June 10, 2012

Floridians Continue Waiting for Answers From Romney on Space (Source: SpaceRef)
As Republicans change their positions to support President Obama's policy on commercial crew, Obama for America Florida Press Secretary Eric Jotkoff released the following statement renewing demands that Mitt Romney come clean with Floridians about his plans for NASA and space.

"This week, Mitt Romney's Republican allies in Congress finally dropped their effort to eliminate the competition among the private space industry after the successful launch of SpaceX's Dragon. While this is a step in the right direction, Floridians still deserve to know where Mitt Romney stands on space issues. While the world watched the historic [SpaceX mission], Romney's campaign refused to say if he supported President Obama's efforts to support and grow America's commercial space industry."

"Despite his promise to fire anyone who suggested spending billions of dollars on building a colony on the Moon, after Romney's Space Advisor Mike Griffin called for just that, Romney still refuses to say if he kept his promise to fire Griffin... So, as Floridians see Romney refusing to answer questions on some of the most basic issues surrounding space policy, it has become clear that Mitt Romney has no clear vision for NASA." (6/7)

'Prometheus' Rests on Some Real Astronomy (Source: USA Today)
Astronomers have discovered more than 700 worlds orbiting nearby stars in the last two decades, and the moviegoing public is just getting the message about the new planets, say astronomers such as Seth Shostak of the SETI Institute. So, in a way, pop culture is reflecting science, including efforts such as NASA's Kepler space telescope, which is looking to find more planets in their stars' "habitable zone," warm enough for liquid oceans like Earth's that may be able to support life forms.

"I think the public has grasped the fact that planets out there are as common as cheap motels," Shostak says, noting that our Milky Way galaxy alone might contains 300 billion stars, including ones with multiple planets. "If only 1 in 1,000 is in the habitable zone, that is still about a billion habitable planets in our galaxy," he says.

Planetary scientist Kevin Hand of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., was a science adviser to Prometheus, and also offered advice to Avatar's team. He says top filmmakers, such as James Cameron and Ridley Scott, are paying increasing attention to the plausibility of the alien worlds they create. (6/10)

Evolution vs. Revolution: The 1970s Battle for NASA’s Future (Source: WIRED)
In the 1970s two lines of thought emerged within NASA concerning manned spaceflight’s course after the Space Shuttle became operational. On the one hand, there was the “revolutionary” line taken by Johnson Space Center. On the other was the “evolutionary” line of Marshall Space Flight Center. At JSC, many managers assumed that, as soon as the Shuttle became operational, NASA would get a green light to assemble a large, new-design, multipurpose space station in low-Earth orbit (LEO).

They envisioned that a future President would make a speech much like President Kennedy’s “moon speech.” Visionary goal thus proclaimed, the funding floodgates would open. At MSFC, by contrast, many managers expected that NASA budgets would remain tight for the foreseeable future, so any space technology development that took place would need to be incremental; that is, it would have to begin with existing space hardware and occur in small steps. MSFC’s work on Skylab, a temporary LEO space station launched in May 1973 on the last Saturn V rocket to fly, probably helped to shape their outlook.

The 169,950-pound Skylab “cluster,” which comprised the Multiple Docking Adapter, the Apollo Telescope Mount (ATM), and the Orbital Workshop, had been conceived originally as an element of the Apollo Applications Program (AAP). As its name implies, AAP was meant to apply hardware developed for the Apollo lunar program to new tasks. (6/10)

Webb Project is a Killjoy for Spy-Sat Gift Opportunity (Source: Florida Today)
The James Webb Space Telescope’s insatiable appetite continues to hamstring America’s space program. Now, the budget-busting boondoggle is not just gobbling up money for long-planned projects, it’s consuming so much of the space agency’s resources that it’s preventing NASA from taking advantage of an historic opportunity to repurpose two NRO Hubble-class satellites.

The astrophysics community, inside and outside the space agency, has been studying the possibilities and is nearly giddy about what these two spacecraft could do if NASA were able to add instruments and launch them into space. For instance, one of the spacecraft could be modified for a long planned mission to study dark matter in the universe at a savings of years of development time and at least a quarter-billion dollars from what NASA originally estimated. Even better, the way the spy sat is designed would have made it capable of seeing more of the sky — more clearly — than the telescope NASA originally wanted.

The problem? That mission, identified as a high priority by the scientific community, was among those that were put on ice recently as NASA gutted its science portfolio to find money to keep alive the Webb telescope project. Now even with the gift of a completed spy satellite, with a mirror comparable to Hubble’s, NASA says that it wouldn’t have the money for such a mission until about 2025. What a disappointing missed opportunity. (6/10)

JPL Open House Shows Off Robotics, Mission Control (Source: Pasadena Sun)
Visitors to Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Space Flight Operations Facility were given one rule as they filed inside Saturday morning: Say ‘wow.' The hub that manages missions and flights is usually closed to the public; but many got a rare, close-up look at the national historic landmark during the NASA center's open house. “That was fantastic,” said Kathy Ross. “You could see everything that they show on TV and all the stuff they don't.” Ross was one of an estimated 17,700 visitors to tour JPL. She was on hand with her 8-year-old son, David. His response? I loved it,” he said, adding that it made him want to be a scientist one day. (6/10)

Where is Japan's Elon Musk? (Source: Japan Times)
Where is Japan's equivalent of Elon Musk? Where's the young entrepreneur with a huge bank balance and dreams to match? Where is that someone raised in these isles on sci-fi manga and space movies who wants to make human travel in space a reality? Space travel really is entering a new era. Gone are the days when only governments could afford to fund extraterrestrial missions. Private companies are picking up the slack. In Japan the most prominent of those is operated by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. which, as a company, could hardly be more different from Musk's SpaceX.

Perhaps it's because in a large, prestigious and venerable company such as MHI, individuality and risk-taking on a SpaceX scale is impossible. It simply would never be allowed. In 2008, the Japanese government created the Strategic Headquarters for Space Policy. The aim was to streamline Japan's stifling bureaucracy and try to create a more entrepreneurial space culture.

However, the problem for a wannabe Japanese Elon Musk was identified by Shoichira Asada, MHI's general manager for space systems. He said that only in the U.S. was domestic demand for space business strong enough to support private companies seeking a commercial return on investment. That's why SpaceX already has $4 billion worth of orders. However, as Japan itself just doesn't have that sort of demand, space companies here have to look to foreign countries placing "export" orders, Asada said. (6/10)

New Mexico Students Host Car Wash to Oppose NASA Cuts (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Members of the New Mexico State University Astronomy Department worked to halt proposed cuts to NASA's planetary exploration budget Saturday by hosting a car wash to raise funds and, more importantly, awareness about the issue. Motorists were heralded by a shiny, silver robot where several graduate students and professors from NMSU's Astronomy Department educated drivers on the proposed cuts that they say will be devastating to the nation's future in space exploration, all while making sure their vehicles were sparkling clean. (6/9)

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