May 20, 2017

Startups Win Space Florida Cash at Venture Forum (Source: Space Florida)
The Florida Venture Forum and Space Florida are pleased to announce the three top winners of the 10th Annual 2017 Florida Early Stage Capital Conference and Space Florida’s Accelerating Innovation prize. 22 Florida companies from across the state and a variety of industry sectors were selected to present before an audience of investors, deal professionals and entrepreneurs. A panel of judges reviewed each selected company’s presentation and supporting materials. The top three cash prize winners were:

First Place $75,000 - SiteZeus, Tampa (, for a location intelligence venture, driven by exceptionally engineered big data systems and unparalleled data visualization technology. Second Place $50,000 -  Auxadyne, Keystone Heights ( for the design, manufacture and distribution of the first commercially available auxetic foam in a variety of medical device and protective equipment applications. Third Place $25,000 - Admiral, Gainesville ( for adblock analytics and automatic revenue recovery. (5/19)

Scientists, Policy Makers Push for Mars Exploration (Source: Eos)
Going to Mars won’t be easy, “even if we sent Matt Damon,” star of the 2015 film The Martian, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) quipped at a Tuesday forum about deep-space exploration held in Washington, D. C. But the venture is worth doing, helps unify and propel space exploration going forward, and is codified in the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 (S. 442) that President Donald Trump signed into law in March.

Cruz sponsored the legislation, which calls for a human exploration road map that includes “the long-term goal of human missions near or on the surface of Mars in the 2030s.” In an intensely partisan environment, Cruz said that there is bipartisan commitment to American leadership in space. “There are not many issues to which there is bipartisan commitment, but that’s one, and I think that’s very good for those of us who care about continuing to explore space.”

Ellen Stofan, former chief scientist for NASA, said at the forum that now is “a unique moment” for pushing on toward Mars. “We know where we want to go, we understand the path of technologies that we need to get there, we think there’s an affordable plan…and I think you’ve got broad public support.” (5/19)

Sotheby's to Auction Apollo 11 Moon Rock Bag Used for First Lunar Sample (Source: CollectSpace)
An Apollo 11 moon rock bag that was at the center of a legal dispute is now set for what could be a record-setting auction. The moon-dust stained, lunar sample return pouch will be offered as part of Sotheby's first space history-themed sale to be held in more than 20 years. The auction is scheduled for July 20, the 48th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission's historic first moon landing, in New York City.

The zippered bag, which was used to protect the first-ever samples of lunar material collected by an astronaut on the surface of the moon, is expected to sell for $2 to $4 million — potentially more than any space exploration artifact has ever commanded at auction. (5/20)

Nancy Lee Carlson Bought a Piece of the Moon—NASA Really Wants It Back (Source: Wall Street Journal)
When Nancy Lee Carlson discovered an online auction two years ago for moon dust, she couldn’t believe her luck. A geology buff, she spent childhood summers scouring for rocks along Michigan’s Lake Superior, but wasn’t a serious collector. She figured the dust was genuine because it was being auctioned on behalf of the U.S. Marshals Service.

“Ooh boy, that’s something I’d love to have,” she recalls thinking, remembering the astronauts and spacewalks she watched growing up. The 62-year-old hadn’t bid on anything as high as its estimate—$995—but the white, zippered pouch containing the moon dust was bundled in a group with a launch key for the Soviet spacecraft Soyuz T-14 and a black padded headrest from an Apollo command module. She decided the pieces “had a story I could figure out,” so she clicked once and won.

After months of sleuthing that led to a legal showdown with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, she indeed figured it out: The U.S. government mistakenly sold her some of the first moon dust it had ever collected. When Ms. Carlson sent her bag to NASA for testing, scientists realized what she had bought and refused to give it back. So last December she sued the agency and won. Now, she’s planning to resell it for at least $2 million in Sotheby’s first space-exploration sale in New York on July 20. (5/19)

Ellington on the Cusp of a New Frontier (Source: Houston Chronicle)
The first planes at Ellington Field were little more than kites with motors. Yet in those Wild West days of aviation, just 14 years after the Wright brothers took their first flight, soldiers enthusiastically boarded the accident-prone Curtiss Jenny to train as pilots and bombardiers for World War I. One hundred years later, Ellington finds itself again at the edge of a new frontier, gearing up for the era of commercial space. And just like the early days of aviation, the future is far from certain.

The FAA has licensed Ellington and nine other commercial spaceports nationwide, but experts question whether that number will be viable in the foreseeable future. The Houston Spaceport's location in a bustling city also presents complications. It will not be able to host vertical rocket launches, an area where some of its peers are pulling ahead and finding success. Local spaceport officials counter that Houston has an edge in the brainpower of NASA's Johnson Space Center, the talent of its universities and its reputation as Space City. Once again, they say, Ellington is pushing the limitations of flight. (5/19)

UCF’s Dove Wins NASA Award for Space Research (Source: UCF)
Adrienne Dove, a University of Central Florida assistant professor in the physics department, recently was awarded NASA’s Susan Mahan Niebur Early Career Award for her research on microgravity and dusty plasmas, collisions and planet formation. Her work is helping scientists who have been puzzled for decades understand some mechanisms of dust charging and transport, which will be critical to sending spacecraft to other planets.

The Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute will present Dove with the award this summer. SSERVI is dedicated to addressing basic and applied scientific questions that are necessary to understanding the moon, near-Earth asteroids, the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos, and the space environments near them. (5/19)

How to Sequence DNA in Space (Source: The Atlantic)
Over the years, the station’s residents have grown zucchini, beheaded flatworms, maneuvered humanoid robots, tended to mouse embryos, watched the muscles of zebrafish atrophy, and drawn their own blood, using their own bodies as test subjects. Scrolling through NASA’s full list of experiments, one gets the sense that almost any experiment that can be done in a lab on Earth can be replicated in one floating 200 miles above.

So it shouldn’t be too surprising that humans have successfully sequenced DNA in space. Last summer, NASA dispatched Kate Rubins, a microbiologist with a doctorate in cancer biology, to try it for the first time. Rubins has spent her career studying infectious diseases and worked with the U.S. Army to develop therapies for the Ebola and Lassa viruses. She has sequenced the DNA of different organisms plenty of times on the ground, but the process was a little bit more nerve-wracking on the space station. Click here. (5/19)

The Arctic Doomsday Seed Vault Flooded. Thanks, Global Warming (Source: WIRED)
It was designed as an impregnable deep-freeze to protect the world’s most precious seeds from any global disaster and ensure humanity’s food supply forever. But the Global Seed Vault, buried in a mountain deep inside the Arctic circle, has been breached after global warming produced extraordinary temperatures over the winter, sending meltwater gushing into the entrance tunnel.

The vault is on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen and contains almost a million packets of seeds, each a variety of an important food crop. When it was opened in 2008, the deep permafrost through which the vault was sunk was expected to provide “failsafe” protection against “the challenge of natural or man-made disasters”.

But soaring temperatures in the Arctic at the end of the world’s hottest ever recorded year led to melting and heavy rain, when light snow should have been falling. “It was not in our plans to think that the permafrost would not be there and that it would experience extreme weather like that,” said Hege Njaa Aschim, from the Norwegian government, which owns the vault. (5/19)

Space Debris and the Price of Being a Pioneer (Source: DW)
Scientists will tell you, "Space debris is an urgent issue. We've got novel technology to deal with it. But we can't get the funding." It's a lot like climate change. But do we really want to wait until it's too late? Fortunately, the global space debris community is stacked with pioneers. The community knows and says the threat of space debris is real and "urgent," a word frequently misused like "love," but in this case is true. (5/19)

NASA's Foale, Ochoa Welcomed Into Astronaut Hall of Fame (Source: Florida Today)
The U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame on Friday inducted a pair of veteran astronauts praised for their calm under pressure, trailblazing missions and the examples they set for young people. Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic woman in space, and Michael Foale, the only American to live on Russia’s Mir station and the International Space Station, were honored in a ceremony beneath the retired shuttle Atlantis at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. (5/19)

UM Researchers Find new Way to Measure Hurricanes: ‘Gravity Waves’ (Source: Miami Herald)
Hurricane forecasters may have a new tool in solving the vexing problem of understanding storm intensity: gravity waves. Gravity waves are produced when air moving around the atmosphere gets pushed from one place to another. In a hurricane, those waves can come in quick, short bursts as powerful thunderstorms around the storm’s eye wall swish air up and down like a plunger in a toilet bowl.

Scientists have long known they exist, measuring them in the stratosphere about 20 or 30 miles above a storm. Now, for the first time, University of Miami scientists have ventured into the heart of the storm, measuring the waves where they start. And early indications suggest wave power relates directly to storm power. (5/19)

Space Florida Avoids State Budget Cuts (Source: Florida Today)
Space Florida escaped cuts in next year’s state budget despite House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s targeting of other economic development agencies for dispensing what he calls “corporate welfare.” Charged with growing aerospace business and managing spaceport infrastructure in the state, Space Florida received a total of $19.5 million for the budget year starting July 1, the same as this year.

Meanwhile, Enterprise Florida saw its operating budget cut by more than $7.5 million, to $16 million, and Visit Florida, dogged by a controversial deal with a rapper, had its budget slashed by more than $50 million, to $25 million. Scott has threatened to veto the $83 billion budget, which he had not signed as of Friday. Space Florida’s board of directors, which draws its members from Enterprise Florida’s board, considers itself fortunate.

Americans for Prosperity, the conservative Koch brothers-backed group that lobbied against Enterprise Florida and business recruitment incentives, said it would review Space Florida’s operations. "We will take a look at Space Florida in the future to ensure legislators are being good stewards of taxpayer dollars,"said Chris Hudson, the organization’s Florida director. "There's no doubt that Space Florida is something that I think we should continue to invest in, because it’s a very unique asset in the world, let alone in the country." (5/19)

2018 Budget Proposal to Spread Cuts Across NASA Programs (Source: Space News)
More than $560 million in budget cuts will be spread across many NASA programs, from science to human spaceflight, when the White House releases its complete fiscal year 2018 budget proposal next week. The White House is expected to release its full 2018 budget proposal May 23, more than two months after issuing a “budget blueprint” that provided highlights of the proposal.

Individual agencies, including NASA, will also provide greater details about the budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. However, on May 18 the policy think tank Third Wave published a spreadsheet that it said it received from an anonymous source, dated May 8, that provided details about the spending proposal. That includes requested funding for NASA down to the account level, although not in greater detail.

The overall funding for NASA included in the spreadsheet is $19.092 billion, essentially identical to the $19.1 billion listed in the budget blueprint released in March. The amount for aeronautics, $624 million, also matches the amount listed in that blueprint. The spreadsheet suggests that most major NASA accounts will see cuts compared to what Congress provided in the fiscal year 2017 omnibus spending bill enacted earlier this month. (5/19)

NASA's Education Office Survives in New Budget (Source: Space News)
The leaked spreadsheet included $37.3 million for education, even though the earlier budget blueprint stated that the administration would seek to close NASA’s Office of Education. The spreadsheet did not disclose how that money would be spent, but the amount could be allocated for science education activities that NASA bookkeeps in its science directorate. (5/19)

Chemical Found in NASA Wallops Site Wells That Supply Chincoteague (Source: WAVY)
NASA is providing extra drinking water for Chincoteague after chemicals used in firefighting foam were found in wells on the Wallops Flight Facility property that supply the town. Town manager Jim West says Chincoteague worked out the arrangement with NASA after testing over the past several weeks found per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances in four of the town’s seven wells.

NASA says firefighters previously conducted training with a firefighting foam that contained the compounds, which were once used in a wide variety of consumer products but have mostly been phased out. The potential health effects of human exposure aren’t fully understood. (5/19)

'Alien Megastructure' Star Is at It Again with the Strange Dimming (Source:
The perplexing cosmic object known as "Tabby's star" is once again exhibiting a mysterious pattern of dimming and brightening that scientists have tried to explain with hypotheses ranging from swarms of comets to alien megastructures. Today (May 19), an urgent call went out to scientists around the world to turn as many telescopes as possible toward the star, to try and crack the mystery of its behavior.

These changes were first spotted in September 2015 using NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, which was built to observe these kinds of dips in a star's brightness, because they can be caused by a planet moving in front of the star as seen from Earth. But the brightness changes exhibited by the star don't show the kind of regularity that is typical of a planet's orbit around its star, and scientists can't see how the changes could be explained by a system of planets.

Scientists have hypothesized that the changes could be due to a swarm of comets passing in front of the star, that they're the result of strong magnetic activity, or that it's some massive structure built by aliens. But no leading hypothesis has emerged, so scientists have been eager to capture a highly detailed picture of the light coming from the star during one of these dimming periods. (5/19)

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