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Category Archives: Space Travel
Posted: August 25, 2017 at 4:23 am
Transforming science fiction to reality, UC Santa Barbara physics professor Philip Lubin is creating a laser-cannon system to propel miniature spaceships with solar sails more than 25 trillion miles to the suns nearest star Proxima Centuari.
Loaded with cameras, other sensors, historical records of humanity, greetings from Earth and possibly human DNA, the smartphone-sized crafts, or interstellar arks, would be thrust on an historic journey that would take about 20 years a blink of an eye in space travel.
People understood roughly 100 years ago that it was possible using then- technology to send a human to the moon and return them, Lubin said, noting that one challenge was scaling down equipment. If you look at the popular literature at that time, the idea was treated as science fiction, like Flash Gordon.
Lubins ambitious vision is showcased in Laser-Sailing Starships, one of eight new books in the Out of this World Series (World Book, 2017). Targeted to middle- school students, the books focus on research fellows involved in the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program. NASAs aim is to foster the next generation of scientific talent.
The great part about the whole series is that it doesnt talk down to kids, but addresses the science head-on, said Jason Derleth, the program executive for NASA, which helps fund Lubins research.
In 2009, Lubin began examining how to use directed energy a phased laser array to deflect asteroids bound for Earth. But there was limited outside interest in the UCSB research, he said, because the planet doesnt get hit often.
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Elon Musk is teasing space travel fanatics with a photo of SpaceX’s first working spacesuit – Quartz
Posted: at 4:23 am
Elon Musk teased space travel fanatics with the first photo of the SpaceXs spacesuit today. On Instagram, the CEO of SpaceX claimed that the minimalist white prototype actually works and had already been tested under near vacuum.
Musk notes that the design team wrestled with balancing [a]esthetics and function. Eschewing bulky, formless space suit designs, the commercial spaceflight companys formfitting suit appears to follow the athleisure for space trend that Boeing introduced earlier this year.
On pressurized spacecraft, passengers dont need spacesuits all the time. But as Tim Fernholz writes, pressurized suits are a mandatory safety precaution in national space programs.
Experience has led space programs to conclude that a pressure suit is worth the weight, cost and discomfort. Soviet astronauts flew without pressure suitsthey wanted to project an image of this being a ride on a bus, Nicholas de Monchaux saysbut when an oxygen valve failed on a Soyuz craft returning to earth in 1971, it depressurized 100 miles above the ground. The recovery crew found the three cosmonauts onboard dead from asphyxiation. Now, all Soyuz crew members wear suits when they fly.
US astronauts on the space shuttle likewise went into space in shirtsleeve comfort, in the words of one NASA hand-out, until the commission formed to investigate the Challenger explosion in 1986 demanded more robust efforts to protect them. Pressure suits became mandatory, and the iconic pumpkin suitor the Advanced Crew Escape Suit (ACES)was developed. ()
On the International Space Station itself, most of the time is spent in shirtsleeves. Yet pressure suits still come in handy in times of dangersuch as the potential ammonia leak that recently led some of the astronauts to briefly evacuate their compartment, until a sensor failure was blamed. You dont wear an oxygen mask or life vest on a jetliner, but you still want to know theyre there if you need them.
SpaceX is planning a maiden voyage to the moon for its first two paying customers by next year. It is also redesigning its private spacecraft Dragon to carry humans in addition to cargo.
Posted: at 4:23 am
A strain of yeast that can recycle urine and carbon dioxide into omega-3 fatty acids and polymers has been developed by US scientists, who say it could help astronauts turn waste products into food on long interplanetary journeys.
Biomolecular engineer Mark Blenner from Clemson University in South Carolina presented the work at the 254th American Chemical Society National Meeting and Exposition in Washington, DC, as part of a broader session on getting people to Mars.
Our yeast not only grow on human urine, they actually prefer it to other nitrogen sources
Mark Blenner, Clemson University
Blenners research focuses on the yeast species Yarrowia lipolytica whose cells naturally produce and accumulate omega-3 fatty acids. He says that these products could be used as nutritional supplements for astronauts, as theyve been implicated in preventing bone loss and maintaining cardiovascular and ocular health, but dont have a long enough shelf life for adequate supplies to be brought from Earth. His group showed that the yeast could grow using human urine as a source of nitrogen, something that there would be a plentiful supply of on manned space missions.
Our yeast not only grow on human urine, they actually prefer it to other nitrogen sources, Brenner says. His group have also used synthetic biology to engineer a strain of the same yeast to produce polyhydroxyalkanoates, which shows they have the potential to manufacture polymer inks that could be used to fabricate objects in a 3D printer. In particular, he said this could be very useful in situations where an astronaut has lost a tool or a piece of equipment that they need.
Blenner admits they dont currently know how the biology would react to being in space. But in the meantime there are several more terrestrial applications they can explore, such as producing omega-3 supplements for fish farms and making other speciality chemicals. He says the next stepis for his team to demonstrate that they can get usable quantities of both the polyestersand the omega-3 fatty acids from these astronaut waste stream. We are going to be doing genetic engineering to the cell to really try and force it to make the products that we want, by knocking out certain pathways that might syphon off intermediates, Blenner explains. The team is also still at the early stages of characterising how the yeast go about taking up a lot of these waste substrates. We havent really done a full analysis yet of whats left over to try and see if there is any way to get the yeast to use some of the leftovers, he says.
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Posted: at 4:23 am
Imagine you’re on your way to Mars, and you lose a crucial tool during a spacewalk. Not to worry, you’ll simply re-enter your spacecraft and use some microorganisms to convert your urine and exhaled carbon dioxide (CO2) into chemicals to make a new one. That’s one of the ultimate goals of scientists who are developing ways to make long space trips feasible.
The researchers are presenting their results this week at the 254th National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). ACS, the world’s largest scientific society, is holding the meeting here through Thursday. It features nearly 9,400 presentations on a wide range of science topics.
Astronauts can’t take a lot of spare parts into space because every extra ounce adds to the cost of fuel needed to escape Earth’s gravity. “If astronauts are going to make journeys that span several years, we’ll need to find a way to reuse and recycle everything they bring with them,” Mark A. Blenner, Ph.D., says. “Atom economy will become really important.”
The solution lies in part with the astronauts themselves, who will constantly generate waste from breathing, eating and using materials. Unlike their friends on Earth, Blenner says, these spacefarers won’t want to throw any waste molecules away. So he and his team are studying how to repurpose these molecules and convert them into products the astronauts need, such as polyesters and nutrients.
Some essential nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids, have a shelf life of just a couple of years, says Blenner, who is at Clemson University. They’ll need to be made en route, beginning a few years after launch, or at the destination.
“Having a biological system that astronauts can awaken from a dormant state to start producing what they need, when they need it, is the motivation for our project,” he says.
Blenner’s biological system includes a variety of strains of the yeast Yarrowia lipolytica. These organisms require both nitrogen and carbon to grow. Blenner’s team discovered that the yeast can obtain their nitrogen from urea in untreated urine.
Meanwhile, the yeast obtain their carbon from CO2, which could come from astronauts’ exhaled breath, or from the Martian atmosphere. But to use CO2, the yeast require a middleman to “fix” the carbon into a form they can ingest. For this purpose, the yeast rely on photosynthetic cyanobacteria or algae provided by the researchers.
One of the yeast strains produces omega-3 fatty acids, which contribute to heart, eye and brain health. Another strain has been engineered to churn out monomers and link them to make polyester polymers.
Those polymers could then be used in a 3-D printer to generate new plastic parts. Blenner’s team is continuing to engineer this yeast strain to produce a variety of monomers that can be polymerized into different types of polyesters with a range of properties.
For now, the engineered yeast strains can produce only small amounts of polyesters or nutrients, but the scientists are working on boosting output. They’re also looking into applications here on Earth, in fish farming and human nutrition. For example, fish raised via aquaculture need to be given omega-3 fatty acid supplements, which could be produced by Blenner’s yeast strains.
Although other research groups are also putting yeast to work, they aren’t taking the same approach. For example, a team from DuPont is already using yeast to make omega-3 fatty acids for aquaculture, but its yeast feed on refined sugar instead of waste products, Blenner says. Meanwhile, two other teams are engineering yeast to make polyesters. However, unlike Blenner’s group, they aren’t engineering the organisms to optimize the type of polyester produced, he says.
Whatever their approach, these researchers are all adding to the body of knowledge about Y. lipolytica, which has been studied much less than, say, the yeast used in beer production.
“We’re learning that Y. lipolytica is quite a bit different than other yeast in their genetics and biochemical nature,” Blenner says. “Every new organism has some amount of quirkiness that you have to focus on and understand better.”
A video on the research is available here
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Posted: at 4:23 am
If you think getting knocked around in your backpack on the subway is tough on a computer, try going into space, where radiation and cosmic rays can cause sensitive computer equipment to degrade and fail.
Aerospace company BAE Systems has just announced a new computer it calls “radiation-hardened.” According to the company, the new RAD5545 “provides next-generation spacecraft with the high-performance onboard processing capacity needed to support future space missions,” and is faster and more power-efficient than its predecessor.
A single RAD5545 SBC replaces multiple cards on previous generations of spacecraft. It combines high performance, large amounts of memory, and fast throughput to improve spacecraft capability, efficiency, and mission performance. With its improved computational throughput, storage, and bandwidth, it will provide spacecraft with the ability to conduct new missions, including those requiring encryption processing, multiple operating systems, ultra high-resolution image processing, autonomous operation, and simultaneous support for multiple payloads missions that were impossible with previous single-board computers.
Because it’s a single-card computer with all the components on one circuit board, it’s smaller, with fewer parts to potentially fail, and it uses specially insulated components to protect against radiation. Long-term trips, such as to Mars, would especially require computer hardware that could stand up to the long-term rigors of space travel.
Hewlett Packard Enterprise meanwhile is trying a different approach to dealing with radiation. It’s space-testing relatively ordinary computers with software to detect and correct radiation-induced computing errors.
Posted: August 20, 2017 at 6:31 pm
And now a page from our “Sunday Morning” Almanac: August 20, 1960 — 57 years ago today — a date that gives new meaning to the expression “dog days of summer.”
Soviet space dogs Strelka and Belka after a successful space flight in 1960.
ITAR-TASS Photo Agency/Alamy
For that was the day space dogs Belka and Strelka returned alive after orbiting the Earth for a day in a Soviet spacecraft.
Belka and Strelka were female strays recruited for space travel on the theory that street dogs were a tougher breed than those pampered house pets.
Belka and Strelka had the right stuff all right, becoming the first canine cosmonauts to survive an orbital space flight — clearing the way for Yuri Gagarin to become the first human cosmonaut the following April.
Belka and Strelka never left Earth again. Strelka famously went on to give birth to a litter of puppies, one of whom was given to First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy as a goodwill gift.
Pushinka, offspring of Soviet space dog Stelka, sits outside her adopted home at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
William J. Smith/AP
When THAT dog gave birth, President Kennedy playfully labeled her offspring “pupniks.”
Russia honors the memory of Belka and Strelka to this day.
The animated movie feature “Space Dogs,” released in 2010, tells their story.
And the REAL Belka and Strelka are still on view — stuffed, alas — beside their space capsule at the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics in Moscow.
The stuffed remains of Belka and Strekla, on display next to the capsule in which they flew into outer space, at the Museum of Cosmonautics in Moscow.
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Posted: at 6:31 pm
Space suits are cool and complicated. Earlier this week, my colleague Loren Grush launched her new series Space Craft by seeing what wearing one is like. The answer? Exhausting. Unsurprisingly, science fiction writers, movie directors, and prop-makers also love space suits youll find them everywhere from Robert A. Heinleins novel Have Space Suit Will Travel, to the latest Alien movie. But not everybody does their homework: for every fictional space suit thats more than just a fancy costume, theres one thats impractical and nonsensical even in a fictional world.
Theres no such thing as an ideal space suit, because you need specific features for different environments. But we can answer a few basic questions. Is a fictional space suit safe and wearable for its characters? Does it perform its task well? And does it realistically look like it could perform that task? With that in mind, here are some of the greatest and most cringeworthy depictions, arranged from worst to best.
I love Titan A.E. to death, but even I have to admit that its space suit is a bit wonky. Years after the destruction of Earth, Cale ends up working salvage on a space station, which seems like a risky job we even see him get smacked with a huge section of a ship thats being dismantled.
But although the armored suit superficially looks designed for this work, this one seems pretty dangerous. That huge bubble helmet would provide amazing visibility, but it also looks like it could be easily broken. Those wires or tubes hanging off the back could snag on salvage. And as for the weird series of lights on the chest… what do those even do?
Where to start with Star Trek? The upcoming show Star Trek Discovery features a badass suit that looks like an entire miniature spaceship. But there are also some bizarre, cringeworthy depictions, like these from The Original Series. Theyre sparkly! They have weird, seemingly useless colored attachments, the wearer can really only see right in front of them, and the visor extends to the back of their head for some reason.
Fortunately, the show went with some marginally better (but still science fictional) versions for The Motion Picture, and some really plausible ones in Enterprise. But although the latest series suits look cool, they dont seem that realistic either, with an emphasis on armor and propulsion over anything else. Well have to wait until later this year to know just what theyre used for.
One of my absolute favorite space suits appeared long before real humans went into space: its in the 1950s Tintin comics (and later cartoons) Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon. These suits arent what we ended up using: theyre hard armor with a bubble helmet rather than lighter cloth, and seem cumbersome to wear and walk around in, not to mention specifically fitted to each person (and dog!)
But, theyre still a beautiful, iconic design that did draw on some real concepts. While they certainly predate the space age, and Herg does depict the suits in use on the Moon, as well as a couple of points where theyre being constructed and fixed, which means that he did put some thought into how these theoretical space suits might have functioned.
The 1950 film Destination Moon is another classic that predates the space age, like Explorers on the Moon. But its one of the first to deal with space travel in a somewhat realistic way, almost two decades before astronauts landed on the Moon, and even before the first rockets brought the first satellites into orbit.
The suits used in the film look pretty cool. Theyre not exactly what we ended up using for Lunar EVAs, but they get all the basics: flexible joints, detachable helmets, life support, and so forth. They even color-coded each astronaut so that the audience could tell each character apart. NASA only figured that out after Apollo 11, when people couldnt tell the astronauts apart on the television broadcasts, and slapped some stripes onto the mission commanders suit.
The Stargate franchise has used its share of space suits, ranging from plausibly realistic to downright strange. The last series, Stargate Universe, is definitely the latter. When an expedition is stranded on a distant starship, they discover several of these outfits and use them to explore a couple of hostile planets. But the suits look extremely cumbersome, with a lot of armor that will restrict ones movement, not to mention corners and edges that could snag on their surrounding. To be fair, they were designed by a long-lost, advanced human race, so maybe we just dont know what they were going for.
When I first watched Firefly, I was struck by an early scene where protagonist Captain Mal Reynolds is floating through space in a distinctly patched-together suit from repurposed parts, like his old combat helmet. Like lots of things in the series, these suits look like they could be used for any activity, whether thats stealing cargo, working on exterior repairs, or just moving around outside. But while it fits thematically, these activities are all pretty specific tasks, and I just cant quite buy that a suit made up of random parts is going to be safe or effective at any of them in the long run.
For a space show, we dont actually see many space suits in the SCIFI channels revival of Battlestar Galactica. On the rare occasions people head into space, its usually pilots flying combat or patrol missions, where they wear suits designed to keep a pilot alive after being ejected, which look closer to high-altitude fighter pilot uniforms than your traditional space suit. That said, these suits can keep someone alive on a planets surface, as we saw early in the show when Kara Starbuck Thrace is shot down on an uninhabitable moon.
These suits do have great helmets that afford quite a bit of visibility and can be pressurized, but theres still some sci-fi artistic license. They look improbably easy to move around in, and dont appear to have a whole lot of life-support options. If youre shot out, youve better hope for a quick rescue.
The 2000 film Mission to Mars is an exercise in exasperation, and the space suits that its characters use are no exception. These suits are used interchangeably between surface and space expeditions, and the helmets look as though they limit ones vision quite a bit.
But there are some good things here too: the suits piggyback off the design of real space suits, and include some realistic details like backpacks, chest controls, flexible joints, and color-coded suits.
Interstellar calls back to past cinematic space suits, which certainly look plausible and realistic, with details like color-coding for different characters. These appear mainly to be used for ground excursions, or for when theyre performing maneuvers in the Endurance. They do have some neat features, like thrusters mounted on the arms that dont seem all that practical for long-term use.
But ultimately, these suits just look … kind of boring, which is a shame, given that most of the films design is really distinctive.
Weeks before Michael Bay started filming his 1998 blockbuster Armageddon, he apparently went to the props department and was dismayed at the space suits that he saw. It looked like an Adidas jogging suit on a rack, he complained. And if you dont have cool space suits, your entire movie is screwed.
The film actually does use some realistic suits. The characters train in a dive tank at NASA, and theyre later seen in the Advanced Crew Escape Suit that real shuttle crews wore during launches. But the suits they wear on the asteroid are fictional next-generation designs. They look a bit complicated, and are designed specifically for ground missions, carrying thrusters to keep someone on the ground in a low gravity environment. Props for specific purposes there.
Incidentally, the same years other blow-up-the-asteroid-before-it-strikes-the-Earth movie Deep Impact also featured astronauts at work in space. But that production used some suits that looked quite a bit more like the ones that are really used by astronauts.
An underrated sci-fi classic is the 1981 film Outland, which featured Sean Connery as a Federal Marshal working on a mining colony on Jupiters moon Io. The film features a fairly iconic suit, with a massive helmet with lights designed to show off the actors face.
The suits look pretty basic: theyre color coded, have a life support system and a couple of tubes that look as though theyll get caught on things, but they look fairly rugged and easy to use for their wearers. Those interior lights would probably get annoying though: I can imagine that theyd reflect off the helmets inner surface and be really distracting.
Sam Bell, the sole occupant of a mining facility in Duncan Jones debut film Moon, uses a really fantastic-looking space suit. Bells suit draws some inspiration from NASAs astronauts, as well as some classic science fiction films, like Alien.
This space suit is designed for excursions out onto the lunar surface or driving a rover, and its simple enough for one person to don. (Good when youre the only person there.) The helmet pops off easily enough, and there are plenty of lights for a worker to use while out and about, but the props department didnt add extras just for show. Another nice touch: Sams suit even appears visibly well-used when the film begins.
Its hard to find a space suit design thats more iconic than the one from Stanley Kubricks 2001: A Space Odyssey. These suits appear a couple of times in the film in a couple of different environments: first when the characters go into Tycho Crater to explore an anomaly, and later, on the ship Discovery One.
These suits are designed with a good dose of cool 1960s futurism, but they also get a lot of details right, thanks to designers who worked in the space and tech industry. They have control panels and life support, and seem to perform their jobs well, at least when you have your helmet on. Chris Hadfield later noted that the production even captured things like the sound of breathing while suited up. The production was even good enough to make people think Kubrick faked the Moon landings a year later.
The Alien franchise is loaded with cool space suits, some better than others. Alien leads the way with the suits the crew of the Nostromos uses for surface EVAs. These look appropriately designed for use in a harsh environment, while the space ship comes equipped with another space EVA suit stashed away in its shuttle. The suits in Alien: Covenant, which Adam Savage geeked out over at San Diego Comic-Con, are also dedicated-purpose designs, meant for light EVA and surface work. And then theres the hard suit thats used for more heavy lifting, and has a completely different design.
But there are also some misses, like the surface suit used in Prometheus. These suits are beautiful: skintight, lightly armored, with a fantastic bubble helmet. But as cool as they look, they dont seem very functional for serious or unexpected work and theyre not good at all at keeping alien acid vomit at bay.
The Expanse is set in a plausibly-realistic future in which much of humanity lives and works around the solar system, and a result, the shows characters use a variety space suits. In most cases, what we see are really utilitarian garments, used by blue collar workers on space ships or space stations.
These suits look as though they are designed with an eye towards practicality, and theyre not overly large or cumbersome. The helmets provide protection and some visibility, with lots of interchangeable parts or attachments for specific needs, such as working on depressurized parts of a spaceship, or out on an asteroid. Like Fireflys suits, they appear to be well-worn and patched, but these look like theyre quite a bit more durable than those ones.
There are high-tech suits in the show as well: the Martian military uses some heavily armored designs for their soldiers and Marines, who appear to be right at home in space, or on the surface of uninhabitable planets and moons. These suits are not only designed to protect a wearer from outer space, but also to wage war in a vacuum or on the ground.
Of all the films on this list, Gravity draws the most from the real world, so it naturally takes its cues from real equipment. The characters also use a couple of different suits, which is a nice touch: at one point, Dr. Ryan Stone dons a Russian space suit when she escapes into a Soyuz lander.
The film does take some liberties, though. Stone gets in and out of these suits really easily, and doesnt wear a cooling garment, whereas in real life, these are suits that are quite complicated to put on. But their appearance is as close as we can realistically expect in a big-budget Hollywood film.
In most cases, a film space suit is a film space suit. Sometimes, however, film designers recognize that they need something really specific. Case in point is the EVA suit used in Danny Boyles movie Sunshine. What really makes this suit really stand apart is its golden exterior, and the fact that it isnt designed for any sort of multi-purpose use. Its intended only for the Icarus and its mission to go close to the sun, and allow the astronauts onboard to go outside if needed in an environment of intense light.
This one is incredibly beautiful: its got a golden-reflective surface to protect its wearer from the intense rays from the sun, and was inspired by some unlikely sources, such as Samurai armor and deep-sea diving suits.
The Martian (both the book and the movie) is a story thats a realistic and plausible take on a future mission to Mars, and Mark Watneys space suit is probably one of the most important environments in the story. After being stranded on Mars, he spends a considerable amount of time in one.
The EVA suit used in The Martian certainly doesnt look anything like what the real Apollo astronauts used on the Moon. However, its designed with an eye towards of realism for what a Martian mission might require. The helmet is designed to impart as much visibility to the wearer as possible, and provides plenty of critical information. It also looks like parts can be worked on or switched out if needed, useful when youre far from home. Another bonus comes from the book: theyre each tailored for an individual astronaut, and they arent a one-size-fits-all garment.
The film also goes above and beyond by showing that space suits arent multi-purpose: theres one for the ground operations, but also an EVA suit for use in space, which looks really close to modern suits that NASA currently uses.
Posted: at 6:31 pm
Imagine a Star Wars movie in which there are no wars that take place in the stars. It sounds slightly insane, but if an Obi-Wan Kenobi standalone movie really happens, it could be the first film in the space-saga to not take place in outer space. And there are two good reasons.
First, if the film takes place between Episode III and Episode IV then Obi-Wan is supposed to be on Tatooine the entire time. Sure, its possible something else could be going on in the galaxy that audiences glimpse, but maybe not. If Kenobi was serious in his pledge to watch-over young Luke Skywalker, then leaving Tatooine would be a dereliction of that duty. In other words, if the movie stays with Old Bens point-of-view for the entire film, he probably wont get off the planet.
Second, Obi-Wan Kenobi for some reason really dislikes space travel. He mentions that he hates flying while battling Jango Fett in an asteroid field in Attack of the Clones. And at the beginning of Revenge of the Sith, while piloting his Jedi Starfighter, he says dismissively, flying is for droids! Would Obi-Wan prefer self-driving spaceships?
If the Obi-Wan movie doesnt have any space travel in it, certain fans could possibly claim its not a real Star Wars movie. But, then again, the point of these standalone feels is in theory to do something different with the franchise. If Star Wars is to really take risks with its subject matter, then maybe the best thing an Obi-Wan movie could do is to ground its characters. Literally.
As of this writing, there is no release date or confirmation of the Obi-Wan movie.
Posted: August 18, 2017 at 5:33 am
Thursday, August 17, 2017 at 10:54 a.m.
Illustration by Matt Griesmyer
An Oklahoma Congressman is President Donald Trumps choice to be the next NASA administrator, according to reports, but his plans for space may be pulled back to Earth by the man who hired him.
NASA Watch, a niche news organization that focuses on the space industry, reported Wednesday that Rep. Jim Bridenstine will be NASAs next leader. A Rice University graduate, Bridenstine is an aviator in the Navy Reserve and has served in Congress since 2012. He has not commented on speculation that hell soon join NASA.
In his five years in Congress, Bridenstine has shown an enthusiasm for space exploration, and said he wants the United States to reinvest in space and NASA, including more moon missions to explore the possibility of establishing a base there.
In 2016, the congressman sponsored the American Space Renaissance Act, which aims to project military strength through an American presence in space, spur commercial space innovation and provide clear goals and deadlines for NASA. In a website he created to promote the legislation, Bridenstine noted how often technology created for space travel has benefited the everyday lives of Americans and argued that the United States may cede influence over space by neglecting NASA.
Unfortunately, continued socioeconomic growth from space technology maturation and increased space access is no longer assured, Bridenstine wrote. Space is becoming more congested, contested, and competitive. We must establish responsible governance that will prevent mishaps, misperceptions, and mistrust, while assuring the use of space for all responsible parties. As a military pilot, I can attest that our national security and our very way of life require both military and commercial space capabilities.
The bill did not make it out of committee and received just a single co-sponsor, highlighting the struggle NASA has had finding the money it needs for its missions. Since the glory days of NASA, government investment in the space agency has dwindled. In 1966, in the middle of the Apollo Program, NASA spending accounted for 4.5 percent of the federal budget. Now, that figure is less than half a percent. Since the end of the shuttle program in 2011, American astronauts have had to hitch a ride with Russian cosmonauts to the International Space Station.
Despite his ambitions for NASA and the American space industry, Bridenstine may be hamstrung by the administration that hired him. President Trumps FY 2018 budget includes $19.1 billion for NASA, a $561 million decrease from present levels that CBS News reported would eliminate some Earth science missions and put the kibosh on NASAs plan to retrieve a piece of an asteroid, an exercise that would prepare astronauts for the challenges of flying to Mars.
Where the president himself stands on NASA remains a mystery. In 2012, he criticized the Obama administration for cutting NASAs budget and forcing astronauts to hitchhike from Kazakhstan but he has yet to offer an alternative travel arrangement.
Trump did not articulate a clear vision for NASA during his presidential campaign. During a call with astronauts aboard the International Space Station, Trump asked astronauts to reach Mars “during my first term or, at worst, during my second term,” after those same astronauts told him this would not be possible until the 2030s. Plus, they’d need more money.
So Bridenstine may soon inherit a problem shared by leaders across the government: a president with grand plans unwilling to invest the time, expertise or investment to reaching them.
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