Saturday, May 26, 2012

Week in review (5/20 to 5/26)

There are weeks when something occurs that you just know will be a game-changer. This week there were two that stand out in my mind. One involved the first commercial mission to the International Space Station, and I’ll get to that in a moment.

The other was, for me, more personal. I’m talking about the decision of the owners of the New Orleans Times PicayuneMobile Press-Register, Birmingham News and Huntsville Times to print newspapers just three days a week, beginning in the fall.

The chain, Advance Publications, is facing the same issues newspapers nationwide have faced for a long time with dwindling readership and falling ad revenues. The chain decided that in a digital age, when people get their news delivered to computers and smart phones and immediacy is paramount, it makes sense to focus on that venue.

I'm saddened by it, but not surprised. I got out of the newspaper business in 2006 after more than 30 years to focus on delivering highly specialized content electronically. I still provide some printed materials, but it's for a very limited audience. For example, the 2012-2013 edition of Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor, an annual aerospace book I write with three other current and former reporters, will be published next month. There will be two electronic versions, one a PDF, the other an eBook, as well as a printed version. We try to cover all the bases.

So I can understand the thought process of Advance Publications. Provide content in multiple formats so readers can use the one they like. I still get a daily newspaper delivered to my home. It's a habit I've had since growing up in New York and my family got two papers, the Rockland Journal News and the New York Daily News, and occasionally the New York Times.

But my grandchildren, and likely your children, simply never picked up the habit. No doubt if there had been a smart phone or computers when I was growing up I would have used it to stay informed, as I do today. Significantly, I learned about the Times-PicayuneMobile Press-Register and the others not from newsprint, but from the Internet.

But something very special is going away. I never worked at the Times Picayune, but I have worked at two of the other Advance Publication papers. My first newspaper job was with the Huntsville Times, and years later I worked for the Mobile Press-Register. I enjoyed my stay at both papers, and worked with some outstanding journalists at both. I was lucky enough to become a journalist at a time when two newspaper towns and afternoon newspapers were still common, a time when UPI and AP competed head to head. I still love the sound of the presses, the smell of the ink, and I’ll always relish memories of how it felt to hold a copy of the paper, right off the press, and seeing a story of mine plastered on the front.

So I guess to some extent Advance Publications is seeing the same thing I saw. I’m still a journalist, only now I deliver my content digitally, and not to a mass audience, but to those particularly interest in aerospace. I made peace a long time ago with this new digital age, and now using it to do what I love doing. Still, I mourn the loss.

Now back to aerospace:

The space race is on again, but this time it's not the U.S.A versus the U.S.S.R., but companies versus companies and regions versus regions. The cargo-carrying spacecraft Dragon successfully hooked up to the International Space Station Friday after launching earlier in the week from Cape Canaveral Air Station, Fla., atop a Falcon 9 rocket.

The SpaceX unmanned Dragon capsule was captured by the ISS's 58-foot robotic arm some 250 miles above Australia. Over the weekend astronauts aboard the ISS opened the hatch and went inside the Dragon capsule. The Dragon will leave ISS Thursday and splash down in the Pacific later that day.

The SpaceX combination of Falcon 9 and Dragon so far has been highly successful, which is no doubt encouraging for NASA and the entire group of companies involved in commercial space flight. Stennis Space Center, Miss., wasn't involved in any of the testing of the SpaceX space vehicles, but it is testing rocket engines for Orbital Sciences Corp., and Blue Origin, two of the other private companies involved in space transportation.

Speaking of engine testing, a J-2X engine that will eventually be used in the NASA Space Launch System had a 40-second test on the A-2 Test Stand Friday. For the first time, test conductors fired the J-2X in both the secondary and primary modes of operation, 20 seconds in each. Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne is developing the J-2X engine. (Post)

-- Michoud Assembly Facility during the week held a free networking conference for government agencies, prime contractors and small businesses. It will designed to showcase the facility's manufacturing community and to help small businesses find opportunities to grow.

Northrop Grumman and NATO signed a $1.7 billion contract for a new surveillance and intelligence system that will include five unmanned Global Hawk Block 40s. Called the Alliance Ground Surveillance system, it's designed to support a broad range of missions for the alliance. The first aircraft will arrive at Sigonella air base in Sicily in 2015 with full operational capability in 2017. Global Hawk center fuselages are built in Moss Point, Miss. (Post)

-- BAE Systems' Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System scored its first-ever penetrating guided-rocket shots with the M282 warhead during recent tests at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The tests illustrate the product's ability to engage targets at close range and penetrate complex targets. (Post)

The strike of workers at the Lockheed Martin plant that builds F-35s is now in its fifth week. Lockheed is trying to maintain production and testing by having salaried employees fill in, according to the Star-Telegram. (Post) Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 training center. It currently has 12 of the 59 F-35s it's scheduled to receive.

-- Two Florida National Guard pilots are now assigned to the 33rd Operations Group at Eglin and will be the first Guard aviators to fly the F-35. They are Lt. Col. Randal Efferson and Maj. Jay Spohn. (Post)

-- An F-35B made its first flight at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., during the week. The 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing plans to start local area operations and conventional flights, beginning the process of gradually expanding the envelope to short takeoffs and vertical landings and more complex aerial training. (Post)

The commander of the Air Force Special Operations Command told a chamber breakfast gathering that the base is bustling, and it will only get busier, according to the Northwest Florida Daily News. Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel said Eglin's 9th Special Operations Squadron will be brought over to Hurlburt in the next year. (Post)

-- An 81st Aerospace Medicine Squadron flight surgeon recently participated in the annual 403rd Wing Caribbean Hurricane Awareness Tour. Maj. Rhodora Beckinger joined the "Hurricane Hunters" of the Air Force Reserve Command's Keesler Air Force Base’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron during their travel to six locations. (Post)

-- In Mississippi, Hattiesburg-Laurel Regional Airport will have a new commercial carrier and a new destination as its hub. Silver Airways of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., will take over routes currently served by Delta Air Lines. (Post)

Segers Aero Corp. of Fairhope, Ala., is now an authorized maintenance center for the popular Rolls-Royce T56 series of engines. That could open new markets in Central and South America for the Fairhope company, which repairs and overhauls turbine engines. (Post)

Builder’s trial: Amphibious transport dock Anchorage successfully completed its builder's trials. The 684-foot LPD 23, under construction at the company's Avondale, La., shipyard, is the seventh in the LPD 17-class to be built by Ingalls. (Post)

Submarine: The USS Mississippi arrived in Pascagoula Friday to cheering crowds. The 377-foot attack submarine will be commissioned June 2, an event expected to draw thousands. The Virginia-class sub was built by General Dynamics' Electric Boat in Groton, Conn. (Post)