The U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee received expert evidence as they discussed which destination man should make its first port of call on its way to the planets. Currently NASA and the Obama Administration is promoting a plan to capture a small asteriod which would be brought back to the Earth/Moon system using an unmanned spacecraft. Once there a manned mission would be sent to it to take samples. NASA has allocated $105 million to examine the technologies needed. But detractors of this idea say that the Moon would be a much better interim choice for manned exploration.
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ANALYSIS: NASA Manned lunar return is probably a better choice than asteroid capture say space experts – and they are probably right
US President Barack Obama has formally made his Fiscal Year 2014 budget request for NASA. At $17.7 billion investment the budget is largely unchanged in cash terms from 2012 levels and is $1 billion higher than the 2013 budget, but taking inflation into account, it still still represents a decline. The plan, which assumes that the sequestration limits will no longer be in effect, commits to continuing with the the Orion space capsule and its SLS heavy lift booster rocket programmes, and contributing towards the final development of the James Webb Space Telescope, leading to its planned launch in 2018.
Following on from the success of its Kepler mission in descovering planets, NASA has selected the TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) mission for construction and then launch in 2017. Orbital Sciences Corporation has been awarded a contract to construct the spacecraft which will be equiped with wide-angle optical telescopes which will monitor any decrease in stellar brightness which is a signature clue that a planet has just passed in front of a star. The spacecraft will be operated from an elliptical orbit around Earth and have a two year lifespan.
NASA astronaut Kevin Ford and Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin were successfully landed aboard the Soyuz TMA-06M spacecraft at 0305 GMT on 16 March near Arkalyk in Kazakhstan. The landing took place a day late after a snow storm had delayed their landing from the day before. Even on the landing day, snow made it difficult for some of the rescue helicopters to reach the capsule. The night previously, the capsule had undocked from the International Space Station at 2343 GMT on 15 March.
The recent “sequestration” of US government funding has led to some emergency travel funding cuts at NASA. For while the US Congress is intent on continuing the funding of key programmes such as the Space Launch System (SLS) or that developing a commercial crew launch capability, and passing emergency legislation to that effect, the same cannot be said for other funding at NASA. As a result, NASA Administrator, Major-General Charles Bolden has sent out an edict noting that only very necessary travel would be allowed for NASA’s managers, scientists and engineers and those of their contractors.
Mars once had fresh water, the right energy gradients and chemicals to support life say NASA scientists
According to NASA scientists, an analysis of a rock sample collected by NASA’s Curiosity rover shows that ancient Mars could have supported living microbes. Data returned by the rover’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) and Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instruments. allowed scientists to identifiy sulphur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon -some of the key chemical ingredients for life – in the powder Curiosity drilled out of a sedimentary rock at the Yellowknife Bay ancient stream bed in Gale Crater on the Red Planet last month.
Following a one day delay due to a fault with SpaceX Dragon CRS-2 thruster system, on 3 March, the Dragon CRS-2 unmanned cargo freighter was grappled by the robot arm at 1051GMT a linked up with the ISS’s Harmony module at 1356 GMT. This fulfills the terms of its cargo delivery contract with NASA. The thruster issue, which reported knocked out three out of four thruster pods on Dragon CRS 2, has now been fixed. A blockage in helium pressurant line to the oxidiser tank had caused low pressure which only allowed one pod of thrusters (out of four) to be used. The blockage was removed by cycling a valve to cycle the pressure. This managed to clear the blockage.
While Neil Armstrong would probably not approve, by act of Congress, he has had his name replace aeronautical engineeer Hugh Dryden on the name plate of the Dryden Flight Research Center in California. This will thus henceforth be called the Neil Armstrong Research Center. Dryden, an aeronautical engineer instrumental in getting President John F. Kennedy to commit to going to the Moon, will now have the surrounding test range named after him.
NASA investigatators investigating the Taurus XL launch failure carrying its Glory environmental monitoring mission disclosed that the fairing nose cone did not separate due to its rail not breaking as planned. However, they could not work out why this happened. The full story is available here:
While NASA is already helping Boeing with its inquiry into how and why Boeing 787 aircraft batteries have been over heating recently, the rocket-to-electric car entrepreneur who leads both SpaceX and Tesla Motors, Elon Musk has given his opinion to Flightglobal about why, in his view, the lithium-ion batteries used on the Boeing 787 are fundementally unsafe. Musk notes that the cells are too large and not protected enough to not get into runaway overheating state.
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