December 28, 2012

At KSC, a Grand Entrance for Guests at Visitor Complex (Source: Florida Today)
NASA’s shuttle launch team confirms a “go” for launch, the countdown’s final seconds tick away and Atlantis’ solid rocket boosters and main engines ignite. In sync with the audio clip of the blastoff, jets of water shoot up from a fountain greeting guests at the new entrance to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, forming a rainbow next to a laser etching of the center's namesake gazing skyward.

The Visitor Complex officially opened the $16 million entrance Thursday, a week after arriving guests first began gathering to take pictures in front of the 75-foot long, 30-foot tall blue granite fountain and a globe-shaped NASA “meatball” logo in front of it. The new entryway is the first project completed under a 10-year master plan that aims to “re-modernize and recreate” the Visitor Complex to help it attract customers from theme park competition in Orlando. (12/27)

Project to Replace KSC Water/Sewer Lines Underway (Source: Florida Today)
Kennedy Space Center operations ground to a halt one day in September 2010 when a two-foot water main ruptured near the Vehicle Assembly Building. The loss of water pressure delayed a shuttle orbiter’s move into the assembly building, forced most employees home and closed the KSC Visitor Complex’s main campus to tourists. There are no major space program operations to disrupt now, but to prevent such problems in the future, KSC is taking advantage of the post-shuttle lull to overhaul a water and wastewater system that dates to the center’s beginning 50 years ago. (12/27)

2012: A Year of Loss (Source: America Space)
The year 2012 was one of great loss for the aerospace community. The industry lost pioneers in space exploration, role models who inspired generations to strive to push the limits ever higher, and icons who proved that the sky is most certainly not the limit. In this feature AmericaSpace seeks to honor those that left us in 2012. Click here. (12/28)

Kate Winslet Going to Space (Source: Huffington Post)
She should never let go of this family. Kate Winslet has been given a free ticket to blast into space aboard one of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic space flights. The actress recently married Branson’s nephew, Ned RocknRoll. And though RocknRoll works part time for Virgin Galactic, Branson actually offered Winslet the ticket after she saved his mother from a fire at his private vacation retreat of Necker Island last year. The tickets are usually sold for nearly $200,000 and over 530 people have already signed up for the space flights. (12/28)

Chinese Satellite Navigation System to Compete with GPS (Source: AFP)
China's new Beidou satellite navigation system has started offering services to users across the Asia Pacific region. Beijing hopes the technology will eventually have the potential to compete with the US' GPS. China announced on Thursday it had started making services of its own Beidou satellite navigation system available to Asian users outside the country.

The network would offer services including positioning, navigation, time and text messaging to people in the Asia Pacific region, Beidou spokesman Ran Chengqi said. Beijing expected the satnav system to generate a 400-billion-yuan ($63 billion) market for services to the transport, meteorology and telecommunications sectors. In October of this year, China launched a sixth satellite in 2012 to join an already existing array of navigation technology forming the Beidou network. According to the Global Times newspaper, Beidou will eventually consist of over 30 satellites. (12/27)

Meet the Latest Start-up to Take on Space (Source: Inc.)
A half-century ago, the Space Race was fought between nations. Today, that battle has a decidedly scrappier feel, with start-ups leading the charge. One recent entrant is the Golden Spike Company, a Boulder-based start-up that plans to offer human expeditions to the moon. Earlier this month, the company announced that it would begin shuttling manned crews to the moon by 2020. There's only one small catch: The price of admission is about $1.4 billion for two passengers.

Unlike more consumer-focused space exploration missions, like Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic--which will take passengers into sub-orbital spaceflight for $200,000--Golden Spike's founder says its company's clientele will be comprised mainly of governments and corporations. "We can give countries an expedition to surface of the moon for two people," Alan Stern, the co-founder of Golden Spike and NASA's former chief scientists told Wired. (12/27)

Genesis II: Extraterrestrial Oceans Could Host Life (Source: Discovery)
NASA's battle cry behind the small armada of orbiters, landers and rovers dispatched to Mars is "follow the water!" Where there's water, there could be life, which needs a solvent like water to assemble the complex macromolecules needed for living systems. Mars is covered with geological evidence that it was once a soggy planet.

But no longer. One of the most exciting findings to date from the roving field geologist, the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity, was the detection of a dried up ancient stream where water once flowed billions of years ago. The irony is that if you travel a couple hundred million miles beyond Mars' orbit you cross the solar system's frost line, the boundary beyond which there is plenty of water preserved from the planets' birth.

At least six outer moons have subsurface oceans that could potentially be cozy places for life: Europa, Ganymede, Callisto, Titan, Enceladus and Triton. Each of them could have as much if not more water than found in all of Earth’s oceans. In fact Earth is a comparatively dry world. (12/28)

Japanese Rocket Scientist Gives Up Lucrative Career for Cirque du Soleil (Source: Japan Today)
Born in Okayama, Yusuke Funaki became an engineer in the Research & Development department at Bridgestone, a world leader in tire technology, before he gave it all up to pursue his dream to join the circus. As a 2-year research student for JAXA/Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency (Japan’s NASA), Funaki researched the movements of the robotic arm used at the International Space Satellite. He received a Masters of Engineering after majoring in aerospace engineering.

After landing a lucrative job in research, Funaki saw Quidam, Cirque du Soleil’s ninth stage show. He was so impressed that he decided to start skipping rope, a task that may sound simple and child-like but not when it is featured in a Cirque du Soleil show. There is a prowess, energy and artistry of a Cirque’s skipping rope act that has many audience members wanting more. (12/28)

NASA Seeks Partners to Launch Projects (Source: Politico)
One giant leap for mankind. One small step for the GoDaddy Martian Rover? With NASA’s budget unlikely to see a boost anytime soon, legislators and policymakers are left looking for a financial fix. Enter one option: selling private sponsorships to future NASA projects or vehicles. Robert Walker, a former Republican chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, floated that idea at a committee hearing on NASA’s strategic direction earlier this month.

Far-fetched? Maybe. But with federal appropriations declining each year since 2009, NASA needs to look outside Washington for a cash infusion, Walker says. “Sponsorship brings in people who have no place in aerospace but see an opportunity to have their name associated with it,” he told POLITICO. And lawmakers have more to grapple with than just the question of NASA resources: Washington can’t even agree on what exactly the agency’s job should be. (12/28)

Do We Really Need to Take Vacations to Space? (Source: Smithsonian)
As we approach 2013, the possibility of entering a sealed aircraft, buckling up and exiting the atmosphere in the name of leisure is no longer science fiction. Rather, space tourism is so close to reality that talks of orbital hotels and space property rights are underway, a space runway has been built, a touristic spacecraft from Virgin Galactic is ready, and hundreds of wealthy travelers have prepaid for their seats at $200,000 a head.

While the starting price of a space ticket is for now only an option for the extremely rich, analysts say that streamlining of costs and energy outputs, and bringing large numbers of tourists into orbit at once, will eventually make orbital holidays relatively affordable and, possibly, an option for the masses.

In many ways, space travel closely resembles prior phases of human exploration. Five centuries ago, government-funded vessels from Spain traveled across the Atlantic to the New World. Later, common citizens began to make the same trip, and the trans-Atlantic voyage would become a rather routine errand, for better or for worse. Click here. (12/27)

A Start-Up Sees a Gold Rush Among the Stars (Source: New York Times)
The job description and title, “Chief Asteroid Miner,” are not what you are likely to come across on a job-search Web site. Besides, the position is taken. Chris Lewicki, the president of Planetary Resources, a company based in this city just east of Seattle, has it on his business cards. “It’s certainly an audacious thing that we’re after,” said Mr. Lewicki, 38.

Lots of small start-up companies have stars in their eyes, captivated by entrepreneurial dreams — some half-baked, some brilliant, often a bit of both — of global success and riches. Here, at least the part about the stars is literal. In an otherwise unremarkable low-rise office park, with the Bread of Life Christian Church and a gym as neighbors, Mr. Lewicki and about 30 employees are aiming beyond Earth for the next great gold rush. (They are actually after the platinum group of metals)

They are planning, within a decade or so, an unmanned robotic mining mission to the asteroid belt. The idea is not new. Space exploration enthusiasts have talked about harvesting the ancient, mineral-laden chunks of rock that hurtle through interplanetary space since at least the 1920s. Click here. (12/24)

Orbital Sciences Poised For 2013 ISS Cargo Deliveries (Source: Aviation Week)
Hurricane Sandy came and went in late 2012, as did many of the start up issues at Virginia’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), elevating the prospects that Orbital Sciences Corp. will complete its NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Systems program milestones in the New Year and begin lucrative cargo deliveries to the International Space Station.

A successful demonstration flight of Orbital’s two stage Antares rocket from MARS including an inaugural rendezvous of its Cygnus cargo craft with the six-person orbiting science laboratory targeted for April would bring the Dulles, Va., based company’s abbreviated five-year development effort under the COTS initiative to a successful close. (12/27)

How Stellar Stylists Turn Astronomical Data Into Amazing Space Images (Source: WIRED)
Cassiopeia A is a 330-year-old ball of red-hot gases and space dust. But with the right makeup and some expert attention, this former star can still look positively radiant. When it’s time for Cassiopeia’s close-up, NASA turns to data visualizers, the photo stylists of the astronomy world. These artistes take homely black-and-white images and transform them into jaw-dropping Technicolor portraits that expose the universe in all its glory.

Aren’t they creating false standards of interstellar beauty? “We’re trying to present the object as true as we can,” says Robert Hurt, visualization scientist for the Spitzer Space Telescope, who has crafted hundreds of astronomical images. “We don’t want to glamorize the galaxy.” Here’s how visualizers transform Cass into a cover girl. Click here. (12/28)

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