Latest News

Soyuz Docks with ISS

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Oct-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Soyuz TMA-01M successfully docked with the International Space Station at 8:01 pm EDT tonight.

Symposium to Celebrate 50 Years of NASA's Search for Life

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Oct-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

NASA and Lockheed Martin are sponsoring a day-long symposium next Thursday, October 15, to celebrate 50 years of exobiology and astrobiology -- the search for life elsewhere.

As outlined in a NASA press release, in 1960, NASA established an exobiology program that over the past five decades has expanded into the field of astrobiology that is trying to answer three questions: How does life begin and evolve? Is there life beyond Earth and, if so, how can we detect it? What is the future of life on Earth and in the universe?

NASA's Viking missions to Mars, launched in 1975, were the first devoted to attempting to find life on the Red Planet. At the time, scientists concluded there was no evidence of life there, but recent discoveries by the Mars rovers and other spacecraft are reopening that line of inquiry. Lockheed Martin built the Viking spacecraft and most of the other spacecraft that have visited the planet. The United States, Russia, Europe, and Japan have sent probes to Mars, some successful, some not.

Mars is hardly the only location in our solar system with conditions that might support life: several moons of Jupiter and Saturn are high on the list. Beyond the solar system, astrophysicists are searching for other planets -- exoplanets -- that might support life. Just last week NASA and NSF announced that they found a "potentially habitable" planet orbiting the red dwarf star Gliese 581.

The October 14 symposium features astrobiology luminaries and space historians including Lynn Margulis, Baruch Blumberg, Noel Hinners, Roger Launius, Linda Billings, and Steve Benner. The full agenda and RSVP instructions are available on NASA's website.

National Security Adviser Jones to Resign

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Oct-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

President Obama announced today that National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones will leave his post by the end of the month. Some news reports say that while the resignation had been anticipated for some time, it was accelerated because of White House unhappiness at comments Jones made to Bob Woodward for his recent book Obama's Wars. Jones' deputy, Tom Donilon, will be the new National Security Adviser.

Soyuz Set for Launch Tonight to ISS

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 07-Oct-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Soyuz TMA-01M is set for launch tonight at 7:10 pm EDT. This new version of the Soyuz spacecraft will bring three new crewmembers to the International Space Station (ISS): NASA's Scott Kelly and Russia's Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka. Two days later, they will join the three crew who are already aboard ISS: Doug Wheelock, Shannon Walker, and Fyodor Yurchikhin.

The new Soyuz features a digital upgrade, with new guidance, navigation and control devices, a new data processing device, and an improved avionics cooling system according to a graphic on NASA's website.

Soyuz Blasts Off

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 07-Oct-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Soyuz TMA-01M successfully launched at 7:10 pm EDT.

U.S. Space Policy: What Has Changed, Remarks by Marcia Smith to an IFRI/SWF Conference

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

I have just returned from Brussels and an excellent conference sponsored by the Institut Fran ais des Relations Internationales (IFRI) and the Secure World Foundation (SWF) on "The Continuing Story of Europe and Space Security." I was delighted to be invited to be the keynote speaker on the topic of "U.S. Space Policy: What Has Changed." For anyone who's interested, a copy of my remarks can be found on our left menu under "Marcia S. Smith's Biography and Recent Publications" or simply by clicking here. Hopefully other speakers will provide their remarks for posting on the IFRI or SWF websites and a conference summary -- under Chatham House rules -- will be available on IFRI's website soon.

Paradigm Shift Needed, National Security Space Experts Agree

Laura M. Delgado
Posted: 06-Oct-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

Today the George C. Marshall Institute and the Space Enterprise Council convened a roundtable titled "National Security Space: Policy and Program Development." Jeff Kueter, President of the Institute, explained the event was meant to ensure that the military and intelligence side of space would not be "shoved under the radar" in discussions following the release of the National Space Policy (NSP). During a lively discussion, experts focused on the array of challenges officials will face in implementing the national security directions in the NSP, at the heart of which is a broad paradigm shift needed in the government's approach to space.

The interdependence between sectors and the increasingly contested, congested, and competitive space environment have produced a number of shared challenges, as one panelist put it. Increased space situational awareness data sharing, the development of rules for responsible behavior in space, and the reinvigoration of the industrial space sector to support these goals, are just some of the challenges that will require changes in how the United States structures its space activities: internally - between government agencies and with industry - and externally, with international partners.

In an era of continuing fiscal constraints, the diversification and flexibility of space capabilities will become even more important, calling for a variety of measures to integrate commercial and foreign capabilities into the mix. Several panelists described changes in acquisition strategies - including hosted payloads on foreign and commercial satellites and the transition toward larger numbers of smaller commercially-developed systems - to achieve these goals in the long run.

Panelists agreed that the NSP includes language advancing this paradigm shift in the right direction, but that leadership commitment and strategic thinking will determine its success. The task of Chirag Parikh, newly appointed director of Space Policy at the National Security Council, who was frequently mentioned in the discussion and was in the audience, will be in implementation. "Sounds like an easy job," joked Kueter as the event drew to a close. As the saying goes, the devil will be in the details - implementation details, that is.

Secure World Foundation Analysis of Obama National Space Policy

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 02-Oct-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

Victoria Samson, Director of the Washington Office of the Secure World Foundation (SWF), has published an analysis of the Obama National Space Policy from SWF's viewpoint. As the analysis says,

"Secure World Foundation (SWF) has long supported building an increased understanding of how to best protect the space environment and improve space security for the United States and other space actors. Moreover, SWF focuses on three key areas: sustainability, internationalengagement, and stability in outer space. The new NSP places a heavy emphasis on these objectives, recognizing the extent that space activities have penetrated the economic, political and military framework of today's world."

Events of Interest: Week of October 4-8, 2010

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 02-Oct-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The following events may of interest in the coming week. For more information, see our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. With Congress in recess for the next six weeks, we expect things to be a little slow on the meetings front, but we will publish an events list as long as there are enough other activities to make it worthwhile.

Monday-Tuesday, October 4-5

Wednesday, October 6

Wednesday-Thursday, October 6-7

Thursday, October 7

  • FAA Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC), National Housing Center, 1201 15th Street NW, Washington, DC, 8:00 am

Thursday-Friday, October 7-8

  • Interagency Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee (AAAC), National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Blvd., Arlington VA, Stafford II Building, Room 595

Robotics to Transform Exploration

Laura M. Delgado
Posted: 01-Oct-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

At a Congressional Robotics Caucus briefing held today, presenters discussed innovative ways to use robotics not only to solve problems here on Earth, but also to transform the way humans explore the Solar System and beyond.

Representative Phil Gingrey (R-GA), co-chair of the caucus, mentioned yesterday's vote on the NASA Authorization bill and said he anticipates robotics to be a "key component" in the agency's future. He also congratulated the NASA-supported Carlton J. Kell High School Robotics Team, which has used the knowledge gained through the FIRST Robotics Competition to solve real-world problems. Team members talked about their designs, including an oil-recovery and capture robot called Orca, and other initiatives they are involved with to increase science literary and put science, technology, engineering, animation, and mathematics skills (or STEAM) at the service of the community.

But participants also talked about the role of robotics beyond Earth. Dr. Terry Fong, Director of the Intelligent Robotics Group at NASA Ames Research Center, discussed three ways in which robotics can help "reinvent" planetary exploration:

  • Robots for human exploration
  • Advances in neo-geography
  • Participatory Exploration

Questioning the assumption that robotic and human exploration should be separate affairs, Dr. Fong described ways in which robotic exploration can enhance and complement human exploration - before, during, and after crew involvement in the mission. He described how robots, like NASA Ames' K10 robot, could be remotely operated to perform reconnaissance and scouting to support a human expedition on a planetary surface and deliver detailed terrain data before the crew arrived at a specific location to be explored. This would help the astronauts prepare for what they will encounter and save their time by pre-identifying locations for them to explore. Although robotic probes perform a similar function in orbit, robots that can land and actually move in the terrain can provide richer data. The idea is to coordinate both human and robotic components at every stage of a mission so that robots take care of crucial tasks that are "unproductive" for humans to perform. An issue still to be resolved is the limited amount of data that can be transmitted back to Earth. For the time being, "we just never have enough bandwidth," said Dr. Fong.

Both neo-geography and participatory exploration refer to advances in robotics to increase public involvement. Neo-geography involves modern mapping tools placed at the hands of users and allowing them to "explore from [their] own desktop" detailed, interactive, explorable maps. In a similar fashion, robotics can enhance participatory exploration, which thrives on public input and collaboration in space exploration. Using robots like Gigapan - which takes interactive gigapixel panorama images - the public can help NASA decide which locations to focus on in future missions. These and other initiatives, Dr. Fong said, would provide an "opportunity to reinvent the way we do exploration."

David Gump, President of Astrobiotic Technology, Inc., talked about another innovation in exploration: bringing in the private sector. With their participation in the Google Lunar X PRIZE (in which participants must land a spacecraft on the Moon, travel 500 meters, and send video back to Earth), Gump and his team hope to increase public interest and involvement in lunar exploration through a number of initiatives including live Web participation and the first "sociable" robot, able to "tweet" and update its Facebook account to let the public follow it along on its mission.

Events of Interestl

Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »


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