Space policy roundup – Aug.1.13

Some space policy items today:

Update: Bob Zimmerman tells me he will be on the John Batchelor radio program tonight at 11:30 pm and his discussion “will exclusively be about the politics of NASA’s funding, the partisan war over the asteroid vs the moon missions and the cost of SLS. You WILL want to listen.”

Update 2:

“Out There: A Small Guide to a Big Universe” – Shurtleff & Latrell

Steve Shurtleff and Joe Latrell have a new book titled, Out There – A Small Guide To A Big Universe


Space is a really big place. The Earth, the Sun, and all the other planets live in a relatively quiet corner of an average sized Galaxy in a pretty nice cosmic neighborhood. There is plenty of space, lush nebulae and families of stars that pretty much keep to themselves. It’s a great place to be.

Let’s Go Exploring

While we can’t yet warp to other planets to get a close-up look, we have learned a lot about our place in the universe. Robotic probes, powerful telescopes, and human ingenuity have given us the ambition to not only ask questions, but also get answers about our place in the cosmos.

This book is simple guide to the Universe. It doesn’t explain everything, but it does cover some of the more intriguing spectacles and wonders. It’s data that we have discovered in our search to understand where we fit into the universe.

It’s Only An Hour Away By Car

Space is big, but it’s very close to us. You could get there in an hour if your car could go straight up. When we look at the universe, we see distances that just boggle the mind. ‘Out There’ helps you make sense of the numbers by relating them to items and ideas you might come across every day.

Join us in taking a quick adventure around our cosmic block. We’ll learn about some of the wonderful sights to see ‘Out There.’ Grab your ‘Small Guide to a Big Universe’ and let’s get started!

Video: Part 2 of ISS crew member Chris Cassidy and the space suit water leak

In an earlier video, NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy discussed how water began flowing into the helmet of Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano during his July 16th, 2013 EVA. A potentially very dangerous situation. In a second video shown below, Cassidy discusses potential locations in the suit where the leak might have happened and the current leading candidate as the culprit.


George Clooney keeps an eye on Sudanese dictator by satellite

A reader points me to this article about George Clooney and his political activism, particularly his interest in the conflict between North and South Sudan: George Clooney tastes sustainability in Nespresso coffee – Lucy Siegle/

“Most of the money I make on the [Nespresso] commercials I spend keeping a satellite over the border of North and South Sudan to keep an eye on Omar al-Bashir [the Sudanese dictator charged with war crimes at The Hague]. Then he puts out a statement saying that I’m spying on him and how would I like it if a camera was following me everywhere I went and I go ‘well welcome to my life Mr War Criminal’. I want the war criminal to have the same amount of attention that I get. I think that’s fair.” [My emphasis]

One cannot literally keep a satellite poised over an arbitrary spot on earth but activists can certainly use commercial earth observation satellites to monitor particular areas.  (Sats in geostationary orbit can hold a fixed position over the equator but even in that case they are far too high for high resolution imaging.) Satellite images might become available for a given spot every few days.

In the next few years, George Clooney and others will have greatly enhanced means to monitor dictatorial regimes as well as to spot hidden environmental disasters, trawlers fishing illegally, etc. In development are constellations of low cost earth imaging satellites such as Skybox Imaging and Planet Labs that aim to make it possible to monitor a particular spot on earth more frequently, even multiple times per day.

Already, the company MapBox is contracting with imaging satellite companies to offer processed imagery of most any spot around the world in real or near real time: Real Time Imagery via MapBox Satellite Live – MapBox. See also MapBox Plans to Bring You Super-Fresh Satellite Imagery – Wired Science.

The goal of Mapbax is provide individuals and small businesses and organizations with limited resources the equivalent of a GIS (Geographic Information Systems) analyst who will turn that raw satellite data into something that is useful for them at a bargain price.


An image taken from Planet Labs Dove 2 satellite on April 26, 2013. (Larger size)

More resources on earth observation in the HobbySpace Eyes in the Sky section.