Behind The Black Postings By Robert Zimmerman

Space Watch column for UPI Archive

History’s Moment of Truth

The next five years will determine, for good or ill, the future of U.S. manned space exploration for decades to come. More significant, a confluence of forces will accelerate that process. Several of these forces rely on the decisions of Michael Griffin, NASA's administrator. Just as crucial will be the actions...
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Signs of a Renaissance

There may be many problems apparent at NASA and among the U.S. aerospace giants these days, but there also are signs that space exploration is about to undergo a renaissance, with an explosion of creativity unseen in decades. To explain this conclusion will require telling a personal anecdote, which begins in...
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A Shrinking, Timid Industry

The May 2 announcement that Boeing and Lockheed Martin are forming a joint venture to build and launch rockets for the U.S. government is another sign the established sector of the American rocket industry continues to shrink and stagnate. This situation is especially critical because the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is...
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The New Colonial Movement

Last week's successful launch by India of two satellites was clear evidence international competition to explore the empty reaches of space is beginning to heat up. The swelling number of countries both willing and able to explore outer space also suggests the United States' past domination is no guarantee of future...
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The Engineering Crisis Redux

The turf war between engineers and scientists over government funding erupted again last week with the release of an interim National Research Council report criticizing NASA for canceling or delaying a number of space-based Earth science projects. Worried the cuts might lead to a long-term downturn in U.S. research capabilities, the...
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New Openness at NASA?

Despite evidence NASA's bureaucracy is continuing to resist any meaningful reform, in recent months one NASA department seems willing to recognize the advice of outside experts, a circumstance not seen at the space agency perhaps for decades. Whether Michael Griffin, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's new administrator, can or is...
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Is There Life After Hubble?

The arrival of Michael Griffin as new NASA administrator -- along with his promise to reconsider the decision to cancel the space shuttle servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope once the shuttle starts flying again -- makes the immediate future of space astronomy look suddenly much brighter. Space astronomy's long...
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The Right Man for the Job?

The Senate hearing on and subsequent vote to approve Michael Griffin as the new NASA administrator took just two days but that was time enough for Griffin to make clear how he stands on three of the agency's most controversial issues: the Hubble Space Telescope, the space shuttle's return to...
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Part 2: How Politics Drives NASA

For NASA's management culture truly to change, there must be fundamental reforms, not only within NASA, but also - more important - in the way Congress and the president oversee the space agency. More than two years after the shuttle Columbia accident, however, it does not appear that elected officials have...
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Part 1: A Cultural Change at NASA?

Part 1 of 2. A serious misconception has developed in recent months in the public, media and NASA regarding the Columbia Accident Investigation Board's criticisms of NASA's management. Worse, that such a mistaken assumption about the CAIB report's conclusions could persist both inside and outside NASA as it attempts to return...
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NASA Impeded by Science Lobby

Many scientists have complained about the Bush administration's gutting of research funding, but a careful analysis of NASA's fiscal year 2005 budget shows almost half-a-billion dollars earmarked for additional pet science projects. Ironic, but the successful lobbying effort by scientists to secure those projects actually sabotaged other, potentially more valuable, research. When...
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Spacefaring by Bureaucrats

After more than a year of preparation, NASA has formally released its request for proposals - the detailed specifications for contractors to follow - bidding on the right to build the Crew Exploration Vehicle, the spacecraft the agency plans to use to explore the solar system in the coming decades. A...
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Going to Mars in Earth Orbit

Many Americans have questioned repeatedly the usefulness of the International Space Station, but it stands as NASA's only gateway at the moment to the rest of the solar system. Without the station -- or something comparable -- it will be difficult if not impossible for U.S. engineers and scientists to...
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Backing a Bad Hubble Decision

NASA officials have claimed they performed a risk analysis before deciding to cancel the last space-shuttle servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, but no such analysis was ever done. Worse, sources told UPI's Space Watch that NASA also has ignored at least one proposal to reduce the risk of sending...
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An Oasis on the Moon?

As the human race begins the in-situ human exploration of the solar system in the coming decades, one essential ingredient to that journey will be water - not only because it will suggest where alien life might reside, but also because future explorers will need it to survive and prosper. On...
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Private Space, More Rules

The private spaceflight industry has been eagerly awaiting an upsurge in activity since the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act was signed into law last December, but last week's events in Washington put an entirely different and less exciting light on the industry's future. When the 108th Congress passed an updated commercial...
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Saving Hubble, Defeating Fear

Of all the items unveiled in NASA's proposed fiscal year 2006 budget Monday, the decision to eliminate funding for a servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope was by far the most controversial. Yet, though NASA officials now seem adamant and united in their conviction that such a mission -- by...
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A Promising NASA Budget?

Despite fears by many in the scientific community that President George W. Bush's initiative to re-invigorate the American manned space program would cause deep cuts in NASA's science budget, the administration's proposed 2006 budget - announced with great fanfare on Monday - left almost all of the agency's present science...
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Turf War Heating Up

A House Science committee hearing on the future of the Hubble Space Telescope illustrates clearly how the battle for NASA money is about to reach critical mass. The stakes are high, prompting the death of several decades-old NASA programs so that a corresponding number of new projects can see life. The battle...
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The Russians are Coming

To judge the future by recent events, one might think that by 2010 U.S. tourists will be flying to orbital U.S. hotels on U.S. spacecraft, while at the same time the Bush administration initiative to return humans to the moon will be charging forward at warp speed toward a 2015...
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Cooperation’s Failure at ISS

The recent Russian decision to cease transporting U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station after 2005 highlights two harsh realities few Americans have been willing to face: the Clinton administration did not plan well in building the ISS and the new Bush space exploration initiative has compounded the problem. Together, they...
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The Outlook for 2005

The wheels of human space exploration might turn very slowly, but all signs indicate they are beginning to turn faster and - if all goes well -finally might reach escape velocity in 2005. Without a doubt, the future remains cloudy for a number of NASA issues. Until a new NASA administrator...
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Bush 43 vs. Bush 41 in Space

January 14 will mark one year since President George W. Bush stood before a packed audience at NASA headquarters in Washington and announced, to great fanfare, a new American space initiative. What few have noticed or recognized since then is how the response to that proposal in the past year has...
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Scientists and Engineers at War

Public and political support is growing for President George W. Bush's ambitious plan for space exploration, but at least one scientific organization has cast doubts about Bush's vision -- although whether those doubts carry any weight or have much validity is debatable. On Nov. 22, less than three weeks after Bush's...
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Space and the Willingness to Die

Thirty-six years ago this week, three astronauts and their families demonstrated the courage, boldness, and determination necessary for the human race to conquer the stars. The question is whether NASA and Congress today are willing to show as much bravery. It was Christmas week, 1968. In many ways, the political situation...
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O’Keefe’s Exit May Save Hubble

The timing of NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe's sudden announcement Monday that he was resigning from the space agency to return to the academic world suggests his reasons were more complicated than he stated in public. Moreover, despite the overall excellent job he has done, O'Keefe's exit from NASA possibly is the...
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Congress Restricts Private Space

Most space advocates and many in the nascent private manned spaceflight industry have been enthusiastic about the benefits of the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004, which the Senate passed Wednesday and now awaits the president's signature, but a close reading of the bill gives reason for pause. Case in...
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Congress Impedes NASA Prizes

NASA is embarking on a bold new strategy to spur new private investment in spaceflight technology. If the effort succeeds, it could transform both the agency and the U.S. aerospace industry, but first there is the matter of congressional authority to overcome. On Nov. 15, one day before the successful last...
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NASA Does New Thing the Old Way

NASA's recent flight test of an experimental vehicle capable of hypersonic flight was an engineering triumph, but it also could turn out to be another in a long list of the agency's bureaucratic failures. Last Tuesday, the X-43 test program made its third and last flight -- the first had failed...
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Big or Small NASA Space Vision?

The decision by Boeing and Northrup Grumman to join forces in their bid to build NASA's next generation manned spacecraft, dubbed the crew exploration vehicle or CEV, significantly reduces the number of major aerospace players available to the agency. This also forces NASA to make its choice from only two camps,...
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Shuttle’s Safe Return Illusory

The latest postponement of the space shuttle's return to flight has left many wondering whether NASA's launch window in late May 2005 is realistic. It may be, but with more risk than anticipated. One reason is the lingering questions: Will NASA have sufficiently fixed the shuttle by then to complete a...
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