Sunday, March 13, 2011

Articles of Interest

Making a lap around the Internet of articles you might find interesting ...

Florida Today columnist John Kelly writes in today's issue that the federal government faces a conundrum — should it continue to subsidize the commercial launch industry here in the United States, or go with cheaper options overseas? In doing the latter, the government might cause the collapse of the U.S. commercial launch industry, costing jobs.

Aviation Week reports that “U.S. spaceflight managers are mapping a course for the International Space Station’s coming decade that they hope will 'seed' a high-value commercial research economy in low Earth orbit, but first they must navigate some treacherous passages on Capitol Hill.” The article notes that “NASA is in discussions with Bigelow Aerospace about using one of its inflatable habitats as a combination orbital testbed/storage space on the ISS.” But it also quotes House Science Committee chair Ralph Hall (R-TX) as saying that his committee's “first priority is to continue with the development of the Space Launch System and Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle.” There continues to be a disconnect between what NASA sees as necessary for our space future and the pork members of the Congressional science committees want to funnel back to their districts. reports that the 8.9 earthquake that struck Japan on March 11 forced their JAXA space agency to evacuate its space center in Tsukuba. The article states that the facility suffered some damage, but the extent is not known. “The space center oversees Japan's Kibo laboratory on the space station, as well the JAXA's unmanned cargo ships that deliver supplies to the orbiting lab. Flight controllers with Tsukuba's Space Station Integration and Promotion Center have been sent home for safety, JAXA officials said.” NASA is handling Japanese ISS interests for the time being.

On a personal note ... Regular readers know my wife and I moved here to Florida in June 2009 from Southern California, where I spent my entire life. We always grew up preparing for “The Big One.” Japan just had its “Big One.” The San Andreas Fault in Southern California is overdue for a major quake that occurs historically about once every 150 years. If and when it happens, the magnitude probably will be around 8.0. Watching the Japan quake footage, I can't help but think that for California this is a preview of coming attractions.

Space News reports that the continued inability of Congress to fund the current year's federal budget could force NASA to delay two top-tier Earth science missions by up to one year. “According to a March 9 laundry list detailing potential program impacts to NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD), the shortfall could delay the Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite 2 (ICESat-2) and Soil Moisture Active and Passive (SMAP) missions while increasing their cost.” The federal fiscal year began on October 1, 2010 and runs through September 30, 2011. We are more than five months into that year, but Congress has yet to pass a FY11 appropriations bill. How does the government function without money? Congress passes a “continuing resolution” that extends the prior year's funding amounts for a limited time. NASA, for example, has been operating on FY10 funding levels since October 1, which is why they continue to work on the defunct Constellation program even though it was cancelled. The Space Politics web site addresses the latest on this folly.

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