Archive for the ‘Moon’ Category

This Week in Space – March 19, 2010

March 21, 2010

The latest edition of “This Week in Space” is now available!  Check us out!!  And many thanks to our sponsors, Binary Space and Space Careers!

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Discovery at launchpad 39A. Source: NASA

Two million parts – all of them form the low bidder – as Wally Schirra  once famously quipped – if you put those parts together just right – you’ve got yourself a space shuttle – the problem is – just about every single one of them has to be working perfectly before a shuttle ever clears the tower.  But exceptions can be made….and that is what the shuttle launch team is doing for this next launch. With Discovery sitting on the launch pad for its penultimate flight – a helium valve  failed. The helium is used to make sure there is pressure in the fuel lines that feed the Orbital Maneuvering System engines – which handle the big course changes in orbit. Fixing the valve means a roll back to the the hangar – and a big delay. So the shuttle team will try to verify that some regulators downstream of the valve are working just fine. If so, it means they will have confidence they have only lost one layer of redundancy – and thus give Discovery its launching papers.

Source:  WISENASA’s Wide Field Infrared Survey Explorer – or WISE has captured an image – Charles Foster Kane would have liked to see – rosebud….
this one is no sled though – it is a cosmic blossom in a cluster of stars in the Berkeley 59 – which sounds a little like a group of sixties anti war radicals…anyway…the blue dots are the stars…and they are formed by the orange dust cloud in the middle – and the green – those are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons – of course…you can find those on earth in barbecue pits…for some reason I am hungry…WISE is also hunting for asteroids – and it has found more than a dozen that are near to earth – and we didn’t even know we were there. You’d be WISE to listen to this story – Chicken Littles.

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New 'This Week in Space' – March 12, 2010

March 14, 2010

The latest edition of “This Week in Space” is now available.  Check us out!

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Hubble2Hello and welcome – President Obama will finally say something about his plan for NASA – but there are still mixed messages coming out of the space agency – as the space shuttle program winds down – and new commercial players try to spin up. And while SpaceX tried to figure out why a launch pad test ended before it really got started – We are told by the man in charge of the shuttle program that the fleet doesn’t have to stop flying after 4 more flights – it is just a matter of money…more on all of this in a bit – but first I have to tell you about tje Warner Brothers “IMAX: Hubble 3D” movie that captures some of the space shuttle’s greatest moments – and gives those of us who have never been to space – an idea of what it is really like to be there. I am talking about the IMAX Hubble 3-D movie – which premiered this week at the Air and Space Museum in Washington…The movie focuses on the last Hubble repair mission in May. NASA  bolted a 3-D IMAX camera into the payload bay of Atlantis – it captured the astronauts at work in a vivid big screen – in your face – kinda way.

Hubble1Leonardo DiCaprio narrates the film. Hubble 3D also includes scenes from the first Hubble repair mission – and the deployment of the telescope as well. But this time there is something different – IMAX took some of the most iconic images captured by Hubble – to the National Center for Super Computing Applications at the University of Illinois Ubrana-Champaign – there the filmmakers and the computer whizzes made those images 3-D – so in this movie not only do you feel as if you are flying on board the shuttle – you also are treated to an amazing 3-D odyssey through distant galaxies and nebulas. It’s an amazing ride…

Hubble3They rolled out the red carpet at the Air and Space museum for the premiere – the space glitterati – such as it is – was there in large numbers – to see the Hubble 3-D. Now Leonardo sent his regrets from a movie set in Japan – and the real star of the show – Hubble was unable to be there was well – so that meant the big stars of the evening were the crew members of STS-125 – decked out in their blue flight suits – ready for their closeups. The crew of course felt a ton of pressure to fix and improve Hubble for the last time – so you would think shooting the movie would be no problem at all. But get this – they only had 8 minutes worth of film in that 3-D camera in the payload bay. And the camera only shoots 30 seconds at a time. So they had to be extremely careful about when to say “action” – but they had trained for it long and hard – and it all paid off. I spoke to these John Glenn Steven Spielberg hybrids as they walked down the carpet.

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The Politics of NASA's New Path

February 28, 2010

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Mr. Bolden goes to Capitol Hill this week…

The NASA boss Charlie Bolden is a former Marine fighter and test pilot and astronaut and he is used to taking flak – after all he flew a hundred combat missions over southeast Asia during the Vietnam war. So facing off with some lawmakers on Capitol Hill over the controversial Obama NASA budget proposal – piece of cake- right?  Well, it started out that way – he began with the Senate Subcommittee on Science & Space.  The chairman – his former shuttle crew member – then Congressman – now Senator Bill Nelson.  Watch their exchange here.

And a somewhat chillier one with Senator David Vitter – a Republican from Louisiana – home of the Michoud Assembly facility – where they make the external fuel tanks for the shuttle- here.

And I got in on the action too…Here is some of what I had to say. And you can read my full remarks here.

The next day – Charlie Bolden found himself in a different orbit – namely the House of Representatives – where they don’t know comity – from comedy…and when he appeared before the House Science Committee, it was so silly you almost had to laugh as members from Texas Alabama and Florida tried to out Bolden-bash one another.

Cygnus Spacecraft.  Source:  Orbital Sciences

Cygnus Spacecraft. Source: Orbital Sciences

The Obama budget for the space agency puts some big bets on some commercial players to work more independently to get cargo – and ultimately humans to and from low earth orbit. But there are a host of concerns about transferring so much risk outside the space agency. One of the main players in this game is Orbital Sciences – Like its competitor SpaceX, the company is building a vehicle to deliver cargo to the ISS under contract to NASA. Veteran astronaut and NASA manager Frank Culbertson is now a senior VP with orbital – and he was listening intently – as I was  – when his former fellow astronaut Hoot Gibson said this in that Senate Hearing.  Watch and listen to our conversation here.

To the Moon? I think not, Alice….

February 24, 2010

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The NASA insignia.

Image via Wikipedia

(ed. note: these remarks are part of my testimony to the Senate Committee on Science and Transportation hearing “Challenges and Opportunities in the NASA FY 2011 Budget Proposal” on February 24, 2010)

Washington – we have a problem – there is an uproar across the land over NASA’s course change – and it says a lot about how the public is no longer in the loop with the space agency.

The headlines read “NASA cancels its Moon mission”. Now I would submit to you most people reading those stories had no idea were were heading back to the moon in the first place. And guess what? We really weren’t! The program – packaged as the “Vision for Space Exploration” – never got the promised funding – and its “vision” was clearly focused on the rear view mirror.

Constellation was touted as “Apollo on Steroids” but really it was a ninety-pound weakling – an uninspired attempt to bring back the magic. NASA was acting like the middle aged high school football hero who spends too much time in the local saloon telling tales of the glory days when he led his team to the state championships.

But the country has grown up and moved on – and it is time for NASA to get off the bar stool and do the same.

And that is exactly what I see in this budget. This is a grown up approach to space exploration – one that synchs the goals with national needs and budgetary realities. The space agency is getting a slap in the face. “Thanks, I needed that!” is what it should be saying. But that is not what we are hearing. Change is never easy.

But wait a minute – isn’t NASA supposed to be all about change? In fact, if it can’t embrace – no actually invent – change – we should close the whole place down.

But wait there is more – because as much as anything else – what we have here is a failure to communicate.

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Unease Among the Troops

February 13, 2010
Charlie Bolden.  Source:  NASA/Bill Ingalls

Charlie Bolden. Source: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Things are anything but tranquil and clear among the NASA rank and file this week…as they try to digest the news that the space program is taking the most dramatic turn since JFK challenged it to go to the moon. The space world knew there were big changes coming – but when the Obama Administration announced the complete cancellation of Constellation (say that 6 times fast)…it caught many by surprise – including NASA brass – who got the word only a few days before. But NASA administrator Charlie Bolden took the heat and accepted blame when he finally met with reporters at the Cape before the shuttle launch:

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Orion Agonistes

February 13, 2010
Orion.  Source:  NASA

Orion. Source: NASA

NASA’s budget rollout was confused – but so is the message – we do know this: the Obama White House would like NASA to get out of the low earth orbit taxi business – and instead get the private sector to get some skin in the game – and build what amounts to private spaceliners that NASA – and those who have the cash – can fly to space. Arthur C. Clarke would be proud…but beyond low earth orbit things get murky and vague – NASA will spend money on cool new technologies that might one day get us farther into the solar system a lot faster – but there is no destination or date. Later in the week, Bolden told the Houston Chronicle his personal vision is a piloted mission to Mars. You have to wonder if the White House is on board with that. Meanwhile the big contractors who are a part of Constellation are scheduling therapy for Post Traumatic Stress – at Lockheed Martin, they were hoping their piece of the program – the Orion capsule survive – no such luck.  the man in charge there – John Karas – joined me at the cape during the shuttle countdown.

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Shuttle Extension?

February 13, 2010
Source:  NASA

Source: NASA

Once the shuttle are in the museums – NASA’s only ticket to ride to the space station will be on Russian built Soyuz rockets. NASA has already bought six seats at about 50 million a pop – no frequent flier discounts – But now it appears the head of the Russian Space Agency – Roskosmos – is spoiling to drive a hard bargain for any tickets beyond those flights. Anatoly Perminov told Interfax “Excuse me but the prices should be absolutely different then!”

Seems like they are better at turning space into a business than the U-S. Oh the irony there… All of this is more fodder for a persistent group of people who say it is not too late to save the shuttle – or at least fly it a lot longer than four more missions. One of them is one of the top people at the prime shuttle contractor the United Space Alliance. Howard DeCastro spoke with me at the Cape before he watched Endeavour take flight for her 24th voyage.

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Regrets? I've Had a Few…

February 13, 2010
Ares I-X Launch.  Source:  NASA/Scott Andrews, Cannon

Ares I-X Launch. Source: NASA/Scott Andrews, Cannon

The news that NASA is heading off in a dramatic new direction has many people saying “ooooh!”…or “whoa!” – or in some cases “ouch!”  The Coalition for Space Exploration – which consists of all the big traditional space contractors thinks it is a big mistake to throw out Constellation lock stock and booster…One of the Coalition board members was there on the inside when Constellation was dreamed up – Former astronaut Fred Gregory was Deputy NASA Administrator when the Bush Administration announced the so called Vision for Space Exploration in 2004. I spoke with him before the shuttle launch.

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NASA Pivots to a New Direction

February 4, 2010
Official portrait of Deputy NASA Administrator...

Image via Wikipedia

What a “Week in Space” it has been!  I traveled to Washington D.C. to  see the drafting of the first page in a new chapter of the history of US manned exploration of space. The Obama White House is out with its budget proposal for 2011 – and it calls for the cancellation of the Constellation program – which former NASA Administrator once called “Apollo on Steroids.”  But the program remained a 90 pound weakling – rolled out by the Bush administration 6 years ago – it never got the funding it needed and never gelled with the public. On Budget day – February first – I caught up with the NASA deputy Administrator Lori Garver as she rolled out the long rumored details….

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Bolden on Safety

February 4, 2010

There are many people who are not sure the commercial route  will be a safe way to fly.  Can smaller companies – working on their own – deliver space vehicles that are safe enough for US astronauts – and for that matter civilians to ride to space?  Lori’s boss – NASA administrator and 4 time shuttle flier – Charlie Bolden addressed that in a session on Tuesday at the National Press Club:

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