Friday, May 30, 2008

ESA's ambitions for ATV

In the days when NASA's last three Apollo missions were scrapped, if you don't count Apollo-Soyuz as "Apollo 18," the agency had ambitions for a more glorious future. They were keen to maintain their booster capacity, and grasped at various straws.

Long-term plans offered by Congress and the Nixon administration for a "cheaper" Space Shuttle, built around a Space Telescope were cause for much grumbling. Among the concepts floated in hope of selling Congress on maintaining the Saturn booster plant and personnel was an idea very much like the European Space Agency's multi-purpose Automated Transfer Vehicle.

The first of its kind docked with the International Space Station right after the departure of Atlantis in early April. The Jules Verne will still be there when Discovery arrives once again next week.

Launched using the Arianne V heavy booster, ESA has a multitude of multi-purpose concepts in mind for the deceptively simple looking design, including a manned Crew Exploration Vehicle. Nancy Atkinson in Universe Today writes about the ESA's unveiling of what a manned-ATV's interior might look like HERE.

ESA's "evolution scenarios" are somewhat detailed HERE.

Raleigh Team Shooting For The Moon

RALEIGH - A Raleigh -based team of scientists and researchers called "Team Stellar" has announced their intent to compete for the Google Lunar X Prize by landing a privately-owned spacecraft on the moon to send back photos and data.

Team S.T.E.L.L.A.R. stands for Space Technology for Exploration, Lunar Landing, and Roving and is a project of the North Carolina non-profit Advanced Aerospace Resource Center corporation.

Members of the team include artificial intellignece, robotics and space technology experts from North Carolina universities as NC State and businesses such as IBM, . North Carolina State University team members include professors with experience in satellite technology and space navigation.

Different "sub-teams" will be assigned tasks such as handling lunar vehicle design, communications and control, orbital mechanics, and mission control, says the group.

Members of the team include Dr. Andre Mazzoleni, Richard D. Dell Jr., Dick Dell, Grayson Randall, Dr. William Edmonson, Gordon Jeans, and Jeff Krukin.
Read more HERE.

Selene pulls out of X-Prize

"On Saturday, after the vaunted First Team Summit was completed in Strasbourg, The Southern California Selene Group announced publicly that they are dropping out of the Google Lunar X Prize. Citing very strong differences in opinions over how the X Prize was being run, the team felt they could no longer participate. On the flip side, the X Prize Foundation announced at the team summit that there are four new teams. With the drop out, there are now thirteen official competitive teams."

Thursday, May 29, 2008

ISS head pump loaded onto Discovery

CAPE CANAVERAL — After being rushed in from Russia, a toilet pump was loaded into space shuttle Discovery on Thursday just in time for this weekend's liftoff to the international space station, where the lone commode is acting up.

A NASA employee based in Moscow hand-carried the pump on a commercial flight that touched down Wednesday night. Within hours, the pump and related equipment were packed away aboard Discovery.

Discovery is scheduled to blast off Saturday on a 14-day mission. The main delivery item is a 37-foot-long Japanese lab; it will be the biggest room once installed at the space station.

Good weather was forecast for the late afternoon launch, and the countdown was going well.

While the three space station residents are eager to see the Kibo lab, the bathroom situation has become a more pressing issue. For the past week, the two Russian and one American men have had to periodically manually flush the urine side of the Russian-built toilet. The job takes 10 minutes and requires two people.

"Insert that into your daily life and you can see it would be quite inconvenient," Kirk Shireman, NASA's deputy space station program manager, said at a news conference.

The solid-waste part of the toilet is working properly.

The American on board, Garrett Reisman, will return to Earth aboard Discovery after a three-month stay. His replacement, Gregory Chamitoff, will have to deal with any lingering bathroom problems.

NASA plans to launch another Russian toilet aboard a space shuttle later this year, along with other equipment that will enable the space station crew size to double.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"Houston, we need a plunger..."

What do you do when you're stranded... and your only toilet fails?

If you're circling Earth in low Earth orbit every ninety minutes, you can't call a plumber.

Or can you?

You definitely ask ground controllers to send old-fashioned waste bags on the next available flight. Chances are that shipment is on its way, an ignominious, if very practical use, of the Space Shuttle, cleared for launch in less than a week; its final missions now trickling down to the single digits.

It will not be any small matter to the crew of the International Space Station however. NASA hasn't discussed contengency plans, but surely someone has discussed mitigation - especially because the station was designed to be equipped for a single toilet at this phase in its construction.

The Associated Press reports the news, bound to eclipse the Phoenix Mars polar lander in the "head" lines over the next few days.

The Right-Hand Rule, rules

Strong Potential

It's called the "Right Hand Rule." Most basically described, a "free" electron moving perpendicularly, west to east through a magnetic field will be repelled away from the source of that field.

Hold out you right hand flat and point your index finger while extending your thumb at a right angle. Slide your hand away from your torso and imagine your index finger is the direction of travel for the "free" electron and your thumb as a magnetic line of force.

This repellent force, known as the Lorentz Force, is what lifts and accelerates a Maglev train. If you've ever wondered how extraterrestrials fly those Unidentified Flying Objects, this principle is probably what they use.

Earth would then be a very compelling destination, because in what is almost certainly a secondary bi-product of the tidal lock Earth has with our relatively large natural satellite, Earth has the only substantial and global magnetic field of all the terrestrial planets.

It has long been a dream of scientists to use this conveniently situated terrestrial magnetic field as a method of pegging satellites in orbit, to save fuel resisting the drag of an atmosphere swollen by being rarefied at Solar Maximum, for example, which often drags expensive satellites to their doom long before their time.

Moving at 7330 meters per second, usually from west to east through Earth's magnetic field, if such a flow of electrons could be controlled, it is hoped, satellites could remain in low Earth orbit for far longer.

William R. Gorman and James D. Brownridge of State University of New York have proposed a series of experiments to test what they hope will be the most efficient way to reduce resistance and counter to necessary return of electron, in a closed circuit, that would act as a counter to the Lorentz Force.

Unfortunately, their initial experiments have resulted in runaway component failure and arcs that weld and short the simply complex platform. Clearly, there is much to be learned about applying Lorentz Forces to practical methods.

And it may not be the first time experiments with induced electro-magnetic forces have ended in component failure.

On at least two occasions, short and long tether experiments have been deployed from the Space Shuttle in attempts to utilize the altitude and speed through the magnetic field lines of Earth to tap them for electricity.

The last attempt ended in failure when designers may have underestimated just how much electricity was trapped even in low Earth orbit. While unreeling a ten kilometer long tether, mission specialists did not get far.

Before half its length was deployed, the conductive tether, more or less, became a long length of available charge, traveling perpendicularly through Earth magnetic field. Resistance caused heat to build along its length, and the tether melted.

The experiment has not been repeated.

If you will pardon the pun, the potential of allowing orbital inertia to push a conductor through Earth's natural magnetic field is very untapped.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger 1913 - 2008

Von Braun's "Number 3," the last of Penemunde's V-2 scientists captured at the close of World War II in Europe, has died. Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger experimented with Ion propulsion - before the war and after - and conceived of what became the Hubble Space Telescope.
Space Age Giant - Alabama Today

Friday, May 23, 2008

Lunar GRAIL will detail Moon's "Interiors"

From one of the many studies still being produced from Lunar Prospector (1998-99), this one by Alex S. Konopliv,, of NASA JPL, showing the complex discontinuities of the Moon's many centers of gravity. After the Lunar Reconnaisance Orbiter, NASA's GRAIL mission will provide finest detail yet of the lunar "interiors."

MIT professor of physics Maria Zuber is the principal investigator of the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory — "GRAIL" for short. It's a new NASA mission slated for launch in 2011 that will probe the moon's quirky gravity field. Data from GRAIL will help scientists understand forces at play beneath the lunar surface and learn how the moon, Earth and other terrestrial planets evolved.

"We're going to study the moon's interior from crust to core," says Zuber. "It's very exciting."

For 270 days, beginning in September 2011, the GRAIL will be "twins," using interferometry turned inward for unprecedented detail of the complexities of the Moon's many interiors.

GRAIL will fly twin spacecraft, one behind the other, around the moon for several months. All the while, a microwave ranging system will precisely measure the distance between the two satellites. By watching that distance expand and contract as the two satellites fly over the lunar surface, researchers can map the moon's underlying gravity.

Scientists have long known that the moon's gravity field is strangely uneven and tugs on satellites in complex ways. Without course corrections, orbiters end their missions nose down in the moondust! In fact, all five of NASA's Lunar Orbiters (1966-1972), four Soviet Luna probes (1959-1965), two Apollo sub-satellites (1970-1971) and Japan's Hiten spacecraft (1993) suffered this fate.

Read MORE from Science@NASA HERE.

Excellent abstract and Study presentation (.pdf)
from the Lunar Science and Planetary Institutes 39th Conference (2008)

India to launch lunar mission soon

New Delhi - India will launch its first unmanned space craft—Chandrayan I— in the last quarter of this year. The Moon mission would capture images of the lunar surface.

“The mission is aimed at carrying out high resolution mapping of topographic features in three dimensional and to harness the science payloads,” the ISRO Chairman G. Madhavan Nair said.

Chandrayan I will travel in a polar orbit around the moon and pay special attention to gathering data on the polar icecaps that may contain traces of water.

Nair said that the lunar craft would take at least two years to cover the entire moon’s surface.

Talking about ISRO’s future plans, the Chairman said that the space agency would launch two commercial satellites for the European Union (EU), and is also planning to launch a geosynchronous satellite launch vehicle (GSLV) with an indigenous cryogenic engine.

Stating ISRO’s plans to launch 70 missions in the 11th Five Year Plan period, he said that the number of missions would be three times more than missions in the past five years.

—iGovernment Bureau (verbatum)

Can you play 'the Moon?'

One-Quarter Actual Size

Now this is imaginative. The Kaguya Lunar Orbiter ground controllers have put together "The Moonbell," a Java Applet using laser altimeter data and an orbital cross-section to create a random tone generator, playing the moon like a phonograph record, you might say.

Useful? Yes, I suppose it could be. And yet I wouldn't be the first to evoke Benjamin Franklin's answer to a wag's question of what use the channeling of lightning might be, to those who might still ask "what use" exploring the Moon "might be?"

Franklin laughed, "what is the use of a newborn child?"

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Impact gap in Moon's Southern Highlands?

A small sampling of one hundred 'official' impacts, mostly believed to be of cometary origin, recorded by specialists at Marshall Space Flight Center between 2005 and 2006

A quick glance at the Moon's nearside, tidally locked facing Earth, dramatically shows the Southern Highlands hardly devoid of impacts. Like most of the lunar farside, the impacts there over 4.5 billion years are well preserved and seem to saturate every available location. Close examination of the relatively smooth basaltic lunar "seas" of course, show a similar, newer and smaller saturation not as easy to recognize with the naked eye from Earth.

In the short term, however, and during a comparative 'blink of an eye' in lunar history, in a period of little more than a couple of years, NASA observations appear to show a familiar pattern.

Are some places on Earth's Moon safer from impact than others?

The possibility of lowering the probability of a mission being "impacted" in increasingly permanent presence makes this possibility worth study.

All meteor observers on Earth know the likelihood of seeing that sporadic flash in the sky, and not necessarily associated with an annual shower, increases after midnight. The reason is also well-known. At dawn, more or less overhead, observers are under the forward direction of Earth's orbit, perched on the front bumper, and at sunset on the back.

Driving through a swamp, bugs are impacted on the front windshield. To hit the back window, bugs would need to catching up and moving faster than the car. That comparison breaks down quickly when dealing with meteoroids and the Moon.

From Earth, the image above shows "100 impacts on the moon" of what were larger chunks of debris sufficient to release kinetic energy quickly turned into visible energy on impact, enough to to be indisputably register 400,000 kilometers away.

Apparently seen in this small sample is a similar pattern from what is observed on Earth. The patters seems to show a slightly higher probability of an impact on the Moon's leading limb in its orbit around Earth. And the sample might also show a "Meteor-graph" of the far wider distribution of cometary orbits above and below the ecliptic.

Accounting for the Moon always traveling along with Earth around the Sun also, from Full Moon through New, the lunar farside faces Earth's forward but, as always, invisible from Earth.

The apparent low incidence of recorded impacts toward the poles may reflect the Oort Cloud's distant belt, and it's lower number of comets above and below the primal proto-planetary disk, but it also might only show a lower likelihood of an impact's visibility at high latitudes, and as seen from Earth.

And there are seasonal visibilities and the inclination of the lunar orbit, prejudices of distance, obscuring abyssal crater walls and mountains, etc. But no recorded impacts on the Moon, at least during the sample period, upon the area of the Moon "closest" to Earth. So it might mean nothing at all.

So what about this apparent gap in sightings in the familiar highlands?

Along with being "closest" to Earth, which is always situated directly overhead (and also most incident to a crowded solar ecliptic where all the planets and most, but certainly not all the debris resides) the "Highlands" also appear to be short on impacts, at least in this sample.)

The moon shows recent and ancient, both large and microscopic, impact history in that area. So, given enough time, the impacts do come, but perhaps less frequently. An impact of the kind seen in this sample, coming from overhead, would almost always have had to pass through the Earth first. That would block a fragment of the ecliptic's debris field, of course, and make impacts ordinarily visible in a sample such as this trend toward those of higher, more oblique angles.

Does this mean there are far more impacts everywhere on the moon, with visibility trending toward those closest to being in line-of-sight with Earth? That would make the apparent gap a sign of something far more troublesome.

For whatever reason, this last possibility is a victim of Occam's Razor. The brief sample does correlate nicely with one predicted pattern. If so perhaps it does show an unlikely, but clearly seen nevertheless, an apparent lower likelihood of being "impacted" by a meteor the higher Earth is over your head. As with everything else, it may be worth further study.

From NASA's Science News, 100 Explosions on the Moon, May 21, 2008:

"They're explosions caused by meteoroids hitting the Moon," explains Bill Cooke, head of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office at the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC). "A typical blast is about as powerful as a few hundred pounds of TNT and can be photographed easily using a backyard telescope."

As an example, he offers this video of an impact near crater Gauss on January 4, number 86 on the list of 100 impacts recorded by the MEO team since their survey began in 2005. Larger movies: 0.8 MB gif, 5.9 MB avi."

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Kaguya captures Hadley Rille - Apollo 15

Hadley Rille Valley and Mount Hadley - smaller scale HDTV still of the Palus Putredinis
(the Marsh of Decay) amidst the Lunar Apennines and southwest of Imbrium Basin;
and Aristillis and Autolycus Craters by Japan's (JAXA)
KAGUYA, February 2008

At five meter resolution, the Lunar Community, still Earthbound, has marveled at the HDTV stills beamed home by Japan's Kaguya(Selene) Lunar Orbiter. Unfortunately, it has also whetted appetites for the half-meter resolution promised by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. LRO is still slated for launch in October.

Meanwhile JAXA continues to serve up appetizers from multiple instruments, and an orbital view Senator Jack Schmitt (Apollo 17) describes as "the closest thing to being there" he's experienced since December 1972.

After releasing tight shots of Tranquillity Base from 200 kilometers overhead and the high phase angle & high altitude images of Taurus-Littrow, the first and last places humans scratched the surface of Earth's Moon, respectively, JAXA has today released perhaps the best shots yet of an Apollo landing site.

The image above hardly does the release justice, as Junya Terazono explained earlier today:

Hello lunatics,

JAXA announced today that Kaguya successfully captured images of Apollo 15 landing site. And they confirmed some remnant of thrusted gas (helo) near the landing point. This is the world's first of discovery of Apollo evidence since the cessation of the mission.

* JAXA press release (Japanese, as usual) The image captured on 24 Feb 2008. Also, they released composite 3D images of the landing site using stereo pairs. The images show remarkable coincidence with photographs taken in Apollo 15 mission.

FIGURE ONE: Brief explanations of each image.

FIGURE TWO: The stereoscopic view of the Apollo 15 landing site. You can clearly see the meandering Hadley
Rille in the middle of the photograph.

FIGURE THREE: The topographic map of the landing site (
LPI). The red arrow shows
the viewing direction of Figure 1.

Magnified view of the image near the landing site. The area surrounded by red lines are considered as the remnant of the halo, the exposed surface after blowing of the thrusted gas.

FIGURE FIVE: The difference of the landing site before and after the landing, from the Apollo 15 Preliminary Science Report. Left one is AS15-87-11719, taken before landing. Right one is AS15-9430, taken from the command module after two circulation of the moon.

FIGURE SIX: The comparison between stereoscopic view composed from
Kaguya images (left) and Apollo 15 view (right). As any viewpoint is available from Kaguya TC images, JAXA staff composed the image simulated the view from Apollo 15 landing site. Hills and other topography are remarkably same.

FIGURE SEVEN: A HDTV image of Apollo 15 landing site.

Close-up view of the Hadley
rille. The stacked lava flows are clearly seen.
Junya Terazono (

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Malaysians "kick the tires" on Soyuz TMA

Holding out for the all the accessories
: The final report on the cost-benefit analysis of the purchase of the Soyuz-TMA 11 capsule and second angkasawan programme will be tabled in cabinet next month. Science, Technology and Innovation Deputy Minister Fadillah Yusof hoped the matter would be settled next month.

"We will report to the cabinet and they will decide whether the programme will be continued and also whether the purchase is necessary," he said after a golf tournament prize-giving ceremony yesterday.

He said the Malaysian government would only be interested in the Soyuz if it could benefit the country in terms of technology transfer and Malaysians could study and learn from it.

The government would negotiate with the Russian government to ensure Malaysia received a fully-equipped capsule and the technology that came with it.

"We will only make the purchase if this condition is agreed to by the Russian government and at the right price.

"If it is an empty one, we might not buy it, but this depends on an in-depth research by both the ministry and Malaysian National Space Agency."

The Soyuz carried Malaysia's first angkasawan, Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor Sheikh Mustapha, to the International Space Station in October last year.

Fadillah said no decision had been made in terms of allocation as research was still under way.
"If the cost is within our capability and the benefit to the country outweighs the cost, a positive decision might be reached."

He said the second angkasawan must do more than the first, especially in terms of research, and this might prolong his stay to up to six months in outer space.

"This is why we have to have a detailed study as the cost will be astronomical. Even a space tourist has to spend RM40 million," he said, adding that the government spent about RM30 million on the first angkasawan, including research.

Fadillah said because of the mixed feedback regarding the first angkasawan programme, the government had to ensure that the cost was justifiable.

"If we cannot justify it, then we might not send a second angkasawan."

The golf tournament was held in conjunction with the 16th World Congress on IT (WCIT) at the Saujana Subang Golf. Some 80 delegates participated in the tournament, including 10 foreigners.
The prize went to Tan Ee Ern, Tan Ban Eu, Ooi Thien Te and Daniel Cheing, who amassed a score of 53.

WCIT 2008, which began yesterday and will continue until Thursday, will discuss social and economic issues such as education, healthcare, environmental sustainability, global peace and security, as well as poverty and the digital divide.

The event, the largest gathering in the congress' 30-year history, is being held at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre.

ESA: Travelers Sought

Indicating a substantial likelihood the European Space Agency will, in fact, soon convert the ATV into its first manned space vehicle, the Continent's space authority has put its first call for astronauts in 16 years.

According to Deutsche Welle, "ESA has said it is looking for astronauts who will be slated for missions to the International Space Station, the moon and even Mars.

"Applicants need to between the ages of 27 and 37 years old. Scientists, pilots, engineers and physicians have the best prospects. Speaking English is a prerequisite, while some Russian language knowledge is also a plus. Applications are being accepted via the agency's Internet site until June 15.

"Currently ESA, a space consortium of 17 countries, has eight active astronauts, the youngest of whom is 43 years old. They are already working aboard the International Space Station and starting operations on the Columbus lab, among other activities.

"ESA is now looking toward further exploration of the solar system, a plan that requires a new generation of space explorers."

Sunday, May 18, 2008

NASA considers removal of US from ISS following Soyuz incident

NASASpaceflightNOW - NASA managers have been meeting today to debate the option of removing the US presence from the International Space Station (ISS) when Discovery undocks at the latter part of STS-124.

Meanwhile, STS-124 processing continues to pick up the pace, following the recent replacement of a faulty MDM (Multiplexer/Demultiplexer) card (FA2), and a Russian re-supply ship (Progress 29P) has successfully docked with the ISS.

The discussions relate to confidence levels in the Russian Soyuz - that is currently docked on Station as a rescue vehicle in the event of an evacuation - while an ongoing investigation into Soyuz TMA-11's ballistic re-entry continues.

The 'down moded' option taken by the Soyuz TMA-11's flight computers - commanding the vehicle into a ballistic re-entry - is still in the midst of a Russian investigation, which is not likely to come to a conclusion ahead of STS-124.

The debate focuses around US confidence in the Soyuz as a 'solid rescue vehicle' - as previously reported by this site. The docked Soyuz is the only means of evacuation from the ISS during an emergency in-between shuttle missions.

The options being discussed relate to either changing the crew size riding up on Discovery to six - minus expedition 17's Gregory Chamitoff - and returning Garrett Reisman as planned, or launching with Chamitoff, before bringing him home with Garrett on Discovery.

These options - noted as 6 up/7 down and 7 up/8 down - have been debated since Wednesday, with Friday's meeting relating to the latter option of bringing eight crewmembers home with Discovery. Orbiters are capable of bringing home 10 astronauts - if required
Read more HERE.

Tim Bendel's off-the-shelf powerplant

From the Silo and Frontier Astronautics
Bill Stone, president of Stone Aerospace, an Austin company that makes robots, space suits and other space-exploration equipment, thinks the Viper could become “a tool for smart, nimble, small aerospace companies. Rather than going to Lockheed, we just go to Tim and say, ‘I want a Viper’ or ‘10 Vipers.’ ” A company that wants to enter the space-tourism market could build a craft around the Viper instead of designing its own engine. Similarly, a lunar-lander mission could use a few Vipers to handle the variety of tasks—leaving orbit, landing, taking off again—that now require 10 engines.

Bendel’s company, Frontier Astronautics, is even applying for an FAA permit to turn the Wyoming missile complex into a spaceport. “It’s kind of a gold rush,” Bendel says of the current era. “Everyone’s trying to get their stake in the market. And we’re selling shovels.”
Read more HERE.

Initial Ares I JX-2 tests complete

NASASpaceflightNOW As the Constellation Program prepare to update the media on the current status of Ares and Orion next week, acquired an expansive synopsis of the current data on the new vehicles.

Meanwhile, the opening series of tests for the J-2X Ares Upper Stage engine have been completed at NASA's Stennis Space Center, which utilized J-2 components used from the Apollo program through the X-33 program.
Read more HERE.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Congress to make NASA International?

Members of the House Science and Technology Committee will radically reshape President Bush and NASA's Vision for Space Exploration, requiring NASA to seek international help in completing the International Space Station, by putting far more emphasis on Earth sciences, particularly "climate change," and founding any further exploration beyond low Earth orbit on future international agreements.

Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO), chairman of the Science and Technology Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics has introduced House Bill 6063, the "NASA Authorization Act of 2008" persuading bipartisan co-sponsors in veteran Republican Ralph Hall (R-TX) and the full committee chairman Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN).

Mark-up of NASA's reauthorization for FY 2009 was set to continue May 20, but it remains unclear how radical a change in national policy Udall's bill represents.

Negotiations were underway to enable NASA to keep its schedule to retire the Space Shuttle in late 2010, complete the International Space Station and continue design and testing already well-underway of Orion, the first manned component of the Constellation program, and the Ares I booster, currently scheduled to fly no sooner than 2015.

It is also not clear whether Congress intends for NASA to keep a 2020 appointment to begin construction of a permanent manned lunar base near the moon's south pole.

In recent days, NASA reportedly scrapped yet another recommendation by Vision planners, a problematic dry landing system for the Orion crew module, saving time and funding overcoming thorny engineering problems and 500 kilograms of vehicle weight, enabling NASA, planners agreed, to keep its long-term time line.

NASA and Congress sacrifice radiation shielding flexibility by removing dry landing hardware

As money at federal budget time comes down to crunch time in House Appropriations, 500 kilos of dead weight and an unecessary need to establish the credibility of the timeline as a selling point for NASA, the Program has been forced to abandon dry land landings for Orion Block One.

It's back to splashdowns, and a forced long-term cost-per-mission is squeezed into the "out years" of the program by the Will of Almighty Congress. Penny-wise and pound foolish, the mission directorates congressional liasons have made safety a more difficult problem for engineers, and ultimately more expensive.

Forcing a larger cost into the out years for a micro-managed short-term "gain" is congressional traditional, however, and like it or not, NASA - just like every federal agency - is a "Creature of Congress."

In the long run, dropping 500 kilos from Orion's design will save the future timeline only at its very beginning, in 2015. Future safety delays, future "Hydrogen Summers," will delay missions in an out year domino effect. If NASA has learned anything from the long Space Shuttle experiment, that should be obvious.

Cost to the Department of Defense for what is essentially Sea Search and Rescue may or may not be a hidden cost to future taxpayers, but dependence made into a necessity, and sacrificing an advance into precision terra firma landings never a feature of NASA capsule-type missions, but a staple of Soviet/Russian missions for almost fifty years is deliberate ignorance.

The most important reason for NASA not to abandon what appears to a clever congressional staff to be merely 500 kilos of "dead weight" is not so obvious and not so easy to communicate in budget hearings.

If only Congress bothered to read the carefully written, easy to follow reports on deep space radiation hazards so carefully and respectfully laid out by the National Academies in two recent reports commissioned by NASA.

That 500 kilos of "dead weight" was integral to flexibility vehicle designers will now be forced to part with in accounting for essential shielding against Galactic Cosmic Rays and Solar Particle Events.

In two well-crafted, peer-reviewed studies the National Academies repeated an generous allowance given designers of the Constellation's Altair lunar lander and Orion CEV to incorporate shielding into the placement of components in the very design of those vehicles.

NASA safety protocol allows an astronaut only a 3 percent probability, over the course of that individual's lifetime, of "Radiation Exposure Induced Death," or REID. Even when incorporating shielding into the design of Orion's components and hull, a nominal trip to Mars guarantees a greater than 3 percent probability, over the course of a Human lifetime, of REID.

That assessment by the National Academies made brief headlines when their latest report, in draft form, was made public at the beginning of this year's budget rounds. The news about Mars being outside the REID protocols was highlighted while similarly nominal trips to the Moon being within those same safety demands did not.

Either way, testimony blasting NASA for having any kind of manned program whatsoever, and in favor of JPL's ground-pounding vision of pure robotics, quickly absorbed the National Academies circumspect report. Apparently neither congressional staff or NASA's lobbyists had time to read their important report.

With the loss of shielding flexibility, design difficulties and safety demands will make the timeline less credible, and not more. In the end, it will make for either a more dangerous Orion, future Liberty Bell Sevens, or, more likely, the addition of another 500 kilos of aluminum inside and outside the Orion command module - without the ability to land on dry ground.

Moon over Bangalore

It's been said the further from the source, the "weirder" the story, as when the small city paper in Stephenville, Texas reported on unidentified flying objects nearby, last year. The story was almost casual, "matter-of-fact" when compared to the frightful shouting of Shep Smith on FoxNews - who is incapable of understatement.

The opposite seems true of stories from India, where apparently, amidst thousands of American customer service call-centers in Bangalore the Chandrayaan lunar probe is finally being assembled by contractors for the Indian Space Research Organisation (IRSO).

As exotic as curry powder, a taste of IRSO's website is strange enough, but those interested, as I am, in the success of the Indian's lunar mission and its eventually getting off the pad at nearby Sriharikota later this year, you shouldn't miss the chance to sample the local news.

It's the next best thing to being there.

From The Times of India, no less:
BANGALORE: Mission Moon is being given the final touches in Bangalore. All payloads and instruments, including five from overseas (from US and Europe) in Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft on India's PSLV are currently being assembled at the ISRO satellite integration centre here, the biggest in Asia.

All satellites and instruments from India or abroad have to be tested followed by assembly and integration onto the spacecraft at this centre.

The instruments will be assembled and finally integrated onto Chandrayaan-1 before launch in a couple of months time. Engineers have already conducted vibration tests, temperature tests at high and low frequencies, tests with thermal sub-systems and all electrical and mechanical functioning.

"The testing of five international instruments is complete. The engineers are very happy with the results and the instruments have come through the different atmospheres in which they are tested. The entire working is very delicate and involves highly careful and sensitive handling. They are happy that all testing parameters have been met. The engineers from abroad too are naturally happy," scientists told The Times of India.

The vibration and temperature tests are particularly important as Chandrayaan-1 as well as the instruments experience conditions in the lunar orbit radically different from those closer to Earth. The success of the tests indicates that the instruments will perform as planned in lunar orbit.

The centre is also taking care of the entire microelectronics of the instruments and the spacecraft with the help of ISRO.

"Tests apart, we put together cameras, antennae and sensors of all instruments that would relay information on spacecraft's health. In fact, we're assembling the very brain of Chandrayaan-1. The spacecraft takes its final form here," an official explained.

Chandrayaan-1 is a 1.5 m cuboid-shaped body with a dry weight of 525 kg in lunar orbit. The spacecraft, which has a mission life of two years is being built with a series of new technologies - lithium-ion batteries, gimballed antenna system, miniaturised communication system, miniaturised star sensor and spacecraft bus management.

"The Deep Space Network at Bangalore will monitor the spacecraft and the data it generates.

"The national science data centre in the DSN will process raw data into user-friendly format. The data ultimately will generate new knowledge about the Moon," a scientist said.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Russians, ESA ink Lunar vehicle agreement

These announcements are always a little optimistic, but negotiators are at least planning to beat NASA back to the Moon by two years.

The Russian Federal Space Agency and European Space Agency are reportedly just past inking a cooperative space vehicle deal, and with form following function, like the Soviet Буран suspiciously looking like a 3/4 scale Columbia, this new vehicle is concepted to resemble Orion but with planned room for a sixth star-traveler.

An ambitious schedule and short-sighted politicians preparing to reap wins from a bitter harvest mostly fueled by confidence-killing gas prices in the U.S., and you begin to wonder if the United States is gradually being left in the dust.

ESA-Roscosmos plan the next visit to the moon by a human being for 2018, or two full years prior to NASA's.

(Of course, the Jules Verne ATV was many years overdue when it finally took flight, weeks ago, docked now to the Russian segment of the ISS. The Space Shuttle was six years overdue when Columbia first flew in 1981.)
More HERE.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Ronald Parise (1951-2008)

Former space shuttle payload specialist Ronald Parise died at his home in Silver Springs, Md., Friday after a three-year battle with brain cancer. He was 56.

An astronomer and computer specialist, Parise was one of the developers of the Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope. He flew on two space shuttle missions in 1990 and 1995 that used the telescope to study stars and other celestial objects.

He was born May 24, 1951, in Warren, Ohio. He earned a bachelor's degree in physics from Youngstown State University and master's and doctorate degrees in astronomy from the University of Florida.

Always interested in science and technology, he first earned his amateur radio license at age 11 and remained active in radio using the call sign WA4SIR, his wife, Cecelia, said Sunday.

As a teenager, he became active in the Mahoning Valley Astronomical Society and built two telescopes. He also learned to fly and enjoyed piloting small aircraft until his disease became advanced, his wife said.

In 1984, he became a NASA payload specialist, working on several technical projects in addition to spending 614 hours in orbit and traveling 10.6 million miles in space. He spent 12 years with NASA before moving on to several other space, astronomy and computer-related jobs.

He and the former Cecelia Sokol met at Youngstown State University and married in 1973. Their son, Nicholas, is in the Air Force. Their daughter, Katherine, lives in Silver Springs.

The funeral is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday at Resurrection Catholic Church in Burtonsville, Md., with burial at Burtonsville Union Cemetery under the direction of Collins Funeral Home in Silver Springs, Md.

His family requested that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to the Youngstown State University Foundation's Dr. Ronald A. Parise Scholarship fund, One University Plaza, Youngstown, Ohio 44555.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Has Mike Griffin given in to the commercial manned spaceflight solution?

The Lunar Pioneer asks, "why stop there?" (Return to Taurus Littrow)

The rumor mongers would have you believe NASA administrator Mike Griffin is steadfastly opposed to NASA funding for commercial space beyond cargo.

And then, only as a stop-gap for a worrisome impending dependence on Roscosmos to keep the International Space Station actually doing science after the retirement of the Shuttle in 2010; plans that call for a Gap in manned spaceflight - after only eight more flights (with two contingencies), and then nothing for our astronauts to do but busy themselves until Orion Block One is ready to fly on the problematic "Stick," the Ares 1, in 2015.

COTS, the Commercial Orbital Transport System, is presently dominated by SpaceX, and the vendor is far along in development of commercial boosters Falcon 1 and 9, but claims readiness to convert America's commercial version of ESA's ATV into a manned vehicle.

And its budget time, once again, with a Congress controlled by a generally-hostile post-modern Democrat Party ready to trade NASA in for an apparently already inaugurated "President Obama's" federal child care dreams, and indefinitely delaying the Vision for Space Exploration while generally driving a stake through the most evident symbol of American Exceptionalism.

Bureaucrats everywhere are delaying badly needed systemic changes in anticipation of November's election and NASA is no exception.

Unilaterally, however, Mike Griffin may be floating a sudden willingness to support commercial competition in manned spaceflight, talking of an offer of $500 million to boost development of a manned commercial orbiter, the next Space Shuttle, with a smaller design following after the post-Columbia separation of cargo and crew.

It would be taking up where the first space shuttle designs left off, before the mouse designed by a committee became the never-fulfilled promise an elephant-sized Space Shuttle, and more the natural successor to the original dreams for a manned and reusable manned LV, from the era before Apollo.

From London and The Times Online, we have this hint given in a speech by NASA's Admin given in Jo'berg, South Africa, and an idea Griffin may have wished floated well off the beaten track.

If this is a new willingness on the part of Griffin and NASA's directorates, not to mention the FAA, to consider further commercialization and competition in American manned spaceflight, here's hoping it's not "too little, too late."

Beyond this, as the above illustration suggests, why stop there?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Who will own the moon and the worlds?

Yes, but... What about the "International Star Registry?"

Such was the power of the Will of Pope Alexander VI that in 1493, barely a year after the European discovery of the Americas, while still exceptionally ignorant of their true extent, their range or even their location, let alone their golden Empires, at that moment manifested in the Inca and Aztec, that he could still set upon the Globe a longitudinal Line of Demarcation separating the future claims of both loyal Portugal and Spain in the "New World."

Five centuries later, east of that Line is Portuguese-speaking Brazil while generally west of that Line, in the far larger part of South America, Spanish is spoken, even by descendants of the Inca and Aztec.

Such was the power of a man who, beginning with an abstraction, and who would never visit those lands or know more than next-to-nothing about their extent, could still have a very lasting effect on the course of history.

The law may be a metaphor, but it is "a metaphor with teeth."

This Demarcation, however, also included an area we know (and by the power of one mapmaker) as North America - which was included inside the Division given to Spain. One tribe of the hundreds of millions of aboriginal Indios, nomads of the North American Plains who had been Mountain Utes who would later learn the power of the horse and become known to the Spanish as Comanche, or "those who are always against us," kept the Spanish out of Texas for two centuries. Meanwhile, the Protestant English gradually became de facto owners of the eastern seaboard of North America.

Both groups simply failed to reconcile themselves to foreign ecclesiastical supremacy, and their long conflict, between Iron and Stone Age peoples, had its inevitable result. In the United States, English predominates, despite the Pope's declaration. The bloodiest battles in the subsequent history of all the Americas would be fought between English-speaking descendants and over the status of slaves imported from Africa.

Still further north, the French held sway, and in Quebec their language is spoken today. Thus, the range of Alexander VI's influence was indeed lasting, but it had its practical limits also, as did the dictates of European Empires over their colonies.

Now, in deciding who "owns" the myriad New Worlds in this star system alone, there are lessons to be learned from history about the long arm of recognized authority and the limitations of symbolic abstractions on ink on paper thousands of miles away, in both space and time.

The Winter 2008 Journal of Space Law & Commerce from Southern Methodist University School of Law, delivers a scholarly review of the notion of private claims on Lunar and other extraterrestrial Real Estate.

The authors make the case that an earth-bound authority could encourage space settlement by recognizing the apportionment of lands as incentive for people to act, a method used to hasten the completion of the Trans- Continental Railroad in the United States, and helped along by the recognition of parcels and townships on either side of the easement while deeding their Mineral Rights to private Trusts and corporations.

Claims that might have been made by some of my Indio ancestors were crippled, naturally, by their lack of any cultural understanding of a Chain of Title and by their genuine horror even at the thought of Mineral Rights.

There are other ways, more chaotic perhaps than may be comfortable to the authors or to the United Nations. In North Carolina, for example, the unchallenged squatting upon someone else's property for 17 years or more can become ownership when a claim is afterwards simply filed at the county courthouse. (The reparation later awarded Aboriginal Americans, however, after millennial "squatting" on parts of North America is apparently the right to operate a Casino.)

Gene Cernan at the beginning of the last EVA on the moon, in the Taurus-Littrow Valley, December 1972. (Image Credit - Jack Schmitt)

Selling the moon, like EM spectrum auctions which have netted the U.S. federal government $64 Billion, is also asking for trouble.

Extraterrestrial land transactions in general are almost certain to lead to ridiculous conflicts and/or impossible or expensive-to-enforce litigation, between absent owners, or nations and nationals, who mine anothers claim.

The Outer Space Treaty puts signatories under an obligation to share data collected by exploration, but no one said this would have to be done in "real time." This creates a market for "insider trading."

And so on... Frustration over such problems, however, along with the persistant, ancient illusions of a Collective, rationalized by terrestrial pressures to "share resources" with the less intrepid may eventually lead to such "hands-off" disincentives to settlement as is seen today in Antarctica, a terrible model for exploiting off-world resources - which might one day prevent the sale of minerals taken from the asteroids, for example, in the only market in this star system, down here in Earth's Gravity Well.

Putting outer space Real Estate in the hands of the United Nations would accomplish the opposite intented by the authors. It would be a disincentive.

The only incentive model that may be workable, in both the short run and the long run, is real people on real property, Boots on the Ground, and mutual agreements made in "township" by those parties in situ - with written agreements made on the land itself, by people who wear spacesuits, not suits and ties, to get to the bargaining table.

Agreements in Townships may exclude absent "authorities" from de facto Eminent Domain or specifically exclude claims by absent owners, and be accompanied by agreements to mutual defense. The latter may seem ridiculous today, but humans are adept at innovating warfare.

You may already see a "War for Lunar Independence" may occur and sooner rather than later. It may have already begun.

Authority, presumed or otherwise, on the part of any Nation-State or International Body, with a Monopoly of Force and written on paper to extend off-Earth must diminish in inverse-proportion to the square of its distance. Earth's Moon may, therefore, be too close for intrepid pioneers.

While the nations of Earth spend relatively little to "explore," history shows they will spend $10 Trillion to enforce proven claims to resources valuing $100 Trillion. When it comes to Power, "Zero-Sum Economies" are quickly tossed aside.

Declaring Space Entrepreneurs to be "privateers," and enforcing Trade Restrictions, preventing access to free markets, may be the best and perhaps the only practical way they might enforce their future treaties - a ball and chain on the speed of our becoming a space-faring species.

Then again, one other way would be to restrict access to Launch and Re-entry windows before they can foresee a loss of bureaucratic control over potential off-world resources; something already well-established in existing Space Law and Regulation.

Florida passes space incentive bills

No surprise there.

Film reviews AeroJet era

Miami Herald - It happened nearly half a century ago: Florida City was once part of the fight to beat the Russians in space as home to a solid fuel space rocket project.

Doug LaRue has created a documentary on the space-era AeroJet solid fuel rocket project southwest of Florida City. The project began in 1963 with the awarding of a large contract for construction of the facility.

During the early years of the U.S. space program, NASA explored both solid and liquid fuel for the rockets which boosted men into space. General Tire won a contract to manufacture solid fuel rockets.

The concept was to assemble the rockets at the South Dade facility, fuel them and transport them by barge up the inland waterway to Cape Canaveral. This required the digging of the AeroJet Canal from the ocean to the site, but with the space race on with the Russians little got in the way of NASA.

Read more HERE.

Toronto threatens Canada's Space industry

VANCOUVER -- A few months ago, John MacDonald got a call from an executive at MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates Ltd., the company he'd co-founded in 1969 and that had gone on to become the heavyweight of Canada's space sector.

MDA had bid for - and won - a contract to build the chassis for a Mars rover that would be part of the European Space Agency's ambitious ExoMars mission, the caller said.

But the Canadian government was dragging its feet on funding its share of the work as required by ESA policies. Would Mr. MacDonald intervene?

Mr. MacDonald, who'd left the company a decade ago but remains close to management, says he picked up the phone and contacted a senior official at Industry Canada who promised to see what he could do.

It was too late. The contract, involving $40-million over three years, went to the runner-up.

For MDA, the lost contract is part of a pattern of inaction on Canadian space policy by successive governments over many years. That lack of direction, say Mr. MacDonald and others, now threatens the viability of the Canadian space sector.
Read more HERE.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Columbia disk drive recovered

The recovered disk drive from Columbia had been used to capture data
from an experiment on Xenon gas flows.

Kansas City Star - Jon Edwards often manages what appears impossible. He has recovered precious data from computers wrecked in floods and fires.

Now Edwards may have set a new standard: He found information on a melted disk drive that fell from the sky when space shuttle Columbia disintegrated in 2003.

“When we got it, it was two hunks of metal stuck together. We couldn’t even tell it was a hard drive. It was burned and the edges were melted,” said Edwards, an engineer at Kroll Ontrack Inc.

Like other Columbia debris, the mangled disk drive turned up in Texas.

Beginning the Retirement: NASA rolls out space shuttle tires for loan

A space shuttle main landing gear tire is prepared for its first and only
space flight at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

When space shuttle Discovery touched down in December 2006 after spending 13 days in space traveling 5.3 million miles, it came to rest on four main landing gear and two nose gear tires. Although not much larger than a truck tire, just one of Discovery's main gear tires could carry three times the load of a Boeing 747 tire or the entire starting line-up of a NASCAR race -- 40 race cars -- all hitting the pavement at 250 miles per hour.

The rear tires that brought the STS-116 crew to their safe end of mission, like all orbiter main gear tires, were rated for only one use and were replaced before Discovery flew again nearly a year later. The orbiter's nose gear met the same fate after only their second landing.

Discovery's spent tires and those of 50 other past flights dating as far back as 1986 were moved to NASA surplus yards and storage centers. The Kennedy Space Center in Florida began the process to auction more than 60 of the retired tires as scrap in February 2005 before the agency reconsidered and pulled the tires from the sale. Instead, NASA said, they would be set aside for then-unspecified "outreach and educational activities."

Three years later, NASA announced this week their flown tires fate: they would be rolled out as the pilot for a new artifact loan program targeted at museums, planetariums, and other organizations.

Prior to the new Artifact Loan Opportunities Program, the space agency made its spent space flown items available to the Smithsonian and to other museums. Educational institutions could borrow artifacts for short term display or in-classroom use but long-term loans were primarily only available to credentialed museums that could satisfy the preservation requirements set by NASA.

Given the ample supply of shuttle tires and the desire to reach new audiences, NASA has invited proposals for the long-term loan of the tires by organizations traditionally excluded from such programs, such as civic groups and schools. To facilitate the process, the agency has waived some of their requirements for the care of flown artifacts, permitting outdoor display as well as the option to drill or cut, as well as paint the tires, though whether intact or in pieces, all the material will remain the property of NASA.

Announcing the program, NASA suggested example uses of the tires, including as art, sculpture, furniture, building structures, or exhibits.

To qualify for a three-year renewable loan, organizations need to submit a proposal by June 11 as well as provide proof of insurance in case of loss for the retail value set by NASA of $250 per tire. Due to U.S. State Department regulations, the tires may not leave the country.

The organization must also provide a guarantee to cover the shipping costs associated with the transportation of the tires, which average a weight of 500 pounds and are approximately 3.5 feet in diameter, from either Florida or Washington, DC.

In addition to the STS-116 tires, NASA also has listed as available tires from the 2005 "Return To Flight" mission of STS-114; the 1998 STS-88 flight, which gave birth to the International Space Station; STS-95, that featured former U.S. Senator John Glenn's return to space after 36 years; and STS-61C, that landed 10 days before the loss during launch of space shuttle Challenger in 1986, among many other tires from other missions.

According to the program's website, loans will be awarded on the basis of the creative and innovative merit of the proposal, past experience, technical knowledge, outreach potential, educational potential, both fiscal and schedule soundness, alignment with NASA's educational goals and the attraction of "nontraditional" audiences.

NASA estimates the announcement of the granted loans will be made on or around July 18, 2008.

Though NASA has yet to announce additional artifacts it may make available through the program, the agency is preparing for the 2010 scheduled retirement of the space shuttle fleet, which accounts for hundreds of thousands of items beyond the three remaining vehicles themselves.

Betatronix gets space kudos

Gary Dymski

Betatronix LLC, a Hauppauge-based custom builder of potentiometers, received a thank-you from NASA yesterday for its work on the Mars Rover project about four years ago.

The company built potentiometers for the Rover project, which in January celebrated a fourth anniversary on Mars, said Joseph Yanosik, Betatronix's director of sales engineering. Potentiometers are position indicators that monitor feedback on movable parts in space. Betatronix makes the devices for the space and defense industries.

Humna Khan, NASA supplier outreach administrator, presented Betatronix chief executive Michael Ryan with a panoramic photo of the Mars surface with the Betatronix name in the foreground, Yanosik said.

The company was started in 1966 by Joseph Yanosik Sr., who was in charge of Betatronix when it supplied the Rover program.

Reisman trades jokes with Colbert

Houston Chronicle

NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman, who is currently orbiting the Earth aboad the international space station, matched wits today with Stephen Colbert, who pokes fun nightly at world events from the anchor desk of The Colbert Report.

Read more HERE.

"Are you saying you are janitor with a Phd?" asked Colbert.

"I'm a bit of a glorified janitor. That is probably a pretty good decription. I do a lot of cleaning," Reisman acknowledged.

The two men discussed the challenges of using the space station's waterless toilet, fitting in socially with two Russian crewmates, and living for weeks without a refrigerator to chill ice cream and beer.

Reisman, who is scheduled to return to Earth in mid-June after two weeks on the space station, explained his preparations for the flight included a two-week stay in an undersea habitat off of Florida's Atlantic Coast in 2003.

"What do you have against the rest of humanity that you have to flee from us every so often," asked Colbert.

"I think it's more what the rest of humanity has against me. I keep being sent off to these far places. I try not to take it personally," Colbert's space guest responded.

Swedish Space Gym Being Tested By Astronauts

The crew of the International Space Station (ISS) is presently testing a Swedish space gym. The gym was developed by Per Tesch, a professor at Mid Sweden University in Sweden. The aim is to counteract muscle atrophy and osteoporosis in astronauts.

Astronauts who spend a long time in space can face problems when they return to earth. Weightlessness atrophies the muscles and decalcifies the skeleton. It doesn’t help to “pump iron.” Barbells and dumbbells are also weightless on a space voyage.

But Per Tesch and his colleagues have found a solution that functions like a reverse yo-yo. The inertia of a rotating flywheel is exploited to create resistance. The astronaut velcros him/herself in place and pulls a cord that is connected to the flywheel. The wheel only weighs a couple of kilos, but its diameter makes the inertia considerable, and the load on the muscles and skeleton is at least as great as in weight training.

Per Tesch has researched the topic for 15 years on commission from both the Swedish National Space Board and its American counterpart, NASA. The “yo-yo” is now being tested in space for first time. It was recently delivered by the U.S. space shuttle Atlantis to the ISS, which is part of a European laboratory.

“It’s fantastic. I have been working a long time for this,” says Per Tesch.

He hasn’t received any reports about how it’s going.

“It’s still secret, but we’ll know in a few months.”

Per Tesch was appointed professor of sports science at Mid Sweden University last autumn. The findings from his research in space physiology will be put to use in developing training methods for sports, exercise, and rehabilitation.

Adapted from materials provided by The Mid Sweden University, via AlphaGalileo.

The Mid Sweden University (2008, May 10). Swedish Space Gym Being Tested By Astronauts. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 9, 2008, from­ /releases/2008/05/080508142121.htm

India's Space Program May Help Fix Land Market:

Andy Mukherjee

A rocket head being carried on the backseat of a bicycle.

That's how French photojournalist Henri Cartier-Bresson's camera captured the initial years of India's space program, which began in the early 1960s.

Many of the program's critics noted at the time that Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was squandering the country's severely limited budgetary resources on an elitist reverie far removed from the realities of the newly decolonized, poor nation.

Author and former United Nations diplomat Shashi Tharoor described the tension in his 2003 biography of Nehru. ``There was no limit to his scientific aspirations for India,'' Tharoor wrote in ``Nehru: The Invention of India.'' ``And yet the country was moored in the bicycle age at least partly because of his unwillingness to open up its economy to the world.''

Four decades after Nehru's death, his economic legacy, especially a dangerous flirtation with Soviet-style state planning, stands largely discredited.

Yet his scientific aspirations are coming to fruition in an India that is twice as open to the world as it was just a decade ago, judging by the flow of trade and overseas investments in relation to the size of the economy.

Last week, India put 10 satellites into orbit in a single mission, creating a new world record.

Among the payloads was Cartosat-2A. It's an indigenously developed remote-sensing satellite that has already begun beaming high-resolution pictures of the Indian hinterland, setting the stage for what may be a revolution in the nation's finance.

Satellite Communication

India has already made extensive use of domestically developed communication satellites.

In the mid-1980s, satellites made it possible for India to export computer software written in Bangalore to the U.S. In the 1990s, the same technology enabled India to set up a modern, nationwide, electronic stock market circumventing the lack of a robust, terrestrial communication network.

In the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, students in remote villages get access to an English teacher in the city via a satellite link. Later during the day, the same link may be used to set up a video conference between an urban doctor and his rural patients.

Indian scientists have also effectively used images from outer space to map the missing nutrients in barren land so it can be reclaimed for agriculture. The next step is to combine satellite pictures of landholdings with field surveys and create a unified register of property titles.

Land Titles

That's going to be a key use of the images obtained from Cartosat-2A. These will have a resolution that's 36 times sharper than that of the images clicked by India's first remote-sensing satellite in 1988.

``Land is probably the single most valuable physical asset in the country today,'' a government-appointed committee on financial-sector development noted last month. ``Unfortunately, the murky state of property rights to land makes it less effective as collateral than it could be,'' said the panel headed by University of Chicago economist Raghuram Rajan.

Improving the collateral value of land will mean more bank credit to more entrepreneurs at cheaper rates.

The first stumbling block to achieving this goal in India is the absence of reliable visual representations of what a landholder actually owns; surveys in India have traditionally covered farmland because the British rulers had a strong revenue interest in it.

Rural and urban dwellings have largely been left out. Not just that. A survey in Andhra Pradesh found that 9 percent of village maps were either torn or faded; an additional 29 percent were missing from official records.

Gains Forgone

``Unless alternative options -- for example, use of satellite imagery -- can be explored, reconstituting village maps in the 30-40 percent of cases where these are either missing or not usable will require huge amounts of fieldwork,'' noted a 2007 World Bank study. ``Given the cost involved, it isn't surprising that this has rarely been done in practice.''

More than five years ago, McKinsey & Co. warned that India was losing as much as 1.3 percentage points of economic growth because of distortions in the land market, including titles that weren't legally foolproof.

One of the indirect costs shows up in very small farmers not leasing out their land to those who actually have the stomach for taking the risks associated with agriculture.

`No Assurance'

If the owners of small strips of land were assured that by handing possession of their holdings to someone else they weren't diluting their ownership rights, they would gladly do so and come to cities to supplement their rental incomes. Urbanization will accelerate; manufacturing industries will gain a competitive advantage from cheaper labor. None of this is happening now because of dodgy property rights.

``Land title in India is uncertain and there is no assurance of clean title,'' Ascendas India Trust, a Singapore-based owner of office property in India, told potential investors last year. ``Title records provide for only presumptive title rather than a guaranteed title to the land.''

All that may change. The Indian government is planning a mammoth resurvey of all land -- partly using satellite imagery -- with the ultimate objective of creating a digital repository of all land records.

The spirit of private enterprise that was stymied during Nehru's rule -- and crushed under his daughter Indira Gandhi's reign -- is already witnessing a surge. And it's getting a boost from Nehru's insistence on inculcating a scientific temper among his countrymen. Even when the last of the state-owned companies in India is sold off, this aspect of Nehru's legacy will endure.

(Andy Mukherjee is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer of this column: Andy Mukherjee in Singapore at:

The Vision for Space Exploration and the retirement of the Baby Boomers (part 2)

Is this the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning?
by Charles E. Miller and Jeff Foust

In part 1 of this article, we documented the projected significant impact to the federal budget of the retirement of the baby boomers, which will begin in the next few years. We suggested that this pending financial pressure is a major threat to the Vision for Space Exploration (VSE), since the VSE has been designed with the assumption of flat budget increases that keep pace with inflation. We pointed out that the last time there was a national consensus to make balancing the budget a high priority—in the 1990s—NASA’s budget was cut 18.6% in real terms.

Our core assertion from Part 1 of this article is as follows:

Read more HERE.

Time to fix the Canadian space program

Globe and Mail Update

As a Canadian, and as a principal founder of MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates some 40 years ago, I have, in recent years, been appalled by the increasing difficulties of the Canadian Space Agency. It has been consistently underfunded by a long succession of federal cabinets from both major parties. It has lacked visionary leadership in recent years and has seemingly become incapable of making significant decisions due to restrictions imposed by the cabinet. The Canadian Space Program in its present state is not capable of sustaining a space capability at the top level.

The resultis that when MDA was in the final phases of the Radarsat-2 and Dextre programs, the country's major space company was faced with a dilemma: Find other customers to support its capability at the highest level of the space game, or begin to lay off one of the best space teams in the world. MDA's solution was to gain access to the U.S. space market by arranging for its space business to be owned once again by a U.S. company, as it was when the Radarsat-2 project began. Being U.S. owned is the only way Canadian space companies can access the U.S. market. So MDA made a deal to sell its space business to U.S.-based Alliant TechSystems Inc. [ATK-N]

I am not active in MDA any more and have not been since 1998, but I watched with interest as the drama unfolded. Now that Ottawa has intervened to block the transaction, I fear that the government will be responsible for creating a new Avro Arrow disaster, unless it either reverses the decision or rapidly increases funding for Canada's space program.

The root cause of the Avro Arrow debacle was lack of government support at the cabinet level for state-of-the-art jet fighters. Similarly, today we have a lack of cabinet support for, or even interest in, a sustainable, top-level space program.

In the case of the Arrow, the highly skilled engineers and scientists responsible for a monumental technical achievement scattered to the four winds. The most precious resource in any endeavour of this kind – a truly remarkable team of people – disintegrated and most of them left Canada. That was the real loss. It took our aerospace industry about four decades to recover. In contrast, as MDA crafted the sale of its space group, care was taken to hold the team together and keep it in Canada, to be able to access a bigger market and hence grow stronger while at the same time being available to execute advanced space projects for Canada if the government ever got around to such things.

If the government maintains its current stance and fails to take rapid action to fix the National Space Program, the situation will become analogous to the Avro Arrow debacle. MDA will be forced to scale back its Canadian work force and rebuild in the U.S. and possibly elsewhere. The company has spent more than 35 years assembling one of the best radar satellite and space robotics teams the world has ever seen. Currently, the team has 1,900 members, of which some 1,500 are employed in Canada and the remainder mostly in the U.S. Not long from now, unless Canada fixes its broken space program and does it quickly, or allows the sale to go ahead, I believe that ratio is likely to be geographically reversed. Ottawa will have left MDA with no other strategic option.

In rejecting the sale to Alliant, Industry Minister Jim Prentice cited concerns about sovereignty and guarding our coasts, about being a space-faring nation and having control over our space assets. He said he wants Canada to own the technology and intellectual property that comes with space projects. But technology has a limited shelf life, and resides mostly in the minds of the people who created it. Unless they have the opportunity to practice and advance this technology, those people move on and the expertise and therefore national capacity in space slips away like sand through an hourglass.

At this time, Canada possesses industrial space technology and expertise at the highest level. If the minister is serious about what he says, he must take immediate measures to strengthen the Canadian Space Program and make it sustainable. To maintain the leadership we have achieved, Ottawa must increase the Canadian Space Agency budget immediately by a factor of at least two and further increase it as we go forward.

I don't know if taxpayers are prepared for that. But there is no getting around the fact that cutting-edge space technology is expensive. The only alternative to spending more is to allow MDA to strike a practical partnership with a U.S. company so the burden of the cost to maintain and advance our Canadian capabilities is shared by bringing in U.S. work. If Mr. Prentice and the Harper government do not want to go down in history as the authors of the second Avro Arrow disaster, they have much work to do, and little time to do it.

John S. MacDonald, O.C., is currently chairman and chief executive officer of Day4 Energy Inc. of Vancouver, a manufacturer of solar electric modules. He is also an MDA shareholder.