February 24, 2013

Commercial Crew Program is Worst Possible Choice for NASA Cuts (Source: Florida Today)
If political leaders in Washington are unable to reach a deal this week, NASA could be facing nearly $1 billion less funding during the next seven months or so. That would mean some emergency, quick-action belt tightening. So, what are agency leaders planning to cut? Well, one of the few programs that seems to be working and on track: the Commercial Crew program.

NASA officials say that stopping funding for Commercial Crew temporarily would significantly delay their goal of conducting a manned test flight by 2017. Instead, perhaps NASA ought to be looking at cutting smaller amounts from big, multi-billion dollar projects that might better be able to absorb less money for a short period rather than cutting off the lifeline to one of its biggest “wins” in a decade. Commercial Crew is progressing faster than any of NASA’s attempts during the past two decades to develop a similarly-capable crew transport.

Perhaps NASA could take a closer look at its programs in education, computing and other fields that appear off-mission when it comes to the core functions of exploring space and advancing aviation research. Or, maybe NASA ought to be taking a hard look at cutting back or mothballing programs based on their track records when it comes to meeting deadlines and other metrics, including staying on budget. (2/24)

United Space Alliance Reaches End of Mission (Source: Florida Today)
Outside orbiter hangars and a tile processing shop, Mike McCulley gave a guest the lay of the land at Kennedy Space Center. That side of the street is Lockheed, this side Rockwell, he explained. Each protects its turf and information, slowing shuttle work and increasing its cost. “Once we’re all under one badge, I guarantee you things are going to be a lot slicker and a lot smoother,” McCulley, then Lockheed’s KSC site director, remembers telling Rockwell’s Kent Black. “And they were. These barriers just fell. One badge, one team, one company.”

The joint venture that brought the rivals together was United Space Alliance, which in 1996 became the lead operator of NASA’s shuttle fleet and immediately one of Brevard County’s largest employers. Seventeen years later, most of USA’s remaining local team is preparing to turn in its badges and look for new work. The Houston-based company, which supported nearly 60 shuttle missions, plans to let go 559 people Friday and another 77 from KSC on April 5.

That will leave about 140 employees at a firm that for years boasted as many as 6,600 engineers, technicians and administrative personnel at KSC, out of 10,500 nationally. Parent companies Lockheed Martin Corp. and The Boeing Co., which acquired Rockwell International Corp.’s 50 percent stake, have been quiet about USA’s future. But it’s widely considered a matter of time before it ceases daily operations. (2/24)

Cleveland Played Key Roles in Space Program (Source: Cleveland Sun News)
The NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and the Plum Brook Station in Sandusky played key roles in the Apollo manned space missions, a NASA spokesman told an audience recently at the Lake Erie Nature & Science Center. “We did a lot of the development and research for some of the components, and we do a lot of the materials testing out there, as well,” Oldham said. “The atmospheric chamber at Plum Brook, the vacuum chamber, was vital in testing a lot of hardware in a big space environment.”

In addition, the Glenn Research Center played an integral role in investigating what went wrong with the Apollo 13 space mission, when an explosion onboard nearly led to the crew being stranded in space. Experiments at Glenn helped NASA duplicate the conditions the capsule faced in flight and led investigators to suspect that a short circuit from a malfunctioning component ignited an oxygen tank. (2/24)

What's Going to Happen to the ISS? (Source: America Space)
The International Space Station is the ninth crewed space station to be built, and with a mass of approximately 450 tons, a width of 354 feet (108 meters), and a pressurized volume of 2746 (837 cubic meters), it is by far the biggest. Construction on the orbiting laboratory started in 1998 and is still ongoing (Russian elements are still being readied for launch).

With the retirement of the space shuttle fleet, the only way at present to transport astronauts to and from the station is via Soyuz spacecraft. This minuscule vessel only allows three crew members to be launched at any one time. However, by the mid-2010s, the U.S. could regain an independent capability to launch crews into low-Earth orbit using commercial vehicles such as SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft.

Only two more pressurized modules are scheduled to be launched and attached to the existing complex. The Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM), also called Nauku (Russian for “science”), will become the major Russian laboratory at the ISS. Due to arrive in 2014, along with the European Robotic Arm, it will replace the Mini-Research Module 2 (MRM 2). The other addition, also slated for arrival in 2014, is the Uzlovoy Module (UM). (2/24)

Suitcase-Size Satellite Launching Monday to Hunt Asteroids (Source: Space.com)
A small Canadian satellite launching from India on Feb. 25 will be the first spacecraft specifically designed to search for large asteroids and monitor space junk in the solar system. The Canadian Space Agency's Near-Earth Object Surveillance Satellite, or NEOSSat, will seek out and track huge space rocks orbiting the sun from its position in Earth orbit, its builders say. The satellite will also track space debris and satellites still in service in Earth's orbit, splitting time between its two missions. (2/24)

Russian Deputy PM Urges UN Response to Asteroid Threat (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said on Saturday a global system to protect our planet from asteroids and other dangerous space objects should be created under the auspices of the United Nations. “This system should become global and universal in its technical and political sense and is a matter of agreement in the framework of the United Nations,” Rogozin said at the meeting with Russian patriotic organizations.

Rogozin said this system should be launched now so that we do not “kick ourselves” when such a danger to the civilization appears because “no one can say exactly what will happen in 25, 30 or 40 years...We need to find such technical decisions, which we don’t have now, such capabilities which could change the flight path of a dangerous space object at a long distance from the Earth or destroy it,” Rogozin said adding that neither Russia nor the United States has such capabilities. (2/23)

SpaceX Dragon's Third ISS Visit Amid Logistics Schedule Challenges (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
With less than one week now remaining until the launch of SpaceX’s second operational International Space Station (ISS) resupply mission, preparations to make the orbital outpost ready to receive the Dragon capsule are progressing smoothly. However, resupply flights for the remainder of the year continue to be re-shuffled around a packed and challenging logistics flight manifest. Click here. (2/23)

India Set to Fly SARAL, Six Small Satellites (Source: The Hindu)
All is set for the launch of Indo-French satellite SARAL, aimed at oceanographic studies, and six foreign mini and micro satellites onboard ISRO’s workhorse rocket PSLV from the spaceport of Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh tomorrow. The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle PSLV-C20 is slated for blast-off at 5.56 p.m. local time from the first launch pad of Satish Dhawan Space Center. (2/24)

Smith Taking Bipartisan Approach to Spare NASA (Source: Houston Chronicle)
It should be no surprise, but things are so testy on Capitol Hill that a conflict-resolution coach invoked the tale of two sisters bickering over an orange to show Republicans and Democrats on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology the benefits of collaboration. Everyone figured the two girls were locked in a winner-take-all argument over a piece of fruit because each wanted to eat the orange, recalls Rep. Lamar Smith, R-TX, the committee chairman who arranged the presentation by Wendy Swire, an executive coach.

But it turns out, one sister wanted to eat the orange and the other wanted the rind to flavor a cake. "If they'd only talked to each other, both of them would have been happy," Smith recalls. "It was a small point, but I think it resonated with committee members." Smith, a savvy, close-to-the-vest lawmaker who has served in Congress since 1987, is the only House committee chairman so far this year to convene a bipartisan off-the-record retreat for committee members in hopes of breaking the partisan gridlock that has stymied so much action in the House and Senate. (2/24)

Molecules Assemble in Water, Hint at Origins of Life (Source: Space Daily)
The base pairs that hold together two pieces of RNA, the older cousin of DNA, are some of the most important molecular interactions in living cells. Many scientists believe that these base pairs were part of life from the very beginning and that RNA was one of the first polymers of life. But there is a problem. The RNA bases don't form base pairs in water unless they are connected to a polymer backbone, a trait that has baffled origin-of-life scientists for decades.

If the bases don't pair before they are part of polymers, how would the bases have been selected out from the many molecules in the "prebiotic soup" so that RNA polymers could be formed? Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology are exploring an alternate theory for the origin of RNA: they think the RNA bases may have evolved from a pair of molecules distinct from the bases we have today. Click here. (2/24)

Employees: Education Key in Space Industry (Source: Decatur Daily)
Tim Nitchen received all of his rocket-building experience on the job. The United Launch Alliance technician has no formal education beyond a high school diploma. Despite his success, he doesn't think his path into the industry would work as well for him today as it did 24 years ago. "The way jobs are now, you need some sort of degree," he said. "The industry has become much more competitive." He recommends at least a two-year degree in some sort of engineering field.

After high school, Nitchen attended one semester of college, intending to study graphic communications. When that wasn't working out, he quit and worked in sales for seven years. Eventually, he decided that wasn't for him, either, and he applied for a job at McDonnell Douglas in Pueblo, Colo. McDonnell Douglas merged with Boeing in 1997, and the company closed the Pueblo facility and moved him to Decatur. Colorado-based ULA is a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

His job includes almost any hands-on rocket construction work, everything from wiring to welding. "I build the rocket from the ground up," he said. "I work with people who have built houses for a living, or have some sort of military experience." He said he had no idea he would end up building rockets when he graduated high school. "But I knew I like to work with my hands," he said. ULA Engineering Manager Amy Pace's story is similar to Nitchen's. She started with McDonnell Douglas, then was moved to Decatur by Boeing. She has a degree in mechanical engineering from Auburn University. (2/24)

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