Friday, April 30, 2010

Big Think Interview with Burt Rutan

"In April 1982, Rutan founded Scaled Composites to develop research aircraft. Since its founding, Scaled has been the world’s most productive aerospace prototype development company, developing new aircraft types at a rate of one each year. Recent projects include the White Knight and SpaceShipOne, the world’s first privately funded spacecraft. He made international headlines on 21 June 2004, when with Mike Melvill at the controls, SS1 flew history’s-first private manned space flight. On 4 Oct 2004, SS1 won the $10M Ansari X-prize (two flights within 5 days flown by Melvill and Brian Binnie). The Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer designed and built at Scaled made its maiden flight in March 2004 and a record setting solo world flight in March 2005."

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Peter Diamandis on the X-Prize and Private Spacecraft

Dr. Peter Diamandis is the Founder and Chairman of the X PRIZE Foundation, an educational non-profit prize institute whose mission is to create radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity. His foundation is best known for offering the $10 million Ansari X PRIZE for private-sector manned spaceflight, a prize that was won in October 2004 by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and famed aviation designer Burt Rutan with SpaceShipOne, the world's first non-government piloted spacecraft. More recently, Diamandis has created the Rocket Racing League. Diamandis is also the CEO and co-founder of Zero Gravity Corporation, which offers parabolic weightless flights to the general public. He is also the co-Founder and a Director of Space Adventures, Ltd the company that has flown eight private citizens on Soyuz to the International Space Station.

I had lunch with Dr. Diamandis in July/August 2003. I had just broken the World Record, the US Transcontinental Record and the Speed Over a Recognized Course flying from SNA to FFA in a Diamondstar DA-40 (Class C-1b, Group I) in 17hrs, 23min and 45sec. I was all over the news at that time. The VP of Marketing from Zero-G Corp arranged the lunch so that Peter and I could meet. He is truly a very inspiring individual and a pioneer and a visionary. Truly a GREAT person.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A successful launch of the Air Force X-37B - It is in Orbit

I was in an all afternoon meeting and I got back into my office just in time to catch the live feed from during the 20 minute hold at 4 minutes. Perfect timing to watch the launch. The footage was on YouTube shortly thereafter. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Air Force X-37B to launch tomorrow on top of an Atlas V rocket

"The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, or OTV, is a non-operational system that will demonstrate a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Air Force. The objectives of the OTV program include space experimentation, risk reduction and a concept of operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies. The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle is the newest and most advanced re-entry spacecraft. Based on NASA's X-37 design, the unmanned OTV is designed for vertical launch to low Earth orbit altitudes where it can perform long duration space technology experimentation and testing. Upon command from the ground, the OTV autonomously re-enters the atmosphere, descends and lands horizontally on a runway. The X-37B is the first vehicle since NASA's Shuttle Orbiter with the ability to return experiments to Earth for further inspection and analysis. Technologies to be tested include advanced guidance, navigation and control, thermal protection systems, avionics, high temperature structures and seals, conformal reusable insulation, and lightweight electromechanical flight systems. In addition, the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle will demonstrate autonomous orbital flight, reentry and landing."
X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle

Primary Mission: Testing reusable space vehicle
Prime Contractor: Boeing
Height: 9 feet, 6 inches (2.9 meters)
Length: 29 feet, 3 inches (8.9 meters)
Wingspan: 14 feet, 11 inches (4.5 meters)
Launch Weight: 11,000 pounds (4,990 kilograms)
Power: Gallium Arsenide Solar Cells with lithium-Ion batteries
Launch Vehicle: Lockheed-Martin Atlas V (501)

And, Jeff Manber's perspective on this launch:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

STS-131 is back home on the good Earth

Discovery's crew consisted of Alan Poindexter (Commander), James Dutton (Pilot), Richard Mastracchio (MS1), Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger (MS2), Stephanie Wilson (MS3), Naoko Yamazaki (MS4) from JAXA, and Clayton Anderson (MS5).

This was the 162nd manned spaceflight for the United States, the 131st shuttle mission since STS-1 and the 38th flight for Discovery.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Elon Musk interview with Bloomberg

Elon Musk, chief executive officer of Space Exploration Technologies, talks with Bloomberg's Margaret Brennan about the cancellation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Constellation program and the benefits of contracting space travel to private companies. President Obama announced a plan in February to end NASA's Constellation program, developed under former President George W. Bush's administration, which would have built rockets and spacecraft for a return to the moon by 2020. (Source: Bloomberg)

Friday, April 16, 2010

President Obama's Speech at KSC

"So today, I’d like to talk about the next chapter in this story. The challenges facing our space program are different, and our imperatives for this program are different, than in decades past. We’re no longer racing against an adversary. We’re no longer competing to achieve a singular goal like reaching the Moon. In fact, what was once a global competition has long since become a global collaboration. But while the measure of our achievements has changed a great deal over the past 50 years, what we do — or fail to do — in seeking new frontiers is no less consequential for our future in space and here on Earth."

"So let me start by being extremely clear: I am 100 percent committed to the mission of NASA and its future.  Because broadening our capabilities in space will continue to serve our society in ways that we can scarcely imagine. Because exploration will once more inspire wonder in a new generation — sparking passions and launching careers. And because, ultimately, if we fail to press forward in the pursuit of discovery, we are ceding our future and we are ceding that essential element of the American character."

"We start by increasing NASA’s budget by $6 billion over the next five years, even .. I want people to understand the context of this. This is happening even as we have instituted a freeze on discretionary spending and sought to make cuts elsewhere in the budget."

"So NASA, from the start, several months ago when I issued my budget, was one of the areas where we didn’t just maintain a freeze but we actually increased funding by $6 billion. By doing that we will ramp up robotic exploration of the solar system, including a probe of the Sun’s atmosphere; new scouting missions to Mars and other destinations; and an advanced telescope to follow Hubble, allowing us to peer deeper into the universe than ever before."

"We will increase Earth-based observation to improve our understanding of our climate and our world — science that will garner tangible benefits, helping us to protect our environment for future generations. And we will extend the life of the International Space Station likely by more than five years, while actually using it for its intended purpose: conducting advanced research that can help improve the daily lives of people here on Earth, as well as testing and improving upon our capabilities in space. This includes technologies like more efficient life support systems that will help reduce the cost of future missions. And in order to reach the space station, we will work with a growing array of private companies competing to make getting to space easier and more affordable."

"Now, I recognize that some have said it is unfeasible or unwise to work with the private sector in this way. I disagree. The truth is, NASA has always relied on private industry to help design and build the vehicles that carry astronauts to space, from the Mercury capsule that carried John Glenn into orbit nearly 50 years ago, to the space shuttle Discovery currently orbiting overhead. By buying the services of space transportation — rather than the vehicles themselves — we can continue to ensure rigorous safety standards are met. But we will also accelerate the pace of innovations as companies — from young startups to established leaders — compete to design and build and launch new means of carrying people and materials out of our atmosphere. In addition, as part of this effort, we will build on the good work already done on the Orion crew capsule. I’ve directed Charlie Bolden to immediately begin developing a rescue vehicle using this technology, so we are not forced to rely on foreign providers if it becomes necessary to quickly bring our people home from the International Space Station. And this Orion effort will be part of the technological foundation for advanced spacecraft to be used in future deep space missions. In fact, Orion will be readied for flight right here in this room."

"Next, we will invest more than $3 billion to conduct research on an advanced “heavy lift rocket” — a vehicle to efficiently send into orbit the crew capsules, propulsion systems, and large quantities of supplies needed to reach deep space. In developing this new vehicle, we will not only look at revising or modifying older models; we want to look at new designs, new materials, new technologies that will transform not just where we can go but what we can do when we get there. And we will finalize a rocket design no later than 2015 and then begin to build it. And I want everybody to understand: That’s at least two years earlier than previously planned — and that’s conservative, given that the previous program was behind schedule and over budget."

"At the same time, after decades of neglect, we will increase investment — right away — in other groundbreaking technologies that will allow astronauts to reach space sooner and more often, to travel farther and faster for less cost, and to live and work in space for longer periods of time more safely. That means tackling major scientific and technological challenges. How do we shield astronauts from radiation on longer missions? How do we harness resources on distant worlds? How do we supply spacecraft with energy needed for these far-reaching journeys? These are questions that we can answer and will answer. And these are the questions whose answers no doubt will reap untold benefits right here on Earth. So the point is what we’re looking for is not just to continue on the same path — we want to leap into the future; we want major breakthroughs; a transformative agenda for NASA."
"Now, yes, pursuing this new strategy will require that we revise the old strategy. In part, this is because the old strategy — including the Constellation program — was not fulfilling its promise in many ways. That’s not just my assessment; that’s also the assessment of a panel of respected non-partisan experts charged with looking at these issues closely. Now, despite this, some have had harsh words for the decisions we’ve made, including some individuals who I’ve got enormous respect and admiration for. But what I hope is, is that everybody will take a look at what we are planning, consider the details of what we’ve laid out, and see the merits as I’ve described them. The bottom line is nobody is more committed to manned space flight, to human exploration of space than I am. But we’ve got to do it in a smart way, and we can’t just keep on doing the same old things that we’ve been doing and thinking that somehow is going to get us to where we want to go."

"Now, little more than 40 years ago, astronauts descended the nine-rung ladder of the lunar module called Eagle, and allowed their feet to touch the dusty surface of the Earth’s only Moon. This was the culmination of a daring and perilous gambit — of an endeavor that pushed the boundaries of our knowledge, of our technological prowess, of our very capacity as human beings to solve problems. It wasn’t just the greatest achievement in NASA’s history — it was one of the greatest achievements in human history. And the question for us now is whether that was the beginning of something or the end of something. I choose to believe it was only the beginning."

"So thank you. God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America. Thank you."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Message from Elon Musk of SpaceX: At long last, an inspiring future for space exploration

"The Apollo Moon landing was one of humanity's greatest achievements. Millennia from now, when the vast majority of the 20th century is reduced to a few footnotes known only to erudite scholars of history, they will still remember that was when we first set foot upon a heavenly body. It was a mere 66 years after the first powered airplane flight by the Wright brothers.

In the 41 years that have passed since 1969, we have yet to surpass that achievement in human spaceflight. Since then, our capability has actually declined considerably and to a degree that would yield shocked disbelief from anyone in that era. By now, we were supposed to have a base on the Moon, perhaps even on Mars, and have sent humans traveling on great odysseys to the outer planets. Instead, we have been confined to low Earth orbit and even that ends this year with the retirement of the Space Shuttle.

In 2003, following the Columbia accident, President Bush began development of a system to replace the Shuttle, called the Ares I rocket and Orion spacecraft. It is important to note that this too would only have been able to reach low Earth orbit. Many in the media mistakenly assumed it was capable of reaching the Moon. As is not unusual with large government programs, the schedule slipped by several years and costs ballooned by tens of billions.

By the time President Obama cancelled Ares I/Orion earlier this year, the schedule had already slipped five years to 2017 and completing development would have required another $50 billion. Moreover, the cost per flight, inclusive of overhead, was estimated to be at least $1.5 billion compared to the $1 billion of Shuttle, despite carrying only four people to Shuttle's seven and almost no cargo.

The President quite reasonably concluded that spending $50 billion to develop a vehicle that would cost 50% more to operate, but carry 50% less payload was perhaps not the best possible use of funds. To quote a member of the Augustine Commission, which was convened by the President to analyze Ares/Orion, “If Santa Claus brought us the system tomorrow, fully developed, and the budget didn't change, our next action would have to be to cancel it,” because we can't afford the annual operating costs.

Cancellation was therefore simply a matter of time and thankfully we have a President with the political courage to do the right thing sooner rather than later. We can ill afford the expense of an “Apollo on steroids”, as a former NASA Administrator referred to the Ares/Orion program. A lesser President might have waited until after the upcoming election cycle, not caring that billions more dollars would be wasted. It was disappointing to see how many in Congress did not possess this courage. One senator in particular was determined to achieve a new altitude record in hypocrisy, claiming that the public option was bad in healthcare, but good in space!

Thankfully, as a result of funds freed up by this cancellation, there is now hope for a bright future in space exploration. The new plan is to harness our nation's unparalleled system of free enterprise (as we have done in all other modes of transport), to create far more reliable and affordable rockets. Handing over Earth orbit transport to American commercial companies, overseen of course by NASA and the FAA, will free up the NASA resources necessary to develop interplanetary transport technologies. This is critically important if we are to reach Mars, the next giant leap in human exploration of the Universe.

Today, the President will articulate an ambitious and exciting new plan that will alter our destiny as a species. I believe this address could be as important as President Kennedy's 1962 speech at Rice University. For the first time since Apollo, our country will have a plan for space exploration that inspires and excites all who look to the stars. Even more important, it will work."

Press release dated 15 April 2010.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Remembering the launch of STS-1 Space Shuttle Columbia

Also, on this historic day, we (NASA) launched Space Shuttle Columbia (STS-1) on it's first orbital mission to low Earth orbit at an altitude of 166NM at an inclination of 40.3 degrees. Columbia was crewed by veteran Commander John Young and pilot Robert Crippen. Columbia was launched from launch complex 39, pad A at the Kennedy Space Center on 12 April 1981 and landed at the Edwards Air force Base in California after a mission duration of 2 days, 6 hours, 20 minutes and 56 seconds.

First Manned Spaceflight - Yuri Gagarin's Flight

Yuri Gagarin in Sweeden

On this day forty nine years ago on 12 April 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel to outer space and orbit the Earth. Launched on Vostok 3KA-3 (Vostok 1), Gagarin flew a single orbit for a total mission duration of 1 hour and 48 minutes. Gagarin died at the young age of 34 in a plane crash on March 27, 1968 when his MiG-15UTI crashed during a training mission. He was buried in the walls of the Kremlin on Red Square.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

STS-131 Life on Orbit in HD

Credit: NASA Television

Don't you wish you could be there - STS-131 Flight Day 7 Highlights

Credit: NASA Television

This Week In Space with Miles O'Brien

"Discovery takes its next-to-last flight, Obama prepares to face the music on the Space Coast, SpaceX outlooks a May launch for Falcon 9, the price goes up for a seat on a Soyuz, space fans the world over gear up for Yuri's Night, auroras on Saturn, WISE images the "hidden galaxy", Spitzer spies Orion, Phoenix is almost certainly dead, and Buzz gets the boot."

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

STS-131 docks with the International Space Station

Discovery's crew consists of Alan Poindexter (Commander), James Dutton (Pilot), Richard Mastracchio (MS1), Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger (MS2), Stephanie Wilson (MS3), Naoko Yamazaki (MS4) from JAXA, and Clayton Anderson (MS5). Currently thereare six crew members already at the International Space Station. They are Oleg Kotov, TJ Creamer, Soichi Noguchi, Alexander Skvortsov, Tracy Caldwell Dyson and Mikhail Kornienko.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Neil deGrasse Tyson on President Obama's new direction for NASA

Neil deGrasse Tyson (Director of the Hayden Planetarium) answers a question from an audience member on President Obama's new direction for NASA at the University at Buffalo Distinguished Speakers Series.

Space Shuttle Discovery STS-131 launches to the International SpaceStation

Credit: NASA

STS-131 (ISS assembly flight 19A) launched this morning from the Kennedy Space Center enroute to the International Space Station. This mission will be the second to last flight for Space Shuttle Discovery. The primary payload for this mission is a Multi-Purpose Logistices Module loaded with supplies and equipment for the station. The crew of Discovery will also replace an ammonia tank assembly outside the station and return a Lightweight Adapter Plate Asseembly located on the Columbus module. Discovery's crew consists of Alan Poindexter (Commander), James Dutton (Pilot), Richard Mastracchio (MS1), Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger (MS2), Stephanie Wilson (MS3), Naoko Yamazaki (MS4) from JAXA, and Clayton Anderson (MS5). There are at least 3 spacewalks planned for this mission.

This will be the 162nd manned spaceflight for the United States, the 131st shuttle mission since STS-1 and the 38th flight for Discovery.

To the crew of STS-131: best wishes for a successful flight and a safe return home.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

This Week in Space with Miles O'Brien

"Discovery astronauts prep for a resupply mission to the space station, Spirit takes a nap, the Expedition 23 crew blasts off - and breaks into song, NASA steps on the gas to help out with the runaway Toyota investigation and is it Saturn's moon Mimas or Pac-Man?"