Tag Archives: Space Exploration

New Horizons Meets Pluto: Voyage of Discovery

As a child of the Apollo era, I grew up in the shadow of the greatest achievement in the history of man; everything was possible if we only had the will. The legacy of those years has largely been one of unfulfilled promise but every once in a while you just have a wow moment. Today as we see the first images from NASA’s New Horizons probe’s closest approach to our smallest planet Pluto one needs to take time to just sit back and say WOW. Yes, I know Pluto was downgraded from planet status to exoplanet, but I am proudly old school and feel Pluto got a bum deal! What we have seen is another example of the amazing ability of the NASA team to pull out as almost magical look at our solar system. The JPL team has been doing this on such a regular basis for more than 40 years that some can become jaded by the flow of dazzling images. In the age of photo-shop we see art like this all the time but folks, this is real.

Pluto and Charon in False Color Showing Compositional Diversity

Pluto and Charon in False Color Showing Compositional Diversity (NASA photo)

What makes New Horizon so special is the the distances involved; launched in January 19, 2006 and having passed earths moon and Jupiter on its way will have traveled more than 3 BILLION miles. We also need to remember that this spacecraft is one of the smallest ever launched into deep space and it hit its destination with pin point accuracy with limited course correction ability. This is just amazing.

New Horizon's Path of Discovery

New Horizon’s Path of Discovery (NASA photo)

This is also a reminder that despite all the political redirection and new administration melding (by both parties) and failure of vision with respect to NASA and national space policy, great things can come from great minds. When the American people set their collective minds to achieving big things, they can make them happen. So congrats to the NASA/JPL/JHUAPL team that made the last unseen planet (or exoplanet if you prefer) viable for all of the arm chair space geeks to enjoy. You have shown us THE DREAM IS ALIVE.

New Horizons Team Members Countdown to the Spacecraft's Closest Approach to Pluto, Tuesday, July 14, 2015 (NASA photo)

New Horizons Team Members Countdown to the Spacecraft’s Closest Approach to Pluto, Tuesday, July 14, 2015 (NASA photo)

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Filed under American Leadership, NASA, Space Flight

Outsourcing Space to China? Not So Fast

Watching the Space Shuttle Endeavour launch this morning on the second last flight of the Shuttle Program was somewhat bittersweet. The shuttle has had an amazing 30 year run but its time has come and gone. Yet thanks to the Obama Administration decision to cancel the Constellation Program the US is left paying the Russians to take us to the International Space Station, a complex the US paid more than 80 percent of the cost. Recently the White House science advisor John Holdren suggested that we may invite China to join in the ISS. Well not so fast, Rep Frank Wolf (R-VA) chairman of the house appropriations sub-committee which oversees NASA’s budget see’s the Chinese as rivals, not partners. Rep Wolf recently inserted a clause in the budget which to prevent NASA or OSTP from using federal funds “to develop, design, plan, promulgate, implement or execute a bilateral policy, program, order, or contract of any kind to participate, collaborate, or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China or any Chinese-owned company”.

The Future of China in Space - Note the Space Shuttle Without US Markings

So why not cooperate with china as we have with other nations? First we need to look at the history of such cooperation on space where, like the ISS the cooperation often takes the form of US funding of other nations projects. However China has built its entire space program on acquired technology. In the 1990’s they reached agreement with the cash strapped Russians to acquire manned spaceflight technology based on the tried and tested Soyuz spacecraft. While they Chinese claimed to have only used that as the basis for their own development, apparently they forgot to change the Russian text on some of the control panels used in their first manned space flight when the pictures were initially released. They did show competent use of Photoshop technology when they revised subsequent releases to show only Chinese.

The US government investment in space flight has been a recognition not only of the economic impact and the need for national leadership in such new technologies and exploration. Space has been seen by strategic planners for decades as the high ground in any future conflict. It has been seen as imperative that the US maintain its leadership in this area.

To now bring China into the ISS or any future space program would simply to invite the theft of more strategic technology. Better yet why take American technology when the Obama administration is prepared to give it away? True to course for the Obama Administration they have taken the view that Rep. Wolf’s amendment does not apply to scientific interactions, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden visited China last October and virtually opened the door to the Chinese with no regard to national security or the Wolf Amendment. It is imperative that congress stop all contact between NASA and the Chinese until The Obama administration is retired January 20, 2013. Given administrator Bolden’s performance on China, and following congressional direction on Constellation and the Heavy launch Vehicle, it may be time to consider his removal from office.

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Filed under American Leadership, Barak Obama, Budget, China, Congress, Foreign Policy, NASA, National Security, Politics, Space Flight, The White House

The Next Frontier: Outsourcing Spaceflight to China

In the wake of its decision last year to cancel NASA’s Constellation Program, the planned successor to the Space Shuttle Program which would have taken American astronauts back to the Moon and Mars, the Obama administration has decided to engage the Chinese government as a partner on civil space flight. In congressional testimony on May 4th, White House Science advisor John Holdren indicated a near term process to partner with China on future spaceflights including potential Moon and Mars missions as reported in space.com.

The decision to cancel the Constellation Project has left America dependent upon renting space on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to get to the International Space Station (which was funded more than 2/3 by the US) pending private space craft development which has been dramatically underfunded by the Obama Administration. Now he proposes to cooperate with the Chinese government on human exploration. For 50 years America has been the clear leader in human spaceflight, however with the policies of the Obama administration we are forfeiting that lead at warp speed. Not only has this been a source of national pride, it has been a driver of considerable economic and technological development. It seems American leadership on all fronts is contrary to Obama  Administration policy. One can only hope that the Congress can stop the outsourcing and dismantling of our space program until the American people issue President Obama’s pink slip effective January 20, 2013.

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Filed under American Leadership, Barak Obama, China, Foreign Policy, NASA, Politics, Space Flight

50 Years of Human Spaceflight

Fifty years ago today, on April 12, 1961 the Soviet Union won the first leg of the Space race when 27 year old Soviet Air Force Colonel Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin became the first man to orbit the earth. More significantly on that day humanity took its first step beyond the home world where life itself began. Three weeks later US Navy Commander Alan B. Sheppard road Mercury Redstone 3 on a suborbital mission and the race had been joined. For the next decade man’s initial exploration of the cosmos was defined, if not driven, by the race between the Soviet Union and the United States. The science and engineering discoveries of that decade, and the four that have followed have been breathtaking. One cannot understate the economic impact on the United States of the advancements realized by the space program. Yet it was the political rivalry between the then super powers which drove the race into space. That race marked its unofficial end on July 20, 1969 when the Stars & Stripes were unveiled by Neil Armstrong on the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility. The flight of Apollo 11 has been described by Stephen Hawking as the most significant event in the history of mankind.

April 12, 1961: The Dawn of Human Spaceflight

In the years that followed the space race waned and mirrored the relationship between the two super powers. At the height of détente in July 1975, just 6 years after Apollo 11 put America on the moon, US Air Force Brigadier General Thomas Stafford shook hands with Soviet Air Force Colonel Alexei Leonov after the docking of the Apollo Soyuz Test Project. Ironically it has been reported than Colonel Leonov had been selected to lead the first soviet lunar landing mission which never occurred. The 80’s saw the return of the rivalry as the US Space Shuttle rocketed past all other spacecraft before, or since, in terms of its capabilities on orbit. So capable was the space shuttle that in 1988 the Soviets test flew their own “Buran” space shuttle. It was only coincidence the Soviets claimed that their shuttle appeared identical to the American Shuttles. As the cold war ended, the American and Russian programs joined forces to construct the International Space Station (with limited involvement of the Japanese, Canadian and European Space Agency). Again, politics played a driving role in determining both the direction and aggressiveness of our space program. But one thing remained unchallenged from the day Apollo 11 landed on the moon through this very day as the space shuttle ends its 30 year run: America has been the world leader in space technology and exploration.

The impact of the space program over the past 50 years cannot be understated. Things we take for granted like transoceanic phone service, live TV transmissions and our ever present Satellite navigation systems are a direct result of developments in the space program. Computer technology and miniaturization were driven forward in years in what otherwise would have taken decades. Yet perhaps most important in hide sight was the contrast in the Soviet and American space programs and how the US program came to symbolize that which was right with America. While the Soviet conducted their program in secrete, reveling both their successes and hiding their failures after the fact, we conducted our program in full view of all humanity. As a 5 year old I remember my father keeping me up that July night to watch Apollo 11 and then taking me outside and pointing at the moon and saying “remember tonight, there are men on that moon” (I missed the significance at the time as I just could not see them there). Apollo 13 has come to symbolize the strength and resilience of the American spirit where “failure is not an option”. All who were old enough in 1986 remember where they were when the Space Shuttle Challenger was lost live on television, but we also saw how Discovery returned to flight in 1988. As President Ronald Reagan said in an address to the nation on the night Challenger was lost “We don’t hide our space program. We don’t keep secrets and cover things up. We do it all up front and in public. That’s the way freedom is, and we wouldn’t change it for a minute. We’ll continue our quest in space.”

Apollo 16 Commander John Young's Leaping Salute of the American Flag, April 1972

That brings us to today, the 50th anniversary of the birth of the era of space exploration. What has been done over the last half century will pale in comparison with what the future holds for mankind.

Today we watch with some sadness as the space shuttle program passes into history having seen it’s time come and go. The US and Russia have been joined by the Chinese as the only nation to have placed humans into space, but the Indians, Japanese and Europeans all have openly discussed joining that club. However one nation will leave that group in just a matter of months, the United States. With the end of the space shuttle program, and President Obama’s cancelation of the Constellation program which would have continued US manned orbital flight and led us back to the moon and on to Mars, the United States will for the first time in half a century have neither the capability to place humans in space, but will not even have a viable replacement system under development. While the President claims to have put the future in the hands of the private sector, he has done so without viable funding. When the next flag is placed on the moon or mars, it will not be American, but rather most likely Chinese. Barak Obama simply does not understand what it means for America to lead. He does not understand that great nations do great things. He does not realize that space is the high ground to America’s defense, or if he does he simply wants to abandon it to other nations. President Obama’s failure of leadership has abandoned our leadership in space and conceded it to the Russians and the Chinese. What those countries could not win in the Space Race, Barak Obama has willingly given them. Let us hope that those with better vision and commitment to America’s leadership reverse Obama’s mistake before the damage is irreversible. If not, America will not a leader, let alone the leader as humanity continues to explore the final frontier.

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Filed under American Leadership, Barak Obama, NASA, Space Flight