March 1 -- March 31 2005

March 31

Commercial Teachers inSpace Program Takes Off

For teacher Pam Leestma itwas a higher-education boost in her quest to travel into space.

Leestma and pilot Bob Raytook off on Wednesday from a Reno, Nevada airfield aboard "Maching Bird 1" - atwin seat MiG-21UM jet - owned and operated by a commercial spaceflight firm -X-Rocket, LLC of Bothell, Washington. The proficiency flight was part ofX-Rocket's Teacher in Space program.

According to companypresident Edward Wright, X-Rocket plans to operate a fleet of suborbitalaerospace trainers that will serve multiple functions, from advanced test pilottraining to adventure tourism experiences to Teacher in Space flights. Wright'svision is to fly as many as 200 teachers a year.

Funds to do so, however,would have to be raised.

A goal is to have thousandsof astronaut teachers in schools all across the country, within the nextdecade, he said. A 30-year experienced educator, Leestma teaches at Valley Christian Elementary School in Bellflower, California.

And if the name Leestma isa bit space familiar, she's the cousin of NASA astronaut, David Leestma, athree shuttle flight veteran.

-- Leonard David

March 30

SMART-1 Moon ProbeOutsmarts Itself

The European Space Agency's(ESA) SMART-1Moon probe had a bit of unexpected engine action. Spacecraft operators lastmonth were surprised to find the craft's ion motor happily at work.

"The software errorfor the unexpected activation of the electric propulsion of the engine has beenfound and corrected," explained Sven Grahn, Vice President Engineering& Corporate Communications for the Swedish Space Corporation, the primecontractor for SMART-1.

The event seems to berelated to a shift of memory addresses caused by the uploading of a majorsoftware patch. The patch was not uploaded to fix a problem, but to provide newfunctionality for the lunar orbiter's science instruments, Grahn told

"Simulations and testswere run before the patch was uploaded, but somehow the tests and simulationsdid not catch this glitch," he said.

Grahn said that theinadvertent turn-on of the electric propulsion is now fully understood andthere is no risk of a repetition. "But of course, the age-old lesson isnever touch a working system...and if you sure to check. We checked, butstill the glitch occurred. However, the consequences of the glitch were verysmall, luckily."

The craft's ion enginekicked on for 11 hours and 22 minutes in February 28, consuming some 200 gramsof precious Xenon fuel. A subsequent correction maneuver by SMART-1 as itorbits the Moon was done on March 12 to avoid too long of eclipses in April,added Bernard Foing, Chief Scientist for ESA's science program. [SmartScience]

-- Leonard David

March 29

Shuttle DiscoveryDelivered to Vehicle Assembly Building

CAPE CANAVERAL - ShuttleDiscovery carefully backed out of its hangar overnight after more than two yearsof preparations, then made the one-hour roll into the Vehicle Assembly Building early today.

A handful of shuttleworkers, walking ahead of the orbiter's rear end as it inched out, lofted asign saying "We're behind you Discovery!" The first movement of thevehicle, at 1:29 a.m., ended more than two years of preparations for theorbiter that will return the shuttle fleet to space in the wake of the Columbia accident.

Kennedy Space Center workers scrambled Monday to getshuttle Discovery ready for the overnight tow from the Orbiter ProcessingFacility to the mammoth VAB. A small crowd of reporters and space workersbraved chilly gusts to watch the middle-of-the-night action. NASA plans to hoistDiscovery atop a mobile launcher platform later today, and attach the spaceshipto a 15-story external fuel tank. Twin solid rocket boosters already areconnected to the tank.

The fully assembled shuttlewill be driven out to Pad 39B in about a week. NASA and United Space Allianceworkers toiled through Easter weekend, hoping to get Discovery to the VAB earlyMonday. But they were held up by a late-developing glitch with the 76-wheeltransporter used to tow the orbiter. The yellow transporter would not line upcorrectly with the back end of the vehicle. The team had to unhook the orbiter,back the transporter out of the hangar and try again. The movement was slowonce it started this morning. It took about 30 minutes to get half of theorbiter out the doors.

Then the pace quickened.The orbiter was inside the VAB before 2:40 a.m. Discovery is set to launch May15 on the first shuttle mission since the Columbia disaster.

-- Todd Halvorson and JohnKelly, Florida Today

Published under licensefrom FLORIDA TODAY. Copyright ? 2001 FLORIDA TODAY. No portion of this materialmay be reproduced in any way without the written consent of FLORIDA TODAY.

March 28

Shuttle Rollover to Vehicle Assembly Building Delayed

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Shuttle Discovery will move from its hangar to the Vehicle Assembly Building no earlier than 11 p.m. today.

The orbiter was to movearound 10 a.m. this morning. Overnight, however, there was a problem with thetransporter that tows the orbiter to the VAB.

The transporter is like agiant flatbed truck without the flat bed.

Technicians realized the72-wheeled yellow transporter was not properly aligned with the rear ofDiscovery.

KSC teams are working tounhook the orbiter, pull the transporter back out of the Orbiter ProcessingFacility and then properly align it to drive back in.

The weather was looking badanyway this morning. The sky is overcast and it is raining on and off thismorning. That's expected to continue most of the morning and early afternoon.

NASA prefers not to movethe orbiter in the rain because drops of water can damage the thermalprotection system.

-- Florida Today

Published under licensefrom FLORIDA TODAY. Copyright ? 2001 FLORIDA TODAY. No portion of this materialmay be reproduced in any way without the written consent of FLORIDA TODAY.

March 25

NASA to Study Toxicityof Moon Dust

NASA scientists are worriedabout just how toxic lunar dust might be to future Moonwalkers. How to preventits potentially hazardous effects if a person is exposed to the material is onthe space agency's need-to-know list.

A workshop on thebiological effects of lunar dust is being held at month's end, co-sponsored byNASA Headquarters, NASA Ames Research Center and NASA Johnson Space Center.

Leading scientists andphysicians will meet in Sunnyvale, California to review current knowledge aboutlunar dust and its medical risks. They'll be recommending strategies to obtainnew information needed for medical and engineering experts to manage theparticulate risk for lunar exploration.

"NASA is planning tobegin human explorations of the moon between 2015 and 2020 in preparation forhuman expeditions to Mars," said Russell Kerschmann, chief of the LifeSciences Division at NASA Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley.

Kerschmann said the impactof lunar dust on crews and equipment is a high risk area. The upcoming workshopwill focus on defining those hazards in order to assure the safety ofastronauts returning to the Moon as part of President Bush's Vision for SpaceExploration, he said.

-- Leonard David

March 24

Contest Winner To BeLaunched into Space

A Colorado man has won afree ride to the edge of space in a rocket plane to be built by billionaireentrepreneur Richard Branson. The announcement will be made today in New York City.

Doug Ramsburg was selectedat random from 135,000 entries in a contest sponsored by Branson's new VirginGalactic company and Volvo Cars of North America. As the winner, Ramsburg willbe one of the first passengers to fly in an enlarged SpaceShipOne - the firstcommercially financed plane to reach space last fall. Virgin Galactic licensedSpaceShipOne's technology in order to modify it for extra passengers.

The first flights -expected to begin in two or three years, pending safety and regulatory approval- will cost about $200,000. Like all prospective astronauts, Ramsburg will go throughsome basic training, as well as pass a physical 10 days before his flight. Noneof this is supposed to so strenuous as to exclude the general public.

"You look up at thestars and you think, 'Wow, wouldn't it be awesome to be able to look back on theplanet from space,' " Ramburg told The Rocky Mountain News. "And I'mgetting that opportunity."

-- Staff

March 23

Weighing a Black Hole

Scientists have weighed ablack hole by observing strong X-ray outbursts from it. The timing and regularityof the bursts - seen by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory - imply an object10,000 times more massive than our Sun. This might sound like a bundle, but inthe boxing ring of black holes, it qualifies only as middleweight.

Astronomers have previouslyobserved stellar-mass black holes - with about 10 solar masses - andsupermassive black holes - with a million or more solar masses. The recentmeasurements of a black hole in M74, a galaxy 32 million light years away, arethe best evidence so far for an intermediate-massblack hole.

"It is important toverify the existence of intermediate-mass black holes, because they wouldbridge the gap between stellar-mass black holes and supermassive black holes inthe centers of galaxies," said Jifeng Liu of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Liu and his colleaguesfound that the M74 source varied in its X-ray brightness every two hours,providing an important clue to the black holes' mass.

Some scientists hadspeculated that ultraluminous X-ray sources (ULXs), of which the M74 object isone, are stellar-mass black holes that look brighter because they are beamingX-rays directly at Earth. However, the variation pattern observed by Liu's teamseems to require a bigger black hole.

If the object is indeed oneof the elusive intermediate-mass black holes, the next question is how did itform. One of the leading theories is that hundreds of stellar-mass black holes(which form out of the deaths of massive stars) merge together at the center ofa dense star cluster.

Another possibility is thatthe intermediate object was the central black hole of a small galaxy that isbeing eaten by the larger M74 galaxy.

The results appeared in theMarch 1 issue of the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

-- Michael Schirber

March 22

Public Hearings Set forPluto Mission

The countdown clock isticking toward a January liftoff of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft bound forPluto and the Kuiper Belt.

"The spacecraft andinstruments are undergoing a very rigorous test program over the next fewmonths," said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern of theSouthwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. "This begins withsystems testing, and then proceeds to shake tests and space environment thermalvacuum testing," he told

Also among a series ofsteps still to be undertaken is launch approval of the nuclear-powered probe.The power source for New Horizons is a radioisotope thermoelectric generator(RTG). It uses heat from the decay of plutonium dioxide to produce electricity.

On March 29 and 30, NASAwill host meetings at the Florida Solar Energy Center in Cocoa - a research instituteof the University of Central Florida -- where the public can comment on a NewHorizons Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and learn more about theproposed mission.

After reviews are completedunder the National Environmental Policy Act, if NASA decides to proceed withthe mission, the spacecraft would await presidential approval to launch nextJanuary.

New Horizons is to belaunched aboard an Atlas 5. The piano-sized probe would cross the entire spanof the solar system -- in record time -- and conduct flyby studies of Pluto andits moon, Charon, in 2015. New Horizons would also voyage into the Kuiper Beltof smaller, icy objects. [More]

-- Leonard David

March 21

Congress Moves onAmateur Asteroid-Watching Bill

The U.S. House ofRepresentative's Science Committee on March 17 passed a bill that would helpdiscover near-Earth asteroids.

Passed by voice vote lastweek, the bill -- House Resolution 1023 (HR 1023) -- is also known as theCharles "Pete" Conrad Astronomy Awards Act and has been championed byCongressman Dana Rohrabacher.

The bill is named for thethird man to walk on the Moon. Conrad died in 1999 as the result of injuriessustained in a motorcycle accident.

The bill authorizes theNASA Administrator to establish an awards program in honor of Conrad that flagsthe discoveries and contributions made by amateur astronomers regardingasteroids with near-Earth orbit trajectories.

Cash awards are called forin the bill, to encourage amateur astronomers to discover and track near-Earthasteroids. An award under the program is valued at $3,000. You have to be acitizen or permanent resident of the United States at the time of the discoveryor contribution to receive an award under the Act.

The NASA Administratorwould make awards under the program based on the recommendations of the MinorPlanet Center of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Science Committee ChairmanSherwood Boehlert noted that the U.S. Senate ran out of time in taking the billup last go-round, but was optimistic about it moving through the entire processthis Congress.

-- Leonard David

March 18

China Tracks Space Debris

China has set up a dedicated center tomonitor space trash in orbit, the country's Xinhua News Agency reported.

China established the tracking station -which carries the weighty name of Space Target and Debris Observation and Research Center of the Chinese Academy of Sciences - at the Purple Mountain Observatory in Nanjing earlier this month. Space debris, trash cast off by humans and spacecraft while inEarth orbit, ranges from derelict satellites to expended stages and othercomponents of launch vehicles.

Chinese space officialsexpect the new tracking center to study the motions and affects of space debrisin orbit in order to protect future manned spacecraft and unmanned satellites,Xinhua reported.

Researchers at PurpleMountain Observatory told the Xinhua News Agency that if the current rate ofspace debris accumulation continues - about 2 percent to 5 percent each year -it could be unsafe to launch anything into orbit by the year 2300.

March 15

New Mexico May Get New Deep Space Antennas

ALBUQUERQUE (AP) - NASA isconsidering New Mexico as the new US home for a cluster of dish-shaped radioantennas.

The antennas would be usedto communicate with NASA's spacecraft.

Deep Space Network Arrayproject manager Joe Statman said Monday that officials are considering twosites next to White Sands Missile Range. The antennas would replace an agingstation in Goldstone, California. Goldstone also is in the running for thereplacement array. Statman says it'll be several years before a decision ismade.

NASA is doing preliminaryenvironmental analyses of the candidate sites, and the project doesn't yet havefederal funding.

-- Associated Press

March 14

Space Radar Antenna:Lightweight and Lengthy

Here's the long and shortof it. The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is delvinginto Innovative Space Based Radar Antenna Technology, dubbed the ISAT program.

These revolutionary,extremely lightweight and lengthy radar antennas would be stationed in space.The assignment: to provide continuous tactical-grade tracking of moving groundtargets or airborne targets, such as cruise missiles.

But once on orbit, theantennas would unfold to a structure that could be, in the fully operationalversion, the length of the Empire State Building - that's 1,250 feet long orequal to 102 stories.

Measurable progress hasbeen made in the ISAT effort, detailed this week in submitted testimony of TonyTether, Director of DARPA before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on EmergingThreats and Capabilities.

Tether reported that lastyear DARPA successfully built and deployed a single section of the antenna onthe ground. In addition, engineers demonstrated techniques that would measurethe position and shape of the antenna to within one millimeter on-orbit.

Multiple sections of theantenna will be built this next year, combined, and deployed and tested in athermal vacuum chamber that simulates the space environment. The ISATspace-based demonstration of a one-third-scale antenna is planned for 2010,Tether noted.

-- Leonard David

March 10

April Auctions BringSpace Sales

April is auction season withno less than three independent space sales scheduled over the four weeks. Firstto the mailbox with their catalog (although second to sell by calendar date) isRegency-Superior of Beverly Hills, which offers 377 lots in the Space sectionof their April 9, public auction. Here are a few of the highlights:

1965 Gagarin TrainingCentrifuge Presentation Model (Lot 1932) - Scale model of actual centrifuge located at Center of Cosmonauts Training in Star City. Estimate: $750

1969 Armstrong, Aldrin& Collins Signed Photo (Lot 1696) - Color 8"x10" photo on Kodak professional papersigned by all three with the same blue pen. Estimate: $1,000

1972 Flown BeefSandwiches (Lot1744) - Package containing group of bite-sized beef sandwiches from GeneCernan's private collection of left-over meals that were flown to the Moon onthe Apollo 17 mission. Estimate: $3,500

1990s Flown SokolPresure Gloves (Lot 1860) - Each with initials LAI standing for Lazutkin Alexander Ivanovich , member ofboth TM-25 and TM-34 crews. Estimate: $1,000

Regency-Superior's auctionis preceded by New York-based Swann Galleries on April 2 and followed by Aurora Galleries' two day space sale in California on April 23-24.

For more lot previews,auction coverage, and prices realized after each sale, see

-- Robert Pearlman

March 9

In China, Female Astronauts Must Wait

As China prepares for its second manned spaceflight, officials with the country's space agencysay it will be a while before female Chinese astronauts reach orbit.

According to Qi Faren,chief designer for China's manned spacecraft, there are not yet any femaleastronauts or pilots qualified to ride aboard a space-bound Shenzhouspacecraft, China's Xinhua News Agency reported.

Chinese astronaut candidatestypically amass about 700 hours flying fighter planes to qualify for astronautstatus, Xinhua stated.

"Although China has many women aviators now, none of them meet the minimum requirement," Qi toldXinhua.

China was the third nation, after Russia and the U.S., to build a manned spacecraft and launch it into Earth orbit.

It took Russia two years since launching the first human in space - cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin aboardVostok 1 in April 1961 - to loft the first woman, cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova,who flew aboard Vostok 6 in June 1963. In June of 1983, the first U.S. female astronaut, Sally Ride, launched spaceward aboard the space shuttle Challenger22 years after NASA launched its first human, Alan Shepard, on a sub-orbitalflight inside the Freedom 7 spacecraft in May 1961.

China's first manned spaceflight,Shenzhou-5, launched and landed safely in October 2003 with astronaut YangLiwei at the helm during a 21-hour mission that circled the Earth 14 times.That flight will be followed by Shenzhou-6, a five-day mission manned by twoastronauts, which is expected to launch this fall, Qi said, adding thatflight's spacecraft has already been assembled for astronaut training.

-- Tariq Malik

March 8

135,000 Enter 'BoldlyGo' Sweepstakes for Ticket to Space

During the Superbowl, Volvolaunched a "Boldly Go" ad campaign that compared its new XC90 SUV toa rocket blasting into space. The ad involved complex tie-ins and an offer tosend a sweepstakes contestant to space.

The company is now callingit "Volvo's most successful integrated marketing campaign,"generating the advertising equivalency for press coverage more than double theinvestment in the expensive ad.

In the commercial, therocket pilot turns out to be billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, themoney man behind the recent record-setting plane flight by Steve Fossett in theGlobalFlyeraircraft. Branson is also founder and chairman of The Virgin Group ofCompanies, which last year announced VirginGalactic, a new company that aims to take tourists to space within threeyears. That bold plan is based on Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne,the sub-orbital craft that last year won the X Prize (Rutan also designedGlobalFlyer).

The final piece of this high-poweredrelationship puzzle: Volvo's ads (also in print and online) invited people toregister (sorry, through Feb. 22) to win a seat on a Virgin spaceflight. Volvosays 135,000 people signed up online.

The company also receivedmore than 1,000 pre-orders for its new V8 machine. While the vehicle won'tquite rocket off the planet, the campaign suggests space remains a goodmarketing vehicle.

The sweepstakes winner willbe announced March 24 at the New York International Auto Show.

-- Staff

March 7

Rocket Crashes afterAlaskan Launch

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) _ A rocket launched tocollect information on the aurora's appearance and movement flew for fiveminutes before crashing in the mountains north of Fairbanks.

The 70-foot Black Brant XIIrocket was launched Sunday from the Poker Flat Research Range. It should haveflown for 40 minutes, said Greg Walker, the range manager.

Walker said range staff searching by airand on ground with snowmobiles found the rocket based on its final global positioningsystem transmissions.

"It was right where itwas supposed to be,'' Walker said.

Range staff planned toretrieve the rocket debris and analyze it to determine what caused the crash.

The rocket was to flythrough the aurora and investigate how and why the aurora moves and appears theway it does on Earth, Hartley said.

Poker Flat Research Range has been the site of more than2,000 rocket launches since it opened in 1969. It is about 30 miles north of Fairbanks.

-- Associated Press

March 4

China's Next Space Travelers in Training

China is ramping up preparations for thatcountry's second human spaceflight later this year. According to the Xinhuanews agency, 10 astronauts in five pairs are in the run-up to pilot theShenzhou-6 spaceship.

The two-person crew willnot be selected "until the last minute" said Huang Chunping, the chief launchvehicle designer of China's human spaceflight program, he was quoted as saying,based on a report in the Beijing Times newspaper Friday.

China's first piloted spaceflight wascarried out in October 2003, a mission lasting a little over 21 hours induration. At the controls of that craft was Yang Liwei - who is also among thetrainees for the upcoming two-person space shot expected to last for over fivedays.

Huang also said Shenhou-6will carry two new upgrades: a video transmission system so ground controllerscan monitor the separation of the rocket and the spaceship live; and a betterescape system for the pilots in case of emergencies. Lastly, Huang said the twospace travelers would enter the roomy forward module of Shenzhou-6 to carry outexperiments.

There are no plans for thecrew to carry out a space walk, he said.

-- Leonard David

March 2

Finally! Deep SpacePersonal Ads Become a Reality

Seems like every Silicon Valley technocrat worth his or her salt can't wait to get off-world. It wasannounced earlier this week that groovy Internet community craigslist has plansto offer its users the opportunity to have their postings - personals, wantads, etc., -- transmitted trillions of miles beyond the confines of the SolarSystem.

"It looks like we mayhit 2 billion page views per month in March here on Earth," craigslistcustomer service rep and founder, Craig Newmark said in a press release toutingthe concept. "We wanted to be the first to offer free job postings,apartment listings, personals and other classifieds to the extraterrestrialcommunity. We believe there could be an infinite market opportunity."

The craigslist currentlyhandles 5 million earthly postings each month, from 8 million humans, in 99cities and 19 countries on the planetary surface.

The company announced theplan after CEO Jim Buckmaster won an auction on eBay for the first privatecommunication to be transmitted into deep space by Deep Space CommunicationsNetwork, of Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Noting that suchtransmissions have long been the exclusive domain of military and researchinstitutions, Buckmaster said "We're thrilled to offer our users thishistoric opportunity", and added that negotiations were ongoing with DSCNfor transmission capacity orders of magnitude beyond those offered in theoriginal auction, to accommodate the interstellar messaging needs of themammoth online community."

March 1

Soviet Space Diaries Found,Translators Wanted

The NASA History Office in Washington, D.C. is on the prowl for an editor and translator services to dive into thediaries of two key Soviet space officials.

The hand-written diaries ofthe Soviet space pioneers -- Vasiliy Mishin and Konstantin Feoktistov -- are inthe Russian language and have not been published in English.

Mishin was a Russian rocketpioneer, later leading the development of a mammoth booster for that country'sfailed attempt to beat the U.S. Apollo project in landing humans on the Moon.He died in 2001.

The Mishin diaries consistof several thousand pages.

The other space official,Konstantin Feoktistov, is a former Soviet cosmonaut. The spacecraft engineerflew onboard the three-seater Voskhod 1 in 1964. Feoktistov was a key figure inthe design and construction of Salyut and Mir space stations, later to serve asa high-ranking official in mission control center at the Baikonur spaceport.The Feoktistov diaries equal several hundred pages.

The contractor selected byNASA will be responsible for selecting and translating the most importantportions of the diaries, adding editorial context for the diarists'often-cryptic references, and preparing the material for publication. Keyhistorical time periods are to be culled from the writings.

The goal of the effort isto provide new insights regarding the Soviet space program.

-- Leonard David

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