March 6, 2013

501 Days in Space with Your Spouse: Could You Handle It? (Source: CNN)
One man. One woman. Five hundred and one days in an RV-size space capsule. Will they still be speaking when they return?... Friends who have known each other for decades, or siblings who get along well and are comfortable spending long periods of time with one another, would be suitable for this sort of situation, said Jason Kring, a human factors researcher at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Based on studies at the South Pole, the most stable individuals and those with the most stable relationships are middle-aged married couples. That works out well for space travel, given that older people have less time left in their lives for space radiation to potentially cause cancer, Kring said. Radiation is also associated with infertility, so the couple should not be seeking to have children after the mission.

There are other challenges: If one person were to get sick, the remaining crew member would need to take over all tasks to keep the vehicle operational, Kring said. And if a crew member is having a breakdown and someone on Earth is trying to counsel him or her, Kring says, it will take 20 minutes for a message such as "try to think calming thoughts" to reach the spacefarer and another 20 minutes for an acknowledgment to get back to Earth. Click here. (3/5)

Mary Roach Discusses the Bodily Impact of Space Travel (Source: Endagadget)
Mary Roach's book "Packing for Mars" is not likely to win NASA any new recruits in the near future. It focused largely on the sorts of impact manned space travel has on the human body. It's an impact that, naturally, involves its share of bodily fluids. "Any machine or piece of equipment that works here on Earth in Earth gravity doesn't necessarily work in zero gravity," explains Roach. "It has to be rethought, re-tinkered, completely redesigned, and that includes the toilet." Watch as a particularly animated Roach gets deep and dirty with the oft-unexamined impacts of going into outer space. Click here. (3/5)

Editorial: A Scientist’s Misguided Crusade (Source: New York Times)
Last Friday, at 3:40 p.m., the State Department released its “Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement” for the highly contentious Keystone XL pipeline. In effect, the statement said there were no environmental impediments that would prevent President Obama from approving the pipeline.

Two hours and 20 minutes later, I received a blast e-mail containing a statement by James Hansen, the head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at NASA — i.e., NASA’s chief climate scientist. “Keystone XL, if the public were to allow our well-oiled government to shepherd it into existence, would be the first step down the wrong road, perpetuating our addiction to dirty fossil fuels, moving to ever dirtier ones,” it began.

As a private citizen, Hansen, has the same First Amendment rights as everyone else. He can publicly oppose the Keystone XL pipeline if he so chooses, just as he can be as politically active as he wants to be in the anti-Keystone movement. But the blast e-mail didn’t come from James Hansen, private citizen. It specifically identified Hansen as the head of the Goddard Institute, and went on to describe him as someone who “has drawn attention to the danger of passing climate tipping points. Click here. (3/4)

China’s Space Program Takes a Seat at Annual Legislative Conclave (Source: Space
China’s expanding space sector is scoring important political points for this year’s busy launch agenda now that 13 representatives from the ranks of government space agencies have been seated at the nation’s biggest annual legislative event. The chief designer of China’s manned spaceflight and space station projects, Zhang Bonan, is among the sector’s high-profile delegates appointed to the National People’s Congress (NPC), which opened its 2013 session here March 5 in conjunction with the China People’s Political Consultative Conference

Also picked through the Communist Party’s delegate-selection system to serve at the annual NPC-CPPCC gathering, known as Lianghui (Chinese for “Two Meetings”) is veteran aerospace engineer Sun Jiadong, 84, best known as the architect of China’s Beidou satellite navigation system. Zhang and Sun are first-time delegates to the NPC, which functions as a discussion forum and legislative rubber stamp for the central government’s yearly directives. (3/6)

Lawyer Who Helped Steer Spaceport Authority Dies (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
Tom Mills, a lawyer who served in Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration and helped steer the Spaceport Authority in its early days, died Feb. 19 at the age of 63. Mills’ long résumé of public service began as early as fifth grade when he was elected president of his class, said his wife, Renée Julien. (3/5)

New Mexico Governor Urges Action on Spaceport Bill (Source: KRQE)
The governor and Virgin Galactic's CEO leaned on lawmakers Tuesday to hurry passage of legislation to protect spacecraft manufacturers and suppliers from most lawsuits. The bill is moving forward at the Roundhouse, but with barely 10 days left in the legislative session is it moving fast enough? "We've already lost several opportunities for new investments and new jobs to other states that have passed this legislation," Gov. Susana Martinez said. (3/5)

Spaceport Nears Final Test Flights (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
Virgin Galactic is about to launch its final series of test flights before it begins shuttling paying passengers into suborbit early next year from Spaceport America in southern New Mexico. President and CEO George Whitesides told a luncheon crowd in Albuquerque on Tuesday that the company last week conducted its first “final qualification” firing of the rocket motor that will power the six-passenger spacecraft.

The company must first test the motor on the ground before mounting it on the rocket for manned flight. And the final qualification firing last Thursday in California marked a huge milestone that will pave the way for powered test flights in a few months, Whitesides said. Until now, the company has conducted glider flights, whereby a mothership, known as WhiteKnightTwo, carries the rocket-propelled vehicle on its underbelly before releasing it at a certain altitude. (3/6)

Humans to Mars Summit to Focus on Sending Humans to the Red Planet by 2030 (Source: EON)
Coinciding with increased national interest in space exploration, Explore Mars announces the Humans to Mars (H2M) Summit, the definitive event on transforming Mars exploration from a goal to a reality. The H2M Summit takes place May 6-8, 2013, in Washington, D.C. Co-sponsored by Explore Mars and the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, H2M will feature topics that address the complex questions of how to get humans to Mars by 2030 and the technical, scientific and policy-related challenges. H2M is the most comprehensive Mars exploration event to date. (3/5)

Rocket Launch Set for Friday Morning at Wallops in Virginia (Source: Washington Post)
NASA says a suborbital rocket launch is planned for Friday morning at the Wallops Island spaceport in Virginia. The launch of the Terrier-Lynx suborbital research rocket is set for between 1 a.m. and 1:45 a.m. Backup launch days are March 11 and March 15. (3/6)

Not Many Billionaires Focused on Commercial Space (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Forbes has released its annual list of the world’s billionaires. There are a record 1,426 individuals with an aggregate net worth of $5.4 trillion in the world. The table below shows the tiny handful of this group — nine individuals — who are currently or have been previously involved in space projects. The nine individuals are collectively worth $104.7 billion, with the bulk of that worth ($86 billion) coming from four individuals.

Only one member of the group — Canadian Guy Laliberte — has been to space, flying to the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in 2009. He is not known to have been involved in any space projects since returning to Earth. Richard Branson and Elon Musk are the billionaires most prominently connected with space travel in the public’s mind. Click here. (3/6)

CASTOR 30XL Prepares for Static Fire Ahead of Antares Boost (Source:
ATK’s CASTOR 30XL Upper Stage motor is deep into preparations for a static fire test, set to take place this spring at the Arnold Engineering Development Center in Tennessee. The large Upper Stage was designed and built by ATK within a two year period, with six production units on order to boost the power of Orbital’s Antares launch vehicle. (3/5)

Soyuz Crew Approved for Fast Approach to Space Station (Source:
The next three residents launched to the International Space Station will reach their new home six hours after blastoff, flying an express rendezvous with the complex and reducing the crew's time in the cramped confines of the Soyuz capsule. The quick approach will occur March 28 after launch of the next Soyuz spacecraft, cutting the flight time from nearly two days to less than six hours.

Liftoff of the Soyuz TMA-08M spacecraft is scheduled for 4:43 p.m. EDT on March 28 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Docking is set for 10:31 p.m. EDT after four orbits around Earth. The six-hour rendezvous will replicate demonstrations done by Russia's Progress resupply freighters, which accomplished the first same-day rendezvous with the International Space Station in August. (3/5)

Jupiter Moon Lander Project to Get First Funding in 2014 (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russia’s Jupiter research project, which includes a Ganymede lander mission, will receive its first funding next year, an aide to the Federal Space Agency Roscosmos chief said. “The project has been included in the Federal Space Program until 2015; next year, first funding for the project will be supplied, though so far it is not very large,” said Roscomos’ Viktor Voron. Between 10 million and 30 million rubles (about $300,000 to $1 million) will be provided during the first year for R&D, and construction of the first mockups could start by 2017. (3/5)

Wow! Rare Photos Capture 2 Comets Together in Night Sky (Source:
Two comets are putting on an amazing night sky show this month and some intrepid photographers have captured rare views of both celestial objects at the same time. The photos of Comet Pan-STARRS - which made its closest pass by Earth on March 5 - and Comet Lemmon were taken by veteran space photographers in Chile and Australia in late February. At the time, both comets were visible from the Southern Hemisphere, though Comet Pan-STARRS is set to become visible from the Northern Hemisphere later this week. Click here. (3/5)

NASA Repeatedly Attacked, Jet Propulsion Lab Compromised (Source: eWeek)
NASA was under heavy attack over the past two years, as adversaries tried to infect machines with malware or use advanced persistent threats to get into the network, according to Congressional testimony. Attackers from a Chinese-based IP address had breached the network at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and gained full access to the networks and sensitive user accounts, NASA Inspector General Paul Martin told the House Science, Space and Technology committee Feb. 29. NASA made the discovery in November, and the JPL incident is still under investigation, according to Martin. (3/4)

New Evidence that Comets Could Have Seeded Life on Earth (Source: SpaceRef)
It's among the most ancient of questions: What are the origins of life on Earth? A new experiment simulating conditions in deep space reveals that the complex building blocks of life could have been created on icy interplanetary dust and then carried to Earth, jump-starting life. Chemists showed that conditions in space are capable of creating complex dipeptides -- linked pairs of amino acids -- that are essential building blocks shared by all living things.

The discovery opens the door to the possibility that these molecules were brought to Earth aboard a comet or possibly meteorites, catalyzing the formation of proteins (polypeptides), enzymes and even more complex molecules, such as sugars, that are necessary for life. While scientists have discovered basic organic molecules, such as amino acids, in numerous meteorites that have fallen to Earth, they have been unable to find the more complex molecular structures that are prerequisites for our planet's biology. (3/4)

Iowa Meteorite Crater Confirmed (Source: USGS)
Recent airborne geophysical surveys near Decorah, Iowa are providing an unprecedented look at a 470-million-year-old meteorite crater concealed beneath bedrock and sediments. The aerial surveys, a collaboration of the U.S. Geological Survey with the Iowa and Minnesota Geological Surveys, were conducted in the last 60 days to map geologic structures and assess the mineral and water resources of the region. (3/5)

LaserMotive Powers Up its First Project (Source: NBC)
LaserMotive, a company known for using lasers to transmit power through the air, is expanding to a new medium: fiber-optic cables. The system uses a laser to convert electricity into light for transmission over fiber optics. On the other end, a photovoltaic receiver converts light back into electricity.

The company announced the first in a new line of products that will use lasers to transmit power over fiber-optic cables without a traditional electrical connection. The company says its new “MicroPoF” system can transmit power measuring a few watts, or hundreds of watts, over fiber as long as 3,000 feet.

It’s the first commercial product to be offered for sale by LaserMotive, which was founded in 2007 by a group of physicists and engineers, winning the NASA Centennial Challenges Power Beaming Challenge in 2009. LaserMotive has received NASA contracts and partnered with companies including Lockheed Martin in the process of developing and testing its power-beaming technology. (2/12)

Can a NASA Game Jam Inspire the Next Space Breakthrough? (Source: The Verge)
On March 8th, a few hundred developers will file into NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California to spend the weekend making games about space and science. NASA will be providing the location, as well as a catalog of photos and other digital assets for developers, who will have just three days to put together their games. The goal is to create experiences that "will help capture the public's interest in the real science and technology advancements being made in aerospace exploration."

And for NASA, there's the potential to engage with people in a different way. "Games you can play on your computer or smartphone offer variety and a different way to learn about space and science," says Sam Ortega, NASA's program manager for the Centennial Challenges initiative. NASA's interest in games isn't new. In addition to numerous smaller titles aimed at a young audience, the agency has also released "serious" games like the lunar exploration title Moonbase Alpha in the past. More recently there was Mars Rover Landing on the Xbox 360, which was used to drum up some added excitement for Curiosity's martian expedition. (3/4)

SpaceX Glitch May be Deemed Secret Under US Arms Laws (Source: New Scientist)
Dragon capsules are classed as weapons, and commercial spaceflight may suffer for it. US rules to stop arms trafficking may mean we never find out what delayed a recent Dragon mission to the International Space Station. SpaceX sent a Dragon capsule into orbit on 1 March carrying supplies and science experiments bound for the ISS. Then its thrusters developed problems, apparently due to blocked fuel valves. But ground engineers managed to clear the blockages, and the craft docked with the space station a day late.

SpaceX promises a full investigation into what went wrong, but what it can reveal is restricted by the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which list commercial capsules like Dragon as munitions. "Certainly NASA will find out what happened with SpaceX. And I think there's value to the community in learning about what happened so that people can avoid similar problems in the future," says Alex Saltman, CSF executive director. "Being able to share best practices is important in any industry, and you don't want to put any undue restrictions on that capability," he says.

There may be light at the end of the tunnel: CSF and the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates civilian spaceflight in the US, are working on secure ways to allow firms to share mishap information so that they don't make the same mistake twice, says Saltman. (3/5)

Rep. Wolf Asks NASA to Disinvite Chinese Participants From Upcoming Meeting (Source: Science)
Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA) is taking NASA to task for what he believes may be a violation of a law that he helped put on the books 2 years ago. Wolf wants NASA to bar any Chinese citizens from attending a meeting next week of the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS), an international body whose membership includes several Chinese organizations. In a letter sent to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden yesterday, Wolf said he was concerned that Chinese officials were planning to attend a gathering of the CEOS Strategic Implementation Team being held at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, from 12 to 14 March.

If those officials were to attend the meeting, Wolf noted in his letter, it would violate a provision in a 2011 law that prohibits NASA from hosting Chinese officials at any NASA facilities. According to that law, the only way the administration can get around this restriction is by certifying to the House of Representatives and Senate appropriations committees at least 14 days in advance of a visit that the visit poses no threat to national security. (3/5)

Mystery SETI Signal Set Rules of Engagement (Source: Discovery)
In the Fall of 1967, a small team of radio astronomers came face-to-face with a profound mystery that they didn’t want to be true. At one point they half-seriously thought about destroying the data and staying stone silent. That’s because announcing it to the world could open a Pandora’s box for science, and derail at least one astronomer’s PhD thesis.

A small group of radio astronomers in the United Kingdom had stumbled upon clock-precision radio pulses coming from deep space. The signal was unlike anything ever seen before or even predicted in astronomy. In the absence of a natural explanation, the researchers pondered, for three long weeks, whether this was really a “hello” from an extraterrestrial civilization. (3/5)

Long March 5 Rocket Delayed To 2015 (Source: Aviation Week)
The heaviest and most technologically challenging member of China’s new space launcher family, the Long March 5, has been delayed by at least another year, to 2015, due to challenges in building its structure. Another launcher, which would improve China’s ability to launch military satellites on short notice thanks to its solid fuel, is due to fly in 2016 under the designation Long March 11, while the industry is also preparing to seek funding for an enormous Moon rocket. (3/5)

Uwingu Announces a Distinguished Board of Advisers (Source: Uwingu)
Space start up Uwingu™ announced today that has recruited a distinguished board of 15 advisers to assist the company in strategic and operational planning. Uwingu’s Board of Advisers consists of talented and influential thinkers in astronomy and planetary science, marketing/branding/promotion, and business. Click here. (3/5)

Wyle Laboratories Nets $1.76B NASA Health Services Contract (Source: Houston Business Journal)
The Houston branch of Wyle Laboratories Inc. nabbed a contract with a potential value of $1.76 billion to provide biomedical, medical and health services to support human spaceflight programs at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Johnson Space Center in Houston. The contract starts in May and has a five-year base period with options to extend the contract through 2023. (3/5)

Air Force Awards Lockheed Martin Contract For Infrared Surveillance Satellites (Source: Lockheed Martin)
The U.S. Air Force has awarded Lockheed Martin a $284.4 million fixed-price contract to procure long lead parts for the fifth and sixth Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) satellites in the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) missile warning constellation.

Featuring a mix of GEO satellites, hosted payloads in highly elliptical earth (HEO) orbit, and associated ground hardware and software, the SBIRS program delivers resilient and improved missile warning capabilities for the nation while simultaneously providing significant contributions to the military's missile defense, technical intelligence and battlespace awareness mission areas. (3/5)

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