Exploration: January 2013 Archives

Return to Tradition: 2013 Geographic South Pole Marker Sports Classic Style, The Anarctic Sun

"The marker shows the position of the planets as viewed from the South Pole on Jan 1, 2013. There are seven brass planets displayed on a copper inlay. In the very center is a small copper star that marks the South Pole. "In the center of the marker (in brass) we have the sun, sunset and moon, with the Southern Cross, including the pointers. If you look carefully, the small inscription above the moon reads, 'Accomplishment & Modesty.' This was a reference to honor Neil Armstrong, as he passed away when I was making this section with the moon."

NASA Cooperative Agreement Notice: Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute

"NASA is soliciting the submission of multiinstitutional team-based proposals for research as participating members of the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI). The Institute will succeed the current NASA Lunar Science Institute. Proposals must clearly articulate an innovative, broadly based research program addressing basic and applied scientific questions fundamental to understanding the nature of the Moon, Near Earth Asteroids, the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos, and the near space environments of these target bodies, to enable human exploration of these destinations. Proposals in the areas of astrophysics and heliophysics that are enabled through human and robotic exploration of the Target Bodies are also solicited through this Cooperative Agreement Notice."

Keith's note: It is important to note that this renamed and expanded "virtual institute" based on the existing NASA Lunar Science Institute (NLSI) will continue to be managed at NASA ARC. ARC pioneered the implementation of virtual institutes back in the late 1990s with the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) and later with the NLSI.

No More NEEMO?

Florida university to take over operations of undersea lab Aquarius, Star News

"A lack of federal support and local funding has forced the University of North Carolina Wilmington to stop operations at Aquarius, the world's only permanent undersea laboratory - a loss that will take away a key component of the school's marine science program, a school official said. "Aquarius is unique. It's the only asset like this in the world," Aquarius director Tom Potts said of the facility in the Florida Keys. "UNCW does lose a little of what makes it unique by losing this program." But the program is not completely lost. It will soon be operated by Miami-based Florida International University."

Asteroid Mission Update

B612 Foundation Live Facebook Chat

"What are the odds of a devastating asteroid impacting the Earth? How will the privately-funded Sentinel Mission work to map Near Earth Asteroids in the inner solar system? Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder Dr. Ed Lu and Mission Director Dr. Harold Reitsema will be available to answer your questions about the Sentinel Mission and all things asteroid related. Join us!" Wednesday, January 9, 2013 from 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM (PST)


Houston, We Have Another Problem: Study Shows that Space Travel is Harmful to the Brain

"The possibility that radiation exposure in space may give rise to health problems such as cancer has long been recognized. However, this study shows for the first time that exposure to radiation levels equivalent to a mission to Mars could produce cognitive problems and speed up changes in the brain that are associated with Alzheimer's disease."

Galactic Cosmic Radiation Leads to Cognitive Impairment and Increased AB Plaque Accumulation in a Mouse Model of Alzheimer's Disease, PLoS (original research paper)

Keith's note: I can't seem to find any mention of this NASA-funded research at NASA.gov. Given the animal rights controversy that surrounded these experiments, and the results of this specific research project (with clear relevance to missions to asteroids, Mars, etc.), you'd think that NASA would want taxpayers, stakeholders, and the media, to know about these findings. Guess not.

NASA produces a regular listing of publications (NASA Spaceline Current Awareness) on the space life science research it funds. However, NASA is unable to find a way to publish it online. As a result no one really gets to see what the agency does - unless they visit SpaceRef, that is. We have a complete archive online stretching back to 1999.

Keith's update: This PLoS research paper made the rounds of various news outlets - all of them asking the question: Does space travel cause/aggravate Alzheimer's? Given than many of us have had our families directly affected by this disease, stories that mention it tend to get our attention. NASA's public response? Nothing. Yet, its not as if they are not concerned about radiation health (they funded this research after all). This was a perfect opportunity for the agency to show how its research not only serves space exploration needs but also has a relevance to issues facing the public.

By coincidence, this solicitation "Development of the Expandable Coil Concept" was issued today by NASA JSC and shows one way that this issue is being addressed in terms of spacecraft design. Yet another golden opportunity for NASA to link up its research and inform the public. Again, nothing but silence. If NASA does care enough to tell people what they are doing, then how can the agency expect people to care enough to be interested?

NASA JSC Solicitation: Development of the Expandable Coil Concept, NASA JSC

"NASA/JSC has a requirement to continue the study of active radiation shielding for crew protection, a key challenge with human exploration of space."

Radiation Protection and Architecture Utilizing High Temperature Superconducting Magnets, NASA

NASA mulls plan to drag asteroid into moon's orbit, New Scientist

"Researchers with the Keck Institute for Space Studies in California have confirmed that NASA is mulling over their plan to build a robotic spacecraft to grab a small asteroid and place it in high lunar orbit. The mission would cost about $2.6 billion - slightly more than NASA's Curiosity Mars rover - and could be completed by the 2020s. .. Robotically bringing an asteroid to the moon instead would be a more attractive first step, the Keck researchers conclude, because an object orbiting the moon would be in easier reach of robotic probes and maybe even humans."

Keith's note: This study has not been released yet so we don't know what is in it. All we hear is how to go get an asteroid and bring it back to Earth - but not why. If the idea is to study an asteroid close up, I would think that you could send a swarm of satellites, large antennas, etc. based on existing hardware to an asteroid and allow high fidelity telepresence capability for the same/less cost and less complexity than using brute force to bring it to Earth. The only possible rationale for bringing an asteroid back to Earth would be to use the materials in it. I have yet to see any mission statement that charters NASA to mine asteroids. Indeed, the White House doesn't even support the more modest L2 station that Charlie Bolden (sometimes) wants to build using traditional engineering.

The last time I checked, one of the main reasons why the White House tasked NASA to send humans to an asteroid in the first place was to test out long duration deep space human capabilities as a prelude to sending humans to Mars. Bringing their asteroidal destination to Earth sort of defeats that initial intent. Who knows: maybe Charlie Bolden wants to bring Mars closer to Earth to cut down on travel time.

Keith's update: the original report has indeed been released previously. But the specific mission proposal that NASA has sent to the White House has not been released - nor will it be any time soon since this is all "predecisional" stuff.

NASA NSPIRES: The Next Generation Plenary: Next Destinations for Human Space Exploration

"Calling U.S. students and U.S. young professionals! If you could choose humanity's next destination in space, where would you choose? We want to hear what you think should be the next destination for humans to explore and why your destination is the best. As today's 21- to 35-year-olds, you will be the senior engineers and mission managers who will be carrying out and leading the next human missions to explore space, and we want your input. Why wait 10 years to be heard?! We invite you to share your ideas with space leaders in government, industry and academia at the International Astronautical Congress in Beijing, China, 23-27 September 2013!"

NASA's Call for Abstracts for the 64th International Astronautical Congress (IAC)

Keith's note: I think it is great that NASA seeks the input of the next generation of space explorers. But its somewhat odd that NASA is asking people what "humanity's next destination in space" should be when (depending who you listen to) the agency has already been given that destination. Is this request seeking the next destination after asteroids/Mars - or is this one instead of asteroids/Mars? Given that NASA Administrator Bolden does/does not want to go to an asteroid - or may want to bring that asteroid back to Earth - or maybe also wants to go to L2 and/or Mars, I guess yet another destination exercise won't really make things that much more confused.

Charlie Bolden's Meandering Strategic Plans, earlier post



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This page is an archive of entries in the Exploration category from January 2013.

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