January 15, 2012

Did the Tardigrades Survive Re-Entry? (Source: PloS Blogs)
Ten species were being sent to the Martian moon Phobos to learn if living organisms could survive the 3-year, out-and-back journey. The Planetary Society very carefully selected the remarkable tardigrade. These are unusual microscopic multicellular invertebrates that can survive being dried out (dessication) and revived as long as a year later. Their ability to survive hostile conditions where any self-respecting organism would die is the reason they are called extremophiles.

K. Ingemar Jonsson in Sweden has been running the Tardigrades in Space (TARDIS) program since 2007 when several species of organisms were successfully returned to Earth from the FOTON-M3 mission and survived exposure to both space vacuum and solar radiation. But I doubt very much that they will be able to survive directly burning up, sans spacecraft, as Phobos-Grunt disintegrates over the Pacific Ocean within minutes. (1/15)

Space Debris: Controlling the Growth (Source: All Things Nuclear)
Destruction of a single 10-ton satellite could double or triple the amount of large debris (greater than 1 centimeter) in low Earth orbit. Such an event could therefore swamp all the efforts being made to mitigate debris production. NASA’s Standard Breakup Model is the best model around for estimating the number and size distribution of debris from a satellite breakup, and is based on past observed breakups. It gives 263,000 as the number of debris particles larger than 1 cm that would result from the complete fragmentation of a 10-ton satellite. The breakup of the Fengyun 3C satellite due to China’s anti-satellite test, however, produced more than three times the amount of debris estimated by the NASA model. (1/15)

Space Probe Crashes Into Pacific, Russians Say (Source: MSNBC)
A failed probe that was designed to travel to a moon of Mars but got stuck in Earth orbit has crashed into the Pacific Ocean, Russian officials said Sunday. The unmanned Phobos-Grunt probe was one of the heaviest and most toxic space derelicts ever to crash to Earth, but there were no reports of injury or damage. There's a good chance that no one saw the spacecraft's fiery plunge. "The point of impact for fragments of the Phobos apparatus was in the waters of the Pacific Ocean," military spokesman Alexei Zolotukhin said. The debris zone was said to be 775 miles (1,250 kilometers) west of Wellington Island in the South Pacific. (1/15)

NASA to Mothball Langley Wind Tunnels (Source: DailyPress.com)
NASA will mothball two wind tunnels, one that is still in use, at Langley Research Center in Hampton by Oct. 1. The plan, which could result in a relatively small number of contractor layoffs, is part of an effort to reduce operating costs. The 20-Inch Mach 6 CF4 Tunnel, built to test the thermodynamics of gases, has not been used regularly since 2003. The two NASA employees that maintain the facility will be reassigned. (1/14)

Air Force, Coast Guard Team Up in Sea Turtle Rescue Operation (Source: USAF)
The U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Coast Guard teamed up Jan. 6 to rescue 29 Green sea turtle hatchlings and give them a little help in their migration to the open ocean. The turtles, hatchlings from the last of 110 active Green sea turtle nests on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, may not have made it out of the nest without intervention by the Cape Canaveral AFS biologists who administer the installation's sea turtle conservation project. (1/13)

Gingrich Calls for 'Bold' Space Program, Opens Orlando Campaign Office (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said Friday he wants a "bold" space program, and he called for NASA to accept more risk and offer tax-free cash prizes for private space enterprise. The former U.S. House speaker told the Orlando Sentinel editorial board he wants America to "reclaim [the] vision" expressed in President John F. Kennedy's 1961 call for the United States to lead exploration of space.

"I love the romance of space," Gingrich said. "I love the idea of going out there. I love the idea of [following] John F. Kennedy's speech on why we should go to the moon. Given the retirement of the space shuttle and a delay in the next U.S. rocket capable of taking humans into space until at least 2018, the space issue could have significant resonance on Florida's Space Coast, as the Republican presidential field approaches the Jan. 31 primary. (1/13)

KSC Seen as a True Spaceport of Future (Source: Florida Today)
An update is expected early next week on the timing of SpaceX‘s launch of a Dragon capsule on a demonstration flight to the International Space Station. The launch from Cape Canaveral had been targeted for Feb. 7. NASA is entertaining a major change in the way Kennedy Space Center is run as the agency transitions from the shuttle era to one more dependent on commercial spaceflight.

Kennedy could one day operate more like an airport, with NASA and private space companies each paying for facilities and services governed by an independent authority. The idea was one of several discussed during workshops NASA and state officials hosted last fall to imagine the center’s post-shuttle future. Those workshops have informed early work to revise the center’s master plan, which will be presented to NASA headquarters next week.

But state officials assisting KSC’s planning effort say the potential for an airport-like authority is real, and they’ll help study the options. “A spaceport authority by definition has an incentive to maximize access to infrastructure for as many users as possible,” said Edward Ellegood, a policy analyst at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University . “In a lot of cases, NASA and the Air Force don’t have those kinds of responsibilities within their core mission." Click here. (1/14)

Gingrich Talks Up Prizes in Florida (Source: Space Politics)
"You know, I was very surprised when Governor Romney twice recently sort of poked fun at ideas I’ve had about space. I thought it showed a total lack of vision on his part, Gingrich said. "So I want to start with the idea that I believe we need to reclaim John F. Kennedy’s vision and we need to decide to go boldly out into space. I think that I’d like to set at least five, and maybe ten, percent of the NASA budget aside for prizes. Because if you go back and look at the history of aviation in the twenties and thirties, prize money got huge multipliers of effort."

Editor's Note: Space Florida was recently selected by NASA to manage the Nano-Satellite Launch Challenge, including a multi-million dollar prize for launching small satellites into orbit twice within a one-week period. Click here. (1/13)

Is it Really NASA's Purpose to Send People Into Space? (Source: Florida Today)
“I think we need to start with the basics. What is ‘the space program’? I would say it’s as defined in the National Aeronautics and Space Act... Nothing in the Act requires NASA to fly people in space, to explore other worlds or even to own its rockets,” said Stephen C. Smith. The law, he goes on, “lists a number of objectives to which NASA is permitted to ‘contribute materially.’ They are not requirements, and the language only requires NASA to ‘contribute materially’ to ‘one or more.’"

“Somewhere along the line, we lost track of NASA’s intended purpose as defined in the law. In my opinion, it was in 1961 when JFK challenged us to go to the moon by the end of the 1960s. It was inspirational, but it also morphed NASA into an agency it wasn’t intended to be," he said. “NASA was created in 1958 to separate civilian space research from military activities. That’s why Section 102(b) spells out what is in NASA’s purview, and what remains with the Defense Department.

The concern at the time was that our activities might give the Soviet Union an excuse to militarize space. “But it was never intended to be Starfleet... How to solve it? The only way is to take routine space access out of the hands of politicians, which is what the Obama administration is doing. Commercial cargo and commercial crew are giving us next-generation spacecraft at a much lower cost than if developed by NASA." Click here. (1/15)

Editorial: When Will We Go Back? SEI, VSE and Hope for the Future (Source: America Space)
Whenever expensive new missions are unveiled, the same dreary proclamations arise: spend the money on the poor, spend the money on developing nations, spend the money on eradicating disease or even don’t spend the money at all. When Apollo 11 landed on the Moon, journalists questioned why such a venture was permitted, when rats infested Harlem apartments. A few years ago, during his election campaign, Barack Obama asked why people should fly into space, when there remained children in the United States who were illiterate.

These are all valid points, of course, but blame for them can hardly be laid at the feet of the space program. Today, there are still rats in apartments and one must wonder if, four decades hence, there will still be illiterate children in the United States, but the suggestion that the dream of progressing into space should suffer as a result is unconscionable. Editor's Note: Early in his 2008 campaign, President Obama suggested shifting some NASA money to education, but this notion didn't last long and he never suggested ending human spaceflight. (1/15)

Small Canadian Firms Land $500K Space Contracts (Source: Ottawa Business Journal)
Two small Ottawa companies will each receive nearly $500,000 from the Canadian Space Agency for water monitoring. Noetix Research Inc. and Kepler Space Inc. were among about seven Canadian firms that will use Radarsat-2 information to track bodies of water around the world. In Noetix's case, their "pretty significant" contract to monitor Lake Winnipeg's declining water levels – which builds on existing work the company is doing – is leading to hiring a project manager to add to their current roster of about six employees.

For Kepler Space, its CSA contract is the biggest one the four-year-old firm has ever received, said founder Valentin Pocnos. His two-person company will use Radarsat-2's data to measure water level changes in various global wetlands, and the effect on the environment surrounding them. (1/13)

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