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Wanted: Home-builders for the moon

NASA’s post-2020 plan involves the usual (and unusual) space suspects



An artist's conception shows astronauts walking up to an early lunar habitat. The actual habitat, due for deployment in the 2020s, may be made of inflatable material and covered with moon dirt.

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• How to build a moon base

Get a glimpse of present-day experiments and futuristic concepts that are laying the groundwork for a lunar outpost.




All about the plan to send Americans to the moon and beyond:

• Bush sets 'new course' in space

• NASA lays out $104 billion moon plan

• Polar moon camp on NASA's agenda

• What the moon has to offer

• Bringing space costs down to Earth

• Your opinions on the space initiative


By Alan Boyle

Science editor


Updated: 5:08 p.m. CT Feb 1, 2007






Imagine a world where microwave-beaming rovers cook dust into concrete landing pads ... where your living quarters are dropped onto the land from above, then inflated like an inner tube ... where the grit is so abrasive that even the robots have to wear protective coveralls.


It may sound like science fiction, but these are actually some of the ideas being floated as part of NASA's plan to build a permanent moon base starting in 2010. To follow through on those sky-high ideas, the space agency is turning to some down-to-earth experts, ranging from polar researchers to miners and earth-movers.


"We will be looking outside the agency quite a bit as well as inside the agency," said Larry Toups, habitation systems lead for NASA's Constellation Program Office. "We have a lot of folks here who are very innovative and understand the space environment quite a bit, but you do have a lot of expertise outside NASA as well, and we intend to involve those folks."




Those folks include the twin giants of America's space industry, The Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin. But some less conventional players are involved as well:


Illinois-based Caterpillar and allied companies have been advising NASA on the dynamics of dirt and the challenges of moving heavy equipment over the lunar surface.

Canada-based Norcat and Electric Vehicle Controllers are working together to develop a drill suitable for mining on the moon. Norcat is traditionally better-known for its industrial safety training programs, but this June the company is sponsoring a planetary mining conference, with the moon in its sights.

Delaware-based ILC Dover, which manufactures components for NASA's spacewalk suits as well as the airbags used by NASA's Mars rovers, is branching out to develop inflatable prototypes for lunar habitats. Nevada-based Bigelow Aerospace may offer its own inflatable modules for future moon outposts.


The National Science Foundation is working with NASA and ILC Dover to build and deploy an inflatable test habitat in Antarctica later this year.

NASA announced the broad outlines of its plan for an eventual lunar outpost less than two months ago. The general idea is to set up shop on the rim of a crater near one of the moon's poles. Such areas would be in sunlight, with a line-of-sight link to Earth all year round. The first crews would stay for just a week at a time, but by 2025, six-month tours of duty would be the norm.


The polar outpost would serve as NASA's base for lunar research and a test bed for Mars exploration. Some have even grander plans, envisioning the moon as an eventual platform for luxury hotels, astronomical observatories and helium-3 mining operations. The idea of a permanent platform is what distinguishes the future effort from NASA's previous moon program, said Dallas Bienhoff, manager for in-space and surface systems at Boeing Space Exploration.


"Just getting there and getting home was a big deal for Apollo," he told MSNBC.com. "We know we can do that, even though we haven't done it in 30-plus years. What we want to do is prepare the beachhead for people other than NASA. Basically, the intent is to lay down the foundation for a permanent presence on the moon by whoever wants to be there."





NASA spokesman Kelly Humphries cautioned that, for now, the space agency is focusing on the spacecraft required for moon trips rather than on lunar habitats. "Those don't do you a whole lot of good if you don't have a way to get to the moon," he told MSNBC.com. Nevertheless, NASA and its corporate partners are already building prototypes to test some of the more unorthodox ideas — like those inflatable habitats, for example.


‘Honey, I Shrunk the Space Station’

Why inflatable habitats? Bienhoff explained that the metal-hulled modules used on the international space station couldn't make it to the moon because they're too heavy.


The typical space station module weighs 30,000 pounds — but NASA's moonships, as currently planned, would have a maximum payload capacity of only 13,000 pounds.


Inflatable modules could get around that limitation. Dave Cadogan, research director at ILC Dover, said the modules would be compressed to fit a smaller space on NASA's smaller spaceships, dropped off on the moon, and only then filled with air, equipment and all the comforts of a lunar home.



Bigelow Aerospace already has lofted one inflatable test module into orbit and is gearing up to launch another one in April. Last year the company's billionaire founder, Robert Bigelow, told reporters that "we definitely have lunar architecture in mind."


ILC Dover, meanwhile, has built one inflatable prototype for NASA's Langley Research Center, and it's in the midst of designing another for the NASA-NSF test in Antarctica. NASA's Toups said the new prototype would be shipped in compressed form to the South Pole this fall and inflated to full size for use by polar researchers — as, say, a dive shack or a meeting place.


"We'll have monitors and sensors built into it so we'll be able to track how it does with sustained use," he said.


Antarctica and other extreme environments on Earth — such as the Canadian Arctic, the Arizona desert and the underwater Aquarius habitat — are becoming key proving grounds as NASA and its partners develop their exploration technologies.


"What I see the Antarctic experience doing is actually being an analog for what we might do on the moon, and then once we get to the moon, keep in mind that we'll be using that as an analog for the operations that might be required for Mars," Toups said.


More alien than Antarctica

But there are some lunar challenges that go far beyond what Antarctic researchers have to deal with.



For example, radiation exposure poses much more of a risk on the moon than it is beneath Earth's warm blanket of atmosphere. Habitats on the moon might have to be covered by heaped-up lunar soil, also known as regolith. Other shielding materials could include tanks of water, or strategically placed hardware, or extra layers of reinforced polyethylene.


Then there's the dust: During the Apollo missions, abrasive moondust worked its way into every nook and cranny — even the joints on the astronauts' spacesuits. "After three days on the lunar surface, they had work through the metallic protection on their gloves, because of the abrasion," Bienhoff said.


If too much dust gets inside the lunar habitat, it could pose the kinds of health problems suffered by miners and asbestos workers in the past. To keep the dust down, astronauts might have to wear disposable coveralls during surface operations, Cadogan said — and lunar robots might need coveralls as well to protect their mechanical joints and bearings.


Living off the dirt

Moon dirt isn't all bad, however. If you know how to treat it right, it can serve as a building material as well as a source for vital supplies — and that's where companies such as Caterpillar enter the picture.


"When you're moving large pieces of equipment, using whatever types of devices you are using, how is the soil going to react?" NASA's Humphries said. "How is it going to compact underneath the wheels? Could it potentially get in the way and ball things up? What is its usefulness in terms of being bulldozed around to help make barriers to radiation, or even to flatten out the surface for ease of maneuvering things in an outpost-type area? They're looking at a lot of different things in that regard — in particular in the area of robotics, because they're anticipating that robotics will be a key component there."



Construction and mining companies have been advising the more traditional aerospace companies on all those issues, said Larry Clark, senior manager for Lockheed Martin's spacecraft technology development laboratory. It turns out that a heavy-duty Caterpillar tractor probably wouldn't be suitable for the moon, he said.


"We can't afford to launch a large vehicle like that, so we've got to make things smaller and lightweight, but just as efficient mechanically," he told MSNBC.com.


Pint-size robo-tractors could be used to build up protective berms around lunar facilities, or dig up loads of moon soil for industrial-scale extraction of water and oxygen. Researchers have already started to map areas where frozen water may lurk — perhaps in the depths of permanently shadowed craters near the poles. And if the water is broken down into hydrogen and oxygen, that could provide rocket propellants as well as air for breathing.


In addition to potential traces of frozen water, lunar soil contains oxygen-rich minerals.


"It doesn't take a lot of soil to make the oxygen we need," Clark said. The way he figures it, processing the top 2 inches (5 centimeters) of soil from an area half the size of a basketball court could yield enough oxygen to keep four astronauts alive for 75 days.


Moon dirt in the microwave

Another neat trick involves cooking the lunar soil right on the surface to turn it into a concrete-hard crust. "You take a microwave and heat the soil up, and it actually fuses into a solid," said John Stevens, Lockheed Martin's director of business development for human spaceflight.


Larry Taylor, a University of Tennessee planetary scientist, has proposed building "lunar lawnmowers" that could go back and forth to create hardened launch pads, roads and even radio telescope dishes.


Over the long haul, such technologies could turn the moon into much more than a way station on the road to Mars, said Bob Davis, director of business development for space exploration at Northrop Grumman.


"We're learning what the moon has to offer as not just an outpost, but as a location where we might derive economic benefit," he told MSNBC.com. "Who knows?"



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It may sound like science fiction, but these are actually some of the ideas being floated as part of NASA's plan to build a permanent moon base starting in 2010. To follow through on those sky-high ideas, the space agency is turning to some down-to-earth experts, ranging from polar researchers to miners and earth-movers.


Oh oh oh....don`t tell me........South China Sea oilworkers aswell? <_< :lol:

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Rather overly critical and somewhat biased, but a summary of the budget problems NSA faces, from :





Big Budgets Make For Big Debates In Washington


by Bruce Moomaw

Sacramento CA (SPX) Feb 05, 2007


There is little doubt that NASA is approaching a fiscal crisis of the first order. The cost of returning the Space Shuttle to flight after the Columbia tragedy has grown far beyond original estimates. While the cost of continuing to build and maintain the International Space Station remain as high as ever. And meanwhile, according to the current schedule, it will be at least another three years before any significant experiments at all can be run on it.


Whatever science and technology experiments the US finally does conduct on the Station, according to current plans, will then be run for only six years before the US abandons the Station completely to whatever Russia, Europe and Japan might want to do with it.


In turn these costs must then be added to President Bush's new post-Shuttle manned program, the Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) -- which will begin with a relatively simple and low-cost manned spacecraft and booster best described as an enlarged Earth-orbiting version of Apollo.


Following on from this the new manned launcher will rapidly evolve into a major new manned lunar program comprising an enlarged 4-man version of the Apollo lunar missions and which is supposed to land the next American team on the Moon by 2020. Moreover, it is supposed to evolve into a full-scale permanently manned base at the lunar South Pole.


Given both the greater difficulty of the task, and the fact that the ISS' estimated total cost has ballooned since 1985 from $9 billion to over $90 billion (including the necessary Shuttle flights) - such a lunar base will almost certainly cost $200 billion or more if it is ever started at all.


The current plan calls for the costs of the VSE to increase rapidly from $3.9 billion in fiscal 2006 to $17 billion in 2020 --requiring a 50% increase in NASA's total current $15 billion budget.


Show Us The Money


Where will the money come from for the ever-growing maws of these two simultaneous manned space programs ?


One possibility would be to enlarge NASA's total budget -- the scenario that is currently being pushed by many space-program advocates, including the Planetary Society.


The other alternative is to bleed much or all of the new funding needed from the rest of NASA's budget -- including its unmanned space science program and its aeronautics research.


A third alternative would be a mix of new funding and reallocation of existing funds.


No matter which funding scenario is adopted, NASA and Congress have been approaching an unavoidably painful decision regarding the future of America's space program, and until Jan. 31 there was no good indicator of which way Congress would jump.


Simply by procrastinating endlessly in making a decision, last year's GOP-controlled Congress made it even harder to tell what would be done. But now, the new Democrat-controlled 110th Congress has given a clear indicator of how it intends to deal with the cost problems of at least one of the two manned programs -- and possibly both of them, if it summons the courage to make an additional decision.


Congress' infamous recent procrastination in trying to deal with the nation's expanding deficit has extended far beyond NASA. In fact, after the Democratic victory in the November elections, the very last act of the GOP Congress was simply to punt on its responsibilities for almost all of the federal budget -- and adjourn without passing any Fiscal Year 2007 budget measures whatsoever for any governmental departments other than Defense and Homeland Security!


The result is that -- to fund all the rest of the federal government's agencies -- the new Democratic Congress has passed a "continuing resolution" that would simply fund all federal government branches at something very close to their total Fiscal Year 2006 levels, and then spend the rest of 2007 debating a detailed FY 2008 budget.


The new Democratic leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees (David Obey of Wisconsin and Robert Byrd of West Virginia) are now in the process of drafting - with little debate - such a continuing resolution. What's interesting about this is that it still allows considerable shuffling of funds around within each major federal agency. And one of those agencies is NASA.


Quoting the Jan. 31 Democratic press release describing the new continuing resolution: "Under the measure filed today, most programs will continue to be funded at the 2006 levels adjusted for increased pay costs. Limited adjustments were made within the confines of the Republican budget resolution to meet critical needs including: meeting new needs in Veterans Healthcare and Defense Health programs; making significant investments in public housing; increasing funding for scientific research; and increasing the Labor, Health and Education bill to keep up with inflation, a promise the Republican leadership had made but never delivered."


The resolution does increase the budgets of some science agencies within the federal government -- including the National Institutes of Health -- and holds the budgets of others steady instead of making the expected cuts in them (including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).


But what about NASA?


The new Democrat-controlled FY 2007 budget responds to its funding crisis in a way that was generally predicted -- it hacks away wholesale at President Bush new manned space program, including its eventual lunar initiative.


And while this is program is almost entirely the doing of Bush and the Republicans, making it an obvious target for the newly controlling party, a fair number of Democrats from space-industry states did support it, and no one was sure how big the cuts would be.


Now we know.


President Bush had originally asked for $3.978 billion for "Exploration Systems" (the group name for the new program, including both its early Earth-orbiting Crew Exploration Vehicle, the "Ares 1" launch vehicle, and the program's later expansion to the Moon). The 109th Congress never even got so far as to hold the final joint conference at which the differences in the NASA budgets desired by the House and Senate would be resolved -- but the two chambers did pass their separate NASA budgets.


The House removed $160 million from Bush's request, and the Senate only $43 million. But the new 110th Congress' budget removes fully $576 million from Bush's request, trimming it to only $3.402 billion.


It's clear that, for as long as the Democrats remain in control of Congress (let alone the White House) they will continue to shrink Bush's original plans and possibly eliminating the manned lunar program altogether, and limiting the CEV to a low-cost Earth-orbiting version of the Apollo command ship.


What they will do with the current Shuttle/ISS program is less clear -- indeed, this is the burning question for NASA. The reason for this is that the current Democratic Congress is much more shy about cutting the Shuttle/Station program, because a large number of Congressional Democrats under the direction of the Clinton Administration continued to fund that twin program even as its remaining limited capabilities collapsed and its costs continued to skyrocket.


All this continues irrespective of the growing number of Congressmen who are willing to openly say that the Station will be completed as a piece of pure pork - with almost no actual scientific return expected for the $90 billion that will have been poured into it.


The officially sanctioned alibi for this position is that failing to complete the ISS at this point -- when the two orbiting lab modules built by the European Space Agency and Japan are yet to be launched -- would "seriously damage our relations with our international partners", as they have already spent several billion dollars apiece building their respective lab modules.


However, it has been pointed out that simply reimbursing Europe and Japan for their wasted money, and then shutting down Shuttle/Station without attaching any further modules to it, would actually cost the US far less overall.


Moreover, the actual space agencies of Europe and Japan, ESA and JAXA would not be grief-stricken at such an agreement. Even given the far lower costs of their own contributions, those lab modules are also widely regarded by many in their home countries as a pair of white elephants.


And the idea that the current Administration cares what Europe thinks does not match the past six years of highly strained American-European relations. As to Japan, Tokyo foreign ministry officials have said in the past that it is Washington's call on the Space Station, as they are the ones who are paying by far the most significant share.


As such, the real reason why the new Congress will be less likely to apply its ax wholesale to Shuttle/ISS is simply that doing so would embarrass not only a lot of Republicans, but a lot of still-incumbent Democrats.


Funding LEO "Exploration Capabilities"


The 2006 story of funding "Exploration Capabilities" (the Shuttle/ISS program) was already complex. Bush asked for only $6.235 billion for it (almost $700 million less than the previous year), and the House cut another $41 million out of that. But this was all a blind.


NASA had made it clear that the ballooning costs of just returning the Shuttle to flight after the Columbia disaster so that it could finish assembling the Station, and trying to make it as safe as possible (which isn't very safe), would require no less than $2 billion in additional funds over the next two years. The result was one of those fake Kabuki rituals so common in politics.


The Senate Appropriations Committee -- after initially saying that it too would pass a Shuttle/Station budget similar to Bush's -- suddenly allowed influential pro-space Senators Marbara Mikulski (Democrat-Maryland) and Kay Baily Hutchison (Republican-Texas) to attach a massive additional $1.040 billion dollars to NASA's budget as an "emergency funding measure" solely for the Shuttle's Return To Flight program, without cutting any money out of the rest of NASA's budget. (Their plan was to also provide another $1 billion in extra funding to NASA's FY 2008 budget.)


Thus the 2006 Senate's total stated budget for NASA was almost $17.8 billion -- over a billion dollars more than either the White House or the House had favored. How this huge dilemma would have been resolved in the House-Senate conference, God only knows -- which is why the 109th Congress was happy to kick this problem down the road to the new Democratic Congress, along with so many others.


Yesterday's new funding resolution slams the total funding for Shuttle/Station right back down to only $6.140 billion -- slightly less than even Bush's and the House's original figures.


The big question now is whether the Kabuki play will be repeated, with Mikulski and Hutchison again tacking a last-second huge increase onto the Shuttle budget and the Senate hastily passing it. There are fully eight months remaining in which such an amendment (along with any others) could be attached to the Continuing Resolution.


But there are some indications that the new Congress may indeed be willing to take a big bite out of Shuttle/Station as well. Quoting the American Institute of Physics:


"Senators are expected to debate the Iraq war next week, and then turn to the funding resolution [which has already been passed by the full House]. Some senators are already signaling their opposition to the bill, and said that they may try to amend it, which would require that a conference be held between the House and Senate before the legislation could be sent to President Bush. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has said that floor procedures are under consideration, but noted that if the funding bill is not completed by the 15th that the government will close down. One news publication quotes him as saying that he was not going to be 'a Mr. Nice Guy' in getting the legislation passed and sent to President Bush for his signature before this deadline."


In short, if we are going to see such a giant switcheroo in what Congress really intends to do about Shuttle/Station, there is apparently very little time left in which to pull it. And it might be very hard, in that short time, to decide just what money to pull out of NASA's other programs in order to pay for even a smaller increase in Shuttle funding.


Assuming that the Democrats even stick partially to their current position where Shuttle/Station is concerned, the verdict is in: the new Congress takes a much, much dimmer view of America's manned space program in general than any previous Congress in history. And the current continuing resolution -- by cutting $1.6 billion out of last year's total Senate budget for the manned space program -- avoids any massive cuts in NASA's unmanned programs - with only $79 million out of Bush's original $5.330 billion request for space science.


In fact, it actually adds $40 million to the $492 million he had requested for "Cross-Agency Support Programs" (education, business and university partnerships, and attempts to improve management and bookkeeping for NASA's centers). And it adds fully $166 million to NASA's funding for Aeronautics research, completely reversing Bush's attempt last year to cut aeronautics spending down to $724 million - a move that even last year's GOP-Congress was unhappy with and had tried to partially stop).


Even ignoring the burning question of Shuttle Return-To-Flight funding, the devil, of course, is now in the details.


Where space science is concerned, we as yet have no idea where that $79 million (at least) of cuts in space science will come from.


The one thing that seems reasonably certain is that spending on climate-change observation satellites will be sharply increased from what Bush had planned -- especially since the National Academy of Sciences has just issued a report condemning the Bush Administration's recent cuts in funding for such satellites at precisely the moment when it seems sensible for mankind to know with reasonable certainty whether or not serious man-made global warming will actually occur, and how serious it may or may not be.


But it's impossible to know where the cuts will come from in other parts of space science.


One possibility is the Hubble Telescope's planned 2013 successor, the James Webb Space Telescope.


This mostly-infrared instrument was originally sold with the confident statement that it would cost far less than Hubble -- in fact, not much over a billion dollars. But like so many of NASA's initial cost estimates (for both manned and unmanned missions), this was a fairy tale -- the Webb Telescope's current estimated cost is $4.5 billion and still rising.


It is by far NASA's most expensive current unmanned space mission, and it is sucking funds wholesale out of all of NASA's other planned space-astronomy missions -- including both cosmology studies and NASA's planned search for habitable planets orbiting other nearby stars.


From the viewpoint of sheer rationality, another promising target would seem to be the final planned Shuttle mission to repair the Hubble telescope in 2008.


From the very beginning, these repair missions have been pure frauds as supposed "cost-savers". Their total cost, which NASA has feverishly tried to conceal with creative bookkeeping, has been about $2 billion apiece. A completely new replacement Hubble could have been built every time from the original blueprints, and launched on an unmanned booster, for considerably less money -- and probably with new instruments better than those that could ever be installed in orbit on the original Hubble. Even the non-defective backup mirror for the original Hubble is still in storage!


But it is extremely unlikely that this will be done -- once again, simply because it would embarrass far too many still-sitting Congressmen who, innocently or not, went along with NASA's Hubble deception. That final 2008 Shuttle Hubble repair mission -- unnecessary high cost, unnecessary dangers, and all -- will almost certainly fly.


Postscript: Bruce writes... There are some indications today that the "Congressional Kabuki play" that I talked about may indeed come to pass -- Mikulski and Hutchison may indeed get their $1 billion increase for Space Shuttle funding added once again to the "Continuing Resolution" FY 2007 NASA budget, by attaching it to a farm bill this month -- Moreover, today's FY 2008 NASA budget from the White House, is noteworthy for what it DOESN'T change... more to come in the next few days.

Edited by philgollin
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Rather overly critical and somewhat biased, but a summary of the budget problems NSA faces, from :


Which is really asinine, considering all the other money the gov't wastes.


NASA's budget ould be recouped by what dribbles throught the floor after being dropped by DoD and HUD (among others).


And the Senate has absolutely NO business investigated "fiscal irregularity" unless they clean up their own act first.


BTW, I presume you meant NASA (since the thread is about them) and not NSA, which is the National Security Agency. Ain't akkernyms fuhn?

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Seems like another solution is robotic garbage scows, fitted with trawler-like booms and mesh nets.


Orbiting Junk, Once a Nuisance, Is Now a Threat



February 6, 2007


For decades, space experts have worried that a speeding bit of orbital debris might one day smash a large spacecraft into hundreds of pieces and start a chain reaction, a slow cascade of collisions that would expand for centuries, spreading chaos through the heavens.


In the last decade or so, as scientists came to agree that the number of objects in orbit had surpassed a critical mass — or, in their terms, the critical spatial density, the point at which a chain reaction becomes inevitable — they grew more anxious.


Early this year, after a half-century of growth, the federal list of detectable objects (four inches wide or larger) reached 10,000, including dead satellites, spent rocket stages, a camera, a hand tool and junkyards of whirling debris left over from chance explosions and destructive tests.


Now, experts say, China’s test on Jan. 11 of an antisatellite rocket that shattered an old satellite into hundreds of large fragments means the chain reaction will most likely start sooner. If their predictions are right, the cascade could put billions of dollars’ worth of advanced satellites at risk and eventually threaten to limit humanity’s reach for the stars.


Federal and private experts say that early estimates of 800 pieces of detectable debris from the shattering of the satellite will grow to nearly 1,000 as observations continue by tracking radars and space cameras. At either number, it is the worst such episode in space history.


Today, next year or next decade, some piece of whirling debris will start the cascade, experts say.


“It’s inevitable,” said Nicholas L. Johnson, chief scientist for orbital debris at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. “A significant piece of debris will run into an old rocket body, and that will create more debris. It’s a bad situation.”


Geoffrey E. Forden, an arms expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is analyzing the Chinese satellite debris, said China perhaps failed to realize the magnitude of the test’s indirect hazards.


Dr. Forden suggested that Chinese engineers might have understood the risks but failed to communicate them. In China, he said, “the decision process is still so opaque that maybe they didn’t know who to talk to. Maybe you have a disconnect between the engineers and the people who think about policy.”


China, experts note, has 39 satellites of its own — many of them now facing a heightened risk of destruction.


Politically, the situation is delicate. In recent years China has played a growing international role in fighting the proliferation of space junk. In 2002, for instance, it joined with other spacefaring nations to suggest voluntary guidelines for debris control.


In April, Beijing is to play host to the annual meeting of the advocacy group, known as the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee. Donald J. Kessler, a former head of the orbital debris program at NASA and a pioneer analyst of the space threat, said Chinese officials at the forum would probably feel “some embarrassment.”


Mr. Kessler said Western analysts agreed that China’s new satellite fragments would speed the chain reaction’s onset. “If the Chinese didn’t do the test, it would still happen,” he said. “It just wouldn’t happen as quickly.”


Last week in Beijing, a foreign ministry spokeswoman failed to respond directly to a debris question. Asked if the satellite’s remains would threaten other spacecraft, she asserted that China’s policy was to keep space free of weapons.


“We are ready to strengthen international cooperation in this regard,” the spokeswoman, Jiang Yu, told reporters.


Cascade warnings began as early as 1978. Mr. Kessler and his NASA colleague, Burton G. Cour-Palais, wrote in The Journal of Geophysical Research that speeding junk that formed more junk would produce “an exponential increase in the number of objects with time, creating a belt of debris around the Earth.”


During the cold war, Moscow and Washington generally ignored the danger and, from 1968 to 1986, conducted more than 20 tests of antisatellite arms that created clouds of jagged scraps. Often, they did so at low altitudes from which the resulting debris soon plunged earthward. Still, the number of objects grew as more nations launched rockets and satellites into orbit.


In 1995, as the count passed 8,000, the National Academy of Sciences warned in a thick report that some crowded orbits appeared to have already reached the “critical density” needed to sustain a chain reaction.


A year later, apprehension rose as the fuel tank of an abandoned American rocket engine exploded, breaking the craft into 713 detectable fragments — until now, the record.


Amid such developments, space experts identified the first collisions that threatened to start a chain reaction, putting analysts increasingly on edge.


On Jan. 17, 2005, for instance, a piece of speeding debris from an exploded Chinese rocket collided with a derelict American rocket body that had been shot into space 31 years earlier. Warily, investigators searched though orbital neighborhoods but found to their relief that the crackup had produced only four pieces of detectable debris.


A year later, Mr. Johnson, the chief scientist for NASA’s orbital debris program, and his colleague J. -C. Liou, published an article in the journal Science that detailed the growing threat. They said orbits were now so cluttered that the chain reaction was sure to start even if spacefaring nations refrained from launching any more spacecraft.


“The environment is unstable,” they wrote, “and collisions will become the most dominant debris-generating mechanism.”


It was in this atmosphere of rising tension that China last month fired a rocket into space that shattered an old weather satellite — its first successful test of an antisatellite weapon.


David C. Wright, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a private group in Cambridge, Mass., calculated that the old satellite had broken into 1,000 fragments four inches wide or larger, and millions of smaller ones.


Federal sky-watchers who catalogue objects in the Earth orbit work slowly and deliberately. As of yesterday, they publicly listed 647 detectable pieces of the satellite but were said to be tracking hundreds more.


The breakup was dangerous because the satellite’s orbit was relatively high, some 530 miles up. That means the debris will remain in space for tens, thousands or even millions of years.


Mr. Kessler, the former NASA official, now a private consultant in Asheville, N.C., said China might have chosen a relatively high target to avoid directly threatening the International Space Station and its astronaut crew, which orbit at a height of about 220 miles.


“Maybe the choice was to endanger the station in the short term or to cause a long-term problem,” he said. “Maybe that forced them to raise the orbit.”


Even so, the paths of the speeding Chinese debris, following the laws of physics and of celestial mechanics, expanded in many directions, including upward and downward. As of last week, outliers from the central cloud stretched from roughly 100 miles to more than 2,000 miles above the Earth.


A solution to the cascade threat exists but is costly. In his Science paper and in recent interviews, Mr. Johnson of NASA argued that the only sure answer was environmental remediation, including the removal of existing large objects from orbit.

Robots might install rocket engines to send dead spacecraft careering back into the atmosphere, or ground-based lasers might be used to zap debris.

The bad news, Mr. Johnson said in his paper, is that “for the near term, no single remediation technique appears to be both technically feasible and economically viable.”


If nothing is done, a kind of orbital crisis might ensue that is known as the Kessler Syndrome, after Mr. Kessler. A staple of science fiction, it holds that the space around Earth becomes so riddled with junk that launchings are almost impossible. Vehicles that entered space would quickly be destroyed.


In an interview, Mr. Kessler called the worst-case scenario an exaggeration. “It’s been overdone,” he said of the syndrome.


Still, he warned of an economic barrier to space exploration that could arise. To fight debris, he said, designers will have to give spacecraft more and more shielding, struggling to protect the craft from destruction and making them heavier and more costly in the process.


At some point, he said, perhaps centuries from now, the costs will outweigh the benefits.


“It gets more and more expensive,” he said. “Sooner or later it gets too expensive to do business in space.”



Quark was an American science fiction situation comedy starring Richard Benjamin that aired on NBC. The pilot first aired on May 7, 1977, and the series followed as a mid-season replacement in February 1978. The series was canceled in April 1978. Quark was created by Buck Henry, co-creator of the spy spoof Get Smart. Despite the series' short run, it has developed a very favorable reputation among science fiction fandom. The show was set on the United Galaxies Sanitation Patrol Cruiser, an interstellar garbage scow operating out of United Galaxies Space Station Perma 1 in the year 2222. Adam Quark, the main character, works to clean up trash in space by collecting "space baggies" — unfortunately for Quark, circumstances frequently dropped adventure into his lap.

Edited by X-Files
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The latest e-mail by Space X:


February 7, 2007


DemoFlight 2 Launch Update


We have recently been informed by the Kwajalein Army Range that they do not have sufficient resources to support our launch in mid to late Feb. Several range personnel critical to the launch safety process will be unavailable in that timeframe. The earliest launch window available from the Range now opens March 9.


Additional Falcon 1 Flights in 2007


After the upcoming demonstration flight, Falcon 1 is scheduled to launch a satellite for the US Navy Research Laboratory (funded by the Office of Force Transformation) in late summer and then a satellite for the Malaysian Space Agency late in the year. We are also building an additional Falcon 1 vehicle in the event that some promising customer discussions culminate in a fourth Falcon 1 launch this year. ---Elon


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  • 2 weeks later...

From Nasawatch.com:


Houston Chronicle Scrapes The Bottom of The Barrel

As low as an astronaut can go, Opinion, Houston Chronicle


"Nowak's actions set a standard of sorts to define what an astronaut can do, and not be asked for his or her resignation. Who else at NASA can stalk and then pepper spray a rival in an extramarital affair, and keep his or her job? This fits a clear pattern at NASA. Rise high enough in the organization and your responsibility for flawed actions ceases to be an issue. Not a single major participant in the Columbia disaster has been fired. Not one. In the seemingly unlikely event that Nowak avoids prison, history tells us that she will survive in her job."


Editor's note: The Houston Chronicle has certainly stooped to a new low by publishing a rambling diatribe by space policy wannabe Robert Oler - one wherein he cites the actions of one troubled individual as being representative of the job performance of all within the agency. Oler's comparison is not only unsupportable it is despicable and insulting to the vast majority of employees at NASA.


Also, FYI, there is no "Clear Lake Group". In reality it is two guys, one of whom does not even live in Clear Lake, who pretend to understand space policy - and sucker naive publications into publishing their rants. Indeed, Oler is so sloppy when it comes to detail that he seems not to have noticed that he got the spelling of Lindsey's name wrong half a dozen times.


Editor's update: Mr. Oler has some further (sickening) thoughts on Lisa Nowak - check out this link - scroll down a bit - its the first posting by Mr. Oler under "comments".

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Senile propeller head says NASA is abandoning ISS too soon:



USMC Colonel John Herschel Glenn (ret) strapped himself to the top of a rocket when such things were even more experimetnal than they are today. This after flying Corsairs, Panthers, and Sabres against heavy opposition in both WWII and Korea. He may or may not be wrong, he may even be losing his mental faculties besides just being elderly, though I haven't heard that he was, but I think he deserves better than "senile propeller head".

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USMC Colonel John Herschel Glenn (ret) strapped himself to the top of a rocket when such things were even more experimetnal than they are today. This after flying Corsairs, Panthers, and Sabres against heavy opposition in both WWII and Korea. He may or may not be wrong, he may even be losing his mental faculties besides just being elderly, though I haven't heard that he was, but I think he deserves better than "senile propeller head".


After thinking it over, I agree and I have changed my message.

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"NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has captured for the first time enough light from planets outside our solar system, known as exoplanets, to identify signatures of individual molecules in their atmospheres. The landmark achievement is a significant step toward being able to detect possible life on rocky exoplanets and comes years before astronomers had anticipated."



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Moon Settlers May Be "Ski" Racers, Helium Miners, TV Stars

Richard A. Lovett in San Francisco, California

for National Geographic News

February 19, 2007



Astronauts set up a telescope array on the moon in an artist's conception. Once a lunar base is built, the moon will likely provide important sites for large telescopes that will peer to the edges of the universe and search for habitable planets circling other stars.

Image courtesy NASA


Last year NASA announced plans establish a permanent base on the moon by 2024. But what exactly would lunar living be like? On Saturday astronomers, NASA scientists, and a former astronaut gave a hint of the challenges and opportunities awaiting the moon's first residents.

Astronauts living on the moon will have to build a variety of new skills to make their mission successful, from learning how to walk to producing an extraterrestrial version of reality TV, scientists say.

Simply walking on the moon is difficult but delightful, said Harrison Schmitt, who visited the moon in 1972 with the U.S. space agency's Apollo 17 mission.

"It's like a giant trampoline," he said at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco.

Future astronauts will have better luck getting around if they train in cross-country skiing, Schmitt suggested.

The astronaut said he used a push-and-glide motion similar to cross-country skiing when he was on the moon. This allowed him to move comfortably at 6 to 7 miles (10 to 12 kilometers) an hour, a pace that makes him the fastest human in lunar history.

Learning to move quickly is about more than just having fun, he added.

Explorers are going to have to perform many vital tasks in short order, from building self-contained space habitats to obtaining precious water and oxygen from the lunar soil.

Mastering such tasks is among the first steps toward a successful moon base, which could become a launching point for more ambitious space missions.

"Settlement of the moon is the first step in settling the solar system," said G. Jeffrey Taylor, of the Hawai'i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology. Moon Base Planned by 2024

(Watch a video about NASA's next moon mission.)

Explorers on such a mission will face a variety of new day-to-day challenges, the scientists said.

One challenge will be dealing with lunar dust, which is abrasive and easily tracked into habitats. It's nasty stuff, smelling like spent gunpowder, said Schmitt, who breathed a bit of it on each reentry into the lunar lander.

Future moon dwellers can eliminate most of it by leaving their spacesuits in an antechamber of their habitat, much as people in some cultures leave their shoes at the door.

Any dust that does get inside can be removed magnetically or via electrical fields, Schmitt said.

A bigger problem, the experts said, will be making a lunar settlement economically viable.

The base will have to provide some kind of economic return if humans are to stay on the moon indefinitely, the scientists agreed.

(See "NASA Aims to Open Moon for Business" [July 25, 2006].)

Initially, the return on investment will be vast amounts of new knowledge, scientists said.

The moon will likely provide important sites for large telescopes that will peer to the edges of the universe and search for habitable planets circling other stars.

(See a National Geographic magazine feature on the search for other Earths.)

There may also be opportunities to make money, possibly through television and the Internet.

"I think there's a potentially huge market for interactive television [and] real-time virtual reality," said Paul Spudis of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

For his part, Schmitt, the former astronaut, thinks one of the moon's most valuable resources is helium-3, a lightweight form of helium contained in rocks on the moon's surface.

The material is so valuable as a potential source of nuclear-fusion power that a mere 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of it could replace 140 million U.S. dollars' worth of coal, Schmitt said.

Fusion technology has yet to be perfected, and probably won't be anytime soon (nuclear fission is the technique used in current nuclear power plants.

But there is already a market for helium-3 on Earth, in medical imaging technology—such as PET (positron emission tomography) scans, which are often used to spot cancerous cells—he added.

Whatever else they do, lunar residents will also have time to enjoy their environment, the scientists speculated.

Perhaps they'll run races, perfecting the gait invented by Schmitt. It should be easy after a little cross-country skiing, the former astronaut said. "You use the same rhythm."



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Remind me again, why are we one of the few countries left that still cling to Imperial?


US Military has gone metric.

NASA is going metric.

Engineers prefer metric.

Metric is easier for conversion within the system.


Maybe the next step is we should just say F-it and go metric across the board.


- John

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You know, it's rather tiresome reading about how valuable Helium 3 MAY be in the future. It's like me going back in time and telling Emperor Augustus that he'd better march the legions into the Arabian Peninsula because that viscuous black substance that bubbles out of the ground is going to be a really important source of energy. Someday. Maybe.

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Remind me again, why are we one of the few countries left that still cling to Imperial?


US Military has gone metric.

NASA is going metric.

Engineers prefer metric.

Metric is easier for conversion within the system.


Maybe the next step is we should just say F-it and go metric across the board.


- John


Take it from somebody who relates abstractions to reality all day long -- metric is a soul-destroying artificiality that should be banned as a danger to the human race. English/Standard/Imperial/whatever is based on the measure of man and things in his world. It may not be as neat and clean and divisible by 10, but neither is the real world. It makes more sense to the average person, whether or not all of the people who use metric wish to admit it.

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Take it from somebody who relates abstractions to reality all day long -- metric is a soul-destroying artificiality that should be banned as a danger to the human race. English/Standard/Imperial/whatever is based on the measure of man and things in his world. It may not be as neat and clean and divisible by 10, but neither is the real world. It makes more sense to the average person, whether or not all of the people who use metric wish to admit it.


Well said, that man. Three Hogsheads of Bud Lite, Barkeep! I have to drive 50 furlongs to get home!


Bah! I prefer metric any day. Converting is a bitch.




Edited by SCFalken
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Well said, that man. Three Hogsheads of Bud Lite, Barkeep! I have to drive 50 furlongs to get home!


Bah! I prefer metric any day. Converting is a bitch.



Radix 10 is an inefficient philosophical abstraction.

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"Internet pioneer Vint Cerf, now a Google VP, is leading a NASA effort to create a permanent network link to Mars within the next two years. As Cerf outlined in a recent talk, the 'InterPlaNet' protocol is designed to handle the delay caused by interplanetary distances. A signal traveling between the Earth and Mars can take up to 20 minutes."



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Some kind of Token Ring setup?



I don't think so. If I were architecting it, my first cut would be asynchronous packet messaging. That way you don't have to wait for a handshake. You'd just send off the message and wait for a "received okay" message from the intended recipient. It would be more like email than anything else.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Lunar dust 'may harm astronauts'

By Paul Rincon

Science reporter, BBC News, Houston


Scientists are investigating the possible threat posed to astronauts by inhaling lunar dust.

A study suggests the smallest particles in lunar dust might be toxic, if comparisons with dust inhalation cases on Earth apply.


Teams hope to carry out experiments on mice to determine whether this is the case or not.


Nasa has set up a working group to look into the matter ahead of its planned return to the Moon by 2020.


A team at the University of Tennessee (UT) in Knoxville is also looking at ways of using magnets to filter dust from the living environments of lunar bases and spacecraft.


The health effects of inhaling lunar dust have been recognised since Nasa's Apollo missions.


Astronaut Harrison H (Jack) Schmitt, the last man to step on to the Moon in Apollo 17, complained of "lunar dust hay fever" when his dirty space suit contaminated the habitation module after an energetic foray on the lunar surface.


The US space agency (Nasa) is now keen to assess the effects of more prolonged exposure and to address the problem before humans are sent back to the Moon in just over a decade.


Details of the work were presented to the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston, Texas.


'Dangerous fraction'


Nasa's Lunar Airborne Dust Toxicity Advisory Group (LADTAG), which includes medical doctors as well as scientists from UT, have been working to characterise the dust's properties.


"I've been working on lunar samples for 35 years and I have looked at fractions down to a few microns (millionths of a metre), but never anything less," said Professor Larry Taylor, director of the Planetary Geosciences Institute at Tennessee.


"The medical doctors are interested in things that are less than about three microns.


"So we did some particle size determinations and discovered that a very large portion of lunar soil is potentially dangerous, approximately 1-3% of the total soil by weight."


Most particles in lunar soil should get coughed up, or moved out of the lungs by specialised hairs called cilli. But any particles smaller than about 2.5 microns will stick in lung tissue.


When dust is deposited in the lungs, inflammation occurs. Ultimately, scar tissue called a fibroid grows around the particle. This scar tissue replaces cells which facilitate the exchange of oxygen for carbon dioxide (CO2) in the lungs.


This is the process at work in the condition silicosis - an occupational hazard in mining, quarrying and foundry work - and asbestosis, which results from inhaling asbestos fibres. It also occurs in bronchitis and as a consequence of smoking.


"If you took a healthy pair of adult lungs and smeared them out, they would cover a football field," Professor Taylor told BBC News.


"Once you are down to the size of a square table's worth of surface area in your lungs that is useable; you are just about dead."


Fine particles


The team at the University of Tennessee has shown that about one percent by weight of lunar soil comprises particles less than one micron in size. A smaller - but still significant - fraction is less than 100 nanometres (billionths of a metre) in size.


They determined that most of the fine particles in lunar dust are composed of glass formed through the impact of micrometeorites on the surface of the Moon. But the glass also contains metallic iron grains, much like that in a carpenter's nail and measuring just 10-20 nanometres in size.


These grains, called "nano-phase iron", are so small that, if inhaled, some would pass directly from the lungs into the blood circulation.


Once in the blood, the iron could "de-energise" the haemoglobin molecule which carries oxygen to the body's tissues. If enough gets dissolved in the blood, it could produce effects similar to carbon monoxide poisoning.


However, exactly how much is required for this to happen remains an open question.


In addition, when some fine dust particles are examined under the microscope, they can be seen to be filled with holes - like Swiss cheese.


These vesicles give them a much larger surface area to react with the lung tissue, says Dr Yang Liu, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Tennessee.


"If you have a solid particle of dust and add vesicles, you can calculate how much the reactive surface area is increased. Sometimes you can get increases of up to a factor of five," she told BBC News.


"With jagged particles, because of the way they follow the path of the air, there's a lower chance of them impacting the sinus walls at the back of the throat - which is the body's defence mechanism for keeping particles out of the lungs," said Dr Benjamin Eimer, another postdoctoral researcher at the University of Tennessee.


Lab tests


Previous in vitro experiments with rodents found little effect from the inhalation of samples of lunar soil of average grain size. But Larry Taylor says that new experiments need to concentrate on the effects of breathing in the fine dust particles.


If they are going to do any work on the Moon, they don't want dust in the way, so there is a big effort to minimise it

Dr Benjamin Eimer,

University of Tennessee


However, the nano-phase iron could also be the key to mitigating the hazard, because it imparts magnetic properties to the dust.


Virtually all particles smaller than about 50 microns are attracted by a simple hand-held magnet.


To demonstrate, Professor Taylor brought with him a vial of lunar dust returned from the Moon in the 1969 Apollo 11 mission. Sure enough, the dust was attracted to the magnet as he moved it around the plastic container.


"I discovered that if you put lunar soil in your microwave oven, next to your tea, it will melt at 1,200C before your tea boils - which is a magical thing," he said.


This property is almost entirely due to a coupling effect between the microwaves and the nano-phase iron in the dust.


The molten dust from the microwave treatment hardens into solid glass, which has given rise to the idea that robots could be sent ahead of human missions to "pave" landing pads and roads by firing microwaves at the lunar soil.


Professor Taylor has come up with a concept for a wheeled vehicle, much like an ice-rink resurfacer, that could perform the task, and has developed a prototype microwave device that could be carried to the Moon.


Paving the Moon would prevent dust being kicked up by the manned spacecraft and vehicles which would follow to the surface, but some of the finest dust may be "levitated" electro-statically above the surface. This is relevant not only for the health of the astronauts, but also for astronomy on the Moon.


"If they are going to do any work on the Moon, they don't want dust in the way, so there is a big effort to minimise it," Dr Eimer told BBC News.


He has been working on ways to filter dust out of habitation modules and vacuum it up from the surface with devices that use magnets to attract the lunar soil and dust.


One concept, called the Lunar Air Filter with a Permanent Magnet System (LAF-PMS), consists of many permanent magnets placed with their magnetic poles very close, creating a large field gradient that attracts lunar dust particles from the air.


In order to clean the filters out, small blocks of iron are moved into the gaps between the magnets to close off the magnetic fields. With the filter turned off, the dust can be wiped away.


Another concept, called the Lunar Soil Magnetic Collector (LSMAC), comprises a series of wound magnetic coils arranged along a tube that could be turned on in sequence to effectively "suck up" lunar dust, giving the impression of the leaf-gathering machine used here on Earth.


"We will want to collect the soil to extract oxygen and hydrogen and perhaps to use for building materials. So we will have to collect massive amounts of lunar regolith. Our idea was to make something that could gather up the soil without creating a large dust cloud," said Dr Eimer.



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