Latest News

Your Chance to Name an Asteroid -- If You're 18 or Younger

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Sep-2012 (Updated: 04-Sep-2012 06:19 PM)

Here is your chance to name an asteroid!   No, it's not the asteroid that humans will visit under President Obama's human spaceflight plan, but you can submit a suggestion for a name for a special asteroid nonetheless.  That is, if you are a student 18 or younger from anywhere in the world.

NASA will be sending a spacecraft to return a sample of asteroid 1999 RQ36, but that's a little hard to remember, so it is seeking suggestions for a new name.  First prize will go to the student who recommends a name that meets the approval of the International Astronomical Union Committee for Small-Body Nomenclature.

The spacecraft also has a name that's a little hard to remember: OSIRIS-REx.   It stands for Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer.  Scheduled for launch in 2016, it will return a sample of the asteroid to Earth for analysis.

Candidate names are limited to 16 characters and the student must provide a short explanation and rationale for the name.  The deadline is December 2, 2012.

Events of Interest: Weeks of September 3-16, 2012

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 03-Sep-2012 (Updated: 03-Sep-2012 06:09 PM)

This is another double issue covering two weeks:  September 3-16, 2012.  Congress continues to be in recess as Democrats will hold their presidential convention this week; the House and Senate both return on September 10.

Wednesday, September 5

Monday-Friday, September 10-14

  • World Satellite Business Week, Paris, France
    • 10th Symposium on Market Forecasts, September 10
    • 16th World Summit on Satellite Financing, September 11-13
    • 4th Symposium on Earth Observtion Business, September 13-14

Tuesday-Thursday, September 11-13

Tuesday-Sunday, September 11-16

Wednesday, September 12

Thursday, September 13

Thursday-Sunday, September 13-16




Legendary Space Physicist Frank McDonald Passes Away

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 02-Sep-2012 (Updated: 02-Sep-2012 11:15 PM)

Frank McDonald, a legendary figure in the field of solar and space physics, died unexpectedly on Friday. 

McDonald was a senior research scientist at the University of Maryland's Institute for Physical Science and Technology and a member of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences (NAS).   A brief biography in one of its publications credits him as being one of the pioneers in the study of space physics and cosmic ray astrophysics who collaborated closely with James Van Allen, the discoverer of the Van Allen belts of radiation that encircle the Earth. 

McDonald spent most of his career with NASA and flew instruments on many spacecraft.    "With his many space-borne instruments, McDonald explored vast regions of our solar system, from the orbit of Mercury with the twin Helios spacecraft to distances of over 100 astronomical units with the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft" the NAS account continues.  

A NASA biography notes that before joining the University of Maryland in 1989, he was NASA's Chief Scientist from 1982-1987 and director of Goddard Space Flight Center's Laboratory for High Energy Astrophysics from 1970-1982.

Astronauts Will Try Again on Wednesday to Fix Recalcitrant Bolt During Spacewalk

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 02-Sep-2012 (Updated: 02-Sep-2012 06:10 PM)

Two International Space Station (ISS) astronauts will try again on Wednesday to fix a bolt that thwarted their repair attempts last week.

NASA astronaut Suni Williams and Japanese astronaut Aki Hoshide will head outside the space station again at 7:15 am EDT on Wednesday September 5, to finish the work they set out to do on Thursday.  

Photo credit:  NASA

They were trying to replace one of four Main Bus Switching Units (MBSUs), part of the space station's elecrical supply system.  The ISS has eight solar arrays, integrated into the power system through the four MBSU's.   One MBSU was behaving erratically so NASA decided to replace it.  When Williams and Hoshide tried, however, they could not drive one of the bolts into the box that attaches the unit to the station.  Their planned 6 1/2 hour spacewalk ended up at 8 hours 17 minutes, the third longest in ISS history.

On Wednesday, they will try again with new tools and procedures worked out with colleagues on the ground.  NASA says that if they are still unable to attach the MBSU, there is an option to bring it inside the station for a closer examination.


Photo Shows Curiosity's Tracks as It Sets Off for Glenelg--corrected

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 02-Sep-2012 (Updated: 06-Sep-2012 03:38 PM)

NASA's Mars Curiosity rover is on its way to a spot scientists named Glenelg.  This photo shows the tracks left behind as Curiosity sets out from its landing site across the bottom of Gale Crater.  (Editor's Note:  The spelling of Glenelg has been corrected in this story.)


Image credit:  NASA/Caltech-JPL

The view is towards the west-northwest.   Curiosity drove about 70 feet before taking this photo of the tracks left behind as it departs Bradbury Landing and heads east towards Glenelg.  Three types of terrain intersect at Gleneig and scientists expect to utilize Curiosity's instruments to drill and analyze its first rock there.   The trip will take several weeks and the rover will make at least one long stop along the way to test its robotic arm and the instruments at the end of the arm.

Glenelg is just an intermediate destination enroute to Curiosity's main target, Mt. Sharp.  The rover has a 2-year main mission during which scientists hope to learn more about Mars' habitability -- whether it ever could have supported life -- by studying the layers of Mt. Sharp, which rises up in the middle of Gale Crater, as shown in the image below.


Image credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/DLR/FU Berlin/MSSS

The view is derived from elevation data from the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft now operating in orbit around Mars, imaging data from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter also currently operating in Martian orbit, and historical color data from NASA's orbiting Viking spacecraft that returned data from 1976-1980.

The top of Mt. Sharp is about 3.4 miles above the floor of the crater. 

Photos from Neil Armstrong's Memorial Service

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 31-Aug-2012 (Updated: 31-Aug-2012 06:23 PM)

Photos from Neil Armstrong's memorial service today have been posted on Flickr.   Very nice.  Here's one of his Apollo 11 crewmates Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins.

Downloaded from Flickr August 31, 2012; no photo credit cited.

Several news sources are saying that a public memorial service will be held on September 12, 2012 in Washington, DC.  Stay tuned for details.

Romney: Armstrong and Apollo Showed You Need an American to Do "The Really Big Stuff"

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 31-Aug-2012 (Updated: 31-Aug-2012 01:46 PM)

In accepting the Republican party nomination for President last night, Mitt Romney spoke of watching Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon and offered his views on what that showed about America.   Armstrong died on Saturday at the age of 82 from complications of heart surgery; a private memorial service is being held today.

The Republican party platform adopted at the Republican convention this week disappointed some in its discussion of the space program because it focused on NASA and not, for example, the growing contribution of entrepreneurial NewSpace companies.  Romney's speech similarly focused on NASA's role in space, specifically the impact of the Apollo landing.    Romney said:

I was born in the middle of the century in the middle of the country, a classic baby boomer. It was a time when Americans were returning from war and eager to work. To be an American was to assume that all things were possible. When President Kennedy challenged Americans to go to the moon, the question wasn't whether we'd get there, it was only when we'd get there.

The soles of Neil Armstrong's boots on the moon made permanent impressions on OUR souls and in our national psyche. Ann and I watched those steps together on her parent's sofa. Like all Americans we went to bed that night knowing we lived in the greatest country in the history of the world.

God bless Neil Armstrong.

Tonight that American flag is still there on the moon. And I don't doubt for a second that Neil Armstrong's spirit is still with us: that unique blend of optimism, humility and the utter confidence that when the world needs someone to do the really big stuff, you need an American.

Romney stopped short of explaining what his goals are for the nation's space program.

President Obama also has made statements in recent weeks praising the Mars Curiosity landing and Armstrong.  He also reasserted his commitment to someday sending astronauts to Mars with a human mission to an asteroid as a "potential" precursor. 

The President's February 2010 decision to cancel the Constellation program -- begun by President George W. Bush to return astronauts to the Moon by 2020 and someday land on Mars -- created a firestorm of controversy, the reverberations of which are still felt today.   The Obama Administration and Congress ultimately reached a compromise where NASA will continue to develop a large rocket (the Space Launch System) and a spacecraft (Orion) to send astronauts beyond low Earth orbit (LEO), which Congress wanted, and help fund private sector companies to develop space transportation systems to take crews and cargo to the International Space Station in LEO, which the President wanted.   

The level of funding Congress is providing for those programs is too modest to allow either to proceed at a robust pace, however.  The funding for the beyond LEO program also does not include money for building systems that would allow astronauts to land on either the Moon or Mars, only to orbit them.

The Obama Administration's policy is to send astronauts to visit an asteroid in 2025 and then to orbit (but not land on) Mars in the 2030s.   President Obama said in an April 15, 2010 speech that he expects astronauts to land on Mars in his lifetime, but was not more specific.

Putin Calls for Russian Space Industry Upgrade

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 31-Aug-2012 (Updated: 31-Aug-2012 01:03 PM)

In a terse story today, Russia's government news agency Itar-Tass reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin feels the Russian space industry structure needs "upgrading" and personnel shifts may be part of it.

According to the report, Putin asked Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin and Russian space agency (Roscosmos) head Vladimir Popovkin to make proposals along those lines.   "You may propose personnel reshuffle if necessary," the news agency quotes Putin as saying.

Putin put Rogozin in charge of overseeing the space sector last December after a series of six failures in 12 months.  At the time, Putin was Prime Minister and Dmitry Medvedev was President.   Putin had been President previously, but was limited to two terms.  He took the Prime Minister spot while Medvedev was President and after this spring's elections, Putin has returned to the Presidency and Medvedev is Prime Minister.  Both therefore have a long history in running the country and being aware of the growing challenges in the Russian space industry.

Russia's usually reliable launch vehicle fleet has been suffering an unusual number of failures since December 2010.  Another failure of the Proton rocket three weeks ago created the latest calls for reform.  Proton is Russia's largest rocket and key to Russia's success as a global launch services provider.

The head of the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, which builds Proton, already resigned.  Many wonder if Popovkin's job is safe.   Putin replaced his predecessor, Anatoly Perminov, reportedly as a result of the December 2010 Proton failure that doomed three GLONASS navigation satellites that were particularly significant as they would have completed the 24-satellite constellation, a Putin priority.  An October 2011 launch finally achieved that milestone. 



Dan Goldin on Neil Armstrong, Who "Saved the Soul of America"

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 31-Aug-2012 (Updated: 31-Aug-2012 12:13 PM)

On the day when Neil Armstrong is being honored at a private memorial service, former NASA Administrator Dan Goldin praises him as a man whose achievement in walking on the Moon in 1969 "save the soul of America."

In an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, Goldin, who rarely speaks publicly about NASA since he left the agency in 2001, extols Armstrong as "the symbol of all that was good about America on July 20, 1969, his courageous feat representing one of the greatest triumphs ever achieved." 

Goldin goes on to write eloquently about how the Apollo 11 landing affected the future.   He ends by talking about how he witnessed the Mars Curiosity landing and "I knew that NASA still had the right stuff.   NASA is filled with future Neil Armstrongs.... I can think of no greater testimony to the entire Apollo team than to undertake another audacious activity that, although risky, will raise the American spirit and create opportunities for future generations. ... We must reach for the stars."

Armstrong died on Saturday at the age of 82 from complications following heart surgery.

ISS Crew Will Have to Manage Power Usage While Devising Fix for Bolt Problem

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Aug-2012 (Updated: 30-Aug-2012 07:22 PM)

The six-person crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS) will have to manage how it uses electrical power for an indeterminate period of time while ground-based experts determine how to fix a recalcitrant bolt that thwarted a repair operation today.

NASA astronaut Suni Williams and Japanese astronaut Aki Hoshide had three main tasks plus one "get ahead" assignment when they began their spacewalk this morning at 7:16 am CT (8:16 am ET).   By the end of their near record-setting venture of 8 hours and 17 minutes, they had completed only one and a half of those tasks.  The problem was a bolt they could not drive into a box containing a replacement Main System Bus Unit (MSBU) that connects the ISS's solar arrays with the station's electric distribution system.

There are eight solar arrays, two connected through each of four MSBUs.   With one MSBU out of commission, the three Russians, two Americans and one Japanese aboard will have to be careful about what systems they have running at any one time.

Williams and Hoshide succeeded in removing the faulty MSBU, which had been supplying power, but could not be commanded.   When the astronauts went to install the new one, however, they were unable to drive one of two bolts into the assemby that secures the MSBU to the station.  

Japanese astronaut Aki Hoshide at the end of the space station's robotic arm during today's spacewalk.
Photo credit:  NASA TV.

During a late afternoon press conference after the astronauts were safely back inside the space station, ISS program manager Mike Sufferdini praised them and their ground-based colleagues for trying a number of work-arounds.  In the end, however, the astronauts had to secure the replacement to the ISS with a long duration tie-down strap until a solution is devised.

A timeline for another attempt is up in the air, but Sufferdini said ideally it would occur while NASA astronaut Joe Acaba is still onboard.  He is scheduled to return to Earth on September 16 (Houston time) along with two of the Russian cosmonauts.   He worked closely with Williams and Hoshide from inside the ISS today -- operating the robotic arm -- so keeping that team together for a second attempt will save crew time, Sufferdini said.   First, however, the technical experts will have to determine what to do.  He said hopefully another EVA could take place next week, but could not make any commitment.

Williams and Hoshide did succeed in one of their tasks:  re-routing cables associated with a Russian module that will be launched next year.  They were not able to replace a camera on Canadarm2 or perform a "get ahead" task of placing a cover on the docking port that previously was used for the space shuttle.

Events of Interest

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