September 3, 2012

China Gets Big Fruit From Space-Flown Seeds (Source: Xinhua)
Chinese scientists have created more than 120 varieties of plants by sending seeds into space over the past 25 years. The varieties are making their way to dining tables and even grabbing a market share in some areas. In Northwest China, "space peppers" account for more than half of the local capsicum market. "These 'space peppers' are not sold with a label indicating their uniqueness, but they still sell well at a slightly higher price than conventional ones," said a seed company official.

Some agronomists questioned why China should experiment with space-induced mutation while the former Soviet Union and the United States have curtailed their programs. But Liu pointed out that Russia has been using space mutation to improve crops, including cotton, wheat and firs that are used as Christmas trees. US scientists have also used the method to improve roses so that more oil can be produced to make perfume, she said.

"It's just one kind of radiation-induced mutation, except the radiation source is the high-energy particles in space," she said. Chinese breeders had used Cobalt-60, a radioactive isotope, to induce seed mutation on the ground. But Cobalt-60 is highly dangerous, and scientists must get permission to use it. Thanks to China's progress in space, seeds of nearly 400 plant varieties have gone into space 23 times in recoverable satellites and in 10 missions of China's manned space program, according to media reports. (9/3)

US Loses Three Space Pioneers in Five Weeks (Source: India Daily News)
The United States lost three space pioneers in about five weeks from mid-July, but each one of them - Forrest McCartney, Sally Ride, and Neil Armstrong - did their country and humanity proud. The first to go on July 17 was Lt. Gen. McCartney, 81, a key player initially in military satellites and inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and then in NASA's civil and manned mission programs. Sally Ride, 61, an educationist and the first woman astronaut from her country, was the next to go on July 23. Both of them died of cancer. Neil Armstrong, 82, the first man to set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969, died Aug 25 of heart surgery complications. (9/3)

Second Spacewalk Planned to Finish ISS Electrical Work (Source: CBS)
Astronauts Sunita Williams and Akihiko Hoshide will venture back outside the International Space Station Wednesday for another attempt to install a replacement power switching unit that could not be plugged into the lab's electrical grid during a spacewalk last Thursday. Equipped with an assortment of impromptu tools, the astronauts will attempt to clean the bolts needed to lock the 220-pound box in place, as well as the threaded bolt holes. During Thursday's spacewalk, metal shavings were seen inside the bolt receptacles when main bus switching unit No. 1 -- MBSU No. 1 -- was removed. (9/3)

MIT's Next Mars Space Suit (Source: Space Industry News)
When we send the first humans to Mars we will need to get the most scientific data in the smallest amount of time while not exhausting our astronauts in the process. Dava J. Newman has been working on a “biosuit” that’s designed to do just that. Throughout the history of NASA space suits, astronauts had to deal with bulky, hard to move in, non-mobile suits that hindered their work flow as opposed to helped them achieve their tasks and jobs. That is, until Dava and her crew designed a snug fitting space suit that would allow astronauts to move freely. Click here. (9/3)

Brownsville, Texas, Bets to Benefit From SpaceX Deal (Source: Brownsville Herald)
Gilbert Salinas keeps a couple of poster boards at home that he refers to as his “cheat sheet.” Anything and everything that pertains to SpaceX is listed on those boards. There, via Post-It notes, he tracks how far the proposal for a launch facility has progressed, which points remain to be addressed, and what other issues could arise.

Salinas, executive vice president of the Brownsville Economic Development Council, is working with Space Exploration Technologies — SpaceX, for short — on its proposal to build a rocket launch facility on the Gulf Coast near Brownsville. Brownsville is one of three areas in the country under consideration by SpaceX for a new installation for launches. The other sites are in Florida and Puerto Rico. Click here. (9/3)

Unique Gamma Ray Station to Be Built on Baikal (Source: RIA Novosti)
Work began by the Siberian Lake Baikal to create a unique gamma ray observatory, which will span 100 square kilometers in one of the world’s cleanest places, researchers said. The Tunka experiment has been ongoing since 1990s, when the first array of photomultipliers began work in the Republic of Buryatia. It was expanded in 2009 to span 1 square kilometer, becoming the world’s biggest Cherenkov radiation detector.

The new project, approved by the Russian Academy of Sciences earlier this year, will see the array expanded 100 times by 2022, prorector of science of the Irkutsk State University, Alexander Arguchintsev, said on Sunday. The project has a budget of 1.5 billion rubles ($46 million) and is being carried out jointly by several research institutions. (9/3)

The Insignificance of Space Policy in the 2012 Campaign (Source: Space Politics)
At first glance, it might appear that space policy got a lot of attention in the last week: Mitt Romney mentioned Neil Armstrong in his acceptance speech and did so again during a campaign stop on Saturday in Cincinnati. The Republican Party platform, approved during the convention, included a plank about space. Meanwhile, while the Republicans convened in Tampa, President Barack Obama found a very different outlet to discuss policy issues, an “Ask Me Anything” discussion on the popular website Reddit, where he answered one question on space policy.

So, that should be good news for those who follow space policy, right? Not really. None of these comments said much of anything new—or even much of anything at all—about the candidates’ positions on space policy. The fact that we’re paying so much attention to such minor comments indicates how little the candidates, in particular Romney, have said on space, especially in comparison to just four years ago. (9/2)

NASA Contracts Benefit Bigelow Aerospace (Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The private space race is affecting a small Las Vegas company. NASA will give three aerospace companies more than $1.1 billion to build small spacecraft to take astronauts to the International Space Station. Two of those businesses - Boeing and SpaceX - have partnered with North Las Vegas-based Bigelow Aerospace on orbit-related projects.

Robert Bigelow, owner and president of Bigelow Aerospace, called the funding "more aggressive" than prior NASA contracts and said he was "very happy" about the ramped-up investment, which will nearly double the workforce at his North Las Vegas plant. Bigelow Aerospace began working with SpaceX in May to promote business and research space travel to governments and businesses that would use SpaceX's Dragon reusable spacecraft launched atop its Falcon rocket to reach Bigelow's orbiting BA 330 space habitat.

Bigelow said NASA is to distribute additional funds from 2013 to 2015. Combine the possibility of sustained federal contracts for Bigelow Aerospace's partners with an increasing interest in space exploration among other nations and businesses, and Bigelow sees the need for new investments. The company just opened a 185,000-square-foot addition, bringing its North Las Vegas plant up to about 350,000 square feet. (9/2)

Floridians Deserve the Truth From Romney On Space Issues (Source:
The Obama campaign--as well as Republican leaders--are calling out Mitt Romney for his lack of vision on NASA and refusals to answer basic questions on his approach to space policy. "The space program is central both to the identity of the Sunshine State and Florida's economy. But like many other issues this election, Mitt Romney fails to present Americans a plan for the future of NASA."

"But we shouldn't be surprised by this because this is Mitt Romney's MO. Over the course of this campaign, Romney has failed to present any plan of substance to Americans because if he did, his real agenda will be revealed. Even his advisors have said that revealing his vision would be 'suicidal,' and we know why. The Romney-Ryan budget could force the deepest cuts to the space program in almost 40 years and would devastate the critical investments needed to maintain Americans place as the leader in space exploration."

"Over the past few months, Mitt Romney has hoped that Floridians wouldn't notice how he has no plan for NASA nor any vision for space exploration outside of the Romney-Ryan budget that would devastate the space program. But now that even Republican leaders are calling on Mitt Romney to reveal his real plans for the space program and the middle class, maybe Floridians will finally get answers from Romney." (9/2)

Russian President Dismisses Space Center Director (Source: Radio Free Europe)
The Kremlin has announced that Russian President Vladimir Putin has accepted the resignation of the director of the Khrunichev Space Center, which is responsible for manufacturing launch rockets and satellites. Vladimir Nesterov tendered his resignation after last month's failed launches of the Express-MD2 and Telkom-3 communications satellites, which had been intended for use by commercial customers. Nesterov had run the Space Center since November 25, 2005.

Editor's Note: How about a bonus video of Russia's new proposed spaceport at Vostochny? Click here. (9/3)

South Korean Naro Rocket Launch Preparations Begin (Source: Arirang)
The first stage of Korea's Naro rocket has been transported to the Naro Space Center in Goheung, South Jeolla Province for an expected launch in October. The Ministry of Science, Education and Technology said the stage 1 rocket was manufactured at Russia's Khrunichev Space Center and arrived at Gimhae Airport on August 29th before being transferred by ship to the Naro Space Center.

The October launch will be the third attempt for the Naro rocket. Two previous launches in 2009 and 2010 ended in failure due to technical problems. With the arrival of the first stage, engineers will begin work on attaching it to the second stage, which was designed and built in Korea along with the Naro scientific satellite. (9/2)

Khrunichev Continues Work to Create New Module for Space Station (Source: Khrunichev)
In the Khrunichev Space Center, work continues on making the flight product multifunctional Laboratory Module (MLM) for the International Space Station. To date the product is installed on the flight arm of the European Space Agency, in carrying layout onboard cable network, completed test temperature control system, pneumatichydraulic systems are docked and development of solar cells. Upon completion of the fabrication and assembly of the flight product, multifunctional laboratory module will be transferred to RSC "Energia" for further comprehensive tests. (9/3)

Editorial: Japan Space Policy Talks Should be Disclosed to the Public (Source: Asahi Shinbum)
The government has reorganized its policymaking system for space development aimed at centralization and integration to ensure more effective strategic efforts by the entire government. There is one worrisome factor in the new setup. It concerns the space policy commission set up within the Cabinet Office along with the Space Policy Unit, which is responsible for overall policy coordination for the government.

The panel is headed by Yoshiyuki Kasai, chairman of Central Japan Railway Co., and consists of seven expert members, including astronaut Naoko Yamazaki. What is troubling is the government’s decision not to disclose the panel’s discussions to the public.

Explaining the reason for the decision, Motohisa Furukawa, minister in charge of science and technology policy, said the government believes that space policy requires the kind of secrecy used in matters concerning diplomacy, national security and international strategies. (9/3)

India: No Manned Moon Mission Plan (Source: Live Mint)
India has no plans to send a man to the moon, the government said in Parliament last week. Flush with the success of Chandrayaan-I, the Indian Space Research Organization’s (Isro’s) first mission to the moon in 2008, a top space official had said India had plans for a manned moon mission by 2020 if it succeeds in its human spaceflight program in 2015. “There is no immediate plan for a manned mission to the moon,” V. Narayanasamy, junior minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, said in a statement in Parliament. (9/3)

Boeing To Build Intelsat's 1st Epic Satellite (Source: Space News)
Boeing will build the first of Intelsat’s Epic series of high-throughput telecommunications satellites under a contract to be announced the week of Sept. 3, Intelsat and Boeing officials said. The satellite, IS-29e, will provide between 25 and 30 gigabits per second of bandwidth for fixed and mobile customers in North and South America and over the North Atlantic maritime and aeronautical routes. (9/3)

Dream Chaser: A ‘Family Car’ for Space (Source: BBC)
To get a sense of what it would be like to fly the Dream Chaser space plane hop into the front seat of a car - ideally a large SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle) or minivan - preferably with six friends. Instead of a steering wheel in front of you, picture a joystick. Instead of a dashboard, a row of flatscreen displays. Now shut and lock the doors, fasten your seatbelts and we’re ready to go. Next stop, the International Space Station (ISS).

Dream Chaser is being built by the Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) in the US mid-western state of Colorado. It is one of three concepts backed by NASA to replace the retired Space Shuttle and is designed to carry crew and cargo to and from orbit. The other two concepts – SpaceX’s Dragon and Boeing’s, uninspiringly named CST-100 – are both capsules, not much different in appearance to the Apollo spacecraft that took men to the Moon. (9/3)

The Next Giant Leap: Humans or Robots? (Source: The Age)
"The human exploration of space has literally been going around in circles since Apollo days," says Graham Mann. "Robotic probes, on the other hand, have traveled to almost every corner of the solar system." For gathering data from deep space, robot craft are hard to beat, Dr Mann explains. "Robots can survive accelerations, decelerations and extremes of heat and cold beyond the endurance of human astronauts."

"They don't require food, water, air or pay checks. They don't get sick, bored or distracted. They can have sensory capabilities and data recording functions far beyond human reach," said Mann. Ray Jarvis shares this view. "Unlike humans, robots need no life-support systems and can be packed to unfold on landing," he says. "They function for years without the concerns one has for people working in hostile environments for lengthy periods." In addition, greater risks can be taken with robots than would be acceptable for humans, and "being expendable, robots need not be returned to Earth." (9/3)

Texas Communities See Gains in Helping Brownsville Lure SpaceX (Source: Brownsville Herald)
The company’s decision to launch from Boca Chica would create as many as 600 jobs, largely engineering positions with an average annual salary of $70,000. And spinoff development could create some 400 jobs in construction and logistics. “Job creation is not limited to one city; it benefits the entire region,” Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell said. “Obviously, we think it would have a financial impact on all of Cameron County.”

Rick Ledesma, a businessman who serves as president of Harlingen’s Economic Development Corp., said area cooperation is critical, and cities should team up to help attract the company to Brownsville. “A project like that affects the entire region and our region is competing with other regions,” he said. San Benito leaders, too, are cautiously optimistic. City Commissioner J.D. Penny, also a member of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, said jobs that pay well would boost retail spending across the area. (9/3)

Houston-Area Space Industry Levels Off (Source: Galveston Daily News)
After a period of heavy layoffs, the space industry has stabilized. Not too long ago, there were about 18,000 aerospace jobs at the Johnson Space Center. The shuttering of the space shuttle program was expected to lead to 750 layoffs. Then came the cancellation of the Constellation program. “Overnight, those 750 jobs became 7,000 jobs,” said Bob Mitchell of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership.

Eventually, the layoffs were whittled down to fewer than 4,000 employees, but those people were not able to take their skills to another space center. “Each of the centers does different things,” said David Braun of Citizens for Space Exploration, a space advocacy group. “The only other centers that would have been closely involved with us were facing the same layoffs. Kennedy Space Center took a much bigger hit than Johnson Space Center.” Many unemployed workers have been able to find jobs in other industries.

The oil and gas industry was especially receptive to having former aerospace engineers come aboard. “It was right after the (Deepwater Horizon oil) spill in the Gulf, and they were looking for engineers who knew safety,” Braun said. “It was a good fit for a lot of people.” Just as workers were able to move on, the Clear Lake area also proved to be resilient. “It wasn’t D-Day here,” Braun said. “It was not the disaster that a lot of people thought (where) you lay off 4,000 people, and it turns into a ghost town and houses are going to be going for sale. (9/3)

NASA Helps Hatch Robots For Drilling Oil Without Humans: Energy (Source: Bloomberg)
NASA’s Mars rover has something to teach the oil industry. Traversing the Red Planet while beaming data through space has a lot in common with exploring the deepest recesses of earth in search of crude oil and natural gas. Robotic Drilling Systems AS, a Norwegian company developing a drilling rig that can think for itself, signed an information-sharing agreement with NASA to discover what it might learn from the rover Curiosity.

The company’s work is part of a larger futuristic vision for the energy industry. Engineers foresee a day when fully automated rigs roll onto a job site using satellite coordinates, erect 14-story-tall steel reinforcements on their own, drill a well, then pack up and move to the next site. Click here. (9/3)

NASA Ramps Up Investment in Educational Technology (Source: Washington Post)
Forty-three years after putting a man on the moon, NASA sent the “Angry Birds” video game to space. A few months later, the birds traveled to the moon and later to Mars. NASA’s recent collaboration with gamemaker Rovio to create “Angry Birds Space,” in which players use slingshots to launch birds at pigs, is part of a series of computer game projects spearheaded by government agencies to encourage science, technology and math education.

Today, NASA has loftier goals: An upcoming $10 million massively multi-player video game would simulate life on Mars and eventually provide 100 hours of playing time on the iPad, Sony Playstation and Microsoft Xbox. When a beta version of “Starlite” is released later this year, it will be NASA’s biggest foray into gaming, and one that Laughlin hopes will set the stage for future collaborations with commercial game developers.

“There are more higher-end gaming projects going on at NASA than ever before,” Laughlin said. “Very few people are looking to textbooks to get students inspired anymore.” In the past few years, NASA has released an air traffic control simulator for the iPhone, a trivia game called “Space Race Blastoff” for Facebook and “MoonBase Alpha,” a multi-player game that cost $300,000 to develop and resulted in 20 minutes of playing time. (9/3)

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