NASA gets boost as Senate passes authorization bill

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NASA’s future is uncertain no more.

After more than a year, Congress passed the NASA authorization bill last week, much to the relief of many of the region’s aerospace companies and their employees.

“America’s civil space program has been in costly and divisive turmoil since Congress received the president’s budget proposal,” said Space Foundation Chief Executive Office Elliot Pulham. “Although the Senate-crafted direction for NASA is an imperfect compromise, its passage … should help stabilize the space agency and industry for the near term.”

Several provisions of the bill were “crucially important,” Pulham said. The bill extends funding for the International Space Station, continues development of a crew vehicle to replace the space shuttle and develops a human-rated heavy-lift launcher to explore space beyond the low-Earth orbit.

The Space Foundation isn’t the only industry group to breathe a sigh of relief about the bill’s passage.

“The uncertainty over NASA’s future has led to job losses in the private sector as contractors react to mixed signal on the direction programs will take,” said Marion Blakey, president and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association. “In many cases, the loss of talent is irreversible as laid-off workers move into other, more stable fields. Enacting NASA’s authorization begins the process of putting our spaceflight endeavors on a stable course.”

FAA moves into commercial spaceflight arena

Two new programs launched by the Federal Aviation Administration will streamline and study the emerging commercial spaceflight industry.

The FAA created an online database this year, dedicated to the private space transportation industry, and also developed a new center to serve as a hub for issues in the new industry.

The database, announced last month, creates a way for people in commercial spaceflight to share useful information quickly and easily, improving the safety of commercial launches and re-entry programs.

The FAA has a similar database for commercial air travel, which compiles information about plane crashes and their causes.

The agency is going to gauge public and industry interest in the database before making it fully operational.

In addition, the government agency also created a new center for spaceflight — the Air Transportation Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation. The center started in late August, and is led by New Mexico State University.

It’s one of nine established by the FAA, and will research space launch operations and traffic management, launch vehicle systems, payloads, technologies and operations. Commercial human spaceflight and space commerce — including law, insurance, policy and regulation — will also be explored at the center.

Space technology can prevent disease

Data gathered by remote sensing satellites can do more than just monitor events on Earth.

The Space Foundation believes using imagery from satellites can be used to predict areas that are prone to disease outbreaks, such as malaria and cholera.

Early warnings using models can help public health officials distribute preventive medicine and other forms of aids. While the satellites don’t directly detect disease outbreaks, they can be used to monitor environmental factors — ground water, vegetation or flooding — that contribute to the spread of disease.

“Before a model can be developed, a link must be found between the environmental factors and the outbreak of a disease,” said Space Foundation Research Analyst Mariel John, who presented a white paper on the topic earlier this week at the International Astronautical Congress in Prague.

Malaria is a good example, John said.

“Mosquitoes are more prevalent where there is a greater amount of surface water,” he said. “Increased surface water or rainfall can be detected by remote sensing satellites, represent a possible predictor for an outbreak of malaria in regions where the disease is know to exist.”

In the United States, NASA, the Department of Disease and the centers for Disease Control and Prevention are working on research programs that study the link between remote data and disease.

In Europe, the Epidemio project aims to “provide Earth observation-derived information on the environment to epidemiologists working to study, monitor and predict threats to human health.”

The Canadian government, in cooperation with Kenya’s malaria control program, funded the demonstration of satellite technology for identifying natural mosquito habits and predicting malaria risk in Africa.

Amy Gillentine can be reached at 719-329-5205 or at amy.gillentine@csbj.com. Friend her on Facebook.