August 25, 2011

Report: Air Force Museum Tied 'Winning Cities' to Receive Shuttles (Source: Dayton Daily News)
An investigation looking at the process for selecting permanent homes for retired space shuttles found a scoring error that would have placed a Dayton area site in a three-way tie to receive an orbiter. However, NASA’s Inspector General Paul Martin, in a report released Thursday, said the space agency followed the law and regulations in awarding shuttles to museums in suburban Washington, Los Angeles, Cape Canaveral, and New York.

Officials in Dayton and Houston, communities that didn’t get shuttles, called for the investigation alleging political influences played a role in site selections. The report found there were no outside influences, including none from the White House. The decision was based on attendance, funding, population and the facility. NASA chief Charles Bolden told investigators the error was “immaterial” to his decision and that the cities he selected fit NASA’s goals better. (8/25)

NASA Fails to Calm Houston Anger Over Lost Shuttle (Source: Times-Standard)
A report released by NASA's watchdog on Thursday saying the agency acted properly when it chose not to award Houston a retired space shuttle has not soothed the bruised egos of some local officials who view the decision as a slap in the face to a city that has long tied its fortunes to the nation's space program.

Although the report concluded NASA's decision was not politically motivated, some Houstonians remain angry the home of Mission Control was not chosen as a final resting place for one of the four Orbiters. Local officials and congressmen insist NASA and President Barack Obama's administration excluded the Texas city because of the state's Republican leanings. (8/25)

Sunspot Breakthrough (Source: NASA)
Imagine forecasting a hurricane in Miami weeks before the storm was even a swirl of clouds off the coast of Africa—or predicting a tornado in Kansas from the flutter of a butterfly's wing1 in Texas. These are the kind of forecasts meteorologists can only dream about. Could the dream come true? A new study by Stanford researchers suggests that such forecasts may one day be possible—not on Earth, but on the sun.

"We have learned to detect sunspots before they are visible to the human eye," says Stathis Ilonidis, a PhD student at Stanford University. "This could lead to significant advances in space weather forecasting." Sunspots are the "butterfly's wings" of solar storms. Visible to the human eye as dark blemishes on the solar disk, sunspots are the starting points of explosive flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that sometimes hit our planet 93 million miles away. Consequences range from Northern Lights to radio blackouts to power outages. (8/25)

NASA Releases Details of Upcoming Moon Study (Source: CNN)
NASA's upcoming GRAIL mission will provide new information about how the moon formed and will allow students to take their own pictures of its surface. GRAIL (the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory) will send two spacecraft to the moon, most likely next month. The 42-day launch window begins September 8, GRAIL project manager David Lehman said. Those working on the project at Kennedy Space Center added extra shifts to get the spacecraft secured ahead of Hurricane Irene's landfall. Click here. (8/25)

Manned Launch From Baikonur Likely to be Postponed (Source: Interfax)
The launch of a manned space ship from Baikonur is likely to be postponed until the second half of October due to the recent failed launch of the Progress M-12M space freighter, a well-informed source at Baikonur has told Interfax. The failure of the Soyuz-U carrier rocket to put the Progress M-12M transport ship into orbit will cause changes in the manned launch schedule, he said. The launch of the Soyuz TMA-22 manned space ship, initially scheduled for September 22, will have to be postponed for a later date, the source said.

The first and second stages of the Soyuz-FG space rocket used for manned launches differ from those of the Soyuz-U, but the third stage is identical in both rockets, he said. The loss of Progress M-12M occurred through a fault in the third stage. No manned launches will be allowed until a special investigating commission completes its work, which may take a month or more, the source said. (8/25)

White Dwarf Planet Not so Snow White (Source: Astronomy Now)
Researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have uncovered ice and possibly a thin atmospheric layer of methane belonging to the dwarf planet 2007 OR10, also nicknamed Snow White. Despite the planet sporting a red tint, the name originally stuck due to water ice that covers half of its surface, believed to have once flowed from slush-spewing ancient volcanoes leading scientists to presume white frosty features.

“You get to see this nice picture of what once was an active little world with water volcanoes and an atmosphere, and it’s now just frozen, dead, with an atmosphere that’s slowly slipping away,” say researchers at Caltech. (8/25)

Astronomers Discover Planet Made of Diamond (Source: Reuters)
Astronomers have spotted an exotic planet that seems to be made of diamond racing around a tiny star in our galactic backyard. The new planet is far denser than any other known so far and consists largely of carbon. Because it is so dense, scientists calculate the carbon must be crystalline, so a large part of this strange world will effectively be diamond.

"The evolutionary history and amazing density of the planet all suggest it is comprised of carbon -- i.e. a massive diamond orbiting a neutron star every two hours in an orbit so tight it would fit inside our own Sun," said Matthew Bailes. Lying 4,000 light years away, or around an eighth of the way toward the center of the Milky Way from the Earth, the planet is probably the remnant of a once-massive star that has lost its outer layers to the so-called pulsar star it orbits. (8/25)

Russian Launch Failure Underscores Need for U.S. Leadership (Source: Sen. KBH)
Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Richard Shelby (R-AL) issued the following statement regarding the failure of the Russian Progress resupply mission and NASA's implementation of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010: "It is fortunate the Congress authorized the final flight of the space shuttle to provide supplies to ensure long term viability of the ISS. Without the cargo provided by the shuttle, the ISS, and our astronauts, would be in a more precarious logistical situation. [The Soyuz] failure underscores the importance of successful development of our own National capabilities."

"As we have already seen with the multi-year delay with commercial providers of cargo to the space station, the country would greatly benefit from the timely implementation of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 and development of the Space Launch System (SLS) as a back-up system...[The new SLS] independent cost assessment confirms what NASA officials have known for months: The NASA approach to human space flight is sound, achievable, and can be initiated within our currently constrained fiscal limitations...It is now time to make a decision."

"The Assessment conducted by Booz Allen Hamilton makes clear that the cost projections provided by NASA for review are reasonable point estimates for budget planning in the near-term 3-5 year budget horizon. In other words, there is no cost-estimate-related basis for continuing to delay the commitment to proceed with the SLS development...We strongly encourage NASA to immediately announce this week - not next month - the design for their next launch vehicle, which will halt the further loss of skilled aerospace workers now poised to be laid off from the NASA manned spaceflight program." (8/25)

Report: NASA Made Right Picks for Retired Shuttles (Source: AP)
NASA's watchdog says the space agency acted properly when it picked new homes for the retired space shuttles. The shuttles were awarded to museums in suburban Washington, Los Angeles, Cape Canaveral, and New York. Two losing cities — Houston and Dayton — had asked for an investigation, alleging political influences.

In a report released Thursday, Inspector General Paul Martin found there were no outside influences, including none from the White House. The decision making was based on attendance, population, funding and the facility. There was a scoring error for the Air Force Museum in Dayton and it should have tied the winning cities. But NASA chief Charles Bolden told investigators that the cities he selected fit NASA's science education goals better. (8/25)

Stennis Hopes to Lure More Businesses to Old Ammo Plant (Source: WLOX)
Hancock County's Stennis Space Center now has a $480 million asset that Stennis officials hope will lead to more business and more jobs. It's the old Army ammo plant. The Army officially transferred the federal property to NASA's control Wednesday. When the plant was mothballed in 1993, more than 1200 people lost their jobs. Since then, a contractor has leased parts of the plant to other businesses. Now, NASA will take over that challenge.

"With the transfer of 1.6 million square feet of facility space, Stennis has set the stage for years of expansion," NASA's Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said. Expansion and jobs could come from current tenants of the old ammo plant, like Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne. The company is working to develop the J-2X engine to power NASA's next generation of human space flight. (8/25)

Commercial Cargo Carrier Arrives at NASA Wallops (Source: Washington Post)
A cargo carrier that will carry supplies to the International Space Station has arrived at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Orbital Sciences says the cargo module will be prepared later this week for integration with the spacecraft’s service module. NASA says the Cygnus spacecraft is scheduled for a demonstration flight early next year on an Orbital Taurus II launch vehicle. The launch will take place under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services agreement with the company. (8/25)

Shaw Retires From Boeing Space Post (Source: Boeing)
Boeing announced the retirement of Brewster H. Shaw, vice president and general manager of the Space Exploration division, effective Aug. 26. Shaw has contributed to aeronautics and astronautics with significant accomplishments as a combat pilot, flight instructor, test pilot, shuttle pilot and commander, as well as in senior leadership roles in the Space Shuttle and International Space Station (ISS) programs with NASA and Boeing.

Shaw has led all of Boeing’s civil space programs since 2006. Under his guidance, Boeing completed the on-orbit assembly of the ISS and concluded its support of the space shuttle after 30 years of operations, ensuring the final flights were executed with the same safety, discipline and attention to detail as the first mission in 1981. John Elbon, Space Exploration vice president and program manager of Commercial Programs, will succeed Shaw in leading the Space Exploration division. (8/25)

How We Got Here (Source:
How did we get into this mess? Over seven years ago, the Bush administration decided to retire the Shuttle, and develop a new system called the Crew Exploration Vehicle that would be NASA’s new means of getting its astronauts into space. Most assumed that it would go up on an existing commercial rocket, such as the Lockheed-Martin Atlas or Boeing Delta, and that it would be ready to fly by 2014, leaving only a brief “gap” between the time the Shuttle ended and the new vehicle was available.

Unfortunately, incoming NASA Administrator Mike Griffin had different ideas, and set the agency on an unaffordable path to developing a new rocket in addition to the new capsule, and the program ballooned out of control, to the point at which, by the time the Obama administration came in, it was way over budget and behind schedule, with little hope of flying before the end of this decade. Thus, with the end of the Shuttle, the Russians had been essentially granted an indefinite monopoly, and unsurprisingly took advantage of it by jacking up the price of a ride to the ISS from $50M to $63M a seat.

Editor's Note: Griffin and the Bush administration agreed on an unrealistic "pay as you go" approach to funding Constellation. In lieu of budget increases to fund Constellation, Griffin would have to use money that would become available as the Shuttle moved into retirement and the Space Station was shut down. Since these funds were not available early-on, Griffin cannibalized other NASA science programs. All to pay for an Ares-1 rocket that would largely duplicate the capability already available (or already under development) by commercial providers. (8/25)

Manchester Event Fuses Space and Comedy (Source: Hobby Space)
Spacetacular! is quite possibly the first stand-up comedy/science/fancy dress/variety/quiz show entirely themed around outer space! We’re looking for participants for this event at Manchester Science Festival that blends comedy, science and stories about space. The event will be held on Friday 28 October at MOSI (Museum of Science and Industry) for an adult audience. The aim of the show is to celebrate the cosmos as widely and inclusively as possible - and in a fun way. So we’re looking for a people who would like to talk for 5-10 minutes about what they love most about space. Topics can be as broad as you like, as long as they’re vaguely space-y/science fiction-y. Click here. (8/25)

Glonass Launch May Proceed Despite Soyuz-U Failure (Source: Space News)
The Russian space agency, Roscosmos, on Aug. 25 said it may still proceed with a planned Aug. 26 launch of a Glonass navigation satellite aboard a Soyuz rocket despite the Aug. 24 failure of another Soyuz variant. Roscosmos chief Vladimir Popovkin and senior officials from Soyuz component manufacturers met Aug. 25 to determine whether the failure should force the grounding of the Soyuz-2.1b vehicle equipped with a Fregat upper stage.

Popovkin had assembled a group of experts that will decide whether commonalities between the Soyuz-U and Soyuz-2.1b vehicles are such that both should be grounded. The planned Aug. 26 launch is of a new-generation Glonass navigation satellite. Russia has invested heavily in returning Glonass to full service, and expects the constellation to be fully operational this year or early in 2012 despite the December loss of three Glonass spacecraft following the failure of a Proton vehicle.

Roscosmos now has two failure investigations to manage simultaneously. A Proton rocket using the Breeeze-M upper stage placed the large Express-AM4 telecommunications satellite into a useless orbit Aug. 18 following what Roscomsos said appears to be a failure of the Breeze-M’s guidance system. Proton launches have been suspended pending the results of the investigation. (8/25)

Russia Orders Extra Tests Before Satellite Launch (Source: Reuters)
Russia will go ahead with the launch of a navigation satellite on Friday only after it has carried out additional safety checks following the crash of a supply craft, the Russian space agency said on Thursday. The GLONASS satellite, part of a navigation system competing with the U.S.-based Global Positioning System (GPS), is scheduled to be launched on Friday using a similar booster rocket. "The final decision on the launch will be based on the results (of additional checks)," the RosKosmos space agency said in a statement. (8/25)

Neil Armstrong Urges Return to the Moon (Source: AFP)
Astronaut Neil Armstrong has urged a return to the Moon to train for missions to Mars as the United States contemplates the future of its space program following the end of the shuttle era. The first man to walk on the Moon is due to address the US Congress on new directions for NASA in coming weeks. He has previously criticized US President Barack Obama for being "poorly advised" on space matters and said it was "well known to all that the American space program is in some chaos at the present time, some disarray".

"There are multiple opinions on which goals should be the most important and the most pressing," he said. Armstrong said NASA has become a "shuttlecock" for the "war of words" between the executive, legislative and congressional arms of US government. "It's my belief given time and careful thought and reasoning we will eventually reach the right goal, I just hope we do it fairly quickly," he said.

The normally private and reserved space veteran said Mars should be the next frontier for exploration but urged more missions to the Moon as the vital next step. "I favor returning to the Moon. We made six landings there and explored areas as small as a city lot and perhaps as large as a small town. That leaves us some 14 million square miles that we have not explored." (8/25)

Virgin Galactic vs. XCOR: Two Very Different Approaches (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Virgin Galactic’s Will Pomerantz and XCOR Aerospace’s Khaki McKee both gave updates on their companies’ suborbital vehicles during the recent Houston SpaceUp conference. For the benefit of those who don’t have time to watch the full video above, I’ve summarized their presentations below in a convenient side-by-side table to allow for an easy comparison. Click here. (8/25)

Shockingly Simple: Grounded Shuttle Costs Jobs and National Identity (Source: Daily Reveille)
President Obama canceled the space shuttle's successor, the Constellation Program, which hoped to develop a new re-usable spacecraft capable of carrying astronauts into near earth orbit and eventually to the moon and Mars. The president turned over further development of spacecraft to the private sector while American astronauts hitch rides to the International Space Station with the Russian Federal Space Agency.

While the private sector has the potential to match and even exceed NASA's achievements in manned space flight, I am still disappointed to see the shuttle grounded. Most university students have never experienced a world without the space shuttle program, which launched Columbia in 1981. While NASA astronauts are rightly greeted as heroes back here on earth, I fear private contractors will not inspire the same kind of awe and imagination in the minds of the population.

In general, Americans have a great deal of respect for our military and the men and women who serve in it, but we hold a much lower opinion of the military contractors and mercenaries who complete many of the same duties as our armed forces but exist in the private sector. Most Americans disagree with ending the space shuttle program, a move originating under President Bush and later enacted by President Obama. (8/25)

Our Space Policy Chickens Have Come Home To Roost (Source:
With the retirement of the Space Shuttle last month, the U.S. and its international partners are now entirely reliant on non-U.S. providers for transportation to and from the International Space Station — Russian Progress tankers and others for cargo and Russian Soyuz capsules for crew transfer and lifeboat services. There is currently no U.S. backup or capability.

It turns out that this is a problem, because the venerable Russian rocket that had successfully delivered 43 consecutive Progress missions failed today, with the cargo destined for the ISS instead scattered across the forests of Siberia. Concern is compounded by the fact that Roscosmos, the Russian company responsible for the launch, had also put a communications satellite in the wrong orbit just last Friday, meaning that they had two failures in less than a week.

But wait! It gets better. There was supposed to be a crew delivery to the station next month, and it was planned to go up guessed it…the same type of rocket that failed today. If crew had been on today’s flight, they might have survived (the Soyuz has an abort system), but there’s a good chance they would have been injured — cosmonauts have been injured severely enough to end their careers in previous similar aborts. So now plans for crew replacement this fall are on hold. (8/25)

'Humankind is Hardwired to Space Exploration' (Source: Russia Today)
The crash of an unmanned Progress cargo spacecraft in eastern Russia has become the third space launch accident in the world within a week and raises questions about the future of space travel. Despite the risks involved and the hostile environment, Dr. Robert Williams believes that humankind is hardwired to space travel. It is part of evolution, which is genetically driven,” he said. “We try to accommodate to environments that are somewhat different than the one we are currently comfortable in. Obviously we have not evolved to the point where we can accommodate to space, but I believe that we are genetically wired to explore.” (8/25)

Zubrin: NASA Budget Not Worth Defending Without Important Goal (Source: Washington Times)
America’s human spaceflight program is adrift. The space shuttle has made its final flight, and the Obama administration has no coherent plan what to do next. Instead, it has proposed that the U.S. waste the next decade spending $100 billion to support a goalless human spaceflight effort that goes nowhere and accomplishes nothing. In the face of a mounting imperative to find ways to cut the federal deficit, this has set up the nation’s space program for the ax.

In order for NASA’s human-exploration effort to be defensible, it needs a concrete goal and one that is truly worth pursuing. That goal should be sending humans to Mars. As a result of a string of successful probes sent to the Red Planet over the past 15 years, we know for certain that Mars was once a warm and wet planet and continued to have an active hydrosphere for a period on the order of a billion years - a span five times as long as the time it took for life to appear on Earth after there was liquid water here.

The U.S. comprises 4 percent of the world’s population yet has been responsible for 100 percent of the people who have walked on the moon, 100 percent of the rovers that have wheeled on Mars and 100 percent of the probes that have visited Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus or Neptune. Our time will be remembered because this is when humankind first set sail for other worlds. Our nation should be remembered as the people who opened the way. (8/25)

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