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Where is America’s New Space Center?

Founded in 1961, Johnson Space Center in Houston was a hub of aerospace activity in the 1960s and 70s. The facility trained the astronauts who first walked on the moon and helped develop the Space Shuttle program. Then Kennedy Space Center at Florida’s Cape Canaveral came online in 1962 and became the epicenter of space exploration during the 80s and 90s. So where is America’s next spaceport?


Virgin Galactic is betting heavily on the future of space tourism with the sleek SpaceShip Two passenger ship. It can reach sub-orbit space. 

The Mojave Air & Space Port sits in the middle of the California desert and it’s already attracting new legions of ambitious young rocketeers and space scientists.

If you want to see where the future takes flight, this is it, approximately 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles. The Mojave Air & Space Port compound is a former military base that occupies some 3,300 acres and is home to about 100 aircraft hangars. The flat desert terrain provides a great location for the 2-mile-long runway. And there’s lots of room for blasting rockets off into the wild blue yonder.

Look around and you’ll find not only genius scientists but inventors and space engineers of every type. At one end of the spectrum, small groups of rocketeers launching their first DIY experiments. At the other end, well-financed corporations planning how to make space travel (including space tourism) and the further exploration of space into profit-making enterprises that could also help unlock the mysteries of the universe.

NASA’s New Business Model
The Mojave Air & Space Port is a new idea for a tougher economic age. The business of space exploration has changed dramatically lately with NASA’s decision to end America’s space shuttle program. In essence, NASA has been cutting away some of its more expensive programs as a means of making America’s space agency financially leaner and more sound. The space shuttle and its operation was intensive and costly. Although NASA is still sponsoring unmanned explorations (such as the Mars Rover project, and its probe to Venus), the days of U.S. space shuttles transporting cargo and people into space—at least for now—are over.


The Mojave Air & Space Port plays home to deep-pocketed corporations as well as small, passionate groups of DIY rocketeers.

The Mojave Air & Space Port fills that gap by providing a location where all types of corporations and individuals can work on their various space-oriented projects. The concept for the space port was originated by Virgin corporation president, Richard Branson. Branson, a thrill-seeker himself, was attracted to the idea, as were other corporate heads (such as Microsoft’s Paul Allen).

See Outer Space (And Be Back for Dinner)
Each company based at the Mojave Air & Space Port has a stake of some kind in space travel. Branson’s company, for example, plans to be the first to fly space tourists into low-levels of outer space via space shuttle-like craft. These passengers would take off from landing strips on the desert floor and embark on short, multi-hour excursions to the nearest edge of outer space. The ultimate in sight-seeing—a quick trip out of this world and then back down to earth in time for dinner.


Virgin Galactic recently acquired The Spaceship Company (here unveiling a new hangar at the Mojave Air & Space Port), showing its intention of shaping the space-tourism marketplace.

Other companies are busily tinkering with exploration and cargo-transport projects, in hopes of winning contracts with NASA itself. As the agency embraces its new business model, that means that (like many corporations these days) NASA will be outsourcing some of its activities to private space contractors.

Boldly Going to Space Camp 
While the Space Shuttle program may have ended, it’s the dawn of a new age in space exploration. For kids interested in space exploration, space camp is the place to start. At Digital Media Academy’s tech camp, kids learn science and engineering in a fun and creative way. Blasting off water rockets and learning how things work can turn your curious child into an aeronautics engineer. After all, it’s the new generation of discoverers that will lead us into tomorrow…and deeper into the far reaches of space.

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posted by Phill Powell in News Blog,Science & Engineering and have No Comments

Who Was Ray Bradbury? And Why He Matters…

The world of science fiction lost an icon of the genre this week with the passing of writer Ray Bradbury. Bradbury was a key founder of science fiction, and one of its strongest and most influential voices.


A lifelong fan of other writers, Bradbury posed sitting in the movie prop from H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine.” (Decades later the same prop turned up in an episode of “The Big Bang Theory.”)

Not all sci-fi books make the grade as quality literature, but Bradbury’s work was often exceptional and he personally elevated the entire genre. And at least one of his masterpieces is still regularly taught in American schools.

Three Reasons Why He Matters
Writers come and go and most are lucky to have a single work become a classic. Bradbury wrote several and in the process helped turn science fiction into a major literary form. His legacy is based on the following:

1. He Saw the Future. Bradbury is best known for his 1953 triumph “Fahrenheit 451,” which paints a stunning portrait of a dysfunctional future in which intelligence is viewed negatively and books are actually outlawed and burned in piles whenever discovered. (The title refers to the temperature at which paper ignites.)

In its depiction of a world in which television entertainment rules popular culture, he predicted our modern world, warts and all. (The book, written during nine days in a study room in UCLA’s Powell Library, also envisioned the use of ATMs and BlueTooth headsets.) Surprisingly for a master of science fiction—a term he didn’t like—Bradbury was suspicious of technology and man’s increasing dependence on it.

A lifelong believer in public education and libraries (where he educated himself because he couldn’t afford to go to college), he was no fan of e-books. In fact, when renegotiating his publishing rights to his most famous work in 2011, Bradbury gave publisher Simon & Schuster the permission to offer it via digital download only if the book could be downloaded by any library patron free of charge. Among Simon & Schuster’s huge catalog, “Fahrenheit 451” is the only book with this distinction.

2. His Work is Everywhere. Bradbury had a powerhouse work ethic that makes even the always-busy Stephen King look like a slacker. Bradbury literally wrote every dayfor approximately 70 years. (Imagine working 25,000 straight days without a single day off. His last story (for “The New Yorker” magazine) was published just a week before his death at age 91.

Insanely prolific, he authored at least 27 novels and more than 600 short stories, many of which found their way onto movie and TV screens. His huge body of work was plenty successful, too: Bradbury’s writing has been translated into more than 36 languages, with more than eight million copies of his works in circulation.

3. He’s Incredibly Influential. While Bradbury’s body of work is here to stay, so is his lasting influence on many other titans of film and literature. Stephen King offered this tribute: “Ray Bradbury wrote three great novels and three hundred great stories.

One of the latter was called ‘A Sound of Thunder.’ The sound I hear today is the thunder of a giant’s footsteps fading away. But the novels and stories remain, in all their resonance and strange beauty.” Another dedicated fan, Steven Spielberg, called Bradbury “his muse for the better part of his sci-fi career.

In the world of science fiction and fantasy and imagination he is immortal.” And it’s the rare sci-fi writer indeed whose death prompts comment from a U.S. president. President Barack Obama issued the following statement: “For many Americans, the news of Ray Bradbury’s death immediately brought to mind images from his work, imprinted in our minds, often from a young age. His gift for storytelling reshaped our culture and expanded our world.”


“Fahrenheit 451″ predicted a world where intelligence was considered dangerous and books were illegal.

Bradbury’s other major novels include “The Martian Chronicles,” “The Illustrated Man” and “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” each of which was eventually adapted for film. His influence is so far-reaching that NASA named a lunar crater after him. His legacy as a writer, thinker and social critic will endure permanently. “I don’t need an alarm clock,” he once said. “My ideas wake me.”

Visionaries like Ray Bradbury don’t come along every day, but the exciting world of science that he treasured is open to everyone with an interest and an imagination. He was a firm believer in the power of the human intellect and its ability to positively reshape our world. And wherever he is now, you can bet that the sound of typing can be heard clearly.

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posted by Phill Powell in News Blog and have No Comments

Celebrating the Moon Landing

On July 20, 1969, Commander Neil Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr. landed their spacecraft in the Sea of Tranquility…and on July 21, they cracked open the hatch and became the first humans to walk on the Moon.


Buzz Aldrin on the surface of the Moon, look closely and you can see the reflected image of Mission Commander Neil Armstrong within the astronaut’s helmet visor.

Getting There
It was no small feat getting three men to the moon; in fact, it took years. It was U.S. President John F. Kennedy, who addressed Congress in 1961 and boldly issued the challenged, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” And before the decade was out, Apollo 11 and three astronauts accomplished the goal.

By today’s standard’s their spacecraft and technology were ancient. The cramped crew quarters of Apollo 11 barely left room for the equipment, much less three rocket scientists. Need more perspective? The computer in your iPhone is more powerful than the computer that helped send these three astronauts to the moon.


“That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind”

“The Eagle Has Landed.”
The astronauts’ landing craft, Eagle, sat on the lunar surface for 21 hours and 31 minutes. Meanwhile, the Module Pilot of Columbia, Michael Collins, orbited above the moon while Armstrong and Aldrin took a celestial stroll. And when they returned to Earth on July 24, 1969, they brought with them the hopes of the world and 47.5 pounds (21.5 kg) of moon rocks and lunar dust – and while you may think rocks wouldn’t make the greatest souvenir, the lunar artifacts are actually some of the most valued rubble on Planet Earth.


Astronaut “Buzz” Aldrin shows his lighter side.

Becoming a Rocket Scientist
Today the footprint and U.S. flag the astronauts left behind still stand untouched on the moon’s surface. A beacon, if you will, to future generations to carry on the tradition of exploration. You can follow in their footsteps with an updated version of Space Camp and amazing adventures in science and engineering. It takes determination and a passion for learning but if a trip to the moon is any indication, the reward is certainly worth it.

The last 40 years of space exploration were ruled by NASA. Private industry and companies like Google and Virgin look to rule the next 40 years. Nonetheless, mankind shouldn’t stop reaching for the stars. If anything, we should strive to explore our universe, all the while thanking the three guys who made the first steps beyond our planet. Do you want to be an astronaut?

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posted by Vince Matthews in News Blog and have No Comments