April 2017 Archives

Hearing: Advances in the Search for Life

Hearing charter

"The NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 established "The search for life's origin, evolution, distribution, and future in the universe," as one of the national space program's objectives. The hearing will survey recent breakthroughs in a variety of fields that contribute to astrobiology, such as the continued discovery of exoplanets and research efforts to understand life's origin on Earth and in the lab."

Comittee member statements: Rep. Babin, Rep. Johnson, Rep. Bera, Rep. Smith

Hearing witness statements: Thomas Zurbuchen, Adam Burgasser, James Kasting, Seth Shostak

With Secret Airship, Sergey Brin Also Wants to Fly, Bloomberg

"Larry Page has his flying cars. Sergey Brin shall have an airship. Brin, the Google co-founder, has secretly been building a massive airship inside of Hangar 2 at the NASA Ames Research Center, according to four people with knowledge of the project. It's unclear whether the craft, which looks like a zeppelin, is a hobby or something Brin hopes to turn into a business. "Sorry, I don't have anything to say about this topic right now," Brin wrote in an email."

Reopening the American Frontier: Reducing Regulatory Barriers and Expanding American Free Enterprise in Space (Live at 10:00 a.m. EDT)

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), chairman of the Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, will convene a hearing titled "Reopening the American Frontier: Reducing Regulatory Barriers and Expanding American Free Enterprise in Space" at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, April 26, 2017. This hearing will examine the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act signed into law in November 2015, potential regulatory barriers to address in future legislation, and ways to expand commercial opportunities for American firms in space.

Witnesses:

- Mr. Robert Bigelow, Founder, Bigelow Aerospace
- Mr. Rob Meyerson, President, Blue Origin
- Mr. George Whitesides, CEO, Galactic Ventures
- Mr. Andrew Rush, CEO, Made in Space

Marc's note: Phil Larson, formerly with SpaceX, now Assistant Dean, College of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Colorado, Boulder wrote the following opinion yesterday afternoon in The Hill related to today's hearing; There's a new frontier in space exploration, but will Trump be on board?

"There's a jump ball underway in space, and it'll be on full display Wednesday at a Senate hearing chaired by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Will the administration and Congress be pro-innovation or pro the old way of doing business? And will the team in the White House really look for opportunities to run government more like a business? There's no better bellwether for answering these questions than the space debate going on right now. "

Astrobiology Then and Now

Astrobiology Has Arrived: A Personal Recollection, Keith Cowing

"I am currently attending the Astrobiology Science Conference where the world's astrobiologists all meet to showcase their results and share ideas. There was a time, barely 20 years ago, when there were no astrobiologists. I was one of the lucky people to be present as this amazing 21st century discipline came into existence."

NASA Invites Entrepreneurs to Another Industry Day

NASA has opened registration for Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Program Industry Day.

NASA SBIR/STTR Industry Day
Date: June 25-27th, 2017
Location: NASA Ames Research Center
Building 152
Moffett Field, CA 94035

SwRI-Led Team Discovers Lull in Mars' Giant Impact History

"The new results reveal that Mars' impact history closely parallels the bombardment histories we've inferred for the Moon, the asteroid belt, and the planet Mercury," Bottke said. "We refer to the period for the later impacts as the 'Late Heavy Bombardment.' The new results add credence to this somewhat controversial theory. However, the lull itself is an important period in the evolution of Mars and other planets. We like to refer to this lull as the 'doldrums.'"

Keith's note: People who engage on expeditions to risky and dangerous places on Earth regulary waive certain safety and medical regulations in order to participate. I have done it more than once in the arctic and at Everest. You consider the risks, weigh the benefits, and then sign the forms. There are lifetime radiation exposure limits for astronauts that are supposed to be used to guide the selection of ISS crews. Now, these limits are apparently subject to selective waiver. So are these "limits" now becoming "guidelines"? Are astronauts now doing something similar to what terrestrial explorers do in order to spend more time in space? What is the process whereby NASA makes this waiver decision? What are the implications for the whole #JourneyToMars thing?

NASA's Launches Football Stadium Sized Super Balloon From New Zealand [With Video]

"NASA successfully launched its football-stadium-sized, heavy-lift super pressure balloon (SPB) from Wanaka, New Zealand, at 10:50 a.m. Tuesday, April 25 (6:50 p.m. April 24 in U.S. Eastern Time), on a mission designed to run 100 or more days floating at 110,000 feet (33.5 km) about the globe in the southern hemisphere's mid-latitude band."

Marc's note: Since New Zealand ambassador nominee Scott Brown won't be seeing a SpaceX launch from New Zealand, perhaps he'll settle for a NASA Super Pressure Balloon launch.

Keith's note: New Zealand ambassador nominee Scott Brown "I'm not sure our folks understand, but a lot of launches for SpaceX go right out of New Zealand."

Cassini Completes Final and Fateful Titan Flyby

"NASA's Cassini spacecraft has had its last close brush with Saturn's hazy moon Titan and is now beginning its final set of 22 orbits around the ringed planet."

"The spacecraft made its 127th and final close approach to Titan on April 21 at 11:08 p.m. PDT (2:08 a.m. EDT on April 22), passing at an altitude of about 608 miles (979 kilometers) above the moon's surface."

Marc's note: There are a couple of new images.

Marc's note: At 10:00 a.m. ET President Trump, Ivanka Trump and NASA Astronaut Kate Rubins will call the ISS from the White House to speak with Commander Peggy Whitson and Flight Engineer Jack Fischer of NASA. Will we hear anything of substance? With This President you never know. You can watch the event LIVE on SpaceRef.

Updated: NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson Talks STEM Education with President Trump

Updated: Remarks by President Trump in Video Call with NASA Astronauts Aboard the International Space Station

President Trump Calls Space Station Crew on Record-Setting Day

Keith's note: This coming week I will be at the Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon). As such my posting on NASAWatch will be somewhat limited. But Marc will be keeping an eye on things. I will be tweeting about the meeting from @NASAWatch and @Astrobiology and posting updates at astrobiology.com. AbSciCon Sessions will be streamed live at http://spaceref.com/live/astrobiology.html




This Week at NASA: Expedition 51-52 Takes Flight, Earth Day and More

"On April 20, Expedition 51-52 Flight Engineer Jack Fischer of NASA and Soyuz Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos launched to the International Space Station aboard a Soyuz spacecraft, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. About six-hours later, the pair arrived at the orbital outpost and were greeted by station Commander Peggy Whitson of NASA and other members of the crew. Fischer and Yurchikhin will spend four and a half months conducting research aboard the station. Also, U.S. Resupply Mission Heads to the Space Station, Time Magazine Recognizes Planet-Hunting Scientists, Landslides on Ceres Reflect Ice Content, Mars Rover Opportunity Leaves 'Tribulation', and Earth Day in the Nation's Capital."

Interstellar Docking

Keith's note: You have got to watch this. Full screen. Sound turned up - footage of the docking of Soyuz with ISS using the docking sequence from the "Interstellar" soundtrack. (Corrected, it was not a Cygnus.)

House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Chairman Smith Statement on the March for Science

"I support the right of science supporters to gather and march this weekend. Opening new frontiers of scientific knowledge, on Earth and beyond, will pave the way to a better, more secure future for the next generation. I will continue to support scientific research that furthers our national interest and is of the highest intellectual merit."

Ranking Member Johnson Applauds Mission of the March for Science

"Though I am disheartened by the fact that there currently is a need to defend the 'vital role science plays in our health, safety, economies, and governments,' I am thrilled to see such a large and diverse group of people passionate about science, invested in the future of scientific discovery, and committed to the need for science-based policy making. ... "Science shouldn't be a partisan issue. I hope that Members on both sides of the aisle are supporting all of the goals of today's march."

Breakthrough Initiatives Summit on Life in the Universe and Space Exploration

"Breakthrough Initiatives today announced its second annual Breakthrough Discuss scientific conference, which will bring together leading astronomers, engineers, astrobiologists and astrophysicists to advance discussion surrounding recent discoveries of potentially habitable planets in nearby star systems. The two days of discussions will focus on newly discovered Earth-like 'exoplanets' in the Alpha Centauri and TRAPPIST-1 planetary systems, and new evidence that these planets could be habitable, as well as their potential as targets for novel methods of space exploration."

Breakthrough Discuss Opens with Lively Sessions Dedicated to the Search for Planets and Life in Our Cosmic Neighborhood, Breakthrough Initiatives

"Peter Michelson emphasized that the last century of scientific investigation has transformed questions about origins from the realm of metaphysics to a place where they can be investigated observationally."

Breakthrough Discuss Conference Closes with Full Day Dedicated to Newly Discovered Exoplanets and SETI, Breakthrough Initiatives

"Breakthrough Initiatives are a suite of scientific and technological programs exploring the big questions around life in the Universe, such as, Are we alone? What are the nearest habitable planets? And can we become an interstellar civilization?"

Keith's note: I had a few thoughts about this official Science March T-shirt design.


Flat NASA budgets pose risk to researchers, SpaceNews

"The prospect of extended flat budgets for NASA has some scientists concerned that research funds could be raided to support other programs. In a presentation April 19 to a microgravity research colloquium at the National Academies here, Gale Allen, acting chief scientist, said she had been warned at a recent agency meeting not to expect even increases to keep pace with inflation for the next five years. "Right now it looks like our budget for the next five years will be flat. There isn't even an inflationary aspect to it," she said. At a meeting the previous day, she said, NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot said that proposed budget profile amounted to a cut of $3.4 billion over those five years because of decreased purchasing power."

Trump Budget Cuts "Critical" NASA Climate Missions, Scientific American

"The proposed cancellations mesh with statements made by Trump, administration officials and some members of Congress who have argued that NASA should be focused on outer space and leave the job of observing Earth to other agencies. But NASA's unparalleled experience and expertise in developing new observational technologies and launching satellites makes it a crucial part of the Earth science enterprise, many experts say. "I don't see anybody else who could fill that gap," Adam Sobel, a Columbia University climate scientist, said."

OIG Report on NASA's Journey To Nowhere, earlier post

"... although the Agency's combined investment for development of the SLS, Orion, and GSDO programs will reach approximately $23 billion by the end of fiscal year 2018, the programs' average monetary reserves for the years leading up to EM-1 are much lower than the 10 to 30 percent recommended by Marshall Space Flight Center guidance."

Trump's OMB Does Not Know Who Operates DSCOVR, earlier post

Keith's note: This morning the email account for the Center Director of Jet Propulsion Laboratory sent out a lab-wide email with the subject line "active shooter" (see image of full email)

From: Office Of The Director [mailto:Office.Of.The.Director@jpl.nasa.gov]
Sent: Wednesday, April 19, 2017 9:45 AM
To: all.personnel@list.jpl.nasa.gov
Subject: Active Shooter

Sources report that this caused a great deal of disturbance - just one day after shootings in Fresno. The email was not about any threat to JPL but rather describing a course about how to deal with a situation in which there is a hostile person (with a gun) in the work environment. An hour later, the same email was sent out with a different subject line - "Clarification: Training for Active Shooter Event". No one ever admitted that an error was made or apologized for freaking people out.

Anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's historic spaceflight marked in Russia and worldwide, TASS

"As far as the competition in the space industry is concerned, it has intensified sharply in recent months. The re-launch of a booster by (Elon) Musk and plans to replace our RD-180 rocket engines with those made in the US by the Blue Origin demonstrate that we are entering difficult times and that the reserves of the Soviet space program are now about to be depleted," said Alexander Zheleznyakov of Russia's Tsiolkovsky Academy of Cosmonautics. "If the Roscosmos leadership is aware of this, there is still a chance that we will succeed, but if we continue to rest on our laurels, we will lose this struggle for competitiveness," he said, adding that although projects for reusable boosters are explored by Russian space industry researches as well, they are far from completion. "While we are trying to catch up, our rivals will increase the gap in the development of space technologies. If we want to catch up with them, we will have to be proactive. If we simply mirror the achievements and technological ideas of others, we will always stay behind," the expert said."

Man Driving Diamond-encrusted Mercedes Caught Embezzling Cosmodrome Funds, earlier post

Previous posts on Russia

No, Russia isn't sending a Terminator robot to the space station, Ars Technica

"The reports this weekend were breathless. Mashable said Russia was sending a "death dealing" robot with the power to shoot guns to the International Space Station. Pravda reported that the Russian cyborg, Fyodor, had frightened the West. It was like the Terminator, only in space, and only for reals. In reality, probably not. The stories were written after the Russian deputy prime minister overseeing military and space activities, Dmitry Rogozin, posted on Facebook and Twitter about the country's humanoid robot, Fyodor."

Russian space robot bound for ISS given power to shoot handguns, for some reason, Mashable

"Just in time for the rise in global military tensions, Russian officials have released video that's sure to calm fears all around: a death dealing humanoid robot that shoots handguns. Posted to Twitter on Friday by Russia's deputy Prime Minister, Dmitry Rogozin, the video shows the country's space robot FEDOR (Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research) accurately shooting twin pistols in a scene chillingly similar to images from The Terminator."

Earlier Robonaut and R5 postings

Congressman Jim Bridenstine Says He's Still In Running To Lead NASA, NewsOn6

"Oklahoma First District Congressman Jim Bridenstine says he is still in the running to be the new head of NASA. Bridenstine told News On 6 he was recently asked back for another interview by the Trump administration. The Republican said, "I don't know what the end result is, but I keep interviewing, which is an indicator that maybe I'm still in the mix for it."

Bridenstine Has Second Interview for NASA Post, Roll Call

"While he lacks the science background of previous NASA administrators, he is a member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee who has advocated for space exploration. "NASA is something that Republicans and Democrats both like," he said. "It's something everybody wants to do."

NASA OIG: NASA's Plans for Human Exploration Beyond Low Earth Orbit

"NASA's initial exploration missions on its Journey to Mars - EM-1 and EM-2 - face multiple cost and technical challenges that likely will affect their planned launch dates. Moreover, although the Agency's combined investment for development of the SLS, Orion, and GSDO programs will reach approximately $23 billion by the end of fiscal year 2018, the programs' average monetary reserves for the years leading up to EM-1 are much lower than the 10 to 30 percent recommended by Marshall Space Flight Center guidance. Low monetary reserves limit the programs' flexibility to cover increased costs or delays resulting from unexpected design complexity, incomplete requirements, or technology uncertainties. Moreover, software development and verification efforts for all three programs are behind schedule to meet a November 2018 EM-1 launch. Finally, NASA does not have a life-cycle cost estimate or integrated schedule for EM-2, which makes it difficult for Agency officials and external stakeholders to understand the full costs of EM-2 or gauge the validity of launch date assumptions."

NASA detained a 75-year-old woman selling a tiny moon rock. An appeals court says she can sue, LA Times

"A 75-year-old woman who tried to sell a paperweight containing a speck of moon rock may try to hold a federal agent liable for detaining her for two hours in a public parking lot in urine-soaked pants, a federal appeals court decided unanimously Thursday. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said Joann Davis, the widow of an engineer who worked with NASA, was entitled to show that her detention was "unreasonably prolonged and unnecessarily degrading." The federal agent "organized a sting operation involving six armed officers to forcibly seize a Lucite paperweight containing a moon rock the size of a rice grain from an elderly grandmother," Chief 9th Circuit Judge Sidney R. Thomas wrote for a three-judge panel."

Davis v United States

"9th Cir. No. 15-55671 Consuelo B. Marshall, District Judge, Presiding Before: Sidney R. Thomas, Chief Judge, and Andrew J. Kleinfeld and Jacqueline H. Nguyen, Circuit Judges.: Government agent not entitled to qualified immunity for "prolonged and degrading" detention of elderly woman in parking lot (Thomas, J.)"

- NASA OIG Admits The Obvious About Moon Rocks
- NASA IG Sends Cops in Flack Vests After 74 Year Old, 4'11" Grandmother, earlier post
- NASA IG Refuses To Comment on Official Abuse of Elderly Woman, earlier post
- NASA's Inconsistent Policy Regarding The Sale Of Apollo Era Items, earlier post

Group knocks Trump by holding 'first protest in space', The Hill

"The Autonomous Space Agency Network (ASAN) launched a "protest in space" against President Trump this week in solidarity with the upcoming March for Science, by sending a weather balloon to space with a printed-out anti-Trump tweet attached to it."

Keith's note: Quote Source: "You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, 'Look at that, you son of a bitch." - Edgar D. Mitchell, Apollo 14

New Insights into Ocean Worlds Enceladus and Europa

"Two veteran NASA missions are providing new details about icy, ocean-bearing moons of Jupiter and Saturn, further heightening the scientific interest of these and other "ocean worlds" in our solar system and beyond. The findings are presented in papers published Thursday by researchers with NASA's Cassini mission to Saturn and Hubble Space Telescope. In the papers, Cassini scientists announce that a form of chemical energy that life can feed on appears to exist on Saturn's moon Enceladus, and Hubble researchers report additional evidence of plumes erupting from Jupiter's moon Europa."

Keith's note: correction - "Linda" who made the shrimp comment is not from PAO - she is Dr. Linda Spilker the Cassini Project Scientist. NASA gets all upset when newspapers start to make things up about these upcoming announcements - especially when they start speculating on all sorts of alien life forms that might be on the verge of being announced. NASA PAO constantly complains that they have to shoot down all of the loony speculation. Then someone at NASA starts asking about shrimp on Enceladus in an official capacity at a NASA press event.

Hydrothermal Activity in The Seas of Enceladus: Implications For Habitable Zones, Astrobiology.com

First posted on 11 April 2017 at 7:16 pm EDT. "On Thursday NASA will announce evidence that hydrothermal activity on the floor of an ice-covered ocean on Saturn's moon Enceladus is most likely creating methane from carbon dioxide. The process is indicative of possible habitable zones within the ocean of Enceladus. But before we go any further, "habitable" does not mean "inhabited". NASA bases this determination on the amount of hydrogen in plumes emanating from the moon's south pole. The large amount of hydrogen is strongly suggestive of a constant hydrothermal process wherein the ocean under the surface of Enceladus is interacting with rock and organic compounds. The amount of hydrogen present is in disequilibrium i.e. if there was not a process that was constantly generating hydrogen the observed hydrogen levels would likely be lower than what is seen. Something is pumping it out."

NASA News Conference on Oceans Beyond Earth, NASA

"NASA will discuss new results about ocean worlds in our solar system from the agency's Cassini spacecraft and the Hubble Space Telescope during a news briefing 11 a.m. PDT (2 p.m. EDT, 18:00 UTC) on Thursday, April 13. These new discoveries will help inform future ocean world exploration -- including NASA's upcoming Europa Clipper mission planned for launch in the 2020s -- and the broader search for life beyond Earth."

Trump's Transition Team Asked NASA About Surveying the Moon for Valuable Resources, Motherboard

"In the 100-plus pages of documents that Motherboard obtained--including emails, briefings, directories and budget spreadsheets--Trump's agency review team, or ART, asks only a handful of questions of NASA. One of them deals with the technology NASA develops, and whether anyone can profit from it. "The ART has requested the following information," one briefing paper states. "Provide data and examples of how NASA does technology development (perhaps even in the form of products) when working with industry--for example, types of contracts/partnerships and IP [intellectual property] arrangements."

FOIA Document response

White House tells agencies to come up with a plan to shrink their workforces, Washington Post

"The White House on Wednesday will instruct all federal agencies to submit a plan by June 30 to shrink their civilian workforces, offering the first details on how the Trump administration aims to reduce the size and scope of the government. A governmentwide hiring freeze the president imposed on Jan. 23 will be lifted immediately. But Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters Tuesday that agency leaders must start "taking immediate actions" to save money and reduce their staffs. Mulvaney also said they must come up with a long-term blueprint to cut the number of federal workers starting in October 2018."

What do the stars hold for the Trump administration? Here's how NASA's mission could change, PBS NewsHour

"REP. JOHN CULBERSON: I have always wanted to restore NASA to the glory days of Apollo, as you and I remember as kids. I want to see NASA go above and beyond the glory days of Apollo.

REP. JOHN CULBERSON: When Mike Griffin canceled the Europa mission last decade, it scarred me so badly, I swore I wouldn't let the bureaucrats cancel this mission again. So, today, the Europa orbiter and lander is the only mission it is still illegal for NASA not to fly."

Keith's note: I just love the media advisories NASA issues such as this one for tomorrow's "NASA to Reveal New Discoveries in News Conference on Oceans Beyond Earth" press event. They are always filled with names, affiliations, specific instruments, buzz words, tantalizing hints, etc. This makes it so much easier for me to use Google, preprint servers, and simple journalistic tools like email and phone calls to figure out what NASA is going to announce. Who needs embargoed papers? NASA loves to make the media play connect the dots. And if you follow these missions, then its even easier to play.

This advisory includes the sentence "NASA will discuss new results about ocean worlds in our solar system from the agency's Cassini spacecraft and the Hubble Space Telescope" and lists participants including "Hunter Waite, Cassini Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer team lead at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio, Chris Glein, Cassini INMS team associate at SwRI".

Duh "ocean worlds", "Cassini" - they are talking about Enceladus. Hmm ... 2 people who work with the "Cassini Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer". Let's do some Googling. Ah "Enceladus Flyby 21 (E-21): Deepest Dive Through the Plume" which says "1. Confirm presence of molecular hydrogen (H2). This measurement will be accomplished using Cassini's sensor that sniffs the gases in the plume (called INMS). Confirmation of H2 would be an independent line of evidence that hydrothermal activity is taking place in the Enceladus ocean, on the seafloor. Amount of H2 Cassini measures would reveal how much hydrothermal activity is going on in the ocean. This has implications for the amount of energy available for creating a habitable environment in the ocean". This instrument's data is posted by NASA here: Cassini (INMS) level 1A high and the low sensitivity counter (Data archive), PDS/PPI, NASA

And "William Sparks" from STSCI is listed. That's easy: he looks at plumes erupting from Europa. He just completed 14891 - Confirming the ice plumes of Europa "We propose a campaign to image Europa in transit against Jupiter close to the April 2017 opposition, in order to maximize spatial resolution, sensitivity, and time sampling. These measurements have the potential to profoundly influence a topic of fundamental scientific importance and of great strategic interest to NASA. If the ice plumes of Europa arise from the deep ocean, we have gained access to probably the most astrobiologically interesting location in the Solar System." He has also completed 14112 - Monitoring the ice plumes of Europa, 13829 - The ice plumes of Europa, and 13620 - Probing the atmosphere of a transiting ocean world: are there ice fountains on Europa?

So its all about ice world/ocean world plumes folks. Bingo.

Space Station Crew Including NASA Astronaut Shane Kimbrough Return to Earth

"Expedition 50 Commander Shane Kimbrough of NASA is among three crew members from the International Space Station (ISS) who returned to Earth Monday, after 173 days in space, landing in Kazakhstan at approximately 7:20 a.m. EDT (5:20 p.m. Kazakhstan time). Also returning were Flight Engineers Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko of the Russian space agency Roscosmos. The three touched down southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan."

Honoring John Glenn

Inside The S.S. John Glenn

"Inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the John Glenn banner is attached inside the Orbital ATK Cygnus pressurized cargo module."

NASA Television to Air Service Honoring Legacy of John Glenn

"NASA Television will provide coverage of the interment service for NASA astronaut and U.S. Senator John Glenn at 9 a.m. EDT on Thursday, April 6, live from Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia."

How Jeff Bezos is using Amazon's success to fuel Blue Origin's space effort, a billion dollars at a time, GeekWire

"Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos has long said that he's using his personal fortune to fund his Blue Origin space venture, and today he hinted at just how many billions of dollars he intends to spend. "My business model right now for Blue Origin is, I sell about $1 billion a year of Amazon stock, and I use it to invest in Blue Origin," he told reporters here at the 33rd Space Symposium. "So the business model for Blue Origin is very robust." Bezos threw out the figure half-jokingly, after noting that he typically doesn't reveal how much he's spending. But he made clear that his in-house space effort, headquartered in Kent, Wash., takes a noticeable chunk out of his estimated $78 billion fortune. He said the development cost for Blue Origin's New Glenn orbital launch system, which should be taking off from a Florida launch facility by 2020 or so, is likely to be on the order of $2.5 billion."

Russia may abandon International Space Station to join forces with China, Pravda

"The Russian segment of the International Space Station may separate from the station. Russia's Federal Space Agency Roscosmos is also currently looking into the need for the presence of people in orbit. Do people still have to live on board the ISS or is it possible to entrust space exploration to robots? These issues were put on the agenda of the meeting of the Military Industrial Commission for the development of Roscosmos until 2030."

Russia open to extending international space station partnership: agency chief, Reuters

"Moscow has an alternative if relations with the United States sour. Russia last year unveiled a plan to detach some of its modules and use them to create a new, independent outpost in orbit. "We adjusted and made some minor changes in our programs ... but it doesn't mean that we don't want to continue our cooperation," Komarov said. "We just want to be on the safe side and make sure we can continue our research." The United States is dependent on Russia's propellant module to keep the station in orbit."

Keith's note: The artists at JPL who created the farewell video for Cassini must have seen "Wanderers" - and "Interstellar". If so, it shows. That's OK. This JPL creation sets a new standard for displaying what NASA missions have done and the true scale of the vistas these probes would see if we humans were not constantly telling them what to look at. The more of these videos NASA makes, the more it will explain itself to more people, and the stronger its support amongst the populace will be. Watch both videos. One is a prequel. Oh and the Interstellar clip is a must-see as well. We will one day see these things with our own eyes.

Capitalism in Space: Private Enterprise and Competition Reshape the Global Aerospace Launch Industry, Bob Zimmerman

"A close look at these recommendations will reveal one common thread. Each is focused on shifting power and regulatory authority away from the federal government and increasing the freedom of American companies to act as they see fit to meet the demands of the market. The key word that defines this common thread is freedom, a fundamental principle that has been aspired to since the nation's founding. Political leaders from both parties have made the concept a central core tenet of American policy. Democrat John Kennedy stated that his commitment to go to the Moon was a "stand for freedom" in the Cold War. Republican Ronald Reagan proposed "Freedom" as the name for the new space station, and viewed it as a platform for promoting private enterprise in space. Freedom is actually a very simple idea. Give people and companies the freedom to act, in a competitive environment that encourages intelligent and wise action, and they will respond intelligently and wisely. The United States' history proves that freedom can work. It is time to prove it again, in space."

Wishful thinking collides with policy, economic realities in 'Capitalism in Space', op Ed Scott Pace, Space News

"Unfortunately, the report is rife with factual errors and misleading comparisons that make it all but useless, while occasionally making points we can agree with. It begins with erroneous assumptions on how NASA cargo and crew capabilities are being programmatically implemented. It projects outcomes based on the only operating NASA example of a public-private partnership, ISS cargo transportation. The core problem is that based on this minimal experience the author poses a false binary choice between "government" or "private sector" approaches to space transportation, a choice in which he argues that the government should abandon traditional acquisition practices in favor of relying on "free enterprise."

Keith's note: Scott you know as well as everyone else that there is indeed a clear difference between government space and private sector space. You also know that the moment that the government starts to stick its fingers into the way that a company does things that effort quickly becomes a de facto government space effort - no matter what sort of verbiage you may want to paint all over it to suggest otherwise. There is indeed a choice facing all of us as to how we do things in space. Some people are willing to consider that choice and embrace new ways of doing things. Others are determined to avoid doing so, preferring instead to dwell on outmoded models that no longer work.

Keith's note: Let's see how long it takes for NASA, NOAA, NSF etc. to be told to do the same thing by the White House.

A $1 Bill Has Landed a NASA Scientist in a Turkish Prison for Nine Months, Houston Press

"When asked whether NASA can or will try to help Serkan, NASA spokesman Allard Beutel referred the Press to the U.S. State Department. That agency acknowledged it has no influence over Turkish authorities in this case. "We can confirm Turkish authorities arrested and detained U.S. citizen Serkan Golge last July," a U.S. State Department official stated. "We remain concerned for Mr. Golge and have raised his case with Turkish authorities. Although the United States does not have a legal right to access dual U.S.-Turkish citizens detained in Turkey, we continue to press for such access as a matter of courtesy. We have no further comment at this time." Even though NASA has stayed quiet, the scientific community has been trying to draw attention to Serkan's case. The Endangered Scholars Worldwide group and the Committee of Concerned Scientists have both issued sharply worded statements over his detention, urging that he be released. A petition has also been filed asking the White House to intervene. If the petition garners 100,000 signatures by next month, it is supposed to be reviewed by President Donald Trump. It has only about 150 signatures so far."

A NASA Scientist Has Been Imprisoned in Turkey for 8 Months, New York Times

"A NASA scientist, Serkan Golge, has spent the last eight months in a Turkish prison. An attempted coup in Turkey last summer resulted in the government arresting thousands of people on flimsy evidence, and Serkan, a Turkish-American, is one of the casualties. Serkan's case signals how bold the Turkish government has become, even imprisoning a well-regarded scientist, when the only evidence against him is a $1 bill. He will soon go to trial, facing a sentence of up to 15 years in prison for being "a member of an armed terrorist organization." There's been little domestic or international press attention to Serkan's detention, but a three-month investigation suggests the injustice surrounding the case of a man caught in a national hurricane. ... Serkan, 37, has been working at NASA for the past three years as a senior research scientist studying space radiation effects on the human crew at the International Space Station. He first traveled to the United States in 2003 and gained American citizenship in 2010."

Petition

A revolution is brewing: observations of TRAPPIST-1 exoplanetary system fosters a new biomarker, physics.pop-ph

"One of the key questions that has arisen in recent times is the boundaries of the Habitable Zone, classically defined as the range of orbital distances in a stellar system where surface liquid water could be stable (Kasting et al. 1993). It is, however, seldom addressed how this concept might become obsolete in exoplanetary worlds where the priorities for living a good life are different than getting liquid water everywhere and at all times (Kim Kardashian, personal communication). A groundbreaking paper to that respect is the study by Kane and Zelsiz (2014) which demonstrated that the existing concepts about the Hab- itable Zone completely overlooked the risk posed by Zombie attacks."

Read the paper

The Next Economic Revolution Just (re)Launched: Congratulate SpaceX, Thank NASA, OpEd, Greg Autry, Forbes

"Our global competitors in Russia, China and even Europe remain wedded to an antiquated socialist vision of space development. Their space "programs" are run by state-owned enterprises and quasi-governmental national champions. While they flirt with very small commercial endeavors and rebrand their government bureaucracies as "companies", the political leaders of these nations are very unlikely to truly let go of a strategic national industry with military implications. The current trend already suggest that it is time to put a fork in China's Great Wall Industry Corp, Russia's TsSKB Progress and Europe's Arianespace. In 2011, the U.S. had surrendered the entire mid-sized commercial space launch business to subsidized global competition. Just four years later, SpaceX had recaptured half of that market. SpaceX's success has motivated ULA to aggressively pursue commercial launches as well. Reuse and new competitors will restore 80% or more of this business to America over the next few years."

Defects Found in Almost Every Russian Proton Rocket Engine, Moscow Times

"An investigation into quality control issues in the Russian space industry has discovered that nearly every engine currently stockpiled for use in Proton rockets is defective, the RIA Novosti news agency reported March 30, citing Igor Arbuzov, head of state rocket engine manufacturer Energomash. ... But over the past decade, Proton's reliability and that of the Russian space industry as a whole has been thrown into sharp question amid a series of spectacular launch failures. The problem goes beyond engines, pointing to a general quality control crisis across multiple factories and rocket designs."

NASAWatch Is 21

How scientists are scrambling to safeguard vital environmental data, PBS Newshour

"MILES O'BRIEN: While scientists wait to see what shoes might drop, a rumor mill echoes across the Twitterverse ... Are scientists in a panic? Is that what it is? What's going on?

KEITH COWING, NASA Watch: They know where the panic button is, and they look at it once or twice a day.

MILES O'BRIEN: Keith Cowing is a former NASA biologist who founded the watchdog Web site NASA Watch 20 years ago. He's the proto-rogue, and now he says everybody seems to be joining in."

Keith's note: NASAWatch turns 21 on 1 Apr 2017. It started as "NASA RIFWatch" on 1 Apr 1996 and was first hosted on a Mac Classic II on an ISDN line in my little condo in Reston, Virginia (see 20 Years Ago Today: The Seeds of NASAWatch). Here a few things from those early days that are still online:

- Rogue Webmasters, Government Executive, 1 Oct 1996
- NASA's Most Important Asset, Gerry Griffin, 31 December 1996
- Dan Goldin Comments to the Space Science Advisory Committee (SSAC) Meeting, 6/17/96
- Changes in Thinking At NASA November 29, 1996, PBS News Hour

Plus this piece from last year

- NASA Watch Celebrates 20 Years of Critiquing the Space Agency's Every. Single. Move., Inverse (2016)

Just to show you how things have changed, this photo should shock a few of you ... (well worth a click) - and no, it is not an April Fool's joke. Today, some up and coming bloggers and digeratti love to throw snark at me just like I threw it at Dan Goldin back in the day. Life is funny like that.

Those of you who have followed my 'other' exploits will know that I have had a certain interest in doing online updates from distant and extreme locations (Devon Island, Everest Base Camp, etc.). This website (still online), "The McMurdo Dry Valleys Long-Term Research Project - Life in Extreme Environments; An Antarctic Field Journal", done with my friend Dale Andersen, was one of the very earliest websites actually updated from Antarctica.

People have been asking me to look back on things and pick the events that are most memorable. After all I have spent 1/3 of my life running this thing. I have been given many chances to do things because of my peculiar notoriety. This shaky video, done live with my friend Miles O'Brien - about our mutual friend Scott Parazynski - while this picture was being taken - is the one singular moment where it all came together.

Thanks to all of you for stopping by for the past 21 years.


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