April 11, 2012

Oil Executive Leads Attack on NASA Climate Science (Source: Green Miles)
Oil executive H. Leighton Steward is helping a group of former NASA employees push a letter attacking climate scientist James Hansen, head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies: "Leighton Steward, a retired oil industry official who is chairman of the nonprofit groups Plants Need CO2 and CO2 is Green, said the coalition formed a few weeks ago. He had given presentations to the NASA retirees last year meant to underscore that empirical data don't echo the dire predictions of climate modeling espoused by Hansen and others."

"We've been trying to tell people that there's a lot of great benefit in CO2 in the atmosphere," he explained to POLITICO. Steward emphasized that he did not organize the coalition of NASA retirees nor is he a spokesman for them. First, the obvious: The "extra CO2 is good for plants" argument is completely nuts. As for H. Leighton, I know why he likes to call himself "retired" - makes him seem like he's not the active part of Big Oil that he really is. Steward is a member of the board of directors of oil & gas company EOG Resources, where he's made millions of dollars.

H. Leighton is also trying to have it both ways on ownership of the letter. He told Goode he didn't organize it & isn't a spokesman, but hours later he emailed his PlantsNeedCO2.org list bragging about "our announcements" and media appearances: "Our announcements below include the actual letter and signatories. The letter speaks for itself. We will update this with media interviews in which we are fortunate to participate." (4/11)

Response from NASA Chief Scientist to Letter on NASA Climate Studies (Source: SpaceRef)
"NASA sponsors research into many areas of cutting-edge scientific inquiry, including the relationship between carbon dioxide and climate. As an agency, NASA does not draw conclusions and issue 'claims' about research findings. We support open scientific inquiry and discussion."

"Our Earth science programs provide many unique space-based observations and research capabilities to the scientific community to inform investigations into climate change, and many NASA scientists are actively involved in these investigations, bringing their expertise to bear on the interpretation of this information. We encourage our scientists to subject these results and interpretations to scrutiny by the scientific community through the peer-review process."

"After these studies have met the appropriate standards of scientific peer-review, we strongly encourage scientists to communicate these results to the public. If the authors of this letter disagree with specific scientific conclusions made public by NASA scientists, we encourage them to join the debate in the scientific literature or public forums rather than restrict any discourse." (4/11)

Commercial Space Companies Push Back Against NASA 'Certification' (Source: Huntsville Times)
Commercial space companies are pushing back against NASA deciding if their rockets are safe enough to carry commercial crews to the International Space Station, according to the space agency's chief administrator in Huntsville. The "touchy part" of so-called "human rating certification" for private spacecraft is whether the companies must follow NASA standards even if NASA crews aren't on board.

"If NASA astronauts are the crew, then we want to have quite a bit of say-so in how those systems are certified," said a NASA official. But if the crews are private, "we will certainly have less of an input ..." NASA has hard-won expertise in human spaceflight, including failures, he said. "We feel that body of knowledge is something we need to convey to whoever wants to operate in that arena," he said. "Being able to force a provider to accept our requirements is the touchy part."

He said private companies have their own ideas. "We've been pushed back on when we try to advocate our requirements for certification, and they say, 'We don't need your requirements, this is our venture,'" Goldman said. "There's absolutely a lot of truth in that." He predicted again that it could come down to the makeup of the crews and said he is "not exactly sure how that is going to play out." The issue of human-rating certification is one NASA and companies such as SpaceX need to resolve before companies begin ferrying crews to and from the station. (4/11)

The Moon Landing, As You've Never Seen It Before (Source: The Atlantic)
The date is July 20, 1969. With minutes of fuel to spare, the astronauts of Apollo 11 are gliding across the surface of the moon, looking for a place to land. There's just one problem: boulders strewn across the landscape prevent a quick touchdown. Back in Houston, mission control is issuing periodic readouts of the spacecraft's fuel status. The seconds tick by until Apollo 11 is running on fumes. The situation is urgent. If the astronauts can't land, they'll be stranded on the moon until they die, with millions following the broadcast live from earth.

As the astronauts frantically search for a landing zone, the health monitoring equipment linked to the men goes haywire. This chart shows Buzz Aldrin's EKG readout in the final moments before touchdown, which is marked by the long vertical line about three-fourths of the way through the graph. It's a rare, alternative glimpse of a critical moment in history, preserved by TEDMED curator and Priceline.com founder Jay Walker in a vast library devoted to science, medicine, and history. Click here. (4/11)

Dayton, Ohio, Prepares for Surge in Aerospace Jobs (Source: Dayton Daily News)
The number of aerospace jobs in Dayton, Ohio, is expected to increase 14% in four years, this feature says. "We need to make sure that we have the most vital, educated and prepared aerospace workforce to support existing missions and any potential new mission opportunities that might come as a result of a future BRAC," said Dan Curtis, president of the Dayton-Wright chapter of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, referring to Base Realignment and Closure. (4/11)

Could “Advanced” Dinosaurs Rule Other Planets? (Source: ACS)
New scientific research raises the possibility that advanced versions of T. rex and other dinosaurs — monstrous creatures with the intelligence and cunning of humans — may be the life forms that evolved on other planets in the universe. “We would be better off not meeting them,” concludes the study, which appears in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

In the report, noted scientist Ronald Breslow discusses the century-old mystery of why the building blocks of terrestrial amino acids (which make up proteins), sugars, and the genetic materials DNA and RNA exist mainly in one orientation or shape. Breslow describes evidence supporting the idea that the unusual amino acids carried to a lifeless Earth by meteorites about 4 billion years ago set the pattern for normal amino acids with the L-geometry, the kind in terrestrial proteins, and how those could lead to D-sugars of the kind in DNA.

“Of course,” Breslow says, “showing that it could have happened this way is not the same as showing that it did.” He adds: “An implication from this work is that elsewhere in the universe there could be life forms based on D-amino acids and L-sugars. Such life forms could well be advanced versions of dinosaurs, if mammals did not have the good fortune to have the dinosaurs wiped out by an asteroidal collision, as on Earth." (4/11)

Private Lunar Mission and the Future of Space Tourism (Source: Space Daily)
Teams from America, Europe and Asia compete for the Google Lunar X-Prize. At stake are $30 mln. The aim is to send privately funded mission to the Moon, to land a robot on its surface able to travel 500 meters and send back to Earth video, images and data. A rover has to reach the Moon before the end of 2015. Click here. (4/10)

Humans vs. Robots: Who Should Dominate Space Exploration? (Source: WIRED)
The most recent footprints on the moon are 40 years old, and the next artificial mark on the lunar surface will probably be made by a robot’s wheels rather than human soles. Many space scientists, engineers and politicians argue that this is a good thing. Most astronomers will tell you that virtually anything a human can do on another planet, a robot can do, only cheaper and without the risk of losing a life. But the battle between humans and robots for the starring role in the next chapter of space exploration is not yet settled.

Robots have done all the recent planetary exploration in the solar system. In past decades, rovers, landers, and orbiters have visited the moon, asteroids and comets, every planet in the solar system and many of their moons as well. But how does their work compare to that of human astronauts?

In terms of sheer scientific output, manned exploration of outer space has a good track record. More than 2,000 papers have been published over the last four decades using data collected during the manned Apollo missions, and the rate of new papers is still rising. In comparison, the Soviet robotic Luna explorers and NASA’s Mars Exploration rover program — Mars Pathfinder, Spirit, and Opportunity — have each generated around 400 publications. (4/11)

Khrunichev Reports Major Increase in Sales (Source: Parabolic Arc)
“With regard to financial and economic indicators of our Center over the past year, the sales volume of more than 43 billion rubles [$1.44 billion], while in 2010 this figure was 36.2 billion rubles [$1.2 billion]. That is, an increase of about 20%. This figure we have is higher than the industry (growth in the space industry is 12%) and significantly higher than the national average."

“Over the past six years, with 2005 sales volume has increased almost five-fold – from 9.6 billion rubles [$322 million] to 43.6 billion rubles [$1.46 billion]. This demonstrates the long-term stable growth of the company financial performance. If all goes well, this year we will reach a figure of 52-53 billion rubles [$1.74-$1.78 billion] on sales volume."

“If we talk about the activities of the commercial launch services market, and those funds that Khrunichev Center has brought the country, the foreign currency cash flow from these activities in 2011 totaled 777 million dollars (in 2010 was 637 million dollars). This represents 57-58% of the total company sales in 2011. In all, since entering the world market Khrunichev brought in nearly $6.5 billion.” (4/11)

Why We Need NASA: Reflections on the Value of Space Travel (Source: UAB)
Extra solar space travel has long been the Holy Grail for scientists and science fiction writers alike. The possibilities of seeing further into space than ever before lights the imaginations of everyone young and old. And therein lays the importance of space exploration. The need to push into the frontiers is the hallmark of the human condition. Every society’s explorers weave stories that transcend the anxieties of the day to capture the imaginations of its people.

By pushing into new frontiers, the engines of progress are lit. Economies are catalyzed, innovations abound, and dreams of a brighter future are realized. These days, it seems the engines of progress are alive and well in Russia. Last week, the Russian space agency announced plans to develop a space engine capable of interplanetary travel. This engine, set to be developed by 2017 and launched by 2025, uses plutonium to fuel the electric ion propulsion system. Rather than shooting spent fuel out of a nozzle, the rocket induces a magnetic field to push ions, allowing it to cover the vast distances of our solar system and beyond.

This engine of progress has been quiet for far to long in America. NASA not had the necessary support to get America dreaming again. With every budget cut and project cancellation NASA has suffered, our country’s future glows a little less brightly. Rather than leaving space to the Russians, the US would do well to push into the final frontier once more. (4/10)

NASA Program Selects Loral Platform to Enable Next Era of Space Comm (Source: Loral)
Loral is teaming with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center to host a laser communications relay demonstration (LCRD) on a commercial satellite to be launched in 2016. NASA 's Space Technology Program selected Goddard's mission proposal to use the SS/L satellite platform to help enable the next era of space communications. Optical communications use an uncongested portion of spectrum compared to the radio frequency (RF) communications currently used to transmit data from space.

Additionally, laser communications (lasercom) has the potential to provide order of magnitude higher data rates than RF, providing the potential to enable access to much more of the vast amounts of data that are being gathered from distant planets, including images and video. For commercial satellites, lasercom could provide data at rates that are faster than today's RF rates, with much less mass and power, which are the typical constraints on satellite design. (4/10)

Space Debris Remediation - Who Are We Kidding? (Source: Space Daily)
Over the past few years we have endured idea after idea on how to remove space debris. The list is almost endless. There is the ground-based high energy laser that will zap trash right out of space. Tethers can do it better, faster and cheaper. Water sprays are simple and effective. Orbiting trash cans make all kinds of sense. Air bursts are very clean and simple. Nets can collect lots of debris quickly. And, the list goes on and on.

Our all-time favorite idea is "Space Balls" that can passively collect trash and naturally dispose of themselves by reentry into the atmosphere. Let's do a simple reality check. Every one of the proposed ideas has at least one major flaw. Some violate the laws of physics. Some are too technologically complex to effectively implement. Some violate existing space treaties. Some present serious safety issues. (4/10)

NASA to Fly Atomic Clock to Improve Space Navigation (Source: NASA JPL)
When people think of space technologies, many think of high-tech solar panels, complex and powerful propulsion systems or sophisticated, electronic guidance systems. Another critical piece of spaceflight technology, however, is an ultra stable, highly accurate device for timing - essential to NASA's success on deep-space exploration missions. NASA is preparing to fly a Deep Space Atomic Clock, or DSAC, demonstration that will revolutionize the way we conduct deep-space navigation by enabling a spacecraft to calculate its own timing and navigation data in real time.

This one-way navigation technology would improve upon the current two-way system in which information is sent to Earth, requiring a ground team to calculate timing and navigation and then transmit it back to the spacecraft. A real-time, onboard navigation capability is key to improving NASA's capabilities for executing time critical events, such as a planetary landing or planetary "flyby," when signal delays are too great for the ground to interact with the spacecraft during the event. (4/10)

Former Astronauts Blast NASA for ‘Extreme Position’ on Climate Change (Source: Daily Caller)
Nearly 50 former NASA scientists, astronauts and technologists are chastising NASA for its position on man-made climate change. In a March 28 letter addressed to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, the group asks NASA and the Goddard Institute for Space Studies to “refrain from including unproven remarks in public releases and websites” because “it is clear that the science is NOT settled.”

“As former NASA employees, we feel that NASA’s advocacy of an extreme position, prior to a thorough study of the possible overwhelming impact of natural climate drivers is inappropriate,” the letter reads. The group said that the statements that “man-made carbon dioxide is having a catastrophic impact on global climate change are not substantiated.”

The group, according to a news release, includes seven Apollo astronauts and two former directors of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “Our concerns are about the reputation for NASA,” former Apollo 7 astronaut Walter Cunningham said. Cunningham explained that the co-signers came together through the NASA Alumni League’s Johnson Space Center Chapter in Houston. Leighton Steward, a geologist who is chairman of Plants Need CO2, helped “catalyze” the effort to draft the letter after being invited a year ago to speak with a group of retired NASA scientists in Texas about climate change. (4/10)

Remarks on NASA Climate Change Criticism (Source: NASA Watch)
"This press release/group letter should have been titled "Former NASA [JSC] scientists, astronauts admonish agency on climate change position" since virtually everyone who signed it seems to live in Texas or once worked at JSC. In addition, more than 90% of the signers have no apparent "science" background - and this letter is about science (I guess). That said, a lot of the names are very recognizable from NASA's history, and they seem to be upset about something." (4/11)

The Earth is Full (Source: CNN)
For 50 years the environmental movement has unsuccessfully argued that we should save the planet for moral reasons, that there were more important things than money. Ironically, it now seems it will be money -- through the economic impact of climate change and resource constraint -- that will motivate the sweeping changes necessary to avert catastrophe. The reason is we have now reached a moment where four words -- the earth is full -- will define our times. This is not a philosophical statement; this is just science based in physics, chemistry and biology. There are many science-based analyses of this, but they all draw the same conclusion -- that we're living beyond our means. Click here. (4/8)

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