Author: Laura Delgado

Vasavada: Radiation is Problem NASA Needs to Solve for Human Missions

Vasavada: Radiation is Problem NASA Needs to Solve for Human Missions

Describing some of the Curiosity mission’s discoveries in the rover’s first year on Mars during a lecture commemorating its anniversary, Deputy Project Scientist Dr. Ashwin Vasavada explained that the high levels of radiation measured by the spacecraft indicate that a Mars-bound human mission would exceed NASA’s lifetime exposure limit for astronauts. “It is a problem, but NASA has to solve it,” said Vasavada. “NASA just has to design the spacecraft to shield the astronauts that much better.”

Vasavada, who spoke as part of the Von Kármán Lecture Series at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Thursday night, outlined the goals of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission, better known as Curiosity (the rover’s name).  “We are not looking for life with this mission,” he said.  The goal is to answer what he described as a “more practical question,” that is “whether Mars could have ever supported life.”

Reaching Mars in the first place was half the battle.  In describing the engineering challenge of landing “this beast,” Vasavada showed a slide (below) depicting the rover hanging from its skycrane during the landing sequence with the words “NO WAY” superimposed.  He suggested that it reflects the usual reaction of anybody who learned of the complicated steps required for a successful landing – what the agency dubbed the “7 minutes of terror.”

Image credit:  Ashwin Vasavada, JPL

As captured in a now-famous video showing ecstatic engineers at JPL and captivated citizens around the country, Curiosity performed the intricate dance perfectly and, on August 5, 2012 (Pacific Daylight Time, August 6 Eastern Daylight Time), landed safely on Mars at Gale Crater.

As it moves within the crater towards Mount Sharp, its target exploration site, Curiosity is “a little way into a long journey,” said Vasavada.  Yet already the measurements and images that the rover has sent to Earth have enabled significant scientific discoveries – from the engineering feat of figuring out the movement of the rover’s arm to allow for self-portraits, to finding examples of evidence that water once flowed on Mars and the detection of clay minerals, to finding that argon – not nitrogen – is the next most-common element in the Martian atmosphere.

“It’s not life-changing,” said Vasavada of the latter discovery, “but…it is rewriting the text-books.  Someone needs to update that Wikipedia page.”

The archived webcast of the lecture is available on JPL’s website.


Nixon Legacy: Space Exploration as "Normal" Part of National Life

Nixon Legacy: Space Exploration as "Normal" Part of National Life

At a June 13 event at the National Archives, space policy expert John Logsdon described how President Nixon’s policy toward space exploration was rooted in framing it as a “normal” part of national life, not something special – a legacy that has influenced the U.S. space program for the last 40 years.

Logsdon, professor emeritus at George Washington University, joined NASA Chief Historian Bill Barry and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Roger Launius in an event that considered the space program under the presidential administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

Logsdon recounted how when Nixon arrived at the White House, there was a “clear need for decisions” when it came to the space program: what to do in the post-Apollo era. To inform this decision, Nixon created the Space Task Group in 1969, chaired by Vice President Spiro Agnew, that recommended a variety of timelines for an aggressive effort that included development of a space shuttle, a space station, and human spaceflight missions to Mars by 1986, at the latest.

Yet despite having “wrapped himself up” in the euphoria of the Apollo 11 mission, Nixon was not interested in spending money at the pace required to achieve such an ambitious program, Logsdon said.  Instead, he assumed a policy that turned space from being something special to a part of normal life – a policy that Logsdon argues has guided the space program for the last 40 years.

Nixon’s attitude is best captured in a statement he made in March 1970: “we must think of [space activities] as part of a continuing process…and not as a series of separate leaps…what we do in space from here on in must become a normal and regular part of our national life and must therefore be planned in conjunction with all of the other undertakings which are important to us.”

When the time came to decide on the post-Apollo space program, this attitude had a definite influence.  According to Logsdon, Nixon had been “traumatized” by the near-tragic accident of Apollo 13, which turned him away from the idea of return trips to the Moon.  As the 1972 elections loomed, Nixon made the decision to approve the Space Shuttle, a decision that resulted from his belief that the United States should strive for something new in space as well as wanting to avoid the electoral risk of post-Apollo aerospace unemployment.

“Nixon was certainly not going to be the person that took the United States out of the human spaceflight business,” said Logsdon.  His decision to move forward with the Shuttle – the sole element that survived from the ambitious program contained in the Space Task Group’s recommendations, and which was integral to what became the International Space Station — would come to define the direction of the U.S. human spaceflight program.

Before the Shuttle made its first flight in 1981, however, a hallmark event of international cooperation took place: the July 1975 Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP).  Barry focused on the developments on the Soviet side that explained the shift from competition to cooperation following the race to the moon.  ASTP took place during the Ford administration, but was a Nixon initiative, and represented the end of an era, rather than a beginning, Barry said.  The next cooperative flight would not happen until after the end of the Cold War in the 1990s.  Interestingly, Barry noted that the cooperative practices developed for ASTP were resurrected 20 years later.

Considering the legacies of the Nixon-Ford years is more than just an interesting historical exercise.  According to Launius, who spoke about the role that space has had in U.S. culture, there is now a need to revisit and move on from the decisions made 40 years ago. With the last Shuttle flight already two years in the past and the debate over what to do next still open, Launius argued that the core question facing this generation is why to go into space. With fiscal constraints looming far into the future and a U.S. general public that has never been supportive of expensive human spaceflight missions – even during the Apollo era, as Launius demonstrated based on his research of public opinion polls over the decades — perhaps a related and important question is just how special space will be in the next several decades.

The event was part of the National Archives’ celebration of the centennials of both Nixon and Ford.   An exhibit on “Nixon and the U.S. Space Program” will be on display at its main building in Washington, D.C. through the end of June.

UPDATE:  A webcast of the event is posted on Ustream

Bolden: No Lack of Consensus on NASA's Strategic Direction

Bolden: No Lack of Consensus on NASA's Strategic Direction

During the question and answer period following his keynote address at the American Astronautical Society’s (AAS) Goddard Memorial Symposium, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden expressed strong disagreement with the main finding of a congressionally-mandated study of NASA’s strategic direction that there is a lack of national consensus on the agency’s plans and objectives.

The National Research Council’s NASA’s Strategic Direction and the Need for a National Consensus report concluded that there is an absence of a national consensus and a lack of evidence that a human mission to an asteroid “has been widely accepted as a compelling destination by NASA’s own workforce, by the nation as a whole, or by the international community.”

But, following Wednesday’s speech – which Bolden joked had been written particularly long to reduce time for questions — the Administrator responded with a quick and resounding “No” to the question of whether he agreed or not with the committee’s conclusion.

“All we can do is to present to people over and over and over again what the President and Congress have told us to do,” he said, naming the NASA 2010 Authorization bill as evidence of that consensus. Yet the bill does not actually include mention of a human spaceflight mission to an asteroid.  The goal to send humans to an asteroid by 2025, before heading to Mars in the 2030s, was instead announced by President Obama during a speech in Florida in April 2010.

Bolden was steadfast, however: “that’s what the President told us to do…what the Congress told us to do.” He added that “it is the right thing to do” and that he was excited about it.

In response to a criticism that has been made since the goal was announced that the specific destination asteroid has not been named, Bolden said that when President Kennedy announced men would land on the Moon before the end of the decade, he did not say they would land on the Sea of Tranquility.  “I can’t tell you which asteroid, but there will be one in 2025,” Bolden asserted.

Changed Space Environment Creates Multitude of Challenges, Say Panelists

Changed Space Environment Creates Multitude of Challenges, Say Panelists

Since the beginning of the Obama Administration, the national security space community has described today’s space environment as “congested, contested, and competitive.” Yet as panelists at an event Wednesday emphasized, the threats to U.S. space investments not only have security implications, but may impact the bottom line of companies and even the ability to continue relying on critical space-enabled services.

Organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Secure World Foundation (SWF) and the Space Foundation, the event brought together experts from the national space security, academic, commercial and government sectors to discuss some of these threats. The event was held under the Chatham House rule, where everything is said on a non-attribution basis.

Panelists explained that the changed space environment, which now involves more than 60 space actors, challenges the rules, practices and expectations that were established more than 50 years ago when space was the sole domain of the Soviet Union and the United States. This situation forces changes in how governments and commercial actors interact and how they protect the systems on which they are becoming increasingly reliant.

Some of the key threats identified by the panel include the following:

  • Growing space dependence – Critical services such as weather monitoring, telecommunications, and positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) – such as the Global Positioning System (GPS) — would not be possible without space assets.  According to one of the panelists, there is a prevailing trend for the design of essential utilities that are heavily dependent on space assets, such as location-based utilities using GPS.  Heavy reliance on space-based assets is problematic to the extent that they often have no terrestrial backups, which would be costly, have no other market, and may become outdated before they are used.
  • Inadequate treaty-regime – The existing treaty regime, shaped by the interactions between the Soviet Union and the United States in the 1960s, may no longer be effective to guide space activities. According to a panelist, the need to incorporate and involve commercial companies and the need for an effective dispute resolution system are two issues that need to be addressed.  The panelist added that “a lot of thought and perhaps innovations,” will be needed to “tweak the legal regime to accommodate [new] trends.”
  • Combined Space Operations – One panelist said that when it comes to addressing challenges faced by military space activities, proposed solutions that cost a lot of money are “dead on arrival.” The community is instead shifting towards increased international cooperation. The Department of Defense is actively working to cooperate with its closest allies in areas such as space situational awareness (SSA) and exploring how to move towards combined space operations. While this is challenging, the panelist expressed confidence that steps were being taken in the right direction, saying “I’m kind of excited.”
  • Long-term Sustainability – As one of the agencies directed to promote the stability and long-term sustainability of space by the 2010 National Space Policy, the Department of State engages in a variety of bilateral and multilateral activities.  A panelist explained that an ongoing push to raise the significance of this issue in the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) led to a study, likely to conclude this year, that would lead to “voluntary, non-binding, best practices guidelines” to promote long-term sustainability.
  • Industrial base issues – Threats to the sustainability of the satellite manufacturing industrial base were cited as a concern for both the commercial and military space communities. Nevertheless, export control reform has been taken as a positive step. One of the panelists thanked Congress for taking a step that was “a significant assist to U.S. manufacturing.”
  • In-space operations – Improved SSA has been a topic of interest for everyone from U.S. government civil and military officials negotiating data sharing agreements to commercial companies self organizing in ventures such as the Space Data Association. Beyond the need to avoid in-orbit collisions, reducing radio frequency and electromagnetic interference is also a concern.  

Benefits Weighed of "Disaggregation" for Military Space Systems

Benefits Weighed of "Disaggregation" for Military Space Systems

At an event this morning focused on parsing out the pros and cons of disaggregation, the latest buzzword to hit the military space community, experts called for an evolved and mixed approach to military constellations.

Hosted by TechAmerica Space Enterprise Council and the George C. Marshall Institute, “Disaggregation in the Era of Austerity: A Path Forward,” was meant to examine the pros and cons of the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) adopting disaggregation of its satellite constellations, a process the organizers described as dispersing payload sets currently flown aboard large satellite platforms to large numbers of smaller craft. This concept is not new, as some of the panelists noted, but one that has caught the attention of stakeholders in the community as a way to address critical challenges, particularly ongoing fiscal constraints.

Declining budgets was one of three reasons that, according to Peter Marquez, George C. Marshall Institute Fellow and former director of space policy at the National Security Council, prompted stakeholders to look at this approach in the first place. He listed an emerging threat environment that urges increased resiliency and deterrence, a fragile industrial base and concerns for technology obsolescence, as other key drivers. Outlining the assumed benefits of disaggregation to each of these, Marquez said that this approach could likely help reduce lifecycle costs and provide support to the industrial base. He explained that the continuous production cycles that would be required to develop and launch these smaller systems could imbue realism into the requirements community, traditionally used to planning for large systems developed every 15 years,  and lead to a “higher technology refresh rate” that would combat technology obsolescence. Marquez suggested that this process could lead to reduced lifecycle costs, much like the way that increased production by Henry Ford made car prices more affordable. The goal ought to be, he said, not to adopt disaggregation in all systems, since “large systems have their place,” but instead to seek greater diversification.

William P. (Bill) Reiner, Director of Missions and Programs of Commercial Satellite Services at Boeing, emphasized disaggregation as an opportunity for more flexibility as military missions change. “We don’t know in two years who we’re going to be fighting,” he said, pointing out that planning for 15 years into the future may no longer make sense. He said that disaggregation could break apart the dependence on aggregate satellites and may allow the DOD to look at new acquisition practices, adopting a more “commercial-like” way of buying smaller satellites and thus incurring in cost-savings. He supported adopting a mix of approaches, with the end goal to find ways to be “more responsive, resilient and cost-effective.”

Josh Hartman, CEO of the Horizons Strategy Group and principal of the Center for Strategic Space Studies (CS3), who has spoken in favor of disaggregation before, said that the “status quo cannot continue to persist.” The disaggregation discussion is about recognizing that the “one-size-fits-all mentality” is not serving the military space community well, he argued. Instead of a systems approach he called for adopting an architectural approach, best described as “elegant simplicity.” He framed the benefits of such an approach in similar terms to what Marquez outlined, providing survivability and resilience, technology refresh, and affordability.

Hartman added that each mission area – positoning, navigation and timing (PNT) or geospatial intelligence, for example – should be examined to consider which specific capabilities could be disaggregated and how. Disaggregating weather may be promising, he suggested, saying that multiple stakeholders, such as the scientific and operational communities in the civil side, could be better served by separating sensors into various platforms.  Hartman concluded by outlining intermediary steps that could be taken to advance disaggregation, such as complementing existing architectures, while funds are allocated for this purpose, likely in the FY2015 DOD budget.

Voicing more caution than his counterparts for the widespread adoption of disaggregation, Marc Berkowitz, vice president of strategic planning at Lockheed Martin, said that spacecraft size is determined by a number of factors, including validated requirements and economic constraints, and that the community should not rule out big systems, but adopt whatever size best addresses the specific mission.  He said that the assertion that disaggregation will lead to cost savings should be validated. In fact, he argued, disaggregation may lead to higher costs as a result of more launches and more command and control requirements. He emphasized that his element of affordability be carefully examined and that metrics for resiliency be developed to better assess the best way to improve it.

Panelists agreed that moving ahead should involve carrying out studies to address some of these concerns while at the same time also testing the applicability of disaggregation to specific mission areas at a small scale. Marquez cautioned that changing major architectures without better understanding mission areas and requirements would be “foolish.” At the same time, Hartman said that simply carrying out studies would be “a waste of time” and he urged for tangible results that will help the community understand how best to adopt disaggregation to meet evolving needs.

ISS, Aerospace Workforce and Partnerships Should Be Prominent in NASA's Strategic Planning, Say House Hearing Witnesses

ISS, Aerospace Workforce and Partnerships Should Be Prominent in NASA's Strategic Planning, Say House Hearing Witnesses

At a congressional hearing Wednesday focused on a National Research Council (NRC) report that examined NASA’s strategic plans, witnesses agreed that there is a lack of national consensus and of support of a human mission to an asteroid, but did not identify what the agency’s next destination beyond low Earth orbit (LEO) should be. Instead, they drew attention to elements that should be prominent in the agency’s future: utilization of the International Space Station (ISS), international and public-private partnerships, and support of the aerospace workforce.

In his opening remarks, Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), Chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology (HSS&T) agreed with the main conclusion of the NASA’s Strategic Direction and the Need for a National Consensus report and called the current agreement in the 2010 NASA authorization act “a compromise” where “no one got everything they wanted.” He expressed interest in discussions to forge a new national consensus and repeatedly expressed that ISS utilization remains the top priority. “To me, the ISS is number one,” he said.

Dr. Scott Pace, director of the George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute, said he agreed “that the space station is the most immediate and vital thing we have to be focused on,” but that thought must be given to what comes next. Of particular concern to him is the eroding perception of the United States by its international partners due to recent decisions to pull back from joint space missions, such as ExoMars. Pace argued that potential international partners would find in a mission to the Moon the opportunity for the kind of meaningful engagement that will not be open to them if the nation were to choose the much more difficult destinations of an asteroid or Mars.

A return trip to the Moon by astronauts was the focus of the Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) proposed by President George W. Bush in 2004. Included in this vision, the Constellation Program would have led to the development of a new crew capsule and heavy lift launch vehicle for human spaceflight beyond LEO. Pace was a high ranking NASA official when Constellation was being developed.

The cancellation of the Constellation program by the Obama Administration in 2010 was cited by several members and witnesses as disruptive and what led to the policy instability and lack of consensus identified in the NRC report. Constellation provided a transition both for the workforce and for national capabilities beyond the Space Shuttle, they argued, adding that, instead, current plans only added risk to the future of the ISS by forcing dependence on the Russian Soyuz rocket for access and created persisting uncertainty.  It must be noted, however, that continuation of the ISS, now agreed to be a priority by most in the human spaceflight community, was not part of the VSE. In fact, funding for the new crew transportation systems under Constellation was predicated both on the cancellation of the Space Shuttle in 2010 and U.S. termination of its role in the ISS in 2015-2016.

In her testimony, Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) President and Chief Executive Officer, Marion Blakey cautioned against disruptions that could negatively impact the workforce and industrial base if a new direction is set for the agency. “We need to think carefully,” she said,” about changing from current programs. It not only takes consensus to do so, it takes resources and capabilities, some that we’re already building today.” She added that “NASA needs stable, long term investment and stable policy goals,” and said, smiling that “more funding would be better.”

Yet even if a new national consensus is forged, the possibility of increased funding for NASA is highly unlikely. Major General (Ret.) Ronald Sega, vice-chair of the NRC Committee on NASA’s Strategic Direction that authored the report, said that this was one of the assumptions they were asked to incorporate in their analysis.  Hall, in turn, noted that “We can’t go to Mars until our people can go to the grocery story…The economy has to improve before NASA funding increases.”

For some, this restrained funding scenario means that NASA ought to pursue partnerships more aggressively, not just with its international partners, but also with the private sector. The Honorable Robert Walker, executive chairman of the lobbying firm Wexler and Walker and former chair of the HSS&T Committee, described public-private partnerships as “the best way to obtain the resources so vitally needed to make NASA’s missions achievable.” He said that NASA must expand its funding base beyond Congress and advocated for “non-traditional” and “entrepreneurial” strategies that could lead to sponsorship funds and to a future with vehicles such as  a “GoDaddy rover” (in reference to the website hosting company) one day traversing the Martian terrain.  Walker said that the HSS&T should find a way for NASA to be able to engage with the private sector in these kinds of partnerships on a routine basis.

Partnerships would also help address another key concern: the long-term sustainability of a reduced and aging aerospace workforce. Witnesses agreed that partnerships with academia and the private sector can enable valuable hands-on experience and can continue to inspire students to pursue STEM careers. University of Michigan’s Dr. Thomas H. Zurbuchen argued that NASA should actively pursue low-cost and modest-sized missions that engage universities and industries in order to ensure that “missions have access to the very best talent.”

NRC: No National Consensus on NASA Strategic Plans; Asteroid-First Mission Not Deemed Compelling

NRC: No National Consensus on NASA Strategic Plans; Asteroid-First Mission Not Deemed Compelling

An ambitious congressionally-mandated study of NASA’s strategic plans and ability to achieve them, released today, describes a grim state of affairs that, if not corrected, threaten U.S. continued leadership in space.

In NASA’s Strategic Direction and the Need for a National Consensus, the National Research Council (NRC) Committee on NASA’s Strategic Direction responded to a congressional mandate in the FY2012 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations act to assess the evolution and relevance of NASA’s goals, objectives and strategies and the agency’s ability – in terms of organizational and budgetary resources – to achieve them. It is of note that “the committee was not asked to opine on what should be NASA’s goals, objectives, and strategy,” as the NRC report states.

The committee, chaired by the University of California’s Albert Carnesale, concludes that  “there is no national consensus on strategic goals and objectives for NASA.” This comes as no surprise to many in the space community and neither does the fact that the report highlights persisting program instability, uncertainty in the agency’s future goals or a dramatic limitation of funds as key drivers for this situation. What is surprising, instead, is the conclusiveness with which it states that the current state of affairs is unique and particularly threatening to the future success not only of the agency, but also of the U.S. space program as a whole.

According to the report, the agency is “at a transition point in its history” and faces “a set of circumstances that it has not faced in combination before.” In fact, in the committee’s assessment, this combination of issues such as the perception of unreliability abroad and an aging infrastructure, could lead to the erosion of U.S. leadership in every element of NASA’s portfolio, including in Earth and space science and aeronautics.

The committee finds that: “If the United States is to continue to maintain international leadership in space, it must have a steady, bold, scientifically justifiable space program in which other countries want to participate, and, moreover, it must behave as a reliable partner.”

Noting the absence of a national consensus and a lack of evidence that a human mission to an asteroid “has been widely accepted as a compelling destination by NASA’s own workforce, by the nation as a whole, or by the international community,” the committee recommends that the Administration take the lead in forging a new consensus, one that engages international partners, and that the agency establish a new strategic plan to achieve it. It also recommends that future plans and legislative funding actions take steps to eliminate the current mismatch between the agency’s budget and its portfolio of programs, facilities and staff. While not endorsing any specific solution, the committee describes four dramatic courses of action that U.S. leadership could take to address this mismatch.

It is yet early to tell what reception this report will have on Capitol Hill and with an Administration preparing to begin its second term.  But to judge by the findings and recommendations contained in this report, the decisions made in the next several months may lead to dramatic changes in the U.S. space program.

Note: editor Marcia Smith was a member of this committee.

Experts Outline Plethora of Issues Facing the Second Obama Administration

Experts Outline Plethora of Issues Facing the Second Obama Administration

As a group of experts demonstrated at a panel discussion in Washington, D.C. yesterday, there is no shortage of pressing space policy challenges facing the second Obama Administration. The problem is choosing just which ones to tackle first.

SpacePolicyOnline Founder and Editor Marcia Smith kicked off the panel, which was convened by the Secure World Foundation (SWF), by laying out a series of challenges in the civil national and international spheres, including the budget shortfall, the future of Landsat beyond the launch of the Landsat Data Continuity Mission in February 2013, as well as persisting uncertainty over NASA priorities. Yet, Smith emphasized that in order to be successful in addressing any of these, there is a need to improve on an underlying aspect of the relationship between key stakeholders: trust.

Not only features of what has been a turbulent relationship between the Executive Branch and Congress during the first Obama Administration, mistrust and unease permeate on a larger scale between the United States and its international partners.  The U.S. decision to pull out of the joint U.S.-European  robotic Mars mission called ExoMars is a perfect example, Smith explained. Even though Europe remains interested in cooperating with the United States – something which “amazes me,” she said – rebuilding U.S. credibility as a reliable partner will be key moving forward.

While export control reform was not the top priority in Patricia Cooper’s list of key issues facing the commercial space sector, the outcome of key regulatory issues seemed the focal point for this community. Cooper, president of the Satellite Industry Association, listed on-orbit safety, hosted payloads, export control reform (or ITAR) and spectrum management as the main challenges. At the root of several of these issues is how the U.S. military, which depends on commercial satellite telecommunications to carry out its missions, will interact with the private sector to resolve these issues.  For example, improving on-orbit safety through increased space situational awareness (SSA) has been a priority for the private sector, leading to the establishment of the Space Data Association (SDA). Yet the degree of acceptance of this initiative by the U.S. military – particularly Strategic Command – is still an open question.

For his part, Brian Weeden, SWF Technical Advisor, highlighted the importance of improving SSA and the challenges the U.S. military faces in doing so, as captured in his recent report: “Going Blind: Why America is on the verge of Losing its Situational Awareness in Space and What Can be done About it.” Weeden noted that while the U.S. Air Force has made progress increasing its SSA capabilities, such as through the now operational Space Based Space Surveillance satellite launched in 2010 – the processing of the data produced by these systems as they come online is still a critical “choke point.” As described in the report, Weeden said that the “material, cultural and bureaucratic shackles” of the U.S. Air Force prevent it from developing a solution to this problem by itself. Instead, the U.S. military should adopt a more open approach to developing standards and capabilities and grow its community of stakeholders.

Wrapping up the panel was Eligar Sadeh, president of Astroconsulting International who outlined the key points in a recent SWF-funded effort to advance strategic thinking with respect to space and which led to a book he edited entitled Space Strategy in the 21st Century.  Sadeh explained that a successful, comprehensive strategy could not only help fulfill policy, but also connect ways to means, two persisting issues prevalent in the space arena. He added that such a strategy can help better coordinate space activities as well as begin to address the issues identified by the panel.  In describing the findings of the experts contained in the book, Sadeh noted the requirements to advancing strategic thinking: top-level political will, the establishment of a process to think strategically, and the ready availability of trained and competent strategists.

Audience interaction with the panel proved that even more issues are of concern to the community, such as the status of efforts to establish an international space code of conduct, and the complex relationship with China. While the exercise may have frustrated someone’s interest to come away with a list of top five issues to watch in space, it instead confirmed what Smith said at the beginning of the panel: “we [the space community] will continue to be very busy in the next four years.”

Baumgartner Breaks World Record for Highest Sky Dive in Historic Jump-UPDTE 2

Baumgartner Breaks World Record for Highest Sky Dive in Historic Jump-UPDTE 2

UPDATE 2, FEBRUARY 5, 2013:  The Associated Press reported in February 2013 that further analysis showed that Baumgartner’s altitude was slightly lower, but his speed was slightly higher, than initially indicated.  His altitude was 127,852 feet, 248 feet lower than thought.  His top speed was 843.6 miles per hour, instead of 834 mph as initially thought.   He reached Mach 1.25 rather than Mach 1.24.

UPDATE:   Information and quotes from Sunday’s press conference have been added, including whether or not he broke the sound barrier.

“The decision has been made…Baumgartner will jump!” This was the statement made at 1:40 pm ET today (October 14, 2012) after a stratospheric balloon carrying a capsule with Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner had reached an altitude of over 120,000 feet.

Earlier today the world watched as Baumgartner completed what sponsor Red Bull has named the “Mission to the Edge of Space.” Five years in the making, on the anniversary of Chuck Yeager’s breaking the speed of sound in an airplane in 1947 and after attempts earlier this week had to be rescheduled, the Red Bull Stratos jump was successful.

Early this morning in Roswell, New Mexico, Baumgartner was given the green light to jump from a special capsule at over 120,000 feet and attempt to break three world records on his way to the surface: highest “manned” balloon flight, highest sky dive and longest skydive. Baumgartner was also attempting to become the first person to break the speed of sound with his body.

Red Bull Stratos provided live coverage of the event. After more than two hours of ascent and having reached almost 128,000 feet in altitude, Joe Kittinger, capsule communicator and in charge of flight operations and safety for this event began running through the “egress checklist” with Baumgartner.  Some 29 items included turning on chest cameras, pressurizing the spacesuit, depressurizing the capsule and getting into position for the jump. The 84-year-old Kittinger set the current records for highest and longest skydive in 1960 and is Baumgartner’s mentor.  Acutely aware of the many dangers of the attempt, Kittinger told Baumgartner that “a guardian angel will take care of you.”

At approximately 2:08 pm ET, Baumgartner jumped. During approximately 4 minutes and 22 seconds of free flight before parachute deployment, Baumgartner could be seen as a small blip on the screen, tumbling before assuming what was described as a “controlled descent.” Although his voice was not always clear, Baumgartner kept ongoing communication with the control team and even noted that his visor was fogging up.

While parachuting the last few thousand feet to the surface, Baumgartner could be clearly seen thanks to coverage from nearby helicopters.  Ground control kept him apprised of wind direction to help control his descent. Shortly thereafter and some ten minutes after jumping out of the capsule, Baumgartner landed safely on his feet.

The records are not yet officially confirmed by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI), but the data available immediately afterwards demonstrate that Baumgartner broke the previous records for highest “manned” balloon flight and highest skydive and he achieved the distinction of being the first human to break the speed of sound with his body, traveling at 834 miles per hour (Mach 1.24).  The duration of his free fall,4 minutes 20 seconds, however, apparently was 16 seconds less than the record held by Kittinger, so that record remains to be broken.  

Baumgartner said “It really was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be.”  He said that the spinning at the beginning of his free fall began slowly but grew faster and “was really brutal at times.” 

In addition to making the history books, the stunt aimed to contribute medical and scientific data that could support future human spaceflight missions, including the development of next generation space suits and of protocols for high altitude and high acceleration exposure.  One potential benefit of today’s feat is demonstrating the capability of enabling astronauts the option to exit their spacecraft during ascent in the event of an emergency.

Baumgartner to Attempt Record ""Spaceflight"" Jump Early Next Month

Baumgartner to Attempt Record ""Spaceflight"" Jump Early Next Month

After two successful practice jumps earlier this year, daredevil Felix Baumgartner is set to complete what his team hopes will be a triple record-breaking jump from “the edge of space” on October 8, according to sponsor Red Bull Stratos.

To prepare for his attempt to be the first human to break the speed of sound in freefall from a high altitude balloon at 120,000 feet, Baumgartner completed two practice jumps: the first from 71,500 feet and, last July, from 96,640 feet. Both tests were successful and helped pave the way for what Red Bull Stratos is calling a commercial “spaceflight” jump from the edge of space”.

In addition to setting several new records, including longest freefall, the stunt aims to contribute medical and scientific data that could support future human spaceflight missions. If successful, Baumgartner will also give an end to a process that has been in the making for almost two years.