Archive for April, 2014
Frank Wolf, a Republican Congressman from Virginia, is not happy with U.S. President Obama’s space agenda, calling for an American return to the Moon.
Speaking April 28 at the Space Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., Wolf said, according to a press statement: “I still believe that our future in space lies in President Kennedy’s call to go to the Moon. This remains as compelling a destination today as it did in the 1960s.”
Wolf said he was “deeply concerned” about the state of NASA’s human spaceflight program and, ultimately, American leadership in space for the 21st century.
“This concern is not because I believe NASA isn’t capable of great things, or because the American people don’t support space exploration,” Wolf said. “My concern is rooted in this administration’s mismanagement of NASA and our relationships with our international partners. Simply put: our exploration program is floundering.”
Asteroid mission: a non-starter
The lawmaker focused some of his remarks on NASA’s drive to forge a plan to retrieve an asteroid.
“The asteroid mission is not worthy of a great nation, and Congress has made it pretty clear that this is a non-starter,” Wolf said.
Wolf reemphasized his backing for a U.S. return to the Moon, telling attendees at the meeting, according to his prepared remarks:
“This is the right thing to do both in terms of reasserting American leadership in space as well as contributing to our ability to go on to Mars,” Wolf said. “That is why I wrote President Obama in December, shortly after the Chinese rover landed on the Moon, urging him to convene a summit to revisit lunar missions, especially in light of steady advances by China. Unfortunately, the administration never responded,” he said.
Wolf said that the Obama White House “doesn’t care about space, and it doesn’t seem to care that it is squandering America’s historical leadership in exploration as others catch up.”
Decisions made in the next year or two, Wolf emphasized, “will likely determine whether the U.S. leads the first return to the Moon or if we will sit by and watch others fill the void left by our absence.”
Note: To read the full text of Wolf’s prepared remarks at the Space Policy Institute, go to:
While busy at work on surveying Mars, the NASA Curiosity rover has done some astronomical viewing too – snagging a first asteroid image from the surface of the Red Planet.
According to Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on the machine has captured a night-sky image that includes two asteroids: Ceres and Vesta, plus one of Mars’ two moons, Deimos – which may have been an asteroid before being captured into orbit around Mars.
The image was taken after nightfall on the 606th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity’s work on Mars (April 20, 2014, PDT).
Always on the lookout, and in other camera pointings the same night, the Mastcam also imaged Mars’ larger moon, Phobos, plus the planets Jupiter and Saturn.
In total, quite the catch!
Meanwhile, the meandering Curiosity rover is also imaging surrounding terrain as it continues its wheeling about Mars.
A “Dear Friend of the Moon” letter is now circulating, aimed at all U.S. and U.S.-based scientists interested in lunar exploration and discovery.
The letter has been issued, in part, in light of comments by NASA at the recently held International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG) meeting in Maryland.
At that meeting, held April 10-11at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, it was stated that “the only place humans can work off planet is on Mars” and “the reason [our international partners] want to go to the Moon is because they haven’t been there.”
That comment has apparently kicked up some lunar dust in the face of leading return to the Moon proponents.
Ignoring the moon
“Sending humans beyond low Earth orbit requires a long term plan. I believe that the Moon is pivotal to this plan in that it is close, it can act as a test bed, and because of the known resources present there, it can stimulate both technological development and create jobs,” says Clive Neal, a lunar expert at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.
“With other nations firmly focused on the Moon as a target for their respective space programs, I feel that we ignore the Moon at our detriment,” Neal explains.
“It would appear that our space program is a low priority in Congress and the Executive branch of our government and as a result, the United States position as a world leader in human space exploration continues to wane since the remarkable achievement of sending humans to the Moon and returning them safely 45 years ago,” Neal adds. “Therefore, I am asking you to write to your congressional representatives urging them to elevate our space program to a high priority.”
One upshot from the return to the Moon push is a letter writing campaign urging supporters to send a letter as soon as possible to U.S. lawmakers “in order that we can try and stop this erosion of our space-faring capabilities and of our leadership role in space exploration.”
A new story from me up on SPACE.com regarding spacecraft that impact the Moon’s Far Side:
‘Graveyard’ on the Moon’s Far Side Welcomes NASA Spacecraft
Prominent astronauts are taking part in a B612 Foundation event today at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Wash. They are spotlighting data showing the surprising frequency at which the Earth is hit by asteroids.
The findings are based on newly released information from the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization, which operates a network of sensors that monitors Earth around the clock listening for the infrasound signature of nuclear detonations.
Between 2000 and 2013, this network detected 26 explosions on Earth ranging in energy from 1 to 600 kilotons — all caused not by nuclear explosions, but rather by asteroid impacts.
While most of these asteroids exploded too high in the atmosphere to do serious damage on the ground, the evidence is important in estimating the frequency of a potential “city-killer-size” asteroid.
“While most large asteroids with the potential to destroy an entire country or continent have been detected, less than 10,000 of the more than a million dangerous asteroids with the potential to destroy an entire major metropolitan area have been found by all existing space or terrestrially-operated observatories,” observes Ed Lu, former U.S. shuttle astronaut and co-founder and CEO of the B612 Foundation.
“Because we don’t know where or when the next major impact will occur, the only thing preventing a catastrophe from a ‘city-killer’ sized asteroid has been blind luck,” Lu noted in a press statement.
The Earth is continuously colliding with fragments of asteroids, the largest in recent times exploding over Tunguska, Siberia, in 1908 with an energy impact of 5-15 megatons.
More recently, is the air bursting event over Chelyabinsk, Russia in 2013. Asteroid impacts greater than 20 kilotons occurred in South Sulawesi, Indonesia, in 2009, in the Southern Ocean in 2004, and in the Mediterranean Sea in 2002.
Important to note about these recent events is that none of these asteroids were detected or tracked in advance by any existing space-based or terrestrial observatory.
The B612 Foundation aims to change that by building the Sentinel Space Telescope Mission, an early warning infrared space telescope for tracking asteroids that would provide many years to deflect an asteroid when it is still millions of miles away.
The B612 Sentinel Mission will be the world’s first privately funded deep space mission that will create the first comprehensive dynamic map of our inner solar system, identifying the current and future locations and trajectories of Earth crossing asteroids.
Sentinel will detect and track more than 200,000 asteroids in just the first year of operation, after a planned launch in 2018.
Joining Lu today to discuss the evidence for 26 atomic bomb scale asteroid impacts since 2000 is former NASA astronaut Tom Jones, President of the Association of Space Explorers and Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders.
Note: Video visualization of these findings, showing the impact size range and location of all 26 explosions can be viewed at:
A listing of all locations and size of impacts with additional FAQs can be found at:
A new story from me posted at SPACE.com:
US Air Force’s Secretive X-37B Space Plane Nears Day 500 in Orbit
By Leonard David, Space.com’s Space Insider Columnist
April 21, 2014 01:21pm ET
China’s “Yutu” moon rover remains in critical condition, according to a recent report in South China Morning Post.
According to the news outlet, there are “last-ditch efforts” to rescue the ailing lunar rover.
Chinese engineers now say a blockage in the rover’s power circuitry is at fault for issues encountered and specialists are looking to bypass the problem. The trouble has meant that the rover’s main driving mechanism cannot be powered up. Yutu – or “Jade Rabbit” — is currently incapable of activating its wheels or solar panels.
Jade Rabbit has been parked on the moon’s surface for more than two months after wheeling across the lunar surface.
The lunar rover’s power supply system was designed and built by the Shanghai Institute of Space Power Sources under the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology.
Despite the robot’s inability to move, scientific gear on the rover, such as cameras, and a ground-penetrating radar are apparently still working, reportedly relaying data back to Earth control.
China’s Chang’e 3 robotic moon lander touched down on December 14, 2013. The one-ton lander later let loose Jade Rabbit that successfully traversed the site, but broke down on January 25.
The hunt for the impact site of NASA’s LADEE mooncraft will be fortified by the high-powered camera system onboard the space agency’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
There is a speculated locale for the spacecraft’s smashing finale – crater Sundman V.
The good news – if indeed LADEE’s final resting spot is in that area – pre-impact imagery of Sundman V is available. Contrasting old and new LRO camera imagery should enable a focus on the crash site.
Word is that LRO won’t be able to train its sharpshooting camera system on the area for several weeks. Moreover, it is not clear if LADEE struck Sundman V on the east side or west side of the crater.
A new NEO story from me – posted today on SPACE.com.
Red Tape Hinders Study of Asteroid Impacts on Earth
By Leonard David, Space.com’s Space Insider Columnist
April 20, 2014 08:00am ET