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Monday, November 30, 2009

Blog Readers Show Support for NASA's Human Return to Moon


Water molecules have been declared by lunar scientists to be wide spread on the Moon's surface. Do you believe the scientific finding should impact American space policy and budgets in the future?

Seventy-two percent (72%) of the 251 blog poll respondents said: "US astronauts should proceed with plans for a lunar landing by 2020 by adding more money to the NASA budget."

Eighteen percent (18%) said: "The US should scrap a government lunar landing and leave it to the private commercial space launch sector to send commercial astronauts to the Moon regardless of how long it may take."

A mere combined eight percent (08%) said that the United States should pursue only robot probes to the Moon or that sending probes to the Moon was a waste of funds.

Safety Dance Hearings Set for Wednesday on Capitol Hill by Two House Subcommittees

Not one but two House Congressional Committees will holding simultaneous hearings Wednesday on ensuring the safety of human spaceflight according to various reports by Space News. The politics of safety of human-rating NASA and commercial launch vehicles and spacecraft will be examined with enlightened moments expected from several witnesses.

The House Committee on Science & Technology's Subcommittee on Space & Aeronautics will gather from 10:00AM - 12:00PM, Wednesday, December 2, 2009 in Room 2318 of the Rayburn Building. Meanwhile, at the same date and time, the House Transportation and Infrastructure's Subcommittee on Aviation will be meeting in Room 2176 of the Rayburn Building. The hearing will be webcast for those unable to attend to hear the testimony of the listed witnesses as they dance under questioning.

While the matter of human astronaut safety is always important, some see the tactic of the hearings to speed the development of the Ares-1 booster to close the gap in American human spaceflight. While human safety should be a well-regulated issue, commercial astronauts should not be subject to NASA-like safety regulations. The states of Virginia, Florida, and Texas have already stated in public policy that individuals may assume certain risks associated with human spaceflight from those states.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Vast New Saturn Ring Explained

2010: Space Shuttle Program Odyssey Ends

With the STS-129 Atlantis space shuttle mission now back at the Kennedy Space Center from the final ISS flight of 2009, the space shuttle program is set to begin the final year of flight in 2010. Five flights are pending in the manifest with the International Space Station as the orbital destination. The final shuttle astronaut crews have been named and are in mission training. By the end of 2010, American astronauts will be Russian Soyuz-dependent for access to space. 
  1. STS-130 Endeavour is scheduled to launch on February 4, 2010;
  2. STS-131 Discovery is scheduled to launch on March 18, 2010;
  3. STS-132 Atlantis is scheduled to launch May 14, 2010;
  4. SRS-134 Endeavour is scheduled to launch on July 29, 2010;
  5. STS-133 Discovery is scheduled to launch on September 16, 2010.

Take the 5-Minute Tour of the Space Station

ISS Expedition 21 Command Symbolizes European Equal Partnership in Space


European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne - the head of International Space Station Expedition 21 - speaks with Russia Today from orbit yesterday. De Winne has been the first European Commander of the space station. Americans and Russians having held the command post otherwise since inception. The Expedition 22 will be commanded by American astronaut Jeff Williams next month.

Friday, November 27, 2009

2010: A Chinese Lunar Space Odyssey

The Chang'e-2 lunar orbiter will be launched to the Moon in October 2010 by the People's Republic of China, and its first lunar rover prior to the end of 2012, according to Ye Peijian, chief designer of the nation's first moon probe in a report by China Daily.

The scientist also said Chang'e-3, China's first lunar lander and rover, is scheduled to be launched on board a Long March 3B launch booster rocket from the Xichang space center in southwestern China prior to 2013. The first Chinese lunar landing mission in the Sinus Iridium (Bay of Rainbows) will explore the geological structure of the Moon in search of usable resources,  AP.

The ultimate goal of the Chinese project is to put a man on the Moon by 2020 and build a space base on the Earth's natural satellite by 2050. China has expressed interest in mining and extraction of helium 3 from the lunar surface.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Case for Life on Mars: Biomarkers Found in the ALH84001 Martian Meteorite Again


New chemical and fossil evidence of ancient microbial life on Mars carried to Earth by the famous Allan Hills 84001 meteorite is now withstanding the test of time through utilzation of more highly advanced High Resolution Electron Microscopy confirms the remains of life —in the form of fossils—of bacteria-like lifeforms.

After having first burst into global mass media awarness with a press conference by President Bill Clinton in 1996 announcing the ancient life form from Mars, the Allan Hills 84001 meteorite encounted opposing theories among astrobiology scientists. But the new and more detailed data on magnetite crystals and carbonate discs now available largely counter a wide range of opposing theories on the ancient fossil bacteria-like lifeforms.

SpaceFlightNow has a detailed article on the new paper and other publications coming from the original NASA science team that advanced the ancient life theory on Mars contained within the Alan Hills 84001 meteorite.

In 1976 there was debate as to life on Mars as well and more than three decades later, scientists have concluded there was once and may still be large amounts of Mars water. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Cassini Records Saturian Aurora


Dr. Andy Ingersoll, professor of planetary science at the California Institute of Technology, describes the aurora of the planet Saturn and the similarity with the aurora of Earth in this newly released NASA JPL video. 22nd Century human settlers are going to enjoy life in the Saturian moon system for resources to the many wonderus views of the new worlds.

Space Community Coming to 'Plymouth Rock' Human Outerspace Mission for Thanksgiving

Over three years ago the buzz of a new human mission destination began to bubble within planetary science circles across the nation; and more recently, the buzz is growing into a clammier by some in space policy circles to take humans to a new destination: near earth asteroids (NEO's). The mission is now dubbed "Plymouth Rock," as space science journalist Leonard David reports. NASA's leadership may have been briefed just this week prior to the Thanksgiving holiday on key aspects of such a proposed Orion Mayflower-like mission.

Yesterday Space Frontier Foundation co-founder Rick Tumlinson noted in an e-Mail that: "when it comes to the Moon vs. NEOs we want it all. But right now the cultural 'permission to spend' tax dollars is not favourable to the Moon. An NEO mission plays into several factors that do work in the current climate."

Tumlinson seeks to make five points:

1. G.W. Bush put his stamp on the Moon (and blew it). Just as Nixon hated the idea that Apollo was a legacy of Kennedy, so too Obama will want something that is uniquely his historically.

2. Obama needs something inspiring to help rally the imagination of a new generation that sees Apollo and the Moon as some sort of black and white newsreel from the dawn of time.

3. NEO's play well into the planetary survival ethic sweeping the new generations and allow a cultural marketing narrative regarding saving the Earth.

4. Given the gravity well issues, it is far easier and cheaper to do than going down into the Moon's and coming back up again - which NASA can't afford. It literally is more about long trip times, the ability to maneuver in micro G and handling materials/samples/contaminants.

5. NASA doesn't have to justify it in terms of how it really fits a Mars scenario other than one that is visit only oriented. In other words, a Lunar outpost scenario requires ongoing financial support, all kinds of mental (for NASA) gymnastics about how to create long term viability and crosses into that nasty (for NASA) area of how to deal with a private sector hand off/legacy.

SO, there you have it. Such a mission will certainly give meaning to the so-called "flexiable path" and give rise to the Ares-V heavy-lift that this Blogger endorsed some time ago. Just-in-time [JIT] for Thanksgiving Holiday, the Old and New space communities are arriving at Plymouth Rock! :-) [see vid]

STS-129 Undocked from ISS Today; Possible Tandum Sighting in Early Evening Skies


The Space Shuttle Atlantis on mission STS-129 has undocked from the International Space Station this morning following three successful spacewalks and delivering long-term supplies to the orbital lab. Millions along the eastern United States have the opportunity to see the space shuttle and space station flying across the skies in the early evening this day in an unsual tandum double flyby spaceflight. For specific times in your location click Satellite Flybys and enter your US zip code. Clear skies!

'Blue Origin' Astronaut Flights in 2012?


The Blue Origin spacecraft is being readied for spaceflight with perhaps private astronauts flying in 2012 from the private Texas spaceport, according to the private space firm's web site update with inquiries being directed to Dr. Alan Stern, Blue Origin's advisor for Research and Education Mission applications: astern@blueorigin.com. The Blue Origin space launch firm is owned by Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos.

CosmicLog journalist Alan Boyles reported more on the impending suborbital launch effort.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Ancient Ocean of Mars Bolstered by Map

An new innovative computer program has been used by scientists from Northern Illinois University [NIU] and the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston to add to the growing body of scientific eveidence that the planet Mars had an ancient and significant ocean of water.

Martain regions that are most densely dissected by the valley networks roughly form a belt around the planet between the equator and mid-southern latitudes, consistent with a past climate scenario that included precipitation and the presence of an ocean covering a large portion of Mars' northern hemisphere. The NASA-funded computer model study is being published in the current issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research — Planets.

"All the evidence gathered by analyzing the valley network on the new map points to a particular climate scenario on early Mars," NIU Geography Professor Wei Luo said. "It would have included rainfall and the existence of an ocean covering most of the northern hemisphere, or about one-third of the planet's surface." More from Lab Spaces.

SpaceShipTwo to be Unveiled December 7

On Monday, December 7th 2009 history will be made at the Mojave Desert Spaceport, California when Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites unveil SpaceShipTwo for the first time prior to her test flight program and the lead up to full commercial operations from Spaceport America in Upham, New Mexico in 2011.

All Virgin Galactic customers with confirmed reservations will be invited to this exclusive and exciting event hosted by Sir Richard Branson and renowned aircraft designer Burt Rutan. To be a customer, one should have remitted a deposit of a mimumum of $20,0000 before November 20, 2009 (but for cold-hard cash arrangements could be made at this date).

There are five SS2's planned for the Virgin Galatic fleet with the first called "Enterprise" and the second "Voyager." There are two WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft named "VMS Eve" and "VMS Spirit of Steve Fossett."

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Real Challenge of John F. Kennedy: Explore The Cosmos as Humans Together


Editorial: The challenge of space exploration to the Moon, Mars, and the planets beyond should be one of the human race, not just of individual nations, in the 21st Century. The peoples of the United States, Russia, China, India, Japan, and, the European Union should join in a multilateral effort to take humans to Mars and enable all mankind to benefit from the knowledge and benefits to be gained.

Just as President John F. Kennedy envisioned in his speech to the United Nations United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 20, 1963, in a speech largely directed to the Soviet leadership, we today, as Americans, Russians, Chinese, Europeans, Japanese, Indians, and other nationalities, have again the opportunity to achieve together humankind's greatest single accomplishment of the first half of the 21st Century.

President Barack Obama has before him a very unique opportunity to engage mankind in a global dialectic to push technology, knowledge, and human civilization to a new height never before achieved in human history: a true multinational treaty effort to lead humanity to explore the cosmos hand-in-hand.

The costs are simply too great and the technological investment challenges too much of a burden on any one single national economy to mount human space expeditions to the Moon, Mars, and the asteroids. But together, Earth's space-capable nations can become a spacefaring humanity. Such a goal, backed by international law and dedicated mulit-state cooperation, could change the course of human history.

At first blush, the thought of such a significant goal of human deep space exploration among nations that have, at points in the past, fought wars with one another may sound utopian or even a scene of science fiction, but it has the rational of a well-crafted dialectic.

In 1963, John F. Kennedy faced the concerns of Cold War fear, technology transfer, and cultural differences. Nonetheless, a young president of the New Frontier made the offer in a statement to the world and stated his thesis to which the Soviets, in error, rejected. The anti-thesis to the idea of interplanetary exploration has been one based upon national security. The period of the post-Cold War has resulted in American nation as a space leader but one now retrenched in costly regulatory regimes in a false-witted attempt to bottle space technology to American shores.

The finite resources of individual nations, the contradictions in geopolitics, and the globalization of economics are bringing space-capable nations to the turning point of significant qualitative change. The spiral of change is challenging space-capable humanity to forge the technology and knowledge to explore beyond our planet, together and as a human species - not solely as Americans, Russians, Chinese, or Indians.

If nothing more, on this the 46th anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination, perhaps it is worthy to again think about the once president's remarks to the United Nations just a month prior to his death. Then renew hope for humankind on the New-New Frontier. There may even be the chance to gain understanding on the question: 'are we alone in the Universe?"

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Enceladus Images: 'Supercalifragilistic!'

"Supercalifragilistic is the only word I can come up with to describe this flyby" [during Cassini's close encounter of the Saturian moon Enceladus on Nov. 21, 2009] said one planetary scientist. "This batch of pictures further convinces me that Enceladus could be humankinds perfect jumping off point on it’s “Trek to the Stars,"' says one observer of the images returned today.

WISE: A Celestial Treasure Hunt


The WISE infrared astronomy satellite will take to the pre-sunrise sky at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California between 6:10 and 6:23 AM PST on Wednesday, December 9, 2009. It will hunt for asteroids, comets, brown dwarf stars and conduct a deep space survey. Here is more detial from NASA JPL.

The Hunt for 'God Particle' Resumes


The Large Hadron Collider, the $10 billion machine and the world's largest particle accelerator near Geneva, Switzerland, resumed operation last night in search of the Higgs boson, the mysterious particle that is regarded as the universal origin of mass. That name of Higgs boson is branded in modern culture as the God particle - the fundamental building blocks of all things.

The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) operates the up to circulate a high-energy proton beam around the collider's 17-mile tunnel backed by some 26-nations with the goal simple and grandiose: It was created to discover new particles.

One of the most sought of these is the Higgs boson, also known as the God particle because, according to current theory, it endowed all other particles with mass. Or perhaps the LHC will find “supersymmetric” particles, exotic partners to known particles like electrons and quarks.

Such a discovery would be a big step toward developing a unified description of the four fundamental forces—the “theory of everything” [TOE] that would explain all the basic interactions in the universe. As a bonus, some of those supersymmetric particles might turn out to be dark matter, the unseen stuff that seems to hold galaxies together.

A unique video report from CNN on the collider and how the future may now play a role. Known as one of the father's of string theory, Dr. Holger Bech Nielsen has gained attention with a radical thoeory suggesting that the Higgs boson particle might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could create one, in a fashion similar to the time travel Grandfather paradox. The theory is explained in a New York Times essay.

Sykes Discusses Space Exploration on NPR

NPR's Talk of the Nation interviews Dr. Mark Sykes of the University of Arizona's Planetary Science Institute in a 24-minutes about the prospects of returning humans to the Moon in which he notes that the direction of space policy is now focused on White House presidential leadership.

Sykes notes that NASA's budget is less than one-half of one percent of the federal budget; and, he says that water on the Moon and Near Earth Asteroids (NEO's) are important to planetary science. The well-known scientist advocated that the nation adopt long-term goals in space rather than short-term firsts and adapt to international cooperation to gain more 'bang for the buck.'

Solar sail and electric propulsion system technology should be advanced, Sykes noted. He said that the government could help foster advancement in high-risk technologies. But the space expert notes the need for biological research for long-term human stays in space. He decired the 2005 cancellation of the Centrifuge Accommodations Module (CAM) for the space station.

Dr. Sykes is interested in the origin and evolution of dust in the solar system. He is a member of the Dawn Science Team. Dawn will be orbiting two of three surviving terrestrial protoplanets in the main asteroid belt: Vesta and Ceres.

California Utility Regulators May Approve Space-based Solar Power Commercial Project


The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has proposed approval of a long-term contract between PG&E Corp.'s (PCG) utility and the Solaren Corp, developers of a technology that would beam 200 megawatts of solar power to earth from outer space if the plan is approved prior to December 3, 2009, according to various media reports. The CPUC's proposed draft approval decision is linked here. The Solaren plan is to offer PG&E electricity from space in 2016.

PowerSat and Space Energy are other private sector firms looking to take space-based solar power technology to the commercial market. TEDx Notting Hill heard a presentation from Peter Sage (videos 1 and 2) last month. The second decade of the 21st Century may bear witnesses space-based solar power demonstration-to-commercialization.

Virginia has the essentials to also take-up space-based solar power in the near-term future. There are discussions underway within the Virginia Technology Alliance to discuss in 2010 the the concept of a space-based solar power energy demonstrator-to-commercial flyer.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Florida Seeks to Establish Commercial Launch Zone Tax Incentives Post 2014

Space Florida recently completed a 100% draft of the updated Spaceport Master Plan, a detailed document (required by Florida Statute) that addresses "the expansion and modernization of space transportation facilities in Florida."

The plan details specific infrastructure projects proposed to the Florida Department of Transportation, for consideration in the FDOT Five-Year Work Program. This most recent draft of Space Florida's Spaceport Master Plan [PDF] assesses current space infrastructure and capacity in Florida (as well as the needs of the market), identifies plans for modernization and expansion, and describes a path for implementation.

Florida's 2010 legislative session will consider HB 133 to create a new section of the Florida Statutes (FS 220.194) designed to establish Commercial Launch Zone tax incentives. The measure provides credits against corporate income tax for taxpayers that create or provide investments for spaceflight projects; establishes eligibility requirements for tax credits; allows for carry forward of tax credits; provides application and certification requirements; provides for expiration and renewal of taxpayer's eligibility for tax credits; and other administrative procedures.

Spirit Moves on Mars by 1/2 Inch

The Mars Exploration Rover (MER) Spirit moved forward by a mere one-half inch in seeking to gain freedom from a sand trap in which it has been lodged the past six months after commands were sent to from Earth Monday to attempt to extricate itself from sand. The rover wheels are up to the hubcaps in the Martain sand. Mission scientists believe progress has been made in getting the rover free with a one-half inch movement but further analysis is deemed required prior to the next attempted move.

A Step Back in Time: The Pilots of Buran


Part 2 and Part 3 of the The Pilots of Buran - the Soviet Space Shuttle of yesteryear. Within the next few years we will have dozens of American space shuttle pilots sitting around in reflection and recollection of piloting the shuttle to-and-from Earth orbit; so, perhaps this is just a look-see into the future.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Meteor Lights-Up Utah


The University of Utah's new Willard L. Eccles Observatory at Frisco Peak astronomer say the Bolide Meteor was probably a straggler from Tuesday's Leonid meteor shower. There were reports that the meteor was seen in Idaho, Nevada and California.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

China and US To Seek Space Cooperation


CNN UPDATE: China and the United States pledged today to step up military exchanges and safeguard the peaceful use of outer space after talks between Chinese President Hu Jintao and visiting US President Barack Obama and in a joint statement said “the two countries have common interests in promoting the peaceful use of outer space and agree to take steps to enhance security in outer space.”

"We are willing to act on the basis of mutual benefit and reciprocity to deepen our cooperation on counterterrorism, law enforcement, science, technology, outer space, civil aviation, and engage in cooperation in space exploration, high- speed railway infrastructure, in agriculture, health, and other fields," the Chinese president said in a seperate statement to Chinese media.

As to the possible areas of cooperation in outer space and in space exploration, the joint statement commits the United States and China to “expanding discussions on space science cooperation and starting a dialogue on human space flight and space exploration.” According to the statement, the two countries will arrange reciprocal visits of the NASA administrator and the appropriate Chinese counterpart in 2010.” More from AFP and Florida Today.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Now Awaiting the Word from Mars

The commands have been sent to the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit to move from the sand trap but NASA JPL scientists suggest the outlook may be bleak. Whether or not there has been success in moving Spirit will not be known until sometime Tuesday. The rovers Spirit and Opportunity will have been operational on Mars the past six years this coming January 2010. More from SpaceflightNow and MarsDaily.

Atlantis Makes Orbit on Way to ISS


RINGSIDE SEAT VIDEOS: The Atlantis space shuttle was launched on-time at at 2:28 PM EST from the Kennedy Space Center today for docking with the International Space Station Wednesday morning for the last human launch of the calendar year. It was a 'flawless climb to orbit.' And, another vid of the launch from the press site and the VIP site.

Only five space shuttle launches remain to the space station before the shuttle fleet is retired in late 2010. STS-130 Endeavour is set for launch February 4, 2010. President Obama is expected to make key civil and commercial space launch policy decisions prior to the year end.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Atlantis a 'GO' for Monday - 2:28 PM


The Space Shuttle Atlantis on mission STS-129 is set to go for a thundering rumble to orbit Monday at 2:28 p.m. EST (1928 GMT) on Nov. 16 at from Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. to carry six astronauts and two cases of large spare parts to the station. The weather outlook is very optimistic for Monday, with a 90 percent chance of clear skies predicted; see the Mission Status Center.

NASA-TV will webcast the launch while many NASA Twitter guests will provide coverage of the event. Linked is a piece on the STS-129 Mission Profile. STS-129 will also deliver the UHF Unit to assist the first SpaceX launch to the International Space Station.

Unlike the recent solid rocket booster launch of the Ares 1-X, the space shuttle will utilize two solid rocket boosters and three liquid main engines to dart of the launch pad and into the clear blue afternoon Florida skies. On-site observation will enable to see the solid rocket booster seperation. Stay-turned for more on the last of the nation's space shuttle missions.

Outer Space Security Report Released


Outer space security has become an increasingly important issue over recent years leaving the interenation community to discuss how to cope with the rising tide of orbital space debris; new international rules of behavior for safe operations in space; and , a sustainable space environment for global space activities, according to a recent press release from the Secure World Foundation.

A new report has flagged a series of recommendations to help address the orbital debris concern, and other issues that can assure enhanced security in space for all. The report -- entitled "Towards Greater Security in Outer Space: Some Recommendations" [PDF]-- has been released, made possible by information gathered during a recent workshop held in Paris, France and co-sponsored by Secure World Foundation and the L’Institut fran├žais des relations internationales (Ifri). A discussion of the UN draft treaty banning space weapons is also reviewed.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Moon water: what next?

With the declaration of a significant amount of water on the lunar south pole, many wonder what next? Will there is an attempt to gather the H2O (Rachel Maddow interviews Bill Nye)? NatGeo provides an outlook on how human civilization will seek to gather the first water on the Moon in this video.

But media around the Earth took note - as this NBC report on the Friday nightly newscast; and, an IBN report from India on the potential longer-term impact of lunar water. There will be more spaceprobes sent to the Moon in the coming decade.

NASA Proceeds with Commercial Crew Development with Stimulus Money

The NASA Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) has taken an incremental step in the process to award $50-million in economic stimulus money meant to seed development of commercial crew transportation services to at least six firms, SpaceNews reports.

Among the private sector firms are: Ball Aerospace & Technologies, Boeing Co., Paragon Space Development Corp. with Orbital Sciences Corporation, Sierra Nevada Corp., Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and United Launch Alliance. The firms submitted development proposals to NASA last September.

SpaceX Protests Orbital Sciences Moon Flight Now Set for a Virginia Launch in May 2012

SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies Corp. has lodged an October 26, 2009 bid protest with the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) against Virginia-based and publicly traded Orbital Sciences Corporation relating to the launch NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft using surplus missile hardware, according to SpaceNews.

LADEE is now set to be launched aboard a Minotaur 5 in May 2012 from Virginia's Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Accomack County. It would be the first lunar launch from the spaceport. The GAO will make a finding prior to the end of January 2010.

Friday, November 13, 2009

TEDx NASA Hosted by Langley in Virginia


Get your ticket to the Tedx NASA event for next Friday HERE. The unique event will be streamed LIVE from Newport News, Virginia for those who can not otherwise attend. The event may serve as a template for other NASA research centers in the near-term future.

Gallons of Water Splashed on the Moon


"Indeed, yes, we found water. And we didn't find just a little bit. We found a significant amount," said Anthony Colaprete, the NASA lead scientist for the LCROSS lunar mission, holding up white gallon water buckets for emphasis, reports Associated Press, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, MSNBC, Nature, and NPR.

The stunning amount of water now confirmed on the Moon may drive future lunar exploration. The space policy debate and required federal funding for a civil space program to explore the new find with humans is underway. There are but a few days remaining to particiapte in the Spaceports blog poll on the subject. Please participate to the top right of the web page.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Spirit Ready to Face Challenge to Move

The Mars Rover 'Spirit' will get a critical command Monday to spin the wheels and backout of the salty deposits in which it has been stuck for over six months in the Mars soil. It will be an essential attempt to get out of the stationary position and explore more of the Martain surface features, NPR audio. Meanwhile, Bill Harwood at CBS provides interesting details on the five year old surface rover as it faces "the most challenging situation it's seen yet on the surface of Mars." More from NASA.

View the video of the planned Great Mars Sandtrap Espace.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Earth almost hit by asteroid 2009 VA


A newly discovered small asteroid designated 2009 VA, which is only about 23 feet in size, passed about 2 Earth radii (8,700 miles) from the Earth's surface Nov. 6 at around 4:30 PM EST. This is the third-closest known (non-impacting) Earth approach on record for a cataloged asteroid, according to NASA JPL NEO office. On average, objects the size of 2009 VA pass this close about twice per year and impact Earth about once every 5 years.

Unique about this event was that it was discovered by astronomers at the Catalina Sky Survey only 15 hours before the closest appraoch to Earth at 8,700 miles as it came well inside the "Clarke Belt" of geo-stationary satellites above the Earth. Asteroid 2009 VA's orbit brought it 30 times nearer than the Moon, which is a mere 250,000 miles away.

Astronomers tell us that the asteroid was the perfect size to create an amazing show if it had entered the earth's atmosphere but would have most probably burned to fragments upon entry to Earth's atmosphere.

By 2020, NASA aims to have detected most large asteroids and comets that approach the Earth. NASA Masrhall has developed a design for a spacecraft to seek to intercept threatening asteroids. It is not yet built.

Kourou Pad for Soyuz Vertical Integration


The first of many Soyuz boosters will take off from the European Spaceport in French Guiana next year marking a benchmark, It will be the first time a Russian-made Soyuz is launched from a spaceport other than Baikonur or Plesetsk. The above video animation shows how the Soyuz will be vertically prepared for launch at the pad at the Kourou spaceport.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Mars Joint Exploration Initiative Signed by NASA and ESA for New Red Planet Missions

NASA administrator Charles Bolden and the ESA director-general Jean-Jacques Dordain have signed a "letter of intent" recently for the Mars Joint Exploration Initiative in Washington to plan missions to Mars beginning with a European-led orbiter in 2016, and continue with surface rovers in 2018, and then perhaps a network of landers in 2018, according to the BBC.

  • 2016: A European-led orbiter to study trace gases, including methane, in Mars' atmosphere. The mission would also put a static meteorological station on the surface. Critically, Europe would handle the entry, descent and landing (EDL) of this station - a capability it has yet to demonstrate.

  • 2018: European and American rovers would be despatched to Mars. The US would do the EDL.

  • 2020: "Under consideration" is a network of landers focused on geophysics and the environment.

Aviation Week had a report last month on the effort to reach agreement between Europe and the United States on a Mars Joint Exploration Initiative. NASA has conducted a Mars Exploration Status report in July.

Does the Vatican Accept Exobiology?

Vatican chief astronomer Father Jose Gabriel Funes, in a Washington Post story today, reports on an interview last year [video] in which the preist noted the possibility of "brother extraterrestrials" and that such poses no problem for Catholic theology. "As a multiplicity of creatures exists on Earth, so there could be other beings, also intelligent, created by God," Funes explained. "This does not conflict with our faith because we cannot put limits on the creative freedom of God."

The statements by Funes are the latest in a string of comments in recent years by Vatican astronomers confirming a belief that discovery may be made in the near future of alien life, including intelligent life, and that this discovery would not unhinge the doctrine of Christ.

Approximately 9 years ago the late Monsignor Corrado Balducci made similar news [video] when he said extraterrestrials [ETs] were actually already interacting with earth and that some of the Vatican's leaders were aware of it.

In 2005, Guy Consolmagno published a short book with the Catholic Truth Society on "Intelligent Life in the Universe - Catholic belief and the search for extraterrestrial intelligent life" to provide the faithful reassurance to the modern day questions being posed by the science of astrobiology.

Chinese President Hu Cools 'Star Wars' Talk

Chinese President Hu Jintao said his nation supported the peaceful use of outer space Friday, days after his air force commander sparked concerns by saying an arms race in space was inevitable and one day after the Chinese foreign ministry also said China wanted peace in space, AFP reports from the Xinhua news agency.

"China will unswervingly uphold a national defence policy that is defensive in nature, and will never seek military expansion and an arms race," Xinhua news agency quoted Hu as telling visiting foreign air force delegations. "China will ... support the peaceful development of outer space and actively participate in cooperation on global space security."

President Hu Jintao appeared to seek to cool the 'Star Wars'-like rhetoric by the air force commander, Xu Qiliang, who told the state press that it was imperative for China's air force to develop offensive and defensive operations in outer space.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Saturn's moon Enceladus Flyby November 21

Cassini approached the Saturn moon Enceladus November 2 sparking renewed public interest in the plumes shooting out from the south polar region; the spacecraft will return to the moon November 21 to gain more data on the unusual body. The Enceladus geysers are one of the more unique locations in the solar system that will most certainly spawn more scientific investigation in the coming decade.

There are a number of YouTube video to learn more about Enceladus, e.g. one, two and three. NASA, USA Today, Wired, NewsPost, and Spaceflight Now have the latest news of the Cassini approach of 60 miles to the surface of Enceladus. There is speculation of the possibility of alien life on the very unusual moon of Saturn.

Soyuz on the way to South America!


Russia Today reports on two Soyuz rockets on their way to a 2010 launch from South America to supplement the previous post entitled Soyuz Coming to the New World in 2010. More from RIA Novosti.

Does Future Moon Mining Need New Treaty?

Lunar mining is a concept that is coming of age with the planned international efforts to map the Moon's minerals in detail and sending more and more new exploration landing craft to the surface. The rapidly coming age has sparked renewed interest in space treaties with some advancing that new international law regimes are needed for moon mining while others advance the idea that the treaties in-place now are sufficient.

Jerry B. Sanders, In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) lead for Lunar Surface Systems &ISRU Chief Engineer for Exploration Technology Development Program NASA-Johnson Space Center, recently posted to the LunarListServ this interesting information:

"To produce 10 MT of oxygen from regolith per year (enough for two Altair ascent vehicles + life support for a crew of 4 for a year) using the most inefficient extraction process (hydrogen reduction), it would require the excavation of a soccer field down 8 cm (~3 inches) over one year's time. To support reusable landers from surface to LLO twice per year, it would require ~10 times this amount of excavation. Besides hydrogen reduction, we are working on two other processes: Carbothermal which is 10 to 20 times more efficient, and molten electrolysis which is 20 to 40 % more efficient would require less material to be processed for 100 MT of O2 than is needed for 10 MT of O2 from hydrogen reduction and would most likely be selected once large production rates are desired," Sanders noted.

"The LCROSS spacecraft plume is stated to be about 10 Shuttle payload bays worth of material (http://lcross.arc.nasa.gov/impact.htm). This is about half the mass of material required to be excavated for making 100 MT of oxygen in a year using the lowest yield process. Using carbothermal or molten electrolysis methods, ISRU and space mining would excavate less material in a year then LCROSS raised into the lunar atmosphere in seconds!!!!"

"To summarize. The amount of material being processed is in significant when looking at the total lunar surface, the product generated by mining/ISRU will open up new areas of the Moon for scientific exploration, and the environmental impact is less than what just happened with LCROSS. 'Taming' business and ISRU at this time is like telling the Pilgrims and the early settlers of the west that they could only cut down a small number of trees and limit the amount of water they used or it would spoil the new world. After 50 years of sustained lunar exploration and expansion, you may need your legislation. At the moment. It is in everyone's best interest to make lunar exploration more than just a government financed effort or it will die like Apollo," Sanders says with reasoned economic logic.

Laser Motive Wins $900,000 from NASA

The Space Elevator got one step closer the past week as the LaserMotive Team of Kent, Washington racked-up a record 1km climb to the sky in record time [video] in the Climber / Power-Beaming competition, notes the Space Elevator Blog. There is more being reported on the win by The New York Times, Discover, and Associated Press and AP Video.

STS-129 Launch Campaign Underway


STS-129 countdown for Monday, Nov. 16 -- 2:28 p.m. EST.

Senate Votes NASA $18.7 Billion; Conference to Resolve With House

The U.S. Senate approved the $65 billion 2010 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill Nov. 5 by a vote of 71 to 28. The spending package, which includes $18.7 billion for NASA for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, reports SpaceNews.

In a strong show of support for President Barack Obama's vision for NASA and manned space missions, the Senate agreed Thursday to hand over all that he asked for: $4 billion to build cutting-edge spacecraft as part of an $18.7 billion budget, reports The Houston Chronicle.

The funding measure now goes to a Senate-House conference committee to resolve the difference with the House which cut human space flight funding by $670 million earlier this year.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Spaceports in Virginia and Florida Stimultated with Millions of NASA Money

NASA is spending $24 million on launch and test infrastructure at its Wallops flight facility where Orbital Sceinces Corporation will launch its Taurus II rocket from the Virginia-owned Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport and Kennedy Space Center, where SpaceX will operate its Falcon 9 booster, reports Rob Coppinger at Flightglobal.

The two spaceports represent what will be the vanguard pad locations of the orbital commercial space launch business designed to resupply the orbiting space station to 2020 and perhaps beyond. Both Orbital Sciences Corporation and SpaceX have commercial crew studies and designs in-the-works for possible use in 2015.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

UN Advances: 'confidence-building measures in outer space' pushed by Russia-China

The First Committee of the 64th UN General Assembly session approved on October 29 by consensus a draft resolution on transparency and confidence building measures in outer space activities (TCBMs) jointly submitted by Russia and China. Moreover, 68 countries had this year acted as cosponsors of the draft, reflecting the growth of its support among the UN member states. Of particular note, the EU countries became a collective cosponsor.

The unanimous support of a Russian draft proposal on confidence-building measures in outer space will pave the way for talks on an agreement on the demilitarization of space, a Russian diplomat said recently. The proposal for the space agreement was backed by China.

The draft resolution on Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures in Outer Space, submitted by Russia and China, was approved by all 192 members of the UN First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) recently.

In the past, only the United States and several island nations opposed similar Russian proposals. The approval of the draft document by the committee practically ensures that the proposals will be adopted by the UN General Assembly in December.

"The unanimous support of this resolution indicates that the conditions have been created to use this treaty as a basis for opening talks in the near future on a legally-binding agreement banning the deployment of weapons in outer space," said Viktor Vasilyev, a deputy head of the Russian delegation in the First Committee.

Vasilyev emphasized the fact that the U.S. has decided for the first time to go along with the rest of the world and Washington has noted the importance of bilateral cooperation with Russia on all issues related to outer space. It clearly shows the shift in U.S. global policies in general and builds up optimism on the success of future talks on demilitarization of outer space, the Russian diplomat concluded.

In consultation with allies, the United States is currently in the process of assessing options for international cooperation in space as a part of a comprehensive review of national space policy. This review of space cooperation options includes a “blank slate” analysis of the feasibility and desirability of options for TCBMs that enhance spaceflight safety and advance the national security interests of the United States and its allies, as well as of all spacefaring nations.

Gordon G. Chang
, a Forbes writer, has an interesting analysis of the space weapons politics.

China Insists Intention in Space Peaceful

The Chinese Foreign Ministry insisted Thursday that the nation's policy with regard to opposition to space weapons had not changed despite remarks from a top People's Liberation Army (PLA) air force general made this week.

"China has always advocated the peaceful use of outer space, and opposed the weaponisation of outer space and arms races there," foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said on Thursday. "China has not, and will never, participate in any kind of arms race in outer space... We have not changed our stance," as reported by Associated Press.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Ares 1-Y Dropped By NASA for Ares 1-X PRIME

NASA's Constellation Program has recommended dropping a planned follow-on Ares 1-Y to last week's successful Ares I-X flight-test because it doesn't have the funding necessary to get an upper stage engine ready in time, according to AviationWeek.

Instead, the Ares I-X engineering team will study the costs and benefits of going ahead with a 2012 launch previously dubbed "Ares I-X prime" that would flight-test a full five-segment Ares I solid-fuel first stage and the Orion crew exploration vehicle launch abort system at high altitude, according to Constellation Program Manager Jeff Hanley.

Power Beaming to Space; Some People Dream: Jordin Kare Works to Make It Real


A laser-powered machine has zipped thousands of feet up a cable dangling from a helicopter in a competition to develop space elevator technology. LaserMotive of Seattle qualified for at least $900,000 in the $2 million NASA-backed Space Elevator Games, which began Wednesday at the Dryden Flight Research Center on Edwards Air Force Base, California reports the Associated Press.

"Why?"

The $2M Power Beaming Challenge, part of the Space Elevator games, conducted by the Spaceward Foundation [video] in partnership with NASA, has a winner in Jordin T. Kare's LaserMotive. The Power Beaming challenge continues through Friday November 6 according to this MIT Technology Review report.

There is more on this story at The Telegraph, Next Big Future, Universe Today, and Cosmic Log.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Nuclear Rocket Propulsion Back in Vogue?

Today Wired reported on Russia's intention to build a nuclear-powered rocket reactor that was made public last week and included last Friday on the Spaceports.Blog. A radical change in deep space propulsion is needed if nations are to send humans to Mars in a reasonable amount of time and avoid many more associated physical and mental health issues.