March 30, 2012

The Human Factor: Space Station as a Social Laboratory (Source:
Astronauts on the International Space Station this summer will use instant messaging, Internet chat clients and email to contact mission control, the first in a series of experiments designed to exploit the orbiting outpost as a behavioral laboratory for future journeys to an asteroid or Mars. The exercise will lead to a voice communications delay, expanded autonomy for the space station crew, and, eventually, the extension of orbital crew flights from six months to one year or longer.

"Clearly, in order to be able to explore beyond low Earth orbit, we're going to have to stay in orbit longer than six months," said Michael Suffredini, NASA's International Space Station program manager. Russia has proposed a 500-day expedition, replicating the estimated round-trip travel time between Earth and Mars. Vladimir Popovkin, head of the Russian space agency, told the Novosti news agency he expects a 500-day mission could be mounted on the space station by 2017 or 2018. (3/30)

Russia Can Help All ISS Astronauts With Rehabilitation (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russia is ready to offer its medical experience for the rehabilitation of post-flight astronauts from partner countries on the International Space Station, the head of the Russian space agency, Roscosomos, Vladimir Popovkin, said. Roscosmos' Alexei Krasnov said earlier that the Federal Space Agency proposed that NASA missions increase the length of stay on the ISS from six months to nine months and in the long term, to extend the stay in orbit to one year. (3/30)

NASA Woman-Owned Small Business Day Draws Big Crowds in Huntsville (Source:
Huntsville-area woman-owned small businesses turned out in force Thursday morning for the NASA Woman Owned Small Business industry day at the Huntsville Museum of Art. A crowd estimated at nearly 500 packed the lower level of the Museum of Art to network, present capabilities, and make those all-important contacts with NASA contracting personnel, prime contractors, and other small businesses. The gathering was one of three planned to help NASA meet its small business contracting goals in three socioeconomic areas, said Glenn Delgado, NASA Associate Administrator for the Office of Small Business Programs. (3/30)

Russian Military Satellite Launched from Baikonur (Source: Interfax)
A military satellite has been launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome with the use of a Proton-K carrier rocket. "The launch went smoothly," Col. Alexei Zolotukhin, spokesman for the Russian Aerospace Defense Forces, told Interfax-AVN on Friday. The launch was controlled by the Aerospace Defense Forces' ground-based automated control system, he said. (3/30)

Deep Space Habitat Module Concepts Outlined for NASA Exploration (Source:
With the push for exploration Beyond Earth Orbit (BEO) increasing, a proposed habitat for human exploration outside the confines of Earth’s immediate space is taking shape as NASA presses forward with the development of its new Deep Space Habitat (DSH) – a module-based habitation facility that will be used as part of manned exploration missions to the moon, asteroids, and eventually Mars. Click here. (3/30)

U.S. Consultancy To Manage Bangladesh Satellite Acquisition (Source: Space News)
The government of Bangladesh on March 29 signed a three-year, $10 million contract with a U.S. consulting company to manage the nation’s acquisition of its first telecommunications satellite, with a scheduled launch in 2015, the consulting company announced. The company, Space Partnership International of Bethesda, Md., will advise the Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (BTRC) on the acquisition of Bangabandhu-1. (3/30)

Flowing Water on Mars? Strange Features Stir Debate (Source:
Flow-like features on Mars are a source of debate among scientists. While some experts say they are likely produced by liquid water or brine on the Red Planet's surface today, other investigations interpret some of these features as dry mass movements, stirred up by various other processes. Whatever the cause, these slope streaks — called Recurring Slope Lineae — represent the movement of mass down slopes on the surface of our neighboring planet. They are among the few known examples of current geologic activity on Mars. (3/30)

The Hunt is On for Exomoons (Source: Astronomy Now)
Planets with moons are a common feature in our Solar System, and with an abundance of planets found around other stars it is only natural to assume that many of these planets also have moons. NASA’s Kepler mission is tasked with hunting for Earth-like planets that orbit in the habitable zones (HZs) of their parent stars, the area around a star where the temperature is just right for water to be present in a liquid state. Discovering planets within the HZ does not necessarily make them habitable though, especially if they are gas giants. However, if a moon orbited a gas giant within the HZ, then the moon would be a possible location for life to flourish. (3/30)

Solar Storms to Get Worse (Source: Astronomy Now)
A decline in solar activity over the coming decades may result in choppier space weather with ferocious solar storms becoming more frequent, according to new research presented at the RAS’ National Astronomy Meeting at the University of Manchester this week.

The Sun goes through cycles – not merely the familiar eleven-year cycle of activity and sunspots, but also a greater cycle that sees the eleven-year cycles grow more intense, rising to a ‘grand maximum’, before dropping off again. Our Sun has just passed through one of these grand maxima and now its decline begins. PhD student Luke Barnard of the University of Reading has hence asked what this decline will mean for solar storms that have the potential to wreak havoc with electrical systems on Earth and in orbit while at the same time generating beautiful aurorae. (3/30)

Sun-Plunging Comets: Sink or Skim? (Source: Astronomy Now)
The fate of comets nose-diving towards the Sun and how easily they give up their mass can be predicted according to how deep into the Sun’s atmosphere they plummet, say scientists presenting their research at the National Astronomy Meeting today.

Comets spend most of their lifetime in the cold outer reaches of the Solar System before being dislodged from orbit and sent headlong towards the Sun. While some comets will loop around the Sun relatively unscathed, putting on beautiful displays as their gases and ices heat up and stream out into a tail, others may not be quite so lucky. Professor Emeritus John Brown, Astronomer Royal for Scotland presented research at the National Astronomy Meeting in Manchester today that predicts which comets will fizzle up in the Sun’s outer atmosphere and which ones will plunge much deeper. (3/30)

China Makes Public Satellite Data Products (Source: Xinhua)
The State Oceanic Administration (SOA) on Friday gave the public access to data products of the oceanic surveying satellite Haiyang-2, which monitors maritime environment and extreme weather. The satellite provides services for oceanic disaster prevention and relief, resources exploitation, environmental protection, oceanic research, as well as safeguarding oceanic rights, according to the SOA. (3/30)

Black Eyed Peas Frontman to Narrate NASA Spinoff PSA (Source: America Space)
Musician has produced a public service announcement discussing some of NASA’s “spinoff” technology. The PSA above has been developed in an effort to promote them as well as the agency that made them. The PSA was released on the space agency’s website and on NASA Television on Wednesday, March 28. focuses on the NASA spinoffs that provide electricity, medical care and fresh food and drinking water.

The Black Eyed Peas front man joins a growing list of celebrities that have added their voices to the support of NASA. Mary J. Blige, Clint Black and Norah Jones have all produced similar PSAs for the space agency. “NASA’s technologies don’t just go into space,” said Daniel Lockney, program executive for technology transfer at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “They work for us here on Earth, solving everyday problems — saving lives, creating jobs and making our lives better. Click here. (3/30)

Retired Rocket Scientist Warns About Dangers of Mars Mission (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Wally Nelson is an 88-year-old retired rocket scientist. He's also a World War II veteran and a former prisoner of war. Soon, he can add a new entry to his eclectic biography: documentary-film star. Nelson, of Longwood, is the central figure in "Wally's Mission on Mars," a film premiering Sunday at the Gasparilla International Film Festival in Tampa. The project, which is the brainchild of UCF film professor Lisa Mills, focuses on Nelson's concerns about the technical, financial and ethical ramifications of manned spaceflight — in particular, of a mission to Mars. Click here. (3/30)

Aerojet Parent Reports First Quarter Results (Source: GenCorp)
GenCorp Inc. reported results for the first quarter ended February 29, 2012. Net sales totaled $201.9 million compared to $209.8 million for the first quarter of fiscal 2011. Net income was $2.4 million compared to a net income of $1.2 million for the first quarter of fiscal 2011. (3/30)

Langley Historian Guiding Facility's Recognition (Source: Daily Press)
Transitioning into the role as NASA Langley Research Center's Historic Preservation Officer a few years ago, Mary Gainer knew her knowledge of Geographic Information Systems and her love of cultural resources would come into good use. Researching the facility's historical contributions toward aeronautics plays a large role in Gainer's work. She also tries to identify, collect, preserve, and display significant objects relating to the history of NASA Langley. Gainer is now working to have the facility listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Gainer is the subject of this week's Five Questions. Click here. (3/30)

New Space Radars Track Small But Deadly Space Junk (Source: New Scientist)
Panicky news headlines in recent months have warned of the perils of the fiery debris that might rain down on us as three derelict spacecraft re-entered the atmosphere. In the end, NASA's UARS satellite, Germany's ROSAT X-ray telescope and Russia's crippled Mars probe, Phobos-Grunt, all burned up or ditched harmlessly in the oceans. But at least mission controllers knew where they were headed - the craft were around the size of an SUV, and so were easy to track via radar.

The same cannot be said for the estimated 200,000 pieces of space junk between 1 and 10 centimeters across that we cannot see. Existing radars simply can't track objects of that size in orbit. That's a problem since they can damage crewed spacecraft like the International Space Station and the 24 GPS satellites that we depend on back on Earth. Light is about to be shed in this darkness. Independent tests undertaken in late February by two US aerospace firms - Lockheed Martin and Raytheon - showed that a new ground-based radar technology can detect those small bits of orbital debris. (3/30)

Watchdog: Manned Access to Space In Question (Source: Flight Global)
NASA does not have a complete plan to assure manned access to space through 2017, say Government Accountability Office (GAO) officials. The assessment came during a 28 March hearing before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology covering the 'significant challenges' NASA faces in utilizing the International Space Station (ISS), where officials described risks associated with the commercial resupply effort even as preparations for the first commercial launch to ISS are well underway.

Of the 51 cargo resupply flights scheduled between 2012 and 2020, 40 are to use commercial launch providers. Funding levels for the related commercial crew development (CCDev) program, conceived to develop human-rated commercial systems for transferring crew to the ISS, have consistently been lower than requested. A third round of CCDev, dubbed the commercial crew integrated capability (CCiCap), was conceived to partly offset those losses. (3/30)

Inaugural Carolina Space Symposium Takes Flight (Source: Daily Tarheel)
All but about 20 of the 300 seats for the inaugural Carolina Space Symposium have been reserved, a number that has exceeded organizers’ expectations. UNC Students for the Exploration and Development of Space is hosting the symposium Saturday at Hanes Art Center from 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. It will feature guest speakers including a rocket scientist and a NASA astronaut who has been to the Hubble Space Telescope. (3/30)

Lockheed Martin to Lay Off More Than 150 in Virginia (Source: Virginian-Pilot)
Defense contractor Lockheed Martin has notified the state that it plans to lay off more than 150 workers in Hampton Roads next month. About 92 of the layoffs, affecting workers in Norfolk and Suffolk, are related to the closing of U.S. Joint Forces Command, or JFCOM, according to Lockheed. They are scheduled to take effect April 6. Sixty-five layoffs are planned because of the loss of a contract at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton. They will take effect April 30. (3/30)

Mars Missions Race. India Takes Lead (Source: Voice of Russia)
India aims at sending an orbiter to Mars in 2013. The race for the Red planet unwinds with NASA planning a launch for the same 2013 fiscal year and China somewhat lagging behind. Earlier this month Europe gave a go ahead for a Mars mission with Russia in 2016. Russia and India have also a plan for a joint lunar mission scheduled for 2014.

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) plans to reach Mars with an automatic lander to be launched in 2013. The news was not totally unexpected since the first announcements were made back in 2009, but the actual date nonetheless seems too close. The project, according to some reports, was initially scheduled for 2016 or even 2018, but it was brought forward thanks to larger funds allotted by the Indian government last year, soaring from US$1.99 million $24.9 million. (3/30)

Congressional Candidate is an Astronaut on Ballot, Judge Says (Source: LA Times)
Jose Hernandez, who flew on the space shuttle and is running for U.S. Congress in California, can call himself an astronaut on the ballot, a state judge ruled Thursday. Judge Lloyd Connelly rejected Republican arguments that Hernandez did not work as an astronaut in the year before filing his candidacy and cannot list "astronaut/scientist/engineer" on the ballot as his occupation. He said Hernandez is an astronaut for “more than the time spent riding a rocket.” (3/30)

Spaceport to Add 2,000 Feet to Runway at a Cost of $7 Million (Source: LAs Cruces Sun-News)
New Mexico spaceport officials OK'd a 2,000-foot extension to Spaceport America's runway after concerns by Virgin Galactic that the company's spaceflight vehicles wouldn't be able to safely land and take off. The change will add a $7 million cost to the spaceport — money officials plan to pull from other project budgets, including the visitors center proposal, officials said. Virgin Galactic had wanted a 15,000-foot runway, but the state couldn't afford it. So the company agreed to curtail the length. But it did so with a certain condition spelled out in a contract negotiated by former spaceport official Rick Homans, under Gov. Bill Richardson's administration, Holdridge said.

Virgin Galactic recently approached the spaceport authority saying that the heat and wind at Spaceport America would restrict its ability to carry out launches safely year-round, Holdridge said. "As they began flying their airplane and doing weather analyses, they determined it was going to be very difficult to do year-round launches at the spaceport," he said. About $5 million of the runway-extension cost will come from a roughly $15 million budget for spaceport visitors centers, Krahling said. (3/30)

California Delta-4 Launch Delayed Again, to Monday (Source: Launch Alert)
The launch of a Delta IV carrying a national security payload for the National Reconnaissance Office is delayed until April 2 for the team to complete their assessment of an observation on the upper stage engine. The launch is planned for Monday, April 2, from Space Launch Complex-6 at 4:04 p.m. PDT from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. (3/29)

Soyuz Return From ISS Set for April 27 (Source: Space Daily)
Russia's space agency Roscosmos says the Soyuz TMA-22 manned spacecraft from the International Space Station will return to Earth April 27. "We have agreed (on) the landing date with our foreign partners in ISS project. It will be April 27," said Alexei Krasnov, head of manned flight programs at Roscosmos. (3/29)

Spaceport America Contracts Awarded to New Mexico Firms (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) has announced three contract awards to companies located in the State of New Mexico. The contracts include Information Technology (IT) Services, Space Operations Services, and the Southern Road Environmental Analysis. Fiore Industries of Albuquerque was selected as the IT Services contractor. Fiore’s time and materials contract has an estimated value of $310,000 over two years.

The Space Operations Services contract was awarded to White Sands Research and Developers, LLC (WSRD) of Las Cruces. WSRD will provide policy and procedure development, support for airfield control, horizontal and vertical launch operations, flight safety and launch-site licensing preparation. WSRD’s time and materials contract has an estimated value of $698,000 over two years.

The Southern Road Environmental Analysis contract was awarded to Parametrix of Albuquerque. Parametrix will provide environmental compliance, services, and analyses, including the assistance of the preparation of an Environmental Assessment (EA) for the spaceport’s southern road, which is County Road 39 from I-25 Upham exit. Parametrix will operate under a time and materials contract at an estimated value of $192,000 for one year. (3/29)

The Holy Cosmos: The New Religion of Space Exploration (Source: The Atlantic)
Think about how you feel when you see the Earth from space or the Apollo astronauts walking on the moon. These images are achievements of science, sure, but they also have a religious feel to them; they tug at something deeper than engineering, something sublime. When viewed as a whole, space exploration has a lot in common with religion. It offers us a salvation narrative, for instance, whereby we put our faith in technology in order to be delivered to new worlds.

Its priests, figures like Neil deGrasse Tyson, extoll its virtues in what sound like sermons. In its iconography, astronauts are like saints that ascend into heaven and extraterrestrials are like gods---benevolent, kind, wise, capable of manipulating space and time. This idea of seeing space exploration as a religion has a long history, dating back to the Russians of the early twentieth century, many of whom self-identified as "Cosmists." From there it migrated to German rocket scientists like Werner von Braun, who took his ideas about space travel to America after the Second World War. Click here. (3/29)

NASA T-38 Aircraft to Fly Over Washington Metro Area April 5 (Source: NASA)
NASA, in cooperation with the Federal Aviation Administration, will conduct training and photographic flights on Thursday, April 5, over the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. Two T-38 training jets will fly approximately 1,500 feet above Washington between 9:30 and 11 a.m. EDT. These flights are intended to capture photographic imagery. (3/29)

Patience of Congress Wearing Thin for NASA's Private Space Taxi Plan (Source:
It's taking too long to develop commercial spaceships to deliver cargo and crews to the International Space Station, members of Congress told senior NASA officials Wednesday. "I hear excuses and delay after delay for the supposedly simple act of delivering cargo to the space station," said Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas), chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. "NASA's spent $1.6 billion on this effort so far and the nation doesn't have very much to show for it." (3/29)

Sen. Mikulski Questions Commercial Crew Priority (Source:
U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), the veteran lawmaker who chairs the Senate Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee, on March 28 questioned whether NASA should spend billions of dollars to help industry develop privately owned and operated astronaut taxis that might only service the international space station (ISS) for a few years.

“I happen to support the commercial endeavor for both cargo and crew. I think it’s bold, I think it’s promising, but I’m concerned that it’s behind schedule,” Mikulski told NASA Administrator Charles Bolden during an appropriations hearing on the agency’s 2013 budget request. “My concern is that now the best-case scenarios about the launch for these is 2017. We’ve extended the life of the space station to 2020. Isn’t this a hell of a lot of money for a three-year effort?” (3/29)

Popovkin Dismisses Brawl Claims (Source: RIA Novosti)
The head of the Russian space agency, Roscosomos, Vladimir Popovkin who was hospitalized in early March, denied on Thursday media rumors suggesting he was beaten in a drunk brawl. Roscosmos said on March 7 that Popovkin was hospitalized because of strong “physical and emotional exhaustion,” caused by his hectic schedule. However a Russian tabloid Life News posted Popovkin’s photo with his head bandaged and reported, attributing an unnamed source, that the official was admitted to the hospital after he was beaten with a bottle in a drunk brawl in a Moscow restaurant.

"If there was a brawl...I would sign a resignation letter the next day...I respect myself very much, and frankly speaking, I still can’t handle all that filth that was undeservedly said about me,” Popovkin told reporters. Popovkin said that he was injured when he fainted after a hard day at work. “While leaving the office, I lost consciousness and fell,” the space official said. The official accused “space industry contractors” of disseminating false rumors about him because they were dissatisfied with his attempt to reform the industry. (3/29)

Has Bezos Really Found the Apollo 11 Engines? (Source: TIME)
The Atlantic floor is littered with NASA artifacts, and in 1999, an expedition funded by the Discovery Channel recovered the Mercury spacecraft, dubbed Liberty Bell, that carried Gus Grissom aloft on his suborbital flight in 1961. All of the Mercurys were intended to be hoisted aboard the deck of a recovery ship when they splashed down, but Grissom's famously sank when the hatch blew prematurely, and it remained a lost prize for treasure hunters for nearly four decades.

"We haven't seen [Bezos's] data yet, so we're not in a position to be able to confirm whether what he found is Apollo 11," says NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs. "The administrator did receive a letter from Bezos today detailing the discovery, however." Regardless of the specific identity of the F-1's, there's reason for concern about their condition. Four-plus decades immersed in salt water is not good for any kind of metal. (3/29)

Swiss Pioneer Motor Aimed at Slashing Satellite Launch Costs (Source: AFP)
Swiss researchers say they have built a mini-motor which they claim could slash the costs of satellite propulsion by 10 times, ushering in "a new era of low-cost space exploration." Scientists at the Federal Polytechnic of Lausanne (EPFL) have built the first prototype of the motor weighing just 200 grams and which runs on an "ionic" liquid -- a chemical compound rather than traditional fuel.

The motor generates thrust through a process in which ions are extracted from the liquid compound and ejected through an electric field. A mini-satellite using the motor would have a cruising speed of about 42,000 kilometers per hour. Space's vacuum cleaner CleanSpace One would be the first satellite to be equipped with the motor. Scientists have a year to complete the nanosatellite which would grab debris and put it into the Earth's orbit for incineration. (3/29)

MIT Saves the World: Project Icarus (1967) (Source: WIRED)
Walter Baade used a 48-inch reflecting telescope to capture humankind’s first image of asteroid 1566 Icarus on June 26, 1949. Icarus, it was soon found, is unusual because its elliptical orbit takes it from the inner edge of the Main Asteroid Belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter to well within Mercury’s orbit. Icarus needs 1.12 years to circle the Sun once. Every 19 years, always during the month of June, Icarus and Earth pass near each other at a relative velocity of about 18 miles per second.

MIT Professor Paul Sandorff taught the Interdepartmental Student Project in Systems Engineering in the spring 1967 term at MIT. He noted that Icarus and Earth would pass each other at a distance of 4 million miles on June 19, 1968. He then asked his students to suppose that Icarus would strike in the Atlantic Ocean east of Bermuda with the explosive force of 500,000 megatons of TNT. Debris flung into the atmosphere would cool the planet to some unknown degree and a 100-foot wave would inundate MIT.

Professor Sandorff’s students proposed to hijack Project Apollo, delaying NASA’s first manned lunar landing by about three years. They would take over the first nine Saturn V rockets earmarked for the moon program, commence construction in April 1967 of a third Launch Complex 39 Saturn V launch pad (Pad C), and add a high bay to the VAB, bringing the total to four. Multiple Saturn V rockets would be used to deliver 44,000-pound nuclear warheads with a destructive yield of 100 megatons. Click here. (3/28)

A Fleeting Encounter With an "Inbetweener" (Source: BBC)
There's a problem with the one-off flyby of a planet or an asteroid, and that is you can't go back and do it again - obviously! But it's a frustration because you're bound to discover stuff in the flyby that merely raises more questions - questions you might be able to answer if you could only go around and do a second visit. Scientists find themselves in precisely this situation now with the Asteroid Lutetia. Europe's Rosetta probe whizzed past the giant rock in the summer of 2010 on its way to a comet in 2014.

At the time, it was the biggest asteroid visited by a spacecraft, and some spectacular imagery was obtained by Holger Sierks and his team using the Optical, Spectroscopic, and Infrared Remote Imaging System (Osiris) on Rosetta. When the researchers did their analysis of the data, they made a tantalising discovery. They found that this 121km-long rock was some 1.7 million billion tonnes in mass. Click here. (3/29)

North Korea to Allow World to Monitor Launch (Source: RIA Novosti)
North Korea will allow foreign experts and journalists to observe the planned launch of a long-range rocket next month, Yonhap news agency reported on Thursday. "We will organize special visits... to show with transparency the peaceful, scientific and technological nature of the satellite," a spokesman for Korean Committee for Space Technology said in remarks carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency. Foreign delegations will be taken to the launch pad and mission control center, the official added. Pyongyang says the rocket will put an earth observation satellite into orbit. (3/29)

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