Inside this issue:

NSS Signs MOU with International Space University

NSS Co-hosts Space Tourism Conference

New Dates Set for This Year’s World Space Week

Sign Up Now for ISDC 2001: $45 Registration Rate Extended to August 15

NSS Members Win a Victory for Space During Election Year

Binder Testifies on Lunar Prospector’s Faster, Better, Cheaper Success

New Plasma Rocket May Lead to Quicker Interplanetary Flights

Reminder: We Need Email Addresses!



NSS has signed a memorandum of understanding with the International
Space University (ISU), headquartered in Strasbourg, France. ISU
( has established a reputation as an international center of
excellence educating the space professionals of tomorrow. NSS and ISU share
the common objectives of educating the public about the potential of space
and working to stimulate space development. NSS President DAN BRANDENSTEIN
and Executive Director PAT DASCH met with ISU leaders in France in April to
discuss closer collaboration.

This summer, NSS’s Center for Lunar Research
( is supporting a student on ISU’s summer program
with an interest in space tourism and an emphasis on lunar tourism. Future
collaboration on special interest seminars and courses is expected.


NSS members have long supported the idea of space tourism as a
precursor to space settlement. The Society continued its efforts to realize
both of these dreams on June 26 by co-hosting the Space Travel and Tourism
Division of the Space Transportation Association’s conference, “Going Public
2000: Moving Toward the Development of a Large Space Travel and Tourism
Business.” The conference was held at the Cannon Office Building on Capitol
Hill in Washington. NSS Governor BUZZ ALDRIN spoke on a panel titled “Report
on the Business State of Space Travel and Tourism.” NSS Executive Director
PAT DASCH was on a panel addressing the stakeholder’s evaluation along with
Patti Grace Smith from the FAA, former NSS Executive Director LORI GARVER
from NASA, and representatives from Capitol Hill and the State Department.
Other sessions covered at the conference included “Reports From Japan and
Germany,” “The Private-Public Partnership Strategy for Overcoming the
Barriers and Removing the Obstacles to Space Travel and Tourism,” “Reports
>From Space Travel and Tourism Enabling Committees,” and “Setting Next Year’s
Agenda and Expectations.” For more information on the conference visit the
Space Transportation Association web site (


NSS and other space organizations will spend the summer planning for
the first celebration of World Space Week. At last year’s United Nation’s
Space Conference (UNISPACE III), the U.N. declared that World Space Week
would be celebrated annually between 4-10 October. This date was selected
because it encompasses the anniversaries of the launch of Sputnik on October
4, 1957 and the signing of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. Seventeen nations
are currently planning Space Week celebrations. Look for more news on World
Space Week 2000 activities in NSS Online Report and at the Space Week web
site (



Next year’s 20th annual ISDC will be held May 24-28 at the Hilton
Hotel in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Sign up before August 15 for this exciting
event and save 50% on registration!

ISDC 2001 will have four main simultaneous program tracks: Space
Technologies and Systems; Exploration and Utilization of Space; Space Science
Education (programs for teachers and students, also contains some less
technical sessions for the general public); and Special Topics (including
Space Industrialization, Space Law, International Policy, Space Medicine,
Astronomy, and many other topics). A CD ROM of the proceedings will be
distributed, free of charge, to registrants at the conference. Visit the web
site at to view the detailed “Call for Papers.” Abstracts
are due October 13.

An Asteroid/Comet Workshop will be held in conjunction with ISDC
2001. It will address exploration and mining of near-Earth asteroids, and
defense against asteroid/comet impact including the dangers and risks
associated with asteroid or comet impact, technology developments that can
help mitigate the threat, and international progress towards this end.
Preventing the next asteroid or comet impact on our planet is an important
technical challenge on which progress is being made. The effort is global
and much of the work has been done in the United States, in general, and in
New Mexico, Arizona and California, in particular. The last open technical
review of programs was in 1995, at the Lawrence Livermore National
Laboratory. The Workshop at ISDC 2001 will update that review and discuss
progress in the areas of impact effects forecasting, early-warning, defense,
civil preparedness, asteroid/comet exploration, and asteroid mining.

The ISDC 2001 registration form will be available in the July/August
issue of Ad Astra (inside the back cover), and at the conference web site, Sign up by August 15 to take advantage of the discounted
$45 registration fee!


Space activists Marianne Dyson, John Strickland and Pat Jackson have
reported continued success in bringing space issues to the attention of
candidates and elected officials in their home state of Texas. During an
election year convention, they championed several changes to their political
party’s platform to endorse current and future space efforts.

One of the most important items brought to the attention of the
convention was the need for a long-term goal in space. Activists Dyson,
Strickland, and Jackson, NSS members, successfully argued that the
appropriate goal is space settlement. In support of this goal, they
advocated continued funding for NASA and the Space Station, as well as
support for commercial ventures. They also identified cheaper and more
reliable space transportation as a critical need, and discussed the potential
of space power as an alternative energy source.


With all the attention given to recent failures, it is easy to forget
that NASA’s experiment with “Faster, Better, Cheaper” (FBC) missions has also
produced some stunning successes. The most widely-reported success was the
mission of Mars Pathfinder. However, a year after its planned crash into a
crater, scientists are just beginning to appreciate the wealth of data
returned by the equally successful Lunar Prospector (

On June 20, NSS Governor ALAN BINDER, the Principal Investigator for
the Lunar Prospector mission, gave testimony on successful operation of the
“faster, better, cheaper” approach to mission management before the House
Committee on Science. This hearing, the Committee’s second on NASA’s Mars
Program, is a follow-up to the Young Report on the failed Mars Climate
Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander missions. NSS was also invited to submit
written testimony for this hearing. That testimony will soon be available at
the NSS website (

While in Washington, Dr. Binder also gave a public presentation on
Lunar Prospector at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space
Museum. Lunar Prospector, a part of NASA’s Discovery program of small
science spacecraft, was required to fly for under $250 million, including
launch costs. The target for Discovery missions is approximately one half of
this cap and, according to Binder, Lunar Prospector was one of the few
missions to approach that goal. Lunar Prospector was selected by NASA in
February 1995. The spacecraft was ready for flight only 22 months later, but
waited an additional five months before its launch aboard a Lockheed Martin
Athena rocket.

There were a number of objectives for the mission, mostly related to
mapping the Moon’s surface and gravitational and magnetic fields. Prospector
also investigated the chemical composition of the Moon, and searched for
signs that water ice might be present there. In addition to these scientific
objectives, however, Binder said that the mission was also intended to assess
the feasibility of commercial Lunar exploration and rekindle interest in
returning to and establishing a permanent presence on the Moon.

The 296 kg spacecraft was a cylinder 1.3 meters wide and 1.2 meters
tall. A solid rocket motor was initially attached to one end, with some of
the science instruments protruding from the other. The spacecraft was
deceptively simple, with no on-board computer and only a rudimentary command
and data handling subsystem. No redundancy was built into Prospector’s
systems. The spacecraft was spin-stabilized and only infrequent thruster
firings were required to maintain the right orbit for science operations.
Ground operations were equally simple, with a team of four people, including
Binder, responsible for the spacecraft’s health and science operations.

One of the biggest challenges for the Prospector team was predicting
the spacecraft’s orbit. There was not enough detailed information from
previous missions to develop an accurate model of the Moon’s gravitational
field. Despite the fact that small variations in the field can have a very
big effect on Lunar orbits, the Prospector team was forced to make their best
guess. Fortunately, it was quite accurate, and the gravity field model was
steadily refined throughout the mission using tracking data from NASA’s Deep
Space Network.

The Lunar Prospector data set is still being analyzed, with some of
the work being undertaken by NSS’s Center for Lunar Research
(, but it is already yielding exciting results.
For example, the Prospector data has confirmed estimates of the Moon’s mass
and supports the presence of a cool (relative to the Earth) core. Prospector
also discovered concentrations of material transported all the way around the
Moon and magnetized by the force of giant impacts. As for the most eagerly
awaited results of the mission, Prospector did find evidence of Hydrogen
concentrations in the polar regions. According to Binder, it will take a
surface mission or even a human expedition to determine with certainty if
water is present, or if the Hydrogen was simply deposited by the solar wind.

In addition to the water needed for any extended human habitation,
Binder believes the Moon has other resources to offer. Besides huge reserves
of basic minerals and smaller concentrations of exotic and valuable elements,
the Moon also provides a truly unique destination for filmmakers and space
tourists. Binder indicated that there is already corporate interest in these
opportunities, and his Lunar Research Institute is currently planning a
series of commercial missions leading to the eventual establishment of a
commercial lunar base.


NASA Astronaut Dr. Franklin Chang-Diaz has been working on Plasma
Rocket technology for over twenty years. Now, the Johnson Space Center’s
Advanced Space Propulsion Laboratory, under his direction, has moved one step
closer to deploying a Plasma Rocket that could carry humans to Mars in just
over one-third the time required by chemical rockets. NASA has signed an
agreement with MSE Technology Applications of Butte, Montana to work on
development of the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR).
The new agreement calls for a joint collaborative effort to develop advanced
propulsion technologies, with no money exchanged between the two parties.

The VASIMR engine consists of three linked magnetic cells. Neutral
gas, typically hydrogen, is injected at the forward cell and ionized. In the
central cell, radio waves transfer their energy to the plasma, heating it in
a manner similar to the way a microwave oven works. After heating, the
plasma is exhausted through the aft cell, a magnetic nozzle, which converts
the energy of the plasma into velocity of the jet exhaust. Throughout this
process, the hot plasma is magnetically contained so that it never touches
engine components.

A key to the technology is the capability to vary, or modulate, the
plasma exhaust to maintain optimal propulsive efficiency. On a mission to
Mars, such a rocket would continuously accelerate through the first half of
its voyage, then reverse its attitude and slow down during the second half.
The flight could take slightly over three months. A conventional chemical
mission would take seven to eight months and involve long periods of
unpowered drift en route.

NSS Members first learned about this technology during a lecture by Dr.
Chang-Diaz at ISDC 1999 in Houston, Texas. A detailed article on the Plasma
Rocket is also in work for a future issue of AD ASTRA. Until then, more
information on ASPL and the Plasma Rocket can be found on the NASA Human
Spaceflight web (


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NSS Online Report

Issue #5 / July 7, 2000

Editor: Joshua Powers (

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