Cutbacks Have Smithsonian Down, But Not Out

SmithsonianGovernment cutbacks have affected travel in a number of ways. Passport applications and renewals are taking longer, as is the process for requesting a visa. Traveling abroad, less security at U.S. facilities means less protection for Americans. National parks have closed some facilities and delayed opening of others. Now, even the Smithsonian Institution in Washington is feeling the impact of budget cuts.

“A reduction in a contract for security that supplements the Smithsonian security force affects some museums. The safety and security of the public and our collections will not be compromised,” said a notice on the Smithsonian website.

While no major exhibitions will be closed, the commons in the Smithsonian Castle, one room in the African Mosaic exhibit and sections of the permanent collection galleries in the Hirshhorn Museum will be unavailable for a short time.

On a positive note, the Smithsonian, a top budget travel destination, has a number of new exhibits underway of particular interest to fans of space travel that are unaffected.Extraordinary Voyages: 50 Years of Exploration is a NASA-supported lecture series at the National Air and Space Museum that started with a story that began 50 years ago when Mariner 2 flew by Venus and became the first successful mission to another planet. Upcoming events include a live webcast of the Exploring Space lecture, Vesta in the Light of Dawn on May 7, 2013. This program continues also because of support by aerospace contractor Aerojet.

Featured, fully-open exhibits at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., also include “Time and Navigation,” “Moving Beyond Earth,” “Fifty Years of Human Space Flight,” “Barron Hilton Pioneers of Flight,” and “The Wright Brothers & The Invention of the Aerial Age.

This video has more on how budget cuts are affecting the Smithsonian:



[Photo credit - Flickr user The Uprooted Photographer]

Paying More For Flights? Try $70.6 Million Per Seat

paying more for flightsTravelers have become accustomed to paying more for flights as airline fees soar, tapping them for billions. Between baggage fees, service fees and in-flight fees, it is getting harder to find cheap fares and no one knows that better than NASA.

As the space shuttle program came to an end in 2011, NASA began relying on the Russian Space Agency to ferry astronauts and supplies back and forth from the International Space Station (ISS). But even NASA, OK with paying $65 million per seat, did not see the latest price hike coming. Agreeing to pay $424 million for the flights of six astronauts aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft to service the ISS in 2016 and the first half of 2017, NASA is not happy.

But NASA really has no other choice than to pay the $70.6 million per seat fare as Russia has the market cornered as the only way to get to and from the space station.Yes, several U.S. companies are in the process of taking that business away from Russia, but those efforts are a few years away. SpaceX is making cargo shipments, but not shipping humans yet. Still, according to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, had congress approved NASA’s funding request for commercial space travel, the situation could have been avoided.

“Because the funding for the President’s plan has been significantly reduced, we now won’t be able to support American launches until 2017,” said Bolden in a NASA blog post reported by LaboratoryEquipment.

It’s a tough place to be for NASA. On the other hand, the $100 million they spent to build a home for retired space shuttle Atlantis in Florida could have come in handy right about now. At least we can choose not to check luggage, comparison shop and bring our own meals on board. Astronauts don’t have that option.



[Photo - Flickr user chatarra picks]

Space Shuttle Home Nears Completion In Florida

Space Shuttle

Space Shuttle Atlantis has a new home in Florida that is nearing completion. As the latest Space Coast attraction, the new $100-million home of the historic spacecraft will launch June 29 at Kennedy Space Center. Far more than a place to store the used orbiter, the new facility will offer visitors unprecedented access to what was once highly classified hardware, uniquely displayed.

This unique experience delivers extraordinary access to Space Shuttle Atlantis, positioned as if it were in space as only astronauts have seen it before. Suspended 30 feet above ground and rotated at slightly less than a 45-degree angle, Atlantis will have her payload bay doors open and robotic arm (Canadarm) extended. Visitors will be able to view the orbiter from below or via a raised surrounding platform.

With 33 missions in space to the credit of Space Shuttle Atlantis, the exterior has been left as-is for visitors to see the wear on its protective external tiles. Over 60 supporting and interactive exhibits plus high-tech simulators tell the story of NASA’s 30-year Space Shuttle Program and the amazing engineering that transformed the way humans explore space. Prominently featured is the shuttle program’s role in building the International Space Station as well as the launch and maintenance of the Hubble Space Telescope.While the newest attraction at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Complex, Atlantis is just one feature to be enjoyed by visitors. The Shuttle Launch Experience simulates what it is like to blast off into space. The Rocket Garden features Redstone, Atlas and Titan rockets that first put NASA astronauts in space, alongside Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules. The Astronaut Training Experience brings visitors realistic astronaut training.

Other exhibits trace the history of America’s space program from its beginning and get into the future of space exploration. Far from a relic of another time and a different NASA focus, the Atlantis exhibit promises to complete an experience that fans of space travel may have only dreamed of until now.

Better yet, the Kennedy Space Center website has a rich array of interactive content including a “countdown until the next launch” timer and an Ask An Astronaut feature that invites visitors to pose questions to those who have actually been there and done that.

About the only part of the space shuttle program that visitors won’t see is an actual launch, but we have one of those for you here in this video:




[Image credit - Kennedy Space Center Visitor's Complex]

New Aviation Technology Brings Safer Travel Today, Looks To Future

aviation technology

Commercial aviation technology has come a long way since its first flight in 1914, a 23-minute flight between St. Petersburg and Tampa, Florida. Along the way, a great amount of the technology in today’s aircraft, enabling travelers to fly around the world, was developed right here in the United States. That tradition continues with some recent advances, in use right now or on their way, that address current needs and future concerns.

In Alaska, landing a commercial aircraft has its unique challenges. Mountains surround the airport in Juneau; Sitka’s small runway or Kodiak’s strip that ends at the side of a mountain have first officers watching the captains-only landings.

“The weather around here can be unpredictable,” said Clarissa Conley, the F.A.A. manager for Juneau International Airport in a New York Times report. “You name it, we’ve got it. And the terrain can make flying here pretty challenging, particularly when visibility is low.”

Addressing that specific issue of today, Alaska Airlines developed satellite guidance, a navigation technique that made landing at Alaska’s airports far safer and is a big part of the Federal Aviation Administration’s plan to modernize the nation’s air traffic system.Meanwhile, looking to the future, NASA is about to wrap up a three-week flight test of biofuels that began on February 28. Called the Alternative Fuel Effects on Contrails and Cruise Emissions (ACCESS) research, NASA is flying a DC-8 “flying laboratory” out of its Dryden facility, doing tests on biofuel that promise to collect data on emissions, engine performance and contrails. NASA does that by flying one of their Falcon jets as close as 300 feet behind the DC-8, mostly over restricted airspace.

But an AVWeb post notes NASA saying that “if weather conditions permit, the Falcon jet will trail commercial aircraft flying in the Southern California region, in coordination with air traffic controllers.” NASA does say that if following a commercial airliner, the distance will be ten miles between aircraft.

The NASA study and similar investigations by the European community hope to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and, in turn, reduce emissions by the commercial airline industry.




[Photo credit - Flickr user Niels van Eck]


Space Travel Update: What NASA Is Up To These Days

space travelWith the Space Shuttle program coming to an end and commercial space flight organizations providing service to the International Space Station, one might wonder what the people at NASA are doing these days. While we’re not sure about other NASA facilities, Kennedy Space Center is keeping busy with a variety of activities.

The Kennedy Space Center (KSC) has been the launch site used for every NASA human space travel flight since 1968. KSC is also a major Florida tourist attraction hosting attractions that include the Shuttle Launch Experience, a simulated journey of launching into space and orbiting Earth, as well as the Astronaut Training Experience, Rocket Garden, two IMAX theaters, the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame and more. Now, KSC is adding yet another attraction, Angry Birds.

The new Angry Birds Space Encounter will be the first comprehensive, interactive Angry Birds attraction in the United States. Designed for people of all ages, the new attraction promises to “brings to life the space adventures of the Angry Birds as they follow their kidnapped eggs into an inter-galactic wormhole, come face to face with Space Pigs and gear up with heroic superpowers,” said KSC in a press release.Set to open at the KSC Visitor Complex on March 22, NASA has a serious reason behind the Angry Birds fun. Collaborating with Angry Birds creator Rovio Entertainment, the idea is to teach players about physics and space exploration, energizing young people regarding future careers in science and technology.

But it’s not all work on the Space Coast of Florida as we see in this video:


[Photo credit - NASA]