June 9, 2013

Whatever Happened to Space Colonies? (Source: AmericaSpace)
Back in the 1960s and ’70s, it seemed everyone was talking about orbital colonies and emigrating into space with their families. The publication of Gerard K. O’Neill’s “The High Frontier,” especially, came at a time of great enthusiasm about the possibility of mass migration beyond the Earth. So, what happened to those dreams of millions of us moving away from our home planet to live in orbit or elsewhere in the Solar System? Click here. (6/3)

Earth Living Is Tough for Astronaut Used to Space (Source: Space.com)
In a few moments, astronaut Chris Hadfield changed from an orbiting Man of Steel-type to one who needs to heal from microgravity's effects. Hadfield recently spoke of his Superman-like moments of strength during five months spent on the International Space Station: wielding refrigerators with his fingertips, or somersaulting with a simple tuck and turn.

Coming back to Earth, however, presented operational challenges for the Expedition 35 commander, Hadfield acknowledged in a press conference three days after his May 13 landing aboard a Russian spacecraft touching down in Kazakhstan. "Right after I landed, I could feel the weight of my lips and tongue and I had to change how I was talking," Hadfield said in the press conference. "I hadn't realized that I learned to talk with a weightless tongue."

Speech is one issue, but other health effects are more pressing for long-term orbiting astronauts. Bone density lessens at a rate of 1 percent a month. Muscle mass shrinks. Eyeball pressure changes, with roughly one-fifth of astronauts reporting vision issues. Until about June 3, Hadfield will do an intensive battery of testing and recovery at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston before pursuing an independent physical rehabilitation program for a few months. (6/3)

There's a Hole in the Sun! (Source: Discovery)
During the latter part of last week, a huge void rotated across the face of the sun. But never fear, it isn’t a sign of the “End Times” or some weird sci-fi stellar malnourishment, this particular hole is a coronal hole. Though it may be a well-known phenomenon, it is noteworthy — it’s the largest coronal hole to be observed in the sun’s atmosphere for over a year. Snapped through three of NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory‘s (SDO) extreme ultraviolet filters, this coronal hole is caused by a low density region of hot plasma. (6/3)

Commercial Access to Suborbital Space Still on the Horizon (Source: Nature)
In a packed hotel ballroom within sight of the Rocky Mountains, entrepreneurs and researchers gathered on 3 June to discuss their sky-high dreams for commercial spaceflight. One day soon, they say, private spaceships will zip aloft on a daily or even hourly basis, for a brief taste of zero gravity in suborbital space. Tourists will line up for rides, and scientists will hop on board to do planetary science, materials research and even human physiology studies.

The only problem? Commercial suborbital flights remain ever so slightly in the future. And that leaves researchers twiddling their thumbs as they wait for their rides to be ready. “It takes a while in the space business,” says Alan Stern, an associate vice-president at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and a driving force behind the fourth annual Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference. (6/4)

Mock Mars Mission Will Test Stresses of Red Planet Living (Source: Space.com)
The question of how people can live and work together well on a mission to Mars may turn out to be one of the biggest challenges of deep-space exploration. To simulate the experience of a crew stuck inside cramped quarters under stressful conditions, a nonprofit is planning a one-year mock Mars mission in the Arctic.

The mission, to begin in July 2014, is being planned by the Mars Society, an organization dedicated to manned exploration of the Red Planet. Six crew members will spend a full year living inside the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station (FMARS), a 25-foot-tall (7.6 meters), 27-foot-wide (8.3 m) cylindrical habitat on Devon Island in the high-latitude Canadian Arctic.

The crew will spend their time conducting field geology — in space suits, of course — and other science research, and performing maintenance on their equipment and habitat. The experience is meant to simulate a real Mars expedition more closely than past mock missions, which have been set under more comfortable conditions, and without such stringent research duties, Mars Society officials said. (6/3)

1960s Astronauts' Wives Became Celebrities Too (Source: Daily Mail)
What was it like to be the wife of a Nasa spaceman? While their husbands hurtled through space on death-defying missions, for the astronauts’ wives it meant instant celebrity, taking tea with Jackie Kennedy at the White House and attending high society galas. They became fashion icons, smiling perfectly for Life magazine photo shoots, teetering under extravagantly lacquered rocket-style hairdos, twirling for the camera in intergalactic white vinyl Mary Quant miniskirts (to match their husbands’ gleaming spacecraft). Click here. (6/1)

Faster Better Cheaper: Lessons Defense Could Learn From NASA (Source: Breaking Defense)
As the Department of Defense continues to wrestle with the high costs and often slow pace of military technology and acquisition programs, it would do well to take a closer look at that other bastion of high-tech government programs: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. NASA’s low-cost missions from yesteryear just might hold the secret to bringing the price tags of today’s Pentagon programs down to Earth.

In the 1990’s, NASA’s portfolio of Faster, Better, Cheaper (FBC) missions included some truly impressive accomplishments. Notable examples include the Mars Pathfinder mission, which put a rover on another planet for the first time ever. Pathfinder was developed in half the time and one fifteenth the cost of the earlier Viking mission to Mars and went on to explore Mars three times longer than its projected lifespan.

And then there was the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) mission, which came in $78 million under budget and still collected 10 times more data about the asteroid Eros than expected. Despite not being designed as a lander, NEAR went on to land on its target– another first. The touch-down was so smooth and gentle, the spacecraft continued to broadcast from the surface of Eros for two full weeks. Click here. (5/31)

Smaller 'Standing Army' of Space Workers for Future NASA Missions (Source: Florida Today)
From the time he became a crawler-transporter engineer in 1997, Sam Dove never missed his “Super Bowl” — the move of a space shuttle to its Kennedy Space Center launch pad. His eyes still well up at the memory of the Vehicle Assembly Building’s high bay doors opening and the crawler inching forward on eight giant tracks, the weight of a shuttle and responsibility for a space program on its shoulders.

Now, two years after the last rollout, Dove is among a select group of former shuttle contractors picked to play the next big game at Kennedy: the launch of NASA’s new exploration rocket, and possibly others. The 54-year-old Port St. John resident is one of about 500 people Jacobs Technology Inc. hired earlier this year for a new ground operations contract worth up to $1.4 billion over nearly 10 years.

Some 5,000 individuals submitted more than 20,000 applications for various positions on the Test and Operations Support Contract, or TOSC, which NASA awarded to Jacobs in December. The contract, which began in March, picked up where United Space Alliance left off after closing out the shuttle program. For those jobs, Jacobs interviewed more than 2,000 candidates. Andy Allen, a three-time shuttle flier who leads the Jacobs team, joked an astronaut selection would have been easier. (6/1)

Shiloh Good Idea With or Without SpaceX (Source: Florida Today)
The development of a new commercial launch pad at the north end of Kennedy Space Center is important to the future of our spaceport. It’s important for two reasons, one of them related to the presumed prime operator of a new complex at Shiloh and the other more general.

First, SpaceX grew up here and SpaceX belongs here. Yes, the growing space exploration company designs and manufactures its Falcon 9 rockets and Dragon spacecraft in the Los Angeles area. But, SpaceX launched itself into its present-day success and grew into a big-league player in the future of space exploration from its complex at Cape Canaveral.

The second reason for developing the Shiloh launch complex goes beyond SpaceX. The state insists that the site is worth developing even if SpaceX sites elsewhere because there are other viable candidates for using such a complex off the federal government’s installations. The powers that be are not saying who those other candidates are, but certainly there is enough commercial launch activity in development that they’re not stretching the truth. (6/1)

Opponents Say Spaceport Location Contains Historic Sites (Source: Daytona Beach News-Journal)
Opponents to the location Space Florida has chosen for a spaceport — south of Oak Hill near the Volusia/Brevard county line — hope a federal law designed to protect the nation's historic and environmental resources will prevent construction in the proposed location. As a site investigation unfolds over the next year, the spaceport's potential impacts to historic resources could be a game changer, said Charles Lee, advocacy director for Audubon Florida.

Rule 4(f) states agencies "cannot approve the use of land from publicly owned parks, recreational areas, wildlife and waterfowl refuges, or public and private historical sites" unless there are no feasible or prudent alternatives and the action includes all possible planning to minimize harm. Interpreting the rule in 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the planned path of Interstate 40 in Memphis. Space Florida officials say they are working with the seashore to avoid historic sites as they hone in on a specific location, but the list of historical resources on the NASA land is lengthy.

Editor's Note: There are provisions in historic preservation policy for "adaptive reuse" of historic structures and sites. Sometimes such adaptive reuse approaches can enhance, rather than diminish, the public's access and understanding of historic sites. (6/3)

Russia’s Proton-M Spacecraft Orbits SES-6 Telecoms Satellite (Source: RIA Novosti)
A Russian Proton-M launch vehicle, which blasted off from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan on Monday, put a SES-6 telecommunications satellite into orbit, a spokesman for the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos) said on Tuesday. (6/4)

China Completes Satellite Ground Station Network (Source: Xinhua)
A network of remote sensing satellite ground stations that covers all of China's territory has been successfully constructed, the Chinese Academy of Sciences announced. The network comprises an operation and data processing center, as well as three ground stations in the cities of Beijing, Kashgar and Sanya. The network can receive, transmit, store, process and distribute remote sensing data from satellites to obtain information on all of China's territory. (6/5)

With So Many Planets Out There, Why Would Aliens Attack Earth? (Source: NBC)
They're baaaack: Movies about aliens are invading the theaters again — in forms ranging from the evil villains of "Pacific Rim" to the benign federation of "Star Trek Into Darkness." The saga of extraterrestrials menacing Earth goes at least as far back as "War of the Worlds" — as in the 1898 H.G. Wells novel, not the 2005 Tom Cruise flick.

But there's one question about that perennial plotline that bugs the SETI Institute's senior astronomer, Seth Shostak: Now that we're learning that planetary real estate is so abundant in the Milky Way, why would the aliens bother attacking? The real-life search for worlds beyond our solar system is eroding the motivation for a space alien menace, Shostak says.

NASA's Kepler planet-hunting mission suggests that there could be billions upon billions of alien Earths and super-Earths out there. "What is it we have to offer, aside from some pretty good fish up in Seattle?" Shostak asked NBC News. "The answer is, not much. Just our culture, really. That's the only thing that they won't have at home, where the shipping charges are less." (6/5)

Spaceport Wouldn't Have Big Impact on Refuge (Source: Daytona Beach News-Journal)
The Volusia County portion of the Space Coast should be expanded to include some acres for a commercial spaceport, if federal authorities conclude there is minimal risk to the Canaveral National Seashore and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. The stakes are high as the FAA chooses a contractor to begin a site review, which will consider the impact of a spaceport on the environment, historic sites and residents in the area.

The space shuttle program has been retired and NASA's manned space program is in question. Meanwhile, private commercial space launches are on the rise. Space Florida, the public-private state space-development agency, wants to establish a commercial spaceport near the former community of Shiloh, between Oak Hill and Haulover Canal. Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Denys believes that as many as 200 immediate jobs could materialize from the spaceport, with another 1,500 to 2,000 secondary jobs possible.

The advantages for a commercial spaceport on land in Volusia County are many. First of all, the spaceport would be far enough away that it wouldn't have its missions "scrubbed" by NASA operations. NASA operations take precedence, which is also a big reason that commercial operators did not want to set up a port on land directly administered by NASA. Delays cost money. Click here. (6/5)

Solving a 3.5 Billion-Year-Old Mystery (Source: USF)
Scientists may not know for certain whether life exists in outer space, but new research from a team of scientists led by a University of South Florida astrobiologist now shows that one key element that produced life on Earth was carried here on meteorites. USF Assistant Professor of Geology Matthew Pasek and his colleagues revealed new findings that explain how the reactive phosphorus that was an essential component for creating the earliest life forms came to Earth.

The scientists found that during the Hadean and Archean eons – the first of the four principal eons of the Earth’s earliest history – the heavy bombardment of meteorites provided reactive phosphorus that when released in water could be incorporated into prebiotic molecules. The scientists documented the phosphorus in early Archean limestone, showing it was abundant some 3.5 billion years ago. (6/3)

Nobel Contender Sees Multiple Cosmic Mysteries (Source: Reuters)
Francois Englert, the Belgian physicist widely tipped to share a Nobel prize this year with Britain's Peter Higgs, said on Tuesday many cosmic mysteries remain despite the discovery of the boson that gave shape to the universe. And he predicted that new signs of the real makeup of the cosmos, and what might lie beyond, should emerge from 2015 when the world's most powerful research machine - the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN - goes back into operation. (6/4)

Police Expose New Thefts of GLONASS Funds (Source: Itar-Tass)
Police have exposed new facts of theft of budget money allocated for the federal goal-oriented program to develop the global satellite navigation system /GLONASS/, the press service of the Interior Ministry told Itar-Tass on Tuesday. Investigators ascertained the theft of at least 85 million roubles by executives of the Sinertek company, within a criminal case against several senior officials of Russian Space Systems. The money was allocated for allegedly completed research.

Criminal proceedings over the fact were opened under Criminal Code Article 159, Part 4 /grand fraud/ on May 13. The incumbent Sinertek director and his predecessor were detained. "The investigator has ascertained additional episodes of fraud, committed together with the administration of the Metomark Infosystems research and production company. The sum of embezzled money reached at least 25 million roubles. The Metomark Infosystems director general was detained on May 29. (6/4)

Space Storm Could Black Out US East Coast for Two Years (Source: RIA Novosti)
Severe space “weather” can knock out satellite communications and GPS systems, expose space tourists and astronauts to dangerous levels of radiation, and even cause massive blackouts on Earth that could last up to two years, scientists and NASA officials warned at a conference here on Tuesday.

A sun storm on the scale of one that happened in 1859, which was recorded by British brewer and amateur astronomer Richard Carrington, would potentially have sweeping consequences on huge population clusters in the United States, experts at the Space Weather Enterprise Forum said. (6/4)

NASA Makes High Res Maps Of Our Neighboring Galaxies (Source: Forbes)
NASA’s SWIFT satellite is capable of viewing the skies around Earth in a number of different wavelengths – from gamma rays to X-rays to ultraviolet to the normal light we use ourselves. It was designed to track gamma ray bursts and their afterglows. But astronomers at NASA and Penn State have used the satellite to do something a little bit different: they’ve used the ultraviolet observation capabilities of SWIFT two map two of our closest Galactic neighbors. (6/5)

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