August 18, 2012

Omega Envoy Sponsors Moonbots Team (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Omega Envoy, the Florida team competing in the Google Lunar X PRIZE (GLXP), and its parent company, Earthrise Space Inc (ESI), are pleased to announce that Omega Envoy will be sponsoring Team Brick Buddies Explorers, a competitor in the Moonbots 2012 competition. Team Brick Buddies Explorers is one of the 30 finalists for phase two of the competition. Brick Buddies Explorers is a STEM organization that works to generate interest in young people in science, technology, software programming, mechanical engineering and applying those skills through various STEM-related activities. Click here. (8/18)

Dream Chaser Aims to Use Space Shuttle’s Legacy to its Advantage (Source:
The lifting body concept – made famous by the Space Shuttle and now living on with Dream Chaser – will provide NASA with the necessity of diversity, according to Commercial Crew integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative award winner Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC). Birthed from the HL-20 lifting body vehicle, SNC partnered with the Langley Research Center (LaRC) via a five year partnership that focused on the evolution and substantiation of the Dream Chaser orbital crew vehicle. Added to the heritage of the Space Shuttle, SNC believes their baby orbiter is capable of continuing the legacy.

It is possible NASA managers will have to eventually down-select to just one overall winner for the future contract to launch American astronauts to the ISS in the second half of this decade. Should that become the scenario, the ultimate decision will have to weigh up numerous pros and cons between the contenders, potentially leading to a capsule versus lifting body showdown. In promoting the advantages of Dream Chaser’s fundamental design, Mr Sirangelo pointed to the quick and safe return of downmass – be it an injured crewmember, or a critical science payload, to a runway landing.

Also a legacy of the Shuttle fleet, the ability to reuse Dream Chasers, as many times as the Shuttle orbiters, was cited as an advantage over the capsule design. This in turn could lead to Dream Chasers gaining their own individual names – although SNC have said they are still considering that option. “We also see the advantages in the fact our vehicle is highly reusable,” added Mr Sirangelo. (8/18)

NASA Unveils Mars Rover's Travel Plans (Source: Reuters)
NASA on Friday unveiled plans for its Mars rover Curiosity's first road trip, part of a two-year quest to determine if the planet most like Earth could ever have hosted microbial life. The rover's primary target is Mount Sharp, a mound of layered rock three miles high rising from the floor of Gale Crater. Before beginning the 4.3-mile (7-km) trek to the base of Mount Sharp, a journey expected to take months, the six-wheeled Curiosity will visit a relatively nearby site named "Glenelg," which caught scientists' interest because it includes three types of terrain.

Travel to Glenelg, located about 1,600 feet away from Curiosity's landing site, should take a month or longer, depending on how many stops scientists decide to make along the way. "Probably we'll do a month worth of science there, maybe a little bit more," lead mission scientist John Grotzinger told reporters during a conference call on Friday. "Sometime toward the end of the calendar year, roughly, I would guess then we would turn our sights toward the trek to Mount Sharp." (8/18)

Likely Dinosaur Footprint Has NASA Goddard on Cloud Nine (Source: Washington Post)
Eons before man dreamed of exploring the heavens, dinosaur tracker Ray Stanford is convinced, a low-slung armored beast roamed what is now NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, stamping a huge footprint that went unnoticed until he spied it this summer. A scalloped mini-crater with four pointy toe prints pressed into ruddy rock, the putative dinosaur track juts out from a scruffy slope at Goddard, home to 7,000 scientists, engineers and other workers with their eyes firmly turned skyward.

Maryland’s signature dinosaur, an armored browser known as a nodosaur, made the track with its back left foot 112 million years ago, Stanford said as he led an entourage of NASA officials to the print Friday morning. Sticking out of the grass in plain view, the elephant-foot-size impression — nearly 14 inches wide — elicited gasps. “Unbelievable!” said a NASA photographer. Someone else said, “Oh, my!” (8/18)

Space Auction to Raise Money for Scholarships (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Want Apollo 13 astronaut Fred Haise to visit your kids’ classroom? That’s currently going for $1,300. How about a pair of closeout gloves from Gemini XII. That’s going for $160. I’m kind of keen on a collection of matchbooks commemorating the Apollo missions. That’s going for $50, a little more my speed. These are all items part of the a semiannual auction by The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, a fund supported by former astronauts that awards 26 $10,000 scholarships each year to promising students pursuing science, technology, engineering or math degrees.

The auction began today at and bidding lasts through Thursday, August 23 at 10 p.m. “The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation is near and dear to the astronauts which is why we have all donated our personal items and time to this cause,” said Apollo 16 Moonwalker and ASF Chairman Charlie Duke. “The auction proceeds are vital to fulfilling our mission and providing scholarships to America’s brightest STEM students.” (8/18)

Editorial: Probe's Martian Journey Blazes a Trail for Humans (Source: Philadelphia Inquirer)
Rumors of NASA's death have been exaggerated. After the Obama administration proceeded with the scuttling of the ancient space-shuttle fleet, a host of doom-and-gloomers, including some of the most storied names in U.S. astronaut history, raised sand. They suggested that without manned flight, there really was no U.S. space program.

But that was B.C. - before Curiosity, the probe sent to Mars, which for more than a week now has been beaming photographs of the Red Planet's landscape back to Earth. The rocky, mountainous terrain has been compared to the Mojave Desert, which has given a very different breed of NASA scoffers - those who believe man never really set foot on the moon - more ammo for their skepticism. They can say what they want. Curiosity is for real.

Manned spaceflight has not been abandoned, although responsibility for the development of the vehicles that will eventually take a human to Mars has been largely turned over to private enterprise. It will be decades before such a flight occurs; the year 2030 has been staked out as the goal. In the meantime, Americans should pay close attention to the work being done by companies such as SpaceX, which in May successfully sent an unmanned spacecraft to the International Space Station, where it delivered a cargo of 1,500 pounds of scientific equipment and food. (8/18)

Family of NASA Curiosity Scientist Living on MARS Time (Source: Daily Mail)
Once Curiosity landed on the surface of the Red Planet, NASA mission control operators in charge of the ground-breaking endeavor were forced to switch over to Mars time, with one scientist taking his entire family along for the ride. Scientist David Oh’s wife, Bryn, came up with the idea to join in on her husband’s time shift along with the couple’s three children - Braden, 13, Ashlyn, 10, and Devyn, 8.

Oh, who transitioned from flight director of cruise operations to flight director of surface operations once Curiosity has landed, explained that the rover operates on a daily schedule where it works during the day and goes to sleep at night. The engineers on earth send the rover a new set of commands every Mars morning, and in order to get those commands ready on time, the engineers must work on Mars time. (8/18)

Beatles, Doors Songs Wake Up Mars Rover (Source: WFJA)
If there’s life on Mars, it be getting treated to some classic rock and pop music. In a recent blog message, a NASA scientist named Eric Blood posted a list of tunes that, each morning, are used to help “wake up” the Mars Curiosity robot that’s currently exploring the Red Planet. Blood reports that among the songs being piped up to the remote-controlled rover are The Beatles‘ “Good Morning, Good Morning,” The Doors‘ “Break on Through (to the Other Side),” George Harrison‘s “Got My Mind Set on You” and Simon & Garfunkel‘s version of The Everly Brothers‘ “Wake Up Little Susie.”

Other music used to stir the robot at the start of its day includes Frank Sinatra‘s “Come Fly with Me,” John Williams‘ “Theme from Star Wars” and Wagner‘s “The Ride of the Valkyries.” Perhaps surprisingly, David Bowie‘s “Space Oddity” and “Life on Mars” don’t appear on Blood’s list. According to, the Curiosity rover’s mission, which began when it landed on Mars on August 6, will continue for about 23 months. Editor's Note: A robot needs to music to wake up? (8/18)

From Heroes to Humans: The Totally Regular People Who Landed a Robot on Mars (Source: The Atlantic)
Now that our space explorers are astrobots, it's easier to see the ordinariness of the folks who are our space program. Yesterday afternoon, a group of the scientists and engineers orchestrating NASA's Curiosity mission got together to do an "Ask Me Anything" on Reddit. They got -- and answered -- questions about the mission itself, about the engineering that went into the Curiosity rover, about the lifestyle the mission requires of them. The many exchanges of the AMA were, unsurprisingly, informative and illustrative and educational. But my favorite was, practically speaking, none of those things. Click here. (8/18)

If Curiosity Finds Life on Mars, Then What? (Source: US News)
President Obama has already said the discovery of life on Mars would instantly become one of the most important human discoveries. In a call with NASA scientists in charge of the Curiosity rover on Monday, he said, "I've got a lot of things on my plate, but if there is [life on Mars], I suspect that'll go to the top of my list." It's highly unlikely Curiosity will actually discover life, because its cameras aren't powerful enough to actually observe microbes. But its instruments are designed to detect the "building blocks" of life—-chemical compounds that could suggest life exists or once existed on Mars.

If it does, scientists will have to decide what to do next. Carl Sagan once wrote, "If there is life on Mars, I believe we should do nothing with Mars. Mars then belongs to the Martians, even if the Martians are only microbes." It's a noble concept, says Robert Zubrin, president of the Mars Society, a group encouraging humans to explore the planet, but it's off base, he says. "Ethics needs to be based on what's best for humanity, not what's best for bacteria," he says. He likens exploring Mars to Europeans exploring North America—if there weren't any Native Americans already on the continent. (8/18)

Solar-Electric Advancing For Deep-space Propulsion (Source: Aviation Week)
Working in the background, a relatively small group of U.S. spaceflight engineers has been figuring out just what it will take to get humans out of low Earth orbit to Mars, with stops along the way in cislunar space and perhaps on near-Earth asteroids. Spearheaded by William Gerstenmaier and managed in part by John Shannon, the team is developing mission architectures that will guide the elected and appointed politicians who must fund and manage mankind's next steps into the Solar System.

With budgets tight for the foreseeable future, a lot of attention is going into affordable technology. One promising technology finding a big role in future exploration architectures is solar-electric propulsion (SEP). Work is underway at advancing the readiness levels of technologies that covert energy from the Sun into propulsion by using solar-generated electricity to force ions out of an engine at high speeds to produce thrust. It isn't a lot of thrust, but it can go a long way on relatively little fuel. A SEP system weighs a lot less than chemical propulsion.

Given enough time it can move a lot of mass through space. That in-space advantage makes it particularly attractive for pre-positioning cargo—supplies, habitats and the like—-to keep human explorers alive after they arrive on a faster vehicle to explore a distant location. Click here. (8/18)

Mock Asteroid Mission Set for Launch (Source: NBC)
NASA's Desert RATS team is ready to begin a visit to a near-Earth asteroid next week — a simulated mission, that is. Since 1997, the Desert RATS crew have conducted summer simulations aimed at trying out the robots and other tools that may come into play during future exploration missions beyond Earth orbit. The "Desert" part of the name refers to the usual locale for the exercises, in the Arizona desert, and "RATS" stands for "Research and Technology Studies."

This year is different: Instead of simulating surface operations on the moon or Mars, the team will focus on a zero-G visit to an asteroid, like the one NASA is planning for the mid-2020s. That means it's not so important to go out into the desert. As a result, this month's simulation is being run out of Building 9 at Johnson Space Center in Texas, the Desert RATS home base. A mockup of NASA's Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle, or MMSEV, has been outfitted with a display that will show a virtual-reality view of the asteroid Itokawa out the front windows.
Click here. (8/18)

The Time is Right for ‘Rules of the Road’ in the Cosmos (Source: Washington Post)
China is at the cusp of its “SALT moment” with the U.S. Moscow and Washington were at a similar juncture in 1969, when the strategic arms limitation talks got underway. President Nixon and General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev decided to try to stabilize a competition in which both superpowers were poised to multiply their strategic offensive forces. The U.S. was on the verge of deploying national ballistic-missile defenses as well. The odds of success were limited, since neither country had a history of substantive engagement on these issues or of coordinating government positions for complex negotiations of this kind.

When the talks began, SALT critics accused U.S. diplomats of negotiating against the Pentagon and with the Kremlin, while military members of the Soviet delegation warned U.S. officials against revealing “secrets” to Russian diplomats. Nevertheless, in less than three years, Washington and Moscow managed to conclude the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. These agreements helped keep the Cold War from becoming hot and, in due course, provided the foundation for much deeper and more stabilizing nuclear arms reductions.

China’s SALT moment with the U.S. will not involve nuclear arms control and reduction treaties. U.S. and Chinese nuclear arsenals are too dissimilar in size for negotiations, and Beijing is too sensitive about transparency to negotiate verifiable nuclear restraints, let alone arms reductions. Instead, it will focus on space, where the competition is heating up and the stakes are high. What happens in space will heavily influence whether relations between China and the U.S. become more dangerous or more cooperative. Click here. (8/18)

Chinese Firm to Send Spanish Rover to moon in 2014 (Source: Xinhua)
China Great Wall Industry Corp. will send a Spanish rover to the moon in June 2014, according to the Galactic Suite company which heads the "Barcelona Moon Team" that is competing in the Google Lunar X Prize contest to the moon. The rover will be launched by a Long March 2C/CTS-2 rocket from China's Xichang spaceport. The Barcelona Moon Team is the only team based in Spain to take part in the Google Lunar X Prize, which challenges participants to create a robot that can move over the lunar surface and send live images back to Earth before December 2015. (8/18)

MIT-Developed Microthrusters Could Propel Small Satellites (Source: MIT)
A penny-sized rocket thruster may soon power the smallest satellites in space. The device, designed by Paulo Lozano, an associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, bears little resemblance to today’s bulky satellite engines, which are laden with valves, pipes and heavy propellant tanks. Instead, Lozano’s design is a flat, compact square — much like a computer chip — covered with 500 microscopic tips that, when stimulated with voltage, emit tiny beams of ions. Together, the array of spiky tips creates a small puff of charged particles that can help propel a shoebox-sized satellite.

“They’re so small that you can put several [thrusters] on a vehicle,” Lozano says. He adds that a small satellite outfitted with several microthrusters could “not only move to change its orbit, but do other interesting things — like turn and roll.” Today's 'CubeSat' satellites lack propulsion systems, and once in space, are usually left to passively spin in orbits close to Earth. After a mission concludes, the satellites burn up in the lower atmosphere.

Lozano says if CubeSats were deployed at higher orbits, they would take much longer to degrade, potentially creating space clutter. As more CubeSats are launched farther from Earth in the future, the resulting debris could become a costly problem. Engineering propulsion systems for small satellites could solve the problem of space junk: CubeSats could propel down to lower orbits to burn up, or even act as galactic garbage collectors, pulling retired satellites down to degrade in Earth’s atmosphere. (8/18)

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