Entries in NASA (7)


Fiscal Cliff Could Put 20,000 NASA Jobs at Risk

(ARLINGTON, Va.) -- The “fiscal cliff” might be a “fiscal black hole” for the aerospace industry.

NASA could face an 8.2 percent budget cut, resulting in the loss of over 20,000 jobs, if the government’s sequestration plan takes effect in 2013, according to a report from the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA).

Since the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 forbids cutting the civil service work force through the end of 2013, the AIA says the cuts would all come from the private sector.

If the cuts take effect, the hardest-hit site would be the Johnson Space Center in Texas, which would lay off 5,610 workers.  California and Colorado aerospace centers would be forced to cut 4,586 and 2,121 jobs, respectively.

“The loss of these jobs would be significant,” the report says.  “To a large extent, these are the scientists, engineers and technicians that design, manufacture and operate our nation’s spacecraft and launch systems.”  

The AIA went on to say that the cutbacks could dissuade bright young Americans from pursuing advanced science courses.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Former Apple, NASA Engineers Make $11,111 Coffee Maker

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A group of engineers who previously worked at Apple and NASA created an $11,111 coffee maker that measures the liquid’s heat as it brews to maintain the “perfect” temperature.

Blossom Coffee company is the brainchild of coffee fan, Jeremy Kuempel, and two colleagues. Kuempel is an MIT engineering graduate who previously worked on Apple’s iPad and at electric-car maker Tesla.

The company debuted its first luxury product at Tech Crunch’s Disrupt Conference earlier this month and is taking pre-orders for about 10 of the Blossom One Limited, which are intended for commercial use and will be available in the spring, the company said.

The Blossom One Limited is about the size of a traditional desktop computer, measuring 7 inches wide. So far, restaurants, cafes and private individuals have inquired about owning one.

When asked if he’s a coffee drinker, Kuempel answered, “I’m obsessed with it.”

The company wanted to keep coffee as “front and center” as possible, so the machine’s design only allowed the coffee to touch glass and steel, which are inert materials that won’t react with it.

“We started with the coffee and designed around it,” Kuempel said.

It also has Wi-Fi capability and a camera for a QR scanner. Why a camera?

Kuempel said the company is working with high-end coffee bean providers to one day allow users to scan a QR code on the coffee bag. That way, the coffee maker will know exactly what type of coffee it is and how to brew it.

“This is how crazy we are about coffee, design and service,” Kuempel said.

Blossom Coffee also is hoping to embody its enthusiasm for coffee in its level of customer service. Built into the price of the coffee maker is a one-year parts and labor warranty that will bring a company representative to your door for any problem.

“We will be there to fix it, and we won’t charge you for it,” Kuempel said.

In addition, the coffee maker has a lifetime defect-free guarantee saying that it is free from errors; or, in other words, that the “machine will do what we say it will do,” Kuempel said.

Not only that, but the company will work with clients to build a coffee maker that is perfect for them, including the device’s exterior. The company aims to match whatever wooden material is requested.

Kuempel said, “A lot of coffee houses feature wood in their design. We will go to lengths to find the exact same wood.”

What about marble or glass?

“We can’t promise it, but we will investigate it and do whatever we can,” he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


NASA's 'Made in America' Rover Reaches Mars

NASA/JPL-Caltech(NEW YORK) -- The safe landing on Mars Monday by Curiosity, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory rover, was a huge accomplishment for the space program but also for the U.S. companies that contributed to the mission.

Indeed, the entire $2.5 billion mission was “made in America.”

The high-tech parachutes, retro-rockets and even the never-before-used “sky crane” that helped Curiosity come to a stop on Mars -- after an eight-month, 352-million-mile journey -- were all made in the United States.

“It’s only in America, these United States, that we could have pulled this off,” said Adam Steltzner, team leader for the entry, descent and landing of Curiosity.  “There is something uniquely American about what it takes to put a rover like this on Mars.”

U.S. companies in 33 states, from coast to coast, were involved.  They include:

-- Pioneer Aerospace of Windsor, Conn., which made the parachute;
-- Litespeed Bicycles employees in Chattanooga, Tenn., who put down their two-wheelers to help build the rover’s arms;
-- Honey Bee Robotics in New York City, which built the robotic tools that will now help the rover collect rocks and soil.

Even the cameras were from San Diego.

“This really is a human endeavor; it’s not just the U.S.,” said Ann Devereaux, an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.  “But God bless America because we did put something on Mars.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Angry Birds Teams Up with NASA for Space Venture 

Tim Whitby/Getty Images(AUSTIN, Texas) -- Those Angry Birds have their work cut out for them. Not only have they been destroying those green pigs in celebration of Valentine’s Day and every other major holiday, but they’re now being launched into outer space.

Rovio, the maker of the cult game Angry Birds, recently announced at SXSW 2012 that its next version will be Angry Birds Space.

But this isn’t just another iteration of the game. This one has the full support of NASA.

A demo video, released by Rovio, features astronaut Don Petitt on the International Space Station, where he shows how a stuffed toy Angry Bird and a balloon fly in a straight trajectory because of the lack of gravity in space.

Of course, the masses won’t be playing the game aboard the space station, but the entire game has been redesigned with that weightless element. I got a chance to play it here at Samsung’s Lounge in Austin, and the birds do in fact fly in straight lines. I only played a few levels, but it sure did seem to make the game a bit easier.

“NASA wants to educate about all things space, and they think this is a great tie-in with a game that shows off gravity in space,” Rovio’s Saara Bergstrom told ABC News.

Rovio has also teamed up with Samsung to offer some exclusive levels on the company’s Galaxy Android devices. The game will be available March 22 in Apple’s App Store and Google’s Android Play store.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Space Junk: NASA Urged to Find Way to Clean Up the Mess

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- There is so much man-made space junk orbiting the earth, according to scientists who’ve done the calculations, that even if NASA never launched another rocket, the problem would continue to worsen.

How can that be? A report this week from the National Academy of Sciences offered an answer: “Some scenarios generated by the agency’s meteoroid and orbital debris models show that debris has reached a ‘tipping point,’ with enough currently in orbit to continually collide and create even more debris, raising the risk of spacecraft failures.”

The Air Force Space Command currently tracks 22,000 pieces of space junk—spent satellites, parts of nose cones, booster fragments, pieces that blew free when satellites separated from the rockets that launched them, and so forth. It’s troublesome, expensive, and hard on the nerves for them to watch it all. A couple of times a year they have to call NASA with an alert for the Space Station astronauts to take cover; they move to the Russian Soyuz capsules they use as lifeboats until the danger passes.

How much should us on Earth care? We get weather forecasts, GPS readings, TV transmissions, and a fair amount of Internet data via satellite, and while the odds of any one satellite getting pulverized are still low, they are expensive to replace. The situation was made substantially worse by the Chinese in 2007, who used an old weather satellite for target practice for a military missile. They succeeded and thousands of shards of satellite are still orbiting the planet every 90 minutes, putting astronauts and other satellites in danger.

What to do? There are no simple answers. DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, released a report earlier this year, with all sorts of blue-sky ideas about giant nets or magnets in space to catch debris. DARPA exists to think outside the box, but its principal suggestion was to avoid creating space junk in the first place, and it’s a little late for that.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


NASA Layoffs Planned as Space Shuttle Program Ends

NASA TV(HOUSTON) -- Now that space shuttle Atlantis has returned home safely, America's human spaceflight program faces a period of retrenchment and doubt.

Atlantis' landing early Thursday morning marked the end of NASA's 30-year space shuttle program and the beginning of layoffs for the space agency.  On Friday, 1,500 shuttle workers are scheduled to get their pink slips.  By the time all the layoff notices are handed out, a total of 8,000 workers will have been cut.

At its peak, the shuttle program had about 11,000 people working for it.

NASA's space program, however, is hardly over.  Astronauts will continue to live for months at a time on the International Space Station until at least 2020.  Eventually, the Obama administration proposes they go explore a passing asteroid and ultimately land on Mars.

An ambitious probe to orbit Jupiter is on the launch pad, scheduled for an August launch.  A new Mars rover, called Curiosity, is scheduled to leave in November.  NASA says it would announce Friday where on the Martian surface Curiosity would try to land.

But for now, the one way for Americans to reach orbit will be by hitching seats on Russian Soyuz spacecraft, at a cost of $60 million a pop. 

NASA says that in a few years the job will be taken over by private companies such as SpaceX, Sierra Nevada, or Boeing.  Each has a spacecraft and launcher in the works, though so far, only governments have ever launched people into orbit.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


NASA Gambling Space Program on Unproven Companies?

ABC News Radio(WASHINGTON) -- Members of Congress Thursday signaled they are growing concerned with NASA's decision to bank on two commercial start-up companies to carry cargo, and possibly astronauts, to the International Space Station once the space shuttle program retires this summer.

NASA has committed billions of dollars and assigned the risky task of delivering supplies to the station to two companies that were unproven in the rocket business, but that have both promised to develop a less costly formula for travel to space: California-based SpaceX and Virginia-based Orbital Sciences. Government auditors reported to Congress that both companies have experienced delays and, at least initially, both underestimated the amount of money it would take to begin launching rockets.

Rep. Ralph Hall, a Texas Republican, told members gathered at a hearing on commercial space program Thursday that he is worried NASA is relying too heavily on the two companies.

"NASA…is now gambling the future of space station on the success two very new launch systems," Hall told members of the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics. "I simply regret that there continues to be so much uncertainty about our nation's ability to reliably get cargo to Station with the final Shuttle flight now less than two months away."

With the Space Shuttle Endeavor currently docked with the space station, and only one more shuttle flight scheduled, NASA officials and outside experts have agreed that the storied American space program is about to enter a murky period known as The Gap. It will be the first time since 1981 that the U.S. will completely lack the ability, on its own, to put astronauts into space. And NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told ABC News he is working hard to limit the duration of the gap.

His strategy has been to focus NASA's energy on future plans for deep space exploration, while relying heavily on commercial outfits such as SpaceX to lift satellites into orbit and service the space station.

Senior executives from both companies told members of Congress Thursday they are confident in their ability to take on those tasks, and said they are on target to mount test launches of the rockets they are developing later this year. They predicted they will begin shuttling supplies to the space station in 2012.

SpaceX President Gwynn Shotwell noted that when the company successfully launched a test flight last year, orbited a capsule around the earth, and recovered it upon reentry, it had accomplished something that had only previously been achieved by six nations, and never by a private company.

William H. Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for space operations, told the committee members their plans, while ambitious, were realistic. At the same time, he tried to temper that optimism by reminding the House members that space travel, no matter how routine it may seem, is never easy, and they should expect some delays.

"Establishing a regular flight rate after the initial flights will not be easy," Gertenmaiar said. "I think both companies are well prepared to move forward. We're prepared for the problems that will occur. We anticipated these inevitable start up challenges associated with a technologically ambitious endeavor."

Those concerned about the risks of relying on commercial companies for space travel, Shotwell said, should keep in mind that the Falcon 9 rocket and its Dragon capsule "were each developed from a blank sheet to first launch in four and a half years for approximately $300 million each."

Several members, however, continued to voice their concerns about NASA's approach. Subcommittee Chairman Steven Palazzo, a Mississippi Republican, said he wanted the companies to be forthcoming about their progress, and about the costs of their endeavors.

"I want to remind NASA and the commercial partners that you are spending taxpayer money, and lots of it. So you will not be exempt from oversight and financial scrutiny," Palazzo said. "NASA has spent $1.25 billion over the last five years and it is my firm hope that before the year is out we will have real proof that this investment has been worthwhile."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio