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 convincing victory in the presidential election, the American Physical Society published an analysis of the administration’s proposal to refocus the U.S. space program away from the space shuttle and International Space Station and toward a return to the moon and further human exploration of the solar system.

The APS report was bluntly skeptical of Bush’s initiative and feared its impact on science research funding.
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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 best thing that could have happened for human space flight, for the Hubble Space Telescope, and for the American space program itself.
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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 flight in the now-dead X-43 project, NASA officials held a meeting at headquarters in Washington to promote a new agency-sponsored prize program inspired by the Ansari X Prize for private spaceflight.
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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 when the Pegasus launch rocket went out of control while the second reached Mach 6.8 — using a scramjet engine to achieve a record-breaking speed of Mach 9.6. It was a breathtaking success, which — in a stark demonstration of NASA’s standard operating procedure — immediately resulted in the program’s shutdown.
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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, neither of which is ideal: the oversized and experienced vs. the undersized and innovative.
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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 safe launch? Are the problems uncovered by the loss of Columbia solved? Are there any issues unresolved that might cause the launch date to slip further?
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