August 2017 Archives

Review of "The Farthest": Becoming Interstellar

"In 1977 the twin Voyager spacecraft left planet Earth bound for the outer reaches of our solar system - and beyond. What they discovered changed our way of thinking about how worlds are built and broadened our notions of where life might be found. The story of this audacious project is told in the captivating new documentary "The Farthest" which is airing on PBS this week. The film itself is weaved together rather artfully - not unlike the sounds and images that were placed on the now-famous "Golden Records" that each spacecraft carried. The story is narrated mostly by people who were there. Indeed its like listening to the crew of a ship of discovery recount the days of wonder that they experienced."

The Trump administration just disbanded a federal advisory committee on climate change, Washington Post

"The Trump administration has decided to disband the federal advisory panel for the National Climate Assessment, a group aimed at helping policymakers and private-sector officials incorporate the government's climate analysis into long-term planning. ... Administration officials are currently reviewing a scientific report that is key to the final document. Known as the Climate Science Special Report, it was produced by scientists from 13 different federal agencies and estimates that human activities were responsible for an increase in global temperatures of 1.1 to 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit from 1951 to 2010."

- Third draft of the Climate Science Special Report (NOAA and NASA are the lead authors).
- Will Saying "Climate Change" Be Banned At All Government Agencies Or Just Some Of Them?

SpaceX informed NASA of slowdown in its commercial Mars program, SpaceflightNow

"Confirming rumors and suspicions that SpaceX is adjusting its plans to begin dispatching robotic landers to Mars, NASA officials said the commercial space company has informed the agency that it has put its Red Dragon program on the back burner. Under the terms of a Space Act Agreement between NASA and SpaceX, the government agreed to provide navigation and communications services for the Red Dragon mission, which originally aimed to deliver an unpiloted lander to Mars in 2018. SpaceX confirmed earlier this year the launch of the experimental lander on a Falcon Heavy rocket had slipped to 2020."

- SpaceX Will Go To Mars Starting in 2018, earlier post
- NASA's SpaceX Mars Mission Briefing That NASA Is Not Telling You About, earlier post

NASA power player will become new University of North Texas boss, Dallas News

"Thursday, University of North Texas regents are expected to select a longtime NASA leader to help launch the system into a new era of research and exploration. Lesa Roe will be announced as the sole finalist for the position of chancellor. Roe, who is currently acting as NASA's second in command, will replace longtime leader Lee Jackson, who is retiring after 15 years."

http://images.spaceref.com/news/2017/priority.wordcloud.jpg

FY 2019 Administration Research and Development Priorities, OMB

Keith's update: The only space-related priority is missile defense. That's it. Look at the word cloud (larger image) of the things this document says. It should be obvious what this Administration's focus is - and is not.

Yes, it really has taken NASA 11 years to develop a parachute, Ars Technica

"After the Jacobs tour, I put this question to [NASA Acting Chief Technologist Douglas] Terrier. He did not flinch. "I think it's a very fair question," he said. "I think it's a very fair debate to ask if we as a nation are serious about this, and making it a priority. What we've enjoyed is a very constant level of support, but it's certainly not the Apollo or Manhattan-type project to crank this thing out in seven years." That is not to say that NASA, or its large contractor base, is less able than it was in the 1960s. Far from it, Terrier said. "I think it's important to realize that the team and the technology and manufacturing base is very capable of doing that, the moment someone flicks that switch. The speed at which we're moving is not limited by the capability of NASA or the contractors; it is limited by the resources and, frankly, the political emphasis."

Keith's update: Of course no one at NASA will entertain the counter argument that NASA has been dragging its feet while the real world passes it by. Just sayin'

GAO: Surplus Missile Motors: Sale Price Drives Potential Effects on DOD and Commercial Launch Providers, GAO

"The Department of Defense (DOD) could use several methods to set the sale prices of surplus intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) motors that could be converted and used in vehicles for commercial launch if current rules prohibiting such sales were changed. One method would be to determine a breakeven price. Below this price, DOD would not recuperate its costs, and, above this price, DOD would potentially save. GAO estimated that DOD could sell three Peacekeeper motors--the number required for one launch, or, a "motor set"--at a breakeven price of about $8.36 million and two Minuteman II motors for about $3.96 million, as shown below. Other methods for determining motor prices, such as fair market value as described in the Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board Handbook, resulted in stakeholder estimates ranging from $1.3 million per motor set to $11.2 million for a first stage Peacekeeper motor. The prices at which surplus ICBM motors are sold is an important factor for determining the extent of potential benefits and challenges of allowing the motors to be used for commercial launch."

Here are the business leaders who are - and aren't - officially advising Trump, Business Insiders

CEOs of at least 3 major companies quit WH board over Trump Charlottesville response

"Thanks for checking in. We don't have a comment," said a spokesman for Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson."

As Trump disbanded advisory groups, this is who was in and who was out, CNBC

"Marillyn Hewson Lockheed Martin CEO No comment"

Light Posting This Week

Keith's note: Posting on NASAWatch will be rather light this week. I am taking a few days off. Among other things I will be getting a close-up look at the recently restored portrait of my great9 grandmother at the Yale Center for British Art.

Keith's update: Here are some pictures of me and my great^9 grandmother at Yale today.

Keith's note: The exact date and venue for the formal announcement of these NASA leadership nominations has not been set. NASA HQ has liked to do events with a lot of pomp and flair so we'll see what they do for this announcement. Sources have told me that a post-Labor Day announcement was being planned but it may be moved up now. Or maybe it won't.

Looking at where NASA is - and where the Trump folks seem to want it to go - a pairing of Jim Bridenstine with John Schumacher make a lot of sense. Bridenstine's views seem to resonate well with a lot of what seems to be buzzing around inside the heads of TrumpSpace people. Schumacher has a long resume in senior positions at both NASA - so he'll give Bridenstine a lot of managerial support. Bridenstine has a lot of interest in emerging space commerce opportunities while Schumacher has a solid aerospace background - another way that their skillsets complement one another.

Commercial space is not going away. Neither is SLS. As such NASA will need to support both - hopefully in synergistic and complementary fashion. So the prudent thing to do was to select a team that can represent both camps and build a long term alliance between them. That is what this decision clearly seems to represent.

Sources: Trump administration has picked its NASA leader, Ars Technica

"NASA may finally be close to getting some clarity about its leadership during the Trump administration. On Tuesday, NASA Watch reported that the President will nominate US Representative Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), as administrator and Aerojet Rocketdyne Vice President John Schumacher as deputy administrator. Both men have been rumored to be nominated for these posts in recent weeks, but there have been no official confirmations as yet."

SpaceX Launches Cargo Resupply Mission to the Space Station (With multiple videos)

"Experiments seeking a better understanding of Parkinson's disease and the origin of cosmic rays are on their way to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft following today's 12:31 p.m. EDT launch."

"Carrying more than 6,400 pounds of research equipment, cargo and supplies, the spacecraft lifted off on a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on the company's 12th commercial resupply mission. It will arrive at the space station Wednesday, Aug. 16, at which time astronauts Jack Fischer of NASA and Paolo Nespoli of ESA (European Space Agency) will use the space station's robotic arm to capture it."

NASA Announces New SLS Markings

"The markings on the outside of the complete boosters look like black-and-white checkerboards and serve as "targets" for cameras located in strategic locations on and around the vehicle and will be used for photogrammetry, the science of using photography to help measure distances between objects."

http://images.spaceref.com/news/2015/15-210-sls.jpgNASA Adopts Disco Era Paint Scheme for SLS, earlier post (2015)

"OK - the Core stage color makes sense. But why do the SRBs have a disco-era paint scheme - like you'd expect to see on a 70s muscle car? Does this make the rocket go faster or easier to track? Did the SLS program formally decide on this?"

http://images.spaceref.com/news/sls.130.jpgSLS, Saturn V, And Ares V Color Schemes, earlier post (2011)

"NASA PAO says that the white/black coloration of the SLS stages that evokes memories of the Saturn V is there for the same reason: to aid in tracking during ascent. ... despite the official PAO response, I am now told by several people at NASA with the utmost reliability and knowledge on this issue that the depiction of the SLS in Saturn V-esque paint scheme was done at the discretion of the graphic artist to evoke memories of the Saturn V. My understanding is that they will paint it - but what it will look like no one really knows."

Keith's note: Note that NASA does not even mention the official color scheme from 2015. After all that money has been spent to change the color of the rocket and pay graphic artists to produced animations and graphics which can no longer be used NASA comes up with yet another series of cartons depicting how the SLS will look. Let's see what next year's color scheme looks like - given all the delays in the SLS program this is not the last one we'll see.

US federal department is censoring use of term 'climate change', emails reveal, Guardian

"Staff at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) have been told to avoid using the term climate change in their work, with the officials instructed to reference "weather extremes" instead. A series of emails obtained by the Guardian between staff at the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a USDA unit that oversees farmers' land conservation, show that the incoming Trump administration has had a stark impact on the language used by some federal employees around climate change."

White House reviewing new report that finds strong link between climate change, human activity, Washington Post

"A climate report based on work conducted by scientists in 13 federal agencies is under active review at the White House, and its conclusions about the far-reaching damage already occurring from global warming are at odds with the Trump administration's views. The report, known as the Climate Science Special Report, finds it is "extremely likely" that more than half of the rise in temperatures over the past four decades has been caused by human activity -- in contrast to Trump Cabinet members' views that the magnitude of that contribution is uncertain. The draft report, which has undergone extensive review, estimates that human impact was responsible for an increase in global temperatures of 1.1 to 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit from 1951 to 2010."

Draft report (NOAA and NASA are the lead authors).

Rep. Smith Statement on Climate Report

"The alarmist climate media is at it again. In its latest reporting of a so-called leaked climate assessment the New York Times relies on exaggerated statements and false allegations of cover-ups in order to push an agenda."

Ranking Members Johnson, Bonamici, and Beyer Respond to Draft Climate Science Report

"I was disappointed to hear President Trump formally noticing his intent to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement. As more evidence mounts that manmade climate change is a threat to our nation, it is the height of shortsightedness to surrender leadership on addressing this global challenge."

Keith's note: If USDA staff are ordered to do this, then you have to wonder when NASA and NOAA, other government agencies that study climate change on our planet, will start to do the same. Or ... will one agency have this editorial direction while others do not?

Rocket Lab Completes Post-Flight Analysis

"Rocket Lab's investigation team determined the launch, named 'It's a Test', was terminated due to a data loss time out, which was caused by misconfiguration of telemetry equipment owned and operated by a third-party contractor who was supporting the launch from Rocket Lab's Launch Complex 1. Four minutes into the flight, at an altitude of 224 km, the equipment lost contact with the rocket temporarily and, according to standard operating procedures, range safety officials terminated the flight. Data, including that from Rocket Lab's own telemetry equipment, confirmed the rocket was following a nominal trajectory and the vehicle was performing as planned at the time of termination."

Cameras on NASA exoplanet spacecraft slightly out of focus, Space News

"NASA confirmed July 26 that the focus of the four cameras on the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) spacecraft will drift when the spacecraft cools to operating temperatures after launch next March. The problem was noticed in recent tests when the cameras were chilled to approximately -75 degrees Celsius. "Recent tests show the cameras on TESS are slightly out of focus when placed in the cold temperatures of space where it will be operating," NASA spokesperson Felicia Chou said in response to a SpaceNews inquiry. "After a thorough engineering evaluation, NASA has concluded TESS can fully accomplish its science mission with the cameras as they are, and will proceed with current integration activities." ... "The question is how much science degradation will there be in the results," Boss said. "The TESS team thinks there will be a 10 percent cut in terms of the number of planets that they expect to be able to detect."

Keith's 27 July note: Strange that NASA will fly a flawed spacecraft that can only accomplish 90% of what it is supposed to do. Maybe NASA will explain this in a little more detail.

Keith's 4 August update: NASA Just posted this update about TESS "NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite Passes Critical Review" This is what NASA says: "Recent measurements revealed the TESS cameras to have slightly reduced focus and image quality near the outer edge of the image when placed in the cold temperatures of space, and better camera focus and image quality towards the center of the image. The difference between the designed and measured focus and image quality will not affect the mission's science goals." Last week this was a 10% decrease in capability. Now its no big deal, right NASA?

After failed space flights, NASA investigation leads to Portland, The Oregonian

"Twice in the past decade, NASA launched unmanned spacecraft ferrying advanced satellites into Earth's orbit as part of a mission that could offer researchers an unprecedented new source of data on climate change. But the satellites failed to deploy and, within minutes, NASA's $550 million investment and years of work vaporized in fiery balls of space junk. NASA has been investigating ever since. Now the inquiry has led to a nondescript industrial building in Northeast Portland, where a company called Sapa Extrusions acknowledges it has been dealing in bad aluminum and bad faith for as long as two decades."

NASA Creates Glory Satellite Mishap Investigation Board, earlier post

"NASA's Glory mission ended Friday after the spacecraft failed to reach orbit following its launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. NASA has begun the process of creating a Mishap Investigation Board to evaluate the cause of the failure. Telemetry indicated the fairing, a protective shell atop the satellite's Taurus XL rocket, did not separate as expected. The launch proceeded as planned from its liftoff at 5:09 a.m. EST through the ignition of the Taurus XL's second stage. However, the fairing failure occurred during the second stage engine burn. It is likely the spacecraft fell into the South Pacific, although the exact location is not yet known. NASA's previous launch attempt of an Earth science spacecraft, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory onboard a Taurus XL on Feb. 24, 2009, also failed to reach orbit when the fairing did not separate."

Lockheed Martin, which already settled one whistleblower suit at Stennis Space Center for $2 million, hit with another, Louisiana Voice

"With three large cost-plus contracts for testing and maintenance support services, Lockheed Martin has a commanding presence at NASA's primary rocket propulsion facility at the Stennis Space Center just over the Louisiana state line in Mississippi. But as history has shown, the potential for abuse with such large contracts that seem to carry little apparent oversight, is overwhelming. Now two Louisiana residents, one former Lockheed employee and the other a former contract employee for Lockheed, are bringing suit in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana in New Orleans under the federal false claims act The two, Mark Javery of St. Tammany Parish and Brian DeJan of New Orleans, claim that they were first given no duties and then fired from their jobs after reporting cost overruns and safety and performance issues."

- NASA is hiring a planetary protection office to save Earth from aliens, Newsweek
- NASA wants to pay someone astronomical sums to do something that is out of this world, The Blaze
- NASA Hiring 'Planetary Protection Officer' to Prevent Alien Invasion, NBC 6
- You Can Now Apply For a 6-Figure NASA Job Defending Earth From Alien Contamination, Money Magazine
- Leave your tin-foil hat at home: NASA needs a Planetary Protection Officer, WTOP

- Planetary Protection Officer (job description), USAJobs

"This position is assigned to Office of Safety and Mission Assurance for Planetary Protection. Planetary protection is concerned with the avoidance of organic-constituent and biological contamination in human and robotic space exploration. NASA maintains policies for planetary protection applicable to all space flight missions that may intentionally or unintentionally carry Earth organisms and organic constituents to the planets or other solar system bodies, and any mission employing spacecraft, which are intended to return to Earth and its biosphere with samples from extraterrestrial targets of exploration. This policy is based on federal requirements and international treaties and agreements."

Keith's note: All these goofy clickbait headlines about aliens. So little journalistic or editorial research. This position was created in 1967. It was originally called "Planetary Quarantine Officer" and Larry Hall was the first person to fill the position. In 1986 the position's name was changed to "Planetary Protection Officer". NASA has had someone in this position for half a century. The salary range is standard government scale. Fake news.

Review: "The Sky Below: A True Story of Summits, Space, and Speed" by Scott Parazynski with Susy Flory

"In 2009 I watched Scott and several hundred of people slog up Mt. Everest. Some made it to the summit. Some of them left base camp but never came back. And many turned back before the summit and then went home - never to return. I have always found the subset of climbers who came back without reaching the summit only to try again (and again) to be the most interesting of them all. Its one thing to try and succeed once. Its quite another to fail and then keep trying until you get it right (which is the whole point of life to begin with). That is what this book is really about."

Over A Single Dollar Bill, A NASA Scientist Remains Trapped In A Turkish Prison, Houston Press

"Standing on the street, Serkan realizes they are going to arrest him. Glancing at Mustafa, Serkan hugs Kubra and asks her to take the boy inside. Two hours later the police come back. This time they walk into Serkan's brother's room, open the drawer of a bureau, pull out a small wooden keepsake box and produce a single American dollar bill. The dollar means that Serkan is part of the Gülenists, a movement classified as a terrorist organization in Turkey that is being blamed for a failed attempt to oust Erdogan, the police claim. But Serkan is an American citizen. He is certain this means he can get help from the U.S. government."

NASA Employee Imprisoned By Turkey For No Reason, earlier post


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