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America’s Space Program Struggles for Direction

Posted by venkatramseo on July 20, 2009

NASA_MOON_RocketForty years after astronauts set foot on the moon, America’s space program is struggling to find important leadership, clear-cut goals and consistent public support.

Despite a flurry of celebrations commemorating the July 1969 lunar landing of Apollo 11 and a pledge from President Barack Obama, a self-explained space geek, to reinvigorate the agency, U.S. manned space efforts remain in limbo. Federal budget constraints threaten to scuttle the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s current plans to spend more than $70 billion to build a new generation of rockets and space capsules to return to the moon after 2020. While alternate proposals promise lower costs and fewer technical risks, they continue to spark disputes with industry and government officials’ intent on protecting incumbent contractors.

NASA mission-missionNASA has been drifting and no longer “is the inspiration of a nation,” said Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, the Democratic chairman of the import, Science and Transportation Committee that oversees NASA. As part of the drive to make the agency’s mission more relevant, the White House is widely estimated to focus greater efforts on environmental issues.

Meanwhile, China, Russia, Japan, India and various European countries are beating to take the lead. “We’re going to have to get used to seeing strangers in the sky,” futurist Alvin Toffler told a space symposium earlier this year.

New NASA administrator Charles Bolden, a retired astronaut and Marine Corps major general with strong ties to the aerospace establishment, said last week that unless the U.S. reignites public excitement about space and shores up its technological leadership, it will cede the lead to other countries “working vigilantly to push the frontiers of space.”

U.S. military brass stress the significance to national security of maintaining space supremacy in order to protect troops, safeguard satellite communication links and deter enemies from contemplating hostile acts in the heavens.

Apollo_historic_lunar_landingBut for all the talk about charting a new course for NASA, it appears increasingly mired in a following free-for-all, with contractors, lawmakers, interest groups and even parts of the Pentagon maneuvering to advantage from possible program changes. With so much in flux, once-settled disputes are being fought again and old rivalries are flaring up.

Looking beyond lunar missions, industry officials fret about NASA’s commitment to search the rest of the solar system. “I’m not seeing … strong statements about going on to Mars,” said Brewster Shaw, who oversees Boeing’s manned space programs.

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Space Shuttle ready for Mission to Hubble

Posted by venkatramseo on May 12, 2009

space-shuttle1 For nearly 20 years the Hubble Space Telescope has kept its orbiting eye trained on the universe and with the launch of space shuttle Atlantis to repair the aging instrument, scientists’ hope it will continue to provide important discoveries. Atlantis is the fifth and last mission to repair Hubble. In Photo: This 2008 image from the Hubble Space Telescope, provided by NASA, shows a remnant from a supernova or star explosion, which looks like it’s a giant ribbon.

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The Atlantis crew will undertake five spacewalks, adding two new instruments, repairing two others and replacing other hardware in frequently delicate operations. In Photo: Space shuttle’s Atlantis, left, and Endeavour are shown on their launch pads at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Friday, April 17, 2009. Endeavour will stand by at pad 39B in the unlikely event that a rescue mission is necessary during space shuttle Atlantis’ upcoming mission to upgrade NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

space-shuttle3Hubble made the first measurements of gases in the atmosphere of a planet in another solar system and found evidence that raw materials for planet formation are very common. In Photo: This 2007 image, released by NASA for the Hubble Space Telescope’s 17th anniversary, shows a region of star birth and death in the Carina Nebula looking much like an abstract painting. The nebula contains at least a dozen brilliant stars that are 50 to 100 times the mass of our Sun, according to the NASA description.

space-shuttle4Since its launch in 1990, Hubble has helped scientists to place the age of the universe at 13.7 billion years, learn that black holes are at the centre of most galaxies, monitor planetary formation and discover that the universe is expanding at an ever-faster pace. In Photo: FILE – This composite file photo released by NASA Nov. 2, 1995, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope on April 1, 1995, shows dark pillar-like structures which are actually columns of cool interstellar hydrogen gas and dust and also incubators of new stars in the Eagle Nebula. The color image is constructed from three separate images taken in the light from different types of atoms. Red shows emission from sulfur atoms, green from hydrogen, and blue from oxygen, according to NASA, which calls the photo Pillars of Creation.

space-shuttle5 NASA has dispatched space shuttle crews to repair and upgrade Hubble four times since it was put into orbit in 1990. But Atlantis’ mission is the first since the 2003 Columbia accident, which changed the way NASA did business. In Photo: STS-125 crew members, from left, Mission Specialists Megan McArthur, Michael Good, Pilot Greg Johnson, Commander Scott Altman, and Mission Specialists John Grunsfeld, Michael Massimino, and Andrew Feustel, pose for a photo Friday May 8, 2009 at the Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility in Cape Canaveral, Fla. The seven astronauts are making final preparations for Monday’s planned launch on the space shuttle Atlantis and a 12-day mission that includes the fifth and final servicing of the Hubble Space Telescope.

space-shuttle6The risky mission to repair Hubble has been plagued by delays, with NASA indefinitely postponing it because of problems with the orbiting telescope’s mechanisms. In Photo: FILE – In this Feb. 15, 1997 file photo provided by NASA Astronaut Steven Smith works at the end of the space shuttle’s remote manipulator system as he performs maintenance on the Hubble Space Telescope during a space walk. The backdrop is a portion of Australia along the Earth’s curve. Three experienced Hubble Space Telescope fliers are on shuttle Atlantis’ seven-person crew, scheduled to launch Monday, May 11, 2009 after a seven-month delay, will service the Hubble Space Telescope.

space-shuttle7NASA reluctantly scheduled the service mission under pressure from space enthusiasts who were alarmed at the prospect that Hubble would shut down for years until the planned 2011 launch of a successor, the James Webb Space Telescope. In Photo: FILE – This 2004 image provided by NASA shows what the space agency scientists call the Hubble Ultra Deep Field. In this composite image, the Hubble Space Telescope looks the farthest we can into the universe, capturing light from 13 billion years ago when the universe was only 700 million years old.

space-shuttle8NASA set up the International Space Station as an emergency shelter for shuttle astronauts whose spaceship may be too damaged to attempt the return flight through Earth’s atmosphere for landing. In Photo: FILE – This 2004 image provided by NASA shows what the space agency scientists call the Hubble Ultra Deep Field. In this composite image, the Hubble Space Telescope looks the farthest we can into the universe, capturing light from 13 billion years ago when the universe was only 700 million years old. (AP Photo/NASA, File)

space-shuttle9NASA resurrected the telescope during its first servicing mission in 1993 with corrective optics. Repairs and upgrades followed about every three years. In Photo: This image provided by NASA Tuesday April 21, 2009 shows a peculiar system of galaxies known as Arp 194. This interacting group contains several galaxies, along with a “cosmic fountain” of stars, gas, and dust that stretches over 100,000 light-years. The most striking feature of this galaxy troupe is the impressive blue stream of material extending from the northern component.

space-shuttle10Hubble’s first images of the universe were a blurry, $1.6-billion disappointment. In Photo: FILE – This 2006 composite image provided by NASA shows thousands of stars forming in the cloud of gas and dust known as the Orion nebula, as viewed by the Hubble Space Telescope. More than 3,000 stars of various sizes appear in this image assembled from 100 different images sent back by the Hubble Space Telescope. The original Hubble pictures are black and white photos, which are then carefully colorized.

space-shuttle11NASA resurrected the telescope during its first servicing mission in 1993 with corrective optics. Repairs and upgrades followed about every three years. In Photo: FILE – This 2003 image from the Hubble telescope, provided by NASA, shows a storm of turbulent gases in the Omega/Swan nebula.

space-shuttle12 The U.S. space shuttle Atlantis is poised for launch on Monday on an 11-day mission to refurbish the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope for a fifth and final time. In Photo: The sun sets on the space shuttle Atlantis Sunday May 10, 2009 at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. With a forecast of near-perfect weather, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope scientists and managers were euphoric as they awaited Monday’s planned launch of shuttle Atlantis on the final trip to the orbiting observatory.

space-shuttle14 Hubble’s observations have been important in all areas of astronomical research including the still-unexplained discovery that the universe is expanding at an increasingly faster rate and that galaxies formed quite early after the Big Bang explosion that created the universe 13.7 billion years ago. In Photo: FILE – These 1994 file images provided by NASA, show how the same galaxy core, M100, was viewed, left, by the Hubble telescope before it was repaired in 1993. At right, viewed with the Wide Field Planetary Camera-2, which is being replaced in the May 2009 Atlantis mission, the same galaxy core appears much sharper after the initial fix.

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The risky mission to repair Hubble has been plagued by delays, with NASA indefinitely postponing it because of problems with the orbiting telescope’s mechanisms. In Photo: FILE – In this Feb. 15, 1997 file photo, astronaut Steven Smith works at the end of the space shuttle Discovery’s remote manipulator system as he performs maintenance on the Hubble Space Telescope during a space walk. The giant telescope sits in the shuttle’s cargo bay. The backdrop is a portion of Australia along the Earth’s curve.

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