August 31, 2012

Romney's Silence on NASA's Future Worries Space Fans (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Though the Space Coast is less than 150 miles from Tampa, it might as well be on Mars for the attention given to NASA by Mitt Romney during the Republican convention this week. As has been the case for most of the campaign, Romney largely ignored the issue — heightening anxiety even among some Republicans about how a Romney administration would impact NASA and Kennedy Space Center.

"There is no real meat on the bone at the present time," said Bob Walker, former Republican chair of the U.S. House science committee. Though Romney's mention of NASA legend Neil Armstrong in his convention speech was encouraging, Walker said, space supporters want to know more about his plans for NASA's future. Romney's relative silence stands in contrast to the detailed stances taken by both McCain and Obama at this point four years ago.

That Romney has shied from space policy makes some sense politically — especially on the issue of human exploration. Though Constellation faced major financial and technical trouble, its cancellation divided the aerospace community; if Romney takes sides now, it could alienate potential allies. U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, R-FL, said it's better for Romney to remain vague than to make promises he can't keep — such as Obama vowing in 2008 to minimize the gap between the retirement of the shuttle and its successor. (8/31)

SpaceX Conducts Successful Rehearsal for ISS Mission (Source:
Preparations for SpaceX’s debut Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in October are on track, following Friday’s successful Wet Dress Rehearsal (WDR). The test was carried out on their Falcon 9 launch vehicle, minus its Dragon capsule, at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. This latest mission will be yet another milestone for the relatively young duo of Falcon 9 and the Dragon spacecraft, following hot on the heels of their second successful COTS (Commercial Orbital Transportation Services) demo, known as C2+ due to its combined C2/C3 objectives. (8/31)

High-Res Interactive Panorama Lets You Stand on Mars With Curiosity (Source: WIRED)
Zoom in on every pebble and stone around the Curiosity rover in this amazing high-resolution interactive panorama taken on Mars. This 360-degree view shows the craggy rim of Gale Crater towering behind the rover and the looming precipice of Mount Sharp — the rover’s ultimate destination — standing in front. The images from this mosaic were taken by Curiosity’s 2-megapixel MastCams and released on Aug. 27. Danish photographer Hans Nyberg used NASA’s data to create the immersive version seen above. Click here. (8/31)

Building Lunar Elevator Might Make Routine Visits Feasible (The Economist)
Apollo's Eagle, a single-use craft of a type known as a lunar excursion module, was used to ferry Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin 100km from lunar orbit to the moon’s surface and back. It weighed half as much as the command and service module that was waiting in orbit to carry them all the way back to Earth, a journey of almost 400,000km. The weight of the lunar module, on top of the command and service module, was the main reason why the Saturn V rockets needed to be the tallest, heaviest and most powerful ever flown.

Eagle was also a crotchety bird. It overshot the planned landing site, sounded several worrying alarms on its flight, and eventually touched down under manual control with a mere 25 seconds of fuel remaining. How much cheaper and easier (if less dramatic) it would have been if Armstrong and Aldrin could simply have stepped into a lift car in space, pressed M for moon, and descended.

At the 2012 Space Elevator Conference, held in Seattle from August 25th to 27th, much of the buzz was around just such a flight of fancy. The idea of a space lift is to lower a cable from a satellite in orbit around a planet to a base on that planet’s equator. To do this the satellite would need to be in a synchronous orbit, and the descending cable would have to be counterbalanced by an ascending one extending off into space. Robotic cars would then whizz up and down the cable, providing a means of reaching orbit that does not rely on dangerous and expensive rockets. (8/31)

NASA Testing High Altitude Suborbital Rocket at Wallops in September (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA will conduct a test flight of a Talos-Terrier-Oriole suborbital sounding rocket between 7 and 10 a.m., September 5, from the agency's launch range at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. This will be the first flight of this launch vehicle which is being developed, using motors that currently exist in the sounding rocket fleet, to support high altitude space science research. The backup launch day is September 6. (8/31)

Bill Clinton to Chair 100-Year Starship Symposium (Source: SpaceRef)
The first major event from 100 Year Starship (100YSS) will take place Sep 13-16 in Houston, Texas. A DARPA-seed funded initiative building an inclusive, global aspiration for interstellar space travel, the 100YSS 2012 Public Symposium will bring together influential thought, scientific and cultural leaders to explore the technologies, science, social structures and strategies needed to make capabilities for human travel to another star system a reality within the next century.

President Bill Clinton has agreed to serve as the symposium's Honorary Chair. "This important effort helps advance the knowledge and technologies required to explore space, all while generating the necessary tools that enhance our quality of life on earth," said President Clinton. He is joined by Houston Mayor Annise Parker, Honorary Texas Chair, symposium Chair Dr. Mae Jemison and symposium Co-Chair Dr. Richard Wainerdi, President of the Texas Medical Center. Click here. (8/31)

New Analysis Estimates Agency-by-Agency Sequestration Cuts (Source: FCW)
Civilian government agencies can expect to see their FY-2013 budgets decline by roughly 7 percent if sequestration becomes a reality on Jan. 3, according to new data from an industry group. The Professional Services Council estimates non-Defense Department agencies’ combined discretionary spending will fall by $39 billion, from $551 billion in fiscal 2012 to $512 in fiscal 2013.

The terms of the Budget Control Act largely spare the Veterans Affairs department from sequestration, according to the PSC analysis. Given that exclusion, the PSC estimate means all other non-DOD agencies will face cuts of approximately 7.8 percent. NASA's budget would decline by $1.4 billion, from $17.8 billion to $16.4 billion. Click here. (8/31)

Editorial: If NASA is a National Security Issue, Why Not Fund It Accordingly? (Source: SPACErePORT)
Republicans unfailingly cite national security as one of the overriding reasons for maintaining U.S. leadership in space. Some in Congress say we are endangered militarily by nations like China if U.S. astronauts don't return to the Moon. Meanwhile, both Republicans and Democrats feel strongly that a strong space program is vital for other reasons, like science and technology development, commercial spinoffs, and as a driver for STEM education achievement.

It leads one to wonder why NASA's budget hasn't grown to match the Congress' interest in funding military programs. The FY-2013 DOD budget could top $605 billion (an additional $3 billion is in the version passed by the House). Meanwhile, NASA's proposed FY-2013 budget is $17.7 billion.

Given the nation's demand for reduced overall federal spending, a shakeup of DOD spending is assured whether or not "sequestration" is enforced. In this environment, cutbacks on non-performing DOD programs could easily allow for military funding to be shifted over to NASA, while still achieving a net reduction in overall spending. Who would argue with that? (Well, maybe the DOD programs on the chopping block would argue.) (8/31)

Space Florida and NanoRacks Announce ISS Research Competition (Source: Space Florida)
Space Florida and NanoRacks announced a partnership to host the Space Florida International Space Station (ISS) Research Competition. As part of this program, NanoRacks will provide up to eight Payload Box Units (NanoLabs) that will fly payloads to the ISS, with scientific research that will be conducted on board the U.S. National Lab. Space Florida will cover the costs of research payload transportation to the ISS for the eight winning applicants.

The Space Florida ISS Research Competition is designed to inspire innovation and enable unique research opportunities and access for customers to the ISS. Breakthroughs in material and life sciences, environmental monitoring, complex drugs and other consumer items enabled by space-based research benefit a broad range of emerging markets for government, commercial and academic customers. Research proposals will be reviewed and judged by an independent and scientifically qualified team, based on commercial viability and overall benefit to mankind. Click here. (8/31)

Romney Mentions Neil Armstrong During RNC Acceptance Speech (Source: America Space)
During his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Tampa, Mitt Romney highlighted the accomplishments of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon who passed away on Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012. "“The soles of Neil Armstrong’s boots on the Moon made permanent impressions on our souls… God bless Neil Armstrong.”

Romney’s comments were made to highlight the concept of American exceptionalism. However, on the campaign trail Romney said the following concerning what he would do if a business executive: “If I had a business executive come to me and say I want to spend a few hundred billion dollars to put a colony on the moon, I’d say, ‘You’re fired,” Romney said during a debate held in Jacksonville in response to then-candidate Newt Gingrich’s comments on space. (8/31)

What The Apollo Astronauts Did For Life Insurance (Source: NPR)
This week, Americans have been remembering Neil Armstrong. But before he walked on the moon, he had to solve a much more prosaic problem. A dangerous mission to the moon was exactly the kind of situation a responsible person plans for by taking out a life insurance policy. Not surprisingly, a life insurance policy for somebody about to get on a rocket to the moon cost a fortune.

But Neil Armstrong had something going for him. He was famous, as was the whole Apollo 11 crew. People really wanted their autographs. About a month before Apollo 11 was set to launch, the three astronauts entered quarantine. And, during free moments in the following weeks, each of the astronauts signed hundreds of autographs. They gave them to a friend. And on important days — the day of the launch, the day the astronauts landed on the moon — their friend got them to the post office and got them postmarked, and then distributed them to the astronauts' families.

It was life insurance in the form of autographs. But then, in the 1990s, Robert Pearlman says, the insurance autographs started showing up in space memorabilia auctions. An Apollo 11 insurance autograph can cost as much as $30,000. (8/31)

Mars Can Be Made Habitable: Top Scientist (Source: Domain-B)
"Venus is so near to earth, yet it's so inhospitable. Mars is so near to the earth, yet it has a very, very thin atmosphere, very little of oxygen. Mars has some magnetic materials all over but it does not have a magnetic field, why? There is very little known of Mars," former ISRO chairman Rao observed. Rao said Mars has a great amount of relevance because in about "500 years or fewer, we might be able to use Mars as a resource for earth". "We are running out of resources in the world," he said. "There are many people who believe Mars can be made hospitable and of course it requires a lot of effort." (8/31)

Elon Musk Says He May Form Holding Company For Tesla, SpaceX (Source: Bloomberg)
Elon Musk, co-founder of Tesla Motors and founder of SpaceX, said he’s interested in creating a holding company for shares of his electric car and rocket launch businesses. “Am starting to consider whether it would make sense to create a parent corporation that would own the stock,” Musk said today in a Web chat on “Not sure if that is feasible or sensible, but am thinking about it.”

Musk has said an initial public offering of his aerospace company, known as SpaceX, may happen next year. SpaceX in May became the first private company to send a spacecraft to supply the International Space Station, and this month won a $440 million U.S. government contract to develop spacecraft for future cargo missions. Musk has said Tesla, which sold shares to the public for the first time in 2010, may be profitable as early as 2013 from sales of battery-powered Model S sedans. (8/31)

The Right Goes the Wrong Direction in Space (Source: Huffington Post)
When good people do bad things, it is sad, but when they reach the point where one can predict that they will do nothing but bad things, a deeper kind of sadness sets in, almost at the level of resignation. Having read the 2012 Republican Party Platform's section on space policy, I am not so much disappointed (as I passed that marker years ago) as I am in that place where a family goes when their junkie son gets arrested yet again after crashing all the family cars and selling off everything in the house to feed his addiction.

Primarily, I am confused. Having seen in Tampa several days of celebration of American ideals such as entrepreneurship and enterprise, to actually read the core document put out by the party and its take on U.S. space policy was almost nauseating. I had truly hoped that the obvious and glaringly real rise of an dynamic commercial space industry that is almost completely U.S.-born and bred would be embraced as an icon of a new, can-do, Right Stuff kind of American spirit.

Yet it reflects the reality we see in Washington of late. A member of the Republican Party can sit in a hearing and decry in fiery rhetoric the socialist satan of state-based medicine, waxing poetic about individual mandates and markets. They then get up, walk down the hall into a hearing on national space policy, and not only embrace the idol of a socialist space program but attack the idea of empowering the people of America to open space themselves. (8/31)

How Old are the First Planets? (Source: Astrobiology Magazine)
To build a planet you need lots of rubble and that means lots of heavy elements - stuff more massive than atoms of hydrogen and helium. The elemental composition of the collapsing nebula that gave birth to the Sun and the planets of the Solar System included things like iron, silicon and magnesium that form the bulk of rocky planets, and carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, potassium and other such elements that are essential for life.

However, these materials were present in just trace quantities, amounting to no more than two percent of the entire nebula that was otherwise dominated by hydrogen (74 percent) and helium (24 percent). Yet this gaseous cloud was huge; it is estimated that it harbored enough heavy elements to build at least thirty planets like Earth.

To build up enough of these materials, many stars must first live and die, each one contributing to the evolving chemistry of the Universe, but how much material is really required to build a planet and how quickly did the Universe accrue a sufficient level to do so? Click here. (8/31)

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