Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin joined AXE, a personal-grooming brand of Unilever, to announce one of the largest spaceflight contests ever. The Apollo Space Sweepstakes, also known as the AXE Apollo Space Academy, is a worldwide contest that will select 22 citizen astronauts to fly into space on the XCOR Lynx spacecraft.

“Space travel for everyone is the next frontier in the human experience,” said Aldrin, lunar-module pilot for the historic Apollo 11 mission. “I’m thrilled that AXE is giving the young people of today such an extraordinary opportunity to experience some of what I’ve encountered in space.”

[vimeo 57152173 w=700]

AXE, which is known as LYNX in some parts of the world, secured 22 seats aboard the namesake spacecraft through Space Expedition Corporation.

AXE global vice president Tomas Marcenaro said, “The AXE Apollo launch is the biggest and most ambitious in the AXE brand’s 30 year history. For the first time, we’re simultaneously launching one global competition in over 60 countries offering millions of people the opportunity to win the most epic prize on earth: a trip to space Yes, actual space.”

“There’s no bigger hero than an astronaut,” AXE said, “so AXE is giving fans a chance to experience an adventure unlike any other.”

Astronaut candidates can sign up between now and February 3 at AXEApollo.com. Contest rules and terms vary from country to country.

Written by Astro1 on January 9th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration, XCOR Aerospace

The Golden Spike Company has announced that Northrop Grumman will conduct a lunar-lander design study as part of Golden Spike’s “head start” commercial lunar architecture.

During the study, Northrop Grumman will explore a variety of lunar-lander options including staging options, propellants, engines, reusability, autonomy, exploration-system capabilities, and landing sites.

Golden Spike engineering chief James French said the study is one of a number of initial studies which Golden Spike will undertake to begin creating design requirements and specifications for a lunar-lander contract competition.

Golden Spike previously announced United Launch Alliance, Armadillo Aerospace, and Masten Space Systems as members of its lunar-lander team. Northrop Grumman brings additional resources to the table.

Golden Spike chairman Gerry Griffin said, “Northrop Grumman brings a unique body of knowledge and skills as the only company to ever build a successful human-rated lunar lander, the Apollo Lunar Module.” Golden Spike president Dr. Alan Stern said, “We’re very proud to be working with Northrop Grumman, which has the most experience and successful performance record for human lunar lander designs in the world.”

From a technical perspective, the significance of Northrop Grumman’s Apollo lunar-module experience is limited. There are few, if any, members of the Grumman lunar-module team who are still active. From a marketing perspective, however, it still has power.

Northrop Grumman kept its association with lunar landers alive in the public eye when it became the name sponsor for the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge in 2007 — in retrospect, a smart marketing move. We hope that other large aerospace companies will take notice and decide to sponsor similar prize competitions in the future.

Written by Astro1 on January 3rd, 2013 , Citizen Exploration, Commercial Space (General)

In the near future, a trip into space may be comparable in cost to a high-end hunting trip. Big-game hunters now spend up to $125,000 to bag a single male lion in Africa.

That compares to the $97,000-$200,000 which companies like XCOR and Virgin Galactic plan to charge for a suborbital flight.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on December 29th, 2012 , Citizen Exploration

The Smithsonian Institution, the nation’s largest collection of museums, says Americans should stay home. They do not need to travel to Washington, DC and should not plan to visit any of the Smithsonian’s museums.

Okay, they didn’t really say that — but that’s what they would say if they were intellectually consistent.

A recent post on the Smithsonian’s blog makes a Politically Correct argument that Americans should not travel into space:

But why must our species continue to advance? Do we really want to keep growing? I believe that the physical limitations and boundaries of our planet, if not insurmountable by our technology, might be worth respecting. I also believe we should employ our brilliance as a species in figuring out how to live sustainably on this planet, and I would argue that it’s not our business to plunder the natural resources of any other worlds unless we can at least learn to manage and preserve our own—a challenge at which we are failing.

If the Smithsonian wants to stop our species from advancing, putting an end to space travel is a start, but the Smithsonian can do more than that. It should recommend that Americans avoid visiting educational institutions like the Smithsonian. The physical limitations and boundaries of their home states, if not insurmountable by technology, might be worth respecting. Instead of “plundering” the resources of any other states, shouldn’t Americans stay home and use their brilliance to live sustainably in their own towns and villages?

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on December 28th, 2012 , Citizen Exploration

Burt Rutan recently gave a talk at the UP Experience, a one-day creative conference in Houston, during which he offered some useful insights into suborbital spaceflight as an enabler.

Written by Astro1 on November 26th, 2012 , Citizen Exploration, Scaled Composites

In the next few years, citizen space explorers will start to fly in large numbers. When they do, many of them will want to take pictures during their flights. Those who do might want to heed this advice from photo buff and NASA astronaut Don Petit.

Written by Astro1 on November 9th, 2012 , Citizen Exploration

Space Expeditions Curacao (SXC), which is marketing flights in the XCOR Lynx, has produced this video of a spaceflight training flight in an Aero Vodochody L-39 Albatross.  The L-39 is a primary jet trainer developed and produced in Czechoslovakia from 1971 to 1999.

Written by Astro1 on October 30th, 2012 , Citizen Exploration, XCOR Aerospace

Dr. Anna-Lisa Paul, Research Associate Professor in the University of Florida’s Genetics Institute, has joined the Suborbital Applications Researchers Group. She is replacing Dr. Erika Wagner. Dr. Paul has an extensive background in molecular genetics with a specific interest in space research to study adaptive responses in extraterrestrial environments.

Dr. Wagner recently left MIT, where she ran the X-Prize Lab, to become business development manager at Blue Origin. She will also be an affiliate instructor in the new X-Prize Lab at the University of Washington.

Dr. Alan Stern, chairman of the Suborbital Applications Researchers Group, said, “We thank Erika, who has contributed greatly to raising the awareness of how commercial suborbital platforms can be used for research and education, and has helped build this nascent community. We’ll miss Erika’s energy and expertise, but I can think of no better addition to fill her shoes than Dr. Anna-Lisa Paul. Ann-Lisa has broad experience in space-based research in the life sciences area, and her enthusiasm is evident.  I truly look forward to working with her in furthering the research and education potential of these important platforms for science.”

Written by Astro1 on October 30th, 2012 , Citizen Exploration

Felix Baumgartner has raised some hackles with critical comments about NASA’s future aspirations for Mars and Sir Richard Branson’s suggestion that someone might try a higher skydive from SpaceShip Two.

It appears that Baumgartner is already anxious about protecting his legacy.

Baumgartner’s comments are reminiscent of complaints by Sir Edmund Hillary and other pioneering mountaineers about modern climbers paying their way to the summit of Mount Everest.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on October 28th, 2012 , Citizen Exploration

During the 2008 Presidential campaign, an Obama education advisor named Steve Robinson got himself into hot water by suggesting that Americans, especially the younger generation, are no longer inspired by sending humans into space. According to Robinson, young people are more inspired by sending robots into space than sending humans. CNN journalist Miles O’Brien, who was moderating the debate where Robinson appeared, seemed to disagree with him.

The Obama campaign did not stand by those statements, which were later disavowed, but we’ve heard the same argument repeated many times, by various people. Recently, Professor Lawrence Krauss of Arizona State University (probably not a member of the “younger generation”) wrote that he found sending robots more exciting.

In our view, this debate is meaningless. Miles O’Brien asked the wrong question.

It doesn’t matter whether people are excited and inspired by sending humans into space. Very few people are excited and inspired by the idea of sending humans to Paris, Hawaii, or China – but lots of people are excited about going to Paris, Hawaii, or China.

People are not excited when a government employee, who they’ve never met, goes on a business trip to an exotic location. They are excited when they go on a trip to an exotic location.

For 50 years, government space programs have been telling the public that space exploration is important, without ever giving the public the chance to explore space. That is about to change. When it does, there will be no lack of excitement and inspiration.

Written by Astro1 on October 19th, 2012 , Citizen Exploration
Written by Astro1 on October 16th, 2012 , Citizen Exploration

Congratulations go out to Felix Baumgartner (and the Red Bull Stratos team) for his record-setting high-altitude jump.

Baumgartner’s successful jump will help prepare the way for suborbital citizen space exploration. The Stratos team is not only testing out spacesuit technology, which will be extremely important for suborbital flights; it is also helping to set public expectations regarding risk, safety, and regulation of citizen space exploration.

To quote the Federal Aviation Administration, “[FAA regulation of skydiving] is based on the assumption that any individual who chooses to skydive has assessed the dangers involved and assumes personal responsibility for his or her safety. The regulations… are intended to assure the safety of those not involved in the sport, including persons and property on the surface and other users of the airspace. The skydiving community is encouraged to adopt good operating practices and programs to avoid further regulation by the FAA.”

This regulatory model is very close to the “informed consent” model for spaceflight participants created by the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation. Given the inherent risks and training requirements, spaceflight is more akin to skydiving than commercial airline travel. It will remain so for the foreseeable future. The informed consent model, therefore, is a good one. Unfortunately, it’s a model that many in the public and the space enthusiast community do not currently understand. Skydiving is an example we can point to in order to better inform the public.

The space community should also take note of the FAA’s admonition to the skydiving community. The freedom to fly does not come with out a price. We must self-regulate to ensure that best practices are followed for every aspect of operations, including equipment, maintenance, and training. If we fail to do so, we invite increased government regulation that may have negative consequences for the future of the industry.

Written by Astro1 on October 15th, 2012 , Citizen Exploration

As expected, Sarah Brightman has announced that she will be the next citizen explorer to visit the International Space Station. Members of Brightman’s fan community and her newsletter subscribers will receive periodic updates on her training and mission. Those who aren’t members can sign up at sarahbrightman.com.

Some random connections: One of Sarah Brightman’s first (minor) hits was a song called “I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper,” whose title is an obvious homage to Robert Heinlein’s classic novel Starship Troopers. It dates to 1978 and was not a tie-in to Paul Verhoeven’s dreadful 1997 movie adaptation of Starship Troopers, although some YouTube mashups make it appear so. The Heinlein estate did receive significant money from the Verhoeven movie, however. That money was used to endow the Heinlein Prize for space commercialization and is also helping to finance Excalibur Almaz, which is planning to conduct deep-space missions using surplus capsules and space-station modules from the Soviet era. And now, Sarah Brightman has booked a flight to ISS on a Soyuz capsule developed during the Soviet era.

From the Space Adventures press release:

Brightman will be part of a three-person crew travelling to the ISS on board a Soyuz rocket. Once on the ISS, she will orbit the Earth 16 times daily and intends to become the first professional musician to sing from space. The final scheduling of her trip to the space station will be determined by Roscosmos and the ISS partners in the coming months.

Brightman will be part of a three-person crew travelling to the ISS on board a Soyuz rocket. Once on the ISS, she will orbit the Earth 16 times daily and intends to become the first professional musician to sing from space. The final scheduling of her trip to the space station will be determined by Roscosmos and the ISS partners in the coming months.

In conjunction with her role as a UNESCO Artist for Peace ambassador, Brightman sees life on board the space station – which requires the mindful, shared consumption of resources and a clear and unwavering focus on sustainability – as a model for how we might better inhabit our planet. During her estimated 10-day tenure on board the space station, Brightman will advocate for UNESCO’s mandate to promote peace and sustainable development to safeguard our planet’s future. Additionally, this journey will allow Brightman to advance education and empower the role of girls and women in science and technology in an effort to help close the gender gap in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields.

“I don’t think of myself as a dreamer. Rather, I am a dream chaser,” said Sarah Brightman. “I hope that I can encourage others to take inspiration from my journey both to chase down their own dreams and to help fulfill the important UNESCO mandate to promote peace and sustainable development on Earth and from space. I am determined that this journey can reach out to be a force for good, a catalyst for some of the dreams and aims of others that resonate with me.”

Over the coming months, Brightman will explore and further develop plans with UNESCO to combine their activities and her space journey. Upon her return to Earth, she will continue to work with UNESCO in an effort to plan multiple, epic ‘Space to Place’ concerts at UNESCO World Heritage Sites, biosphere reserves, and geoparks. Together, the over-arching aim will be to organize events including concerts and multi-media, to involve as many people as possible and to engage a generation of ‘dreamchasers’ from all walks of life to help create a more sustainable future for our planet.

Within the coming months, Brightman will be releasing a new record entitled “Dreamchaser” in January 2013 – a collection of songs that has been influenced by the feelings and challenges of her space adventure. Additionally, in 2013, she will undertake the most comprehensive global tour performing around the world, beginning in Canada at the end of January and visiting all five continents over the following months. Following that, Brightman will embark upon six months of training in Russia ahead of her flight to the ISS.

Written by Astro1 on October 10th, 2012 , Citizen Exploration, Space Adventures

NASA Watch editor Keith Cowing is upset because Sarah Brightman is spending her money the way she wants to, rather than the way Cowing wants her to.

In case you were wondering, for $51 million, according to a per-person cost of $2.58 from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, you could vaccinate 19,767,442 people (yea 19+ MILLION) in developing nations with “5-in-1 vaccine” or“pentavalent” vaccine which protects against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), and hepatitis B. You could also buy 275,675 OLPC XO-1.75 laptops for students in a developing country at $185 each.

All emphasis per the original.

While we have serious reservations about the cost-effectiveness of Soyuz flights, we also recognize that it is Sarah Brightman’s money, to do with as she sees fit.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on October 4th, 2012 , Citizen Exploration

ABC News is reporting that Phantom of the Opera actress/singer Sarah Brightman outbid NASA for a seat on a Soyuz flight to the International Space Station. Brightman reportedly bumped a NASA astronaut from the flight by agreeing to pay more than $51 million. (Update: NASA denies that any of its astronauts were bumped from the Soyuz flight. Update 2: Sarah Brightman has made an official announcement, as expected.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on October 3rd, 2012 , Citizen Exploration, Space Adventures, Virgin Galactic

Author J. K. Rowling claims that she turned down a chance to go into space. An article in the Independent, an Irish newspaper, quotes Rowling as saying, “I was offered a seat. For a mere £2 million I could have been on the shuttle, but I turned it down.”

This story belongs in the fiction section with Harry Potter.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on September 30th, 2012 , Citizen Exploration

NBC News analyst James Oberg reports that Russian cosmonauts are unhappy with accommodations aboard the International Space Station. The complaints surfaced during a post-flight press conference by cosmonaut Gennady Padalka on September 21.

The Russian segment of ISS provides each cosmonaut with about 1/7 as much living space as the American segment, according to the report. Padalka also stated that the Russian segment is cold and noisy, according to Oberg, and compared it to a tiny Krushchev-era apartment or khrushchevka.

Padalka also complained about aging equipment, which hasn’t been updated “in the 20 years since the foundation of the new Russia.”

The housing accommodations are of concern to citizen space explorers visiting ISS. Citizen explorers who travel to the station via Soyuz stay in the Russian segment. Living conditions are undoubtedly acceptable to short-term visitors, who have not complained in the past, but there may be other effects.

Padalka stated that extended one-year stays aboard ISS are unacceptable without major improvements to the Russian accommodations. One-year stays have been proposed in order to free up seats in Soyuz capsules for citizen explorers such as Sarah Brightman. If the cosmonauts revolt, Roskosmos may need to change its plans. If that happens, there may be no more Soyuz flights for citizen explorers.

The situation will become more complicated in a few years when American companies such as SpaceX, Boeing, and Sierra Nevada begin carrying NASA crew and citizen explorers to the space station. Those explorers will presumably stay in the American segment, although details have not been worked out yet. (Or if they have, they have not been made public.)

This points to the need for new facilities in orbit, such as the private space stations Bigelow Aerospace is working on. If those facilities are slow to emerge, the development of citizen space exploration in low Earth orbit may be hindered. Fortunately, a flourishing suborbital spaceflight industry will exist by that time and, unlike the orbital tourism industry, it will not be limited to multimillionaires.

Written by Astro1 on September 29th, 2012 , Citizen Exploration

Rick Tumlinson calls for A Unified Vision for Space.

Tumlinson says that the ultimate goal of US space policy must be human settlement, which is good in itself but not good enough. To quote a line from the TV series Babylon 5, “You must do the right thing for the right reason.” Settlement is the right reason, but we must go about it the right way.

Tumlinson says, “It is time to declare that the goal of the United States in space is the settlement of the solar system, from low Earth orbit to the Moon and Mars.”

That’s like Orville Wright declaring that the goal of the US should be the establishment of an air transportation system, starting with nonstop flights from New York to Paris, forgetting about local and transcontinental flights.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on May 11th, 2012 , Citizen Exploration

Sierra Nevada has revealed details of its test plans for the Dream Chaser at Spaceflight Now.

Sierra Nevada expects to begin captive-carry tests of the Dream Chaser test article from a Sikorsky S-64  Skycrane helicopter soon, perhaps before the end of May. The first captive-carry tests will take place in Colorado. The test article will be shipped to California this summer for additional captive carry tests leading to drop tests and automated landings at Edward Air Force base. The drop tests will also use a helicopter, either a CH-53 Sea Stallion or CH-47 Chinook.

This would lead to manual landing tests with a suborbital flight article in 2014, followed by automated flights to orbit in 2015 and crewed orbital flights in 2016.

Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser test article

The 2014 suborbital vehicle suggests some interesting possibilities. A suborbital Dream Chaser might provide a backup for Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two, if that program runs into trouble.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on May 10th, 2012 , Citizen Exploration, Sierra Nevada, Virgin Galactic

Dr. David Grinspoon, who is training to be a suborbital scientist-astronaut, has been named as the first Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology. The chair is a joint project of the NASA Astrobiology Institute and the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress.

Grinspoon is the curator of astrobiology in the Department of Space Sciences at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. He is a well-known researcher in planetary science and the author of Lonely Planets: The Natural Philosophy of Alien Life.

Grinspoon is also a founding member of the Suborbital Applications Researchers Group (SARG), a group of 12 scientists who are training to be scientist astronauts on commercial suborbital vehicles. SARG is headed by Dr. Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute, a space scientist who previously served as Associate Administrator for Science at NASA Headquarters. SARG also serves as a coordination and advisory committee of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on April 23rd, 2012 , Astrobiology, Citizen Exploration

Filmaker and citizen explorer James Cameron has successfully piloted the Deepsea Challenger (also known as the “vertical torpedo”) to the deepest spot on Earth – the Challenger Deep in the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench 300 miles southwest of Guam. (See the National Geographic report here.)

The Challenger Deep, 6.8 miles below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, has only been explored once before. That was in 1960 by the bathyscaphe Trieste carrying Swiss explorer Jacques Picard and US Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh. The Trieste could only spend 20 minutes on the ocean bottom, however. Cameron spent about six hours on the bottom, filming the entire journey with 3D high-definition cameras. His submarine was also equipped with a sediment sampler, a robotic claw, and a “slurp gun” for picking up biological samples. Among the scientists waiting to see the samples are NASA astrobiologists. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on March 26th, 2012 , Astrobiology, Citizen Exploration, Oceanography

The CBS News program 60 Minutes did a report on Elon Musk this week. The video is now available on YouTube.

The Congressional testimony by Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan is a bit disturbing. Armstrong and Cernan are national heroes. They deserve our respect, but they do not deserve a veto right over our future. Imagine if Charles Lindbergh had returned from Europe, disappeared from aviation for 40 years, then reemerged in the 1960’s to testify against commercial air travel. Safety is important, but commercialization is not the enemy of safety. Safety will improve in space the way it did in aviation – with experience. That’s the only way safety has ever improved, and commercialization is necessary to bring about the increased flight rates that will get us that experience.

As a side note, this is why, as interesting as the SpaceX developments might be, suborbital spaceflight is even more important. Suborbital vehicles have the potential for achieving far higher flight rates, in the near term, than orbital system. As Burt Rutan likes to say, all progress begins at the low end, and it is low-cost low-end suborbital spacecraft which will gain the base  of experience we need for future breakthroughs in orbital and deep-space transportation.

Written by Astro1 on March 21st, 2012 , Citizen Exploration, Commercial Space (General), SpaceX

XCOR Aerospace chief operating officer Andrew Nelson spoke at the SETI Institute on February 29. For those who didn’t have a chance to attend, the SETI Institute has posted the complete talk (just over an hour) on YouTube.

Written by Astro1 on March 18th, 2012 , Citizen Exploration, Commercial Space (General), XCOR Aerospace

NASA has officially announced a scheduled date for the next SpaceX Dragon test mission, according to Space.com. The mission, which will rendezvous and berth with the International Space Station if all goes well, is scheduled to launch on April 30. UPDATE: Berthing is scheduled to occur on May 3, according to SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell.  SECOND UPDATE: The target launch time is 12:22 Eastern Daylight Time. 

The unmanned test flight is intended to demonstrate that SpaceX is ready to begin delivering cargo to ISS. Once that occurs, the next step is delivering NASA personnel. When that happens, SpaceX plans to start carrying citizen space explorers as well.