“NASA is Facing a Climate Countdown,” the New York Times declared Monday in a story explaining the acute impact rising sea levels could have on NASA. About two-thirds of the land NASA manages is within five meters of sea level, including launch sites at the Kennedy Space Center and Houston’s Johnson Space Center. Increases in sea levels could result in more frequent coastal flooding at those locations, jeopardizing billions of dollars of the agency’s infrastructure.
The threat of rising sea levels isn’t news to NASA, which has been evaluating the possible effects of climate change on its coastal infrastructure for nearly a decade.
Indeed, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden highlighted the threat in a March 2015 exchange with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the Senate Commerce space subcommittee chairman seeking the GOP presidential nomination.
During a hearing that focused on what NASA’s priorities should be, Cruz expressed concern that NASA was spending too much money on Earth science and not enough on exploration programs. “I would suggest that almost any American would agree that the core function of NASA is to explore space,” Cruz said.
“We can’t go anywhere if the Kennedy Space Center goes underwater and we don’t know it,” Bolden replied.
The head of Roscosmos says there is no truth to claims that the upper stage that launched the ExoMars mission last month broke apart afterwards. Amateur astronomers tracking the launch noticed a number of objects in the vicinity of the Breeze-M upper stage after spacecraft separation, leading some to conclude the stage suffered a problem that caused it to shed debris. Roscosmos chief Igor Komarov said recently the stage performed normally, with no evidence of an explosion or breakup. Khrunichev, the manufacturer of the upper stage, also said there were no problems with the stage, and it should not pose an issue for the next Proton launch in May. [SpaceNews]
Orbital ATK wants to use this year’s defense authorization bill to end a ban on the use of ICBM motors for commercial launches. The company said it’s working to get language included in the bill that would end a long-standing policy of using retired ICBM assets only for government-sponsored launches. Orbital ATK says the move would allow it to offer its Minotaur 4 rocket at a lower cost, making it more competitive internationally. Other companies developing their own small launchers oppose the move, saying it would give Orbital ATK an unfair advantage. [Reuters]
Arianespace has reorganized its management structure and added new members to its executive committee. The company’s new organization, announced Monday, consists of four “operational directorates”: sales and business development, missions, engineering and operations, and technical and quality. Three “cross-functional directorates” handle administration and finance, human resources, and brand and communications. The reorganization, the company said in a statement, is designed to improve the company’s efficiency. The company also added four officials to its expanded executive committee. [Arianespace]
Russia has formally set April 27 as the date for the first launch from the Vostochny Cosmodrome. Roscosmos announced the launch date Monday after the completion of tests at the new spaceport in Russia’s Far East last month. Previous reports targeted a launch some time in late April. That launch will be of a Soyuz-2 rocket carrying several small satellites. [TASS]
A NASA plane used for microgravity research nearly crashed on a controversial cargo flight to Greenland. Documents obtained from NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) claim that the C-9 aircraft, intended for parabolic reduced gravity flights, was flown to Thule, Greenland, in March 2012 to deliver cargo for the Navy, even though the plane was not designed for arctic operations, and “almost suffered a landing accident” in the conditions there. The plane was also used to transport cargo to Costa Rica, apparently in support of a company led by former astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz. OIG closed the investigation without taking action, and the plane has since been retired. [Motherboard]
Chinese officials feel “regret” that India sent a mission to Mars before China. Ye Peijian, a senior official in the Chinese space program, said the country had earlier plans for Mars missions but they were shelved “for a number of reasons”, allowing India’s Mars Orbiter Mission to get to Mars first, in 2014. China is now working on a 2020 Mars mission that includes a lander and rover. “By doing this, our Mars exploration could suddenly reach the advanced world-class level,” he said. [gbtimes]
Astronomers have found an alternative explanation for an observation originally linked to a mysterious fast radio burst. That radio observation, announced earlier this year, indicated the fast radio burst took place in a galaxy six billion light years away. However, in a new paper, another team of astronomers found that the radio source in that distant galaxy persisted, varying in strength by a factor of three, which should not be the case if it was caused by a fast radio burst. That signals can instead be explained by a supermassive black hole in the galaxy’s center. [Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics]
Grumpy Old Astronaut
“I was just blessed that I got cyberbullied by Buzz Aldrin. Now I can tell that story for the rest of my life.”
– Former astronaut Scott Kelly, recounting a Twitter exchange last year when President Obama asked Kelly, then on the station, if he ever just looks out the window and “freaks out.” “He’s 249 miles above the earth. Piece of cake,” Aldrin responded then. “Neil, Mike & I went 239,000 miles to the moon.” Kelly, who retired from the astronaut corps last week, was speaking Monday at a Microsoft conference in New Orleans. [GeekWire]