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

Leading the News

Orion Spacecraft Successfully Launches And Returns To Earth In Near “Perfect” Mission.

NBC Nightly News (12/5, story 3, 2:40, Williams) broadcast on NASA’s successful test flight of the Orion spacecraft on Friday. Reporter Tom Costello noted that Orion traveled farther “than any spacecraft built for humans in 42 years,” adding that its “spectacular” return showed that NASA “still has the right stuff.” Orion Program Manager Mike Hawes said, “We started with all the Apollo guys still there, so we’ve kind of now finally done something for the first time for our generation.” Costello noted that with decades before people are sent to Mars on the spacecraft, there are still “many more years…of tests and hurdles.”

ABC World News (12/5, story 4, 2:05, Muir) broadcast that the “perfect landing” accomplished something not done “in four decades.” Reporter David Kerley highlighted NASA’s successful launch “just weeks after two private space companies” suffered accidents. Even though NASA’s budget means that there will not be a manned flight in Orion until 2021, Kerley called the test a “welcomed success.”

The CBS Evening News (12/5, story 11, 2:15, Dubois) broadcast that Mark Geyer, in charge of Orion at NASA, said that the launch is “the beginning of showing that, you know, the United States is getting back to exploring the solar system. And Orion has the systems that we’re going to need to do that, and today we put them to the test.” ABC News’ Chip Reid noted that reaching Mars with Orion “will depend on whether future congresses, future presidents, and future American publics are willing to spend untold billions to get there.” However, Geyer said that NASA will “absolutely” reach Mars on day, adding, “No doubt about it and it started today.”

The AP  (12/5, Dunn) noted that the test with its “bull’s-eye” landing is the beginning of “a new era of human exploration.” An “emotional” lead flight director Mike Sarafin said, “We challenged our best and brightest to continue to lead in space. … While this was an unmanned mission, we were all on board Orion.” According to the article, NASA has already reported “positive results” about how well the systems handled the “intense radiation” and heat. Meanwhile, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden called Friday’s launch “Day One of the Mars era.”

According to the Wall Street Journal  (12/5, Pasztor, Subscription Publication), the launch temporarily increased interest in NASA’s long-term manned spaceflight goals, even as lawmakers question NASA’s next steps. However, Bolden said Friday was “a big day for the world, for people who know and like space.” Geyer added that “it’s hard to have a better day than today.” The article noted that some even thought that the test was reminiscent of NASA’s Apollo era.

Like ABC World News, the New York Times  (12/5, Fountain, Subscription Publication) also called the test flight a “welcome success” after October’s commercial spaceflight accidents. William H. Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, said that a preliminary review of the data “looks really good. We will really learn things from this flight.” The article did note that “many viewers” of the live launch were disappointed by a problem with NASA TV’s live video feed, but replays and “live video of the splashdown, from cameras aboard the capsule and a drone aircraft,” went without a hitch.

The Washington Post  (12/5, Davenport) “The Switch” blog reported that the mission went off “flawlessly.” However, even with the “talk of grand plans to go to Mars,” NASA still is “hampered” by its budget. Marco Caceres of the Teal Group warned that Orion needs the Space Launch System (SLS), which is “a big question mark” currently. He added that it was a “stretch” to say that the US is heading to Mars at this point. The Washington Post  (12/5, Feltman) “Speaking of Science” blog posted an image of Earth taken from Orion while it was in space.

Higher Education

Private Lenders, ED Disagree On Number Of Delinquent Student Loans.

The Wall Street Journal  (12/5, Andriotis, Zibel) reports that thanks to different measurement methodologies, the ED and private lenders disagree on the number of people who are having serious problems paying back their student loans. ED estimates the number of defaults to be in double digits, while the Consumer Bankers Association estimates the number to be closer to 3 percent of borrowers. Factors such as a co-singer, deferment options, grace periods, forbearance, and the selling of delinquent loans to collection agencies by private lenders can create uncertainty in the number of accounts that are actually delinquent.

Michelle Obama Joins DC Students For Their Annual College March.

The Washington Post  (12/6, Chandler) reports that First Lady Michelle Obama visited and spoke with students at Capital City Public Charter School Friday and was there to greet those who participated in the school’s College March, an annual tradition in which seniors walk “through the hallways with college applications in hand” and drop them in a mailbox that was set up in their gymnasium, while underclassmen cheer them along. Obama’s visit was a part of her effort to promote her “Reach Higher” initiative which is aimed at encouraging “more students to go to college and earn a degree.”

Senate Education Chair Proposes Paying Student Loan Contractors Using Pell Grant Surplus.

The Huffington Post  (12/6, Nasiripour) reports outgoing Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate education committee and Federal education appropriations subcommittee, proposed taking $303 million from the Pell grant program’s $4.4 billion surplus to increase revenues for student loan creditors by $269 million; further, Harkin has proposed $2 billion in Pell grant cuts. The piece features outrage from student advocates and estimates that the program, without funding cuts, would already generate a deficit by 2017.

Federal Government Helps Workers Repay Student Loans Less Often.

The “Federal Eye” blog of the Washington Post  (12/5, Hicks) reported that “the federal government is allowed to help its employees pay off student loans as a way to attract workers with specialized knowledge and skills, but agencies are doing less of that these days because of budget constraints.” Most of the repayments were issued by four agencies, “with the Defense Department, Justice Department, Securities and Exchange Commission and State Department accounting for nearly 74 percent of the costs.” The Federal Eye blog added, “Although agencies generally offer loan repayments to workers in high-demand, such as the three nuclear engineers who received them at the Department of Energy last year, some recipients don’t clearly fit the mold. For example, 14 secretaries and four writer-editors received the benefit in 2013.”

Study: Climate Change Could Have “Long-Term Effects On Agriculture.”

The AP  (12/6) reported that “a University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor is warning that climate change will have drastic long-term effects on agriculture throughout the state.” Don Wilhite, the professor, “outlined the consequences for an audience at a Nebraska Farmers Union convention.” According to a report that Wilhite is the lead author of “climate change will disrupt agriculture production by mid-century, particularly crops and livestock, and degrade soil and water assets because of heavier but less-frequent rains.”

Oklahoma Public Colleges Report Awarding More STEM Degrees.

The AP  (12/5, AP) reports Oklahoma public colleges awarded 4% more STEM degrees last year and 28% over the past five. The piece includes the findings of a 2008 National Center for Education Statistics report which found STEM graduates had higher average incomes.

#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

New Horizons Spacecraft Emerges From Hibernation.

The Los Angeles Times  (12/6, Netburn) “Science Now” website reported that the New Horizons spacecraft has successfully come out of hibernation on Saturday. The article noted that the spacecraft will not return to hibernation again, starting “distant observations of Pluto” in January ahead of its flyby in July. According to the article, New Horizons will correct the “lack of knowledge” scientists currently have about Pluto.

SPACE  (12/7, Cofield) notes that Jim Green, NASA’s director of planetary sciences, was among those witnessing the confirmation to the spacecraft’s emergence from hibernation. At the event, principal investigator Alan Stern reportedly highlighted that the spacecraft will be taking “better” images of Pluto than the Hubble Space Telescope, allowing scientists to identify “as-yet-unknown moons or rings.”

Also covering the story are Reuters  (12/6, Klotz), Sky & Telescope  (12/7, Beatty), Sen  (12/7, Winder), Discovery News  (12/7, Klotz), NBC News  (12/6, Boyle), Universe Today  (12/7, Howell), CNN  (12/7), RT (RUS)  (12/7), Daily Digest  (12/7, Foley), International Business Times (UK)  (12/8), Christian Science Monitor  (12/7, Sappenfield), and Sputnik News  (12/7).


Female Representation Increases In Petroleum Engineering.

The AP  (12/8, Terry-Cobo) reports on the growing presence of women in the petroleum engineering industry, comprising 25% of the national industry according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics figures and 19% according to a March 2014 IHS report for the American Petroleum Institute. The piece highlights a need for more female mentors and mentorees in the field.

Oil, Gas Industry Faces Engineer Shortage.

The Houston Chronicle  (12/6, Maitland) reports that “oil and gas companies throughout the industry continue to see a shortage for engineers, across the board, even with oil and gas prices fluctuating.” The article notes that “the current demand for office and field engineers is approaching an all-time high, largely because of unprecedented capital spending in new construction and expansion of existing facilities across the Gulf region.”

For Canada And Australia, Jobs Trump Climate Protection.

Bloomberg News  (12/8, Van Loon, Paton) reports that the US-China joint climate changed initiative agreed to four weeks ago left Australia and Canada in an awkward position, because Australia’s strong growth has depended on China’s appetite for coal and other resources, and the US is Canada’s largest energy market and it tries to keep its climate policies closely aligned. However, neither Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot or Canada’s Stephen Harper “have ever displayed much enthusiasm for the kind of global policy against climate change now advocated by President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping.” They share a vision that energy extraction and the jobs it produces “trumps climate protection.” Bloomberg points out that the two “stand out as leaders of Western-style market economies skeptical of the process,” and they have been chided regarding their reticence on climate policy by other leaders, including President Barack Obama.

Industry News

Kendall Faults Raytheon, USAF For GPS Program Cost Growth.

In continuing coverage on US Defense Undersecretary Frank Kendall’s ordered review of Raytheon’s GPS Operational Control System after the contract’s value rose more than 80 percent, Reuters  (12/5, Shalal) reported that Kendall told reporters Friday that the purpose of the review was to ensure the program was on track, as well as to hear what lessons were learned. He faulted both Raytheon and the US Air Force for the sharp increase in cost, citing issues with how the program was executed and with changes in requirements. According to Kendall, Raytheon has agreed to provide additional resources to make certain the program succeeds.

Engineering and Public Policy

Fossil Fuel Industry Seeks To Leverage GOP Wins To Rein In Environmental Policy.

The Washington Post  (12/8, A1, Hamburger) reports on its front page on efforts by lobbyists in the energy industry to “thwart Obama administration environmental rules,” taking advantage of the increased Republican numbers in state and national office. According to the article, fossil fuel lobbyists met with lawmakers last week at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and “considered several model bills” for states to introduce in 2015 designed to hinder the Obama Administration’s environmental rules. The Post highlights ALEC’s focus on both state-level legislation as well “a push to apply pressure on Washington from state capitals,” where Republicans also experienced substantial wins.

Elementary/Secondary Education

California Students To Put Robotics Skills To The Test.

The Hesperia (CA) Star  (12/5, Gambone) reports on the participation of ten schools from Hesperia Unified School District in the Robotics Education and Competition Foundation’s annual VEX Robotics competition. The competition is depicted as unique for its inclusion of students as young as fourth graders. Vex Robotics Statistics show that over 95% of competitors report increased interest in STEM fields. The piece features endorsements from Krystal Elementary Principal Tom Kirk.

Friday’s Lead Stories

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