September 12, 2011

NASA Plans Commercial Crew Program Update at KSC on Sep. 16 (Source: NASA)
NASA will present a status of the Commercial Crew Program strategy on Sep. 16 at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. The Forum will be held at the Press Site at Kennedy Space Center from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. The key topics will include: an update on the Commercial Crew Program procurement activities; a discussion of the Commercial Crew Program Strategy for the Integrated Design Phase; a Discussion of the Procurement Strategy and future procurement related activities; and Short Clarification Question Session. (9/12)

Griffin, Armstrong & Cernan Called Again to Testify by House Committee (Source: NASA Watch)
Once again Rep. Hall has stacked the deck without even the slightest attempt at being objective and allowing opinions that differ from his own. Oh well, at least we know what Griffin, Armstrong, and Cernan will say since they keep saying the same thing over and over again - all pre-coordinated with each other. And Rep. Hall will ask them the same questions he has asked them a dozen times before. This nothing more than staged theater. (9/12)

Astronaut Scott Kelly: Space City Isn't Dead (Source: CultureMap)
Astronaut Scott Kelly believes there's a lot that needs to be said about debunking the notion that Houston is no longer in the space business. "There are a lot of misconceptions out there about where we are as a space program," Kelly tells CultureMap. "There's the misconception that because the space shuttle program ended, everything's done. We still have a flight program. We're still going into space."

It clearly pains Kelly to hear people say that Houston should no longer be dubbed Space City, that the city's title should change with the times now that the space shuttles are retired and Houston was snubbed from even getting one of those. When asked if he's surprised to see an NFL player showing an interest in space exploration, he nearly bristles at the notion that anyone in Houston wouldn't be interested in space. (9/12)

NASA Offering Shuttle Tiles and Space Food to Schools (Source: CFL News 13)
Ever wanted to have a piece of the space program at your school or university? NASA is now offering space shuttle heat tiles and dehydrated astronaut food to eligible institutions. It’s a part of the agency’s efforts to preserve the shuttle program, and inspire the next generation of space explorers, scientists and engineers. Schools can register for a login identification and request a tile or food at (9/12)

Sriharikota to Be Developed into Satellite Assembling Hub (Source: Outlook India)
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is drawing plans to develop the Satish Dhawan Space Center at Sriharikota into a center for assembling satellites and rockets in near future. "Our vision is a quantum jump in satellites and launch vehicles to be dealt with in future years. The spaceport Sriharikota should further develop into an area where the industries in India working for space would come together, assemble satellites and rockets there and move to the launch pad," ISRO chairman K Radhakrishnan said. (9/12)

NASA Satellite Debris May Fall Anywhere... Except on eBay (Source: CollectSpace)
A dead NASA UARS satellite the size of school bus is falling back to Earth and where it will drop no one knows, at least not yet. The space agency is clear however, where the satellite's debris will not end up: eBay. NASA is already warning the public through its website that should they find something they think may be a piece of UARS, "do not touch it," as it may be hazardous.

NASA's interest in recovering the debris is not just about protecting the public but also enforcing the law. "Because this is a U.S. government satellite, any object that does reach the surface of the Earth, should it be found, is still the property of the United States," said a NASA official. "You do not have the luxury of trying to sell it on eBay." (9/12)

Controllers in Contact with Russian Satellite Dropped Off in Useless Orbit (Source: Space News)
The Russian Express-AM4 satellite launched Aug. 18 into a bad orbit is communicating normally with ground controllers, has partially deployed its solar arrays, pointed to the sun and is in a safe and stable standby mode, the satellite’s prime contractor said. Astrium concurs with RSCC that the satellite’s orbit is so far off its intended drop-off point that it cannot be salvaged (9/12)

NASA Seeks Undergraduates To Fly Research In Microgravity (Source: NASA)
NASA is offering undergraduate students the opportunity to test an experiment in microgravity. The program is accepting proposals for two different flight experiences in 2012. Teams interested in conducting student-driven research should submit a letter of intent by Sep. 14. This step is optional, but serves as an introductory notice that a team plans to submit a proposal for the competition. Proposals for student-driven experiments are due Oct. 26, and selected teams will be announced Dec. 7. The actual flight experience will take place in June 2012. Click here. (9/12)

Harris Corp. Celebrates National Aerospace Week (Source: SpaceRef)
Florida-based Harris Corp. is paying tribute to the nation's aerospace industry this week with special educational activities at local schools and with activities designed to increase awareness among Harris employees and their families. The events are part of National Aerospace Week -- September 11-17 -- which recognizes the aerospace industry's contributions to the nation's security, economy and workforce. For more on National Aerospace Week, visit (9/12)

Flashlights in the Dark (Source: Space Review)
Later this week the National Reconnaissance Office may declassify details about two of its early Cold War satellite reconnaissance systems as part of ceremonies marking the office's 50th anniversary. Dwayne Day offers a preview of what we may learn about the KH-7 and KH-9. Visit to read the article. (9/12)

Space Science Caught in a Webb (Source: Space Review)
Cost overruns have put the future of the James Webb Space Telescope in jeopardy. Jeff Foust reports on the mission's growing cost and the concerns some scientists have that funds for Webb will come at the expense of other programs. Visit to read the article. (9/12)

Dropped Shoes (Source: Space Review)
Last week NASA chief technologist Bobby Braun announced plans to leave the agency and return to academia, the latest in a series of officials to leave NASA in recent weeks. Lou Friedman expresses concern this is a sign that the agency's commitment to science and technology development is unraveling. Visit to read the article. (9/12)

Moon Dragon (Source: Space Review)
Does China really have long-term ambitions to send people to the Moon, as some have argued? Dwayne Day discusses how a lack of information hampers our assessments of Chinese human spaceflight plans. Visit to read the article. (9/12)

Wanted: Better Spacecraft Names (Source: Space Review)
NASA launched over the weekend its latest mission, a pair of lunar orbiters known by the acronym GRAIL. Jeff Brooks argues that NASA could win more support for its missions if it came up with names for its missions that resonated better with the public. Visit to read the article. (9/12)

Need For More Testing Debated In GPS Fight (Source: Aviation Week)
LightSquared has proposed additional changes to its planned broadband wireless network to mitigate interference with GPS, but pressure is growing for further testing before a decision is made on whether to approve deployment of the revised system. LightSquared believes sufficient testing has been conducted to show most GPS receivers will not be overloaded by transmissions from its revised terrestrial network, but government witnesses said tests already performed were not enough to ensure GPS would not be compromised. (9/12)

Europe's Galileo Sat-Nav Spacecraft Ready to Fly (Source: BBC)
Europe's first two Galileo satellite-navigation spacecraft are ready for launch. The platforms passed a key technical review at the weekend, paving the way for their flight to orbit on a Russian Soyuz rocket on 20 October. One satellite has already made the journey to the launch complex in French Guiana; the second will ship this week. The European Commission is investing billions of euros in its own version of the American GPS system. It expects Galileo to bring significant returns to the 27-nation bloc's economies in the form of new businesses that can exploit precise timing and location data delivered from space. (9/12)

Scientists to Congress: Keep NASA's Missions to Other Planets Flowing (Source:
Even in these tough economic times, investing in planetary science is more important than ever, three science advocates told members of Congress. Bill Nye; Jim Green, director of NASA' s Planetary Science Division; and Mars scientist Steve Squyres addressed representatives and Nye also delivered a petition to Congress supporting funding for planetary science that was signed by more than 20,000 people. (9/12)

China's Space Dreams Ride on Robotic Docking Test (Source:
China, a burgeoning power in the world space community, is poised to launch a test module for its first space station. When China does succeed in launching Tiangong-1, it will mark the first in a series of steps toward the nation's goal of building its own 60-ton space station by the year 2020. An unmanned Shenzhou 8 spacecraft would launch a couple of months after Tiangong-1 and dock with it, in a demonstration of the autonomous docking technology necessary for assembling the station.

"The ability to do that robotically is going to certainly be a technological step forward for them," said Joan Johnson-Freese, chairwoman of the Department of National Security Studies at the Naval War College in Newport, R. I. "Some people have compared this to where we were at with Gemini. But we were doing it with people. If they can do it with robotics, it's a demonstration of a technological step forward."

China launched one astronaut on its first manned spacecraft, Shenzhou 5, in 2003. Since then it has sent five more men into space and performed the nation's first spacewalk. Though these achievements come decades after the United States and Russia performed the same feats, they are enough to make China a force to be reckoned with in the future of human spaceflight, experts say. (9/12)

1 of 50 Newfound Alien Planets Could Potentially Support Life (Source:
More than 50 new alien planets — including one so-called super-Earth that could potentially support life — have been discovered by an exoplanet-hunting telescope from the European Southern Observatory (ESO). The newfound haul of alien planets includes 16 super-Earths, which are potentially rocky worlds that are more massive than our planet. One in particular - called HD 85512 b - has captured astronomers' attention because it orbits at the edge of its star's habitable zone, suggesting conditions could be ripe to support life. (9/12)

Pale Red Dot: Desert Planets as Abodes for Life? (Source: Discovery)
The mantra in the search for extraterrestrial life is "follow the water." In fact, a prime goal for NASA's Kepler mission is to provide a statistical estimate of Earth-sized planets in stellar habitable zones where surface oceans of water could exist. But the imaginations of science fiction writers have gone beyond the imaginations of astronomers.

In Frank Herbert's classic 1965 novel "Dune," the arid planet Arrakis resembles a bigger, warmer Mars with small ice caps and subsurface aquifers. In the "Star Wars" film series, Luke Sykwalker's home planet Tatooine is a dry world parched by twin suns. Now, a team of researchers lead by Yutaka Abe of the University of Tokyo are proposing that desert-like terrestrial planets may be great places to buy real estate. And, there are probably lots of them to choose from in our galaxy. Click here. (9/12)

A Bit of Wiggle Room in Senate Budgets (Source: Space Politics)
The Senate Appropriations Committee has yet to formally markup its version of the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) appropriations bill, but there is one sign that its budgets, including those for NASA and NOAA, won’t be as constrained as what their House colleagues faced this summer. Last week the committee approved “302(b) allocations” for its subcommittees, effectively giving each appropriations subcommittee their own topline budget they have to fit their appropriations bills into. In the case of CJS, that allocation is $52.701 billion.

That’s less than the $57.675 billion from the president’s 2012 request. However, it’s more than $2 billion more than the 302(b) allocation in the House for CJS, which was only $50.237 billion. There’s no guarantee that any of that additional money (when compared to the House version) would go to NASA and NOAA. And those agencies are facing critical budget concerns about a number of their programs, from the James Webb Space Telescope to the Space Launch System to the Joint Polar Satellite System. The allocations suggest, though, that senators may not have to sharpen their budget-cutting knives as sharply as their House colleagues—at least not initially. (9/11)

Congress Reaches Deal on Funding for FAA (Source: Politico)
House and Senate leaders reached a deal on Friday to extend temporarily the expiring laws that fund the operation of U.S. highways and airways. The agreement paves the way for passage of a short-term bill that extends operating authority through early next year. (9/12)

Evidence Builds For Chinese Mach 15 Spaceplane (Source: America Space)
Details emerging from China indicate the Chinese have likely flight tested for the first time a secret 4 ton winged spaceplane that was rocketed into a 60 mi. high suborbital trajectory for test of reentry systems starting at Mach 15. Continued successful development of the spaceplane could give the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) an operational military spaceplane comparable to the U. S. Air Force X-37B currently flying its second orbital mission. (9/12)

Sea Launch Selected to Launch Intelsat 19 (Source: Sea Launch)
Sea Launch will launch the Intelsat 19 communications satellite in early 2012, the first of up to five missions on the Sea Launch system for Intelsat LLC under a previously announced multiple launch services contract. (9/12)

100 Percent Chance of Space Junk Rain (Source: Pasadena Star-News)
NASA says that in the more than 50 years of the space age, with more than 17,000 manmade pieces of debris reentering the Earth's atmosphere, no one has ever been hurt by falling space junk - that we know of. Maybe a solitary African hunter deep in the bush got flattened by an errant booster fragment and we just never heard about it. A 563-pound fuel tank did hit within 50 yards of a Texas farmhouse in 1997, but close doesn't count.

The Earth is a big place and 75 percent of it is covered by water, NASA likes to say in explaining why we don't have to worry about a defunct 7-ton U.S. research satellite hovering 155 to 174 miles up just waiting for the moment to take its final plunge. The Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite was deployed from the shuttle Discovery in 1991 and decommissioned in 2005. Now, in 2011, one of the planet's unluckier years, it has chosen to return home. (9/12)

Log On and Buckle Up for Space Missions (Source: Denver Post)
Want to explore the solar system and follow NASA space missions in real time? The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is giving the public the chance to do just that through a new Internet-based tool called Eyes on the Solar System. The space agency said the tool combines video-game technology and NASA data to create an environment for users to ride along with agency spacecraft as they explore the cosmos. By using a keyboard and a mouse, online users can zip through space and explore anything that catches their interest. Click here. (9/12)

Methane Debate Splits Mars Community (Source: Astrobiology)
Observations over the last decade suggest that methane clouds form briefly over Mars during the summer months. The discovery has left many scientists scratching their heads, since it doesn't fit into models of the martian atmosphere. "This disagrees with the known behavior of methane by at least a factor of 1000." Zahnle and his colleagues have expressed some serious doubts about the existence of methane on Mars in a paper.

But the observers are not backing down. "We stand by our results," says Michael Mumma, who leads one of the groups that made the methane observations. "True, the measurement is difficult, but it is not impossible." Mumma thinks the paper by Zahnle and his coauthors has been "a disservice," so he plans to write a rebuttal. "The community needs to understand the weakness of this argument," he says.

"Methane invokes visions of life on Mars," explains Sushil Atreya of the University of Michigan. This is because much of the methane on our planet comes from living (or once-living) things. But solid evidence of martian methane with infrared spectroscopy only surfaced eight years ago. In 2003, Mumma and his group saw signatures of methane in spectra taken with the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii. The methane was localized into clouds, or "plumes," over certain regions of the Martian surface. (9/12)

Funding Space Exploration Yields Exceptional Results (Source: Oklahoma Daily)
America is in a state of financial crisis. That much cannot be denied. But as we debate large issues such as Social Security and income tax, there are smaller choices being made that may be nonetheless just as vital. First, let us consider the purely economic side of the issue. Investment in science pays off. Fields like material science and engineering have immediate, obvious uses.

We must recognize that science depending solely on curiosity yields exceptionally important results. Arcane scientific theories and models can and do yield economic benefits, sometimes decades after their discovery. Cutting funding for scientific endeavors doesn’t protect America, economically or militarily. Cutting funding for science is cutting funding for the future — for when we imagine the future in our stories and dreams we imagine what new technologies we will be capable of, what new surprises we will have stumbled onto and what old surprises we will have explained. (9/12)

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