February 19, 2012

Editorial: Human Spaceflight's Prospects Dimming (Source: Austin Statesman)
Fifty years ago Monday at 8:47 a.m. CST John Glenn blasted off into space, squeezed into the cramped interior of a Mercury capsule he named Friendship 7. He was the first American to orbit the Earth. Though his three-orbit trip lasted less than five hours, few American space flights outside the Apollo 11 moon landing are remembered more than Glenn's.

Meanwhile, the Soviet Union was collecting one space first after another: first satellite launch, Sputnik, in 1957; first human in space, Yuri Gagarin, in April 1961; first orbital spaceflight; first woman in space; first spacewalk. But starting with the first Gemini mission in March 1965 the U.S. space program — motivated by President John Kennedy's challenge to land on the moon by the end of the decade — began slowly catching up with the Soviets, and with Apollo, finally and dramatically pulling ahead.

Grand plans for human space flights have been proposed over the past couple of decades, most notably by Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, who called for new moon missions and eventual journeys to Mars. Obama has talked about landing astronauts on a near-Earth asteroid instead. Yet the country never seems to get any closer to fulfilling any of these visions. A lack of money is often given as the reason, but a lack of will or interest might be the bigger reason. (2/19)

Gingrich and Romney: Right and Wrong on Space Travel (Source: Bakersfield Californian)
When Newt Gingrich proclaimed that the United States should establish a base on the moon, he was right: We need a major inspirational goal for space exploration. When Mitt Romney attacked Gingrich's proposal as failing the rational business test, he was right, too: The cost would be enormous. But what neither presidential candidate discussed were the reasons why space travel is so costly or how those costs might be reduced.

The question both men should have asked was, "Why, after 55 years of launching rockets, does it still cost so much to reach orbit?" Launching a satellite today costs approximately $10,000 a pound, or tens of millions for a heavy satellite. That high cost, not bureaucratic timidity, is why fewer than 600 people -- the number of passengers on one Airbus 380 -- have orbited the Earth since 1961. Space travel cannot become cheap until the age of rocketry is replaced by an age of new propulsion technology -- and only government investment can make that happen. Click here. (2/19)

One-Week Launch Delay Ordered for X-Ray Telescope (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
The launch of NASA's NuSTAR space telescope, a $165 million black hole-hunting X-ray observatory, will be delayed at least one week until March 21 to give engineers extra time to complete engineering reviews of the mission's air-launched Pegasus XL rocket, the space agency announced Friday.

Technicians are preparing the Orbital Sciences Corp. Pegasus XL rocket and the NuSTAR spacecraft for launch at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The rocket and its carrier airplane, an L-1011 jumbo jet, will fly from California to Kwajalein about a week before launch. (2/19)

Russia Reaches for the Stars With its Own Silicon Valley (Source: Guardian)
Russia is planning another revolution. Moscow has pinned its future on transforming 400 hectares (1.5 sq miles) of nondescript farmland 20 miles west of the Kremlin into a base camp for the next generation of Mark Zuckerbergs. By 2015 these desolate fields will be transformed into a city of 35,000 boasting some of the most advanced research centers in the world, if you believe the Kremlin's plans. This is Silikonnovaya Dolina: Russia's Silicon Valley.

It's no pipe dream, according to promotional material handed out to British scientists, entrepreneurs and investors last week as part of a global mission to drum up interest in the Skolkovo Innovation Center, President Dmitry Medvedev's pet project. Investors are being promised corporate and personal tax breaks – and the opportunity of meeting Anna Chapman, the former spy and underwear model, who has been given the task of attracting young talent to Skolkovo. (2/19)

NASA Needs to Power Up PR Machine (Source: Florida Today)
NASA may be entering the most politically perilous time in its existence. The United States faces a worsening spending crisis, and the money invested in space exploration is going to appear to worried budget hawks as a luxury we can’t afford. Now, those who believe space exploration is a luxury are dead wrong, but that’s a topic for another day. In the offices of White House and congressional budgeteers wrestling with how to fund skyrocketing costs in entitlement programs in coming decades, the $18 billion or so earmarked for NASA space projects always will be an enticing target.

The timing is dangerous... The perception that not much is happening could be dangerous for the space agency if politicos shouting “$20 billion for what?” get heard in a time when the rising cost of health care, taking care of our aging population, securing the nation and other priorities face financial pressures.

The solution is for NASA to use its broad, and well-funded, public relations arm to make sure that the public does hear about its successes and its progress. NASA must make it known that the new super rocket is being built, tests are being completed, and progress is being made toward test flights. Click here. (2/19)

Why Things Break in Space (Source: Behind the Black)
Someday, humans will be traveling far from Earth in large interplanetary spaceships not very different than the International Space Station (ISS). Isolated and dependent on these ships for survival, these travelers will have no choice but to know how to maintain and repair their vessels whenever something on them should break. And things will break. Entropy rules, and with time all things deteriorate and fail.

Each failure, however, is also a precious opportunity to learn something about the environment of space. Why did an item break? What caused it to fail? Can we do something to prevent the failure in the future? Finding answers to these questions will make it possible to build better and more reliable interplanetary spaceships. Click here. (2/19)

Enterprise Provides Template for Orbiter Fleet Retirement (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
As the retired Shuttle fleet continue their Transition and Retirement (T&R) processing, efforts are being focused on Northern Virginia, as preparations are made on shuttle Enterprise for her final flight to the Intrepid Air and Space Museum. The move to New York will allow Discovery to take Enterprise's place at the Smithsonian. Enterprise will once again serve as the fleet pathfinder, following in the footsteps of her initial retirement to the Smithsonian Institute, paving the way for her space-bound sisters. (2/19)

Virginia Governor Pushes Spaceport Development by Investing Real Money (Source: Spaceports Blog)
A prime location for orbital launches and a trajectory path over the Atlantic Ocean position the Commonwealth's Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport for tremendous growth over the next few years. The Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority meets in Richmond next week to review the studies, pending legislation, and ongoing organizational expansion.

In a unique effort, Virginia legislators are passing "tweaks" to a new tax law passed last year that transfers any tax revenue stream from human commercial space flight sales made in Virginia to the operating budget of the commercial spaceport. The measure would redirect any tax revenute stream generated by Virginia-based Space Adventures from its sales of human orbital, suborbital and zero-gravity parabolic training flights. (2/19)

SLS Fact and Fiction (Source: Space KSC)
When NASA's FY-2013 proposed budget was released, Texas senator Kay Bailey Hutchison issued a press release in which she claimed that the Space Launch System she helped midwife is being designed as a "backup capability" for crew transportation to the International Space Station.

"Despite repeated assurances from NASA and White House officials.. vehicle development for the heavy lift SLS rocket and the Orion capsule is cut by hundreds of millions of dollars. These reductions will slow the development of the SLS and the Orion crew vehicle, making it impossible for them to provide backup capability for supporting the space station. The Administration remains insistent on cutting SLS and Orion to pay for commercial crew rather than accommodating both."

Buried in a Feb. 13 NASASpaceFlight.com article is a quote from Bill Gerstenmaier: "The focus is for us to get a redundant capability as soon as we can. In terms of using Orion for that back up capability, we’re not precluding that, but we’re not doing anything actively to allow that to occur,” noted Mr Gerstenmaier. “NASA is not doing any design work on Orion or SLS that would allow it (Orion) to go to the Station." Hutchison has repeatedly justified SLS as a "backup" option in case commercial crew fails. But it won't even be capable of docking at the ISS. (2/19)

Editorial: Back New Mexico Commercial Space Travel (Source: Deming Headlight)
Special interest groups in Santa Fe have harmed New Mexico's competitive edge as a home to commercial space flight. Up until now, New Mexico had been the leader in this burgeoning global industry. Today, we stand on the precipice of losing our future to Colorado, Texas, Virginia and Florida. It should surprise no one that spaceflight is still riskier than airline flight. In 2004, the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act was signed into federal law and has worked very well in fostering the development of new companies in the United States - especially New Mexico.

This law has allowed for the creation of a new commercial business - suborbital spaceflight for average citizens. It allows commercial space travel companies to obtain insurance by having passengers sign a consent agreement, in exchange for the thrill, the excitement and the experience of a lifetime. To date, hundreds of potential passengers have signed a federally approved consent agreement that protects these new companies in federal court.

Recently, even in this climate of political discord in Washington, the federal statute was extended by both the House and Senate through 2015, with bipartisan and bicameral support from a majority of New Mexico's Congressional delegation. Just this week, President Obama signed this vital extension into law. Washington, remarkably, has done its job here. Why can't Santa Fe? (2/19)

Virtual Communities Tap Satellite Technologies for Disaster Response (Source: NewsWise)
Matching the power of satellite technology to disaster risk reduction and emergency response here on Earth is the subject of a new publication issued by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs’ Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response (UN-SPIDER). The report -- Space-based Information for Crowdsource Mapping - Report of the Secretariat -- stems from expert meetings that individually engaged the talents of over 80 experts and practitioners from over 20 countries. Click here. (2/19)

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