Wednesday, February 29, 2012

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Monday, January 30, 2012

Near-Record Number Apply For Astronaut Corps

Clearly, the dream is still alive.

A remarkable 6,372 people submitted applications to NASA for a handful of openings in the Astronaut Office -- this despite the fact that NASA retired the shuttle fleet in July and its next spacecraft for piloted missions won't be ready to launch until 2017.

Nicole Cloutier-Lemasters, a spokeswoman for NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, said the tally is the second highest number of applications ever received. More than 8,000 applied to become NASA astronauts in 1978 -- the class selected to fly missions during the advent of shuttle operations.

Janet Kavandi, deputy director of the Flight Crew Operations directorate at JSC, said NASA "is very happy with the large number of applicants for the astronaut program."

"NASA feels strongly that an appropriate mix of skills, education, and background provide the office with a greater ability to successfully work a wide array of operational situations," she said.

NASA during the shuttle era selected new astronauts every two years. The agency typically received about 3,500 applications per class, and the competition always has been stiff. The number selected ranged between about one dozen and three dozen people.

And the next class?

From the pool of 6,372 people, NASA will select nine to 15 to join the astronaut corps in 2013.

Tea Party space group backs Gingrich

On the eve of Florida's Republican presidential primary, a Tea Party-affiliated space organization has endorsed Newt Gingrich.

"Mr. Gingrich is the only candidate who consistently articulates a bright vision for future American space exploration and settlement," says a statement from Tea Party in Space. "Mr. Gingrich's unique approach of utilizing the government and private sector is exactly what NASA needs."

Read the full statement here.

During a visit to Cocoa last Wednesday, Gingrich outlined "grandiose" plans to establish an American moon base by 2020, support commercial space activity, advance propulsion systems for human missions to Mars and dedicate a tenth of NASA's budget to prizes intended to tackle tough technological problems.

The group believes Mitt Romney's space vision is lacking. Romney visited the Space Coast last Friday and won the endorsement of some high-profile space officials including former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin; Scott Pace, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University; and former astronauts Gene Cernan and Bob Crippin.

Candidates Rick Santorum and Ron Paul have said little about space policy during the campaign. But it is Paul who leads a Jan. 24 poll on Tea Party in Space's Web site titled "Whose space policy do you support?", with more than 3,100 votes.

Reports: Soyuz Trouble Could Delay ISS Flights

Trouble with a Russian Soyuz spacecraft could force delays in the launches of the next two International Space Station crews, Russian media reports suggest.

Alexei Krasnov, chief of human spaceflight for the Russian Federal Space Agency, told ITAR-TASS that a Soyuz spacecraft malfunction during recent tests in an altitude chamber at Energia Sp[ace Rocket Corp., a major contractor. The trouble was detected in the service module of the spacecraft, Krasnov said.

Several other Russian media reports suggested the planned March 30 launch of three new crew members might be delayed until late April or early May. A launch now scheduled for late May might be pushed back to late June, the reports said.

Krasnov did not rule out the possibility of launch delays. He noted that the astronauts and cosmonauts on the station now launched two months later than initially planned and could extend their stays as a result.

Krasnov said officials were glad that the trouble was detected before the spacecraft was shipped to Baikonur Cosmodrome for launch. “It is very good that upon the results of the tests we received critical remarks before the spaceship was brought to the Baikonur spaceport, because we have some time and possibilities to examine everything in detail,” he said.

Record-Setting Astronaut Retires From NASA

The U.S. astronaut who is co-holder of the record for the greatest number of flights into space has retired from NASA, the agency announced.

Jerry Ross, the first person to launch into space seven times, spent more than three decades with NASA, talling more than 1,400 hours in space and performing nine spacewalks. Ross ranks third of the list of most time accumulated spacewalking.

Franklin Chang-Diaz, who will be inducted in the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in May, is the only other American astronauts with seven flights into space. Prior to Ross' seventh flight in 2002, the U.S. record of six flights was held by John Young. Young flew twice in the Gemini program, twice during Apollo and twice on the space shuttle.

NASA Chief Astronaut Peggy Whitson noted that Ross played instrumental roles in the success of many American missions into space. He is regarded as one of the world's most accomplished spacewalkers. "Not only were his skills and operational excellence key in major spaceflight activities, but his expertise and vigilance also helped all those who followed in his footsteps. We are the better for his years of dedication to the corps and NASA," Whitson said in a statement.

Ross joined NASA in 1979 as a payload officer and flight controller. He was selected as an astronaut the following year.
He is well known and well-regarded at Kennedy Space Center, where he spent several years as the manager of the Vehicle Integration Test Office.

"Jerry was equally invaluable leading this critical team, especially through space station assembly, the transition to the space shuttle retirement, and during the initial phases of our future programs" said Janet Kavandi, director of Flight Crew Operations. "He was considered a mentor to many he worked with there."

Five of Ross' seven flights were aboard Atlantis. He also flew once on Endeavour and once on Columbia. His flights: STS-61B in 1985; STS-27 in 1988; STS-37 in 1991; STS-55 in 1993; STS-74 in 1995; STS-88 in 1998 and STS-110 in 2002.

Check out his bio HERE.

ABOUT THE IMAGE: Jerry Ross is shown here with the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory in the background. The observatory was launched on STS-37 in 1991. Ross and Jay Apt performed NASA's first post-Challenger spacewalk on the mission to free the observatory's main communications antenna, which failed to deploy properly.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Russian Supply Ship Docks At Space Station

A Russian space freighter docked at the International Space Station tonight, hauling up three tons of supplies and equipment to the six astronauts and cosmonauts living and working in the orbital research laboratory.

The Progress 46 spacecraft linked up with the station's Russian Pirs docking compartment at 7:09 p.m. EST, completing a two-day trip that began with a launch Wednesday from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Oleg Kononenko monitored the automated docking, ready to remotely take manual control of the incoming robotic cargo carrier if need be. Leak checks were conducted before the hatch to the craft was opened. And the crew on the station then prepared to offload 2.9 tons of food, fuel and equipment.

Also onboard the station: U.S. astronauts Dan Burbank and Don Pettit, European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers and Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin.

The docking marked the first of up to five supply runs by Russian Progress vehicles this year. European and Japanese cargo carriers are scheduled to arrive in March and late June.

The first deliveries by U.S. commercial carriers are expected by the end of the year.

Romney Picks Up Endorsement From Space Vets

A group that includes the first space shuttle pilot, the last man to walk on the moon and a former NASA Administrator endorsed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney today, saying the former Massachusetts governor would ensure "America will once again lead the world in space."

Veteran shuttle mission commander and pilot Bob Crippen, Apollo 17 mission commander Gene Cernan, former NASA chief Mike Griffin and five others issued an open letter of support for Romney, who is campaigning today on Florida's Space Coast.

"We have watched with dismay as President Obama dismantled the structure that was guiding both the government and commercial space sectors, while providing no purpose or vision or mission," the letter says. "This failure of leadership has thrust the space program into disarray and triggered a dangerous erosion of our technical workforce and capabilities. In short, we have a space program unworthy of a great nation."

Read the full text of the letter HERE

President Barack Obama canceled a Bush Administration program aimed at returning American astronauts to the moon by 2020. The White House said the program could not be executed within the available budget.

President Obama then charted a new course for NASA, directing the agency to send astronauts to an asteroid by 2025 and Mars by the mid-2030s. He allowed a Bush Administration decision to end the shuttle program after the completion of International Space Station assembly to remain in place. The U.S. will pay Russia to fly American astronauts on round trips to the station until private-sector companies, using NASA seed money, develop commercial space taxis. That effort is expected to take at least another five years.

Romney this week said he believes in a "very vibrant and strong space program." But he dismissed as too expensive the idea of building a lunar colony by 2020 -- an idea introduced earlier this week by opponent Newt Gingrich.

"That's an enormous expense. And right now I want to be spending money here. Of course the Space Coast has been badly hurt and I believe in a very vibrant and strong space program. To define the mission for our space program, I'd like to bring in the -- the top professors that relate to space areas and physics, the top people from industry. Because I want to make sure what we're doing in space translates into commercial products. I want to bring in our top military experts on space needs," Romney told CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

"And -- and finally of course, the -- the people from -- the administration if I had an administration. I'd like to come together and talk about different options and the cost. I'd like corporate America as well as the defense network and others that could come together in a -- in a part -- in, if you will, a partnership basis to create a plan that will keep our space program thriving and growing. I -- I believe in a manned space program. I'd like to see whether they believe in the same thing.

I'm not -- I'm not looking for a -- a colony on the moon. I think the cost of that would be in the hundreds of billions, if not trillions. I'd rather be rebuilding housing here in the U.S."

Joining Crippen, Cernan and Griffin in endorsing Romney were:

++Scott Pace, Chair of the Romney Space Policy Advisory Group
Director, Space Policy Institute, The Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University
Former Assistant Director for Space and Aeronautics, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

++Mark Albrecht
Chairman of the Board, USSpace
Former Executive Secretary, National Space Council

++Eric Anderson
Chairman and CEO, Space Adventures
Chairman, Commercial Spaceflight Federation

++Peter Marquez
Former Director of Space Policy, National Security Council
Former Director of Special Programs, Department of Defense

++William Martel
Associate Professor of International Security Studies, The Fletcher School at Tufts University
Former Alan B. Shepard Chair of Space Technology and Policy Studies, Naval War College

Cargo Ship With Rocket Parts Crashes In Kentucky

A cargo ship carrying rocket stages headed for Cape Canaveral crashed into a bridge in Kentucky Thursday but no flight hardware was damaged, officials said today.

United Launch Alliance issued this statement:

"The Delta Mariner, owned and operated by Foss Marine, made contact with the Eggner Ferry Bridge at U.S. Highway 68 and Kentucky Highway 80 over the Tennessee River Thursday evening, Jan. 26 at 8:15 p.m. Central Time resulting in a portion of the bridge collapsing . The 312-foot vessel was carrying vehicle components for an upcoming United Launch Alliance launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida . There are no injuries on the Mariner or the bridge. Initial inspections have shown that the flight hardware being transported was not damaged. The Coast Guard is conducting an investigation.

The Delta Mariner was commissioned in 2002 to transport flight hardware from the United Launch Alliance factory in Decatur , Ala. , to launch sites at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif."

Our colleagues at USA TODAY have the HERE

From lunar colonies to NASA, space heats up GOP debate

Space again emerged as a key topic for GOP presidential candidates as they debated Thursday night in Jacksonville.

Here's what they had to say, based on a CNN transcript:

QUESTION: Good evening. My name is Matthew Bathel (ph). My question is, what would your plan be for the future of manned space flight and the future of NASA?

WOLF BLITZER: All right, let me go to Governor Romney on this one. An important issue, especially here in Florida where a lot of people have lost their jobs as a result of the decline of the space program. Yesterday Speaker Gingrich outlined a -- a pretty long plan on what to do about it and he said that by the end of his second term, if he were elected president, there would be a permanent base on the moon. Good idea?

MITT ROMNEY: That's an enormous expense. And right now I want to be spending money here. Of course the space coast has been badly hurt and I believe in a very vibrant and strong space program. To define the mission for our space program, I'd like to bring in the -- the top professors that relate to space areas and physics, the top people from industry. Because I want to make sure what we're doing in space translates into commercial products. I want to bring in our top military experts on space needs.

And -- and finally of course, the -- the people from -- the administration if I had an administration. I'd like to come together and talk about different options and the cost. I'd like corporate America as well as the defense network and others that could come together in a -- in a part -- in, if you will, a partnership basis to create a plan that will keep our space program thriving and growing. I -- I believe in a manned space program. I'd like to see whether they believe in the same thing.

I'm not -- I'm not looking for a -- a colony on the moon. I think the cost of that would be in the hundreds of billions, if not trillions. I'd rather be rebuilding housing here in the U.S.

BLITZER: We have a question. I want to speaker to weigh in as well.


BLITZER: This question is related from -- we got it from Twitter. Speaker Gingrich, how do you plan to create a base on the moon while keeping taxes down in eight years?


NEWT GINGRICH: I think, look it's a great question. You start with the question, do you really believe NASA in it's current form is the most effective way of leveraging investment in space? We now have a bureaucracy sitting there, which has managed to mismanage the program so well that in fact we have no lift vehicle. So you almost have to wonder, what does the Washington office of NASA do? Does it sit around and think space?


GINGRICH: Does it contemplate that some day we could have a rocket? My point in the speech I made yesterday, which is on CSPAN and I'd love to have all of you look at it. It's based on having looked at space issues since the late 1950's when missiles and rockets was a separate magazine. And working with NASA and others. I believe by the use of prizes, by the use of incentives, by opening up the space port so that it's available on a ready basis for commercial fight, by using commonsense for example the Atlas-V could easily be fixed into a man capable vehicle so you didn't have to rely on -- on a Russian launch or a Chinese launch.

There are many things you can do to leverage accelerating the development of space. Lindbergh flew to Paris for a $25,000.00 prize. If we had a handful of serious prizes, you'd see an extraordinary number of people out there trying to get to the moon first in order to have billed (ph) that. And I'd like to have an American on the moon before the Chinese get there.

BLITZER: Senator Santorum?


RICK SANTORUM: I -- I believe America's a frontier nation and obviously the frontier that -- that we're talking about is -- is the next one, which is space. And that we need to inspire. One of the big problems we have in our country today is that young people are not getting involved in math and science and not dreaming big dreams. So NASA or the space program where space is important, NASA is one component that -- our -- our space defense is another area. I think both of -- both of which are very, very important. I agree that we need to bring good minds in the private sector much more involved in NASA than the government bureaucracy that we have. But let's just be honest, we run a $1.2 trillion deficit right now. We're -- we're borrowing 40-cents of every dollar. And to go out there and promise new programs and big ideas, that's a great thing to maybe get votes, but it's not a responsible thing when you have to go out and say that we have to start cutting programs, not talking about how to -- how to -- how to grow them.

We're going to cut programs. We're going to spend -- under my administration, we're going to spend less money every year -- every year. Year, to year, to year the federal government amount of spending will go down for four years until we get a balanced budget. And you can't do that by -- by -- by grand schemes. Whether it's the space program or frankly whether it's the Speaker's Social Security program, which will create a brand-new Social Security entitlement. Those are things that sound good and maybe make big promises to people, but we've got to be responsible in the way we allocate our resources.

BLITZER: We're going to get to that in a moment, but...


BLITZER: Congressman Paul, Texas, the space program very important there as well. Where do you stand on this?

RON PAUL: Well, I don't think we should go to the moon. I think we maybe should send some politicians up there.


PAUL: But I went -- I went into the Air Force in 1962 and studied aerospace medicine. Actually had a daydream about maybe becoming the first physician to go into space. That -- that didn't occur, but I see space -- the amount of money we spend on space, the only part that I would vote for is for national defense purposes. Not to explore the moon and go to Mars. I think that's fantastic. That's -- I love those ideas. But I also don't like the idea of building government business partnerships. If we had a healthy economy and had more Bill Gateses and more Warren Buffetts, the money would be there. It should be privatized, and the people who work in the industry, if you had that, there would be jobs in aerospace.

And I just think that we don't need a bigger, a newer program, when you think of the people -- I mean, health care or something else deserves a lot more priority than going to the moon. So, I would be very reluctant, but space technology should be followed up to some degree for national defense purposes, but not just for the fun of it and, you know, for -- you know, for scientific --

BLITZER: We're going to leave this subject, but before we do, I want Speaker Gingrich to clarify what you said yesterday in that major speech you delivered on space. You said that you would support a lunar colony or a lunar base, and that if 13,000 Americans were living there, they would be able to apply for U.S. statehood from the moon.

GINGRICH: I was meeting Rick's desire for grandiose ideas. But --

BLITZER: That's a pretty grandiose idea.

GINGRICH: But let me make just two points about this.

It is really important to go back and look at what John F. Kennedy said in May of 1961 when he said, "We will go to the moon in this decade." No American had orbited the Earth. The technology didn't exist.

And a generation of young people went into science and engineering and technology, and they were tremendously excited. And they had a future.

I actually agree with Dr. Paul. The program I envision would probably end up being 90 percent private sector, but it would be based on a desire to change the government rules and change the government regulations, to get NASA out of the business of trying to run rockets, and to create a system where it's easy for private sector people to be engaged.

I want to see us move from one launch occasionally to six or seven launches a day because so many private enterprises walk up and say, we're prepared to go do it. But I'll tell you, I do not want to be the country that having gotten to the moon first, turned around and said, it doesn't really matter, let the Chinese dominate space, what do we care? I think that is a path of national decline, and I am for America being a great country, not a country in decline.


BLITZER: We're going to move on, but go ahead, Governor Romney.

ROMNEY: I spent 25 years in business. If I had a business executive come to me and say they wanted to spend a few hundred billion dollars to put a colony on the moon, I'd say, "You're fired."

The idea that corporate America wants to go off to the moon and build a colony there, it may be a big idea, but it's not a good idea. And we have seen in politics -- we've seen politicians -- and Newt, you've been part of this -- go from state to state and promise exactly what that state wants to hear. The Speaker comes here to Florida, wants to spend untold amount of money having a colony on the moon. I know it's very exciting on the Space Coast.

In South Carolina, it was a new interstate highway, and dredging the port in Charleston. In New Hampshire, it was burying a power line coming in from Canada and building a new VHA hospital in New Hampshire so that people don't have to go to Boston.

Look, this idea of going state to state and promising what people want to hear, promising billions, hundreds of billions of dollars to make people happy, that's what got us into the trouble we're in now. We've got to say no to this kind of spending.


GINGRICH: I want to make two points.

First, I thought we were a country where one of the purposes of candidates going around was to actually learn about the states they campaigned in and actually be responsive to the needs of the states they campaign in. For example, the port of Jacksonville is going to have to be expanded because the Panama Canal is being widened, and I think that's useful thing for a president to know. I think it's important for presidents to know about local things.

Second -- and at the other end of the state, the Everglades Restoration Project has to be completed, and it's the federal government which has failed.

But, second, in response to what Rick said, when we balanced the budget with the 1997 Balanced Budget Act, and ultimately had four consecutive balanced budgets, we doubled the size of the National Institutes of Health because we set priorities. It is possible to do the right things in the right order to make this a bigger, richer, more exciting country.

You don't just have to be cheap everywhere. You can actually have priorities to get things done.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Kennedy remembers fallen astronauts

Kennedy Space Center this morning joined NASA centers across the country honoring fallen astronauts with an annual Day of Remembrance.

Center Director Bob Cabana, Deputy Director Janet Petro, and Mark Nappi, head of United Space Alliance's Florida operations, laid a wreath before the Space Mirror Memorial at the KSC Visitor Complex.

The trio bowed their heads and hugged before the mirror holding the names of 24 astronauts killed during missions or training.

Visitors were offered flowers to place in a fence framing the mirror.

Click here to see messages from NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and President Barack Obama.

Next year, a much larger memorial event is expected to mark the 10th anniversary of the loss during re-entry of shuttle Columbia's seven-person crew.

Image: James Dean, Florida Today

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Russian Freighter Rockets Toward Space Station

A supply-filled Russian cargo carrier is in hot pursuit of the International Space Station tonight after launching from a spaceport on the central steppes of Kazakhstan.

Mounted atop a Soyuz U rocket, the Progress 46 space freighter blasted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome at 6:06 p.m. EST.

About 10 minutes later, it was zooming around the planet in low Earth orbit, its solar arrays and navigation antenna successfully deployed.

It was a chilly five degrees Fahrenheit at Baikonur when the Progress 46 set sail. The vehicle is the 46th Progress launched by Russia during the assembly and maintenance of the International Space Station. The spacecraft is hauling up about 6,000 pounds of supplies and equipment.

The launch was closely watched because a Progress freighter was destroyed in an Aug. 24 Soyuz U launch failure. An investigation into that accident cleared the way for the Oct. 30 launch of another Soyuz U rocket on a return-to-flight mission.

The Progress 46 spacecraft will carry out a series of trajectory correction burns over the next two days. It is expected to dock at the International Space Station at 7:08 p.m. EST Friday. Live NASA TV coverage will pick up here in The Flame Trench at 6:30 p.m. EST.

The station now is staffed by U.S. astronauts Dan Burbank and Don Pettit, European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers, and three Russian cosmonauts: Anatoly Ivanishin, Anton Skaplerov and Oleg Kononenko.

The ISS has been staffed continuously since the first expedition crew boarded the outpost on Nov. 2, 2000.

Russian Cargo Ship Set For 6:06 PM Launch

A Russian space freighter is being prepped for a planned launch tonight on the first of more than a half dozen 2012 supply runs to the International Space Station.

The Progress 46 spacecraft is slated to blast off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 6:06 p.m. EST today. You can watch live NASA TV coverage here in The Flame Trench beginning at 5:45 p.m. Click the NASA TV box on the right to launch our NASA TV viewer and live coverage.

The venerable workhorse will haul up about 6,000 pounds of food, water, air and other supplies to the outpost. Docking at the station is scheduled for 7:08 p.m. Friday. Live coverage of the link-up will begin here at 6:30 p.m. Friday.

The Progress 46 spacecraft is the first of five Russian cargo carriers scheduled to launch this year. Four additional Progress vehicles are to be launched on April 25, July 25, Oct. 23 and Dec. 26.

A European Automated Transfer Vehicle -- ATV-3 -- is scheduled to launch March 9 aboard an Ariane 5 rocket at Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana. A Japanese HTV cargo carrier is targeted to launch sometime around June 26.

Two U.S. companies -- SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp. -- also hope to launch commercial cargo carriers to the station this year.

Filled with trash and surplus gear, the Progress 45 spacecraft will make a destructive plunge back through the atmosphere at about 9:25 p.m. tonight. Launched Oct. 30, the spacecraft undocked from the station Monday and will deploy an 88-pound science satellite prior to reentry. The satellite is equipped with instruments that will enable researchers to study plasma waves in low Earth orbit.