February 20, 2012

Registration Opens for Yuri's Night 2012 Events (Source: Yuri's Night)
we've officially opened party and event registration for Yuri's Night 2012 (April 12). Parties from Bonne Terre, MO to Buenos Aires are already signing up to take part in the World Space Party; join them today by registering your event. Registration, as always, is completely free. Click here for information, and here for event registration. (2/20)

NextGen Contracts are Overbudget, Behind Schedule (Source: Bloomberg)
An audit of NextGen contracts has found that more than a third are behind schedule and half are overbudget. A report by the Government Accountability Office examined 30 NextGen contracts. "These challenges, if they persist, will impede the implementation of NextGen, especially in light of the interdependencies among many acquisition programs, where cost increases or delays in one program can affect the costs and schedules of other programs," the agency said. (2/20)

Beginning of the End, or the End of the Beginning, of Deep Space Human Spaceflight? (Source: Space Review)
Four years ago he warned that mounting fiscal pressures could jeopardize the future of human space exploration. Now, Charles Miller argues, the situation has worsened, making it imperative to develop low-cost space transportation systems. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2030/1 to view the article. (2/20)

Glenn at 50: the Fine Line Between Remembrance and Nostalgia (Source: Space Review)
Monday marks the 50th anniversary of the flight of Friendship 7, the Mercury mission that made John Glenn the first American to go into orbit. Jeff Foust discusses how the anniversary is a time for remembrance and recognition, but that it should not be confused with nostalgia for a bygone era. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2029/1 to view the article. (2/20)

Mouth Wide Shut (Source: Space Review)
America was tracking the development of the Soviet Union's N-1 moon rocket in the 1960s, but was limited in what it could disclose. Dwayne Day describes one vignette from that era that illustrates the difficulty NASA had in proving to the public that there was indeed a race to the Moon. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2028/1 to view the article. (2/20)

The Cislunar Econosphere (Part 1) (Source: Space Review)
For humanity to sustainably expand beyond Earth, it will need to develop new markets and businesses. In the first of a two-part article, Ken Murphy examines the initial steps of an off-Earth economy that will lead to a robust cislunar "econosphere". Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2027/1 to view the article. (2/20)

Blue Origin Patent Application 'Deeply Flawed' (Source: IP in Space)
Way back on July 15, 2009, Blue Origin filed a provisional utility patent application that would ultimately result in a patent application describing techniques related to recovering space launch vehicles using “landing structure[s] in a body of water.” A lot has been written about this patent application. Many people have decried this application as overbroad and point out that it will likely be narrowed significantly before any patent ultimately issues from it. I think this patent application is deeply flawed and unnecessarily makes Blue Origin look bad to the broader aerospace community. Let me tell you why. Click here.

Editor's Note: Like SpaceX's plan for a reusable Dragon first stage, Blue Origin would use a rocket-powered vertical landing to allow re-use of their first stage. Both approaches highlight the challenge of finding safe downrange landing sites. While SpaceX seems intent on land-based sites, Blue Origin is opting for an ocean platform. Although it introduces a whole different set of costs and operational complexities, Blue Origin's platform idea would require less fuel than SpaceX would need to return to the launch site or set down on land elsewhere downrange. Also, this seems like an opportunity for Masten to assist with their precision vertical landing technologies. (2/20)

Florida Teacher Awarded NASA's Endeavor Fellowship (Source: CWE@USF)
Jaymi Feller, a teacher at Falcon Cove Middle School in Weston, Florida, has been awarded an Endeavor Fellowship with NASA. NASA's Endeavor Science Teaching Certificate Project provides live, online training for educators working to earn a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) certificate from Teachers College, Columbia University, N.Y. (2/20)

LightSquared Defaults on Inmarsat Payment (Source: Reuters)
Satellite firm Inmarsat said on Monday that its partner LightSquared, a venture struggling to build a U.S. mobile broadband service with Inmarsat's spectrum, had failed to pay a $56.25 million installment to the British company. Some analysts speculated that bankruptcy may be close at hand for LightSquared, especially after it had earlier warned that it would run out of money early this year. Inmarsat said it had issued a default notice to LightSquared on Monday, giving it 60 days to make the payment before it terminated the co-operation agreement. (2/20)

House Science Committee Members Complain About NASA Budget (Source: Space Politics)
“NASA seems to have been singled out for unequal treatment,” committee chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) said in his opening statement at a hearing on the overall FY13 research and development budget proposal for the federal government. He noted that other civil research and development agencies has received at least modest increases, while NASA got a small overall cut. Hall specifically called out the agency’s planetary science program and its “grossly disproportionate cut” of 20 percent.

Hall also complained that the administration was trying to “slow-roll development of a heavy-lift launch vehicle”, the SLS. “I cannot stress enough the importance of accelerating the launch system to ensure we have an alternative method to transport people and cargo to the ISS as well as the ability to launch missions beyond low Earth orbit.”

The committee’s ranking member, Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), also brought up the “significant changes and reductions” in the NASA budget proposal in her opening statement. “I have questions about how the proposed cuts to the Mars science program will affect US leadership,” she said. “I’m also worried about the perception this plan may create that the United States is an unreliable partner in international collaboration.” (2/20)

Building Blocks of Early Earth Survived Collision That Created Moon (Source: Space Daily)
Unexpected new findings by a University of Maryland team of geochemists show that some portions of the Earth's mantle (the rocky layer between Earth's metallic core and crust) formed when the planet was much smaller than it is now, and that some of this early-formed mantle survived Earth's turbulent formation, including a collision with another planet-sized body that many scientists believe led to the creation of the Moon.

"It is believed that Earth grew to its current size by collisions of bodies of increasing size, over what may have been as much as tens of millions of years, yet our results suggest that some portions of the Earth formed within 10 to 20 million years of the creation of the Solar System and that parts of the planet created during this early stage of construction remained distinct within the mantle until at least 2.8 billion years ago." says UMD Professor of Geology Richard Walker, who led the research team. (2/20)

Scattered Light Could Reveal Alien Atmospheres (Source: Astrobiology)
The light scattered off distant worlds could help reveal details about their atmospheres that no other method could uncover, scientists find. Nearly all the information astronomers have of the atmospheres of alien planets or exoplanets comes from worlds whose orbits happen to be precisely aligned from our vantage point. Once per orbit, these exoplanets go in front of (transit) their host stars from our point of view, and the light from these stars passes through the atmospheres of these planets on its way to Earth.

The molecules in these alien atmospheres absorb some of this starlight, resulting in patterns known as spectra that allow scientists to identify what they are. However, "we know of many other planets that do not transit their host stars, and we therefore know almost nothing about those atmospheres," said astronomer Sloane Wiktorowicz. Instead of looking at starlight that has passed through alien atmospheres on its way to Earth, Wiktorowicz and his colleagues aim to look for light that has scattered off alien atmospheres.

This strategy should work equally well for exoplanets in both transiting and non-transiting orbits, "which will open up many previously unstudied planets for exploration," he explained. To understand how this strategy works, one can think of all light waves as electric fields rippling either up and down, left and right, or at any angle in between, a property known as polarization. When starlight gets scattered off a planet's atmosphere, its polarization changes in a way that makes it distinct from both the direct light from a star and the light bouncing off the surface of a planet. (2/20)

Mars Mission to be Simulated to Find Best Menus for Trip (Source: USA Today)
Life may exist in some form on Mars. Well-stocked supermarkets don't. So if astronauts someday head there in what's estimated would be a three-year mission — roughly six months travel each way, plus two years on the planet — what they'd take to eat would be among the concerns. To figure the cheapest and easiest ways to give astronauts well-rounded meals that they wouldn't eventually tire of, a group of Cornell University and University of Hawaii-Manoa researchers are looking for a half-dozen volunteers to spend four months next year living in a simulated Mars base on a Hawaii lava flow. (2/20)

Moon's Scarred Crust Hints at Recent Activity (Source: Space.com)
The moon's crust was apparently active far more recently than previously believed. New findings raise questions about how the moon formed and evolved. Researchers had thought the moon had cooled off much too long ago to still have any such tectonic activity. For instance, the youngest known tectonic features on the lunar landscape until now are thought to be less than 1 billion years old, although by how much is uncertain. Now, images collected by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter hints the moon has probably seen tectonic activity within the last 50 million years. (2/20)

Fifty Years Ago Glenn Sailed Into Orbit; Today, He's Dismayed (Source: Space Policy Online)
Human spaceflight has become so common over the past five decades that it may be difficult to remember just how exciting it was when John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth 50 years ago. For all the achievements of the U.S. human spaceflight program in the subsequent five decades, though, Glenn is dismayed at the state of the program today. Click here. (2/20)

Attacks Funded by Big Business are 'Driving Science Into a Dark Era' (Source: Guardian)
Most scientists, on achieving high office, keep their public remarks to the bland and reassuring. Last week Nina Fedoroff, the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), broke ranks in a spectacular manner. She confessed that she was now "scared to death" by the anti-science movement that was spreading, uncontrolled, across the US and the rest of the western world.

"I am profoundly depressed at just how difficult it has become merely to get a realistic conversation started on issues such as climate change or genetically modified organisms." As Fedoroff pointed out, university and government researchers are hounded for arguing that rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are changing the climate. Their emails are hacked while Facebook campaigns call for their dismissal from their posts, calls that are often backed by rightwing politicians.

At the last Republican party debate in Florida, Rick Santorum insisted he should be the presidential nominee simply because he had cottoned on earlier than his rivals Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney to the "hoax" of global warming. "Those of us who grew up in the sixties, when we put men on the Moon, now have to watch as every Republican candidate for this year's presidential election denies the science behind climate change and evolution.," said Professor Naomi Oreskes of UC San Diego. (2/20)

Editorial: While US Direction is Unclear, Interest in Space Travel Soars (Source: Syracuse Post-Standard)
The future of federal funding for manned-space flights might be in question, but interest in participating in the program remains high. Between Nov. 15 and Jan. 27, more than 6,300 people applied for up to 15 spots in NASA’s next astronaut class. The number of applicants is second only to the 8,000 who applied in 1978. Poor job prospects may have boosted the number of applicants. More likely, it’s a sign that scientific curiosity, national pride and a sense of romance about the final frontier remain as strong as 50 years ago. (2/20)

Editorial: Reconsider Space Program Changes (Source: Wheeling News-Register)
Fifty years ago today, Ohio's own John Glenn soared into space on a trip that would take him around the Earth three times. His mission was one of the U.S. space program's great early successes. And it inspired Americans by the tens of millions. The final frontier would be conquered - and we would do it. Things have changed. Major cutbacks have been made at NASA. Manned space exploration is virtually off the table. We have ceded the skies to others. That could cost us more than we as a nation can afford in many ways. (2/20)

Ohio Must Work to Keep its Aerospace Industry (Source: Cincinnati.com)
Soon after Lyndon Johnson became president, leadership for NASA’s manned space flight program shifted from Hampton to Houston. This points to the fact that our vital aerospace assets can be taken away from us in a blink of the eye. Our community, state and federal leaders must work together to fight for our aerospace industry, the NASA Glenn Research Center and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio’s aerospace crown jewels. Today, Ohio’s aerospace enterprise includes a workforce of more than 100,000 Ohioans employed in high-quality, well-paying jobs at more than 1,200 companies.

By recognizing and preserving the legacy of John Glenn and supporting our state’s aerospace assets, we will ensure that Ohio holds its leadership position in aerospace innovation – and that the next generation of John Glenns will have a bright future in our state. It is our mission to keep aerospace thriving in Ohio. (2/20)

Dwindling Space Program One Giant Step Backwards (Source: South Carolina Now)
The impact of American space exploration in the 1960s, 70s and beyond cannot be denied. It wasn’t just the fantastic scientific breakthroughs in communications, rocketry and breakfast drinks (Tang!), it was the cultural import of being people who really learned how to fly. We were so mighty we left the planet. The current NASA budget includes expenditures on research for bigger rockets and other technology, but the bulk will be spent on what NASA calls “Earth Science.” Important stuff that, but it was more fun when there was something [more exciting] to watch. (2/20)

Documents Reveal Delta Mariner Costs (Source: SPACErePORT)
A lawsuit filed by Foss Maritime, owner/operator of ULA's Delta Mariner "rocket ship," provides some information on the cost for a typical 10-day 2,100 mile trip between Decatur and Cape Canaveral, and the claimed value of the ship. The cost for the trip is $227,900 and the claimed value of the ship is $13 million. (2/20)

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