Archive for September, 2013

China Invites Foreign Astronauts to Fly On Future Space Station

Saturday, September 28th, 2013

china-space-stationChinese space officials are rolling out a welcome mat to other nations eager to gain access to their future space station.

The Chinese government has designed a multiphase station program aimed at launching a Tiangong 2 space laboratory around 2015, an experimental space station in 2018, followed by a 60-ton multi-module space station in the 2020 time frame.

The invite to countries to participate in China’s space station was one aspect of the United Nations/China Workshop on Human Space Technology, jointly hosted by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs and the China Manned Space Agency, held in Beijing on Sept. 16-19. [China’s Vision for Space Exploration (Video)]

According to Chinese news reports, some 150 participants from more than 20 countries, regions and international organizations took part in the four-day event, exchanging views on space technology cooperation.

The workshop covered a wide swath of space topics, ranging from national, regional and international space programs to the role of Asia-Pacific space cooperation in advancing space technology. Other topics included microgravity science, space mineral resources, and the development of manned space science activities for Chinese youth.

Human spaceflight players

Elliot Pulham, chief executive officer of the Space Foundation in Colorado Springs, Colo., took part in the workshop and branded the gathering as significant. He was the only U.S. citizen to make remarks at the ceremonies commemorating China’s 10th anniversary of human spaceflight.

“There were many presentations from countries that we are accustomed to viewing as ‘space applications’ users, and not human spaceflight players,” Pulham told “And yet the degree to which space experts from the various nations have thought through all the benefits and applications of human spaceflight technology was striking,” he said.

“It is clear that the many, many countries with space programs of varying complexity and maturity have all thought exhaustively about what makes human spaceflight special, and how we can all leverage it to change the world for the better,” Pulham said.

‘Missing links’ of Russia and U.S.

The biggest “missing links” in the workshop, Pulham said, were Russia and the United States.

“Both countries missed a huge opportunity to engage with the many other space-interested countries that participated in the workshop. This, of course, left China as the major conference participant with actual human spaceflight capability and experience,” Pulham said.


Pulham observed that, at the moment, China’s space station is the focus of the China Manned Space Agency. “They briefed the details of their China Space Station program without ducking any questions,” he said.

“The configuration looks simple and practical, with an interior layout that relies on standardized payload racks like the International Space Station,” Pulham said. “One interesting early technical difference is an emphasis on developing an integrated refueling system, such that a logistics module can easily dock at the station and transfer propellants to the core modules.”

China’s three-step space strategy

Niu Hongguang, deputy commander of China Manned Space Program, told workshop participants that China has attached great importance to its manned space program.

“The Chinese government prescribed the ‘three-step strategy’ of development at the beginning of implementing China Manned Space Program,” Niu said.

“Within 21 years’ development, we have sent 10 Chinese astronauts into outer space,” Niu said, “and mastered the fundamental technologies of manned flight to and from outer space, extravehicular activities as well as space rendezvous and docking. And China Manned Space Program is entering a new phase of building the Chinese space station.”

Foreign astronauts
During the workshop, Yang Liwei, deputy director of the China Manned Space Agency, said his country is willing to provide training and open the Chinese space station to foreign astronauts.

Yang is China’s first astronaut and launched into orbit in 2003.

“We would like to train astronauts from other countries and organizations that have such a demand, and we would be glad to provide trips to foreign astronauts,” Yang said at the meeting, according to the China Daily newspaper. “We will also welcome foreign astronauts who have received our training to work in our future space station.”

Yang said many countries submitted proposals to the Chinese government during the development of the space station, hoping China would help train their astronauts and then send them to the station to conduct scientific experiments.

Capacity and capability
“China is now in an appropriate position to assist developing countries in building the capacity and capability of conducting space activities,” said Mazlan Othman, director of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs.

Zhou Jianping, designer-in-chief of China’s manned space program, said the planned space station can house three astronauts on missions lasting about six months. But new modules could be added as needed for scientific research, he said.

Zhou also said that China will be able to rendezvous with other countries’ spacecraft at the space station. Furthermore, the country is exploring the possibility of carrying out a joint rescue operation, he said.

The workshop commemorated the 10th anniversary of China’s first human spaceflight by showing a feature film titled “Space Exploration — Never Stop.

Areas of cooperation

Wang Zhaoyao, director of the China Manned Space Agency, attended the workshop, and also emphasized cooperative ties to the space station.

Wang said that, during the construction of China’s space station, he views working with other nations in four areas:
• Cooperating in platform technology, which may focus on individual equipment or assemblies, or focus on the development of sub-systems or even capsules.
• Cooperating in space application in ways such as joint research and onboard experiments in space science and application, space medicine and other areas.
• Conducting exchanges and cooperation in astronauts’ selection and training technology with other countries. When appropriate, China may help other countries to select and train astronauts who can fly jointly with Chinese astronauts.
• Promoting technological accomplishments using the station, especially in developing countries and regions, so as to achieve common development.

A participant in the Beijing workshop was Franklin Chang Díaz, former NASA astronaut and now CEO and chairman of Ad Astra Rocket Co., headquartered in Webster, Texas.

“My impression of the U.N./China Workshop was very positive. I was happy to see the presence of developing countries like Costa Rica, Colombia, Mexico, Ghana, Nigeria, Somalia and others who consider space exploration relevant to their future,” Díaz told

“I was also encouraged by China’s clear overture to open their space station to international participants. Space has to be open to all nations and not just the rich ones. China’s position is good news for the developing world,” Díaz said.


Terrestrial politics

china-space-elliot-pulham“The emphasis on assisting developing countries with their space program highlights how the Chinese are far more adroit in exploiting the diplomatic aspects of their space program than many other countries have been, including the United States,” said Dean Cheng, a research fellow on Chinese political and security affairs at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Cheng said that the whole purpose of the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization (APSCO) has been to highlight China’s relationship with developing, rather than developed, space powers.

“That Pakistan is lobbying to be the first country to visit China’s as-yet un-launched space station is emblematic of this, especially given the long-standing Sino-Pakistani relationship,” Cheng said. “This also highlights how space is influenced by terrestrial politics. If Pakistan is the first foreign nation to visit China’s future space station, that will have repercussions on Sino-Indian, and Indo-Pakistani, relations,” he said.

Elliot Pulham, CEO of the Space Foundation in Colorado Springs, Colo., speaks at the United Nations/China Workshop on Human Space Technology workshop in Beijing in September 2013.

Elliot Pulham, CEO of the Space Foundation in Colorado Springs, Colo., speaks at the United Nations/China Workshop on Human Space Technology workshop in Beijing in September 2013.
Credit: China Manned Space Engineering (CMSE)
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America’s ill-conceived policy?

“This is not the first time China announced its intention to make its space station available to the international community,” said Gregory Kulacki, senior analyst and China project manager for the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Kulacki said it will be interesting to see how China selects international partners and projects for its national space station.

“China won’t complete the station until the early years of the next decade, but it seems as if China will be making an outreach to other developing nations, rather than to the well-established spacefaring nations participating in the ISS, from which China is excluded, largely because of U.S. opposition,” Kulacki said.

China’s willingness, and ability, to provide these kinds of opportunities in the country’s space station effort, Kulacki told, “should make it clear that the U.S.-led effort to isolate China in space is an outdated, ineffective and ill-conceived policy that should be changed.”

Leonard David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. He is former director of research for the National Commission on Space and is co-author of Buzz Aldrin’s new book “Mission to Mars – My Vision for Space Exploration” published by National Geographic. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on

Back to the Moon, Commercially

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

Just a few weeks ago, the 44th anniversary of Apollo 11’s historic mission fulfilling U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to safely land a man on the Moon came and went. It was marked by little fanfare.

It is hard to imagine that four decades after Neil Armstrong took that “giant leap for mankind,” a human presence on the lunar surface is just a distant memory and the Moon remains largely unexplored.

No doubt, America’s space program has gone on to some remarkable achievements: Apollo-Soyuz, Skylab, the space shuttle, the Hubble Space Telescope, Mars rovers and the international space station — a lasting home in space occupied by a global crew 24/7, 365 days a year.

But for many people, including old astronauts like myself, the human exploration of the Moon remains America’s crowning achievement amid the stars. It is certainly an event worthy of repeating, and many of us have long argued for sending new generations of explorers back to our closest celestial neighbor as a first step toward developing the skills and technologies needed to travel deeper into our own solar system.

Sadly, it hasn’t happened, though not for a lack of trying. A series of false starts, dashed attempts and woeful budget shortfalls have meant that government-led efforts to return humans to the Moon have foundered on the ground.

Some in Congress are at this very moment talking once again about forcing NASA to establish a program to sustain a human presence on the Moon. I, unfortunately, am not optimistic as we have been here before.

But there is hope. The private sector is stepping up to meet the challenge: an ambitious startup, the Golden Spike Co., is leading the way in creating commercial models to mount human expeditions to the surface of the Moon for nations, companies and individuals.

Until now I have been very doubtful and indeed critical of many existing commercial space ventures that are largely funded by taxpayer dollars. But after several meetings with Golden Spike executives, including the chairman of its board — my old friend — former Apollo Flight Director Gerry Griffin, I became convinced that we truly are on the cusp of a brand new era of commercial lunar space travel.

Golden Spike’s plan is to use existing rockets and emerging commercial crew spacecraft to lower the cost of a two-person expedition to the lunar surface to roughly the price of current robotic missions to the Moon. Golden Spike would only develop new systems — such as a lander and surface suits — where no existing system exists or is in development. Such an approach offers enormous cost, schedule and reliability advantages. And it’s viable. Market studies done for Golden Spike show the possibility of 15-20 expeditions in the decade following a first landing.

The idea of an American aerospace firm orchestrating important scientific and exploratory missions for government space programs around the world as well as corporations and adventurous individuals is extremely exciting.

I was so convinced that I am now an adviser to the company as it progresses through its first wave of lunar lander and spacesuit studies.

Such efforts need to be applauded and supported by policymakers, investors and entrepreneurs across the country in recognition of Golden Spike’s bold vision and the patriotic role the company is playing in restoring American leadership in space.

In fact, NASA itself should look carefully at what Golden Spike is doing and incorporate its plans into America’s national space ambitions. The agency, in my opinion, should be among Golden Spike’s first customers and biggest allies.

As the company said in its debut press conference last December, Golden Spike is not about America going back to the Moon but about the American entrepreneurial spirit leading the rest of the world to the Moon. I say let’s all get onboard and return to where we belong.

James Lovell, a member of the Golden Spike Co. board of advisers, is a former NASA astronaut who was commander of Apollo 13 and the first human to travel to the Moon twice.

Read the Original Article at SpaceNews.

StarTalk Live at Town Hall with Buzz Aldrin

Monday, September 23rd, 2013
StarTalk Radio Podcast September 2013For StarTalk’s first mission to Town Hall in NYC on Feb. 27, 2013, Commander Neil deGrasse Tyson and Co-Pilot Eugene Mirman recruited a crack crew: NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, Andrew Chaikin, planetary geologist and author of A Man on the Moon, and, in the spirit of international cooperation, a little known British comedian named John Oliver. In Part 1, the team explores why we went to the moon, what it was like once we got there, and why conspiracy theorists that say we never actually went are full of… moon dust. Buzz shares the unlikely path that took him from the skies over Korea to MIT to Apollo 11 and the lunar surface. But the most surprising discovery in Part 1 is that the guy who got the most laughs wasn’t Eugene or John, but Buzz Aldrin himself. The mission concludes with Part 2 next Sunday.

Part 1

Part 2

Buzz Aldrin Interview with The Big Issue

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

When I was a teenager I had decided my academic performance was good. Because of my father’s aviation pioneering from 1919 to World War II I wanted to fly airplanes, and the best way to do that in 1945 seemed to be through the military academy. I graduated third in my class from West Point during the Korean War so, when I completed pilot training, I was sent to Korea for air combat. I flew 66 missions and shot down two aircraft.

I was quite immature socially when I was 16. I wasn’t shy but I wasn’t a ladies man in high school. My father was a role model because of what he had done but not because he cultivated a relationship with his son. He wasn’t too good at that. When he was away during the war my mother and my two older sisters were dominant in the house. I think I was close to my mother. She went to my football games.

I wasn’t immediately taken with the idea of space travel. I was in Germany flying supersonic F100s in 1957, the year of Sputnik. We were on nuclear alert in case the Soviet Union invaded Europe. Sputnik going over our heads – neek-neek-neek – was not of much interest. But in 1959, Life magazine showed pictures of the Mercury spacecraft and talked about selecting the first astronauts. I hadn’t trained as a test pilot so I didn’t think I’d be eligible. But in 1963 Nasa relaxed the requirements and focused more on academic achievements, which put me near the top of the list.

It was a combination of unforeseen changes and tragedies that opened up opportunities for me and Neil Armstrong to walk on the Moon. I wasn’t scheduled to fly in the [preparatory] Gemini programme but an accident that killed two astronauts moved me on there. I was then involved in a very successful space-walking mission so I knew I was in a good position. After the Apollo 1 fire in 1967 that killed three astronauts, including my friend Ed White, the shuffling around resulted in me, along with Neil Armstrong, being assigned to the Apollo 11 mission.

Apollo was probably the most intensely trained-for mission. We had an hour-by-hour timeline. I think we felt very confident about it. I had been in combat in 1953 and dealing with emergencies was common. You learned to accept what may happen or you got into another business. We knew we might be prevented from successfully landing but we thought we’d still be able to abort and get back to Earth. We thought we had about a 60 per cent chance of landing but over a 90 per cent chance of coming back safely even if we didn’t land.

Each flight designs their own symbolic patch. I was interested in finding something special and symbolic about humans going to land on the Moon for the first time. I couldn’t come up with something individual but we finally came up with the idea of using the symbol of our country, the eagle, looking ready to land on the Moon, with an image of Earth behind it. It was suggested the eagle carry an olive branch in his beak, an image of peace. But that was rejected because it looked too aggressive, with the open claws of the eagle reaching out for the Moon. So we put the olive branch in its claws and that’s how the badge ended up. And, of course, Neil and I agreed that we would name the spacecraft Eagle.

I felt if we landed successfully I wanted to do something personal and symbolic of giving thanks. I was given permission to serve myself Communion, with wine and a wafer, on the surface on the Moon. But I was advised not to say anything about it at the time. Someone had strongly objected to the Apollo 8 crew reading from the Bible. We didn’t want to get into any further trouble with the religious critics.

If we could do it all again, I think, as I came down onto the surface, our training would have been more equal if I’d been in charge of the experiments on the lunar surface. That wasn’t made clear and because Neil was down there first he assumed control of what we did. For some biological reason the first thing I did at the bottom of the ladder was to urinate into my spacesuit. Then I looked out and I heard Neil use the word “beautiful” and that created in me the feeling that it wasn’t beautiful. I called it “magnificent desolation”. I thought about how what I was looking at hadn’t changed for thousands of years.

I did do something first. I was first back into the cabin, so I actually became the first alien to climb into a spacecraft back to our home planet, Earth. Mind you, if I could go back I’d remind myself to turn on the camera as we left – I forgot, so we don’t have any pictures of the lift-off from the Moon.

I might advise my younger self to plan something appropriate to keep me busy after I retired. After the moon landing I felt at first there might not be anything as great I could do again. That’s why I decided to become the first astronaut to return to military service. I wanted to be made a commandant of cadets at the academy but I didn’t get that assignment; a man who was the son of a four-star chief of staff in the airforce got it, and I was made commandant of test pilots – which was peculiar because I’d never trained as a test pilot. It wasn’t what I wanted so, after a year, I retired and had no specific job to do. That’s when I became depressed and an alcoholic. I faced a similar thing two years ago, when I got divorced from my third wife, but having now gone 34 years without drinking, I know a bit better how to deal with depression.

I don’t really have regrets but maybe the depression and the alcoholism didn’t need to interrupt my first marriage. But it did and I had to live with that. I loved very much my first wife and my three children. But I’ve been married three times and I’m divorced now. Maybe I could have been a bit more selective but I did what I did. I remember some of what my children were like when they were very young. I’m very proud of my youngest son, who has a PhD and speaks Russian and is vice president of a rocket company. I’m working through some troubles with the eldest son, trying to help him make some changes in his life. My daughter is the only one who has a child. Thanks to him I’m a great grandfather now.

I’m not particularly inclined to want to be a lonely pioneer at another planet. I think we absolutely need to send humans to permanently occupy Mars but I don’t think my inherited characteristics would make me a good volunteer. I wouldn’t have made a very good long distance runner.

In 1946, the year Buzz Aldrin turns 16… London Heathrow Airport officially opens for civilian use… George W Bush, who would become the 43rd president of the US, is born… Mensa International formed…

Aldrin Walked On Moon, Wants America To Reach Mars

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

On the morning of July 16, 1969, Buzz Aldrin had steak and eggs for breakfast.

If cholesterol from such food was supposed to worry him, it didn’t.

“I knew it was the last hot meal I was going to have for a while that wasn’t freeze-dried,” he told IBD.

Aldrin has mapped out a system to carry people to the Red Planet.Besides, he had bigger fish to fry.

In a few hours, he’d be perched 300 feet in the air in a small cubicle atop 2,000 tons of liquid oxygen.

Then Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins would set off on their Apollo 11 flight to the moon.

Aldrin would be the second man to step foot on the moon, the capstone of a brilliant career as a fighter pilot, astronaut and author, most recently of “Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration.”

He remains a loud advocate for America’s space exploration.

And yet his “most difficult task,” he said, has been revealing his family history of depression and his own battle with alcoholism.

Aldrin, 83, was born in Montclair, N.J. His mother Marion’s maiden name, fittingly, was Moon.

Then there was his father, Edwin Sr., an Air Force colonel and an aviation pioneer with a science degree from MIT.

War And Space

Buzz attended West Point, graduated third in his class in 1951, went to flight school and wasted little time soaring into the Korean War.

He had 66 combat missions and downed two MiG fighters on the way to landing the Distinguished Flying Cross.

And he brought home more than honor. Without realizing it, he accumulated knowledge that would prove helpful in outer space.

“The way you’re trained as a fighter pilot for aircraft-to-ground attacks, for landing, for maneuvers, for dive bombing and air-to-air gunnery, the way to do that basically led to the maneuvers for space docking and maneuvers,” he said.

Aldrin wanted to join the astronaut program in 1959, but the first two classes were limited to test pilots. He wasn’t into such training, so he aimed for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned a Ph.D. in aeronautics and astronautics. “My doctoral thesis was on manned orbital rendezvous,” he said. “It made an impression on NASA, and I was selected to be in the third class, which eliminated the need for training as a test pilot.”

Aldrin and Jim Lovell were promoted to backup crew for Gemini 9 in 1966 following the deaths in a trainer jet crash of Elliot See and Charles Bassett. That mission was supposed to rendezvous and dock with a target vehicle, but it failed.

Even though Aldrin was backup, he was sufficiently close to the operation to see what went wrong. As a result, he introduced changes based on his experience as a fighter pilot that ultimately made docking relatively effortless.

He is also widely credited with pushing extra vehicle activities underwater.

“I don’t want to take credit for that,” he said modestly. “I was aware of the difficulties we were having with EVAs. When someone suggested underwater practice, I was very receptive and supportive. I started scuba diving in 1957, so by the time of the last Gemini mission (with Lovell) in 1966 I had more than nine years’ experience.”

Aldrin has his picture taken by fellow Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong on July 20, 1969, the day they became the first humans to step on the moonThat mission, Gemini 12, hit the mark. It docked with the Agena target vehicle via a maneuver now almost routine, thanks to the exercises Aldrin perfected.

Springboarding from his underwater training, Aldrin spent 5-1/2 hours outside the Gemini capsule, demonstrating astronauts could work outside a space craft.

His next trip into space — the Apollo 11 mission — did not go as smoothly. Collins stayed aboard the command craft while Aldrin and Armstrong descended toward the moon on the lunar module Eagle.

Five minutes into the descent, an alarm went off.

The problem was that the Eagle’s computer, which had less power than an iPhone does today, was overloaded. Mission control told Aldrin and his teammates to continue their descent, but at 2,000 feet another alarm went off.

Now, with 750 feet left, “Neil took over manually,” recalled Aldrin, who at the same time did “what every dutiful co-pilot does”: kept Armstrong posted on instrument readings. “With the guidance system down, while he’s looking out the window I’m giving him the info (altitude and fuel) he needs.”

Finally the Eagle landed — amazingly in a flat area amid boulders — with just 20 seconds of fuel left.

Aldrin contends that mission 44 years ago didn’t scare him, just as he wasn’t afraid in the Korean War: “You are so busy concentrating on the situation at hand you don’t have time to get fearful.”

After the Americans landed on the moon, they had to concentrate. Collins was flying the command module overhead for only two more minutes. Armstrong and Aldrin had to make sure their list was checked fast or be stuck on the surface until it came around again two hours later after circling the moon.

The Message

With all systems go on the moon, Aldrin did not want this enormous moment to fly by without noting its significance. So before the astronauts descended the ladder to the moon’s surface, he broadcast a message to the world, inviting “each person listening in, wherever and whomever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours, and to give thanks in his or her own way.”

Soon, it was down to the moon’s surface — first Armstrong, then Aldrin. They had little time to admire the scenery. “We weren’t trained to smell the roses,” said Buzz.

Hence his desire to get artists, poets and songwriters into space: “A competent aviator like John Denver or the guy (Bart Howard) who wrote ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ could write something that would inspire the American people and the world to contemplate the major historical events that are on the horizon for human beings.”

During their July 20-21 stay on the moon, Aldrin and Armstrong took photographs and samples of the moon’s surface. They planned to return with them, but that almost didn’t happen.

When they got back on the Eagle, Aldrin discovered a key circuit breaker — the one used to send electrical power to the ascent engine — had broken off.

Low-Tech Trick

Aldrin searched for anything on the landing module he could push into the circuit. Solution: a felt-tip pen from his flight suit’s pocket.

Such deft thinking is “obviously his forte,” said Norm Augustine, retired CEO of Lockheed Martin (LMT), who has known Aldrin through the firm’s work on the space program. “Both as a pilot and astronaut, his life depended on making good decisions and making them quickly. His ability to do so, I suspect, is one of the reasons he was chosen.”

Though the felt-tip pen held its place, the situation was harrowing. Buzz used humor to relieve the stress when the Eagle was cleared for takeoff. In a serious tone he said: “Roger. Understand. We’re No. 1 on the runway.”

The crew returned to earth safely on July 24 to worldwide acclaim.

But Aldrin’s transition from space hero and Air Force colonel to public speaker in 1972 did not go easily. He was living with a family history of depression and his own alcoholism. He’d privately sought help, an action he feels killed his shot at becoming a general. Just before he left the Air Force, he went public with his condition.

“It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done,” he said. Still, he felt his announcement “could help others in recovery.”

Said Augustine: “You have to admire anybody brave enough to speak out. If someone the magnitude of Buzz Aldrin has had these problems, it encourages others to say, ‘If Buzz Aldrin can work his way through it, then I can too.'”

Augustine points to another Aldrin attribute: “Buzz is the ultimate in forward thinker. He’s always looking at new ideas, particularly in space travel.”

The moonwalker even devised a spacecraft system to reach Mars, besides co-authoring science-fiction novels.

Aldrin, who lives in Los Angeles, has taken it as his mission to “intensely support what is best for the nation, to continue to be the greatest nation in the world and a leader in space achievements and expanding the human presence outward.”

Read the Original Article at Investor’s Business Daily