Tuesday, September 30, 2008

International Lunar Science Mission to the Descartes Formation

Abstract 4063, Joint Annual Meeting of LEAG-ICEUM-SRR (2008)
Raupe & Scott
"We would test one possible cause for the apparent longevity of low OMAT (Optical Maturity) regolith under LMAs with improved understanding of electrostatic dust charging and ballistics.

Positive electrostatic charging and levitation of microscopic dust, away from the Descartes Swirl, may continually expose the less optically mature, brighter regolith below. Upon subsequent negative charging, dust might be repelled from re-entering the area under the Descartes LMA (the polarization of which remains unchanged)."
Read the Abstract HERE.

What's next for SpaceX

Loretta Hidalgo Whitesides
With a successful Falcon 1 launch under their belt, all eyes are now on the SpaceX team and the larger Falcon 9 rocket scheduled to be shipped to Cape Canaveral, Florida late this year to prep for its NASA cargo flights.

Falcon 9 has nine Merlin rocket engines to Falcon 1's one, hence the 9 and the 1 in their names, and is capable of taking cargo, and eventually crew, to and from the International Space Station. The maiden voyage of the Falcon 9 is scheduled for the first quarter of 2009 from the larger launch pad SpaceX is currently refurbishing at the Cape. (Map of SpaceX's Kwajalein and Cape launch sites below.)

After Falcon 9's first flight there are three commercial payloads and two NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation System, or COTS, demonstration flights scheduled for 2009. The first COTS flight will simply fly cargo to orbit, do some maneuvering and then come home. The second cargo mission will demonstrate its ability to safely and accurately maneuver and execute close proximity operations using the Falcon 9's spent upper stage as a proxy for the International Space Station. The third COTS demonstration flight, currently scheduled for 2010, will fly a full cargo delivery profile, including docking to the International Space Station.

Read more HERE.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Spectacular planned Re-Entry of first ESA ATV Jules Verne caught on tape.

ESA's ATV Jule Verne re-entry as seen from DC-8, over southern Pacific

The end of the first European Space Agency's planned series of "ATV's" (for Automated Transfer Vehicle) concludes a spectacularly successful mission many years in the making. ESA's "Jules Verne" re-entered Earth's atmosphere and what remained after that fiery encounter fell into the "graveyard" of spacecraft in the southeastern Pacific Ocean.

The versatility of the ESA's design was proven again and again, on this historic flight, and ESA continues its strong hints that the ATV design may become the work horse for Near Earth Orbital operations by the agency, and even be morphed to become a Human Transfer Vehicle (HTV) long before similar plans, by the Japanese Space Agency or Space-X in the Uniteds States, come to fruition.

Background HERE.

SpaceX Successfully Orbits with Falcon 1

First privately developed liquid fuel rocket to orbit the Earth

Wow, this is a great day for SpaceX and the culmination of an enormous amount of work by a great team. The data shows we achieved a super precise orbit insertion — middle of the bullseye — and then went on to coast and restart the second stage, which was icing on the cake.I will have a more complete post launch statement tomorrow, as right now I'm in a bit of a daze and need to go celebrate :)—Elon—

Thursday, September 25, 2008

ESA Ready for ISRO's Chandrayaan 1 Lunar Orbiter

The proven polar launching expertise of the Indian Space Research Organisation's facility at Sriharikota is preparing to become a difficult household word, as preparations continue to launch the first Indian lunar platform, Chandrayaan.

On board, as there will be on NASA's Lunar Reconaissance Orbiter & LCROSS, is a Russian neutron detector (LEND), for example, and both NASA and ESA, and Star City in Russia, are standing by to lend support for this third lunar polar orbiter launched within the past year. Countdown continues with a launch of Chandrayaan expected within the next few weeks. The vehicle is presently undergoing last-minute "real-space" testing and integration in Bangalore.

Kaguya, the Japanese (JAXA) "SELENE 1" orbiter will soon have been carrying out experiments in a stable, somewhat eccentric orbit since 2007. While what precisely their orbiter is capable of, having released only an occassional news release and only a single, briefly controverial photograph, the first Chinese lunar mission Chang'e Both orbiters are adding daily to the growing datasets still under analysis from Lunar Prospector and Clementine, and a continuum stretching back to the first orbiters and landers in the 1960's.

ESA reports on their preparation for Chandrayaan HERE.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

NASA TO brief on lunar exploration plans

WASHINGTON -- NASA is inviting interested industry representatives, academics and reporters to learn more about the Ares V heavy lift-launch vehicle, the Altair lunar lander, and the roles they will play in returning humans to the moon by 2020.

The Exploration Systems Mission Directorate forum will take place Thursday, Sept. 25, from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. EDT, at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 1615 H Street NW, Washington.

The forum will focus on the first phase conceptual designs for the Ares V heavy lift-launch vehicle, the Altair lunar lander and lunar exploration scenarios. Forum attendees will discuss the outcomes of a nine-month lunar transportation capabilities study and near-term business opportunities.

Participants from NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate include Doug Cooke, deputy associate administrator for the directorate, Geoff Yoder, director of the Directorate Integration Office, and Jeff Hanley, manager of NASA's Constellation Program.

Representatives of industry and academia interested in attending the forum must register online. Attendance is limited and registration will close at 5 p.m. EDT, Sept. 23. Registration and additional information, including an agenda, are available at:


Reporters planning to attend must contact Stephanie Schierholz at 202-358-4997 or Grey Hautaluoma at 202-358-0688 by 5 p.m., Sept. 24.

The Ares V rocket and Altair lunar lander are part of a fleet of vehicles that NASA's Constellation Program is developing for a new space transportation system designed to travel beyond low Earth orbit. The Constellation fleet also includes the Orion crew exploration vehicle and the Ares I launch vehicle. NASA plans to establish a human outpost on the moon through a successive series of lunar missions beginning in 2020.

For more information about NASA's Constellation Program, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/constellation

-------------------- Hat tip to
Dr. Clive R. Neal
Department of Civil Engineering & Geological Sciences
156 Fitzpatrick Hall
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, IN 46556, USA

Tel. 574-631-8328
Fax. 574-631-9236


Solar wind at 50 year low. Cosmic Rays Upswing?

Both NASA and ESA are publicizing analysis of Ulysses long-tour in polar orbit around the Sun indicating a 50-year low in Solar Wind.

From NASA: Ulysses Reveals Global Solar Wind Plasma Output At 50-Year Low

From ESA: Ulysses spacecraft data indicate Solar system shield lowering

Reports of Ulysses' demise appear to be exaggerated, still monitoring the present unexpectedly deep and long solar minimum between cycles 23 and the very gradual onset of cycle 24, and aging solar probe may have spotted a trend. The solar wind, a steady flow measured in speed and in hundreds of protons per cubic meter. Part and parcel with the Sun's magnetic field, the helio-magnetosphere at solar maximum reduces the incidence of Galactic Cosmic Rays by 40 percent.

This analysis, as reported previously, has brought upon the extended Voyager missions a new purpose. Functioning on what remains of their RTG power and already encountering indications of an occillating heliopause, beyond which is a proportionally stronger influence of the galactic magnetic field and interstellar space, the Voyagers are still faithfully recording the incidence of cosmic rays beyond the protection of the Sun's refracting magnetic field.

If the Ulysses team is correct, then the downward trend in solar wind should mean an increasing infall of Galactic Cosmic Rays. Some scientists, like Leif Svaalgard, who correctly predicted the present protracted solar minimum in 2003, have suggested a correlation between cosmic rays and low cloud formation.

Clouds consist of water vapor condensated upon submicron areosols, some perhaps originating when cosmic rays encounter Earth's upper atmosphere.

The possibility exists that a non-volcanic related Maunder Minimum and little ice age, may have begun.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Chandrayaan Unveiled

Bangalore, Sep 18: It looked like a colourful wrapped candy as the spacecraft that will launch India`s maiden odyssey to the moon was on Thursday unveiled here.

The spacecraft, lodged at `Checkout 2` room at the centre is all decked up with golden multilayer insulated foils covering a major part of its body with the highly sophisticated components sitting snugly inside.

The integrated lunar spacecraft has successfully passed the thermal vaccuum test where the spacecraft was inserted into a huge simulator akin to a well and its chambers closed.

The temperature of the chamber using infra red rays was raised to maximum of 120 degrees and lowered to minimum of over minus 100 degrees to test its mechanical and system integrity, an ISRO official said.

"The test, carried over 20 days, simulated conditions akin to the harsh environment in the moon where temperature ranges from high to very low. The test ensured that all the components and packages integrated were working and there was no mechanical or system defect, the official told the media team.

The spacecraft built by ISRO in collaboration with other partners like HAL will carry 11 payloads, including five instruments developed by ISRO. These include a Terrain Mapping Stereo Camera which could capture images having five m spatial resolutions (size of the smallest object that can be seen) and 20 km swath (width of the picture). This would help in topographic mapping of moon.

The spacecraft would have a hyper spectral camera (for mineral mapping), a laser-ranging instrument (for topography), Xray Fluorescence spectorometer (for chemical mapping), Higher Energy Xray spectrometer for identifying and understanding the transport of volatiles on the moon.

It will carry a moon impact probe (which will detach itself on arrival on the moon`s orbit), having three instruments, a mass spectrometeter, a C-band Altimeter and a video camera, which will capture information within 20 minutes during its slow falling motion on the moon`s surface, Srikumar, Chief Scientist, said.

Apart from the above five pay load, it would carry additional instruments of other countries; a Miniature Imaging Radar Instrument from NASA (for detection of polar ice and soil topography, altimetery) Sub KeV Atom Reflecting Analyser (from IRF, Sweden, JAXA, Japan, supported by ESA and VSSC and ISRO) for detection of atmospheric neutrals composition, magnetic anomalies).

It would also have a Moon Mineralogy Mapper from US, Infra-Red Spectrometer-2 from Germany and Radiation Dose Monitor from Bulgaria for studying radiation.

"We received 26 offers to carry payloads and brought the number down after debating", an ISRO official said.

The spacecraft carries a bipropellant propulsion system for carrying fuel for two years in orbit.

After separation from the launcher, the spacecraft will be raised to moon rendezvous orbit by three consecutive "in-lane manoeuvres at the perigee (closest location to earth) to achieve the required 386,000 km apogee", M Annadurai, Project Director, said.

"After third perigee `burn`, the achieved lunar transfer trajectory orbit is computed using tracking data received by the Deep Space Network and midcourse correction if required is done.

"The spacecraft will coast for about five days in the trajectory prior to the lunar encounter," the official said.

"The major manoeuvre of the mission is called the lunar orbit insertion leading to lunar capture. The manoeuvre ensures successful lunar capture in a polar, near circular 500 kms altitude orbit around the moon," he said.

"After successful capture and health checks, the latitude will be lowered through a series of in-plane corrections to 100 km near circular orbit," Annadurai said.

"Everything has been planned to ensure that the satellite moves at a position when the moon was closest and could be captured by the Moon`s orbit. The satellite will rotate around the earth`s orbit twice before it is fired into the lunar orbit," he said.

The travel from the earth to moon`s orbit is expected to take around 20 days in all including five days during the last lap of the journey.

The nearly 1,400 kgs Chandrayaan will be launched by PSLV-XL, a variant of flight proven PSLV from Satish Dhawan Space Centre and tracked and commanded by a 32 metre antenna at Byalalu near Bangalore.

The mission would provide insights into the chemical composition of the moon, detect, if any, the presence of water, study solar winds, map minerals and attempts to answer questions on moon`s composition. It will study far and near side of the moon and provide a three-dimensional picture.

While India prepares for its maiden unmanned mission, the Chandrayaan Mission two is already on the drawing board, he said, adding that the second mission would have Rover landing on the moon and collect samples.

Neutral Solar Wind Generated by Lunar Exospheric Dust at the Terminator

All the more reason for LADEE to launch alone,
allowing for a full mission:

Without exception, the astronauts who walked on the surface of the Moon confronted problems due to lunar dust: it adhered to clothing and equipment, it reduced visibility, and it caused difficulty breathing [e.g., see Stubbs et al., 2007a and references therein]. In fact, “the invasive nature of lunar dust represents a more challenging engineering design issue, as well as a health issue for [lunar] settlers, than does radiation” [Schmitt, 2006].

Furthermore, lunar dust may pose acute toxicity risks to astronauts [Liu et al., 2007; Park et al., 2006]. Evidence from Surveyor vidicon images of horizon glow [Rennilson and Criswell, 1974], as well as excess brightness in photographs of the solar corona taken by Apollo astronauts just inside the Moon’s shadow [McCoy, 1976] and Apollo astronaut observations of horizon glow and “streamers” immediately prior to orbital sunrise [McCoy and Criswell, 1974], all suggest that a substantial population of exospheric dust exists in the terminator.
Read the Study (and Abstract) HERE.
region of the Moon.

Post-Columbia Protocols

KSC - As deadlines approach for decisions on the Hubble repair mission, while repairs from Hurricanes Hanna and Ike continue, NASA displays a taste of the earliest dreams once were of Space Shuttle glory. Atlantis readied for mission-critical Hubble Space Telescope repairs (the satellite the Shuttle was designed around) and Endeavour, standing by first for back-up and rescue and, if all goes well, for continued construction of the International Space Station.
A rare opportunity to view two shuttles on the pad testifies to the unthinkable, retaining the Shuttle program beyond thirty years to 2015, and thirteen additional missions, along with the X-37 as lifeboat for ISS, is increasingly seen as a real possibility.
As Orion Block A is developed, money to fly the Shuttle an additional five years will force the off-set of Constellation, Altair, and U.S. spaceflight to the Moon into "the out years," beyond 2020.
What fault does the commerical space industry, and a skiddish investment community, have for not having filled the gap with private manned orbital transportation? Will the window for such opportunity fail?
As Americans wait for the return to the Moon, will NASA speed or slow private space development? Will the Chinese, ESA, and Star City beat Americans back to the Moon?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Chandrayaan 1 according to Calcutta

Test micro-lander is on-board for Chandrayaan 2 lander in 2012.

India’s first moon-bound craft has survived a crucial set of ground tests in Bangalore, demonstrating that it will neither freeze nor roast when it encounters the hostile deep space environment.

For 21 days, the fully-assembled Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft was placed in a large cylindrical vacuum chamber, the shape of a giant pressure cooker, where it was exposed to roast-and-freeze cycles, heated to 120 degrees celsius and cooled to minus 150 degrees celsius.
All onboard instruments and electronics remained intact in the tests that were designed to simulate deep space conditions, a senior scientist at the Indian Space Research Organisation, Bangalore, told The Telegraph.

ISRO hopes to launch Chandrayaan-1 next month and guide it into an orbit 100km above the moon for a two-year mission that will include mapping the entire lunar surface in 3D, searching for minerals, and exploring lunar geology. India’s first lunar mission has cost about Rs 386 crore, of which Rs 100 crore has gone into a new antenna network to communicate with spacecraft on interplanetary missions.

The roast-and-freeze test is routinely subjected to all satellites, including Isro’s weather and communication satellites. Only the conditions of exposure sometimes vary. “Now, vibration tests remain. After that, Chandrayaan-1 will be sent to Sriharikota for launch,” an official said.

India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle will ferry Chandrayaan-1 into space.

Chandrayaan-1 will carry five Indian-made cameras and instruments to study the moon from lunar orbit, while five other instruments designed by scientists in the US and Europe will piggyback on the Indian mission.

“We’re hoping to do research not done before,” said Martin Wieser, a scientist at the Swedish Institute of Space Physics, Kiruna, Sweden, who helped build an instrument called SARA — Sub Kev Atom Reflecting Analyser —, aboard Chandrayaan-1.

ISRO scientists have also placed aboard the spacecraft a moon Impact Probe, a 29kg instrument about twice the size of a shoebox, that will be released to impact onto the moon’s surface after a 20-minute fall.

“The impact probe will test small thrust rockets that will be used to slow down the fall. We’ll require this for future soft landings on the moon,” a senior official at Isro said. Isro is planning to send an unmanned lunar lander in 2012.

Read more HERE.

Thirteen Shuttle Flights 2010-2015

From a hardware standpoint, the space shuttle fleet could technicallyfly until 2015, involving up to 13 extra flights - that's the result of the opening findings from the on-going extension assessment.
Several options - all based around flying two orbiters past 2010, with the support of an ISS "lifeboat" - have been created, although the forward plan of extending the Iran/North Korea/Syria Agreement (INKSA) waiver, to utilize the Russian Soyuz, remains the favored approach.
Read more HERE.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

CHANDRAYAAN-1: India's first mission to the Moon

ISRO aims now for October Launch:

Almost a decade's determined preparation, the prowess of India's ISRO and Chandrayaan 1, carries with it the faith of an international passenger list.

Sigma Physics Blog: "THE MOON" with the history of the early solar system etched on it beckons mankind from time immemorial to admire its marvels and discover its secrets. Understanding the moon provides a pathway to unravel the early evolution of the solar system and that of the planet earth.

Through the ages, the Moon, our closest celestial body has aroused curiosity in our mind much more than any other objects in the sky. This led to scientific study of the Moon, driven by human desire and quest for knowledge. This is also reflected in the ancient verse. Exploration of the moon got a boost with the advent of the space age and the decades of sixties and seventies saw a myriad of successful unmanned and manned missions to moon.Following this, a hiatus of about one and a half-decade followed. During this period we refined our knowledge about the origin and evolution of the moon and its place as a link to understand the early history of the Solar System and of the earth.

However, new questions about lunar evolution also emerged and new possibilities of using the moon as a platform for further exploration of the solar system and beyond were formulated. Moon again became the prime target for exploration and a new renaissance of rejuvenated interest dawned. All the major space faring nations of the world started planning missions to explore the moon and also to utilize moon as a potential base for space exploration.

The idea of undertaking an Indian scientific mission to Moon was initially mooted in a meeting of the Indian Academy of Sciences in 1999 that was followed up by discussions in the Astronautical Society of India in 2000. Based on the recommendations made by the learned members of these forums, a National Lunar Mission Task Force was constituted by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). Leading Indian scientists and technologists participated in the deliberations of the Task Force that provided an assessment on the feasibility of an Indian Mission to the Moon as well as dwelt on the focus of such a mission and its possible configuration.

The task force recommended that given the technical expertise of ISRO it will be extreme worthwhile to plan an Indian Mission to the Moon. It also provided specific inputs such as the primary scientific objectives of such a mission, plausible instruments to meet these objectives, launch and spacecraft technologies that need to be developed and suggested the need for setting up of a Deep Space Network (DSN) station in India for communication with the lunar orbiting spacecraft. The team also provided a provisional budgetary estimate.

The Study Report of the Task Team was discussed in April 2003 by a peer group of about 100 eminent Indian scientists representing various fields of planetary & space sciences, earth sciences, physics, chemistry, astronomy, astrophysics and engineering and communication sciences. After detailed discussions, it was unanimously recommended that India should undertake the Mission to Moon, particularly in view of the renowned international interest on moon with several exciting missions planned for the new millennium. In addition, such a mission will provide the needed thrust to basic science and engineering research in the country including new challenges to ISRO to go beyond the geostationary orbit. Further, such a project will also help bringing in young talents to the arena of fundamental research. The Academia, in particular, the university scientists would also find participation in such a project intellectually rewarding.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Science by the Light of the Moon

Researchers, students and professionals from around the world gathered in July at the NASA Lunar Science Conference to discuss the future of robotic and human exploration of the moon.

Aaron Gronstal
NASA Astrobiology Institute

In 2004, NASA announced their intentions to reinvigorate lunar science research in the United States by returning human explorers to the moon. Since the President's Vision for Space Exploration was released, space agencies from around the world have established new programs and research initiatives for lunar exploration. NASA has begun developing the infrastructure and equipment needed for large-scale human settlement of the moon, including the new Ares launcher and Orion crew vehicle, which will carry a new generation of astronauts to the lunar surface.This new lunar exploration initiative has led to the creation of the NASA Lunar Science Institute (NLSI), which held its first international conference in July at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. The NASA Lunar Science Conference was the first in a series of meetings that will bring together scientists, students and professionals to discuss the latest developments in lunar science.
Read more HERE.

Shine on, Harvest Moon

September 26, 2007 APOD - Saguaro Moon by Stefan Seip

Just this little tidbit and the change of seasons ought to give you a clue of what's going on. Most of time during the year, the Moon comes along about 50 minutes later each night, but as the tilt of our Earth is gradually changing, that time is a bit shorter - by around 20 minutes for several evenings in a row. Why? The answer is easy enough. The ecliptic - or plane of Earth's orbit around the sun - makes a narrow angle with respect to the horizon in the evening in autumn.

Is it really more orange or yellow than normal? How about larger? Oh, yes. You want those science facts, don't you? Sure! Why not… Oftentimes we perceive the Harvest Moon as being more orange than at any other time of the year. The reason is not only scientific enough - but true. Coloration is caused by the scattering of the light by particles in our atmosphere.

Mixed Mood Meditations on the Harvest Moon, by Tammy Plotner and the essential Universe Today

Sunday, September 14, 2008

China counts down

BEIJING (Reuters) - China is counting down to 9.10 p.m. (9:10 a.m. EDT) on September 25 for its third manned space flight that will include a space walk, local media reported on Friday.

In October 2003, China became the third country to put a man in space with its own rocket, after the former Soviet Union and the United States. It sent two more astronauts on a five-day flight on its Shenzhou VI craft in October 2005.

John J. 'Jack' McKenna, Engineer, 78

John J. "Jack" McKenna, 78, a longtime NASA aeronautical engineer who became a National Security Agency systems engineer, died September 8 at his home in Laurel, Maryland.

Mr. McKenna worked on the Apollo lunar missions while at the space agency from the late 1960s to the '80s.  He retired from NSA in the late 1990s. 

John Joseph McKenna was a native of Brooklyn, New York, and a 1955 graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. In 1966, he received a master's degree in business administration from Adelphi University in New York City. He was a 1974 graduate of the University of Maryland's law school and did some administrative law work while at NASA. He also did legal work in private practice over the years. 

He was an engineer at Sperry in Garden City, New York, before moving to the Washington, DC area in the late 1960s.  He was a founding member of St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Laurel, where he had been a parish council member and a lector.  He was a member of the Knights of Columbus and a former trustee and Santa's helper for the Montpelier Community Association in Laurel. 

Survivors include his wife of 43 years, five children, a sister and 10 grandchildren. 

Friday, September 12, 2008

US access to ISS ends 2011 without waiver

Florida Today

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) pledged Thursday to fast-track efforts to get congressional approval for a waiver NASA needs to get astronauts to the International Space Station after the space shuttles are retired in 2010.

"We are going to make a full, true-blue push to get (the waiver) passed," the Orlando Democrat said after emerging from a meeting with NASA Administrator Michael Griffin.

NASA needs the exemption to send crews aboard the Russian Soyuz vehicle beyond 2011. Otherwise, the United States has no way of reaching the $100 billion space station until the shuttle's replacement becomes available in 2015 or later.

Griffin declined to comment on his meeting with Nelson or on his meetings with other lawmakers this week to garner support on the issue.

Nelson said he hopes the Senate will approve the waiver by unanimous consent. However, opposition by even one member would doom that effort.

In that case, Nelson said he would send the waiver to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for its approval, which would then send the measure back to the full Senate for a vote.

"We don't like the position that we're in, but we don't have any choice if we want to have access to our own space station during a four- or five-year gap," Nelson said.

NASA is seeking an exemption from a nonproliferation law that forbids the United States buying space-related goods and services from Russia while that nation exports nuclear technology to Iran and other nations considered hostile by the U.S. government.

NASA currently holds a waiver from the ban that expires in 2011, but the agency needs an extension as soon as possible to give Russia enough time to build Soyuz.

Concern over whether lawmakers would grant the waiver comes when U.S.-Russian relations are icy. The recent Russian invasion of neighboring Georgia further soured some opinions.

Not helping is the current congressional schedule -- lawmakers expect to recess for the rest of the year within a few weeks so that they can return to campaigning.

"If worse came to worst, we could still do it in January, but we need to get this behind us," Nelson said. "A new president would recognize we have to do it. But how much of a learning curve is there? You have to get a new administration up to snuff."

Nelson said Griffin has learned the State Department supports extending the waiver. National Security Adviser Steve Hadley also would like to see it passed, Nelson said.

Rep. Howard Berman, the California Democrat who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also supports the effort, according to his spokeswoman.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

"The ISS: Who needs it?" - Moscow News

Cold winds are blowing from the Star City.

"Unfortunately, the renewed Ame­rican interest in the ISS is neither because of concern for the station's future, nor because of the coming anniversary. The cause was provided by the Caucasian crisis. And had it not happened, American participation in the program would have ended quietly, despite all assurances to the contrary."

The Soviet, er, I mean 'Russian' take: Read more HERE.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

NASA's Ares I Rocket Passes Design Review

More than 1,100 reviewers examined the launch vehicle to ensure plans will meet NASA's requirements for a fully integrated spacecraft. 

By K.C. Jones,  InformationWeek 


NASA Teams with students worldwide to help with LCROSS impactor

Students Will Contribute to NASA Lunar Mission by Tracking LCROSS Spacecraft APPLE VALLEY, Calif., Sept. 9

APPLE VALLEY, Calif., Sept. 9 /PRNewswire/ -- In an unprecedented scientific collaboration with a public school, the Lewis Center for Educational Research will team with NASA to lead students worldwide in tracking and monitoring a NASA lunar mission scheduled for launch in early 2009. The collaboration will provide a unique opportunity for students to become active participants in the NASA lunar mission, as the space agency looks to inspire the next generation of U.S. space explorers and scientists.

NASA Ames Research Center and prime contractor Northrop Grumman are spearheading the design and development of the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) -- NASA's first major lunar mission in decades -- to determine whether there is water on the moon.

Students at the Lewis Center will monitor the spacecraft from their Mission Control, on the Lewis Center campus, by controlling a 110-foot-diameter radio-antenna in Southern California's Mojave Desert. Teachers and students around the world, including home-schooled children, will have the same opportunity to participate in the mission through the Lewis Center's Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope (GAVRT) Program -- a partnership between the Lewis Center and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

During the LCROSS mission, which will last several months, participating students will help monitor the health and status of the spacecraft by tracking its signal. If it is present during times when the signal is not supposed to be transmitting, the students can report back to LCROSS mission operations, potentially revealing a problem with the spacecraft. That additional monitoring beyond the coverage provided by NASA's Deep Space Network could prove to be critical.

"Millions of us watched as man took his first step on the moon back in 1969, but today's students will be active participants in the first major lunar visit in the information age," said Rick Piercy, President and CEO of the Lewis Center, which operates two charter schools in San Bernardino County, California. "We are excited that we will be leading students around the world as we work with NASA and Northrop Grumman scientists on this pioneering effort that will help rekindle the flame of space exploration in America."

"The combined launch of LCROSS and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is NASA's most ambitious mission to the moon since the Apollo era," said Daniel Andrews, NASA LCROSS Project Manager. "It marks the first step in America's long-term commitment to space exploration, with the ultimate goal of setting up outposts on the moon, setting the stage for a manned mission to other planets. We believe that actively engaging students in the LCROSS mission will inspire today's students to become the scientists and astronauts of tomorrow who will design and fly those missions."

NASA plans to launch the mission to look for water-ice on the moon in early 2009, with the satellite directing an impactor to a crater on one of the lunar poles. Scientists will analyze the debris in the plume that will result when the impactor -- with the mass of an SUV vehicle -- hurtles into the moon.

About The Lewis Center for Educational Research

The Lewis Center for Educational Research, based in the Mojave Desert in Southern California, operates two public charter schools, including the innovative Academy for Academic Excellence (http://www.lewiscenter.org/aae/). The Lewis Center is the only K-12 school organization in the country to control day-to-day operations of a large NASA radio telescope. Since opening in 1990, the Lewis Center has hosted more than 100,000 students, teachers and parents who have learned the relevance of real science through radio astronomy, including more than 28,000 students who have participated online in the Lewis Center's GAVRT Program.


LCROSS is managed and flown from NASA Ames Research Center. The LCROSS Shepherding Satellite, built by Northrop Grumman Space Technology, carries a NASA-built payload instrument suite, and will guide the Centaur upper stage of its Atlas V moon rocket toward a target crater on the moon. LCROSS will release the two-ton Centaur upper stage to impact in a permanently-shadowed crater near the moon's pole. The shepherding spacecraft will fly through the debris plume, and use that payload of sophisticated instruments to assess the presence of water-ice or vapor. Minutes after the first impact, the shepherding spacecraft will impact the moon as well, creating a second opportunity for scientists to study lunar soil. LCROSS and its onboard instruments were built in just two years -- less than half the time of a typical spacecraft development program. NASA plans to launch the mission in early 2009.


GAVRT is a partnership involving NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and the Lewis Center for Educational Research (LCER) in Apple Valley, California. The Purpose of the GAVRT Program is to provide students and educators with curriculum vehicles that will promote science literacy, support a better understanding of the scientific community, and to provide the opportunity to collect real-time data with sophisticated science equipment through distance learning. It is a K-12 project using radio astronomy to provide an opportunity for students to experience real science and to learn that science is an ongoing process in which actual discovery is possible. GAVRT currently has trained 388 teachers at 221 schools in 36 states across the United States and at American schools in 13 countries and 3 U.S. territories.

SOURCE Lewis Center for Educational Research; Northrop Grumman Corporation;

NASA Ames Research Center

SpaceX Receives USAF Operational License for Cape Canaveral Launch Site

Cape Canaveral FL – Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) has been granted an Operational License by the US Air Force for the use of Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on the Florida coast. Receipt of the license, in conjunction with the approved Site Plan, paves the way for SpaceX to initiate Falcon 9 launch operations later this year.

We are developing Falcon 9 to be a valuable asset to the American space launch fleet,” said Elon Musk, CEO and CTO of SpaceX. “The support we received from General Helms and the US Air Force has been immensely helpful in developing the pathfinder processes necessary for SpaceX to realize commercial space flights from the Cape.”

Our developments at Complex 40 continue with great speed,” added Brian Mosdell, Director of Florida Launch Operations for SpaceX. “We have moved our massive oxygen storage tank into place, and expect to complete construction of our hangar later this year.”

Mosdell cited other supporters instrumental to SpaceX’s efforts including the members of the Florida congressional delegation, the USAF Space Command, Col. Scott Henderson, Commander, 45th Launch Group, Col. (ret.) Mark Bontrager, formerly Commander of the 45th Mission Support Group, the public-private partnership Space Florida, and the Space Coast Economic Development Commission.

In operation since 1965, and located south of NASA’s launch sites for the Apollo moon missions and Space Shuttle flights, SLC-40 has hosted numerous historic launches, including the departure of two interplanetary missions: the Mars Observer satellite, and the Cassini spacecraft now exploring the rings and moons of the planet Saturn.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Stellar Team talks X-Prize on NC PBS (WUNC-Chapel Hill)

"A group of ambitious North Carolinians are vying for the Google Lunar X Prize. It’s an international space competition worth $30 million. To win the cash, the team has to successfully and safely land a robot on the moon by the year 2012. Members of Team Stellar join host Frank Stasio to share their plans for rocketing to the moon."

Abu Dhabi: Space Society will report global space industry is $251 Billion

International space experts to discuss emerging space technology and new commercial markets at industry forum in Abu Dhabi

Global space revenue from government and private activities reached more than US$251 billion in 2007, representing an increase of 11 per cent from 2006, according to the Space Report 2008.

Produced by the US-based Space Foundation, the report states that total revenue for space products and services is estimated at US$138.83 billion for 2007, an increase of approximately 20 per cent over 2006.

Robust space industry growth was achieved through two commercial satellite services, Direct to Home (DTH) television and Global Positioning System (GPS) equipment and chipsets, with DTH services growing by nearly 19 per cent and sales of GPS equipment by 20 per cent in 2007, together contributing close to US$20 billion to the global economy.

The global space industry is experiencing phenomenal growth as advancements in space technology continue to create new commercial markets and exciting opportunities within the space industry, and for investors and entrepreneurs in non-space related fields.

Taking place from 16-18 November at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, the Global Space Technology Forum will draw a high calibre of international space experts to discuss the latest space technology, and how individuals and private companies throughout the Middle East can benefit from this emerging commercial sector.

Organised by Streamline Marketing Group and sponsored by Arianespace, a commercial launch services leader, the forum includes a three day conference featuring industry leaders who will address a wide range of topics including forecasts for the global space industry, research and development, and the role of space technology in national defence and security.

An extensive overview of emerging commercial markets and the vision for the space sector in the UAE and throughout the Middle East region will be outlined on the third day by renowned space industry experts such as A.C. Charania, President of SpaceWorks Commercial, a division of SpaceWorks Engineering, Inc (SEI) in the USA.

“Many opportunities are available to those willing to accept a vision of the world more interconnected through space, bringing improvements to life through new information services. These include investments in satellite development and ownership, acquisition of niche space product developers, space software application development, and the creation of commercial spaceports,” said Charania.

According to Charania, key commercial markets include remote sensing and imagery, telecommunications, GPS and broadcast services, all of which will have far reaching benefits for consumers throughout the world.

“Broadcast and GPS should continue to have the highest growth rates, with the end-user across multiple countries benefiting in terms of speed, quality and price,” Charania continued.

Nick Webb, Director of Streamline Marketing Group said, “The global space industry is experiencing huge growth and this is expected to continue throughout the next decade and beyond. The Global Space Technology Forum in November will allow anyone with an interest in existing and future commercial markets to meet with internationally renowned space experts to hear first-hand about the latest innovations and investment opportunities.”

NASA to brief on Lunar Architecture

Washington -- NASA is inviting interested industry representatives, academics and reporters to learn more about the Ares V heavy lift-launch vehicle, the Altair lunar lander, and the roles they will play in returning humans to the moon by 2020.

The Exploration Systems Mission Directorate forum will take place Thursday, Sept. 25, from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. EDT, at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 1615 H Street NW, Washington. The forum will focus on the first phase conceptual designs for the Ares V heavy lift-launch vehicle, the Altair lunar lander and lunar exploration scenarios. Forum attendees will discuss the outcomes of a nine-month lunar transportation capabilities study and near-term business opportunities.

Participants from NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate include Doug Cooke, deputy associate administrator for the directorate, Geoff Yoder, director of the Directorate Integration Office, and Jeff Hanley, manager of NASA's Constellation Program. Representatives of industry and academia interested in attending the forum must register online. Attendance is limited and registration will close at 5 p.m. EDT, Sept. 23. Registration and additional information, including an agenda, are available at:


Reporters planning to attend must contact Stephanie Schierholz at 202-358-4997 or Grey Hautaluoma at 202-358-0688 by 5 p.m., Sept. 24.

The Ares V rocket and Altair lunar lander are part of a fleet of vehicles that NASA's Constellation Program is developing for a new space transportation system designed to travel beyond low Earth orbit. The Constellation fleet also includes the Orion crew exploration vehicle and the Ares I launch vehicle. NASA plans to establish a human outpost on the moon through a successive series of lunar missions beginning in 2020.

For more information about NASA's Constellation Program, visit


Stephanie Schierholz/Grey Hautaluoma
Headquarters, Washington
stephanie.schierholz@nasa.gov, grey.hautaluoma-1@nasa.gov

Lynnette Madison/Josh Byerly
Johnson Space Center, Houston
lynnette.b.madison@nasa.gov, bill.j.byerly@nasa.gov

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Email Mess

The Heat is on for NASA chief Mike Griffin, and heat at high pressure and O-Rings don't mix with the frost.

The Agency is feeling the pressure from the political campaign, as Obama and McCain bid for Central Florida votes, and vote elsewhere, like Ohio, tossing reckless ideas around like salvaging the Space Shuttle beyond a retirement schedule already well-underway.

Lunar Pioneer is already on record on this matter. Clearly we have a problem, but the Space Shuttle is, and always has been, an experiment. We are paying the price for having put all our eggs in one basket and if we can't depend on an underfinanced COTS or ESA's ATV or JAXA's HTV, perhaps we should think the unthinkable, and man-rate a stop-gap booster and fast-track Orion Block One.

Keeping the Space Shuttle flying is not an option. Depending on the Russians in the present climate is not an option, either. Orion is in the Out Years. That leaves innovation, and someone had better start humping.

Here's what Michael Griffin had to say:

RELEASE : 08-220

Statement of NASA Administrator Michael Griffin on Aug. 18 Email

WASHINGTON -- The following is the complete statement of NASA Administrator Michael Griffin regarding the Aug. 18 email published by the Orlando Sentinel

The leaked internal email fails to provide the contextual framework for my remarks, and my support for the administration's policies. Administration policy is to retire the shuttle in 2010 and purchase crew transport from Russia until Ares and Orion are available. The administration continues to support our request for an INKSNA exemption. Administration policy continues to be that we will take no action to preclude continued operation of the International Space Station past 2016. I strongly support these administration policies, as do OSTP and OMB.

And here's "the Mess."

NASA chief says he backs 2010 shuttle retirement

Leaked internal e-mail displays worry about staffing space

Thursday, September 4, 2008

NASA reaches out to students to help with the Moon's "dust problem"

At the top of the National Space Studies Board's priority recommendations, not to mention that of Apollo 17 veterans Captain Cernan and Senator Schmitt, is coming to grips with sub-micron lunar dust, which "literally gets into everything," Cernan recently said.

"And when I say 'everything,' I mean everything," Cernan reiterated, saying he had to wait for his fingernails to grow out before becoming apparently free from the finest of the fine lunar basalts that were originally thought to be similar to the shinny volcanic melt hardening after a lava flow cools back on Earth. After billions of years of bombardment by solar wind and cosmic rays, however, the smooth glassy melt of the lunar seas, for example, becomes split to consituent particles ranging from artifact agglutenates to grey dust too small to be visible to the naked eyes.

To complicate matters, the finest particles, when negatively charged by the steady proton wind of the sun, may actually levitate and eventually precipitate with a subsequent positive charge. The lunar daily cycle isn't much of a visible rain, though it may scatter light over the horizon to become the "terminator glow" first imaged by Surveyor landers 40 years ago, and later by astronauts Borman, Lovell and Anders during their pioneering ten orbits of the Moon in December 1968.

Will the Apollo landing sites, pictures of which are a primary target of Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, be covered by a thin precipitate of grey dust? Likely now, say experts, citing the little dust that was found on Surveyor 3 when cannibalized by Conrad and Bean after their landing 150 meters away from where it had landed (twice) three years before their pinpoint landing of Apollo 12 in November 1969.

Most of the dust and damage from dust later found on examining the parts of the lander that were retrieved and returned by Apollo 12 was discovered to be a result of the approach of the Apollo 12 Lunar Module descent stage. It has been pointed out, however, that the same rich spray picked up by Apollo 12 on approach might not just have impacted Surveyor but also have blown any incidental dust off the tiny unmanned vehicle.

Ian O'Neill, in the indispensible Universe Today, has written a "fine" article showing one of the many collaborative efforts NASA is utilizing to arrive at needed solutions, to preserve the integrity of delicate tools and lungs, not to mention hatch seals and such, when NASA returns to the Moon a decade from now.

Experiments have shown the pesky dust is more stubborn than beach sand in your shoes at the shore, with the integrity of vacuum bottle seals and the like best protected by a burst of pressurized gas, which does not completely work, and best treated with a gentle wipe by hand. This last method has been shown to work best, but still caused abrasion on seals and causing them to eventually fail as well.

But the Moon is out destiny, and solving the problem remains the highest priority for program planners. The LADEE probe, scheduled for launch in 2011, is being designed to probe the migratory habits of sub-micron dust, but planners are still struggling with coming up with a definitive method of measuring the dust, if only by inference, as studies continue.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Report: ARCA will try for Google Lunar X-Prize "in couple of months."

Something called "MillionAdvertisingWebpage" dot com is confidently reporting the Romanian Google Lunar X-Prize competitor ARCA, the only such team out of Europe, will be making its attempt to secure the Google Lunar X-Prize "in three months."

As a team, ARCA has joined its former registered competitor in the Ansari X-Prize contest Pablo de Leon and Associates. The Ansari prize was ultimately won by Burt Rutan and his team at Scaled Composits.

ARCA's plan to achieve mission goals of landing a privately funded probe on the moon are not detailed, though certain unique mission aspects have been publicized. Plans call for Stabilo, a three-stage untested booster, to be launched from 18 kilometers in altitude, and trans-lunar coast of 116 hours from low earth orbit.

Though the 116 hour time frame falls inside the free-return trajectory used by Apollo, it is unclear whether the vehicle will be required to use fuel to enter lunar orbit. The video featured on the above site appears to show a direct to surface approach on the eastern limb, which would be an easily configured landing though such a plan might also place the final landing zone outside of line of sight communications with Earth.

Rather than the use of wheels, the ARCA entry is designed to move the required 500 meters by short bursts of gases. Whether the team intends to target the vehicle to examine artifacts of earlier missions, and the bonus prize of $10 million is unknown.

Leland Melvin's Fantastic Voyage

Leland Melvin has very nearly been a member of two exclusive clubs: the National Football League (NFL) and the NASA astronaut corps. The first opportunity fizzled before it got very far. The second, however, recently afforded him a roundtrip to the International Space Station (ISS).

The former NFL draft pick in February journeyed into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis—an opportunity he had prepared for since beginning his training in 1998. The flight crew's goal: attach the European Space Agency's Columbus research laboratory to the ISS.
During the mission, Melvin played a key role in docking the 23 by 15 foot (7 meter by 4.6 meter) lab onto the space station, a task that involved operating robotic arms on both the shuttle and the ISS. "It was like playing the ultimate video game," Melvin says about his time manipulating the two joysticks that control the dual mechanical arms.

That wasn't the only thrill that Melvin experienced during his 13-day foray into space. He also had the pleasure of observing the odd eating habits of people in a zero-gravity environment: "There were people floating along the ceiling," he recalls, "and coming down like a bat to get the food."

He and his crewmates traveled at 25 times the speed of sound when Space Shuttle Atlantis reentered the earth's atmosphere, generating a 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,649 degrees Celsius), mile-long (1.6 kilometer) trail of plasma. "You just pray that the heat shields are doing their thing," he says.
Read more HERE.

Turnaround for Canadian Space Program?

MacLean appointed head of CSA

Canada's space agency has been in the doldrums, of late, running on prestige left over from subcontracted development of the CanadaArms for ISS and Dextre, the first true virtual extensible robotic human to ride on the exterior of the Space Station.

All agencies drift, especially in nations with competitive politics and budget commitments that change from budget to budget. Canada is no different, with complaints arising from commercial and academic space interests in the Commonwealth about bureaucratic foot-dragging and "finger tapping."

It is possible things may turn around, however. Dr. Steve MacLean, one of the first six Canadian astronauts chosen in 1983, has been appointed as President of the Canadian Space Agency.

From Cambridge in Ontario, we read, "Dr. MacLean is a modern hero and is very highly respected among academic, industrial and international partners," said Minister (of Industry Jim) Prentice. "His appointment as President is evidence of the government's commitment to leverage Canada's space science and technology to position Canada as a leading space faring nation."

More HERE.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Evidence for Correlations Between Nuclear Decay Rates and Earth-Sun Distance?

Put THIS in your pipe and smoke it!

Unexplained periodic fluctuations in the decay rates of Si-32 and Ra-226 have been reported by groups at Brookhaven National Laboratory (Si-32), and at the Physikalisch-Technische-Bundesandstalt in Germany (Ra-226). We show from an analysis of the raw data in these experiments that the observed fluctuations are strongly correlated in time, not only with each other, but also with the distance between the Earth and the Sun. Some implications of these results are also discussed, including the suggestion that discrepancies in published half-life determinations for these and other nuclides may be attributable in part to differences in solar activity during the course of the various experiments, or to seasonal variations in fundamental constants.
The bottom line is strange enough, constants variable with changes from A.U. of Earth to the Solar System's barycenter? "Unexplained" just doesn't do this justice. Read all about it, if you dare, HERE.

First ESA ATV to undock Friday

Jules Verne, the European Space Agency's Automated Transfer Vehicle and prototype of future ESA manned and unmanned vehicles, is scheduled to undock from the Russian section of the International Space Station, Friday, Sept. 5, at 2130 UT.

The "fully automated" departure routine comes days after the ATV lowered slightly the station's orbit to avoid space debris from a Russian satellite, the first such action in five years.

According to ESA, "in just a few days time, the historic Jules Verne mission will draw to an end. After the ATV Control Center commands the opening of the Automated Transfer Vehicle clamps, ESA's first resupply and reboost vehicle will perform a fully automated undocking with the International Space Station."

Since its arrival six months ago, ESA has disclosed a manned scenario of the ATV, and NASA Langley has shown animations of various adaptations of the ATV architecture being used to ferry NASA equipment to the proposed location of a semi-permanent manned station on the rim of Shackelton Crater, near the lunar South Pole.

Packed with waste, the ATV will be steered to burn up in the upper atmosphere, with any unvaporized portions ending up in the far South Pacific.

Read more HERE.

Shenzhou VII launch scheduled for Sept. 17

First CNSA Spacewalk scheduled for 'Great Leap Frogging' program.

China has brought forward the launch date of its third manned space flight to late September, a report said Tuesday. The launch of Shenzhou VII is now expected to take place between September 17 -- the end of the Beijing Paralympics -- and China's National Day on October 1, Hong Kong newspaper Wen Wei Po said, citing unnamed sources.

The period offered the best launch window for Shenzhou VII, the source told the Chinese-language newspaper, without giving any more details. The mission will blast off from China's Jiuquan launch centre in northwest Gansu province and land in northern Inner Mongolia province, Wen Wei Po said.

The launch schedule has been changed several times, with previous Chinese state media reports suggesting a October or November launch. Three "taikonauts" or astronauts will be on board the flight, with one of them conducting China's first space walk, China's official Xinhua news agency said in an earlier report, quoting a spokesman for the mission.

China successfully launched its first man, Yang Liwei, into orbit in 2003, making it the third country after the former Soviet Union and the United States to put a man in space. It sent two more astronauts into orbit in 2005 on a five-day mission.

Now "Hanna" delays Atlantis roll-out

The National Hurricane Center in Miami put the Kennedy Space Center well within the 40 to 50 percent probability zone experiencing at least tropical storm winds from Hurricane Hanna through the end of the week ahead. Often Florida-grazing storms, on their way to a strike on or near North Carolina's Outer Banks, put Cape Canaveral on the western and weaker side of nominally-strengthed storms. But Hanna has high potential to become a strong hurricane and the Cape is within a small probability of experiencing a direct strike from the storm over the next two days.

All good reasons to delay roll-out of Atlantis, once again, yesterday. The orbiter was originally scheduled for roll-out August 29. Hurricane Gustev, which eventually struck Louisianna, was the threat then. Now more storms are matching up with the highest average date for Atlantic landfall of Hurricane, Sept. 11.

Whether the October 10 launch date of Atlantis, and the last servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, will remain intact can't yet be predicted, say mission planners.

The mission requires an orbital inclination closer to the equator than the 51.3 degree orbital plain of ISS, a potential safe harbor for damaged Shuttles devoted to finishing ISS construction, November's mission of Discovery must be on the launch pad also, acting as a back-up rescue flight, if needed.

In the Atlantic storm track, three other tropical systems appear ready to take initial paths toward Florida, with "Ike" moving swiftly westward only days after forming off Cape Verde.

Previously unrecognized large lunar impact basins revealed by topographic data

Herbert V. Frey, NASA Goddard
39th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference

Lunar and Planetary Institute, Houston
March 2008

Lunar topographic data reveal a significant population of large impact basins not previously recognized by standard photogeologic mapping. We find at least 92 impact basins > 300 km diameter, compared with 45 previously cataloged. This has implications for the Late Heavy Bombardment on the Moon and use of the Moon as a standard for crater retention ages throughout the solar system.

Read more HERE.

Astronauts Reunite to celebrate NASA's 50th

Dr. Armstrong, Sen. Glenn and Capt. Lovell join on-stage in Ohio.
Ohio has given birth to more than it's fair share of astronauts, with two of the most notable Neil Armstrong and John Glenn calling the Midwestern state home. It was only fitting then that Ohio be the location for a historic gathering of 19 astronauts to mark NASA's 50th anniversary celebrations last night.
Read more HERE.

Does NASA sees salvation in ESA support for Shack Scenario?

Heads up from Rob Coppinger and Hyperbola

Video Link. Looks very much like the ESA is either an unofficial or seriously notional part of NASA's vision for the Shackelton SPA Lunar Outpost, or that's the way it appears in these videos uncovered by Rob Coppinger at Hyperbola. EU individual member states have already started committing to joining NASA in building the International Lunar Network.

Will this partnership naturally extend to the NASA's "semi-permanent" manned outpost, and its construction on the Shackleton sweet spot inside South Pole Aitken Basin ~2020?

Is tying NASA's long-term plans to US foreign policy the way to solve the short-term budgeting hassle tha is part and parcel of US congressional election cycles?

Or are these videos purely notional fantasies, or just part of Langley's long term sales?

Lunar robotic tests on the 'Big Island'

Alyson Kakugawa University of Hawai'i - Hilo: Teams from the Kennedy and Johnson Space Centers, Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Carnegie Mellon University will visit the Big Island this fall to test robotic instruments that will be used in upcoming missions to the Moon. The Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems (PISCES), based in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, will host the two-week event on the lower slopes of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea.

Scientists and engineers, assisted by PISCES staff and UH Hilo students will conduct a full mission simulation featuring three NASA developed robotics, including the Selectively Compliant Articulated Robot Arm Rover (SCARAB). The tests are designed to provide participants hands-on experience with specific technical challenges to be anticipated when humans return to the moon by 2020, explore the lunar surface and set up outposts.

“It’s one thing to test an instrument in the laboratory. But that really doesn’t tell you how it will perform during a lunar mission,” said PISCES Research Operations Manager John Hamilton. “Our challenge is to replicate those conditions as closely as possible to ensure that the test results will be a true reflection of how these instruments will perform on the Moon.”

Equipment to be tested includes a new rover wheel called a Tweel. Developed by Michelin, the Tweel’s experimental design utilizes polyurethane spokes, which prevents flats, eliminates the need for shock absorbers and provides improved traction. Scientists will also test a Sample Capture Device (SCaD) and auger unit developed by the Northern Centre for Advanced Technology (NORCAT), in conjunction with the Canadian Space Agency. The NORCAT drill can acquire subsurface samples without the use of down-the-hole electric components.

In addition to testing the equipment, scientists will be looking for ways to maximize the surrounding environment to meet their needs – a concept known as In Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU).

“Astronauts have to work with limited resources on the moon, since it is extremely barren,” said Field Operations Assistant Christian Andersen. “Even basic needs like water and oxygen, which we take for granted, will have to be created from rocks and other material. So you essentially have to find ways to do more with less.”

That effort includes crops that can grow in a similar environment, which are currently being developed by the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management.

PISCES Co-Director Dr. Robert Fox said as a UH Hilo based program, PISCES is blessed with a wide variety of resources.

“We really bring a lot to the table when you think about it,” Fox said. “We have the physical environment necessary for simulating lunar conditions, an ideal location in the middle of the Pacific, plus a thriving scientific infrastructure and community where research is actively encouraged.”

UH Hilo has already cultivated strong ties with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), through its undergraduate program in Astronomy, collection of world class telescopes atop Mauna Kea and the `Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawai`i. Fox noted this latest initiative provides an opportunity to develop important new partnerships.

“Just look at the names,” Fox said. “Carnegie Mellon University, the Canadian Space Agency, Michelin and Lockheed-Martin are all major players. This puts us in some pretty impressive company.”

This test will be the first utilizing PISCES’ mobile field operations center. Future plans call for development of a base facility to be housed in the University Park of Science and Technology and a simulated lunar outpost located on the Saddle Road between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea.

The robots will be demonstrated on campus for selected groups of K-12 students as the culminating event. Hamilton, who observed a similar field test in Washington state with Andersen this summer, described the experience as “awesome.” He’s confident the students will have a similar reaction, and hopes the experience will spark an interest in scientific study.

“When all is said and done, the name of the game is educating our children,” Hamilton said. “Through initiatives like this we hope to inspire them to study robotics, and sharpen their stem skills like math and science, which are the keys to obtaining good paying jobs.”