Beautiful New "Blue Marble" Image

1200 x 1200 pixel 500 kilobyte version

8000 x 8000 pixel 16 megabyte version

This striking “Blue Marble” image of the Earth was taken January 4th by NASA’s newest Earth-observing satellite, the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP). The satellite was named after the late Verner E. Suomi, a meteorologist at the University of Wisconsin who is recognized widely as “the father of satellite meteorology.” The image was taken by the largest of the satellite’s instruments, the Visible/Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS). This composite image was created using a number of swaths of the Earth’s surface over the course of four orbits. More information.

Day of Remembrance

The last week of January includes an annual observance to remember those who lost their lives in pursuing a goal of human spaceflight.

President Obama said on January 26: “It is important to remember that pushing the boundaries of space requires great courage and has come with a steep price three times in our Nation’s history – for the crews of Apollo 1 and the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia. The loss of these pioneers is felt every day by their family, friends, and colleagues, but we take comfort in the knowledge that their spirit will continue to inspire us to new heights.

“Today, our Nation is pursuing an ambitious path that honors these heroes, builds on their sacrifices, and promises to expand the limits of innovation as we venture farther into space than we have ever gone before. The men and women who lost their lives in the name of space exploration helped get us to this day, and it is our duty to honor them the way they would have wanted to be honored – by focusing our sights on the next horizon.”

On Thursday, Charlie Bolden, NASA Administrator laid a wreath at Arlington Cemetery and said, “This last week of January, as we do every year, the NASA family honors those who have lost their lives carrying out our missions and pays tribute to their lives and memories.

“So on this Day of Remembrance, we honor the Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia crews, as well as other members of the NASA family who died supporting NASA’s mission of exploration. We thank them and their families for their extraordinary sacrifices in the service of our nation.”

Transcript of Newt Gingrich January 25 Space Policy Speech

Newt Gingrich Town Hall Meeting on Space Policy, January 25, 2012, Cocoa, Florida

Transcript of 25-minute speech, courtesy of National Space Society [PDF version]

See also: Video of speech on C-SPAN

and NSS Press Release

What I’d like to do is a little different than most of the gatherings like this that we’ve done, and I’d like to use this as an opportunity to talk in a serious way about space and about how we reorganize what we’re doing and what we think about what we’re doing.

Now, I have a deep passion about this because I’m old enough that I used to read Missiles and Rockets magazine back in the – a couple of you are old enough to know what I’m talking about here – I’m talking about late 1950s, right? – before it merged with Aviation Week. And I was right at the right point as a youngster to be totally fascinated with Sputnik and I had been reading science fiction and Isaac Asimov in particular and it helped shape my life, so I come at space from the standpoint of romantic belief that it really is part of our destiny, and it has been tragic to see what has happened to our space program over the last 30 years [applause].

I actually wrote a section of a book called Windows of Opportunity in 1984 talking about what we could have done. We’ve had Bob Walker, who was chairman of the Science and Technology Committee and later on headed up the Walker Commission on Aerospace – he was with me in the early 1980s and we interviewed young NASA scientists and so I wrote a chapter in Windows of Opportunity about what would have happened if we had sustained the momentum of Apollo, and by the 1980s we would have had a permanent base on the Moon and we would have been on Mars. Just go back and look at the extraordinary trajectory.

I want to start, and because I used to be a history teacher, I want to put this in context, and what I want to talk to you about today is going to be very, very bold, and it’s going to be very different, and it’s going to make, frankly, some of the NASA bureaucracy uncomfortable, and there are going to be people in Washington who are going to say “Oh, my gosh – what if we are going to be flying rather than studying?” What if you were actually just getting things done instead of just having planning meetings? It will be a frightening change in the current pattern.

But let me put it in context, and I want to use three examples, the third of which is obvious and that’s John F. Kennedy. The first, though, is Abraham Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln in 1859 stands on the banks of the Missouri River at Council Bluffs, Iowa, and says we should build a Transcontinental Railroad. Now at the time that he says this we do not have the steel-making capacity to build the rails to get to California, and we do not have an engine powerful enough to get across the Sierra Nevadas.

In 1869 the railroad is completed.

Lincoln, however, is a fascinating study in the American passion for technology and progress. In 1832, as a very young man of 23, he runs for the state legislature for the first time. Part of his platform is to build a railroad in Illinois. Now, what makes this amazing is that the first railroad, the Rocket, built by Stephenson in Great Britain, was in 1829. The first railroad engine to reach the United States was in 1831. Lincoln has never seen a train. But he has read about it and he has imagination and he knows the prairie is long and he knows that a train would be better than walking. And he is campaigning in 1832 on an idea, the idea of progress, and I want to give you a few Lincolnian visions on space in here.

Second, the Wright Brothers. This is my core critique of NASA, and frankly of all government science in its current form, with the possible exception of DARPA. In the late 19th Century people were sort of right at the edge of flight. They kind of almost knew how to do it, they almost had the right engines, they were all looking at birds, and there were two parallel American projects that are fascinating.

The Smithsonian, arguably at that time the greatest scientific institution in the country, had a $50,000 grant from Congress to learn how to fly. And the Smithsonian had very smart scientists and they had connections to the best scientists in Germany and the best technicians and the best metallurgists, so they could order a really cool engine.

Meanwhile, in Dayton, Ohio, there were two brothers who ran a bicycle shop. Now, bicycles in the 1890s were a high-end technology. They actually merited a discussion in the census report of 1890 on the fact that bicycles were widespread and were allowing teenagers to escape from their parents and there were many sociological side effects from this new revolution.

So the Wright Brothers are here and in their spare time they are fascinated with flight. They actually build a wind tunnel. These are not unsophisticated people. They build a wind tunnel, they study birds, they go to the U.S. Government for important weather information. Where is the most continuous updraft in the United States? Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. It comes off the ocean, comes up the hill.

So the Wright Brothers for several years go down to Kitty Hawk every summer, and they take a lot of wood. Now, the reason they take a lot of wood is they know something very profound: They don’t know how to fly! It may seem obvious, but trust me, most government planners don’t get this [laughter and applause].

So what do the Wright Brothers do? They get up in the morning, they have built a very light plane with a very weak engine, and it’s going to start at the top of the hill and it’s going to go downhill, it’s going to have an updraft, and it crashes. They average six or seven crashes a day. And they stop and they fix it and they think about it and they talk about it, have some more coffee, and they try it again. This would go on for several years.

Finally in December of 1903, they have the first powered flight in history. One brother runs alongside the plane to make sure it doesn’t flip over; it doesn’t fly fast enough to get ahead of him. The entire first flight is shorter than the wingspan of a Boeing 747, and it never gets high enough to get over the fuselage of a 747. Small article in AP, December 7, 1903.

In 1907, they made enough progress that they fly around the island of Manhattan and a million and a half people see an airplane for the first time. Four years. Because they figured out the core thing, which is how to fly.

Now, by contrast, the Smithsonian, being a large government establishment of great prestige, with too much money, orders from Germany a really cool engine. Now, there is a problem with a really cool engine. It’s heavy. And if you have a heavy engine you have to build a heavy plane. And if you have a heavy engine and a heavy plane and you’re a Washington bureaucrat, you don’t want to go to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, which was nowhere. Kitty Hawk was so isolated that these guys were living in a tent.

And so, you say, “How am I going to get wind?” and you invest in something that we still use today – a catapult, on a boat – the precursor of the modern aircraft carrier. And you put it in the Potomac. You’re going to launch it off a boat because you’re smart and you have a theoretical study. And you invite the news media to come and watch your very first test [laughter] – you all probably know where this is going, right? – so, they get out there in the morning, the mist comes off the river, they launch the plane, and it goes straight into the water. Now, here’s the problem: When you have a plane land on ground it’s fairly easy to recover. When you have a plane that is heavier than water land in the Potomac River, it goes down, the current tears it up, and you have no idea what was wrong. It’s a one-time perfection problem.

Now the Smithsonian is deeply embarrassed because they look like fools, and then they get this Associated Press report that two bicycle mechanics have flown. The Smithsonian hostility to the Wright Brothers was so great that the Wright Brothers would not give them the original airplane for 37 years, because bureaucracies hate things that aren’t invented in the bureaucracy. There may be a lesson here for people in NASA and the Air Force.

Okay, I’m coming around here, bear with me. Third example. May 1961. And this is the model for what I am about to talk to you about.

May 1961. John F. Kennedy, representing a new generation, having taken power from Dwight David Eisenhower, launching a new sense of a new frontier, announces to the Congress we will go to the Moon before the end of the decade.

We did a movie called A City upon a Hill and we had Buzz Aldrin in the movie, and he is so convincing, and he said you have to realize the only person who had gone around the Earth at that point was Yuri Gagarin, a Russian, and the only American who had been in space had been on a suborbital flight. And here’s the President saying we will get to the Moon inside this decade. And you had to invent everything. Yeah, we had all the precursors and we had the V-2 and we had this and we had that, but the truth was if you listed every problem they solved by July of 1969, its one of the great periods of development in human history. And they just did it.

I’m giving this background for our friends in the news media because twice recently Governor Romney has made fun of me for having bold ideas in space and has suggested that the idea of having a permanent lunar colony – he actually didn’t catch the weirdest thing I’ve ever done and I’m going to tell you all because sooner or later his researchers will find it – at one point early in my career I introduced the Northwest Ordinance for Space, and I said when we get – I think the number was 13,000 – when we have 13,000 Americans living on the Moon they can petition to become a state [laughter and applause].

And here’s the difference between romantics and so-called practical people. I wanted every young American to say to themselves: I could be one of those 13,000. I could be a pioneer. I need to study science and math and engineering. I need to learn how to be a technician. I can be part of building a bigger, better future. I can actually go out and live the future looking at the solar system and being part of a generation of courageous people who do something big and bold and heroic.

And I will as President encourage the introduction for the Northwest Ordinance for Space to put a marker down that we want Americans to think boldly about the future and we want Americans to go out and study hard and work hard, and together we are going to unleash the American people to rebuild the country we love [applause].

So, I’m going to give you a set of goals and then I’m going to make a set of observations about how to achieve those goals.

By the end of my second term we will have the first permanent base on the Moon, and it will be American [applause].

We will have commercial near-Earth activities that include science, tourism, and manufacturing, and are designed to create a robust industry precisely on the model that was developed by the airlines in the 1930s, because it is in our interest to acquire so much experience in space that we clearly have a capacity that the Chinese and the Russians will never come anywhere close to matching [applause].

And by the end of 2020 we will have the first continuous propulsion system in space capable of getting to Mars in a remarkably short time, because I am sick of being told we have to be timid, and I’m sick of being told we have to be limited to technologies that are 50 years old [applause].

Candidly, if we truly inspire the entrepreneurial spirits of America, we may get some of this stuff a lot faster. Now, I’m going to make some modest observations and some big observations.

Modest Observation Number 1: We should be practical about using equipment. That is, for example, the Atlas 5 ought to be interchangeable and ought to be as usable for NASA projects as it is for Air Force projects. We should get in the habit of absorbing small units of space. You know, it’s very difficult right now to get the bureaucracy to think about the fact that somebody is about to launch a commercial launch and it actually has a little extra space for 40 pounds, but that doesn’t fit either the NASA or the military model. When we fly troops around we normally fly them on commercial airliners with other people. So we’re used to the idea that you can share space. You can send things that don’t have to be a military-only aircraft, or a NASA-only aircraft. I just suspect that even the NASA administrators actually fly on commercial planes with other people. So I want to know if we break down all the bureaucratic barriers and we go to what I want to call a common sense model:  If it’s cheaper, faster, and it works – do it! [applause].

Second: We need to learn how to do five or eight launches a day, not one. We need to get in the habit of saying: You know, this is going to be like an airport. We are going to be so busy – you know, if we are going to be getting to the Moon permanently and be starting to get to Mars and build this near-Earth capability, and do it all within eight years, we better start thinking more like airports than like space systems.

And we better start figuring out – so how are we going to manage this many things? It’s not that we can’t do it, it’s just that we just don’t push ourselves, we don’t think about it, we don’t design the systems for it. But I want constant activity. There’s a reason. The World War II generation built tons of airplanes, so the designers that came out of World War II made lots of mistakes. And they learned from them. If you are a military aircraft designer today, you are lucky if you work on more than one airplane in your lifetime. That’s how slow and cumbersome and bureaucratic we’ve become. You don’t have any learning curve.

I want us to have so much constant energetic, excited activities that people are learning again. And that we’re drawing the best talent in the country back to the Space Coast because it’s exciting and it’s dynamic and who knows what next week is going to be like. And does that mean I’m a visionary? You betcha! [applause].

You know, I was attacked the other night for being grandiose. I just want you to know: Lincoln standing at Council Bluffs was grandiose. The Wright Brothers going down to Kitty Hawk was grandiose. John F. Kennedy standing there saying we’ll get to the Moon in eight years was grandiose. I accept the charge that I am an American and Americans are instinctively grandiose because they believe in a bigger future [applause].

Now just a couple more core observations. I want you to understand where I’m coming from. I very much believe in a project you can Google called Strong America Now, which is an effort to develop “Lean Six Sigma” for the Federal Government. I believe we’ve got to become agile, lean, competent, constantly evolving, and that means replacing the civil service laws that are 130 years old with a totally new practical management system that comes much closer to the way Boeing is doing the Dreamliner. Callista and I went down to Boeing outside of Charleston and they were walking us through – I don’t know how many of you know this, but this is just an example – The Dreamliner is built in Italy, Wichita, Japan, and Korea, and it’s flown in in units that are then brought together at Charleston. And they are walking around and they said this particular work area currently takes sixteen days – our goal is to get it down to six with the same number of people.

And I looked at that and I thought to myself – Department of Housing and Urban Development [laughter]. But let’s be honest, I could have said Air Force Space Command, I could have said NASA. I mean we want to become lean and aggressive, and here’s my bias: They told me in the Corps of Engineers that in order to improve the Port of Charleston so they could receive ships that are starting to come through the Panama Canal in 2014 when they finish widening it, that to do the study of the project takes eight years. Not the project – the study! And I said to them: you know we fought the 2nd World War in three years and eight months, so we beat Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan, in 44 months.

Now I want to imprint this on you because if I become your President…you will have a 365 day a year relentless pressure to be faster, quicker, leaner, more innovative, more thoughtful, more daring, more visionary.

So let’s go back to how to do it. I would want 10% of the NASA budget set aside for prize money. Lindberg flies to Paris for $25,000. You set up prizes – for example, I forget what the Bush administration estimate was, but it was something like $450 billion to get to Mars with a manned mission. So let’s put up $10 billion. And if somebody figures it out, we save $440 billion. If they don’t figure it out, it didn’t cost us anything.

But you’ll have for $10 billion – and I’d make it tax free because Americans love things tax free so much. It’s not the monetary value, it’s the psychic thrill that Uncle doesn’t get any of it. And this is why you are going to have to learn to have a lot more launches every day because if we put up the right prizes – and Bob Walker and I, shortly before I left Congress, actually hosted a two-day National Academy of Engineering Workshop on prizes, which is online, as it was published, and we were talking about the historic use of prizes going back to the 17th Century. You put up a bunch of interesting prizes, you are going to have so many people showing up who want to fly, it’s going to be unbelievable.

So the model I want us to build is largely the model of the 20s and 30s, when the government was actively encouraging development, but the government wasn’t doing it. The government was paying a reward, it was subsidizing the airmail, it was doing a variety of things. There were prizes – you know, Jimmy Doolittle got famous winning prize money before World War II, then he got famous for bombing Tokyo; I mean, he had a life that was very interesting.

We had enormous breakthroughs in aviation in the 20s and 30s at very little cost to the government because lots of smart people did it. This is my closing bias – I just want to share it with you. I want people cutting metal, or nowadays I guess you would say creating various synthetics; I mean the Dreamliner is a composite aircraft, so I want people pouring composite. Is that a more accurate way to think of it now? Actually, they wrap it. It comes in a – it’s very strange – for a guy my age, I’m going to fly in it? – although it is apparently stronger than aluminum, and more durable.

But here’s the point: We’d be better off to do 1% of the current studies and ten times the number of experiments just flying. If it doesn’t work we’ll walk off saying, well, that was kind of interesting. There is a great story of Bernie Shriver, who had been the great leader of Air Force ICBM development, calling his successor, and his said: “You know, you’ve had 17 successful launches,” and the guy said – he was very proud – “You’re right.” And he [Bernie] said: “You’re not trying, because if you had been trying you would have inevitably made mistakes. You’re only doing stuff that’s safe, what you already know how to do.”

So I came here today to ask you, because you’re here, and you know people all over the country who believe in space, you know how exciting it can be at its best, you know what a total mess, what an embarrassment our current situation is. How can we build a bureaucracy this big and get into a period when we rely on the Russians, while we watch the Chinese plan to surpass us, and we sit around bureaucratically twiddling our thumbs with no real reform? [applause].

I want you to help me both in Florida and across the country so that you can someday say you were here the day it was announced that of course we’d have commercial space in near-space, that of course we’d have a manned colony on the Moon that flew an American flag, and of course we’d be moving towards Mars by the end of the next decade. After all, we are Americans and you were there at the beginning of the second great launch of the adventure that John F. Kennedy started.

Thank you.

Newt Gingrich on Space

Newt Gingrich made a major speech on space on January 25, which stressed the importance of commercial activities including the use of prizes. He called for a bold and aggressive space program, which by 2020 would establish a permanent base on the Moon, a next generation propulsion system for use in getting humans to Mars, and bustling commercial activities in low Earth orbit. A video of his speech is available from C-SPAN here (NSS will be posting a transcript here late today). The National Space Society looks forward to learning in a similarly detailed fashion the space views of the other presidential candidates.

SpaceX Slips Dragon Mission to ISS

SpaceX announced that it will slip the launch of the Dragon spacecraft aboard a Falcon 9 from the original 7 February 2012 date. The specific reason for the delay was not specified, but was related to a “sense of responsibility in returning US crewed access to LEO”.

NASASpaceFlight notes that SpaceX was slipping in order to allow for due diligence “safety checks” ahead of launch.

The Dragon mission is part of NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. SpaceX plans to accomplish the milestones originally assigned to both flight two and three. The first flight occurred in December 2010.

It is expected that the slip will only be two to three weeks.

Sign the Petition for a July 20 National Space Exploration Day

The Utah Space Association, a Chapter of the National Space Society, is dedicated to the creation of the first holiday to celebrate space exploration. It would occur on July 20th, the anniversary of the first Moon landing. The holiday would be non-paid, like Flag Day, but has great potential for popularity with the general public. Interested people are encouraged to sign the online petition at That page also has a link where interested people can contact other government officials to encourage a Presidential directive to create the holiday.

More Planets than Stars – But Axial Tilt may be the Key to Life

There is an average of more than one planet per star in the Milky Way
Image Credit: NASA / ESA / ESO

With the forthcoming publication in the journal Nature on 12 January, it is estimated that there are more than 100 billion planets in our Milky Way galaxy. That means more than one planet per star, and results show that there are more rocky small Earth-like planets than giant Jupiter-size gas planets.

Most recent discoveries have come from the Kepler Observatory using transit observations. Some of the earliest confirmation of gas giants came from radial velocity Doppler observations.

The conclusions in the Nature article are based on micro-lensing studies.

Recent results from the Kepler Observatory have shown the existence of three small, rocky planets around the star KOI-961, a red dwarf. These three planets, named KOI-961.01, KOI-961.02 and KOI-961.03, are 0.78, 0.73 and 0.57 times the radius of Earth. The smallest is about the size of Mars (see below). Follow-up observations were made by the Palomar Observatory, near San Diego, and the Keck Observatory atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

Relative size of the three rocky planets around KOI-961
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Since it is now clear that rocky planets exist around millions, if not billions, of stars, the question arises as to whether there is life on them, and whether it may resemble life on Earth.

Whether a planet exists in the “Goldilocks” region around a star depends on many factors. Three factors include the type of star, how far away from the star the planet resides and the atmospheric pressure of the planet. A red dwarf, such as Gliese 581, means the planet has to be closer than the Earth to our Sun. A white hot star means the planet has to be farther away. And if the atmosphere is low, like Mars, or to high, like Venus, liquid water is not likely.

A fourth factor is axial tilt. If a planet has no axial tilt (the spin axis is perpendicular to the plane of its orbit around the star) then the polar regions freeze and the equatorial regions bake. There is little exchange between these regions due to atmospheric circulation. Axial tilt, such as the Earth has, allows distribution of heat between the equator and the poles.

Even if a planet has axial tilt, a recent study shows that interaction at a close distance (within the “Goldilocks” region) with red dwarf will eliminate axial tilt in less than 100 million years. Bacteria on Earth required 1,000 million years to evolve. Theoretically, a planet with no axial tilt could possess bands between the equator and the poles where liquid water would exist. But, it is quite possible the atmosphere would collapse, with gases being driven off into space at the very hot equator, and freezing solid on the ground at the poles. Such a possibility faces the planets around KOI 961.

Systems with stars like our Sun present better possibilities. The “Goldilocks” conditions exist much farther out, and axial tilt is eliminated much more slowly, as our Earth is witness. Systems such as Kepler-22b are good candidates.

The conclusion drawn from these studies is that systems similar to our Solar System present the best opportunities for life.

LtCol Paul Damphousse USMC (Ret) Named Executive Director As NSS Enters Its 25th Year

The National Space Society (NSS) is proud to announce that LtCol Paul E. Damphousse USMC (Ret) has been named Executive Director effective January 1, 2012.  The appointment of LtCol Damphousse coincides with the 25th anniversary of the 1987 merger of the National Space Institute (NSI) and the L5 Society to form the National Space Society.

“Since its creation, the National Space Society has been, and remains today, the nation’s preeminent space advocacy organization,” said LtCol Damphousse.  He added, “NSS traces its roots to NSI’s first president, Werner Von Braun, and to Gerald O’Neill, who was the inspiration for the L5 Society.  Today we count visionaries such as Buzz Aldrin, Norm Augustine, and Pete Worden among our leadership.  It is my distinct honor to serve as NSS Executive Director while we chart a path toward our collective goals of human settlements beyond the Earth and of using the vast resources of space for the betterment of life here at home.  These are challenging times for our country and for its future in space – but I view challenges as opportunities; I look forward to strengthening our membership, building new relationships, and creating new opportunities in and from space together.”

“Paul is a good friend and I can’t think of a better person to lead the NSS at this critical time,” said NSS Board of Governors member and Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin.  “This year the U.S. must decide whether it has the will and ability to lead the world in human space exploration.  Paul’s leadership and vision will be vital to ensuring our nation makes the right decisions regarding our future in space.”

LtCol Damphousse brings a wealth of space, operations, and legislative leadership experience to the position of Executive Director.  Until his recent retirement from the U.S. Marine Corps following a 22-year career, he served as Chief of Advanced Concepts for the National Security Space Office (NSSO) and the DoD Executive Agent for Space in Washington, DC. In this capacity he led the NSSO’s space-based solar power effort and championed the Small Unit Space Transport and Insertion (SUSTAIN) concept as a near-instantaneous crisis response capability. His work on the latter resulted in the publication of a concept of operations and technology roadmap for suborbital/SUSTAIN missions. He has also served as Florida Senator Bill Nelson’s NASA Fellow, the Senator’s principal advisor for all civil and national security space matters, where he played an instrumental role in advancing new commercial spaceflight activities.

While serving as a Marine Corps pilot, LtCol Damphousse accumulated over 2300 flight hours, several hundred of which were flown in combat.  His last operational deployment was as the Operations Officer for Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced) where he led the planning and execution of all Marine combat aviation operations during Operation Iraqi Freedom.  He holds a Master’s degree in Astronautical Engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School and was a Marine Corps Space Operations Officer. He was twice selected by the Marine Corps as a nominee for NASA astronaut candidate.

LtCol Damphousse has been a member of the NSS since 1999, serving on the NSS Board of Directors since 2010, and is a 2008 recipient of the NSS Space Pioneer Award for Space Development.