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Thursday, December 30, 2010

"What would Elon do?" Fix and fly of course

Kennedy Space Center technicians have uncovered even more cracks on Discovery's external tank, NASA disclosed earlier today. The cracks leave the planned Thursday, February 3, 2011 lift-off date uncertain.

Discovery, on the STS-133 mission, first went to the launch pad in early November when leaks and weather pushed the launch date into December and again to February 2011. The ongoing cracks found in the External Tank has caused pause among the launch team. The launch stack was returned to the Vehicle Assembly Building near the launch site for further x-ray inspections prior to Christmas. More from PCMag.

A NASA management oversight team will determine next week whether the shuttle will stay with the scheduled launch date of Feb. 3, reports Aviation Week in greater detail.

Meanwhile, WBOI News reports that, NASA space shuttle launch teams have reportedly begun wearing shirts embroidered with the phrase, WWED,” or “What Would Elon Do?” Elon refers to Elon Musk, the founder and chief executive of SpaceX, who invested his personal fortune to pursue a dream of sending people into space.

Launch Update: The Last Days of 2010

Chow on the International Space Station

ESA highlights space activities of 2010

The European Space Agency highlights 2010 as a great year for ESA with achievements in different areas, including Earth Observation, Science, Human Spaceflight and Telecommunications. From the launch of Cryosat to the Planck sky scan, from Node 3 Cupola completing the iSS to Paolo Nespoli launched on Soyuz to the ISS, from the Rosetta flyby of asteroid Lutetia to the launch of Hylas providing broadband for Europe.

Habitables and the Fermi Paradox Explained

Dr. Claudio Maccone provides a statistical equation that is called the Statistical Equation for Habitables (SEH) as well as its relationship to the Statistical Fermi Paradox. He starts by noting that the statistics of habitable planets may be based on a set of ten (and possibly more) astrobiological requirements first pointed out by Stephen H. Dole in his book "Habitable planets for man" (1964) in this one hour SETI Talk.

Dr. Maccone provides the statistical generalization of the original (too simplistic) Dole equation by replacing a product of ten positive numbers by the product of ten positive random variables. This is called the "Statistical Equation for Habitables" or SEH. His proof is based on the Central Limit Theorem (CLT) of Statistics, stating that the sum of any number of independent random variables, each of which may be arbitrarily distributed, approaches a Gaussian (i.e. normal) random variable (Lyapunov form of the CLT).

Dr. Maccone also discsses the implications of this derivation, including a practical example of how the equation can be used to find the average distance between Habitables. Finally, this result will in turn be used to discover the statistical extension of the Fermi Paradox, namely the Fermi paradox re-read in terms of probability distributions.

Space Music for The New Year 2011

Inner Spacesuit - Flanger

Death of the Space Piper - Rare Air

Dune Rider - Eat Static

We Are the Shepherds - O.M.F.O.

Alone - Red Planet

The Dream - Total Recall

Mutant Dancing (Code Remix)

Man on the Moon - R.E.M.

Apollo 13 - James Horner

I Wanna Be A Cosmonaut - Riff Raff

Fly By Night - Rush

Future Signs - The Warm Jets

Welcoming Home the Astronauts - Flickerstick

Jack Names the Planets - Ash

Ghosts of American Astronauts - Mekons

Reverb 10000 - Man or Astro Man?

Electrostatic Brain Field - Man or Astro Man?

Full on Scientist - Flanger

Manta Ray - Man or Astro Man?

Come On Come On - Sleeper

Where You Get Love - Matthew Sweet

Quiet - The Bad Astronaut

'Shooting Star' - Les Baxter

Pharaoh - Eat Static

Galak - Flanger

Man of Action - Matthew Good Band

San Francisco Serenade - The Bad Astronaut

18 - Moby

Kashmir - Led Zepplin

UFO Over Trenchtown - Eat Static

What-up in January 2011?

Looking to the sky with the new Christmas telescope? Here are some ideas.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ariane 5 Rocket Successfully Launches

An Ariane 5 carrying two telecommunication satellites -- Hispasat 1E and Koreasat 6 -- lifted off Wednesday from the launch zone based in Kourou in French Guiana. The launch of Ariane 5 was postponed from Tuesday due to a windy weather. This is Arianespace's year-end mission and the sixth flight of the heavy-lift Ariane 5.

Hispasat 1E is designed to serve Spanish operator Hispasat on television and value-added broadband services in mobile, land and maritime environments. The other satellite, Koreasat 6, was built by U.S. Orbital Sciences Corporation and Thales Alenia Space of France for South Korea's KT Corporation. It is to provide broadcasting and communications services across South Korea. Both are now in orbit.

"This latest successful Ariane 5 launch, the sixth in 2010, once again proves the launcher’s operational capabilities. Ariane 5 is the only commercial satellite launcher now on the market capable of simultaneously launching two payloads and handling a complete range of missions, from commercial launches into geostationary orbit to scientific satellites boosted into special orbits", Arianespace touts.

Medvedev Seeks 'Performance Discipline'

Energia vice-president Vyacheslav Filin and Roskosmos deputy head Viktor Remishevsky have been fired for "the mistakes made in the fuel calculations," in the failed launch of three Glonass-M orbiters in a statement released by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

The Russian Proton-M rocket proved too heavy to reach its initial orbit during the December 5 launch and was forced to dump the three hi-tech Glonass-M satellites near Hawaii. The rocket had too much fuel adding weight.

The statement said Medvedev had reprimanded Roskosmos chief Anatoly Perminov and ordered the agency to be more careful in future work. "On the Russian President's instructions, Roskosmos will undertake additional measures to strengthen its performance discipline," the Kremlin said. More from the BBC.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Ariane 5 Re-Set to Wednesday in Guiana

In what may be the last orbital launch of the 2010 calendar year, a European Arianspace Ariane 5 will dual launch the Koreasat 6 and Hispasat 1E satellites from the Guiana Space Centre in French Guiana, South America on Wednesday, December 29, 2010 between 4:26 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. eastern time. The launch has been delayed due to incelemnt weather conditions today at the launch site. The launch will be webcast live, now slated for Wednesday.

While Flight 199 will place into geostationary transfer orbit the Hispasat 1E and KOREASAT 6 telecommunications satellites, the Ariane 5 will be looking for an expanded role in the number of launches in the international market next year including an expanded role in providing services to the International Space Station.

Alan Shepard to be honored on US stamp

Alan Shepard will be depicted on a 2011 U.S. postage stamp wearing the silver spacesuit in which he made history as the first American astronaut to fly into space and the fifth human to walk on the surface of the moon.

While honoring Shepard as the “First American in Space” — as the stamp’s inscription describes — the design, unfortunately, omits reference to Shepard also having been the fifth out of only 12 men to the walk on the moon.

The stamp’s design, which was quietly released last month by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), shows Shepard from his shoulders up centered between images of his rocket lifting off and his capsule above the Earth.

Opposite the astronaut’s portrait on an adjoining stamp, an artist’s rendering shows NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft orbiting the planet Mercury. The two US Postage stamps are timed to coincide with MESSENGER becoming the first spacecraft to enter orbit about Mercury on March 18, 2011 and the 50th anniversary of Shepard’s Mercury-Redstone 3 flight on May 5. The stamps are the first space-themed releases by the USPS in more than a decade.

Piers Corbyn and the solar magneic theory

Mocked British astrophysicist Piers Corbyn predicted Europe's winter of discontent. It makes one wonder as to the precision of his methods in Earth weather prediction based on the Sun and moon or solar magnetic theory.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Russians Have Successful Launch

VA Gov McDonnell Boosts Spaceport Budget

Earlier this month, Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell appeared before a joint meeting of the Senate Finance and House Appropriations Committees of the soon-to-be 2011 General Assembly in Richmond with his budget priorities for next year and among them - a financial boost for the state's commercial spaceport at Wallops Island.

McDonnell pledged significant operational support to the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority in 2010 increasing the operation budget of the spaceport to $1,379,095 and $1,000,000 for 2011. His latest request to the 2011 General Assembly is $1,379,095 for the next fiscal year beginning July 1, 2011 or a $379,079 increase over what was approved last year (line item K).

The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, one of only four FAA-commercial orbital launch facilities in the nation, is expected to commence launching re-supply and cargo to the International Space Station in 2011 from Wallops Island in Accomack County, Va. NASA is also planning a unmanned mission from Wallops Island to the Moon in early 2013.

Virginia was the first state in the nation to adopt a Commercial Space Flight Liability and Immunity statute in 2007 and the first to adopt a ZeroGravity-ZeroTax statute in 2008. Virginia's unique actions gained the attention of the Federal Aviation Administration, with a report naming the state as a 'Change Agent' for commercial space flight.

Virginia's Congressional delegation played a significant role in the adoption of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 in both the Senate and the House - 12 of 13 members voting 'yes.' The emerging aerospace state is expected to benefit from commercial space launch development.

Russian Duma Aprroves START Treaty

Russia's Duma (parliament) gave preliminary approval 350 to 58 to a new nuclear arms reduction treaty with the United States . Two confirming votes of the ratification under Russian legislative procedure are required in early 2011 for the new nuclear missile treaty to become binding. The linkage between offensive and defensive weapons continue to be debated in the Russian Duma.

The American Senate approved the inspection and missile limitation regime as a concluding matter of the 111th Congress of 2010. CCTV video and Russia Today video has more detail.

Whether or not, Russian and the United States will continue in tactical nuclear negotiations. NATO is in diplomatic and military planning to coordinate with Russia missile defense deployment in the future.

NASA JPL Reviews 2010; Readies for 2011

This fast-paced video highlights some of the colorful and intriguing images from Earth and space from 2010 from the NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The California-based facility will continue to operate a number of deep space missions in 2011.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Iran Planning 2-Satellite Launch Early 2011

Iran says it plans to launch two new domestically-manufactured satellites called “Fajr and Rasad” prior to 21 March 2011, according to the Tehran Times in reporting the remarks of Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi.

The target launch date is the 32nd anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution which falls on February 11, 2011. Iran is one of the 24 founding members of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, which was set up in 1959.

The Iranians seek to improve fuel systems and satellite durability for longer-term utilization. The Fajr (Dawn) satellite is a "reconnaissance satellite" that would operate on solar energy. The Rasad 1 (Observation) satellite will be operated by the communication ministry.

After launching its first domestically-manufactured satellite named Omid (Hope) in 2009, Iran continues to advance forward in booster production and satellite manufacturing. The country sent the first biocapsule of living creatures into space in February 2010, using its home-made Kavoshgar-3 (Explorer-3) carrier. Simorgh (Phoenix) is the name reportedly given the new generation of home-made satellites and a new satellite carrier made-in Iran.

The Iranian Space Agency (ISA) has previously indicated that it was pursing the development of human-rated space capsule capability by 2024, according to the FARS News Agency.

“According to the president’s order and (by) carrying out preliminary studies, sending astronauts into space will be done in a ten-year period (plan), ISA spokesperson Mohammad Mardani said.

Rocket Failure May Delay Moon Mission

With the destruction of the GSLV rocket sixty-three seconds after launch today, India's space mission planners see a major set-back for the nation's space program which may result in a delay of the planned second Indian moon mission, Chandrayaan-2, which will be flown by the GSLV, reports The Times of India.

The GSLV failure may impact India's planning of human space missions in the 2015 to 2017 time frame along with the ability to attract foreign satellite launches to expand the commercial space launch sector. Satellite insurance coverage using the GSLV will be more challenging in the near-term future.

The Asian nation's space program has rapidly expanded with ambitious space plans in a competitive spirit with China and Japan. Many of India's space program supporters and onlookers were stunned by the launch failure and the potential consequences.

India's next moon mission, Chandrayaan II, will be launched in 2013-14, ISRO chairman K. Radhakrishnan said immediately following the second consecutive space launch failure this year and the third of the last seven for the booster.

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO)] has had a troubled past with GSLV, with only two of the seven launches so far claiming total success. Though ISRO claims that four launches had been successful, independent observers call at least two of them either failure or partial success. When it comes to launching its workhorse PSLV, ISRO has had 15 consecutive successes.

The Chinese Xinhua News Agency points out that there were three significant space launch failures by the South Korea, Russia and India in 2010.

StardustNExT Plans Valentine's Day Rendezvous with Temple-1 Comet

The Stardust-NExT mission will fly past comet Tempel 1 next Valentine's Day (Feb. 14, 2011) at 11:30 PM Eastern time. NExT stands for New Exploration of Tempel 1.

Launched on Feb. 7, 1999, Stardust became the first spacecraft in history to collect samples from a comet (comet Wild 2), and return them to Earth for study. While its sample return capsule parachuted to Earth in January 2006, mission controllers were placing the still viable spacecraft on a path that would allow NASA the opportunity to re-use the already-proven flight system if a target of opportunity presented itself.

In January 2007, NASA re-christened the mission "Stardust-NExT" (New Exploration of Tempel), and the Stardust team began a four-and-a-half year journey for the spacecraft to comet Tempel 1. This will be the second exploration of Tempel 1by a spacecraft (Deep Impact). The fuel supply on the Stardust-NExT is very low but within operational parameters, notes Spaceflight Now, and according to mission engineers and scientists.

Russia Begins Proton Launch Campaign

Eutelsat Communications confirmed today that the launch campaign of its KA-SAT satellite by an ILS Proton Breeze M vehicle has resumed at the Baikonour Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Launch is scheduled in the night of 26 to 27 December 2010 (21.51GMT, 22.51CET on 26 December, 03.51 in Baikonour on 27 December). Live launch coverage will be webcast. More from The Voice of Russia.

GSLV F-06 Explodes After Lift-off in India

ISRO's space program suffered a major setback today as the launch of advanced communication satellite GSAT-5P failed due to major technical fault in the first phase. The rocket geosynchronous satellite launch vehicle (GSLV) exploded mid-air moments after take-off from the Sriharikota rocket launch center. This is a back-to-back failure for the rocket and a significant setback for India's commercial space launch program. More detials from The Hindu, RIA Novosti The Times of India, SpaceRef, and SpaceflightNow.

ISS Flyover Christmas at -4 Magnitude; Look-up and Join the ISS Wave Project

As dark sets-in on Christmas night along the eastern United States, the International Space Station will be a bright moving star across the sky for those with clear skies. The ISS will appear as a very bright object moving from the western horizon to the east at a 79 degree angle for over 2-minutes, [video].

Hundreds of people around the world are expected to join the ISS Wave Project this week, a part of a campaign connecting people around the planet with the six astronauts and cosmonauts living in space, while paying homage to a marvel of human technology and ingenuity. The international space station orbits Earth every 90 minutes at an altitude of more than 200 miles.

During a good pass, the station looks like a star arcing across the sky with a brightness and speed startling to first-time viewers. There are a few observing opportunities in the coming week by checking the Satellite Star Tracker on-line and enter your zip code for satellites, times direction and level of illumination from your location on the planet.

India Countdown for New GSLV Underway

The Sriharikota spaceport and rocket center in Sriharikota, India is set to launch an advanced communication satellite GSAT-5P with a the rocket geosynchronous satellite launch vehicle (GSLV) in the early morning hours of Saturday (4:04 PM in India) if the launch preperations continue as planned, according to The Hindu.

The GSLV rocket has three stages. The first stage is fired by solid fuel. The four strap on motors give additional thrust during the lift-off and the initial phase of the rocket's flight. The second stage is fired by liquid fuel. The third stage, which is more complex than the others, involves the cryogenic engine powered by liquid hydrogen as fuel and liquid oxygen as oxidiser built by Russians. The GSLV rocket is 51 metres tall, weighs 418 tonnes.

The GSLV rocket launch has been previously delayed by problems with the third-stage of the satellite booster. India continues to develop its own cryogenic engine third stage following a failure last year. India is expected to start human spaceflight in this decade.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Science and Religion: The Star of Bethlehem shines to illuminate our minds

On this the 25th day of December, tradition harkens us back to the Star of Bethlehem or the "Christmas Star" and with it, the Christian nexus to the miraculous Universe.

Over the past two thousand years, theologians refer to the Star of Prophecy marking the birth of Christ or the Messiah evidenced by three wise men, or ancient astronomers. Meanwhile, modern-day astronomers have hypothesized that the Christmas Star may have actually been a star nova, a planet, a comet, an occultation, or a gathering of the planets in an unusual conjunction. Some history scholars have suggested the star was a mental construct created by the author of the Gospel of Matthew. Whatever the star, it illuminated the minds of men.

Ancient civilizations of the Hebrews, Greeks and Romans associated astronomical phenomena to terrestrial events - such as birth. There was popular belief two thousand years ago that the appearance of a new star symbolized a cosmic connection between the star and an individual on Earth. Modern day scientific evidence does, in-fact, link humanity to carbon "star stuff" spread throughout the vastness of the cosmos.

The most remarkable aspect of the link between religion and science is the fact that the Universe contains all the elements that comprise the human body and life on Earth traceable to the action of the stars. There is a real depth of feeling, when one can stand under a clear night sky to gaze upward in the realization that we are such a very small part of the Universe, here on Earth. Moreover, the spiritual feeling comes upon the recognition and acknowledgment that the Universe is actually within us.

Modern day cosmologists are now disclosing just how miraculous, significant, and bewildering the Universe is, as we understand it today, circa 2010 AD. Three hundred sextillion stars and trillions of Earth-like planets populate the Universe, or so estimates the extrapolation of cosmologists. If you are having a hard time wrapping your brain around a number like 300 sextillion (or a 3 followed by 23 zeros), imagine multiplying 3 trillion by 100 billion. On the other hand, just go ahead and consider it numerous beyond comprehension as humankind seeks to understand the scope of intergalactic creation.

Catholic theologians and Vatican astronomers are giving credence and acceptance to the possibility that life may exist elsewhere in the vast expanse of stars and planets that populate the Universe. A Universe has been accepted by theologians as having stars and planets in greater number than every grain of sand on every known beach on Earth. The vastness of the Universe and the meaning of cosmic time are exceedingly greater than our general human ability to comprehend.

The convergence of traditional religion and that of modern science is being reconciled nonetheless. Humanity, Earth, or our star, the Sun, are no longer accepted as the center of the Universe in religious doctrine. Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, Nicolaus Copernicus have been redeemed by church clergy. As humanity comes to know more of God's creation, our religious institutions will adapt our human interpretations and correct our erroneous mental constructs. Understanding nature does not demean God or creation, quite the opposite. Science honors creation with greater understanding of the vastness of time and space in its simplicity and simultaneous complexity.

Humankind now seeks to understand the Universe and the very moment of cosmic creation, perhaps even pre-creation. Astrophysicists are seeking to recreate subatomic particles known as anti-matter and Higgs boson from the start of theoretical time or "The Big Bang" --- in multi-billion dollar experiments in Geneva, Switzerland. Today scientific theorists are taking us into the pre-Big Bang era through notions of the multiverse, or the detected echo of multiple stellar big bangs, as suggested by Sir Roger Penrose.

The completely theoretical concept of subatomic vibrating energy structures comprising a space fabric symphony, known as SuperString Theory, provides the epiphany to our universal connectivity and spirituality. Human sapience, our intelligent cognitive presence over the last two thousand years, is about the deeper understanding of the dimensions of nature; and, how we interrelate to the whole through potential vibrating cosmic energy. Many have faith in string theory.

The Star of Prophecy provides us the symbolic opportunity to contemplate our depth of awareness and reach beyond the superficial events and current circumstances. It is appropriate to pause, ponder our presence, and become what George Bernard Shaw once called "a force of nature." As we become more aware of the dynamic universe, we become more aware of emerging beyond one's preconceptions and historical ways of making sense. We become a new being in nature with a slightly greater presence.

The God of Creation empowered humanity with the gift to learn to see, to evolve into new eras of awareness, and spontaneously integrate science, spirituality, and the practice of leadership. Sometimes our human mortality constrains our ability to think about a future we have either denied or ignored. Most of us simply recognize we are short-lived and don't have the time to waste pondering our presence in the Universe and the relationship we have to it. Of all days, Christmas Day is a time to take a few moments to contemplate our spiritual presence in the Universe.

The ancient theologians were, as the modern day cosmologists and astrophysicists are, connected to the stars. Whenever we pause to glimpse upon the night sky, we generally accept it as a two-dimensional reality, a black blanket covered with jewel-like twinkling lights. Nonetheless, this is the season on which to suspend our daily routine to seek to understand what we see in both faith and science.

When we really begin to understand what we see, suspending the taken-for-granted ways of seeing the world, what we start to see may be disorienting, disturbing, filling us with strong emotions; therefore, we rarely give ourselves permission to talk openly about the connections between our free spiritual side and our more disciplined day-to-day side.

We take delight in this day when our young children detach from the bonds of reality to think of a Santa on his sleigh spreading goodwill and gifts all about. Nonetheless, as adults, we must re-learn how to dissolve into a detached observer to begin to understand and contemplate the whole of the natural Universe with our hearts and minds, in child-like fascination. Modern day society has set us upon a path of not seeing the world as it is but as we are among indoctrinated civilizations. We locate at points with sometimes-restricted views of our world and universe limited by our circumstance.

It is my faith that The Star of Bethlehem shines and continues to illuminate our minds. The dogma of both science and religion are in a state of evolution in human interpretation. The transcendent moments of the spiritual experience will allow most of us to connect the logical rigor of science with the hopes, dreams and goodwill associated with religion. Religious faith may accept science as a creation of God to enable us to make a spiritual transition without the excommunication of scientific inquiry and knowledge. Acceptance of the nexus of science and religion in harmony is the first step to embrace the miraculous, as set forth in the Gospel of Matthew, and by the very description of the three wise men. [video]

2010: The Most Eventful Year in Astronomy

In a year of many astronomical discoveries, observations and advancements such as this year, 2010 - arguably the most eventful year for astronomy in recent times, the foregoing 4-minute video provides a very short summary of the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) and the Hubble Space Telescope's (HST) discoveries and observations made throughout the year.

Consumption Moving to Tipping Point?

On Dec. 14, 2010 NASA Goddard researchers conducted a press briefing at the American Geophysical Union Fall 2010 meeting, entitled, "Satellite Supported Estimates of Human Rate of NPP carbon Use on Land: Challenges Ahead." In the first measurement of this trend, the research showed humans are using an increasing amount of Earth's annual production of photosynthetic land plants and that consumption rose from 20 to 25 percent from 1995 to 2005.

Art inspired by science fuels imagination

While astronomers have identified over 500 planets around other stars, they're all too small and distant to fill even a single pixel in our most powerful telescopes. That's why science must rely on art to help us imagine these strange new worlds. Until the day we can explore other star systems as thoroughly as our own, exoplanet art inspired by the real science will help fill in the gaps in our imagination.

Humankind's First Trek Around the Moon

Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the Moon, entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1968. That evening, the astronauts; Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders did a live television broadcast from lunar orbit, in which they showed pictures of the Earth and Moon seen from Apollo 8. Lovell said, 'The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth.' They ended the broadcast with the crew taking turns reading from the book of Genesis.

NORAD Tracking Begins ...

Tyndall Air Force Base will be keeping tabs on Santa Claus again Friay night as he drops off gifts to boys and girls, as the North American Aerospace Defense Command continues its annual “NORAD Tracks Santa” program. Persons interested may can call 1-877-HINORAD (1.877.446.6723) or check the Web site to track Santa’s path and get updates.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Canned Heat: Christmas Blues

Canned Heat from Future Blues (1970) is a music salute to the season and the era of human lunar landings. It is interesting to study how music has been influenced by space exploration over the years. On New Years-eve, a list of music videos are being complied to placed on the Spaceports site for your viewing entertainment with each having either a contemporary or retro space theme.

Mars Moon Phobos Eclipse

IF you missed the recent lunar eclipse, NASA JPL is providing video of the Mars moon Phobos eclipse from the surface of Mars. The silhouette of the Martian moon Phobos is seen as the moon passes in front of the sun, in imagery captured Nov. 9, 2010, by NASA's Mars rover Opportunity. The rover's panoramic camera took exposures four seconds apart that were combined into this 30-second Phobos eclipse movie.

Russia's space agency is mounting a mission to the Mars moon Phobos to launch in November 2011 with a plan to land on Phobo in February 2013 and return a soil sample to Earth. The Fobos-Grunt spacecraft will be the first Russian interplanetary mission since the failed Mars 96 mission. If successful, this will be the first macroscopic extraterrestrial sample from a planetary body brought back to Earth since the last sample return mission by Luna 24 in 1976.

Mars Rover Opportunity Visiting New Craters

On Dec. 16, 2010, NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity reached a crater about the size of a football field-some 90 meters (295 feet) in diameter. The rover team plans to use cameras and spectrometers during the next several weeks to examine rocks exposed at the crater, informally named "Santa Maria."

Opportunity completed its three-month prime mission on Mars in April 2004 and has been working in bonus extended missions since then. After the investigations at Santa Maria, the rover team plans to resume a long-term trek by Opportunity to the rim of Endeavour Crater, which is about 22 kilometers (14 miles) in diameter.

SpaceShipTwo Tests Exceeding Expectations

Scaled Composites hopes to achieve one additional glide test of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo (SS2) "Enterprise" by year-end and says that even if bad weather prevents the attempt, the program is already ahead of schedule following a trouble-free initial unpowered flight on Oct. 10.

“Testing has been going quite a bit better than we’d originally hoped, and we’ve been able to make glide flights ahead of what we’d anticipated in terms of flight-to-flight turn-around time,” says Pete Siebold, Scaled director of flight operations. The Virgin Galactic program therefore remains on target to becoming the world’s first commercial space line, with routine suborbital operations from Spaceport America, N.M., as early as 2012, reports Guy Norris for Aviation Week.

Vostochny Cosmodrome Underway in 2011

The Vostochny Cosmodrome ("Eastern Spaceport") is a planned Russian spaceport, to be located in the Amur Oblast, in the Russian Far East. It is intended to reduce Russia's dependency on the Baikonur Cosmodrome, which is located in Kazakhstan. Construction of the Vostochny Cosmodrome is expected to begin in 2011 and to be completed in 2018. There are plans to build seven launch pads at the site, including two for manned flights and two for space freighters.


Global media outlets are reporting the United States Senate ratification of the New START Treaty between the American and Russian governments limiting the number of nuclear weapons and re-starting on-site missile silo inspections in each country. The video clips above are from the British, Chinese and Russian reports on the treaty. The Russian Duma is expected to ratify the treaty soon.

Is Astronomy 'Useless'?

Jocelyn Bell Burnell, DBE, responds to several common criticisms of high-level scientific research. Regarding the argument that astronomical research is impractical, Burnell contends that fields like astronomy attract young minds to science. The full video is available from FORA.TV.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

India's GSLV Rocket to Launch Christmas

UPDATE: The launch of India's latest communication satellite GSAT-5P has now been slated for December 25, a week after it was put off following a leak in the Russian cryogenic stage of the launch vehicle.

"The launch is scheduled for December 25 at 4.01 pm (from the spaceport of Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh). A 29-hour countdown will start on December 24 at 11.01 am," Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) spokesperson S Satish.

The satellite would be launched by ISRO''s Geo-Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV-F06), powered by Russian cryogenic stage.

The launch was earlier scheduled for Decemebr 20, but it was postponed after a leak was noticed in one of the valves of the Russian cryogenic engine during pre-countdown tests at the spaceport of Sriharikota. Russian and Indian scientists continue to review possible solutions notes the Hindustan Times. [Vid above relates to Indian efforts to develop their own cryogenic engine.)

Shuttle Discovery in VAB for Christmas

Space shuttle Discovery moved from Launch Pad 39A back to the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida in the early morning hours of Dec. 21. Crews in the VAB will scan below portions of Discovery's external fuel tank foam insulation for cracks and other potential problems. They'll also reapply foam after the removal of 89 sensors from the tank's aluminum skin that were needed for the shuttle's tanking test on Dec. 17.

Managers and engineers will review the test data to determine whether Discovery will be ready on Feb.3 for its next launch opportunity for the STS-133 mission to the International Space Station. More from MSNBC.

"I'm Dreaming of a Blue Sunset--on Mars"

Entanglement: "Beam me up Scotty?"

Until this year, all human-made objects have moved according to the laws of classical mechanics. In March, a group of researchers designed a gadget that moves in ways that can only be described by quantum mechanics — the set of rules that governs the behavior of tiny things like molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles. In recognition of the conceptual ground their experiment breaks, the ingenuity behind it and its many potential applications, Science has called this discovery the most significant scientific advance of 2010. More on teleportation from FoxNews, Network World and things to come.

Asteroid-hunting space probe advanced

Science journalist Leonard David has provided his readers with an outlook for a new asteroid-hunting space probe equipped with an infrared telescope to survey dangerous NEOs or those that may be targets for future human exploration and landings.

David highlights a Ball Aerospace white paper review whereby, in only 1.6 years, a spacecraft could locate all of the roughly 165 feet diameter, and larger, nearby space rocks that are potentially accessible for human spaceflight, and within 7.5 years could catalogue 90 percent of all NEOs greater than 459 feet in diameter.

The proposed NEO Survey mission would cost roughly $638 million and take approximately 3-to-4 years to develop. David's piece is well worth the read.

Synthetic Stars and the Future of Energy

Dr. Edward Moses is internationally recognized in laser and optical sciences. He received a B.S. in 1972 and Ph.D. in 1977, both in Electrical Engineering, from Cornell University. He holds several patents in laser technology, fusion and fission energy, and computational physics. He has received many honors, including the Fusion Power Associates 2008 Leadership Award, the National Nuclear Security Administration Defense Programs Award of Excellence, the Memorial D.S. Rozhdestvensky Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Lasers and Optical Sciences, and the R&D100 Award for the Peregrine radiation therapy program.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Spotlight on CERN: Progress of 2010

'Millions of collisions each second; Temperatures 100,000 times hotter than the heart of the sun; and 10,000 tons of liquid nitrogen are the endeavors at CERN. An enormous network of thousands of computers ready to process the millions of gigabytes that will be generated. These facts are now well-known and characterise the complexity of the LHC, which started in earnest on 30th March 2010, a year marked by a number of different, exciting events. A remarkable year all round. Welcome to this final edition of Spotlight on CERN for 2010. Guests Sergio Bertollucci, Director for Research and Computing and Steve Myers, Director for Accelerators and Technology' join their hosts in reviewing the events at CERN in 2010.

ISS Expedition 26 Holiday Message

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! The Expedition 26 crew sends holiday greetings to Earth from the International Space Station.

Pakistan Launches Ghauri Hatf 5 Rocket

Pakistan on Tuesday successfully test fired a medium-range ballistic missile capable of carrying nuclear and conventional warheads, the military said, noting that the Ghauri Hatf 5 rocket, with a range of 1,300 kilometres (800 miles), could carry conventional and other warheads, according to the Bristish newspaper, The Telegraph.

The launch was conducted by the Army Strategic Force command's strategic missile group at the end of a field-training exercise aimed at testing the force's operational readiness, the statement said.

ARCA Displays E-111 Launch Animation

Romanian ARCA carrier plane flight animation. E-111 is the supersonic launch platform for the Google Lunar X-Prize competition with an entry closing date of 31 December 2010.

Moon: The 2010 Total Lunar Eclipse

Three views of the 2010 winter solstice lunar eclipse from California to Georgia to Kansas. If you have the bandwidth, run the three together.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Just in Time for the Lunar Eclipse ...

NASA has issued delivery orders to three companies as part of its Innovative Lunar Demonstrations Data (ILDD) project. Each order is worth $500,000 and will help develop vehicle capabilities and demonstrate end-to-end robotic lunar landing missions. The three private sector firms are: Astrobotic Technology Inc., Pittsburgh, PA., Dynetics Inc., Huntsville, Ala. and Moon Express Inc., San Francisco, Calif.

The ILDD contracts also provide for issuing subsequent delivery orders that will specify data associated with system testing and integration, launch, in-space maneuvers, braking burns, lunar landing and other enhanced capabilities. Knowledge acquired from this data will be applied to the development of lander systems necessary to execute human and robotic missions to the moon, near-Earth asteroids or other solar system destinations.

“NASA is going to be a strong a leader in Moon 2.0, just as it was in the famous Moon race of the 1960s. But this time, NASA will show leadership by partnering with international partners and especially with commercial enterprises, in addition to conducting its own missions,” noted William Pomerantz, the Senior Director of Space Prizes at the X PRIZE Foundation. “Today’s contract announcements show how Google Lunar X PRIZE teams and space agencies are already forging mutually beneficial ties that will allow us to visit the Moon sooner and stay for longer.”

Three other Google Lunar X PRIZE teams have previously been selected for participation in the Innovative Lunar Demonstrations Data (ILDD) program: FREDNET of Huntsville, AL; Next Giant Leap (through their team member The Charles Strake Draper Laboratory of Cambridge, MA), and Omega Envoy (through their team member Earthrise Space Inc.) of Orlando, FL. All six ILDD participants are able to submit proposals to claim the various contracts still available through the program, with each individual team able to earn as much as $10 million.

Tanking, Rollback, Eclipse and Measuring

Permission to Launch in Augusta County?

Virginia Lawyers Weekly is providing coverage today of a Virginia zoning dispute relating to the launch of STEM education model rockets. It has been resolved to be settled in the New Year 2011, with ongoing positive encouragement, of course.

European Expand Earth Remote Sensing

As a note, NASA and the University of Colorado is undertaking a new study of how the sun may impact Earth climate change in an acknowledgment of the many variables of climate change research.

The Lunar Eclipse Comes in Hours Now

Everyone knows that "the moon on the breast of new-fallen snow gives the luster of mid-day to objects below." That is, except during a lunar eclipse.

The luster will be a bit "off" on Dec. 21st, the first day of northern winter, when the full Moon passes almost dead-center through Earth's shadow. For 72 minutes of eerie totality, an amber light will play across the snows of North America, throwing landscapes into an unusual state of ruddy shadow, if clouds. snow or rain do not interfere.

The eclipse begins on Tuesday morning, Dec. 21st, at 1:33 am EST (Monday, Dec. 20th, at 10:33 pm PST). At that time, Earth's shadow will appear as a dark-red bite at the edge of the lunar disk. It takes about an hour for the "bite" to expand and swallow the entire Moon. Totality commences at 02:41 am EST (11:41 pm PST) and lasts for 72 minutes.

If you're planning to dash out for only one quick look -- it is December, after all -- choose this moment: 03:17 am EST (17 minutes past midnight PST). That's when the Moon will be in deepest shadow, displaying the most fantastic shades of coppery red.

Why red? A quick trip to the Moon provides the answer: Imagine yourself standing on a dusty lunar plain looking up at the sky. Overhead hangs Earth, nightside down, completely hiding the sun behind it. The eclipse is underway. You might expect Earth seen in this way to be utterly dark, but it's not. The rim of the planet is on fire! As you scan your eye around Earth's circumference, you're seeing every sunrise and every sunset in the world, all of them, all at once. This incredible light beams into the heart of Earth's shadow, filling it with a coppery glow and transforming the Moon into a great red orb.

Back on Earth, the shadowed Moon paints newly fallen snow with unfamiliar colors--not much luster, but lots of beauty.