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

Leading the News

Orion Test Flight Scrubbed, Rescheduled For Friday Morning.

NBC Nightly News (12/4, story 9, 0:20, Holt) reported that on Friday, NASA will again try to launch the first test flight of its Orion spacecraft, “which it hopes one day will send astronauts to Mars.” The agency sought to launch it Thursday, but “high winds and a valve issue on the rocket that will carry Orion into space” caused the launch to be postponed.

The New York Times  (12/4, Fountain, Subscription Publication) reports that on Friday “the weather was expected to deteriorate at the launching site.” Florida Today  (12/5, Dean) reported, “Friday’s targeted launch time is again 7:05 a.m.,” although forecasts predict only a 40 percent chance of acceptable conditions.

The Wall Street Journal  (12/5, Pasztor, Subscription Publication) reports that high winds, a boater in the launch zone, and problems with fuel valves caused the uncrewed test flight’s delay. While NASA casts Orion as the vehicle for missions to asteroids and Mars, the article says such plans haven’t gained the international, congressional, or public support the agency is seeking. There also is a question of whether NASA will be able to continue funding the Orion development costs and a steady series of launches.

The AP  (12/4, Dunn) reported an estimated 27,000 guests sought to witness the launch at the Kennedy Space Center.

The Orlando (FL) Sentinel  (12/4, Powers, Santana) reported, “Neither NASA nor the Lockheed-Martin engineers gave any indication the problem” with the valves “was insurmountable.” The fuel stored on site will only cover a single additional launch attempt. NASA has scheduled Friday and Saturday for possible launches, but, if the test flight is pushed back longer, the agency “would have to negotiate with the Air Force and Navy over the next date.”

The Los Angeles Times  (12/4, Mai-Duc) reports Mike Hawes, Orion program manager for Lockheed Martin, said, “The spacecraft looks good, there are no specific issues we’re working on with Orion.” Mark Geyer, Orion program manager for NASA, said, “It doesn’t change our confidence in the rocket,” adding, “It was a complex day.”

Bloomberg News  (12/4, Johnsson, Clough) reports Dan Collins, chief operating officer for United Launch Alliance, said that “engineers are studying data to determine what led to ‘sticky’ liquid hydrogen fill and drain valves on the Delta IV Heavy rocket.”

The Washington Post  (12/4, Davenport) reported in its “The Switch” blog that this week has been the “crescendo” of “months-long hype and anticipation,” with NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden casting “the launch in history-making terms, saying that ‘Neil Armstrong and the Apollo astronauts paved the way for this day.’”

Orion’s Future Unsure. The Economist  (12/5) reports Orion and the SLS “are expensive” and “risk becoming white elephants, for Orion has rivals” in Boeing’s and SpaceX’s capsules. While Orion’s flight may “give it enough momentum to stop it being cancelled,” and a Chinese Moon shot may make America “compelled to fight another expensive propaganda war,” the article concludes, “it would take a brave person to bet on it.”

Orion Computer As Powerful As Smartphone. The CIO Magazine  (12/4, Gaudin) reported that Orion is “run by a computer that’s no smarter than your smartphone,” with processors 12 years old. Matt Lemke, NASA’s deputy manager for Orion’s avionics, power and software team, said, “It’s not about the speed as much as the ruggedness and the reliability. I just need to make sure it will always work.” He added, “The one thing we really like about this computer is that it doesn’t get destroyed by radiation”; while it can be affected, it will reset itself. Additionally, Orion has a back up computer for the 20 seconds it takes for the first to reset.

Higher Education

House Bill Would Help Vets Pursue STEM Degrees.

The Military Times  (12/4) reports that a new bill sponsored by Representatives David McKinley and Dina Titus will give additional GI Bill benefits to students who are pursuing degrees in fields of science, technology, engineering and math. “The impetus for the bill came from meetings McKinley had with student veterans in West Virginia who discussed the difficulty in completing certain degrees in the 36 months allotted by the GI Bill, according to a release from Titus’ office,” the article says. The article notes that Student Veterans of America supports the proposed legislation.

Obama Promotes College Accessibility, Affordability At White House Summit.

A number of national wires and papers–along with a slew of local media outlets–reported on the College Opportunity Day of Action hosted by President Obama Thursday in Washington, DC. The AP  (12/4) reports that Obama “says he wants to make sure that college is affordable for all Americans,” and that he is “concerned that foreigners are able to ‘out-compete’ American workers and he wants the United States to ‘lead the world in education once again.’” Obama said that he wants US firms to hire US workers, and that this “requires that American students gain skills that are in demand for today’s workforce.”

The Washington Post  (12/4, Anderson) reports that the leaders of colleges from across the US attended the event, and vowed “to take steps to widen college opportunity and help more students finish degrees.” The Post notes that Thursday’s event was a follow-up to a similar gathering held in January, but was “expected to be more than twice as big as the first” and to include a broader range of colleges.

The Christian Science Monitor  (12/4) reports that the message of the summit was that “a high school education is no longer enough in today’s economy.” Thursday’s event “focused on ways to help students get to and graduate from college,” such as “building partnerships between high schools and colleges, training high school counselors as part of the First Lady’s Reach Higher Initiative, and producing more graduates in science, technology, engineering, and math fields.”

Caralee Adams writes at the Education Week  (12/5) “College Bound” blog that the event’s focus was on “emphasizing the need for collaboration and expanded involvement to get more disadvantaged students on the path to college success.”

McClatchy  (12/4, Schoof, Subscription Publication) reports that during the event, Obama focused on rising economic frustrations among “many Americans over their own prospects for education and a good job,” and spoke “about middle class frustrations over college costs.” This piece adds that he also announced a series of “executive actions on college opportunity.” US News & World Report  (12/4, Bidwell), the Politico  (12/4, Emma) “Morning Education” blog, and the Washington Times  (12/4, Boyer) also cover this story.

A number of local papers and media outlets covered the summit from the perspective of local colleges’ whose leaders attended the event. For example, the Boston Globe  (12/4, Thadani) reports that Bay Path University President Carol Leary attended the event, and said it “challenged leaders to innovative and successful ways for them to extend a higher education to everyone.” She was one of “several Massachusetts college leaders, and hundreds from around the country, who attended the White House College Opportunity Day of Action.”

Other examples of local coverage include an AP  (12/5) article out of Mississippi, the Philadelphia Inquirer  (12/5, Lai), the Daytona Beach (FL) News-Journal  (12/4), the Terre Haute (IN) Tribune Star  (12/5), an AP  (12/5, Blankinship) article out of Washington state, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution  (12/5), The Oregonian  (12/4, Leone), the St. Louis Post-Dispatch  (12/5), WCPO-TV  Cincinnati (12/5, Driehaus), the Augusta (VA) Free Press  (12/4), the Lynchburg (VA) News & Advance  (12/5, Dix), MLive  (12/5), WDEL-AM  Wilmington, DE (12/5), and WEAU-TV  Eau Claire, WI (12/4).

Colorado Education Commission Approves New Funding Model For State Colleges.

Chalkbeat Colorado  (12/4, Engdahl) reports the Colorado Commission on Higher Education unanimously approved a new funding formula that provides funding for state colleges based on performance factors like student retention and graduation rates and service to low-income students. The plan now must be approved by the Joint Budget Committee and the state’s legislature and would provide a 10 percent base increase in funding for all schools with the ability to receive up to 15 percent.

#ASEEYoADiversity TEDx Talk: “As an African American child, society may not have viewed me as belonging in technology.” Professor Andrew B. Williams

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November Prism Online – Now Open to Public
The cover story, “Corporate Blinders,” presents an engineering ethics case study.

Research and Development

Livermore Lab Working On World’s First Neural Device To Restore Memory.

The Science Blog  (12/4) carries a video on their website from when Science Today spokes with Lawrence Livermore National Lab research engineer Angela Tooker about their project “to develop a neuromodulation system…that will investigate areas of the brain associated with memory to understand how new memories are formed.” The goal of the project “is to develop a device that uses real-time recording and closed-loop stimulation of neural tissues to bridge gaps” in brains injured by certain types of illnesses and injuries “and restore individuals’ ability to form new memories and access previously formed ones.”

GE Partners With Purdue University On Manufacturing Research.

The AP  (12/4) reports that GE Global Research is investing $10 million in a five-year partnership with Purdue University which will focus on research and development in advanced manufacturing. The goal of the partnership is “to lower manufacturing costs, improve speed and drive innovation” as well as “create educational opportunities for Purdue students.”

NASA Grant To Help Research Astronauts’ Risk For Heart Disease.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel  (12/5, Boulton) reports John Baker, a biochemist and professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin, “is the principal investigator for a five-year, $1.8 million grant from NASA to look into the long-term risk of astronauts developing heart disease from radiation in deep space.” Mark Little, a mathematician at the National Cancer Institute, will also participate as an investigator in Baker’s space research.

Startup Aims To Ease R&D Outsourcing.

The Economist  (12/5) reports on Science Exchange, a company that offers researchers access to specialized equipment in labs around the world. The company brings the concept of the “sharing economy” to research and satisfied customers say the simplified relationships between researchers and labs increases efficiency.

Google, NASA Working Together On D-Wave Quantum Computer Applications.

In an article titled “Google and NASA ride D-Wave to a quantum future,” the New Scientist  (12/6, Aron) reports on the D-Wave Systems quantum computer Google purchased last year, which a New Scientist investigation reveals “what’s really going on under its hood.” The article reports that Google’s “D-Wave Two machine is housed at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California and maintained by the Universities Space Research Association,” adding, “New Scientist’s freedom of information request to see the contract signed between the parties reveals they are pursuing a range of applications.”

Industry News

Pentagon Orders Review Of Raytheon’s GPS Ground Control System.

In an exclusive report, Reuters  (12/4, Shalal) says Raytheon’s new GPS ground control system for the US Air Force is facing scrutiny due to the program’s soaring cost. On Thursday, the Pentagon ordered a review of the program after its cost rose from an initial value of $886 million to $1.6 billion. Raytheon says the program’s higher cost is due to the DOD’s complex cyber requirements, as well as improvements with its systems engineering and software development approach.

Chicago Region Luring Promising Tech Companies.

In a column with the Chicago Tribune  (12/4, Cyr), Arthur I. Cyr, director of the A.W. Clausen Center for World Business at Carthage College notes that two tech companies, AKHAN Semiconductor and Performance Micro Tool, are establishing homes in the Chicago-Milwaukee region. AKAHN, which “reached an important exclusive contract” with DOE, has plans to invest $15 million in an operation in Gurnee, IL. Performance Micro Tool, located in Janesville, is another company dealing in “extremely tiny and complex technologically,” including development of “routers used on Mars explorer rovers.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Obama’s Clean Power Plan Has Key Business Support.

Forbes  (12/4) Contributor Ken Silverstein writes that “next summer’s clash over the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan,” which would require power companies to reduce their 2005 carbon dioxide emissions levels by 30% by 2030, “is getting more intense by the day,” having received some 1.6 million public comments. Many companies have purchased renewable credits from wind and solar developers and are working to become more energy efficient, but others say the plan is prohibitively expensive and won’t accomplish its stated objectives. Sustainability group Ceres says that 270 businesses have voiced support for the Clean Power Plan, and previous challenges from the National Association of Manufacturers and the US Chamber of Commerce “are less forceful than they have been, mainly because more and more businesses are signing on.” Silverstein concludes that the plan is likely to be tweaked along the way, but “the level of business support means that the policy will live on to see other day.”

Electric Vehicles, Energy Storage Provide Threats, Opportunities For U.S. Utilities.

Bloomberg News  (12/5, Chediak) reports examines what an increase in electric vehicles and affordable, accessible batteries for energy storage could mean for the U.S. utility industry. Although some see the increase in EVs and battery storage as an “existential threat” the existing utility business model, others see potential opportunities. According to Edison International Chairman, President and CEO Ted Craver, Southern California Edison “is planning to spend about $9.2 billion through 2017 to allow the two-way flow of electricity on its system.” Said Craver, “We are certainly big supporters of electric transportation. … That electric car isn’t just going to stay at home. It’s going to go other places. It’s going to need to get charged in other places. And I think our ability to provide that glue for all those things that are going to plug into that network is really how we see our core business.” SCE and San Diego Gas & Electric have proposed “investing about $500 million” in charging stations, and back a proposal to “loosen restriction on utilities owning charging facilities,” as does Pacific Gas and Electric.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Elementary Students Learn About STEM, Army Technology During Career Day.

The Belvoir (VA) Eagle  (12/5, Eagle) reports nearly 100 students were exposed to STEM career opportunities and Army technologies though a presentation by Program Executive Office Solider personnel at a Woodley Hill Elementary School in Alexandria, Virginia. Col. Mike Sloane’s visit on behalf of Project Manager Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment included hands on demonstrations with fused thermal sensors and night vision, among other technologies.

LEGO Robotics Events To Draw Hundreds Of Students To SUNY Polytechnic Institute.

The Rome (NY) Sentinel  (12/5) reports on the participation of hundreds of students in three FIRST Lego robotics events at SUNY Polytechnic Institute this weekend. Each designed for a particular age group, teams of students will compete in STEM challenges to illustrate understanding and problem solving. Students in the age group of 14-18 will competing to qualify for more than $13.5 million in scholarships.

Thursday’s Lead Stories

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