August 2015 Archives

The Martian message, Eric Sterner, Space Review

"Surely, several interests want to capitalize on the melding of film and speculative reality. Damon recently visited the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he talked about his role, and NASA's website proudly uses the opportunity to explain the real NASA-developed technologies portrayed in the movie. It can only do a space advocate's heart good when Hollywood seems to discover the same sense of excitement in space that we see and experience every day. Sadly, if the space community seeks to turn The Martian into a commercial for sending people to Mars, we will fail miserably. The 2000 movie Castaway was nominated for multiple awards, including an Academy Award for Tom Hanks. It did not increase public support for sending people to deserted islands. Neither will The Martian bring them closer to Mars."

Space Advocacy By Space Advocates Is A Failure, earlier post

"... when several space-themed movie blockbusters really get the public's attention the same space advocates whine when America doesn't rush to embrace their own peculiar space exploration notions and blame the movie's scripts for not being in precise tune with the niche views of the true space believers. ... If all anyone in the space advocacy community can think of doing involves adoring lame PR Mars mission stunts and grabbing the coat tails of sci fi flicks in hope of sniffing the fumes of the film's success, then I fear there is very little of true substance for space advocates to actually be advocating."

Keith's note: Its great that NASA is involved with "The Martian" - as it has been with other movies. To say that there are no potential synergies would be totally incorrect. But for space advocates to expect some detectible shift in space policy as the result of a space movie is naive. I heard all of this expectant hoopla from the space world back when the twin (bad) films "Red Planet" and "Mission to Mars" were set to be released. Nothing happened. For all its prescient majesty, "2001: A Space Odyssey" did not result in a plus-up for the FY 1969 NASA budget. As always, Eric Sterner makes excellent points that echo my earlier rants on this topic. Yet what Eric writes (as with what I rant) will only be read by space advocates. And space advocates are notoriously adept at inbred choir practice inside their own special echo chamber.

Trust me, I would so very, very much like to be proven wrong.

NASA JSC Solicitation: Purchase of Two Vehicles for the Human Space Flight Program-Russia

"Delivered to US Embassy Moscow, Russia The contractor must provide with the bid proposal a schematic drawing showing vehicle design and dimension specifications in the form of the sample drawing. Standard manufacturer's pamphlet with the specific vehicle model being offered clearly identified and accompanied by a written statement in English by the manufacturer certifying that all solicitation specifications are met for the vehicle model being offered."

Innovative Study Supports Asteroid Initiative, Journey To Mars

"NASA employed ECAST to engage in a "participatory technology assessment," an engagement model that seeks to improve the outcomes of science and technology decision-making through dialog with informed citizens. Participatory technology assessment involves engaging a group of non-experts who are representative of the general population but who unlike political, academic, and industry stakeholders who are often under represented in technology-related policymaking. ... During meetings in Phoenix and Boston in November, 2014, participants voiced their thoughts and preferences about asteroids, planetary defense and space exploration."

Informing NASA's Asteroid Initiative - A Citizen's Forum - Full report

Keith's note: According to the report "We at ECAST designed the forums to explore what a diverse group of lay citizens thought about complex issues when provided with unbiased information and offered the opportunity to have a respectful and open conversation about these matters with their peers. Quite different from a poll or survey, forums like the one developed for this project explore the views and values that citizens use in assessing sociotechnical issues. ... ECAST undertook the recruitment of the lay citizen participants, achieving a distribution that aligned with the demographic characteristics of their respective states by taking into account gender, age, education, ethnicity, income, and employment status."

So ... how did these people from nowhere in particular get up to speed on NASA's Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM)? According to the report "Rather than survey people who may have little understanding of the subject, these forums provided the opportunity for participants to learn a great deal about NASA's Asteroid Initiative. In fact, participants were provided with much the same technical information that NASA's administrators and program managers use, but presented in short thematic background papers provided prior to the workshop and four informational videos at the start of each session."

Ah, so they only showed the participants NASA stuff. Did the participants receive materials that were in any way critical of ARM? Seriously. The participants were being asked to weigh all aspects of ARM, asteroid defense etc. Given that Congress, the NASA Advisory Council and a significant portion of the planetary science community doubt the value of ARM and/or are totally against it one would hope that this was factored in. If the participants were not given the full spectrum of viewpoints on this topic then the entire effort was null and void at its very inception.

Congress, Don't Make Us Hitch Rides With Russia. Love, NASA, Charlie Bolden via Wired

"Saturday will mark 1,500 days since the Space Shuttle touched down for the final time. Grounding human spaceflights was always supposed to be temporary as we made the necessary transition to a new generation of spacecraft, operated by American commercial carriers. Likewise, paying for seats on Russian spacecraft to send our astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) was always intended to be a stopgap. Had Congress adequately funded President Obama's Commercial Crew proposal, we could have been making final preparations this year to once again launch American astronauts to space from American soil aboard American spacecraft. Instead we are faced with uncertaintyand we will continue to be so long as Congress resists fully investing in Commercial Crew."

- Why Is Congress Stalling NASA's Commercial Crew Program?, earlier post
- NASA Buys More Soyuz Flights Since Congress Constantly Cuts Commercial Crew, earlier post
- Mikulski Tries Unsuccessfully To Prevent Commercial Crew Funding Decrease, earlier post

Keith's note: Released 20 Aug 2015. Lots of NASA logos, hardware, facilities seen by 7,756,789 15,747,636 18,164,860 21,272,171 29,390,085 young viewers so far. Priceless.

NASA just hit a home run in terms of being in front of millions of eyeballs. A tweet was sent to 24,700,000 @OneDirection followers and was subsequently retweeted/favorited 77,000 times. @NASA also sent a tweet to its 11,900,000 followers which was then retweeted/favorited 50,000 times. Since there is likely minor overlap between @OneDirection and @NASA you can safely assume that the reach was additive i.e. more than 36.6 million Twitter followers reached - that's more than the equivalent of 10% of the united States population. Then there's their official One Direction Facebook page (with 38,000,000 likes) which also features the video - more than the combined Twitter reach combined. And so on.

What an opportunity to reach a population demographic that is simply vast in numbers - right? You'd think that space advocacy organizations (who, after all, want the public to share in their fascination with space) would be overjoyed about this and want to make sure that their members know about it - and to use this as an example of the broad appeal of space exploration. Guess again. Is there any mention at the Planetary Society's website or their Twitter @exploreplanets? No. Just pictures of nerds. As for National Space Society, they're sound asleep. And so on. Space advocates are just sleep walking though this whole space advocacy thing. As such they are increasingly irrelevant.

We Get It Neil Tyson: You Hated "Gravity" (Update), earlier post

Point the Way to the International Space Station with This DIY Orbit Tracker, Make

"Given the International Space Station's host of superlatives (i.e. most expensive man made structure, largest artificial body in Earth's orbit, longest functioning habitable satellite, greatest engineering accomplishment of all time, coolest flying space laboratory, etc.), you'd think that it would be on our minds constantly. Yet many of us go hours, even days, without thinking about it once. There's a growing movement of people who believe that our space agencies are underfunded because humanity is just not paying enough attention to our present accomplishments and future plans in space exploration. Well, I know one way to direct attention to something. Point at it."

- Barn door tracker, Wikipedia
- Keith Cowing at Maker Faire: Hacking NASA

Pluto, we have a problem: Some geographical names may not fly on official maps, GeekWire

"Some of the best-known names on Pluto ranging from the Sputnik plains to the Hillary and Norgay mountains and the dark Cthulhu Regio may never appear on the International Astronomical Union's maps, due to a tiff over terminology. Those are just a few of the informal names that have raised questions from members of the IAU panel charged with approving the nomenclature for the dwarf planet's geographical features. The names were selected by the team behind NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto after a months-long online naming campaign at OurPluto.org. "Frankly, we would have preferred that the New Horizons team had approached us before putting all these informal names everywhere," said Rosaly Lopes, a senior research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory who is a member of the IAU's Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature."

Bolden Gets EPO Briefing From New Horizons Mission Team, earlier post

"Last week the SETI Institute unilaterally announced an effort whereby the public can suggest names for features discovered within the Pluto-Charon system. The IAU would have the final say as to which names were accepted. One small problem: NASA HQ was not in the loop for this major effort to name things discovered by a NASA spacecraft. It has been several days since SETI Institute made this announcement and there is no mention of this effort at the JHUAPL website, at the NASA mission website, at SwRI, or at NASA.gov. Only the personal Twitter account by the mission's PI mentions this effort. This press release was not distributed by NASA, JHUAPL or SwRI. ... Sources I have spoken with at NASA HQ said that NASA was not aware that this news was being announced or that SETI Institute had decided (seemingly on its own) to do this project on NASA's behalf. Based on previous stunts it is quite clear that the New Horizons mission (again, a NASA mission paid for by NASA) has decided that it will make its own decisions on how the public will be involved - and that it is not up to NASA to coordinate these activities."

- NASA Extends Campaign for Public to Name Features on Pluto, earlier post
- New Horizons Redefines Definition of "Planet" and "Moon", earlier post
- Public Asked to Help Name Features on Pluto, earlier post

Blow for new cosmodrome as officials say first manned launch is still a decade away, Siberian Times

"A 2007 presidential decree had set 2018 as this target date for manned launched and it was echoed in repeated statements from officials until recently. It was reported that Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin and the head of the Russian Space Agency Igor Komarov managed to persuade Vladimir Putin to adjust the date of manned launches. The reasons were not spelled out, and it was unclear if financial considerations were behind the delay. Space agency spokesman Mikhail Fadeyev made clear the change of plan in stating: 'The first manned flight from the Vostochny Cosmodrome is scheduled for 2025 with an Angara-AV5 rocket, according to the federal space programme.' The move reflected the 'founding principle of Vostochny as an innovative cosmodrome', he claimed. Under the plan, the first test flight of the Angara-A5B is scheduled for 2023, while the rocket's first unmanned flight is slated for 2024."

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

Letter From NASA to Congress Regarding SpaceX and Orbital ATK Launch Failure Reviews

"Dear Chairman Smith: Thank you very much for your letter of August 4, 2015 regarding the recent space launch failures of June 28,2015 and October 28, 2014. I appreciate your sincere commitment to our Nation's leadership in space and NASA has always shared that commitment. I am pleased for the opportunity to address your concerns. I would also mention that on August 3, 2015, Vice Admiral Joe Dyer, Chairman of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) provided a written response related to concerns that we were treating SpaceX differently than Orbital ATK with respect to our oversight of the respective accident investigations to Mr. Chris Shank, Policy Director of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. I think you will find Vice Admiral Dyer's response is in basic agreement with the contents of my letter following."

U.S. and Russia Can't Even Agree on How to Handle Astronaut Pee, Bloomberg

Keith's note: Too bad this reporter (or his editor) did not really understand what NASA was telling him. This article title is simply wrong. This has nothing to do with a disagreement. Rather it has to do with an agreement made in the 1990s allowing the Russians to use their heritage hardware and the U.S. using its existing systems, and then looking for ways that each approach can complement, supplement, or improve upon the other's systems. If nothing else having more than one approach to things offers dissimilar redundancy - something that has saved the ISS program's butt more times than many people know. In the mean time and engineering and operational synergy has emerged from the ISS program with unexpected wisdom that can be applied to future missions.

Oddly, despite this totally inaccurate title, the author even notes the concept of dissimilar redundancy in his article: "NASA has decided to switch to silver-ionized water on future missions, but Carter says he likes that there's both silver- and iodine-treated water aboard the ISS: "It really makes a lot of sense," he says, "to have dissimilar redundancies in the space station in case one of the systems has problems."

Second Horizon, Space Review

"The New Horizons 2 proposal was an effort to gain approval for a mission that was not recommended by the planetary science decadal survey or any other independent group. But the NASA review panel recommended that any New Horizons 2 proposal should also be reviewed by the National Research Council's Committee on Planetary and Lunar Exploration, or COMPLEX, which was considered to be the "the keeper of the decadal." No such review occurred and New Horizons 2 was soon forgotten."

Keith's note: Interesting how New Horizons supporters hyped the Decadal Survey backing of their mission to get it approved and then turned around and tried to push a mission on NASA that had no Decadal Survey backing or credibility whatsoever. #hypocrites.

Virgin Galactic boldly goes into small satellites, telling future astronauts 'you have to wait', Telegraph

"Before the crash in November last year, there were around 750 "future astronauts" signed up to Virgin Galactic's space programme, paying $250,000 (160,000) a pop for a seat on a spacecraft SpaceShipTwo that can reach the edge of space at an altitude of 62 miles before returning to earth. Numbers have already fallen to 700. These steadfast customers, believed to include high-profile ticket holders Ashton Kutcher, Angelina Jolie, Kate Winslet and Stephen Hawking, represent $175m in revenue. Whitesides, a former chief of staff for Nasa, is in a difficult position: it is necessary to keep his future astronauts sweet but with no date for the first space tourism mission, and investors to mollify, there needs to be a short-term moneyspinner or Virgin Galactic will run aground. His answer has been to pivot its business model dramatically away from human space travel, and into a burgeoning new sector: small satellite launches. This is why Virgin Galactic has rolled out the welcome mat for the UK firms they are potential customers, partners and advocates."

Virgin Galactic passenger numbers 'almost recovered' after space craft's fatal accident, Suffield Times

"Over the previous six months, Virgin Galactic has quietly reshaped its enterprise mannequin to give attention to the burgeoning small satellite tv for pc launch market, which it estimates might be equally worthwhile."

Keith's note: On one hand, there is nothing at all unusual about this business decision. Air carriers have been mixing passengers, cargo, mail etc. for the better part of a century - for obvious business reasons. Virgin Galactic is simply being smart in trying to diversify its customer base and product offering - while leveraging one against the other. On the other hand, you have to wonder who is going to write huge deposits for a flight with no clearly-known flight date. After a while more people are going to start asking for their money back - or they're going to Virgin Galactic's competitors (assuming they succeed where Virgin Galactic has not).

Keith's note: NASA used some rather expensive astronaut time to set up this photo, take it, send it back to Earth, and post it online. This project "NASA, UN Photo Competition Highlights Why Space Matters on Earth" announced by NASA on 16 June 2015. The intent was good. Seriously. But looking at the follow-up and popularity of the #whyspacematters hashtag on Twitter ... well, its not so good. Too bad. This is a most noble and desirable effort and is emblematic of the uses of space utilization with an intentional global impact.

Perhaps NASA PAO, UNOOSA, et al can promote this a little better? (Hint).

Too bad that the Planetary Society, National Space Society, Space Frontier Foundation etc. are not doing more to promote this. But then again ... space advocates really do not do well outside of their self-limiting comfort zones. Nor do they care to do so.

What a perfect opportunity to get outside the usual space advocacy comfort zone. Space advocacy needs to be inclusive, intrinsically expansive, but grounded in sociopolitical reality. Alas, space advocacy is currently exclusive, insular, tone deaf, elitist, and inherently inbred. Yea, like that is how we get nations to expend billions to expand outward into our solar system - using someone else's tax dollars.

Caption: "NASA astronaut Scott Kelly is photographed in the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) holding a sign with the hashtag #whyspacematters. NASA and the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) have launched a global photography competition to highlight how the vantage point of space helps us better understand our home planet, improve lives, and safeguard our future by aiding sustainable development on Earth. ISS043E294202 (06/10/2015) - Larger image."

Red planet rumble, The Space Review

"If somebody was scoring this debate, giving a point for each well-supported argument, deducting a point for each weak one, and subtracting multiple points every time somebody conceded the other side's argument, then Mars One lost it hands down. Not only did Barry Finger admit that MIT's technical analysis and criticism was mostly right, but Lansdorp also admitted that their 12-year plan for landing humans to Mars by 2027 is mostly fiction. Furthermore, Lansdorp acknowledged that he pretty much twists the truth into a pretzel for potential investors when he tells them he knows how to do it and how much it will cost. He doesn't have a clue."

Harnessing The Martian, The Space Review

".. [The Martian] will soon provide a tremendous opportunity particularly to space advocates to extend that excitement to the general population and to engage broad public support for sending human missions to Mars in the near future. The space advocacy community has tried valiantly to promote that goal through other recent films, such as Interstellar and Gravity. However, while those films were certainly entertaining, neither one aligned very well with our space exploration aspirations."

Keith's note: The space advocacy community - especially the human-oriented subset thereof - seems to be unable to discern bad rocket science from science fiction. On one hand so many of their kind believe in a marketing effort (Mars One) with no real technical plan as if it were real because ... well ... because they believe in anything that has to do with their destiny in space. On the other hand when several space-themed movie blockbusters really get the public's attention the same space advocates whine when America doesn't rush to embrace their own peculiar space exploration notions and blame the movie's scripts for not being in precise tune with the niche views of the true space believers.

Keith's update: Apparently the big news is that the COBRA golf company is putting a window ("spaceport") in their new golf club. No relevance to NASA or the ISS is apparent. When asked by a reporter to explain the microgravity applications to this technology CASIS President Greg Johnson said he could not explain the microgravity or technology aspects of this thing. The Cobra representative said that he needed a golf club design that could withstand a 7,000 G impact and that the technology associated with this golf club was different than launching something into space (i.e what the ISS is there for). He added that this golf club "did not use research done in space but did use research done for space". Greg Johnson said that there is some other stuff going on in space but he cannot talk about it. What any of this has to do with CASIS, the International Space Station, or NASA is not at all apparent. Then again little of what CASIS does these days has that relevance. In fact there is no relevance. All Greg Johnson could suggest is that these new golf clubs will "inspire the next generation of scientists, golfers, engineers and explorers. Its a great story".

This whole CASIS thing is a joke. A bad joke.

- Space Golf Update: NASA Inspector General Has Noticed That CASIS is a Flop
- CASIS Announces Baseball Raffle in Space, earlier post
- CASIS Would Rather Go Golfing Than Do Actual ISS Research, earlier post
- CASIS Signs Deal with COBRA PUMA GOLF for Research on ISS, earlier post
- CASIS Defines Bedtime Stories on ISS as "Major Payload", earlier post
- CASIS Is Still Incapable of Doing Its Job, earlier post
- CASIS Is Doing a Reality TV Show in Space (Confusing Update), earlier post

Space Launch System Program Moving Forward with Critical Design Review

"Milestone reviews like the critical design review are just that -- critical. The critical design review demonstrates that the SLS design meets all system requirements with acceptable risk, and accomplishes that within cost and schedule constraints. It also proves that the rocket should continue with full-scale production, assembly, integration, and testing and that the program is ready to begin the next major review covering design certification."

Keith's note: As you may have heard, NASA has been conducting the CDR for the SLS. Well, despite all of the happy talk about how the review went toward enabling NASA's #JourneyToMars sources report that this CDR suffered from some of the common things that such reviews are prone to suffer - especially at MSFC. According to sources two participating entities - FSO and IV&V (raised objections/concerns - or "reclamas" - that the SLS design is not totally mature - yet. At one point MSFC management had a meeting wherein FSO and IV&V reps were told that having independent reviewers at the CDR was a mistake since their staff simply did not know enough about the vehicle's design. I saw this behavior with my own eyes during Space Station Freedom design reviews at MSFC in the 1990s - its in the drinking water down there. No one from outside their center or organization could, by definition, know enough to have any value at a MSFC CDR. Then there's the last big rocket they worked on at MSFC a few years back ...

Ares PDR Was Not As Smooth As NASA Says It Was, earlier post (2008)

"NASA sources report that there are some red faces in Huntsville and that there is the obligatory witch hunt under way at MSFC to find guilty parties and to try and figure out how this information got outside of NASA. Suffice it to say that the way this post-PDR "survey" was done is laughable - and that this witch hunt will simply cause even more embarrassing information to surface."

Keith's note: If you look at the JSC webpage for Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) 2 Contract you will see a schedule page that shows that proposals were received on 12/2/14. NASA originally planned to have a CRS2 award announcement in May 2015 but was delayed with the rationale being "4/16/15 Updated the Milestone Schedule Award date due to additional time required to evaluate proposals." There is a new note stating "8/7/15 Updated the Milestone Schedule to reflect an updated award date to provide additional time to evaluate Final Proposal Revisions (FPRs)." The planned CRS2 contract award date is now shown as 11/05/15. No CRS2 contract start date is shown.

Oh yes: both of the two current contractors lost a rocket and its cargo in the past year.

Keith's note: This is the scary warning language that Orbital ATK places on everything they send to the news media by email. FWIW the emails are sent to a list such that the actual email address to which the email is being sent is not on the To: portion of the email itself. So ... how does one determine whether one is "the intended recipient"? And even if you can figure it out, how do you know if the email contains ITAR sensitive information? Just wondering. And ... of all the people to avoid if you do not want to release inappropriate information, why would you be sending it to the news media in the first place? Yes, its a slow news day.

"Notice: This e-mail is intended solely for use of the individual or entity to which it is addressed and may contain information that is proprietary, privileged and exempt from disclosure under applicable law. If the reader is not the intended recipient or agent responsible for delivering the message to the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any dissemination, distribution or copying of this communication is strictly prohibited. This communication may also contain data subject to U.S. export laws. If so, that data subject to the International Traffic in Arms Regulation cannot be disseminated, distributed or copied to foreign nationals, residing in the U.S. or abroad, absent the express prior approval of the U.S. Department of State. If you have received this communication in error, please notify the sender by reply e-mail and destroy the e-mail message and any physical copies made of the communication. Thank you."

NameExoWorlds Contest Opens for Public Voting

"Although people have been naming celestial objects for millennia, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) is the authority responsible for assigning official names to celestial bodies. The NameExoWorlds contest provides not only the first opportunity for the public to name exoplanets, but also -- for the first time in centuries -- to give names to stars. Twenty stars with known exoplanets in orbit around them are among the objects selected to be named. Astronomy clubs and non-profit organizations from 45 countries submitted 247 proposals for the names of the 20 ExoWorlds."

Orbital ATK Updates Progress on International Space Station Cargo Delivery Program for NASA, Orbital ATK

"Orbital ATK is on track to launch its next CRS mission late this year and is moving forward with integration of a new first stage propulsion system into the Antares launch vehicle in preparation for multiple CRS missions in 2016."

"Three main CRS program efforts are simultaneously underway, including preparing the enhanced Cygnus spacecraft for the next ISS cargo mission (OA-4) to launch aboard an Atlas V rocket this December; upgrading the Antares rocket by integrating and testing the new RD-181 main engines with the modified first stage core structure; and working with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) to complete repairs to the Pad 0A launch complex at Wallops Island to support the resumption of CRS missions from Wallops Island in early 2016."

- United Launch Alliance to Launch Second Orbital ATK Cygnus Spacecraft to International Space Station on Cargo Mission

Lost in space? Nasa under pressure, BBC

"The most recent rover mission to Mars, Curiosity, landed successfully three years ago and has performed admirably. But the mission was around a billion over budget and three years late. These events were monitored by former Nasa scientist Keith Cowing in his blog Nasa Watch. "As upset as Nasa proclaims to be when these overruns happen, they just go off and do another one. It is an ongoing chronic issue with Nasa," he told BBC News. "Nasa's financial management system is still a mess. After doing Nasa Watch for 20 years it is almost like I have a key on my keyboard that I press and it says: 'Nasa doesn't understand what things cost'."

So could it be time for Nasa to rethink the "faster, better, cheaper" plan? "Dan Goldin was prophetic," says Mr Cowing. "But the way his idea was put into practice was flawed and inconsistent and insincere," he says. "It's like having the archetypical pictures of the little mammals running around as the dinosaurs are dying. There is always the seed of the next wave of doing things that emerges from the current way of doing things."

Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle: The Air Force Needs to Adopt an Incremental Approach to Future Acquisition Planning to Enable Incorporation of Lessons Learned, GAO

"The Air Force is at risk of making decisions about future EELV acquisitions without sufficient knowledge. The Air Force plans to develop an acquisition strategy for the next phase of competitive launches before it has any actionable data from the first competitive launches. In addition, the Air Force views competition as crucial to the success of its new acquisition strategy, yet the viability of a competitive launch industry is uncertain. The launch industry is undergoing changes, and the ability of the domestic industry to sustain two or more providers in the long-term, while desirable, is unclear. Additionally, only one company is currently certified to compete with ULA for national security launches, and there are no other potential competitors in the near future. To adequately plan for future competitions and ensure informed decision making before committing to a strategy, it will be important for the Air Force to obtain knowledge about its new acquisition approach and on the launch industry."

Keith's 11 Aug update: Sources report that the person (referenced below) who was told that they could not attend the JPL Planetary Science Summer School has now been told by NASA HQ that they can attend after all.

Keith's 7 Aug 10:11 am note: The following is posted in a Closed Facebook page "Young Scientists for Planetary Exploration". The group has 1,549 members. I was made aware of this issue last night in great detail before I asked to join the group. When my membership was approved just now I was confronted with a warning that I would be banned for life if I posted anything from this group. I was not aware of this restriction when I asked to join - only after the fact. This is an important issue that needs to be surfaced. I will not identify the individual who posted this. I expect to be banned momentarily. Oh well.

Keith's 7 Aug 8:11 pm note: I have been kicked out of the group (one would assume) for raising this issue. You're welcome. What is really odd is that Andy Rivkin, one of the people who run this Facebook group, violates their own rules with regard to publicly discussing content from within the group.

"I've been participating in this year's JPL Planetary Science Summer School for the past 9 weeks, and was told only today that I have been declined further participation in the program, and will be withdrawn from next week's session at JPL. The reason I was given was that my place of birth was in Hong Kong, regardless of the fact that my citizenship is Canadian. NASA regards all persons born in Hong Kong as Chinese Nationals, including those like myself who were born prior to the 1997 handover, were never granted Chinese citizenship, and have immigrated to other countries like Canada. After contacting some people to try to understand why I was informed of this so late, it has come to my attention that this is a NASA-wide issue (not just JPL or PSSS) that was enacted just today by the NASA HQ Security Branch."

- Hong Kong Policy Act Report, State Department
- Designated Countries List, NASA HQ Security

Ad Astra Rocket Company and NASA move to execution phase of NextSTEP VASIMR partnership

"NASA's Advanced Exploration Systems Program sponsors NextSTEP awards in a 50/50 cost partnership with industry. Under this award, Ad Astra will conduct a long duration, high power test of an upgraded version of the VX-200TM VASIMR prototype, the VX-200SSTM (for steady state), for a minimum of 100 hours continuously at a power level of 100 kW. These experiments aim to demonstrate the engine's new proprietary core design and thermal control subsystem and to better estimate component lifetime. The tests will be conducted in Ad Astra's large, state-of-the-art vacuum chamber in the company's Texas facility."

FAA hid study showing chronic air controller fatigue, CBS

"The study is composed of a survey of 3,268 controllers about their work schedules and sleep habits, and a field study that monitored the sleep and the mental alertness of more than 200 controllers at 30 air traffic facilities. NASA produced the study at the FAA's request. J.D. Harrington, a NASA spokesman, also declined to release the study, saying in an email that since the FAA requested it, "they own the rights to decide its release." NASA gave the scientists who conducted the study an award for the project's excellence in 2013."

Keith's note: What "rights" does the FAA "own" that NASA does not also have? NASA and the FAA are both parts of the Federal government. I'll bet the FOIA requests are flying right about now.

- Heads Up NASA Air Safety Folks, earlier post
- NRC Does Not Think Much of NASA Air Safety Study, earlier post
- NAS Report on NASA NAOMS, earlier post

Three reasons to be truly outraged by Congressional stonewalling of commercial crew, Houston Chronicle

"This week NASA Administrator Charles Bolden stepped up his war of words on Congress, saying the space agency had to extend a pricey contract with Russia through 2019 for crew transport due to under-funding of the commercial crew program. You may like Bolden, or dislike him. You may like his boss, President Obama, or you may hate him. You may like NASA's human exploration plan, or you may have questions about its viability. But you should know this for a fact: Commercial crew, a program allowing SpaceX and Boeing to develop spacecraft and rockets to put U.S. astronauts into orbit, deserves full funding. Here are three reasons why Congressional under-funding of commercial crew is especially duplicitous."

Governor McAuliffe Announces Agreement to Continue Operation of the Virginia Commercial Space Authority

"The cost of repairs to Pad 0A are expected to be approximately $15 million at completion, split equally between Virginia Space, Orbital ATK and NASA, and rebuild efforts are on schedule as we continue to work with our partners to return the Spaceport to operational status," said Virginia Space Authority Executive Director Dale Nash."

NASA Notifies Congress about Space Station Contract Modification with Russia

"NASA Administrator Charles Bolden sent a letter to Congress Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015 informing members that, due to continued reductions in the president's funding requests for the agency's Commercial Crew Program over the past several years, NASA was forced to extend its existing contract with the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) to transport American astronauts to the International Space Station. This contract modification is valued at about $490 million dollars. The letter was delivered to the leadership of the congressional committees that oversee NASA. The full text of the letter follows:"

NASA signing $490M contract with Russia, The Hill

"The new contract extension is required because Congress has not fully funded the administration's budget requests since 2010. For fiscal year 2011, for example, Obama asked Congress for $500 million for NASA's Commercial Crew Program. Congress only gave it $321 million. The next year, Obama asked for $850 million and Congress only allocated $400 million. Due to those low funding levels for five consecutive years, NASA had to ask Congress for more than $1 billion for next year. A spokeswoman for NASA said if Obama's request is fully funded, and if NASA can fully pay its contracts, the U.S. commercial vehicles could still be ready by the 2017 date."

Keith's note: Hey @AlGore according to NASA "These images were taken between 3:50 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. EDT on July 16." Guess what: that means that we saw an almost-new Moon here on Earth - to use your term we were looking at the "dark side" of the Moon which happened to be the near side of the Moon at the point - you know, the side of the Moon that faces Earth. DSCOVR was looking at the lunar farside which was almost fully lit at that point. It is not "dark" in this photo. Its called Science, Al.

Keith's update: As a reader notes NASA does not even know what "dark Side" means i.e. at least not consistently. The NASA press release for this image says "The series of test images shows the fully illuminated "dark side" of the moon that is never visible from Earth.

NASA itself is confused about this terminology: Common Moon Misconceptions, NASA: "Misconception: The same half of the Moon is in darkness all the time-i.e. that there is a dark side of the Moon. Reality: The Moon has no side that is constantly dark; the front and back are alternately lit as the Moon rotates. Far side is a more accurate term."

Kirk Shireman Replaces Mike Suffredini as International Space Station Program Manager

"William H. Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, has named Kirk A. Shireman as manager, International Space Station (ISS) Program. Shireman has served as deputy director of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston since 2013. Shireman succeeds Michael T. Suffredini, who is leaving the agency to take a position in private industry."

DSCOVR Shows Moon Crossing Face of Earth (Video)

"A NASA camera aboard the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite captured a unique view of the moon as it moved in front of the sunlit side of Earth last month. The series of test images shows the fully illuminated "dark side" of the moon that is never visible from Earth. The images were captured by NASA's Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC), a four megapixel CCD camera and telescope on the DSCOVR satellite orbiting 1 million miles from Earth. From its position between the sun and Earth, DSCOVR conducts its primary mission of real-time solar wind monitoring for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)."

Senate Approves U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

"The U.S. Senate, today, unanimously approved S. 1297, the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, introduced by Commerce Committee Space, Science, and Competitiveness Subcommittee chairman Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), full committee ranking member Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Space, Science, and Competitiveness Subcommittee ranking member Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), and subcommittee members Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.). The legislation, which the full Commerce Committee approved by voice vote with an amendment on May 20, 2015, extends the operational use of the International Space Station (ISS) until 2024, a regulatory moratorium on commercial space activity through FY 2020, and ensures stability for the continued development and growth of the U.S. commercial space sector and other space initiatives."

NASA - Lunar IceCube to Take on Big Mission From Small Package

"In what scientists say signals a paradigm shift in interplanetary science, NASA has selected a shoebox-size mission to search for water ice and other resources from above the surface of the moon."

Marc's note: CubeSats for deep-space exploration is an exciting new aspect of space exploration. It opens space exploration to more participants at a much lower cost. Combined with an eventual lower cost in launch through reusability, this could lead to a proliferation of new missions.

For the first time Chinese research to fly on NASA's space station, Houston Chronicle

"A Houston company has negotiated a historic agreement to fly a Chinese experiment on the International Space Station, a small but symbolic maneuver around a law that bans any scientific cooperation between NASA and the communist country. Over a conference table adorned with an American and a Chinese flag, Jeff Manber last week agreed to take a DNA experiment into space next year. Manber's Houston-based company, NanoRacks, helps scientists do research on board the station. Because of decades of suspicion about Chinese motives and the country's regime, Congress prohibits NASA from working with the country in any capacity. But the new deal, which is apparently legal, could begin to change that. "It's symbolic, and it's meaningful," Manber said Monday, after returning from Beijing. "But let's not get ahead of ourselves."

Keith's note: According to a NanoRacks source, in crafting this agreement with Beijing Institute of Technology, NanoRacks worked to assure compliance with the 2011 spending bill Amendment offered by former Rep. Frank Wolf which places restrictions on formal NASA cooperation with China's space program. After consultation with NASA and the Obama Administration, NanoRacks approached Professor Feng of Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT) and invited him to continue his immune system research using NanoRacks' commercial hardware on the ISS.

NanoRacks notes that money flows from China to the U.S.; that no hardware or technology flows to China (just a return of data and experiment samples); that this experiment has intrinsic scientific value; and that the payload uses NanoRacks hardware and is a NanoRacks customer payload as part of their normal ISS payload allocation. This is NOT a NASA/Chinese research project. In addition, this project ("DNA Mismatching During PCR Reaction Exposed to Space Environment") reflies payload hardware that was flown on Shenzou 8. As such, the payload developer already has their own independent pathway to long-duration exposure in space. Lastly, The Beijing Institute of Technology Life Sciences Department publishes their scientific results in leading Western research publications thereby assuring a full dissemination of results in compliance with the spirit of ISS basic research.

NanoRacks was informed by the Obama Administration that it believes that this project is in compliance with the Wolf Amendment. Also, in accordance with ISS International Partners agreements, member nations of the ISS were informed of this project.


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