Saturday, June 29, 2013

We Have Liftoff

Click the arrow to watch NASA Television coverage of the Space Shuttle Atlantis opening.

As Florida Today reports, the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit opened today at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

I didn't have much time to attend, so below are the photos I shot of the event.

Friday, June 28, 2013

XCOR on the Way to KSC

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and KSC Director Bob Cabana announce an agreement to lease the Shuttle runway to Space Florida. Image source: NASA.

UPDATE July 23, 2013 — I finally found a video of this event, on YouTube:

In front of assembled Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex guests and invited media, NASA executives today announced a deal that could bring XCOR to KSC as soon as 2015.

According to the press release, today's event only announced the beginning of negotiations with Space Florida to manage the former Shuttle Landing Facility.

But as Florida Today reports, the deal is to help arrange a lease of the runway and perhaps other facilities to XCOR, Stratolaunch and other potential users.

A fledgling space tourism company intends to begin flying suborbital test flights out of Kennedy Space Center by 2015, officials announced today.

Andrew Nelson, chief operating officer of XCOR Aerospace, said they’ll start with a work force of about 20 to 30 and hopefully build to 150 or more. The number of jobs created will depend on the flight rate out of the 3-mile-long shuttle runway.

The announcement was made outside the new Space Shuttle Atlantis Exhibit at KSC Visitor Complex. The $100 million exhibit is set to open to the public Saturday.

An XCOR representative told me that the deal could not only bring adventure tourism flights to the Space Coast, but also production and refurbishment facilities for the XCOR Lynx. XCOR hopes as part of its business model to act like an airplane manufacturer, selling Lynx spacecraft to entrepreneurs around the world who would launch their own adventure tourism or suborbital spaceflight research business.

Below are photos of the XCOR display outside the KSCVC gift shop. XCOR COO Andrew Nelson is the red-haired gentleman in the first two photos.

Other articles: “Runway to Space — SLF Takes a Commercial Step Forward” “NASA Space Shuttle Runway Gets New Life as Commercial Spaceport”

T-1 Day and Counting

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex prepared the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit today for its formal opening tomorrow. Below are photos of the exterior and other items that will be on display.

You Get What You Pay For

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

Sequestration has claimed the free tours of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station offered by its Public Affairs office.

According to a Florida Today article:

The 45th Space Wing said the suspension of the tours is a direct result of the sequestration from the Budget Control Act, which requires the Department of Defense to cut more than $487 billion from the defense base budget over 10 years beginning in fiscal year 2013.

“We hope to continue the tours in October at the start of the new fiscal year, but there has been no determination of an approved budget from higher headquarters,” said Christopher Calkins, 45th Space Wing public affairs spokesman.

“It's too early to know at this point what the future of these tours holds.”

These tours should not be confused with the Cape Canaveral: Then and Now tour offered by the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. That tour costs $25 on top of $50 admission to the park. The tour differs somewhat from the Public Affairs tour, but essentially they cover the same material.

If you read through KSCVC reviews on, a few people complain that the park and its tours should be free. They seem to think it's all funded by taxpayer dollars. It's not. Not one penny of tax dollars go to the park's operation. The park pays for itself.

For those who want a free ride from Congress, look no further than what just happened to the Public Affairs tour. You get what you pay for.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Day in the Life of XCOR

Click the arrow to watch “The Countdown to Private Spacecraft” on

It's been an interesting 24 hours for XCOR Aerospace.

Founder Jeff Greason Chief Operating Officer Andrew Nelson did a two-part interview on, the online video home of The Wall Street Journal. One segment (above) talked about the XCOR business model, while the second segment (below) talked about pending regulations to prevent XCOR from selling its spacecraft overseas.

Click the arrow to watch “Will Bureaucrats Ground Private Space Before It Launches?” on

This evening, the Orlando Sentinel broke the story that NASA Administrator Charles Bolden will be at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to announce that NASA will lease the former Shuttle Landing Facility to Space Florida, which will make the runway available to private users such as XCOR.

According to the article, “participant flights” could begin as soon as 2015.

Nelson said that a deal to locate at Kennedy Space Center is “99 percent of the way there.”

It doesn't mention KSC — yet — but if you want to book early check out the Space Expedition Corporation brochure marketing XCOR Lynx flights.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Where Were You in 1962?

Click the arrow to watch the video on YouTube.

This little gem surfaced on the YouTube channel for the Air Force Space & Missile Museum.

Titled Saturn: Launch Complex 34, it's a 1962 documentary narrated by Dr. Kurt Debus about the development of LC-34 for the Saturn rocket.

Saturn traces its origins back to the Army Ballistic Missile Agency and the team led by Dr. Wernher von Braun. When they transferred to NASA in 1960, Saturn came with them. It would evolve into the super-heavy lift rocket that would send astronauts to the Moon in the late 1960s.

The Saturn V launched from LC-39 at Kennedy Space Center, but its technology was tested on the Saturn I and IB at LC-34.

The pad was also the sight of the tragic Apollo 1 fire on January 27, 1967.

January 28, 1967 ... ABC News reporter Jules Bergman reports on the Apollo 1 fire.

Another Sneak Peek at Atlantis

Click the arrow to watch the video on YouTube.

This video was posted yesterday on YouTube by the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

Sneak peeks continue. The dedication is Saturday, June 29.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

A Rock and a Hard Place

Because the mission appears to be a costly and complex distraction, this bill prohibits NASA from doing any work on the project, and we will work with appropriators to ensure the agency complies with this directive.

— Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS)
Chair, House Subcommittee on Space

Mr. Palazzo wasn't talking about the Space Launch System — which has no missions or destinations — but about NASA's proposed Asteroid Retrieval Mission (ARM), which would give SLS an actual mission to justify the billions of dollars Palazzo and his colleagues are spending on it.

The continued absurdity that is the House Subcommittee on Space moved Florida Today opinion page editor Matt Reed to pen a column titled, “Moon Trip Cooler Than Saving a City?”

Witness the genius that is our U.S. House of Representatives.

On Tuesday, our space program pitched a surprisingly affordable plan to do something practical for Americans: Intercept an asteroid to spare millions some day from death by fireball or tsunami.

On Wednesday, a House subcommittee responded with a bill to outlaw NASA from trying.

Members of the so-called House Committee on Science, Space and Technology instead want to focus all the money on sending astronauts back to the moon.

Although Palazzo and many of his colleagues continue to demand that NASA redo Apollo — or if that isn't enough phallic symbolism for them, a Mars mission — they still won't put any money behind it, because they know it's unaffordable in an era of trillion-dollar annual deficits.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), the lone sane voice on this body, broke ranks with his colleagues to tell the truth.

. . . [T]his project is going to cost a lot more money, and that money has got to come from somewhere. The tooth fairy isn't going to leave it under our pillow. And all of these talks — we were talking about these other things that NASA does, whether it's inspire young people or whatever it is that NASA wants to do — that's going to suffer and it's going to go into this rocket. But the SLS Titanic, as I like to describe it, but this huge massive rocket that our other witness, Mr. Young, has already stated, he's studied it and it's only got one or two uses that we're going to have out of that rocket ... I think all of this adds up to, we are on the wrong course and we should just get away, cancel this project. It is not sustainable and will drain money from every other thing that we want to do in space eventually.

Rohrabacher obliquely directed his comments to his “colleague from Alabama,” Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), who had introduced a letter from Bush-era NASA Administrator Michael Griffin. The letter claimed that SLS needs even more money than it's already receiving. Rohrabacher pounced on the letter as evidence that SLS would balloon far beyond budget, just as did its predecessor Constellation — which was managed by Griffin. “Seems to me that that should be a warning sign to all of us that this project is going to cost a lot more money,” Rohrabacher said.

Space Coast Rep. Bill Posey (R-AL) asked the two witnesses how long it would take NASA to land a human mission on Mars given current funding. Both witnesses agreed the answer is “never.” He also asked how long it would take given Apollo-era funding — but no one pointed out that Apollo-era funding ($150 billion over the life of the program in current dollars) is not going to happen.

Committee Democrats, in the minority on this panel, raised their own objections. To quote from their press release:

Democratic Members expressed a number of concerns about the bill including that the bill cuts NASA’s overall budget while establishing new requirements and programs; it appears to change NASA's core mission to one of supporting human spaceflight from the multi-mission approach NASA has had since its inception; the “go as we can afford to pay” requirement is inconsistent with the mandated milestones included in the legislation; the Earth science budget is cut by 1/3; there are aggressive goals such as requiring a commercial crew flight to the ISS by 2017, without any mention of safety requirements; and that there is a requirement to establish a “sustained human presence” on the Moon and Mars in spite of sequestration-level budgets.

No NASA executive was invited to this hearing. But that didn't stop the administration from its own offensive.

The day before, NASA held an Asteroid Initiative Industry and Partnership Day at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver made opening remarks, followed by several speakers including NASA associate administrators.

Click the arrow to watch the Asteroid Initiative Industry and Partnership Day.

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, meanwhile, was in Vienna at a meeting of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. He sought to solicit the support and participation of international partners.

Click the arrow to listen to Administrator Bolden's press conference at the U.N. committee meeting in Vienna.

Over on the Senate side, the chair of the Subcommittee on Science and Space, Bill Nelson (D-FL), offered his own remarks after the end of the House hearing.

According to

Nelson made it clear that the Senate bill would differ in some key ways from the House bill. “I’m not going to approve of keeping it at 16.8 [billion dollars], because it would run the space program and NASA into a ditch,” Nelson said, referring to the overall budget authorized for NASA in the draft House bill. He was specifically critical of the earth sciences funding level in the House bill, saying it was “completely wiped out” in the bill. “You think Barbara Mikulski is going to allow that?” he asked, referring to the chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“What we’re going to try to mark up is a balanced program,” he said, citing progress in both commercial crew development and the Space Launch System and Orion programs, as well as science programs, including the James Webb Space Telescope.

Nelson was particularly concerned that the authorization process would become divided along partisan lines, something that has traditionally not been the case for NASA. “The space program was always not bipartisan, it was nonpartisan,” he said. “The question is, are we going to have the ability to mark up a NASA authorization bill other than is it going to be a partisan vote?” Nelson said he was prepared to get a Senate version passed by relying solely on the Senate’s Democratic majority, but hoped that wasn’t necessary.

My opinion, for what it's worth ...

Prior to the birth of C-SPAN in 1979, Congressional behavior largely went unseen by the American public. As bad as it may seem now, it was worse in decades and centuries past.

For example, check out the United States section under “legislative violence” on Wikipedia. The early history of this nation is replete with incidents of physical violence on the floor of Congress.

A 1798 political cartoon depicting a fight on the floor of the House of Representatives between Rep. Roger Griswold of Connecticut and Rep. Matthew Lyon of Vermont. Image source: Wikipedia.

Although physical violence appears to be a thing of the past, extreme behavior is still possible. Vice-President Dick Cheney cursed Senator Pat Leahy on the Senate floor in 2004. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) heckled President Barack Obama during a September 2009 presidential address to Congress.

There's an adage in politics about the distaste of watching sausage being made. That's what it's like watching these congressional hearings. The lies, the smears, the parochial self-interest, the ignorance, the deceptions, the delusions — none of this is new. It's just that now we can watch it for ourselves, thanks to C-SPAN and congressional webcasts.

If anything, the one positive sign I took from this hearing is that some of the representatives might be waking up to the reality that SLS is on an unsustainable course, as was its Constellation predecessor. That might explain Rep. Brooks' over-the-top rhetoric defending his district's pet pork project. Citing Michael Griffin as an authoritative source may not have played well with some members who recall the negative reviews of his managing Constellation, the most critical one in August 2009 shortly after he left office. Titled “Constellation Program Cost and Schedule Will Remain Uncertain Until a Sound Business Case Is Established,” it was a key document in the decision by the new Obama administration to recommend the program's cancellation.

Left unclear to me was the reasoning behind why Rep. Posey asked about the timing for a Mars mission. He didn't call for a huge funding increase to launch Apollo 2.0, but neither did he question the witnesses' comments that a Mars mission would “never” happen under the current funding levels. Perhaps it was a dose of reality for Rep. Posey, that using an Apollo-era paradigm for a 21st Century space agency is not wise.

But it would be a long leap for Posey — who last year claimed that China is planning a lunar military fortress — to call for the cancellation of the SLS, which is the major pork project for his district.

That money would be better spent, as I wrote on June 7 and on other occasions, investing in a new economy that gives birth to a robust U.S. commercial launch and exploration industry.

If I were Mr. Posey, I would take far more pride in knowing I helped midwife the first commercial lunar flight which cost the taxpayer nothing rather than spending tens of billions of dollars trying to relive an event that happened fifty years ago.

The Falcon Heavy, which probably would be the booster for such a mission, will have its first test flight next year at Vandenberg AFB in California. The SLS? On paper, it's the end of 2017, but no one seems to know for sure since it's unclear if Congress will provide the funding in future years to keep SLS on track.

If the Falcon Heavy test flight is successful, Mr. Posey should urge his committee colleagues to throw their support behind commercializing Kennedy Space Center to show the world why our economic system is the powerhouse we claim it is — rather than continuing the fantasy that only the government can build such a rocket with a big bloated bureaucracy and a big bloated budget to match.

The Moon, asteroids and Mars will always be out there. If the objective truly is permanent human exploration and colonization of the solar system, history tells us that won't happen with a government workfare program. It will happen only when entrepreneurs and pioneers set out into the unexplored wilderness.

UPDATE June 23, 2013 — Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), who chairs the House Science Committee, took exception to the Florida Today criticism and wrote this editorial response.

Public Interest Editor Matt Reed’s recent column, “Moon trip cooler than saving a city?” incorrectly said the Obama administration’s proposed Asteroid Retrieval Mission (ARM) is intended to “intercept an asteroid to spare millions some day from death by fireball or tsunami.” This exaggerated statement ignores the facts.

Congress directed NASA in 2005 to identify and track 90 percent of asteroids larger than 140 meters by 2020. Near Earth Objects (NEOs) of this size are ones that could cause significant damage, and NASA still has work to do to accomplish this goal.

The administration’s ARM proposal focuses on much smaller NEOs, from 7 to 10 meters, that are so small they would burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere. Further, any techniques to influence the trajectory of small NEOs would be considerably different than those used to deflect an actual threat to the planet.

The column criticizes a NASA bill that would reject ARM and instead focus on deep space exploration. There is longstanding bipartisan support for a long-term human mission to Mars. Experts have testified that a stepping-stone approach, including a lunar mission, is the most strategic pathway.

The column further claims the ARM proposal is “surprisingly affordable.” But experts at the Keck Institute for Space Studies have estimated such a mission would actually cost around $2.6 billion, significantly more than the administration claims. NASA still has not even conducted a mission formulation review, or developed an independent cost estimate.

The Obama administration’s complete lack of justification for its asteroid retrieval mission is a distraction from NASA’s important mission.

Actually, it's Rep. Smith who ignores the facts.

NASA is not doing the Keck Institute mission. The Asteroid Retrieval Feasibility Study was the inspiration for the NASA proposal, but there are significant differences. And as documented in the above video of the Industry and Partnership Day event, NASA has invited interested parties to help refine the idea.

Smith claims that any techniques used to divert the target asteroid would not be used to divert one headed for Earth. I'm curious what is his factual evidence to back up that claim. Besides, this could be only the first in a series of missions to learn how to work with increasingly complex targets. Using his logic, Congress in 1961 shouldn't have approved the Apollo program because Alan Shepard's Mercury flight didn't land him on the Moon.

Smith also claimed that “experts have testified that a stepping-stone approach, including a lunar mission, is the most strategic pathway” to Mars, but if you watch the video of Wednesday's hearing the two witnesses said the opposite. They specifically said that the current "stepping-stone approach" will never work due to inadequate funding by Congress.

American companies are already planning a commercial lunar enterprise by the end of the decade, led by the Golden Spike Company and Bigelow Aerospace. Rep. Smith should explain why taxpayer dollars should be wasted to go into competition against American business.

UPDATE June 25, 2013In today's editorial column, Florida Today opinion page editor Matt Reed responds to Rep. Smith's letter:

“There is longstanding bipartisan support for a long-term human mission to Mars,” Smith wrote in a letter published Sunday. “Experts have testified that a stepping-stone approach, including a lunar mission, is the most strategic pathway.”

I shared that explanation with FLORIDA TODAY space reporter James Dean, who replied dryly: “What human mission to the moon or Mars?”

A Mars mission remains unfunded and biologically impossible for people. And as Dean pointed out, the Space Launch System rocket will carry an Orion capsule that can’t land anywhere.

Smith and Posey have no problem spending billions on the SLS mega-rocket, believing it can be scaled up later for moon and Mars missions to blast off from the Cape.

Why reject a cheaper robotic mission that could lasso a “city killer” after practicing on a smaller one?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Atlantis' Sneaky Opening

Without advance notice, the Atlantis exhibit opened this afternoon for a “sneak peek” to the public.

Based on the signage, it appears that more unannounced openings will happen leading up to the official dedication on June 29.

Below are photos from the first day of public tours, even if unofficial.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Come See Atlantis

Click the arrow to watch a 22-minute preview of the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit.

As promised, here's the video I shot yesterday during the preview of the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit.

A lot more is inside the exhibit than what I filmed. This is a taste.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Say Hello to Atlantis

I was invited to join a private “soft opening” tour today of the new Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

I filmed a video which is rendering now, and will be posted on YouTube tomorrow. For now, here are photos.