MarkWhittington writes "Now that Robert Park is in the winter of his life and James Van Allen is dead, an unlikely person named Charles Seife, not a scientist but rather a professor of journalism, has taken up the banner of the jihad to destroy NASA's human spaceflight program.
In an article in Slate and a later post on his personal blog, Professor Seife compared the space agency to a Panda, cute but in danger of extinction. The reason, he suggests, NASA's "fixation" on human space flight. Like Van Allen, Park, and a slew of politicians before him, Seife would see NASA's human space flight ended and space exploration solely conducted by robots.
To be sure space probes like Mars Curiosity, Cassini, and the Chinese Chang'e 3 have astonished the world with their scientific discoveries. But those feats do not in any way negate the utility of people as space explorers. Indeed, a 2004 study by the British Royal Astronomical Society concluded that human explorers are crucial for gaining a scientific understanding of the space environment and its phenomenon."Link to Original Source
MarkWhittington writes "A series of media reports, including a February 3, 2014 story in the UK Telegraph, suggests that NASA is getting ready to “return to the moon” with a joint probe called RESOLVE it has developed with the Canadian Space Agency. The one problem with that is that an American mission to land on the moon, even a robot, has not received funding. Furthermore NASA lacks a landing vehicle capable of delivering RESOLVE to the lunar surface."Link to Original Source
MarkWhittington writes "January, 2014 provides another one of those bitter sweet anniversaries in space history. In this month in 1994, the Clementine probe was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base on a Titan II and was sent to lunar orbit.
Paul Spudis, who was part of the science team of the Clementine mission, has a detailed account here and here. Suffice to say that the mission's origins were unique in the history of space exploration.
By 1994, two space projects with geneses in Republican administrations had become dead or moribund. President George H. W. Bush's Space Exploration Initiative, which would have sent human explorers to the moon and Mars, had never gotten congressional backing and had been unceremoniously cancelled by his successor, President Bill Clinton. The Strategic Defense Initiative, initiated by President Ronald Reagan, had been downgraded thanks to the end of the Cold War and a Democratic administration's disdain for large scale military projects. Yet Clementine represented a strange fusion of the two.
People working on missile defense wanted to test sensors that would eventually detect and track ICBMs. Someone got the bright idea to test those sensors on a celestial body about which much was known already, the moon. Hence was born the mission of Clementine, a military mission that served the desires for space exploration."Link to Original Source
MarkWhittington writes "A couple of fairly unlikely developments are pointing to a scenario that could result in an unexpected return to the moon mission involving two unlikely partners if a number of parties are willing to think and work outside the box.
That return to the moon could be a joint Israeli/Saudi Arabian project, fostered by an American commercial company. While there are obvious dangers, especially for the Saudis, the political, diplomatic, and economic advantages of such a joint project, enabled by the Golden Spike Company, would be compelling"Link to Original Source
MarkWhittington writes "The $17.65 billion appropriations for NASA in the 2014 omnibus spending bill have been generally hailed as a “big win” for the space agency and its high profile programs. There are, however, some dissenting opinions.
Both the heavy lift Space Launch System, NASA's rocket that is designed to send astronauts beyond low Earth orbit, and the commercial crew program, developing government financed, commercially operated spacecraft, seem to have experienced funding shortfalls in the 2014 NASA budget."Link to Original Source
MarkWhittington writes "The Obama NASA space exploration plan to send astronauts to an asteroid has been the subject of some controversy ever since it was announced almost four year ago. It turns out that the astronauts themselves are more than skeptical of the idea.
Clayton Anderson, a retired NASA astronaut and a veteran of both the space shuttle and the space station programs, relates in a recent Huffington Post piece an exchange that took place between the Astronaut Corps and then NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver.
"While I was still an astronaut, and an astronaut veteran at that, then Associate Administrator for spaceflight Lori Garver came to speak to the Astronaut Corps. A private meeting, just Ms. Garver and an attentive group of type A personalities, I would venture to guess there were about 40-45 of us 'space fliers' seated in the room. A bit of a 'rah, rah' meeting, touting NASA's work in the world of commercial spaceflight (and I think commercial spaceflight is a good thing, but that's another op-ed!), she asked us all a significant question. After some perfunctory remarks, she asked us to raise our hands if 'we thought that Mars should be our next destination?' Three astronauts raised their hands. Next, she offered the question again, but this time replacing the Red Planet with the option of an asteroid as our next destination. No one... that's right, no one, raised a hand. When she finally asked us about our near-neighbor the moon, every astronaut, save the three that voted for Mars, raised their hands.
"I found this interesting. The majority of the astronaut corps, the people that actually do the space flying, agreed with me --that the moon should be our next destination.""Link to Original Source
MarkWhittington writes "The Chang'e-3 mission that landed a rover called Yutu on the Bay of Rainbows on the lunar surface proves China's space exploration program has one thing that America's does not — a clear direction. Its piloted space program has featured missions of increasing complexity, with the latest being two visits to the Tiangong-1 space module, a predecessor of a planned Chinese space station.
In the meantime America's space exploration is fraught with confusion, controversy and a conspicuous lack of funding and direction. Ever since President Obama cancelled President George W. Bush's Constellation program that would have returned Americans to the moon, NASA has been headed for an asteroid in the near term. Which asteroid and how Americans will get there are still open questions.
After China's successful series of robotic landings on the moon, many space experts agree the Chinese will probably execute a moon walk sometime in the 2020s. If and when that happens and if Americans are not on the moon to greet them, China becomes the world's space exploration leader and all that implies."Link to Original Source
MarkWhittington writes "With the Chang'e 3 and its rover Jade Rabbit safely ensconced on the lunar surface, the question arises, is it time to start dividing up the moon and its resources? It may well be an issue by the middle of the current century.
With China expressing interest in exploiting lunar resources and a number of private companies, such Moon Express, working for the same goal, a mechanism for who gets what is something that needs looking into. Moon Daily quotes a Russian official as suggesting that it can all be done in a civilized manner, through international agreements. On the other hand, law professor and purveyor of Instapundit Glenn Reynolds suggests that China might spark a moon race by having a private company claim at least parts of the moon."Link to Original Source
MarkWhittington writes "A new White House petition has been created on the We The People website asking that July 20, the date of the first Apollo moon landing, be designated as a non paid federal holiday called “Space Exploration Day,” according to a December 17, 2013 post on the group’s Facebook page.
The mission statement for the proposed space holiday states:
“Promote establishment of the July 20th Space Exploration Day Holiday, to commemorate the first walk of humankind, onto the surface of another celestial body. In conjunction with this, promote the continuation of manned space exploration to the Moon and beyond. Stress the benefits to humankind that can come from increased space achievement. Encourage the public to celebrate this anniversary with fun activities for families and communities. Encourage members of the general public to set personal Apollo-Like-Goals to help make life better for humanity.”"Link to Original Source
MarkWhittington writes "While there has been a strange dearth, thus far, of official reaction to the successful landing of the Chinese Chang’e 3 on the moon from either NASA or the Obama administration, that doesn’t mean that Americans are not following the mission and with some concern. Those concerns ranged from worries over a lack of commitment by the United States to a lunar exploration program to fears of what China's ultimate objectives are on the moon."Link to Original Source
MarkWhittington writes "A Taiwan newspaper called the Want China Times ran an article on December 2, 2013 to the effect that officials in the Chinese Peoples’ Liberation Army would like to make the moon a military base. The article speaks of China desiring to turn the moon into a “Death Star” from which ballistic missiles could be lobbed at Earth
The article’s description of a Chinese military base on the moon sounds remarkably like an American plan hatched in the 1950s called “Project Horizon.” The plan was abandoned because of the great expense and the fact that missiles launched from the moon would take days to reach targets on Earth."Link to Original Source
MarkWhittington writes "As the Chinese lunar lander Chang'e 3, carrying the Jade Rabbit rover, voyages to the moon, the question arises what should NASA's response be, aside from congratulations to a rival space power.RESOLVE might just fit the bill.
RESOLVE or Regolith and Environment Science and Oxygen and Lunar Volatile Extraction is designed to prospect for lunar resources mounted on a rover. "RESOLVE includes a drill, a chemical plant (with an oxygen and volatiles extraction node, gas chromatograph, and mass spectrometer), a neutron spectrometer, and a near infrared spectrometer." It has been tested on Earth as part of a joint American/Canadian project for the past couple of years.
According to Universe Today, RESOLVE could be ready for a lunar mission by 2018. However the mission has yet to receive funding."Link to Original Source
MarkWhittington writes "Dennis Tito recently suggested that all it would take for his Inspiration Mars mission to get off the ground would be $700 million from NASA and use of the heavy lift Space Launch System. NASA has basically said thanks but no thanks.
There is a backup to the proposed 2018 flyby to Mars mission which envisions a 2021 launch that would feature flybys of both Venus and Mars. That would add 88 days to the just over 500 day mission and would involve more radiation hazards to the two person crew. But Tito has another backup in mind as well. He might go to Russia and/or China for help."Link to Original Source
MarkWhittington writes "Space Ref, in a November 18, 2013 post has unearthed part of a Congressional Budget Office document that suggests, as an option for reducing the deficit, ending all human space flight activities at NASA.
This would mean that American participation in the International Space Station, the Commercial Crew program to develop privately operated space craft, the development of the Orion space craft and the Space Launch System heavy lift launcher, and President Obama’s asteroid exploration initiative would be terminated immediately.
The CBO argues that space exploration could be accomplished by robots alone and that ending human space flight would have significant cost savings ($73 billion over the next nine years) and would preserve the safety and lives of astronauts"Link to Original Source
MarkWhittington writes "According to a post in the NewSpace Journal, the upcoming report prepared by Bigelow Aerospace on behalf of NASA will call for a public/private partnership to facilitate a return to the moon. It also calls for a regime respecting private property rights on the moon as an incentive for private lunar exploration and economic development. The model is said to be the Commercial Orbital Transportation Systems (COTS) program and the follow on Commercial Crew Program that developed commercially run spacecraft with government subsidies and promises of government contracts."Link to Original Source