January 2018 Archives

Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Executive Session: Bridenstine Nomination

"The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will hold an executive session on Thursday, January 18, 2018 at 11:00 a.m. in Hart 216 to consider the following presidential nominations. ..."

Keith's note: In addition to Bridenstine there here are 7 other nominees to be considered at this executive session. During his confirmation hearing in November 2017, the bulk of the questions went to Bridenstine and not to the other nominees sitting at the table. Bridenstine's nomination passed along party lines. With an even larger group of nominees one might expect that there will be fewer questions directed at Bridenstine this time. One would expect, that is.

A live video of the markup and additional information will be available at www.commerce.senate.gov. The session will be live tweeted at @NASAWatch

- Bridenstine Survives His Confirmation Hearing
- Bridenstine's Written Answers To Questions From Congress

Commercial Crew Hearing

Hearing: Update on NASA Commercial Crew Systems Development

"10 a.m. EST, the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology will hold a Subcommittee on Space hearing titled An Update on NASA Commercial Crew Systems Development. The purpose of the hearing is to examine the development of NASA's two commercial crew systems, being built by Boeing and SpaceX, to service the International Space Station."

- Watch live
- Hearing charter

Prepared statements:

- Cristina Chaplain (GAO)

"Both Boeing and Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) are making progress toward their goal of being able to transport American astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS). However, both continue to experience schedule delays. Such delays could jeopardize the ability of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Commercial Crew Program to certify either company's option--that is, to ensure that either option meets NASA standards for human spaceflight--before the seats the agency has contracted for on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft run out in 2019."

- Patricia Sanders (ASAP)
- Hans Koenigsmann (SpaceX)
- John Mulholland (Boeing)
- William Gerstenmaier (NASA)
- Rep. Smith
- Rep. Babin
- Rep. Bera
- Rep. Johnson

Remembering Columbia

Keith Cowing's Devon Island Journal 20 July 2003: Arctic Memorials and Starship Yearnings

"Our task was a somewhat solemn one. We were here to erect a memorial to Columbia astronaut Michael Anderson. Two memorials have already been erected by members of the HMP Team. The memorials take the form of an inukshuk, a stone sculpture in rough human form used by the Inuit to mark territory. These stone structures serve as reference points for those who traverse this desolate place. As we establish these memorial inukshuks, we do so for the very same reason the Inuit do: to aid in future exploration - in this case, of Devon Island. As such, these memorials will show the way for future explorers."

GAO: Commercial Space Launch Insurance: FAA Needs to Fully Address Mandated Requirements

"The Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) report evaluating its maximum probable loss (MPL) methodology did not fully address the evaluation and consultation requirements specified by the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (CSLCA). FAA officials said they have not been able to take the actions needed to fully satisfy the mandated elements because of issues such as resource limitations and the lack of available data. However, by not resolving these issues, FAA lacks assurance that launch companies are not purchasing more insurance than needed or that the federal government is not being exposed to greater indemnification costs than expected."

Rep. Bridenstine's Bid to Become NASA Head Stumbles Amid Partisan Brawl, Wall Street Journal (behind paywall)

"Now, industry officials and some congressional supporters of Mr. Bridenstine see the math becoming more challenging, partly due to factors outside their control. Last month's election of Democratic Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama narrowed the Republican majority, while continuing health issues could keep Republican Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi from voting in favor or the nomination. With Republican Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and John McCain of Arizona widely seen as firmly opposed for policy and personal reasons, Senate GOP leaders envision a difficult - and potentially monthslong - confirmation battle, according to industry officials and others familiar with their thinking. ... White House officials, however, are standing behind the choice and, according to outsiders tracking the process, aren't considering alternative candidates. ... "The president looks forward to Rep. Bridenstine's swift confirmation by the Senate, and is confident he will lead NASA to ensure America is a leader in space exploration once again," said Lindsay Walters, a White House spokeswoman."

Bridenstine Nomination Update, earlier post

"Right now the expected support for Rep. Bridenstine remains exactly where it has been for him (and many other Trump nominees) for many months: split along party lines. With Sen. Rubio still in the "no" column. If the vote were taken in December (and Sen. McCain and Sen. Cochran were well enough to be in town to vote) it is expected that Bridenstine would have been confirmed 51 to 49. Senator-Elect Jones (D-AL) has now been seated so the expected vote would now be 50/50 with Vice President Pence casting a tie-breaking vote - if nothing else change interms of the party line split with everyone voting and Rubio's stance."

Keith's note: Contrary to reporting by Wall Street Journal NASA Watch sources report that Sen. McCain is not against Bridenstine's nomination.

Review of NASA's Evidence Reports on Human Health Risks 2017 Letter Report (2018), NAS

"The evidence reports reviewed in this National Academies' report are part of a larger roadmap process developed and under implementation by NASA's Human Research Program. The goals of the program are to investigate and mitigate "the highest risks to human health and performance, providing essential countermeasures and technologies for human space exploration". The evidence reports are the first part of the roadmap, which is followed by clarifying the risks, specifying the research gaps that exist in addressing those risks, implementing research tasks, and obtaining deliverables. These steps are then assessed to ascertain the progress that has been made in preventing or mitigating the specific risks to astronaut health. NASA updates its progress on risk reduction for a range of design reference missions - missions on the International Space Station (ISS) in low Earth orbit, lunar visits or habitation, deep space sorties, deep space journey or habitation, and planetary visits or habitation (e.g., Mars) - by identifying the extent to which there is evidence that the plans for that mission will comply with existing crew health standards or that countermeasures exist to control the risk."

Zuma Non-Update Update

Lost in space? Questions mount over fate of secret satellite as SpaceX pushes ahead, Washington Post

"U.S. Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), who said he received a "preliminary briefing," had two concerns about the possible loss of the satellite. "One is the loss of the intelligence that would have been available," he said. "The second concern is the reliability of the delivery systems. And that issue is being debated between the contractors, SpaceX and the satellite manufacturer, Northrop." While he said he did not know who was to blame, he indicated that the dispute might lead to litigation. "Those two companies are going to have a long and, I suspect, very expensive discussion," he said."

After Zuma, SpaceX keeps pace in preps for next Falcon 9 launch, SpaceflightNow

"A network of amateur satellite trackers are on the lookout for Zuma in case it is still in orbit, but they are working off an estimate of its expected location, and it could take weeks to find the spacecraft, assuming it is still in space and is orbiting where predicted."

Pentagon: Ask SpaceX about Zuma. SpaceX: That's not our story to tell, Ars Technica

"Sources familiar with discussions behind closed doors have told Ars there are two primary working theories about what may have gone wrong with Zuma and caused it to burn up in Earth's atmosphere. One idea, in contradiction to SpaceX's official statements, is that the rocket's upper stage underperformed and caused the problem. However, at this time, it seems more likely that the mechanism built by Northrop Grumman to release the satellite failed to operate properly."

NASA's Quest for Human Spaceflight Popular Appeal, Roger Lanius, Social Science Quarterly

"Objective: Analyze NASA's efforts to "sell" both its mission and its successes from its origins in 1958 to the present.

Methods: Use public opinion polling and qualitative sources to establish change over time.

Results: Study suggests that NASA's public support was less important than most have previously asserted, and that the overall activities of NASA have been advanced by a small base of supporters, challenged by a small group of opponents, and sustained by a larger number of people who accept a status quo in space exploration.

Conclusion: A general public lack of support for expending many dollars on spaceflight has been a fundamental reality of NASA since its beginning. It is not changing, and probably not changeable, in the predictive future. Accordingly, NASA's quest for human spaceflight's popular appeal remains an elusive goal."

Astrobiologist Dale Andersen Antarctic Status Report 12 January 2018: Heading To Syowa Station

"The current plan is for me to fly to Novo tomorrow and the following day head to S17 by Basler (a converted DC-3 operated by ALCI and Ken Borek). S17 is the ice runway situated on the continental ice just ESE of Syowa Station. A helicopter from the Japanese icebreaker Shirase will then transport me to a field camp located on Skarvsnes, one of the larger islands of the archipelago. This remote field camp will be my home for the next several weeks while we explore, study and sample the various lakes and their ecosystems. It will be interesting to get underwater in these lakes and to compare them with other lakes we have studied including lakes Untersee and Obersee in Queen Maud Land, lakes of the Bunger Hills and in the McMurdo Dry Valleys."

Possible Lava Tube Skylights Discovered Near the North Pole of the Moon

"The pits were identified through analysis of imaging data from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). If water ice is present, these potential lava tube entrances or "skylights" might allow future explorers easier access to subsurface ice, and therefore water, than if they had to excavate the gritty ice-rich "regolith" (surface rubble) at the actual lunar poles."

NASA's Commercial Crew Program Target Test Flight Dates, NASA

"Boeing Orbital Flight Test (uncrewed): August 2018
Boeing Crew Flight Test (crewed): November 2018
SpaceX Demonstration Mission 1 (uncrewed): August 2018
SpaceX Demonstration Mission 2 (crewed): December 2018"

Hearing : Update on NASA Commercial Crew Systems Development

"January 17 2018, at 10 a.m. EST, the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology will hold a Subcommittee on Space hearing titled An Update on NASA Commercial Crew Systems Development. The purpose of the hearing is to examine the development of NASA's two commercial crew systems, being built by Boeing and SpaceX, to service the International Space Station."

GAO Reports Significant Delays in Commercial Crew Launch Dates (Update), earlier post (2017)

"At a Kennedy Space Center (KSC) press conference today in advance of SpaceX's commercial cargo launch tomorrow, [Gwynne Shotwell] said the company's response to GAO is "The [heck] we won't fly before 2019."

NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel Releases 2017 Annual Report

"The report, released Thursday, is based on the panel's 2017 fact-finding and quarterly public meetings; "insight" visits and meetings; direct observations of NASA operations and decision-making processes; discussions with NASA management, employees and contractors; and the panel members' own experience. "It is clear to the panel that NASA is at a critical juncture in human spaceflight development and that this is a time to retain focus on program details; to maintain a sense of urgency while not giving in to schedule pressure and to continue with program plans without neglecting, shortchanging, or deleting program content essential to safety and mission assurance," said ASAP Chair Patricia Sanders. The report reiterates the need for constancy of purpose as NASA is on the verge of realizing the results of years of work and extensive resource investment."

Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel Releases 2016 Annual Report, earlier post

Make America Great Again in Space Report Released by Potomac Institute

"In order to facilitate American leadership in the commercialization and industrialization of space, the federal government must undertake an investment effort in technology R&D and marketization infrastructure similar in scope to past revolutionary government efforts, with NASA leading the effort by partnering with the commercial industry over and above what it has done in the past. The U.S. needs to seize this opportunity for domestic economic growth, for if it does not, other countries will surely step in to fill the void. Our investment in space will continue the heritage of the United States' ceaseless growth of its economy and prosperity in new frontier, forging a path where others fear to tread."

CASIS and Marvel Entertainment Unveil Guardians of the Galaxy Space Station Challenge

"The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) and Marvel Entertainment today announced the Guardians of the Galaxy Space Station Challenge is open for American students ages 13-18 to submit microgravity flight experiment concepts that could be conducted on the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory. The contest focuses on Rocket and Groot, characters from the Guardians of the Galaxy comic book franchise, and students are encouraged to develop flight proposals based on the attributes of these Super Heroes. The contest will run through January 31, 2018."

- CASIS and NASA Ignore Each Other at #ComicCon2016 Over A Raccoon and Groot
- CASIS Has A New Patch: May The Farce Be With You

OIG: NASA's Management of the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS)

"In addition, we found NASA failed to actively oversee CASIS's technical performance and instead took a largely "hands-off" approach to managing CASIS that has contributed to the organization's inability to meet expectations. For example, NASA has not developed an overall strategy identifying the achievements or outcomes expected from CASIS through the end of its cooperative agreement nor has the Agency provided guidance or set expectations for CASIS's performance."

Keith's note: Once again CASIS takes the comic book approach to its outreach efforts for NASA's portion of the International Space Station. But in the press release they issued, yet again, the word "NASA" appears nowhere. No mention is made by @NASA or @NASAedu Twitter accounts. No mention is made on the NASA ISS home page or the NASA Education home page. When you ask NASA or CASIS for metrics as to how well this comic book character approach works they cannot provide that information. If you doubt my observations, just read the newly released report on CASIS by the NASA OIG.

- NASA OIG Flunks CASIS - And NASA's Management of CASIS
- Prior Posts on CASIS

OIG: NASA's Management of the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS)

"Although CASIS awarded $21.7 million in grants to 140 projects between fiscal years (FY) 2013 and 2016, the organization has underperformed on tasks important to achieving NASA's goal of building a commercial space economy in low Earth orbit. From 2011 through 2014, CASIS concentrated on standing up its organization and filling leadership positions. Consequently, after more than 5 years of operation CASIS has not fully met a majority of the goals and expectations set out by NASA. Of the nine performance categories we assessed, CASIS met expectations in only two: research pathways and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. For example, the STEM education performance category required CASIS to increase interest in using the National Lab as a platform for STEM education. CASIS met expectations for this performance category by funding 14 STEM education programs in FY 2016 with more than 325,000 participants.

For five of the remaining seven performance categories - grant awards and project portfolio, recruitment of National Lab users, matching research projects and investors, Implementation Partners, and fundraising - CASIS only partially met expectations. For example, in the grant awards and project portfolio performance category, CASIS awarded more than $3 million annually in research grants between FYs 2013 and 2016 but failed to ensure a balanced portfolio of research projects from theoretical to basic to applied research as required by the cooperative agreement. CASIS failed to meet expectations in the remaining two categories: utilization of crew time for National Lab research and outreach. With respect to crew utilization, between September 2013 and April 2017 CASIS was allocated 2,915 crew research hours on the National Lab, but CASIS-managed projects used only 1,537 (52.7 percent) of these hours. Although CASIS officials attributed the organization's limited success in this area to three failed ISS resupply missions in FY 2015, given its performance to date, CASIS utilization rates for the National Lab will likely further diminish when NASA adds an additional crew member to the Station in late 2018.

In addition, we found NASA failed to actively oversee CASIS's technical performance and instead took a largely "hands-off" approach to managing CASIS that has contributed to the organization's inability to meet expectations. For example, NASA has not developed an overall strategy identifying the achievements or outcomes expected from CASIS through the end of its cooperative agreement nor has the Agency provided guidance or set expectations for CASIS's performance. Instead, NASA has accepted CASIS's slow improvement over the first 5 years of the cooperative agreement without requiring corrective action plans or offering suggestions to improve performance. Although FY 2016 marked the first year CASIS's performance plan included metrics and quantifiable targets for several performance categories, these metrics and targets were not included for all performance categories."

Prior Posts on CASIS

The astronaut fighting to save our home in space, BBC

"Draw up a list of the world's most accomplished and experienced astronauts, and astrophysicist Dr Michael Foale's name is going to come pretty near the top. ... Now more than 20 years after saving one space station, Foale wants to save another: the ISS. ... Foale is formulating his campaign to save the ISS and says he plans to launch websites to gather support to help save the space station. He says he intends to keep pressure on the space agencies to continue to fund the programme. "Every engineer, manager, astronaut or cosmonaut who's worked on the ISS, we all think the space station is such an achievement on behalf of humanity that it should continue," he says. "I'm still giving Nasa a chance to tell me how they're going to do it."

The International Space Station Is The Undiscovered Country, earlier post

Lockheed Martin, Boeing aerospace venture bilked U.S. for $90 million, lawsuit says, Denver Post

"A whistleblower has settled a lawsuit filed against a Centennial aerospace company formed by Lockheed Martin and The Boeing Company that claimed the company defrauded the U.S. government out of at least $90 million by grossly overcharging for employee work hours. Whistleblower Joseph Scott filed the lawsuit on behalf of himself and the government against United Launch Alliance and United Launch Services, under the Federal Civil False Claims Act. Scott is a former ULA employee. Under the terms of the settlement, ULA agreed to pay $432,826, of which Scott was to receive $82,237. The settlement says that ULA does not acknowledge wrongdoing."

Statement From Gwynne Shotwell, President and COO of SpaceX on Zuma Launch

"For clarity: after review of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly on Sunday night. If we or others find otherwise based on further review, we will report it immediately. Information published that is contrary to this statement is categorically false. Due to the classified nature of the payload, no further comment is possible. "

It's not official, but sources say the secretive Zuma satellite was lost, Ars Technica

"A media query to Northrop Grumman, which manufactured the satellite, was not immediately returned Monday. (Update: Tim Paynter, Vice President of Strategic Communications for Northrop Grumman, said, "This is a classified mission. We cannot comment on classified missions.") Actions taken by SpaceX on Monday indicate its confidence in the rocket's performance during the Zuma launch. Earlier in the day, SpaceX founder Elon Musk shared photos of the nighttime launch on Twitter. Also, the company continued with preparations for future launches, including rolling the Falcon Heavy rocket back out to a different launch pad in Florida for additional tests."

SpaceX'S top Secret Zuma Mission Set To Launch, Wired

"Veteran aerospace manufacturer Northrop Grumman built the payload, according to a document obtained by WIRED and later confirmed by the company. The company says it built Zuma for the US government, and it's also providing an adapter to mate Zuma with SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket."

Highly classified US spy satellite appears to be a total loss after SpaceX launch, CNBC

"Dow Jones reported Monday evening that lawmakers had been briefed about the apparent destruction of the secretive payload -- code-named Zuma -- citing industry and government officials. The payload was suspected to have burned up in the atmosphere after failing to separate perfectly from the upper part of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, the report said."

Keith's note: No one is going to go on the record about anything Zuma did - or did not do. So its probably up to those folks who scan the skies for every object launched into - or returning from - space. They know where Zuma is "supposed" to be ...

Nominations Sent to the Senate Today, White House

The White House submitted a list of nominations today including Rep. Bridenstine.

- James Bridenstine, of Oklahoma, to be Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, vice Charles F. Bolden, Jr., resigned.

- Jeffrey DeWit, of Arizona, to be Chief Financial Officer, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, vice David Radzanowski.

Elon Musk pitched Trump on SpaceX's mission to colonize other planets, Business Insider

"SpaceX founder Elon Musk tried to get a newly elected Donald Trump on board with his company's mission to reach Mars, according to an excerpt from a new book on the Trump administration that has dominated headlines this week. Among the many claims made in Michael Wolff's "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House," one passage described a scene at Trump Tower where then-president-elect Trump was taking meetings with tech titans like the Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk. "Elon Musk, in Trump Tower, pitched Trump on the new administration's joining him in his race to Mars, which Trump jumped at," Wolff wrote in his tell-all book. Musk's effort was ostensibly an attempt to keep his company front-of-mind in the broad scope of national space exploration."

John Young

NASA Remembers John Young, The Agency's Most Experienced Astronaut

"The following is a statement from acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot on the passing of John Young, who died Friday night following complications from pneumonia at the age of 87. Young is the only agency astronaut to go into space as part of the Gemini, Apollo and space shuttle programs, and the first to fly into space six times: "Today, NASA and the world have lost a pioneer. Astronaut John Young's storied career spanned three generations of spaceflight; we will stand on his shoulders as we look toward the next human frontier."

Puerto Rico Students to Speak with NASA Astronaut on Space Station, NASA

"Several hundred students from 30 schools across Puerto Rico will speak with a NASA astronaut living, working and doing research aboard the International Space Station at 11:15 a.m. EST Friday, Jan. 12. The 20-minute, Earth-to-space call will air live on NASA Television and the agency's website Students will travel to Manatí, Puerto Rico, for the call to Expedition 54 astronaut Joe Acaba aboard the space station, and will have an opportunity to ask questions about life aboard the space station, NASA's deep space exploration plans, and doing science in space."

Keith's note: Its nice that students in devastated Puerto Rico will get a chance to talk to the ISS crew. Its certainly a nice distraction from months of arduous living. But there is a reason why "several hundred students ... will travel to Manatí, Puerto Rico ... More than 500 attendees are expected". As of last week half of Puerto Rico's residents are still without power 3 months after Hurricane Maria. So, instead of doing what most students do when they talk to the ISS i.e. log into an Internet connection - they have to get into buses and drive back and forth across the island to go to a location where there is enough electricity to power the uplink.

Oddly, back in 2009 I did an downlink/uplink session to the ISS from Everest Base Camp using a portable BGAN INMARSAT link that fits into a backpack. I charged its battery with solar panels. One would think that NASA might try using some of that advanced satellite technology they like to brag about to do this uplink and not make hundreds of students drive for hours to crisscross the island for a 20 minute event. And the gasoline that the buses are using could have been used to run generators to power satellite links back home using consumer satellite communication systems - and people's homes.

Its nice that NASA is thinking of the Americans who live on Puerto Rico. Perhaps other government agencies should be working a little harder to make life normal again for our fellow citizens such that NASA does not have to go to such extremes for events such as this.

Reducing Climate Uncertainty, Improving Weather Forecasts, and Understanding Sea-Level Rise Are Among Top Science Priorities for Space-Based Earth Observation Over Next Decade, National Academy of Sciences

"NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) should implement a coordinated approach for their space-based environmental observations to further advance Earth science and applications for the next decade, says a new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. This approach should be based on key scientific questions in areas such as reducing climate uncertainty, improving weather and air quality forecasts, predicting geological hazards, and understanding sea-level rise. The report also recommends building a robust, resilient, and balanced U.S. program of Earth observations from space that will enable the agencies to strategically advance the science and applications with constrained resources."

Bridenstine On Earth Science: "We Need To Follow The Decadals", earlier post

"Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., President Donald Trump's nominee for NASA administrator, spoke glowingly of the decadal survey process during his Nov. 1 confirmation, and he said "yes" when Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., asked if he would follow the recommendations. Bridenstine said the surveys lead policymakers to "make good decisions," and he added: "We need to follow the decadals."

National Academies To Release Earth Science Decadal Survey, AIAA Aerospace America

"U.S. scientists plan to release their once-a-decade list of recommended Earth observation spending priorities Friday in a press conference in Washington, D.C. The scientific community survey, "Thriving on Our Changing Planet: A Decadal Strategy for Earth Observation from Space," was written by a committee assembled by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Known informally as the Earth sciences decadal survey, the document could affect spending decisions by Congress and the Trump administration, especially in the politically sensitive area of climate science. Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., President Donald Trump's nominee for NASA administrator, spoke glowingly of the decadal survey process during his Nov. 1 confirmation, and he said "yes" when Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., asked if he would follow the recommendations.Bridenstine said the surveys lead policymakers to "make good decisions," and he added: "We need to follow the decadals."

Bridenstine's Climate Record Is Different Than You Thought, Earlier post

PN896 - James Bridenstine - National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Congress.gov

"Latest Action 01/03/2018 - Returned to the President under the provisions of Senate Rule XXXI, paragraph 6 of the Standing Rules of the Senate."

Keith's note: Rep. Bridenstine's nomination has now been returned to thee White House by the Senate. The White House will have to be resubmitted for the second session of this Congress. All sources report that the Administration is still quite firmly behind Bridenstine and that this "re-nomination" is simply a matter of routine paperwork that will happen after the holidays. Whether there will need to be another confirmation hearing is unclear at this point.

Bridenstine's nomination to be NASA Administrator did not come up for a vote in 2017. Right now the expected support for Rep. Bridenstine remains exactly where it has been for him (and many other Trump nominees) for many months: split along party lines. With Sen. Rubio still in the "no" column. If the vote were taken in December (and Sen. McCain and Sen. Cochran were well enough to be in town to vote) it is expected that Bridenstine would have been confirmed 51 to 49. Senator-Elect Jones (D-AL) has now been seated so the expected vote would now be 50/50 with Vice President Pence casting a tie-breaking vote - if nothing else change interms of the party line split with everyone voting and Rubio's stance.

In the Senate 30 hours is formally set aside for confirmation of nominees. But usually the 30 hours is waived by unanimous consent or significantly shortened by agreement between Democrats and Republicans to a much more manageable period. Alas, Sen. Nelson has refused to accept any deals. As such there was simply no way to really schedule this confirmation in the remaining time that the Senate was going to be in session in 2017. This issue will reassert itself when the White House takes a second run at nominating Bridenstine in 2018. More details on this issue can be found here.

The knife edge aspect of the expected vote is due to the hyper-partisan state of affairs here in Washington. Many confirmations are stalled. Contrary to some reports Bridenstine's nomination was not delayed by Senate Republicans due to a lack of votes. Bridenstine had a narrow, but very consistent block of votes that would have led to his confirmation had the vote occurred. Under more traditional circumstances Bridenstine would have had a number of Democratic votes to confirm. If he is confirmed that bipartisan support should become evident.

In the mean time Robert Lightfoot will continue to be the acting Administrator of NASA. (see The Vacancies Act - And NASA Management)

http://images.spaceref.com/news/2018/hillary.sp.jpg

Keith's note: As we approach the 50th anniversary of the first human landing on the Moon - and lament half a century of not going back - it is important to understand that there have often been lulls in exploration. These lulls can be distracting. They can also be enabling. While people in airplanes visited the south pole after the Amundsen/Scott expeditions, no one gave serious thought to attempt an overland trek for decades because - well, been there, done that. In the ensuing decades - punctuated by World War II - expeditionary technology made great advances.

When people tried this again, the trip was just as exciting but was enabled by half a century of technological and logistical advances. When we go back to the Moon, much of these lessons learned in Antarctica should be reviewed. Old concepts will still be valid - and they can be alloyed with half a century of technology and operational experience.

60 years today a New Zealand tractor team mounted as part of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition arrived at the South Pole. Led by Everest climber Sir Edmund Hillary, this was the first overland expedition to reach the pole since Amundsen and Scott had done so 47 years earlier.

An entry from their diary: "Kept going all day and toward the last 40 miles must have dropped at least 1,000ft. The last 20 miles had quite a hard wind packed surface with sastrugi in a SW direction. Derek and I were in the caboose just ready to change drivers when the tractors stopped, and Ed came back very excited from the lead tractor, he had spotted the Pole Station. We are now camped in sight of it and will move across to it tomorrow when we have had some well-earned sleep. The temp at 8pm was -13º F with a few snow-flakes, however the sky is quite clear with sun shining now and then. Everybody in high spirits now the journey is nearing its end. What a bleak place it is here!"

FYI Sir Edmund Hillary and Neil Armstrong once made a trip to the North Pole together. I was reminded of that in 2009 when I was in Nepal supporting astronaut Scott Parazynski's ascent of Everest. I made certain that some Apollo 11 Moon rocks visited a memorial to Sir Ed. The Moon rocks then went to the summit of Everest and then, with a piece of the summit of Everest, both rocks went to the ISS where they reside now in the cupola.

All great exploration and expeditionary endeavors have profound and numerous resonances that simultaneously propagate forward and backward across time. May that tradition continue.

The final frontier: Making life thrive on Mars, Deccan Chronicles

"For Indian scientists who are designing gadgets to probe the surface and sub-surface of the red planet, the results hint at the need to scrounge for toxic chemicals that could hinder efforts to establish a sustainable agricultural system 400 million km away! Buoyed by the success of Mangalyaan-I (Mars Orbiter Mission or MOM), the top brass at the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) has the best of brains from laboratories across the country (unlike MOM which was designed by in-house experts of the space agency) to pool in their brilliance for assembling unique gadgets to scoop up Martian soil and scan every grain for chemicals and minerals of all kinds and hues. These studies are intended to throw light on evolution of planets, how life commenced in our solar system, and the interplay between geological and possible biological history of the solar system as well."

Exploring the lunar far side: China wants to grow plants and insects on the moon, International Business Times

"Other than equipment to study the geological conditions of the region, the Chang'e 4 lander will also carry a container filled with seeds and insects. The container, which will be made from aluminium alloy, will demonstrate the growing process of plants and animals on the moon. "The container will send potatoes, arabidopsis seeds and silkworm eggs to the surface of the moon. The eggs will hatch into silkworms, which can produce carbon dioxide, while the potatoes and seeds emit oxygen through photosynthesis. Together, they can establish a simple ecosystem on the moon," Zhang Yuanxun, chief designer of the container, reportedly told local media last year. The container will be equipped with a layer of insulation to protect its contents from extreme temperatures. It will also be fitted with light pipes to ensure the growth of the plants and insects inside, while specially-designed batteries with high energy density will also be installed to provide a consistent energy supply."

Keith's note: While NASA drags its feet with regard to the notion of establishing a permanent human presence on the Moon and/or Mars, nations like China and India are wasting no time taking the lead. What is it about the Moon and Mars that excites these (and other) nations so much? Why can't we make up our mind where/how/when to go - and then stay focused on a plan? Meanwhile we happily build huge expensive rockets that are chronically late with no money for payloads to fly on them. [Larger image (Pat Rawlings/NASA)]

And then there's this effort in Ukraine. Even in the face of everything falling apart, the dream of exploring the universe cannot be smothered. Countries scrambling just to stay functional seem to be more intent and focused than we are here in the U.S. with all of our resources. NASA and aerospace contractors spend lots of money on pointless bling that they give to each other at fancy conferences. Imagine what could be done with that money if was used for something like this:

Ukraine's Lofty Ambitions, Fallen to Earth, NY Times

"Ukraine was once a vital part of the Soviet space program, home to many research institutes and rocket factories. Now, wracked by war and shaken by political upheaval, the nation struggles to hold on to its scientific traditions. On a recent visit, I was struck by the determination of researchers stripped of the resources taken for granted in the West. The biologist still tending a jar filled with bacteria once destined for space. The retiree holding together a small astronomy museum in Kiev with spare parts and pluck. From black garbage bags and duct tape, Tatiana Kovalchuk-Skorokhodnik, of the Ukrainian Space Agency, has built a mobile "planetarium" for children. With holes pricked in the makeshift dome, she has reconstructed the starry night skies above Ukraine."

Keith's update: Meanwhile the UAE is recruiting astronauts.

UAE Astronaut Programme, Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre

"The UAE Astronaut Programme is now accepting applications from all Emiratis. Apply to become an astronaut today, and carry the pride of the nation as you make history and become the first UAE national to go to space. ... The Emirati astronauts will be team members of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, and will join with the centre in advancing the UAE's position as a leading scientific and space nation. ... The UAE has great ambition in space, and our astronauts will play a significant role in our quest to reach our objectives. This is your opportunity to be a part of one of a historic mission for the nation."


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