November 10, 2013

We Should Not Be Too Excited About Intergalactic Neighbors (Source: Financial Times)
It began in 1960 with piecemeal American efforts to scan the skies for unusual radio signals. This week, the increasingly respectable science of alien-hunting notched up a new milestone. Astronomers crunching data from Nasa’s orbiting Kepler observatory estimate that about one in five Sun-like stars could boast an Earth-like planet. When those statistics are applied to our own galaxy, the Milky Way, the prospect of extraterrestrial neighbors begins to look thrillingly real.

But what if we do detect an engineered signal from beyond our solar system? It would mark an epochal moment. Our civilization would need to decide, through the UN, whether to reply. Stephen Hawking, the British physicist, has advised radio silence, in case any neighbors harbor malign intentions and covet Earth as a galactic colony.

Of course, any cosmic company may already know of our existence, through our electromagnetic emissions. An alien society 12 light years away might be enjoying a raft of TV shows first broadcast in 2001, including the first series of The Office. In which case, they have probably decided we earthlings are far too irritating to bother visiting. (11/10)

FSDC Plans ULA Tour for Members (Source: FSDC)
The Florida Space Development Council (FSDC) is working with United Launch Alliance to arrange a Nov. 15 tour of ULA launch facilities at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport for a limited number of FSDC members. The tour will begin at 2:00 p.m., departing from South Gate entrance to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, in the parking lot at the Air Force Space & Missile Museum.

Seats will be available for the first 10 existing or prospective members able to commit. Contact Laura at to reserve your spot. There will be a $5 fee to cover transportation costs. (11/10)

Falling Satellite Unlikely To Hit People (Source: Radio Liberty)
The European Space Agency says that one of its research satellites that ran out of fuel will most likely crash into the ocean or one of the Earth’s polar regions sometime between the evening of November 10 and early the next morning. The agency said the satellite will mostly disintegrate as it comes down and "only a few pieces which could be 90 kilograms at the most" could reach the Earth’s surface. (11/10)

Space in a Country That is Ceasing to Wonder (Source: Daily Camera)
"Curiosity," Scott Carpenter said, "is one of God's greatest gifts to man." Like so many pioneers and journeymen of the decades-long American space program, Scott was disappointed that we have not pushed farther into this final frontier. Most veteran astronauts, even those who consider themselves politically conservative, share that disappointment. Like so many pioneers and journeymen of the decades-long American space program, Scott was disappointed that we have not pushed farther into this final frontier. Most veteran astronauts, even those who consider themselves politically conservative, share that disappointment.

After Apollo, the 1968 film, "2001: A Space Odyssey," seemed perfectly plausible; surely there would be a colony on the moon by that seminal year, and from there, we would have reached out to the furthest reaches of the solar system. Even as he approached the end of his life, Scott Carpenter held out hope that the U.S. would find the will -- and the wonder -- to take the next steps into outer space, a moon colony and a manned mission to Mars. Yet that seems further away from reality than it did in 1969, or 1996, or even 2001.

Now even most scientists think sending humans into space isn't very important. After all, we've learned so much more from "uncrewed" probes and vehicles. But, "It is good to renew one's wonder." Scott Carpenter was, Tom Wolfe wrote, the only Mercury astronaut "with a touch of the poet about him in the sense that the idea of going into space stirred his imagination." We could use a little more stirring. We have lowered our expectations of wonder to 3D movies and mindless materialism has smothered our national imagination. (11/10)

Lunar Elevators and Asteroid Mining: Kickstarting the Next Chapter of Exploration (Source: Endagadget)
Privately funded space missions might sound like the preserve of the financial elite, but the truth is actually a little more pedestrian. Speaking at Expand New York today, Michael Laine (LiftPort) and Chris Lewicki (Planetary Resources) both extolled the virtues of people power, and the critical role it will play in the future of private space exploration. Head past the break to find out how you might play a part in the next chapter of space research.

Lewicki was first to sing the praises of Kickstarter, not just for the financial resources, but also the community it brings with it. When asked about the role crowdfunding had played in his projects, Lewicki's response was simple. Not only was it critical financially, but it also provided confirmation that they were on the right path. Laine had similar stories. He actually invited some of his supporters to be on the board of advisors.

Of course, government-backed space projects are still crucial. Something like Curiosity is only possible with the kind of resources available to NASA, but Lewicki was keen to highlight that this level of endeavor comes at a cost. "When failure isn't an option, projects get really expensive. A private company would never be able to do anything like this. But also, private projects don't come with 50 years of baggage." (11/10)

Downsizing NASA Runs Into Political Opposition (Source: SFGate)
Politics played a part in choosing the locations for many of NASA's most crucial facilities at the outset of the race to the moon in the 1960s, including Lyndon Johnson steering the Johnson Space Center and mission control for manned missions to Houston. Now, politics appears to be playing an even bigger part in preventing NASA from downsizing a costly and sprawling infrastructure that dates back to the spare-no-expense days of the Apollo era.

In Florida, the space agency prepared to lease one of the Kennedy Space Center's launch pads to a commercial space-flight firm before powerful members of Congress raised questions and the losing firm filed a bid protest. And in Texas, NASA thought it could cut duplication by moving a heat-shield testing complex from Houston's Johnson Space Center to the Ames Research Center in Mountain View. But that was before dogged intervention by the Texas congressional delegation.

"The political context in which NASA operates often impedes its efforts to reduce agency infrastructure," laments NASA Inspector General Paul Martin. The $18 billion-a-year agency operates across 4,900 structures on 124,000 acres, with an estimated value of $30 billion. That makes NASA the ninth-largest federal landowner. Eight out of 10 facilities date back to the golden age of space flight, when the United States was racing the Soviet Union to the moon. (11/10)

Olympic Torch on Spacewalk: Russia Flaunts Inspiration Superiority (Source:
Soyuz 11M roared into space just a few days ago, carrying the latest crew to the International Space Station. Normally, such an event doesn't rate mentions in the mainstream news media — but, this one got a few. Why? The crew carried the Olympic torch with them, and the rocket was painted in a theme to commemorate the upcoming Sochi games.

During the mission, two cosmonauts will take the torch out on a spacewalk, to further generate publicity for the games, and for human spaceflight. The Russians have always been more advanced than we Americans in this area. They've had advertising placards in their mission control center — with many Western clients, by the way — and during space station Mir, they actually filmed a Pepsi commercial by having spacewalking cosmonauts inflate a large replica Pepsi can in space.

In years past, Pizza Hut bought advertising space on the side of one of their rockets, as did a motion picture company (for an Arnold Schwarzenegger film). Isn't it interesting, that we are talking about American companies here, yet we Americans are not the ones soliciting the advertising? (11/10)

Lawmakers Warn About Sequester, Few Listen (Source: The Hill)
Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee are expressing frustration that their fellow lawmakers seem little interested in warnings about how sequestration will hurt U.S. defense. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., listening to military leaders describe how the cuts will hurt readiness, this week said he wished other lawmakers were in the room. "I wish that every member of Congress and every American were tuning into your testimony today so we would have a sense of urgency that unfortunately is certainly not significant enough to bring us back into, I think, a rational approach to our nation's defense," McCain said. (11/7)

GAO: DOD Cuts Ultimately May Cost More (Source: Bloomberg)
Sequester-inspired changes the Pentagon made to procurement, testing and other areas may wind up costing the Defense Department more in the future, according to a new report from the General Accounting Office. The short-term moves the department made in response to across-the-board cuts could result in greater costs in the next few years, the GAO said, though it also noted that most cuts the Pentagon made did not appear to have a significant impact on programs. (11/7)

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