Cape Canaveral, May 15 (AP/UNB) — NASA's chief said Tuesday that the Trump administration's proposed $1.6 billion budget boost is a "good start" for getting astronauts back on the moon within five years.
Administrator Jim Bridenstine addressed employees a day after the White House introduced the budget amendment.
During an hourlong town hall from NASA headquarters in Washington, Bridenstine said $1.6 billion is enough for 2020. But more money will be needed in the years ahead to land "the next man and the first woman" at the south pole of the moon by 2024.
NASA is once again turning to Greek mythology for the name of the project. It's being called Artemis, after the twin sister of Apollo. Apollo was the name of NASA's moonshot program that, 50 years ago this summer, achieved the first manned lunar landing.
NASA landed 12 men on the moon over six Apollo missions. For the next go-around, the space agency wants its moonwalkers to reflect today's more diverse astronaut corps, thus the name of Apollo's sister. Artemis was goddess of the hunt as well as the moon.
"I have a daughter, she's 11 years old, and I want her to see herself in the same position that our current, very diverse astronaut corps currently sees itself, having the opportunity to go to the moon," Bridenstine said. "In the 1960s, young ladies didn't have the opportunity to see themselves in that role. Today, they do."
Bridenstine said he's heartened by the fact that the extra money, if approved by Congress, will come from outside NASA, rather than being taken from the International Space Station or other departments within the space agency.
The administration seeks to use money from Pell Grants for college education, for NASA's new spending.
Bridenstine said he's already heard criticism of how the new spending will be "dead on arrival" in Congress because neither NASA nor the administration worked in advance with Congress on it. As a former congressman from Oklahoma, he said he knows how the process works and assured the space agency's 17,000 employees that would not be the case.
"This is a good out-of-the-gate first start, a very honest proposal from the administration that keeps us all together, moving forward," he said.
He also plugged NASA's ongoing Space Launch System megarocket and Orion spacecraft, both under development, and a proposed outpost in the vicinity of the moon, called Gateway.
A few hours later, Bridenstine found himself before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, talking up the Artemis moon plan. The space agency envisions that the effort will involve private industry as well as other countries. Just last week, Amazon chief Jeff Bezos introduced a mock-up of his own planned lunar lander for his Blue Origin space company.
In March, Vice President Mike Pence urged NASA to accelerate its moon-landing program, moving it up from 2028 to 2024.
NASA has flip-flopped between the moon and Mars, a victim of changing presidential administrations. More recently, President Barack Obama targeted Mars as astronauts' next big destination, while President Donald Trump has favored the moon.
Santa Fe, May 11 (AP/UNB) — Billionaire Richard Branson is moving Virgin Galactic's winged passenger rocket and more than 100 employees from California to a remote commercial launch and landing facility in southern New Mexico, bringing his space-tourism dream a step closer to reality.
Branson said Friday at a news conference that Virgin Galactic's development and testing program has advanced enough to make the move to the custom-tailored hangar and runway at the taxpayer-financed Spaceport America facility near the town of Truth or Consequences.
Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said a small number of flight tests are pending. He declined to set a specific deadline for the first commercial flight.
An interior cabin for the company's space rocket is being tested, and pilots and engineers are among the employees relocating from California to New Mexico. The move to New Mexico puts the company in the "home stretch," Whitesides said.
The manufacturing of the space vehicles by a sister enterprise, The Spaceship Company, will remain based in the community of Mojave, California.
Taxpayers invested over $200 million in Spaceport America after Branson and then-Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, pitched the plan for the facility, with Virgin Galactic as the anchor tenant.
Virgin Galactic's spaceship development has taken far longer than expected and had a major setback when the company's first experimental craft broke apart during a 2014 test flight, killing the co-pilot.
Branson thanked New Mexico politicians and residents for their patience over the past decade. He said he believes space tourism — once aloft — is likely to bring about profound change.
"Our future success as a species rests on the planetary perspective," Branson said. "The perspective that we know comes sharply into focus when that planet is viewed from the black sky of space."
Branson described a vision of hotels in space and a network of spaceports allowing supersonic, transcontinental travel anywhere on earth within a few hours. He indicated, however, that building financial viability comes first.
"We need the financial impetus to be able to do all that," he said. "If the space program is successful as I think ... then the sky is the limit."
In February, a new version of Virgin Galactic's winged craft SpaceShipTwo soared at three times the speed of sound to an altitude of nearly 56 miles (99 kilometers) in a test flight over Southern California, as a crew member soaked in the experience.
On Friday, that crew member, Beth Moses, recounted her voyage into weightlessness and the visual spectacle of pitch-black space and the earth below.
"Everything is silent and still and you can unstrap and float about the cabin," she said. "Pictures do not do the view from space justice. ... I will be able to see it forever."
The company's current spaceship doesn't launch from the ground. It is carried under a special plane to an altitude of about 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) before detaching and igniting its rocket engine.
"Release is like freefall at an amusement park, except it keeps going," Moses said. "And then the rocket motor lights. Before you know it, you're supersonic."
The craft coasts to the top of its climb before gradually descending to earth, stabilized by "feathering" technology in which twin tails rotate upward to increase drag on the way to a runway landing.
Branson previously has said he would like to make his first suborbital flight this year as one of the venture's first passengers on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20. But he made no mention of timelines on Friday.
Pressed on the timeframe, Whitesides said he anticipates the first commercial flight within a year.
Three people with future space-flight reservations were in the audience.
"They've been patient too," Branson said. "Space is hard."
Hundreds of potential customers have committed as much as $250,000 up front for rides in Virgin's six-passenger rocket, which is about the size of an executive jet.
Space tourism has not been a complete novelty since millionaire U.S. engineer Dennis Tito in 2001 paid $20 million to join a Russian space mission to the International Space Station. Branson's goal has been to "democratize" space by opening travel up to more and more people.
The endeavor began in 2004 when Branson announced the founding of Virgin Galactic in the heady days after the flights of SpaceShipOne, the first privately financed manned spacecraft that made three flights into space.
Space sector analyst Adam Jonas, a managing director of equity research at Morgan Stanley, said Branson's venture could have an outsized impact in the age of social media on how the public visualizes space as a domain for scientific and commercial exploration.
"You bring them back to earth and they explain what they saw — that's a story, put through the velocity of social media, people want to hear," he said. "Sometimes you need some distance to gain a perspective, seeing the earth from space, seeing how thin that layer of atmosphere is that protects us."
Branson's plans have gradually advanced amid a broader surge in private investment in space technology with cost-saving innovations in reusable rockets and microsatellite technology.
Amazon tycoon Jeff Bezos announced Thursday that his space company Blue Origin will send a robotic spaceship to the moon with aspirations for another ship that could bring people there along the same timeframe as NASA's proposed 2024 return. Bezos has provided no details about launch dates.
Cape Canaveral, April 11 (AP/UNB) — SpaceX has delayed the launch of its newest mega rocket because of dangerously high wind.
The Falcon Heavy was poised to blast off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesday night with a communication satellite. But SpaceX chief Elon Musk said upper-level wind shear was extremely high.
SpaceX will try again Thursday evening. It will be just the second time a Falcon Heavy soars. Last year's test flight put a sports car — Musk's own Tesla convertible — into space. It's almost certainly still in orbit around the sun with a mannequin at the wheel.
The Falcon Heavy is the most powerful rocket in use today. SpaceX will try to land two of the first-stage boosters back at Cape Canaveral and the core booster on an ocean platform.
Washington, Apr 10 (AP/UNB) — Scientists have revealed the first images ever made of a black hole.
Astronomers revealed the picture on Wednesday in Washington. They assembled data gathered by eight radio telescopes around the world to show the violent neighborhood near a supermassive black hole.
The image looks like a glowing eye. Co-discoverer Jessica Dempsey says it is a vivid ring of light that reminds her of the powerful flaming Eye of Sauron from the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Nothing, not even light, escapes from supermassive black holes. They are the light-sucking monsters of the universe theorized by Einstein more than a century ago and confirmed by observations for decades. The event horizon is the point of no return around them.
The results are being published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Cape Canaveral, Apr 8 (AP/UNB) — Spacewalking astronauts are tackling battery and cable work outside the International Space Station.
It's the third spacewalk in just 2 ½ weeks for the station crew.
NASA astronaut Anne McClain and Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques got an early start Monday morning. They need to complete battery swap-outs that began last month and lay cable.
The new cabling will provide a backup power circuit for the station's Canadian-made robot arm and expand wireless communications. The battery work involves re-installing two old batteries. One of the six new lithium-ion batteries doesn't work, and so the outdated pair made of nickel hydrogen need to go back into the slot.
NASA says it will send up another new battery.