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Monday’s CSExtra offers the latest reporting and commentary on space related activities throughout the world, plus a roundup from the weekend. Is U. S. leadership in the exploration of Mars in jeopardy? Now is the time for the U. S. to invest in science and space technology to secure a strong economy, one expert urges. NASA’s Kepler mission awes one young astronomer. Europe sets work on an advanced series of weather satellites in motion. Russia takes note of a recently discovered asteroid that will zip close to the Earth in early 2013. Japan looks to the development of a space elevator. Experts attempt to put a price tag on a lunar base of the kind GOP presidential contender Newt Gingrich proposed. China launches the 11th satellite in a new Global navigation network. Orbital Sciences Corp. re-sets plans for its first International Space Station commercial re-supply mission. A modest strategy for removing man made orbital debris would help to reduce the impact hazard. A Lego space station.
1. From the Associated Press via The Washington Post and others, Feb. 27: Is U.S. leadership in the exploration of Mars changing in response to tight budgets and project cost overruns? Some scientists believe that is the case, as the agency 2012 budget slows efforts to gather soil and rocks from Mars and return them to Earth for studies that could determine whether the materials contain evidence of microbial life. NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission, on course for an August arrival, could be the last mission to touchdown for sometime. http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/nasas-20-year-focus-on-mars-looking-fuzzier-as-space-agency-changes-course-axes-flights/2012/02/27/gIQAsCGOdR_story.html
A. Space News, Feb 24: NASA will corral funds from its 2012 budget, once designated for outer planets exploration, to support a new Mars initiative called Mars Next Generation. Tentatively scheduled for a 2018 or 2020 launch, Mars Next Generation will take the place of joint NASA/European Space Agency missions in 2016-18. Some $30 million from 2012 will go toward the new NASA mission. NASA pulled back from the European collaboration to constrain spending. http://www.spacenews.com/civil/120224-nasa-raids-outer-planets-budget-fund-mars.html
2. From National Public Radio, Feb. 27: The U. S. space initiative has reached a critical junction, according to Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium, who outlines his case for greater public investment in Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier. A deeper understanding of Mars and Venus could help to fend off environmental disaster, he tells NPR. http://www.npr.org/2012/02/27/147351252/space-chronicles-why-exploring-space-still-matters
3. From the Houston Chronicle, Feb. 26: In an interview, Natalie Batalha, one of the young astronomers leading NASA’s Kepler exo-planet hunting mission, offers an inspiring look at her involvement with the mission and how it changed her perception of the cosmos. Neither of Batalha’s parents was a college graduate. Her affinity for math and a long shot internship at a Wyoming observatory opened the door to a fascinating career. http://blog.chron.com/sciguy/2012/02/one-of-nasas-top-planet-hunters-talks-about-the-past-present-and-future-of-kepler/
4. From Spaceflightnow.com, Feb. 25: The European Space Agency signs contracts for the construction of a half-dozen advanced weather satellites for launches beginning in 2017. http://www.spaceflightnow.com/news/n1202/25esamtg/
5. From Ria Novosti of Russia, Feb. 27: Experts expect an asteroid rivaling the size of the object suspected of triggering an explosion over western Siberia in 2008 to pass close to the Earth on Feb. 13, 2013. The asteroid 2012 DA14 was discovered by Spanish astronomers. http://en.rian.ru/science/20120226/171543660.html
6. From Discovery.com, Feb. 25: Japan looks to the construction of a space elevator by 2050. Advances in carbon nanofibers would play a role in the construction of a structure that could hoist people and equipment to orbit. The rise could take a week. http://news.discovery.com/tech/space-elevator-120225.html#mkcpgn=rssnws1
7. From Spacepolitics.com, Feb. 26: What would it cost to develop the lunar base that GOP presidential contender Newt Gingrich proposed during the Florida primary in January? The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget offers an estimate of $140 billion to $620 billion based on a pair of previous studies. Space Politics links to all three, and notes Gingrich’s strategy relied on prizes as an incentive, which the estimates do not take into account. http://www.spacepolitics.com/2012/02/26/putting-a-price-on-gingrichs-lunar-plans/
A. From Spacepolitics.com, Feb. 24: GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney was questioned about NASA’s declining planetary exploration budget at a Kalamazoo, Mich town hall. As he did during the Florida primary, Romney says he would confer with a cross section of experts from industry and government. As for the moon, Romney acknowledges China has a focus on lunar exploration. He questions the wisdom, though, of the U. S. staging an Apollo-like return. http://www.spacepolitics.com/2012/02/25/romney-is-in-no-rush-to-go-back-to-the-moon/
8. From Xinhuanet of China, Feb. 25: China successfully launches the 11th in a series of Beidou spacecraft, the country’s independent global network of navigation satellites. http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/sci/2012-02/25/c_131430446.htm
A. From Spaceflightnow.com, Feb. 24 : A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket with the first of a news series of U. S. Navy mobile communications satellites lifts off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. http://www.spaceflightnow.com/atlas/av030/
9. From Space.com: NASA’s orbital debris experts say the hazards from the accumulation of space junk in Earth orbit could be reduced by removing five objects a year and a growing effort to keep inactive satellites from creating new debris. http://www.space.com/14674-space-junk-solution-5-spacecraft.html
A. From Space.com, Feb. 24: A piece of space debris crashes to Earth, striking a small Brazilian village. The incident unfolded on Feb. 22. http://www.space.com/14672-space-junk-crashes-brazil-village-rocket.html
10. From Collectspace.com, Feb. 24: Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa assembles a model of the International Space Station from Legos as an educational tool, while he served aboard the orbital science lab last year. http://www.collectspace.com/news/news-022412a.html
11. From Space.com, Feb. 26, Scientists find a plausible explanation for the high velocity electrons responsible for the northern and southern lights. http://www.space.com./14679-northern-lights-mystery-earth-magnetosphere.html
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