November 2012 Archives

Data-at-Rest (DAR) at NASA HQ

"This page contains important information for employees regarding the Data-at-Rest (DAR) Encryption project at Headquarters. As mandated by Federal law and Agency policy, all NASA-issued laptops must have Data-At-Rest (DAR) whole-disk encryption software. The NASA OCIO has directed that all Centers complete this activity by December 21, 2012. Per the Agency directive dated November 13, 2012, no NASA-issued laptops containing sensitive information may be removed from a NASA facility unless DAR encryption software is enabled OR any sensitive files are individually encrypted (using Entrust PKI)."

Recommendation to Fund and Deploy Agency Data-at-Rest (DAR) Solution, NASA CIO, 21 Feburary 2008

"Based on an evaluation of NASA's requirements for encryption of data at rest and of the solutions currently available, I recommend that your office fund the implementation and deployment of an integrated, interoperable NASA DAR solution in the amount of $2.0M for Fiscal Year 2008. Details of the recommended solution, based on McAfee's Safeboot product suite, and the evaluation that produced this recommendation are in the attached presentation."

Keith's note: Looks like there was direction executed within the CIO in early 2008 - before the current CIO even arrived on the job. Four years later and NASA is only getting around to taking its own decisions seriously. Note: there is no date on this PDF file but it was created on 21 Feb 2008.

Backpedaling on Mars

Undisclosed Finding by Mars Rover Fuels Intrigue, NY Times

"Guy Webster, a spokesman for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., which operates Curiosity, said the findings would be "interesting" rather than "earthshaking." Mr. Webster noted that "a really big announcement," if one should occur, would most likely be made at NASA headquarters in Washington and not at an academic conference."

NASA's "History Book"-Worthy Discovery Is Really Just a Big Misunderstanding, Slate

"While it's a little odd that NASA's communication team didn't manage to quickly quash the rumor after the original report aired, Veronica McGregor, NASA's news and social media manager for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told The Slatest late Tuesday night that they did their best to set the story straight."

Update Set in San Francisco About Curiosity Mars Rover

"Rumors and speculation that there are major new findings from the mission at this early stage are incorrect. The news conference will be an update about first use of the rover's full array of analytical instruments to investigate a drift of sandy soil. One class of substances Curiosity is checking for is organic compounds -- carbon-containing chemicals that can be ingredients for life. At this point in the mission, the instruments on the rover have not detected any definitive evidence of Martian organics."

JPL director: Mars rover Curiosity may have found organic compounds, clue in search for life, Denver Post

"The Curiosity rover may have found organic compounds on Mars, Jet Propulsion Laboratory director Charles Elachi said in Rome on Wednesday, according to multiple reports. "Perhaps Curiosity has found simple organic molecules," Elachi said at La Sapienza University, according to La Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno. "It's preliminary data that must be checked (on) organic, not biological, molecules." The statement figures to set off a new round of speculation and excitement about the possibility of life on Mars. Elachi, however, made clear that Curiosity cannot find life."

Keith's note: This is just hilarious. NASA JPL PAO has had more than a week to deal with misquotes, parsing, and "what he really meant to say" in connection with John Grotzinger's NPR interview. But only today do they finally admit that all the speculation was incorrect. They could have put this all to bed last week and avoided all of the needless arm waving, speculation, and stories on the evening news.

Keith's update: NASA JPL PAO just tweeted via @MarsCuriosity "Everybody, chill. After careful analysis, there are no Martian organics in recent samples. Update Dec 3". Alas JPL PAO is not allowing offsite media to ask questions at an event that involves the formal release of data obtained by a government space mission. This is a break with NASA PAO practice since Curiosity landed. Offsite media access was not mentioned in the JPL press release (as is always the case). Oddly JPL can't do a standard media dial-in for the MSL event at AGU but theyo ffer a standard dial-in for the Voyager media event - also at AGU - just 2 hours later. NASA SMD PAO refuses to reply to a simple question on this topic. So much for being open.

Keith's update: NASA SMD PAO has still not responded to my question about media access to this event. But if you find this link at AGU you learn that offsite media (and anyone from the public) can only ask questions remotely via a chat function in a box on the webcast once it has started. A teleconference might be set up - but that will ony happen if the webcast is broken - and again anyone can call in - public and media alike. There does not seem to be any way to distinguish what they call "working media" from all other viewers since you can sign up using any name you want. In other words: if you are not in the room, your chance of asking a question as a member of the news media is rather low. Oh well.

AGU says that "Working members of the media may ask questions by emailing them to news@agu.org." but they do not exactly explain how you are granted status as "working members of the media" If you register as "working media" online or in person you need to send them 3 articles you have written, provide a press badge etc. But if you register as "media" for this webcast you only have to use your real name.

Rep. McCarthy Seeks to Rename Dryden Flight Research Center as the Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center

"Congressman Kevin McCarthy today announced legislation to redesignate the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Dryden Flight Research Center as the Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center and the Western Aeronautical Test Range as the Hugh L. Dryden Aeronautical Test Range. Joining Congressman McCarthy in introducing this legislation are Congressman Buck McKeon, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, Congressman Ken Calvert, Congressman Lamar Smith, Congressman Steven Palazzo, and Congressman Adam Schiff."

Bolden's future as NASA chief uncertain, Orlando Sentinel

"Sources inside Congress and the administration said it's wholly possible Bolden, 66, stays at NASA into 2013 and beyond. They caution, however, that his return is an open question, as the White House remains concerned whether the former astronaut and Marine Corps major general is committed to Obama's vision for the space agency. "The senior White House staff is aware of the [NASA] administrator's inability to advance their agenda and will have to decide whether they make an adjustment in a second term," said a senior administration official not authorized to speak on the record. ... No one can deny, though, there has been an accumulation of distractions, and in order to maximize NASA's opportunities, the U.S. civil space program would benefit from a leader fully committed to implementing the bold policy put forth by the president and his administration".

JPL workers seek federal probe into stolen NASA laptop, Pasadena Star-News

"Rep. Schiff, who oversees NASA funding through the Appropriations Subcommittee and whose district includes JPL, issued a statement criticizing NASA security. "I will be calling on the agency to report on and accelerate its efforts to maintain data Advertisement security," he said. "The low-tech theft of a laptop is troubling enough, but it only scratches the surface of potentially greater data vulnerabilities." A NASA spokesman didn't return a call for comment Wednesday."

JPL employees demand probe of NASA's data security measures

"Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) said in a statement she would push the agency to improve data security. "NASA has previously had security breaches of sensitive information," she said. "It has to stop."

Losing in Court, and to Laptop Thieves, in a Battle With NASA Over Private Data, NY Times

"In a 2009 report titled "NASA Needs to Remedy Vulnerabilities in Key Networks," the Government Accountability Office noted that the agency had reported 1,120 security incidents in fiscal 2007 and 2008 alone."

They're Clueless at NASA CIO

Keith's note: If you go to the NASA CIO webpage or the CIO's blog you will see absolutely no mention of this stolen laptop or the activities that followed. Some of the individuals affected by this event have not worked for NASA for more than a decade. As such, you would think that there would be somewhere at NASA.gov to get information as to what they should do. The CIO page is a logical place to look. Yet another example as to how the entire CIO organization is simply clueless and tone deaf when it comes to the interests of the agency's employees - past and present.

Media Advisory JPL Employees Call for Congressional Investigation into NASA Privacy Breech

"Employees at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena have called for an immediate Congressional investigation into NASA's behavior in handling their personal data following the October 31 theft of a NASA laptop computer left unattended in a parked car in Washington DC. NASA waited two weeks before informing its employees that their personal information had been compromised and that they have been placed at risk of identity theft. The data on the stolen NASA laptop was not encrypted."

Press Conference on NASA Data Breach JPL Employees Call for Congressional Investigation into NASA Privacy Breech

"We warned of this possibility five years ago when we filed our lawsuit. We were ignored by the courts. Now, unfortunately, by virtue of the cavalier behavior of a NASA bureaucrat our argument has been proven. Our nightmare of five years ago has become a reality. We therefore are asking Congress to conduct an investigation into NASA's behavior in this unsavory affair and to develop new standards which protect the privacy of federal employees."

- Questions Remain About Information on Stolen NASA Laptop, earlier post
- NASA IT Blunder Update, earlier post
- Yet Another NASA IT Blunder, earlier post

NASA Headquarters Common Instrument Interface Guidelines for Hosted Payload Opportunities Working Meeting

"One day before the Common Instrument Interface working meeting, on December 12, 2012, the Hosted Payload Alliance (HPA) is hosting a Working Meeting from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at the James E. Webb Auditorium at NASA Headquarters, 300 E Street, SW, Washington, DC, the same location as the CII meeting."

Keith's 15 Nov note: According to the HPA website this event is "for HPA members only". I find it rather odd that NASA uses its resources to put out a formal, official, government solicitation notice - one that includes an announcement for this meeting - one that uses public (government facilities) but that the public and media will not be allowed to attend. Moreover NASA doesn't even bother to tell anyone that this is a closed meeting or why it is closed.

Keith's 28 Nov update: The Hosted Payload Alliance contacted NASAWatch to note that "the note on the HPA website about the event being Members Only was an administrative error, and has been removed - this meeting is most definitely for the public, and has been planned as such from the beginning. Any and all individuals who would like to attend are more than encouraged.."

Time for the U.S. to Partner With China in Space?, opinion, George Abbey and Leroy Chiao, DIscovery News

"The U.S. is at a decision point. On its present course, the United States will lose at least the perceived leadership role in human space exploration. But there is an alternate path and one that would again provide for dual access to the Space Station. The U.S. could lead the way to bring China into the ISS program, and lead the work to adapt the Shenzhou spacecraft to be compatible with the ISS. The U.S. would continue funding the three commercial space endeavors to supplement and support the logistic needs of the Station."

Earlier posts on China in space

NASA Request for Information: Concepts for Applications of Large Space Optics

"NASA is soliciting broad community inputs in support of a study activity focused on utilization of large flight qualified optical systems recently transferred to NASA from another Government Agency."

Keith's note: "Another Government Agency"? Who writes this stuff? This is just goofy. Everyone knows that the NRO gave NASA hardware that was supposed to have been used in spy satellites. Specifically, the hardware came from the Future Imagery Architecture (FIA). Wikipedia notes that the New York Times called the FIA "perhaps the most spectacular and expensive failure in the 50-year history of American spy satellite projects.". Any questions?

- NRO Gives NASA Two Hubble-Class Telescopes (Shh!), earlier post
- Are NASA's New Telescopes NRO Future Imagery Architecture Leftovers?, earlier post
- How Much Will the Free NRO Space Telescopes Cost?, earlier post
- NASA Seeks Members for NRO Hardware Study Group, earlier post

Keith's note: Last week NASA PAO was telling the media that there would be an announcement (of what they did not know) of MSL results at the AGU meeting tomorrow next week. It has been a week since this story broke - one that spoke of results that would be "Earthshaking" and "one for the history books". Since then NASA has tried to unspin those characterizations but has said nothing officially (no media advisories, etc.) It would seem that no one at NASA knows what will be announced - or if anything will be announced - and that they do not care about telling the public - or the media - what is going on.

Given NASA SMD's recent botched PR efforts with regard to life in the universe i.e. "Arsenic-based life" and "Earthlike planets", yet another false alarm or flurry of unsubstantiated arm waving and hype followed by spin control would really undermine SMD's credibility.

Press Conference: Mars Rover Curiosity's Investigations in Gale Crater

"Moscone Convention Center, San Francisco, California Monday, 3 December 9:00 a.m."

Keith's update: NASA has not made any statement about this event - nor have they said whether the press briefing will be webcast/televised or if media who are not at the meeting will be able to participate.

MSL Results: "Earthshaking ... one for the history books" Or Not?, earlier post

Keith's note: One NASA Watch reader writes: "I too received a letter warning of my PII being comprimised by the stolen laptop but there are two things that I find odd. 1) As was the case in the image of the letter posted on NASAWatch, the return address is a NASA emblem with the address of the retained security contractor's Portland address (since when can a contractor use an offical US gov emblem?); and 2) why does a NASA laptop have my PII considering I left the Agency in May 2009?"

Another reader writes: "I too received "the letter" about the stolen laptop and I retired from GSFC in mid-2003 - ten years ago! And it is my responsibility to take the necessary steps to protect myself?! Why after ten years would my PI be anywhere but at OPM let alone on someone's (NASA) unencrypted laptop?! Please keep their feet to the fire on this one Keith; NASA needs to be as well-steamed as I am."

NASA Personally Identifiable Information (PII) Update 20 Nov 2012

"The data analysis on the entire file has not yet been completed, but if data beyond SSN, date of birth and birthplace is found for individuals, we will send them another letter. Affected individuals identified to date include people who have applied for access to NASA information or facilities for which a background investigated is required."

NASA Internal Memo: Immediate Restriction on Laptops Leaving Ames

"Effective immediately, NO NASA LAPTOP may be taken off the Ames Research Center campus unless Whole Disk Encryption is enabled. I am fully aware that this is a more restrictive than the November 14, 2012 directive from the Agency Chief Information Office and Administrator, however, since that email, Ames has had two laptops stolen that we are now handling."

- NASA IT Blunder Update, earlier post
- Yet Another NASA IT Blunder, earlier post

How the government can turbocharge private-sector innovation, Gigaom

"Traditionally, NASA attempts to commercialize and otherwise transfer the good work done in its research labs to the public by two means: directly auctioning its patents to the private sector, or maintaining the patents but actively choosing not to enforce them if doing so would impede innovation. NASA claims over 1,200 success stories in this regard, and there's plenty to show for it. But arguably no single NASA patent has had the same kind of market-disrupting effect that OpenStack has had merely by opening the doors to the community and letting the market drive development and adoption. That's food for thought."

Keith's note: Of course, NASA's response to the potential of OpenStack? NASA CIO Linda Cureton walked away from OpenStack - while industry has embraced it. And you wonder why NASA cannot figure out how to keep sensitive data off of laptops that are continually stolen? Clearly some management changes are needed in this regard. Check out her blog - its full superficial treatment of important IT issues and pop management babble. Clueless.

- NASA CIO Dumps NASA-Developed Open Stack, earlier post
- Previous IT posts

Keith's note: The Daily Mail is running with this absurd headline: "Revealed: How the U.S. planned to blow up the MOON with a nuclear bomb to win Cold War bragging rights over Soviet Union"

But when you read their own story it actually says: "Under the scenario, a missile carrying a small nuclear device was to be launched from an undisclosed location and travel 238,000 miles to the moon, where it would be detonated upon impact."

If America - or anyone - were going to "blow up the Moon" it would take a lot more than a "small nuclear device" to do so.

Asteroid miners hunt for platinum, leave all common sense in glovebox, Register

"But back to PGMs. We have something that we know the demand for, in the short term at least, is relatively insensitive to price. An increase in supply of as little as 250,000 ounces - seven metric tons - will drive the price down by a quarter. So instead of the $500m they were hoping for, our lads [at Planetary Resources] would only (yes, I know, "only") get $375m. Can we run a space programme on that? The more platinum they try to bring down from space the lower the price gets, and so even more has to be brought down to finance the whole shebang."

The Paradox of NASA Budget Cuts, IVN

"The estimated $1 trillion cost of the JSF program dwarfs that of NASA's $25 billion Apollo program. Yet, despite NASA's historical successes and technological breakthroughs, its budget will face another round of crippling cuts next year that is estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. These cuts are now becoming a trend for the White House based on recent fiscal budget proposals sent to Congress."

Elon Musk - the Future of Energy & TransportElon Musk - the Future of Energy & Transport

On November 14 Elon Musk participated in a 90 minute Q&A at the Oxford Martin School with the topic the Future of Energy and Transport. From the abstract, Musk "will talk from his own experiences at the forefront of technology and innovation about what kind of technological transformations are just around the corner and how these can help address the world's critical challenges."

Astrobiology in Antarctica

Astrobiologist Dale Andersen Status Report 26 November 2012, Lake Untersee, Antarctica

"With the small 25 cm diameter sampling hole opened in the south basin of Lake Untersee, Valery, Vladimir and Michael collected 30 liters of water that is now being filtered in the lab tent. Filtering is a fairly slow process but we have several nice vacuum pumps and manifolds so at least we will be efficient. Nevertheless, Valery and Vladimir will be filtering and preserving samples most of the day and evening. "

-Astrobiologist Dale Andersen Checks In From Novolazarevskaya Station, Antarctica
- Astrobiologist Dale Andersen Status Report 21 November 2012, Novolazarevskaya Station, Antarctica
- Astrobiologist Dale Andersen Status Report 24 November 2012, Lake Untersee, Antarctica
- Astrobiologist Dale Andersen Status Report 25 November 2012, Lake Untersee, Antarctica

- The McMurdo Dry Valleys Long-Term Research Project Life in Extreme Environments; An Antarctic Field Journal (1996/1997)

Keith's note: Dale and I have been doing remote website updates like this for a long time. This website is our first attempt from 1996/1997. We are not exactly certain, but we think that this is one of the very first websites updated in near real time directly from Antarctica. Note the "How we Built This Website" comments if you want a look into ancient technology. Also ... note the cold, dirty guys in the last picture on this page. Its not all that unusual for Dale to email/call/Skype me from Antarctica/the Arctic (or for me to contact him from the Arctic or places like Everest Base Camp) - so the next phone call I get with no information on Caller ID is probably Dale.

Big News From Mars? Rover Scientists Mum For Now, NPR

"The exciting results are coming from an instrument in the rover called SAM. "We're getting data from SAM as we sit here and speak, and the data looks really interesting," John Grotzinger, the principal investigator for the rover mission, says during my visit last week to his office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. That's where data from SAM first arrive on Earth. "The science team is busily chewing away on it as it comes down," says Grotzinger. SAM is a kind of miniature chemistry lab. Put a sample of Martian soil or rock or even air inside SAM, and it will tell you what the sample is made of. Grotzinger says they recently put a soil sample in SAM, and the analysis shows something earthshaking. "This data is gonna be one for the history books. It's looking really good," he says."

Keith's 20 Nov note: NASA SMD PAO has confirmed that Grotzinger will make an announcement at the AGU meeting next Wednesday. Given that he repeatedly uses phrases such as "Earthshaking" and "one for the history books" when talking to the media (clearly with zero NASA PAO guidance) one had better hope that his news will indeed be of that importance. Of course, while everyone seems to be thinking that SAM may have found something important in terms of organic compounds, it could well be that it has found absolutely no sign of organics. I suppose both extremes could be considered "Earthshaking" and "one for the history books". Given NASA SMD's recent botched PR efforts with regard to life in the universe i.e. "Arsenic-based life" and "Earthlike planets", yet another false alarm or flurry of unsubstantiated arm waving and hype would really undermine SMD's credibility.

Keith's 21 Nov 10:07 am EST update: Now NASA PAO and others are finally being dragged into the viral discussion. Perhaps if Grotzinger coordinated his message and choice of words (in advance), things would calm down a little. Given that everyone at NASA is either on vacation or about to go away for a long Thanksgiving weekend, I suspect this flurry won't really diminish. All too soon the UK tabloids will be proclaiming that Curiosity has (once again) "found life" on Mars.

Dcouverte historique pour Curiosity : le vrai, le faux, Ciel & Space

VIA Google Translate: "A "buzz" unjustified "None of that!" Insists the French Michel Cabane, Co scientific instrument Sat "We do not understand what is happening. We have absolutely no news to announce glowing!"

A Mars Announcement 'for the History Books'? Not So Fast, Time

JPL spokesman Guy Webster made just this point today in an e-mail to TIME: "As for history books, the whole mission is for the history books," he wrote. That's not to say he rules out the possibility of truly big news. "It won't be earthshaking," he said in a later phone call, "but it will be interesting."

Keith's 21 Nov 2:46 pm EST update: According to Mars Curiosity's Facebook page: "What did I discover on Mars? That rumors spread fast online. My team considers this whole mission "one for the history books." This is just bizarre.

First Grotzinger, the mission's Co-I gets quoted on a national news outlet saying some rather provocative things. Then NASA PAO refuses to make any statement either confirming or denying what Grotzinger said (indeed they have decline to dispute these comments when asked). Then someone at JPL takes to a Facebook page to try and cast doubt on Internet rumors. Between Grotzinger's comments, and lack of PAO clarification, it is obvious that no one really cares if these rumors continue - or if they are inaccurate - and also, that no one is really in charge of public relations for this mission.

Keith's 23 Nov note: Yes, when you listen to the audio, its the journalist who uses the word "Earthshaking". And then Grotzinger agrees with the word (there is no evidence from the tape that he denied that this word was accurate in any way). When you ask NASA PAO if they dispute the characterization of Grotiznger's comments as stating that the new data is "Earthshaking" NASA PAO says "No".

If this announcement is not "Earthshaking" then why does NASA repeatedly pass on repeated inquires from the media when they offer NASA a chance to dispute the accuracy of the term or to distance themselves from its use in this specific context?

2012 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey: Agency Rankings, OPM

"The Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FedView survey) is a tool that measures employees' perceptions of whether, and to what extent, conditions characterizing successful organizations are present in their agencies. Survey results provide valuable insight into the challenges agency leaders face in ensuring the Federal Government has an effective civilian workforce and how well they are responding."

National Aeronautics and Space Administration - Rank: 1 Score: 74

Printing Out Rover Models

NASA GRC Solicitation: Curiosity Rover Scale Models

"NASA/GRC has a requirement for two (2) high quality 1/10th scale models and one (1) 1/5th scale model of the Curiosity Rover. NASA/GRC intends to purchase the items from Scale Model Company on a sole source basis due to the proprietary restrictions on drawings."

Keith's note: "Proprietary restrictions on drawings"? Gee, I wonder were this company got the data for the drawings of Curiosity in the first place? (Likely) answer: one way or another it all comes from NASA - even if the company did additional work on the drawings for their own uses. Too bad NASA has to spend lots of money on these models. There is little, if any, incentive at NASA to find cheaper ways to procure things like this since the expensive way is the way things have always been done. I wonder how much they are paying for these models? If I ask NASA PAO what the models cost they will almost certainly refuse to tell me and will make me file a FOIA request.

More or less every NASA center has 3-D printers these days and is experimenting with 3-D printing of satellite and rocket engine components. Why not take NASA's Curiosity drawings and make them open source? There's a large, growing DIY / "Maker" community who'd just love to do this for free. Then anyone (including NASA) can just print the models out - at a variety of scales - in a variety of materials - on an as-needed basis. Not only would this provide a huge audience with a chance to get a more intimate understanding of how these rovers work, it would also end up costing less money to make these models that NASA just loves to spend money on.

That said, I am sure the ITAR enforcers will find reasons why you can't release things like this - even if the schematics simply show the outside of components - not their internal design. Yet nothing stops a company like Scaled Model Company from producing a model on their own - one of sufficient fidelity that NASA itself wants to buy it.

- 3-D Printing and Space, NASAHackspace
- 3D Printed CubeSat, Fabbaloo
- PrintSat - An Amateur Radio 3D Printer CubeSat, Southgate
- 3D Printing of cubesat structure, YouTube
- NASA 3D prints rocket parts -- with steel, not plastic, ExtremeTech

Help Redesign NASA.gov

Welcome to the NASA.gov Forum

"We're starting on the next go-round of what NASA.gov looks like and want to know what you think. The digital universe has changed radically since we overhauled www.NASA.gov in 2007. Everyone's use of social media and smartphones has exploded. Visits to NASA's web sites dropped for a couple of years, then set records in 2011 and this year. How are you making sense of all this? How do you think we here can apply what you've learned? Do you like something you've seen? Is something missing? How do you interact with NASA online? Where else do you get your NASA news from? We've opened this forum to take your feedback. You can offer ideas of your own or comment and vote on others' suggestions. The forum will be open for new ideas until Dec. 19. We'll consider all the suggestions and do some prototyping, then see what you think."

- NASA Claim About MSL Internet Effects Called Into Question - By NASA, previous post
- Why does NASA need multiple websites for the same mission?, previous post
- NASA's Tangled Human Spaceflight Web Presence, previous post
- NASA's Baffling, Redirecting Links, previous post
- NASA's Inability To Speak With One Voice Online, previous post

NASA: Earned Value Management Implementation across Major Spaceflight Projects Is Uneven

"The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) 10 major spaceflight projects discussed in this report have not yet fully implemented earned value management (EVM). As a result, NASA is not taking full advantage of opportunities to use an important tool that could help reduce acquisition risk. GAO assessed the 10 projects against three fundamental EVM practices that, according to GAO's best practices cost guide, are necessary for maintaining a reliable EVM system. GAO found shortfalls in two of three fundamental practices. Specifically, we found that More than half of the projects did not use an EVM system that was fully certified as compliant with the industry EVM standard."

Keith's 8:20 am EST note: Last evening, JSC PAO's Amiko Kauderer tweeted via @amikokauderer "Wonder about breaking bread for Thanksgiving in space? Talking to @NASA food scientist tomorrow. Got Qs? Tweet me w #askStation!" She claims that this is her personal account and replied "@NASAWatch This is my personal Twitter account. I tweet about my life & interests, which includes my work. Official tweets @NASA_Johnson".

OK, then why is this official NASA event only being made available to the 1,936 followers of the @amikokauderer personal account but not to the 89,640 followers of the official @NASA_Johnson account? This is a rather poor decision inasmuch as the potential audience of @amikokauderer is dwarfed by that of @NASA_Johnson which commands 46 times the number of followers across a much broader range than does @amikokauderer.

As NASA upgrades its Internet presence, it needs to re-examine the use of personal employee Twitter accounts Vs official Twitter accounts to make certain that the most effective means (a combination thereof) is used to alert taxpayers as to what NASA is doing - and that taxpayers are not put in the position of trying to separate personal tweets from business tweets. Most people get separate Twitter accounts to solve this problem.

Keith's 11:30 am EST update: @NASA_Johnson just tweeted mention of this official event (at the last minute) some 12 hours after it first appeared - exclusively - on @amikokauderer - a personal Twitter account. As such only Amiko Kauderer's pals and followers knew about this event well in advance - as opposed to the 89,640 followers of @NASA_Johnson . I am not sure what sort of social media game plan she's following - this approach makes no sense whatsoever.

Soyuz TMA-05M Lands in Kazakhstan

"The Soyuz TMA-05M spacecraft carrying Expedition 33 Commander Suni Williams and Flight Engineers Yuri Malenchenko and Aki Hoshide landed in the steppe of Kazakhstan northeast of the remote town of Arkalyk at 8:56 p.m. EST (7:56 a.m. Monday, Kazakhstan time). A Russian recovery team and NASA personnel reached the landing site by helicopter shortly afterward to assist the crew and conduct health assessments."

Astronaut Suni Williams on the Space Station Talks With SpaceRef's Keith Cowing (Video and transcript)

NASA breach update: Stolen laptop had data on 10,000 users, ComputerWorld

"Personally identifiable information of "at least" 10,000 NASA employees and contractors remains at risk of compromise following last month's theft of an agency laptop, a spokesman told Computerworld via email Thursday. ... Responding to questions from Computerworld today, NASA spokesman Allard Beutel acknowledged that agency waited nearly two weeks to publicly disclose the breach. He said that in the interim, NASA was working with law enforcement personnel to recover the laptop, and was working to determine exactly whose personal data was stored on it."

Agencywide Message to All NASA Employees: Breach of Personally Identifiable Information (PII) (Original NASA Memo to employees)

Keith's 15 Nov note: There is no common sense evident in the NASA CIO organization. Why on Earth would anyone allow information on this many people to leave the agency on a single laptop - without sufficient encryption/protection - and then leave it unattended in a car? What baffles me is that NASA waited 2 weeks to tell the people affected. I guess that means that NASA had no idea what was on the laptop in the first place - but they allowed it to leave the building anyway - and that the person taking the laptop off site either had no idea what was on the laptop (not good) or knew what was on the laptop and did not care to treat the contents the way that they should have been protected. This borders on sheer negligence.

Keith's 16 Nov update: A NASA Watch reader forwarded the letter that they received as a result of the stolen laptop. Note that NASA has yet to explain to any affected employees exactly what sort of personal information of theirs was on the laptop. So ... what is it that people need to be watching out for? Apparently everything since NASA has yet to tell people what data of theirs is affected. People are given a list of things that they have to do at their own time and expense such as freezing their credit. NASA annoyingly notes that if one choses to implement such a freeze "you will not be able to borrow money, obtain instant credit, or get a new credit card until you temporarily lift or permanently remove the freeze, The coast of placing the freeze varies by the state you live in and for each credit reporting agency."

NASA made this mistake - not the thousands of its employees who were affected. Its about time for the agency to tell its employees exactly what sort of risk they face as a result of the agency's incompetence. NASA has had more than 2 weeks to work on this. The fact that NASA still cannot - or will not - tell its employees what they need to be looking out for is simply inexcusable.

Keith's 15 Nov 4:00 pm EST note: NASA will announce soon that Glenn Research Center Director Ray Lugo and Johnson Space Center Director Mike Coats are leaving their respective positions. All-hands meetings have reportedly been scheduled for tomorrow (Friday) at JSC and GRC. As was reported on NASAWatch in August, these departures, which will be described as "retirement", are part of a larger attempt by NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden to rearrange field center management at NASA. Bolden is still attempting to replace several other NASA field center directors including Ames Research Center Director Pete Worden - despite repeated pressure on Bolden from the White House and Congress not to do so.

Bolden Seeks To Replace Multiple Center Directors, earlier post

NASA Announces Leadership Changes at Glenn Research Center and Johnson Space Center

"NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announced leadership changes Friday for the agency's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and Johnson Space Center in Houston. James Free will succeed Ramon (Ray) Lugo as Glenn's center director when Lugo retires in January. Free has served as Glenn's deputy director since January 2011. Ellen Ochoa will succeed Michael Coats as Johnson's center director when Coats retires at the end of the year. Ochoa has served as Johnson's deputy director since September 2007."

- Ochoa Named Johnson Space Center Director; Coats to Retire

- Free Named Glenn Research Center Director; Lugo To Retire

NASA Glenn director Ray Lugo to retire in January, Cleveland Plain Dealer

"In an interview with The Plain Dealer in August in response to those rumors, Lugo said he had gotten personal assurance from Bolden "that he is not planning to replace me or move me. To the best of my knowledge - and I've talked to the boss - there's no truth to the rumor."

Keith's note: I just got this email from the NASA OIG:

The NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG) today released its Semiannual Report to Congress highlighting the OIG's activities and accomplishments from April 1 -September 30, 2012. View the full report and video summary at: http://oig.nasa.gov/SAR/sar0912.pdf and http://oig.nasa.gov/Video/OIGPaulMartin_SAR_10-26-12.html

Renee N. Juhans
Executive Officer
NASA Office of Inspector General

! WARNING ! This email including any attachments is intended only for authorized recipients. Recipients may only forward this information as authorized. This email may contain non-public information that is "Law Enforcement Sensitive," "Sensitive but Unclassified," or otherwise subject to the Privacy Act and/or legal and other applicable privileges that restrict release without appropriate legal authority and clearance. Accordingly, the use, dissemination, distribution or reproduction of this information to or by unauthorized or unintended recipients, including but not limited to non-NASA recipients, may be unlawful.

Did anyone stop and think about adding this legal language to emails sent to the media - or the public? How am I supposed to interpret the scary and somewhat threatening warning? Seriously. Am I an "authorized recipient"? If so when did I become one? Who are "unauthorized or unintended recipients"? I am going to post this on a website read globally by people I will never be able to identify. I did not agree to these security issues - indeed, this email was sent to me unsolicited. The warning also says "may contain ..." Well, does it or doesn't it - how am I supposed to know? Can the sender change their mind after it is sent?

NASA OIG: NASA's 2012 Top Management and Performance Challenges

"The year was not without challenges, however. For example, due to cost overruns in the James Webb Space Telescope and other projects, NASA had to reprogram funds away from several Agency initiatives. This resulted in developmental delays in some ongoing projects and cancellation of other planned projects, including the ExoMars/Trace Gas Orbiter missions to Mars. Moreover, the congressional decision to provide NASA's Commercial Crew Program (CCP) with less than half the funding requested by the President in FY 2012 extended to 2017 the earliest date that NASA expects to obtain commercial crew transportation services to the ISS, which is significant if NASA is unable to maintain and utilize the Station beyond its currently scheduled retirement date of 2020."

NASA IT Blunder Update

NASA Suffers "Large" Data Breach Affecting, IEEE Spectrum

"Why it has taken so long for NASA to finally decide to fully encrypt its laptops remains a mystery, given its long-time poor record on IT security. As noted at NASA Watch, NASA has a history of laptops with personally identifiable information being stolen, one as recently as March. Maybe NASA decided to act this time because it involved a NASA Headquarters' person who in all likelihood is very senior and should have known better than to possess a laptop with no data encryption."

NASA finally demands encryption on employee machines after another laptop is stolen, The Verge

"Why the concern? Well, the laptop's hard drive wasn't encrypted, and nor were any of its sensitive documents. The theft, which was revealed to employees in an agency-wide email obtained by SpaceRef, is being spun as a wake up call for NASA to beef up its security standards on employees' laptops."

NASA scrambles to encrypt laptops after major breach, Computer World

"Gant Redmon, general counsel and vice president of business development at Co3 Systems, an incident management company, said the issue is why NASA didn't take measures to encrypt all of its systems sooner. "I have two questions. Why didn't they have it before the [March] incident? Why didn't they have it after that first breach?"

NASA Says Staff Information Was on Stolen Laptop, New York Times

"This is not the first time NASA has suffered a serious breach. The agency has long been a target for cybercriminals looking to pilfer sensitive research."

Laptop with NASA workers' personal data is stolen, Reuters

"The laptop theft is the latest in a string of NASA security breaches over the past few years. In March, a Kennedy Space Center worker's laptop that contained personal information on about 2,300 employees and students was stolen."

Yet Another NASA IT Blunder, earlier post

Summary of Rules and Requirements, Google Lunar X Prize

"The competition's grand prize is worth $20 million. To provide an extra incentive for teams to work quickly, the grand prize value will change to $15 million whenever a government-funded mission successfully explores the lunar surface, currently projected to occur in 2013."

China's Chang'e-3 to land on moon next year, China Daily

"Ma said the Chang'e-3 would probe and explore the lunar surface, and carry out various environmental and space technology related tests. It will spend 15 days on the moon to lay the foundations of what he called, further deep space exploration."

Chang'e 3, Wikipedia

Keith's note: None of the Google Lunar X Prize competitors will be capable of landing on the Moon during 2013, so it is a foregone conclusion that the prize will drop in value. Add in the lack of real (existing) flight hardware, firm and fully-funded launch contracts, and all other funding required to cover other mission aspects of launch and operations, and it is becoming increasingly unlikely that any of the teams will be able to meet the Prize's requirements by 31 December 2015. I would most certainly like to be proven wrong when someone lands on the Moon.

House Passes Bill to Extend the Commercial Space Transportation Liability Regime

"Today, H.R. 6586, a bill that provides a two-year extension to the existing commercial space launch indemnification regime, passed the House by voice vote under suspension of the rules. Under the Commercial Space Launch Act Amendments of 1988, a system was established that spreads the risk from a commercial space launch mishap or failure between the launch provider and the government for potential damages or losses concerning uninvolved public or property. It has been extended five times since its original enactment."

House Approves Bill to Extend Risk-Share Protection of Commercial Launch Companies

"Administration and industry witnesses provided compelling evidence that indemnification for third-party claims is needed to preserve a US commercial launch market," said Subcommittee Chairman Palazzo."

Keith's note: This action yesterday is rather important news for commercial space sector. Not a word from the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. What is it that they do again?

NASA Decides to Adopt Boeing SIMAC Design for Docking and Retiring the iLIDS Design

"Obviously, this is a disappointing outcome. But while iLIDS may not have been the right solution for the ISS Program, the technology that has been developed for this program remains very impressive and the work that everyone has done to bring it this far has been outstanding. While there are many docking system concepts out there, this is the only US system which has actually put hardware together and shown that it functions."

The NASA Docking System (NDS)

"The NASA Docking System (NDS) is NASA's implementation of the newly adopted International Docking System Standard (IDSS). The NDS blends state-of-the-art low-impact docking technology which has been under development for many years by the Engineering Directorate at the NASA Johnson Space Center with the heritage Russian Androgynous Peripheral Assembly System (APAS) hard mating interface. The NDS design will be made available as a common design for use by future NASA and United States Commercial Crew vehicles."

Keith's note: I'll was on HuffPostLIve at 11:00am ET today, talking about China's space program.

Earlier post on China

Yet Another NASA IT Blunder

Agencywide Message to All NASA Employees: Breach of Personally Identifiable Information (PII)

"On October 31, 2012, a NASA laptop and official NASA documents issued to a Headquarters employee were stolen from the employee's locked vehicle. The laptop contained records of sensitive personally identifiable information (PII) for a large number of NASA employees, contractors, and others. Although the laptop was password protected, it did not have whole disk encryption software, which means the information on the laptop could be accessible to unauthorized individuals. We are thoroughly assessing and investigating the incident, and taking every possible action to mitigate the risk of harm or inconvenience to affected employees."

Keith's note: Look at the links below from the past several years. When things like this happen again and again you have to wonder whether the people entrusted with sensitive information - and/or the people who manage these individuals - are required to exhibit common sense in the performance of their duties. For that matter, you have to wonder if the people running NASA's IT security actually know what they are doing. This advisory contains "changes and clarifications in NASA policy". How many times do things like this have to happen before NASA finally figures out how to fix this obvious problem? Why was information like this on a laptop to begin with?

Lets just hope this laptop doesn't contain any inappropriate emails to U.S. Army soccer moms or socialites ...

- Stolen KSC Laptop Has Employee Personal Info On It (Update), earlier post
- NASA IT Security is a Mess - Stolen Laptops and Hacking JPL, earlier post
- OIG: NASA Information Security Does Not Fully Meet DHS Requirements, earlier post
- NASA OIG: Facilities and Spacecraft Vulnerable to Attack, earlier post
- OIG Finds Problems in NASA IT Management and Implementation, earlier post
- NASA OIG: Audit of Cybersecurity Oversight of [A NASA] System, earlier post
- GAO Cites Ongoing NASA IT Security Vulnerabilities, earlier post

The Vision for Space Exploration: After the Vision, What Next? (Part 5), Paul Spudis

"Many of us working in or with NASA recognized that the 2004 Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) was a breakthrough, the necessary fulcrum needed to change our approach and direction to spaceflight. It was a program that would have opened the door to a wide variety of previously unobtainable missions. In this five-part series to establish and clarify the history and intent of the VSE, I've shared my insider's perspective on why and how it was conceived, executed and eventually terminated - a cautionary tale, if you will, and hopefully, an instructive one. In this last post, I want to examine what lessons should be drawn from this history and how we should move forward in a positive way to have and to build a U.S. space program truly "worthy of a great nation."

Ditch the asteroid mission, Mr President, BBC

"Whatever the truth, I hope that Nasa is aiming big, because its current ambitions are - by its own scientists admissions - somewhat lacking. Although we now have the capability to return humans to the Moon, and travel beyond with manned missions to Mars, the world's leading space-faring nation has another destination in its sights: an asteroid. A small lump of rock."

Almost Being There: Why the Future of Space Exploration Is Not What You Think, Wired

"Congress was all for ditching the moon and Mars plans but decided to keep building the shiny new rocket (maintaining employment in many of their constituent districts). The Space Launch System, which is scheduled to be ready for human crews in 2019, will be the most powerful rocket ever built, capable of bringing astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit, where the space station sits, for the first time since the Apollo days. This puts NASA in a conundrum. "Once you're out there, then what do you do?" said astronomer Jack Burns from the University of Colorado. Within a decade, we may be able to get people in the vicinity of the moon but "there's not enough money in the budget to build a human lander."

A glimpse at a gateway, Space Review

"This is a multi-center team that's been working on trying to figure out what the agency's going to be doing next," [Harold White] said in a presentation that was part of a panel session on advanced concepts at the conference. "In principle, this is an incremental approach to human space exploration. We're trying to take small steps and use as much of the stuff that we have in hand, and incorporate advanced technologies where appropriate to close the architecture."

Charlie Bolden Intends To Press President Obama on Mars Mission Mandate for NASA, earlier post

"At one point, Bolden teared up and said that "Mars is the Goal". Bolden claimed that he was intent upon going to the White House, "pounding his shoe on the table", and demanding a commitment from President Obama to direct NASA to send humans to Mars. Bolden said that he needs that commitment to allow him to decide what to do (not do) with regard to extending the ISS."

Keith's note: The President directed NASA to send humans to an asteroid and eventually (in the 2030's) to Mars. But with talk of L2 or L1 bases, Moon missions, etc. it would seem that some parts of the agency have engaged in mission creep beyond what the White House directed them to do. Then again, the President did say "Mars in the 2030s" and planning for that has to start sooner or later. Regardless of what destination(s) that different parts of NASA think they are aiming for, there is no money for the payloads needed to accomplish any of the missions. With Thanksgiving looming, so is NASA's "passback" on the FY 2014 budget to OMB. Word has it that there will be some of Bolden's Mars shoe pounding included in NASA's budget response. Stay tuned.

Faltering Notoriety?

Felix Baumgartner Jump Imitated By First Burger In Space (with video). Huffington post

"Filling those space shoes and performing anything near as death-defying is a difficult task, but an unassuming, unlikely and altogether tastier contender has stepped up to the plate. The latest intrepid space explorer is, in fact, a burger. Using a large helium balloon and a cheap digital camera, five students from Harvard University launched "Operation Skyfall", the first burger in space."

Supersonic skydiver Felix Baumgartner found guilty of punching Greek lorry driver in road rage incident, Daily Mail

"Supersonic skydiver Felix Baumgartner has been found guilty of punching a Greek lorry driver in the face in a road rage incident in his home town of Salzburg, Austria two years ago. Baumgartner, who last month broke the world record altitude for a parachute jump in the Red Bull Stratos project, had appealed against the conviction for assault but a three-judge appeals panel today upheld the verdict."

An Austrian Taxpayer Doesn't Like NASA Funding Priorities, earlier post

Citing SpaceX Threat, Lawmakers In France Urge Early Ariane 6 Start, SpaceNews (behind paywall)

"French Sen. Bruno Sido said to compare the SpaceX facility with the equivalent manufacturing operation of the Ariane 5 rocket, some of which is done in Les Mureaux, France, is to become fearful for the future of Europe's launch vehicle autonomy. "Visiting Les Mureaux is like entering an impressive laboratory," Sido said in a press briefing here. "Visiting SpaceX, which occupies an old factory that once belonged to Boeing, is like entering IKEA. This company has already won many contracts, is well-supported by NASA and is building low-cost launcher that constitutes a real and serious threat."

Keith's note: ExxonMobil TV commercial about Shiva Hafezi, a young woman (now an engineer) who was motivated as a student to strive for excellence by a chemistry teacher who had once worked at "NASA". The use of "NASA" seems to be the ultimate qualifier of - and compliment for her teacher's qualifications. The NASA brand, however inconsistently and inefficently used by NASA, still has some clear value and meaning to the public. If only NASA were truly willing and capable of using that brand identity to its fullest. Shiva Hafezi is on Facebook

Space telescope to get software fix, Nature

"Long-standing but little-publicized software problems, and insufficient memory in one of the detectors, have clouded the vision of the world's leading -ray telescope to the highest-energy -rays. The flaws do not seriously threaten the satellite's observations at low energies. But they have hampered studies at energies greater than 10 billion electronvolts (GeV), which could yield clues to dark matter and the powerful stellar explosions known as -ray bursts, says particle physicist Bill Atwood at the University of California, Santa Cruz, a member of the Fermi team who helped to design the craft's instruments."

Doubt cast on Fermi's dark matter smoking gun, New Scientist

"The team first had to reprocess their data from the galactic centre to account for a glitch caused by a damaged instrument on the telescope. That revealed that the signal had shifted from 130 to 135 GeV, Albert told the Fourth International Fermi Symposium in Monterey, California, on 2 November. What's more, that signal had faded to statistical insignificance. "The feature's gotten a little smaller," she says. "It hasn't gone away completely, but we do not see it to be very significant. At this point, we have to cast doubt on this being a dark matter line."

Fermi Observations of Dwarf Galaxies Provide New Insights on Dark Matter

"Scientists working with data from NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope have looked for signals from some of these hypothetical particles by zeroing in on 10 small, faint galaxies that orbit our own. Although no signals have been detected, a novel analysis technique applied to two years of data from the observatory's Large Area Telescope (LAT) has essentially eliminated these particle candidates for the first time."

U.S. House Science Committee Set For Big Turnover, ScienceInsider

"A key science policymaking body in the U.S. House of Representatives is about to get a makeover. Ten current members of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology have been defeated in this year's elections or are retiring, according to an analysis by ScienceInsider. That's one-quarter of the total membership. The panel is also expected to get a new chair, as current chief Representative Ralph M. Hall (R-TX), is term-limited under current House rules. Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) is considered a favorite to win the gavel, but former committee chair Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-WI) has reportedly expressed interest in regaining his old job."

Sensenbrenner Seeks House Science Committee Chairmanship

"Additionally, it's more important than ever that the House exercises our constitutional oversight role. The Obama Administration has shown its willingness to manipulate science for political ends and threaten our domestic energy production and our economy in the process. I have a record of effective oversight, and I will continue to keep the Administration accountable for their use of science in crafting regulations and policies."

Reps. Smith, Sensenbrenner, Rohrabacher stake claims to Science Committee gavel, The Hill

"Sensenbrenner faces competition for the slot from Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), whom an aide said is "actively pursuing" the chairmanship. Sensenbrenner said his first priority will be to "pass smart science and space policy that spurs job creation and ensures America's future competitiveness."

Back to the Moon (Again)?

NASA may soon unveil new manned moon missions, Space.com

"The new plans have probably already been cleared with the Obama Administration but have been kept under wraps in case Republican candidate Mitt Romney won Tuesday night's (Nov. 6) presidential election, said space policy expert John Logsdon, a professor emeritus at George Washington University. "NASA has been evolving its thinking, and its latest charts have inserted a new element of cislunar/lunar gateway/Earth-moon L2 sort of stuff into the plan," Logsdon told SPACE.com."

Post-election Space Policy

Keith's note: President Obama has won re-election. What will this mean for space policy? Will (should) NASA have a new administrator? - if so, then who? Should NASA's budget be increased? Should there be more commercial focus? Does the planetary science budget need to be increased? Will Congress be more or less cooperative with the White House? Thoughts?

Oh yes: Charlie Bolden is on a trip to Hawaii for 6 days for the local 237th Marine Corps Birthday Ball. He's the guest of honor at this event.

Earlier Election 2012 posts

Commercial Space Watch is now SpaceRef Business, SpaceRef

Marc's note: SpaceRef is committed to providing timely, useful news and analysis on a wide variety of topics. Our web site focusing on business has been up until today called Commercial Space Watch. Today I'm happy to announce that in the first of many changes to the site we''re rebranding it as SpaceRef Business (spaceref.biz). Over the coming months you'll see increased business coverage and services on the site.

One of those new initiatives is to include more user generated content on all our sites including SpaceRef Business. So starting today you Guest Blog Pitch us.

What are we looking for? We're looking for articles and commentary that would benefit the community regarding all aspects of the space sector: business, space policy, military space, space exploration, space science, technology and more. Learn more.

Keith's note: Why does NASA JSC PAO have staff in Saudi Arabia? Are there that many NASA employees attending the ASE event such that they need a PAO handler?

@amikokauderer Chilling out, maxin' and relaxin' with a couple new dinner friends. @ The Ritz-Carlton, Riyadh http://instagr.am/p/RqUdSrpEOw/

Earth's Astronauts Meet, earlier post

Keith's update: Correction/update: @amikokauderer says she is "not on the job" - but she is listed as accompanying Scott Kelly, an active U.S. astronaut according to ASE.

Keith's update: According to ASE: "Amiko is here as Scott's guest. Scott is here as the official NASA active astronaut representative; although he is on official orders, all (flights, hotels, meals, everything) of his and Amiko's expenses have been picked up by our Saudi hosts (all expenses for all attendees have been picked up by the hosts). She is here purely as a private citizen and Scott's guest."

Keith's note: I wonder if the opportunity to get an all expenses paid trip to Saudi Arabia was offered to other NASA JSC employees instead of just sending a PAO employee.

Keith's note: The National Research Council has created the Committee on Human Spaceflight - yet another semi-annual effort to study and advise Congress on NASA's human space flight activities: "In accordance with Section 204 of the NASA Authorization Act 2010, the National Research Council (NRC) will appoint an ad hoc committee to undertake a study to review the long-term goals, core capabilities, and direction of the U.S. human spaceflight program and make recommendations to enable a sustainable U.S. human spaceflight program."

Do these congressionally-mandated NRC policy committees ever really say anything useful or new about space policy? These NASA efforts are quasi-regular exercises where a group of familiar names an a few new ones are brought together for a series of sedate meetings that last for more than a year. You see, congressional authorization committees direct NASA to pay for these studies when they feel that Congress needs a blue ribbon panel to produce verbiage that they can use to beat NASA and the current administration over the head when Congress feels that they are not being listened to.

Once completed, the policy reports are only cited if the have useful sentences that support (or seem to support) a niche position that one politician or committee may take. By definition, NRC reports are never controversial but rather embody lots of slow-motion consensus and inevitable watering down of important issues. Its not that these are substandard efforts by any means since the NRC is an impressive, competent organization. At most, however, these studies take a long time to conduct and are usually a blip on the radar when they issue their final document.

The NASA Authorization Act of 2010 was signed into law on 11 October 2010. It has taken more than 2 years for everyone to get around to starting this study. The start date listed for this committee is November 2012 and its report is due for delivery in May 2014. That's 1 year, 7 months. This NRC is responding to authorizing legislation passed in 2010 by the 111th Congress, with a committee now being requested by the 112th Congress, and its report will be presented to yet another Congress (113th) during the second year of a new presidential administration in mid-2014 - one where policies are in place that will differ from those in place when the task was assigned, with budgets that differ from initial conditions under which the study was undertaken.

Earth's Astronauts Meet

Over 100 astronauts to attend Riyadh, Saudi Arabia meeting, Arabnews

"The conference will be attended by more than 100 astronauts from 18 different countries along with experts in the space and aeronautics sector from all around the world. ... The event will be addressed on the first day by Prince Sultan bin Salman. Other speakers include KACST President Mohammed Al-Suwaiyel and Prince Turki bin Saud bin Mohammed Al-Saud. Among the foreign speakers will be Dumitru-Dorin Prunariu, president of ASE and the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space; George W. Abbey, former director of Johnson Space Center, USA; Charles Elachi, director, Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the US; and Thierry H. Duquesne, director for strategy, programs and international relations, Center National d'Etudes Spatiales -- CNES, France."

Association of Space Explorers

Keith's note: At the beginning of 20:25 into this video, Gov. Romney repeats a story he has told about an American flag flown on Space Shuttle Challenger's last mission at the request of a Boy Scout troop and how it was recovered - virtually intact - after the loss of Challenger. For the record, I served as a member of the Board of Directors of the Challenger Center for Space Science Education. I have built memorials to the crews of Challenger and Columbia with my own hand on a remote island near the North Pole and helped facilitate on the summit of Mt. Everest.

As such, this issue is personal and I am very protective of the legacy of Challenger and Columbia crews and their families. In this video, the flag that flew on Challenger is presented on the stage and the crew of Challenger is mentioned honorably. As such, this video is worth watching. We all rant and rave about this and that when it comes to space policy - but there are a number of families for whom these issues are deeply personal - lest we ever forget.

Two-Thirds of Americans Think Barack Obama Is Better Suited to Handle an Alien Invasion Than Mitt Romney

"In regards to national security, nearly two-thirds (65%) of Americans think Barack Obama would be better suited than fellow presidential candidate Mitt Romney to handle an alien invasion. In fact, more than two in three (68%) women say that Obama would be more adept at dealing with an alien invasion than Romney, vs. 61 percent of men. And more younger citizens, ages 18 to 64 years, than those aged 65+ (68% vs. 50%) think Romney would not be as well-suited as Obama to handle an alien invasion."

Searching for ET, But No Evidence Yet, OSTP

"Thank you for signing the petition asking the Obama Administration to acknowledge an extraterrestrial presence here on Earth. The U.S. government has no evidence that any life exists outside our planet, or that an extraterrestrial presence has contacted or engaged any member of the human race. In addition, there is no credible information to suggest that any evidence is being hidden from the public's eye. However, that doesn't mean the subject of life outside our planet isn't being discussed or explored."

NASA Hosts Nov. 2 Teleconference About Mars Rover Progress

"NASA will host a media teleconference at 10 a.m. PDT (1 p.m. EDT) on Friday, Nov. 2, to provide an update on Curiosity's studies of the Martian atmosphere."

Curiosity set to weigh in on Mars methane puzzle, Nature

"NASA has announced that Grotzinger's team will discuss atmospheric measurements at a briefing on 2 November. If the rover has detected methane at sufficiently high concentration, or exhibiting temporal variations of the kind that suggests microbial activity, then it will surely motivate a desire to identify and map the sources."

Keith's note: Up until now, NASA has been rather quiet about the characterization of methane distribution by Curiosity ...

Watch LIVE

Keith's update: Press conference statement: "How much methane did we see? So far we have no definitive detection of methane. We have no detection of methane but we will keep looking in the month ahead."

NASA'S Curiosity Rover Provides Clues to Changes in Martian Atmosphere

"Methane is clearly not an abundant gas at the Gale Crater site, if it is there at all. At this point in the mission we're just excited to be searching for it," said SAM TLS lead Chris Webster of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. "While we determine upper limits on low values, atmospheric variability in the Martian atmosphere could yet hold surprises for us."

Marc's note: I've added the complete recording of today's telecon with reporters questions to the above press release.

Photo: NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and KSC Center Director Bob Cabana sign the formal documents for the transfer of Space Shuttle Atlantis from NASA to the KSC Visitors Center.

Captions, Anyone?

Caption text from The Wilson Parrot Foundation - as written: "This is Major General, USMC Ret., Astronaot and now Directer of NASA, Charlie Bolton being a True ParrotHead!!"

Larger image. Alternate link.

Keith's note: Captions, anyone? I'll start: "Although they both poop on me, I like birds more than I like reporters".

Judge tentatively rules NASA's JPL didn't dismiss worker over his belief in intelligent design, Washington Post

"A former computer specialist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory was not dismissed because he advocated his belief in intelligent design while at work, a Superior Court judge has tentatively ruled. Judge Ernest Hiroshige said Thursday he is leaning in favor of JPL's argument that David Coppedge instead was let go because he was combative and did not keep his skills sharp."

Given Tablets but No Teachers, Ethiopian Children Teach Themselves, MIT

"With 100 million first-grade-aged children worldwide having no access to schooling, the One Laptop Per Child organization is trying something new in two remote Ethiopian villages--simply dropping off tablet computers with preloaded programs and seeing what happens. ... Earlier this year, OLPC workers dropped off closed boxes containing the tablets, taped shut, with no instruction. "I thought the kids would play with the boxes. Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, found the on-off switch ... powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child, per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs in the village, and within five months, they had hacked Android," Negroponte said. "Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera, and they figured out the camera, and had hacked Android."

Ethiopian kids hack OLPCs in 5 months with zero instruction, Dvice

"What happens if you give a thousand Motorola Zoom tablet PCs to Ethiopian kids who have never even seen a printed word? Within five months, they'll start teaching themselves English while circumventing the security on your OS to customize settings and activate disabled hardware. Whoa."

Keith's note: If you read NASA Watch often enough you know I tend to focus a lot on the education and public outreach that NASA does, crowd sourcing, open source computing, etc. When I came across this story my jaw dropped. I had seen hints of this when I was in Nepal and visited the Khumjung school and when I saw Sherpa children playing with laptops in remote villages where small scale hydro systems provided only rudimentary power. I have an OLPC XO laptop so I have an idea what they have to work with. But this story from Ethiopia just stunned me. The take home lesson? Perhaps education and public outreach as practiced by NASA and other agencies and organizations needs to just drop the trendy gimmicks and focus in on the most basic enablers of learning. Imagine the cadre of coders and spacecraft designers NASA could cause to arise from all sectors of the economy and regions of America ...


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