May 18, 2016

House Bill Offers $19.5 Billion for NASA in 2017 (Source: Space News)
A House appropriations bill released May 17 would provide NASA with $19.5 billion in 2017, with significant increases in funding for the agency’s Orion and Space Launch System programs and a planned mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa. The bill provides NASA with nearly half a billion dollars more than the agency’s request, which included a mix of discretionary and mandatory funds, and nearly $200 million above a bill approved by Senate appropriators last month.

The bill calls for spending $2 billion for the SLS program and $1.35 billion for Orion. Those levels are well above NASA’s request of $1.31 billion for SLS and $1.12 billion for Orion, although the Senate’s bill provides even more — $2.15 billion — for SLS.

The House bill also specified that, of the $5.6 billion allocated for NASA’s science programs, $260 million go towards a mission to Europa. NASA requested less than $50 million for the Europa mission, while the Senate’s bill did not specify an amount for that proposed mission. (5/17)

NASA Is Investing in 8 New Proposals That Are Indescribably, Awesomely Futuristic (Source: Mic)
If we're going to send humans to Mars and spacecraft to other star systems, we're going to need a new generation of space technology. NASA knows that. And that's why its Innovative Advanced Concepts program, or NIAC, invests in the kinds of technology that will advance aerospace and space exploration.

NIAC has selected eight concepts that it will fund through the second phase of research. That means these proposals could potentially get hundreds of thousands of dollars if they produce promising results in the lab. Click here. (5/16)

China's New Satellite Launch Center Ready for Test (Source: CRI)
The Long March-7, one of China's new generation of carrier rockets arrived at Wenchang on Saturday afternoon. The rocket will transport cargo for China's planned space station and is expected to become a main carrier for space launches. Long-March-7 is scheduled to perform its first mission in late June. The Wenchang Satellite Launch Center, which was established in 2009, will also be tested for its supportive systems.

The center is China's newest launch facility, following the Xichang center in Sichuan Province, the Taiyuan center in Shanxi Province and the Jiuquan center in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region. With a low latitude of 19 degrees north of the equator, the new center is similar in location to the Kennedy space center in the United States. (5/16)

Do We Have a Mandate for Mars? (Source: Huffington Post)
The exploration of the planet Mars has received a great deal of publicity over the past few years, and human missions to the Red Planet seem far more inevitable today than ever before. Yet, despite the groundswell of interest in Mars, some have argued that we don’t have a mandate for humans to go to Mars any time soon. Are these skeptics correct?

First of all, it might useful to define what “mandate” means. According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, the simple definition of “mandate” is (1) an official order to do something, or (2) the power to act that voters give to their elected leaders. Does Mars exploration satisfy either one of these requirements?

Official Policy: From a policy perspective, the case for “humans to Mars” seems to more than adequately meet the requirements to be a mandate. Sending humans to explore Mars is not a new goal for the United States space program. It has been a priority since the days of the Apollo Program, and it has been NASA’s official goal under multiple Administrations. Click here. (5/17)

New JPL Tech Lets NASA Scientists Take Virtual Walk Around Mars (Source: KABC)
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena unveiled a new technology it has developed to allow scientists to work in virtual reality on Mars. NASA calls its technology "mixed reality," meaning virtual elements are combined with the user's real-world environment.

The OnSight headset developed with Microsoft allows scientists to "walk" around the surface of Mars using images sent from the rover Curiosity to explore the terrain and brainstorm ideas for new experiments. (5/17)

Want to Build a Moon Base? Easy. Just Print It (Source: The Conversation)
Planetary Resources, a company hoping to make asteroid mining into a trillion dollar industry, earlier this year unveiled the world’s first 3D printed object made from bits of an asteroid.

3D printing, and additive manufacturing processes more generally, have made many advances in recent years. Just a few years ago, most 3D printing was only used for building prototypes, which would then go on to be manufactured via conventional processes. But it’s now increasingly being used for manufacturing in its own right.

Nearly two years ago, NASA even sent a 3D printer to the International Space Station with the goal of testing how the technology works in micro-gravity. While the printer resembles a Star Trek replicator, it’s not quite that sophisticated yet; the objects it can print are small prototypes for testing. (5/17)

Virgin Galactic's CEO: We're at an Inflection Point for Space Travel (Source: Fortune)
Virgin Galactic—which is funded to the tune of $600 million by Sir Richard Branson, the Virgin Group, and Aabar Investments Group, the sovereign wealth fund of Abu Dhabi—is hoping to get ready to launch satellites, if not people, by sometime in 2017. Lined up for a $250,000 seat on the spaceship Unity, when it launches, are the likes of not just the Whitesides’, but also 700 others, including Stephen Hawking, Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks, and Katy Perry.

“We’re at an inflection point,” Whitesides says. “Only about 550 people have ever gone to space. Come back in 10 years and thousands of people will have gone.” Not that it’s exactly a poor man’s pleasure at $250,000—but according to Whitesides, traveling in space with Virgin Galactic is a bargain. “The Russians charge NASA $70 million to go to the international space station,” he says. (5/17)

NASA is Snapchatting a Day Aboard the ISS (Source: Mashable)
On Monday, May 16, the International Space Station made its mind-boggling 100,000th orbit around the Earth. The first module of the ISS, humanity's longest-running habitable artificial satellite, was launched on Nov. 20, 1998, and completes one orbit approximately every 90 minutes.

This allows astronauts to see 16 sunsets and sunrises per day. To celebrate the occasion, NASA is showing off what a day in space is like for astronaut and Space Station commander Tim Kopra, via Snapchat. NASA's "Day in Space" can be found in the form of a Snapchat Live Story, accessible through the three-lined icon in the bottom right of Snapchat's main screen. (5/17)

US Should Stop Relying on Russian Rockets (Source: Observer)
Most Americans still believe that the U.S. won the space race. Images of that summer night in 1969 of astronaut Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon, and uttering the words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” still resonate. Unfortunately, we can no longer get there from here—at least not without Russian help.

Since the 1990s American astronauts—and more importantly, American spy and communications satellites—have been dependent on Russian-made rockets to launch our spacecraft. There are two problems with this reliance on Russian technology. First, Mr. Putin could decide tomorrow to stop providing the heavy-lift engines. Second, the company that produces the RD-180 is owned by several of Mr. Putin’s cronies. (5/18)

For the Success of Space Exploration, We Need More Female Astronauts (Source: Quartz)
Even in the final frontier of outer space, where the indignities and injustices of daily life would seem to float away before the vastness of the universe, women are bumping into a glass ceiling. Out of more than 500 space travelers over the past century, women make up only about 10%, according to figures from NASA and ESA Not one of them has flown beyond low-Earth orbit.

Compare that to the 24 men whose governments have sent them a full 384,400 kilometers to the moon. And while NASA’s current astronaut class is 50% female, that’s far from the case in space agencies around the world, especially in Europe: Over the past 38 years, Germany has sent 11 men into space and zero women. The European Astronaut Corps, currently a 14-member team, includes just one woman.

“One reason, especially for German women, is that women only apply for a job if they are really 100% sure that they fit all the criteria. They’re very risk adverse with regards to applying for something where men would say, ‘Well, I’ll just go for it even if I only have 50 percent of the criteria’,” says Claudia Kessler. (5/17)

Who Will Run the Chinese SpaceX? Space Race Capitalism Has Arrived in Beijing (Source: Inverse)
China’s state-run spaceflight program is riddled with systemic issues that hamper growth. However, its private spaceflight industry already shows promise despite being in its infancy. Though the world’s most populous country has so far failed to create anything akin to SpaceX or Blue Origin, the effort is now undeniably underway. Here are the three Chinese spaceflight companies to watch. (5/18)

Women Astronauts Struggle To Break Earth’s Glass Ceiling (Source: Good)
Gender imbalance isn’t something limited to earthly realms such as computer science, physics and aviation. Its nefarious reach also extends into outer space. Just look at the stats: of the 540 people who have journeyed out of this world, only a measly 11 percent were women. Nearly all of them—50 of 59—were in NASA. But don’t get too excited — that’s still less than 20 percent of the total number of people that the agency has sent to space since 1961.

That’s bad news for equal rights, bad news for science and safety. Because we’ve sent so few women into space, we know little about how they may respond differently to that environment than their male colleagues. Differences could include risk of developing cancer or cardiovascular disease, or frequency and severity of urinary tract infections. As the possibility of sending men and women to Mars begins to look more and more likely, “it’s critically important that we understand how [women respond physically and mentally to life in space.”

In many ways, women are ideal space travelers—it’s only societal factors that have kept them grounded for so long. Even in the 1950s, aerospace researchers recognized that women were lighter and smaller than men—an asset in cramped spaceship quarters—and from the beginning many women were outperforming their male counterparts in rigorous physical trials meant to select the best possible candidates for space travel. (5/18)

Aldrin Says US Presidential Candidates Should Aim for Mars (Source:
Buzz Aldrin has some words of advice for presidential candidates Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. The next president of the United States could carve out a lasting legacy for him- or herself by putting the nation firmly on the path to Mars, the former Apollo 11 moonwalker said today (May 17) at the Humans to Mars Summit in Washington, D.C.

"A president who appeals to our higher angels and takes us closer to the heavenly body we call Mars will not only make history — he or she will [also] be long remembered as a pioneer for mankind to reach, to comprehend and to settle Mars," Aldrin said.

"I appeal to you to take up the challenge — president, candidates — and bring us all along from the wild, blue yonder with giant leaps to this waiting island in the blackness of space," he added. "Presidential leadership in this initiative would improve, extend and celebrate American exceptionalism in a way that no other policy or program could." (5/18)

Bits of 3.5-Billion-Year-Old Asteroid Tell Story of Monster Impact in Australia (Source:
Three and a half billion years ago, a mega asteroid slammed into Earth, triggering massive tsunamis and leaving craters bigger than many U.S. states. It was the second oldest and one of the largest impacts known to have hit the planet.

Now, for the first time, remnants of that impact have been uncovered in ancient sediments in Australia, and they're revealing more intriguing details about the Earth at that time. The mega asteroid that battered the primeval Earth was likely between 12 and 19 miles (20 to 30 kilometers) across, dwarfing the space rock that caused the dinosaur-killing Chicxulub impact, the research suggests. (5/17)

Full-Scale Production of Plutonium Spacecraft Fuel Still Years Away (Source:
The United States has begun manufacturing nuclear spacecraft fuel for the first time in a generation, but full production of the stuff is still seven years or so away. In December, officials at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory announced that researchers at the site had generated a 1.8-ounce (50 grams) sample of plutonium-238, the fuel that powers deep-space missions such as NASA's New Horizons Pluto probe and Cassini Saturn orbiter.

Savannah River stopped making Pu-238 in 1988. In 1992, the U.S. started buying the stuff from Russia, but the last such foreign shipment was received in 2010. Since then, U.S. stores of Pu-238 have been dwindling. The country currently has just 77 lbs. (35 kg) of the spacecraft fuel left, and only about half of that stockpile is suitable for power production as-is (though the rest could conceivably be made usable by blending it with newly produced Pu-238. (5/17)

Militarizing Musk (Source: War on the Rocks)
If employed as part of important emerging joint warfighting concepts, reusable rocket boosters like the Falcon 9 reusable first stage could help to solve a number of tricky emerging military challenges facing the U.S. over the next two decades, particularly the challenge of adversary anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) stratagems.

The United States should be the first to recognize this and exploit the full potential of reusable rocketry to defeat theater defenses based on large-scale disposable missile arsenals such as those deployed by Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and other potential adversaries.

To offset the disposable rocketry upon which adversary theater defenses are based, the United States should explore the plausibility of a maritime-based theater strike system that takes advantage of the speed and near-invulnerability of theater-range missiles, the operational mobility and loadout capacity of large surface vessels, and the competitive cost advantage of SpaceX’s reusable rockets. Click here. (5/17)

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