November 20, 2011

A Look Into Spaceport America (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Are you longing to boldly go where few have gone before? If being a pioneer space tourist isn't in your budget or derring-do comfort zone, you can still find ways to share the excitement of exploring the final frontier with a behind-the-scenes tour of Spaceport America. The only way members of the public can visit is by making reservations with a tour through Follow the Sun Tours, which was awarded a state contract to conduct the tours.

The three-hour tour is attracting space aficionados from around the globe, and knowledgeable tour guides like Mark Bleth and Dick Sandlin offer more than "I saw it first" bragging rights. You'll also get some insider insights on the past, present and future of spaceflight, intriguing historical perspectives, anecdotes about colorful regional characters from Apache warrior Geronimo and Wild West desperado Billy the Kid to space pioneer Wernher von Braun and maybe encounter some unexpected natural wonders. (11/20)

Myopic Space Budget Keeps U.S. Grounded (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Almost three weeks ago, at Kennedy Space Center, government and business leaders celebrated the prospect of a return to U.S. manned space flight within four years and more than 500 new jobs. That was before Congress got hold of NASA's budget. Now it's the Russians who can celebrate. Congress took an ax to President Obama's funding request for commercial spaceflight. The president wanted $850 million. Lawmakers put up about $400 million.

A cut that size might postpone the first manned flights from a U.S. company — whether it's Boeing or one of its rivals — by two years or more, industry analysts say. That'll prolong U.S. dependence on Russia to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station, NASA's only option until a U.S. successor to the shuttle is ready. That gets harder to stomach as Russia gets more authoritarian at home and more brazen abroad in challenging U.S. interests.

NASA already is committed to paying Russia $1.5 billion over the next five years as its taxi to the space station. A seat on Soyuz is costing NASA $62 million per ride. That's one expensive fare. It's penny wise and ruble foolish for Congress to extend such dependency by starving funding for shuttle successors. (11/20)

NASA's Budget Erratic (Source: Florida Today)
The biggest threat to space exploration always has been, and remains to be, the fickle political process. A sustainable space program is always at risk to a change in political control of Congress and changes in presidential administrations. Just like this White House’s scrapping of the last White House’s space strategy, a new president could again shift directions. Apollo was able to succeed because the ’60s-era moon program happened fast.

The space shuttle and space station programs were nearly killed multiple times because of changing political leadership. Whether NASA’s new super rocket and spaceship take hold may very well depend on how top management moves now to demonstrate solid progress on both projects. (11/20)

From New Mexico to Mars (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
The next Mars rover, Curiosity, features a laser developed by New Mexico scientists that can vaporize rock from 23 feet away and survey the remnants from afar to determine whether the spot contains any signs of life. And the team deciding which Martian rocks to zap to smithereens will often pull the trigger from New Mexico.

The ChemCam laser, developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory and put into use by scientists at the University of New Mexico, is one of several connections between the Curiosity rover and the Land of Enchantment. There will even be a piece of New Mexico along for the 354-million-mile ride. Rock from Socorro is stowed inside the rover to serve as a sample to ensure a second geologic instrument managed by a UNM-based team is working properly. (11/20)

Study is Urged on Development Near Wallops Spaceport (Source:
Alan Witt was approached about a month ago to give advice about a planned development in Accomack County, near NASA Wallops Flight Facility and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. Witt stressed that the county needs to study whether there will be a return on any investment it decides to make in the planned unit development. Factors that should be studied include "what's the population going to be when the spaceport is fully developed." (11/19)

Mound of Discarded Tires Visible From Space (Source: Huffington Post)
The sprawling pile of hundreds of thousands of tires isn't easy to spot from the ground, sitting in a rural South Carolina. No one knows how all those tires got there, or when. But, Calhoun County Council Chairman David Summers says of this giant rubber menace, "You can see it from space." Authorities have charged one person in connection with the mess, which covers more than 50 acres on satellite images. Now a Florida company is helping haul it all away. South Carolina retailers charge motorists $2 for every new tire they buy, which helps pay for the cleanup and recycling of old tires. But many tires never make it to recycling plants, instead being discarded and growing into gargantuan piles. (11/20)

Satellite Pair Launched by Long March Rocket (Source:
An experimental technology demonstration satellite and a spacecraft to collect and relay data for disaster relief ascended into orbit on a Long March 2D rocket this weekend. The payloads lifted off from the Jiuquan launching base in northwestern China. A 134-foot-tall Long March 2D booster soared into the dawn sky from Jiuquan, where it was 8:15 a.m. Sunday local time.

The two-stage, hydrazine-fueled launcher was expected to place the Shiyan 4 and Chuangxin 1-03 satellites into a sun-synchronous orbit. Chinese state media reported the launch was successful. The Shiyan 4 spacecraft will study the environment and test new space technologies, according to the Xinhua news agency. Shiyan 4 was developed by the Chinese Research Institute of Space Technology. (11/19)

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