Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Now AFP has reports Yi has been hospitalized because of her pain and will undergo MRI testing and a diagnosis followed by recommended treatments.
The Soyuz had been docked on the International Space Station for six months, and Roscosmos has disclosed, after a preliminary investigation, the Soyuz TMA's habitation module may have failed to completely separate from the re-entry section and may have accompanied the flight crew through a steeper, slower and violent re-entry "without benefit of a heat shield."
More likely the Soyuz was required to re-enter later and on a path ultimately steeper, slower and hotter.
A re-entry without some heat shield protection is unlikely though the main hatch was nearly burned through, and the failure of the habitation and forward section of the Soyuz system to perform properly has been traced as the problem causing similar "ballistic" re-entry in two other Soyuz returns to Earth after extended power-downs in orbit.
NASA continues to express confidence Roscosmos will ultimately trace and solve the problem.
Dr. Peggy Whitson ended her second record-breaking flight, serving as commander of the ISS, watching a metered 8.2 gees during the "emergency" re-entry. A nominal Soyuz re-entry peaks only far more briefly and with the crew experiencing slightly under 4 gees, and for a shorter period.
The rapid slowdown and whatever other unusual conditions experienced by Yi, who was ending a nine day stay on the ISS, caused a landing 295 miles from target and nearly fifteen minutes late.
AFP reports, South Korea's first astronaut Yi So-Yeon has been admitted to hospital with severe back pains caused by her rough return voyage to Earth, officials said Tuesday. The state-run Korea Aerospace Research Institute said Yi is undergoing MRI and other scans at an air force hospital to determine the exact cause of her discomfort.
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
"Jubilant ISRO chief says work on moon mission (begins) tomorrow"
ChennaiOnline "Life made easy"
Sriharikota: Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chief G Madhavan Nair today said the work on "Chandrayan," India's first moon mission, would start tomorrow.
"After the much better than text-book precision launch of PSLV-C9, which has injected into orbit as many as ten satellites, scientists are thrilled and geared up to launch the work on Chandrayan tomorrow itself," he said, addressing a post launch press conferernce.
Describing today's successful mission as a remarkable moment for ISRO and India, Mr Nair said for the first time, ISRO had launched ten satellites simultaneously.
"We have shown to the world, India is cabable of launching multiple satellites in single mission", he said adding Russia had launched 13 satellites using single rocket, "but we do not know the results." Scientists were thrilled by today's success and they would be starting the work on Chandrayan tomorrow itself. "We have targeted to achieve the moon mission in the third quarter of this year and are confident of achieving the target," he said.
Chardrayan is the first Indian Mission to the Moon devoted to high-resolution remote sensing of the lunar surface features in visible, near infrared, X-ray and low energy gamma ray regions. This will be accomplished using several payloads already selected for the mission. In addition, a total of about ten kg payload weight and 10 W power are earmarked for proposals which are now solicited.
The mission is proposed to be a lunar polar orbiter at an altitude of about 100 km.
Roscosmos is still investigating the Subnominal return. Yi is preparing to meet Secretary General of the United Nations Moon, believe it or not. AFP Reports:
SEOUL — South Korea's first astronaut Yi So-Yeon returned home Monday, saying she still feels some pain following her unorthodox re-entry to the Earth's atmosphere.
Yi and two colleagues returned to Earth in what some Russian media called a dangerous re-entry on April 19, when her Russian-designed Soyuz capsule landed hundreds of kilometres off target.
She told an airport press conference she has some lingering pain but doctors assured her it would get better, according to Yonhap news agency. The landing subjected the crew to huge gravitational forces. Yi said she had been prepared to deal with it because such a contingency was fully explained during her year-long training in Russia.
"I received prior training on it and was further assured by the two astronauts who returned with me," she said, expressing thanks for the public's support. Yi will report her mission to science and technology minister Kim Do-Yeon Tuesday and will also meet President Lee Myung-Bak later.
The 29-year-old biosystems engineer carried out 18 experiments, including biological, geophysical and medical tests, during her nine-day mission at the International Space Station orbiting the Earth.
Interfax news agency had said the landing capsule was facing the wrong direction when it entered the atmosphere, depriving it of the protection of its heat-resistant shield.
Yi is scheduled to visit the United Nations to meet Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who is South Korean, later in the year. South Korea paid some 20 million dollars for her mission, becoming the 36th country to send a astronaut into space.
Seoul is due to launch a satellite from its own space center, under construction at the country's southern tip, later this year. It plans to launch a lunar orbiter by 2020 and send a probe to the moon five years after that.
Both are maddening scenarios because the spacecraft probably could be easily fixed if engineers could just get their hands on the hardware for a few minutes.
Ali Akoglu and his students at The University of Arizona are working on hybrid hardware/software systems that one day might use machine intelligence to allow the spacecraft to heal themselves.
Akoglu, an assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering, is using Field Programmable Gate Arrays, or FPGA, to build these self-healing systems. FPGAs combine software and hardware to produce flexible systems that can be reconfigured at the chip level.
Because some of the hardware functions are carried out at the chip level, the software can be set up to mimic hardware. In this way, the FPGA “firmware” can be reconfigured to emulate different kinds of hardware.
Speed vs. Flexibility
Akoglu explains it this way: There are general-purpose systems, like your desktop computer, which can run a variety of applications. Unfortunately, even with 3 GHz, dual-core processors, they’re extremely slow compared with hardwired systems.
With hardwired systems, the hardware is specific to the purpose. As an example, engineers could build a very fast system that would run Microsoft Word but nothing else. It couldn’t run Excel or any other application. But it would be super fast at what it’s designed for.
“In that case, you have an extremely fast system, but it’s not adaptable,” Akoglu explained. “When new, and better software comes along, you have to go back into the design cycle and start building hardware from scratch.”
“What we need is something in the middle that is the best of both worlds, and that’s what I’m trying to come up with using Field Programmable Arrays,” he said.
Work on the self-healing systems began in 2006 as a project in Akoglu’s graduate-level class. His students presented a paper on the system and sparked interest from NASA, which eventually provided an $85,000 grant to pursue the work.
Akoglu and his students now are in the second phase of the project, which is called SCARS (Scalable Self-Configurable Architecture for Reusable Space Systems). The project is being carried out in collaboration with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Currently, they are testing five hardware units that are linked together wirelessly. The units could represent a combination of five landers and rovers on Mars, for instance.
“When we create a test malfunction, we try to recover in two ways,” he explained. “First, the unit tries to heal itself at the node level by reprogramming the problem circuits.”
If that fails, the second step is for the unit to try to recover by employing redundant circuitry. But if the unit’s onboard resources can’t fix the problem, the network-level intelligence is alerted. In this case, another unit takes over the functions that were carried out by the broken unit.
“The second unit reconfigures itself so it can carry out both its own tasks and the critical tasks from the broken unit,” Akoglu explained.
If two units go down and can’t fix themselves, the three remaining units split up the tasks. All of this is done autonomously without human aid.
Because FPGAs can be programmed to carry on tasks simultaneously, they also can be configured to do lightning-fast processing.
“So if you’re running a loop, and it is running 10,000 times, you can replicate the loop as a processing element in the FPGA ‘n’ number of times,” Akoglu explained. “That means you have an ‘n’ times speed-up.” It’s like creating a huge multicore processor configured for a specific task.
FPGAs traditionally have been used for prototyping circuits because their firmware can be reprogrammed. Rather than creating costly circuits in hardware, engineers can test their ideas quickly and inexpensively in FPGA firmware.
In the past five years, the amount of circuitry that can be crammed into FPGAs has increased dramatically, promoting them from simple test-beds to end products in themselves, Akoglu explained.
The Ridgetop Group, a Tucson company that specializes in diagnosing circuit faults using statistical methods, now is working with Akoglu on the self-healing systems.
“This is the next phase of our project,” Akoglu said. “Our objective is to go beyond predicting a fault to using a self-healing system to fix the predicted fault before it occurs.” This could lead to extremely stable computer systems that could operate for long periods without failure.
Monday, April 28, 2008
By E.B. FURGURSON III, Staff Writer
He's half-joking, of course, but Liam Sarsfield, a former NASA engineer and a pioneer of small-scale space exploration, could tweak his team's Google Lunar X PRIZE team's moon shot and other flights from his home office along Parker Creek.
The challenge? Be the first private enterprise to land a craft on the moon and transmit video and data back to earth to prove it.
Times of India
Posted: 27 Apr 2008 10:20 PM CDT
PEORIA - Caterpillar Inc. doesn't plan to stop at being the No. 1 construction equipment maker in the world. It's aiming for the universe, with NASA as its partner.
Caterpillar and NASA - the National Aeronautics and Space Administration - are getting closer to having the right earthmoving - er, moonmoving - equipment available to put on the moon in less than a decade to build habitats, roads and other infrastructure that could sustain life on the lunar surface.
"We're pretty far along. I would say our partnership with Caterpillar is right on schedule," said Lucien Junkin, NASA's chief engineer of the Chariot project the two have been working on since 2006.
Chariot is the name given to the vehicle, which NASA calls
a "lunar truck" that is being co-developed using Caterpillar's robotics technology and NASA's knowledge of the surface, which Junkin describes as rocky and sandy, devoid of any moisture. "The moon 'dust' is more like crushed gravel, with fine, sharp edges," he said.
The technology is being developed in a Caterpillar skid steer loader and later will be transferred to the Chariot, which would be able to be operated through remote control or automation, said Eric Reiners, engineering manager of electronics and controls in Caterpillar's Technical Solutions Division.
The Chariot and the work Caterpillar and NASA are doing on the project is detailed - to date, anyway - in a pair of brief videos that can be viewed on Caterpillar's Web site, www.cat.com.
In the video, Junkin said NASA began renewing its interest in moon exploration when President Bush, in early 2004, called on the space agency to find a way for man to live on the moon.
Junkin said NASA, knowing that meant infrastructure would be needed where there is nothing but moon dust now, "turned to the people we believe are the best at doing things like building roads, berms, landing strips or digging and trenching, and that's Caterpillar."
Junkin, himself a nationally known expert in robotics, said NASA will tap Caterpillar's expertise not only in machine technology, but also the best way to make the machine do the tasks at hand.
"Mankind has never done construction or moved dirt on another celestial body. That's why we wanted Caterpillar's expertise," Junkin said.
Caterpillar, said Reiners, knew of NASA's interest in sustaining life on the moon from an earlier project. "So we got together and agreed to start working together again, exchanging intellectual property," he said.
NASA wanted help to find a way to make the machines work without a human operator, something Caterpillar has experience with, Reiner said. "Robotics and automation takes the human operator out of dangerous situations," he said.
Even if there are humans on the moon when work occurs, much of the moon dust moving will be done by remote control from the lunar habitat or from Earth, or through programmed automation.
That's because humans can be out in the elements of the moon only a short period at a time. Part of that is because of the extremes in a lunar day, which is the equivalent of 28 earth days: It can go from 270 degrees during the day to 250 degrees below zero at night.
"I would say we are at various stages in the technology development," Reiners said. One problem with trying to operate the lunar truck by remote control from Earth is the distance creates a time lag of several seconds between the time the command is given and executed and acknowledged. That's why work is being done so the machine can be programmed to execute certain functions on its own.
Junkin and Reiners said the Chariot project, part of NASA's Constellation Program, is on schedule to send equipment and begin doing infrastructure in 2016 or 2017, with humans returning to the moon by 2020 or 2021.
"It's very exciting," said Reiners, who has been with Caterpillar 21 years. "The people who are doing the day-to-day development work here at Mossville are very excited about what we're doing.
"It fits very well with what Cat has been doing around the world, and now we are looking at humanity expanding its presence to other places outside Earth. Some are calling the moon our eighth continent. It only makes sense Cat would be on hand to help make it happen," he said.
Paul Gordon can be reached at 686-3288 or email@example.com
Sunday, April 27, 2008
It was yet another sign of NASA's faith in the Hawthorne, California-based company, with its test facilities in Texas and an equatorial launch site in the Marshall Islands, on Kawajalein. SpaceX may not be the only commercial space company in the U.S. or the world, but its serious, steady progress has clearly taken them past the point of being a "start-up."
Three high-accuracy space clocks aboard
Final demonstration before Galileo
Saturday, April 26, 2008
This spring, a series of workshops are being organized and this fall a National Robotics Senior Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C., will take place. The conference will review the preliminary results from the workshops and take steps toward an integrated national research agenda. The roadmap will then be reported to the year-old Congressional Robotics Caucus, headed by U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) and U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.).
Doyle and Wamp of the Congressional Robotics Caucus expressed enthusiasm for the effort.
While you were sleeping,
the world as you knew it ceased to exist."
Sitting on the fringe of the quantum foam,
listening to the 11 dimensional humm...
Ref: arxiv.org/abs/0710.0820: Is the Accelerated Expansion Evidence of a Forthcoming change of Signature?
Now 74, Capt. Eugene Cernan, commander of Apollo 17, looked fit, handsome and vigorous as he faced his young inquisitors from the controls of a rocking chair in their classroom in Orchard Park’s South Davis Elementary School.
“Who wants to go to the moon?” Cernan asked the 6-year-olds seated on the floor before him. All hands shot into the air. “Great,” Cernan beamed. “I’ve got a crew.”
Cernan — who paused and knelt on the moon’s surface in 1972 to trace his daughter Tracy’s initials in the lunar dust with his spacesuit’s glove just before leaving for home — clearly loves children.
Friday, April 25, 2008
By Rob Coppinger
The European Space Agency is offering €500,000 ($786,500) for a pressurised lunar rover (PLR) phase 0/A study to produce a conceptual design, to evaluate its functional, technical and operational requirements and determine its likely cost and development schedule. The closing date for proposals is 14 May.
Xinhua - Chinese scientists and engineers have built prototypes of the country's planned lunar rover module, the science and technology commission of Shanghai said Wednesday.
The city's lunar rover research team has made models of different types and conducted feasibility and technological trials.
The Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology has made significant progress in key technologies for the locomotion system, it said.
China launched its first lunar probe, Chang'e I, in October last year. The country plans to land its first lunar rover on the moon by 2013.
Engineers unveil China moon rover - News.BBC.co.uk:
The 1.5m (5ft) high, 200kg (440lbs) rover should transmit video in real time, dig into and analyse soil, and produce 3D images of the lunar surface.
China is working on a three-stage plan for exploration of the Earth’s Moon, which includes sending a lunar orbiter called Chang’e-1 some time this year.
This will be followed by a soft landing in 2012 and the return of lunar samples in another five years.The US has outlined its vision for the exploration of the Moon, which will involve returning humans to the lunar surface by 2020.
Read more HERE.
"While ISS has had a long, and at times controversial and frustrating development path, I am impressed with the progress that has been made in assembling and operating this incredibly complex international space-based science and technology facility," said Subcommittee Chairman Mark Udall (D-CO). As the most complex international scientific and technological endeavor ever undertaken, ISS incorporates innovative ideas and technologies from the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, and 10 member states of the European Space Agency. ISS has been continuously crewed for over six years. Once its assembly is completed it will have a pressurized volume of more than 33,000 cubic feet and a mass of more than 925,000 pounds.
The ISS is intended to support NASA's exploration initiative and to serve as a National Laboratory for space-based research. Currently, the Space Shuttle is scheduled for retirement in 2010, which will cause the U.S. to rely on partners such as Russia to provide routine transportation and emergency crew return from the ISS and to seek commercial resupply services.
"Although NASA talks about providing research opportunities on the ISS, we cannot forget that the funding cuts NASA has made to its microgravity research programs in recent years--whether willingly or not--have largely decimated that research community," stated Udall. "I think the onus has to be on NASA to prove that it means what it says by taking meaningful steps both to make the ISS a productive venue for research and to start to rebuild that research community. Yet, it won't be possible to have a productive ISS unless the facility can be sustained after the Shuttle is retired."
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Congressman Frank makes that mistake often enough himself.
He can also be forgiven for a certain non-linearity in his passing mention of this nation’s important debate over “Internal Improvements” and the context of that debate. I commend it to you because we definitely agree more than we disagree over NASA’s disconnect with the American People. We apparently share the same ambivalence and reluctance to allow Political Will to break our hearts a second time.
If anything, I am perhaps more radical in refusing to be anything other than leery of Team NASA, a creature of Congress after all, but I don't wear this on my sleeve. As a facility of pure genius, I am awestruck by the individuals that this Sea of Relationships continually tosses up, and sometimes even for the bureaucracy itself and its taxonomies. It is alone among government agencies I admire, and is more effective and cost-efficient, and spends far less than newer agencies with ten times its budget that accomplish no lasting legacy.
As joyful as I was at the President’s Vision four years ago, my hope has been and continues to be invested in a long held contingency plan should NASA be made to fail, in much the same way Wingo warns.
Wingo is right in much that he sets before us in this "missive." Holding together a "movement" is self-contradictory, the timescale is too long, and the returns are poorly spelled out. Like Wingo, I could spell them out on a legal pad. Unlike Wingo, I've not been content to wait on NASA since 1977.
But enough commentary, because I've posted this so you might stumble upon this mostly well-written, mostly rational and cogent "missive" by Dennis Wingo. I recommend it as well worth your valuable time.
To those of us who have committed our lives to the proposition that the exploration and development of space as the means by which we can build a prosperous global civilization that will last far beyond our current limits to growth, recent events have a familiar and depressing feel. There is a principle in the entrepreneurial world that if you present a business plan to an investor that does not meet their criterion for funding, you dont get funded. The same principle applies to government spending with the congress, executive branch and the people fulfilling the role of the investor. Our national space agency has been trying to sell a business plan to the American people for almost forty years that they have continually decided not to fund. The investor has continually given feedback to the NASA entrepreneur with little or no indication that NASA has listened. This missive will provide examples of this forty year phenomenon and hopefully provide insight to NASAs leadership on what can be done within the context of the Vision for Space Exploration to establish a lasting effort to achieve national goals.
This is not a criticism about a rocket development effort, it is about the goal, the vision, and the return on investment for the American people. The investor does not care exactly how a company carries out its business plan, they just care about results and the exit plan. Successful great and noble efforts by nations follow this same path. The canals of the early American frontier opened up the Midwest to settlement and commerce. The national railroad of the 1860s was built in a time of desperate civil war but was funded because our leaders understood that the result would bind together and unify the nation for communications, settlement, and commerce. The Panama canal, the interstate system, the seaports, the airports, all of these government funded or supported efforts had a simple goal, increase our national wealth through the creation of an infrastructure unparalleled in world history in support of commerce and freedom of movement for our people. These are things that people readily understand and that congress willingly funds. These are templates and lessons that NASA must incorporate into its plans or the Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) will join the other acronyms of space plan failure in the dustbin of history.
From Spaceflight NOW, April 23:
"The Russian Soyuz TMA-11 spacecraft that carried two space station crew members and a South Korean guest cosmonaut back to Earth Saturday may have started its fiery re-entry with a normally discarded propulsion module still attached officials said today, putting the craft in an unusual orientation and subjecting the returning space fliers to higher than normal stresses and buffeting.
"I saw 8.2 Gs on the meter and it was ... pretty dramatic," outgoing space station commander Peggy Whitson, flying as the left-seat Soyuz engineer, told a NASA interviewer shortly after landing. "Gravity's not really my friend right now and 8 Gs was especially not my friend. But it didn't last too long. Chute deploy was nominal and impact ... wasn't quite as bad as I was expecting."
But the separation of the Soyuz modules "was a little more dramatic than I was expecting."
"It was the second Soyuz entry in a row to experience apparent module separation problems, raising questions about quality control and the spacecraft's overall reliability. But Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's director of space operations, said the Russians were treating the issue with the thoroughness it deserved and he expressed confidence in their ability to resolve the matter before the next Soyuz launch Oct. 12.
"We don't see this as a major problem, but it's clearly something that should not have occurred, we don't like to see things repeat on two flights," he told reporters in an afternoon teleconference. Warning against speculation, he said "it appears, based on what we hear, we may have missed the most probable cause (of the earlier problem). We may have something else going on. ... The important thing is the Russians are taking this extremely serious, they've got the commission started, they're bringing in some independent folks on their side to take a look at this and they'll understand what the problem is."
BY STEPHEN CLARK
Posted: April 23, 2008
The Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, largely built from flight-proven components used on a variety of earlier missions, is currently undergoing testing at a California factory.
LCROSS was unveiled to the public in April 2006 as a bonus mission to take advantage of the Atlas 5 rocket's extra lift capacity on its flight to send the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to the moon. The project received its first influx of funding about two months later.
"That means that from point of authority to proceed, meaning cash-in-hand, to launch, meaning the October launch date, we're looking at something like 29 months, which is incredibly fast," said Dan Andrews, LCROSS project manager at NASA's Ames Research Center.
"Then you further aggravate that speed by saying that you have absolutely no more than 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) of up-mass, and that's a hard number because you're going to be topping what the Atlas 5 can lift given LRO's allocation," Andrews said. "Then you aggravate it further and say that you are a cost-capped mission."
The mission's total cost must not exceed $79 million due to funding constraints in NASA's robotic lunar exploration program.
"It's a well-constrained box for trying to pull off something fast," Andrews said.
Posted: April 23, 2008
A robotic precursor of resuming human expeditions to the moon will likely be postponed by at least a few weeks from its October launch target, but NASA does not foresee any problems launching the lunar orbiter and high-speed impactor before the end of this year. NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, an observatory to map the lunar surface in search of potential landing sites for future human missions, is about two weeks behind schedule in meeting the craft's appointed launch date, said Craig Tooley, LRO project manager at the Goddard Space Flight Center.
"We know that there are things that await us as we pass through (testing) that will certainly take some unplanned time," Tooley said. "That's what experience has taught us on spacecraft here at Goddard."
Officials with the piggyback Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite mission, a secondary payload designed to take a suicidal plunge into one of the moon's impact crater, said their mission is about a month ahead of schedule.
Both missions are currently on the books for liftoff aboard an Atlas 5 rocket at about 1055 GMT (6:55 a.m. EDT) Oct. 28, the first day of a series of launch opportunities stretching through the end of 2008. But LRO's ambitious schedule of integration and testing will likely push launch into at least the middle of November, according to Tooley.
Tooley said project officials accepted a requirement to launch LRO before the end of this year, and the mission's ground processing plan leaves plenty of schedule margins to meet that time constraint.
"We have a whole series of launch opportunities that stretch from Oct. 28 through the end of the calendar year that we work with the Atlas launch vehicle. In all likelihood, as we get a little closer we'll probably pick one of those launch opportunities there in November or somewhere and say 'that's the one we're going to hit,'" Tooley said.
Five launch periods are available for LRO this year, beginning Oct. 28, Nov. 11, Nov. 24, Dec. 8 and Dec. 22. Each of the opportunities spans four days.
See our chart showing launch dates and times here.
"We are much more unconstrained than a planetary mission," Tooley said. "The moon is always there, and to establish the kind of orbit we're headed for and do a trajectory to the moon we can go almost every day."
Recommended: Read more HERE.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
"Considering that this situation has repeated itself, it is obvious that the technological discipline in preparing space equipment for a flight is declining. There is no guarantee that the crew of a Soyuz spacecraft landing a half a year from now would not face the same difficulties." - Anonymous Russian space official
"First, Russian space officials tried to cover up the emergency landing of the Soyuz descent capsule on Saturday. Then they blamed the crew for changing their flight plan without communicating with mission control. Compounding the problem, an official cited a bad omen as a contributing factor to the hard landing. Within a couple of days, the truth behind the Soyuz "ballistic re-entry" began to come to light. Today, even more shocking revelations are being reported, including how the escape hatch nearly failed during the uncontrolled, fiery re-entry..."
"The mission-ready robot," she writes, "which will be about twice the size of the prototype pictured here and made of steel, should be able to haul a load of up to 15 tons pretty much anywhere it wants to—as long as it obeys a 3mph speed limit. “That’s about as fast as you can go without risking flipping over because of the low gravity,” explains Brian Wilcox, the primary investigator on the Athlete project...."
"Scientists at JPL hope to rocket Athlete to the moon for unmanned testing as early as 2012. What would come next depends on the success of NASA’s plans for manned space exploration"
EADS is already in talks with owner-operators about preordering the spacecraft. If that financing comes through, EADS says it could launch flights as early as 2012. With consumer interest steadily growing, and billions in backing, can the massive European company succeed where others are failing?
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
As discussed earlier in what as hoped might be a wrap-up and some guesses as to the answers to some lingering questions about what went wrong - once again - with the Soyuz TMA re-entry two days ago, starting with an obviously a late and possibly manual re-entry burn, is casting unwelcome shadows over a week when Russian space planners had been announcing plans to facilitate an expanded manned program.
Anatoly Perminov, Director of the Russian Federal Space Agency, has been among those emerging from planning sessions in Moscow floating ideas for an orbiting construction platform for interplanetary travel, announcements for a new launch base in the Russian Far East, plans to send monkeys to Mars and for continuing advances in a long-proven leadership as a dependable launch partner.
Last months failure to place a twin payload of communications satellites in geocentric orbit begun to fade, but the United States is depending on Star City to provide them access to the International Space Station for at least five years after Shuttles retirement in 2010.
This third, and second in a row, disturbing failure of the minimalist but rugged Soyuz re-entry system - and a comical attempt to cover-up or downplay facts in this latest landing, are disturbing NASA, and at budget time on Capitol Hill, where some Congressmen will undoubtedly use the incident as a way to ridicule Roscosmos, Michael Griffin, President Bush's Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) and manned space flight in general.
The cooperation NASA has shown to Russian efforts to downplay the situation - by simply not reporting on it, long after the Russians had resumed offering at least some information - has some in the astronaut corp remembering MIR in 1997, and the fire that nearly killed the crew and Michael Foale, whose endurance record in space, ironically, was bested by a week by Dr. Peggy Whitson. Some of the astronauts, most of whom still do not anymore relish a long trip to ISS any more than they did to Mir twelve years ago, are already urging a "surge," a more rapid roll-out at least of the Block One model of Orion and Ares I booster of the Constellation program.
Much of what may be intrinsically flawed in the Russian manned space space program is definitely bringing to mind questions not just about the logistic difficulty and crew hardship in depending on the Russian Soyuz, but that ship's safety, though for the first time in a while.
Though some are simply wondering if the long-docking of any manned vehicle, built for human re-entry, produces unintended consequences. And others have the creeping feeling the Russians are suffering under what was thought to be a uniquely American, "creeping delusion of this kind of travel becoming routine."