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Today's Sudden NASA Media Briefing on SLS Launch Fever

By Keith Cowing on February 24, 2017 9:26 AM.

NASA to Hold Media Teleconference Today on Study to Add Crew to First Orion, Space Launch System Mission

"NASA will discuss plans for an ongoing study to assess the feasibility of adding a crew to Exploration Mission-1, the first integrated flight of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft, during a media teleconference at 1 p.m. EST today, Friday, Feb. 24. The call will stream live on NASA's website."

Lightfoot Tries a SLS Hail Mary Pass, earlier post

"If flying a crew on the first mission of SLS was a wise, prudent, strategically important thing to do then the program would have baselined it in the first place. I am not certain if I have ever seen a plan for SLS (Or Ares V) where this was planned. To move this rather important milestone up now in the midst of dueling and ever-shifting policy directions - for no clearly articulated reason other than politics - starts to smell like launch fever to me - the worst kind of launch fever."

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How To Serve On An Advisory Committee That NASA Will Ignore

By Keith Cowing on February 24, 2017 12:03 AM.

Annual Invitation for Public Nominations by U.S. Citizens for Service on NASA Federal Advisory Committees on Science

"NASA announces its annual invitation for public nominations for service on four new Federal advisory committees of NASA that advise NASA on science. The four new committees, formerly subcommittees of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) Science Committee (NAC SC), have been established under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), and will advise four divisions of the NASA Science Mission Directorate (SMD). On December 2, 2016, NASA published a notice in the Federal Register announcing their establishment [Federal Register, Vol. 81, No. 232, pages 87082-87083]. U.S. citizens may submit self-nominations for consideration to fill vacancies on these four new committees. There will be member vacancies from time to time throughout the year, and NASA will consider self- nominations to fill such intermittent vacancies. Nominees will only be contacted should a vacancy be available and it is judged that their area(s) of expertise is appropriate for that specific vacancy. NASA is committed to selecting members to serve on these committees based on their individual expertise, knowledge, experience, current/past contributions to the relevant subject area and overall diversity of the committee. All member appointments are non-compensated. However, NASA does cover travel and per diem expenses for all member appointments. The deadline for NASA receipt of all public nominations is March 8, 2017."

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Maybe Wayne Hale Should Be NASA Administrator

By Keith Cowing on February 23, 2017 12:38 PM.

King for a Day, Wayne Hale

"Many of my old friends and colleagues are asking me a question these days: "If you were NASA Administrator, what would you have the agency do?" I know what they want to hear: Moon, Mars, or Asteroid - what is the next destination for human spaceflight? But that is not the answer I would give. Whatever 'horizon goal' is established, without significant organizational and cultural changes at NASA, the chance for success is in doubt. To make NASA into the extraordinarily effective organization it once was and could be again will require significant work to transform it. NASA is filled with extremely smart, highly motivated individuals who are the experts in their fields. They can do amazing things. Measured against any other organization - government or commercial - the NASA civil service and contractor work force is outstanding in terms of inherent capabilities and the desire to make their projects successful. But success in NASA's endeavors is hobbled by three structural and cultural problems: (1) inter-center rivalry, (2) mind numbing bureaucracy, and (3) a paralyzing cultural requirement for perfection in all things."

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A NASA Engineer Is Running For Congress

By Keith Cowing on February 23, 2017 12:11 AM.

The NASA Rocket Scientist Leaving Mars for Politics, The Atlantic

"A few Fridays ago, Tracy Van Houten drove to a registrar's office to pick up the paperwork she would need to run for Congress. Doing so would mean giving up her role as an aerospace engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory - a dream job that she had held for 13 years. ... Van Houten is now officially running to represent the 34th Congressional District of California in the U.S. House. The seat's former occupant, Xavier Becerra, was appointed as attorney general of California last December, and 23 candidates are now vying to replace him in a special election, to be held in April. The roster includes experienced politicians, activists, and lawyers. Van Houten, who is something of a wildcard, is the only rocket scientist."

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Temperate Earth-Sized Planets Found in Extraordinarily Rich Planetary System TRAPPIST-1

By Keith Cowing on February 22, 2017 12:53 PM.

Temperate Earth-Sized Planets Found in Extraordinarily Rich Planetary System TRAPPIST-1 , ESO

"Astronomers have found a system of seven Earth-sized planets just 40 light-years away. Using ground and space telescopes, including ESO's Very Large Telescope, the planets were all detected as they passed in front of their parent star, the ultracool dwarf star known as TRAPPIST-1. According to the paper appearing today in the journal Nature, three of the planets lie in the habitable zone and could harbour oceans of water on their surfaces, increasing the possibility that the star system could play host to life. This system has both the largest number of Earth-sized planets yet found and the largest number of worlds that could support liquid water on their surfaces."

Spitzer Telescope Telescope Reveals Largest Batch of Earth-Size, Habitable-Zone Planets Around Single Star, NASA

"NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed the first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star. Three of these planets are firmly located in the habitable zone, the area around the parent star where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water. The discovery sets a new record for greatest number of habitable-zone planets found around a single star outside our solar system. All of these seven planets could have liquid water - key to life as we know it - under the right atmospheric conditions, but the chances are highest with the three in the habitable zone."

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Nearby Star Has 7 Earth-Sized Worlds

By Keith Cowing on February 21, 2017 9:43 AM.

NASA to Host News Conference on Discovery Beyond Our Solar System

"NASA will hold a news conference at 1 p.m. EST Wednesday, Feb. 22, to present new findings on planets that orbit stars other than our sun, known as exoplanets. The event will air live on NASA Television and the agency's website. Details of these findings are embargoed by the journal Nature until 1 p.m."

Keith's update: I have now learned that tomorrow's NASA news announcement is not about Alpha Centauri as I had been guessing (darn) but it is is something even more cool - or "warm" to be precise. Instead, the NASA announcement on Wednesday will be about a nearby star that has at least 7 Earth-sized planets.

The individuals attending this press event at NASA have been looking for planets circling other stars. Last year one of the participants, Michael Gillon, was lead author on a paper "Temperate Earth-sized planets transiting a nearby ultracool dwarf star" in Nature detailing how his team had confirmed 3 small terrestrial (Earth-sized) planets circulating a cool dwarf star 2MASS J23062928-0502285 (now known as TRAPPIST-1), a M8V class star which is only 39.5 light years away.

It will be announced tomorrow by NASA that Gillon et al have confirmed 4 more Earth-sized planets circling TRAPPIST-1. It is possible that most of the planets confirmed thus circling far TRAPPIST-1 could be in the star's habitable zone. The inner 6 planets are probably rocky in composition and may be just the right temperature for liquid water to exist (between 0 - 100 degrees C) - if they have any water, that is. The outermost 7th planet still needs some more observations to nail down its orbit and composition.

Astronomers are clearly excited about these planets (see below). The article will appear in Nature magazine, as noted by NASA in its media advisory.

But - and this is important for all you UK tabloid writers - NO ONE HAS DISCOVERED LIFE ON ANOTHER PLANET. Got that?

Important note: No one sent us anything in advance about the details of this specific announcement or paper under embargo - or any other pre-announcement arrangement. No scientific paper - nothing. We honor embargoes - when we are under them. I saw what NASA had posted yesterday to tease people (including participant names and a topic) and went to work - hence my earlier Alpha Centauri sleuthing which strongly overlapped with TRAPPIST-1 discoveries. I eventually figured it out and sourced it - all by myself - using openly available preprints, observation proposals and results, email, and phone calls folks. I am leaving my earlier Alpha Centauri speculation up for all to see (below).

Continue reading: Nearby Star Has 7 Earth-Sized Worlds.

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TrumpSpace Update

By Keith Cowing on February 20, 2017 4:11 PM.

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Fact Checking ULA's Tweets

By Keith Cowing on February 20, 2017 12:44 PM.

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Another Perfect Launch/Landing For SpaceX

By Keith Cowing on February 19, 2017 9:55 AM.

SpaceX launched the CRS-10 mission on time this morning at 9:39 am ET from historic LC39A. The Dragon is in orbit and heading toward the ISS while the Falcon 9's first stage made yet another pinpoint anding back at its landing site in Florida.

http://images.spaceref.com/news/2017/C5CSwj6WAAExvO2.jpg
http://images.spaceref.com/news/2017/C5CTSsKVcAA31zl.jpg
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SpaceX Launch Scrubbed For Today

By Keith Cowing on February 18, 2017 11:17 AM.

This morning's attempted launch of Falcon 9 was halted moments before launch. According to a statement from SpaceX "Standing down to take a closer look at an engine actuator on the second stage. 9:38am ET tomorrow is our next earliest launch opportunity."

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GAO Reports Significant Delays in Commercial Crew Launch Dates (Update)

By Keith Cowing on February 17, 2017 5:53 PM.

Shotwell to GAO: "The [heck] we won't fly before 2019", SpacePolicyOnline

"SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell reacted to GAO's report yesterday that commercial crew flights may slip from 2018 to 2019 by expressing utmost confidence in her company's schedule. At a Kennedy Space Center (KSC) press conference today in advance of SpaceX's commercial cargo launch tomorrow, she said the company's response to GAO is "The [heck] we won't fly before 2019."

NASA Commercial Crew Program: Schedule Pressure Increases as Contractors Delay Key Events

"Both of the Commercial Crew Program's contractors have made progress developing their crew transportation systems, but both also have aggressive development schedules that are increasingly under pressure. The two contractors - Boeing and Space Exploration Technologies, Corp. (SpaceX) - are developing transportation systems that must meet the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) standards for human spaceflight - a process called certification. Both Boeing and SpaceX have determined that they will not be able to meet their original 2017 certification dates and both expect certification to be delayed until 2018. The schedule pressures are amplified by NASA's need to provide a viable crew transportation option to the International Space Station (ISS) before its current contract with Russia's space agency runs out in 2019. If NASA needs to purchase additional seats from Russia, the contracting process typically takes 3 years. Without a viable contingency option for ensuring uninterrupted access to the ISS in the event of further Commercial Crew delays, NASA risks not being able to maximize the return on its multibillion dollar investment in the space station."

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Alternative Facts at NASA: Juno's Engine Problems Allow Bonus Science

By Keith Cowing on February 17, 2017 11:28 AM.

Juno Mission to Remain in Current Orbit at Jupiter

"The orbital period does not affect the quality of the science collected by Juno on each flyby, since the altitude over Jupiter will be the same at the time of closest approach. In fact, the longer orbit provides new opportunities that allow further exploration of the far reaches of space dominated by Jupiter's magnetic field, increasing the value of Juno's research. ... The original Juno flight plan envisioned the spacecraft looping around Jupiter twice in 53-day orbits, then reducing its orbital period to 14 days for the remainder of the mission. However, two helium check valves that are part of the plumbing for the spacecraft's main engine did not operate as expected when the propulsion system was pressurized in October. Telemetry from the spacecraft indicated that it took several minutes for the valves to open, while it took only a few seconds during past main engine firings. ... Juno's larger 53-day orbit allows for "bonus science" that wasn't part of the original mission design."

Keith's note: So NASA's Juno spacecraft has engine problems that prevent it from accomplishing its planned i.e. optimal science mission. But that's OK since NASA says that none of the science is affected by the engine problems. Indeed, they say that the science is better - and they get "Bonus science" too! Bonus science is good, yes? But wait: if Juno's science is not affected by engine failures - indeed its now better without the engine firings - then why did they plan the engine firings and orbit changes in the first place?

And all of these extra longer orbits will require 3-4 years to complete to get all that bonus science goodness. Oh yes: the spacecraft was not designed to operate that long - and it is going to cost another $100 million or so to operate the spacecraft during this time - not something NASA has in its budget. When you read these feel good releases that try and make technical failures look like good news just remember that NASA = Never A Straight Answer

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Possible NASA Administrator Bridenstine Wants To Fight North Korea

By Keith Cowing on February 17, 2017 9:43 AM.

Exclusive - Rep. Bridenstine: Shoot the Next One Down, Mr. President, Rep. Jim Bridenstine, Breitbart

"President Trump should order the Secretary of Defense to position American assets and shoot down Kim Jong Un's next missile launch. Intercepting a North Korean missile would signal to Pyongyang that America has the capability and the willingness to defend our allies and the homeland. In the parlance of military strategy, the missile defense option enhances deterrence-by-denial. North Korea is more likely to be deterred from developing missiles if robust, layered missile defenses deny them any strategic benefit from striking first. The only two alternatives are preemptive offensive action and, of course, more strongly worded UN Security Council resolutions and toothless sanctions."

Keith's note: If a North Korean rocket threatens U.S. assets - or even seems to be doing so - we should defend ourselves. No argument there. Bridenstine has a military background and it is natural that he'd have concerns about issues such as this - and speak out about them. When I have heard him speak about space he does well when it comes to military, communications, and commercial space. But when it comes to NASA science - nothing but crickets. If Bridenstine is the nominee to become NASA administrator he clearly needs a Deputy and a strong AA and Center Director contingent to make up for his clear lack of science management experience.

The fact that this "exclusive" op ed by Bridenstine appears on Breitbart News, the controversial former employer of Trump's avatar Steve Bannon should not be lost on people. This sort of op ed placement does not happen by accident these days. There is clearly an idealogical mind meld going on here - as well as the beginnings of a possible Alternate NASA PR machine - one independent of NASA PAO - in the making.

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Is Trump Going To A Rocket Launch?

By Keith Cowing on February 16, 2017 1:00 PM.

Reader note from Kevin "I noticed a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) over Melbourne that looks identical to the TFR's over Palm Beach International the last two weekends for Trump's stays at Mar-a-Lago. The Melbourne TFR matches the SpaceX launch window suggesting POTUS will be viewing the launch. I wonder if POTUS will then announce a new space policy to return to the moon from Pad 39a, but this time with commercial rockets. See https://skyvector.com/ for details on the TFR's"

Keith's note: When I asked NASA PAO they said that Trump is not attending a launch but that he will be "close".

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Saving Government Climate Data: NASAWatch on PBS NewsHour

By Keith Cowing on February 16, 2017 12:18 PM.

How scientists are scrambling to safeguard vital environmental data, Miles O'Brien, PBS NewsHour

"MILES O'BRIEN: Keith Cowing is a former NASA biologist who founded the watchdog Web site NASA Watch 20 years ago. He's the proto-rogue, and now he says everybody seems to be joining in.

KEITH COWING: Nobody has said, shut that database down, take that off your Web site. But what's going to happen when you have got this giant, bubbling, simmering social media crowd, and they go from being worried about things that might happen to things that are happening? There's a colossal hair trigger waiting out there."

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NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status 22 February 2017 - Dragon Set to be Captured

NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status 22 February 2017 - Dragon Set to be Captured

NASA and SpaceX flight controllers in Houston and Hawthorne, California are reworking plans for the arrival Thursday of the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft after its rendezvous to the International Space Station was aborted early Wednesday morning. The Dragon's computers received an incorrect navigational update, triggering an automatic wave off.

More updates...

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