July 2015 Archives

Congress calls SpaceX Falcon 9 launch certification into question, Denver Post

"The June 28 explosion of a Falcon 9 rocket carrying supplies to the International Space Station has members of Congress asking NASA and the U.S. Air Force for assurance that SpaceX is qualified to carry military payloads to space. A bipartisan group of 14 U.S. representatives sent a letter saying they have "serious reservations" about SpaceX's internal investigation process and question whether the "engineering rigor applied will be sufficient to prevent future military launch mishaps." "We are committed to our nation's leadership in space, but equally believe we must be responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars when it comes to achieving our priorities and goals for spaceflight," reads the letter to NASA administrator Charles Bolden and Air Force secretary Deborah James. The panel asked Bolden and James to outline the oversight responsibilities of NASA and the Air Force, however, some questions raised in the letter have already been addressed in other arenas. On May 28, SpaceX was certified by the Air Force to carry military payloads to space, offering competition to Centennial-based United Launch Alliance for the first time in more than a decade."

Keith's note: Clearly none of these politicians understand the process they are questioning. Why aren't they questioning Orbital ATK's internal review process? FAA already has oversight over both mishap investigations. So ... are they wanting to create new regulations - or are they just ignorant of what regulations are already in place? In addition, SpaceX does its review in a much more rigorous fashion than might otherwise be the case because it is certified by the USAF - as would ULA if/when it loses a rocket. Let's see if @ToryBruno calls B.S. on this - unless (of course) ULA is behind the letter, that is ...

Astronomers Discover Planet Identical To Earth With Orbital Space Mirror, The Onion

"In what many are hailing as the most significant development in the history of space exploration, NASA scientists announced Thursday that a planet seemingly identical to Earth has been discovered by the agency's Orbital Space Mirror. According to NASA, the $2.9 billion aluminum glass mirror, which stretches over 180 feet wide and 147 feet tall, has already produced invaluable data suggesting that our solar system may contain a terrestrial planet of the exact same size, shape, and surface composition as Earth."

Powerboats on Mars, earlier post (1998)

"Despite suggestions in various news tabloids, project scientists were quick to dispell any suggestion that the branched structure seen northeast of the dam-like structure is a marina. In making this statement, project scientists point out that there is very little air on Mars and that sailboats would be impractical nor is there enough Oxygen to support the internal or external combustion engines used in powerboats."

Pluto's dwarf planet status is 'bulls---,' says lead scientist of NASA mission, Business Insider

"The mission to Pluto was meant to complete the exploration of the planets in the Solar System. But scientists reclassified Pluto from a planet to a "dwarf planet" shortly after New Horizons launched in 2006. That reclassification split the space science community. But Stern has a clear opinion about Pluto's demotion: "It's bullsh*t," he told Tech Insider (and said we could quote him on that)."

Keith's note: (Sigh) once again this NASA principal investigator sets a new low standard for public discourse. At a time when NASA is focusing on education and inspiring the next generation of space explorers I find it rather odd that a NASA PI, speaking in an official capacity, would be putting forth such a crude example of how NASA scientists conduct themselves in the public's eye - and that he does so over such a tired and worn-out issue. Pluto is Pluto. Get over it.

- Planetary Science Trash Talking, earlier post
- NASA's Pluto Mission Seeks to Confuse People, earlier post

NASA Advisory Council Meeting

"29-31 July 2015. Location: Jet Propulsion Laboratory"

Agenda

Keith's note: In April the NAC came within a a vote of adopting a recommendation to NASA that the current Asteroid Redirect Mission be changed - possibly to go to Mars instead. That issue was delayed until the next NAC meeting in Pasadena i.e. this NAC meeting.

- NASA Advisory Council Wants to Cancel Asteroid Redirect Mission and Send it to Phobos Instead, earlier post
- NASA Membership Call for the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) Formulation Assessment and Support Team (FAST), earlier post
- NASA's Boulder Retrieval Mission, earlier post

Search for Alien Life Ignites Battle over Giant Telescope, Scientific American

"The foundation was and still is interested in partnering with Arecibo, Scientific American has learned. But according to Arecibo Director Robert Kerr, that partnership is currently being prevented due to a poison pill inserted by the observatory's owner, the National Science Foundation (NSF). The situation is a startling example of a cash-strapped federal agency seeking to offload an expensive, world-class facility to the private sectorat the potential cost of compromising its ability to perform world-class scientific research. ... The NSF approved Green Bank's Breakthrough Listen partnership, allowing Milner to purchase 15 percent of the telescope's observing time for SETI, although NSF officials say even with that cash infusion Green Bank's continued operations remain in jeopardy."

Smith Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Ensure NSF Research Advances 'National Interest', House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology

"All government employees and their agency heads need to remember they are accountable to the American taxpayer who pays their salaries and funds their projects. It is not the government's money; it's the people's money. The Scientific Research in the National Interest Act is a step toward more accountability."

'Impossible' propellantless engine appears to work despite breaking laws of physics, Sydney Morning Herald

"Ridiculed as impossible by the scientific community, the electromagnetic propulsion engine - which could supposedly take a craft from Earth to Pluto in just 18 months without the need for rocket fuel - has apparently been confirmed by an independent scientist as working."

Keith's note: Once again English-language tabloids 1,2,3 with nothing better to do than repeat unfounded rumors - about unconfirmed results of murkily duplicated experiments (that were already murky) - conducted by some guy in Germany - experiments that are not described in any detail or - unpublished and only presented at an AIAA meeting - results that are only discussed in Internet chat rooms - as if they were fact. Normally, this nonsense would appear once or twice and then vanish. The prime reason it does not go away is because NASA JSC actually threw some money at this goofy science project, is too embarrassed to admit it (more than they have to), and never likes to admit that it ever does anything wrong - regardless of how many laws of physics and logic have been violated. Then again the JSC folks were probably a little jealous that LaRC was getting all of that wonderful cold fusion media attention and wanted to get themselves some of that quacky goodness. If this was real then you'd be hearing Charlie Bolden proclaiming that it was another step on the #JourneyToMars - right?

Now Drudge Report is re-blasting links to these stories to hundreds of millions of people because NASA never shoots this goofiness down. If NASA can send pictures back from Pluto and break the Internet, it can write a 5 sentence press statement that shuts this nonsense off once and for all. But it can't - or rather, it won't. They only want you to know what they got right - not what they tried and got wrong.

- Clarifying NASA's Warp Drive Program, earlier post
- NASA: We're Not Working on Warp Drive, earlier post

The end of NTSB's investigation and the future of Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson's blog

"This photo shows pilot Pete Siebold as he parachutes safely down to earth, with his arm up in the air to show everybody that he is alive and well." Larger image

Lack of Consideration for Human Factors Led to Breakup of SpaceShipTwo

"The NTSB determined the cause of the Oct. 31, 2014 in-flight breakup of SpaceShipTwo, was Scaled Composite's failure to consider and protect against human error and the co-pilot's premature unlocking of the spaceship's feather system as a result of time pressure and vibration and loads that he had not recently experienced."

- NTSB Concludes Scaled Composites SpaceShipTwo Flight Test Accident Investigation, Virgin Galactic
- NTSB Executive Summary: In-Flight Breakup During Test Flight Scaled Composites SpaceShipTwo, N339SS, NTSB
- Virgin Galactic Executive Summary: SpaceShipTwo, N339SS Rocket-Powered Flight Test Koehn Dry Lake, California, October 31, 2014, Virgin Galactic
- The end of NTSB's investigation and the future of Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson's blog
- Investigator-in-Charge Presentation - Lorenda Ward, NTSB
- Human Factors and Organizational Issues , Human Performance Presentation - Dr. Katherine Wilson, NTSB
- Hazard Analysis and Waivers, System Safety Presentation - Mike Hauf, NTSB

Hearing on Pluto Flyby

"Tuesday, July 28, 2015: The Science Committee's NASA Authorization Act for FY16 and FY17 restored funds the Obama administration proposed cutting from planetary science budgets. This would bring parity between NASA's science accounts and allow for development of missions like New Horizons to continue at the current pace."

Keith's note: The New Horizons team is now openly talking about a New Horizons-2 mission back to Pluto. It will be interesting to see if this topic is raised given that this committee is on the record about their interest in Europa - not Pluto. Also, given the NASA's budgetary issues, it will be interesting to see how the extra $1 billion-plus needed for New Horizons-2 would be squeezed out of an already constrained budgetary future - one that will inevitably stressed by SLS costs.

- Video
- Hearing charter
- Scientists Advocate for Planetary Funding in Wake of #PlutoFlyby, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
- Committee Discusses New Accomplishments in the Exploration of the Solar System, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Democrats

- Statement of Brian Babin
- Statement of Lamar Smith
- Statement of Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson
- Statement of Rep. Donna Edwards
- Statement of Robert Pappalardo
- Statement of John Grunsfeld
- Statement of Robert Braun
- Statement of Chris Russell
- Alan Stern did not provide a prepared statement - just pictures and the New Horizons Press Kit

AIAA Propulsion and Energy Conference Panel: Cost and Affordability of Future Systems, with Michael D. Griffin, Frank Culbertson, Mike Hawes, Lee Monson, and Mark Sirangelo

Marc's note: SpaceX, the one company driving costs down now isn't on the panel. Maybe they we're too busy to attend. Also, Blue Origin,a future player, isn't on the panel either. Neither are some of the new unproven entrants like Rocket Labs. I would think a conversation such as this would include more players.

Moderator: Michael D. Griffin,Chairman and CEO, Schafer Corporation (Moderator)

- Frank Culbertson, President Space Systems Group, Orbital ATK
- Michael Hawes, Vice President and Orion Program Manager, Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company
- Lee Monson, Vice President Sales - Middle East and Americas, Boeing Commercial Airplanes (ret.)
- Mark Sirangelo, Corporate Vice President Space Systems, Sierra Nevada Corporation

$126 Million Stolen From Russian Vostochny Cosmodrome Project Prosecutor General, The Moscow Times

"Russia's Prosecutor General said Monday that 7.5 billion rubles ($126 million) had been stolen during construction of a new spaceport in Russia's Far East, news agency RIA Novosti reported. Investigators conducted a massive investigation into corruption and mismanagement at the site of the Vostochny Cosmodrome, a $3 billion project seen in Moscow as vital to secure Russia's independent access to space. President Vladimir Putin on a visit to the construction site last year warned contractors that law enforcement agencies were monitoring the use of state funds and that charges would be brought for malpractice. Prosecutor General Yury Chaika said that a probe of 250 organizations working on the project had discovered "theft that caused 7.5 billion rubles in damages," RIA Novosti reported."

- Vostochny Cosmodrome First Launch Slips 3 Years, earlier post
- Man Driving Diamond-encrusted Mercedes Caught Embezzling Cosmodrome Funds, earlier post

Keith's note: The use of social media during the recent Pluto encounter has been widely hailed. That said, Southwest Research Institute Public affairs continues with its slightly strange media policy - in this case by blocking @NASAWatch from following @NewHorizons2015 on Twitter. Despite the recent "personal" label on this Twitter account, this account is used by a SWRI employee for NASA-funded work-related news and has been mentioned in official SWRI, JHUAPL, and NASA communications for years. You'd think that SWRI would want the biggest audience available - and a retweet by @NASAWatch could add 59,000 Twitter impressions. With all this bragging (justifiably) by NASA PAO about their social media prowess, this effort by SWRI is odd to say the least. I asked SWRI about this several times and they have declined to respond.

Looking for extraterrestrials - The optimistic gamble, Economist

"Mr Milner reckons there are three reasons why the moment is right to go big on SETI. One is that Kepler, a space telescope run by NASA, has shown that there are a lot of potentially habitable planets out there. Geoff Marcy, an astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley, who will run Breakthrough Listen, says Kepler-based studies suggest that perhaps one star in ten has planets that are "Earth-sized and lukewarm" not obviously too massive, too hot or too cold for vaguely Earthlike life. The second reason is the relentless rise of signal-processing power. The ten-billion-channel system Dr Marcy is working on would have been impossible just a few years ago. That all of the resulting data can easily be made available to other scientists and enthusiastic amateurs is another sign of progress. Some 3m people already participate in the SETI@Home project, which lets people use spare computing time to sift through previous SETI data. Since the project has now linked up with Breakthrough Listen, more will surely join it. Free access to data will almost certainly generate false alarms, but Dr Marcy accepts that as part of the price of doing business. A third motive for the push is that an unprecedented amount of time is now available on first-rate radio telescopes. Government-funded research has seen its purse-strings drawn tight recently, and instruments like that at Green Bank need new sources of income."

Moon village would host first class research, Nature

"[ESA Director General Johann-Dietrich Wörner]: The Americans are saying Mars is the ultimate goal, but I'm rather convinced that Mars is not the ultimate goal. If we continue on planet Earth, I'm sure humans will go even beyond Mars, but the question is when and how. We need some targets in between. The Moon is a very scientifically interesting body and it's reachable by humans even with today's technology. For Mars and other bodies, we need totally different technologies. Imagine if you send a human to Mars on a two-year return journey and after two months he or she gets difficult health problems. What do you do? We have to have better technology, stronger launchers and other propulsion systems, to go to Mars."

PCAST Discusses New Frontiers in Human Space Exploration, AIP

"On July 14, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) met to discuss three topics, among them an update from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and its leading commercial space industry partners on the progress being made in new frontiers in human space exploration. Other topics on the meeting agenda included a review of the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) Program and a discussion on technology and aging."

Nightside Image Reveals Pluto's Hazy Skies

"Speeding away from Pluto just seven hours after its July 14 closest approach, the New Horizons spacecraft looked back and captured this spectacular image of Pluto's atmosphere, backlit by the sun. The image reveals layers of haze that are several times higher than scientists predicted."

- New Horizons Discovers Flowing Ices on Pluto
- New Horizons Reveals Pluto's Atmospheric Pressure Has Sharply Decreased
- Pluto and Charon in Natural Color
- NASA's New Horizons Team Finds Haze, Flowing Ice on Pluto
- Pluto Flyby Lead, Planetary Scientists to Discuss Discoveries at Hearing
- Pluto Dazzles in False Color

What Ted Cruz gets wrong about Star Trek, Washington Post

"Star Trek" Captain James T. Kirk is a Republican. That's what Ted Cruz wants you to think, anyway. In an interview with the New York Times, Cruz argues that what makes Kirk, well, Kirk, are the very values that define the GOP. "I think it is quite likely that Kirk is a Republican and [Jean-Luc] Picard is a Democrat," Cruz told the Times, suggesting that Picard Kirk's successor as captain of the fictional USS Enterprise is too rational to be an effective leader. Cruz clearly believes that the country would benefit from having a Kirk-like figure in the White House. But as arguments for electing a Republican go, this is not a winning one."

- How Candidates Would Respond to an Angry E.T. Threat, earlier post (2012)
- Survey: Obama Would Protect Earth From Angry ETs Better Than Romney, earlier post (2012)
- President Visits Roswell, NM: "I Come in Peace", earlier post (2012)

To the Moon - Again, Paul Spudis

"A NASA-sponsored study has been released which outlines a plan to return to the Moon with people and set-up an outpost at one of the poles to mine water for propellant. This report has drawn both attention and puzzlement within the space community, as the agency continues to make clear that they have no interest in human lunar missions. This disconnect is covered because NASA will not do these activities - instead, the agency will pay commercial companies to develop and implement the plan. The propellant produced at the outpost from lunar polar water will then be sold to NASA for use in future human missions to Mars."

- A New Spin on the Journey to Mars - By Way of the Moon, earlier post

"Potential reach and Number of Mentions of all social media posts(NASA & non-NASA) across 21 different social media platforms using one or more of the following keywords between July 13-17, 2015: Pluto, "New Horizons", #PlutoFlyby, or #Pluto:"

- Download NASA presentation
- NASA's Pluto Web Stats, earlier post

NASA's Social Media Strategy Is Genius And Kinda Maddening, Wired

"Organizations can sometimes let social media metrics obscure their core goals and mission. (Trust us on this.) On the evening of July 14, the world was waiting for New Horizons to phone home and say it had successfully passed by Pluto. With less than two minutes until the message was scheduled to arrive, the cameras cut to (drumroll) a NASA social media representative, who proceeded to tell the world how high New Horizons was trending on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The Pluto Press Corps was not too amused. The camera cut to New Horizons Mission Operations Manager Alice Bowman in the nick of time, seemingly the moment she received the I'm-OK signal from New Horizons. For a moment, it seemed, NASA's ace team of publicists had forgotten that the cameras were supposed to be on Pluto."

NASA Media Teleconference to Announce Latest Kepler Discoveries

"NASA will host a news teleconference at 9 a.m. PDT (12 p.m. EDT) Thursday, July 23 to announce new discoveries made by its planet-hunting mission, the Kepler Space Telescope. The teleconference audio and visuals will be streamed live at: http://www.nasa.gov/newsaudio"

Press briefing graphics

Kepler Finds 12 Earth-sized Worlds In Stellar Habitable Zones, SETI Institute

"The new catalog includes 12 candidates that are less than twice Earth's diameter, orbiting in the so-called habitable zone of their star. This zone is the range of distances at which the energy flux from the star would permit liquid water to exist on the planet's surface. Of these candidates, Kepler 452b is the first to be confirmed as a planet. At a distance of 1,400 light-years, Kepler 452b accompanies a star whose characteristics are very similar to the Sun: it is 4 percent more massive and 10 percent brighter. Kepler 452b orbits its star at the same distance as Earth orbits the Sun."

Kepler Discovers Bigger, Older Cousin to Earth, NASA

"The newly discovered Kepler-452b is the smallest planet to date discovered orbiting in the habitable zone -- the area around a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of an orbiting planet -- of a G2-type star, like our sun."

Sharks In Space

Keith's note: If you watched Sharknado 3 on SyFy tonight then you know that a substantial portion of the film was shot at JSC and KSC. Yes, the movie was utterly stupid (that was the whole point of the movie) but NASA allowed itself to be part of something outside its usual stodgy comfort zone. You may argue whether or not this is the best use of NASA facilities. I look at it this way: last week NASA owned the Internet during the Pluto Flyby. Tonight they were an integral part of an event that owned Twitter and other social media platforms. Not bad.

NASA's Pluto Web Stats

Dwarf Planet, Giant Numbers: NASA's Mission to Pluto Goes Global, NASA via Digital.gov

"Even on a "slow" day, NASA is a pretty cool place to work, but the cool factor gets cranked way up when the whole world joins in the adventure. That's what happened this week when the New Horizons spacecraft arrived at Pluto after decade-long, three-billion-mile journey through the solar system. New Horizons has already sent back never-before seen images of the dwarf planet, and is collecting so much data it will take 16 months to send it all back to Earth. Any time we go this far from home and do something that's never been done before, it's sort of a big deal. And it shows, thanks to our data from the Digital Analytics Program. Some quick facts:

- It's our biggest mission-related traffic event since we joined DAP in February 2013, with nearly 10 million page views on July 14th alone. During the 7 am hour, 42% of all government traffic was going to NASA pages. ..."

Soyuz Launches Expedition 44 Crew to the International Space Station

"The Soyuz TMA-17M launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the International Space Station at 5:02 p.m. EDT (3:02 a.m. on July 23 Baikonur time). Soyuz TMA-17M is carrying Expedition 44 Soyuz Commander Oleg Kononenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), Flight Engineer Kjell Lindgren of NASA, and Flight Engineer Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) into orbit to begin their five month mission on the Station."

Keith's note: On board was a mini-R2D2 who's purpose on this mission is not exactly clear ... yet. Maybe he'll fix the un-deployed solar array.

NASA-Funded Study Reduces Cost of Human Missions to Moon and Mars by Factor of Ten, National Space Society and Space Frontier Foundation [With video of news conference]

"Note from the authors: This study by NexGen Space LLC (NexGen) was partly funded by a grant from NASA's Emerging Space office in the Office of the Chief Technologist. The conclusions in this report are solely those of NexGen and the study team authors."

Executive Summary excerpt: "This study's primary purpose was to assess the feasibility of new approaches for achieving our national goals in space. NexGen assembled a team of former NASA executives and engineers who assessed the economic and technical viability of an "Evolvable Lunar Architecture" (ELA) that leverages commercial capabilities and
services that are existing or likely to emerge in the near-term."

"We evaluated an ELA concept that was designed as an incremental, low-cost and low-risk method for returning humans to the Moon in a manner that directly supports NASA's long-term plan to send humans to Mars. The ELA strategic objective is commercial mining of propellant from lunar poles where it will be transported to lunar orbit to be used by NASA to send humans to Mars. The study assumed A) that the United States is willing to lead an international partnership of countries that leverages private industry capabilities, and B) public-private-partnership models proven in recent years by NASA and other government agencies."

NASA JPL Memo: Office of Personnel Management Cyber Incidents, NASA JPL

"If you underwent a background investigation through OPM from 2000 or thereafter (which occurs through the submission of forms SF 86, SF 85, or SF 85P for a new investigation or periodic reinvestigation), the OPM says there is a high likelihood that anyone who filled out one of those SF forms has had their information compromised."

Keith's note: All that talk from NASA about securing personal information as they complied with HSPD-12 and ... oh well. FWIW anyone who was screened for a NASA headquarters press pass a few years back (when they actually issued them) was at risk. Guess who got an OPM letter as a result of that screening. Thanks a bunch NASA.

- HSPD-12, earlier postings
- NASA IT issues, earlier postings

SpaceX - CRS-7 Investigation Update

"From the first indication of an issue to loss of all telemetry was just 0.893 seconds. Over the last few weeks, engineering teams have spent thousands of hours going through the painstaking process of matching up data across rocket systems down to the millisecond to understand that final 0.893 seconds prior to loss of telemetry.

At this time, the investigation remains ongoing, as SpaceX and the investigation team continue analyzing significant amounts of data and conducting additional testing that must be completed in order to fully validate these conclusions. However, given the currently available data, we believe we have identified a potential cause."

Marc's note: Today Elon Musk of SpaceX stressed that the substance of the media briefing was preliminary analysis and not a definitive result.

Having said the likely cause of the failed Falcon 9 launch was a failed strut that broke free in the second stage liquid oxygen tank that was holding down a helium tank.

At approximately 3.2 g, the strut holding down the tank snapped. There was no evidence of damage prior to launch from close-out photos. The struts are not made in-house. The supplier was not named. Musk said that they were able to replicate failure with 1000's of struts and they found a few that did not meet specifications.

Deep Space Climate Observatory Captures EPIC Earth Image

"A NASA camera on the Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite has returned its first view of the entire sunlit side of Earth from one million miles away."

"This color image of Earth was taken by NASA's Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC), a four megapixel CCD camera and telescope. The image was generated by combining three separate images to create a photographic-quality image. The camera takes a series of 10 images using different narrowband filters -- from ultraviolet to near infrared -- to produce a variety of science products. The red, green and blue channel images are used in these color images."

Russian Billionaire Yuri Milner Funds SETI Initiative With $100 Million

"Joined by an all-star cast of scientists that included Stephen Hawking, Martin Rees, Frank Drake, Geoff Marcy and Ann Druyan, Russian billionaire Yuri Milner announced that he was personally funding a series of new initiatives to kickstart the search for life in the universe called Breakthrough Initiatives."

Yuri Milner and Stephen Hawking Announce $100 Million Breakthrough Initiative to Dramatically Accelerate Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe, Breakthrough Initiatives

"The first of two initiatives announced today, Breakthrough Listen, will be the most powerful, comprehensive and intensive scientific search ever undertaken for signs of intelligent life beyond Earth. The second, Breakthrough Message, will fund an international competition to generate messages representing humanity and planet Earth, which might one day be sent to other civilizations."

Marc's note: $100 million over 10 years is a significant investment in SETI and includes an all-star team. One member of the all-star team mentioned above is former NASA Ames Director Pete Worden as the Chairman of the Breakthrough Prize Foundation.

NASA RS-25 SLS Engine Revs Up for Another Test [With Video]

"In auto racing parlance, NASA engineers put the "pedal to the metal" during a July 17 test of its Space Launch System (SLS) RS-25 rocket engine at Stennis Space Center."

"During a 535-second test, operators ran the RS-25 through a series of power levels, including a period of firing at 109 percent of the engine's rated power. Data collected on performance of the engine at the various power levels will aid in adapting the former space shuttle engines to the new SLS vehicle mission requirements, including development of an all-new engine controller and software."

Keith's note: In the past week I have posted two items about election 2016 - one mentioning Ted Cruz, the other mentioning Hillary Clinton. I have had to delete several dozen comments - nearly all of them under imaginary user names - that were posted/submitted which were utterly off-topic and/or made unsubstantiated personal attacks on the candidates or other individuals. I have had to shut off commenting on both posts. I am tired of this. If you people are going to turn NASAWatch into a place where people who are afraid/unwilling to even use their own names and engage in this behavior then I will not allow comments on these posts and will start to ban repeat offenders. I am not going to warn you again. Grow up or go away.

Apollo-Soyuz Lessons

What We Can Learn From a Forty-Year Old Handshake in Space, Ron Garan

"For the first 15 years of my adult life, I trained to fight the Russians as a fighter pilot during the Cold War. On April 4th, 2011, two and a half decades after joining the U.S. Air Force, I stood at the base of a rocket that would take me and my two Russian crewmates, Sasha Samokutyaev and Andrei Borisenko, into space from the same launchpad as Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space, fifty years before."

Related: History Remembered: The 40th Anniversary of the Flight of Apollo-Soyuz

MEDIA ADVISORY: SpaceX to Hold CRS-7 Update Telecon

"SpaceX is hosting a 30-minute telecon for members of the media at noon PDT/3pm EDT on Monday, July 20 to discuss preliminary results to our investigation into the CRS-7 mishap."

NASA's New Horizons Discovers Frozen Plains in the Heart of Pluto's Heart

"In the latest data from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, a new close-up image of Pluto reveals a vast, craterless plain that appears to be no more than 100 million years old, and is possibly still being shaped by geologic processes."

"This frozen region is north of Pluto's icy mountains, in the center-left of the heart feature, informally named "Tombaugh Regio" (Tombaugh Region) after Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930."

"This terrain is not easy to explain," said Jeff Moore, leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GGI) at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. "The discovery of vast, craterless, very young plains on Pluto exceeds all pre-flyby expectations."

- Pluto Wags its Tail: New Horizons Discovers a Cold, Dense Region of Atmospheric Ions Behind Pluto

- New Horizons Reveals Pluto's Extended Atmosphere

Hillary Clinton sounds the alarm on meteorites, Politico

"When I was a little girl, I guess I was a teenager by then 14, I think, and the space program was getting started, and I wanted to be an astronaut, and I wrote to NASA," she recounted. "And I said, 'What do I have to do to be prepared to be an astronaut?' And they wrote back and said, 'Thank you very much, but we're not taking girls,'" she remembered. "That, thankfully changed with Sally Ride and a lot of the other great women astronauts," she said. But "to be fair," she added, "I never could have qualified anyway, so you know, not something I spent a lot of time losing sleep over, but I really, really do support the space program."

Americans' complicated relationship with space travel, Washington Post

"All this means that NASA -- which is consistently among Americans' most popular public agencies (our feelings about space are complex) -- has never relied on public support to boost its program. Sure, it spends money to improve its image and inspire future explorers. But winning over you, dear reader, has never really helped NASA pay its bills. ... Americans' interest in space only briefly cracked more than 50 percent when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took one giant leap for mankind on the moon, said Casey Dreier, the director of advocacy for the Planetary Society. "The mistake we make, thinking about NASA in the past, is that it was ever driven by the public," Dreier said."

Keith's note: This is an interesting admission for the Planetary Society to make since it - and virtually all other space advocacy organizations - and often NASA itself - seem to be obsessed with raising the public's awareness of what NASA does so as to garner greater support for NASA's budget. Now it would seem that this is a waste of time according to the Planetary Society. Odd that Planetary Society says that the public has no impact on space policy and then turns around and tells the public that they need to have an impact on space policy. After half a century why is this going to change?

Americans Want A Space Program They Won't Pay For, earlier post

Space Launch System: Management Tools Should Better Track to Cost and Schedule Commitments to Adequately Monitor Increasing Risk, GAO

"The cost and schedule estimates for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Space Launch System (SLS) program substantially complied with five of six relevant best practices, but could not be deemed fully reliable because they only partially met the sixth best practice--credibility. While an independent NASA office reviewed the estimate developed by the program and as a result the program made some adjustments, officials did not commission the development of a separate independent estimate to compare to the program estimate to identify areas of discrepancy or difference. In addition, the program did not cross-check its estimate using an alternative methodology."

How a bunch of government space geeks at NASA won the internet, Quartz

"How exactly NASA stumbled upon perhaps the greatest social-media strategy of our time is a story of both blind luck and shrewd management. Of course, the space agency benefits by having amazing pictures, videos, and discoveries to share. Its content transcends demographics and platforms, because it highlights precisely what makes us so human. But its success also contains important lessons for any large organization trying to understand how to break down the barriers between itself and its public."

Keith's note: Every time something like this happens people make all sorts of claims about NASA's Internet prowess - but NASA never issues any numbers to substantiate these claims. I have no doubt that the stats are/were impressive. I have asked NASA for their web and social media statistics. I'll post what they send me - if they send me anything, that is.

Back To The Moon

Lost in space, opinion, George Abbey, Washington Examiner

"America needs a space policy that has a vision that can build on past achievements and keep moving forward. A big part of that is construction, maintenance and servicing in low-Earth orbit. Another is international cooperation. And we should realign our goals with those of other major space-faring nations and look back to the Moon, so we again become the leaders in space. After all, we've been there before. A lunar exploration program would provide the foundation for manned missions beyond the Moon. Our eyes must look to the skies with purpose toward that limitless frontier."

Congress Must Fully Fund the Space Launch System, Roll Call

"The SLS vehicle design materialized from an extensive, unbiased set of NASA technical studies that compared all possible scenarios, with a focus on efficiency and budget constraints. Experts inside and outside of NASA were fully integrated into the decision-making process. Among the factors driving the selection of the 130 metric-ton SLS design were human exploration requirements, the state of propulsion technology, the health and capability of the industrial base and the overall budget outlook."

Keith's note: I had to read this several times. "Unbiased"? Hardly. I guess these guys think that if they say something often enough as an op ed it will become the truth. The SLS design was mandated in law by Congress to use Shuttle and Ares V leftovers so as to preserve jobs. NASA adjusted their plans to this mandate. Everything else was window dressing. To state otherwise is to spread false memories about things that never happened.

- More False Memories About the Origin (and Cost) of SLS, Earlier post

Audit of NASA's Management of International Space Station Operations and Maintenance Contracts, NASA OIG

"To its credit, NASA has taken steps to reduce and control the operations and maintenance costs of the ISS, including competing contracts and eliminating some unneeded requirements. However, due to the unique operating environment of the ISS, in many cases the Agency continues to use incumbent contractors and obtain most services via cost-reimbursement contracts. We acknowledge the difficulty associated with contracting for ISS operations and urge NASA to continue to seek opportunities to control Station operations and maintenance costs, including revisiting the fixed-price option when appropriate."

5 facts about Americans' views on space exploration, Pew Research Center

"Although they value the program and are proud of its achievements, Americans are reluctant to pay more for space exploration. Just 23% of Americans said the U.S. spends too little on space exploration, according the National Opinion Research Center's General Social Survey (GSS) conducted last year. About four-in-ten (42%) said the U.S. spends about the right amount, and 25% said the U.S. spends too much on space exploration. Americans were more likely to say the government is spending too little on areas such as education (70%) and health (57%)."

Keith's note: Hmmm ... this is going to be a problem if NASA wants to send astronauts on the #JourneyToMars given that a substantial increase in NASA's budget - sustained over a long period of time - will be required to make this happen. One would hope that NASA would be a little more honest and open on this matter - if for no other reason to describe the coming need for budget increases and then lay the ground work and build some public sentiment for budget increases.

- Recent Space Poll: The Public is Not Always in Synch With Space Advocates (2015), earlier post
- Poll Suggests Public Concern Over Direction In Space (2011), earlier post
- New Gallup Poll Reveals Americans Strongly Support Space Exploration, Believe it Inspires Younger Generation (2008), earlier post
- Washington Post Poll on Space Spending (2009), earlier post
- New Poll Shows Support For Space Funding Cuts (2010), earlier post
-New Poll: Moon Yes, Mars No (2004), earlier post

Ted Cruz Is Really Excited About Pluto. So Why Does He Want to Cripple NASA?, Mother Jones

"But NASA is also one of the main purveyors of the satellite observations of Earth that are a basic necessity for many fields of Earth science. That's the part Cruz doesn't like: He wants to slash the agency's budget for Earth sciencesin particular, for climate change, a subject on which Cruz's theories are, in the words of one scientist, "a load of claptrap." It's not just Cruz. In the House, Republicans are forging ahead with a bill that would gut $90 million from NASA's Earth science budget. There are a couple major problems with that approach, and they make Cruz's lauding of the Pluto mission distinctly ironic and hypocritical. First, NASA is uniquely equipped among federal agencies to send satellites into space, so it would be hard to transfer its Earth research to some other outfit. (These are the very satellites, by the way, that produce the data Cruz likes to erroneously cite as evidence against global warming.)"

Keith's note: Comments are closed. People have gone totally off topic and are ranting and making personal attacks. Please do not try and post comments elsewhere since they will be deleted.

Keith's note: The New Horizons flyby of the Pluto system is quite an accomplishment. Say that 10 times. And congratulations are to be offered to everyone who made it happen - regardless of their contribution. Alas, the thanks have to include the 300,000,000 people who paid for it. To be certain, this mission is nerd cool and exciting - and inspirational - even if you do not know all (or any) of the science behind it. But at the end of the day, how many of the 300,000,000 people who paid for this truly understand what was done, why it was done, and why it was more important to spend ~$700,000,000 on this as opposed to [fill in the blank]. To be certain, that is $2.33 each. But what could $700,000,000 do in their own community where unemployment is high or where schools are crowded? Space supporters chuckle at this sort of math because space is cool by definition (so, who cares), but non-nerd taxpayers vastly outnumber nerds (of any flavor) or space supporters.

Tonight Charlie Bolden actually said that this mission (launched almost a decade ago) was a necessary step on the #JourneyToMars established by the Obama administration a few years ago. That, of course, is nonsense. You do not need to go 3 billion miles to Pluto so that you can go 100 million or so miles to Mars and back.

Until NASA decides to come clean and be straight with taxpayers - and comes up with a story that passes the who/what/when/where/why smell test it will have enough funds to do some wow stuff now and then - but nowhere near enough to do the big things that its Public Affairs office would have you think are a done deal.

New Horizons Phones Home Safe after Pluto Flyby

"The call everyone was waiting for is in. NASA's New Horizons spacecraft phoned home just before 9 p.m. EDT Tuesday to tell the mission team and the world it had accomplished the historic first-ever flyby of Pluto. "I know today we've inspired a whole new generation of explorers with this great success, and we look forward to the discoveries yet to come," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "This is a historic win for science and for exploration. We've truly, once again raised the bar of human potential."




Pluto and Charon Shine in False Color, SpaceRef

"New Horizons has obtained impressive new images of Pluto and its large moon Charon that highlight their compositional diversity. These are not actual color images of Pluto and Charonthey are shown here in exaggerated colors that make it easy to note the differences in surface material and features on each planetary body."

New Spectacular Pluto Image Released, SpaceRef

"As New Horizons flew by Pluto on its closet approach today NASA released the best ever image of the planet. Should the spacecraft has survived its closet approach and did collect the data it was expected to, we should see much more stunning images in the coming days."

- Get the latest updates.
- Live updates. Next update at 9:30 pm ET.

Message from NASA Administrator: Reaching Pluto With New Horizons

"Today, our nation is poised to reach a new milestone in exploration and discovery. More than 50 years after our first flyby of another planet, and five years after President Obama challenged America's space program to extend humanity's reach in space while strengthening America's leadership here on Earth, the New Horizons spacecraft will reach Pluto, providing the closest view humanity has ever seen of the dwarf planet."

Three-Billion-Mile Journey to Pluto

"Because New Horizons is the fastest spacecraft ever launched hurtling through the Pluto system at more than 30,000 mph, a collision with a particle as small as a grain of rice could incapacitate the spacecraft. Once it reestablishes contact Tuesday night, it will take 16 months for New Horizons to send its cache of data 10 years' worth -- back to Earth."

Claudia Alexander

Claudia Alexander

"The passing of Claudia Alexander reminds us of how fragile we are as humans but also as scientists how lucky we are to be part of planetary science. She and I constantly talked about Comets. Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko in particular. She was an absolute delight to be with and always had a huge engaging smile when I saw her. It was easy to see that she loved what she was doing. We lost a fantastic colleague and great friend. I will miss her." - Dr. James Green, Director of NASA's Planetary Science Division

The Claudia J. Alexander foundation for scholarships for STEM students

Charon Emerges

New Image Shows Charon's Chasms and Craters

"New Horizons' newest images reveal Pluto's largest moon Charon to be a world of chasms and craters. The most pronounced chasm, which lies in the southern hemisphere, is longer and miles deeper than Earth's Grand Canyon, according to William McKinnon, deputy lead scientist with New Horizon's Geology and Geophysics investigation team."

New Horizons' Last Portrait of Pluto's Puzzling Spots, NASA

"Three billion miles from Earth and just two and a half million miles from Pluto, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has taken its best image of four dark spots that continue to captivate. The spots appear on the side of Pluto that always faces its largest moon, Charonthe face that will be invisible to New Horizons when the spacecraft makes its close flyby the morning of July 14. New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado, describes this image as "the last, best look that anyone will have of Pluto's far side for decades to come."

Pluto Comes Into Focus

Houston, We Have Geology

"It began as a point of light. Then, it evolved into a fuzzy orb. Now in its latest portrait from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft Pluto is being revealed as an intriguing new world with distinct surface features, including an immense dark band known as the "whale." As the newest black and white image from New Horizons' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) appeared on the morning of July 10, members of the science team reacted with joy and delight, seeing Pluto as never before. There will no doubt be many similar moments to come. New images and data are being gathered each day as New Horizons speeds closer to a July 14 flyby of Pluto, following a journey of three billion miles."

Hearing: International Space Station: Addressing Operational Challenges

"The Subcommittee on Space will hold a hearing to examine the current status of the International Space Station (ISS). The Subcommittee will evaluate the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) plans for dealing with operational and maintenance challenges, the status of the ISS partnership, how NASA is utilizing the ISS to enable future deep space exploration, and the Administration's request to extend ISS operations to 2024."

- Hearing charter
- 9 am EDT Live webcast
- Brian Babin (R-Texas), House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
- Subcommittee Reviews Challenges to International Space Station

Witness Statements:

- Bill Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, NASA
- John Elbon, Vice President and General Manager, Space Exploration, The Boeing Company
- Paul K. Martin, Inspector General, NASA
- Shelby Oakley, Acting Director, Acquisition and Sourcing Management, Government Accountability Office
- James A. Pawelczyk, Associate Professor of Physiology and Kinesiology, The Pennsylvania State University

Keith's note: The Planetary Society sent a press release out late yesterday - under embargo - to their media distribution list. This list used to include NASAWatch - but no longer does. Why? Who knows, maybe they are thin-skinned over NASAWatch criticism about their various semi-secret stealth space policy activities. The release is titled "Bill Nye and The Planetary Society Celebrate New Horizons Pluto Flyby - Nye Congratulates Project Team & Citizens Who Made Dwarf Planet Mission Possible ". Yes - its all about Bill Nye™ first - and the Planetary Society second, and Pluto third. This nerd celebrity thing is getting to be rather silly. No, I am not going to post their release ahead of the embargoed release date/time. That's for The Bill Nye™ Society to release.

Keith's update: Looks like Marc got a copy of this release late last night and found it in his spam folder this morning (I did not find one in my spam folder). The Planetary Society used to send me things directly. Not any more. Nor did they respond to email on the topic. My point about the Bill Nye™ science nerd celebrity thing still stands.

- Quick: Read The Planetary Society Mars Plan While It Is Free, earlier post
- Stealthy Humans Orbiting Mars Workshop Update, earlier post
- Making Space Policy In Secret (Again), earlier post
- Good News Everyone: Another Closed Door Humans to Mars Thing, earlier post

NASA Selects Astronauts for First U.S. Commercial Space Flights

"I am pleased to announce that four American space pioneers have been selected to be the first astronauts to train to fly to space on commercial crew carriers, all part of our ambitious plan to return space launches to U.S. soil, create good-paying American jobs and advance our goal of sending humans farther into the solar system than ever before. These distinguished, veteran astronauts are blazing a new trail, a trail that will one day land them in the history books and Americans on the surface of Mars."

'Space Guy' Jeb Bush Would Increase Funding To NASA, Huff Post

"If elected president in 2016, Jeb Bush would propose an increase in funding to NASA. "I'm a space guy," Bush said in a Wednesday sit-down with the New Hampshire Union Leader's editorial board. The former of governor of Florida, where a large portion of the country's aerospace industry resides, said he would also support increasing federal spending on research and development. The Obama administration proposed a half-billion dollar increase to NASA's budget earlier this year, totaling $18.5 billion for fiscal year 2016. That request could run aground in the Republican-controlled Congress, where Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a presidential candidate and the chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Science, Space, and Competitiveness, feels that a reordering of the space agency is in order."

Keith's update: I made a mistake when I tweeted casis.org - the real address is iss-casis.org‎ but if you want to buy the domain casis.org you can get it for $200. CASIS forgot to buy it. You'd think CASIS would keep an eye on things like this ...

Keith's update: I just listened to Ken Savin, the Eli Lilly representative being interviewed at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference (ISSRDC). Lilly has 4 experiments that will fly on the ISS next year. I listened to this while I was out in the woods walking. These experiments are all very basic, clear-cut and rather elegant - so much so that I came up with a parallel classroom experiment for each instantly - and I am not especially talented in that regard. Savin said that he wished there was an organization to coordinate among companies to share data and information. Gee, I thought CASIS was supposed to do this. Savin was then asked if there was some sort of database where data and ISS research results were posted. He said "I am told there is one" and that someone just sent him a link to it. I am baffled as to why CASIS could not send him this stuff earlier in the process.

Savin said that his company does not plan to make drugs in space and that they are really doing these experiments to learn. That is a rather cool thing for a large multinational pharmaceutical company to say about using the ISS. It ought to be on a NASA bumper sticker. I did a quick Google search for "Eli Lilly CASIS" and only came up with a few article links - all of them inside the space community. A search for "Eli Lilly NASA" only found a few more links.

With all the moaning and groaning and self-loathing evidenced by NASA and others at the ISSRDC about not having told the public about what they are doing and why, that someone would have flagged this sort of activity and built a much larger education and public outreach effort for it. But no. NASA and CASIS would rather complain about not being able to do this than actually trying to do it.

Latest Images of Pluto from New Horizons

"These are the most recent high-resolution views of Pluto sent by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, including one showing the four mysterious dark spots on Pluto that have captured the imagination of the world."

New Horizons Spacecraft In Safe Mode

"The New Horizons spacecraft experienced an anomaly the afternoon of July 4 that led to a loss of communication with Earth. Communication has since been reestablished and the spacecraft is healthy. "

New Horizons Plans July 7 Return to Normal Science Operations

"NASA's New Horizons mission is returning to normal science operations after a July 4 anomaly and remains on track for its July 14 flyby of Pluto."

NASA Media Call: New Horizons Mission Plans Following Spacecraft Anomaly

"NASA will host a media teleconference at 3 p.m. EDT today to discuss the New Horizons spacecraft returning to normal science operations after a July 4 anomaly."

NASA FISO Presentation: Bigelow Aerospace's Past Accomplishments, Present Activities, and Future Plans, SpaceRef

"Now available is the July 1, 2015 NASA Future In-Space Operations (FISO) telecon material. The speaker was Mike Gold (Bigelow Aerospace) who discussed "Bigelow Aerospace's Past Accomplishments, Present Activities, and Future Plans".

International Space Station Resupply Mission Underway [Watch the launch], SpaceRef

"Less than a week after the SpaceX resupply mission to the International Space Station ended in failure, the Russian Progress 60 cargo resupply mission launched on schedule to bring much needed supplies to the International Space Station.

The cargo spacecraft is carrying over 2700 kilograms of food, fuel and supplies for the Expedition 44 crew members. The supplies will arrive on Sunday."

Shelton Versus McCain on Import of SpaceX Failure, SpacePolicyOnline

"Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), and Gen. William Shelton (Ret.) view the June 28 SpaceX launch failure very differently. In a McCain statement and a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Shelton, the two take opposite positions on what should be learned from the failure in terms of national security space launches and how long Russian RD-180 engines are needed by the U.S. military to have assured access to space. The congressional push to end reliance on RD-180s began while Shelton was still on active duty and Commander of Air Force Space Command and he and McCain differed on these issues all along. At the last congressional hearing on the topic during Shelton's tenure, in July 2014, they were fully were on display. Apparently nothing has changed."

Color Images Reveal Two Distinct Faces of Pluto, NASA

"New color images from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft show two very different faces of the mysterious dwarf planet, one with a series of intriguing spots along the equator that are evenly spaced. Each of the spots is about 300 miles in diameter, with a surface area that's roughly the size of the state of Missouri."

New Horizons Stays the Course to Pluto, NASA

"After seven weeks of detailed searches for dust clouds, rings, and other potential hazards, the New Horizons team has decided the spacecraft will remain on its original path through the Pluto system instead of making a late course correction to detour around any hazards. Because New Horizons is traveling at 30,800 mph (49,600 kph), a particle as small as a grain of rice could be lethal."


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