A NASA center and the Pentagon’s lead research group are striking financial flint to steel in hopes of sparking a sustained effort to make interstellar space travel a reality.
On Thursday, an official with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced that the agency will award a $500,000 grant to the person or group who can lay out the most effective road map for financing and implementing a research and development program to lead to interstellar travel by early next century.
At that point, the government will bow out, leaving it up to the winner to turn the ideas on Powerpoint slides to a sustainable research program – one that also is likely to focus on the ethical, economic, and legal issues surrounding the prospect of launching humans to other stars.
Using data from a NASA radar that flew aboard India’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, scientists have detected ice deposits near the moon’s north pole. NASA’s Mini-SAR instrument, a lightweight, synthetic aperture radar, found more than 40 small craters with water ice. The craters range in size from 1 to 9 miles (2 to15 km) in diameter. Although the total amount of ice depends on its thickness in each crater, it’s estimated there could be at least 1.3 trillion pounds (600 million metric tons) of water ice.
The Mini-SAR has imaged many of the permanently shadowed regions that exist at both poles of the Moons. These dark areas are extremely cold and it has been hypothesized that volatile material, including water ice, could be present in quantity here. The main science object of the Mini-SAR experiment is to map and characterize any deposits that exist.
Read more at www.nasa.gov
For nearly three decades (since 1981), the Space Shuttle was an iconic symbol of the American space program and the country’s primary way of reaching space. Now as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is working on its replacement, it’s putting the famous spacecraft up for sale.
NASA in December 2008 first offered the Shuttles for sale, hoping to find buyers among museums, schools and elsewhere. In total, NASA reportedly was offering two of its current fleet of three shuttles for sale for $42M USD a piece (as well as potentially offering the Enterprise, a shuttle prototype).
Over its history NASA has built five operational shuttles. The first shuttle, OV-102 Columbia flew 27 times before tragically disintegrating (killing all crew aboard) upon reentry in 2003. NASA also lost its second Shuttle, OV-099 Challenger to a tragic disaster back in 1986. Currently, there are three Shuttles that have survived their service — OV-103 Discovery, OV-104 Atlantis, and OV-105 Endeavour, which last flew in September, November, and July of 2009, respectively.
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The container with Tranquility is lifted into pad 39A’s gantry this morning. Credit: NASA-KSC
The Tranquility module that’ll be a new room with a view for the International Space Station was trucked to space shuttle Endeavour’s launch pad overnight, destined for blastoff next month.
Packed in a special transport canister shaped like the shuttle’s 60-foot-long payload bay, Tranquility was moved out of Kennedy Space Center’s Space Station Processing Facility last week. After a layover at the rotating building, where the container was turned upright, and then a weather-related hold, the module reached pad 39A before dawn today.
Ground crews went to work hoisting the canister up the gantry to unload Tranquility into the pad’s cleanroom for its eventual insertion into the shuttle bay later this week.
The module was built in Italy by Thales Alenia Space as part of the collaboration between the European Space Agency and NASA in the space station program. It was delivered to KSC in May to undergo final testing and preps for flight.
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The price of Nasa’s Space Shuttle fleet has just been slashed from £25.8m Credit: Getty
It flew faster and higher than any machine in history and was the was the ultimate boy’s toy, but at $42 million (£25.8 m) it was beyond most budgets. But now the price of Nasa’s soon-to-be redundant space shuttles has plummeted to something more down-to-earth: a new analysis of the costs of hauling the monster from the Kennedy Space Centre to a major US airport has led the space agency to slash the price to $28.2 m (£17.7m) .
Discovery, which has completed 37 missions into space and 5,247 orbits, has already been promised to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, but shuttles Atlantis and Endeavour are still available.
Still hoping for that Jetsons future?
Ruh-roh, as the Jetsons’ dog, Astro, might put it.
Just six years ago, President Bush laid out a vision of space exploration that harked back to NASA’s halcyon days built on astronauts as explorers. Bush wanted to sling them from low Earth orbit to a base on the moon and then, perhaps, on to a first manned landing on another planet, Mars.
But that was before huge federal deficits arrived, public support failed to show, and unmanned explorers scored successes — namely the Hubble telescope and Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which are still sending back signals years after they were expected to expire.
So as we look to the next decade, what sort of human space exploration will we see?
“We are on a path that will not lead to a useful, safe human exploration program,” former Lockheed Martin chief Norman Augustine said when he testified to Congress in September about the blue-ribbon space exploration panel he chaired. “The primary reason is the mismatch between the tasks to be performed and the funds that are available to support those tasks.”
But NASA’s guardians say it’s premature to end the role of the astronaut.
“I do not see this president being the president who presides over the end of human spaceflight,” said NASA chief Charles Bolden, a former space shuttle pilot, when he spoke Jan. 5 at the American Astronomical Society meeting here. In the speech, Bolden said his agency would stress missions — small ones — with other nations as partners and look to new technologies, not the big chemical rockets of the past, to propel missions.
This year begins a new decade, but it also will see the end of the United States’ trailblazing approach to manned spaceflight: the space shuttle program.
“In just five more flights, a chapter of history will be forever closed,” says Mike Mullane, a three-time NASA space shuttle astronaut and author of Riding Rockets. “It will be decades – perhaps generations – before humans will again see a winged vehicle launch into space and glide back to a runway landing.”Under current plans, NASA’s shuttle fleet will be retired by fall 2010. After that, there will be no more shuttle launches. But until then, travelers to Florida still have time to catch a launch.
“Watching a space shuttle launch is a dream come true for a lot of people,” said Andrea Farmer, public relations manager at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. “It’s so powerful and amazing to see this colossal machine lift off into space. All of your senses are impacted by the launch: You see the shuttle launching, you hear the engines roar and you feel the ground rumbling under your feet.”
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At the moment, no programme for its use nor any funding has been put in place to support the platform beyond 2015.
But the European Space Agency’s (Esa) Director General, Jean-Jacques Dordain, told the BBC the uncertainty was undermining best use of the ISS.
He said he was persuaded of its worth, and expressed the desire to keep flying the station until at least 2020.
Only by guaranteeing longevity would more scientists come forward to run experiments on the orbiting laboratory, he argued.
“I am convinced that stopping the station in 2015 would be a mistake because we cannot attract the best scientists if we are telling them today ‘you are welcome on the space station but you’d better be quick because in 2015 we close the shop’,” he said.
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A senior US defense official on Wednesday voiced doubts about China’s insistence that its use of space is for peaceful means as Washington appealed for steady military ties with the rising Asian power.
“The Chinese have stated that they oppose the militarization of space. Their actions seem to indicate the contrary intention,” said Wallace Gregson, the assistant secretary of defense in charge of Asia.
“We continue to press the Chinese for explanation,” Gregson told a congressional hearing.
China says its rapidly growing military budget is for defensive purposes. Chinese President Hu Jintao pledged with US President Barack Obama at a November summit to promote the peaceful use of space.
NASA has big plans for its Mars Exploration Program.
As it decides the future of one of the two rovers exploring the planet, the agency is looking to the launch of the newest generation of robotic explorer next year.
In addition, NASA tells CNN Radio that the agency is close to a deal to merge its Mars program with that of the European Space Agency, a big step toward manned missions.
NASA’s Mars rover program is now heading into its sixth year. The rovers Spirit and Opportunity were launched in 2004 and landed on opposite sides of Mars for what was to be a 90-day exploration mission.
Almost six years and a wealth of information later, the rovers were still ranging across the planet until recently, sending back data to researchers on Earth.
Read the rest at CNN