Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Think Nuclear- Go Faster!

NASA had enough trouble using nuclear material to power New Horizons and eventually had to compromise on the amount used. Pursuing nuclear propulsion now seems far out of their reach despite the proven benefits.

Ever since Project Orion proved the concept of achievable nuclear propulsion, planetary scientists have dreamed of big ships and short trip durations: A cruise to Neptune could be done in a matter of weeks, not years, meaning a decrease in weight and on-board supplies needed and also in the ill-effects of zero-gravity and solar radiation on the crew.

SpaceDaily.com has an interview with space-tech veteran Paul A. Czysz where he makes the case for switching to nuclear, if only to not be left far behind by the Russians in 2050...

Sputnik Flies Again--If Only in Washington

According to a story at CNN.com, business and science groups are joining forces to convince the current crop of US legislators the importance of funding math and science teacher recruitment programs.

Without math and science, they say, American students will be ill-prepared to compete in a world-wide marketplace flooded with science and math majors from places like China and India.

American students are already known for lagging behind other Western countries when it comes to these skills and according to CNN they also lack basic real-life skills, like how to count back change and how to balance a checkbook.

These groups now hope to elicit the same fear-response felt when Sputnik was lofted by the Soviets: A true push to succeed despite the cost, which eventually led to us repeatedly placing spaceships and astronauts on the Moon.

Good story. Whether it makes a difference or not, that's a totally different story....

NASA Move Prompts Terse Response

Space Frontier Foundation founder, Rick N. Tumlinson, wrote an angry editorial in response to NASA's recent decision to NOT pursue methane-type rocket fuel in its next-generation spacecraft.
First NASA said it would pursue methane-alternatives, now it says it won't.

Tumlinson, hailed by many as a key player and even "Visionary" in the development of space technology the world over, points out the many faults with abandoning a new propulsion technique before it even has a chance to demonstrate its potential.
He calls into question NASA's repeated decisions to pursue non-renewable systems and technology over more efficient, less dangerous and less costly alternatives. Such as Methane.

Tumlinson makes his case quite well. It's just too bad, as he himself points out, it won't make much difference to NASA because they just won't listen to reason...

Monday, January 30, 2006

Moondust: Tastes Like chicken?

Perhaps it was juvenile silliness or maybe it was sheer boredom, but whatever the cause some NASA astronauts can tell you what Moondust tastes like.
In fact they said it's "not half bad."

In the third installment of NASA's Apollo Chronicles astronauts relate everything they experienced dealing with the clingy, Moondust, seeing as how it stuck to their suits, boots, gloves, equipment and anything else it came into contact with. They felt it, smelled it and dealt with it every second they were there and the entire trip back.

It's properties are still being examined and various methods for dealing with it's potential problems are currently in the works, including using microwaves to turn it into a workable material....

Rocket Racing League's First Team Signs Up

Space.com is reporting the first Rocket Racing League team for the 2007 season has been announced.

U.S. Air Force reserve F-16 pilots Robert Rickard and Don Grantham, of Phoenix, Arizona, plopped down their $100,000 deposit, creating Leading Edge Rocket Racing.
The leagues first Mark-1 X-Racer will debut at the October 2006 X-Prixe Cup in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The planes will carry only enough fuel for about four minutes of thrust and achieve just ten minutes of un-motored flight time during the proposed 90-minute races, meaning pilots will need to land, re-fuel and re-join the race in progress, much as is done in auto racing.

According to league co-founder, Peter Diamandis, the main goal of the Rocket Racing League is to spur public interest in human space flight and "bringing 21st century racing into people's living rooms."

Mis-quote Angers Mullane, And Rightly So!

Spaceref.com is running a press release from former NASA astronaut Mike Mullane, refuting a quote attributed to him by the London tabloid, The Guardian.
In it Mullane is quoted as saying "The space shuttle is a deathtrap."

Perhaps not so surprisingly, Mullane says not only did he never utter those words, but he was never interviewed at all for the story, nor did he even speak to the reporter who wrote it.

He has written letters saying as much to the editors at The Guardian, the current astronaut corps and the NASA Public Affairs office. He has also posted his comments in a blog at Space.com.

Too bad he won't get a full retraction, a written and public apology and a check to compensate him for the time he must now spend to correct someone else's mistake...

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Frozen For 32,000 Years--And still Alive!

This is an old story, but a good one nonetheless. NASA scientists thawed some mircrobes they scraped from beneath the frozen Arctic surface, and the little guys came suddenly to life!

There was also the case, in 1998, of rock-eating microbes being discovered miles beneath the ocean floor.

Combined and it's simply more proof that "life as we know it" is constantly being challeneged here on Earth--much less beneath the surface of Mars...

Cool Stardust Sample Return Capsule Video

Spaceref.com has a nice little video of the Stardust Sample Return Capsule making its descent to Earth in the Utah desert.

The NASA site lets you watch more Stardust video and other cool aerospace projects in their multimedia gallery, here.

It takes less than a minute for the tiny speck of light that was the return capsule to burn brighter and streak across the starlit night sky leaving a white-hot trail behind it, but it's worth every second....

Sally Ride Speaks Her Mind

In a pair of articles meant to coincide with the anniversary of the Challenger disaster, FloridaToday.com talks with America's first woman astronaut, Dr. Sally Ride.
Ride had a hand in the Challenger and Columbia accident investigations and offers insight into lessons learned, and lessons forgotten.
She also makes the bold prediction that should there be a third major disaster involving the shuttle the entire program will likely be immediately scrapped.

Since leaving the astronaut corps in 1987 Ride has devoted herself to programs meant to encourage young girls to pursue careers in engineering and science. In 2001 she started sallyridescience.com a site designed to "increase the number of girls who are technically literate."

She is currently President and CEO at Imaginary Lines Inc. which operates (among other things) Sally Ride Science Festivals , part science and part socializing for young girls across the country.
Visit today and sponsor a young girl to attend a festival--contribute to our future by helping to prepare everyone who will be there...

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Photos Wanted for New Horizons Digital Time Capsule

Fancy yourself a photographer? The Planetary Society has a deal for you:

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, traveling at more than 35,000 mph and getting a gravity push from Jupiter, still needs nine years to reach Pluto. In those intervening years the world will change, new frontiers will be discovered, new technology will be developed and new discoveries will be made.
In fact, if the spacecraft misses its rendezvous with Jupiter its trip could take an additional five years, allowing even more changes to take place here on Earth.

The Planetary Society is interested in recording images of those things that will change the most--the ones that affect us all, like the way DVD's are replacing Video tapes---and placing these things in a digital time capsule to be replayed when New Horizons reaches Pluto.

It's a contest open to anyone who has a camera and knows how to use it. But it would surely help if you had an eye for a great picture, too...

Landsat Program: They've Got You Covered

Since 1972 a Landsat satellite has been orbiting the Earth capturing images and providing scientists with data on things such as hurricane Katrina and the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Just about every global change study uses Landsat data, available through the Space Imaging Corporation. Although the new IKONOS satellite now provides better resolution, scientists still flock to Landsat data. They use it to track global changes in surface temperatures and atmosphere and especially the impact of urbanization on rural communities and the environment.

In the 1980's the Landsat program became NASA's first big commercial space effort, and a wildly successful one at that. Landsat 5, designed for only a five-year-mission, will celebrate 22 years in service next month. Engineers recently corrected a problem that had side-lined the machine, but it's now functioning perfectly and continuing to churn out those amazing photos...

Good Time to See Saturn--Or Get a Hobby

Joe Rao, Skywatching Columnist at Space.com, says its a great time to view Saturn as its one of the three brightest stars in the night sky.
According to Rao any 30-power telescope will provide a glimpse of its many rings, too. Still a stunning view for any astronomer.

If you'd like to take a free online astronomy course, check out Astronomy 101 at About.com
You certainly don't need it to see Saturn with a cheap telescope, but it's always good to learn a new skill.
Prepared by software engineer and amateur astronomer Nick Greene, the course gives you the nuts and bolts and tools and everything else you might need to amaze your friends with your sudden knowledge of the Heavens above....

Friday, January 27, 2006

Cool Photos of Spacecraft Hubble and Uranus

The Hubble Space Telescope is much more than a telescope. It's a superior spacecraft as well.
For evidence of that check out these cool images of the ship being built, launched, repaired and fully functional at the official Hubble site.

They even offer some pictures of Uranus you can download as Wallpaper.

Hubblesite is a fantastic resource for just about everything Hubble related. Check out their gallery of galactic still images or watch some truly awe inspiring video.

A joint NASA/ESA project, Hubble has traveled more than 2 billion miles, orbiting the Earth 80,000 times and proving it truly is the "world's most successful science mission."

Stardust Success Leads to Talk of More Sample Return Missions

MSNBC reports space scientists, so elated by the amount of material returned by the Stardust sample capsule, have already started whispering about future missions to return everything from pieces of local moons and planets to landing on more comets.

Scientists were unsure what to expect when they peered inside the hastily retrieved sample package, but they certainly did not expect to view the pieces of comet and interstellar material, yet that's what happened.
NASA scientists said the material recovered far "exceeded our expectations"; pieces of rocks and debris were clearly visible in the blocks of Aerogel used to collect samples from comet Wild-2.
(More about Aerogel here.)

NASA's Sample Collection for Investigation of Mars (SCIM) is one such proposed mission. There are many more missions in development.

It is widely believed the research value of any material returned from Mars (or any other planet for that matter) would likely far exceed the cost of the mission...

Ishim Space System Utilizes MiG-31

Kazakhstan plans to use retrofitted MiG-31 fighter jets to launch low-orbit commercial satellites, and the plan has the potential to be quite lucrative.

Although not well-known there is a burgeoning space technology sector developing in Kazkhstan. Their agreements with Russia to further develop the Baikonur launch facility and produce new and innovative ways of launching small-scale satellites will only hasten its growth.
The proposed Ishim launch system would be capable of putting payloads up to 200kg in low earth orbit using rockets launched from an in-flight MiG-31.

Russian-Kazakh space-tech plans promise to bring a new industry and potentially hundreds of jobs to the region...

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Amateur Radio Operators: Listen For SuitSat-1

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station will launch SuitSat-1 on Feb. 3 and they are encouraging everyone with a ham radio or really big antenna to tune in and track its progress.

SuitSat-1 was a Russian idea: Turn useless Orlan spacesuits into usable satellites. To test how long they will last in orbit NASA devised a prototype equipped with sensors to track internal temperatures, batteries, and a on-board computer to broadcast this information to anyone listening.
The NASA site provides all the information you need to find the satellite, tune in to the broadcast and have some fun with space science...

Time to Remember Challenger Disaster Correctly

I saw the Challenger disaster unfold right before my eyes.

I was in high school then, in Port Orange, Florida. Shuttle flights had become mundane to most people, but not me. I was excited by the prospect of regular trips to space, regardless of the delays and exorbitant costs associated with every shuttle launch.

I remember sneaking out of class, looking up in the sky, watching the shuttle streaking through the blue, up and away from us earth-bound clods...

Then I saw the boosters break off and streak sideways (from my perspective) and knew immediately something had gone terribly wrong. Back inside the school most of the kids had no idea there was even a launch that day--much less did they understand the risks associated with every launch. So when the principal announced what had happened, shrieks and tears and cries of confusion spread quickly.
I just walked to my car and went home. My dreams went down with that ship and those heroes. It would be years before we would return to space and even when we did, it would not be with the same level of confidence, optimism and bravado we once had.

In honor of those who lives were lost and to help set the record as straight as it can be, MSNBC has another nice multi-media package (I promise I don't get a kick-back from them) concerning public misconceptions about the tragedy.

20 Years After Challenger attempts to explain what really happened, separating fact from fiction, and trying to make sense of the senseless.

It's definitely worth a look, if only because the disaster it details is worth remembering correctly...

A Telescope So Big It Can Pick UP Alien TV!

Astronomers from around the world are seeing stars after hearing the world's largest telescope will get the funding it needs to be built.

Called the Square Kilometer Array, the new international radio telescope will have a collecting area of one million square meters, 200 times larger than the University of Manchester's Lovell Telescope.

For more than four decades the Lovell has been the largest radio telescope available for astronomers, but the new SKA will now dwarf its 4560 square meters of collection space.

Design of the SKA will not be complete until at least 2010 and construction won't be complete until 2020. But when it is operational scientists will be able to test Einstein's Theory of Relativity and locate and weigh a billion galaxies by measuring hydrogen gas radio emissions.

And yes, if an alien planet orbiting any nearby star is broadcasting television signals the SKA will detect that too....

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Florida 'Space Camp' to be Reborn?

Florida Today is reporting, Gov. Jeb Bush's Commission on the Future of Space and Aeronautics in Florida told him more emphasis should be placed on education. They quote the commission as saying a "weeklong space-related educational experience for students" would be a step in the right direction.
They do not mention 'Space Camp' because that name belongs to a company in Alabama that still runs a space-related overnight camping experience.

The Florida 'Space Camp' closed in 2002, following protracted financial difficulties. Delaware North Companies owns the Florida equipment once used by the camp but has no plans to re-open it. They also own and operate the Astronaut Hall of Fame in Titusville.
Delaware North does offer the Astronaut Training Experience at Kennedy Space Center, a day long session of flight and ground control simulations for teams of participants.

No word on what type of camp (or even if) would be implemented in Florida, just that they suggested it to the governor....

MSNBC Offers 'New Space Race' Info

They call it--

The New Space Race: Gold Rush on the Final Frontier and it reads like a multi-media encyclopedia of recent space-tech breakthroughs, like Spaceship One and the Rocket Racing League.

It's a flashy little media package. Lots of slideshows, CGI video and Interactive sections for more information, along with a list of recent space-related stories stretching back to Spaceship One winning the X-Prize...

Isle of Man a Modern Space Mecca

Recognizing the lucrative nature of the growing commercial space-launch industry, legislators in the Isle of Man have agreed to aggressively pursue more space technology companies to move to their island, located near the center of the Irish Sea.

Recently world's largest satellite operator SES Global has announced in 2006 it will open its own subsidiary on the Isle of Man, joining Inmarsat, Boeing, Sea Launch and Loral, who already conduct space-related business there.

In 2005 the commercial space market generated $125 billion for the world's economy. Enough to make even the smallest locales sit-up and take notice.

Especially if they sit in a good launch location...or boast a decent tax rate...

OGLE Works! Earth-Like Planet Found

It's been all over the news today: The journal NATURE reports a half dozen people from almost three dozen different institutions collaborated on a discovery that will further change the way we look at the Universe; They found an Earth-like planet.


The planet is about 5.5 times more massive than earth and orbits its sun at a far enough distance that the surface temperature most likely hovers around -350 degrees F, but it is rocky, and therefore Earth-like.
No technology or signs of life were detected.

Already more than 150 extra-solar planets have been discovered orbiting stars outside our Solar System. Most of these are large gas giants, bigger than Jupiter, that could not harbor life as know it here on Earth.
But this latest discovery provides not just a new world to examine, but a new technique for finding worlds that are smaller and closer to their sun, like the Earth.
The effect that attracts astronomers is called microlensing and involves the bending of light by strong gravitational forces. Meaning, as seen through their telescopes, a planet will seem to bend the light emitted by a star as it orbits. You can't see the planet, but you can detect the "bending" light.
Astronomers have further refined the technique for detecting this effect using Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE).

This most recent discovery has only proven the OGLE technique as a stroke of joint scientific brilliance, and will surely lead to more discoveries in the coming years...

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

ESA Teases With "Extra-Solar Discovery"

ESA Television says it will air information concerning a "Major Scientific Discovery" tomorrow between 16:00-16:15 GMT.

That's the same date the scientific journal NATURE plans to publish a "major paper on a discovery addressing extra-solar planets."

No word on what the announcement is, just that it's coming...

India's Noble Energy Solar Technologies Bests Kerosene With Free Solar Power

Ashden Awards finalist, Noble Energy Solar Technologies LTD, of Secunderabad, India, has perfected a hardy, yet inexpensive, solar-powered lantern at a price within reach of just about everybody.
Unlike kerosene, which has been the traditional form of lighting used in every village across the country for decades, solar energy, aside from the initial cost of the lamp itself, is free.

Called the 'Aishwarya' lantern (to honor India's Miss World winner, Aishwarya Rai) it retails for around $20 US, but is made available on a rent-to-own basis at a more reasonable $2 a month (approx.).
So far, 45,000 lamps have been sold and 50,000 more confirmed orders for 2006 have yet to be filled.

In some villages the lamps have been hung like street lights, allowing community meetings at night and a place for children to study. It also extends working hours, allowing citizens a better chance at earning their way out of poverty.

In one particular village, children gathered beneath the glow of a single lamp to study long into the evening.
Chairman & Managing Director Array Dharmappa Barki, told the Ashden Awards rep., "If just one child from each family has decent schooling, then they have the chance to get out of the slums."

Sea Launch Shows Profitability of Commercial Market

Those still refusing to believe there is much to the commercial space launch market need look no further than Sea Launch for proof of concept.

Partially owned by Boeing, this floating private commercial launch base has been operating successfully for five years with a full slate of launches planned for 2006. Amazingly the place went from idea to functioning launch site in just five years, and has far out-performed expectations.

The Zenit-3SL launch vehicle they use now has a proven track record, meaning more customers lining up for low-cost (by today's standards), low-hassle commercial launches at a sea-based location offering the most direct route to geostationary orbit.

And unlike many other American companies, they're hiring....

Monday, January 23, 2006

Some New Mexico Lawmakers Oppose Spaceport

It's a question of dollars, 225 million of them to be exact. That's how much the New Mexico spaceport is expected to cost.

That's how much New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson wants his state legislature to spend building a new spaceport. He wants half allocated this year so the place can be operational ASAP for Virgin Galactic to launch flights from.

Some lawmakers have questioned whether they wouldn't be better off converting an old Air Force base or just scrapping the project altogether and spending their money on education, health care and infrastructure. This despite more than a decade of research suggesting the current plan is the most cost effective and potentially lucrative move.
Public sentiment, as usual, runs the gamut.

But some still question whether commercial space travel will ever be more than a dream.


That seems highly unlikely, especially given the amount of resources currently being spent by public and private enterprise to rapidly create this new industry...

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Our Living Breathing Galaxy

Space.com got their hands on some great footage: A movie chronicling 10 years of X-Ray activity in the Milky Way.

The movie comes from the MIT-built, All-Sky Monitor, part of the Rossi X-Ray Timing Explorer mission.

It's like watching a pile of Christmas lights blinking off and on at random. Green, orange, red and blue spheres, appearing as if from nowhere then vanishing to black. These are the bursts of X-Rays from such things as pulsars, neutron stars and black holes.

Seeing this activity, invisible to the naked eye, is like peering at the inner workings of a fine-tuned mechanism, clicking away the eons, marking the passage of time for all eternity...

Build Your Own Spaceship

Thanks to sites like aRocket.net getting to space is now as easy as learning new skills and spending large sums of money.

They offer links to rocketry information for every level from rank amateur to experimental and professional. Learn it yourself, build it yourself and fly it yourself.
Their section, First Steps in Rocketry, provides tutorials and resources for every aspect of rocketry from propulsion to guidance. The section on Mechanical Engineering and Materials shows how NASA builds their rockets and links to books at Amazon.com that discuss composite material manufacture and design.

With this site, some really hard work and lots of disposable capital, just about anyone could become an astronaut....

Sunspot the Size of Saturn

Spaceweather.com has an interesting brief about Sunspot 848. It has grown considerably in the past four days and is now about 120,000 km from end to end. That's almost as big as Saturn.
They have a great snippet of video showing the Sun and the little brown speck that is the massive Sunspot 848.
Sunspots can have an impact on weather and telecommunications here on Earth, but so far this one is not a threat.
Interestingly enough the spot is big enough to be seen with the naked eye, assuming you use the proper equipment and not blind yourself by trying to look directly at it. Spaceweather.com provides easy instructions for constructing your own solar viewer using a small telescope or binoculars.

I live in Indianapolis, not the best place to be if you're looking for sunshine, so I couldn't try it myself.
If any of you try it I'd love to hear how it works out. What can you see? Send me a photo if possible and we'll Post it right here...

Saturday, January 21, 2006

LPOD: Bringing The Moon To You

With more than 11,000 craters visible to anyone with a small backyard telescope, the Moon offers a great view to someone, somewhere on the planet, every day.

Lunar Photo Of the Day unites all the backyard astronomers shooting great photos of our only natural satellite and presents them daily. Pictures are posted from spots around the world, taken by amateurs and professionals alike.

Each image is stunning and comes with a brief description of exactly what area you are looking at and why it's interesting--like the Apollo 17 landing site.

Check it out...and then check it out again, and again, and again....

Interest High For 'Space Lottery'

Here's an idea who's time may have finally come: A national space lottery.

Writer Elmer L. Forbath suggests in his article for Space.com/AdAstra Online that the National Space Society should sponsor such a thing and that players could number as high as 'Star Trek' fans or even higher.

Forbath makes the same points as many others before him: Non-reusable rockets are a waste of money and time, public enthusiasm is what made the Apollo program so successful, and lotteries raise quite a bit of money.
He also suggests making it an "international lottery" thus increasing publicity worldwide and making at least the possibility of space travel (however remote) available to everyone on Earth.

So far NSS has not commented on Forbath's article, nor have they expressed any interest publicly in his idea...

McAuliffe Family Memories

As long as we're plugging CNN, don't miss the upcoming episode of CNN Presents featuring the story of America's First Teacher in Space, Sharon Christa McAuliffe.


McAuliffe, a social studies teacher, was selected from tens of thousands of applicants to NASA's Teacher in Space Program. As mission specialist she was to ride aboard a shuttle and bring back to earth a true understanding of what it is like in Space, which she could then pass along to students across the nation. There was even a plan for her to teach a class while in orbit. Unfortunately McAuliffe, and the entire crew of the Challenger died just minutes after lift-off in a terrible tragedy.

Christa McAuliffe: Reach For The Stars will air Sunday, Jan. 22, at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. EDT.

CNN Offers Cool New Horizons CGI

If you still have not had your fill of New Horizons stuff, check out this really cool CGI animation of its entire mission across the Solar System from CCN.com. Plus, links to related information and more factoids than you can shake a stick at.

Not bad for "Mainstream Media"....

Friday, January 20, 2006

More On The RTG Inside New Horizons

Here's an interesting story from SpaceDaily.com concerning the LockMart Thermoelectric Generator onboard the recently launched New Horizons spacecraft.

Be advised: Unlike a Post from SpaceBlog Alpha, the links inside the SpaceDaily.com story take you to advertisements, not more information...

Thursday, January 19, 2006

New Horizons Launched!!

New Horizons has successfully launched! Mission controllers will continue tracking the craft as it streaks skyward. In nine hours it will pass the moon and be well on its way to the Kuiper Belt, Pluto and beyond...

Everybody Stop Watching New Horizons!

The new launch time for New Horizons: 2 p.m. EDT

Cloud cover remains an issue. A high pressure system off the coast of Georgia is bringing clouds on-shore at Cape Canaveral.

Cross your fingers and we might just see a launch today...

John Hopkins University Has History of 'Rocket Science'

While we wait for the launch of New Horizons, lets discover a little bit about the people who built it: John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

The Applied Physics Laboratory has more than four decades experience designing, building and launching spacecraft. Since 1959 scientists at the not-for-profit lab have launched 61 spacecraft and 150 instruments, achieving many "firsts" in spaceflight and setting the standard by which today's spacecraft are operated. Theirs was the first spacecraft to orbit and land on an asteroid (NASA's Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous) and they developed the satellite Doppler navigation system and the first nuclear powered spacecraft.

They've been saying "better, faster, cheaper" since before some NASA administrators were born and their history of success has proven they know what they are talking about...

New Horizons Launch Bumped

They say, a watched pot never boils. Let's hope the same cannot be said of a watched rocket...

Low clouds have slightly delayed launch of the New Horizons spacecraft to 1:40 p.m. EDT.

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

NASA Crawlers Celebrate 40 Years of Service

NASA is celebrating the 40th anniversary of its twin transporter/crawlers; those gigantic machines that slowly and carefully relocate launch equipment, rockets and spacecraft, with the precision of a ballerina and the footprint of a Titan.

Each transporter is powered by a 2,750 horsepower diesel engine, achieving a whopping 1 mph. And each uses 16 jacking, equalizing and leveling cylinders to keep its surface level during those "high speed" trips.
In all, the crawlers have transported seven different types of launch vehicles including the Saturn V, every shuttle spacecraft, every Apollo spacecraft and Skylab.

Designing the beasts was difficult and building them a chore in itself, but keeping them running for four decades without a warranty from the manufacturer? Simply amazing...

SPACEHAB Gets NASA Contract For ISS Supply Flights

SPACEHAB will be assisting NASA in getting cargo to and from the International Space Station using a variety of means. SPACEHAB has presented two possible ways of doing this: Utilizing existing space carriers or building their own.


Since 1984 SPACEHAB been successfully designing, building and implementing commercial space projects. According to their Web site they currently operate "pressurized habitation modules, unpressurized cargo carriers and equipment ferrying containers."
SPACEHAB equipment has flown on 19 shuttle missions, six research missions and 13 space station re-supply missions (seven to Mir and 6 to ISS.)

NASA believes utilizing the services of SPACEHAB will help it meet its goal of completion of the International Space Station with or without the shuttle...

New Horizons Clarification

To be clear: John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory suffered a weather related power outtage this morning, forcing a delay in the launch of the New Horizons Spacecraft.

The launch has been re-scheduled for tomorrow. (See below.)

Unresolved Power Interruption Delays New Horizons--Again

New Horizons mission managers at John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory experienced a system-wide power interruption early this morning, forcing a delay in the launch of at least one day.

New launch set for January 19, from 1:08 p.m. EST to 3:07 p.m. EST.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

New Horizons Launch Scrubbed Today

NASA has scrubbed today's planned launch of the New Horizons spacecraft due to high winds. Tomorrow's window will begin at 1:24 p.m. EST and last until 3:23 p.m. EST.

Try, try again...

New Horizons Very Last Chance: 3:23 p.m. EST

All eyes are on NASA as the New Horizons spacecraft sits atop an Atlas V rocket, prepped for launch, waiting for a break in the weather.

Mission controllers say the weather is cooperating and everything appears ready.
This is the final launch attempt possible today: 3:23 p.m. EST

Good luck and Good Journey, New Horizons...

The Woman Who Named the Ninth Planet 'Pluto'

Not so widely known is the fact Venetia Burney Phair is responsible for naming the ninth planet in our Solar System. And if you think Pluto is named for a long forgotten god---well, as it turns out, you're right.

Phair was only 11 when the icy, quasi-planet was discovered, and heard the news from her grandfather, a librarian and friends with noted astronomers of the day. He read her the news over breakfast and wondered aloud what it would be called. Phair piped up that it should be Pluto simply because as most other planets had been named for Greek gods, none had used the name Pluto. It was that easy.

But it's a wonderful story to hear anyway, she sounds like a sweet lady. She whole-heartedly endorses the New Horizons project and wishes them "best of luck." She also shares her family history of naming astronomical objects, relating the tale of an uncle who named the moons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos.
The interview is stored as a NASA podcast. Or read the short (but complete) transcript here.

New Horizons Launch Delayed Again

Space.com and CNN are each reporting the launch of NASA's New Horizons Spacecraft will be delayed until approximately 2:50 p.m. ET.

The ship sits ready on the launch pad even as I write these words, but the temporary loss of communication with a remote tracking station has forced a halt to the countdown. Its payload of small amounts of deadly plutonium (which powers its RTG) make tracking of the ship a necessity.

Delays have been happening all day due to high winds. Now that the winds are down a bit, they have a slight technical problem but it seems likely the craft will launch today. It's just a question of when...

Monday, January 16, 2006

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about. They are the best of what’s out there in the
Blogosphere.

We may add more bells and whistles to the site later
on, but don’t expect too much. We’re keeping it simple
for a reason: This is not ‘rocket science‘, it’s about
making ‘rocket science’ fun for everybody.

So sit back, grab a cool beverage and...

GET YOUR SPACE ON!

New Horizons Awaits Launch

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is in Flight Condition. It currently sits idle at the launch pad as the seconds slowly tick past. Tomorrow, if all goes well, the little probe will head skyward toward it destination: the Kuiper Belt.

Along the way it will slide past Pluto and its buddy, Charon, and shoot some photos and take some readings of the oft maligned frozen little popsicle world. Besides being cold, dark and small, Pluto harbors some secrets of its own, like a possible underground ocean, and could provide the answers to questions scientists haven't even thought of yet.

As of this moment New Horizons radioisotope thermoelectric generator is operational, meaning the little spacecraft has full power for the next 20 years...

Sunday, January 15, 2006

ESA Rosetta Mission To Unlock Comet Secrets Too

Since 2004, the Rosetta spacecraft has been hurtling toward its rendezvous with Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014 where it will deliver a lander named Philae to the surface of the hurtling object and conduct "in-situ" studies of its various components.

Originally meant to be a "comet chaser"the initial ESA mission was scrubbed and replaced with the above-mentioned rendezvous. The spacecraft will also pass within close range of two well-known asteroids, Steins and Lutetia, taking about 12 years to reach its target and performing in-orbit maneuvers and studies for 17 months.
Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is a dirty-snowball about 2 miles wide and 3 miles long that orbits the Sun every 6.6 years. Scientists believe it has changed very little since forming because until being recently tugged closer by Jupiter's gravity, it orbited much farther from the Sun where it would have melted very little.

Comets likely hold the keys to unlocking the mysteries of the formation of our Solar System. And it's also likely they hold more mysteries too...

Stardust Sample Return Success!

After seven years and nearly 3 billion miles of space travel, the Stardust spacecraft has successfully completed its mission to return comet and interplanetary dust samples to earth.

As planned, at approximately 2:12 a.m. PST, the return capsule released earlier from the Stardust probe as it cruised past earth on its way to an orbit around the sun landed safely in the Utah desert. A retrieval crew was on the ground at the site within minutes and by 4:30 a.m. the capsule and its precious cargo were being loaded into a "clean room" where researchers will begin the painstaking process of recovering the samples and analyzing data.

Congratulations NASA! Here's another feather for your cap...

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Sony Tries Again With Electric Book--But Will My Wife Want One?

LiveScience.com has an interesting story about the latest technological marvel to come out of the Sony laboratories: Sony Reader.

It's sleek, about the size of a small hardcover book, utilizes cutting edge technology to present a very readable interface, and holds the content of about 80 novels on its hard drive.

My wife is a voracious reader. She has a book in her hands almost every minute of every day, unless she's holding something else, like our daughter. But I suspect this new Sony Reader won't appeal to her for one simple reason: It's not paper.

No, my wife claims reading a book is more about the experience of reading -- feeling the texture of the paper, the smell of the book itself-- than the material she is consuming. Therefore, according to her, no electronic device will ever replicate the warmth she feels when she's reading a good book.
Or even a bad book.

But then I guess nobody mentioned this to the Sony executives...

Deep Space Network Unsung Hero of Interplanetary Travel

The NASA Deep Space Network, three deep-space communications facilities situated around the globe, supports interplanetary missions such as Stardust, and various radio and radar astronomy observations. Without the network, scientists would be unable to communicate with some satellites at mission-critical times.

By utilizing communication towers in California, Spain and Australia, scientists can remain in constant contact with spacecraft scattered around the Solar System.

Here's a photo-tutorial on how to build a 34-meter antennae, and here are instructions for building a toy model of one.
You can also learn all about why scientists need such enormous antenna's, how they work and what they can do, from Dr. Dish.

Or just check out this great Wikipedia entry...

NASA TV Airs Stardust Recovery Live

With just hours to go until the landing of the Stardust spacecraft sample capsule in the Utah desert, NASA TV is gearing up for live coverage beginning around 4 a.m. EST.

The Stardust mission has been a rousing success for NASA engineers, and regardless of whether the sample capsule is recovered project scientists have much to celebrate.

For a small list of its amazing discoveries and achievements, check out this list of Stardust Cool Facts, and pretend you know what "100 times the force of gravity" feels like...

Friday, January 13, 2006

New Horizons Prepped and Ready

Not to take away from the glory that has been the Stardust mission, but the first-ever mission to Pluto is due to launch on January 17.

New Horizons is state-of-the-art, including a radioisotope thermoelectric generator and a suite of sensors. It will slingshot around Jupiter and shoot straight for Pluto...If all goes well.

If something should prevent this launch, NASA's next attempt will come in 2007, meaning the ship will miss the Jupiter-slingshot opportunity, taking three years longer to reach its destination...

Stardust Reminder: Watch the Skies, Volunteer

NASA's Stardust Spacecraft is making its final approach to earth this weekend, releasing a sample capsule that will hopefully land safely in the Utah desert around 2 a.m. Pacific Time on Sunday.

Readers of SpaceBlog Alpha living in the northwestern United States may actually catch a glimpse of the small streaming fireball created by the sample capsule as it enters the atmosphere.

It's also not too late to join the ranks of the volunteers who will search through images of the sample collector plates in the hopes of finding a minute particle of interstellar dust...

Falcon 1 to Make Third Attempt February 8th

Though two previous scrubs have delayed the historic Falcon 1 launch, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk shares a great deal of inside information and conceptual details about the Falcon project in his latest press realase, and is quite upbeat and forthcoming.

Most importantly for Falcon 1 itself, it seems the theory of an underlying electrical problem which caused a perceived stucutral failure proved to be correct as put forth at the time by Musk and the SpaceX team. They have done extentsive work, with exhaustive testing still in progress to alleviate this problem and other potential issues. This means Falcon will be ready to go on February 8th with a goal of making the third time a charm.

But, as Musk himself states, "Given that Falcon 1 is an all new rocket and is launching from an all new launch pad on a remote tropical island," some scurbs before success were an almost inevitable likelihood. He goes on to say "Even rockets that have launched hundreds of times from launch pads that are in heavy use have multiple scrubs...As it is, we have had one abort due to a launch pad issue and one due to the rocket. If this next attempt succeeds in getting to t-zero, SpaceX will be reasonably fortunate in the scheme of things." This puts things in perspective pretty well I believe, and highlights the fact that this private venture is quite the amazing and historic rocket.

I truly hope Falcon 1 goes off without a hitch this time, as the anticipation of this historic launch is huge for us here at SBA, but do not despair. They will get this rocket off the ground in good time, and we will celebrate when they do!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Interferometer Makes Planet Hunting a Snap!

Planet hunting is big business these days. Hundreds of extra-solar worlds have been discovered using the Doppler-shift technique to track them, some may even harbor life.

Using an interferometer on their telescopes rather than a spectrograph, astronomers can use telescopes with mirrors less than 1 meter in size (far less expensive and more readily available than the bigger mirrors) to find planets.

This technique led to the recent discovery of a planet half the size of Jupiter circling a very young star 100 light years away. Because it's cheaper and quicker than conventional methods, astronomers predict they will search 100 times as many stars for planets in the coming decade as they did in the last.

Once a life-bearing world is found it will only be a matter of time until somebody decides to check it out....

Time to Re-Write the Physics Books?

Now that the joint NASA/Stanford physics experiment called Gravity Probe-B has completed its year-long data gathering trip researchers can begin analyzing the volumes of data in the hopes of either proving Einstein right, or calling for a re-write of every physics book in the world.

Einstein said Spacetime was like a fourth dimensional zone (three dimensions of space, one dimension of time) similar to a rubber mat stretched tight. Earth (and all matter) exists in Spacetime and therefore rests on this mat causing a depression. Like a bowling ball sitting in the middle of that rubber mat.
Using this model Gravity is described as the movement of objects down into this depression. Like a marble rolling down the slope of the rubber mat toward the bowling ball, things fall into orbit around our planet and eventually come crashing to the ground.

Because the Earth is spinning, there should be a slight twist (or vortex) in the rubber mat beneath it. Gravity Probe-B was built to detect whether there is or not.

If there is, Einstein is right, case closed.
If there is not--well, then things get crazy for mathematicians everywhere because everything they thought they knew about the physics of the universe comes into question...

Griffin Pledges Again to Save Hubble

According to a story at SpaceDaily.com, NASA administrator Mike Griffin pledged to the 207th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society "NASA will, if at all possible, use one of the remaining flights of the space shuttle for Hubble servicing."

In the meantime engineers are still testing new theories about where foam should and should not be, not knowing if what they are doing will make any real difference at all.
Griffin also stated in the story, "it is a shuttle mission to repair Hubble or it will not be repaired," citing cost factors that would prohibit design and implementation of a proposed robotic service mission.

A glimmer of hope for astronomers, but not much else...

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

US Military Ready for 'Blasters'

MSNBC is reporting the US military may be poised to integrate some new technology into its arsenal: Directed-energy weapons.
From the Airborne Laser to the Active Denial System, the military has been tinkering with this type of laser and microwave weaponry for years. In fact, they have been successfully testing the Mobile Tactical High Energy Laser since 2001. But now it seems the US may finally be ready to issue these weapons to soldiers in the field.

Exactly when that will happen, nobody knows. But it will surely pop-up on CNN when it does...

DNA Nanowires Fuse Biological and Electronic

Let's be thankful for people like Pam Frost Gorder. She wrote a nice article, "Researchers Make Long DNA Wires For Future Medical And Electronic Devices", posted at SpaceDaily.com.

Basically it explains how a couple of Ohio State University researchers invented a simple process for uncoiling DNA strands and using them as nanowire, effectively fusing biological and electronic devices.
Think "Commander Data", from Star Trek.
They also hope to use the technique for more refined gene therapy.
Think "saving lives."

Anyway, Gorder wrote a nice story that does an excellent job of explaining a rather dry and complicated process. Believe me. The abridged version of the complete story (Generating highly ordered DNA nanostrand arrays which was published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America) is enough to put most of us asleep in less time than it took me to write this sentence.

There can be a large gap between the realm of Arts and Sciences and the "normal person", but thanks to people like Gorder we can at least stay informed...

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Volunteers Needed to Review Stardust Data

If NASA's Stardust spacecraft manages to successfully deliver its earthbound cargo of interstellar dust Saturday (and that's assuming it managed to catch any in the first place) researchers plan to offer the public a chance to review the data and help them search for the microscopic particles.

In March they will begin posting on the Web the first of more than 1.5 million microscopic images of the collector plate used by Stardust to snatch bits of dust. These images will be made available to qualified volunteers much like the SETI At-Home project does. Anyone is welcome to participate in the project, but only after passing a rigorous training program provided free by NASA.

About 30,000 labor hours will be needed to complete the project but it's estimated the search will only yield about 45 particles of dust...

US Answer to Kyoto Kicks Off Wednesday

What many see as the US-led alternative to the Kyoto Protocol, the Asia-Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate, kicks off Wednesday in Sydney, Australia.

Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, a UN led effort which sets mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions, the APPCDC asks countries to agree to share knowledge and technology and voluntarily reduce emissions as they see fit.

Australia may see the most financial benefit from the APPCDC as it is currently the world's biggest supplier of uranium, and nuclear fission and cleaner burning coal are a large part of how member countries plan to reduce emissions.
It is unclear whether renewable resources such as solar or wind-turbines will play any part in the APPCDC plan, although it is known the transfer of knowledge about as-yet-unattainable nuclear fusion, hydrogen energy, biotechnology and nanotechnology is.
How this will lead to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions has yet to be seen...

GlobalFlyer repaired; Arrives at NASA Thursday

Florida Today is reporting recent damage to the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer has been repaired and the famed aircraft will arrive at NASA Thursday, 4 p.m.

Pilot Steve Fossett will fly the craft in an attempt to break the record for the longest flight in aviation history. It's being called "The Ultimate Flight" and for good reason: If successful he will cover more than 26,000 miles in little more than 80 hours.

Last year Fossett used the Burt Rutan designed craft to fly solo non-stop around the world, matching a feat achieved by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager aboard the Voyager Aircraft in December, 1986.

For the record: "The Ultimate Flight" is planned to be 26,084 miles in 80 hours; the "Voyager" flight was 24,987 in a little more than nine days....

Astronaut Dan Barry: Contestant on Survivor

Former NASA Astronaut Dan Barry will be a contestant on the upcoming "Survivor Panama: Exile Island".

Barry, who became an astronaut in March 1992, was mission specialist on three shuttle flights, logging over 730 hours in space including four spacewalks totaling more than 24 hours. Barry retired from NASA in April 2005 to start his own robotics company, "Denbar Robotics."
Currently, there is not much work available for shuttle mission specialists...

This 12th edition of "Survivor" is not slated to begin until Feb. 2, but already a slew of supposedly "secret" details are beginning to appear online.

Too bad I couldn't find anything online about Denbar Robotics. I guess everything pales in comparison to "Survivor"...

Monday, January 09, 2006

US Space Program in Dire Straits

SpaceDaily.com is reporting NASA had no alternative to buying flights to the International Space Station from Russia. In fact, NASA officials admit as much in the story.

It's not a bad thing, buying flights from the Russians, but it is frightening to think the US Space Fleet is non-existent. In fact, it took a Presidential Order for NASA to have the authority to purchase such flights because Spaceflight was once considered a matter of national security.
Apparently that is no longer the case as the US shuttle fleet is still grounded, and parts of the program are on the verge of being permanently mothballed.

With the CEV still years away, Soyuz and Progress spacecraft will soon carry Russian and American astronauts. But maybe that's a good thing...

New Horizons Gets Decals

NASA's probe to the Kuiper Belt and beyond is getting its final stickers before launch sometime later this month.
If NASA is unable to launch this month, they won't get another opportunity until February, 2007.

New Horizons will cross the Solar System faster than anything before it (reaching lunar orbit in just 9 hours), explore Pluto and its moon, Charon, and travel out to explore the mysterious Kuiper Belt. This is the first mission specifically designed to explore the Plutonian System (my term, don't bother looking it up), and the first to return pictures of the little quasi-planet since Voyager 1.

SpaceToday.org has a nice mission overview if you're interested.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Pravda Spells Out Future Moon Missions and What They Cost

In this Pravda story on the many planned Moon missions by private and governmental entities, the US seems a day late and a dollar short.

The writer points out the US mission is slated to start almost a decade after private companies plan to make the trip, and includes some ideas that might not even work, like heating the lunar base with Helium-3 the astronauts will mine themselves.

The story also touches on plans by SpaceDev who promise a $10 billion lunar science mission in less than a decade and Artemis Society International, who plans to build a private lunar base for space tourists at $25 million a trip.

ISRO to Process Titanium in Kerala

Indian Space Research Organization, in its bid to become a completely self-sufficient spacefaring nation, has signed an "understanding" with Kerala Minerals and Metals Limited to build a titanium sponge plant capable of producing 500 tons per year of the versatile but extremely rare spacecraft-grade metal.
India has an abundance of raw titanium, but so far processing of the material has been done outside the country. Titanium is the key ingredient used to build spacecraft.

Kerala is one of India's most populated states located on its southwestern coast, bounded by the Arabian Sea to the west and the Western Ghats to the east.

It is obvious India, already operating a flotilla of orbiting probes and slated to launch a dozen more satellites in the coming years, is thinking ahead. By creating the infrastructure to support its space program it will avoid costs associated with suppliers seeking to make a few extra dollars off someone else's successes...

Stardust: Not Quite Home, But Almost

NASA's comet sample return mission, the Stardust spacecraft, made it's second to last maneuver, 18th course adjustment overall, and is now just a week from delivering its precious payload.

The craft will make one more adjustment before releasing its 100 pound sample-return capsule into earth's atmosphere, where it will hopefully come down safely in the Utah desert.

NASA has a nifty Stardust Mission Podcast with Dr. Peter Brownlee, the Stardust Principal Investigator.

If you live in the Northwestern US you might catch a glimpse of the return capsule as it streaks earthward. Check out this NASA chart of where to look and when.

After seven years and billions of miles of space travel, the Stardust mission stands poised to provide an opportunity for scientists to study pristine samples of comet material and interstellar dust left over from the formation of the Solar System 4.6 billion years ago...

Saturday, January 07, 2006

In the Path of Katrina: NASA Awards 38 for Bravery at Michoud

It made the news, but was overshadowed by national and international tragedies: NASA honored 38 brave souls last week for saving the US Space Program in the face of complete devastation by hurricane Katrina.

The Michoud Assembly Facility is near where the eye of Katrina made landfall. Currently shuttle external fuel tanks are produced there, the same ones to be used in NASA's next generation spacecraft.

The facility and the workers who remained endured 130+ mile per hour winds and crashing waves of water surging 19 feet above levee walls. Together this skeleton crew manned pumps day and night, ultimately removing more than a billion gallons of water, preventing serious downtime and damage to space hardware. Only one external fuel tank suffered any damage when a ceiling tile crashed down and struck its side.

In all, 94 percent of workers at Michoud suffered some damage to their own houses, and more than 600 lost their homes completely. Most lived in short-term housing facilities with their families as they continued working to get the facility re-opened.

As NASA Chief Mike Griffin said himself, it is a reminder that "not all of NASA's heroes fly in space."

Stargazing for Coalition Forces

Space.com has a nifty stargazing guide available for soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. The main story comes with some awesome links to further star-watching-themed sites.

Perhaps not so surprising, the skies above the Middle East will offer different views this year, including the Occultation of the Pleiades and a partial solar eclipse in March.

All of this comes following a letter to Space.com from a US Army Chaplain named Chris Wallace, who wrote to ask for some tips on stargazing he could pass along to the soldiers.

Check it out. And pass it along to someone serving overseas...

Friday, January 06, 2006

Battlestar Galactica on SciFi: What is a Cylon Anyway?

I watched the original Battlestar Galactica. It was cheesy and fake-looking with the worst special effects and some of the crappiest dialogue ever.
But I enjoyed it.

The new Battlestar Galactica is decidedly.....different.

For instance, the cylons are not mechanical automatons hellbent on humanity's demise, they are human looking inside and out; they bleed, have babies, think, feel and dream just like we do.
You might wonder what the difference is between humans and cylons. So do I.

Also, they have mastered the ability to create human life from nothing (they created the cylons) and travel faster than the speed of light in fantastic starships, but they apparently can't cure breast cancer because one of the major characters is dying from it.


And finally, whomever decided shooting the space battles with a handheld camera should, in my humble opinion, be pushed out an airlock. You spent a ton of money on those digital effects, I sure wish I could see them clearly.

But I'm nitpicking...it's still better than Enterprise...

What is Near Space?

Amateur radio enthusiasts and high-altitude balloons combine to put space research within reach of anyone with the know-how and a spare $1000.
Near Space is generally considered the area of atmosphere between 75,000 feet and 62.5 miles above sea level. The machines used to explore this region are called 'nearcraft'; reusable ships equipped with a multitude of instruments to record conditions, images, even collect particles.

Near Space is not quite 'space' but it has many of the same characteristics, making it ideal for research and study by those of limited means--meaning, it can be done on the cheap.

JP Aerospace is currently designing various use nearcraft; Arizona Near Space Research, amateur radio balloon group has conducted 26 successful high-altitude balloon flights (and payload recovery) up to 104,000 feet; Kansas Near Space Project helps local students design and build their own "spacecraft" to test in the near space environment.

The best part about nearspace is its accessibility to everyone with a hankering for space exploration and a little extra money to burn....

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Free Astronomy Handbook for 2006

UniverseToday.com has a free down-loadable astronomy handbook available now. Here.

Called "What's Up 2006: 365 Days of Skywatching" by Astronomer Tammy Plotner, it contains suggestions for great astronomical events and sights during the coming year.

It's 13.5 MB, a little large and hence slow to download, but well worth the effort.

Can You Buy Lunar Property? Sure! But Don't Expect Cable TV

Yes, buying lunar property is not only possible, it's quickly becoming big business. The only problem is when a company like Planetary Investments sells you a deed to Moon land, what can you do with it?
Good question.

The many company's selling lunar landscape ( a GOOGLE search of "buy lunar real estate" produced 570,000+ hits in .22 seconds) claim they have the right guaranteed under the UN Outer Space Treaty, which basically says, when it comes to space, no nukes, no weapons, everybody love one another... with nary a mention of property rights, except to say no nation can claim a planet or moon as its own.

By and large, the Treaty is a good thing, establishing the right of all humans to the celestial bodies within our Solar System, but it's a little loose on non-weapon regulations.

A Moon Treaty was written in the 1970s and it strictly forbade the for-profit private or corporate development of any space object. Endorsed by Australia, Austria, Belgium, Chile, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, Pakistan, Philippines and Uruguay it's widely ignored and has done nothing to prevent people from buying and selling lunar property.

MoonEstates.com has been successfully selling celestial real estate since Sept. 8, 2000. They claim they have the right to sell such property on behalf of Dennis M. Hope, who filed a petition of ownership for Earth's Moon, and the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto (and the respective moons for each) in 1980.

Regardless, any serious building on disputed property is many years away...

Gemini Observatory Makes Big News

The Gemini Observatory has been making big news lately, showing dazzling images of deep space objects never-seen-before, with stunning clarity and detail.

The Gemini Observatory is actually two 8.1 meter telescopes located in two different hemispheres, North in Hawaii on the extinct Mauna Kea volcano, and South in Chile on Mt. Cerro Pachon. The Gemini scientific partnership includes the USA, UK, Canada, Chile, Australia, Argentina and Brazil.

Together these nations have shown the world a new universe and yet another example of how working together makes all the difference....

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Scientists Prepare for Stardust Return Capsule

If all goes well, in 10 days NASA's Stardust spacecraft will safely return its precious cargo of interstellar dust and cometary particles. It's mission to sample and collect material from Comet Wild 2 is complete except for returning those samples to earth.

The NASA/JPL project has traveled billions of miles the last seven years and expectations are high for a successful ending. Popular interest is also running high: More than 300,000 hits in less than half a second on a Google search for "Stardust Spacecraft".

Here's a link to build your own Stardust model.

Now, let's just hope the celebration continues past the 15th...

GlobalFlyer Suffers "Considerable Damage"

Steve Fossett's latest record-setting flight attempt in the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer has hit a snag following a refueling mishap that Florida Today reports did "considerable damage" to one of the aircraft's wings.

No information yet on whether the flight attempt will need to be postponed or the full extent of the damage, just that the wing-tip struck a fuel truck and suffered damage.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

NASA Budget Gets Tighter, Congress Keeps The Faith

Florida Today is reporting the shuttle 'foam issue' may threaten future NASA missions including trips to the Moon and Mars.

It's true the foam problem has gone on far too long and needs to be resolved once and for all, but there have been many successes, including the safe launch and return of Discovery in July.

NASA engineers are only going to launch when they believe the ship is safe. Not before. That's not an endorsement of their techniques, it's simply a matter of fact.
Right now foam continues to break loose and that's unacceptable.

There is no other spacecraft capable of doing what NASA's Space Transport System can do, when it works properly.
But that's the problem: It still doesn't work properly. Hence the $4 billion a year budgeted for the program is beginning to drain from everything else. And that doesn't include the $6 billion estimated to get the program going again, or the unknown expenses they might encounter right now as they try figure out how to get the whole thing--working properly.

For its part Congress has kept the faith, pledging support of NASA administrator Mike Griffin, and the Moon/Mars mission. We'll see if that continues in the face of further launch delays or system failures.

It's tricky business, launching spaceships. But NASA has had plenty of time to learn the ropes and surely they will rebound from this....

Russia Continues To Prove Its Space-Tech Prowess

The recent Russian launch of a US communications satellite package is more proof of their commitment to the economical viability of space technology.

despite severe budget cutbacks, the Russian Federal Space Agency has maintained a very high success rate. This and its openness to commercial opportunities such as space tourism, have put Russian ahead of other nations in developing a viable space program.

Of course it remains to be seen if any of the current private enterprise contenders can match this success...

Pluto Suffers From Anti-Greenhouse Effect

As if the twin-bodied system we know as Pluto is not shrouded in enough mystery, add this: It's actually colder than it should be considering its distance from the Sun.

Pluto moves in an orbit which brings it as close as 30 AU to the Sun and as far as 50. That temperature change is enough to change its fragile nitrogen-rich atmosphere to ice which falls to the surface. It is theorized when the planet moves closer to the Sun, some sunlight is absorbed during the conversion of nitrogen from ice back to a gas, accounting for a lower than expected surface temperature.
Of course this was only theory because we didn't really know what the surface temperature of Pluto actually was. Until now.

Recently scientists at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics used the Submillimeter Array on Mauna Kea in Hawaii, to take temperature readings that seem to confirm the current hypothesis. They say the surface temperature is lower and they can prove it.

Seems to us it's just one more reason for New Horizons...

Monday, January 02, 2006

Solar Powered Handbag--Stylish Wear for the 21st Century

Some genius at Iowa State University has created a solar powered purse called the Solarjo Power Purse, it's capable of charging a cell phone, iPod, PDA or other small electronic device with a USB port using only a tight skin of solar cells.
Retailing for around $300, the little handbags are more handy than baggy, and they're nice looking, too. I may start carrying a bag...

Solar cells are all the rage. At least they will be in a few short months. It may seem you've been hearing that for years, and you have, but now it's truer than before. At least I like to think so.
But check out these organic, bendable solar cells being developed right now.

And the new solar power plant being built in New Mexico is a great example of turning to alternatives fuel sources rather than the fossil fuels...

Tractor Beams A Reality? Maybe.

Is the Star Trek tractor beam a plausible reality? Something scientists today are working on?

No.

But the headline on a story and podcast at UniverseToday.com would have you believe otherwise...

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Alpha Centauri B is Ringing Like a Bell

At nearly 4.5 light years distance from the earth, the stars that make up the 'Pointers' near the Constellation of the Southern Cross are close enough to make any astronomer salivate with anticipation of seeing a Sun-like star outside our Solar System, but far enough away to require a minimum 40 years of one-way travel even at our fastest theoretical speed (using Solar Sails.)

So instead of planning a mission, scientists rely on astronomers to paint a picture of what the stars look like and what they are doing.

Alpha Centauri B is a little cooler and a little smaller than our Sun, but no less interesting. Using two telescopes simultaneously, astronomers have been able to measure the pulsing nature of the star, even providing approximate measurements of how much its interior activity is altering it's size.
Much like the vibrations of a bell, these alterations in surface area caused by churning gases, send rippling sound waves bouncing around the interior of the star and reverberating out into space.

No, you can't hear it at all even if you try real hard. But by measuring the Doppler Effect on wavelengths of light emitted from the star, astronomers can make their estimations about size and changes and whatnot...

What is a Battery?

No, not the "act of beating or pounding", I am speaking of cells designed to hold an electrical current.

Everyone uses them for just about everything from toys to cell phones to ear implants to the cars we drive--just about everything requires a battery.
But how much do we know about them?

If you doubt your battery knowledge check out Battery University. The site is chock full of useful knowledge, like how to make your batteries last longer and how to get the most power out of them. There's also a wealth of information about picking the right battery for the right piece of electronic equipment.
Anyone familiar with digital cameras knows the batteries can make all the difference.

The site is sponsored by Cadex Electronics Inc., a company that's been in the battery and electronics business for 25 years, so they speak with a little authority. In addition to a 300-page online battery handbook (for people really hungry for knowledge) they also offer a handy links page and some easy-to-understand battery basics.

What is a Solar Sail?

NASA and The Planetary Society are about to launch spacecraft driven by solar sail technology, but what is a solar sail and how does it work?

The idea is far from new. Johannes Kepler first observed the natural phenomenon we call "solar wind" in the 17th century, when he noticed the wild curlings on a comet tail through his telescope.
Scientists now understand this is not wind, but a flow of various charged particles emanating from the sun, streaming outward from our Solar System. Solar Sails capture the photons from this "wind", actual particles of light which lack mass but can transfer momentum. And since they are traveling at the speed of light, harnessing their momentum provides an incredible speed boost.

When harnessing the light of our Sun a spacecraft could travel about 10 times faster than the orbital speed of the shuttle, and it can use the same force to move around the Solar System, without any other fuel, and return to Earth upon completion of a mission.
Using a different photon source--like a laser or magnetic beam transmitter--could result in speeds of up to 18,000 miles per second, or one-tenth light speed.

Different materials have been tested as sails, along with different types of deployment methods. Most spacecraft being designed right now are to be launched by conventional rocket and unfurl sails in space, but much effort is being made to design a revolutionary propulsion system that could be launched from the ground, perhaps using a microwave beam system.

With all the current testing and development it seems very likely mankind will once again experience an Age of Sail...