Tag Archives: N.A.S.A.

This image taken from NASA television shows astronauts Andrew Feustel, top, and Mike Fincke exiting the hatch on the International Space Station at the start of the second spacewalk early Sunday May 22, 2011. (c) AP Photo/NASA

Big astronauts don’t cry on Endeavour’s last mission

This image taken from NASA television shows astronauts Andrew Feustel, top, and Mike Fincke exiting the hatch on the International Space Station at the start of the second spacewalk early Sunday May 22, 2011. (c) AP Photo/NASA

This image taken from NASA television shows astronauts Andrew Feustel, top, and Mike Fincke exiting the hatch on the International Space Station at the start of the second spacewalk early Sunday May 22, 2011. (c) AP Photo/NASA

This Wednesday morning, Andrew Feustel and Mike Fincke floated out on a spectacular 6 hour long spacewalk outside the International Space Station – the third spacewalk since Endeavour launched into space for its last mission before retirement.

“It’s great to be back outside. It’s the most beautiful planet in the universe,” said Fincke as he gazed down on Earth. “Nice view, isn’t it?” chipped in Feustel.

For this third jump, the two veteran astronauts completed a number of important tasks,  including hooking up cables to provide increased power redundancy to the orbiting outpost’s Russian segment. The two also made an upgrade to the Zarya module, after they installed a power and data grapple fixture, which will “allow the station’s robotic arm to ‘walk’ to the Russian segment, extending its reach by using that grapple fixture as a base”.

Around this part of the mission, however, something really strange happened – strange to the point that the astronauts nearly had to go back to base and cancel their spacewalk. Apparently, something got in Feustel’s eye and made it sting “like crazy”.

“Just as an FYI, my right eye is stinging like crazy right now. It’s watering a lot. Must have gotten something” in it, Feustel said.

“Sorry, buddy,” Fincke replied.

Eventually, Feustel managed to rub his eye against a strap in his helmet and said that helped, and the spacewalk continued as planned. What’s to learn from all this? Astronauts are unable to cry properly because there is no gravity and tears cannot flow properly as they would on Earth. It is possible to produce tears in space – but they would leave the eye and float around. Funny, isn’t it?

You can read the latest news from Endeavour from NASA’s official page, including the obligatory spacewalk stats:

This was the third of the four STS-134 spacewalks, for a mission total of 21 hours, 20 minutes. It was the 247th spacewalk conducted by US astronauts, the 117th from space station airlocks, and the 158th in support of space station assembly and maintenance, totaling 995 hours, 13 min. If all goes as planned, the 1,000th hour of space station assembly and maintenance will be logged Friday.

An image of the Chang'e-3 Chinese Lunar Rover presented at the IEEE's International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Shanghai. (c) IEEE Spectrum

China on the moon: rover by 2013, samples by 2017 and manned landing by 2025

An image of the Chang'e-3 Chinese Lunar Rover presented at the IEEE's International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Shanghai. (c) IEEE Spectrum

An image of the Chang'e-3 Chinese Lunar Rover presented at the IEEE's International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Shanghai. (c) IEEE Spectrum

How’s your Mandarin? If it’s as rusty as mine, we’d do best and brush up on it since it seems we’re heading towards an age of Chinese domination. Capitalizing on its tremendous financial growth, China has some incredible programs which officials hope to catapult the people’s republic in front of the new space age.

A few weeks back, I told you all about China’s plans of building its own space station by 2020 – very ambitious plans indeed, but Chinese space program officials have even more stellar goals in sight, namely plans to send a robot to the moon within two years and also to bring a lunar sample home by 2017. The plans were made public by Chinese officials att he international robotics conference in Shanghai this week.

That’s not all either, according to Ziyuan Ouyang, the chief scientist of China’s lunar exploration program, stated that after the lunar sample mission, the agency’s main goal will be to put a Chinese astronaut on the moon and also build a permanent outpost on the Earth’s natural satellite. A particular date for this goal is this very ambigous, but last month it seems a Chinese officials came out and stated that China will put a man on the moon by 2025.

Last year, in October, China launched its second moon orbiter, as part of its newly risen lunar program. The Chang’e 2, as it was dubbed, has seen a great deal of improvements compared to its predecessor, including a more powerful rocket that delivered the probe to the moon more quickly. Chang’e 3 is supposed to launch sometime in 2013 and land in Sinus Iridium, where it will deploy an autonomous rover.

The robot will be able to choose its own routes, avoid obstacles, and perform science experiments with a suite of sensors, including cameras, x-ray and infrared spectrometers, and a ground-penetrating radar. For power, the Chinese lunar rover will use solar panels, as well as a supplementary power source in the form of a plutonium-238 nuclear battery, the same type installed on the forthcoming Mars Science Laboratory rover.

Concerning the 2017 lunar sample mission, China will launch a temporary lunar drill, which will alight on the surface, take a sample and then rush back to Earth for data collection.

Ultimately, China wants its own moon base by 2025. Some US congressmen issued a bill in which they directed NASA to build its own moon base by 2020; it won’t probably last, and as a key difference the Chinese usually keep to their word.

If you still fancy a trip to the moon, remember there’s still a chance to get on the 2015 private flight round and back. Oh, it’s only $150 million a ticket.


NASA to announce permanent homes for retired shuttles

Exactly 30 years ago, the first orbital space shuttle launch took place, marking the start of a slew of successful missions, with 135 successful launches, which provided important insights in space exploration, offered satellite deployment, space lab work and indispensable International Space Station service.

The shuttle program however will be permanently retired soon, with only two more flights left – shuttles Endeavour and Atlantis. Discovery, which completed its final journey to the International Space Station last month, and Enterprise, the first shuttle, which took its maiden voyage in 1977 but was a test orbiter and not capable of spaceflight, have been already retired.

All four shuttles will be symbolically donated to four worthy institutions for displaying purposes, with the official announcement settling the resting place for each shuttle going live this Tuesday. Currently there 27 institutions across the US competing to have one of the shuttles on permanent display, among which Houston’s NASA Mission Control or Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. I’m pretty sure one of the two will have a shuttle on display somewhere, it would be most fitting, really. Other institutions  that would love to host a space shuttle are the  Johnson Space Center, the Air Force Museum in Ohio and museums in New York City, Seattle and Chicago.

Apparently, Shuttle Discovery, which ended its flying career last month, is going to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

This Tuesday, April 12th, also marks the 50th anniversary of the first human journey into outer space. Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became an international celebrity after his Vostok spacecraft completed an orbit around Earth April 12, 1961.

We’ll keep this post updated as soon as the remaining three institutions each hosting a shuttle for permanent display are officially announced. Be sure to return to this page, if you’re still curious.

Incredible photo of the Milky Way arch

Click on the photo for an enlarged, marvelous view. (c) Juan Carlos Casado

Once again NASA‘s amazing “astronomy picture of the day” feature provides us with pure gold. The above captioned stunning photo (click on it and you’ll understand it’s splendor) was shot by astrophotographer Juan Carlos Casado during a clear night sky – the fully 360 across panorama was imaged by superimposing 9 separate photographs.

This how NASA astronomers explained how the phenomenon was captured on camera.

In a clear sky from a dark location at the right time, a faint band of light is visible across the sky. This band is the disk of our spiral galaxy. Since we are inside this disk, the band appears to encircle the Earth. The above spectacular picture of the Milky Way arch, however, goes where the unaided eye cannot. The image is actually a deep digital fusion of nine photos that create a panorama fully 360 across. Taken recently in Teide National Park in Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain, the image includes the Teide volcano, visible near the image center, behind a volcanic landscape that includes many large rocks. Far behind these Earthly structures are many sky wonders that are visible to the unaided eye, such as the band of the Milky Way, the bright waxing Moon inside the arch, and the Pleiades open star cluster.

Also, be sure to check out the NASA annotated version of the panoramic photograph which has various constellations mapped in the skyline.

The International Space Station as photographed by an STS-133 crew member on space shuttle Discovery. (c) NASA

Space junk didn’t hit the International Space Station – red alert canceled

The International Space Station as photographed by an STS-133 crew member on space shuttle Discovery. (c) NASA

The International Space Station as photographed by an STS-133 crew member on space shuttle Discovery. (c) NASA

Remarkably, a growing issue NASA scientists face everyday is space junk – tiny bits of scrap, bolts, rocket modules from launches and so on. All of them along the years have amassed to a point where it is now very dangerous for satellites, orbiting spacecrafts and especially the International Space Station to freely orbit Earth.

It’s enough to keep in mind that most space debris travel at 18,000 mph, so even a bolt sized junk if it hits the space station at relative speed would be enough to blow it to smithereens. Apparently, such a case wasn’t too far from reality earlier today, when NASA issued a red alert for the ISS as a piece of debris from the Chinese FENGYUN 1C satellite destroyed in an anti-satellite missile test by China in 2007 came critically close.

Approaching the space station from the front, NASA officials said the satellite debris flew within about 3.3 miles (5.3 kilometers) during its closest approach to the space station at 4:21 p.m. EDT (2021 GMT). For the three astronauts on board, American Catherine (Caty) Coleman, Italian Paulo Nespoli, and Russian Commander Dmitry Kondratyev, the situation was tensed, as they were advised to take shelter in “the Russian lifeboat”, the Soyuz capsule that’s attached to the station that could fly them back to Earth. Usually the alert is dropped as the debris gets close enough for NASA to project an exact path, and determines it’s going to miss. The last time debris got close enough to force an evacuation was in 2009.

“Tracking data now indicates that a piece of orbital debris being monitored by Mission Control Houston will not pass close enough to the International Space Station to warrant the Expedition 27 crew members taking safe haven within their Soyuz TMA-20 spacecraft,” NASA officials said in an afternoon status update.

NASA has a very elaborate space junk tracking system, which predicts whether the debris will fly within a preset “pizza-box”-shaped safety perimeter of the ISS – about 15 miles (25 km) around the space station and about a half-mile (0.75 km) above and below the orbiting lab. Even so, however, space junk is getting ever thicker, and consequently situations like these will happen more often.

As of July 2009, more than 19,000 pieces of space debris larger than 10 cm were known to be circling the Earth, according to NASA researchers who track it. Another 500,000 pieces are between 1 cm and 10 cm. The tiniest pieces number in the millions. One of the best solutions to this demanding space issue is the development of a huge space junk laser which would pull debris off course into the atmosphere, but it could take years and years for it to actually get built.

Secret military orbital plane spotted by astronomers

Orbital Test Vehicle-1, sister ship to the X-37B, returning home from a test flight in Dec. 3, 2010. Credit: U.S. Air Force

As a somewhat interesting story, I’ve just read on SpaceWeather that the new sub-orbital pseudo-shuttle military space plane, the X-37B, has been spotted on the sky by various astronomers around the US as its surface shined above the stratosphere. I’ve tried to inquire and find out what’s the purpose of the X-37B’s just recent circling of the Earth, but apparently its mission is highly classified.

“I saw the X-37B from my home in Pasadena, California, around sunrise on March 31st,” reports Anthony Cook of the Griffith Observatory. “The spacecraft’s appearance was remarkable. When overhead it was a little brighter than a 2nd magnitude star with a slight yellow hue. Then it flared. As the X-37B moved toward the horizon it became silvery and brightened to around magnitude -6, far outshining Venus below it.”

The X-37B is a robotic spaceplane (unmanned) which is used by the US Airforce for sub-orbital and orbital missions, like satellite maintenance or refueling and such. There’s actually been a scandal related to the X-37B recently when Chinese officials accused the Pentagon of delivering weapon in space via the spaceplane, which in term were firmly denied.  It’s curious and funny at the same time that such a classified, billion dollar spaceplane can be so easily spotted and tracked even by simple amateur astronomers.

The red square nebula enchants space

The highly energetically hot solar system MWC 922 or the Red Square. (c) N.A.S.A.

The highly energetically hot solar system MWC 922 or the Red Square Nebula.

There’s nothing Russian about the above fantastic featured photo, but what one can be pretty certain about is that it’s darn right fantastic! Dubbed the “red square nebula”, the phenomena was observed after infrared exposures from Earth-based telescopes in Hawaii and California were superimposed revealing a fantastic geometry. Scientists are still not sure how the phenomena can be explained, but so far N.A.S.A. astronomers hypothesize that stars at the heart of the nebula expelled unusual cones of gas at a late stage in their development, which combined with a perfect observation angle formed the square gem we now see. Supporting evidence for the cone hypothesis includes radial spokes in the image that might run along the cone walls.

The Red Square Nebula would look very different from other angles, and astronomers speculate that viewed from other angles its cones would look like the huge rings that we can observe on supernova 1987A.

via N.A.S.A.


Mars space suit tested by NASA in Antarctica

Argentine aerospace engineer Pablo de Leon (L), a NASA team member, tests a space suit designed for possible use in Mars at Argentina’s Marambio base in Antarctica in this handout photo dated March 13, 2011. (c) N.A.S.A.

A successful manned mission to Mars would launch mankind into a new space era,  marking a historical moment; and however distant this prospect may be, scientists at NASA are already working on space suits tailored for the Martian environment. The NDX-1 space suit, designed by Argentine aerospace engineer Pablo de Leon with NASA funding, was tested recently in the Argentinian part of Antarctica where it was subjected to winds of more than 47 mph and freezing conditions.

“This was the first time we took the suit to such an extreme, isolated environment so that if something went wrong we couldn’t just go to the store” and buy a repair kit, said De Leon  recently after returning from the one week expedition.

The NDX-1 $100,000 prototype suit is made out of more than 350 materials, including tough honeycomb Kevlar and carbon fibers to reduce its weight without losing resistance. Scientists wearing the suit, including its lead engineer Pablo de Leon, simulated spacewalks, sample collection, drilling and other simulations to see how the suit might behave if a manned mission were to set foot on Mars.

It’s not very comfortable though, as de Leon said it was bound to make anyone feel claustrophobic with its helmet and built-in headset for communicating with the outside world. De Leon, who heads the space suit laboratory at the University of North Dakota in the United States, said Antarctica was ideal for sample collection as it is one of the least contaminated places on earth and will also give clues about the suit’s impact.

“Mars is a mixture of many different environments: deserts, and temperatures and winds like in Antarctica,” De Leon said. “So we try to take bits of different places and try to see if our systems can withstand the rigors of Mars if we go there.”

It’s always exciting to see Mars projects developed or tested, but one can only wonder when a manned Mars mission will finally be kickstarted, especially considering the delicate situation NASA – the budgetary problems, that is. President Barack Obama said last year that by the mid-2030s it would be possible to send astronauts to orbit Mars and return them safely to earth.

Coldest star so far found – not hotter than a cup of coffee

An artist's impression of the coldest brown dwarf found so far, CFBDSIR 1458 10b captioned on the right. Image (c) L. Calçada, ESO.

Astronomers usually classify stellar objects by a spectra going from hotter to cooler, using the letters O, B, A, F, G, K, and M. As observational technology progressed and a myriad of new astronomical findings were made, in the last 15 years alone two new classes  L and T emerged designed to describe ultracool brown dwarfs. A recent scientific finding suggests that yet another spectra might need to be added to accommodate the coldest star discovered so far.

Dubbed CFBDSIR 1458 10b, the brown dwarf has a remarkably low surface temperature of  97 degrees C (206 degrees F) –  just about as hot as a freshly made morning cup of coffee.

Over the years there has been steady but slow progress in pushing the boundaries of finding the coldest stars,” said study leader Michael Liu, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii were a team of researchers studied and published a paper about CFBDSIR 1458 10b.

“But with this latest discovery we have made a big leap forward—besting the previous record holder by at least 150 Kelvin [270 degrees F, or 150 degrees C],” he said.

Astronomers using the Keck II telescope recorded this composite infrared image of the brown dwarf binary designated CFBDSIR J1458+10. The fainter component is at present date considered the coldest star discovered so far. (c) Michael Liu - Univ. of Hawaii

CFBDSIR J1458+1013B did not cool down after starting out hot like our Sun, instead “it never became very hot in the first place because it developed from a fairly small cloud of gas,” said Duane Pontius, professor of physics at Birmingham-Southern College (BSC) in Alabama. “Gravity pulled the cloud together and compressed the gas, which heats it up just as a bicycle pump heats up when you compress air into a tire. But relative to brighter stars, there wasn’t as much gas, so this star never heated up much.”

This means that because it has such a low gravitational energy and mass, the dwarf was never able to sustain hydrogen fusion reactions in its core, which creates scorching high surface temperatures like 5,500 degrees Celsius on our own sun (a fairly low temperature compared to other stellar bodies). Astronomers at Keck II telescope, Canada-France-Hawaii telescope, and European Southern Observatory Very Large Telescop managed to describe CFBDSIR J1458+1013B after tracing it’s very dim infrared signature. The dwarf is paired in orbit with yet another dwarf star, the later a lot brighter though.

The study seems to gray the line between scientists decide what can be considered a planet and what can be considered a star, since CFBDSIR J1458+1013B is estimated to have a mass only 6 to 15 the mass of Jupiter, which has a surface temperature of -149 degrees C (-236 degrees F ).

“…this new object is so much colder than anything else seen that it now enters the regime where it may actually have an atmosphere with water clouds,” Liu said.

“The most exciting aspect of this finding is that we might be on the threshold of finding a new class of objects that blurs the line between gas-giant exoplanets and brown dwarf stars previously seen—something I think that is really surprising the astronomical community.”

You think CFBDSIR J1458+1013B is pretty cold for a star? Well, NASA scientists are trying to determine the exact temperature of a newly discovered brown dwarf, called WD 0806-661b, which is believed to have a temperature of roughly ~30 degrees Celsius and a mass 7 times that of Jupiter.

“I think it’s pretty neat to find a ‘star’ that could have a temperature similar to that of Earth,” says Kevin Luhman (Penn State University), who led one of the observing teams. Luhman and two colleagues used NASA’s infrared Spitzer Space Telescope to study WD 0806-661b, the companion of a faint white-dwarf star 63 light-years distant in the southern constellation Volans.

Story via skyandtelescope.com

[PHOTOS] How NASA imagined in the 1970s space stations would like in the future

In a time when a thing called the space race was in full swing, technological advance and cocky egos made a lot of people, mostly scientists, get disillusioned with visions of grander for the future.  In the 1970’s Princeton physicist Gerard O’Neill with the help of NASA’s Ames Research Center and Stanford University showed that we can build giant orbiting spaceships and live in them. These space stations would have been giant enclosed-circle cylinders that housed at least 10,000 people, giant ecosystems, lakes, farm areas (with tractors plowing the fields inside the space station…), entire towns actually wrapped inside the station.

Considering that in 2011, the International Space Station, which is barely closing on its 25 years completion program and costs tens of billions of dollars, looks like a big tin can compared to the stunning futuristic representations from below, one could think that people were a bit ecstatic concerning the 2000s back then. But that doesn’t really matter, since the image gallery below not only offers some brilliant eye candy to feast upon, but also some intense stimulation for ones senses and spirit. I can only image how the managers of this NASA settlement project and the artists drawing it must have felt when it was finally completed.

Source: NASA via Dvice.

Messenger spacecraft to enter Mercury orbit

Messenger around Mercury. NASA artist's rendering.

After a six year journey in which it traveled over 6 billion miles, the Messenger spacecraft is finally anticipated to enter Mercury’s orbit in a tricky maneuver which is scheduled today, which should mark the first man-made object to orbit the tiny planet. The goal of the mission is to provide scientists with data on Mercury unparalleled since the Mariner 10 spacecraft passed by three decades ago. And the more we understand about Mercury, NASA says, the more we’ll understand about how the other rocky planets in the solar system–Venus, Mars, and of course, Earth–formed and evolved.

At 8.45pm EDT, the probe will power on its largest thruster – pointed very close to the direction of travel – for nearly 14 minutes. Other thrusters will fire for a minute more, slowing the spacecraft by 1,929 mph. The procedure will be so energy consuming that the space-craft will burn a third of its original fuel tank with which it launched more than six years ago.

Messenger will fly a 12-hour orbit at a minimum altitude of about 124 miles. The spacecraft’s science instruments will be turned on and checked out starting on March 24.

“This is a milestone event for our small, but highly experienced, operations team, marking the end of six and one half years of successfully shepherding the spacecraft through six planetary flybys, five major propulsive maneuvers, and sixteen trajectory-correction maneuvers, all while simultaneously preparing for orbit injection and primary mission operations,” says Messenger systems engineer Eric Finnegan.

Messenger’s seven sets of instruments will map its surface and look for any signs of water ice at its poles. The probe will also gather date regarding Mercury’s magnetic field and atmosphere. It will stay in orbit for a year, time in which it will revolve around the first planet from the sun 730 times and send over 75,000 photos back home on Earth. This all of course will be possible if Messenger will successfully manage to enter the planet’s orbit, case otherwise the $446 million spacecraft will end up circling around the sun.

First Space Fueling Station used for servicing satellites by 2015

A lot of critics are raving towards the end of the space exploration age, as aerospace budgets get ever thinner, shuttle programs get retired or the fact that the lunar surface has remained unscratched by human hand for years and years. Where governments might fail, however, one can always put faith in the ever much better organized and efficient private sector, with more and more companies becoming interested in commercial space flights and exploration.

An innovative idea which I salute for its utility and business plan alike is the space fueling station concept developed by MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates (MDA). The Space Infrastructure Servicing vehicle, as it is dubbed, will fly in geosynchronous orbit (22,369 miles above the Earth), where it can reach several key commercial and government satellites for various tasks be it refueling, maintenance or repositioning.

The SIS would truly be a very practical device, however its most vital role would be re-fueling. Most space satellites operate relying on solar power, however for self-repositioning or orbital change they need a more powerful fuel, like hydrazine. Without it, there is the risk of the satellite becoming space junk or getting burned to smithereens while entering the planet’s atmosphere.

The station upon its launch, scheduled by MDA sometime in 2015, will have enough hydrazine to power about a dozen satellites, after which it will itself need to get refueled. A good analogy would be that of the service tanker that fuels a gas station.

The communications satellite company Intelsat, which has the most geosynchronous satellites, will be the first client.

Besides the tank obviously equipped for refueling, the SIS will also carry a robotic arm and a tool set for various maintenance duties. The robotic arm will be very useful for docking satellites in the refueling part or for re-orbiting satellites. It could even serve as a tow satellite, moving other spacecraft into a high-orbit graveyard zone or bringing them low enough to reenter the atmosphere and break up.

Watch the video below provided by MDA for a graphically animated explanation of the SIS concept.

“On-orbit refueling and servicing is a game-changing innovation,” said Thierry Guillemin, Chief Technical Officer of Intelsat. “It is important for Intelsat, managing the largest commercial satellite fleet, to support technologies and tools that expand our capabilities in space. We intend to implement this technology as a tool in fleet management that will improve operational reliability, increase the return on our on-orbit assets, ensure good stewardship of the space environment and deliver this increased flexibility to our government customers as well.”

“We are very pleased to have Intelsat, the world’s leading provider of fixed satellite services, as the anchor customer for our new SIS offering and our partner in accessing the US government market,” said Dan Friedmann, President and CEO of MDA. “There is a clear need to service the world’s space infrastructure, both commercial and government. The combination of MDA’s unparalleled and proven space servicing capabilities and Intelsat’s commercial and government market presence is a good way to get this new service off the ground.”

MDA and Intelsat will start building the satellite in the next six months, and the first space refueling will take place about four years from now.

Cocaine found at Kennedy Space Center… again

NASA’s Inspector General’s Office says an investigation is under way after a white powdery substance found at the Kennedy Space Center tested positive for cocaine.

I wanted to insert some puns somewhere in this post about astronauts, cocaine, high and outer space, but by the time I finished researching for this post I remembered that N.A.S.A. is through some though times at it is.

“Law enforcement personnel field tested the substance, which indicated a positive test for cocaine,” said Renee Juhans, an executive officer with the office.

“The substance is now at an accredited crime lab for further testing,” she said.

The find was made last week when a small bag containing 4.2 grams of white powdery substance, which wouldn’t you know it turned out to be cocaine, was stumbled upon. Embarrassing enough, this wasn’t a premiere for N.A.S.A. either, as last year a small quantity of cocaine was found as well, this time in a secure part of a hangar that housed space shuttle Discovery. That time almost 200 space shuttle workers were tested for drug use, but no one was found positive. The investigation was eventually closed without any disciplinary or legal actions.

NASA has a zero-tolerance drug policy. All employees may be randomly tested. It is not known whether any employees have been asked to submit to drug testing in this investigation.

NASA’s 2012 budget – $18.7 Billion

Earlier today Obama’s administration budget plan for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was proposed to $18.7 billion, at the same amount as in 2010, and puts predominance towards science research, exploration and commercial flight development. The $18.7 billion funding layout is $300 million less than the draft budget approved for 2011 in the NASA Authorization Act last year and $750 million less than the legislation’s blueprint for 2012.

In the layout, $1,8 billion is being diverted from the space operation program, which reflects the end of the space shuttle program, to the space research and technology division occupied with the human space program  (more than $1 billion)  and science division ($500 million). Part of these costs are intended to cover the overrun costs for the James Webb Space Telescope, which has already amounted $3 billion in spending, the innovative device intended to replace the famous Hubble sometime in the mid-decade.

Also, the White House proposes a $350 million increase in funding for commercial crew transportation programs to $850 million next year. The budget request would also initiate development of a heavy-lift rocket and Orion exploration capsule, calling for $2.8 billion in combined spending on those programs in 2012.

The $18.7 billion White House budget plan is significantly bolder than that of the Republicans, which propose to cut N.A.S.A. funding back to 2008’s level. Early analysis already reports this would mean a scrapping of the James Webb telescope, delay many of Obama’s earth sciences initiative and 75,000 contractors laid off by this September, as reported by the agency.

How much do you personally contribute to the N.A.S.A budget? For another interesting analysis, Space.com reports that a family with the median household income ($49,777 according to the U.S. Census Bureau), which pays $6,629 of federal taxes, pays the space agency … $33.

Image: source.