Saturday, April 24, 2010

Happy twentieth Anniversary Hubble!

New image of a stellar nursery called the Carina Nebula, located 7,500 light-years from Earth
Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Livio and the Hubble 20th Anniversary Team (STScI)

The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) was launched twenty years ago today and has provided humanity with much groundbreaking knowledge and awe inspiring imagery of the universe since then. The anniversary is being marked with a new spectacular image of star birth. As HST continues its epic mission of discovery, bigger and more powerful space telescopes are being planned.

Two Launches of Military Space Technology

The Minotaur 4 Lite rocket launches the Hypersonic Test Vehicle 2a from California.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Andrew Lee

Thursday evening saw two launches on two coasts of experimental military aerospace vehicles that could have a profound influence on future military operations and also on future civilian and commercial space developments.

The X-37B robotic space plane, with a mission of undisclosed length and objectives, lifted off on an Atlas V rocket in a spectacular sunset launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Less than an hour before, the first Minotaur IV rocket launched the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 from Vandenberg AFB, California. This vehicle is a test of hypersonic flight technology for a possible future weapon system known as Conventional Prompt Global Strike, or CPGS. More links here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Discovery Arrives Home

The Space Shuttle STS-131 mission was completed today with a safe landing in Florida. This completes a busy mission resupplying the International Space Station (ISS). Here is a STS-131 archive of reports at

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Obama's Space Policy Speech

President Obama gave his long awaited space policy speech at Kennedy Space Center this afternoon, marking some fundamental changes in the way the NASA space program is conducted. Among the highlights:

-Cancellation of the Constellation program designed to return Americans to the Moon, though retaining the Orion crew vehicle as a lifeboat for the International Space Station (ISS) and as a possible test bed for future exploration vehicles.

-Design studies of a new Heavy Lift Vehicle (HLV) leading to a decision by 2015 to proceed to build the selected HLV design for human exploration missions.

-Development of other key technologies including propulsion, resource utilization, etc.

-Procuring commercial crew access to the ISS. Before the speech, the President visited the Falcon 9 rocket on its pad awaiting its first launch.

-Robotic precursor missions to precede human exploration of the Moon, asteroids. Mars, etc., along with continuing Earth and space science missions.

-Human deep space exploration beginning around 2025 with an expedition to a near Earth asteroid. A Mars orbital mission around 2035 (I'm guessing establishing a presence on the Martian Moon Phobos) with Mars landings to come sometime later.

So, what does it all mean? On balance, the major changes in terms of turning to commercial access to the ISS and Low Earth Orbit (LEO) in general and in developing ground breaking new technologies, an area where NASA spending has stagnated in recent decades, are extremely positive developments that can make our ventures into space more sustainable and enabling of human expansion and settlement on the frontier. The laying out of a long term timetable for exploration objectives is a definite improvement over the more vague promises expressed earlier when the policy change was announced as part of the FY2011 budget request.

The new proposals are still very controversial in the space community itself. One concern that I do share is whether it is really wise to spend up to 5 yrs and ~ $3 billion to design to study an HLV design before committing to building and flying v. taking some of the technology we have from the Shuttle program and developing a rather straightforwardly derived booster that could advance the technology development and exploration schedule by several years. (On the other hand, development of an all liquid fueled HLV would have some operational advantages.)

Also, President Obama seemed dismissive of any reason to return to the Moon as part of the "flexible path" agenda, but there is still much to be gained by establishing a presence on the Moon, perhaps as a public/private partnership, in furthering our expansion into space.

The bigger question is how this new direction is perceived beyond the space community. The cancellation of the Constellation effort (though perhaps inevitable given the apparent technical and financial problems of the Ares rocket family) has been perceived by many as an American retreat from the frontier. This is understandable given the direction and tone of Obama's Earth bound foreign and domestic policies. The long time scale before exploration really gets going also raises concerns about whether it can survive the inevitable shifts in politics over the coming decades.

Expect continuing discussion and debate in Congress and among the public as the new direction is rolled out and better understood.

Tax/Tea Party Day

Today is of course income tax deadline day in the US and it was marked by Tea Party rallies nationwide, including in Washington DC, where a new "Contract From America" agenda was promoted.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Circus on the Severn Folds Its Tent for 2010

The Maryland General Assembly adjourned its 2010 session last night as its members face a volatile election year. Here are reports from the Baltimore Sun and a wrap-up from the Maryland Catholic Conference.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Apollo XIII 40th Anniversary

This week marks the 40th anniversary of the heroic effort that brought the Apollo XIII astronauts safely home after the explosion and a subsequent series of calamities that nearly took their lives. The mission was recreated in the 1995 movie Apollo XIII which starred Tom Hanks as mission commander Jim Lovell.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Yuri's Night

It's that time of year for Yuri's Night, marking the April 12 anniversaries of Yuri Gagarin's pioneering spaceflight (1961) and the first US Space Shuttle flight (1981). Many of the Yuri's Night events are being held this weekend. I will be attending the event at Goddard Space Flight Center this evening.

NASA and Industry Space Buzz

Some news from NASA and the commercial space industry this week:

-NASA's leadership announced a breakout of assignments to its centers based on the new direction set by the FY2011 budget proposal. No clue on what if any changes to expect when President Obama addresses a "Space Summit" at Kennedy Space Center next Thursday.

-The annual Space Access conference in Phoenix, AZ is wrapping up today. This conference is a lightly structured gathering of the entrepreneurial space industry and its supporters. Clark Lindsey is capturing his own postings and those of other conference bloggers at this site. Look for the annual Space Foundation's National Space Symposium next week in Colorado Springs, CO as another possible source of breaking space news.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Discovery on its way to the ISS


Shuttle Discovery launched early this morning to the International Space Station (ISS), bringing supplies to sustain the ISS after Shuttle flights are retired.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Have a Blessed and Happy Easter!

At daybreak on the first day of the week
the women who had come from Galilee with Jesus
took the spices they had prepared
and went to the tomb.
They found the stone rolled away from the tomb;
but when they entered,
they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
While they were puzzling over this, behold,
two men in dazzling garments appeared to them.
They were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground.
They said to them,
"Why do you seek the living one among the dead?
He is not here, but he has been raised.
Remember what he said to you while he was still in Galilee,
that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners
and be crucified, and rise on the third day."
And they remembered his words.
Then they returned from the tomb
and announced all these things to the eleven
and to all the others.
The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James;
the others who accompanied them also told this to the apostles,
but their story seemed like nonsense
and they did not believe them.
But Peter got up and ran to the tomb,
bent down, and saw the burial cloths alone;
then he went home amazed at what had happened.

Lk 24:1-12

Soyuz off to ISS

Image Credit: NASA/Carla Cioffi

A Soyuz spacecraft was launched Friday morning to the International Space Station (ISS) with three new crew members. They will be joined by more visitors next week if the STS-131 Shuttle mission launches as planned.