December 2011 Archives

NASA OIG: NASA's Real Property Master Planning Efforts

"NASA's development of the Agency's first integrated master plan is a positive step toward better managing its diverse real property assets. However, we found deficiencies within the individual Center master plans the Agency is using to develop the integrated Agency plan that may limit the Plan's usefulness for making strategic real property decisions. Specifically, we found that NASA is developing its initial master plan based on Center master plans that (1) were developed using funding assumptions for the recapitalization program that are no longer realistic and (2) are missing essential information needed to make objective Agency-wide real property decisions. In addition, 5 of the 10 Centers did not develop master plans to reduce their real property footprint in accordance with Agency goals because of uncertain mission requirements."

Keith's note: According to State of the Federal Web Report, issued 16 Dec 2011 by the .gov Reform Task Force

"Some agencies, such as NASA, have a relatively small number of domains compared to other agencies, yet NASA reported the highest number of public websites, with 1,590."

NASA is quoted in this document as saying:

True number of systems unknown: Several agencies admitted that it was not clear how many CMS [Content Management System] are in use: "This number is a guess. No one at NASA knows the number with certainty."

"There is no uniform agency-wide process for ensuring content on the other NASA sites is accessible, updated, accurate or routinely improved. Individual programs and projects at the Centers and offices at NASA Headquarters manage their own content and are responsible for accuracy and accessibility."

"There is no agency-wide process for reporting the results of these center processes or establishing any of them as best practices."

Photo: Titan and Dione As Seen by Cassini

"Saturn's third-largest moon Dione can be seen through the haze of its largest moon, Titan, in this view of the two posing before the planet and its rings from NASA's Cassini spacecraft. This view looks toward the anti-Saturn side of Titan (3200 miles, 5150 kilometers across) and Dione (698 miles, 1123 kilometers across). North is up on the moons. This view looks toward the northern, sunlit side of the rings from just above the ring plane."

Dawn Obtains First Low Altitude Images of Vesta

Keith's note: This press release says "More information about the Dawn mission is online at: and" That's two separate websites at NASA for the same mission. But wait - there's yet another here. But you also reach this site if you go to Two websites and three web addresses.

Then there are the multiple official Kepler websites:,, ,, and as well as the multiple official Cassini websites: ,, and, and so on. Virtually every NASA mission has more than one "official" website - and in each case the websites are regularly out of synch with one another.

Probably the most blatant example whereby NASA simply cannot make its mind up as to where an official mission website is has to do with Hubble - here are the official websites:,,,,, and This recent hubble press release is typical. NASA offers 3 links - on three different official Hubble websites - for the same image.

I hear constant complaints from within NASA that funds for websites, education and public outreach, and PAO are limited - and likely to be cut further. Yet the agency continues to waste money on dueling websites - and they use multiple web addressses to send people to the same website. If you gave NASA more money would the number of websites decrease and efficiency of overall NASA website design increase? Doubtful. In a time when budgets are being cut, one would think that increased efficiency would be the focus - and that the number of duplicative websites would decrease and efficiency of NASA's overall website design would increase. Again, doubtful since the agency simply does not want - or care - to try and speak with one consistent, coordinated, efficient voice.

ILS Announces Proton Launch Delay of SES-4 Satellite

"ILS has informed SES that the launch of the Proton launch vehicle with the SES-4 satellite was postponed for approximately 25 days for technical reasons with the avionics system of the launch vehicle's Breeze M upper stage. The additional time is needed due to the destacking and replacement of the affected avionics unit. The satellite was built by Space Systems/Loral."

Powerful communications satellite feared lost in space, Spaceflight now (Aug 2011)

"Four of the five Breeze M burns were performed within the prescribed timeframes," Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, said in a press release. "In the time interval between the fourth and fifth burns there occurred irregularities in telemetry data downlinking and reception of signals from both the Breeze M and the [spacecraft]."

White Paper - China's Space Activities in 2011China Releases White Paper - China's Space Activities in 2011, SpaceRef

Marc's note: China's Information Office of the State Council today published a white paper on China's space activities in 2011. You can download a PDF of the white paper from the SpaceRef web site.

"Outer space is the common wealth of mankind. Exploration, development and utilization of outer space are an unremitting pursuit of mankind. Space activities around the world have been flourishing. Leading space-faring countries have formulated or modified their development strategies, plans and goals in this sphere. The position and role of space activities are becoming increasingly salient for each active country's overall development strategy, and their influence on human civilization and social progress is increasing."

GRAIL Is Go For Lunar Orbit

NASA Twin Spacecraft on Final Approach for Moon Orbit

"NASA's twin spacecraft to study the moon from crust to core are nearing their New Year's Eve and New Year's Day main-engine burns to place the duo in lunar orbit. Named Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL), the spacecraft are scheduled to be placed in orbit beginning at 1:21 p.m. PST (4:21 p.m. EST) for GRAIL-A on Dec. 31, and 2:05 p.m. PST (5:05 p.m. EST) for GRAIL-B the next day."

Christmas Comet Lovejoy Captured at Paranal

"The recently discovered Comet Lovejoy has been captured in stunning photos and time-lapse video taken from ESO's Paranal Observatory in Chile. The comet graced the southern sky after it had unexpectedly survived a close encounter with the Sun."

Peering Through Titan's Haze

Image: Peering Through Titan's South Pole Haze

"These views from NASA's Cassini spacecraft look toward the south polar region of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, and show a depression within the moon's orange and blue haze layers near the south pole. The close-up view was captured with the narrow-angle camera. Another view taken a second later with the wide-angle camera is also included here for context."

NASA no priority for most presidential candidates, Orlando Sentinel

"Of all the presidential candidates, the election of Newt Gingrich likely would have the greatest effect on NASA for one simple reason. He would pay attention to it. The beleaguered space agency, despite its frequent mention in lofty speeches about "reaching for the stars," rarely gets put on the front burner of domestic policy -- if it's on the stove at all. It took former President George W. Bush more than three years after his election in 2000 to unveil any significant plan for the agency. President Barack Obama's biggest impact has been following through on a campaign promise to downgrade NASA's troubled moon program -- the one set up by Bush."

Arianespace Soyuz-Fregat Flight Marc's note: You can watch live the final flight of the year of an Arianespace Soyuz-Fregat launch at 12:09 pm ET. This is the 1,784th launch of a Soyuz rocket which will orbit six new satellites of the Globalstar-2 constellation. The launch is from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Marc's Update 2:17 pm: The Soyuz has launched successfully. from Arianespace:

"For today's launch, the liftoff occurred at 11:09 p.m. local time from Baikonur Cosmodrome's Launch Pad #6 and was the 1,784th flight of a Soyuz family vehicle. During the mission, Soyuz' re-ignitable Fregat upper stage performed two propulsive burns separated by a coast phase of approximately 50 minutes, followed by the Globalstar satellites' separation in a two-step process. The initial spacecraft pair was released from the upper portion of a purpose-built dispenser system, followed 1 minute, 40 seconds later by the remaining four satellites' separation from the dispenser's lower section."

This Year @NASA

Marc's note: NASA has released this edition of "This Year @NASA". Enjoy the highlights.

Marc's note: Please note that from 11:00 pm ET tonight through 11:00 am ET tomorrow NASA Watch will be undergoing maintenance and may be unavailable at times during that time with commenting turned off. We're implementing a new commenting system. All old comments will be archived and ported to the new system.

Marc's update - 12:00 pm ET Dec. 26: As part of our ongoing plan to improve NASA Watch we've decided to implement a new comment system. The transition is ongoing and is taking a little longer than expected. This is due to the sheer number of comments that need to be migrated to our new system.

We'll be using Disqus a third party comment service which we've already implemented on some of the other SpaceRef web sites. One of the benefits of the new comment system will be a faster system, an ability to whitelist more commenters and a more effective and time saving spam filtering system. If you already have a Disqus account you can start commenting right away. Otherwise it just takes a couple of minutes to create a new commenting account.

The new system is effective immediately for new posts as of today. Older posts will have their comments transitioned over the next day. If you have any questions please send your inquiry to

Happy Holidays From Antarctica

"Astrobiologist Dale Andersen from the SETI Institute is currently on his way back to the U.s. via a stop over in Capetown, South Africa. Dale and his team spent a month or so at Lake Untersee in Antarctica. This photo was taken shortly before Christmas. Dale is shown holding a patch for the Challenger Center for Space Science Education."

File photo of Soyuz 2.1bAnother Soyuz rocket launch fails, BBC

"Russia's recent poor launch record has continued with yet another Soyuz rocket failure. This time, a Soyuz-2 vehicle failed to put a communications satellite into orbit after lifting away from the country's Plesetsk spaceport. Debris is said to have re-entered the Earth's atmosphere near the western Siberian town of Tobolsk."

Marc's note: Based on the records I've found this appears to be the first failure of the Soyuz-2.1b which had previously launched successfully six times. It appears the third stage failed at the 421 second mark. The Soyuz rocket was launching a Meridian military communications satellite for the Russian armed forces.

News Embargo Inconsistencies

NASA Discovers First Earth-size Planets Beyond Our Solar System

"NASA's Kepler mission has discovered the first Earth-size planets orbiting a sun-like star outside our solar system. The planets, called Kepler-20e and Kepler-20f, are too close to their star to be in the so-called habitable zone where liquid water could exist on a planet's surface, but they are the smallest exoplanets ever confirmed around a star like our sun."

First Earth-sized Planets Found, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

"The paper describing the finding will be published in the journal Nature."

Keith's 20 Dec note: How cool. Yet NASA PAO only offers less than 24 hours advanced notice about this announcement and the event is scheduled while people are on vacation or holiday shopping? Yes, I know all about Nature magazine's archaic and self-imposed rules regarding publication, etc. NASA is apparently powerless to challenge the way that external publications release news of its own discoveries. Why NASA cannot simply dictate TO these publications how NASA wishes announce its own taxpayer-funded discoveries simply baffles me. These journals ought to be competing with one another to publish astonishing news like this - not telling NASA if/when it can. These "first" announcements only happen once. I simply do not understand why NASA rushes to put out half-baked news and then misses a chance to fully promote and explain astonishing gems such as this news.

US asks scientific journals to censor bird flu studies, Guardian

"The US government has asked the scientific journals Nature and Science to censor data on a laboratory-made version of bird flu that could spread more easily to humans, fearing it could be used as a potential weapon. The US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity asked the two journals to publish redacted versions of studies by two research groups that created forms of the H5N1 avian flu that could easily jump between ferrets - typically considered a sign the virus could spread quickly among humans. The journals are objecting to the request, saying it would restrict access to information that might advance the cause of public health."

Keith's 21 Dec update: Hmm, the government asks Science and Nature to restrict the publishing of certain information and they object. Yet they refuse to allow NASA to discuss its own research in advance of a publication embargo. These journals want to have it both ways.

Of course, the odd thing about this Kepler story is that Nature story embargoes do not normally lift several days in advance of publication - this week's issue comes out on 22 December. If NASA and Nature stuck to their usual process the press conference would have been held after 1:00 pm EST today. What's up with that?

Word has it that NASA got wind of a paper - in the same edition of Nature "A compact system of small planets around a former red-giant star" which says "Here we report the presence of two nearly Earth-sized bodies orbiting the post-red-giant, hot B subdwarf star KIC 05807616 ... KIC 05807616 (also known as KPD 194314058) is a seemingly isolated pulsating hot B subdwarf (sdB) star that has been monitored by the Kepler satellite primarily for the study of its oscillations". They used Kepler archival data and it would seem that NASA did not want to have someone else scoop them on finding the first Earth-sized planets without NASA making the announcement.

So, Kepler has found two more Earth-sized extrasolar planets. But not a peep from NASA.

Discovery of two Earth-size planets raises questions about the evolution of stars, University of Montreal

"While analyzing the data obtained with the NASA Kepler mission ..."

Astronomers, Iowa State's Kawler Discover Planets That Survived Their Star's Expansion, Iowa State

"Kawaler said NASA's Kepler mission, launched in March 2009, is a tremendous tool for studying stars and planets. So much so, astronomers are working to extend the Kepler mission another four years, from 2012 into 2016."

Astronomers Discover Deep-Fried Planets, University of Arizona

"... the team used data obtained from NASA's Kepler Space Telescope for this study."

Soyuz TMA-03M Leaves Earth

Trio Heads For Holiday Reunion With Space Station Residents

"NASA Flight Engineer Don Pettit, Russian Soyuz Commander Oleg Kononenko and European Space Agency Flight Engineer Andre Kuipers of the Netherlands launched to the International Space Station aboard their Soyuz TMA-03M craft at 7:16 a.m. CST Wednesday, Dec. 21 (7:16 p.m. local time), from Kazakhstan. Pettit, Kononenko and Kuipers are scheduled to dock to the Rassvet module of the station at 9:22 a.m. Friday, Dec. 23."

Congressional Priorities

Cigar Smokers Resist Possible FDA Rules, Reuters

"Legislation sponsored by Republican Representative Bill Posey and Democratic Senator Bill Nelson would carve out from the 2009 law an exception for "traditional large and premium cigars." That would include those wrapped in leaf tobacco with no filter and weighing "at least six pounds per 1,000 count." The language is too imprecise for health advocates, who say it allows for candy-flavored cigars if they are large enough, for example."

Keith's note: The next time you stop to ponder whether Florida's congressional delegation is spending sufficient time focusing on things such as space, not raising your taxes, etc., just remember what Sen. Nelson, Rep. Posey think is worth their time: protecting the rights of "traditional large and premium" cigar smokers.

NASA Needs To Wake Up to Reality, Chris Kraft, Space News

"So come on NASA, wake up! Take the lid off and turn loose the human resources you already have in place. Most of these bright people came to NASA excited about the future, about going back to the Moon to stay and becoming a part of what could be another renaissance in space. Building a great big rocket is not a necessary expenditure at this time. In fact, the budget that will be consumed by this big rocket will prevent NASA from any meaningful human exploration for at least the next decade and probably beyond. We don't have to march in place while we wait for the powers that be to cancel it. Let's be innovative; let's wake up the sleeping giant and have at returning to the Moon right now."

NASA, Industry Leaders Discuss New Booster Development for Space Launch System (with presentation charts)

"On Dec. 15, more than 120 aerospace industry leaders from more than 70 companies attended the Space Launch System's Advanced Booster Industry Day held at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The event focused on a NASA Research Announcement for the Space Launch System's (SLS) advanced booster. For explorations beyond the first two test flights, the SLS vehicle will require an advanced booster with a significant increase in thrust over existing U.S. liquid or solid boosters."

NASA Solicitation: Status on Commercial Crew Program

"The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will present an updated status of the Commercial Crew Program (CCP) strategy on Tuesday, December 20, 2011. The Forum will be held at the Press Site at Kennedy Space Center from 11:00 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. NASA will broadcast the Program Forum online via webcast."

Final Report NASA's Infrastructure and Facilities - An Assessment of the Agency's Real Property Master Planning

"The OIG audit released today recognized that development of an integrated facilities master plan is a positive step toward better managing NASA's diverse real property assets. However, we found deficiencies in the individual Center master plans NASA is using to develop the integrated plan, which may limit the plan's usefulness for making strategic real property decisions. Specifically, we found that the Center plans were developed using funding assumptions that are no longer realistic and are missing some of the essential information needed to make objective Agency-wide real property decisions. In addition, because of uncertain mission requirements 5 of NASA's 10 Centers did not develop master plans to reduce their real property in accordance with Agency goals. Moreover, the restrictive criteria and competitive nature of the prioritization process the Agency used for construction projects - an integral part of implementing the Center master plans - discouraged some Centers from submitting their top priorities for funding."

Physicist and Former Astronaut John Grunsfeld to Head NASA Science Directorate

"NASA has named physicist and former astronaut John Grunsfeld as the new associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington. Grunsfeld will take the reins of the office effective Jan. 4, 2012. He succeeds Ed Weiler, who retired from NASA on Sept. 30."

Keith's note: Keith's note: Click here or on the image and you will see why John is the perfect choice for SMD AA.

NASA Faces Further Cuts in Last-minute Spending Package, Space News

"NASA stands to lose an additional $325 million under the omnibus spending package headed to the U.S. Senate for a final vote. A disaster relief bill the House approved Dec. 16 along with the 2012 Final Consolidated Appropriations Bill (H.R. 2055) includes a 1.83 percent across-the-board cut for all nondefense related discretionary spending, including NASA .... "The rescission does apply to us," NASA spokesman Michael Cabbage said Dec. 16. "We estimate the cut would take us to around $17.4 billion."

Senate approves disaster relief without House pay-for, The Hill

"The pay-for resolution, H.Con.Res. 94, was defeated 43-56, and would have amended the emergency relief bill by making an across-the-board 1.83 percent cut to most discretionary spending accounts in 2012."

Message from the Administrator - Year Ender

"Among our many accomplishments, this year we safely retired the Space Shuttle Program after 30 incredible years of flight. The final flight was a bittersweet day for many of us, but we now open a new chapter in exploration, standing on the shoulders of the thousands of men and women who made the shuttle the successful and cutting edge program it was."

NASA Reaffirms Agency Scientific Integrity Policy

"Specifically, it is NASA policy that NASA employees wishing to speak to the media or the public about their work shall notify their immediate supervisor and coordinate with their public affairs office in advance of interviews whenever possible, or immediately thereafter, and are encouraged, to the maximum extent practicable, to have a Public Affairs Officer present during interviews. If Public Affairs Officers are present, their role will be to attest to the content of the interview, support the interviewee, and provide post-interview follow up with the media, as necessary."

U.S. climate agency NOAA loosens media restraints, Reuters

"The lead U.S. government agency for climate and weather research unveiled a new policy that will allow its scientists to speak freely to the media and the public about their research without prior permission, the agency's administrator said on Wednesday."

NASA Scientific Integrity Response Under Fire, earlier post

"The present document responds to the May 5, 2011, request. As NASA demonstrated in its April 2011 report to OSTP, NASA already has a variety of policies in place to ensure scientific and engineering integrity."

Keith's note: This is in sharp contrast to NOAA's newly revamped science integrity policy. This could not be more stark: NASA employees "are required" to coordinate with PAO in advance, NOAA employees are not.

NASA POLICY: "(f) All NASA employees are required to coordinate, in a timely manner, with the appropriate public affairs officers prior to releasing information that has the potential to generate significant media, or public interest or inquiry."

NOAA POLICY "Researchers are encouraged (but not required) to take advantage of the media expertise of their operating unit's public affairs office and/or to provide that office with advance notice. The role of the public affairs office is to assist with presentation, style, and logistics of the communication, not to alter its substance."

"Ensuring Scientific Integrity at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration", released today, says "NASA employees may, but are not required to, speak to the media and the public about their work (14 CFR 1213.105(c) and (h)). Specifically, it is NASA policy that NASA employees wishing to speak to the media or the public about their work shall notify their immediate supervisor and coordinate with their public affairs office in advance of interviews whenever possible, or immediately thereafter, and are encouraged, to the maximum extent practicable, to have a Public Affairs Officer present during interviews.

Keith's note: In this document NASA employees "shall notify their immediate supervisor and coordinate with their public affairs office". At NASA "shall" = "required". NOAA employees are only "encouraged" to inform their PAO about any comments they make i.e. its optional.

Conrad Foundation 2011-2012 Spirit of Innovation Challenge Semi-Finalists Announced

"We are thrilled to announce the 2011-2012 Spirit of Innovation Challenge Semi-Finalists. This year, student teams exceeded our expectations in regards to innovation and creativity when applying STEM principles to their product concepts. These 80 teams will be competing to earn one of 15 spots to attend the annual Innovation Summit at NASA Ames Research Center in California from March 29-31, 2012."

Human Space Exploration Global Exploration Roadmap Materials Online

"NASA conducted the Human Exploration Community Workshop on the International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG) Global Exploration Roadmap (GER) in San Diego, CA from November 14-16, 2011. There were over 100 people in attendance, and 630 unique participants via the webcast."

International Space Station Approaches for Ensuring Utilization through 2020

"NASA's approach to determining, obtaining, and delivering necessary spare parts to the ISS is reasonable to ensure continued utilization of the station through 2020. The statistical process and methodology being used to determine the expected lifetimes of replacement units is a sound and commonly accepted approach within the risk assessment community that considers both manufacturers' predictions and the systems' actual performance. To date NASA has given equal weight to manufacturers' predictions and actual performance, and currently has no plans to reassess this decision. However, as time goes on, the resulting estimates could prove to be overly conservative, given that NASA has found failure rates for replacement units to be lower than manufacturers' predictions."

Who's Opposed To .XXX Domain Names? Not Exactly Who You'd Think, NPR

"Education has .edu, .gov belongs to the government, and now, adult entertainment has .xxx. Since last week, anyone can go online and buy a domain name ending in .xxx -- but it's not all adult entertainment companies that are rushing to purchase the new addresses."

Keith's note: I wonder if anyone at NASA stopped to think that having XXX on an official NASA mission patch was necessarily a prudent thing to do. I am sure someone will make a film titled "Expedition XXX" at some point - or launch a website at . Thanks to John C. for pointing this out.

NASA Unaffected by Potential Government Shutdown

"You may have already heard talk of a potential government shutdown that could happen at the end of this week. Although government agencies are preparing for that possibility, NASA will not shut down because our fiscal year 2012 appropriations bill has been approved. Your work schedule and pay will generally continue as usual. While NASA's funding legislation has been approved, the debate continues on Capitol Hill on appropriation bills for many other Federal agencies as well as pending measures to extend the payroll tax cut and Unemployment Insurance benefits."

NASA Takes Next Step in Developing Commercial Crew Program

"Instead of awarding contracts for the next phase of the Commercial Crew Program, the agency plans to use multiple, competitively awarded Space Act Agreements. Using competitive Space Act Agreements instead of contracts will allow NASA to maintain a larger number of partners during this phase of the program, with the flexibility to adjust technical direction, milestones and funding."

NASA Acquisition Approach for Commercial Crew Transportation Includes Good Practices, but Faces Significant Challenges, GAO

"NASA's planned approach for acquiring U.S. commercial crew transportation faces significant challenges that could impact its success, although it includes some good acquisition practices. Specifically, NASA's current funding level for its program is lower than anticipated and may not allow NASA to award multiple contracts, which is its key element for maintaining cost control by sustaining competition through all phases of its commercial crew transportation program. Moreover, the critical need to transport crew to the space station beginning in 2016 requires an aggressive program schedule that may not be attainable given NASA's experiences with past government and commercial development efforts."

Commercial Spaceflight Federation Lauds NASA for Decision on Commercial Crew Program

"Space Act Agreements are a proven way to get rapid, cost-effective results and will help ensure that the Commercial Crew Program is a success," said CSF Executive Director Alex Saltman. "Space Act Agreements were used in the previous rounds of the Commercial Crew program, as well as the COTS Cargo Program. A NASA cost study has shown that the COTS Cargo development program, using Space Act Agreements, has been successful for a fraction of what a traditionally run program would have cost."

Rep. Hall Questions Implications of NASA Commercial Crew Announcement

"Given current federal budget constraints, I continue to be concerned about NASA's ability to afford contracting with two or more companies to ferry our astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Time is of the essence. We need to be able fully utilize our Space Station until the end of this decade, and we also need to end our reliance on other countries to ferry our astronauts. In order to reduce risk and cost, and to minimize further schedule slips, it would be my hope that two commercial companies would team together to jointly develop a cost-effective and safe launch system."

Ranking Member Johnson Reacts to NASA's Announcement on Commercial Crew Acquistion Approach

"While I am sympathetic to the difficulties NASA is experiencing following receipt of its appropriations for FY 2012, in light of NASA's acknowledgement that higher risk will be incurred using this new approach, I am concerned that NASA's plan does not appear to contain sufficient margins and other risk reduction measures to give Congress confidence that it has a high probability of successfully meeting the objective of providing safe and cost-effective commercial crew transportation to and from the International Space Station by 2016 or even 2017."

Space Company Stratolaunch To Blast Rockets From Huge New Aircraft, Popular Mechanics

"Because Rutan's design ditches the launchpad and uses a low-cost rocket, Griffin says Stratolaunch hopes to outdo its competitors by lowering the price of going to orbit and increasing the number of launch windows. ("Any orbit. Any time" is the new company's slogan.) "I don't know that it's a better way, but it's an approach which has a long history," Griffin said."

Keith's note: "I don't know that it's a better way"? Ouch. With uncertain comments coming from one of its board members (Mike Griffin) it doesn't look like the whole Straolaunch team is totally supportive of the company's approach. Not a good sign - especially this early in the game.

Challenger Center Announces New Leadership Team

"Dr. Scott Parazynski, chairman of Challenger Center for Space Science Education (Challenger Center), today announced a new leadership team for the non-profit organization with Dr. Lance Bush as President and Chief Executive Officer and Steven Kussmann as Chief Operating Officer. Dr. Bush is currently the Chief Strategic Officer and head of the Washington office of Paragon Space Development Corporation. Kussmann is currently Challenger Center's Director of Operations. Both will assume their new positions January 2, 2012."

Stratolaunch Systems Unveiled

Paul Allen Announces Revolution in Space Transportation Stratolaunch System

"Entrepreneur and philanthropist Paul G. Allen announced today that he and aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan have reunited to develop the next generation of space travel. Allen and Rutan, whose SpaceShipOne was the first privately-funded, manned rocket ship to fly beyond earth's atmosphere, are developing a revolutionary approach to space transportation: an air-launch system to provide orbital access to space with greater safety, cost-effectiveness and flexibility."

Keith's note: The press conference was live tweeted today on Twitter at @NASAWatch. Alas, despite an elaborate media telecon - the existence of which was, itself, embargoed, the dozens of media who dialed in were not allowed to ask questions. That said, it looks like a cool idea. If they can hang a half million pound satellite launcher off of this, imagine what sort of suborbital passenger carrying vehicle it could carry.

Scaled Composites and SpaceX have a track record - even if Dynetics does not (Check out their non-existant background in integrating large space launch systems). Clearly the weight will be placed on Scaled and SpaceX to make this work. Again - they have experience.

Billionaire Paul Allen launches new commercial space company, LA Times

"The Huntsville, Ala., company, named Stratolaunch Systems, promises to bring "airport-like operations to the launch of commercial and government payloads and, eventually, human missions." The company plans for a first flight within five years. In a news conference Tuesday, Rutan and former NASA chief Mike Griffin said they joined Stratolaunch as board members. Along with Allen, the trio introduced the company's novel idea of launching payloads into orbit aboard what would be the largest aircraft ever flown."

New giant plane to launch people, cargo into orbit, AP

"Their plans, unveiled Tuesday, call for a twin-fuselage aircraft with wings longer than a football field to carry a rocket high into the atmosphere and drop it, avoiding the need for a launch pad and the expense of additional rocket fuel."

Paul Allen Aims for Orbit With Private Spaceflight Venture, Bloomberg

"The plane will be built by Scaled Composites LLC, the Mojave, California, company founded by Rutan; the multistage booster rocket based on the Falcon 9 will come from by Hawthorne, California-based Space Exploration Technologies Corp., also known as SpaceX; and the integration system will be provided by Dynetics Inc., based in Huntsville, Alabama."

Paul Allen Announces Revolution in Space Transportation Stratolaunch System

"Former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin, also a Stratolaunch board member, joined Allen and Rutan at a press conference in Seattle to announce the project. "We believe this technology has the potential to someday make spaceflight routine by removing many of the constraints associated with ground launched rockets," Griffin said. "Our system will also provide the flexibility to launch from a large variety of locations."

Keith's note: This is confusing: Mike Griffin was for commercial space - before he was against it - but he is now also for it? Is he still against it under some circumstances - but not others? I can't wait to hear him testify about all of this before Congress ... Alas, it would seem that the core of this activity seems to involve Mike Griffin and the former Ares 1 management team now employed at Dynetics (with X-33, X-34 experience as well).

Oh yes: Someone with a calIer ID Dynetics 1-256-665-4236 called me very early this morning - after midnight (12:53 am EST) but did not leave a message. I called that number back today but got no answer - just voicemail. Later, someone who identified himself as "Jim Hall" (I think that is what he mumbled) calling from that same number called me after 11 pm tonight and said that he had no recollection of calling me earlier. C'mon guys. This is amateur hour. Prank calls?

Coalition for Space Exploration contest winner's innovative video answers the question

"The Coalition for Space Exploration (Coalition) is pleased to announce that Caleb Ekeroth is the grand prize winner of its "What's Next?" in space exploration contest. Ekeroth's video titled, "Visit Mars Today," takes viewers through a timeline of human spaceflight history into the future with an in-flight commentary of the first tourist trip to the red planet. Ekeroth's video effectively demonstrates his idea that interplanetary travel is within our reach. The entry was selected as the winner for its thought-provoking message to build upon the successful history of the space program and explore beyond low-Earth orbit."

Newt Skywalker

Gingrich is right about the space program, Daily Caller

"I've made fun of Gingrich before. There's a lot to make fun of. But zapping him on the space program is shortsighted pandering. Our presence in space is a strategic necessity. But it's more than that too. Last spring, a Marist poll found that kids no longer want to be astronauts. That's a generation no longer inspired to reach for the stars. It's un-American. And it has to change."

The return of Newt Skywalker, Politico

"Gingrich defended his lunar notions Saturday. "I grew up in a generation when the space program was real, when it was important."

Newt Gingrich "has suggested" building "a mirror system in space" could improve the Earth's habitability,

"Gingrich co-wrote his book more than a quarter century ago, and since he doesn't appear to have reiterated the call for floating mirrors in recent years, we can safely assume the idea is no longer at the top of his policy agenda. But did cite the idea approvingly in his book, so we rate Brooks' statement True."

NASA cost, denial key to saving space program, Florida Today

"Perhaps the single biggest threat to the nation's space program in the next decade is the repeated, rampant multi-billion dollar cost overruns that plague big NASA projects. The senior leaders of NASA and its big contractors repeatedly deliver projects billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule. And to add insult to taxpayers' injury, they revise history to obscure the truth. The James Webb Space Telescope, the scientifically important successor to Hubble Space Telescope, is going to somehow get support from Congress despite its explosive price tag, well documented mismanagement and half-decade launch delay."

Keith's note: "Rampant multi-billion dollar cost overruns"? Hmmm ... Sounds like Constellation to me - and what SLS risks becoming given the murkiness regarding NASA's support and inadequate budgetary resources. But wait - CxP and SLS = jobs for Florida Today readers. As such, only Webb Space Telescope is painted as a threat in this regard - not SLS.

- Large NASA Programs: Located In Florida = "Jobs", Out of State = "Boondoggle, Pork", earlier post
- Florida: No Space Pork Here - Only In Virginia, earlier post
- NASA Money Sponge Update, earlier post

Keith's note: Have a listen here. My understanding is that this arranegment is made via a Space Act Agreement with NASA on a non-exclusive basis and that there is no cost to the Federal Government. I would hope that other online music/content services would take advantage of this route as well. [Facebook] [Twitter]

Low Energy Nuclear Reactions Is there better way to do nuclear power? Dr. Joseph M. Zawodny NASA Langley Research Center

"So What is LENR? LENR is a form of nuclear power However, LENR is NOT cold fusion"

Overview of Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR) as Implemented by Andrea Rossi and Francesca Piantelli 2011 LENR Workshop at GRC September 22, 2011

"Andrea Rossi came to MSFC with officials from Ampenergo, US Aerospace Contractor, other interested parties"

NASA and LENR, Dennis M. Bushnell, Chief Scientist, NASA Langley Research Center

"In Short, LENR, depending upon the TBD performance, appears to be capable of Revolutionizing Aerospace across the board. No other single technology even comes close to the potential impacts of LENR upon Agency Missions."

Slides From Sept. 22 NASA LENR Innovation Forum Workshop, New Energy Times

"On the second day, when the former NASA staff member asked Rossi if his device had an internal reservoir, Rossi became enraged. Quantum's engineers left but NASA engineers offered to come back in a few days to give Rossi time to fix the flow. Rossi declined their offer. He said he was "too busy."

Cold Fusion #1 Claims NASA Chief

"A Chief NASA scientist, Dennis Bushnell has came out in support of Andrea Rossi's E-Cat technology, but denies any type of nuclear fusion is taking place, saying it is probably beta decay per the Widom Larson Theory. Repackaging the terminology to avoid embarrassment will not erase over twenty years of suppression and the reality of cold fusion!"

How to Make Cold Fusion Work: Use Unobtainium, Forbes

"In my last post I said I'd steer clear of the whole cold fusion thing until something interesting happens. Well, in the last week something interesting has happened ... Once again, let me do a quick recap: An Italian inventor, Andrea Rossi, claims to have created a Low Energy Nuclear Reaction, or LENR, device (otherwise called a "cold fusion" device) called the Energy Catlyzer or E-Cat. All an E-Cat system requires is hydrogen gas passing over nickel powder in the presence of an undisclosed catalyst and, it is claimed, the device will generate a significant amount of energy in the form of heat."

Keith's note: Why NASA LaRC and/or HQ management knowingly allows overt quackery such as this to go on in NASA-sanctioned meetings using NASA personnel time while budgets are being slashed on "science" missions simply baffles me. Maybe Dennis Bushnell ( 757.864.8987 ) can explain.

Newt Gingrich targeted over policy, personal life in GOP debate, LA Times

"Mitt Romney, who has been running at or near the front of polls until Gingrich's recent surge, challenged Gingrich's call to colonize the moon and to change child labor laws so inner-city students can go to work cleaning their classrooms. Romney contrasted his background in the business world with Gingrich's long career in Washington.

"Let's be candid," Gingrich shot back. "The only reason you didn't become a career politician is you lost to Teddy Kennedy in 1994." The rejoinder -- a reference to Romney's unsuccessful U.S. Senate bid before winning the Massachusetts governorship eight years later -- was the closest Gingrich came to showing pique.

Acting like the college lecturer he once was, he rebutted his opponents point by point, saying, for instance, that colonizing the moon would inspire students to study math and science and that putting poor students to work was a way to instill a healthy work ethic."

NASA Announces Launch Date and Milestones for Spacex Flight

"NASA has announced the launch target for Space Exploration Technologies' (SpaceX) second Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) demonstration flight will be Feb. 7, 2012. Pending completion of final safety reviews, testing and verification, NASA also has agreed to allow SpaceX to send its Dragon spacecraft to rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS) in a single flight."

NASA Deputy Administrator Garver Tours Blue Origin - Announces Commercial Space Firm's April Engine Testing At NASA Stennis

"Garver also announced Blue Origin has delivered its BE-3 engine thrust chamber assembly -- the engine's combustion chamber and nozzle -- to NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, where testing will begin in April 2012. The company is developing a reusable launch vehicle, designed to take off and land vertically, and an escape system for its crewed spacecraft. Testing will take place on the center's E-1 Test Stand."

NASA Statement on Roscosmos, NASA, ESA, and Future Mars Missions

According to NASA PAO: "Representatives from NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) met in Paris on 7 December 2011 to explore partnership opportunities involving future Mars missions. Further technical discussions will continue over the coming months to confirm the interest of all three partners...."

Conducting Research on SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo - Payload Opportunities

"We at Virgin Galactic believe that providing researchers and their experiments affordable, routine, and safe access to space is a core part of our mission. The same novel and innovative features that make SpaceShipTwo the ideal vehicle to carry our private passengers into space also make it a versatile and attractive research platform that we know will allow scientists, engineers, educators, and others to collect data and study questions in a way they have never before been able to do. The large volume and weight capacity, high apogee, and high flight rate of the WK2 and SS2 allow VG to offer a unique capability for payload and technology development in the upper atmosphere, outer space and microgravity environments."

NASA's Management of Moon Rocks and Other Astromaterials Loaned for Research, Education, and Public Display

"NASA Inspector General Paul K. Martin today released an audit examining NASA's controls over loans of moon rocks and other astromaterials to researchers, exhibitors, and educators. NASA's collection of astromaterials includes approximately 140,000 lunar samples, 18,000 meteorite samples, and about 5,000 solar wind, comet, and cosmic dust samples. These samples constitute a rare and limited resource and serve an important role for research and education. As of March 2011, NASA had more than 26,000 astromaterial samples on loan."

The Misplaced Stuff: NASA loses moon, space rocks, AP

"In two cases, one researcher still had nine lunar samples he borrowed 35 years ago and another had 10 chunks of meteorites he kept for 14 years. Neither had ever worked on them. Another researcher had 36 moon samples and kept them for 16 years after he had finished his research."

- NASA IG Sends Cops in Flack Vests After 74 Year Old, 4'11" Grandmother, earlier post

- NASA IG Refuses To Comment on Official Abuse of Elderly Woman, earlier post

- NASA's Inconsistent Policy Regarding The Sale Of Apollo Era Items, earlier post

Keith's note: It should be abundantly clear by now that the NASA IG and General Counsel offices have no consistent policy whatsoever when it comes to selling historic Apollo era artifacts. In some cases you can sell pieces of the Moon, and in other cases you cannot. In some cases you can sell items used during Apollo missions, in other cases, you cannot. And of course, it is also acceptable practice to rough up little old ladies and threaten lawsuits against elderly former astronauts.

COTS Faces Reality

Crunch Time for COTS, Jeff Foust, Space Quarterly

"The next several months represent a critical period of spaceflight. Two companies are planning a series of launches of new rockets carrying spacecraft bound for the International Space Station (ISS). Their goal: to demonstrate that private companies, supported by NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) initiative, can handle the critical task of delivering supplies for the ISS. The stakes are high. If either or both companies succeed, they will demonstrate that private firms are up to the challenge of supporting the ISS, giving the station a new lifeline, all the more critical after the August failure of a Soyuz rocket carrying a Progress cargo spacecraft. If they fail, though, it will raise new doubts that commercial firms can handle the bigger task of crew transportation, while putting the long-term future of the station in jeopardy."

Space Policy: Where Next?

Where is U.S. Space Policy Headed?, Marcia Smith, Space Quarterly

"President Obama released his National Space Policy (NSP) in June 2010. Although it made few national headlines, it was big news for the space community. Broad national policies that cross interagency borders are by necessity generalized documents. Getting everyone to agree on virtually any topic is a Herculean task. This policy was coordinated across the government by Peter Marquez, then the Director of Space Policy for the White House National Security Council (NSC) and now with Orbital Sciences Corp. Marquez always credits Damon Wells, his counterpart at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), as his teammate in getting the policy out just 17 months after the President took office. In Washington, that's lightning fast. Is it important, either that the NSP came out so quickly or that it came out at all? As with most things, the answer is both yes and no."

Armadillo Aerospace Launches Successfully from Spaceport America

"New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) officials announced today a successful launch over the weekend of an advanced sounding rocket designed and built by Armadillo Aerospace. The launch took place from Spaceport America's vertical launch complex on Sun., Dec. 4. The test flight was a non-public, unpublished event at the request of Armadillo Aerospace, as the company is testing proprietary advanced launch technologies."

Panel Discussion: U.S. Leadership in Astronomy: Space Telescopes Today, Tomorrow and Beyond

"Featuring: Eric Smith, NASA Headquarters, Dr. John Grunsfeld, Deputy Director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, Dr. Meg Urry, Yale University, and Pam Whitney, House Committee on Science & Technology (invited)."

House Science, Space & Tech Committee Hearing - Assessing the James Webb Space Telescope

- [Statement] Rick Howard, Program Manager, James Webb Space Telescope, NASA,
- [Statement] Roger Blandford, Professor of Physics, Stanford University,
- [Statement] Garth Illingworth, Professor & Astronomer, UCO/Lick Observatory, University of California, Santa Cruz,
- [Statement] Jeffrey D. Grant, Sector Vice President & General Manager, Space Systems Division, Northrup Grumman Aerospace Systems"

December Issue of Space Quarterly AvailableDecember 2011, Volume 1, Number 2, U.S. Edition, Space Quarterly

(Preview the cover)

The latest edition of Space Quarterly is available! In this issue we're focusing primarily on space policy and the Space Launch System with a few budget and commercial pieces in between.

U.S. Space Policy is examined by well known space policy analyst Marcia Smith who delves into the nuances and politics of current policy. We also get an update on Japan's space policy, insight into India's burgeoning space program and analysis of China's mindset.

The Space Launch System is NASA's next big program. Mandated by Congress, ignored and then reluctantly given the green light by the White House, Eric Sterner provides political context on the program. Dennis Wingo then provides technical context on the Space Launch System, comparing it to the Saturn V, and analyzing design and mission requirements.

NASA's Kepler Confirms Its First Planet in Habitable Zone of Sun-Like Star

"NASA's Kepler mission has confirmed its first planet in the "habitable zone," the region where liquid water could exist on a planet's surface. Kepler also has discovered more than 1,000 new planet candidates, nearly doubling its previously known count. Ten of these candidates are near-Earth-size and orbit in the habitable zone of their host star. Candidates require follow-up observations to verify they are actual planets."

Kepler-22b: A 2.4 Earth-radius Planet in the Habitable Zone of a Sun-like Star

"A search of the time-series photometry from NASA's Kepler spacecraft reveals a transiting planet candidate orbiting the 11th magnitude G5 dwarf KIC 10593626 with a period of 290 days. The characteristics of the host star are well constrained by high-resolution spectroscopy combined with an asteroseismic analysis of the Kepler photometry, leading to an estimated mass and radius of 0.970 +/- 0.060 MSun and 0.979 +/- 0.020 RSun. The depth of 492 +/- 10ppm for the three observed transits yields a radius of 2.38 +/- 0.13 REarth for the planet."

Keith's note: As the STA luncheon on Capitol Hill was starting up today, Ken Monroe, a staffer on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee sat next to me. His first words to me were "I really do not appreciate the way you attacked me - especially since we have never met before." I suggested that he "grow some thicker skin". I would not normally post an incident this, but you may recall that Ken Monroe is the person who referred to people at NASA (many of whom he has probably never met) as "idiots" on a Twitter post. Pot Kettle Black. Someone needs to develop thicker skin.

I guess that this earlier post "Congressional Staffer Ken Monroe Thinks That NASA Is "Run By Idiots"" is what Monroe considers to be an "attack" by me - wherein I take issue with his totally unprofessional comments about NASA management.

Space Forum results months away

"A report due within 90 days should shed more light on the results from two days of invitation-only space policy meetings this week in Orlando that sought to improve cooperation among states. ... Federal agencies represented included NASA, the Department of Defense, Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Homeland Security. ... NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Space Foundation CEO Elliott Pulham delivered keynote speeches, according to the agenda."

Keith's note: Why has NASA said nothing about this event? Bolden's remarks are not posted here - nor have any of the official NASA presentations been released. At a time when the Administration professes support for openness and transparency - and economic forces are of paramount concern, the last thing government should be doing is having secret discussions. Everyone is affected - everyone should be informed.

Eisenhower Center for Space and Defense Studies Hosts First Annual Space Forum

"As part of this event, conducted under Chatham House Rule, The Eisenhower Center facilitated discussions to enhance working relationships between Federal and State governments to advance U.S. capabilities within the various sectors of the space enterprise in today's constrained fiscal environment."

Chatham House Rule: "Care needs to be taken not to invoke the Chatham House Rule where what is intended is that the views discussed be kept confidential. The Chatham House Rule is intended to PROMOTE public discussion of the views expressed at a meeting, but without attributing those views to any individual or organisation."

Keith's update: At the STA luncheon on Capitol Hill today I asked CHarlie Bolden if NASA was going to post his comments at the forum. He said that they'd be online "this afternoon" Sure enough, they are online.

NASA OIG on IT Monitoring

NASA Faces Significant Challenges in Transitioning to a Continuous Monitoring Approach for Its Information Technology Systems

"NASA Inspector General Paul K. Martin today released a report that found significant challenges with NASA's ongoing transition from an information technology (IT) security oversight approach that relied on periodic, static assessments to one that emphasizes ongoing and continuous monitoring of Agency systems."

Bolden Speaks at STA Today

STA Lunch With NASA Administrator Bolden

"The Space Transportation Association is pleased to announce lunch with Charlie Bolden, NASA Administrator.
Topic? NASA year end wrap up.
When? Monday, December 5, 11:30am coffee & networking, 12:00pm-1:00pm, lunch, speech, Q&A."

Keith's note: I was just at the NASA Education Stakeholders summit session on the ISS National Laboratory Education Project. Two things were apparent. First, little if any progress has been made on transferring responsibilities between NASA JSC and CASIS, the non-profit selected by NASA earlier this year to operate U.S. resources on the ISS. It was obvious that NASA has not done much - and since CASIS is still being formed, that it has not been able to do much either. Only several minutes were spent on this topic. No one from CASIS was on the agenda. Given that the agency has had a year to think about how they would transfer things (no matter who was selected), you'd think that they would have had a plan laid out the moment that CASIS came online. Guess not.

The second issue has to do with NASA JSC's International Space Station Live! website which continues to add new and interesting features. This site will eventually serve as a really nice way for people to understand what the ISS is doing - and when and why it is doing so. Alas, as cool as this site is, it is still not linked to by the rest of the agency. In addition, it duplicates features already in place on other websites, adding yet another tentacle to the already complex NASA human spaceflight web hydra.

If you go to NASA's ISS home page there is no mention of this website. Nor is there any mention at,, the ISS National Laboratory page, the HEOMD home page, or the NASA Office of Education (a sponsor).

I raised this issue back in October. When I asked Regina Blue from JSC about this today, she had no easy answer for why this site was not being promoted or linked to other NASA sites other than to say that they were "waiting for a website address". That is a rather odd excuse since the site has been publicly online since this summer at and is easily findable via Google. If the folks at JSC wanted a different website address than this then why did they put this online in a publicly accessible fashion in the first place?

Yet Another Stealth Website NASA Can't Coordinate, earlier post

Keith's update: A new National Laboratory webpage is now online. Meanwhile, CASIS still hasn't figured out how to do this - and that is one of the things they are supposed to be doing.

NASA Space Launch System Advanced Booster Engineering Demonstration and/or Risk Reduction

"The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) intends to issue a Draft NASA Research Announcement (NRA) on or about in the December 12, 2011, entitled "Space Launch System (SLS) Advanced Booster Engineering Demonstration and/or Risk Reduction" for comment by industry through January 13, 2012."

NASA Industry Day: Space Launch System Advanced Booster Engineering Demonstration and/or Risk Reduction

"The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) will be holding an Industry Day at the MSFC for the SLS Advanced Booster Engineering Demonstration and/or Risk Reduction activity. The Industry Day will be held December 15, 2011."

Tyson criticizes common views on space exploration, Daily Princetonian

"American participation in the space race represented the beginning of the "militarization of space," Tyson said. Likening this struggle for celestial turf to the games that schoolchildren play in sandboxes, he further criticized modern reverence for the Apollo program because it leads to the glorification of antiquated technology rather than to the acknowledgement of improvements made since then.

This appreciation for outdated technology has led to a modern cultural apathy for space exploration, Tyson explained. NASA's budget has remained about the same for the duration of its existence while its operations have become less efficient over time -- but this diminished performance hasn't perturbed post-Kennedy administrations, Tyson said, because "NASA has never been about science" and was originally created in response to geopolitical pressures."

Keith's note: Gee Neil, Apollo stuff may well be antiquated but recent experience shows that it is harder for NASA to do the same thing now than it was when the agency did it half a century ago. Perhaps some of that antiquated hardware is worth a second look and can still teach us a few lessons today. As for the quote wherein you seem to be saying "NASA has never been about science" that is simply false. Explain the planetary missions, space and earth science missions - especially the telescopes you are so fond of. These things are not there for "science"? I am baffled.

NASA Exercises Contract Option For TDRS-M Satellite Decision Will Retain Hundreds Of Jobs

"NASA has elected to exercise the first of two available contract options for procurement of an additional Tracking Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) from Boeing Satellite Systems, Inc. of El Segundo, Calif. The estimated value of the contract option is $289 million and extends the period of performance through April 2024. Exercising the option will allow Boeing Satellite Systems to retain at least 300 American jobs."

Keith's note: So ... the major point NASA wants to drive home to the media is that this government procurement saves hundreds of jobs. What this satellite actually does is of seconardy importance. Curiously, Boeing (who actually got the contract) makes no mention of "hundred of jobs saved" in their press release.



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