Saturday, April 21, 2012

Articles of Interest

Various articles for a soon-to-be-stormy Space Coast weekend ...

Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote a column declaring the retirement of the orbiter Discovery at the Udvar-Hazy Center was a "funeral march" and claimed that in 2010 "control of manned spaceflight was gratuitously ceded to Russia and China."

As with many of these dishonest columns, it included no specific mention of the International Space Station, or the commercial cargo and crew programs.

The White House responded with a blog by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and presidential science advisor John Holdren.

Krauthammer doesn’t even mention the International Space Station. The United States led the planning, design, and construction of this $53 billion marvel – an orbiting science and technology-development laboratory that has been continuously manned since 2000. Under the previous administration’s plan, it was underfunded after 2016, implying intent to abandon it long before its scientific and engineering potential had been realized. Under the new bipartisan space-exploration plans worked out between the Obama Administration and the Congress, we will continue to operate the Space Station until at least 2020 and perhaps beyond ...

Declining to remind readers that it was President Bush, not President Obama who ended the shuttle program (President Obama actually added 2 flights), Krauthammer carps about the Bush Administration’s successor to the Space Shuttle having been canceled in this Administration, but the Bush “Constellation” program as designed was behind schedule and over budget – “unexecutable” in the words of the independent blue-ribbon commission set up by the Obama Administration to review our options. In cancelling Constellation per se, we have kept the parts of it that made sense. A new heavy-lift rocket and multi-purpose crew vehicle  developed out of the Constellation program will be instrumental in carrying U.S. astronauts to an asteroid, to other deep-space destinations, and ultimately to Mars.

If all goes well, we're nine days away from the historic first flight of the SpaceX Dragon to berth with the International Space Station, giving the United States the only vehicle on planet Earth capable of returning cargo from space.  I wonder how Krauthammer and other fibbers will explain that.

Speaking of cargo, reminds us that this flight is also about downmass.

While Orbital’s Cygnus is aiming to join Dragon in resupplying the Station under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract, only Dragon can provide some mitigation to the downmass requirement. Should Dragon’s mission prove to be a success, this downmass ability will be demonstrated on the C2+ mission ...

In total – again pending a fully successful mission – Dragon’s ISS demonstration flight is tasked with returning 660 kilograms of downmass, the most since the final shuttle mission with Atlantis during STS-135.

Once the Dragon is declared operational, the ISS can ramp up commercial research use, and that's the responsibility of the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space.

Space News reports that CASIS is about to unveil a "virtual marketplace" for ISS users "to match would-be researchers with funding sources and business support."

CASIS intends to build an online community seeded by ongoing, closed-door meetings with selected companies and organizations not traditionally affiliated with aerospace but whose focuses dovetail with research already under way aboard the orbiting outpost, such as biotechnology.

Part of the new CASIS website, expected to launch in the next few weeks, will be what CASIS spokesman Bobby Block describes as a “Facebook with a searchable database.”

“You can almost look at it like a social networking aspect, where everybody is tied together, everybody is able to move information back and forth,” Jim Royston, CASIS interim executive director, told Space News. “What we want to make sure is that this is an integrated tool set that we’re developing that really allows all these pieces to connect together.

“We’re not making money on this. We’re there to make all these other people successful and get this emerging market up and running.”

The next step after commercial cargo is commercial crew, and Aviation Week reports that how crew members land will be part of NASA's selection process for a commercial crew vendor.

NASA managers looking for at least two commercial vehicles to take crews to the International Space Station have a choice of techniques for returning astronauts to Earth, from parachute landings on land to a gliding touchdown on a runway.

As they consider system-level proposals for the third phase of the Commercial Crew Program, known as Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap), space agency evaluators are pondering the eventual use of propulsive vertical landing proposed by Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and perhaps the secretive Blue Origin LLC.

Also on the table are the Boeing and Sierra Nevada entries presented at the National Space Symposium here this week, and an as-yet-undisclosed entry by ATK/Astrium based on the proposed Liberty Rocket.

Boeing and Sierra Nevada both plan to use the Atlas V to launch their crew vehicles. The similarity stops there, and landing is a big difference. Boeing’s CST-100 capsule will ride parachutes to an airbag-cushioned land landing at one of three sites in the continental U.S., while the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser can return to a runway landing pretty much anywhere there’s 10,000 ft. of tarmac.

The article notes that Boeing has already selected White Sands and Edwards Air Force Base as two potential landing sites, with a third to be determined.

In closing ... I've started reading Fool Me Twice: The Assault on Science in America by Shawn Lawrence Otto. In his opening chapter, Otto writes that an overwhelming majority of the members of Congress are trained lawyers, but only about 2% have any professional background in science.

Otto also writes that, "There is a long-standing tradition in American newsrooms for editors and news directors to forbid political reporters from covering science and to rarely place science stories on publications' politics pages. Science has been relegated to its own specialized section." But in May 2008, "the Washington Post killed its famed science section." Other media also eliminated science coverage.

The Washington Post may have dropped its science section, but they still publish lies by people with no space background like Mr. Krauthammer.

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