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Friday, November 30, 2007

GOP Debate: MARS ATTACKS

The Florida GOP 2008 presidential nomination debate Wednesday night provided an opportunity to hear a question about going to Mars amid various campaign attacks.

Former Arkansas Governor Huckabee, 52, did say that as president he would "put more money into science, space and exploration." Unfortunately the top tier contenders did not get to take the question.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

V-PRIZE: Challenge to the Commercial Space Community

The V-PRIZE is gaining sustained interest in point-to-point suborbital spaceflight from Virginia to Europe with more space advocates, business and political leaders taking notice such as Virginia State Delegate Ken Plum (D-Reston, Va.).

Next month "Challenge to the Commercial Space Community" will air on Northern Virginia cable channels to explain the effort to boost commercial suborbital spaceflight and capitalize on Virginia's space launch infrastructure investment at the Wallops Island Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. V-Prize Foundation directors Megan Seals and Jim Dunstan are interviewed by Ken Plum about the NewSpace prize project.

Wednesday afternoon Virginia's Joint Commission on Technology and Science (JCOTS) aerospace panel endorsed a tax break (w/revisions) for space launch firms to use the Virginia spaceport. The legislature will consider the so-called ZeroGravity, ZeroTax measure to compliment the Virginia Spaceflight Liability and Immunity Act adopted in 2007.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Japanese Kibo Installation May Be Hindered By Solar Panel Gear

Spacewalking astronauts aboard the International Space Station reviewed the on-going problem with a fouled-up solar wing rotary joint that left without a solution may hinder the operational status of the Japanese Kibo science research lab module in April 2008.

ISS Commander Peggy Whitson and Dan Tani found more metal shavings to gum up the solar panel gears. Three, perhaps four, more spacewalks will be needed to make the repairs. The solar panel gear repair is essential for Kibo to draw energy from the station's electric solar panel grid. The December 6 launch of the Columbus lab remains on schedule.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

FAA/AST: Roadmap to 2015

The FAA Commercial Space Transporation is announcing the 11th Annual Commercial Space Transportation Conference: Roadmap to 2015 at the Doubletree Hotel in Crystal City, Virginia, February 5 and 6, 2008. The annual two-day conference will focus upon trends, new developments, and thought-provoking panels.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Messenger Spacecraft Closes on Mercury for January 18 Flyby

Animated sunrise on planet Mercury.

The first planet from the sun, Mercury is one of the least explored planets in the solar system but it is set to be explored by the spacecraft MESSENGER with a January 18, 2008 flyby with an array of scientific instruments. The spacecraft will make two additional passes by Mercury and three deep space maneuvers, which will slow the spacecraft down enough to enter Mercury's orbit on March 18, 2011.

Among the goals of the mission are mapping the elemental and mineralogical composition of Mercury's surface; global imaging of the surface at a resolution of hundreds of meters or better; determining the structure of the planet's magnetic field; and measuring its gravitational field structure. At the end of the mission the spacecraft may get much closer to the planet's surface.

Mariner 10 flew past the planet three times but was only able to photograph 45 per cent of the surface and carried out no other scientific investigation.

Star Talk Premiere Sunday at 3

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of New York’s Hayden Planetarium, is hosting a popular science radio show on Sunday, December 2 and 16. The show, “Star Talk,” will feature University of Washington paleontologist Peter Ward. The December 2 hour-long show will premiere at 3 PM EDT. Tthe main topic will be asteroid and comet impacts. The radio show also will be web streamed on KLSX 97.1 Free FM (CBS Radio) in Los Angeles for those using the Internet.

Clinton Fuels Space Policy Debate in White House Race

Political analysts may soon pick-up on the fact that only Hillary Clinton is publicly backing the NASA human Vision for Space Exploration with a formal position paper as first touted by President George W. Bush in 2004.

The Washington Post today contains an article "Clinton Favors Future Human Spaceflight" signaling that the Democratic presidential primary frontrunner Hillary Clinton has pushed the space policy issue on to the 2008 presidential contest agenda. Her position has been highlighted only after her primary opponent, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), proposed a five year delay of NASA's Constellation lunar return program by cutting funding.

Space advocates of all political stripes should sieze this moment to push each of the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates to stakeout detailed positions on American space policy for the next decade. Space policy on the presidential agenda is a rare opportunity that the Clinton-Obama sparring has created.

Submitting questions to the candidates at every chance, contacting various journalists, and/or e-Mailing your favorite candidate may get him to state their position on the national effort for America's space program. It is time to put klieg light on space policy.

While some may argue that presidential leadership on the space policy agenda may not be of critical import, pro-space advocates must remember that collectively the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates will have impact within the Congress in the future.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

PlanetSpace, ATK, Lockheed Team for NASA COTS Bid

Chicago-based PlanetSpace, ATK, and Lockheed Martin Space Systems have announced a partnership to pursue a proposal to NASA to flight demonstrate cargo and crew delivery capability to the ISS.

“We have been working closely with our Lockheed Martin, ATK, and BMO team mates over the past 6 months and have developed an innovative, low risk business plan and technical approach that can deliver cargo to the ISS economically and has the added benefits of providing low cost launch services to commercial and NASA customers” said Dr. Chirinjeev Kathuria, Chairman of PlanetSpace, said in a press release.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Obama Would Delay Moon Return

Listen-up Iowa and New Hampshire Democratic pro-space advocates!

Space News [subscription req.] is reporting that Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama of Illinois would delay NASA's Constellation program by five years in order to help pay for the $18 billion education initiative he unveiled in a Nov. 20 speech at a high school in New Hampshire.

The Illinois Senator said, "The early education plan will be paid for by delaying the NASA Constellation Program for five years" which would result in a nearly decade delay in a U.S. government human space program.

Obama's position compares unfavorably to the position of Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton who said Oct. 4 "As President, part of my mission will be to reclaim our role as the innovation leader. I will pursue an ambitious agenda in space exploration and earth sciences. I'll fully fund NASA's earth sciences program, launch a new, comprehensive space-based study of climate change, and reverse the deep funding cuts that NASA's and FAA's aeronautics research and development budgets have endured in the last few years."

Senator Clinton recently co-sponsored the $1-billion dollar supplemental to NASA that has now stalled in a Senate-House budget conference committee.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, a strong advocate of his state's new commercial spaceport, proposed an education program without cuts to NASA last month. Richardson is gaining momentum in New Hampshire among Democratic primary voters.

Stay tuned! Both Democratic and Republican presidential candidates need to be clear on their positions so pro-space advocates may be as clear in their voting decisions as well. Obama's position is "totally unacceptable."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

South Korea Plans Lunar Probe

South Korea's space program officials outlined a plan today to place a Moon exploration vehicle in lunar orbit in 2020 and land a probe on the moon's surface in 2025 reports The Korea Times.

The Ministry of Science and Technology and the Korea Aerospace Research Institute will develop a large-sized rocket capable of carrying 300 tons of freight into space by 2017, and will begin construction on a space shuttle launching system in 2020, according to another news report.

South Korea is building a significant launch pad and spaceflight facility in 2008.

China to Launch Three Taikonauts in October 2008

The Taikonaut-rated Shenzhou VII will probably launch three Chinese to orbit in October 2008, shortly after the Beijing Olympic Games, said Pang Zhihao, researcher with the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST). The flight will include the nation's first spacewalk.

The first Chinese Taikonauts performing spacewalk will likely be roped with the spacecraft, for the considerations of safety, oxygen supply and communication connection. Two unnamed Taikonauts are now expected to spacewalk.

China has launched two manned spacecraft, Shenzhou V and Shenzhou VI, in 2003 and 2005, sending three astronauts into the space in the two missions. China is now the third country, after the United States and Russia, that is capable of sending humans into space low earth orbit.

China Developing Next-Generation Booster for Space Station and Lunar Missions

The next-generation Chinese Long March 5 [CZ-5] launch vehicles will be capable of lofting a space station weighing 25 tones by 2013, according to Chinese space officials.

There have been reports suggesting that the Chang'e 2 and 3 - to be used in the next stages of the lunar program - are likely to lift off atop the new carrier rockets. Chang'e 2 is to deploy a lunar lander for surface exploration in a limited area on the moon in 2012 while Chang'e 3 will return lunar soil samples in 2017.

Clueless on Space Exploration

A recent survey revealed that the American public is generally clueless as to the amount of the federal budget is dedicated to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Many believe the federal space agency is funded to the level nearly equal the U.S. military, according to Dr. Mary Lynne Dittmar, President & CEO of Dittmar Associates, in an article for The Space Review. Yet the fact is that while the Pentagon gains nearly 21% of the U.S. annual federal budget, NASA barely gets more than one-half of one percent (0.58%) of the annual government tax dollar allocations.

Dittmar notes that the American public have too little knowledge of what NASA actually does. With the lack of knowledge and a general public perception that the space agency ranks in near parity with the U.S. military funding, it is no wonder that many Americans question the value of NASA.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Europeans Gear-Up for Station

Two European astronauts Leopold Eyharts [French] and Hans Schlegel [German] will fly aboard Atlantis on December 6 to deliver the Columbus laboratory module to attach to the orbiting International Space Station. The flight has captured the attention of the European public.

Eyharts will be a member of the Expedition 16 crew to the ISS. He is set to fly there on Space Shuttle Atlantis mission STS-122 and will return home with the Endeavour STS-123 crew some two months later.

While Eyharts will remain onboard the Station to oversee activation and check-out of the Columbus laboratory, Schegel will take a Shuttle return trip home 14 days after the December 6 launch.

The two Europeans will go to space with Navy Cmdr. Stephen N. Frick, commander the STS-122 shuttle mission, Navy Cmdr. and shuttle pilot Alan G. Poindexter, mission specialists Air Force Col. Rex J. Walheim, Stanley G. Love, and Leland D. Melvin.

Sea Launch: Schedule Unclear

Sea Launch has been DELAYED AGAIN for a November launch after high winds and strong ocean currents resulted in unsatisfactory weather conditions. The launch, whenever it goes, will be webcast 10-minutes prior to the launch time.

The latest planned launch comes 10 months after one of its rockets exploded in a fireball on the oil rig-to-launch pad Pacific Ocean site, destroying a commercial satellite, damaging launch equipment, and creating jitters in the commercial launch market.

Sea Launch, a joint venture of Chicago-based Boeing Co. and Russian, Ukrainian and Norwegian companies, delivers commercial telecommunications satellites to orbit over the equator with its specialized Zenit-3SL rocket, which is manufactured by the partners. The company will launch a telecommunications satellite for a United Arab Emirates mobile communications firm, according to the Los Angeles Business Journal.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

SIRIUS 4 Boosted from Baikonur

The SIRIUS 4 satellite was successfully launched [video] from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan Launch Pad 39 tonight amid a ground fog. The Proton M/Breeze M Russian booster rocket worked perfectly. The launch was under contract by International Launch Services of McLean, Virginia.

This was the first launch of a Proton-M rocket after a carrier of this type crashed on taking-off from the Baikonur spaceport on September 6, 2007. The Kazakh government temporary banned launches of all versions of Proton carriers after a Proton-M crashed. The ban was lifted after a crash investigation. UPDATE: Audio.

Virginia Teachers Go Zero-G

Salem, Va. Middle School science teacher Catherine Meechan floats in the air during parabolic no-gravity flight maneuver [vid]. HYUNSOO LEO KIM PHOTO THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT

ESA's ExoMars Landing Panned

The Europeans [video] will endeavor to find life past or present on the planet Mars beginning with a 2013 mission known as "ExoMars" [video] but only after high value potential landing sites are down selected.

The European Space Agency's ExoMars project will continue to follow the water while looking for bio markers on the Red Planet's surface. The potential landuing sites have some of the red planet's oldest rocks. The proposed sites might once have been in contact with Martian water. A region rich in clay minerals would be ideal, the ESA mission scientists have said, since these so-called phyllosilicates contain water in their crystalline structure.

The shortlist for ExoMars includes a valley, two craters, two possible sites on one plain, and the surface of an impact fracture. Mawrth Vallis [video] is filled with light coloured clay minerals, while similarly clay-rich debris covers the surface of the Nili Fossae fracture [video] Holden Crater is thought to be an ancient lake bed, while Gale Crater is left from an impact, but has exposed layered deposits. The final two sites are both on the Meridiani Planum.

NASA is also considering new landing sites for a 2010 Mars mission known as the Mars Science Laboratory but there is no chance that NASA and ESA will down selected the same landing location.

Soyuz-ST to Launch from Kourou

The first launch of a Soyuz-ST rocket from Kourou in French Guiana will be conducted in 2009, Russia's space chief Anatoly Perminov said on Friday in Paris, France.

Under a contract with the French satellite launch firm Arianespace the Soyuz-ST will have a separate launch pad near Sinnamari, a village 6 miles north of the site used for the Ariane-5 booster.

Blogging the Next 50 Years?

As the nation approaches the 1 October 2008 anniversary of the 50 years of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, two recent blogs have emerged: NASA EDGE BLOG produced at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia and Shana's-Blog [NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale]. Each has interesting insights into the present and future of space exploration. Perhaps Blog readers will get to celebrate at some of the events being planned and posted in the months ahead.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Spacewalks at ISS to Determine Atlantis Final Launch Date

Interntaional Space Station Commander Peggy Whitson and American astronaut Daniel M. Tani will resume spacewalks Nov. 20 and 24 to prepare the space station for the arrival of Atlantis and the European-made Columbus module now slated for December 6th. If the spacewalks, aided by Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, get the on-orbit job done, the station will continue to expand on-time. Hats-off to ISS Commander Peggy Whitson for pushing ahead of schedule.

NASA Reviews Future Options

American astronauts only means to the space station may be a Soyuz between 2010 and 2015 unless Congress and the President speed Orion.
NASA Administrator Mike Griffin was on Capitol Hill Thursday telling the U.S. Senate Space, Aeronautics and Related Sciences subcommittee [video begins 13min-in] that American astronaut launch options are slim without an extra $2-billion to speed development of the Orion spacecraft as the space shuttle program closes in April 2010.

With no domestic human-rated spacecraft available after the next thirteen space shuttle launches, the United States has few options to resupply and crew the $100-billion dollar International Space Station in the next ensuing five years post-2010 except for foreign launch vehicles.

American space access to re-crew the ISS will depend upon the Russians [video] under a contract valued at least $390 million from 2009 to 2011 to ferry astronauts to and from the space station. The Russians are providing no assurance that the Soyuz-taxi contract can be renewed after that. NASA is considering contracts with the Europeans and Japanese to re-supply the needs of its astronauts aboard the orbiting station. The Russians and Chinese will have the only government human-rated program in post-2010 for as long as five years.

SpaceX is seeking to achieve NASA milestones to provide a commercial space launch service that would enable both an astronaut and re-supply solution. SpaceX has yet to demonstrate flight readiness or an ability to achieve the launch rate the American space agency will need post-2010.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Space Advetures Offers Garriott Back-Up Training in Star City

For a mere $3-million you can now become a spaceflight participant back-up crew member to famed game developer and son of former NASA astronaut, Richard Garriott, currently planning a mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in October 2008.

Crew training will begin for the Garriott mission to the ISS in early 2008 at Star City, Russia. The unique back-up position is the first-of-a-kind to train as a private space explorer alongside one of its orbital spaceflight candidates, and among professional astronauts and cosmonauts. There are requirements in addition to the $3-million. MSNBC provides more information.

'FALCON' Pushed by DARPA

The Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is seeking $100-million for a new program called "Force Application and Launch from CONUS" or FALCON enabling a "a reusable Hypersonic Cruise Vehicle (HCV) capable of delivering 12,000 pounds of payload at a distance of 9,000 nautical miles from [the continental United States] in less than two hours" capable of flying at six times the speed of sound.

A 621-page House-Senate conference report on the fiscal 2008 defense appropriations bill described the FALCON as providing "the country with significant capability to conduct responsive missions with quick turn-around sortie rates while providing aircraft-like operability and mission-recall capability," according to DARPA.

The vehicle would be launched into space on a rocket, fly on its own to a target, deliver its payload and return to Earth. In the short term, a small launch rocket is being developed as part of Falcon. It eventually would be able to boost the hypersonic vehicle into space. But in the interim, it will be used to launch small satellites within 48 hours' notice at a cost of less than $5 million a shot, according to The Washington Post report.

A spokesman for the Pentagon's DARPA noted that a first test flight was scheduled for 2008.

Ariane 5 Launch Finally Liftsoff

An ESA Ariane 5, rescehduled a third, lifted-off from the Kourou Spaceport with the Skynet 5B Star One C1 satellites last night.

Arianespace said that the launch had set a new record for Ariane V, with 8,700kg of payload delivered to orbit from the French Guiana pad.
Two previous delays caused by launch site anamolies have delayed the launch a few days so the technical issues could be resolved.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Earth-Set on the Moon

"Earth-set" images shot by the HDTV onboard the KAGUYA, Japanese lunar spacecraft, now in orbit around the Moon, were today released by JAXA. The time laspe images are the Earth setting to the horizon near the Moon's South Pole. It took about 70 seconds from the left image to the right image (complete setting.) The movie of Earth-rise on the Moon is equally amazing but may require a few minutes of time to download too. See the YouTube.com post of Earth-rise, Earth-set.

Meanwhile, a CCTV report on China's lunar probe, Chang'e 1, defines its four scientific goals as it is set to begin orbital operations.

Hartmann Theory Put to Test

World-known planetary scientist, astronomer, author, and artist, William K. Hartmann, 68, is now acclaimed for his 1974 doctoral dissertation theory as to the creation of the Moon by a huge impact collision with the Earth by a Mars-sized celestial body 4.45 billion years ago.

With the flotilla of international spacecraft now enroute to map the Moon, Dr. Hartmann's accepted theory of lunar origin may be put to the test. Over the next two years, four spacecraft are to gather detailed data of the lunar surface and geological make-up.

Dr. Hartmann is known as the "Renaissance Man of the Solar System." He spends a lot of his time helping undergraduate and graduate students take interest in planetary science at the University of Arizona.

What are Your Expectations?

The Space Expectations Project is conducting a survey is being conducted under the auspices of the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) in cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA). The survey takes about 15-minutes to complete. Go for it!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Russia-India Enter 10-Year Moon Exploration Agreement Monday

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have announced agreement at the Kremlin in Moscow Monday to launch a joint unmanned missions to the moon through 2017.

The ten-year diplomatic document states the subject of cooperation as "development of a shared space vehicle for Moon exploration, which includes lunar orbital module and lunar lander with mobile scientific laboratory."

Russia will launch an unmanned Luna-Glob orbiter mission to the Moon in 2010. The second mission involving the landing of a new-generation 400-kg Lunokhod unmanned rover on the Moon will start in 2011. India and Russia jointly develop the lunar orbiter, lander and rover and launch with the GSLV from the Indian space center as a part of the new pact.

Slated for a launch by a Soyuz-Fregat rocket, Luna-Glob will land a surface probe in South Pole-Aitken basin at the Moon's south pole, where it will search for signs of water ice. The orbiter will additionally carry 12 penetrators, which will slam into the lunar surface. The penetrators and the polar lander will be equipped to detect seismic signals.

Virginia Legislature May Adopt ZeroG ZeroTax Proposal in '08

Virginia was the first state in the nation to adopt a space flight liability and immunity law in 2007 and it may become the first state in the nation to adopt its own state version of 'Zero-G, Zero Tax' in 2008.

Later this month the Virginia Joint Commission on Technology and Science aerospace advisory panel will hear a recommendation to adopt new state tax law provisions to exclude from corporate state income tax "any gain recognized as a result of the sale of passenger tickets on a suborbital spaceflight conducted by a spaceflight entity as defined in § 8.01-227.8 and "any gain recognized as a result of resupply services contracts entered with the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services division of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration."

In addition thereto, the tax proposal may exempt from state sales tax "the sale of spaceflight services or activities to spaceflight participants, as defined in § 8.01-227.8."

The legislation is being designed to boost the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport attract utilization of its launch pads and the NASA Wallops Flight Facility runway. Commercial space launch firms for both NASA ISS resupply flights and subsequent space tourist flights could be attracted to Virginia based upon its liability and immunity act, a potentially favorable tax regime, and outstanding low cost launch and runway facilities.

No other state has yet to adopt a similar space liability and immunity act.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Atlantis on Launch Pad 39-A

The Space Shuttle Atlantis is now sitting on Pad 39A for a target launch of December 6, 2007 on mission STS-122. The Columbus laboratory will be placed in the shuttle payload bay at the pad as final launch preperations are made for another construction segement of the International Space Station.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

India Lunar Launch Set April 9

India will be the third Asian nation to launch a probe to orbit the Moon within six months provided it achives the April 9, 2008 launch date now set for Chandrayaan-1 [video] from the Satish Dhawan Space Center.

The Indian lunar probe will also feature an Indian-made Moon impact probe (MIP) while the orbiter maps the surface from 62-miles above during its planned 2-year mission. The spacecraft will have 11 scientific instruments with five from India and six from abroad.

Chandrayaan-2, a follow-on mission expected to be launched around 2011-12, will have a soft lander carrying a robotic rover.

Japan and China have spacecraft probes that have just recently gone into lunar orbit. India plans to expand to a human space program. The United States will also launch a lunar probe in September 2008.

Arecibo Observatory at Risk

The Arecibo Observatory located in Puerto Rico, the leading Earth-based facility for finding and studying so-called Near Earth Objects (NEOs), is at risk of being closed along with New Mexico's Very Long Baseline Array.

The Arecibo Observatory is the largest [19 acres] and most sensitive radio telescope on Earth. Among astronomers it stands as an icon of hard science. The radio telescope's instruments have a lengthy number of discoveries to its credit about the structure and evolution of the universe.

Arecibo is the only facility on the planet able to track asteroids with enough precision to tell which ones might plow into Earth. The radio astronomy observatory has been used to successfully monitor NEOs and improve orbit models, as well as identify the mass, shape, trajectory, and size of NEOs.

The National Science Foundation, has advised astronomers at the Cornell University-operated facility that it will have to close if it cannot find outside sources for half of its already reduced $8 million budget. It is now only funded through fiscal year 2008.

Members of the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics of the U.S. House Science Committee were told of the funding plight of Arecibo as a part of the hearing on NASA's work to find dangerous Earth-crossing asteroids.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

50-Years Ago von Braun Gets Go to Launch America into Space

Dr. Wernher von Braun's Redstone Arsenal rocket team got the go to launch Explorer-1 fifty years ago today after a month of anguish in Washington political circles about the accomplishments of the Soviet Union with the orbital success of Sputnik-1 and Sputnik-2.

Historians now document that the von Braun's rocket engineering group had the vehicle to place a satellite around the Earth for the better part of a year before the Soviets. It was known as the Jupiter-C.

The Juno-1, as it became to be known, launched America's first orbital satellite - the Explorer-1, on 31 January 1958. It could have been launched as soon as September 1956 many accounts say.

Historians now suggest that President Dwight D. Eisenhower intentionally held back American space technology to allow the Soviets to orbit the first spacecraft, Sputnik-1, so as to enable the "Open Skies" policy of free flying orbital satellites. Eisenhower wanted space to be free of geopolitical territorial overflight claims. Thereby, the President allowed the Russians to go first.

Dr. von Braun went on to design the Saturn-V booster rocket that ultimately carried humans to the Moon first in 1969.

Tunguska Event Revisited

The so-called Tunguska Event of nearly one hundred years ago is being restudied leading some scientists to believe that an impact crater has finally been found in a Siberian forest under Lake Cheko near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River.

On June 30, 1908, a ball of fire exploded about 6 miles (10 kilometers) above the ground in the sparsely populated region, scientists say. The blast released 15 megatons of energy—about a thousand times that of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima—and flattened 770 square miles (2,000 square kilometers) of forest.

A team of Italian scientists from the University of Bologna has recently used acoustic imagery to investigate the bottom of Lake Cheko, about five miles (eight kilometers) north of the explosion's suspected epicenter, to tout the idea of an underwater impact crater, according to National Geographic News.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Discovery Lands; Atlantis STS-122 Readied for December 6

Space Shuttle Discovery lands [video] at Kennedy Space Center as NASA prepares for the December 6 launch of Atlantis STS-122. The next space shuttle is set to depart the KSC Vehicle Assembly Building Saturday to prepare for blastoff with the the European module Columbus to the International Space Station.

Five ExoPlanets Discovered Around Star 55 Cancri

The first solar system with at least five known exo-planets around the Sun (star) 55 Cancri has been found NASA announced last night reports The British Guardian Unlimited today.

The find has lead Professor Geoff Marcy, an astronomer at the University of California at Berkeley, to say that "the discovery of this first-ever quintuple planetary system had be jumping out of my socks. We now know that the Sun and its family of planets is not unusual," according to the Telegraph.

At 41 Light Years from Earth, the star at the center of the 55 Cancri is believed to be of a similar mass and age as our sun.

"In our Milky Way there are 200 billion stars. Our Milky Way contains billions of planetary systems, many of them as rich as our own solar system, and we strongly suspect they harbour Earth-like planets," Marcy said.

Approximately 264 planets orbiting stars other than our sun have been found since the first was confirmed in 1995.

Monday, November 05, 2007

New Zealanders Space Trek 2009

Internet entrepreneur Mark Rocket [left] and real estate agent Jackie Maw [right] have booked Virgin Galactic SpaceShip2 suborbital spaceflights at $200,000 each for launch from from the Mojave desert, near Los Angeles, in late 2009 or early 2010.

Rocket and Maw paid for their tickets and joined the exclusive Founders Club – the first 100 astronauts to fly with Virgin Galactic. Many others from around the world are a part of the exclusive club which includes notables like former "Dallas" actress Victoria Principal, designer Philippe Starck and "Superman Returns" director Bryan Singer.

As of this day 6 November 2007, a total of 463 people from 34 countries – 415 men and 48 women – have been up in space. The small number is set to rapidly expand with the successful launch of Virgin Galactic spacelines.

Chang'e 1 Enters Lunar Orbit

China's Chang'e 1 lunar mapping spacecraft entered the moon's orbit early Monday following its launch from Earth on October 24.

The orbiter marks the first step of China's three-stage moon mission, which will lead to a moon landing and launch of a moon rover at around 2012. In the third phase, another rover will land on the moon and return to earth with lunar soil and stone samples for scientific research at around 2017. [video]

Japan's Kagula [SELENE] exploration spacecraft is now in lunar orbit and will soon commerce collection of data on element abundance, mineral assemblage, surface topography, sub-surface structure, magnetic and the unstable lunar gravity field.

A fleet of spacecraft from Japan, China, India, and United States are expected to be in lunar orbit before the end of 2008. The Russians are planning a lunar spacecraft called Luna-Glob in cooperation with India in 2012. The Germans are considering a luna probe in 2013 as well.

Discovery Departs Station

Space Shuttle Discovery astronauts bid their international space station (ISS) crew collegaues an emotional adieu following an action-packed and heroic 11-days and four spacewalks to attach the Harmony/Node-2 docking module and fix a torn solar electric panel.

"I have a lot of blood, sweat and tears left aboard the international space station. What we are doing here is very important for all of human kind. It's worth the risk. It's worth the cost," astronaut Clay Anderson told his fellow astronauts and an audience that included colleagues in Mission Control before closing the hatch and commencing his departure after a 152-day stay on-orbit.

Discovery began its journey home at 5:32 EDT AM Monday leaving the ISS on schedule for the delivery of European and Japanese science modules, starting with a December shuttle launch.

Seven astronauts will land their spacecraft at Kennedy Space Center at 1:02 EDT Wednesday after 15-days in low earth orbit. Three astronauts / cosmonauts will remain on the orbiting space station as a part of the Expedition 16 at ISS.

NASA-TV is providing full mission coverage of the landing procedure.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Two Educator Astronauts to Fly

Two American NASA Mission Specialist Educators, Joseph M. Acaba and Richard R. Arnold, are to be launched to the International Space Station aboard Space Shuttle Discovery STS-119 in the fall of 2008.

Acaba was raised in Anaheim, Calif. He earned a bachelor's and a master's in geology from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the University of Arizona, Tucson, respectively. He has middle school and high school math and science teaching experience. He was selected as an astronaut in 2004.

Arnold, raised in Bowie, Md., earned a bachelor's degree in science and completed the teacher certification program at Frostburg State University, Md. He earned a master's in marine, estuarine and environmental science from the University of Maryland, College Park. He has teaching experience at middle schools and high schools around the world. He served as a mission specialist for the 13th NASA Extreme Environments Mission Operations, known as NEEMO, in August 2007. He was selected as an astronaut in 2004.

In Memory of Pioneer 'Laika'

Man's best friend was the first to space when the Soviets launched a female part-Samoyed terrier dog named 'Laika' into orbit aboard the first biological spacecraft Sputnik-2 on 3 November 1957.

While fifty years have passed since the flight of the first 'muttnik.' Many around the globe now pause to fondly recall the canine cosmonaut named Laika. See The New York Times for more.

For more indepth historic information, the book Space Dogs is recommended.

Spaceport America to be FAA-approved in 2008, Says Gomez

New Mexico officals were told Friday that the Federal Avaition Administration would approve a the Spaceport America launch license by September 2008 in remarks by Lou Gomez at the the New Mexico Museum of Space History.

"We project this will be operational by mid-2010," Gomez said. "We will have our FAA license by September 2008."

Gomez also elaborated on the design, discussed long-term site development and said the project would create between 1,200 and 1,500 new jobs in Southern New Mexico.
The commercial tourist spaceport is being buit in the desert near Upham, New Mexico between Las Cruces and Albuquerque.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

SpaceX to Launch to ISS in 2009?

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) CEO Elon Musk broke ground on a new launch pad at Cape Canaveral Thursday indicating that his firm "expect[s] to send people to the space station" from Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) .

Musk hopes to have a maiden voyage of the Falcon 9 booster rocket before the end of 2008 from the Florida commercial spaceport.

SpaceX will perform extensive upgrades and removal of outdated infrastructure over the next several months to transform the site into a state of the art facility for commercial satellite launches, supply missions to the International Space Station (ISS), and eventually lofting crew carrying missions to the ISS and future orbiting destinations.

As part of NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) competition, SpaceX will launch a Falcon 9 with a cargo carrying Dragon spacecraft on a series of three demonstration missions from Cape Canaveral to the International Space Station, culminating with the delivery of supplies to the $100 billion dollar orbiting laboratory. SpaceX intends to demonstrate its launch, maneuvering, berthing and return abilities by 2009 - a year before NASA has scheduled the conclusion of Space Shuttle operations.

Electricans Work at Space Station

The 100 volt solar panel electric grid at the International Space Station was repaired by two spacewalking electrican-astronauts from the Space Shuttle Discovery today in what was described as the most difficult and risky spacewalks in Space Age history.

Repair of the torn solar panel was essential to fully deploy the solar power array and locking it into position to its full 110-foot length. Failure to effect the repair may have hindered future space shuttle flights to complete the construction of the $100-billion science lab orbiting 200-plus miles above the Earth.

The repaired solar panel was tore in two places, one of them almost three feet long, when a guidewire snagged as it was being unfurled on Tuesday. The panel extended about 90 feet before the damage was spotted.

The space agency is now working on a plan for repairs to fix an identical solar power panel on the opposite side of the space station. That panel is unable to rotate because metal grit has entered its operating mechanism.

The Europeans and Japanese are awaiting shuttle missions in December, February and April to deliver science modules with each dependent on the solar panel power grid. NASA hopes to complete the station assembly prior to retirement of the space shuttle fleet in 2010.

Mars Science Laboratory Prime Landing Sites Selected for 2010

The prime landing sites have been narrowed and selected for the Mars Science Laboratory set to launch in the fall of 2009 for Red Planet surface arrival in October 2010. [Mission animation and alt.]

The Mars Science Laboratory will collect Martian soil and rock samples and analyze them for organic compounds and environmental conditions that could have supported microbial life now or in the past as we know it. It will also explore the role of water in the planet's history and measure the radiation hazard from the Sun and energetic charged particles from the galaxy called cosmic rays. [Video of possible landing site.]

The proposed landing sites have been narrowed to six and ongoing studies will continue to refine the potential of each site. Final selection of the one landing site will be determined following more careful analysis in October 2008 - one year prior to launch.
  1. Mawrth Vallis (24º north): an ancient water outflow channel with light-coloured clay-rich rocks;

  2. Nili Fossae Trough (22º north): a fracture that has been eroded and partly filled in by sediments and clay-rich ejecta from a nearby crater;

  3. Terby Crater (28º south): another ancient lakebed with diverse deposits including clays;

  4. Holden Crater (26º south): an ancient lakebed with layered clay-rich sediments;

  5. Jezero Crater (18º north): an ancient, once-flooded crater containing a fan-delta deposit rich in clays; and,

  6. Southwest Meridiani (3º south): a site where there is evidence for an ancient and widespread clay-rich layer near the surface, as well as slightly younger materials containing sulphates, which also require water to form.

The two Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity continue their surface science after having landed on the planet in January 2004. The design life of each of the two rovers was 90-days but the vehicles will soon be in operation for four years and still in good condition. The new Mars Science Laboratory will build on the work of the MER rovers and the upcoming Phoenix Mars Mission launched August 4.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

European Columbus Lab Up Next

While spacewalking astronauts aboard Space Shuttle Discovery flight STS-120 attempt electrical repairs to a damaged solar panel, workers on the ground at Kennedy Space Center are making ready the European Columbus module for a flight to space in early December aboard Atlantis STS-122.

The European Space Agency laboratory Columbus, named to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival in America, will need 13 kilowatts of electricity to operate. The current crew of orbiting astronauts are working to solve the solar panel electrical problem with a planned Saturday spacewalk.

The 25-foot-by-13-foot Columbus onto the recently installed Harmony module of the International Space Station, where it will remain enabling NASA and the European Space Agency to perform a multitude of medical experiments to help humans adapt to weightlessness, which carries medical problems such as muscle and bone loss.