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.
NASA has been implementing an Open Government Plan for nearly a year, and this week they held the first NASA Open Source Summit in Mountain View, CA. But the roots of open source at NASA go back much further, to its founding legislation in 1958, which designed NASA as a source that would “provide for the widest practicable and appropriate dissemination of information”–a goal perfectly suited to an open approach.
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.
During the spacecraft’s approach, the Earth appeared as a crescent. This image of the Earth was taken around the same time by the OSIRIS camera on Rosetta. Credit: ESA 2009 MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
On November 13, the European Space Agency’s comet orbiter spacecraft, Rosetta, swooped by Earth for its third and final gravity assist on the way to humankind’s first rendezvous to orbit and study a comet in more detail than has ever been attempted.
One of the instruments aboard Rosetta is the NASA-funded ultraviolet spectrometer, Alice, which is designed to probe the composition of the comet’s atmosphere and surface – the first ultraviolet spectrometer ever to study a comet up close. During Rosetta’s recent Earth flyby, researchers successfully tested Alice’s performance by viewing the Earth’s ultraviolet appearance.
“It’s been over five years since Rosetta was launched on its 10-year journey to comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and Alice is working well,” says instrument Principal Investigator Dr. Alan Stern, associate vice president of the Space Science and Engineering Division at Southwest Research Institute.
“As one can see from the spectra we obtained during this flyby of the Earth, the instrument is in focus and shows the main ultraviolet spectral emission of our home planet. These data give a nice indication of the scientifically rich value of ultraviolet spectroscopy for studying the atmospheres of objects in space, and we’re looking forward to reaching the comet and exploring its mysteries.”
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The U.S. military is urgently dispatching a Navy aircraft carrier and large-deck amphibious ship, as well as military transport aircraft and assessment teams, to Haiti to assist with the earthquake relief effort, a senior U.S. military official said Wednesday.
“We are massing our forces to provide as much support as we can as quickly as we can,” said Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, head of the U.S. Southern Command. “We are corralling all the resources of the Department of Defense to support this effort.”
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates later told Fraser that the disaster relief effort is a “very high priority” and that he should ask the Defense Department for “anything and everything” he needs, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said.
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NASA has launched an extensive investigation to determine how a small amount of cocaine ended up in a space shuttle hangar at the agency’s Florida spaceport.
A bag containing a small amount of white powder residue that was later confirmed to be cocaine was discovered in the space shuttle Discovery’s hangar at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The hangar, known as the Orbiter Processing Facility, is a restricted zone for shuttle workers only.
The cocaine was discovered Tuesday when a shuttle worker spotted it outside a bathroom and reported it to NASA security, agency spokesman Allard Beutel told Space.com on Thursday. An on-site test of the bag stated it was cocaine, and subsequent follow-up tests confirmed it was the drug, he said.