July 17, 2013

Nelson: House Bills "Lethal" to Balanced Space Program (Source: Space News)
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) introduced a NASA authorization bill July 17 that would provide $18 billion to the U.S. space agency next year — a level that mirrors the amount Senate appropriators included in a spending bill headed for full committee markup July 18. Nelson blasted his House counterparts for advancing a NASA authorization bill that would be “absolutely lethal” to a balanced space program.

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee is slated to mark up a NASA authorization bill July 18 that would hold the agency’s budget to $16.86 billion — the lowest level since 2007. The House Appropriations Committee, meanwhile, approved a commerce, justice, science spending bill July 17 that would fund NASA at $16.6 billion for the 2014 budget year that begins Oct. 1. (7/17)

UFO Cover-Ups Must End, Moonwalker Edgar Mitchell Says (Source: Bloomberg)
Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell is the only one to go on record about his controversial belief in extraterrestrial UFOs -- and of a possible government cover-up. I recently spoke on the telephone with the retired U.S. Navy Captain from his home in West Palm Beach, Florida. He was lucid and convincing with his heavy southern drawl, and just a little guarded.

"After my space flight, I was contacted by descendants of the original Roswell observers, including the person who delivered the child-sized coffins to the Air Force to contain alien bodies. Another was one of the children of the deputy sheriff who was patrolling traffic around the site... They all seemed credible with their stories that the bodies found were alien.

"Initially I think there was justification [for a cover-up] in that leadership officials thought people weren’t ready to handle it. But we are well past that now. Frankly, and this is just personal opinion, remember what (President) Eisenhower said in his final speech: “Beware the military industrial complex.” I suspect that’s what we’re talking about." (7/16)

Mitchell on Mars (Source: Bloomberg)
Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell, asked about the support some of his colleagues are throwing behind a lunar base as NASA's next goal, said: "I don’t think there is much value in trying to use the moon as a base to go to Mars. That’s going into one gravity belt and having to get back out of it again. And the moon doesn’t have a lot to offer as a resource base. There is something we could mine there, I’m sure, but there are better ways to do it. (7/16)

Elon Musk's Mission to Mars (Source: Guardian)
Elon Musk has flown so high, so fast, it is hard not to wonder when, and how, he will crash to earth. How could he not? Musk is so many things – inventor, entrepreneur, billionaire, space pioneer, inspiration for Iron Man's playboy superhero Tony Stark – and he has pushed the boundaries of science and business, doing what others declare impossible. At some point, surely, he will fall victim to sod's law, or gravity.

Musk has a reputation for being prickly but when I meet him at SpaceX, his headquarters west of Los Angeles, he is affable and chatty, cheerfully expounding on space exploration, climate change, Richard Branson and Hollywood. Oh, and what he would like written on his Martian tombstone. "The key thing for me," he begins, "is to develop the technology to transport large numbers of people and cargo to Mars. That's the ultimate awesome thing." Musk envisages a colony with 80,000 people on the red planet. Click here. (7/17)

No Plans to Equip Non-Russian Astronauts with Russian Spacesuits (Source: Interfax)
There are no plans to equip non-Russian astronauts working on board the International Space Station (ISS) with Russian spacesuits for spacewalks following a Tuesday incident, during which the spacewalk of a NASA and an Italian astronaut was aborted after water began building up in the latter's spacesuit, says Vladimir Solovyov, the chief flight officer of the Russian section of the ISS at the space mission control outside Moscow. "We are not considering such an option at the moment," Solovyov said. (7/17)

Hagel Announces Personnel Cuts at Pentagon (Source: AP)
Top-level Pentagon staff and military brass will undergo a 20% "across the board" reduction between 2015 and 2019, under a new directive from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. The personnel reductions will affect Hagel's office, the Joint Chief's chairman office and the Pentagon offices of all four military branches and will trim as much as $2 billion off expenditures. (7/16)

Airport Continues Long Process Toward Spaceport License for XCOR (Source: Midland Reporter-Telegram)
It has been almost a year since Midland International Airport staff started the process to obtain a spaceport license from the FAA, and the license is still out of reach. “We knew that it was going to be a long-term task to get this license application done,” said Marv Esterly, the city’s director of airports. “There’s a lot of hoops you have to jump through with the Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) in Washington.”

As Midland International Airport is the first airport of its size -- a “Part 139 airport” -- to apply for a spaceport license, Esterly said everyone in the application process is being “apprehensive.” He said the process, if the license is given, will act as a precedent for future airports that also apply. Even though the licensed has not been granted, the process is 98 percent complete, Esterly said. The remaining component the AST has yet to pass is the environmental assessment.

The city of Midland and the Midland Development Corp. are working to bring XCOR to Midland. MDC and XCOR made a $10 million deal that entailed giving the aerospace company hangar space and performance incentives in exchange for a $12 million payroll in the city and $4 million in capital investments within five years, as previously reported. The first XCOR launch in Midland is estimated for Spring 2014. (7/16)

UK’s $90 Million Skylon to ‘Transform How We Access Space’ (Source: Russia Today)
Skylon, a revolutionary UK spacecraft which could take adventurers to Earth’s stratosphere in just 15 minutes or fly travelers to Australia in four hours, will get $90 million from the government. The challenge is to cut the cost of space travel.

Skylon boasts a hybrid jet-rocket engine, SABRE (Synergistic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine), capable of blasting into low earth orbit. It takes off from a standard runway before accelerating to speeds of 19,000 miles per hour. The Minister for Universities and Science says “SABRE has the potential to completely transform how we access space... By supporting this breakthrough technology we are giving the UK a leading position in a growing market of new generation launchers and removing one of the main barriers to the growth of commercial activity in space.” (7/16)

SpaceX Gets McGregor Approval to Test Falcon Heavy (Source: Waco Tribune)
The city of McGregor has amended its lease with SpaceX to allow the company to test “future technologies” at McGregor’s industrial park — including possibly the Falcon Heavy, which reportedly will become the world’s most powerful private rocket — city and SpaceX officials confirmed. “The basic change is that more thrust will be allowed than under the original lease,” McGregor City Manager Kevin Evans said.

SpaceX and McGregor also reached on agreement on how late crews can perform rocket tests, some of which can be heard for miles. Tests on the Falcon Heavy would have to end by sunset, while those of the Falcon 9 could continue until 10 p.m., two hours earlier than the previous deadline of midnight. With 3.8 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, the Falcon Heavy will have the ability to carry satellites or interplanetary spacecraft weighing more than 53 metric tons to low Earth orbit.

SpaceX employs more than 200 people at its complex in McGregor, a figure that Ra confirmed. SpaceX would not say when testing of the Falcon Heavy would begin, calling it a “proprietary matter.” SpaceX has signed a three-year lease for land and facilities at Spaceport America near Las Cruces, N.M., for higher and farther Grasshopper flights, but also will continue Grasshopper tests in McGregor. (7/17)

Serious Leak in Spacewalking Astronaut's Helmet Wasn't Drinking Water (Source: LA Times)
Officials are working to understand what caused an astronaut’s helmet to fill with water – a serious leak that scrapped a spacewalk outside the International Space Station, NASA representatives said. The mysterious leak put roughly 1 to 1.5 liters of water into the suit of the European Space Agency’s Luca Parmitano, whose helmet began to flood partway through the exercise. The water eventually got into his eyes and at times prevented him from speaking.

Parmitano and another astronaut had started off ahead of schedule by 18 minutes, but Parmitano -- Italy's first spacewalker -- soon noticed that a carbon dioxide sensor seemed to have gone bad. A few minutes later, he started reporting a kind of "gush," or a "bubble in the back of his head," said the NASA flight director. Both astronauts came back to the space station, cutting the spacewalk off at 1 hour, 32 minutes. It turned out that the carbon dioxide sensor was an early indication that the suit had suffered water damage, probably caused by the same leak that was filling Parmitano's helmet. (7/17)

Danger! This Mission to Mars Could Bore You to Death! (Source: New York Times)
Right now, six people are living in a nearly windowless, white geodesic dome on the slopes of Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano. They sleep in tiny rooms, use no more than eight minutes of shower time a week and subsist on a diet of freeze-dried, canned or preserved food. When they go outside, they exit through a mock air lock, clad head to toe in simulated spacesuits. The "HI-SEAS" test subjects are playing a serious version of the game of pretend — what if we lived on Mars?

Traveling the tens of millions of miles to Mars will take a tremendous amount of time. With current technology, the journey takes more than eight months each way. Which means that astronauts will get bored. In fact, a number of scientists say that — of all things — boredom is one of the biggest threats to a manned Mars mission, despite the thrill inherent in visiting another planet. And so, attention is being paid to the effects of boredom at HI-SEAS. But because of the causes of chronic boredom, scientists say, research facilities in Antarctica might actually provide a better simulation. Click here. (7/16)

Tyson Says Aliens Might Find Humans Too Stupid To Contact (Huffington Post)
Are humans so dumb that aliens have written us off? Celebrated astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson seems to think that may be the case. "I wonder if, in fact, we have been observed by aliens and upon close examination of human conduct and human behavior they have concluded that there is no sign of intelligent life on Earth," Tyson said.

And then there's the possibility that intelligent aliens might not simply ignore us but might harm us, just as humans sometimes harm what we consider lesser forms of life. As Tyson went on to say in the interview, "You don't walk by the worm on the street and say, 'Gee, I wonder what he's thinking.' No, you step on the worm." (7/17)

SpaceX Test-Fires Upgraded Falcon 9 Core for Three Minutes (Source: Space News)
Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) on July 14 test fired the core stage of the Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket that will be used to launch Canada’s Cassiope space weather satellite this September, a company spokeswoman confirmed. "The recently tested booster is the first stage for SpaceX’s upcoming next-generation Falcon 9 demonstration flight for MDA and their Cassiope mission,” a SpaceX spokeswoman said. “The same updated design will apply to all Falcon 9 flights moving forward.” (7/16)

Cosmologist Claims Universe May Not Be Expanding (Source: Nature)
It started with a bang, and has been expanding ever since. For nearly a century, this has been the standard view of the Universe. Now one cosmologist is proposing a radically different interpretation of events — in which the Universe is not expanding at all.

Christof Wetterich, a theoretical physicist, has devised a different cosmology in which the universe is not expanding but the mass of everything has been increasing. Such an interpretation could help physicists to understand problematic issues such as the so-called singularity present at the Big Bang, he says. (7/16)

Red Planet Riviera: Ancient Mars Ocean Found? (Source: Discovery)
With the help of rover Curiosity, we now know that ancient Mars had large quantities of liquid water flowing across its surface. However, evidence for large bodies of water — i.e. oceans — has been hard to come by. But using high-resolution orbital data, Caltech scientists now think they’ve found a long-dry river delta that once flowed into a very large body of water. Welcome to the Aeolis Riviera — the strongest evidence yet for a Martian coastline.

Aeolis Dorsa is a vast plain about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) east of Gale Crater, where NASA’s rover Curiosity is currently exploring. Using high-resolution observations from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera, the Caltech team spotted what appears to be a river delta leading to a large depression, a candidate for the basin of an ancient ocean. (7/16)

Former Spaceport America Contributor Leading NMSU Arrowhead Business And Research Park (Source: KRWG)
New Mexico State University engineering alum and Spaceport America contributor Wayne Savage has been named executive director of Arrowhead Business and Research Park. Savage began his duties in June and is already looking for ways to enhance the business park's role in supporting economic development and business innovation in the region. (7/15)

Shiloh Caught in Middle of Spaceport Debate (Source: Daytona Beach News-Journal)
As drivers zip by Shiloh on their way to work at Kennedy Space Center or play in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, there's nothing to indicate the tumultuous history or current debate over the future of this spot along Kennedy Parkway south of Oak Hill.

From here, the Spanish drove out early British settlers nearly 250 years ago. In the 1960s the federal government forced descendants of former slaves to leave the land to make way for the nation's space program. And now, for the third time, the former settlement is at the center of a debate over whether a commercial spaceport should be built on the land, owned by NASA but managed by other federal agencies as the refuge and Canaveral National Seashore. Click here. (7/15)

Russian Moon Rover Holds Driving Record; Can Mars Rover Break It? (Source: LA Times)
Looks like the Mars rover Opportunity has a few miles more to go before it can break the record for longest off-world driving distance of any rover from Earth. Seems the Russian Lunokhod 2's meandering path was slightly longer than previous estimates and has racked up 23 miles. Two months ago the scrappy Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, which has been roaming the Red Planet since 2004, passed the NASA 22-mile distance record set by the Apollo 17 vehicle that astronauts drove around the moon in December 1972.

The lunar rover had some advantages over its Martian peer -- Lunokhod 2's top speed was about 1.2 miles per hour, roughly 10 times faster than Opportunity’s estimated flat-out top speed of 0.11 miles per hour. But Opportunity could still break the record, provided the scrappy rover continues rolling along. Perhaps the odds are in its favor -- it's lasted roughly 37 times longer than its predicted three-month lifetime. (7/16)

Russian Defense Satellite Falls Over China (Source: Interfax)
Russia's Geo-IK-2 military geodesic satellite left orbit and presumably fell over the Qinghai province of China on Monday, according to the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). The satellite left orbit at approximately 6:27 p.m. on July 15. It entered the atmosphere at 35 degrees North and 93 degrees East. (7/16)

Astronaut Nearly Drowns on Spacewalk (Source: ABC News)
Astronaut Luca Parmitano nearly drowned during his spacewalk this morning, NASA officials said during a press conference this afternoon. During his second walk in two weeks to perform routine maintenance on the International Space Station, the Italian astronaut had one to five liters of water seep into his helmet, impairing his ability to see or hear, NASA officials said.

The unexpected problem forced Mission Control to abort the spacewalk and send Parmitano and his American colleague Chris Cassidy back into the airlock of the International Space Station. NASA is conducting intensive forensic work to figure out the cause of the leak. The drink bag attached to the suit holds 32 ounces of water and the cooling system holds a gallon. (7/16)

Shelby Will Vote Against $18 Billion for NASA, $1.6 Billion for Space Launch System (Source: Huntsville Times)
The Senate subcommittee that funds NASA today approved $18 billion for the space agency in fiscal year 2014 - more than $1 billion more than House appropriators - and to include $1.6 billion for the Space Launch System being developed at Huntsville's Marshall Space Flight Center. The bill OK'd by the subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies now goes to the full Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday.

When it gets to the full committee, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) said he will vote against it. Shelby praised the bill's priorities, specifically its "balance between the competing priorities of law enforcement, terrorism prevention, research, scientific advancement and U.S. competitiveness." But he said the current bill's bottom line would contribute to breaking the current sequestration spending limit, and he can't support that. (7/16)

No comments: