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Today President Obama will speak at the Kennedy Space Center and unveil his updated vision for space exploration to the public and to NASA. The original plan he put forth in Feb. was met with harsh criticism because it canceled the entire Constellation program and left the job of getting astronauts to the International Space Station and low-earth orbit entirely in the hands of private industry after the scheduled termination of the Space Shuttle program in 2015. A few days ago intentionally-leaked information hit the blogosphere and rumors abound about what his updated plan will look like. The biggest rumors are that he’ll be injecting an additional $6 billion over the next few years specifically targeted at development of a heavy-lift launch vehicle. This rocket would primarily be for getting parts of a larger spacecraft into orbit, and no doubt that larger spacecraft will be intended to take humans to Mars and other solar system destinations. The other big rumor is that he wants to bring back one component of the gutted Constellation program- the Orion crew capsule. Instead of being the primary method of getting US astronauts to the ISS, however, it will simply serve as a US escape capsule attached to the ISS. This would alleviate the problem of US astronauts relying on the Russian Soyuz capsule as an escape pod. More on these rumors can be found at Universe Today and Space.com.

I will be watching the live coverage of Obama’s speech on NASA’s website. The streaming video starts at 12:30pm CDT, and Obama’s speech is scheduled for 1:40pm CDT. I’m looking forward to seeing just what he has in mind and how well he sells the idea to the skeptics and naysayers.

For the record, as I’ve said before, I’m totally behind his plan, and not just because I’m a liberal and I voted for him. NASA has gotten into a rut ever since the Apollo era, mostly due to political bullshit. They’ve done some awesome stuff, but the drive to explore new horizons has largely been lost. With the budding new private spaceflight industry there’s no reason why NASA can’t utilize them to do the simple, routine tasks of getting us to the ISS and low-earth orbit. NASA would be spinning its wheels and wasting money to focus on that task. To fulfill its original purpose, NASA need to focus its efforts getting us further into our solar system- Mars, asteroids, and robotic explorations to places like Saturn’s moons Titan and Enceladus, and Jupiter’s moon Europa, all of which have exciting potential as homes for microbial extraterrestrial life.

So tune in to Obama’s speech at 1:40 today, and in the meantime, check out astronomer Neil Degrasse Tyson’s comments on NASA’s future, from a recent Q & A session at the University of Buffalo.

(Via Bad Astronomy)

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Just about everyone hates WalMart for various reasons. At least everyone with half a brain. BUT they’re beginning to redeem theirselves in my eyes with this new initiative to instate a universal carbon footprint rating for all retail stores to use. Different environmental groups have attempted to do this for years but failed repeatedly because it’s such a an enormous undertaking. But hopefully not too enormous for WalMart. If anyone has the power to get this kind of research done, it’s WalMart. Let’s hope this is a case of the giant with superpowers using them for good, not evil. This could have a huge effect if successful, because it will put real pressure on manufacturers to “green” their processes and products. More at the New York Times. (Via EcoGeek)

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Credit: NASA TV

Space Shuttle Endeavour did a fly-around of the ISS today and then successfully docked. They took many detailed photographs of the heat shields and will inspect them in the days to come. The shuttle engineers are intrigued by the 12-ish pieces of foam seen falling off the external fuel tank late in the launch footage. This is mainly because of how late it occurred. It happened at a time/height when atmospheric pressure is very low and thus there’s much less stress on the foam to cause it to fall off, so they aren’t really sure why it happened. Nonetheless, initial opinion is that the heat shield did not suffer any major damage that would threaten safety of the crew on re-entry, but that opinion can always change. (Via Space.com)

Hey WordPress! Kudos on the new dashboard design!

I don’t know what to say about this other than just watch it. Via Yewknee’s friday videos playlist.

Just in case you live under a rock and have never seen one of the amazing web comics on XKCD, just go read this one. Then bookmark it, add it to you RSS feed, whatever.

The mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope has been finally rescheduled for May 12, 2009. This is only a target date, but I’m glad they finally have some idea of when the mission will happen. The original date for the mission was back in early October, but a problem with one of Hubble’s main data relay units caused a full shutdown of its operations just a few weeks before the mission. This caused a delay of the mission so that engineers on the ground would have time to prepare a spare part that will be added to the mission’s payload. This will be the final servicing mission to Hubble, as it will be replaced in 2013 by the James Webb Space telescope. In other space news, NASA is delaying the next Mars mission, the Mars Science Laboratory, until 2011. It’s sad, but in the long run it will pay off, because the scientists and engineers need ample time to correct the issues. They’re really only a couple of months behind schedule, but due to Mars’ relative position to earth in its orbit, a launch window for Mars missions only occurs about every two years.

I promise I’ll have more music-related stuff coming soon. Stay tuned.

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