January 2015 Archives

NASA Budget Preview

Keith's note: You can expect to see a NASA budget for $18.5 billion to be announced on Monday. Planetary gets treated well and Europa mission planning gets significant money and a Phase A start. NASA also gets what they asked for in SLS and Orion requests. Commercial crew gets over $1 billion. No one got everything that they asked for but this is a move in the right direction for all concerned. More to follow.

NASA Budget Media Briefing

"At 4 p.m. Monday, agency Chief Financial Officer David Radzanowski will brief media on NASA's 2016 budget proposal."

SMAP Launched and Deployed

SMAP Launched and Deployed (with video)

"NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) successfully lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 9:22 a.m. EST Saturday. SMAP is a three-year mission to study and map the Earth's soil moisture, which regulates plant growth and has impacts on weather, emergency management and more."

Update: SMAP has been deployed.

Keith's note: If you have been paying attention to NASA's press releases this past week you know that there a series of NASA social media events at all of NASA's field centers next week. NASA does a lot of these events and goes out of its way to issue invitations for people to apply to attend. You can see the announcements for all of them here - all except one. If you go to this listing of people tweeting with the tag #tweeunion you will see that there is a NASA social media event underway at NASA JSC today - right now, in fact. But NASA never announced it. NASA JSC PAO, NASA HQ PAO, and the NASA Social team knew nothing about it until it was underway. This event was organized by NASA JSC personnel and attendees were privately invited - with no opportunity for anyone else in the United States to apply. So ... you can follow the tweets from this private viewing party as these #spacetweeps brag among themselves about how special they are to be invited to play with NASA's toys - while no one else can.

Safety panel accuses NASA of a 'lack of transparency' in critical space program, Washington Post

"NASA's independent safety panel accused the agency of a "lack of transparency" about its program to hire commercial space companies to fly astronauts to the International Space Station, saying the opacity could create increased safety risks. In its annual report to Congress, the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel said the lack of communication about critical safety measures "has been a concern for a number of years." And it made it impossible for the panel "to offer any informed opinion regarding the adequacy of the certification process or the sufficiency of safety" in what is known as the "commercial crew" program. The "failure to engage in open and transparent communication is reminiscent of the problems" surrounding the causes of the fatal Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters, according to the report released Wednesday."

ASAP 2014 Annual Report

Keith's note: NASA JPL PAO issued this media advisory yesterday giving 4 days advanced notice of a media event covering NASA missions to Europa, Ceres, Pluto, and Saturn. But if you want to know what NASA is saying about these missions you have to physically be there. No NASA TV, no NASA news audio, no dial-in - nothing. So if you can't afford to buy plane tickets at the last minute, your media outlet is out of luck. So are your classrooms. In other words this is a southern California-only update. I asked JPL PAO about this. Their response: "The event is for media who can attend at JPL in person." Oddly, JPL is the first to brag about how they can communicate with - and even reprogram spacecraft millions - billions - of miles away. But a simple audio or video recording ...

Valorie Burr

Valorie Burr (NASA GSFC)

"Valorie A. Burr, 61, a resident of Odenton, MD, passed away at her home on January 21, 2015."

Remembrance

NASA Administrator Message: Day of Remembrance - Jan. 28, 2015

"Today we remember and give thanks for the lives and contributions of those who gave all trying to push the boundaries of human achievement. On this solemn occasion, we pause in our normal routines and remember the STS-107 Columbia crew; the STS-51L Challenger crew; the Apollo 1 crew; Mike Adams, the first in-flight fatality of the space program as he piloted the X-15 No. 3 on a research flight; and those lost in test flights and aeronautics research throughout our history."

Denise Stewart

Keith's note: Denise J. Stewart has passed away. She worked at NASA Headquarters for a number of years.

Update: Memorial details are below:

New Falcon Heavy Animation

SpaceX Releases New Animation of Falcon Heavy and Booster Recovery, SpaceRef Business

"SpaceX has released a new animation depicting the launch of a Falcon Heavy from famed Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) with the controlled recovery of both boosters and the first stage."

Marc's note: From animation to reality in a few years? Yeah, we like that. Why can't other companies do this?

A View of the 2015 Blizzard

NASA: Night Time View of the Blizzard of 2015, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

"A combination of the day-night band and high resolution infrared imagery from the Suomi NPP satellite shows the historic blizzard near peak intensity as it moves over the New York through Boston Metropolitan areas at 06:45Z (1:45 am EST) on January 27, 2015. The night time lights of the region are blurred by the high cloud tops associated with the most intense parts of the storm."

NASA News Conference: Update on the Commercial Crew Program, SpaceRef Business

"NASA, Boeing and SpaceX will held a news briefing on NASA Television at the agency's Johnson Space Center in Houston on Jan. 26, to highlight key development activities, test plans and objectives for achieving certification of two American crew transportation systems."

Marc's note: Missed the news conference? Watch it from the link above.

Google Lunar XPrize Makes $5.25 Million in Awards, Google Lunar XPrize

"The deadline for the Google Lunar XPRIZE was officially extended until December 31, 2016. As part of this revised timeline, at least one team must provide documentation of a scheduled launch by December 31, 2015 for all teams to move forward in the competition."

Join us for an exclusive live chat with Google Lunar XPrize teams!, CNet

"These five Milestone teams, with representatives from all over the world, will be gathered in San Francisco on Monday, January 26, for a glitzy awards ceremony."

Keith's note: 5 teams were competing for these milestone prizes. The same 5 teams won these milestone prizes. Has there ever actually been any real competition?

Fight for Space: NASA & Space Exploration Documentary, Kickstarter

"Fight for Space" is a feature length documentary film that explores the economic and cultural benefits of human space exploration, and examines the historical and political events that have led to the decline of human space exploration. "Fight for Space" presents viewpoints from Astronauts, politicians and staff, scientists, former NASA officials, commercial space entrepreneurs, and many other individuals in the space community. A complete list of interviewees is available at the bottom of this page."

United States and SpaceX Agree to Settlement, SpaceX

"The Air Force and SpaceX have reached agreement on a path forward for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program that improves the competitive landscape and achieves mission assurance for national security space launches. Under the agreement, the Air Force will work collaboratively with SpaceX to complete the certification process in an efficient and expedient manner."

Elon Musk: Guest-Starring on The Simpsons Was 'Kind of Trippy', BloombergBusinessWeek

Ball Aerospace Names Michael Gazarik as Technology Director

"Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. has hired Michael Gazarik as Director for its Office of Technology on the Boulder campus effective March 2. Dr. Gazarik will lead the alignment of Ball's technology development resources with business development and growth strategies."

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden Statement: "Mike's experienced leadership and commitment has been critical to building the strong foundation upon which our Space Technology Mission Directorate now stands," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "Through his hard work and vision, he's developed an innovative, cross-cutting organization that creates the new knowledge and capabilities needed to enable our future missions. Mike's proven that technology drives exploration and is a critical component of our journey to Mars. His tireless work and dedication to fostering innovation at NASA will be sorely missed."

NASA Associate Administrator for Space Technology Michael Gazarik Statement: "It's been a great honor to lead a team that has, for the first time in more than a decade, created a robust, relevant and innovative space technology program at NASA. As my family and I embark on a new chapter in our lives and I accept an aerospace industry position, I depart knowing that the NASA team is well on its way to achieving important space technology milestones that will enable our journey to Mars and beyond."

MoonEx To Us SLC-36

Cape Canaveral SLC-36 Is Central to Moon Express' Commercial Efforts to Reach the Moon

"Moon Express and Space Florida have signed an agreement that will lead to Moon Express spacecraft development and flight test operations at SLC-36 starting early this year. The agreement allows Moon Express and the state of Florida to make investments into the refurbishment of SLC-36, leading to a revitalized range and the immediate creation of 25-50 new jobs and potentially hundreds of direct and indirect new jobs over the next 5 years."

Asteroid Abduction

The Space Program - A Modest Proposal, Paul Spudis

"I'm at a loss to explain why one aspect of the ARM mission hasn't been discussed in the media: seeing that advocates of the ARM think nothing about re-arranging the architecture of the Solar System for their convenience, environmental activists might object to the very idea behind the mission. We can't get to a near-Earth asteroid with the Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System (SLS), so let's just drag the asteroid to us! Imagine a defenseless rock, innocently tumbling its way through space, only to be snagged, bagged, and defiled appropriated and exploited by arrogant, human interlopers. There ought to be a law!"

Bolden: Keep Moving the Ball Forward, Don't Get Discouraged, SpacePolicyOnline

"Stressing that he was not suggesting President Obama would say anything about space exploration in tonight's State of the Union address, Bolden said the President could say "for the first time in human history we may be going inside the 20-years-to-Mars." Sending humans to Mars still is "without a doubt" at least 20 years away, he clarified, but "we're about to slip under that 20-year threshold."

Report of the Space Task Group, 1969, NASA

"We conclude that NASA has the demonstrated organizational competence and technology base, by virtue of the Apollo success and other achievements, to carry out a successful program to land man on Mars within 15 years."

Keith's update: When I was growing up in the mid-60s I seem to recall NASA talking about going to Mars by 1981. That was less than 20 years, Charlie. Indeed, NASA has been talking about going to Mars "in 20 years" or "within 15 years" for the past 40-50 years. Seems like negative progress to me. Not sure what you are bragging about.

President Obama's State of the Union Address - Remarks As Prepared for Delivery, Medium.com

"I want Americans to win the race for the kinds of discoveries that unleash new jobs converting sunlight into liquid fuel; creating revolutionary prosthetics, so that a veteran who gave his arms for his country can play catch with his kid; pushing out into the Solar System not just to visit, but to stay. Last month, we launched a new spacecraft as part of a re-energized space program that will send American astronauts to Mars. In two months, to prepare us for those missions, Scott Kelly will begin a year-long stay in space. Good luck, Captain and make sure to Instagram it."

"I've heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they're not scientists; that we don't have enough information to act. Well, I'm not a scientist, either. But you know whatI know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we'll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it."

It's Early Days in 2015 But SpaceX is Starting at Light Speed with a Satellite Constellation and Possible Google Investment [Updated], SpaceRef Business

Marc's note: Updating my story from yesterday, SpaceX this evening issued the following statement.

"Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has raised a billion dollars in a financing round with two new investors, Google and Fidelity. They join existing investors Founders Fund, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Valor Equity Partners and Capricorn. Google and Fidelity will collectively own just under 10% of the company.

SpaceX designs, manufactures, and launches the world's most advanced rockets and spacecraft. This funding will be used to support continued innovation in the areas of space transport, reusability, and satellite manufacturing."

With this new investment, SpaceX is now valued at over $10 billion. A nice way to start the year even if their Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship suffered some damage from that spectacular crash landing earlier this month by the Falcon 9 first stage recovery attempt.

Al Gore's dream spacecraft gears up for launch, Nature

"For Jay Herman, an atmospheric scientist at Goddard and EPIC instrument scientist, the delay has a silver lining: the refurbishment revealed a manufacturing defect in EPIC that would have let in stray light and potentially ruined its image of Earth. The delay allowed enough time to study the problem and correct for it. "So in some ways," says Herman, "I'm very glad it did not fly 14 years ago. Because it might have been embarrassing."

Keith's note: Wow. It was a good idea to wait 14 years after all - imagine another Hubble-like embarrassment for NASA? It will be interesting to see how NASA calculates the total cost of Goresat/DSCOVR- from inception to final launch. I doubt they can. And if they do, they'll lowball it to avoid another form of embarrassment.

NASA Releases Commercial Crew Source Selection Statement, SpaceRef

"[HEOMD AA Bill Gerstenmaier]: On August 6, 2014, the Source Evaluation Board (SEB) appointed to evaluate proposals for the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability Contract (CCtCap) under Request for Proposals (RFP) NNK14467515R presented the results of its evaluation to me and other senior officials of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). I held a follow-up meeting on August 19th to ask additional questions of the SEB and receive input from my advisors. My decision on selection of the successful Offeror is set forth in this Source Selection Statement."

GAO Bid Protest Decision: Sierra Nevada Corporation

"Sierra Nevada alleges that NASA's evaluation of proposals departed from the RFP's stated criteria, and was unequal and unreasonable. We deny the protest."

NASA Spacecraft Get a Closer Look at Dwarf Planets Pluto and Ceres, NY Times

"Marc W. Buie, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., and a member of the New Horizons team, agrees with Dr. Stern but wishes the issue would go away. Years ago, people would be fascinated to hear the scientific puzzles about Pluto. Now, conversations usually start with "Is Pluto a planet?" "It's a very annoying, distracting issue," Dr. Buie said. "You have to get past this wall of this nonscientific issue before you get to the good things."

"The moon is such a planet I can't even stand it," [Fashion designer] Mizrahi says, exasperated. "Well, what else is it if it's not a planet?" Under Dr. Stern's definition, Mr. Mizrahi would win the argument. "I am happy to defend him," Dr. Stern said via email Sunday. "I see no logical reason why large moons that are in hydrostatic equilibrium should not be considered planets too, and I call them that." Dr. Stern's classification system distinguishes moons as "secondary planets," while "primary planets" directly orbit around the sun -- pushing the number of planets in the solar system to more than 20."

Keith's note: So ... let's see if I understand the New Horizons mission's revised solar system nomenclature: Planets orbit the sun. Planets also orbit other Planets. Moons orbit Planets but Moons do not orbit the sun otherwise they'd be Planets which also orbit Planets and the sun. But wait - there's more: now we need to add Primary Planets and Secondary Planets into the mix. So when does a Moon become a Secondary Planet? Is it still a Moon also? Can Planets be Moons and Moons be Planets?

Iapetus is not in hydrostatic equilibrium so it is not a Planet (right?). But it is a Moon (right?). But Iapetus is larger than Ceres which is .. a Planet (right?) Pluto's Moon Charon is smaller than Iapetus but Pluto fans refer to it as a Planet. Alas, Pluto fans always love to use the "Titan is larger than Mercury" argument to justify Titan as a Planet.

I can't wait to see how all NASA education materials are adjusted for the New Horizons mission so as to tackle this issue. Textbooks will clearly need to be revised to reflect NASA's latest discoveries. Who determines how these revisions will be made? Will other missions be required to adapt accordingly or is NASA going to be talking about more than one system of planetary nomenclature? What will happen at press events - will NASA be required to issue press releases in both nomenclatures (as well as English/metric)? WiIl this IAU Vs Pluto fans thing just drag on and on?

The oddest thing of all is how the Pluto fans rant about how some small group of people at IAU made this decision about what a Planet is without consulting everyone else - yet the Pluto fans have gone out and proclaimed this new nomenclature for Planets and Moons without consulting anyone else. Pot-Kettle-Back.

Why make things more complex? Our solar system has lots of worlds. Ice worlds. Rock worlds. Gas worlds. Some worlds are big others are small. Some worlds orbit the sun and are "planets". Some worlds orbit planets and are called "moons". This simply defines the location of a world - not its inherent physical nature. #OcamsRazor

Used NASA Gold For Sale

Gold Plates, GSA Auction

One lot consisting six 24KT gold plates weighing 6,015.5 grams. These plates were reportedly flown in space for 69 months. Please click on attachment for purity information rounded to the nearest 1/10th determined by x-ray fluorescence.

Long Duration Exposure Facility

"LDEF's 69 months in space provided scientific data on the long-term effects of space exposure on materials, components and systems that has benefited NASA spacecraft designers to this day."

Keith's note: Hmmm ... These plates were reportedly flown in space for 69 months. Sounds like LDEF to me. But "reportedly flown"? Is GSA uncertain whether these things have been flown in space? Can't they just ask NASA?

Images Show Falcon 9 First Stage Crash-Landing on Ship, Space News

"Musk's series of images also prompted a response from United Launch Alliance president and chief executive Tory Bruno. He noted his company has a number of employees who worked on the DC-X, a 1990s-era project to demonstrate vertical takeoff and landing technology for future reusable launch vehicles. "Let me know if we can help," Bruno wrote."

The Delta Clipper Experimental: Flight Testing Archive, NASA

"July 31, 1996 [DC-XA] Landing strut 2 failed to extend; vehicle tipped over and LOX tank exploded; vehicle destroyed."

Ted Cruz's control of Senate science panel triggers some anxiety, McClatchy via Fresno Bee

"Keith Cowing, editor of NASA Watch, a blog that monitors agency activities and offers commentary, said there had been a very strong reaction in the space community to Cruz's new position. "It's half-grounded in truth and half in hysteria," said Cowing, an astrobiologist and former NASA employee. Cruz, meanwhile, is bullish about NASA concentrating on its core mission."

Cruz says NASA should refocus on 'core' mission, end dependence on Russians, Houston Chronicle

"I am encouraged by the progress of both commercial cargo and commercial crew. But we need a continued focus on the stated exploration objectives with maximum efficiency and expedition. One of the great benefits of space exploration, but also commercial crew and commercial cargo, has been the jobs and economic development that have flowed from allowing innovation and the private sector to play a critical role in space. Texas, and the Houston area in particular, has been a tremendous beneficiary of that private sector activity."

Ted Cruz Supports NASA's "Core Mission", earlier post

Elon Musk Releases Pictures of Falcon 9 "Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly", SpaceRef Business

"Elon Musk has released several images through Twitter of what he charaterizes as the "rapid unscheduled disassembly" of the Falcon 9 first stage as it approaches the SpaceX Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship. The pictures are spectacular."

Beagle 2 Lander Found on Mars

"The UK-led Beagle-2 Mars lander, which hitched a ride on ESA's Mars Express mission and was lost on Mars since 2003, has been found in images taken by a NASA orbiter at the Red Planet. Beagle-2 was released from its mother craft on 19 December 2003 and was due to land six days later. But nothing was heard from the lander after its scheduled touchdown, and searches by Mars Express and NASA's Mars Odyssey mission were fruitless."

Keith's note:At the NASA Advisory Council meeting today NASA AA for Education Don James was asked how many students NASA reached he said that in 2014 "1 million" students were engaged. When asked what "engaged" means James could not answer the question. James said that he did not bring a description of what "engaged" means in this context and that he'd have to go get a copy of that description. For the person in charge of all NASA education activities to not understand the basic premise upon which the numbers he publicly states are based is just baffling.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015, 1:00 p.m.5:00 p.m.; Thursday, January 15, 2015, 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m., Local Time at NASA Stennis Space Center

- Webex/Dial-in information

- Agenda

- NASA: Two SLS Launches Likely Needed For $3 billion+ ARM, earlier post

Sen. Cruz: Focus NASA on Its Core Mission: Exploring Space, and More of It

"Texas has a major stake in space exploration. Our space program marks the frontier of future technologies for defense, communications, transportation and more, and our mindset should be focused on NASA's primary mission: exploring space and developing the wealth of new technologies that stem from its exploration. And commercial space exploration presents important new opportunities for us all. We must refocus our investment on the hard sciences, on getting men and women into space, on exploring low-Earth orbit and beyond, and not on political distractions that are extraneous to NASA's mandate. I am excited to raise these issues in our subcommittee and look forward to producing legislation that confirms our shared commitment to this vital mission."

- NASA Defunder Now Sets NASA's Agenda in The Senate, earlier post
- Political Climate Change Ahead for NASA and NOAA, earlier post

International Space Station Reality Series In Works From Znak&Jones, Deadline

"Znak&Jones, the recently launched production company of veteran reality producers Natalka Znak and Simon Jones, has partnered with the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space the organization selected by NASA to oversee research onboard the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory with the goal of enhancing the health and well-being of people and the planet to develop programs centered around the ISS."

Keith's 13 Jan note: Of course, CASIS makes no mention of this on their website. Really - why bother? Its only a huge facility we all paid $60-100 billion to build. I wonder if the "reality" aspect of this show will portray the dysfunctional relationship that CASIS, NASA HQ, JSC, and other parts of the agency endure as they stumble to use this amazing on-orbit facility. As best as I can determine, no one at NASA knows anything about this.

Keith's 14 Jan update: According to Patrick O'Neill, in a response to NASAWatch: "Thanks for the note. At this juncture, while it is accurate to say that CASIS is exploring the possibility of developing content promoting the research opportunities that exist on the ISS U.S. National Laboratory, no deal is in place with a network or cable outlet. Talks are still in the preliminary stages. Should a partnership to showcase the ISS become solidified, CASIS will provide the public with as much detail as possible regarding any content generating project."

Summary: Znak&Jones say that they have partnered with CASIS. CASIS says they have no partnership. And no one at NASA knows anything about the Znak&Jones/CASIS thing.

Here is a link to the late Late show episode last night with Seth Green hyping his CASIS patch. Alas, CASIS doesn't seem to want (or know how) to promote the link on its website. Slide to 16:27 and wait for 500 commercials to air. Larger view.

CASIS is nowhere close to meeting the fundraising goals it is supposed to have met by now. Instead of focusing all of its efforts on ISS research (Nanoracks is the one good thing that has emerged) CASIS stumbles around with golf company endorsements and PR stunts that, however well-intentioned, never seem to go quite right.

And the added value of CASIS is ... ?

Some Advice For Congress

U.S. court denies motion to dismiss SpaceX lawsuit, Reuters

"The U.S. federal claims court on Tuesday denied a motion by United Launch Alliance, a venture of Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp, seeking dismissal of a lawsuit filed by privately held SpaceX against the U.S. Air Force and the Lockheed-Boeing joint venture. Judge Susan Braden said she was denied the motion because the case was still ongoing, and none of the actions taken by Congress or the Air Force in recent weeks invalidated the SpaceX lawsuit, which challenges the Air Force's decision to award 36 rocket launches to United Launch Alliance."

Update: SpaceX, U.S. Air Force To Enter Mediation over ULA Block Buy, SpaceNews

Beagle 2 Mars lander's remains may have been spotted on red planet, Guardian

... Beagle 2's final resting place may finally have been discovered. Scientists operating the HiRise camera on Nasa's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) will take part in a press conference this Friday to announce "an update" on the ill-fated mission."

Boehner defectors booted from panel, The Hill

"Boehner was elected to a third term as Speaker with 216 votes on Tuesday, with 25 Republicans defecting in a failed attempt to force a second ballot. One of the defectors was Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas), who says he's already suffering retribution. Weber, who voted for Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) for Speaker, was originally slated to be the sponsor of a noncontroversial Science, Space and Technology Committee bill that reached the House floor this week. The measure establishes a Department of Energy research program on low-dose radiation."

Keith's note: Meanwhile Rep. Randy Weber(R) TX-14 who represents areas around JSC and sits on the House Science Committee, has gone out of his way to anger both House leadership and the White House. Weber's Tweet last night doesn't help things. This is not a recipe for being in a position to positively affect budgets for an agency in your neighborhood. Weber even managed to offend Hitler by spelling his first name wrong.

NASA Defunder Now Sets NASA's Agenda in The Senate, earlier post

8 Dumb Quotes About Science From New NASA Overseer Ted Cruz, Gizmodo

"The new Republican-led Congress is currently busy picking people to chair its many committees and subcommittees. Guess what! Tea Party hero Senator Ted Cruz is the new chair of the Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness. That means he will oversee NASA. Yep - the climate-denying Tea Party hero who tried to defund NASA is now in charge of NASA."

Remove Ted Cruz from position for NASA oversight of the Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness (White House Petition)

"We the people demand a person worthy of the position and who will work towards optimizing NASA for scientific discoveries be placed in this position in Ted Cruz's stead."

Keith's note: Cruz is not a lightweight. You may not agree with him, but he is sharp. Last year there was a hearing on the threat of asteroids to Earth. Unlike all of the other senators who asked questions, Cruz looked straight at the witnesses without referring to notes (i.e. questions written by staffers) and asked a series of questions - some prompted by witness responses - without the usual fumbling you often see from Senators who have no idea what anyone is talking about (ala Bill Nelson). Yes, he got his partisan jabs in - but everyone does that. As such NASA is going to be up against someone who can run non-stop semantic circles around Charlie Bolden - if he is inclined to do so. Dava Newman's confirmation hearing will be interesting should he decide to use the hearing as an opportunity to go after the Administration.

Political Climate Change Ahead for NASA and NOAA, earlier post

SpaceX Launches Dragon to the ISS - 1st Stage Does Not Land Successfully, SpaceRef

"Today's launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 to the International Space Station (ISS) on its fifth commercial resupply (CRS-5) was successful. The Dragon spacecraft is safely in orbit heading towards a Monday rendezvous with the ISS. The SpaceX attempt of landing the first stage on the drone ship was not successful."

Images of damage to the SpaceX Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship. Click for larger images.

SpaceX Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship

More on the next page.

The Debate About The Future Of Human Spaceflight - 30 Years On, Marcia Smith, Aviation Week

"Will NASA's newest plans languish as well, or are we finally ready to move out on the next phase of human exploration? Can we avoid diversions like the Asteroid Redirect Mission? Will Congress sustain the level of funding it provided for NASA in FY2015 -- $549 million more than the President requested? Is that enough to make real progress? The "Journey to Mars" hype associated with the Orion test last month seems to have been effective in educating the public that NASA has not, in fact, gone out of business, but won't the public wonder what happened when this year and next year and the year after that pass with no more Orion flights?"

- Yet Another Space Policy Advisory Committee, earlier post
- Yet Another Slow Motion Advisory Committee on Human Space Flight, earlier post
- Yet Another NASA Pick-the-Next-Destination Effort, earlier post
- Bolden: NASA Does Not Have To Actually Go To An Asteroid, earlier post

Alberto Enrique Behar

Longtime JPL scientist killed in plane crash near Van Nuys Airport, Daily News

"Alberto Enrique Behar, 47, of Scottdale, Arizona, died at the scene of the crash, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Lt. R. Hays said. Behar was the only person on board the aircraft. According to his online resume on LinkedIn.com, Behar had worked as an investigation scientist at JPL in Pasadena since 1991, where he worked on robotics systems for planetary exploration."

Explorers dive under Greenland ice, BBC (2008)

"Dr Behar is a robotics expert with the agency at its Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, US. He has been studying the tubular crevasses that appear on the surface of the Greenland ice known as moulins."

Keith's note: Am I missing something? I can understand the bad teacher part, but I am just baffled at how Tyson dismisses the impact of good teachers. If anything the value of good teachers is even more important when students have to endure bad teachers. Yet Congress, NASA, and the media solicit this guy's advice?

The responses are not exactly agreeing with what Tyson said.

RS-25 Tested at Stennis

NASA Tests RS-25 Engine

"The new year is off to a hot start for NASA's Space Launch System (SLS). The engine that will drive America's next great rocket to deep space blazed through its first successful test Jan. 9 at the agency's Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. This is the first of eight tests for the development engine, which will provide NASA engineers with critical data on the engine controller unit and inlet pressure conditions. Four RS-25 engines will power SLS on future missions, including to an asteroid and ultimately to Mars."

Nissan and NASA partner to jointly Develop and Deploy Autonomous Drive Vehicles by End of Year, Nissan

"Nissan Motor Co., through its North American-based organization, and NASA today announced the formation of a five-year research and development partnership to advance autonomous vehicle systems and prepare for commercial application of the technology. Researchers from Nissan's U.S. Silicon Valley Research Center and NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., will focus on autonomous drive systems, human-machine interface solutions, network-enabled applications, and software analysis and verification, all involving sophisticated hardware and software used in road and space applications."

Keith's 8 Jan 8:00 pm ET note: This is rather cool news. Too bad NASA Ames PAO has not posted or released anything about it because who cares, right?

Nissan, la Leaf sulla scia dei rover marziani: partnership con la Nasa, Quattroruote

Keith's 9 Jan 8:48 am ET update: Stories are online in Italy about this. Nothing online at NASA.

Also - it is rather strange that ARC has no link on their event page for the NASA Cube Quest Challenge Summit held at ARC this week. Again, who cares, right?

Keith's 9 Jan 2:40 pm ET update: NASA Ames PAO finally posted a short thing on their website - a day after Nissan sent materials out to media outlets. But has ARC PAO sent this out to news media who might want to cover this story? Did they have this material ready the day the event happened? Of course not.

Whitesides Says Virgin Galactic is Undeterred at the AIAA SciTech Conference (With video of the speech), SpaceRef Business

"Whitesides told the audience that while the October accident that destroyed SpaceShipTwo and took the life of co-pilot Michael Alsbury was the "the toughest thing we could undergo, nine weeks later, we are turning the corner and looking toward the future - our team and investors remain committed to the goal of opening space for all."

Inside KSC for 9 January 2015 and KSC Spaceport Magazine Released, SpaceRef

"NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) has released its latest Inside KSC video feature. This weeks video takes a look at some of KSC's upcoming missions including the Cargo Resupply mission by SpaceX, the SMAP and DSCOVR launches and the MMS mission."

Senate Commerce Names Subcommittee Chairs: Ted Cruz for NASA, Marco Rubio for NOAA, Space Policy Online

"The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee today announced who will chair its subcommittees in the 114th Congress. Ted Cruz (R-TX) will chair the subcommittee that oversees NASA, while Marco Rubio (R-FL) will chair the one with jurisdiction over NOAA."

2014 U.S. temperature exceeds 20th-century average for the 18th consecutive year

"Second warmest December boosted 2014 to 34th warmest year for contiguous U.S; eight weather and climate disasters exceeded $1 billion in damages."

Climate Denier Ted Cruz Is Poised to Become a Lead Senator on Science, New Republic

"Texas Senator Ted Cruz, another climate denier, may be next-in-line to become chair of the Subcommittee on Science and Space, which oversees agencies like the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy."

Marco Rubio says human activity isn't causing climate change, LA Times

"I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it," Rubio said on ABC's "This Week."

Redirecting Asteroid Not Top Objective of Asteroid Redirect Mission, NASA Official Says, Space News

"After a presentation in Phoenix to the NASA-chartered Small Bodies Assessment Group (SBAG), Lindley Johnson, head of the agency's Near Earth Object Observations Program, said redirecting an asteroid to a distant retrograde orbit around the Moon is "not the top objective of the [ARM] mission," which was trotted out in spring 2013 as a means to road test technology needed for a crewed Mars expedition and provide -- in the form of the titular asteroid -- a near-term destination for the Space Launch System rocket and Orion crew capsule NASA is building."

Bolden's Confusing Asteroid Mission Rationale (Revised), earlier post

"And this is subtle. I have this discussion with my science friends all the time and those who are purist. The president said by 2025 we should send humans to an asteroid. What he meant was, you should send humans to somewhere between Mars and Saturn, because that's where the dominant asteroids in the asteroid belt are. But no, he didn't say that. He said: humans to an asteroid."

- NASA: Two SLS Launches Likely Needed For $3 billion+ ARM, earlier post
- Asteroid Redirect Mission Critique
- Congress, NAC, SBAG, Question Asteroid Mission, earlier post
- Report of the Small Bodies Assessment Group Asteroid Redirect Mission Special Action Team, 30 July 2014 (Draft), earlier post
- SBAG Asteroid Redirect Mission Special Action Team, July 2014 presentation, earlier post
- Asteroid Experts Are Not Very Fond of NASA's Asteroid Mission, earlier post

Keith's note: At today's Small Bodies Assessment Group (SBAG) telecon, I asked Lindley Johnson via Webex "Can you show the chart again that has SLS as a launch option for the ARM spacecraft? Does this mean TWO SLS launches needed - one for ARM and another for crew?" He confirmed that yes, there will be two SLS launches - one SLS for the ARM spacecraft (Delta IV seems less desirable) and the other SLS for the crew. So ... this $1.25 billion cap for the ARM mission ignores the $1 billion-plus cost of a SLS for the ARM spacecraft, and the $1 billion-plus cost of SLS/Orion. So ... we're looking at a $3-4 billion cost for the whole ARM effort.

Keith's update: Johnson's charts are now online here. Pages 14-17 make explicit mention of SLS as a candidate for both the ARM spacecraft and the crewed launch. In the past, when asked if SLS is a candidate for the ARM spacecraft, HEOMD AA Bill Gerstenmaier has always said "no". Clearly there has been a change of mind.

One thing to consider: NASA is supposed to consider commercial launch alternatives unless there are compelling performance or technical reasons not to. Delta IV is mentioned, but no consideration seems to have been given to Falcon Heavy or the new Atlas that has been proposed. Of course, you can expect NASA to tweak things such that only SLS can meet the requirements because they have to.

51 U.S. Code ยง 50131 - "Requirement to procure commercial space transportation services" (full text below)

Asteroidal Confusion

A Science and Technology Challenge for Congress, Roll Call

"When the 114th Congress convenes, it will find it has lost something of significance: much of its institutional memory about science and technology. And with the rest of the world making a strong play to topple America from its perch atop the innovation pyramid, that's very troubling. ... Together, the six former House members logged a total of 140 years of legislative service. That's a lot of experience to lose in any field, but it is especially true in the arcane arena of science and technology policy."

UPDATED: SpaceX Set to Launch NASA CRS-5 Resupply Mission to the ISS, SpaceRef Business

"Launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. the SpaceX Commercial Resupply Services Flight (CRS-5) will deliver cargo and crew supplies to the International Space Station. It will also carry CATS, a laser instrument to measure clouds and the location and distribution of pollution, dust, smoke, and other particulates in the atmosphere."

Keith's note This morning's launch attempt was aborted shortly before launch. Since this was an instantaneous window opportunity there won't be another attempt today. The next attempt will be no earlier than Friday at 5:09 am ET. SpaceX was quietly working an actuator issue last night. No word as to whether is is related to this morning's launch abort although we're heard reports of an "actuator drift" issue in the Falcon's Thrust Vector Control (steering) system during today's countdown attempt.

How Deep Can A Space Patent Dispute Go?, Medium

"Blue Origin, LLC ("Blue") filed U.S. Patent Application No. 12/815,306, entitled "Sea Landing of Space Launch Vehicles and Associated Systems and Methods" with a priority date of June 15, 2009 which ultimately issued as U.S. Patent No. 8,678,321 in March of 2014. More popularly known as the Sea Landing Patent, this patent currently covers the broad process of a vertical takeoff rocket taking off on land and vertically landing on a sea-based floating structure. SpaceX has been incrementally and painfully working toward actually pulling this off for several years now and are just now about to attempt the task. To date, no one has attempted, much less accomplished, this feat. If/when SpaceX is successful, the barriers to a mainstream space economy will have demonstrably lowered and yours truly will be one big robotic rocket-powered step closer to lawyering in space."

Keith's note No mention whatsoever of these stunning images is made at NASA.gov, at NASA's Flickr page, or at GSFC's Flickr page. Someone - actually a buncoh of someones - at NASA PAO seem to be sleeping at the keyboard.

Why Does NASA.gov Ignore Cool ISS Photos?, earlier post

"Like these photos? I sure do. But you won't see most - if any - of them online at NASA.gov. Why? The crew tweets lots of pictures via @NASA_Astronauts but they are low resolution and yet virtually none of them appear online at NASA. Nothing has been posted on the NASA Flickr account since 16 December 2014."

Before explosion, NASA knew aging Soviet engines posed risks, LA Times

"Years before an unmanned rocket erupted in a fireball in October, NASA officials knew the metal in its 50-year-old Soviet-made engines could crack, causing fuel to leak and ignite, government documents show. As early as 2008, a NASA committee warned about the "substantial" risk of using the decades-old engines, and a fire during a 2011 engine test in Mississippi heightened the agency's concern. The engines had a "fundamental flaw in the materials," said a top manager for NASA's contracted rocket builder, Orbital Sciences, in a 2013 interview with an agency historian. The Soviet engines were built in the 1960s and 1970s in a failed attempt to take cosmonauts to the moon."

Statement on Sierra Nevada Bid Protest Decision, GAO

"On January 5, 2015, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) denied a protest filed by Sierra Nevada Corp., of Louisville, Colorado, challenging the award of contracts to The Boeing Co., Space Exploration, of Houston, Texas, and to Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX), of Hawthorne, California, by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for NASA's Commercial Crew Transportation Capability Contract (CCtCap)."

Keith's note NASA PAO has released this statement: "The GAO has notified NASA that it has denied Sierra Nevada Corporation's protest of the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contract awards. NASA is pleased the GAO's decision allows the agency to move forward and continue working with Boeing and SpaceX on the Launch America initiative that will enable safe and reliable crew transportation to and from the International Space Station on American spacecraft launched from the United States, ending the nation's sole reliance on Russia for such transportation. The case remains under the protective order and blackout until the GAO releases its decision."

The NASA family lost 5 of its members over the holidays.

James Hsiu-Kai Chi
Larry Vogel
Sam Keller
Thomas McMurtry
Owen Glenn Morris

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This Week in Space - January 5-11, 2015, SpaceRef Business

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Video: Shoot For The Moon

Owen Glenn Morris

Owen Glenn Morris

"Owen Glenn was hired by NACA in Langley, Virginia to design and operate a supersonic wind tunnel. In 1958, NACA became NASA and Owen Glenn joined the Space Task Group, focusing on the Apollo Program. Owen Glenn was a pioneer throughout his life using his positive "can do, will do" attitude to work with others on many programs and causes bringing dreams to reality."

Owen Glenn, NASA Johnson Space Center Oral History Project

Thomas McMurtry

Keith's note Thomas C. McMurtry passed away at 6:40 AM, Saturday, January 3, 2015.
Funeral services will be held Saturday, January 10th at 12:30 at Father Serra Parish in Quartz Hill. Viewing will be Friday, January 9th at Halley Olsen Mortuary in Lancaster between 4-8pm. In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to the Carmelite Sisters of Alhambra (http://www.carmelitesistersocd.com/gifts-in-memoriam/) or Father Serra Parish in Lancaster, CA.

NASA Dryden Biographies, Former Pilots: Thomas C. McMurtry

"Thomas C. McMurtry brought a distinguished career as a research pilot and administrator to a close on June 3, 1999, when he retired from NASA's Dryden (now Armstrong) Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA, after 32 years of service. Most recently, McMurtry was Associate Director for Operations at NASA Dryden from July 27, 1998, and also served as Dryden's acting Chief Engineer from February, 1999 until his retirement."

Video: SpaceX in 2014

2014 - SpaceX Year in Review [Watch]

"Relive SpaceX's 2014 highlights: launching rockets, landing stages, and unveiling our next generation crewed spacecraft."

Marc's Note: What are your thoughts in looking back at the year that was for SpaceX in 2014? Good year? Bad year? What you expected? Still the driver in the launch market? And how will 2015 shape up?


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