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The Plight Of The Citrus College Rocket Owls

By Keith Cowing on March 16, 2018 8:05 PM.

CA's LGBTQ law blocks SoCal college rocket club from Alabama competition

"A Citrus College rocketry club may be reaching for the stars, but is coming up with a handful of politics. The Rocket Owls team has earned a coveted spot at the annual NASA Student Launch competition, where 60 college teams from across the country go head-to-head, building and launching high-altitude rockets. But the event is held in Huntsville, Alabama which is one of eight states now targeted by the California legislature's AB 1887. That law bans publicly funded travel to states deemed to discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people."

Rocket Owls COmmit to NASA Competition Despite Being Barred From Final Launch, Clarion

"Of the other five California schools accepted into the program, UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley have confirmed they are attending. "We have not experienced any problems with being unable to compete." UC Berkeley's CalSTAR Outreach officer, Adam Huth, said, "Technically, I believe teams in California are allowed to compete, they may just be unable to receive funding for the trip itself."

AB 1887 (full text)

"Specifically, AB 1887 does not apply to state travel that is required for any of the following purposes: To comply with requests by the federal government to appear before committees."

Keith's note: Homer Hickam of Rocket Boys/October Sky fame came across an article from California's Citrus College's Clarion newspaper that their rocket team wasn't going to be allowed to come to Huntsville, Alabama for the Student Launch competition because of AB 1887 - even though they had successfully accomplished all requirements and had been invited by NASA.

Investigating further, Hickam learned that several University of California teams were coming to the Student Launch competition by using their own funds. When he discovered the Citrus College team had raised their own travel money but the college board and Superintendent had still ordered them not to go, Hickam was outraged.

After going back and forth with NASA officials and Chancellor Eloy Oakley of California Community Colleges, Oakley threw up his hands and said it was all Citrus College Superintendent Geraldine Perri's fault and the decision lay entirely in her hands. Hickam has tried to contact Superintendent Perri but she has not responded. Hickam is trying to bring all the parties together to let these fine young students ( go to Huntsville and compete. Failing that, he's working to allow them to come as an unaffiliated team.

Hickam spoke to several students and employees of Citrus College and all seem to be afraid of Dr. Perri and what she might do. Anyone, they all said, who doesn't agree with her risks her ire. The rocket team has considered going to Huntsville as an independent team but fear if they do, Dr. Perri's wrath will cause their expulsion from the college and other penalties, including a permanent shut-down of the rocket club for future students. Most of the mentors of the rocket club are volunteers. Their permissions to go on-campus would likely also be removed.

The intent of AB 1887 certainly has clear, undisputed merit to battle discrimination that I fully support. But for Citrus College to use this law as a excuse to prevent students from travelling to this competition - using funds that are not from the government of the State of California or from personal accounts - is simply wrong. This is especially questionable when other California educational institutions have found a way for their student teams to participate using alternate sources of funding. Moreover the NASA Student Launch effort is an educational competition conducted on a national basis wholly operated by the Federal government, not by the state of Alabama. The Federal government - not the State of Alabama - invited the Rocket Owls to participate. Also, the bill refers to people who work in some capacity for the State of California. These are students - taxpayers - not employees - and they do not seek any funds from the State of California.

Let's hope that Citrus College management wakes up to the realization that their job is facilitating education - not blocking educational opportunities for their students. If you don't want to help your students, Geraldine Perri, fine. But at least allow these students to spend their own money to further their education.

Controversy over college rocket group coming to AL sparks outrage, WAFF


Educating The Next Generation Of Space Explorers

By Keith Cowing on March 16, 2018 12:09 AM.

Keith's note: The White House has submitted a budget request for FY 2019 which calls of the elimination of the NASA Education Office. They seem to think that education is not worth an emphasis. Take a look at this article (in French). A teacher in Ghana was so intent upon teaching his students about computers - without computers to use - that he drew screen shots on a blackboard that is not even a blackboard but a painted wall. While we toss aside the value of education for no cogent reason others on this planet go to extraordinary lengths to educate the next generation. Some countries know what is important for the future.

Ghanaian teacher becomes a hero of the web with this drawing on a board, Les Observateurs

"A Ghanaian teacher has become a star on the web after publishing these photos: we see him reproduce very accurately on a table the word processor "Word". Due to lack of means, Owura Kwadwo Hottish is forced to teach his students computer science on this board. But his photos, which sparked a wave of sympathy on social networks, could help change things."


The Identical Astronaut Twins Are Still Identical

By Keith Cowing on March 15, 2018 5:37 PM.

Keith's note: You may have seen a lot of stories recently in major news publications over the past week or so stating that the Kelly brothers now have different DNA or something to that effect. Not true. Another example of reporters writing stories about something that they simply do not understand (I am an actual biologist so I can say that). Scott Kelly's DNA did not change. How some of his DNA is expressed (or not expressed) changed as a result (apparently) of spending nearly a year in space. But again, his DNA did not change. He and his brother are just as identical genetically as they were before he left Earth. Here is what NASA JSC PAO sent to some news media (but not others) on this topic:

"Mark and Scott Kelly are still identical twins; Scott's DNA did not fundamentally change. What researchers did observe are changes in gene expression, which is how your body reacts to your environment. This likely is within the range for humans under stress, such as mountain climbing or SCUBA diving. The change related to only 7 percent of the gene expression that changed during spaceflight that had not returned to preflight after six months on Earth. This change of gene expression is very minimal. We are at the beginning of our understanding of how space flight affects the molecular level of the human body. NASA and the other researchers collaborating on these studies expect to announce more comprehensive results on the twins studies this summer."

NASA Twins Study Confirms Preliminary Findings, NASA

"Another interesting finding concerned what some call the "space gene", which was alluded to in 2017. Researchers now know that 93% of Scott's genes returned to normal after landing. However, the remaining 7% point to possible longer term changes in genes related to his immune system, DNA repair, bone formation networks, hypoxia, and hypercapnia."

Keith's note: Scott Kelly's genes i.e. the DNA sequence in his genome did not change so genes could not "return to normal". Nor are there any "changes in genes related to his immune system, DNA repair, bone formation networks, hypoxia, and hypercapnia." Rather, how the genes are expressed was changed and that expression changed over time with some changes reverting to preflight expression while others have not. But the genes are not changed.

No, Scott Kelly's Genes Were Not Changed, earlier post


NASA CFO Jeff Dewitt Confirmed

By Keith Cowing on March 14, 2018 8:08 PM.

Keith's note: NASA CFO nominee Jeff Dewitt has been confirmed by the Senate.

NASA Statement on Nomination for Agency Chief Financial Officer, earlier post

"The following is a statement from acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot on Wednesday's announcement of the intended nomination by President Donald Trump of Jeffrey DeWit to serve as the agency's Chief Financial Officer: "It is encouraging to see more members of the agency's leadership team being named. Jeff's solid financial background will be a tremendous addition as we continue to advance our nation's aeronautic and exploration initiatives."

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No, Scott Kelly's Genes Were Not Changed

By Keith Cowing on March 14, 2018 7:56 PM.

Astronaut's DNA no longer matches that of his identical twin, NASA finds, CNN

"Spending a year in space not only changes your outlook, it transforms your genes. Preliminary results from NASA's Twins Study reveal that 7% of astronaut Scott Kelly's genes did not return to normal after his return to Earth two years ago. The study looks at what happened to Kelly before, during and after he spent one year aboard the International Space Station through an extensive comparison with his identical twin, Mark, who remained on Earth. NASA has learned that the formerly identical twins are no longer genetically the same."

Keith's 14 March note: NO NO NO NO. The Kelly brothers are exactly the same genetically as they were the day they were born. No genes were "transformed". Their genes are the same as they were the day they were conceived. What changed during space travel was how some genes were expressed. Some genes were shut off. Some genes were activated, Some genes were expressed at different levels. I wish that science writers would take the time to talk to people who actually understand the topic. There are dozens of articles like this circulating right now that get the fundamental aspect of this research wrong. Also, FWIW, NASA needs to spend more time explaining what it is they are trying to say. As an actual space biologist I find all of this rather frustrating.


Steely-Eyed Former NASA PAO Employee Defends The Truth

By Keith Cowing on March 14, 2018 6:20 PM.

ICE spokesman resigns, citing fabrications by agency chief, Sessions about California immigrant arrests, Washington Post

"A spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has resigned over what he described as "false" and "misleading" statements made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and ICE acting director Thomas D. Homan. James Schwab worked out of the agency's San Francisco office until he abruptly quit last week. ... "I quit because I didn't want to perpetuate misleading facts," Schwab told the San Francisco Chronicle. "I asked them to change the information. I told them that the information was wrong, they asked me to deflect, and I didn't agree with that. Then I took some time, and I quit."

Keith's note: James Schwab worked for a number of years at NASA Ames PAO. I got to know him during his time at NASA. I have to assume that his NASA tenure helped to fortify his propensity to tell the truth - no matter what.


Ad Astra Stephen Hawking

By Keith Cowing on March 14, 2018 6:59 AM.

Stephen Hawking, science's brightest star, dies aged 76, The Guardian

"Stephen Hawking, the brightest star in the firmament of science, whose insights shaped modern cosmology and inspired global audiences in the millions, has died aged 76. His family released a statement in the early hours of Wednesday morning confirming his death at his home in Cambridge. Hawking's children, Lucy, Robert and Tim, said in a statement: "We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today. He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years. His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humour inspired people across the world. "He once said: 'It would not be much of a universe if it wasn't home to the people you love.' We will miss him for ever."

Professor Stephen Hawking Experiences the Freedom of Weightlessness During Historic Zero-Gravity Flight Out of Kennedy Space Center erlier post (2007)


Hey - Let's Build A Space Force!

By Keith Cowing on March 13, 2018 6:14 PM.

Keith's note: President Trump spoke to military personnel at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego and starting talking about a new "Space Force". [Video] [Larger image]

"My new national strategy for space recognizes that space is a war fighting domain. Just like the land, air, and sea. We may have a Space Force. Develop another one. Space Force. We have the Air Force - we'll have a Space Force. We have the Army, the Navy. You know I was saying it the other day because we are doing a tremendous amount of work in space. I said 'maybe we need a new force - we'll call it the Space Force - and I was not really serious - and then I said what a great idea - maybe we'll have to do it. That could happen. That could be the breaking shore. Look at all those people back there. Look at that. Ahhh - that fake news. Ugh. They know - they understand. So think of that: Space Force. Because we're spending a lot - and we have a lot of private money coming in - tremendous. You saw what happened the other day - tremendous success. From the very beginning many of our astronauts have been soldiers and sailors, airmen, coast guardsmen, and marines. And our service members will be vital to ensuring that America continues to lead the way into the stars. It will lead the way in space. We're way, way behind - and we're catching up fast - so fast that nobody even believes it."
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NASA Watch on CGTN

By Keith Cowing on March 13, 2018 12:40 AM.

China sets sights on first manned space station in 2022, CGTN America

"The next frontier of China's space exploration program - a permanent, manned space station - is expected to be ready for service in 2022. But as this new station readies for launch, another is set to come crashing back to Earth. Keith Cowing, an astrobiologist and editor of, discusses this and other Chinese space developments with CGTN's Elaine Reyes."

Keith's note: I need to get some better lighting in my man cave. I look like a tired raccoon.


Robert Lightfoot Is Retiring From NASA

By Keith Cowing on March 12, 2018 8:38 PM.

Keith's note: Acting NASA Administrator has just announced that he is retiring effective at the end of April. No Successor has been named.

NASA team,

It is with bittersweet feelings that I am announcing I will be retiring from the agency on April, 30, 2018. I will work with the White House on a smooth transition to the new administrator.

I cannot express enough my gratitude to the entire NASA team for the support during my career and especially the last 14 months as your acting administrator. The grit and determination you all demonstrate every day in achieving our missions of discovery and exploration are simply awe inspiring. I leave NASA blessed with a career full of memories of stunning missions, cherished friendships, and an incredible hope for what is yet to come.

When I look back on my time at NASA, I can't help but think about the people. From my friends in the test areas at Marshall and Stennis, to the folks that I sat with on console launching shuttles, to the Marshall team when I was the center director, and now as the acting administrator to the entire NASA team - what a privilege to work with such dedicated and passionate people every day.

There is no way I would be where I am today without having had such amazing opportunities and such a great set of colleagues. I've learned in so many ways that at NASA we make the impossible possible - whether it is with the missions we do or whether it is a small town kid who was able to lead the greatest agency in the world.

NASA's history has many chapters with each of us having a part. I've written my part and now the pen is in your hands - each one of you. I know you will make this nation proud as you accomplish the many missions you have in front of you. For me, I look forward to more time with my family and closest friends, and cheering the NASA team on from the outside.

God speed to all of you and thanks for the opportunity to be part of something truly bigger than each of us individually! It's been an unbelievable ride!

Sincerely, Robert


SpaceX CRS-7 Accident Investigation Report Released

By Keith Cowing on March 12, 2018 6:17 PM.

NASA Independent Review Team SpaceX CRS-7 Accident Investigation Report Public Summary

"The SpX CRS-7 mission consisted of a SpaceX Falcon 9 version 1.1 launch vehicle and a Dragon spacecraft loaded with 4303 lbs (1952 kgs) of cargo. At approximately 139 seconds into flight, the launch vehicle experienced an anomalous event in the upper stage liquid oxygen (LOx) tank, resulting in the loss of the mission. The first stage of the vehicle, including all nine Merlin 1D engines, operated nominally. The Dragon spacecraft also indicated no anomalous behavior prior to the mishap, and survived the second stage event, continuing to communicate with ground controllers until it dropped below the horizon."


SpaceX BFR Test Flights in 2019?

By Keith Cowing on March 11, 2018 3:32 PM.

Elon Musk, speaking at SXSW, projects Mars spaceship will be ready for short trips by first half of 2019, CNBC

"Musk held a surprise question and answer session at the annual technology and culture festival in Austin, Texas on Sunday. The billionaire told attendees that "we are building the first Mars, or interplanetary ship, and I think well be able to short trips, flights by first half of next year." Mindful of elevating expectations too high, Musk hedged a bit. "Although sometimes, my timelines are a little, you know..." he said to laughter."


Steve Jurczyk Named Acting NASA Associate Administrator

By Keith Cowing on March 10, 2018 9:23 AM.

Keith's note: Steve Jurczyk has been named as NASA Acting Associate Administrator. This is the position that Robert Lightfoot held before being named as Acting NASA Administrator. NASA currently has no Acting Deputy Administrator or Chief of Staff. James Reuter will replace Jurczyk as Associate Administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate. This webpage at NASA HQ was quietly changed on 9 March. But NASA HQ does not seem to think anyone needs to be told about these management changes.


Four Swarm Satellites In Space Were Not Authorized by FCC

By Keith Cowing on March 9, 2018 4:43 PM.

FCC Accuses Stealthy Startup of Launching Rogue Satellites, IEEE Spectrum

"The only problem is, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had dismissed Swarm's application for its experimental satellites a month earlier, on safety grounds. The FCC is responsible for regulating commercial satellites, including minimizing the chance of accidents in space. It feared that the four SpaceBees now orbiting the Earth would pose an unacceptable collision risk for other spacecraft. If confirmed, this would be the first ever unauthorized launch of commercial satellites. On Wednesday, the FCC sent Swarm a letter revoking its authorization for a follow-up mission with four more satellites, due to launch next month. A pending application for a large market trial of Swarm's system with two Fortune 100 companies could also be in jeopardy."


@VP Promotes Economic Impact of SLS/Orion

By Keith Cowing on March 8, 2018 7:40 PM.

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