September 2006 Archives

GSA chief wants to end NASA contract, AP

"The head of the U.S. General Services Administration has taken the unusual step of asking the White House to deny NASA's request to extend a multibillion-dollar government-wide information technology contract. A $4 billion space agency contract for buying computers and other IT products from IBM Corp., Northrop Grumman Corp., Unisys Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and CDW Corp., among others, is scheduled to end next year and NASA has received bids to extend the deal."

NASA KSC RFI: Supporting an Environmental Assessment of Commercial and Other Uses of the Shuttle Landing Facility

"NASA is seeking information from prospective commercial and other non-NASA users of the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) to support an ongoing Environmental Assessment (EA) of commercial suborbital and orbital spaceflight; support and special purpose aviation; and other compatible uses. See attached documents for detail."

Virgin to Make Astronaut Idol, Contact Music

"Virgin empire boss Sir Richard Branson is in negotiations with British television networks to launch a talent show for aspiring astronauts."

Editor's update: Images have been released. Here are a few of them: [1][2][3][4]

Virgin Galactic Unveils Fullscale Mock-up of SpaceShipTwo

Editor's note: Sir Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group, will be on hand with his staff at Wired's NextFest in New York City on Thursday to unveil a full scale mockup of his SpaceShipTwo commercial suborbital spacecraft. SpaceShipTwo is being developed by Branson and Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites. A fleet of five vehicles is planned.

Expedition 13 Lands

Space Station Expedition 13 Lands in Kazakhstan with Anousheh Ansari

"Expedition 13 Commander Pavel Vinogradov, Flight Engineer Jeff Williams and Spaceflight Participant Anousheh Ansari landed in the steppes of Kazakhstan Thursday at 9:13 p.m. EDT.

After saying their farewells to Expedition 14 then entering their Soyuz spacecraft for the ride home, they undocked from the International Space Station at 5:53 p.m."

GAO Doubts About CEV

GAO Report: NASA: Sound Management and Oversight Key to Addressing Crew Exploration Vehicle Project Risks

"NASA cannot develop a firm cost estimate for the exploration program at this time because the program is in its early stages. The changes that have occurred to the program over the past year and the resulting refinement of its cost estimates are indicative of the evolving nature of the program. While changes are appropriate at this stage of the program, they leave the agency unable to firmly identify program requirements and needed resources and, therefore, not in the position to make a long term commitment to the program."

NASA Defends Orion Contract Award - GAO: Too Many Design, Risk Unknowns for Such a Long-Range Contract, House Science Committee

"However, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said too many outstanding questions regarding vehicle design needs and project risks remain unanswered and that NASA should have pursued a series of shorter-term contracts with clear milestones for completion."

NASA JSC Award Notice: Design, Development, Test and Evaluation (DDT&E) of Project Orion

Contract Award Amount: 4635932174
Contractor: Lockheed Martin, 12257 State Hwy 121, Littleton, CO 80127-8503

CEV Hearing Notes

Editor's note: GAO's Allen Li cited a $230 billion cost over two decades for VSE, said that he was disappointed at NASA's initial response to GAO's reccommendations, and that he still feels that NASA has gone further than he thinks it should have gone in making contractual committments for the CEV in lieu of firm cost estimates.

Editor's note: There are some possible job openings on the House Science Committee staff - assuming that the Democrats take over control of the House after the election. The following is posted on an internal website: "House Science Committee-Seeking experienced science policy professionals for possible expanded Democratic committee staff in the 110th Congress. Desire to build a nonpartisan staff of experienced and highly motivated professionals. Good communication skills and ability to work effectively with a team of credentialed and experienced existing committee staff more important than past Party affiliation. Fax resume to 202 225-3895."

Beijing secretly fires lasers to disable US satellites, The Telegraph

"China has secretly fired powerful laser weapons designed to disable American spy satellites by "blinding" their sensitive surveillance devices, it was reported yesterday. The hitherto unreported attacks have been kept secret by the Bush administration for fear that it would damage attempts to co-opt China in diplomatic offensives against North Korea and Iran."

Rohrabacher Speaks Out Against NASA Chief's Visit, California Chronicle

"Rohrabacher referred to recent reports of the Chinese testing firing high powered lasers with the ability to blind U.S. spy satellites as "another example of why China should be considered an enemy instead of a partner."

Hubble Update

Hubble's key camera shuts down again, New Scientist

"The Hubble Space Telescope's most frequently used instrument, the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), has shut down unexpectedly. Hubble's managers are still investigating the problem, but they are optimistic that they will be able to use the camera again soon."

  • NASA Hubble Space Telescope Daily Report #4208
  • NASA Hubble Space Telescope Daily Report #4207
  • NASA Hubble Space Telescope Daily Report #4206
  • Earlier Hubble reports and news
  • NASA Watch on CNN Pipeline

    Editor's note: Miles O'Brien at CNN just called to have me do a quickie phone interview for his "CNN Pipeline" show. He asked what sort of computers they use on the shuttle/station. I described the IBM ThinkPads - and why NASA tends to stick with one brand, etc.

    Miles then joked that he noticed that they were "always rebooting them". I replied "I am a Mac user so I have no sympathy whatsoever".

    Miles then said "Yea, I guess I set you up for that one"...

    NASA ARC Internal Memo: Annual Call for Legislative Proposals

    "NASA's Office of Legislative Affairs issued the Annual Call for Legislative Proposals for the FY 2008 NASA Authorization Act. This is an annual call for legislative language to be considered for inclusion in the agency's FY 2008 Authorization bill. The agency's proposed bill will be submitted to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) this fall as part of the agency's FY 2008 budget package submittal."

    SOFIA's New Paint Job

    Editor's note: Despite attempts by Mike Griffin and Mary Cleave to kill it earlier this year (attempts that failed), SOFIA is clearly moving ahead. Indeed, it recently got a new paint job. Here are some photos from [1][2][3][4][5]

    New Media Security Policy at NASA Headquarters: More Confusion, Less Security, SpaceRef

    "NASA issued a press release yesterday, which spelled out its latest security regulations as they apply to the news media. As is often typical of the folks at NASA headquarters, no one apparently expended much brainpower in thinking this through in terms of the logic of the change in policy - and ramifications thereof. Moreover, no one (apparently) bothered to check and see if there was any consistency in how people were already being treated in terms of identifying them and tracking their activities while inside NASA Headquarters - and how these new rules meshed with those already in place.

    The net result is an uneven policy with regard to public access to NASA Headquarters whereby news media have to undergo a full FBI background check, and be escorted wherever they go, yet people attending advisory committee meetings simply walk in off the street, show a photo ID, get a visitor's badge and go wherever they wish to go."

    From Wednesday's press China oportunity: NASA Chief, on First China Trip, Says Joint Spaceflight Is Unlikely, NY Times

    "We did discuss closer cooperation in our nations' science programs," Mr. Griffin said during a news conference in which American reporters participated by telephone. "We're all very encouraged by those initial discussions."

    From Tuesday's China press opportunity (transcript): Mark Carreau from the Houston Chronicle was allowed to submit a question by email:

    "MR. ACOSTA: All right. Let me ask one question that came from the Houston Chronicle, Mike, that was sent to me. The question comes from Mark Carreau. It said, "I would be interested in Administrator Griffin's impressions of China's overarching commitment to human space exploration, as well his impressions of the capabilities of the personnel and facilities the NASA entourage has met with or visited so far." You kind of touched upon that, but - -"

    Editor's note: Looks like NASA PAO is hand picking reporters to participate again. This way you can control the sort of questions that get asked. No standard email media advisory to the NASA press corps was released for either event on Tuesday or Wednesday morning. Some reporters were even allowed to submit questions by email which were then asked by NASA PAO personnel.

    Dean Acosta et al are playing games again, and I, for one, am tired of putting up with this.

    Recent OIG Activity

    Editor's update. Apparently NASA can't muster the energy to issue a press release for this worthwhile activity. So I took the webpage and posted it in the SpaceRef database as if it were a press release. And guess where a link to it ended up appearing - on one of the world's more popular space sites (at this moment).

    Editor's note: Have a look at 21st Century Explorer Podcast Competition: "The 21st Century Explorer Podcast Competition is an Education and Public Outreach project designed to inspire and motivate the next generation of explorers and to compete effectively for the minds, imaginations, and career ambitions of Americas young people. Students will create an audio recording or video short to answer the question: "How will Space Exploration benefit your life in the future?"

    This certainly looks like an interesting way to engage the public - yet NASA itself does not seem to want to promote it very much. If you go to ESMD's website, there is no mention whatsoever about this competition. So I guess they have nothing to do with it - even though it has an overt exploration theme. However, there is mention on the Grades 5-8 page at NASA's Education Office. So I guess they are sponsoring this (it is not clear from the contest website who the sponsor actually is)

    NASA had certainly better hurry up and do something to promote this a little more widely since entries are due in just 2 weeks (10 October 2006).

    The domain is registered not to NASA - but to Grow Interactive in Norfolk, Virginia. The website is very nicely done and tells visitors exactly what they need to know in order to submit an entry. The website also includes an intro by "Chris" and his goofy sidekick "Blair" - who claim to be from something called "NASA Edge". There are also prizes (iPods, Mac laptops) donated by SpaceCamp and Crewstone Technologies.

    Again, this looks like a really good idea - but what use is a good idea if no one knows about it?

    Nation's Astronomers Continue Dialog with NASA Administrator Mike Griffin, American Astronomical Society

    "We do not have a looming problem or a workforce crisis. 25% of the NASA workforce will be eligible to retire within the next five years, though of course not all will do so. I regard this as an opportunity to bring in the next generation of scientists and engineers, who will take us to the Moon and Mars"

    Students advised to seek experience in the private aeronautics sector, Salt Lake Tribune

    "It simply is not among the top priorities I have at NASA to fund student experiments," Griffin said during a question-and-answer session."

    Editor's note: Mike: If you are not going to step up and help generate the "next generation of scientists and engineers, who will take us to the Moon and Mars", who is?

    White House Said to Bar Hurricane Report, AP

    "The Bush administration has blocked release of a report that suggests global warming is contributing to the frequency and strength of hurricanes, the journal Nature reported Tuesday."

    National Science Board Recommends Major New Investments in Hurricane Science and Engineering

    "The National Science Board will release a draft report for public comment on Sept. 29 at a Capitol Hill news briefing with lawmakers that will propose a major new National Hurricane Research Initiative and recommend new funding to jumpstart this effort."

    Space Tourist Update

    Letter from NASA Watch, Anousheh Ansari Space Blog

    "But this is just the beginning of Anoushehs journey. The real journey begins when she returns to Earth and how she takes the excitement of the moment and transforms it into long-term change - for the better."

    Anousheh Ansari, a Woman of Mass Instruction, Dennis Wingo, SpaceRef

    "Ms. Ansari is a Woman of Mass Instruction (WMI) in the global contest of ideas. While so many pillory the United States these days and the west in general for being in decline, decadent, yada, yada, yada, Ms. Ansari's exploits explode these myths. Would she have this opportunity if she grew up in any middle eastern country? How about South America?"

    NASA hopes archives have map to moon, Florida Today

    "Recently, NASA managers scrambled to respond to reports that the agency had lost the original tapes of the historic 1969 moon landing, when Neil Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface. The tapes eventually were found."

    Editor's note: Gee Larry, that's not what NASA tells me. They state that the tapes are still missing.

    Dittmar Associates Finds Young Adults 'Largely Disinterested' in the U.S. Vision for Space Exploration

    "In a study reported on at the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Space 2006 meeting, Dittmar Associates reported that young American adults are "largely disinterested" in the Vision for Space Exploration announced by President Bush in January of 2004. ... Most important concerns are jobs, the war, and relationships; space ranks near the bottom of the list of personal priorities. ... Interest in "New Space" (commercial) human spaceflight efforts such as the X-Prize flights of SpaceShip One is increasing, relative to the results of the previous study."

    New Gallup Poll Reveals Americans Continue to Strongly Support Space Exploration, Coalition for Space Exploration

    "Cumulative results indicate that, over the course of time and despite varying world and national circumstances, the American people still strongly support space exploration and are willing to support its funding at current levels or even slightly increased," said Jeff Carr, chairman of the Coalition for Space Exploration."

    Editor's note: Gee, how can these polls/surveys both be correct?

    Alas, the usually lethargic Coalition for Space Exploration woke up just long enough to write Gallup a check for conducting this poll and then slipped immediately back into sleep mode. When you go to their website the title page says "Copyright 2004". When you click to go further (as a member of the public) all you see is a link to the "New" 2005 Gallup Poll. C'mon Jeff - there isn't even a link to the new poll. Why send people to such an outdated website? This all seems rather counterproductive to me that the VSE's main corporate cheerleader doesn't even seem to have the enthusiasm among its staff to keep their own website current.

    See the earlier NASA Watch posting "What Does the Coalition for Space Exploration Actually Do?" for more examples of their lack of activity.

    But wait: someone is thinking ahead: the Coalition did sponsor an official VSE coloring book for all the folks who will be voting in the 2018 election...

    Editor's update: I got a call from someone at the Space Foundation today. Looks like the Coalition has dueling websites. The one I linked to above was slightly modified the other day. This version of their website is more up to date - but only with regard to the Gallup Poll. That's it - the rest of this "newer" version is as stale as the "older" version. The accomplishments page seems to be circa 2004, the news page only has 2 items from 2006, the VSE page has lines like "Space Shuttle Discovery is scheduled to launch again July 13 on its first flight since February 1, 2003.", and the Congressional page stops with FY 2006 info (circa 2005). Again, where does all the money that gets donated to the Space Foundation to run this organization go? One Gallup poll a year?

    House Science Committee Democrats Question Wisdom of NASA's Plans to Cut and Restructure Aeronautics Research Program

    "Yet, instead of investing more in the highly productive aeronautics enterprise that has been built up within NASA and its predecessor organization over the last nine decades, NASA is in the process of dismantling those capabilities as it turns its attention elsewhere and reallocates resources to new ventures," added Rep. Udall."

    House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee to Examine NASA Aeronautics Program Tomorrow

    "Tomorrow, the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee will hold a hearing on the response of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences on how NASA should run its civil aeronautics research and development (R&D) program."

    Talking Points: Full Cost Management and Overhead Simplification, NASA HQ

    "While it appears that the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD) will take a significant hit as a result of this accounting change, the overhead simplification structure is a good thing for ARMD."

  • Earlier Aeronautics Postings
  • Testimony: Lisa Porter
  • Fundamental Aeronautics Program Fact Sheets
  • Testimony: Gen. William Hoover (Air Force, retired)
  • Supplemental power point slides from Gen. Hoover's testimony
  • Opening Statement by Rep. Mark Udall
  • NASA: National Academy Recommendations Closely Aligned With New Aeronautics Portfolio
  • House Science Committee Democrats Question Wisdom of NASA's Plans to Cut and Restructure Aeronautics Research Program
  • Transcript of NASA Press Conference in Beijing

    "ADMINISTRATOR GRIFFIN: There are no plans on our part to work with China on the ISS construction. The ISS program is the International Space Station program. In its present form, it is now approaching 13 years old. The partnerships that led to the development of the ISS are well established. I do not propose to change any of those arrangements at the present time. If China and the United States were to cooperate in the arena of manned space flight, that would be well down the road from where we are starting today, and it would involve projects that for the United States come after the development of the International Space Station."

    Editor's note: If you look at the high resolution version of this photo of the Expedition 14 crew and Anousheh Ansari eating, you will see a small scale model of Russia's proposed Soyuz replacement "Klipper" on the Service Module cabin wall to the right of Yuri Gagarin.

    Of course, if you look at the high resolution version of this image above Pavel Vinogradov's head - and to the right of the Army pennant - you will see a scale model of Orion's command module.

    Editor's note: This Solicitation was released today. A read through this document makes you wonder why a field center is looking to develop the sort of capabilities one would expect belong at NASA Headquarters. Perhaps the oddest thing is the following item regarding Congressional activities - given that Mike Griffin has repeatedly chided center directors for running to Congress every time they have a problem (a favorite habit at MSFC):

    "5.1.3 The contractor shall assist OSAC in researching, recommending and documenting a variety of outreach strategies that focus on educating and informing members of Congress and staff of Marshall related programs. This support shall enable the government to build relationships with Aerospace associations and industry organizations, work with members of Congress, congressional staff, and other Government officials to create forums for advancing Marshall objectives."

    NASA Learns How To Handle Space Tourists - and Novel Situations, SpaceRef

    Editor's note: Just before the launch of STS-115, NASA held a press opportunity. Among the participants was Mike Suffredini, NASA's Space Station Program Manager. I asked Suffredini a question related to the decisons being made by Russia with regard to delays it was willing to make in the launch of the Expedition 14 crew aboard a Soyuz - and how this affected the dates on which NASA could try and launch Atlantis.

    A Little Hubble Trouble

    NASA Hubble Space Telescope Daily Report #4205

    "The ACS suspended at 266/15:21:25 GMT. ... A detailed analysis of the event is underway with a tiger team meeting at 1pm Sunday. A follow-up status meeting is planned with HSTP for 9am Monday in. Actions from the tiger team meeting: -Investigate whether ASPC-2 relay status are analog, if analog assess the raw data for shifts that indicate whether or not all the relays switched."

    NASA's First Chinese Date

    NASA Administrator Says Visit to China Only a 'First Date',

    "Asked if he had gotten much access to the Chinese agency's operations, Griffin said he did not. But, he says, his expectations were limited from the start. "This is a get-acquainted visit. This is an exploratory visit," he explained. " This is a first date, if you will. We're just (on) an exploratory visit."

    Going Over The Mullah's Heads

    Iranian women applaud space tourist, AP

    "Dozens of space travel enthusiasts, most of them women, burst into applause at dawn at an observatory near the capital as the spacecraft carrying the first Iranian woman to travel into space appeared in the sky. ... "She will shine in Iranian history as a woman who broke barriers and succeeded in conquering space with her endeavor," Dadbeh said. "Ansari has shown Iranian women the road to progress. We only need to believe in ourselves," Dadbeh said, as another woman, Homa Parvaei nodded in agreement."

    A Very Cool Webcam

    Editor's note: This is so cool. Go to the Cosmocam page and click on the live streaming video icon. You will see live imagery from the HERO X-Ray telescope at an altitude of 130,000 feet (40,000 m).

    "CosmoCam is being developed by Rocket Science, Inc. in collaboration with NASA Goddard's Exploration of the Universe Division and personnel from the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility." ... "Video Camera- Pan and Tilt with 26X optical/260X electronic Zoom for looking around! Each person selected as a beta tester will be allowed a 10 minute time slot to control the camera. The beta testers will be sent a login and password to access the control window prior to their allotted time slot."

    Spock Meets His Match

    Space Diplomacy - U.S., China open unprecedented discussions on cooperation, Aviation Week

    "NASA Administrator Michael Griffin will open potentially historic talks in Beijing this week on U.S. Chinese space cooperation. But Griffin must "thread the political needle" between a tough Bush administration policy on China and Chinese military secrecy and communist bureaucracy already disarming U.S. interest in manned flight collaboration. As with the Soviet Union in the 1970s, the U.S. space program is being used by the White House and State Dept. as a diplomatic vehicle to open better relations with a potential adversary."

    NEEMO 11 Update

    NEEMO 11 Topside Support: Splashup and Thanks Mission: September, 2006 Saturation

    "The 11th NEEMO mission to date ended today with "splashup" at about 8:45 am, concluding another safe and successful mission. All mission objectives were accomplished, the crew is healthy, and we are another step closer to successfully returning people to explore the lunar surface.

    We can't properly thank everyone who had a hand in making this mission successful, but a few key entities should be noted: ... JSC's Mission Ops Directorate, for the funding (via the Constellation Program), the majority of the manpower that keeps this project flourishing, and your unflagging support ...."

  • Previous NEEMO Reports, News, and Updates
  • Editor's note: ESMD still can't seem to get a simple link to NEEMO onto the main ESMD homepage - yet ESMD pays for the bulk of NEEMO's operations!

    Misleading Photo Captions

    Editor's note: According to the caption on this image: "Flight director Rick LaBrode monitors data at his console in the Station (Blue) Flight Control Room in Houston's Mission Control Center during Expedition 13 mission activities." Look closely. He isn't monitoring data. He's looking at his laptop, scrolling with a mouse, and reading a JSC Today special notice titled "Two Briefings Today From NASA Headquarters"

    Editor's note: According to comments made in this post on her blog, Anousheh Ansari is not "blogging from space", as some of her pre-launch hype claimed she would be doing. Instead, she is simply sending emails that are eventually posted on a website/blog - one that is totally maintained by someone else. Yawn - astronauts have been doing this for years.

    "So first lets take care of a few housekeeping items. I do not have realtime access to email. The email process is a batch process so it happens three times a day. I will do my best to get at least one entry in per day. I do not have access to a web browser so I cannot read all your comments. I get some of your questions and greetings forwarded to me and I know that many people are sending their well wishes and words of inspiration."

  • Stop Hyping Anousheh Ansari - Just Let Her Inspire People, earlier post
  • Space Tourist Update, earlier post
  • Reader note: "Last Tuesday Sep 19, the following email was sent to the all.personnel list at JPL:"

    Job Openings at SMD

    Positions Available at NASA Headquarters, LPI/USRA

    "As Dr. Cleave prepares to take her leave of SMD, NASA begins to accept applications for her position and a number of others in the Science Mission Directorate important to the future of the planetary community. As an organization focused on science, it is crucial for the community to continue to identify strong scientific voices that can guide SMD during this dynamic time in NASA history.Qualified members of the scientific community who are looking for an opportunity to have a voice in the policy-making process are encouraged to take on this challenge and apply for these positions:"

    An On-Orbit Memorial

    Editor's note: If you look at the upper left hand corner of this image taken inside the Unity lab module aboard ISS during the STS-115 mission, you will see a name tag and photo of NASA astronaut candidate Patricia (Patty) Robertson, M.D.

    (official NASA bio).

    Robertson died in a plane crash in 2001.

    Spaceport's first launch set for Monday. Las Cruces Sun-News

    "Postponed three times since March, the first launch from Spaceport America, near Truth or Consequences, is now planned for Monday. "Zero hour" is 7:30 a.m., with a 21-foot by 10-inch UP Aerospace Inc. rocket carrying 50 scientific payloads. The company's SpaceLoft XL rocket will fly to an altitude of about 70 miles."

    Astronaut Collapses During Ceremony, AP

    "An astronaut from the space shuttle Atlantis collapsed twice Friday during a welcome home ceremony, a wobbly return that officials attributed to the adjustment from 12 days at zero gravity. Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper left the hangar at Ellington Field through a side door but was not taken to a hospital. Officials said she was doing fine."

    Editor's note: Just in case some of you (like Mike Griffin) out there think that space life science issues have all been settled ...

    The Scientific Context for Exploration of the Moon: Interim Report, Committee on the Scientific Context for Exploration of the Moon, National Research Counci

    Full Report

    Back on Track in Space, OpEd, NY Times

    "We've never been great fans of the International Space Station, an enormously costly project that will yield such limited scientific and economic benefits that it seems destined to be considered a white elephant. Nevertheless, we had to marvel at the magnificent performance of the crew of the shuttle Atlantis, which ended an arduous 12-day mission to the station with a flawless landing yesterday."

    Time to Go Back

    Destination Moon, OpEd, Eugene Cernan, The Hill

    "With those final words spoken on the Moon over three decades ago, I took the liberty of committing our nation to returning someday. Today I believe that the destination is less important in determining our destiny than the direction in which we are headed, and with a new Vision for Space Exploration, our course is set to cross a new frontier."

    Griffin Announces NAC 2.0

    NASA Announces New Advisory Council Members

    "NASA Administrator Michael Griffin named nine new members to the NASA Advisory Council on Friday, including Dr. Edward David, Jr., Chair of the Science Committee, and Dr. Paul Robinson, Chair of the new Space Operations Committee. The NASA Advisory Council (The "Council") consists of six committees, Aeronautics, Audit and Finance, Exploration, Human Capital, Science, and Space Operations. Council Chairman Harrison H. Schmitt welcomed the new members."

    Editor's note: Alas, NASA's website still lists the old members. Yes, I know, websites are soooooo hard to update.

    NASA LaRC Internal Memo on Travel Reimbursement

    "As you are aware, NASA's accounting system, SAP will be down from late September 2006 until at least November 13, 2006. No payments will be made from September 27, 2006 until after November 13, 2006, including travel vouchers. When the system comes back up, the NASA Shared Services Center (NSSC) will be working extra shifts and overtime to process the backlog of travel vouchers as quickly as possible."

    Reader note: "Supposedly NASA is this high tech agency that spends billions of dollars and yet we cannot seem to cross FY's without having to essentially shut down the financial system for 1-2 months. This year is even worse with new Services Center opening in MS. Do companies stop buying stuff when this happens? How are we going to get anywhere if this kind of stuff happens every year. It is nuts."

    ISS: Untapped Potential

    Keep ISS Alive, Rick Tumlinson, Space Frontier Foundation

    "As I write this Americans and Russians are circling overhead in a space station I opposed. The international space station (ISS) cost too much, is imperfect, too complex, in a bad orbit and I am told it smells funny. But it is there. Now I hear some want to throw it away. The folks gave us almost $100 billion to build it, and I don't think they would like that. It holds air, has power and is made of tons of processed high-value material that if it isn't up there already, someday someone else would have to carry it up or manufacture it. Once before I and others tried to save a cast-off toy from our childhood in space called Mir. We were too late, and faced too much opposition from those who wanted a shiny new toy. Now we have it. This time we have the time to make it useful. Let's do it."

    Editor's note: Robert Bigelow told AIAA Space 2006 attendees today here in San Jose that he plans to put a three person space hotel into orbit some time between 2009 and 2010. The module should have a sufficient lifespan such that private human transportation systems can come online and and send people up to visit it. One way these visits may happen is via a manned Atlas V - Bigelow also announced today that he had an agreement with Lockheed Martin to study how to man rate the Atlas V rocket.

    Atlantis Returns to Port

    Atlantis, STS-115 Crew Return to Earth

    "Space Shuttle Atlantis glided to a landing this morning at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., concluding a successful mission to resume construction of the International Space Station. Touchdown occurred at 6:21 a.m. EDT at the Shuttle Landing Facility. It was the 21st night landing for a space shuttle and the 15th night landing at the Florida spaceport."

    Reader note: "We received this message this morning from our colleagues in Korelov. Vladimir Syromiatnikov was truly a pioneer in the Russian space program and in the joint American / Russian programs. He was the guiding force behind the Russian docking mechanisms for multiple decades of spaceflight and he was truly, truly and unique man."

    Worden Looks Ahead

    Keynote Speech by Dr. S. Pete Worden at AIAA Space 2006

    "Next month we will observe the 49th anniversary of the first Earth-orbiting satellite. But as much as we can take pride in the accomplishments of the past five decades, the dawn of the true space age lies ahead of us. Sooner than we may think people will be able to look up, and with the aid of a telescope see the glimmering lights of a research station on the lunar surface. At about this time astronauts will be readying spaceships for humans' first voyages to Mars and Near-earth Asteroids. This second giant leap for mankind begins now."

    Rocket Boy Blog

    Editor's note: "Rocket Boy's" Author Homer Hickam has added a new feature to his website. Check out his blog

    Blue Origin Gets a Permit

    Private Spaceport Wins Permit, MNSBC

    "Blue Origin, the secretive spaceship venture backed by founder Jeff Bezos, has won an experimental permit from the Federal Aviation Administration, opening the way for rocket tests to begin at the company's West Texas test site and spaceport-to-be."

    NASA Forms Partnership With Red Planet Capital, Inc.

    "NASA has joined with Red Planet Capital, Inc., San Mateo, Calif., in a partnership to help the agency gain access to new and innovative technologies through the venture capital community. Red Planet Capital is a nonprofit organization that will establish a strategic venture capital fund for NASA.."

    NASAs VC Arm Blasts Off, Red Herring

    "Nearly a year after the National Aeronautics and Space Administration announced its intention to launch into the venture capital market, Red Planet Capital lifted its cloaking shields Friday with partner announcements and a new web site, and acknowledged it was beginning to look at business plans."

    Expedition 14 Arrives at ISS

    Expedition 14 Arrives at International Space Station

    "The Soyuz TMA 9 spacecraft carrying the Expedition 14 crew docked with the station at 1:21 a.m. EDT Wednesday. Aboard are Anousheh Ansari - and Expedition 14 Commander Michael Lopez-Alegria and Flight Engineer Mikhail Tyurin who will replace Expedition 13 Commander Pavel Vinogradov and NASA Science Officer Jeff Williams."

    Atlantis Return Delayed

    Object Investigation, Weather Force NASA Managers to Wave Off Wednesday Landing for Space Shuttle

    "The Mission Control Center in Houston informed the STS-115 crew about 10:45 a.m. EDT that Wednesdays landing attempts have been waved off due to an unfavorable weather forecast, coupled with the possibility of additional inspections of Space Shuttle Atlantis. An object was observed by flight controllers using a TV camera on the shuttle in close proximity to the spacecraft. It was observed following standard tests of Atlantis reaction control system about 2:45 a.m. today. Flight controllers continue to analyze the situation and are concerned the item may be something that came off of Atlantis."

    Great Idea - Poor Execution

    Editor's note: Unless you happen to visit NASA's home page you would not know about "Looking for NASA's Greatest Fan". I don't see any mention on Wired's website. Nor is it mentioned on NASA's Breaking News page. No press release seems to have been issued - either by NASA or Wired.

    This is rather odd given that this contest - which seems to have appeared out of nowhere - has a rather short turn around: "It's not enough for the videos to be good; they also have to be submitted quickly. The contest opens at 8 a.m. ET on Monday, Sept. 18, 2006, and closes at midnight on Friday, Sept. 22, 2006. Only the first 1500 entries will be accepted." This contest should have been announced - widely - at least a month ago.

    Why go out of your way to limit visibility for such a contest, then put a short timeline together - and do so for something that takes some time to put together i.e. a video. Plus, this page is listed as being for "K-4 Educators." Unless there are a lot of skilled grammar school videographers who follow NASA, it would seem that this is a project for teachers. But wait, the NASA posting says "but then later in the body of the article is states "Entrants must be between the ages of 13 and 24." So why post this in a K-4 section? The idea is interesting, but the execution is lacking. (Once again) someone at PAO did not put their thinking cap on for this.

    Editor's update: Incorrect assumption on my part. This isn't a PAO activity. It was developed by Outreach in Space Operations. PAO actually recommended some changes in a way to get broader public interest but clearly those suggestions were not implemented. Again, let me be clear: this is a really great idea. And I hope NASA does more things like this. I just wish NASA could package these great ideas with great implementation plans.

    NASA HQ Internal Memo: John Rummel To Become Senior Scientist for Astrobiology at NASA SMD Planetary Sciences Division

    "Taking Carl [Pilcher's] place will be Dr. John D. Rummel. As Senior Scientist for Astrobiology in SMD's Planetary Sciences Division, John will have overall program management responsibility for the Astrobiology Program, including the NAI and other activities in astrobiology and exobiology research and analysis, astrobiology instruments development, and programs to test and validate the performance of such instruments in a variety of analog field environments considered "extreme" for life on Earth."

    Harmful chemical leaks in space station, AP

    "We don't exactly know the nature of the spill ... but the crew is doing well," said Mike Suffredini, NASA's space station program manager. "It's not a life-threatening material."

    "The crew first reported smoke but it turned out to be an irritant, potassium hydroxide, leaking from an oxygen vent, Suffredini said."

    Spacecraft Carrying Space Tourist Anousheh Ansari and ISS Expedition 14 Crew Leaves Earth

    "The International Space Station's next crew began the journey to its new home early Monday. The Soyuz rocket that carried Expedition 14 into space lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 12:09 a.m. EDT. Expedition 14 Commander Michael Lopez-Alegria and Flight Engineer Mikhail Tyurin are scheduled to arrive at the station at 1:24 a.m. Wednesday. Flying to the station with them will be American Anousheh Ansari, the first female spaceflight participant to visit the orbiting laboratory. She is flying under contract with the Russian Federal Space Agency."

    Asleep at the Keyboard at ESMD

    Editor's note: I know they don't like to hear this at ESMD, but have a look at Key Documents on the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate Activities on the ESMD website. It sure looks like it is all 2004 material. If you assume this website to be an accurate representation of ESMD's activities, I (and any other web visitor in America) would have to conclude that ESMD hasn't published anything of note since Mike Griffin arrived. C'mon folks, websites are not this hard to update. Trust me.

    Editor's note: As is usually the case with paying passengers heading for the ISS, there is some need to whip up some hoopla to promote the flight. Anousheh Ansari's flight is no different. Alas, some of the claims made by Space Adventures don't quite hold up to close scrutiny. Moreover these marketing ploys detract from the true value that could be realized from her flight.

    This Is Starting to Get Silly

    Space Fauxtography? Dr. Sanity

    "The Iranian news media has not made too much of the first Iranian woman scheduled to go into space, but there have been a number of reports about it and this Iranian space site has a number of pictures. So it is interesting to me that one of the photos has clearly been photoshopped from the original Energia site ..."

    First woman space explorer, Anousheh Ansari endorses "Kids To Space", Apogee Books

    Editor's note: Huh? now she's the "First woman space explorer"? Gee, I could swear there was a woman aboard the ISS just the other day ...

    Dazed and Confused in Hampton

    Other Voices: Forget Mars; let NASA focus on its mission, opinion

    "Try to imagine cramming men and women in a space vehicle for years, landing it, exploring the hostile Mars environment in bulky protective gear, cramming back into the capsule and launching for that long return trip! Most scientists could not endure this trip. The astronauts would not learn as much as scientists controlling robots."

    Editor's note: Gasp! Those fragile scientists! How could we ever think to send them into space! The author of this rant claims to have worked at NASA - and NACA before that. Given his overt hatred of human spaceflight he must have had a truly terrible time over the years. He must have been really upset when America did the impossible and landed humans on the moon - and eclipsing all of the previous surface robotic work in a single mission.

    Tribbles on ISS?

    Click on image to enlarge

    NASA STS-115/12A FD 08 Execute Package Page 38 of 42:

    On Mesh Bag (EMU Systems) column, add if not already transferred to Shuttle: Return List Item 710: EMU TV (ERCA) Camera ID 17 (sn1011)

    3) Finally, just a reminder that all 5 EVA Mesh Bags are to be returned (yes, the bags themselves, as well as the items in them). Apparently, Mesh Bags are like "Tribbles" and have been multiplying on-board the Space Station.

    Space Tourist Update

    Religion in Space, MSNBC

    "Religion can be a pretty touchy subject nowadays, and Iranian-American relations are another sore point. So as Anousheh Ansari prepares to become the first Iranian-born Muslim woman to travel to the international space station, there are a lot of political pitfalls to be avoided. At the same time, there are a lot of opportunities for inspiring young people, particularly in Iran. So far, Ansari is doing a good job on pitfall avoidance as well as international inspiration."

    Local space tourist's Iran patch spurs dispute, WFAA

    "However, both men said Anousheh is disappointed that both NASA and Russian officials not only forbid her to wear the Iranian patch, but also argued they want her to cover up the Iranian colors on her personal patch that displays the American colors as well."

    NASA focus should be on moon base, not wasteful ISS, USA Today

    "A lot of people think going to Mars is the best next step. But it's not. It would certainly be cool, and even inspiring, but once we came back, then what? What would it lead to? In contrast, the moon makes a lot more sense. It's close and easy to get to and we've done it before. We can attempt a base there, and if something goes wrong we'd have some chance of bringing our people home. Unlike a space stations, the moon is stable there's no danger of it leaving its orbit, and if we really can extract oxygen and other elements from the rock, that could make it the most viable long-term location for an outpost."

    Editor's note: This has to be one of the most tchnically uninformed, intellectually garbled opinion pieces I have seen in a long time.

    Letter from NASA Administrator Griffin to Rep. Wolf Regarding Workforce Issues

    Letter from NASA AA for Legislative Affairs Chase to Rep. Kucinich Regarding Workforce Issues

    Talking Points: Full Cost Management and Overhead Simplification, NASA HQ

    "While it appears that the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD) will take a significant hit as a result of this accounting change, the overhead simplification structure is a good thing for ARMD. ARMD will still have the same direct buying power. ARMD will not lose research dollars. But the change will free ARMD from the fiscal responsibility of having to carry the majority of overhead costs for the four research Centers."

    ULA Update

    Boeing-Lockheed rocket plan headed to vote: source, Reuters

    "The Pentagon has reiterated its support for merging the government rocket launch businesses of Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co., and antitrust authorities are likely to vote in two to three weeks on the plan, a source familiar with the matter said on Friday."

    ISS Construction Continues

    Spacewalkers Press Ahead; Controllers Deploy Radiator

    "Astronauts Joe Tanner and Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper are rolling through STS-115's third spacewalk. They are performing a wide-range of activities during the excursion, which is slated to wrap up about 12:20 p.m. EDT."

  • NASA STS-115 MCC Status Report #12
  • NASA STS-115 MCC Status Report #11
  • NASA STS-115/12A FD 06 Execute Package

  • JSC Chicken Ranch Update

    JSC now home to rare chicken, Bay Area Citizen

    "The Johnson Space Center has been a second home for Texas' best and brightest for decades and now it's also home to Texas' rarest chicken, thanks to a new partnership with the Houston Zoo."

  • JSC's Chicken Farm - the Future of NASA Education?, earlier post
  • Dwarf Planet Family Update

    Editor's note: This t-shirt concept has been making the rounds in the planetary science community. Click on image to enlarge.

    IAU names dwarf planet Eris

    "The International Astronomical Union announces the names (136199) Eris for the dwarf planet provisionally named 2003 UB313 and Dysnomia for its moon."

    IAU Numbers Pluto as an Asteroid, Renames Xena and Gabrielle

    "Following the Aug. 24 resolution by the IAU to the effect that the solar system contains eight "planets" (Mercury- Neptune), with (1) Ceres, Pluto (cf. IAUC 255), and 2003 UB313 (cf. IAUC 8577) to be considered representative "dwarf planets"..."

    NASA Advisory Council Meeting, 12 October 2006

    "All U.S. citizens desiring to attend the NASA Advisory Council Meeting at the Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) must provide their full name, company affiliation (if applicable), place of birth, and date of birth to the GSFC Security Office no later than the close of business on October 4, 2006."

    Science and NASA - Speech by NASA Administrator Michael Griffin

    "It is simply a fact that the NAC subcommittee meetings are open to, and heavily attended by, NASA managers and key staff. Anyone who attends is instantly privy to all advice and discussion that is aired, or which is working its way through the system. An obviously good idea can be adopted by a NASA manager without waiting for a formal recommendation. The public including the media is present for final Council deliberation and action. There is no "dilution" of advice whatsoever."

    Editor's note: U.S. citizens are supposed to be able to attend these meetings simply by walking in on the day of the event. They are not required, by FACA regulations to provide advance notice of their intent to attend. NASA is now instituting new security requirements which can only serve to make access to this FACA meeting more difficult - and thus making the "advice" that this committee gives to the Administrator more difficult to hear. For all practical purposes any taxpayer showing up at GSFC on the day of this meeting would be denied access - even though the NAC has not declared this to be a "closed" meeting per FACA regs.

    Editor's 15 Sep update: Meanwhile the FAA seems to have found a way to hold the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (also a FACA committee) in their DC headquarters without requiring a week's advance notice by U.S. citizens.

    Extrasolar Planet Announcements

    Strange New Planet Baffles Astronomers

    "Using a network of small automated telescopes, astronomers have discovered a planet unlike any other known world. This new planet, designated HAT-P-1, orbits one member of a pair of distant stars 450 light-years away in the constellation Lacerta."

    Astronomers Reveal First Alien I.D. Chart

    "It is only a matter of time before astronomers find an Earth-sized planet orbiting a distant star. When they do, the first questions people will ask are: Is it habitable? And even more importantly, is there life present on it already?"

    Editor's note: This is pretty amazing stuff - yet NASA doesn't seem to want to tell anyone. Indeed, according to these two press reelases "Major funding for HATnet was provided by NASA" and "This research was funded by NASA." Yet these is nothing on SMD's home page or this "Breaking News" page at SMD or, for that matter, on NASA's general Breaking News page as of 11:09 am EDT. And the press event was held several blocks down the street from NASA HQ.

    Editor's 15 Sep update: 24 hours after the news was released, SMD finally posted a link on its "Breaking News" page to a story on ARC's Astrobiology Magazine website which is based on only one of the press releases issued yesterday - but not the other. How odd. Why not just link to the original press releases, or, since the research was funded by NASA, simply reissue the press releases - as has been done in the past? It certainly seems like SMD is not very motivated ot tell people what it is doing.

    Hubble Hardware Damaged

    New Hubble Space Telescope Hardware Damaged On The Ground, SpaceRef

    "According to NASA sources, last Thursday, an eye bolt supporting a lifting rig failed while off-loading the Wide-field Scientific Instrument Protective Enclosure (WSIPE) dropping the rig onto the WSIPE."

    IAU Numbers Pluto as an Asteroid, Renames Xena and Gabrielle

    "Following the Aug. 24 resolution by the IAU to the effect that the solar system contains eight "planets" .. the Minor Planet Center included Pluto and 2003 UB313 (along with two other new potential dwarf-planet candidates) in the standard catalogue of numbered objects with well-determined orbits as (134340) and (136199), respectively (see MPC 57525). Following near-unanimous acceptance by both the Committee on Small-Body Nomenclature and the Working Group on Planetary-System Nomenclature (in consultation with the discovery team), the IAU Executive Committee has now approved the names Eris for (136199) and Dysnomia for its satellite (136199) Eris I [formerly S/2005 (2003 UB313) 1; cf. IAUC 8610]."

    NASA Desert Rats Live webcams Online From Meteor Crater

    "Two webcams are active (approximately) from 11:00am to 10:00pm EDT. The Desert RATS is a NASA-led team of research partners working together to prepare for human-robotic exploration."

    Editor's note: There will be a live webcast on Thursday, September 14, 2006: 2:00 pm-3:00 pm EDT (not listed on ESMD's calendar)

  • Desert Research and Technology Studies (RATS) - Teams and Team members
  • Desert Research and Technology Studies (RATS) Webcast
  • Editor's 13 Sep update: NASA HQ PAO tells me that the points made here (see below) are valid and that they are looking at a redesign of the ESMD website. This is, of course, good news - but what baffles me is how such a simple task as putting a single link on a website is so very difficult for NASA to do. This ain't rocket science - its just HTML. Why one person (me) can do this - yet NASA with all of its resources can't - is even more baffling.

    NASA tests Linux-based planetary surface exploration robots, Linux News

    Walt Anderson pleads guilty

    US businessman faces 10 years in prison for $210 million tax fraud, Finfacts

    "US telecommunications entrepreneur, Walter Anderson, pleaded guilty to tax evasion and fraud Friday in relation to what authorities said was the nations largest-ever criminal tax case. ... He is also a director of MirCorp, which was originally formed to privatize the MIR space station. MirCorp arranged for the first space 'tourist', Dennis Tito, to visit the International Space Station (ISS)."

    Zero-G gives rise to a "teachable moment", MSNBC

    "Over the weekend, about 40 teachers (and a few journalists) from throughout the country converged on Cleveland's Hopkins International Airport for two zero-gravity parabolic flights, with the serious purpose of inspiring kids to study math and science. But I have to admit, we didn't look very serious while we were doing it. In fact, a lot of the teachers (and a few journalists) seemed more like kids bouncing off the walls of a flying playground."

    Editor's note: This story includes a video where Alan Boyle bench presses me over his head in lunar gravity. I expect to have my story online in a day or so.

    Boehlert: NASA will try to shorten gap between manned space programs, AP

    "The chairman of the House science committee says he expects NASA will be able to reduce the projected gap between the final space shuttle mission and the first flight of the next-generation Orion space exploration vehicle."

    Science and NASA - Speech by NASA Administrator Michael Griffin

    "Orion will not be operational until FY14, the last year allowed by Presidential policy guidance. It had been hoped by many in NASA, the White House, and Congress that we could deploy Orion as early as 2012."

    Science and NASA - Speech by NASA Administrator Michael Griffin

    "So now lets move on to "respect". Once the Vision for Space Exploration was announced, the science community immediately said, as if with once voice, "Robotic science is exploration too!" Besides, 'exploration without science is tourism'! No more 'flags and footprints'!" ... I'm sure you've heard all of this and more. Since the science community had never previously characterized their work in terms of "exploration", many observers concluded that the theme underlying these view was, more cynically, "Don't cut our budget to pay for human spaceflight!"

    Exploring the Possibilities: Earth and Space Science Missions in the Context of Exploration, IEEE

    "According to Dr. Edward J. Weiler, Director of the Goddard Space Flight Center, 'Exploration without science is tourism".

    Editor's note: Mike, it is curious how you use one of your Center Director's long standing favorite quotes in a way that makes that Center Director look like he is now part of the problem...

    Reader note: "Robotic science isn't exploration? It seems to me that one of the most successful lines of robotic missions being squeezed by the current budget situation is the EXPLORER line. And oh, by the way, wasn't it EXPLORER 1 which provided the US it's first venture into space?"

    Reader note: "Hi Keith: Checking the National Academy of Sciences website, the word "exploration" was first used in the title of a Space Science Board Report in [wait for it...] 1964:

    "Biology and the Exploration of Mars Summary and Conclusions of a Study by the Space Science Board"

    At least 3 SSB reports in the 1960's used "Exploration" in their title. So much for the Administrator's assertion that "Since the science community had never previously characterized their work in terms of "exploration"..."

    Final Memorandum on NASA's Acquisition Approach Regarding Requirements for Certain Engineering Software Tools to Support NASA Programs, NASA OIG

    IG questions NASA procurement,

    "A NASA inspector general has determined that agency officials are attempting to noncompetitively renew a software vendor's licenses on a long-term basis, despite previous protests regarding the acquisition and NASA's promise to issue a new competitive solicitation."

    JSC is Part of Monopoly

    Editor's note: Looks like Hasbro picked JSC as one of the places to rent property in its new version of the classic board game "Monopoly".

    Click here or on image to enlarge.

    NASA Names Parsons New Kennedy Space Center Director

    "NASA Administrator Michael Griffin today named William (Bill) W. Parsons the new director of the agency's Kennedy Space Center, Fla., effective in January 2007. Parsons succeeds James W. Kennedy, who is retiring."

    Space Tourist Update

    Anousheh Ansari's official website

    Anousheh Ansari's Blog, X Prize Foundation

    "This is the first blog I have ever written. Im usually a private person, but with what has happened in my life, I feel an obligation to share this experience with everyone out there."

  • What Will Anousheh Ansari Say About Iran - From Orbit?, earlier post
  • Welcome to the Fall 2006 NASA Quest Challenge!, NASA ARC

    "This challenge is brought to you by the NASA Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD). In order to prepare for exploration on the Moon and Mars, NASA utilizes sites on Earth to simulate living and working on extra-terrestrial surfaces. Students, primarily in grades 5 8, will be challenged to design and build a full- or scale-model of an Earth-based research station that will support living adaptively and working efficiently on the Moon."

    Editor's note: I got an alert email about this tonight. Does ESMD link to this? No. Does NASA's Education Office? No. Yet this is a national program for students - and ESMD is paying for it. Go figure.

    Robonaut Joins the NASA Desert Rats at Meteor Crater

    "Throughout the day, SCOUT tested fully autonomous operations of the thumper payload. This integration between the Planetary Exploration Geophone System (PEGS) H/W, SCOUTs onboard systems and Mobile Agents allows for the autonomous acquisition of seismic data. In the past, a person would have to very precisely manually drive to a certain location, another person would manually operate the thumper, and then another person would have to prepare and coordinate the movement to the next thump location."

    Radiation Research

    Boston University awarded $42.5 million from NASA to study space radiation

    "Boston University today announced it has received an eight-year, $42.5 million contract from NASA to study Earth's radiation belts, a region which can be dangerous to astronauts and orbiting satellites."

    NASA Selects 12 Research Proposals in Radiation Biology

    "NASA will fund a dozen new research proposals to better understand and reduce the risks that crews of future moon and Mars missions could face from space radiation. The total potential value of the selected proposals is approximately $14 million."

  • Another Reason Why ISS Is Important For Exploration
  • Bob Zubrin Steps In It Again
  • From Petition for IMMEDIATE REVERSAL of decision to demote Pluto to "Dwarf Planet" by the International Astronomical Union (IAU)

    "Some things are immutable and we thought that there will always be four seasons, seven Dwarfs, four Beatles, three Stooges and nine planets .... We, the signatories herein, comprising of concerned citizens of the world strongly object to the decision and seek the IMMEDIATE REVERSAL of the Result of the IAU Resolution votes to demote Pluto from a planet to a "dwarf planet".

    Big Changes Ahead at SMD

    Editor's 11 Sep 2006 update: I just got a call from NASA PAO relaying a message from Colleen Hartman to the effect that she is "not leaving NASA". Given the broad range and location of people who have been circulating the news (from within SMD among other places) that she is leaving (please note my phrasing below i.e. "multiple sources report") beginning the middle of last week, I might suggest that a means other than NASA Watch be used to let SMD employees know what is going on within the Division - before things make their way onto NASA Watch.

    Editor's 11 Sep 2006 note: Multiple sources report that Colleen Hartman, Mary Cleave's Deputy will be leaving NASA - most likely to return to NOAA where she used to work. As such, the search will be on for new top management for SMD.

    Editor's 5 Sep 2006 note: SMD AA Mary Cleave told her staff in an SMD-wide email today that she will be leaving NASA next Spring. Her (short) note said:

    "Dear colleagues in SMD

    I just wanted to let you know that I am planning on retiring this Spring. We want to ensure that there is adequate time to find a replacement and have a good hand over period. It has been an honor and privilege to work in the federal service with you, mary"

    Weightless Over Cleveland

    Northrop Grumman's Weightless Teacher Flights Touch Down in Cleveland

    "For more than 40 distinguished elementary and secondary school teachers from the Cleveland area and six Midwestern states who participated in Northrop Grumman Corporation's Weightless Flights of Discovery program this weekend, the concept of "floating" new ideas past their students will never be the same."

    Editor's note: I had a chance to ride along on one of these flights on Saturday - just as Atlantis was leaving Earth. We beat them into microgravity by a few minutes! In a nutshell, the experience is utterly amazing - and Zero Gravity Corp. provides a marvelous experience. I will have a report online in the next day or so. Also, look for reports on MSNBC, in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and on Cleveland's Channel 3 (tonight).

    This is the flight path we took.

  • Weightless Flights of Discovery, AOL
  • Photo of the Day, Cleveland Plain Dealer
  • Intellectual heavyweights lighten up a little, Cleveland Plain Dealer
  • Teachers To Get Zero-G Flight, Times Union
  • A.L. teacher to try weightlessness, Alberta Lee Tribune
  • Editor's note: In this clip - which covers one entire period of zero G exposure, former MSFC Center Director (and now Northrop Grumman VP) Art Stephenson teaches MSNBC's Alan Boyle how to catch an M&M. Alternating with zero G are 1.8G periods when you are advised to lie flat, not move your head, and look at a point on the ceiling. The woman who can be heard shouting instructions (suggestions) is Sophia Kim, our excellent coach from Northrop Grumman. Shortly after I shot Art feeding Alan someone bumped me and I went into a spin and managed to get to the deck just as 1.8 G reappeared. I managed to point my video camera at myself for a few seconds before it was time to hit the deck again on a later loop.

    Shuttle Launches

    Space Shuttle Atlantis Launches Beginning an 11 Day Mission, SpaceRef

    "The space shuttle finally launched today on it's 11 day mission to the space station. During the mission the crew will continue building the space station adding the P3/P4 integrated truss and a second set of solar arrays on the space station."

    NASA's Shuttle Atlantis Begins Mission to the Space Station, NASA

    "It's been almost four years, two Return to Flight missions, a tremendous amount of work by thousands of individuals to get the shuttle program back to where we are right now and that's on the verge of restarting the station assembly sequence," said Atlantis' Commander Brent Jett. "We're confident over the next few weeks, and few years for that matter, that NASA's going to prove to our nation, to our partners and our friends around the world that it was worth the wait and the sacrifice. We're ready to get to work."

    The Impact of Shuttle Delays

    Shuttle schedule besieged by delays, Nature

    "The continuing delays highlight the problems facing the race to finish the ISS before the shuttle is retired in 2010. "The station is done. It's in plastic bags at the Kennedy Space Center," says Keith Cowing, a former space-station programme manager and editor of NASA Watch. The problem is trying to cram the last 16 missions needed to get those parts into space into tightly constrained windows that meet ISS needs, stringent new safety requirements, and Russian schedules. "It's a ballet," Cowing says. "Welcome to the new way of launching the space shuttle."

    Editor's Update: Today's launch has been scrubbed 24 hours to allow engineers to troubleshoot the engine cutoff sensor issue.

    Engine cutoff sensor options debated, SpaceflightNow

    "NASA managers are mulling two options for dealing with the failure of a hydrogen fuel level sensor in the shuttle Atlantis' external tank: Flying as is today or standing down for 24 hours for additional troubleshooting."

    CEV Decision Document Ranks LM Ahead In Mission Suitability, Cost, Past Performance, Aerospace Daily & Defense

    "A source selection document explaining NASA's rationale for choosing Lockheed Martin to build the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) says the aerospace giant bested rival Northrop Grumman/Boeing's bid in the areas of mission suitability, cost, and past performance."

    Editor's note: According to Wayne Hale the issues concerning Fuel Cell #1 have been resolved, no repairs are required, and NASA will be pushing ahead for a launch attempt Friday morning at 11:41 am EDT.

    Atlantis' fuel cell cleared for Friday launch try, SpaceflightNow

    "[Wayne] Hale said the fuel cell problem never violated NASA's safety guidelines and that Atlantis could have been launched, by the book, without any additional debate."

    NASA to try shuttle launch on Friday, USA Today

    "Space shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to lift off Friday at 11:41 a.m. ET despite the opposition of NASA safety officials and the manufacturer of a shuttle component that has been behaving abnormally."

    Captain Kirk Wimps Out

    Captain Kirk reveals he won't go boldly into space

    "The 75-year-old actor said: "I'm interested in man's march into the unknown but to vomit in space is not my idea of a good time. Neither is a fiery crash with the vomit hovering over me."

    Editor's note: Bill Adkins is leaving his position as Staff Director ofthe House Science Committee's Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics. Bill's new consulting firm, Adkins Strategies, LLC has a website - but it is still under construction.

    Pluto Rocks: Canadian Indie Band Records Song to Save Pluto

    "SubPlot A decided to misdirect their end-of-summer angst into recording a protest song in four days which, if traveling at the speed of sound from a car stereo, will reach Pluto in 411 years. ...

    A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the song will go toward the cause."

  • Visit and click on "songs" to play.
  • City of Madison, Wisconsin: Proclaiming Pluto as Madison's ninth planet

    "WHEREAS, while UB313 has been nicknamed Xena after a noted television character very popular with the lesbian and gay community, the IAU has resisted making this name official, again suggesting a level of intolerance; and

    WHEREAS, "plutocracy" means the reign of wealth or the wealthy; and

    WHEREAS, the Mayor has expressed concerns that, should this resolution pass, Madison might be perceived as a plutocracy; ..."

    Earth-like Planets May Be More Common Than Once Thought, University of Colorado at Boulder

    "More than one-third of the giant planet systems recently detected outside Earth's solar system may harbor Earth-like planets, many covered in deep oceans with potential for life, according to a new study led by the University of Colorado at Boulder and Pennsylvania State University. ... The new research effort may allow planet hunters to determine "rough limits" indicating where to search for habitable planets in known systems of giant planets, according to the team, whose research was funded by NASA's Astrobiology Institute headquartered at the NASA Ames Research Center."

    Editor's note: And NASA's response to exciting astrobiology discoveries such as this? Why, they continue to cut astrobiology funding, of course.

    Reader note: "Maybe we can do earth science in NASA as long as its not on our own Earth..."

    Lockheed Martin Announces Sale of Its Interests in International Launch Services and LKEI

    "Lockheed Martin announced today the proposed sale of its ownership interests in Lockheed Khrunichev Energia International, Inc. (LKEI) and ILS International Launch Services, Inc. (ILS) to Space Transport Inc. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed."

    California Assembly Bill HR 36 Relative to Pluto's planetary status

    "WHEREAS, Recent astronomical discoveries, including Pluto's oblong orbit and the sighting of a slightly larger Kuiper Belt object, have led astronomers to question the planetary status of Pluto; and ...

    WHEREAS, The mean-spirited International Astronomical Union decided on August 24, 2006, to disrespect Pluto by stripping Pluto of its planetary status and reclassifying it as a lowly dwarf planet; and ...

    WHEREAS, Pluto, named after the Roman God of the underworld and affectionately sharing the name of California's most famous animated dog, has a special connection to California history and culture; and ...

    WHEREAS, Downgrading Pluto's status will cause psychological harm to some Californians who question their place in the universe and worry about the instability of universal constants; and ..."

    NASA Delays Shuttle Launch Another 24 Hours Due to Fuel Cell Concerns

    "At a 6 p.m. briefing on Wednesday, NASA's STS-115 Mission Management Team announced that because of the fuel cell anomaly it would be prudent to spend another 24 hours to research the issue. The management team will meet again at 1 p.m. on Thursday to assess the data gathered about the fuel cell issue and decide whether the launch will take place on Friday."

    Atlantis launch slips to Friday at the earliest, SpaceflightNow

    "The decision came at the end of a long day of troubleshooting, engineering analysis and discussion in which LeRoy Cain, chairman of NASA's Mission Management Team, recommended proceeding with a launch try Thursday. Shuttle Program Manager Wayne Hale and other senior agency officials disagreed and decided to err on the side of caution, ordering an additional 24-hour stand down."

    Reader note: "Dale (Butch) Caffall will be the next IV&V Facility Director. The effective date is September 17th."

    Pluto Demotion Update

    NASA New Horizons Mission: The PI's Perspective: Unabashedly Onward to the Ninth Planet

    "So on this Web site and in documents, discussions and other aspects of the New Horizons mission, we will continue to refer to Pluto as the ninth planet. I think most of you will agree with that decision and cheer us on."

    FAA/DOT: Finding of No Significant Impact: Blue Origin, LLC

    "... the FAA, Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) has determined that issuing the experimental permits and/or licenses analyzed in the EA to Blue Origin would not significantly affect the quality of the human environment within the meaning of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Therefore the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is not required and AST is issuing a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI)."

    NASA KSC Sole Source: Delft University Spacetech Program - Master of Space Systems Engineering Training

    "NASA/KSC has a requirement for Sole Source, TU Delft University of Technology, Spacetech Program-Master of Space Systems Engineering Course for one student beginning September 11, 2006. ...
    1. Master of Space Systems Engineering Training; One Student; Five (5) Two-Week Sessions beginning September 11, 2006 and extending through June 29, 2007.

    Editor's note: I have posted multiple rants about NASA's shortsighted cuts to education. But I find it odd that KSC would want to send someone to a foreign university - using a sole source procurement mechanism - when Mike Griffin has expressed a lack of interest in funding education. How does one apply for such program? And why can't this requirement be met by an American school - or is it that we don't teach this sort of stuff in the U.S. any more?

    Stuck on the D-list

    Sen. Hutchison to Deliver Remarks at Reception Honoring Space Shuttle Discovery Crew

    "On Wednesday, September 6 at 6:00 PM (EST), Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Science and Space, will deliver remarks at a reception honoring the crew of the STS-121 Space Shuttle Discovery mission."

    Editor's note: It always strikes me as a little odd to see such press releases issued for events like this by public servants since taxpayers regular folks can't usually get into these quasi-exclusive receptions and mingle with lawmakers and their staff. Your name has to be on a carefully guarded list before you can enter. Last year USA was nice enough to invite me to an identical reception they were sponsoring (with several other companies) - in the exact same location. Alas, one of Rep. Dave Weldon's staffers was upset to see me there and started asking the sponsors how I got in - and expressing annoyance that I was there. As such I doubt I will be invited to receptions like this again any time soon. This posting will all but ensure that!

    Oh well - DC traffic is awful at this time of day - and its hard to have a conversation in these receptions with all of the aerospace executives' grand children running around screaming.

    Official Statement From the Coalition for Space Exploration Regarding NASA's Crew Exploration Vehicle Program Announcement

    "The Coalition for Space Exploration enthusiastically congratulates NASA and the entire Orion Team for this important step in moving the Vision for Space Exploration forward."

    Editor's note: Blah Blah Blah. Will someone please explain to me just what it is the Coalition for Space Exploration does with the hundreds of thousands of dollars it collects from various NASA contractors every year? Most of their website does not seem to have been updated for more than a year. Their "accomplishments" page is all about things they did in 2004. The page for Congressional folks to check stops with FY 2006 info. Alas, NASA is fighting FY 2007 budget issues and is preparing for FY 2008. It seems that their specialty is issuing press releases about what NASA has done - after NASA has done it. Before this release, the most recent release the Coalition lists is from February 2006.

    But there is hope: they do have a VSE coloring book. But wait - it is out of date too.

    Reader note: "The CSE website isn't the only thing out of date. That poor coloring book needs updating as well. Their definition of "planet" is out of alignment with recent IAU terminology (see this page)."

    Editor's note: According to this coloring book the CEV "turns around as it travels in space, which makes artificial gravity. Artificial gravity is healther for the astronauts." Wow, its amazing what you can learn by reading children's books!

    Pluto Demotion Update

    Statement from NMSU Astronomy Department head regarding reclassification of Pluto, New Mexico State University

    Pluto supporters to IAU: The debate's not over, New Mexico State University

    "Friends and colleagues of the late Clyde Tombaugh, discoverer of Pluto, had this to say Friday about the International Astronomical Union's decision to reclassify Pluto as a "dwarf planet": Don't rewrite the textbooks yet."

    SPACEHAB Reports Financial Results for Fiscal Year 2006

    "SPACEHAB, Incorporated , a leading provider of commercial space services, today announced financial results for its fourth quarter and fiscal year 2006 ended June 30, 2006. Fourth Quarter Results - SPACEHAB posted a fourth quarter fiscal 2006 net income of $48,000, or $0.00 per share, on revenue of $14.6 million compared with a fourth quarter fiscal 2005 net income of $0.1 million, or $0.01 per share, on revenue of $19.0 million. ... Year End Results - SPACEHAB's net loss for fiscal 2006 was $12.4 million, or $0.97 per share, on revenue of $50.7 million compared to a net income of $5.2 million, or $0.37 per share, on revenue of $59.4 million.

    Space Science Cut Update

    Tumult Among NASA Advisers, opinion, NY Times

    "What the public needs from all this is some assurance that once the passions have subsided, Mr. Griffin will look closely at whether he is losing anything valuable through his streamlining of the advisory structure. And the scientific community will scout around for alternate means to make its voice heard if it feels cut out at NASA."

    SMART-1 Crashes Into The Moon

    Impact landing ends SMART-1 mission to the Moon

    "Early this morning, a small flash illuminated the surface of the Moon as the European Space Agency's SMART-1 spacecraft impacted onto the lunar soil, in the 'Lake of Excellence' region."

    SMART-1 impact update

    "Scientists have received and are analysing the final data gathered by SMART-1 on 2 September, prior to today's Moon impact. This update presents several of the images received, as well as additional images and information from the worldwide ground observation campaign."

  • Observation of the Impact of Smart-1 (impace images), Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope / 2006
  • More Moon News at MoonToday
  • NASA Management Astronauts Announce Changes, Retirement

    "Veteran astronauts and Flight Crew Operations Directorate managers Ken Bowersox and Kent Rominger have announced intentions to depart from NASA."

    Recent NASA OIG Reports

    CEV NEPA Assessment

    National Environmental Policy Act: Development of the Crew Exploration Vehicle

    "Alternatives considered but not evaluated further included extending Space Shuttle service and weighing different CEV concepts. Refurbishing the Space Shuttle for long-term cargo delivery and human access to the International Space Station was considered impractical. Major modifications to the Shuttle's design to improve crew safety significantly (e.g., a crew escape system) cannot be implemented easily. Moreover, the Shuttle was not designed to withstand the Earth re-entry speeds of a Lunar mission. If flights were to be extended beyond the planned retirement in 2010, the fleet would require recertification, a costly and lengthy process. Moreover, the President has decided to curtail Shuttle operations after 2010."

    Planetary Scientists and Astronomers Oppose New Planet Definition, Planetary Science Institute

    "This petition gives substantial weight to argument that the IAU definition of planet does not meet fundamental scientific standards and should be set aside," states petition organizer Dr. Mark Sykes, Director of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona. "A more open process, involving a broader cross section of the community engaged in planetary studies of our own solar system and others should be undertaken."

    Pluto: Underworld Character Kicked Out of Planetary Family, Science

    "The decision, made here at the closing session of the IAU's triennial meeting,* reclassifies Pluto as a "dwarf planet"--but not a planet. That is "patently incorrect," says astronomer and Pluto buff Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, who heads the New Horizons mission that set off last January to explore the tiny ex-planet in 2015. "If the IAU wants to proclaim that the sky is green, that doesn't make it so."

    DPS Statement on the adoption of the definition of a planet by the International Astronomical Union

    "Ultimately, the definition of a planet will come through common usage and scientific utility. There is no need to throw away current school texts; Pluto has not gone away. We will continue to explore Pluto and the other objects orbiting beyond Neptune with telescopic observations and spacecraft missions to obtain a fundamental understanding of their place in our solar system."

    DOT: Miscellaneous Changes to Commercial Space Transportation Regulations; Final Rule

    "The Commercial Space Act of 1998 (Pub. L. 105-303) modified section 70105(b)(3) of the Commercial Space Launch Act to allow the Associate Administrator to waive the requirement to obtain a license for an individual applicant. The Associate Administrator must determine that the waiver is in the public interest and will not jeopardize the public health and safety, the safety of property, or any national security or foreign policy interest of the United States. We are amending our regulations to reflect this authority."



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