August 5, 2012

Ex-NASA Boss Defends GW Bush “Vision” (Again) (Source: DoctorLinda)
Former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin addressed the National Research Council’s Committee on NASA’s Strategic Direction last week. Griffin told the committee that he’s grown “tired” of pronouncements that the U.S. is “the world’s leader in space.” “We barely rank number 3...Our vision today is mostly talk,” he said, insisting that the Constellation program was, and still is, a good plan and affordable to execute. He asserted that Bush’s strategy was “the right strategy, was endorsed by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, and did not require a massive increase in the NASA budget.”

After President Bush called for returning people to the Moon and sending them on to Mars, neither the White House nor Congress adequately funded the effort. The Constellation program appeared to be over-budget and behind schedule from Day One until it was cancelled by the Obama administration for being unaffordable. As Griffin himself pointed out, the Review of Human Space Flight Plans Committee commissioned by President Obama concluded that NASA would need a budget boost of at least $3 billion a year to execute Bush’s “vision.” Griffin might not call that massive, but apparently others do.)

NASA’s “science program is out of bounds” in terms of how much of the agency’s budget it takes up, Griffin said. The core purpose of NASA is human space flight, and “if you want to have a prepossessing human space flight program,” NASA needs to spend less on science and more on human exploration. As a committee member noted, the 1958 NASA Act dictates an array of purposes, objectives, and functions for the space agency, including but by no means limited to human exploration. (7/27)

Griffin: Civil Space Program Primarily a National Security Issue (Source: DoctorLinda)
Mike Griffin declared to the National Research Council's Committee on NASA’s Strategic Direction that the primary value of the U.S. civil space program “is its contribution to our national security.” The space program is “a strategic national asset.” The U.S. contains “5 percent of the world’s people and controls 25 percent of its wealth...and we like it that way” he said. Arguing for a more aggressive human exploration program, he said the U.S. is following in the footsteps of the ancient Roman empire and the British empire by carrying on with “expanding and exploiting” into space.

The committee thanked him for his “candor.” Earlier this month the President’s Science Advisor John Holdren publicly declared that the U.S. is and will remain “the” world leader in space. The NASA Act calls for the agency to establish the United States as “a” leader in space exploration. Griffin reportedly is advising the Romney campaign. (7/27)

NASA Rover Curiosity Must Rely on Aging Satellite to Relay Messages (Source: LA Times)
Scientists are attempting to deposit the largest and most advanced machine ever sent to another planet on Mars on Sunday night –- but they will know the spacecraft’s fate in “real time” only if they can get an aging satellite with a missing part to cooperate. Curiosity, NASA’s roving geochemistry laboratory, is scheduled to land on the surface of Mars at 10:31 p.m. PDT. At the same moment, the Mars satellite known as Odyssey will pass overhead.

Because the Earth will have “set” below the Mars horizon prior to landing, the only way that messages from Curiosity indicating that it is safe can be relayed immediately to scientists on Earth is if Odyssey can act as a relay system. Odyssey is more than 10 years old; it entered into orbit around Mars in the fall of 2001. What’s more, it is operating without a key part -– an angled wheel that allows scientists to precisely orient the satellite. (8/5)

Panama to Set Up Satellite Tracking Station with India's Help (Source: Times of India)
The Republic of Panama is negotiating with ISRO to enter into a technological collaboration for setting up a Satellite Tracking Station there, a senior Panamanian minister said. Senior official level talks were fruitful and modalities were being worked out for installation of the station, so that system would be set up to track various satellites, Dr Ruben Berrocal Timmons, Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Republic of Panama, told reporters at Karunya University. When asked about the utility of the station, he said Panama wanted to be an advanced scientific nation and such facility would help in tracking satellites sent by various countries. (8/4)

Cecil Field: From Airport to Spaceport (Source: WOKV)
Cecil Field officially got promoted from airport to spaceport - a distinction it now shares with Cape Canaveral and Eglin Air Force Base. Governor Scott came to Jacksonville and signed off on House Bill 59 over the weekend - which will ready the former military base for companies in the commercial space industry. It falls in line with the governor's effort to attract more aerospace and high-tech jobs.

"It is critical that we continue to focus on and invest in infrastructure projects that will directly benefit our state's economy," said Governor Scott. "Having Cecil Field designated as a spaceport will play a major role in the continued development of Florida's aerospace and aviation industries and will continue to keep our economy heading in the right direction." Statewide, the industry employs more than 74,000 people - almost 7,000 locally - and provides a nearly $18-billion economic impact, according to Space Florida. For now, the Jacksonville Aviation Authority is working on a first-of-its-kind Spaceport Master Plan. (8/4)

Should NASA Ditch Manned Missions to Mars? (Source:
NASA's overarching goal of sending astronauts to Mars may not be worth the time, money and trouble, a prominent researcher says. NASA's human spaceflight efforts have long been geared toward eventually putting boots on the Red Planet. But the agency should think seriously about ditching this plan, for the benefits of a manned Mars mission may not justify its enormous costs, said space architect Brent Sherwood of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

"Our rationale for exploring Mars, I think, is perhaps fatally weak," Sherwood said during a presentation with NASA's Future In-Space Operations working group Wednesday. Sherwood's presentation during a weekly FISO group meeting occurred just days ahead of the huge NASA Mars rover Curiosity's landing on the Red Planet. "I would suggest that maybe instead of whining about not getting enough money, we ought to quit that and redesign our human spaceflight product for success," he added. (8/5)

Space Weather and the Coming Storm (Source: Reuters)
The delicate threads that hold modern life together are dramatically cut by an unexpected threat from outer space, with disastrous effects. It's the stuff of science fiction usually associated with tales of rogue asteroids on a collision course with earth. But over the next two years, as the sun reaches a peak in its 10-year activity cycle, scientists say there is a heightened risk that a whopping solar storm could knock out the power grids, satellites and communications on which we all rely.

"Governments are taking it very seriously," says Mike Hapgood, a space weather specialist at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in the UK. "These things may be very rare but when they happen, the consequences can be catastrophic." Hapgood said that solar storms are increasingly being put on the national risk registers used for disaster planning, alongside other rare but devastating events like tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. There is a roughly 12 percent chance of a major solar storm every decade, making them a one-in-a-hundred-year event. The last major one was over 150 years ago. (8/5)

Rockledge Engineer Helped Build Mars Explorer's Phone-Home Capability (Source: Florida Today)
Ann Devereaux is part of a team of engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory responsible for getting Mars Science Laboratory and the Curiosity rover onto the planet’s surface. Devereaux, a 1985 graduate of Rockledge High School on Florida's Space Coast, was integral in the development of the transceiver that sends rover signals back to earthbound engineers. She’s worked five years on the $2.5 billion project, testing everything to make certain the mission is a success.

Devereaux grew up watching launch vehicles blast off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center. She remembers getting out of school to see early shuttle launches. She knew she wanted to work for NASA, did an apprenticeship at KSC, and went to Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She still has family in Brevard, including her mother, Marjorie, brother, John, and sister, Mary. (8/5)

Planetary Protection (Source: Aviation Week)
Curiosity has been baked and scrubbed with alcohol to minimize the chance it will inadvertently deliver a Earth-born spore to a warm, wet spot on Mars, or to somewhere that might be warm and wet someday. Science has learned that life on Earth is very tenacious, and can survive in extremely harsh environments. Astrobiologists don't want to get their hands on a fresh Mars sample some day and find it teeming with microorganisms that started in a JPL clean room that wasn't quite clean enough.

It turns out that such "forward contamination," while plenty bad, might pale in comparison to what the astrobiologists call "back contamination." This is the "Andromeda Strain" scenario, when a Martian rides a spacecraft back to Earth and causes a deadly plague when it interacts with terrestrial life. That is rubbish, counters Robert Zubrin, the Mars Society's founder. Earth has been bombarded by meteorites from Mars for billions of years, he argues, citing studies suggesting Martian material didn't get hot enough to kill microbial life when it flashed through Earth's atmosphere. (8/5)

NASA Choices Bode Well for Space Coast Jobs (Source: Florida Today)
All three of the privatized systems that would launch NASA astronauts to space will blast off from Florida’s Space Coast. The good news stretches beyond just knowing that the Cape Canaveral Spaceport will continue to be America’s launch base for human missions to space. It’s important that each of the three firms the space agency chose has strong ties to the Space Coast already and has big plans here if successful.

If the privatized delivery of crew to the space station proceeds on the same successful trajectory as the earlier cargo delivery program, then the Space Coast has much to gain. NASA’s new strategy to privatize the more routine elements of flights to and from low Earth orbit, and the funding mechanism under which companies are incentivized to take on some of the risk on their own, is working. So far, we’re seeing development work proceed far closer to schedule than under the government’s previous model for big space programs.

We’re seeing far less taxpayer money spent. Most of all, we’re seeing results. All of that builds political momentum for the broader space program at a critical time when competition for federal government funds is fierce. (8/5)

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