November 27, 2011

Shuttle Launch Director To Depart NASA (Source: Florida Today)
The steady hand who led NASA's shuttle launch team through the assembly of the International Space Station, the recovery from the 2003 Columbia accident and the retirement of the shuttle fleet is departing the nation's space agency this week after almost three decades of service. Veteran Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach will be joining "a major aerospace company," taking a job that will keep he and his wife, Charlotte, on Florida's Space Coast. (11/27)

NASA Sets High Bar for Wannabe Astronauts (Source: Washington Post)
NASA, which today sent its new rover Curiosity to Mars to explore whether the planet could have ever sustained life, is now accepting applications for a new corps of astronauts — and the qualifications are tough. Not all undergraduate college degrees are accepted, program quality matters, masters and doctorates are beneficial, and post-college experience is required. Those who have trouble with math and science need not apply.

The last time NASA chose a new group of astronaut candidates was in 2009, when nine applicants from 3,564 were selected. NASA is accepting applications through Jan. 27. Interviews and evaluations of the initial group chosen will then begin, and NASA expects to announce its final selections in 2013. Several years of training will begin in August of that year for the astronauts, who may be involved in work on the International Space Station and future deep space exploration. Click here. (11/26)

The History of Mars Exploration: A Timeline (Source: Florida Today)
The U.S. has led international efforts to explore the Red Planet. Click here for an interactive timeline of U.S. missions to Mars. (11/27)

Mars Rover Designed, Built in California (Source: NBC)
As the latest Mars rover, Curiosity, wings its way to the red planet, scientists at Pasadena's Jet Propulsion Laboratory will be watching closely. The Caltech-affiliated program, which is part of NASA, is responsible for managing the rover, and scientists there designed, developed and assembled it. The rover is part of the Mars Science Laboratory, which will pioneer new landing technology when it touches down inside the planet's Gale Crater. The rover’s mission is expected to last two years. (11/27)

Stolen Space Treasures Rescued From Auction (Source: Florida Today)
The identification badges of three astronaut heroes who were killed in the line of duty. Heat-shielding tiles plucked from the space shuttle orbiters. A humongous rocket engine. Those are some of the items stolen by space workers who apparently tried to sell them, through a friend or via auction houses or websites like eBay. The crimes were foiled by agents working for NASA’s Inspector General, the taxpayer-watchdog arm of the nation’s space agency.

Over the course of the last half year, they’ve also identified and tried to suggest fixes to problems that led to the waste of millions of dollars of taxpayer money, put astronauts or other space workers in danger or threatened the security of critical computer systems at NASA sites across the country. But it’s the theft of space artifacts and hardware that jump out of the public records documenting the inspector general agents’ work.

Times are tough and perhaps no tougher than for space agency workers trying to find a way to transition to new lives, either as part of the downsized program or in new jobs. But it’s troubling to read some of the stories outlined by the inspector general about swiped space stuff. Click here to read a few. (11/27)

Plutonium Disaster Plan Back on Shelf (Source: Florida Today)
At the Brevard County Emergency Operations Center, more than 30 emergency and safety responders, along with representatives from the Department of Energy, breathed a sigh of relief 50 seconds into Saturday's launch. “We're clear of any risk at this point,” said EOC Director Bob Lay, 55 seconds after the Atlas V rocket carrying the Mars rover Curiosity launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Starting at 6 a.m., representatives from multiple agencies, including Port Canaveral Police, Patrick Air Force Base, Kennedy Space Center, Brevard County Fire-Rescue, the state Department of Transportation and Florida Department of Law Enforcement, were poised to respond to any launch disaster that might have occurred. (11/27)

Japan Calls it Quits on Infrared Space Telescope (Source:
Japan announced this week its Akari infrared space telescope was switched off after five years of scanning the sky in search of star-forming dust clouds, ancient galaxies in the distant universe, and asteroids within the solar system. The Akari mission succumbed to trouble in its power generation system, which first appeared in May and ended the satellite's scientific observations in June.

The observatory stopped receiving electricity on the night side of its orbit around Earth, an indication its batteries were not charging sufficiently. The craft remained powered in sunlight. The anomaly appeared May 24 when Akari shifted to a low-power mode and haulted science observations. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, concluded the problem was probably within the satellite's electrical system. (11/26)

Space Tourism: From Space Ships to Space Hotels (Source: Economic Times)
What is in store for space tourism in the coming few years? Oct. 4, 2004, marked the beginning of a new era where private enterprise began to compete with government programs in providing safe affordable access to space. On this day, SpaceShipOne (SS1), built by an American company called Scaled Composites, rocketed into history.

It became the first private-manned spacecraft to exceed an altitude of 328,000 feet (approximately 100 km or 60 miles) twice within the span of a 14-day period, thus claiming the $10-million Ansari X-Prize. The SS1 endeavour was led by aerospace engineer and maverick Burt Rutan and funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. British businessman Richard Branson cashed in on this remarkable achievement and created Virgin Galactic. Virgin Galactic will use the new spaceport being built in New Mexico.

After Branson launched his venture, there have been other companies that have announced plans to build private space planes for space tourists. These include EADS Astrium, Tails, Blue Origin, to name a few. In addition to space planes that will take tourists to suborbital space, there are companies that are pursuing the idea of space hotels in Earth orbit. The company leading the pack is a Las Vegas-based company called Bigelow Aerospace. (11/27)

US Seeks Answers on Chinese Access to Australian Satellite Station (Source: The Australian)
US defense and diplomatic officials have queried the Australian government about revelations that China's military-run space program was using a satellite station in Western Australia. They asked the Australian embassy in Washington to provide information about China's use of the ground station before President Barack Obama's visit to Australia this month. US officials were anxious to ensure that the sensitive issue did not undermine the President's visit. (11/27)

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