Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Articles of Interest

The replica orbiter Explorer parked at the Kennedy Space Center press site awaits delivery to Houston. Image credit:

Taking a lap around the Internet for articles of interest ...

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will finally rid itself of the replica orbiter Explorer.

Space Center Houston will take custody on June 1, when Explorer will arrive in Houston by barge. KSCVC gave Explorer to Houston's visitor center last fall, before breaking ground on its new orbiter Atlantis museum. Space Center Houston was supposed to pick up Explorer last February, so they're three months late. The name "Explorer" has been removed from the replica.

Video game designer and tourist-astronaut Richard Garriott de Cayeux wrote on his Huffington Post that, "I spent this past weekend at the World Science Festival in Washington D.C. alongside numerous NASA officials, and on a panel discussing the future of spaceflight with Elon Musk of Space X and George Whitesides of Virgin Galactic."

The event was attended by many tens of thousands of students and it was clear that interest in science and space was far from dead. Lockheed Martin (builder of NASA's new Orion spacecraft) was the main sponsor and their new capsule sat center stage. NASA, Space X and the whole pantheon of new commercial contributors were well represented too. It was a festival of the future; it was great to see the enthusiasm for STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) as well as space.

Sadly, while there, I heard yet again, something I have heard from old and young across the country almost every time I give a speech. Just after I finished sharing a presentation of my own trip to the ISS with the many eager conference participants, a young girl of about age 11, came up to me and said "Wow it's so cool you got to go into space, and sad that I will never get the chance because we are no longer going to send astronauts into space." When I told her, that "In fact, we do still send astronauts into space, and new rockets are being built right now, so don't give up your dream of space flight" her face lit up, and she yelled out "Yes!" as she fist pumped into the air.

I get that a lot too, Richard ... I often encounter visitors to the Space Coast who've been duped by certain media and politicians into believing that the U.S. space program is over. Once I explain the truth, they're at first very relieved and then some wonder why they were misled. I wish more people would think about that.

A non-profit called Change the Equation published a study which concluded that science-related jobs survived the recession much better than other professions.

If you were unemployed in the past three years, you probably faced stiff odds. On average, unemployed people outnumbered online job postings by well more than three to one. Yet if you have a strong background in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM), your odds may have been very different. Across the STEM fields, job postings outnumbered unemployed people by almost two to one.

Our analysis of online job postings and unemployment data in the past three years finds that, even in a tough economy, STEM opens doors.

Click here to download the report.

Four-time Shuttle astronaut Tom Jones was interviewed by the Washington Post about his involvement with asteroid mining company Planetary Resources.

To date, no one has figured out how to make money from space. How will Planetary Resources do so?

It begins by finding the resource-rich destinations in near-Earth space. Those are the asteroids. The company’s initial steps will involve a small and affordable search telescope to identify nearby asteroids. The next step will then measure their reflected sunlight to figure out their composition.

Isn’t a lot of this work already being done by NASA? Are there undiscovered asteroids?

Oh, yeah. NASA is funding at about $6 million a year a search program for the largest asteroids, the ones that are global hazards. By accident, we’ve found about 8,500 total near-Earth objects. But we think there are about a million big enough to both be a hazard and a resource, because they do come close to the Earth. So there’s a huge job ahead of finding the undiscovered asteroids. And I think NASA’s funding is such that the pace is too slow. Partnering with the commercial sector is a great thing for the country to do.

Here's a different spin on the notion of commercial space ... MSNBC reports that the European Space Agency wants to develop a "Made in Space" brand.

The European Space Agency is hatching plans for a branding campaign aimed at making people more aware of the benefits of spending their hard-earned taxes on the International Space Station.

The list of products and technologies that have their roots in space research is long, from memory foam to the in-ear thermometer, but in a world struggling to pay the bill from the financial crisis, the billions of dollars spent on space exploration can be challenging to justify.

The branding plan is an indication that space scientists are concerned about cuts to space agency budgets, and worried that their contribution to economic growth is not fully recognized.

Florida Today reports that the interim chief scientist for CASIS believes it's time for the International Space Station to prove it was worth the investment.

But the Brevard County-based Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, or CASIS, says there’s still much work to be done to raise awareness about the lab’s existence and potential commercial benefits, and no guarantee of medical breakthroughs.

“The real tough scientific question is, is it really better in space than on Earth?” said Dr. Timothy Yeatman, the center’s interim chief scientist, of the research environment. “Now it has to be answered, so now’s the time to do that.”

Yeatman led a panel of scientists in reviewing more than 135 biological experiments NASA flew in space over a decade. Of that batch, he said, there were “no real standouts” that definitively proved commercial opportunities.

Click the arrow to watch the Florida Today video. You may be subjected to an ad first.

Space Launch System Project Manager Scott May spoke yesterday before the monthly meeting of the National Space Club Florida Committee. Florida Today reports that the SLS remains on schedule, but just what it will be used for remains undefined.

NASA’s new super-sized rocket will be ready by late 2017 to launch an unmanned Orion spacecraft on a looping mission around the moon and a high-speed return to Earth, a senior agency manager said Tuesday.

A similar mission with astronauts onboard would follow in 2021 from Kennedy Space Center, a flight that will clear the way for a new era of human space exploration.

“From that point, we’ll be ready to go anywhere you want to go in the solar system,” said Todd May, manager of the Space Launch System Program Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. “The question is, ‘Where do you want to go?’ ”

In closing ... If you like to watch sausage being made, then you'll love the debate on the House floor in Washington, D.C. as members propose amendments to further cut NASA's budget. has some of the motions made, but deliberations continue as I write.

Aviation Week reports that Apollo-era astronauts Neil Armstrong, Eugene Cernan and James Lovell signed a letter urging Congress to end commercial crew competition. These astronauts have repeatedly criticized the Obama administration in the past for emphasis on the ISS, prefering NASA concentrate its efforts on returning to the Moon.

The Senate will eventually pass its own budget measure, then the two Congressional houses will go to conference committee to come up with a compromise that will return to both houses for passage or defeat. The federal budget year begins October 1, but considering this is an election year it's unlikely Congress will pass a budget on time. I wouldn't be surprised if they leave it for the next Congress seated in January to pass a budget.

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