January 22, 2012

Gingrich To Meet With Florida Space Coast Leaders (Source: SPACErePORT)
The Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast is sponsoring an aerospace/high tech industry roundtable discussion with Newt Gingrich, offering open dialogue directly with Gingrich to discuss current opportunities and challenges and provide critical information that could shape national business policy.

This interactive discussion will take place on January 25 and is by invitation only, but will be open to the media. On the same day, Gingrich plans a public Town Hall rally on the Space Coast at 5:00 p.m. in Cocoa. These events are in advance of the Florida presidential preference primary on January 31. Mitt Romney participated in a similar event in January 2008, and is being invited to do so again this year, as are other candidates. Meanwhile, Rick Santorum will speak at a Space Coast Tiger Bay luncheon on January 28. (1/19)

Gingrich Plans Major Space Speech (Source: CNN)
Riding the momentum of his South Carolina win on Saturday, Newt Gingrich said Sunday he planned a week of big speeches offering “big solutions for a big country.” “I’ll be at the space coast in Florida this week giving a speech — a visionary speech — on the United States going back into space in the John F. Kennedy tradition,” the former House Speaker said on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.” (1/22)

Florida GOP Primary: Will Space Issues Matter? (Source: SPACErePORT)
Florida could be the deciding battleground for selecting the GOP candidate who will campaign against President Obama. One big question on the state's Space Coast is whether space policy issues will be a factor leading up to the January 31 GOP primary. Back in September, state officials decided to move the "Presidential Preference Primary" up to Jan. 31 (despite objections of the Republican National Committee) to ensure that the state's diverse interests received strong attention among the candidates.

With the Central Florida economy still reeling from the Space Shuttle's retirement last year, space industry advocates are urging elected officials in Washington to support a variety of federal space policy and funding issues. After the GOP nominates its candidate for the presidential race (at a Tampa-based Republican National Convention in August), Florida will remain a battleground state for the general election, and the I-4 Corridor (which includes the Space Coast) is nationally recognized as a must-win region for candidates who must win Florida. (1/22)

Wallops' Limited Launch Capacity Could Expand (Source: SPACErePORT)
Under current environmental regulations, Wallops Island can accommodate about 12 Minotaur-class launches per year from Launch Pad 0-B, and six Antares-class launches from Launch Pad 0-A. This capacity is diminished by limitations of the spaceport's payload processing facility, which is located on the mainland and is designed primarily for small suborbital payloads. The facility can only accommodate two medium-class payloads per year. There are also limitations with the payload fueling facility near the island launch pads.

Expansion of the spaceport's capacity is being considered under an ongoing environmental review/permitting process, including new payload processing and fueling facilities on the island. Wallops advocates have been trying (thus far without success) to obtain $25 million under NASA's 21st Century Launch Complex appropriation, which was nominally intended for improvements at Kennedy Space Center and the Cape Canaveral Spaceport.

Meanwhile, the possibility of a larger-vehicle Launch Pad 0-C, for Atlas-class rockets, remains part of the environmental permitting process. This could be located on the island's south side, after a proposed relocation of an existing UAV/UAS runway. The new pad would require a vehicle integration building and ancillary facilities, and would need shoreline protection and a dock for offloading rockets. The $200+ million cost for all of this infrastructure makes this an unlikely endeavor. (1/22)

During Slump, Delmarva Businesses Still Expanding (Source: DelMarVaNow.com)
In the midst of an economic slump, businesses throughout Delmarva have begun to hint at an upturn in the economy... With the continued growth of Wallops Island, Steve Adams believes there is a great opportunity for the Lower Shore to grow, especially if local institutions of higher learning launch engineering programs and coordinate with the Goddard Space Flight Center.

"You are talking about something that could attract more and more technical jobs and might mean more people with technical backgrounds might want to stay around and that might influence local universities to learn more in the engineering direction," said Adams. "That could be a huge game changer."

Looking toward the next 10 years in terms of business development and growth throughout Delmarva, Adams believes Wallops is the "wild card," adding, "I don't think a story about the next 10 years of economic development on Delmarva would be complete without reference to that potential." (1/22)

NRC Debates NASA's Plan to Participate in ESA's Euclid (Source: Space Policy Online)
The National Research Council (NRC) is debating the merits of NASA’s current plan for U.S. participation in the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) Euclid dark energy mission and there is not much time to deliberate. The NRC Committee on Assessment of a Plan for US Participation in Euclid has been asked by NASA to work at breakneck speed for an NRC study, with its report due on April 30. That deadline is dictated by when ESA needs to know whether NASA wants a piece of the action on Euclid or not. (1/22)

Study Challenges Existence of Arsenic-Based Life (Source: Nature)
A strange bacterium found in California’s Mono Lake cannot replace the phosphorus in its DNA with arsenic, according to researchers who have been trying to reproduce the results of a controversial report published in Science in 20101. A group of scientists, led by microbiologist Rosie Redfield at the University of British Columbia, have posted data that, she says, present a “clear refutation” of key findings from the paper. (1/22)

Gabrielle Giffords Will Step Down From Congress (Sources: New York Times, Politico)
Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona said Sunday that she would step down this week from Congress, an announcement that comes about a year after she shooting attack that left 6 people dead and 13 wounded — including Ms. Giffords. “I have more work to do on my recovery so to do what is best for Arizona I will step down this week,” she said. Her announcement suggested a potential return at some point in the future: “I will return and we will work together for Arizona and this great country.”

Giffords has served as the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Space & Aeronautics, so her departure will result in some changes there. Meanwhile, Democratic officials are looking at Mark Kelly, Giffords’ husband and a former astronaut, as a possible replacement for her. Arizona Gov. Janice Brewer (R) has 72 hours from the day the seat is officially vacant to announced a date for a special election to replace Giffords. The party primary must be held 80-90 days from date of vacancy, with a general election 50-60 days after that. (1/22)

Space Debris Cluttering Up Orbit (Source: Adelaide Now)
In 2007, China launched a kill missile to destroy an out-of-date weather satellite being decommissioned. The explosion threw into orbit more than 3000 pieces of space junk that will pose a significant collision threat for decades to come. Was that unneighbourly of China? "Yes, to be honest, yes, quite unneighbourly," said Ray Williamson, senior adviser to US-based scientific space guardian, Secure World Foundation, which is dedicated to keeping space sustainable and available. "But there's no law against it."

China's space littering attracted an international rebuke. It was an even greater problem because it occurred in the same set of polar orbits used by earth-observing satellites. "I don't think they realised how bad the issue was," said Mr Williamson who is in Adelaide this week as part of the International Space University summer space program. The density of space debris is a hot topic for the science-based foundation which advises policymakers on how to keep space sustainable.

Now the US Government issues collision warnings to any entity that operates a satellite in orbit - including China. "We don't co-operate with China but we do let them know if one of their satellites is in danger of being hit," Mr Williamson said. The foundation which has offices in Washington and Brussels is a science-based warning system for space, including the management of approaching asteroids. While most asteroids are small, a larger one could wipe out a city. (1/22)

Editorial: Men, Money and the Moon (Source: Huntsville Times)
Maybe former astronaut James Lovell should be allowed to collect the nearly $400,000 his Apollo 13 checklist brought at auction. Otherwise, he would be penalized because someone at NASA lacked good sense more than 40 years ago. The checklist has become one of the most famous documents in the history of space flight. Lovell did math on it by hand as he and his other two crew members struggled to get back to Earth after an oxygen tank explosion in their spacecraft on their way to the moon in 1970.

Lovell says he thought someone might like the checklist after he found it while going through some files. Someone like the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum? Ah, no. Lovell offered it for sale at an auction house, which estimated it might bring about $25,000. The last bid pushed the price to more than $388,000. That's when NASA showed up to raise questions about ownership and the sale at the same auction of a lunar module identification plate and a command module hand controller from Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart.

But Lovell says NASA knew that Apollo astronauts took "flight manuals and artifacts" and that NASA sometimes gave them items. The you-fly-it, we-buy-it approach to space souvenirs ended with the Apollo 15 "stamp scandal." That's when commemorative postage stamp covers were auctioned privately after a round trip to the moon. That's when NASA tightened its policy about giving government property to astronauts, said Christopher Kraft, NASA's first flight director. "When we began to look into it, we were damned sorry we did," Kraft said. "There was too much there ... so we, NASA, dropped (it)." (1/22)

Studying the Science of Space Junk (Source: LA Times)
Researchers at an El Segundo firm that contracts with NASA and the military don't concern themselves with space junk's artistic or monetary value. They're interested in the science of it — and in safety. "Well, here it is," said aerospace engineer William Ailor as he paused next to the hulking metal shells arrayed along the plaza outside a visitors entrance at Aerospace Corp.'s El Segundo headquarters. The stuff is junk. But, Ailor said, it's no ordinary junk. This garbage has traveled to space and back.

A 150-pound hollow sphere of blackened titanium is all that remains of a motor casing from a Delta II rocket that fell to Earth in 2001, landing in the Saudi Arabian desert west of Riyadh. A 600-pound stainless-steel fuel tank, also from a Delta II rocket, sits nearby, dented, gashed and rusty — scarred by its descent from space to a farm near Georgetown, Texas, in 1997.

The dozen or so researchers at Aerospace Corp.'s Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies, or CORDS, usually don't concern themselves with space trash's artistic or monetary value. They're interested in the science of it — and in safety. Aerospace Corp. is a nonprofit research and development organization that provides technical advice to the military, NASA and other government and commercial customers. The job of Ailor's group is to see how space debris affects satellites and what hazards it poses when it reenters the atmosphere. Click here. (1/22)

It's Time to Stop all the Studies of NASA and Start Doing Stuff (Source: Florida Today)
The federal government is about to spend almost $1 million to study NASA’s purpose, strategy and direction again. This time, Congress has instructed the NASA inspector general to conduct a “comprehensive independent assessment of NASA’s strategic direction and agency management.” That should say “another” comprehensive and independent assessment. The government just finished one of these studies in 2009. President Barack Obama ordered that review, so he could assess whether NASA was on the right track or needed new direction.

That study concluded NASA was, indeed, off course, that the agency’s moon-and-Mars program could not be done with the time and money available. The White House used the report to overhaul national space policy, NASA’s mission and budget, and set a new course. In just the third budget to be written since, Congress is now asking for a review. The review will assess: a) Whether NASA’s current strategic direction remains valid; b) Whether the agency is organized and funded in a way that makes it possible for NASA to achieve the nation’s goals for it; c) Changes in the space agency’s structure that might “improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the agency’s mission activities;” and d) Recommendations about how NASA could set and communicate a “common, unifying vision” for its strategic direction.

The space agency doesn’t so much need a new national space policy. The deficiency right now is there’s not enough movement forward on implementing the existing strategy that the White House and Congress have put in place and not enough communication from NASA on things that have been done or are being done to implement the strategy. (1/22)

Rise of the Super-Earths (Source: Salon)
The trouble with comparing our Solar System's planets to Earth is that it leaves out a crucial class of planets that, purely by happenstance, doesn’t occur in our Solar System. A super-Earth is a planet that is more massive and larger than Earth, although still made of rocks — perhaps with continents and oceans — and an atmosphere. There is no such planet in our Solar System, but we know that they must be common in other planetary systems. Moreover, theory predicts that they might have all the nice attributes of Earth, and, in fact, provide a more stable environment on their surface. True super-Earths. Click here. (1/22)

Astronaut Tells Alabama Troops: NASA Needs Recruits (Source: Montgomery Advertiser)
A veteran of the space shuttle program is telling Army troops in Alabama that NASA needs new astronauts "desperately." Col. Shane Kimbrough made his recruiting pitch Friday to a dozen soldiers at Huntsville's Redstone Arsenal who say they're interested in the space program. NASA is taking applications from potential recruits until next Friday. Kimbrough says the agency's ranks of astronauts have dwindled from 120 to about 50. (1/22)

NASA Searches for Loot That Traveled From Space to Another Void (Source: New York Times)
West Virginia lost one, until it turned up one June day on a bookshelf in the basement of a retired dentist. New York has one in a vault at a museum in Albany, but another one given to the state for safekeeping was not kept very safe, because it appears to be missing, though the attorney general’s office has started looking into the case.

A long-lost one in Colorado resurfaced at the home of a former governor, and another one in Arkansas was found among former President Bill Clinton’s memorabilia. Somebody swiped one from a museum in the island country of Malta, and somebody else who got his hands on one in Honduras tried to sell it in Miami to an undercover federal agent. Rare art? Priceless jewels? Nothing so terrestrial. All of these items were literally out of this world: moon rocks, meteorite samples and other so-called astromaterials that were lent to researchers by NASA or were offered as gifts to American and foreign leaders.

Hundreds of moon rocks and other space objects have been lost, destroyed, stolen or remain unaccounted for, some of which American astronauts and presidents presented to dignitaries around the country and the world decades ago and others that NASA officials lent for education, research and public display. Click here. Editor's Note: I remember years ago when Florida's moon rock used to hang unguarded on the wall in the public reception area of the Governor's office, a small gray stone encased in lucite, attached to a plaque. It has since been moved, probably to a more secure location. (1/22)

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