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More Negative Progress at Vostochny Cosmodrome

By Keith Cowing on July 27, 2015 8:07 PM.

$126 Million Stolen From Russian Vostochny Cosmodrome Project Prosecutor General, The Moscow Times

"Russia's Prosecutor General said Monday that 7.5 billion rubles ($126 million) had been stolen during construction of a new spaceport in Russia's Far East, news agency RIA Novosti reported. Investigators conducted a massive investigation into corruption and mismanagement at the site of the Vostochny Cosmodrome, a $3 billion project seen in Moscow as vital to secure Russia's independent access to space. President Vladimir Putin on a visit to the construction site last year warned contractors that law enforcement agencies were monitoring the use of state funds and that charges would be brought for malpractice. Prosecutor General Yury Chaika said that a probe of 250 organizations working on the project had discovered "theft that caused 7.5 billion rubles in damages," RIA Novosti reported."

- Vostochny Cosmodrome First Launch Slips 3 Years, earlier post
- Man Driving Diamond-encrusted Mercedes Caught Embezzling Cosmodrome Funds, earlier post

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New Horizons Victory Lap at Congress

By Keith Cowing on July 27, 2015 7:35 PM.

Hearing on Pluto Flyby

"Tuesday, July 28, 2015: The Science Committee's NASA Authorization Act for FY16 and FY17 restored funds the Obama administration proposed cutting from planetary science budgets. This would bring parity between NASA's science accounts and allow for development of missions like New Horizons to continue at the current pace."

Keith's note: The New Horizons team is now openly talking about a New Horizons-2 mission back to Pluto. It will be interesting to see if this topic is raised given that this committee is on the record about their interest in Europa - not Pluto. Also, given the NASA's budgetary issues, it will be interesting to see how the extra $1 billion-plus needed for New Horizons-2 would be squeezed out of an already constrained budgetary future - one that will inevitably stressed by SLS costs.

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NTSB Meets on SpaceShipTwo Accident

By Keith Cowing on July 27, 2015 7:31 PM.

NTSB Board Meeting on SpaceShipTwo Crash in California

"Tuesday, July 28, 2015: The National Transportation Safety Board will meet to determine the probable cause of the October 31, 2014 in-flight breakup of SpaceShipTwo that occurred near Mojave, CA. SpaceShipTwo was a commercial space vehicle that Scaled Composites built for Virgin Galactic that broke up during a rocket-powered test flight, seriously injuring the pilot and killing the co-pilot."

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Odd Pluto Social Media Policy at SwRI

By Keith Cowing on July 27, 2015 10:00 AM.

Keith's note: The use of social media during the recent Pluto encounter has been widely hailed. That said, Southwest Research Institute Public affairs continues with its slightly strange media policy - in this case by blocking @NASAWatch from following @NewHorizons2015 on Twitter. Despite the recent "personal" label on this Twitter account, this account is used by a SWRI employee for NASA-funded work-related news and has been mentioned in official SWRI, JHUAPL, and NASA communications for years. You'd think that SWRI would want the biggest audience available - and a retweet by @NASAWatch could add 59,000 Twitter impressions. With all this bragging (justifiably) by NASA PAO about their social media prowess, this effort by SWRI is odd to say the least. I have asked SWRI about this. Waiting for a response.

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3 Reasons Why Its Is Time to Turbocharge SETI

By Keith Cowing on July 26, 2015 7:55 PM.

Looking for extraterrestrials - The optimistic gamble, Economist

"Mr Milner reckons there are three reasons why the moment is right to go big on SETI. One is that Kepler, a space telescope run by NASA, has shown that there are a lot of potentially habitable planets out there. Geoff Marcy, an astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley, who will run Breakthrough Listen, says Kepler-based studies suggest that perhaps one star in ten has planets that are "Earth-sized and lukewarm" not obviously too massive, too hot or too cold for vaguely Earthlike life. The second reason is the relentless rise of signal-processing power. The ten-billion-channel system Dr Marcy is working on would have been impossible just a few years ago. That all of the resulting data can easily be made available to other scientists and enthusiastic amateurs is another sign of progress. Some 3m people already participate in the SETI@Home project, which lets people use spare computing time to sift through previous SETI data. Since the project has now linked up with Breakthrough Listen, more will surely join it. Free access to data will almost certainly generate false alarms, but Dr Marcy accepts that as part of the price of doing business. A third motive for the push is that an unprecedented amount of time is now available on first-rate radio telescopes. Government-funded research has seen its purse-strings drawn tight recently, and instruments like that at Green Bank need new sources of income."

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ESA's Director General Prefers The Moon Over Mars

By Keith Cowing on July 24, 2015 11:26 PM.

Moon village would host first class research, Nature

"[ESA Director General Johann-Dietrich Wörner]: The Americans are saying Mars is the ultimate goal, but I'm rather convinced that Mars is not the ultimate goal. If we continue on planet Earth, I'm sure humans will go even beyond Mars, but the question is when and how. We need some targets in between. The Moon is a very scientifically interesting body and it's reachable by humans even with today's technology. For Mars and other bodies, we need totally different technologies. Imagine if you send a human to Mars on a two-year return journey and after two months he or she gets difficult health problems. What do you do? We have to have better technology, stronger launchers and other propulsion systems, to go to Mars."

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NASA Briefs President's Science Advisors

By Keith Cowing on July 24, 2015 6:19 PM.

PCAST Discusses New Frontiers in Human Space Exploration, AIP

"On July 14, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) met to discuss three topics, among them an update from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and its leading commercial space industry partners on the progress being made in new frontiers in human space exploration. Other topics on the meeting agenda included a review of the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) Program and a discussion on technology and aging."

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More Pluto Discoveries Revealed

By Keith Cowing on July 24, 2015 2:57 PM.

Nightside Image Reveals Pluto's Hazy Skies

"Speeding away from Pluto just seven hours after its July 14 closest approach, the New Horizons spacecraft looked back and captured this spectacular image of Pluto's atmosphere, backlit by the sun. The image reveals layers of haze that are several times higher than scientists predicted."

- New Horizons Discovers Flowing Ices on Pluto
- New Horizons Reveals Pluto's Atmospheric Pressure Has Sharply Decreased
- Pluto and Charon in Natural Color
- NASA's New Horizons Team Finds Haze, Flowing Ice on Pluto
- Pluto Flyby Lead, Planetary Scientists to Discuss Discoveries at Hearing
- Pluto Dazzles in False Color

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Dragging Star Trek Into Election 2016

By Keith Cowing on July 24, 2015 2:14 PM.

What Ted Cruz gets wrong about Star Trek, Washington Post

"Star Trek" Captain James T. Kirk is a Republican. That's what Ted Cruz wants you to think, anyway. In an interview with the New York Times, Cruz argues that what makes Kirk, well, Kirk, are the very values that define the GOP. "I think it is quite likely that Kirk is a Republican and [Jean-Luc] Picard is a Democrat," Cruz told the Times, suggesting that Picard Kirk's successor as captain of the fictional USS Enterprise is too rational to be an effective leader. Cruz clearly believes that the country would benefit from having a Kirk-like figure in the White House. But as arguments for electing a Republican go, this is not a winning one."

- How Candidates Would Respond to an Angry E.T. Threat, earlier post (2012)
- Survey: Obama Would Protect Earth From Angry ETs Better Than Romney, earlier post (2012)
- President Visits Roswell, NM: "I Come in Peace", earlier post (2012)

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That New NASA Moon Plan

By Keith Cowing on July 24, 2015 9:40 AM.

To the Moon - Again, Paul Spudis

"A NASA-sponsored study has been released which outlines a plan to return to the Moon with people and set-up an outpost at one of the poles to mine water for propellant. This report has drawn both attention and puzzlement within the space community, as the agency continues to make clear that they have no interest in human lunar missions. This disconnect is covered because NASA will not do these activities - instead, the agency will pay commercial companies to develop and implement the plan. The propellant produced at the outpost from lunar polar water will then be sold to NASA for use in future human missions to Mars."

- A New Spin on the Journey to Mars - By Way of the Moon, earlier post

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NASA Pluto Flyby Internet Statistics

By Keith Cowing on July 23, 2015 4:33 PM.

"Potential reach and Number of Mentions of all social media posts(NASA & non-NASA) across 21 different social media platforms using one or more of the following keywords between July 13-17, 2015: Pluto, "New Horizons", #PlutoFlyby, or #Pluto:"

- Download NASA presentation
- NASA's Pluto Web Stats, earlier post

NASA's Social Media Strategy Is Genius And Kinda Maddening, Wired

"Organizations can sometimes let social media metrics obscure their core goals and mission. (Trust us on this.) On the evening of July 14, the world was waiting for New Horizons to phone home and say it had successfully passed by Pluto. With less than two minutes until the message was scheduled to arrive, the cameras cut to (drumroll) a NASA social media representative, who proceeded to tell the world how high New Horizons was trending on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The Pluto Press Corps was not too amused. The camera cut to New Horizons Mission Operations Manager Alice Bowman in the nick of time, seemingly the moment she received the I'm-OK signal from New Horizons. For a moment, it seemed, NASA's ace team of publicists had forgotten that the cameras were supposed to be on Pluto."

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Kepler Finds Earth-Sized Worlds In Habitable Zones

By Keith Cowing on July 23, 2015 12:00 PM.

NASA Media Teleconference to Announce Latest Kepler Discoveries

"NASA will host a news teleconference at 9 a.m. PDT (12 p.m. EDT) Thursday, July 23 to announce new discoveries made by its planet-hunting mission, the Kepler Space Telescope. The teleconference audio and visuals will be streamed live at: http://www.nasa.gov/newsaudio"

Press briefing graphics

Kepler Finds 12 Earth-sized Worlds In Stellar Habitable Zones, SETI Institute

"The new catalog includes 12 candidates that are less than twice Earth's diameter, orbiting in the so-called habitable zone of their star. This zone is the range of distances at which the energy flux from the star would permit liquid water to exist on the planet's surface. Of these candidates, Kepler 452b is the first to be confirmed as a planet. At a distance of 1,400 light-years, Kepler 452b accompanies a star whose characteristics are very similar to the Sun: it is 4 percent more massive and 10 percent brighter. Kepler 452b orbits its star at the same distance as Earth orbits the Sun."

Kepler Discovers Bigger, Older Cousin to Earth, NASA

"The newly discovered Kepler-452b is the smallest planet to date discovered orbiting in the habitable zone -- the area around a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of an orbiting planet -- of a G2-type star, like our sun."

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Sharks In Space

By Keith Cowing on July 22, 2015 11:44 PM.

Keith's note: If you watched Sharknado 3 on SyFy tonight then you know that a substantial portion of the film was shot at JSC and KSC. Yes, the movie was utterly stupid (that was the whole point of the movie) but NASA allowed itself to be part of something outside its usual stodgy comfort zone. You may argue whether or not this is the best use of NASA facilities. I look at it this way: last week NASA owned the Internet during the Pluto Flyby. Tonight they were an integral part of an event that owned Twitter and other social media platforms. Not bad.

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NASA's Pluto Web Stats

By Keith Cowing on July 22, 2015 7:15 PM.

Dwarf Planet, Giant Numbers: NASA's Mission to Pluto Goes Global, NASA via Digital.gov

"Even on a "slow" day, NASA is a pretty cool place to work, but the cool factor gets cranked way up when the whole world joins in the adventure. That's what happened this week when the New Horizons spacecraft arrived at Pluto after decade-long, three-billion-mile journey through the solar system. New Horizons has already sent back never-before seen images of the dwarf planet, and is collecting so much data it will take 16 months to send it all back to Earth. Any time we go this far from home and do something that's never been done before, it's sort of a big deal. And it shows, thanks to our data from the Digital Analytics Program. Some quick facts:

- It's our biggest mission-related traffic event since we joined DAP in February 2013, with nearly 10 million page views on July 14th alone. During the 7 am hour, 42% of all government traffic was going to NASA pages. ..."

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3 Humans and a Droid Launched to ISS

By Keith Cowing on July 22, 2015 6:26 PM.

Soyuz Launches Expedition 44 Crew to the International Space Station

"The Soyuz TMA-17M launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the International Space Station at 5:02 p.m. EDT (3:02 a.m. on July 23 Baikonur time). Soyuz TMA-17M is carrying Expedition 44 Soyuz Commander Oleg Kononenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), Flight Engineer Kjell Lindgren of NASA, and Flight Engineer Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) into orbit to begin their five month mission on the Station."

Keith's note: On board was a mini-R2D2 who's purpose on this mission is not exactly clear ... yet. Maybe he'll fix the un-deployed solar array.

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NASA International Space Station On-Orbit Status 24 July 2015

NASA International Space Station On-Orbit Status 24 July 2015 Video in Story

The International Space Station is at full strength now with six crew members from Japan, Russia and the United States. The newly-expanded orbital team got together today to review their roles and responsibilities in the event of an emergency in space.

More updates...

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