May 2011 Archives

Starfighters Ready to Launch Satellites

"F-104 jet fighters just like the ones astronauts trained in for decades will become a more regular part of the skyscape above NASA's Kennedy Space Center as a private company expands its fleet of jets with plans to conduct more research flights, launch very small satellites into space and even take paying passengers into the stratosphere. The developments come four years after the company made its first flight from the Shuttle Landing Facility, or SLF, at Kennedy in April 2007."

Keith's note: According to the ISS National Lab Management Entity CAN the "anticipated selection announcement" is 31 May 2011. NASA never wanted to go down this path to begin with. As such, it will be interesting to see what team NASA picks and whether the agency will ever truly yield any control of the ISS to an external entity - or allow any creative thinking to enter into the management of the ISS. Given the way that this CAN was formulated, we are probably just going to see more of the same old 20th century mindset that has dominated ISS management since the 1990s.

- ISS National Lab CAN Provides Old, Incomplete Documents, earlier post
- NASA's Slow Motion Reluctance To Truly Open Up The ISS, earlier post
- The Primary Purpose (Today) of the ISS is Operations, Not Science, earlier post
- Using the ISS: Once Again NASA Has Been Left in the Dust, earlier post

Keith's note: Today came and went - as have many unmet milestones set by the ISS NGO folks at NASA.

Building a Model (Rocket) Workforce, OSTP

"Earlier this month, we were honored to be invited to the Team America Rocketry Challenge held about 50 miles outside Washington, DC. There, hundreds of middle- and high-school students were participating in a model rocketry competition sponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association. As two guys with aerospace in our blood, we know firsthand the excitement and adrenaline rush of launching model rockets. For many youngsters--us among them--model rocketry is a rite of passage that springboards early dreamers to become the engineers and aerospace professionals of tomorrow. They will be the ones designing, building, and operating the next-generation rockets that launch astronauts into space, probes into the farthest reaches of our solar system, and Earth-orbiting satellites that touch every facet of our daily lives."

Keith's 19 May note: Industry sources report that Northrop Grumman will begin to layoff personnel working on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) next month for budgetary and scheduling reasons. JWST was originally supposed to have been launched in 2007. This launch date has officially slipped to no earlier than 2017-2018. According to sources, NASA Associate Administrator Chris Scolese told a group of aerospace executives this week that running JWST at a rate of $375 million a year would result in a launch date of 2022-2024.

The cost of JWST has grown from an initial $1 billion estimate to $2 billion - then to $4 billion - and is now estimated to be $7 billion. In other words the cost increase sucks $6 billion out of NASA's budget - money that would have otherwise gone to other space science projects.

If this continues, universities are going to see funds for non-JWST projects dry up. Contractors who might have had a chance to bid on other projects will now be forced to change their line of business to pursue other types of projects. The result of all of this will be loss of expertise in the work force in academia, the private sector - and at NASA.

NASA PAO has responded to NASA Watch stating: "The statement attributed to Chris Scolese is inaccurate. NASA is currently working with contractors and international partners to assess the budget and schedule and develop a sustainable path forward for the JWST program that is based on a realistic cost and schedule assessment. NASA is completing the assessments and developing a new baseline. NASA will complete its new baseline cost and schedule assessment for JWST in the summer of 2011. This information will be used in formulation of the FY 2013 budget request. A decision on JWST's launch date is contingent upon the outcome of these activities."

Keith's 19 May 4:30 pm update: Note that NASA does not dispute the fact that Scolese mentioned that the annual $375 million spending rate would result in a slip to 2022-2024 - rather, that they are studying things ... stay tuned.

Keith's 19 May 7:15 pm update: According to Northrop Grumman's spokesman Lon Rains "We are not planning a Webb layoff in June".

NASA Watch stands by its sources.

Keith's 31 May note: According to a WARN Act filing, Northrop Grumman has notified the State of California that as many as 870 jobs could be eliminated in the next few months. This does not mean that all 870 jobs will be eliminated however. Some are in divisions that would have no possible involvement with JWST. Others might have JWST connections. When I asked Northrop Grumman's spokesman Lon Rains to characterize these layoffs, asking if there could be some JWST employees in the mix, he said "possibly". He then went on to say that these layoffs were being made across the company and that they had to do with internal corporate reorganization - and that no JWST jobs were being lost due to any direction from NASA. NASA Watch sources report that employees working on JWST at Northrop Grumman are indeed being laid off - however the total number is not known.

SMD Budget Update

Update from NASA SMD Planetary Science Division

"As you know NASA received a passed budget on April 14th. However, after passage we first received only a 30-day allotment. Funds for all of FY11 arrived late in the second week of May. Starting on Monday May 23rd access to these new funds for our Program Officers who run the ROSES programs began. Even by the end of the week on May 27th, some of the Program Officers did not have access to all their funds. Jon Rall and all the R&A Program Officers are working as fast as they can to complete the panel reviews, evaluations, selections and awards. This includes going back to many of those that received 'selectable' letters this year for funding."

Stunning Images: ISS Flies Over Earth At Night - Stars Above, Lights Below

"A portion of the International Space Station is visible in these views of a starry sky and Earth's horizon, photographed by an STS-134 crew member while space shuttle Endeavour remains docked with the station."

Lights In The Sky

Early Morning Skywatching and Teaching Satellite Concepts to Sherpas

"I got up early today to see the ISS and Endeavour fly over my house. Its always cool to see them flying in formation like this. This morning's viewing was at 4:48 am low in the North, so I was not sure I'd see things due to the brightening sky. As the two vehicles approached from due West I could only make out one fast moving light. But as the viewing geometry improved I was rewarded with two almost equally bright lights moving in clear association with one another - albeit briefly. Then the trees blocked my view. (My graphic is an attempt to draw what I saw.)

While I was waiting there for the flyby I thought back the film "The Right Stuff" where a group of wise aborigines ponders the night sky while sparks fly up from a fire. I wondered what sort of cosmology a modern stone age tribe in Borneo isolated from the rest of the world would think of all these lights in the sky moving in ways our ancestors would never have seen. Imagine what sort of cosmology they might have created to explain such lights."

Note: This video was sent to me by a reader after they read my original article: "Here's what you may have seen this morning - the Shuttle Endeavour leads the ISS, at about 4:50am (EDT) this morning. This handheld video was taken with my Canon S5-IS, with a maximum 12X optical zoom. It may not be "broadcast quality" but is presented as a tribute to the last flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour.- Michael Kowalchuk Ferdinand, IN"

Students Win Conrad Foundation Innovation Award And Send Nutrition Bar on Endeavour's Last Flight (Update)

"Update: Photos of several STS-134 astronauts eating a STEM bar aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour have been released."

NASA Solicitation: Flight and Payload Services for Suborbital Reusable Launch Vehicles

"This notice is issued by the NASA/DFRC to post a draft RFP via the internet, and solicit responses from interested parties. This document is for information and planning purposes and to allow industry the opportunity to verify reasonableness and feasibility of the requirement, as well as promote competition."

12 Space Shuttle Missions That Weren't, IEEE Spectrum

"The U.S. space shuttle fleet is set for retirement following the launch of Atlantis, scheduled for mid-July. In all, the fleet will have flown 135 missions, the first in 1981, but there were many more on the drawing board. With scrubbed missions that included daring rescues, in-orbit satellite snatches, and dangerous explosives, you can see why some of these didn't make the cut. But just imagine if they had."

Amazing Wide Angle Photo Taken Outside of the Space Station

According to @Astro_Ron: "On today's spacewalk @Astro_Taz took the most amazing #ISS px ever Can't wait to see @Astro_Paolo 's from Soyuz"

Keith's note: More photos have been added. I wonder why they never tried to take shots like this before! Mapping Dark Matter

"The aim is to measure the shapes of galaxies to reconstruct the gravitational lensing signal in the presence ofnoise and a known Point Spread Function. The signal is a very small change in the galaxies'ellipticity, an exactly circular galaxy image would be changed into anellipse; however real galaxies are not circular. The challenge is to measure the ellipticity of 100,000 simulated galaxies."

Aussie student finds universe's 'missing mass', AFP

"A 22-year-old Australian university student has solved a problem which has puzzled astrophysicists for decades, discovering part of the so-called "missing mass" of the universe during her summer break. Undergraduate Amelia Fraser-McKelvie made the breakthrough during a holiday internship with a team at Monash University's School of Physics, locating the mystery material within vast structures called "filaments of galaxies".

VLT Finds a Brilliant But Solitary Superstar

"An extraordinarily bright isolated star has been found in a nearby galaxy -- the star is three million times brighter than the Sun. All previous similar "superstars" were found in star clusters, but this brilliant beacon shines in solitary splendor. The origin of this star is mysterious: did it form in isolation or was it ejected from a cluster? Either option challenges astronomers' understanding of star formation."

Zero Gravity Corporation Awarded Safety Approval from the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation

"The Safety Approval, granted on April 20, 2011 and in effect for five years, allows ZERO-G to offer reduced gravity parabolic flight profiles to prospective suborbital launch operators to meet the applicable components of the crew qualification and training requirements outlined in the Code of Federal Regulations (14 C.F.R. S 460.5). These regulations require crew members to complete training on how to carry out their roles on board or on the ground and to demonstrate the ability to withstand the stresses of spaceflight, which may include high acceleration or deceleration, microgravity, and vibration."

Lunar Magma Has 800 Times More Water Than Previously Suggested

"A team of NASA-funded researchers has measured for the first time water from the moon in the form of tiny globules of molten rock, which have turned to glass-like material trapped within crystals. Data from these newly-discovered lunar melt inclusions indicate the water content of lunar magma is 100 times higher than previous studies suggested."

Lunar Water Brings Portions of Moon's Origin Story Into Question, Carnegie Institution

"Compared with meteorites, Earth and the other inner planets of our solar system contain relatively low amounts of water and volatile elements, which were not abundant in the inner solar system during planet formation. The even lower quantities of these volatile elements found on the Moon has long been claimed as evidence that it must have formed following a high-temperature, catastrophic giant impact. But this new research shows that aspects of this theory must be reevaluated."

Roundup: Obama's policy aims to revitalize space program John Holdren and Charlie Bolden

"Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell and Gene Cernan are genuine American heroes who brought immense courage and competence to the historic manned moon missions they led. Obviously, they are more than entitled to their opinions about the best way forward for America's space program today. But their opinions would be more worthy of attention if they were based on a more accurate understanding of where we are, how we got here, and how President Obama's space policy, far from "grounding" JFK's space legacy, is positioning us to revitalize it with new technology, new capabilities and new destinations ("Is Obama grounding JFK's space legacy?", The Forum, Wednesday)."

Column: Is Obama grounding JFK's space legacy?, By Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell and Gene Cernan, USA Today

"President Obama's proposed 2011 budget did not include funds for Constellation, therefore essentially canceling the program. It sent shock waves throughout NASA, the Congress and the American people. Nearly $10 billion had been invested in design and development of the program. Many respected experts and members of Congress voiced concern about the president's proposal. Some supported the president's plan,but most were critical. The supporters' biases were often evident, particularly when there was a vested or economic interest in the outcome. Obama's advisers, in searching for a new and different NASA strategy with which the president could be favorably identified, ignored NASA's operational mandate and strayed widely from President Kennedy's vision and the will of the American people."

Subcommittee Democrats Seek Assurance of Reliable and Timely Commercial Cargo Capability for the International Space Station, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Democrats

"In 2006, NASA laid out a two-phase plan to ensure that vital equipment and supplies could be delivered to the ISS after the retirement of the space shuttle. In phase one, companies would be required to develop and demonstrate the capability to safely deliver cargo to the ISS. In phase two, when confident that commercial cargo sources were available, NASA would sign long-term CRS contracts with commercial cargo providers. However, NASA signed long-term resupply contracts with SpaceX and Orbital before either company had successfully demonstrated a commercial cargo flight. Furthermore, in 2010, NASA canceled the Constellation Program, which would have served as a contingency backup in case commercial cargo services were delayed or failed. Commercial providers are now fully responsible for the critical task of resupplying the ISS when the Space Shuttle retires in July."

Critical Questions Remain on the Viability of Commercial Cargo Efforts to Support the Space Station, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology

"In his opening remarks, Subcommittee Chairman Steven Palazzo (R-MS) noted that Congress has generally been supportive of NASA's commercial cargo efforts. However, he said that "Too often, requests for information have been met with a veil of secrecy and claims of company proprietary information." Subsequently, Palazzo said, "I want to remind NASA and the commercial partners that you are spending taxpayer money, and lots of it. So you will not be exempt from oversight and financial scrutiny."

NASA Demonstrating Smart Technology Through Suborbital Rocket Mission

"A new microsatellite designed to give scientists less expensive access to space will be demonstrated during a NASA Terrier-Improved Orion suborbital sounding rocket flight between 7 and 10 a.m., June 9, from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia."

NASA OIG Semiannual Report October 1, 2010 - March 31, 2011

"In January 2011, the NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG) took the unusual step of sending a letter to the Chairs and Ranking Members of NASA's congressional oversight and appropriations committees highlighting a situation created by "holdover" language in NASA's fiscal year (FY) 2010 appropriation. The language prohibited NASA from terminating contracts related to the Agency's canceled Constellation Program or starting programs to implement the follow-on human space exploration program called for in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act. The OIG urged Congress to take immediate action to enable NASA to more efficiently redirect its funds to the priorities outlined in the Authorization Act. While not a traditional audit or investigative report, the letter seeks to fulfill the Inspector General Act's directive that OIGs should make recommendations to Congress concerning the impact of legislation on the "economy and efficiency" of their agencies."

Keith's note: When a witness testifies before this committee they are required to sign a "Truth in Testimony" from which the committee now posts on its hearing website (just look uner each witness' name for links). Yet the hearing charter that the committee posts on its site does not seem to be held to the same high standards. One glaring example:

"The terms of the contracts awarded to SpaceX and Orbital call for delivery of at least 40 metric tons (approximately 88,160 pounds) of cargo to the space station between 2010 and 2015 for $3.5 billion. SpaceX was awarded $1.6 billion to deliver 20 metric tons on 12 cargo resupply missions. Orbital was awarded $1.9 billion to deliver 20 metric tons on 8 cargo resupply missions. The following chart lists approximate costs to deliver one pound of cargo to the ISS under various programs. Development costs are not included in these calculations, and are considered proprietary information by the COTS partners.

Approximate cost per pound to ISS

Space Shuttle* - $21,268
Russian Progress - $18,149
Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) - $26,770

*Calculated assuming four missions per year with a capability to deliver 16 metric tons (35,264 pounds) to the space station at a total annual program cost of $3.0 Billion. $3,000,000,000 (4 flights 35,264 pounds/flight) = $21,268 per pound. Assumes no additional cost to transport 28 astronauts to the space station and return.

Costs for the Russian Progress and the Commercial Resupply program are NASA estimates. The CRS estimate would be higher, at around $39,700 per pound, if derived using a method similar to that used for the Space Shuttle; i.e. Dividing the CRS program cost ($3.5 billion) by the mass delivered to the space station (40 metric tons, i.e. 88,160 pounds)."

Keith's note: Are full shuttle development costs, sustaining engineering, post-Challenger and post-Columbia fixes etc. included in what it cost to develop and maintain the current shuttle capability - including costs picked up by the ISS program? Is any honest attempt whatsoever made to figure out what the development costs (mostly by the communist command economy Soviet Union) were for Soyuz/Progress system? Everyone knows that the Russians pick the highest cost they can get away with (they learned capitalism from us all too well). Yet this committee's staff (i.e. Ken Monroe) provides these misleading numbers to the members of the committee to cite as facts.

If witnesses (invited to voluntarily testify) are put through this scrutiny to calibrate their truthfulness/conflicts of interest, then shouldn't staff (and members who get political contributions) be asked to sign a similar form stating that their "facts" are as free from bias as they can possibly make them? And since some of these numbers come from NASA, shouldn't they also be called upon to at least provide caveats (in the case of Progress numbers)?

How can you possibly have a calm, reasoned discussion about the cost of things - and the relative merits of government vs private sector operations - when the numbers are either flawed, cooked, or skewed like this? Curiously, it was Shotwell and Culbertson who knew all of their numbers - and the numbers rolled off their tongues easily when asked - and often, when they were not asked.

Video: High Definition Onboard Views From Space Shuttle STS-134 Launch

"These new, crystal clear high-definition videos shot from the Endeavour's Solid Rocket Boosters provide a stunning view of what it is like to launch into space."

Aerial Photos of Endeavour's Launch

"Photographed from a shuttle training aircraft, space shuttle Endeavour and its six-member STS-134 crew head toward Earth orbit and rendezvous with the International Space Station."

Keith's note: Have a look at tomorrow's House Science Committee Hearing. Specifically, have a look at the charter for tomorrow's hearing "NASA's Commercial Cargo Providers: Are They Ready to Supply the Space Station in the Post-Shuttle Era?"

Curiously, after watching NASA spend more than $12 billion on Constellation with only the semi-dummy Ares 1-X rocket to show for it in terms of flight hardware, the committee never planned any oversight hearings on the cost overruns and lack of progress. Now NASA changes the name of Constellation's Orion to "MPCV" - but still hasn't a clue what its new (old) mission will now cost. And Congress still doesn't convene a hearing? Instead they go after the private sector which has made far more progress - at far less cost - toward meeting the same capabilities as NASA has been stumbling to do.

Live webcast starting at 10:00 am EDT

Commercial Launch Vehicles: NASA Taking Measures to Manage Delays and Risks, GAO

"SpaceX and Orbital continue to make progress completing milestones under their COTS agreements with NASA, but both partners are working under aggressive schedules and have experienced delays in completing demonstration missions. SpaceX successfully flew its first demonstration mission in December 2010, but the mission was 18 months late and the company's second and third demonstration missions have been delayed by almost 2 years due to design, development, and production challenges with the Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 launch vehicle."

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin Calls for Continuing JFK Vision on 50th Anniversary of "Moon" Speech

"We should employ a 'flexible path' that utilizes the capabilities we develop for our longer-term goal to accomplish intermediate objectives along the way, such as: expanding our reach beyond low Earth orbit to provide access to our entire Earth-Moon system, as well as to special stable Sun-Earth orbital locations where orbiting science observatories will peer back in time to the very origins of the universe. We will also conduct missions to asteroids, comets and near-Earth Crossing Objects, that may one day pose a threat to Earth - perhaps exploiting their resources to sustain our presence in space, as we seek to understand their origins and the history of our solar system, and develop the ability to counter their potential threat to Earth. ... With regard to returning to the moon, we should not reengage in a second 'Moon Race'. We won that race more than forty-years ago, and there is no compelling reason to forgo our longer-term goal of permanent human presence on Mars by 2035, by diverting the resources needed to accomplish this important goal."

America's Students Step Up to the Challenge, OSTP

"On the 50th anniversary of one of the most memorable "grand challenge" declarations in history--President Kennedy's call for a commitment of "landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth"--I want to congratulate America's Grand Challenge Scholars. These undergraduate engineering students have organized their research, coursework, and extracurricular activities to find solutions to some of the most important problems facing the Nation in the 21st century. The Grand Challenge Scholars Program was inspired by the National Academy of Engineering's 2008 promulgation of 14 "grand challenges"--global problems whose solutions could vastly improve people's lives, such as providing access to safe drinking water, dramatically lowering the cost of solar energy, enabling personalized learning, and developing computers capable of emulating human intelligence. President Obama also featured grand challenges in his national innovation strategy."

NASA To Launch New Science Mission To Asteroid In 2016

"NASA will launch a spacecraft to an asteroid in 2016 and use a robotic arm to pluck samples that could better explain our solar system's formation and how life began. The mission, called Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx, will be the first U.S. mission to carry samples from an asteroid back to Earth."

Press Conference

"NASA will host a media teleconference at 4:30 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, May 25, to discuss the selection of a future science mission that will usher in a new era in planetary exploration. Jim Green, director for NASA's Planetary Science Division Mission in Washington, and other officials will take reporters' questions during the teleconference. For live streaming audio of the teleconference, visit: A news release about the new mission will be available at 4 p.m. at:"

Once Upon A Time ...

NASA Commemorates Moonshot Moment's Golden Anniversary Agency Looks to the Future and Beyond Low-Earth Orbit

"Fifty years ago, a young president struggling with deepening international issues set a fledgling space agency on a course that would change the history of human exploration. NASA commemorates President John F. Kennedy's historic speech that sent humans safely to the moon with a series of activities and a commitment to continue the journey of discovery and exploration that started with a desperate race into space."

Message from the NASA Administrator: Reaching for New Heights

"It is hard to imagine that just 50 years ago, a young and vibrant President challenged a worried nation to reach for the seemingly impossible goal of landing humans on the moon and returning them safely to Earth. I was a teenager when President John F. Kennedy delivered his charge to Congress and the American people, but those words sparked my imagination, as they did for the millions of others who watched."

Did Kennedy Privately Denigrate the Moon Shot?, Science

"But this looks like a hell of a lot of dough to go to the moon when you can go -- you can learn most of that you want scientifically through instruments and putting a man on the moon really is a stunt and it isn't worth that many billions," Kennedy told James Webb, the head of NASA, on Sept. 18, 1963, just over two months before the president was assassinated in Dallas."

NASA Proposed rule with request for comments: Commercial Acquisition: Anchor Tenancy

"NASA proposes to revise the NASA FAR Supplement (NFS) to include guidance consistent with NASA's authority under Section 401 of the Commercial Space Competitiveness Act (CSCA) of 1992. NASA may enter into multi-year anchor tenancy contracts for commercial space goods or services. Anchor Tenancy means ``an arrangement in which the United States Government agrees to procure sufficient quantities of a commercial space product or service needed to meet Government mission requirements so that a commercial venture is made viable.''

NASA Sets News Conference With Shuttle And Space Station Crews

"The nine crew members aboard space shuttle Endeavour and the International Space Station will hold a news conference starting at 5:42 a.m. EDT on Thursday, May 26. Reporters may ask questions in person from NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Kennedy Space Center in Florida and agency headquarters in Washington."

Keith's note: Less than 24 hours notice about this crew presser (how many weeks have they known about this?) and at 5:42 am EDT? That's 4:42 am in Houston and 2:42 am on the west coast. I guess there is not a lot of interest in having U.S. media participate - or be awake when doing so ... and then NASA complains when things like this don't get adequate (or quality) media coverage? Gee, I wonder why.

Keith's note: To be fair the crew is more or less working overnight U.S. time. But the ISS crew is not - you can see it in the daily schedules. And the ISS/Shuttle complex is rather large i.e.

Dismantling NASA

Former Senator Schmitt Proposes Dismantling of NASA and Creation of a New, Deep Space Exploration Agency

"Is there a path forward for United States' space policy? When a new President takes office in 2013, he or she should propose to Congress that we start space policy and its administration from scratch. A new agency, the National Space Exploration Administration (NSEA), should be charged with specifically enabling America's and its partners' exploration of deep space, inherently stimulating education, technology, and national focus. The existing component parts of NASA should be spread among other agencies with the only exception being activities related to U.S. obligations to its partners in the International Space Station (ISS)."

Robert Bigelow presented a series of charts at the recent International Space Development Conference which outline his company's interesting product line of inflatable/expandable modular spacecraft. These charts are posted online at NASA Watch/SpaceRef/OnOrbit with permission of Bigelow Aerospace and can be found here.

Farewell Spirit

NASA Concludes Attempts To Contact Mars Rover Spirit

"NASA is ending attempts to regain contact with the long-lived Mars Exploration Rover Spirit, which last communicated on March 22, 2010. A transmission that will end on Wednesday, May 25, will be the last in a series of attempts. Extensive communications activities during the past 10 months also have explored the possibility that Spirit might reawaken as the solar energy available to it increased after a stressful Martian winter without much sunlight. With inadequate energy to run its survival heaters, the rover likely experienced colder internal temperatures last year than in any of its prior six years on Mars. Many critical components and connections would have been susceptible to damage from the cold."

SpaceX Responds To Forbes Contributor Loren Thompson, Forbes

"Contributor Loren Thompson's recent post on Forbes' Business in the Beltway blog ("What NASA Risks By Betting On Elon Musk's SpaceX", May 23, 2011) is the latest example of his transparent agenda to discredit commercial space providers that may provide significant competition to the big defense contractors that are his clients and benefactors. Mr. Thompson is a paid consultant for Lockheed Martin Corporation, which competes with SpaceX in various space ventures. He is also the chief operating officer of the non-profit Lexington Institute, a think tank often referred to as the "defense industry's pay-to-play ad agency," financed by and an advocate for the very defense companies most threatened by SpaceX's new approach to the launch business."

NASA to abandon trapped rover Spirit, AP

"The space agency tried every trick to listen for Spirit to no avail. Project manager John Callas of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said the last commands will be sent up Wednesday. Though orbiting spacecraft will continue to listen through the end of May, chances are slim that Spirit willrespond. "Spirit went into a deep sleep," said Callas, who said the plucky rover will be remembered for demystifying Mars to themasses."

Keith's 5:45 pm EDT note: Funny how JPL PAO makes its people available to respond on the record to one reporter - but does not bother to offer the same access to other folks in the media ... then again ...

Keith's 5:55 pm EDT update: I just got a media advisory from JPL PAO with just 5 minutes advanced notice for a 6 p, EDT telecon. When I called the number to get the media telecon number to actually listen in - it did not get answered. I'll try again. Why not just put this on NASA news audio? Or better yet: plan ahead so that people can have reasonable advanced notice.

Keith's 6:01 pm EDT update: Finally got through - to save other media folks the effort its 877-546-1568 password is "spirit".

Keith's 6:22 pm EDT update: John Callas could not explain why he chose to make an announcement via AP without consulting NASA HQ or using traditional media release procedures. JPL PAO tried to play down their screw up - and why they had no materials online with regard to this decision. When asked why there was not an official announcement - as is almost always the case at NASA - no one would give a crisp answer. Dave Lavery was then asked if this is the official announcement and he said "Yes". Callas tried to excuse all of this by saying that "everyone knew this was coming". But earlier he said that the original plan was to try and contact Spirit once a week and that they realized recently that probability of success was practically zero - and would use precious assets. So they decided to put that process to a halt ahead of schedule.

NASA Multi-Purpose Crew VehicleNASA Announces Key Decision For Next Deep Space Transportation System, NASA

"NASA has reached an important milestone for the next U.S. transportation system that will carry humans into deep space. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announced today that the system will be based on designs originally planned for the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle. Those plans now will be used to develop a new spacecraft known as the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV)."

"This selection does not indicate a business as usual mentality for NASA programs," said Douglas Cooke, associate administrator for the agency's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate in Washington. "The Orion government and industry team has shown exceptional creativity in finding ways to keep costs down through management techniques, technical solutions and innovation."

Marc's note: Considering the hype if you will of the pre-release title "NASA Announces Milestone For Future Human Spaceflight" you might think the announcement would have more substance to it. We already new Orion was morphing into the MPCV. But here's something interesting about the press release, the new MPCV will be able to do 21 day missions. I'm not sure how that equates to "Deep Space" though.

NASA will hold a telecon at 3:30 to brief the media. Sorry, the news didn't seem to warrant broadcasting on NASA TV.

Marc's update: For those longer missions NASA's Doug Cooke said on the telecon they would assume another attached spacecraft. I'm glad he assumed that because in reading the press release there's no mention of this. The release was poorly crafted.

Keith's note: So .. this spacecraft does everything Orion was going to do - why not call it "Orion"? MPCV = "Its not "Orion" I just love it when these acronyms serve obscure things. "MPLM" currently means "MultiPurpose Logistics Module". it used to mean "Mini-Pressurized Logistics Module" when we cut the original PLM in half during Space Station Freedom. But NASA would rather you not know that and think that this was the plan all along - hence the obscuring acronym. Indeed, the change from "Space Station Freedom" - to "International Space Station" is an object lesson. Space Station Freedom was, by definition an "international" Space Station from its very inception. Yet changing the name was done by NASA 9th floor types to somehow cite the addition of the Russians as making the space station more "international".

Hmm .. no easily discernible vowels in "MPCV". Maybe its pronounced "MipSiv" or "MeepSeev" or "Em Pee Cee Vee". Remember how NASA removed the "E" from "LEM (Lunar Excursion Module)" and called it the "LM" instead because they did not like the way people were saying "LEM"?. Everyone still said "LEM" - including Neil Armstrong on Apollo 11 ...

Oh well, "NASA" = Never A Straight Answer" and all that ...

Marc's update: Here's what Cook had to say when asked about costs: "The cost on it is going to depend on how long it takes to phase out these things to some degree, we have invested a little over $5 billion in it and so we would continue to work on it from here, the cost will be coming down from what it might have been because we are looking for efficiencies, we've actually begin to implement a number of efficiencies on this, we still have to do the integrated cost and schedule to understand the phasing of it and that will effect how much it ultimately costs."

Ultimately it's going to cost a lot of money and right now NASA can't answer this fundamental question. But the contract for Lockheed Martin goes forward.

Expedition 27 Crew And Capsule Land Safely In Kazakhstan

"Expedition 27 Commander Dmitry Kondratyev and Flight Engineers Cady Coleman and Paolo Nespoli safely landed their Soyuz spacecraft on the Kazakhstan steppe Monday, wrapping up a five-month stay aboard the International Space Station. The trio landed at 10:27 p.m. (8:27 a.m. on May 24 local time) at a site southeast of the town of Dzhezkazgan. Kondratyev, the Soyuz commander, was at the controls of the spacecraft as it undocked at 5:35 p.m. EDT from the station's Rassvet module. Once the Soyuz was 600 feet away, Nespoli took the first still images and video of a space shuttle docked to the station. The orbiting laboratory had to rotate 130 degrees to provide an ideal view for the historic imagery."

NASA KSC Solicitation: Commercial Crew Program Office - Request for Information

"NASA is currently developing requirements for a Commercial Crew Transportation (CCT) capability that would be able to transport NASA astronauts and other spaceflight participants safely to and from LEO and the ISS. This RFI will be implemented through direct collaborations with U.S. space industry participants who are actively developing a viable Crew Transportation System (CTS) or an element of a system (i.e., launch vehicle or spacecraft) with significant and recent flight history for the purpose of conducting market research under Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Part 10."

Keith's note: Wallops had a bunch of student rocket launches this weekend. Yet can you find any photos of this on their website? No. They just have a press release from 12 May online. They still have not figured out how to create a simple launch schedule for their website. Yet they decided to play with posting a QR code on their Facebook page (which leads to their home page). But I am baffled as to why they are spending time on this. This is a technology designed mostly for use on printed materials to allow easy smartphone access without typing on a small screen. Why use it on a webpage? In order to make use of whatever this QR code says I have to get out my iPhone, take a pic, convert it, see where the iPhone's browser goes so that I can then retype it on my desktop computer and go there. Why not focus on the important things like putting a launch schedule online such that taxpayers can see what they are doing. This way there would be something of value regardless of how you found the website. And when something happens at Wallops, post some photos. Is there any adult supervision for PAO at Wallops?

NASA Wallops PAO Has Its Head In The Beach Sand (Again)

More Wallops PAO goofups

NASA's Next Big Thing

NASA Announces Milestone For Future Human Spaceflight

"NASA will host a media teleconference at 3:30 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, May 24, to discuss an agency decision that will define the next transportation system to carry humans into deep space. Douglas Cooke, associate administrator for NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate in Washington, will take reporters' questions during the teleconference."

Video: Animation of Monday's Soyuz Flyaround of the ISS

"The Soyuz TMA-20 spacecraft undocks and flies around the International Space Station in this computer-generated animation shown during the May 20, 2011 STS-134 Mission Status Briefing."

NASA ISS On-Orbit Status 22 May 2011

"05/23/11 -- Soyuz TMA-20/25S undock - 5:32pm EDT (End of Increment 27)
ISS Photography Flyabout - 5:57pm
ISS in photography attitude - 6:13pm
Soyuz TMA-20/25S deorbit burn - 9:36pm
05/23/11 -- Soyuz TMA-20/25S landing - 10:27pm (8:27am local on 5/24)"

Kepler's Astounding Haul of Multiplanet Systems, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

"In particular, the Kepler systems with multiple planets are much flatter than our solar system. They have to be for Kepler to spot them. Kepler watches for a planet to cross in front of its star, blocking a tiny fraction of the star's light. By measuring how much the star dims during such a transit, astronomers can calculate the planet's size, and by observing the time between successive events they can derive the orbital period -- how long it takes the planet to revolve around its star."

Spitzer and Kepler Confirm New Extrasolar Planet, NASA

"A new planetary member of the Kepler-10 solar system was announced today. Using data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, members of the Kepler science team confirmed a new planet, dubbed Kepler-10c."

NASA Announces STS-134 Wakeup Song Winners; Face In Space Totals (with video)

"NASA announced the winners of its "Original Song Contest" after six weeks of public voting. The songs will awaken the STS-134 astronauts aboard space shuttle Endeavour during their ongoing mission. "Sunrise Number 1" by Jorge Otero and the band Stormy Mondays from Oviedo, Spain, earned first place. Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly, Pilot Greg H. Johnson, Mission Specialists Mike Fincke, Drew Feustel, Greg Chamitoff and Roberto Vittori of the European Space Agency will hear the song at 5:56 p.m. EDT on May 31 - the day before the crew returns to Earth. "Sunrise Number 1" received 787,725 votes, or 49.8 percent of the total ballots."

Apollo plus 50 - The meaning of the race to the moon, half a century after the starting gun, The Economist

"As to whether it is was worthwhile, there is no accountant's answer even 50 years on. The Apollo project cost about $150 billion in 2010 dollars, five times as much as the Manhattan Project and 18 times the cost of digging the Panama Canal. It is not easy today to remember how imperative it seemed back then for the free world to show that it could outperform its totalitarian rival. But the moon landing was more than a win in the cold war. It also changed the way people of all nations thought about themselves and the planet they share. It showed that it really was possible for man to step out of this world into another. Apollo 8's photographs of a little Earth, shining vulnerably in a great black emptiness, made people aware of the planet's fragility and helped to spur the green movement."

Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Letter Regarding NASA Authorization Act of 2010 Compliance

"As Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate committee charged with NASA oversight, it is our responsibility to make sure that NASA's policy direction, and the associated taxpayer investment, is proceeding in accordance with the law. Our Nation's space program is undergoing a transition that has not been seen since the end of the Apollo era, which presents many challenges and opportunities. NASA's current inaction and indecision in implementing this transition could impact our global standing and take many years and billions of dollars to repair. As a result, we are requesting bi-monthly briefings and detailed information documenting what steps NASA is taking to comply with the law. The first briefing should take place during the week of May 30, 2011."

Keith's note: Wow - what a shopping list they have prepared - its like a media FOIA request - and they want NASA to "provide the requested information and documents by June 3, 2011." I wonder if they will hold NASA in contempt of Congress if they do not get every single thing that they have asked for. Ouch. Charlie Bolden is not going to enjoy the inevitable hearing(s) that will follow.

NASA HQ Solicitation: Space Shuttle 30th Anniversary: The Space Philarmonic (sp)

"NASA/HQ has a requirement for an ensemble by The Space Philharmonic group to perform a symphonic concert in honor of the 50th Anniversary of Human Space Flight: The Kennedy Legacy scheduled to take place on May 25th, 2011."

NASA HQ Solicitation: The Kennedy Legacy: 50th Anniversary of U.S. Human Space Flight

"NASA/HQ has a requirement for a venue and associated services to host a free concert in honor of NASA's 50th Anniversary of U.S. Human Spaceflight: "The Kennedy Legacy" scheduled to take place on May 25th, 2011. NASA/HQ intends to purchase the items from John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts pursuant to FAR 13.106, for the acquisition of supplies or services determined to be reasonably available from only one source."

Keith's 11 May note: Of course, the only tickets available in advance for this exclusive, yet-to-be-announced event will probably only be available to VIPs, NASA employees and their families (that's the standard procedure). As for the cost of this exclusive concert? Who knows. NASA now takes 6+ months to respond to FOIA requests, so that is a waste of time. P.S. the operative word in this solicitation is actually spelled "Philharmonic".

This Kennedy Center event on 25 May 2011: NASA presents: Human Spaceflight: The Kennedy Legacy notes: "This is a FREE event; reserved seating tickets are required. Tickets will be distributed, two (2) per person in line, beginning at 5 p.m. in the Hall of Nations on the day of the performance. Please note that free parking isNOT available when picking up free tickets or attending free performances." But of course NASA will already have the lion's share of these tickets handed out in advance, thus forcing everyone else to drive into town, park (at their own expense) and then wait in line for hours for a chance to get tickets. Why not try doing this online? Nah. That's too 21st century. And will they webcast the event? Its not listed on the NASA TV schedule.

Keith's 23 May update: According to NASA PAO, this is mostly an employee-only event with tickets distributed to various divisions and directorates at NASA HQ. 1,000 or so tickets will be available to the public albeit at the last minute - you show up a few hours before the event for the chance to get a ticket. These restrictions come from the Kennedy Center - and the Kennedy Center is donating the use of their facilities. Media will be invited (short notice on that too) but will face limited recording time of the actual performance due to union rules - and those union rules for the musicians will not allow NASA to broadcast the event in any way. No word on what this event cost - yet. Too bad NASA could not have chosen an event that was more accesible to the rest of the agency's employees as well as the public who pays for all of these events. They have known about this event for weeks - still no public (official) mention.

Keith's 23 May update: The Kennedy Center has changed their website to read "This is a FREE event; reserved seating tickets are required, but have limited availability. Tickets are available through the Presenter only. Contact NASA Guest Operations, 202-358-1750 for more information. Please note that free parking is NOT available when picking up free tickets or attending free performances."

Alan Ladwig just posted this on Facebook: "NASA is sponsoring an event at the Kennedy Ctr, Wed, 5/25 to commemorate the 50th Anniver of Human Spaceflight & JFK's challenge to go to Moon. Event is at Concert Hall from 7:00 - 8:30 pm & features the Space Philharmonic Orchestra. The Center just turned over all the tickets they were going to distribute to the public so we have available seats. If interested let me know pronto."

Keith's 23 May update: NASA Honors Human Spaceflight Achievements at Kennedy Center Concert

"A limited number of tickets is available for the general public on a first-come, first-served basis. To attend the free event, please contact NASA Guest Operations at 202-358-1750. Tickets for those who RSVP will be available at NASA's Will Call tables, which will be staffed in front of the Concert Hall (in the Grand Foyer) from 5-6:45 p.m. Wednesday."

Space Florida "Call for Infrastructure Projects" - May 25 deadline

"Each year, Space Florida submits a list of project priorities to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) for consideration in preparing a five-year work program in partnership with local Transportation Planning Organizations (TPOs). This five year Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) serves as the basis for receiving Federal and State transportation funds for aerospace-related projects."

Photos: Lifting of Atlantis From Horizontal to Vertical in the KSC Vehicle Assembly Building

"This past Wednesday the orbiter Atlantis was lifted and mated to her external tank and solid rocket boosters in preparation for her final flight and the programs last shuttle flight. A tentative date of July 8th at approximately 11:40 am EDT has been set for the last ever shuttle launch."

Everest + 2

Keith's note: Two years ago on 19 May 2009 Scott Parazynski became the first human to travel into space and stand atop the highest point on our planet. While Scott was standing in the jetstream, this is how I relayed the news via satellite phone at 4:35 am local time from a comparatively mild location at 0 degrees F at Everest Base Camp. Meanwhile, Miles O'Brien was our lifeline back to the real world and was sitting in his laundry room in New York. It does not take a lot of money to convey exploration from remote places - just determination and a compelling, personalized story to make it work. More about Scott's exploits and the after effects here.

"Benefits of space surround us. Exploration fuels innovation. Groundbreaking technologies we develop to explore space keep us close and safe right here at home. A new era of exploration awaits. Imagine what's next. Think Outside the Circle. For more information visit"

DARPA Request for Information: 100 Year Starship Study

"DARPA is seeking ideas for an organization, business model and approach appropriate for a self-sustaining investment vehicle in support of the 100 Year StarshipTM Study. The 100 Year StarshipTM Study is a project seeded by DARPA to develop a viable and sustainable model for persistent, long-term, private-sector investment into the myriad of disciplines needed to make long-distance space travel practicable and feasible. The genesis of this study is to foster a rebirth of a sense of wonder among students, academia, industry, researchers and the general population to consider "why not" and to encourage them to tackle whole new classes of research and development related to all the issues surrounding long duration, long distance spaceflight. DARPA contends that the useful, unanticipated consequences of such research will have benefit to the Department of Defense and to NASA, and well as the private and commercial sector."

Keith's note: Hmmm .... DARPA has its sights set on traveling to the stars - at least as a motivational exercise - yet NASA continues to trip over itself just to get out of LEO - something it knew how to do 40 years ago (technically and politically) but has since forgotten...


Frank L. Culbertson
Christopher Chyba
Frank Slazer
Elliot Holokauahi Pulham
Sen. Rockefeller

Panelist: SpaceX Costs Offer Hope For NASA

"[Chyba] cited an analysis contained in NASA's report to Congress on the market for commercial crew and cargo services to LEO that found it would cost NASA between $1.7 billion and $4 billion to do the same job with Falcon 9 that cost SpaceX $390 million. In its analysis, which contained no cost estimates for the future cost of commercial transportation services to the ISS beyond those already under contract, NASA said it had verified the SpaceX cost figures."

Masten Signs Contract With Space Florida For Demonstration Launches

"Masten Space Systems and Space Florida announced today the signing of a $400,000 contract under which Masten will perform a series of demonstration flights of a Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing (VTVL) reusable suborbital launch vehicle from Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Under the contract, Masten will complete multiple flights. These operations will serve as a pathfinder to assist Space Florida in developing operational requirements for VTVL vehicles, recommending the optimum operational scenario, and determining the program schedule to achieve launch capability as soon as possible."

President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology Meeting

Live webcast

Share your ideas with PCAST here

19 May 2011 Agenda

"9:15 am National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Research Activities Speaker: Charles Bolden, Administrator, NASA"

Keith's note: Bolden opened by talking about STS-134 and said "despite what the press chose to focus on ..." yet NASA openly hosted and broadcasted a press conference on NASA TV with Rep. Giffords' staff wherein the media were encouraged to dive into every conceivable manner of personal health conditions. I guess he does not watch NASA TV. Bolden also refered to NPOESS as "one of my nightmares" and that it is "also one of John Holdren's nightmares" and "we won't talk about that unless you really want to".

Photos: Endeavour's On Orbit Ballet

"These views of space shuttle Endeavour was provided by an Expedition 27 crew member during a survey of the approaching STS-134 vehicle prior to docking with the International Space Station. As part of the survey and part of every mission's activities, Endeavour performed a back-flip for the rendezvous pitch maneuver (RPM). The image was photographed with a digital still camera, using a 400mm lens at a distance of about 600 feet (180 meters)."

Strapping On A Centrifuge: Suborbital Scientist Training

"Last week I had a rather remarkable experience: I flew into space in Pennsylvania. Well, almost. I attended a three day Suborbital Scientist Training Program conducted by The NASTAR Center. The program includes altitude chamber exposure to hypoxia, training and multiple rides in a centrifuge including full-acceleration simulations of a ride aboard Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip Two, and classes on physiology, physics, and operations."

Future Scientist-Astronauts and Educator-Astronauts Receive Training at NASTAR Center, Commercial Spaceflight Federation

"The National Aerospace Training and Research Center (NASTAR) in Southampton, PA, a member of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, welcomed last week its latest set of future scientist-astronauts and educator-astronauts for training. Participants are training to conduct scientific research while flying onboard commercial suborbital spacecraft such as those operated by Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, XCOR Aerospace, and Armadillo Aerospace."

NASTAR Center Completes Fourth Suborbital Scientist Training for Suborbital Scientist-Astronauts and Educator-Astronauts, NASTAR

"Keith Cowing, a Board of Directors member of the Challenger Center for Space Education and well-known space journalist, remarked, "Based on my NASTAR experience (centrifuge & altitude chamber), ANYONE in good health with good training can fly to space. These new suborbital vehicles will inaugurate a new era for education and science, and I'm excited to cover it just as its true potential starts to unfold."

NASTAR: Day 1 - SkyHigh, Ben McGee

NASTAR: Day 2 - UnderPressure, Ben McGee

NASTAR: Day 3 - The FullMonty, Ben McGee

"It was particularly excitingfor me, looking at my training-mates who each appeared to stand a little taller, (even if only due to our spinal columns having been spread outunder high-g,) to notethat many if noteach ofmy classmateswill likelyhave flowninto space (becomingtrue astronauts) in the next few years. We each were standing amongst the pioneers of a new chapter in spaceflight, and I consider myself quite fortunate to have been able to take part."

Photos: Space Shuttle Atlantis Being Prepared for Mating

Preparations were made today to begin mating Space Shuttle Atlantis with its External Tank and Solid Rocket Boosters.

SpaceShipTwo's First "Feathered" Flight Marks Latest Milestone for Virgin Galactic

"Early on Wednesday 4th May 2011, in the skies above Mojave Air and Spaceport CA, SpaceShipTwo, the world's first commercial spaceship, demonstrated its unique reentry 'feather' configuration for the first time. This test flight, the third in less than two weeks, marks another major milestone on the path to powered test flights and commercial operations. SpaceShipTwo (SS2), named VSS Enterprise, has now flown solo seven times since its public roll-out in December 2009 and since the completion of its ground and captive -carry test program."

Video: First Feathered Fight of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip Two

Hearing NASA's Commercial Cargo Providers: Are They Ready to Supply the Space Station in the Post-Shuttle Era?

Ask your Member of Congress to "represent" your support for commercial space TODAY!

"The U.S. House of Representatives' Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies has asked your Member of Congress for their input about what programs in NASA (and other agencies) should receive increased or decreased funding in FY2012. This gives you an opportunity to have your Representative support vital NASA initiatives like Commercial Crew and Space Technology."

Space Access Society Political Action Alert: Defend NASA Commercial Crew and NASA Space Technology in the FY'12 Budget

"Contact your Representative by Friday morning at the latest, and ask that they tell the Appropriations Committee that they support full funding for the NASA Commercial Crew and Space Technology programs."

Photos: KSC Workers Gather To Wish Atlantis Well

"As Atlantis entered the VAB workers posed behind it with the banner "We're Behind You, Atlantis" and then a few of them pulled out what appeared to be a quilt with all the mission patches sewn on it."

NASA's Wallops Island is nothing but a tourist trap, Letters to the editor, The Daily Times

"Let's see. Discovery's last flight was delayed between six and seven months -- and spawned a half-dozen failed attempts. Endeavor's final flight was launched on the third attempt, culminating a three-week delay. Wallops seems to think it can exploit the same predisposition from the general public to spend money to not watch a launch. Wallops has done this before. After about the third schedule slip, the locals and the aspiring vacationers figure out that getting up at 3 a.m. to feed the mosquitoes just isn't worth it. - Charles Lewis Atlantic"

Reader note: "I also noticed your post on the WFF Facebook page reference the lack of a schedule for WFF launches or range activity. There still is no posted schedule. The locals and even WFF employees have no idea when a launch is scheduled. The WFF "official" info line was last updated on May 2 by Keith Koehler with "the next scheduled launch from Wallops visible to the public is a Terrier-Orion". The launch windown opens on June 9. There is absolutely no mention of the upcoming OARS launch on a Minatour. Complaints to Keith K and Mark Hess about the posting of a schedule have to date gone unanswered."

One Last Rollover

Atlantis Leaves Orbiter Processing Facility #1 (with photos), SpaceRef

"The day after Space Shuttle Endeavour launched from the Kennedy Space Center the last orbiter to ever fly, Atlantis, was moved from the Orbiter Processing Facility #1 to the Vehicle Assembly Building for mating with her external tank."

Delta 2 Resurgence

NASA Moves To Add Delta 2 Rocket Back to List of Available Launchers, Space News

"NASA and Denver-based United Launch Alliance (ULA) are negotiating to add the Delta 2 medium-class rocket to the agency's list of available launch vehicles capable of lofting small- to intermediate-sized science payloads to orbit. "ULA has indicated to NASA it is interested in on-ramping the Delta 2," NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz said in a May 12 email response to questions."

Keith's note: Yes, that is indeed the steady, iconic voice of George Diller doing the countdown.

Images were taken at approximately 64,000 ft. More to follow. More information at Additional photos are online here at Twitpic.

Larger version of this image.

Endeavour Launched

Endeavour on pad before launchSpace Shuttle Endeavour Launches on Her Last Mission, SpaceRef

"For the nearly 500,000 people watching the launch live in and around the Kennedy Space Centre the Space Shuttle Endeavour blasted off with on a plume of bright orange flame and quickly disappeared into the low clouds. With everyone holding their breath as low clouds surrounded the launch pad the countdown progressed with nary a glitch. When the countdown reached t-minus 31 seconds, at the point when the shuttle computer went internal, the gathered crowd at the countdown clock cheered."

Updates will be posted here and more frequently on the following Twitter accounts: NASA Watch, SpaceRef and Marc Boucher.


AIP FYI Number 57: May 16, 2011 OSTP Director Testifies Before House Appropriators

"NASA: When asked by Wolf why NASA's FY 2012 budget request was flat, Holdren replied that the Administration was trying to build the agency back up, but "we are living . . . in an extremely difficult budget time." He continued, "unfortunately, at this particular juncture, there's not enough money." Wolf agreed with Holdren, but criticized the FY 2012 request for NASA's exploration program and characterized the agency's request as "unacceptable." Later, when asked if the NASA Authorization Act's specifications for the development of a heavy-lift rocket were being followed, Holdren responded that it was "something we are legally obliged to pursue," adding "I don't think we can necessarily legislate success. . . we will try to do it." Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) also asked about contract modification as it related to the development of a heavy ! lift rocket."

Endeavour's Final Launch Inspires Hands-on Public Engagement: High Altitude Balloon Mission

"The helium-filled balloon carrying the "Senatobia-1" payload will be launched from the vicinity of Gainesville, Florida. The expected balloon launch time is on Monday, 16 May between 7:30 to 7:45 am EDT. This will allow the balloon and its payload to be in position at an altitude of approximately 100,000 feet for Endeavour's supersonic transit of the stratosphere beginning with a planned liftoff at 8:56 am EDT. If there is a delay in the launch of Endeavour the Quest for Stars team is ready to try again - several times - on subsequent days."

Keith's note: If all goes according to plan we will have live video from the balloon as Senatobia-1 ascends to catch Endeavour. Video feeds and tracking links here. Launch site feed begins at 7:15 am EDT. This is the projected flight path.

Keith's note: On board today are photos of Baruch Blumberg and Bob Clark. Launch is now planned for 7:39 am EDT.

Keith's note: The balloon has been launched. Track its progresss live at or

Keith's note: The balloon burst at 95,000 ft - very close to target altitude of 100,000 ft - and the payload is now parachuting nominally toward landing.

Farewell, my space shuttle, Leroy Chiao, CNN

"Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But hard as they tried, nobody else ever got it right. The development of the Soviet Buran shuttle, which flew only once and without a crew, nearly brought the Soviet program to its knees. The French Hermes and Japanese Hope spaceplane designs never lifted off of their respective drawing boards. Our soon-to-be-scuttled shuttle stands as a symbol of American ingenuity, know-how, persistence and greatness. No other vehicle past, present or currently contemplated for the future even comes close to her capability and elegant beauty."

Johnsville Centrifuge Gondola Returns Home To New Museum

i>"May 5, 2011 was a historic day for Bucks County as the original gondola of the Johnsville Centrifuge that was used for training America's early space heroes returned to Warminster. It had spent the last 47 years at the Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration and Storage Facility of the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum in Suitland, Maryland. All of America's pioneering astronauts, including Alan Shepard, John Glenn and Neil Armstrong trained at the Johnsville Centrifuge prior to their historic space missions."

Wolf Statement At U.S. - China Commission Hearing On Military and Civil Space Programs in China

"Most countries expanding their space programs are strong U.S. allies that are primarily interested in advancing science research or building a commercial space industry. The Chinese, however, do not fall into this category. Over the last decade, China has developed its space program at a surprising pace. In less than 10 years the Chinese have gone from launching their first manned spacecraft to unveiling plans last week for an advanced Chinese space station designed to rival the International Space Station."

More posts on NASA and China

NASA Shuttle MMT Green Lights Continuing Endeavour Countdown

"The shuttle Mission Management Team is giving space shuttle Endeavour's launch team the green light to continue the countdown for Monday's 8:56 a.m. EDT liftoff. The MMT met this afternoon at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida and reviewed how launch preparations for Endeavour's STS-134 mission are progressing. During a news conference on NASA Television following the MMT, Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach said the countdown is going extremely well and the team is ready to go."

NASA Selects First Payloads for Upcoming Reduced-Gravity Flights

"NASA has selected 16 payloads for flights on the commercial Zero-G parabolic aircraft and two suborbital reusable launch vehicles as part of the agency's Flight Opportunities Program. The flights provide opportunities for space technologies to be demonstrated and validated in relevant environments. In addition, these flights foster the development of the nation's commercial reusable suborbital transportation industry. The payloads and teams from ten states and the District of Columbia were selected from applications received in response to a NASA call issued last December. Of the payloads, 12 will ride on parabolic aircraft flights; two on suborbital reusable launch vehicle test flights; and two on both platforms."

NASA GSFC Internal Memo: Destruction of Building 2 and National Historic Preservation Act

"As part of our deconstruction process for Building 2, GSFC must consult with stakeholders, as noted under the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation's regulations, 36 CFR Part 800, implementing Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, as amended. A recent evaluation of Building 2 recognizes that the building may be eligible to be listed in the National Register. Regulations require identifying and assessing the effects of any proposed actions on historic properties."

Keith's note: The Crew of Space Shuttle Discovery will be featured on West Wing Week (from the White House) today at 2:30 pm EDT. Watch here. They are also featured in last week's edition here.

Video: Cockpit screen view: NASTAR SpaceShip Two Centrifuge Simulation of 100% Acceleration Profile

This video is from a 11 May 2011 centrifuge run at the NASTAR center with SwRI scientist Cathy Olkin in the cockpit. The view simulates what one would see on a suborbital flight profile aboard Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip Two. These centrifuge rides are an integral feature of the NASTAR Center's suborbital scientist astronaut training program.

Video: External View: NASTAR Centrifuge 100% SpaceShip Two Acceleration Profile

This video shows SwRI scientist Con Tsang's 100% acceleration ride on a SpaceShip Two profile on 11 May 2011 as part of the NASTAR Center's suborbital scientist astronaut training program.

discovery_missions_2012_200x140.jpgJim Adams, Deputy Director for NASA's Planetary Science Division Presentation (PDF), NASA

Marc's note: The following presentation made by Jim Adams to the Planetary Protection Committee on May 10th includes the latest information on the three Discovery Mission candidates along with Decadal budget planning information .

Commercial Market Assessment for Crew and Cargo Systems Pursuant to Section 403 of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-267)

"NASA believes that the projections described in this report are more than sufficient to justify Government support for the development and demonstration of commercial cargo and crew systems, especially considering that the U.S. Government has a demonstrated need for commercial cargo and crew transportation to/from the ISS."

Report of the FAA Commercial Human Spaceflight Workshop, FAA (reference - 2010)

Volunteers and Experts Around the World Collaborate to Solve Disaster and Climate Problems Through Random Hacks of Kindness

"On June 4th and 5th, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, NASA, HP and the World Bank, through their initiative Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK), will bring together thousands of people in over 18 locations around the globe to create open solutions that can save lives and alleviate suffering. Random Hacks of Kindness is a community of innovation focused on developing practical open source solutions to disaster risk management and climate change adaptation challenges."

Meeting of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), OSTP

"PRIMARY TOPICS: ... National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Research ... KEY SPEAKERS: Charles Bolden, Administrator, NASA"

Heavy Lift Rocket Standoff on Capitol Hill

"Although Bolden often tosses out a laundry list of places NASA could go (asteroids, Moon, Mars etc.) none of these destinations is firmly anchored in a real plan that is being implemented. Add in funding uncertainties and NASA is not likely to make its mind up any time soon."

NASTAR Suborbital Scientist Astronaut Training: Full Acceleration Flight Profile Centrifuge Runs (archived video)

Keith's note: My three centrifuge runs - Virgin Galactic SpaceShip Two flight profiles - one at 50% acceleration and two at 100% acceleration - starts at 51:50 in the archived webcast. As you can see, we all had a great time. Let me tell you, the experience of pulling 6Gs is utterly exhilarating. With the proper training (such as NASTAR provides) and the right mindset, the more you do it, the better you get at it - and the more you want to do it - for real.

Going Suborbital at NASTAR, earlier post

NASA HQ Award: News Clipping Services

"The News Clipping Services contract is a firm-fixed-price contract with a maximum ordering value of $557,447.00. The effective ordering period is five years from the date of award. Under the contract, the work at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC includes news clipping services."

Keith's note: Year after year the same company gets the same contract. Apparently no one else in America can provide this service. Amazing. Of course, if you have ever seen this product you will know that it never accurately reflects the "news" out in the real world that truly concerns/affects NASA - just a toned-down, politically correct version thereof - all for $100,000 a year for an exclusive audience inside NASA. Despite the fact that this internal news service is paid for with tax dollars, taxpayers can never see it. Neither can employees at field centers. Open government? Not in this instance.

Conrad Foundation: Student-developed 'STEM Bar' to fly aboard Endeavour on STS-134

"High school entrepreneurs Mikayla and Shannon Diesch, winners of the 2010 Conrad Foundation Spirit of Innovation Awards, will be at the launch of STS-134 as they watch Endeavour journey to the International Space Station with their newly developed STEM Bar aboard. Since winning the 2010 competition, the Diesch sisters have continued to develop the nutrition bar concept for use as a tool to inspire their peers to study science, technology engineering and math and seek careers in aerospace. Team AM Rocks including team members, Ethan Rutherford, Naomi Joseph and the Diesch sisters, created Solar Flare: the Star bar and won the 2010 Spirit of Innovation Awards. This concept was the catalyst for the development of the STEM bar, which is launching on Endeavour Monday."

NASA's $10B rocket plan recycles shuttle parts, draws flak, Orlando Sentinel

"... critics are already deriding the plan as "a rocket to nowhere" that would pay billions to the aerospace industry to perpetuate the use of 30-year-old shuttle technology while further postponing resolution of a fundamental question: What's the mission of NASA's human-spaceflight program? "What we seem to have is a desire to spend money on rockets in the hopes that we will develop a mission one day," said Jeff Greason, member of the 2009 presidential committee that looked at the future of U.S. human spaceflight."

SpaceX Nabs Top CFO

SpaceXSpaceX Names Bret Johnsen as Chief Financial Officer, SpaceX

"Johnsen spent nearly a decade at Broadcom Corporation, the world's largest manufacturer of semiconductors for wired and wireless communications. He played a key role in helping transform Broadcom into a leading Fortune 500 technology company. There he developed processes that drove operating efficiencies, saving Broadcom millions of dollars annually. "

NASA Invites Reporters To Second Annual Lunabotics Competition, NASA

"The student teams have designed and built remote controlled or autonomous robots that can excavate simulated lunar dirt. During the competition, the teams' designs, known as lunabots, will go head-to-head to determine which one can collect and deposit the most simulated lunar dirt within 15 minutes."

Florida Legislature Delivers $43+ Million for Space Industry, Space Florida

"Aerospace-related economic development played a significant role in the 2011 Florida Legislative Session, with more than $43 million being committed for growth of the industry in the coming year. Governor Rick Scott laid out an aggressive plan, not only for Florida's overall economy, but for Florida's space industry in particular, and that plan was formalized by the Legislature."

Marc's Note: Although the root cause has not been found, NASA managers have given the green light to proceed with a launch attempt next Monday at 8:56 a.m. EDT.

NASA Sets May 16 For Final Space Shuttle Endeavour Launch, NASA

"A short in the heater circuit associated with Endeavour's hydraulic system resulted in the launch postponement. Technicians determined the most likely failure was inside a switchbox in the shuttle's aft compartment and associated electrical wiring connecting the switchbox to the heaters. The heater circuits prevent freezing of the fuel lines providing hydraulic power to steer the vehicle during ascent and entry.

The faulty box was replaced May 4. Since Friday, Kennedy technicians installed and tested new wiring that bypasses the suspect electrical wiring and confirmed the heater system is working properly. They also are completing retests of other systems powered by the switchbox and are closing out Endeavour's aft compartment."

Congress Prohibits OSTP from Chinese Cooperation, Forbes

"The clause prohibits the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) from coordinating any joint scientific activity with China. Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA), a long-time critic of the Chinese government who chairs a House spending committee that oversees several science agencies, inserted the language into the spending legislation to prevent NASA or OSTP from using federal funds "to develop, design, plan, promulgate, implement or execute a bilateral policy, program, order, or contract of any kind to participate, collaborate, or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China or any Chinese-owned company."

More posts on NASA and China

Space science: Along for the ride, Nature

"Three days after Discovery 's launch ... two planetary scientists are talking with a group of fellow researchers about what should come next. Sipping his drink, Daniel Durda laments that after half a century, only about 500 people have flown in space. Access to humanity's final frontier is still restricted to people employed by a handful of powerful governments and corporations, plus the occasional joyriding mega-millionaire. "I'd prefer for anyone to be able to go, for any reason they choose," says Durda, of the Boulder, Colorado, branch of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI)."

- Video: First Suborbital Scientist Class Trains at NASTAR Center, earlier post
- Videos: Flying SpaceShipTwo in a Centrifuge, earlier post

Keith's note: I will be spending the next three days at the NASTAR Center ( ) undergoing suborbital scientist training. The NASTAR Center is the first FAA accredited facility able to meet the training requirements for commercial human spaceflight, both suborbital and orbital. This training involves classroom activities, altitude chamber sessions, and multiple rides in a centrifuge up to 6Gs simulating a ride aboard Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip Two. I will be posting updates here and tweeting about this at We hope to live stream some of us riding a full 6G Virgin Galactic flight on Wednesday. Stay tuned.

How Lunar Orbiter Images Were Recorded 45 Years Ago

April 1967: "Fifty Years of Data in One Week: Recently, Oran W. Nicks, NASA's Director of Lunar and Planetary Programs, remarked: "one astronomer has said that more information has been obtained in the first seven days of the Lunar Orbiter I project than in the last 50 years of study of the Moon." Truly, the matchless cooperation and inspired creativity exhibited in the design and construction of Lunar Orbiter spacecraft and, supporting equipment by NASA, the scientific community, and American industry has helped us to take those longer-strides that President Kennedy called for in 1961 when he first spoke of the Apollo landing of a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the earth."

STS-134 NET 16 May

NASA STS-134 Update: Endeavour Launch No Earlier Than Monday, May 16

"NASA managers met Friday afternoon and determined space shuttle Endeavour will launch no earlier than Monday, May 16 at 8:56 a.m. EDT. This weekend, technicians will continue to repair and retest electrical circuitry that caused a postponement of Endeavour's April 29 launch attempt. NASA will air a news conference Monday at 3 p.m., to discuss the status of the work."

Commercial Space Transportation: Industry Trends and Key Issues Affecting Federal Oversight and International Competitiveness

"Since GAO reported on the commercial space launch industry in 2006 and 2009, the industry has evolved and moved further toward space tourism. Commercial space tourism promises to make human space travel available to the public for the first time. In addition, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) plans to use private companies to transport cargo, and eventually personnel, to the International Space Station after NASA retires the space shuttle later in 2011. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) oversees the safety of commercial space launches, licensing and monitoring the safety of such launches and of commercial spaceports (sites for launching spacecraft), and promotes the industry."

Subcommittee Evaluates FAA Commercial Space Flight Budget

"The Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004 included two related provisions that were the subject of much of today's discussion: the first authorized AST to regulate commercial human space flight launch systems; the second prohibited AST from regulating commercial human space flight for eight years in order to give space tourism companies an opportunity to design, develop and operate new and experimental launch systems. December 2012 marks the end of the eight-year regulatory ban, and the debate centered around the need for extending the ban."

Democrats Seek Answers on Scope / Timing of FAA Plans to Regulate Safety of Commercial Space Transportation

"After the hearing, Representative Edwards said: "We still need to better understand the implications of having FAA operate as both the regulator and promoter of commercial space transportation safety. As NASA moves forward, they will need to work closely with private industry to rigorously address the issues of safety, regulatory authority, and liability in commercial space transportation to ensure the well-being of the public in space, near-space, and on the ground."

Hearing Charter: Office of Commercial Space Transportation's Fiscal Year 2012 Budget Request

"To date only one company, Virgin Galactic, is known to be actively testing a prototype sub- orbital commercial human spaceflight vehicle. SpaceShipTwo, a larger version of the Ansari X-Prize winner, is undergoing unpowered atmospheric testing in California. According to the company, hundreds of interested purchasers have already placed down-payments with Virgin Galatic for the privilege of flying on their spacecraft once commercial flights get underway."

Henry Hertzfeld Statement

"Until recently, the OCST focus for human space flight regulations has been on sub orbital vehicles and passengers. The experimental permit period will end soon without any database on flights, safety, or passengers. This experimental period should be continued, but instead of an arbitrary period of years being designated for the sunset of that provision, other tests should be developed to determine when the regulations should be reevaluated by Congress."

Statement of George Nield, Associate FAA Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation

"Throughout the past 50 years, NASA has become the world leader in human spaceflight, amassing vast experience and a wonderful track record in space travel. There is no equal. Similarly, during the past 50 years, the FAA has achieved a stunning record of safety in commercial aviation. We are now leveraging that half-century of experience and safety acumen in our regulation and oversight of the commercial space transportation industry."

AIP FYI Number 53: May 6, 2011 House and Senate Authorizers Skeptical About Implementation of NASA Legislation

"Hearings before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics revealed considerable skepticism about NASA's realigned human spaceflight program. At both March hearings there were bipartisan complaints that the Administration disregarded key provisions of the NASA reauthorization act in the formulation of the FY 2012 budget request, and doubts that the Administration was committed to fully implementing this legislation. The tone of these hearings was different from that of House and Senate appropriations hearings. While appropriators doubted that a crew capsule and heavy lift launch vehicle would be delivered on time, and questioned the degree to which Constellation hardware was being employed in the new configuration, the mood at the House and Senate hearings was generally positive and low key."

Is our space vision still shortsighted?, MSNBC

"I think with regard to this year's budget, the match is reasonable," [Norm] Augustine said. "But if we're to have a program of the type that we described as attractive in the report that we put out, there's not enough money in the out years to do it. The question is whether we'll add that money in the out years or not. If we don't have it, then we're probably pursuing the wrong program. If we add the money, then this will be the right program, in my judgment." What does he think it will take? "Unless that money is increased by about $3 billion a year, real dollars, over what it was at the time we did our study, then this whole thing is very tenuous," he said. "But if that funding is made available ... the path we're on so far is very consistent with what I think most of us would see as a sensible program."

Space Adventures Looks Ahead To Commercial Lunar Missions

"As part of a market sizing exercise for NASA's Commercial Crew Development bid, submitted on behalf of the Boeing Company, Space Adventures estimates that by 2020 approximately 140 more private individuals will have launched to orbital space. These participants would include private individuals, corporate, university and non-profit researchers, lottery winners and journalists. Destinations would include the International Space Station, commercial space stations and orbital free-flys."

Yuri's Night Announces Winners Of 2011 Space Contest Series

"Over the last two months, Yuri's Night has received hundreds of outstanding and inspiring space-themed videos, photos, and advertisements from around the world, and even more entries for our Global Sweepstakes. Without further ado, here are the winners and runners-up for each of our contests: ..."

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden's Statement About The 50th Anniversary Of U.S. Human Spaceflight

"With the same spirit of innovation and grit of those early days of space flight, we now move out on an exciting path forward where we will develop the capabilities to take humans to even more destinations in the solar system. With our support and assistance, commercial companies will expand access to that rarefied area Alan Shepard first trod for America, allowing NASA to focus on those bigger, more challenging destinations and to enable our science missions to peer farther and farther beyond our solar system."

Image of a Psychedelic Stellar Nursery

"An all-time favorite of skywatchers on both hemispheres, the Lagoon Nebula (Messier 8 or M8) is among the most striking examples of a stellar nursery in our neighborhood of the Milky Way galaxy. Visible in small telescopes and binoculars its fuzzy glow reveals the type of chaotic environment where new stars are born."

Image: Sunset Over Western South America As Seen From Orbit

"Sunset over western South America is featured in this image photographed by an Expedition 27 crew member on the International Space Station. Crew members onboard the space station see, on average, sixteen sunrises and sunsets during a 24-hour orbital period. Each changeover between day and night on the ground is marked by the terminator, or line separating the sunlit side of Earth from the side in darkness. While the terminator is conceptualized as a hard boundary - and is frequently presented as such in graphics and visualizations - in reality the boundary between light and dark is diffuse due to scattering of light by Earth's atmosphere."

Keith's note: Of course, NASA JSC PAO continues to totally ignore this activity - even though local residents driving by the center can hear loud noises and see lots of smoke. Why won't Mike Coats let people see these rocket tests through official channels - just like he promotes astronaut visits to City Hall and e-waste recycling events? Or are such mundane things more worthy of JSC PAO attention than actual hardware development and testing?

Project Morpheus (not linked from the JSC home page)

NASA Proposed Rule: Cross-Waiver of Liability Clauses

"NASA proposes to revise the NASA FAR Supplement (NFS) to consolidate and make changes to three currently-existing cross-waiver of liability clauses. The changes include consolidation of the three clauses into two clauses and retitleing the two clauses to more closely align the clauses with current mission programs including International Space Station (ISS) activities, and Science or Space Exploration activities unrelated to the ISS. The existing Expendable Launch Vehicle (ELV) clause will be broadened to apply to contracts and subcontracts related to a launch of any kind other than one involving the International Space Station. The International Space Station (ISS) activities cross-waiver of liability clause is revised and its applicably broadened to include Space Shuttle activities related to the ISS. Accordingly, the Space Shuttle services clause will be deleted in its entirety with all Space Shuttle activity falling under one of the two remaining clauses."

China unveils its space station, Nature

"The International Space Station (ISS) is just one space-shuttle flight away from completion, but the construction boom in low-Earth orbit looks set to continue for at least another decade. Last week, China offered the most revealing glimpse yet of its plans to deploy its own station by 2020. The project seems to be overcoming delays and internal resistance and is emerging as a key part of the nation's fledgling human space-flight programme. At a press briefing in Beijing, officials with the China Manned Space Engineering Office even announced a contest to name the station, a public-relations gesture more characteristic of space programmes in the United States, Europe and Japan."

Holdren's Response to Ban on China Science Partnerships Draws GOP Ire

"The Obama Administration has carved out a loophole in the recent congressional ban on scientific interactions with China that would permit most activities between the two countries to continue. But that interpretation doesn't sit well with Republicans in the House of Representatives who drafted the language, one of whom said today that ignoring the ban could imperil funding for NASA or other science agencies."

Close-Demolish Facilities and Structures at the Kennedy Space Center and Cpae Canaveral Air Force Station, FL (with photos)

"SCOPE OF WORK: This project is to demolish various facilities and structures located at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS). These facilities previously housed administrative and technical support or were support structures. The work will be required to be performed with minimal impact to the surrounding roads and facilities. It is anticipated that the work will occur primarily during the typical work hours of 7:00am to 3:30pm."

Why the US Can Beat China: The Facts About SpaceX Costs

"Whenever someone proposes to do something that has never been done before, there will always be skeptics. So when I started SpaceX, it was not surprising when people said we wouldn't succeed. But now that we've successfully proven Falcon 1, Falcon 9 and Dragon, there's been a steady stream of misinformation and doubt expressed about SpaceX's actual launch costs and prices. As noted last month by a Chinese government official, SpaceX currently has the best launch prices in the world and they don't believe they can beat them. This is a clear case of American innovation trumping lower overseas labor rates."

China Great Wall Confounded By SpaceX Prices, Aviation Week

"Declining to speak for attribution, the Chinese officials say they find the published prices on the SpaceX website very low for the services offered, and concede they could not match them with the Long March series of launch vehicles even if it were possible for them to launch satellites with U.S. components in them."

Einstein Was Right

NASA's Gravity Probe B Confirms Two Einstein Space-Time Theories

"NASA's Gravity Probe B (GP-B) mission has confirmed two key predictions derived from Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity, which the spacecraft was designed to test. The experiment, launched in 2004, used four ultra-precise gyroscopes to measure the hypothesized geodetic effect, the warping of space and time around a gravitational body, and frame-dragging, the amount a spinning object pulls space and time with it as it rotates."

Who broke Obama's $40 million promise to Space Coast?

"Today, we explore the anatomy of a broken promise -- a political promise and an economic one. After months of task force meetings, project pitches and reports to the White House, the $40 million that President Obama pledged last summer for Space Coast job and business development has disappeared from budget plans. So who broke the president's promise?"

Last man on the moon: 'I don't have a lot of confidence' in commercial space

"I don't have a lot of confidence in that end of the commercial space spectrum getting us back into orbit any time soon. I'd like to hear all these folks who call themselves commercial space tell me who their investors are. Tell me where their marketplace is. A commercial venture is supposed to use private money. And who are their users? Suppose we, NASA, have no need for their services. There's no other marketplace for them. So is it really a commercial venture, or is it not? Is it a group of guys who have stars in their eyes and want to be a big space developer? I don't know."

FAA Public Meeting: Regulatory Approach for Commercial Orbital Human Spaceflight

"This notice announces a public meeting to solicit comments and information from the public on the regulatory approach to commercial orbital human spaceflight by the FAA. This public meeting is intended to aid the FAA in its regulatory effort by receiving early input from the affected community."

IISC Publishes Research Study on Orbital Space Tourism Demand

"In recent years excellent research has focused on suborbital demand, but few detailed studies have been available on actual market demand for orbital personal spaceflight. Additionally, the considerable change in the financial landscape since 2008 highlighted the need for up-to-date data on the demand for personal space travel, given the impact on wealthy individuals and cash availability for space tourism."

Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Hearing - Commercial Space Transportation's FY12 Budget

Space Shuttle Endeavour STS-134Endeavour's Launch Will Occur No Earlier Than May 10, NASA

"NASA space shuttle and International Space Station managers met Monday and determined that Tuesday, May 10 is the earliest Endeavour could be launched on the STS-134 mission. That date is success oriented based on preliminary schedules to replace a faulty Load Control Assembly (LCA) box in the orbiter's aft compartment."

Bob Clark

Keith's note: I just learned with great sadness of the passing of Bob Clark aka "Dr. Bob". Bob was the guy who hired me to work at NASA as a civil servant on the Space Station Freedom Program in 1990. Bob was my first introduction to "old NASA". He cut his teeth in the Apollo and Skylab days when you needed good design and operations since there was no software to fix those things when your butt was on the line. I have to say that probably learned more from him than any other person I worked for at NASA.

He let me know when I screwed up and defended me like a mother wolverine when I was right. He taught me the rules and how to break them - and the value of learning to work with friends - and co-opt one's enemies - as a team. For that I am forever indebted.

I'll never forget the time he stood guard outside several offices with closed doors as a co-worker and I installed a pirate Mac Appletalk network above the ceilings of the offices of people who were in a staff meeting at the time. "Its easier to ask forgiveness than permission" Bob would often say.

The other day I gave Joe Rothenberg and Ed Lu a tour of the old Titan 1 ICBM we're fixing up at ARC. I mentioned Bob by name as I talked about the value of old elegant design and how it still had lessons to teach. I also gave Nancy Conrad a tour of the rocket that day. Bob worked on the Skylab repair with her late husband Pete. I had a similar chat with her. We're going to restore this old thing in away that will teach future generations. I guess Bob must have been sending me messages through that old rocket on that day.

Bob liked Farside cartoons, good BBQ and beer after a day of arguing in design reviews, and despite his sharp mind and wisdom he never managed to find a way to match his clip-on ties with the shirt and sans-a-belt slacks he was wearing. Bob had a collection of horrid ties that he stored on the blinds in his office. When he had to wear one as "boss" he'd just grab one at random - without looking - and clip it on.

My kind of boss.

Ad Astra Dr. Bob.

Pete Conrad Spirit of Innovation Awards: Teens Invent One-of-a-kind Products, Address Tech Challenges

"Demonstrating they had the most unique approaches to solving real-world challenges in aerospace, clean energy and cyber security the winners of the Conrad Foundation's 2011 Innovation Summit were announced today at the conclusion of the four-day event held at NASA-Ames Research Center. The annual innovation program encourages high-school students from across the country to solve the challenges of the 21st century by creating breakthrough technologies using science, technology, engineering and math knowledge and skills. The grand prize winners taking home the coveted title of 2011 Pete Conrad Scholars sponsored by Lockheed Martin Corporation were: ..."

Keith's note: Of course, JSC PAO will never let you see this video if they can help it. That officially sanctioned roadblock not withstanding, this team deserves credit for going around JSC PAO anyways and showing people what they are doing - warts and all. Bravo guys. Keep at it.

STS-134NASA to Remove and Replace Faulty Switchbox, SpaceRef

"NASA managers have narrowed down the problem to the Aft Load Control Assembly #2 (LCA 2) and in particular they believe the problem is with failed Hybrid Load Drivers within the LCA. The LCA is located in Endeavour's aft avionics bay 5. They will pull out the LCA tomorrow and install a spare on Tuesday. It will take 2 days of testing before they can consider proceeding with a new countdown for a no earlier launch day of Sunday, May 8th, Mother's Day."

NASA Wary of Bid Protests in Developing Heavy-lift Approach, Space News

"However, if NASA chooses to leverage this hardware under existing contracts for the heavy-lift rocket, as directed in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, it could face a challenge from companies that are not currently in the mix. Propulsion provider Aerojet of Sacramento, Calif., for example, has made clear its desire for a competition to build elements of the Space Launch System. "We need to pick a path where we have mitigated the possibility for a protest to the degree we can," Cooke said in an April 26 interview. "And no matter what path you take there is always that possibility. You can always get a protest."


Marc's Update: NASA will not launch Monday and will in fact need to remove the Load Control Assembly (LCA) box to continue to troubleshoot the problem.

NASA will also not announce until tomorrow when the next earliest launch attempt will be. However by removing the LCA, engineers will need time to test everything after it's put back. This most likely means at least a weeks delay in the launch. With an Atlas 5 scheduled for launch on May 6th the next earliest launch window would be May 8th. However NASA officials have said that they prefer the May 9th or 10th window. If a launch was to happen on May 9th it would be at 11:46:43 am EDT.

Update 9:55 am EDT: NASA will brief the media at 3:00 or 4:00 pm EDT this afternoon.

Update 10:15 am EDT: Endeavour's crew has already left the Kennedy Space Center for Houston where they will wait out the delay and continue preparations for the next launch attempt.

Update 10:45 am EDT: Media briefing now set for 2:00 pm EDT.

Update 11:25 am EDT: NASA is expected to announce at the media briefing that it will remove and replace the affected Load Control Assembly box with a spare. After replacing the box engineers will need two days to perform necessary tests.

Location of affected APU 1 in Endeavour




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