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Leading the News


SLS Passes Key Review, But Slips First Launch To 2018.

The AP  (8/27) reports that NASA’s Space Launch System passed a “key internal review” on Wednesday, allowing engineers to move forward with “further planning.” However, the article notes that the rocket’s first launch was pushed back from 2017 to 2018.

The Houston Chronicle  (8/27, Berger) notes that NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot said this was a “big step” for the agency, because the Key Decision Point-C decision commits NASA to spending funds to build the rocket. As for the slip in the launch date, William Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, said that the SLS could still launch in 2017, but did not want to commit to a date it was not certain it could reach. Gerstenmaier said, “Everyone wants to focus on the launch date, but we don’t want to get specific right now. … We’re building a system that’s going to be around for multiple decades.” Leroy Chiao, a former ISS commander, said that he cannot see how the SLS in the end will be able to be “sustainable” when it flies so infrequently. The article highlights that while there is “technical progress,” the bigger question is whether NASA gets the funding to make the rocket “meaningful.”

According to Florida Today  (8/27, Dean), NASA added that the Ares I rocket, which was cancelled with the Constellation program, never reached this point in its development. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said, “We are on a journey of scientific and human exploration that leads to Mars. … And we’re firmly committed to building the launch vehicle and other supporting systems that will take us on that journey.” Sen. Bill Nelson,” one of the rocket’s top advocates in Congress,” said that when it comes to the first launch, “we need to keep the budget on track so NASA can meet an earlier readiness date — which I think can be done.” Meanwhile, Gerstenmaier said that NASA is “still refining and reviewing” how much it will cost to operate the rocket each year.

The CBS News  (8/27, Harwood) website reports that Lightfoot said, “It’s also important to remember that we’re building a series of launch vehicles here, not just one. … This is for us the start of kind of a production model of how we’re going to develop the vehicles we need to take folks beyond low-Earth orbit, moving from a 70-metric-ton vehicle for (the first test flight) to eventually a 130-metric ton rocket that will carry folks to Mars.” According to the article, this point comes after “more than a decade of national debate, uncertain politics and shifting national priorities dating back to the 2003 Columbia disaster,” which led to a focus on completing the ISS and the retirement of the shuttle.

Space News  (8/27, Foust, Subscription Publication) notes that Lightfoot said that a more firm date on the first launch will come only when a ground system and Orion capsule review are completed as well.

Also covering the story are the Huntsville (AL) Times  (8/27, Roop), Reuters  (8/27), Xinhua (CHN)  (8/27), Space Politics  (8/27, Foust), NBC News  (8/27, Boyle) website, WAAY-TV  Huntsville, AL (8/27, Barrett) website, Gizmodo  (8/27, Diaz) “SPLOID” blog, Engadget  (8/27, Velazco), Indo-Asian News Service  (8/28), Space Policy Online  (8/27, Smith), and CNET News  (8/27, Starr).

Blog Coverage. In a Houston Chronicle  (8/27) “SciGuy” blog post, Eric Berger writes that because NASA does not have the money to actually use the rocket, the concept of going to Mars in the 2030s is “much more of a dream than a reality.”

Mark Whittington at the Examiner  (8/27) “Houston Space News Examiner” blog writes that even with the slip in launch date, the SLS’ progress “compares well to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy,” which is making its first launch date two years later than originally planned.

Rand Simberg at Transterrestrial Musings  (8/27) is a lot more critical of the program than Whittington. He comments that the launch slip of the first launch, which likely will be pushed into 2019, makes the program “a disaster.”

Meanwhile, David Livingston at the Space Show  (8/26) podcast interviewed space historian Robert Zimmerman about the recent rocket launch failures, the upcoming commercial crew announcement, ISS modules, and the Curiosity rover. Livingston noted that the SLS did come up, but he is banning the topic because it is “beaten to death.” The SLS will not be mentioned again until new information comes out.

Higher Education


College Factual Ranks Colorado School Of Mines Best Engineering School.

The Denver Post  (8/27) reports that the group College Factual recently released a ranking of top engineering schools in the US, noting that the Colorado School of Mines took top honors, eclipsing such noted schools as MIT and the Georgia Institute of Technology.


Questions Surround Administration’s College Rating Plan.

PBS’ Newshour With Jim Lehrer  (8/28) runs an online report on the Administration’s plans for a new “controversial” college rating system, which would “tie money for student aid directly to a school’s score.” The piece notes that a first draft is scheduled for this fall, and that in the wake of the plan’s announcement, “college leaders across the country have questioned whether federal ratings will hurt schools, and students and lawmakers have introduced legislation to stop the system’s creation.” The article continues to present a Q&A relating a number of important issues surrounding the rating plan.


California Policymakers Considering Allowing Community Colleges To Offer Bachelor’s Degrees.

The Sacramento (CA) Bee  (8/27) reports that California higher education leaders, faced with projections that the state will face a deficit of some 1 million graduates with bachelor’s degrees by 2025, are considering “ways to boost middling graduation rates.” The paper explains that while community colleges are traditionally seen as focused on “transfer and career technical education,” the leaders of the state’s CCs “are looking to offer bachelor’s degrees in vocational fields, a step that could be the biggest adjustment to the mission of the state’s three-segment system of public higher education since it was laid out more than 50 years ago in the California Master Plan for Higher Education.”


North Dakota Universities In Poor Physical Condition Despite Energy Boom.

Bloomberg News  (8/27, Oldham) reports in depth on the “deteriorating” condition of public universities in North Dakota despite the state’s massive energy boom, which it says raises “concern that less prosperous states will face more serious funding challenges.” Although North Dakota has netted $6.8 billion in gas and oil tax revenue since 2013 and the state’s economy has outstripped every other since 2009, Bloomberg says that North Dakota’s “11 public universities face an $808 million maintenance backlog.”

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Research and Development


Crowd Turns Out In Huntsville To See Scale Model Of Webb Telescope.

Alabama Live  (8/27) reports that a crowd gathered in Huntsville, Alabama on Tuesday to see “a scale model of the James Webb Space Telescope unfold from the cocoon-like shape in which it will ride to space.” The event drew Space Campers at the US Space & Rocket Center, local media, and “even the technicians building the real Webb telescope’s heat shields.” The article reports that California Polytechnic State University students Colin Burt and Chas Carlson “built the model and have been taking it to NASA field centers around the country.”

WAAY-TV  Huntsville, AL (8/28) also covers this story, noting that NASA is planning to launch the real telescope, “the next of the Great Observatories,” in 2018. In the meantime, the “former students turned engineers from California Polytechnic Institute are showing off a 1/6 scale model of the infrared telescope.”


NASA Satellite, Engineer Measure Changes On Earth.

The Washington Post  (8/27, Rein) reports in depth on the Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite aboard NASA’s Suomi NPP satellite, which is measuring weather patterns, forest fires, “and other changes that tell us Earth is warming.” The article is also a profile of Miguel Román, an earth-systems scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, who translates the satellite data for officials who use the information on Earth. Romain said that the data from the satellite is “enabling the discussion” on climate change issues.

Industry News


Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize Finalists Named.

USA Today  (8/28, Healy) reports that on Wednesday at the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society International Conference’s opening ceremony, “10 teams were named finalists in a $10 million-prize competition to create a lightweight, portable, wireless device that can diagnose and monitor a variety of medical conditions.” The next phase of the Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize will involve “further judging from a panel of experts, diagnostic evaluations and consumer testing before a first-, second- and third-place winner will be named in early 2016.”

The Baltimore Sun  (8/28, Wells) “Inside Ed” blog reports, “The teams are tasked with developing a hand-held device that enables users to self-diagnose 12 conditions including diabetes, pneumonia and urinary tract infections.” The device must also diagnose “three ‘elective’ conditions” and “be able to measure five vital signs including blood pressure and heart rate.” BBC News  (8/28, Lane) also covers the story.


Computer Chips That Modulate Nervous System Part Of New Efforts To Aid Troops.

The Washington Post  (8/28, Lamothe) reports the “development of new computer chips designed to modulate the nervous system” and aid with “everything from arthritis to post-traumatic stress” is a “novel effort” among newly announced executive actions aimed at improving the mental health of US troops and veterans. The Electrical Prescriptions program is run by DARPA. Program manager Doug Weber said, “Instead of relying only on medication, we envision a closed-loop system that would work in concert like a tiny, intelligence pacemaker.”


After Earthquake, Cal Poly Engineering Professor Sees Demand For Wine Barrel Stacking System.

KSBY-TV  San Luis Obispo, CA (8/28) reports online that in the wake of the recent earthquake in Northern California, Cal Poly civil and environmental engineering professor Charles Chadwell “has been getting a lot of calls” about his “system to prevent stacked wine barrels from toppling during an earthquake.” Chadwell’s system “uses a ball bearing system that allows the earth to move beneath the stack, reducing the risk of falling barrels.”

The Sacramento (CA) Bee  (8/26) editorializes on the wave of emphasis on earthquake preparedness that waxes and wanes after a seismic event, and calls for state and Federal authorities to invest in early warning systems. The paper mentions Chadwell’s technology, and notes that though it has been demonstrated to be effective, “the recession hit, and, as often is the case, earthquake safety slid down on the list of worries.”

Engineering and Public Policy


Freezer Efficiency Rules Criticized By API, Chamber.

Reuters  (8/27, Rascoe) reports that the Energy Department’s efforts to implement energy efficiency standards on freezers at grocery stores has drawn criticism from varying groups, including the US Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute, which called the regulations “flawed” for their use of a monetary projection known as the social cost of carbon.


US Expected To Seek Non-Legally Binding Climate Change Agreement.

USA Today  (8/28, Koch) reports the Obama Administration “is likely to use upcoming climate talks to push for a treaty-less accord that would ‘name and shame’ countries into reducing” carbon emissions. USA Today says because Congress has “balked at fighting climate change,” US officials are expected to “seek emission-cutting pledges” rather than a “legally-binding treaty that would require Senate ratification.” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki indicated talk of an agreement is premature, saying, “Not a word of the new climate agreement currently under discussion has been written,” so it is too early to “say whether it will or won’t require Senate approval.”

The Hill  (8/28, Sink) reported the White House on Wednesday “pushed back…against bipartisan criticism” of its efforts and “defended its position by expressing concern that a formal treaty could fall victim to ‘dysfunction in Congress.’” Press Secretary Josh Earnest said, “Just because Congress doesn’t support it doesn’t mean the American people won’t support it.”

In a separate article, The Hill  (8/28, Cama) reported President Obama’s “plan to win a new international climate change accord is making vulnerable Democrats nervous.” A Democratic strategist, according to the Hill, said the plan places swing-state Senate candidates “in front of the firing squad,” adding, “You’re…making it more difficult for them to win and certainty putting them in a position to lose.”

WPost: Van Hollen’s Climate-Change Plan Is “Market-Based,” “Not Complicated.” The Washington Post  (8/28) editorializes that Rep. Chris Van Hollen’s proposed “comprehensive national climate-change plan” can be a model moving forward, because it is “market-based” and “not complicated.” The Post says the EPA “rules can’t be as clean and efficient as market-based plans,” and that reality could lead to considering this “less bureaucratic approach.”

Elementary/Secondary Education


South Dakota Tech School Receives $500,000 NASA Grant.

The AP  (8/27) reports that NASA awarded the South Dakota Space Grant Consortium a $500,000 grant. It will be used to “increase engagement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs at the Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown.”


Students, Teachers Learn About STEM Education At Louisiana Tech’s NASA Camp.

The Shreveport (LA) Times  (8/27) reports that educators and counselors from the Stennis Space Center conducted a three-day Astro Camp at Louisiana Tech University’s SciTEC Center. The agency “provided instructions and materials to conduct the camp, titled ‘3, 2, 1 Blast Off!,’ as well as additional materials for Louisiana Tech to conduct future camps and trainings.” During the camp, trainers and campers learned about a variety of STEM-related subjects, including Newton’s Three Laws of Motion and the moon’s effect on the Earth. Activities at the camp include “constructing moon clocks, building an engineered robotic arm, creating a zip line and the study of the space craft, LCROSS.” Educators also participated in a “day-long professional development training session” at SciTEC’s IDEA Place Math and Science Discovery Center, where they “participated in a number of STEM-related activities and left with a variety of instructional resources to use with their students.”


Startup Allowing Students To Conduct Experiments In Space.

Re/code  (8/27, Temple) reports Salt Lake City-based startup Ardusat has signed up “several dozen schools” to let K-12 students conduct “their own experiments in space by offering remote control access to satellites in orbit.” The goal behind the initiative is that “providing hands-on experience with devices zipping through low-Earth orbit will inspire more students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the so-called STEM subjects on which so much of the modern economy depends.” Re/Code notes Ardusat is “essentially a spinoff of Spire, a San Francisco company developing the tiny satellites in question.”

US News & World Report  (8/27, Neuhauser) quotes Sunny Washington, Ardusat’s president: “There is a STEM crisis in our country, we don’t have enough students graduating with the skillsets they need to fill the jobs of tomorrow. We want them to take the concepts learned in science and apply them to a real world application.”


Corning-Backed “Samsung School” Model To Debut At Middle School.

Larry Wilson writes in his Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette  (8/28) “Corning Watch” column that when the Alternative School for Math and Science in Corning “debuts a cutting-edge digital learning system next month, it will mark Corning Inc.’s latest effort to tweak the area’s educational structure.” The private middle school “will unveil the ‘Samsung School’ digital tools system – Samsung tablet computers for all students, interactive whiteboard displays in all classrooms, wireless printers and interactive educational software.” Corning spent $6.7 million in 2012 on upgrades to the school, and the Corning Foundation contributed $5.3 million that school year to the Corning-Painted Post School District. Corning Vice Chairman/Chief Financial Officer James B. Flaws said, “Corning has a long history of investment in education in Corning, N.Y., and other communities throughout its global network of operations.”

WENY-TV Elmira, NY (8/27, 11:24 p.m. EDT) mentioned the story very briefly in a feature on stories appearing in the Star-Gazette.


New Career And Technical Education Teachers Learn Teaching Skills At Transition Sessions.

The Williamson (WV) Daily News  (8/28) report new career and technical teachers from 19 counties and 23 schools in West Virginia gathered at a state park for the first part in a series of professional development events. The sessions will help the new teachers with beginning level instructional planning, teaching strategies, student engagement, curriculum development and classroom management as the former professionals transition to their new roles as educators.


Illinois District Looks To Put Robotics Program In Every Building.

The Rockford (IL) Register-Star  (8/26) reports the Rockford School Board formally accepted a $20,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois for the district’s FIRST Robotics Roll Out. The FIRST program consists of a Tech Challenge for high school students and a Lego League for fourth-through-eighth-, and for Kindergarten-through-third-graders. The district hopes to the be the first in the state to have a program in every school building.


Pennsylvania College Launches STEM Program For High-Needs School Districts.

WESA-FM  Pittsburgh (8/28) reports on its website that Westminster College in Pennsylvania has launched an IQ STEM program. The program includes an undergraduate scholarship and professional development component aimed at instructing low income students in STEM subjects to fill the job shortage in the state. The program will work with four high needs school districts in the region.

Wednesday’s Lead Stories


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