Saturday, August 30, 2008

To the Moon: The American Space Program in the 1960s

LBJ Library & Museum, George Bush Library and Museum
KBTX - Bryan/College Station, Texas.

Celebration of LBJ's role in U.S. Space Program, and 100th Birthday:

From the time he was Senate Majority Leader in the 1950s, Lyndon Johnson did more to facilitate the rapid progress of the space program than any other American leader. Johnson co-sponsored legislation for the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958, and as Vice-President, was appointed Chairman of the National Space Council by President John F. Kennedy. Kennedy asked the Space Council to examine America’s space program and the feasibility of a lunar landing. In a memo to Kennedy, Johnson recommended that “with a strong effort the United States could conceivably be first” to achieve Kennedy’s goal of “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth” by the end of the decade. Later, in one of the most awe-inspiring and dramatic stories of our time, President Johnson ensured that this goal remained on track, was funded, and that the mission was accomplished.
Read more HERE.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Lidar For Lunar Landers Tested

By Graham Warwick/Aerospace Daily & Defense Report

An experimental laser sensor has been flight-tested at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in California as part of the Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology (ALHAT) program aimed at future robotic lunar missions.

The light detection and ranging (lidar) sensor is designed to recognize the landing site during final descent, detect hazards such as craters or boulders and direct the lander to a safer touchdown spot. For the tests at Dryden, a helicopter flew repeated tracks over two target areas on the dry lakebed, at altitudes increasing from 300 feet to 6,200 feet, while the nose-mounted gimbaled lidar focused on plywood circles simulating surface hazards. Data was collected for post-flight processing.

ALHAT is a five-year program to develop a system providing 100-meter landing accuracy in all lighting conditions. Precision landings will enable the assembly of a lunar outpost from modular payloads landed in close proximity.

RoboDynamics Announces the First Installation of its Telepresence Robot TiLR at the X PRIZE Foundation

RoboDynamics is an innovative robotics company that develops enterprise Robotic Telepresence platforms such as TiLR. By using TiLR the X Prize Foundation is shifting the paradigm of face to face communications whereby a person can now transport himself instantly to their offices without actually being at their office. This new mode of collaboration will dramatically reduce downtime, increase productivity, and eliminate travel. The robot is installed at the Google Lunar X Prize offices within the X Prize Foundation.

Santa Monica -- RoboDynamics Corporation, the first company to commercialize an affordable Robotic Telepresence Platform, is announcing its first installation of their robot TiLR at the offices of the X PRIZE Foundation.

With this temporary beta-installation the X PRIZE Foundation becomes the first organization to test and evaluate the benefits of a Robotic Telepresence Platform. Robotic Telepresence provides the ability to instantly transport a person to a remote location without the person actually going there. Robotic Telepresence is similar to video conferencing in that there is a real time audio/video link, but also provides the means for the user to commandeer the robot and move about the remote location as though the user was actually there.

"We are honored to have an organization of the caliber of the X PRIZE Foundation to be the first evaluation site for our TiLR platform," said Fred Nikgohar, CEO of RoboDynamics. "It is only befitting that the X PRIZE Foundation, whose Google Lunar X PRIZE is a race to put a telepresence robot on the surface of the moon and provide a live video feed of the lunar surface, is our first test site."

At the heart of RoboDynamics' telepresence platform is TiLR, a four foot tall robot which features a bright LCD screen and a powerful Canon camera. An operator logs into TiLR remotely using a standard PC and commandeers the robot at the remote location while having a real time audio/video link with the robot. Leveraging state of the art technologies in robotics, wireless, and artificial intelligence, TiLR provides the ability for a person to be in two places at the same time. By deploying TiLR and harnessing Robotic Telepresence, organizations can reduce downtime, eliminate travel, increase productivity, and maximize collaboration.

"We're very excited to have this opportunity to be the first official test site for this revolutionary technology. We see tremendous benefits in having the ability to collaborate with people in this new, intuitive, and natural way," said Michael Fabio, Google Liaison and Community Manager for the Google Lunar X PRIZE.

RoboDynamics is an innovative robotics company that focuses on enterprise and industrial Robotic Telepresence. We have a world class team of engineers with deep expertise in robotics, artificial intelligence, electronics, and mechanics. Our process is to begin with the customer, conduct world class R&D to create revolutionary technology, and culminate it all into a unique product that changes the paradigm of collaboration across the enterprise and industrial landscape. Our mission is to leverages state of the art robotic technologies to change the way people live and work. For more information please visit

The X PRIZE Foundation is an educational nonprofit prize institute whose mission is to create radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity. In 2004, the Foundation captured the world's attention when the Burt Rutan-led team, backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, built and flew the world's first private spaceship to win the $10 million Ansari X PRIZE for suborbital spaceflight. The Foundation has since launched the $10 million Archon X PRIZE for Genomics, the $30 million Google Lunar X PRIZE, and the $10 million Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE. The Foundation and its revolution partner BT Global Services are creating prizes in Exploration (Space and Oceans), Life Sciences, Energy & Environment, Education and Global Development. The Foundation is widely recognized as the leading model for fostering innovation through competition. For more information, please visit

Press Contacts:

Alex Lea
RoboDynamics Corp.

Mike Fabio
Google Lunar X PRIZE

Shuttle Trouble

As delightful as it has been to see NASA's viability become a bidding war between Barack Obama and John McCain here, offers to extend the life of the dated and aging Space Shuttle do not make much sense. But I don't want to complain about the political attention, even if it's based on pork-barrel politics. On the 100th anniversary of the birth of Lyndon Johnson it is fitting to celebrate the wisdom of having spread NASA centers all over the map, eventually to become integral to the constituencies of more than just Florida, Texas and California.

Walter Mondale shaped the template of New Left suspicions of NASA and American Exceptionalism when, as a Senator from Minnesota he kept the heat on the Apollo program during it's first deep self-examination following the Apollo 1 fire. Until the Democrats regained their control on Congress in 2006, their Old New Left had downplayed the role John Kennedy and Johnson had played in the ensuring NASA's success well into the first term of President Nixon. It was in those days that Apollo was scrapped. It's replacement, for better of worse, was the Space Shuttle, built around the specifications necessary to deploy the Hubble Space Telescope.

Five years after it's original due date, in April 1981, Columbia was launched. An additional decade was necessary to lift Hubble into the highest of Low Earth Orbits, bumping up against the lower boundaries of trapped radiation in the Van Allen Belts. The ESA's ATV bares a remarkable similarity to one proposed replacement to Apollo, that would have kept the Saturn booster in production. All those decisions made by Congress and NASA, both thirty years ago and this past year, are coming together, over the next few months, in scenarios as ironic as any failed long-term policy can be in a nation built on short-term budgets.

The Shuttle's retirement is already underway, in a systemic work plan that required years of methodical planning. It isn't as though the Orbiters can just be parked, and sealed off with chalks wedged under the landing gear. A year of environmental impact studies alone have been part of the Shuttle's power down, along with the loss of a significant segment of a seasoned talent pool specializing in Shuttle performance.

Shaking off the past to embrace a renewed mission to the Moon is proving difficult for NASA. The end of the Hubble mission, twenty years after launch, was hard to face, but her day is done. Adaptive optics and segmented mirrors has resulted in telescope power on Earth that, in many cases, surpasses the Hubble. The Webb telescope and the promise of manned or robotic telescopes on the Moon calls for more than a new set of glasses and the stressful juggling needed to deploy Atlantis and Discovery in Hurricane Season.

It's probably too much to ask, but it would be nice for NASA's well-meaning friends to consider that the continued delays to the inevitable end to the Hubble and Shuttle era has shaped the timing and safety of Constellation, already being built, even as it is already receding into the "Out Years."

Shuttles Have Tank Troubles
By Craig Covault/Aerospace Daily & Defense Report

Initial launch pad checks of the space shuttle Atlantis for its mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope should be getting under way during the first week of September, pending the resolution of orbiter/external tank umbilical mating difficulties.

Atlantis was to roll out to Launch Complex 39A as early as Aug. 30. But United Space Alliance technicians had difficulty extracting a jammed ground support system bolt used to initially align the hydrogen umbilical side of the tank's massive rigging structure with the orbiter's belly.

Engineers were evaluating whether there was any damage to the bolt hole on Atlantis before proceeding. Although Kennedy Space Center was closed for three days because of Tropical Storm Fay, the launch team still has about a week of margin to the planned Oct. 8 launch date.

But there are also external tank issues with the Endeavour flight hardware that will be rolled to Launch Complex 39B to be ready for any rescue of the Atlantis crew during its Hubble servicing mission, which will have no International Space Station safe haven capability. While lifting the 155-foot tall Lockheed Martin tank to the vertical position in the Vehicle Assembly Building, several technicians heard a noise that sounded like a piece of loose hardware falling inside the sealed tank.

If there is loose debris, such as a small bolt, inside the tank, it could have catastrophic consequences during launch, if not for rescue, then on its November station mission.

Engineers have been using X-rays and other means to assess whether there is any debris inside and whether internal filtering systems would be able to safely catch it before it could be sucked into a main engine, causing an explosion. But the issue must be resolved before the Atlantis Hubble mission is approved for launch.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Virus Found On Computer In Space Station

Citing security policies, NASA would not disclose details about how the virus got on a laptop on the International Space Station.

By Thomas Claburn - InformationWeek

NASA confirmed on Wednesday that a computer virus was identified on a laptop computer aboard the International Space Station, which carries about 50 computers.

The virus was stopped with virus protection software and posed no threat to ISS systems or operations, said NASA spokesperson Kelly Humphries.

Citing NASA security policies, Humphries said he could not disclose further details about how the virus was brought to the ISS.

Like billionaires, computer viruses occasionally make the trip into space. "It's not the first virus we've seen on the station," said Humphries. "It's not a common occurrence by any means."

None of the previous computer viruses found on computers aboard the ISS have had any operational impact, said Humphries.

News that a virus had been identified on the ISS was first reported on Monday by online news site, which identified the virus as W32.Gammima.AG worm, malware designed to steal logon information from online gamers.

It's unlikely that ISS astronauts are playing World of Warcraft in their spare time, however, because the ISS does not have a direct Internet connection.

NASA is currently reviewing the incident and may make procedural recommendations based on its findings.

The SpaceRef report suggested that a flash card or USB drive brought on board by an astronaut may have been the source of the laptop infection.

Monday, August 25, 2008

DC-X Reunion Remembers Pete Conrad

Alamogordo News - Those who worked with "Pete" Conrad on the Delta Clipper quoted him at the DC-X/XA 15th Anniversary Reunion held last week in Alamogordo: "Be good at what you do. If you can't be good, be colorful."

Charles "Pete" Conrad Jr. excelled at being both.

Ream More HERE.

Iran plans to launch humans into space

New Scientist & Reuters
Iran plans to send a crewed rocket into space in the next 10 years, state television said on Thursday, just days after the Islamic Republic announced it had put a dummy satellite into orbit.

"One of the aims of Iran's 10-year space programme is to send a manned rocket into space," state television quoted Reza Taghipour, the head of Iran's aerospace organisation, as saying. "Within the next six months to one year, the exact date of this mission will be determined."

Taghipour said Iran would cooperate with Islamic countries in building a satellite that the television report said would be called "Besharat", meaning "good news". He also said Iran was working with Russia and other Asian states to launch another satellite.

Only three other nations have launched humans into space - Russia, the US and China.
Read More HERE.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge Team Summit a Success

9 registered teams attended briefing at Holloman Air Force Base to prepare for October 24 and 25 Competition

Alamogordo – The 9 teams registered to compete in the 2008 Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge concluded the first Team Summit at Holloman Air Force Base today. The Challenge, run by the X PRIZE Foundation, is a two-level, two million dollar competition requiring a vehicle to simulate trips between the Moon’s surface and lunar orbit. 2008 will be the third year that the Challenge has taken place in New Mexico, and is helping to kickstart the fledgling spaceflight industry in New Mexico.

Read more HERE.

NASA and ATK Investigate Failed Launch Of Hypersonic Experiments

WALLOPS ISLAND -- An Alliant Techsystems suborbital rocket carrying two NASA hypersonic experiments was destroyed by range safety officials shortly after liftoff from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia Friday. No injuries or property damage were reported.

Most debris from the rocket is thought to have fallen in the Atlantic Ocean. However, there are conflicting reports of debris being sighted on land. This debris could be hazardous. People who think they may have encountered rocket debris are advised not to touch it and to report it to the Wallops Emergency Operations Center at 757-824-1300.

NASA is very disappointed in this failure but has directed its focus on protecting public safety and conducting a routine confirmation of the effectiveness of its range safety operations. NASA has a response team in the field. Alliant Techsystems, also known as ATK, of Salt Lake City, is conducting the investigation of the rocket malfunction. NASA will consult with ATK and support the investigation.

The exact launch time was 5:10 a.m. EDT. The anomaly that caused the failure occurred approximately 27 seconds into flight and is not known.

Hamilton, Partner To Submit New Spacesuit

HARTFORD — - Exploration Systems & Technology, a joint venture between Hamilton Sundstrand and ILC Dover that lost out on its bid for NASA's next-generation space suit, said Thursday that it will submit a new proposal.

The two companies, which have supplied space suits and components since the 1960s, said they are waiting for formal direction from NASA on criteria for the rebidding.

Hamilton Sundstrand is a subsidiary of Hartford-based United Technologies Corp.

NASA last week terminated its contract with Houston-based Oceaneering International Inc., which was selected in June. NASA told the U.S. Government Accountability Office that the space agency had to re-examine the cost proposals of the two bidders and asked that protests by Exploration Systems & Technology be dismissed.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Raleigh's Team Stellar works toward prize

North Carolina State University Technician Online
August 21

N.C. State is traveling to the moon.

Or, rather, its designs are.

Graduate and undergraduate students and two professors are working with Team Stellar, a team of electrical, computer and aerospace engineers, to produce a rover that will land on the moon.

They are doing so through the Google Lunar X Prize, which is awarding $30 million to the winning team, of which there are 14.

The rover must land on the moon, travel 500 meters, and send high-definition video, a text message and an e-mail back to Earth.

There's only one snag in the project: funding.

Team Stellar still needs to raise $200,000 -- counting money, sponsorship and in-kind donations -- to keep the project going, according to Dick Dell, a member of the team and executive director of the Advanced Vehicle Research Center. The AVRC also worked on the self-navigating DARPA vehicle.

"The biggest challenge to the challenge is bringing the funding," Dell said, adding that outside resources must cover the cost of the project, which he predicted to lie in the $50 to $100 million range. "We have the technology, and we have the people there at N.C. State that can do it."

The rules
The high-definition video must stream everything from the rover's landing on the moon to its travel, according to Gordon Jeans, a member of Team Stellar and a senior in computer engineering.

According to Google's rules for the X-Prize challenge, the rover must complete a set of tasks, two of which include sending an e-mail and text message to Earth from the moon.

"That's kind of tongue-in-cheek for me," Jeans said, adding that Google will be the first to send such information back from the moon.

But before they even get to the moon, the team has got some work to do.

The team
The main team is composed of seven men, each of whom has a distinct role in ensuring that each aspect of the rover -- from what wheels to use to what technology will help transmit a text message -- is completed in time for the launch.

Andre Mazzoleni, a professor of engineering who works with the rover's engineering and design aspects, joined Team Stellar last spring.

Dell, he said, had found him through the work he was doing with the N.C. Space Grant. Since Mazzoleni was involved with NASA projects and rover design, he was a prime candidate for the position.

The team then looked toward Jeans.

"They wanted students who knew other students to get together people to work on the project," he said. "I didn't actually know about it until they approached me that summer."

Jeans, who worked with tanks during a 10-year stint in the army, said he knows about making vehicles that can stand conditions of extreme cold, heat and darkness -- conditions that the moon cycles through during every rotation.

Jeans also worked with Lego robotics, and Dell happened to be sitting through Jeans' presentation on that subject.

When the two met after the presentation, "one conversation led to another and we found out that we were both in love with space."

It's this knowledge about computers and engineering -- an education he got through both classes and experience with the army -- as well as a background in outer space exploration that he adds to the team.

Jeans submitted one of the initial designs for the rover. It was a simple design, he said, but would be able to navigate the surface of the moon. Its materials, he said, have to be chosen carefully.

"You have to use materials that can survive in those conditions," he said. "For example, silicone works great in heat but shatters in the cold. You have to have it operate on solar power and batteries, because batteries don't work well in the cold and you have a fixed amount of power."

Although Team Stellar is based primarily in Raleigh and on campus, there are people across the eastern states who are helping to move the project along.

The rover
Jeans' designs are not the only ones that have been submitted. Graduate students have been working over the summer to complete a functional design for the rover.

Undergraduates, many of whom have not been working on the project during the summer, will start their design this fall.

The team is focusing on the structural aspects.

"We're looking at multiple designs right now, and then we'll select the one that will end up working the best," Mazzoleni said. "The one the graduate students are working on is a little bit more mature. They've already focused in on a particular design."

This design is one in which the wheels can move independently, which, he said, should help it climb over rocks and maneuver around obstacles.

The students, including Jeans, will design and build several prototypes. Graduate students will build their prototype this semester and start testing it. Undergraduate students will work through next semester.

But the final product, which will use better, more durable and more costly material, won't be ready until the end of the upcoming spring semester. The working design must stand extreme heat and cold.

"It's a team effort," Mazzoleni said. "The ultimate rover might act be a combination of what Gordon's working on and what the graduate students are working on and what the undergraduate students are working on. We're going to learn from each of the prototypes and, from that, decide what goes in to the final version.

It's not like there's a winner."

The challenge
So the team has the resources and the support -- at a public meeting on Centennial campus Monday night, more than 200 people showed up to learn about and volunteer for the project.

At this point, it's the funding that is proving difficult to come by.

As per Google's rules for the X prize, only 10 percent of the team's funding can come from public funds. This rule, Jeans said, will ensure that the teams cut excess spending and only produce what is necessary to send a rover to the moon. Jeans also said it would encourage private companies to sponsor space travel to the moon, which he said will be the "next Antarctica," a place where researchers from many countries will do research and tests. No single entity will have ownership over it.

And although the team has no plans of stopping mid-project, it still must find funding from somewhere -- $200,000 of it. This funding can come in the form of donations, both monetary and of equipment like computers, and private sponsorship.

"All the teams are facing the same challenges," Dell said. "Only one of two of the teams have major funding. The rest of us haven't found a major sponsor yet."

Corporate sponsorship will make going to the moon easier, more cost efficient and more likely. Google's lists this as one of its goals, according to the Lunar X Prize Web site. A quicker and less costly ride to space will push companies to take an interest in space and the potentials it has for aiding some of Earth's energy crises.

The future
This project is not only a place to "put N.C. State on the map," as Jeans said, but also a place for practical application of in-class lectures.

"This is a perfect project to teach the process of engineering design because, in engineering design, you end up using a combination of learning all the scientific and engineering principles along with trying to use what you've learned in the classroom to create something new," Mazzoleni said.

"This is one more application of something in the department that students were very interested in and invested with."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

NASA Releases Plan For Ares I Vibration Problem

Mitigation of Thrust Oscillation

Loretta Hidalgo Whitesides - Wired

Since last fall NASA has been faced with the news that vibrations up to 0.5 G inherent in the design of its solid rocket boosters will make the new Ares I a rough ride.

The Space Shuttle is not sensitive to the vibrations of its boosters -- the white rockets strapped to the orange tank, presumably because it is not sitting directly on top of them. But the new Orion crew capsule will sit directly atop the Ares I rocket, and vibrations from the five-segment rocket are expected to be worse than with the four-segment Shuttle booster.

Initially, engineers were worried that the sensitive cryogenics or electronics on board would not do well under that much vibration, but that concern has eased and the team has turned its focus to how vibrations will affect the crew.

The ideal solution would eliminate the vibration at its source in the solid rocket design itself. New configurations of the spacing between segments and other motor design changes have been proposed to smooth out the rocky burn. But that will take time, and NASA wants a short-term option as well. So, in the mean time, they have come up with a suite of systems that will dampen the vibrations after they have started.

Passive vibration control systems (think “shock absorbers”) could be placed between the first two stages to cut down on the highest vibrations (above 0.25 Gs) that are a threat to the health and safety of the crew.
Read more HERE.

Nano thrusters: a boost to space travel?

Brian Gilchrist and his colleagues at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, believe they have potentially solved a problem that currently haunts modern space travel: waste of energy and damage to the large engines used to propel the shuttles.

Their answer: Nano Thrusters.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Hermes Spacecraft "Looking to Bring Personal Space Travel to the Masses"

SAN FRANCISCO -- Intel Developer Forum -- Like many Americans coming of age during the time of the Apollo missions, Morris Jarvis dreamed of someday blasting off into space. As a child he sat glued to the television set as man walked on the moon, and he later studied aerospace engineering in college. Over the years Jarvis built countless models of spaceships, exhaustively studied the space shuttle program and even interviewed real astronauts and NASA engineers. But even his friends and co-workers were a little surprised when in 1993 he stopped dreaming and started building a space shuttle in his garage in suburban Phoenix.

Jarvis founded Star Systems Inc. and began working evenings, weekends and vacations, even recruiting some of his engineering colleagues in his quest. The result is a prototype of his Hermes Spacecraft, which is on public display for the first time at the Intel Developer Forum.

Morris and his team are building Hermes out of their own pockets and figure they need about $1.5 million to finish the test work and begin regular space flights. The team is undertaking a grassroots fundraising effort to secure the remaining dollars as well as recruiting other "dreamers" for their mission.

"There isn't a geek out there who hasn't dreamed of being an astronaut," says Jarvis. "We're all dreamers."

Hermes, named for the mythological Greek God of boundaries and the travelers who cross them, is a technological marvel loaded with some of Intel's most advanced embedded chips including the Intel(R) EP80579 Integrated Processor SOC product line and the Intel(R) Atom(TM) processor Z5xx series. Intel technology powers most of the spacecraft's data gathering, test and communications systems. Other companies assisting the Hermes team include ADI Engineering, Dot Hill, GE Fanuc, MicroSun, and National Instruments.

Read more from MarketWire HERE.

Visit the Hermes website HERE.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Great! Now how about some data...

"China's first lunar probe satellite "normal" after eclipse"

("Normal," as in MIA.)

You'll be glad to know the Chinese, who admit their Olympic Opening ceremonies were a thinly veiled statement about their ambitions for the Moon, are proud their solar powered Chang'e 1 survived another lunar eclipse over this past weekend.

Having seen only one photograph taken by their polar orbiter, and only heard from Xinhua of the successful mapping of the Moon by their fragile People's Spacecraft, I'm beginning to wonder myself whether it really exists. If they are hoarding data, violating the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 (to which they, admittedly, they were not original signatories) then they're making the Japanese look as brave with their raw data as NASA during the Apollo landings.

You can read all about this latest non-development from Xinhua, if you believe that sort of thing.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Iran says it launched satellite into space

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran said on Sunday it had launched its first domestically made satellite into space, the official IRNA news agency reported.

"Iran's Omid (hope) satellite was launched on Sunday using the Safir (ambassador) satellite-carrier rocket," IRNA said, quoting a statement from Iran's armed forces.

Iran, embroiled in a standoff with the West over Tehran's disputed nuclear ambitions, caused international concern in February by testing the rocket designed to carry the satellite.

The West accuses Iran of trying to obtain nuclear arms under cover of a civilian program. Tehran insists it needs nuclear technology to generate electricity.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad read out the launch countdown, said an official.

"The president attended Iran's Space Centre and ordered the launch ... He congratulated the Iranian nation on the great achievement," the semi-official Fars news agency quoted government spokesman Gholamhossein Elham as saying.

The technology used to put satellites into space can also be used for launching weapons, but Iran says it has no plans to do so.

Iran, which refuses to recognize Israel, has missiles that can reach 2,500 km (1,250 miles), meaning it could hit Israel and U.S. military bases in the Gulf.

Reaching for the moon

Barry Saunders, Raleigh News & Observer

You know 'em. So do I -- seemingly rational people walking upright who think rasslin' is real but the moon landing was fake.

Even if the Apollo moon mission wasn't fake, they ask, what good came out of it?

"Most people would say Tang," Richard Dell said, referring to the allegedly orange-flavored powdered drink a generation of us grew up believing had hydrated the first astronauts.

Dell is kidding, of course. As program manager for the Advanced Vehicle Research Center, he is part of a group of volunteers trying to land a robot on the moon in an international competition to win $30 million.

"I'm talking to you on a cell phone using lithium batteries," he said, citing one byproduct of lunar exploration.

He and his father, Richard Dell Sr., cited the fuel cells that run hybrid cars, as well as laptop computers, invisible braces and GPS systems. Even Velcro -- which appeared too late for those of us who, until an embarrassingly late age, had trouble tying our shoes -- emerged from the space program: Invented in 1941, Velcro reportedly became popular after astronauts began using it to fasten their suits.

The Dells are part of TeamSTELLAR (Space Technology for Exploration, Lunar Landing and Roving, The first team to build a robot that lands on the moon by December 2012, travels 500 meters over the lunar surface and sends images and data back to Earth wins Google's loot.

Aside from any technological discoveries that may emerge from future lunar exploration, the younger Dell said, "It's amazing how we've tapped into the imagination of young people. A number of retired NASA graybeards have contacted us, but most are in their 20s. ... Literally hundreds of people have sent in resumes."

They'll need literally hundreds "by the time this over," said Alan Rich, space systems integration engineer for TeamSTELLAR. "We have to have people with different areas of expertise," areas that don't always overlap.

What's harder? Raising the robot or raising the astronomical amount of moolah it'll take to get that baby off the ground?

"Money, money, money," Dell said.

Thus, he said, Team STELLAR is seeking "grass-roots donations" and corporate contributions.

Yikes. Isn't there a danger in seeking money from corporations for what seems like such a scientific, even altruism-driven endeavor? What if, in exchange for a sizable donation, a company wants the robot to plant a flag on the moon saying "When visiting Earth, Eat at Sal's"?

"Oh, goodness," Dell said. "That's not the danger; that's the benefit. Imagine having FedEx say they delivered the first package to the moon?"

Dell Sr., co-director of the project, said: "We have tremendous technology. The state already has a significant presence in the aerospace industry. NASA is watching this closely, because as we look to the future, they'll likely want to do a lot of outsourcing" when planning manned moon stations.

Winning, he said, "would be a great benefit to N.C. State University." That's where an open house for TeamSTELLAR will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday in Building 2 on Centennial Campus.

Here's a question: If the astronauts really did take Tang to the moon, why didn't they leave it? Blecccchhh.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Ariane 5 is 5 for 8 in '08

Carrying and American and Japanese twin payload, ESA's Ariane V completed its fifth of eight scheduled launched from Kourou, on the equator, Saturday.

One again, the value of persistence has paid off for the giant rocket. once plagued with difficulties and disaster, more than a decade ago, the Heavy-Lift is well on the way to becoming a work horse for the Europeans.

(And the Space Shuttle still has heavier carge capacity, though just barely.)
Read more HERE.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Chandraayan 1 up this year - Singh

Hoping the X-37 is an ace in the hole, that the International Community needs the confidence more than we and we need to tie foreign policy to space policy for its long-term stability, and knowing that a lot of American work is on-board, and hoping the Indians will be faster to share their data than Japan (and especially China), and hoping the LRO/LCROSS is better than the lot, it's good news Chandraayan may finally ready for its long-anticipated mission. Indian PM Manmohan Singh appears to believe this.

From NDTV : Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday said that India hopes to send a spacecraft to the moon this year and called it "an important milestone".

"This year we hope to send an Indian spacecraft, Chandrayan, to the moon. It will be an important milestone in the development of our space programme," he said on the occasion of India's Independence Day.

"I want to see a modern India, imbued by a scientific temper, where the benefits of modern knowledge flow to all sections of society," he added.

NASA To Take Corrective Action In Spacesuit Contract Protest

WASHINGTON -- NASA has concluded that corrective action is appropriate in the Government Accountability Office bid protest of Exploration Systems - Technology, Inc. NASA determined that a compliance issue requires the termination of the contract for the Constellation Space Suit System with Oceaneering International, Inc. of Houston for the convenience of the government.

NASA anticipates that corrective action will involve reconsideration of its procurement decision. The pending protest litigation is subject to a Government Accountability Office Protective Order.

NASA had awarded the contract on June 12. The spacesuit will protect astronauts during Constellation Program voyages to the International Space Station and, by 2020, the surface of the moon. The Constellation Space Suit System contract is for design, development, test, evaluation and production of equipment to support astronauts aboard the Orion crew exploration vehicle, the Altair lunar lander, and during human exploration of the surface of the moon.

Suits and support systems will be needed for as many as four astronauts on moon voyages and as many as six space station travelers. For short trips to the moon, the suit design will support a week's worth of moon walks. The system also must be designed to support a significant number of moon walks during potential six-month lunar outpost expeditions. In addition, the spacesuit and support systems will provide contingency spacewalk capability and protection against the launch and landing environment, such as spacecraft cabin leaks.

For more information about NASA's Constellation Program, visit:

Unreasonable fear of RTG's

Prototype Modular Common Spacecraft Bus undergoes tests at Ames

The specter of "nuclear powered" lunar landers is being raised, though Radioactive Thermal Generators (RTG's) have been a vital part of NASA's successes, from the Moon to the farthest flung Voyagers still transmitting data from Interstellar Space thirty years after their launch.

Each Apollo lunar landing carried RTG's, Plutonium decay powered generators to power years worth of experiments on the Moon, left behind at all six landing sites. NASA is committed to launching the Lunar Atmosphere Dust and Exosphere Explorer, in 2011, and afterward at least eight landers as part of the International Lunar Network. NASA is considering RTG's to power these important surface experiments through the two-week lunar night.

But, it's looking for high and low for alternatives, even RTG's powered by something a little less "hot" than Plutonium.

Rob Coppinger, over at FlightGlobal Hyperbola has a great outline of the particulars.

At Saturn, the Cassini explorer has just completed its primary mission. It's hard to remember the terror raised by the fashionably anti-nuke crowd, a decade ago, when Cassini was first launched. A small band of protestors threatened to toss themselves under a bus, to stop the launch, originally planned as a payload on-board the Space Shuttle. The crowd was quite a bit smaller in December 1997 than those that showed up to protest Galileo's launch to Jupiter.

Solar power just won't cut the mustard much past Mars, outside the inner solar system. Cassini's long, flawless tour and mission at Saturn just wouldn't have been possible without RTG power, and neither would fantastic data and photographs, like the ones taken this week as it flew sixteen miles through the Ice Fountains of Enceladus.

New Horizons, speeding toward its way toward it's encounter with the remarkable Four-Body System Kuiper Belt Object formally known as "the Planet Pluto," in 2015, would already be a cold chunk of solid waste, out past Saturn now.

It's laudatory to know NASA's looking at alternatives for powering the essential ILN. Before extended human activity on the Moon can begin, we will have learned more about the Moon in the next few years than during the last three decades. The Russians still deny splattering a RTG Mars probe in the Andes, rather than the South Pacific, many years ago. The Rock collector who comes up on that wreckage may not live to tell about it.

In order to find and test safer atomic technologies, eventually 3He or Thorium plants in situ on the Moon, we're going to have to make some trade offs. Either that, or we can all stay home and grow corn.

Discord With Russia a Worry for NASA

By Marc Kaufman Washington Post

Soyuz waiver in jeopardy, says Nelson

NASA's ability to send its astronauts to the $100 billion international space station is in danger of becoming a costly casualty of the Russia-Georgia war.

Because the American fleet of space shuttles will be retired in 2010 and the United States won't have a replacement ready until at least 2015, NASA wants to negotiate a contract this year to have Russia's Soyuz spacecraft transport all astronauts traveling to and from the station during the gap.

But first, Congress has to pass a waiver to a 2000 law forbidding government contracts with nations that help Iran and North Korea with their nuclear programs, as Russia has done. Even before the Georgia incursion, the bill faced strong opposition, and key members said this week that the chances of granting a waiver now are slim.

"In an election year, it was going to be very difficult to get that waiver to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to an increasingly aggressive Russia, where the prime minister is acting more and more like a czar," said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). "Now, I'd say it's almost impossible."

Read more HERE.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Space Racer Takes Off

Revenge of the Doom Engine: (E-Gang '08-DIY)

The first time I saw Carmack's bubble suborbital, I chuckled. Not any longer. - JCR

A steady breeze blows across the runway of the tiny municipal airport in Caddo Mills,as id Software founder John Carmack (pictured above) prepares to test-fire a 2,200-pound thrust rocket engine of his own design. The 38-year-old programming genius, who practically invented 3-D computer games with his gory "Doom" and "Quake" in the mid-1990s, is a compulsive tinkerer who used to boost his Ferraris past 1,000 horsepower by bolting turbochargers to them. (Ferrari kicked him off the waiting list for new cars when it found out.)

Now Carmack is playing with rockets. Working out of a ramshackle former gliderport about 30 miles east of Dallas, Carmack has attacked the spaceship business the way a coder assembles software: by designing, building and testing rockets in rapid-fire succession to determine which ones work and which ones don't. (To see our pick of other technowizards, check out "In Pictures: Eight People Inventing the Future.")

It's an entirely different approach from that of Amazon founder Jeffrey Bezos or Paypal founder Elon Musk, who have lavished more than $100 million each on Blue Origin and SpaceX, their efforts to launch satellites and passengers into orbit.

Carmack has spent just $3.5 million on his Armadillo Aerospace so far, but he has more launches under his belt than Bezos and Musk combined. Of the 30 commercial launches reported to the Federal Aviation Administration since 2006, Armadillo has 12 and Bezos' Blue Origin has three. Elon Musk's SpaceX has pre-sold 11 launches, but its three attempts have so far failed, including an Aug. 2 launch where the rocket's second stage failed to separate. Carmack has made about 100 more flights with his rockets tethered to the ground by strong chains. (For a peek at Carmack's adventures, click here.)

"The reality is John has more operational experience with these things than anybody else," says John Gedmark, an aerospace engineer who runs the Personal Spaceflight Federation, which represents Armadillo, SpaceX and most of the other entrepreneurial space efforts.

On this hot June evening, Carmack is testing a modified engine he's developing for the Rocket Racing League, which plans a series of rocket-powered airplane races. The engine is, in large part, made up of a pair of aluminum spheres 4 feet in diameter. One is filled with liquid oxygen, the other with alcohol. They protrude from the back of the small plane like a malignant tumor.

"Pad 3, verify fire crew ready," Carmack says into a walkie-talkie as his fingers fly over a Panasonic laptop that communicates with the engine via a wireless link.

"Chill LOX plumbing," he says. "Begin firing sequence."

The engine lights up and a blue flame spews from the nozzle with an unearthly howl. The sound increases to a roaring scream as Carmack throttles the engine. Then it burps, the flame goes out, and an embarrassing shower of alcohol spews over the tarmac. It smells like a vodka truck has hit a tree.

"Just let the fuel run out," Carmack says, discouraged, as the ground crew hoses down the scene with water.

It's a failure but an instructive one. Several hours of furious coding later, Carmack has identified the cascade of events that caused a liquid oxygen valve to close (ironically, a fail-safe program malfunctioned) and has rewritten the software and prepared the engine for six subsequent test-firings.

This sort of rapid turnaround makes Carmack the wizard of low-cost rocketry. He came close to winning the $2 million X Prize Foundation's Northrop Grumman Lunar Landing Challenge last year by flying an alcohol-fueled rocket 150 feet in the air to a landing pad 300 feet away. He was forced to scrap the return trip--required to collect the prize--after a graphite engine nozzle disintegrated. He's since corrected the problem by switching to a more bombproof aluminum nozzle.

Dressed in shorts and sneakers, with thick glasses and unruly hair, Carmack looks like a forgotten character from the 1980s cartoon Beavis and Butthead. Speak with him for a few minutes, however, and it's obvious he has an off-the-charts IQ and an almost intuitive sense of the physics behind controlled rocket flight.

Carmack grew up playing with Apple II computers--he was sent to a juvenile home at 14 after breaking into a school to steal one--in various suburbs of Kansas City (both in Kansas and Missouri). He attended a couple of semesters of college before quitting to become a freelance game designer.

It was in the late 1980s that Carmack became known as a coding wizard, at one point modifying Nintendo's (other-otc: NTDOY.PK - news - people ) Mario Bros. game to play on a PC, which then was believed to be too slow to handle the graphics. Nintendo (like Ferrari later on) wasn't amused, so Carmack and several friends formed id Software in 1991. They went on to sell millions of copies of "Doom" and "Quake," the games that defined the "first-person shooter" genre.

Carmack still controls id and codes 40 hours a week, earning about $2 million a year. He considers the software business to be mature, however, with little room for the radical advances he helped spur in the early 1990s. Rocketry is more exciting, he says, because it has been stalled for the last 30 years with NASA's bureaucracy and technological dead-ends like the Space Shuttle. "When somebody makes a cheap, reusable launch vehicle that can get up to orbit, all sorts of things will change," Carmack says. "Big-deal things."

His approach is entirely different from Musk, who plans to begin launching commercial satellites into orbit at $8 million a pop by 2012. Musk has hundreds of aerospace engineers on the payroll but has only flown his 90-foot Falcon rocket twice. Both times it had to be destroyed in flight because of systems malfunctions.

Carmack, however, fires something off most Tuesdays and Saturdays, adjusting his designs in response to each failure. He can often be seen at the controls of a $58,000 Haas automated milling machine--a birthday gift from his wife, Anna--making rocket parts. True to form, he types in commands using machine code.

He writes almost all of the code himself, including the complex instructions that translate inputs from a laser gyroscope to actuators that steer the ship by moving the nozzle at the bottom. (At $12,000, the gyroscope is the single most expensive item on his rockets.) Carmack buys most of his components from McMaster-Carr, an industrial supplier with overnight delivery. The guidance computer is a homemade box with a 486-class Intel (nasdaq: INTC - news - people ) processor, chosen, Carmack says, after he learned that newer processors have plug-in memory chips that can wiggle loose under heavy vibration. The nozzle-steering actuators are identical to the ones that open miniature stop signs on a school bus.

While rocket science has a reputation for being tough, Carmack insists coding computer games is tougher. "Some of the things I do in software are really hard. You're saying, 'This is complex, this makes my brain hurt,'" Carmack says in his angular Midwestern accent. "This is simple, it's just not-easy."

It's difficult to see how any of Carmack's current rockets could make it into space, since most are naked structures containing a few spherical fuel tanks and a nozzle at the bottom. But Carmack insists that once he works out how to build and control an inexpensive rocket, he can rapidly scale the design into a working spaceship. He's already thinking about mounting a 6-foot diameter Lucite sphere on one to haul passengers into space.

Would anybody be reckless enough to get on board?

"There's a line," Carmack says.

Dad and son share fascination with moon

Dan Conradt, Austin Herald-American

The garage door creaked open just as the evening sky reached that purple point that comes between dusk and dark.

I struggled under its weight and bulk as I carried the telescope to the end of the driveway. I removed the lens cover and slid an eyepiece into the opening, and Steven said "Let me find it."

I moved aside and he pressed his eye to the lens, nudging the telescope back and forth, up and down until he stepped back and proclaimed "Perfect!"

He was right. The moon was four days past "new" and hung in the sky in the kind of a narrow crescent you see in cartoons, minus the smile and the night cap.

The telescope revealed craters and plains that the naked eye could only hint at, and the fascination started all over again..

I was 11 years old when Neil Armstrong took his "giant leap for mankind" on a summer day in 1969.
I spent most of that day listening to a staticky broadcast on a pocket-sized transistor radio as history was made. I was pretty sure there were no little green men waiting to greet them, but I wasn't so sure that Armstrong and Aldrin wouldn't sink into the powdery surface of the moon, or return to Earth with an incurable lunar plague.

But they took much more than "one small step for man" on that day -- they took the first step into the final frontier.

For an 11 year old, that's the stuff of dreams.

We've always had a fascination with the moon -- perhaps because it seems so accessible. And it has assumed a prominent place in our folklore and pop culture.

As kids, we're told that the moon is made of green cheese, and we wait each month for the full moon that will bring the return of "The Man In The Moon".

The owl and the pussycat danced by the light of the moon, and when things go "bump" in the night we blame the moon for giving us werewolves.

When we're in love we're "over the moon", and "Moon River" makes us nostalgic.

I've been fascinated by the moon since I was a kid, and now my son Steven has been bitten by the same bug. As a toddler, dozens of his days ended as I rocked him to sleep while reading "Good Night Moon." As a 3-year-old he could recite the nursery rhyme about the cow that jumped over the moon.

Now that he's 7, we've set aside the notions of green cheese, werewolves and jumping cows, but the sight of the moon inching over the horizon never gets old.

As the moon slowly slid behind the roof of the house, we carried the telescope back into the garage, then Steven brushed his teeth and crawled into bed. He pulled the bedspread up around his chin ... a bedspread covered with glow-in-the-dark stars and moons.

I sat on the edge of the bed and we were quiet for a few minutes, then he asked "Dad, do you think I could go to the moon someday?"

I smiled in the dark and thought about a little boy whose life is fueled by curiosity and imagination.

"I think you can do anything you put your mind to", I told him. "The sky's the limit."

I got up to leave the room just as a moonbeam peaked through the window. "Good night, dad."
"Good night, Steven."

Good night, moon.

Dan Conradt, lives in Austin with his wife, Carla Johnson, and their son.

Helium-3 powering the future?

Updated August 30, 2010, 2036 UT
Michael Schirber
Special to LiveScience

The moon is once again a popular destination, as several space-faring nations are talking about setting up bases there. One reason would be to mine fuel for future fusion reactors.

The fuel in this case is helium-3, a lighter isotope of the helium used in balloons. In high energy collisions, helium-3 fuses with other nuclei to release more energy and less waste than the reactions in traditional nuclear reactors.

"If we can show that we can burn helium-3, it is a much cleaner and safer energy source than other nuclear fuels," said Gerald Kulcinski, director of the Fusion Technology Institute at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Just 40 tons of this stuff has enough potential energy to meet the total U.S. electricity demand for a year. However, there is almost no helium-3 on Earth. The closest supply is on the moon.

Several space agencies, notably in China, Russia and India, have mentioned helium-3 as a potential payoff for their lunar projects.

"I don't think that the main motivation to go back to the moon is helium-3," Kulcinski said. "But over the long-term, we do face an energy problem."

Fusion solution

All current nuclear power is based on fission, in which a large nucleus (such as uranium) breaks apart into smaller nuclei.

The alternative is fusion, in which two small nuclei come together to form a bigger nucleus and release copious amounts of energy.

A commercial fusion reactor has never been built, but a prototype called the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) has just begun construction in Cadarache, France. The plan is to generate the needed 100 million degree plasma by the year 2016, but a power plant that can supply electricity might not come online for another 20 years after that.

The reaction that will occur in ITER is the fusing of two hydrogen isotopes: deuterium and tritium. One concern is that tritium is radioactive and a component of nuclear weapons, so care must be taken in dealing with it.

Another problem is the highly energetic neutrons emitted from the deuterium-tritium reaction. These neutrons slam into the reactor walls and cause structural damage. It is expected that the walls in ITER will have to be replaced every one to two years, Kulcinski said.

This is why Kulcinski and others advocate trading the tritium with non-radioactive helium-3.

"The advantage is that it makes very few neutrons," said Rich Nebel of Emc2 Fusion, a company based in Santa Fe, N.M. "This reduces radiation issues and also greatly simplifies the engineering."

Furthermore, the reaction products of helium-3 fusion are charged, so their energy can be directly converted into electricity without having to go through the inefficient step of boiling water to make steam.

Helium sources

Despite its apparent attractiveness, helium-3 is often neglected by fusion researchers. One reason is that the Earth has very little of it. A small portion of helium-3 is collected as an unwanted by-product inside nuclear weapons and sold for about $1,000 per gram, Kulcinski said.

A continuous supply of helium-3 can be found in the solar wind, but our planet's magnetic field deflects these particles away. The same is not true on the moon. The moon has collected 1 million to 5 million tons of helium-3, from the solar wind, over its 4.5 billion year history, Kulcinski said.

Evidence for this was found in the lunar rocks (brought back by the Apollo astronauts and Russian rovers) at a level of 10 to 20 parts per billion.

"Helium-3 is present on the moon, but in very small concentration levels, meaning that many hundreds of millions of tons of soil must be processed to extract a ton of helium-3," said Paul Spudis of the Lunar and Planetary Institute, a NASA-funded research institution.

This extraction requires heating lunar dust particles to around 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit (700 degrees Celsius), Spudis said.

Kulcinski and his colleagues have designed rovers that could move along the surface, scraping up lunar soil and heating it with concentrated sunlight.

Such a mining operation would retrieve 300 times more energy than it uses (including all the energy to fly to the moon and back), Kulcinski estimates. In comparison, mining coal returns 15-20 times the energy put in. His team has estimated that it might cost around $800 million to bring back each ton of lunar helium-3.

This might sound like a lot, but if you could sell the fusion energy at a price comparable to gasoline based on oil at $100 per barrel, the helium-3 would be worth $10 billion per ton.

"Our real challenge is not obtaining the helium-3; it is demonstrating that we can burn it," Kulcinski said.

Tough to burn

Burning helium-3 requires higher initial energy than burning hydrogen isotopes. This is why ITER is not considering helium-3 as a possible fuel at this time.

However, Kulcinski's group works on a different method — called inertial electrostatic confinement (IEC) — for achieving fusion reactions. Instead of using magnetic fields to confine a very hot plasma like ITER plans to do, IEC works by accelerating nuclei towards each other with electric fields.

Kulcinski and his collaborators have managed to sustain nuclear fusion in their small prototype system. The company Emc2 Fusion is also working on a similar design.

However, all of these IEC demonstrations, at least for now, require much more input energy than they can deliver. Most researchers agree that helium-3 is unlikely to be the first fuel used in fusion reactors.

"One should never say never — it may come to pass that helium-3 could become an important source of energy in the coming century," Spudis said. "That time has not come yet. And I suspect that it is still some time off."

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Falcon 1 fails 31 kilometers over Kwajalein

Privately Developed
Liquid Fueled Rocket and Payload
presumed lost

SpaceX had surprized everyone paying attention, Saturday, announcing barely a day after a successfull test of it's medium-lift Falcon 9 configuration, a pending test launch to orbit of Falcon 1, Flight 3 mission for Saturday, at 23:00 (UTC), with a five hour window for three mini-satellites.
"Webcast" (more SSV, than video) began approximately 30 minutes before a first launch, and subsequently even up to an aborted launch attempt, halting the countdown just moments prior to full ignition.
Ultimately, SpaceX did launch, but suffered an "anomally" roughly 31 kilometers over the western Pacific equatorial launching facility at Kwajalein.
The rocket and payload are presumed destroyed, though details are sketchy.
SpaceX's Falcon 1 launch site, at the Kwajalein Atoll, lies 2500 miles southwest of Hawaii, on Omelek, part of the Reagan Test Site (RTS) of U. S. Army Kwajalein Atoll (USAKA).

"Designed from the ground up" by SpaceX at its headquarters in Hawthorne, California, Falcon 1 was a two-stage, liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene powered vehicle.
The first stage was powered by a single SpaceX "Merlin 1C Regenerative engine," flying for the first time on this Flight 3 mission.
"A hold before liftoff”system enhances reliability by permitting all systems to be verified as functioning nominally before launch is initiated," SpaceX's surprise launch attempt announcement reported, early Saturday.
"The Falcon 1 second stage is powered by a single SpaceX Kestrel engine."

Falcon 1 was carrying a payload stack of three separating satellites that were to orbit at an inclination of 9 degrees.

Trailblazer was developed by SpaceDev of Poway, California, for the "Jumpstart Program" of DOD's Operationally Responsive Space Office as test platform to validate hardware, software and processes of an accelerated microsatellite launch. Trailblazer was to be deployed from the Falcon 1's second stage shortly after the shut-down, 10 minutes into flight.

Deploying four to eight minutes later were to be two NASA small satellites: PRESat, a micro lab from NASA Ames, and then NanoSail-D, which was to unfurl an ultra-thin solar sail developed at NASA Marshall, in collaboration with Ames.

The three separating satellites were to ride onboard the Secondary Payload Adaptor and Separation System, (SPASS) developed by ATSB, a company owned by the Government of Malaysia. The SPASS was engineered by Space Access Technologies of Ashburn, Virginia.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Presidential Space Out

JCR Principal Investigator
Lunar Pioneer

Over at the Space Coalition, another report has been posted to show where the probable next U.S. president stands on space exploration, regarding federal spending in general and obligatory congratulations to NASA's on its 50th anniversary in particular.

In less than 100 days either Senator John McCain (R-AZ) or Senator Barack H. Obama (D-IL) will be president-elect of the United States.

Their positions will not decide which of the two will be elected, of course, but at least a hundred thousand among 140 million voters will cast ballots based these positions on America's steadfast commitment to manned space exploration. Both camps feel it is important enough for them to make their positions pretty clear. It wasn't always a priority in presidential politics.

Most reports posted in the blogosphere on McCain and Obama's respective visions for manned spaceflight have mostly been posted by younger Americans who, tending toward the fashionable and also the socially liberal, are loath to report Senator Obama's unconcealed hostility toward NASA and its present policy and seem equally unaware of the reason for the Illinois Senator's ambivalence toward NASA.

No effort better symbolizes "American Exceptionalism."

Senator McCain is presently an enthusiastic booster, though his statements reflect either an ignorance or indifference to certain details of NASA Space Exploration Policy, addressing as he or his Space Policy Guru does the supposed, impending Gap in NASA's logistic support for the International Space Station after Discovery and Atlantis are mothballed in 2010.

Neither nominee is thought likely to bring major changes to NASA or the immediate timetable of the Constellation program. After a divisive battle for the White House and Congress, it's unlikely either would expend precious First 100 Day political capital on making expensive quick changes in NASA's present commitments. The "Out Years," however, are a different story.

President Obama has made clear his belief that NASA no longer "inspires," and has said he would fund expanded social programs with a decade delay in manned lunar exploration, and increase international support, and his supporters in Congress hint at an increased reliance on "automation" in the design of the lunar South Pole-Aitken Station, scaling back permanent manned presence in favor of advances in virtualization. His overall statement ignores NASA's recent history since the Columbia disaster, however, as though the past seven years of near "sea change" in NASA's operations had never occurred.

Obama's statement on NASA seems better suited to 2000 than 2008.

President McCain's statement seems to show that its author is slightly shy of being fully-informed of NASA's full range of function, involving JPL and Aerospace as well as Outer Space, and some the fault for that belongs to the Agency. An increasingly atomized media has done a poor job also of reporting on SpaceX and the progress, even the existence, of NASA's funding for COTS.

Both candidates are in need of a full briefing on just what NASA is and does. Could either name four of NASA's operational centers? A reporter with nothing to lose could have a lot of fun asking some basic questions about the Apollo program, before being banned from the press plane.

Obama may have been just out of diapers when Dr. Armstrong stepped onto the Sea of Tranquillity in 1969. How much the first-term Illinois Senator could have been directly inspired by seeing this live on television past his bedtime is a mystery.

McCain, of course, was in a prisoner of war camp in North Vietnam at the time. Just when and where he first received the news of Apollo 11 would be interesting to know, whether or not he heard the news from his brutal captors and what effect, if any, that news might have had on his jailer and fellow POW's should be a part of our national historic record.

McCain obviously knows what Obama and most Americans do not, that NASA is a creature of Congress, and is associated with presidents in our thinking only because of John Kennedy's remarkable Man on the Moon challenge in front of Congress in 1961. The assassination in 1963 made the matching of his challenge, its incredible fulfillment in those daring manned moon missions later during the Nixon Administration as much a memorial to America's lingering emotional trauma for a murdered president as they were demoralizing to the Soviet Union.

Lyndon Johnson, again, through Congress, was easily the most influential figure in NASA's history. This week NASA remembered President Eisenhower's signing of the NASA charter in 1958, but, as Senate majority leader, Johnson created NASA, and it was to Johnson that Eisenhower deferred.

The statements from McCain and Obama reflect popular opinion about the future of our manned space program as it was six months ago. Since then Congress, controlled by Obama's Democrats, has answered with a billion more in funding than NASA requested, in the midst of the most bitter partisanship in Congress since 1860 iconic Washington liberals like Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) "worked the pork" for Greenbelt through Appropriations.

And NASA is deliberately spread through the United States because Johnson, in designing NASA in the Senate, tied long-term self-interests in influential States to what he had to know would have to become long-term policy in a short-term nation. As Vice President Johnson led the rarely mentioned National Space Council he had created, and only later, as President he accelerated funding for Gemini and Apollo at a breakneck pace; almost too fast, in retrospect.

Johnson's personal interest in launch schedules in NASA's formative years, added to the legendary power of presidents over space policy. (He died a month after Apollo 17.)

Congress and its half-dozen Representatives of districts where NASA's centers are, and the Senators who represent Florida, Texas, California, Maryland, Ohio, Alabama, etc., together have much more to say about American space policy and funding for NASA than even NASA does, let alone the man or woman who, for a brief time, occupies the White House.

Falcon 9's first nine M1C test successful

The first test firing of a Falcon 9 rocket first stage with its full complement of nine Merlin 1C engines. Conducted at the SpaceX test facility in McGregor Texas, the nine Merlins produced nearly 832,000 lbs. of thrust during the test, consuming 3,200 pounds of liquid oxygen and rocket grade kerosene per second.

SpaceX - MacGregor: Diane Murphy, vice president of SpaceX reports the full nine-engine ful configuration of the Falcon 9 booster, integral to the Commercial Orbital Transportation System (COTS) part of US national space policy, has been successfully tested in central Texas.

"This marks the first firing of a Falcon 9 first stage with its full complement of nine Merlin 1C engines," Murphy said.

"Once a near term Merlin 1C fuel pump upgrade is complete, the sea level thrust will increase to 950,000 lbf, making Falcon 9 the most powerful single core vehicle in the United States."

The successful tests, two months ahead of schedule, challenge "the Gap" worries many experts have expressed about U.S. support of the International Space Station after the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2010. SpaceX has now demonstrated a unequivocal capability to make orbit after engine failures.

"We made a major advancement from the previous five engine test by adding four new Merlin engines at once,"” said Tom Mueller, Vice President of Propulsion for SpaceX. “"All phases of integration went smoothly and we were elated to see all nine engines working perfectly in concert."

SpaceX is developing a family of launch vehicles intended to increase the reliability and reduce the cost of both manned and unmanned space transportation, ultimately by a factor of ten. With its Falcon line of launch vehicles, powered by internally-developed Merlin engines, SpaceX offers light, medium and heavy lift capabilities to deliver spacecraft into any altitude and inclination, from low-Earth orbit to geosynchronous to planetary missions. SpaceX currently has 12 missions on its manifest, excluding the two previous Falcon 1 demonstration flights, plus indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contracts with NASA and the US Air Force.

As a winner of the NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services competition (COTS), SpaceX is in a position to help fill the gap in American spaceflight to the International Space Station (ISS) when the Space Shuttle retires in 2010.

Under the existing Agreement, SpaceX will conduct three flights of its Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft for NASA, culminating in Dragon berthing with the ISS. SpaceX is the only COTS contender that has the capability to return cargo and crew to Earth. NASA also has an option to demonstrate crew services to the ISS using the Falcon 9 / Dragon system. SpaceX is the only COTS contender that has the capability to return pressurized cargo and crew to Earth. The first Falcon 9 will arrive at the SpaceX launch site (complex 40) at Cape Canaveral by the end of 2008 in preparation for its maiden flight.

Founded in 2002, the SpaceX team now numbers more than 500 full time employees, primarily located in Hawthorne, California, with four additional locations: SpaceX's Texas Test Facility in McGregor near Waco; offices in Washington DC; and launch facilities at Cape Canaveral, Florida, and the Marshall Islands in the Central Pacific.

A Windows Media Player video of the test can be view HERE.
For full details, visit SpaceX website HERE.