The death of Sir Patrick Moore, at the age of 89, is a sad loss to astronomy and for all those who grew up with his iconic BBC programme The Sky at Night.
Patrick will be remembered for bringing astronomy into the homes of millions but few will be aware that he attributed his big break in TV to flying saucers.
In his autobiography 80 Not Out, Moore credited his appearance on an obscure BBC television programme ‘Flying Saucers – do they exist?’ in 1956 as the launch pad for his career as Britain’s favourite TV astronomer:
‘I have often been asked how I managed to break into it [television], and the answer is that I made no conscious effort at all; the idea came from the BBC…so far as I was concerned the whole chain of events began with flying saucers.’
In fact, his interest in UFOlogy can be traced back to 1950s when he interviewed Desmond Leslie and George Adamski for the long-running BBC programme Panorama. Adamski had become a minor celebrity at the time because of the success of his 1953 book Flying Saucers Have Landed. The book told a wildly improbable story of his meeting with a tall, blond alien called Orthon from Venus who landed in the Mojave Desert. In 2006 Moore told me that he and Desmond Leslie, Adamski's co-author, were chums who had both served in the RAF during the war. He admitted that he and Desmond 'enjoyed playing practical jokes'. And to demonstrate how easy it was to write fairytales about visitors from other worlds, Patrick produced his own spoof novel, Flying Saucer from Mars. Written under the pseudonym Cedric Allingham, it claimed the author had witnessed the landing of a UFO in Scotland in 1954 and that he was taken on board and whisked around the solar system.
This ripping yarn, told as it was in a less sophisticated time to a less sophisticated audience, caused a flutter of excitement in Fleet Street. Various journalists tried to track down the elusive Mr Allingham for more details of his wonderful celestial voyage. But alas, his publishers (Muller) told them he had died at a sanatorium in Switzerland and that was that. Patrick Moore was virtually unknown in 1954, when Flying Saucer from Mars was published, and he never publicly confessed to the hoax. In 1986 when Magonia magazine published an exclusive story unmasking Moore as the real Cedric Allingham, he refused to comment and threatened to sue anyone who repeated the claim.
Ironically, by the '80s few people remembered Flying Saucer from Mars and the only person who continued to refer to it in books and TV programmes was Moore himself. When I visited Patrick at his Sussex home Farthings in 2006 I asked him to sign my copy of the book. He just laughed and batted my questions away before dismissing flying saucers as 'a load of bunkum'. But he could never quite escape from the subject that had launched him on his career as Britain's best known astronomer.
In 1979 he co-presented an edition of The Sky at Night with his friend and former Goon star Michael Bentine which aimed to answer the vexed question ‘UFOs: fact or fantasy?’ In the programme Moore declared he was ‘the most complete sceptic about the idea that flying saucers are spaceships coming from other worlds’ whilst Bentine – who had a sighting of his own in 1958 – described himself as ‘a hopeful agnostic.’
During the programme Moore revealed that during the 1950s he ‘played a hoax’ by sending a phoney sighting to his local newspaper in Sussex: ‘…I said where it was and what it looked like and so on and this came out in the local paper and…over twenty people wrote in to confirm it.’ This demonstrated to his satisfaction that ‘people really see what they want to see'. While I disagreed with Patrick on a few subjects, on this point I had to concede he was 100% correct.
When he was not making fun out of the subject, Moore’s considered views on UFOs were similar to those of fellow astronomers and cosmologists, such as Sir Arthur C. Clarke and Sir Bernard Lovell. He had seen a range of unusual natural phenomena whilst observing the sky and believed there were adequate explanations for flying saucers without turning to alien visitors. In a 1977 article published in Radio Times, he wrote, with characteristic humour, a fitting last word on the subject:
‘There is nothing I would like better than to meet a Martian, a Venusian, a Saturnian or even a Sirian and my immediate instinct would be to invite him to join me in a Sky at Night programme.’
This image was taken by Navcam: Right A (NAV_RIGHT_A) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 120 (2012-12-07 12:54:13 UTC) .
This image was taken by Navcam: Right A (NAV_RIGHT_A) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 120 (2012-12-07 12:55:17 UTC) .
This image was taken by Navcam: Right A (NAV_RIGHT_A) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 120 (2012-12-07 12:55:52 UTC) .
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
This image was taken by Navcam: Right A (NAV_RIGHT_A) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 120 (2012-12-07 12:56:27 UTC) .
This image was taken by Navcam: Right A (NAV_RIGHT_A) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 120 (2012-12-07 12:46:07 UTC) .
This image was taken by Navcam: Right A (NAV_RIGHT_A) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 120 (2012-12-07 12:49:02 UTC) .
This image was taken by Navcam: Left A (NAV_LEFT_A) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 120 (2012-12-07 12:46:07 UTC) .
This image was taken by Navcam: Left A (NAV_LEFT_A) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 120 (2012-12-07 12:50:12 UTC) .
This image was taken by Front Hazcam: Left A (FHAZ_LEFT_A) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 120 (2012-12-07 12:44:38 UTC) .
This image was taken by Navcam: Right A (NAV_RIGHT_A) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 121 (2012-12-08 13:22:02 UTC)
This image was taken by Navcam: Right A (NAV_RIGHT_A) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 121 (2012-12-08 13:22:37 UTC) .
This image was taken by Navcam: Left A (NAV_LEFT_A) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 121 (2012-12-08 13:25:20 UTC) .
This image was taken by Navcam: Left A (NAV_LEFT_A) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 121 (2012-12-08 13:22:02 UTC) .
This image was taken by Navcam: Left A (NAV_LEFT_A) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 121 (2012-12-08 13:24:15 UTC) .
This image was taken by Rear Hazcam: Right A (RHAZ_RIGHT_A) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 121 (2012-12-08 12:17:28 UTC) .
This image was taken by Front Hazcam: Left A (FHAZ_LEFT_A) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 121 (2012-12-08 13:20:36 UTC)
NASA's Curiosity Mars rover documented itself in the context of its work site, an area called "Rocknest Wind Drift," on the 84th Martian day, or sol, of its mission (Oct. 31, 2012). The rover worked at this location from Sol 56 (Oct. 2, 2012) to Sol 100 (Nov. 16, 2012).
The drift consists of sand trapped on the downwind side of a group of dark cobbles the team named Rocknest. This mosaic of 55 images from the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) shows the first four of five places from which the rover’s scoop obtained sand to clean the sample handling and processing system. The scooped material was ultimately delivered to the Chemistry and Mineralogy Experiment (CheMin) and the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) laboratory instruments housed inside the rover’s body. The annotated version of this figure shows the location of a scoop taken at a later date -- the fifth and final scoop, and the only one that provided grains delivered to SAM.
Before scooping, the rover team put an approximately 20-inch-wide (about 50- centimeter-wide) wheel print on the Rocknest wind drift. This allowed MAHLI and the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) to determine whether the drift really consisted of sand with small enough sizes to clean the Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis (CHIMRA) instrument and be delivered to CheMin and SAM. The drift material at the center of the wheel print, named "Portage" by the rover team, was examined by the APXS.
The rover’s robotic arm is not visible in the mosaic because the MAHLI that took this mosaic is on the turret at the end of the arm. Wrist motions and turret rotations on the arm allowed MAHLI to acquire the mosaic's 55 images. An earlier version of the Sol 84 self-portrait was released Nov. 1, 2012 (see PIA16239).
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
This map shows where NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has driven since landing at a site subsequently named "Bradbury Landing," and traveling to an overlook position near beside "Point Lake," in drives totaling 1,703 feet (519 meters). The rover landed on Aug. 5 Pacific Time (Aug. 6, Universal Time). It was at the easternmost waypoint on this map on Nov. 30, 2012. It worked on scoops of soil for a few weeks at the drift of windblown sand called "Rocknest." The place called "Glenelg" is where three types of terrain meet. The depression called "Yellowknife Bay" is a potential location for selecting the first target rock for Curiosity's hammering drill.
All of these sites are within Gale Crater and north of the mountain called Mount Sharp in the middle of the crater. After using its drill in the Glenelg area, the rover's main science destination will be on the lower reaches of Mount Sharp
The first examinations of Martian soil by the Sample Analysis at Mars, or SAM, instrument on NASA's Mars Curiosity rover show no definitive detection of Martian organic molecules at this point. Organic molecules are carbon-containing compounds essential for life on Earth. The soil grains were acquired from a wind drift named "Rocknest."
The instrument did detect simple chlorinated carbon compounds, represented by ball and stick models on the graph. These compounds contain hydrogen and carbon as well as chlorine. More work is needed to determine if the carbon in these molecules is of terrestrial or Martian origin. The chlorinated compounds were likely created from a reaction with perchlorate or a perchlorite-like phase and carbon-containing molecules.
Future experiments will further address the question of the observed carbon's origins, and the rover will continue to search for organics in both rocks and sands in other environments of Gale Crater.
NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has detected sulfur, chlorine, and oxygen compounds in fine grains scooped by the rover at a wind drift site called "Rocknest." The grains were heated and analyzed using the rover's Sample Analysis at Mars, or SAM, instrument suite. Scientists indicate the oxygen and chlorine may come from perchlorate or similar compounds, which contain chlorine and oxygen. Perchlorates were also found by NASA's Phoenix Lander at a different location on Mars. The sulfur compounds suggest the presence of sulfides or sulfates in the grains.
This plot shows the first-ever look at the deuterium to hydrogen ratio measured from the surface of Mars, as detected by the Sample Analysis at Mars instrument, or SAM, on NASA's Curiosity rover. Deuterium is a heavier version of the hydrogen atom. Scientists look at the deuterium to hydrogen ratios on Mars (or D/H levels) along with isotopes of other elements to study how its atmosphere has changed over time. Mars, which has less gravity than Earth and lacks a strong enough magnetic field to shield its atmosphere from the sun, is slowly losing its atmosphere. As this process occurs, the lighter hydrogen atoms are preferentially lost compared to the heavier deuterium ones.
SAM measured the D/H ratios in water released upon heating of sand samples taken from the wind drift called "Rocknest." The results show the water vapor consists of more deuterium than that of Earth's water, i.e. the water is heavier. This is to be expected since the lighter hydrogen atoms in the Martian atmosphere are escaping faster than the heavier ones.
This plot of data from NASA's Mars rover Curiosity shows the variety of gases that were released from sand grains upon heating in the Sample Analysis at Mars instrument, or SAM. The gases detected were released from fine-grain material, and include water vapor, carbon dioxide, oxygen and sulfur dioxide.
SAM has three instruments for analyzing gas from samples heated to different temperatures: a quadrupole mass spectrometer (QMS), a gas chromatograph (GC) and a tunable laser spectrometer (TLS). Together, they are capable of obtaining the composition of gases; identifying different isotopes of lighter elements; and detecting organic, or carbon-containing, materials if present.
This graph compares the elemental composition of typical soils at three landing regions on Mars: Gusev Crater, where NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit traveled; Meridiani Planum, where Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity still roams; and now Gale Crater, where NASA's newest Curiosity rover is currently investigating. The data from the Mars Exploration Rovers are from several batches of soil, while the Curiosity data are from soil taken inside a wheel scuff mark called "Portage" and examined with its Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS).
These early results indicate that the samples investigated by Curiosity are very similar to those at previous landing sites.
Error bars indicate the variations for the given number of soils measured for the Mars Exploration Rovers along the traverse. Note that concentrations of silicon dioxide and iron oxide were divided by 10, and nickel, zinc and bromine levels were multiplied by 100.
This collage shows the variety of soils found at landing sites on Mars. The elemental composition of the typical, reddish soils were investigated by NASA's Viking, Pathfinder and Mars Exploration Rover missions, and now with the Curiosity rover, using X-ray spectroscopy. The investigations found similar soil at all landing sites. In addition, the soil was usually unchanged over the traverse across the Martian terrain made by both Mars Exploration Rovers.
The Mars Exploration Rover Spirit's landing region in Gusev Crater is seen in both pictures at top; Viking's landing site is shown at lower left; and a close-up of Curiosity's Gale Crater soil target called "Portage" is at lower right.
In Gusev Crater, several white subsurface deposits were excavated with Spirit’s wheels and found to be either silica-rich or hydrated ferric sulfates.
The Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity acquired close-up views of sands in the "Rocknest" wind drift to document the nature of the material that the rover scooped, sieved and delivered to the Chemistry and Mineralogy Experiment (CheMin) and the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) in October and November 2012.
The picture on the left, acquired on the 58th Martian day or sol of the mission (Oct. 4, 2012), covers an area of about 0.75 by 0.87 inches (1.9 by 2.2 centimeters) and shows some of the variety of coarse sand grains observed on a portion of the Rocknest wind drift that was flattened by the left front rover wheel. Though Mars is thought of as the Red Planet, the sands of Mars are not necessarily red. This one small area shows clear, translucent grains, gray sand and white sand, in addition to two blue-gray glassy spheres and a glassy ellipsoid. The spherical and ellipsoidal grains were likely formed from molten droplets that cooled above the Martian surface to form glass, either during an explosive volcanic eruption or an impact cratering event. Similar grains are found in association with impacts on Earth and explosive volcanoes on the moon. The larger glassy sphere is 0.026 inches (655 micrometers) in diameter.
The picture on the right, acquired on Sol 73 (Oct. 20, 2012), shows a magnified view of the fraction of smaller sand grains examined by Curiosity. These are grains that were collected in the rover’s third scoop. They were passed through a sieving system in the Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis (CHIMRA) tool on the rover’s turret; only grains smaller than 0.006 inches (150 micrometers) passed through the sieves. In this image, the sieved grains are viewed on Curiosity’s approximately 2.9-inch-diameter (about 7.5-centimeter-diameter) observation tray; the image shown here covers a much smaller part of the tray, just 0.26 by 0.30 inches (6.5 by 7.6 millimeters). Many of these fine sand grains are angular pieces of crystalline minerals, ideally suited for analysis by the Chemistry and Mineralogy Experiment (CheMin).
This is a view of the third (left) and fourth (right) trenches made by the 1.6-inch-wide (4-centimeter-wide) scoop on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity in October 2012. The image was acquired by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on Sol 84 (Oct. 31, 2012) and shows some of the details regarding the properties of the "Rocknest" wind drift sand. The upper surface of the drift is covered by coarse sand grains approximately 0.02 to 0.06 inches (0.5 to 1.5 millimeters) in size. These coarse grains are mantled with fine dust, giving the drift surface a light brownish red color. The coarse sand is somewhat cemented to form a thin crust about 0.2 inches (0.5 centimeters) thick. Evidence for the crusting is seen by the presence of angular clods in and around the troughs and in the sharp, jagged indentations and overhangs on one wall of each trench (the walls closest to the top of this figure).
Beneath the crust surface, as revealed in the scoop troughs and the piles of sediment on the right side of each, is finer sand, which is darker brown as compared with the dust on the surface. The left end of each trough wall shows alternating light and dark bands, indicating that the sand inside the drift is not completely uniform. This banding might result from different amounts of infiltrated dust, chemical alteration or deposition of sands of slightly different color.
A Russian telecommunications satellite loaded aboard a Proton rocket, flying under the commercial marketing auspicies of International Launch Services, is scheduled for blastoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Saturday.
Launch of the Yamal 402 spacecraft is targeted for the precise moment of 1313:43 GMT (8:13:43 a.m. EST) atop the Proton M/Breeze M vehicle combination en route to geosynchronous transfer orbit.
It will take 9 hours and 15 minutes to reach the ascent's completion, releasing the 9,839-pound satellite into an highly elliptical orbit ranging from 4,642 miles at perigee to 22,181 miles at apogee and inclined 9 degrees to the equator.
Getting there begins with the six main engines of the 191-foot-tall rocket blasting at liftoff to send the four-stage vehicle in the skies of Kazakhstan.
The lower three stages that comprise the Proton core vehicle sequentially fire through the initial 10 minutes of flight, leaving the Breeze M upper stage to step through four burns over the next several hours to achieve a preliminary parking orbit before heading into intermediate orbits to hit the geosynchronous transfer orbit. Deploy is expected at 2228 GMT (5:28 p.m. EST).
Yamal 402 will maneuver itself into geostationary orbit 22,300 miles up where it can match Earth's rotation and appear parked over the equator at 55 degrees East longitude to begin a 15-year service life.
Built by Thales Alenia Space using the Spacebus 4000C3 platform, the satellite is equipped with a payload of 46 Ku-band transponders supporting four fixed transmission beams and one steerable beam.
Gazprom Space Systems of Moscow will operate Yamal 402 in expanding its orbital fleet, using the satellite to relay communications across Russia, the Commonwealth of Independent States, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
This will be the 383rd Proton rocket launch since 1965 and the 77th by International Launch Services since 1996, the 8th just this year for ILS and 11th overall by the heavy-lift booster. It is the first time ILS has launched a satellite for Gazprom Space Systems and the eighth Thales Alenia Space-built craft to ride aboard the commercial Proton.
Yamal 402 was shipped from the Thales factory in Cannes on Nov. 4 to start the launch site campaign. The satellite underwent final testing testing, the loading of maneuvering fuel, mating to the upper stage and encapsulation within the Proton's two-piece nose cone to form the Space Head Unit.
That combined element was connected to the Proton core in horizontal fashion before rolling out to the launch pad by rail on Wednesday. The booster was erected vertically and shrouded by the pad's mobile service gantry for the final days of preparations.
Saturday's flight date has held steady throughout the launch campaign.
Frams: Start-Video Roscosmos
The launch of a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 501 rocket has been delayed to no-earlier-than Nov. 13. The payload for this mission is the Orbital Test Vehicle or “OTV.” The delay will allow ULA to review the anomaly that cropped up during the Oct. 4 launch of a ULA Delta IV Medium rocket.
A lower-than-normal chamber pressure was observed on the Delta IV RL10 upper stage engine – a similar engine to that utilized in the Atlas V. The version of the RL10 used on the Atlas family of rockets is different than that on the Delta IV, but using an overabundance of caution, the ULA launch team and the U.S. Air Force have postponed launch by two weeks to allow the team to confirm that there will not be a repeat of the problem.
This will mark the third launch of one of the OTV spacecraft. The space plane to be used in the upcoming mission conducted its first orbital mission in April of 2010 and landed in December of that same year. ULA launched the second OTV on March 5, 2011 it landed over a year later on June 16, 2012. The USAF has not revealed what the spacecraft have been doing on orbit, but the first mission has been revealed to have been primarily a test of the vehicle’s heat shield and to see how the OTV handled while it was hypersonic.
Update: 3.11.2012 / 16.00 MEZ
The Air Force’s 45th Space Wing said in a news release Thursday that launch of the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle atop an Atlas V rocket was scheduled for a five-hour window between 1:03 p.m. and 6:03 p.m. Tuesday.
The launch follows weeks of investigation into an upper-stage engine problem during ULA’s Oct. 4 launch of a GPS satellite on a Delta IV rocket.
The rocket’s Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne RL-10 upper stage engine, similar to the one used by the Atlas V, lost thrust but delivered the payload to orbit.
ULA has not announced the findings of its engineering review.
Next week’s launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station would be the third by an unmanned OTV, which resembles a miniature space shuttle measuring 29 feet long and 15 feet wide.
The Air Force says its two OTV spacecraft are testing advanced guidance, navigation and control systems. They are also a rapid-turnaround technology demonstrator.
Officials have said that the spacecraft launching next week, making its second voyage, could land on Kennedy Space Center's runway. The first two missions touched down in California.The Air Force is exploring a consolidation of the program’s processing, launch and landing operations in Florida, including potential use of former shuttle facilities.
Air Force Space Command’s roots traced back to the 1940s
Air Force Space Command Public Affairs
12/6/2012 - PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The reasons for Air Force Space Command's activation lay in events and decisions that date back nearly four decades, but the command's missions can be traced back even farther, to the post-World War II period.
The end of the war brought with it a new age of technology. Since then the Air Force has been involved in the development of space-related systems.
"General Hap Arnold, who headed the Army Air Forces during the war, foresaw that the future of the Air Force lay in technology," said George Bradley III, historian for the command. "One of those technology threads was the very highest ground, which was space."
Following the war, under Operation Paperclip, the U.S. recruited German scientists and used equipment the Nazi regime developed, such as the V-1 and V-2 rockets, in experiments to develop a nascent U.S. space program The scramble for Nazi technology and scientists created a series of events that presaged the coming Cold War, causing the U.S. to not only be concerned with possible threats from the skies but also from space.
The Soviet launch of Sputnik, the first man-made satellite, in October 1957 was a major milestone in the history of space. As a result, American interest in space quickly grew and the U.S. accelerated plans to launch its own satellite, Explorer I, which happened on Jan. 31, 1958.
Subsequently, the U.S. began to reorganize its space program. In 1958, a civilian space program was established. NASA focused its priorities on civil and manned spaced ventures. Two years after the formation of NASA, the U.S. established the National Reconnaissance Office to oversee highly classified reconnaissance satellites. Each service, including the Air Force, continued their own space programs. In the 1960s and 1970s the Air Force developed military satellite systems in areas such as meteorology, communications, early warning, and navigation.
"Even before the creation of the command, it was apparent that the application of those systems was essential to the military," said Bradley. "For example, the military used space-based communications and meteorological systems for the first time as part of a major military operation during the Vietnam War."
The increased dependence of the military on spaced based systems was apparent throughout the Department of Defense and especially in the Air Force.
By the late 1970s, a number of Air Force leaders identified there was a need to address how the service organized for space. There were three primary factors that led the Air Force to begin considering the establishment of a major command for space.
One of those factors was the increased operational use of space systems by the military.
The second factor was that the Air Force had diffused its own internal management of space systems and various space systems were assigned to a number of different commands, such as the Air Force Communications Command, Air Force Systems Command and Strategic Air Command. Assignment to a command had been based on which organization had the greatest functional need for a particular space-based capability. This made an internal focus on space within the Air Force more difficult to achieve.
The dispersal of space systems among Air Force major commands challenged the coordination of specific requirements and operational concepts and forced the Air Staff to perform programmatic tasks that more appropriately belonged at a major-command level. Additionally, as space systems matured and became more sophisticated, some possessed multiple capabilities that made it more challenging to assign them to a specific command.
The third factor involved plans for a military version of a reusable launch system, the Space Transportation System, or as it is more commonly known, the Space Shuttle. In 1974, after President Richard Nixon announced NASA's development of the shuttle, the Air Force began looking at the shuttle as a way to put satellites into orbit on a more efficient and less costly basis. At least four Air Force major commands -- Strategic Air Command; Aerospace Defense Command (ADCOM), Air Force Systems Command and Military Airlift Command -- contended that they would be the logical choice to operate the shuttle for military purposes.
Decisions were made more difficult by discussions about whether the Department of Defense needed a Shuttle Operations and Planning Complex separate from NASA's Johnson Space Center. The DoD had already provided significant funding for the shuttle program, and as noted above, had plans to use the program to put satellites into space. A couple of those plans came to fruition as development of a launch complex for the military shuttle proceeded at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., and a Shuttle Operations and Planning Center was under development at Falcon Air Force Station, Colo.
All these issues led the Air Force to conduct a number of studies on its organization for space operations.
"Both the 'New Horizons II' study in 1975 and the more comprehensive 'Future Air Force Space Policy and Objectives' study in 1977 pointed out that the service's inefficient utilization of space assets was inadequate for the variety of space based systems that could assist the military throughout the world," said Bradley.
The need to focus space in one command was necessary, but how it was to be done was in question.
In early 1977, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force chartered a small group, the Creedon group, to look at how the Air Force was organized and if any elimination of major commands could be made to achieve manpower and money efficiencies. The group recommended the possibility of disestablishing ADCOM. Since the late 1950s, ADCOM had served as the focal point for the Air Force's ground-based space assets such as missile warning and space surveillance.
ADCOM leaders objected to the plan and pointed out that they should be the "foundation for current and future operational management of expanding space operations." In October 1978, General James Hill, ADCOM commander, appealed to fellow four-star generals at a Corona meeting for retention of ADCOM as the operator of Air Force space systems.
Despite these efforts, ADCOM was disestablished in October 1979 and ADCOM's air defense resources were transferred to Tactical Air Command with ADCOM missile warning and space surveillance resources going to Strategic Air Command. An Aerospace Defense Center remained from ADCOM remnants.
When Secretary of the Air Force John C. Stetson made the final decision to dissolve ADCOM, he also suggested that the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Lew Allen, look at how the Air Force could organize itself to better perform space operations.
With his suggestion came more studies. The "Space Missions Organizational Planning Study" of 1979, conducted by an executive committee, had a number of recommendations for reorganization, to include the establishment of a new major command for space operations. In 1980, the Air Force's "Summer Study on Space" highlighted organizational deficiencies that prevented the Air Force from fully realizing opportunities in space.
In 1981, Air Staff created the Directorate for Space Operations, which conducted an intensive study on space as a support tool in war fighting. This directorate was also a driving influence toward a better space organization for the Air Force.
"In 1981, the Commander of Air Force Systems Command, General Robert Marsh, and commander of NORAD and Aerospace Defense Center, General James Hartinger, agreed on the need for a better Air Force space organization," said Bradley. "They began working together to create an operational major command for space."
In February 1982, at Corona South, Marsh and Hartinger raised the issue of developing a new space command and General Allen directed them to develop a more detailed briefing on how to move towards an operational command for space.
In April 1982, Hartinger presented the briefing to Allen who directed Hartinger to begin planning for a new command, a space command. The formation of an Air Force major command for space, Space Command, was announced on June 21, 1982, and was activated on Sept. 1 1982, with Hartinger as its first commander.
Space Command assumed space assets from Aerospace Defense Center, Strategic Air Command, Air Force Systems Command, Air Force Communications Command and others, solving the lack of centralization of the space mission in the Air Force.
In 1985, the command was redesignated from Space Command to Air Force Space Command to reduce confusion with the newly activated unified command, United States Space Command.
Over the next 30 years, AFSPC became the central focus for space within the Air Force and acquired multiple assets with responsibilities to include space surveillance, missile warning sensors, space launch, space acquisitions, satellite command and control and a number of others. Today AFSPC not only retains the space mission but also has responsibility for the Air Force cyber mission.
A group of space veterans and big-name backers today took the wraps off the Golden Spike Company, a commercial space venture that aims to send paying passengers to the moon and back at an estimated price of $1.4 billion or more for two.
The venture would rely on private funding, and it's not clear when the first lunar flight would be launched — but the concept received a vote of support from NASA, which canceled its own back-to-the-moon plan two and a half years ago.
Golden Spike's announcement came on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 17, the last manned moonshot. Backers of the plan, including former NASA executive Alan Stern and former Apollo flight director Gerry Griffin, discussed the company's strategy at a National Press Club briefing in Washington.
"The time is ripe for commercial human lunar exploration," Griffin told journalists.
Stern said Golden Spike's experienced team of board members and advisers gave him confidence that they'd be able to make good on what sounds like a supremely overambitious plan. "We realize this is the stuff of science fiction," he said. "We intend to make it science fact."
Stern, a planetary scientist who was NASA's associate administrator for science in 2007-2008, is Golden Spike's president and CEO, while Griffin is chairman of the board. Other board members include new-space entrepreneur Esther Dyson and Taber McCallum, co-founder and CEO of Paragon Space Development Corp. The lineup of advisers taps into a who's who of space figures, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former NASA shuttle program manager Wayne Hale, former NASA engineer Homer Hickam and Bill Richardson, who has served as U.N. ambassador, energy secretary and the governor of New Mexico.
The venture also numbers United Launch Alliance, Armadillo Aerospace, Masten Space Systems and several other space-industry players on its team for the lunar lander system.
Golden Spike takes its name from the ceremonial spike that joined the rails of the first transcontinental railroad across the United States in 1869, a milestone that opened up the Western frontier to new opportunities.
"We’re not just about America going back to the moon; we’re about American industry and American entrepreneurial spirit leading the rest of the world to an exciting era of human lunar exploration," Stern said in the venture's first news release. "It’s the 21st century, we’re here to help countries, companies, and individuals extend their reach in space, and we think we’ll see an enthusiastic customer manifest developing.”
Ambitions and doubts
Golden Spike's news release said the venture would make use of existing rockets as well as commercial spacecraft that are currently under development to send expeditions to the lunar surface, with the estimated cost of a two-person lunar surface mission starting at $1.4 billion. That's roughly equivalent to the cost of a flagship robotic mission to the moon or Mars, such as the Curiosity-class rover mission that NASA is planning to launch to the Red Planet in 2020.
Stern said Golden Spike's mission architecture has been in development for two years. Each expedition would involve two sets of two launches each: The first set would put the pieces in place to pre-position a lander in lunar orbit. The second set would deliver a two-person crew to hook up with the lander, head down to the lunar surface, return to lunar orbit and then sail home.
That architecture could be put in place for $7 billion to $8 billion, Stern said. "This is a breakthrough cost," he said. In addition to the $1.4 billion for each two-person expedition, Golden Spike would derive revenue from media ventures associated with each moonshot, Stern said.
Golden Spike said market studies indicated that 15 to 20 expeditions could be undertaken in the decade after the first landing. However, no time frame was given for that landing. That's just one of the gaps in Golden Spike's plan. Among the other questions yet to be resolved:
Reaction, pro and con
NASA's associate administrator for communications, David Weaver, issued a statement that portrayed the venture in a positive light while steering clear of a formal endorsement.
"This type of private-sector effort is further evidence of the timeliness and wisdom of the Obama administration's overall space policy— to create an environment where commercial space companies can build upon NASA’s past successes, allowing the agency to focus on the new challenges of sending humans to an asteroid and eventually Mars," Weaver said. "As the private sector works to develop human missions to the International Space Station and eventually the moon, NASA will continue to develop new technologies and capabilities to advance the frontier ever further into space."
But John Pike, a longtime expert on space policy who heads GlobalSecurity.org, said he was "deeply skeptical" about Golden Spike's business plan. "If you could do it this cheap, somebody would have already done it," he told me.
Even if a lunar exploration program could be created for $8 billion, Pike said he didn't think the moonshot market would match Stern's expectations. "The implication is that they've got 20 countries that want to shoot people to the moon. I doubt it," he said.
India and China might be interested — but after that, Pike said, "How many countries are going to be prepared to spend money to be the 12th to land on the moon? ... I think a lot of these rocket men are just taking too many happy pills."
These images from the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show several impact scars on Mars made by pieces of the NASA Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft that the spacecraft shed just before entering the Martian atmosphere. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona