Posts Tagged ‘Constellation program’

This Week In Space – April 2, 2010

April 3, 2010

The latest edition of “This Week In Space” is available!  Check us out

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Discovery. Source: NASA

Hello and welcome –  I am taking the week off – doing some diving with my 17 year old son in the Cayman Islands…would love to be with you – but this one trumps TWIS hands down…So while I am diving – the shuttle Discovery has been getting ready to go in the other direction.

Don’t forget to join us for the launch – we are the best place to watch it all unfold. Our coverage on Spaceflight Now begins at 2am Eastern – 0600 GMT. Ouch. Hey with four launches left – I promise not to complain…

The Mars rover "Spirit." Source: NASA/JPL

The Mars Rover Spirit missed a communications session with with ground controllers this week, which likely means it has gone into hibernation mode as winter descends on Mars’ southern hemisphere.  Spirit’s operators knew this was coming.  The rover has been stuck in a sand it for nearly a year – without a tow truck in sight…  In January, with winter coming, mission managers gave up trying to drive to concentrate on better positioning the rover so that its solar panels would be more optimally tilted toward the sun.  Unfortunately, that didn’t work very well.  The best guess as to what has happened is that Spirit’s batteries have drained and there is not enough sunlight hitting the solar panels to recharge them.   Will the rover survive the long cold winter and wake up six months from now to resume it’s science mission?  We’ll keep you posted.

Expedition 23 Crew

A Soyuz rocket carrying members of the Expedition 23 crew to the International Space Station has blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazhakstan.  Before making their way to the launchpad, Alexander Skvortsov, Mikhail Kominenko, and Tracy Caldwell Dyson ran the gauntlet of Russian pre-launch rituals, which include watching a movie called “White Sun of the Desert” the night before launch, sipping a glass of champagne, signing a door at the Cosmonaut Hotel, getting blessed by a Russian Orthodox priest, and taking a ceremonial leak on the tire of one of the crew buses – women can take a pass on that last one if they want, which was probably a relief to Tracy Caldwell Dyson.  She also may have started a new tradition – singing to her spouse before launch.
Once they arrive at the ISS, the new crew members will only have a few days to settle in before house guests arrive aboard the shuttle Discovery.

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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.

Worse than Nixon – or a Masterstroke?

February 21, 2010

So who will have the last word on what NASA does next in space? Maybe some powerful members of Congress…at least that is what Constellation supporters are hoping this week – as they move from the shock and denial – to the anger and bargaining stage of grief. I checked in with the exiled President of the Constellation Nation, Mike Griffin – and the king of space tourism – Eric Anderson, the CEO of Space Adventures. He  has been right in the middle of every multimillion dollar deal to send civilians on Russian rockets to the International Space Station. He has always been bullish on the space business – but never more than now.

Watch my interview with Mike Griffin here.

And the counterpoints from Eric Anderson here.

Mike Griffin

Mike Griffin

Eric Anderson (lower right)

Eric Anderson (lower right)

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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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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It's All About Politics

December 21, 2009
Source:  NASA/Scott Andrews, Cannon

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

More on NASA’s future. It appears President Obama is close to making a decision on which course to chart in space.   Whenever he shares HIS vision with the rest of us – the debate will  move to a broader realm – and of course to Congress – where nothing is guaranteed.

The other day , Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi showed her colors in a gabfest with reporters:

“I, myself, if you are asking me personally, I have not been a big fan of manned expeditions to outer space, in terms of safety and cost,” Pelosi told reporters a round table on legislative accomplishments this year. “But people could make the case; technology is always changing.”

Oh, boy.  Fortunately for space fans, there are some people in Congress who do their homework – and are strong supporters of manned spaceflight.

And as it turns out, many of them are big fans of the Bush “Vision for Space Exploration.”

Among the big supporters is the chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, Gabrielle Giffords – a democrat of Arizona – who is married to NASA astronaut Mark Kelly.

On December 2 she held a hearing on the pros and cons of constellation versus commercial alternatives. And it seems clear where she stands:

“We hope to hear from our witnesses as to whether they believe that the burden of proof should be put on those who would propose alternatives to the Constellation program to demonstrate that their systems will be at least as safe as Ares/Orion. Alternatively, do they think it would it be acceptable to reduce the required level of crew safety on commercially provided crew transport services used to transport U.S. astronauts much below what looks to be achievable in the Constellation program?”

I guess you could call that a loaded question…In any case, if he had been in the room that day – former NASA  Administrator Mike Griffin might have stood up raised his hands and said “Amen!”  OK, well maybe the man who once likened himself to Spock would have been a bit more reserved – but he does firmly believes NASA should press on with Ares and Constellation as it is currently envisioned.

One of the big things he is worried about the the time between vehicles – the infamous “Gap.”  Watch below, or read the transcript of our interview.

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