July 24, 2012

Why Aren't There Any Openly Gay Astronauts? (Source: Space.com)
Three hundred and thirty American men and women have served as astronauts since the start of NASA's human spaceflight program. Only one is publicly known to have been gay or bisexual — Sally Ride — and she kept it private until her death, when her obituary on the Sally Ride Science organization's website stated that Ride was survived by Tam O'Shaughnessy, her "partner of 27 years."

As the first American woman in space and a scientist, Ride served as a role model for generations of young girls. Now, she'll serve as a role model for LGBT youth as well, said her sister. Ride's decision to keep her sexual orientation private reflects her very private nature, sources said. But the lack of even one openly gay or lesbian astronaut in the history of American spaceflight may reflect the culture at the NASA astronaut office.

Although NASA does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, Michael Cassutt, author of five books and hundreds of articles about human spaceflight, said coming out would until recently have been "a career-wrecker" for an astronaut. "Not for any formal reason, but in the same way that any medical issue or even some kind of notoriety has been an astronaut career-wrecker," Cassutt told SPACE.com. (7/24)

Boeing Awarded $175 Million To Modify Delta 4 Upper Stage for SLS Flights (Source: Space News)
The Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket will use a modified Delta 4 upper stage provided by Boeing for its first two missions, according to the terms of an eight-year, $175 million contract announced by NASA July 23. Boeing’s contract includes options for NASA to order two additional upper stages for SLS flights beyond 2021. If NASA exercises these options, Boeing’s contract will be worth $307 million over 12 years. Boeing will also provide flight spares for any rocket stages ordered by NASA. SLS will launch the Lockheed-built Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle to the Moon and back in 2017 and 2021. Only the second mission will be crewed. (7/24)

Orion Demonstrates Successful Landing With Parachute Anomaly (Source: Aviation Week)
A full-scale NASA Orion test article has concluded a second parachute drop test at the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, descending and touching down safely in spite of an intentional anomaly that led to an early inflation of the main chutes. The July 18 drop test is a prelude to Orion’s Exploration Flight Test-1, a two-orbit unmanned flight test of the four-person capsule planned for 2014.

Dropped from a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport at 25,000 ft., the Orion parachute test vehicle touched down upright 4 min. later at the southern Arizona test site, following successive deployments of drogue, pilot and the three main chutes starting at 20,000 ft. The drop featured a premature pyrotechnic cut of one of the so-called reefing lines that regulate the inflation of the parachutes. Despite the rapid inflation, the test vehicle landed with a velocity of 25 ft. per second, well within the threshold, according to a NASA summary. (7/24)

Jacobs Receives Contract to Support NASA Marshall Space Flight Center (Source: SpaceRef)
Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. (JEC) announced today that it was awarded a contract to provide engineering and science services and skills augmentation (ESSSA) to Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville. The award includes a base period of two years and three one-year option periods and represents a potential maximum value of $600 million if all options are exercised. (7/24)

XCOR Releases Payload Users Guide for Lynx Suborbital Vehicle (Source: SpaceRef)
XCOR Aerospace announced today that the Lynx suborbital vehicle's Payload User's Guide (PUG) is now available online from XCOR's website (www.xcor.com/contact/pug). XCOR Program Manager Khaki Rodway noted that "publication of the guide is a significant evolutionary step for XCOR, our payload integration partners, and scientists and educators who are ready to use our suborbital reusable launch vehicle such as the participants in NASA's Flight Opportunities Program and our other commercial research customers." The end user who downloads the Payload User's Guide online will also be registered to receive automatic updates. (7/24)

Posey Repeats False China Claims (Source: SpaceKSC)
Florida Today on July 22 published an interview with Space Coast Representative Bill Posey. In the interview, Posey repeated nonsensical claims he'd made in the past that China intends to colonize the Moon as a military threat. "The moon, first and primarily, is the military high ground. We know the Russians want to colonize the moon. The Chinese are going to colonize the moon — they’ve said so."

Posey's official biography indicates no military experience, or any reason to think he understands anything about military strategy. Posey has claimed that China intends to establish a moon base many times, but never offered any proof. China has said time and again they might build a modest space station by the end of the decade. In their most recent space policy white paper, China said that they will "conduct studies on the preliminary plan for a human lunar landing." That's a far cry from a Moon colony.

Posey has claimed that the Moon is "a military high ground," an absurd notion. It would be much easier to attack the U.S. from off our shores than spending hundreds of billions of dollars to station missiles 240,000 miles away. And how stupid it would be for China to destroy a nation that owes them $1 trillion. That would collapse the Chinese economy. Posey may claim to be a fiscal conservative, but blowing the federal budget to station soldiers in a lunar fortress shows he's totally irresponsible with taxpayer dollars. (7/24)

Volusia County, Embry-Riddle Consider Testing Unmanned Aircraft (Source: Daytona Beach News-Journal)
The skies over rural northwest Volusia County could be getting busier in coming weeks, but not in the traditional sense. A proposed county agreement with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University would send unmanned aircraft -- the small, light, hand-launched planes that are preprogrammed to fly 20- to 30-minute routes -- on test runs over Lake George and the sparsely populated areas around it.

It's an early step in Volusia's effort to establish itself as a national proving ground for unmanned flights, which are increasing dramatically as new technology develops. "The goal is to have this process in place so we can provide the infrastructure for a wide variety of testing applications as we go forward," Volusia's Director of Aviation and Economic Resources Rick Karl said Friday. The agreement, which will come before the County Council for approval this week, would actually give Volusia the title to Embry-Riddle's unmanned planes. The county would then go to the FAA for a special Certificate of Authorization, which would allow routine unmanned flights. (7/24)

Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne Signs Mentor-Protégé Agreement with Alabama A&M University (Source: PWR)
Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne signed a NASA Mentor-Protégé Agreement with Alabama A&M University, a Historically Black College/University (HBCU) located in Huntsville. “The ability to mentor and share knowledge is crucial to the growth and development of our nation’s students,” said Paul Fowler, director of Supply Management, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. “Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne is honored to be part of a program that will help young people maximize their potential and become leaders in their chosen professions after college.” (7/24)

Mars Rover is a Robot Geologist With a Lab in its Belly (Source: LA Times)
In a matter of days, a geologist unlike any on Earth will venture into alien territory. It has six legs and one arm. Instead of feet, it rides around on metal wheels as thin as cardboard. Its brain is in its belly, where it also digests and analyzes the remains of Martian rocks. It eats plutonium for breakfast. Despite its resemblance to a one-armed, 1-ton praying mantis, Curiosity is the most advanced machine ever sent to another planet.

If all goes according to plan, the rover will touch down on Mars on Aug. 5 and begin rolling along the surface a few days later. Curiosity will be the eyes and ears for an international team of about 350 earthbound scientists. Was there life on Mars in its warmer, wetter past — and could it sustain life today? The rover's suite of 10 primary instruments was designed with these questions in mind. Click here. (7/24)

Russian Docking System Test Fails at Space Station (Source: RIA Novosti)
Another attempt to re-dock the Russian Progress M-15M space freighter to the International Space Station (ISS) will be made on Sunday, July 29, after the spacecraft failed to re-dock with the ISS earlier in the day. The unmanned space freighter, which arrived at the ISS in April, undocked from the station in the early hours of Monday in order to perform a series of engineering tests during re-docking designed to verify an upgraded automated rendezvous system.

The vehicle initially separated to a distance of about 100 miles from the station and held position for 24 hours before Tuesday’s failed attempt to re-dock with the space station due to an apparent failure in the new Kurs-NA rendezvous system. The failure of the Kurs-NA system triggered a passive abort - a standard procedure that took the Progress spacecraft to a safe distance of about 1.8 miles below the space station where it will remain until July 29.

Should another attempt to re-dock the freighter with the ISS using the modernized Kurs-NA system fail, the ISS crew may have to resort to using its time proven predecessor, the Kurs, for the re-docking mission to succeed. Alternatively, he said, the Progress freighter will be taken out of orbit and sunk. (7/24)

Statement by the President on the Passing of Sally Ride (Source: White House)
Michelle and I were deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Sally Ride. As the first American woman to travel into space, Sally was a national hero and a powerful role model. She inspired generations of young girls to reach for the stars and later fought tirelessly to help them get there by advocating for a greater focus on science and math in our schools. Sally’s life showed us that there are no limits to what we can achieve and I have no doubt that her legacy will endure for years to come. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Sally’s family and friends. (7/24)

Bolivian Satellite Operators to be Trained in China (Source: Xinhua)
Bolivian space scientists are going to be trained in China in preparation for operating a Chinese-built satellite to be delivered late next year, the head of the Bolivian Space Agency (ABE) said. The ABE is selecting 74 scientists to receive training in China, ABE Director Ivan Zambrana said. Specialists from all scientific fields such as chemistry, physics, mathematics, computer science, electronics and mechanical engineering are eligible to apply, he added. (7/24)

International Space Camp Kicks Off in Huntsville (Source: WAAY)
Educators from around the world are descending on the Rocket City this week for the annual International Space Camp. Saturday night, a "parade of nations" at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center kicked off the fun and education-filled program. Teacher of the Year winners from all 50 states and U.S. territories took to the stage to talk about, and physically wear, highlights from each home state. These outgoing educators entertained the audience as the Statue of Liberty, Mount St. Helens, and Kernel the corn mascot, among many colorful others.

Teachers and students from 11 foreign countries also shared a little bit about their homes, also in costume. U.S. Space and Rocket Center CEO Deborah Barnhart says the event serves as an informal way for participants to get to know one another and recognize the cultural diversity among them. She says, "I think all of the teachers really appreciate the idea of looking at new technology and the future of space travel and the planet, and sharing the best practices that they have in each one of their countries." (7/24)

XCOR Considers Building Engines and Spacecraft in Florida (Source: Florida Today)
XCOR Aerospace Inc., known until now as Project Planet as the company made its way through economic development channels in Florida, will reveal possible plans for building rocket engines and a suborbital spacecraft on the Space Coast in an appearance before the Brevard County Commission. The commission is scheduled to approve matching funds for a nearly $1 million state grant to lure the company.

In an interview, XCOR Chief Operating Officer Andrew Nelson said the company could create 152 jobs paying an average wage of $60,833. Commissioners are expected to approve $182,000 in matching funds for the state grant. The county appropriation, roughly 20 percent of the grant, appears on the commission’s “consent agenda,” which is usually approved without discussion. “It’s pay for performance. It’s supporting a company that brings jobs,” Rob Salonen, business development director for the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast, said.

XCOR is developing an line of reusable rocket engines and has designed a suborbital aircraft that could ferry space tourists from KSC. The company recently announced it would establish an R&D site in Texas. It is considering Brevard as a site for other manufacturing or operations because it wants to separate operations and manufacturing from R&D sites. The company is also reportedly considering sites in other states, including New Mexico, Texas and Virginia. (7/24)

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