February 9, 2013

Early Focus on Horses Turns to Career in Space Launches (Source: Lompoc Record)
With a focus on horses into young adulthood, Katie Aulston admits her path to landing a job as a team member for launching Atlas rockets at Vandenberg Air Force Base wasn’t ordinary. “I have a very unique situation because I never thought that I’d end up here at Vandenberg Air Force Base,” the Santa Maria resident said.

The United Launch Alliance employee is one of many who prepared the Atlas 5 rocket for its launch, planned for Monday from south Vandenberg Air Force Base, to carry the Landsat Data Continuity Mission into orbit. Despite the winding route she took, Aulston has marked 24 years on the job, primarily in quality-assurance jobs. Certainly her childhood love of horses didn’t hint at a future rocket-launch career.

She showed horses as a young girl and used to break cutting horses as a young adult in the Santa Ynez Valley, where she grew up and graduated from high school in 1972. “Throughout all that, I decided to pursue a different career,” she said. Aulston went to Santa Barbara City College and Hancock College to study business. She applied for a job and was hired in 1989 by what then was General Dynamics, manufacturer of Atlas rockets. (2/10)

New Citizen Astronaut Candidates Announced (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Citizens in Space, a project of the United States Rocket Academy, announced two astronaut candidates at the Space Exploration Educators Conference. Citizen-astronaut candidate Maureen Adams, who has been in training for three years, announced the new additions. “As a citizen of Texas, I take special pride in making this announcement,” Adams said. “Today we are expanding our astronaut corps to four, as Michael Johnson and Edward Wright, both from Texas, join our training program.” Click here. (2/9)

Is the AXE/Apollo Campaign Sexist? – The Resentment Builds Up (Source: Moon and Back)
It’s been a couple of weeks since I spotted the first poster advertising the Axe – Apollo competition. It's the competition that promises to give 22 people an opportunity to join a suborbital flight on XCOR’s Lynx space plane. After seeing the poster, I just thought to myself: “Is this really how they are advertising the ‘next big thing’ of the 21st century?”

For those who haven’t seen it yet, let me describe the poster briefly: an obviously attractive, scantily clad, young woman is cuddling up to a man (supposedly) dressed in a spacesuit. The text below says: “Leave a man, come back a hero!” No need to say, that such image represents the purest form of an ultimate sexual stereotype and aims at the lowest common denominator that should attract people (mostly men) to the competition (Yes, silly hot airheads would love you – is that really all commercial space flight is good for?) (2/9)

Former NASA Scientist Helping Coloradoans Grow Better Marijuana (Source: Coloradoan)
Former NASA scientist Dale Chamberlain won’t promise to get you sky-high, but he can teach you how to grow better marijuana. Chamberlain of Loveland is launching the High Altitude School of Hydroponics, or HASH, to help Colorado residents learn to grow better pot. Chamberlain says complying with the state’s new marijuana-legalizing Amendment 64 today requires that someone either give you pot or that you grow your own. And any marijuana people grow has to be grown inside a locked room, not outdoors.

While most anyone can grow marijuana, Chamberlain said the skills he can teach people will allow them to grow better pot. He likened hydroponically grown marijuana to small-batch distilling or a fine wine. “We want to help put Chablis in your glass,” he said. Chamberlain got his bachelor’s degree from Colorado State University in Fort Collins and went on to work for NASA designing experiments for the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station.

He said there are a variety of seemingly small things home growers do that can affect the quality of their crop, which can take months to bring to harvest. Some growers, for instance, install infrared security cameras to monitor their crops, not realizing that plants can “see” and will response to infrared light. Giving the plants extra light allows them to grow faster, but it must be given at the right time in their growing cycle. (2/9)

Russian Progress M-16M Fragments Sink in Pacific (Source: RIA Novosti)
Fragments of Russia's Progress M-16M cargo spacecraft that did not burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere splashed down in a non-navigational area of the Pacific on Saturday, Mission Control said. The Progress M-16M undocked from the International Space Station (ISS) at 5:12 p.m. Moscow Time on Saturday. Russia's Progress M-18M unmanned cargo spacecraft will be docked to the International Space Station (ISS) on Monday night.

With a record of more than 130 launches since 1972, Progress-family freighters remain the backbone of the Russian space cargo fleet. In addition to their main mission as cargo spacecraft, they are used to adjust the space station’s orbit and conduct scientific experiments. (2/9)

Curiosity Rover Completes 1st Drill Into Mars Rock (Source: AP)
In a Mars first, the Curiosity rover drilled into a rock and prepared to dump an aspirin-sized pinch of powder into its onboard laboratories for closer inspection. The feat marked yet another milestone for the car-size rover, which landed last summer to much fanfare on an ambitious hunt to determine whether environmental conditions were favorable for microbes.

Using the drill at the end of its 7-foot-long robotic arm, Curiosity on Friday chipped away at a flat, veined rock bearing numerous signs of past water flow. After nearly seven minutes of pounding, the result was a drill hole 2 1/2 -inches deep. The exercise was so complex that engineers spent several days commanding Curiosity to tap the rock outcrop, drill test holes and perform a "mini-drill" in anticipation of the real show. Images beamed back to Earth overnight showed a fresh borehole next to a shallower test hole Curiosity had made earlier. (2/9)

NASA Reauthorization Not Likely to Make Major Policy Changes (Source: Space Politics)
Key members of Congress and their staffs indicated this week that reauthorization of NASA is one of their priorities for the coming year. However, they indicated that these efforts would be more along the lines of adjustments to existing policies than major revisions of them. A NASA reauthorization bill has been a priority for members of both the House Science Committee and Senate Commerce Committee for some time, as the most recent NASA authorization act, passed in 2010, runs through fiscal year 2013.

A key challenge, though, will be reconciling goals for the agency laid out in the authorization with available money, particularly as funding has fallen far short of authorized levels in 2012 and likely again in 2013. “Even in a constrained fiscal environment,” said Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), ranking member of the House Science Committee’s space subcommittee, “I believe it’s possible to cement an authorization” that can be funded.

That mismatch between authorization and appropriations—appropriations for fiscal year 2013 will fall far short of the $19.96 billion authorized for NASA in the 2010 act—will be a key challenge in the next authorization bill. “We realize that the appropriation has not kept pace with the authorization overall, making the next authorization much more of a challenge,” said Ann Zulkosky, senior professional staff on the Senate Commerce Committee, during a panel at the FAA conference Wednesday. Click here. (2/8)

With Unfinished Business, NASA Plans More Missions to Mars (Source: PBS)
The Mars "Curiosity" rover's mission to the red planet has been hailed as a success, so why does NASA want to keep going back to the same place again and again? Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory explain. You might think that landing a car-sized vehicle on the surface of Mars would be achievement enough for anyone. But as we will see, nobody in the space business is satisfied with that spectacular success. Click here. (2/9)

NASA Awards $1.9B Contract to Jacobs Technology (Source: Huntsville Times)
NASA has awarded a major engineering services contract for Johnson Space Center to Jacobs Technology. The contract, potentially worth $1.9 billion, with be managed in Houston. The contract, which potentially extends for nine years, taps Jacobs for work in "engineering design and development; sustaining engineering; engineering analysis and assessment, technology development; test services; laboratory and facility operation and maintenance; planetary mission research; physical science research; and astromaterial curation." (2/8)

Forbes Interview with Steve Isakowitz (Source: Forbes)
I turned to Steve Isakowitz, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at Virgin Galactic for an updated statement on the lease matter. Mr. Isakowitz provided me with a comprehensive status update via email on the current status of the lease agreement, current SpaceShipTwo testing operations, Virgin Galactic’s STEM education efforts and the safety lessons learned from the Boeing 787′s lithium-ion battery problems. Click here. (2/8)

Humans 2 Mars Summit Planned (Source: H2M)
What do we need to land humans on Mars by 2030? If you want to know the answer, we invite  you to join us at the Humans to Mars Summit. H2M will be a comprehensive Mars exploration conference to address the major technical, scientific, and policy-related challenges that need to be overcome to send humans to Mars by 2030. This summit will be one of the most authoritative and diverse Mars exploration conferences ever held. With involvement of key players from NASA, industry, the science community, and non-traditional players. Expect to rub shoulders with both established aerospace leaders as well as newer commercial space entity leaders. Click here. (2/9)

Damphousse Departs NSS (Source: SPACErePORT)
Paul E. Damphousse has announced his resignation as executive director of the National Space Society, a post he has held since January 2012. Damphousse's departure comes on the heels of a successful NSS Kickstarter campaign to fund the development of a pro-space video production. Prior to joining NSS, Damphousse served as a Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps, supported military space policy in the Pentagon, and worked for Florida Senator Bill Nelson as a legislative aid for space policy.

Damphousse's letter of resignation raised some concerns about conflict within the organization: "During the last year in this role it has become abundantly clear... that as long as elements of the existing leadership of the NSS continue to pursue courses of action—-and perpetuate an atmosphere—-that are not in the best interests of the Society, the challenges the organization face will become insurmountable. For both professional and personal reasons, I have decided to pursue other opportunities." (2/9)

Asteroid Mining Might be Gold Rush of This Century (Source: Epoch Times)
Space exploration has always fascinated man, and the first steps to this glorious adventure could very well be underway. Two young, pioneering companies—Planetary Resources Inc and Deep Space Industries—have drawn up plans to begin mining asteroids. Asteroid mining refers to exploring and utilizing asteroids flying near Earth for rare and precious metals and water. These could be mined and brought down to Earth for use as raw materials, or help in sustaining space operations.

Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries claim that mining from these space rocks is easier than mining from the Earth’s crust. And it appears that there are a lot of precious metals up there just waiting to be mined. A single platinum-rich space rock 1,650 feet (500 meters) wide contains the equivalent of all the platinum-group metals ever mined throughout human history, Planetary Resources officials said. Click here. (2/9)

Launch Vehicle Certification A Significant Challenge for New Entrants (Source: Parabolic Arc)
New entrants hoping to break ULA’s monopoly on national security space (NSS) launches face a number of obstacles in getting their launch vehicles certified, according to a new GAO report. Perhaps the biggest challenge: the Air Force considers almost everything it launches into space to be its most critical payloads (Class A), requiring the services of proven rockets like ULA’s Atlas V or Delta IV.

Military officials have yet to figure out how to re-classify some of these payloads as less critical (Class B, C and D), thus allowing them to be launched on vehicles with fewer flights under their belts. This lack of opportunity to prove their launch vehicles is a significant issue for the four companies hoping to compete for NSS launches: SpaceX with its Falcon 9 and  Falcon Heavy rockets; Orbital Sciences Corp. with Antares; Lockheed Martin with Athena III; and ATK with Liberty II. Click here. (2/9)

Extreme Life Might be Visible on Colorful Exoplanets (Source: New Scientist)
Lichens and algae could be the first life forms we find on Earth-like exoplanets, by looking for their light signatures in a planet's distinctive coloring. Astronomers have found several rocky worlds in the habitable zone, the region around a star where liquid water can exist on a planet's surface, and many more are thought to exist. As telescopes get more sensitive, we should be able to collect light reflected off such planets and look for clues to their surface conditions.

Seen from space, Earth gives off a large amount of near-infrared light, which is reflecting off the chlorophyll in plants. We might see a similar "red edge" on distant exoplanets if they also host green vegetation. But researchers think it is possible that many rocky worlds will have extreme heat, dryness or acidity, and that hardier life forms will dominate their surfaces. So what would these organisms look like from a distance?

To find out the pair looked at the light reflected by some of Earth's more extreme life forms: lichens in arid regions, bacterial mats in very hot water and red algae in acid mine drainage. They calculated that seen from afar each type of organism would create a unique colour pattern. Lichens, for instance, appear more yellow than the algae or bacteria. Finding these patterns wouldn't necessarily mean life is present, but it could be a step towards narrowing down exoplanets for more detailed searches. (2/9)

NOAA EROS Folks Anxious for Landsat Launch (Source: KELO)
We're less than three days and counting to a launch that will thrust South Dakota's EROS Data Center into a new space age. At noon on Monday, a NASA rocket will carry the Landsat 8 satellite into orbit, providing EROS with the best images yet of earth. EROS Data Center can't wait for NASA to "light this candle" and get an Atlas V rocket spacebound.

"Oh, I couldn't be more excited. This is one of those opportunities that doesn't come along all that often," Chief Scientist Tom Loveland said. The rocket's payload is a new Landsat 8 satellite that will send back images of the earth for EROS researchers to collect and archive. Getting Landsat 8 off the ground has been in the works since 2006. (2/9)

Antares Hot Fire Test Set for Tuesday Evening (Source: NASA)
NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility will provide launch range support for an Orbital Sciences Corp. Antares rocket engine test scheduled for Feb. 12 at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Pad-0A. The window for the engine test, or hot fire, is 6- 9 p.m. EST. The test will fire the Antares’ dual AJ26 rocket engines, which will generate a combined total thrust of 680,000 lbs. for about 30 seconds while the first stage of the test rocket will be held down on the pad. The hot fire will demonstrate the readiness of the rocket’s first stage and launch pad fueling systems to support upcoming flights. (2/9)

BRAC Back on the Table in 2014 Pentagon Budget (Source: FLDC, Stripes)
The Pentagon will propose another round of base realignment and closure as part of its fiscal 2014 budget request, along with a smaller-than-expected pay increase for servicemembers and savings from Tricare and retirement, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Wednesday in an interview with Stars and Stripes.

Panetta laid out what the fiscal 2014 defense budget “should be like” to a small group of reporters, while warning that if Congress fails to approve the Pentagon’s fiscal 2013 budget request or avert automatic, across-the-board spending cuts, the DOD will be forced to “throw the strategy out the window.”

Panetta and President Barack Obama raised the BRAC idea in January 2012, but lawmakers from both parties quickly squelched the idea, saying the long-term savings weren’t worth the short-term costs. On Wednesday, Panetta said that in the current budget environment, closing bases just make sense. (2/7)

Worried About Asteroids? Handy Calculator Will Assess the Damage (Source: Washington Post)
The Earth will narrowly avoid a big collision next week. NASA says that asteroid DA14 will come within 17,000 miles of us Feb. 15. That may sound like plenty of breathing room, but the asteroid will actually sweep closer than some weather satellites do. So what would happen if that asteroid actually did hit us? Happily, we can calculate that! Jay Melosh, an atmospheric scientist at Purdue, has created a nifty little “impact calculator” that lets you figure out the consequences of a large asteroid hitting the Earth. Click here. (2/8)

Lockheed Martin Expanding Human Spaceflight Role (Source: Aviation Week)
Lockheed Martin Space Systems, a longtime powerhouse in robotic spacecraft, is staking a larger position in human spaceflight as a way to stay busy while its big civil-space customers adjust to the new era of budget and political uncertainty. The unit will draw on its work with NASA's planned Orion crew capsule to help neighboring Sierra Nevada Corp. human-rate its Dream Chaser entry in NASA's commercial crew sweepstakes.

Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin crews at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility, where the company built all of the aluminum-alloy tanks for the space shuttle program, will use expertise in composites gained in part from fighter aircraft work, to build the lightweight lifting body structure for the reusable commercial vehicle. And the experience gained from decades of integrating European instruments and other hardware into scientific satellites and space probes will help company engineers and managers as they work to fit a European service module to the back of the Orion capsule. (2/9)

Is the Ozone Layer Recovering? (Source: ESA)
Satellites show that the recent ozone hole over Antarctica was the smallest seen in the past decade. Long-term observations also reveal that Earth’s ozone has been strengthening following international agreements to protect this vital layer of the atmosphere. According to the ozone sensor on Europe’s MetOp weather satellite, the hole over Antarctica in 2012 was the smallest in the last 10 years.

The instrument continues the long-term monitoring of atmospheric ozone started by its predecessors on the ERS-2 and Envisat satellites. Since the beginning of the 1980s, an ozone hole has developed over Antarctica during the southern spring – September to November – resulting in a decrease in ozone concentration of up to 70%. (2/8)

Iran to Orbit New Home-Made Satellite (Source: FARS)
Iran plans to send a new home-made satellite into the space by the next few days, a senior Iranian space research official announced on Saturday. The head of the Space System Research Center Mohammad Ebrahimi praised Iran's achievements in space fields, and said now the world knows Iran as "a country with space technologies".

He said Iran has so far launched several satellites into orbit and achieved the technology to build satellite-carriers and has successfully sent living creatures into the space. As regards Iran's future space programs, Ebrahimi said the country will launch a new satellite into space by the next few days and will be able to send man into space by the next five years.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had announced in 2010 that Iran plans to send astronauts into space in 2024. But, later he said that the issue had gone under a second study at a cabinet meeting and that the cabinet had decided to implement the plan in 2019, five years earlier than the date envisaged in the original plan. (2/9)

France Boosts Space R&T Spending (Source: Aviation Week)
French space agency CNES has tripled its research and technology (R&T) budget from €42 million ($57 million) in 2005 to €131 million this year, representing roughly 17% of its budget outside of contributions to the European Space Agency. By 2015 that figure is expected to grow to more than €150 million, according to Feb. 4 briefing slides that detail the agency’s estimated €1.6 billion budget for 2013. (2/6)

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