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Thanks to the Internet, it’s now possible for the public to take a more active role in space exploration. Jeff Foust reports on how one NASA center is dabbling with virtual reality as a means of sharing the exploration of solar system.
One of the best-known helicopters in aviation history is the one used during the recovery of several Apollo missions. Dwayne Day recounts how that helicopter met its untimely demise.
The experimental TacSat-3 spacecraft will be equipped with a new hyperspectral sensor designed specifically for operationally responsive, tactical purposes. Taylor Dinerman discusses the importance of this sensor and the technological and other challenges this capability faces.
As the personal spaceflight industry ramps up, more attention is being paid to medical and related issues associated with space travel. Alex Howerton describes how these issues have been addressed at a number of recent conferences.
Hundreds of books have been written about the early Space Age and the astronauts and cosmonauts who pioneered spaceflight. Jeff Foust reviews another book about that era and those people that, while not particularly novel, offers a satisfying portrait of them.
The Defense Department recently sponsored an effort to develop the underpinnings of a comprehensive theory of space power analogous to sea power or air power. Taylor Dinerman writes that, while such a space power theory might takes decades to develop, there are many lessons that can be learned today regarding the effective use of space to further national goals.
To date the various candidates for the 2008 presidential election have been silent on space. Donald Beattie contends that when they do take up space policy, they should examine the relative size of human spaceflight programs within NASA and their missions.
NASA has been criticized recently for appearing to de-emphasize Earth sciences research. Hans L.D.G. Starlife argues that, for the benefit of both NASA and Earth sciences, NASA should turn its attention away from the Earth.
The concept of space tourism continues to build momentum as companies large and small enter the market. Jeff Foust reviews two books that examine one of the leading companies in this nascent industry as well as the hazards future space tourists face.
Although XCOR Aerospace recently celebrated a new investment, it’s still difficult for space startups to raise money. Jeff Foust reports on some insights into the difficulties such ventures face from a recent investment conference.
In their zeal, some activists who oppose the weaponization of space can attribute nefarious missions to innocuous satellites. Jim Oberg describes how some have misperceived a Canadian remote sensing satellite as a tool of a US missile defense system.
The Croatan was a World War 2-era aircraft carrier pressed into service by NASA in the 1960s as a floating launch pad for sounding rockets. Dwayne Day provides a pictorial history of this vessel.
Politicians and political campaigns have a way of oversimplifying complex issues. Taylor Dinerman uses one example from a recent presidential debate to illustrate the difficulties of missile defense and the importance of space-based sensors.
More than 20 years after the Challenger accident, is there anything new to add to the tale of this tragedy? Jeff Foust reviews an account of the accident and its aftermath from someone who had a small but key role in the accident investigation.
At the beginning of the Space Age the US military worked with aerospace companies to study the concept of establishing a lunar base for military purposes. Dwayne Day uses newly-available records to review those efforts and their influence beyond the long-abandoned lunar base concepts.
The concept of plentiful, environmentally-friendly power from space would seem to be something that would garner widespread support. However, Taylor Dinerman notes that not everyone would back such a concept, even if its considerable technical challenges could be overcome.
What happens when you combine student-built rockets with windy weather? An interesting, but educational, experience for those who ventured to the shores of Lake Michigan last month, writes Eric Hedman.
As our knowledge of the solar system grows and becomes more specialized, there’s still a need for general reviews of our current understanding of planets, moons, and other bodies. Jeff Foust reviews one book that provides such a straightforward overview of what we know about our nearest neighbors.
As NASA developed the launch vehicles and spacecraft needed to send humans to the Moon, the CIA kept track of Soviet progress towards the same goal. Dwayne Day describes the new insights into that monitoring provided by newly released documents.
Businesses in general have to adapt to reflect changing markets and technologies, and entrepreneurial space companies are no different. Jeff Foust reviews the efforts of three such companies, profiled at a recent conference, to change their technical approaches and target markets.
Sheboygan, Wisconsin, isn’t known as an aerospace center, yet some hope to develop a commercial spaceport there. Eric Hedman travels to Sheboygan to learn more about the long-term plans to create a spaceport on the shores of Lake Michigan.
One of the oldest and most accomplished rocket development companies in the world is Rocketdyne. Anthony Young reviews a book that provides a history of the company from two people who spent much of their careers there.
NASA and its advocates face a number of challenges in the current Congressional budget cycle. Jeff Foust interviews the chairman of a citizen’s lobbying effort on their plans to win support for the Vision for Space Exploration on Capitol Hill.
Nikolai Fedorov was an obscure Russian philosopher with some unusual ideas about death and resurrection. As Nader Elhefnawy explains, Federov also had a little-known but key role as one of the forefathers of spaceflight.
Human missions to Mars still seem as far in the future as ever given the various technical and political obstacles such missions face. Frank Stratford argues that the key to accelerating such exploration is to get the public more involved.
Neil deGrasse Tyson has followed in the footsteps of the late Carl Sagan as one of the leading communicators of astronomy and related topics to the general public. Jeff Foust reviews a book that compiles some of the best essays by Tyson.
The challenge for NASA and its advocates has been to find the right way to sell human spaceflight to the general public. Wayne Eleazer outlines the flaws he sees in past attempts and what the proper motivation for a national manned space exploration program should be.
Last week the so-called “Mercury 13” re-entered the media limelight when they were accorded honorary degrees for their abortive effort to become astronauts more than four decades ago. Jim Oberg criticizes the media and others for mischaracterizing the effort and missing the real historical significance.
The 21st century poses the twin challenges of providing enough energy to meet growing demand while mitigating the deleterious environmental impact many existing energy sources have. Taylor Dinerman makes the case for space solar power as the solution to those challenges, while at the same time helping open the space frontier.
NASA administrator Mike Griffin has defended cutbacks in science spending by noting that science programs account for a far larger part of the agency’s budget than they did during the glory days of Apollo. Donald Beattie argues that such statistics don’t tell the whole story.
The term “rocket scientist” has in popular culture become synonymous with an intelligent person, but just what makes rocket scientists so smart? Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines the thought processes of rocket scientists, while offering some insights into the space field in general.
Last month’s successful flight of a commercial sounding rocket was not just a success for UP Aerospace and the fledgling New Mexico spaceport it launched from. Elaine Walker describes how the flight offered a measure of closure for a tragedy more than five years ago.
Nearly four months after China tested an ASAT weapon on one of its own satellites, the West still has little understanding of why China carried out the test. Jeff Foust reports on what insights some experts have on China’s decision-making process, and what that implies for future cooperation or negotiations with China on space and other strategic issues.
The American Mariner today is a rusting hulk resting in the mud of Chesapeake Bay. However, as Dwayne Day recounts, the World War 2-vintage vessel played a key role in the early years of the space program and missile defense studies.
Evolving threats, both man-made and natural, require the US to improve its ability to monitor near-Earth space. Taylor Dinerman discusses what steps various agencies are taking to keep better tabs on spacecraft, orbital debris, and space weather.
When the shuttle Columbia was lost in 2003, it left in limbo the three people then on the International Space Station. Jeff Foust reviews a book that recalls that incident and plays up the drama surrounding it perhaps a bit too much.
The emergence of new companies and markets has generated new interest in space by the investment community. Jeff Foust reports on what opportunities and obstacles investors see in NewSpace.
Stagnant budgets and technical concerns have put new stress on NASA’s implementation on the Vision for Space Exploration. Eric Hedman argues that the solution is for the space community to advocate for an increased NASA budget.
A recent British book on 20th century history suggests space has provided little to compensate for all the money invested in it over the years. Taylor Dinerman takes issue with that assessment, seeing it as another sign of a lack of British enthusiasm and interest about space.
One of the hottest debates last year was over a seemingly trivial subject: should Pluto be classified as a planet or not? Jeff Foust reviews a book that takes a historical look at both that question and what it means to be a planet.
Biomedical research had long been one great area of promise for the ISS, one that remains unrealized. Taylor Dinerman reports on how changes in the commercial sector may provide a new chance to realize that potential.
NASA and its supporters in Congress have argued that space exploration, and human spaceflight in particular, are essential to national security and global leadership. Jeff Foust examines these claims and wonders if human spaceflight is nearly as important to national prestige as it once was.
What does a World War 2-era aircraft carrier have to do with space science? Dwayne Day recounts the story of how the former naval vessel became a floating launch platform for studies of the Sun.
Over the course of the first half-century of spaceflight, we’ve accumulated a vast array of items related in one manner or another to space exploration. Eve Lichtgarn reviews a book that showcases a sampling of these items from the collection of the National Air and Space Museum.
Last week Robert Bigelow took the wraps off his company’s business plan, revealing the types of customers he was targeting, the services he would offer, and the prices he planned to charge. Jeff Foust dissects the details of Bigelow’s plans and the challenges he faces in implementing them.
The movie Destination Moon was one of the early classics of space-related science fiction cinema. In the second part of his examination of the influence of author Robert Heinlein, Dwayne Day looks at how Heinlein and Destination Moon shaped both later movies as well as space advocates.
Spacecraft and space-based services are being used by a number of developing countries to accelerate their economic growth, but the poorest countries in the world have been left out. Taylor Dinerman explains how space technology can be applied to even the poorest nations to improve their prospects for sustainable growth.
The upcoming 50th anniversary of Sputnik means it’s time for the publication of a number of books that look back on the history of the Space Age. Jeff Foust reviews one such book that combines images and text to go beyond a simple account of the facts of the last 50 years.
Robert Heinlein was once of the most influential authors in the history of spaceflight. Dwayne Day begins an examination of Heinlein’s impact on society’s perceptions of space exploration by looking at the author’s role in one of the classic space-themed sci-fi movies, Destination Moon.
Sea Launch suffered a major setback in January when one of its Zenit-3SL rockets exploded on the launch pad. Jeff Foust reports on the effect the failure has had on the company and its ripple effects on the overall launch industry and its customers.
Galileo, Europe’s planned satellite navigation network, has encountered problems as European governments and companies debate who should pay to develop the system. Taylor Dinerman examines the flaws in the Galileo business model and why, despite them, development of Galileo will likely continue.
While spacecraft have been using a basic set of trajectories for decades, there’s more than one way to get from point A to point B in space. Jeff Foust reviews a book that introduces non-scientists to one such alternative.
At last year’s Lunar Lander Challenge, Armadillo Aerospace was perhaps only a broken lander leg away from claiming some of the $2 million in prize money. This year, Jeff Foust reports, Armadillo plans to make another stab at the prize money, but not without some competition.
Last month NASA administrator Mike Griffin offered his forecast for the next 50 years of human spaceflight. Donald Beattie argues that this forecast is unlikely to be realized unless some major near-term problems are addressed.
The debate over humans in space has been complicated by a new debate: humans who argue against humans in space. Michael Huang and a retired NASA manager state their contradictory positions.
A new book warning about the perils of space weaponization is hitting the shelves just as the topic is getting renewed attention in the wake of China’s ASAT test earlier this year. Jeff Foust reviews the book and finds that the Chinese test undermines some of the arguments the authors make on the subject.
For years individuals and companies in the entrepreneurial space industry have focused on debating technology. Now, Jeff Foust reports, there is a shift in emphasis towards business and legal issues critical to the industry’s long-term success.
At the root of many popular science fiction tales, as well as space advocacy in general, is the belief that exploring and developing space will benefit humankind. Dwayne Day reviews an animated series that takes a more dystopian viewpoint and raises the question of whether humanity really will be better off in space than on the Earth.
Some have suggested that near Earth asteroids might be interesting destinations for future human missions. Tom Hill examines the orbital mechanics associated with such missions and finds that only a handful of asteroids would make good low-delta-v targets.
Last week’s Falcon 1 flight, while not a complete success, was a big step forward for both SpaceX and the emerging space industry. Derek Webber explains what makes that event such a milestone for the future of space access.
US proposals to place missile defense systems in Eastern Europe have met with strong opposition by some in Europe. Taylor Dinerman argues that this is another reason why the US should pursue space-based missile defense options.
Dealing with the hazards posed by near Earth objects is more complex than how Hollywood portrays it. Jeff Foust reports on the three key facets of planetary defense, and the complexities involved with each.
Congressman James Sensenbrenner, former chairman of the House Science Committee, recently returned to the committee. Eric Hedman interviews the Wisconsin legislator on a variety of space-related issues.
The Russian leadership has ratcheted up its anti-American rhetoric recently, even while continuing cooperation with the US and the West on a number of space ventures. Taylor Dinerman examines if there is any real threat to those ventures caused by the chill in relations.
Ever since NASA unveiled its plans for establishing a permanent base on the Moon, people have argued about which rationales are compelling enough to justify such a facility. Robert Shapiro argues that the best reason may be simply to insure the future of the human race.
What does a B-grade sci-fi movie have to do with space history? Dwayne Day explains the connection as a historic tracking ship heads to a watery grave.
It’s a time of transition for NASA, as the agency winds down the Shuttle program and develops the launch vehicles and spacecraft that will succeed it. Jeff Foust reviews two pocket guides that offer succinct overviews of the Shuttle and Constellation.
Space was once seen by many as an essential, inevitable part of humanity’s future, a vision that has faded over time. Nader Elhefnawy examines how changes in society have shaped how the public views the human exploration and settlement of space.
For years the Air Force has run its space activities out of Colorado. Taylor Dinerman says that, as space becomes more important to the military, the Air Force Space Command should move its headquarters to the hub of military and political power in Washington.
For a decade the mantra guiding the exploration of Mars has been “follow the water”. Jeff Foust reports on how the focus on the search for life on Mars may be changing, as well as the continued interest in Jupiter’s moon Europa.
In the two months since the Chinese ASAT test the reaction by various parties, including the media, has included a number of misperceptions and inaccuracies regarding space weaponization. James Oberg corrects a dozen of the biggest myths about the issue.
The Chinese ASAT test in January created a massive amount of debris that will threaten satellites in LEO for years to come. Dale Armstrong argues that the test may be the tipping point in the push for a ban on such weapons testing.
If you believe the Russian space company Energia, it has grand plans to industrialize the Moon and harvest helium-3. Such statements, Dwayne Day argues, are symptoms of deeper problems with both the company and Russian space policy.
Many of the concerns facing the entrepreneurial space industry have shifted over the years as markets have emerged and regulatory barriers overcome. Jeff Foust reports on what those in the industry see as some of the key issues now facing emerging space companies.
Recent documents suggest that NASA is planning to launch only a couple Orion spacecraft a year for the indefinite future. Taylor Dinerman argues that this makes international and commercial partners critical to the long-term success of the Vision.
In a movie, Charles Farmer assembles an orbital rocket in his barn to fulfill a lifelong dream. Sam Dinkin reviews the real-life history of personal efforts to go to space.
It’s one thing to say that the space community needs to educate and reach out to the public. However, Chris Carberry says that the community itself needs to do more political work to ensure a bright future for space exploration.
Stringent export control regulations have been the bane of the American space industry for years with few signs of change. Jeff Foust reports on whether the change in control of Congress, coupled with other factors, might present a new window of opportunity to improve the regulatory environment.
Many of the debates about whether and how to explore the Moon center around science. Gregory Anderson notes that science should be seen as only one reason of many to return to and settle on the Moon.
James Webb is often the forgotten man in histories and biographies of the Apollo era. Eve Lichtgarn reviews a book that gives the former NASA administrator his due.
Is The Astronaut Farmer, the tale of one man’s quest to fly in space, a realistic story? Jeff Foust reviews the movie and find that, technically, it’s a tough tale to swallow, but that it has other redeeming qualities.
How might the world react to the threat posed by a near-Earth asteroid? In this satire, Taylor Dinerman uses the asteroid Apophis to poke fun at international politics.
A cut in NASA’s final 2007 budget may put the development schedule of the Orion spacecraft and Ares 1 launcher in jeopardy. Stephen Metschan says that now is the time to reconsider NASA’s current plan if the US is serious about returning humans to the Moon.
The suborbital space tourism industry is emerging at the same time as concerns about greenhouse gas emissions grow. Steven Fawkes believes that tourism companies must carefully address this issue or risk incurring the wrath of environmental activists and government regulators.
One of the biggest questions about the emerging commercial space industry is how new companies plan to make money. Bob Clarebrough suggests that the best way to answer the question is to look at how previous industries and modes of transportation answered the same question.
Hollywood is planning a remake of Capricorn One, the infamous 1970s movie about a faked mission to Mars. Dwayne Day reviews the original movie and how different a remake might be given the developments of society and moviemaking technology over the last 30 years.
The Fermi paradox, the absence of extraterrestrial evidence despite the size and age of the galaxy, is central to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Michael Huang argues that the Fermi paradox could also chart the future of human civilization.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory has emerged as the preeminent center for conducting robotic space science and exploration missions. Taylor Dinerman reviews a new book that offers a history of JPL over the last three decades.
Despite last month’s failure, Sea Launch has generally demonstrated the success of ocean-based rocket launches. Andrew Turner describes how this approach can be extended to provide low-cost launches of inexpensive payloads with virtually no launch site infrastructure.
In the conclusion of his two-part examination of how NASA isn’t properly communicating the adventure of spaceflight, Bob Mahoney proposes some methods and media NASA can use to more effectively connect with the general public.
Michael Cassutt is known as a television writer and novelist as well as an author of several space history books. Dwayne Day interviews Cassutt to learn more about his background, interests, and future writing plans.
Last month’s Chinese ASAT test reopened debate on space weapons, with many arguing that the best approach is a ban on such systems. Taylor Dinerman counters that this approach would weaken, not strengthen, the US both in space and in general.
NASA and lunar exploration advocates have put forward a number of reasons why humans should return to the Moon and establish bases there. Donald Beattie examines those rationales with a skeptical eye and finds them lacking.
Peter Klanowski responds to a recent article about the PR response to the recent Sea Launch accident by noting how ESA dealt with the infamous inaugural Ariane 5 launch failure was actually quite different than the response to the Zenit-3SL explosion.
NASA and the space community face the challenge of making space more interesting and relevant to an increasingly disinterested public. In the first of a two-part article, Bob Mahoney discusses why NASA makes the drama of spaceflight so boring.
China’s test of an ASAT weapon last month raised questions about why China carried out the test and what reaction it will prompt from the US. Nader Elhefnawy discusses some of the potential reasons for and long-term outcomes of the test.
Last week a Sea Launch rocket suffered an “anomaly”; that is to say, it exploded on the launch pad. Dwayne Day examines why such obfuscation takes place and how organizations can better communicate bad news.
Congress appears likely to pass a 2007 budget for NASA that will cut exploration funding by a half-billion dollars. Jeff Foust says that the stress put on the program by the budget situation offers an opportunity to evaluate whether the Vision should be primarily schedule- or budget-driven.
The term “aerospace industry” is routinely applied to the companies that build both aircraft and spacecraft. Taylor Dinerman argues that the term has become outmoded as the overlap between the two disappears.
Forty years after the Apollo 1 tragedy, an enduring myth is that the crew could have been saved had the CIA communicated to NASA a similar accident in the Soviet space program. John Charles examines the case and finds more systemic problems with the young space agency than a lack of information about Soviet accidents.
This time of year we pause to reflect on the tragedies that have befallen the US space program over the years. Dwayne Day argues that, rater than burying those events in the past, we should find new, yearlong ways to learn from them.
Space advocates often speak of reaching out to the general public, but in reality no such monolithic audience exists. Bart Leahy describes ways to target pro-space arguments to specific groups within overall society.
In the aftermath of the Chinese ASAT test earlier this month, many people not only criticized the Chinese for carrying out the test but also the US for developing a space policy that appears to support space weaponization. Taylor Dinerman says the problem may be that the US policy is simply too straightforward.
Dwayne Day responds to a letter in last week’s issue about ASAT development by noting that, contrary to popular belief, the US military has not been advocating the development of kinetic energy ASATs, in large part because of orbital debris concerns.
Despite the success of the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, it’s worth recognizing that these spacecraft are neither the first nor arguably the most important wheeled spacecraft to roam across a distant surface. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines the history of rovers, from Apollo to future missions to the Moon and Mars.
One of the biggest criticisms leveled against NASA’s plans to return to the Moon and establish a base there is the lack of a clear rationale for doing so. Paul Spudis asserts that the primary reason for doing so is straightforward: to enable humanity’s long-term future in space.
An NRO satellite that failed shortly after launch last month may have been an experimental radar satellite. As Dwayne Day explains, it would be only the latest in a long history of problems and setbacks for American space radar efforts.
One of the biggest arguments against the use of kinetic anti-satellite weapons is the large amount of potentially dangerous space debris they can create. Taylor Dinerman discusses some new approaches that can be just as effective but without creating debris.
The news last week that China tested an anti-satellite weapon this month reshaped the debate on space weaponization. Christopher Stone argues that this test, as well as other threats, make it clear that the US must take steps to defend its space assets.
A recent survey found that not only do many young people have little interest in human exploration of the Moon, some even doubt we went to the Moon during the Apollo program. Anthony Young examines some of the reasons why such disbelief exists.
Current plans as part of the Vision for Space Exploration for robotic precursor missions to the Moon have some parallels to the lunar missions of the 1960s that preceded Apollo. Dwayne Day reviews a book that provides some historical information about the Surveyor missions to the Moon four decades ago.
Three years after President Bush announced the Vision for Space Exploration, the program appears to be alive and well, but is not without significant near-term challenges. Jeff Foust explains why the next two years are so critical to the future of the agency’s long-term exploration plans.
The term “colonization” might have fallen out of favor in most audiences, but the concept is essential to the long-term future of humans in space. Taylor Dinerman discusses some of the legal issues of independent human settlements beyond Earth.
FreeSpaceShot.com opens today offering advertiser-supported free trips around the Moon. Owner Sam Dinkin introduces the concept and its implications.
NASA’s announcement last month that it plans to develop a lunar base will shape the development of the vehicles that will take crews and supplies there. John Strickland examines the issues of crew survivability and the importance of reusable spacecraft.
Friday marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Russian space pioneer Sergey Korolyov. Lorne Ipsum reviews the life and accomplishments of the Chief Designer.
Some people in Great Britain are rethinking what role the country should have in space exploration. Andrew Weston makes the case for an effort that is more than just a minor contributor to ESA and other nations’ programs.
The concept of billionaires and their secret space programs, now a reality, has long been a staple of fiction, including several James Bond movies. Dwayne Day explores how space has been a part of Bond movies good and bad.
Many young people in the US seem indifferent to space exploration, raising questions about the best ways to reach out to them and change their opinions. Taylor Dinerman argues that NASA and space advocates should focus not on reaching large numbers of people with little interest in space, but instead on the best and brightest.
Building sustained, strong public support for the Vision for Space Exploration and other space ventures has been challenging. Frank Stratford believes that to be successful, space advocates have to communicate in ways the public will understand and find inspirational.
While most of the major players in the early Space Age have already told their stories in their memoirs or biographies, there are still many other interesting tales to be told. Jeff Foust reviews two books by people with smaller, but still fascinating, roles in that era.
In the 1970s many believed that space was the answer to the expected impending shortage of energy and other resources, a belief that was discredited by declines in resource prices in the decades that followed. Now, says Nader Elhefnawy, it may be time to revisit those earlier claims.
Turkey is embarking on plans to procure its own reconnaissance satellite to provide an independent source of imagery of its region of the globe. Taylor Dinerman concludes that Turkey’s approach makes it clear the country appreciates the importance of such intelligence.
A recent news story noted how young Americans have little interest in space exploration, leading some to suggest new ways to reach out to this audience. Jeff Foust notes that the problem is not just with how to reach Generation Y, but also determining what messages will best resonate with them.
NASA’s plans for a lunar base have prompted people to ask, “Why the Moon?” Michael Huang suggests a few reasons to put on the list.
Some people have worried that future Mars sample return missions or human expeditions could return Martian life that might be hazardous to life on Earth. James McLane argues that, given the examples of specialization of terrestrial life, the risks of cross-contamination in either direction are zero.