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NASA's Planetary Science Division Needs To Explain its Reorganization

By Keith Cowing on June 23, 2017 10:22 AM.

NAS Report: Review of the Restructured Research and Analysis Programs of NASA's Planetary Science Division

"Recently, PSD reorganized the R&A program to provide better alignment with the strategic goals for planetary sciences. The major changes in the R&A program involved consolidating a number of prior program elements, many of which were organized by subdiscipline, into a smaller number of thematic core research program elements. Despite numerous efforts by PSD to communicate the rationale for the reorganization and articulate clearly the new processes, there has been significant resistance from the planetary science community and concerns in some sectors regarding the major realignment of funding priorities. ... This report explores whether any specific research areas or subdisciplinary groups that are critical to NASA's strategic objectives for planetary science and PSD's science goals are not supported appropriately in the current program or have been inadvertently disenfranchised through the reorganization."

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NASA's Official Alternate History of Mars Exploration

By Keith Cowing on June 22, 2017 11:33 PM.

Why No One Under 20 Has Experienced a Day Without NASA at Mars, NASA

"Without Mars Pathfinder, there could not have been Spirit and Opportunity, and without Spirit and Opportunity, there could not have been Curiosity," Pathfinder Project Scientist Matt Golombek of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, said of the subsequent generations of Mars rovers. JPL is now developing another Mars rover for launch in 2020."

Keith's note: Here we go again. NASA wants you to think that everything it does always works and that its path (thus far) on the whole #JourneyToMars thing was logical and paved only with success. As such, this happy piece neglects to mention a billion dollars worth of Mars missions; Mars Observer (blew up in 1993), Mars Climate Orbiter (crashed in 1999), and Mars Polar Lander (crashed in 1999).

Oddly, it is these three unmentioned intermediate missions that had a substantial impact upon the way NASA now explores Mars. This press release is supposed to be all about how one mission contributed to the next mission. Yet without these three mission failures NASA would arguably not have had the subsequent string of successes that it has had.

When Mars Observer was lost NASA went back to the drawing board to reboot its Mars exploration strategy. When MCO and MPL were lost within months of each other NASA did a larger policy reboot. To maximize success with the Mars Science Rover mission plan, two rovers were launched - most explicitly with the intent that if only one of them worked - and only for 90 days - both missions would have been seen as successful. Two landers based on MPL hardware benefited directly from understanding the problems on MPL. Looking back, as a result of these three failures, we now see a more careful and instrumented approach used in traveling to, entering orbit, and landing on - Mars. NASA learned its Mars exploration lessons well - the hard way.

But now NASA Public Affairs is trying to pull a fast one and rewrite the history books. In so doing they obscure the timeline wherein these lessons were learned. They also help to sow the seeds for future mistakes. The people listed as contacts and who wrote and reviewed this release at NASA HQ and JPL know better. Alas, they now have a new, younger generation who was not around when the hard lessons were learned (the other main point of this release) so why not just leave the bad bits out, eh?

Indeed, this selective memory PAO exhibits is akin to trying to describe the history of American human spaceflight while neglecting the tough lessons learned (and unlearned) from Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia. No one is well-served by an edited, sanitized version of NASA's long path outward into space.

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Hollywood Space Spinoff Flops

By Keith Cowing on June 22, 2017 9:12 PM.

Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop gets called out by NASA over healing stickers, CNN Money

"NASA just called out Goop, the movie star's lifestyle brand, over wearable healing stickers that it promoted on its website. In a post on Thursday, Goop said that the stickers, which are sold by a group called Body Vibes, are "made with the same conductive carbon material NASA uses to line space suits so they can monitor an astronaut's vitals during wear." The wearables, which cost about $60 for a pack of 10, come "pre-programmed to an ideal frequency" and "promote healing" by tackling "imbalances," the website claimed. But NASA told CNNMoney it doesn't use carbon material to line its suits, and its current spacesuit has no carbon fibers in it at all."

Body Vibes

"Body Vibes use an exclusive material originally developed for NASA. This waterproof, carbon fiber compound can hold specific frequency charges that naturally stimulate the human body's receptors."

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NASA's Response To That White House Downsizing Thing

By Keith Cowing on June 22, 2017 2:07 PM.

Interior Secretary Advocates For Cutting Up To 4,000 Jobs At Agency, Huffington Post

"In written testimony submitted Tuesday to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke noted that President Donald Trump's 2018 budget request would slash funding by $1.6 billion - to $11.7 billion - and support just shy of 60,000 full-time staff, a reduction of roughly 4,000."

Comprehensive Plan for Reforming the Federal Government and Reducing the Federal Civilian Workforce, OMB

"This memorandum provides agencies guidance on fulfilling the requirements ofthe Hiring. Freeze PM and the Reorganization EO while aligning those initiatives with the Federal budget and performance planning processes. It requires all agencies to: Begin taking immediate actions to achieve near-term workforce reductions and cost savings, including planning for funding levels in the President's Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 Budget Blueprint; Develop a plan to maximize employee performance by June 30, 2017; and Submit an Agency Reform Plan to OMB in September 2017 as part of the agency's FY 2019 Budget submission to OMB that includes long-term workforce reductions. An initial, high-level draft ofthe Agency Reform Plan is due to OMB by June 30, 2017."

Keith's note: NASA was required to draft and submit a plan to OMB by the end of the month. Sources report that it is done and is in the process of being prepared for submission to OMB. If the Secretary of Interior can talk about his agency's plan to reduce their workforce in open congressional hearings, one would think that NASA could - and should - do the same. Given that NASA fared much better than virtually all of the Federal government in terms of its FY 2018 budget proposal, the need to resort to draconian personnel cuts is simply not there. Indeed, if Congress does what it did in response to the FY 2017 budget request, NASA will be funded more or less at current levels.

As such, sources say that NASA's plan is what all these plans are: a bunch of words in response to direction from the White House about things no one really expects to implement. But there has to be a lot of words - and the right words too - so as to make OMB think that NASA actually has a plan. At most NASA will feature buyouts, early outs, and reliance upon attrition. That's all. As long as NASA thanks the President for the opportunity to #MakeNASAGreatAgain the details are not all that important.

But NASA is like all other agencies: they never pass up an opportunity to do one thing in response to being asked to do another thing. So you may see a bunch of phone book revisions and reporting changes within/between field centers and directorates and HQ tossed into the mix since no one is really going to notice - and it lets NASA HQ hide some things it has been wanting to do anyway. Orion, SLS, and ISS workforces may get tweaked as a result - with HQ pointing to these changes as their way of dealing with budget problems and schedule slips. The net result is going to be more of the same - with a flat budget.

Of course, even if Congress is generous to NASA, doing the math and adding up all of the things NASA is on the hook to do - plus all that it wants to do - will show that the money is simply not there. Not to worry. That won't really be an issue until after the new administrator is in place and the actual FY2019 budget is submitted.

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JSC Center Director Ellen Ochoa Picks Up Yet Another External Job

By Keith Cowing on June 21, 2017 10:38 PM.

Mutual of America Life Insurance Company Appoints Johnson Space Center Director Dr. Ellen Ochoa to its Board of Directors

"Mutual of America Life Insurance Company, which specializes in providing retirement products and related services to organizations and their employees, as well as individuals, announced the appointment of Dr. Ellen Ochoa to its Board of Directors. Mutual of America partnered with Korn Ferry's Board and CEO Practice to conduct a national search, which resulted in Dr. Ochoa's appointment."

Ellen Ochoa Appointed to Dallas Fed Board

"The Federal Reserve Board of Governors has appointed Ellen Ochoa of Houston to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas board of directors. She will fill an unexpired term ending Dec. 31, 2017, and will be eligible for appointment to a full three-year term on the board. Ochoa previously served as chair of the Bank's Houston Branch board."

JSC Center Director Ochoa Elected to Deathcare Product Company Board, earlier post

"Service Corporation International, the largest provider of deathcare products and services in North America, today announced that it will nominate Dr. Ellen Ochoa to be elected to the SCI Board of Directors at the Company's Annual Meeting of Shareholders to be held in May 2015."

Johnson Space Center's director to serve on National Science Board

"Science has always had an advocate in Dr. Ellen Ochoa, director of NASA's Johnson Space Center. Now, it is official, as Ochoa has been named the final member of the National Science Board's (NSB's) class of 2022."

Keith's note: That's four companies/organizations for whom Ellen Ochoa serves on the board of directors while also serving as Center Director for NASA Johnson Space Center. If she has the time to do all of this external stuff perhaps she is not spending enough time on her day job. Why is it that the vast majority of NASA employees are not allowed to moonlight like this - but Ochoa is allowed to do so? Just sayin'.

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Today's Commercial Space Policy Events

By Keith Cowing on June 21, 2017 10:42 AM.

Senate Commerce Committee Hearing on Commercial Space

"U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), chairman of the Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, will convene a hearing titled Reopening the American Frontier: Promoting Partnerships Between Commercial Space and the U.S. Government to Advance Exploration and Settlement." Note: Postponed until after the July 4 recess.

The Implications of the Growing Small Satellite Market for Launch and Key Applications (webcast)

"The Center for Strategic and International Studies will be hosting a two-session event to highlight and amplify awareness of the implications of emerging space technologies, particularly those provided by smaller space systems. These discussions will examine implications from the perspective of both changes in the way space missions are executed and in the way that transportation to space is provided."

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Infomercial Update on NASA's Journey To Nowhere

By Keith Cowing on June 20, 2017 4:40 PM.

This Week at NASA: Mid-Year at NASA (video), NASA

"2017 is shaping up to be another year of unprecedented exploration, amazing discoveries, technological advances and progress in development of future missions - and we're just six months into the year. Here are some of our top stories of 2017, so far - Mid-Year at NASA."

The Journey to Mars seems to be pretty much dead, Ars Technica

"The other planet not mentioned in the video is Earth, which NASA's charter in 1958 specifically calls upon the new federal agency to study. NASA has made some significant discoveries about Earth this year, from clouds and ice to the radiation belts that surround the planet."

Keith's 4:37 pm EDT note: This video is suddenly offline. The older one used to be here. First Eric writes his article and tweets it. I tweet a reply and post a link here at 12:26 pm EDT. Then a few hours later NASA just takes the video offline. FWIW we posted a link to it on SpaceRef last Saturday - and no one at NASA had a problem with it prior to that. Oops.

Oh but wait: they posted a revised version here. They removed the old SLS footage were it talks about "commercial" rockets and replaced it with a Falcon 9 launching followed by Orion orbiting the Moon. Meanwhile, the NASA infomercial narrator guy says "future crews will launch on American-made commercial spacecraft and will carry out exploration missions that will take humans farther out into space than ever before." One small problem: Orion is not "commercial". And its service module is made in Europe. If they re-edited the video to change the SLS clip to show a Falcon 9 (commercial launch vehicle) then why did they not include a Dragon or Starliner as well - unless, who cares?

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False Positives and Planetary Protection

By Keith Cowing on June 19, 2017 10:10 PM.

The Goals, Rationales, and Definition of Planetary Protection: Interim Report, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

"Avoiding forward and back contamination in missions to Mars can be viewed as addressing contamination that travels from Earth to Mars and back. From its origin in the 1997 SSB study and its implementation in COSPAR and NASA documents, the third rationale has been associated with preventing a "false positive" in a sample returned to Earth from a solar system body. However, molecular biology has advanced considerably in the last 20 years, and the committee needs to investigate more thoroughly whether new methods in molecular biology make false positive and negative results in biohazard assessments conducted on returned samples far less likely."

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Spaceport America: Just Send Us More Money

By Keith Cowing on June 19, 2017 8:04 PM.

Waiting for liftoff at the Spaceport, Santa Fe New Mexican

"The concept of space tourism was all the rage when Spaceport America was pitched to New Mexico taxpayers a decade ago as a gateway for rich adventurers willing to pay $250,000 for a ride to the heavens. But as the state has waited year after year for the first of what were supposed to be regular flights into space from the nearly $220 million facility, people behind the program are reimagining it more as a hub for the commercial spaceflight industry rather than space tourism. That change in approach could require pouring millions more in public money into a place that plenty of critics have called one of state government's biggest boondoggles. Dan Hicks, new executive director of the spaceport, says the spaceport must construct additional facilities and offer more services to draw more business."

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Kepler Reveals New Worlds

By Keith Cowing on June 19, 2017 11:37 AM.

NASA Releases Kepler Survey Catalog with Hundreds of New Planet Candidates

"NASA's Kepler space telescope team has released a mission catalog of planet candidates that introduces 219 new planet candidates, 10 of which are near-Earth size and orbiting in their star's habitable zone, which is the range of distance from a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of a rocky planet. With the release of this catalog, derived from data publically available on the NASA Exoplanet Archive, there are now 4,034 planet candidates identified by Kepler. Of which, 2,335 have been verified as exoplanets. Of roughly 50 near-Earth size habitable zone candidates detected by Kepler, more than 30 have been verified."

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So Much For Russian Engine Sanctions

By Keith Cowing on June 19, 2017 10:40 AM.

Amendment may keep Iran-Russia sanctions bill from stopping ISS launches from Wallops, Daily Press

"An Iran-Russia sanctions bill threatened to torpedo Orbital ATK's commercial resupply missions for NASA from Virginia to the International Space Station until an amendment cleared the U.S. Senate Thursday to remove the bill's unintended consequences to civilian agencies. Senators voted overwhelmingly -- 94 to 6 -- to approve the amendment after several members, including Virginia's Mark Warner, described the "unintentional harm" the original bill could inflict on "crucial science, civil and commercial space missions" that support NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research."

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NASA Leadership Update

By Keith Cowing on June 19, 2017 10:15 AM.

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How Much Do ULA Launches Really Cost?

By Keith Cowing on June 15, 2017 8:33 PM.

Air Force budget reveals how much SpaceX undercuts launch prices, Ars Technica

"One person who has reviewed the Air Force budget and is sympathetic to the new space industry said the following: That is a tad more expensive than the amount ULA would ever tell taxpayers they are paying for one of its launches, and it illustrates the extent to which those taxpayers are forced to subsidize ULA in order to maintain the fiction that it is a competitive private sector company. Essentially, then, while ULA has talked publicly about lowering the costs of its boosters for the commercial sector and the federal government, the US Department of Defense is suggesting in its budget that ULA's costs are as high as they have ever been."

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Space Policy Gossip Update

By Keith Cowing on June 14, 2017 3:25 PM.

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Yet Another National Academy Report That No One Will Pay Attention To

By Keith Cowing on June 14, 2017 3:06 PM.

The Tiny Edit That Changed NASA's Future, The Atlantic

"But in this year's bill, Congress added a momentous phrase to the agency's mission: "the search for life's origins, evolution, distribution, and future in the universe." It's a short phrase, but a visionary one, setting the stage for a far-reaching effort, that could have as profound an impact on the 21st century as the Apollo program had on the 20th. NASA's new directive acknowledges that we are tantalizingly close to answering perhaps the most fundamental question of all: Are we alone in the universe?"

National Aeronautics and Space Administration Transition Authorization Act of 2017

"The Administrator shall enter into an arrangement with the National Academies to develop a science strategy for astrobiology that would outline key scientific questions, identify the most promising research in the field, and indicate the extent to which the mission priorities in existing decadal surveys address the search for life's origin, evolution, distribution, and future in the universe."

Keith's note: As much as I support the wording in this authorization act, authorization acts contain all kinds of interesting language that is usually ignored or slow-boated by NASA - especially if money is required to comply with the language - money that has not been appropriated. If reports (especially National Academy reports) are called for by the authorization bill, the reports are conducted by the usual suspects, take several years to create, and when they are delivered everyone has forgotten why they were asked for and/or the results have been overtaken by events. This 2017 NASA authorization act references an earlier NASA authorization act from 2010 which called for a National Academy report that was not started until 2012 and reported back to Congress in 2014. No one really pays much attention to the report since it punted on virtually every important task it was given to do.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration Transition Authorization Act of 2017

"In accordance with section 204 of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010 (124 Stat. 2813), the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, through its Committee on Human Spaceflight, conducted a review of the goals, core capabilities, and direction of human space flight, and published the findings and recommendations in a 2014 report entitled, ``Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration''."

Yet Another Slow Motion Advisory Committee on Human Space Flight, earlier post (2012)

"Net result: the committee's advice will be out of synch with reality and somewhat overtaken by events having taken a total of 3 years, 7 months to complete. Oh yes: the cost of this study? $3.6 million.. The soonest that a NASA budget could be crafted that took this committee's advice into account would be the FY 2016 budget request. NASA and OMB will interact on the FY 2016 budget during Fall 2014 and it won't be announced until early 2015 - 4 1/2 years after this committee and its advice was requested in the NASA Authorization Act 2010."

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NASA ISS Weekly Space to Ground Report - June 22, 2017

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