Thursday, June 30, 2011

CNN to Air Special on Commercial Space

CNN has been advertising a program to air on Sunday July 3 at 8:00 PM and 11:00 PM EDT titled "CNN Presents: Beyond Atlantis."

An article on the CNN web site previews the program. The article features Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic and Elon Musk's SpaceX.

The article concludes:

Entrepreneurs, like Branson and Musk, will press forward on their dreams of space travel, driven by competition from other teams vying for the same dollars in this new space economy.

"That's what competition does: It brings out the best in people," Musk said. "That's why we have the Super Bowl. That's why we have the World Series.

"It'd be kind of boring if there was one team."

Here Be a Dragon

An artist's concept of the SpaceX Dragon capsule. Image source: SpaceX.

The SpaceX Dragon capsule that orbited the Earth last December will be on display at the Air Force Space & Missile Museum's History Center through July 10, according to the museum's web site.

To quote from the web site:

The SpaceX Dragon Capsule successfully launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in December 2010, achieved orbit and was recovered, making it the first commercial spacecraft ever to do so. With an additional NASA demonstration flight slated for fall 2011 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), SpaceX will become the first U.S. commercial launch services company to successfully demonstrate and execute U.S. based cargo transport capability to the International Space Station. Dragon is also the first commercially-manufactured, human-rated transport vehicle, and may serve as a critical U.S. asset in the country’s next-generation space exploration initiatives.

The actual SpaceX Dragon from that historic flight will be on display at the Air Force Space and Missile History Center from 2 July 2011 to 10 July 2011. During this period, the History Center will be open extended hours every day (including Monday, July 4th) between 9AM and 5PM.

Return on Investment

An artist's concept of the Boeing CST-100 docking with a Bigelow Aerospace space station. Image source: Boeing Corporation.

NASA has released the first of a series of 60-day reports titled "NASA's Return on Investment Report." To quote from the front page:

The Commercial Spaceflight Development Division at NASA Headquarters will distribute this bi-monthly newsletter of accomplishments, progress, and happenings in NASA’s commercial spaceflight development programs. It will highlight the remarkable returns on the American taxpayers’ investment from NASA’s commercial spaceflight development endeavors being realized every day.

The report states that all participants in the second round of Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) are on schedule — Boeing's CST-100, SpaceX's Dragon, Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser, and the Blue Origin Space Vehicle.

Florida Today Blasts NASA Political Pork

An editorial in today's Florida Today blasts members of Congress for subverting the nation's space interests to deliver pork to their home districts.

... NASA’s first rocket proposal in January was a dud with the agency saying it would cost about $9 billion more than allocated and arrive two years late.

That angered Congress and the battles have worsened with senators trying to carve off pieces of the program to major aerospace companies in their home states to create jobs ...

The national interest demands this spectacle end, but that doesn’t appear likely with members of Congress continuing to inject their parochial interests.

Coming Attractions

The Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle is currently touring the United States.

The Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), née Orion, is currently on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex through the Fourth of July.

According to a June 14 NASA press release:

NASA is inviting the public to view a test version of the agency's next spacecraft that will carry humans into deep space ...

During a test flight in New Mexico last year, a new launch abort system propelled the spacecraft off the launch pad to a speed of almost 445 mph in three seconds. The spacecraft then parachuted to the desert floor.

The test module eventually will be moved to Kennedy's Operations and Checkout Facility for further study.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

House Members Demand NASA Pork

Space Coast representatives Sandy Adams and Bill Posey were among the seven members of Congress who signed a letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden demanding he "stop studying and re-studying NASA's Space Launch System (SLS)" and "report to Congress on NASA's final plan for the SLS."

The seven signatories all represent districts with a NASA space center or major NASA contractor.

NASA delivered a report to Congress in January which concluded that "a 2016 first flight of the SLS does not appear to be possible within projected FY 2011 and out year funding levels." That didn't satisfy certain members of Congress who view NASA as a jobs program for their districts, not a national aerospace research and development agency.

Evidence of this is clear in the letter:

The best and brightest engineers and technicians in human spaceflight are leaving in droves, and we are gravely concerned the Obama Administration will make it impossible to reconstitute the technical capabilities and industrial base necessary to carry out our legislated direction for NASA. We therefore strongly request that you stop studying and re-studying NASA's Space Launch System (SLS), as described in the NASA Authorization Act and the FY 2011 Continuing Resolution, and report to Congress on NASA's final plan for the SLS.

They cite no use for the SLS other than as a backup plan for ISS crew rotation. If that's their intent, it's massive overkill, since a much smaller vehicle is all that's necessary. There's no mention of missions to the Moon, Mars or an asteroid.

One can only imagine the dire consequences if members of Congress had demanded in 1962 that NASA Administrator James Webb and Marshall Space Flight Center director Wernher von Braun stop studying the Saturn V rocket and build it immediately, for the singular goal of employing more people in their districts.

It is astonishing that these members of Congress are so arrogant they think they can design a space vehicle better than the experts.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Articles of Interest

President Obama speaks Friday at a robotics plant in Pittsburgh.

One lap around the Internet ...

USA Today looks back at the Shuttle era in "Before Atlantis' Last Flight, Shuttle Era's Legacy Debated."

Viewed by NASA as some of the most complicated machines ever built, the space shuttles sent probes to Venus and Jupiter, launched and repaired the Hubble Space Telescope and largely built the International Space Station.

The shuttle missions also cost well more than $1 billion a launch, never met their original goal of weekly, inexpensive launches and cost 14 astronauts their lives in two tragedies that shocked and saddened the nation.

I suppose one could also raise similar questions about the Apollo era. It achieved the goal of putting a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s, but it cost about $150 billion in current dollars and in the mid-1960s almost 5% of the federal budget one year. We could endlessly debate whether $150 billion bought its money's worth in national prestige, which was the original justification for the program. It also left a legacy of a pork-laden government jobs program that persists to this day.

Which brings us to a self-congratulatory guest editorial "Blueprint Shows Way to Next Space Frontier" by Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Kay Bailey Hutcheson (R-TX) that appeared in the June 23 Orlando Sentinel.

The blueprint we ushered through the Congress last fall also will help reduce the economic impact of the shuttle's retirement. We made every effort to boost the aerospace industry and take advantage of an extremely skilled NASA work force. We also were able to avoid huge cuts at a time when Congress is slashing across the board.

Creating and protecting jobs, especially those rendered obsolete, isn't the mission of America's space agency. The National Aeronautics and Space Act says nothing about jobs. It does say that NASA was created, "To provide for research into problems of flight within and outside the earth's atmosphere, and for other purposes." But the "other purposes" defined in the act don't include pork for the home districts of the members of the Senate and House space committees.

Am I sympathetic towards those losing their jobs at the end of Shuttle? Of course. I've been laid off three times in my professional career. But I wasn't given seven years' advance notice like the Shuttle workers were; President Bush announced in January 2004 that Shuttle would be retired once International Space Station construction was completed. Well, STS-134 completed construction in May. To quote an infamous Bush moment, "Mission Accomplished."

No one is guaranteed a job for life, especially those who work for government contractors. About 23,000 space jobs were lost in Brevard County as Apollo closed down. It appears that between 7,000 and 9,000 space jobs will be lost due to Shuttle.

This porcine melodrama played out again last week when Hutcheson and Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) demanded documents to prove progress on the Space Launch System. Their committee's obsession with SLS as a jobs program for their states has led critics to dub the program the "Senate Launch System." The committee has failed to tell taxpayers what they intend to do with the rocket. They just want it operational by 2016.

Bart Jansen of the Gannett newspaper chain (which includes USA Today and Florida Today) published an article titled, "NASA: Better Tech Needed to Explore Deep Space". (It's on Page 6A of today's Florida Today but not online yet.) Jansen wrote:

Investments are needed now in new technology to meet President Barack Obama's goal of sending people to an asteroid by 2025 or to Mars a decade later, NASA scientists said Monday.

Congress is debating how much to spend on development of a heavy-lift rocket to reach those destinations versus how much for commercial rockets to ferry people back and forth to the International Space Station.

But even if scientists had a rocket ready to launch, they need to figure out how astronauts could survive in months of low gravity, how astronauts could move around better once they arrive at a destination and how to improve communications.

Bobby Braun, NASA's chief technologist, was with President Obama Friday in Pittsburgh. The President was touring a robotics plant. Jansen wrote:

... [T]he president spoke about the need for more sophisticated robots as part of the country's manufacturing. Obama cited the company RedZone Robotics for making machines that explore water and sewer pipes by remote control.

"To help everyone from factory workers to astronauts carry out more complicated tasks, NASA and other agencies will support research into next-generation robotics," Obama said.

Braun said he was "thrilled to hear the president speak that way about NASA."

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Something Old, Something New

The Sunday Florida Today has several articles related to NASA and Kennedy Space Center.

In a column titled "Politics Won't Stop Space Innovation," John Kelly dishes out plenty of blame for the sad state of today's government space program.

The agency is under assault from Congress for not fielding a shuttle follow-up program. The politicos are too focused on micromanaging the "ship-building" or, more specifically, rocketship-building that best benefits their state or district or — cynics might say — their favorite contractors. Little of their guidance seems focused on what makes the most sense for the United States or humankind.

The big contractors armed with the brightest minds and most experienced aerospace engineers are stuck lobbying politicians and bureaucrats to protect their piece of a multibillion dollar pie, often it seems at the expense of what might make the most long-term sense engineering wise.

NASA purports to spurring competitive innovation, but the dollars devoted to that kind of "commercial" space work are chump change compared to the billions ball-and-chained to old-school projects and contractors.

Kelly foresees "visionaries like Robert Bigelow in Las Vegas and Elon Musk in California" as the way out of the dilemma. I personally agree with him, but I try to maintain a healthy dose of skepticism for any program, government or commercial. SpaceX's multiple delays give me pause, although as Kelly notes, "Draw out a timeline of [Musk's] progress and compare to one for the space agency and its traditional contract model and you'll feel better."

Space beat writer Todd Halvorson explains what will happen if Atlantis arrives at the International Space Station too damaged from falling foam to survive re-entry.

Since Columbia and seven astronauts were lost during atmospheric re-entry in 2003, when heat shield damage went undetected, NASA always has had a second shuttle ready for a rescue mission.

But this time, there's no backup. Atlantis is outfitted with NASA's last shuttle external tank and solid rocket boosters.

So NASA developed an alternate plan: The crew would stay on the station and make staggered returns on Russian Soyuz spacecraft. To accomplish that, NASA would forgo the launch of U.S. astronauts to the station to free up seats on the Russian ships.

The extra launch was planned in 2010 and fulfilled an August 2008 campaign pledge made by Barack Obama in Titusville to "add at least one more flight beyond 2010."

The drawback is that NASA has no more external tanks. ET-138 was intended to be a spare in case of a rescue mission. Now that it's being used for STS-135, there will be no way to launch another orbiter.

Patrick Peterson's "Bracing for Impact of Shuttle's End" observes:

As the last shuttle flight approaches, engineers and technicians are considering leaving Brevard County to continue their careers. They will take their college degrees, their skills and their families with them, leaving the Space Coast with less of the talent pool that officials hoped would be a big draw for companies that can help rejuvenate the economy.

Many more jobs in Brevard County were lost after the end of the Apollo moon program in 1972, and it was nine years until the first Shuttle flight in 1981. About 23,000 jobs were lost at KSC and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station between 1969 and 1974. It's estimated that 7,000 to 9,000 will lose KSC jobs due to Shuttle's retirement.

When I moved here two years ago from California, I was fully aware of Shuttle's pending demise and its potential impact on the local economy. What I still fail to comprehend is why local and state officials waited until it was nearly over to attempt a diversification of the local economy to minimize the impact. Their inertia resulted in trying to address the problem at the same time the nation was struck by the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Having served in local government back in California, I was well aware of the consequences if a municipality is dependent upon one employer. I saw cities go boom and bust along with their primary employer. All I can surmise is that Brevard County leaders failed to learn the lesson of Apollo. But they seem to have figured it out now, better late than never.

UPDATE June 27, 2011A guest editorial by S. Alan Stern in the June 24 Orlando Sentinel echoed my above sentiments.

For too long, the economy of Florida's Space Coast has been too heavily dependent on a small number of huge government projects. This narrow business model calls to mind the adage "if you only own one stock, you probably deserve what you get when it goes down."

Tragically, the state and the nation failed to learn this very lesson when the end of the Apollo program devastated Central Florida's economy in the 1970s, and as a result, the Space Coast is now losing 9,000 shuttle jobs.

Fortunately though, the dawning era of commercial American space efforts is giving rise to a far wider variety of new space systems and projects with refreshingly diverse markets and backers. The opportunity is there to create a Florida space economy that will be far more robust than any in the past 50 years.

Monday, June 20, 2011

America's Space Future is "Clear"

Panelists speak at a June 17 "Florida Forward" space forum in Orlando. Photo source: Orlando Sentinel.

The Orlando Sentinel reported June 17 on a "Florida Forward" space forum held in Orlando.

Its main purpose seems to have been to rebut claims by some that U.S. space policy lacks direction.

NASA has a "clear path" to the future and times will be good again one day at Kennedy Space Center — even though the 30-year space-shuttle program ends in July and the agency has not yet revealed the next goal for its manned spaceflight program.

That was the unanimous opinion of a panel that included U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida and KSC Director Robert Cabana discussing what lies "beyond the shuttle" on Friday. They spoke in the first of a series of forums on Florida's future sponsored by the Orlando Sentinel and the University of Central Florida.

"There is a perception that we do not have a clear path," Nelson said. "The fact is … there is a clear path forward."

The panel cited these developments:

* Commercial cargo and crew that will fly from Kennedy Space Center or Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as soon as 2012 for cargo.

* Evolution of KSC into a "multiuse spaceport" that will support both government and commercial launches.

* Development of the Congressionally designed Space Launch System that would launch from Launch Complex 39 at KSC.

* An increase in space research and development on the Space Coast.

As for jobs:

Cabana said direct employment at Kennedy will slip from about 15,000 to about 8,200 by the end of this year — not including thousands more jobs disappearing from contractors' centers outside the space center's gates. But he said it should climb back to about 10,000 by 2016 or 2017, and then stabilize.

Space Florida president Frank DiBello published a guest editorial in the June 16 Florida Today which commented on the forum's topic.

Today, on the issue of the country’s next-generation space program, Washington is adrift. Congress, the Obama administration and NASA each have articulated a different approach to the nation’s future in space.

Regardless of any final agreement the White House and our nation’s political leadership may make, it is imperative that commercial space remains a key priority for this region’s economic vitality ...

It is incumbent upon our elected representatives to ensure Florida remains at the forefront of national debate when it comes to commercial space, and our state’s political leadership must lead with commitment and one voice.

Regarding the last paragraph, it's my personal impression that "our elected representatives," Sandy Adams and Bill Posey, have shown little enthusiasm publicly for supporting commercial space. Hopefully they'll take action soon that proves me wrong.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

SpaceX Files Lawsuit, Alleges Defamation

Courthouse News Service reports that SpaceX has filed a lawsuit alleging that "its NASA contract to ferry cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station was compromised by a spacecraft safety company's defamatory allegations of mechanical failures and explosions, and it says the allegations were spurred by its refusal to give the defendant a $1 million consulting contract."

"Early in June 2011, on behalf of Valador, Fragola attempted to obtain a consulting contract from SpaceX worth as much as $1 million," the complaint states. "He claimed that SpaceX needed an 'independent' analysis of its rocket to bolster its reputation with NASA based on what he called an unfair 'perception' about SpaceX. SpaceX did not respond favorably to Fragola's offer.

"SpaceX subsequently learned that Fragola - within the scope of his employment at Valador, and by using his email account at Valador - has been contacting officials in the United States Government to make disparaging remarks about SpaceX, which have created the very 'perception' that he claimed SpaceX needed his help to rectify."

The allegations follow another incident two months ago where space industry analyst Loren Thompson made a number of controversial allegations about SpaceX. It was later revealed that Lockheed-Martin, one of SpaceX's rivals, was Thompson's client.

UPDATE June 27, 2011A June 20 article in the Torrance Daily Breeze adds a local flavor to this story:

... [I]n a nugget of advice to new high school graduates, SpaceX founder Elon Musk recently offered his philosophy on dealing with "bullies."

In his quote, in a June 9 Daily Breeze special graduation tab, Musk said: "As for bad advice, my parents advised me to ignore bullies. That doesn't work. You have to punch them on the nose."

SLS Design Advances

Aviation Week reports that NASA is closer to a preliminary design for the Space Launch System, but may introduce an element of competition to the process.

NASA has selected a shuttle-derived vehicle with two existing liquid-oxygen/liquid-hydrogen stages as its reference design for the heavy-lift Space Launch System that Congress has ordered it to build for exploration missions beyond low Earth orbit, but it will hold a competition between liquid- and solid-fuel boosters to get it off the pad.

Administrator Charles Bolden on Wednesday endorsed the basic concept developed by launch vehicle experts at Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), and sent it on to the White House Office of Management and Budget for confirmation.

The confirmation would pit Utah's ATK solid rocket booster maker against "an engine to be developed by Aerojet in Sacramento, Calif., and manufactured by Teledyne Brown Engineering in Huntsville, Ala." according to the article.

It would also pit Utah's senator Orren Hatch against Alabama's senator Richard Shelby and California senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

The revelation helps explain why Feinstein and Boxer sent a June 3 letter urging the booster process be opened to competition. It was followed by a June 10 letter by Shelby urging the booster be competed.

Hatch is chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and is believed to have used his influence to pressure NASA into using the ATK-designed solid rocket booster for the defunct Constellation and the proposed SLS.

It's just more proof that Congress views the government's human space flight program's priority as directing pork to their districts.

UPDATE June 20, 2011 — While I was out of town, the Orlando Sentinel on June 17 published an article about the speculated SLS design.

As soon as next week, NASA will announce the design for its next big rocket, and anyone who has seen the space shuttle should recognize the key pieces — as the vehicle includes much of the same 30-year-old technology ...

That NASA selected this model is not a complete surprise: a 2010 law all but requires agency engineers to reuse shuttle parts or remnants from the now-defunct Constellation moon program, and the design does that. But it also commits the agency's future to hardware — like the main engines taken from the space shuttle — that was designed in the 1970s.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

ISS is What's Next

The orbiter Endeavour docked at the International Space Station on May 23, 2011.

What's next?

It's a very common question asked these days by tourists visiting the Space Coast. Most of them know little about NASA's space program other than the Space Shuttle program is coming to an end.

To answer that question, has posted a lengthy article outlining the capabilities of the International Space Station now that construction is complete.

Following the completion of the STS-135 mission and the end of the Space Shuttle Program in July, the beginning of Expedition 29 in September will mark the official transition into the ISS utilization era, where, unlike in the assembly and maintenance era, a minimum of 35 hours of crew time per week will be devoted to science activities.

The main purpose of the utilization era will be to support space-based scientific research and develop technologies for human exploration Beyond Earth Orbit (BEO).

Among the more exotic ideas, "NASA managers are also discussing the prospect of a beam energy transfer demonstration on the ISS, whereby the ISS would wirelessly transfer electrical energy from itself to an orbiting Falcon satellite."

The ISS is particularly useful for this application due to the large amounts of solar power available via its large solar arrays, which will mean that a beam energy payload can be developed and flown without its own set of large solar arrays, thus reducing the cost and development time of the payload.

The article also describes how the ISS will be used as a testbed for missions Beyond Earth Orbit (BEO).

In order to meet this requirement, NASA’s ISS Program and Exploration Program have initiated the ISS as a Testbed for Analogue Research (ISTAR) project. ISTAR will look to solve Exploration Developmental Test Objectives (xDTOs), which, according to the L2 presentation, are “treated as ISS payloads for manifestation, prioritisation, and potential implementation."

One example is simulating the 20-minute delays that will be experienced with communications between Earth and a Mars-bound vehicle.

As such, for a human BEO exploration mission, the current highly-involved role of Mission Control, which oversees every astronaut activity in great detail, will change to a less-involved role of Mission Support, which will only be called upon by the crew in the event of a major problem. Therefore, astronauts will need to have much more control of their own activities and timelines on future BEO missions.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

(A Few) Republicans Debate NASA

As reported by the Space Politics web site, NASA's future came up in last night's Republican presidential candidates debate in New Hampshire.

Newt Gingrich articulated a detailed position, but no other candidate did. Tim Pawlenty uttered a short and vague comment, but that was it.

It left the impression that human space flight just isn't a priority for most of these candidates, which probably reflects the general sentiment of the nation. As much as many in the space advocacy movement would like to believe otherwise, the reality is that most people like watching rockets launch but aren't willing to invest the time in pressuring their elected officials to make it a priority.

UPDATE June 15, 2011 — CNN's "NASA Insider" adds this perspective on Monday's GOP debate:

After Newt Gingrich's harsh comments about NASA during Monday's night's debate between GOP presidential hopefuls, you'd guess the outrage from the nation's legendary space agency would be deafening.

So far today, all we've heard from Houston and Washington are crickets.

Monday, June 13, 2011

SpaceX Signs Contract for Asian Satellite Launch

Florida Today reports that SpaceX announced a contract with an Asian company to launch a broadband communications satellite.

Thai satellite company THAICOM Plc. signed a contract to launch its Thaicom 6 telecommnications satellite into a geostationary orbit from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The contract brings another international launch to Florida's Space Coast. The satellite is the eighth foreign customer to sign up for a flight aboard the Falcon 9.

The launch is scheduled for the second quarter of 2013.

Engineer Rebuts Apollo Astronauts' Claims

Space engineer and entrepreneur Dennis Wingo has published "An Open Letter to Neil Armstrong, Gene Cernan, and James Lovell" responding to their May 25 editorial which accused President Obama of dismantling U.S. human space flight for partisan political motivations.

Wingo writes:

While it may be that the current administration's plans are not perfect — and a new national debate on space appropriate — these plans stand head and shoulders over the plan that was the latter implementation of the Constellation program. Furthermore, these space veterans have been misinformed pertaining to the reasons for the demise and cancellation of the Constellation program.

Wingo's lengthy rebuttal details the history of Constellation, citing several Government Accountability Office audits warning of the program's problems.

(I've cited those too in past blogs, most notably the August 2009 audit titled, "Constellation Program Cost and Schedule Will Remain Uncertain Until a Sound Business Case Is Established.")

The three Apollo astronauts accused Obama of betraying President Kennedy's legacy. Wingo responds:

It is not that the Obama Administration wants to shut down the Kennedy legacy. Indeed I would argue that ending the ESAS/Constellation, de-scoping the heavy lift vehicle, and enabling the entry of private enterprise into space exploration will bring forth the ultimate expression of that legacy. From a portion of the quoted Kennedy text in the Apollo veterans missive:

"Now it is time to take longer strides — time for a great new American enterprise — time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth."

A question for Apollo veterans Armstrong, Cernan, and Lovell: Can you look at yourself in the mirror and say, without reservation, that the Apollo program, as it unfolded in history, held the key to our future on Earth? To our generation for the most part Apollo was a technical success but a policy failure — if that policy was, as Kennedy stated, that Apollo would be the key to our "future on Earth".

Cernan Urges China to Go to the Moon

Apollo-era astronaut Eugene Cernan at a press conference in China on June 7. Photo source: China Daily.

Last May 25, Apollo-era astronauts Neil Armstrong, James Lovell and Eugene Cernan published a joint opinion column in Florida Today which claimed President Obama was dismantling the U.S. human space flight program for partisan political reasons.

The three warned of "devastating effects to the plans, program and morale of those trying to keep America in the forefront of exploring the universe and expanding the human frontier" and claimed that "America’s leadership in space is slipping."

But when he was in China recently, Cernan said he welcomed a Chinese manned lunar mission, according to China Daily.

Cernan is very confident about the future of space exploration.

"We will go back to the Moon, and I believe we will go to Mars within the next generation and a half, and we will do it as an international community," he added.

Concerning China's lunar landing plan, he said China's space program is very logical.

"I look forward to the day when they can join us with" putting people on the Moon, he told China Daily.

The Obama administration's human space flight strategy that Cernan condemned embraces the spirit of international cooperation Cernan endorsed in China. It extends the operational life of the International Space Station to at least 2020, and studies are under way to see if it can be used through 2028. The ISS is operated by a group of fifteen nations, led by the United States and Russia.

According to a March 17, 2010 Aviation Week article, "Chinese space officials have informally expressed interest in sending their astronauts to the ISS" although since that article was published a year ago nothing more formal seems to have transpired.

Cernan's comments seem to be in conflict — does he want the U.S. to be an equal partner with China and other spacefaring nations, or does he expect those nations to willingly play second banana to a supreme American space program? If the latter, I suspect he didn't say that while in China.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Why NASA Can't Keep to a Budget

Florida Today columnist John Kelly authored today's article looking at why NASA programs always seem to go over budget and fall behind schedule.

For decades, auditors with the Government Accountability Office, the NASA Inspector General, the White House Office of Management and Budget and other independent bodies have consistently offered several broad flaws in the way that big- government space projects are fielded and managed. They've found the same kinds of problems, over and over again, in almost every space project that has blown its budget and launch target.

With each successive audit, NASA and its contractors offer similar explanations about the unique complexity of the missions as well as pledges to make improvements. However, the mistakes are repeated.

The "basic reasons" he says are:

  • Project leaders often lowball lifetime costs of the mission.
  • Project leadership is overly optimistic about its ability to defeat technical challenges and get things done.
  • Agency leadership repeatedly under-budgets reserve money, or at least enough of it.

Kelly concludes, "The pattern hurts NASA's long-term credibility and poses a serious threat to the overall U.S. space program in tight budget times."

"Transformers 3" Sneak Preview at KSCVC

Florida Today reports that Transformers: Dark of the Moon will have a sneak preview June 28 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

Hundreds of people who come to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will be randomly selected to see the new "Transformers" movie on June 28 -- three days before its wide-scale release.

Some scenes of "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" were filmed during a week in October at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

China Has No Human Moon Mission Plans

China's Chang'e 2 satellite. reports that "China's slow but steady human spaceflight program appears focused on steadily increasing experience in low Earth orbit and creating a small space station there."

China's plans for sending astronauts — or "taikonauts" — to the Moon remain unclear. Many statements have been made in Chinese news sources over the years by various Chinese officials or academics that they are or are not planning human lunar missions. This Xinhua story says they have no such plans for now, but as with all such statements in the press, it is difficult to discern government policy. One way to gauge their plans is to look at what they actually are doing and there is no evidence that they are in any rush to send people beyond low Earth orbit.

Space Coast congressional representatives Bill Posey and Sandy Adams have falsely claimed that the Obama administration has ceded space leadership to China which they allege has announced plans to colonize the Moon. They have released no evidence to back up these claims.

Star Trek Exhibit Opens at KSCVC

The Florida Leisure Blog posted on YouTube today a video of the Star Trek exhibits that opened today at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Click the arrow above to watch the four-minute video.

They also have this first day review of the exhibit.

Friday, June 10, 2011

NBC News on Commercial Space

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation sent out an e-mail notifying subscribers of the above NBC Nightly News report titled "Space Race II" on commercial crew development that aired May 29. It runs about 2 1/2 minutes.

The report comments that SpaceX "may be in the lead."

Star Trek Exhibit Opens June 11

Florida Today has more on Saturday's opening of the Star Trek exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

KSC Visitor Complex sales and marketing director John Stine said he expects the exhibit to draw families whose parents may be more familiar with the original TV series, and whose children may be more familiar with the later TV series and movies.

The "Star Trek" exhibit will be the featured attraction of the complex's Sci-Fi Summer, which officials hope becomes an annual event. Sci-Fi Summer runs until Sept. 5, but the "Star Trek" exhibit will remain until the end of October.

Earlier blog: These Are The Voyages

UPDATE June 11, has a brief article about the opening of the KSCVC exhibit.

Florida Bill Would Cut Space Worker Unemployment Pay

Aviation Week reports that Florida space workers could see their unemployment compensation cut if Governor Rick Scott signs pending legislation.

A bill pending before Florida Gov. Rick Scott would count severance pay for laid-off workers when calculating unemployment benefits, a policy that could affect thousands of NASA contractors sidelined by the space shuttle’s retirement.

If Scott, a Republican who supported earlier versions of the bill as it wound through the legislative process, signs the new law, known as HB 7005, the double-pay benefits would stop effective Aug. 1.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Another NASA Cost Overrun for Mars Mission

A NASA artist's concept of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover.

Florida Today reports that "Technical and budget challenges threaten another costly delay to the planned launch late this year of NASA's flagship Mars rover from Cape Canaveral, the agency's internal watchdog reported today."

Click here to read the entire audit report on NASA's web site.

According to the audit overview:

Due to planetary alignment, the optimal launch window for a mission to Mars occurs every 26 months. MSL was scheduled to launch in a window between September and October 2009. However, in February 2009, because of the late delivery of several critical components and instruments, NASA delayed the launch to a date between October and December 2011.

This delay and the additional resources required to resolve the underlying technical issues increased the Project’s development costs by 86 percent, from $969 million to the current $1.8 billion, and its life-cycle costs by 56 percent, from $1.6 billion to the current $2.5 billion. If the Project is delayed to a late 2013 launch window, NASA’s costs would further increase, at least by the $570 million that would be required to redesign the mission to account for differences in planetary alignment and the Martian dust storm season.

The project "has received three budget increases, most recently an infusion of $71 million in December 2010," the auditors wrote. "However, in our judgment because Project managers did not adequately consider historical cost trends when estimating the amount required to complete development, we believe the Project may require additional funds to meet the 2011 scheduled launch date."

The audit notes that "approximately 1,200 reports of problems and failures observed by Project personnel remained open as of February 2011. If these reports are not resolved prior to launch, there is a possibility that an unknown risk could materialize and negatively affect mission success."

I wrote on Sunday about a Florida Today investigative report which concluded that the James Webb Space Telescope, another NASA flagship mission, is billions over budget and years behind schedule. That article followed an October 2010 audit which cited "poor program and cost control practices" and "the lack of effective oversight" by the Goddard Space Flight Center in charge of the program.

UPDATE June 9, 2011Florida Today reports that in response to the audit findings, "a senior project executive told reporters NASA had made significant progress addressing the report's concerns."

"Based on where we are now, we have a very high degree of confidence that we will make that window and don't anticipate any reason that it would slip," said Dave Lavery, program executive for the project at NASA headquarters ...

He said the mission would likely dip into but not exhaust $22 million in reserves already set aside by NASA's Science Mission Directorate, and there were no plans to ask for more money.

SLS: Why Even Build It?

Why even build it?

That's the question posed by Orlando Sentinel reporter Mark Matthews in an article published June 7.

With Congress struggling to control spending, critics are wondering whether the country needs a new spaceship that lacks both a mission and destination except for occasional trips to the International Space Station.

"I don't think we need it. I don't think we can afford to operate it. I think it will be rarely used and expensive to maintain," said Alan Stern, a former NASA associate administrator. "The most likely possibility is that it [the rocket] is unfortunately going to collapse under its own weight in a couple years."

Matthews noted that "One architect of the compromise bill, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., did not respond to repeated requests for an interview to discuss his goals for the new rocket. Nelson, a senior space-policy figure on Capitol Hill thanks to his 1986 flight aboard a shuttle, is running for re-election in a state that will lose 7,000 jobs once the shuttle is retired."

Yesterday's blog: Is Heavy Lift Necessary?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Is Heavy Lift Necessary?

Do we need a Space Launch System?

That's the question posted by author Grant Bonin in an article posted on The Space Review.

Bonin is a member of the research staff at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies.

He writes:

The new Space Launch System (also pejoratively termed the “Senate Launch System”) has the political benefit of sending billions of dollars to former shuttle contractors, and preserving some NASA shuttle jobs. But aside from being a jobs program, SLS can be expected to accomplish little. In the best case, it will probably fail entirely, and in so doing will merely be wasteful; but in the worst case, there is the possibility it might succeed, and lock NASA into using 1970s technology for the indefinite future, while also marginalizing the involvement of commercial launch providers. Under such conditions, a “post-shuttle era” would never really come.

In considering a new rocket for NASA’s (as yet unspecified) future missions, it is worth asking: what is necessary and sufficient for enabling reliable, affordable, and increased human space activities? Is there actually a sound engineering or economic case to be made for a new heavy lift launch system? Or can we accomplish just as much or more with the rockets we already have?

One major conclusion he reaches:

Even for exploration missions, such as to near Earth asteroids, the Moon, or Mars, smaller launchers are similarly equal to the task, with the proviso that at least orbital rendezvous and docking is necessary. Fortunately, NASA has been doing rendezvous and docking for decades, and at this point can comfortably consider it something they’re good at.

Bonin's closing paragraph:

But in this regard, the agency is beholden to Congress. If the United States actually cares about developing space—not just exploring it or studying it, but developing it in earnest, with the end goal of having a large number of people living and working in space—it would mean being able to launch crew and cargo economically. The way to accomplish this is more activity and more competition, with as much commercial involvement as possible. A heavy-lift “Senate Launch System” is not consistent with these objectives, which really just affirms what we already know: that space development is not actually that important to Congress. But hopefully, at the behest of commercial efforts, a day will come when human space activities will flourish regardless of what’s important to Congress.

Florida Today on "NASA's Webb Decacle"

Following up on yesterday's investigative report exposing James Webb Space Telescope mismanagement, Florida Today published today an editorial highly critical of NASA's inability to manage large projects.

The damage to NASA’s credibility is severe and further reduces confidence in the agency’s ability to meet fiscal and launch targets for its post-shuttle manned spaceflight program.

It also shows the wisdom in having commercial space companies push forward to start launching astronauts aboard private space taxis from Cape Canaveral around 2015 rather than relying on NASA.

The last sentence in my opinion is particularly striking. Florida Today, to my recollection, has gradually evolved in favor of supporting commercial crew development, but never been so blunt in concluding that CCDev is necessary because NASA can't do the job.

That conclusion may not go down well with some of their readers, especially those who draw a paycheck from NASA human space flight programs.

Yesterday's blog: JWST Billions Over Budget, Years Behind Schedule.

Monday, June 6, 2011

These Are The Voyages

One of the Star Trek exhibit halls under construction near the entrance to the KSCVC bus tours. Another exhibit will be in the IMAX theater building.

Space, the final frontier ...

Florida Today reports that the Star Trek exhibit will open June 11 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

On Saturday, "Star Trek: The Exhibition," will begin a four-month run, including a massive display of sets, costumes and gadgets like phasers and communicators from more than four decades of "Star Trek."

Visitors will get to sit in the chair that Capt. James T. Kirk, played by William Shatner, sat in when commanding the U.S.S. Enterprise, one of the artifacts that's part of an exhibit replicating the iconic command bridge set from the original "Star Trek" television series.

They also can take a five-minute simulator ride, called "The Star Trek Shuttlecraft Simulator Adventure."

I've been watching this closely. In the late 1980s - early 1990s, I worked free-lance with several companies who had licenses to produce Star Trek memorabilia, so I was often on the Paramount Studios lot and occasionally visited the sets.

I'm told that many of the artifacts to be displayed came from the defunct Star Trek: The Experience attraction at the Las Vegas Hilton. I visited the Hilton many times while in town or just passing through, so I'm looking forward to seeing how many items I recognize.

I shot the above photo last week while visiting KSCVC. The original graphic designs were created by Mike Okuda for Star Trek: The Next Generation. The graphics on the windows of the KSCVC exhibit have several of his in-jokes from many years ago. Look for references to Back to the Future and Buckaroo Banzai. The letters on the "touch buttons" are the first few letters of the first and last names of people who worked on ST:TNG.

KSCVC already has the Star Trek Live show. Originally intended for a short 2010 run, it's become so popular that it's been extended through the end of 2011 and who knows after that. I hope that the Star Trek exhibit finds a permanent home too at KSCVC. What better resting place for artifacts from the final frontier.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

JWST Billions over Budget, Years Behind Schedule

An optical test engineer inspects six telescope primary mirror segments. Photo source:

Florida Today reports that the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is billions over budget and years behind schedule.

Decision-makers initially were told the observatory would cost $1.6 billion and launch this year on a mission to look deeper into space and further back in time than the Hubble Space Telescope, in a quest for new clues about the formation of our universe and origins of life.

NASA now says the telescope can’t launch until at least 2018, though outside analysts suggest the flight could slip past 2020. The latest estimated price tag: up to $6.8 billion. NASA admits the launch delay will push the bill even higher.

And, scientists are worried the cost growth and schedule delays are gobbling up more and more of the nation’s astronomy budget and NASA’s attention, threatening funding for other space science programs.

The article cites an independent audit that revealed the problems.

Click here to read the audit.

Quoting from the audit's executive summary:

The problems causing cost growth and schedule delays on the JWST Project are associated with budgeting and program management, not technical performance. The technical performance on the Project has been commendable and often excellent. However, the budget baseline accepted at the Confirmation Review did not reflect the most probable cost with adequate reserves in each year of project execution. This resulted in a project that was simply not executable within the budgeted resources.

The report cites "poor program and cost control practices" and "the lack of effective oversight" by the Goddard Space Flight Center in charge of the program.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

SpaceX Responds to Lexington Article

Last Month I wrote about a controversial article published on the Lexington Institute web site slamming SpaceX.

The article was written by Loren Thompson, who admits that he writes these analyses to represent his aerospace clients, such as Lockheed-Martin.

The Forbes web site has posted a rebuttal by SpaceX Vice President of Communications Robert Block that calls Thompson's article "distortions, innuendo and outright lies."

... Thompson claims SpaceX is busting its budget. This is completely untrue. Commercial providers only get paid a fixed sum of money when they meet performance-based milestones. By contrast, the Orion capsule, made by Thompson’s benefactors at Lockheed Martin, has already cost upwards of $5 billion, and is still many years and billions of dollars from completion. Compare that to the mere $300 million that NASA has spent to get the Dragon test flight on the Falcon 9 last December.

Space Florida May Take Over Orbiter Hangar

Discovery in Orbiter Processing Facility #3 after completing STS-114. Photo source:

Aviation Week reports that Space Florida is interested in taking over Orbiter Processing Facility #3.

The hangar was formerly assigned to house the orbiter Discovery, which has flown its final mission.

The article states that Space Florida is representing "an unnamed aerospace company."

Friday, June 3, 2011

California Senators Want SLS Put Out to Bid

California senators Dianne Feinstein (left) and Barbara Boxer.

Space News reports that California senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer have sent a letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden urging that the propulsion component of the Space Launch System (SLS) be put out to open bid.

Click here to read the letter on

The senators wrote:

In this time of constrained budgets, it would be inexcusible to funnel billions of taxpayer dollars into a non-competitive sole-source contract for the new Space Launch System. By allowing a competitive process, NASA could realize hundreds of millions of dollars in annual savings, and billions in savings over the life of the program. Furthermore, a competitive process will build capacity and enhance the critical skills and capabilities at a wide range of aesrospace technology companies.

Given that the SLS design was dictated by other members of the U.S. Senate, it would appear improbable, if not illegal, for Bolden to take such a step. Feinstein and Boxer argue there's a loophole:

We believe a competitive process is consistent with the NASA Reauthorization Act of 2010. As you know, this legislation directed the agency to construct a new human rated spacecraft by 2016 while utilizing existing contracts where "practicable." However, NASA itself has already concluded that such a plan is not practicable. The January 2011 report issued by your agency entitled the Preliminary Report Regarding NASA's Space Launch System and Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle concluded that "NASA does not believe this goal is achievable based on a combination of the current funding profile estimate, tradional approaches to acquisition, and currently considered vehicle architectures."

Based on this conclusion, we believe that it is not "practicable" to continue the existing contracts. Instead, we believe that NASA should open a competitive bidding process for the SLS to ensure that the agency obtains the best technology at the lowest possible cost.

Senate Commerce Committee members didn't react well last January to that report, issuing a joint statement which said they didn't care what NASA thought:

We appreciate NASA’s report and look forward to the additional material that was required but not submitted. In the meantime, the production of a heavy-lift rocket and capsule is not optional. It’s the law. NASA must use its decades of space know-how and billions of dollars in previous investments to come up with a concept that works. We believe it can be done affordably and efficiently – and, it must be a priority.

NASA went back to the drawing board. A May 12, 2011 Los Angeles Times article reported that "NASA's latest plan to replace the space shuttle would cost at least $10 billion during the next six years and would utilize recycled shuttle parts, with no guarantee the rocket would be used again."

... [F]or NASA, the plan has the merit of being a cheap — even at $10 billion through 2017 — and easy answer to a congressional mandate to quickly build a rocket out of parts used on the shuttle or developed for the now-defunct Constellation moon-rocket program.

The article noted that SLS is basically a government jobs program:

The intent of the law, championed by Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), was to keep shuttle contractors in business while preserving at least some of the shuttle jobs in Florida, Texas and elsewhere that are set to go away after the orbiter's last flight, now scheduled for June 28. An estimated 7,000 shuttle workers are expected to lose their jobs in Florida alone.

Some may view the Feinstein-Boxer letter as representing the interests of Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX, which announced on April 5 its intention to build the Falcon Heavy, described as the larget rocket in history other than the Saturn V moon rocket. But other aerospace firms also have operations in California.

UPDATE June 4, 2011Aviation Week reports on the Feinstein-Boxer letter:

Since completing the interim study, the agency has been evaluating alternatives to the shuttle- and Ares-based architecture directed in the law, including designs that would utilize liquid oxygen/kerosene propulsion systems. NASA also is weighing potential acquisition strategies for procuring the SLS, including alternatives to extending Ares and shuttle contracts.

Opening the heavy-lift rocket development to competition, however, would likely draw protests from lawmakers who represent states that stand to lose hundreds of millions of dollars when the space shuttle retires with no immediate follow-on program in place. However, competition for the launcher would allow emerging and established aerospace firms – including Los Angeles-based startup Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and Sacramento-based propulsion manufacturer Aerojet – to bid on the SLS program, for which Congress authorized nearly $7 billion through 2013 alone.

UPDATE June 5, 2011Space Politics blogger Jeff Foust adds this analysis of the Feinstein-Boxer letter:

The release of the letter (actually dated May 27) coincided with the announcement that Aerojet and Teledyne Brown Engineering had formed a partnership to develop liquid-propellant rocket engines. The joint release by the two companies specifically notes that they “will pursue contracts for the manufacture of liquid rocket engines for NASA through the Space Launch System program” as well as other, unspecified customers. The agreement got an endorsement from a major congressional supporter of the SLS, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), who told the Huntsville Times, “The Teledyne-Aerojet team could have a critical role to play designing additional elements of the [SLS] system, and I hope NASA looks at their capabilities carefully.” (Teledyne Brown is based in Huntsville, while both Aerojet and Teledyne Brown’s parent, Teledyne Technologies, are headquartered in California, which may explain the senators’ interest in competing SLS components.)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

JFK and Apollo, Upon Further Review

NASA Associate Administrator Robert Seamans, Wernher Von Braun and President John F. Kennedy inspect the Saturn 1 rocket at Cape Canaveral on November 16, 1963. Kennedy was assassinated six days later in Dallas.

I wrote a blog on May 25 about the release by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum of a September 18, 1963 recording of a meeting between Kennedy and NASA Administrator James Webb.

The Library web site released only ten minutes of excerpts online, but was gracious enough to send me the recording of the entire 46-minute meeting.

Click here to listen to the recording. Windows Media Player required.

Dr. John M. Logsdon, the foremost authority on the subject of Kennedy and the space program, published May 31 on The Space Review his review of the entire recording.

In my May 25 blog, I wrote that Kennedy "suggested making Apollo a military program" to conceal that Apollo was, in his own words, "a publicity stunt."

Logsdon's review along with the entire recording show that wasn't a correct interpretation. Logsdon wrote:

What is perhaps the most surprising thing to come out of the tape release is Kennedy's statements that "unless the Russians do something spectacular, the only way we can defend ourselves is if we put a national security rather than a prestige label" on Apollo and that "we've got to wrap around ... a military use for what we’re doing and spending in space" ... At the end of the meeting, Webb offers to bring together a small group of trusted individuals to provide options to the president with respect to giving Apollo a more military aspect, providing what Kennedy had described during the meeting as a "military shield."

Webb offered to step aside so Kennedy could put a "military man" in charge of the Apollo, but Kennedy declined.

I'll also offer the perspective of another book I'm currently reading titled Gateway to the Moon: Building the Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex by Charles D. Benson and William B. Faherty. The book was published in 1978, long before the release of the JFK audio tapes.

The authors on page 144 refer to mid-1963 as "A Time of Reappraisal," noting that various groups were rethinking the wisdom of the Moon program.

... Scientists began to see that the space program made distorting demands on skilled manpower, economic resources, and human determination. And they began to ask if it was really worth doing. Did we have to beat the Russians? Was this the most important scientific effort we could perform? Was NASA perhaps traveling too fast? The President himself seemed to have his doubts when he began to suggest joint space efforts with the Russians.

After Kennedy proposed on September 20, 1963 before the United Nations that the U.S. and USSR explore merging their Moon efforts, he received a letter from Rep. Albert Thomas of Houston, who chaired the House committee in charge of NASA funding. Thomas had used his position to influence directing the Manned Spacecraft Center (now known as Johnson Space Center) to Houston. His letter, according to Benson and Faherty, asked Kennedy "if he had changed his position on the need for a strong U.S. space program. The President replied on 23 September that the nation could cooperate in space only from a position of strength and so needed a strong space program."

This reply would seem to reaffirm Logsdon's interpretation that Kennedy intended no longer to justify Apollo solely on the basis of national prestige, but "a basic need to use technology for total national power" to quote Webb from the September 18 meeting.

Orion Returns

A NASA artist's 2007 concept of Orion landing during a test at White Sands.

A Florida Today opinion article published May 31 noted the resurrection of the Orion crew capsule as "a welcome development for Kennedy Space Center" but criticizes Congress' intent to build the Space Launch System without a destination.

Senior officials announced NASA plans to use the Orion crew vehicle — designed as part of the canceled Constellation moon program — as its new spacecraft to carry astronauts into deep space.

The idea had support in Congress among members trying to salvage parts of the program, and we backed it too as a smart approach to take the best of what Constellation had produced and apply it to the next generation of spaceflight.

It’s a welcome development for Kennedy Space Center because the spaceport had been picked for final Orion assembly under Constellation, and the decision is expected to save several hundred jobs.

The article then notes that the capsule has nowhere to go:

Congress last year ordered NASA to have a new heavy-lift rocket ready for liftoff from KSC in 2016, using a hybrid mix of shuttle and Constellation components. But the agency’s first attempt flopped when officials said it would be at least two years behind schedule and cost $9 billion more than authorized.

The agency is to present a new proposal to Congress soon, and the Orlando Sentinel has reported one option may be a $10 billion test rocket program to run Orion through its paces with no guarantee it would ever fly again.

The article concludes with support of the Obama administration's proposal to shift money from SLS to accelerate commercial launches to the International Space Station.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Atlantis Rolls On

STS-135 with the orbiter Atlantis rolls out Tuesday night from the Vehicle Assembly Building. Photo credit:

Vultures circled above the Vehicle Assembly Building as the gathered crowd waited for STS-135 Atlantis to roll out.

It was a heavy-handed metaphor for the last flight of the Space Shuttle program, but somewhat apt when the rollout was delayed about 30 minutes due to a faulty valve on the transporter-crawler. One wag suggested that technicians hoped to coax one last rollout from the 45-year old crawler.

I filmed the rollout from the nearby VAB parking lot. Click here to watch the seven-minute video. You need Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection to watch.

The video begins with the circling vultures.