May 9, 2013

NASA Discovers that Fireproof Materials Ignite in Space (Source: The Verge)
High above the Earth, astronauts aboard the International Space Station are playing with fire — very carefully. By lighting controlled fires and watching them burn, the Expedition 35 team is learning how to prevent accidental blazes from breaking out aboard the station and other spacecraft — a nightmare scenario that could put not only lives, but the very future of human spaceflight at risk. "We can certainly make things not flammable on Earth, but in space, that changes," said Dr. Paul Ferkul, a NASA scientist whose experiment recently found that a fire-resistant fabric similar to astronaut clothing actually ignites in space. (5/9)

Buzz Aldrin Says US Must Colonize Mars (Source: Space Daily)
Buzz Aldrin, the American astronaut who was the second man to walk on the Moon, said Wednesday that the United States must lead the way toward building a permanent settlement on Mars. Speaking at a conference of space experts in the US capital, the 83-year-old said the United States should apply what it learned decades ago by reaching the moon toward building a new colony on the Red Planet.

"The US needs to begin homesteading and settlement of Mars," Aldrin said at the Humans to Mars conference at George Washington University. "It is within reach." His call for US leadership in the space race to Mars largely lines up with plans set forth by NASA and President Barack Obama's administration to send the first people to Mars in the 2030s. But unlike NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who acknowledged at the start of the three-day conference on Monday that significant technological gaps remain, Aldrin said the bulk of the research has already been done. (5/9)

CASIS to Fund Unsolicited Proposal in Nanofluidics (Source: CASIS)
The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the nonprofit organization managing research onboard the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory, today announced the funding of an unsolicited proposal in the field of nanofluidics. Drs. Alessandro Grattoni and Mauro Ferrari at The Methodist Hospital Research Institute will receive approximately $200,000 in CASIS funding for their project, which seeks to determine the physical phenomena involved in nanofluidics. (5/9)

Intelsat Buying Four More Satellites from Boeing (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator Intelsat is purchasing four more Epic high-throughput satellites from Boeing in a surprising announcement that positions Boeing as Intelsat’s preferred satellite supplier. Boeing Satellite Systems, which inaugurated its second-generation 702 satellite line with a four-satellite order from Intelsat in 2009, is already building the first Epic satellite, the Intelsat 29e, which will be launched in 2015. The four new satellites, all using the Boeing 702MP satellite bus, will be launched on average once per year starting in 2016 and will be replacing existing spacecraft in Intelsat’s 50-satellite fleet, Intelsat said. (5/9)

Austria Aims For Mars Via Morocco (Source: Space Daily)
Mars 2013 analog field simulation, held by the Austrian Space Forum in Morocco this February is over, and now the organizers have published the full report from the mission. The project's goals, involving over 100 participants from 23 countries, were to conduct a series of experiments in conditions most accurately resembling environment on Mars. Conducting field research in a representative environment was an excellent tool to gain operational experience and understand the advantages and limitations of remote science operations on other planetary bodies.

The area near Erfoud is considered as a relevant proxy for various types of geological features of Mars, as well as a diversity of paleo(micro)biological signatures, terrain topographies similar to the Martian deserts and a test site area size which requires a diligent exploration mission design. (5/9)

National Space Club Expands Event Plans (Source: SPACErePORT)
The Florida Committee of the National Space Club has sponsored a string of sold-out monthly luncheon events and is not considering adding more seats to each event, the next one being a luncheon featuring KSC Director Bob Cabana. (Click here.) Meanwhile, the club has added another informal ("not-so-stuffy") networking event to its calendar, this one on the evening of June 19 at Port Canaveral. (Click here.) (5/9)

Real and Imaginary Human Spaceflight (Source: Washington Post)
Real spaceflight is very different from PowerPoint spaceflight. Case in point: Bas Lansdorp, the head of a nonprofit organization called Mars One, discussed his extraordinarily ambitious plans for a permanent Mars colony starting in 2023. The idea is to make a reality TV show out of it, in which different teams will compete for the honor of becoming the first Martian colonists (the audience will vote, as will “experts,” Lansdorp said).

One of Lansdorp’s slides showed the Mars One living quarters on Mars: Very spacious, modern, and most of all, clean. No clutter. No stacks of newspapers piling up in the corner. No empty beer glasses or leftover pizza. Life on Mars looks like life in a nice room at the Ritz. “You can see it’s quite a nice living volume for them to live in,” Lansdorp said. “It’s important for them to have a nice place to live bcause this is their home. This is where they are staying the rest of their lives.”

But then, from engineers who work on space flight, a lot of talk about dust. Turns out, Mars is really dusty, and a major challenge would be keeping the dust out of the habitat and particularly out of the airlock, which could cease to be operational or safe if too contaminated with dust. A U.S. Space Station laboratory module at launch is a perfectly clean chamber, with equipment carefully stowed in cabinets — not a loose item to be seen. But after actual use in space it is extremely cluttered, with wires everywhere, gear all over the place. (5/9)

The New Race To Space, From L.A. (Source: Forbes)
Virgin Galactic is the not the first company to plant roots in Southern California and aim for space. The aeronautics industry has deep history in Southern California, dating back to the beginning of the 20th century, just shortly after the Wright brothers accomplished the first powered flight in 1903.

Most recently a trifecta of efforts toward space exploration has formed. The trifecta being: Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, and the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Each of them reaching their own incredible milestones that bring knowledge of the cosmos closer to human understanding. Click here. (5/9)

Spaceport: New Mexico Cleared for Takeoff... But When? (Source: Rio Rancho Observer)
With better than a 60 percent popularity rating within the state, Governor Martinez definitely is leading a charmed life. Will that bubble ever burst? It could. Her lack of enthusiasm for the spaceport and film incentives hurt business for both. It would be a huge feather in her cap if Virgin Galactic could pull off its first passenger trip to the edge of space before the 2014 elections.

Very recently Spaceship Two made its first powered trip. It achieved a height of 55 miles. The goal is to take it to 62 miles above the earth by the end of the year. That is sure to require more testing in California and New Mexico. Then there are the licensing permits that will be required. Considering the slow pace at which development of the SS2 has proceeded thus far, it may take more than a year and a half to start flying passengers. So the governor may not get her wish.

But it was encouraging to see Virgin Galactic announce that the SS2 will be flying out of Spaceport America. Executive Director Christine Anderson says whenever the SS2 is ready, we are ready. When is that big hotel to be built? That is Virgin Galactic’s responsibility, but I haven’t heard them say anything about it lately. Martinez is sure to take credit for Virgin Galactic’s accomplishments. About the only thing she has done is to help push a bill through the 2013 Legislature to limit liability for space suppliers. (5/9)

Skrillex Visits NASA (Source: Spin)
If you follow the Twitter feed of NASA's Johnson Space Center, you'll know that Skrillex has been spending the afternoon at the space agency's facilities in Houston, Texas. What has he been doing there? Oh, the usual: taking a virtual-reality spacewalk, meeting astronaut Mike Massimino, eating space food in the Astronaut Food Lab (which looks suspiciously like a conference room, but hey, budgets are tight), even driving rovers and going on board the freaking space shuttle.

(No, we're not envious. Not even a little.) We hope that Skrillex has been paying attention to his guided tour, because he's been live-tweeting the whole thing, from the world's biggest indoor pool to what looks like the world's biggest tea strainer. Why is he there? When asked, Skrillex's publicist replied, "I'm gonna be dead honest with you, they won't tell me why they went. In fact, I don't think THEY know why they went, basically they hit me up a year ago asking to give him a tour, I can only assume that's what's going on." (5/9)

3-2-1 Lift Off: NASA Visits Lousiana Capitol (Source: KLFY)
A spacecraft made its way into the halls of the state Capitol in Baton Rouge Wednesday, but don't worry, it was all part of NASA Day. It was the first event of its kind, and aimed at celebrating the space agency's enduring presence and strong economic partnership with the state of Louisiana. NASA officials and team members from NASA'S Michoud facility in New Orleans met with state officials and the public, celebrating their accomplishments and the positive impact they've had in the bayou state. (5/9)

No Buzz: Aldrin Trashes Obama Asteroid Mission (Source: US News)
The second man to set foot on the moon wants to see NASA send people further into space than he ever traveled. Buzz Aldrin trashed NASA's plan to bring an asteroid into lunar orbit in a speech, advocating for a Mars colony. Aldrin, who recently published the book "Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration," said at the Washington, D.C. Humans to Mars summit Wednesday that President Barack Obama's asteroid mining plan is merely a distraction.

"Bringing an asteroid back to Earth? What's that have to do with space exploration?" he asked. "If we were moving outward from there and an asteroid is a good stopping point, then fine. But now it's turned into a whole planetary defense exercise at the cost of our outward exploration." The Apollo-era astronaut, now 83, has devised a plan to "cycle" spacecraft to Mars, continually launching humans to the red planet to expand on its colony. Aldrin advocates using Phobos, a moon of Mars, as a sort of home base for landing on the planet. (5/9)

Editorial: N.M. Open for Space Biz (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
SpaceX is the second tenant to sign a lease at Spaceport America, joining Virgin Galactic. And Virgin Galactic recently began testing its rocket for planned tourist flights to the edge of space that could begin early next year. These activities, along with the passage of a law this year that was pushed for and signed by Gov. Susana Martinez expanding the limited liability protections New Mexico offered Virgin Galactic to all space-related companies, only shore up New Mexico’s claim to be open for space business.

Proponents of the law had argued the state was losing business to other states offering such protections. But opponents, led by trial lawyers, said it was a bluff. Guess it wasn’t. Though SpaceX will not benefit from the change immediately, it’s doubtful the company would have come here without it. Other space firms should take note that two of America’s top space concerns are now in New Mexico. Because it’s a good place to do business. (5/9)

Bolden: A Return to the Moon Would Send NASA Back to Square One (Source:
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden has strongly ruled out missions to land on the Moon as part of NASA’s exploration roadmap, claiming any future political re-direction to return humans to the lunar surface would send the Agency “back to square one”. Meanwhile, Northrop Grumman have completed their Lunar Lander Study on behalf of the Golden Spike Company.

The Vision For Space Exploration (VSE) provided NASA with a roadmap to retire the Space Shuttle fleet after the assembly of the International Space Station (ISS) was completed, prior to focusing on a return to the surface of the Moon via the Constellation Program (CxP). “Moon, Mars and Beyond” was the goal, with a return to the Lunar surface classed as a required stepping stone on the path to Mars.

Following the demise of the Constellation Program, the focus switched to missions to visit a Near Earth Asteroid (NEA), before once again taking aim on what has consistently been NASA’s big goal of sending humans to Mars. This new roadmap is still – and is likely to remain for some time – under construction, with only Exploration Mission -1 (EM-1) all-but set in stone for the debut launch of the Space Launch System (SLS). Click here. (5/9)

Astronaut Sally Ride to be Remembered at National Tribute (Source: Collect Space)
NASA will join journalist Maria Shriver, tennis legend Billie Jean King and Grammy-award winning vocalist Patti Austin in remembering the life of Sally Ride, the United States' first woman in space, at a tribute in the nation's capital. The special evening event, titled "Sally Ride: A Lifetime of Accomplishment, A Champion of Science Literacy" will be hosted on May 20 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. The event is open to the public, though there are limited tickets available. (5/9)

The Softer Side of Space: A Profile of Astronaut Karen Nyberg (Source: NASA)
Mention the words "NASA Astronaut" and you’ll usually conjure up the image of a brilliant, number-crunching engineer or a super-smart scientist. Yet, rarely are we given the chance to consider the other dimensions to this elite group of explorers or that they may share some common hobbies many of us more Earth-bound citizens enjoy.

Enter astronaut Karen Nyberg, an accomplished woman preparing for her second mission to space this May. Nyberg holds a doctorate in mechanical engineering, which may lead people to believe she is focused solely on technical matters, but as with many, there’s a softer side to this Midwesterner, one that may catch many by surprise. Click here. (3/18)

Deep Lakes and Catastrophic Floods of Mars (Source: Discovery)
Eroded channels and chasms from catastrophic floods between martian basins are the strongest evidence yet that there were once large, deep bodies of water on early Mars, according to a new study using the latest imagery and topographic data. The outflow channels of Mars have been a puzzle ever since they were first spotted in images from the Viking spacecraft four decades ago. In that time every sort of mechanism has been called on to carve them -- among them winds, lava and carbon dioxide-powered debris flows. But none has settled the issue.

"These features have been wracking people's brains since the 70s," said planetary scientist Keith Harrison of the Southwest Research Institute. And they aren't settled yet. If it was water that carved them, which seems the most likely candidate, the mystery remains as to where all the water came from. Groundwater has long been the logical choice, but how does groundwater flood out with enough power to erode such giant channels? The answer is lakes. Deep lakes. (5/9)

Hubble Space Telescope Finds Dead Stars 'Polluted' With Planet Debris (Source: NASA)
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has found the building blocks for Earth-sized planets in an unlikely place-- the atmospheres of a pair of burned-out stars called white dwarfs. These dead stars are located 150 light-years from Earth in a relatively young star cluster, Hyades, in the constellation Taurus. The star cluster is only 625 million years old. The white dwarfs are being polluted by asteroid-like debris falling onto them. (5/9)

Hydrogen Bridge Between Galaxies Could be Fuel Line for New Stars (Source: Christian Science Monitor)
New observations of a bridge of tenuous hydrogen gas stretching between two nearby galaxies may help solve a longstanding puzzle: Billions of years after star formation peaked in the universe, what continues to fuel the formation of new stars in spiral galaxies like the Milky Way? Observations of this segment of what researchers have dubbed the “cosmic web” reveal that about half of the neutral hydrogen gas in the bridge is contained in rotating clumps the size of dwarf galaxies.

Neutral hydrogen – atoms with one proton and one electron – represents the raw material for new stars. “If this gas is being accreted by the galaxies, then we need to understand how they're doing that. That information could, in principle, help us understand how galaxies like Andromeda, like our own Milky Way, can acquire gas to form new stars,” says Spencer Wolfe. (5/9)

15-Year-Old Astronaut Abby Fuels Outreach Mission with Social Media (Source: NBC)
"Astronaut Abby" is at the controls of a social-media machine that is launching the 15-year-old from Minnesota to Kazakhstan this month for the liftoff of the International Space Station's next crew — and if Facebook and Twitter count for anything, it just might get her to Mars someday. Abigail Harrison says she's always dreamed of being the first astronaut to set foot on the Red Planet, and she sees her campaign to get involved in space station outreach as one giant leap toward that target.

She has enlisted one of the crew members, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano, as her mentor and orbital pen pal. Her Rockethub crowdfunding campaign has passed the $20,000 mark and is shooting for a goal of $35,000 for travel and outreach. As the May 28 date for Parmitano's launch approaches, she's juggling radio interviews, Facebook updates, Twitter thank-you notes, public appearances ... and oh, that's right: high school. (5/8)

Commercial Spaceflights in UAE will Enhance Tourism, Foreign Investment (Source: Albawaba)
The UAE is in talks with Virgin Galactic to start commercial space flights in 2013 with Abu Dhabi as a regional hub for the 21st Century spaceport, said Frank Rose, deputy assistant secretary (Space and Defense Affairs) at the US Department of State. “The presence of a spaceport in the UAE will enhance tourism and foreign investment in the region,” said Rose, adding that “the new space economy will boost diversification of the economy for long-term prosperity.” He added that Abu Dhabi is poised to make huge yields from the location of the company’s second spaceport in the capital of the UAE. (5/8)

NASA Awards Contract to Modify Mobile Launcher (Source: NASA)
NASA has awarded a contract to J.P. Donovan Construction Inc. of Rockledge, Fla., to modify the mobile launcher that will enable the agency's Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket to send humans to an asteroid, Mars and other new destinations in the solar system. The work under this firm fixed-price $20.7 million contract will begin in June and be completed in 18 months.

The mobile launcher is located at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Kennedy is expanding its capabilities to support the SLS rocket and ground support infrastructure. The modifications will enable the mobile launcher to meet vehicle processing deadlines and the launch manifest for SLS. SLS' first launch is scheduled for 2017. (5/8)

Toxic Mars Dust Could hHamper Planned Human Missions (Source: New Scientist)
Mars dust is dangerous to human health and could severely hamper proposed missions to send people to the Red Planet. So say space-health and life-support researchers who met this week to mull over the possibility of sending a crewed mission to the Mars by 2030.

Laboratory studies had suggested that Mars dust might be a health hazard because it contains fine-grained silicate minerals, which are common on Mars. If breathed in, the silicate dust would react with water in the lungs to create damaging chemicals. Recent robotic missions suggest that the outlook for a crewed mission may be even worse. Delegates to the Humans 2 Mars Summit (H2M) heard the latest evidence of the dangers of Martian dust.

Perchlorates, which are known to harm the thyroid gland, increasingly look to be widespread on Mars. Perchlorates were first detected by NASA's Phoenix lander in 2008 near the Martian north pole. More recently, there was a possible detection by NASA's Curiosity rover. "We believe that there could be perchlorates in the Rocknest dust sample," says Paul Mahaffy, principal investigator for SAM. "Since dust blows all over Mars, this certainly should be considered along with other human health impacts." (5/8)

Pentagon Stepping Up Space Protection Efforts (Source: Space News)
Less than two weeks after the U.S. Air Force announced a contract to upgrade a satellite-signal jamming system, a senior Defense Department official said the Pentagon is making a concerted effort to bolster its ability to defend U.S. space capabilities while countering those of potential adversaries.

Speaking at the National Press Club here May 7, U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said the Pentagon has established an “integrated effort” across its entire space architecture to not only make its satellite constellation more resilient to threats but also ensure that the military can perform its mission without them. “That is a new effort and one that we are devoting resources to newly in this budget,” he said, adding that the effort is long overdue. (5/8)

SpaceX Temporary Beach Closure Bill Moves Forward (Source: Brownsville Herald)
A hiccup that temporarily halted the advancement of Texas House Bill 2623 that would allow for the temporary closure of Boca Chica Beach for possible rocket launches - should SpaceX choose to build a launch pad here - has been cured. The Senate Committee on Administration addressed the bill this morning and after learning the beach would be closed on a temporary basis passed the bill. The bill will now be placed on the local uncontested calendar in the Senate. (5/8)

Farming on Mars: NASA Ponders Food Supply for 2030s Mission (Source:
The first humans to live on Mars might not identify as astronauts, but farmers. To establish a sustainable settlement on Earth's solar system neighbor, space travelers will have to learn how to grow food on Mars — a job that could turn out to be one of the most vital, challenging and labor-intensive tasks at hand, experts say.

"One of the things that every gardener on the planet will know is producing food is hard — it is a non-trivial thing," Penelope Boston, director of the Cave and Karst Studies program at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, said yesterday (May 7) at the Humans 2 Mars Summit here at George Washington University. "Up until several hundred years ago it occupied most of us for most of the time." Click here. (5/8)

Continued Sequestration Will Short-Circuit SLS (Source: Aviation Week)
Barbara Mikulski is worried. The powerful Democratic U.S. senator from Baltimore has seen a lot of big government programs go sour because the funding dried up before they were finished, and now that she is chair of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, she says she is afraid it is about to happen to the whole U.S. space program.

“We're going to get to the end of the day with a fiscal quagmire, unresolved, with the space agency and DOD and other agencies underestimating what it's going to take, and then we end up with programs that falter or sputter,” she says. “NASA's mission faltering or sputtering really can blow the whole program.” The source of Mikulski's fiscal- quagmire nightmare is sequestration, the automatic across-the-board federal-spending cuts that Congress set up to force itself to reduce rationally.

She and Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the ranking Republican on her subcommittee, will tell anyone who will listen that it is time to return to “regular order,” which means federal funds will be allocated, authorized and appropriated like they were before sequestration. Charles Bolden says his agency has been able to keep its major programs on schedule under sequestration this year without furloughing employees. But the agency drafted its $17.7 billion budget request for fiscal 2014 on the assumption that Congress and the White House would be able to figure out a better way to handle budget cuts. (5/8)

Bill Would Create Alabama Space Authority to Develop a Spaceport (Source: Huntsville Times)
A bill to create an Alabama Space Authority to develop a spaceport cleared a House committee today after one of the proponents promised to address concerns that the state could go into debt with the project. The bill's sponsor said the state would not incur debt. Supporters said the bill is a key step for the state being able to obtain a federal study grant and license to eventually develop a port for commercial space flights.

The House Technology and Research Committee approved the bill, SB378, by Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville. That sends it to the House of Representatives, which could give it final passage. Several committee members questioned Rep. Mac McCutcheon, R-Huntsville, who spoke for the bill before the committee, about the authority's potential bond debt. Under the bill, the 10-member authority would be able to borrow money by issuing bonds and would be able to buy property and lease property.

McCutcheon promised committee members that he would ask Gov. Robert Bentley to amend the bill to address any concerns about debt liability if the bill passes the House. The committee then approved the bill. Time is running short for it to win final approval. Only two days remain in the legislative session. (5/8)

Space Florida Board Approves UAS Funding (Source: Florida Today)
Space Florida’s board approved more funding to support tests of unmanned aerial vehicle operations and awarded the agency’s chief executive a significant raise. Florida hopes to become one of six test ranges the FAA selects to study how to safely integrate unmanned aerial vehicles into the national airspace. The board approved another $715,000 for that initiative, on top of $1.4 million previously committed.

The funding will support a series of technology demonstrations and flight tests – not necessarily involving drones – to help prove Florida’s capabilities. CEO Frank DiBello said the UAS industry was projected to be top $92 billion over the next decade “and Florida deserves a significant place in that market.” Space Florida’s proposal spans four areas of the state, includes 12 ranges and involves over 80 partners.

It includes a “code of conduct” that attempts to address growing privacy concerns about drone operations. “I think our proposal will be compelling,” said DiBello. The FAA expects to select the six test sites by the end of this year. Even if it doesn’t win, Space Florida says it will continue working to attract drone operators and developers of their applications. (5/8)

Space Florida Board Approves Executive Pay Raise (Source: Florida Today)
The Space Florida board approved a raise for DiBello that could approach nearly 50 percent of his current $175,000 salary, which has not changed since DiBello was hired in 2009. The new salary is not yet final but is expected to increase to about $260,000. That’s in the middle of a range that an agency-wide compensation study determined to be market value.

“I think we have a terrific CEO,” said interim board chair William Dymond. Dymond was voted into the position at the start of Wednesday’s meeting to replace the previous chair, former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who resigned from that position in March. DiBello oversees a $10 million budget for operations and business development. The Legislature this year also approved a $7 million financing fund. Space Florida considers that a critical tool in its efforts to lure jobs that can diversify the state's aerospace industry and help it recover from the 2011 retirement of NASA's shuttle program. (5/8)

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