August 13, 2012

Curiosity Killed the Space Program (Source: American Prospect)
Lost in the euphoria of Curiosity's landing was a more sobering thought: Curiosity could be something of a grand finale for NASA’s current era of Mars exploration. Currently, NASA has only one mission planned after Curiosity, a more modest orbiter called MAVEN that’s slated for launch in 2013 and will study the planet’s atmosphere. Budget cuts and an ongoing study of future missions suggest that it could be close to a decade before another NASA mission touches down on the Red Planet’s surface.

As recently as a year ago, NASA’s future Mars exploration plans were more upbeat. NASA had agreed to work with the European Space Agency on a joint series of missions called ExoMars. That program included a European-built, American-launched orbiter in 2016 and a joint lander and rover mission in 2018. Scientists hoped the 2018 ExoMars mission would be the first phase of a long-term plan to return Martian rock and soil samples to the Earth.

However, when the Obama administration released its fiscal year 2013 budget proposal in February, it announced that NASA was terminating its participation in ExoMars. That decision came along with a proposed 20-percent cut in NASA’s overall planetary sciences program, to $1.2 billion out of an overall budget of $17.7 billion. NASA’s move forced ESA to scramble to keep at least the orbiter part of ExoMars alive; it’s now hoping to bring Russia into the program to replace the U.S. Click here. (8/13)

A New Space Race: Companies Vie to Haul Cargo, Passengers (Source: USA Today)
Perhaps nothing signified its arrival like this spring's successful cargo flight of the Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station that was launched by private firm SpaceX. SpaceX, run by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, isn't the only firm vying to haul cargo and people into orbit since NASA relinquished its near-monopoly on U.S. space transportation by retiring the Space Shuttle program last year.

At least a dozen companies are developing spaceships to replace the shuttle's duties or to carve their own commercial pathways in space. The U.S. government's new approach of letting private companies take over the work NASA used to do in low orbit around the Earth — and pay for part of it — has opened the final frontier to free enterprise. And many advocates of commercial space ventures foresee a new and even grandiose era of U.S. space exploration, development and travel resulting from it.

"We're making space more American. We're making space more democratic. We're making space more available, approachable and real to the average American," says James Muncy, president of the space policy consulting firm PoliSpace. Even NASA says the sky is no limit to what a largely unfettered U.S. space industry can achieve. Click here. (8/13)

Panel Urges California to Undertake Major Reforms or Lose Aerospace Industry (Source: Parabolic Arc)
California’s aerospace industry dwarfs both Hollywood and Agriculture as the state’s primary source of jobs, an AIAA panel reminded representatives of the California state legislature. The event’s theme was: “California Aerospace: Stuck in the Past, or Rocketing into the Future?” The panel spent an hour and a half reviewing the current state of California aerospace and the possible dark future of the industry in California, unless substantive governmental reforms are made.

Among the barriers to aerospace growth in California that were cited by the panel were: the tax assessments levied against businesses doing work in California, the tight environmental controls placed on industry in California, the dwindling state investments in education – making it hard to educate a viable workforce in the STEM areas, and a general sense of apathy among the legislatures which seem, to observers, to take the industry for granted. Click here. (8/13)

California Legislators Water Down Spaceflight Informed Consent Measure (Source: Parabolic Arc)
California legislators have significantly watered down a proposed law that would have held human spacecraft operators, manufacturers and suppliers not liable for injuries or deaths sustained by passengers if the participant signed an informed consent agreement acknowledging the inherent danger of their flights. Under amendments to the bill, companies would have “limited civil liability” even if they were not grossly negligent or intentionally caused injuries. Legislators have also removed vehicle manufacturers and component suppliers from coverage under the measure. (8/13)

Creating an Economically Robust Space Policy by Learning From the American West (Source: Space Review)
As the memories of Apollo, and its impact on US space policy, fade, what approach should replace it? Martin Elvis says that the new US approach to space should be like what it did in the American West in the 19th century: make the frontier safe for capitalism. Visit to view the article. (8/13)

A Curious Future for Mars Exploration (Source: Space Review)
Now that the Mars rover Curiosity is safely on Mars, what's next for NASA's exploration of the Red Planet? Jeff Foust reports that future plans, including an eventual Mars sample return mission, are still in flux, but could be affected by the success of Curiosity. Visit to view the article. (8/13)

Red Planet Redux (Source: Space Review)
The team that helped successfully land Curiosity on the surface of Mars included many college interns. Rex Ridenoure recalls his experience as an intern on another NASA Mars mission, Viking. Visit to view the article. (8/13)

Review: US Presidents and the Militarization of Space (Source: Space Review)
The US and other nations' militaries actively use space, but they don't station weapons or directly fight there, unlike the land, sea, and air. Jeff Foust reviews a book that argues that a deliberate series of policy decisions by several US administrations, some predating Sputnik, helped create this environment. Visit to view the article. (8/13)

Lawmakers Complain About Monopoly Space Launch Deal (Source: iWatch News)
For six years, the Air Force has relied mostly on a single, high-cost rocket manufacturer to loft its reconnaissance, communications, and GPS satellites into space, and it is about to double down. In the fall of 2013, it plans to give the United Launch Alliance a new $19 billion contract for all of the Air Force launches scheduled through 2017. Some members of Congress are becoming upset by the pricetag, however.

Key lawmakers — acting with the support of an array of upstart rocket firms — are starting to push back against the Air Force’s plan to reward its contractor with a five-year lock on all launches. The latest salvo comes from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-MI, and ranking member Dutch Ruppersberger, D-MD, who complained in an August 2 letter the Pentagon’s largest launch project “lacks domestic competition and is unable to compete internationally due to high costs.” (8/13)

Space Exploration More Than a Curiosity (Source:
Curiosity is an apt name for the car-sized drone exploring our celestial neighbor. But all of this has been covered by better writers. I had no intention of joining the discussion until Saturday morning when I read the letters to the editor page of this newspaper. One letter insisted the mission to Mars was unnecessary, and I agreed with the letter’s overall point that “hunger, homelessness and health” are worthy of our combined endeavors, but I can’t agree that scrapping our space program is the way to combat such social concerns.

I literally did a spit take laugh when I got to the point in the letter where it suggests the mission to Mars was an elaborate hoax. I grew up hearing stories about how people didn’t believe in the moon landing, but come on, that was 1969. It’s 2012. The letter calls space exploration a fairytale. It implies that government wastefulness and greedy corporate cover-ups have combined with modern movie studio magic to fool everyone with fake extraterrestrial adventures. The only thing more unbelievable than a man walking on the moon or a robot cruising Mars is a vast conspiracy to bilk taxpayers out of a small amount of money so that 11 presidents can lie about a defunct space program.

The reason I say “small amount of money” is because despite the letter’s claim that the Curiosity mission was a “multi-billion dollar” boondoggle, the entire project came in at a cost less than $2.5 billion. While that is a lot of money to me, it’s not a lot of money to the federal government. The war in Iraq cost $500,000 a minute, according to Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. At that rate, the total price of the Mars mission was eclipsed by war spending in less than a week. NASA’s not breaking anyone’s piggy bank. (8/13)

Romney Seemingly Disses Return to Moon, Contradicts Adviser (Source: Daily Beast)
Mitt Romney made an appeal to patriots, Olympic fans and the Space Coast crowd alike while campaigning in Florida today. "Baloney," he declared to all those who deny the U.S.'s status as the greatest nation on earth. "We just won more Olympic medals than any other nation on Earth. You also just saw we just landed on Mars and took a good look at what's going on there. And I know the Chinese are planning on going to the moon and I hope they have a good experience doing that and I hope they stop in and take a look at our flag that was put there 43 years ago."

Editor's Note: This comment by Gov. Romney seems to dismiss a U.S. return to the moon as a 'been-there-done-that' proposition for a nation that continues to lead the world in space (a position that had also been expressed by President Obama). It seems counter to the thinking of some of Gov. Romney's high-profile space policy advisers (mainly Mike Griffin) who strongly advocate U.S. human missions to the moon as a centerpiece of U.S. space policy, and who feel the U.S. 'barely ranks #3' (behind China) in space. Click here for the video. (8/13)

President Obama Talks With Mars Curiosity Team (Source: NASA Watch)
"I understand there's a special Mohawk Guy that's working on the mission. (Laughter.) He's been one of the many stars of the show last Sunday night. And I, in the past, thought about getting a Mohawk myself -- (laughter) -- but my team keeps on discouraging me. And now that he's received marriage proposals and thousands of new Twitter followers, I think that I'm going to go back to my team and see if it makes sense. (Laughter.)... It does sound like NASA has come a long way from the white shirt, black dark-rimmed glasses and the pocket protectors. (Laughter.) You guys are a little cooler than you used to be. (Laughter.)" (8/13)

"Space Congress" Returns - 42nd Space Congress in December (Source: CCTS)
The First Space Congress was held in Cocoa Beach, Florida, April 20-22, 1964, with the theme, “Where Are We Going in Space?” Thirty-one papers were presented and three luncheon speakers, an opening speaker, and keynote speaker addressed the assemblage. Since 1964, all CCTS Space Congresses have been held in the Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral, Florida, area. Space Congress is designed to promote and support the activities of the technical, scientific, engineering, and professional organizations of this area in a manner that will enhance the identity and professional stature of the member societies of CCTS. The 42nd Space Congress, “A New Beginning,” will be held at the Florida Solar Energy Center on December 7, 2012. Click here. (8/13)

42nd Space Congress Call for Technical Papers (Source: CCTS)
In preparation for the 42nd Space Congress on Dec. 7, the Canaveral Council of Technical Societies invites the submission of 100-200 word abstracts for Technical Paper presentations during the event. Click here. (8/13)

Congress Mulls Over Space Agency Reboot (Sources: Houston Chronicle, Space News)
According to the Houston Chronicle, Reps. John Culberson (R-TX) and Frank Wolf (R-VA), both members of the House Appropriations Committee, have begun working on legislation that would make NASA less susceptible to the vagaries of presidential politics that have created a pattern of wasteful starts and stops on big programs over the years. "Still in draft form, the legislation would restructure NASA's management and funding to make it more professional than political, advocates say."

"They envision creating a management style more like the FBI, in which the president appoints the director to a 10-year term." But one unidentified source in the story gives the legislation zero chance of becoming law, even if it passes in Congress. No president would sign the legislation ceding White House control over NASA's annual budget, this source said. (8/13)

NASA's Next Big Rocket Passes Major Review (Source: Sen)
Last week, and without much fanfare, NASA's latest home-grown rocket that will launch humans far into space passed a major test on its way to becoming reality. The undramatically-named Space Launch System (SLS) Program successfully underwent a stringent examination by the space agency and will now progress to its preliminary design phase.

It passed a combined System Requirements Review and System Definition Review, assessments that were essential to allow continued development of the mighty rocket. First test flight is scheduled for 2017. In various configurations, the heavy-lifter will not only launch astronauts aboard NASA's new Orion spacecraft on missions to asteroids and Mars, but also large payloads such as equipment they might need there. (8/13)

Orion Into 17-Month Outfitting at KSC (Source:
The Exploration Flight Test Orion (EFT-1) is into its first month of outfitting operations, aimed at turning what is a shell of a structure into a real spaceship. The outfitting operations at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) will take 17 months, using the bulk of the processing flow timeline ahead of its scheduled launch atop of a Delta IV Heavy in 2014. It is almost one year since the first welds were conducted on the vehicle at the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in New Orleans. By the end of June, the bare bones of the Orion were inside the Operations & Checkout (O&C) building at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. (8/13)

India Nowhere Near Sending a Human to Space, China Much Ahead (Source: Economic Times)
Amitabha Ghosh, a NASA geologist speaks, spoke in San Francisco about Mars, the future of space explorations out of India and the US, the debate over manned missions, and about his Indian roots. "India is at a very interesting crossroads in space... It's similar to the US space scene in the 1960s and the 1970s. ISRO's budget too has gone by almost seven times in the last few decades. And India has the public and political mandate to move ahead."

"But [India] does not yet have the technology heritage; this is something it has to build. For instance, it is nowhere near sending a human to space like say, China which is much ahead and has already sent a human to space. The only caveat is that people in India need to understand that there will be frequent failures and you should be able to move ahead and go on in spite of them. Space -- and especially Mars, which India seems to be planning for -- is after all a risky business and everybody, including NASA have had very public failures." (8/13)

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