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Mining historical archives for new insights about presidential policy can be hard work, but the work can be rewarding in sometimes unusual ways. Dwayne Day describes the surprising discovery of a document from an infamous individual in the Reagan archives.
Most of the current attention given to the International Space Station is focused on completing the orbiting outpost. Taylor Dinerman takes a long-range view, and sees how the station could continue to operate for potentially decades to come.
While many in the US have focused on the rise of the Chinese space program and how the US might cooperate with it, India’s space efforts have recently become more ambitious as well. Jeff Foust reports on the future directions of the Indian space program and the potential for increased cooperation with the US.
While the utility of space-based systems, like communications and navigation, might be intuitive, how do you measure their effectiveness? Wayne Ellis proposes a method by which government agencies and others can judge how useful space systems can be compared to alternatives.
Science fiction has provided us with some indelible images about how the exploration of space might look like. Anthony Young reminds us that real space exploration will be far different than what people see on the big screen.
Eve Lichtgarn reviews a lighthearted but beautiful book about a mythical expedition to the Moon.
Last week NASA announced its plans to establish a permanent human base on the Moon. Jeff Foust argues that, if those plans have any chance of becoming reality, NASA needs to focus less on how and where to build that base and more on why humans should go to the Moon at all.
Current treaties prohibit countries from making territorial claims in space, arguably hindering the development and settlement of worlds like Mars. Jeff Brooks offers a solution that keeps the current treaty provisions in place while providing a mechanism for property rights and a means to fund the exploration of Mars.
GPS has revolutionized terrestrial navigation, but that system works poorly in cislunar space and not at all beyond. Taylor Dinerman describes a new approach to space navigation that takes advantage of the universe’s most precise timekeeping devices: pulsars.
We’re all familiar with the threats asteroids and comets pose to the Earth, but terrestrial planets around other stars likely face the same threats. Michael Paine explains how it might be possible to detect massive asteroid impacts in other solar systems.
Most people now realize that Apollo was not just, or even primarily, a high-minded effort to explore the Moon. Jeff Foust reviews a book that tries to convince anyone who still believes that myth otherwise.
NASA is pressing ahead with its implementation of the Vision for Space Exploration, with the primary goal of returning humans to the Moon. However, as Jeff Foust reports, some people are drawing up alternative plans that bypass the Moon as a fallback should political changes cause the Vision to fall out of favor.
The EELV launch vehicles may be around for decades, but that is hardly surprising given the longevity of other rockets. Wayne Eleazer argues that what is both surprising and disappointing is how the EELV came to be in the first place.
One of biggest issues for any technical organization is making the right design decisions when developing a particular product or program. Eric Hedman examines these challenges with an emphasis on the development of the Ares 1 launch vehicle.
Some people have argued that now is the time for the US to join other nations in negotiations for a treaty that would ban weapons in space. Taylor Dinerman explains why, given past history and the current geopolitical environment, that would not be in America’s best interests.
The administration’s new national space policy, which does not rule out the deployment of weapons in space, is a counterpoint to international efforts to restrict or prohibit such weapons. Nader Elhefnawy examines whether that policy may actually be counterproductive to broader national interests.
NASA administrator Mike Griffin has the challenge of trying to overcome bureaucratic and institutional inertia to move the space agency in a new direction. Taylor Dinerman evaluates his progress to date and his chances of success.
What’s it like when you’re asked to work for a competitor to your father’s company in the emerging space tourism industry? Sam Dinkin finds out in an interview with Jessica French.
Some people might consider last month’s X Prize Cup something of a failure since none of the various competitors won any prizes. Alex Howerton believes that the event was just the first step towards inevitable success.
Getting a spacecraft built and launched requires overcoming any number of technical and programmatic challenges. Anthony Young reviews a book by the leader of the Lunar Prospector mission that recounts the trials and tribulations of that program in great detail.
During the Cold War both the United States and the Soviet Union went to great lengths to conceal their military space operations even as they were launching hundreds of such satellites. Asif Siddiqi and Dwayne Day provide some new revelations on the lengths to which both countries went to disguise their military satellite activities.
The incoming chairman of the House Transportation Committee is a congressman who lobbied for strict safety regulations for commercial passenger spacecraft two years ago. Taylor Dinerman explains why a renewed push for such safeguards could jeopardize the emerging space tourism industry in the US.
The shuttle was supposed to be all things to all potential users, including those in the military. Dwayne Day examines what little is known about what the Air Force and the NRO expected from the shuttle and how it shaped the program.
Last month’s release of the new national space policy wrapped up a long-running review of space-related policies by the White House. Ryan Zelnio argues, though, that the “space mafia” that developed the policies has some unfinished business regarding the commercial communications satellite industry.
Ten years after Martian meteorite ALH84001 shook up the world with potential evidence of past Martian life, its scientific legacy remains in doubt. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a detailed account of the discovery and its aftermath.
The new national space policy released last month generated a considerable response, but not necessarily a lot of informed insight. Dwayne Day thoroughly studies the policy, its significance, and its implications.
Much of the media attention that the new space policy did receive focused on assertions that it opens the door for the US to deploy space weapons. James Oberg pierces some of the hype surrounding this issue, from claims that the US is actively developing space weapons to efforts to negotiate treaties to ban them.
What happens when a magazine with a progressive viewpoint takes on space exploration and commercialization? Jeff Foust examines a set of recently-published essays and the (mis)perceptions they contain, and wonders how much the space community itself is to blame.
While never deployed, the threat of a space-based missile defense system promised by the Strategic Defense Initiative played a key role in the final years of the Cold War. Taylor Dinerman discusses insights about SDI provided by a new book, including why British prime minister Margaret Thatcher viewed the system differently than her European counterparts.
What is the significance of astrobiology to society in general? Jeff Foust reviews a book that goes beyond the science of astrobiology to examine the philosophical, cultural, and even political issues it raises in present-day society.
One of the key issues regarding any future exploration and settlement of the Moon is the availability of deposits of water ice in permanently shadowed craters at the lunar poles. Paul Spudis investigates the evidence for and against lunar water ice and what research is needed to confirm its existence.
The fate of Apollo had President Kennedy not been assassinated in 1963 is one of the biggest what-if questions in the history of the Space Age. Dwayne Day discusses the utility of such questions and the potential outcomes suggested by the historical record.
A commonly-held belief in the space community is that some degree of international cooperation is needed for NASA to successfully implement the Vision for Space Exploration. Taylor Dinerman examines just how much international help is needed, and from which nations.
With all the controversy surrounding its publication, few people have examined what kind of book Sex in Space actually is. Jeff Foust reviews the book and finds it far less salacious than scholastic.
There is an ongoing debate in the space community whether to call commercial passengers on spacecraft “space tourists” or some other title. Michael Turner turns to linguistics, marketing, and other fields to conclude that the debate may not matter much in the long run.
The future of the Apollo program had President Kennedy not been assassinated in 1963 is one of the biggest what-if questions in the history of space exploration. Dwayne Day discusses what insights the historical record might shed on that question, especially if a particular recording was made available.
Combine “sex” with “space” and what do you get? As Laura Woodmansee, author of the new book Sex in Space, explains, you get a little bit of controversy from people uncomfortable with the subject.
Two months after SpaceX and Rocketplane Kistler won COTS demonstration awards from NASA, the companies are providing some additional details about their vehicle plans. Jeff Foust reports on what officials from the two companies shared about their efforts at a meeting last week.
The new national space policy released by the Bush Administration earlier this month elicited a strong, if delayed, reaction in the editorial pages of some newspapers. Taylor Dinerman critiques one such editorial that was sharply critical of the new policy.
How big, or how small, can a space book be? Jeff Foust reviews several new books that push the size limits at both ends of the spectrum.
This year’s X Prize Cup, bigger and better than last year’s inaugural event, was headlined by Armadillo Aerospace’s quest to win the Lunar Lander Challenge. Jeff Foust reports on Armadillo’s bid and and how it, and the Cup itself, are indicative of the current phase of development of the entrepreneurial space industry.
A collection of images from various events at the 2006 Wirefly X Prize Cup on October 20–21, 2006, in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
European agencies have shown an interest recently in supporting the development of a space tourism industry. Bob Clarebrough warns, though, that the European approach may cause more harm than good for companies there.
Both Europe’s Galileo program and the latest generation of the US GPS system have encountered development difficulties recently. Taylor Dinerman discusses why, despite these problems, satellite navigation systems are becoming more important than ever.
The success of the Apollo program four decades ago was due in large part to the management techniques used to oversee the massive program. Eve Lichtgarn reviews a book that examines the evolution of management styles in the early space program.
Last month Jim Benson surprised many by stepping down as chairman and CTO of SpaceDev, the company he founded nearly a decade ago, and starting a new company. Jeff Foust reports on why Benson made that decision and how Benson believes his new company can help his old one.
The Air Force has elected to take a more conventional route for its next-generation bomber aircraft, opting not to pursue for now spaceplanes or other exotic alternatives. However, Taylor Dinerman notes, current research in this area opens up future possibilities for both bombers and low-cost space access.
“Space sports” can mean more than just racing rockets. Rocky Persaud describes how zero-gravity sports can stimulate new businesses and interest in spaceflight.
Encouraging students to pursue careers in science and engineering is one of the major long-term challenges faced by NASA. Eric Hedman offers a simple solution that helps not only NASA but also the entire nation.
Cosmology is on the minds of many after the recent award of a Nobel Prize for research confirming the Big Bang. Jeff Foust reviews a book that steps beyond the scientific aspects of cosmology to examine what it means for humanity.
Suborbital space tourism, racing rocket-powered planes, and model rocketry might all seem inconsequential parts of the overall space industry. Taylor Dinerman argues that such “space sports” are, in fact, key methods of ensuring the continued growth of the industry and national space power.
Hardly a discussion about government or private space programs goes by without some mention of whether the level of risk associated with them is acceptable. Jeff Foust reports on a pair of recent conference panels that grappled with the issues of individual, corporate, and government risks.
Much thought has been given to the relative benefits of establishing settlements on the Moon, Mars, and other solar system bodies. However, John Barber notes that the best place for humanity’s first settlements in space might not be on a planetary surface at all.
Does the private sector have what it takes to mount a human mission to the Red Planet? Frank Stratford explains why, while challenging, now is the time for companies to think about beginning planning for such an effort, and profiting from it.
Last week Virgin Galactic showed off its design for the cabin of its suborbital passenger spacecraft, SpaceShipTwo. Jeff Foust reports on the event and the company’s efforts to demonstrate that the vehicle’s importance goes beyond just opening the space tourism market.
Space-related science fiction, an inspiration for generations of scientists and engineers, has evolved greatly since the halcyon days of Star Trek. Dwayne Day examines those changes in televised science fiction and whether such programming will ever have the influence that Star Trek once had.
Recent developments involving Virgin Galactic and SpaceDev are signs that commercial suborbital vehicle development remains alive and well. Taylor Dinerman explains the importance of such efforts to the long-term goal of creating a low-cost orbital RLV.
Proving Einstein’s theory of general relativity was one of the great scientific achievements of the early 20th century. Jeff Foust reviews a book that delves into the history of that effort, which was far less clear-cut than most historical accounts describe.
Over the years far more attention has been paid to the science and technology issues of space exploration than its influence on society. Dwayne Day recaps a recent conference where historians attempted to examine the wide-ranging effect spaceflight has had on the public.
While the debate regarding whether to call commercial ISS passengers like Anousheh Ansari “space tourists” is a contemporary issue, it is not a new one. Rick Tumlinson provides an essay originally written in 2000 that explains why the label “tourist” is unsuited for the current generation of private space travelers.
Kistler Aerospace, once all but given up for dead, has been revived by its win in NASA’s COTS competition. Taylor Dinerman discusses the long-term implications for low-cost space access offered by the company’s rebirth.
Bigelow Aerospace took some in the space industry by surprise last week with a pair of announcements, including an agreement with Lockheed Martin to study man-rating the Atlas 5. Jeff Foust examines what company founder Robert Bigelow has said in recent months to see just how surprising these developments really are.
Last week NASA calmly handled a potential problem involving debris floating away from, and possibly colliding with, the shuttle Atlantis in orbit. Dwayne Day believes that much of the credit for the meticulous handling of the incident should go to shuttle program manager Wayne Hale.
Apollo 13 is widely considered to be a “successful failure” by NASA and the general public. However, Paul Torrance argues that the mission should be considered a “failed success” given how the agency failed to learn the lessons of that mission over the long term.
What can the exploration and settlement of Polynesia teach us about the exploration and settlement of the solar system? Bob Clarebrough explains how the social skills of the Polynesians will be critical to the success of future missions to Mars and beyond.
When Anousheh Ansari made it into orbit Monday, she was called by many the first female space tourist, although not without a bit of controversy. Jeff Foust examines the debate and whether the term “space tourist” itself is all that useful.
The long-term success of commercial human spaceflight will depend in large part on how passengers are prepared for the spaceflight experience. Alex Howerton discusses the importance of proper training and simulation in that process.
Astrobiology has grown in prominence in the last decade, even though many people have only a faint appreciation for what is involved in this multidisciplinary field. Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides a thorough introduction to the science of astrobiology.
Reaction to the IAU’s approval of a formal definition of the term “planet”—one that excludes Pluto—continues in both the scientific community and the general public weeks after the vote. Daniel Fischer provides an insider’s account of the events that led up to the vote, and discusses why the outcome makes sense.
A study last month concluded that the two EELV rockets current used primarily by the US government will be able to meet the needs of the military for decades to come. Jeff Foust reviews the report and wonders whether such a long-term future is a good thing for the space industry.
The Apollo program was credited with triggering a wave of innovation and economic development in various industries. Taylor Dinerman examines the potential for Orion and the overall exploration program to do the same.
Some space experts have proposed rights for nature in space. Michael Huang looks at whether we need rights for human beings.
Dwayne Day responds to a recent article on the use of satellite imagery in intelligence with an overview of how such imagery is used today versus in the past.
We worry regularly about the effects humans have on the Earth’s environment, but what about our effect on the space environment? Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines the potential deleterious effects on Earth orbit and beyond posed by space exploration.
NASA plans to test ways to extract resources from the lunar surface as part of its overall exploration plans. Donald Rapp describes why he believes NASA’s current approach is fatally flawed from both a technological and a cost/benefit approach.
Japanese animation is full of robots, spaceships, and other technological wonders. Dwayne Day reviews a Japanese animated series that offers a surprisingly realistic—and human—vision of a spacefaring civilization.
The recent squabble about how to designate Pluto is a reminder of the power of names and nomenclature. Greg Zsidisin uses this to examine the choice of names NASA has assigned to elements of the Vision for Space Exploration.
Debates about the proper use of intelligence in recent years have revolved around a clash between data provided by satellites versus spies on the ground. Taylor Dinerman argues that what’s needed is a fusion of the two, as well as an appreciation of the limits of any means of information gathering.
Space weather and its effects have become increasingly important to space exploration and civilization in general, yet few appreciate its significance. Jeff Foust reviews a book that attempts to explain why space weather is important and provide a history of its study.
The IAU’s decision last week to effectively demote Pluto from a full-fledged planet to a new class of “dwarf planets” has raised a firestorm of controversy both in the astronomical community and the general public. Jeff Foust examines the response and suggests that the problem isn’t with Pluto but instead is with the term “planet”.
The buzz surrounding space tourism has not diminished, despite the limited flight opportunities available to potential customers today. Taylor Dinerman describes how the financial support provided through NASA’s COTS program might open the door to both more ways of sending people to orbit as well as a revitalized space industry in the US.
Recent studies have raised questions about NASA’s approach to developing the key components needed to carry out the Vision for Space Exploration. Eric Hedman believes that NASA needs to be more forthcoming with the public about how it plans to address those concerns if the Vision is to survive in the long term.
Developing successful space companies has long been fraught with complications, with technology often the least of a firm’s concerns. Jeff Foust reviews a book that explores how the long-running interplay among policy, economics, and technology has shaped space commerce.
How does a concept go from far outside the mainstream to conventional wisdom? John Davies explores the trajectory of one idea in spacebased astronomy, performing infrared astronomy on spacecraft with simple radiative cooling.
Earlier this month over a hundred members of The Mars Society spent an afternoon on Capitol Hill, discussing the importance of the Vision for Space Exploration and why humans should explore Mars. Chris Carberry provides a recap of that event, which exceeded expectations even if not everything went as planned.
The Genesis 1 inflatable module launched last month by Bigelow Aerospace was based on technology developed for a now-cancelled NASA project, TransHab. Dan Schrimpsher interviews William Schneider, the lead developer of TransHab, to get some background on the project’s development and his opinion about Bigelow’s efforts.
What’s the real purpose behind the development of alternative satellite navigation systems like Galileo and Compass? Taylor Dinerman revisits the issue and finds that the competition among such systems is based primarily on military applications and national prestige.
Ryan Caron addresses some misconceptions about the utility of operationally responsive spacecraft, particularly for imaging applications, in response to a recent Taylor Dinerman article.
Some in the space industry are eager to develop a “value proposition” that explains the importance of space. Bob Clarebrough counters that the challenge instead is for individual companies in the field to develop their own brands that will prove compelling to potential customers.
In the race to win a COTS award from NASA, SpaceX is widely considered one of the leading contenders with its proposed Dragon spacecraft. Jeff Foust reports on some details about the Dragon concept company founder Elon Musk described at a recent meeting, as well as Musk’s long-term vision for his company.
Engineers working on the next generation of launch vehicles to serve NASA’s exploration program will have tools unimaginable to their predecessors in the Apollo program. However, Anthony Young notes, they’ll also be saddled with one of the banes of modern computing, PowerPoint.
Books full of photos and illustrations are often considered lesser works, but that not need always be the case. Jeff Foust reviews two such books on space topics, one for children and one for adults, that stand out.
Robert Zubrin may be best known as the founder of the Mars Society, but he has a writing career that extends beyond space. Taylor Dinerman reviews a book that provides a satirical take on the problems of the Middle East.
Ten years ago the world buzzed with the news that evidence of past Martian life had been discovered in a meteorite. Jeff Foust discusses how, despite the scientific controversy that arose since that announcement, the discovery has reshaped how NASA and the general public view Mars.
At the center of the movement advocating human missions to Mars for the last decade has been Robert Zubrin. Dwayne Day reviews a new documentary that stars Zubrin and tells a compelling story about why humans should explore Mars.
NASA’s plans to develop the Crew Exploration Vehicle have come under criticism in recent weeks from both the GAO and the Space Frontier Foundation. Grant Bonin examines the controversy and suggests how NASA and the NewSpace industry might better work together.
The Air Force has a number of efforts underway to develop new generations of spacecraft to detect missile launches. Taylor Dinerman discusses how similar technology could be used to provide tactical battlefield intelligence for troops.
As the US presses ahead with the Vision for Space Exploration, Canada is contemplating its role in space exploration. Sumitra Rajagopalan argues that Canada needs visionaries both within and outside its space agency to help chart an innovative new course for its space efforts.
Ryan Caron responds to an article in last week’s issue about potential conflicts between planned European and Chinese navigation systems, seeing a number of flaws in the original analysis.
NASA is expected to announce awards in the next month for COTS, its commercial ISS resupply development effort. Jeff Foust reports that some in the industry are wondering what the exact purpose of COTS really is, and whether it is appropriately funded.
The Cold War offers rich and intriguing material for space historians, provided records from that era are declassified. Dwayne Day provides a preview of an upcoming British publication with several papers on Cold War military space history.
Last month DARPA launched a microsatellite technology mission called MiTEx, revealing few details about the mission beyond the name itself. Ryan Caron examines what we do know about the mission and what significance it might have regarding the weaponization of space.
Under the current Vision for Space Exploration, manned missions to Mars are planned only for the far future, if ever. James McLane offers a proposal for the rapid development of an innovative human mission, provided the space agency and the public are willing to accept more risk.
Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation system has run into a new obstacle: a Chinese plan to develop a similar system using nearly the same frequencies. Taylor Dinerman describes the irony of this development, given similar controversies in the past between Europe and the US.
Once cloaked in secrecy, Bigelow Aerospace is now emerging into public view thanks in large part to the successful launch of its first satellite. Jeff Foust reports on how the company and its founder, Robert Bigelow, view their current status, future plans, and state of the space industry.
A collection of images from a tour of the Bigelow Aerospace factory in North Las Vegas, Nevada, on July 20.
Next month NASA plans to launch a pair of spacecraft that will study solar activity. Taylor Dinerman explains why NASA needs to do more to promote solar physics research.
Fans can fund and produce fictional nostalgic space trips. Mark Boehme and Sam Dinkin draw parallels non-fiction space trips in this speech delivered at the recent NewSpace conference.
Critics argue that humans in space are scientifically useless. Michael Huang looks at what happens when the same criticism is directed to humans elsewhere.
What happens when you gather a diverse group of experts and ask them to write about the issues associated with the expansion of humanity into space? The result, Jeff Foust finds, is a book with a hodgepodge of essays on a vast array of topics.
Launch failures can be a learning experience for new ventures, but only if they’re willing to really learn from them. Wayne Eleazer describes how past policies at the Air Force, NASA, and companies have made it hard for these organizations to really learn any lessons from their failures.
The role of China as a potential collaborator—or competitor—in space has been a topic of interest in Washington in recent months. Jeff Foust reports on a recent forum where two members of Congress discussed this issue and how their colleagues on Capitol Hill view China and its space program.
Last week Bigelow Aerospace launched its first prototype of an inflatable space habitat. Taylor Dinerman sees this as a critical milestone in the eventual development of a space hotel that will truly open the door to orbital space tourism.
This week marks the 37th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, and with it some recollection of the career of its commander, Neil Armstrong. Jeff Foust reviews two biographies that paint rather different pictures of the famous moonwalker.
Suborbital space tourism will expose passengers to physical forces and stresses that could pose medical risks for some. Jeff Foust examines how these medical risks could, depending on the regulatory environment, expose companies to business risks.
Stephen Hawking says we should pursue human spaceflight and space colonization to reduce the risk of human extinction. Michael Huang takes a look at those who want the complete opposite.
Last month marked the 29th anniversary of the death of Wernher von Braun. Anthony Young recalls the life, and faith, of the rocket pioneer.
Last week North Korea launched a Taepodong 2 missile, possibly to place a satellite in orbit but definitely as a show of force in the region. Taylor Dinerman argues while the launch failed, North Korea is unlikely to back away from its missile development and proliferation plans.
Don’t judge a book by its cover—or its price tag. Jeff Foust reviews an expensive but useful guide to to the field of remote sensing.
Many media accounts of last week’s launch of a Delta 4 from the SLC-6 launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California noted that the launch site had been cursed. Dwayne Day examines the history of “Slick-6” and finds that so-called curse to be nothing but a myth.
The NASA budget approved by the House of Representatives last week funds the space agency at nearly the level requested by the President, but transfers some money from exploration programs to science and aeronautics. Taylor Dinerman argues that the long-term success of the exploration program should not be put into jeopardy by short-term juggling of funding.
Explosions, crashes, and other failures are typically seen as major setbacks for companies developing new launch vehicles and spacecraft. Bob Clarebrough explains why such failures are essential for long-term success in the space industry.
The US intelligence community used spy satellite images in many ways to study locations of interest within the Soviet Union. Dwayne Day describes the creation of a scale model of the launch facilities for the N-1 Moon rocket.
Kids have a lot of questions about space that can be difficult for adults to answer. Jeff Foust reviews a new book that collects hundreds of questions on various space topics, along with answers from an impressive array of experts.