NSS Issues Call to Action for American Space Leadership

The National Space Society calls for the United States to make civil space a high national priority in order to ensure American leadership in scientific discovery, technology development, and the creation of new industries and new applications that will benefit all humanity. Five actions are necessary to achieve this objective:

Formulate a Strategy to Achieve the Ultimate Goal. Congress and the Administration shall institute, by no later than February 28, 2013, a comprehensive civil space strategy to achieve the long-range goal of the human settlement of space, including the use of space to better life on Earth.

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Amber Waves of Grain…on Mars?

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Space Wheat Could Feed Astronauts on Mars
Live Science

Does a sandwich on Mars taste different?

The answer could be no, according to new research that found long-term spaceflight exposure doesn’t change later generations of wheat seeds.

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ESA Needs Help Designing Its First Lunar Lander

ESA PRESS RELEASE

ESA’s Directorate of Human Spaceflight is inviting industrial, technology and scientific communities to provide inputs for experiments and payload elements for accommodation on its first lunar lander.

This Request for Information follows last year’s ESA Council Meeting at Ministerial Level, where funding was approved for ESA to work towards launching a lunar lander in the 2017–20 timeframe within the European Transportation and Human Exploration Preparatory Activities programme and the Global Exploration Strategy (GES).

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Back to the Moon – with Company

The moon beckons again – for U.S., 8 other nations
Mike Swift
San Jose Mercury News

In hopes of discovering clues to the origin of life on Earth, the United States and eight other nations signed a landmark agreement at NASA’s Ames Research Center this week that scientists hope will lay the groundwork for a new generation of lunar exploration and science.

Unlike the all-American Apollo program, the new agreement sees a multinational fleet of robot spacecraft returning to the moon in coming years, with the maturing space programs of countries like India, Germany and South Korea playing key roles in an effort that ultimately would lead to the return of astronauts.

“It’s sort of like the beginning of a beautiful friendship, like at the end of ‘Casablanca,’ ” James Green, director of NASA’s planetary science division, said at Moffett Field this week.

Scientists Meet at Ames to Plan Out Lunar Trips

Scientists and engineers are meeting this week at NASA Ames Research Center in California to plan out humanity’s return to the moon.

NASA plans GPS-like system for return to the moon
Scientific American

NASA has coughed up $1.2 million for a navigation system that will help astronauts find their way around the lunar surface when they return in 2020. The Lunar Astronaut Spatial Orientation and Information System (LASOIS) is designed to function  much the same way as a global positioning system (GPS).

Scientists swap moon, Mars exploration plans
San Francisco Chronicle

“Christopher P. McKay, a NASA scientist at the Ames Research Center in Mountain View, has one overriding question for the future of human exploration on the moon and Mars.

“Could astronauts stay on the moon for any length of time where lunar gravity is six times weaker than it is on Earth or on Mars, where the gravity is an insupportably three times weaker than Earth’s?

“If those questions can’t be answered, McKay said, we may visit those distant places, but we won’t be able to stay.”

NASA: The Moon is not enough
The Register (UK)

“NASA and its international aeronautical cohorts have some serious explaining to do before they start rocketing folks to the Moon again.

“They better convince the public why it’s so important for our species to invest hand-over-fist just to root around some boring gray orbital dust ball – a dust ball we already stuck a flag in a full score and 19 years ago.

“Perhaps they’re preaching to the choir, but this week a gathering of scientists are giving this sort of time-tested anti-space exploration diatribe a workout at the NASA/AMES Research Center in Mountain View, California.”

Mars on My Mind

Andrei Kislyakov looks at the problems of human missions to the Red Planet in his commentary, Will we reach Mars? And what is the main obstacle to sending people to Mars? People.

“Hardly anything can prevent mankind from launching piloted flights to other planets. But alongside technicalities, it will have to resolve the problem of preserving the life and health of a man who will be the most precious and vulnerable link in a Martian or any other mission,” he writes.

Meanwhile, University of Hartford history professor Michael Robinson makes the case for robotic Mars missions over their much more expensive human counterparts.

“Space exploration is a zero-sum game. Sending astronauts to Mars (a planet now studied quite efficiently by rovers, orbiters, and, as of late May, the Phoenix Lander) requires an enormous investment that will come at the expense of smaller, more useful, scientific projects,” Robinson argues.

Arizona’s East Valley Tribune says that based on initial Phoenix soil analysis, Mars would be a perfect to grow turnips, asparagus and green beans. Well, aside from the “violent extremes of temperature, lack of liquid water and the lethal ultraviolet radiation,” of course.

To the Moon, Alice! To the Moon!

Writing in the WaPo Sunday Outlook section, Micheal Benson suggests sending the International Space Station to infinity and beyond. Or at least the moon and Mars:

“The only problem with this $156 billion manifestation of human genius — a project as large as a football field that has been called the single most expensive thing ever built — is that it’s still going nowhere at a very high rate of speed. And as a scientific research platform, it still has virtually no purpose and is accomplishing nothing….

“The ISS, you see, is already an interplanetary spacecraft — at least potentially. It’s missing a drive system and a steerage module, but those are technicalities. Although it’s ungainly in appearance, it’s designed to be boosted periodically to a higher altitude by a shuttle, a Russian Soyuz or one of the upcoming new Constellation program Orion spacecraft. It could fairly easily be retrofitted for operations beyond low-Earth orbit. In principle, we could fly it almost anywhere within the inner solar system — to any place where it could still receive enough solar power to keep all its systems running.”

Update: WaPo has published this rebuttal, It’s a Station, Not a Ship, by Jeff Volosin, a former NASA engineer and current space agency contractor. The title pretty much says it all.

Space Shuttle to Remain Forever 29; Successor Program Going Great…or Not

NASA has released the schedule for its remaining ten space shuttle missions. The plan includes nine flights to the International Space Station and a Hubble servicing mission in October. Endeavour is set to close out the shuttle era beginning on May 31, 2010 – about 10 months short of the 30th anniversary of the program’s inaugural mission on April 12, 1981.

Meanwhile, NASA has ramped work on the shuttle’s successor, Constellation. In lieu of actual test flights (which won’t begin until next year), the space agency has created a really snazzy video showing how Constellation will place us on a path back to the moon beginning in 2013….or 2015.

And how is work going on the Ares rockets and Orion capsule? Officially, everything’s coming up Milhouse. In fact, you can read about how well things are going on NASA’s official Constellation website. Or read this story about Ares in the Houston Chronicle.

Others aren’t so sure.

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Lunar Musings: Salvaging the Vision

Charles E. Miller and Jeff Foust have put forth Part II of their plan to save George Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration. (If you missed it, here’s the link to Part I.) It’s a little complicated, but their plan basically amounts to pursuing cheap and reliable access to space, whose acronym – CRATS – may well remind you of a domesticated pet, a Broadway musical, or a bodily function.

In the same edition of The Space Review, Greg Zsidisin takes a look at how we can avoid what he calls “another Apollo debacle” – developing massively expensive technology and then tossing it away for something much less useful.

Meanwhile, Rand Simberg analyzes both these posts at his Transterrestrial Musings blog.

VSE Update: Cislunar Architecture, Propellant Loss, and Commercial Communications

Some updates on plans for sending humans back to the moon, courtesy of Rob Coppinger over at Flight Global….

ESA considers cislunar space station for lunar exploration
“The European Space Agency, Russia and Japan are all considering a cislunar orbital complex that could consist of a habitation section and a resource module that would provide power and fuel and possibly be a safe haven for Orion crew exploration vehicle crews.”

NASA begins work to solve boil-off problem
“NASA has started the contractor selection process for its lunar surface thermal control system study that could find a solution to the biggest hurdle in its plans to return to the Moon: stopping propellant loss.”

ESA in favour of commercial lunar communications
Bernhard Hufenbach, ESA’s human spaceflight directorate’s head of strategy and architecture office, speaks enthusiastically of commercial communications services for a lunar outpost.

Hawking: Build Space Colonies in Case We Blow Ourselves Up

Worried that humanity could destroy itself and the Earth with it, famed physicist Stephen Hawking on Monday advocated a massive global spending effort to establish off-world colonies as an insurance policy against a global holocaust, New Scientist reports.

Speaking in Washington, DC, in honor of NASA’s 50th anniversary, Hawking advocated spending about 10 times more than NASA’s current $17 billion budget on the initiative. This expenditure would amount to about 0.25 percent of global GDP.

“Even if we were to increase the international [space exploration] budget 20 times to make a serious effort to go into space, it would only be a small fraction of world GDP,” Hawking told the crowd. “Isn’t our future worth a quarter of a percent?”

Hawking advocated speeding up NASA’s plans to establish a settlement on the moon and send humans off to the Red Planet. “A goal of a base on the Moon by 2020 and of a manned landing on Mars by 2025 would reignite the space program and give it a sense of purpose in the same way that President Kennedy’s Moon target did in the 1960s,” he said.

As much as I admire Hawking, I wonder about the effectiveness of his approach. It would pretty much involve overturning the way politics are practiced.

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Mike Griffin’s New Math: 1 Video = 1,000,000 Words + 17,614,000,000 Dollars

NASA Administrator Mike Griffin was in New Jersey last week, promoting his agency’s efforts at exploring and settling space as the ultimate way of ensuring humanity’s survival in the face of a likely global holocaust, NJHerald.com reports.

Speaking before an audience at the County College of Morris, Griffin played a video narrated by physicist Stephen Hawking that showed the Earth shrinking into the vast cosmos. “Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers,” Hawking intoned ominously. “I think the human race has no future if it doesn’t go into space.”

Griffin heartily agreed, saying that if a picture is worth a thousand words, then the video is worth “a thousand pictures.” He then proceeded to make a pitch for why it’s also worth billions in tax dollars for his space agency’s efforts to explore and settle Earth orbit, the moon and Mars.

“People ask me why we’re going back to the moon. Haven’t we already been there?” Griffin said. “Well, yes, we have. But using that critereon, then Spain should have stopped colonizing the New World. We’re returning to the moon both to learn how to go further and for the science we can learn about the moon, on the moon.”

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ESA to Study Radiation Risk to Astronauts on Mars Trips

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View inside the 120-meter long accelerator UNILAC at GSI.
Credit: G. Otto

GSI PRESS RELEASE

ESA has chosen the GSI accelerator facility in Germany to assess radiation risks that astronauts will be exposed to on a Mars mission. GSI was selected because its accelerator is the only one in Europe able to create ion beams similar to those found in space.

To determine possible health risks of manned space flights, scientists from all over Europe have been asked to investigate the effects of ion beams in human cells and organs. The first experiments will be launched this year and subsequently continued at GSI’s planned FAIR accelerator system.

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Lunar Science Community Needs Rebuilding

NASA needs a new generation of lunar research and exploration specialists to accomplish its plans to send humans back to the moon, Leonard David reports at Space.com.

“That talent largely was dissipated after the Apollo lunar landing program ended in 1972. As a result, several steps need to be taken to recuperate both the scientific and technical expertise that will be needed to investigate and understand the Moon,” David writes.

NASA recently took a step in this direction when the agency opened the Lunar Science Institute at Ames Research Center on April 11. The institute will lead the space agency’s lunar science programs and coordinate teams of scientists across the country.

David’s article discusses both present and future robotic missions aimed at exploring Earth’s closest celestial neighbors. Lunar exploration is becoming increasingly international; China and Japan currently have orbiters circling the moon.

Ares V: A long way from ESAS

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Credit: NASA

Rob Coppinger has an interesting analysis of NASA’s Ares V program on his Hyperbola blog. He takes a look at how the space agency’s moon rocket, based on space shuttle technology, has evolved since it was first incorporated as part of NASA’s Exploration Systems Architecture Study.

The story focuses on how engine selection and other factors affected the design and payload capacity of the Ares V. It’s a very detailed piece, so I won’t attempt to fully summarize it here. However, if you are interested in the details of why certain engines were chosen and the performance trade-offs that resulted, this would be a good read.