August 5, 2011

Webb Telescope Mirror Testing Continues in Huntsville During Funding Fight (Source: Huntsville Times)
Scientists at Huntsville's Marshall Space Flight Center are continuing to test James Webb Space Telescope mirrors this summer, even though the telescope hailed as the world's next great leap in astronomy is arguably, at the moment, broke. Frustrated at cost overruns caused by bad budgeting and management mistakes, the House Appropriations Committee zeroed out the Webb telescope in July. It literally provided no money for the telescope in fiscal 2012, even though $3.5 billion has already been spent. (8/5)

NASA Team Scrambled to Protect Webb Telescope Mirrors After Tornado (Source: Huntsville Times)
Dr. James Hadaway and his colleagues "knew something bad was happening outside" their Marshall Space Flight Center test chamber on April 27, "but we had to focus on what we were doing." Good idea. Hadaway was taking measurements of gold-coated mirrors built for NASA's James Webb Space Telescope. The mirrors were inside a Marshall test chamber at 378 degrees Fahrenheit below zero.

Outside, the area was being battered by a storm system that ultimately spawned 62 tornadoes and knocked power out across Madison County. Hadaway and his colleagues from the University of Alabama in Huntsville finished their measurements and went home at 5:30 p.m. Moments later, the power went out to the X-ray and Cryogenic Facility (XRCF) where the tests were held. (8/5)

NASA Launches Spacecraft Juno Toward Jupiter (Source: AFP)
NASA on Friday launched the billion-dollar solar-powered spacecraft Juno on a five-year journey to Jupiter aiming to discover what makes up the solar system's biggest planet. The unmanned satellite observatory was propelled into space aboard a 197-foot (60-meter) tall Atlas V rocket, blasting off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 12:25 pm (1625 GMT).

"Ignition and liftoff on the Atlas V with Juno on a trek to Jupiter, a planetary piece of the puzzle on the beginning of our solar system," said a NASA television commentator. Some 53 minutes later Juno separated from its carrier rocket, heading off solo into space. (8/5)

Boeing Pilots to Make Space Trip (Source: BBC)
Boeing says two of its own employees will crew the first manned mission of its new CST-100 astronaut capsule in 2015. An unmanned capsule will be used on the first and second launches. On the third, Boeing test pilots will take the vessel to the space station. The plan is dependent on a successful development program and the availability of sufficient funding. (8/5)

Satellite Grappler Snags Top Space Business Prize (Source: Business News Daily)
A company developing a new tool that is able to grab and grapple satellites in orbit has won first prize in a space business competition. Altius Space Machines won the $25,000 grand prize in the NewSpace 2011 Business Plan Competition, which was held over the weekend at NASA's Ames Research Center. The contest aims to help startup space firms come up with potentially game-changing technologies.

Altius won for its nascent "Sticky Boom" technology, which uses electroadhesion to grab onto pretty much any surface. The company says the Sticky Boom could snag satellites at a distance and reel them in, making docking and rendezvous operations easier. Once developed, the Sticky Boom could be put to work reeling payloads onto the International Space Station, Altius officials said. It could also aid in satellite servicing and the removal of orbital debris. (8/5)

Three Commercial Firms Select ULA's Atlas V (Source: Denver Post)
United Launch Alliance, the rocket company with its headquarters in Colorado, now has commitments from three commercial space firms to use its powerful Atlas V. Boeing picked Atlas V to launch the Crew Space Transportation-100 spacecraft that is under development. Atlas V also is the rocket chosen by two of the three other companies that have received NASA commercial-spacecraft development money. Sierra Nevada Space Systems of Louisville has selected Atlas V to launch its Dream Chaser space plane, as has Blue Origin of Washington state for its New Shepard spacecraft. (8/5)

'Next stop: Mars' Should Be America's Goal (Source: Post & Courier)
Realistically speaking, the end of the space shuttle program may well mean the end of NASA. When Atlantis touched down last month, there were no firm plans in the works for other significant missions. Talk of a new type of venture to the moon seems to have evaporated, and currently, NASA is faced with thousands of layoffs.

How many people out there view this as brutally symbolic of the current state of affairs in the USA? High unemployment, recession, an outrageous social welfare state that can't possibly be supported and which will only get worse unless Washington actually does something, a largely failed stimulus program, and now possible elimination of a different type of stimulation that is arguably quite effective -- i.e. inspirational stimulus as provided by the likes of NASA.

Government dependency now threatens to trump American spirit of collective individualism and the dreams implied therein. Thus, a potential sacrificial offering: NASA. This is a devastating symbolic gesture and a sad moment in American history. If it were up to me, I'd say, "Next stop: Mars!" (Not to mention throwing all the bums out in November 2012.) (8/5)

Should We Respond to an Interstellar RSVP? (Source: Discovery)
Imagine surfing to your favorite science news website tomorrow to see headlines announcing the detection of a radio signal coming at us from an extraterrestrial civilization. Impossible? Not really. The galaxy in a big place. Or, as 19th century Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle put it, potentially a "sad spectacle, ... for misery and folly." Assuming there are other technological civilizations in our galaxy, and that some subset of them attempt interstellar communication via radio beacons, then detecting a signal is only a matter of when, not if.

But an unequivocally artificial transmission should eventually pop up. Once the shock and awe of at last realizing we're not alone in the universe has settled in, there will be a spirited debate over whether we should send a response to the aliens. Some experts believe we need to establish an international symposium now to reach a consensus on how and if we should respond to E.T. They would like to see a moratorium on any METI (Message to Extraterrestrial Intelligence) broadcasts until such discussions take place. (8/5)

Astronaut Suicides: Funny, Tasteless or Both? (Source: Houston Press)
​The end of the space shuttle era affects everyone differently. One group of creatives from Portland, Oregon put together a Web site called Astronaut Suicides, which is pretty much as advertised -- a slide show of an astronaut, faceless behind his spacesuit, reading about the closing of NASA, and then a bunch of pictures of suited-up astronauts committing suicide.

"We wanted to acknowledge the end of an era in a visual way that would bring the conversation to the creative community," Art Director Sara Phillips tells Hair Balls. "The incongruity of the astronaut in these situations is, we hope, compelling and humorous." Click here. (8/5)

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