ASEE First Bell – Breaking news in the engineering and technology field

Leading the News

Pilots At The Center Of Virgin Galactic Investigation.

NBC Nightly News (11/4, story 6, 2:20, Williams) continues coverage of Friday’s Virgin Galactic crash, focusing on how pilot Peter Siebold was able to survive. According to reporter Jacob Rascon, both pilots had parachutes, but according to “sources close to the investigation,” only Siebold was able to open his. Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson said that the company will continue with its plans “deliberately and with determination.” Tariq Malik, managing editor, similarly said that the crash should not end the venture, but there likely will be more scrutiny “from an engineering standpoint and a regulation standpoint.”

Reuters  (11/4, Klotz) reports that the main question thought to face NTSB investigators now is why pilot Mike Alsbury unlocked SpaceShipTwo’s tail section early, which may have led to the vehicle’s destruction.

NBC News  (11/4, Boyle) reports that Robert Stengel of Princeton University said that had SpaceShipTwo’s wing-feathering mechanism deployed “10 or 20 seconds later,” the vehicle breakup could have been avoided. because it took place “at the worst possible flight condition.” Had SpaceShipTwo been higher when the feathering system deployed, the atmospherer would have been thinner and there would have been “less aerodynamic stress.”

Meanwhile, according to Popular Science  (11/4, Atherton), Virgin Galactic’s statements from Tuesday expressed “less doubt” about the future of the company than did previous statements even by Branson. Still, the “possibility remains” that Virgin Galactic may not succeed following this incident.

Nature  (11/5) reports that analysts like Joan Johnson-Freese, a space-policy specialist at the US Naval War College, warn that the US cannot use last week’s failures by Virgin Galactic and Orbital Sciences as reasons to say that spaceflight is “just too hard.” The incidents show “the complexities of private spaceflight,” where new systems are developed and used while on public view. According to the article, while experts believe the industry can survive, they caution it can only do so “if the public is as willing to accept the risks.” The Verge  (11/4, Dzieza) has a similar thrust to its coverage, highlighting the fact that Orbital can suffer more accidents than Virgin Galctic because it is only launching cargo and has a steady funding stream from the government.

Cal Poly Aerospace Engineering Students Reflect On Virgin Galactic Legacy. KSBY-TV  San Luis Obispo, CA (11/5) runs an online article featuring Cal Poly aerospace engineering students Gus Samios and Lauren Webber, who reflected on their reasons for entering the field, and on the legacy of such alumni as Peter Siebold and Michael Alsbury, the pilots in the recent crash of Virgin Galactic’s Spaceship Two, in which Alsbury was killed. Noting that fellow Cal Poly grad Burt Rutan “helped design the aircraft,” the article explains that the current students are “learning what it takes straight from the pros, sitting in the seat of a simulator that was coded by Peter Siebold in 2001, and gaining their knowledge from the same books as Michael Alsbury.”

Higher Education

ED Gives Eastern Michigan University $2 Million To Strengthen STEM Programs.

The AP  (11/5) reports that ED has given Eastern Michigan University a $2 million Title III grant “to strengthen its efforts in educating students in fields related to science, technology, engineering and math.” The grant “involves broadening the Creative Scientific Inquiry Experience, which was developed by the school and funded by the National Science Foundation.”

Federal College Programs Unable To Serve Many Students.

In an article focused on a high school in an impoverished region of Tennessee, Education Week  (11/5, Sparks) reports on the limited access to Federal programs launched during the War on Poverty that are intended to help make college more accessible for poor students. The piece notes that though more jobs now require some post-secondary education, and districts are facing increasing pressure to boost college enrollment numbers, “the federal programs originally intended to bridge high school and college, Upward Bound and Talent Search, were not designed to serve all students, and have not been given the resources to cope with the dynamic and exponentially growing need.”

Republican-Controlled Congress Likely To Prove “Double-Edged Sword” For Colleges.

An analysis in Inside Higher Ed  (11/4) reports that the with the GOP’s takeover of the Senate, there is “a much-changed dynamic for federal higher education policy making in the coming months.” Higher education advocates predict “something of a double-edged sword,” in that Republicans are likely to push for regulatory relief for colleges, but “federal funding for academic research and student aid programs” are likely to suffer from “more austere budget caps.”

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Research and Development

University Of Utah Engineers Develop New Bomb-Sniffing Technology.

KSTU-TV  Salt Lake City (11/4) reports online that materials engineers at the University of Utah “have developed new technology that is said to be better at sniffing out explosives, deadly gases or illegal drugs than anything of its kind.” In research published in the journal Advanced Materials, the researchers describe how they “combined a carbon nanotube with a polymer to create a thin film that can sense anything from toxic gases like chlorine to explosives like TNT.”

Clemson Student Researcher’s Device Could Bring Low-Cost Blood Sugar Diagnostic Equipment To Market.

GSA Business  (11/5) reports that a Clemson University student research project “is turning into a business that could supply diabetic patients with low-cost testing equipment to manage their blood sugar.” The article notes that local investors have pledged $500,000 to bring the GlucoSense device, “aimed at helping diabetic patients in developing countries and other ‘resource-poor settings,’” to market. The piece explains that the device is “made from readily available parts that can be found in any U.S. electronics store or bought in bulk and shipped to remote parts of the world.”

Engineering and Public Policy

New White House CTO Profiled.

NPR  (11/4) profiles White House chief technology officer Megan Smith at its “All Tech Considered” blog, noting that she recently left “a top job at Google in Silicon Valley, where she was vice president of Google X,” to take up her new role. The piece explains that President Obama created the position, and that the “CTO’s charge is to find ways to unleash technology to improve federal government, an entity that is notoriously slow to change.” The article notes that Smith has been “focused on changing tech from the inside — pushing to get more women into science and technology fields and to keep them there.”

Hydropower Declines In California, Brazil Due To Drought.

Writing for Forbes  (11/4), Mackinnon Lawrence of Navigant Research writes that due to the prolonged droughts, global economies like Brazil and California are seeing a “slow decline in the prominence of hydropower,” despite its previous importance to both grids. In California, hydropower has declined to only 9 percent of the state’s “generation mix,” but the state’s grid “remains mostly insulated” from the drought’s worst effect due to natural gas and renewables. The article notes that Southern California Edison, along with Pacific Gas & Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric, are “on track to meet or exceed” their 2020 renewable procurement obligations of 33 percent under California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard. Brazil, on the other hand, has dealt with “blackouts across the country” as a result of the rapid decline in hydropower, and has had to replace hydropower with fossil fuels, resulting in “nearly doubled greenhouse gas emissions.”

DOE May Rewrite Rules For Central AC, Heat Pump Systems.

The Hill  (11/5, Wheeler) reports that “just two months before energy efficiency standards for residential central air conditioning and heat pump systems are expected to take effect,” the Energy Department “is deciding whether to rewrite the rules.” The agency “last updated the regulations for these household appliances in 2011, amending standards for products manufactured on or after Jan. 1, 2015.” Though the DOE “has until June 6, 2017, to issue new standards, DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy issued a public notice Tuesday asking for help determining if new rules are needed.” The Hill notes “the office wants to know if new standards would save significantly more energy, be technologically feasible and economically justified.”

Also in the News

Curiosity Rover Lead Engineer Speaks In Hutchinson, Kansas.

The Hutchinson (KS) News  (11/4, Christner) reports Adam Steltzner, lead engineer on the entry, descent and landing phase of the 2012 NASA Mars Curiosity Rover, spoke as part of the Ray and Stella Dillon Lecture Series at the Sports Arena in Hutchinson. His team brainstormed “the best way to land the rover on the Martian surface.” It would be more difficult than past rovers, because “Curiosity was much larger – about the size of a car – and its weight made it impossible to employ many of the landing features, such as airbags and legs, that had been used before.”

Engineers And Aerospace Executives Enjoy “Interstellar.”

The Huntsville (AL) Times  (11/4, Roop) reports that “an audience of scientists, rocket engineers and aerospace executives” had very positive comments after seeing the film “Interstellar” at the US Space & Rocket Center on Monday. Todd May, who is leading development of the Space Launch System, said that he hopes the movie inspires because “movies like “2001 A Space Odyssey” had a large impact on me as a kid. … This movie can be that inspiration for a new generation as it speaks very strongly on our need to explore and push our boundaries.”

Blog Coverage. Loren Grush at Popular Science  (11/4) writes that the public’s “apathy” about NASA and spaceflight today makes its way into Interstellar. According to Grush, much of this is due to the end of the shuttle program and a goal of reaching Mars that seems “unattainable” with today’s budget cuts. In that light, Grush likes the “optimism” presented in the movie, and hopes that it will “shift the mindset of some.”Meanwhile, Fraser Cain at Universe Today  (11/4) writes that the cast and crew of Interstellar are hosting a Google+ Hangout at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum today. Cain noted that he will be at the event.

Tuesday’s Lead Stories


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