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This week in The Space Review…
While discussions about the NASA planetary science budget have focused on the inclusion of a Europa mission and possible termination of existing missions, the budget also supports the start of another mid-sized New Frontiers mission. Jason Callahan explains why a new New Frontiers mission is so important.
Long before the current surge in interest in small satellites, plans for space-based missile defense fostered an earlier wave of smallsat work. Dwayne Day examines the brief history of one such effort in the early 1990s.
As a Senate subcommittee holds a hearing this week on human spaceflight and commercialization, one topic that may come up is an update to existing commercial launch laws. Jeff Foust reports on some of the major long-running issues likely to be considered in any such legislation.
The Second Mars Affordability and Sustainability Community Workshop: structure, findings, and recommendations
Late last year, a group of experts met to follow up on earlier discussion on developing affordable pathways for human exploration of Mars. Harley Thronson and Chris Carberry summarize the outcome of that effort.
One of the most remarkable planetary missions to date has been Voyager, providing up-close examinations of four outer planets and their moons, some never seen in that way before or since. Jeff Foust reviews a book by someone who had a cameo role on the mission that offers a very human story about these robotic explorers.
Launch companies that once dismissed reusability as neither feasible nor economically viable are thinking twice as SpaceX makes progress towards recovering and reusing its Falcon 9 first stage. Jeff Foust reports on SpaceX’s latest tests and what the head of another launch company now thinks about reusability.
Should people flying on suborbital vehicles wear pressure suits as protection from a decompression event? Anthony Young examines the historical record to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of using pressure suits.
Is simply exposing an organism or substance to the space environment sufficient to patent what results? Kamil Muzyka explores what patent law says about the ability to protect intellectual property resulting from commercial activities in space.
Long before Sputnik, engineers were studying spaceflight, which was also influencing, and being influenced by, broader culture. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines the cultural history of early spaceflight in America, Europe, and Russia.
Last month, the X PRIZE Foundation awarded more than $5 million to five teams competing in the Google Lunar X PRIZE for milestones they achieved getting their landers ready for flight. Derek Webber, one of the judges of those prizes, argues that these prizes are themselves a milestone for a more commercial approach for space exploration.
NASA’s 2016 budget proposal, released last week, included plans to formally start work on a project to send a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa. Jeff Foust reports that while this is good news for mission advocates, that decision could have a funding catch.
The last few years has seen a surge of interest in alternative “cryptocurrencies” like bitcoin. Petr Konupek examines whether a similar alterative currency might stimulate spaceflight.
Communicating the complex and even counterintuitive history of the universe to general audiences can be a challenge. Jeff Foust reviews a book that makes an attempt to do so through a combination of distinctive graphics and a lively writing style.
Last month, a protest of NASA’s commercial crew contracts was denied, allowing the agency and the winning companies to start sharing more details about their plans. Jeff Foust reports on those new details about the program, and continued criticism about some aspects of it.
The long-established European Space Agency is facing a new challenge to its power from the European Union. Clemens Rumpf argues that, as space becomes more competitive globally, the old models that supported ESA activities may no longer hold.
One approach to encouraging students to pursue space-related careers is outreach at science fairs. Ken Murphy describes how he and others in the Dallas area have used science fairs to recognize and reward promising students.
Can seeing the Earth from space change your perspective about the Earth and motivate you to action after returning to Earth? Jeff Foust reviews a book by a former astronaut who describes how his trips to space crystallized a new perspective that was already forming before he left the ground.
During a slow time in space policy in recent weeks, one topic that has attracted attention and controversy is the selection of Ted Cruz to chair a Senate subcommittee on space. Jeff Foust discusses what the senator can, and can’t, do from his new chairmanship.
Long-duration expeditions, on Earth and in space, can suffer from psychological issues, particularly just beyond the halfway point of the mission. John Putnam argues that those issues could be more serious for a mission that does not have an end at all.
The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum doesn’t just place space artifacts on display; it also restores them. Dwayne Day describes some of those artifacts under restoration the museum showed off during a recent open house.
While electronic books gain prominence and market share, there are still categories of books that work better in print. Jeff Foust reviews one such book that expertly combines images and text in a way that would be difficult to duplicate in an ebook.
On Friday, the UK Space Agency announced that the Beagle 2 lander had been found on the Martian surface, at least partially intact, in images from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. Dwayne Day discusses what we can learn from the discovery of the spacecraft more than a decade after it disappeared.
While astronomers are discovering ever more exoplanets, including some that may be like Earth, there’s a perception that the scientific community can’t agree on future goals and missions. Jeff Foust reports on efforts by astronomers to develop greater consensus on the direction of exoplanet research, and what some of the missions to achieve those goals might be.
In a recent newspaper op-ed, a university scientist argues against human exploration of Mars, claiming the money would be better spent on other scientific activities here on Earth. John Strickland argues against that mindset, provided human Mars missions are done in a more affordable, sustainable way.
More than a quarter-century ago, Frank White introduced the concept of a change in perspective that astronauts experience when observing the Earth from space. Jeff Foust reviews a new edition of White’s book about the Overview Effect, including the potential for future space tourists to experience a similar effect.
On Saturday, SpaceX attempted to land a Falcon 9 first stage on a ship, and while coming close, was widely considered in the media to have failed that test. Jeff Foust examines whether the public and the media need a better understanding of, and appreciation for, aerospace flight test and what constitutes success and failure.
Encouraging private investment in space: does the current space law regime have to be changed? (part 2)
Jonathan Babcock concludes his two-part examination of property rights in space by examining several options for protecting private investment in space, in some cases without major changes to existing space treaties.
Two major NASA astronomy projects, the Kepler space telescope and SOFIA airborne observatory, had been facing early ends for technical and fiscal reasons. Jeff Foust reports from a major astronomy conference how both have managed to continue their missions even with tightened budgets.
Museums often desire to show real flight hardware, but often have to settle with replicas, trainers, and other test articles associated with spaceflight. Jeff Foust visits one museum to find that, sometimes, such items have benefits that flown hardware doesn’t.
The new year is a time for new beginnings for many, but in the space industry there is a lot of leftover issues from 2014 to deal with first. Jeff Foust reports on some of the topics, from a contract protest to accident investigations to a test of reusability, on tap for early 2015.
Did a little-known space vehicle concept from the early 1960s inspire a science fiction author? John Charles examines the similarities between that vehicle concept and a vehicle from the film Marooned.
While the Air Force has been tightlipped about the missions of its X-37 robotic spaceplane, there’s been no shortage of speculation about its purpose. Michael Listner discusses if the Air Force is deliberately encouraging that speculation as par tof a broader strategy.
Encouraging private investment in space: does the current space law regime have to be changed? (part 1)
Many space commercialization advocates have argued for a change in space law in order to provide property rights for entities wishing to use the Moon or asteroids. Jonathan Babcock, in the first of a two-part essay, explores whether such wholesale changes are needed to provide such protections.
Science and religion often seem in conflict with one another. Jeff Foust reviews a book by two Vatican Observatory scientists that use several astronomy topics to examine if that is really the case.
Last week, India achieved two major milestones in a single test flight: the first test of a new, more powerful launch vehicle, and the suborbital test of a spacecraft that could later be used for crewed missions. Ajey Lele describes those achievements and discusses why one is more important than the other.
Last week as supposed to be the week where NASA decided between two options for the robotic portion of its Asteroid Redirect Mission. But as Jeff Foust reports, NASA officials decided they needed more time to evaluate the differences between the two.
The test earlier this month of NASA’s Orion spacecraft on the EFT-1 mission was hailed as a major test of many of the spacecraft’s key technologies. Anthony Young examines those technologies, not all of which are brand new, that are essential to the spacecraft.
Even as Internet publications and ebooks proliferate, there’s still a role for print books, including those about space. Dwayne Day rounds up some of the more interesting space-related books published in the past year, including those that take particular advantage of the print medium.
Although current efforts to deal with space debris have focused on limiting the growth of new objects, some argue it’s time to focus on actively removing debris objects. Jeff Foust recaps the discussion on this topic at a recent conference, including the technical, legal, and financial obstacles such efforts face.
Al Worden is one of only 24 humans in history to have flown to the Moon. Shane Hannon sat down with the former test pilot and NASA astronaut during a recent visit to Ireland to discuss his remarkable life.
Last week Congress finally wrapped up a fiscal year 2015 spending bill, one that provides NASA with $18 billion. Jeff Foust reports that while the bill is largely good news for many key NASA programs, the agency still faces uncertainties about those programs, and its long-term fiscal future.
Although not part of NASA’s human exploration plans, many other nations, and companies, are interested in a return to the Moon. Jeff Foust reviews a book that attempts to make a case for humans on the Moon based on both science and policy.
The successful inaugural flight of Orion last week was hailed by many as a beginning of a new era in human spaceflight, as a first step towards humans on Mars. Jeff Foust reports on the test flight and just how much of a step towards Mars it really was.
The flight of Orion looked, to some, like a throwback to the capsules of the 1960s. Andre Bormanis says that the rationales for human space exploration, by contrast, can’t look back to the past but instead embrace the capabilities of today and tomorrow.
The US military is making increasing use of smallsats, but these efforts are spread out over multiple organizations with little coordination. Ethan Mattox argues for greater coordination of those programs so smallsats can be used more effectively in a crisis.
Researchers have shown an interest in recent years in the capabilities afforded by commercial suborbital vehicles under development. Alan Stern describes how a commercial high-altitude balloon project can provide similar, complementary capabilities for these people.
Last week’s Orion launch awakened many in the general public to NASA’s space exploration activities. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a colorfully illustrated overview of ongoing and proposed public and private space activities.
Last week, a commercially-developed 3D printer produced its first item on the International Space Station, an achievement hailed by many as a major milestone in space manufacturing. Bhavya Lal examines a recent report on 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, in space that puts that effort into a better perspective.
After years of development, NASA will launch its Orion spacecraft later this week on a brief, uncrewed test flight. Jeff Foust reports on what NASA and Lockheed Martin hope to achieve on this unique flight, even as the spacecraft’s long-term future remain uncertain.
The 2014 Congressional elections took place only a month ago, but many people are already looking ahead to the 2016 Presidential campaign, and its implications for space policy. Chris Carberry argues that Presidential leadership in space policy, long sought after by space advocates, may no longer be as important.
David Clow concludes his examination of space history by arguing that the intellectual rigor required by NASA’s Mission Control is essential to the proper study of the history of spaceflight.
The recent accidents involving an Antares rocket and SpaceShipTwo have raised new questions about commercial spaceflight and its appetite for risk. Tony Milligan examines those two accidents and compares them to recent achievements elsewhere in space.
The launch this week of NASA’s Orion spacecraft on its first test flight is part of a broader effort to develop the technologies needed for human exploration beyond Earth orbit. Jeff Foust reviews a book that tries to offer a broader look at what’s needed for humans to venture to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.
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