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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Remembering the Last Crew of Columbia

The orbiter Columbia and its seven crewmembers (Rick D. Husband, William C. McCool, David Brown, Laurel Blair Salton Clark, Michael P. Anderson, Ilan Ramon, and Kalpana Chawla) were lost approximately 16 minutes before Columbia was scheduled to touch down at Kennedy Space Center on February 1, 2003.

Thousands Seek Astronaut Jobs for 2013

A remarkable 6,372 people submitted applications to NASA for a handful of openings in the Astronaut Office — this despite the fact that NASA retired the shuttle fleet in July and its next NASA spacecraft for piloted missions won't be ready to launch until 2017.

The astronaut candidates must be prepared to be patient for the job, though. The application period closed on January 27, 2012. There is an extensive period of review, interviews, medical testing, and other things to start to weed through and narrow the 6,372 candidates for NASA to hire but a few.

Candidates are required to have at least a bachelor's degree – most astronauts have a master's or a doctorate – in engineering, biological science, physical science or math. Successful astronaut candidates must learn Russian, but be a U.S. citizen. To advance in the selection process, one must know basic physics. Being a medical doctor or a teacher helps. Candidate eye sight must be corrected to 20/20, no high blood pressure and be between 5 foot 2 inches and 6 foot 3 inches.

The current crop of astronaut applicants are the second-highest number of applications ever received. More than 8,000 applied to become one of the 35 NASA astronauts in 1978 — the class selected to fly missions during the advent of shuttle operations.

In about three to five years, NASA hopes to purchase trips for astronauts headed to the space station on American-built commercial rockets, instead of riding the Russian Soyuz rocket and capsule to orbit and the International Space Station. And eventually, NASA hopes to fly astronauts in a government owned Orion capsule to an asteroid or even Mars, but those pioneering trips are more than a decade away.

From the most recent applicants, NASA will select only nine to 15 to join the astronaut corps in March 2013.  Salary range: $64,724.00 to $141,715.00 / Per Year + Benefits.  Extensive foreign travel, public speaking and training is to be expected, plus some space travel from time-to-time.

Monday, January 30, 2012

ISS Supplies Arrive on This Week @NASA

Russia's Progress 46 cargo ship docked to the International Space Station after a two-day journey from Kazakhstan, carrying with it almost 3 tons of equipment and supplies. Also, super solar storm. Also, Global Temperatures remain warm; a famous Star Trek actress visits a NASA center; the Zero Robotics SPHERES Challenge 2011 Finals, a fitness program teaching kids to Train Like An Astronaut and more.

ESA Vega Booster Set to Fly Feb. 9, 2012

The inaugural Vega flight from its new launch pad at Europe's Spaceport, in Kourou, is scheduled to take place within a window of a few days opening next 9 February.

The European Space Agency will carry out the first qualification flight of this brand-new launch vehicle which, once tested and validated, will complement the family of launch services already available from French Guiana - the Ariane 5 heavy-lift launch system, and the Soyuz medium-class launcher, introduced last October.

The four-stage Vega has been designed for the growing number of small spacecraft currently under construction or being planned worldwide. This maiden launch comes after 9 years of development by ESA and its partners the Italian Space Agency and the industrial ELV SpA , as well as for the seven ESA member states that contributed to the program: Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

FACT & FICTION: Romney vs. Obama on former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's claims about President Barack Obama's space exploration plan as he continues to wage his primary campaign in Florida.

A European rocket star is born named Vega

The family of European rockets is growing. The next one is the youngest, called Vega and will be launched from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana. This new rocket compliments the range which Europe already has to offer in the commercial market.

NASA Ames Director S. Pete Worden: "the most exciting time in space since Apollo"

S. Pete Worden, Ph.D. (Brig. Gen., USAF, Ret.), and the current director of NASA's Ames Research Center, calls for the private sector to get involved in what he calls "the most exciting time in space since Apollo and maybe ever." Dr. Worden speaks of nano-satellites and lunar colonization. The interview was conducted by Rick Merrit.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Soyuz TMA-04M Air Leak to Delay Crew Exchanges at the International Space Station

(l-r) Acaba, Padalka and Revin
The Soyuz TMA-04M piloted spaceship has failed pre-launch tests in the altitude test chamber resulting in a likely postponement of the rocket launch to late April or early May from the Baikonur spaceport. Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin and American NASA astronaut Joseph Acaba will be in Star City, Russia an extra month or two rather than the planned boost to orbit on March 30th, 2012.

The cascading result of the delay may push the next two manned launches for the International Space Station (ISS) for several weeks due to technical problems with the Soyuz spaceship. The new crew of Padalka, Revin and Acaba were to commence the Expedition 31 segment at the ISS in early April. 

The problems are related to a service element, rather than the descent capsule, according to reports emerging from the Russian Space Agency and the Energia Space Rocket Corporation with one official saying, "This descent vehicle can no longer be used in a manned flight. Therefore the launch of the Soyuz TMA-04M will have to be rescheduled until the second half of April or the first half of May."

That mission would fly with the re-entry capsule that was due to go up on the next mission on May 30 and as a result that mission would also likely be postponed to the middle or end of June. The ISS Expedition 30 crew's stay at the orbiting space laboratory will most likely be extended.
(l-r) Shkaplerov, Burbank, Ivanishin, Kuipers, Kononenko and Pettit
ISS Commander Dan Burbank and Flight Engineer Don Pettit conducted a live in-flight Teaching from Space downlink to nearly 5,000 students at the University of Virginia's College at Wise January 26th prior to the docking of the Russian Progress-46 cargo spacecraft.

Underfunding May Affect Commercial Crew Program, NASA Safety Panel Warns

NASA safety watchdogs are warning that continued underfunding of the agency’s commercial crew initiative could put astronauts at risk by increasing the temptation to cut corners in order to end U.S. dependence on Russia for accessing the international space station (ISS).

Under the 2012 budget Congress enacted late last year, NASA will get less than half of the $850 million it requested to put at least two U.S. firms under contract this year to develop privately operated crew taxis, reports Space News.

In a report released Jan. 25, the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) — an outside group of experts chartered to sniff out NASA safety problems and recommend changes — says the $406 million Congress approved will not allow commercial crew transportation to the ISS by 2016.

Gingrich and Romney Continue Space Debate

Presidential politics is focused on the Florida GOP Primary set for Saturday, January 31st, with Newt Gingrich launching the debate by pledging to have a human colony on the surface of the Moon prior to the end of 2020. Not to be silent on the NewSpace race, Mitt Romney talked his views on space too at Cape Canaveral Friday.

Rocket science is tough political science in 2012. The transition from a focus on government-driven human civil space to commercial space companies providing cargo, rides, and lunar mineral exploitation is gaining traction. The New York Times notes in an article that the technology to have a human colony on the Moon is possible, but the economics would be "iffy" and "politically very difficult."

“It’s not something that should be mocked or should be seen as a remote possibility,” said Michael Gold, director of the Washington office of Bigelow Aerospace, a private space company told The New York Times. “The reason this is both possible and economically viable is that many of the systems and technology, if not all, already exist.”

Bigelow, using technology licensed from NASA, has plans to launch two inflatable space stations, capable of housing 36 people, and the same technology could be scaled up to provide living quarters on the moon. The technology state of readiness is not far fetched; it is political and economic will presently challenged. In all fairness to Gingrich, he suggests greater involvement by the private sector through government prizes to leverage smaller government investment.

Regardless of the GOP primary results in a few hours or the GOP nomination, Newt Gingrich has brought back into the public discourse the future of American space policy. Emerging global powers (China and India) have active government financed lunar programs that will soon rival, if not exceed, the United States.

The voting public is gaining a better understanding of the space future through the continued debate. Let us hope that President Obama and the eventual Republican nominee will give the public even more. There is a lot of technological innovation, economic opportunity and national pride at stake.

ISS Progress 46 Docks with Station

The unmanned ISS Progress 46 cargo ship docked to the Pirs Docking Compartment of the International Space Station Jan. 27, 2012 to deliver almost three tons of food, fuel and supplies for the six crew members living and working on the orbital laboratory. The Russian cargo ship linked up to Pirs two days after its launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Thousands Interact with Space Station Astronauts, Dream of Spaceport and Moon

WCYB-TV News video of the ISS Downlink event.

NASA Associate Administrator for Education Leland Melvin and private space explorer Anousheh Ansari assistant Wise County student pose question to orbiting ISS Commander Dan Burbank and Flight Engineer Donald Petitt. Photo: Tim Cox

On Thursday, thousands [nearly 5,000] of Southwest Virginia schoolchildren took a trip to space.

Well, sort of.

In a $40,000 event paid for by a host of local sponsors, children bused from seven different localities had the chance to speak with astronauts on the International Space Station via video downlink for about 20 minutes Thursday morning [while hearing and meeting private astronaut Anousheh Ansari and NASA astronaut Leland Melvin and Robonaut-2 (video).

More from The Bristol Herald Courier and WJHL-TV (with video) along with University of Virginia's College at Wise announcement of the success and The Kingsport Times-News  WCYB-TV and NASA Langley Researcher News media reports. 

President Reagan's Challenger Disaster Speech

HISTORY: President Roanld Reagan talks to the nation about the Challenger Disaster on January 28, 1986, speaking to the nation, the school children of America and the workers of NASA. It was one of the more memorable Oval Office speeches in American history.

Forty-five years ago: Apollo 1 Crew Lost

On January 27, 1967, tragedy struck the Apollo program when a flash fire occurred in command module 012 during a launch pad test of the Apollo/Saturn space vehicle being prepared for the first piloted flight, the AS-204 mission. Three astronauts, Lt. Col. Virgil I. Grissom, a veteran of Mercury and Gemini missions; Lt. Col. Edward H. White, the astronaut who had performed the first United States extravehicular activity during the Gemini program; and Roger B. Chaffee, an astronaut preparing for his first space flight, died in this tragic accident.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Progress 46 On the Way to Space Station

An unmanned Russian cargo ship launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on a two-day trip to deliver almost three tons of food, fuel and supplies to the six crew members on the International Space Station. The ISS Progress 46 resupply craft launched in near zero-degree weather from Baikonur at 6:06 p.m. EST on Jan. 25 (5:06 a.m. on Jan. 26 Baikonur time). The spacecraft is scheduled to dock to the station's Pirs Docking Compartment on Jan. 27, 2012.

Gingrich Pledges US Moon Base By 2020

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Remembrance Day of the Fallen Astronauts

The final Thursday in January of every year is a "Day of Remembrance" for the 17 fallen astronauts of Apollo-1, Space Shuttles Challenger 51-L and Columbia STS-107 within and outside the NASA community.  The Day of Remembrance will be acknowledged on January 26, 2012 in Wise, VA.

At the University of Virginia's College at Wise, there will be a pause to reflect upon both the past, the present, and the future with hundreds, if not thousands, of middle, high and college students. 

The fruits of the labors of the fallen astronauts will be shared with the astronauts of Expedition 30 aboard the International Space Station, grasping an Apollo 14 moon rock, learning about Robonaut-2 now on orbit, the Mars Science Laboratory to land on Mars, and about commercial spaceports and NASA and private sector astronauts. Join us there in person or on NASA-TV, 9 AM eastern time.

Durable Mars Rover Begins 9th Year of Work

Eight years after landing on Mars for what was planned as a three-month mission, NASA's enduring Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is working on what essentially became a new mission five months ago. Opportunity reached a multi-year driving destination, Endeavour Crater, in August 2011. At Endeavour's rim, it has gained access to geological deposits from an earlier period of Martian history than anything it examined during its first seven years.

Opportunity landed in Eagle Crater on Mars on Jan. 25, 2004, three weeks after its rover twin, Spirit, landed halfway around the planet. In backyard-size Eagle Crater, Opportunity found evidence of an ancient wet environment. The mission met all its goals within the originally planned span of three months.

During most of the next four years, it explored successively larger and deeper craters, adding evidence about wet and dry periods from the same era as the Eagle Crater deposits. In mid-2008, researchers drove Opportunity out of Victoria Crater, half a mile in diameter, and set course for Endeavour Crater, 14 miles in diameter. The trek took three years. In a push to finish it, Opportunity drove farther during its eighth year on Mars -- 4.8 miles -- than in any prior year, bringing its total driving distance to 21.4 miles.

Space Station Downlink Set to Begin with R2 Mock-up and Astronauts at UVA-Wise

Parents are encouraged to attend alongside their children for an unique space exploration exhibit next Thursday in the convocation center of the University of Virginia’s College at Wise. The morning will feature a live downlink with astronauts on the International Space Station and museum quality NASA exhibits, depicting several milestones of the country’s past and present space excursions. Activities will begin at 9 a.m. with the live downlink set for 9:25 to 9:45 AM. The downlink will be carried on NASA-TV and webcast.

Close to 4,000 students in fourth, sixth and ninth grades in Wise, Lee, Scott, Dickenson and Russell counties and Norton, as well as Wise County Christian School, UVa-Wise and Mountain Empire Community College have been invited to attend. Seventeen students will have an opportunity to ask questions to astronauts on the space station during the live video link.

Gov. Bob McDonnell will also appear via Skype and US Senator Mark R. Warner  is sending a video message to the students. Two former astronauts, Anousheh Ansari and Leland Melvin, will also attend and talk about their own space flight experiences. Dr. Bille Reed will talk about the launches being planned this year to the ISS from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island, VA.

Exhibits will include a moon rock from the Apollo 14 mission and a full-scale model of Robonaut 2 (R2), a humanoid robot sent to the space station last year. Adam Sanders, a graduate of Powell Valley High School and the University of Virginia, was the lead software engineer on the R2 project. PC Magazine has recently rated R2 as among the Top 10 Research Projects to Watch in 2012.

There will also be a lunar globe, lunar space suit and full-scale model of the Mars Science Laboratory rover "Curiosity", which will arrive on Mars this coming August. The rover was launched late last year to determine whether the planet has ever been able to support life and whether it could in the future.

If the reader is within a two-to-three hour drive from this event in Wise, Virginia (near Eastern Kentucky, East Tennessee and Western North Carolina), it is one not to miss as a human space flight, robotics, or lunar exploration enthusiast. Call 276.328.6111 for more information today.

Meanwhile, the Russians are preparing for the launch of Progress-46 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the International Space Station Wednesday, January 25 to dock at the ISS on January 27, 2012 with additional cargo and supplies.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Gingrich-Romney Launch Florida Space Debate

As expected, the first of the two Florida pre-primary debates touched upon space policy. The debate between Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, the two leading contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, pointed to the growth potential within the emerging NewSpace commercial space sector - one preparing to provide commercial cargo resupply to the International Space Station this year.

Romney says the space exploration should be a priority. He’s calling on NASA to partner with the military and private business interests and educational institutions to help pay for it.

Gingrich wants to offer the private sector special prizes. He says that such incentives, as opposed to a government spending, would help Americans go back to the moon, explore Mars, and develop extraterrestrial space exploration. Gingrich says the prizes could create a romantic and exciting future for the space program.

Romney has been critical of Gingrich's space proposals in past debates mocking his interest in mining the moon for minerals or space-based solar power, ideas that Gingrich has embraced in books and articles previously authored.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum did not get the journalist question on space policy at the Monday night debate; however, the second debate may result in enhanced journalist questioning about the multi-billion dollar civil, commercial and military space spending and programs.

In past debates, the four remaining candidates have failed to indicate their support for the federal government to fund NASA to design and build a successor for the space shuttle. Instead, Gingrich and Romney point to commercial fixed price commercial service contracting, instead of government designed cost-plus contracting models.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Progress 46 to Launch to ISS Wednesday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan

Russian ISS Progress 46 will launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with NASA providing live television and internet coverage at 5:45 PM EST, Wednesday January 25, 2012. The is scheduled for 6:06 p.m. EST on Jan. 25 (5:06 a.m. Baikonur time Jan. 26).

For about 20-minutes on January 26, 2012, in between the launch and docking of Progress 46, the astronauts aboard the International Space Station will conduct a live link with thousands of students gathered at the University of Virginia's College at Wise to take 16 to 17 questions hosted by NASA Associate Administrator Leland Melvin. The Teaching from Space series will be televised by NASA-TV and webcast.

The next broadcast of the re-supply mission to the ISS will occur 2 days later, on Friday, Jan. 27. At that time, NASA television will carry the live images from space as the Progress 46 will automatically dock to the Pirs Docking Compartment at 7:08 p.m. The unpiloted cargo craft will deliver 2,050 pounds of propellant, 110 pounds of oxygen and air, 926 pounds of water and 2,778 pounds of maintenance and experiment hardware for the station crew.

The Father of India's Space Program: Vikram Ambalal Sarabhai Acknowledged for Vision

Dr. Vikram Ambalal Sarabhai (12 August 1919-31 December 1971) was an Indian physicist. The establishment of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) was one of his greatest achievements. Dr. Sarabhai successfully convinced the Indian government of the importance of a space program for a developing country like India after the Soviet Sputnik launch in 1957.

India today has one of the stronger emerging space programs with a strong remote sensing satellite capability, including a developing lunar and human space efforts.

Mars crater gullies challenge scientists

Colorful gullies in a fresh impact crater, gullies in Bamberg Crater on Mars, tongue-shaped flow below a scarp in Phlegra Montes and the floor of Beer Crater are highlighted in these recent images. The impact crater has an extremely eroded and terraced rim.

However, the gullies do not have extensive aprons and overall there appears to be very little material accumulated on the crater floor -- unlike many other craters with gullies. This may indicate the gullies are young features. Gully formation on Mars is still not completely understood, and more information and observations are needed to improve our interpretation of these unique features.

This Week @NASA: Jan. 21, 2012

Students at Emily Dickinson Elementary School in Bozeman, Montana won a nationwide contest to re-name the twin Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory spacecraft formerly known as GRAIL-A and GRAIL-B. The winning names -- 'Ebb' and 'Flow'. The spacecraft have been in orbit around the moon since New Year's Day -- collecting data to create a gravity map of the moon. Also, Moving Earth for the new home of Space Shuttle Atlantis, The Invention Challenge, Astronaut Cady Coleman in Cleveland, a new App to keep track of meteors and more.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Florida GOP Presidential Primary May Have Space Policy Issues Debated Prior to Jan. 31st

The abrupt flush presidential campaign of former Speaker Newt Gingrich provides an opportunity to begin an active and serious discussion of the nation's space policy between tonight's primary victory and the close of the January 31st Florida presidential primary.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, has been critical of Speaker Gingrich for being supportive of a public-private partnership to build a lunar mining colony and build private-sector space-based solar power projects. Romney will have to explain more of his previous space policy critique of Gingrich in the large civil, military and commercial space state.

The space policy debate, largely centered between Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, will begin to take a more mainstream center stage along the Interstate 4 highway in Central Florida where thousands of space-related jobs have been lost the past two-to-three years. The real question now is if the mainstream media will enable a real space policy debate with meaningful questions.

The eventual GOP nominee needs to be vetted on space policy in the wake of the Chinese pronouncement of intent to send human taikonauts to the Moon and the announced Japanese corporate effort to deploy space-based solar power demonstrators in this decade. Moreover, all the presidential candidates need to address more serious technology issues of the modern Space Age on the range of commercial, civil and military space activities involving billions of federal dollars, international scientific relationships and jobs.

While the Florida primary may help start the debate, especially between Gingrich and Romney, the Sunshine state will be "in play" for its electoral votes in the fall General Election. Defining space policy in Florida is important to state voters and the President does understand the importance. Commercial space states Virginia, New Mexico and Colorado will also be critical electoral vote states "in play" this fall. The four critical swing states do have significant aerospace economies.

The politics of 2012 will demand the presidential candidates to talk commercial, civil and military space policy regardless of the candidate's personal desires. It can not be mocked as a sideshow or a joke any more.  Newt Skywalker, or not - his South Carolina victory may result in launching a more serious space policy debate.

RetroLook at Mars 500 International Test

A look back at the crew and mission of the European, Russian and Chinese Mars 500 simulated Mars planetary mission for 520 days. The search for post-flight effect continue at the  Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow, Russia.

For 17 months six volunteers took part in the first full-length, high-fidelity simulation of a human mission to our neighbouring planet. The international crew, two Europeans, three Russains and a Chinese, were isolated in a spacecraft mock-up.They were faithfully following the phases of a real mission: a long flight to Mars, insertion into orbit around the planet, landing, surface exploration, return to orbit, a monotonous return trip and arrival at Earth. Americans did not participate in the unique and highly publicized experiment.

During the flight, the crew performed more than 100 experiments, all linked to the problems of long-duration missions in deep space.

Roscosmos Seeks Plan for Moon Colonization

Russia's Space Agency's announced ambitious plans to step up exploration of the Moon and has even called for the creation of a permanent base there. Roscosmos says it'll also boost cooperation with its partners in the US and the European Union. RT's Peter Oliver brings more on the lunar plans proposed.

Lunar colonization has been an ambition of many-a-space pioneer and one of science fiction's most prevalent themes.  Because of its proximity to Earth, the Moon has been seen as a prime candidate for the location of humanity's first permanently occupied extraterrestrial base in the first-half of the 21st century.

Human & Tech Resource Requirements for Moon Colonization Considered

Compilation video of NASA's field tests - Lunar Surface Systems.
When planners consider the robotic technologies needed on the surface of the Moon to commence the first human outpost, human skills must be considered for the first missions. Interaction with electronics, robots, surface mining and building skills must be considered as prime mission skills for the human crew.

In the next twenty-years, perhaps the NextGeneration of lunar explorers will have to have construction engineering and mining engineering backgrounds to operate in the lunar environment. Of course, there will be the need for lunar spacecraft pilots, doctors, nutritionists, biologists and other careers, especially as a surface colony grows in scale.

Astronauts (commercial or government) will need power sources when they return to the moon and establish a lunar outpost. NASA engineers are exploring the possibility of nuclear fission to provide the necessary power and taking initial steps toward a non-nuclear technology demonstration of this type of system.

NASA Exploration Technology Development Program (ETDP) requires a Human Robotic Systems project. The effort requires development of technologies for surface mobility and equipment handling, human-system interaction, and lunar surface system repair. Dexterous robots and autonomous rovers that can traverse rough terrain will help the crew explore, assemble, and maintain the lunar outpost.

Colorado may become 5th state to adopt a spaceflight passenger liability limit regime

Colorado’s biggest obstacle in becoming a center of commercial space travel is not a lack of infrastructure or marketing, but the threat of injury-related lawsuits, economic development leaders believe. So, the 2012 Colorado General Assembly (state legislature) may join Virginia, Florida, New Mexico and Texas with a liability limit on human space travel - known as the Colorado Space Jobs Act.

With the Front Range Airport in Colorado applying for Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) designation to become a commercial spaceport, Colorado state Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, has introduced a bill that would limit liability for any space-travel company that gets customers to sign an injury waiver, reports Ed Sealover at the Denver Business Journal.

Virginia was the first state to adopt a spaceflight liability waiver in 2007, followed by Florida in 2008, New Mexico in 2010, and Texas in 2011. If Colorado enacted a similar measure, ten percent of the states will then limit the exposure of commercial spaceflight companies as to passenger liability, thereby negating more costly insurance.

Perhaps, California or Hawaii may be next to adopt the spaceflight passenger liability waiver in 2013. Or, in the alternate, will the Federal government give states designated jurisdiction to uphold the state laws from subsequent challenge. There does appear momentum building in the states for federal recognition of state jurisdiction?

Friday, January 20, 2012

What Happened to all the Earthly Snow?

Winter seems to have been on hold this year in some parts of the United States. Snowfall has been scarce in places that were overwhelmed with the white stuff at the same time last year. In this ScienceCast, JPL climatologist Bill Patzert explains what's going on.

Earth from Space: Golden curves

Earth from Space is presented by Kelsea Brennan-Wessels from the ESA Web-TV virtual studios. In the seventh edition, we examine an image showing graceful golden curves - can you guess what they are? The ESA video discusses satellite remote sensing for minerals.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

NASA Joins MIT and DARPA for Out-Of-This-World Student Robotic Competition @ISS

NASA will join the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and high school student teams from the U.S. and abroad for the third annual Zero Robotics SPHERES Challenge on Monday, Jan. 23. The event will take place on the MIT campus in Cambridge, Mass., and be broadcast live on NASA Television from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. EST.

For the competition, NASA will upload software developed by high school students onto Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES), which are bowling ball-sized spherical satellites aboard the International Space Station. The top 27 teams from previous competitions will have their code sent Monday to the space station, where an astronaut will command the satellites to execute the teams' flight program. During a simulated mission, the teams will complete a special challenge inspired by future satellite technologies, such as formation flight and close proximity operations.

Student finalists will be able to see their flight program live in the televised finals. The team with the highest software performance over several rounds of the competition will win the challenge. The winning team will be awarded certificates and a SPHERES flight patch that was flown to the space station.

In addition to their use in this competition, the satellites are used inside the space station to conduct formation flight maneuvers for spacecraft guidance navigation, control and docking. The three separate satellites that make up SPHERES fly in formation inside the space station's cabin. The satellites provide opportunities to test a wide range of hardware and software at an affordable cost. (NASA)

Moon Express, Inc. Seeking Lunar Payloads

Moon Express Inc. is a Google Lunar X PRIZE Team based at NASA-Ames Research Park and partnered with NASA-Ames on lunar lander development.

Moon Express plans to fly a series of robotic commercial lunar landing missions. These missions will carry scientific, educational, and commercial payloads to the lunar surface, beginning in late 2013 with Moon Express-1 (ME-1). Moon Express is also now soliciting payloads for ME-2, to fly in 2014/2015.

Several payloads are already under agreement to fly on ME-1 but open payload space remains on ME-1, and ME-2 has not yet begun to fill.

Moon Express seeks to discuss payload flight opportunities with funded US or overseas PIs and organizations with research or educational payloads that can be ready for launch aboard ME-1 in late 2013, as well as PIs/organizations interested in proposing to NASA, NSF, or other agencies/sources for the ME-2 launch in 2014/2015. Those interested should be in contact with Dr. Alan Stern.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ebb & Flow Circle the Moon

NASA's twin GRAIL spacecraft have new names, thanks to some enthusiastic 4th graders from Bozeman, Montana who reveal the names in dramatic fashion. The two spacecraft were previously known as GRAIL-A and GRAIL-B, now Ebb and Flow.

The students came up with the name and wrote the winning essay in this nationwide contest. As a prize, they will be the first classroom to target the MoonKAM cameras on board the spacecraft. The complete press conference below.

Monday, January 16, 2012

PromISSe mission: André's music on ISS

During his five-month PromISSe mission, ESA astronaut André Kuipers is listening - of course - to a lot of his favourite music. He has taken a selection of music with him on the ISS and soon a song a day will be featured on his blog ( Here some of the artists included on André's playlist send their best wishes, including Marillion, Pink Floyd and one of Andre's all-time favourites, Dutch guitarist, Harry Sacksioni. More from SpaceRef.

Accelerating Universe Discovery Revolutionary

In the past two decades, astronomers have made a truly revolutionary discovery: that the cosmos is not only expanding, but is doing so at an ever-faster rate. The discovery of the accelerated expansion of the Universe was awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics.

2011 Year of Spectacular Space Photographs: but the next decade of space telescopes?

The Year of Space 2011 in spectacular pictures from spacecraft exploration and cosmic observations set to the music of the Future Sound of London (FSLO). Delightful living in the  golden age of cosmology and  astrophysics, the period from 1992 to the present in which important advances in observational cosmology have been made.

While the data is pouring down from the heavens, in large part from 14 state-of-the-art NASA space telescopes, each represented in a timeline below, the future of space-based observations are not as bright as they have been in the last decade as one looks into the future. Significant space-based assets could be lost over he next five years due to age or inability to repair. The 2020 vision may fade to black.
The cornucopia of observation astronomy is about to come to a grinding, abrupt halt. The  next few years are going to see a rapid decline in the number of observatories in space without more modern replacement. Space astronomy missions take years, if not multiple decades, to plan, finance and execute. They are Big Science.

The James Webb Space Telescope, an  international collaboration of about 17 countries, is running behind schedule and extremely over budget. The JWST launch date is now expected between 2018 and 2021 at a price tag of $8-billion, at least four times more than originally proposed.

Two projects on the drawing boards, the NASA Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF) was cancelled  and the ESA's Darwin was cancelled earlier.  Both were being designed to look for Earth-like planet candidates. Unfortunately, neither effort will see first light.

The International X-ray Observatory is also troubled with NASA, JAXA and the ESA unable to forge a lasting partnership on the project. The Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) partnership between NASA and ESA has been terminated due to funding issues.

The Joint Dark Energy Mission-Omega (JDEM) or WFIRST is a proposed 1.5-metre telescope with a 144-megapixel HgCdTe focal plane array, located at the L2 Lagrange point; the expected cost is around $1.6 billion for development and operation targeted for 2020. Whether it makes it to space is suspect.

Today (January 16, 2012) in Space Review, Jeff Foust writes about "Big science in an era of tight budgets" and it is worthy of review.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Jack Lissauer: Who Needs the Moon?

Jack Lissauer lecture at the SETI Institute: "Who Needs the Moon?"

Lissauer is an American research scientist who has worked for the NASA's Ames Research Center since 1996. He is a science co-investigator on the Kepler space telescope mission. His primary research interests are the formation of planetary systems, planetary dynamics and chaos, planetary ring systems, and circumstellar/protoplanetary disks. He  a PhD in mathematics from the University of California, Berkeley in 1982.

We have numerically explored the obliquity variations of a hypothetical moonless Earth using a range of initial conditions and extending our calculations for up to 4 billion years. We find that while obliquity varies significantly more than that of the actual Earth over 100,000 year timescales, the obliquity remains within a constrained range, typically 20-25 degrees in extent, for timescales of hundreds of millions of years. Retrograde planets' obliquities are more stable than that of the real Earth. So having a large moon may not be needed for a planet to be habitable.

Virginia Gov Bob McDonnell Touts Growing Commercial Space Industry at Wallops Island

"Growing commercial space industry at Wallops Island on the Eastern Shore" of Virgina were amoung the remarks of Virginia's Governor Robert F. McDonnell in his 2012 State of the Commonwealth address to state legislators and the citizens of the state.

McDonnell has been a strong supporter of the ongoing commercial spaceport infrastructure development at the Virginia-based commercial Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. He suuported a nearly $3-million state revenue operating boost in the last two-years and he has proposed $4-million in the next two-year state budget for the spaceport.

The Virginia governor is leading a strong reorganizational effort of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, in keeping with his gubernatorial campaign promise to do so.  State Delegate Joe May is leading the administration's legislative effort in the House while Sen. Mark Herring offers the bill in the Senate.  A part of the proposed McDonnell-lead effort will be to bring space-related knowledge into Virginia's STEM-education. Gov. McDonnell is keenly aware of the competitiveness among the states to advance commercial space launch capabilities [video].

To bring home this point, Gov. McDonnell is planning a Skype chat with 2,500 or so middle and high school students at the University of Virginia's College at Wise, connecting LIVE to the orbiting astronauts abroad the International Space Station, on Thursday, January 26, 2012 at 9:20 AM EST.

The last Thursday of every January is  the federal space agency's  designated national "Day of Remembrance" for NASA fallen astronauts.

Shinning a LAMP on the Dark Sides of the Moon

New maps produced by the Lyman Alpha Mapping Project (LAMP) aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter have revealed features of the Moon’s northern and southern poles in regions that lie in perpetual darkness. LAMP, developed by the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), uses a novel method to peer into these so-called permanently shadowed regions (PSRs), making visible the invisible.

LAMP is a spectrograph that images the ultraviolet region of the spectrum. Utilizing the faint glow of stars and other light reflected off the lunar surface, LAMP can see inside the darkest areas of the Moon to search for water ice and other valuable resources.

The LAMP team estimates that the loss of water frost is about 16 times slower than previously believed. In addition, the accumulation of water frost is also likely to be highly dependent on local conditions, such as temperature, thermal cycling and even geologically recent “impact gardening” in which micrometeoroid impacts redistribute the location and depth of volatile compounds.

Finding water frost at these new locations adds to a rapidly improving understanding of the Moon’s water and related species, as discovered by three other space missions through near-infrared emissions observations and found buried within the Cabeus crater by the LCROSS impactor over two years ago.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Mountain Empire Community College to Host Pre-ISS Downlink Lectures Wed., Jan. 25th

Mountain Empire Community College will host a pre-International Space Station downlink gathering on Wednesday, January 25, 2012 at the Goodlow Center on the Big Stone Gap, Virginia campus from 10 AM to 12:30 PM featuring Robonaut-2 software engineer Adam Sanders and NASA Langley mechanical engineer Amanda Cutright.

Sanders, a native of Big Stone Gap and 2006 University of Virginia graduate, will discuss his work at General Motors supporting Robonaut-2 during its development by NASA in Houston, Texas.  He worked as “the lead architect for the human-machine interface and task programming language." He previously served as "the principal engineer for the power distribution monitoring and control hardware, firmware, and software for the robot.” R2 has been aboard the International Space Station since being launched on a space shuttle last year. Sanders now is the lead software architect at Euclid Innovations.

Cutright, a native of Hampton, will discuss her work at the NASA Langley Research Center relating to the Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD) and Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment (IRVE 3) projects being developed to land spacecraft on Mars.  She transferred to the "space brakes" project after having previously worked on the NASA Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (Orion).  Cartright, a graduate of Virginia Tech and Old Dominion University, has been honored for her advanced mechanical engineering work at NASA.

The Mountain Empire Community College-sponsored event will precede the International Space Station live in-flight downlink starting at the University of Virginia's College at Wise convocation center beginning at 9 AM, Thursday, January 26, 2012. The event will feature NASA Associate Administrator Leland Melvin and the first private female space explorer, Anousheh Ansari.

Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD) animation.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Newt Gingrich Goes Bold on Space Exploration

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich seeks bold space program while Willard Romney mocks Gingrich ideas of  space and lunar mining efforts.
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, campaigning in Florida for the January 31, 2012 primary, has endorsed a "bold" space program.

The former U.S. House speaker told the Orlando Sentinel editorial board he wants America to "reclaim [the] vision" expressed in President John F. Kennedy's 1961 call for the United States to lead exploration of space. "I love the romance of space," Gingrich said. "I love the idea of going out there. I love the idea of [following] John F. Kennedy's speech on why we should go to the moon."

Gingrich clearly hopes his views on space will distinguish him from his five GOP rivals and especially front-runner Willard Mitt Romney, who recently mocked him for wanting to colonize the moon in a presidential debate in Iowa.

Gingrich said NASA must be "more realistic about risk taking," both for itself and in encouraging the private space industry, including offering large cash prizes to entrepreneurs willing to invest in new space technology, including a private space station, moon colonization and a trip to Mars.

"People take risks to climb Mt. Everest. People take risks to hang-glide. People take risks to do lots of things," Gingrich said. "If you offer a more open-ended system, you say, 'Here's the prize to get there but we understand it's risky,' I think you'll see a lot more people investing and taking risks."

Richard Garriott: Man on a Mission

Reaching for the heavens looks pretty easy in Man on a Mission: Richard Garriott's Road to the Stars. The title character didn't meet the eyesight requirements to train as a NASA astronaut. So he just paid $30 million to the Russian space program, and hopped a Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station, notes NPR.

Garriott flew to the space station under a deal with Russia's Federal Space Agency brokered by the Virginia-based space tourism company Space Adventures, a firm that has arranged eight such flights for seven customers (one passenger flew twice) since 2001. Garriott paid $30 million to launch into orbit aboard a Russian Soyuz space capsule with two professional astronauts — one Russian, the other American — who were starting a months-long mission to the space station, with more.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Yugoslavians Boost America to the Moon?

The release of a Slovenian documentary, "Houston We Have a Problem", alleges a new twist to the the Cold War: American bought a secret Yugoslav space program to put it in space.

The posting of a documentary trailer by user YugoslavianSpace on January 9, 2012 is offering a rather unusual twist to the Cold War story, more than fifty years after America announced its intention to go to the Moon in May, 1961, writes Paul Bradury for Digital Journal.  Nonetheless, Gregor Bulc writing for B Turn suggests a docu-hoax.

The trailer claims that the full documentary, entitled Houston, We Have a Problem - to be released later this year - will show that the CIA discovered a secret Yugoslav space program in 1960 and, behind in the space race with the Soviet Union, they bought the entire program from Yugoslav President Tito in March, 1961, just two months before President John F. Kennedy announced America's lunar ambitions. It will be interesting (if not fun) to see the alleged evidence.

Circumbinary planet systems discovered

Using data from NASA's Kepler Mission, San Diego State University astronomers announced the discovery of two new transiting "circumbinary" planet systems — planets that orbit two stars. The planets in each of these systems have been provisionally named Kepler-34b and Kepler-35b.

The Kepler-35 system is located 5400 light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation Cygnus. The stars are slightly smaller than our own Sun (80% and 89% in size, respectively) and circle each other every 21 days. The planet Kepler-35b orbits the two stars every 131 days. credit: Lior Taylor.

Curiosity Rover Makes Mars Route Maneuver

NASA Mars rover Curiosity makes first big maneuver en route to August rendezvous with Mars explained by Dr. Rob Manning, Mars Science Laboratory chief engineer.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

European Space Agency Missions Preview

André Kuipers continues his PromISSe mission aboard the International Space Station until May, the 4th ESA long duration mission. During his stay the third European ATV cargo ship will bring food and supplies to the orbital outpost. Early in the year the new Vega launcher will make its qualifying flight from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana. The end of the year will be marked by an ESA Conference at Ministerial level, a major decision point for the future of Europe in Space.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

ISS: a human and technological achievement

The International Space Station Program's greatest accomplishment is as much a human achievement as a technological one. The global partnership of space agencies exemplifies meshing of cultural differences and political intricacies to plan, coordinate, provide, and operate the complex elements of the station.

The ISS program also brings together international flight crews and globally distributed launch, operations, training, engineering, communications networks, and scientific research communities.

Maintaining the ISS is an arduous task, requiring an international fleet of vehicles and launch locations to rotate crew members; replenish propellant; provide science experiments, necessary supplies, and maintenance hardware; and remove and dispose of waste. All of these important deliveries sustain a constant supply line crucial to the operation of the station.
More information on the International Space Station live downlink at the University of Virginia's College at Wise is available at the college web site and that of The Highland Cavalier student newspaper. The events start at 9 AM on campus.

NASA Needs to Give Policy Priority to Placing R2 Humanoid Robot on Surface of the Moon

For $150 billion, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration could have sent astronauts back to the Moon, and probably ahead of the Chinese. Nonetheless, the Obama administration judged that too expensive, and Congress agreed to cancel the program in 2010, as noted by The New York Times back then.  Nevertheless, there are alternatives, as required of leadership.

For less than $200 million, along with about $250 million for an Atlas-V booster rocket, NASA engineers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston say could safely send a humanoid robot to the Moon within 1000 days from date of funding approval. The United States could accomplish Project M, well before the Chinese taikonauts starting walking upon the Moon's surface.

The now NASA scaled-down idea, previously known as Project M, was almost a guerrilla effort within NASA, cooked up more than two-years ago by Stephen J. Altemus, the chief engineer at Johnson. The plan was to place the humanoid dextrous robot R2 on the surface of the Moon, perhaps at one of the poles to look at potential resources.

The time has come to take Project M off the back burner and place it front and center for mission planners to implement in late 2014 or early 2015, if for it to signal the Chinese government of American intent not to cede space exploration to them, or, in the alternate, the mission go forward  as an American technology demonstrator and science mission. Most of all, a NASA Project M will simply inspire a new generation of robotics and software engineers in American universities today and tomorrow. Why not all three as mutual policy goals?  

The Project M’s planners have said that a robot walking on the Moon would capture the imagination of students, just as the Apollo Moon landings inspired a generation of scientists and engineers 40 years ago. As the Chinese, Europeans, Japanese, and Indians look to the Moon in this decade, so should the United States demonstrating the power of innovative robot technology and landing precision and to answer many remaining mysteries of the moon.

Bill Gilland, at CosmOnline provides greater insight to the future of lunar robots, and the amazing potential follow-on to R2, now powered-up at the International Space Station ready to commence full-functioning there in the year ahead.

Poles apart: Moon offers hint of resources

In a paper published recently in the Journal for Geophysical Research, Planets, the science team for Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter describe how they have used starlight to peer into the permanently shadowed craters of the Moon’s north and south poles. Looking only during the lunar night, they measured the dim albedo of the Moon from reflected starlight. From this very weak signal they were able to cull two interesting facts about these very cold and very dark places, points space historian and author Robert "Bob" Zimmerman at Behind the Black.

Two primary points are made in the study of the lunar poles from the study: 1]  The ground at the bottom of these craters is more porous than the surrounding unshadowed terrain; and, 2] There is evidence in the spectroscopy of 1 to 2% water frost in these craters.

The first discovery is consistent with other Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter data that mapped the Moon’s surface using lasers. That data had suggested that the floors of these craters had a very rough terrain. This new data further suggests the existence of what the scientists dub fairy-castle structures due to “charging effects.” Since the scientists also note that even if there is water-ice on the floors of these craters it would still be subject to melting and evaporation over the eons due to the harsh conditions.

The second discovery is consistent with other data that has suggested there is remnant frozen water hidden in these permanently dark regions. Once again, the value of this “beachfront” property on the Moon has gone up! - Zimmerman notes.

X-37B Spaceplane Spying Chinese Space Lab?

Once China puts people aboard its new space laboratory, they may have to watch what they say, since some suggested earlier this week that there is a United States’ super-secret space plane, the X-37B, currently orbiting the earth on a classified mission. The story, denied by experts, is raising new space policy issues between the United States and China, despite American and Chinese talks on space cooperation.

Even though the government won’t say what the X-37B is doing on its second mission, many amateur space enthusiasts believe they know what the unmanned craft is up to. According to Spaceflight magazine, the X-37B’s orbital path is nearly identical to that of China’s spacelab, Tiangong-1, which is currently unmanned but is expected to take on Chinese national taikonuts later this year.

“Space-to-space surveillance is a whole new ball game made possible by a finessed group of sensors and sensor suites, which we think the X-37B may be using to maintain a close watch on China’s nascent space station,” said Spaceflight editor Dr David Baker. The BBC and Popular Science while MSNBC suggests that US experts dispute the claim of American spying on the Chinese space lab.