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Prospects Of Good NASA Budget News Are Slim

By Keith Cowing on February 26, 2017 7:07 PM.

Trump to Ask for Sharp Increases in Military Spending, Officials Say, NY Times

"President Trump will instruct federal agencies on Monday to assemble a budget for the coming fiscal year that would include sharp increases in Defense Department spending; major cuts to other agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency; and no reductions to the largest entitlement programs, Social Security and Medicare, according to four senior administration officials. The outline, drafted by the Office of Management and Budget director, Mick Mulvaney, is the first volley to the federal agencies. Departments will have several days to comment on the plan, and congressional leaders will be alerted ahead of Mr. Trump's speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night."

Keith's update: This does not bode well for NASA folks.

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Palace Intrigue On The 9th Floor At NASA HQ

By Keith Cowing on February 25, 2017 8:52 PM.

Keith's update: According to her Wikipedia page Lesa Roe "is currently serving as the Acting Deputy Administrator of NASA. Roe is also the Deputy Associate Administrator of NASA, being in role since May 2014.". I cannot find any announcement from NASA or the White House that she was appointed to the position of Acting NASA Deputy Administrator.

The Wikipedia page was last revised to add Roe's new position on 1 February 2017 by someone named "Hosgeorges" from the UK. On 22 February 2017 someone named دارين added a picture of Lesa Roe. Prior to that Roe's Wikipedia page was last changed on 8 May 2016. This senior leadership page on NASA.gov only mentions Robert Lightfoot as Acting NASA Administrator. But this page at NASA.gov (last changed on 10 February 2017) says "Deputy Administrator: Lesa Roe (acting)". So Hosgeorges in the UK knew about this NASA management change nearly a month ago - and NASA quietly added it to its website 2 weeks ago - but no one thought to put a memo out for the rest if us?

But wait: there's more: This page links to a NASA Advisory Council page shows a group portrait of the NAC with former NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and refers to "Mr. Kenneth Bowersox (NAC Interim Chair)". Yet this page mentions the NAC and says "Chair: General Lester L. Lyles (USAF, Ret.)"

On 20 January 2017 Robert Lightfoot sent out a memo "Message from the Acting Administrator of NASA" which said "As the transition progresses, we have some initial assignments from the new administration. Erik Noble has been named White House Senior Advisor at NASA. Greg Autry, who was with the Agency Review Team, has been named White House Liaison."

According to this current NASA Organization Structure page last updated 10 February 2017 Erik Noble is now "Chief of Staff (acting)". According to multiple sources Greg Autry told people that he would be leaving his White House Liaison position at NASA effective 17 March 2017. But he left on 23 February instead. Oddly, the page was last updated on 10 February 2017 yet made no mention of Autry despite the importance of his position at the time.

Things are starting to get a little strange when NASA makes significant agency appointments like this and does not tell anyone else - except Hosgeorges and دارين that is.

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Fixing America's Space Infrastructure

By Keith Cowing on February 25, 2017 1:02 PM.

Want to build infrastructure that will make America Great? Look to the stars, op ed,The Hill

"As much as America's government space programs have accomplished, there are many aspects of our nation's space infrastructure that are crumbling every bit as badly as interstate highways. Take a tour of most NASA or Air Force space facilities and you will see buildings that predate Neil Armstrong's first walk on the Moon and that have been postponing badly needed maintenance since the end of the Cold War. Space is an inspiring part of America's history, but the country's space facilities should represent the technological state of the art, not a rusting time capsule from the 1960s."

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Ellen Stofan, Stealth Congressional Witness

By Keith Cowing on February 25, 2017 10:24 AM.

Why Did the House Science Committee Overlook NASA's Former Chief Scientist?, The Atlantic

"If you'd read that feed for coverage of the two-and-a-half-hour hearing, you'd be forgiven for thinking Stofan didn't show up at all. ... Where was she? Missing from more than the photo, it turned out. The House committee's Twitter account--the same one that has shared false climate-change information from Breitbart News--didn't mention her at all in its tweets covering the hearing."

Today's NASA Hearing Dwells On The Past - Not The Future, earlier post

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NASA Tries To Explain Changes To SLS Launch Plans

By Keith Cowing on February 24, 2017 1:50 PM.

Keith's update: NASA held a hastily-arranged 30 minute media briefing this afternoon on the surprise plan to put a crew on the very first SLS mission.This plan was semi-officially announced last week.

NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate Bill Gerstenmaier said that NASA had been contacted by the Trump transition Team before and after the Inauguration about EM-1 options. He said that he has been asked by Acting Administrator Lightfoot to do a feasibility study of putting a crew on EM-1.

NASA Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development Bill Hill said that they were not going to let the study affect current EM-1 and EM-2 plans. Gerstenmaier said that the White House had offered them some schedule flexibility on EM-1 if the decision to fly a crew was made. The extent of that flexibility was not detailed.

The basic idea is to send 2 crew on an 8-9 day flight around the Moon. Both Hill and Gerstenmaier said that they have no opinion one way or the other about whether this is a good idea and reiterated that they are just doing a study. When asked what the risk and loss of crew numbers were Gerstenmaier did not have an answer but said that they' do studies, etc. No firm answer was given when asked about the advisability of flying humans on a new launch vehicle for the first time.

I asked Bill Gerstenmaier if the White House specifically asked or directed NASA to put a crew on EM-1; whether the White House explained the specific reasons why they wanted a crew on EM-1, and whether the White House promised NASA the funding required to make this happen. Gerstenmaier punted on my question and said (again) that this was a feasibility study and that no mention of budgets was made when they talked to the White House.

When asked what the astronaut office thought of putting a crew on EM-1 Gerstenmaier said he did not know and would not presume to guess what they thought. When asked if there was an astronaut on the team he said there was one and that the astronaut office would pick others to help out but he declined to name the astronaut that has already been chosen to be on the team.

At no point did Gerstenmaier or Hill ever say what the rationale for flying a crew on EM-1 was. Gerstenmaier seemed to be suggesting that they had been thinking about this already.

In summary: The White House asked NASA to look at putting crew on EM-1 and they are studying it - but no one knows - or will say why they are studying it.

Lightfoot Tries a SLS Hail Mary Pass, earlier post

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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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More stories for February.

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This Week at NASA: TRAPPIST-1 Earth Size Exoplanets, ISS Cargo Deliveries and More

This Week at NASA: TRAPPIST-1 Earth Size Exoplanets, ISS Cargo Deliveries and More Video in Story

NASA held a news conference Feb. 22 at the agency's headquarters to discuss the finding by the agency's Spitzer Space Telescope of seven Earth-sized planets around a tiny, relatively nearby, ultra-cool dwarf star.

More updates...

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