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The end of the year is a natural time to reflect on the past year, but it’s also an opportunity to look ahead into next year. Jeff Foust examines some of the key issues, from potential budget cuts to plans for the first flights of commercial space vehicles, that will be front and center in 2013.
NASA is not considered a military organization, yet can it play a role in national security? Gary Oleson, Bob Silsby, and Darin Skelly describe how NASA, from international cooperation to cost-effective technology development, can enhance national security.
One of the saddest events of 2012 was the death of Neil Armstrong. Dwayne Day recounts his experiences working with the first man to set foot on the Moon on an aeronautics committee last year.
In October, two launches within a few days of each other suffered engine problems, although both were able to complete their primary missions. Wayne Eleazer examines how past engine problems on launches have resulted in less fortunate outcomes.
NASA is getting plenty of advice about what it should be doing from Congress, committees, and other organizations. Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides the viewpoint of a reality TV personality, although his proposals for the space agency may be little more than fantasy.
Over the last few weeks, organizations, committees, and individuals have offered their views about what NASA’s strategic direction should be. Jeff Foust reports that there’s broad dissatisfaction with the agency’s current direction, but little consensus on how differently the space agency should be oriented.
A recent conference about the fifty-year history of NASA’s planetary exploration program became something of a forum to deliberate and worry about that program’s future. Dwayne Day argues that looking back at that history shows how the program has evolved, and for the better.
Everyone agrees that orbital debris is a major issue, but proposals to try and clean up debris can run into legal obstacles. In the second part of his examination of the topic, Michael Listner reviews the liability issues associated with any space debris remediation effort and proposes a way to mitigate those problems.
The shuttle program ended nearly a year and a half ago with the final flight of Atlantis, but the memories of those final missions remain strong. Jeff Foust reviews a book of photographs of those final launches and tale of reverence they offer for a historic series of spaceships.
Last week NASA surprised many when it announced it would develop a new Mars rover, based on Curiosity, for launch in 2020, reviving hopes of a sample return mission desired by scientists. An insider provides a new perspective on this decision, which represents a major reversal of policy from just earlier this year.
The last year has seen a number of proposals for audacious commercial space endeavors, but perhaps none bigger than a proposal for human missions to the surface of the Moon by 2020. Jeff Foust reports on Golden Spike’s plans for such missions and the skepticism about their feasibility.
Although it was displayed for a day at the National Air and Space Museum, the HEXAGON and GAMBIT reconnaissance satellites are now on display at the Air Force’s museum in Ohio. Dwayne Day pays a visit and looks at the future prospects for showing off the spacecraft there or at the Smithsonian.
This month marks the 40th anniversary of Apollo 17, but before astronaut Harrison Schmitt could fly to the surface of the Moon, he had to learn how to fly. Jason Catanzariti interviews the astronaut on his flight training experience and how it prepared him for his Apollo mission.
A year after rolling out its plans to develop a massive air launch system, Stratolaunch Systems confirmed recently it parted ways with one of its original partners, SpaceX. Dwayne Day describes how this is evidence that Stratolaunch is less a viable commercial or military system than it is an ego-driven project.
Last week NASA quietly canceled a planned prize competition to develop a low-cost dedicated launch vehicle for nanosatellites. Jeff Foust reports on the reasons behind the decision and the reaction from both potential competitors and the organization that planned to run the competition.
The direction and goals of national space policy remain an ongoing subject for debate. Derek Webber argues that including settlement as even a long-term goal of any future national space policy will provide new clarity and purpose to overall space efforts.
Twenty-five years ago, a book argued that those who flew in space experienced a radically altered perception of the Earth. Jeff Foust talks with Frank White, who wrote about the Overview Effect in 1987 and continues to study it today.
For decades, NASA and the US military have supported several efforts to develop a reusable launch vehicle, of which only the Space Shuttle flew, and it fell short of its cost and flight rate goals. Jeff Foust examines how the US government has quietly exited the RLV development business, leaving the future of such vehicles in the hands of the private sector.
When the “Mercury 13” group of prospective women astronauts sought recognition from NASA a half-century ago, one would have imagined that a pioneering female pilot, Jacqueline Cochran, would have supported them. Billie Holladay Skelley looks at why Cochran instead failed to back their efforts.
The occasional close flyby of the Earth by a small asteroid provides regular reminders of threats—and benefits—such objects pose to us. Jeff Foust reviews a book by a leading expert on near-Earth objects about the peril and promise of these bodies.
NASA’s planetary science program is facing a significant budget cut that has alarmed scientists and other advocates of the program. Jeff Foust reports reports on a recent historical symposium that provided some guidance based on the lessons of previous “survival crises” the program has experienced.
Many space advocates have argued that large-scale space projects can help open up new markets that stimulate the economy back on Earth. Vidvuds Beldavs and Jeffrey Sommers make the case that not only are such efforts necessary. but also that Russia is the country best positioned to lead them.
Black holes are fascinating objects, but are they anything more than astronomical curiosities and fodder for science fiction tales? Jeff Foust reviews a book that makes the case that black holes play an essential role in shaping the universe and its potential for life.
Recent articles in the news media suggest that NASA is studying new architectures for human space exploration that could make use of a “gateway” station at a Earth-Moon Lagrange point. Jeff Foust reports on the some technical details about those ongoing NASA studies provided at a recent conference.
One of the major challenges for dealing with space debris is that there’s no acceptable definition of just what it is. Michael Listner offers one potential legal definition of space debris and the rationales behind its provisions.
With potentially more than 100 billion extrasolar planets in our galaxy, astronomers face a challenge: how to name them all? Alan Stern and Geoff Marcy describe an approach they’re supporting to not only meet that challenge, but also at the same time fund other space science research.
Long before the first spacewalk or even first human spaceflight, movies depicted spacesuited astronauts exploring the solar system. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a critical history of this specific genre of science fiction films.
There remains considerable uncertainty about whether the US can sustain any kind of space exploration program despite current plans. Charles Miller argues that what’s first needed is a compelling answer to why have a space exploration program, and from that, the “how” will follow.
The Space Shuttle program was back in the news last week as the final orbiter, Atlantis, was formally transferred to its new home at the Kennedy Space Center’s visitor complex. Jeff Foust discusses how the challenge for NASA now is to make the case to the public that the end of the shuttle program doesn’t mean the end of human spaceflight for the agency.
How does public sentiment for funding space exploration translate into actions by Congress? Alan Steinberg analyses budget and survey data and finds some mixed messages.
Astrobiology has moved into the mainstream of scientific research thanks in part to discoveries that have indicated how plentiful the building blocks for life may be in the universe. Jeff Foust reviews a book that traces those developments and its role in what the author argues is a major scientific revolution.
The question of where in the upper atmosphere outer space begins is an issue with significant legal implications for space activities. Michael Listner examines how emerging commercial spaceflight activities could shape a new definition.
Hosted payloads provide an opportunity for government agencies to place payloads on commercial satellites at a fraction of the cost of a dedicated mission, but their use remains limited. Jeff Foust reports that there is evidence that such payloads are overcoming a range of obstacles to wider use.
The ability to make use of resources on the Moon, Mars, and asteroids—living off the land—is critical to the future of space exploration and development, but there’s been limited research into the subject. Eric Shear makes the case for greater investment by the private sector into ISRU technologies.
Cosmology today is marked not so much by what we know but by what we don’t know about such mysteries as dark matter and dark energy. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers an overview of what we do, and don’t, know about the universe.
In recent years, there’s been considerable skepticism, healthy or otherwise, about the potential of commercial spaceflight, particularly as companies struggled to develop launch vehicles and spacecraft. Jeff Foust reports that there are signs that skepticism is starting to fade as commercial space companies achieve some successes.
Many people dismiss space ventures because of the cost and risk associated with them. However, as Greg Anderson notes, in the 19th century many felt the same way about traveling to California, yet the promises of riches from gold discoveries there was compelling enough for some to accept the risks and reshape history.
Can the private sector raise the funds needed for human missions to Mars, as some propose doing? Frank Stratford argues that any private sector effort for Mars exploration should take a more indirect, but also more sustainable approach.
John Young’s career as an astronaut extended from the first Gemini mission to the early flights of the Space Shuttle, with a Moon landing in between. Jeff Foust reviews a memoir by Young about his life and career, one that focuses far more on technical than personal aspects.
A recent report by an independent group for NASA outlined several future directions for the agency’s Mars exploration program. Chris Carberry argues that NASA should use this opportunity to consolidate its Mars exploration efforts, both robotic and human, into a separate division within the agency.
Election Day next month doesn’t mark the end of politics, or space policy discussions, for this year. Jeff Foust reports on two little-known but key issues regarding space that Congress will have to address after the elections.
A wide variety of spacecraft missions, both proposed and under development, can support the discovery and study of extrasolar planets. Philip Horzempa concludes his two-part look at these missions, and the need to better organize and fund exoplanet research at NASA.
Sir Arthur C. Clarke was one of the great science fiction authors of the 20th century who also served as a guide to the emerging Space Age, but whose personal side was less well known. Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides a comprehensive look at Clarke’s life.
The promise of commercial cargo and crew transportation has been just that: a promise, as yet not fully realized. Jeff Foust reports that may have changed Sunday night with the launch of the first commercial cargo mission to the International Space Station.
The search for extrasolar planets, particularly those similar in size and orbit to the Earth, has become one of the hottest fields in astronomy. In the first of a two-part article, Philip Horzempa examines some of the planned and proposed missions that can support those searches.
The current leadership at NASA and the White House gets much of the credit for supporting commercial crew and cargo ventures at the space agency. However, Christopher Stone argues that these programs are based on a foundation of policy that stretches back over multiple administrations and Congresses of both parties.
According to recent news reports, NASA is working on plans for a “gateway” station at the Earth-Moon L2 point. John Strickland describes why such a facility could be useful, but also why NASA’s approach to it may be doomed to fail.
Five years ago last month, Google and the X PRIZE Foundation announced a $30-million prize competition for a commercial lunar mission. With the prize not yet claimed, Jeff Foust reports on the prospects various teams have for winning the competition before it expires at the end of 2015.
Just over a week ago the shuttle Endeavour arrived in Los Angeles, marking the final trip for that orbiter and the last time an orbiter will be ferried by plane. Andre Bormanis comments on this milestone.
One of the key figures in the Apollo program, although lesser known to many, was George Mueller. Anthony Young reviews a book that examines the management contributions that Mueller made that enabled the success of the program.
Developing a starship, even over the course of a century, sounds like a wild thing to do given the challenges of spaceflight today, but DARPA awarded a $500,000 grant earlier this year to an organization led by a former astronaut to do just that. Jeff Foust checks out the status of the 100 Year Starship as discussed at a recent symposium.
With six weeks until the election, the space community is increasingly interested in the policy positions of the two major presidential candidates on space. Jeff Foust reports on some recent developments that offer some more insights on their stances, while leaving many questions still unanswered.
As NASA’s latest Mars rover, Curiosity, ramps up its activities on the Red Planet, the previous Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, can offer a variety of lessons. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines the interactions among that project’s scientists and what it means for a robotic vehicle, controlled by humans, to explore another world.
Even as NASA’s commercial crew effort enters its latest phase, attention, both positive and negative, remains focused on the program. Jeff Foust reports on the latest developments with both the companies that won the latest commercial crew awards and the company that didn’t, as well as continuing Congressional concerns about the program.
A few years ago India announced some very ambitious human spaceflight plans, including a goal of human lunar mission. Ajey Lele examines what happened to those plans and whether it’s worth it for India to pursue them again.
A simple, yet mind bending, question in cosmology is to ask what took place before the Big Bang. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines the concept of time, both in a cosmological context as well as how humanity’s perception and measurement of time has altered over the millennia.
While interest in smallsats has been growing in general, perhaps the fastest-growing part of that sector has been very small CubeSats. Jeff Foust reports on the reasons these satellites are attracting interest, from increasing technical capabilities to improved access to space.
As an independent group examines options for NASA’s long-term future, what does industry think? Frank Slazer offers the views of one industry organization on NASA’s goals as well as its fiscal threats.
Iran’s space program could benefit from some good publicity, but they appear to be taking an odd approach to getting it. Dwayne Day describes a unusual children’s book created by the country’s space agency.
While Mars is not a particularly hospitable world today, some have advocated terraforming the planet to allows humans to more easily live there. Eric Choi examines how the concept of terraforming Mars has evolved in science fiction over the years.
Space law is becoming increasingly important as more countries and more companies get involved in spaceflight, seeking to establish new markets and applications. Jeff Foust reviews a practical guidebook for lawyers, or those who deal with legal issues, on the various applications of space law, from launch licenses to export control.
Is there a way for humans to be on a surface of another planet without actually physically being there? Dan Lester argues that, thanks to the increasing capabilities of robotics and related technologies, telepresence can be the next best thing to actually being there, at considerably less cost and risk.
With only about two months until Election Day, space enthusiasts are increasingly curious as to the space policy positions of the presidential candidates. Jeff Foust reports that, despite a few minor developments last week, space has not been a high priority for the campaigns, particularly when compared to four years ago.
After last month’s passing of Neil Armstrong, some have suggested that the US government seek to make the Apollo 11 landing site an official historic landmark. Michael Listner describes why that suggestion faces a number of legal obstacles.
Most people with an interest in space are familiar with the Saturn V rockets on display in Florida, Alabama, and Texas. However, Dwayne Day points out there’s another Saturn V first stage on display, and exposed to the elements, in Louisiana.
José Hernández went from being the son of migrant farmworkers in California to flying in space as a NASA astronaut. Jeff Foust review a book by the astronaut-turned-politician that chronicles how he made his childhood dream of being an astronaut come true.
On Saturday, Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the Moon, passed away at the age of 82. Jeff Foust examines what his life meant to so many people inside and outside the space community.
Neil Armstrong had an effect on many people over his life. Dwayne Day briefly describes his interactions with the man.
An increasing number of countries in Latin America are getting involved in space through the development or ownership of their own satellites and by other means. W. Alex Sanchez examines the changing capabilities of and interests among Latin American countries in space today.
India has been developing a variety of launch vehicles for over half a century. Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides a history of the development of those rockets and profiles the key people who made them possible.
Recent declassifications by the NRO have shed new light on a number of early reconnaissance satellite programs. However, as Dwayne Day explains, there’s still a lot to learn about some programs form that era that remain under wraps.
Six years ago this month, the IAU approved a definition of the term “planet” that excluded Pluto, much to the dismay of many scientists and space enthusiasts. Jeff Foust reports that, today, there’s still a debate about how a planet should be defined, although it doesn’t weigh heavily among even those closely involved in that debate.
Earlier this month the Indian government confirmed plans for that nation’s space agency to send a spacecraft to Mars next November. Ajey Lele examines India’s Mars mission plans and whether it makes sense for the country to cooperate with its regional space rivals on such a mission.
The last two and a half years have seen an ongoing debate about the future of NASA and civil space policy in the US. Jeff Foust reviews a book that argues that an even greater change in America’s approach to space exploration than what the Obama Administration proposed is necessary.
As the memories of Apollo, and its impact on US space policy, fade, what approach should replace it? Martin Elvis says that the new US approach to space should be like what it did in the American West in the 19th century: make the frontier safe for capitalism.
Now that the Mars rover Curiosity is safely on Mars, what’s next for NASA’s exploration of the Red Planet? Jeff Foust reports that future plans, including an eventual Mars sample return mission, are still in flux, but could be affected by the success of Curiosity.
The team that helped successfully land Curiosity on the surface of Mars included many college interns. Rex Ridenoure recalls his experience as an intern on another NASA Mars mission, Viking.
The US and other nations’ militaries actively use space, but they don’t station weapons or directly fight there, unlike the land, sea, and air. Jeff Foust reviews a book that argues that a deliberate series of policy decisions by several US administrations, some predating Sputnik, helped create this environment.
Sunday night NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission arrived at Mars, safely landing the Curiosity rover on the surface. Jeff Foust recounts the concerns leading up to the landing, the thrill of the landing itself, and what the implications for that success might be.
On Friday NASA announced the long-awaited awards for the next round of its commercial crew competition, making agreements with three companies. Jeff Foust reports on the awards and the reactions from the companies that won them as well as those that lost out.
In recent months the National Reconnaissance Office has declassified a surprising amount of information about early classified satellite programs. Dwayne Day looks at what those documents have revealed about the early days of military and intelligence space programs.
A key challenge to dealing with the growing population of orbital debris is a legal regime that makes it difficult to implement solutions to remove these objects. Michael Listner examines the legal complications and offers an approach to resolve it.
As Mars Science Laboratory prepares to land on Mars this coming Sunday night, the future of NASA’s Mars exploration efforts beyond that rover mission remains uncertain. Adrian Brown recounts the issues with MSL and Mars exploration that could affect the schedule and budgets for future missions to the Red Planet.
For years those in the commercial spaceflight industry, or supporters of it, have anticipated an explosion of activity and investment in the field. Jeff Foust reports that there are signs that such a milestone may be approaching.
Houston is one of three sites that has a Saturn V rocket on display, Dwayne Day describes how the display of that Saturn V differs from the other two locations, and may help explain why Houston lost out on a Space Shuttle orbiter last year.
In less than a week Mars Science Laboratory will arrive at Mars, the latest in a nearly half-century series of Mars missions. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines the history of those missions and the people who made the possible.
Why has humanity’s expansion into space gone so slowly, if it’s even going forward at all? Sylvia Engdahl argues that this slow pace may be a sign of unconscious trepidation by humanity about what might be out there in that unknown universe.
The concept of commercial crew transportation has attracted a lot of attention, especially now as industry and others await NASA’s latest round of awards for this effort. Wayne Eleazer concludes that this “new” approach reflects a normalization towards how other kinds of launches have been, and should be, procured.
Monday marks the 50th anniversary of a historic live television link between the US and Europe via the Telstar satellite, inaugurating a new era in satellite communications. Jeff Foust discusses how the biggest lesson of that milestone is that the most successful space technologies can often be the least visible and appreciated ones.
Spaceplanes offering high-speed point-to-point transportation may be many years, even decades, into the future, but can still make for entertaining fiction today. Jeff Foust reviews a novel about such a vehicle that ends up stranded in orbit.
In the late 1960s, there was a battle between men and machines for the future of United States military reconnaissance. Dwayne Day examines newly-declassified documents that offer new insights into how unmanned spysats won out over the Manned Orbiting Laboratory.
Last week XCOR signed a deal with the city of Midland, Texas, to set up its headquarters and an R&D facility there. Jeff Foust reports on the specifics of the deal and how it may be the latest sign that Texas is showing a greater interest in attracting entrepreneurial space ventures.
A proposal for an international, but voluntary, code of conduct for space activities will be a topic of debate and negotiation later this year. Ajey Lele warns that the voluntary nature of the proposed code could strongly hinder its effectiveness.
A wide range of companies have shown an interest in NASA’s commercial crew program, offering a variety of technical approaches. Anthony Young looks at some of these concepts that could soon be selected by NASA for additional work.
Astronomy often deals with superlatives, from supermassive black holes to galaxies over ten billion light-years away. Jeff Foust reviews a book by an astronomer that examines various extremes in the universe and puts them into perspective.
A Congressionally-mandated committee is studying NASA’s strategic direction, and inviting both the current and previous leadership of the agency to offer their perspectives. Jeff Foust reports on what these people think about the agency’s direction, budget, and structure at this critical time for NASA.
First impressions, be they of people or museums, can be misleading. Dwayne Day takes a second look at a space museum in Alabama and comes away more impressed than the first time around.
SpaceX, riding high on the success of its recent cargo demonstration flight to the International Space Station, is a leading contender in NASA’s next round of commercial crew development awards. However, as Anthony Young reports, it’s not the only company competing, contrasting it with a another firm with a very different technical and business approach.
This week marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of Telstar, a milestone in satellite communications and a good opportunity to examine the effects satellites have had on society. Jeff Foust reviews a book that claims to offer a “comprehensive overview” of the industry but finds it fails to make orbit.
Solar power satellite systems remain an area of interest for some space professionals and enthusiasts alike Paul Jaffe reviews a book that provides a concise but thorough review of the concept and the current state of international efforts involving them.
A private foundation last week announced plans to mount its own deep space mission to look for near Earth objects that could pose an impact risk. Jeff Foust examines the plans of the B612 Foundation and finds it may be the latest evidence of a shift in space activities to a new funding approach with deep historical roots.
The recent flight of China’s Shenzhou-9 spacecraft has raised new questions about both China’s space ambitions and their implications for the United States. Jeff Foust reports on what a recent panel of Chinese and space policy experts thought about what impact, if any, China’s recent accomplishments could have on American policy.
Yuri Gagarin is one of the most famous figures in space history, but also something of an enigma, his life story rewritten by Soviet propaganda. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines both the life of Gagarin and the mythmaking of and shifting perceptions about him.