JPL PLays Favorites With The Media (again)

Keith's note: I have been told repeatedly by NASA HQ PAO that NASA PAO policy is to not issue materials such as press releases under embargo to media prior to their public release. Yet I have caught JPL doing this multiple times. When I ask JPL PAO chief Veronica McGregor about this she simply refuses to respond. This time my inquiry concerned a press release regarding NASA research, issued under embargo by the ESO for the recent IAU meeting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. When I asked JPL PAO about this I got zero response (again). So, I filed a FOIA request with both NASA HQ and JPL. NASA HQ's FOIA officer replied "The NASA Headquarters Office of Public Affairs conducted a search and from that search no records were found responsive to your request, Public Affairs also stated that there is no policy for this topic." Curious.

A few days later I got the response from the JPL FOIA officer (below). "This is to advise that NASA has no responsive Government records at JPL. However, for your convenience I wish to point out a NASA Headquarters document entitled NASA Policy on the Release of Information to News and Information Media that mentions publication embargoes and is publicly accessible at the following web site: http://www.nasa.gov/audience/formedia/features/communication_policy.html If they exist, any additional NASA records related to PAO Policy will likely be provided by the NASA Headquarters FOIA Public Liaison Office relative to your request under case 09-HQ-F-00264. It should be noted that the press release mentioned in this FOIA request was not issued by NASA or JPL nor was there an embargo imposed by NASA or JPL."

The link mentions "embargos" but does not contain the policy I asked for. Oddly, it claims that this is not a NASA or JPL press release yet it was issued about a NASA-funded mission and NASA-funded research with two NASA JPL scientists listed as the firts two contacts. If no emails could be found (as were requested) then how did the IAU (or ESO) get the text of the press release (i.e. from Pasadena, CA, USA to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) in the first place? Did no one at JPL ever discuss this research paper or its findings? Several NASA JPL personnel (Nelson and Lopes) are listed as email contacts - did no one contact them about this press release? No one at JPL PAO reviewed drafts of the release which cites/mentions NASA JPL employees and their research? The press release states "Rosaly Lopes, a planetary geologist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, who is presenting the results on Friday, 7 August." Who paid her travel expenses and who was she representing?

This embargoed release was distributed by NASA JPL to several non-US organizations under embargo even though NASA HQ PAO claims that this is not in accordance with agency policy - a policy for which no text can be found ...

RC000/NMO
September 3, 2009

NASA Watch c/o Reston Communications
Attn: Mr. Keith Cowing
PO Box 3569
Reston, VA 20195-1569

Re: FOIA Request JPL-09-040 (Also 09-HQ-F-00264)

Dear Mr. Cowing:

Your Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for release of information from the files of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was referred by HASA Headquarters FOIA Office and received in FOIA processing at the NASA Management Office-Jet Propulsion Laboratory. You requested the following:

"...A copy of the text of the current NASA PAO policy as it relates to NASA JPL PAO policy for releasing NASA research information under embargo to the media... ...All correspondence, emails, memo, and other communication between Rosaly Lopes, Robert M. Nelson, IAU, and NASA JPL Public Affairs regarding the the issuance of this press release "Surface features on Titan form like Earth's, but with a frigid twist"; the selection criteria for which members of the media receive it under embargo and which do not; the conditions under which this material is to be treated as being under embargo; and the rationale as to why it is to be kept under embargo..."

This is to advise that NASA has no responsive Government records at JPL. However, for your convenience I wish to point out a NASA Headquarters document entitled "NASA Policy on the Release of Information to News and Information Media" that mentions publication embargoes and is publicly accessible at the following web site:

http://www.nasa.gov/audience/formedia/features/communication_policy.html

If they exist, any additional NASA records related to PAO Policy will likely be provided by the NASA Headquarters FOIA Public Liaison Office relative to your request under case 09-HQ-F-00264.

It should be noted that the press release mentioned in this FOIA request was not issued by NASA or JPL nor was there an embargo imposed by NASA or JPL.

You may appeal this initial determination to the NASA Administrator. Your appeal must: (1) be addressed to the Administrator, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Mail Stop: P, 300 E Street, SW, Washington, DC 20546, (2) be identified clearly on the envelope and in the letter as an "Appeal under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA); (3) include a copy of the request for the agency record, and a copy of the adverse initial determination; (4) state, to the extent possible, the reasons why you believe the initial determination should be reversed; and (5) be sent to the Administrator with thirty (30) calendar days of the date of the receipt of this initial determination.

I trust this will be of assistance to you. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Dennis B. Mahon
Freedom of Information Act Public Liaison Officer and Records Manager

Copy to:
NASA HQ FOIA Public Liaison Office
Office of Public Affairs, M/S 5L19
300 E Street SW
Washington DC 20546-0001

[SNIP]

Select the type of document that you are requesting: Other Description: 1. A copy of the text of the current NASA PAO policy as it relates to NASA JPL PAO policy for releasing NASA research information under embargo to the media

2. All correspondence, emails, memo, and other communication between Rosaly Lopes, Robert M. Nelson, IAU, and NASA JPL Public Affairs regarding the the issuance of this press release "Surface features on Titan form like Earth's, but with a frigid twist"; the selection criteria for which members of the media receive it under embargo and which do not; the conditions under which this material is to be treated as being under embargo; and the rationale as to why it is to be kept under embargo.

PIO Source:
Lars Lindberg Christensen
IAU Press Officer
ESO ePOD, Garching, Germany
Tel: +49 89 3200 6761
Cellular: +49 173 3872 621
E-mail: lars@eso.org

Under embargo until 06 August 2009 at 20:00 CEST
The full text of this press release is available on
http://www.iau.org/public_press/news/release/iau0915/
login: [DELETED]
password: [DELETED]

Surface features on Titan form like Earth's, but with a frigid twist

6 August 2009, Rio de Janeiro: Saturns haze-enshrouded moon Titan turns out to have much in common with Earth in the way that weather and geology shape its terrain, according to two pieces of research to be presented at the XXVII General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Wind, rain, volcanoes, tectonics and other Earth-like processes all sculpt features on Titan's complex and varied surface in an environment more than 100C colder on average than Antarctica.

"It is really surprising how closely Titan's surface resembles Earth's," says Rosaly Lopes, a planetary geologist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, who is presenting the results on Friday, 7 August. "In fact, Titan looks more like the Earth than any other body in the Solar System, despite the huge differences in temperature and other environmental conditions."

The joint NASA/ESA/ASI Cassini-Huygens mission has revealed details of Titan's geologically young surface, showing few impact craters, and featuring mountain chains, dunes and even "lakes". The RADAR instrument on the Cassini orbiter has now allowed scientists to image a third of Titan's surface using radar beams that pierce the giant moon's thick, smoggy atmosphere. There is still much terrain to cover, as the aptly named Titan is one of the biggest moons in the Solar System, larger than the planet Mercury and approaching Mars in size.

Titan has long fascinated astronomers as the only moon known to possess a thick atmosphere, and as the only celestial body other than Earth to have stable pools of liquid on its surface. The many lakes that pepper the northern polar latitudes, with a scattering appearing in the south as well, are thought to be filled with liquid hydrocarbons, such as methane and ethane.

"With an average surface temperature hovering around -180 C, water cannot exist on Titan except as deep-frozen ice as strong as rock," Lopes says. On Titan, methane takes water's place in the hydrological cycle of evaporation and precipitation (rain or snow) and can appear as a gas, a liquid and a solid. Methane rain cuts channels and forms lakes on the surface and causes erosion, helping to erase the meteorite impact craters that pockmark most other rocky worlds, such as our own Moon and the planet Mercury.

Other new research presented at the IAU General Assembly points to current volcanic activity on Titan, but instead of scorching hot magma, scientists think these "cryovolcanoes" eject cold slurries of water-ice and ammonia. Scientists have spotted evidence for these outflows using another Cassini instrument called the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS). This device can gather the infrared light from the Sun that is reflected back by Titan's surface after passing through its atmosphere, giving clues about the identity of the chemical compounds found on Titan's surface.

VIMS had previously detected an area, called Hotei Regio, with a varying infrared signature, suggesting the temporary presence of ammonia frosts that subsequently dissipated or were covered over. Although the ammonia does not stay exposed for long, models show that it exists in Titan's interior, indicating that a process is at work delivering ammonia to the surface. RADAR imaging has indeed found structures that resemble terrestrial volcanoes near the site of suspected ammonia deposition.

At the IAU General Assembly, new infrared images of this region, with ten times the resolution of prior mappings, will be unveiled. "These new results are the next advance in this exploration process," says Robert M. Nelson, a senior research scientist, also at JPL, who presented a result on Wednesday, 5 August. "The images provide further evidence suggesting that cryovolcanism has deposited ammonia onto Titan's surface. It has not escaped our attention that ammonia, in association with methane and nitrogen, the principal species of Titan's atmosphere, closely replicates the environment at the time that life first emerged on Earth. One exciting question is whether Titan's chemical processes today support a prebiotic chemistry similar to that under which life evolved on Earth?"

Yet more terrestrial-type features on Titan include dunes formed by cold winds, and mountain ranges. These mountains might have formed tectonically when Titan's crust compressed as it went into a deep freeze, in contrast to the Earth's crust, which continues to move today, producing earthquakes and rift valleys on our planet.

Many Titan researchers hope to observe Titan with Cassini for long enough to follow a change in seasons. The new image released by JPL accompanying this release shows what appears to be a dried-out lake at Titan's south pole. Lopes thinks that the hydrocarbons there likely evaporated because this hemisphere is experiencing summer. When the seasons change in several years and summer returns to the northern latitudes, the lakes so common there may evaporate and end up pooling in the south.

This IAU General Assembly has personal significance for Lopes, as she was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro. From abroad and on periodic visits back to her home country, Lopes has encouraged young Brazilians to pursue careers in science and technology. "It's wonderful to be back again", Lopes says.

###

Links

Rosaly Lopes' web site: http://science.jpl.nasa.gov/people/Lopes/

Robert M. Nelson web site: http://science.jpl.nasa.gov/people/RNelson/

Notes

The IAU is the international astronomical organisation that brings together almost 10 000 distinguished astronomers from all nations of the world. Its mission is to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy in all its aspects through international cooperation. The IAU also serves as the internationally recognised authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies and the surface features on them. Founded in 1919, the IAU is the world's largest professional body for astronomers.

For more information

Rosaly Lopes
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Tel: +1 818 648 9543
E-mail: Rosaly.M.Lopes@jpl.nasa.gov

Robert M. Nelson
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Tel: +1 818 634-3316
E-mail: Robert.M.Nelson@jpl.nasa.gov

Lars Lindberg Christensen
IAU Press Officer
ESO ePOD, Garching, Germany
Tel: +49 89 3200 6761
Cellular: +49 173 3872 621
E-mail: lars@eso.org
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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on September 5, 2009 10:41 PM.

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