May 2016 Archives

Orbital ATK Conducts Test of Antares First Stage (with video)

"Orbital ATK today announced it conducted a full-power "hot fire" test of the upgraded first stage propulsion system of its Antares medium-class rocket using new RD-181 main engines. The 30-second test took place at 5:30 p.m. (EDT) on May 31, 2016 at Virginia Space's Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) Pad 0A. Initial indications are that the test was fully successful. The Antares engineering team will review test data over the next several days to confirm that all test parameters were met. Assuming the success of the test is confirmed, it will clear the way for the resumption of Orbital ATK's cargo logistics missions to the International Space Station (ISS) from Wallops Island, Virginia, currently scheduled for July."

Kennedy's vision for NASA inspired greatness, then stagnation, Ars Technica

"Perhaps the best insight into Kennedy's motives can be found in a recording of a November 21, 1962 meeting in the White House Cabinet Room. Kennedy had boasted of the lunar plan just a month earlier at Rice. The main participants that day were Kennedy and James Webb, administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. At issue was the true purpose of NASA and the Apollo program, and at the outset of the meeting Kennedy asked Webb, "Do you think this program is the top priority of the agency?" In hindsight, Webb's answer was surprising: "No sir, I do not. I think it is one of the top priority programs, but I think it is very important to recognize here, that as you have found out what you could do with a rocket, as you find out how you could get out beyond the Earth's atmosphere and into space to make measurements, several scientific disciplines that are very powerful have (begun) to converge on this area." To this Kennedy responds that Apollo is the top priority. That ought to be very clear, he explained. "This is important for political reasons, for international political reasons," Kennedy said. He told Webb he did not want to finish second to the Soviets in the "race" to the moon."

Keith's note: In other words had there been Twitter in 1960s we'd have heard nothing but #ManOnTheMoon on everything NASA PAO put out. In the case of Apollo in the 1960s NASA had a firm presidential mandate and a specific architecture in place in relatively short order - on a timeline what almost fit into a two-term Kennedy Administration. Flash forward: NASA is in no hurry to explain how it is going to send humans to Mars by a date that requires constant unwavering support from 4 to 5 presidential administrations - and a dozen Congresses. Most importantly, NASA now lacks that compelling reason to amass the requisite blood and treasure needed to mount an interplanetary project of geopolitical importance - because we're now competing with everyone (internally and externally) - each of whom is on their own timetable - each for their own purposes. Add in a lame duck Administration which has been disinterested - at best - for the past 7 years. Anyone with a reasonable grasp of history and current politics would be wise to ponder whether NASA and the U.S. government are no even capable of supporting a human missions to Mars in the ways needed for it to actually happen.

Its time to stop listening to the old professors, reading old advisory reports, and trying to find old historical resonances to justify or inspire future efforts. The world is as it is. Other nations are now starting to do interesting things in space because they see that it confers importance upon their nation, inspires their people, and offers access to new technologies. They also have their own reasons that have little resonance with America's. They learned both from our mistakes and successes and are now filling the vacuum created by our hesitance and lack of interest.

Others are seizing upon the opportunities presented by this American space malaise as well - and they are firmly established on American shores. The motivations may echo NASA's interests but they include many things that would not fit well on a NASA Powerpoint chart. Lets watch as SpaceX sends technology to Mars that NASA is incapable and/or unwilling of doing. There may well be an American #JourneyToMars - but mission control may be in Hawthorne - not Houston. And will the Americans who step out of a future human-rated Red Dragon be any less American?

NASA Inflates BEAM

Bigelow Module Fails First Expansion Attempt

"NASA is working closely with Bigelow Aerospace to understand why its module did not fully expand today as planned. Engineers are meeting at the Johnson Space Center in Houston to discuss a path forward for the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM)."

Packing for space flattened NASA's Space Hotel, New Scientist

"The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, was installed on the space station on 16 April and was supposed to be inflated on Thursday. But like a stubborn air mattress that stays flat, folds in the soft fabric kept it from expanding even as astronaut Jeff Williams tried to pump in air. In a 27 May teleconference, representatives from NASA and Bigelow Aerospace discussed what went wrong. "We went through a sequence, stepping up the pressure," said NASA's Jason Crusan. After some initial growth, the habitat stopped expanding even as pressure built up. "We ran into higher forces than our models predicted," he said."

Louie Gohmert: No Gay Space Colonies!, RightWing Watch (with video)

"[Rep. Louie Gohmert R-TX] said that if lawmakers had to decide "whether humanity would go forward or not" in case of an imminent asteroid collision by putting people in a "space ship that can go, as Matt Damon did in the movie, plant a colony somewhere, we can have humans survive this terrible disaster about to befall, if you could decide what 40 people you put on the spacecraft that would save humanity, how many of those would be same-sex couples? You're wanting to save humankind for posterity, basically a modern-day Noah, you have that ability to be a modern day Noah, you can preserve life. How many same-sex couples would you take from the animal kingdom and from humans to put on a spacecraft to perpetuate humanity and the wildlife kingdom?"

Keith's note: Yes, Congress is where smart people work in the 18th 21st Century to make life better for all some Americans.

Asteroid Named for Nobel Prize Winner Malala Yousafzai, NASA

"An asteroid discovered by NASA's NEOWISE spacecraft has been given the formal designation 316201 Malala, in honor of Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. The asteroid's previous appellation was 2010 ML48. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) renamed the asteroid as the request of Amy Mainzer of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. Mainzer is the principal investigator of NASA's NEOWISE space telescope."

Asteroid thermal modeling in the presence of reflected sunlight with an application to WISE/NEOWISE observational data, (Revised version)

"As a result, the new analysis finds asteroid diameter and other physical properties that have large differences from published NEOWISE results, with greatly increased error estimates. NEOWISE results have a claimed ±10% accuracy for diameter estimates, but this is unsupported by any calculations and undermined by irregularities in the NEOWISE results."

NASA Response to Recent Paper on NEOWISE Asteroid Size Results, NASA

"Examination of the paper by members of the science community studying near-Earth objects has found several fundamental errors in Myhrvold's approach and analysis- mistakes that an independent peer review process is designed to catch. The errors in the paper lead to results that are easily refuted, such as sizes for well-known asteroids that are significantly larger or smaller than their already-verified sizes. While critique and re-examination of published results are essential to the scientific process, it is important that any paper undergo peer review by an independent journal before it can be seriously considered. This completes a necessary step to ensure science results are independently validated, reproducible, and of value to the science community."

Billionaire technologist accuses NASA asteroid mission of bad statistics, Science

"Myhrvold retorts that he is fixing the errors, which he says are cosmetic and do not alter the thrust of his criticism. He says the NEOWISE scientists are defensive because many are involved in a proposal for a future asteroid-hunting telescope called NEOCam, one of five finalists in NASA's Discovery program. "They're up for this NEOCam thing and they're afraid it looks bad. And it does look bad," he says."

Repurposed NEOWISE Spacecraft Observes and Discovers Asteroids, earlier post

Keith's note: Uh oh. There's a spacecraft going the wrong way in this movie trailer. Neil Tyson will therefore hate all over it. Too bad. Although the plot seems to be pretty simplistic it might well resonate with a certain demographic - you know the young people who might grow up and actually go on the #JourneyToMars. There are NASA logos in the movie, so one would assume some level of cross-promotion by NASA.

miniPCR announces first DNA amplification in space

"miniPCR announced the first successful DNA amplification on the International Space Station (ISS). Using a miniPCR thermal cycler, astronauts performed Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) on DNA samples on April 19th. Analysis performed today on Earth confirms that DNA amplification done in microgravity was successful, ushering in a new era in space exploration."

miniPCR, GenesInSpace

Keith's note: This is really cool news. But does CASIS make any mention of this major accomplishment on their website or @ISS_CASIS? Of course not.

Senate Schism on Russian Rocket Engines Continues, Space Policy Online

"The Senate Appropriations Committee's Defense Subcommittee approved its version of the FY2017 defense appropriations bill today. Few details have been released, but in at least one area -- Russian RD-180 rocket engines -- the schism between Senate appropriators and authorizers seems destined to continue. The full appropriations committee will mark up the bill on Thursday."

As rocket wars wage in DC, a cautious move towards competition makes sense

"To ULA's credit, the company has successfully launched over 100 rockets without incident. But they've also been given vast resources to do so. For example, McCain refers to ULA's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) launch capability contract as "$800 million to do nothing." That's not exactly fair since the contract gives the Air Force tremendous launch flexibility, but $800 million a year to effectively be ready to launch seems tremendously generous."

SpaceX is about to attempt another extremely difficult landing, Business Insider

"SpaceX will once again attempt to land the first stage of the rocket on a drone ship in the Atlantic. SpaceX's track record for launches has been nearly flawless this year, with four successful launches and three successful landings (and retrievals!) of the first stage of the rockets. One of those successes took place on land in December; two more happened in April and May at sea. SpaceX will once again attempt to land the first stage of the rocket on a drone ship in the Atlantic."

Mysterious website slams Elon Musk as 'American Swindler', Politico

"A mysterious new website has popped up accusing billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk of cronyism and inappropriate ties to top political leaders. But who, exactly, is behind the site remains unclear, as its sponsors have taken steps to hide their identities. The focal point of is a slickly produced video, posted just days ago, that slams Musk as an "American Swindler" and a "foreign-born" businessman who got rich off U.S. tax dollars. ... The website appears to have been designed by Orange Hat, an Alexandria-based firm. The firm promises to "utilize the most effective digital resources to engage and mobilize your target audience and drive measurable results." Keith Cowing, of the blog NASA Watch, first uncovered the connection to Orange Hat. Randy Skoglund, Orange Hat's managing partner, declined to comment on the anti-Musk website when contacted by phone Wednesday, and then hung up. Brad Summey, the firm's chief Technology officer, did not respond to requests for comment."

Earlier posting

Keith's update: Someone (or several people) are posting under anonymous names from the same IP at ULA today in Colorado reveling in the comments about Musk and SpaceX. This cloak and dagger stuff seems to play well outside the beltway as well.

Keith's note: I was reading an article on the The Hill tonight when this add popped up that sent me to which is an anonymous attack website dedicated to the notion that Elon Musk is the spawn of Satan or awful or something. At the bottom of the page the site says that it is paid for by "The Center for Business and Responsible Government (CBRG) is a non-partisan organization dedicated to highlighting cronyism and its effect on American taxpayers and policy. We believe public officials should establish an even playing field for all businesses to compete in the marketplace, not just those special interests who line their pockets." Of course no such group actually exists and and the domain registration information for is hidden.

NASA Chief: Congress Should Revise US-China Space Cooperation Law, VOA

"Responding to questions Monday at an event hosted by the Mitchell Institute on Capitol Hill, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said the U.S. should pursue such a relationship with China in human space exploration. "We were in an incredible Cold War with the Soviets at the time we flew Apollo-Soyuz; it was because leaders in both nations felt it was time," he said. "That represented a great use of soft power, if you will. Look where we are today. I think we will get there [with China]. And I think it is necessary." Current law prohibits NASA from engaging with its Chinese counterparts on such projects. But Bolden, who will travel to Beijing later this year, says Congress should consider revising the law."

Previous China posts

Kilmer, Bridenstine Get Full Funding for FAA Space Office, Space Policy Online

"During markup of the FY2017 Transportation-HUD (T-HUD) appropriations bill today, the House Appropriations Committee adopted an amendment to fully fund the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) at the requested level of $19.8 million. That is $1 million more than the T-HUD subcommittee recommended."

Full Committee Markup - FY 2017 Commerce, Justice, and Science Bill, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Bill, and Report on the Revised Interim Suballocation of Budget Allocations

- Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Approriations Bill 2007 (draft bill)
- Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Approriations Bill 2007 (draft report)

The Coalition for Deep Space Exploration Applauds House NASA Funding Bill, Coalition for Deep Space Exploration

"The Coalition for Deep Space Exploration (Coalition) applauds House Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Subcommittee (CJS) Chairman John Culberson, Ranking Member Mike Honda and the entire Appropriations Committee for its exceptional support for NASA's human and science exploration programs in its FY 2017 Appropriations bill, which boosts NASA funding to $19.5 billion. Like their counterparts in the Senate, the CJS Subcommittee has worked across the aisle to produce a bipartisan bill that ensures our space program receives the necessary funding to continue America's leadership in space."

Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Approriations Bill 2007 (draft report)

NASA begins on Page 54. On page 61 the report says:

"Mission to Mars. While the Committee recognizes the benefits of some of the technology that is under development as part of the asteroid redirect and retrieval missions, namely advanced propulsion technology research, asteroid deflection, and grappling technologies, the Committee believes that neither a robotic nor a crewed mission to an asteroid appreciably contribute to the over-arching mission to Mars. Further, the long-term costs of launching a robotic craft to the asteroid, followed by a crewed mission, are unknown and will divert scarce resources away from developing technology and equipment necessary for missions to Mars, namely deep space habitats, accessing and utilizing space resources, and developing entry, descent, landing, and ascent technologies.

Toward that end, no funds are included in this bill for NASA to continue planning efforts to conduct either robotic or crewed missions to an asteroid. Instead, NASA is encouraged to develop plans to return to the Moon to test capabilities that will be needed for Mars, including habitation modules, lunar prospecting, and landing and ascent vehicles.

Further, the Committee is supportive of NASA's efforts to use the International Space Station (ISS) to conduct research necessary to enable long-term human spaceflight, or ''Earth-reliant'' technology development; cis-lunar space activities, or ''proving ground'' efforts such as Orion flights on SLS in the vicinity of the Moon, and deployment and testing of deep space habitation modules; and finally, NASA's ''Earth independent'' activities which include using cis-lunar space as a staging area, mapping potential human exploration zones and caching samples on Mars as part of the Mars Rover 2020 mission."

U.S. lawmaker orders NASA to plan for trip to Alpha Centauri by 100th anniversary of moon landing, Science

"Representative John Culberson (R-TX), a self-professed space fan who chairs the House appropriations subpanel that oversees NASA, included the call for the ambitious voyage in a committee report released today. The report accompanies a bill setting NASA's budget for the 2017 fiscal year, which begins 1 October; the full House appropriations panel is set to consider the bill on Tuesday. In the report, Culberson's panel "encourages NASA to study and develop propulsion concepts that could enable an interstellar scientific probe with the capability of achieving a cruise velocity of 0.1c [10% of the speed of light]." The report language doesn't mandate any additional funding, but calls on NASA to draw up a technology assessment report and conceptual road map within 1 year."

- Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Approriations Bill 2007 (draft report)
- Announcing "Breakthrough Starshot": Building Earth's First Starships, earlier post

Notice of Intent To Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement and Initiate Section 106 Consultation for Proposed Changes to Arecibo Observatory Operations, Arecibo, Puerto Rico and Notice of Public Scoping Meetings and Comment Period, NSF

"Through a series of academic community-based reviews, NSF has identified the need to divest several facilities from its portfolio in order to retain the balance of capabilities needed to deliver the best performance on the key science of the present decade and beyond. In 2012, NSF's Division of Astronomical Sciences' (AST's) portfolio review committee recommended that ``continued AST involvement in Arecibo . . . be re-evaluated later in the decade in light of the science opportunities and budget forecasts at that time.'' In 2016, NSF's Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences' (AGS') portfolio review committee recommended significantly decreasing funding for the Space and Atmospheric Sciences portion of the Arecibo mission. In response to these evolving recommendations, in 2016, NSF completed a feasibility study to inform and define options for the observatory's future disposition that would involve significantly decreasing or eliminating NSF funding of Arecibo."

World's largest radio telescope nears completion

"China's gigantic Five hundred meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) is nearing completion in China's southwestern Guizhou Province and will soon begin searching the skies for phenomena including signs of extraterrestrial life. Construction of 500m diameter, 1.2 billion yuan (US$185mln) radio telescope began in 2011 and is on course to come online in September, when it will become the world's largest and most sensitive radio telescope."

NASA misses a chance to promote the best-ever ad for the space station, Ars Technica

"Why doesn't NASA promote the film more? It's impossible to come away from A Beautiful Planet without being impressed by the orbiting laboratory and the international collaboration that constructed it. But where is the audience? My home is Houston - Space City - where astronauts live and the space station program is managed. But when the movie played here, it did so in one theater, on one screen, for a single week. When I attended, just a few astronauts and their friends and families were in the audience. As of last Sunday, A Beautiful Planet had grossed less than $1 million in box office sales across the country."

Keith's note: NASA never even bothered to issue a media advisory here in Washington. NASM did not send out one either. The plan apparently seems to be that word of mouth is the preferred mode of advertising. That said, the film did cost NASA money. Camera upmass, crew time, etc. When you calculate cost per hour of crew time, upmass, downmass, etc. it is not insignificant. You'd think that someone would be mounting a much more intense PR campaign - especially one that enlisted NASA. As best I can tell they had invitation-only premiere parties with lots of blue-suited astronauts (pictures) a few hand-picked media - and that's it. This webpage for A Beautiful Planet has a CASIS logo at the bottom. But there is zero mention of this film on the CASIS website. Nor did CASIS even bother to issue any media advisories or press release. I used to be baffled by this indifference on the part of NASA when it came to things that were clearly worth promoting only to see them do little - or nothing. Now I'm used to seeing missed opportunities for NASA to be relevant and explanatory in terms of public events happening once a week. As for CASIS - they are just clueless - and always have been. So no surprise there.

House tells NASA to stop messing around, start planning two Europa missions

"As part of the mission to Europa, Culberson would also like to send a lander to the surface of the heaving, ice-encrusted world. This would allow scientists to better characterize the oceans below and, if the lander touches down near a fissure, possibly even sample the ocean. However, there has been some concern that having both an orbital spacecraft and a lander in a single mission would prove too challenging for a single rocket to deliver. So as part of the new House bill, the Europa mission is broken into two parts: an orbiter and, two years later, a lander."

Keith's note: This looks like it would be something like a dual "flagship" mission. Each spacecraft will be on the order of, oh $500 million each, and then, knowing Culberson's preferences, each would require its own SLS launch at $500 million to $1 billion each. Unless NASA's budget is going to get a big plus up on top of what it already needs to do other things that is going to eat into the whole #JourneyToMars thing - an effort that is already utterly underfunded.

Buzz Aldrin says NASA is going about Mars exploration the wrong way, Ars Technica

"In his remarks, Aldrin said NASA should change the approach it has had in place since the 1960s, that of designing and managing development of its own rockets. He took direct aim at the SLS vehicle, which he reminded listeners was based on 1970s technology and the space shuttle rather than more modern concepts. "It competes with the private sector," Aldrin said. "I thought most of us were in the process of learning that the government shouldn't do that."

Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act, Wikipedia

"One of the requirements would be that the government develop a streamlined plan for its acquisitions. The bill would increase the power of existing Chief Information Officers (CIO) within federal agencies so that they could be more effective. Each agency would also be reduced to having only one CIO in the agency, who is then responsible for the success and failure of all IT projects in that agency. The bill would also require the federal government to make use of private sector best practices. The bill is intended to reduce IT procurement related waste."

Oversight Committee FITARA Scorecard (2015) Larger image

Oversight Committee FITARA Scorecard (2016) [Note: NASA is the only agency to get an overall 'F' grade]

Hearing, Federal Information Technology Reform Act Scorecard 2.0, House Oversight Committee

NASA CIO Wynn Testimony

"Admittedly, NASA's scores on the FITARA scorecard are unacceptable. We have work to do, and challenges to overcome. But at the same time, I believe it is also important to reflect on the major strides NASA has already taken in improving the management of and protection of the Agency's IT infrastructure. Thus, the remainder of my testimony today will provide a brief summary of our achievements to date, and other work in progress directed at becoming the best stewards of the Agency's IT resources."

Keith's note: I have to be completely honest: neither this hearing or the FITARA report/scorecard that was released were on my news radar. I need to thank NASA's AA for Legislative Affairs, Seth Statler, for pointing out the hearing - and NASA's 'F' grade. NASA has the distinction in 2016 for being the only agency to get an overall 'F', so congratulations are in order. Of course, in telling everyone about FITARA, it is quite obvious that Statler was doing a little blame shifting as he spoke for NASA CIO Renee Wynn - while throwing her under the bus. You'd expect the @NASACIO Twitter to say something too but they have not tweeted anything since 15 March 2015.

Nor is there any mention of the hearing, the CIO's testimony, the 2016 score card (or last year's), NASA's performance (or lack thereof) and what corrective actions NASA plans to make on the NASA CIO website. Searching for "FITARA" only yields 6 results across all of NASA's websites. This chatty 2016 newsletter from the CIO makes no mention of NASA's abysmal score in 2015 but does say "OCIO has made significant progress in the development of a solid implementation plan." So, as long as they are working on a plan, then everything must be OK.

There is a slightly goofy post at (not findable on the NASA search engine) "NASA's Approach to Implementing FITARA" from 10 March 2016 that opens with "My husband and I are planning a vacation to Disneyworld, an awesome destination for our five year old dreamer. How do we budget for such an grandiose trip?" , and then goes on to spout happy talk - with added IT word salad - about how seriously NASA takes FITARA. If only.

Space Subcommittee Hearing - Next Steps to Mars: Deep Space Habitats

"On Wednesday, May 18, 2016 at 2:00 p.m. in Room 2318 of the Rayburn House Office Building, the Subcommittee on Space will hold a hearing titled, "Next Steps to Mars: Deep Space Habitats." The hearing will examine Mars exploration, specifically efforts to develop deep space habitation capabilities."

- Statement, Jason Crusan, NASA
- Statement, John Elbon, Boeing
- Statement, Wanda Sigur, Lockheed Martin
-Statement, Frank Culbertson, Orbital ATK
-Statement, Andy Weir, Author, The Martian

Here's why many in aerospace remain skeptical of the Journey to Mars, Ars Technica

"There's no question that Dava Newman is a very smart person. She is a highly respected scientist who was a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before coming to NASA. She also is not entirely new to the job as deputy administrator, having been with the agency for a year as of May 15. So it's difficult to explain her meandering response to a straightforward, valid question. These are questions NASA ought to be striving to clearly answer, because they're exactly the kinds of things a presidential transition team will be asking about at the end of this year. It is one thing to bluff the media and hold NASA "social" events where space enthusiasts are shown hardware and dazzled by astronauts and senior NASA scientists. Newman also will undoubtedly get a rousing roar of approval after her speech to the Humans to Mars conference today."

Keith's note: After one year at NASA, it would seem that Dava Newman's transformation from a normal person into a NASA bureaucrat is now complete. She is incapable of giving a simple, direct answer when asked important questions about NASA's "plan" to send humans to Mars. But its not really her fault. No one at NASA can give a straight answer about the plan. There is no plan. All NASA has is a Twitter hashtag #JourneyToMars. Anyone at NASA who tries to tell you otherwise is being less than honest with you. Listen to this video from the Humans to Mars meeting yesterday. At one point Newman cuts Frank Morring off and then goes off on a time-wasting diversion to run out her time on stage without getting into details.

Keith's note: This week, from 17-19 May, the annual Humans to Mars Summit will be underway in Washington, DC. Much of the event will be webcast live. We'll be live tweeting the event at @NASAWatch.

The Humans to 2016 Mars Report Released at Humans to Mars Summit

"As highlighted in this year's report, there have been significant developments since the premiere issue was released. Mars has been in the news regularly, and the United States has embraced Mars as the goal for human space flight more than ever before. For example, in October 2015 NASA began the process of assessing potential candidate human landing sites on Mars for the first time."

For more information visit

NASA to pay Russia $88 mln to deliver astronauts to world's sole orbiter in 2018-2019, TASS

"Russia has signed a contract with the United States to deliver six NASA astronauts aboard Russian-made Soyuz MS spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2018-2019, according to a quarterly report released by Energiya Rocket and Space Corporation on Monday. Energiya Corporation is the producer of Russian spacecraft. According to the document, NASA will pay Russia 5.7 billion rubles ($88 million) for the delivery of NASA astronauts to the ISS and their return to the Earth. The deal was signed on January 27."

Boeing's first crewed Starliner launch slips to 2018, Ars Technica

"NASA has pinpointed next year as the time when its dependence upon Russia to fly its astronauts to the International Space Station will finally end. However, one of the two companies now slated to provide that service, Boeing, has said it will not be able to launch a crewed mission of its Starliner spacecraft until 2018 at the earliest."

Keith's note: That's $88 million per American astronaut.

NAS Report: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) at NASA

"The U.S. Congress tasked the National Research Council with undertaking a comprehensive study of how the SBIR program has stimulated technological innovation and used small businesses to meet federal research and development needs, and with recommending further improvements to the program. In the first round of this study, an ad hoc committee prepared a series of reports from 2004 to 2009 on the SBIR program at the five agencies responsible for 96 percent of the program's operations -- including NASA. In a follow-up to the first round, NASA requested from the Academies an assessment focused on operational questions in order to identify further improvements to the program."

Gregg Popovich reminds us that a lost game is nothing compared to NASA finding 1,200 habitable planets, USA Today

"On Thursday night, the Spurs lost to the Thunder in Game 6 and were knocked out of the postseason. On Tuesday, NASA announced that it found 1,284 new planets - the biggest group of planets ever discovered. ... Popovich says: "NASA discovered all those habitable planets the other day. Do you guys know about that? (a reporter says there were 1,200 planets found) 1,200 habitable planets. And then last night somebody lost a basketball game (reporters begin chuckling) Come on. Get over yourself."

NASA's Kepler Mission Announces Largest Collection of Planets Ever Discovered, NASA

"In the newly-validated batch of planets, nearly 550 could be rocky planets like Earth, based on their size. Nine of these orbit in their sun's habitable zone, which is the distance from a star where orbiting planets can have surface temperatures that allow liquid water to pool. With the addition of these nine, 21 exoplanets now are known to be members of this exclusive group."

Keith's note: Perhaps Seth Statler should have read the story he linked to a little more closely - before tweeting it. That said, it is certainly nice that news of Kepler's discovery of planets circling other stars has expanded beyond the usual space and astronomy fans to a much broader portion of the general population. More importantly, its good that the true scope and significance of such discoveries is made known by prominent figures in public venues to audiences who'd usually not hear mention of astronomy news. Alas, NASA staff (like Statler), some news media, and the general public now need to get a briefing as to what terminology such as "inhabited" vs "habitable", "earth-sized" vs "earthlike" means. Again, to be clear, it is very good news that Kepler's discoveries showed up where no NASA press release has surfaced before. NASA now needs to be building up on this - and do so strategically.

Duffy and Parazynski Inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame

"The U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame welcomed astronaut inductees Brian Duffy and Scott Parazynski to its ranks during a May 14 ceremony at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, in Florida."

Video of induction ceremony

How Elon Musk exposed billions in questionable Pentagon spending, Politico

"Yet despite the potentially more cost-effective alternative, taxpayers will be paying the price for ULA's contracts for years to come, POLITICO has found. Estimates show that, through 2030, the cost of the Pentagon's launch program will hit $70 billion - one of the most expensive programs within the Defense Department. And even if ULA is never awarded another government contract, it will continue to collect billions of dollars - including an $800 million annual retainer - as it completes launches that were awarded before Musk's company was allowed to compete. That includes a block buy of 36 launches awarded in 2013. Meanwhile, ULA is under investigation by the Pentagon for possible corrupt bidding practices and is preparing to lay off 25 percent of its workforce. Its long-term viability is in doubt. Even the Pentagon's acquisition chief grants that the creation of ULA - a monopoly criticized by the Federal Trade Commission when it was formed at the government's behest a decade ago - may have been a mistake. "With the benefit of hindsight, you could say that," Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, told POLITICO."

A bridge too far: Why Delta rockets aren't the answer, op ed, Tory Bruno, The Hill

"If you believe that competition is good, and if you believe that affordability is paramount, an Atlas bridge is the only answer. The hardworking, innovative men and women of ULA are proud of their support to America's space launch capability. From GPS and missile warning to secure communications and weather prediction, we've launched the satellites the military intelligence community depends on for every mission -- and we've done so with reliability no one can match. We're ready to continue that mission. Please ask Congress to create the smooth transition from Atlas to Vulcan Centaur that will keep America's launch industry healthy for decades to come."

ULA Gets A Russian Christmas Gift From Sen. Shelby, earlier post

"ULA has ordered additional Atlas engines to serve our existing and potential civil and commercial launch customers until a new American-made engine can be developed and certified."

Senator Shelby protects Alabama's role in rocket production, op ed, Huntsville Times

"In Decatur, the United Launch Alliance (ULA) builds the Atlas V and Delta IV rockets which launch our nation's military, NASA, and commercial satellites into space. The ULA plant employs or directly contracts with close to 1,000 Alabamians across north Alabama."

Keith's note: First ULA gets Shelby to side with them over the whole RD-180 thing to save jobs (among other things). Now you have to wonder whether Shelby is going to feel betrayed by ULA now that they want to close down Delta production in Alabama - i.e. JOBS. Then again with the unwieldy legacy arrangements that ULA has in place with DoD that will eventually go away it is probably time for them to do a drastic overhaul of how they do business. ultimately they need to able to compete in an open market on cost and performance - without DoD's finger on the scale.

Senate Armed Services Committee Sticks to Its Guns on RD-180 Rocket Engines, Space Policy Online

"U.S. national space transportation policy requires that at least two independent launch systems be available for national security launches. If one suffers a failure, access to space is assured by the other. For more than a decade, those two have been Atlas V and Delta IV, both ULA rockets. SpaceX argues that now the two can be its Falcon plus ULA's Delta IV. ULA and its supporters insist, however, that the Delta IV is prohibitively expensive compared to Atlas V and the best choice for the taxpayers is to keep Atlas V available until the early 2020s when ULA's new Vulcan rocket -- with a U.S. engine -- will be able to compete with SpaceX on price. SASC insists that a new U.S. engine can be ready by 2019 and only nine more RD-180s are needed until that time. That is the number set by the FY2015 and FY2016 NDAAs. However, the Senate Appropriations Committee undermined that authorization language in the FY2016 appropriations bill, essentially removing all limits."

- ULA Begs Congress To Let Them Kill Delta Rockets, earlier post
- Earlier RD-180 posts

Boeing falls behind SpaceX in next space race, CNN Money

"Boeing said Tuesday that it has pushed the date of its first manned space mission back from 2017 to 2018. Boeing's CST-100 Starliner, which will carry the astronauts, is still under development. SpaceX, led by Tesla Motors (TSLA) CEO Elon Musk, says it intends to have a manned mission in 2017 using its Dragon space capsule. Unlike the Starliner, Dragon is already built and in use, delivering supplies to the International Space Station with unmanned missions. But it will need to go through further testing before it can carry humans."

Boeing's Starliner schedule for sending astronauts into orbit slips to 2018, GeekWire

"However, if both companies stick to their stated schedules, SpaceX would become the first U.S. commercial venture to send astronauts to the space station and as a result would take possession of a highly prized trophy: a U.S. flag that was left aboard the station by the last space shuttle crew in 2011."

Ask the Astronaut: Why not build and launch spacecraft from the ISS?, Tom Jones, Air & Space

"We won't use the ISS as a departure point for cost reasons. First, the ISS today is a microgravity research lab, not a spacecraft assembly hangar. Modifying it for assembly, checkout, and propellant storage would cost billions of dollars NASA does not have. A second, more serious problem is that the ISS orbit is inclined to the equator at 51.6 degrees, as opposed to a 28.5-degree orbit reached by launching straight east from Kennedy Space Center. (We chose the ISS orbit so the Russians could reach it from their launch sites farther north.) To haul spacecraft parts and propellant to ISS for assembly in that high-inclination orbit, we would lose about 20 percent of each rocket's payload capacity, since we can't use as much of the Earth's eastward rotation to give us a free boost to orbital velocity. That payload penalty would add billions to the costs of any deep space expedition assembled at ISS (e.g., a Mars expedition will need many hundreds of tons of propellant for Earth departure)."

Keith's note: This is a classic example of the old way of thinking. Tom Jones apparently cannot imagine an alternate future where things change.

1. He assumes that everything that we do in the future will be done by NASA - the way that NASA always does things - and that it will be equally as expensive as NASA stuff always is. Narrow thinking.

2. The penalty for launching to 51.6 degrees - yea its real. Launching to 28.5 degrees like the Shuttle did had a penalty when compared to launching from the equator. So we moved the station to make it easier for the Russians - and harder for ourselves. As NASA did at the time, you just factor launch capabilities into the overall equation - one wherein you factor in the counterbalancing benefit of being able to assemble large things in space and test them out from an existing location that has the benefit of generous resources already in place. That's how we built the space station, Tom - remember? Oh yes: NASA also still "hauls spacecraft parts and propellant" to ISS routinely - and a lof the stuff is launched from Virginia and Florida not Kazakhstan. If NASA plans hold up we'll be doing even more of that - with crew too. But that's inefficient, right? So why are we doing it?

3. The inclination issue as it relates to where you want to send things - yea, if you want to use big rockets all the time and get everywhere in a hurry. But if you simply exercise a little advanced planning, be patient, and plan longer delivery times using solar- or nuclear-electric propulsion then time will solve these problems - and you can factor the lower costs of such systems into your overall cost equation.

4. ISS is a microgravity lab - this is something I had to deal with every day when I worked on space station at NASA in the 90s. I had experts telling me that anything the astronauts did would ruin everything that the scientists wanted to do - and vice versa. So NASA came up with rack level vibroacoustic isolation and used scheduling to manage noisy activities. Problem solved. BTW, Tom you have seen the video of how the entire space station flexes when its exercise time for the crew, yes? I do not hear scientists screaming how this makes their research impossible. Crew and cargo vehicles arrive and depart on a regular basis. How is that any different than "launching" a spacecraft from ISS? But wait: Nanoracks is actually launching cubesats from the ISS on a regular basis. Again, no complaints.

I remember back in the 90s when the orbit was shifted to 51.6 - and the implications that had for Shuttle launch windows. I sat in meetings where experts emphatically stated that NASA could never work with 5 minute launch windows. Well, they did. Now SpaceX has managed to design hardware and operations such that they can recycle multiple times within a single launch window. I remember people saying that you could not dock a Soyuz to the space station due to the somewhat brutal way it docks and how fragile the U.S. structure was. So they docked to the Russian segment instead. Problem solved. I remember asking why we couldn't leave logistics modules on the ISS permanently for simple storage. Everyone said "no" because of super high costs to make them meet requirement. Now they do - because they decided to - with only minimal mods. NASA wanted a reusable Space Shuttle that would fly like an airline. It never actually happened. Now Blue Origin and SpaceX are on the cusp of doing it. Just because the same group of experts says that something is not possible or practical doesn't mean that you can't go out and find other experts who can make it work.

Who knows, maybe we will just shift the future role of ISS at some point to focus on on-orbit assembly of larger expeditionary vessels and do the science stuff on the next generation of space stations built by the private sector. Look at Antarctica - there are bases there that have been operating continuously for more than half a century. They are constantly being readjusted to do new things and not do other things. Some are decommissioned. Some are disassembled. New ones now move or raise their height when conditions warrant. Some are rebuilt using parts from older facilities. Fragile cargo and people fly in on planes. Other supplies arrive on slow-moving ships that depart weeks or months in advance of when their cargoes are actually needed. One would hope that we try and instill similar flexibility in what we build in low Earth orbit and beyond. If we don't adopt expeditionary thinking and pragmatism then none of this commercial LEO stuff NASA is praying for is going to happen since no commercial effort will ever be able to afford things that are mired down with outmoded NASA costing and operational mindsets.

Oh yes: then there's Mark Watney and "The Martian". What better way to make sure a Mars ship works than to run it for a year or two in LEO after being assembled from smaller subunits launched by a variety of existing ISS cargo carrier. If we do not promote flexibility and long-term thinking in LEO and cis-lunar space so as to guide the whole #JourneyToMars thing we'll just be begging for something bad to happen because no one thought to equip our Mars crews with the ability (and experience) to fix things that are not supposed to break.

Just because we've done things a certain way in space doesn't mean that this is the only way to do things.

Keith's note: I have lived and worked in the Washington, DC metro area for 30 years. One thing I quickly noticed when I moved here was that big companies and organizations use a large canvas - literally - when they are pushing an issue at Congress. It is not uncommon to see Metro stations near the Pentagon or Capitol Hill transformed by a "take over" ad campaign with every possible surface covered with pictures and words. Then there's op eds like the one ULA's Tory Bruno managed to get placed in The Hill begging Congress to let him kill the Delta rocket. Funny thing: I can remember back in the day when Lockheed Martin and Boeing launched big ad campaigns begging Congress to allow them to form the ULA duopoly because it would save taxpayers money by combining EELV marketing. The appearance of the Internet has done little to dampen the use of traditional media such as newspaper ads.

When I opened up my Washington Post this morning page A5 glared back at me with a full page advertisement from Norwegian Air. Flipping the page, A7 glared at me with a full page counter advertisement from ALPA (larger image). The issue has to do with a certification battle over this airline. OK, it got my attention. I do have to wonder who did the advertisement strategy for Norwegian Air. Their ad trumpets "American crew. American jobs. American planes. That's Norwegian." Right: say "American" three times and it somehow equals "Norwegian". OK, if you say so. Now ULA wants Congress to let them kill one of the two rockets it was so desperate for Congress to let them sell - without competition - because there now is competition. Oh yes and they want to kill the one with American engines and keep the one with Russian engines. Rest assured some equally large advertisements with strange tag lines from Tory Bruno will soon start to stare back from the Washington Post stating that the best "American" rocket is one with "Russian" engines.

Nation Demands NASA Stop Holding Press Conferences Until They Discover Some Little Alien Guys, The Onion

"Nobody even cares that there's some water on Mars; we have water on Earth so you shouldn't even bother having a stupid press conference unless there's proof of alien guys with a bunch of eyes or tentacles or something," said Fort Wayne, IN resident Kyle Schultz, echoing the sentiment of Americans across the country who insisted that NASA stop telling them about new black holes, asteroids, or a type of element on another planet's surface until they have pictures of orange or purple aliens running around a weird futuristic city. "And none of that microscopic organism crap."

Hillary Clinton Gives UFO Buffs Hope She Will Open the X-Files, New York Times

"In a radio interview last month, she said, "I want to open the files as much as we can." Asked if she believed in U.F.O.s, Mrs. Clinton said: "I don't know. I want to see what the information shows." But she added, "There's enough stories out there that I don't think everybody is just sitting in their kitchen making them up." When asked about extraterrestrials in an interview with The Conway Daily Sun in New Hampshire last year, Mrs. Clinton promised to "get to the bottom of it." "I think we may have been" visited already, she said in the interview. "We don't know for sure."

Keith's note: One of these stories is not true.

NASA working towards September 2018 SLS/Orion launch, Space News

"Honeycutt said the SLS program is making progress on the Exploration Upper Stage (EUS), a more powerful upper stage planned for future SLS missions after EM-1. The EUS has also become a political issue, as Congress provided additional funding and direction for EUS work not requested by the agency in its recent budget requests. Congress directed NASA to spend at least $85 million on EUS in the fiscal year 2016 omnibus spending bill, and have it ready in time for the second SLS mission, EM-2. NASA, however, did not request enough funding in its fiscal year 2017 budget request to support development of the EUS in time for EM-2, even as it directed agency engineers to stop work on human rating the interim upper stage that will be flown on EM-1."

Keith's note: NASA did not ask for the money to build EUS and they have stopped working on ICPS. Right now SLS has no upper stage. And yet they claim that they are going to meet their launch dates. Yea, this sort of stuff really happens in Washington.

Keith's note: On Wednesday NASA will officially sponsor a teleconference with NASA NIAC grantee Phil Lubin about the Breakthrough Initative's Starshot project to mount the first interstellar mission. But unless you are a pal of a certain NASA civil servant, you won't be allowed to listen in live - even though NASA is paying for this event. Indeed, unless this certain employee decides to tell you, NASA won't even tell you that this event is happening in the first place.

Harley Thronson, a NASA civil servant at GSFC, has operated this series of NASA FISO telecons as a part of his official NASA duties. These telecons use a taxpayer-funded telephone system, are announced via email ( and Thronson devotes billable hours to their operation. The telecons are interesting and relevant to the interests of a wide variety people within (and most importantly) outside of NASA. Yet despite an abundance of directives to all government agencies about making their activities open and transparent to taxpayers, Harley and his pal Dan Lester at the University of Texas in Austin go out of their way to not to tell taxpayers that these teleconferences even exist. Indeed, they block specific taxpayers by targeting their IP address (check this page - its what I see when I try to view information on something my taxes pay for) from having the same level of access as other taxpayers do. This link used to say this.

Thronson and Lester also adopt an elitist stance when it comes to who can - and who cannot - access information about these telecons or listen to them in real time. If they do not deem you to be worthy (no criteria have ever been posted) then you cannot dial in - because you won't know that there is something to dial into. To justify their favoritism they have posted a goofy and arrogant excuse as to why most people will never be allowed to listen to these events live claiming that they are compliant with NASA regulations in this regard because you can listen to things later. Later or delayed access is not the same as live access. And if you do not even know about these teleconferences in the first place, then the whole later Vs live issue is moot. They are operated in a stealth fashion for a hand-selected audience. Dan Lester is clearly ignorant as to the wide variety of open teleconference options that are available - at no cost to participants who dial in.

Wednesday's NASA FISO telecon starts at 3 pm EDT. You can dial in to +1.844.467.4685 - the passcode is 442398. If you cannot gain access I have posted email and address information for Thronson and Lester so that you can contact them directly.

- Another Stealth #JourneyToMars Telecon at NASA, earlier post
- NASA FISO Telecon Organizers Are Confused, earlier post
- How NASA Quietly Releases Alternate Mars Mission Concepts (Update), earlier post

Keith's note: Just in case you missed this post last Wednesday.

NASA to Announce Latest Kepler Discoveries During Media Teleconference

"NASA will host a news teleconference at 1 p.m. EDT Tuesday, May 10 to announce the latest discoveries made by its planet-hunting mission, the Kepler Space Telescope. The briefing participants are: ... Timothy Morton, associate research scholar at Princeton University in New Jersey ..."

False Positive Probabilities for all Keper Objects of Interest: 1,284 Newly Validated Planets and 428 Likely False Positives

"We present astrophysical false positive probability calculations for every Kepler Object of Interest (KOI)the first large-scale demonstration of a fully automated transiting planet validation procedure. Out of 7056 KOIs, we determine that 1935 have probabilities <1% to be astrophysical false positives, and thus may be considered validated planets. 1284 of these have not yet been validated or confirmed by other methods. In addition, we identify 428 KOIs likely to be false positives that have not yet been identified as such, though some of these may be a result of unidentified transit timing variations. A side product of these calculations is full stellar property posterior samplings for every host star, modeled as single, binary, and triple systems. These calculations use vespa, a publicly available Python package able to be easily applied to any transiting exoplanet candidate."

Keith's note: NASA wants you to think that everything they do in low Earth orbit these days has some sort of business potential. Alas, while that may be true, NASA is the least likely place to go if you want to find out what they are actually doing. In fact, most of the people dealing with commerce at NASA have no idea what commerce is.

Last week I saw an interesting tweet from @NASA_OSBP - NASA's Office of Small Business Programs saying "#DYK Over 800 #small businesses are contributing to the dev. of the #SpaceLaunchSystem? #NASA #DreamSmallBiz #NSBW" I replied via @NASAWatch "Interesting @NASA_OSBP can you post that list of companies online? #SpaceLaunchSystem? #NASA ". A few hours later @NASA_OSBP replied @NASAWatch List is pg 61-71 of new the pub. "SLS: A Case for Small Business" just posted at". That link led me to the 74 page report "NASA Space Launch System: A Case For Small Business".

The report, published in 2016, is focused on things as they were in FY 2015. While the overall scope of the SLS program as it related to small businesses is discussed, only a few of those small businesses are profiled in any detailed fashion. There is a nice long list of the 800 or so small businesses associated with the SLS program at the end of the document. However, this is only a list in alphabetical order of the companies, their type, and who they subcontract with. Nothing is included about where the companies are located or what they do. Nor is there any sort of econometric information as to the value of each contract or the impact of these contracts on the local communities.

There is another report listed at the page link tweeted by @NASA_OSBP that looks to have been published in 2015 "NASA Deep Space Human Exploration Spacecraft Orion: A Case for Small Business". This report is structured in a nearly identical fashion to the SLS report complete with an alphabetical listing of all of the small businesses. But other than that there's little to explain how or why this is important to the business health of the national economy or to local communities. NASA just wants you to see that they are giving money to lots of small companies that you've never heard of.

There does not seem to be an intent to issue these two reports on an annual basis so as to allow people to understand how the program has adjusted to budgets, overall progress, and the addition or deletion of specific small businesses, or the current estimate of overall economic benefit to the communities where these small companies are located. Instead, NASA spends 6 months editing up and dumbing down last year's data, adding in some boilerplate PR, and then posts the document online. That's it.

Keith's note: Heads up NASA HQ 9th floor: Chris Christie is heading Donald Trump's transition Team. You need to get to work on those pothole powerpoint slides, Charlie.

Potholes Trump Space In Trump Space Policy, earlier post

"[Trump's] answers to Aerospace America's questions align with comments he made during a campaign stop in Manchester, NH in November. There he offered what has become perhaps his most memorable remark about space exploration, that it is important, "but we have to fix our potholes."

Musk Sleeps Near Factory Floor to Spur Tesla Manufacturing, Bloomberg

"Elon Musk, determined to turn his electric-car company into a great maker of things, said that he keeps a sleeping bag in a conference room adjacent to Tesla Motors Inc.'s production line in Fremont, California."

Why Elon Musk Sleeps in a Sleeping Bag, Motley Fool

"So I move my desk around to wherever the most important place is for the company, and then I sort of maintain a desk there over time to come and check in on things. But I suspect probably by the end of this quarter most of my time will not be spent on the factory floor."

Larger image

SpaceX Successfully Launches JCSAT-14 and Recovers Falcon 9 Rocket 1st Stage [With full launch webcast]

"SpaceX completed another successful launch delivering the Japanese JCSAT-14 satellite to a Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit and recovered the Falcon 9 first stage with a night landing at sea."

Keith's note: I sent the following email request to Glenn Delgado, AA for NASA's Office of Small Business Programs (OSBP): "I found this tweet to be very interesting. Can you provide me with a list of the specific 800+ small business companies that are contributing to SLS, where they are located, and what their products/services are in relation to SLS? People often do not appreciate just how pervasive NASA programs are in terms of procurement. Moreover it is often not appreciated how deeply these programs can reach into small communities a great distance from the cities/states where space activities are usually associated."

Keith's update: No response from Glenn Delgado or NASA PAO but this tweet from @NASA_OSBP just appeared. Impressive report (download). Too bad NASA PAO hasn't issued a press release about it. Oddly the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, a pro-SLS/Orion lobbying group, has made no mention at all about it.

NASA OIG: Audit of NASA's Engineering Services Contract at Kennedy Space Center

"The size and scope of Kennedy's Engineering Contract has made managing the Contract particularly challenging. The cost and tasks included in the baseline and task order components of the Contract are not clearly defined, managers overseeing the Contract may lack appropriate expertise, and cost allocations are not clear. In addition, several tasks Vencore is performing on a cost-reimbursable basis appear more suitable for a fixed-price arrangement. Moreover, NASA has limited its ability to evaluate Vencore's performance by including generic milestones and deliverables in some task orders, as well as employing evaluation standards that do not align with the Federal Acquisition Regulation or the Contract's award-fee plan. As a result, NASA's evaluations of Vencore's performance do not consistently support the award-fee scores assigned or the resulting payments, and we question more than $450,000 in award-fee payments NASA made to Vencore between fiscal years 2011 and 2014."

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

"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."

Associate Administrator, Science Mission Directorate

"The Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate is a senior level position responsible for providing executive leadership, overall planning, direction, and effective management of NASA programs concerned with the scientific exploration of the Earth, Moon, Mars and beyond, including charting the best route of discovery and reaping the benefits of Earth and space exploration for society."

Guy Thibodaux

Joseph Guy Thibodaux, Jr.

"In 1964, Guy and his family moved to Houston, TX where he assumed the role of Chief of the Propulsion and Power Division at the Johnson Space Center until his retirement in 1980. Guy holds five patents on solid rockets and solid rocket manufacturing techniques."

- Joseph G. "Guy" Thibodaux Oral History Interviews, NASA JSC

Keith's 4 May update: JPL has released Conceptual Studies for the Next Mars Orbiter (NeMO) Solicitation Number: MM-2672-911140 which says "For access to the RFP, please visit the JPL solicitation website at:". When I go there and click on "Next Mars Orbiter (NeMO) Conceptual Study" at that site it asks me for a username and password. When I go to "Synopsis (DOCX, 21 KB)" I get the same text in the RFP posting. In other words the public is not allowed to read any of this. No mention is made of ITAR, security, or other constraints placed on this information. I sent a request for access to the procurement person listed on this solicitation. Stay tuned.

Keith's second 4 May update: JPL procurement got back to me rather promptly with a form that has standard ITAR boilerplate wording that I need to fill out (but won't) that needs to be approved in order to get access to RFP materials. The reason I asked is that the publicly available URL in the solicitation sent me to a page that had links to password-protected webpage without any prior notification that the link was password protected or that it might link to ITAR-controlled information. One would think that this would be made clear on those pages so as to prevent people like me (media) from inquiring about access in the first place. Of course using the ITAR flag (or the threat thereof) for stuff that is actually ITAR sensitive allows lots of information that is not even remotely ITAR sensitive to be shielded from public view. Oh well. The charts I posted provide some basic information. NASA and JPL could provide a lot more about this mission than they are clearly inclined to do - because they don't have to. So they don't.

Keith's 3 May note: JPL held a Next Mars Orbiter (NeMO) Industry day on Monday. They plan to put a RFP out on Thursday. Proposals are due 3 weeks later. This presentation gives a preview of the RFP. JPL has $400,000,000 $400,000 to spend.* The decks are clearly stacked such that only large aerospace companies who have done previous business with NASA are eligible. Also, although 100% of the cost of this spacecraft is being paid with NASA (taxpayer) dollars, JPL requires that anyone who bids on NeMO are required to sign a JPL "Waiver of Rights to Inventions" form - in other words, if they so desire, Caltech/JPL gets to keep all the intellectual property emerging from this mission - IP that NASA has arguably paid for. They do this because they can. Yet another example of a lack of interest in actually being innovative at NASA.

*My error. For some strange reasons the charts I posted say $400,000.00 - NASA never uses cents after their dollar figures - so I did not notice the decimal point.

"Proposers must meet the following mandatory qualifications by time of award in order to be considered a qualified source and thereby eligible for award.
- MQ 1: Within the last 10 years, the proposer shall have successfully developed and flown a spacecraft with a solar power system of at least 10KW at 1 AU.
- MQ 2: Within the last 5 years, the proposer shall have successfully developed and flown a spacecraft that operated in deep space (beyond Earth orbit) or geosynchronous orbit (GEO).
- MQ 3: The proposer (both the prime contractor and its major lower-tier subcontractors for this effort) shall be a concern incorporated in the United States of America."

Trump Praises NASA, But Dodges Funding Questions in Aerospace America Q&A, Space Policy Online

"In brief, Trump said that NASA "has been one of the most important agencies in the United States government for most of my lifetime" and he wants it to remain that way. But in response to a question about whether the United States is spending the proper amount of money on NASA, he demurred: "I am not sure that is the right question. What we spend on NASA should be appropriate for what we are asking them to do. ... Our first priority is to restore a strong economic base to this country. Then, we can have a discussion about spending." He similarly deflected a question about whether sending humans to Mars should continue to be a goal. He strongly supported government-private sector partnerships in space. His answers to Aerospace America's questions align with comments he made during a campaign stop in Manchester, NH in November. There he offered what has become perhaps his most memorable remark about space exploration, that it is important, "but we have to fix our potholes."

Driving To Mars

Review: Passage To Mars

"Passage to Mars" is a documentary about a bunch of guys who try to drive across a large frozen stretch of the Northwest Passage. They attempt this feat as an analog for long distance traverses people will one day attempt on Mars. This film depicts important lessons that are often far more relevant for the actual human exploration of Mars than anything NASA itself is doing right now. This unprecedented adventure, planned to last a few weeks ended up becoming a three-year epic odyssey of hope, fear and survival. The goal of the expedition was to use a specially-outfitted Humvee named the "Okarian" across 2,000 miles of sea ice. Their ultimate goal: to drive to Haughton Crater on Devon Island - the location of a NASA-funded research base where scientists and engineers learn how to live on and explore Mars.

Keith's note: NASA Advisory Council Chair Steve Squyres has resigned his position telling people in an email "I've simply been finding it too difficult to balance my responsibilities and meet them all well, and something had to give." One would expect that NASA would begin looking for a new chair for the NAC.

Steve was unusual when it came to NAC chairs. Usually the chair is someone who is retired or semi-retired, often an engineer or a program manager who now sits on committees for a living. Well, Steve did the engineering and management stuff too but in the end he was - and always will be - a planetary astronomer and field geologist who has repeatedly gone to places on - and within - Earth that approximate what we might expect to find on other worlds. In so doing he often took considerable personal risk. Steve's exploits included arctic and antarctic expeditions and stints underwater in NEEMO where he participated in simulated asteroid exploration activities. Steve is a real explorer - not an armchair program manager who throws around jargon to sound as if they are. That expertise served well to inform his tenure as NAC chair.

While I was glad to see Steve take on the NAC task, I am happy (and somewhat relieved) that he has decided to get back to what really defines him - and where he makes a real contribution to whatever #JourneyToMars NASA ends up embarking upon.

- A Pre-Mission Conversation With NASA NEEMO Aquanaut Steve Squyres, earlier post
- A Post-Mission Conversation With NASA NEEMO Aquanaut Steve Squyres, earlier post

Reaching for the Stars by Paying for Results, Huffington post

"With all discretionary spending under pressure, a new paradigm will be required to ensure NASA's future is as bright as its heritage. Funding research at higher levels will call for development of a revenue base to augment the agency's general fund allocations. A robust space economy where private firms support government infrastructure, services and research in space via user fees can make that a reality. A revenue positive future is something that Congress and any administration should embrace."

The Space Launch System "Jobs Program", Paul Spudis

Spudis: "In contrast to some misleading promotional slight of hand, the SLS will not "take astronauts to Mars" but it could launch ready-to-assemble pieces for a human Mars mission into space (it would take between 8 and 12 launches of an augmented SLS to get a fully fueled manned Mars vehicle into space and prepared for departure to Mars)."

Commenter: "... I'm sort of surprised to see you acting as though launching most of our propellant for a Mars mission from Earth is a good idea."

Spudis: "Where in this post have I advocated that?"

Keith's 2 May note: Let's see: Spudis writes "it would take between 8 and 12 launches of an augmented SLS to get a fully fueled manned Mars vehicle into space and prepared for departure to Mars." If it is "fully fueled" and one presumes launched from Earth on SLS rockets, then he just said that the propellant for the mission to Mars comes from Earth, right? FWIW I attempted to post this comment but Dr. Spudis declined to allow it to be posted. This is sort of silly given that the first paragraph of Spudis' article centers around a linked posting on NASA Watch and an article on Buzzfeed that quotes me. C'mon Paul.

Keith's 3 May update: well now my comment has been un-deleted and approved (Spudis says they were never deleted so I will defer to his explanation). Spudis tersely points to another response where he says that he really meant refueling from lunar ice. Not a bad idea - but that is not what he originally said - or even implied.

This article has lots of classic SLS defenses and attacks. Spudis derides Falcon Heavy saying that he's never seen a Falcon Heavy and "but as no Falcon Heavy has yet to fly, we have no idea of what its cost would be." Well, SpaceX has been posting prices for Falcon Heavy for some time. They revised their prices just the other day. As for having never flown - correct but wait: the Falcon 9, three of which will comprise a Falcon Heavy, have flown multiple times. Yet Paul hugs his SLS even more tightly even though there is no SLS vehicle lying around - anywhere in a hangar.

Moreover, unlike the Falcon Heavy (which uses identical Falcon 9s) SLS has never flown as "SLS". Right now the SLS is a bunch of parts that have never been assembled as a single vehicle. The SRBs to be used by SLS are designed Shuttle design but have never flown. SLS uses old Shuttle engines that have never been flown in a SLS configuration. And the SSMEs and SRBs are attached to a new core structure that has never flown.

Falcon 9 has been flying for years. SLS will not fly for another 2-3 years and then will have another 3-4 year gap before it flies again. Yet Spudis et al think that SLS, which will fly twice in the next 6-8 years, will somehow be less risky to use than the Falcon 9/Heavy which will have had dozens and dozens of flights in the same period of time at a collective cost that will still be dwarfed by what SLS costs to build and operate - for 2 flights.

Like I said, SLS supporters are somewhat confused.

Michael Watkins Named Next JPL Director

"Michael M. Watkins, the Clare Cockrell Williams Centennial Chair in Aerospace Engineering and Director of the Center for Space Research at The University of Texas at Austin, has been appointed director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and vice president at Caltech, the Institute announced today. Watkins will formally assume his position on July 1, 2016. He succeeds Charles Elachi, who will retire as of June 30, 2016, and move to the Caltech faculty."

NASA Welcomes New Director for its Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Letter from OSTP Director Holdren to Rep. Thune and Rep. Smith Re: U.S Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, OSTP (PDF)

"The economic vitality of the American space industry is best served with a clear and predictable oversight process that ensures access to space and imposes minimal burdens on the industry. The Administration supports a narrowly tailored authorization process for newly contemplated commercial space activities, with only such conditions as are necessary for compliance with the United States' international obligations, foreign policy and national security interests, and protection of United States Government uses of outer space. Through months of consultations among Federal departments and agencies and with the commercial space industry, this Office developed a legislative proposal for a "Mission Authorization" framework, which is appended to this report."

Keith's note: So what would this Dragon 2 mission to Mars cost? SpaceX would use a Falcon Heavy which they sell for $90 million. Of course it costs SpaceX a lot less to make the rocket than what they sell it for. Also, SpaceX is starting to build up an inventory of used first stages that they put into rockets and sell for something like 30-40% less than a new Falcon. Of course, they make a profit on these reused Falcons too. Conceivably they could build a Dragon Heavy for Mars mission use out of used Falcon first stages. Of course there's the cost of a Mars-capable Dragon V2 (aka "Red Dragon")that has to be developed and built. But by then they will have some Dragon V2 vehicles sitting around as well. Then again SpaceX could use all new hardware. With an increased launch cadence there's going to be a lot of these stages sitting in storage making subsequent missions less expensive as well.

My point? This private Mars mission business is not going to be as expensive as some of the SpaceX doubters would have you think - especially if they also start to sell payload space for science instruments. And given the multi-billion dollar cost schemes NASA floats about how it would do sample return missions, one would have to expect that a SpaceX Mars architecture could slash the cost and complexity such that it would be in NASA's best interest to invest. Depending on who you talk to a lot of people would like to have the Mars sample return thing done before humans ever get sent to Mars (e.g. answering the life on Mars question). NASA has a slow-motion, multi-decadal "plan" for sending humans to Mars. What is the value of accelerating the pace at which preliminary things such as sample return and large propulsive landing technology? Answer: billions of dollars and many years.

As some of these articles above start to consider, is there an actual market that investors might start to consider that involves doing things on Mars? The answer is yes since SpaceX just decided to start spending their own money on it.

- SpaceX Now Quotes Payload Launch Prices - To Mars, earlier post
- Changing The Way We Explore Space, earlier post
- SpaceX Will Go To Mars Starting in 2018, earlier post

Crazy diamonds: Billionaires are funding lots of grandiose plans. Welcome their ambition, Economist

"Mr. Musk lists his ultimate goal as "enabling people to live on other planets". Once upon a time the space race was driven by the competition between capitalism and communism. Now it is driven by the competition between individual capitalists."

With or Without NASA, SpaceX Is Going to Mars, Motley Fool

"What it means for investors: Unless and until SpaceX goes public, most of the above probably seems academic. We can't invest in SpaceX today; perhaps we never will. Be that as it may, one thing is clear: Mankind is going to Mars, and sooner than you think. That this will open up the possibilities of new investments -- literally out-of-this-world investments -- seems almost certain."

Changing The Way We Explore Space, earlier post

"SpaceX has their own vertically integrated launch and spacecraft company that can produce absolutely everything needed to do this mission. And they have enough money to do missions on their own. More importantly they have a leader who is compelled to explore Mars and he owns the company. They do not need NASA to do this mission."



Monthly Archives

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from May 2016 listed from newest to oldest.

April 2016 is the previous archive.

June 2016 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.