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As the Augustine commission reviews NASA’s human spaceflight plans, it is receiving no shortage of advice. Former NASA associate administrator Wes Huntress offers some lessons learned for the future of human space exploration.
The Star Trek franchise got a much-needed and successful re-launch with its latest movie. Eric Sterner argues that it’s also time to re-think what NASA does and how much we are willing to spend to support it.
You may not have heard of Bill King, but he was one of the pioneers of America’s satellite reconnaissance program. Dwayne Day recalls the life and career of King, who recently passed away.
North Korea appears to be preparing for another missile test, perhaps disguised again as a satellite launch attempt. Taylor Dinerman looks at how the West’s reaction, including South Korea’s development of its own space launch system, could affect the North’s plans.
Space is legendary for having its own distinct jargon, from formal acronyms to informal slang. Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides a detailed set of definitions for those words and their origins.
The committee charged with examining the future of NASA’s human spaceflight programs kicked off its work last week with a public hearing in Washington. Jeff Foust reviews the event, which largely shaped up to be an examination of Constellation and several potential alternatives.
A proposal for a new series of reconnaissance satellites that are only marginally different from an older series has generated opposition from one key member of Congress. Dwayne Day looks at what may be for the intelligence community another case of political theater.
Last week New Mexico held ceremonies for the groundbreaking of Spaceport America. Jeff Foust reports on the events, including the delayed appearance of a highly-anticipated aircraft, and what the spaceport means to the people of southern New Mexico.
Photos of the flight of WhiteKnightTwo over the Las Cruces, New Mexico airport on June 20.
Next month marks the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11, and serves as a reminder of what we have not accomplished in space in the intervening decades. Taylor Dinerman wonders just how it will be before the United States, or someone else, sends people back there.
Military space in the US has its own set of challenges and problems to deal with independent of civil space. In the conclusion of a two-part article, Dwayne Day reports on a recent symposium that examined the current state of military space policy.
NASA’s efforts have contributed to the prestige and “soft power” of the US in international relations throughout much of the last half-century. Taylor Dinerman discusses how the US can further develop that soft power through enhanced international cooperation.
Development of space tourism ventures has raised the hackles of some environmentalists who worry about the greenhouse gas emissions of suborbital systems. Jeff Foust notes that a bigger concern in the long run may be with the effect such systems have on the ozone layer.
Space debris had gotten increased attention in recent months, particularly after the Iridium-Cosmos collision in February. Dwayne Day reports on a recent Capitol Hill event that discussed the problem and what can be done to mitigate it.
As the Augustine committee begins work this week on its review of NASA’s human spaceflight plans, its analysis takes place in the shadow of both near-term and out-year budget cuts. Michael Huang wonders if this is part of a strategy that could imperil the future of human spaceflight at NASA overall.
In an era when we take live TV from the shuttle and space station for granted, it’s hard for many to recall a time when such video was novel. Jeff Foust reviews an upcoming documentary that recounts the development of the cameras and other technologies needed to provide live television from the surface of the Moon.
What are the prospects for national civil space policy in light of a new administration and a review of NASA’s human spaceflight efforts? In the first of a two-part article, Dwayne Day reports on a conference last week that examined these and related issues.
A few months ago there seemed to be little progress in many aspects of both orbital and suborbital tourism. Jeff Foust discusses how that’s changed somewhat, for the better, thanks to some recent developments.
While the United States has a clear interest in alternative energy, India’s needs are arguably even greater. Taylor Dinerman argues that the two countries should work together to develop space-based solar power solutions that can benefit them both.
Many people have pinned their hopes for a revolution in low-cost space access on efforts by the private sector. John McGowan, though, questions whether such projects have the resources and patience needed for such a breakthrough.
What are China and other countries really planning, and are capable of doing, in terms of robotic and human lunar missions? Jeff Foust reviews a book that attempt to answer that question.
It’s been over three weeks since the White House announced the panel led by Norm Augustine to review NASA’s human spaceflight plans, and very little has taken place publicly since then. Jeff Foust reports on reactions from a variety of people on what the panel should do, and one potential panel member’s thoughts on the philosophy of civil space efforts in general.
How can NASA continue to operate the International Space Station, now a “national laboratory”, for years to come while also funding its exploration plans? Edward Ellegood suggests the solution may be an approach like the one used for managing national labs on the ground.
In order for its reconnaissance satellites to return data back to the Earth, the NRO needed to establish a network of ground stations. Dwayne Day discusses a newly-declassified document that, for the first time, reveals the details of that system.
Space solar power systems will have to be very large and complex in order to generate large amounts of power. Trevor Brown suggests an alternative architecture that could make such systems much simpler.
After months of waiting, space advocates finally got their wish Saturday: a nominee for NASA administrator. Jeff Foust reports on the reaction to the selection of Charles Bolden and what is in store for the former astronaut as he prepares to take over the space agency.
According to some news reports last week, the GPS system is on the verge of failure because of delays in launching new satellites. Taylor Dinerman discusses why there’s less to be worried about than what those hyperbolic reports claimed.
What would have happened if an Apollo mission had been unable to leave Earth orbit? Dwayne Day describes one contingency mission that had been proposed in such circumstances, and its national security implications.
What does NASA have in common with the nation’s troubled automakers? Michael Potter argues that both suffer from some fundamental organizational issues, and that NASA would benefit from better leveraging the capabilities and potential of the private sector.
The 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 is approaching, and with it comes a new wave of books revisiting that historic mission. Jeff Foust reviews one book that examines some of the overlooked photography of the mission.
NASA long invested in development of advanced technologies, but in recent years that effort withered as the agency concentrated on plans to return to the Moon. John Mankins explains why it’s necessary for NASA and the nation to reinvigorate its technology development efforts.
In the mid-1970s articles and books promised a grand future in the form of space colonies, a future that has not been realized. Dwayne Day looks back at one such description of such a future, and why it hasn’t happened.
It appears increasingly likely that the White House will nominate someone for NASA administrator in the immediate future, solving one problem long identified by NASA’s supporters. However, Jeff Foust notes that whoever is selected won’t be able to make all the uncertainties surrounding the space agency go away.
Norm Augustine, picked by the White House to lead a new panel on the future of NASA’s human spaceflight programs, is best known for promulgating a series of “laws” about management practices. Taylor Dinerman examines what those laws, and other experience by Augustine, could mean for the future of NASA.
Is it really feasible for the US to go off by itself and try and solve the space debris problem? Kirk Woellert provides both technical and policy reasons why that isn’t the case.
The T-38 aircraft has been used by NASA astronauts for decades as a tool for both transportation and training. Eric Hedman reviews a book by a former astronaut that offers a photographic look at that classic aircraft.
For two decades astronomers used an unusual telescope in Arizona composed of six smaller mirrors. Dwayne Day examines the potential links between that telescope and a cancelled military space project.
Last week the White House announced plans for a new review of NASA’s human spaceflight program led by Norm Augustine, who chaired another space policy review nearly 20 years ago. Michael Huang expresses concern that the choice of Augustine as panel chair may lead to conclusions that could put the overall program in jeopardy.
The Australian government recently released a defense policy white paper that includes an increased emphasis on space. Taylor Dinerman discusses how this shift will influence both domestic space policy as well as relations with other nations.
One of the primary challenges of spaceflight in recent decades has been trying to reduce the cost of space access. John McGowan describes the importance of doing a larger number of small scale efforts to find the right combination of technologies and techniques that could make a breakthrough possible.
Struggling to tell the difference between dark matter and dark energy? Jeff Foust reviews a book that helps explain these mysterious components of our universe and what astronomers know and don’t know about them.
While NASA may be getting a modest budget increase overall in 2010, its space science program has a challenge of doing increasingly complex missions within a relatively constrained budget. Jeff Foust reports on what some NASA officials say are the best ways for NASA to balance cost, performance, and risk for its ambitious slate of science missions.
The removal of orbital debris accumulating around the Earth is often described to be an international problem. Taylor Dinerman discusses how it might be more expedient for the United States to start on this on its own rather than wait for a multinational effort to form.
While there has been considerable discussion about how to develop space-based solar power, there has been less examination of why it’s needed. Mike Snead explains why solar power from space might be the only way to meet the world’s growing demands for energy in the next century.
Capturing the dynamic nature of the entrepreneurial aspect of the space business can be difficult for the author of a book. Jeff Foust reviews one book that falls short of accurately describing the state of the space tourism industry even when keeping that difficulty in mind.
While much of the space industry focuses on new rockets and satellites, or emerging markets like space tourism, a whole new aspect of space industry is under development. Burke Fort describes how his group is helping foster the creation of companies that leverage space technology for terrestrial applications.
Six months ago Armadillo Aerospace won first prize in Level One of the Lunar Lander Challenge, but there’s still over $1.5 million in prize money up for grabs today. Jeff Foust reports on the plans several teams have to go after that prize money later this year in a revamped competition.
What started as a handheld receiver that could detect radars from an airliners window turned into a key instrument in the Cold War. Dwayne Day continues his examination of the history of “ferret” satellites by the US military.
Space-based solar power has frequently been promoted as a long-term solution to the world’s energy needs, but how should governments support it given the current economic crisis? Justin Skarb offers one solution to this conundrum.
A UN committee has proposed a new set of guidelines designed to promote the “sustainability” of space in light of recent ASAT tests and satellite collisions. Taylor Dinerman worries that this effort could be used by some to thwart US military and even commercial ambitions in space.
It’s been nearly three years since the IAU approved a definition of the term “planet” that excludes Pluto, and only now has the debate died down somewhat. Jeff Foust reviews a book by one of the key figures in the debate that recounts his role in it and what it means to be a planet.
As some suborbital companies struggle to raise the funding needed to develop their vehicles, NASA is taking an increasing interest in these vehicles’ capabilities to do science. Jeff Foust suggests that this may open the door for a COTS-like program that helps both NASA and industry.
A lesser-known class of spy satellites developed during the Cold War were signals intelligence satellites known as “ferrets”. Dwayne Day provides a detailed history of the development of ferrets based on some newly declassified documents.
How can the military best protect its satellites from potential attack? Taylor Dinerman proposes that one way may be to put those spacecraft out of harm’s way entirely.
How rigorous should the medical requirements be for potential space tourists? Dr. Petra Illig takes a critical look at the recommendations made in a recent book on the subject.
In the early years of the Space Age, not only were there problems determining if satellites reached orbit, there are also problems figuring out where they came back down. Dwayne Day recounts one such case that was the inspiration for a book and movie.
In the 1970s the NRO and the Navy developed a new series of spacecraft designed to monitor naval vessels on the high seas. Dwayne Day describes the history of this effort, which until recently had been shrouded in secrecy.
A columnist recently wondered why the space community cannot come together to advocate for major projects in much the same way physicists do for major particle accelerators. Roberto Battiston, a scientist who has worked in both the high energy and space physics fields, explains why the two communities are so different.
In an effort to better engage with the public, NASA has held some online competitions in recent weeks to name an ISS module and select the "greatest mission" in the agency’s history. Jeff Foust examines how a comedian and some overzealous voters kept things from going how the agency might have planned.
Later this year NASA plans to carry out the first test launch of the Ares 1 rocket that will be a cornerstone of Project Constellation. Taylor Dinerman discusses what’s on the line for NASA with this launch.
When North Korea claimed this month to launch a satellite into orbit, no one else could find any evidence of the spacecraft. Dwayne Day recounts an episode from the early years of the Space Age when the US Air Force claimed to have put a satellite into orbit that may have only reached Antarctica.
There have been critics for some time of NASA’s Constellation program of spacecraft and launch vehicles designed to carry people back to the Moon. Jeff Foust reports that Constellation may now also be threatened indirectly by a new push to keep the shuttle alive beyond 2010.
The White House has proposed negotiating a ban on space weapons, even though there is uncertainty about exactly what would be considered such a device. Christopher Stone argues that other measures can be taken to better protect the safety and security of space assets.
As NASA awaits a new administrator and detailed budget and policy, some are advocating for changes to the agency’s exploration program. Eric Hedman makes the case for a full and open review of the current exploration architecture and its alternatives.
This weekend’s launch of a North Korean rocket was supposedly intended to put a satellite into orbit, but many observers considered it a test of a long-range missile. Taylor Dinerman opines on the implications of this launch.
While some in Congress advocate for extending its life, it’s clear regardless that the shuttle program is in its final years. Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides a general history of the shuttle program and insights into a future without it.
How are big commercial space companies, including the operators of commercial communications satellites, coping with the economic crisis? Jeff Foust reports that these operators are surprisingly optimistic about their prospects, even as other parts of the industry are more concerned.
Some on the West have argued that China’s planned mini space station will be a military facility of some kind. Chen Lan describes the role the military plays in China’s human space program and why those concerns are largely unfounded.
In today’s economy, spending on luxury items, including private trips into space, can be difficult to justify. Taylor Dinerman examines the prospects for some of the leading companies in the space tourism field.
Last week another veteran space journalist, Mark Carreau, lost his job as part of a wave of job cuts hitting the newspaper industry. Dwayne Day worries about the effects these layoffs will have on overall coverage of space issues.
The movie Silent Running was recently described in this publication as a rare example of a liberal science fiction movie. Larry Klaes argues that it demonstrates the need to balance the needs of the Earth with space exploration.
One challenge for space advocates has been in building consensus around a specific goal or mission. John Leonard suggests one solution in a form of a foundation featuring astronauts and other space leaders.
Should the United States and China cooperate in space, and if so, how? Dean Cheng describes both the obstacles to working together and the prospects for meaningful cooperation in the near term.
As the International Space Station approaches completion, now is the time to examine what the station’s long-term future should be. Taylor Dinerman outlines the questions about the station that will have to be answered.
One of the key lessons of space efforts throughout the Space Age is the importance of proper systems engineering. Dwayne Day recounts an early event that demonstrated that need, and the rules that were promulgated as a result.
Are liberals really opposed to space exploration and settlement? Ferris Valyn examines just how interested they are in space and what more can be done to convince them to support it.
As NASA raced towards the Moon 40 years ago, Star Trek aired on TV. Dwayne Day describes his role in the intersection of the two.
Arguably one of the most influential images of the Space Age was that of the Earth rising above the Moon’s horizon as seen by Apollo 8. Eve Lichtgarn reviews a book that examines the history behind that image and its effect on society.
What effect is the economic crisis having on the space industry? Jeff Foust reports that space might be insulated from the worst of the crisis because of its close ties with government.
Some space enthusiasts are known for their fierce advocacy for the topic that doesn’t always match up with the traditional divisions of political thought. Nader Elhefnawy examines the intersection of space advocacy and political philosophy.
India’s first lunar mission, Chandrayaan 1, has been a major step forward for that nation’s space program. Taylor Dinerman describes how the follow-on mission could further establish India as a major space power.
When rockets fail, they often do so in a spectacular explosion. Dwayne Day recounts one little-known event where a launch vehicle failed far less spectacularly.
The powerful F-1 engine helped propel the United States to the Moon 40 years ago, but not long after was abandoned, like the Saturn 5. Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides a detailed history of the development of that engine.
The space community has focused intently of late on civil, commercial, and military space policy issues. However, as Jeff Foust reports, the problem is implementing those policies, and the degree to which the highest levels of government are interested in those issues.
Tensions are rising about the impending launch of what North Korea claims is a space launch vehicle but what the US, Japan, and others believe is a long-range ballistic missile. Brian Weeden examines how to tell the difference between the two.
China’s plans to develop a small space station have made their way back into the news in the last week. Dwayne Day suggests that these reports say less about Chinese plans than about western biases and fears.
Normally when a launch failure takes place the cause is identified and corrected. Wayne Eleazer describes a case where that course of events took place, only to have the same failure happen again.
Astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson became famous—or infamous, depending on your point of view—for advocating that Pluto be demoted from planetary status. Taylor Dinerman reviews a book by Tyson that discusses the contretemps.
NASA, as well as Mars scientists and exploration advocates around the world, suffered a setback in December when the agency was forced to delay the launch of the Mars Science Laboratory mission by two years. Adrian Brown describes the technical issues with that complex spacecraft that forced the delay.
In a companion article, Adrian Brown examines Mars Science Laboratory’s budget overruns and the effect the mission’s delay, and resulting additional costs, will have on other Mars and planetary missions.
Does the perception, real or otherwise, that the US is interested in developing space weapons damage American “soft power” in world affairs? Taylor Dinerman argues that the topic is more complex than some believe.
NASA is set to launch a mission designed to look for Earth-like extrasolar planets. Jeff Foust looks at the mission and the larger quest of looking for evidence of life in the universe.
The movie Silent Running was one of the few highlights of a “wasteland” for science fiction films between 2001 and Star Wars. Dwayne Day examines the movies as a rare link between space and the environmental movement.
This month’s collision between Iridium and Russian satellites caused some people to ask why the incident could not have been avoided. Brian Weeden explains the difficulties of monitoring potential collisions and offers some proposals for improved monitoring and coordination.
The Obama Administration appears committed to fulfilling a campaign pledge to reestablish the National Space Council in some form. Taylor Dinerman wonders, given its past record and the difficulties of the bureaucracy, if this is such a good idea.
In recent weeks news reports and public comments have put Florida’s space efforts in a rather harsh spotlight. Tim Bailey reviews the history of the state’s efforts to promote the commercial space industry, and where things went wrong.
Point-to-point suborbital spaceflight has attracted the interest of many commercial space enthusiasts, but the technical and other hurdles that have to be overcome makes it not a near-term market. Nonetheless, Jeff Foust reports, some in both the public and private sectors are laying the groundwork for its future.
The movie 2010 never had the cultural impact that 2001 had. As the year 2010 approaches, Dwayne Day looks at both films and why 2010 fell short of its predecessor.
Several recent events have raised concerns about space weapons and the potential to cause serious harm in orbit through the proliferation of debris. Michael Listner offers a proposal for an agreement based on maritime law that could ease those concerns without getting caught up in contentious issues like space weapons.
Charles Simonyi is not the first space tourist, but next month he will become the first to make a return trip to space. Jeff Foust interviews Simonyi on his plans for his mission, why he decided to purchase a second trip, and his thoughts on the future of commercial spaceflight.
Just when Europe had resolved its issues with the US regarding the Galileo satellite navigation system, a new obstacle has emerged: China, and its plans for its own system. Taylor Dinerman examines the prospects for Galileo given China’s plans and other developments.
While space advocates struggle to win support for exploration missions, particle physicists have worked together to get funding for a major new particle accelerator, even while admitting the esoteric nature of the science it will perform. Frank Stratford looks for lessons from this effort that could be applied to space.
The field of extrasolar planets has exploded in the last 15 years as astronomers have discovered hundreds of such worlds around other stars. Jeff Foust reviews a book by a leading scientist on the topic that reviews the science, missions, and policy developments during this time.
Commercial suborbital spaceflight is most commonly associated with space tourism, and both are linked to Virgin Galactic. However, Jeff Foust reports that the company is interested in a variety of additional markets beyond tourism, from science to smallsat launches.
Government investment in railroads during the Civil War helped tie the country together and make it an economic powerhouse. Taylor Dinerman suggests that a similar benefit to the economy might come if the current administration helps enable the development of reusable launch vehicles.
In 1968 a US Navy vessel got to witness the recovery of a Soviet capsule during the height of the race for the Moon. Dwayne Day describes this incident and what influence, if any, it had on NASA’s decision to send Apollo 8 to the Moon.
Many space advocates have linked space to previous frontiers on Earth as analogies for the eventual migration of people into the solar system. Nader Elhefnawy explains why this explanation may be a poor fit given the challenges of space and the advancement of other technologies.
This week marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. Stephen Ashworth examines how evolutionary theory might apply to humanity’s transition to a spacefaring species.
Whomever the Obama Administration selects to be the next NASA administrator is going to face a number of challenging issues. Taylor Dinerman examines those issues, and the importance for NASA to communicate its message to the American public.
A common lament of space advocates is that the public today is nowhere near as interested in and supportive of space exploration as they were in the 1960s. Jeff Foust argues that it’s time for advocates to update their strategies and tactics for the present and future rather than try and repeat the past.
The publishers of Launch magazine recently announced that they are putting the magazine on hiatus for at least a couple months because of the state of the economy. Dwayne Day discusses the long-running difficulties space magazines like Launch have had remaining in business.
One reason often proposed for space settlement has been to relieve overpopulation pressures on the Earth. Nader Elhefnawy explains why, because of both demographics and economics, this rationale won’t work.
Much of the early history of American reconnaissance satellite programs is still classified, even though those systems were long ago declared obsolete. Dwayne Day discusses why a change of administrations might finally lead to the declassification of some of these records.
For weeks the space community has engaged in a guessing game on who will replace Mike Griffin as NASA administrator. Dave Huntsman argues that what is really important is not just who gets the top job, but the team of top officials needed to effectively run the agency.
President Obama has a lot of issues to deal with in his first 100 days, and is bound to stumble in one area or another. Stokes McMillan hopes that Obama, like Kennedy before him, will use setbacks as an opportunity to seek a new legacy in space.
India is considering developing a comprehensive missile defense system to protect itself from Pakistan. Taylor Dinerman describes the rationale behind that system and the role satellites might play.
The majority of people today have no first-hand recollection of the reaction to the launch of Sputnik over 50 years ago. Jeff Foust reviews a documentary, recently released on DVD, that describes the mixture of fascination and anxiety that accompanied Sputnik.
Last fall a US missile early warning satellite suddenly failed and started to drift through a crowded orbit. Brian Weeden examines what is known about the spacecraft’s failure and explains why the US government needs to be more open about what happened.
Last week PlanetSpace announced its plans to protest the award of ISS cargo resupply contracts to two other companies. Taylor Dinerman warns this is the latest sign of a disturbing trend in the industry.
What’s the key for making serious, positive change to NASA in the new administration? Derek Webber argues that what’s needed is a shift from cost-plus to fixed-price contracts.
Launch vehicles are complex systems that have to be carefully integrated to be successful. Wayne Eleazer looks at a couple of cases where a lack of end-to-end testing doomed missions.
Governments seem unwilling to open their pocketbooks to fund human missions to Mars, and private sources of funding are insufficient for such efforts. Frank Stratford proposes a concept that attempts to combine the strengths of both public and private approaches to accelerate human exploration and settlement of Mars.
It’s widely believed that Mike Griffin is nearing the end of his tenure as NASA administrator, which made a speech he gave last week about Constellation likely one of his last public addresses in that role. Jeff Foust reports on what Griffin said about the various alternatives to Constellation, and what its future prospects might be.
The change in administrations offers an opportunity for change throughout government, including NASA. Joan Vernikos and Kathleen M. Connell write that the space agency shouldn’t squander this opportunity by making only superficial changes to its programs.
In the second half of his examination of the GAMBIT reconnaissance satellite program, Dwayne Day looks at the later history of the program, including efforts to extend the life of the spacecraft in orbit and their use in the Skylab rescue effort.
The military’s TSAT communication satellite program has suffered from budget cuts and schedule delays, and is in the process of being radically revised. Taylor Dinerman argues that a new TSAT program should place a preference on ensuring the spacecraft can survive any potential attack.
As Barack Obama prepares to take office, some recall when the president-elect first proposed to delay Constellation by five years to fund his education programs. Michael Huang identifies a potential source for that original proposal, and its implications for the administration’s policies.
David Mindell, the director of MIT’s Space, Policy, and Society Research Group, responds to a recent critique of his group’s report on human spaceflight.
While there are considerable details now available about one of the earliest US spy satellite programs, CORONA, far less is known about another early program, GAMBIT. In the first of a two-part article, Dwayne Day discusses the origins and development of GAMBIT.
Last month an MIT group released a report with its recommendations for the future of NASA’s human spaceflight efforts. James Oberg points out some flaws he finds in their reasoning.
As NASA’s initial efforts to stimulate development of commercial ISS resupply services result in contracts, what should be the next step for the space agency in stimulating commercial services? Taylor Dinerman examines the possibilities and the obstacles.
The Kennedy Space Center has been at the heart of America’s space program for a half-century. Dwayne Day reviews a book that examines the history of the space center and its impact on both the space program and the state.