July 4, 2011

Daredevil Plunge From Edge of Space Back On (Source: FOX News)
The race from space may just take place! Daredevil adventurer Felix Baumgartner's plans to plunge 23 miles from the edge of space back to Earth -- a Red Bull-sponsored stunt that would be the world's highest freefall -- may soon take place, thanks to the resolution of a long-standing lawsuit that shattered Baumgartner's 2010 plans. According to Red Bull spokeswoman Maddy Zeringue, the adventurer finally settled his case Friday in a Los Angeles superior court with Daniel Hogan, who had sued the company claiming the entire concept was his idea.

And Baumgartner couldn't be more excited. "I am struggling to find the right words to express my happiness, how relieved and motivated I am that it has finally come to an end. At this point I´d really like to thank all of you, fans, friends, family and project-trackers for your great and persistent support throughout the last couple of months," the adventurer wrote in a blog post on his website.

The plunge is no mere stunt: It's called the Red Bull Stratos project, and the engineers and scientists behind this attempt to break the record for the highest freefall ever -- from 120,000 feet above sea level -- hope it will yield volumes of data that will be used to develop advanced life support systems for future pilots, astronauts, and even space tourists. (7/4)

Four Rockets Scheduled for Launch from Wallops (Source: Examiner)
Four NASA suborbital sounding rockets, carrying experiments to take measurements in the ionosphere, will be launched between July 5 and July 23 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The rocket experiments will study neutral and charged particles in the ionosphere and how each affects the way the other moves resulting in currents in the region. (7/4)

As Shuttle Era Ends, Dreams of Space Linger (Source: New York Times)
The reusable space shuttle was supposed to make spaceflight cheap and almost as routine as air travel, and satellite launchings as uneventful as delivering the mail. There was money to be made in space and a slate of “black missions” to keep the nation secure. But the shuttle was late and over budget. Those thermal tiles, vital to protecting it from the searing heat of re-entry, had an embarrassing habit of flaking off. Some people called it the Flying Brickyard.

Worse, overruns and delays had drastically depleted the agency’s resources for science. NASA couldn’t even afford to send a mission to Halley’s Comet. Most of the scientists I know would be thrilled to see humans exploring space, landing on Mars, for example — they just don’t think that science should pick up the check. Many of them were suspicious of the shuttle, both because of the cost drain and because making instruments like the space telescope compatible with it would compromise the potential science, restricting them to low earth orbit, for example, and making them hostage to the exigencies of human spaceflight.

It was thrilling to watch astronauts blast off on smoke pillars, but after a while it was irritating that they weren’t going anywhere but in circles around the Earth and the science they were doing was mostly boring compared with the results being beamed back from the Voyager spacecraft exploring the outer planets at considerably less expense and risk. (7/4)

Space Energy Group Supports China Energy Summit (Source: Space Energy Group)
The Space Energy Group is pleased to announce its co-sponsorship of the China International Energy and Environment Summit (IEES) 2011. The Summit, organized by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), is a major international energy event. It will be held in Beijing in July 2011 (http://www.ceeschina.org/eng/). A key topic for discussion will be the role of Space Based Solar Power (SBSP) as China reassesses the role of its huge nuclear power development policy within its Strategic Energy Plan. Space Energy’s Head of Technology – Dr. Feng Hsu - will join other leading world energy experts, invited to attend this critical energy summit, to help shape these discussions. (7/4)

Atlantis Crew Arrives at KSC for Final Flight (Source: CFNews13)
The astronauts who will fly on the final space shuttle flight are now at Kennedy Space Center. The four member crew of the Atlantis arrived from Houston on July 4 on their T-38 jets. They've been there preparing for Friday's final flight. The astronauts have a busy week ahead of them. On Tuesday, they'll check out the flight backup systems as engineers begin the final closeout of the vehicle. Then, all nonessential personnel will be cleared from the pad Wednesday. Engineers will inspect the external fuel tank Thursday, and move the rotating service structure from the shuttle. If all goes as planned, Atlantis will liftoff for the final time at 11:26 a.m. Friday. (7/4)

We'll Miss That Majestic "Work Truck" Called the Space Shuttle (Source: Huntsville Times)
Many will say the same thing during the next several days and weeks, and it's not very original, I'll admit. But I miss the space shuttle already. Atlantis is scheduled to lift off on the program's last flight on Friday. We'll watch the replays and follow the astronauts' work more intently than we have in years. And as the orbiter glides back to Earth and the last wheel touches down, the finality of it all will sink in. It's the end of an era. (7/4)

WIRED Meets the New Mars Rover (Source: WIRED)
In August 2012, the NASA rover Curiosity is scheduled to touch down on the surface of Mars. The size of a Mini Cooper, it's four times as heavy as predecessors Spirit and Opportunity, and comes with a large robot arm, a laser that can vaporise rocks at seven metres, a percussive drill and a weather station. Oh, and 4.8kg of plutonium-238.

Curiosity will be able to gather samples drilled from rocks or scooped from the ground and distribute them to onboard test chambers during the 687 Earth days it spends on Mars. "For the first time, engineering constraints won't limit the desires of scientists," says Grotzinger. The Atlas V rocket carrying Curiosity is due to launch between November 25 and December 18, from Cape Canaveral. (7/4)

Meteorite Hunter: My Two Months in an Omani Jail (Source: New Scientist)
Michael Farmer tells the tale of his quest for extraterrestrial geology and how it landed him in prison, and explains why he eats bits of the moon and Mars. Why did you head to Oman in the first place? On 31 December last year I went on my 20th meteorite hunting expedition in Oman with my fellow hunter Robert Ward. I have studied the law there since the arrest of Russian and American hunters back in 2005 and I understand the practice to be legal.

How did your meteorite hunting trip go? I found 35 meteorites, including three more pieces of the Dhofar 1180 Lunar, which I'd originally found in 2005, and other nice things. On the last day we headed towards Dubai. At 1pm on 13 January we arrived at a roadblock in the town of Adam. There was nothing out of the ordinary, until the police rushed my car with M16 rifles. They were nice and did not seem to know why we were being arrested but they forced us out of our cars and ripped them apart, finding the meteorites. We were taken to the police station and interrogated for 10 hours. They had intelligence that we were coming. I think I know who had told them.

After the arrest where did the police take you? We were driven to Muscat, the capital of Oman, in shackles. We arrived at midnight and were taken to an interrogation center in the Qurum district of the city. There we were stripped, put into separate rooms, about 9 by 9 by 12 feet, with a small pad on the floor and two blankets. The rooms were horribly filthy, crawling with roaches. There were things on the floors and walls which I decline to describe. A small light was on 24/7 so you never knew the time of day. We heard people being beaten, crying, screaming and being dragged around. (7/4)

Plans to Strip Mine the Moon May soon be More Than Science-Fiction (Source: Ecologist)
It may not be long before we start mining the moon for its resources, particularly the rare Helium-3 for its use in nuclear fusion. Billions of tons of resources, ranging from water to gases to metals, have been detected on the Moon and further out into space, and both governments and private companies are navigating the ambiguous legal parlance to determine how to reach, extract and distribute it all.

Vast quantities of the isotope Helium-3 are known to exist on the Moon, as well as in the atmospheres of planets like Jupiter, and could come into high demand as the essential fuel for the so-called 'golden dream' of nuclear fusion power. The Moon’s lack of atmosphere means it has been bombarded by high-energy particles for billions of years, some of which have embedded on its surface.

Many of these particles, including Helium-3, can be extracted through heating Moon rock and collecting the gas. "Millions to hundreds of millions of tonnes, I should think, is readily accessible,’ says Matthew Genge. ‘You can strip mine the Moon and you can cook out the Helium-3.’ (7/4)

Talks Heat Up Over Private Spaceport in Texas (Source: The Monitor)
Negotiations to bring an aerospace company to Willacy County for commercial satellite launchings are intensifying, according to County Judge John F. Gonzales Jr. If the high-tech company is successful in leasing two sites for a total of about 50 acres, “it will change the face of Willacy County,” the judge said. The operation he hopes will locate in Willacy County “will be a NASA-style launch site,” he said.

He said he cannot yet release the name of the company. But he said, “They’ll be investing up to $50 million and hiring 100 to 200 full-time people, from low-end labor up to electrical engineers. Wages will be at least 30 percent above the local norm.” This is not the first time that Willacy County has heard of plans for space launches. In the late 1990s, the South Texas Spaceport Consortium, a 13-county alliance, formed in order to raise funds for a project that would launch rockets with payloads such as communications satellites in Willacy and two other counties.

“I’m under a confidentiality agreement,” he said. He isn’t sure where the tests were conducted. But he said he thinks they were done at Cape Canaveral, Fla., or some other government installation. “They’re the first private company to have successfully launched a low-altitude space flight and successfully recovered it,” he said of a reusable space capsule to deploy satellites. (7/4)

Losing Shuttle to Hurt Space Coast Far Worse than Palm Beach County (Source: Palm Beach Post)
The economic fallout from the shuttle's retirement will be a direct hit to the Space Coast, but only a glancing blow for other parts of Florida. NASA says it spent nearly $2 billion in Florida in 2009, but most of that money - $1.77 billion - stayed in Brevard County. An additional $159 million went to Orange County, Volusia County and four other Central Florida counties.

That left only $40 million in NASA spending to be divided among the state's other 60 counties. Consider that Florida's gross domestic product was $673 billion last year, and NASA's $2 billion Florida budget barely registers. For many in Palm Beach County's aerospace industry, the shuttle's demise merits little more than a shrug. Jupiter firms Jenoptik Optical Systems and Florida Turbine Technologies have NASA contracts that are unrelated to the space shuttle. The exception, of course, is Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, where workers build and maintain the shuttle's turbopumps. Pratt's space shuttle workforce in Palm Beach County has dwindled from a peak of 200 to about 30 now. (7/4)

Brevard County Feels Brunt of Shuttle Retirement (Source: Palm Beach Post)
Brevard County's unemployment rate rose in May to 10.8 percent, making it one of only a few Florida counties where the jobless rate rose during the past year. In another economic blow, shuttle jobs pay well. The average annual salary for the 15,000 workers at Kennedy Space Center was $80,000 in 2009, about twice the typical Brevard County worker's pay, NASA says.

That's bad news for Brevard's beleaguered housing market. Its median home price was $110,400 in May, down 4 percent from a year ago and 51 percent from five years ago. "I suspect housing prices are going to be more depressed here than in other parts of the state," said Edward Ellegood, space policy analyst at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

"We've been preparing for it for six years," Lynda Weatherman said. "It's still going to be a serious, sobering hit." Ellegood also worries about "brain drain" in Brevard County. "Many of the people working in the industry are very highly skilled," Ellegood said. "They're going to move out of state or go to another industry." (7/4)

KSC Director Envisions Exciting Future (Source: WMFE)
Even though the space shuttle program is coming to an end, the director of the Kennedy Space Center says he sees a vibrant future for the sprawling complex that's been launching spacecraft for decades. Bob Cabana says KSC will continue to provide launch services for NASA and that the center will be involved in processing the agency's next crew capsule.

President Obama has said he wants the US to continue to be a leader in space and wants American astronauts to go beyond the International Space Station to explore Mars and asteroids and someday return to the Moon. Cabana says KSC will be an integral part of that mission. He says he wants to see the center evolve into a hub for government and private space flight ventures.

“By 2016 or 2017 hopefully, we’ll have commercial rockets taking off and being recovered and processed along with preparations for that first big flight away from Planet Earth.” Cabana said. Cabana also expects KSC to evolve into a center for scientific research and emerging technologies. (7/4)

With the Shuttle Program Ending, Fears of Decline at NASA (Source: New York Times)
As NASA prepares to launch its last space shuttle — ending 30 years in which large teams of creative scientists and engineers sent winged spaceships into orbit — it is facing what may be a bigger challenge: a brain drain that threatens to undermine safety as well as the agency’s plans. Space experts say the best and brightest often head for the doors when rocket lines get marked for extinction, dampening morale and creating hidden threats. They call it the “Team B” effect.

“The good guys see the end coming and leave,” said Albert D. Wheelon, a former aerospace executive and Central Intelligence Agency official. “You’re left with the B students.” History has offered some bleak lessons, with tons of wreckage testifying to the danger. Experts say the Team B effect contributed to disasters in the mid-1980s and late 1990s that destroyed more than a dozen rockets, wiped out billions of dollars in satellites and threw the nation’s unpiloted space program into turmoil.

NASA acknowledges the effect and its attendant dangers. It has taken hundreds of steps, including retention bonuses for skilled employees, new perks like travel benefits and more safety drills. Through cuts and attrition in recent years, the shuttle work force has declined to 7,000 workers from about 17,000. Charles Bolden denies any paralyzing loss of talent. “We’re capturing the brainpower.” And he flatly rejected the idea that the agency had lost its way. “We’re not adrift,” he said. “And the vision is not gone. And we have a plan. We have a very sound plan.” (7/4)

Launch Complex 37B: Level by Level (Source: Universe Today)
Space Launch Complex 37 is where United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rockets send their payloads into orbit. It is an expansive complex with all the prerequisite requirements to launch rockets as well as birds, alligators and mosquitoes – lots of mosquitoes. Universe Today was provided with a top to bottom tour of the Mobile Service Tower (MST) that is currently the home of the Delta IV medium rocket that will launch a GPS rocket to orbit on July 14. This structure in and of itself is impressive, standing as tall as a football field is long. Click here. (7/4)

First Orion Assembled at Denver, Another Displayed at KSC (Source: Universe Today)
Assembly of NASA’s first Orion Crew vehicle that could actually launch to space has been accomplished by prime contractor Lockheed Martin at the firm’s Waterton space systems facility located near Denver, Colorado, where the spacecraft is slated to begin a severe testing process that will help confirm crew safety. Orion was recently recast as the MPCV or Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010.

Meanwhile, another Orion crew module that was flown during the Pad Abort 1 test (PA-1) in 2010 is now on public display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. The vehicle just arrived after a cross country trek from NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in California and making several public outreach stops along the way to Florida. The Orion PA-1 test article is on display at the historic Rocket Garden at Kennedy Space Center's Visitor Complex. (7/4)

Florida's Space Coast Feels Pain of Shuttle's End (Source: AP)
The Space Coast had years to prepare for the end of the space shuttle. But the announcement in 2004 occurred in a different era -- a time when Florida's unemployment rate was 3.5 percent, the housing boom was fueling construction growth and the Space Coast had the highest property values in central Florida. Now, unemployment is at 10.6 percent, growth has disappeared and for-sale signs dot neighborhoods.

"The number of folks who have found other work is negligible. You almost have to leave the area to find other work," said Lew Jamieson, local president of the union for workers who provide support for shuttle launches. The aerospace jobs that would be natural fits for the laid-off space workers are in places like South Carolina, Oklahoma and the Pacific Northwest. The Boeing Co. and other aerospace companies with workers at the space center are hiring some of their shuttle workers at airplane factories.

"We don't need rocket scientists to build commercial aircraft but we need smart people," said Stephen Davis, a Boeing spokesman. But those jobs only number in the dozens, possibly hundreds at best. And even if space workers get hired out of state, they would have to sell their homes in the worst housing collapse in decades. The median value of a home in Cape Canaveral, the nearest city to the space center, went from under $250,000 in 2007 to around $110,000 in May. (7/4)

NASA Will Lose 7,000 Jobs (Source: KOAA)
With the end of NASA's space shuttle program this month, some 7,000 space jobs in Florida, and the end of many jobs in the communities near the Space Coast. The highly-skilled space workers will have to compete in a labor market where more than one in 10 in America is unemployed. And because the area is still reeling from the housing crisis, it'll be tougher for them to sell their homes to relocate.

Surrounding communities already are feeling the pain. Donna Thrash, who runs a jobs workshop for space workers in Brevard County, says, "People are not working. They're economizing." Hotels and restaurants that have hosted NASA tourists fear harder times after this month. (7/4)

Space Coast Braces for More Space Job Losses (Source: China Daily)
Titusville, a town of 45,000 people, is bracing for the loss of 40 percent of the 8,000 jobs being eliminated at KSC -- many held by highly paid and well-educated residents. Garry Broughton said he disagreed with President Obama's decision to cancel the Constellation program, which aimed to return humans to the moon, in favor of focusing on new projects that could take humans to Mars or an asteroid. "It was not a good decision, it killed thousands of jobs," he said. "We don't know were we are going... all we know is we will pay the Russians to put our people in space."

"The next five years will be very tough," said Melissa Stains, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Cocoa Beach, a beach town a short drive from Kennedy Space Center. With the next US human spaceflight a minimum of four years away, she said it will be a struggle for even private companies like Boeing, SpaceX and others to fill the economic void that the shuttle's closure will leave behind.

"Just recently, NASA laid off 450 and SpaceX hired five. So it's not the same and we need to encourage other business to come," she said, pointing to hopes that alternative energy companies might come to make use of the abundant wind and sun. According to the director of the Space Coast Office of Tourism, Rob Varley, the shuttle program averaged several launches per year, and each brought in $5-6 million, meaning a $25-30 million loss per year. (7/4)

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