March 2016 Archives

NASA Advisory Council Meeting (dial in info, etc.)

"In accordance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act, Public Law 92-463, as amended, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announces a meeting of the NASA Advisory Council. DATES: Thursday, March 31, 2016, 9:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; and Friday, April 1, 2016, 9:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m., Local Time."

CASIS Is Not The Best Way To Use a Space Station, earlier post

"NASA has made explicit reference to the need to encourage the development of a robust Low Earth Orbit (LEO) commercial infrastructure to evolve so as to allow the agency to redirect its efforts (budget) toward cis-lunar space. When asked what happens if that LEO commercial activity does not appear in a significant fashion to reduce NASA's LEO costs, NASA says that it will have to reassess its cis-lunar plans. CASIS is poised as the cusp of that nascent LEO commercial infrastructure. Indeed, one might argue, that's a big part of their assigned task - their prime reason for existing. NASA is talking about doing stuff in cis-lunar space in a few years. If CASIS is the spark for the whole LEO commerce thing then someone needs to replace their spark plug - now."

Keith's note: CASIS is among the topics to be discussed. WRT the tweets below, there's a #JourneyToMars drinking game underway.

Keith's note: The National Academy of Sciences held a "Full-Day Mini Symposium: NASA Intentions for Commercial LEO" on Wednesday. Below are some Tweets regarding the opening session with Sam Scimemi. Among other things we learned that the 2024 ISS retirement date for NASA is, well, not a retirement date after all. Something different will happen. What? No one knows. P.S. sorry for the typos: the tweets were done rapid fire in real time.

GAO Report: NASA: Assessments of Major Projects

"Although NASA's overall performance has improved, for 8 out of the last 9 years at least one major project has experienced significant cost or schedule growth. Such growth often occurs as projects prepare to begin system assembly, integration, and test; nine projects will be in that phase of development in 2016, including the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Space Launch System, which are human spaceflight programs that have significant development risks."

Keith's note: On Saturday a Cygnus cargo vehicle arrived at the International Space Station (ISS). On board: a variety of experiments. Some of the experiments made it to the ISS via CASIS - a non-profit organization that relies on NASA for 99.9%+ of its income.

Yet if you look at the press release issued to news media by CASIS about Cygnus' arrival, there is no mention whatsoever of "NASA" - even though NASA paid for Cygnus - and all of CASIS' payloads on board.

Last Fall I posted a series of articles that looked into how CASIS operates. I am told that this exercise caused some consternation within CASIS and, to some extent, within NASA as well. I was also told that changes were being made at CASIS - by CASIS staff themselves. So I thought I'd wait a bit and see if anything started to change. It has been 6 months since I started posting this series. I detect no change in CASIS whatsoever. They are as oblivious to their long-standing problems - and equally as clueless as to the need to change - as they were last year.

CASIS is making a presentation at a National Academy of Sciences event on Wednesday and at a NASA Advisory Council meeting on Thursday. Since they're going to be explaining themselves to several influential audiences here in Washington, let's pick up where I left off - starting with a recap.

NASA OIG Audit of the Spaceport Command and Control System for SLS and Orion

"The SCCS development effort has significantly exceeded initial cost and schedule estimates. Compared to fiscal year 2012 projections, development costs have increased approximately 77 percent to $207.4 million and the release of a fully operational version has slipped by 14 months from July 2016 to September 2017. In addition, several planned capabilities have been deferred because of cost and timing pressures, including the ability to automatically detect the root cause of specific equipment and system failures. Without this information, it will be more difficult for controllers and engineers to quickly diagnose and resolve issues. Although NASA officials believe the SCCS will operate safely without these capabilities, they acknowledge the reduced capability could affect the ability to react to unexpected issues during launch operations and potentially impact the launch schedule for the combined SLS-Orion system."

Keith's note: Typical NASA double talk. They design a system to do a bunch of things. They claim that all of the program's requirements are necessary for safety and reliability and worth the large cost. And oh yes, NASA can do it much better in-house rather than use existing commercial solutions since NASA's requirements are one of a kind. Then the costs dramatically increase and implementation delays move to the right. Then the OIG steps in an points out the problems.

Then NASA says 'Oh, [INSERT ANY PROGRAM NAME] will still work without all the stuff we wanted to do. But some things won't work. But it is still safe to use it. But we need more money to fix the things that we don't really need but want to have because maybe it is not totally safe to use it after all - but we'll still use it without those functions because we have no alternative. And oh, by the way: stop bothering us: we know what we are doing.' But wait - there's more: NASA can save its own bacon by slipping SLS/Orion flights further to the right such that the SCCS now has more time to get things right since there's no actual missions for it worry about.

The more things change ...

Keith's note: NASA Watch officially turns 20 on Friday, 1 April. It started in 1996 as "NASA RIF Watch". The "RIF" was dropped when the threat of a RIF (Reduction in Force) under NASA Administrator Dan Goldin subsided. This is the news item I posted on the sci.space.policy USENET group on 28 March 1996 that pushed me to create a website (NASA RIF Watch) a few days later:

NASA is planning a RIF in Summer 1997
From: Keith L. Cowing
Date: Thurs, Mar 28 1996 12:00am

From a well-placed source at NASA HQ who participated in this meeting:

Mal Peterson (NASA HQ Comptroller's Office) personally briefed NASA program managers (Centers and HQ) yesterday (27 March) and gave instructions for planning and implementing a RIF by Summer 1997, the reduction to be completed by October 1998, to a total complement level of 17,500, as called for by the President for the year 2000, to be completed by 1998.

Vugraphs were shown concerning "the value of fear in managing corporate-downsizing." (That is a direct quote) They have statistics on the number of personnel supposed to be within retirement range and everyone will be encouraged to retire asap, though these numbers will not prevent a RIF. He strongly indicated that congressional backing would be soon forthcoming.

Contrast this with what NASA says about its people in the Current Strategic Plan:

"Our greatest strength is our workforce. We aggressively build a team of highly qualified individuals that is representative, at all levels, of America's diversity. We foster a culture that is built on trust, respect, teamwork, communication, empowerment, and committment in an environment that is free of discrimination......"

Neil deGrasse Tyson: 'The delusion is thinking that SpaceX is going to lead the space frontier The Verge

Neil deGrasse Tyson to Elon Musk: SpaceX Is "Delusional" About Mars, Motley Fool

"In less than 10 years from now, SpaceX may or may not beat NASA in the race to Mars. Astrophysicist, Hayden Planetarium director, and host of the National Geographic Channel's StarTalk Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson is placing his bet on "not." "The delusion is thinking that SpaceX is going to lead the space frontier. That's just not going to happen..." Tyson said in an interview with The Verge. Tyson laid out his arguments for why fans of a solo SpaceX trip to Mars suffer from a "delusion."

Keith's note: Once again Neil Tyson demonstrates that he has never run a multi-billion dollar business - nor has he ever been really, really, really rich. These non-trivial resources allow an individual to shift their own paradigms to suit their whims independent of usual norms. In Musk's case - that whim is the exploration of Mars. Deal with it Neil.

Hillary On Area 51 Secrets: 'I Think We Ought To Share It With The Public', Daily Caller

"Hillary Clinton says barring any national security risk, she would like to open up the government files on Area 51 to the public if she is elected president. "I would like us to go into those files and hopefully make as much of that public as possible," she told Jimmy Kimmel Thursday night on his late night ABC talk show. "If there's nothing there, let's tell people there's nothing there." When Kimmel followed up by asking what she would do if she discovered there was actually something alarming in the files, Clinton replied: "Well, if there is something there, unless it's a threat to national security, I think we ought to share it with the public."

Keith's note: According to KSC Daily News for Thursday, March 24, 2016 it looks like you now need formal (that usually means written) permission from some unidentified "appropriate approval authority" at CCAFS to take pictures of "commercial launch sites, launch vehicles and equipment". So that apparently means not only are people onsite at a launch are forbidden to take pictures without the aforementioned but unspecified permission from the "appropriate approval authority" - but so are people who visit the CCAFS museum, on KSC bus tours - or standing on a causeway within the area watching a launch. Let me know when the rules get crazier.

"SAFETY, SECURITY, CLOSURES AND OUTAGES

Photography Strictly Prohibited on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station

As a reminder to all KSC employees and guests, photography is strictly prohibited on all areas of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. In accordance with the 45th Space Wing Integrated Defense Plan, it is a crime, under 18 U.S.C., section 795, to photograph defense installations without first obtaining permission from the installation commander. The taking of photos or videos of personnel displaying CCAFS entry badges, security posts, on-duty security personnel, security response activity or shift change also is strictly prohibited. Additionally, photography or videography of USAF restricted or controlled areas, and commercial launch sites, launch vehicles and equipment is prohibited without prior written approval from the appropriate approval authority. POC: Bill Cannon, 321-853-7874"

New funding matchmaker will cater to NIH rejects, Science Magazine

"Last year, U.S. researchers received about 42,500 pieces of bad news from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Their grant proposal had been rejected; they wouldn't be receiving a piece of the agency's roughly $30 billion federal funding pie. For many, the next step is to cast around for slices of smaller piesgrants from nonprofit disease foundations or investments from private companies that might keep their projects alive. Now, a new program aims to play matchmaker between these researchers and second-chance funders. The Online Partnership to Accelerate Research (OnPAR), a collaboration between NIH and the defense, engineering, and health contractor Leidos, lets researchers upload rejected NIH proposals to an online portal where potential funders can review the scores received from reviewers, and decide whether to put up cash."

- A Pilot Partnership to Find Private Support for Unfunded Applications, NIH

Philanthropist Paul Allen announces $100 million gift to expand 'frontiers of bioscience', Washington Post

"His goal is to help facilitate a more interdisciplinary approach by giving scientists with out-of-the-box ideas the equipment, staff and connections to counterparts in math, engineering, physical sciences and computer science -- so their work can reach its full potential, he explained."

Keith's note: This is the guy behind XPrize, Planetary Resources, Stratolaunch, etc.

NIH is getting creative - so is Paul Allen. Why can't NASA do something like this? Perhaps this concept would not do much for multi-hundred million science mission proposals, but smaller things such as aerospace technology, life science, and material science research proposals might benefit. Not everything NASA turns down is bad. A lot of it is just fine, but the agency doesn't have the money - or the foresight to think outside of their traditional sandbox. CASIS is supposed to be doing something like this. Usually all they do is give away free (or allow reduced pricing) on rides to space and they do so with funding that is 99.997% from NASA.

Every now and then CASIS does find a biotech company that agrees to underwrite a portion of some research - but the details are fuzzy as to what this really means when its time to write a check. CASIS does not like to get into specifics in this regard. Although I do have to say that the one bright light that is happening via CASIS is Nanoracks. They have exhibited non-stop creativity and efficiency in all that they do. But CASIS has yet to repeat this example.

NASA is very binary on the matter of funding and picking winners - either you get funded or you don't. Or you can reapply until you get funded or just give up. It would be nice if the agency thought of ways to pool these proposals and match them with other potential funders. NASA employees (who have limited or zero private sector experience) regularly toss phrases around wherein they claim to want to bring "the entire economic sector" up to LEO. Well, they won't see that happen if they are the only funding source in LEO. Nor will this happen unless they do a lot more to actually remove hindrances and energetically facilitate access to LEO commercial funding by actual commercial entities - not just from a congressional creation (CASIS) which cloaks itself in a 501(c)(3) designation so as to launder NASA money.

By the way, you can listen to the NASA ISS National Laboratory/CASIS imaginary plan for LEO commercialization next Wednesday at a day-long symposium "Research in Commercial LEO" at the NAS Space Studies Board Space Science Week.

Earlier CASIS posts

EmDrive: Nasa Eagleworks confirms paper on controversial space propulsion is under peer review, International Business Times

"The Eagleworks Lab is NOT dead and we continue down the path set by our NASA management. Past that I can't say more other than to listen to Dr Rodal on this topic, and please have patience about when our next EW paper is going to be published. Peer reviews are glacially slow," Eagleworks engineer Paul March wrote on the Nasa Spaceflight forum on 17 March. ... The finished product would also be subjected to independent verification and validation at Glenn Research Center, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory."

Report: The EmDrive Finally Will Undergo Peer Review, Popular Mechanics

"Now, the International Business Times (no stranger to hyperbole and claims NASA is covering up UFOs) claims that the EmDrive is under peer review as we speak. IBT pulls this news from the NASA Spaceflight forum, where one member of the EmDrive team, Paul March, also says that the claims that Eagleworks (an experimental lab at Johnson Space Center) is dead are quite exaggerated."

NASA designs Enterprise-inspired warp-speed ship, San Francisco Chronicle

"But NASA engineer and physicist Harold White apparently didn't get the memo. He is now actively working on the mathematics behind building a space ship that would allow travel faster than the speed of light or what countless fans of the voyages of the Starship Enterprise know as warp speed without having to prove Einstein wrong."

Keith's note: Here we go again. NASA is building a warp drive. This time media is picking up on it because of NASA's supposed secrecy about the results of this oh-so-secret and revolutionary research - as if there actually are any "results". Who is paying for this research - and why? As you can see from earlier posts 3 years ago, all I ever got (at best) from NASA JSC was an evasive set of responses from one of the researchers (Sonny White) several years ago. NASA JSC PAO is too embarrassed to go on the record. They refuse to say how much has been spent on it. And who is going to pay these other NASA center personnel at GRC, JPL, and JHUAPL to "verify" what these JSC people cut and paste into Powerpoint?

If Ellen Ochoa and NASA Johnson Space Center management had any credibility whatsoever they'd debunk this goofy research once and for all. But they won't. Instead they allow these people to overtly use the agency's name and assert official NASA sponsorship as they seek credibility by posting cryptic comments on Internet discussion boards that inevitably find their way into news reports. If anyone else did this NASA HQ lawyers would be all over them.

According to people.nasa.gov Paul March can be reached at paul.march-1@nasa.gov +1.281.483.0484. Harold "Sonny" White can be reached at harold.white-1@nasa.gov +1.281.483.0178. Perhaps some enterprising journalist can squeeze a little more detail out of them.

Quack physics is not how NASA is going to make the #JourneyToMars - or is it?

- Clarifying NASA's Warp Drive Program, earlier post
- Hooray - JSC Warp Drive Confirmed !!!!, earlier post
- Ellen Ochoa's Warp Drive: Smoke and Mirrors, earlier post
- JSC's Warp Drive: Fact or Fluff?, earlier post
- NASA: We're Not Working on Warp Drive, earlier post
- JSC's Strange Thruster Violates The Laws of Physics, earlier post
- NASA's Super Secret Warp Drive Program, earlier post

Ken Souza

Keith's note: I was deeply saddened to learn that my long time friend Ken Souza died suddenly yesterday. Ken was probably the first NASA life scientist I got to know when I started with NASA in the mid-1980s. Ken worked on just about every imaginable type of life science mission one could imagine and just had so much information in his head. I wondered how he had managed to know so many things. Over the years, as a mentor and a friend, he would impart a lot of technical knowledge, advice - and always, humor. During times when NASA seemed to want to walk away from space biology he kept it alive at NASA Ames. Ken was relentless in terms of his energy and never seemed to rest - even after he had technically retired from NASA. In fact the retirement designation in 2002 after 35 years at NASA Ames research Center meant that he could just stay equally busy doing more of what he wanted to do without all of the management headaches. A lot of us in the space biology family are a bit numb right now. At the time of his death Ken was engaged in putting together a memorial for his long-time friend and colleague Thora Halstead who had passed away just a few days earlier. Last week I remarked that space botanist Mark Watney from "The Martian" owed his life to Thora Halstead's long legacy at the helm of NASA's space biology program. Let me amend that. Mark Watney owed his Mars farming smarts equally to Thora's program management and Ken's trail blazing hardware. Together they were the first to do so many things in space. Ad astra Ken.

Ken Souza - Rest in Peace among the stars, ASGSR

Pentagon opens probe of comments by former rocket executive, Yahoo

"Defense Secretary Ash Carter last week referred the matter to the Pentagon's independent watchdog agency following strong statements by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain."

Pentagon investigating United Launch Alliance over former executive's SpaceX remarks, The Verge

"At the request of the Secretary of Defense, the OIG DoD has opened an investigation regarding assertions made by United Launch Alliance's former Vice-President of Engineering relating to competition for national security space launch and whether contracts to ULA were awarded in accordance with DoD and Federal regulations," wrote Randolph R. Stone, the deputy inspector general for policy and oversight at the Defense Department, in a memorandum today. Stone said the investigation would include "site visits, interviews, and documentation review."

- ULA VP Quits Over Controversial Remarks, earlier post

Orbital ATK's Cygnus Spacecraft Successfully Launched to ISS

"The launch marks the beginning of the company's fifth operational cargo resupply mission (OA-6) for NASA, and the first Cygnus to conduct scientific experiments onboard the spacecraft. Cygnus will deliver vital equipment, supplies and experiments to astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) as part of its Commercial Resupply Services-1 (CRS-1) contract with NASA."

Video: ULA Atlas V Launches Orbital ATK CRS-6 Mission to the International Space Station

Bob Ebeling

Challenger Engineer Who Warned Of Shuttle Disaster Dies, NPR

"Bob Ebeling spent a third of his life consumed with guilt about the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. But at the end of his life, his family says, he was finally able to find peace. "It was as if he got permission from the world," says his daughter Leslie Ebeling Serna. "He was able to let that part of his life go." Ebeling died Monday at age 89 in Brigham City, Utah, after a long illness, according to his daughter Kathy Ebeling."

H.R.4755 Inspiring the Next Space Pioneers, Innovators, Researchers, and Explorers (INSPIRE) Women Act

"Not later than 90 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Administrator shall submit to the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate a plan for how NASA can best facilitate and support both current and retired astronauts, scientists, engineers, and innovators, including early career female astronauts, scientists, engineers, and innovators, to engage with K12 female STEM students and inspire the next generation of women to consider participating in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and to pursue careers in aerospace."

Keith's note: H.R 4755 passed the House today 380-3

Keith's revised note: Looks like some people from the Westboro Baptist Church decided to protest at NASA HQ today against the agency's work to prevent asteroids from destroying Earth. These are the same disturbed people who picket funerals for military personnel killed in action. FWIW counter protesters were holding up a sign saying "God Loves Uranus". I'm sure that he does.

Did the New Russia-Europe Mars Mission Narrowly Escape a Launch Disaster?, Popular Mechanics

"After the launch reached the initial parking orbit around the Earth, the Proton's fourth stage (known as Briz-M, Russian for "breeze") acted as a space tug, boosting the space probe on a path to Mars with four engine firings. What happened next was a close call that could have ended the mission catastrophically. And ExoMars still isn't out of the woods ... What is especially worrying about the latest accident is that Briz-M apparently exploded after just 10.5 hours in space, when its ExoMars cargo was still in the vicinity. The good news is that ExoMars appears to be undamaged by whatever happened to its space tug, but the mission is not out of the woods yet."

NASA's Human Spaceflight Program Can't Afford Another Reset From the Next President, Wired

"But NASA has yet to fill in the blanks when it comes to the Proving Ground phase. Beyond initial plans for a controversial asteroid redirect mission, there's a gap between immediate human spaceflight plansthe ISS and the commercial crew programand the United States' long-term objective of sending humans to Mars. By making more concrete and detailed plans for the Proving Ground phase, the next administration can keep America's human space exploration program on track and make progress toward Mars at the same time."

Buzz Aldrin eyes 2040 for manned Mars mission

"Former astronaut Buzz Aldrin is eyeing 2040 for the first manned mission to Mars, noting that the red planet's moon Phobos could play a vital role for astronauts. "I think that's a good target date," the 86-year-old space legend told FoxNews.com. "We should be able to reach there with international crews." NASA's goal is to send a manned mission to Mars by 2035, although Aldrin thinks that a slightly later date is more realistic."

- Will NASA Ever Send Humans to Mars?
- Another Stealth #JourneyToMars Telecon at NASA, earlier post
- Houston, We Need A Mars Plan, earlier post
- Space Policy White Paper = Shopping List For The Journey to Nowhere, earlier post
- NASA's Boulder Retrieval Mission is Doomed, earlier post
- More exploration news

Piers' Last Mission

With limited time, a renewed mission, CNN

"Astronaut Piers Sellers tells Fareed he's decided to carry on with his work on climate change after receiving heart-breaking medical news."

Cancer and Climate Change, opinion, NY Times

"As for me, I've no complaints. I'm very grateful for the experiences I've had on this planet. As an astronaut I spacewalked 220 miles above the Earth. Floating alongside the International Space Station, I watched hurricanes cartwheel across oceans, the Amazon snake its way to the sea through a brilliant green carpet of forest, and gigantic nighttime thunderstorms flash and flare for hundreds of miles along the Equator. From this God's-eye-view, I saw how fragile and infinitely precious the Earth is. I'm hopeful for its future. And so, I'm going to work tomorrow."

Nepal Robotics/Bullis-Kanjirowa STEM Update 20 March 2016, NepalRobotics

Keith's note: Mike Kronmiller and his father Ted are in Nepal with for their latest adventure: "Day two was much busier than day one. In the morning I had a meeting with the wildlife warden for the park at Kala Pathar (where I will be testing my drone) This meeting was critical for gaining approval to fly at Everest Base Camp. Luckily the warden was supportive of the project and stated he looked forward to a long term relationship with his park and the drone project. After that I went to Kanjirowa (our partner school) to pick up batteries for my drone. I had to have them made in Nepal because I am not allowed to ship the LiPo batteries from the US."

Nepal Robotics/Bullis-Kanjirowa STEM Update 21 March 2016

"In the evening I had dinner with american diplomats to talk about the future of STEM in Nepal. They talked about Nepal's first ever Maker Faire that they are supporting in September."

New Crew Leaves Earth For The Space Station (with video)

"NASA astronaut Jeff Williams is now the first American to become a three-time, long-term resident of the International Space Station. He arrived at the orbiting laboratory at 11:09 p.m. EDT Friday, with cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka of the Russian space agency Roscosmos. The trio launched aboard a Soyuz TMA-20M spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 5:26 p.m. (3:26 a.m. Saturday, March 19, Baikonur time), orbited Earth four times, and docked at the station. The hatches between the spacecraft and station opened at 12:55 a.m. Saturday, March 19."

Thora Halstead

Keith's note: When I first came to Washington in 1986 I had the extreme pleasure of working with Thora at NASA Headquarters. Thora learned her craft from the very first people to send living things into space and I had the distinct honor of learning about those early days from her. She practically invented space biology. She was always fun to work with and had a soft spot when it came to young people. She was instrumental in the founding of ASGSB - now ASGSR - an organization which had the interests of students deeply embedded in its core mission. When budget cuts threatened many researchers she did her best to keep everyone's work alive and defended their interests like a mother wolverine.

She was quite a pioneer - as a scientist and as a woman working at NASA at a time when few women had a chance to run large programs. If anyone can be called a founder of space biology, it was Thora Halstead. Since the film "The Martian" strove for accuracy - and Mark Watney was a space botanist - then it follows that his thesis advisor's thesis advisor's thesis advisor owed something directly to Thora Halstead's commitment to advancing the careers of space biologists and students everywhere. Ad astra.

"Women Have Always Been NASA Pioneers", Dava Newman and Ellen Stofan

"... One of those pioneers, Dr. Thora Halstead, passed away last week. Thora was a mentor to many, and her work benefited thousands. She's been credited with helping to establish the field of space biology before there was such a discipline, and the mentors of many of today's scientists working in the field can credit Thora with direct mentorship or inspiration. Thora's numerous experiments and more than 40 published papers explored how the cells of living organisms respond to a low-gravity environment. As we move closer to Mars, we see that work in many ways, from the VEGGIE experiment that has produced the first lettuce crop in space, or research to show us how plants communicate within their systems in microgravity. Thora also founded the American Society for Gravitational and Space Biology (ASGSB), a 500-plus member society with worldwide scientific community membership (now the American Society for Gravitational and Space Research). The legacy of exchange and collaboration that she began will continue to advance space biology for years to come."

House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology's Subcommittee on Space Reviews NASA Budget Challenges

"Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas): "There are some areas of agreement between the Committee and the administration in NASA's Fiscal Year 2017 budget request. But this proposed budget continues to tie our astronauts' feet to the ground and makes a Mars mission all but impossible."

House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology's Subcommittee on Space Reviews the NASA Budget Proposal for Fiscal Year 2017

"Though generally supportive of the budget request, Democratic Members of the Subcommittee discussed a number of concerns, such as the need for funding stability for NASA; the proposed cuts in funding for the Space Launch System and the Orion spacecraft; the proposed reduction in spending on STEM education; potential risks of schedule pressure for Exploration-Mission 2; and the need for a roadmap for a manned mission to Mars."

- Hearing: NASA Fiscal Year 2017 Budget
- Hearing charter
- Webcast
- Bolden Prepared statement

Russia slashes space funding by 30 pct as crisis weighs, Reuters

"Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev agreed to slash funding for Russia's space programme by 30 percent on Thursday, an effort to reign in state spending in the face of a deepening economic crisis. Approving a plan submitted by Russian space agency Roscosmos in January, Medvedev ordered Russia's space programme budget for 2016-2025 to be cut from 2 trillion roubles ($29.24 billion) to 1.4 trillion roubles."

- Large Budget Cuts To Russia's Space Program, earlier post
- Russian Space Follies, earlier post
- Earlier Russia news

ULA Exec Resigns After Controversial Statements on McCain, Defense News

"The Arizona Republican opened a Thursday SASC appearance by Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford by calling on the Pentagon to investigate Tobey's "disturbing statements." The request is the latest salvo in McCain's political battle to wean the US off of the Russian rocket engines supplied by ULA, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. "These statements raised troubling questions about the nature of the relationship between the Department of Defense and ULA," said McCain, R-Ariz."

ULA exec resigns after saying firm shied away from price war with SpaceX, Reuters

"A senior United Launch Alliance executive resigned on Wednesday after saying the firm last year refused to bid on a launch service contract for the U.S. military's next-generation GPS satellite because it was hoping to avoid a "cost shootout" with Elon Musk's SpaceX."

ULA intends to lower its costs, and raise its cool, to compete with SpaceX, Space News

"Don't get me wrong: SpaceX has done some amazing stuff," [ULA vice president of engineering. Brett] Tobey said. "The landing [in December] of that [Falcon 9] first stage at the Cape was nothing short of amazing. My wife and I were at Best Buy and watching it on my iPhone and I just got goose bumps. It was cool. "Watching them smash it into the barge was fun, too," he said of previous, and a subsequent, SpaceX attempts at landing the first stage. "It's getting tons of press. It's extraordinarily, engineeringly cool but it's dumb," Tobey said. "I mean: Really? You carried 100,000 pounds of fuel after deployment of the SES satellite [SpaceX's March launch of the commercial SES-9 telecommunications satellite, to geostationary-transfer orbit] just to try to land on the barge."

Keith's 16 March note: Gee, this ULA guy is dense. How much did that extra propellant cost? Pennies. What will it eventually allow SpaceX to do? Bring back and reuse rocket hardware that costs millions to produce. That means that you can sell the use of the same rocket more than once. This common business approach seems to elude Mr. Tobey. Then again ULA has been paid to be inefficient for decades, so this sort of thinking must be somewhat alien to them. Then there's way he refers to ULA's business partners. It would seem that ULA does not agree with what its own vice president has been saying. Tick tock.

ULA executive compares two of the company's business partners to 'two brides', The Verge

"Compare it to having two fiances, two possible brides," Tobey said of ULA's relationship with the two companies during a talk at the University of Colorado-Boulder. "Blue Origin is a super-rich girl, and then there is this poor girl over here, Aerojet Rocketdyne. But we have to continue to go to planned rehearsal dinners, buy cakes, and all the rest with both."


NASA OIG: NASA's Management of the Near Earth Network

"By deviating from elements of Federal and Agency cyber and physical security risk management policies, NASA, Goddard Space Flight Center (Goddard), and the Near Earth Network Project Office increased the Network's susceptibility to compromise. Specifically, NASA assigned a security categorization rating of "Moderate" to the Network's IT systems and did not include the Network in its Critical Infrastructure Protection Program. We believe this categorization was based on flawed justifications and the Network's exclusion from the Protection Program resulted from a lack of coordination between Network stakeholders. Given the importance of the Network to the success of NASA Earth science missions, the launch and contingency support it provides for Federal partners, and its importance in supporting human space flight in the future, we believe a higher categorization and inclusion in the Protection Program is warranted."

NASA chief: Apollo engineers who criticize SLS don't grok modern rocketry, Ars Technica

"Bolden then reiterated that Kraft knew more than him about rockets, but he again qualified this praise: "I have the advantage of a team around me that he didn't have," he said. "You have to remember. Most of us forget. I have a very mature leadership team. When Dr. Kraft was in mission control, and when he led the Johnson Space Center, we went to the Moon. Most of the people were 20 years old. They didn't know anything."

Keith's note: Charlie Bolden clearly misses the irony within his insulting characterization about the younger NASA that sent humans to the Moon. If Bolden serves out the end of the current Administration's term he'll have been Administrator for 7 1/2 years - virtually the same distance between Mercury 3 and Apollo 11.

Orion has flown once - without a crew. SLS has yet to fly and its schedule often slips to the right faster than actual progress is made. Humans may finally fly on it in 2023 some 19 years after the Bush Administration originally initiated a return by American astronauts to the surface of the Moon. In the 1960s NASA went from zero human spaceflight capability to putting humans on the surface of the Moon in less than half that time.

I'll bet some of those 20 year old kids could teach Charlie Bolden and his "very mature leadership team" a thing or two.

John Newcomb

NASA Langley Engineer and Author John Newcomb Dies

"An engineer at NASA's Langley Research Center during the critical Apollo years and those that successfully landed Viking on Mars, John Foster Newcomb passed away March 10, 2016. In the early heady days of space exploration, Newcomb worked on the Lunar Orbiter Project which placed five Lunar Orbiters around the moon, a mission critical to the success of the Apollo Project. The Lunar Orbiters photographed and mapped the moon, giving researchers insight into the best potential landing sites for the crewed Apollo missions."

Keith's note: John Newcomb and I recently exchanged voicemails about his book but never managed to talk. I wanted to talk to him about his Lunar Orbiter experiences. He spoke at NASA HQ just last week - but NASA does not tell people about these events. Now he is gone. Dammit. I'm glad he was able to write this book and speak to people about it such that we know what it was like to do crazy things that no one has ever done before.

Keith's note: This video from last week's Goddard Memorial Symposium features Marcia Smith, Editor, SpacePolicyOnline.com; Lori Garver, General Manager, ALPA; Chris Shank, Policy Director for the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee; Sandy Magnus, AIAA Executive Director; and Mary Lynne Dittmar, Executive Director, Coalition for Deep Space Exploration. The real discussion - bordering on a debate - was between Lori Garver and Chris Shank. You could say it was the opening salvo of space policy in the 2016 election.

The most naive thing to be said came from Mary Lynne Dittmar when she got to talking about a mandate to explore space (around 1:10:00) "Why is space held to this sort of standard that we - in this country - have to come to some single consensus about what the mandate needs to be in order for us to go forward? We don't do that for almost anything else." In other words, who needs a clear reason to go build SLS (i.e. a mandate)? We should just build it and then find something to go do with it - because we want to do something, somewhere - eventually - because that's what space people do - build new things that go into space. Oh, and just send us everyone else's money when we need it. In other words space IS special - to space people. They are just are blind to the obvious and feel no compulsion to make what they are doing actually relevant to the people who pay for their party.

Space Policy White Paper = Shopping List For The Journey to Nowhere, Previous post

"On one hand the space groups want to have a say in the political decisions that affect their members (and donors). But on the other hand they'd rather not have the politicians pay too much attention to space such that the current status quo is not upset. In other words "write us the checks but don't rock the boat" - or more bluntly "look but don't touch". This is, at best, naive thinking on the part of the space community."

- White Paper Lays Out Steps to Ensure U.S. Leadership in Space, AIAA, earlier post
- NASA Begins Its Journey To Nowhere, earlier post
- ASAP: NASA Has No Plan or Firm Funding For Its #JourneyToMars, earlier post

NASA chief: Apollo engineers who criticize SLS don't grok modern rocketry, Ars Technica

"Although the SLS rocket does indeed use modern manufacturing processes and sophisticated computer simulations, it is in many ways based on technology from the 1970s. For its initial boost, the SLS will use solid-rocket boosters based on those that performed the same function for the shuttle. The rocket will be powered by four space shuttle main engines, which NASA began developing as far back as 1969. Bolden then reiterated that Kraft knew more than him about rockets, but he again qualified this praise: "I have the advantage of a team around me that he didn't have," he said. "You have to remember. Most of us forget. I have a very mature leadership team. When Dr. Kraft was in mission control, and when he led the Johnson Space Center, we went to the Moon. Most of the people were 20 years old. They didn't know anything."

Widespread neglect puts NASA's networks in jeopardy, Federal News Radio

"The most heralded federal agency is in serious risk of a major cyber attack and no one seems to care. Not NASA executives. Not the contractor hired to protect its end-user devices. And especially not the everyday employees who send rockets into space. Internal documents obtained by Federal News Radio indicate NASA has anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions of out-of-date patches at every center across the country. Security Scorecard, a cybersecurity company, found as many as 10,000 pings coming directly from NASA's network to known malware hosts, some lasting weeks, if not months. Multiple sources say Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), the contractor hired to protect NASA's desktops and end-user devices under a $2.5 billion contract called the Agency Consolidated End-user Services (ACES), is uncooperative at best and negligent at worst, and a major reason the agency's data and systems are at risk."

OIG Slams Both NASA and ACES Contractor, earlier post (2014)

"NASA's lack of adequate preparation prior to deploying the ACES contract together with HP's failure to meet important contract objectives has resulted in the contract falling short of Agency expectations. We attribute these shortcomings to several factors, including a lack of technical and cultural readiness by NASA for an Agency-wide IT delivery model, unclear contract requirements, and the failure of HP to deliver on some of its promises. In general, these issues fall into two categories: (1) issues related to the Agency's overall IT governance and (2) management and problems specific to the ACES contract."

NASA Is Using Virtual Reality at SXSW to Remind People That Its Space Programs Still Exist, AdWeek

"At NASA's booth, hundreds of people in the last few days have viewed the agency's VR pieces on an Oculus Rift. The three-dimensional video has been virtually taking them on a ride to the top of the SLS, which will be more than 300 feet tall when completed. Also, NASA has Google Cardboard sets for people who want to see a VR clip that features footage from Mars. It's NASA's third straight year at the tech festival, but it's the first time the company is leveraging virtual reality. The response to the films, Pierce said, "has been great."

Ars tests NASA's first Vive VR experiments: ISS, lunar rover simulators, Ars Technica

"Just typing about that facet of the demo is making me nearly tear up. I can barely handle the thought that today, I was closer to outer space than I'd ever been in my life. Even with issues like a missing real-time shadow/lighting system and some nausea from driving up and down virtual hills, I was absolutely blown away by the experience - and the same could be said for the ISS simulator, whose texture quality was the pits and whose simulation could have used more ISS-specific hardware inside of it."

Keith's note: OK, so where do the rest of us who are not partying with the hipsters and digerati at SXSW download/view this stuff? NASA talks about their use of Occulus Rift, Kinect, Hololens, etc. but why isn't any of this stuff being released for people to experience - everywhere?

House Appropriations Committee Hearing on NASA's FY2017 Budget


Kavandi Named Glenn Research Center Director, Free Joins Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate

"NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has named former astronaut Janet Kavandi director of the agency's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. Kavandi has been serving as Glenn's deputy director since February 2015. She succeeds Jim Free, who was named deputy associate administrator for technical in the agency's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate in Washington. The appointments are effective Monday."

Sequencing DNA in Space, NASA/SpaceRef

"NASA is not often known for making the best use of existing COTS (commercial off the shelf technology) abord the ISS. There's usually quite a lag time. The reasons range from slogging through the often cumbersome payload safety and integration process to people at NASA who are simply not up to date with what the real world is doing in their field. In this instance a rather remarkable gizmo is being flown in space that truly puts genetic sequencing in the palm of your hand. Indeed, its almost as if NASA was flying part of a version 1.0 Tricorder in space."

Keith's note: This article is an original NASA.gov posting enhanced with additional illustrations and reference links. I have sent NASA the following request for additional information. "This is very cool stuff and using the MinION DNA sequencer is a paradigm shifting move on NASA's part. This technology has applicability not only to crew health/safety and life support but also advanced technology development and astrobiology (life detection/characterization). Can you provide me with pictures of the actual flight hardware that NASA will be flying to ISS? Can you also tell me when this device will be activated and specifically what organisms you intend to sequence? When will results from this investigation be published - and where will they be published? Will interim results prior to the completion of the investigation be released - and if so when/where will they be released? Is CASIS involved in this activity? Is the NASA Astrobiology Institute involved?"

Meanwhile CASIS has a competing system "Genes in Space" to do genomics on orbit using minipcr proprietary technology. As best I can tell (and I have asked for more information) the NASA JSC minIOn and CASIS minipcr based efforts are separate. They make no mention of each other. The NASA Genelab web portal makes no mention of either genomic project. Yet Genelab does have interaction with Twins in Space effort which includes genomics studies. When I asked the Genelab folks at the recent American Society for Gravitational and Space Research meeting why NASA's various genomics projects are not coordinated no one had an answer. And NASA's Astrobiology Institute (which has a great interest in genomics) has zero interactions - at least none that have been made public. More stove piping at NASA.

Keith's update: I got very informative responses to my inquiry from Aaron Burton at the NASA JSC Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Division and from Sarah Castro, NASA JSC Biomedical Research and Environmental Sciences Division. Check the article link for those updates. Cool stuff. These folks are clearly appreciative of what this technology has to offer. They're also using minipcr which complements the CASIS work.

NASA Technology Programs Looking To Create Economic Development, KRWG

"The camera in your cell phone we invented that," [NASA Technology Transfer Program Executive David] Lockney said. "It's a lightweight, high resolution camera, doesn't draw a lot of power, we used it for space applications on a satellite. That same exact camera on a chip, is the same is the same exact camera that you have in your cell phone today."

Keith's note: This is a rather interesting claim that Lockney is making (assuming that he was quoted correctly). So I sent a request to him and PAO: "Can you tell me, specifically, where/when NASA invented this camera? What mission did it first fly on? Did NASA or a contractor file a patent claim for this camera technology? If so what is the patent number? Did NASA sign a technology transfer agreement or license with a company - if so what is the company's name and when was this agreement signed? Does NASA still own any intellectual property associated with this camera technology?"

Keith's update: I got a quick answer back from Lockney: the guy who invented the technology was Eric Fossum. "While Fossum was at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, then-NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin invoked a plan of "Faster, Better, Cheaper" for NASA Space Science missions. One of the instrument goals was to miniaturize charge-coupled device (CCD) camera systems onboard interplanetary spacecraft. In response, Fossum invented a new CMOS active pixel sensor (APS) with intra-pixel charge transfer camera-on-a-chip technology, now just called the CMOS Image Sensor or CIS ..." I learned something new today.

Alas, NASA paid for the work (NASA pays Caltech to operate JPL) but does not actually own the technology - and it never did so ... I may be splitting hairs but its a little hard to say that NASA invented something when it never even owned it to begin with. Too bad it did not try and hang onto what taxpayers paid for - think of the royalties NASA could have reaped from something that is used in a zillion cellphones. See patents 5471515
and 5841126.

NASA FISO Telecon: The Mars Human Landing Sites Study Overview

"The next Future In-Space Operations (FISO) colloquium will be Wednesday, March 16, when we will host Rick Davis and Ben Bussey (both of NASA HQ), who will speak on "The Mars Human Landing Sites Study Overview."

Keith's note: As is always the case this NASA-sponsored and supported telecon (NASA's teleconference network is used) is not mentioned on any NASA calendar, not mentioned on any NASA social media account with #JourneyToMars affixed to it, and appears nowhere at NASA.gov. Yet the topic of this telecon and many others is utterly relevant to the whole Humans to Mars thing NASA promotes 24/7/365. Truth be known, these teleconferences are just a little play thing for Harley Thronson and his pals. They really do not want the unwashed masses listening in. Indeed, their invitations state "The University of Texas-hosted home page for FISO colloquium materials, has over the years been released to social media and as result it has been getting a flood of somewhat anti-social attacks by bots that want to harvest the invitation-only data on it." Huh? "Invitation-only"? Really? Oh, and the sheer horror of being found on social media must be unbearable to Thronson.

Why can't all taxpayers have access to these telecons and associated materials? In this case two NASA civil servants will be making presentations that are 100% relevant to what their day jobs are. Yet if I go to the website for this officially NASA-sponsored and supported event, I am specifially blocked from gaining full access. Thronson won't answer questions about this and the University of Texas openly admits that they specifically block my office and iPhone IPs such that I do not have full access. Could this whole #JourneyToMars thing at NASA get any more dysfunctional?

Keith's note: These RS-25 engines will end up on the bottom of the Atlantic ocean. They will not go into "deep space" - or anywhere in space. At least Shuttle missions took them for a ride into low Earth orbit. Deep space? No. Deep Atlantic? Yes. More goofy exaggerated NASA hype on the #JourneyToMars

Statement by Sen. Shelby on NASA FY 2017 Budget Request

"Surprisingly, NASA has not proposed a single dollar for the development of an upper stage engine that is absolutely necessary for a crewed mission that is only seven years away."

Keith's note: Of course Shelby forgets that $1.2 billion NASA spent on the J-2X for use on Ares V and SLS upper stages - much of it was spent in Alabama. That engine was subsequently mothballed because NASA had no idea what it was doing. But Shelby paid their bills anyway.

Overview: J-2X Engine, NASA

"J-2X is a highly efficient and versatile advanced rocket engine with the ideal thrust and performance characteristics to power the upper stage of NASA's Space Launch System, a new heavy-lift launch vehicle capable of missions beyond low-Earth orbit. Fueled by liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen, the J-2X builds on heritage designs but relies on nearly a half-century of NASA spaceflight experience and technological and manufacturing advances to deliver up to 294,000 pounds of thrust, powering exploration to new destinations in our solar system."

NASA Has No Clear Use for the J-2X That It Once Needed, earlier post

Houston, we have an opportunity, OpEd, Lamar Smith and Ed Perlmutter, Denver Post

"We need a detailed plan to put an end to the uncertainties that could delay a mission to Mars. NASA and American space companies must focus their engineering and scientific expertise on the great task before them. Americans will feel a renewed sense of pride and curiosity about their space program. And they will be able to celebrate another historic first as we plant the American flag on Mars. This could be a turning point in the history of our great space-faring nation. We can do this."

NASA Targets May 2018 Launch of Mars InSight Mission

"NASA's Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission to study the deep interior of Mars is targeting a new launch window that begins May 5, 2018, with a Mars landing scheduled for Nov. 26, 2018. InSight project managers recently briefed officials at NASA and France's space agency, Centre National d'tudes Spatiales (CNES), on a path forward; the proposed plan to redesign the science instrument was accepted in support of a 2018 launch."

Keith's note: According to this release "The cost of the two-year delay is being assessed. An estimate is expected in August, once arrangements with the launch vehicle provider have been made." That is 6 months away. But NASA is already going ahead with this plan without knowing what the actual cost impact will be. Nor has any plan been released with regard to who pays for all of these delays. But, due to the way that MOUs are crafted between space agencies, no money ever changes hands. As such, U.S. taxpayers will ultimately be stuck for the delay costs that are the direct result of French mistakes. In addition, no one from NASA will talk about the impact of these additional costs will have on other missions awaiting selection - nor has anyone bothered to explain how this decision affects subsequent missions such as Mars 2020 or missions currently in operation at Mars. More creative budgeting on the #JourneyToMars.

NASA Mars woes could delay other planetary missions, Nature

"Some wonder if the mistake may cause NASA to tighten the reins on future projects. The most recent call for Discovery proposals, made before the problem with InSight occurred, mandated that no more than one-third of instrument costs could be spent on foreign sources. "The word on the street is that NASA's a little more wary of collaborating with groups that they don't know so well or don't control directly," says Elkins-Tanton."

Keith's note: Last week a group of space-related organizations rented the National Press Club so they could announce a white paper on space policy. Why bother? Space is not going to be an issue in the 2016 campaign.

At the press event Elliot Pulham from The Space Foundation said "We thought it would be a good time to have a platform of information out there that all candidates could refer to, learn from and take to heart as they plan their campaigns" but moments later he also said "To some extent, the purpose of this is not to have space become a big presidential issue". Pulham added "Let's not undo anything." Sandy Magnus from the AIAA said that this coalition wanted to take the issue of space policy "off the table" but at the same time she said that this group wants to "stress the importance" of space.

Such is the problem with these sort of documents from the space community. On one hand the space groups want to have a say in the political decisions that affect their members (and donors). But on the other hand they'd rather not have the politicians pay too much attention to space such that the current status quo is not upset. In other words "write us the checks but don't rock the boat" - or more bluntly "look but don't touch". This is, at best, naive thinking on the part of the space community.

If you read the white paper it becomes immediately apparent that this coalition wants everything that they are doing to be supported and in some cases, they want even more money. They also want a stable funding environment (makes sense). The two main programs being supported by this coalition are SLS/Orion and Commercial Crew and Cargo with gratuitous mention of other projects that are important to the members of this coalition. Indeed that is all that this white paper is actually about: supporting specific big aerospace contracts. There is no similarly identified support for specific space, planetary, and earth science. Small wonder that the Planetary Society, American Astronomical Society, the American Geophysical Union, et al are not among the members of this coalition.

While a lot of prominent names are affixed to this white paper it is clearly being driven by the so-called "four amigos": Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Aerojet Rocketdyne, and Orbital ATK - the builders of SLS/Orion. Look at the organizations listed and ponder who the prime donors/members are. Its not that hard to fill in the blanks amidst the smoke and mirrors. No surprise folks - this is how these things always work.

Janelle Monae Will Co-Star in a Movie About the Women Behind the Space Program, Gizmodo

"This is amazing. One of our favorite musicians, Janelle Monae is co-starring in a movie about the African American women who helped launch America into space, alongside Person of Interest's Taraji P. Henson. Hidden Figures comes out in January 2017, on Martin Luther King Day weekend, and it's based on a new book that comes out in September called Hidden Figures: The Story of the African-American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly. Henson is playing Katherine Johnson, Octavia Spencer is playing Dorothy Vaughan, and Monae is playing the youngest of the three, Mary Jackson. The film is being directed by Ted Melfi."

Keith's note: NASA PAO confirms that they have been involved in his project from its onset.

Asteroid Redirect Mission Delayed One Year, Space Policy Online

"President Obama's Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) will not meet the 2025 date he set for the program in 2010. ARM Program Director Michele Gates told a NASA Advisory Council (NAC) committee on March 2 that launch of the robotic portion of the mission is now expected in 2021 and the crew portion in 2026. Both are one year slips from earlier projected dates. President Obama announced on April 15, 2010 that the next destination for human space exploration will be sending astronauts to an asteroid as a step to eventually sending them to Mars. The mission has evolved since then. The current concept calls for a robotic spacecraft to be sent to an asteroid where it will pick up a boulder from its surface and move the boulder to an orbit around the Moon. Astronauts aboard an Orion spacecraft will examine the boulder and retrieve a sample for return to Earth."

Keith's note: ARM will be cancelled by the next Administration regardless of who wins the election. Congress is already on the record as being against it. NASA will not complain about the cancellation since they never really liked it to begin with. More road kill on the #JourneyToMars, y'all.

- Asteroid Boulder Retrieval Mission Needs a Precursor Mission, earlier post
- Asteroid Boulder Retrieval Mission Starts To Drift Away, earlier post
- Earlier posts on Bolden and asteroids, earlier post

Exclusive photos: Clouds seen on Pluto for first time, New Scientist

"There has been no public mention of the clouds, suggesting that the team isn't sure about the detection. In February emails, the team discussed a paper due to be published in the journal Science entitled "The Atmosphere of Pluto as Observed by New Horizons" which only mentions clouds in passing, as an as yet-unsolved mystery. But an email sent by John Spencer of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, on 1 March includes a picture (see top of article) of a cloud that seems to stand out from the surface. "In the first image an extremely bright low altitude limb haze above south-east Sputnik on the left, and a discrete fuzzy cloud seen against the sunlit surface above Krun Macula (I think) on the right," he wrote. ... The emails suggest that the top cloud image has only just been downloaded from New Horizons."

Keith's update: According to the NASA New Horizons PAO rep: "To be clear, no New Horizons personnel broke a news embargo on the Pluto "clouds" story. A listserv used to internally email team members was mistakenly left public and was discovered by New Scientist. The website published imagery and email exchanges without NASA or New Horizons' knowledge or coordination, and before the data had been fully analyzed and confirmed. The email listserv is no longer publicly accessible, and the data remain under scientific review."

My response: "You just admitted that someone made information public. Whether deliberate or by mistake they broke their own embargo."

FWIW if the New Horizons team had submitted a paper "The Atmosphere of Pluto as Observed by New Horizons" to Science magazine then you can be certain that the editors of Science will want the authors to hold all information about that paper under an internal embargo - even before anything is provided (under embargo) to news media. But ... if the authors discuss this paper in a public forum - outside of any media embargo - well, the authors broke that internal embargo and made it public. And it is fair game for news media to cover. Kudos to New Scientist for discovering this news!

Keith's note: Nancy Reagan has died. Thus turns the final page from an era wherein space exploration was elevated as an aspirational goal for America as well as a cause to ponder our own mortality. Only after Columbia did we again dwell on such matters as a nation. When Nancy Reagan revealed her husband's Alzheimer's diagnosis she helped part a long-standing curtain of secrecy that covered an insidious disease. She was a tireless crusader for Alzheimer's research. To my younger readers Nancy Reagan is just a name and Alzheimer's is something that is not on their radar.

A favor, if you will. The next time you watch someone from NASA, the aerospace industry, or the space community in their 50s and 60s - and you notice that they seem tired, or annoyed, or frustrated as they talk about a large program of exploration that is not doing as well as it should (or talk about one that is doing well) consider that there way be something going on behind the scenes. Having a parent with Alzheimer's can rob you of the most prized parts of your own life. Trust me.

Just as many of us in my generation reach that point in their careers - careers for which their parents sacrificed so much - and would be most proud, there is often no one left inside the parent to be proud of their child. Many older veterans from NASA's history no longer appear in public or are quoted in print. There are many reasons why, but in my experience, Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia are at the top of the list.

I am not asking you to do anything - other than to appreciate that there is a silent scourge that stalks the space family - just as it stalks so many others. The only thing that lessens the loss and sorrow felt by those who support those who are affected is to soar higher and further - in our case, into space.

White Paper Lays Out Steps to Ensure U.S. Leadership in Space

"The coalition lays out several policy proposals, which, if adopted, will help sustain U.S. leadership in space. Among them are: committing to predictable budgets, funding robust investments, promoting innovative partnerships, and repealing the Budget Control Act of 2011; continuing global space engagement through programs like the International Space Station; fully funding the Space Launch System, the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, and the Commercial Crew programs; providing increased resources for national security space and launch programs; promoting science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education; retaining U.S.-educated workers; and further reducing barriers to international trade."

"Members of the coalition include the Aerospace Industries Association, Aerospace States Association, American Astronautical Society, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, Colorado Space Coalition, Commercial Spaceflight Federation, Satellite Industry Association, Silicon Valley Space Business Roundtable, Space Angels Network, Space Florida, Space Foundation, and the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space."

Marc's note: By creating this white paper this broad coalition is making a statement that will be read as it's shared among politicians and their staff of every stripe. However, during the press conference Elliot Pulham of the Space Foundation said that to some extent, he doesn't want space to be a campaign issue in case a candidate says something stupid. Considering what's already been said on the campaign trail, a candidate saying something stupid on any topic would be the norm. But, and more importantly, if the coalition wants traction, then making the case and speaking about the importance of the space economy should be discussed at every political level and by the candidates.

Buzz Does CPAC

Buzz Aldrin Addresses CPAC; Urges Continued Space Exploration, Town Hall

"Retired astronaut Buzz Aldrin received a standing ovation at CPAC on Thursday, speaking "not as a Republican" or as a Democrat, but as someone who is concerned that America needs to maintain its space exploration program."

Opening Statement by Sen. McCain: Hearing on USAF Posture

"Similarly, ending the use of Russian rocket engines remains a top priority for this committee. Department leaders have correctly drawn attention to Russia's growing development of military capabilities to threaten U.S. national security in space. And yet, the greatest risk in this regard is that Vladimir Putin continues to hold our national security space launch capability in the palm of his hand through the Department's continued dependence on Russian rocket engines. .. And yet, the Treasury Department remains unwilling to sanction Roscosmos, the Russian parent company of the manufacturer of the RD-180, which is controlled by two sanctioned cronies of Vladimir Putin."

McCain, James Trade Barbs Over RD-180 Engines, Space Policy Online

"[Secretary of the Air Force (SecAF) Deborah Lee] James insisted she does not know who makes money from RD-180 sales and the Treasury Department determined that purchasing them does not violate the sanctions. In her opening statement, she said the sooner an RD-180 prohibition comes into effect, the more disruptive it will be and the more it will cost -- $1.5 to $5 billion -- and none of those costs are included in the Air Force's FY2017 budget request."

Keith's note: And of course since NASA now defines a "year in space" = 340 days it would take less or more time, depending on your point of view.

Soyuz Crew Arrives Back on Earth

"NASA astronaut and Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly and his Russian counterpart Mikhail Kornienko returned to Earth Tuesday after a historic 340-day mission aboard the International Space Station. They landed in Kazakhstan at 11:26 p.m. EST (10:26 a.m. March 2 Kazakhstan time). Joining their return trip aboard a Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft was Sergey Volkov, also of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, who arrived on the station Sept. 4, 2015. The crew touched down southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan."

Scott Kelly's giant step for mankind: James Lovell, USA Today

"Even an old astronaut like me can still marvel at the power of President Kennedy's declaration more than a half-century ago that space was the "new ocean" and one we must "sail on." Sailed we have. For more than 50 years, we have explored those dangerous and unknown waters to become a leader in space: Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, the space shuttle, the Hubble Space Telescope, the Mars rovers and the International Space Station an orbiting base occupied for the past 15 years by an international crew. Now we have another American achievement and milestone in our space program: One of our countrymen has spent nearly a year off of our planet. Astronaut Scott Kelly has orbited our planet more than 5,000 times, traveling well over 100 million miles aboard the International Space Station."

Ron Garan's Next Adventure Will Be At The Edge of Space, SpaceRef

"The last time Ron Garan saw the curvature of the Earth and the blackness of space was from his vantage point aboard the International Space Station. The next time he will see this sight will be from inside the capsule of World Views' high altitude balloon at the edge of space. Unlike both of his trips to and from space he will be in command of the capsule which will land under a large, steerable parawing. He'll be doing the steering. And when he does he'll be the first person to ever pilot such a flight."

The 2016 Presidential Candidates' Views on NASA and Space Exploration, Gizmodo

"Want to get to Mars? Well, NASA needs money to do it, and the president, along with Congress, mostly calls the shots. But NASA has been consistently underfunded over the last decade, and only saw its budget restored to healthier levels in 2016, when Congress carved out $19.3 billion for the agency. With missions to Mars and Jupiter on the horizon, and ambitions of curbing US dependency on Russian launches to the ISS, NASA's no doubt hoping that the next president keeps the money flowing."

Keith's note: Space is just a blip on the political radar. Rarely, if ever, has it had any influence on a presidential election whatsoever - and then, it was fleeting and usually on late night comedy shows. Nor is it likely to change during this election. Besides, whatever you hear during the campaign will be revised and reinterpreted after the election. The candidates forget the issue 2 minutes after they answer a question about it.

Nothing on the horizon suggests that there will be a large increase in NASA's budget. Nor is anyone really targeting NASA for drastic cuts. Given the large commitments the agency is already in the middle of, and the prospect of flat budgets, it is unlikely that there will be any seismic shifts. As for the #JourneyToMars - absent a large infusion of money (again, not likely) the current pay-as-you-go, we-don't-need-a-plan approach is simply not going to get us to Mars any sooner.

The most that space advocates should hope for after the dust settles is that the agency will be held more accountable for its performance and that some budgetary and policy stability will be injected into things already underway so as to make them progress more efficiently.

Kicking The Can Down the Road to Mars, earlier post

Coalition of Space Organizations to Release White Paper: Ensuring U.S. Leadership in Space, AIAA

"A coalition of 13 space organizations will release its white paper, "Ensuring U.S. Leadership in Space." White paper to call attention to the need for the next administration and Congress to make space exploration and use a policy priority. White paper will propose solutions to four challenges facing the U.S. space exploration and use enterprise: unpredictable budgeting, foreign competition, the hostile space environment, and workforce trends."


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