July 21, 2014

Moscow: Continue U.S. Cooperation in Space (Source: Washington Times)
Moscow wants to work with Washington to further space exploration despite a recent NASA memo noting the crisis in Ukraine has nearly severed prospects for partnership, Russian officials say. In an April 2 memo, NASA suspended “contact with Russian entities” as a result of “the ongoing violation of Ukraine sovereignty.” A follow-up statement stressed that “NASA and Roscosmos will, however, continue to work together to maintain safe and continuous operation of the International Space Station.”

“The memo was unexpected. We did not expect what was happening politically between Russia and the United States to affect what happens in space,” Russian Federation spokesman Yevgeniy Khorishko told The Washington Times. “Politics should not overshadow this partnership when there are this many years of cooperation. We have good assets and experience to do this job together. It is natural for us to continue.” (7/21)

Time to Rethink NASA (Source: National Review)
Everyone recognizes that our space policy is rudderless, but few seem to understand the root cause. In an attempt to get the nation’s human-spaceflight program on course again, funded by NASA, the National Research Council (NRC) issued a report a few weeks ago on the future of human spaceflight. Unfortunately, it was hobbled by the flawed assumptions forced upon it by its congressional charter. Among these assumptions are that a) NASA will continue to lead the effort and b) the purpose of human spaceflight is “exploration.”

The report also shares the premise that the unaffordable Space Launch System will be the primary tool for such exploration. Of course, while the NRC sought public input, it sought no independent technical or cost input from any agency other than NASA, so it was not exposed to any alternatives.

Almost five years ago, while few paid attention, the Human Spaceflight Plans Committee produced a review noting that exploration was a means, not an end, and that human spaceflight is a waste of time and money if the purpose isn’t space settlement. The recent NRC report, on the other hand, refuses to identify settlement as a goal, because its authors are skeptical that settlement is even possible; instead, it cobbles together a hodge-podge of other rationales for human spaceflight. Click here. (7/21)

The Dog Days of Summer Launch Debates (Source: Space Review)
Two of the key issues surrounding access to space in the US this year have been reliance on the Russian-built RD-180 engine and a dispute between the Air Force and SpaceX. Jeff Foust reports that, despite a number of hearings and other events, there's no clear resolution to either issue on the horizon. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2562/1 to view the article. (7/12)

A Generational Opportunity for Europa (Source: Space Review)
While interest in a mission to Jupiter's icy, and potentially habitable, moon Europa is growing, funding for such a mission has been lacking in NASA's budget requests. Casey Dreier argues that a Europa mission could, in fact, solve several of the problems NASA is facing today. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2561/1 to view the article. (7/12)

Heavy Glass: The KH-10 DORIAN Reconnaissance System (Source: Space Review)
The main purpose of the Air Force's Manned Orbiting Laboratory was to conduct reconnaissance using a very high resolution camera system. Dwayne Day examines how that system would have worked, had MOL not been cancelled 45 years ago. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2560/1 to view the article. (7/12)

"A Little Bit of Bedlam": An Interview with Neil Armstrong (Source: Space Review)
This year is the first major Apollo 11 anniversary since the passing of Neil Armstrong in 2012. Neil McAleer recounts an interview he did with Armstrong 25 years ago to discuss the astronaut's relationship with a famous science fiction writer. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2559/1 to view the article. (7/12)

New Fort Knox: A Means to a Solar-System-Wide Economy (Source: Space Review)
While space advocates are never short of bold visions for future space development projects, funding them has long been a major challenge. Richard Godwin offers one approach to bootstrap long-term use of space resources though smaller initial steps and a key financial measure. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2558/1 to view the article. (7/12)

Lunar Rock Collisions Behind Yutu Damage (Source: Xinhua)
Ailing Chinese moon rover Yutu, or "Jade Rabbit," might have been damaged by knocking against rocks on a lunar surface that is more complicated than expected, its designer has said. Yutu, China's first moon rover, drove onto the lunar surface on Dec. 15 last year during the Chang'e-3 lunar mission, but in January it suffered a "mechanical control abnormality" which has continued to trouble it ever since. (7/21)

Planet Bieber? Suggestions (Mostly) Welcome (Source: Boston Globe)
While the prospect of finding habitable worlds far from our solar system has been a feature of science fiction for generations, the real-life task of finding and cataloging new planets hasn’t garnered much public interest. Part of the reason is that scientists are in the habit of slapping names like HD 185269 b on the planets they find. The International Astronomical Union wants to change that.

Recently the organization, which among other things names objects in space, announced a plan, called NameExoWorlds, to crowdsource names for recently discovered planets. While only organizations like planetariums and astronomy clubs can suggest names — making it unlikely that LeBron James or Justin Bieber will be lending their names to planets anytime soon — the general public can vote for the final name given to a celestial body.

The program won’t replace the planets’ scientific monikers, which remain useful to scholars. While naming new planets might seem like the least important step in space exploration, NameExoWorlds allows ordinary people to directly participate in cutting-edge science — which can only help to revive public interest in astronomy. Besides, people are much more likely to actually discuss interstellar research if they can remember the names of the planets they’re talking about. (7/20)

Civil Firms Looking to Military Space (Source: Defense News)
Some of the biggest names and deepest pockets in Silicon Valley are looking to space as their next big investment opportunity, and while the targets of their investment are primarily commercial, the Pentagon’s in-house tech think tank is also drawing these entrepreneurs into its own orbit in an ambitious new space launch project.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Virgin Galactic’s Sir Richard Branson are just two of the investors competing to duke it out to win the right to develop a reusable, relatively inexpensive “space plane” capable of carrying clusters of small satellites weighing as little as 5 to 10 pounds into space. Meanwhile, Google is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on several projects that would launch dozens of these small, inexpensive communications satellites into space. (7/21)

Buzz Aldrin's New Mission: Life on Mars (Source: Fast Company)
Buzz Aldrin, living legend, was one of the very first humans to ever walk on the moon. These days, Aldrin has fashioned himself as an elder statesman for space exploration, and has set his sights even higher: Mars. In recent years, space travel has returned to the spotlight thanks to private sector players like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic, and Aldrin is pushing for an audacious (and difficult) goal: the colonization of Mars by astronauts who would never return to Earth.

Aldrin likens the idea to the Pilgrims migrating from Europe to present-day Massachusetts and argues it should be the whole world, not just the United States, working on the project. “I think that any historical migration of human beings to establish a permanent presence on another planet requires cooperation from the world together,” Aldrin said. (7/21)

Virgin Galactic Preparing for an Economic Takeoff (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
As Virgin Galactic prepares to launch the test flights it believes will be its final push to space, the company is slowly ramping up operations in southern New Mexico. “There is a reasonably clear path toward the start of operations,” Virgin Galactic Commercial Director Stephen Attenborough recently told the Journal. “We are looking at everything to move the operation from Mojave (Calif.) to New Mexico.”

The company striving to become the world’s first commercial spaceline recently announced its first two hospitality contracts with Las Cruces businesses, as well as three new job openings here. Attenborough said he expects the 12-person operation to grow to 70 people once commercial flights begin from Spaceport America. (7/21)

White Holes: Hunting the Other Side of a Black Hole (Source: New Scientist)
Black holes suck – but do they have mirror twins that blow? A far-flung space telescope is peering into galactic nuclei to spot one for the first time. Physics is full of opposites. For every action, there's a reaction; every positive charge has a negative; every magnetic north pole has a south pole. Matter's opposite number is antimatter. And for black holes, meet white holes.

Black holes are notorious objects that suck in everything around them. Famously, not even light can escape their awesome gravity. White holes, in contrast, blow out a constant stream of matter and light – so much so that nothing can enter them. So why have so few people heard of them? One reason is that white holes are exotic creatures whose existence is speculated by theorists, but none have been found.  (7/21)

NASA Considers Mars Mission With Help Of Tesla’s Elon Musk (Source: CBS)
45 years ago, America landed a man on the moon, and years from now, NASA and Tesla founder Elon Musk hope to have already landed a man on Mars, using Musk’s SpaceX rocket in a public-private partnership that turns the Apollo program model on its head in what NASA dubs the #NextGiantLeap. Musk predicts in as little as ten years, humans will land on Mars, with or without NASA. He told CNBC that a 2024 or 2026 landing is not unheard of.

But, to get there, a lot of development has to be done.  That’s where NASA comes in, with a penultimate step to a human mission. After three years of research, NASA Ames’ scientists announced that a modified crew-carrying version of the Dragon X capsule from Space X could be a way to make it to the red planet and return samples of rocks, carrying 4,000 pounds of equipment–the most in history. SpaceX dubbed this spacecraft “Red Dragon.”

The idea for a 2022 mission (or earlier if Musk is in control) would be a precursor to a planned human flight to Mars. Getting to Mars hasn’t been all that hard. It’s getting the fuel and supplies there to support humans, and then getting the humans back that’s been impossible.  It’s a matter of mass, and the need to slow that mass down to a safe landing on Mars, and then accelerate it back up and out of Mars’ gravity, back to earth, and then finally, slow it down one more time for a descent to earth. The numbers and speeds are staggering, but that’s where SpaceX comes in. Click here. (7/20)

Will SpaceX Knock Boeing and Lockheed Out of Space? (Source: Motley Fool)
Things are finally looking up for Tesla boss Elon Musk -- and for his privately held space exploration firm, SpaceX. Launching U.S. government satellites is big business -- and it costs U.S. taxpayers big bucks. In testimony before Congress earlier this year, Musk pointed out that right now, the Air Force is paying United Launch Alliance a $1 billion-a-year retainer just to stand ready to loft satellites into space for it.

That's $1 billion -- whether ULA actually launches any satellites or not. And if it does happen to launch a satellite, ULA gets another $380 million per launch. SpaceX thinks it can do the same work for as little as $100 million per launch -- a 74% discount to ULA's price. If it's right, then competitive bidding for EELV contracts, with SpaceX in the mix, could save U.S. taxpayers as much as $50 billion out of planned $70 billion in anticipated costs for the Pentagon's space launches over the next 15 years.

SpaceX thinks it can do the same work for as little as $100 million per launch -- a 74% discount to ULA's price. If it's right, then competitive bidding for EELV contracts, with SpaceX in the mix, could save U.S. taxpayers as much as $50 billion out of planned $70 billion in anticipated costs for the Pentagon's space launches over the next 15 years. (7/21)

Air Force Examines Anomalies as Musk’s SpaceX Seeks Work (Source: Bloomberg)
The Air Force is examining several anomalies that occurred during SpaceX's three civilian space flights as part of its review of Elon Musk's quest to launch military satellites. While none of the irregularities caused the missions to fail, the Air Force is reviewing corrective actions as it weighs certification of SpaceX. Musk's company wants a piece of a $67.6 billion Pentagon program for satellite launches, a market held by a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co., the government's top two contractors.

"These anomalies are continuing to be discussed with SpaceX," the service said in briefing paper sent May 20 to Representative Mike Rogers, an Alabama Republican and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee's strategic panel. His congressional district is near the one where United Launch Alliance assembles booster rockets. (7/21)

Apollo-Era KSC Building Named for Neil Armstrong (Source: Florida Today)
The late Neil Armstrong's Apollo 11 crewmates today said it was fitting that the Kennedy Space Center building where Apollo crews trained and their spacecraft were processed be renamed in honor of the first man to walk on the moon. "He would not have sought this honor, that was not his style," said Michael Collins, who orbited the moon while Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on it 45 years ago. "But I think he would be proud to have his name so closely associated with this, the heart and the soul of the space business."

Roughly 500 invited guests filled chairs in the high bay of what is now called the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building, built in 1964. Special guests also included Armstrong's wife and two sons, Aldrin and Jim Lovell, the backup commander for Apollo 11. Editor's Note: I attended with the new president of the Florida Space Development Council (FSDC), Jillianne Pierce. (7/21)

Houston, We Have a Myth: Aldrin Says He Spoke First Words on Moon (Source: KHOU)
Here in Space City, it is the stuff of legend: Houston was the first word spoken on the moon. “Houston, Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed.” The governor has bragged about it. Advertising campaigns have been built around it. It even turned up in the lyrics of a mayor’s campaign song. Only one problem with that idea – sadly, it’s just not true.

The New York Times, beneath the headline “Men Walk on Moon,” published a transcript of the transmissions from the lunar surface beginning with Armstrong’s dramatic announcement. “It’s a technicality, but if you want the first words from the moon, they were "contact light,’” Aldrin says. Aldrin spoke those words the instant he saw an instrument panel light that illuminated as probes extending from the lunar module footpads touched the moon’s surface. His next words were telling: “OK, engine stop.” (7/21)

Former NASA Boss: Russia Has US Space Program in 'Hostage Situation' (Source: WPRO)
The historic Apollo 11 landing established the U.S. as the leader in the Space Race against the Soviet Union, a key victory at the height of the Cold War. Today, in contrast, with the retirement of the Space Shuttle program, NASA has to pay for space aboard Russian rockets to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Political tensions between the two countries threaten this arrangement.

The U.S. has taken an increasingly hard stance against Russia's activity in the Ukraine by imposing sanctions against various Russian companies and individuals. Russian officials have in turn indicated that they will not offer assistance in U.S. space endeavors. "We're in a hostage situation," former NASA administrator Michael Griffin told ABC News. "Russia can decide that no more U.S. astronauts will launch to the International Space Station and that's not a position that I want our nation to be in." (7/21)

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