March 5, 2017

White House Proposes Steep NOAA Budget Cuts (Source: Washington Post)
The Trump administration is seeking to slash the budget of one of the government’s premier climate science agencies by 17 percent, delivering steep cuts to research funding and satellite programs. The proposed cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would also eliminate funding for a variety of smaller programs, including external research, coastal management, estuary reserves and “coastal resilience,” which seeks to bolster the ability of coastal areas to withstand major storms and rising seas.

NOAA is part of the Commerce Department, which would be hit by an overall 18 percent budget reduction from its current funding level. The Office of Management and Budget also asked the Commerce Department to provide information about how much it would cost to lay off employees, while saying those employees who do remain with the department should get a 1.9 percent pay increase in January 2018. (3/3)

Humans May Quickly Evolve on Mars, Biologist Claims (Source: Mars Daily)
An evolutionary biologist has suggested that human colonists on Mars could go through rapid evolution, eventually becoming an entirely new human species. Scott Solomon, an evolutionary biologist with Rice University and the author of "Future Humans: Inside the Science of Our Continuing Evolution," wrote on Nautilus that humans on Mars would be subjected to the "founder effect," a phenomenon in which species entering new environments adapt very rapidly.

The founder effect occurs as a result of a new population being very small, meaning that a genetic bottleneck forms and diversity is radically lowered. The phenomena is frequently observed on islands and other remote areas. The founder effect can lead to the creation of new species, and Solomon argues that Mars' atmosphere will expedite that process. "Rapid" is relative, as the process of evolution takes millions of years to create new species. Solomon claims that "just a few hundred generations, perhaps as little as 6,000 years" of human life on Mars would cause a new species to develop. (3/3)

NASA Celebrates Space Day Texas on March 7 (Source: NASA)
NASA will be back in Austin again for Space Day Texas on March 7, celebrating space exploration through educational and interactive exhibits, astronaut appearances and legislative proclamations that highlight achievements in human exploration throughout the Lone Star State. NASA and the state of Texas have a longstanding partnership to run the High School Aerospace Scholars program at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. NASA will be displaying that collaboration this year when it takes over the Texas Capitol for “Space Day at the Capitol.”

Activities will highlight all current and future aerospace development happening throughout the state. The day will include space exhibits from the International Space Station, the Orion spacecraft, Commercial Crew Program, Johnson Space Center Education and more. Visitors will have a chance to experience a virtual reality spacewalk. NASA astronauts Rex Walheim and Christina Koch will participate in the event. Walheim is a veteran of three spaceflights. He has logged more than 36 days in space, with more than 36 hours in five spacewalks. (2/27)

Delta IV Rocket Launch Delayed Due to Booster Issue (Source: Florida Today)
A problem with a Delta IV rocket has pushed back United Launch Alliance's planned Wednesday evening launch of a military communications satellite by at least six days, to no earlier than March 14. "This additional time will allow the ULA team to ensure all systems are operating nominally prior to launch," the company said in a statement on Saturday afternoon.

The 217-foot rocket is being prepared to launch the Air Force's ninth Wideband Global Satcom satellite, or WGS-9. The Boeing-built spacecraft will add to the military's highest-capacity space communications network, operating in geosynchronous orbits 22,300 miles above the equator. (3/4)

Japan Forced to Shut Down Two Cameras on Venus Probe (Source: Gizmodo)
Following an unexpected energy surge, Japan’s space agency has hit the pause button on two of the five cameras aboard its Venus-orbiting Akatsuki spacecraft. It’s a bad sign for the troubled orbiter, which has been exposed to more radiation than anticipated.

Back in December, an electronic device that controls the two cameras started to consume an excessive amount of power, making it impossible for mission planners to control the instruments. After weeks of trying to fix the glitch, and with no success, the mission planners have decided to shut down the two cameras, dubbed IR1 and IR2. JAXA will periodically try to restart the cameras in the hopes that the problem somehow goes away, but it doesn’t look good. (3/3)

While India is Breaking Records in Space, Many Villages Don't Even Have Power (Source: Huffington Post)
When the Indian Space Research Organization launched 104 satellites into orbit on a single rocket, it set a record that inspired the envy of its Western space-faring counterparts. ISRO surpassing its international counterparts is no surprise: India is a global leader in producing scientists and engineers, and major companies in the U.S. rely on Indian émigrés to carry out research and development work. If anything, India's brainpower exports have become too successful, as the backlash over the H-1B visa program in America shows.

And yet, these intellectual strong points mask the cruel contrasts between India's achievements and its less enviable records of poverty and underdevelopment. India many have a thriving technology corridor, but it also has the world's largest population living without electricity. The realities of India's development drive are simple, and they are harsh: where the private sector plays host to some of the world's greatest innovators and entrepreneurs, the public sector struggles to meet the needs of 1.2 billion people.

Where the government falls short, the private sector is brimming with entrepreneurial, scientific and engineering talent that can make up the gap. With the right regulatory conditions in place, the government could allow these private sector operators to make up for its shortcomings on a larger scale. (3/3)

Why Choose to Go to the Moon? Trump Changes Commercial Space Calculations (Source: GeekWire)
Nearly 55 years ago, President John F. Kennedy said America chose to go to the moon and take on other challenges “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Now it’s commercial space ventures that are choosing to go to the moon. Back in the 1960s, the moon effort was aimed at demonstrating America’s greatness. A similar motivation is at work this time around: to demonstrate that President Donald Trump is making America great again.

Trump has given nods to the space effort in his two big speeches: In his inauguration address, he said America was “ready to unlock the mysteries of space.” And in his address to this week’s joint session of Congress, he said seeing American footprints on distant worlds was “not too big a dream.” So far, however, specifics have been in short supply – no doubt because Trump has other priorities on his mind right now, and because a new administrator for NASA hasn’t yet been named. (3/3)

Does SpaceX's Moon Plan Threaten NASA? (Source: Florida Today)
It's late 2018 and a large rocket stands on a Florida pad ready to launch humans around the moon, nearly 50 years after NASA first accomplished that feat. But this time, the rocket belongs not to NASA but to SpaceX, and the astronauts are not elite government test pilots but private citizens buying the ride. NASA’s more powerful and expensive Space Launch System rocket isn’t expected to launch astronauts on a similar loop around the moon before 2019 — a schedule whose feasibility is now being studied — and possibly not until 2023.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, however, has invited the space agency to bump the private passengers and fly aboard the company’s first deep space mission. Should NASA accept the offer? “My answer is unequivocally yes. Either NASA gets out and gets involved with this, or the message that will be received by the American people is that NASA is irrelevant,” said Charles Miller. “SpaceX is going to the moon with or without NASA, so NASA needs to say 'yes' to this offer.”

Congress, meanwhile, has maintained strong support for the SLS rocket and Orion crew capsule as foundations for eventual missions to Mars. Paul Spudis, a lunar scientist who supports a human return to the moon, has been critical both of over-hyped “New Space” achievements by the likes of SpaceX, and of NASA’s vague plans to reach Mars in the 2030s. (3/4)

Making Way For The Space Tycoons (Source: Forbes)
The role that tycoons like Musk are playing in space parallels that of the railroad tycoons in the 19th century. Visionaries like Cornelius Vanderbilt and Edward Harriman built a network of railroads that connected east, west, north and south, laying the rails that enabled the United States to become a commercial superpower.

Although the railroad tycoons were often considered ruthless robber barons, a reputation not deserved by many, there are plenty of examples of fraud. For example, government largesse in the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, payment by the mile, encouraged the lead investor of the Union Pacific Thomas Durant to build miles of railroad rambling through the Nebraska countryside.

Notably, though the government was generous with land grants and financing that benefited investors in the Transcontinental Railroad, the government-issued railroad bonds were repaid with interest, and the government and the investors both benefited from development along the Transcontinental that increased the value of land grants. (3/3)

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