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One year ago this week the White House released its new national space policy. Jeff Foust reports on the progress government agencies have made in implementing the policy and the policy’s long-term relevance.
More than 30 years ago one writer penned a major critique of the shuttle program before even the first shuttle launch. Dwayne Day examines what Gregg Easterbrook got right and wrong in his assessment.
The end of the shuttle program has caused plenty of angst in Florida, where people fear the loss of jobs that will result after the shuttle is retired. Alan Stern notes that commercial space efforts can help the local economy rebound, provided there’s sufficient political support for them.
One of the first appearances of the shuttle on the big screen was in the 1979 James Bond movie Moonraker. Dwayne Day looks back at the movie and its portrayal of the shuttle.
A 100-year project to develop the technology needed for a crewed interstellar spacecraft is a sure way to attract attention, especially when it’s backed with even a small amount of funding from DARPA and NASA. Jeff Foust reports on how this long-term effort may really be just a nontraditional way to promote short-term research and development.
As the Space Shuttle program winds down, we’re reminded that the shuttles failed to meet the cost and flight rate predictions made during the program’s development in the 1970s. Dwayne Day notes that even during the ’70s some were skeptical of those claims.
The concept of alien invasions of Earth has reappeared on television recently in the form of a National Geographic special and a TNT drama. Andre Bormanis examines those shows and why the alien invasion theme may be in vogue today.
While the future of NASA’s human spaceflight programs may be uncertain today, it’s not the first time the agency’s exploration plans have been subject to heated debate in Washington. Jeff Foust reviews a book by an insider who provides his account of the battles surrounding the Space Exploration Initiative, and his pessimistic view of the future.
Is Russia developing an airborne laser anti-satellite weapon? Dwayne Day examines the history of a curious Russian aircraft that may be fitted with a laser, and its implications for a potential ASAT arms race.
The British Skylon RLV concept has received some recent attention after an ESA study found no showstoppers with its design. Jeff Foust explores the work on Skylon performed to date and identifies some challenges, both engineering and business, that it has yet to overcome.
After next month’s launch of Atlantis, the Space Shuttle program will come to an end. Taylor Dinerman looks back on what the shuttle did and did not achieve.
Dwayne Day follows up on a critique of a new book about Area 51 with an analysis of the research that went into that book, and the flaws associated with it.
As NASA, Congress, and industry debate what the new Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket should be, some argue that such a rocket isn’t necessary at all. Grant Bonin makes the case for exploration architectures that use larger numbers of smaller, less expensive rockets.
For many space advocates, space settlement has long been the ultimate goal of spaceflight, but one that has seen little progress in the last few decades. Jeff Foust reports on two recent speeches that offer similar, if slightly differing, takes on new approaches that could make settlement a reality.
A Mars sample return mission remains a high priority for scientists, but one that is technically and financially difficult to carry out. Lou Friedman discusses the importance of sample return and the role that international cooperation can play to further it.
Draft rules for a new NASA prize competition involving sample return technology were quietly released last month. Ben Brockert reviews the rules and discusses some potential issues with the planned competition.
Next month the final shuttle mission will lift off with a four-person crew. Anthony Young reflects on this final crew and the future of human spaceflight.
Last week, on the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s speech calling for a human mission to the Moon by the end of the decade, his presidential library released a new recording of space deliberations by Kennedy. John Logsdon examines the new tape and what it says about Kennedy’s interest in spaceflight and support of NASA.
As NASA struggles to develop a new heavy-lift launch vehicle, commercial entities are cobbling together existing systems for new applications, like Space Adventures’s plans for a lunar flyby mission. Stewart Money argues that the latter approach might offer a more expedient approach to near-term exploration than developing a big booster.
A traveling exhibition of artwork created under NASA’s art program has made its way to the National Air and Space Museum. Jeff Foust explores the collection and the origins of the agency’s art efforts.
Special operations forces justifiably got the credit for the raid a month ago that killed Osama bin Laden. However, Taylor Dinerman notes that the mission would not have been possible with a variety of space assets, from reconnaissance to communications.
A recent book about Area 51 makes some bizarre claims about Nazi flying saucer, the Soviet Union, and Roswell. Dwayne Day suggests that the outlandish tale may have its roots in a science fiction short story over a half-century ago.
A major issue of contention for NASA’s near-term plans has been how much reliance it should place on commercial providers for crew transportation to low Earth orbit. Mary Lynne Dittmar presents a paper she prepared last year with the late Mike Lounge on one approach to handle that transition.
Many space enthusiasts have been seeking solutions to lower the cost of space access, while others have promoted human exploration of Mars. Jeff Foust reports on linked proposals from one leading space advocate that address both issues.
The debate about the future development of a NASA heavy-lift launch vehicle drags on in Congress and industry. Lou Friedman warns this process could lead to no NASA human spaceflight program at all.
Last Monday the shuttle Endeavour lifted off on its final mission, but observers were somewhat disappointed when the orbiter soon disappeared through a cloud bank. Jeff Foust describes the launch and how, soon enough, the shuttle program itself will fade from view.
Last week Huntsville hosted the International Space Development Conference (ISDC), the annual conference of the National Space Society. Dwayne Day recalls an earlier ISDC that featured a presentation with a cautionary take on cooperation with military space efforts.
Much of the attention SpaceX’s proposed Falcon Heavy rocket has received has focused on its use in exploration or national security applications. Alan Stern notes that the rocket also has the potential to revolutionize science missions.
More details are gradually emerging about the development of early satellite reconnaissance programs in the US. Dwayne Day provides some new insights into one of those programs, the KH-7 GAMBIT.
The key payload on the shuttle Endeavour, scheduled to launch Monday morning, is a physics experiment called the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS). Jeff Foust reports on what the AMS is supposed to do and how it had to fight for its ride to the ISS.
Earlier this year the European Union issued a document outlining its planned space strategy. Christopher Stone compares that document with American policies and finds some interesting distinctions.
Last month marked the tenth anniversary of Dennis Tito’s trip to the ISS, a milestone in commercial human spaceflight. Jeff Foust reviews a book that recalls the long history of efforts to enable more than just professional astronauts fly in space.
Commercial space ventures appear to be moving forward on all fronts, with developments ranging from commercial crew funding to the testing of suborbital vehicles. However, Jeff Foust notes that some both in industry and Congress are skeptical of the long-term success of these efforts, in part because of past experience.
What is the future for space exploration in an era of fiscal constraints and competing priorities? Lou Friedman argues that there is an increasing role for public-private partnerships to advance space exploration initiatives more cost effectively.
In addition to trying to develop a launch vehicle, Iraq also worked on an its own satellite during the regime of Saddam Hussein. Dwayne Day describes that satellite effort and the country’s future satellite plans.
In recent years India’s space program has evolved from one almost solely dedicated to serving national needs to one with a more nationalistic, even militarized bent. Victoria Samson summarizes the takeaways from a recent conference that examined India’s shifting attitudes towards space and their impact on space security.
The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) suffered a recent funding setback, but work continues to try and find evidence of other civilizations in the universe. Jeff Foust reviews a book that looks at the current state of SETI and the potential to not just listen but also transmit.
This week marks the 50th anniversary of the flight of Alan Shepard, the first American to travel in space. Drew LePage examines the history of the Redstone rocket that made Shepard’s flight possible.
The space shuttle Endeavour was set to launch Friday on its final mission, but was scrubbed hours before liftoff because of a technical issue. Jeff Foust notes the near-term uncertainty about when Endeavour will launch parallels the long-term uncertainty about the future of the Space Coast after the shuttle program ends.
Friday’s attempted launch of the space shuttle Endeavour was scheduled for the same day as the big royal wedding in England. Dwayne Day compares and contrasts the symbolism and significance of each.
What’s it like to spend a summer operating a spacecraft on Mars looking for water ice? Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides a unique, quirky look at how a team of scientists and engineers worked on the Phoenix Mars Lander mission.
The final NASA fiscal year 2011 funding bill provided no explicit funding for space technology activities, a key element of the agency’s future plans. Lou Friedman says that without such investment, it will become increasingly difficult to make new advances in robotic or human space exploration.
Last week NASA announced that four companies would share nearly $270 million in commercial crew development awards, the next step in efforts to develop commercial vehicles to carry astronauts to orbit. Jeff Foust reports on the outcome of the competition and whether there’s room for other companies to compete later in the program.
It’s clear to many that, half a century after the era of human spaceflight began, we have fallen fall short of our early dreams for the exploration and settlement of space. Claude Lafleur take a look at what went wrong.
While best known for co-founding Microsoft, Paul Allen is known in the space community for funding development of SpaceShipOne. Jeff Foust discusses some insights about that effort Allen reveals in a new book, and his potential to return to the commercial space field.
China continues to press for a treaty banning the placement of weapons in outer space, even while developing its own ASAT capability. Michael Listner examines what may be at the root of Chinese strategy regarding space weaponization.
Debates about human space exploration often focus on destinations and technologies. Charles A. Gardner argues that a more important requirement is finding an economically sustainable path for human exploration into and settlement of the solar system.
Earlier this month SpaceX announced plans to develop a more powerful version of its Falcon 9 rocket, called the Falcon Heavy. Stewart Money examines what the implications are of a vehicle with the performance and cost goals of the Falcon Heavy.
NASA used the 30th anniversary of the first shuttle launch last week to announce where the orbiters will go once the fleet is retired. Jeff Foust reports this set off a new debate about one aspect of the agency’s past when attention should be focused on its future.
More than six months after the fiscal year started, NASA finally got its final 2011 budget last week. Taylor Dinerman notes, though, that the agency still faces a host of problems in its human spaceflight, science, and other programs.
While one of the most famous individuals of the Space Age, surprisingly little is known about Yuri Gagarin. Jeff Foust reviews a controversial reprinted book about the life of the first person to fly in space.
Tuesday marks the 50th anniversary of the first human spaceflight, and it comes at a time of uncertainty about NASA’s future human spaceflight plans. Jeff Foust discusses some of the root causes of that uncertainty and what it means for the long-term future of human spaceflight and space exploration.
The legacy of Vostok goes far beyond Yuri Gagarin’s flight 50 years ago. Drew LePage examines how the Vostok design evolved over the decades into applications far beyond human spaceflight.
For decades there have been conspiracy theories claiming that Yuri Gagarin was not the first Soviet cosmonaut. James Oberg critically reviews a documentary claiming to have new evidence about those allegations, but finds it lacking.
Yuri Gagarin’s flight 50 years ago was one of the major milestones in not just space exploration, but the Cold War. Taylor Dinerman explores the lasting impact that event had on Russia and its competition with America.
This year will mark the end of many aspects of the shuttle era, including the various cultures associated with it. Dwayne Day describes one of those little-appreciated mini-cultures: those who photograph the shuttle launches.
On Tuesday, the 30th anniversary of the first shuttle launch, NASA will announce where the orbiters will go after the final launch later this year. Ben Brockert discusses the results of an online experiment to predict where the shuttles may go.
On Monday NASA administrator Charles Bolden will appear before a Senate appropriations subcommittee to discuss the agency’s FY12 budget proposal. Lou Friedman offers an open letter to the chairperson of that subcommittee, asking her to make a critical examination of the agency’s future.
Last month the planetary science community rolled out a study identifying its priorities for missions in the next decade. Jeff Foust reports on how the difficult choices included in that report are further complicated by NASA’s latest budget proposal.
Last month NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft slipped into orbit around Mercury, becoming the first spacecraft to orbit the innermost planet. Lou Friedman describes his “personal, not scientific” connection to that rocky world.
While all the KH-9 reconnaissance satellites were launched on Titan rockets, would it have been possible to launch one on a space shuttle? Dwayne Day examines that question as the KH-9 program approaches declassification and the shuttle its own retirement.
As commercial spaceflight, including both suborbital and orbital human flights, become more common, these applications will raise new legal issues. Christopher J. Newman and Ben Middleton discuss some of the issues that space law experts will have to grapple with in the near future.
The field of astrobiology has increasingly entered the mainstream of scientific research as scientists make new discoveries on Earth and beyond. Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides an overview of the field and assesses the prospects for life elsewhere in the universe.
As the 2011 fiscal year reaches the halfway mark this week, NASA still lacks a final budget for the fiscal year as well as a firm plan for its future human spaceflight plans. Jeff Foust reports on how the continued debate and lack of action has some in industry increasingly concerned.
Dwayne Day concludes his history of the KH-9 HEXAGON reconnaissance satellite program with a look at its ill-fated final flight and its overall contribution to the nation’s security.
Many space exploration architectures have identified the two Lagrange points near the moon, L1 and L2, as promising stepping stones for future human missions, but which one is better? Dan Lester examines the tradeoffs of going to one point versus the other, and the benefits of either.
Earlier this month India tested an ABM that officials claimed could also provide the country with an anti-satellite capability. Michael Listner explores how serious India may be in developing its own ASAT.
While essential to human spaceflight, the spacesuit hasn’t gotten the attention that people, rockets, and spacecraft have received over the decades. Jeff Foust reviews a new book that puts the development of the spacesuit, in particular the one used for the Apollo missions, into a technical and cultural perspective.
If achieving affordability in future launch vehicles requires at least partial reusability, what is the best way to achieve it? Stewart Money examines the various approaches studied over the years, from recovering rocket engines to flying back complete stages.
When the day comes when humans settle space, what legal structures will they use? Jeffrey G. Liss uncovers some insights from an unlikely but authoritative source: a former member of the Supreme Court.
SpaceX achieved a major milestone last week when it won a launch contract from a major commercial satellite operator. Jeff Foust reports that SpaceX’s entry into this market, and other developments, come at a time when other launch companies are worried about a potential shakeout in the market.
Most would agree that satellites play a key role in studying and perhaps even predicting natural disasters, like the recent earthquake in Japan. Lou Friedman wonders why their isn’t similar support for using satellites for understanding climate change.
Throughout the history of NASA, a handful of astronauts have won widespread recognition for their achievements. Anthony Young notes that, during the shuttle program, many more carried out their missions in something more closely resembling obscurity.
Interest is using the new generation of commercial suborbital vehicles for scientific research has surged in the last couple of years. Jeff Foust reports that, at a recent conference, the focus of the discussion had shifted to more practical matters like training and payload interfaces.
Later this week a new variant of the Soyuz spacecraft will undock from the ISS and return to Earth. James Oberg notes that concerns about technical glitches with the Soyuz have also raised concerns about the openness of the ISS partners.
Twenty-five years ago today the Giotto spacecraft flew past the nucleus of Comet Halley, part of an international armada of spacecraft sent to study the comet. Andrew LePage examines the Soviet, Japanese, and European spacecraft sent on a one-in-a-lifetime mission.
What does it mean for the United States to be a leader in space? Christopher Stone argues that such leadership must come from maintaining the country’s edge in spaceflight capabilities instead of relying on others.
Development of commercial crew transportation systems has been one of the biggest hot-button topics in spaceflight today. Owen Garriott and Alan Stern make the case for why such systems are vital to America’s future in space.
The Planetary Sciences Decadal Survey is due out Monday, identifying the highest priority planetary science missions for the next decade. Lou Friedman warns, though, that tight budgets could jeopardize both those missions and future exploration in general.
The new national security space policy does not directly endorse a proposed EU code of conduct for outer space activities, but it does support some of its underlying concepts. Jeff Foust reports on what some observers see as particular issues with the EU code, and the path ahead.
Last month nearly 40 US senators signed a letter to the secretary of state, asking questions about US interest in a code of conduct for outer space activities. Yousaf Butt adresses the issues raised by the senators in their letter.
A joint DARPA/NASA study is examining what technologies it would take to send a spacecraft to another star in a hundred years. Stephen Ashworth argues that ultimate human exploration beyond our solar system will first require a firm grounding in living and working within it.
The universe started with the Big Bang, but what, if anything, came before that? Jeff Foust reviews a book by a cosmologist that offers a model that suggests this universe was not the first.
In the last couple years commercial suborbital spaceflight has been overshadowed by growing interest in, and debate about, commercial orbital human spaceflight. Jeff Foust reports that vehicle developments and growing customer interest could soon thrust suborbital back into the spotlight.
The grand human expeditions into the solar system predicted decades ago have failed to come to pass, like any number of other predictions about life in the 21st century. Andre Bormanis wonders if the future of space exploration will, in fact, be more virtual as those technologies become increasingly capable.
The concept of using rovers to explore the surface of Mars has been successfully demonstrated by NASA, but it wasn’t that long ago that the agency had no plans for such missions. Lou Friedman recalls how it was Russian interest, carried on even as the Soviet Union collapsed, that influenced present-day Martian exploration.
Communications satellites, inelegant boxy contraptions today, were once spinning drum-shaped spacecraft. Dwayne Day describes one such spinner that lives on ot this day, owned by an obscure satellite operator.
Among the major 50th anniversaries in spaceflight being celebrated this year is John F. Kennedy’s speech calling for a human mission to the Moon by the end of the 1960s. Jeff Foust reviews a book by that reexamines Kennedy’s influence on the early space program.
Dwayne Day continues his history of the KH-9 HEXAGON reconnaissance satellite program with an examination of spacecraft operations, including the deep sea recovery of one of the first film capsules returned by a KH-9.
While there’s been a recent surge in interest in reusable spacecraft, including both capsules and winged vehicles, work on reusable launch vehicles has languished. Stewart Money argues that it’s time to revisit making launch vehicles at least partially reusable.
Last week the Sun produced the most powerful solar flare in four years, a reminder that the Sun is approaching another peak in activity that could pose hazards to modern-day civilization. Jeff Foust reports on the steps scientists and government agencies are taking to predict and prepare for solar storms.
ESA is currently weighing which major space science mission it should pursue in the coming decade, a decision that will rest in part on the role of international cooperation on this missions. Lou Friedman suggests that this could be a model for broader cooperation in space exploration.
Later this week the space shuttle Discovery is scheduled to launch on what will almost certainly be its final mission. Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides a history of Discovery and the over three dozen missions it’s flown.
The release this week of a new budget proposal will again stoke debate about NASA policy, including its commercial crew development plans. Jeff Foust reports that agency officials and company officials alike are seeing commercial crew as both increasingly likely and critical to NASA’s future.
Fifty years ago this month the Soviet Union launched its first missions to Venus, although neither spacecraft reached its destination. Andrew LePage examines the rushed Soviet effort to send a spacecraft to Venus.
In debates about space policy, the term “American leadership” is often used without discussion about what it actually means. Lou Friedman argues that such leadership involves not going it along in space but leading cooperative space ventures with other countries.
Fans of The Simpsons may remember the “inanimate carbon rod” as a highlight of a particular space-themed episode. Michael A. Shoemaker notes that similar rods played a minor role in space history as well.
Space has long been perceived as a frontier, but in terms of human spaceflight there’s been little progress in pushing back that frontier for decades. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines why that’s been the case and what can be done to reopen that frontier.
Space science and human spaceflight, long foes in the battle for funding, are going in opposite directions at NASA. Lou Friedman argues it’s time to unite the two under a common mission of exploration.
Dwayne Day continues his examination of the history of the KH-9 HEXAGON reconnaissance satellite program by looking at its development, including budget battles that threatened the program with cancellation.
Recent events have demonstrated the importance, but also the fragility, of Internet access. Jeff Foust reports on one group making a long-shot bid to buy a satellite to improve Internet access in underserved parts of the world.
The effective commercialization of space requires a legal regime that, among other things, protects the intellectual property rights of companies doing work there. Matthew J. Kleiman describes a potential loophole in international space law that could undermine that legal protection.
Building a satellite to perform a mission never before attempted can be a challenging, uncertain project. Jeff Foust reviews a book that chronicles the work by one company with an unlikely heritage to build a unique planetary science mission for NASA.
This time of year is traditionally a somber one at NASA, as the agency recognizes those who lost their lives on missions. Jeff Foust examines a deeper angst that is evident today as well, given the continued uncertainty about NASA’s future human spaceflight plans and budgets.
In the new Congress, as in previous ones, the leadership of key space-related committees is dominated by people from states with major NASA facilities. Lou Friedman discusses the importance of broadening NASA’s appeal to win more support, and funding, in the future.
Launch vehicles are complex machines that sometimes can be felled by simple failures. Wayne Eleazer describes several such failures of rockets, and how a simple “oops”, compounded by other problems, caused them.
Had the damage to the shuttle Columbia had been understood early enough in its fateful final mission eight years ago, it would have been possible, if just barely, to mount a rescue mission. Jeff Foust reviews a novel that explores that alternate history.
Twenty-five years ago today Voyager 2 made its closest approach to Uranus, becoming the first, and so far only, spacecraft to visit the seventh planet. Andrew LePage recounts the challenges of getting a spacecraft designed primarily for Jupiter and Saturn to continue the exploration of the outer solar system.
Given the near-term challenges of just getting beyond Earth orbit, does it make sense to think about how to travel to other stars? Lou Friedman explains the benefits of long-term planning for interstellar missions, as DARPA and NASA are currently exploring.
One potential destination for human spaceflight beyond Earth orbit is the Earth-Moon L-1 point. Ken Murphy discusses the various roles a human presence there could play in supporting space exploration and development.
During the race to the Moon in the 1960s, the CIA built models of the Soviet N-1 launch pad to help them better understand the launch site infrastructure. Dwayne Day describes the discovery of one of those vintage models in an unexpected location.
Discoveries in recent years have revolutionized the field of cosmology, indicating that ordinary matter makes up on a small fraction of the universe. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines the search for dark matter and dark energy.
Development of the KH-9 spy satellite, often referred to in the media as “Big Bird”, has been shrouded in secrecy for decades, but new details are emerging. Dwayne Day examines the early history of the KH-9, including tensions between the NRO and CIA, in the first of a two-part article.
Last week the debate on how NASA should develop a heavy-lift rocket restarted after NASA submitted a report indicating its preferred design would not fit into the budget and schedule of its authorization act. Jeff Foust reports on the issues regarding the technology, budget, and even utility of a heavy-lifter raised in that debate.
Past efforts to develop big human spaceflight programs patterned after Apollo have failed, most recently NASA’s implementation of the Vision for Space Exploration. Roger Handberg uses a sports analogy to explain why it’s time to turn to a more sustainable approach to human space exploration.
Advances in astrobiology have expanded the range of potential sites in the solar system that could support life. Lou Friedman discusses how to make it possible to afford exploring all those sites.
One of the lesser-known payloads launched by the space shuttle was an experimental communications satellite. Dwayne Day describes how ACTS was part of a larger but now dated debate about industrial policy.
Where should humans go next beyond Earth orbit, and how quickly? Harley Thronson, Dan Lester, and Ted Talay make the case for quickly and affordably establishing an outpost at the Earth-Moon Lagrange points.
The general public remains fascinated with many aspects of space exploration, from the Hubble Space Telescope’s observations of the cosmos to the activities of the Mars rovers. Lou Friedman notes that this interest must be taken into account when dealing with troubled current programs and planning future ones.
While best known for his Narnia books, C.S. Lewis also wrote a “Space Trilogy”. Taylor Dinerman examines those novels and their underlying message about space exploration before the beginning of the Space Age.
Astrobiology has gained traction in recent years as an interdisciplinary field seeking to answer one of the most fundamental questions: is there life elsewhere in the universe? Jeff Foust reviews a book where scientists and others talk about their work in this field.
A new year brings new hopes for the future, but plenty of challenges as well. Jeff Foust outlines some of the key issues facing civil and commercial spaceflight in the coming year, from budget battles to the end of the shuttle program.
International cooperation in space can pay dividends on Earth as well as in space. Lou Friedman argues that it’s time to properly recognize the role that civil space cooperation can play in enhancing national security.
For decades the US Air Force used a series of program numbers to identify classified programs. Dwayne Day recaps the effort to link those numbers with specific programs.
It’s an ongoing challenge for astronomers and writers to properly convey the scale and nature of the universe. Jeff Foust reviews two new publications, one a conventional book and the other an iPad app, that try different ways of describing the solar system and beyond.