September 2, 2012

China Sets its Sights on the Stars (Source: Nature)
Chinese scholars have been making astronomical observations for thousands of years, but the country is a relative latecomer to the field’s modern incarnation. That is changing fast, though, as Cui Xiangqun, the president of the Chinese Astronomical Society, explained to Nature at the triennial general assembly of the International Astronomical Union in Beijing, which runs from 20 to 31 August. Click here to read the interview. (8/31)

Another Potentially Habitable World Emerges (Source: Science News)
A potentially habitable planet has been discovered orbiting the star Gliese 163, 50 light-years away. The planet is bigger than Earth — roughly seven times as massive — and resides near the inner edge of the star’s habitable zone. Depending on its composition and how insulating its atmosphere is, the planet could be capable of supporting life. “I’d say that’s a habitable planet,” said Raymond Pierrehumbert of the University of Chicago. It’s unlikely the planet would experience any sort of runaway greenhouse effect that would heat it beyond the point of livability, he says. (8/31)

Editorial: Will New Mexico Legislature Ground Spaceport’s Chances? (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
Many New Mexico voters are concerned about the economy. So it is important they ask their legislative candidates who should lead the way in drumming up emerging business in the Land of Enchantment: Entrepreneurs or trial lawyers?

Because so far the New Mexico Legislature has been swayed by trial attorney lobbyists who have successfully argued to keep Spaceport America decidedly uncompetitive. They claim individuals who fork over $200,000 to ride into suborbital space, are briefed for days about the risks and sign legal waivers should still be able to sue parts companies if something not involving “gross negligence evidencing willful/wanton disregard for safety” goes wrong.

To be clear, the limited liability legislation that will be proposed again next legislative session affects only passengers who have signed waivers to fly into space. Yet the trial lawyer lobby has to date persuaded the Legislature to set a course that will help ground the viability of a $209 million state investment. It’s not a new phenomenon in New Mexico. Roswell Republican Rep. Dennis Kintigh pointed out last month that the state’s anti-business taxation, regulation and litigation environments are well known outside state borders. (9/2)

Texas Launch Site for SpaceX Draws Mixed Reviews (Source: Brownsville Herald)
Bill Wilting’s face lights up when he thinks about the possibility of watching rocket launches from virtually his front door. He talks about all the opportunities the area would have if SpaceX decides to build a launch site near Boca Chica Beach, just a few miles from where he lives. “I’m excited about it. Rocket ships — are you kidding me? I’m crazy about it. I think it’s the greatest thing,” he says.

Wilting is one of several residents of Boca Chica Village, once known as Kopernick Shores and home to a founding Polish community, who could have a front-row seat to possibly 12 rocket launches a year if SpaceX builds a launch facility here. The Cameron County site reportedly is one of three finalists; the others are in Florida and Puerto Rico.

Not everyone is as enthusiastic as he is. Barbara Ulbright, who has lived at Boca Chica Village since last November, was not impressed by a public hearing (called a “scope” meeting) held in May during which local officials promoted the project. “That was a farce,” she said. “That was a yea, yea, political b—-s—-, that’s what it was.” For her part, Ulbright believes the launch facility will bring little but noise, traffic and trash to the area. Click here. (9/2)

Deep Impact: SpaceX has Economic Promise, Environmental Concerns (Source: Brownsville Herald)
For an area like Texas' Cameron County, supported by unique ecological assets yet historically plagued by economic and cultural obstacles, the possibility of space exploration as an industry poses a bittersweet dilemma: disrupt paradise, or feed the populace? SpaceX has announced its interest in building a rocket launch site on Boca Chica Beach. Remote yet not inaccessible, the beach is home to the piping plover, the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle and other unique fauna and flora that have drawn the attention of ecologists committed to maintenance and protection.

This, for many, is paradise. The isolated beach area has little commercial or residential development, but surrounding cities like South Padre Island, Brownsville and Harlingen all have taken a keen interest in every move SpaceX makes. But in the lower Cameron County area, 30 percent of families last year had an income below poverty level. If the company does build at Boca Chica, it would create hundreds of jobs with an annual salary of no less than $55,000. That is well above the county’s average household income of $15,000 to $24,999, according to five-year estimates from the Census Bureau.

And those jobs, along with actual construction of the site and the proposed $80 million capital investment, would bring widespread spinoff prosperity for the county. So, the dilemma now for many is how to reconcile the need for economic opportunity with the need to protect our natural resources. About the reconciled destination, there is no doubt. It is the journey that presents the challenges. (9/2)

How Do We Get Humans to Mars? Hint: Protection, Speed and Human Interaction (Source: Florida Today)
Getting a six-wheeled car-sized rover safely onto the surface of the red planet? Daunting, sure. But NASA did it with Curiosity. Sending humans on a mission to Mars? That requires overcoming even more outlandish obstacles than sending robotic sentinels there. Florida Today looks at five of the top challenges to safely getting astronauts to Mars, as well as potential solutions. Everything from the Big C (cancer) to Sex in Space. Click here. (9/2)

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