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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ad Astra Rocket Looks for COTS Boost

Ad Astra Rocket is looking to NASA COTS program participants Orbital Sciences and SpaceX to boost what-could-be a revolutionary space engine to the International Space Station for testing in 2012, reports FlightGlobal.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Mars Rover Opportunity Keeps Going

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity climbed out of "Victoria Crater" following the tracks it had made when it descended into the 800-meter-diameter (half-mile-diameter) bowl nearly a year earlier. The rover's navigation camera captured this view back into the crater just after finishing a 6.8-meter (22-foot) drive that brought Opportunity out onto level ground during the mission's 1,634th Martian day, or sol (Aug. 28, 2008). [Video]

The rover laid down the first tracks at this entry and exit point during its 1,291st sol (Sept. 11, 2007), after about a year of exploring around the outside of Victoria Crater for the best access route to the interior. On that sol, Opportunity drove a short distance into the crater and then backed out to check that the footing was good enough to trust this point as an exit route when the work in the crater was finished. Two sols later, Opportunity drove in again for its extended investigation of the rock layers exposed inside the crater.

Opportunity has operated on Mars for over 4 years and well in excess of the 90-day planned mission. More on Mars surface science missions here.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Fly Space Shuttle Seven More Years?!

NASA Administrator Mike Griffin has ordered an internal study of how the Space Transportation System (STS or space shuttle) may continue to service the International Space Station until 2015, according to The Orlando Sentinel.

Griffin, placed under political pressure to keep the space shuttle flying, signaled what could be a huge change in NASA policy. The implications for the Constellation Program schedule and the future retirement of the space shuttle are unclear.

One NASA official said such "what-if studies" represent "prudent planning," especially in light of suggestions made by John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, who would dicatate the agency's future if he captures the White House.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Space Show Features Cosmonaut Richard Garriott in Friday Interview

The Friday Space Show for August 29, 2008 from 9:30-11:30 AM PDT [12:30-2:30 EDT] will feature Richard Garriott who will soon be visiting the ISS via a ride on the Russian Soyuz. We will be talking to him from Russia as he trains for this mission. Dr. David Livingston will be talking with him about Operation Immortality program With us too will be Starr Long who's the producer of Richard's game, Tabula Rasa. For full details regarding this show Friday morning, please visit The Space Show at While Richard will be with us from Russia, Starr will be with us from Seattle. Garroitt is slated to launch December 10, 2008.

Atlantis Takes Step to Hubble Space Telescope With Launch Pad Transport

UPDATE: Roll-out of Space Shuttle Atlantis has been delayed into next week due to a minor External Tank issue: MORE.

The Space Shuttle Atlantis, slated to provide the 4th and final service mission to the renowed Hubble Space Telescope beginning in the early morning hours of Wednesday, October 8th, will roll from the Kennedy Space Center Vehicle Assembly Building [VAB] Saturday, August 30 over a period of six hours until arriving at Launch Pad 39-A for the final launch campaign.

The fully assembled shuttle will make the 3.4-mile trek across the spaceport and will be delivered to the launch pad atop a crawler-transporter. NASA-TV will provide LIVE coverage of the shuttle making ready for the final launch sequence beginning at 6:30 a.m. Video highlights of the rollout will air on NASA TV Video File.

The daring space mission of a veteran space shuttle crew will seek to overhaul the space-based telescope over a period of days and restore the scientific instrument to 'better than new' thereby enabling astromers to see further into deep space than ever before.

Orbital Names Human Spaceflight Exec

Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corporation has named Frank L. Culbertson Jr. becomes senior vice president and deputy general manager of the company's Advanced Programs Group, responsible for Orbital's human spaceflight programs. The Virginia launch firm provides commercial transportation services to the International Space Station and the Orion Launch Abort System.

Orbital has been investigating human rating the Taurus-II as a human launch vehicle after being tested at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in late 2010.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

McCain Calls for More Shuttle Flights

Republican presidential candidate John McCain called upon the Bush White House yesterday to keep the space shuttle flying after 2010 citing recent tensions between the United States and Russia over the the ethic strife in Georgia.

"At a minimum, we request that you direct NASA to take no action for at least one year from now that would preclude the extended use of the space shuttle beyond 2010," wrote McCain, Senator Kay Baily Hutchinson (R-Texas) and Congressman David Vitter (R-La.) reports the Orlando Sentinal and Florida Today.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Mars Society Urges Political Action

The Mars Society newsletter is advocating political action to infleunce the presidential debate and national priorities saying "there has been an unprecedented amount of discussion about space policy coming from the candidates and their campaigns. While this sudden flurry of space support is indicative of how tight this race has become, it is also a tremendous opportunity for the space community to make sure that humans to Mars will become the official policy of an Obama or McCain administration." Readers may use the fax tool.

Democrats Talk Moon Landings

Democrats have adopted a platform that calls for a robust space program while two United States Senators - Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) - waxed on about America and a retrun to the Moon.

"We are told that Barack Obama believes too much in an America of high principle and bold endeavor, but when John Kennedy called of going to the moon, he didn't say it's too far to get there. We shouldn't even try. Our people answered his call and rose to the challenge, and today an American flag still marks the surface of the moon. Yes, we are all Americans. This is what we do. We reach the moon. We scale the heights. I know it. I've seen it. I've lived it. And we can do it again," Kennedy told the 5,000 national convention delegates assembled in Denver, Colorado, [Video].

Nelson told organized labor leaders at the Democratic National Convention that: "I've discussed with Barack several nuances and details that he put in his program for space," Nelson said. "The space program is the symbol of this nation's technological prowess and Barack understands that, just as John Kennedy understood it."

Thursday evening many provide further clues as to Democratic Party presidential nominee Barack Obama's plans for space policy during his acceptance speech, if any.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain will gain GOP nomination next week and the Republican National Convention delegates will have their opportunity to address space policy.

Monday, August 25, 2008

50th Anniversary Lunar Landing - NOT

NASA's Wendell W. Mendell, Manager, Office for Human Exploration Science at NASA Johnson Space Center responded to a question today on the Lunar Listserv asking "with just a little more effort, we could return people to the Moon by July 20, 2019, which would be *very* significant. Is there any talk of this as a goal?"

Mendell: "I have not heard any discussion of a 50th anniversary goal. At the time of the declaration of the Vision for Space Exploration at the beginning of 2004, I think it could have happened. However, the failure of the Constellation budget to meet expectations over the past couple of years and the currently projected shortfalls in the upcoming years effectively make itimpossible. Originally, the CEV was intended to go into service to the ISS in 2010, at the retirement of the Shuttle. I haven't been keeping track, but I think the gap is now five years between Shuttle retirement and CEV operation."

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Orion Capsule Fails Drop Test

The NASA Orion test flight failed [vid] July 31st crashing after its landing parachutes failed. Instead of touching down gently in the Arizona desert, the 25 ton spacecraft, which was an empty replica of the real thing, plummeted 25,000 feet before smashing into the ground in a cloud of dust. More from The Telegraph.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Bottke: Lunar Basins May Provide Key to Solar System Evolution

The Southwest Research Institute 's William F. "Bill" Bottke provided a quite interesting response to former Apollo 17 lunar science astronaut Harrison "Jack" Schmitt questions on the Lunar Listserv Saturday afternoon.

Here are the questions and Bottke's responses.

1) What was going on with planetesimals located between the orbits of Jupiter-Neptune and those outside Neptune from the time of Jupiter's formation and the time of the putative Nice model (i.e., outer solar system reconfiguration)?

Bottke: "This is very interesting question, one that would require a fair amount of modeling work to really probe the issue. Nevertheless, we can say some things based on current work.

Our best estimates suggest the zone of planetesimals between Jupiter and Neptune was quickly depleted by planet formation processes. They probably do not make any basins on the Moon. However, a large disk of survivors outside the orbit Neptune was left relatively unaffected.

Neptune, once formed, ended up interacting with the inner edge of this leftover disk of comets, such that some comets were scattered onto planet-crossing orbits over hundreds of My. A small fraction of these objects could have struck the Moon (and produced some early basins, along with other sources). These scattering events also caused the gas giants to migrate. If the Nice model is correct, this migration, after 600 My or so, ended up being the trigger for a system wide instability, the sudden depletion of comet (and asteroid) reservoirs, and the "lunar cataclysm".

2) What is the evidence for a system-wide instability?

Bottke: "There is a lot to say here, such that it may be worthwhile for those interested to track down the original Nice model papers in Nature from 2005 (Gomes et al., Tsiganis et al., Morbidelli et al.). Much of the evidence comes from modeling work; without turning many "knobs", the Nice model is able to reproduce the following:

-- The semimajor axes and small e,i values of the gas giants. Note that models of gas accretion on the Jovian planets indicates they should be on circular, zero inclination orbits after formation.

-- The inclination distribution and approximate population size of the Trojan asteroids. The origin of the Trojans, particularly the fact that many have 10 deg <>

-- The population of irregular satellites.

-- The orbital distribution of the Kuiper belt.

-- The timing and approximately impactor mass needed to make the late basins on the Moon.

-- Possibly some interesting features of the asteroid belt.

With that said, though, this is not a solved problem by any means, and the Nice model is simply that -- a model. There is still much to be done across a range of fields to confirm what actually happened -- with the most critical constraints provided by the Moon and lunar samples."

3) Can the early basins come from a cataclysm?

Bottke: It is hard to say until more modeling work is done. Current simulations indicate that the Nice model lunar cataclysm, made up of impacting comets and then impacting asteroids, only lasts about 150-200 My, with the starting time assumed to be around 4.0 Ga. So, if some lunar basins are older, they may indeed have come from alternative sources.

4) Could we have a bi-modal or even a multi-modal distribution of basins?

Bottke: "Sure. Until all of this has been modeled and compared with constraints from the Moon and elsewhere, I do not think anything can or should be ruled out. The lunar basins still have a lot to tell us about how the solar system evolved. That is why we need to go back! :-)"

Iran Wants Human Space Program?

Iran State TV says the nation's space agency aims to send an astronaut to space within the next decade while now struggling technologically with efforts to advance its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

One of the aims of Tehran's 10-year space programme is to send a manned rocket into space," said Reza Taghipour, the head of Iran's aerospace organisation. "Within the next six months to one year, the exact date of this mission will be determined," he added.

Last Sunday, Iran test-fired a rocket capable of carrying a satellite into orbit. The Iranian state news agency IRNA reported that an Iranian carrier rocket, Safir, had successfully orbited the country's first domestically built satellite, called Omid (Hope) but American intelligence has disputed the claim saying the rocket failed. Video of the launch HERE.

Friday, August 22, 2008

ATK Booster Fails to Loft HyBolt

An Alliant Tech Systems suborbital rocket carrying two NASA hypersonic experiments was destroyed shortly after liftoff from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility from the Virginia-based Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport launch pad i n the early morning hours of Friday. Launch and destruct video 1 and 2.

Most debris from the rocket is thought to have fallen in the Atlantic Ocean. However, there are conflicting reports of debris being sighted on land. This debris could be hazardous. Among the lost payloads was Hy-BoLt.

NASA is very disappointed in this failure but has directed its focus on protecting public safety and conducting a comprehensive investigation to identify the root cause. NASA is assembling a multidisciplinary team, along with the rocket's maker Alliant Tech Systems, or ATK, of Salt Lake City, to begin the investigation promptly.

The exact launch time was 5:10 a.m. EDT. The anomaly that caused the failure occurred approximately 27 seconds into flight and is not known.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The New Mexico Museum of Space History recently held an anniversary event to celebrate a team of designers, engineers and managers who designed, built and flew a unique rocket that most people outside the space community never heard of -- the Delta Clipper Experimental rocket, DC-X for short.

The Future Channel has enabled you to enjoy a description of the Delta Clipper by its Program Manager Bill Gaubatz in this archival highlight from our 1992 interview. The the interview could pass for cutting edge science news in today's media, attests to the vision and pioneering spirit of the DC-X team.

Moon Society to Hold Virtual Meeting

The Moon Society will hold a virtual membership meeting on online, in the ASI-MOO special chat room environment, 9-11 pm ET, 8-10 pm CT, 7-9 pm MT, 6-8 pm PT on Wednesday evening, September 17, 2008. Save this date says Peter Kokh.

1 Go to the homepage

2 Scroll down the left hand menu column until you come to the ASI-MOO image link. Click on this link.

3 Ignore the preliminary information on this page (for advanced users) and scroll down the page until you see the dual links: Java MOO client: Framed Popup

4 Click on either (I like Popup but that’s a personal preference)

5 Wait for the window to fully open. Some browsers are faster than others. Below the preliminary introductory text, you will see a line, below which you can type.

6 Type these three words: connect {your) username password all in lower case, each word separated by a space with no quotation marks. Hit carriage return.

7 You will find yourself in the “Commons” Now you want to go to the “Auditorium” where the Members Meeting will be held. The instructions in the Commons say that the Auditiorium is “NorthWest” so type NorthWest without quotes and with capitals as indicated, then hit carriage Return, and you should be in.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Wallops Launch Campaign Underway

The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport has a launch campaign underway for an anticipated Friday liftoff of an ATK-ALV X-1 launch booster set to soar 10-minutes and 200 miles to test the Hypersonic Boundary Layer Transition experiment, or HYBOLT. The launch will be no earlier than 5:10 a.m. Friday. The launch window extends through Aug. 25, in case of delays, according to The Virginian Pilot. The launch was delayed from July where more details are provided.

Obama-McCain Back $2-Billion for NASA

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama pledged support for an additional $2-billion in supplemental funding for NASA and backing for an American Moon, Mars and Beyond program this week while Republican presidential candidate John McCain also backed an additional $2-billion for the federal space agency while offering critical comments about Obama, according to The Washington Post. Both contenders profess backing the civil space program.

Meanwhile, Obama will campaign today and Thursday in Virginia fueling speculation that Virginia Governor Tim Kaine may be added to the national Democratic Ticket this week. Kaine is a pro-space governor demonstrated by his backing of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport the past year. Kaine would be an interesting chairman of the National Space Council.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Interorbital's SeaStar Prepares for 2008 Year End Sea Launch

California-based Interorbital Systems' is planning test firings of its rocket engines in the Mojave Desert in the fall with plans for flight of the 'micro-launcher' SeaStar before year end if all goes well reports

SeaStar would be launched from sea off the coast of Southern California. Interorbital is now working with the Federal Aviation Administration Commercial Space Office for a launch license to flight test the vehicle.

Monday, August 11, 2008

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope completed its 100,000th orbit of Earth on the morning of August 11. In commemoration of this event in its 18th year of exploration and discovery, scientists at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., aimed Hubble at a dazzling region of celestial birth and renewal. Hubble peered into a small portion of this nebula near the star cluster NGC 2074. [MORE] The Hubble Space Telescope will be repaired by STS-125 Space Shuttle Atlantis spacewalking astronauts in October enabling it to see further and better than ever before.

The Perseids Meteor Shower 2 AM AUG. 12 for Determined Stargazers

The most famous meteor shower of all peaks the morning of August 12. The Perseids result when Earth runs into debris ejected over the eons by Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. With warm weather typical this time of year, many observers camp out for the event. [Video]

Under ideal conditions, you may catch up to 90 meteors per hour at the peak. (If it's cloudy August 12, look for a decent show a day or two before and after.) [MORE]

The best time to view the Perseids comes after the gibbous Moon sets, around 1:30 A.M. local daylight time the morning of the peak. Watch especially near dawn, because this is when the chances of seeing a fireball are highest. Our view at dawn is head-on into the meteor stream, so the debris' impact velocity with Earth is higher and meteors tend to be brighter then.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Space-Based Solar Power Conference to be Held October 2 & 3 in Florida

The Air Force Research Laboratory is planning a two-day [October 2 and 3]conference titled "State of Space Solar Power Technology" at Disney's Shades of Green hotel in Orlando. The conference is intended to be a forum where technologies can be examined--especially those of interest to the Department of Defense--that could lead to space-based beamed power systems. Registration is FREE and limited to 200 persons, with slots filled on a first-come, first-serve basis. When capacity is met, registration will be closed. Visit the web site to register and for information

Internationally-respected Astrobiologist Says Life is on Mars

An internationally-respected astrobiologist says there is now clear evidence of life on Mars but that American authorities are hesitating from announcing it because of legal, "political and sociological considerations."

"The discovery of liquid water on Mars combined with earlier discoveries of organic substances in a meteorite that came from Mars, and also of methane in the Martian atmosphere all point to the existence of life -- contemporary life -- on the Red Planet," Chandra Wickramasinghe, a globally renowned astrobiologist told NDTV in India.

"Firstly, if life was already detected, then there is no need to spend vast sums of money to continue the search."

"Secondly, there is a lot of scientific interest nowadays in bringing back samples of Martian soil to Earth at the cost of tens of billions of dollars, and there is a lobby that says if microbes exist on Mars we should not be doing this. It could pose a biohazard" leading to litigation to halt Mars surface exploration.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Florida Pushing Commercial Spaceports

Cape Canveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 36 has been officially transferred to Space Florida, a state agency, which plans to convert the facility into a commercial space launch complex in the future, according to the USAF.

The launch complex is being licensed by the state of Florida as part of a larger plan to develop a duty-free trade zone to the International Space Station following a $14.5 million appropriation by the Florida state legislature earlier this year.

The new facility may eventually cost $100 million and would be designed so several companies could use it, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

The state secured a five-year license similar to the one the Air Force granted SpaceX in April 2007. The California company aims to launch Falcon 9 rockets from Launch Complex 40, a former Titan complex, according to Florida Today. The state is seeking a larger share of the commercial space launch business.

"Now we have reached this step, it will certainly move those discussions to new levels," said Deb Spicer, a spokeswoman for Space Florida. Among the companies thought to be interested are Minnesota-based ATK and Bigelow Aerospace of Nevada.

In April, the Virginia legislature approved bonds to improve the launch pads at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport and enacted a 'ZeroGravity, ZeroTax' measure to boost commercial space launch at the Wallops Island, Va. launch complex for the Orbital Sciences Corporation Taurus-II.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Platform: "a strong and inspirational vision for space exploration"

The 2008 Democratic National Convention is set to adopt a party platform called "Renewing America's Promise" referencing "a strong and inspirational space program" on which Senator Barack Obama will wage his fall campaign for president of the United States.

"We will make science, technology, engineering, and math education a national priority. We will double federal funding for basic research, invest in a strong and inspirational vision for space exploration ..." the draft 2008 Democratic Party platform states in part at page 16, lines 24 through 27.

Senator Obama recently stengthened his policy positions with regard to the civil space program pledging to reestablish the National Space Council; to extend one additional space shuttle flight; and, to speed the development of the Ares-1 to close the human spaceflight gap. The presidential candidate has also flirted with the idea of having Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, a strong space policy state executive, serve as his vice-presidential running mate.

Will Obama make a "New Frontier" acceptance speech in Denver this month similar to John F. Kennedy 's 1960 Los Angeles remarks? Time will tell.

Preview of the Future Channel Focus on Space-based Solar Power

Linked is a preview of The Future Channel's focus on space-based solar power. A message to the next president vid on space-based solar power has been placed on the web recently too. A lecture on the details of solar power is here and here.

Falcon-1 / Flight Four in September

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk released a statement late Wednesday saying "It looks like we may have flight four on the launch pad as soon as next month. The long gap between flight two and three was mainly due to the Merlin 1C regen engine development, but there are no technology upgrades between flight three and four."

Musk continued, "On August 2nd, Falcon 1 executed a picture perfect first stage flight, ultimately reaching an altitude of 217 km, but encountered a problem just after stage separation that prevented the second stage from reaching orbit. At this point, we are certain as to the origin of the problem. Four methods of analysis – vehicle inertial measurement, chamber pressure, onboard video and a simple physics free body calculation – all give the same answer."

"The problem arose due to the longer thrust decay transient of our new Merlin 1C regeneratively cooled engine, as compared to the prior flight that used our old Merlin 1A ablatively cooled engine. Unlike the ablative engine, the regen engine had unburned fuel in the cooling channels and manifold that combined with a small amount of residual oxygen to produce a small thrust that was just enough to overcome the stage separation pusher impulse," Musk said via e-mail.

Musk added, "We were aware of and had allowed for a thrust transient, but did not expect it to last that long. As it turned out, a very small increase in the time between commanding main engine shutdown and stage separation would have been enough to save the mission."

"The question then is why didn't we catch this issue? Unfortunately, the engine chamber pressure is so low for this transient thrust -- only about 10 psi -- that it barely registered on our ground test stand in Texas where ambient pressure is 14.5 psi. However, in vacuum that 10 psi chamber pressure produced enough thrust to cause the first stage to recontact the second stage."

The SpaceX CEO concluded "The only untested portion of flight is whether or not we have solved the main problem of flight two, where the control system coupled with the slosh modes of the liquid oxygen tank. Given the addition of slosh baffles and significant improvements to the control logic, I feel confident that this will not be an issue for the upcoming flight four."

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Chandrayaan-1 Going to Moon in Fall

The Indian Space Research Organization Chairman G Madhavan Nair indicated Wednesday that the Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter will launch in mid-October if the campaign proceeds as now planned. [Video] India's lunar scientists recently executed an international agreement for moon exploration data sharing. In addition, India and Russia have entered into a bilateral agreement to place a rover on the lunar surface in the 2011-2012 time frame. Indian lunar scientists are also proposing a human lunar space flight late in the next decade.

Plasma Space Drive to be Tested on ISS

NASA is now working on an agreement with Ad Astra Rocket Company to test a new propulsion technology known as the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR) that may enable much more rapid space transport as compared to chemical rockets. The test would be conducted aboard the International Space Station but no launch date has been set.

The plasma drive is intended to work by using electric power to blast hydrogen reaction mass from its rocket nozzles at a much greater velocity than normal chemically-fuelled rockets can achieve. This means that the carrying spacecraft gets a lot more acceleration or deceleration from a given amount of fuel, and so can potentially make interplanetary journeys in much shorter times.

The new propulsion system design is by Franklin Chang-Díaz, MIT plasma physicist and former NASA astronaut with seven Shuttle flights and 1600 hours in space. He now serves as CEO of Ad Astra Rocket Company. Update from

Orbital Sciences Corporation Opens California Shop to Support the Taurus II

Orbital Sciences Corporation is opening an engineering and technology center in Southern California to employ 30 to 40 rocket engineers in support of the Taurus II, a booster being designed to resupply the International Space Station and to be launched from Virginia's Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in 2010.

Orbital's California workforce, which includes employees at Vandenberg Air Force Base and NASA's Ames Research Center, will increase to about 150 people. Still, half of the company's employees -- roughly 1,700 people -- live and work in the Washington area, according to The Washington Post.

In June, the company announced that it would invest $45 million in Virginia to assemble, test and launch the Taurus II, adding about 125 jobs in Dulles and the Wallops Island launch site.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

HST: 100,000 Orbits and Going!

The Hubble Space Telescope will complete 100,000 orbits around the Earth on August 11, 2008 at 7:42 a.m. EDT logging an approximate 2.72 billion miles since the day it was launched on April 24, 1990 aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery.

The 100,000 orbit milestone for the Hubble Space Telescope will be marked by the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) scientists by being available for commentary at 1:00 a.m. EDT on August 11 and providing a new commemorative image from Hubble.

The Hubble Space Telescope is set to get new parts and a new lease on life in October when the Space Shuttle Atlantis zooms to orbit with spacewalking astronauts for a final repair mission giving the instrument and scientists the ability to see further into deep space than ever it has before.

NASA Sets Mars Record Straight

NASA and the University of Arizona today sought to set the record straight from weekend reports about secret meetings at the White House regarding Mars and the recent conflicting findings by science instruments aboard the Mars Phoenix Lander. Scientific American and NPR [Audio] provide reports of the afternoon press telecon [Audio] held by the Mars Phoenix Lander Team. More from The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronical and the BBC.

Ten Teams to Compete in the October 2008 X-Prize Lunar Lander Challenge

The X PRIZE Foundation today announced that ten teams will compete in the 2008 Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge, which will take place at Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, New Mexico, October 24-25, 2008. The Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge is a two-level, two million dollar competition requiring a vehicle to simulate trips between the moon’s surface and lunar orbit.

Shenzhou VII Moving to Launch Pad

The Chinese Shenzhou VII/Long-March II-F rocket is now being transported to the the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in preperation for an October launch of a three-member crew to orbit. The first Chinese spacewalk is expected to be conducted by two of the Chinese if the flight plan is successful. The launch will mark the third manned spaceflight by the Chinese since October 15, 2003.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Mars Press Conference Tuesday at 2 PM

NASA will hold a media teleconference on Tuesday, Aug. 5, at 2 p.m. EDT to discuss the recent science results from soil samples delivered several weeks ago to science instruments on NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander to understand the landing site's soil chemistry and mineralogy. [Reuters]

Within the last month, two samples have been analyzed by the Wet Chemistry Lab of the spacecraft's Microscopy, Electrochemistry, and Conductivity Analyzer, or MECA, suggesting one of the soil constituents may be perchlorate, a highly oxidizing substance. The Phoenix team has been waiting for complementary results from the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer, or TEGA, which also is capable of detecting perchlorate.

Perchlorate, or ClO4, is a naturally occurring and man-made chemical that is the primary ingredient in solid rocket fuel, according to the EPA. Where such a contaminant might have come from is unclear. The fuel in the thrusters that Phoenix used to land on Mars was made of hydrazine, not perchlorate.

More from and Planetary Radio [Windows Media] on the Mars Phoneix Lander data.

White House Mars Briefing Untrue?

Despite the recent global Internet buzz about a White House breifing by NASA scientists on the possibility of life on Mars, it appears that no such meeting occured and that reports of such a meeting are exaggerated or "untrue and incorrect."

While NASA expects to have a major announcement soon about the Mars Phoenix Lander science, it is not expected to be a declaration of life on the Red Planet but evidence relating to the planet's "habitability." The announcement is expected to be more dramatic than the recent news that Phoenix had confirmed there was water ice on the planet.

Japan's H-2 Transfer Vehicle Eyed

Japan's H-2 Transfer Vehicle is being eyed by US space officials as a possible candidate spacecraft to boost supplies to the International Space Station following the retirement of the space shuttle fleet in 2010 following the first test flight of the H-2 in the fall of 2009.

Japan started its HTV project in 1997 based on an agreement signed with Russia, Europe and the United States--which jointly operate the ISS--to individually develop a cargo transfer spacecraft.

Besides the Japanese H-2 Transfer Vehicle, the United States hopes to re-supply the space station using Russia's Progress and Soyuz modules, Europe's Automated Transfer Vehicle, or ATV. In addition, the US commercial space launch firms SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation are seeking to provide re-supply and possible crew exchange.

Shuttle Program Shutdown Begins!

Lockheed Martin, the builder of the space shuttle external tank, has announced that it is beginning to distribute lay-off pick slips among the 2,445 strong tank-building team at Huntsville, AL, the Kennedy Space Center, FL, and New Orleans, LA.

The job losses will begin in October and continue as the final 10-missions of the space shuttle are completed in mid-2010. If a decision is made to add an additional space shuttle mission in 2010 by the Congress this year, it could be challenging, if not impossible, to get the external tank that would be needed to fuel a final launch from the Kennedy Space Center.

Spaceplane to be Tested in December

The US Air Force and and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency [DARPA] will test a new X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle in hypersonic flight to orbit beginning with launch aboard at Atlas-V booster representing a potential a fundamental technology milestone for space access. Details are available from Aviation Week and Discovery News.

Rosetta Closes-in on Asteroid

The European Space Agency Rosetta orbiter has commenced a visual tracking campaign of the asteroid Steins with a rendezvous fly-by set for September 5, 2008. [PDF on Steins]

Moon Leads to International Agreement

Nine nations from around the globe have signed an international agreement to explore the moon and lay the groundwork for a new generation of lunar exploration and science at the NASA's Ames Research Center recently.

A multinational fleet of robotic spacecraft will be going to the moon to study the surface and geology in this decade as NASA plans to return humans to its surface by 2020. The United States, Canada, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Britain and France each signed the unique exploration agreeement to share lunar exploration costs.

The agreement provides for a network to monitor the moon's seismic activity that would stretch from the poles to the far side. India hopes to send its Chandrayaan-1 probe to orbit the moon this year. China's Chang'e probe and Japan's Selene are already there. Japan is expected to launch the first of the spacecraft, a rover, by 2012, with two American landers, called the NASA Anchor Nodes, following soon after. China, not a part of the international agreement, is also expected to continue its lunar exploration with surface rovers.

"The exploration of the moon in the next decade will not be human, it will be this international flotilla," said David Morrison, interim director of the newly created Lunar Science Institute at Ames. "Ultimately, I think we will send people to the moon, but we don't have to wait for that."

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Obama Promises to Re-establish the National Space Council; Support NASA

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama Saturday pledged to Florida voters that he would reestablish the National Space Council to help formulate a vision for the next stage of space exploration and; moreover, he says there will be no cuts to NASA that he had previously set forth while campaigning in the New Hampshire Democratic primary last winter. [VIDEO 1 and VIDEO 2]

The National Space Council, which was abolished in 1993, has been chaired by the Vice-President. The proposed recreation of the National Space Council would place more emphasis on national space policy. [WMFE Radio Report]

Dale Ketcham, director of the University of Central Florida's Space Research and Technology Institute who has been working with members of Congress to get the candidates to talk about space, called Obama's switch "an important move" to making space an electoral issue, reports The Orlando Sentinel.

Obama also pledged that he would back one additional flight of the space shuttle beyond the slated retirement of mid-2010, Spaceflight Now says.

Falcon 1's Third Attempt to Orbit Fails: Musk Pledges to Proceed

The New York Times provides a report of the flight and SpaceX CEO elon Musk's remarks following the loss of the Falcon 1 booster and spacecraft. The BBC also has a report.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Iran Nuke Politics May Doom Russian Transports by US Astronauts to ISS

United States diplomatic opposition to Iran's nuclear program may end American astronauts gaining Soyuz spacecraft taxi rides to the International Space Station after 2011 and it will happen within one year after the grounding of the American space shuttle fleet writes Mark K. Matthews of The Orlando Sentinel.

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Act passed by the Congress in 2000 prohibits American purchases of Russian space technology as long as Russia is exporting nuclear or missile technology to Iran. In 2005, however, Congress granted a waiver enabling NASA to contract over $700-million in space transport contracts with the Russians using the Soyuz to ferry U.S. astronauts to-and-from the $100-billion International Space Station.

Without access to Russian space technology post-2011, the United States will be without capability to boost astronauts to the space station until at least 2015 when the Orion/Ares-1 of the Constellation system is slated to ferry the first American astronauts to orbit.

The only other alternative is for either (or both) Orbital Sciences Corporation or SpaceX to develop human-rated spacecraft and fly commercial astronauts and US government astronauts to the space station with re-supply sometime between 2012 and 2015 to close the American human space flight gap.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Solar Eclipse Videos Appear

For those who missed the LIVE webcast of the solar eclipse from Europe and China and Siberia Russia, linked are videos of the event. Video 1, Video 2, Video 3. Photos from

Water Confirmed on Mars

NASA has confirmed finding water on Mars with the Phoenix Mars Lander Thursday by lead scientist Peter Smith. [Video 1, Video 2 and Video 3]

"Our excitement is not so much that ice is made of H2O," says Smith, the Phoenix lander's principal scientist. "It's what we're going to learn about the impurities that are associated with this ice — salts, minerals and all of the things that are going to tell us about the history and the chance that this is a habitable zone on Mars." MORE from NPR, The Arizona Daily Star, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.