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NASA's Mars 2020 Websites Are Not Ready For Prime Time

By Keith Cowing on January 23, 2021 6:40 PM.

Keith's note: NASA JPL and NASA SMD recently put out a press release "6 Things to Know About NASA's Mars Helicopter on Its Way to Mars". Helicopters. Hmmm .. that's aeronautics. You'd think that the Aeronautics part of NASA would be mentioned. The word "aeronautics" appears nowhere. Nor is anything related to aeronautics on NASA's various websites linked to. If you go to the JPL press kit link for Ingenuity the word "aeronautics" appears nowhere. If you download the actual press kit the word "aeronautics" appears twice. Once in the agency's name (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and then again on page 31 where it says "The Mars helicopter technology demonstration activity is supported by NASA's Science Mission Directorate, the NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, and the NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate". There is a page describing how it flies, but no mention or linkage is made of anything that NASA has been doing in Aeronautics since its inception 3/4 of a century ago.

Moreover, there is no discussion as to how it is possible to fly anything on a world with an atmosphere only 1% the thickness of Earth's. There is a great teaching experience that is being ignored. And of course no mention is made of any educational tools even though the NASA STEM Office has them and the JPL mission site has several - which are buried within the website.

Although NASA's Aeronautics Research and Space Technology Mission Directorates are listed as participants neither the Space Technology Mission Directorate website or the Aeronautics Directory website make any mention of Ingenuity. There is no mention in the Aeronautics programs page. But ... if you click on the "more stories" link at the bottom of the Aeronautics page - 6 times - and go back in time 7 months there is a single story on Ingenuity. The landing is 3 weeks away. Why isn't this sort of stuff being promoted?

And of course, in addition to not bothering to cross-coordinate within NASA's internal participants in this mission, NASA is not content with one official Mars 2020 Perseverance website. So they have two - one at NASA HQ and the other at JPL. As I have noted before, neither of these two official Mars 2020 websites link to one another and yet they duplicate each other's content. That's two web development teams at twice the cost working on the same thing.

And if you go to the JPL site and use the drag down menu for "spacecraft" you only get options for "Overview", "Rover", "Instruments", and "Rocket" none of which mention the Ingenuity helicopter. None of the links under "Timeline" mention Ingenuity either. Under "mission" only "technology" mentions Ingenuity. Its almost as if NASA is not interested in spending more than minimal effort on this helicopter. Oh yes, they have invested around $80 million on Ingenuity.

NASA is less than 3 weeks away from landing Perseverance and Ingenuity on Mars. The agency has had years to get the PR and outreach stuff into place. And yet their websites are not at all synched up with one another, are badly designed in terms of navigation, and often needlessly duplicate on another by creating parallel stove pipes. This is not a new problem. If you read NASAWatch then you have had to endure my rants about this. Last week I did an exit Interview with Jim Bridenstine and I brought this up:

"NASAWATCH: This reminds me of something. When I look at the Mars 2020 mission it is going to be flying a little drone - the Ingenuity helicopter. Right off the bat you just look at this thing and you think OK, this is aeronautics. Reynolds numbers and all of that. People can't imagine that you can fly on Mars but it is actually quite easy to do. And then you think about it a bit further and ask where are drones being used on Earth? You just mentioned agriculture. People are using them in agriculture and are combining GPS and geolocation and satellite imagery from smallsats. You would think that you should be going over to the NASA Aeronautics or Technology websites to see how they are helping with the Mars 2020 mission. But they do not talk about it. And if you go to NASA's Earth Science website - which is run by the very same Science Mission Directorate that runs Earth Sciences they do not talk about it either. There is an obvious analog there. And what is the most popular gift under many Christmas trees? Drones. You would think that this would be such a no brainer sort of thing to be highlighting and yet you do not see it being done.

So - my question (there is one here) NASA buys its stove pipes by the truckload when it comes to outreach. You put a memo out a in May 2019 that says 'OK we are going to cut down on the number of websites and make them more interactive'. From what I am told, and I regularly highlight this on NASAWatch, zero progress has been made. Why is it that NASA doesn't seem to want to tell a single, coordinated story about what it is doing. The various parts of NASA all seem to want to go off in their own little direction."

Think of all of the students and farmers in agricultural communities who are missing out on a no-brainer link between things that are important in their world and something that NASA is doing on Mars. What a colossal missed opportunity.

Yes, there will be crazy web traffic for one day for the landing. One day. That's it. NASA seems ill-prepared for the months and years to follow. How many people know or care that Curiosity has been there for years? Show of hands please. And that Moon rock in the Oval Office? It is last week's news.

NASA is forever whining and complaining about the way that the news media covers things and what the public does or does not think about what NASA does. The same goes for what Congress thinks. Now a new Administration seeks to renew a strong focus upon the role of science in government decision making. You would think that NASA would have taken this task to repair and upgrade its website seriously - perhaps not for the previous Administration, but certainly for the new one. Bridenstine's memo and direction was issued nearly 2 years ago. Nothing has been fixed - as noted above. There are urban myths within NASA about some sort of website upgrade but it will likely be equally out of date when it finally manages to crawl online.

But who cares? If NASA cannot get its team together to provide a coordinated, easy to understand story about what it does the whole space exploration thing, why it does it, and how it does it, then how can they expect people to support billions of dollars being spent on it - especially during a time of pandemic, economic desperation, and political unrest? Trillions of dollars are being devoted to keeping our nation afloat and all spending priorities - big and small - are under the relevancy microscope.

But wait - there's more: in that very same constrained budgetary environment NASA wants to spend billions more to bring samples that Perseverance will be collecting back to Earth. You would think that there would be some strategic thought given as to how to excite and engage - and then retain and build upon - the public's attention for complex, expensive science missions like this so as to generate support for these future missions. But no.

NASA has a chance to be a bright shining light in this time of darkness. Its big rocket choked last week during its big engine test. Let's hope that NASA steps up to the plate and sticks the Mars Perseverance landing both on Mars - and within the hearts and minds of people back on Earth.

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Schedule F Update

By Keith Cowing on January 23, 2021 10:14 AM.

Biden reverses Trump orders seen as hostile to federal workers, Washington Post

"Biden's order says the Schedule F policy "undermined the foundations of the civil service and its merit system principles" and that "it is the policy of the United States to protect, empower, and rebuild the career Federal workforce. It is also the policy of the United States to encourage union organizing and collective bargaining." It told agencies to cancel any steps they had taken for carrying out the orders."


Exit Interview With Jim Bridenstine

By Keith Cowing on January 21, 2021 4:20 PM.

Keith's note: I did a 30 minute exit interview with Jim Bridenstine on Tuesday. Here is a verbatim transcript (there may still be a few typos).

NASAWATCH: Most people who become NASA Administrator tend to do so at the apex of their career and then dial things back, jump on a few boards, and then retire. Yet you have decades ahead of you. This is unusual. Normally I am talking to people who are in their 60s you know "yea, my wife wants me to take 6months off and do nothing ...". Where do you go from up - when you have done something like this at such a young age?

BRIDENSTINE: 'll tell you - this is going to be hard. There is nothing that is going to match the experience that I have had at NASA. The future out there of course is unknown. I know here at least initially I am going to be coming back to Oklahoma. I have some prospects for employment but I don't want to disclose those or make any announcements at this time - but I am going to be back in Oklahoma. ... I have a very strong direction that I am heading but I am not going to make any announcements until next week.

NASAWATCH: So ... you're not filled with a case of Potomac Fever?

BRIDENSTINE: No (laughs) I am very happily coming back to Oklahoma and am excited about participating in my kids' basketball games, and swim meets, and Boy Scouts, and all kinds of other activities that I have missed over the last 8 years.

NASAWATCH: I recall talking to you before you were confirmed. You looked forward to the challenge - you sought it out - but sounded a little overwhelmed at the sheer magnitude of what NASA does. Looking back - what things initially struck you as being devilishly hard that ended up being easy - and what things did you expect to be easy only to find that they were hard?

BRIDENSTINE: The workforce at NASA was overwhelmingly accepting and encouraging and supporting. I had talked to Sean O'Keefe before taking the job and he said 'look, there's going to be lots of support - there's great people there. And when you show they are going to be anxious to help. I will tell you that I found that to be true. NASA is an exceptional group of people. This should not be surprising given the legacy of NASA and how many people want to work at NASA. We really do have bright people but also people that are deeply caring for each other. That was a great thing to walk into and experience.

Continue reading: Exit Interview With Jim Bridenstine.


Biden, Harris, Moon Rocks, And The Space Station

By Keith Cowing on January 20, 2021 9:19 PM.


Here Comes The NASA Biden Away Team

By Keith Cowing on January 20, 2021 6:46 PM.

Message from NASA Acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk and Senior White House Appointee Bhavya Lal

"We have some initial appointments from the new administration: Alicia Brown has been named NASA's Associate Administrator for Legislative Affairs and Intergovernmental Affairs (OLIA), and Marc Etkind will be the Associate Administrator for Communications. Please join us in giving them a warm welcome to the NASA family. There will be other new faces arriving at Headquarters, and we will communicate these developments with you."

- Bhavya Lal, LinkedIn Twitter
- Alicia Brown, LinkedIn Twitter
- Marc Etkind, IMDb - Twitter

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Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel 2020 Annual Report

By Keith Cowing on January 19, 2021 10:54 PM.

NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel Releases 2020 Annual Report

"... We believe that NASA must make some strategically critical decisions, based on deliberate and thorough consideration, that are necessary because of their momentous consequences for the future of human space exploration and, in particular, for the management of the attendant risks. These decisions involve:

• What role NASA intends to perform going forward and why.
• How the Agency will interact with both commercial and international partners.
• How the Agency will address shared risks.
• What management practices will be employed.
• How the expectations will be communicated to their partners and to their workforce.
• How effective Systems Engineering and Integration will be accomplished.
• What the NASA workforce of the future should look like and how it will be achieved.

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SLS Green Run Update

By Keith Cowing on January 19, 2021 11:04 AM.

Green Run Update: Data and Inspections Indicate Core Stage in Good Condition

"The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket Green Run team has reviewed extensive data and completed preliminary inspections that show the rocket's hardware is in excellent condition after the Green Run test that ignited all the engines at 5:27 p.m. EST at NASA's Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. After analyzing initial data, the team determined that the shutdown after firing the engines for 67.2-seconds on Jan.16 was triggered by test parameters that were intentionally conservative to ensure the safety of the core stage during the test."

Keith's note: I am hearing that within NASA that many people think that it is almost a given that they need to try the Green Run test again. Its that whole 2024 deadline thing that is pushing them right now. Well, the impetus for that deadline - widely seen as impossible to meet - will evaporate at noon on Wednesday. There is broad consensus that a landing date along the lines of 2028 is considered to be more likely - as noted below. The reasons are simple - the whole Artemis program is woefully behind schedule and Congress did not give NASA the budget needed to try and make it happen. Yet if you read this tweet or heard the NASA PAO announcer during the test the agency and Congress are still holding to the 2024 date in spite of admitting the obvious.

I asked about this at the SLS -post test press event - rather, I tried to ask about this. Despite sending an emailed question to NASA PAO during the SLS post-test press event - exactly like all other media did - PAO decided not to let my question be asked. But they allowed every other question through. So I complained. I had originally asked "Sen. Wicker tweeted today that NASA is going to land on the Moon in 2024 and on Mars in 2029. Can you explain how this is possible given the budget NASA has been given?". This was in response to a tweet that Wicker issued right after the test:

This is the reply NASA PAO just sent me:

"We're grateful for the strong bipartisan support for the Artemis program as reflected in the FY 2021 Omnibus Appropriation passed and signed last month. Congress continues to recognize the value in America's Moon to Mars plans, providing funding for human landing system (HLS) development. As you've heard me say before, funding is one of the challenges we have to navigate as we continue our work toward a sustainable exploration program that lasts a generation. Landing the first woman and next man on the Moon in 2024 remains our goal, but NASA will work with the incoming Biden Administration to do it smartly and get it done right."

In other words yet another non-answer answer.

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You Done Good Jim Bridenstine

By Keith Cowing on January 17, 2021 3:42 PM.

Keith's note: Jim Bridenstine has announced that he is leaving NASA. His last day will be 20 January 2021.

I really did not know much about Jim Bridenstine when his name started to bubble up as a possible NASA Administrator choice in 2017. Given the chaos and amateurish way the Trump Landing Team (more like a "boarding party") conducted itself I was predisposed to think that they'd pick a loyalist with a high loser quotient. So I did some digging. He was actually interesting and had given some serious thought to space policy. Over the following months I'd show up at events in DC (with Jeff Foust et al) and we'd try every trick we knew to squeeze out an answer to variants on the "will you be the NASA Administrator?" question that we'd throw at him. Jim did the whole non-answer answer thing like a true pro. When his nomination was official I gave him a much closer look.

Important note: while I try to annoy everyone equally, I am a Democrat and make no secret of that. Jim is not a Democrat. Indeed he was elected from a rather conservative place with a voting record that makes me, with my leftie leanings, cringe quite a bit. But this is a company town and we try to work together despite the whole "Swamp" thing we have been hearing about. Alas, the rank and file Democrats - with Bill Nelson in the lead - went after him as being undesirable for the job etc. etc. I thought he was a breath of fresh air. So I decided to highlight his credentials - and put them in the context of other NASA Administrators. He got the job. The first day on the job he made an emphatic statement on diversity and climate change to allay concerns and he was off and running. And in an effort to broaden input and support Jim also put none other than Bill Nelson on the NASA Advisory Council.

I have been doing NASAWatch for a quarter of a century. After he was nominated people suggested that Jim might want to ping me for some ideas. So did a certain former NASA Administrator who I know rather well. I don't want to kiss and tell, but let's just say that Jim and I had some conversations. Quite a few - and most of them very long. He drank up everything I could offer about previous exploration initiatives and how NASA engages with the public. If you have read NASAWatch then you know about my rants in this regard. What I saw was someone with a genuine passion for space exploration and its value to the public. He did not have to learn that from me or anyone else. It had always been there.

Shortly after he showed up for work a Twitter account became active. Very active. Someone from NASA PAO actually called me and asked me if I was doing it. I laughed and said that I was flattered, but no, I was not tweeting for Jim. But I tweeted an inquiry to @JimBridenstine and got a response. It was Jim himself. NASA was not exactly ready for this. I loved it. Finally - an Administrator who took the issue of communicating personally.

Jim was presented with a human exploration program of record that had problems. Big problems. It still does. The White House threw the whole 2024 thing at him and he ran with it. But there were other things that he managed to pull off that people have not really noticed. While the Trump Administration did its level best to deny the impact of human influence on climate change at other agencies such as NOAA, somehow, NASA continued to do its science - and talk about it - with no censoring. Yes, some attempts were made to cancel some Earth science missions, but other than that, NASA seemed to have a Teflon coating when it came to openly talking about climate change. This most certainly required some deft thinking on Jim's part.

Jim also had to suddenly transform a sprawling agency and its workforce from one that worked in offices to one that worked from spare bedrooms as the Coronavirus pandemic descended upon our world. Like everyone else, Jim had to deal with his kids eating up the bandwidth for home schooling while he was running NASA on his cellphone in his living room. While this called for a lot unprecedented changes in the way people worked - it seems to have worked far better than anyone had a right to expect. And you can only get that when the person at the top is fully invested in its success.

To me, however, the thing that I hope that Jim will be remembered for is his embracing of education and diversity. Some people like to go back to his voting record. It is what it is - and to be fair, his job was to vote the way his constituents wanted him to vote. But as he arrived at NASA he listened to wiser minds and adjusted his world view accordingly at NASA. Although the "first woman and next man" line appears in everything the agency says, he ran with the notion that when Americans go back to the Moon they need to do so representing our nation as a whole. The "Artemis Generation" phrase also became popular - echoing the "Apollo generation" phrase commonly used to refer to people (like me) who grew up as we first reached out to the Moon half a century ago. After all, while we work here in the present on these programs, the next generation will truly inherit and expand upon the benefits that will result.

As Administrations change there is always a temptation to change the name of things to erase the previous Administration from people's minds and put a new mark on things representative of the incoming team. The "Apollo" program managed to keep its name under the Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford administrations. The Orion spacecraft got its name under the Bush II Administration and will bear it under the Biden Administration. I certainly hope that the Biden folks have better things to do and let the Artemis program keep its name - and with it, Jim's contribution to keeping it alive.

Oh yes, Jim brought back the worm logo. And y'all know how I feel about that. ;-)

A lot of people (including me) would have liked to see Jim stay on. But Jim took himself out of possible consideration to stay on at NASA. Odds are that the Biden folks would not have given thought to this given the global house cleaning that they are implementing. That said, Jim's rationale was honorable. When the NASA Administrator sits in front of OMB at budget time, everyone needs to have no doubt of the Administrator's support of the current Administration's interest without having any concern of lingering prior policies. He simply shut down pointless speculation by saying that he was moving on. He wanted NASA to have the best Administrator that the Biden Administration could find.

Jim now has the distinction (I think) of being the youngest former NASA Administrator. We have certainly not heard the last of him. I wish him well.

Ad Astra Jim. You done good.

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SLS Green Run Test Update: We Don't Know What Happened

By Keith Cowing on January 16, 2021 8:47 PM.

Keith's note: In summary NASA is not sure how long the engines fired. Seriously - they said that they do not know. They saw a flash near engine 4 and moments later the rocket commanded itself to shut down. They do not know the cause of the shutdown, nor whether the test needs to be run again nor whether they can ship the rocket to KSC. They do not know if a flight in 2021 is possible.

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By Keith Cowing on January 16, 2021 7:24 PM.

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SLS Green Run test Halted Early

By Keith Cowing on January 16, 2021 5:49 PM.

Keith's note: The 4 engines lit up and ran for 2 minutes or so before there was a MCF (major component failure call) and then they continued to fire for a few more seconds before they shut down. This was supposed to be an 8 minute test and various sources have suggested that more firing time than 2 minutes was needed - even if the full 8 minutes was not achieved - so as to get all the required data. There will be a press conference in several hours. What is somewhat baffling is how NASA PAO only had a prewritten script for a successful test (and presumably one for a total failure) but not one for something in between. This was not the success that PAO claims it was. Yet their on-air host went on and on as if everything was fine. Stay tuned.

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Bill Thornton

By Keith Cowing on January 15, 2021 5:14 PM.

NASA Remembers Astronaut William Thornton

"NASA is saddened to learn of the loss of former physician-astronaut, Dr. William Thornton, who died last week at his home in Boerne, Texas, at the age of 91. Thornton was selected as an astronaut in 1967, and launched twice on the space shuttle Challenger on STS-8 and STS-51B, the Spacelab 3 mission."

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Cliff Feldman

By Keith Cowing on January 15, 2021 5:04 PM.

Keith's note: Cliff Feldman was a Production Supervisor at NASA Television at NASA HQ. More to follow.

Ad Astra, Cliff.

Cliff Feldman, LinkedIn


Biden Elevates OSTP And Announces Science Team

By Keith Cowing on January 15, 2021 2:54 PM.

President-elect Biden Announces Key Members of his White House Science Team

"Today, President-elect Joe Biden announced his White House science team -- a deeply respected group of diverse and eminently qualified scientists who will marshal the force of science to drive meaningful progress in the lives of people. They will help the Biden-Harris administration confront some of the biggest crises and challenges of our time, from climate change and the impact of technology on society to pandemics, racial inequity and the current historic economic downturn."

Keith's note: Science is back!


National Space Council Issues Its Greatest Hits

By Keith Cowing on January 15, 2021 12:39 PM.

National Space Council Releases Report on Space Policy Accomplishments

"Over the past four years, it has been my great privilege to serve as chair of the National Space Council, and I am proud of the tremendous progress our Administration has made to advance U.S. national space power," said Vice President Mike Pence. "With a revived National Space Council at the helm of a whole-of-government approach, the Trump Administration has successfully aligned American space policies, programs, and budgets with enduring national interests. The U.S. Government has fostered close coordination, cooperation, and technology and information exchange to give the American space enterprise a new vision, direction, and confidence."

Keith's update: But wait - there's more. The White House just dropped a bonus SPD.

White House Issues Space Policy Directive 7 on Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Systems

"SPD-7 directs an increase of cybersecurity for the Global Positioning System (GPS) and GPS-enabled devices, and acknowledges the potential for GPS to contribute to in-space applications. This is the first update to the United States policy on space-based PNT in more than 16 years."


More stories for January.



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NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status 21 January, 2021 - ISS Reboost

NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status 21 January, 2021 - ISS Reboost Video in Story

DNA, time perception and combustion investigations filled the research schedule aboard the International Space Station today.

More updates...