Orbiting the blogosphere

A claim by a UK newspaper that the Russians think the US has plans to dominate space so it can have all the Moon’s isotope Helium 3 to itself made the rounds in the blogosphere last week. You have to laugh at the half knowledge that leads to this conspiracy theory.
The Russians are more than capable of sending lunar probes to haul Moon soil soaked in Helium 3 particles back to Earth, they brought back rock robotically more than thirty years ago!The Helium 3 issue has been around for a while and has been the subject of various books and news stories, the University of Wisconsin Madison has a great webpage with a lot of media reports about lunar Helium 3.
Meanwhile something more meaningful got a mention on hobbyspace.com and that is the winning of NASA’s spacesuit glove competition. It was one of NASA’s Centennial Challenges. These prizes are, IMHO, a great way for the US space agency to find good solutions from outside its usual suspects of behemoth contractors and get media coverage for something that would otherwise get a 50-word contract award news-in-brief on the likes of Flightglobal.com.
Personally I am more interested in the Personal Air Vehicle challenge.
Expect more from us about that in August. Talking of things personal, there is the personal spaceflight blog’s focus on the change of venue for this year’s X Prize Cup. Las Cruces airport, New Mexico, to Holloman AFB a few miles north is quite a change.
One wonders if this venue change is the reason behind a bit of news that hasn’t hit the blogosphere yet, the withdrawal of the Leading Edge team from the Rocket Racing League. This is bad news for anyone hoping to see what was called the NASCAR of the skies and not too positive for the organisers of the X Prize Cup event either.
At last year’s X Prize Cup we were demo’d a sort of heads up display like virtual racing track and it was pretty cool. One wonders, what went wrong?
Talking of getting it wrong, you may have seen various media reports about the European Galileo satellite navigation programme. What has struck me is how wrong so much of the reporting has been.
Talking about the European Union (EU) taking over Galileo or radical changes to the funding arrangements being demanded by industry are wide of the mark. Expect more accurate updates on the Galileo situation on flightglobal.com early next week.
In the meantime let’s get our basic facts straight about this private public partnership project.
Galileo’s assets are owned by the European GNSS Supervisory Authority (GSA), a public body that is a EU community agency. The GSA owns Galileo, while the private bit of this, the Galileo Operating Company (GOC) only manages it. The EU doesn’t need to take over Galileo.
Yes the private part of this PPP was to provide two thirds of the funding for the project but talk of the European taxpayer picking up the entire tab is also wide of the mark. Earlier this year a number of studies were set up and what is happening this week is the presentation of what those studies’ results have suggested. In EU politics the European Commission proposes ideas to the real powers that be, the national governments of the EU member states and the European Parliament. They together will decide what happens next.
So let’s everyone settle down and not claim that either the GOC industrial consortium will be scrapped or that the taxpayer will have to shoulder the full financial burden. They maybe options, but the real-politik of this process is yet to bring a definitive end to this, wobble, that is probably going to delay the project for a couple more years, but not kill it.
Finally Wally Schirra, another member of an extraordinary generation has left us to make the ultimate journey that is truly beyond. Godspeed Wally. He is an astronaut I never met but from those who did and knew him well he was an astronaut’s astronaut, he had the right stuff and then some, and the fact that he is the only one of the original seven to fly Mercury, Gemini and Apollo proves it. For a great comment on Schirra and what his Original Seven meant to so many, Aviation Week’s senior spaceflight editor Frank Morring’s blog entry is a good read.

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