle program as quickly as possible so that money could be spent on building a new system to send astronauts into orbit. But with no replacement in sight, he now believes the shuttle should continue flying. In an email circulating among NASA employees, Griffin writes, “In a world of limited budgets, I was willing to retire the shuttle as the price of getting a follow-on system that could allow us to establish a manned lunar base. Not that my opinion matters, but I see no sense in retiring the shuttle in favor of nothing. That is beyond foolish.” (7/19)

Space Coast State Senator Drops Out of Race to Oust Bill Nelson (Source: AP)
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike Haridopolos abruptly dropped out that race Monday, saying he needs to concentrate on his final year as president of the Florida Senate. The 41-year-old Space Coast lawmaker said he could not effectively serve as Senate president and also devote the time necessary for a successful bid for his party's nomination to challenge Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson, who is seeking a third term.

Editor's Note: Like other GOP candidates seeking nomination in this race, Haridopolos was routinely critical of Sen. Nelson's efforts on space industry issues. (7/19)

Cernan: We Must Remain Committed to Human Spaceflight (Source: Statesman)
As NASA brings the space shuttle program to a close later this month with a successful conclusion of the flight of Atlantis, many are wondering whether the United States is abdicating its leadership role in human space flight. I have expressed my own deep concern, along with some of my colleagues, over the past year about that real possibility. However, if one reads the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, now law, which Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison co-authored and Congress overwhelmingly adopted last year, there might be an alternative path forward, but only if that law is adhered to and implemented by the Obama administration. (7/19)

Ready For Retirement, Shuttles Get A Deep Clean (Source: NPR)
Once space shuttle Atlantis touches down on Earth later this week, workers will start the process of transforming the spaceship into a museum piece. To see how that mothballing process will unfold, I recently went on a rare tour of Discovery, one of NASA's other shuttles. Discovery was set up with its landing gear down in a secure hangar at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where technicians normally do work on the shuttles after each flight. Click here. (7/19)

United Launch Alliance, NASA Study Human-Rating for Atlas (Source: Denver Post)
United Launch Alliance and NASA have agreed to share information to determine whether the rocket company's Atlas V can safely carry astronauts on commercial spacecraft. The unfunded agreement announced Monday will provide information for NASA's commercial crew transportation program to stimulate private development of manned spacecraft.

The work could lead to United Launch Alliance, a 50-50 joint venture owned by Lockheed Martin and Boeing, meeting NASA requirements for taking humans to the international space station and other low-Earth-orbit destinations. If human certification is determined, an Atlas V-powered private spacecraft could be launched "by mid-decade," said Ed Mango, program manager of NASA's commercial crew development program.

ULA is working with three of the four companies that have received spacecraft development money from NASA. Atlas V is the rocket of choice for Sierra Nevada Space Systems of Louisville for its Dream Chaser space plane, and for Blue Origin of Washington state for its New Shepard spacecraft. Boeing also is considering Atlas V for launching its CST-100 capsule. (7/19)

Editorial: KSC Management of Station Work Could Spur Growth (Source: Florida Today)
A key element in the post-shuttle era involves moving Kennedy Space Center beyond its traditional role as a launch site. That means using the spaceport as a hub to manufacture space hardware and for research and development for experiments aboard the International Space Station. It’s a promising but difficult proposition because of the change in culture and bureaucracy required after a half century of solely preparing and flying rockets and manned spacecraft.

But the plan has taken a major step forward with the announcement that a KSC-based nonprofit group will take over management of the part of the station designated a U.S. National Laboratory, opening the door to potential growth on several fronts. The Center for the Advancement in Space, which will run the operation, is expected to employ only 15 to 25 people when it begins next year. It will be housed at the Space Life Sciences Lab, which was built with $30 million in state money and is part of a R&D complex called Exploration Park.

However, its footprint sends a signal globally that KSC has hung an “open for business” sign in a way never before seen, and with it a range of opportunities. That’s the kind of spark that’s needed now. The leader in making this happen was Space Florida, the state’s space-recruiting agency, which has a smartly conceived strategy that it is aggressively pursuing to attract new business. (7/19)

A Cloudy Vision of U.S. Spaceflight (Source: LA Times)
The path to NASA's goal of sending astronauts to an asteroid remains poorly defined, jeopardized by a bleak budget outlook and a weak political consensus. It has left a deep angst that U.S. leadership in space flight is in rapid decline and the very ability to fly humans off the Earth is at risk. "I'm very disappointed about where we are today," said Robert L. Crippen, who flew on the first space shuttle mission and went on to senior leadership jobs in both NASA and the aerospace industry. "NASA's future is very fuzzy right now."

NASA has a complicated plan that would include operating the International Space Station, tapping a private launch service to ferry astronauts to orbit, and building a new launch system to send humans on deep space missions, including an asteroid by the mid-2020s. The overall plan has failed to gain widespread support, reflecting serious concerns about the costs, risks and the lack of detail about the most difficult aspects of the exploration mission.

So far, NASA has not described in detail the architecture of the launch system for deep-space missions, the cost of the program or even which asteroid it would visit. At the same time, it is overseeing a massive retrenchment of the space shuttle workforce, laying off thousands of workers in Florida, Texas and California. As a result, the U.S. industrial capacity to build spacecraft is shrinking, which is already driving up costs for the remaining business. (7/19)

Mars Rover's Destination Decided (Source: MSNBC)
After years of deliberation, NASA says it will announce the destination for its next Mars rover on Friday at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum. Earlier this month, the choice was whittled down to two: NASA said the Curiosity rover, also known as the Mars Science Laboratory, would be launched either to Eberswalde Crater or Gale Crater. Today's announcement signals that a decision has been made.

Curiosity is already at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, undergoing final preparations for launch as early as Nov. 25, the day after Thanksgiving. The car-sized rover is scheduled to arrive at Mars in August 2012 to begin a primary scientific mission scheduled to last at least one Martian year, or roughly two Earth years. Among the questions the $2.5 billion mission could answer: Were there areas on the Red Planet that could have been favorable for supporting microbial life? (7/19)

Virgin Galactic Eyes Passenger Space Travel (Source: NPR)
Virgin Galactic is hoping to begin offering rides into space soon. The company is still vague about its exact timeline for a launch, though officials hope for a liftoff in about 18 months. Click here for an interview with George Whitesides. (7/19)

Russia: GLONASS to be Restored in 2011 (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russia’s satellite navigation system GLONASS will be restored in 2011, Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) chief Vladimir Popovkin said. “We will restore it this year. I have no doubt about that,” he said in an interview with Russia Today on Monday, July 18. “We plan to get GLONASS certified by all international organizations so that it could be used in full and thus get access to all international markets,” he added.

Popovkin believes that GLONASS “is an absolutely competitive product”. “Even Great Britain is interested to use GLONASS, and representatives of the British space agency requested several meetings and events so that they could use it effectively,” he said. GLONASS is more accurate than American GPS, Roscosmos Deputy Director Anatoly Shilov said earlier. (7/19)

Transformers Boosting KSC Visitor Complex Business (Source: Florida Today)
Teenage brothers Timmy and Alex Bird of Manchester, England, were among the enthusiastic fans who left the Imax theater at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex raving about the new "Transformers" movie. "It's a lot better than seeing it on a normal cinema -- a lot better experience," said Alex Bird, 14. The action on the screen "really comes out to you."

Timmy Bird, 16, thought the film in the Imax 3D format is "more interactive and more exciting." Another "Transformers" viewer at the visitor complex, Nadiya Nabibaks of Rotterdam, the Netherlands, said the Imax 3D format made her feel "almost like you're in the movie" itself. Director Michael Bay shot some scenes of his latest of his three "Transformers" films at KSC and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, using local residents connected with space and military programs as acting extras. (7/19)

Do 'Ultracool' Brown Dwarfs Surround Us? (Source: Discovery)
Two new brown dwarfs have been discovered relatively close to to our solar system. Spotted by astronomers from the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam (AIP), the "failed stars"* are only 15 and 18 light-years from the sun. 15 and 18 light-years may not seem that close -- after all, the nearest bona fide star to the sun, red dwarf Proxima Centauri, is a mere four light-years away. But if these discoveries continue it may not be long until a brown dwarf, and not Proxima, is found to be our nearest stellar neighbor.

These two brown dwarfs, called WISE J0254+0223 and WISE J1741+2553, are in addition to the AIP team's 2003 discovery of another two brown dwarfs orbiting the star Epsilon Indi, 12 light-years from Earth. This new double discovery was made during analysis of recently published data from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). (7/19)

Russia Vows Not to Exploit Manned Spaceflight Monopoly (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russia will not take advantage of its temporary monopoly on flying astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), the country's space agency Roscosmos said on Monday. Russia has signed a number of contracts with NASA on the delivery of U.S. astronauts to the ISS until 2016, which take into consideration annual inflation rates and rising cost of materials in Russia.

NASA is paying Roscosmos more than $1 billion for crew transport services over the next four years. "We are not going to play around with prices despite the fact that we have become the exclusive participant in this market and only we have the capability to deliver crews to the ISS," Roscosmos cited its chief, Vladimir Popovkin, as saying. (7/19)

NASA: Space Station's Best Days Are Still Ahead (Source: NPR)
Imagine you own a small factory, and you learn that your main supplier is going out of business. What do you do? You put on a brave face for employees and investors, and scramble to find alternatives. That's pretty much where managers of the International Space Station find themselves. Julie Robinson, station program scientist for NASA, says the agency spent the past decade building the station so it can fulfill its role as a unique laboratory for cutting-edge research.

"Now the next decade and more is getting that research benefit, and getting the discoveries that we'll get from being in space," she says. The space shuttle program may be wrapping up, but the station is just getting going. But there's no getting around the fact that without the shuttle, operating the station will be trickier. The shuttle provided the bulk of the equipment and supplies needed to build and operate the station. From here on out, NASA will have to rely on other countries and private companies to do those jobs. (7/19)

NASA Spacecraft Snaps First Close-Up Photo of Huge Asteroid Vesta (Source: Space.com)
NASA's Dawn spacecraft has beamed home the first close-up photo of the huge asteroid Vesta, just days after entering orbit around the distant space rock. The new photo, which Dawn snapped for navigation purposes on July 17, shows Vesta in greater detail than ever before, researchers said. Astronomers have been observing the gigantic space rock for 200 years, first with ground telescopes and later orbiting observatories, but have never been able to see it so clearly, they added.

"We are beginning the study of arguably the oldest extant primordial surface in the solar system," said Dawn principal investigator Christopher Russell, of UCLA, in a statement. "This region of space has been ignored for far too long. So far, the images received to date reveal a complex surface that seems to have preserved some of the earliest events in Vesta's history, as well as logging the onslaught that Vesta has suffered in the intervening eons," Russell added. Click here. (7/19)

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