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One More Book for Your Summer Reading

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Aug-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

Editor's Note

Now that you've finished all the books on our summer reading list (smile), there is a mystery novel from a new author that you're bound to enjoy in these waning days of summer. It has nothing to do with the space program -- just a great mystery written by a guy with a knack for surprise endings. I won't say anymore.

The book is "Gray Matter" by Nick Pirog. And if you MUST have a space connection, Nick's "day job" is as a server at a fabulous restaurant (Kitchen) in Boulder that is owned by Elon Musk's brother, Kimbal, who is also the chef. That is simply coincidence, however.

The book is a real page-turner for anyone who likes mysteries. If you want a vacation from thinking about whether humanity's next step should be to the Moon, Mars or an asteroid, I highly recommend it. Available from Sidewalk Press (

New DOD Report on China's Military Power Says Little New About Space

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Aug-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has released its annual assessment of China's military power. The report is required by Congress. The 2010 edition, bearing a different title than its predecessors, Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China, concludes that China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) sees "space as central to enabling modern informatized warfare, but PLA doctrine does not appear to contemplate space operations as an operational 'campaign' on its own; rather, space operations form an integral component of all campaigns."

While conceding that studying PLA views on strategy remains "an inexact science," the report asserts that China is "accelerating the militarization of space" by developing anti-satellite (ASAT) capabilities. The report repeats earlier DOD analysis that China continues to develop the ASAT system it tested in 2007 and other types of counter-space weapons as well, including kinetic and directed-energy weapons. The 2007 test led to international condemnation because of the thousands of pieces of debris it created.

The wording on space's role in modern warfare and China's ASAT activities is almost identical to what appeared in the 2009 version of the report.

The report is far from an analysis of China's space program and goals, limiting itself to very brief discussions of selected activities. There is little new compared with last year's version; in fact, there is less discussion of the human spaceflight program, for example. In an article in this week's Space Review, Dwayne Day has an interesting take on what is omitted from the report, hypothesizing that DOD may decline to include information for fear of revealing what it knows. He also points to a side-by-side comparison of what is said about space in the 2009 and 2010 versions prepared by Sam Black of Arms Control Wonk as well as Black's analysis of the two documents.

In short, the report is disappointing for anyone wanting to learn new information about China's space program.

NRC Calls for Restoring Health of NASA's Microgravity Research Program

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-Aug-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

In an interim report on its Decadal Survey on Biological and Physical Sciences in Space, the National Research Council (NRC) is calling for the microgravity research program at NASA to be led by someone "of significant gravitas who is in a position of authority within the agency and has the communications skills to ensure the entire agency understands and concurs with the key objective to support and conduct high-fidelity, high-quality, high-value research."

NASA's research program for biological and physical sciences in space, usually called the microgravity program, has been buffeted for years by changes in the International Space Station (ISS) program and funding constraints associated with President Bush's Vision for Space Exploration policy. Although the ISS is not the only platform for conducting such research, as the NRC report emphasizes, the justification for building the ISS rests largely on the science that can be conducted there. President Obama's proposal to continue operating the ISS until at least 2020, rather than discontinuing U.S. participation in the facility in 2015 as envisioned under President Bush, is based in part on using the ISS as a National Laboratory for microgravity research.

The question then is what research needs to be done and how to prioritize it. Congress directed NASA to contract with the NRC to conduct the first Decadal Survey for this discipline in the FY2008 Omnibus Appropriations Act. The final report is expected in 2011, but the renewed focus on ISS research in the Obama Administration's FY2011 budget request prompted the NRC to issue this interim report to address near-term issues.

As explained in the report, dramatic funding cuts in the field led many scientists to abandon this type of research, which once had its own program office at NASA Headquarters, most recently called the Office of Biological and Physical Research. That office was abolished and today microgravity research is a component of the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate's (ESMD's) Advanced Capabilities program.

The interim report identifies near-term research opportunities for the ISS. The final report will go into much more detail and define and prioritize an integrated research portfolio. The study is intended to address not only research in microgravity, but partial gravity such as on the surface of the Moon.

The NRC study committee is co-chaired by Betsy Cantwell of Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Wendy Kohrt of the University of Colorado, Denver. (For more information on NRC Decadal Surveys and links to the panels associated with this one, see our NRC page on the left menu at

Exoplanet News Expected Thursday

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-Aug-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

NASA will hold a media teleconference on Thursday, August 26, 2010, to reveal new findings from the Kepler space observatory. Using Kepler data, scientists have discovered an "intriguing planetary system" according to the announcement. The teleconference is at 1:00 pm EDT. Audio of the teleconference will be streamed at

Moon Still Has Surprises

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Aug-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

New results from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) show that the Moon still harbors scientific surprises. At a press conference yesterday, scientists revealed that the Moon has been shrinking, though "not by much" according to an account in the New York Times. The shrinking is the result of cooling of the Moon and the LRO data suggest that some cooling has occurred relatively recently in geological terms -- between a hundred million and a billion years ago.

Courtney Stadd Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy Charges

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Aug-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

Courtney Stadd, a well known member of the space policy community who was Chief of Staff to NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe and later returned briefly to work with Mike Griffin when he became Administrator pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges on Wednesday. Stadd is charged with conspiring with former NASA deputy chief engineer Liam Sarsfield to steer a $600,000 NASA contract to Mississippi State University (MSU), which then hired his consulting company to perform some of the work according to the Associated Press (AP), which also states that "Stadd was convicted in 2009 and sentenced to probation for a different case for steering a $10 million contract to MSU." Sarsfield pleaded guilty to one count in November, according to the AP.

Sen. Bill Nelson Introducing Commercial Space Legislation

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Aug-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) is introducing legislation "aimed at boosting the commercial rocket industry and attracting thousands of jobs to Florida's Space Coast" according to a press release from the Senator's office.

The text of his "Commercial Space Jobs and Investment Act" is provided in the press release. It would give tax breaks to commercial space entrepreneurs and "create up to five regional business enterprise zones around the country as magnets for commercial space ventures...."

Space Station Spacewalk Succcessful

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Aug-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Yesterday's spacewalk was successful and the replacement pump is now in place. Astronauts Wheelock and Caldwell Dyson spent 7 hours and 20 minutes on this spacewalk, added to their two previous expeditions of 7 hours 26 minutes last Wednesday (August 11), and 8 hours 3 minutes the previous Saturday (August 7). Their efforts were needed after a coolant pump failed on July 31.

Obama's Space Coast Workforce Task Force Issues Report

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Aug-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

The task force on how to help Florida's Space Coast workforce transition to a new era of human spaceflight issued its report today. President Obama directed that the task force be created in his April 15, 2010 speech at Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

The Presidential Task Force on Space Industry Workforce & Economic Development was co-chaired by Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. Eleven other government departments, agencies and offices were represented in the group.

The President pledged $40 million to help the Space Coast workforce, and charged the task force with deternining how best to spend it. A NASA press release explains that the task force's recommendation is to use $35 million for a competitive grants program to be announced on September 1 by the Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration (EDA). The other $5 million will fund a Commercial Spaceflight Technical Center at KSC to support the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportaton's development of standards and regulations for commercial space launch activities.

The report emphasizes that the federal government already has invested "significantly" in the region, such as a $15 million National Emergency Grant by the Department of Labor earlier this year, NASA's creation of a Space Shuttle Transition Liaison Office, and a Department of Commerce investment of $7.5 million to "accelerate investments and infrastructure development in support of regional innovation clusters." The stimulus bill also obligated $19.2 billion to Florida, including $26 million that NASA directed to KSC, according to the task force.

Third Spacewalk to Fix Coolant Pump Underway

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Aug-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

International Space Station (ISS) astronauts Wheelock and Caldwell Dyson are outside the space station again on their third spacewalk to repair the cooling system. A coolant pump failed on July 31 and the intrepid spacewalkers have been working to fix it. During the first two spacewalks they removed the failed pump and today they are installing the new one. Follow the action on NASA TV or get updates on NASA's ISS website.

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