Sunday, 24 May 2009

NASA makes historic choice to lead space agency

Img: Gen. Charles Bolden. Credit: US Marine Corps

Img: Gen. Charles Bolden. Credit: US Marine Corps

Former astronaut and ex Marine Corps commander Gen. Charles Bolden Jr. has been nominated by the Obama administration as their candidate to lead NASA.

Bolden, 62, commander of two shuttle missions, will be the first African American to lead the space agency should the US Senate approve his nomination.

"He's a patriot, a leader and a visionary," Sen Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) was reported as saying by the Washington Post. "He understands the workings of NASA and the importance of America remaining a leader in science and technology through space exploration."

However the head of the Commerce subcommittee that oversees NASA operations was straightforward over the challenges Bolden will face.

"He's going to face budgetary constraints, technical issues, remaining shuttle launches and the impending end of the space shuttle," said Nelson. "He has to restore that wonder that space exploration

provides, and he needs to carry out the president's mission."

Nelson has some inkling of Bolden's leadership qualities having served on the space shuttle Columbia with Bolden in 1986 - the first of Bolden's four shuttle missions.

However some commentators have questioned the choice of Bolden saying he was unsuitable to manage the space agency's changing focus and budgetary constraints. They have pointed out that said that Bolden may be too linked to previous NASA programs to carry out the necessary changes.

The Obama administration has said the agency will begin winding down its shuttle program under the new head to concentrate more on the setting up of a Moon base by 2020.

Bolden though spoke earlier this week with President Obama of his "vision for NASA's future" and he has the president's confidence. Prior to the press conference Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters president "hopes that [Gen. Bolden] is the right person to lead NASA in the coming years and through its evolving role," reported the Wall Street Journal.

Gen. Bolden served as NASA's assistant deputy administrator during the 1990s and currently acts as chief executive of the Houston-based aerospace consulting company JackandPanther.

Rocket launch a promising sign for Wallops site


After weather and technical problems led to three false starts, a $60 million rocket finally left the planet at 7:55 p.m. Tuesday, roaring heavenward from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA Wallops Flight Facility.

The 69-foot, four-stage Minotaur I lifted off with the rumble of distant thunder and the brilliance of an acetylene torch, leaving behind a thick contrail rendered pink by the setting sun.

The Minotaur I is carrying a trio of payloads. Because part of the rocket is recycled Minuteman II missile parts, international treaties require the United States to inform the Russians.

No complaints there. The people who shot this vehicle into space want to tell anybody who will listen. They hope they've launched not only a rocket, but a more promising future for this stretch of the Eastern Shore.

Wallops has been the launch site of thousands of small rockets over its half-century history, but the ante has been upped in recent years as dreams of a commercial space business have blossomed.

Tuesday's launch was the third Minotaur sent into space from the spaceport. On board is the TacSat-3, a joint military project designed to test the ability of a satellite to respond to real-time data requests from field commanders on the ground.

The secondary payloads include NASA's PharmaSat, which will conduct experiments on yeast cells, and three CubeSats that will measure electron collection, radiation testing, and guidance and control systems.

The first Minotaur launch came in December 2006, on a pad built eight years before. The second came the following April. Since then, proponents of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport have made their case for more government investment in the site.

The General Assembly and governor's office have thrown in their support, putting up $26 million to build a horizontal integration facility for assembling rockets and a new launch pad. The goal is to lure space business from other countries and from Florida and California.

To do so, Wallops has three things going for it, said Billie Reed, executive director of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority: "Location, location, location."

Flights from the spaceport head over open ocean, removing the risk of debris falling onto populated areas. The spaceport's position at roughly 38 degrees north latitude makes it an ideal site to send loads into inclined orbits - between the equator and the poles - at a reduced expense.

With the space shuttle program ending next year, there is a rush to fill the role of resupplier to the international space station until new spacecraft come online around 2015.

Orbital Sciences Corp., which helped oversee the TacSat-3, has signed a $1.9 billion deal to fly eight cargo missions to the station from Wallops in the coming years. Officials plan to launch a demonstration rocket, the Taurus II, late next year and follow with a real mission the year after.

The General Assembly has given operators immunity from liability for commercial space flight, to entice entrepreneurs in space tourism. And there are always more payloads that need a ride into space.

Tuesday's launch brought visitors to the area, and officials hope to capitalize on this type of economic boost. Earlier this month, officials from NASA, Accomack County and the Marine Science Consortium signed an agreement blessing the Wallops Research Park, a 200-acre space that will host academic, government and commercial ventures.

The hope is to bring high-tech jobs to a poor county, said Steve Mallette, chairman of Accomack's board of supervisors. In addition to Orbital's deal, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin have a local presence. BaySys Technologies, which retrofits large airplanes for private clients, is also in the mix.

"The technical capabilities are here," said John Campbell, Wallops' director. "We need financing... and that financing is coming."

State Sen. Ralph Northam, who toured Wallops earlier this month, said the area has struggled to keep up and adjust its farming and fishing economy to the modern age. The challenge for incoming industries, he said, is to convince locals that economic development won't come at the expense of the environment.

"We've got lots of green lights here," he said, "and we're ready to move forward."

By two minutes after launch Tuesday night, the Minotaur was 62 miles up and moving at 5,500 mph. Two minutes later, it had reached 13,000 mph.

Thomas Cooley, TacSat-3's project manager, announced that Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, N.M., had made contact with the satellite.

"Now it's our turn to spend the next year demonstrating the things we've been preparing for," he said.

Matthew Jones, (757) 446-2949,

Posted to: News Eastern Shore

Video: 'Houston, we have liftoff.'
(Watch full size, embed and link.)

Brian Clark | The Virginian-Pilot

The Minotaur I rocket launched Tuesday just before 8 p.m. from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore. (Randall Greenwell/The Virginian-Pilot

Explore the Minotaur I
and its payload


Like so many others, I was awed and amazed at the progress a few privately owned companies made in the race for the X PRIZE, formally known as Ansari X PRIZE for Suborbital Spaceflight. The hard-fought competition was won by a partnership between Scaled Composites and Microsoft´s co-founder Paul Allen with a ship named SpaceShipOne. SpaceShipOne was launched from underneath an aircraft platform named the White Knight, and reached an altitude of 100 kilometers, generally recognized as the edge of space.

This amazing achievement meant that, from that point on, NASA was not the only ballgame in town on the American continent. Now, private companies will soon be able to carry passengers to space. Sounds great, right?

A great bit of buzz has been made of a secret "relationship" between NASA and possible extraterrestrial visitors, one that has only tolerated orbital flights since the cancellation of NASA´s Apollo Program, which landed man on the moon in 1969. Noted researcher Richard C. Hoagland has made a strong case for the existence of artificially manufactured debris on the moon, some in the form of robotic heads, some resembling devastated glass domes and buildings.

Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin reported seeing a large base, mining operation, and what appeared to be spacecraft on the surface of the Moon´s far side. One was even overheard exclaiming into his microphone to NASA´s Mission Control in Houston, Texas, "These babies are huge, Sir! Enormous! Oh my God! You wouldn't believe it! I'm telling you there are other spacecraft out there, lined up on the far side of the crater edge! They're on the Moon watching us!" [emphasis added]

Armstrong would later be heard admitting that one extraterrestrial craft approached Apollo 11 and behaved in a manner suggesting that the astronauts were being warned away from the area.

Mercury and Gemini astronaut Leroy Gordon Cooper spoke of seeing fresh photographs of an extraterrestrial spacecraft landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California, minutes after it happened!

Cooper was so adamant about the existence of UFO´s that he spoke in front of a United Nations panel discussion on the UFO phenomenon in 1985, saying, "I believe that these extraterrestrial vehicles and their crews are visiting this planet from other planets, which are a little more technically advanced than we are on Earth. I feel that we need to have a top level, coordinated program to scientifically collect and analyze data from all over the Earth concerning any type of encounter, and to determine how best to interfere with these visitors in a friendly fashion."

Edgar Mitchell, ScD, the sixth man to walk on the Moon, has made it his mission to convince the world that Mankind is not alone in the universe. There are others who have visited and continue to visit this planet we call home.

When considering that there are representatives of other civilizations in the space around Earth, colonizing our Moon, and many astronauts have broken their silence and admitted as such, and considering that NASA has not sent a manned mission (as far as we know) beyond Earth´s orbit since the cancellation of Apollo, what does that bode for the upcoming generation of new, private astronauts?

There is a reason that the most powerful country on Earth submits itself to the desires of an alien race. Typically, it would suggest an imbalance of military power favoring the alien visitors. Not wanting the American public and the rest of the world to know that a Earth spacecraft had been shot down or aggressively disabled, preventing it from continuing its voyage to its intended destination, whether that be the Moon or elsewhere, would be paramount.

Another possibility would be that of political power. If it became known that the American government and American military establishment had knowledge of the existence of an extraterrestrial civilization(s) and withheld that knowledge from its citizenry, severe loss of faith, trust, and credibility in government could possibly result. After so many years of denying the existence of "flying saucers and little green men", and impugning the credibility of the many witnesses to alien activity who have stepped forward, government would never regain the trust it once had. This is reason enough to kowtow to an alien power!

IF the alien threat is as menacing as some believe, it is unlikely that there will be many publicly known, private spaceflights without at least experiencing insurmountable impediments.

These impediments can take many forms, and will probably consist of a variety of natures. One method could be official government interference, such as a revocation of operating licenses and flight clearances, forcing a company to stop operations.

Another might be less formal, such as a series of unfortunate incidents that seem to suggest that space flight might not be the most opportune business venture.

A suggestive warning to cease and desist might also be in the works.

Lastly, there is the possibility of a confrontation between the aggressive and repressive alien presence and a private spacecraft. Such a confrontation would inevitable lead to public disclosure, as it would be difficult for those in power to encourage secrecy upon the occupants of the private spacecraft, who are most likely affluent tourists, while at the same time successfully discontinuing further civilian flights.

How private industry progresses in the arena of civilian, for-profit space flight will be a prominent telltale indicative of whether there really exists an outside (really far outside!) interference to Mankind´s innate need for exploration and adventure.

References and Sources:

What Would Possess Them by Bass, Steven S., 2008

Incredible News No One May Hear by Bass, Steven S., 2008


Obama picks former astronaut to lead NASA

Nineteen years after helping launch the Hubble Space Telescope, Charles F. Bolden Jr. has been nominated by President Obama to serve as NASA's next administrator.

Bolden, a former combat pilot and Marine Corps major general, is also a veteran space shuttle commander.

Lori Garver, a former NASA associate administrator for policy and plans and a space policy adviser to the Obama campaign, will serve as Bolden's deputy.

"These talented individuals will help put NASA on course to boldly push the boundaries of science, aeronautics, and exploration in the 21st century and ensure the long-term vibrancy of America's space program," Obama said in a statement Saturday.

Charles F. Bolden Jr. in a NASA space shuttle crew photo.

(Credit: NASA)

Bolden, the third African-American to fly in space, had met with Obama at the White House on Tuesday, the day the Hubble Space Telescope was relaunched from the shuttle Atlantis. The five-spacewalk overhaul marked NASA's fifth and final visit to the storied telescope since Bolden helped launch it in 1990.

An announcement naming Bolden, 62, as Obama's candidate to head the civilian space agency came four months after the departure of former administrator Mike Griffin, a rocket scientist appointed by the Bush administration to oversee the shuttle's 2010 retirement and a planned return to the moon.

"The president could not have made a better choice," Griffin told CBS News. "Charlie Bolden is an accomplished pilot, a veteran astronaut, and an old friend. He has spent his life in the service of his country, and our nation is the better for it. NASA will be in good hands."

The Obama administration struggled to find an acceptable replacement after deciding not to ask Griffin to stay on, reportedly considering several candidates before settling on Bolden.

Insiders pleased
Widely respected within NASA for his engineering judgment, leadership skills, and no-nonsense approach to thorny technical issues, Bolden's appointment was broadly welcomed by space agency insiders.

"I can't imagine anybody that would be a better choice than Charlie," said Jay Honeycutt, former director of the Kennedy Space Center. "He knows the business of flying in space, as well as knows how to navigate his way around Washington. He has a good relationship with Congress, as well as the guys in the administration."

John Logsdon, space policy analyst at George Washington University and a member of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, called Bolden "an extremely good choice." "First of all, he's not that much of an outsider to Washington. He's been on the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel and the National Academy of Engineering space board, so he's really up to speed with what's going on with the program," Logsdon said.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., flew with Bolden during a 1986 shuttle flight and has been lobbying Obama for weeks to put Bolden in charge of NASA at a particularly critical time in the agency's history.

"In all the problems that are facing the president, it's hard to get attention on this one little agency," he told CBS News. "He certainly hears it from me, but he'll hear it then from his own administration (after Bolden is confirmed). And I believe then we've got a chance of getting us really back into the glory days."

In a statement released Saturday, Nelson said that Bolden will face "budgetary constraints, technical issues, the remaining shuttle launches and the pending retirement of the shuttle program. And, restoring the wonder that space exploration can provide, and to make sure the president's mission is carried out."

"Charlie is the kind of dynamic leader I believe the president was looking for and I know he'll meet these challenges head on," Nelson said.

Challenges ahead
NASA is struggling to complete the International Space Station during the final eight shuttle missions between now and the end of 2010. At the same time, the agency is trying to develop a new rocket system for the Bush administration's Constellation program, which is aimed at resuming moon flights in 2020.

The Constellation architecture, calling for development of a new heavy lift unmanned Ares 5 booster, a lunar lander, and a smaller Ares 1 rocket to boost Orion crew capsules into orbit, has come under fire from critics who claim alternative rocket systems can be developed faster at lower cost.

Complicating the political picture, the Ares 1/Orion system intended to replace the space shuttle will not be available until 2015, forcing NASA to buy seats on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ferry U.S. astronauts to and from the space station. Griffin repeatedly warned Congress about this so-called "gap," but the money needed to accelerate development of Ares 1/Orion never materialized.

The Obama administration's first budget supported the Constellation program in general, endorsing shuttle retirement in 2010 and a return to the moon by 2020. But the administration's 2010 budget, while boosting near-term NASA funding, slashed spending by $3.1 billion between 2011 and 2013. If that money is not restored, Ares 5 development will suffer and landings on the moon will be delayed if not eliminated.

Earlier this month, Obama ordered a 90-day independent review of NASA's manned space program headed. Options for how best to proceed will be presented to the administration later this summer. Depending on what the Augustine commission determines, some or all of the lost money could be restored to NASA's long-range budget.

Or none at all.

Despite the uncertain outlook, Nelson said he doubts Constellation will go away.

"That's just not going to happen," he told CBS. "You're not going to throw away four years of work on the Ares. So I'm not concerned about that. I think the Augustine commission will bless the Ares. The thing I am concerned about is to what extent Ares 5 will be rapidly developed so we can end up doing the lunar lander here and all of that on a target for 2020. And a lot of that's going to come out of the Augustine Commission.

"Even though we've got this concern, that the numbers are lean in the out years, I still have some optimism about us increasing that," Nelson said. "I think politics will play a part of it, because candidate Obama will be a candidate again in 2012 and I think Florida will be important. Florida will be bigger then, it will be 29 electoral votes and I believe...they'll pay attention to us. So I'm concerned, but I'm not panicked about the out years."

Bolden's shuttle history
Bolden's first space flight came when he and six crewmates, including Nelson, took off aboard the shuttle Columbia on January 12, 1986. It was the last successful shuttle mission before Challenger's fatal January 28 launch.

Bolden took off a second time on April 24, 1990, when he served as pilot of the shuttle Discovery to ferry the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit.

It is a given in the astronaut office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston that any flight assignment is a good flight assignment. But the Hubble Space Telescope, one of the most expensive civilian satellites ever built, was in a class by itself, and Bolden clearly relished a chance to play a role in the showcase mission.

"Astronomy captivates everybody," he said in an interview at the time. "A kid in the ghetto, a kid on the farm, everybody at one time or another happens to glance up at the nighttime sky and they see these things we call stars and every once in a while a planet.

"You'd just have to be a non-human being not to go 'what the heck is that?' It has a fascination for everybody."

Bolden flew in space a third time as commander of the shuttle Atlantis for an atmospheric research mission that took off March 24, 1992. His fourth and final space mission was a historic flight as commander of the shuttle Discovery in 1994, a mission that included cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev, the first Russian to fly on a space shuttle.

The Russian space program is now critical to NASA, providing the transportation to and from low-Earth orbit while the U.S. agency develops its shuttle replacement.

William Harwood has been covering the U.S. space program full-time since 1984, first as Cape Canaveral bureau chief for United Press International and now as a consultant for CBS News. He has covered more than 115 shuttle missions, every interplanetary flight since Voyager 2's flyby of Neptune, and scores of commercial and military launches. Based at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Harwood is a devoted amateur astronomer and co-author of "Comm Check: The Final Flight of Shuttle Columbia."

space News