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Hubble Finds Oldest Galaxy JWST Needed to Probe Further Back in Time

Laura M. Delgado
Posted: 27-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

Scientists using NASA's Hubble space telescope announced yesterday the discovery of what may be the oldest observed object in the universe: a galaxy that existed around 500 million years after the Big Bang. They also argued that while observations with Hubble would continue, only its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), would allow them to observe even further back in time.

In 2009, during Hubble's last servicing mission, astronauts fitted the telescope with the Wide Field Camera 3, which provided scientists with new opportunities for studying the universe. Garth Illingworth, from the University of California-Santa Cruz, explained that WFC-3 allowed researchers to look back 96% of the 13.7 billion years of the age of the universe. With observations taken over one and a half years, an international team of researchers took the farthest infrared image ever of the universe and found a faint object believed to be a galaxy. Rychard Bouwens, University of Leiden (Netherlands), explained that using the new capabilities researchers found the compact galaxy of blue stars because they were looking for it: "this [was] not a blind search," he said.

Their search revealed something else: missing galaxies. It was "the dog that didn't bark," said Rachel Somerville, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute, which operates Hubble. She explained that observations taken at later time periods led researchers to expect to find many young, blue stars when glimpsing this earlier period. Instead they found at least ten times fewer the number of galaxies expected, which would only account for 12% of the level of radiation at that stage of galaxy evolution. It is a "mystery" that she said the JWST would hopefully help solve once it is launched. Because the number of galaxies found at later periods - at 650 million and 800 million years after the Big Bang, for example- is considerably higher, the Hubble finding suggests that galaxy population was "evolving very rapidly" and that the rate of star birth must have increased dramatically between 500 and 650 million years after the Big Bang, a relatively "short" period.

"[We're] pushing Hubble to its limits here," explained Illingworth, who added that Hubble would be unable to observe the universe at any earlier time. JWST, however, is designed to do just that. He added that the findings announced today were "striking and wonderful," and would be a powerful source for JWST to look at.

An independent review of the JWST program in 2010 revealed that "budgeting and program management" issues had led to significant cost and schedule growth, delaying JWST's launch until at least 2015. NASA is currently performing a more detailed internal analysis of the program to determine what resources are needed to fix the program. Whether JWST will receive those resources and maintain a 2015 launch date remains to be seen. Some astronomers are concerned that money may be diverted from other NASA astrophysics projects in order to pay for the JWST cost growth.

National Journal Releases Text of SOTU; Sputnik Mentioned, but NASA Only Peripherally

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

The National Journal has published the text of the President's State of the Union address on its website an hour before the speech is to be delivered.

After a brief mention of GPS as an example of good government investment in research, the President says that "This is our generation's Sputnik moment" and goes on to say that he will propose a budget "to reach a level of research and development we haven't seen since the height of the Space Race." Unfortunately, space research is not among the programs he lists -- biomedical research, information technology, and clean energy technology. The only mention of NASA is that it did not exist when Sputnik was launched, but we went on to beat the Soviets to the Moon.

Among the many other topics covered in the speech, the President proposes a freeze on domestic discretionary funding for the next five years, tackling Medicare and Medicaid costs, and a major reorganization of the federal government in the years ahead.

House Fires Salvo to Cut FY2011 Non-Security Spending to FY2008 Levels

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

As some Republicans have been championing for months, the House passed a resolution today calling for the FY2011 budget to hold non-security spending to FY2008 levels. It is the first salvo in what likely will be a long 6-week fight over how to deal with the remainder of FY2011.

The non-binding resolution, H. Res. 38, is very brief and has no budget numbers in it. The full text is as follows:

"Resolved, That pursuant to section 3(b)(1) of House Resolution 5, the Chair of the Committee on the Budget shall include in the Congressional Record an allocation contemplated by section 302(a) for the Committee on Appropriations for the remainder of fiscal year 2011 that assumes non-security spending at fiscal year 2008 levels or less."

It passed by a vote of 256-165. It basically allows the chairman of the Budget Committee, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), to establish the amount of funds the 12 appropriations subcommittees have to spend for the rest of FY2011. No action by the Budget Committee or the House is required. Federal agencies are currently funded through March 4, 2011. Congress must pass another appropriations measure to fund agencies after that date or the government will close down.

The House appropriations subcommittees still would have the flexibility to determine which agencies get what amount of money, but within the threshold set by Rep. Ryan.

"Security" spending traditionally means defense and homeland security, so they would not be subject to this resolution (veterans services also are sometimes included). Nor would mandatory spending on programs such as social security, Medicare or Medicaid. The resolution would affect NASA, NOAA and other federal activities in the "domestic discretionary funding" category.

At the same time, some news reports state that President Obama will propose in his State of the Union Address tonight a freeze on domestic discretionary funding. Exceptions can always be made, so it is not certain that NASA would be included. Other news reports, for example, say that the President will emphasize that investments in high-speed rail, clean energy and scientific research will help create jobs and thus should not be cut.

The State of the Union address will be aired live at 9:00 pm EST, but that is only the beginning of what almost certainly will be a difficult set of negotiations over the FY2011 budget and those that follow.

Rep. Giffords in Everyone's Thoughts Tonight at State of the Union Address

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

As President Obama delivers his State of the Union (SOTU) address to a joint session of Congress at 9:00 pm EST tonight, the Arizona delegation plans to sit together, keeping an empty seat for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Rep. Giffords (D-AZ) was shot in the head on January 8 while holding a constituent event in Tucson, AZ; six people were killed and 12 others were wounded. She recently was moved to a Houston medical facility that specializes in brain trauma. Her recovery so far has been termed a "miracle" by her physicans, but none has speculated on her long term prospects.

The President, who spoke about the tragedy at an event in Tucson on January 12, is expected to discuss it again tonight. Among the 18 guests sitting with the First Lady tonight will be Daniel Hernandez, an intern with Rep. Giffords' office who is credited with saving her life by acting quickly at the scene to stop the bleeding from her head wound; the family of 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, who died; and Dr. Peter Rhee, chief of the trauma center at University Medical Center where Giffords and 10 other victims were taken. Rep. Giffords' husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, reportedly declined an invitation to attend so he could stay with his wife.

The attack on Rep. Giffords catalyzed a call for more civility in political debate. One outcome is that the traditional partisan seating arrangement for the SOTU -- with Republicans on one side of the chamber and Democrats on the other -- is being transformed into bipartisan seating for those who wish to participate in this largely symbolic move. Some Republicans and Democrats -- including the Arizona delegation -- will sit together. The idea of bipartisan seating for the SOTU is credited to the Third Way, a think tank that champions moderate policy and political ideas. Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), an honorary co-chair of Third Way, picked it up and ran with it. (Rep. Giffords is another honorary co-chair.) Not all members are enthusiastic about the idea, and congressional leadership offices point out simply that there never has been a formal seating plan for members of Congress at the SOTU and members may sit where they wish.

New York Times: NASA in a Muddle

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

Kenneth Chang of the New York Times has a piece in the Science Times section today about the "muddle" NASA's human spaceflight programs finds itself in these days.

NASA Honors Crews of Apollo 204, Challenger and Columbia

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

NASA will hold a Day of Remembrance on Thursday, January 27, to honor three spaceflight crews who lost their lives:

  • Apollo 204-- Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, all NASA astronauts, who died on the pad during a pre-launch test when fire engulfed their Apollo capsule on January 27, 1967. The Apollo 204 Review Board concluded the fire was caused by electrical arcing in the 100% oxygen atmosphere in the capsule; the exact location of the arcing was not determined. It also found flaws in the design of the Apollo capsule (e.g., the hatch swung inward so that when pressure inside increased because of the fire, the crew could not open it) and operational procedures. If the mission had flown successfully, it would have been Apollo 1. It was 21 months before the next U.S. human spaceflight mission (Apollo 7) took place.
  • Challenger (STS-51L) -- Dick Scobee(NASA), Mike Smith (NASA), Judith Resnik (NASA), Ellison Onizuka (NASA), Ron McNair (NASA), Greg Jarvis (Hughes Aircraft), and Christa McAuliffe (New Hampshire schoolteacher) who died on January 28, 1986 when the space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after launch. The Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident found that cold weather at the launch site caused the failure of a rubber O-ring in one of the two solid rocket boosters (SRB), allowing gases to escape and causing a catastrophic explosion. As with the Apollo 204 report, organizational and other issues were also identified. It was 32 months before the next U.S. human spaceflight mission (STS-26).
  • Columbia (STS-107)-- Rick Husband (NASA), William McCool (NASA), Michael Anderson (NASA), David Brown (NASA), Kalpana Chawla (NASA), Laurel Clark (NASA), and Ilan Ramon (Israeli Air Force) who died on February 1, 2003 when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated during reentry. The physical cause was superheated gas (which surrounds the shuttle during reentry) entering the left wing because of a hole that had been formed during launch by debris from the External Tank. The fire deformed the shuttle's wing creating aerodynamic forces that pulled the orbiter apart over Texas, minutes before it would have landed in Florida. As with the previous reports, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) found that there were other causes, cultural and organizational, that were just as important. (A synopsis of the CAIB report is available here.) It was 29 months before the next U.S. human spaceflight mission (STS-114).

NASA will commemorate the Day of Remembrance with a series of wreath-layings at Arlington National Cemetery, Kennedy Space Center, and Johnson Space Center. A schedule of events is available in the NASA press release.

This year is the 25th anniversary of the Challenger tragedy and a separate event will be held on January 28 at Kennedy Space Center (KSC). Speakers will include NASA Associate Administrator for Space Operations Bill Gerstenmaier; June Scobee Rodgers, widow of Challenger commander Dick Scobee; Robert Cabana, former astronaut and KSC Director; and Michael McCulley, former astronaut and chairman of the Astronauts Memorial Foundation, which is sponsoring the event. Mrs. Rodgers and members of the other Challenger families created the Challenger Center for Space Science Education whose vision is "to create a scientifically literate population that can thrive in a world increasingly driven by information and technology."

More Than a Historic Decision: John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon, by John M. Logsdon

Laura M. Delgado
Posted: 25-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

It seemed only fitting that at last Friday's presentation of a book dedicated to all of his students - past and present - it would be a former student, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, who would set the stage for Dr. John Logsdon's latest publication: John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon. Garver, who was Logsdon's student at the George Washington University before he founded the Space Policy Institute in 1987, said it was that experience that really started her career in space and without it "I would not be in the position I am now."

She recalled the discussion back in 1998 that led the NASA History Office, with her backing as the Associate Administrator for Policy and Plans and that of NASA Administrator Dan Goldin, to provide the initial support for what became the book presented Friday night. "NASA rewrites textbooks," she said, and the continuation of Logsdon's research - which began in 1970 with publication of his seminal book on the birth of the Apollo Program, The Decision to go to the Moon - was an opportunity to do just that.

Dr. Logsdon's new book addresses three questions: why did the United States decide to go to the Moon, what did President John F. Kennedy do to make it happen, and what was the relevance of the event to today's situation. The first of these was the focus of the 1970 book, but as the preface to the new book recounts, Logsdon later realized that there was something missing. His desire to complete a more comprehensive study of President Kennedy and the space program was born out of the realization that he had not included the importance of Kennedy's leadership through his assassination in 1963 "that generated the political will needed to mobilize the financial and human resources which made the lunar landing program possible." Logsdon wanted the opportunity to showcase how the decision to go to the Moon was much more than just a decision.

"Presidents have to make decisions and stick with them," Logsdon said, and exposed the audience to several occasions when Kennedy worded the importance of keeping that commitment to a program that was much more difficult and expensive than is often remembered. When compared to the 1961 NASA budget, the 1962 budget saw an 89% increase, and the 1963 budget increased 101% over that. To put that in context, the Apollo program would cost $151 billion in 2010 dollars, compared to the $8.1 billion that took to build the Panama Canal or the $128 billion involved in building the Interstate Highway System. It was "the largest peacetime mobilization of resources" in the history of the country, Logsdon said, and it is a mistaken assumption to think that back then maintaining that level of support was any easier than today. Even during the 1961 speech, in the sections that are often overlooked, Kennedy spoke with conviction about the magnitude of the effort required. "Presidents don't talk that way very much anymore," commented Logsdon.

As Garver said, Logsdon's account will, in a sense, rewrite textbooks. In it he illuminates another interesting fact that is often overlooked (or forgotten) by those involved in space activities when remembering the events -- that for President Kennedy competition with the Soviet Union was the second option. During his January 1961 inaugural address, as Kennedy spoke about nations "who would make themselves our adversary," he said "together, let us explore the stars," one of the tell-tale signs of Kennedy's interest in space cooperation. Logsdon recounted how Kennedy raised the possibility of space cooperation with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in their one and only meeting in June 1961. Khrushchev declined, but Kennedy made the offer again during a speech at the United Nations just two months before his assassination.

What would have happened if Kennedy had lived and Khrushchev agreed to cooperate, Logsdon wonders. "But [you] can't rerun history or run it differently," he said. At the very least Logsdon's new book will enable readers to put the Apollo program and Kennedy's role in its beginnings in context, and perhaps understand that history better.

John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon is published by Palgrave Macmillan and is part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of Science and Technology.

Democrats Name HSS&T Subcommittee Members

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The Democratic Caucus of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee named its members and subcommittee ranking members today. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) will be the ranking Democrat on the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee when she returns; she chaired the subcommittee in the last Congress. Rep. Jerry Costello will serve as Acting Ranking Member while she is recuperating.

Full committee ranking member Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) announced the members of the subcommittees as follows:

Subcommittee on Energy and Environment

  • Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC), ranking member
  • Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA)
  • Rep. Ben Luj n (D-NM)
  • Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY)
  • Rep. Zoe Lofren (D-CA)
  • Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA)

Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics

  • Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), ranking member
  • Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH)
  • Rep. Jerry Costello (D-IL), acting ranking member
  • Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL)
  • Rep. David Wu (D-OR)
  • Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD)
  • Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL)

Subcommittee on Research and Science Education

  • Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), ranking member
  • Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-MI)
  • Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY)
  • Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD)
  • Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL)

Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation

  • Rep. David Wu (D-OR), ranking member
  • Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD)
  • Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL)
  • Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL)
  • Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ)
  • Rep. Ben Luj n (D-NM)

Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight

  • Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), ranking member
  • Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)
  • Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC)
  • Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA)

Charlie Bolden's Life Story

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

The State, a South Carolina newspaper, has an interesting article that tells Charlie Bolden's life story. The headline is about the impact space shuttle Challenger astronaut Ron McNair had on Bolden's career, but the article covers the NASA Administrator's entire life and his family. Bolden was in South Carolina to talk about his friend McNair as the 25th anniversary of the Challenger tragedy nears. NASA is planning a commemoration of that and two other spaceflight tragedies on January 27 in a National Day of Remembrance, as well as on January 28 in a ceremony at Kennedy Space Center.

UPDATE: Events of Interest: Week of January 24-28, 2011

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: NASA's Day of Remembrance has been added for Thursday and for the Challenger commemoration on Friday.

The following events may be of interest in the coming week. For more information, see our calendar on the right menu or click the links below.

Tuesday, January 25

Tuesday-Friday, January 25-28

  • NRC Review of NASA's Techhology Roadmaps. Georgetown Hotel and Conference Center, 3800 Reservoir Road, NW, Washington,DC. The sessions that are open to the public are on Wednesday and Friday mornings
    • Wednesday, 8:00 am - noon EST
    • Friday, 8:00 am - noon EST

Wednesday, January 26

Wednesday-Thursday, January 26-27

Thursday, January 27

  • National Day of Remebrance for the Apollo 204, Challenger and Columbia Crews. A series of wreath-layings will be held at Arlington National Cemetery, Kennedy Space Center, and Johnson Space Center. NASA's press release has more details.

Friday, January 28

Events of Interest

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


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