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Opinion

Space 2.0

CopenhagenSuborbitalsTriggered by the Space 2.0 LinkedIn group I wrote this blog post, investigating what 2.0 means in space exploration. It is interesting to see the 2.0-hype spread over all aspects of society these days. It is being used for anything slightly futuristic, regardless whether it is really something new. And with the widespread of the term 2.0, newer developments are now slated 3.0 or even higher. So what is ‘Space 2.0′ really?

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The Future of the James Webb Space Telescope

JWST

Image credit: NASA

Greetings Space Tweeps,

I just wanted to drop a quick line for all to see concerning the fate of the James Webb Space Telescope. JWST promises much for the field of Astronomy and science in general. It will be able to see far earlier into the history of the universe than ever before, provide help in examining extrasolar planets, and bring humanity answers (and indeed more questions) about our reality. Most importantly, it will provide science jobs, research and inspiration right here in the US of A. While its goals are noble, there is controversy about its cost. NASA has addressed the budgeting issue and put JWST back on track. Nevertheless, on Nov 18 2011, the US House of Representatives will be voting on that funding.

If it is of interest to you to #saveJWST then please see this link for more information. Also check out #saveJWST, #3×10, and #write4flight hashtags on Twitter.

If you do not support the telescope, then feel free to ignore this post. I do not wish to discuss the merits of JWST here. This is just a friendly reminder that you can do something to #savethistelescope .

Science and space travel are humanity’s two most important assets. The more people know about what NASA does the better off humanity will become.

@neoteotihuacan (#NASATweetup @NASAJPL alum May 6 2011)

The Ties the Bind, Part 2: Memories of Tucson in the Aftermath of Tragedy

I lived in the Tucson area for a number of years, long ago. Too long. I still miss it terribly. Back then, residents often thought of it as America’s largest small town. I guess it still is. Two thousand miles distant and decades later (give or take), the awful events of this past weekend, beyond the sadness and heartbreak we’ve all shared, have come with so many reminders of my time there, ties that personalize this tragedy for me in so many ways. Watching the reporting on TV, I can’t help think and feel “I know these places, these people; they’re a part of me.”

It happens that the very area where the shootings occurred has, ironically, had a very special place in my heart. My telescope (a vintage 1978 Celestron 8″) had its “first light” there — in a good friend’s backyard less than two miles almost due north of the Safeway where the shootings occurred. I (along with my telescope) would pass through Safeway’s intersection at Ina and Oracle roads many times on my way there. Before this event, if you’d asked me what comes to mind about that area of Tucson, I’d have said, “That’s where I first saw Saturn’s rings and the Ring Nebula!”

That friend was, at the time, the baseball coach at Canyon Del Oro high school. I went to some of their games. I just read 9 year-old victim Christina Taylor Green was in the Canyon Del Oro little league. I wonder if she ever played on that same field or attended any of their games, too?

Federal Judge John Roll, also killed in the attack, was in law school at the University of Arizona while I was starting as an undergraduate. He later taught there, so our years there may have overlapped quite a bit. I can’t help wonder if we ever crossed paths on campus, at the student union, or the library, or a football game, perhaps even a class? Perhaps we shook hands at Mass? I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

For a two-year span during my time as a student at the U of A, the first thing I would see when I opened my door was University Medical Center (UMC), just a block away, separated only by, what was then, a dirt parking lot. At first, seeing it so often both haunted and yet tugged at me. I had spent some rather painful times as a child as a long-term patient in hospitals in New York. I was reminded of them each time I looked over at UMC. I couldn’t help wonder if there was anyone there, especially kids, going through what I went through. So, I gave in — I wound up becoming a volunteer there, in Peds (pediatrics). I was happy helping treat the one sickness I was actually qualified to treat, despite not having any formal medical training: hospital-induced homesickness.Seeing this same hospital on the news these past few days has brought back dozens of memories of some very special people and moments there I’d long forgotten — patients, nurses, staff. I remember feeding a young girl, perhaps seven years old. She spoke Spanish; I didn’t. She was blindfolded by bandages and couldn’t see.How could I tell her the cream of wheat I was about to feed her was hot? I pressed her finger against the bowl.She nodded. Now, each time I see Dr. Peter Rhee and the staff briefing the media on the condition of Congresswoman Giffords and the other victims, I can’t help but feel some pride that I was once part of the UMC family, however minor and briefly.

Sunday night, flipping from one news program to another, I happened upon Katie Couric introducing a segment involving an interview with someone from the U of A. I was thinking “can’t be anyone I’d know.” It’s a big school, and many years had passed. But as this face appeared on screen, I could feel areas of my brain, long dormant, sputtering to life, then flaring with a sense of recognition. Seconds before the voice-over introduced him or any caption appeared, I smiled and blurted out loud, “That’s Tom Volgy!,” recognizing the face of an old friend again, right there on my TV. He was one of my government professors. During one semester, perhaps my favorite class, we did a simulation of international relations, where the class played different roles. He played God — I was Jerry Ford.

Speaking of Jerry Ford, I read this morning about President Obama traveling to Tucson. Even that news brought back a memory, this one of opening my door one morning (again facing UMC), looking to the northwest horizon and seeing a 707 slowly transform into Air Force One as it got closer — the first time I’d ever seen Air Force One — on approach to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base … with the real Gerald Ford on board. The color and paint scheme, with the presidential seal, all sostately and dignified,the engines roaring — I still remember the chills it gave me. I can’t watch or read the coverage of this horrible event without some fond memory firing up.

No, I don’t actually know any of the victims in the Tucson shooting. Like most of you, I knew Congresswoman Giffords only as @ShuttleCDRKelly’s wife (which, I regret to admit I had to be reminded of — a genuine “OMG” moment). But I sure feel like I know these people. Tucson does that to you.As the husband of one victim at today’s medical briefing said, “That’s Tucson.” In fact, seeing so much of it on TV these past few days, I feel like I just left. They are good people, they did not deserve this, and they have all my love, respect, and prayers. I’m proud to say I was once one of them. If I’m lucky, perhaps, someday, maybe I’ll be again.

Go Cats!

NASAssary

While the debate goes on about what NASA should do and what it should let private companies do and use as a shelf product, I came up with the term to describe things NASA need to do by themselves rather than letting others – NASAssary 

Full details on Spacepirations - http://www.spacepirations.com/2010/10/nasassarry.html

So, is a heavy-lift NASAssary? How about propellant-depots?

My Crazy Idea for the Last Shuttle Launch

    The shuttle is a igniter. Every member
of the Space Tweep Society knows that personally, I see your
excitement and passion dripping the the brilliant content produced by
this community. Stunning photographs, amazing songs and heart filled
essays all stand as proof of our passion. I can see yet more people,
outside our community, filled with the same spirit. I was amazed to
see the number of views on SpaceVidCast hours before the launch of
STS-132, I was encouraged by the conversations I had at the AIAA’s
DBF contest, students who all seemed to be answering the same call
broadcasted by the shuttle. The shuttle is simply a match that
lights up the passions of people everywhere.

    Let us return the favor.

    Let us give the shuttle a proper
goodbye by igniting it. Let us carry a torch through every site and
every town that produced, designed, tested, maintained or cheered for
the shuttle. Let this torch be carried by every person who the
shuttle has ignited. This torch should be the firing switch for the
last STS mission, we should light a fuse with it that sends our hopes,
dreams and wishes for the space program into the future. With this
last shuttle let every person see what the shuttle has done for us.
Let us ignite whoever the shuttle hasn’t reached with this torch.
Yes, this idea is copied from the Olympics, but the message is
important enough that it must be seen.

    So, that’s my crazy idea. Are you in?

50 Years of Innovation Down the Drain

As we all know, President Obama released his fiscal year 2011 budget, much to our dismay.  In all honesty, there are plenty of advantages and disadvantages to the budget, but most of us are still not happy.  I for one, being an educator and a student, am really not happy at the path that is being taken.  To put it simply, the United States of America has lost their lead in space.


The big achievement and inspiration for our space program in the 1960s and 1970s was the success of the Apollo program and achieving President John F. Kennedy’s goal.  I wish Obama would have the same inspiration and dedication to our space program as Kennedy did before.  If the public isn’t interested to start with, how can you expect a program to survive?


NASA’s constellation program was to hopefully be that driving force that would give Americans the inspiration that Kennedy did in the 1960s.  Now, the program is cancelled. So, what is going to be our new driving force? Getting rid of your only manned space program was not the smartest idea I’ve ever seen. Plus, there are a few other negatives to that:

  1. You have already invested over $9 billion dollars in the program since 2004 when President George W Bush made his announcement regarding the end of the shuttle program and the new goal to go back to the moon or onto mars, which became NASA’s platform from then on
  2. You are now getting rid of nearly 20,000 jobs of people working on this program, not including those who had worked on the space shuttle before its announced retirement. If the big concern was creating jobs, then why did you just destroy so many?
  3. Upon eliminating another program for NASA, you’re also eliminating the possibility of learning new things and gaining new spinoffs that could develop from this program. If people only realized their prescious cell phones, solar panels, light-weight metal alloys, digital wrist watches, pace maker, artificial knees and hips, satellite radio, etc. came from these programs, maybe they’d give it a second thought.

Now you can see from above why I’m not to thrilled about this plan. What is our new way of supposedly creating new jobs? According to our president and NASA administrator Charlie Bolden, making space privatized opens up more new jobs. Does it open up some? Yes indeed, and any job available in this day and age is a good job, but it’s still fewer jobs than before. Plus, NASA’s manned space program will basically cease to exist onboard our own rockets. From now on, we just provide the men and the training for the private companies and little tips and tricks on what to do.


There are certainly a few positive aspects to this proposed budget which I am grateful for (See, this post isn’t all negative). First, I am very glad at their increase in their funds for NASA’s education program. Anything is helpful, and if we can inspire our newest generation to think about space and pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), then we may just yet be able to save our space program in the future.


I am also grateful for their announcements of keeping funding for unmanned missions such as continuing Hubble as well as more Mars spacecraft. It’s great and I can’t wait to see what they bring back, but that vehicle landing on Mars should, in my opinion, be soon containing humans, but with no more constellation, if it happens, it won’t be NASA. Plus, the ISS will be extended to 2020. We’ll be relying on a Russian Soyuz and private craft, but the science that the station was intended for can finally be the focal point of its existence.


Where NASA will go next has also yet to be announced. It seems that their focus is only on unmanned exploration. There are still the options laid out by the Augustine Commission, such as the Flexible Path, which most people thought was being implemented as soon as the mention of the cancellation of Constellation arose. That has yet to be announced, and if it does ever get announced, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be under this President and this administration.


Overall, I must say to put it simply in a conclusion, cancelling our manned spaceflight program is the equivalent of taking the brightest brains in the United States, all of the brilliant inventors, and every child that’s ever dreamed of being an astronaut, and completely getting rid of them. I feel this isn’t the right move for the future. Any lead that the United States had in space just burned up on re-entry.

I can’t pretend like this isn’t affecting me

It’s almost 1 am. I have an STS-131 sim tomorrow. I need to get to sleep. But I can’t stop thinking about everything that happened today and the rumors from last week. I don’t post often. I wanted to post last week when the rumors started but I had a bad dream that someone from work saw it and I got in trouble.

No seriously, I didn’t make that up. I really had that dream. We’ll see how it plays out.

I’ve had more than a few people ask me how I feel about everything. I feel awful. Maybe it’s selfish because I’m worried about my job….maybe this is the best thing for human spaceflight and I just don’t know it yet. I acknowledge that may be true. And I’m 100% behind the more people in space, the better. But what will this do for me personally?  I have no idea.

I have a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Could I get another job? Sure. But I don’t WANT another job. I don’t WANT to move. Since my Dad died in September I need to stay close to my Mom, plus I want to stay at the center of human spaceflight. The only reason I became an engineer was to work at NASA. This has been my passion since I was 7 years old. It’s like a brother or sister to me, as ridiculous as that may sound. My entire life I made decisions based on how they would affect my future with NASA. I did internships. I got certain scholarships. I worked at Space Camp. Whatever I could do….it was all for NASA.  

Then finally one day 6 years ago I got that call and here I am today. I won’t lie to you and say it was all peaches and cream; there were some down times, some stressful times. But right now things are great. I have a great office, I’m in a great training flow, missions are fun, and I wouldn’t trade this in for the world. I am happy going to work everyday. I love my job. How many people can say that?

I have no idea what today’s announcements mean for our future. I’m scared, I’ll say that much. Yeah I’m an engineer but I want to work in the space business. That’s it! It’s my passion, it’s what I do. Without it what am I? It’s something that’s defined me for so long. They called me “Spacegirl” in college because, well, I was obsessed with space. In middle school and high school I did book reports on books about the space program; I really wasn’t interested in much else.

So, here I am, at my dream job. And I love it. And it is as great as I imagined. The problem is it could all go away in 6 months. And that SUCKS. I should be grateful for everything I have been able to experience….and I am, I really am, but it sucks that things are going so well and they may have to end just like that. It’s not fair.  

I don’t know what the answers are, I don’t know where we go from here. I know I have an STS-131 sim tomorrow and I have a big sim on Thursday. I know Sunday morning we launch STS-130 and after that I need to block out any other distractions in my life. It will be hard for sure, but it’s what us steely eyed missile men (and women!) do.

But after that….none of our documented contingency plans work for this situation. Maybe I’ll have a job and maybe I won’t. I just don’t know. It terrifies me to think that I may have to leave this wonderful program that I’ve invested so much time and energy into…it truly is more than just a job. It really could go either way right now…I’m hoping for the best.

JPL scientists fight against HSPD-12

I was thinking about starting this as a forum topic but due to the political nature of the subject I decided it would be better to just include a short personal comment as a foreign observer and basically give the information to those who might not know the situation at JPL. I also understand that those at JPL would be walking on thin ice if they were to make use of social medias like here to publicize their fight. It is not the case for me as a journalist! 

Again, I found in the Federation of American Scientists blog more detailed information that I would have found in mainstream medias. The scientists lawsuit has been going on for more than 2 years and has many implications in terms of civil rights, especially related to the employment of scientists as government contractors. The following gives an overview of what has been going on.

I encourage you to have a look. We talk about the morale of NASA and other scientists as necessary to sustain any long term vision. Here I see scientists who have to divert their attention from science to fight against rebadging and two administrations in a row for their basic right to a minimum of privacy.

Has NASA become PASA (Private)…Que PASA?

Lately, it appears that NASA has been promoting many private companies to reach for the stars. NASA has been giving a lot of attention to the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge (NGLCC) as well as the Space Elevator Games…and oh yeah, STS-129 launches in 2 weeks.

I find it to be great that NASA is promoting the privatized space industry, but when its own programs are struggling on the funding that they are getting, shouldn’t they be focusing on their own problems right now? The Augustine Committee, which met over the summer to discuss options of where NASA should go, has clearly stated that on their current budget, they don’t have enough funding for their Ares I and Ares V rockets, the next generation after the shuttle retires in 2010, to get it off the ground until possibly after they de-orbit the ISS.

Now, I am not saying at all that I don’t believe space travel shouldn’t be privatized so citizens can go into space. In fact, along with spaceflight participant Richard Garriott, who I had the pleasure to talk with on this subject, I agree compeltely that the future should belong to privatized space travel, so that ordinary people can get their chance to feel what it’s like to go into space.

What I am trying to say, though, is that NASA should start focusing on its own issues, between one of its Mars rovers, Spirit, being stuck on the red planet and suffering from occasional spurts of “amnesia”, and the fact that 2010 is the last time the Space Shuttle is supposed to fly, and that we will only have Russia to rely on after that for human spaceflight. Plus, the budget that they are working off of won’t be able to extend the shuttle until 2011 or even continue to get us to the moon by 2020!

So, as great and amazing as these competitions for private space travel are, and as much as I personally support what they’re doing, I think that NASA should stick to their own space program, and leave the private space travel to those who have the budget and the time to devote to it.

Bake Sale for NASA

This song was very much inspired by Space Tweeps and reading NASA’s website while watching the Augustine hearings.  I’m currently making plans to record it as quickly as possible, but at @flyingjenny’s request, I will fill in the gap by posting the lyrics (they were originally posted today at my own blog).

Bake Sale for NASA

We sent men to the moon because of some lines

In a speech that inspires to this day

We learn more about Earth from orbit

Than we can in any other way

Yet we spend and we spend and we spend and we spend

On corporate welfare that will never end

Programs that waste more than they create

Yet we’re happy to let NASA deflate

Chorus:

So let’s hold a bake sale for NASA

Show our love for a program that actually works

The cookies are sure to be out of this world

We could even have astros as clerks

Give folks a chance to learn first-hand

Why we need these adventures in space

How it affects them directly at home

And elevates the whole human race

A very large chunk of what sets us apart

Is our driving need to explore

Humans are best when we’re trying to test

Our limits and find we have more

The more that we learn the less that we know

So further on still we must go

To answer the questions that in the past

We didn’t even know to ask

Chorus:

So let’s hold a bake sale for NASA

Show our love for a program that actually works

The cookies are sure to be out of this world

We could even have astros as clerks

Give folks a chance to learn first-hand

Why we need these adventures in space

How it affects them directly at home

And elevates the whole human race


Bridge:

To turn this whole endeavor over

To private investors and other lands

Would be giving up the greatest power

We have in our nation’s hands

Some skeptics say we should keep funds at bay

Until we have fed everyone

But we produce more food than ever before

Because of what NASA has done

Nearly every invention created for space

On Earth has found a useful place

Saving some lives and improving many more

Like we’ve never seen before

Chorus:

So let’s hold a bake sale for NASA

Show our love for a program that actually works

The cookies are sure to be out of this world

We could even have astros as clerks

Give folks a chance to learn first-hand

Why we need these adventures in space

How it affects them directly at home

And elevates the whole human race

Bridge:

In these days where folks are always trying

To take real science out of schools

We need to step up our efforts

Or become a nation of fools

I could go on for days extolling the ways

Investment in NASA makes sense

But I have only this song to convince those who are wrong

And think it’s a wasteful expense

I will dare to say it’s our greatest success

Less than 1% is hardly excess

In a budget that keeps us all in debt

At least here we can see what we get

Chorus:

So let’s hold a bake sale for NASA

Show our love for a program that actually works

The cookies are sure to be out of this world

We could even have astros as clerks

Give folks a chance to learn first-hand

Why we need these adventures in space

How it affects them directly at home

And elevates the whole human race

Human race

Humans in space!!

Can We Use “The Gap” to Reprioritize?

Ok, so I’m taking my turn and reading the Augustine Commission’s Summary
Report on HSF plans. I got through the first page and was already thinking to
myself, “I have words to say.” So… Maybe this gap might not be such the bad thing
that it’s being made out to be. Perhaps it would be a good time to regroup, and
get the world together in support of our lofty ambitions for the space program.
It’s unanimous among all space enthusiasts that the goal is to push the
envelope beyond LEO, return to the Moon, then tackle Mars. But, when I discuss
these completely achievable plans with others I get doubtful stares—“Mars?” I
wonder about the proportion of people that have no clue that there are people
conducting science in space this very
moment. It is disturbing that shuttle launches, at the very least, are not even
adequately covered! So I think of how realistic it would be to expect the
support of the federal government, the representative of the people of the
country, and the world, and their needs and desires (in theory anyways). Maybe
this is too much of a top-down approach.
    I wish I had some specific suggestions, at the moment, as to where to begin, but I’m just thinking that we should start over at the bottom. We know what we want, but maybe the general public needs to see
some real practicality in space program ambitions, with the state of the
world’s economy as it is. Without this, the plans will never fly. 
    Jumping around a little, science education needs a serious overhaul.
Let’s conquer the world’s problems through promoting science, and thus the space
program. Since there isn’t enough to blast off to Mars right now, let’s dump
lots of money into teaching. While continuing space activity as much as
possible, maybe through unmanned exploration, how can we integrate the public
more in the meantime? No progression can ever be achieved if we don’t continue to explore and
discover the uncharted. I don’t think people consider this regularly. The
world is changing so fast and this is necessary! Children are not being taught
to inquire, create, and to dream big. Before my writing starts to get really fluffy, I’m going to get back to
reading the Augustine report. Be back in a minute…  
    As far as keeping the space program alive, let’s use the commercial
avenue to get people pumped on space. Is that not what drives this country?
Government grants, to promote development of new technology and advances, have
worked before and it can work again! And for the record, I think the ISS should be
kept alive and well for as long as possible. It would be a great tourist stop
if we could work with other countries to get more people into space. To me, it
seems like international partnerships are the way to keep the program going. Japan is on the scene now and I’m sure they won’t be the last ones. I vote them in. China is getting the Amazon I hear, and so they also
want the moon, for fuel. Let’s see what they find, or better yet, let’s work with them.
Ready… Go!
    Oh… what is my point? Ah, long, rambling story short: Mars isn’t going anywhere any
time soon. Let’s take this time and turn it into something good. Let’s grow
lots of great scientists and engineers, and work on a real, robust plan. First
order of business: get some tangible problems for the general public to fester
on, to which space is the only logical solution! Technologically, we may have
the means, but what exactly is the end? I’m ready for comments or
suggestions.

Cash for Clunkers…Does NASA count?

The government has recently announced its plan to give drivers money for cashing in their old, unwanted clunkers of cars for a government rebate check of almost $4500 if you qualify. Well, if the government can hand out money to private citizens to get a new car, why can’t the government give one of its own divisions money to help improve itself? The National Aeronautics and Space Administration back during the Apollo days composed of almost 4% of your taxes! During todays economy, NASA gets less than 1% of your tax dollars. So, should NASA get a government check to keep it going? What is NASA’s next step?


Just recently, it was announced that NASA’s division of NEO, or Near Earth Object, trackers do not have enough money to track all of the asteroids that have a posibility of making an encounter with the Earth too close for comfort. This lack of money causes even greater concerns with manned spaceflight missions. If STS-128 and Shuttle Discovery need to be rolled back to the Vehicle Assembly Building for further External Tank inspections, the launch could be pushed to October, which is the same month where another 900 employees who work on the shuttle program will be laid off. Should we be concerned about this? The obvious and correct answer is “heck yes we should”. Our president knows this and agrees with it, and is finally taking action.


President Barack Obama proposed a committee to examine all of the possible places the manned space program could go, and to come back to him with their decision. This committee became the Augustine Commission, lead by Norman Augustine along with many other large members of the space community, such as Dr. Sally Ride, also the first US woman in space who flew on STS-7. It was stated that each of these meetings must be done in public with the exception of minor factors, and in agreeing with that requirement, traveled to different places in the US holding public meetings regarding whether to remain in Low Earth Orbit, the fate of the ISS, and the benefits of going to the moon or to mars along with many other topics. It was also important that they heard the community, as they ended each session with the public’s comments.


Now, the real question remains…what will the committee’s conclusion be, and will the President along with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden follow through with their recommendations? The best thing for now is that President Obama realizes that space exploration is important, along with peaking interest in Americans by giving them money for their old cars. Now, if only Obama could combine the two, and get public interest in space, while giving good old NASA its own rebate check to follow through on the Augustine Committee’s recommendation, whatever it may be.