January 1, 2013

Would We Create NASA Today? (Source: Space KSC)
What if NASA didn't exist? NASA was born out of unique historical circumstances. In the 1950s, the United States and the Soviet Union were engaged in a Cold War. Both sides were developing rockets, not for space exploration but to launch bombs at each other. After the Russians had established the precedent of using a military rocket to launch a civilian satellite, the Eisenhower administration turned to the Army Ballistic Missile Agency to launch what would become America's first satellite.

Explorer 1 launched on January 31, 1958, atop a modified Jupiter-C intermediate range ballistic missile. Later in 1958, NASA was created out of several existing federal agencies. NASA's predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, was combined with several space research agencies from the Defense Department, so the U.S. could claim it was separating civilian and military space research. Many of today's NASA field centers trace their origins back to that merger.

Let's assume that the United States and Soviet Union didn't become adversaries after World War II. What would have happened to the nascent rocketry research that came out of the war? My guess is that government funding for rocketry would have languished. Nazi Germany's V-2 might have become an historical curiosity, perhaps dismissed as a desperate tactic in the waning days of a lost war. But another American adversary would have arisen sooner or later, perhaps one that pursued rocketry as a military weapon. Click here. (1/1)

How Do Astronauts Celebrate New Year's Eve in Space (Source: Slate)
Last week, three astronauts arrived at the International Space Station, rounding out the crew of Station Expedition 34. The 6-member team spent most of Christmas Day relaxing, sharing a festive meal and gifts, and talking to family. What about celebrating New Year's˜how do you pick the right moment when you're hurtling through time zones at 17,500 miles per hour?

Just wait until midnight, Greenwich Mean Time. By convention, the astronauts set their clocks to GMT. That means they'll officially ring in the New Year with those in London and Reykjavik. One crew member said he hopes to see firework displays as the space station passes over different time zones at midnight, but otherwise, the day will likely resemble any other. Click here. (12/28)

Whatever Happened to Space Based Solar Power? (Source: Commercial Space)
After a promising start, which included strong advocacy during the 2008 US presidential election, a 2009 Symposium on Solar Energy from Space and the release of a follow-on study in 2011 titled "Space Solar Power — The First International Assessment of Space Solar Power: Opportunities, Issues and Potential Pathways Forward," the current crop of space solar power (SSP) advocates, which include the National Space Society (NSS) and Ontario based Space Canada, seem to have dropped the ball in their quest to popularize, commercialize and close the business case for gigantic orbiting solar power arrays beaming gigawatts of power back to Earth.

It's not that people (and especially scientists) have stopped talking about SSP. It's just that, unlike other high cost, high risk endeavors like space resource utilization (embraced by a variety of companies like Planetary Resources and Moon Express) and space access (Space-X, Sierra Nevada Corporation, the Golden Spike Company and others), very few commercial companies have so far decided to jump aboard the SSP bandwagon. Click here. (1/1)

Senate Passes Launch Indemnification Bill-—With a Catch (Source: Space Politics)
The fiscal cliff wasn’t the only thing the Senate was dealing with in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day. The Senate passed by unanimous consent HR 6586, legislation the House passed in November to extend commercial launch indemnification by two years. While that initially sounds like good news for the industry, there’s a catch: the Senate passed not the original House bill, but instead an amended version proposed by Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX).

The amendment replaces the text with a scaled-down version of S.3661, the Space Exploration Sustainability Act, that the two senators introduced last month after they failed to get amendments into the defense authorization bill. The amended bill extends NASA’s existing waiver to provisions of the Iran North Korea Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA) from mid-2016 to the end of 2020, and includes a “Sense of Congress” clause that NASA should develop both SLS/Orion and commercial crew systems in a balanced manner.

The amendment also extends commercial launch indemnification by only one year; both the original House bill and the standalone Nelson-Hutchison bill extended indemnification for two years. The amendment means that the House will have to pass the amended version, and do so before the new Congress convenes Thursday. The House will be in session on Tuesday to take up the fiscal cliff bill the Senate approved last night, but the amended HR 6586 is not on the schedule of bills to be considered today. (1/1)

House Passes Bill to Rename NASA Facility for Armstrong (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
The U.S. House of Representatives on Monday passed a bill that would rename NASA's aeronautics facility at Edwards Air Force Base in California after Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon. Armstrong, who piloted the Eagle to the Sea of Tranquility on July 20, 1969, passed away in August after complications from cardiovascular surgery. He was 82.

One of the most famous men of the 20th century, Armstrong was born August 5, 1930 in Wapakoneta, Ohio. He was a naval aviator in the Korean War, flew the X-15, served as command pilot for Gemini 8 in 1966 and led Apollo 11 in 1969. Under the House bill sponsored by Rep. Kevin McCarthy, NASA's Hugh L. Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, would be redesignated as the Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center. The House passed the measure 404-0. But the Senate has to act before the renaming moves forward. (12/31)

Virgin Galactic Space Planes Should Launch This Year (Source: IEEE Spectrum)
In the high deserts of New Mexico, not far from the bison grazing on Ted Turner’s sprawling Armendaris ranch, lie some curiously otherworldly structures. The largest one presents a 15-meter-high wall of glass
 on one flank, although the rest of the building appears to have buried itself in the adjacent earth, as if it had crash-landed there. Just a couple of hundred meters away sits a low-slung dome with something that resembles a giant eye budding from the top. “It almost looks like a spaceship itself,” quips David Wilson, who handles media relations for the site.

The squat dome will house the operations center for this futuristic facility, called Spaceport America, the first spaceport ever built expressly for commercial use. And by the end of the year, Spaceport America should be home to the first-ever “spaceline”: Virgin Galactic, part of Sir Richard Branson’s London-based Virgin Group.
 Once Virgin Galactic’s routine flights begin, ordinary people—at least, ordinary people with US $200 000 to spare—will be able to buy tickets into space. (1/1)

Landsat to Launch in February at VAFB (Source: Santa Ynex News)
An oversized semitrailer has brought NASA’s Landsat Data Continuity Mission spacecraft to Vandenberg Air Force Base in preparation for the satellite’s trip to space in early 2013. The satellite, built by Orbital Sciences Corp., will continue the Landsat mission of providing images of Earth’s land, oceans and other natural resources. At Vandenberg, it will undergo preparations for a launch Feb. 11 aboard an Atlas 5 rocket. Liftoff is planned between 10:04 and 10:48 a.m. from Space Launch Complex-3 on South Base. (1/1)

One Small Step or Giant Leap to Space in 2013? (Source: Motley Fool)
2012 has been big for the business of space. We've witnessed the first docking of a private spaceship to the International Space Station, seen billions of NASA dollars committed to the future, and watched the future of the space program take flight with the retirement of the space shuttle. As successful as 2012's been, 2013 could be even greater for investors and space enthusiasts alike. From public companies such as Orbital Sciences to private ventures, the sky won't be the limit in the New Year. Click here. (12/31)

Space Launch Highlights for 2013 (Source: SEN)
The world's space agencies are looking forward to another busy year of launches in 2013 as more private companies join them by developing plans for commercial exploitation of the final frontier. Current robotic missions exploring the planets and observing the Universe will continue while new ones are launched to learn more about the Moon and Mars and to map the stars. Here are some of the launch highlights to look forward to. Click here. (1/1)

Kennedy Space Center Tech May Save Miners (Source: Florida Today)
Miners responding to an explosion or fire might one day grab the same life support packs Kennedy Space Center crews use while rescuing astronauts or loading spacecraft with hazardous fuels. Funded by a federal office that seeks to improve mine safety, a KSC-led team of engineers is working to develop and make more widely available systems that rely on super-cold liquid air instead of traditional compressed gas.

“It certainly has the potential to revolutionize the fire-rescue world,” said David Bush, lead engineer in KSC’s Biomedical Engineering and Research Laboratory. The so-called cryogenic life support technology is nothing new at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, where it has been used for decades for space-related operations. Suits worn by teams that load toxic propellants carry liquid air devices providing two hours of breathing capability.

The closeout crews that strapped astronauts into their seats for launch, and search and rescue teams that would attempt to save astronauts at the pad or runway, were equipped with backpack-sized liquid air packs offering one hour of life support. KSC makes liquid air by mixing liquid nitrogen and liquid oxygen, or by simply cooling and condensing air. It is stored in tanks at roughly minus 300 degrees Fahrenheit, at much lower pressure than compressed gas. (1/1)

Senate Votes To Delay Sequester for Two Months, House Action Pending (Source: Space Policy Online)
The country fell off the fiscal cliff as 2012 turned into 2013. Two hours later the Senate voted to delay the automatic federal spending cuts known as the sequester for two months and to keep tax rates from rising for most Americans. The bill now must be taken up by the House. The tax issues are vitally important for American taxpayers, but from a space policy perspective the sequester is the key issue. 

Unless the House agrees with the Senate, beginning tomorrow defense spending will be cut 9.4 percent and spending for NASA, NOAA and other non-defense discretionary accounts will be cut 8.2 percent. If the House passes the Senate bill, the sequester will be delayed until February. At that time yet another political drama is expected to envelop Washington as politicians debate raising the debt limit. By delaying the sequester for the same amount of time, the politicians presumably will try -- again -- to reach a grand bargain to fix the nation's economic woes through spending cuts and revenue adjustments. (1/1)

Is NASA Lost in Space or Aimed at Asteroid? (Source: Space.com)
A report this month from the National Research Council (NRC) has called NASA’s overall trajectory into question. It pointed out the national disagreement over the U.S. space agency’s goals and objectives, a disparity detrimental to the organization’s planning and budgeting efforts. The 12-person blue-ribbon study group observed that the White House should take the lead in forging "a new consensus" on NASA's future in order to more closely align the agency’s budget and objectives and remove restrictions impeding NASA's efficient operations. (12/31)

Commercial Spaceflight Showed its Ambitions in 2012 (Source: SEN)
2012 saw commercial space make big strides and announce ambitious plans. Although astronauts continued to be ferried to and from the space station aboard Russian Soyuz vehicles, several companies made progress towards offering human spaceflight capability. The potential of commercial operators was highlighted by US company SpaceX which completed two successful trips to the space station with the cargo version of its Dragon spacecraft.

The year saw the third successful outing of Europe's Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV3) named Edoardo Amaldi. The unmanned cargo freighter launched in March and spent nearly six months docked with the station. 2012 was also the third successful outing of Japan's unmanned supply ship, the H-11 Transfer Vehicle (HTV). Nicknamed "Kounotori" the Japanese spacecraft delivered supplies for the Expedition 32 crew in July.

Russia's Progress freighter also made deliveries to the orbiting outpost during the year. Amongst these state carriers appeared Dragon, becoming the first privately operated spacecraft to visit the International Space Station in May. This was the third and final demonstration mission by SpaceX working under NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) Program under which it is outsourcing the shipment of supplies to and from the space station to private companies. Click here. (12/31)

Study Shows Space Travel is Harmful to Brain (Source: PhysOrg)
As if space travel was not already filled with enough dangers, a new study out today in the journal PLOS ONE shows that cosmic radiation – which would bombard astronauts on deep space missions to places like Mars – could accelerate the onset of Alzheimer's disease. "Galactic cosmic radiation poses a significant threat to future astronauts," said M. Kerry O'Banion, M.D., Ph.D., a professor in the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy and the senior author of the study.

"The possibility that radiation exposure in space may give rise to health problems such as cancer has long been recognized. However, this study shows for the first time that exposure to radiation levels equivalent to a mission to Mars could produce cognitive problems and speed up changes in the brain that are associated with Alzheimer's disease." While space is full of radiation, the earth's magnetic field generally protects the planet and people in low earth orbit from these particles.

However, once astronauts leave orbit, they are exposed to constant shower of various radioactive particles. With appropriate warning, astronauts can be shielded from dangerous radiation associated with solar flares. But there are also other forms of cosmic radiation that, for all intents and purposes, cannot be effectively blocked. Click here. (12/31)

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