August 12, 2012

Morpheus: Moving Forward, Not Starting Over (Source: MorpheusLander)
On Thursday we made our second free flight attempt with the Morpheus prototype vehicle. Shortly after liftoff we experienced a hardware failure and lost the vehicle. The root cause is still under investigation, but what we do know is that at the start of ascent we lost data from the Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) that supplies navigation updates to the flight computer. Without this measurement the vehicle is blind and does not know which way it is pointing or accelerating. Since this data is needed to maintain stable flight, the vehicle could not determine which way was up and began to tumble and impacted the ground about 50 feet from the launch site.

No one was injured, no property was damaged besides the vehicle and we have been able to recover significant data, which will give us greater insight into the source of the problem. We have said it before and will continue to say, this is why we test. We have already learned a lot from this test and will continue to learn as we recover data and evaluate the hardware. No test article should be too precious to lose. A spare vehicle was planned from the start and is just a few months away from completion. (8/12)

Let NASA Explore the Stars, But Let SpaceX Build the Rockets That Get Us There (Source: PolicyMic)
The rise of SpaceX, SpaceDev, and other space flight-based private companies has sparked fierce debate over the remaining role of NASA and other government funded space agencies. While some have argued that NASA has reached its expiration date and that the new crop of companies is willing and able to take over the space agency’s exploration duties, NASA possesses unique capabilities in basic research that private companies cannot match. Additionally, many of these companies have weaknesses that hobble their attempts at fulfilling the basic research role.

Private companies are beholden to their bottom lines. Even though most of the companies are privately held and funded, in order to exist their operations must, somehow, generate a profit. Basic research is usually not profitable in the short run and small companies can often ill afford to invest in research for the simple purpose of finding out the unknown. Large companies, the GE’s and IBM’s of the world, often do have large research organizations but all of that research is geared toward future product development – i.e. turning a profit.

NASA has no such constraint. As a government agency charged with the research and exploration of space NASA has a free hand to go out and look for things that we don’t know about for the sole purpose of increasing our knowledge. In other words, NASA’s value proposition is different in that they undertake basic scientific inquiry to increase the knowledge base of the nation as it relates to space. The private companies jockeying for position in the new space race have a different value proposition all together. They directly create economic value with their technology development and missions flown. (8/11)

Romney Veep Choice Paul Ryan Voted Against Last Two NASA Authorization Bills (Source: Space Policy Online)
Although voting records tell an incomplete tale, Paul Ryan did vote against both the 2008 and 2010 NASA Authorization Acts. Ryan became a Member of the House in 1999 at the age of 28. Five major pieces of legislation specifically affecting civil and commercial space policy have passed since then. Four were NASA authorization acts (2000, 2005, 2008 and 2010) and one was the Commercial Space Launch Act amendments in 2004 that set up the current regulatory framework for commercial human spaceflight. Click here. (8/12)

Why Explore Space? (Source: Letters of Note)
In 1970, a Zambia-based nun named Sister Mary Jucunda wrote to Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger, then-associate director of science at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, in response to his ongoing research into a piloted mission to Mars. Specifically, she asked how he could suggest spending billions of dollars on such a project at a time when so many children were starving on Earth.

Stuhlinger soon sent the following letter of explanation to Sister Jucunda, along with a copy of "Earthrise," the iconic photograph of Earth taken in 1968 by astronaut William Anders, from the Moon (also embedded in the transcript). His thoughtful reply was later published by NASA, and titled, "Why Explore Space?" Click here. (8/6)

The Burgeoning Field of Intergalactic Law (Source: The Take Away)
With the landing of the Mars Curiosity rover on Monday, the United States is taking seriously the possibility of extraterrestrial life and human expansion into outer space. Luckily, should that day come, we won’t be leaving too much up to chance. In fact, there is already a whole body of legal studies dedicated to protecting our interests in space. It's a field which in recent years has been growing both here and abroad. They’re called 'space lawyers' and they litigate everything from the liabilities of so-called 'space tourists,' to the legal framework for possible extraterrestrial encounter, to sovereignty rights for lunar mining. Click here. (8/9)

Editorial: Let's Bring Logic to NASA's Budget Process (Source: Houston Chronicle)
Alas, it is impossible to wholly separate the space agency from the bumps and bruises of politics, but we commend the effort by two congressmen to move NASA a little further away from the political fray when it comes to budgeting. The effort is being made by Houston Congressman John Culberson, along with fellow Republican, Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia. The goal of the bill being drafted by the two congressmen, according to Wolf, is " to take the politics out of NASA … and create continuity in the space agency."

Culberson's and Wolf's bill would model NASA's budget process after that used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Doing so would make the agency less political and more professional. It calls for the president to appoint the NASA director to a 10-year term and would make the budget cycle multiyear rather than annual. The notion has Coats' endorsement. He notes that if they were able to plan out four or five years "it would be amazing what we could do with our team." (8/9)

Opinion: One Year Later Finds Shuttle Workers Still Struggling (Source: America Space)
After the final Shuttle mission, hundreds of United Space Alliance employees swarmed around Atlantis to prepare it for the slow tow to the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF). Some of these same employees knew they would be laid off the very next day. More than two thousand dedicated space workers were required to hand in their access badges that very week. Now, over a year later, where are these people? What are they doing?

The “D’s” eventually found employment. Mr. “D” works as grader for the county where he earns $15 an hour. Mrs. “D” applied for and was accepted to do soldering work for a company based out of Orlando that produces GPS antennas. Her new employers found her work to be of such high caliber that her new employers upped her hourly salary from $9 to $11. The combined hourly wage that Mr. and Mrs. “D” now earn ($26) is less than one of them earned during their time as space workers at KSC. Click here. (8/12)

Launch Team Looks On With Pride as Space Probes Fly Into History (Source: Florida Today)
Omar Baez didn’t re-assemble the launch team for an overnight watch party when NASA’s Curiosity rover approached Mars for its historic touchdown in the wee hours Monday morning. “It was a normal night with the family: dinner, a little TV and then I stayed up all night,” Baez said, recounting a night when years of hard work on the part of his launch team here in Brevard County.

NASA does amazing things, and when it does, the work is a team effort that often stretches from coast to coast. While most of the world focused this week on the fist-pumping men and women in blue shirts at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, it made sense here on the Space Coast to go back to a team that doesn’t get as much attention whenever America’s spacecraft visit or land on another planet. (8/11)

Editorial: Returning Our Attention to Space Exploration (Source: Denver Post)
When the Space Shuttle Atlantis was retired last year, we were among those who lamented what the moment said about the country's aspirations for space. Two events in recent days have buoyed our belief that space exploration — with a significant boost from Colorado — should be a driving ideal for this nation. The first was the energizing and amazing experience of watching the Curiosity rover land on Mars.

The other was the announcement that Sierra Nevada Systems Inc. was one of three companies splitting $1.1 billion in federal funding to develop next-generation vehicles to deliver and return astronauts from space. The Colorado-based company's $212.5 million grant for its Dream Chaser spacecraft will benefit a company that already employs more than 800 people for 10 to 20 years, company head Mike Sirangelo told The Post.

we've landed rovers on Mars before. But never rovers of this size and with this precision. Some of the credit goes to Colorado aerospace experts and engineers. The correct trajectory was achieved using the ULA's Atlas 5 rocket. The "aeroshell" that allowed the craft to soar through the Martian atmosphere unscathed was built by Lockheed Martin in Colorado. The Southwest Research Institute's office in Boulder developed a radiation assessment detector that will analyze the planet's radioactive characteristics. And the first black-and-white images were courtesy of a camera designed by Boulder's Ball Aerospace & Technologies. (8/12)

Opinion: Curiosity's Success Spotlights Obama's Failure (Source: America Space)
Thanks to the president – the “longest of odds” for future JPL missions will be far, far longer. The president had the eye-watering nerve to mention investing “wisely” – if the president believes we should “invest wisely” a mention that appears to suggest support for JPL and organizations like it – then why did he submit a budget that guts JPL’s planetary budget? It makes one wonder if the president even knows what in his own budget requests. How could Obama not support NASA and JPL? Sadly, the answer appears to lie in party politics.

You need funds to fuel entitlement programs for those that either can’t or won’t do for themselves – where do you get the funds needed to support these programs? Simple, you take them from the programs of groups who not only accomplish things on their own – they accomplish things that stun the world and thus serve as an example for the world. These organizations are not filled with men and women who are looking for a hand out.

In Obama’s defense one could say the president was forced to draft his FY 2013 Budget Proposal in the worst economy since the Great Depression. However, a little honesty goes a long way and owning your decisions carries a lot of weight. It is in this regard that the president’s statement regarding Curiosity successful landing – fails the smell test. As bad as it sounds it would have been preferable if the president stated in his letter he wished he could support NASA more but the economic reality prevented him from doing so. (8/12)

Can a Reality TV Show Help Put Humans on Mars (Source: Guardian)
A private company, Mars One, has been founded by the Dutch entrepreneurs Bas Lansdorp and Arno Wielders to try to beat NASA by sending four people to Mars in 2023. They will not just plant a footprint; they will settle, and four more people will join them every two years until the colony is self-sustaining. They will be emigrants, not explorers: initially, at least, there will be no return trips, as it's much easier to get people to Mars than to get them back.

As if this were not astounding enough, Mars One will raise the $6 billion needed by doubling as a reality TV show, with private investors. Volunteers will undergo 10 years of training under the public eye, then viewers will vote on which four go first. We'll see them on their seven-month journey, then watch and talk to them as they land, assemble their homes, set out solar panels, melt Martian ice and grow food. It will be a shared ride; the company have already recruited a veteran of the original Dutch Big Brother to organize it. Click here. (8/12)

Greenfield To Receive Lifetime Achievement Award (Source: NSCFL)
Terry Greenfield has won the National Space Club – Florida Committee’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Terry was selected for his dedication and significant long-term contributions to the U.S. space program. His 56+ year career dates to the absolute beginning of U.S. space flight, beginning in 1955, when he was heavily involved in the testing and launch of America’s first satellite, Explorer I. He may well be the longest living space pioneer – and he is still helping to guide the space program forward.

Terry has been significantly involved in, virtually, every program that led to human space flight, and in every human space flight program through Constellation and the launch of Ares I-X. Terry will receive the award at the Space Club luncheon on September 11. (8/12)

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