Today’s Deep Space Extra, Tuesday, September 1, 2015

September 1st, 2015

Today’s Deep Space Extra offers the latest reporting and commentary on space related activities from across the globe. Essayist urges the space community to temper its expectations of The Martian and the film’s power to enlist support for exploration. NASA assesses a life seeking, planetary science mission to Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Russia positions Soyuz rocket for launch with Russian, Danish and Kazakh astronauts to the International Space Station. SpaceX to resume Falcon 9 operations with more powerful version. NASA turns to freelance forums to seek solutions to space exploration obstacles. Veteran Italian test pilot joins Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo initiative.

Human Deep Space Exploration

The Martian’
The Space Review (8/31): Enjoy the drama of the forthcoming feature film The Martian, starring Matt Damon and based on writer Andy Weir’s novel of the same name, but do not harbor false hope that the movie will open a flood gate of new support for human deep space exploration, writes essayist Eric Sterner, a previous NASA Associate Deputy Administrator for Policy and Planning. Past films like Apollo 13, an Academy Award winner, and Gravity, succeeded because of the quality of their drama not because they were about space, says Sterner. What The Martian can do is motivate people to overcome the many kinds of obstacles that come their way, Sterner suggests. That, too, will better prepare humanity for the difficult challenges of human space exploration.

Unmanned Deep Space Exploration

NASA mulling life-hunting mission to Saturn moon Enceladus (8/31): NASA, through its competitive Discovery program, is mulling a planetary mission to Saturn’s moon Enceladus perhaps launching by the end of 2021. The agency is sorting through competing proposals and could have a decision by September 2016. The “Enceladus Life Finder” would fly through geyser like plumes rising from a subterranean ocean on Enceladus, using mass spectrometers to analyze the ejected material for life’s chemical building blocks.

Low Earth Orbit

Soyuz booster in position for crew launch (8/31): On Monday, Russia readied a Soyuz booster with the TMA-18M crew transport capsule for launching early Wednesday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with Russia’s Sergey Volkov, Denmark’s Andreas Mogensen and Kazakh cosmonaut Aidyn Aimbetov. Their launching is set for Wednesday at 12:37 a.m., EDT. Their 10 day mission starts with a two day flight to the International Space Station for spacecraft and personnel exchanges as well as research activities.

LEGO to launch: Astronaut from Denmark taking Danish toys to Space Station (8/31): Danish astronaut Andreas Mogensen is set to launch to the International Space Station early Wednesday with Russian and Kazakh cosmonaut companions. Mogensen will be carrying LEGO mini figures as part of a European Space Agency sponsored educational project. The launch of the Soyuz spacecraft with the three men from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan is set for Wednesday at 12:37 a.m. EDT. The 10 day mission is set to dock with the space station early Friday for an exchange of Soyuz capsules and personnel.

Commercial to Low Earth Orbit

SpaceX to debut upgraded Falcon 9 on return to flight mission
Space News (8/31): SpaceX plans to return its Falcon 9 to launch status in an upgraded version “in a couple of months.” Once scheduled to debut in September, ungraded Falcon 9 operations were stalled by a June 28 launch failure with cargo bound for the International Space Station. The return to flight launch is a “couple of months” away, longer than originally anticipated, SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell told the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Space 2015 conference in Pasadena, Calif. on Monday. The company identified a failed internal second stage truss as the root cause of the loss, but is examining the launch vehicle for other weak points, said Shotwell. The Falcon 9 upgrade is to bring a 30 percent increase in launch performance.

NASA turns to freelancers to solve challenges in space exploration (8/31): NASA’s availing itself of the freelance economy to solve a range of space exploration issues with forums such as and to InnoCentive, NineSigma, Appirio and TopCoder for more challenging requirements. “We have lots and lots of hard problems we’re trying to solve,” notes Steve Rader, NASA Johnson Space Center Deputy Manager at the agency’s Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation. “NASA is about getting the biggest bang for its buck. This allows us to involve the public.”


Virgin Galactic selects Nicola Pecile as new pilot
Spaceflight Insider (8/31): Pecile comes to Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo program from the National Test Pilot School in Mojave, Calif., and is a veteran of the Italian Air Force as a fighter and test pilot.

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