Southern Cross Constellation

Southern Cross Constellation
Herschel's look at the Southern Cross. Credits: ESA and the PACS consortium

[/caption]For the lucky residents of the Southern Hemisphere, or those fortunate enough to enjoy a vacation in Hawaii or Cancun, there’s a stellar delight that few Northerners know about. It’s called the Southern Cross, a small but beautiful constellation located in the southern sky, very close to the neighboring constellation of Centaurus. Originally known by the Latin name Crux, which is due to its cross shape, this constellation is one of the easiest to identify in the night sky. For centuries, it has served as a navigational beacon for sailors, an important symbol to the Egyptians, and played an important role in the spiritual beliefs of the Aborigines and many other cultures in the Southern Hemisphere.

The first recorded example of Crux’s discovery was around 1000 BC during the time of the Ancient Greeks. At the latitude of Athens, Crux was clearly visible, though low in the night sky. At the time, the Greeks identified it as being part of the constellation Centaurus. However, the precession of the equinoxes gradually lowered its stars below the European horizon, and they were eventually forgotten by the inhabitants of northern latitudes. Crux fell into anonymity for northerners until the Age of Discovery (from the early 15th to early 17th centuries) when it was rediscovered by Europeans. The first to do so were the Portuguese, who mapped it for navigation uses while rounding the southern tip of Africa. During this time, Crux was also separated from Centaurus, though it is not altogether clear who was responsible. Some attribute it to the French astronomer Augustin Royer who did it in 1679 while others believe it was Dutch astronomer PetrusPlancius who did the deed in 1613. Regardless, it is believed to have taken place in the 17th century, placing it within the context of European expansion and the revolution that was taking place in the sciences at the time.

In terms of cultural significance, the Crux, like all constellations, played an important role in the belief system of many cultures. In the ancient mountaintop village of Machu Picchu, a stone engraving exists which depicts the constellation. In addition, in Quechua (the language of the Incas) Crux is known as “Chakana”, which literally means “stair”, and holds deep symbolic value in Incan mysticism (the cross represented the three tiers of the world: the underworld, world of the living, and the heavens). To the Aborigines and the Maori, Crux is representative of animist spirits who play a central role in their ancestral beliefs. To the ancient Egyptians, Crux was the place where the Sun Goddess Horus was crucified, and marked the passage of the winter season. The Southern Cross is also featured prominently on the flags of several southern nations, including Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and Samoa.

We have written many articles about the Southern Cross constellation for Universe Today. Here’s an article about Crux, and here’s an article about constellations.

If you’d like more information on stars, check out Hubblesite’s News Releases about Stars, and here’s the stars and galaxies homepage.

We’ve done many episodes of Astronomy Cast about stars. Listen here, Episode 12: Where Do Baby Stars Come From?


A Conversation with Apollo’s Jim Lovell, part 1: NASA’s Future

Apollo astronaut Jim Lovell at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, IL. Credit: Nancy Atkinson


Springfield, Illinois is a quiet, historic town that clings fervently to its association with Abraham Lincoln. If you want Civil War era history and desire to know anything about Lincoln, you can find it in Springfield, especially at the outstanding new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Musuem.

So, it’s not often that an astronaut shows up, especially a former astronaut with his own unique kind of history such as Apollo 13’s Jim Lovell. But Lovell is in town this week, as he was awarded the Lincoln Leadership Prize, an honor given by the museum’s foundation to “exceptional men and women for a lifetime of service in the Lincoln tradition.” Still a commanding figure at age 82, Lovell chatted eloquently and easily with members of the press yesterday, and since I live in Springfield and am a member of the press, you can bet I was there. It was an honor to be able to talk with him.

Lovell toured the museum earlier in the day, and said, “It is a magnificent museum and library dedicated to one of our greatest presidents, and every American should have the chance to come here in order to get a good idea of what our country stands for and what the people in the past, like Abraham Lincoln, have done to make it a great country.”

Lovell said he was very honored and humbled to be the recipient of the Lincoln Prize and said what he has learned from Lincoln over the years is commitment. “Commitment is necessary if you are going to do anything great, like Lincoln, who committed himself to stand fast,” he said. “I enjoy the aspects of what the Lincoln Prize recognizes, and to be a recipient, well, it has a very special place in my heart.”

Of course, readers of Universe Today are familiar with Lovell’s history: a test pilot in the Navy who applied to become one of the original seven Mercury astronauts (“back when boosters were blowing up every other day at Cape Canaveral,” Lovell said). He didn’t make initial selection, but two years later when NASA needed more astronauts, Lovell was chosen. He flew two missions for Gemini, then Apollo 8 and Apollo 13.

Lovell called Apollo 8 the pinnacle of his career. “I am really proud to be one of three people that flew and circled the Moon on Christmas Eve in 1968,” he said, “and we were able to relay back — not to just the people of the United States, but the whole world — something positive after a rather dismal year.”

At the museum Lovell found out that the person who portrayed him in the movie “Apollo 13” – Tom Hanks – is a distance relative of Abraham Lincoln, “so I guess he had a bit of Lincoln in him too, and he was a great character to work with.”

Nancy Atkinson with Jim Lovell.

Following is part of the conversation with Lovell:

On the topic of commitment, do you think the United States is committed to human spaceflight?

Lovell: My personal opinion is that I believe the US has a very strong committment to continue our space exploration. Unfortunately, our present administration doesn’t believe that. The proposed NASA budget for 2011 eliminates the forward efforts of manned spaceflight. It goes for general research and other things. I don’t think they actually remember that NASA was formed to explore space. Consequently there is a possibility that we might be number three or four in space exploration in the future. As you know there about 2 or 3 shuttle flights left. After that the US has no access to the International Space Station, which all our taxpayers have put a lot of money into. If this plan goes forward, the only access in the future will be the Russians and they have indicated that the cost per astronaut per flight is about 60 million dollars, which is a pretty high ticket price to get there.

I think Congress sees the danger of the present proposal of NASA’s 2011 budget and based on that they are now in session both in the House and Senate to try and modify the President’s proposal to continue in some aspect manned space efforts to design vehicles to get up to the International Space Station, sometime in the near future. Hopefully Congress will get together and come up with a compromise. I personally feel the President has so many things weighing on his mind right now that he will go along with Congress’ proposal and it will be better than the initial budget that he proposed to the American people some months ago.

Universe Today: Do you have confidence in the commercial space companies that could bring people to space?

That’s a good question, because part of the new proposal is putting efforts and money into developing commercial spaceflight. Now, you have to look at what the definition of commercial is. In my mind, commercial is when an entrepreneur sees an enterprise to develop a launch system and spacecraft to get into space. He gets his own resources, does the development to build and test his system, makes it man- rated and then proposes his vehicle and system to NASA, or to the FAA if he wants to use it for tourism to space. This is what I consider commercial.

Now, a government program is where the government puts all the money into it and develops and builds it. Within the government, we have the free enterprise system, the private sector where we have contractors to do that. Boeing, Lockheed, General Dyamics, and so on. These people have 40 or 50 years in the development of space artifacts, launch systems, spacecraft. To put government money into a new system for unproven vehicles is today, a waste of money.

Jim Lovell. Credit: Nancy Atkinson

Boeing is now thinking of going into commercial work. They have the expertise to do that. But not some of the newer people like SpaceX, although they did build a nice booster that made one flight. But if they could build it on their own and make it man-rated and have a suitable launch to system to go the ISS, more power to them. I’m sure NASA would contract with them. But we have limited amount of money to spend for space activities, and it seems to me the best place to put it would be with the people who have the knowledge and expertise and the history of what it takes to build a launch system.

There are a few companies that are looking at suborbital flights, such as Richard Branson’s company (Virgin Galactic) who wants to expand what Burt Rutan has done to give people 5 or 6 minutes of weightlessness. Jeff Bezos of is another (Blue Origin). They are really entrepreneurs. If they can build their vehicles and systems and they think there is a market for tourism, then that is the way to go.

I’m all for commercialization. A lot of times people compare this to the work that the NACA did to help the airline industry – to develop wing designs and things like that—but the aviation industry in the early days saw a good market, because they knew either commercial flights or military vehicles would provide a market, so there was an opening there.

If you look at commercial space companies, as far as orbital, you have to ask what can people do there? There’s only one place to go in orbit, that’s the ISS. The Russians are already there. The Chinese are talking about building a space station, but there is no other manned market for commercial orbital spaceflight. Now there are a lot of unmanned commercial operations: satellites for the military, GPS, communications, weather – there’s a lot that can happen there and can happen in the future. I think the Boeing vehicles have made over 80 commercial flights putting satellites in orbit.

But low Earth orbit for people – where do you want to go? Unless you have tourists that want to go around the Earth or go to the ISS, there really is not a market, except for the market of the government to put astronauts up in the ISS.

What is the benefit to be gained from manned spaceflight that would outweigh the costs in these tough economic times?

Lovell: That answer is the same as it was back in the days of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo.
One, is the technologies developed. It used to be the only way there was technology development was if there was a war. When NASA came along the technology it developed spilled over in the public sector and you can see what has happened today, especially in the information industry.

The second thing you have to remember is that there was a spur of education. When Russia put up Sputnik, everyone asked how they did it and why we didn’t. And this spilled over into education. I can’t tell you how many people who have told me that when they were young they followed the space program and that affected their choice to go into engineering or science.

Then, there is idea of what we can do as the human race. The world is getting smaller. We can’t do things in space much on our own anymore, and so we have to work together. We now have an International Space Station, 16 countries working together in a program that is not controversial at all. It works. We’re getting to know other countries. We have a common bond.

As of now China is working on their own, but if they accomplish what they want to do, they might join the consortium of the other countries working together.

Now, the idea of manned spaceflight, even though if you pin me to wall, and ask, “OK, we want to go to Mars—why? What will we do there?” Honestly, I can’t tell you. I don’t know.

But I have to tell you one thing. Somebody is going to go to Mars. The technology is here. It is just the time effort and money to make that a possibilty. The original Constellation program that we had carefully devised and developed over years to build a vehicle to get us up to the space station because the shuttle would be retired, and then build the Ares boosters to work our way eventually get us back to the Moon, using that infrastructure to fully explore it – we’ve only touched a small part of the Moon so far – and then after years of developing that to eventually get the architecture and infrastructure. That was the whole plan. It wasn’t a plan to get to Mars in 10 years or 15 years, it was plan to get to one spot, and work your way to the next spot. And there would probably be a consortium of countries working with us. And that was the whole plan that the President shot down. He mentioned something about someday we’d get a big booster. When? You have to have a program to develop the technology. He wants to develop technology and then figure out what kind of program to have. That’s the wrong approach. That’s putting the cart before the horse.

If money was no object and the President said we could go either to the Moon or Mars, what would you recommend?

Lovell: I would tell him to go back to the program we had developed for Constellation. Now, there has been some controversy, even among my own compatriots. Some say we’ve been to the Moon- we’ve done that, so let’s go on to Mars, or let’s go on to an asteroid. That’s all well said and done.

We were extremely fortunate in the 1960’s to develop Apollo and to have the accomplishments we did. I was amazed when I heard President Kennedy announce in 1961 that we were going to go to the Moon by the end of the decade. I said, that’s impossible. So if I say that I don’t know what we’d do if we go to Mars, I might be sadly mistaken and someone might get there before we ever thought it was possible.
But I think you have to do it step by step, to develop it and then go.

Part 2: More with Lovell about Apollo 8 and 13, what it took for Lovell to realize that Apollo 13 wasn’t a complete failure.

Obama Compromises, Brings Back Orion Capsule; Allows for Heavy Lift Sooner

President Obama has proposed to completely cancel NASA’s Project Constellation to send humans to the Moon, Mars and Beyond, thus calling into question whether US Leadership in Space will continue. Artists concept of NASA’s cancelled Orion crew exploration vehicle shown here in on a science mission in lunar orbit. Credit: NASA


In what could be considered a compromise in his proposed budget for NASA, President Obama is reviving the Orion crew capsule concept that he had canceled with the rest of the Constellation program earlier this year, according to an article by Seth Borenstein of the Associated Press. This should mean more jobs and less reliance on the Russians, officials said Tuesday. While Orion, still won’t go to the moon. It will go unmanned to the International Space Station to stand by as an emergency vehicle to return astronauts home, officials were quoted in the article.

Borenstein also reported that NASA will speed up development of a heavy lift rocket. It would have the power to blast crew and cargo far from Earth, although no destination has been chosen yet. The rocket supposedly would be ready to launch several years earlier than under the old moon plan.

The two moves are being announced before the “Space Summit” on Thursday, a visit to Kennedy Space Center by Obama. They are designed to counter criticism of the Obama administration’s space plans as being low on detail, physical hardware, and local jobs.

The President’s plan had been met with much criticism, including an open letter to Obama drafted by several former astronauts, flight directors and other former NASA officials.

A briefing at the White House Now said that the president is committed to choosing a single heavy-lift rocket design by 2015 and then starting its construction.

Reportedly, the new Obama program will mean 2,500 more Florida jobs than the old Bush program, a senior White House official told Borenstein. In addition, as we reported earlier, the commercial space industry on Tuesday released a study that said the president’s plan for private ships to fly astronauts to and from the space station would result in 11,800 jobs.

“We wanted to take the best of what was available from Constellation,” the NASA official told The Associated Press as part of a White House briefing.

Read the full Associated Press article here.

Astronaut Explains Why We Should Return to the Moon

Astronaut Ronald J. Garan. Photo Credit: NASA


The debate on why humans should or should not return to the Moon has been ongoing for years. Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to hear astronaut Ron Garan speak eloquently on a subject he is passionate about, water sustainability on planet Earth. Subsequently, I read an essay Garan wrote about the importance of returning to the Moon. Although Garan originally wrote this essay before the cancellation of the Constellation program was announced, he has amended his thoughts to reflect the likelihood that the US won’t be returning to the Moon anytime soon. With Garan’s permission, we are re-publishing his essay in its entirety.

The Importance of Returning to the Moon
(The 8th Continent)
By Ron Garan
NASA Astronaut

On May 10th, 1869, a golden spike joined two railways at Promontory Point, Utah, and the first transcontinental railroad was completed. On January 14th, 2004, a new vision for our Nation’s space exploration program was announced that committed the United States to a long-term human program to explore the solar system starting with a return to the moon. On February 1st 2010, those plans to return to the moon were put on hold. Although our Nation has decided to postpone a return to the moon it is still important to acknowledge the moon’s relevance to life on Earth.

There is no doubt that the railroad changed the world. It opened up frontiers to discovery, settlement, and commerce. The railroad was the backbone for the industrial revolution that provided the largest increase in life expectancy and improvement in quality of life in history. Just as the industrial revolution brought about unprecedented improvements in quality of life so can a new age of space exploration and development, but this time with a positive impact on the environment. To begin a period of sustainable space exploration, both the public and private sectors of our Nation must seize the opportunity and continue on a path to the moon.

Artist impression of humans on the Moon. Credit: NASA

Since the Vision for Space Exploration was announced in 2004, there has been an on-going debate about the importance of taking the next step in space exploration, a return to the moon. The reasons for making this the next step include: fulfilling a compelling human need to explore; gaining a foothold on the moon to prepare for journeys to other worlds; easing the world’s energy problems; protecting the planet from disasters; creating moon-based commercial enterprises that will improve life on Earth, conducting scientific research; inspiring young people toward higher education, and utilizing space resources to help spread prosperity throughout the world.

We should not return to the moon for any one of these reasons, but for all of them and more. By first establishing the basic infrastructure for a transportation system between the Earth and the moon and a sustainable, semi-autonomous, permanent human settlement, we will open the door to significant benefits for all. Of course, any permanent lunar base must be economically and politically sustainable and therefore must provide tangible benefits and a return on investment.

Ron Garan ready for an EVA in June 2008. Credit: NASA

Exploration: Great nations accomplish extraordinary endeavors that help to maintain their leadership in the world. America’s history is built on a desire to open new frontiers and to seek new discoveries. NASA’s vision for space exploration acknowledges that, “Mankind is drawn to the heavens for the same reason we were once drawn into unknown lands and across the open sea. We choose to explore space because doing so improves our lives and lifts our national spirit.”
Establishing a lunar infrastructure will challenge us to improve the reliability of space transportation and allow us to demonstrate exploration systems and concepts without leaving the relative safety of near-Earth space. Testing systems and concepts at a location that’s a three-day journey from Earth is a logical step before we make the leap of a six-month journey to Mars. Establishing a permanently occupied lunar base also will open the way to detailed study and use of lunar resources, which likely are significantly more economical than lifting all required exploration resources from the Earth’s surface.

Energy: Today, about 1.6 billion people on the Earth don’t have access to electricity. The World Bank estimates that 1.1 billion people live in extreme poverty which leads to 8 million premature deaths every year. In developed countries, higher quality of life is achieved only through a high rate of energy use. Increased energy supply is needed for economic and social development, improved quality of life, and to grow enough food to provide for the citizens of the developing world.

Unless something is done soon, the world will be faced with a crisis of enormous proportions. The United Nations estimates that world population will be approximately 9.1 billion by 2050 with virtually all growth in the 50 poorest countries. The choices that the global society makes to provide for future energy needs will have a profound effect on humanity and the environment.

The moon can supplement Earth-based renewable energy systems to meet future energy demand. Ample energy from the Sun reaches the moon and is not interrupted by weather, pollution or volcanic ash. Solar energy farms on the moon can “beam” limitless clean energy down to where it is needed on Earth or to satellites for relay to the Earth. There are also other potential sources of energy including platinum for fuel cells and an isotope called helium-3, which could be used in fusion reactors of the future.

Supplying energy from the moon will enable us to help provide the Earth’s energy needs without destroying our environment.

Artists impression of an asteroid flying by Earth. Credit: NASA

Protect the Planet from Disasters: There is a real risk to the Earth’s inhabitants from asteroid impacts and super-volcano eruptions. If a large object the size of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 that recently slammed into Jupiter were to hit the Earth, civilization could be destroyed. Much smaller asteroids could cause tremendous damage and loss of life. The moon is a superb location for early detection systems.

A super-volcano eruption is a geologic event of enormous explosive power to affect the global climate for years. Scientists estimate the last such eruption happened 74,000 years ago, and was 10,000 times more powerful than Mount St. Helens. Tremendous amounts of rock and ash were ejected into the air causing a six year long volcanic winter and a 1,000-year instant Ice Age, massive deforestation, disastrous famine, and near extinction of humankind. Scientists estimate that such a super-eruption will occur about once every 100,000 years.

The systems and technology that will be developed for life and work on the moon can be used to develop habitats and systems that could preserve Earth’s inhabitants in the event of a devastating eruption. These systems will also improve our ability to live in extreme environments and can be used to learn how to overcome limited resources and other environmental issues.

Astronaut Ron Garan takes a moment to pose for a picture during training for his April 3-20 stay inside the Aquarius Underwater Laboratory off the coast of Key Largo, Florida. Credit: NASA

Moon-Based Commercial Enterprises: When the early pioneers headed west and expanded our Nation, they did not carry everything with them that they would need for their journey. They “lived off the land” and we will also need to use those resources available to us along our journey, starting with the moon.

There are numerous moon-based commercial activities that could significantly offset the cost of a moon base. Just a few of these are lunar refueling or servicing stations for satellites, lunar mining and space tourism. These commercial activities would allow us to return national treasures from space and provide a significant return on our space investment.

Scientific research: The moon offers an incredible opportunity to further human understanding and discovery. Since the moon’s ancient surface is relatively undisturbed, study of its geology can help us better understand the geological history of Earth. Further, the moon’s vacuum environment can’t be duplicated on the Earth or in low-Earth orbit, and could lead to new materials, advanced alloys, medicines and innovative ways to deal with limited resources on Earth. Radio telescopes on the far side of the moon would be shielded from all radio signals (noise pollution) from Earth, allowing tremendous sensitivity increases and telescopes pointed at the Earth could identify and predict weather and climate changes.

If we return to the moon just for science and exploration then activities will be limited by the amount of money our nation is willing to devote. But, if we establish a sustainable, economically viable lunar base then our science and exploration will be limited only by our imagination.

Education: Our children are our best investment for the future, and our space program is a tremendous motivator. Our Nation has seen a steady decline in the number of students studying math and science. The space program can help turn this trend around. I can personally attest to the ability of the space program to encourage students based on the fact that I enrolled in math and science courses and began the pursuit of an engineering degree the day after the first space shuttle mission landed. The creation of a permanent lunar base will inspire millions of young people toward higher education and help maintain our Nation’s technological leadership.

Astronaut Ron Garan, STS-124 mission specialist, participates in the mission's first EVA in June 2008. Credit: NASA

Resources and Other Benefits: Since we live in a world of finite resources and the global population continues to grow, at some point the human race must utilize resources from space in order to survive. We are already constrained by our limited resources, and the decisions we make today will have a profound affect on the future of humanity.

Using resources and energy from space will enable continued growth and the spread of prosperity to the developing world without destroying our planet. Our minimal investment in space exploration (less than 1 percent of the U.S. budget) reaps tremendous intangible benefits in almost every aspect of society, from technology development to high-tech jobs. When we reach the point of sustainable space operations we will be able to transform the world from a place where nations quarrel over scarce resources to one where the basic needs of all people are met and we unite in the common adventure of exploration. The first step is a sustainable permanent human lunar settlement.

Artist concept of the Orion capsule in orbit around the Moon. Credit: NASA

How should we go about this important undertaking? A good analogy to look at is the U.S. railroad system. The greatest obstacle for the first railroad developers was financial risk. Purchasing right of way, paying wages for large workforces and buying materials and equipment were prohibitively expensive. But the federal government stepped in, orchestrating massive land grants and other incentives. Once initial government investment was assured, enterprising developers invested enormous sums to bridge vast valleys and tunnel through enormous mountains.

Today we are faced with similar obstacles in the development and use of space for the benefit of humanity. Potential space developers face enormous up-front costs for high-risk, long-term returns on investment. To capitalize on the tremendous moon-based opportunities, our nation should establish the basic infrastructure for a transportation system between the Earth and the moon and a sustainable human settlement on the moon. Once this initial investment is made, commercial revenue-generating activities can be established. Just as our investment in the railroad, interstate road system, hydro-electric dams and other large federal projects have been paid back many times over by increased productivity and quality of life, so will our investment in lunar infrastructure.

We are poised on the doorstep of an incredible opportunity to benefit all of humanity. We have the technology and the ability to make this a reality — we need only the will to see it through. We need to choose a course toward the utilization of space to increase our available resources, global prosperity, quality of life, technological advancement, and environmental stewardship. Just as we look back and thank those before us for developing things most of us take for granted such as railroads and highways, the generations to come should be able to look back and thank us for committing to sustainable space exploration.

NASA Budget Details: Constellation Cancelled, But Where To Next?

We’ve lost the Moon. But have we gained the solar system while boosting commercial space ventures? “The President’s Budget cancels Constellation and replaces it with a bold new approach that invests in the building blocks of a more capable approach to space exploration,” states the Office of Management and Budget’s Fact Sheet on NASA’s 2011 budget. NASA will get additional $6 billion over the next five years tacked on to the current budget of just under $18 billion. The budget information released so far does not provide for a specific destination for humans in space. So, while some see this new direction as a course correction; others see it as an endgame. With an extension to the International Space Station to 2020, humans may well be stuck in low Earth orbit for at least another decade.

In this budget, the Ares rocket is history, and while no decision has been made on a heavy lift vehicle – necessary to launch humans beyond low-Earth orbit – NASA has been directed to continue research on such a vehicle that will “increase the capability of future exploration architectures with significantly lower operations costs than current systems – potentially taking us farther and faster into space.”

But in this proposed budget, which must be approved by Congress, NASA will provide funds for commercial space companies to build vehicles to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS. With the space shuttle program ending this year, NASA had agreed to pay Russia $50 million a seat. Commercial space companies could likely provide the seats for less money, but their vehicles are not yet human rated or tested.

It is true that the Constellation program was “over budget, behind schedule, and lacking in innovation due to a failure to invest in critical new technologies.” But $9 billion has already been spent on developing the Ares rockets and the Orion crew capsule, and $2.5 billion is in the budget proposal to close out Constellation.

Proponents of Obama’s budget proposal say moving towards using private commercial space companies will create more jobs per dollar because the government’s investment would be leveraged by millions of dollars in private investments.

“NASA investment in the commercial spaceflight industry is a win-win decision,” said Bret Alexander, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, in a statement released last week. “Commercial crew will create thousands of high-tech jobs in the United States, especially in Florida, while reducing the spaceflight gap and preventing us from sending billions to Russia.’

NASA already has contracts with SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp. to bring cargo to the station, and . SpaceX is also developing vehicles to bring astronauts to orbit and back.

Already, some say they will fight this budget. “I, for one, intend to stand up and fight for NASA, and for the thousands of people who stand to lose their jobs,” said Senator Bill Nelson last week, as rumors were flying and details about the budget were leaking out.

With the US facing a federal deficit of $1.26 trillion in 2011, Obama federal budget proposal puts a three-year freeze on most non-defense discretionary spending after 2011, which the president believes will save $250 billion over the next 10 years. So, giving NASA the $6 billion over the next five year is a way to circumvent that freeze for NASA.

The budget proposal also includes:

$183 million to extend operations of the ISS past its previously planned retirement date of 2016. NASA will deploy new research facilities to conduct scientific research and test technologies in space. New capabilities could include a centrifuge to support research into human physiology, inflatable space habitats, and a program to continuously upgrade Space Station capabilities.

$600 million to complete the final five shuttle missions, allowing for a safe and orderly retirement of the Space Shuttle program even if its schedule slips into Fiscal Year 2011.

$1.2 billion for transformative research in exploration technology that will involve NASA, private industry, and academia, sparking spin-off technologies and potentially entire new industries.

$150 million to accelerate the development of new satellites for Earth Science priorities.

$170 million to develop and fly a replacement of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, a mission to identify global carbon sources and sinks that was lost when its launch vehicle failed in 2009.

$500 million to contract with industry to provide astronaut transportation to the ISS, reducing the sole reliance on foreign crew transports and catalyzing new businesses and significant new jobs.
Increases Scientific Understanding of the Solar System and Universe

$3.2 billion for science research grants and dozens of missions and telescopes studying the planets and stars – including new missions such as the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, missions to study the Moon, and two Mars exploration missions.

$14 million ($420 million over five years) for a mission to the Sun, flying through its outer atmosphere to better understand how it is heated and how it ejects the stream of charged particles known as the solar wind.

Increase funding to detect asteroids that could potentially pose a hazard to the Earth.

Increase annually the percentage of NASA higher education program student participants employed by NASA, aerospace contractors, universities, and other educational institutions.

For more details see this pdf from the OMB, or this OMB fact sheet.

NASA May Drop Ares I-Y Test Flight

Artist concept of Ares I. Image Credit: NASA

Just one week after the first test flight test of the Ares I-X rocket, NASA says it may decide to cancel a follow-up launch called Ares 1-Y, which wasn’t scheduled until 2014. Reportedly, program managers recommended dropping the flight because, currently, there isn’t the funding to get an upper stage engine ready in time. The test flight may be replaced with a new, still undefined test flight in 2012 or 2013. “It simply does not fit where we are headed,” said Jeff Hanley, Constellation Program manager was quoted in NASA’s Constellation Blog. “The test vehicle was intended to meet evolving needs but the current configuration is too different from what the program requires to certify the Ares/Orion vehicle systems.”

Depending on whether the Obama administration decides to continue the Ares I program, this decision may be moot. Earlier this week Sen. Bill Nelson said Obama may make a decision on NASA’s future path, based on the report by the Augustine Commission, by the end of November.

At a press conference last week Hanley said the team continually assesses their flight test program. This week managers met and decided that the Ares I-Y flight fell too late in the vehicle development phase to provide useful information and lacks key elements to make it a true validation of the flight vehicle’s systems.

Originally, the I-Y test was planned for 2012. It was to be a suborbital flight to test a five-segment booster, a flight production upper stage, a functional command module and launch abort system and a simulated encapsulated service module, but without a J-2X engine.

By fall 2008, program managers were already looking at changing direction for the Ares I-Y test to improve the overall program’s chances of flying a full test vehicle by 2014. Now, with the Constellation Program nearing its preliminary design review and with maturing vehicles and systems, managers agree the I-Y test objectives can be achieved through other tests already in the manifest.

NASA is now studying the costs and benefits of going ahead with a 2012 launch previously called “Ares I-X prime” that would flight-test a full five-segment Ares I solid-fuel first stage and the Orion crew exploration vehicle launch abort system at high altitude.

Stay tuned.

Sources: NASA Constellation Blog, Aviation Week

What’s Next for the Ares Rocket?

Launch day. Photo credit: NASA/Sandra Joseph and Kevin O'Connell

After Wednesday’s picture perfect launch of the Ares I-X test rocket — which revealed no real showstoppers or issues as of yet for the vehicle — the obvious next question is: now what? Much of what comes next for the Ares program, and Constellation in general, hinges on any decisions the Obama administration and Congress make in regards to NASA’s budget and the options put forth by the Augustine Commission. But if the Ares program is given the green light, here’s an overview of the next steps, future test flights and milestones. First on the list? We won’t hear the word “triboelectrification” ever again.

No more trouble with triboelectrification.

At Wednesday’s press briefing following the launch, program managers said they didn’t realize what a big issue the triboelectrification rule would be. Flying through high-level clouds can generate “P-static” (P for precipitation), which can create a corona of static around the rocket that interferes with radio signals sent by or to the rocket. This would create problems when the rocket tries to transmit data down to the ground or if the Range Safety Officer at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station needed to send a signal to terminate (blow up) the rocket in the event of a problem.

“We can coat the vehicle with something to dissipate the charge, or you certify the vehicle to show it is not sensitive to that effect,” said Bob Ess, Ares I-X mission manager. “We’ve done analysis that our vehicle isn’t sensitive, but we didn’t go and get it certified with the Range. This was a bigger implication to us than we expected.”

Constellation program manager Jeff Hanley said had there been a lengthy delay of the test flight, for whatever reason, they likely would have had the time and opportunity to do the certification. But from now on, Hanley said, all rockets will be certified before launch to avoid the “trouble with triboelectrification.”

In-flight anomaly.

Image from NASA TV showing the Ares I-X stage separtion.
Image from NASA TV showing the Ares I-X stage separtion.

The only initial anomaly during the test flight was some unusual dynamics on the dummy second stage after separation. It went into a flat tumble, and appeared as if it might hit the first stage as it turned. The reason for the tumble wasn’t initially known, and will be of interest to the team as they analyze data from over 700 sensors. “We know all the motors fired, but it might be the aerodynamics,” said Ess, “perhaps a higher aerodynamic pressure than what we expected. It was interesting, and interesting is good. It wasn’t dramatically different from what we expected, though”.

As far as the future, Hanley said the flight test program is constantly under review as far as what budget and schedule allows but here’s the current plan:

Spring 2010: Launch Abort System Test.

Launch abort system. Credit: NASA
Launch abort system. Credit: NASA

The Ares’ Orion crew capsule includes a launch abort system, which is scheduled to undergo the first of three tests early next year. The abort system involves three separate motors to move the capsule away from the rocket and/or launchpad. It will have directional control to separate and jettison the entire launch abort system so the capsule can parachute back to Earth.

The test will take place at the White Sands Missile with a “boiler plate capsule,” a mock-up the Orion capsule outfitted with several instruments to measure how the abort motors work. “This is a key part of any human launch system as far as safety is concerned,” Hanley said.

Summer 2010: First Stage Motor Testing

ATK has just started casting the second Ares I first stage motor that will be test fired summer 2010. “We have more first stage recovery parachute testing as well, schedule for April,” Trina Patterson from ATK told Universe Today. She is the Senior Manager Media Relations for ATK Space Systems.

2010: Mobile launcher completed.

The new Ares mobile launcher, as it looked under contruction in Sept. 2009. Credit: NASA
The new Ares mobile launcher, as it looked under contruction in Sept. 2009. Credit: NASA

The new mobile launcher, currently under construction, will be the base for the Ares rocket to launch the Orion crew exploration vehicle and the cargo vehicle. “Two tiers are up, and the third tier is ready to go up later this week,” Hanley said. The base will be lighter than space shuttle mobile launcher platforms so the crawler-transporter can pick up the added load of the 345-foot tower and taller rocket. When the structural portion of the new launcher is complete, umbilical lines, access arms, communications equipment and command/control equipment will be installed.

Late 2010: Design review for the Orion capsule.

“At the end of next year, there is a critical design review for the Orion capsule,” said Hanley. “Progress is underway to build components. The first copy of Orion is being welded together at the Michoud Assembly Facility (in New Orleans). We will go through bunch of testing through the next couple of years, getting everything designed. It had a successful PDR (preliminary design review) in August and has the CDR (critical design review) next year. The Orion factory is actually here KSC, it is coming together, and as soon as all the parts come, they can put it together.”

Hanley said the program is paced by the current budget on when they can order parts for both Orion and Ares. “We’re under a continuing resolution, and that puts pressure on a program that want to be ramping up to its peak at this time,” he said. “More money sooner is would be good – that gets the parts purchased and into the supply chain. It takes about 3 years to actually get the parts you need. To build parts, you have to get the design done and know what you want to buy and then get your parts to assemble the rocket.”

A J-2 engine undergoes static firing. Image Credit: NASA
A J-2 engine undergoes static firing. Image Credit: NASA

Early 2011: J2X engine initial test.

The Ares I second, or upper, stage is propelled by a J-2X main engine fueled with liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.

The J-2X is an evolved variation of two historic predecessors: the powerful J-2 engine that propelled the Apollo-era Saturn IB and Saturn V rockets, and the J-2S, a simplified version of the J-2 developed and tested in the early 1970s but never flown.

March 2014: Arex 1Y test flight.

Artist concept of Ares I. Image Credit: NASA
Artist concept of Ares I. Image Credit: NASA

This will be a suborbital flight of the five-segment first stage reusable solid-rocket first with a flight-production upper stage, but containing a dummy J-2X engine. It will also conduct a high altitude test of the launch abort system. Hanley said they have studied putting an actual J-2X engine on that flight to prove that it will start at that altitude, but that is still under review.

“We’d all like to fly sooner; I would have liked to see Orion in completed in 2012 or 13, but the funding didn’t materialize for that, so we adjusted,” Hanley said. “That’s what we have to to do budget cycle to budget cycle. And that’s what we have to continue to do. But we’re making progress on the system, and the flight test schedule, we look for the opportunity to do more flight testing, but that is predicated on the budget.”

Ares I-X Test Flight is Go For Oct. 27 (Video)

Following a flight test readiness review, NASA has given the ‘all systems go’ for the Ares I-X maiden test flight on Tuesday, Oct. 27, at 8 a.m. EDT from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “I am proud of the work this team has done to ready this test rocket for launch,” said Doug Cooke, associate administrator for NASA Exploration Systems Mission Directorate. “This test will yield important data to support the nation’s next steps in exploration. There is no substitute for hard data – flight testing clarifies the distinction between imagined outcomes and real flight experience.”

This is the first time in more than 30 years that NASA has built a vehicle in a new configuration. The uncrewed test flight last two minutes, and go 45 kilometers (28 miles) in altitude. The stages will separate 69 km (43 miles) down range and end 236 km (147 miles) over the Atlantic Ocean, with the dummy upper stage landing in the ocean.

The flight will be broadcast on NASA TV. Watch it online here. In the meantime, here’s a pre-launch video to whet your appetite for a new rocket.

NASA Administrator Orders Study of Heavy Lift Alternatives

Jupiter 110 and 232. From

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden has asked for an evaluation of alternative heavy lift rockets, including DIRECT’s Jupiter launch vehicle. The evaluation is a “top priority,” according to, and a special team from the Marshall Space Flight Center has been commissioned to conduct the study, with the directive to have a report ready by the end of November. Looking at alternatives to the Constellation program is an apparent reaction to the final Augustine Commission report, which will be made public on Thursday.

Shuttle Derived Heavy lift concept. Credit:
Shuttle Derived Heavy lift concept. Credit:

The other heavy lift vehicle also to be looked at is the Shuttle Derived Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle, which is a shuttle-based concept with a cargo carrier side mounted to the current design of the external tank. The concept is capable of launching 80mt (metric tons) into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and around 54mt to the moon.

However sources at note that the DIRECT team’s Jupiter launch system has dominated early discussions at the Special Team meetings.

Bolden also recently hinted that commercial space companies could play a crucial role in NASA’s future. “Some of the most exciting companies in America today go by the names of SpaceX, Blue Origin, Armadillo Aerospace, Virgin Galactic, Xcor, Bigelow Aerospace, Masten, Flag Suit, and Ad Astra,” Bolden said in a speech at the National Association of Investment Companies. “Today, we at NASA are devising ways to work with these companies and others who will come. I urge you, and all other investors, to take notice. Space may someday soon become the new thing in investing.”

For more information on the Direct project, see our previous in-depth article here, or the DirectLauncher website.


Ares I-X at the Launchpad

Ares at the pad. Credit: NASA

“The Stick” made it out to launchpad 39B without falling over. I have to admit, NASA’s new rocket looked tall, super-skinny and pointy (as Dr. Brian Cox described it), as it rolled out on the crawler transporter. Somehow, it seems the Ares I-X should be wider. It’s definitely tall — at 100 meters (327 feet,) it is 43 meters (143 feet) taller than the space shuttle. But appearances aside, this is an historic occasion. For the first time in more than a quarter century, a new vehicle is sitting out at the launchpad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

More pictures below:

Lit by xenon lights, the Ares I-X emerges from the Vehicle Assembly Building. Credit: NASA
Lit by xenon lights, the Ares I-X emerges from the Vehicle Assembly Building. Credit: NASA

The Ares I-X flight test vehicle arrived at the pad at approximately 7:45 a.m. EDT Tuesday. The crawler-transporter left Kennedy’s Vehicle Assembly Building at 1:39 a.m., traveling less than 1 mph during the 4.2-mile journey. The rocket was secured “hard down” on the launch pad at 9:17 a.m.

The test flight of the Ares I-X rocket is scheduled to launch at 8 a.m. on Oct. 27. This test flight will provide NASA an opportunity to test and prove hardware, models, facilities and ground operations associated with the Ares I launch vehicle. Mission managers will finalize the launch date at a flight readiness review on October 23.

And in case you aren’t familiar with what the Ares I-X is for, the test flight will check out this un-crewed, modified Ares I configuration with a sub-orbital development test that will launch the rocket 43 km (28 miles) in altitude. This is the first developmental flight test of the Constellation Program, which includes the Ares I and V rockets, Orion and the Altair lunar lander.

Unless it all gets axed. The Augustine Report comes out on October 22.

Ares on the way out to 39B. Credit: NASA Edge crew
Ares on the way out to 39B. Credit: NASA Edge crew

For more great images of Ares I-X, checkout Robert Pearlman’s collection of rollout pics over at collectSPACE, or’s gallery of Ares I-X images from this morning.