October 2017 Archives

Keith's update: Sources report that Bridenstine's confirmation hearing will be on 1 November.

Keith's update: Still no word as to when the confirmation hearing for NASA Administrator nominee Rep. James Bridenstine will be held. There has been no change to this nomination status page for Bridenstine - nor is there any update to this matrix of pending nominations or on the hearings calendar for the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

A date in the last week of September had been penciled in but this was pushed back 2 weeks so that Sen. Nelson and others could deal with a backlog of hurricane-related issues. Since then things have been delayed further. Sen. Rubio still has issues that seem to point back to the 2016 primary season. Meanwhile Sen. Nelson is digging his feet in in terms of opposing Bridenstine and now wants to delay the confirmation hearing indefinitely on the whole climate change issue.

Meanwhile, Bridenstine has been at NASA Headquarters to start the confirmation preparation process. Headquarters veteran Tom Cremins and newcomer Brandon Eden (both with extensive Capitol Hill experience) are in charge of those confirmation hearing preparations.

Why We Go to the Moon. It starts with a mission statement, Air & Space

"A mission statement is vital for people to succinctly understand and fully comprehend the reasons for returning to the Moon. Ideally, a mission statement is a simple, declarative sentence, one that permits no ambiguity about intentions or execution. There is much truth in the belief that if you can't sum up your mission in just a few words, you probably don't understand it yourself. One's mission statement must encompass both anticipated activities and imply the value of its accomplishment."

The Interplanetary Political Football of Space Exploration, Scientific American

"Leaving aside the harsh realities of any country's political motivations to go to space, as a member of the astronomical community, it's hard not to feel like a passenger in the back seat of a car, watching an ongoing struggle over the steering wheel. Having the vision for our space program remain agile and responsive in a changing science and technology landscape is one thing, but it bears remembering that if all we do is pivot, we'll never get anywhere."

Elliot Pulham

Keith's update: Former Space Foundation CEO Elliot Pulham died the other day. He was diagnosed with brain cancer in September and had emergency surgery. Elliot was only 62. Details to follow.

Ad astra Elliot.

No, human space exploration is not a dead end, op ed, Marillyn Hewson (Locheed Martin), Washington Post

"For Post columnist David Von Drehle, NASA's renewed focus on human space exploration is "unnecessary" and "a dead end." I fundamentally disagree with this assessment. I was excited to see President Trump ensure that the United States remains the leader in space by reestablishing the National Space Council. Under the leadership of Vice President Pence, the council held a meeting last week for the first time in nearly 25 years, announcing a distinct objective: promote a clear U.S. space policy and enact the reforms necessary to strengthen American leadership in space. Von Drehle's argument against human space exploration boils down to three main questions, and I'd like to address each of them."

The mission to Mars is one stupid leap for mankind, op ed, Washington Post

Keith's note: Sigh. Marillyn Hewson's pro-human spaceflight op ed response to the anti-human spaceflight op ed by David Von Drehle is as formulaic and uninspired as Drehle's is ignorant and incorrect. Of course Lockheed Martin is going to support whatever NASA wants to pay them to do and of course they are going to plug their product line (Orion, SLS, Mars Base Camp). One would hope that the reason we explore and utilize space involves more than just the whims of big aerospace parroting back NASA's old talking points.

Lyft Me To The Moon

Why Does Russia Have a Secret ISS Experiment?, Popular Mechanics

"Russia's seven-ton Progress MS-07 tanker will be carrying a secret, a previously unseen instrument attached to the exterior front section of the spacecraft. NASA has no idea what it is. NASA specialists spotted the unknown gizmo in official photographs of the Progress ship released during mission preparation. Since then, a number of pictures documenting the work on Progress MS-07 in Baikonur also showed the unidentified device, indicating that Russian authorities aren't really keeping it secret. But when NASA asked about the hardware, Russian officials said only that it would be a scientific payload intended for a one-time trip aboard the cargo ship. They provided no further details."

Launch of Russian Cargo Mission Scrubbed, NASA

"Launch of the Russian Progress 68 cargo craft has been scrubbed for today. The next launch attempt will be no earlier than Saturday Oct. 14 at 4:46 am EDT (2:46 p.m. local time in Baikonur)."

Citing safety, NASA panel advises building a new, costly mobile launcher, Ars Technica (link fixed)

"A 2012 report from NASA's inspector general estimated the costs of building a new mobile launcher then at $122 million, but a new structure expressly for the larger Block 1B rocket to be used for the second flight of the SLS rocket would almost certainly cost more. Additionally, If NASA builds a new mobile launcher, the modified one now being configured for the first SLS flight would likely be used just once--a waste of infrastructure that cost perhaps half a billion dollars and more than a decade of development."

- Modifying The Modified Mobile Launcher (2013), earlier post
- Modifying The Modified Mobile Launcher (2013), earlier post
- CEV Mobile Launcher Solicitation (2012), earlier post
- Space Shuttle Program Hands over Launch Platform to Constellation (2009), earlier post
- NASA Awards Contract for Ares I Mobile Launcher (2008), earlier post
- OIG on Ares 1 Mobile Launcher Mods (2007), earlier post
- NASA KSC Solicitation: Construction of Constellation Crew Launch Vehicle Mobile Launcher (2007), earlier post

Jay Greene

Council Meeting Signals High Level Administration Interest In Space, Space Policy Online

"Pence indicated the Council will meet again in 45 days to review all those efforts, hence the deadline. That's a challenging goal, but conveys a sense of urgency to make decisions. That could be tied to budget schedules since the administration is currently crafting the FY2019 budget request. By law, budget requests are supposed to be submitted to Congress on the first Monday of February so the FY2019 request should be sent to Congress on February 5, 2018. If the Space Council meets again in 45 days, there would still be time to influence the FY2019 request."

National Space Council hears calls for moon trips and stronger space defense, Geekwire

"Pence said the council's meeting was a "very good start" for a re-examination of America's space policy. But not everyone agreed. Keith Cowing, the editor of NASA Watch and a longtime commentator on space policy, said in a blog posting that the proceedings were "scripted and predictable." Former space shuttle program manager Wayne Hale said in a tweet that the meeting offered "bold talk ... but we've heard it before." "What counts will be resources ($) and long term commitment," Hale said."

The first meeting of the National Space Council, Behind The Black

"Overall, this meeting indicates that the Trump administration is likely not going to do much to drain the swamp that presently dominates our space effort. Trump's interest in reducing regulation remains strong, but it also appears he and his administration is also strongly committed to continuing the crony capitalism that is wasting literally billions of dollars in space and helping to put the nation into unrecoverable debt."

Keith's note: My summary:

1. Big aerospace companies said that they'd be happy to do whatever the government will pay them to do.
2. Commercial space companies didn't ask for a handout and will be doing other things - with their own money.
3. Military space discussion was hampered because much of what is going on is classified and cannot be discussed in an open forum.
4. Earth and space science - no one talked about that.
5. Pence says America needs to lead in space again - even if it is still leading in space - already.

And no that's not the official logo. But they need one.

The mission to Mars is one stupid leap for mankind, op ed, Washington Post

"Still, a human traveler to Mars should make the most of its airless monotony, because there is no coming back. The long passage through the vacuum of space will expose astronauts to intense and prolonged bombardment by cosmic rays and unimpeded solar radiation -- a death sentence for which NASA has no solution (though scientists continue to seek one). At the Hotel Mars, you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. What's more, Mars is a dead end. As fatally desolate and brutal as Mars is, our neighbor planet is the most habitable destination for many, many light years in any direction."

Keith's note: I'm rather surprised that the Washington Post would print such an error-riddled opinion piece - and devote half a page to it. Its take on the whole 'why fly people in space when we can fly robots' rant is breathtaking in its ignorance. And, for what its worth, I find it ironic that the Post, whose space reporting is otherwise quite stellar, is owned by Jeff Bezos who is a clear adherent of the notion of opening space up to as many people as possible.

But these anti-human space flight opinions are not exactly uncommon. One of the hotbeds of these sentiments is the Planetary Society. This video "A space engineer explains why humans will never go past Mars" was just posted by Business Former Planetary Society Executive Director Lou Friedman parrots the anti-human spaceflight mantra: "Louis Friedman, an aerospace engineer and author of "Human Spaceflight: From Mars to the Stars," believes that humans may never travel past Mars. The former head of The Planetary Society says technology will replace exploring humans."

Recently, as he sat in the audience waiting for Elon Musk to talk about his plans for space exploration - including Mars, current Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye said "no one wants to colonize Mars" and then explained why.

In 2014 Planetary Society Senior editor Emily Lakdawalla‏ tweeted "The highs and lows of the last week remind us why the future must be in robotic, not crewed, space flight." Just to be clear on this, in 2015 Lakdawalla wrote "This is one of many reasons I'm glad that The Planetary Society is advocating an orbit-first approach to human exploration. If we keep our filthy meatbag bodies in space and tele-operate sterile robots on the surface, we'll avoid irreversible contamination of Mars -- and obfuscation of the answer to the question of whether we're alone in the solar system -- for a little while longer. Maybe just long enough for robots to taste Martian water or discover Martian life."

In their summary of the recent National Space Council meeting Casey Dreier and Jason Davis from the Planetary Society tried (like the rest of us) to figure out what America's new space policy would be. They noted "Through its Humans Orbiting Mars workshop and report, The Planetary Society found great value in sending humans to Mars in terms of scientific return, searching for life, and challenging our technological capabilities. How these objectives will fit into a revamped human exploration program for either the Moon or Mars is still unclear."

Its hard to reconcile what Dreier and Davis write with what Nye, Friedman, and Lakdawalla have said. At best, the Planetary Society's take on human exploration (Mars in particular) is 'look but don't touch' which is in direct contrast to the path NASA has been taking - and the path that the current White House has clearly stated that it intends to follow.

Keith's update: Just to be clear: I used to work for NASA as a space biologist and I fully appreciate the issue and challenges of planetary protection. Also, I think that orbiting Mars initially to do recon and telerobotics is a perfectly fine approach with historical precedents - so long as it is done in preparation for human landings - not instead of human landings.

This past week I interviewed Keith on the SpaceQ podcast. We discussed Jim Bridenstine and NASA, Elon Musk and SpaceX, and Lockheed Martin and Mars.

You can subscribe to the podcast using your favourite podcast app (iOS and Android). For apps like OverCast or Pocket Cast you can search using the podcast title SpaceQ or use the RSS feed URL listed below.

The RSS feed URL is: http://feeds.soundcloud.com/users/soundcloud:users:286233381/sounds.rss

The podcast is also available on Apple iTunes and SoundCloud.

Would Jim Bridenstine Be a Down to Earth NASA Administrator?, Union of Concerned Scientists

"Let's get right to it. Understanding the dynamics of our Earth, including disasters like hurricanes and droughts, has never seemed more important. As if on cue, we have a confirmation hearing for the NASA Administrator nominee coming down the pike. Is President Trump's nominee, Representative Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), the right fit?"

Florida scientists urge Senate to oppose Donald Trump's NASA pick, Florida Politics

"Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson have already lobbed objections to Jim Bridenstine, President Donald Trump's pick to head NASA. Now, more than 30 Florida scientists signed a letter to the state's U.S. senators, urging them to outright reject Bridenstine when he comes up for confirmation. Among the criticisms that scientists around the nation have voiced about Bridenstine is that he has said that he doesn't believe humans are causing climate change. "We find it troubling that Congressman Bridenstine has repeated misinformation in his quest to deny climate change, notably in 2013 when he suggested that global temperatures were not rising," the scientists write to Rubio and Nelson. "Climate and weather are intertwined and while we know that Congressman Bridenstine has publicly expressed desire for better weather prediction capabilities, we cannot predict weather events if we ignore emerging trends."

Scientists call on Florida's senators to oppose Trump nominee for NASA

"Both Nelson and Rubio have blasted Trump's choice, but neither has said whether they will vote against Bridenstine. In their letter, the scientists pointed out that Bridenstine has no formal science education. And while he serves on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, he has no experience running such a large agency and no experience with scientific research. A former Navy pilot, he once ran Tulsa's Air and Space Museum."

Keith's note: You probably saw my complaints about not being credentialed for the National Space Council meeting today. Well, the Vice President's office called late this afternoon to apologize for the fact that I had not been credentialed. They were very nice about this. As often happens with large events here in Washington, DC, my name fell through the cracks. FWIW very, very few people here in DC ever admit making a mistake. Even fewer ever make a point of calling to apologize.

NASA OIG: NASA's Management Of Space Parts For Its Flight Projects, OIG

"While NASA Centers are required to use SMS to track their supply and material inventory, we found that five of nine are instead using stand-alone inventory control systems or other NASA systems to manage their flight inventory, including spare parts. These non-SMS systems contain over $252 million worth of flight inventory. As a result, Headquarters' Logistics Management Division's visibility into flight assets across the Agency and its ability to accurately account for flight inventory Agency-wide is limited and inconsistent."

FAA: Stakeholders' Perspectives on Potentially Moving the Office of Commercial Space Transportation, GAO

"Representatives from commercial space launch companies and spaceports GAO interviewed described advantages and disadvantages of moving the Office of Commercial Space Transportation to the Office of the Secretary of Transportation, but most of them favored moving the office. Conversely, most Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials GAO interviewed did not favor the idea. A senior official in the Office of Commercial Space Transportation said that there are advantages and disadvantages to moving the office and that whether such an action would be beneficial depends on the implementation details and the administration's preferences. Officials from the Office of the Secretary of Transportation said they currently do not have plans to move the office."

America Will Return to the Moon--and Go Beyond, Op Ed, Mike Pence, Wall Street Journal

"We will refocus America's space program toward human exploration and discovery. That means launching American astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit for the first time since 1972. It means establishing a renewed American presence on the moon, a vital strategic goal. And from the foundation of the moon, America will be the first nation to bring mankind to Mars. ...To achieve these goals, the National Space Council will look beyond the halls of government for insight and expertise. In the coming weeks, President Trump and I will assemble a Users' Advisory Group partly composed of leaders from America's burgeoning commercial space industry. Business is leading the way on space technology, and we intend to draw from the bottomless well of innovation to solve the challenges ahead."

President Bush Announces New Vision for Space Exploration Program (2004)

"Inspired by all that has come before, and guided by clear objectives, today we set a new course for America's space program. We will give NASA a new focus and vision for future exploration. We will build new ships to carry man forward into the universe, to gain a new foothold on the moon, and to prepare for new journeys to worlds beyond our own."

President Calls For Mars Mission and a Moon Base, NY Times (1989)

"President Bush proposed today that the United States establish a base on the Moon, send an expedition to Mars and begin ''the permanent settlement of space.'' In a speech celebrating the 20th anniversary of man's landing on the Moon, Mr. Bush made the first major commitment by a President to these ambitious goals and set the stage for the first full-scale debate in years on the nation's troubled space program."

Keith's note: The distance between Apollo 17 and Bush 41's pronouncement was 17 years. The distance between Bush 41's speech and Bush 43's speech was 15 years. The distance between Bush 43's speech and Pence's is 13 years. The gaps between these grand proclamations shortens by 2 years each time one is offered, but are we any closer to sending humans back to the Moon or on to Mars?

I was in the audience for the Bush 41 and 43 events. I was a teenager when we landed on the Moon in 1969 and we were told that we'd be on Mars by 1981 - when I'd have been 26. Now we're told that we won't be on Mars until the 2030s when I will in my 80s. Why should anyone believe these White House predictions?

Keith's 5 Oct update: The Vice President's office just called to apologize for me not getting credentialed for today's National Space Council meeting. They were very nice and, as happens with large events here in DC, my name fell through the cracks. FWIW very, very few people here in DC ever admit making a mistake and even fewer ever apologize.

Keith's 4 Oct update: I followed all the rules that the White House laid out for media asking to attend and cover this event and cc:ed NASA on the email I set them - yesterday. I never heard back. They are now hand-picking which news media can cover their events and which ones cannot. Not a good sign. At least there's a webcast for the rest of us who won't be allowed to attend.

Keith's 3 Oct note: Last week the White House issued a short press release stating that "the first meeting of the National Space Council is scheduled for October 5, 2017 at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. The meeting, titled "Leading the Next Frontier: An Event with the National Space Council," will include testimonials from expert witnesses who represent the sectors of the space industry: Civil Space, Commercial Space, and National Security Space."

I had to dig around but there was a White House media advisory issued today. The event will be streamed online on NASA TV and via Whiteouse.gov starting around 10:00 am. The event itself is only 2 to 2.5 hours long (not mentioned on the advisory).

Even though I live 11 miles away I most likely won't be going since NASA stopped issuing formal laminated press credentials more than a decade ago and I am self-employed i.e. I'd have to make my own press badge at Kinkos or something - and that usually gets you an interview with government security people at events like this in DC. I have followed the process laid out by the White House press office with a cc: to NASA and am waiting for a reply.

There is nothing online anywhere to suggest that the public can attend this event so it looks like it is going to be an expensive photo op with only a select few actually in attendance listening to pre-written statements being read before the cameras. The expense of taking over a large portion of a busy museum seems to be for the purpose of providing impressive backdrops for a meeting that is mostly show and little substance.

Keith's 4 Oct update: The public is apparently not going to be allowed to attend but 100-150 hand-selected special guests are being invited. There will be three panels for this event:

- National Security: Mike Griffin; Pam Melroy, DARPA; and James Ellis, Space Foundation
- Civilian Space: Marillyn Hewson, Lockheed Martin; Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing; and David Thompson, Orbital ATK
- Commercial Space: Bob Smith, Blue Origin; Gywnne Shotwell, SpaceX; and Fatih Ozmen, Sierra Nevada


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