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

Leading the News

Recent Commercial Spaceflight Accidents Should Not Impede NASA.

ComputerWorld  (11/6, Gaudin) continued coverage of how experts believe that last week’s crashes involving Orbital Sciences and Virgin Galactic, while unrelated, should not adversely affect NASA’s plans or place an “added burden” on it. Howard McCurdy of American University said any concerns about the use of commercial companies are “unjustified” because NASA has put “a lot of redundancy or slack in the system” by contracting with multiple companies for services. Scott Hubbard of Stanford University, the former director of the Ames Research Center, similarly stressed that NASA’s commercial spaceflight program is completely separate from the space tourism industry, and the two crashes were “pure coincidence.” John Logsdon, former director of the Space Policy Institute, noted that while Orbital’s crash should not stop NASA’s plans, there will be an increase in the intensity of the debate on the “ethics of space tourism.”

Virgin Galactic Co-Pilot May Have Acted On His Own. The Wall Street Journal  (11/6, Pasztor, Wall, Subscription Publication), in continuing coverage of the NTSB investigation into the Virgin Galactic disaster, reported that those with knowledge of the proceeding said that SpaceShipTwo co-pilot Michael Alsbury unlocked the vehicle’s feathering system earlier than normal on his own without being told to do so by commander Peter Siebold. Then, the forces on SpaceShipTwo while it was breaking the sound barrier released the secondary locking system, which led to the breakup. The reasons why Alsbury acted as he did are still unknown, but it could lead to a design change, according to Michael Moses, Virgin Galactic’s head of operations.

Commercial Spaceflight Disasters May Be Analogous To Roanoke Colony. In an article for the New Yorker  (11/6), Theo Emery wrote that economist Brent Lane thinks that last week’s commercial spaceflight failures are similar to Sir Walter Raleigh’s privately-financed failed attempt to set up a colony in Roanoke. Teal Group senior analyst Marco A. Caceres said that the analogy is not accurate, adding that NASA even examined the historical record and found that the transcontinental railroad was the closest analogy. Emery noted that others do say that colonization and private spaceflight both have “a spectacular price tag” with no guarantee of success. Meanwhile, Emery thought that if private spaceflight follows the same pattern Americans colonies, private spaceflight disasters could set back development for years.

Higher Education

APSCU Sues ED Over For-Profit Rules.

A moderate number of media outlets are covering a lawsuit filed Thursday by the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities asking a Federal court to overturn ED’s newest version of a “rule denying funds to schools that saddle students in debt.” Noting that for-profit colleges rely almost exclusively on Federal student aid, Bloomberg News  (11/6, Milford, Lauerman) explains that under ED’s new rule, for-profit colleges whose graduates use more than 30 percent of their discretionary earnings and 12 percent of total income to repay loans risk losing access to government funds.” The lawsuit names Education Secretary Arne Duncan and ED as defendants, and alleges that “the rule ‘is unlawful, arbitrary and irrational and will needlessly harm millions of students who attend private-sector colleges and universities.’”

The AP  (11/7, Hefling) reports that the lawsuit comes “in response to a rule the Obama administration announced last week that requires career training programs to show their graduates make enough money to pay back their loans,” noting that ED projects that “about 1,400 programs serving 840,000 students” will fail to meet the standard. The AP quotes APSCU President Steve Gunderson saying, “This regulation, and the impact it will have on student access and opportunity, is so unacceptable and in violation of federal law that we were left with no choice but to file suit.” Meanwhile, the AP reports that ED spokeswoman Dorie Nolt released a statement saying “that the department is confident it is within its legal authority in issuing regulations ‘that will protect students and taxpayers’ investments by bringing more accountability and transparency to career training programs.’”

Noting that the for-profit sector “wasted no time” in pushing back against the rules, the Chronicle of Higher Education  (11/7) reports that ED officials “declined to comment on the lawsuit.” The Chronicle explains that the lawsuit “revives many of the arguments the trade group made against a 2011 version of the measure: that the department had exceeded its authority; that the rule lacks a reasoned basis; that it unfairly takes aim at the for-profit sector; and that it is ‘arbitrary and capricious.’” The article notes that the previous version of the law was indeed struck down by Federal judge who found that ED “had failed to justify a metric that would have judged career-oriented programs according to their graduates’ loan-repayment rates.” The current version “lacks the repayment-rate test—which tripped up the department’s 2011 version.”

Other media outlets running similar articles include Inside Higher Ed  (11/7), Diverse Education  (11/7), Reuters  (11/7, Nawaguna), The Hill  (11/7, Devaney), the Consumerist  (11/6), Fortune  (11/6), and Law 360  (11/7).

Editors Urge GOP To Push For Higher Education Reform.

In an op-ed for the Washington Post  (11/6, Ponnuru, Levin), Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor at National Review, And Yuval Levin, editor of National Affairs, write that Republicans should focus on how they can improve higher education, particularly its skyrocketing cost. They argue that the education system “desperately needs market discipline,” including a restructuring of the student loan system, more flexible accreditation, along with making more data on the value of individual schools.

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Research and Development

Pentagon Requests Information On New Technologies To Fight Drones.

Defense One  (11/7, Tucker) reports the Pentagon has requested information by November 26 on new “kinetic and non-kinetic” technologies to counter commercial drones armed with chemical, biological, or massively destructive weapons. Project Thunderstorm will feature a demonstration in the second quarter of 2015 at Mississippi’s Camp Shelby. The piece frames the increasing prevalence of drones, with 30,000 expected over America by 2020. The project’s difficulty lies in identifying the location, movement, and payload of a drone, rather than simply one’s presence. The piece closes on current leading initiatives, including a $10 billion military contract with Raytheon to develop a communication and radar jamming system to separate drones from their operators.

Tool May Help Decide Which Symptomatic A-Fib Patients May Safely Be Sent Home From ED.

Medscape  (11/7, Louden) reports that according to research presented at the American College of Emergency Physicians 2014 Scientific Assembly, “a new clinical tool could help physicians decide which patients with symptomatic atrial fibrillation can safely be sent home from the emergency department.” Researchers found that “the Risk Estimator Decision Aid for Atrial Fibrillation, developed and tested at Vanderbilt University, can be used to estimate the 30-day risk for an adverse event related to atrial fibrillation.” The study authors “validated the decision aid with a sample of emergency department patients from the ongoing single-center Atrial Fibrillation and Flutter Outcome Risk Determination (AFFORD) study who presented with signs and symptoms of atrial fibrillation.”

Half Of Stars May Lie Outside of Galaxies.

The AP  (11/6) reports that a team led by Michael Zemcov of Caltech used data from two suborbital rocket flights as part of the Cosmic Infrared Background Experiment (CIBER) to determine that as many of half of the universe’s stars “may lie outside galaxies.” According to the article, the finding has been “validated” by the Spitzer telescope. The article notes that NASA program scientist Michael Garcia said that the finding is “redefining galaxies.” More CIBER launches are planned in the future.

The Los Angeles Times  (11/6, Khan) notes that Harvey Moseley of the Goddard Space Flight Center, who was not part of the project, said, “I did not expect it to be half the stars — I thought that most stars would be in galaxies. … It’s almost like they’re hiding.” Meanwhile, study coauthor James Bock of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory said, “If you want to understand what’s happening in the formation of galaxies, you can’t just look at the galaxies.” Bock noted that exactly how many stars may lie outside of the galaxies will depend on their type. Mosely added that now that scientists know that these stars should exist, more data may be found in telescope archives.

BBC News  (11/7, Webb) reports that Steve Earles of Cardiff University cautions that while the conclusion is “perfectly possible,” the finding still needs to be confirmed. According to the article, Bock does not expect “universal acclaim” for his finding just yet.

Also covering the story are the Washington Post  (11/6, Feltman) “Speaking Of Science” blog, Reuters  (11/6, Dunham), SPACE  (11/6, Choi), CNET News  (11/6, Statt), BBC News  (11/6, Webb), Dumb Out  (11/6, Paulson), Headlines & Global News  (11/6, Marcarelli), Nature  (11/6, Witze), Christian Science Monitor  (11/6, Spotts), and Forbes  (11/6, Mack).


Jesse Jackson Urges Pressure On Tech Firms Over Minority Hiring.

USA Today  (11/6, Cava) reports from San Francisco that the Rev. Jesse Jackson, calling “the battle for job parity ‘the fourth stage of the civil rights movement,’” said on Thursday that “technology companies have both a moral obligation and an economic incentive to create a more diverse workforce. ‘Those companies that don’t see the black and brown communities are missing, out of their closed eye, talent, which leads to money and growth,’ Jackson told USA TODAY.” Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH coalition “has for the past year been actively urging tech leaders to improve their employment diversity numbers, which are overwhelmingly white and male.” USA notes that while African-Americans “make up roughly 11% of the U.S. population, they typically represent only 1% of the workforce at most Silicon Valley tech companies.”

DC-Area Shows Greater Tech Diversity Than Silicon Valley. USA Today  (11/6, Snider) reports from McLean, VA that Silicon Valley “may be the technology center of the high-tech world, but 3,000 miles to the east, the nation’s capital has something that Silicon Valley can aspire to: a more diverse tech workforce.” Blacks “hold about 17% and women hold 31% of tech-related jobs in the DMV, a metropolitan area that covers the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.” Census data show that those “are among the highest percentages of tech diversity in the nation,” and “could serve as a model for Silicon Valley as it strives to improve the diversity of its workforce, which is overwhelmingly white, Asian and male.”

Industry News

Orion On Track For Its First Launch In December.

The AP  (11/6, Dunn) reports that NASA officials said that everything is so far on track for the Orion capsule’s first launch on December 4, “NASA’s biggest test flight in years.” William Hill, “who helps run exploration systems development for NASA,” noted that NASA did not need to reevaluate the project following last week’s spacecraft incidents because Orion has nothing in common with those vehicles, adding, “Space operations is hard, and they proved that last week. … It was a tough week. It’s a tough business we’re in.” Orion program manager Mark Geyer said that the upcoming launch is designed “to learn about where the challenges are so we can minimize the risk when we actually put people on board.”

USA Today  (11/6, King) notes that NASA’s “herculean task” of sending astronauts to Mars one day starts with this launch. Hill similarly said at a news conference, “This is really our first step in our journey to Mars.” According to the article, while the launch will test several systems, the most important one may be its heat shield.

According to the Orlando (FL) Sentinel  (11/6, Powers), NASA officials detailed their “hopes and expectations” for the upcoming launch. Orion Flight Director Mike Sarafin said this “trial by fire” will be “significant in that it enables human spaceflight to deep space and to destinations that we have yet to imagine.” The article noted that before deep space missions can commence, NASA would still nee to “notably” develop a “crew-habitat module not yet designed.”

The KHOU-TV  Houston (11/6, Desel) website reports that NASA is not “slowing” its work after last week’s disasters. Geyer added that NASA conducts tests flights like this upcoming one because it is “a compilation of the riskiest events when we fly people. … Some of these events are very difficult or even impossible to do on the ground, so it’s important to fly them.” Meanwhile, Geyer said, “Basically, Orion is done. … We are completed, buttoned up and ready to go.”

Also covering the story are AFP  (11/6, Sheridan), Newsweek  (11/6, Mosendz), Reuters  (11/6, Klotz), SPACE  (11/6, Kramer), Tech Times  (11/6, Algar), Global News (CAN)  (11/6, Mortillaro), and Spaceflight Insider  (11/6, Rhian).

Engineer Working To Create “Bionic Bird” UAV.

Popular Science  (11/6, Moren) reported on aeronautic engineer Edwin Van Ruymbeke’s crowdfunded project, called the Bionic Bird, to create a UAV that “flies by flapping its wings instead of using the helicopter-style design” most UAVs employ. Popular Science added, “The Bionic Bird can supposedly operate at a range of up to 100 meters, using Bluetooth 4.0 to communicate with smartphones” and “its onboard battery lets it fly for about 6 to 8 minutes at a time.” Moreover, the article asserted that “if it works as well as the videos demonstrate, it can probably fly circles around your average quadricopter drone.”

Raytheon-Led Team Wins Air Force Launch Support Contract.

Space News  (11/6, Gruss, Subscription Publication) reports that a team led by Raytheon has won the Launch and Test Range System Integrated Support Contract, which consolidates three contracts that support the US Air Force’s two launch ranges. By consolidating the work, Gen. John Hyten, commander of Air Force Space Command, said that the same quality of service should be provided but at “a much more affordable price.”

The Wall Street Journal  (11/6, Cameron, Subscription Publication) also covers the story.

Engineering and Public Policy

Stanford Law Fellow Expresses Hopes For H-1B Reform.

Bloomberg TV’s Bloomberg West  (11/7, Johnson) interviews Stanford Law School Fellow Vivek Wadhwa on the reform of the H-1B visa program, who is hopeful that Democrats will be more willing to compromise in a Republican-controlled Congress. In particular, Wadhwa criticizes the partisan inclusion of voting rights within the immigration reform bill as the reason for its failure. The discussion shifts to abuses in the H-1B visa, which Wadhwa criticizes as a larger problem with the green card system. The segment closes on Wadhwa defending the capitalist competition immigration inspires.

White House Won’t Say Whether Obama Will Veto Keystone XL Bill.

Reuters  (11/6) reports that while the White House said Thursday that the President would consider a measure from Congress approving the Keystone XL pipeline, it would not say whether he would veto it.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Melvin Discusses Impact Of STEM Programs And Value Of Arts.

The WVIR-TV  Charlottesville, VA (11/6) website reports that on Thursday, astronaut Leland Melvin visited the University of Virginia to discuss how science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs “shaped his life,” as well as his penchant to include an “A” for “arts” in the STEM acronym because the arts were “just as important, and necessary for a well-rounded education.”

Georgia County Offers Family STEM Science Nights At Elementary Schools.

The Thomasville (GA) Times-Enterprise  (11/7) reports Garrison-Pilcher and Cross Creek elementary schools in Thomas County, Georgia hosted students and families for Family STEM Science Nights, featuring 19 different hands-on learning activities. The piece features excited comments from students and the importance of early engagement.

Thursday’s Lead Stories


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