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Friday, June 27, 2008

Wallops Flight Facility May Gain $14-Million in Senate Appropriations Bill

Senate Appropriations Committee version for NASA funding in FY 09 includes $14-million for new launch pad infrastructure improvements at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility. The chances are exclelent for approval on the Senate fllor before referral to the House.

The federal proposal comes on the heels of the Virginia General Assembly approval last April of $16-million in bonds for space launch infrastructure improvements along with the decision by Orbital Sciences Corporation to utilize the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport as the Taurus-2 launch site to orbit and resupply the International Space Station.

"We are awash in chemistry data!"

NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander performed its first wet chemistry experiment on Martian soil flawlessly yesterday, returning a wealth of data that for Phoenix scientists was like winning the lottery.

"We are awash in chemistry data," said Michael Hecht of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, lead scientist for the Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer, or MECA, instrument on Phoenix. "We're trying to understand what is the chemistry of wet soil on Mars, what's dissolved in it, how acidic or alkaline it is. With the results we received from Phoenix yesterday, we could begin to tell what aspects of the soil might support life."

"This soil appears to be a close analog to surface soils found in the upper dry valleys in Antarctica," said Phoenix co-investigator Sam Kounaves of Tufts University. "The alkalinity of the soil at this location is definitely striking. At this specific location, one-inch into the surface layer, the soil is very basic, with a pH of between eight and nine. We also found a variety of components of salts that we haven't had time to analyze and identify yet, but that include magnesium, sodium, potassium and chloride."

"This is more evidence for water because salts are there. We also found a reasonable number of nutrients, or chemicals needed by life as we know it," Kounaves said. "Over time, I've come to the conclusion that the amazing thing about Mars is not that it's an alien world, but that in many aspects, like mineralogy, it's very much like Earth."

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ex-Congressional Astronauts Tout NASA

Former U.S. Senator John Glenn (D-Ohio) , the first American to orbit the Earth and return aboard a space shuttle years later, former U.S. Senator Jake Garn (R-Utah) and current U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who both flew to orbit on the shuttle, have penned an editorial today to The Orlando Sentinel urging the Congress to reject the White House position of the NASA budget reauthorization bill.

The editorial is worthy of reading and then sending a communication to the White House to support the Congressional version of the NASA budget in the upcoming year beginning October 1st. No less than American leadership in the international sphere of space is at stake. Act now by mail, e-mail, or a call to the White House switch board. DO NOT allow the White House to walk away from its own Vision for Space Exploration.

Ares-V Booster Design Powered-Up

NASA Marshall enginner Steve Cook has provided insight yesterday to the redesign of the proposed Ares-V booster to take America back to the Moon in 2020 with increased power that will make it larger than the Saturn-V that first took men to lunar soil in 1969.

The Ares V first booster stage will have six upgraded RS-68 engines, with the current design changes, as opposed to the five in the original design. Also, the solid rocket boosters mounted on the sides will have additional propellant, said Steve Cook, chief of the Ares development at Marshall. The RS-68 now powers the United Launch Alliances Delta IV.

The Ares-V will stand 381 feet tall (38 stories) and slighthly taller than the original Saturn-V moon rocket designed by Werner von Braun. The Ares-V will be able to place 156,000 pounds of cargo on trajectory to the moon as compared to 100,000 of the 1960's version of the Saturn-V/Apollo. Test flights are not expected of the Ares-V until 2018. [Video]

More from Aviation Week, the Huntsville Times, and AP.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Senate NASA Bill Supports COTS

The United States Senate $20.2 billion funding bill expresses support for the NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services [COTS-D] program and directs the Administrator to establish a competition to develop a private sector capability to launch human crew.

The Senate language is good news for commercial space launch firms and especially those now in the NASA COTS contract pipeline such as Orbital Sciences Corporation at Wallops Island, Va. and SpaceX at Cape Canveral, FL. BUT, the COTS provision may be nothing more than "academic." The measure must reach a rapid compromise with the House and then go to the Bush White House for a signature or veto.

Nonetheless, the final amount expected NASA is in the $18-billion range or less from CongressionaL appropriators for the next fiscal year.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Senate Committee Advances NASA bill

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation today unanimously approved a bill to reauthorize the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2008 is an original Commerce Committee bill.

The bill would provide a $19.2 billion baseline authorization of appropriations for fiscal year (FY) 2009 to fund the various activities of the agency. The bill also would provide an additional $1 billion authorization of appropriations to accelerate the initial operational capability of a U.S.-owned human spacecraft and an additional $150 million for the development of a commercial crew vehicle. The total authorization of appropriations would be $20.35 billion.

The Senate bill must now go to the floor for a vote; and, if passed, the bill will probably go to a conference committee with the House.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Space Works Protest at Port Canaveral America is The Place for Space!

Video one, two,and three. Stand with our friends in Florida! Tell Barack Obama and John McCain to support space NOW!

HUNDREDS of Florida space workers assembled at Port Canaveral, Florida today to express support for the nation's civil space launch program as the space shuttle fleet nears final May 31, 2010 retirement.

America will be dependent upon contracts with the Russian government to ferry US astronauts to-and-from the completed $150-billion International Space Station for at least five years. Thosuands of America's space workers are now at-risk along with the pride of the nation.

Hope exists in a recently passed House of Representatives budget version expanding the NASA budget to $20.21 billion adding a flight to the space shuttle manifest and speeding the development of the Orion/Ares-1 space launch system.

Nonetheless, the US Senate is not expected to be so generous or agree with the House. And, even if the House and Senate agree on a $20.21-billion FY 09 NASA budget, the White House has threated a potential budget veto.

Less than one percent of the national budget goes to support future NASA endeavors, which many feel puts our decades of investment, current national security and future competitiveness in world markets at risk. More information on the movement, day's events, and messages are at http://www.linktolaunch.org/.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Looking for Organics on Mars!

The Phoenix Mars Lander team is now reviewing the confirmed ice layer found on the Red Planet in the hope of a finding unique organic material as the next major discovery step in the NASA theme of "follow the water" on Mars.

"The fact that there's ice there doesn't tell you anything about whether its habitable," mission principal investigator Peter Smith, of the University of Arizona in Tucson, said. "The ice may be always in a frozen state and with ice in a frozen state and no food, that's not a habitable zone."

Debate has raged within the scientific community since the 1976 Viking 1 and Viking 2 landers sent back data as to organic compounds or microbes on the surface of Mars. The Mars life debate reached the White House in the 1990's. Phoenix may provide more certain answers to these central scientific questions.

Send Your Name to the Moon: Deadline Looms Friday June 27

Sign-up to send your name to the moon. Names will be collected and placed onboard the LRO spacecraft for its historic mission bringing NASA back to the moon. You will also receive a certificate showcasing your support of the mission. The deadline is June 27, 2008 for the submission of names, [Video 1, 2, and 3].

SFF NewSpace 2008: "Creating the Future or Living in the Past?"

The Space Frontier Foundation (SFF), an advocacy organization for the commercial development of space, expects over 200 investors and space professionals to attend the annual NewSpace 2008: Creating the Future or Living in the Past? set for July 16-19 in Crystal City, Virginia at the DoubleTree. Register now.

The Space Frontier Foundation's Annual NewSpace conference is the premiernetworking event between NewSpace, OldSpace, Government Regulators, and PolicyMakers. NewSpace 2008 is a single-track program focusing completely on entrepreneurial space activities.

The themes for each day of the 2008 New Space are:

  1. Thursday, July 17th - NewSpace Policy
  2. Friday, July 18th - NewSpace Business
  3. Saturday, July 19th - NewSpace Vision

2008 World Space Expo Set Nov 8/9

Scenes from the 2007 World Space Expo at Kennedy Space Center. The U.S. Navy Blue Angels will headline the 2008 Space & Air Show November 8 and 9 at the Kennedy Space Center.

Awsome Mig 29 OVT in Flight!

This Russian-built Mig 29 OVT provides an outstanding flight demonstration. A second Russian-built SU-30 conducts a flight demonstration with a prominent display of its thrust-vectoring technology.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mikulski Pushes $17.8 Billion for NASA

Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) announced Thursday a bill provides almost $17.8 billion for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which is $200 million above the President’s budget request. The House of Representatives passed a $20.21 billion NASA budget Wednesday with a Senate conference committee likely.

The bill fully funds the President’s budget request for Space Shuttle operations ($3 billion) and Space Station operations ($2 billion). The bill also provides $2.9 billion for development of the next generation Crew Launch Vehicle and Crew Exploration Vehicle. The bill provides $4.5 billion for NASA’s science programs and $500 million for aeronautics research.

Mikulski also pledged to re-introduce her amendment to provide $1 billion in federal funding to pay back NASA for the costs of returning the Space Shuttle to flight. The funding will reimburse critical science, aeronautics and exploration programs that were cut to pay for repairs. This will mark Chairwoman Mikulski’s third attempt to gain approval of her amendment.

House Boosts NASA Budget to $20.21 Billion; Bush White House Objects

The House of Representatives voted 409 in favor to 15 opposed Wednesday to boost NASA's FY '09 budget to $20.21 billion setting the stage for what may be a bi-partisan struggle with the White House over space policy including the number of shuttle flights and the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer.

The $1.5 Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer is ready to fly and be attached to the space staion but was grounded to make way for a transition from shuttle to the new Constellation program. Nonetheless, many in the international science community want to see it fly to station in late 2010. So, the House added a new flight to the only ten remaining space shuttle launch manifest.

The measure also seeks to close the so-called 'gap' and funding an additional $1-billion to speed development of the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle and the Ares 1 launch vehicle designed to ferry astronauts to orbit in 2015 - five years after the space shuttle is retired. MORE from MSNBC.

It is expcted that the Senate will pass a similar measure later this year setting the stage for a space policy confrontation with the White House and OMB.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

New Mexico Space Symposium Set for Oct. 22-23 in Las Cruces

The 4th Annual International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight is set for Las Cruces, New Mexico for October 22 and 23, 2008 hosted by the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium. Register here for the Early Bird Discount.

Patricia C. Hynes, Ph.D., Director of the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium, chair of the annual event notes that space is "cooking like crazy" in the Land of Enchantment.

The ISPCS is held just prior to the annual X-Prize Cup now in the planning stages for October 2008. The last Rocket Racing League demonstration for 2008 is also being planned for Southern New Mexico.

Now is the time to begin planning to be a part of the 2008 events by contacting Patricia C. Hynes.

Ansari-Hickam Book to be Released in 2009 Documenting Her Space Flight

West Virginia rocketeer and book author Homer Hickam, Jr. told The Space Show listeners today that a forthcoming book with the first female private spaceflight participant Anousheh Ansari will be out in early 2009.

Launch Pad Repair Should Be Completed Prior to the October 8 Launch to the Hubble Space Telescope

The Space Shuttle Atlantis STS-125 flight set for Wednesday, October 8 to repair the the 18-year-old Hubble Space Telescope [HST] and the launch will not be delayed by the recent damage to the launch pad resulting from the May 31 launch of Space Shuttle Discovery.

The launch of Discovery ripped some 5,300 heat-resistant bricks from their concrete moorings at the 1960s-era pad. Chunks of fireproof brick and concrete were thrown about 1,500 feet from the 40-year-old launch complex.

The Atlantis flight will be the last mission to overhaul the Hubble Space Telescope before NASA turns its full attention to completing the space station by 2010 and retiring its three-orbiter fleet.

The upcoming 12-day mission involving the Hubble Space Telescope is needed in order to bring a set of equipments needed for a better functioning of the telescope. The shuttle’s cargo bay will be stacked with a Super Lightweight Interchangeable Carrier (SLIC), an Orbital Replacement Unit Carrier (ORUC), a Flight Support System (FSS) and a Multi-use Logistic Equipment Carrier (MULE). The equipment is expected to highly benefit the telescope, as the SLIC will provide a new camera and two new batteries, the ORUC will install the new Cosmic Origins Spectrograph and the MULE will provide several spare parts for the telescope.

The mission’s schedule plans five space walks, also known as extravehicular activities or EVAs, which will be divided between two formed teams on the shuttle and will each last for approximately seven hours. The spacewalks will help upgrade the telescope’s capacities and when that stage will be completed.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The New Frontier After Half-a-Century

"We stand at the edge of a New Frontier—the frontier of unfulfilled hopes and dreams. Beyond that frontier are uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered problems of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus," - John F. Kennedy, July 1960.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama should listen to "The New Frontier" speech of nearly half-a-century ago prior to their respective nominating conventions. America needs frontier leadership again!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Shuttle Discovery STS-124 Lands

At 3 minutes, 8 seconds into the vid above, the shuttle Discovery announces it is nearing home with the double sonic BOOM-BOOM!

Mars Under the Microscope

For the first time in human history, Earthlings commenced a microscopic view of the Martian soil [video] in seeking answers to how The Red Planet evolved over the past several million years.

Images from Phoenix's microscope unveiled Friday show a speck of dark, glassy material that likely is the remnant of an ancient volcanic eruption, said Tom Pike, a leading scientist with the lander's microscope.

"This is the highest resolution image of the soil of Mars," said the mission's geology team leader, Tom Pike of University College London, [video]. "This is the first time we've reached down to this level."

Here is more detial from The Arizona Daily Star, Science News, and The Tuscon Citizen. The $420-million Phoenix Mars Lander mission is lead by the University of Arizona from the Science Operations Center in Tuscon, AZ.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Taurus-2 Launch Pad to be Ready in 18-Months at Wallops Island Spaceport

The Launch Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport will take about 18 months of aggressive work and millions of dollars to prepare for the Orbital Sciences Corporation Taurus-2 [NASA COTS] voyage to the International Space Station.

The oldest of two launch pads at the spaceport, Launch Pad 0A has gone unused for well over a decade. It was known as the Conestoga launch complex in 1995. The more modern Pad 0B has supported two orbital lanuches with a third coming in October.

In April the Virginia General Assembly approved, at the behest of Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, a $16 million bond package to help pay for launch pad renovation and other improvements including a new vehicle integration facility and a fixed liquid fueling system. The decision was essential to luring the NASA COTS Orbital Sciences Corporation launch contract to Virginia despite the favorable site inclination.

It now appears that Wallops has the 'Right Stuff!'

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Shenzhou 7 to Launch in October

The People's Republic of China will launch the Shenzhou 7, the nation's third human spaceflight, in October, according to the Xinhua news agency. The launch will expand the nation's fledgling space program to a three-man crew capsule. The mission is said to include the first Chinese spacewalk by two 'taikonauts.' The spacewalk mission is crucial for China to establishing a space laboratory or station.

Shenzhou 7 will be launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in China's northwest province of Gansu.

China's manned space program started in 1999 with the Shenzhou V spacecraft successfully launching China's first astronaut, Yang Liwei, into orbit in 2003. This was followed by a five-day manned mission in 2005. Shenzhou means "divine vessel" in Chinese and is also a homonym of a poetic reference for China -- "divine land."

China launched its first lunar probe, the Chang'e 1, named after a mythical goddess who flew to the moon, in October 2007, [video].

Fictional documentary of 'China on the Moon 2020.' China's space program is reviewed by Peter Navarro in a segement of 'the China Effect' [video].

TacSat-3 to Launch on October 20

The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's Eastern Shore is preparing for the tentative October 20 launch of the TacSat 3 according to spaceport operator Rick Baldwin.

The Great 08 Summer Telescope Tour

'The Great 08 Summer Telescope Tour' will begin on July 2nd with some much-needed star gazing time at two of the nation's significant optical imaging observatories in Arizona by this blogger.

The first stop will be the first international 'Dark Sky City' of Flagstaff, Arizona to visit Mars Hill and Makeout Point at the Lowell Observatory the first days of July to be followed by a one-day Mini-Vision Quest to the magical blue-green waters of the Havasupai Indian Reservation inside the Grand Caynon walls.

An extended side roadtrip to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory Very Large Array [VLA] on the plains of San Agustin in the Land of Enchanment - New Mexico will be appear on the travel agenda to contemplate radio astronomy. This visit will come on the heels of a recent visit to the 'Quite Zone' around the Robert C. Byrd Telescope at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory [GBT] in Green Bank, West Virginia.

The third leg of 'The Great 08 Summer Telescope Tour' will be to the University of Arizona in Tuscon, Arizona to the Mars Phoenix Lander Mission Science Operations Center prior to climbing "the mountain" to the Kitt Peak National Observatory.

The final leg is a return to the East Coast to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport for a meeting of the Virginia Aerospace Advisory Council at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility on July 14 to discuss the new Taurus-2 rocket. The meeting at Wallops will be followed by the Space Frontier Foundation's NewSpace conference in Washington, D.C. to July 19.

Mars Soil is Cooking

'Dodo' and 'Baby Bear' Trenches on Mars
NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander has filled its first oven with Martian soil. "We have an oven full," Phoenix co-investigator Bill Boynton of the University of Arizona, Tucson, said Wednesday. "It took 10 seconds to fill the oven. The ground moved." Music vid.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Can Wallops MARS Compete for COTS-D?

NASA is said to be in the final stages of vetting a review on the feasibility of accelerating the crew transport portion of its Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, according to Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Rick Gilbrech as reported Aerospace Daily & Defense Report late last week.

NASA is funding SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp. to develop cargo capability for the International Space Station (ISS) under COTS, but so far has held off on greenlighting the crew transfer portion of the program, known as “COTS D.” Only SpaceX has been actively working on a COTS D concept, with Orbital focused exclusively on cargo at this point.

Orbital will launch the now-under-development Taurus 2 booster from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport co-located on the NASA Wallops Flight Facility. But to launch human missions from the site will require modifications to the FAA-AST permit and NASA environmental impact studies as well. Virginia lawmakers are being asked to urge NASA to review Wallops Island human-rated launch requirement studies now as other federal lawmakers are seeking to advance the acceleration of COTS D to reduce the expected gap in U.S. human spaceflight capability between the space shuttle’s 2010 retirement and the debut of the Orion in 2015.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Wallops Prevails over Canaveral

Monday afternoon Virginia Governor Tim Kaine (D) announced that Orbital Sciences Corporation would launch the new Taurus-2 booster rocket from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport co-located on the NASA Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's Eastern Shore.

The announcement puts an end to speculation, state legislation, and economic development offers coming from both Virginia and Flordia to secure the significant launch program designed toresupply the International Space Station as a part of the NASA COTS effort.

"Tomorrow I shall wake-up and realize how much work needs to be done," said Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority Executive Director Billie Reed Monday afternoon.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Phoenix Scoops Up Martian Soil

One week after landing on far-northern Mars, NASA Phoenix spacecraft lifted its first scoop of Martian soil as a test of the lander's Robotic Arm.

Ares-1 Progress Report


The first test flight of the Ares-1 remains set at the Kennedy Space Center in April 2009. Depending on the feedback from test 1, a second flight will occur to test more hardware of the Ares-1 and Orion. Launch abort tests for the crew vehicle will be conducted in Southern New Mexico at NASA White Sands Missile Range late this year.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

June 8: "When We Left Earth"

See 50 years of NASA footage and the Apollo missions like you've never seen them before. This six-part cinematic event features exclusive, never before seen footage pulled from the NASA film vaults and enhanced in high definition. The series lifts off June 8th at 9pm (EST), only on the Discovery Channel.

Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Plans July Hypersonic Hy-BoLT Launch

The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility is in a late July launch campaign to loft the Hy-BoLT Hypersonic with a two stage ATK ALV-X1. The new rocket booster will carry three NASA payloads for the suborbital flight. The first payload, from NASA's Langley Research Center, is designed for hypersonic boundary layer research known as the Hypersonic Boundary Layer Transition experiment and then two "soccer ball-sized" secondary payloads, from NASA Ames Research Center, will be deployed at the ALV's suborbital trajectory's apogee.

The ATK ALV X-1 booster is a low-cost launch vehicle for the operational responsive space (ORS) market. Possible ORS programs include the delivery of small payloads to low-earth orbit in support of DOD missions, NASA scientific missions, and commercial and university satellite programs.