Archive for July 8th, 2011
Straight from Fox News: “The U.S. government has warned domestic and international airlines that some terrorists are considering surgically implanting explosives into humans to carry out attacks, The Associated Press has learned.
There is no intelligence pointing to a specific plot, but the U.S. shared its concerns last week with executives at domestic and international carriers.
People traveling to the U.S. from overseas may experience additional screening at airports because of the threat, according to the Transportation Security Administration.
“These measures are designed to be unpredictable, so passengers should not expect to see the same activity at every international airport,” TSA spokesman Nick Kimball said. “Measures may include interaction with passengers, in addition to the use of other screening methods such as pat-downs and the use of enhanced tools and technologies.”
Placing explosives and explosive components inside humans to hide bombs and evade security measures is not a new idea. But there is new intelligence pointing to a fresh interest in using this tactic, a U.S. security official told the AP. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive security information.
When the U.S. government receives information suggesting terror tactics that could threaten commercial aviation, the TSA alerts companies domestically and abroad. Last December, the U.S. received intelligence that al-Qaida’s Yemen branch was considering hiding explosives inside insulated beverage containers to carry them on airplanes. That warning was shared with domestic and foreign airlines so that security could be on the lookout, even though there was no specific plot.
Airport security has increased markedly since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. But terrorists remain interested in attacking aviation and continue to adapt to the new security measures by trying to develop ways to circumvent them.”
Straight from Fox News: “As NASA’s space shuttle program winds down, President Obama is urging the agency to change its tired, old ways and reach for something bigger…like Mars, or perhaps an asteroid.
The three-decades old program is set for completion after the shuttle Atlantis takes off on its final mission Friday; dependent, as always, on the weather. With the program’s departure, so goes some 7,000 Kennedy Space Center jobs.
Mr. Obama told participants in a Twitter town hall at the White House Thursday that he’s got much more in mind for the space agency.
“[W]e’ve set a goal to– let’s ultimately get to Mars,” the president said. “A good pit stop is an asteroid. I haven’t actually — we haven’t identified the actual asteroid yet, in case people are wondering,” he added to laughter.
The president’s mission to Mars idea isn’t new– he unveiled it last year– but the timing of the Twitter question couldn’t be more relevant.
“Now that the space shuttle is gone, where does America stand in space exploration?” the president was asked.
The president said he’s been urging NASA to re-think its way of doing things.
“We’re still using the same models for space travel that we used with the Apollo program 30, 40 years ago. And so what we’ve said is, rather than keep on doing the same thing, let’s invest in basic research around new technologies that can get us places faster, allow human space flight to last longer,” he said.
The future of low-orbit space travel is expected to fall to private companies and U.S. astronauts may have to hitch a ride on Russian capsules, but those ventures have become routine, Mr. Obama said, and he urged NASA to broaden its horizons.
Still, the president indicated it’s important not to underestimate America’s stature in the final frontier, telling the town hall, “We are still a leader in space exploration.”"
Straight from Fox News: “First moonwalker Neil Armstrong, first American in orbit John Glenn, Mission Control founder Chris Kraft, Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell, first shuttle pilot Robert Crippen and others are pushing for a last minute reprieve for the about-to-be-retired space shuttle fleet. They’re even urging a delay of Friday’s final launch.
They may get a delay of a day or two because of bad weather. But the NASA veterans are looking for a pause of more than a year, until more shuttle parts are ready to keep flying and extend the 30-year program.
Back in June, as Atlantis headed to the launch pad, launch director Mike Leinbach on a live audio loop groused to his fellow workers “we’re all victims of poor policy out of Washington, D.C.,” for not having a new mission for the post-shuttle era.
Glenn, who returned to space at the age of 77 by flying on the shuttle Discovery in 1998, said: “I told the president, ‘We’re violating one of NASA’s critical design criteria.”‘
That means there must be a backup system for getting into space and bringing astronauts home from the International Space Station.
Armstrong, Kraft and Lovell sent a letter June 30 to President Barack Obama and NASA chief Charles Bolden asking that they keep shuttles flying and delay this final launch. Glenn, who wasn’t involved in the letter campaign, is also calling it a mistake to end the space shuttle program — planned since 2004.
Kraft said he considered a backup crucial as he ran Mission Control or oversaw the people who did — missions from the Mercury days of the 1960s through early space shuttle days. He said it is still possible at this late date to put Atlantis’ final mission on hold while NASA builds new external fuel tanks and boosters for future shuttle flights — a process that would delay the launch about 18 months.
“It’s a generational thing. It’s a culture thing and mostly it’s a political thing,” said Kraft, 87. Nearly all the signees of the letter are in their 70s and 80s. Glenn, who didn’t sign the letter, will turn 90 this month.
It’s a fight Kraft has waged for at least three years, pulling in Armstrong, 80, and others. Armstrong, in an email to The Associated Press, wrote: “Chris is an exceptional engineer and manager who has always been reliable in the many cases where he held the success or failure of American human space flight in his hands.” He wrote that if Kraft thinks this is too risky a plan, “I can readily accept that.”
For his part, NASA Administrator Bolden, a former shuttle commander, defended the shuttle retirentury approach: “This is a century with new challenges and also new opportunities.”
Scott Parazynski, a 49-year-old former astronaut who heads the educational center created by Challenger families, said in an email that he agrees with Kraft that NASA shouldn’t be left without a backup to the Soyuz, but disagrees with the idea of delaying the shuttle retirement.
“The cards have been dealt, and even though we may not all like the cards we’ve gotten, we’ve got to play,” Parazynski wrote. “I see a path forward that gives American industry (new enterprise as well as established aerospace) and NASA a bright future.”
The American public apparently wants the U.S. to continue to be a space leader. According to a poll by the Pew Research Center released Tuesday, 58 percent of Americans think it’s essential the nation continue as a leader in space.
For his part, Glenn said he doesn’t disagree with Obama’s plans, although he said he believes private spaceflight will take years longer than Bolden predicts. What Glenn objects to is the gap between the shuttle and a future spacecraft. While the Soyuz is reliable, Glenn said NASA should always want an alternative in case of a “hiccup” in the Soyuz plans.
“I think we should be keeping the shuttle going,” Glenn said. “It’s the most complicated vehicle ever put together by people.”"
Straight from Fox News: “Lawmakers working on next year’s federal finances have taken the ax to the James Webb Space Telescope.
That’s right, NASA’s next-generation space telescope, the successor to Hubble and the space agency’s biggest post-shuttle project, may be killed.
To be clear, there are many more steps in the budget process before this is final — lawmakers are working on next year’s budget despite a stalemate between the White House and Republican leadership, so a lot could change in the next couple weeks. And odds are decent that at least some lawmakers will fight to preserve this enormous technological marvel (and the jobs associated with its construction). But this is not good news for astronomy, to put it mildly.
The House Appropriations Committee released its 2012 Commerce, Justice and Science funding bill today, ahead of a scheduled committee markup Thursday. The bill provides $50.2 billion overall for the nation’s projects in those three areas, which is $7.4 billion less than President Obama’s budget request. NASA’s budget is slashed by $1.6 billion, which is $1.9 billion less than Obama wanted. About $1 billion of that comes from the end of the shuttle program, and NASA Science funding is cut by $431 million from last year.
“The bill also terminates funding for the James Webb Space Telescope, which is billions of dollars over budget and plagued by poor management,” an Appropriations Committee press release says flatly.
While management problems are a little more subjective, the telescope is indeed massively over budget, as we’ve told you before. In November, a congressional panel described the telescope as “NASA’s Hurricane Katrina,” because of its destructive toll on other agency projects. That review found the telescope’s price tag had mushroomed to $6.5 billion and that it would not be ready until at least 2015. Then, just last week, the watchdog site NASA Watch obtained a memo from Goddard Space Flight Center describing that it may not launch until after 2018 — even that is “unfeasible,” the report said.
But that earlier report, last November, also pointed out a key fact: “The funds invested to date have not been wasted.” The JWST has enabled several engineering feats, from brand-new metal compounds to a huge space umbrella that will shield it from the sun. The umbrella will unfurl in space along with an enormous 18-piece primary mirror made of material that is supposed to warp in frigid temperatures. Astronomers say the JWST will provide unprecedented imagery of the deepest corners of the cosmos.
This bombshell is not the only piece of bad news for the scientific community. The National Science Foundation is also losing funding, set to receive $907 million less than Obama requested as part of his campaign to “Win the Future.” The NSF will get a modest $43 million for core research, Politico reports. Aside from that, NOAA is down $1 billion. The Environmental Protection Agency is down $1.5 billion, about 18 percent.
Pentagon spending would grow by $17 billion in 2012, on the other hand.
Again, this is all far from over, and plenty of fiscal feuding remains before we can write the JWST’s obituary. But with a budget debate raging in Washington — and, many economists say, the specter of a new economic crisis looming — future space telescopes could be a low priority.”