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Tuesday’s CSExtra offers the latest reporting and commentary on space related activities from around the world. In a surprise announcement, NASA reveals a gift from the National Reconnaissance Office, a pair of vintage spy satellites that can be re-purposed for space astronomy missions. Venus crosses the sun. The U. S. and China to meet for discussions on cyber attacks, space exploration plans. NASA pulls the plug on a future astronomy mission in response to budget constraints. Test orbiter Enterprise sustains wing damage during a barge trip from JFK International Airport to the Intrepid Sea Air and Space Museum in Manhattan. Two essays examine the debate over the next destination for human space explorers, the moon or an asteroid, and the sluggish response to the space debris menace. SpaceX/Dragon and the role of the private sector.
1. From the Washington Post: In a surprise move, the National Reconnaissance Office announces Monday that it will give two surplus spy telescopes to NASA — each more powerful than the 22-year-old Hubble Space Telescope. However, neither yet has a mission. Confronted with tight budgets, NASA says it will be 2020 at the soonest before either could be ready for a mission — perhaps one to study the dark energy.
A. From the New York Times: The call to NASA from the NRO came a year ago. NASA’s experts worked quietly to assess the quality of the instruments and plot a mission for at least one. The dark energy question was resting at the top of a priority list already established by the National Research Council. The question now: Will NASA have the money to re-purpose and launch the observatories? How will other mission activities be affected?
B. From USA Today: The National Reconnaissance Organization’s gifts to NASA would complement the $8.7 billion James Webb Space Telescope, say experts.
2. From the New York Times: Today, Venus crosses the sun in a transit rarely visible from Earth. The spectacle will be observed from Earth and from space with a handful of spacecraft. The observations may improve the workings of NASA’s Kepler space telescope and its exo-planet hunting mission.
A. From MSNBC and the Cosmic Log: A guide to observing Venus, including safe viewing tips and instructions on how to monitor the transit by web cast.
B. From Space.com: The website offers another Venus observation guide.
3. From Aviation Week & Space Technology: U. S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is hopeful his visit to China later this year will dispel concerns over cyberspace threats and diverging strategies for space exploration.
4. From Space News: Budgetary constraints prompt NASA to pull the plug on a 2014 astrophysics mission. The Gravity and Extreme Magnetism Small Explorer X-ray Telescope was to study the regions around black holes and neutron stars.
5. From Collectspace.com: NASA’s test orbiter Enterprise encounters minor wing damage on Sunday as it is transported from JFK International Airport in New York toward its ultimate destination, the Intrepid Sea Air and Space Museum in Manhattan. Unpredictable winds caused the right wing to scrape a bridge structure on the aircraft’s way to an intermediate stop, according to those on the scene.
6. Two from Monday’s The Space Review examine a global debate over the next destination for human explorers and the challenge of mitigating orbital debris.
A. In “Human space exploration: asteroids vs the moon,” TSR editor Jeff Foust found lots of interest in the topic at a recent Washington space conference. NASA is headed toward a human asteroid mission in 2025, followed a decade later by a voyage to Mars. Russia and Japan, however, two of NASA’s capable space station partners, favor a lunar base, the goal of the previous administration.
B. In “The economics of space sustainability,” Brian Weeden, advisor to the Secure World Foundation, examines the space debris dilemma. No one seems to be rushing forward with a strategy to clear up the 21,000 fragments tracked by the U. S. military, nor the half million smallest pieces that could pose lethal damage to another spacecraft. Until the junk becomes a threat to high altitude earnings, the problem will likely persist, he suggests.
7. From the Boston Globe: In an op-ed, former U.S. Sen. John Sununu hails the recent SpaceX/Dragon mission as symbol of private sector competence. “If a privately owned company can launch a rocket, why shouldn’t one handle the mail?” he writes.