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Many space activists have pinned their hopes for humanity’s future in space on specific technologies or ideologies. Dwayne Day describes why such “fetishism” is doomed to fail.
Earlier this month the British government announced that, at long last, it would create a standalone space agency. Taylor Dinerman examines the impact this new agency could have and the importance of keeping civil and military space efforts separate.
Mars is widely seen as the long-term goal for human space exploration, even among those who don’t favor near-term missions there, but why go to Mars at all? Frank Stratford argues that exploring Mars is all about preserving, and challenging, humanity.
Twenty years ago the door to greater commercial cooperation in space with Russia opened, albeit slowly and with considerable opposition in some quarters. Jeff Foust reviews an insider’s account of the efforts to take advantage of Russian space capabilities in commercial ventures.
A collection of images from the rollout of SpaceShipTwo in Mojave, California, earlier this month.
Last week Virgin Galactic unveiled its suborbital space tourism vehicle, SpaceShipTwo. Jeff Foust reports from the event that very nearly got swept away by Mother Nature.
As Virgin Galactic presses ahead with its plans, the industry is anxious to see just how many people are interested in paying to fly to space. Taylor Dinerman argues that it may depend on just how the experience of spaceflight is perceived by those initial customers.
During the 2008 presidential campaign Barack Obama promised to reinstate the National Space Council, but nearly a year into his presidency he has yet to do so. Dwayne Day examines the some of the potential reasons why the council hasn’t been reestablished.
A controversial op-ed in Space News last month about space tourism is still reverberating through the industry. David Ashford writes an open letter to one of the authors of that piece countering its arguments.
In a quest to develop new, compelling rationales for space exploration, some are revisiting past arguments. Jeff Foust reviews a book about one man’s effort to frame space exploration as essential to the preservation of civilization.
On Monday Virgin Galactic will formally unveil its suborbital spacecraft, SpaceShipTwo, and much of the focus of that event will be on space tourism. Jeff Foust reports on an emerging alternative market for these vehicles that its proponents believe could someday be bigger than tourism.
Last week NASA released the latest results from the Ares 1-X test flight in October. John Jurist criticizes some space advocates and the media for misunderstanding or misrepresenting what that test, and other Ares 1 development efforts, mean for the program.
Last week the House Science and Technology Committee held a hearing comparing the safety of Constellation versus commercial alternatives. Jeff Foust summarizes the meeting and examines if the committee was asking the right questions about the future of human spaceflight.
A set of leaked emails from a UK research institute have created a controversy in some circles about the state of climate research and global warming. Taylor Dinerman wonders what implications this debate has for NASA.
The “Flexible Path” option included in the Augustine committee report has attracted a lot of interest, but where exactly should that path begin? Dan Lester proposes using the Earth-Moon L1 point as a logical starting point for journeys beyond low Earth orbit.
Some people have become impatient with the pace of progress in the development of the commercial space industry. Bob Clarebrough looks back two centuries to the development of a different industry to find lessons of innovation for today’s space entrepreneurs.
A joint statement issued during President Obama’s visit to China earlier this month included a passage about cooperation in space exploration. Taylor Dinerman warns that the US should not appear to be too eager to work with the Chinese.
The Hubble Space Telescope is one of the most famous spacecraft ever launched, allowing astronomers to peer back to the early history of the universe. Dwayne Day describes a new Smithsonian exhibit that features two instruments that flew on the telescope.
The latest surge in interest in space-based solar power comes at a time of increasing concern about the availability of existing energy sources and their effect on the environment. Jeff Foust reviews a book that attempts to prove that space is the solution to our energy woes.
The NRO and Congress are grappling with the direction the nation’s reconnaissance satellite program should go. Taylor Dinerman argues that this is evidence that, thanks to past failures, the NRO doesn’t have the influence and prestige it once did on Capitol Hill.
It’s a critical time for the future of NASA’s human spaceflight efforts, which makes space advocacy as important as it has been in years. Jeff Foust finds, though, that activists don’t appear to be operating at the level they should if they want to make a difference in the ongoing debate.
A provocative essay in Space News last week called space tourism a “hoax” and its purveyors “con men”. Stephen Ashworth counters that space tourism is, in fact, essential to the future of spaceflight.
PETA has long had a reputation for over-the-top ads and antics to promote their agenda; what would be in store when they turned their attention to NASA? Dwayne Day reports that the result was something rather underwhelming.
What could get industry and government alike motivated to support human space exploration? Jim Gagnon suggests it might be the space equivalent of a land rush.
NASA is routinely criticized for failing to bring in projects on time and schedule. Dwayne Day notes that for all of NASA’s problems, the Defense Department’s project management woes are far more serious, with potentially bigger implications.
The concept of solar sailing is particularly attractive for some missions, but to date no one has been able to successfully launch one. Jeff Foust reports on a new bid by The Planetary Society to do that, and by doing so build upon the legacy of one of its co-founders.
Much of the attention about the Augustine Committee report was with one of its options, called the Flexible Path. Michael Huang argues that while the committee might appear to prefer it, there are a number of problems with that architecture.
Taylor Dinerman reviews a book that offers a new perspective on the life of early space pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovskii.
A key element of the Augustine Committee’s report was its emphasis on commercial providers to help support NASA’s space exploration efforts. Taylor Dinerman cautions that may be too much to ask the nascent NewSpace industry at this stage in its development.
The Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge wrapped up at the end of October with the remaining prize money awarded to two teams. Jeff Foust reports on the conclusion of the competition, a bit of controversy, and future plans.
The short-lived TV series Defying Gravity went off the air before American viewers could see all 13 episodes. Dwayne Day recounts what you missed and what the series’ failure says about public interest in space exploration.
More than three years after Pluto was “demoted” from planetary status, the decision remains controversial. Jeff Foust reviews the latest book to examine the debate and how Pluto should fit into the solar system’s pantheon of worlds.
NASA’s exploration program has been getting all the space policy attention in recent months, but it’s not the only space policy issue of interest in Washington. Jeff Foust reports on a couple of lesser-known, but important, issues that are making some headway in Congress and the White House.
While people focus on the future of NASA’s human spaceflight efforts, its robotic missions are also facing a variety of issues. Taylor Dinerman discusses those concerns and potential future budget pressures on those missions.
The Planetary Society’s Louis Friedman calls on the president to take the report of the Augustine Committee and turn it into a blueprint for a bold new space exploration program.
DARPA is studying a concept of taking a large spacecraft and splitting it up into several smaller, interconnected components. Jeff Foust reports on the implications this could have not just for spacecraft development but the overall industry.
For months the space community had been waiting for it, and on Thursday they finally got it: the final report of the Augustine committee. Jeff Foust reports on the reaction and how the report is the next step, but not the last step, in crafting a new space policy.
Before the first Gulf War, Iraq was actively developing a launch vehicle for placing a satellite into orbit—and perhaps other purposes. Dwayne Day looks at what’s known about this effort from a United Nations report.
The development of reusable launch vehicles has been left almost entirely to entrepreneurial space companies for nearly a decade. Taylor Dinerman sees some encouraging signs that big companies and the government are taking a renewed interest in the field.
New research shows that babies born in 2007 will have a median lifespan of 104 years. Sam Dinkin looks at how further improvements in morbidity can make space settlement imminent.
Many exploration architectures that feature heavy-lift launch vehicles do so because they are an efficient way of launching large payloads. Ronald Menich argues for a more robust approach of using smaller vehicles that provides redundancy in the event of a launch failure.
With the International Space Station nearly completely assembled, attention now turns to how to best utilize it. Taylor Dinerman explains how that will depend on how much access scientists will have to it once the shuttle is retired.
A coalition of commercial satellite operators is seeking policy changes that would open up the launch market to EELVs and even Chinese vehicles. Jeff Foust reports on those efforts and the perspectives of the commercial launch industry.
Many see Mars as the ultimate goal of any new space exploration policy. Doris Hamill describes the steps needed to make human missions to the Red Planet possible.
Jeff Foust briefly reviews a couple of new books, one featuring a tour of observatories in the American Southwest, and the other providing technical details of an unconventional launch concept.
Many in the space industry have emphasized the importance of supporting university-built small satellites, but what benefits do such programs provide beyond their educational value? Michael Swartwout identifies two key innovations that have shaped the smallsat field as a whole.
The spirit of innovation and experimentation that dominated the early years of the Space Age in the US has faded. Brian Horais argues that the country needs to embrace this spirit again to maintain its lead in space technology.
A few months into the job, NASA and those in Washington who deal with space are starting to get used to new administrator Charles Bolden. However, as Jeff Foust reports, Bolden is not the type of person who appears willing to get used to Washington.
The last few decades of NASA may seem like to many to be a disjointed collection of programs, both successes or failures. Doris Hamill argues that, upon closer inspection, there is a clear mission and vision for the agency that connects those efforts.
Earlier this year the US military conducted the latest in a series of war games about military operations in space. Taylor Dinerman questions how relevant and useful these exercises are.
As scientists sift through the data from last week’s LCROSS impacts, other recent findings suggest that water may be far more common on the Moon than onc thought. Arlin Crotts makes the case for an alternative source of the water.
The fact that NASA’s exploration program has run into budget and other difficulties is hardly surprising; the question now is how the White House and Congress will respond to the conclusions of the Augustine committee report. Dwayne Day summarizes a recent forum that brought together experts from government, industry, and elsewhere to tackle this issue.
With the Augustine committee’s work nearly done, some of its members are starting to speak individually about their work. Jeff Foust reports on a speech last week by a committee member who provided his own insights into the work on crafting a new direction for NASA’s human spaceflight plans.
This summer marked the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11, but this month marks a very different, yet important, 40th anniversary. Bob Werb recalls the work of Gerard K. O’Neill and how it set into motion a completely new way to look at spaceflight.
A center of attention in the current review of NASA’s exploration plans is the fate of the Ares 1. Edward Ellegood argues that while its technical problems might be overcome, its cost and schedule issues make it unwise to continue.
A center of attention in the current review of NASA’s exploration plans is the fate of the Ares 1. Edward Ellegood argues that while its technical problems might be overcome, its cost and schedule issues make it unwise to continue.
In his nearly four years as NASA administrator Mike Griffin left a major impact on the space agency, particularly in the implementation of exploration. Taylor Dinerman uses a book of speeches by Griffin as administrator to reflect on his time in office.
NASA’s LCROSS spacecraft is on track to hit a crater on the Moon early Friday. Dwayne Day imagines the mission as a cover for something more belligerent in this short story.
In recent weeks several companies have expressed new or renewed interest in developing commercial systems for carrying people to low Earth orbit. Jeff Foust reports on these recent developments and the potential political opposition to any greater emphasis on commercial crew transportation.
The Augustine committee report has provided new impetus to efforts to further commercialize space access. Taylor Dinerman describes the challenges of separating true commercial companies from those that are primarily government contractors.
Earlier this month a Canadian organization hosted a three-day conference on space-based solar power. Jonathan Coopersmith summarizes the conference and the key issues facing this concept.
The Obama Administration recently decided to replace planned ground-based interceptors in Europe with SM-3 missiles. Brian Weeden describes how this decision has implications for space security, since it was a modified SM-3 that intercepted a decaying US satellite last year.
Nearly a decade ago space enthusiasts had high hopes as two Mars-themed movies hit the theaters; both were disappointments. Dwayne Day reviews the second of those two films, Red Planet, which while not a good movie was at least the better of the two.
The debate in the two weeks since the Augustine committee released its summary report has focused on which report option to pursue and how to get the extra funding needed to carry out that option. Jeff Foust argues that a bigger question has been ignored: why we do human space exploration in the first place.
The Augustine committee’s summary report got a strong, and not necessarily positive, reaction in two Congressional hearings last week. Taylor Dinerman describes how this debate could put more pressure on the White House to provide additional funding for the current Constellation program.
Which of the several options presented by the Augustine committee should the White House and Congress adopt? Edward Ellegood makes the case for a version of one of the options that could close the gap and preserve thousands of jobs.
Nearly a decade ago space enthusiasts had high hopes as two Mars-themed movies hit the theaters; both were disappointments. Dwayne Day reviews the first of those films, Mission to Mars, whose efforts at technical accuracy were spoiled by a bad plot.
Last week Masten Space Systems became the latest team to attempt a flight in the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge. Jeff Foust reports on the flight which, while not qualifying for any prize money, demonstrated the progress the small company has made.
On Saturday Armadillo Aerospace performed a pair of flights in pursuit of Level 2 of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge. Jeff Foust reports on the flights and the waiting on both the weather and the competition.
Photos from the Lunar Lander Challenge Level 2 flights by Armadillo Aerospace on September 12.
The mysterious PAN launch took place last week as satellite observers and other speculated on what the purpose of the satellite launched by that Atlas 5 was. Dwayne Day summarizes what we now know—and don’t know—about PAN.
The release of the Augustine committee’s summary report last week provided more fodder for the debate about the commercialization of cargo and crew transportation to low Earth orbit. Edward Ellegood looks to the lessons from the EELV program to see whether and how this could work.
Last week ATK carried out a successful static test of a five-segment rocket motor designed to be the first stage of the Ares 1. John Jurist provides an eyewitness account of the test and its implications for the controversial launch vehicle.
The early space age featured magazines with cover art of fantastic spaceflight concepts. Dwayne Day describes how at least in one case the contents didn’t match up with the cover.
A proposed NASA Earth sciences mission could provide a new level of accuracy in climate data. Taylor Dinerman warns, though, that the agency needs to tread carefully to avoid getting mired into climate change disputes.
NASA’s COTS program has demonstrated a new approach to developing commercial capabilities that can serve government and industry needs. Max Vozoff describes how the same model can help a cash-strapped space agency develop other capabilities it might not otherwise be able to afford.
Many people in the space field are happy to talk about scientific and technical issues, but rarely discuss the interaction with, and relevance of, art. Jeff Foust looks at some recent examples of the role of art in space and space art, and how it could help generate interest in space among the public.
When Defying Gravity premiered last month, it was met by collective groans from space-savvy viewers who perceived it just a bad soap opera set in space. Dwayne Day kept watching, though, and finds that later episodes have gotten better—or at least not as bad.
The 1990s saw the rise and fall of several companies planning LEO satellite communications systems, which later found renewed life after going through Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Taylor Dinerman argues that as these companies now plan to refresh their satellite fleets they can offer some lessons for government satellite efforts.
It’s been widely accepted for decades that the launch of Sputnik took the world, and especially the US, by surprise. Dwayne Day finds an article written just a year after the launch that explains why it shouldn’t have been surprising.
A common refrain among space advocates is that NASA is given too much to do and too little funding to accomplish it. G. Ryan Faith makes the case for giving NASA a straightforward mission—space exploration—and prioritizing its tasks accordingly.
Cancellation of Defense Department programs and the uncertainty surrounding NASA’s exploration plans could lead to the loss of thousands of aerospace jobs. Taylor Dinerman warns that such cuts could lead to a brain drain like the ones seen after previous mass layoffs.
Much of what made the Space Age possible was driven by the development of ICBMs and related spacecraft systems. Andrew Tubbiolo argues that this legacy may make it more difficult for commercial and civil entities to expand their activities in Earth orbit.
The recent IAU General Assembly has come and gone without any changes in the definition of “planet” or Pluto’s classification. Jeff Foust reviews a new book that takes yet another look at the controversy surrounding Pluto’s status and how it compares to previous planetary controversies.
Space enthusiasts have coped with the relative lack of progress in the four decades since humans first walked on the Moon in varying ways. John Hickman describes these various approaches and how they can pose obstacles to the future.
Several years ago there was renewed interest in the concept of the space elevator, but that enthusiasm has yet to translate into major progress. Jeff Foust reports on a recent conference where the space elevator community took stock of the current situation and made plans to forge ahead.
An Atlas 5 is scheduled to launch next month a mysterious satellite identified only as PAN. Dwayne Day sheds a little more light on this spacecraft and its possible mission.
Hundreds of books have been published about the solar system, making it difficult for new ones to stand out. Jeff Foust reviews one that succeeds at standing out thanks to updated material and good design.
In the heady aftermath of Apollo 11, it appeared likely humans would journey to Mars by the end of the century; 40 years later, though, such missions seem as far in the future as ever. James Oberg discusses why such missions have proven far more difficult than originally envisioned and how we’ll know that we’re finally ready to go.
On-orbit propellant depots are getting increased attention as a possible part of alternative space exploration architectures being studies by the Augustine committee. However, Josh Hopkins argues that proponents of the concept need to address a number of technical and business issues regarding them.
An Air Force analysis leaked last month concludes that there are phases of flight of the Ares 1 from which the Orion capsule could not safely escape. Kirk Woellert examines both the rationale for leaking the report and its technical merits.
As the Augustine committee completes its work, the next big question will be how the White House and Congress act on its conclusions. Taylor Dinerman looks back on the late, lamented Space Exploration Initiative for insights on how not to act.
Last month the publishers of LAUNCH Magazine officially pulled the plug on that space publication. Dwayne Day reflects on what its passing means for space journalism, online and in print.
Britain is undertaking another review of its national space policy, leading the country down the path of creating a full-fledged space agency. Andrew Weston makes the case for the country to be even more ambitious with its long-term space goals.
Many expect the Obama Administration to change course in the area of military space policy, moving away from the philosophy of “space dominance” endorsed by the previous administration. Jeff Foust reviews a new book that examines changes in space policy and explains why space dominance is problematic, at best.
At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be much in common between the burgeoning small satellite industry and human spaceflight. However, Grant Bonin argues that the philosophy that has guided smallsat developers over the years may be key to enabling breakthroughs in human access to space.
As the International Space Station nears completion, what will the US and others get for the massive investment put into the project? At the very least, says Taylor Dinerman, they’ve learned how to run (or not run) major space projects.
Defying Gravity, a series running on ABC this summer, is supposed to be about a mysterious expedition across the solar system. Dwayne Day, though, thinks it embodies some of the worst aspects of science fiction and even general television programming today.
A new book by a noted futurist projected a future war involving a surprise attack on US military “battle stars” in Earth orbit. Brent Ziarnick examines what may seem like a fanciful scenario and finds some elements of truth to it.
Dwayne Day follows up on some past articles about classified mission patches and their meanings with an examination of a patch for an upcoming launch.
Just how high does a suborbital vehicle have to go for its operator to claim it has flown in space? Jeff Foust reports that this is a question some in industry, as well as potential regulators, are wrangling with.
Dwayne Day describes an unusual item found at the site of last week’s public hearing of the Augustine committee.
Is there really a new space race emerging between the United States and China? Jeff Foust reports on a new study that examines the Chinese historical record for insights on its civil space program.
The new administration is undertaking a review of national space policy that will extend far beyond what the Augustine committee is studying. Peter Garretson argues that any new policy needs to incorporate a number of key elements that go far beyond science and exploration.
One of the highlights of last week’s EAA AirVenture show in Oshkosh was an appearance by WhiteKnightTwo. Eric Hedman offers an overview of the plane’s arrival in Wisconsin and other space-related events at the show.
A collection of images from WhiteKnightTwo’s arrival at the EAA AirVenture show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
A major uncertainty in the long-term future of the commercialization of space is the question of private property rights. Taylor Dinerman takes a critical look at a new book that claims that international law will never permit such property rights.
Despite limited progress, there continues to be strong interest by some in the space elevator concept. Jeff Foust review a book that provides an overview of both space elevators as well as shorter, but still challenging, space tethers.
An atmosphere of coopetition: the interactions of science and exploration aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter
NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission is a dual effort of the agency’s exploration and science directorates. Amanda Schiff and Jim Bell describe how this clash of organizations has created “coopetation” between them that has sometimes helped the mission’s development.
Returning to the Moon effectively means more than developing rockets, spaceships, and landers. Taylor Dinerman describes the development of an innovative crane system that could aid in the development of lunar outposts.
Recent events have raised awareness about the problems orbit debris poses, but most of the attention has been focused on ways to reduce the rate of growth of debris. Jeff Foust reports on a conference session where speakers proposed innovative technologies and financial approaches to eliminating debris.
Dwayne Day concludes his three-part history of the Samos E-5 reconnaissance satellite program by recounting the demise of the project and its links to Air Force interest in manned spaceflight.
The 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 provided an opportunity not only to reflect on the past but also look ahead to the next era of space exploration. Sumitra Rajagopalan discusses what Canada can do to get the public, particularly young Canadians, interested in space exploration.
How do you tell the story of an accomplishment that has been chronicled previously in dozens, if not hundreds, of books? Jeff Foust reviews a book that tries to take a new tack on the story of the Apollo 11 lunar landing.
With the perspective now of 40 years, what was the biggest effect Apollo had? Alan Stern says it’s the inspiration it provided to a generation of Americans, some of whom are now turning their attention to the commercial development of space.
Apollo is still thought by many as the first small step in the human exploration of the universe. That belief, argues Michael Potter, is the real “hoax” of the Apollo program as those journeys were more of a dead end than a giant leap.
2009 marks not just the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 but the 20th anniversary of the publication of one of the best histories of the project. Thomas J. Frieling interviews the authors of Apollo: The Race to the Moon to get their perspectives on the anniversary and the creation of the book.
The 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 has brought a new slate of books and other options for remembering and understanding that mission. Jeff Foust reviews several of these, from a book by an Apollo 11 astronaut to an iPhone game.
In the second of a three-part examination of an early reconnaissance satellite program, Dwayne Day recounts the unique technical challenges faced by the team developing the camera for the Samos E-5 spacecraft.
A change in administrations had led to a change in how national security risks are assessed. Taylor Dinerman argues that planetary defense—protecting the Earth from potentially hazardous asteroids and comets—should play a role in those revised assessments.
It’s a simple question that’s difficult to answer: how many objects are orbiting the Earth? Brian Weeden explains the challenges in identifying and tracking satellites and debris, and how the US military and others can improve this effort.
Getting the Air Force’s first satellite program going was both a technical and organizational challenge. Dwayne Day describes how a few officers—the “Space Cadets”—helped push the program forward.
The current committee reviewing NASA’s human spaceflight efforts is hardly the first such effort to study the agency and its future. Edward Ellegood looks at what lessons those past efforts have to offer to the Augustine committee.
Unlike other major spacefaring nations, the UK doesn’t support any sort of human spaceflight program. Jeff Foust reports on a recent event that was as much a way to honor those Britons who have flown in space as it was part of an effort to promote human spaceflight in the country.
Taylor Dinerman continues his examination of the political forces surrounding Project Apollo with a look at the role Lyndon Johnson played in shaping NASA and Apollo to fit his goals.
While many books about the historic Apollo 11 mission focus on the lunar landing, few examine the mission’s return to Earth. Dwayne Day reviews a book that offers details about the splashdown and recovery of Apollo 11.
Space tourism is generally perceived as primarily led by American companies, but there are a number of efforts elsewhere, particularly in Europe, seeking to get involved as vehicle developers and spaceport operators. Jeff Foust reports on a recent conference where these efforts, and some of the obstacles to future development, were discussed.
Samos E-5 was designed as a US Air Force reconnaissance satellite, but had an even more secret mission as well. In the first of a two-part article, Dwayne Day describes how the program was an effort to develop a military manned capsule.
As the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission approaches, we are reminded of the superpower space race that made that mission possible. Taylor Dinerman looks back on the geopolitical forces that drive the race to the Moon.
Dwayne Day follows up on last week’s obituary of reconnaissance satellite pioneer Bill King with a look at how he and a group of self-described “space cadets” helped shape the early history of the Air Force’s space program.
This week the Senate is scheduled to hold a confirmation hearing for NASA administrator nominee Charles Bolden. Eric Hedman examines the qualities NASA needs for an effective leader and how those match up to Bolden’s record.
A collection of images from the groundbreaking ceremonies last month for Spaceport America in New Mexico.