Astronotes: May 16 - May 29, 2004

May 28

Site Selection for Moon Casino Narrows

It's big and other worldly looking...and that's what Michael Henderson, creator of MOON intends. If years of money-raising and deal making come to fruition, in 2010 the doors to his project will open -- the world's largest, most expensive, resort and real estate development.

The project is a tribute to Earth's closest celestial partner and as such is built on an enormous scale never before attempted, Henderson explains. The good news is that you don't need to chalk up lunar mileage to feel at home.

MOON will comprise of five artificial islands here on Earth that will house a casino, hotel, resort attractions, cruise ship terminals, marinas, real estate and sports facilities.

Site selection of MOON has been narrowed down to Singapore, Thailand and The Bahamas. A decision on where MOON is to be built is planned for this July.

Along with top-notch design and engineering firms, an international casino services group, the gravitational attraction of the effort now includes culinary guru, Robin Leach, Chairman of GreatChefs Inc. and Leach Entertainment Enterprises Inc.

Also onboard is Rick Searfoss, Colonel, USAF (retired), a former NASA astronaut and Space Shuttle commander who is serving as a space consultant to the MOON project.

The overall financing for the complex is being secured through global investment banks and industry partners.

Henderson's MOON group notes they are pleased that NASA has new plans to return to the Moon and develop a permanent lunar presence. "Together with China's present commitment to land on the Moon, the consistent global publicity will be of tremendous benefit to the project," a press release on the undertaking explains.

-- Leonard David

May 26

Industry Go-ahead on Prometheus Nuclear-powered Probe

NASA's Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter (JIMO) moved closer to reality today as aerospace industry teams got their marching orders to design the mission.

To be launched next decade, the nuclear-powered JIMO would orbit three planet-sized moons of Jupiter -- Callisto, Ganymede and Europa - believed to harbor oceans beneath their icy surfaces.

NASA's new Office of Exploration Systems issued a request for proposals for JIMO to three previously qualified industry teams led by Boeing, Huntington Beach, Calif.; Lockheed Martin, Denver; and Northrop Grumman, Redondo Beach, Calif. The proposals are due July 16, 2004.

There is five-to-eight year trip time for JIMO. Once on duty at Jupiter, the spacecraft would go from one moon to the next. The probe would not only fly by but orbit each moon. JIMO would be the first NASA mission utilizing nuclear electric propulsion, which would enable the spacecraft to orbit each of the trio of icy worlds to perform extensive studies of their makeup, history and potential for sustaining life.

-- Leonard David

May 25

Space Cycle Could Make Tour de Mars Possible

Pedal your way to Mars? Not quite. But an innovative "space cycle" that creates a miniature form of gravity might help keep a space traveler's muscles in shape.

University of California at Irvine (UCI) researchers are part of a scientific team delving into methods astronauts can use to remain healthy during lengthy travel times to far-off places. One early idea is a bike-like contraption that whirls a pedal-pushing astronaut around. Not only is a miniature form of gravity created, but using the hardware can be part of an overall exercise program.

The hope is to learn why muscles atrophy and lose their functional capacity in the gravity-free environment of space. With that knowledge, exercise gear and resistance work-outs can be developed. Funding for the work comes from the National Space Biomedical Research Institute of Houston, Texas.

No word yet about "backpedaling" astronauts on the return leg of a Mars voyage.

-- Leonard David

May 24

NASA to Launch Robot Aircraft Program

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- NASA said last Thursday it is launching a program that could place robot planes and aircraft flown by human pilots in the same airspace by 2008.

Unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, are now limited primarily to restricted test or military airspace.

"The fundamental underpinnings of this program are, how can we safely introduce this class into the national airspace system?" said Jeff Bauer, manager of the $360 million program for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

An industry association, the UAV National Industry Team, as well as the Defense Department and Federal Aviation Administration, are also participating in the five-year program to deliver proposals and recommendations to the FAA.

Participants acknowledge that many technical and policy hurdles and much testing lie ahead.

In recent years, robot planes have been involved in some high-profile mishaps, including in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the United States, prototype drones have landed on a freeway, cratered in the desert and crumbled in the skies over Hawaii.

Perfecting the technology _ and figuring out how to ensure the drones' safe operation _ could open up the use of robot planes in civilian and commercial applications, including firefighting, border patrol, domestic security and communications.

Industrial partners in the program include Boeing, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems and Aerovironment Inc.

-- Andrew Bridges, Associated Press

May 21

Earth Swing-by for Japan's MUSES-C

Japan's Space Engineering Spacecraft "Hayabusa" -- also known as MUSES-C -- whisked by the Earth on May 19. The Earth swing-by, along with the craft's ion engines, puts the probe on a new elliptical orbit toward asteroid Itokawa. After its precise orbit is determined in a week by space scientists, Hayabusa will restart its ion engines to fly toward the asteroid.

Hayabusa acquired images of the Earth and the Moon during the swing-by maneuver using its Asteroid Multiband Imaging Camera (AMICA). The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science are running the mission.

Returning to the Earth, the reentry capsule released from the explorer will parachute its precious asteroid pickings into a landing zone in South Australia.

-- Leonard David

May 20

China's Orbiting Module Due to Deorbit

A module left in space following China's first human spaceflight in mid-October 2003 is about ready to nosedive into Earth's atmosphere.

Future left behind but long-lived Shenzhou modules may well play a role in honing China's rendezvous and docking skills, in preparation for establishing that country's own space station in Earth orbit.

British space-watcher, Phillip Clark, told he considers it likely that the orbital module from next year's piloted Shenzhou 6 flight will be used as a docking target by space fliers on a subsequent Shenzhou 7 mission.

-- Leonard David

May 19

Atlas II: End of the Line

Denver, Colorado -- As 1950's music played in the background, rocket workers at Lockheed Martin have bid a fond farewell to the end of an era in launch vehicles.

The company has shipped out the last of its Atlas II boosters from a Launch Vehicle Final Assembly Building at its Waterton Facilities near Denver, Colorado.

Atlas was originally designed as America's first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system in the mid-1950s. Since the rocket first lifted off on June 11, 1957, there have been a total of 582 Atlas missions to date.

The Atlas II series -- a roaring workhorse of the American launch vehicle fleet for 13 years -- has performed 61 consecutive missions with 100 percent mission success. The booster has evolved into the larger, more powerful Atlas III and Atlas V series.

-- Leonard David

May 18

Japanese Ad Firm Teams with Space Adventures on Tourist Trip

Space Adventures, Ltd. announced today it had begun work with Dentsu, the world's largest advertising agency, to send a prominent Japanese figure to the International Space Station (ISS) within the next several years.

As part of the agreement with Dentsu, Space Adventures will dedicate one of the four seats the company has available on the Russian Soyuz TMA spacecraft. Space Adventures currently has a contract with the Federal Space Agency of Russia that provides them with the sole rights to transport the next four private space explorers to the ISS.

On March 29, Space Aventures announced that American technology entrepreneur, Greg Olsen, Ph.D. would be the occupant of the first of the four seats available. Olsen is currently training at the Yuri Gargarin Training Center in Star City, Russia. His expedition is currently planned for April 2005. With two of the four seats committed, Space Adventures has two seats remaining on the Soyuz.

"I welcome the opportunity to work with Dentsu. They are the world's premier advertising agency and we are delighted to embark on such an exciting opportunity with them," said Eric Anderson, president and CEO of Space Adventures. "As Dentsu has cultivated unique artistic designs and opportunities for advertising in today's marketplace, we, at Space Adventures, are using the same enthusiasm and innovative techniques to open the space frontier to private citizens. Together, we will make history by sending the first Japanese private explorer to space."

-- Staff

Space Advocates Prepare a Moon-to-Mars Blitz on Washington

The newly-formed Space Exploration Alliance (SEA) announced Monday that their organizations are taking their cause to Washington on July 11-13.

The Space Exploration Alliance comprises leading space advocacy groups, industry associations and space policy organizations. It was formed to promote the new Vision for Space Exploration. Its membership includes the American Astronautical Society, Aerospace Industries Association, Aerospace States Association, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, California Space Authority, Florida Space Authority, The Mars Society, National Coalition of Spaceport States, National Space Society, ProSpace, Space Access Society and Space Frontier Foundation.

During SEA's Washington event, the "Moon-to-Mars Blitz",  organizations will bring their members to Capitol Hill to visit as many congressional members and staff as possible with a single message: "Fund NASA's requests for FY 2005 for starting the new Moon, Mars, and Beyond initiative."

The collaboration for the Moon-Mars Blitz is the opening shot illustrating the kind of campaigns that SEA members will be undertaking to help insure passage of the budget required to launch the new space initiative.

The idea for the blitz grew out of the National Space Society's previously planned summer 2004 legislative conference, which would have involved a spectrum of space-related issues. However, at the May 7 founding meeting of the SEA, NSS offered to focus the Legislative Conference on funding for the Moon Mars Initiative, and invited other SEA members to join in. Several groups promptly accepted the offer, and decided to turn the Legislative Conference into the Moon-Mars Blitz.

According to NSS Executive Director George Whitesides, "The Moon-Mars initiative represents a once in a decade chance to break the space program out of low Earth orbit and open the path towards a spacefaring civilization. We cannot let it go down to defeat."

The blitz activity will include a day of training for all participants, followed by two days of congressional visits. The organizations invite all other space organizations, as well as individuals not affiliated with any organization, to take part.

-- Staff

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