December 6, 2013

Atlas V Rocket Launches From California Coast (Source: Huffington Post)
A rocket carrying a secret payload for the U.S. government has successfully launched from the central California coast. The Atlas V rocket lit up the night sky at about 11:15 p.m. Thursday, lifting off from Vandenberg Air Force Base toward low-Earth orbit. The 19-story-tall rocket carried a payload for the National Reconnaissance Office, which operates the nation's system of intelligence-gathering satellites. (12/6)

Why the Hunt for Extraterrestrial Life is Important (Source: Discovery)
On Wednesday, something remarkable happened at Capitol Hill. In a special hearing, lawmakers of the House Science Committee discussed the search for extraterrestrial life with three experts for 2 hours. The question and answer session focused around efforts to find everything from alien microbes under rocks on Mars to full-blown SETI efforts to seek out transmitting extraterrestrial intelligence.

Naturally, some of the questioning was naive and sometimes needlessly lighthearted. In response to the Republican-led House panel, a Democratic opposition group even seized the opportunity to mock the occasion. The hearing was significant; maybe not to the immediate day-to-day running of a nation or the lawmakers who saw it as an entertaining sideshow, but the three scientists invited to talk were dead serious about the opportunities and implications such a high-profile hearing can bring.

As if to underline the popular viewpoint whenever “extraterrestrial” is mentioned, during the hearing Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas) asked the experts: “Do you think there’s life out there? (laughter) And are they studying us and what do they think of New York City?” The question was followed by more laughter. At best, the laughter is due to ignorance of the efforts that are under way to discover our place in the universe. At worst, it’s a middle finger at science from the highest echelons of the U.S. government. (12/5)

Does Australia Have A Space Future? (Source: Forbes)
With endless vistas, thousands of miles of unadulterated coastline, and shockingly desolate red deserts, Australia would seem the logical spot for a launch/space economy. But nearly sixty years into the Space Age, Australia is still one of the few technologically-advanced, international players without an official national space agency. “When countries communicate with each other about space matters, Australia is locked out of that process... There seem to be a lot of people arguing we do nothing, which I can’t accept,” said Andrew Dempster at UNSW.

In truth, the main reason may have more to do with geography. “Somewhat surprisingly to some, Australia does not have good sites for orbital launches,” says Brett Biddington. “That’s because as the spent launcher casings come back to earth, they invariably threaten cities, other high value economic activities (such as mines) or the sovereign integrity of our neighbors.” (12/6)

Stephen Colbert Presents NASA Award to Voyager Scientist (Source: Glendale News)
Ed Stone, former director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and scientist on the long-running Voyager mission, got a surprise at the end of his appearance on the Colbert Report this week. Stone was a guest on the show Tuesday night and chatted with host Stephen Colbert about JPL and Voyager 1’s achievement of reaching interstellar space. And the end of the show, Colbert floated onto stage (video here) wearing a silver spacesuit and presented Stone with a NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal. The award is the agency’s highest honor for non-government employees. (12/5)

Giant Alien World Discovered Where it Should Not Exist (Source: LA Times)
A massive planet found orbiting a star at a staggeringly great distance is smashing some long-held theories of planetary formation, researchers say. The planet is unlike anything in our own solar system. Eleven times more massive than Jupiter, planet HD 106906 b orbits a single sun-like star at a distance of 60 billion miles - about 650 times the distance Earth is from our own sun.

"This system is especially fascinating because no model of either planet or star formation fully explains what we see," said study coauthor Vanessa Bailey, an astronomy graduate student at the University of Arizona. Researchers estimate the planet is very young, just 13 million years old, and the residual heat from its formation can be seen from Earth as infrared energy. (12/5)

Ukraine to Get Rid of Melange Rocket Fuel Component (Source: Interfax)
With the assistance of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Ukraine plans to dispose of its remaining stockpiles of toxic rocket fuel component known as "melange" by February at the latest, according to Ukraine's Defense Ministry.

"If it all goes the way we are planning it, we'll be able to say in January or February that all of the melange has been removed from Ukraine," ministry spokesman Serhiy Korotayev said. Evacuating melange stores from Ukraine is an OSCE project. OSCE spokesman Anton Martynyuk put the cost of the project at about 20 million euro.

Over the past four years 14,000 tonnes of a total of 16,000 tonnes of melange has been taken out of Ukraine, Martynyuk said. "It can be said today that this is one of the most successful projects in the whole existence of the OSCE," he said. The remaining 2,000 tonnes is stored in the regions of Odesa and Kyiv. (12/5)

NASA Trying To Balance Efficiency, Hard-Learned Lessons (Source: Aviation Week)
NASA’s Technology Capabilities Assessment Team is finding new acceptance of the agency’s need to improve efficiency by eliminating duplication across its scattered field centers, with some center directors actually willing to give up assets if they can use the savings to fund their core competencies.

Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot declined to list specifics in a year-end assessment of NASA’s health before a Washington audience assembled by the Space Transportation Association (STA). But he reported that new realities seem to be driving center directors away from organizational stovepipes and toward a more collaborative view.

Although agency centers have been likened to feudal fiefdoms, Lightfoot — the highest ranking civil servant at NASA — said top management has recognized the value in breaking up organizational turf and even allowing outside participants. In keeping with the agency’s shift to commercial providers for spaceflight operations traditionally kept in-house, Lightfoot included industry in the mix. Click here. (12/4)

NASA Fellowships, Scholarships Bring Diversity to Future STEM Workforce (Source: NASA)
NASA's Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP) has awarded fellowships and scholarships for the 2013-2014 academic year to 40 graduate and undergraduate students from across the United States to increase diversity in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines.

Thirty graduate students from 16 states and the District of Columbia were selected to receive the competitive Harriett G. Jenkins Graduate Fellowship, which provides as much as $45,000 annually for as many as three years, and includes tuition offset, student stipend, and a research experience at a NASA center. It addresses NASA's mission-specific workforce needs and supports the development of the future STEM workforce.

Ten undergraduate students from nine states and Puerto Rico were selected to receive the MUREP scholarship, which provides an academic stipend worth as much $9,000 and $6,000 more for a 10-week internship at a NASA center. Editor's Note: Only one recipient (of the Fellowship) is from a Florida university: Faheem Muhammed from Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. (12/5)

CASIS Board Member to Moderate Stem Cell in Microgravity Panel at World Summit (Source: SpaceRef)
The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) Board of Directors member Dr. Lee Hood will moderate a panel, "The New Frontier - Stem Cell Development in Microgravity," at the World Stem Cell Summit in San Diego. In addition to Dr. Hood, CASIS-funded stem cell investigators Drs. Mary Kearns-Jonker of Loma Linda University and Roland Kaunas of Texas A&M University will provide insight into their research proposals destined for the International Space Station (ISS). (12/5)

Private Company Plans US's First Controlled Moon Landing in 40 Years (Source: Fox News)
A U.S. spacecraft hasn’t made a controlled landing on the moon since Apollo 17 left the lunar surface on Dec. 14, 1972. That’s about to change. Moon Express will unveil the MX-1 spacecraft in Las Vegas on Thursday evening -- a micro-spacecraft that will in 2015 mark the first U.S. "soft" landing since the days of the Apollo program.

The craft looks for all the world like a pair of donuts wearing an ice cream cone, and the tiny vehicle clearly isn’t big enough for a human being. But it is big enough to scoop up some rocks and dirt, store them in an internal compartment, and return it to Earth. After all, the moondirt Gene Cernan, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin once trod holds a king’s ransom of titanium, platinum, and other rare elements. Moon Express plans to mine it. (12/5)

NASA's Orion Spacecraft Ready to Turn Up the Heat (Source: Orlando Business Journal)
The heat shield for NASA's Orion spacecraft arrived at Kennedy Space Center. The heat shield is the largest of its kind ever built. A titanium skeleton and carbon fiber skin give the heat shield its shape and provide structural support during landing.

The heat shield delivered to Kennedy Space Center will be used during Exploration Flight Test-1, a two-orbit flight that will take an unmanned Orion capsule to an altitude of 3,600 miles. Data gathered from the flight then will be used to make decisions about design improvements on the heat shield and other Orion systems, authenticate existing computer models, and innovate new approaches to space systems and development. (12/5)

Sun’s Rotation Driven by Enormous Plasma Flows (Source: Science News)
Massive, long-lasting plasma flows 15 times the diameter of Earth transport heat from the sun’s depths to its surface, according to a study in the Dec. 6 Science. The finding supports a decades-old explanation of why the sun rotates fastest at its equator.

In the outermost 30 percent of the sun, known as the convective zone, rising plasma carries heat generated by nuclear fusion in the sun’s guts. Once at the surface, much of the plasma’s energy radiates into space; the cooler, denser plasma then sinks, driving further convection and creating circulating loops called convection cells. (12/5)

SIA Seeks to Change the Global Conversation About Satellites (Source: Space Daily)
Coordinating an alliance of the world's leading industry trade associations, the Society of Satellite Professionals International has announced the launch of a global campaign to change the global conversation about satellites. Called the Industry Message Summit, the effort aims to focus attention on the industry's striking contributions to human welfare, safety and prosperity around the world.

The alliance of industry associations, including the European Satellite Operators' Association (Brussels), Global VSAT Forum (London) and Satellite Industry Association (Washington, DC), will drive the rebuilding of the "satellite brand" in support of the industry's growth. (12/6)

Earth's Gravity Scarred by Earthquake (Source: Space Daily)
ESA's GOCE satellite has revealed that the devastating Japanese earthquake of 2011 left its mark in Earth's gravity - yet another example of this extraordinary mission surpassing its original scope. GOCE mapped Earth's gravity with unrivalled precision for over four years, but nobody really expected the data to show changes over time. Now, careful analysis shows the effects of the 9.0 earthquake that struck east of Japan's Honshu Island on 11 March 2011 are clearly visible in GOCE's gravity data. (12/6)

Arianespace's Role as a Partner for the US Satellite Industry (Source: Space Daily)
Arianespace Chairman and CEO Stephane Israel focused on the U.S. space sector during a speech at the Washington Space Business Roundtable (WSBR), outlining the company's continued innovation and proven reliability in its partnership with American satellite manufacturers and telecommunications operators. His keynote address in the U.S capital, attended by regional space industry leaders, is part of a U.S. visit this week.

Arianespace has been a strong partner to the U.S. space industry, with a healthy order book that includes missions for long-time customers DIRECTV (five satellites), Intelsat (five) and EchoStar (two). The company also has launched 161 spacecraft built by U.S. manufacturers (50 from Boeing, 45 for Lockheed Martin, 42 with Loral and 24 for Orbital) and has partnered with NASA, the Department of Defense and other governmental agencies. (12/6)

NASA Funding Shuffle Alarms Planetary Scientists (Source: Nature)
Scott Guzewich spent six years as a weather forecaster in the US Air Force before switching to his dream career as a planetary scientist. Guzewich now studies the Martian atmosphere as a postdoctoral fellow at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. But Guzewich’s dream job may be turning into a nightmare. On 3 December, NASA’s planetary science division announced a restructuring of how it funds its various research and analysis programs.

What sounded like a bureaucratic shuffle touched a raw nerve among US planetary scientists, who already feel singled out in an era of shrinking budgets. In particular, a newly formed research programme that will cover roughly half of all planetary science proposals will not be calling for new grant submissions in 2014. Researchers who draw the bulk of their salaries from grants will have no place to apply. (12/4)

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