April 2007 Archives

NRO Launch Info

Ocean Recons Readied - NRO readies sea surveillance flight, optical satellite procurement, Aviation Week and Space Technology

"Secret National Reconnaissance Office dual satellite ocean surveillance mission to track potential terrorist movements at sea and Chinese and Iranian ship tactics is being readied for liftoff June 14 here on an Atlas V, say intelligence sources. The National Ocean Surveillance System (NOSS) flight is designated NRO L-30. "We're on track for a mid-June launch of the Atlas V," says Lt. Col. Kent Nickle, director of operations for the 5th Space Launch Sqdn. of the 45th Space Wing here. He did not address the secret ocean surveillance payloads, however."

Hawking Experiences Microgravity: "Noted wheelchair-bound physicist Stephen Hawking proceeds to the Zero Gravity Corp. airplane for his first flight in microgravity. Zero-G founder Peter Diamondis, left, and a caregiver joined Hawking on the flight that took off from the same runway the space shuttles land on at Kennedy Space Center. Hawking suffers amyotrophic lateral sclerosis disease which has cost him also all of his neuromuscular control. He said he wanted to make the flight because it is as close as he can come to going into space right now. The flight was made aboard a modified Boeing 727 that flies steep parabollic arcs between 24,000 feet and 32,000 feet, inducing about 25 seconds of free-fall at a time. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett"

More photos here

Star Trek's Scotty, NASA's Cooper in space, AP

"The cremated remains of actor James Doohan, who portrayed "Scotty" of the Star Trek starship Enterprise, and Gemini astronaut Gordon Cooper sailed into suborbital space this morning aboard a rocket launched from the southern New Mexico desert. It marked the first successful launch from Spaceport America, a commercial spaceport being developed in Upham, N.M."


Editor's note: Over the past few days there has been a lot of heavy breathing and arm waving on various space discussion and space collectible websites about comments that former (and therefore out of the loop) astronaut John Young supposedly made that the Orion/Ares 1 projects were doomed and/or other rumors that Mike Griffin was going to be replaced. This is just pure Internet-hyped goofery with no basis whatsoever in fact or reality. So, would all of you who are engaging in this pointless exercise please, just sit down, and shut up.

Hawking In Flight Video

Editor's note: ZeroGravity Corp. Has released some video highlights of Professor Hawking's flight yesterday .... video below. If you look closely you will see that Hawking's name badge is upside down while is he is floating. That is a ZeroG tradition. Only once you have experienced weightlessness do you get to have your badge turned right side up - which is usually done with some fanfare and applause.

NASA Science Statement on Stephen Hawking's Zero Gravity Flight

"The following is a statement from Alan Stern, NASA associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at Headquarters in Washington, regarding renowned physicist Stephen Hawking's flight aboard Zero Gravity Corporation's Boeing 727. ... "Space is as much a place for scientists, I believe, as the arctic, Antarctic, and the deep ocean. And Dr. Hawking is showing the way."

Editor's note: Professor Hawking's flight yesterday has already spawned a cartoon spoof. Hawking is no stranger to making appearances with high comedic content either .... videos below.

IG Investigation Update

NASA Chief Improperly Destroyed Tapes of Meeting, Lawmaker Says, Washington Post

"NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin held an unusual meeting with the staff of the inspector general who oversees his agency and then ordered that video recordings of the meeting be destroyed, a House panel said yesterday."

NASA's Centennial Challenge for Improved Astronaut Gloves Set

"NASA is offering a total of $200,000 for the team that can design and manufacture the best astronaut glove that exceeds minimum requirements. An additional $50,000 goes to the team that best demonstrates Mechanical Counter Pressure gloves."

NASA Astronaut Tore Spacesuit During Mission, KUTV

"Bob Curbeam was part of the Space Shuttle Discovery crew that flew to the space station in December. According to NASA, during one of the spacewalks, he accidentally tore his glove while doing some hand-intensive activities outside of the space station."

NASA GRC Solicitation: Microgravity Aircraft Services - RFP Release

"NASA/GRC plans to issue has issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the following Commercial item/services: Operation of an aircraft in support of microgravity research. Contractor will be required to manage and operate their own aircraft which performs microgravity flights that meet NASA performance requirements while carrying NASA operated experiments."

Making Commercialization More Difficult - Instead of Easier - at NASA, earlier post

Editor's note: The more I read the documents associated with this draft solicitation, the more convinced I am that the NASA civil servants who wrote this procurement are going out of their way to make it hard - if not impossible for a private contractor to meet these requirements. In so doing they serve to safeguard NASA's current monopoly. It is no secret that the folks at JSC see the operation of their reduced gravity airplane as a God-given right (or at least one handed down by George Abbey) - one they will not easily give up.

Editor's note: I just received this from ZeroG:

"For Peter, and everyone who helped us into Zero G: I just wanted to thank you again for the fantastic experience we all had while flying in Zero G. Just as you said, I have seen nothing but smiles all day. When Stephen saw the news video on your laptop, over dinner after the Zero G flight, this is what he said:

"After 40 years of disinterest, space travel is finally coming back into the news."

May this wonderful trend continue! Thanks, regards and have fun, Sam Blackburn"

Professor Stephen Hawking Experiences the Freedom of Weightlessness During Historic Zero-Gravity Flight Out of Kennedy Space Center

"It was amazing. The zero-g part was wonderful," said Professor Stephen Hawking. "I could have gone on and on space here I come!" Hawking added, "I recommend the experience to everyone and I hope that many will follow me and experience weightlessness. There are a few people and organizations I would like to thank. First I'd like to thank Zero Gravity Corporation, The Shaper Image and Peter Diamandis for arranging this for me. Second, I'd like to thank Space Florida and the NASA Kennedy Space Center for being my host. The Space Shuttle Landing Facility is the first step to the moon and Mars. It is very special for me, to fly into weightlessness from here."

Hawking goes zero-G: 'Space, here I come', MSNBC (with video)

"He had a wonderful time. Far beyond our expectations," Diamandis said. "The medical indications were better than expected." After six parabolas, Zero Gravity tried to call it quits, but Hawking insisted they do more, said Noah McMahon, chief marketing officer for Zero Gravity and Hawking's coach for the flight. They decided to keep going because he was doing so well."

Space Florida Microgravity Center Named for Stephen Hawking

"Space Florida announced the renaming of its innovative microgravity center to honor the acclaimed cosmologist and theoretical physicist. The new name will be the Stephen Hawking Microgravity Education and Research Center."

Weightless Over Cleveland - Part 2: Learning to Fly, SpaceRef

"The next parabola was truly unique. As Matt yelled out "Zero G" everyone cheered - and suddenly there I was. After imagining what it would be like for nearly all of my 50 years, I was weightless. The only word I can find that describes the experience was "perfectly natural". It wasn't profound as I somehow thought it might be. As each parabola came and went I would become quickly accustomed to how to function in weightlessness - with a new skill added with each brief exposure. Adapting to weightlessness is something humans do automatically."

Human Needs: Sustaining Life During Exploration, NASA

"Human needs have not changed for centuries. As the world's first explorers set off to discover new lands and map uncharted territories, they had to make sure that basic survival requirements were met."

Editor's note: In this NASA story a large picture of a closed environmental growth chamber is shown. Looks impressive. It was. I stood in it many times - nearly two decades ago. Friends of mine ran this research. Indeed, this picture looks like one used in a NASA Spinoff article I helped write in the late 1980s. Alas, virtually none of this research is going on at NASA anymore. Yes, this research provided clear value to the future human exploration of space and is worth mentioning. But to put such an image up and not also mention that this is decades old research and that all such research has been utterly erased from NASA's portfolio is very misleading impression to give visitors to this NASA web page. The "take home message"? NASA no longer sees the value in funding such research. Someone at NASA is trying to get one last use of an old picture they obviously do not understand.

Oh yes, and then there is this marvelous building at KSC that was supposed to support all of the amazing science we'd be doing on ISS - science that has all but disappeared. They are still trying to figure out what to do with this building: NASA KSC Modification to a Previous Notice Space Life Science Laboratory Sub-lease

Larger Virginia Tech Shooting Panel Being Considered, US News & World Report

"One name in the mix to be on, or perhaps to run, the still-unformed commission is Sean O'Keefe, the president's former NASA administrator and deputy budget chief. O'Keefe is now chancellor at Louisiana State University. He had previously served in the first Bush administration as Navy secretary and Pentagon comptroller and later worked at Penn State and Syracuse universities."

SOFIA Takes To The Air

SOFIA Airborne Observatory Completes First Test Flight

"L-3 Communications announced today that NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), completed its first test flight following extensive aircraft modification and telescope integration at the company's L-3 Integrated Systems (L-3 IS) Waco, Texas facility. SOFIA is a Boeing 747SP extensively modified to carry a 45,000-pound (20 metric ton), 98.4-inch (2.5-meter) diameter infrared telescope assembly provided by the German Aerospace Center, DLR."

NASA Satellite To Study Polar Clouds, AP

"The Pegasus rocket, built by Orbital Sciences Corp., featured Virginia Tech logos on its side in memory of the 32 students and teachers who died in a school rampage last week. One of the mission's scientists, deputy principal investigator Scott Bailey, works at Virginia Tech."

ISS Crew Swap Update

NASA to Rotate Station Astronauts on Next Shuttle Mission

"After several months working aboard the International Space Station, NASA astronaut Suni Williams will come back to Earth aboard the space shuttle Atlantis, targeted for launch June 8. That shuttle mission, STS-117, will carry her successor, astronaut Clay Anderson, to the station to begin his duty as an Expedition 15 flight engineer."

Congress Restores Funds for NASA Robotic Landers, Science (subscription)

"Angry U.S. lawmakers have come to the rescue of NASA's robotic lunar lander program. NASA chief Michael Griffin had pledged to shut down the program to save money, but after strong pressure from both House and Senate members, the space agency has granted it a reprieve. The reversal, although welcomed by lunar researchers, puts more pressure on Griffin to pare other missions or win additional funding from Congress."

Editor's note: Word has it that they are celebrating at MSFC and that Tony Lavoie is being seen in public once again. When Congress (I.e. Sen. Shelby) starts to micromanage NASA to this extent, they totally compromise their credibility when they question why NASA manages other programs the way it does.

Aderholt worries NASA work at risk, Huntsville Times

"This situation is a disaster," said George Whitesides, executive director of the National Space Society in Washington, D.C. "Griffin has been forced to cut a whole range of very valuable efforts. It's not the NASA administrator's fault. Griffin is just working with what he has been given." Whitesides and other space experts fear that lack of money will mean future lunar exploration missions will take place over a few years, and not create a transportation network of rockets and bases that would allow continued trips to the moon."

X Prize Expands

The X PRIZE Foundation and Holloman AFB Announce Partnership to Present World's Largest Air & Space Flight Demonstration

"This year's expanded Wirefly X PRIZE Cup activities are expected to result in an 8-fold increase in competing teams and crowds. The flights and ground events will be held in Las Cruces, N.M. and HAFB in Alamagordo from October 24 28th, 2007. Last year, the Wirefly X PRIZE Cup attracted one actual vehicle competing for the $2M Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge (NG-LLC) and an estimated crowd of 15,000. This year's expanded plans are expected to attract up to 8 viable competing spaceships for the NG-LLC, and crowds exceeding 100,000, including a group of more than 10,000 schoolchildren."

Florida Science Student Stand-In for Professor Stephen Hawking During Test-Run Weightless Flight on April 25, 2007

"Ted Straight, an 8th grader at Stone Middle School in Melbourne, FL, will be a stand-infor Hawking on the test flight scheduled for later today. Susan Harris, a teacher at Hill-Gustat Middle School in Highlands County, FL, will participate in the test flight in preparation for her flight coach duties on Hawkings zero-gravity flight scheduled for Thursday, April 26. The corporate sponsor for the Hawking flight is The Sharper Image."

Sharp Objects Sale at KSC

Sealed Bid 804200-2007-0033: "Miscellaneous Knives, Scissors, Finger Nail Files, and Other Sharp Objects, apx. 50 boxes. Some items may be rusty. FSC: 9999 Acquisition Cost: $3,000 Condition: Used/Fair - Scrap"

Editor's note: Have a look at the photos. This is quite a collection of "sharp objects". I wonder where they collected all this stuff from - and why they collected it in the first place.

Editor's update: The clear consensus from NASA Watch readers is that this stuff was probably collected from people entering the KSC Visitor's Center as they went through the metal detectors.

Ad Astra, Dave

NASA engineer remembered for his passion, Houston Chronicle

"Though underpinned by tragedy, Wednesday's tribute was upbeat and could have been scripted by the man who was honored. It began with the throaty roar of more than 50 motorcycles driven by members of the JSC Space Riders, a club Beverly helped to organize. They rolled through two main streets of the space center, the lead bike bearing the U.S. flag as well as the banner of the U.S. Air Force, in which Beverly served."

Army gives Stanford $105M for supercomputing center at NASA Ames East Bay Business Times

"The U.S. Army has given Stanford University a $105 million, five-year grant to build a computing research center at NASA Ames Research Center. Stanford said the Mountain View-based facility will be used for advanced simulations to help develop new materials for military vehicles and equipment, improve communication on the battlefield, and aid detection of biological or chemical attacks."

Queen Elizabeth II to Visit NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

"The visit to Goddard will include a presentation and reception with employees, a demonstration of the new Science on a Sphere visualization system, and a tree planting ceremony at the Goddard visitor center. The queen will have an opportunity to speak with the current crew aboard the International Space Station. The duke will tour facilities used to build and evaluate satellites and equipment being prepared for space flight."

Editor's note: ... and all work at GSFC will come to a halt for a day or so. Gee, I wonder that the cost of this meet and greet exercise will be?

Law & Order Criminal Intent: "Season 6Episode 6019 ROCKET MAN9/8pm 05/01/07 MURDERED ASTRONAUT CASE UNCOVERS STEAMY AFFAIR AND MULTIPLE SUSPECTS; TATE DONOVAN AND AMY RYAN GUEST STAR -- Commander Luke Nelson (guest star Tate Donovan) and Lieutenant Jessica Hart are in New York City to promote an upcoming shuttle launch, when Hart winds up murdered in their hotel. Detectives Goren (Vincent D'Onofrio) and Eames (Kathryn Erbe) question an ex-boyfriend and jealous colleagues of Hart, who was set to be the youngest astronaut ever to go up in space. When Detectives learn that the married Commander Nelson was having an affair with Lieutenant Hart, they realize many people were involved in covering up the dirty secret. Amy Ryan and Eric Bogosian also star. TV-14"

The Jealous Astronaut, earlier post
Billy O Does SNL, earlier post
Astronaut Bashing (NASA) Goes Mainstream, earlier post
Other links

At NASA, Windows Vista Isn't Ready For Launch, Information Week

"The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is the latest federal agency to put a hold on PC upgrades to Windows Vista. NASA has decided against deploying Microsoft's five-month-old operating system anytime this year. The decision puts NASA in company with the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation, both of which in February revealed temporary bans on Vista."

Administrator Eloquence

Message From the Administrator - April 24, 2007: David Beverly and Fran Crenshaw

"On Saturday, JSC Director Mike Coats and I met with Houston Police officials, who informed us of the results of their investigation. They made a point of telling us that both David and Fran had acted "heroically", that they had done all they could, each trying to protect the other, and that they had simply never seen a calmer and more self-possessed individual than Fran in any similar situation, concerning which they had all too much experience, including another case elsewhere that same afternoon. Houston Police Chief Hurtt stated that "not all of NASA's heroes fly in space."

Out of This World Weightless Flights By Zero Gravity Corporation Lift Off From Las Vegas

"Zero Gravity Corporation, the first and only FAA-approved provider of commercial weightless flights, has officially launched regular service from Signature Air Terminal at McCarran International Airport. This, combined with the recently announced relationship with Sharper Image to sell ZERO-G flights in its stores throughout the nation, truly brings an incredible adventure - previously only available to astronauts - directly to the general public. To blast off the attraction, ZERO-G hosted a private VIP flight with notables including Apollo-11 astronaut, Buzz Aldrin. Key Las Vegas casino executives and Vegas entertainers also participated in the flight to experience weightlessness for the first time."

Astronomers find first habitable Earth-like planet, ESO

"Astronomers have discovered the most Earth-like planet outside our Solar System to date, an exoplanet with a radius only 50% larger than the Earth and capable of having liquid water. Using the ESO 3.6-m telescope, a team of Swiss, French and Portuguese scientists discovered a super-Earth about 5 times the mass of the Earth that orbits a red dwarf, already known to harbour a Neptune-mass planet. The astronomers have also strong evidence for the presence of a third planet with a mass about 8 Earth masses."

Planetary Society Urges Congress to "Restore NASA's Vision"

"The Society supports the Administration's Vision for Space Exploration, but noted that it has now become distorted, with valuable science and exploration missions being cannibalized to pay for it."

Space Studies Board News - January - March 2007: Comments from Lennard Fisk, NAS SSB

"The budget issue we must confront is not what we had, but what we need. Science in NASA has a job to do. We are to explore the universe and lay down the foundational knowledge for the human expansion into space. We are to determine the future of the Earth, so that sound policy decisions can be made to protect the future of our civilization. We are to contribute to the capability of the United States to compete in the world, whether it is through new knowledge, new technology, or a new workforce. There is no comfort in knowing that we have been proportionally abused in the NASA budget. We do not have the funds required to do our job, and we are not happy."

Editor's note: Have a look at this page : Board Meetings and Presentations, SSB Meeting March 5-7, 2007 if you want to get an idea why Len Fisk et al are so upset.

The Air Force Minotaur 1 rocket carrying the Missile Defense Agencys Near Field Infrared Experiment (NFIRE) satellite was launched at 2:48 a.m., Tuesday, April 24.

Updates and photos

YouTube video of launch below.

Remembering David Beverly

NASA Johnson Space Center to Hold Memorial for David Beverly

"NASA's Johnson Space Center will hold a memorial at 10 a.m. CDT Wednesday, April 25, to honor senior avionics systems engineer David Beverly, who was killed in a shooting incident at the center on Friday, April 20."

Family Remembers Broken Arrow Graduate Killed in NASA Shooting, KOTV

"There is a Tulsa connection to the latest shocking case of violence in the workplace. Memorial services are set for an engineer shot and killed while working at NASA in Houston. Sixty-two- year-old David Beverly is a Broken Arrow graduate, who has family and friends in the Tulsa area. He's being remembered for his strength and for being an encouragement to others."

Editor's note: Hmmm ... Broken Arrow High School, Oklahoma, David Beverly's high school. Broken Bow, Oklahoma, small town featured in the opening scene of the first episode of Star Trek Enterprise - wherein misunderstandings lead to a shooting. Reality vs fiction. I know there is no connection, but I cannot shake the irony. Hopefully, David Beverly's name will find its way to a place of honor somewhere in our solar system - a place humans will one day visit and recall who he was and what he did. Those Mars Rovers certainly seem to be regularly discovering things which have been given names ...

NASA Feedback: David Beverly and Fran Crenshaw, Earlier post

Editor's note: Take the time to look at this new promotional animation from ESMD. Play it on a big screen nice and loud so that you can get the full effect of the Indiana Jones-inspired music. The editing style includes some of those slightly jerky camera adjustments seen on Battlestar Galactica.

Whoever does these videos is getting to be rather good at it.

Someone also posted the video on YouTube (link below).

Editor's note: If you check the Constellation Program Work Locations page at ESMD, you'll see that "The Constellation Program work is being performed at a variety of NASA Centers, Prime Contractors and Subcontractors located around the country. This work includes the Orion Crew Vehicle and Ares I Launch Vehicle and the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services Partners."

If you scroll down you will see that NASA has mapped ESMD contracts against the nation's congressional districts and the individuals who represent those states and districts in Congress. There is also a fancy flash animation (see this chart) of a U.S. map that lets you see who gets the money. The animation even goes down to civil service and contractor head counts and budgets for each field center. Just the sort of thing you need to put in a letter to your Congressman or Senator to remind them to support NASA.

To be certain, this is interesting information - but why is NASA posting this? The obvious answer (to me at least) is that NASA wants people to know who to contact on Capitol Hill about NASA. Of course, this also serves to show Congress just how well/widely NASA has spread the work across the U.S.

I also find it of interest to note that there is no mention of this exhaustive page of congressional information on the Office of Legislative Affairs page - nor is there any link from this ESMD page back to Legislative Affairs. I would think that the Legislative Affairs folks would like to promote this page - or is it that they had nothing to do with it?

Also - shouldn't NASA show earmarks as well - after all these pet projects are another way that Congress sends money back home. And what about all the other programs NASA distributes across the U.S. ?

It is good that NASA tries to explain how broadly based participation in space exploration is across the U.S. - but isn't this just a little too close to NASA facilitating public lobbying - on behalf of NASA? This might be a more appropriate (and useful) thing for the Coalition for Space Exploration to put on their SpaceAdvocates.com website.

NASA throttles up for change as end of shuttle era nears, Orlando Sentinel

"The initial target was to shrink Constellation's budget for operations and sustaining engineering to 60 percent of what it cost the shuttle program in 2007. NASA and its shuttle contractors already have crunched the resulting work-force numbers, but the final totals haven't been decided on. Some estimates have projected that a third of KSC's current workers could be affected."

Editor's note: Space journalist Jim Oberg appeared on MSNBC today and made some very cogent points about the factors that may have led up to the shooting at JSC - things that don't seem to get mentioned at NASA press conferences. Right now many at NASA are being asked "to do more with less". At some point this means people at NASA contractors loose their jobs. At present, layoffs (when they happen at NASA) are small and focused. Imagine what will happen as the Shuttle program is turned off. Thousands of contractor employees at JSC, KSC, MSFC and elsewhere will be laid off. NASA will dispute this, but they can never provide the data needed to back up their claim.

As Oberg notes NASA has an exceptionally motivated work force. People just love their jobs. Many, as David Beverly's wife put it, feel that their job is "their calling". When these layoffs start to happen there are going to be a lot of people who are not happy about leaving. Given that NASA is terrified of even discussing the topic and won't dare put a number on eventual layoffs, a lot of people are going to feel like they got the shaft when the inevitable happens.

I sincerly hope someone at NASA is looking at this sad event at JSC and taking instruction from it to prepare for future layoffs at the agency. People under stress can do unthinkable things. The prospect of losing a job you dearly love can cause a lot of a lot of stress - stress that needs - and will eventually find - an outlet.

Oberg will also be appearing on "Weekend Today" at 8 am EDT Sunday on NBC.

Interview with Jim Oberg 21 April 2007, MSNBC (rough transcript)

Wayne Hale on "Life"

NASA Internal Memo From Shuttle Program Manager Wayne Hale: Life

"Please don't let your co-workers suffer alone. Metal detectors and car searches will not prevent this type of tragedy. Workplace violence, murder/suicide happen almost daily in this country. The only was to prevent a tragedy is to build a support network for those in need. Today, tell your friends how much you appreciate them. Give your family an extra hug. Tomorrow make sure that the words you use are caring, not laced with sarcasm or bitterness. Take care of yourself, it can be a hard life. Know what the person at the desk next to you is going through. Don't let them be alone. We'll only make it if we take care of each other."

U.S. Knew of Chinas Missile Test, but Kept Silent, NY Times

"What administration officials did not say is that as the Chinese were preparing to launch their antisatellite weapon, American intelligence agencies had issued reports about the preparations being made at the Songlin test facility. In high-level discussions, senior Bush administration officials debated how to respond and even began to draft a protest, but ultimately decided to say nothing to Beijing until after the test."

NASA Announces Press Conference on First 3-D Images of the Sun

"NASA will hold a press conference on Monday, April 23 at 11:00 a.m. EDT to unveil new 3-D images of the sun from the agency's Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO). For the first time, scientists will be able to see structures in the Sun's atmosphere in three dimensions. The new view will improve space weather forecasting and greatly aid scientist's ability to understand solar physics."

Larger image (3D glasses required for stunning full effect). You may have seen some sneak previews of images this morning on ABC's Good Morning America.

More images

Robotics office still open for now, Huntsville Times

"Another problem with the lunar robotics office is that the probe had been expanded beyond its original mission, said Keith Cowing, a former NASA employee who now runs the agency watchdog Web site NASAWatch.com. "Part of this issue has always been massive cost growth," Cowing said. "It's ballooned from a $300 million to $400 million program to double. It's something around $1 billion now." Cowing said a simple lunar lander, similar to the ones put on the moon during the Apollo missions "has grown from a simple design to a battleship. It has more requirements and mission responsibility than originally planned."

Editor's note: I was referring specifically to the Surveyor series of robotic landers which were used to do in situ analysis of the lunar surface in preparation for Apollo landings a few years later.

NASA shooting suspect feared being fired, police say, AP

"[Houston Police Chief Harold] Hurtt praised Beverly for his bravery while trying to protect a co-worker, and Crenshaw for her composure while trying to keep Phillips calm. "Heroes just don't fly in space," Hurtt said. "Sometimes heroes work in the next cubicle next to you." Beverly's wife, Linda, said her husband of 41 years was an electrical parts specialist who felt working at NASA was his calling."

Editor's note: Friday was certainly a horrible day for NASA. Y'all must be thinking/feeling something with regard to David Beverly's murder and Fran Crenshaw's awful ordeal. Care to express yourself? Send your comments to nasawatch@reston.com

Your comments thus far with regard to the victims:

Man Kills Hostage, Self at NASA Building, AP

"The gunman was able to take a snub-nosed revolver past NASA security and barricade himself in the building, which houses communications and tracking systems for the space shuttle, authorities said."

Editor's note: The more I think about this, the more I can't fight the urge to comment. Someone drove onto JSC property with A LOADED GUN and KILLED SOMEONE. This happened days after the Virginia Tech slaughter and NASA is now going to re-evalute its security polices? Gee, it's about damn time, Mr. Saleeba. Something sure ain't working properly. The word incompetence (on someone's part) comes to mind. Metal detectors have been known to detect guns. Car searches have been known to find prohibited items. More importantly, people are under enormous stress at NASA these days with programs being shut down and many people certain to loose their jobs. Someone needs to be paying much more attention to this as well. Treating the symptoms is not enough. NASA to needs to recognize - and threat - the cause(s) as well.

Comments? Send them to nasawatch@reston.com.

One note: for those of you who are utterly convinced that additional screening and metal detectors could never work at NASA, I invite you to come up to Washington DC. Everywhere you go there are security scans and detectors. It has been like this for years - even before 9-11. Indeed, everyday every single visitor to the National Air and Space Museum goes through a metal detector and has their bags searched. That's tens of thousands of people every day - and most of these visitors are novices in terms of being scanned and searched. Alas, even though there are metal detectors at NASA HQ entrances, regular (badged) employees are not required to go through them. Only visitors are. NASA has the tools in place but only uses them to partial effect.

As for all of you who are dumping on me for suggesting that every person entering JSC be screened and and their car searched every day, guess what? I never said that! Read this post again. But since you folks seem to want to discuss that topic, I wonder what would be easier to do: screen every one entering a facility - with one landlord - a facility with vast amounts of land, large parking lots, and a small number of controlled campus entrances (JSC) -- or -- scan the same number of people entering hundreds of government offices and buildings every day in Washington, DC. It is not impossible, folks. You just do not want to be inconvenienced in the same way that we are up here in Washington every day - and that is certainly understandable. Alas, everyone seems to be trying to out do the previous person in saying how impossible enhanced screening would be at NASA. I am also rather startled that so many responses suggest that nothing can be done and that it should simply be assumed - and accepted - that people can - and will - carry guns to work at JSC.

Your comments thus far:

Show Me The Money

Lawmakers at odds with NASA's chief, Huntsville Times

"Keith Cowing, a former NASA employee who runs the NASAWatch.com Web site, said the feud between Shelby and Griffin seems silly compared to NASA's overall budget challenges "because it is over 32 people who won't even lose their jobs." "I don't think Mike Griffin is in trouble or will lose his job because of Richard Shelby. Shelby's in the minority now," Cowing said. "I think Mike Griffin thinks he can run NASA without Congress, sometimes, and that's not the case."

But Cowing said NASA's budget is shrinking. Because Congress failed to approve NASA's budget for fiscal 2007, the space agency is working under a continuing resolution that freezes budget money at the 2006 level. That means NASA has to keep programs going with a budget shortage of more than $500 million, NASA leaders have said.

"What's Mike Griffin supposed to do? What's NASA supposed to do? They have a mandate from the president and Congress to perform a task - return to the moon," Cowing said. "But (NASA) wasn't given enough money to start with, and now NASA has to deal with even less. Priorities have to be set, and money has to be shifted in the budget.

"Again, what's Mike Griffin supposed to do? Where's the money come from?"

NASA shooter feared being fired, police say, AP

"Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt said Phillips bought the .38-caliber revolver March 18, two days after receiving an e-mail citing deficiencies in his job performance and saying that he was going to be reviewed. A copy of the e-mail was found in Phillips' lunch bag on the day of the shootings, police Lt. Larry Baimbridge said."

Simonyi Returns to Earth

Space Adventures' Client, Charles Simonyi, Returned to Earth After Completing Longest Duration Private Spaceflight

NASA Space Station Status Report 21 April 2007

"The 14th crew of the International Space Station, Commander Michael Lopez-Alegria and Flight Engineer Mikhail Tyurin, along with spaceflight participant Charles Simonyi landed their Soyuz spacecraft in the steppes of Kazakhstan at 7:31 a.m CDT Saturday."

Statement by NASA Administrator Michael Griffin on Shootings at Johnson Space Center

A Message from NASA Johnson Space Center Director Michael Coats on Today's Shootings

"A tragedy struck our NASA family today. While we don't yet understand all that's happened, our hearts and prayers go out to the families and coworkers who lost their loved ones today and to the survivor who endured a tragic ordeal."

Senator Sean O'Keefe?

Editor's note: There is a rumor going around NASA about Sean O'Keefe's next job i.e. that he is going to run for the U.S. Senate. As you may recall, O'Keefe is currently chancellor of LSU. I asked him today to comment on this rumor. He replied "I was asked that question at a faculty meeting recently. My response was to remind folks that William Tecumseh Sherman was the first President of LSU. His famous refrain when asked if he'd run for President of the U.S. was "if nominated I will not run, and if elected, I will not serve." My refusal to ever be a candidate would make Sherman's sound like he was equivocating! Translate - I'd rather be dead in a ditch than ever be a candidate for public office."

NASA Modifies Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle Contract

NASA Announces Orion Contract Modification - Delivery Delayed, Tests Added, Cargo Vehicle Dropped

"Late this afternoon NASA announced that it was making a significant modification to the Orion development contract with Lockheed Martin. The announcement of the modification, at a total cost of $385 million, was formally released at 4:00 pm, after Wall Street had shut down for the day."

Commercialising space Ready for take off?, Economist

"Peter Diamandis, the man behind both these American firms and the founder of the X Prize Foundationa charity that financed a competition that led in 2004 to the first manned private-sector flight into spacesees entertainment and tourism as "profitable stepping stones" to the commercialisation of space."

How Safe Is the Race To Send Tourists into Space?, Wall Street Journal

"But how safe is the space tourism business? The Wall Street Journal Online invited Patricia Smith, who heads the Federal Aviation Administration office responsible for overseeing the nascent industry, to discuss the topic with space entrepreneur Peter Diamandis, a co-founder of Space Adventures and chairman of the X Prize Foundation, which awarded a $10 million prize to Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne in 2004. Their conversation, carried out via email, is below."

SSTL Welcomes Government Agreement on Lunar Exploration

US and UK pledge to work on new space exploration initiative

"NASA and the British National Space Centre (BNSC) have signed a historic agreement to jointly study how the two space agencies might work together on future planetary explorations to the Moon and beyond. A joint team is to be established to conduct a study into specific areas of US-UK potential collaboration involving lunar science and exploration."

NASA misses Grassley deadline, Business Week

"NASA failed to meet a deadline this week imposed by the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee to provide information on a disputed $5.2 million software contract."

Grassley calls on NASA to meet its commitment in procurement probe, Senate Finance Committee

"Please provide your written response by no later than April 19, 2007. Additionally, I request that your office provide an in-depth briefing to the Committee staff following the submission of your written response."

President of India Addresses Boston University Symposium on the Future of Space Exploration Through Video Conference

Surviving and Thriving in the Next 50 Years of Space Exploration: Leading scholars gather on 50th anniversary of Sputnik 1, Space Generation Advisory Council

" ... the three-day conference featured discussions led by noted researchers, including Dr. John C. Mather, 2006 Nobel Prize Winner in physics, and a keynote address by Lord Rees of Ludlow, president of the Royal Society. Opening remarks were made by President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam of India who stated that, "the best thing space can do is enhance the quality of life of those on Earth," and that in the long-term, humanity has to "build the way for an alternative habitat in our galaxy."

Another Google Giggle

Editor's note: Check out this link from Google maps which describes how to drive from New York to Italy. Step 24 is rather straight forward.

NASA Lawmakers Write Letter to President Calling for Space Summit to Discuss Space Program Future, Rep. Weldon

Gordon and Udall Urge President to Help with NASA Funding, House Science and Technology Committee

"Dear Mr. President: As chairmen of the House Science and Technology Committee and its Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, we have a strong interest in ensuring that the nation's space and aeronautics programs are healthy and robust. In that regard, we are deeply concerned about the mismatch between the resources being provided to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the tasks that it is being asked to undertake. Stresses resulting from that mismatch can be seen in all of the agency's programs."

Billy O Still MIA

STS-116 crew completes European tour, ESA

"I never ever thought there would be such enormous interest as there has been," said ESA astronaut Christer Fuglesang, commenting on the European post-flight tour he has just completed together with the rest of the STS-116 Space Shuttle crew. In just nine days the crew worked through an intensive schedule of presentations and visits in five European countries."

Editor's note: Look at the photos and read the article. Where's Bill Oefelein? He's back at NASA after hiding from the media his vacation, right? He doesn't seem to care much for doing public appearances any more - yet the remainder of his STS-116 crew mates certainly do. He's missed several at NASA already. I thought this was part of what astronauts are required to do? Or is he too busy laying low?

This email may provide a few clues:

FROM William Oefelein to Colleen Shipman: Here are a few more specifics about the Europe trip for your planning purposes. Hope you can make this one too!! I promise to stop bugging you with these annoying trips but I need my beautiful Irish girl to keep the evil, ugly bread canister ladies away from me. I'm not sure when Christer needs the names, but if it looks like a abetter than 50% chance you can go I will let him know. Don't feel pressured to have to make a definitive decision though. I understand you have your other commitments so we will see what happens. By the way, if you think you may be able to go, you'll need a passport. I assume yours is still valid from before? Was is a blue one or brown one?

NASA Strategic Management Council Meeting Minutes and Actions 21 February 2007: "Griffin made the following opening comment: - On speaking for the Agency: Griffin urged members (and through members all of NASA) to be clear when expressing a personal opinion versus an Agency position. He offered a recent example where an astronaut publicly advocated for technology development that directly conflicts with Agency plans."

SMC: Workforce Ceilings

NASA Strategic Management Council Meeting: Workforce ceilings

"Members raised issues related to declining workforce ceilings in the out years: Missions have not allocated all future workforce funding to centers; centers continue to have problems with the mix of skills in the current civil service workforce; flight centers seem reluctant to place development work at research centers; targets may need to be readjusted."

Bereft of BlackBerrys, the Untethered Make Do, NY Times

"On Tuesday night at 8 p.m. Eastern time, technical problems cut off more than five million BlackBerry users in the United States from their cherished wireless e-mail. Service was restored 10 long, data-starved hours later."

Editor's note: I am amazed that NASA HQ continued to operate while most of its employees were totally isolated from the known universe during this crackberry blackout.

NASA rethinks plan to close robotics office, Huntsville Times

"Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., in a morning speech said he was counting the days until NASA Administrator Michael Griffin lost his job. And Rep. Bud Cramer, D-Huntsville, in an afternoon interview questioned whether Griffin misled him about the future of the Lunar Precursor Robotics Program, based at Marshall Space Flight Center. ... NASA is reconsidering plans to close a lunar robotics office in Huntsville, a decision announced Tuesday evening, a few hours after two members of Alabama's congressional delegation escalated their dispute with the space agency."

Editor's note: It would seem by virtue of these remarks (which seem to border on being a slow motion temper tantrum) that Sen. Shelby is becoming increasingly frustrated now that his party is in the minority and he is less able to bully Mike Griffin - and NASA - around.

Orbital Express Satellites Successfully Separate, Remate, DARPA

"The two Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Orbital Express spacecraft, launched March 8 in a mated configuration, yesterday successfully separated for the first time."

Boeing Orbital Express Conducts First Autonomous Spacecraft-to-Spacecraft Fluid and Component Transfer

"In its first on-orbit demonstration 300 miles above the Earth, Boeing's Orbital Express system autonomously transferred propellant fuel and a battery from one spacecraft to another, marking industry firsts for the revolutionary system."

Editor's note: Here is an update page at DARPA. Lots of cool pictures and videos.

'Smart dust' to explore planets, BBC

"Tiny "smart" devices that can be borne on the wind like dust particles could be carried in space probes to explore other planets, UK engineers say. The devices would consist of a computer chip covered by a plastic sheath that can change shape when a voltage is applied, enabling it to be steered. Details were presented at the National Astronomy Meeting in Preston."

NASA JSC Solicitation: Construction of Office Building 20 at NASA Johnson Space Center

"NASA/JSC plans to issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the construction of a new three story office building onsite at the Johnson Space Center. The new office building will be approximately 93,400 square feet and accommodate approximately 520 people."

Reader note: "I just saw your posting on the JSC office building. It's explained on page SD21-22 of the FY08 budget: http://www.nasa.gov/about/budget/index.html" Basically, folks have been working out of temporary metal buildings. There's a lot of info in that supporting data section of the FY08 budget doc."

Editor's note: Even without knowing what this building is for I am a little confused.

NASA Strategic Management Council Meeting Minutes and Actions 21 February 2007: "First Item of Business: Opening Comments and Upcoming Agency Decisions Administrator Mike Griffin made the following announcements: ... - New assignment for SMD Deputy: He announced his request of SMD Deputy Associate Administrator Colleen Hartman to undertake a special assignment working with the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD) to reduce the gap between NASA's exploration and science programs."

How Long Will ISS Live?

NASA Prepares to Extend Commitment to Space Station, Wall Street Journal (subscription)

"Despite severe budget uncertainties buffeting U.S.-government space programs, space officials are setting the stage to extend operations at the International Space Station well beyond the agreed upon 2016, according to people familiar with the plans."

Bringing Home The Bacon

Senators vow to back NASA, Huntsville Times

"Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Bud Cramer, D-Huntsville, said Tuesday that he is frustrated with NASA's plans to shut down the lunar robotics office. "We've fought for the NASA budget at the highest levels," Cramer told the chamber leaders. "Now, to hear from headquarters that they want to unplug the lunar robotics office at Marshall is awfully frustrating."

Editor's note: Perhaps Rep. Cramer should look into the details of the rising cost of all that the robotics folks wanted to do at MSFC - and the role that played in this decision. Then again, more money equals more jobs - regardless of where the money comes from - and its Cramer's job to bring home the bacon.

OMB Guidance on Earmarks

NASA Strategic Management Council Meeting Minutes and Actions 21 February 2007: "- OMB policy on earmarks: [Griffin] announced the new policy of OMB Director Rob Portman not to honor report language requiring congressionally mandated spending; the only earmarks that will be honored are those that are included in legislation. PA&E Strategic Investments Division Director Chris Shank warned members to expect special congressional requests to honor report language."

Party in a NASA Hangar Gives a Glimpse of Space Culture, Wired

"What's more, Yuri's Night gave a glimpse of an emerging culture of space enthusiasts, of people who are as interested in science and technology as they are in partying and having fun. When the music was interrupted by PowerPoint presentations, the crowd, far from dispersing, gathered closer in to the stage and listened attentively. ... Mission accomplished. If Yuri's Night is any indication, people are wildly enthusiastic about space travel. Not to mention LCD projectors and wearable LED art."

NASA Strategic Management Council Meeting: Strategic Communication Framework

"Members discussed the need to know what audiences feel about NASA's relevance to their lives. Ames Center Director Pete Worden suggested that to communicate with younger audiences, the Agency needs to better use the internet and new communications technologies. Chief of Strategic Communications Sterner told members about plans to form cells in the mission directorates that will be responsible to incorporate Agency messages into the communications efforts undertaken as part of mission activities. The goal is to "get everybody on the same page." Sterner encouraged leaders to talk to their staff members who have responsibility for communications."

Inspector general to be focus of hearing, Orlando Sentinel

"A long list of allegations against NASA Inspector General Robert Cobb will be the subject of a congressional hearing May 9, House and Senate sources confirmed Monday. A federal investigation recently found that Cobb, installed in 2002, "engaged in abuse of authority" and sometimes created an appearance that he lacked independence over an agency he was supposed to oversee."

Two Letters That Nelson, Gordon, and Miller Do Not Want You To See, earlier post
Can You Hear Me Now? Sen. Nelson's Shouting Press Officer Responds, earlier post
Good Grief, Now Its a "Battle", earlier post
Let's Hang The IG From The Nearest Tree, earlier post

New Generation of Space Tether Scheduled for Launch 17 April 2007, Tethers Unlimited

"The Tethers Unlimited, Inc. (TUI) "Multi-Application Survivable Tether" (MAST) experiment will be launched April 17th to study the dynamics of tethered spacecraft formations and survivability of a new multistrand tether technology in low Earth orbit (LEO). The MAST experiment consists of three GPS receiver-equipped picosatellites stacked for launch into a volume about the size of a loaf of bread."

Liftport - The Space Elevator Companies Shuts Down, Editorial, The Space Elevator Reference

"Starting a business from the ground up is extremely tough. I know, I've done it a few times. So I'm not surprised to read that Liftport has shut down operations. This is according to what's posted by Brian Dunbar in the Liftport blog."

Just Send Money

NASA chief gives funding warning, Huntsville Times

"NASA Administrator Mike Griffin said Monday that the space agency will not grow unless Congress restores its funding to earlier levels. Speaking to a group from North Alabama during its annual Washington trip, Griffin said NASA could lose $3.4 billion during the next five years if cuts made in 2007 are not restored. ... "I've made the pledge that Marshall won't lose any work, but Marshall can't have more unless some other centers have less," he said. "Unless Congress chooses to allocate significantly more money, NASA can't grow. And, if NASA can't grow, the centers can't grow."

Yuri's Night at Ames

A Tale of Two Possible NASA Futures: Yuri's Night and The National Space Symposium, SpaceRef

"I had a somewhat profound experience several days ago in California - at NASA Ames Research Center to be exact. The true impact of this event is still growing on me. You see, I saw things I never thought I would see on a NASA base - things that give me hope that what NASA does can be truly relevant to people outside NASA's traditional constituency. Moreover, I saw indications that NASA can adapt to rapidly changing trends. The experience? Yuri's Night."

Photos of Yuri's Night Bay Area 2007, A Giant Party at NASA, (photos) Laughing Squid

"Last night's Yuri's Night Bay Area 2007 party was amazing. The night was in honor of Yuri Gagarin, who in 1961 was the first person to travel to space and orbit the earth. ... Yuri's Night Bay Area 2007 felt like a really nice mix of space travel expo, Burning Man and Maker Faire. I really hope there do it there again next year."

Yuri's Night, (photos) Redundantly Redundant

Yuri's Night 2007 (Photos), qdot

NASA paid $26.6M to Columbia families, Orlando Sentinel

"NASA paid $26.6 million to the families of seven astronauts who died aboard space shuttle Columbia -- a settlement that has been kept secret for more than 21/2 years. The space agency recruited former FBI Director William Webster, also a former federal judge, to act as a mediator and adviser in negotiating the out-of-court settlements, according to documents released to the Orlando Sentinel through a federal Freedom of Information Act request."

Editor's note: According to the official FMARS blog for the Mars Society's latest exploits on Devon Island, the non-Canadian team members show a paper to immigration authorities upon entering Canada which states that the project is a "joint venture" of NASA and the CSA. (see image of actual immigration form - "CSA" is blacked out in this image) Neither CSA or NASA has issued any press releases about this stating that they officially collaborate on this project. Indeed, the blog posting notes that CSA hasn't even cleared this statement yet. Stay tuned.

Editor's update: Well, the Mars Society guy (James Harris) who made this post is trying to run away from what he wrote - but he's doing it on another blog - and in so doing he's trying to take NASA funding of one effort in the U.S. and apply it to his project in the arctic as if NASA has endorsed it as well as a "joint venture". Sorry - it just does not work that way. If there was a press release, I must have missed it. The link he offers up as some sort of excuse makes no mention of anything happening on Devon Island - past, present, or future.

Shelby: Don't shut robotics office, Huntsville Times

"U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby and key Democrats in Congress are pressuring the NASA administrator to reverse a plan to shut down a lunar robotics office at Marshall Space Flight Center. Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, worked with Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., to write a letter directing NASA to restore $20 million for the Lunar Precursor and Robotics Program office. Mikulski and Mollohan chair subcommittees that oversee NASA's budget."

NASA chief asks lawmakers for more workforce flexibilities, Government Executive

"The head of NASA is calling on lawmakers to give the agency the flexibility to offer workers financial incentives to move from permanent to temporary civil service positions."

Yuri's Night at Ames

Yuri's Night '07 Bay Area, NASA ARC

"I give it five fingers up" - Robert
"It's a mashup of cultures"
"Amazing to see this happen here"
"Do you think this will happen again next year?"

Yuri's Night: Burning Man meets NASA, CNet

"As I wandered, I couldn't go more than eight feet without bumping into someone I knew: friends from my social circles, people who work with NASA, people from the virtual-worlds companies I write about, and others. This particular Yuri's Night event was the perfect confluence of the communities I run in and write about."

Editor's note: I will have much more posted later. Suffice it to say, Yuri's Night at Ames was a resounding successs - I saw things at NASA I never thought I'd see - all carried out with professionalism, precision - and sheer joy. Oh yes, that 18-24 demographic NASA wants to get to? ARC had thousands of them as guests last night - and they were cheering the people (including Pete Worden) who spoke about space.

Photos of Yuris Night Bay Area 2007, A Giant Party at NASA, (photos) Laughing Squid

"Last night's Yuris Night Bay Area 2007 party was amazing. The night was in honor of Yuri Gagarin, who in 1961 was the first person to travel to space and orbit the earth. ... Yuris Night Bay Area 2007 felt like a really nice mix of space travel expo, Burning Man and Maker Faire. I really hope there do it there again next year."

Yuri's Night, (photos) Redundantly Redundant

Yuri's Night 2007 (Photos), qdot

NASA Watch Photos below:

Editor's note: Eric Sterner is leaving NASA. Charles Scales will be the new Associate Deputy Administrator for Policy and Planning. Bob Hopkins will be the acting Chief of Strategic Communications.

Let's Party Like Its 1961

NASA Ames to Host Celebration of Humankind's First Flight Into Space

"NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., will host a major celebration of space exploration commemorating humankind's first flight into space by Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. Yuri's Night is an international celebration of human space achievement designed to raise awareness and support for space exploration."

Coalition for Space Exploration to Broadcast the First-Ever Web cast of Yuri's Night

"The Coalition for Space Exploration, whose mission it is to promote the nation's Vision for Space Exploration, has supplied nearly 30 Yuri's Night parties with promotional products for its new advocacy site www.SpaceAdvocate.com."

Editor's note: The Coalition for Space Exploration is to be commended for their strong support of Yuri's Night. SpaceRef is also a corporate sponsor - and both SpaceRef and NASA Watch will be onsite at Ames Friday night/Saturday morning for this groundbreaking event.

Yuri's Night at Ames Research Center, official website

Yuri's Night Global Website

Yuri's Night Houston, Official website - looks to be an exciting party as well.

The Web cast will be streamed live Friday, April 13, at 7:30 p.m. PDT at www.SpaceAdvocate.com. A link can also be found on both www.yurisnight.net and www.worldspaceparty.net.

Report Reveals Likely Causes of Mars Spacecraft Loss

"On Nov. 2, after the spacecraft was ordered to perform a routine adjustment of its solar panels, the spacecraft reported a series of alarms, but indicated that it had stabilized. That was its final transmission. Subsequently, the spacecraft reoriented to an angle that exposed one of two batteries carried on the spacecraft to direct sunlight. This caused the battery to overheat and ultimately led to the depletion of both batteries. Incorrect antenna pointing prevented the orbiter from telling controllers its status, and its programmed safety response did not include making sure the spacecraft orientation was thermally safe."

Earlier SpaceRef story from 10 January 2007: NASA Decides That A Software Error Doomed The Mars Global Surveyor Spacecraft, SpaceRef

According to public comments made by McNamee: "We think that the failure was due to a software load we sent up in June of last year. This software tried to synch up two flight processors. Two addresses were incorrect - two memory addresses were over written. As the geometry evolved, we drove the [solar] arrays against a hard stop and the spacecraft went into safe mode. The radiator for the battery pointed at the sun, the temperature went up, and battery failed. But this should be treated as preliminary."

Bigelow Update

Private Space of The Future, Washington Post

"Private space exploration took a potentially significant step forward this week as Nevada-based Bigelow Aerospace announced plans to send a series of inflatable space stations into orbit over the next decade. The spacecraft, initially designed by NASA for use with the International Space Station, would be available to train astronauts from nations not currently active in space, as well as companies that could manufacture unique products in weightlessness."

Trying to rekindle love affair with NASA, opinion, Orlando Sentinel

"I've not lost my love for the space program, although I admit that with kids and careers, the program has not gotten my full attention for some time. But that's just an excuse, and I've been trying to rekindle my love affair with NASA. While the "Astronaut Love Scandal" was featured on the front page of the Sentinel again Wednesday, the real news was on Page A3, headlined, "Repairs Delay Next Shuttle Liftoff Until at Least June."

Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut Dies at 84, AP

"Kurt Vonnegut, the satirical novelist who captured the absurdity of war and questioned the advances of science in darkly humorous works such as "Slaughterhouse-Five" and "Cat's Cradle," died Wednesday. He was 84."

Editor's note: So it goes.

Lockheed-Martin CEO: crisis in aerospace engineering, EE Times

"Lockheed-Martin Corp. CEO Robert Stevens warned Tuesday (March 10) that "space is broken, badly broken" and the U.S. space effort needs an infusion of both federal funds and a revitalized engineering infrastructure to rescue both civilian and military efforts."

Where Democrats and Republicans should boldly go, opinion, LA Times

"Republicans and Democrats must come together on seeing the "Vision for Space" through. Any delay would cost the taxpayers billions of dollars in research and development and further increase the time from when the space shuttle stops flying in 2010 until we get the next-generation Orion spacecraft into orbit. Even with the current "vision," it is anticipated that our nation will have no Americans flying on American spacecraft for at least four to six years. A delay now would put our nation at a serious disadvantage in terms of national security."

Some Earth-like Worlds May Have Foliage of Colors Other Than Green, Researchers Say

"In the next decade, when scientists are able to study Earth-sized worlds around other stars, they may find that foliage on some of the planets is predominantly yellow--or orange, or red. It all depends on the color of the star the planet orbits and the stuff that makes up the planet's atmosphere."

Orbital Express Update

Ball Aerospace's NextSat Delivers First-Rate Performance

"Following launch, the ASTRO spacecraft experienced an anomaly with the guidance and control systems. To allow time to correct the problem, control of the mated pair was shifted from ASTRO to NextSat and the OE team used NextSat's guidance system to successfully point the mated stack towards the sun. Since then, revised software has been successfully loaded and validated, and the ASTRO vehicle is currently controlling the OE stack in the planned nominal mode."

Gates to join Simonyi in space?, IT Wire

"... cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin suggests it will be Bill up next the ultimate space thrill. As reported by the Associated Press, Yurchikhin told journalists: "So the next time someone will be with Bill Gates. For me this is the biggest surprise of our flight."

Letter: IFPTE makes Donation To Utah School For Student Trip to White Sands

"On behalf of the International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers (IFPTE), AFL-CIO, I would like to present your students with the enclosed check in the amount of $1,000 to help support their trip to White Sands, New Mexico to see their "magnets" experiment launch and to participate fully in associated pre- and postlaunch activities."

Editor's note: The IFPTE is to be especially commended for putting their money squarely where their mouth is.

Note from Carolyn Bushman:

"Dear Keith: I want to write and thank you and nasawatch.com. We have gotten enough money for the trip to New Mexico. I want to say thank you to everyone who helped raise money. I even have enough money that I will be able to pay for the food. Everyone across the nation has been so gracious. My heart is full. My students are very excited. We will be writing to you to tell about the trip.

I am also sending thank you letters to everyone who helped contribute. Thanks again for helping make the trip possible. We look forward to sharing our trip of a lifetime with all of you."

Another School Needs Help, Earlier Post

STS-117 Slipped Again

NASA Targets June Launch for Space Shuttle Atlantis

"Tuesday's decision by agency management followed a meeting that reviewed the progress in repairing insulating foam on the shuttle's external fuel tank, which was damaged during a sudden hail storm Feb. 26 at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla. That damage required engineers to repair approximately 2,660 sites on the tank."

Lisa Nowak Saga Update

Police Discover Bondage Images in Car of Lovesick NASA Astronaut Lisa Nowak, AP

"Police found bondage photos on a computer disk, British currency and pills in former astronaut Lisa Nowak's car after she was arrested for trying to kidnap a romantic rival, according to documents released Tuesday by the State Attorney's Office."

NASA Extends Contract With Russia's Federal Space Agency

"NASA has signed a $719 million modification to the current International Space Station contract with Russia's Federal Space Agency in Moscow for crew and cargo services through 2011. The firm-fixed price extension covers crew rotations for 15 crew members, six in 2009, six in 2010 and three in 2011, delivery and the removal of 5.6 metric tons of cargo. U.S. Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) are still planned to provide the bulk of cargo transportation needs from 2010 and beyond to the space station."

Young Scientists Design Open-Source Program at NASA, Wired

"NASA scientists plan to announce a new open-source project this month called CosmosCode -- it's aimed at recruiting volunteers to write code for live space missions, Wired News has learned. The program was launched quietly last year under NASA's CoLab entrepreneur outreach program, created by Robert Schingler, 28, and Jessy Cowan-Sharp, 25, of NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. Members of the CosmosCode group have been meeting in Second Life and will open the program to the public in the coming weeks, organizers said."

NASA Mars Rover Opportunity Status: Looking For an 'In'

"Opportunity is healthy and working on obtaining a long baseline stereo image of the bay "Valley without Peril." The remainder of the week was spent driving toward a lookout point above the Valley without Peril. From this vantage point, Opportunity will acquire a long baseline stereo image of the vicinity. Valley Without Peril is being considered as a possible ingress location into "Victoria Crater."

Patent for Winged spacecraft Assigned to Burt Rutan, USPTO

"A rocket-powered spacecraft having a wing which has hinged aft portions which can be elevated about a hinge line. Tail booms extend rearwardly from the outer ends of the aft wing portions, and rudders are mounted at the aft ends of the booms. Each tail boom supports a horizontal tail with an elevon at its trailing edge. In normal flight, the wing aft portions are not elevated, and the wing has a normal airfoil shape. During atmosphere reentry, the wing aft portions are steeply elevated to provide a stable high-drag altitude for the spaceship for speed reduction at low thermal and structural loading. After reentry, the aft wing is returned to an unelevated position which enables gliding flight to a horizontal-runway landing."

NASA Space Station Status Report 7 April 2007

"Two cosmonauts and a space flight participant launched aboard a Soyuz spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 12:31 p.m. CDT Saturday for a two-day flight to the International Space Station. Less than 10 minutes after launch their spacecraft reached orbit and its antennas and solar arrays deployed. The Soyuz TMA-10 spacecraft is scheduled to dock at the station at a little after 2 p.m. Monday."

Charles Simonyi Official Website

Bigelow Reveals Space Business Plan, Aviation Week and Space Technology/aviationnow.com

"The Bigelow Aerospace commercial inflatable manned space module venture intends by 2015 to have three large multi-module outposts in Earth orbit to serve different user communities.

The Bigelow business plan will headline the National Space Symposium to be attended by 7,000 people in Colorado Springs, Col. this week. Company CEO Robert T. Bigelow briefed Aviation Week & Space Technology on the plan in advance."

Grassley calls on NASA to meet its commitment in procurement probe, Senate Finance Committee

"In a letter sent today to NASA headquarters, Grassley said that the agency made specific commitments in a letter to the Government Accountability Office as part of its response to a bid protest. These commitments led to the dismissal of that protest, but a review by the NASA Office of the Inspector General found that NASA did not follow through. "NASA needs to ensure that basic procurement principles are followed. NASA also needs to keep GAO informed and alert them to the events that have transpired since the dismissal of the bid protest to ensure that future responses to GAO are taken credibly," Grassley said."

Editor's update: I just got an obnoxious phone call from Dan McLaughlin (Sen. Nelson's office) who has a propensity for yelling - actually the better term is "bellowing" - at the top of his lungs into his speakerphone.

He refused to address any question regarding access that fellow Democrats on the House Science and Technology Committee are allowing to the press - even though Sen. Nelson has sought to join himself at the hip with the concerns voiced by that committee. He also said that Sen. Nelson had called for the release of this report and that any suggestions I have posted with regard to Nelson releasing it are "misplaced" and that I should be calling on the President's Council on Integrity and Efficency itself to release this report.

Editor's note: The first letter, from Clay Johnson, Chairman of the President's Council on Integrity and Efficency to James Burrus, Chairman of the Integrity Committee, asks Burrus to confirm a number of things with regard to NASA IG Robert Cobb:

"First, I asked for clarification of whether the Integrity Committee concluded that Mr. Cobb had broken any laws or acted illegally. You reported that he had not. Instead, the conclusions of the Integrity Committee related to management and appearance concerns.

Stardust's Data May Be Contaminated, Report Says, Popular Mechanics

"When the mission finally returned to Earth last year, the samples revealed the presence of osbornite, which indicates that the big beginning was hotter and more violent than scientists had previously imagined. But a new report insists there may be another reason for the presence of the mineral in Stardust's samples: Contamination by rocket fuel, which contains Titanium Nitride - osbornite's chemical compound."

FAA: Experimental Permits for Reusable Suborbital Rockets

"The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is amending its commercial space transportation regulations under the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004. The FAA is establishing application requirements for an operator of a manned or unmanned reusable suborbital rocket to obtain an experimental permit. The FAA is also establishing operating requirements and restrictions on launch and reentry of reusable suborbital rockets operated under a permit. These amendments become effective June 5, 2007."

A Vote for Space - Statement of the National Space Society on the successful Spaceport America vote in New Mexico, National Space Society

N.M. County Passes Tax Increase to Fund Spaceport, Washington Post

"Voters in a New Mexico county have approved a tax increase that will help build the nation's first commercial spaceport, state officials said yesterday. ... The $200 million spaceport is to be built in scrubland near the White Sands Missile Base and is expected to be open for business by early 2010."

Nowak Saga Update

Judge to block former Astronaut files?, Orlando Sentinel

"Call it a rookie mistake by a rookie judge. Just hours after ordering that no more details in the high-profile criminal prosecution of former NASA astronaut Lisa Nowak be made public Thursday, Orange Circuit Court Judge Marc Lubet backed down."

British Hacker Gary McKinnon Cries Guantnamo Too Much, Wired

"In interviews, McKinnon has admitted the hacking spree (though not the damage), which he says was a search for evidence of a military UFO cover-up. McKinnon, his lawyers and fans have portrayed him as a victim of overreaching U.S. prosecutors. They've all but claimed he's going to wind up with a pointy hood over his head."

Hacker faces US justice after extradition appeal fails, Guardian

"Gary McKinnon, 41, yesterday lost his appeal against extradition to stand trial in the US on charges connected with hacking into the Pentagon and Nasa systems. He is accused of stealing computer files, intentionally causing damage to a protected computer, obtaining secrets which might have been "useful to an enemy" and interfering with maritime navigation equipment. He was initially arrested in 2002."

Free Gary McKinnon, UK website for those who think this is so unfair and that this guy is heading for Guantanamo Bay.

Editor's note: Silly Brits: everyone here knows that we send UFO exposers to Area 51 where memory sucking devices reverse engineered from alien technology reformat people's brains.

Battle Between Administration, Congress Over NASA Inspector General

"On Monday, these lawmakers received a report on Cobb's conduct from the president's Council on Integrity and Efficiency, which has been investigating complaints against Cobb dating back several years. The report paints a picture of an official who abused his office and failed to report a major security breach."

Editor's note: Instead of releasing selective excerpts from this report, why won't Sen. Nelson et al simply release the entire report so that everyone can read everything for themselves? Right now all the taxpaying public has to go on is what Nelson, Gordon, and Miller want us to know. Yet what they do not want us to know is withheld from public scrutiny. Indeed, if these elected officials are going to threaten to subpoena people and use the word "Battle" in press releases - all at a time when NASA's budget and its ability to do things is at issue - shouldn't all the facts be out in plain sight?

Or is this just politics - not governance - on display?

Editor's update: It would seem that if reporters contact the House Science and Technology Committee press office, they will let you come in and examine parts of the report - but not all of it - and they won't let you make a copy. Why are media allowed to read it but not taxpayers? And why are only portions available?

As for Sen. Nelson's sudden prudishness over the use of profanity in the workplace - the Vice President of the United States used the F-word on the floor of the Senate - to a fellow member of the Senate. Shouldn't Sen. Nelson go after him too?

Also, word has it that the House Science and Technology Committee is becoming increasingly annoyed with Sen. Nelson. Apparently, the House members are miffed that Sen. Nelson (who has a personal bone to pick with NASA IG Cobb) took their issue and went nuclear with it.

Editor's note: While things seem to be going better for Orbital express - images, fuel transfers, etc., word has it that the reaction wheels were installed upside down inside of Orbital Express - and ground software checks were not run with that change taken into account. Also, sources report that Orbital Express software code was actually being written while the spacecraft was sitting at the Astrotech facility undergoing final integration just prior to launch. I spoke with someone from DARPA PAO about these issues last week. They were supposed to get back to me with answers to my questions about the reaction wheel and software issues - and put me on their distribution list for written updates - neither of which they have done.

Video From Orbital Express
Orbital Express Is Not Out of the Woods - yet
Orbital Express - Good News - And Not So Good News
Boeing Orbital Express page

Editor's update: I have gotten some email from people - much of which makes wild, and vindictive personal accusations against Mr. Cobb - the sort of things that spurred this investigation in the first place. However, this one note, which takes NASA Watch and its editor to task (rightly so) while not painting a pleasant picture of the IG''s office, does touch on some important points. These problems transcend Mr. Cobb's tenure and have have plagued NASA since Dan Goldin's reign - and even earlier. This is all made worse when Congress seeks to go after someone for alleged bad behavior they do not like - and exhibit similar unprofessional behavior on their own part in so doing.

Reader note: "I have some comments about your coverage of the NASA IG investigation shown on your web page 4/2/07. The significant issues about the IG are lost if we try to make it appear that the problems being pursued by Congress are based in the use of profanity or if various involvedindividuals played golf together or not. These are not the issues related to this casethat significantly impact our nation's space program. The issues are that when NASA scientists and engineers disagree or challenge bad decisions made by NASA managers, these managers employ prohibited practices to counter and suppress the concerns expressed by NASA's technical workforce."

Size-conscious NASA will need astronauts who fit the profile, USA Today

"Size does matter - especially to NASA. As early as 2009, applicants to the astronaut corps will face new size limits, including on weight and sitting height. That's a result of NASA's plan to retire the space shuttle in 2010 and switch entirely to smaller vehicles. The exact limits haven't been determined because new vehicles are still in development."

Academy Panel Urges NASA to Lead the Way on Multisector Workforce Issues, National Academy of Public Administration

"NASA is undergoing a fundamental mission shift that will require the agency to adopt a knowledge- based, data-driven strategy to better align its workforce, according to a National Academy of Public Administration report. NASA is working to refocus many aeronautics and scientific programs, phase-out the Space Shuttle by 2010, and develop new vehicles to go to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. This fundamental mission shift requires significant workforce changes. But, Congress has banned permanent workforce cuts at the agency. And, NASA has sought to ensure that every field center has a place in the new programs with funding to cover existing civil servants. This has resulted in workforce misalignments."

ATK To Swallow Swales

ATK to Acquire Swales Aerospace

"Alliant Techsystems announced today that it intends to acquire Swales Aerospace, a premier provider of satellite components and subsystems, small spacecraft and engineering services for NASA, Department of Defense and commercial satellite customers. The transaction is subject to Hart-Scott-Rodino (HSR) review, and approval by a majority of the shareholders in the employee-owned company."

Gordon, Miller, Nelson Move Toward Hearings on NASA IG Investigation

"According to press reports today however, President Bush has determined that NASA's recommendation that Mr. Cobb develop 'an individual leadership/management plan' while attending a resident course at the Federal Executive Institute is sufficient to address these findings," stated the Members in their letter to OMB. "We respectfully disagree. As a result, we are preparing for possible hearings to investigate Mr. Cobb's conduct as Inspector General."

Editor's update: "According to press reports today however, President Bush has determined ..." You are basing this official Congressional activity on "press reports" of what the White House is possibly going to do? Have you folks even bothered to ask the White House for an answer on this matter? Also, this report hasn't been released yet. So why are you folks (and your staff) talking about the report's contents? Why are you revealing only portions of what is in it? There certainly seems to be a lapse of professional ethics on your collective part in condoning that sort of behavior.

Let's Hang The IG From The Nearest Tree, earlier post

To Infinity And Beyond, Forbes

"The U.S. federal government is about to take a not-so-small step forward in its giant leap to help tourists get to outer space. Within the next few weeks, the Federal Aviation Administration will issue its regulations surrounding the "experimental permits" that private spacecraft owners will use to test their rockets. The rules essentially tell developers what they need to do once they obtain a permit and are designed to expedite research on spacecraft. The regulations will apply specifically to reusable suborbital rockets, the kind that space adventure companies such as Virgin Galactic will use to send people for a thrill ride into outer space."

Finding Doomsday Asteroids, editorial, NY Times

"How much effort should we expend to ward off the possibility that an asteroid might some day collide with Earth? Space experts attending a recent conference in Washington lamented the failure of the federal government - indeed, of the entire world - to take the threat seriously enough. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, at virtually the same moment, advised Congress on steps that could be taken to find and divert threatening asteroids only to conclude that it couldn't afford them."

China's Moon Rover

Engineers unveil China moon rover, BBC

"Chinese scientists have shown off a prototype Moon rover that could lead to the country's first unmanned mission to the lunar surface in 2012. The 1.5m (5ft) high, 200kg (440lbs) rover should transmit video in real time, dig into and analyse soil, and produce 3D images of the lunar surface."

Internal Controls to Detect and Prevent Unauthorized and Potentially Fraudulent Purchase Card Transactions at Four NASA Centers Needed Improvement, NASA OIG

"Internal controls designed to detect and prevent unauthorized and potentially fraudulent transactions were not always followed. We reviewed 1,749 transactions identified through data mining techniques and judgmental sampling that totaled approximately $2.1 million. We identified 875 transactions (50 percent), totaling $831,953.82, that did not comply with regulatory and program guidance."

Key Lawmakers Call For Removal of NASA IG

"Among other things, investigators found that Cobb lunched, played golf with and traveled with former NASA chief and Bush appointee Sean OKeefe raising questions about his independence."

Editor's update: While this report has yet to be released, I just can't help but find it rather curious how someone such as Sen. Nelson who shamelessly used the influence of his official position to press NASA to get a ride on a Space Shuttle mission (while contributing nothing of value to that mission) would be so indignant about such alleged conflict of interest issues. And, of course, Sen. Nelson never eats lunch with anyone ....

Lawmakers want NASA watchdog fired, NBC

"Congressional sources who have read the report said it faulted Cobb for rough language in the office, and for banging on his desk when addressing employees. "There was liberal use of the so-called 'F-word' in Mr. Cobb's language," one source said. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not officially authorized to discuss the report."

Editor's update: How much more hypocritical can we get folks? Where do I start? Congressional staffers are willing to leak things - and speak about something they have been told not to speak about - but that's OK when it comes to an ethics report about someone else's behavior!? Gimme a break. As for using the 'F-word'. Oh, gee, how terrible. I guess I'll have to start recording some of the profane words I have heard openly spoken in hallways and offices after hours on the Hill - by Senators, Congressmen, and their staff ... and there is at least one female aerospace lobbyist I once heard swearing into her cellphone in the lobby of the Reagan building - a large, overtly public place which tends to echo .... for that matter, the Vice President of the United States used the F-word on the floor of the Senate - to a member of the Senate. Shouldn't Sen. Nelson go after him too?

Contributions received by Bill Nelson, FEC (Bill Nelson Campaign)

Do As I Say - Not As I Do, earlier post

NASA Nobel Prize Recipient to Lead Chief Scientist Office

"NASA's new Science Mission Directorate Associate Administrator Alan Stern has appointed NASA scientist and 2006 Nobel Prize recipient John Mather to lead the Office of the Chief Scientist at Headquarters in Washington. Mather and his staff in the newly created office will be chief advisors to Stern."

Editor's update: Interesting thing for Alan Stern do on his very first day on the job.

Memo to NASA Science Asssociates Group Regarding ESA Cosmic Visions Competition

"This is to bring to your attention the email, attached below, from NASA regarding the ESA Cosmic Visions competition for science missions and how U.S. investigators can obtain a "letter of acknowledgement" from NASA if their collaboration with a European proposal team is deemed to be in alignment with NASA strategic planning. Please also note that the NASA email also addresses the status of the NASA Science Plan, for which the NSAG provided an industry review last year, with a web site to which the Plan will soon be posted."

The Growing Gap

Space Gap Flight Worries NASA, AP/Time

"NASA had hoped to have the first manned Orion flight as early as 2012. That would be a low-orbit test flight. But that goal was pushed back to 2014 when NASA had to raid the Orion development fund to fill in a $3 billion shortfall for finishing space station construction and ending the shuttle program. Repairs to NASA buildings damaged by Hurricane Katrina also siphoned off money. Space agency officials said the 2007 budget would remove more than $500 million from what NASA had budgeted for developing the new spacecraft, pushing the first manned flight of Orion into March 2015. A moon landing is scheduled for no later than 2020."



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