November 17, 2013

Lots of Meetings, No Unified Message on Future Space Exploration (Source: Space Policy Online)
Four meetings in Washington, D.C. over this past week addressed the future of space exploration, but no unified message emerged.  There was a focus on the role of the entrepreneurial NewSpace private sector and public-private partnerships, but also on the traditional model of government contracting with major aerospace companies.

Integrating what all of the prominent individuals involved in these events wanted the public and policymakers to hear is challenging.   That is not to imply that the organizers – a potpourri of government and non-government institutions -- intended there to be an integrated message from four separate events, but in an era when a cohesive rationale for and approach to space exploration is needed, such an outcome would have been helpful. Click here. (11/16)

MAVEN Cleared for Monday Launch to Mars (Source: Space Today)
MAVEN spacecraft illustration (NASA) NASA said Friday that its latest mission to Mars has passed its final reviews and is ready for launch on Monday, weather permitting. The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN mission (MAVEN) passed a launch readiness review on Friday, NASA officials said, the last major review before launch. The Atlas 5 rocket carrying MAVEN will roll out to the pad at Cape Canaveral on Saturday morning for a launch scheduled for 1:28 pm EST Monday.

Weather is the primary concern for the launch, with a 60% chance of acceptable weather Monday, falling to 40% or less on Tuesday and Wednesday as a storm front passes through. MAVEN will enter Mars orbit next September on a mission to study the planet's atmosphere and, in particular, help scientists understand what happened to the much thicker, warmer atmosphere Mars had early in its history. (11/16)

Half Of Americans Think U.S. Is Losing Leadership In Space (Source: Huffington Post)
From putting the first human on the moon to launching the first space probe to go beyond our solar system, the United States has enjoyed more than its share of space firsts. But are we now losing our primacy in space? Half of Americans think so, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov poll. But many think the country should rely more on private companies -- not the government -- for future space missions.

According to the poll, 50 percent of Americans think the U.S. is losing its leadership role in space exploration, while 30 percent think it's maintaining its status as a world leader. Many Americans think that other nations will be the most dominant players in space exploration 10 years from now. In total, 22 percent of respondents said that they think the U.S. will be the dominant player in space exploration 10 years from now, while a combined 43 percent chose another country or multinational consortium. (11/17)

Think Space Exploration Isn’t Moving Fast Enough? You’re Not Alone (Source: Air & Space)
Where is our Moon Base? What about those Earth-like planets we’re supposed to have found by now? Extraterrestrial life? A human mission to Mars? In short, what happened to the 20th century dreams that were fueled by the Apollo missions and Viking landings on Mars?

Why should we wait years for another mission to search for second Earths? Why send another orbiter to Mars (MAVEN is scheduled to launch next week) when we have the technological capability to search for life on the planet’s surface, or launch a probe to splash down on one of Titan’s hydrocarbon lakes?

Is it really all about budget? Or did we lose the type of risk-taking ability that propelled Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Amundsen to the South Pole and NASA to the Moon—the willingness to also accept failure, which is inherent when you attempt giant strides. Frustration with the slow pace of progress extends all across the public, including college students, scientists and fiction writers. (11/13)

An Astronauts’ View of Earth Could Change Us All (Source: Air & Space)
“Thank you for coming to my personal therapy session,” former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria joked during a discussion on the “overview effect.” He explained that people like himself, a Navy pilot, and fellow panelist Sandy Magnus, who has a PhD in materials science and engineering, are chosen by NASA to be astronauts largely for their technical skill, not their ability to “communicate touchy-feely things.”

This makes it difficult to translate the profound psychological effect that seeing Earth from above has on a person. Astronauts who have gone to orbit over the last half-century have made it clear that seeing our planet from a vantage point in space flips some kind of switch in your brain. And while many of us may be awed by spectacular photos taken from the space station cupola and stretching all the way back to Earthrise, the powerful feeling of seeing it live just cannot be duplicated, they tell us. (11/8)

Have Spacesuit, Will Travel (Source: Stuff)
Not so long ago, an American bank that "didn't really distinguish itself in the recent bailouts" asked Chris Hadfield if he wanted to be its spokesman. Hadfield, a recently retired astronaut looking for fresh challenges, didn't even reply to that one. But he's collecting the rest in a folder labelled "OFFERS" on his laptop. Now that you're not going back to space, will you work for our company? Can you run our organisation? Fancy being chancellor of our university?

He's not decided yet. After 21 years as an astronaut and three trips to space, he's taking his time before the next step. Hadfield, 53, has already made space travel cooler than it had been for decades. With help from his internet-savvy son Evan, Hadfield has spent his five-month stint aboard the International Space Station posting cute videos about life in micro-gravity, and extraordinary photos of the Earth. (11/17)

A Russian GPS Using U.S. Soil Stirs Spy Fears (Source: New York Times)
In the view of America’s spy services, the next potential threat from Russia may not come from a nefarious cyberweapon or secrets gleaned from the files of Edward J. Snowden. Instead, this menace may come in the form of a seemingly innocuous dome-topped antenna perched atop an electronics-packed building surrounded by a security fence somewhere in the United States.

In recent months, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon have been quietly waging a campaign to stop the State Department from allowing Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, to build about half a dozen of these structures, known as monitor stations, on United States soil, several American officials said. They fear that these structures could help Russia spy on the United States and improve the precision of Russian weaponry, the officials said. (11/17)

Young ULA Engineer Gets the Hang of Demands, Jargon of Space Flight (Source: Florida Today)
The first day of his college internship at United Launch Alliance, Stephen Hirst walked into a wall of unknown acronyms. “I did not understand my first 20 minutes being there,” he said. “But the engineers took me in. You get the hang of it after a while.”

Five years later, Hirst drops acronyms like a seasoned aerospace engineer. He’s only 24. Now, after two years full-time at ULA, he’s helped launch more than a dozen Atlas rockets. Monday’s mission to Mars is his first interplanetary launch. (11/17)

DiBello, Weatherman: A Bright Future in Space (Source: Florida Today)
A strong national program of human space exploration is an essential part of the Space Coast economy and a robust future at Kennedy Space Center. The good news for Brevard County, KSC and all of Florida is that America is developing the Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System (SLS), two programs that are helping to foster a new era of technological development and discovery in space with capabilities to support human missions to the moon, asteroids and beyond. Click here. (11/17)

Making Milestones to the Moon (Source: GLXP)
The last decade has seen XPRIZE build upon the success of its first competition, the Ansari XPRIZE, which awarded $10 million for the first private suborbital spaceflight. Since then we have launched and awarded several competitions, learning a great deal about what makes for optimum prize design. We've learned that success is more likely if we continue to keep our eye on the entire ecosystem surrounding a prize, and stay flexible in addressing significant challenges to that ecosystem that may arise.

Case in point: In 2007 we launched the largest incentivized competition to date - the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE. The concept was easy to explain: land on the Moon, move 500 meters and send back video, images and data. These requirements were designed to demonstrate the minimum useful capabilities a spacecraft would need for future uses in space exploration and scientific research.

This month, XPRIZE and Google announced a series of Milestone Prizes available to competing teams. Why the Milestone Prizes, and why now? Given the large investment needed to send a robot to the Moon, two elements of the Google Lunar XPRIZE ecosystem are critical: potential customers for the technology developed by teams, and investors to help create the businesses to leverage those markets. In both of these areas, much has changed since the Google Lunar XPRIZE was launched. Click here. (11/17)

NASA's Communications Plan: Making It Up As They Go? (Source: NASA Watch)
Toward the end of this morning's Maven press briefing, a reporter from the Travel Channel asked if NASA has any plan for marketing itself to the public so as to enhance visibility and increase funding. Reaching out to the public is NASA's biggest challenge and greatest opportunity. I have to agree with the Travel Channel guy's query. Does NASA have a marketing plan? I see no evidence that they do.

Yes, there is some scary language in some congressional legislation that prohibits NASA from lobbying but there is also equally compelling and binding congressional language that prompts NASA to better communicate with the public. I have the clear impression that NASA finds it vastly easier to say "no" than to try and push the envelope. There are a lot of people at NASA who try but there seem to be even more who thwart them or simply sit on their hands. (11/17)

Single Air Force Launch to Put 28 Satellites in Orbit (Source: TechZone 360)
A whopping 29 satellites will be put into orbit from a single U.S. Air Force launch next Tuesday evening, November 19. ORS-3 is scheduled to head skyward around 7:30 PM ET from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at Wallops Island, VA, carrying a primary satellite designed to monitor space weather and 28 secondary CubeSat payloads.

The primary mission was put together by the U.S. Air Force's Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) office, located at Kirkland Air Force Base, New Mexico, and is designed to demonstrated, test and verify technologies and processes to enable faster and more cost effective access to space for the military. (11/15)

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