July 3, 2011

Utah's Future Role in Space Uncertain (Source: Deseret News)
When the space shuttle Atlantis roars into orbit Friday morning, it will bring to a close an era of nearly four decades during which Utah played a central role in the nation's space program. At this historic pivot point, the Beehive State's future in space is hard to predict. NASA is struggling to chart a new course in a time of economic stress, and it's not clear if Utah will gain a new toehold in the final frontier.

"I'm very disappointed that we are stopping the shuttle and then the United States has no ability to get into space on our own," said former Sen. Jake Garn, who made headlines as the first politician in space in 1985. "I think it's a big mistake. I think we should have continued it until we had a replacement vehicle."

That thought is echoed by numerous current and former Utahns who drew inspiration and income from their state's space connection over the decades. Nearly all of them describe the upcoming final launch as a "bittersweet" moment as they take pride in what the shuttle program accomplished and feel regret as it comes to a close. (7/3)

Q&A on the End of America’s Shuttle Program (Source: Naples News)
After more than 30 years, 135 missions and milestones both tragic and triumphant, America’s space shuttle era comes to an end later this month. Here are some details about the shuttle program’s history and the outlook for the United States’ human presence in space. Click here. (7/3)

Meteorite Strike? Russia Can Take It! (Source: Moscow News)
If a large asteroid falls on the earth then the fallout will be huge and life as we know if comes to a choking, flaming end. But if it’s a small one then Russia can take it. That’s more than can be said for Europe and North America, whose people can kiss the world goodbye if anything lands on them. The reason is not that Russians are hardier than everyone else but that with its expanses of open space, covering one fifth of the world’s land surface, Russia could take the strain. (7/3)

Budget Will Focus on New Technology (Source: Florida Today)
You, the taxpayers, have been spending somewhere between $3 billion and $4 billion a year for the operation of America's space shuttles. So where will all of that money go after the 135th and final voyage? Well, it's not going where we were first told. It is a good time to take a closer look at the space agency's budget to see if, in fact, the money that won't be spent on the space shuttle in 2012 and 2013 will be dedicated to the future of human space exploration. The answer: Not quite. Certainly, not all of it.

NASA's overall budget is the same in 2012 as the space agency spent in 2010. A few key line items represent most of the big increases that offset the plummeting space shuttle budget, including: $811 million on commercial crew transportation; $774 million on space technology; $529 million more on operation of the Space Station; and $519 million more on robotic spacecraft. (7/3)

How Britain Can Rejoin the Space Race (Source: Guardian)
Space has recently been revealed to be a real bread-winner for the UK, with news that our out-of-this-world activities are now adding £7.5bn a year to the national economy, while providing jobs for 25,000 people. Click here to read the article. (7/3)

NASA on Dangerous Path After Shuttle Program Ends, Some Say (Source: Washington Post)
Human spaceflight is dangerous — and it’s about to get more so, according to former Johnson Space Center director Christopher Kraft, who believes NASA is making a mistake by retiring the space shuttle. Kraft has co-wrote a letter, endorsed by a number of Apollo-era NASA veterans and astronauts, contending that the international space station will become more hazardous for astronauts without the shuttle’s resources as an emergency backup. “I think they’ve got their head in the sand,” said Kraft, who was NASA’s first flight director.

He said the shuttle’s robotic arm has no duplicate on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, which NASA will need to rely on for several years as the private sector develops new vehicles for getting astronauts into orbit. Nor can the Soyuz permit two astronauts to conduct spacewalks simultaneously, Kraft said. Such spacewalks might be necessary if the station lost power or underwent decompression. (7/3)

Mo Brooks Speaks Out on NASA's Future (Source; WAAY)
North Alabama's representative to Washington says that as the final shuttle launch looms, he is unhappy with the direction NASA is headed. Brooks says that he, along with the other members of the Alabama delegation, are fighting to keep funding in place, but Brooks claims they're up against a major obstacle. "We've got a White House that we're having to combat," Brooks told WAAY 31." We had to combat them with Constellation, when the President canceled Constellation last year, Congress is having to battle the White House now with the $1.8 billion that we earmarked for heavy lift vehicle. A lot of that work would have been done at Huntsville's Marshall Space Flight Center." (7/3)

Whither The Astronauts Without A Shuttle? (Source: NPR)
NASA is retiring its fleet of shuttle spacecraft to build something that can take humans past the moon and into deep space. That's expected to take years, leaving astronauts with some hard choices about what to do in the meantime. Brave, daring and working for the greater good, astronauts rank up there with firemen and the president for jobs that inspire kids and spawn scores of movie scripts.

Now that astronauts are focused on working at the International Space Station, that means longer missions. But it also means less of a chance to fly. There are fewer trips a year. They require half the number of people — and double the training. It also means more study time abroad learning Russian, and enough engineering under your belt to fix everything from robots to toilets. (7/3)

As Shuttle Program Ends, Titusville Fears for its Future (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
At the Aqua Mart fish store, Chris Norris has already seen the effects of the space-shuttle program's imminent demise. His customers have begun returning fish, saying they can't afford them anymore, or they're planning to move. "Something like fish, that's the first thing to go," said Norris, a salesman at the near-empty store. "They're just tearing their tanks completely down."

A mile south, a co-owner of Pumpernickel's Delicatessen recalls the catering he used to do at Kennedy Space Center. "That's pretty much dried up," said Curt Simonsen, whose family has run the restaurant for almost 30 years. "It's like they turned off the faucet about a year and a half ago." Space exploration has driven Titusville's economy and shaped its identity for more than 40 years. The theme hangs over the town like the summertime humidity, reflected in the names of schools, parks and businesses.

It is the thread that ties a tropical-fish seller and sandwich maker to a rocket scientist and the region's single-greatest claim to fame. From this small, unassuming outpost on the Indian River, humans have been strapped into vehicles of unimaginable power and blasted into space. Now that identity is threatened by the end of the shuttle era. With just a single launch left, Titusville is anxiously wondering what happens now. (7/3)

Final NASA Shuttle Mission Clouded by Rancor (Source: Washington Post)
The U.S. space program is middle-aged, facing a painful transition. The only sure bet is that thousands of people here will be out of a job. NASA’s critics say the human spaceflight program is in a shambles. They see arm-waving and paperwork rather than a carefully defined mission going forward. NASA has lots of plans, but it has no new rocket ready to launch, no specific destination selected, and no means in the near term to get American astronauts into space other than by buying a seat on one of Russia’s aging Soyuz spacecraft.

Lori Garver and other administration officials are getting heat from some of the most famous astronauts on the planet, not to mention members of Congress and aerospace industry executives. Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, and someone never known to be a rabble-rouser, recently co-wrote with fellow Apollo astronauts Jim Lovell and Gene Cernan an op-ed declaring that the space policy of the Obama administration is in “substantial disarray.” They protested the decision to kill the Constellation program.

Here’s Bob Crippen, who was the pilot of the first shuttle mission, STS-1, back in 1981: “I’ve never seen NASA so screwed up as it is right now. . . . They don’t know where they’re going.” Even one of NASA’s senior people here at the Kennedy Space Center, Mike Leinbach, the launch director who will supervise the final countdown and launch of Atlantis, has blasted his agency for the lack of direction. “We’re all victims of poor policy out of Washington, D.C. — both at the NASA level and the executive branch of the government,” Leinbach said. (7/2)

Russia Gains Edge in Space Race as Shuttle Bows Out (Source: AFP)
As the United States winds down its shuttle program in a symbolic twist in a long-running space rivalry, Russia will gain complete control of access to the International Space Station. The Russian space agency plays down any triumphalism, but US astronauts will remain dependent on Russia for access to the ISS at least until 2015 and will have to pay for seats in its Soyuz space capsules. "We cannot say that we have won the space race, but simply that we have reached the end of a certain stage," the deputy head of the Russian space agency, Vitaly Davydov, said.

Davydov of the space agency Roskosmos rejected any talk of rivalry, however, emphasizing that the ISS was primarily a story of successful international cooperation. While Russia gains a symbolic victory, it will be a costly one, with the obligation to build more space ships to go back and forth to the ISS eating up a budget that could be spent on other projects. (7/2)

Orbiter Processing Facilities: High-Tech Shuttle Garages (Source: Space Daily)
If home is where the heart is, then the heart and soul of NASA's space shuttle fleet reside in three custom-built, 29,000-square-foot buildings at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. They're formally called orbiter processing facilities, but routinely go by the names OPFs, bays, or hangars, and inside highly experienced technicians perform two-thirds of the work to prepare a shuttle for space.

The bays may be the highest-tech garages on the planet, where workers ready a spaceship for flight without scuffing it and huge cranes move tons of cargo into place. But it's also a place where staples are prohibited from the paperwork technicians work off of so the little pieces of metal don't accidentally become embedded in the shuttle's critical systems. They include 30-ton bridge cranes, two rolling bridges with trucks that have telescoping arms attached to buckets which rotate to hold workers. Communications rooms, offices and supervisory control rooms complete the buildings. (7/2)

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