October 8, 2012

Stop Building Bombs and Start Building Starships (Source: Scientific American)
In 1969, a great shadow was cast over the United States. That shadow, however, was not one of gloom. Instead of evoking the absence of light, this shadow caused us to look up in wonder at the brightness that created it. When the Saturn V Rocket propelling Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins dashed across the blue, cloud-splotched sky, we did not see a dark present. We glimpsed a bright future.

Elsewhere, however, truly ominous shadows were cast by rockets which never saw the sun. Nestled in silos and buried beneath barren landscapes, “Minuteman” missiles meant not to uplift man, but to deliver the end of man, shrouded much of our world in trepidation. These two rockets, with two very distinct purposes, bring into focus a problem that has long plagued our nation. We spend far too much money on war, and not enough on science. Click here. (10/8)

Space Shuttle Endeavour to Start L.A. Road Trip (Source: Collect Space)
As it turns out, transporting a space shuttle through city streets is a "Big Endeavour." Space shuttle Endeavour, the youngest of NASA's retired orbiters, will depart later this week on a road trip from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to its new exhibition at the California Science Center (CSC). The two day, 12 mile journey follows Endeavour's delivery to L.A. atop a jumbo jet last month.

The move, which will begin hours before dawn on Friday morning (Oct. 12) and end after nightfall the next day has been dubbed as "Mission 26: The Big Endeavour." Mission 26 will take Endeavour through Inglewood and Los Angeles, including passing over the 405 freeway, and pausing for celebrations outside the former indoor arena of the Los Angeles Lakers and at a street intersection where "Fame" actress Debbie Allen has choreographed a tribute. (10/8)

Eat Your Heart Out, Columbus: A Sailing Ship That Travels On Sunshine (Source: NPR)
Columbus, they say, crossed the Atlantic at a speed of roughly four knots. That's four-plus miles an hour. When the wind gusted, he could hit 9.2 mph. In 1492, that was speedy. Sailing has improved since then. There is now a sailing ship built by the Japanese being pushed along by sunshine through deep space. It has only one sail (The Santa Maria had many) and that sail is just 7.5 micrometers thin, about one-tenth the thickness of a human hair. And yet this little voyager is rushing along at about 328 feet per second.

"It's the space equivalent of a yacht sailing the sea," says Yuichi Tsuda, deputy project manager. The Japanese have named it IKAROS, after the Greek boy Icarus who tried to fly to the sun. IKAROS has already sailed past Venus. This is an ancient dream. In 1610, the great astronomer/mathematician Johannes Kepler wrote to his friend Galileo about how one day, it might be possible to "Provide ships or sails adapted to the heavenly breezes, and there will be some who will brave even that void." (10/8)

Astrobotic Unveils Lunar Polar Robot (Source: Astrobotic)
Astrobotic announced completion of a prototype lunar prospecting rover, Polaris, to search for water ice at the Moon’s poles.  The rover will prospect for water, oxygen, methane, and other volatiles which could be useful for energy, supporting life, and producing rocket fuel.  ”This rover is a first step toward using off-Earth resources to further human exploration of our solar system,” said John Thornton, President.

Polaris is specialized for drilling at the Moon’s pole which is characterized by low glancing sun angles and operation near shadowed regions that can reach cryogenic temperatures.  The rover is tall enough to deploy a 4ft drill and produce 250W of power with solar panels oriented toward the Sun, which stays just above above the horizon. Polaris, 5 ½ feet tall, 7 feet wide and almost 8 feet long, can move at about a foot a second on 2-foot-diameter wheels.  The rover weighs 150 kilograms, or about 330 pounds, and can accommodate a drill and science instruments of up to 70 kilograms, or a bit more than 150 pounds. (10/8)

Obama Campaign Lauds SpaceX Launch (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Obama can take much — but not all — the credit for a NASA policy that increasingly has emphasized the role of commercial rocket companies. Under President George W. Bush, NASA began grooming new rocket companies for the chance to deliver cargo, and potentially crew, to the station. But Obama has pressed the issue significantly during his term, feuding bitterly with Congress at times over funding for commercial launches.

So there’s little surprise that the Obama campaign jumped at the chance to tout the success, as well as contrast it to Romney’s largely unspecific space platform. The campaign also trotted out academics and space-policy gurus — including former astronauts Rusty Schweickart and Kathy Thornton, as well as Scott Hubbard of Stanford, who served on a blue-ribbon committee named by Obama to study the future of NASA’s manned space efforts in 2009 — to endorse the administration’s policies. (10/8)

Senior Astrium Execs To Swap Roles (Source: Space News)
The chief executives of Europe’s Astrium Services and Astrium Satellites are exchanging jobs at a time when both divisions may be hitting a plateau. Astrium’s parent company, EADS, is expected to announce in mid-October that Eric Beranger, the founding chief executive of Astrium Services who guided the company through a period of exceptional growth, will be leaving to become chief executive of Astrium Satellites. (10/8)

Proposed Mission May Bring Frozen Moon Samples to Earth in 2020s (Source: Space.com)
Europe and Russia are working together to bring samples of frozen moon dirt to Earth in the next decade. The unmanned mission, called Lunar Polar Sample Return (LPSR), aims to bore into the moon's surface at either the north or south pole, where nearly permanent sunlight would allow a robot to operate in manageable conditions. "Scientists wanted a sample from the bottom of an unilluminated crater, but this would be practically impossible with the technology we have today," said European Space Agency official Bruno Gardini.

LPSR is slated to blast off in 2020 or 2022, Gardini said. It would use drill technology developed for the European-led ExoMars mission, which aims to launch an orbiter to the Red Planet in 2016 and a drill-equipped rover two years later. A precursor mission to LPSR called the Luna-Resource Lander is also being discussed. This project, which is slated to launch in 2017, would test the visual navigation, hazard detection and avoidance systems, sample acquisition and in situ analysis technologies needed for lunar sample return. (10/8)

Emily Perry and Sid Champagne Set to Win Awards in November (Source: NSSFL)
The National Space Club, Florida Committee, will recognize Emily Perry and Sid Champagne as recipients of the annual Harry Kolcum Memorial News & Communication Awards. Perry is the curator of the Air Force Space and Missile Museum at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Champagne is a photographer for WFTV. The awards will be presented at a Nov. 13 luncheon at the Radisson Resort in Cape Canaveral. Click here. (10/8)

Astronauts, Business Owners, and Space Leaders Support Obama Vision for Space (Source: SpaceRef)
We are now on a trajectory to have U.S. astronauts launching on U.S. rockets from Florida soil sooner than we would have under the previous Administration's plan -- and we're on track to send American explorers deeper into the solar system than ever before. The road to space has always run through Florida, and it always will. That's why President Obama sought to harness the talent and tenacity of Florida's high-tech workforce as an unparalleled national treasure, crucial for building new industries in the years ahead.

By investing in American companies, and American ingenuity, the Obama Administration is spurring free market competition to give taxpayers more bang for the buck while enabling NASA to do what it does best -- explore the unknown. We can't afford to turn back now. The Romney-Ryan budget could lead to some of the deepest percentage cuts to the space program since the end of the Apollo program. It's not just that Congressman Ryan voted against NASA Authorizations in 2008 and 2010, it's that their plan would undermine the bold vision that the President has outlined and a bipartisan Congress has advanced. Click here. (10/8)

SpaceX First-Stage Engine Anomaly Led to Orbcomm Deployment Glitch (Source: SPACErePORT)
A chain of events that began with the loss of one of nine Falcon-9 first-stage engines ultimately led to a non-optimal deployment of the rocket's secondary payload, a prototype satellite developed by Sierra Nevada Corp. for Orbcomm. The lengthier first-stage burn that was automatically initiated in response to the engine anomaly interfered with the timeline for the satellite deployment, according to an Orbcomm statement.

After the anomaly "the rocket did not comply with a pre-planned International Space Station (ISS) safety gate to allow it to execute the second burn." I think that means that due to the longer first-stage burn, the flight computer determined that only one upper-stage burn was sufficient to put the Dragon on-path to the Space Station, and the software was not written to allow for this contingency, with respect to the secondary payload's deployment. A planned second upper-stage burn was not initiated, despite the fact that it was necessary to deploy the Orbcomm satellite into its proper orbit. (10/8)

Dragon Engine Anomaly Caused Aft Skirt Fracture (Source: SpaceX)
Approximately one minute and 19 seconds into last night’s launch, the Falcon 9 rocket detected an anomaly on one first stage engine. Initial data suggests that one of the rocket’s nine Merlin engines, Engine 1, lost pressure suddenly and an engine shutdown command was issued immediately. We know the engine did not explode, because we continued to receive data from it. Our review indicates that the fairing that protects the engine from aerodynamic loads ruptured due to the engine pressure release, and that none of Falcon 9’s other eight engines were impacted by this event.

We will continue to review all flight data in order to understand the cause of the anomaly, and will devote the resources necessary to identify the problem and apply those lessons to future flights. We will provide additional information as it becomes available. Dragon is expected to begin its approach to the station on Oct. 10, where it will be grappled and berthed by Akihiko Hoshide of JAXA and Expedition 33 Commander Sunita Williams of NASA. Over the following weeks. Dragon will be reloaded with ISS cargo for return to Earth on Oct. 28.

Editor's Note: Makes sense. The aft skirt (fairing) surrounding Engine #1 was presumably pushed outward by the ignited engine. When that engine pressure ceased, the aerodynamic pressure quickly pushed it inward, causing the fracture and breakup. SpaceX already plans to redesign the nine-engine layout, which might mitigate this issue on future launches. Instead of a tic-tac-toe square (with increased pressure on the four corners), the engines will be arranged in an octogonal pattern. (10/8)

SpaceX Engine Failure Could Boost Competitors (Source: Popular Mechanics)
SpaceX's launch anomaly will become more fodder for the debate over the choice to hand over spaceflight design and operation to private companies instead of NASA. Legacy contractors like Arianespace and United Launch Alliance will have ammunition to aim at the fledgling company.

A rocket’s track record is as important as its price tag. Reliability is key, and some of SpaceX’s competitors have many years and successful flights under their belts. The Ariane 5, Delta IV, and Atlas V are about $100 million more expensive than the Falcon 9 but very reliable. Having any kind of anomaly at SpaceX’s early stages casts doubt on the rocket’s reliability.

That is tough on the commercial side of the launch business. But for government launches, the aftershock could be worse. There are few engineers in Congress. When foes of SpaceX and proponents of government-built launch vehicles can say, "the engine blew up," there will be no talk of "fault tolerance" and "redundant systems." They can paint the picture of a space company whose cheap rockets suffer system failures. (10/8)

Roscosmos Selects 8 Cosmonaut Trainees (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Roscosmos has selected eight applicants to go through cosmonaut training, according to a press release issued by the Russian space agency. The space agency received 304 applications as part of the first ever open call for cosmonauts, Roscosmos said. Fifty-one applicants made it past the first cut, and nine successfully passing a further review. Eight of the nine were selected. During NASA’s most recent call for astronauts, which ended in January, the agency received more than 6,300 applications. (10/8)

Russian Beacon to Track Menacing Asteroid Apophis (Source: Russia Today)
Russia’s space agency wants to send a mission to Apophis, the notorious asteroid which may change its course and eventually collide with Earth. It will plant a radio beacon, which will help track the celestial body and assess the risks it poses. The 300-meter-wide asteroid first made headlines in 2004, when NASA reported that it has 1 chance in 223 of impacting on our planet in 2029. It was even named after the Ancient Egyptian evil god, archenemy of the sun god Ra.

But additional observations proved that it will pass by at the small, but safe, distance of some 36,000 kilometers from Earth. The close approach however may result in an unpredictable gravitational pull on Apophis, which would change its course and pose a danger in 2036, when it comes back. To better assess the risks it poses to the civilization the Roscosmos plans a robotic mission to the asteroid, chief Vladimir Popovkin announced on Monday.

The plan is “to land a module on the surface of Apophis and set up a radio beacon there, which will work after the spaceship’s lifetime expires,” he said at the Space Research Institute in Moscow. The beacon signal will allow astronomers to better calculate Apophis’ movement and the effect of the 2029 Earth flyby. The mission would not be launched before 2020. (10/8)

SpaceX Reviewing Rocket Engine Failure (Source: Florida Today)
SpaceX expects to provide more detail today on an engine failure that occurred during Sunday night’s launch of a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Launch replays show what appears to be one of the nine first-stage Merlin engines exploding one minute and 19 seconds after an 8:35 p.m. blastoff. The rocket is designed to withstand more than one engine failure during ascent, depending on when they occur. A SpaceX spokeswoman said this morning that the company hopes to have more detail soon. (10/8)

Did Falcon-9 Upper Stage Malfunction? (Sources: NewSpace Watch, Jonathan's Space Report)
After SpaceX announced the successful deployment of an Orbcomm satellite, flying as a secondary payload on Sunday's Falcon-9 launch, news reports are suggesting that the rocket's upper stage failed to execute a proper second burn, leaving the Orbcomm satellite in low Earth orbit, instead of sending it into its intended elliptical orbit. (10/8)

Russia Plans Second Attempt at Mars/Phobos Mission (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russia intends to repeat the Phobos-Grunt mission after 2020, head of the Federal Space Agency (Roskosmos) Vladimir Popovkin said. He said the urgency of the project will not disappear also after 2020, and no similar foreign missions are expected as well. “We are ready to return to this issue in the development of the Federal Space Program for 2016-2025,” Popovkin said. The Roskosmos chief noted that the second mission will be undertaken “with taking into account the mistakes that were made during the first attempt and the technical groundwork that Russia will receive as a result of the implementation of the projects Luna-Glob, Luna-Resurs and ExoMars.” (10/8)

How Privatization of NASA's "Learning Channel" Devolved Into Pushing Honey Boo Boo (Source: LFB)
A public funded example of PBS being privatized existed before. What can we learn from that? The Learning Channel was founded in 1972 by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and NASA as an informative/instructional network focused on providing real education through the medium of TV; it was distributed at no cost by NASA satellite. Then it was privatized in 1980 and was then named the Appalachian Community Service Network. In November 1980 this name was changed to “The Learning Channel”, which was subsequently shortened to “TLC.”

From then on we have a sad decline to the abomination of child and poverty exploitation of the TLC’s current hit freak show “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo”. The channel back then mostly featured documentary content pertaining to nature, science, history, current events, medicine, technology, cooking, home improvement and other information-based topics. Low ratings and low profits. Smarts don’t sell. Editor's Note: NASA didn't create the Learning Channel. (10/5)

Artist Sends "Space Invader" to Space From Miami (Source: Huffington Post)
Any extraterrestrial beings hanging out near Earth last month got a surprising look at stratospheric street art: pioneering Parisian artist Invader launched one of his signature pixelated video game mosaics into space. Yes, space. Invader, whose 8-bit creations have "invaded" more than 35 cities around the world -- and even the ocean floor! -- expanded the scope of his global installation by sending the tile mosaic Space-one where no other work of art has gone before.

The mosaic was attached to a mini homemade spacecraft launched near Miami, where Invader's images from the classic game of the same name have been popping up all over buildings, walls, and sidewalks in advance of December's Art Basel happenings. An attached helium weather balloon carried Space-one high above Earth, and an on-board camera documented the balloon's burst under atmospheric pressure. Click here. (10/8)

Space Florida Receives Award for Boeing/KSC Project (Source: Space Florida)
Space Florida received a Gold Excellence in Economic Development Award for their Boeing/Kennedy Space Center (KSC) commercial partnership project in the category of “Public-Private Partnerships for communities with populations of 500,000+” from the International Economic Development Council (IEDC). The honor was presented at an awards ceremony on Tuesday, October 2, during the IEDC Annual Conference, which was held September 30 – October 3, 2012 in Houston, Texas.

"We recognize Space Florida for creating innovative and successful strategies to promote economic development in this period of global recovery,” said Jay Moon, IEDC chair. “Our awards honor organizations and individuals for their efforts in creating positive change in communities. Space Florida demonstrates that they are at the forefront of the economic development profession and are using cutting-edge, effective practices that can be replicated in other communities." (10/8)

Upcoming White Paper Could Steer Australian Space Policy (Source: The Interpeter)
In the past five years, Australian policy makers in and beyond Defense have devoted a lot more attention to Australia's interest in space and to developing appropriate policy settings. Since December 2008, when space was not mentioned at all in the National Security Statement, the government is now finalizing a national space policy. What is now needed are space specialists in Defense who can further develop the policy and programs in our universities to support them.

Why did the government turn around? For three reasons, reinforced by a series of well-developed and structured reports. A 2009 White Paper recognized space as a domain of warfare about which Australia knew little and needed to know more – quickly. Significant steps have been taken since then, however, there is more to be done and there is a time imperative. This leads to the conclusion that the 2013 White Paper should plan to accelerate the acquisition of space understanding in Defense, primarily through building human capacity in the first instance. (10/8)

Reality Trumps Politics On Space Policy Debate (Source: Aviation Week)
Surrogates for President Obama and Mitt Romney are doing their best to distinguish their candidates on space-policy issues, but grim budget reality has forced both parties into supporting the U.S. space program that evolved in the past four years. The handwriting was on the wall when Obama took office, and he quickly established a review panel headed by former Lockheed Martin CEO Norm Augustine to certify that the Bush administration's Constellation program was “unsustainable... perpetuating the perilous practice of pursuing goals that do not match allocated resources.”

At that point things got messy. The Obama-administration call for a shift to commercial human spaceflight and an open-ended “push” for technology to enable unspecified exploration missions ran into a buzz saw of competing Capitol Hill constituent interests and White House power plays. The upshot is today's compromise policy that combines commercial human spaceflight with the government's deep-space Orion crew vehicle and the heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS). Click here. (10/8)

Saving Lives From Space (Source: BBC)
From Hurricane Katrina to the Japanese tsunami - satellite images are increasingly playing an important role during rescue efforts after natural or man-made disasters. The images, often taken minutes after devastation has occurred, help pinpoint people and places at risk. A formal system of sharing information by space agencies was agreed in 1999, with the creation of the Disasters Charter. Since then, the charter has helped provide data for more than 300 disasters, in more than 100 countries. Click here. (10/7)

Astronomer Wants UFOs Studied With Science (Source: Huffington Post)
Nothing kills a career faster than being branded a kook, and in many circles, that's what you are when you admit you've seen a UFO. The stakes are raised, of course, if we're talking about academic communities, and even more so among astronomers -- people who study the skies.

Many astronomers say there's nothing of any scientific merit that could result in the study of UFOs. With the career suicide stakes for astronomers so high, some UFO researchers believe many of them are hesitant to step forward. Certainly, the Air Force's Project Bluebook -- the last officially announced government study of unidentified flying objects -- concluded that five percent of the cases investigated could not be immediately explained away. Click here. (10/6)

Analysts: Federal Payments Over Layoffs to Defense Firms are Unlikely (Source: The Hill)
Although the Obama administration has told defense contractors that it will compensate them if the firms have to lay off workers due to sequestration, analysts say that's not likely to happen. The Pentagon isn't likely to cancel contracts the day the defense cuts kick in, they say, and sequester cuts' effects will be more gradual. The White House previously announced that it will pay expenses for companies that don't file layoff notices 60 days ahead of the sequester deadline. (10/7)

GOP Senators Say They'll Block U.S. Layoff Payments to Defense Firms (Source: The Hill)
Defense contractors should ignore White House guidance and issue layoff notices ahead of sequestration, say Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and John McCain, R-Ariz. The senators told defense firms that they'll stop payments that the Obama administration has promised to contractors that don't issue notices -- payments the government says would cover costs associated with not following the federal law for 60-day notice of mass layoffs. (10/7)

U.K. Threatens to Block an EADS-BAE Systems Merger (Source: Defense News)
Britain wants more of a stake in a merged BAE Systems-EADS company and is threaening a veto of the proposed deal if Germany and France don't reduce their share. "We have made very clear that we do have red lines around the BAE-EADS merger and that if they can't be satisfied, then we will use our special share to veto the deal," British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond said. (10/7)

Falcon-9 Loses Engine During Successful Dragon Launch (Sources: SpacecRef, Parabolic Arc)
"Falcon-9 detected an anomaly on one of the nine engines and shut it down. As designed, the flight computer then recomputed a new ascent profile in realtime to reach the target orbit, which is why the burn times were a bit longer. Like Saturn V, which experienced engine loss on two flights, the Falcon 9 is designed to handle an engine flameout and still complete its mission. I believe F9 is the only rocket flying today that, like a modern airliner, is capable of completing a flight successfully even after losing an engine. There was no effect on Dragon or the Space Station resupply mission."

This video shows something serious happening to one of the Falcon-9′s engines. Reportedly Engine 1 suffered a “rapid unscheduled disassembly” — i.e., it blew up. Apparently, the other 8 engines burned longer than planned to put Dragon into orbit. The anomaly occurred at 1 minute and 20 seconds into the flight video, as shown here. Editor's Note: This is a very impressive "engine-out" capability, but seeing video makes me wonder how other adjacent engines might become damaged by the debris. I'm sure NASA will be wondering too, and they may require a very thorough investigation before the next flight. (10/8)

Shotwell: 'We're Going to Overwhelm the Eastern Range with Launches' (Sources: SPACErePORT, NewSpace Watch)
After Sunday night's launch, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell announced that the Dragon was delivered on-target into space. The Falcon-9's secondary payload, an Orbcomm satellite, was successfully deployed. The next Falcon-9 ISS Cargo launch is planned for January. She said SpaceX is planning employment growth in Florida, and they expect to "overwhelm" the Eastern Range with a busy manifest of launches.

Editor's Note: As SpaceX looks at other non-Florida sites, they'll see that recreating the optical tracking capability that produced the very useful engine-out video will be an expensive and difficult proposition. Given the cost and difficulty, and the fact that it probably isn't a firm requirement for range safety, they would probably opt not to develop this elsewhere. I'm guessing their insurers would much prefer to have this capability. (10/8)

Proclamation Supports Texas Spaceport Authority (Source: Brownsville Herald)
The Brownsville City Commission launched support to create a Brownsville Spaceport Development Corporation virtually on the eve of SpaceX’s mission to the International Space Station. The commission passed a resolution Tuesday backing the establishment of a spaceport corporation, noting that it is “cognizant that the development of a commercial launch site would create jobs, stimulate the economy, improve the quality of life, and promote the general economic welfare in the City.”

Pointing to the efforts to attract SpaceX’s launch project to a site near Boca Chica Beach, Mayor Tony Martinez said the creation of a Brownsville Spaceport Development Corporation would enable the city “to have some ability to collaborate with Cameron County or any other entity and get creative in case we needed to as we go along with the efforts.” (10/6)

Obama Campaign Celebrates Success of SpaceX ISS Resupply Launch (Source: SpaceRef)
"Tonight's launch of the SpaceX, Falcon 9 rocket and the autonomous Dragon spacecraft marks another extraordinary new milestone in space, further demonstrating the advances we have seen in just four short years on Florida's Space Coast. This launch is the first in 12 contracted flights to resupply the International Space Station, making it the second trip by American company SpaceX, to the space station following its successful mission in May of this year."

"When President Obama came into office, he inherited a program in crisis from an administration that promised the retirement of the Space Shuttle...President Obama knew the United States could do better, and made bold steps by taking immediate action to put NASA on a path for a sustainable future, one that is critical for Florida's Space Coast and essential for continued U.S. leadership in space."

"Now, because of President Obama's efforts, the International Space Station has an extended life, there is growth in the country's commercial space industry, and a promise to continue a commitment of human exploration, science, and other aeronautic programs. The future of NASA and scientific innovation is on a brighter path because of President Obama and his commitment to moving America forward, and like the space program, the President continues his promise to fight for hard-working, everyday Americans who want that fair shot to achieve their goals and reach their own version of the American Dream." (10/7)

Dragon Liftoff Begins the New Normal for NASA (Source: NBC)
Every time SpaceX or a competitor flies successfully, Bolden told reporters, "that gives the nonbelievers one more opportunity to get on board and root for us" and help enable commercial launches for space station astronauts. This will further free NASA up to aim for points beyond low-Earth orbit, like Mars. "This was a big night," Charles Bolden said.

An estimated 2,400 guests jammed the Florida launch center to see the Falcon, with its Dragon, come to life for SpaceX's first official, operational supply mission. Across the country at SpaceX headquarters, about 1,000 employees watched via TV and webcast. (10/8)

Engine in Development Could Cut Mars Travel Time to Three Months (Souce: Ars Technica)
This engine, currently under development at the University of Hunstville by a team working in collaboration with Boeing, NASA and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, would by comparison be about twice as fast as the best current technology. This fusion reactor would be fueled by "a few tons" of deuterium (a heavy isotope of hydrogen) and lithium-6 (a stable molecule of lithium) in a crystalline structure‚ hence the "dilithium crystal" claim.

Technically, dilithium is a molecule with two covalently bonded lithium atoms, while lithium-6 features six bonded atoms, but we can forgive them for the temptation of using a little poetic license. When the deuterium and the lithium-6 are forced together under high pressure they undergo a fusion reaction—a process which they're still trying to turn into a net producer of energy. While fusion isn't yet a viable fuel source, recent developments in the field seem to indicate that we can't be far away. Click here. (10/7)

Should Columbus Day Become Exploration Day? (Source: Discovery)
"In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue." And with that benign little mnemonic many people sum up their working knowledge of the endeavors of the Genoan sailor who discovered America (even though he didn't) for the glory of the Spanish crown (which later imprisoned him for his "atrocities"). But regardless if you know the Santa Maria from the Mayflower, if you live in the U.S. there's a good chance that you'll be enjoying a day off work on Monday in honor of a man who's traditionally celebrated regardless of his accidental discovery, dubious motivations and more-than-questionable actions across the islands of the Caribbean.

There are a few people who'd like to change that. Not the day off of course, because we all like that, but specifically who's being honored -- or, more accurately, who's not specifically being honored. For rather than setting aside a day that exclusively respects Columbus (for better or worse) Tom Diehl, Karl Frank and Dr. Rod Wright are suggesting that Columbus Day -- which wasn't officially recognized federally until 1937 -- be rededicated as "Exploration Day", thus calling attention to the spirit of not only Columbus' exploits but also of all those that came after... and all who are yet to come.

"Rededicating Columbus Day as Exploration Day will allow those who wish to commemorate his accomplishments to continue doing so," says Frank. "But for those who find Columbus's role in history disquieting, it will enable them to celebrate the day in a very different way. Exploration Day covers the depth and breath of America’s rich history of exploration, research and discovery. Thus, Exploration Day will be something that unites rather than divides." (10/8)

India Space Spy Case Drags On (Source: Times of India)
Former Kerala chief minister K Karunakaran's son K Muraleedharan alleged on Sunday that if there was a conspiracy in the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) spy case, then former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao would have had a role in it. "Rao often used to target his political rivals by hoisting false cases on them. If there was a conspiracy in the ISRO spy case, then Rao would certainly have played a role," said Muraleedharan, who is also a Congress legislator.

He made the remarks while taking part in a meeting along with S Nambi Narayanan, a former ISRO scientist who was arrested on espionage charges along with another top official of the Isro, two Maldivian women and a businessman. The case first surfaced in 1994. At that time, Karunakaran was the chief minister. He resigned in 1995. But in 1996, things changed drastically after the CBI and the apex court of the country cleared Narayanan and gave him a clean chit and he got back his job.

"The need of the hour today is to have a re-investigation into the role played by the three police officials who investigated the case. I will write to chief minister Oommen Chandy for this and if there is no response, then I will approach the Congress high command," said Muraleedharan. Narayanan had remarked that this case was nothing but an 'international conspiracy' to delay the development of cryogenic technology. (10/8)

Da Vinci Academy Director Gets Dragon Launch Access (Source: Black and Gold)
The director of the da Vinci Academy of Aerospace Technology at Merritt Island High School said that his experience covering Sunday’s launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch will provide many benefits for the academy. Charles Parker covered the event for www.brevardtimes.com and had access to several press briefings from space officials as well as a trip to the pad on launch day. Parker wrote five stories over the two-day assignment.

“I made contact with many folks within the space industry and the media who will be coming to speak to our students,” Parker said.  “I also asked a question at a live NASA TV press conference and mentioned our academy’s name!” Parker will be following up in the next few weeks with a variety of contacts, including representatives of SpaceX, Space Florida, and the Associated Press. (10/8)

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