Monday, February 28, 2011

John Logsdon to Speak at BCC Planetarium

Space historian John Logsdon will appear March 11 at the Brevard Community College Planetarium.

John M. Logsdon, author of John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon, is the guest speaker at the Brevard Community College Space & Astronomy Lecture Series.

The venerable space historian will appear on Friday March 11 at 7 PM. The event is at the BCC Planetarium on the Cocoa campus. It's free and open to the public.

I wrote on February 10 that I'm reading the book. I'm about halfway through. Having written here many times about the mythologies of early American space history, I'm finding that much of what I wrote earlier is validated by Logsdon. He adds much more detail, in particular to the political process that led JFK to propose a lunar landing mission.

Friday, February 25, 2011

March Launches

The Air Force X-37B is scheduled for its second test launch on March 4 from Launch Complex 41.

According to the United Launch Alliance web site, two launches are planned from CCAFS in March.

● March 4 Atlas V OTV-2 — the second launch of the U.S. Air Force orbital space plane prototype known as the X-37B. The launch window from Launch Complex 41 opens at 3:39 PM Eastern time.

● March 11 Delta IV NROL-27 — a classified launch of a U.S. National Reconnaissance Office satellite. The launch window from Launch Complex 37 has not been announced.

The next Shuttle launch is STS-134 Endeavour scheduled for April 19 at 7:48 PM Eastern.

ISS to be Run as "National Lab"

Expedition 26 commander Mark Kelly works on the Combustion Integrated Rack (CIR) Multi-user Drop Combustion Apparatus (MDCA) in the Destiny laboratory of the International Space Station. Photo source: NASA.

Aviation Week reports that "NASA is moving to extend use of the orbiting laboratory to other federal agencies, academia and the private sector through a fast-paced competition to select a non-profit manager for oversight of the broad, cutting-edge research agenda envisioned by Congress under a National Laboratory designation."

NASA will furnish transportation for national lab experiments, primarily aboard the planned SpaceX Dragon and Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Cygnus commercial spacecraft, plus electricity, thermal control and about 1,000 hr. of astronaut time annually.

The ISS National Lab manager will be expected to ramp up quickly as the Dragon and Cygnus initiate the transportation services over the next 12-15 months ...

This page on NASA's ISS web site lists published results of experiments conducted on the Space Station.

NASA Not Concerned About Foam Strikes

STS-133 Discovery launches Thursday from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center. Photo source: NASA.

Florida Today reports that NASA believes the foam strikes that occurred during Thursday's launch of Discovery are not a concern.

Launch videos showed a sizeable piece of insulating foam break away from the shuttle's repaired external tank and strike the orbiter's underside nearly four minutes into flight.

But NASA said each of four recorded incidents of foam loss happened late enough during the ascent that they carried very little force and there was no concern about damage.

A later report indicates that a routine inspection will begin today to look for any damage.

Today's work in space will focus on inspections of Discovery's heat shields using a 50-foot boom equipped with cameras and sensors attached to the shuttle's robotic arm. The standard post-Columbia procedure is scheduled to begin around 11 a.m.

Images taken today will be analyzed by teams on the ground for a couple of days, and a closer inspection could be ordered later in the mission if any damage is found.

A foam strike on the left wing led to the destruction of Columbia on February 1, 2003.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bolden: "It's Time for Shuttle to Go"

An interview with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on

"What is not acceptable is the fact that the most powerful nation in the world, the United States of America, finds itself in a situation that we didn't do the proper planning to have a vehicle in place to replace shuttle when it lands its last landing," Bolden said.

Monday, February 21, 2011

House Majority Cuts NASA FY11 Budget by $600 Million

NASA's Fiscal Year 2011 budget began last October. Due to a quirk in the U.S. Constitution, the money for the budget must be appropriated in a separate bill by Congress. Until that happens, Congress passes a "continuing resolution" (CR) to keep the government in operation, essentially extending the prior year's budget, sometimes with targeted additions or cuts.

NASA is currently operating under a CR that will expire March 4. If no new CR is passed by then, theoretically the government could "shut down," although what really happens will be determined agency by agency. NASA's routine administrative activities might close, but STS-133 would still be on orbit and of course so would the International Space Station, so presumably critical employees associated with those missions would continue to work — without pay?! It remains to be seen.

The House of Representatives early Saturday passed a CR (H.R. Bill 1) that if enacted would cut about $600 million from NASA's approved budget. provides this analysis:

The appropriations committee already had cut NASA $303 million below its FY2010 appropriated level. With the $298 million cut in the Weiner amendment, NASA would be cut $601 million from its FY2010 appropriation, giving the agency a total of $18.123 billion for FY2011. Compared with President Obama's request of $19.000 billion for NASA in FY2011, it is a $877 million reduction.

The article states that the Weiner amendment funds were "taken from Cross Agency Support, which funds Center Management and Operations, Agency Management and Operations, and Institutional Investments."

It's unclear whether this will pass. The Democratic majority in the Senate seems inclined to oppose cuts elsewhere in H.R. 1, and the Obama administration might veto it.

If it did pass as written, the cuts would be more draconian because nearly half the budget year has already passed. Here's the math ... Let's say your budget for a year is $1,000. You cut that budget by $300, but you make that decision halfway through your budget year, so you've already spent $500 of that $1,000. That means you'd have to cut $300 from the remaining $500, leaving only $200 to cover the last six months.

If all this isn't wonky enough for you, you might enjoy a Congressional Research Service study of past government shutdowns.

UPDATE February 22, 2011 — This morning's Florida Today reports that Space Coast congressional representatives Bill Posey (R-Rockledge) and Sandy Adams (R-Orlando) voted to support H.R. 1.

The article quotes Posey as saying:

Why would anyone want to yield the ultimate military high ground, which is space, to countries which in the very best of times are not friendly of us?

Posey failed to name just who these countries are, or provide evidence that anyone is "yielding" space to them.

Apparently Posey is also unaware that, by law, military space spending is in the Defense Department budget, not the NASA budget.

The National Aeronautics and Space Act, NASA's founding charter, states:

... [A]ctivities peculiar to or primarily associated with the development of weapons systems, military operations, or the defense of the United States (including the research and development necessary to make effective provision for the defense of the United States) shall be the responsibility of, and shall be directed by, the Department of Defense ...

Friday, February 18, 2011

Bolden: Commercial Space Project Office to be Located at KSC

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden

Florida Today reports NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told their editorial board that the project office for commercial space will be located at Kennedy Space Center.

He said he planned to formally announce "within the next few weeks, if not days" that KSC will be the home of the NASA office that oversees the development and operation of commercial space taxis.

NASA's primary launch operations site never has hosted a human spaceflight project office.

That work historically has been done at Johnson Space Center in Houston or NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., and during Project Mercury, at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.

I fully expect a caterwaul to arise from the Texas congressional delegation to protect their pork funding jobs at Johnson Space Center ... Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), who heads the House Science Committee, was described in a December 13, 2010 Dallas Morning News article as "a guardian of home-state interests and federal programs, including NASA."

UPDATE February 18, 2011 2:45 PM ESTFlorida Today posted the below video excerpt from their Bolden interview:

Two interesting points:

* Bolden said that commercial cargo has priority over commercial crew, because that need comes sooner. He specifically cites SpaceX and Orbital as two candidates for the cargo contract shortly after Shuttle retires.

* The commercial crew competitors will have three years from the date a contract is signed to deliver the first crewed flight. He said he expects that date to be in 2015. Working backward, that would mean the crew contract will be awarded in 2012. He said five competitors already have $50 million awards to develop technology towards that goal.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Will U.S. Air Force Museum Receive an Orbiter?

An artist's concept of a Space Shuttle orbiter on display at the U.S. Air Force museum in Dayton, Ohio.

The Dayton Daily News reports that a provision in the proposed FY 2012 Air Force budget would fund the receipt of Space Shuttle orbiter Atlantis by the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.

The Obama administration asked Congress for $14 million to transfer the space shuttle Atlantis to the Air Force Museum here, a strong sign the Dayton region may land one of three orbiters when they are retired this summer.

Although NASA Administrator Charles Bolden will make the final decision on where to locate Atlantis, the request — tucked deep inside the administration’s 2012 budget — suggests that the White House and the Air Force favor the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force as a final destination for Atlantis.

During a meeting Tuesday night with Rep. Steve Austria, R-Beavercreek, Bolden said he was not aware of the Air Force’s request for money and said no decision on the shuttle would be made before April. But Bolden accepted an invitation from Austria to visit Wright-Patt and the museum before making a decision.

Discovery is reportedly destined for the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., which already has Enterprise. The flight test orbiter would go elsewhere, as would Endeavour.

May 1, 1979 ... The orbiter Enterprise rolls out to Launch Complex 39.

Since Enterprise only flew at Edwards Air Force Base in California, it seems logical to me that Dayton should receive Enterprise, as it's the only orbiter with a pure Air Force connection. The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex also has submitted a bid, so if the budget scenario plays out KSC would receive Enterprise or Endeavour. Enterprise does have some KSC history, having been used for mating tests when the Shuttle launch pads were constructed in the 1970s. But KSC deserves an orbiter that flew in space.

UPDATE February 18, 2011In an interview with the Florida Today editorial board, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said that under federal law he will make the final decision where the Shuttles will be retired.

House Majority Votes to Cut Current-Year NASA Budget $300 Million

Florida Today reports that "The House voted today to take $298 million away from NASA and spend it on local policing."

The vote was part of the process to finally appropriate the funds for the Fiscal Year 2011 budget which began on October 1, 2010. The budget law was passed and signed by President Obama, however under the Constitution the Congress must pass separate legislation to actually fund the budget.

The article concludes:

President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the bill over cuts that he said would “sharply undermine core government functions and investments key to economic growth and job creation."

The Senate and House have until March 4, when a current stopgap sending bill expires, to agree on spending through Sept. 30. Otherwise, the government could shut down.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Day at the Beach

This map shows the location where the below images were taken on February 14.

What better way to spend Valentine's Day than a romantic day at the beach?

Especially when it's a beach at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

My wife and I went to a beach at the end of the old Camera Road Alpha, near the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse and the original launch pads built in 1950. Because you need a badge to access the base, this beach is rarely occupied by more than a couple fishermen and the occasional group of CCAFS employees taking a beach walk during their lunch break.

Below are photos I shot today at the beach.

A pelican dive-bombs into the ocean for a seafood lunch.

The service towers at Launch Complex 17.

Port Canaveral police on patrol.

The Cape Canaveral Lighthouse.

With few beachgoers, sea shells are plentiful.

The word canaveral is Spanish for "a plantation of canes or reeds."

More reeds that gave the cape its name.

At the end of Camera Road Alpha, the bridge leading to the beach.

Reeds growing against the bridge rail.

Launch Complex 17 in the distance.

The breaking surf shot at high-speed (1/4000 second).

The sea gulls rule the beach — until the pelicans move in.

Pelicans flying in formation as they circle looking for a school of fish.

This image of STS-133 was shot from the causeway linking CCAFS to Kennedy Space Center.

Obama Administration Releases Proposed FY12 NASA Budget

Click on the above video to view a summary of the FY12 NASA budget proposal.

The Obama administration today released its proposed Fiscal Year 2012 NASA budget.

It's important to remember this is only a proposal. Congress will determine the final budget and is free to ignore what the administration proposed (as happens every year ...)

This post will be updated with links to analysis as they are published at various sites.

Florida Today "Budget Freeze Slows Rocket Development"

Florida Today "Our Views: Deficit Cutting Reality"

Orlando Sentinel "NASA Budget Picks Fight with Congress"

Washington Post "Budget 2012: NASA"

Space Politics "NASA FY12 Budget: First Look"

Aviation Week "NASA Wants More for Commercial Crew, Technology" "President Obama Freezes NASA's Budget at 2010 Levels"

Space News "President's Budget Freezes NASA at $18.7 Billion"

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Study: NASA Underestimated Shuttle Dangers

STS-1 Columbia launches on April 12, 1981. A new study estimates there was a 1-in-9 chance of a catastrophic event during the mission.

Florida Today reports that NASA underestimated the dangers inherent in the Shuttle design, especially in its early years.

At the time, managers thought there was only a 1-in-100,000 chance of losing a shuttle and its crew. Engineers thought the probability was closer to 1 in 100. But in reality, the odds of a disaster were much higher.

On each of the shuttle's first nine missions, there was a 1 in 9 chance of a catastrophic accident, according to the new risk analysis. On the next 16 flights that led up to and included the January 1986 Challenger disaster, the odds were 1 in 10.

A sidebar lists some of the "close calls," including one in 1998 when John Glenn was aboard. "The drag chute door on the tail of the shuttle fell off at liftoff, striking one of the orbiter's three main engines and creating a breach in the thermal protection system that protects shuttle astronauts during atmospheric re-entry."

I've written many articles here explaining why the Bush administration cancelled the Space Shuttle program in January 2004. Shuttle's fundamental design flaw is that the crew vehicle is mounted on the side of the fuel tank, increasing the risk of exposure to flame (STS-51L Challenger) and falling debris (STS-107 Columbia).

The Bush administration, in response to the findings by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, directed that Shuttle be retired once International Space Station construction is completed, and contracted with Russia to fly U.S. astronauts on Soyuz spacecraft whenever possible as it was deemed a safer system. A front-page article in the January 30, 2004 Florida Today stated, "Some U.S. astronauts, including current space station commander Michael Foale, said they prefer flying on the Soyuz because it has a crew escape system not present on the shuttles."

United Space Alliance recently proposed extending Shuttle through the Commercial Crew and Cargo program. A USA executive said, "It is safe. We have a lot of history, we understand how to operate it."

The evidence is overwhelmingly clear that it is not safe, and this new internal risk assessment is further proof.

We can debate which proposal should be selected as the next-generation vehicle for American human space flight. But the debate over extending Shuttle should end once and for all.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Coming Book Review: "John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon"

I just ordered John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon by John M. Logsdon. The book was released in December.

Logsdon is the former Director of the Space Policy Institute at The George Washington University, and was a member of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board.

I'll write a review when done, so if you want to read along order now.

Here are a few reviews I've found on the Internet:

Coalition for Space Exploration

Washington Monthly

The Charles Homans review in Washington Monthly reaches the same conclusion about Kennedy's motives I've written about in past blogs. To quote Homans:

... Kennedy’s drive to get to the moon existed in a sharply limited context. He was not trying to win the space race to demonstrate ineffable qualities of the American spirit; he was trying to win it to keep the Soviets from winning.

Homans cites the same quote I've cited from Kennedy's November 21, 1962 meeting NASA Administrator James Webb, where Kennedy said, "I'm not that interested in space." Homans wrote that "Webb had been summoned for a dressing-down" after "discord within NASA over the lunar mission" had appeared in an issue of Time magazine.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Posey, Adams: Human Space Flight the "Primary Focus" of NASA

In a press release that appears on both the Bill Posey and Sandy Adams web sites, Space Coast's two members of Congress call for NASA to stop researching climate change and spend the money instead on human space flight.

As House leaders examine ways to cut spending and address the ever growing budget deficits that have plagued Washington for years, U.S. Representatives Bill Posey (R-FL), Sandy Adams (R-FL) and Rob Bishop (R-UT) were joined by several other of their colleagues in calling for a reprioritization of NASA so human space flight remains the primary focus of the nation’s space agency as budget cuts are considered.

As I've noted many times, human space flight under the law is not the "primary focus" of NASA.

The National Aeronautics and Space Act spells out NASA's "primary focus." Nowhere does it require NASA to launch humans into space, to explore other worlds, or even to own its rockets.

I wish Reps. Posey and Adams would actually read the law and stop claiming it says something it doesn't.

UPDATE February 9, 2011 9:15 AM ESTJeff Foust of Space Politics adds his insight into the Posey-Adams letter.

... [T]heir claim that NASA’s core mission is human spaceflight is not supported by other documents, ranging from the National Aeronautics and Space Act from 1958 to the latest NASA authorization act, which declared that NASA "is and should remain a multi-mission agency with a balanced and robust set of core missions in science, aeronautics, and human space flight and exploration" and that "NASA plays a critical role through its ability to provide data on solar output, sea level rise, atmospheric and ocean temperature, ozone depletion, air pollution, and observation of human and environment relationships."

Speaking of Mr. Posey ... The January 31 Florida SpaceReport posted an e-mail from Posey in response to what he claimed was an error by an unnamed blogger who wrote that President Kennedy was not interested in space exploration.

Posey wrote:

The bottom line is that Kennedy did not say, "I'm not interested in space." What Kennedy did say was, "I'm not that interested in space." What did "that" mean? His remark was about adding over $400 hundred million (in 1962 dollars!) more to the space program's budget. Kennedy indicated he was not interested in spending that much extra if we could not beat the Russians. The transcript also indicates it's very clear that Kennedy considered the lunar landing the most important single goal of this nation except for national defense, and he viewed the value of the lunar program as part of our national security. "Now," as Paul Harvey would say, "that's the rest of the story."

In my opinion, Mr. Posey is misinterpreting the gist of the conversation when NASA and federal budget officials met with JFK on November 21, 1962.

I've written about the JFK space mythology many times, most recently on January 23, so you can read the articles at those links and decide for yourself.

In summary, it's clear to me that the only reason JFK proposed the Moon mission was to show the world that American technology was superior to the Soviet Union. He was not a space visionary, and had no interest in perpetuating Apollo beyond completion of what was really no more than a publicity stunt.

As I've previously noted, his May 25, 1961 speech to Congress where he proposed the Moon mission was actually about various spending proposals to stimulate a recessive economy and strengthen the military. The Moon program is proposed near the end — and if you read past the most famous paragraphs, he warns that if Congress is not willing to spend what was necessary to pull off this stunt, it was best not to go. In short, he wanted Congress to take the fiscal responsibility along with him.

Now, that was the context that apparently Mr. Posey overlooked. We are not in a "space race" today, we collaborate with the Russians and other spacefaring nations, and we have no need to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on a global publicity stunt.

I'm all for space exploration, and for a real lunar colonization program, but as JFK warned in May 1961 if we're not serious about it then it's best not to waste the money. That's why Constellation failed.

New Florida Governor Wants to Slash Space Florida Funding

Newly elected Florida governor Rick Scott pledged during his campaign to be "Florida's chief economic development officer." Now he wants to radically slash the budget for Florida's space economic development agency. Photo source:

Florida Today reports that newly elected Republican governor Rick Scott wants to reduce guaranteed funding for Space Florida from $31 million to $10 million.

Funding for Space Florida to improve infrastructure and offer incentives to help lure business to the area would drop significantly under Gov. Rick Scott's proposed budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year.

But the agency would compete for a pool of incentive and development funds the governor plans to consolidate, possibly allowing it to recoup some or all of the agency's proposed $21 million cut, a state lawmaker said.

On his campaign web site, Scott pledged to be "Florida's chief economic development officer."

Local economic development offices are central to job creation and retention in our state. I will ensure these offices have the right resources and trained specialists so they can assist their local businesses obtain state and federal grants, and to comply with state and local regulatory processes in the least costly manner.

Space Florida is an independent statewide special district. According to its web site, this is their mission:

As the State of Florida’s aerospace economic development agency, Space Florida fosters bold economic development activities to expand and diversify domestic and international opportunities that support talent development, enhance infrastructure and support governments and organizations in improving the state’s competitive business climate.

Governor Scott, ironically, is chairman of the Space Florida Board of Directors.

You can draw your own conclusions about whether Scott's budget proposal breaks his promise to be "Florida's chief economic development officer."

But it should be remembered that a governor's budget proposal, just like the President's budget proposal, is essentially meaningless. The state Legislature determines the final budget, which the Governor can sign or veto. The same goes for the President and Congress.

UPDATE February 10, 2011Florida Today comments on Scott's proposal to slash the Space Florida budget:

That’s the worst signal to send with the end of the shuttle program at hand and thousands of workers losing their jobs.

Private space firms drawing up their business plans need certainty and strong assurance that Florida is ready to provide the economic incentives they require to locate here and grow.

KSC, CCAFS Space on "Today in Brevard"

Pat McCarthy (left) and Jim Ball interviewed at the Air Force Space & Missile History Center. Photo source: Florida Today.

According to this morning's Florida Today, the WBCC TV public affairs program Today in Brevard will interview Space Florida Director of Spaceport Operations Pat McCarthy and KSC Planning and Development Office Deputy Manager Jim Ball.

The paper states the air times are 11:35 AM, 4:35 PM and 10:05 PM EST. The program airs on Bright House Channel 5 and DirecTV/Dish Network Channel 68. It does not appear to be available online.

UPDATE February 10, 2011Florida Today columnist Matt Reed published this article that quotes his Q&A with Jim Ball and Pat McCarthy.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

ATK, Astrium Propose Commercial Rocket

An artist's concept of the Liberty commercial rocket.

Florida Today reports American-based ATK and European-based Astrium will submit a joint proposal for a commercial rocket called Liberty, to be partially funded under NASA's Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program.

The first stage would be an ATK five-segment solid rocket booster, and the second stage would be the core stage of an Ariane 5 rocket.

According to an ATK press release:

Liberty would be a two stage launcher able to deliver 44,500 pounds to the International Space Station orbit, which would give it a launch capability to carry any crew vehicle in development. Both stages were designed for human-rating since inception and would enable unmatched crew safety. Since Liberty uses qualified, proven, and reliable systems, the team has planned an initial flight by the end of 2013, a second test flight in 2014, and operational capability in 2015.

"The Liberty initiative provides tremendous value because it builds on European Ariane 5 launcher heritage, while allowing NASA to leverage the mature first stage," said Charlie Precourt, Vice President and General Manager of ATK Space Launch Systems. "We will provide unmatched payload performance at a fraction of the cost, and we will launch it from the Kennedy Space Center using facilities that have already been built. This approach allows NASA to utilize the investments that have already been made in our nation's ground infrastructure and propulsion systems for the Space Exploration Program."

The artist's concept issued with the press release appears to show the Liberty on the mobile launcher originally designed for Constellation, rolling the vehicle to Launch Complex 39-B. That's not specifically stated in the press release, other than the above quote from Mr. Precourt stating they would launch from KSC using existing facilities. Most CCDev proposals would appear to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Private Space

Two articles in the Sunday Florida Today on subjects related to commercialization of U.S. space flight.

"Up for grabs? Private companies eye KSC facilities" reviews efforts by NASA to find businesses that might be interested in leasing facilities at Kennedy Space Center.

Inflatable space station? looks at plans by Bigelow Aerospace to establish its inflatable space station business in the Space Coast — with the right financial incentives.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

USA Bids to Commercialize Shuttle

It ain't over 'til it's over. — Yogi Berra

Florida Today reports that United Space Alliance has submitted a proposal to extend the Space Shuttle program through NASA's Commercial Crew and Cargo Program.

Starting as soon as 2013, after construction of a new external tank, the lead operator of NASA's shuttle fleet proposes to fly twice a year with Atlantis and Endeavour at a cost of less than $1.5 billion a year.

If supported, the plan would reduce an anticipated gap of at least four years between launch of the last shuttle mission this year and availability of new privately run crew taxis, a period during which astronauts will depend on Russian spacecraft to reach the International Space Station.

"We thought this was a good option to be put on the table to be evaluated with all the other commercial options, since it's a vehicle that has really proven itself," said Mark Nappi, head of Houston-based USA's Florida operations. "It is safe. We have a lot of history, we understand how to operate it."

"It is safe"?!

Fourteen astronauts have died on Shuttle. Seven died when STS-51L Challenger exploded 73 seconds after launch on January 28, 1986. Seven more died when STS-107 Columbia was destroyed during re-entry due to a hole in its left wing caused by falling foam impact during launch.

STS-133 Discovery has been delayed for four months, first by a vapor leak, then by a structural weakness in part of the external tank that could have repeated the falling foam problem. After more than 130 launches, the tank still poses a risk to the crew.

I wrote last March about why President Bush cancelled Shuttle in January 2004. The decision was made in the wake of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board report which described Shuttle as "a complex and risky system" with an inherent design flaw — the crew vehicle mounted on the side instead of on top of the rocket, a design used by every other crewed mission in human space flight history.

A report last March estimated that it would take two to three years before a new external tank could be built. In the meantime, about $2.5 billion per year would be spent to keep the Shuttle employees on staff.

After the successful launch in December of the Falcon 9 with a Dragon spacecraft that twice orbited the Earth, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk estimated his company could have crewed flights operational by 2013. Other companies have entered the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) competition, such as the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser.

It seems a colossal waste of time and money trying to extend a fundamentally risky system instead of investing in the future. It's time to let go of Shuttle.

The Right Stuff

The museum at Launch Complex 26 was the blockhouse for the Explorer 1 launch in January 1958.

The Air Force Space and Missile Museum is always in need of volunteer docents to lead tours and host visitors at its History Center.

If you're interested, now is the time to apply. Applicants complete an Air Force form which includes a security background check. Training begins the second Saturday of each quarter; the next orientation will be April 9.

Click here for the application form. You need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the file.

Docents come from many walks of life. Many of the oldest docents worked on space projects at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center in the 1960s and 1970s. Many of the newer volunteers (such as myself) are space enthusiasts.

The volunteer schedule is published by quarter. Some docents work as little as once a month. Others (such as myself) volunteer as often as possible.

Inside the LC-26 blockhouse on January 31, 1958.

Those who like to teach volunteer to lead tours through the museum, which began life as the blockhouse for Launch Complex 26. Its most famous moment was January 31, 1958, when Explorer 1, the nation's first orbiting satellite, was launched from pad 26-B.

The museum is on base and accessible to the public only by the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex guided tour. That's why in August 2010 the museum opened a second site, the History Center, which is located just outside the CCAFS south gate on SR 401. Docents staff the History Center's front desk, orient visitors and help interpret exhibits.

Both sites have gift shops, so if you're not interested in leading tours the museum always needs people to volunteer for gift shop duty.

Click here to see what's for sale at the gift shops.

Because the museum and History Center are owned by the Air Force, the gift shops are run by an independent non-profit foundation. Proceeds are donated to maintain the museum and History Center.

A typical shift at the museum is less than two hours. You arrive about 45 minutes before the KSCVC bus tour (which usually shows up around 1:20 PM). Their stop lasts 45 minutes, then the bus moves on to their next destination so you secure the museum and you're done for the day.

At the History Center, hours vary. The front desk shifts are four to five hours depending on the day.

The museum shifts are shorter but more intense. If you prefer a slower pace, you may want to request a History Center assignment.

What's in it for you?

No money. (Hence the use of the word "volunteer.")

But really nice perks.

As noted above, access to the museum is restricted, so after clearing a background check you're issued a badge that grants you access to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center. You can go to any location that's not restricted (e.g. the Shuttle launch complexes and active launch sites). Many docents use the badge to explore historic sites such as last month when I visited the remains of the Vanguard launch site.

You also receive a one-year Commander's Club pass at KSCVC, retail value $53. This gives you unlimited free access to the Visitor Complex. You also receive six free KSCVC guest passes every six months ($41 value per ticket).

There's also a free Christmas dinner each December at Patrick Air Force Base just south of Cocoa Beach.

The docents meet the first Monday evening of each month at the Tides Club on A1A across from Patrick AFB. Part of the meeting is administrative, but we're implementing a structured guest speaker schedule so you can learn more about American space history.

If you worked at CCAFS or KSC, it's a great opportunity to pass along your knowledge to the public and future generations. If you're a space enthusiast but not particularly knowledgeable about the technical details of every space program widget, don't worry. Your enthusiasm and your willingness to volunteer are what matter. You will be taught what you need to know; tour guides often embellish with their own personal experiences or enhance presentations with their own additional research.

As with any volunteer organization, we're apolitical. Don't confuse what I post on this blog with the opinions of anyone at the museum. We teach history. Politics are left outside the blast door.

I visited the museum as a tourist many times over the years. I always wanted to be one of the docents who safeguards American space history. I moved 3,000 miles for the opportunity, and I'm having the time of my life.

If you think you have the right stuff ... click here to apply.

Friday, February 4, 2011

"Sputnik: The Shock of the Century"

A technician finalizes the construction of Sputnik I in 1957.

Using fear to achieve a political objective is nothing new in American politics. The false claims of health care "death panels" or secret Kenyan presidential birth certificates are just the latest in a long tradition of sensationalism in American politics.

During the administration of President John Adams, the Alien and Sedition Acts were passed to justify the Federalist majority jailing members of the opposition Democratic (now the Republican) party.

A century ago, Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst pioneered ""yellow journalism," which really wasn't that much different from what happened in Adams' time. In the early 19th Century, newspapers were generally published by political parties, or those sympathetic to one particular partisan stripe. One hundred years later, Pulitzer and Hearst (both of whom had close ties to the Democratic Party) ran stories that favored labor and immigrants. Hearst was the basis for the fictitious Charles Foster Kane in the film Citizen Kane.

An example of Hearst's 1898 yellow journalism — a story claiming that American women were strip-searched by Spaniards when visiting Cuba.

So it shouldn't be any surprise that both the media and the press overreacted when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I on October 4, 1957.

That seminal moment in space flight history is expertly explored by author Paul Dickson in his book, Sputnik: The Shock of the Century. First published in 2001, a new edition is due out in March from his publisher, Walker & Company.

The book is complemented by Dickson's web site, The author provided me with an uncorrected proof copy of the 2001 edition.

Dickson's introduction summarizes the event's impact on American culture, and therefore history.

There was a sudden lack of confidence in American technology, values, politics, and the military. Science, technology, and engineering were totally re-worked and massively funded in the shadow of Sputnik. The Russian satellite essentially forced the United States to place a new national priority on research science, which led to the development of microelectronics — the technology used in today's laptop, personal, and handheld computers. Many essential technologies of modern life, including the Internet, owe their early development to the accelerated pace of applied research triggered by Sputnik.

On another level, Sputnik affected national attitudes towards conspicuous consumption as well, symbolically killing off the market for the Edsel automobile and the decadent automotive tail fin. It was argued that the engineering talents of the nation were being wasted on frivolities.

Looking back through the prism of history, I'm left wondering what it is about American culture that sometimes causes us to go a little cuckoo. Our smug sense of superiority seems quite fragile, for we can be stampeded into fear by relatively inconsequential events.

Was Sputnik inconsequential?

From a historical perspective ... of course not. It was the first time humanity launched an artificial satellite into orbit. It fulfilled the dreams of rocket theorists for nearly a century.

But did Sputnik present a clear and present military threat to the United States?

The answer would also appear to be ... of course not.

The Eisenhower administration didn't see Sputnik as a military threat. Its calm amidst the hysteria was interpreted as befuddlement.

Sputnik wasn't exactly a secret, for those paying attention. Both the United States and Soviet Union had agreed to launch satellites as part of the International Geophysical Year. Soviet scientists provided their American counterparts with documents detailing their experiment, and publicized in advance the frequency that could be used to listen to the satellite's "beep beep" signal once it was launched.

Dickson's research showed the main problem was that the Americans simply didn't believe the Russians were capable of launching a satellite into orbit. Russian rocket research was more secretive than their American counterparts. Both programs were rooted in their military agencies, as until the IGY no nation had a purely civilian rocket program.

The Russians had no moral problem with using a military rocket. The R-7 used to launch Sputnik I was an intercontinental ballistic missile. The United States, more concerned about domestic and global opinion, pledged to launch their satellite aboard a civilian rocket. The U.S. rejected the Army's Jupiter rocket (a descendant of Nazi Germany's V-2) in favor of the Vanguard which would be built from scratch by the Naval Research Laboratory. That decision probably led to the Russians launching first; the Jupiter team, led by Wernher von Braun, later claimed they could have launched many months earlier if authorized.

Sputnik 3's payload weighed nearly 3,000 pounds. It was launched seven months after Sputnik I, which had a payload of less than 200 pounds.

If the Sputnik program posed any threat, it was from the demonstration of Soviet ability to launch increasingly large payloads. These rockets were ICBM knockoffs, modified military weapons. The ability to launch a significant payload (Sputnik 3's payload weighed 3,000 lbs.) implied the ability to launch an equally hefty nuclear weapon. But could they target it? And did the United States have retaliatory capability should the Soviets choose to do so?

The White House wasn't concerned. And if truth be told, the Soviets probably knew too that the United States had military superiority. But that didn't stop the Soviets from turning what was supposed to be a modest scientific first into a propaganda campaign, once Americans overreacted.

Dickson devotes an entire chapter to what he calls, "Red Monday." Sputnik I launched on a Friday. Americans had the weekend to contemplate its implications. American politicians and media moguls had the weekend to contemplate how to exploit the event. Dickson's chapter begins:

The public's surprise and awe over the weekend quickly changed to anger and shock as the impact of Sputnik was felt. The weekly newsmagazines helped set the tone: "Red Moon over the U.S.," Time said, editorializing over what it referred to as the "chilling beeps" of the satellite, while Newsweek noted that Moscow "had already given the word 'satellite' the implications of ruthless servitude," asking, "Could the crushers of Hungary be trusted with this new kind of satellite, whose implications no man could measure?"

The evening CBS news telecast claimed that Sputnik proved the Soviet Union now had the power to launch and deliver an "intercontinental ballistic missile with a multi-megaton hydrogen bomb warhead of several thousand pounds."

John Rinehart of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Laboratory told the Associated Press, "I would not be surprised if the Russians reached the moon within a week." The New York Times speculated that the Russians would land on the Moon and discharge "a red paint or dust that would mark an area large enough to be seen from the earth during the full moon."

The official Vatican position was that Sputnik was "a frightening toy in the hands of childlike men who are without religion or morals." One minister told his congregation that Sputnik foretold the Second Coming of Christ.

CBS News journalist Edward R. Murrow suggested after the launch of Sputnik 2 that the United States could no longer negotiate from strength with the Soviet Union.

After the launch of Sputnik 2 on November 3, the media ratcheted up the hysteria to suggesting unilateral surrender. Dickson writes:

Several commentators even suggested that Russia might use its missiles to blackmail the United States into a Cold War surrender. One of America's most influential commentators, Edward R. Murrow, reminded America that it could no longer negotiate from a position of strength and that it was time to accept any plan that afforded the opportunity for peaceful coexistence.

A story ran in U.S. newspapers that the Soviets might explode a nuclear bomb on the Moon's surface to mark the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Dickson cites many more examples of this baseless hysteria. I was struck by the similarities to our era, an era that often suffers from a loss of reason if not common sense.

A frequent claim by some critics of the Obama administration's human space flight progam is that it unilaterally surrenders the heavens to China — even though the Chinese have flown only three orbital flights with no more than two crew members. A letter in the February 4 Florida Today claimed, "If the Chinese establish a lunar base before we do, the high ground will be in the hands of a potentially hostile foreign nation." This echoed the outlandish claims of the late 1950s that the Russians would soon conquer the Moon for the same purpose.

Sandy Adams, Florida's newly elected 24th Congressional district congresswoman, implied in a December 29 editorial that unnamed powers are forcing the United States to launch its astronauts on Chinese rockets.

Recently elected Florida congresswoman Sandy Adams, whose district includes Kennedy Space Center, wrote in the December 29 Daytona Beach News-Journal, "We cannot and should not be forced to rely on the Russians and Chinese to get our astronauts into space." Another sensationalist fantasy. The United States flies no astronauts on Chinese rockets, and using the Russians to get to the International Space Station began with the Bush administration in January 2004.

A revelation for me was Dickson's depiction of Wernher von Braun. He frequently cites examples of the German rocket engineer exploiting his popularity to promote his agenda, at times bordering on insubordination. In Congressional testimony and in media interviews, von Braun said he could have launched a satellite months before Sputnik if only allowed to do so. Dickson notes, as have other historical researchers, that some believe von Braun was denied primacy in the early space flight days because of his Nazi past. Others believe it was due to his working for a weaponry program, that the United States didn't want the world to think our space interests were military in nature.

I was surprised to learn that von Braun initially resisted the Eisenhower administration's plan to merge the Army Ballistic Missile Agency and other government space programs into NASA. He threatened to quit; his commanding officer did. Always looking for assured government funding, perhaps von Braun believed he was likely to receive more money from a military program than a civilian one. His career history would seem to confirm this; his modest Berlin rocketry group could only raise money from the German military. Another factor may have been his observation of the low priority given Project Vanguard because it was a nominally civilian program. Dickson writes that von Braun relented "when he realized that he was being given the bulk of the space agency's space booster systems work and the responsibility for launch operations," and that his team would be transferred intact from ABMA.

Dickson's book concludes with an assessment of Sputnik on history. I look forward to his March 2011 to see whether this final chapter includes a reference to the "Sputnik moment" invoked by President Obama in his 2011 State of the Union speech. Obama called for new investment in biomedical research, information technology, and clean energy technology. Although I support the idea, as I wrote on January 26 I don't think calling it a "Sputnik moment" is the proper metaphor — especially since in my view a "Sputnik moment" equates to overreaction and irrationality.

But its use proves Dickson's conclusion that Sputnik still influences our politics and culture more than half-century later.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser Takes Flight

An artist's conception of the Dream Chaser docked at the International Space Station. Photo source:

The February 1 New York Times published an article about the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser, one of several private sector projects to succeed the Space Shuttle under NASA's Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program.

"Our view is if we could stop buying from the Russians, if we could make life cheaper for NASA, and if we could build a few vehicles that do other things in low-Earth orbit that are valuable, isn't that, at the end of the day, a good thing?" said Mark N. Sirangelo, the company’s chairman.

The article notes that the CCDev competition is currently in its second round. NASA is to announce in March which winners will receive government funding to proceed with their proposals.

After the second round, NASA would like narrow its choices down to two, maybe three, systems to finance.

"We think this is in effect a one-year race to see who gets the furthest," Mr. Sirangelo said, "and at the end of that, presumably the next two years of the authorization bill gets funded, and then you compete for that pot of money."

Bigelow Could Bring 2,000 Jobs to Space Coast

Bigelow Aerospace President Robert Bigelow addressed Space Coast leaders Tuesday at a Cape Canaveral hotel. Photo source: Florida Today.

Florida Today reports that Bigelow Aerospace could bring up to 2,000 jobs to the Space Coast by the end of the decade.

"If I was to say, 'Should the missions launch from Florida? The logic says 'Yeah, they ought to,' " said Robert Bigelow, president of Bigelow Aerospace, who came to Cape Canaveral to talk to about 150 community leaders Wednesday.

"Now, can the politics screw it up? You bet it can. Or maybe somebody raises more (economic development incentive money) than somebody else does and has the kind of facilities people like our company need to have in terms of executing their business."

The article reports that Bigelow called upon Florida to pony up "economic development incentives" to attract the nascent commercial space indsutry, citing as an example New Mexico's $212 million investment in Spaceport America.

I wrote on January 7 that newly elected New Mexico Republican governor Susana Martinez might be inclined to end her state's investment in Spaceport America, which would create an opportunity for the Space Coast.

Given the strong sympathies for the Tea Party in this region, I have to wonder how this open plea for taxpayer subsidies will play.

Newly elected Florida Republican governor Rick Scott's campaign web site calls for incentives "to reward success — rather than punishing it."

Local economic development offices are central to job creation and retention in our state. I will ensure these offices have the right resources and trained specialists so they can assist their local businesses obtain state and federal grants, and to comply with state and local regulatory processes in the least costly manner.

Campaign promises, of course, are meaningless once a candidate is elected, and state government spending will be determined by the Legislature, not the Governor.

For Space Florida, the event was a clear "win" for their marketing strategy. To quote from their "Vision 2020":

"Vision 2020" is Space Florida’s strategy to target 10 commercial markets in the coming years that will fully utilize Florida’s space launch and processing capabilities, existing skilled workforce, and infrastructure assets. These markets are expanding their use of space-based technologies everyday, and Florida plans to become a critical part of the launch, processing, integration and supply chain opportunities that will result.

It was reported last week that NASA may acquire a Bigelow inflatable module for docking at the International Space Station. The NASA Nautilus X project envisions a reusable cislunar and deep space vehicle based on Bigelow technology that would include a centrifuge built from inflatable modules.

If all this comes to fruition, it would launch from the Space Coast. The question is whether those trying to protect the space-industrial complex status quo are willing to let go of the past so the future can begin.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Bigelow to Sign Agreement with Space Florida

Conceptual illustration of a Bigelow inflatable space station. Image credit: Bigelow Aerospace.

Florida Today reports that Bigelow Aerospace will sign a memorandum of understanding today with Space Florida.

An entrepreneur aiming to operate commercial space stations will sign a business development agreement today that could bring new jobs to Florida's Space Coast.

Robert Bigelow, the president of Bigelow Aerospace, will also discuss his company's plans to launch inflatable space station modules on United Launch Alliance Atlas V rockets from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

George Sowers, vice president of business development and advanced programs for ULA, also will address around 100 community leaders during today's meeting at the Radisson Resort at the Port in Cape Canaveral, where Bigelow will sign a memorandum of understanding with Space Florida.