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Jim Oberg posted a message on Friends and Partners in Space reporting that former astronaut Bill Lenoir was killed in a bicycle accident yesterday. The news is also reported on collectSpace.
Using data from the Kepler spacecraft, scientists have confirmed the discovery of a multi-planet system in the constellation Lyra about 2,000 light years away, made up of at least two gas-giants similar to Saturn in size and mass. The results, which increase the mission's confirmed planet count to seven since its launch in March 2009, were announced by the Kepler team in a teleconference held today.
William Borucki, Kepler Mission Science Principal Investigator, explained that "instead of taking pictures, [Kepler] measures the brightness of stars," variations of which are used by scientists to determine characteristics such as the orbital period, mass, and size of the planets that cross or transit them. Matthew Holman, Associate Director of the Theoretical Astrophysics Division at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said that using a technique called "transit timing variations" the team was able to utilize data collected over several months to study successive transits of the planets - Kepler 9B and Kepler 9C - and to analyze the gravitational interaction between them. By studying how the gravity of a planet affects the orbits of others, this technique, which Holman and a group of scientists first proposed in 2005, has now been proven to work as a tool to confirm the presence of planets.
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.
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.
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 http://www.nasa.gov/newsaudio.
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, 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.
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...."
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.
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