July 21, 2017

SwampWatch: Raytheon Lobbying VP Nominated as Army Secretary (Source: Law360)
President Donald Trump on Wednesday nominated the Raytheon Co. government relations vice president to serve as U.S. Army secretary, his third nominee for the role after his first two nominees withdrew from consideration amid business conflicts and pressure over their political positions, respectively. Editor's Note: I heard the delay in appointing new NASA leadership is due to powerful members of the Senate wanting to ensure the new Administrator is someone who will commit to keeping the Space Launch System moving forward. (7/21)

Climate Change is Here. Time to Talk About Geoengineering (Source: WIRED)
If you add up all the emissions cuts every country promised in their Paris pledges, it still wouldn't keep the planet's temperature from rising beyond the agreement's goals—to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2˚ C higher than they were before the Industrial Revolution, and as close to 1.5˚ C as possible. If Earthlings want to avoid a heat-soaked, tide-swamped, and war-clouded future, they need to do more. This raises the specter of geoengineering: things like seeding the stratosphere with sulfur, or using ice crystals to dissolve heat-trapping clouds.

But geoengineering is a dirty word many climate scientists and climate policy experts avoid, because humans meddling with nature doesn't have the best track record. Which is why they say world leaders need to come up with some rules about geoengineering ASAP, before desperation over the coming climate catastrophe forces humanity to do something it might well regret. Geoengineering strategies generally fall into two categories: removing carbon dioxide and reducing heat. The former problem has vexed researchers for years. Sure, they can do it on small scales—carbon scrubbers are essential life support aboard closed systems like the International Space Station and submarines. But installing systems large enough make a dent in all those parts per million is functionally impossible.

It would be expensive, energy-intensive, and also nobody really knows how to do it. Doing the same with reforestation would require covering nearly half of all world’s landmass with trees. Not likely to happen. And despite the hype, carbon capture and storage—sucking the stuff up before it leaves the smokestack and pumping it underground—is still in its infancy. Heat reduction is currently more practical. You can do it many ways, and all of them involve either blocking the sun's heat from coming into Earth’s atmosphere, or allowing more of Earth's heat to radiate into space. (7/21)

10 Reasons Why the Apollo 11 Moon Landing Was Awesome (Source: WIRED)
It was a comeback victory in the space race against the Soviets. I’d even say, we made the Soviets look like chumps. We won the space race by putting a man on the moon. Sure, the Soviets were there first, having bounced their Luna 2 spacecraft off the moon 10 years earlier, but we left our footprints there. Click here. (7/21)

NASA Needs More Than Money. It Needs a Vision. (Source: Daily Texan)
Since the last shuttle flew, NASA’s been awkwardly twiddling its thumbs while private players like SpaceX shoot for new highs. But NASA isn’t a dinosaur awaiting its inevitable death at the hands of meteors like SpaceX — the once highly-regarded agency is simply starved for cash and hamstrung by ineffective leadership. Saving NASA is not only possible, it’s a necessary step to making the next giant leap for mankind. Start by reinvigorating NASA with a long-range vision for space travel. NASA retired the space shuttle in 2011 and hasn’t launched a manned mission on an American spacecraft since. Instead, the agency’s been wracked by an endless series of costly delays and dilly-dallying. (7/21)

Beyond the Moon: The Planned Apollo Missions That Could Have Been (Source: Popular Mechanics)
Apollo 18, 19, and 20 were already in the planning stages when funding for the program was cut. The most likely landing sites would have been Copernicus crater, Hadley Rille, and Tycho crater. Harrison Schmitt, the second-to-last man on the moon, even tried to push NASA toward a far side of the moon landing, which the agency thought was too risky.

Early drafts of the Apollo missions included a plan to perform a figure eight around Venus, out to Mars, back to Venus, and finally back to Earth. All would have been flybys, using Apollo-era hardware. The mission would have deployed robotic landers on each planet during its year-and-a-half mission, which would have used a rare planetary alignment to do low-power transfers between each object.

Several other missions involving Apollo hardware were planned, including further iterations of Skylab, the United States' first space station. None would have left Earth orbit, however. Eventually, the agency turned their focus to Space Station Freedom, a space station concept that ultimately folded into the ISS. While the agency had a space-capable vessel in the Space Shuttle, it was never designed to go beyond low-Earth orbit. (7/21)

What's Next for the ISS? Hell if NASA Knows (Source: WIRED)
The ISS runs out of congressional money and authorization in 2024, and NASA policymakers are trying to figure out what comes next. Officials from the space agency are writing a final report on the station’s future, to deliver to Congress by December. Among the options: renovate the solar panels and keep it flying until 2028, turn the whole thing over to a private buyer, break it up into pieces and auction them off to various commercial firms, or let it slowly descend into the Earth’s atmosphere and leave a fiery trail in the sky. Click here. (7/21)

Future of the International Space Station May Depend on Commercial Investors (Source: R&D)
The future of the International Space Station (ISS) may lie in the hands of companies looking to invest in new opportunities in the lower Earth orbit. Al DeLuna, executive vice president of the American Astronautical Society and principal consultant of ATDL, said during a panel on commercial space at the ISS R&D Conference 2017 that additional help from the private industry is necessary for ISS to remain commercially viable.

“For ISS to remain commercially viable and for other lower orbit platforms like ISS to be viable we have to expand the use of the ISS,” DeLuna said during the July 20 panel.  “We’ve got folks trying to do this but in the past they’ve been generally on two ends of the spectrum—self-funded entrepreneurs and smaller players who are dependent on investments from venture capitalists and the government." Click here. (7/21)

Graduate Student Studies Female Musculature for Space Travel (Source: TUN)
A San Francisco State University student analyzed muscle biopsies from a previous study initiated at California State University, Long Beach and discovered unexpected results regarding female musculature. Marsh found that female astronaut musculature can manage a prolonged spaceflight better than male astronauts’ because their muscles might not be as affected during spaceflight.

Kaylie Marsh is a graduate student studying kinesiology at San Francisco State University, and her research may encourage the demand for women in space. “If we’re doing these spaceflights to Mars that last six months, maybe we should be targeting females and encouraging them more to go into space because it might not affect their musculature as much as men,” Marsh said in a statement. (7/21)

Space Settlers Will Face Many Challenges. Will the Worst be a Lack of Diversity? (Source: DW)
Evolution is a word on the tip of my own tongue, because I think it's one of those areas where there appears to be a dearth of research - how we will, or will have to, adapt to life in space. Try asking NASA or ESA for answers on research into biological evolution in space and the response is very mute. It's as if you're being laughed off the end of the phone. Even little things like sex in space, there's not much research. But for settlers, sex will be very important. Shouldn't we be researching things like evolutionary biology in space, how we can adapt and perhaps become different beings?

For example, if people start having children on Mars, where you only weigh slightly more than one-third as much as you do here the question is then, how will those young life forms grow up? Will they be physiologically different? That's a very important thing. Of course, we can't do that on Mars yet, because we don't have the colony there and in that sense we can't do all the things necessary to know beforehand, what it's going to be like. Click here. (7/21)

Surviving Parts of Deorbited Russian Cargo Craft Plunge Into Pacific (Source: Sputnik)
Components of a Russian cargo spacecraft that survived its reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere have plunged into the Pacific Ocean, the country’s mission control center said Friday. The unmanned craft undocked from the International Space Station late on Thursday after a five-month stay and put the brakes on to drop out of orbit. Most of it burned up in the atmosphere. (7/21)

Parkinson's Protein Blasting Off to Space (Source: Michael J. Fox Foundation)
The Michael J. Fox Foundation has partnered with CASIS to send key Parkinson's protein LRRK2 to the International Space Station for growth under microgravity conditions. Microgravity in space may allow bigger, more regular LRRK2 protein crystals to grow, which helps solve the protein's structure. That information could help scientists design optimized therapies against LRRK2, a key target in the pursuit of a Parkinson's cure.

LRRK2 protein will be sent to the International Space Station as part of the SpaceX CRS-12 cargo resupply mission scheduled for no earlier than August 10, 2017. As manager of the ISS U.S. National Laboratory, CASIS coordinates transfer of scientific materials to and from the ISS and work done in the laboratory. MJFF initiated this project and has supported work to ready the protein for growth in space. (7/20)

After Shuttle, KSC Preps for Deep Space Missions (Source: WMFE)
The entire Kennedy Space Center is transitioning from the shuttle days to what officials call a multi-user spaceport, supporting both public programs and private space companies. In fact, SpaceX leases the launch pad next to 39B, where it launches the Falcon 9 rocket. Like the SpaceX pad, NASA says 39B could also be used for commercial partners as well as the Vehicle Assembly Building.

Work is nearly complete on both of these projects at Kennedy Space Center. But as a whole, the transition from Shuttle to SLS hasn’t been as smooth. The program has evolved as the presidential administrations have changed, and while the current administration has set broad space exploration goals, the Trump White House has yet to name a permanent head of NASA. Budget constraints and technical issues have also pushed the first launch of the Space Launch System back until at least 2019. That mission will launch Orion capsule, without a crew, and sling-shot it around the moon. Click here. (7/20)

The Next Moon Landing Is Near—Thanks to These Pioneering Engineers (Source: NatGeo)
Nearly 50 years after the culmination of the first major race to the moon, in which the United States and the Soviet Union spent fantastic amounts of public money in a bid to land the first humans on the lunar surface, an intriguing new race to our nearest neighbor in space is unfolding—this one largely involving private capital and dramatically lower costs.

The most immediate reward, the $20 million Google Lunar XPrize (or GLXP) will be awarded to one of five finalist teams from around the world. They’re the first ever privately funded teams to attempt landing a traveling vehicle on the moon that can transmit high-quality imagery back to Earth. Click here. (7/20)

A Flameout in Mojave Shows How Hard it Can Be to Finance Rocket Start-Ups (Source: LA Times)
In 2008, a small, Mojave, Calif., aerospace start-up called XCOR Aerospace burst onto the commercial space scene with plans to develop a vehicle that would rocket tourists into suborbital space. XCOR won a few government and commercial contracts and, for a time, was seen as a rival to British billionaire Richard Branson’s space tourism venture, Virgin Galactic.

But then the financial reality of the space business — that it’s much more capital intensive than other start-up ventures, such as building a smartphone app — caught up. (7/20)

Earth's Tectonic Activity May Be Crucial for Life--and Rare in Our Galaxy (Source: Scientific American)
Our planet is in constant flux. Tectonic plates—the large slabs of rock that divide Earth’s crust so that it looks like a cracked eggshell—jostle about in fits and starts that continuously reshape our planet—and possibly foster life.

These plates ram into one another, building mountains. They slide apart, giving birth to new oceans that can grow for hundreds of millions of years. They skim past one another, triggering earth-shattering quakes. And they slip under one another in a process called subduction, sliding deep into the planet’s innards and producing volcanoes that spew gases into the atmosphere.

And not only is Earth alive, it is a vessel for life. Because it is the only known planet to host both plate tectonics—that ongoing shuffling of tectonic plates—and life, many scientists think the two might be related. In fact, some researchers argue that shifting plates, which have the ability to help regulate a planet’s temperature over billions of years, are a crucial ingredient for life. (7/20)

What NASA’s Chief Astronaut Learned from Near Disaster (Source: K@W)
NASA Chief Astronaut Chris Cassidy has lived for months on the International Space Station and has performed six spacewalks. “Imagine hanging out with a glass bubble on your head, one hand on a hunk of metal, Earth going beneath your feet at five miles a second, and the whole world listening to everything that comes out of your mouth on the microphone,” he said at a recent Wharton Leadership Conference. Click here. (7/20)

NASA to Crowdsource Origami Design for Shield (Source: Guardian)
In the search for ways to efficiently pack a radiation shield to protect manned spacecraft on deep space missions, NASA is looking to the public for help. The space agency is launching a challenge to crowdsource origami-inspired ideas for a foldable radiation shield to protect spacecraft and astronauts on voyages to deep space, such as missions to Mars. Click here. (7/20)

Space Center Houston Crowdfunding to Restore NASA's Mission Control (Source: KHOU)
You can help restore NASA's historic mission control. Space Center Houston launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign Thursday in an effort to "keep the history of the Apollo era alive and restore the treasured landmark for future generations," said the nonprofit. (7/20)

Google Street View lands on the International Space Station (Source: The Verge)
If you’ve always wanted to poke around inside a spaceship but don’t ever wish to leave the safety of Earth, Google Street View now lets you explore the International Space Station (ISS) right from your computer. Astronauts have been working and living on the ISS for the past 16 years, and Street View now allows you to explore everything from the sleeping quarters to where the space suits are kept.

This is the first time Street View has ventured beyond planet Earth, and the first time the feature also comes with handy little dots you can click on to launch notes that explain what everything does. The notes detail things like where the astronauts work out to stay fit, the kinds of food they eat and where scientific experiments are conducted. (7/20)

Reebok Unveils Sleek New Space Boots for Future Astronauts (Source: Space.com)
Reebok is really stepping up its footwear game with these awesome new space boots. The athletic-apparel company — which until now has only made shoes for people on Earth — just unveiled a sporty new design for space boots that astronauts will wear during upcoming missions on Boeing's CST-100 Starliner, a spacecraft that will begin ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station by the end of next year.

These blue-and-white ombré boots nicely complement the blue spacesuits Boeing revealed in January. Both the boots and the suits are more lightweight, flexible and comfortable than the bulky, traditional spacesuits worn by astronauts today. Click here. (7/20)

Congress Gives NASA's Planetary Science Division Some Love (and a Mars Orbiter) (Source: Planetary Society)
A recent Gallup poll found only 21 percent of Americans approve of the way Congress is doing its job. You could be forgiven for thinking that minority might include a few folks from NASA's planetary science division.

Last week, the House of Representatives proposed NASA receive $19.9 billion for fiscal year 2018, with $2.1 billion marked specifically for the agency's planetary science division—an all-time high. Part of that money would be spent on development of a Europa lander and a Mars reconnaissance and telecommunications orbiter that would launch in 2022. (7/20)

Lockheed's Prototype Habitat Plans for NASA's Lunar Orbiting Deep Space Gateway (Source: AmericaSpace)
Last summer, NASA selected six companies to develop prototypes and concepts for deep space habitats for future crews flying missions on Orion. Lockheed Martin was one of them, and this week the company released some details on plans for their full-scale prototype, which they hope to complete over the next 18 months.

Lockheed is developing the prototype under a Phase II contract with NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) program, as part of the space agency’s plans to build a crew tended spaceport in lunar orbit within the first few SLS / Orion missions known as the “Deep Space Gateway”. Click here. (7/20)

Mars Footprints or Planetary Defense? (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Senate should soon be tasked with confirming the next NASA administrator. Their decision has a very low priority on the list of the many issues facing our nation, but I believe that could be a deadly miscalculation. There are asteroids and comets that are passing dangerously close to our planet and today we have no defense from these deep space threats. On April 19, asteroid 2014 J025, over 2,000 feet in length and nicknamed The Rock, came within 1 million miles of Earth.

What is concerning is the increased frequency of these near misses and their discovery, in some cases has been just weeks before a possible Earth impact.  Why has NASA ignored these deep space threats when we have the technology to develop a planetary defense system that could discover, identify, and deter asteroid/comet impacts on Earth?

What NASA’s spaceflight management has done is to steadfastly refuse to recognize that we need a commercial space shuttle freighter which could provide low-cost space launches and rapid access to low Earth orbit…the required first step to a viable planetary defense system. (7/20)

Elon Musk’s Bad Historical Analogy (Source: Parabolic Arc)
During his appearance at the International Space Station R&D Conference on Wednesday, Elon Musk recited an old argument to support his plans to colonize Mars. Back in the day,California was an empty place where almost nobody lived. At least until some crazy visionaries built the Transcontinental Railroad to it even though everyone thought it was a completely crazy thing to do.

Jump ahead 150 years, and California is the place you want a be, a center of commerce, innovation and culture people migrate to when they want to be a movie star, have an idea for a new app or simply want a fresh start. All because some visionaries had a crazy idea. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Makes you want to sell the house and buy a ticket on Musk’s Mars Express, right?

That’s what Musk is hoping. There’s just one slight problem with this analogy: it’s not based on very much. Musk may be a genius at business and innovation, but he’s a terrible amateur historian. In fact, he gets the empty part of the Transcontinental Railroad project completely backwards. There is a kernel of truth in what Musk says. When a transcontinental railroad was first proposed in the United States in 1830, it was a crazy idea, but for perfectly sane reasons. (7/20)

Bezos Highlights Rocket Factory in His First Instagram Post (Source: GeekWire)
Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos posted his first video on Instagram today, but it wasn’t about the proceeds from Prime Day: Rather, it was about the Blue Origin rocket factory that’s taking shape in Florida. In his caption, Bezos said construction was “coming along nicely.” The factory is due for completion by early next year, and should be turning out hardware for orbital-class New Glenn rockets soon afterward.

Bezos set up his Blue Origin venture in 2000 to follow through on his childhood dream of spaceflight. The company is headquartered in Kent, Wash., but it has a suborbital rocket test facility in Texas and is planning a rocket engine factory in Alabama as well as the Florida factory and orbital launch site. Click here. (7/20)

Planet Wins Second NGA Satellite-Imagery Contract (Source: Space News)
Planet has won a second contract to provide satellite imagery to the U.S. National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA), beating out contenders UrtheCast, Orbital Insight and Sky Hawk Drone Services. The one-year, $14 million contract follows a seven-month, $20 million pilot contract that began in September to assess ways San Francisco-based Planet’s “persistence and global coverage capabilities could most effectively support the NGA mission.” (7/20)

SpaceX Appears to Have Pulled the Plug on its Red Dragon Plans (Source: Ars Technica)
In recent weeks, there have been rumors that SpaceX is no longer planning to send an uncrewed version of its Dragon spacecraft to Mars in 2020, or later. Now those rumors about the Red Dragon concept have been largely confirmed. The company had planned to use the propulsive landing capabilities on the Dragon 2 spacecraft—originally developed for the commercial crew variant to land on Earth—for Mars landings in 2018 or 2020.

Previously, it had signed an agreement with NASA to use some of its expertise for such a mission. Musk confirmed that the company is no longer working to land Dragon propulsively for commercial crew. (Although initially the company had moved to water landings, SpaceX had maintained that in future crew contracts with NASA, it would use Dragon's thrusters to land on land.)

But no longer. "Yeah, that was a tough decision," Musk acknowledged Wednesday with a sigh. It had to be a somewhat humbling one, too, after Musk bragged during the Dragon 2 reveal in 2014 that this vehicle showed how a 21st century spacecraft should land—not with parachutes in the water. (7/19)

Apollo 11 Moon Rock Bag Sells for $1.8M at Sotheby's Space Auction (Source: CollectSpace)
A cloth bag used to protect the first-ever moon rocks collected by an astronaut on the lunar surface 48 years ago Thursday (July 20) has made history again — this time by selling at auction for more than any other U.S. space program artifact to date. The sale fell short, however, of commanding the most ever paid for a space artifact overall, closing at a lower hammer price than its pre-auction estimate of $2 to $4 million.

The moon dust-stained "lunar sample return" pouch, which Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong used to store a small "contingency" cache of material from Tranquility Base, sold for $1,812,500 million at Sotheby's New York on Thursday (July 20), the 48th anniversary of the Apollo 11 first moon landing. The bag's sale was part of Sotheby's first auction to focus on artifacts from NASA's space missions. (7/20)

Aircraft Manufacturer Plans R&D Center at Embry-Riddle Research Park in Daytona (Source: ERAU)
International, award-winning light sport aircraft manufacturer Seamax will have their Research & Development operations join Embry-Riddle Research Park’s Customized Business Acceleration Program to build on its business, technological and research capabilities as it looks to establish itself in the United States.

“This partnership will allow us to integrate Seamax’s research and development into Embry-Riddle’s remarkable existing cluster to further accelerate our technological and business capabilities,” said Seamax CEO Gilberto Trivelato. “This will enable increased leverage for new features to aircraft and to introduce more reliable products to the aeronautical market.” (7/19)

Russia, China to Set Up Pilot Zone to Test National Navigation Systems (Source: Sputnik)
Russia and China are set to establish a pilot zone to test the Russian GLONASS and Chinese BeiDou satellite navigation systems on passenger and freight transportation routes going through Kraskino - Hunchun and Poltavka - Dongning checkpoints on the border in Russia's Primorsky Territory.

GLONASS, a global navigation system operated by the Russian Aerospace Forces, consists of 27 satellites, 24 of which are operational. The system allows real-time positioning and speed data for surface, sea and airborne objects around the world. BeiDou is composed of the space section, ground section and user section, with the space section containing five geostationary orbit satellites and 30 non-geostationary orbit satellites. (7/20)

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