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Understanding Russian space activities, particularly those of the old Soviet Union, has always proved a challenge for the relatively small cadre of researchers who focus on this subject. Dwayne Day reports on a symposium held recently in London where historians exchanged research and insights into Russian space history and the study of that history itself.
Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome is undergoing a transition as the Russian military pulls out of the spaceport located in the heart of Kazakhstan. James Oberg describes the potential for unrest and disruption that this change could create not just for the Russian space program, but the American one as well.
Last week marked the second anniversary of SpaceShipOne’s historic suborbital spaceflight, yet prospective tourists may have to wait two more years before they can make a similar flight. Jeff Foust examines the reasons behind the lag in the suborbital space tourism marketplace, and what hope there is for the near future.
Space Adventures made headlines several weeks ago when it announced plans to purchase an aerospace company, Space Launch Corporation, that had previously been working on a two-stage launch system. Taylor Dinerman believes that this purchase will give Space Adventures and the companies it works with the technical skills needed to oversee development of a new generation of suborbital manned spacecraft.
One of the challenges the space community has grappled with for years is raising awareness of space programs with the general public. Jeff Foust reports on a recent forum that discussed the topic, but wonders if this is even the right debate to be having.
According to news accounts last week, China is planning its own satellite navigation system with a signal that could interfere with both GPS and Galileo. Taylor Dinerman explains why this should be an opportunity for the US to leap ahead in satellite navigation technology.
Over 40 years ago the US made its first, abortive effort to send women into space. Eve Lichtgarn reviews a book that provides a detailed history of that program.
Among all the astronauts that have served with NASA, Story Musgrave stands out as a unique individual, given his long history with the agency and his multidiscipinary education. Eric Hedman reviews a biography of the astronaut that is as unconventional as the man himself.
Much of the space industry is on tenterhooks, wondering if and when the government will give its approval for the formation of the United Launch Alliance. Taylor Dinerman believes the ULA is a necessary but not sufficient step in ensuring the long-term success of the EELV program.
SpaceShot offers those that participate in its competition a single prize: a suborbital spaceflight ticket. Sam Dinkin explains why his company doesn’t offer additional prizes at the present.
In a recent essay one author proposed developing space-based weapons that could be used against terrestrial targets. Laura Grego and David Wright argue that the laws of physics and high costs make such a system untenable.
The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) has been both a fascinating and controversial subject of study. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines the history of interest in extraterrestrial civilizations and why SETI may be flawed.
The Segway scooter draws attention wherever it goes: a sign that the device has proven far less revolutionary than what its backers believed five years ago. Jeff Foust sees some interesting, and painful, similarities between the Segway and the space industry.
Startup companies are busy perfecting their business plans for their space ventures. Bob Clarebrough believes, though, that entrepreneurs need passion, and an understanding of their customers’ needs, as much as a perfect plan.
Military space strategy is often couched in terrestrial analogies, like the “high ground”. Taylor Dinerman argues that it’s time to drop those analogies and find the unique ways that cislunar space can be used to support military operations.
People continue to seek explanations for why evidence of extraterrestrial civilizations continues to elude us. Gregory Anderson suggests that the odds of detecting such civilizations depends on their economic acumen as much as their technological prowess.
You can’t tell a book by its cover, the saying goes, but can you tell a book by its size? Jeff Foust reviews three books in the “Pocket Space Guide” series that provide an introduction to a variety of topics.
NASA’s approach to implementing the Vision for Space Exploration makes some wonder if the agency has become risk-averse to a degree. Eric Hedman sees the need for NASA to take more calculated risks in order to make revolutionary advances in space exploration.
France is being rocked by a political scandal that features a former senior executive of European aerospace giant EADS. Taylor Dinerman believes that these events could adversely affect the French aerospace industry, particularly when working with other nations.
Human spaceflight opponent Bob Park and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) do not appear to have much in common. Michael Huang proposes a hypothesis, based on Park’s arguments, which could explain SETI’s greatest mystery.
The idea of putting any kind of weapons in space makes many people skittish. Christopher Stone argues that space-based weapons are an essential step towards protecting national security on Earth.
For decades the space community has turned to the White House for leadership on national space policy. However, as Jeff Foust reports, that leadership may be nowhere near as essential as many might think.
The development of GPS has often been associated with the US Air Force and its key personnel. However, Richard Easton makes the case that it was the Navy, and people like his father, that developed the key concepts behind the current satellite navigation system.
NASA is still grappling with technical issues regarding the space shuttle even as it plans its retirement. Eric Hedman argues NASA needs to tackle some key issues about the shuttle and the future of the ISS before proceeding with those plans.
There is no shortage of books these days about space history in general, and the Apollo era in particular. Jeff Foust reviews two books that they to find new and unique ways of recounting the history of that era.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has a long-held interest in space exploration and development. Gregory Anderson interviews Gingrich, a potential presidential candidate in 2008, to examine his views on the Vision for Space Exploration and the importance of space commercialization.
For all its bold talk of revolutionizing space access, SpaceX suffered an embarrassing setback earlier this year when its first launch failed. Despite this, Jeff Foust reports, company founder Elon Musk remains resolute in his pursuit of low-cost space transportation for spacecraft and humans.
Earlier this month NASA announced its first multimillion-dollar prize competition, the Lunar Lander Analog Challenge, in cooperation with the X Prize Foundation. Robin Snelson goes beyond the highlights of the announcement to see which companies plan to compete and the issues they have already encountered.
The scientific work involved with a major NASA mission can pale in comparison to the effort needed to actually build the spacecraft. Jeff Foust reviews a new book that provides an insider’s account of the development of the Spitzer Space Telescope.
Last month the test of thrusters mounted on a Russian module of the ISS was aborted. James Oberg examines what went wrong with that test, and its significance for ISS operations in general.
Burt Rutan is not shy in sharing his criticism of government agencies or other companies. Jeff Foust reports on comments made by Rutan at a conference last week where he took aim at both the public and private sectors, but also expressed hope for the future.
Future orbital space tourists will likely not be satisfied with staying inside a spacecraft or space station: they’ll want to take a walk outside. Richard Speck busts some of the myths associated with the difficulty and danger of spacewalks, and explains how future tourists can enjoy a quick jaunt outside.
Recent articles have discussed the odds of the failure of the first launch of a new vehicle in the wake of the Falcon 1 launch failure in March. Wayne Eleazer provides another look at the statistics of launch failures to demonstrate just how likely new rockets will fail on its early flights.
NASA’s plan for implementing the Vision for Space Exploration requires developing major new launch vehicles and other hardware, efforts that may already be encountering problems. Eric Hedman offers an alternative approach, one that emphasizes better use of the International Space Station and more opportunities for the commercial sector.
SpaceShot Inc.’s Latin motto has an interesting history. Sam Dinkin discusses promoting space populism profitably.
One of the enduring urban legends of the space program is that NASA spent millions, if not billions, of dollars developing a space pen, while the Russians simply used a pencil. Dwayne Day explores the origins of this myth and how NASA really came around to using a space pen.
NASA recently named former Air Force general Pete Worden as the next director of the Ames Research Center. Taylor Dinerman believes that Worden’s track record makes him the ideal person to make the center more relevant to the agency’s overall exploration program.
NASA’s Teacher in Space program died after the Challenger accident, and the agency has taken only limited steps since then to send teachers into space. Jeff Foust reports on a new effort by the private sector to share the spaceflight experience with teachers by using the new fleet of commercial suborbital spacecraft.
Despite the success of SpaceShipOne, commercial suborbital spaceflight still doesn’t get a lot of respect from some quarters. Bob Clarebrough says that such “Kitty Hawk moments” take time to truly appreciate.
The entrepreneurial space transportation industry hasn’t had many major breakthroughs in recent months, but it also hasn’t suffered any major setbacks. Jeff Foust reports on the incremental progress companies are making on commercial suborbital and orbital spaceflight as discussed at the recent Space Access conference.
Last week China and the US inched closer towards cooperation in space endeavors. Taylor Dinerman discusses how this cooperation might work, and the political ramifications of such efforts.
Another cycle of congressional and presidential elections are coming up, ones that will again devote little attention to NASA’s budget or R&D funding in general. Eric Hedman explains why voters should encourage politicians to pay more attention to this topic.
Astronauts are people, too, and as such are prone to the same interpersonal conflicts as everyone else. Jeff Foust reviews a novel that uses the space program as the setting for a familiar human drama.
New Mexico is pressing ahead with plans to develop a commercial spaceport, but it is not alone in developing new facilities to serve space tourism and other markets. Taylor Dinerman sizes up New Mexico’s plans in comparison with efforts in California and other countries.
Space history is filled with anecdotes that, while often repeated, turn out simply not to be true. Dwayne Day uncovers two more examples, both involving the naming of Soviet-era spacecraft.
How small can a spacecraft be and still safely carry a human into orbit and back? Richard Speck sees potential in “ultralight” spacecraft that weigh little more than their occupant as a low-cost means of ferrying tourists to and from space stations.
The long-term goal of the exploration program is to enable human missions to Mars. Donald Rapp discusses the technical challenges such a mission faces, and why it’s unlikely NASA will be ready to mount such a mission for decades.
Many people have debated whether NASA’s exploration architecture, unveiled last year, is the right approach to sending people back to the Moon. Eric Hedman argues that, while neither perfect nor the only approach, the current strategy can be made to work.
The universe is replete with gigantic collisions, from impacting asteroids to merging galaxies. Craig Remillard reviews a new movie showing at the American Museum of Natural History that helps people better visualize some of the violent aspects of the cosmos.
Members of Congress recently raised the specter of a space race with China as a means of justifying additional funding for NASA. Jeff Foust argues that not only is a US-China space race unlikely, such techniques might backfire against the space agency in the long run.
Plans by the Air Force to overhaul its management of the EELV program bring it back to something like how military launch vehicle programs were run 25 years ago. Wayne Eleazer examines what went wrong with a more commercial approach by the government to procuring launch services.
Unbeknownst to many, a serious communications problem took place during the launch of a Soyuz spacecraft to the ISS last month. James Oberg provides the details behind this incident and explains why it is an example of an improved working relationship between the American and Russian space officials.
Many space enthusiasts and professionals are reluctant to engage in political outreach, despite its importance in shaping space policies and budgets. Chris Carberry offers a primer on how people can get involved in promoting space to members of Congress.
What happens when the technothriller genre meets space tourism? Tom Hill reviews a novel that examines what happens when an accident strands a space tourist alone in orbit.
In addition to defending the homeland, the US is cooperating with Japan in the development of missile defense systems for east Asia. Taylor Dinerman explains how this effort, and future space-based missile defenses, might tip the balance of power in that region of the globe.
SpaceShot started selling $3 entries into a tournament style skill game to win trips to space on Rocketplane XP. Sam Dinkin walks us through an insider’s view of how to start a space media company.
The first microgravity research customer for Rocketplane Ltd. is an relatively obscure Japanese research organization. Jeff Foust reports on how an Oklahoma-based company has partnered with an organization led by one of the pioneers of the Japanese space program.
It was the worst-case scenario for the Apollo program: a Saturn 5 rocket blowing up on the pad. Dwayne Day explains how NASA studied the risks of such an explosion and what could be done to save the Apollo crew.
Last month’s failed first launch of the Falcon 1 raised the question of just how successful the first launches of new rockets are. Tom Hill points out that those rockets that have successful first flights often have a great deal of flight heritage.
A conservative magazine recently criticized the Bush Administration by lumping the Vision for Space Exploration with other large federal spending programs. Taylor Dinerman argues that the NASA, under the VSE, is playing a critical role in promoting and preserving the key values of the conservative movement.
While NASA is rethinking its selection of the space shuttle main engine for the heavy-lift launch vehicle that is one of the cornerstones of the exploration plan, one engine not being considered to replace it is the F-1 from the Saturn 5 program. Dwayne Day studies an earlier effort to revive the F-1 engine, and the costs and challenges involved with doing so.
Private investors have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into new space launch systems, despite the overcapacity and stagnant pricing in the launch market today. Patrick J. G. Stiennon has a few ideas of what these investors know—or think they know—that Wall Street doesn’t.
The design for the Mercury spacecraft was the result of a competition among a number of aerospace companies, with significant guidance provided by NASA. Dwayne Day examines the selection process and some of the alternative designs.
In the aftermath of Friday’s failed launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 1 booster, many people claimed that most first launches of new rockets have failed. Dwayne Day checks how accurate a claim that is.
Tired of building cities or simulating the lives of their inhabitants? Henry Percy tries out a new challenge posed by a computer game: building and operating the International Space Station.
The origins of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union remains one of the most closely examined eras in recent history. Taylor Dinerman reviews a new book on the subject that, unfortunately, doesn’t shed much new light on events in either country.
In the early 1960s the US Air Force made several attempts to develop its own manned spaceflight program. Dwayne Day reviews the history of one of those ultimately unsuccessful efforts, Blue Gemini.
On several occasions in the last few years the media has reported the discovery of a threatening asteroid, only to have that threat disappear in a matter of a days. In a pair of essays, Benny Peiser and Brian Marsden examine the issue and propose an alternate means of weighing the risks posed by near Earth objects.
NASA faces a key challenge in trying to win over and maintain public support over the long term for the Vision for Space Exploration. Taylor Dinerman argues that this may be a bigger problem than actually developing the spacecraft that will be used to carry out the missions.
Last month Rolling Stone magazine published an extended article on NASA’s exploration initiative. Jeff Foust finds that the article comes up short in both its overall focus and some of its facts.
Sam Dinkin concludes his extended tour and interview at SpaceX with a discussion about reusability, hiring, and all the attention the emerging launch vehicle company has received.
The Heinlein Prize is intended to reward major accomplishments in commercial space development. Pat Bahn stacks up this prize against some other leading awards in various disciplines.
Aviation Week magazine reported last week that the US had secretly developed a two-stage manned spaceplane. Dwayne Day examines the details of the article and the quality of the evidence cited and finds many flaws.
In the third part of his extended interview and tour of SpaceX, Sam Dinkin asks about the company’s launch operations in Kwajalein and its testing regime.
As the US military grows more reliant on space systems, it also becomes more vulnerable to attacks on those systems. Taylor Dinerman examines the ways that an adversary could disrupt disrupt those systems in ways ranging from attacks on ground stations to deceptive “pseudo-probes”.
Compared to tales of opening the Space Age and exploring the Moon, would anyone want to read the stories of astronauts who flew on relatively ordinary shuttle missions? Jeff Foust reviews two memoirs by shuttle-era astronauts and concludes that there is plenty worth reading.
NASA’s proposed 2007 budget, which cuts back funding for science programs, has been harshly criticized by the professional astronomy community. Brian Dewhurst explains how this is the inevitable outcome of a shift from a science-oriented to mission-oriented agency.
NASA and its international partners have agreed to a revised assembly sequence for the ISS. Taylor Dinerman explains why it is important for NASA to stick to that schedule and finish the station, even as it sets its sights on destinations beyond Earth orbit.
NASA recently honored veteran TV newscaster Walter Cronkite for his coverage of the early space program. James Oberg notes that while Cronkite did an outstanding job communicating the enthusiasm of the race to the Moon, the accuracy of some of his reports fell short.
The most efficient path between two points in space may look nothing like a straight line. Jeff Foust examines how the application of chaotic dynamics can save spacecraft propellant, open new possibilities for space exploration, and may even explain how the Moon formed.
In the second part of his extended interview/tour of SpaceX, Sam Dinkin discusses the challenges and benefits of composite interstages and thinking outside the aerospace box.
What’s it like at the heart of the effort to lower the cost of space access? In the first part of an extended interview, Sam Dinkin takes a tour inside SpaceX’s factory in California.
SpaceX is breaking a new path to space. Sam Dinkin gives the background of this innovative business.
Should a separate space service be created alongside the other branches of the military? Taylor Dinerman argues that a US Space Force would be better able to manage and utilize space systems for the military in general.
A recent essay about the entrepreneurial space industry generated a lot of feedback for author Eric Hedman. He follows up with a look at what it may take for companies to be successful in this field.
Many of the latest advancements in military space technology have focused on small satellites and responsive launch vehicles. Matthew Hoey offers an overview of these developments and their potential to lead to the weaponization of space.
The lack of a well-defined property rights regime in outer space hasn’t stopped people from making claims and selling land on the Moon and beyond. Jeff Foust reviews a book that tracks the long history of such ventures.
Military space programs have suffered in recent years from numerous cost overruns, schedule delays, and other problems. Wayne Eleazer explains how this stemmed from changes the Air Force made to the acquisition and management of space projects.
After a long dry spell, commercial launch companies now say their manifests are full and their prices are rising. Jeff Foust examines whether the near-term success being enjoyed by the commercial launch industry can be sustained over the long term.
Thanks to Congressional authorization for larger prizes, NASA is pressing ahead with its Centennial Challenges program. Taylor Dinerman sees some promise for prizes to help develop key technologies needed for the Vision for Space Exploration, but some issues as well.
The third anniversary of the loss of the space shuttle Columbia came and went with remarkably little fanfare—much like the mission itself prior to its tragic end. Jeff Foust reviews a book that focuses on the forgotten aspects of the STS-107 mission.
The newly-released 2007 NASA budget proposal, among other events, has touched off another debate on the relative importance of robotic space science and human space exploration. Jeff Foust examines the arguments and suggests NASA needs to work harder to build a compelling case for both.
Despite failures in previous commercialization efforts, NASA is pressing ahead with a project to develop commercial ISS transportation systems. Taylor Dinerman sees both parallels with past failures and some optimistic signs.
One problem with hydrogen fuel cells is the difficulty in obtaining hydrogen. William White argues that an alternative, alcohol-based fuel cells, may stimulate significant demand for platinum and hence spur efforts to look for it on the Moon.
What’s the problem with people who advocate using robots rather than humans to explore space? Simple, says Michael Huang: they’re human.
How do you illustrate that which you cannot (yet) see? Jeff Foust reviews a book that combines speculative illustrations of extrasolar planets with a description of the search for such worlds and their prospects for life.
A letter submitted in response to last week’s article about the Heinlein Prize suggests another candidate for the award.
In recent weeks Russians have discussed the possibility of establishing a lunar base on their own, perhaps to refine helium-3. James Oberg examines these pronouncements and sees them as another effort by Russian companies to win foreign funding.
One of the commonly-accepted “truths” of the history of the American space program is that a potential heat shield problem caused John Glenn’s historic Mercury flight to be cut from seven orbits to three. Dwayne Day digs into the historical record to expose that myth and show that Glenn’s flight was intended to be three orbits all along.
The new Rocket Racing League has generated a great deal of attention, but is there any link between their work and the develop of new low-cost launch vehicles? Taylor Dinerman foresees rocket racing as a means of fostering innovations that could eventually improve space access.
The trustees of the Heinlein Prize for commercial space are in the process of selecting the winner of the first award, worth $500,000. Pat Bahn offers some suggested criteria and candidates for the prize.
By coincidence, two books with the same title have been published on the same topic: how to get a sustainable human presence back on the Moon. Jeff Foust reviews a collection of essays from a wide range of experts on that topic, particularly the role the private sector must play.
A number of companies have proposed developing new, innovative launch vehicles and spacecraft that could help NASA as well as serve the private sector. Eric Hedman wonders, though, if these concepts have been subjected to the appropriate level of scrutiny.
The latest entry in the library of space-themed IMAX movies takes viewers on a trip to Mars. Jeff Foust reviews Roving Mars, the story of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover mission.
Government and commercial space projects alike need to find ways to economically deliver bulk cargoes to orbit. Andrew Turner describes one such effort his company has been developing that promises sharply reduced costs by lowering the reliability of the launcher.
The book The Rocket Company mixes a fictional account of the development of an RLV with plenty of practical advice. Mark Trulson completes his interview with the authors of the book, discussing the issues of RLV design raised by the book.
Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, coupled with its existing missile development efforts, will bring more attention onto the state of missile defense efforts in the US. Taylor Dinerman examines the options the Defense Department faces given its decision not to pursue space-based systems.
Last week, NASA launched the New Horizons spacecraft on a mission to Pluto. Jeff Foust describes how this not only kicked off a decade-long trip to the outer solar system, it marked the culmination of over a decade of effort to mount such a mission, including a tiny role by the author himself.
The book The Rocket Company mixes a fictional account of the development of an RLV with plenty of practical advice. Mark Trulson interviews the authors of the book, Patrick J. G. Stiennon and David M. Hoerr, to get some background about the book and their philosophy of launch vehicle design.
NASA and ESA have shared a long, if sometimes rocky, history of cooperation in space ventures. Taylor Dinerman reports that this cooperation may be endangered as the two space agencies are pulled in different directions by their respective governments.
Very little of the discussion about the Vision for Space Exploration has centered on the scientific benefits of returning humans to the Moon. Chris Gainor looks at the scientific achievements of Apollo to demonstrate the role humans can play in studying the Moon.
For decades astronomers have been peering farther back into the universe, trying to understand how stars and galaxies formed. Jeff Foust reviews a new book that offers an update on what astronomers have found and the questions they have yet to answer.
Gerald Kulcinski has spent the last two decades at the University of Wisconsin exploring the potential for fusion using helium-3 mined from the Moon. Eric Hedman talks with him about his fusion research as well as his new position on the NASA Advisory Council.
The political costs associated with ending human spaceflight played a major role in the Nixon Administration’s decision to fly the final Apollo missions and approve the shuttle program Dwayne Day examines this decision to explain why it is unlikely a future president would terminate a manned space program.
Europe is billing Galileo as a more accurate satellite navigation system than the existing American GPS system. Taylor Dinerman discusses how one particular technology decision could give Galileo the upper hand.
Since the enactment of more stringent export controls for commercial spacecraft, satellite manufacturers in the US have lost considerable business. Ryan Zelnio measures how big of an effect those export controls have had on the US space industry.
Dr. David Livingston combined expertise in business and a passion for space into a popular radio show. In the conclusion of his two-part interview, Mark Trulson asks Livingston how The Space Show came into being and his plans for the future.
Groom Lake, aka Area 51, is the Air Force’s most sensitive installation, and one that the military has gone to great lengths to cloak in secrecy. Dwayne Day explains what happened when the crew of a Skylab mission took a photograph of the base from orbit.
The development of orbital RLVs may be decades off, given the failures of recent efforts. Taylor Dinerman argues that the US Marines may be in a position to nurture the development of RLVs over the next few decades.
Heavy-lift launch vehicles can make exploration of the Moon and Mars relatively simple from an operational standpoint, but they have their drawbacks. Grant Bonin concludes his two-part examination of the topic by studying the risks and economics of heavy-lift versus smaller launchers.
One of the banes of the commercial space industry in the United States has been export control policy. Ryan Zelnio examines how the current policy evolved from a decade-long battle between the Commerce and State Departments.
David Livingston earned a doctorate in space commerce and is the creator and host of a leading space-themed talk radio show. Mark Trulson kicks off a two-part interview with Dr. Livingston by finding out how he got interested in space in general and space business in particular.
One of the cornerstones of NASA’s exploration plans is the development of a shuttle-derived heavy-lift launch vehicle. In the first of a two-part report, Grant Bonin makes the case for abandoning that effort in favor of multiple launches of smaller rockets.
Rockets, Missiles, & Space Travel: The up-to-tomorrow story of rocket development and space-travel prospects
Those who don’t learn from history will probably fail economics. Sam Dinkin argues Willy Ley’s 1957 classic still has much to teach us.
While long a staple of science fiction, directed energy weapons have yet to play a major role in warfare. Taylor Dinerman examines the state-of-the-art in this area and the role such weapons might eventually play in space.
At the same time Americans were concerned about falling behind the Soviet Union in the Space Race there were worries about a “Missile Gap” between the two nations. Dwayne Day digs into the historical record to question when John F. Kennedy knew the gap really didn’t exist.
Many astronauts have written books, principally memoirs about their careers. Anthony Young reviews a book by Apollo moonwalker Harrison Schmitt that instead looks to the future and the potential benefits for returning to and utilizing the Moon.