Retired NASA astronaut Alan Poindexter, 1961-2012
Alan Poindexter aboard the International Space Station.
July 2nd, 2012
10:33 AM ET

Retired NASA astronaut Alan Poindexter, 1961-2012

U.S. Navy Capt. Alan Poindexter, a retired NASA astronaut, was killed in a water scooter accident in Florida over the weekend.

Poindexter, 51, was with his two sons, 22-year-old Samuel and 26-year-old Zachary, in Little Sabine Bay on Pensacola Beach, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Stan Kirkland. Alan and Samuel Poindexter were thrown into the water when their personal watercraft was rear-ended by Zachary's. All three men were wearing life jackets.

A boater picked up Samuel and Alan Poindexter, who was initially alert and talking before falling unconscious. He was flown to Baptist Hospital in Pensacola, where he was pronounced dead.

NASA posted the following to its Facebook page on Sunday night: "The NASA family was sad to learn of the passing of our former friend, and colleague Alan Poindexter who was killed today during a jet ski accident in Florida. Our thought and hearts are with his family."

Poindexter flew two space shuttle missions, one aboard Atlantis as pilot and one on Discovery as commander, logging more than 669 hours in space before retiring from NASA in December 2010 to return to the Naval Postgraduate School in California.

His former colleagues have taken to Twitter to express their thoughts.

Clayton Anderson, his crewmate aboard Discovery, tweeted, "America lost a great hero yesterday; I lost my commander, my colleague and my friend. RIP Captain Poindexter."

Nicole Stott added, "We will miss our friend Dex."

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Space junk diplomacy
July 2nd, 2012
09:38 AM ET

Space junk diplomacy

Imagine waking up to a world where your cell phone doesn't work, you can't fill your car's tank using a credit card, and you cannot monitor the day's news or watch your favorite program on television. Sound farfetched? Perhaps – but the U.S. government is leading the charge with other nations to keep one possible catalyst for that scenario from unfolding.

Earlier this year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the United States would join the European Union and other nations to develop the "International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities" that would establish an international framework for the responsible use of space. In a statement announcing the initiative, Clinton said the United States was committed to "reversing the troubling trends that are damaging our space environment."

Eleven countries have space-launch capacity, and over 60 own and operate more than 1,100 satellites that play an unseen role in our daily lives, or serve military or intelligence-gathering dimensions for the governments who oversee their use.

The problem of space debris, or "space junk" as it is known, has become an increasing impediment to the effective management of outer space, with several near misses in recent years of both commercial and official assets for many space-faring nations.

"Unless we take action soon, if there are a number of other collisions, we could be in a situation 10 or 15 years from now where low Earth orbit is just too difficult to maneuver, which would have a dramatic impact on people's daily lives," Frank Rose, deputy assistant secretary of state for space and defense policy, told CNN's Security Clearance.

"Every aspect of our lives is dependent on space, and how if we were denied that access and those capabilities it would dramatically affect our lives."

July 2nd, 2012
09:31 AM ET

Bill Nye: U.S. risks losing its space edge

(CNN) - Years before Bill Nye became the Science Guy, he was a mechanical engineering student at Cornell University, where he took a course with astronomer Carl Sagan.

Sagan, who was instrumental in the planning of NASA missions to other planets and became widely known for his research, writing and public television series, was one of the founders of the Planetary Society. And his student dutifully signed up to become a member.
"I've been a member for over 30 years. And now I'm the head guy, it's quite odd," a surprised-sounding Nye told CNN in an interview in March at the TED2012 conference in Long Beach, California.

So today, the bow-tied, jauntily professorial Nye has a new role aside from his television work as a popularizer of science - as the society's chief executive, he's become a leading voice against the Obama administration's proposed $300 million cut in NASA's planetary exploration budget. And it's a subject about which he's passionate.

"This is a deep, deep concern. All the budgets are being cut. We gotcha, budgets are being cut, budgets are being pulled back, yes, yes, all good," he says, acknowledging the pressure to cut spending.

"But investment in space stimulates society, it stimulates it economically, it stimulates it intellectually and it gives us all passion. Everyone, red state, blue state, everyone supports space exploration. So I understand the budget has got to be cut, but something has gone a little bit wrong."

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