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Leading the News

Virgin Galactic’s Space Ship Two Crashes In Mojave Desert During Test Flight.

ABC World News (10/31, lead story, 2:50, Muir) reported that Virgin Galactic’s Space Ship Two crashed Friday in the Mojave Desert during a test flight. ABC’s David Kerley reported that one of the two pilots survived, while the other one was found dead. Paul Ceruzzi, chairman of Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum’s space history division, was asked whether this crash would hurt the future of space travel and he said, “Absolutely not. Some of them are going to fail, but I think one, maybe two or three are going to succeed and we’ll go from there.” Kerley said that an NTSB investigative team was on its way to the area to determine what caused the crash. Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic CEO Richard Branson commented on the tragedy and tweeted that he was “flying to Mojave immediately to be with the team.”

According to the Washington Post  (11/1, Phillip), Virgin Galactic released a statement on Twitter saying that the crash was caused by an “in-flight anomaly.” However, Stuart Witt, CEO and general manager of Mojave Space and Air Port, said during a news conference Friday that he didn’t detect “nothing that appeared abnormal.” Witt added later, “If there was a huge explosion that occurred, I didn’t see it.”

The CBS Evening News (10/31, lead story, 2:40, Pelley) reported that the rocket was fueled by a new mixture “that would give the craft the extra boost needed to get into space.” Scaled Composites partnered with Virgin Galactic and built the spacecraft and it’s CEO, Kevin Mickey, said, “This was a new fuel formulation” that “had been proven and tested on the ground many times.” CBS’s Ben Tracy reports that Friday’s crash “is likely going to be an extraordinary setback for the budding commercial space industry.” Tracy added that, “after years of delays and technical issues, Virgin Galactic thought it was close to finally launching its commercial space business” and, “had this test gone well,” the company “planned to do it as early as next year. That now is very unlikely to happen.”

NBC’s Tom Costello reported on the story on Friday’s NBC Nightly News (10/31, lead story, 4:05, Holt) broadcast and called the crash a “major blow to the commercial space industry.” Costello said, “I think it’s fair to say that tonight the entire commercial space industry is reeling. I mean, questions about whether they’re up to the job and the risks associated with space flight and especially whether tourists should be headed to space, at least right now.”

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times  (11/1, Petersen) reported that NASA “sent its condolences to Virgin Galactic” and said in a statement, “While not a NASA mission, the pain of this tragedy will be felt by all the men and women who have devoted their lives to exploration. … Space flight is incredibly difficult, and we commend the passion of all in the space community who take on risk to push the boundaries of human achievement.”

The New York Times  (10/31, Chang, Schwartz, Subscription Publication), the AP  (11/1, Melley, Pritchard), Reuters  (10/31, Dobuzinskis) also covered the story.

NTSB’s Hart: Virgin Galactic Spacecraft Broke Apart In Midair. National media were rife with reports on the aftermath of Friday’s deadly crash of the Virgin Galactic spacecraft SpaceShipTwo, many leading with the preliminary conclusion by acting National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Christopher Hart that the prototype ship appeared to have broken apart in midair before its debris was spread across five miles of California’s Mojave Desert. Meanwhile Saturday, Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson vowed to determine what caused the space-tourism craft to crash at 45,000 feet, killing one crew member and injuring another, and appeared to resist the idea of moving too quickly to restart the project.

NBC Nightly News (11/1, lead story, 3:45, Holt) made the crash follow-up its lead story Saturday, with anchor Lester Holt pointing out that the investigation was the NTSB’s first involving commercial spacecraft. NBC identified the test pilot who died as 39-year-old Michael Alsbury of Tehachapi, California and his injured colleague as Peter Siebold, 43, who suffered a shoulder injury, parachuted to safety, and underwent surgery at a hospital where he remains. NBC aired footage of Branson telling a news conference at Virgin Galactic’s Mojave Air and Space Port: “In testing the boundaries of human capabilities and technologies, we are standing on the shoulders of giants. Yesterday we fell short.” Correspondent Jacob Rascon said the crash came during a flight to “test a new engine and fuel mixture” and that the probe now underway by about a dozen NTSB investigators could help eventual regulations from the Federal Aviation Administration. The newscast showed Hart saying Saturday that his agency’s goal was “to find out not only what happened, but also more importantly why it happened so we can make recommendations to try to prevent it from happening again.”

The AP  (11/2, Melley) quotes Hart as saying, “When the wreckage is dispersed like that, it indicates the likelihood of in-flight breakup,” adding that learning where pieces of the spacecraft fell will help investigators determine when and how the breakup occurred. Asserting that Friday’s crash “almost certainly dashed” Branson’s goal of beginning commercial suborbital flight in spring 2015, the story quotes the British billionaire making “grim remarks” that although he remained committed to civilian space travel, “We are not going to push on blindly.” Branson deferred all questions as to what may have happened to SpaceShipTwo to the NTSB. “We are determined to find out what went wrong,” he said. Alsbury and Siebold were working for Scaled Composites, the company developing the spaceship for Virgin Galactic. Scaled Composite said Alsbury had been the co-pilot on the test flight. Siebold, who was piloting SpaceShipTwo, “is alert and talking with his family and doctors,” the company said.

The Los Angeles Times  (11/1, A1, Petersen, Vives) cites Hart as saying NTSB officials had determined the breakup and subsequent crash were filmed by at least six on-board cameras, a camera at Edwards Air Force Base, and cameras on a “chase aircraft” that was following SpaceShipTwo’s test flight. “Because it was a test flight it was heavily documented in a way that we don’t normally see in accidents,” he said. Although it’s the first time the NTSB has led an investigation into a space launch with people aboard, the NTSB assisted in the probes of the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters, Hart pointed out. Much of the investigation will focus on SpaceShipTwo’s rocket engine, which is designed to propel the craft to more than 60 miles above the Earth’s surface, the Times says.

The Washington Post  (11/2, Harwell) notes that Friday’s test flight “was the first time the rocket plane had used a new type of plastic-based fuel,” rather than the rubber-based solid fuel that had propelled its predecessor, SpaceShipOne, “and nearly all previous tests.” In seeking to identify what Scaled Composites has called an “anomaly,” John “Danny” Olivas, a former NASA astronaut and director of the University of Texas at El Paso’s Center for Advancement of Space Safety and Mission Assurance Research, said: “I would look really hard at the new engine. It could have been structural or something different. But that’s certainly where I would start.” The Post noted that Branson has said he wanted to be one of the first passengers when flights began as early as next year, and that over 700 celebrities and private citizens have paid up to $250,000 each for a flight aboard SpaceShipTwo.

In a sidebar, the AP  (11/2, Borenstein) notes that the space industry’s effort over the past decade “to go from risky and government-run to routine private enterprise” has been undermined by the SpaceShipTwo disaster and Tuesday’s explosion, “six seconds into its flight,” of a private unmanned rocket intending to deliver cargo to the International Space Station. “It’s a real setback to the idea that lots of people are going to be taking joyrides into the fringes of outer space any time soon,” said John Logsdon, a retired space policy director at George Washington University. Jerry Linenger, a former astronaut who narrowly survived a 1997 fire on Russia’s Mir space station, said private industry lacks the experience and the advocates for safety that NASA had when he was making space flights.

WSJournal: Setbacks Don’t Dim Future Of Private Space Companies. In an editorial, the Wall Street Journal  (11/3, Subscription Publication) says that the recent failures of private space programs, namely the crash of the Virgin Galactic vehicle and the explosion of the Orbital Sciences cargo rocket, don’t diminish the bright future of private space activity. The Journal says that such enterprises are fraught with risk, and that the government should let it continue to work out its issues.

Higher Education

Trial Continues In CCSF Accreditation Case.

The San Francisco Examiner  (11/3) reports that attorneys for the City of San Francisco said last week that the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges “lacked clarity regarding the severity of its sanctions against” City College of San Francisco,” describing testimony Thursday in the “trial to save CCSF from closure.” The article notes that the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office sued the accrediting agency last year, “a move that temporarily stayed the commission’s efforts to revoke the accreditation of CCSF, which remains open and accredited.” Attorneys for the city “allege CCSF was unfairly evaluated by the ACCJC, and that it was politically biased against the college.”

Members Of Independent Panel That Rejected Appeal Had Ties To Commission. The San Francisco Chronicle  (11/3, Asimov) reports that according to a witness who testified in the trial on Friday, four members of an independent panel that rejected CCSF’s appeal of ACCJC’s decision to revoke the school’s accreditation “had ties to the commission. The article identifies the witness as Krista Johns, an ACCJC vice president, who said that “her boss, Barbara Beno, appointed the appeal panel that included three ex-commissioners and a college trustee who does training workshops with Beno.” Johns testified that the commission changed its policy after ED warned last year that “it was out of compliance with its conflict of interest policy and other problems.” The article adds that ED told ACCJC “that letting Beno’s husband, Peter Crabtree, help evaluate City College gave the appearance of a conflict of interest,” and that it “had too few academics on its college evaluation teams.”

Veteran Student Advocate Touts New Rules Restricting For-Profit Schools.

In commentary for Diverse Education  (11/3), Matthew Boulay, director of The Veterans’ Student Loan Relief Fund, writes that thanks to such benefits as the Post-9/11 GI Bill and the Montgomery GI Bill, “more than one million veterans to go to college or attend a career school.” However, veterans and active duty military service members “are under attack from unscrupulous for-profit education companies” which “see service men and women returning from Afghanistan and Iraq as goldmines.” He writes that this also applies to “minorities – military and civilians alike –” who “are targeted for their access to federal education assistance.” Boulay writes that “a coalition of veterans’ and consumers’ groups, state attorneys general, and the federal government are fighting back,” and touts new administration rules “requiring more transparency and honesty about cost, graduation rates, loan default rates, accreditation and job placement rates.”

Company Proposes Congress Forgive Student Loan Debt In Exchange For Home Purchases.

The CNN  (10/31) reports Wall Street firm BlackRock is proposing that the Federal Government forgive some student loan debt in order to stimulate the purchase of houses by first-time home-buyers. The proposal would require Congressional action in order to address the “Achilles heel” of the American economy as Millennials delay purchases of homes, citing student. The firm believes that some people who qualify for FHA-approved mortgage are “burdened by student loans” and are consequently not saving for a down payment on a house. Critics of the plan have contested the relationship between student debt, economic outcomes, and purchases of real estate.

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Research and Development

ONR Developing Safer Seat Suspension System For Military Vehicles.

The Marine Corps Times  (11/2, Stewart) reports that the Office of Naval Research is working on a safer seat suspension system for helicopters and ground vehicles, noting that the new system “prevents some of the impact from mines or improvised explosive devices from moving through the seat and into the passenger, effectively lessening the force of the blast that reaches the body.” The new system also “reduces the intensity of vibrations passengers in ground vehicles and helicopters feel through their seat, allowing for a more comfortable ride.” The article quotes Army Research Laboratory engineer Robert Kargus saying, “This is an intelligent seat.”

High-Temperature Paint May Improve Solar Power Efficiency.

U-T San Diego  (11/1, Lee) reported that a research team at the University of California at San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering, funded by the Department of Energy’s Sunshot Initiative, have “developed a light-trapping paint” that can “withstand outdoor temperatures of 750 degrees Celsius.” Sungho Jin, a Jacobs School professor, stated the “higher temperatures can translate into a 30 percent improvement in solar efficiencies.”

Company Born Out Of University Research Holds Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony.

The Washington Times  (11/1) reports that Nanova Biomaterials Inc. held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday at a $1.5 million plant in Columbia, Missouri. The company makes a fluoride dental varnish that “grew out of research conducted at the University of Missouri” and recently received approval from the Food and Drug Administration. The company employs 13 people currently and hopes to double its workforce by 2016 and create up to 50 jobs within the next five years.


Manufacturing Institute Survey Highlights Workforce Needs.

The Orange County (CA) Register  (11/3) reports a survey by the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte Consulting shows that two-thirds of manufacturers have said they can’t find qualified workers for open positions. The survey highlights shortages in manufacturing that educators at the Henry Samueli School of Engineering at UC Irvine are trying to fill. The idea that manufacturing is “low-skilled labor in dark, dangerous factories” means that “you are living in the past” as the jobs today are “more white collar than blue collar” and modern “factories are clean like a science lab.”

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel  (11/3, Barrett) reports the Manufacturing Institute-Deloitte Consulting survey showed that women are only about 24 percent of the durable goods manufacturing workforce and that proportion of women in leadership roles within manufacturing is lagging when compared to other US industries. The article profiles three women who work in the manufacturing sector, noting that women “represent manufacturing’s largest pool of untapped talent,” but has trouble selling the demographic group on manufacturing careers. All three women interviewed are quoted on their good experiences with jobs in the manufacturing sector and encourage other women to consider it as a career.

The Detroit News  (11/2) and the Portland (ME) Press Herald  (11/1) also reported this story.

Industry News

“Fledgling” Oklahoma UAV Industry Expanding.

Drawing on a report in the Oklahoma Journal Record, the AP  (11/2, Brus) reported that Oklahoma “is still keeping pace with – if not soaring past – other regions trying to carve a niche in the” UAV industry “despite missing out on a Federal Aviation Administration test site designation,” according to Oklahoma State University professor of aerospace engineering Jamey Jacob. The article added that the “fledgling” UAV industry has been expanding “at key sites” in the state, “particularly near Tinker Air Force Base,” as a result of the Unmanned Systems Innovation Center there. Additionally, the article reported that Oklahoma State is scheduled to host a national conference for the UAV industry later this month, an event that will feature companies and agencies such as Boeing, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and NASA’s Johnson Space Center and Goddard Space Flight Center.

Engineering and Public Policy

DOE Announces Nuclear Power Investment.

The Hill  (11/1, Devaney) reports that “the Obama administration” announced new investments in the nuclear sector, and the Energy Department said Friday that “next generation nuclear reactors would not only save energy, but they would also be safer to operate.” DOE “announced it will provide tens of millions of dollars to support companies involved in key nuclear energy research.” The article notes “the companies, including AREVA Federal Services, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, General Atomics, NGNP Industry Alliance, and Westinghouse Electric Company, are looking to build advanced reactor technologies.” In a statement Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said, “This type of public-private research in advanced nuclear reactors will help accelerate American leadership in the next generation of nuclear energy technologies, and move the United States closer to a low carbon future. … These types of investments are crucial to the continuing role of nuclear power as a significant contributor to the U.S. energy economy.”

E&E News PM  (10/31, Ling) adds that “AREVA Federal Services, TerraPower, Argonne National Laboratory and Texas A&M University will receive DOE support to model and simulate longer-life cores for liquid metal cooled fast reactor assemblies.” ANL is also “partnering with GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy to create next-generation risk assessment methodologies, as well as joining another partnership with Westinghouse Electric Co. and the University of Pittsburgh to develop thermo-acoustic sensors for sodium-cooled fast reactors.” Westinghouse also “received funds to partner with the Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP) Alliance, AREVA, UltraSafe Nuclear and Texas A&M to examine high temperature gas reactor post-accident heat removal.”

DHS Sounds Alarm About Cyberthreats To Energy Sector Control Systems.

EnergyWire  (10/31, Sobczak, Behr, Subscription Publication) reports, Department of Homeland Security officials are spreading the word in a series of secret briefings “to address ‘ongoing’ cyberthreats to energy control systems, according to security experts.” The researchers say the DHS is calling attention to “two attacks, including one thought to be dormant.” The DHS’s “Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT) has scheduled about a dozen meetings at FBI field offices across the country to discuss the Havex malware family and the recently discovered BlackEnergy cyberthreat, sources say.” The latest BlackEnergy malware “leverages the file directory for GE Intelligent Platforms’ CIMPLICITY line of software, which can be used to manage power grids and other energy systems.” Meantime, “Havex or Dragonfly threat took aim at three Europe-based equipment providers known to supply a range of industrial systems, from energy to pharmaceuticals.”

Three New Natural Gas-Fired Plants To Be Built In Northern Pennsylvania.

The AP  (11/3) reports that a company in suburban Philadelphia “has announced plans to build three new natural gas-fired electrical generation plants in northern Pennsylvania.” According to the (Williamsport) Sun-Gazette “that construction on the plant in Bradford County and two plants in Tioga County could begin as early as next year.” Officials said last week at a Northern Tier Regional Planning and Development Commission meeting “that each plant will cost about $20 million.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

West Chester University In Philadelphia Hosts Girls-Only Programs.

The AP  (11/3, Boccella) reports on the girls-only Super Science Saturday workshops at Philadelphia’s West Chester University, addressing the shortage of women in STEM fields. The programs offer exercises in forensics, archaeology, programming, and physics, led by female STEM professors and undergraduates “to showcase the lighter side of science.” The piece includes statistics on women’s 25% constitution of the information technology workforce and increased likelihood to leave, as well as surveys showing sharp drops in female computer science majors.

Motlow Endowment Creates STEM Position For Middle School Outreach.

The Tullahoma (TN) News and Guardian  (11/3, Lapczynski) reports Motlow College is finalizing plans to create a new Master Teacher position for STEM outreach to area middle schools, funded by a Motlow College Foundation endowment to provide students with a “high-technology experience.” The piece provides a context for the growing demand for STEM jobs and flagging interest among middle school students. The piece highlights professor Billy Hix’s role in forming the program, which he views as a huge asset to rural districts with limited exposure and funding. In the future, Motlow would like to expand the program to offer STEM camps to girls and professional development to teachers, but the endowment is still limited in size. Motlow will begin interviewing to fill the position in late spring or early summer in anticipation of a Fall 2015 launch.

Local Girls Attend Engineering Seminar.

The Gadsden (AL) Messenger  (10/31) reported that “Alabama Power kicked off the iCan program for this school year,” a program which “is helping expose female middle school students to the field of engineering through hands-on training exercises.” About 20 students from “Gadsden Middle, Emma Sansom Middle and Litchfield Middle schools participated in the program.”

Illinois High School Students Take Part In “Inquiry-Based” STEM Project.

The Chicago Tribune  (11/2) reports on the expansion of the Illinois Science and Technology Institute’s Research & Development STEM Learning Exchange into program connecting 28 high schools with businesses, organizations, and universities to help students prepare for careers in STEM fields through “inquiry-based learning,” as phrased by president and CEO Mark Harris. The program is funded by a $430,000 state grant, coordinating challenge projects such as aiding Microsoft with water management issues to missile defense system trade studies with Northrop Grumman, providing and online platform to pair students with STEM mentors, and offering online research and development resources. The piece highlights Glenbrook South High School’s focus on an energy related problem, with work beginning January to be presented in May.

Indianapolis To Host National STEM Education Summit.

WISH-TV  Indianapolis (11/2) reports online that “hundreds of leaders and educators are meeting in Indianapolis” this week to explore “ways to encourage students to focus on the maths and sciences.” The article points out that there are note enough STEM graduates to fill the growing number of associated jobs, and notes that the “Project Lead The Way national summit kicked off Sunday in hopes of finding strategies that will help kids.”

Also in the News

Mars Rover Engineer To Speak At Dillon Lecture Series.

In brief coverage, the Hutchinson (KS) News  (11/3, Clarkin) reports that NASA Mars Rover engineer Adam Steltzner will speak at the Hutchinson Sports Arena on Tuesday morning as part of the Dillon Lecture Series. Noting that Steltzner is referred to as the “Elvis Engineer” for his resemblance to the rock star, the articled adds that Steltzner “was the team landing engineer on the Mars Rover project” and ensured that Curiosity “made a safe landing on Mars.”

Friday’s Lead Stories


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