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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Blog Readers Urge the White House to the Moon, Mars and Space-Based Solar Power!

The nearly 500 readers of the Spaceports blog have voted to advise the White House on how to to prioritize the mission of the American space agency over the next several years; and the moon seems to be the one.

A 45% plurality of the poll participants urge that the NASA human program return humans to the Moon and build a lunar base while 28% of the survey respondents urge NASA to seek to place the first humans on Mars. Rounding out the double-digit input was 13% responding favorably to chat NASA's mission to build the first space-based solar power stations.

Fewer participants urged a human survey of the asteriods (5%) and fewer suggested continuation of a priority of sending human expeditions to the International Space Station (2%). Meanwhile a mere 5% suggested halting the human program and going exclusively with unmanned probes throughout the solar system.

Four hundred and eighty four participated in the on-line survey the past few weeks. The results will be reported to the presidential commission now reviewing the NASA's future direction.

Key Questions: Where to Go? What to Fly?

The debate over the type of vehicle to be used to take American humans to space is underway in Washington today. Decisions must be made as to the direction of space science in the nation. New recommendations are to be made during the summer as a new NASA administrator and deputy administrator are to be confirmed by the United States Senate.

America's international partners are focused on exploration of the Moon and building new cargo vehicles to resupply the international space station. The Russians continue to provide a pathway to space for NASA astronauts and private citizens. The Chinese have demonstrated orbital capability and India will soon prove itself a human space pioneer in the next five years. And, the Europeans are in contemplation of various human spaceflight options as well.

But it is the United States that remains the leader in space today but Americans stand at a crossroads and it must act today to achieve the future. It is time to be decisive in policymaking or waste billions of dollars and loose the chance to continue to technologlogical leadership in space exploration to the Moon, Mars and Beyond. With the dawn of a new presidential administration there is a focus on leadership and direction. The President must have sound counsel and the wisdom to make the correct decisions if the nation is to have the spirit of exploration and renew of the spirit of a federal space agency that sometimes appears to have too frequently lost the 'can-do' mantra.

The critical decision before the United States is where it wishes to focus human space exploration: the Moon, Mars, or the asteroids. Moreover, the decision of what booster is to be designed or what off-the-shelf rocket technologies are to be incorporation into the journey ahead. The two decisions are essential if Americans are to make footprints into the history of our species in the 21st Century. Let us make the right decisions once again.

This week renewed options of a Shuttle-derived Sidemount Heavy Launch Vehicle [video] was proposed as an alternative to the Constellation Ares I and Ares V were made. There are also options of human-rating more traditional Delta IV or Atlas V boosters used by the military. The decisions involve mission, cost, quality, and payload capacity. Plans abound with the most recent offered by Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Dirt Turned for New Virginia Launch Pad

U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) told over 100 attending the new Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport launch pad groundbreaking Monday on Wallops Island, Virginia that the event marked “another era of discovery” similar to when Capt. John Smith first set foot on the Eastern Shore four centuries ago. Here on the Eastern Shore, people used to earn their living off the land or off the water...Now they are also going to earn their living off of space."

Mikulski called the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops “a global international center for research and discovery.” MORE from WMDT-TV and

The ceremony included remarks from Mikulski, NASA Acting Administrator Christopher J. Scolese, Virginia Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Transportation David W. Smith, Orbital Chairman and Chief Executive Officer David W. Thompson, Goddard Space Flight Center Director Robert D. Strain and Virginia Space Flight Authority Chairman Vincent Boles. Several other state and local elected officials were in attendance as well.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Virginia Spaceport Linked to Energy Plans

Virginia's two candidates for governor this coming November have linked the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport to the state's energy development plans suggesting that Democrat Creigh Deeds and Republican Robert McDonnell may have a vision for space-based solar power development in the years ahead [video].

Deeds, speaking to a Energy Technology Summit is southwestern Virginia in April, suggested that the Virginia spaceport become a part of a larger energy technology plan for Virginia [video] while McDonnell speaking this month to a conference of young men spoke of the essentials of coal, nuclear energy and the spaceport as keys to the state's energy potential [video].

While neither candidate for Virginia's executive mansion has directly linked the spaceport's future to space-based solar power, there is a growing nexus between the spaceport and energy that would lead to a conclusion that the two candidates have a vision that would use space-based technologies for future electric power production in Virginia [video].

Virginia hosts all the essential assets: space-based solar power knowledge (Ashburn-based John C. Mankins); one of the nation's largest power producers (Richmond-based Dominion Resources); one of the commercial space launch providers (Dulles-based Orbital Sciences Corporation); one of the nation's viable commercial spaceports (Wallops Island-based Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport); and, real estate for power receivers in southwestern Virginia's coalfields of the Central Appalachian Mountains with proposed development of a electric smart grid to support a new coal-fired power plant and hundreds of wind turbines bring brought on-line within the next decade.

Monday, June 15, 2009

NASA Lunar Missions Set to Get Underway

There are two NASA lunar probes awaiting launch aboard the Atlas-V from Cape Canveral Air Force Station this week (depending on STS-127) as the United States continues to advance plans for a human return to the moon and also as a part of the international effort that has included Europe, Japan, China and India at this point. The Germans and British are also expected to mount lunar launch campaigns in the near-term and perhaps after the Google Lunar X-Prize mounts the first effort.

The Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) mission objectives include confirming the presence or absence of water ice in a permanently shadowed crater at the Moon’s South Pole. The identification of water is very important to the future of human activities on the Moon. LCROSS will excavate the permanently dark floor of one of the Moon’s polar craters with two heavy impactors in 2009 to test the theory that ancient ice lies buried there. One may follow the progress LCROSS is on Twitter. Linked is a three part video on LCROSS.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), mission objectives include finding safe landing sites, locate potential resources, characterize the radiation environment, day-night temperature maps, a global geodetic grid, high resolution color imaging, the moon's UV albedo and demonstrate new technology while in a low lunar orbit for one year. Particular emphasis will be placed on the polar regions of the moon where continuous access to solar illumination may be possible and the prospect of water in the permanently shadowed regions at the poles may exist. One may follow the progress of LRO also on Twitter. Linked are a video of the ground track for LRO and another video about LRO.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Paris Air Show Opens Monday for the Week

The 2009 Paris Air Show opens Monday, June 15 and continues each day until Saturday, June 20th with aircraft and space hardware being displayed and/or flown from around the globe [related].

The European Space Agency plans to show new space technologies while the US military is bringing the F-22 to the show but it is barred now from foreign export. Today several aircraft started rehearsal including this 330S plane. More video from Sunday in Paris are here [and more Fotos].

EADS is unveiling at the Paris Air Show the latest version of the Advanced UAV System it was announed today. The New York Times is reporting a down economic tone at the world famous air show. France24 notes the damper on the show in a video report. The Huffington Post discusses the F-22 Raptor apperance at the show but the world's most technologically advanced fighter jet will NOT be allowed to touch down on the Le Bourget runway.

Kaguya Lunar Impact Observed in India

Dr. Bernard H. Foing, ILEWG executive director, has reported to the LunarListServ that the detection of Kaguya impact by Indian lunar research colleagues from 1.2 m telescope at Mount Abu Observatory, Gurushikar, India occured. The observations were performed at the near infrared wavelength of 2.12 microns. This is a similar band that the observations made in CFHT of SMART-1 impact.

The observations of the controlled crash were carried out by Dr. T.Chandrasekhar, Mr. Rajesh Shah, Mr. S.N.Mathur and Mr. Raj Purohit of the Astronomy and Astrophysics Division of the Physical Research Laboratory, a unit of Dept of Space, Govt of India.

The impact flash was recorded at 18:25:10 UT, faded slightly the next second, and could not be seen later. It is expected that a digital image may be psoted to the Planetary Society of India blog soon.

Range Tested as NASA Plots Launch for Two Space Launhes to ISS and Moon

The Mission Management Team [MMT] has just concluded a scrub turnaround meeting at the Kennedy Space Center for the launch of Endeavor on STS-127. The Space Shuttle team will continue to prepare the vehicle for a launch attempt on Wednesday. June 17. Removal and replacement of the Ground Umbilical Carrier Assembly (GUCP) is proceeding on schedule. The GUCP is being replaced to address the hydrogen vent leak seen during the first STS-127 launch attempt on June 13, MORE from Reuters.

The plan is to process both the STS-127 and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter / Lunar Crater Observation Sensing Satellite (LRO/LCROSS) missions for launch on June 17. Over the course of the next two days, NASA will work with the 45th Space Wing to determine which mission will attempt a launch on June 17. Whichever mission attempts a launch on June 17 will have only one launch opportunity, while the other mission would have the range for the next two opportunities. This means that if STS-127 is scheduled for launch on June 17, then LRO/LCROSS would have the range on June 19 and 20. However, if LRO/LCROSS is scheduled for June 17, then STS-127 would have the range on June 20 and June 21.

The next MMT is scheduled for Tuesday, June 16 at 8:00 AM.

European Two Billion Dollar Herschel Space Telescope Begins Cosmic Observations

The European Space Agency's Herschel Space Telescope opened the hatch that has been protecting its sensitive instruments from contamination earlier today to commence the observation campaign by allowing light collected by the giant 3.5m mirror to flood its supercold instrument chamber, or cryostat, for the first time, according to the BBC. View related video of the new European space telescope. The telescope's primary mirror is 3.5 m in diameter, more than four times larger than any previous infrared space telescope and almost one and a half times larger than that of the Hubble Space Telescope, according to ESA.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Salute to Deep Space One Legacy

There is going to be a revolution in the skies above us. Unmanned probes hurling through the cosmos in record numbers. Traveling billion of miles from Earth and carrying out longer more complex missions then once ever imagined. The probes of today will spend years in orbit sending back data on the Sun, the planets and the organic compounds that formed our universe. They owe much of this progress to one pioneering mission. Deep Space One tested twelve new technologies that had never been used in deep space travel. It also captured the first image ever of the nucleus of a comet. NASA and the scientific community owe much of there future and recent success to this daring pioneer of space travel. See the videos - one, two, three, four and five. See Zuke on YouTube for more.

Florida Launch Range Obligations Complicates Shuttle Launch Decisions

The early Saturday morning scrub of the launch of the space shuttle Endeavour due to a hydrogen gas leak complicates matters relating to the Florida launch range for the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral over he next several days.

The Endeavour faces a minimum four-day turn around time to achieve the launch window and may have to actually delay the launch from Kennedy Space Center to June 20 due to the planned June 17 launch of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Launch Complex 41.

Space Shuttle mission managers have so serious decisions to make Sunday afternoon as continued space shuttle launch delays caused by technical problems or incelment weather could delay an already busy space shuttle launch schedule. Much delay could push the shuttle program into a new fiscal year with a resulting NASA budget problem.

Endeavour Launch Halted for Four Days

The launch of space shuttle Endeavour has been cancelled due to a hydrogen leak, NASA officials have announced. A gaseous hydrogen leak on a vent line for space shuttle Endeavour is postponing this morning's launch. The official scrub time was 12:26 a.m. EDT. Launch teams began draining Endeavour's external fuel tank of its liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen at 12:06 a.m.

After the leak is assessed, shuttle managers plan to meet to discuss what steps to take next, including targeting a new launch date for Endeavour's STS-127 mission to the International Space Station. More on Twitter and Mission Status and NASA TV.

Since NADA will not be able to physically get to the Ground Umbilical Carrier Plate for 24 hours, NASA has decided to move the Mission Management Team meeting to Sunday at 2:00 pm eastern. There will be no meeting on Saturday. NASA has decided to do a 96-hour scrub turnaround plan (4 days) since NASA knows it will take at least that long to get back into launch configuration. There is still no new launch date set.

Diplomat-Attorney Serves as Soyuz Back-Up

An amazing woman with a colorful resume will be the primary back-up spaceflight participate for the September 30 Souyz launch to the International Space Station. Barbara Barrett, President and CEO of Triple Creek Guest Ranch, a Montana Hideaway, a former Bush-appointee as the U.S. Ambassador to Finland, a lawyer, and wife of Craig Barrett, retired chairman and CEO of Intel, will serve as the back-up for Canadian billionaire Guy Laliberte as designated by Virginia-based Space Adventures.

If Laliberte is barred from flying for medical or some other reason, Barrett will take the seat in the Soyuz TMA 16 spaceship.

The first question that comes to mind in learning about Barrett is whether or not she will become the first lawyer in space after backing-up the first commercial space artist. Regardless, Barrett holds an amazing resume of service and professionalism. She would be an excellent candidate for a subsequent primary flight crew to the International Space Station in the future. See China View for more.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Endeavour Readied for Launch to Orbit

A prelaunch webcast, live blogs, podcast, pictures and videos will highlight NASA's web coverage of space shuttle Endeavour's STS-127 mission to the International Space Station. Endeavour is scheduled to lift off Saturday, June 13, at 7:17 a.m. EDT (1117 GMT/UT) from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA will provide online updates at:

A webcast June 12 at 10 a.m. (1400 GMT/UT) will start the in-depth online coverage of the mission. Host Damon Talley of NASA's Digital Learning Network will preview the flight, and payload mission manager Scott Higginbotham will describe the Japanese Kibo laboratory complex andthe elements to be installed during Endeavour's mission. See also NASA-TV.

A blog will provide launch countdown updates beginning at 2 a.m. (0600 GMT/UT) on June 13. Originating from the Launch Control Center at Kennedy, the blog is the definitive Internet source for information leading up to l aunch. See also NASA-TV.

During the STS-127 mission, visitors to NASA's shuttle Web site can read about the astronauts' progress and watch their five spacewalks live. Also, updates will be provided to the NASA News Twitter feed. To access the feed, visit: Also, Mission Status is provided by SpaceFlightNow.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Kaguya Crash Lands on the Moon

The Japanese lunar space probe Kaguya was maneuvered to an uncontrolled crash landing on the surface of the Moon near the South Pole around 80.4 degrees east longitude and 65.5 degrees south latitude at 2:35 PM EST today to complete the spacecraft's final scientific endeavor, according to the Japanese JAXA space agency.

Kaguya hit the Moon at an oblique angle traveling approximately 6,000 km/hr. Clues to the end of Kaguya will come from high-res images of the crash site taken by future lunar orbiters. No photographs of the crash flash have been reported by Earth-bound astrononers this evening.

The impact site selection was not accidental. The Japanese space agency has long planned to end the mission with a controlled crash in the southern region of the lunar surface. Kaguya has been in lunar orbit since Oct. 2007; it has searched dark craters for evidence of frozen water, mapped the moon's gravitational field, and taken some of the all-time prettiest pictures of Earth's satellite.

Rock-N-Roll: God Bless America: Moon

Moon, the movie, opens Friday June 12th in theaters across America in what has described as an "atmospheric sci-fi drama." Director Duncan Jones (Zowie Bowie) and actor Sam Rockwell talk about the unique SciFi film that is a take-off on mining the moon in the future. Here is the Moon teaser and the Moon official site and the Moon Blog.

Moon [vid] has received solid reviews for a SciFi film that provides a glimpse into the future of Moon mining! Here are movie reviews from WIRED, the Huffington Post, ScreenRant, and the Ducan Jones Tweets.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Space Takes Larger Role in Virginia Politics

Virginia's June 9 primary election has produced two favorable candidates for governor and lieutenant governor for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Democrat Creigh Deeds and Jody Wagner.

The two will face-off in November's General Election with Republican Robert F. McDonnell for governor and Republican Bill Bolling for lieutenant governor. Virginia space politics has achieved a new level of political disussion never before realized in the state. It will be interesting to hear what Deeds-McDonnell say about space and the Wallops Island launch pad from this point. The election is Nov. 3rd.

Both Deeds and McDonnell have been outspoken in support of the Virginia commercial spaceport with Deeds pledging to fund more of the spaceport operations while Jody Wagner, Governor Kaine's former Secretary of Finance played a key role in putting together the bonding package for the location of Orbital Sciences Corporation to launch from Wallops Island, VA. earlier this year and the year before.

Bolling, on the other hand, has neglected participation in the Aerospace States Association as Virginia's incumbent lieutenant governor. The lack of aerospace advocacy by the incumbent has resulted in a measure of concern among Virginia aerospace interests as competition for a space business future heats among the states.

Monday, June 08, 2009


While NASA has named the next planned human spacecraft post-space shuttle 'Orion' it is still old chemical technology- using boosters under it to achieve orbit. But if we harken back in time to the dawn of the Space Age, there was once a different Orion design - a nuclear-powered vehicle with some of the engineering about it even today stamped TOP SECRET!

While there is a wonderful book enitled: Project Orion - A True Story of the Atomic Spaceship by George Dyson, there is also documentary called "Space Race: Project Orion" that should be reviewed by Blog readers interested in off-Earth rapid space transport in the future now on YouTube. The ideas for an atomic spaceship remain worthwhile and need to be revisited by 21st Century-minded atomic space engineers. The video links are in sequence - one, two, three, four and five. All five on one page may be easier to view.

The atomic spaceship [vid animation] needs international attention and cooperation for renewed research and design for subsequent construction if humans are to get much of anywhere in our solar system, [video by BBC]. It is time to open the skies and all the solar system to humankind! Remember Carl!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Ram Jakhu Talks Space Law on Space Show

Today Dr. Ram Jakhu, Associate Professor, Institute of Air and Space Law, McGill University, told Dr. David Livingston of The Space Show that space debris may be in orbit for a million years depending upon the orbits; and, the professor stated that he preferred the United Nations take a larger role in the world community as opposed to individual national policies in curbing space debris.

An expert in international space law, law of space applications, law of space commercialization, government regulation of space activities, law of telecommunications, and public international law, Jakhu also advocated that the United States seek to include the Chinese as a future partner in the International Space Station and engage them in space cooperation. More from The Space Show.

Dr. Jakhu says that if he had input he believes that the United States should return to the moon since the international community is now focused on sending several robotic missions to gather data on the Earth's nearest neighbor. However, he noted that if he had White House input he believes that we should not assign priorities but do it all: return to the moon with humans, build a lunar human habitat base, explore NEOs with humans; and, do a direct human mission to Mars. More from The Space Show.

As to North Korea, the international law space expert noted that the DPRK has become a signatory to the Space Treaty and nations must lend the benefit of the doubt that the North Korean nation is seeking to launch a satellite if the treaty notification obligations are observed.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Give Your Input to Space Policy Issues Today

There are multiple ways for Blog readers to have important input into the future development of civil and commercial space activities in the years ahead. Multiple polls and comment opportunities abound. But participation takes time yet may help provide guidance for the next twenty years.

The International Academy of Astronautics is hosting a survey online called "Space Expectations." The survey is about the impact of space on society and what is expected for the future of space. The survey is in 10 different languages, so most people can take it. Click HERE to take it in ten minutes.

The so-called Augustine Commission [Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee], an eleven member group of experts tasked by President Obama to examine the future of American spaceflight, is now accepting public comment on your ideas on the future of the United States in space and what direction NASA should take. Click HERE to comment and participate.

The poll of Spaceports Blogspot readers to the right hand side of this page will be reported to the Augustine Commission on July 1st. Please express your view of what should be the space agency's single most imporant task.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Japan's Kaguya to Crash Land on to the Moon

The KAGUYA (Selene) lunar orbiting space probe will crash on to the lunar surface is scheduled to be maneuvered to be dropped near GILL Crater (around 80 degrees east longitude and 63 degrees south latitude) on the moon’s front-side surface with final trajectory data being shared with the public so as to enable Earth telescopic observations of the final impact flash on June 11th (Japan). The expected controlled impact landing site is in the shade on the Moon. Lunar observations may yield visable flash from its collision with use of a telescope. The red star denotes the impact landing site now projected with impact location: near 64S (previously 63S), 80E. [Video of mission]

The Japanese Selenological and Engineering Explorer (Selene) spacecraft mission has been interesting to watch unfold from launch to the first digital images to Earth-Set- to-the extended mode. One of the more interesting image data sets was "the diamond ring."

Meanwhile , NASA is in a launch campaign at Cape Canveral for two lunar probes to be launched June 17th [video].

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Montreal Billionaire to be 1st Space Artist

Canadian billionaire Guy Laliberte will be the next and seventh private space flight participant (space toruist) to ride a Soyuz capsule to the International Space Station launching September 30, 2009 in what he called a "poetic social mission" to raise awareness about water issues it was announced today at a press conference. More from MosNews and Russia Today video.

"My mission is dedicated to making a difference on this vital resource by using what I know best: artistry," Laliberte, 49, a a fire-eating street performer turned entrepreneur said. "This will be the first poetic social mission in space," [Video of Laliberte on his upcoming space adventure - French version].

The first artist in space was brokered by Virginia-based Space Adventures, Ltd. The space tourist sales agency plans dedicated Soyuz missions in 2012-2013 time frame enabling two space tourists per launch.

McDonnell Supports Virginia Spaceport

Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee and former state Attorney General Robert "Bob" F. McDonnell has provided political support for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport with great consistentecy on the campaign trail beginning with the statewide launch of his campaign; and, he continues to do so in a recent interview with Human, a voice of the conservatives denoting how space politics is being elevated in the Commonwealth these days.

Human Events Editor Jed Babbin posed this question: "One of the things you mentioned in your speech was also a little bit out of the ordinary. You said you wanted to build an east coast spaceport in Virginia. Why? How are you going to do that? What does it mean for the state?"

McDonnell responded: "Well, we’ve got the start of that already at Wallops Island, Virginia. We’ve got a spaceport that we’ve actually just teamed up with Maryland that just got its first major contract from Orbital [Sciences Corporation], a [$1.9] billion contract to launch satellites over the next couple of years. We competed with Cape Canaveral and won. It’s a tremendous victory for Virginia space travel. I think in the future, we all know, that space exploration and satellites and technology is going to be a tremendous source of economic activity in the future. I want to be at the cutting edge of that. We’ve got a start already. I know there are some things to do to boost state support of that, to help them with more research and development, to help them get more contracts. If we do that, I think it has enormous possibilities for jobs and new revenues to come to Virginia. That’s one of our great assets: We’re going to continue to make it better."

The Democratic primary is Tuesday, June 9 among Democrats Terry McAuliffe, Brian Moran and Creigh Deeds. The winner of the primary will face McDonnell on the November General Election ballot with space politics raised to a new level in Virginia state politics.

New Space Plane to Orbit Early Next Year?

The US Air Force's X-37B, a prototype space plane designed to ferry small payloads to and from Earth orbit, will launch onboard an Atlas V Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) in January 2010, reports Leonard David.

An unpiloted military space plane, the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle will launch from Cape Canaveral to low earth orbit (once around) and make an auto-pilot control landing into either Vandenberg Air Force Base, California or Edwards Air Force Base, California. The space flight test is coming after repeated development delays.

In size the X-37B is about one-quarter the length and width of a space shuttle orbiter coming in at about 27.5 feet long, a 15-foot wingspan, and weighing about 5 tons. The vehicle could mark a new revolution in space access enhancing the capability of picking-up space debris; providing service to aging satellites; and enahnce possible point-to-point exo-atmospheric flights, [Video].

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Endeavour Cleared for June 13 Launch to ISS

After a review by the top management team today, the space shuttle Endeavour STS-127 mission has been cleared for a launch from the Kennedy Space Center on Saturday, June 13th. The shuttle will subsequently dock with the International Space Station on a 16-day mission with five spacewalks in the mission portifilo. When Endeavour docks with the space station a new record of thirteen people will then be aboard the orbiting lab for the first time. More from

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

AT-RISK: Mars Rover Spirit Stuck in Soil

Scientists are concerned about the condition of the Mars Rover Spirit as it is stuck in the soil on the planet Mars. The golf cart-sized vehicle finds its six-wheels sinking half way into the ground and slipping severely in a unique combination of soft, sandy material (regolith) that slopes in a place known as Gusev crater.

Mission scientists have ceased to move the rover in an attempt to create a mock-up on Earth of the situation millions of miles from the control room in an attempt to free the vehicle and continue Mars surface exploration operations. If the rover wheels can not be set free it will be marooned in-place stuck in hub-deep and up to its belly in a patch of soft sand. One Mars scientists said, "Spirit is in a very difficult situation. We are proceeding methodically and cautiously." More from The San Francisco Chronicle and NPR audio.

North and South Koreas Planning Launches

Both North Korea and South Korea are planning what appears to be orbital space launches this month and next in what appears to be a space and rocket technology race between the divided Koreas.

Media reports that North Korea has commenced the development of a long-range missile to launch from the Dongchang-ni site on North Korea's west coast in the next few weeks. The rocket may be a version of the Taepodong-2 capable of a 4,000 mile range or perhaps orbit. A proported satellite launch last April by the North Koreans appeared to the outside world to be a failure. North Korea has been exporting rocket technology to Iran and Pakistan according to The Times of India.

Meanwhile, South Korea is planning an orbital space launch July 30 from the Naro Space Centre in Goheung situated about 300-miles south of south of Seoul. The first stage booster (Angara UM) and the launch pad were designed by Russian engineers while the second stages and satellite are designed and built by South Koreans. The Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1 (KSLV-1) [foto above] stands 108 feet tall, according to media reports.

Space Adventures to Name Next Tourist

The Soyuz TMA-16 will provide a ride to the International Space Station September 30 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome for an unamed Canadian space flight participant (space tourist), a business entrepreneur, to be named on Thursday, June 4, 2009, 9 AM EDT at press conferences in Moscow and Montreal, according to Space Adventures, Ltd. of Virginia.

This may be the last of the space tourist flights until 2012 when the Russians have agreed to launch space tourists two-at-a-time. NASA has contracted additional seats on the Soyuz into 2012 as the space shuttle is retired.

Soyuz TMA-16 will be commanded by Russian cosmonaut Maksim Surayev and American flight engineer Jeff Williams, who together will join the Expedition 21 crew on the space station.