August 6, 2012

Sea Launch Prepares for the Launch of Intelsat 21 (Source: Sea Launch)
The Sea Launch vessels have departed Sea Launch Home Port in Long Beach, Calif., for the equator, in preparation for the launch of the Intelsat 21 satellite. Liftoff is planned for 23:56 Pacific Daylight Time (PDT) on Thursday, August 16 (06:56 UTC/GMT on August 17), at the opening of a 58-minute launch window. Upon their arrival at the launch site at 154 degrees West longitude, the Sea Launch team will initiate a 72-hour countdown. After ballasting the launch platform Odyssey to launch depth, the team will roll out and erect a Zenit-3SL rocket on the launch pad, execute final tests and proceed with fueling operations and launch. (8/6)

Pols Hope Rover Helps NASA Funding (Source: Politico)
The successful landing of NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars was hailed Monday by lawmakers, some of whom hope the wheeled explorer will reinvigorate funding for space exploration. President Barack Obama has proposed keeping the agency’s overall budget at $17.7 billion for next year, but decreasing NASA’s Mars exploration program budget from $587 million to $360 million next year. Though the mission was controlled from Pasadena, Curiosity blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., last November. Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL), who district includes Cape Canaveral, said the rover shows that NASA can achieve its goals when it has a clear mission.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), a critic of proposed cuts to the program, watched Curiosity’s 13,000 mph dissent into Mars’ Gale Crater from inside NASA’s Pasedena, Calif.-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He later said in a statement, “This success must reinvigorate our efforts to restore funding for planetary science and future Mars missions.”

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), ranking member of the Science, Space and Technology committee, and Rep. Jerry F. Costello (D-IL), ranking member of the Space and Aeronautics subcommittee, said in a joint statement: “This is a monumental achievement and a huge step for planetary science.” Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), whose district relies heavily on NASA for jobs, also offered his congratulations, tweeting, "...JPL is a national treasure!”
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) tweeted: “The soft landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars is a testament to NASA’s engineering superiority.” (8/6)

Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin Loses Out in NASA's Space Taxi Funding Race (Source: Seattle Weekly)
It was a happy weekend for NASA, with the federal space agency's successful landing of its Mars rover yesterday and its Friday agreements with three American companies to design and develop the next generation of U.S. human spaceflights. Less happy is Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, whose commercial venture, Kent-based Blue Origin, was scratched from the funding race to build a space taxi - having lost its test vehicle at 45,000 feet during an experimental flight last year.

Bezos' venture was not among the winners, though it had been in competition with the other three through last year. In 2011, NASA doled out $270 million to the four companies, with $22 million going to Blue Origin. Billionaire Bezos will now have to continue his space venture independently, its future less clear. The company rarely publicly speaks about its progress and its Update page on the firm's website hasn't been updated since last November, following announcement of the in-flight loss (explosion?) of its second test vehicle at Mach 1.2 speed and an altitude of 45,000 feet.

Editor's Note: I read in another news media report that Blue Origin chose not to (or perhaps was unable to) submit a proposal for CCiCap funding. (8/6)

The Women In The Blue Shirts Who Dare Mighty Things (Source: Forbes)
There were a few women scattered amongst the blue shirts in the control room and I tweeted asking who they were. After a bunch of RTs and replies with ideas, Priscilla Vega (@PR_Vega), science writer and press officer for JPL, came through for us with a list. Rachel Sklar posted the list on her blog Change The Ratio which you should definitely read. There were six members of the JPL team in the control room [who were women] for the launch. In no particular order. Click here. (8/6)

How Many Jobs Did the Mars Landing Create? (Source: CNN)
As the new rover that just landed on Mars looks for signs of life there, the NASA program that runs it is supporting life here on Earth -- with jobs. NASA spokesman Guy Webster said the rover, named Curiosity, is currently supporting about 700 people, but has supported 7,000 jobs at various times over the last eight years. The Curiosity project and its $2.5 billion budget has generated jobs not just at NASA but at companies ranging from Lockheed Martin to a bicycle manufacturer in Chattanooga, Tenn.

"People wonder about throwing money at Mars, [but] no money was spent on Mars," said Webster. "There are no ATMs up there. All the money was spent here on Earth." He said there are currently up to 400 NASA employees working on the project, in addition to 300 scientists outsourced by the government agency. NASA is currently downsizing and laying off thousands of workers. But since the inception of Curiosity eight years ago, Webster said that about 3,000 NASA employees have worked on the project, in addition to about 4,000 non-government workers from various companies. Click here. (8/6)

Landing Reignites Interest in Space (Source: Financial Times)
When NASA pulled off the astonishing feat of lowering a $2.5 billion robot onto Mars from a “sky crane” hovering above it on retrorockets, the US space agency also took a step towards restoring its reputation for cosmic wizardry and recapturing the public imagination after years of budget cuts and retrenchment. The first grainy, black-and-white photos of the landing site in Gale Crater showed the Mini Cooper-sized rover had survived its hazardous descent, promoted in advance by NASA’s formidable public relations machine as “seven minutes of terror” for the mission organizers.

Barely had the blue-shirted mission scientists and engineers at California’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory ceased their cheering than senior government figures began to spell out the significance of the achievement. High quality global journalism requires investment. John Holdren, president Obama’s science adviser, expressed his sentiments about “this unprecedented technological tour de force”... “If anybody has been harbouring doubts about the status of US leadership in space,” he said, “there’s a one-tonne automobile-sized piece of American ingenuity and it’s sitting on the surface of Mars right now.” (8/6)

NanoRacks Is The UPS Of Outer Space Shipping (Source: Fast Company)
Need to send a package beyond Earth? This "concierge to the stars" and others will handle the logistics. Stamps start at $30,000. Private companies, educational institutions, and other organizations who send experiments aboard the International Space Station face a challenge: Each experiment sent aboard the ISS requires extensive safety and security checks--and about 1,000 pages of documentation.

In the past few years, a handful of companies worldwide have started handling all those details for space entrepreneurs. They're the FedExes and DHLs for posting packages beyond Earth. NanoRacks, one of the first companies to enter the field, operates the first commercial laboratory in space aboard the ISS. For the price of $30,000 for educational institutions or $60,000 for commercial entities, Nanoracks handles all the logistics related to sending experiments into space. The small, for-profit company will handle the paperwork, find transportation among the many vehicles headed to the ISS, install the experiment, and take care of all governmental relations for would-be space experimenters.

The company has delivered 41 payloads to the ISS so far and has another 80 under contract, Jeffrey Mamber, NanoRacks' managing director, tells Fast Company. Nanoracks “formed in late 2009, and recognized that utilization of the Space Station could be used as a commercial pathway. If we could market commercial services for the International Space Station, we'd find a market. We signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA on September 9, 2009 and self-financed everything for the first two years, to show there is a market. We are the world's first private laboratory in space, and we created a pathway and infrastructure that didn't exist before.” (8/6)

A Price Hike for Space Burials (Source: Celestis)
Celestis has increased prices on for the Earth Orbital and Luna services, starting at $4,995 (for the Earth Orbit service), and $12,500 (for the Luna service). However, they are offering a 30-day grace period where you can lock in the old prices. Also, their pre-need clients are invited to attend the company's upcoming launches, including an upcoming Earth Rise Service mission, The Centennial Flight launch will occur on an UP Aerospace, Inc. SpaceLoft XL Launch Vehicle and is scheduled for October 10, 2012 from Spaceport America, New Mexico. Click here. (8/6)

Schiff Fighting for Mars Exploration, Robotic and Human (Source: Space Politics)
Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA), whose current district includes JPL and Pasadena, has been a strong advocate for NASA’s planetary science program and, specifically, Mars exploration. On Saturday, he reiterated his desire to reverse cuts to those programs while also pushing for better goals for the nation’s space program. Schiff said he believes a logical long-term goal for NASA’s exploration efforts is Mars. He called on attendees to petition their congressional representatives “for an increase in NASA’s budget as well as a national commitment to lead an effort to put humans on Mars by a date certain. Without persistence and clarity, we will continue to drift.”

Taking a more tactical approach, Schiff asked convention attendees to continue efforts to restore NASA’s planetary science budget, which have met with some success in the reduced cuts in the appropriations bills working through the House and Senate. “We still have a long way to go, and it is my hope that as we go to conference—if we go to conference—we can increase those numbers further,” he said. He warned, though, that the recent deal for a six-month continuing resolution could include some across-the-board budget cuts. “The impact on Mars will depend on how NASA allocates funds in its operating plans,” which in turn depends on guidance it receives from OMB. (8/6)

President Obama’s Policies Bringing Continued Progress To Space Exploration (Source: Obama Campaign)
Bobby Braun, former Chief Technologist of NASA released the following statement: Watching [the Curiosity landing] team make history, I am reminded that there is nothing that this country can’t do. Last week's commercial space flight announcement demonstrated continued progress in President Obama’s commitment to developing a vibrant U.S. space transportation capability that is safe, reliable, and cost effective. This morning's successful Mars landing demonstrated a technological capability that has proven to be uniquely American."

NASA is implementing a sustainable program of exploration and innovation that will create jobs and usher in a new era of space flight. The President's plan for NASA also enables continuous manned operations of the International Space Station, development of the critical space transportation building blocks required for our deep space exploration future, and investment in a suite of innovative space technology research efforts to enable bold science and exploration missions in the future. Such a concerted effort of robotic and human exploration is essential to capture the spirit, imagination and creativity of the world, and will yield lasting economic, national security and societal benefits." (8/6)

Statement by the President on Curiosity Landing on Mars (Source: White House)
Tonight, on the planet Mars, the United States of America made history. The successful landing of Curiosity – the most sophisticated roving laboratory ever to land on another planet – marks an unprecedented feat of technology that will stand as a point of national pride far into the future. It proves that even the longest of odds are no match for our unique blend of ingenuity and determination.

Tonight’s success, delivered by NASA, parallels our major steps forward towards a vision for a new partnership with American companies to send American astronauts into space on American spacecraft. That partnership will save taxpayer dollars while allowing NASA to do what it has always done best – push the very boundaries of human knowledge. And tonight’s success reminds us that our preeminence – not just in space, but here on Earth – depends on continuing to invest wisely in the innovation, technology, and basic research that has always made our economy the envy of the world.

I congratulate and thank all the men and women of NASA who made this remarkable accomplishment a reality – and I eagerly await what Curiosity has yet to discover. (8/6)

Comeback Kid Curiosity: Symbol of a New NASA? (Source: Popular Mechanics)
It took years of delays and a harrowing landing, but the Curiosity rover has landed on Mars. But its future is far more certain than NASA's. After each successful part of the mission, the comforting word came from mission control: "We’ve got heartbeat tones." These beeps meant the spacecraft-turned-aircraft was still healthy. The applause grew more intense with every milestone. NASA was going to pull it off: landing a 1-ton robot on the surface of Mars, set down gently by a parachute/crane/retrorocket combination that seemed one part genius one part Rube Goldberg. But it worked perfectly, and Curiosity is in business on Mars. The joy was more than relief—it was rapture. (8/6)

Celebrities Turn Out for Mars Rover Landing (Source:
The celebrities turned out in force for the Mars rover Curiosity's nail-biting landing. Actor Morgan Freeman and director Barry Sonnenfeld ("Men in Black," "Get Shorty") were among the VIPs on hand at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which manages Curiosity's mission, to watch the ambitious and unprecedented touchdown attempt.

Some political higher-ups were also here, including NASA chief Charles Bolden and John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, JPL officials said. Former Apollo astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, doesn't appear to be here, according to JPL's list. But today is his 82nd birthday, and the Curiosity team hoped they would deliver something of a present to the moonwalker. (8/6)

Editorial: U.S. Must Remain Leader in Planetary Exploration (Source: Aviation Week)
The landing of the Curiosity rover has renewed my belief in the scientific and technological prowess of America. The U.S. is the world leader in planetary exploration. There is nothing this country can’t do, when we try. Curiosity is now poised to return new insights regarding the potential that Mars could once have harbored life – and may still. Traveling over 350 million miles in eight months, Curiosity landed near its target. This is a destination we could only dream of exploring a few years ago.

At this crucial moment, our nation must not give up on our quest for Mars scientific knowledge and technological advancement. We go to Mars to expand our knowledge of the universe and our place within it. We want to know if we are alone. We want to know why the Mars climate changed so dramatically over time. And we want to know what these changes forebode for all of us on the Earth. Mars is also the only planet that humans will visit in the foreseeable future, establishing it as a unique target for intensive robotic exploration.

It is not any one mission or science measurement that has singularly changed our view of Mars. It is the conglomeration of evidence, gathered through an interconnected set of measurements, obtained by a carefully engineered sequence of missions. This is the definition of a successful exploration program. Rather than flying a series of independent missions, NASA’s Mars program has constructed a system that is greater than the sum of its parts. Through this program, NASA has created a continuity of people and processes that enable cost-effective exploration of Mars, with a success rate that belies the inherent risks of these endeavors. (8/6)

Curiosity on Mars: Next Up, Exploration (Source: Aviation Week)
NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory rover is set to explore sedimentary layers as it climbs the mountain in the middle of Mars’ equatorial Gale Crater, using a robotic arm with a toolkit of drills and scoops to collect rock and soil samples for analysis in a compact chemistry lab inside the rover body. For features that are nearby but still beyond reach of the arm, the rover has a laser that will vaporize rocks and soils for spectral analysis. It also carries a weather station and equipment to measure surface radiation. (8/6)

"Fire the Politicians, Keep the Soldiers," Senator Says (Source: The Hill)
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is urging the White House to help forge a compromise that stops sequestration cuts, including those to the military. "If politicians fail to do their job in the supercommittee, the penalty was to destroy the military. We got this wrong. We should fire the politicians, keep the soldiers," said Graham, who proposes generating revenue through corporate tax-code changes to stop the cuts. (8/6)

Issues are Left Unresolved as Congress Adjourns (Source: Huffington Post)
Lawmakers begin five weeks of recess for campaigning and other work, but significant congressional issues remain in limbo. Among the unresolved work: dealing with possible sequestration budget cuts and an effort to ramp up cybersecurity for the nation's infrastructure. (8/3)

Mars Mission: Demonstrating India's Technology (Sources: Space News, BBC)
Following the successful landing of NASA's flagship Mars Curiosity rover comes news that India has approved its own mission to the red planet. The Indian Space Research Organization has one planetary mission under its belt, the Chandrayaan-1 Moon probe, whose time in lunar orbit was cut short by a technical glitch. According to this BBC report, India's Mars orbiter would launch in November 2013, a date that sounds a bit ambitious unless the mission has been in the works for some time. (8/6)

NASA Nerves Turn to Elation After Perfect Mars Landing (Source: Guardian)
The first images from Mars were small, grey and grainy, but they verged on miraculous for the elated NASA scientists, who hugged, cheered and high-fived on hearing they had pulled off the most daring landing ever attempted on another world. The US space agency's Curiosity rover touched down after an apparently perfect entry and descent dubbed the "seven minutes of terror" by NASA staff. The period referred to the anxious moments during which the spacecraft punched into the Martian atmosphere at 13,000mph, performed a series of exquisite maneuvers, and came to a standstill on the ground, all without human intervention. (8/6)

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