Earth--Day and Night Regions

Earth--Day and Night Regions

Planetary Positions

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Nix NASA Completely, Apollo Astronaut Says

From Yahoo News and

Nix NASA Completely, Apollo Astronaut Says

– Wed May 25, 7:29 pm ET

NASA should be scrapped in favor of a new agency, one with the sole objective of furthering America's exploration of deep space. So says Harrison Schmitt, the last man to set foot on the moon, in a proposal published online today (May 25).

Schmitt, a member of Apollo 17 in 1972 and later a one-term U.S. senator, proposed that the new space agency be called the National Space Exploration Administration.

Fifty years after John F. Kennedy's famous speech that set America on its glorious path to the moon, Schmitt, 75, said NASA has lost its focus. The Apollo program helped win the Cold War, strengthened national unity and set up the United States to take control of lunar resources, but NASA has withered under later presidencies, including Barack Obama's, Schmitt said.

"I don't blame NASA as much as I blame various administrations for not recognizing the geopolitical importance of space," he told [Video: President Kennedy's Moonshot Moment]

Schmitt's call for overhauling the space program is partly a response to Obama's 2012 budget, which critics say increased the funding for space technology research at NASA but did not provide adequate funding for deep-space exploration.

Other Apollo astronauts have lamented the lack of focus on exploration.

In a May 24 op-ed in USA Today, Apollo mission commanders Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell and Gene Cernan wrote, "After a half-century of remarkable progress, a coherent plan for maintaining America's leadership in space exploration is no longer apparent."

Apollo 17 crewmates Cernan and Schmitt were the world's last moonwalkers.

If formed in 2013, the proposed NSEA could send Americans back to the moon by 2020, Schmitt says, and establish lunar settlements and Mars exploration and settlements in the decades after that. It also would develop the ability to deflect Earth-bound asteroids. All of NASA's current scientific endeavors would be within the purview of the National Science Foundation and other government-funded science organizations.

The significance of space

Schmitt believes refocusing on space exploration is crucial for the United States to maintain its status as a superpower. [Photos: John F. Kennedy's NASA Legacy]

"This is not just a competition between nations; it's a competition between freedom and tyranny," Schmitt said. "The United States is the only power on Earth today that has in its DNA a protection of liberty, and if we decide to back off from space or any other major human endeavor, then we put that liberty in jeopardy.

"The Obama administration has basically said that they won't pursue an exceptional space program for the United States and that they're just as happy to have China move forward into deep space, and be dependent on Russia for transport to the International Space Station."

Schmitt, who was elected to the Senate in 1976 as a Republican from New Mexico, says China's domination of deep space and Russia's domination of near-Earth space would lower America's international standing of the U.S. in the same way the Soviet Union winning the space race would have changed the outcome of the Cold War.

On top of the perceptions and politics, Schmitt argues that deep-space exploration is necessary for controlling space resources ? in particular, a fusion fuel called helium-3 that comes from the sun and is preserved in lunar soils. "Under certain financial constraints, helium-3 can be economically viable as a fuel for fusion power reactors here on Earth, and to have that dominated by another power such as China I think would be very dangerous for us. That's just another aspect of the geopolitical significance of exploration," Schmitt said.

National identity

In the 1960s, pride in the Apollo program strengthened national unity and rejuvenated science and math education in schools. Schmitt believes the same things could happen — and need to happen — again.

Funding the NSEA (as well as increasing the funding of the other programs that would take over NASA's science departments) would cost $2 billion to $3 billion more than NASA currently costs taxpayers, Schmitt estimated. He believes taxpayers would be willing to foot the bill.

"I think the American public is very, very supportive of vigorous American activities in space," Schmitt said. "Survey after survey has shown that."

This story was provided by Life's Little Mysteries, a sister site to Follow Natalie Wolchover on Twitter @nattyover and follow for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

USAF Officers Inducted Into Astronaut Hall Of Fame

From USAF News and

AF Officers Inducted Into Astronaut Hall of Fame

May 17, 2011

Air Force News
by Brad A. Swezey

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. -- Two Air Force officers who served as astronauts with NASA were inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., May 14.

Lt. Gen. Susan Helms, the 14th Air Force commander, and retired Col. Karol Bobko were inducted in a ceremony at KSC a little less than an hour after an Atlas V launched from neighboring Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., carrying the first satellite in the Space Based Infrared System.

Before a crowd in the hundreds, the two Air Force Academy graduates were welcomed into the Hall by fellow Astronaut Hall of Famers.

The first inductee, Colonel Bobko, was also part of the first class to graduate from the Air Force Academy in 1959. He flew on three space shuttle missions and logged more than 386 hours in space, to include piloting the first flight of the space shuttle Challenger in 1983.

On his second space shuttle flight in 1985 on space shuttle Discovery, which he commanded, he participated in something for which his crew never trained for before the flight. When one of the satellites they deployed malfunctioned, they decided to do a spacewalk and use the robotic arm to activate the satellite. Also, despite having a blown main landing gear tire, he successfully landed the space shuttle.

Colonel Bobko's last flight was on space shuttle Atlantis, which was a Department of Defense mission. Since his retirement from NASA and the Air Force in 1988, he has stayed connected with space and is currently the president of the U.S. chapter of the Association of Space Explorers.

A few years after Colonel Bobko finished up his astronaut career, General Helms, a member of the first class of the Air Force Academy to include women, was beginning the astronaut portion of her career in 1991.

The former commander of the 45th Space Wing had her first shuttle flight in 1993 aboard space shuttle Endeavor. During this mission, the crew deployed a $200 million satellite.

General Helms' second flight happened in 1994 aboard space shuttle Discovery; she served as a flight engineer and primary remote manipulator system operator.

On her third space shuttle flight in 1996, General Helms was the payload commander and flight engineer on space shuttle Columbia. This flight was the first to combine both a full microgravity studies agenda and a comprehensive life science investigation.

The former director of plans and policy for U.S. Strategic Command had her fourth space shuttle flight aboard Atlantis in 2000.

General Helms' prime responsibilities during this mission were to perform critical repairs to extend the life of the International Space Station.

In addition, she was responsible for the onboard computer network and served as the mission specialist for rendezvous with the ISS.

General Helms returned to the ISS on space shuttle Discovery in 2001. She, along with a Russian cosmonaut and another astronaut, retired Army Col. James Voss, were aboard the ISS from March until August of that year. It was during this time that General Helms and Colonel Voss set a world record for the longest spacewalk, which lasted 8 hours and 56 minutes.

She returned to Earth on space shuttle Discovery in August; this mission capped off 211 days she had spent in space during her career.

As the current joint functional component commander for space at U.S. Strategic Command, General Helms still is involved with the nation's space program, though in a different capacity than as an astronaut.

Both inductees received standing ovations numerous times throughout the ceremony and praised the people who made both of their journeys possible.

"I drew more from them than they ever drew from me," General Helms said.

© Copyright 2011 Air Force News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Friday, May 6, 2011

NASA Gravity Probe Confirms Two Einstein Theories

From and Yahoo News:

NASA Gravity Probe Confirms Two Einstein Theories




Play VideoSpace Video:NASA Chasing Storms From OffuttKETV Omaha.

Play VideoSpace Video:North Korea jail camps 'growing'Reuters.

Play VideoSpace Video:Mark Kelly on Endeavour LaunchFOX News. Staff,

– Thu May 5, 10:45 am ET

A NASA probe orbiting Earth has confirmed two key predictions of Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity, which describes how gravity causes masses to warp space-time around them.

The Gravity Probe B (GP-B) mission was launched in 2004 to study two aspects of Einstein's theory about gravity: the geodetic effect, or the warping of space and time around a gravitational body, and frame-dragging, which describes the amount of space and time a spinning objects pulls with it as it rotates.

"Imagine the Earth as if it were immersed in honey," Francis Everitt, GP-B principal investigator at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., said in a statement. "As the planet rotates, the honey around it would swirl, and it's the same with space and time. GP-B confirmed two of the most profound predictions of Einstein's universe, having far-reaching implications across astrophysics research." [6 Weird Facts About Gravity]

Gravity Probe B used four ultra-precise gyroscopes to measure the two gravitational hypotheses. The probe confirmed both effects with unprecedented precision by pointing its instruments at a single star called IM Pegasi.

If gravity did not affect space and time, GP-B's gyroscopes would always point in the same direction while the probe was in polar orbit around Earth. However, the gyroscopes experienced small but measurable changes in the direction of their spin while Earth's gravity pulled at them, thereby confirming Einstein's theories.

"The mission results will have a long-term impact on the work of theoretical physicists," said Bill Danchi, senior astrophysicist and program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. "Every future challenge to Einstein's theories of general relativity will have to seek more precise measurements than the remarkable work GP-B accomplished." [Top 10 Strangest Things in Space]

A long time coming

These results conclude one of the longest-running projects in NASA history. The space agency became involved in the development of a relativity gyroscope experiment in 1963.

Decades of research and testing led to groundbreaking technologies to control environmental disturbances that could affect the spacecraft, such as aerodynamic drag, magnetic fields and thermal variations. Furthermore, the mission's star tracker and gyroscopes were the most precise ever designed and produced.

The GP-B project has led to advancements in GPS technologies that help guide airplanes to landings. Additional innovations were applied to NASA's Cosmic Background Explorer mission, which accurately determined the universe's background radiation left over from shortly after the Big Bang.

The drag-free satellite concept pioneered by GP-B made a number of Earth-observing satellites possible, including NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment. These satellites provide the most precise measurements of the shape of the Earth, which are critical for navigation on land and sea, and understanding the relationship between ocean circulation and climate patterns.

Gravity Probe B's wide reach

The GP-B mission also acted as a training ground for students across the United States, from candidates for doctorates and master's degrees to undergraduates and high school students. In fact, one undergraduate who worked on GP-B went on to become the first female astronaut in space, Sally Ride.

"GP-B adds to the knowledge base on relativity in important ways and its positive impact will be felt in the careers of students whose educations were enriched by the project," said Ed Weiler, associate administrator for the science mission directorate at NASA headquarters.

GP-B completed its data collection operations and was decommissioned in December 2010. The probe's findings were published online in the journal Physical Review Letters.

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Psychedelic Photo Of A Stellar Nursery

From Yahoo News and The Lookout:

Fri May 6, 11:24 am ET

‘Psychedelic’ photo of a stellar nursery

By Liz Goodwin

Ever wonder what a star "nursery" looks like?

Two Argentine astronomers using a powerful Gemini South telescope in Chile produced this dramatic and colorful image that shows newly born stars in the beautiful Lagoon nebula, located in the Sagittarius constellation in the southern Milky Way.

The Gemini Observatory describes the image as a "psychedelic flashback" because the Lagoon nebula's photons had to travel a stunning 5,000 lightyears to reach the astronomers' telescope.

With an amateur telescope, the Lagoon nebula just looks like a pretty, slightly pink glowing patch. Contrast that to the above picture, which is a composite of images taken by two "narrow-band optical filters sensitive to hydrogen (red) and ionized sulfur (green) emission and another that transmits far red light (blue)." The merged images highlight the dramatic beauty of newly born stars, which you can see embedded in the thick clouds.

The astronomers are studying Herbig-Haro objects, which form when young, growing stars emit lots of fast-moving gas.

(Image: Julia I. Arias and Rodolfo H. Barbá Departamento de Física, Universidad de La Serena, and ICATE-CONICET)

Moon Microbe Mystery Finally Solved

From Yahoo News:

Moon Microbe Mystery Finally Solved

Apollo 12 mission Commander Charles P. 'Pete' Conrad is shown on the moon's surface in this Nov. 1969 photo. (AP/NASA)




Play VideoSpace Video:NASA Chasing Storms From OffuttKETV Omaha.

Play VideoSpace Video:North Korea jail camps 'growing'Reuters.

Play VideoSpace Video:Mark Kelly on Endeavour LaunchFOX News.– Fri May 6, 10:45 am ET

There has been a long-lived bit of Apollo moon landing folklore that now appears to be a dead-end affair: microbes on the moon.

The lunar mystery swirls around the Apollo 12 moon landing and the return to Earth by moonwalkers of a camera that was part of an early NASA robotic lander – the Surveyor 3 probe.

On Nov. 19, 1969, Apollo 12 astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean made a precision landing on the lunar surface in Oceanus Procellarum, Latin for the Ocean of Storms. Their touchdown point was a mere 535 feet (163 meters) from the Surveyor 3 lander -- and an easy stroll to the hardware that had soft-landed on the lunar terrain years before, on April 20, 1967. [Video: Apollo 12 Visits Surveyor 3 Probe]

The Surveyor 3 camera was easy pickings and brought back to Earth under sterile conditions by the Apollo 12 crew. When scientists analyzed the parts in a clean room, they found evidence of microorganisms inside the camera.

In short, a small colony of common bacteria -- Streptococcus Mitis -- had stowed away on the device.

The astrobiological upshot as deduced from the unplanned experiment was that 50 to 100 of the microbes appeared to have survived launch, the harsh vacuum of space, three years of exposure to the moon's radiation environment, the lunar deep-freeze at an average temperature of minus 253 degrees Celsius, not to mention no access to nutrients, water or an energy source. [Photos: Our Changing Moon]

Now, fast forward to today.

NASA's dirty little secret?

A diligent team of researchers is now digging back into historical documents -- and even located and reviewed NASA's archived Apollo-era 16 millimeter film -- to come clean on the story.

As it turns out, there's a dirty little secret that has come to light about clean room etiquette at the time the Surveyor 3 camera was scrutinized.

"The claim that a microbe survived 2.5 years on the moon was flimsy, at best, even by the standards of the time," said John Rummel, chairman of the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) Panel on Planetary Protection. "The claim never passed peer review, yet has persisted in the press -- and on the Internet -- ever since." [Coolest New Moon Discoveries]

The Surveyor 3 camera-team thought they had detected a microbe that had lived on the moon for all those years, "but they only detected their own contamination," Rummel told

A former NASA planetary protection officer, Rummel is now with the Institute for Coastal Science & Policy at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C.

Rummel, along with colleaguesJudith Allton of NASA’s Johnson Space Center and Don Morrison, a former space agency lunar receiving laboratory scientist, recently presented their co-authored paper: "A Microbe on the Moon? Surveyor III and Lessons Learned for Future Sample Return Missions."

Poor space probe hygiene

Their verdict was given at a meeting on "The Importance of Solar System Sample Return Missions to the Future of Planetary Science," in March at The Woodlands,Texas, sponsored by the NASA Planetary Science Division and Lunar and Planetary Institute.

"If 'American Idol' judged microbiology, those guys would have been out in an early round," the research team writes of the way the Surveyor 3 camera team studied the equipment here on Earth. Or put more delicately, "The general scene does not lend a lot of confidence in the proposition that contamination did not occur," co-author Morrison said.

For example, participants studying the camera were found to be wearing short-sleeve scrubs, thus arms were exposed. Also, the scrub shirt tails were higher than the flow bench level … and would act as a bellows for particulates from inside the shirt, reports co-author Allton.

Other contamination control issues were flagged by the researchers.

In simple microbiology 101 speak, "a close personal relationship with the subject ... is not necessarily a good thing," the research team explains.

All in all, the likelihood that contamination occurred during sampling of the Surveyor 3 camera was shown to be very real.

A cautionary tale

On one hand, Rummel emphasized that today’s methods for handling return samples are much more effective at detecting microbes.

However, the Surveyor 3 incident back then raises a cautionary flag for the future.

"We need to be orders of magnitude more careful about contamination control than was the Surveyor 3 camera-team. If we aren't, samples from Mars could be drowned in Earth life upon return, and in all of that 'noise' we might never have the ability to detect Mars life we may have brought back, too," Rummel said. "We can, and we must, do a better job with a Mars sample return mission."

Winner of this year's National Space Club Press Award, Leonard David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. He is past editor-in-chief of the National Space Society's Ad Astra and Space World magazines and has written for since 1999.