December 2013 Archives

Reader note:"I was at the DRC all week. NASA showed up with the most awesome/expensive looking tracker/trailer.  It had a custom paint job, new custom "pelican" cases for all equipment, a fold out tent on the side, and a $15K Cadillac golf cart (image). The team, if you view their videos had 50+ workers, a high-bay work area, a specialize sewing team and a seemingly unlimited tax payer funded budget. Here's photo of it next to the Google buses." Larger image

-NASA JSC's Valkyrie Robot Tied For Last Place in DARPA Competition, earlier post
- No One is in the Driver's Seat at NASA, earlier post
- NASA JSC Has Developed A Girl Robot in Secret (Revised With NASA Responses), earlier post, earlier post

More pictures below

Handicapping the 2013 DARPA Robotics Challenge, Gizmodo

"NASA JSC Team Valkyrie (7/1): Johnson Space Center has a 20-year legacy in humanoid robot development, and the six-foot-two, 286 lb Valkyrie, "inspired by a female first responder wearing body armor" brings 44 degrees of American freedom to the fight. Team Valkyrie is playing the long game, claiming they're focused on next year's final challenge rather than victory today. Is it sandbagging? We'll see."

Keith's note: Well the DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials 2013 event is over. According to DARPA "The Trials will provide a baseline on the current state of robotics and determine which teams will continue on to the DRC Finals in 2014 with continued DARPA funding. Competing in the 2014 Finals will lead to one team winning a $2 million prize."

NASA JSC's Valkyrie is in a three-way tie for last place in the competition. So you have to wonder if DARPA will give her another chance. Yes "her" since that is how JSC folks refer to her in addition to calling her "Val". The robot was given an overt female personality despite direction from NASA HQ to JSC that directed them to make it gender neutral.

FAA Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement: Shiloh Launch Complex

"Based on comments received during the scoping period, the FAA may analyze additional alternatives. However, at this time, the alternatives under consideration include the Proposed Action and the No Action Alternative. Under the No Action Alternative, the FAA would not issue a Launch Site Operator License to Space Florida."

Federal review set for Fla. plan to build site for rocket launches, Washington Post

"Space Florida expects a new center for launches could be largely free of much of the federal red tape and the competing national priorities that can bog down private launches from the nearby Kennedy Space Center or from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station launch complexes. It's also close enough to the old Kennedy space shuttle landing strip, which Space Florida also is seeking to acquire, that the agency thinks companies could use them together. It's the only place, we believe, that Florida could offer the capability for a purely commercial launch site," said Dale Ketcham, Space Florida's director of strategic alliances. But the spot is within one of the most revered natural places in Florida, a 140,000-acre sanctuary of marshes, beaches, lagoons and abundant wildlife."

Keith's note: Why is more government land needed when so much of KSC and CCAFS's vast real estate already remains unused - and is begging for commercial users? Oh, and at the same time, why go out of your way to pick a national wildlife refuge to destroy? Creating a third spaceport next to KSC and CCAFS will result in duplication of capabilities at a time when consolidation and dual use are what people are striving for. While NASA is moving toward more commercial use of its facilities (LC-39A for example) it is odd that Space Florida wants to go in the opposite direction.

I do not understand how this is going to make things easier since this new spaceport would still need to cooperate with range issues on launches from KSC and CCAFS next door and would be subject to the same weather and face issues with use of a runway deep inside a government facility. They are just going to end up making things more complicated in the Space Coast area rather than less complicated. And just watch as Space Florida sticks their hand out looking for Federal (NASA) money to create this duplicate capability - directly and/or indirectly.

If anything the commercial launch sector ought to be looking for places that do not have space launch neighbors, comparatively blank slates in terms of operational complexity, and better weather - like SpaceX has been seeking to do in Texas. Why should Florida have a near-monopoly on launching things into space?

Beyonce Slammed for Sampling Shuttle Tragedy on New Album, ABC

"Retired NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson told ABC News, "For the words to be used in the video is simply insensitive, at the very least." Anderson knows NASA tragedy firsthand. In 2003, he was assisting shuttle Columbia family members the moment news came that all seven had died when the craft disintegrated re-entering Earth's atmosphere. But Anderson, who flew twice on the space shuttle and lived on the International Space Station for five months, seemed to give Beyonce and her team the benefit of the doubt. "What we do in space just isn't as important to young people today," Anderson said."

Statement by Dr. June Scobee Rodgers Regarding Beyonce Audio Clip of Challenger Accident

"We were disappointed to learn that an audio clip from the day we lost our heroic Challenger crew was used in the song 'XO'. The moment included in this song is an emotionally difficult one for the Challenger families, colleagues and friends. We have always chosen to focus not on how our loved ones were lost, but rather on how they lived and how their legacy lives on today. Their dedication to education and exploration resulted in the creation of Challenger Center for Space Science Education and because of this we have been able to educate millions of students across America and beyond. We hope everyone remembers the crew for the inspirational legacy they left in the hearts of so many."

Keith's update: NASA Public Affairs issued the following statement in response to audio from the Challenger shuttle tragedy being used in the song 'XO' by Beyonce:

"The Challenger accident is an important part of our history; a tragic reminder that space exploration is risky and should never be trivialized. NASA works everyday to honor the legacy of our fallen astronauts as we carry out our mission to reach for new heights and explore the universe."

Keith's original note: Recording artist Beyoncé's new song 'XO' begins with a sampled audio clip of NASA's Steve Nesbitt during the first moments of the last flight flight Space Shuttle Challenger. The clip contains Nesbitt saying "Flight controllers here looking very carefully at the situation. Obviously a major malfunction." These words were uttered as the crew and their disintegrating vehicle were still falling into the sea.

These words are forever etched into the psyche of everyone who was watching that day and still echo across the years for the generation that followed.

The song that follows these words about Challenger is certainly catchy - but it has nothing whatsoever to do with Challenger and the sacrifice that their crew made that morning in January 1986. Instead, the song has to do with the trivial life event of a girl breaking up with her boyfriend. The music video shows them playing at an amusement park. Having this audio included in such a song serves to mock the severity of the events and loss that these final words represent.

This choice of historic and solemn audio is inappropriate in the extreme. The choice is little different than taking Walter Chronkite's words to viewers announcing the death of President Kennedy or 911 calls from the World Trade Center attack and using them for shock value in a pop tune.

If this was done with full knowledge of the origin of these words then this is simply repugnant. If this was done without due diligence as to the source of the words being sampled, then this is ignorance. Either way Beyoncé owes the families of the crew of Challenger an apology.

I know the families of the Challenger crew very well. If you ask they will tell you with quiet dignity and purpose that they chose to focus not on how their loved ones died but rather upon how they lived - and how their legacy continues through the educational organization, Challenger Center, that they formed in their memory.

Beyoncé was a little girl living in Houston in 1986 when her astronaut neighbors (including a school teacher) died on their way to work in outer space. She needs to apologize for using this audio clip and remove it from the song. Its absence won't affect the song at all.

Beyoncé could do something more to make things right - by doing what she does so well: create a song that speaks to the sacrifices (big and small) that explorers and teachers make every day as they seek to enrich us all.

Beyoncé: Sampling The Sounds of Tragedy For Pop Music, Earlier post

A Decade of the Vision for Space Exploration: An Alternative Retrospective, Paul Spudis

"Reflecting on the last decade of U.S. space accomplishment, it is apparent that the strategic direction of the Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) first outlined by President Bush on January 14, 2004 has dramatically transformed the civil space program of the United States. Instead of drifting aimlessly, as had been our wont, we are now poised to expand outward with activities undreamed of only a few years ago - ready to set sail into the Solar System with both humans and machines. It is important to revisit this decade of events to appreciate what (and who) is responsible for the developments that cemented this enviable level of space capability - the effort keeping us at the forefront of space development."

Going Beyond The Status Quo In Space, Dennis WIngo, Paul Spudis, Gordon Woodcock, earlier post

"The next step in our space program is the development of a true space faring civilization using the Moon as a stepping stone. Elements of such a system include a lunar spaceport, settlement, and industrial infrastructure to support the further economic development of the Solar System. Pursuing this goal requires a different way of thinking about space infrastructure and operations. Reducing operating cost is paramount. We must accept high-payoff new technologies and manage their risks until they are mature. But the payoff is huge: a new economic frontier in space."

"Review of NASA's Evidence Reports on Human Health Risks -- Letter Report [Institute of Medicine]: NASA has asked the Institute of Medicine to provide independent reviews of more than 30 publicly available evidence reports on human health risks for long-duration and exploration space flight. This letter report examines evidence reports on the risk of injury from dynamic loads, the risk of therapeutic failure due to ineffective medication, and the risk of spaceflight-induced hypertension and visual alterations."

ISS EVA Update

Space Station Crew Removes Ammonia Pump, Next Spacewalk Set for Tuesday

"NASA astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Mike Hopkins completed a 5 hour and 28 minute spacewalk Saturday to remove a faulty ammonia pump on the International Space Station. A second spacewalk to install a new unit now is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 24."

Exit Wolf, Enter Culberson?

Love planetary science? Dying to explore Europa's oceans? Meet the man who can make it happen., Houston Chronicle

"This week U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, a Republican from Virginia, announced he would not run for reelection in 2014. This move makes Houston Republican John Culberson the odds-on favorite to replace Wolf and become chairman of an appropriations subcommittee that oversees NASA. I have a story in today's paper that outlines why this is a powerful position, and explains how it is likely to benefit Johnson Space Center. But Culberson's interest in space go far beyond Houston. He hates the asteroid-retrieval mission. Has strong views about China. And you couldn't ask for a more ardent proponent of planetary science. Particularly Europa."

Wolf and Rogers Want Answers from Clapper on Implications of China's Space Program, Space Policy Online

"Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) wrote to Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper today asking five questions about the implications for U.S. leadership in space and U.S. national security of China's recent accomplishments in space, including landing a rover on the Moon last weekend."

Lost in Space, John Logsdon, Politico

"After all, just under 18 months ago, NASA landed the Curiosity rover on Mars, a much more difficult feat than the Chang'e 3 mission by any measure. Curiosity is almost an order of magnitude heavier than Yutu and technologically much more advanced. So if there is a "planetary rover race," the United States is the clear leader. While China talks about a future space station, the United States is the managing partner of the multinational International Space Station, in full operation since 2011 and with six astronauts and cosmonauts in orbit today. The same holds true in almost every area of space activity--the United States has a clear technological and operational advantage over other countries. It's just not clear America has the determination to sustain that edge."

Earlier posts on China

Statement from the Coalition for Space Exploration: Frank Wolf's Letter to President Obama
"... policy decisions made in the next few years will determine whether the international space and science community supports a U.S.-led space exploration program for the next several decades or if they align with others. The Coalition for Space Exploration encourages the proposal to hold a conference early in the new year to develop a mission-oriented plan for a U.S.-led exploration program to send humans to Mars using the SLS and Orion systems, augmented by other systems and technologies contributed by our international partners."

Wolf Asks Obama to Hold White House Conference in 2014 on Return to Moon, Space Policy Online

"Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) may be retiring, but that's not till the end of next year.   Until then, he clearly plans to remain passionately involved in both civil and national security space policy as evidenced by two letters he sent today.  The one addressed to President Obama calls on the President to hold a White House conference early in 2014 to develop an international plan to return humans to the Moon within the next 10 years."

Letter from Frank Wolf To President Obama, Space Policy Online

Earthrise and Earthrise

NASA Releases New Apollo 8 Earthrise Simulation Video

"NASA has issued a new visualization of the events leading to one of the iconic photographs of the 20th Century - Earth rising over the moon captured by the crew of the Apollo 8 mission. The photo known as Earthrise is the first color photograph of Earth taken by a person in lunar orbit. Earthrise is the cover photo of TIME's Great Images of the 20th Century, and is the central photo on the cover of LIFE's 100 Photographs That Changed the World."

NASA Google+ Hangout: New Visualization 45th Anniversary of Apollo 8 Viewing Earth from Space

"NASA will host a Google+ hangout at 2 p.m. EST Friday, Dec. 20, to unveil a new simulation of the events leading to the creation of "Earthrise," one of the most iconic photographs of the 20th century. It was 45 years ago on Dec. 24, 1968, when Apollo 8 astronauts captured the photograph called "Earthrise," the first color photograph of Earth taken by a person orbiting the moon."

The First Earthrise Image Makes a Trip Back To The Moon

"On 19 November 2013, the first image ever taken of the Earth rising over the Moon's surface in 1966 was sent back to the Moon. This historic image, known as "Earthrise", was taken on 23 August 1966 by NASA's Lunar Orbiter 1. A full resolution electronic data file over 700 Mb in size containing this image was sent to the LADEE spacecraft currently in lunar orbit and then received back on Earth. The Earthrise image that was sent to LADEE was a restored and enhanced version created by the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) located at the Ames Research Park at Moffett Field, California. "

- How Life Magazine Revealed "Earthrise" in 1966
- Lunar Echoes on STS-130

Nimbus II and Lunar Orbiter 1 Imagery: A New Look at Earth in 1966

"... the National Snow and Ice Data Center, after seeing the work that the LOIRP team had done in potentially identifying the Antarctic sea ice in the Lunar Orbiter 1 Earthrise image, and recognizing the similarity between the raw data of the Nimbus and Lunar Orbiter data, provided a grant to the LOIRP team to process the Nimbus data into a modern format and to correct image artifacts that are common to both types of images. ... On this day, in New York City, just over the Earth's limb as seen from lunar orbit, the Beatles were preparing to play at Shea Stadium ..."

- Beatles Legend Among Those Honored with Mercury Craters, NASA

Government Spends Money on Brothels, Pillownauts and Pizza Printers, US News & World Report

"NASA is spending $360,000 to pay 20 people to be in bed for 70 days. NASA's Countermeasure and Functional Testing study is meant to help NASA access the effects of long-term space travel on astronauts (think Mars). This isn't the first time NASA has conducted this research. The space agency has doled out money to participants since the 1960s to lay in bed with their "body slightly tilted downward." Coburn argues the program is a worthless investment considering NASA has no astronaut missions on the schedule in the near future. "Perhaps the agency might get [to Mars] sooner if it prioritized paying rocket scientists and engineers rather than people to just lie around." The agency also spent nearly $125,000 constructing a 3-D printer that could create pizzas in case astronauts in space feel the craving and cannot give Domino's a call."

Wastebook 2013, Sen. Coburn, Page 22

"No manned space missions to Mars--or anywhere else--are planned, scheduled or even possible in the foreseeable future, however, and NASA no longer has an active manned space program."

Keith's note: Its one thing when a member of Congress says something that is wrong and they don't know it. That's ignorance. Its quite another when they say something that is wrong and they don't care. That's being deceptive. Its really bad when they say something that shows that they are wrong, ignorant, deceptive - and stupid. If Sen. Coburn truly belives that "NASA no longer has an active manned space program" then perhaps he can explain who the Americans on the ISS are - you know, the ones who are going to be doing EVAs this weekend? How did they get there?

NASA Postpones Orbital Launch and Sets Spacewalks to Repair ISS

"NASA managers are postponing the upcoming Orbital Sciences commercial cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station to proceed with a series of spacewalks to replace a faulty pump module on the space station. NASA Television will air a news briefing at 3 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Dec. 18 to preview the spacewalks. Orbital Sciences' Cygnus spacecraft, atop its Antares rocket, now will launch no earlier than January. The postponement of the Antares launch will allow ample time for the station crew to focus on repairing a faulty pump module that stopped working properly on Dec. 11."

Keith's note: NASA JSC's Project Morpheus is planning a second free flight today at around 1 pm 1:30 pm EST. Status reports can be found in real time at @MorpheusLander.

You can watch the test here.

Keith's update: As far as I can tell, the flight was apparently flawless.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) won't seek reelection, Washington Post

"Longtime Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) announced Tuesday that he won't seek reelection in 2014. Wolf's departure gives Democrats a great pickup opportunity in 2014. Wolf has easily held down the Northern Virginia suburbs and exurbs for decades, despite their increasing purple tone."

- Frank Wolf Dumps on NASA For Doing What He Told Them To Do, earlier post

Audit of the NASA Fiscal Year 2013 Financial Statements (IG-14-006)

"The audit resulted in an unmodified opinion on NASA's fiscal year (FY) 2013 financial statements. An unmodified or "clean" audit opinion means that the financial statements present fairly, in all material respects, the financial position and the results of the entity's operations in conformity with U.S. generally accepted accounting principles. PwC also issued its reports on internal control and compliance with laws and regulations. PwC reported no material weaknesses or significant deficiencies in internal control. In FY 2013, NASA resolved its sole remaining significant deficiency from prior years related to environmental liability estimation. During the audit, PwC also identified no instances of significant noncompliance with applicable laws and regulations."

Keith's note: In response to one of my queries about JSC's Valkyrie robot, David Steitz from NASA HQ PAO replied "Keith, as the recipient of numerous NASA "exclusives" over the years, including private budget briefings and policy discussions with previous NASA Administrators, I'm amused by your feigned outrage over our unintentional exclusive to IEEE Spectrum on R5."

My response: "In watching the video that you allowed IEEE to shoot - including NASA personnel - and the obvious time spent with them - I have to say that nothing I might ever have gotten under any exclusives (I am not going to confirm that) comes remotely close to this. I still have seen no NASA media advisory as to how media can cover this event that NASA is participating in. You are doing a disservice to the media - and the taxpayers who pay for all the toys - in not doing your utmost to make this activity known as widely as your resources could allow you to do. But then again, you just don't care, do you?"  

NASA JSC does whatever it wants to do - even when NASA HQ tells them not to - and then NASA HQ PAO is forced to tow the party line and not admit the obvious - and hope that you do not notice what is actually going on. Charlie Bolden's control over NASA is much more tenuous than many people imagine - and it is steadily evaporating at a growing pace. HQ direction to field centers is seen as a "suggestion" these days. As the budget battles heat up next Spring - ISS & Commerical Vs SLS; HSF Vs Planetary - that will become abundantly clear.

No one is in the driver's seat at NASA. Maybe the girl robot can drive.

NASA JSC Has Developed A Girl Robot in Secret (Revised With NASA Responses), earlier post

P.S. Google just bought Boston Dynamics - NASA's biggest competitor.

"NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins (left) and Rick Mastracchio, both Expedition 38 flight engineers, pose for a photo with a Thanksgiving meal in the Unity node of the International Space Station. ISS038-E-009306 (28 Nov. 2013) - high res (1.9 M) low res (115 K)"

Keith's note: Yea, yea, yea NASA PAO wants you to think that they had a traditional Thanksgiving turkeyfest on-orbit. Look at the high res version of this image and you will see three different brands of peanut butter, 3 bottles of hot sauce, mini-Reeses peanut butter cups, Ghirardelli chocolates, and Tic Tacs. In other words they really eat like geeks.

Oh yes - advice to NASA: looks like the makers of Siracha sauce have to shut down for a while (factory neighbors hate the smell). Make sure you throw a bottle into Cygnus - its a popular product on ISS. I cannot imagine what would happen if the ISS crews ran out of this precious substance.

Keith Cowing's Devon Island Journal 19 July 2003: Illness, Good Food, and Morale

"Good food is something that NASA has long known. Good food - or at least the best one can provide under the circumstances that accompany spaceflight - is very important to mission success. Astronauts are allowed to chose menus for their missions - and NASA has a whole kitchen system set up whereby meals are taste tested. Other popular items such as candies, condiments, and fresh vegetables are also added."

Iran hails voyage of Fargam the space monkey, Telegraph

"Iran said on Saturday that it had safely returned a monkey to Earth after blasting it into space in the second such launch this year in its controversial ballistic programme.
President Hassan Rouhani congratulated the scientists involved in the mission, in a message carried by the official IRNA news agency. The report added that the rocket reached a height of 120 kilometres (75 miles)."

Keith's note: I am not at all certain what the point of flying this monkey was. When the U.S. and U.S.S.R. first did it in the 50s and 60s it was because no one knew exactly what would happen. Well, they found out and all of that research has been in the public sphere for half a century. The Iranians could have easily availed themselves of that research and avoided scaring they daylights out of this poor monkey.

Finding Pandora and Endor

Sub-Earth-Mass Moon Orbiting a Gas Giant Primary or a High Velocity Planetary System in the Galactic Bulge

"We present the first microlensing candidate for a free-floating exoplanet-exomoon system, MOA-2011-BLG-262, with a primary lens mass of M_host ~ 4 Jupiter masses hosting a sub-Earth mass moon. The data are well fit by this exomoon model, but an alternate star+planet model fits the data almost as well. Nevertheless, these results indicate the potential of microlensing to detect exomoons, albeit ones that are different from the giant planet moons in our solar system. The argument for an exomoon hinges on the system being relatively close to the Sun. The data constrain the product M pi_rel, where M is the lens system mass and pi_rel is the lens-source relative parallax."

NASA OIG: 2013 Report on NASA's Top Management and Performance Challenges

"Looking forward to 2014, we identified the following as the top management and performance challenges facing NASA:

- Considering Whether to Further Extend the Life of the International Space Station
- Developing the Space Launch System and Its Component Programs
- Securing Commercial Crew Transportation Services
- Maintaining Cost and Schedule for the James Webb Space Telescope
- Ensuring Continued Efficacy of the Space Communications Networks
- Overhauling NASA's Information Technology Governance Structure
- Ensuring the Security of NASA's Information Technology Systems
- Managing NASA's Infrastructure and Facilities
- Ensuring the Integrity of the Contracting and Grants Processes"

A New Site to Explore on the Moon, Paul Spudis, Air & Space

"... we are poised to investigate a new site on the Moon of considerable interest and complexity, one that displays a variety of geological units and processes. The Chang'E 3 lander and Yutu rover can provide many answers to our questions regarding the geological history of this region of the Moon and about lunar history in general. That will be a lot to learn over 3 lunar days (one lunar day equals 14 Earth days of light, sandwiched between 14 days of dark)."

American Exceptionalism and Space Exploration, Paul Spudis

"China on the Moon is not the issue. The issue - and the problem - is that the United States is not on the Moon, nor planning to return there to harvest resources necessary to build and profit from the inevitable transportation system to be built in cislunar space (the area between the Earth and the Moon, where all of our commercial and national space assets reside). American exceptionalism must stay viable and be a strong presence along side China and other nations."

41 Years Ago Today Humans Left The Moon

"41 years ago today, 14 December 1972, Lunar Module "Challenger" in lunar orbit before rendezvous with the Apollo 17 Command Module "America"."

China Lands Chang'e-3 On The Moon, VOA (with CCTV Video)

"Chinese state media say China has successfully landed a space probe on the moon, in the first lunar "soft landing" in nearly four decades. The Chang'e-3 lunar probe blasted off earlier this month from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in China's southwestern Sichuan province. It carried with it a moon rover, known as "Jade Rabbit."

Keith's update: The Yutu rover has been deployed and is driving on the lunar surface.

Cygnus Launch To ISS Delayed

NASA Delays Cygnus Launch Due to ISS Cooling Issue

"The launch has been delayed to no earlier than Thursday, Dec. 19 to enable engineers to continue their analysis of data involving a suspect Flow Control Valve in a pump module on the starboard truss of the station that malfunctioned on Wednesday. Orbital's Antares rocket and the Cygnus commercial cargo vehicle are now scheduled to launch from Pad 0A at the Wallops Flight Facility, Va. no earlier than Dec. 19 at 9:19 p.m. EST. NASA TV coverage of launch will begin at 8:45 p.m. EST."

NRC Panel Pans NASA's Draft Science Plan

"A panel of scientists from fields NASA spends $5 billion a year to address finds that the draft strategic plan fails to tackle the agency's uncertain funding outlook in a meaningful way. This means important exploration capabilities could fall by the wayside and "a generation of scientists" may be lost in some disciplines, they say. ... The panel's report, requested by Associate Administrator John Grunsfeld, the Hubble-servicing astronaut who runs SMD, underscores the problems NASA faces in sustaining the space-science program it built over 50-plus years. It was prepared by the Space Studies Board panel that was chaired by the University of Michigan's Dr. James P. Bagian, who conducted biomedical research as an astronaut-scientist on two shuttle missions."

Review of the Draft 2014 Science Mission Directorate Science Plan, NRC SSB

"As discussed in Chapter 8, the draft Science Plan is uneven with respect to the level of detail and clarity across disciplines as well as in its use of examples and graphics that clearly communicate the salient points. It appeared as if the document was written by a committee without the benefit of a cohesive editing effort to ensure that the important points were made in a clear, concise, and compelling manner and that the facts had been appropriately checked. There are numerous factual and other errors in the draft Science Plan (see Appendix B for examples) as well as the absence of a consistent style or level of detail across the document. The draft Science Plan does not contain a clear description of how the program, as now proposed, is consistent with or varies from past NASA plans and the recommendations from the various decadal surveys."

GAO Decision on Blue Origin Protest Over LC -39A

"Blue Origin, LLC, of Kent, Washington, protests the actions of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in connection with its issuance of announcement for proposals (AFP) No. AFP-KSC-LC39A, for the lease of Launch Complex 39A (LC 39A) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC). Blue Origin maintains that the agency intends to misapply the terms of the AFP in evaluating proposals and selecting a prospective lessee for the facility. We deny the protest."

NASA Selects SpaceX to Begin Negotiations for Use of Launch Complex 39A

"NASA made the selection decision Thursday after the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) denied a protest filed against the Agency by Blue Origin LLC on Sept. 13. In its protest, Blue Origin raised concerns about the competitive process NASA was using to try to secure a potential commercial partner or partners to lease and use LC-39A. Blue Origin had argued the language in the Announcement for Proposals (AFP) favored one proposed use of LC-39A over others. The GAO disagreed."

- Congress Voices Support for NASA LC 39-A Leasing, earlier post
- SpaceX Statement on Shared Use of LC-39A (Update), earlier post
- New Uses For Launch Pad 39A: Threatening The Status Quo, earlier post

Arthur Hou

Arthur Y. Hou, NASA weather scientist, dies at 66, Washington Post

"Arthur Y. Hou, a specialist in climate science and space-based observation of clouds, who was the chief scientist for a NASA satellite project to measure precipitation around the world, died Nov. 20 at his home in Potomac, Md. He was 66."

NASA Statement on Space Station Cooling Loop Shut Down

"Earlier Wednesday, the pump module on one of the space station's two external cooling loops automatically shut down when it reached pre-set temperature limits. These loops circulate ammonia outside the station to keep both internal and external equipment cool. The flight control teams worked to get the cooling loop back up and running, and they suspect a flow control valve actually inside the pump module itself might not be functioning correctly."

Teams Working Cooling System Issue; Station Crew Carries on With Research

"Mission managers have deferred the decision on whether to proceed with or postpone the launch of the Orbital Sciences' Cygnus commercial cargo craft until more is known about the flow control valve issue. Cygnus is currently scheduled to launch Dec. 18 from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia and rendezvous with the station on Dec. 21."

NASA JSC Unveils 'Valkyrie' DRC Robot, IEEE Spectrum

"While NASA's official position is that Valkyrie is a genderless humanoid (as is Robonaut), the robot does have some features that we would call unmistakably female. For example, there's the name of the robot. "Valkyrie" (the roboticists call it "Val" for short) refers to the female figures in Norse mythology who decided which warriors fought valiantly enough in battle to be taken to Valhalla when they died."

Keith's update: This placeholder website just appeared. But it only shows Valkyrie's back - not her front. There was a Facebook page up until yesterday that referred to Valkyrie as a female and said that Robonaut was her "brother". NASA JSC was originally directed by NASA HQ to make this robot gender neutral. JSC then ignored that direction and deliberately made the robot overtly female - at least its upper torso. Now they deny that it is female or that it was ever intendeded to evoke or portray a female characteristics in any way. This project was also kept secret from a large number of JSC engineers who would otherwise be aware of such activities. Someone is not being truthful.

Just for the record folks, I have no problem whatsoever in making robots and other NASA hardware more approachable to people in ways that make them feel included. None whatsoever. And if you are going to make a space robot why not make it look cool? Lets see more of it! What is troubling is how NASA JSC played favorites with one specific media outlet to the exclusion of all others - and still does; how NASA JSC is being less than honest when they say that there was no intent to imply gender identity on this robot when in fact multiple well-placed sources state that this was intentional from the onset at JSC; and that HQ PAO is now trying to tell me that a robot with an overtly female chest configuration and a female name is not trying to invoke a female identity. I'm not that stupid - neither is everyone else.

Why can't they just admit the obvious to the public in the same way that they discuss it internally? Its time for NASA JSC to be honest and stop trying to weasel out of the obvious by hiding behind HQ PAO responses. Ellen Ochoa knows the whole story.

Keith's note: I submitted the following questions to NASA PAO, JSC PAO, and Mike Gazarik - the reply from NASA HQ is listed below:

How journals like Nature, Cell and Science are damaging science, opinion, The Guardian

"We all know what distorting incentives have done to finance and banking. The incentives my colleagues face are not huge bonuses, but the professional rewards that accompany publication in prestigious journals - chiefly Nature, Cell and Science. ... These journals aggressively curate their brands, in ways more conducive to selling subscriptions than to stimulating the most important research. Like fashion designers who create limited-edition handbags or suits, they know scarcity stokes demand, so they artificially restrict the number of papers they accept. The exclusive brands are then marketed with a gimmick called "impact factor" - a score for each journal, measuring the number of times its papers are cited by subsequent research. Better papers, the theory goes, are cited more often, so better journals boast higher scores. Yet it is a deeply flawed measure, pursuing which has become an end in itself - and is as damaging to science as the bonus culture is to banking."

Keith's note: NASA is completely addicted to the mindset mentioned in this opinion piece. NASA allows itself to have terms dictated to them by Science and Nature as to how and when research news can be released rather than the other way around. Yet NASA has an "impact factor" and "reach" that vastly eclipses anything that these journals can offer. Its time for NASA to grow a spine and tell these journals that NASA is going to set the rules with regard to when and how NASA-funded research is going to be released.

House Committee Approves Bill To Shield Big NASA Programs from Cancellation, Space News

"The House Science Committee on Dec. 11 approved a bill that would require NASA to obtain legislative permission to cancel some of its most expensive human spaceflight and science programs, while at the same time allowing contractors for these programs to tap into hundreds of millions of dollars in reserve funding. The bill, H.R. 3625, was introduced Dec. 2 by Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), whose district includes the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville."

House Committee Approves Bill Requiring Congressional Approval Before Terminating JWST, ISS, SLS or Orion, Space Policy Online

"The markup lasted less than 10 minutes and the amendment and bill were adopted by voice vote. ... Another change made by the amendment replaces language that would have voided existing contract provisions that provide for payment of termination liability costs in a manner inconsistent with the bill. The new language simply states that funds being held in reserve for termination liability "shall be promptly used" for executing the program. The bill also makes clear that it is the intent of Congress to authorize appropriations to cover termination liability if, in fact, Congress agrees that the Administration should terminate a contract and that it is the Administration's responsibility to spend such funds for that purpose."

Turning SLS and Orion into Entitlements (Update: Webb Too), earlier post

"If passed into law, H.R. 3625 would make it exceptionally difficult to ever halt SLS, Orion, or Webb or to adjust funds internally by treating them in a way that is utterly different than other NASA programs. Indeed it would make these programs into Zombies that can never be killed. I have to wonder what CBO will say when it scores this bill and what the Budget Committee might have to say. This bill sets a precedent that could spread across the government."

Review of Allegations of Improper Leasing and Provision of Aircraft Fuel at Moffett Federal Airfield

"The OIG found that consistent with NASA policy Ames based the price of its lease with H211 on the fair market value of comparable hangar space and that, as required, the lease and companion Space Act Agreement supported NASA's mission. Specifically, since 2009 H211 has flown more than 200 flights to collect climate data at no cost to NASA - science missions Ames officials estimate would have cost the Agency between $1,800 and $6,500 per flight hour to operate depending on the type of aircraft used. Accordingly, we determined that NASA benefitted from both its lease and Space Act Agreement with H211. ... We found that from September 2007 until August 2013, H211 purchased fuel at Moffett from DLA-Energy either directly or through NASA for both its personal flights and NASA science flights at a rate intended only for government agencies and their contractors. ... Even though we concluded that the fuel arrangement did not result in an economic loss to NASA or DLA-Energy, H211 nevertheless received a monetary benefit to which it was not entitled. Accordingly, we recommend that NASA explore with the company possible options to remedy this situation."

Investing in NASA, Advancing American Leadership in Space

"The Obama Administration has proposed a record five-year investment of nearly $92 billion in NASA to maintain America's leadership in space exploration and spur scientific and technical discovery here on Earth.  Although not all of this funding has been approved, NASA has still been racking up extraordinary accomplishments, including: ... "

Are the Days of NASA's Science Flagship Missions Over?, Space Policy Online (last week)

"NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden had a tough message for the space science community today - forget about flagship missions, they're not affordable today. At the very same time on Capitol Hill, however, the chairman of one of NASA's key committees was expressing enthusiasm about a mission to Europa - unquestionably a flagship mission. The disconnect could not be more stark. Flagship missions are NASA's most expensive (over $1 billion) and risky space science missions, but offer exceptional scientific payoff."

Statement of Administrator Charles Bolden Regarding NASA's Commitment to Flagship Missions

"NASA remains committed to planning, launching and operating flagship missions that meet the challenging objectives of our science, technology and aeronautics communities as identified through decadal surveys, advisory groups, the Administration and Congress. We are dedicated to pursuing the most cost-effective ways to accomplish this goal in order to provide balance with an increased cadence of missions that vary in size, destination and complexity."

NASA: Some perspective and gratitude, WTOP

"Americans are aware of NASA but I do not think they realize how much NASA does and for how little money. Do you know what NASA's budget is for 2014? Thanks to our deadlocked and dysfunctional Congress there is no approved budget for the Government. NASA is looking at roughly $17.7 billion requested by President Barack Obama for FY2014. That breaks down to roughly 15 cents a day per American and less than 1 cent a day per human on the planet. I include this last figure as much of what NASA does benefits all of humanity, not just Americans. To put NASA's budget in perspective, consider these facts - Americans spend $61 billion on their pets per year. Also, a white collar criminal was ordered to pay $170 billion in restitution to his victims."

Keith's note: This story manages to mention everything NASA does and how little, in the grand scheme of things, we actually spend on NASA. This article also includes Bill Nye's latest eponymous and somewhat presumptuous video. Indeed, the press release that the Planetary Society put out trumpeting his message to the President specifically says "Bill Nye the Science Guy®" Gotta make sure he gets his personal trademarked branding in even though he claims to represent a non-profit organization.

If you did not know any better, Bill Nye would have you think that the only thing NASA does - or should do - is planetary science. Everything else - well, why mention it? Nye totally avoids mention of human spaceflight, aeronautics, earth science, commerce, heliophysics, astronomy, biology, education, technology, etc. Yes,I know he's the CEO and grand spokesman for the Planetary Society. But only promoting a narrow slice of what NASA does, and ignoring the rest of what NASA is engaged in, is self-serving and totally deceptive as far as what the general public and decision makers need to hear.

A policy for NASA's budget that does not consider all that the agency does is one that is doomed to fail - or, worse - one that serves to spark a civil war over an ever-shrinking budget. No one wins in such a scenario.

- Bill Nye Calls on President Obama to Embrace Planetary Exploration for NASA's Future

Virgin Galactic Could Bring Jobs to Rural NM, Public News Service

"PHOTO: New Mexico's rural economy could get a boost after Virgin Galactic starts its flights into outer space. Photo courtesy of NASA."

Bad Weather Affects NASA Ops

Keith's note: The bad weather on the east coast has pretty much brought the Washington DC Metro and mid-atlantic area to a crawl with bad road conditions and increasing power outages. This will continue through tomorrow. So you can expect NASA HQ, GSFC, Wallops and also IV&V and LaRC to all be running at less than full efficiency.

Keith's note: The other day NASA sent out media advisories urging news media to cover NASA-sponsored and related events at the Fall AGU meeting in San Francisco from 9-13 December. But as is usually the case NASA cannot seem to coordinate among itself when more than one center is involved.

NASA HQ and NASA Ames put out media advisories that state "Briefings will be streamed for registered journalists on the AGU press conference Web page. They will not be carried on NASA Television."

JPL put out the same media advisory but added detail:

"The briefings will be streamed for registered journalists on the AGU press conference Web page. Some news conference will be available via live streaming at, as follows:

Monday, 9 a.m. PST- Curiosity Rover Update
Monday, 10:30 a.m. PST - Mapping Snowpack from the Sky
Tuesday, 9 a.m. PST - Improving Natural Hazard Warnings
Tuesday, 10:30 a.m. PST - News from Juno's Earth Flyby
Tuesday, 11:30 a.m. PST - Dynamic Mars Over Time
Thursday, 11:30 a.m. PST - New Results from Cassini Mission to Saturn

The briefings will not be carried on NASA Television."

While these events will not be sent out on NASA Television, most people who watch NASA Television on the web do so via NASA's UStream webstreaming accounts. So, why can't NASA's TV page link to these webcasts? Clearly there is some infrastructure in place whereby JPL is able to stream events over UStream. The events listed as being streamed are only JPL-associated events with JPL people involved. Why can't this web streaming hardware be left in place to stream other NASA events? AGU apparenly has a UStream system in place, why can't NASA tap that?

More importantly, why didn't JPL PAO tell ARC, HQ, and other NASA centers that this would be streamed so as to make sure that the media advisories that "NASA" sent out were all in synch? Curiously both the JPL and HQ media advisories list Stephen Cole from NASA HQ PAO on them - so there is some level of contact between JPL and HQ PAO - at least on paper. Coles's response to my inquiries on this matter: "confusing, I know, but such is the wonderful world of multimedia color we live in." In other words 'yea, so what'?

In addition to these AGU media advisories there is a separate NASA HQ advisory that was put out for a Mars Curiosity radiation briefing at AGU. MSL is a JPL mission. But wait, since no one on the panel is from JPL, JPL is not going to live stream it. But NASA HQ says they will provide an audio stream for news media and the public and JPL makes mo mention of the event or the audio streaming. And you wonder why the agency has 3 (or 4) official MSL websites?

Last week NASA SMD held an online Town Hall meeting with the planetary science community to discuss budget issues. Next week at AGU there will be many more of these official NASA-sanctioned events wherein NASA representatives tell attendees (taxpayers too) what the challengers are in the months and years ahead. There is no apparent way for NASA researchers to participate in these Town Hall meetings unless they pay the expense of going to a meeting operated by a third party.

AGU claims there is a virtual viewing option (which is confusing to use and tries to charge you $103 for "free" access) that offers free webstreaming but does not allow any interaction - which is odd since its rather simple to enable the chat function on these webstreaming events. I am now told someone is going to "fix" that. Meawhile, media has some access to online NASA press events but that assumes that the AGU decides that you warrant media accreditation. NASA has no input to that process.

In summary: instead of having all NASA AGU-related events in one place so as to best inform the news media, scientific community, and public as to what is happening and how to see/participate, NASA's directorates, centers, programs, and Headquarters all seem to be running in a different direction ignoring obvious overlaps, points of cooperation, and ways to utilize limited fiscal resources.

NASA's Planetary Science Shift Rattles Researchers, Science

"Jim Green, the head of NASA's Planetary Science Division, shook things up for planetary scientists this week by announcing a restructuring that will change how the division funds grant proposals. ... That's why some researchers--including Mark Sykes, director of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona--have been railing against the restructuring on Twitter and in the blogosphere. Sykes says the change Green has made is ill-considered because it doesn't take into account the impact on the workforce. "There are many people whose research programs and salaries depend upon successfully proposing to several major programs in 2014," Sykes says. "They have just learned that there will be no opportunity for these programs until 2015. I have had several people tell me that if there is no regular ... call at the regular time in 2014, they will have to look for other employment in a year. There are postdocs whose positions are ending this next year, who would have applied to these programs to get started as independent planetary scientists. They need to find something else to do."

When it comes to planetary science will NASA soon stand for NADA?, Houston Chronicle

"Let's start with a town hall meeting (watch it here) that occurred on Tuesday during which NASA's $1.2 billion planetary science division announced a restructuring of how it funds research and analysis. Restructuring is a nice euphemism here. Due to budget cuts, in essence, NASA officials announced that it would not seek new research grant submissions in 2014."

NASA funding shuffle alarms planetary scientists, Nature

"But at the town-hall meeting, NASA's Jonathan Rall said that funding proposals in this field are not likely to be due until February 2015. That was the last straw for many researchers who live from grant to grant, because most of their existing funding is likely to expire well before money becomes available for the new Solar System workings area. Outraged scientists vented their frustration in the comments section of the meeting website and on Twitter. "People are upset with not knowing where their next paycheck is going to come from, how they're going to pay the mortgage," says Schmidt."

Comments Transcript: NASA Planetary Science Division Research and Analysis Program Restructuring Virtual Town Hall

"Michael H. New: [personal, non-official, comment] The degree to which the field shrinks is driven by the budget and the number of hard-money positions available. Regardless of how PSD's solicitations are organized, when the budget is flat and there are few hard-money positions available, people will be forced to leave the field. [end]"

(Update) SMD Planetary Town Hall: Time For Planetary Scientists To Job Hunt, Earlier post

Stunning Video: Roots of Life

Keith's note: This video was directed by Rajan Mehta, combining his footage of the aurora borealis with imagery from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. Make sure to play it full screen with the sound cranked up.

Keith's note: According to a release issued today: "The Science, Space, and Technology Committee today approved three bills with bipartisan support. ... Prior to debate on a fourth bill [H.R. 3625] offered by Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), the Committee recessed subject to the call of the Chair. Chairman Smith indicated that he expects the Committee to reconvene to consider the bill next week."

Full Bill information (note the cosponsors).

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) is going to join the party and will introduce an amendment to give the Webb Space Telescope the same protection against cancellation as SLS and Orion would get under this bill. Think of all the large contracts that will soon be voided and what this means for the way in which NASA engages in contracting for future programs - to say nothing of the contingencies that won't be in place in case a program runs into trouble - and the decreased flexibility the agency will have to manage its finances.

Rep. Brooks is submitting an amendment that says "Page 5, line 6, insert "If the Administration terminates a covered program for the convenience of the Government, then the Administration is responsible for payment of all termination liability costs." after "such prime contracts." In other words, the government accepts all the responsibility and lets the SLS and Orion prime contractors off the hook when it comes to termination costs. This bill only affects the prime contractors. None of the subcontractors get anything out of it i.e. ATK, Aerojet etc. Indeed, they are left holding the bag as far as their potential termination costs are concerned. I have to wonder what CBO will say when it scores this bill and what the Budget Committee might have to say. This bill sets a precedent that could spread across the government.

If passed into law, H.R. 3625 would make it exceptionally difficult to ever halt SLS, Orion, or Webb or to adjust funds internally by treating them in a way that is utterly different than other NASA programs. Indeed it would make these programs into Zombies that can never be killed. Here's an excerpt:

NASA Planetary Science Division Research and Analysis Program Restructuring Virtual Town Hall

"The Planetary Science Division announces a virtual town hall presenting the Research and Analysis Program Restructuring. The town hall will be held on Tuesday, December 3, 2013, 12:00 noon to 4:00 pm (EST). A presentation by Jonathan Rall will be followed by a question/answer period. The town hall will be live-streamed with participation available to anyone having Internet access."

Keith's note: Follow comments on Twitter in real time here

Keith's note: From the comments section: "Michael H. New: [personal, non-official, comment] The degree to which the field shrinks is driven by the budget and the number of hard-money positions available. Regardless of how PSD's solicitations are organized, when the budget is flat and there are few hard-money positions available, people will be forced to leave the field. [end]"

New also posted this: "Michael H. New: Do you want us to predict the number of funded PIs in FYxx? A very, very, rough estimate is to take your favorite R&A budget estimate and divde by $125,000 which is not a bad approximation for the overall average annual award size. This estimate, of course, ignores all year-to-year variations in the actual budget and how that propagates from year-to-year."

NASA Statement on Planetary Research and Analysis Restructuring

"The following is a statement from NASA's Planetary Director Jim Green on Tuesday's virtual town hall meeting with the planetary scientific community. During the afternoon call, he outlined and answered questions about the proposed agency restructuring plans to consolidate some of the supporting research and technology activities to ensure a balanced planetary science portfolio for the next decade."

Comments Transcript: NASA Planetary Science Division Research and Analysis Program Restructuring Virtual Town Hall

"NASAWATCH: Is SMD management reading what the Twitterverse is saying about this Town Hall? Audience of followers exceeds 100,000 and includes journalists."

Hearing on Astrobiology

Testimony of Dr. Sara Seager, Hearing on Astrobiology

"We stand on a great threshold in the human history of space exploration. On the one side of this threshold, we know with certainty that planets orbiting stars other than the Sun exist and are common. ... On the other side of this great threshold lies the robust identification of Earth-like exoplanets with habitable conditions, and with signs of life inferred by the detection of "biosignature gases" in exoplanetary atmospheres."

Testimony of Dr. Mary A. Voytek, Hearing on Astrobiology

"Even today, children wonder, where did I come from? Astrobiology seeks to answer this enduring question."

Testimony of Dr. Steven J. Dick, Hearing on Astrobiology

"During my time as NASA Chief Historian, everywhere I went people of all ages wanted to know about life on other worlds. Astrobiology raises fundamental questions and evokes a sense of awe and wonder as we realize perhaps there is something new under our Sun, and the Suns of other worlds."

NASA OIG Semiannual Report to Congress

"Perhaps the biggest challenge NASA faced during the past year was managing its diverse exploration, science, and aeronautics portfolios in a time of diminishing and uncertain budgets. Along with the rest of the Federal Government, NASA began fiscal year (FY) 2013 under a 6-month continuing resolution that funded the Agency at the previous year's level. This was followed by a budget for the second half of FY 2013 that - after the sequestration reduction - provided NASA with $16.865 billion or $935 million less than the previous year. These financial pressures look to continue in FY 2014 with NASA shuttered at the start of the fiscal year and its long-term funding outlook clouded."

NASA Flunks Open Data Test

Implementation of the Open Data policy, Public Private Sector

"This is a tracking tool setup to understand which federal agencies have deployed their data.json in compliance with Executive Order 13642 of May 9, 2013, Making Open and Machine Readable the New Default for Government Information and OMB Memorandum M-13-13 Open Data Policy-Managing Information as an Asset."

SpaceX Launches SES-8

SpaceX Launches SES-8

"SpaceX launched the SES-8 satellite this evening on a Falcon 9.1 rocket. Launch occured as the window opened at 5:41 pm ET. Second stage reignition and burn was a success. The SES-8 spacecraft is now in a nominal GEO transfer orbit. So far it seems that the flight was completely nominal."

Blue Origin Debuts the American-made BE-3 Liquid Hydrogen Rocket Engine (with video)

"Blue Origin reached a key milestone in the development of the liquid-fueled BE-3 engine by successfully demonstrating deep throttle, full power, long-duration and reliable restart all in a single-test sequence. The BE-3 is the first completely new liquid hydrogen-fueled engine to be developed for production in the U.S. since the RS-68 more than a decade ago."

NASA Commercial Crew Partner Blue Origin Test-Fires New Rocket Engine (with video)

"NASA's Commercial Crew Program (CCP) has been working with the company on several aspects of the engine's development. The program supported testing of the BE-3 under the agency's Commercial Crew Development Round 2 (CCDev2) initiative and continues to offer technical support. NASA and Blue Origin also are partnered in review and tests of the company's Space Vehicle design."

Photographer Captures Meteor Streaking Through the Aurora Borealis, PetaPixel

"Photographer Shannon Bileski of Signature Exposures captured this beautiful photograph last Friday at Patricia Beach in Canada. It shows a bright meteor streaking through a sky filled with the green glow of the aurora borealis. Bileski tells us she was out at the beach attempting to witness and photograph the northern lights with others from a photography club and an astronomy club."

FAA Interpretation Concerning Involvement of NASA Astronauts During a Licensed Launch or Reentry

"This interpretation responds to a request from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) regarding whether the space transportation regulations of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would restrict NASA astronauts from performing operational functions during a commercial space launch or reentry under license from the FAA."

2 The pertinent FAA regulations simply require that space flight participants: (1) be informed of risk; (2) execute a waiver of claims against the U.S. Government; (3) receive training on how to respond to emergency situations; and (4) not carry any weapons onboard. See 14 CFR Sec. Sec. 460.45-460.53.

House Approves Bipartisan Bill to Extend Liability Protection for Commercial Space Launches, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology

"The U.S. House of Representatives today approved the Space Launch Liability Indemnification Extension Act (H.R. 3547)  by a vote of 376 to 5.  H.R. 3547 is a bipartisan bill that extends for one year a commercial space transportation risk-sharing and liability regime that was established by Congress in 1988 with passage of the Commercial Space Launch Act Amendments."

House Approves Bill to Extend Liability Protection for Commercial Space Launches, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Democrats

"The bill extends provisions of the Commercial Space Launch Act Amendments, which cover third-party liability for licensed commercial space launches. The bipartisan bill was introduced by Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), Space Subcommittee Chairman Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.), and Space Subcommittee Ranking Member Donna Edwards (D-Md.)."

Former NASA SES Employee Pleads Guilty To Conflict Of Interest Violation

"Acting United States Attorney A. Lee Bentley, III announces that Edward J. Mango, (52, Orlando) today pleaded guilty to an Information charging him with acting in his official capacity while having a financial conflict of interest, a felony. Mango faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. A sentencing date has not yet been set."

OPM Frequently Asked Questions

"A felony conviction does not automatically make one unsuitable for Federal employment. When making a suitability determination, an agency will evaluate the individual's character traits and decide whether their employment or continued employment would or would not protect the integrity or promote the efficiency of the service. The factors that may form the basis for finding a person unsuitable can be found under 5 CFR 731.202(b) and include criminal or dishonest conduct."

Keith's note: NASA says that they are not going to make any decision on Ed Mango's employment future until he is sentenced early next year. Back in the day if a government employee was found (or admitted to be) guilty of a job-related felony like this they'd have been shown the door regardless of what sentence they eventually got. Not any more, so it would seem. That said, there may be more shoes to drop - who knew what - and when did they know it, for example.

- Former NASA Commercial Crew Director Mango Pleads Guilty to Federal Felony, earlier post

Review of the NASA Science Mission Directorate Draft Strategic Plan

"In preparation for the release of its quadrennial strategic plan in February 2014, the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) at NASA asked the National Research Council to review a draft plan. In a new report, the Research Council provides specific recommendations in each of these key areas that would improve the clarity and consistency of the plan. The report notes that it is "more important than ever" for NASA to describe in plain language how it will prioritize and apportion its resources within the science program."

At many agencies, fears of an exodus, Federal Times

"Among federal organizations with more than 1,000 employees, NASA's Ames Research Center had the highest proportion of retirement-eligibles: More than one out of four of its 1,200 employees are able to retire immediately. That percentage is well above other NASA agencies. At Ames, the staff is "very energized" by its work on aeronautics and space applications, Associate Director Deborah Feng said in written answers. In addition, she said, employees often leave to take jobs at local companies, only to return later on to Ames' benefit."

China's Chang'e-3 Heads For The Moon (with video), SpaceRef

"China's Chang'e-3 lunar rover Yutu ("Jade rabbit") left Earth today aboard a Long March IIIB rocket today. Liftoff occurred at 12:30 pm EST from Xichang launch facility in in China's Sichuan province. Chang'e-3 will take approximately four days to reach the Moon and will enter orbit on or around 6 December. A week or so later Change'e-3's large landing stage will deliver the Yutu rover to a landing site in Sinus Iridum - The Bay of Rainbows. The current expected landing date is 14 December."

- Were You Wondering About China's Long-Term Moon Goals?
- China/U.S. Collaboration on LADEE/Chang'e 3? Not Likely

India Is On Its Way To Mars

Mars Orbiter Spacecraft Successfully Placed in Mars Transfer Trajectory

"The critical manoeuvre to place India's Mars Orbiter Spacecraft in the Mars Transfer Trajectory was successfully carried out in the early hours of today (Sunday, December 1, 2013). The spacecraft is now on a course to encounter Mars after a journey of about 10 months around the Sun."



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