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.”

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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

NASA recently revealed details of the recovery concept for its Orion space capsule. The concept shows how much has changed, and not changed, since the 1960’s.

A NASA artist’s conception shows the Orion capsule being recovered by a US Navy Landing Platform Dock (LPD) ship. This shows the diminished importance of NASA’s exploration program to overall US strategic policy. In the 1960’s, the United States Navy detailed an entire carrier battle group to recover an Apollo capsule, but now all it can spare is an LPD.

NASA Orion space capsule recovery by US Navy LPD (artist's concept)

Not that an LPD is exactly cheap, but Orion is not designed to be cheap. The annual development cost for Orion is more than the expected total development cost for the SpaceX Dragon capsule, which will provide similar capabilities (including the ability the conduct lunar and Mars missions, according to Space). Of course, this isn’t NASA’s fault  — the US Congress insisted that NASA continue development of the pointlessly redundant Orion capsule, which has consumed scarce resources that could have been used to jump-start development of deep-space exploration systems such as Johnson Space Center’s Nautilus X.

Any Navy veteran will tell you that search, rescue, and recovery operations at sea are never easy, or cheap. SpaceX is currently recovering its Dragon capsules at sea but is developing plans for land recovery in the future. Meanwhile, companies like Sierra Nevada, XCOR Aerospace, and Virgin Galactic are developing vehicles that can touch down on a runway like conventional aircraft. In the future, astronauts will not be rescued from outer space, they will fly back in style — but not, apparently, if the United States Congress has anything to say about it.

Still, NASA PR writer Bob Granath is spinning this archaic recovery mode as a technological breakthrough:
Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on January 5th, 2013 , Space Exploration (General)

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.”

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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

Following Felix Baumgartner’s record-setting skydive, Space Safety Magazine has published an article on how to survive supersonic freefall. The article is generally accurate, but unfortunately, it does perpetuate one of the myths about aerospace physiology:

At 18,900-19,350 meters, the point known as “Armstrong’s Line,” the pressure experienced is enough to make fluids within the body boil at 37 °C, the temperature of the human body.

This is not correct. Fluids in an open container will indeed boil at that temperature, above the Armstrong Line. The human body is not a closed container, however. It is enclosed by an elastic integument (skin), which prevents bodily fluids from boiling. Blood is additionally enclosed within the blood vessels. Saliva in the mouth will boil above the Armstrong line, but blood in the veins, arteries, and capillaries will not. Death from vacuum exposure will occur within minutes, but the cause of death will be hypoxia – lack of oxygen – not boiling blood.

Proof of this fact comes from laboratory experiments with animals and also from NASA astronauts who have suffered rips in their pressure suits during EVA, resulting in parts of their body being exposed to hard vacuum. The result was some local swelling and discomfort, but no boiling blood, just as physics predicts.

Written by Astro1 on October 17th, 2012 , Space Medicine and Safety

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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.

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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.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7lnrN_VbP2Y&w=700]

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

NASA Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover

Lawrence Krauss of Arizona State University writes about “Pursuing Science Smartly” in the New York Times. Professor Krauss argues that robots such as Curiosity are cheaper and more efficient than humans, but he makes some significant mistakes.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on October 2nd, 2012 , Space Exploration (General)

As we continue to develop and settle space, accidents and medical emergencies will happen. Soon or later, someone will need to do surgery in space.

Equipment and procedures for surgery in zero and reduced gravity have yet to be developed and tested (a fact that’s often overlooked by advocates of manned deep-space missions), but some work has been done in this field.

Dr. James Burgess, a neurosurgeon at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh and an adjunct faculty member at Carnegie Mellon University, has invented one such device. The Aqueous Immersion Surgical System is a transparent plastic box that can placed over a wound and pumped full of saline solution. Carefully designed openings keep fluid in while allowing access for for surgical tools. The saline solution is pressurized and controlled to reduce blood loss, which will be critical on space missions where blood for transfusions is limited or unavailable.

AISS is being developed by a team of biomedical engineers and doctors from CMU and the University of Louisville. Prototypes will be tested on four flights of NASA’s C-9 microgravity aircraft on October 2–5. Additional microgravity flights are planned over the next three years. If the tests are successful, AISS may then be tested on a suborbital flight, according to Dr. George Pantalos, professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the University of Louisville.

The nature of surgical experiments requires hands-on access by the surgeon. This is another example of an experiment that can be performed on reusable suborbital spacecraft which cannot be performed on sounding rockets. The development of a robust commercial suborbital spaceflight may, therefore, be a crucial enabler for safe and effective deep-space exploration.

Written by Astro1 on September 30th, 2012 , Commercial Space (General), Space Medicine and Safety

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

Consumer Reports has found that modern Pyrex glassware is less resistant to thermal shock than Pyrex which was made years ago. This is due to changes in the type of glass used to make Pyrex.

This mundane example reflects the problems engineers face when trying to recreate old systems. Components and materials that were used in the original design may no longer be available, and if they are still being manufactured, the new items may not be functionally identical to the original. That’s why it isn’t feasible to rebuild the Saturn V today, as some nostalgic space buffs have suggested. It’s not because NASA has lost the blueprints – that’s an urban legend – but because the supply chain for critical components no longer exists.

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Written by Astro1 on September 18th, 2012 , Space Exploration (General)

We attended the 100 Year Starship Symposium mostly out of curiosity. There’s not a lot of commonality between 100 Year Starship and Citizens in Space. We focus on making low-end, near-term applications of human spaceflight available to the average citizen. 100 Year Starship, on the other hand, is about as high-end and long-term as you can get. Still, we were curious to see how the 100 Year Starship organization was planning to approach such an audacious challenge.

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Written by Astro1 on September 17th, 2012 , Space Exploration (General)

"Dressing For Altitude: US Aviation Pressure Suits from Wiley Post to the Space Shuttle" book cover

Dressing for altitude is a technical history that covers US pressure suits from the 1930’s up through the Space Shuttle program. The focus is on “aviation” pressure suits, so the book does not cover the Gemini and Apollo spacesuits, or the Shuttle EVA suit, which are covered well in other publications. It does, however, include the Mercury spacesuit, which was derived from a US Navy aviator’s pressure suit. The Shuttle launch and entry suits are, of course, covered.

This book will be of interest to anyone who’s concerned with commercial spaceflight safety. The ebook is available for free download from NASA.

Written by Astro1 on September 13th, 2012 , Books and Resources, Space Medicine and Safety