January 19, 2012

Thirty Percent for Science: Planetary Society Calls for Increased Investment (Source: Planetary Society)
The Planetary Society has called on the U.S. Administration to rebalance NASA’s portfolio of programs and missions so that Science is given 30 percent of the agency’s budget. “Science is the best place to invest in NASA,” Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye said, “In this era of constrained budgets, we must invest in areas with the greatest possible returns.” The Society laid out its request in a letter to Jacob Lew, head of the Office of Management and Budget. (The letter was sent to Lew just before he became White House Chief of Staff and Jeffrey D. Zients was tapped to serve as acting director of OMB.) (1/19)

Sun Uncorks Aurora-Burnishing Blast at Earth (Source: USA Today)
The Coronal Mass Ejection (CME), a solar blast of highly-energetic particles, is expected to arrive at Earth on Saturday, likely sparking bright Northern Lights and potentially disrupting some communications. A "Long Duration M3.2 Class Solar Flare" started at 8:42 a.m. ET, on Thursday, according to the space agency and released the blast now traveling towards Earth at 630 miles per second. Click here to see it. (1/19)

Meteorite Possibly Found in Texas (Source: KXII)
A panel of international scientists has confirmed that about 15 pounds of meteorites that fell in Morocco last summer came from Mars. NASA scientists were included in the group that performed extensive tests on the space rocks.Astronomers think that millions of years ago.. something big smashed into Mars that sent fragments flying through the solar system.

Occasionally, some fall to Earth. That leads us to Callisburg, Texas, to a man named Coy Stopall. "I know that that is metal of some type, it screams that it is," Stopall said. "I'm smart enough to know that when there is a piece of big ol' rock there that's not like anything else on your property, and it's got little bitty swirls of melted metal in it, that it's abnormal," Coy explained.

The peculiar looking rock was found in a creek bed, on Stopall's property about two years ago. He said when he came across the rock, it was about 6 feet under the surface. So he dug it up. He has sent a sample to be tested at North Texas University. He has received no report back yet. But he hasn't given up hope. (1/19)

Scientists Win Crafoord Prize in Astronomy (Source: Science)
The Crafoord Prizes in astronomy for 2012 will be awarded to Reinhard Genzel of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany, and Andrea Ghez of UCLA. Genzel and Ghez are like the Coke and Pepsi of research in supermassive black holes. Beginning in 1998, their groups have independently produced compelling evidence for the once controversial notion that our galaxy has at its center a supermassive black hole which is about 4 million times as massive as the sun. (1/19)

ULA Launches Delta IV with the Fourth WGS Spacecraft (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
United Launch Alliance conducted the United States’ first orbital launch of the year on Thursday, when their Delta IV launched with the fourth Wideband Global Satcom spacecraft. Liftoff from SLC-37B at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station was on schedule for the beginning of a 93-minute launch window. (1/19)

NASA Relents: Apogee of Fear, First Sci-Fi Film Shot in Space, Will Be Released (Source: WIRED)
Good news! Following many reports over the last few days that the first-ever science fiction film to actually be filmed in space was being kept from release by NASA, there is now word that the space agency has relented and that Apogee of Fear will see the light of day after all. The eight-minute film was shot by Richard Garriott aboard the International Space Station on his trip there as a paid civilian in 2008.

Based on a screenplay written for him by Tracy Hickman (best known as co-creator of the Dragonlance shared universe), Garriott made the film with the assistance of two NASA astronauts and a Russian cosmonaut. He had hoped to release it along with the documentary he made about following in his astronaut father Owen Garriott’s footsteps. But NASA put the kibosh on those plans without giving a great many specifics as to reasons, except that it was outside the scope of Garriott’s agreement with them. It seemed as though Apogee of Fear would remain hidden from the public eye.

According to NASA's Bob Jacobs: "NASA is working with Richard Garriott to facilitate the video’s release. While the project was not part of his original Space Act agreement with NASA, everyone involved had the best of intentions. We hope to resolve the remaining issues expeditiously, and we appreciate Richard’s cooperation and his ongoing efforts to get people excited about the future of space exploration." (1/19)

NASA Satellite Witnesses a Comet's Plunge into the Sun (Source: Scientific American)
As dramatic exits go, it's on par with Major T. J. "King" Kong riding a falling nuclear bomb like a rodeo bull at the end of Dr. Strangelove. A NASA spacecraft has documented a comet's demise as it plunged toward the sun at 600 kilometers per second, broke apart and vaporized inside the solar atmosphere.

The comet, known as C/2011 N3 (SOHO), met its fiery fate on July 6. The object's official name designates that it was discovered in early July 2011 by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft. Many comets meet a similar end, but astronomers and solar physicists have never been able to track a comet's trajectory all the way into the depths of the solar corona, the outermost layer of the sun's atmosphere. Click here. (1/19)

NASA Science Chief Seeks a Better Union Between Human Exploration and Science (Source: Nature)
On 4 January, John Grunsfeld, the fix-it-man for the Hubble Space Telescope, became the head of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. But the former astronaut is quick to point out that he is an astrophysicist too, having done a cosmic-ray experiment for his doctoral thesis on the space shuttle. More recently, while deputy director of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, Grunsfeld has worked on developing instruments to study the atmospheres of exoplanets. Nature caught up with him in his first week on the job. Click here for a Q&A. (1/19)

USAF, Industry Eye Cost-Savings For GPS III (Source: Aviation Week)
Despite its programmatic progress and status as an acquisition reform program for the U.S. Air Force, GPS III—as with any other Pentagon project—is under the microscope and could be subject to funding cuts. Financial pressure on defense spending has prompted some to question the Air Force’s plan for modernizing the satellite constellation. Late last year, defense officials said some budget drills had examined if the project could be scaled back in scope or delayed.

One reason, say some GPS experts, is that the satellites in orbit are lasting longer than projected, possibly allowing for a delay to the 2014 launch date for the first GPS III satellite without jeopardizing service. A final budget plan will be unveiled by the Pentagon Feb. 6. (1/19)

Why Does Our Universe Have Three Dimensions? (Source: Discovery)
Why does our universe look the way it does? In particular, why do we only experience three spatial dimensions in our universe, when superstring theory, for instance, claims that there are ten dimensions -- nine spatial dimensions and a tenth dimension of time? Japanese scientists think they may have an explanation for how a three-dimensional universe emerged from the original nine dimensions of space. Click here. (1/19)

Seeking Participants for Hawaii Mars Analogue Mission and Food Study (Source: Cornell)
We are seeking participants for a 120 day Mars exploration analogue mission, to take place in early 2013 on the Big Island of Hawaii. The Cornell/Hawaii food study is designed to simulate the living and working experience of astronauts on a real planetary mission and to compare two types of food system – crew-cooked vs. pre-prepared – as thoroughly as possible in the context of a four month Mars analogue mission. We are seeking participants for this study with qualifications similar to those required by NASA for their astronaut applicants. Click here. (1/19)

L.A. Goes in to Space With Spacecraft Technology Expo (Source: SpaceRef)
Smarter Shows (www.smartershows.com) launches Spacecraft Technology Expo 2012 - a new global exhibition dedicated to spacecraft manufacture and operation. The three-day event will feature key players in the industry and offer a unique insight into spaceflight, space tourism and satellites. Visitors to the show will gain a taste of the future by seeing exhibits in its Human Spaceflight Park which include a space suit provided by North Hollywood company Orbital Outfitters, and seen for the first time on US soil, a 1:1 scale model of XCOR Aerospace's Lynx Suborbital vehicle. (1/19)

Here's One Way to Get People to Victory Park (Source: Dallas Observer)
Orion's first orbital test flight is in 2014. Till then, the Orion's on wheels -- on its way from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico (site of its 2010 launch-abort test flight) to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, with pit stops along the way in Oklahoma and Alabama. And Dallas: Says NASA, it rolls into Victory Park January 27-29, a weekend stop that make its perfect for the kiddos and those of us for whom The Right Stuff sound track is our constant companion. (1/19)

'Citizen Scientists' Spot New Exoplanet After 100,000 Sign Up to Help (Source: Daily Mail)
An online appeal for ordinary people to help find unknown planets has resulted in the discovery of a new world. Chris Holmes, from Peterborough, and Lee Threapleton both spotted the planet after logging on to Planethunters.org, an Oxford University project that asks the public to sift through images from Nasa's Kepler telescope. The planet, which appears to be circling a star dubbed SPH10066540, is thought to be similar in size to Neptune and circles its parent every 90 days. (1/19)

What Happened Before the Big Bang? The New Philosophy of Cosmology (Source: The Atlantic)
What existed before the big bang? What is the nature of time? Is our universe one of many? On the big questions science cannot (yet?) answer, a new crop of philosophers are trying to provide answers. In December, a group of professors from America's top philosophy departments, including Columbia, Yale, and NYU, set out to establish the philosophy of cosmology as a new field of study within the philosophy of physics.

The group aims to bring a philosophical approach to the basic questions at the heart of physics, including those concerning the nature, age and fate of the universe. This past week, a second group of scholars from Oxford and Cambridge announced their intention to launch a similar project in the United Kingdom. Click here. (1/19)

President Supports Bipartisan Tourism Initiative With Florida Sponsors (Source: Rep. Bill Posey)
While speaking at Disney World, President Obama embraced the provisions of bipartisan legislation introduced this past September by U.S. Representatives Joe Heck (R-NV) and Bill Posey (R-FL) to help attract more international tourists to U.S. travel destinations. The Welcoming Business Travelers and Tourists to America Act (H.R. 3039) currently has 35 cosponsors, including six from Florida.

“Florida has so many wonderful attractions, from family friendly theme parks to beautiful beaches and lot’s of sunshine,” said Representative Posey. “The fact is the United States as a whole has so much to see and our nation, our small businesses, can benefit greatly from streamlining the process for business and tourist visas. I’m glad to hear the President’s onboard with our initiative.” (1/19)

NASA Finds 2011 Ninth Warmest Year on Record (Source: NASA)
The global average surface temperature in 2011 was the ninth warmest since 1880, according to NASA scientists. The finding continues a trend in which nine of the 10 warmest years in the modern meteorological record have occurred since the year 2000. NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) released an updated analysis that shows temperatures around the globe in 2011 compared to the average global temperature from the mid-20th century. The comparison shows how Earth continues to experience warmer temperatures than several decades ago. (1/19)

President Visits Florida to Promote (Space) Tourism (Source: SPACErePORT)
President Obama visited Orlando on Thursday to promote ways to increase international and domestic tourism in the U.S. as a means to improving the economy. Concurrent with his visit, the White House tweeted news of the new Atlantis facility groundbreaking at the KSC Visitor Complex, and asked for input on "cool science/tech places" that would be great tourist destinations.

The KSC Visitor Complex is one of Florida's most visited tourist attractions. Along with Disney-based space-themed rides like Mission: Mars and Space Mountain, KSC helps to make the state a popular "space tourism" destination for millions of people every year. Hopefully it won't be long before tourists are actually flying into space from one of Florida's two FAA-licensed spaceports. (1/19)

Pentagon Faces Host of Budget Cuts (Source: Politico)
Pentagon budget cuts are taking effect sooner than expected due to little-noticed appropriations caps that reset this week because of the deficit supercommittee's failure last fall. The defense cuts are estimated to total as much as $8 billion. It's also expected that President Barack Obama's request for overseas contingencies and war operations will drop from $115 billion for the current fiscal year to $82.5 billion in the 2013 budget. Additional cuts will take place if sequestration measures are not repealed by Congress. (1/19)

Launch is More Than a Satellite Sendoff (Source: Florida Today)
For Jeff Baker, a successful Delta IV rocket launch tonight would mean more than just a good day at the office. The United Launch Alliance employee’s son, Kyle, deployed to Afghanistan on Wednesday, joining U.S. and allied troops that will directly benefit from the next-generation military communications satellite carried by the rocket.

“That’s significant to me, because anything that can help increase the safety of our military is paramount,” said Baker, a 53-year-old Merritt Island resident. After a final readiness review, officials on Wednesday gave a “go” to proceed toward a 7:38 p.m. liftoff from Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The launch window extends to 9:11 p.m. (1/19)

Space Agency Boss Blames Makers for Satellite Crash (Source: RIA Novosti)
A Russian government commission looking into the crash of the Phobos-Grunt Mars probe says engineering flaws were the main cause of its failure, the head of the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos, Vladimir Popovkin said on Thursday. There was speculation earlier this week that the crash of the 1.2 billion ruble ($400 million) spacecraft could have been caused by a powerful electromagnetic emission from a U.S. radar.

Popovkin however said that the U.S. radar is viewed “only as one of the causes.” “The main causes were the errors during production and test works, as well as the engineering flaws,” Popovkin said. Roscosmos is expected to hold tests to see whether the probe was affected by U.S. radars, which may involve NASA specialists, Popovkin added. (1/19)

Russia Revives Permanent Moon Base Plans (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russian Space Agency Roscosmos is in talks with its European and U.S. partners on the creation of manned research bases on the Moon, the agencies chief, Vladimir Popovkin, said on Thursday. “We don’t want the man to just step on the Moon,” Popovkin said in an interview with Vesti FM radio station. “Today, we know enough about it, we know that there is water in its polar areas," he said, adding "we are now discussing how to begin [the Moon’s] exploration with NASA and the European Space Agency."

There are two options, he said: “either to set up a base on the Moon or to launch a station to orbit around it.” The project of a “prospective manned transportation system” to be sent to the Moon is currently being developed, the Roscosmos chief said. Russia is also planning to send two unmanned missions to the Moon by 2020, the Luna Glob and the Luna Resource, Popovkin added. (1/19)

Clarifying the U.S. Stance on Space Code of Conduct (Source: AOL Defense)
The State and Defense departments scrambled to "correct misperceptions" on Capitol Hill, in foreign capitals and the international space community about U.S. intentions regarding an international space code of conduct. State Udersecretary Ellen Tauscher earlier said the U.S. had rejected the idea of adopting the space code penned by the European Union. The many sentences issued by both the Pentagon and Foggy Bottom yesterday do not contradict Tauscher. They just shout out loud and clear that the U.S. really, really does want a code of conduct of some kind.

Here's the core of what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: "In response to these challenges, the United States has decided to join with the European Union and other nations to develop an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities. A Code of Conduct will help maintain the long-term sustainability, safety, stability, and security of space by establishing guidelines for the responsible use of space." She does not commit the U.S. to the EU code; but to a code.

Let it be said here that the Bush administration -- not known for its worries about international law or standards -- committed the U.S. to most of the elements that would make up a code of conduct, know collectively in the space policy world as transparency and confidence-building measures (TCBM). The Obama administration came in optimistically talking about using the EU code as the potential basis for an international code of conduct. The Joint Staff recently completed an analysis of the EU code and found it overly restrictive. That is the principal reason the U.S. has decided against using the European effort as is. (1/19)

Space Coast Leaders Pledge to Push Area's Perks (Source: Florida Today)
Leaders of the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast on Wednesday vowed to be stronger advocates for business and industry as the Brevard County economy crawls out of a recession and moves beyond the end of the space shuttle program. A new strategic plan calls for an increased push to educate community leaders about Brevard’s strengths so they can serve as advocates, and a more aggressive pursuit of companies in key industry clusters. Those clusters are: aerospace and aviation; advanced communications; electronics; homeland security and defense; and emerging technologies. (1/19)

Vega Rocket Ready for First Flight (Source: ESA)
Final checkout of Europe’s new Vega launcher was completed last Friday, marking another milestone towards its maiden flight from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. The first Vega launch campaign began in November with the installation of the P80 first stage on the launch pad. The two solid-propellant second and third stages were added to the vehicle, followed by the AVUM – Attitude & Vernier Upper Module – liquid-propellant fourth stage.

Vega is designed to cope with a wide range of missions and payload configurations in order to respond to different market opportunities and provide great flexibility. In particular, it offers configurations able to handle payloads ranging from a single satellite up to one main satellite plus six microsatellites. Vega is compatible with payload masses ranging from 300 kg to 2500 kg. (1/19)

French Space Agency Sends Mixed Signals on ExoMars (Source: Space News)
The French space agency, CNES, on Jan. 19 sent mixed signals over whether it still supports a planned European Mars exploration program being planned with the U.S. and Russia for 2016 and 2018, and expressed strong opinions on future use of the international space station. CNES President Yannick d’Escatha said both the ExoMars program and the space station budget will be on the table for European ministers when they meet in November to set multiyear space budget and program priorities. (1/19)

Science & Engineering Festival Offers View of Next Generation Space Travel (Source: Business Wire)
This spring, the USA Science & Engineering Festival, the nation's largest celebration of science and engineering, will take festival-goers behind the scenes as NASA and industry partners forge a bold new era of space exploration. April 28-29, 2012, in Washington, DC, the Lockheed Martin-sponsored Festival will unleash the imaginations of the next generation of discoverers with inside information on what it takes to travel to the moon and Mars, as well as the future of space travel for the masses.

NASA leads space exploration in the United States and the world, with exciting missions in aeronautics, robotic and human exploration, and science. The agency retired the Space Shuttle Program in 2011, and is fostering a new era of spaceflight with breakthroughs in technology and innovation to send humans deeper into space as it inspires the next generation of engineers, scientists and explorers.

Festival-goers will interact with several members of the space community, including people who have traveled into space as private citizens and leaders from companies who hope to make space tourism more broadly available. Richard Garriott, a presenter at the upcoming Festival, became the sixth private citizen to travel to space in October 2008 when he traveled aboard the Russian Soyuz TMA-13 spacecraft to the International Space Station as a self-funded tourist. (1/19)

Experts Unconvinced By Trailer Claiming Secret U.S.-Yugoslav Space Pact (Source: Radio Free Europe)
"One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Those, of course, were the famous words spoken by U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong in 1969 when he first set foot on the moon. But according to a film trailer that has caught fire on the Internet, the declaration may as well have been uttered in Serbo-Croatian, or perhaps Slovene, as well as English.

Uploaded to YouTube on January 9, the trailer previews "Houston, We Have a Problem!," a Slovenian "docudrama" that promises to reveal the truth behind the covert Yugoslav space program and tell how Marshal Josip Tito sold secrets to the United States, fueling its greatest cosmic one-upping of the Soviet Union... "In late 1960s, the CIA discovered that Yugoslavia already had operational space-flight technology. Yugoslavia secretly sold its complete space program to the U.S. in March 1961. In May 1961, Kennedy announced that the U.S. had chosen to go to the moon." (1/19)

Japan Scientists Fear Spacecraft Blueprint Stolen After Computer Virus (Source: Daily Mail)
The Japanese space agency has admitted that a computer virus may have stolen sensitive information from their networks - including blueprints for a spacecraft. Hackers could sell on the information or blackmail the space agency for its return. A terminal connected to networks belonging to the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) was infected with a Trojan.

Data that could have been revealed includes email addresses, system log-in information and, crucially, the specification and operation of the H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV). JAXA's engineers said in a statement they noticed the computer was acting oddly last August and disconnected it from their networks. An investigation found the machine was infected with a virus, which was removed, before the terminal was returned to use. But computer security experts kept it under observation and, at the beginning of January, they discovered evidence that a different virus had collected information from it. (1/19)

Local Research Can Aid Push to Diversify Space Industry (Source: Tallahassee Democrat)
Tallahassee can play a role in the state's ongoing effort to diversify its space business beyond the processing and preparation for launch activities, a senior Space Florida executive said Wednesday. Chris Snow, senior director of government relations for Space Florida, characterized the state's aerospace business development effort as one that is growing to include more fields and types of businesses.

"One of the things we are focused on -- and we've had a working relationship with the EDC for quite a while -- is really working on trying to diversify," Snow said. "One of the areas where we can do that is research and development. We have lost a lot of that and honestly, never had a lot of it. A lot of it went to other states, so trying to grow that is very important with facilities here in Tallahassee."

Research plays a role in many of the 10 market sectors that Space Florida has identified in its diversification initiative. Among them are agriculture and environmental monitoring, human life sciences, communications, robotics, clean energy and advanced materials. Along with that diversification is expanding the supply chain in Florida, specifically adding to the depth and breadth of the in-state providers of space-related services and hardware. Snow said that will keep more of the support functions located here. (1/19)

Air Force Plans More EELV Block Buys in 2012 (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
Nine national security spacecraft have been entrusted to Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rockets in a $1.5 billion booster purchase through the Air Force's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, "There will be [additional] EELV buys in (calendar year) 2012," according to the Space and Missile Systems Center's Launch and Range Systems Directorate. This initial purchase of 9 boosters supports national security space requirements in Fiscal Year 2014, Air Force officials said, and a "second and larger procurement" will be made shortly as a block buy of rockets.

While EELV critics question the costs of Atlas 5 and Delta 4, the Air Force and ULA have been working to reduce pricing by changing the military's purchasing strategy. The new plan would stabilize the situation and cut costs by enabling ULA to order materials and piece-parts in bulk to build rockets in assembly line fashion. ULA has about 3,600 employees spread across the country at its production facilities, engineering headquarters and launch bases.

Editor's Note: Critics (including in Congress) had problems with a planned 40-vehicle block purchase of Atlas and Delta rockets, saying it would shut out potential new low-cost competitors like SpaceX and ATK. Casual observers had expected that the nine-rocket purchase was in response to this concern, but that doesn't now appear to be the case. (1/19)

Black Holes May Turboboost Super-Civilizations (Source: Discovery)
Because our galaxy is teeming with planets it should be home to countless extraterrestrial civilizations. That is unless, through some perverse twist in nature, intelligent life is an evolutionary dead-end. But let's be optimistic and assume that some fraction of far-flung worlds rise to the status of a hosting a super-civilization. This was described in 1964 by Russian astronomer Nikolai Kardashev who hypothesized that a so-called Type III civilization would control the entire energy output of a galaxy.

We don't even reach Type I status because we have failed to harness nuclear fusion or build a constellation of solar power satellites. But why should a super-civilization be so energy voracious? And how in the heavens do they tap the energy of an entire galaxy? First, a far-advanced society would need a lot of energy to support a rapidly growing wave of colonization, ambitious astroengineering projects, and burgeoning populations. Green technology can only go so far.

Secondly, super-smart extraterrestrials have far more than the total stellar energy output of the entire Milky Way at their fingertips. They could tap into the mother of all storage batteries: the supermassive black hole in the core of our galaxy. This gravitational engine is vastly more efficient at converting matter to energy than stellar nuclear fusion. (1/19)

Gas Ring Around Young Star Raises Questions (Source: Space Daily)
Astronomers have detected a mysterious ring of carbon monoxide gas around the young star V1052 Cen, which is about 700 light-years away in the southern constellation Centaurus. The ring is part of the star's planet-forming disk, and it's as far from V1052 Cen as Earth is from the Sun. Discovered with the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope, its edges are uniquely crisp. (1/18)

NASA Sees Repeating La Nina Hitting its Peak (Source: Space Daily)
La Nina, "the diva of drought," is peaking, increasing the odds that the Pacific Northwest will have more stormy weather this winter and spring, while the southwestern and southern United States will be dry. Sea surface height data from NASA's Jason-1 and -2 satellites show that the milder repeat of last year's strong La Nina has recently intensified. (1/18)

FAA Honors Embry-Riddle’s Jack Haun as Southern Region AMT of the Year (Source: ERAU)
Jack Haun, director of aircraft maintenance at Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach campus, has been honored as the 2012 Southern Region Aviation Maintenance Technician of the Year by the National General Aviation Awards Committee. The committee is a partnership of the FAA and numerous general-aviation industry sponsors. The mission of its General Aviation Awards program is to recognize individual aviation professionals on the local, regional, and national levels for their contributions to aviation, education, and flight safety.

Editor's Note: There are a couple of ongoing studies and initiatives aimed at the development of a spacecraft maintenance training regime, similar to the A&P training certification administered by the FAA. The idea is to reduce the likelihood of launch failures and anomalies caused by human error. Check out SpaceTEC here. (1/18)

No Free Launches: Can Commercial Space Bank On NASA Contracts? (Source: Forbes)
Now that the Space Shuttle has been scuttled and the proposed Ares I Constellation program rocket has been cancelled, NASA has little near-term choice but to rely on the private sector for home-grown astronaut launch and return. And although several companies are intent upon providing those services, American crews may continue to depend upon Russian taxi rides for some time to come. There are two principal issues. First, uncertain budgets and launch market commitments make NASA an unreliable customer, causing large R&D investments to be very risky. Second, working with NASA imposes contract complexities, schedule delays and added costs that jeopardize business viability.

This is particularly true in regard to design control over manned mission flight safety provisions. The original premise was that private industry can build and operate space transportation vehicles more rapidly, cheaply and flexibly than can government, opening a new era of spaceflight. But the big rub is that while this may be very true, they cannot do so the “government way”. Accordingly, companies are reportedly pushing back against NASA rules establishing how their vehicles must be designed rather than how they must perform. This is analogous to authorizing the FAA to certify the design of airplanes- not just certifying their airworthiness. Click here. (1/17)

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