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Monday’s CSExtra features the latest in reporting and commentary on exploration related activities from the weekend as well as the week ahead. Expect new findings in the search for Earth-like extra-solar planets from NASA’s Kepler mission. Shuttle Discovery is set to return to a Florida launch pad Monday night, following extensive trouble shooting into external fuel tank cracks. NASA and veteran shuttle commander Mark Kelly enter uncharted waters over his leadership of Endeavour’s final flight, a two week mission to the International Space Station set for an April 19 lift off. Kelly is the husband of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who received a gunshot would on Jan. 8. Russia’s 41st Progress mission to the International Space Station arrives Saturday night with three tons of supplies. Jan. 27th marked NASA’s annual National Day of Remembrance, a tribute to the men and women who died in the Apollo 1 fire as well as aboard Challenger and Columbia. The uncertainty over NASA’s future drove a spirited discussion surrounding the 25-year-old Challenger tragedy and what the risky side of spaceflight means for future exploration. There’s more on fending off asteroids and cloud formations that could be linked to climate change.
1. From the Wall Street Journal, Jan. 28: This week promises to bring a flurry of announcements on extra-solar planets. NASA and others will unveil evidence for as many as 400 Earth-like planets circling other stars. These are findings from NASA’s $600 million Kepler Telescope mission, which launched in 2009. Scientists have been vetting the findings since last spring. Some 156,000 stars in the Milky Way were surveyed.
A. From the New York Times, Jan. 30: “I’ve argued that Kepler is more important than the Hubble Space Telescope. We provide the data mankind needs to move out into space,” says William Borucki, 72, Kepler’s lead scientist. Borucki, an Apollo veteran, has spent the last 20 years getting the telescope off the ground.
B. From the New York Times, Jan. 30: How is Kepler enabling astronomers to determine the size of an extra-solar planet? By “listening” to each star’s natural vibration and observing changes in luminosity as the planet travels across the face of the star. NASA computers are making the studies possible.
2. From Spaceflightnow.com, Jan. 30: Shuttle Discovery is to re-emerge from the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center late Monday for an overnight trek to Launch Pad 39A. Discovery’s final mission was idled Nov. 5 by a hydrogen leak and later by cracks found on the stringer section of the external fuel tank. The tank has since been modified. A Feb. 24 lift off is anticipated.
3. From the New York Times, Jan. 29: NASA and veteran astronaut Mark Kelly enter uncharted waters as they weigh Kelly’s command of NASA’s final scheduled shuttle mission, a two-week voyage to the International Space Station aboard Endeavour in late April. Kelly is the husband of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford, who suffered a head wound during a Jan. 8 shooting rampage. One agency veteran suggests the flight could be delayed to allow Kelly more time to guide his wife’s convalescence.
A. From Reuters, Jan. 30: NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver tells reporters in Israel that NASA and Kelly will reach a decision by mid-February on Kelly’s command of Endeavour.
B. From USA Today and Florida Today, Jan. 28: Shuttle managers decide to install a radius block modification on the stringer section of Endeavour’s external fuel tank. The mission is currently set for an April 19 lift off. Discovery’s fuel tank received the radius block upgrades in response to a lengthy troubleshooting into small cracks in some of the ship’s fuel tank stringers. Discovery is set for a roll out to the launch pad tonight for a Feb. 24th lift off.
4. From Spaceflightnow.com, Jan. 29: The second in a wave of unmanned cargo craft reaches the International Space Station late Saturday. Russia’s 41st Progress docks at 9:39 p.m., EST. The arrival follows the Jan. 27 arrival of Japan’s second unmanned H-2TV, christened Kounotori. Europe’s second ATV, the Johannes Kepler, is nearing a Feb. 15 lift off.
5. From the Orlando Sentinel, Jan. 28: In an op-ed on the 25th anniversary of the shuttle Challenger tragedy, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, of Florida, urges the White House and Congress to back NASA’s human exploration agenda in spite of difficult economic times. He also calls on NASA to follow the deadline and schedules in the 2010 NASA authorization bill that calls on the agency to produce a heavy lift rocket and multipurpose crew vehicle by the end of 2016. What would the Challenger crew and President Kennedy say if NASA was expected to do any less, Nelson writes. The lawmaker chairs the Senate subcommittee with NASA oversight.
A. From the Houston Chronicle, Jan. 28: Gerald Griffin, who was director of the Johnson Space Center until weeks before the Challenger tragedy, recalls the mood in greater Houston and at NASA following Challenger’s loss. If the nation wishes to maintain its leadership in astronautics and aeronautics, then it’s time to invest in a shuttle replacement, Griffin tells the Chronicle in a question-and-answer session.
B. From the Houston Chronicle, Jan. 30: Alton Keel Jr., a surviving member of the Rogers Commission that investigated the causes of the Challenger tragedy, looks back at the tragedy in a Chronicle question-and-answer session. In hind sight, NASA failed to establish a truly independent safety apparatus and transparent launch processes. The nation has been too slow to replace the shuttle with safer launch systems — because of the expense, says Keel.
C. From the Huntsville Times, Jan. 28: Perhaps no part of NASA suffered more than the Marshall Space Flight Center in the aftermath of the Challenger tragedy, the Huntsville Times notes in an editorial. The 25th of the anniversary of the loss should remind all of the risks of human spaceflight and caution against taking short cuts in developing a successor. The public generally does not perceive the risks involved.
D. From the Orlando Sentinel, Jan. 29: In an op-ed, columnist Mike Thomas sees evidence Congress has learned little from the Challenger tragedy. When NASA informed Congress earlier this month that it lacks the resources to meet a Dec. 31, 2016 deadline for the development of a heavy lift rocket, the agency should have been lauded by lawmakers rather than criticized, Thomas writes. NASA’s shuttle development was marked by too many design compromises, the columnist adds.
E. From Florida Today, Jan. 30: In an op-ed, columnist John Kelly writes that past tragedies should not deter the U.S. from leading the way in the exploration of space. “Every now and again, some politician in Washington, or some critic of space exploration will rise up to shout about how it’s too expensive and too dangerous to send people to space. Maybe we ought to just let robots do that, some will argue. It sure would cost less, someone will chime in,” writes Kelly. “Well, they’re just wrong.”
F. From the Associated Press via the Los Angeles Times, Jan. 28: Challenger family survivors, NASA managers, and members of the public are moved at a Kennedy Space Center ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of the shuttle explosion.
G. From Florida Today, Jan. 29: Snow birds among those drawn to the Challenger memorial.
6. From Space.com, Jan. 27: Rare high altitude night shinning or noctilucent clouds are becoming more common. The rise may be an indication of growing greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, says one NASA scientist who studies the phenomenon.
7. From Discovery.com, Jan. 31: A proposal for a future “Sputnik moment” that would band together the international community to demonstrate an asteroid deflection capability. Apophis, a 1,300 foot long asteroid headed close to the Earth in April 2029, could provide an opportunity.
8. From the Coalition for Space Exploration, Jan. 28: Scientists develop new tools to improve forecasts for the arrival of plasma streams and coronal mass ejections unleashed by the sun.
9. From Spacepolicyonline.com: Major space policy events in Washington and elsewhere this week.
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