3.24.2009

Space Tech of the Week: None...again

No Space Tech of the Week so you can spend your valuable time learning about all the cool NASA missions of the past at NASA's Mission Madness bracket !

Round 2 ends today (March 24th)!

Round 3 starts March 26th!

Go vote!

3.20.2009

This is madness!

What's your favorite NASA mission of the past 50 years?

Vote now! MISSION MADNESS

or see the current results

Round 1 goes from March 19-20
Championship goes from April 6-7

3.17.2009

The Legend of Bat-ronaut

"Although we remained hopeful he would wake up and fly away, the bat eventually became IPR 119V-0080 after the ICE team finished their walkdown. He did change the direction he was pointing from time to time throughout countdown but ultimately never flew away. IR imagery shows he was alive and not frozen like many would think. The surface of the ET foam is actually generally between 60-80 degrees F on a day like yesterday. SE&I performed a debris analysis on him and ultimately a LCC waiver to ICE-01 was written to accept the stowaway. Lift off imagery analysis confirmed that he held on until at least the vehicle cleared to tower before we lost sight of him.

And thus is the legend of the STS-119 Bat-ronaut…."


3.16.2009

Public opinion on space exploration survey


Everett Group's Survey on Space Exploration

Purpose of the study:
  • "Gauge Americans’ impressions of the space program relative to other national institutions
  • Determine what the public perceives to be the greatest benefits of the space program
  • Gauge the level of public support for an increase in funding for the space program
  • Identify future missions that the public would support"
"Key Take-Aways
  • Most Americans are interested in the space program (60%) but an alarming number have no interest at all (19%). Interest is particularly soft among women.
  • On the positive side, large majorities feel that the space program is important to national security (71%), contributes to national pride (79%), and inspires young people to study math and science (82%).
  • Half of the public feel that the space program has not directly improved their lives in any way. Those who do, however, cite technological developments and knowledge about the universe.
  • Most believe that the U.S. continues to explore space in order to maintain our status as an international leader or because it is human nature to explore."
From the PowerPoint presentation:

From these results it seems that NASA's current mission of returning to the moon is not what the American public considers the best use of its money. It also seems that the public as a whole isn't too sure what they want NASA to do at all.













Link to survey originally found on NASA Watch

Space Tech of the Week: Dawn

What is it?: "a robotic spacecraft being sent by NASA on a space exploration mission to the two most massive members of the asteroid belt: the asteroid Vesta and the dwarf planet Ceres. Dawn is scheduled to explore Vesta between 2011 and 2012, and Ceres in 2015. It will be the first spacecraft to visit either body."

"Dawn is innovative in that it will be the first spacecraft to enter into orbit around a celestial body, study it, and then re-embark under powered flight to proceed to a second target. All previous multi-target study missions—such as the Voyager program—have involved rapid planetary flybys."

"Mission controllers have compared the Dawn mission with that of the fictional space voyages depicted on Star Trek. Dawn project system engineer Marc Rayman says, "Dawn is like the first real interplanetary spaceship! Many spacecraft have gathered data at multiple bodies, but Dawn will be the first to go somewhere, go into orbit, and be able to linger there, and then travel to another body and do the same thing." To do this, Dawn is powered by an ion plasma propulsion engine."
"Dawn will rely on the controlled venting of its plasma thrust to continuously accelerate toward Vesta. On its way, the spacecraft's ion engine will speed it up to about 24,600 miles per hour (11 kilometers per second), far more than any spacecraft has ever achieved."

Dawn launched onboard a Delta 7925H rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fl on September 27, 2007. Its mission duration is expected to be 8 years and it is currently 1 year and 5 months into its mission. On February 17th, 2009 it flew by Mars during a successful gravity assist.
Current location of Dawn

"The mission's goal is to characterize the conditions and processes of the solar system's earliest epoch by investigating in detail two of the largest protoplanets remaining intact since their formation. Ceres and Vesta have many contrasting characteristics that are thought to have resulted from them forming in two different regions of the early solar system; Ceres is theorized to have experienced a "cool and wet" formation that may have left it with subsurface water, and Vesta is theorized to have experienced a "hot and dry" formation that resulted in a differentiated interior and surface volcanism."





Sources:
Wikipedia
Scientific American

3.14.2009

We need YOU!

After reading the comments to the ABC news question of the day it's encouraging to read so many people supporting our space program, but it worries me to see the comments coming from the people who do not. It seems they think that first of all, NASA's budget is a huge percentage of the federal budget, and second of all they think of the money being spent on the space program is just like throwing money out the window. It seems they have zero comprehension of the idea that all the money that goes into the space program actually is spent here on Earth.

For some time now I've been very concerned that we (as space enthusiasts) have been completely failing at communicating our message to the general public. I've had countless arguments with people who are "anti-space" and I feel that the arguments of inspiration and spin-offs just don't work for them. People need to see more tangible and direct benefits to their lives. They don't understand the value of something that has long-term benefits like the space program. Most worrying of all they have little comprehension of what is going on in space.
In my opinion the three main issues we as space enthusiasts need to tackle are:
  1. Communication of what we do in space (people barely know what Apollo is. It's amazing how many people don't know we even have a space station and then when they are told are amazed to learn about what we do in space. We can't expect the media to do our work for us. We need to push space exploration religiously ourselves. Our goal should be to educate people about cool things that are done in space on a daily basis.)
  2. Communication of what NASA costs us as taxpayers (there are two ways to think of NASA's budget: $18 billion or less than 1 penny for every dollar spent on taxes or 0.7 % of the federal budget. Out of context the first number seems huge to the average person. The second number seems like a bargain! Just look at this Wired article that discusses a survey that showed that Americans believed that NASA's budget was one-fourth of the total U.S. budget!: http://blog.wired.com/wiredscience/2007/11/average-america.html)
  3. Communication of how our daily lives are affected by space (this is the usual spin-offs discussion)
  4. Communication of NASA's Return-On-Investment (this is a hard figure to come up with, but if we had it it would be a great one point reply to the nay-sayers)
  5. Communication of NASA's long term benefits to our nation and the world (in my opinion the hardest of all things to communicate or prove)
Note that the key to all 5 points is communication! If NASA isn't able to promote itself that's no excuse as to why we as private citizens can't do it. Do we really care enough about this issue to do this on our own? Wernher VonBraun spent his entire life as a staunch space advocate, communicating his message within the government and to the general public. He realized that we lived in a democracy and that in the end it was the voice of the people that decided the course we would take. He wrote technical books, science-fiction novels, magazine articles, and even worked with Disney on a series of shows dealing with our future in space. We need to the same. Personally, I'm trying to do my part with my blog and a start up model-rocket club (still in development, but the goal is to teach children the basics of rocketry through community events and online educational videos). I don't think what I'm doing is enough, but I'm trying to take one small step at a time.

With the internet we have the opportunity to communicate our message more effectively than ever. Want to spread the gospel of space? Start a blog, make a YouTube video, participate in online communities, contribute space articles to Digg and Reddit, twitter about space, Facebook about space, MySpace about... space, launch model rockets in your neighborhood (but not at your neighbors), go talk at your local elementary school, be an astronaut for Halloween, celebrate Yuri's night, invite friends over for Shuttle launch viewing parties, communicate, communicate, communicate!

"You must be the change you want to see in the world." - Gandhi

3.13.2009

Why should we fund NASA?



My looooong response to ABC News Question: Is American's Space Program Worth the Money?

Funding AND supporting NASA can help meet 2 out of the 5 main agenda items listed on President Obama's change.gov transition web page:
1) Revitalizing the Economy and 5) Renewing American Global Leadership

We can not be left behind in space after holding such a substantial lead for decades. We (as a country) must continue to push new frontiers and when we have paved the way we should pass it on to private companies who will continue the work and create new jobs and industries. Companies like Scaled Composites, Virgin Galactic, Bigelow Aerospace, and SpaceX are beginning to "settle" on that frontier that NASA first reached in the 1960s. Earth orbit's future is now in the hands of these pioneers.

Now NASA must push beyond Earth orbit and continue our expansion into space. We need to go to the moon and beyond. India and China both have solid plans to send men to the moon by 2020 and the Europeans and Russians have their own goals in regards to the moon as well. In the 1960s and 70s we sent men to the moon and it seemed that there was nothing that could hold back American ingenuity and innovation. The world looked at us in awe. We must not lose this global leadership.

Sending people to the moon would help revitalize our economy because it will create many new jobs to help support this undertaking. We will need all types of people to help build, design, and manage a manned space exploration program to the moon. In addition to that, the space infrastructure that would be created to set up permanent moon bases should also help in the reduction of costs to reach Earth orbit. Lowered costs for reaching Earth orbit can lead to cost savings in the communications industry (which in turn lead to lower costs for all of us). In addition to that, low costs can also lead to the creation of 100% green power sources like Space Solar Power Satellites (Here's a video on that: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YiU9MibyBJ0 and the extensive wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_power_satellite). All that leads to even more economic revitalization.

Also, if you look at it from a longer term perspective, when moon bases become more common (as travel to Earth orbit is becoming today) private corporations will start to pick up where NASA has left off. Why should private corporations go to the moon? Well the moon seems to have huge amounts of Helium-3 under its surface, and on Earth this isotope is very rare. It is hoped that one day (we aren't there yet) this will be used as a fusion power source. How useful can He-3 be for life here on Earth? 25 tons of it (which could be carried back on just one space round trip) can power the entire U.S. for one year. With this amount we could replace all fuels that we pay for essentially making the helium 3 worth about $3 billion per ton. In my opinion He-3 is the reason why so many other countries are in such a rush to get to the moon (see more info below).

In terms of inspiration I can't think of anything more inspiring than continually trying to do the impossible. As JFK once said:

"But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too. "

In this country we constantly complain about the state of our education and our lack of a new generation of scientists and engineers, but why should our students strive to achieve these careers? Yes, we have many challenges in medicine and energy, and I agree that these are very important and they can be inspiring to many, but exploration and new discoveries are what (in my opinion) have pushed the boundaries of human imagination. You don't see many movies or read many books about the exciting adventures of engineers developing new energy sources, do you? In ancient times people looked at far away mountains and oceans and wondered what was beyond. They wondered and then they worked to find out and in the process pushed mankind forward. If you wanted to know what their goal was they just needed to point to that nearest mountaintop or to the ocean. Today, we can look to the sky and point to the moon.

UPDATE 4/14/09:
Some valuable (official) resources for those of you writing research papers on why we should fund NASA.

3.10.2009

STS-119 On Schedule to launch tomorrow

UPDATE: Launch delayed. Stay up to date at Spaceflight Now's Mission Status Center

"The STS-119 mission will deliver to the station the final set of solar arrays needed to complete the station's complement of electricity-generating solar panels, and through them support the station's expanded crew of six in 2009."

"Over the past year, one new connecting node – Harmony – and two new international partner laboratories – the European Columbus and the Japanese Kibo – have been added to the space station, expanding its capacity for science experiments. And one of the reasons the crew is being expanded is to have more hands aboard performing those experiments. The additional electricity provided by the new solar arrays will help power those experiments."

STS-119 crew member Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will stay aboard the station after the shuttle Discovery leaves replacing Sandy Magnus who arrived on the station in November. Wakata will be the first JAXA station crew member.

STS-119 crew member Joe Acaba is a part of the NASA educator in space program. He spent two years in the U.S. Peace Corp, one year teaching at Melbourne High School, and four years teaching at Dunnellon Middle School (both in Florida). Although he was born in California, both his parents are from Puerto Rico and so he is the first person of Puerto Rican heritage to go into space.

Richard Arnold, another member of the STS-119 crew is also a teacher and a member of the Astronaut educator program. Since 1987 he has taught at middle and college preparatory schools in Maryland, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Romania.

Source:
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/shuttlemissions/sts126/

3.09.2009

Space Tech of the Week: Kepler


What is it?: "A NASA space telescope designed to search for Earth-like planets orbiting other stars." It is NASA's first mission with this capability.

Kepler is a mission under NASA's Discovery Program of low-cost, focused science missions. The Kepler Spacecraft lifted off from Cape Canaveral, FL on March 6, 2009, at 10:49 PM Eastern Time.

"There is now clear evidence for substantial numbers of three types of exoplanets; gas giants, hot-super-Earths in short period orbits, and ice giants... The challenge now is to find terrestrial planets (i.e., those one half to twice the size of the Earth), especially those in the habitable zone of their stars where liquid water and possibly life might exist."

"The Kepler Mission, NASA Discovery mission #10, is specifically designed to survey our region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover hundreds of Earth-size and smaller planets in or near the habitable zone and determine how many of the billions of stars in our galaxy have such planets."

"The scientific objective of the Kepler Mission is to explore the structure and diversity of planetary systems. This is achieved by surveying a large sample of stars to:

  1. Determine the percentage of terrestrial and larger planets there are in or near the habitable zone of a wide variety of stars;
  2. Determine the distribution of sizes and shapes of the orbits of these planets;
  3. Estimate how many planets there are in multiple-star systems;
  4. Determine the variety of orbit sizes and planet reflectivities, sizes, masses and densities of short-period giant planets;
  5. Identify additional members of each discovered planetary system using other techniques; and
  6. Determine the properties of those stars that harbor planetary systems. "

IMAGE: Kepler's Search Area

"Using a space photometer developed by NASA, it will observe the brightness of over 100,000 stars over 3.5 years to detect periodic transits of a star by its planets (the transit method of detecting planets). The mission is named in honor of German astronomer Johannes Kepler."



Sources:
Official Website: http://kepler.nasa.gov/
Follow it on Twitter: http://twitter.com/nasakepler
Wikipedia Page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kepler_mission

Star Trek

3.02.2009

Space Tech of the Week: Dragon


What is it?: "The SpaceX Dragon is a proposed conventional blunt-cone ballistic capsule spacecraft, capable of carrying seven people or a mixture of personnel and cargo, to and from low Earth orbit. The capsule is being developed by SpaceX. The Dragon capsule will be launched atop a Falcon 9 vehicle."

The Dragon will have both manned and unmanned versions of the vehicle and in its manned version it will be able to carry up to 7 passengers.

"The Dragon capsule is comprised of 3 main elements: the Nosecone, which protects the vessel and the docking adaptor during ascent; the Pressurized Section, which houses the crew and/or pressurized cargo; and the Service Section, which contains avionics, the RCS system, parachutes, and other support infrastructure.

In addition an unpressurized trunk is included, which provides for the stowage of unpressurized cargo and will support Dragon’s solar arrays and thermal radiators."

"To ensure a rapid transition from cargo to crew capability, the cargo and crew configurations of Dragon are almost identical, with the exception of the crew escape system, the life support system and onboard controls that allow the crew to take over control from the flight computer when needed. This focus on commonality minimizes the design effort and simplifies the human rating process, allowing systems critical to Dragon crew safety and ISS safety to be fully tested on uncrewed demonstration flights.

For cargo launches the inside of the capsule is outfitted with a modular cargo rack system designed to accommodate pressurized cargo in standard sizes and form factors. For crewed launches, the interior is outfitted with crew couches, controls with manual override capability and upgraded life-support."

To protect its reentry into Earth's atmosphere it uses a Phenolic impregnated carbon ablator (PICA) heat shield. PICA was developed at NASA Ames Research Center and was the primary heat shield material used for the Stardust space craft.

The vehicle is designed to have lifting re-entry in order to achieve landing precision and low-g's for its crew. It is designed for a water landing and ocean recovery after a slow descent using parachutes.

The Dragon spacecraft project was initiated internally by SpaceX in 2005 and then was submitted as part of SpaceX's proposal for NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program on March 3, 2006. COTS purpose is for commercially delivering cargo and crew to the International Space Station. In late December 2008 NASA awarded an ISS cargo delivery contract to SpaceX which calls for a minimum of 20,000 kg of cargo over up to 12 flights to ISS at a cost of $1.6 billion. In the contract there are options to increase the value of the contract to up to $3.1 billion. Included among these options is a crew capable Dragon capsule.







Sources:
Wikipedia
SpaceX