Welcoming Charles F. Bolden as Next NASA Administrator (Probably)

Charles F. Bolden (NASA)

Charles F. Bolden (NASA).

It’s been a long wait, but has President Obama chosen the next NASA Administrator?

According to several news sources, it would appear a former astronaut may be taking the most senior NASA position. Retired Marine Major General Charles F. Bolden will travel to the White House on Monday to meet with the President and discuss the appointment.

Bolden is an experienced astronaut, having served on four Shuttle missions from 1986 to 1994, clocking up a total of 680 hours in Earth orbit.

Earlier this year there was some speculation that Charles F. Bolden Jr.’s name was being mentioned more often than the other contenders in the race replace ex-Administrator Michael Griffin. Judging by today’s press coverage, it appears the speculation was accurate and President Obama has decided on Griffin’s successor.

Bolden joined the space agency in 1981 and served on four Space Shuttle missions, including STS-61C (Columbia, 1986), STS-31 (Discovery, 1990), STS-45 (Atlantis, 1992) and STS-60 (Discovery, 1994).

Interestingly, Bolden was the pilot of Discovery when it delivered the Hubble Space Telescope in April 1990; nearly two decades later, the observatory is still going strong. Today, the STS-125 Atlantis mission carried out the first spacewalk of the final Hubble servicing flight.

In 1994, Bolden left NASA and became Deputy Commandant of Midshipmen at the US Naval Academy. In 2003, he left the Marine Corps as a Major General.

If this decision becomes official on Monday, Bolden will be faced with the toughest challenge he has ever had to confront. The political and financial challenges he will have to overcome as leader of the US space agency will be incredible. We face uncertain times, especially with the retirement of the Shuttle looming and the continuing flack the Constellation Program is receiving.

In many ways Charlie, I don’t envy you. But in others, how cool would it be to be in command of a space agency?!

Special thanks to @SpaceCrazed for the tip!

Sources: MSNBC, SpaceRef

About these ads

Mars Rover Spirit is Stuck in the Regolith

Spirit is stuck (NASA)

Mars Exploration Rover Spirit is in trouble again. She’s stuck.

The tenacious little robot has suffered traction problems before and has even been dragging around a broken wheel for the last three years, leaving the other five to take up the slack. Then there’s the dust storms that have hindered the life-giving solar panels ability to collect sunlight. And most recently, the on-board computers have been rebooting and Spirit’s flash memory has been forgetting to record data.

A little help here? Spirit has driven into soft ground, burying her wheels halfway. Engineers are working plans to extricate her. –A distress tweet from @MarsRovers

One of Spirit's buried wheels as taken by the front hazard-avoidance camera on Sol 1899, May 6th (NASA)

One of Spirit's buried wheels as taken by the front hazard-avoidance camera on Sol 1899, May 6th (NASA)

Now, she’s stuck in the Martian dirt after slipping backwards down a slope during a series of backward drives around a plateau called “Home Plate.”

Spirit is in a very difficult situation,” JPL project manager John Callas said. “We are proceeding methodically and cautiously. It may be weeks before we try moving Spirit again. Meanwhile, we are using Spirit’s scientific instruments to learn more about the physical properties of the soil that is giving us trouble.”

At JPL, a team have been assembled to try to find a solution to the problem with a model of the situation here on Earth. Unfortunately the wheels are stuck fast, half-buried, and scientists are increasingly worried that any attempts to free the struggling rover could make matters worse. The concern is for the chassis under the robot. Should it make contact with the rocks underneath, it would effectively beach itself, completely losing traction that could be used to free the wheels. In short, the situation is not good, but NASA is working overtime to find ways to get the rover on the road once more.

Fortunately, wind has helped the ailing rover recently, clearing excess dust off the solar panels, giving Spirit a much needed energy boost, but will it be enough to get her out of this difficult situation? If there’s a way, Spirit will find it, as let’s face it, she’s lived through a lot of hard knocks…

Source: NASA, AP

Cassini Detects Salt: Enceladus Probably Has a Liquid Ocean

The small icy Saturn moon might have liquid sub-surface oceans after all (NASA)

In October 2008, Cassini flew very close to the surface of Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus. From a distance of only 50 km from the moon, the spacecraft was able to collect samples of a plume of ice. In an earlier “skeet shot”, Cassini captured detailed images of the cracked surface, revealing the source of geysers blasting the water into space. At the time, scientist were able to detect that it was in fact water ice, but little else would be known until the molecular weight of chemicals in the plume could be measured and analysed.

At the European Geophysical Union meeting in Vienna this week, new results from the October Enceladus flyby were presented. Frank Postberg and colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics have discovered traces of sodium salts and sodium bicarbonate in the plume for the first time.

It would appear that these chemicals originated in the rocky core of the moon and were leached from the core via liquid water. The water was then transported to the surface where it was ejected, under pressure, into space. Although scientists are aware that the chemical composition in the plume may have originated from an ancient, now frozen, sub-surface ocean, the freezing process would have isolated the salt far from the surface, preventing it from being released.

It is easier to imagine that the salts are present in a liquid ocean below the surface,” said Julie Castillo of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “That’s why this detection, if confirmed, is very important.”

This is the best evidence yet that Enceladus does have a liquid ocean, bound to cause a stir amongst planetary scientists and re-ignite excitement for the search for life living in a salty sub-surface ocean.

Source: New Scientist

Colbert Report: Stephen Receives the Bittersweet News About Node 3

The Colbert Report aired last night and astronaut Suni Williams appeared on the show to announce the official name of Node 3. Like breaking news to a 5 year-old that Christmas has been cancelled, Williams did her best to be as gentle as she could be. Fortunately, Stephen Colbert soon cheered up when he found out that the “shoes inside the box” (the new treadmill) would be named after him. As always, very funny.

Unfortunately, I can’t help but think that “Tranquility” is a little lame. It just adds to the forgettable names of the other nodes I don’t remember…

…what’s the name of that node again?

Thanks Bente for the tip off!

Not “Serenity”, Not “Colbert”… Node 3 Will Be Named “Tranquility”

Node 3 will be called Tranquility (NASA)

Deciding against the popular vote, NASA has made up its mind and gone in a completely different direction (who would have guessed?). The new addition to the International Space Station, will be named “Tranquility” (in honour of the 40th anniversary of the first manned base on the Moon this July), ignoring the clear winner in the “please help us name Node 3″ competition. Obviously concerned about the role Stephen Colbert’s celebrity status had securing so many votes, the space agency looked as if they might go for one of the official suggestions, the second place “Serenity”.

This didn’t happen either.

They decided to go with a more suitable public suggestion, about half-way down the top ten chart. Tranquility will join similar nodes called Unity and Harmony, sounding more and more like the components of a Japanese Zen garden every day.

But there is a consolation prize for the award-winning presenter and comedian, the new running machine will be called the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill (or COLBERT), proving once again that a lot of effort goes into NASA’s acronyms…

For more, check out the news on CollectSPACE.com »

NASA May Be Prosecuted for Death of Brian the Bat

Multi-million dollar anti-bat mesh to be built around Ares rocket before launch.

Artist impression of the multi-million dollar anti-bat mesh to be added to the Constellation launch tower to prevent another Brian the Bat tragedy (NASA)

Artist impression of the multi-million dollar anti-bat mesh to be added to the Constellation launch tower to prevent another Brian the Bat tragedy (NASA)

NOTE: The message that follows was part of the Universe Today’s April Fools. I hope you had a giggle. However, the Brian Bat Foundation is real, and the little animal will be forever remembered

Well, I didn’t see this coming. On setting up the Brian Bat Foundation, I was sure NASA was not to blame for Brian’s sad demise. However, a Florida state official has started legal proceedings against the space agency.

According to Florida transport law, if a truck hits an endangered animal on state highways, the company is liable. As NASA is the state’s (actually, the world’s) largest “logistics company”, it too falls under the umbrella of this little known animal protection technicality.

NASA enjoys total freedom of the airspace above the state, however the agency must still abide by the laws of the state, no matter how insignificant the rules may appear when compared with the endeavors of US activities in space.” — Statement by the District Attorney’s Office, Florida

Brian the Discovery Bat holds onto the external tank moments before launch (NASA/Damaris B. Sarria)

Brian the Discovery Bat holds onto the external tank moments before launch (NASA/Damaris B. Sarria)

In response to the surprise legal action, NASA has already put together a solution that will rid the future Constellation launchpad of any more roosting bats like Brian. There are also plans in place to hinder access to the pad by smaller mammals and reptiles. According to a Cape Canaveral launch safety officer, a lot of time is spent on the gruesome task of removing the carcasses of rats, mice, gophers and rabbits. “If you thought roadkill was bad, imagine it roasted,” the officer added. The proposed Ares anti-bat mesh suddenly seems like a step in the right direction (pictured top).

So, it would appear Brian was only the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps the well publicised death of the little guy wont be in vain after all…

For more details on this breaking news story, check out “NASA Could be ‘Criminally Negligent’ Over Brian the Bat Death,” at the Universe Today.

What Have I Done? Worlds Media Adopt “Brian the Bat”!

brian_the_bat_news

The one day I’m on the road and can’t find an Internet connection was bound to be the very same day that the mother of all headline news breaks! “Brian the Bat” has been adopted by the mainstream media. Naturally, many websites and news sources picked up the tragic end of the little broken-winged free-tail bat that attempted to stow away on Space Shuttle Discovery’s STS-119 launch on Sunday. However, after pondering the little guy’s fate on Sunday, I did what I normally do when talking about a cute little furry animal… I named him.

For some reason that even I cannot explain, I tend to call animals “Brian” if I can’t think of another name, so it seemed only natural to call the Discovery bat, Brian. Now it seems the mainstream media has been paying attention to the random Twitterings about Brian.

I first got news from @Barstein that one of Norway’s largest papers (thank you Geir, for writing the article!), Dagbladet, had picked up the news, attributing Astroengine.com with the naming (awesome). I have yet to translate and read the article fully, but I will do in a short while (Starbucks ‘net connection permitting). Dagbladet then followed up with “Her dør flaggermusa Brian” (“Brian the bat dies here”).

I was already overwhelmed that a major Norwegian paper would celebrate Brian’s final hours, but then I find out that the Daily Mail Online (one of the biggest UK newspapers) also reported about Brian the Bat!

Wow, all because I call small furry animals “Brian”. The power of Twitter and blogging appears to be rather strong! Although I would have liked Astroengine’s international media début to be focused on some extreme astrophysics theory, I am honoured that I might have played a small roll in personalizing this unfortunate Florida free-tailed bat, possibly boosting his memory the world over. He paid the ultimate price for our push to the stars, Brian should be remembered for that…

UPDATE (4pm): The largest UK tabloid newspaper, The Sun has just published an article called “It’s a giant leap for batkind” mentioning that the bat’s name was Brian. I was a little disappointed not to have a link to the original article at first, but I’m actually very glad, Astroengine might blow a fuse if I got a link from one of those sites!

Bat News Update: It Gets Worse

Brian the Discovery Bat holds onto the external tank moments before launch (NASA/Damaris B. Sarria)

Brian the Discovery Bat holds onto the external tank moments before launch (NASA/Damaris B. Sarria)

NASA has now given details about the circumstances of Brian’s demise. It turns out that Brian was in fact a free-tailed bat, and not a fruit bat as previously reported.

Also, NASA confirmed today’s news that Brian could be seen holding onto the orange external fuel tank as Space Shuttle Discovery cleared the tower during launch.

NASA was hopeful that Brian would fly away before Discovery even got close to launching, but it turns out that there was a reason for the bat’s stubbornness (and no, he wasn’t sleeping):

Based on images and video, a wildlife expert who provides support to the center said the small creature was a free tail bat that likely had a broken left wing and some problem with its right shoulder or wrist. The animal likely perished quickly during Discovery’s climb into orbit.

Now, that is sad. Brian was seen to be moving from time to time, and despite the deterrents put in place by NASA to frighten wildlife away from pre-launch shuttles (i.e. warning sirens), he refused to budge. This was probably because he was injured.

Naturally, this sad event has caused some anger, but I doubt NASA can be to blame for this unfortunate series of events. Bats have been seen to land on waiting shuttles on launch day in the past, only for them to fly away when the shuttle underwent fuelling, so ground control assumed Brian would simply fly away. However, they had no idea until after the fact that Brian was injured.

During shuttle launches (or any launches for that matter), local wildlife is bound to be impacted from time-to-time, and any creatures in the locale to the rockets perish in silence, with no media coverage. At least Brian went out in style. He will be remembered for a long time…

Ground Control To Brian Bat

To round off this captivating story, Karl Clodfelter (@DrKaz on Twitter) has adapted David Bowie’s “Ground Control To Major Tom”, very fitting. Here’s the original tune, so sing the following, starting about one minute in

This is Ground Control to Brian Bat
You’ve really chosen bad
And the websites want to know just why you’re there
Now it’s time to leave the fuel tank if you dare

This is Brian Bat to Ground Control
I’m getting ready to soar
And I’m flying in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today

For here
Am I gripping insulation
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do…

[guitar solo] clap-clap

Source: NASA via @Barstein

Bad News: Brian the Discovery Bat Was a Heavy Sleeper

Warning: You are about to read news of an upsetting nature. Brian didn’t make it, he was more of a thrill seeker than we gave him credit for…

Brian the Discovery Bat holds onto the external tank moments before launch (NASA/Damaris B. Sarria)

Brian the Discovery Bat holds onto the external tank moments before launch (NASA/Damaris B. Sarria)

If you have been following the news about the bat that caused a stir during Sunday’s Space Shuttle Discovery launch, we finally have closure on what actually happened. It is a sad day, Brian the Bat clung on to the shuttle’s exterior tank until lift-off…
Continue reading

Shuttle Discovery Launch Success!

discovery_launch

At 19:47 EST, the STS-119 mission began with the successful launch of Space Shuttle Discovery from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The mission had been delayed by a week due to a hydrogen leak outside Discovery’s external fuel tank (compounding the extended delay caused by valve problems), but the fault was repaired, allowing NASA to perform a flawless launch today.

Space Shuttle Discovery's trail catches the sunset above Florida (Spaceflight Now UStream)

Space Shuttle Discovery's trail catches the sunset above Florida (Spaceflight Now UStream)

STS-119 will install the fourth and final set of solar arrays to the ISS. In May, the space station crew will grow to six, so additional solar power will be required. Interestingly, once completed, the station will become the second brightest object in the night sky.

Good luck Discovery!

For developing news on STS-119, check out the coverage on the Universe Today »