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US Space Explorers Need Not Be Human

From Aviationweek.com-

Now that the shuttle fleet is permanently grounded, the U.S. space spotlight could shift toward the path-breaking astronomical science that NASA does without human beings on board.

Human spaceflight has historically grabbed most of the public’s attention and NASA’s budget, but robotic probes and observatories have brought the biggest leaps toward understanding the cosmos, from roaming around Mars to looking billions of years back in time to see how galaxies are born.

There was a symbolic torch-passing moment this week, when shuttle astronauts visited the White House to collect kudos from President Barack Obama for the 30-year shuttle program that ended on July 21.

At the same time, NASA announced a probe of the asteroid Vesta, a look into the dark heart of a galaxy and the upcoming launch of a spacecraft headed for Jupiter.

The proposed NASA budget for fiscal 2012 allots more than $8 billion for manned spaceflight, compared to some $5 billion for space science, and that’s without any U.S. human-rated space vehicle in immediate prospect. Astronauts will hitch rides on the smaller Russian Soyuz capsules to get to the International Space Station through 2020.

Americans on Mars? Maybe by 2035. But robotic rovers have been rolling across the Martian surface since 2004…

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NASA Spacecraft Data Suggest Water Flowing on Mars

From JPL/Nasa-

Observations from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have revealed possible flowing water during the warmest months on Mars.

“NASA’s Mars Exploration Program keeps bringing us closer to determining whether the Red Planet could harbor life in some form,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said, “and it reaffirms Mars as an important future destination for human exploration.”

Dark, finger-like features appear and extend down some Martian slopes during late spring through summer, fade in winter, and return during the next spring. Repeated observations have tracked the seasonal changes in these recurring features on several steep slopes in the middle latitudes of Mars’ southern hemisphere.

“The best explanation for these observations so far is the flow of briny water,” said Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona, Tucson. McEwen is the principal investigator for the orbiter’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) and lead author of a report about the recurring flows published in Thursday’s edition of the journal Science…

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Cool Pic from Space Station

From Space.com-

NASA’s shuttle Atlantis and the eerie green glow of the Southern Lights serve as a dazzling sight in a new photo snapped by astronauts from the International Space Station.

The photo was taken Thursday (July 14) by an astronaut on the space station during NASA’s final shuttle mission, the STS-135 flight of Atlantis.

The image offers a panoramic view of Atlantis, the space station and the Earth as the two linked spacecraft soared in orbit at about 17,500 mph.

“Aurora Australis or the Southern Lights can be seen on Earth’s horizon and a number of stars are visible also,” NASA officials said in a photo description. The image’s long exposure led to streaks in Earth’s clouds, giving it a sense of speed…

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What’s the Deal with NASA Out, NSEA In?

A few days ago, former New Mexico Senator and ex-Apollo astronaut Harrison Schmitt made the news with his proposal to replace NASA with a new agency, the National Space Exploration Administration (NSEA).

What’s this about?

According to his website, the charter for NSEA is:

Provide the People of the United States of America, as national security and economic interests demand, with the necessary infrastructure, entrepreneurial partnerships, and human and robotic operational capability to settle the Moon, utilize lunar resources, scientifically explore and settle Mars and other deep space destinations, and, if necessary, divert significant Earth-impacting objects.

Link to his website and a full explanation…

This is all interesting stuff and a lot to read. There is even a collection of his articles about this with a forward by Michael Griffin.

Reading between the lines, this guy wants NASA out of the climate research business. He would just scrap NASA and replace it with something that won’t be in the climate business at all.

From Sourcewatch.org-

Schmitt is a climate change skeptic who does not believe that “the human effect [of climate change] is significant compared to the natural effect.” He also contends that climate change skeptics “are being intimidated” if they disagree with the idea that burning fossil fuels has increased carbon dioxide levels, temperatures and sea levels. Schmitt spoke at the International Conference on Climate Change (2009), hosted by the conservative think tank, the Heartland Institute. His critics point out that his affiliation with the Annapolis Center for Science-Based Public Policy, an organization that received more than $860,000 in funding from oil giant ExxonMobil in 1998, somewhat discredits his statements about climate change. He is also a member of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, one of the last scientific organizations to accept the tenets of global warming.
In 2009 Harrison Schmitt submitted a paper to NASA which claimed the Earth was cooling. It included the claim that Arctic sea ice had returned to 1989 levels of coverage. It has been widely debunked as an absurd piece of cherry picking…

[Fun quote]
…Environmentalists are communists…

Full story…

Here is a link to the full PDF of “Space Policy and the Constitution…

The PDF is worth downloading and reading. It would be a shame if this is really just about a climate change deniers kook agenda. Read and make your own conclusions.


SETI Taking a Budget Nap-What Would Sagan Say?

If ET gives Earth a call, It won’t even get a dial tone right now. What would Carl Sagan say?

From Universtoday-

SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence has suffered a big blow. The primary alien search engine –the Allen Telescope Array (ATA) in northern California — has been shut down due to budget woes. In a letter last week, the CEO of the SETI Institute, Tom Pierson told donors that in the ATA has been put into “hibernation,” — a safe mode of sorts, where “the equipment is unavailable for normal observations and is being maintained in a safe state by a significantly reduced staff.”

The ATA has been in hibernation since April 15, with the equipment put in a safe configuration so that it
stays ready to be turned back on should the SETI Institute find new sources of funding…

Full story…


Better Not Give Those Pesky Climate Guys Any More Money…

“POLAR ICE LOSS: PICKING UP THE PACE,” on news.discovery.com-


Glaciologists for a few years now have been zeroing in on one of the biggest subjects of uncertainty in the 2007 United Nations climate report — the rate of future sea level rise and the melting of the planet’s ice. Now an 18-year study published in Geophysical Research Letters provides some answers.

Together, Greenland and Antarctica, are adding an average of 475 billion tons (2.2 trillion pounds) of water to the oceans, compared to 402 billion tons by mountain glaciers, the research team reports, and the ice sheet pace is accelerating at the rate of 36.3 billion tons a year.

Here is how lead author Eric Rignot of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of California in Irvine, describes the findings in a statement released by JPL:

“That ice sheets will dominate future sea level rise is not surprising — they hold a lot more ice mass than mountain glaciers. What is surprising is this increased contribution by the ice sheets is already happening. If present trends continue, sea level is likely to be significantly higher than levels projected by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007. Our study helps reduce uncertainties in near-term projections of sea level rise…”

Full story…

See also newsy.com…

More detail on nasa.gov…


Climate Science Setbacks, Crashes and Bad Attitudes

It must be tough to be working in climate science right now. The recent failure of a $424 million Glory satellite to monitor aerosols and the sun’s power that crashed into the ocean was bad enough, but the science is getting hammered by politicians in Washington that are uncomfortable with what climate science is discovering.

The $424 million Glory satellite to monitor aerosols and the sun’s power plunged into the Pacific on Friday shortly after launch, just two years after a similar satellite to study carbon dioxide in the atmosphere met the same fate.

“The loss of the Glory satellite is a tragedy for climate science,” said Bruce Wielicki, senior scientist for earth science at NASA’s Langley Research Center.

“The time to heal a lost space mission is typically three to seven years depending on budgets and how many spare parts remain from the last instrument builds,” he said.

Both NASA and the rocket maker, Orbital Sciences Corp, have launched investigations into why the protective nose-cone, or fairing, failed to separate, weighing down the satellite and preventing it from reaching orbit.
“It’s not like we have spares on the shelf,” said Glory program scientist Hal Maring, adding that the advanced instruments on board would have offered detailed data in an area that desperately needs more study.

“The effect of aerosols is the place where our uncertainty is greatest in terms of being able to understand and predict climate,” he told AFP.
Perhaps that’s why the loss hurts most, because Glory “was directed very specifically at the place where our knowledge was weakest,” he said.
Glory’s crash came just hours after NASA administrator Charles Bolden finished two days of testimony before lawmakers, defending the US space agency’s plans for the future of human spaceflight and climate science.
President Barack Obama’s 2012 budget, which has yet to be approved by Congress, calls for a 25 percent increase in NASA’s budget for earth science, bringing the total to $1.8 billion of NASA’s overall $18.7 billion budget.

But some Republicans, who hold a majority in the House of Representatives, want to see NASA give up climate science so it can focus on returning astronauts to space once the 30-year-old shuttle program ends later this year…

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Fossils of Cyanobacteria in CI1 Carbonaceous Meteorites

Here’s something you don’t see every day…

Dr. Hoover has discovered evidence of microfossils similar to Cyanobacteria, in freshly fractured slices of the interior surfaces of the Alais, Ivuna, and Orgueil CI1 carbonaceous meteorites. Based on Field Emission Scanning Electron Microscopy (FESEM) and other measures, Dr. Hoover has concluded they are indigenous to these meteors and are similar to trichomic cyanobacteria and other trichomic prokaryotes such as filamentous sulfur bacteria. He concludes these fossilized bacteria are not Earthly contaminants but are the fossilized remains of living organisms which lived in the parent bodies of these meteors, e.g. comets, moons, and other astral bodies. The implications are that life is everywhere, and that life on Earth may have come from other planets…

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Nasawatch doesn’t think too much of this story, check out the Nasawatch entry and comments…