Naomi Murdoch and Thomas-Louis de Lophem in zero gravity alongside the experiment (Credit: A. Le Floc’h, ESA)

An experiment performed on a parabolic flight aboard a microgravity aircraft suggests avalanche hazards that might influence the design of future asteroid missions. This is yet another example of the value of low-cost microgravity platforms (parabolic aircraft and, in the near future, suborbital spacecraft) for orbital and deep-space operations.

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Written by Astro1 on July 6th, 2013 , Space Exploration (General)

[Note: Somehow, this article was accidentally posted under June, even though it’s really from August. Because several people have already linked to it, we’ve left a copy at this location, as well as the correct location here.]

Renowned oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle gives this defense of ocean exploration. The space community should also pay attention.

Dr. Earle is the former chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and currently explorer in residence at the National Geographic Society. She has led more than 60 research expeditions and spent over 7,000 hours underwater. Dr. Earle has set women’s depth records in a hard-shell diving suit (1,250 feet) and a submersible (3,300 feet), as well as leading a team of female researchers during an extended underwater stay in the Tektite II habitat in 1970.

No one denies that Sylvia Earle is an explorer.

Yet, there are people in the space community who insist that astronauts (especially citizen astronauts) are not explorers. Ben McGee discussed this in his recent treatise. “Particularly amongst the old guard of space science,” McGee says, “‘exploration’ is reserved for those pushing the frontier in higher orbits, cislunar space, trips to near-Earth asteroids, Mars, and beyond.” In other words, almost no one.

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Written by Astro1 on June 22nd, 2013 , Citizen Exploration, Uncategorized Tags:

Much is being made of Wang Yaping, who is described as “China’s first teacher in space.”

The Chinese space program is all about public relations and scoring “firsts.” Yet, no one seems to ask if this claim is accurate.

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Written by Astro1 on June 16th, 2013 , Education, Space Exploration (General)

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver surprised attendees (including some NASA employees) during her keynote address to the Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference on Monday.

Garver, who addressed the conference via videolink due to travel restrictions, revealed changes to the NASA Flight Opportunities Program which buys rides for payloads on commercial suborbital spacecraft (as well as sounding rockets, balloons, and parabolic aircraft).

At present, the Flight Opportunities Program (run by the Office of the Chief Technologist) is limited to technology experiments, leaving science payloads out in the cold. Garver acknowledged that NASA “could do more” and promised a new joint solicitation, from the Space Technology Mission Directorate and Science Mission Directorate, that would cover both technology and science payloads.

Garver said NASA would hold a workshop at the Smallsat Conference in August to start educating the scientific community about opportunities to fly science payloads on suborbital flights.

The big surprise came when Garver said NASA does “not want to rule out paying for research that could be done by an individual spaceflight participant — a researcher or payload specialist — on these [suborbital] vehicles in the future.”

Until now, NASA has had a strict policy which prohibited the Flight Opportunities Program from paying for human-tended experiments on suborbital flights. This policy has frustrated many researchers who want to fly payloads on crewed vehicles such as the Virgin Galactic SpaceShip Two and XCOR Lynx.

The exact interpretation of Garver’s words is still a mystery. Not ruling something out does not necessarily imply that it will be allowed. “In the future” is a vague timeframe. There’s also the question of whether “paying for research… done by an individual spaceflight participant” includes paying to fly the individual’s ride as well. The NASA Flight Opportunities people were as surprised and confused as anyone, since they were not briefed on the policy change or Garver’s remarks beforehand. There was cautious optimism, however, among conference attendees.

Written by Astro1 on June 6th, 2013 , Space Exploration (General), Space Policy and Management

NASA Administrator Major General Charles Bolden (USMC-ret.)

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has explained his recent comment that NASA is not going back to the Moon. In the process, he demonstrates a certain myopia:

I have never said the United States is not going back to the lunar surface. I just said that in the foreseeable future, given the budget that NASA currently has and given where we are and what we need technologically if we’re going to go to Mars, then it will not be the United States that leads an expedition to the lunar surface…. If somebody else is going, we will provide our engineering expertise and the only condition is that I be allowed to send an astronaut as a part of the crew.

Note to General Bolden: The United States does not consist solely of NASA. It is quite possible that “someone else” could be an American.

Written by Astro1 on June 4th, 2013 , Space Exploration (General)

A British radio journalist who goes by the moniker of “Radio Kate” or “Space Kate” has resurrected the old canard that “suborbital spaceflight isn’t exploration.”

Radio/Space Kate has been twittering up a storm. According to R/S Kate, international cooperation (exemplified by the European Space Agency) is the best way to explore space. Individual nations are not up to the task, and private space exploration is simply defined away. “Going suborbital is not new, it is not exploration,” according to Kate. “Exploration is about unknown and unfamiliar regions.”

And suborbital space is not unfamiliar or unknown, according to Kate.

Why Kate considers suborbital space to be familiar is unknown. It’s safe to say she has never been there. The number of astronauts who have flown suborbitally is quite small. Eight pilots were awarded suborbital astronaut wings in the X-15 program. Two astronauts flew suborbital flights in Project Mercury. Two more flew SpaceShip One. At the moment, that’s it. Only 12 human beings have flown suborbital flights — the same number who have walked on the surface of the Moon.

Yet, the Moon is considered to be unexplored while suborbital space is familiar territory? The scientists who discovered upper-atmosphere phenomena such as blue jets, ELFs, and sprites, all of which were unknown just a few years ago, would surely disagree.

How anyone can call a region which it’s been visited by only 12 human beings “familiar” is a mystery. Suborbital space makes the summit of Mt. Everest look like Times Square.

It’s also strange that Radio/Space Kate considers ESA a model for future space exploration. The European Space Agency has not sent astronauts anywhere but the International Space Station — which is more familiar, at this point, than suborbital space. So, if we accepted Kate’s definition, we would have to say that ESA astronauts have never explored space.

The exploration community, of course, does not use that definition. The Explorers Club recently honored citizen space explorer Greg Olsen, who visited ISS in 2005, in their Exploring Legends series.

The Explorers Club is an old, prestigious organization. Founded in 1904, it promotes the scientific exploration of land, sea, air, and space by supporting research and education in the physical, natural and biological sciences. Club members have been responsible for an illustrious series of firsts, including the first explorers to the North Pole, first to the South Pole, first to the summit of Mount Everest, first to the deepest point in the ocean, and first to the surface of the moon.

Yet, the Explorers Club does not limit its membership to those who accomplish “firsts,” nor does it insist that all exploration must occur in remote, unknown, and unfamiliar locations. To quote the Club’s website:

Many of our members have contributed to field science and exploration in much less remote and dangerous ways. A field study of butterflies here in New York or recording bird migration data on the nearby Long Island seashore qualifies you for membership just as much as collecting data from the top of the highest peaks or the oceans’ deepest depths.

We spoke to a former president of the Explorers Club not too long ago. He did not express the slightest doubt that suborbital spaceflight was exploration.

We’re sure the Explorers Club will welcome a great many citizen space explorers in the next few years. Almost all of them will be suborbital explorers. Sorry about that, Kate.

Written by Astro1 on May 30th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration

The Astronomer Royal is a peculiar British position with no official duties and an salary of £100 per year, which makes him somewhat less important than the royal gardener. Nevertheless, the Astronomer Royal tends to get quoted in the press with some frequency,because of his impressive-sounding title.

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Written by Astro1 on May 28th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration

Northrop Grumman lunar lander concept for Golden Spike Corporation

Northrop Grumman has completed a feasibility study of commercial lunar lander configurations for the Colorado-based Golden Spike Company. Part of the study includes a novel low-mass ascent stage concept, which Northrop Grumman calls Pumpkin.

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Written by Astro1 on May 8th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration, Commercial Space (General)

The suborbital spaceflight industry and researchers are preparing for this year’s Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference, which takes place at the Omni Interlocken Resort in Broomfield, Colorado on June 3-5.

Keynote speakers at the conference will include NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver, former Shuttle program manager Wayne Hale, Commercial Spaceflight Federation president and former Shuttle astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, FAA associate administrator for space transportation Dr. George Nield, Mojave Air and Space Port Manager Stu Witt, and the associate administrator for NASA’s new Space Technology Mission Directorate, Dr. Michael Gazarik.

For the first time this year, the program will feature dedicated three-hour provider tracks offering “deep dive” coverage of three suborbital transportation providers (Masten Space Systems, Virgin Galactic, and XCOR Aerospace). The schedule also includes panel sessions on topics such as Life Sciences, Astrophysics and Solar Physics, Microgravity, Education and Public Outreach, Planetary Science, and Atmospheric Sciences.

Citizens in Space will present two papers at the conference.

During the session on Markets, Policy, and Training, we will present “Citizen Science and Citizen Space Exploration” by Edward Wright, Lt. Col. Steve Heck (USAF-ret.), Maureen Adams, Michael Johnson, Dr. Sean Casey of the Silicon Valley Space Center, and Ravi Kamitreddy, MD, of VitalSpace and the Scripps Translational Science Institute.

During the session on Payload Accommodations, we will present “The Lynx Cub Payload Carrier for Small Suborbital Experiments” by Edward Wright, Charles Hill and Dr. Frank Little of the Space Engineering Research Center, and Prof. Justin Yates, Eric Chao, Cress Netherland, Donald Boyd, and Austin Goswick of the Texas A&M University Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering.

Both papers will be presented Tuesday afternoon, June 4.

A number of organizations will have hardware on display, including a mockup of the Lynx Cub Payload Carrier being developed by Citizens in Space in cooperation with the Space Engineering Research Center and Texas A&M University.

On Monday evening, there will be a public lecture by Dr. Alan Stern, former NASA associate administrator for space science and leader of the Suborbital Application Researchers’ Group, on “The Promise of Commercial Spaceflight.”

Conference registration is currently $295 but goes up to $350 on April 25. Onsite registration is $385. Onsite registration for students is $150.

Written by Astro1 on April 16th, 2013 , Commercial Space (General), Events, Space Exploration (General)

Making the Invisible Visible is a short film by Christoph Malin, parts of which are excerpted from Don Petit’s lecture on space photography techniques.

Written by Astro1 on March 23rd, 2013 , Space Exploration (General)

International Space Station (ISS)

Actress/singer Sarah Brightman is still a cosmonaut in training, but her plans to visit the International Space Station may be in peril, according to an article published by RIA Novosti.

The decision is said to rest in the hands of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and NASA.

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Written by Astro1 on March 16th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration

Two planets: Venus and Mars from NASA images

Dennis Tito’s Inspiration Mars project has attracted some community feedback.

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Written by Astro1 on March 14th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration

(Austin) Richard Garriott de Cayeaux presented an interesting chart during his talk on “The New Golden Age of Space Exploration” at South by Southwest. It shows the number of humans who have been sent into space by various space agencies:

NASA — 332
RFSA — 107
ESA — 33
CSA — 9
JAXA — 8
Space Adventures — 7
China — 6
Bulgaria — 2
Others — 19

The sixth most successful space agency, by this measure, is a private company: Space Adventures. Note that China is number seven. If suborbital companies like Virgin Galactic and XCOR Aerospace are successful, they may quickly exceed the 332 astronauts who have been flown by NASA.

Yet, alarmists still worry that China is about to “overtake the United States” in space, by copying projects which the United States and the Soviet Union accomplished 40 years ago.

Written by Astro1 on March 11th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration, Space Adventures

Solar Flare
NASA has powered down the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity as a precautionary measure due to a solar flare.

In 2003, a solar storm damaged a radiation instrument on the Mars orbiter Odyssey. NASA does not believe the radiation from this flare poses any danger to Curiosity but is being extra cautious due to recent computer problems with the $1.6 billion rover.

This shutdown illustrates the need for good space-weather forecasting for in-space operations, but space weather also affects the Earth. It will be important for future space travelers as well.

Written by Astro1 on March 7th, 2013 , Planetary Defense, Space Medicine and Safety

Inspiration Mars Foundation logo

Dennis Tito, the first citizen space explorer to visit the International Space Station, has created the Inspiration Mars Foundation to raise funds for an even more dramatic mission: a human flyby of the planet Mars.

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Written by Astro1 on February 27th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration

Citizen space explorers and space entrepreneurs will appear at the prestigious South By Southwest (SxSW) film, music, and interactive-media festival, which takes place in Austin next month.

A panel on “Crowd-sourcing the Space Frontier” will include Anousheh Ansari, who visited the International Space Station in 2006 and was name sponsor for the Ansari X-Prize in 2001, and Citizens in Space project manager and citizen-astronaut candidate Edward Wright.

Also participating on the panel will be NASA Open Innovation Program manager Christopher Gentry and Darlene Damm, founder and co-president of DIY Rockets. The panel will run from 11:00 am to noon on Saturday, March 9.

Richard Garriott de Cayeux, who visited the International Space Station in 2008, will speak on “The New Golden Age of Spaceflight” at 11:00 Monday, March 11. Garriott de Cayeux is also vice-chairman of Space Adventures, which markets flights to the International Space Station.

Also on Saturday will be a keynote address by SpaceX founder Elon Musk, at 2:00 PM.

South by Southwest attracts over 32,000 people each year. Admission to these talks will require an Interactive, Gold, or Platinum Badge. Badges are still available at walkup rates of $1150, $1350, or $1595. (Sorry, we do not have any free or discount passes to hand out.)

Citizen space explorer Anousheh Ansari aboard the International Space Station

Anousheh Ansari aboard the International Space Station

Written by Astro1 on February 15th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration, Space Adventures, SpaceX

A panel discussion on “Space Medicine in the 21st Century: Commercial and Governmental Opportunities” will take place in Menlo Park, California next Thursday (February 21).

The discussion will be led by Dr. Marlene Grenon, assistant professor of vascular and endovascular surgery at the University of California San Francisco. Dr. Grenon, who is also a graduate of the International Space University, is conducting studies simulating the effects of microgravity on Earth at both the physiological (organ) level and the cellular level. She was the lead author on a recent article in the British Medical Journal, ”Can I take a space flight? Considerations for doctors,“ which was widely reported by Forbes, NPR, and Space.com, among others.

Other MDs on the panel are Alex Garbino, physiological monitoring lead for the Red Bull Stratos medical team; NASA astronaut Col. Yvonne Cagle (USAF-ret.); and Ravi Komatireddy, KL2 Scholar of Wireless Health at the Scripps Institute. Also on the panel is Walter De Brouwer, Ph.D., founder of the personalized health electronics company Scanadu, which is competing to win the Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize.

Last year, Dr. Komatireddy was part of a team that tested a ViSi Mobile Monitor device aboard a microgravity flight provided by the NASA Flight Opportunities Program.

The panel, presented by the Silicon Valley Space Business Roundtable, takes place at the offices of the Orrick Law Firm, 1020 Marsh Road, from 6:30 to 9:00 PM. Admission is $35 for regular admission, $25 for Roundtable members, and $15 for students. Registration is available here.

Written by Astro1 on February 12th, 2013 , Events, Space Medicine and Safety

The Moon, photographed from Space Shuttle Columbia on STS-107

The photo above shows a sight that can only be seen from space: The Moon against a black sky, with the Earth in daylight. Fewer than .00001% of the world’s population have had the opportunity to see this sight. That number will increase dramatically in the next few years, when suborbital spaceflight becomes commercially available.

At first glance, the Moon appears oddly dark. We think of the Moon as being quite bright, almost pure white. That’s because we’re used to viewing the Moon at night when our eyes are dark adapted. Of course, the Moon isn’t really white, or light in color, at all. The observations and photos taken by the Apollo astronauts, the samples they brought back, all prove that. Viewed alongside the oceans and clouds of Earth, the Moon shows its true color in this photograph.

The Moon also appears unusually small in this photo. That is due to the well-known Moon illusion, or rather the lack of a Moon illusion. When we observe the Moon in the night sky, our brains trick us into seeing the Moon as larger than it really is. That doesn’t happen when you look at a photograph of the Moon. The photo above is optically accurate, but the photo below has been altered to show the scene as you might actually perceive it from space, due to the Moon illusion:

Simulated Moon illusion

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Written by Astro1 on February 2nd, 2013 , Astronomy, Citizen Exploration

Dr. Justin Wilkinson of NASA’s Crew Earth Observations Office narrated this stunning compilation of images from LEO.

That’s right, LEO. Low Earth Orbit. Where Carl Sagan and Bob Zubrin told us there’s nothing worth seeing. The place we “have to get out of.”

For the record, only 530 people have flown in space. More than 3,100 have climbed Mt. Everest. 220 of those climbers have died in the attempt. In recent years, the fatality has declined to “only” four percent. Higher than Soyuz or the Space Shuttle.

Yet, some would tell us that astronauts in LEO are not explorers and there’s nothing worth seeing Out There.

Related: Astronaut Don Petit talks about photo techniques he used aboard the International Space Station in this video.

Written by Astro1 on January 28th, 2013 , Space Exploration (General)

Astronauts 4 Hire is a private company that intends to provide a pool of trained payload specialists for suborbital spaceflights. The following video shows some of their current training activities.

Written by Astro1 on January 27th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration, Commercial Space (General)

The following video is a recent interview with Dr. Helen Sharman, who became Britain’s first astronaut and the first woman to visit the Mir space station in 1991. Dr. Sharman spent 8 days in space, launching aboard the Soyuz TM-12 capsule on 18 May 1991 and returning aboard Soyuz TM-11 on 26 May 1991. (Note: This is a lengthy interview, running for a bit over one hour.)

Dr. Helen Sharman was a 26-year-old researcher studying flavor chemistry for the Mars candy company when she applied for Project Juno in 1989.

Project Juno was the first step in a gradual transition from the old paradigm of government space programs to the new paradigm of citizen space exploration. The project, which gegan in 1989, was a joint venture between the Russian government (which was seeking to reach out to the West as part of Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost) and a consortium of private sponsors including British Aerospace, Memorex, Interflora, and ITV. By the time the flight occurred in 1991, the Russian government had taken a larger role than expected due to the consortium’s failure to raise the full amount of money that was anticipated.

One vestige of the old government paradigm can be seen in the way the astronaut candidates were treated: e.g., being involuntarily sequestered in a Russian hospital for two weeks while redundant medical tests were performed. Space medicine is an indispensable discipline which plays a necessary role in ensuring the safety of human spaceflight, but the amount of power given to flight surgeons in government space programs has been a frequent source of conflict.

Sharman and her backup, British Army Major Timothy Mace, were required to spend 18 months in Russia training for the spaceflight. This was later reduced to six months for clients of Space Adventures, which has sent citizen explorers to the International Space Station eight times since 2001.

Space Adventures has managed to wring more concessions out of the Russian Space Agency than the Juno consortium did, but those are still half measures. Truly commercial spaceflight depends on the development of commercial vehicles, which is still in progress.

Another portion of the interview worth noting is Dr. Sharman’s description of the landing incident. Such incidents have been fairly common in the Soyuz program; they are one of several data points which disprove the myth that Soyuz, unlike Shuttle, has had a 100% safety record.

Written by Astro1 on January 27th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration

This commercial is deliberately over the top, in a hilarious sort of way. Nevertheless, its tag line is a message NASA (and its political masters) ought to keep in mind.

NASA has been quietly downsizing the astronaut office, and actual flight opportunities have been downsized greatly. The expensive Orion capsule and Space Launch System won’t help the flight rate any. If this trend continues, it will become a problem for NASA. At some point, taxpayers will start to ask why they are spending so much money on a space agency that’s sending almost no one into space.

Whenever these facts are mentioned, NASA responds by pointing out how much progress is being made in the unmanned space-science side. (The Curiosity rover is the current poster boy for this.)

It’s true that NASA’s unmanned programs have been doing better, but robots don’t vote and robots don’t pay taxes. The people who do want (and deserve) more than that.

As Scott Glenn, playing Alan Shepard, said in The Right Stuff, “You see those people out there? They all want to see Buck Rogers, and that’s us.”

Nobody throws a ticker-tape parade for robots.

And nothing beats an astronaut.

Written by Astro1 on January 13th, 2013 , Space Exploration (General), Space Policy and Management

NASA Copernicus MTV nuclear-rocket deep-space exploration ship

There’s a petition on the White House website calling for the United States to rapidly develop a nuclear thermal rocket engine.

Technically, nuclear thermal rockets are a promising technology, but unless NASA develops a deep-space ship to put it on (like the Copernicus MTV, shown here, or the Nautilus X), a nuclear rocket engine would be wasted.

There is little chance of a commercial outfit working through all the red tape needed to launch a nuclear rocket engine into orbit. (It’s questionable whether the government could do that itself.)

We’ve discussed this problem with engineers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, and all of us came to the same conclusion: the best hope for nuclear rocket engines is finding uranium or thorium on the Moon. That would solve the political/environmental problem by allowing nuclear reactors to be launched from Earth unfueled. It would also jump start the development of lunar industry.

Mining nuclear fuel on the Moon has an advantage over other lunar mining schemes, such as platinum group metal (PGM) mining. Those proposals work only if mining on the Moon is cheaper than mining on Earth. That is possible but not yet proven. The bar for mining nuclear material on the Moon is much lower, if environmental politics does not allow us to launch it from Earth.

Written by Astro1 on January 12th, 2013 , Space Exploration (General), Space Policy and Management

AXE plans to do training for its citizen astronauts in Orlando, Florida. They’ve started running this commercial to give contest applicants a taste of what’s in store.

It appears that AXE’s advertising department needs a good technical editor, though. The L-39 Albatros is strictly a subsonic airplane.

The space camp, called the Axe Apollo Space Academy, will take place in December of 2013, according to a press release from XCOR Aerospace. 100 finalists will take part, competing for a chance to win one of 21 flights. (The 22nd flight will be awarded early this year, in a drawing to take place after the Super Bowl on February 3.

Written by Astro1 on January 11th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration, XCOR Aerospace