Wednesday, July 31, 2013

I'm a Doctor, Not an Astronaut

Astronaut Carl Walz on ISS Expedition 4 with the Commercial Protein Crystal Growth - High Density (CPCG-H) hardware in the U.S. Lab installed in EXPRESS Rack 4. Image source: NASA.

I'm a big believer that one way to appeal to the masses to support space is to demonstrate that microgravity research directly benefits their lives.

Several medical discoveries have already been made, either during Space Shuttle flights or aboard the International Space Station. Some have already been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, while others are in clinical trials.

Here are five you can use the next time someone tells you that space is a waste of time and money.

• Amgen is selling a product called Prolia to treat osteoporosis. It's long been known that bone loss accelerates in microgravity. Astronauts can lose up to 2% of bone density per month in space. Amgen took advantage of that by sending mice into microgravity to test the effectiveness of a medication called denosumab, now marketed as Prolia. The FDA approved the first use of Prolia in June 2010 for postmenopausal women at risk of bone fractures due to osteoporosis. In June 2012, the FDA approved Prolia for men to increase bone mass in those at high risk for fracture.

• Protein crystallization research led to a product sold by Merck called Victrelis that treats Hepatitis-C. Protein crystallization is a process for three-dimensional modelling of the proteins within diseases so scientists can better understand their behavior. Crystal growth is so much more rapid in space that it can reduce the time spent analyzing a structure from years to a few hours. Crystals grown under microgravity were up to 20 times larger than comparable crystals grown on earth. The doomed STS-107 Columbia flight carried an experiment sponsored by Schering Plough (now Merck). According to

When analyzing the results, scientists discovered a crystalline of interferon they had never seen before. They also discovered the crystal was a microgravity product and a new structure of interferon that was more medically effective in combating hepatitis C and produced fewer side effects. Based in large part on this information, Schering Plough reformulated one of its top selling pharmaceuticals, received FDA approval, and the new drug is now being sold.

Called boceprevir, it is now marketed under the name Victrelis. The FDA approved Victrelis in May 2011.

A CASIS video on protein crystallization.

• Protein crystallization also led to a treatment for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. To quote from the NASA web site:

The JAXA and Roscosmos-sponsored investigation Japan Aerospace and Exploration Agency - Granada Crystallization Facility High Quality Protein Crystallization Project (JAXA-GCF), led by Dr. Hiroaki Tanaka of the Japan Space Forum, was a unique collaboration between several ISS International Partners. The inhibitor of human hematopoietic prostaglandin D2 synthase (HQL-79) is a candidate treatment by inhibiting this enzyme upregulated in patients with Duchenne's muscular dystrophy. Investigators used the microgravity environment of the ISS to grow larger crystals of better quality, which allowed them to more accurately determine the 3-dimensional structures of HQL-79 protein complex. The findings led to the development of a more potent form of the inhibitor which is important for the development of a novel treatment for Duchenne's muscular dystrophy.

According to the Muscular Dystrophy Association, in the last year four new investigations into potential treatments are under way thanks to this research.

• An encapsulation experiment performed on the ISS in 2002 led to the development of new cancer treatment processes. Quoting from the NASA web site:

The oncology community has a recent history of using different microencapsulation techniques as an approach to cancer treatment. Microencapsulation is a single step process that forms tiny liquid-filled, biodegradable micro-balloons containing various drug solutions that can provide better drug delivery and new medical treatments for solid tumors and resistant infections. In other words, by using microcapsules containing antitumor treatments and visualization markers, the treatment can be directed right to the tumor, which has several benefits over systemic treatment such as chemotherapy.

A 2002 experiment aboard the ISS used surface tension forces inherent with liquids in microgravity to provide insight into the way microcapsules form here on Earth. In 2003, NuVue Therapeutics obtained an exclusive, world-wide license for the use of these technologies in the biological and chemotherapeutic medical arena. The MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and the Mayo Cancer Center in Scottsdale, Arizona are seeking funding to begin clinical trials of these microcapsules into tumor sites.

• Space Shuttle and ISS research has not only identified what makes salmonella virulent, but may also be used to treat other diseases. A series of experiments on Shuttle flights led to a potential vaccine called Recombinant Attenuated Salmonella Vaccine (RASV), which was then tested in a series of experiments aboard the ISS. As of April 2012, the potential vaccine was about ready for FDA clinical trials.

An example of Salmonella invading cultured human cells. Image source: Rocky Mountain Laboratories via NASA.

The research is by two Arizona State University teams, led by Dr. Cheryl Nickerson and Dr. Roy Curtiss. According to the NASA web site:

Researchers will now evaluate the space-flown strain against the control sample for its ability to protect against pneumococcal infection and changes in gene expression. Molecular targets identified from this work hold promise for translation to develop new and improve existing anti-pneumococcal RASVs to prevent disease for the general public. Moreover, because RASVs can be produced against a wide variety of human pathogens, the outcome of this study could influence the development of vaccines against many other diseases in addition to pneumonia.

Based on the Arizona State research, Astrogenetix and NASA signed an agreement in February 2012 to “continue utilizing the International Space Station (ISS) and to further the development of important on-orbit microgravity vaccines and therapeutic drug experiments.” This includes 28 investigations at the ISS through 2016.

The typical taxpayer is unaware of the benefits from space research. Now you can name five of them. Can you name more?

Monday, July 29, 2013

NASA Begins

Watch on YouTube a video clip about NASA's predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics.

Fifty-five years ago today, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law the National Aeronautics and Space Act.

NASA itself was not born until October 1, 1958. It took a few months to transfer various federal agencies into the new NASA.

At its core was the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). NASA was intended to become an aerospace version of the NACA, but all that changed when President John F. Kennedy proposed on May 25, 1961 that the United States place a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s.

Why was NASA created?

The answer goes back to the International Geophysical Year.

In the early 1950s, as both the United States and the Soviet Union developed rocketry technology not to explore space but to launch bombs at each other, a group of scientists proposed the IGY as a peaceful means of encouraging nations to engage in coordinated observations of geophysical phenomena. The United States and the Soviet Union agreed to participate by launching the world's first artificial satellites between July 1957 and December 1958.

Concerned that using a military rocket to launch a civilian satellite would give the Soviets an excuse to militarize space, the Eisenhower administration approved the Vanguard project. A nominally civilian booster based on sounding rocket technology would be designed by the Naval Research Laboratory to launch the Vanguard satellites.

It was certainly no secret that the Soviets were going to launch a satellite. Soviet scientists provided their American counterparts with documents detailing their experiment, and publicized in advance the frequency that could be used to listen to the satellite's “beep beep” signal once it was launched. How and when was not revealed.

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

When Sputnik I launched on October 4, 1957, the booster was an R-7 intercontinental ballistic missile. The U.S. had its own ICBM in development, the SM-65 Atlas, but it would not be operational for another two years.

Some leapt to the conclusion that this meant the Soviets had a military superiority, but failed to consider whether the R-7 could actually hit a target, much less that the U.S. had intermediate range missiles and nuclear bombers stationed near the Soviet border.

After Sputnik 2 launched with a dog on November 3, 1957, the Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress sensed an opportunity to attack the Republican Eisenhower administration. Senator Henry Jackson (D-WA) called it, “A devastating blow to the prestige of the United States as the leader in the scientific and technical world.” Senate majority leader Lyndon Johnson declared, “Soon, they will be dropping bombs on us from space like kids dropping rocks onto cars from freeway overpasses.” On November 25, 1957, Johnson chaired the opening hearing of the Senate Preparedness Subcommittee investigation into Sputnik.

The hysteria ratcheted again when on December 4, 1957 Vanguard TV-3 blew up on launch live on national television.

December 4, 1957 ... Vanguard TV-3 explodes live on national television.

Vanguard TV-3 was never intended to be a response to the Russian Sputnik launches. It was Test Vehicle 3, the next in a series of tests to validate the Vanguard technology. If it had been successful, it would have placed an inert six-pound ball into orbit. Modest as that was, it would have been America's first satellite. Its failure only provided more fodder for the Democrats.

Entering 1958, both the Eisenhower administration and both houses of Congress were preparing legislation to address the supposed technology gap between the U.S. and U.S.S.R.

The Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library has online a treasure trove of documents related to the decision-making process that led to the creation of NASA.

A March 5, 1958 memorandum documents a meeting Eisenhower had with his staff to discuss an organization “for the conduct of civil space programs.” The recommendation was to “use the NACA, substantially reconstituted and made responsive to Presidential direction.” The memo referred to a “National Aeronautics and Space Agency” as the name of the proposed civilian department.

The memo concludes, “There was some suggestion that a better name than 'agency' might be found for the NASA — 'institute.'” Do you think “Administration” was an upgrade?

The administration and Congress, unlike today, worked together to craft the final legislation. Eisenhower and Johnson met at the White House on July 7, 1958 to hammer out the final details.

After the bill passed Congress, Eisenhower signed it fifty-five years ago today.

During the next few months, the Washington bureaucracy scrambled to consolidate the NACA and various space research agencies from the Defense Department into the new NASA. Hugh Dryden, the NACA director, was named NASA's Deputy Administrator. The administrator for the new agency would be Keith Glennan, who was president of the Case Institute of Technology.

Glennan and Dryden produced an internal film to be used to introduce Glennan to the former NACA employees.

September 1958 film introducing new NASA Administrator Keith Glennan to NACA employees.

It was during that transition period that ambitious young Democratic senator John F. Kennedy (D-MA) gave a speech on the floor of Congress, August 14, 1958. Titled “United States Military and Diplomatic Policies — Preparing for the Gap,” Kennedy claimed that the U.S. faced a “gap” in which its nuclear deterrent would be inferior to the Soviets.

It was an argument he used during the 1960 presidential campaign against Eisenhower's vice-president, Richard M. Nixon.

Once he was elected President, Kennedy was told by military experts that the supposed “gap” did not exist, but of course he would not admit that publicly.

Having pledged to close the gap, Kennedy inherited the non-existent danger, and the danger appeared all the more imminent once the Soviets orbited Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961.

NASA's Project Mercury, approved on October 7, 1958 and announced on December 17, 1958, was a fundamental program to learn the basics about humans functioning in orbit. Mercury could have launched a human before Gagarin, but concerns about the Mercury-Redstone 2 test flight results with Ham the chimpanzee on January 31, 1961 led NASA to conclude they had more work to do before it was safe to launch humans.

Once Alan Shepard launched May 5, 1961 on his 15-minute suborbital test flight, Kennedy felt confident enough to announce his administration's Moon program proposal.

May 25, 1961 ... President John F. Kennedy changes the course of NASA. Video source: John F. Kennedy Library.

If you watch the above excerpt, implicit in Kennedy's proposal is the acknowledgement that he is changing the purpose of NASA. No longer will it be an aerospace research and development agency. It will now be a propaganda organ to show the world that American technology is superior to the Soviet Union.

The speech changed the course of history. And of NASA.

The Sputnik launches, and Yuri Gagarin's orbit, created crises that prodded Congress and the White House to act. The irony is that it was another perceived crisis that led to the creation of the NACA in 1915.

To quote from the NASA History Program Office:

The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) came into being, much like its successor organization, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), in response to the success of others. Even though the Wright brothers had been the first to make a powered airplane flight in 1903, by the beginning of World War I in 1914, the United States lagged behind Europe in airplane technology. In order to catch up, Congress founded NACA on 3 March 1915, as an independent government agency reporting directly to the President.

The fundamental difference is that the NACA was always intended to be no more than an R&D agency which would turn over its research to the private sector and to the military. That was also NASA's role until May 25, 1961, when President Kennedy proposed putting a man on the Moon to enhance American prestige.

That happened on July 20, 1969. NASA has spent the forty-four years since then trying to find its course.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Cosmos: The Next Generation

Click the arrow to watch a trailer for the new “Cosmos” series coming in 2014 on Fox.

For my generation of space geeks, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage remains an iconic awakening to the forces of the universe.

Star Trek made me dream about space exploration. But it was Cosmos that made me think about how these dreams could become reality.

Its creator, Carl Sagan, was arguably the first person (other than perhaps Albert Einstein) to make geekery cool. Cosmos, which aired on PBS in the fall of 1980, made him a national celebrity.

Carl Sagan on the cover of the October 20, 1980 issue of Time magazine.

Ever the citizen activist, Sagan parlayed his newfound fame into creating The Planetary Society, one of the nation's largest space advocacy groups. He offended Creationists by stating in a Cosmos episode, “Evolution is a fact, not a theory. It really happened.” He was arrested twice for protesting nuclear weapons at the Nevada Test Site.

Carl Sagan's cosmic calendar.

Sagan died all too young at age 62, from pneumonia after suffering from myelodysplasia. He died seven months before the release of the film Contact, based on his novel by the same name.

One of Sagan's acolytes was Neil Degrasse Tyson. Sagan tried to recruit Tyson to come to Cornell, but instead he went to Harvard.

Those of us who grew up with the Sagan phenomenon see many similarities in Dr. Tyson, although so far he hasn't gone into citizen activism. We've yet to see Neil chain himself to a pillar outside Congress to draw attention to chronic underfunding of the sciences, for example.

Anyway, Tyson seemed the natural choice when it was decided to do another Cosmos series. Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey will air on the Fox network in the spring of 2014.

I'm disappointed it won't be on PBS, and Fox isn't exactly known for a passionate support of science, but the show's pedigree includes Sagan's original collaborators, Ann Druyen and Steven Soter. Sagan married Druyan in 1981 and they remained together until he died in 1996.

Former Star Trek writer and producer Brannon Braga is also with the new show, as a director and executive producer. Braga joined Star Trek during The Next Generation, so it's only fitting that he would be involved with the next generation of Cosmos.

The trailer at the top of this article was released last weekend at the San Diego Comic Con. It features several homages to iconic moments in the original Cosmos, such as the dandelion, the cosmic calendar and a starship of the imagination.

Speaking of homages ... SCTV aired on July 16, 1982 a parody of a behind-the-scenes tour of the Cosmos set by Sagan, as played by Dave Thomas. A mediocre transfer is on YouTube; watch below.

July 16, 1982 ... SCTV parodies Carl Sagan and “Cosmos.”

Ready to Rumble

A New Shepard test flight at the Blue Origin facility in west Texas posted on YouTube in March 2013. Video source: Blue Origin.

Back on July 16, Space News reported that Blue Origin had submitted a bid to compete with SpaceX for use of Kennedy Space Center's pad 39A.

Other media have dug into the story, and details continue to emerge.

Florida Today reported on July 19 that “NASA was close to an agreement on a 15-year lease of Kennedy Space Center’s pad 39A to SpaceX” when Blue Origin “proposed taking over the pad and equipping it to serve multiple launch providers, including SpaceX.”

Reporter James Dean wrote in the article that United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, had not submitted its own bid but instead “written Blue Origin a letter supporting its concept for Launch Complex 39.”

Today space journalist Alan Boyle reported on that he'd been on an insider tour of secretive Blue Origin's headquarters in Kent, Washington, where president Rob Meyerson spoke in detail about his company's counter-proposal. “Last Thursday's interview marked the first time that a working journalist was admitted into Blue Origin's headquarters, Meyerson and other company representatives said.”

Meyerson said [their West Texas] spaceport would continue to be the base for suborbital operations, but Launch Complex 39A would be used for assembly and launch of orbital spacecraft. Commercial operations, perhaps including flights to the space station, would begin in 2018, he said. Meyerson said it was too early to estimate how many jobs would be created for the Florida operation. Blue Origin currently employs more than 250 people, while SpaceX has more than 1,800 employees.

Blue Origin would run 39A as a multi-use facility, allowing other launch providers to send their rockets into space from the pad for a price. “We're open to everyone,” Meyerson said. “We think we have the technical background and we have the long-term financial commitment to make a multi-user pad at KSC successful.”

Boyle quotes a SpaceX representative as saying they would use 39A for both commercial crew flights to the International Space Station, and for the Falcon Heavy.

Adding more intrigue to the competition is the intervention by two members of Congress who may be representing "OldSpace" interests.

Space News reported on July 22 that Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) and Frank Wolf (R-VA) had sent a letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden claiming that “NASA was planning to let Pad 39A go too cheaply, and for too long a period: up to 20 years.”

UPDATE July 25, 2013 — has published a copy of the Wolf/Aderholt letter. It makes unsubstantiated claims and demands Administrator Charles Bolden defend himself against baseless rumors.

Wolf chairs the House appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, and Aderholt sits on that subcommittee. Aderholt's district is close to Huntsville, home to Marshall Space Flight Center where legacy aerospace companies such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin have an interest in the development of the government's Space Launch System, for which the Falcon Heavy is a competitor. According to, Wolf's campaign received $6,000 from Boeing during his 2012 re-election campaign, and Aderholt received $10,000. Lockheed Martin gave $10,500 to Wolf and $10,000 to Aderholt.

NASA's funding for maintaining 39A ends with the current federal fiscal year on September 30. Boyle writes that “NASA does not have a formal timetable for deciding which bid will be accepted — other than that the space agency wants to make the handover by Oct. 1.”

Left unmentioned in all the debate is future use of LC-39B, which is now a “clean pad” capable of supporting not just SLS but any other vehicle that rolls out on its own custom launcher. The lack of apparent interest by commercial companies in 39B suggests that NASA's hope for a secondary tenant behind SLS won't materialize.

For now, SLS has only two flights on its manifest — an uncrewed test in late 2017, and a notional crew demonstration flight to circle the Moon in 2021. Even with four years between flights, no one seems to have a serious interest in 39B. If Blue Origin is serious about servicing multiple customers, I'm left wondering why they wouldn't be interested in managing 39B for NASA. Perhaps they are, but the bid solicitation was only for 39A. Or it may be that SpaceX's competitors, both OldSpace and New, are joining forces to stop SpaceX from dominating the future launch market.

The next front in the battle for the future of U.S. human space flight is being waged just west of the space center's shore line at the iconic launch facility that sent twelve astronauts to walk on the Moon, and launched eighty-two Space Shuttle missions. No matter who wins, this fight shows that, contrary to what some locals claimed two years ago when the Space Shuttle program came to an end, Kennedy Space Center has a bright future.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Hard Drive's Night

I've been offline for a few days because my computer's hard drive went to the next incarnation on July 19. Hopefully I'll have it back in the next day or two.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Another Suitor for LC-39A

An artist's concept of a Blue Origin orbital reusable booster system. Image source: Blue Origin.

Space News reported on July 12 that SpaceX appeared to be the only bidder to take over Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39A.

It appears that their report may have been premature.

Now Space News reports that Blue Origin also submitted a bid for LC-39A.

Privately owned Blue Origin of Kent, Washington, also responded to a NASA solicitation for proposals for Launch Pad 39A, company president Rob Meyerson told SpaceNews July 16.

“Blue Origin is considering various sites for our orbital launch operations, and submitted a proposal to NASA related to KSC Launch Complex 39A. We look forward to further discussions with NASA and Space Florida about the possibility of bringing our launch and vehicle assembly operations to the KSC area,” Meyerson wrote in an email.

To quote from their web site, “Blue Origin, LLC is developing technologies to enable private human access to space at dramatically lower cost and increased reliability. We’ve adopted an incremental approach, with each development step building on the prior development. We are currently focused on developing rocket-powered Vertical Takeoff and Vertical Landing (VTVL) vehicles for access to suborbital and orbital space.”

Their web site shows plans for both orbital and suborbital vehicles.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Walk on the Wild Side

Click the arrow to watch on YouTube an excerpt from the aborted spacewalk.

Today's International Space Station spacewalk was terminated an hour into the flight when water began leaking into the helmet of European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano.

Parmitano reported he felt water collecting on the back of his head. In the weightless environment, it began to float inside the helmet and eventually entered his eyes, nose and ears.

According to Florida Today:

Parmitano was told to head back into the U.S. Quest airlock, and [NASA astronaut Chris] Cassidy followed. Once inside, it appeared the water leak caused the communication system in Parmitano’s suit to fail. He apparently could not hear questions about his condition.

“Squeeze my hand if you’re fine,” Cassidy told Parmitano. “He looks fine. He looks miserable. But he’s okay.”

U.S. astronaut Karen Nyberg and two Russian cosmonauts, Pavel Vinogradov and Fyodor Yutchikhin, scrambled to remove Parmitano’s helmet once he was back inside the station. They used towel to soak up water blobs that floated from the helmet. reports that Parmitano's water bag has been ruled out as a source. “Engineers are still evaluating root cause, but noted the potential for what Luca classed as 'funny tasting' water was because it may have mixed with the anti-fogging material on his visor. However, where the water came from is still unknown.”

UPDATE July 16, 2013 9:15 PM EDT — Retired astronaut Tom Jones offers this analysis of today's incident on the Popular Mechanics web site.

UPDATE July 17, 2013 — NASA has posted on YouTube a video of yesterday afternoon's press conference about the aborted spacewalk:

Click the arrow to watch the NASA press conference.

Below is a roundup of articles about the spacewalk:

Associated Press “Spacewalk Aborted After Water Leak In Helmet Drenches Astronaut Luca Parmitano”

Associated Press “NASA Still Perplexed by Astronaut's Flooded Helmet”

Aviation Week “Space Station Spacewalk Cut Short by Space Suit Water Leak”

CNN “NASA Cuts Spacewalk Short” “Water Leak in Astronaut's Helmet Cuts Short Space Station Spacewalk”

Florida Today “Spacewalk Emergency Highlights Dangers of Living on ISS”

Los Angeles Times “Serious Leak in Spacewalking Astronaut's Helmet Wasn't Drinking Water” “EVA-23 Terminated to Parmitano EMU Issue”

Popular Mechanics “ISS Astronauts Have a Spacewalking Close Call”

Reuters “NASA Aborts Spacewalk after Leak into Astronaut's Helmet” “NASA Investigating Mysterious Spacewalk-Ending Water Leak” “Spacewalk Aborted by Spacesuit Water Leak”

Monday, July 15, 2013

A Dreary Day at the Beach

You need a badge to enter Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, so it's no surprise that few people can be found on its pristine beaches.

Even fewer were out today, probably because it was overcast with scattered showers.

The overcast made for boring photography, but these photos show you what it's like at the beach off Camera Road Alpha, just south of the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Space Coast's Golden Spike

Click the arrow to watch the Golden Spike promotional video.

The Denver Post reported July 12 that Florida and Texas are courting The Golden Spike Company to move operations to their states. Golden Spike hopes to send privately funded human expeditions to the moon by 2020.

"I would say (Texas and Florida) are night and day aggressive, in a positive sense, in the way they are courting us," said Alan Stern, president and CEO of Golden Spike. "Whereas, I don't know anyone in Colorado who has contacted anyone on our board. It is as if we don't exist in Colorado."

According to Stern, Florida began supporting Golden Spike in several ways late last year, including monetary investment, and Texas has invited the company into relocation talks.

"Golden Spike is not going to be generating a lot of jobs this year or next year, but it is more of the long-term investment," said Dale Ketcham, chief of strategic alliances at Space Florida. "They may or may not succeed, but there is a certain level of risk capital involved in the process and much of that is based upon the concepts and Alan Stern, who has a high level of credibility."

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Lone Ranger

The STS-135 launch with the orbiter Atlantis on July 8, 2011. The next launch from LC-39A could be the Falcon Heavy.

I wrote on May 19 that I'd had confirmation SpaceX was interested in Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A for the Falcon Heavy.

Space News reported today that their research indicates SpaceX was the only party to submit a bid to negotiate a takeover of the historic launch pad.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) appears to be the only company that put in a proposal to NASA to take over one of the space shuttle’s mothballed launch pads at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.

NASA declined to comment on how many bids it received in response to a solicitation that closed on July 5, but a survey of U.S. launch companies by SpaceNews shows only SpaceX saying it put in a proposal to take over Launch Complex 39A.

The Fixer-Upper

The SpaceX CRS-2 mission launches from Cape Canaveral's Launch Complex 40 on March 1, 2013. Image source: SpaceX.

A big tip of the hat to the Florida Space Development Council for this find.

Posted on the Federal Business Opportunities web site is an invitation to attend a public forum in Colorado Springs “to discuss a potential future concept to convert the Eastern Range (in part or whole) and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) from an Air Force managed range to an FAA-licensed commercial launch site (i.e., a spaceport).”

The concept explores an approach where launch programs (U.S, commercial, civil, and national security space sector launch and test and evaluation (T&E) programs) contract for support services as needed for their missions from an FAA-licensed commercial launch site operator that manages the transportation and utility infrastructure, support services, and range capabilities as a business. This effort is directed by AFSPC Commander as part of a larger Range Capabilities Based Assessment (CBA).

AFSPC is the Air Force Space Command.

The invitation states, “Of significant interest to HQ AFSPC is commercial industry input into the business strategy and execution of this concept.” One-on-one conversations “with interested commercial companies” are offered on Day 2 of the event.

The implications, obviously, are staggering.

It might also render moot the proposal to transfer NASA property near Shiloh to Space Florida so that it can be used for commercial launches. The proposal arose to help commercial companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin avoid duplication of oversight for launches of commercial payloads, as launches from CCAFS launch pads require both FAA and 45th Space Wing approval. If the FAA takes over the Eastern Range, then this might eliminate the duplication driving the Shiloh debate.

The address in Colorado Springs belongs to Booz Allen Hamilton, which provides management and technology consulting for both government and business clients. Their web site discusses how they provide services to defense space agencies.

In tangential news, Air Force Times reported on July 10 that a USAF chief scientist believes the service should emulate SpaceX in its acquisition strategies.

The Air Force’s current acquisition process is incapable of producing innovative systems quickly and affordably, former Air Force Chief Scientist Mark Maybury said in a June 21 report called “Global Horizons: United States Air Force Global Science and Technology Vision.” And the increasing complexity of integrating advanced technology into aircraft such as the F-35 will likely further slow the development process in the future. This “threaten[s] to erode the current decisive technology advantage” the Air Force now enjoys over its adversaries, Maybury said. He retired June 28.

Maybury said the Air Force needs to emulate the rapid prototyping processes used by SpaceX and Scaled Composites, which he said produce aerospace vehicles 50 percent faster than under traditional acquisitions. SpaceX produced the Dragon capsule, which last year became the first commercial vehicle to dock with and deliver supplies to the International Space Station, and Scaled Composites won the Ansari X-Prize for its SpaceShipOne, the first private manned spacecraft.

UPDATE July 14, 2013Florida Today reports details on the proposed privatization of CCAFS.

Meetings this week will explore a major change to that historic role, studying the possibility of privatizing some or all operations at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the Eastern Range, “the nation’s premier gateway to space.”

Under a preliminary concept to be discussed in a public forum Thursday and Friday in Colorado Springs, responsibilities now handled by the 45th Space Wing would be turned over to a spaceport operator approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The article notes that “budget pressures and increasing commercialization of launch activity are driving the Department of Defense to consider the concept seriously, though ideas have been discussed for years.”

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Sausage Factory

Click the arrow to watch the July 10, 2013 House Space Subcommittee hearing on YouTube.

Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.

— John Godfrey Saxe, Poet
(often wrongly attributed to Otto von Bismarck)

The national embarrassment that is the House Subcommittee on Space reached a new low July 10, as porkery mixed with naked partisanship to move NASA one step closer to irrelevance in the future of human space flight.

Voting along party lines, the Republican majority voted 11-9 over the Democrats to approve a bill that would authorize NASA spending for Fiscal Year 2014 at $16.8 billion, about $1 billion less than that requested by the Obama administration. The same amount would be authorized for Fiscal Year 2015, meaning NASA would get no increase the next year for inflation.

The bill continues to underfund the commercial crew program, increasing the likelihood that NASA will continue to rely on the Russian Soyuz for transport to the International Space Station through at least 2017. The administration had requested $821.4 million each year for FY14 and FY15.

Section 201(c) of the bill directed the NASA Administrator to “establish a program to develop a sustained human presence on the Moon and the surface of Mars,” but failed to provide any indication of how they would pay for it. They directed instead in Section 202 that the Administrator shall “develop a Mars Human Exploration Roadmap to define the specific capabilities and technologies necessary to extend human presence to the surface of Mars and the mission sets required to demonstrate such capabilities and technlogies.”

Administrator Charlie Bolden did just that earlier this year when NASA proposed the Asteroid Initiative, but Section 701 of the bill prohibits NASA from doing the mission:

... [T]he Administrator may not fund the development of an asteroid retrieval mission to send a robotic spacecraft to a near-Earth asteroid for rendezvous, retrieval, and redirection of that asteroid to lunar orbit for exploration by astronauts.

The bill declares that rogue asteroids pose a hazard to Earth, but goes on to prohibit NASA from searching for any asteroids 20 meters or less in diameter. The Chelyabinsk meteor is estimated to have been 17 to 20 meters in diameter, so if this committee has its way then NASA would be banned from trying to detect the next Chelyabinsk.

The authors made sure to protect their treasured source of pork, the Space Launch System. Section 203 declares that “the Space Launch System is the most practical approach to reaching the Moon, Mars, and beyond” without offering any evidence to back up that claim. The Golden Spike Company proposes an alternative that uses two Falcon Heavy rockets, but of course that idea doesn't generate any pork for the committee members who represent space centers and legacy aerospace contractors. The Falcon Heavy is scheduled for its first test flight in 2014 at Vandenberg Air Force Base. The Space Launch System is scheduled for the end of 2017, almost three years later.

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), the ranking member from the Democratic party, offered a substitute bill that would have authorized $18.1 billion for FY13 and $18.4 billion for FY14, but it was defeated along party lines.

Edwards claimed that the Republican version would cost jobs in the districts of Republican committee members who represent space centers. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), who represents Huntsville, reacted angrily, claiming that welfare programs were to blame and suggested that the Democrats should offer an amendment that would transfer welfare money to NASA. Since many of us view Space Launch System as workfare for his district, I guess the irony was lost on Mr. Brooks.

Rep. Bill Posey during the June 19, 2013 House Space Subcommittee hearing. Image source: House of Representatives.

Space Coast Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) defended himself with a string of falsehoods:

The President pretty much already devastated the employment at the Kennedy Space Center. When he campaigned in Brevard County, he said he wanted to “close the gap” after he was elected. He would close the gap between the Shuttle program and the Constellation program. But after he got elected, he cancelled the Constellation program. That made the gap eternal. It didn't close the gap.

Let's address Mr. Posey's fibs.

The Space Shuttle program was proposed for cancellation by President George W. Bush on January 14, 2004 after the Columbia accident. Congress agreed, and the clock began on winding down the Shuttle program. As documented by Space Shuttle program manager Wayne Hale, by 2008 most of the contracts had been terminated with vendors for Shuttle parts, and many of them had gone out of business.

In any case, it was well known that by the time Shuttle ended, thousands of jobs would be lost. Those were with contractors, primarily United Space Alliance, a partnership created in 1995 between Boeing and Lockheed-Martin to operate the Shuttle fleet.

Constellation was not going to replace those jobs. It would be years before Constellation would fly. In 2009, it was estimated that the first crewed Ares I flight would be in 2017.

Posey also lied about what Obama said at Titusville in August 2008. Two years ago, I wrote a blog documenting what Obama really said. He said he would speed “the development of the Shuttle's successor.” He didn't say what that successor would be.

By 2009, Constellation was years behind schedule and billions over budget. Both a Government Accountability Office audit and Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee report called into question the sustainability of Constellation without a massive infusion of taxpayer money, and even then it was dubious whether NASA was capable any more of managing such a huge project.

Based in part on the Committee's recommendations, in early 2010 the Obama administration proposed the cancellation of Constellation, to be replaced by funding and accelerating a Bush-era program called commercial crew. Congress ultimately agreed, although it imposed the Space Launch System upon NASA to assure that Constellation pork kept flowing to the districts and states of key members of House and Senate space authorization and appropriations committees.

The so-called “gap” has been around since January 2004. It was part of Bush's Vision for Space Exploration. The funding for commercial crew to close the gap has been cut every year by Congress far below what the Obama administration has requested. This year's bill is no different.

So if Mr. Posey wants to place blame for extending the gap, he can begin by pointing at himself in the mirror. He and his colleagues on both sides of the aisle are responsible for extending the gap by cutting commercial crew funding year after year.

Beyond Posey's fibbing is a more fundamental outrage — the notion that NASA exists primarily to protect jobs in the districts of those on the space committees.

Members of both parties are responsible for this. Rep. Edwards believes it, because she claimed the Republicans were cutting jobs in space districts. The Republicans howled, not denying their motivation was about jobs but because they wanted to shift the blame to President Obama or welfare recipients or pick your own bogeyman.

Rep. Dan Maffei (D-NY). Image source: Wikipedia.

In the midst of this mad tea party was one lone sane voice, Rep. Dan Maffei (D-NY).

Serving only his second term in Congress, and representing a district in upstate New York that so far as I can tell has no tie to NASA pork, he offered what in my opinion was the singular moment of clarity in this farce:

I do feel that both the underlying bill and the amendment in the nature of the substitute have, in my view, too much emphasis on expensive manned space flight, to the possible detriment of unmanned space flight, or also incentives for private sector space flight beyond Earth orbit.

I am concerned that this committee still hasn't done a sober cost-benefit analysis of the true nature of the U.S. government putting forth a goal such as landing human beings on Mars. Why, exactly, are we planning on doing this? Is it for sentimental reasons? Because it's out there? Is it because of parochial reasons in our districts? Is it really for scientific reasons? Because I suspect we get a bigger bang for our buck with unmanned, or with incentives for private sector manned flight. And I remain skeptical of the large, vast scope of federal government-supported manned space flight.

But I will support the substitute, and let me tell you why.

Whatever we want to say about manned flight, and we can have that debate, but to put in the goals of having this manned space flight without the proper funding is not only dishonest, it's also dangerous. Two Shuttle disasters should tell us this. You're essentially setting lofty goals with a pittance behind them.

None of the other members, of course, replied to his questions. I suspect it's because the truth would have been only more sausage for the grinder.

UPDATE July 14, 2013Florida Today published today an edited version of a letter to the editor I submitted criticizing the falsehoods spoke by Rep. Posey during the hearing. Below is my original version as submitted.

Thanks to the Internet, I was able to watch the July 10 House Space Subcommittee hearing in which the Republican majority voted to slash NASA’s proposed Fiscal Year 2014 budget by $1 billion.

Space Coast Rep. Bill Posey falsely claimed that, during a 2008 campaign speech in Titusville, Barack Obama said he would “close the gap” between the Space Shuttle and Constellation programs.

Obama’s campaign speech is on YouTube. It’s clear that Obama said no such thing. He did say he would speed the development of “the Shuttle’s successor.”

Constellation was a failed program. The Ares I was years behind schedule and billions over budget. It would not fly until 2017, and would be funded by retiring the International Space Station in 2015 — meaning Ares I had no place to go.

When he took office, Obama proposed cancelling Constellation to save the ISS. He also proposed accelerating a Bush-era program called commercial crew to close the gap. Congress agreed, but every year Congress has failed to fund commercial crew at the levels requested by the Obama administration.

Posey and his colleagues on both sides of the aisle are responsible for the gap. I wish he would start telling the truth about it.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

By the Sea

Access to Playalinda Beach is on State Route 402 through the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Click here for an interactive map. Image source: National Park Service.

Canaveral National Seashore is one of the hidden gems of the Space Coast.

It's not exactly a secret, but it seems that relatively few people make the effort to get there. You have to drive from the mainland to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, then pay $5.00 per car to enter Canaveral National Seashore.

We drove today to the stretch of the Seashore just north of Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39B. This shoreline is known as Playalinda Beach. You can walk south along the beach to the KSC border, where barbed wire and fencing block access. An armed guard in an observation tower assures you don't attempt to go any further.

We didn't have time to hit the beach, but we did stop briefly for photos which are below.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Stairway to Heaven

Click the arrow to watch the video on YouTube.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk released via Twitter on July 5 the latest video of the Grasshopper technology being tested at their facility in McGregor, Texas.

To reduce operational costs, SpaceX hopes to design reusable first and second stages that can be flown back to their launch pads.

In the June 24 test, the Grasshopper reached over 325 meters. That translates into 355 feet or a little over 1,000 feet.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Q&A Interview with Charlie Bolden

C-SPAN aired on June 30 a one-hour interview with NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. It covered a wide range of subjects, from his upbringing in the segregated South to his military service during the Vietnam War to current political topics about NASA's various programs. It's well worth the hour to watch.