November 2018 Archives

Keith's note: I first published this exactly one year ago. Listening to all of the talk about going (back) to the Moon - and asking for a show of hands in the audience at NASA HQ for those who saw it live - I thought I'd give Jim Bridenstine something to think about.

Keith's original 28 November 2017 note: There is a lot of talk these days about yet another pivot in America's civilian space policy. This time it is "back" to the Moon. Mars is not off the agenda - but it is not moving forward either. Personally I think we have unfinished business on the Moon and that creating a vibrant cis-lunar space infrastructure is the best way to enable humans to go to many places in the solar system - including Mars. Regardless of your stance on this issue, a common refrain about going back to the Moon - starting with President Obama is that "We've been there before".

Humans first reached the South Pole by an overland route in 1911/1912. While we visited the pole by plane in the intervening years, no one traversed Antarctica's surface again until 1958. 46 years between Antarctic polar traverses. Why did we go back to do something - again - in a similar way - to a place "we've been [to] before" after 46 years? Because there was still something of interest there - something we'd only had a fleeting exposure to - and we had developed new ways to traverse polar environments. James Cameron revisited the Challenger Deep in 2012 - after a human absence of 52 years. Why? See above. It is understandable that explorers seek to explore new places and not redo what has been done before. There is only so much funding and there are still so many places yet to be explored. But it is also not uncommon for explorers to revisit old, previously visited locations with new tools - and new mindsets.

Look at the stunning imagery Juno is sending back of Jupiter. Compare that to what we got from Galileo - and Voyager - and Pioneer. Why send yet another mission to the same destination unless, well, you have better tools - tools that enable the pursuit of ever greater exploration goals.

I was 15 when humans first walked on the Moon. The generations who have followed mine have never seen humans land and walk on the Moon. Indeed a lot of them seem to think it never happened. But American space policy is made by Baby Boomers (and older) population cohorts so we just operate on our own biases i.e. been there, done that.

Take a look at the chart below. More than half of the Americans alive today never saw humans walk on the Moon - as it happened - including the person slated to become the next administrator of NASA and the entire 2013 and 2017 astronaut classes. If/when we go back to the Moon in the next 5-10 years this number will increase. For them these future Moon landings will be THEIR FIRST MOON LANDINGS. That's several hundred million Americans waiting to see what I saw in 1969.

Just sayin'

http://images.spaceref.com/news/2017/united-states-population-py.jpg

That NASAWatch Guy

Keith's note: I still can't stop laughing at this one. I am really rocking the gray hair, reader glasses, nonchalant slouching journalist slob thing! As for the other guy ...

NASA Announces New Partnerships for Commercial Lunar Payload Delivery Services

"Nine U.S. companies now are eligible to bid on NASA delivery services to the lunar surface through Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contracts, as one of the first steps toward long-term scientific study and human exploration of the Moon and eventually Mars. These companies will be able to bid on delivering science and technology payloads for NASA, including payload integration and operations, launching from Earth and landing on the surface of the Moon. NASA expects to be one of many customers that will use these commercial landing services."

White House Seeks Alternatives to Independent Space Force, Defense One

"The four options, according to one of the officials, include: 1) an Air Force-owned space corps that includes only Air Force assets, 2) an Air Force-owned space corps that also takes space-related troops and assets from the Army and Navy, 3) an independent service that takes from the Air Force, Army, and Navy, and 4) an independent service that takes from the three services plus parts of the intelligence community."

The creation of a Space Force would cost less than $3 billion, according to a new report, Washington Post

"President Trump's Space Force, a proposed military department dedicated to fighting war in space, would cost the Pentagon $1.5 billion to $2.7 billion in additional money over five years, according to a study released this week by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. That estimate is far below the $13 billion price tag that Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson recently reported to Pentagon leaders and is certain to fuel the debate over the cost and necessity of what would become the first new military service branch since the Air Force was created in 1947. While the White House has pushed aggressively for the establishment of the Space Force, which Trump has championed in rallies, a new military department would need to be approved by Congress. It is unclear whether there is enough support for it to pass."

Astrobiologist Dale Andersen Antarctic Status Report 28 November 2018: Dive Hole Melting Issues

"The hole melter was returned, but unfortunately it still does not work properly and we are unable to use it to make a dive hole or melt out the light sensors we left in the water column last year. And while I am disappointed we will not be working underwater, we have moved on to other important areas of work that will occupy our time during the next two weeks. Over the last several days we drilled additional holes in the south basin as part of an effort to increase the accuracy of the bathymetry map for the lake, and to make measurements of ice-thickness; the ice-thickness data are to be used to model variations in ablation across the lake. We also used one hole to obtain samples with an Ekman dredge from the deepest point (100 m) in the south basin. These samples are currently having DNA and RNA extracted and preserved for genomic studies that will take place in the coming months and other subsamples are being preserved for additional geochemical analyses as well."

- 2018 reports
- 2017 reports

Keith's note: Dale Andersen and I worked together at the old NASA HQ Life Science Division in the 1980s. He and I have been reporting from/about remote polar and alpine regions for more than 30 years - Dale much more than I. Indeed, we think that we may well have had the first webserver in the U.S. directly updated from Antarctica back in 1997 - that website is still online here. You might find "How We Built This Website" of interest given the way such things are done today. Alas, other than my Astrobiology.com website and the SETI Institute, NASA's Astrobiology outreach people totally ignore this on-going research.

One expedition often leads to another. Something one person does resonates with something someone else does - some times years or decades later. Many times the place where you are takes on a name as a result. Those fleeting moments when these things coalesce and resonate is what makes these arduous expeditions worth the effort. Hopefully this tradition will continue when humans one day set foot again on the Moon, then Mars and elsewhere.

http://images.spaceref.com/news/2016/PIA20849.jpgTaking In The View From Wharton Ridge, earlier post

"Today I learned that a feature on the surface of Mars has been named after a friend of mine. This was not unexpected since I knew that his name was in the queue waiting for just the right feature to be discovered by the Opportunity rover. "Wharton Ridge" is named after Robert A. Wharton (Bob). Bob was born a few years before me in 1951 and died unexpectedly in 2012. I worked with Bob at the old Life Sciences Division at NASA Headquarters in the late 1980s.

During 1996/1997 Dale Andersen and I set up what we think is one of the first - if not the first - website updated from Antarctica where he and Bob were doing field research. One of the pictures he sent back was just too cool: Dale, Bob and Sir Edmund Hillary at their base camp at Lake Hoare in Taylor Valley. I was always taken with that photo - indeed it was part of what inspired me to take a companion photo of "Sir Ed" 13 years later in Nepal - with an Apollo 11 moon rock in my hand."

Janet Karika Named NASA Chief of Staff, NASA

"I am honored today to announce that Ms. Janet Karika will begin serving as my Chief of Staff on Monday, Nov. 26. Ms. Karika is a recognized subject matter expert on space policy, space transportation, and non-proliferation. In her current role, she supports the NASA Launch Services Program (LSP) and the NASA Headquarters Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) Launch Services Office (LSO) as the Jacobs Executive Director of Interagency Launch Programs. She has a history of working space-related issues and studies to support congressional staffs, the Executive Branch, and various federal agencies and departments, including the National Security Council, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the Departments of Commerce, Defense, State and Transportation."

Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II: Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States, U.S. Global Chance Research Program

"In the absence of significant global mitigation action and regional adaptation efforts, rising temperatures, sea level rise, and changes in extreme events are expected to increasingly disrupt and damage critical infrastructure and property, labor productivity, and the vitality of our communities. Regional economies and industries that depend on natural resources and favorable climate conditions, such as agriculture, tourism, and fisheries, are vulnerable to the growing impacts of climate change. Rising temperatures are projected to reduce the efficiency of power generation while increasing energy demands, resulting in higher electricity costs. The impacts of climate change beyond our borders are expected to increasingly affect our trade and economy, including import and export prices and U.S. businesses with overseas operations and supply chains. Some aspects of our economy may see slight near-term improvements in a modestly warmer world. However, the continued warming that is projected to occur without substantial and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions is expected to cause substantial net damage to the U.S. economy throughout this century, especially in the absence of increased adaptation efforts. With continued growth in emissions at historic rates, annual losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century--more than the current gross domestic product (GDP) of many U.S. states."

Ranking Member Johnson Statement on Vol. II of the Fourth National Climate Assessment Report

"This report provides the most comprehensive look at the effects of climate change on the United States ever, and the results, as we've sadly grown accustomed to, are quite terrifying - increased wildfires, more damaging storms, dramatic sea level rise, more harmful algal blooms, disease spread, dire economic impacts, the list goes on and on. That being said, all hope is not lost, but we must act now. We have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, work on adaptation and mitigation, and explore technology solutions such as geoengineering and carbon capture and sequestration. That is why I have made climate change one of my top priorities for the Committee going in to the next Congress."

Keith's note: Although NASA participated in this study and provided much of the underlying data for its observations and recommendations, NASA.gov has not posted any commentary or reference to this report. To be fair, the report was released on the day after Thanksgiving when a large number of people were not paying any attention to the news due to the fact that they took the day off. Sometimes releasing a controversial report on a day like this is a good way to bury things that will be controversial. Other times it is the best way to sneak a report out before it can be held back. Usually it is a bit of both.

NASA concerned about culture of "inappropriateness" at SpaceX, Ars Technica

"In addition to spurring problems for the car company Tesla, Elon Musk's puff of marijuana in September will also have consequences for SpaceX. On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that NASA will conduct a "safety review" of both of its commercial crew companies, SpaceX and Boeing. The review was prompted, sources told the paper, because of recent behavior by Musk, including smoking marijuana on a podcast. According to William Gerstenmaier, NASA's chief human spaceflight official, the review will be "pretty invasive" and involve interviews with hundreds of employees at various levels of the companies, across multiple worksites. The review will begin next year, and interviews will examine "everything and anything that could impact safety," Gerstenmaier told the Post."

NASA to launch safety review of SpaceX and Boeing after video of Elon Musk smoking pot rankled agency leaders, Washington Post

"The review was prompted by the recent behavior of SpaceX's founder, Elon Musk, according to three officials with knowledge of the probe, after he took a hit of marijuana and sipped whiskey on a podcast streamed on the Internet. That rankled some at NASA's highest levels and prompted the agency to take a close look at the culture of the companies, the people said."

Keith's note: Its good that NASA wants everyone in the human spaceflight family to be safe and productive. Alas, NASA has run out of things to blame its own internal failures on so they go after two external partners to see if there is anything they can dig up. The net result will probably be a delay to Boeing and SpaceX launches which will make SLS delays look less bad, I guess. Imagine what a similar internal scrutiny of NASA SLS/Orion employees would reveal. Will NASA and SLS/Orion staff at equivalent levels be queried about their on-the-job and off-time habits? It is rather ironic that NASA's human spaceflight program is this uptight about a podcast (one that includes mention of behavior that is legal in California) when the entire NASA senior management has been drinking the Koolaid for decades ("Don't worry - be happy").

SpaceX can reuse rockets and learned how to do so at a fraction of what it would have taken NASA to do so - if they even knew how, that is. NASA has no rockets to reuse and they spent a billion dollars to make reusable shuttle engines disposable. SpaceX needs 7 launches before people can fly. But NASA will launch crews on their second SLS flight and they put crews back on Soyuz months after a booster malfunctioned.

Who cares what SpaceX or Boeing may be smoking. I want to know what NASA has been smoking.

Criminal cases opened into $150mln violations at Vostochny spaceport, TASS

"Russia's investigators have launched more than 140 criminal cases into violations during the construction of the Vostochny spaceport in Russia's Far East, and the total damage is valued at 10 bln rubles ($152.3 mln), Official Spokesman for the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office Alexander Kurennoy said. "Since 2014, more than 140 criminal cases have been opened, and the damage was assessed at 10 bln rubles," Kurennoy said in an interview with the Efir Internet channel of the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office. According to the spokesman, 50 individuals have been sentenced, and this year sentences for 27 people were announced. The prosecutors have revealed 17,000 law violations during the construction since 2014. More than 1,000 people have been held accountable, including officials. Among the violations were delayed construction, multibillion embezzlement of state funds and the administration's negligence."

Man Driving Diamond-encrusted Mercedes Caught Embezzling Cosmodrome Funds, earlier post (2015)

"Alleged to have embezzled four million roubles, video of arrest shows him driving diamond-encrusted Mercedes. A senior director suspected of embezzling funds from the construction of the new Vostochny cosmodrome has been arrested after going on the run."

Pace Announces Departure of Deputy Executive Secretary Stout, Thanks Stout for Service, White House

"Dr. Scott Pace, Executive Secretary of the National Space Council, today released the following statement upon the departure of Jared Stout, Deputy Executive Secretary and Chief of Staff, from the Council staff."

Bill Nye: We are not going to live on Mars, let alone turn it into Earth, USA Today

"Sorry, Elon Musk. Bill Nye says the idea of Mars colonization and terraforming - making a planet more Earth-like by modifying its atmosphere - is "science fiction." "This whole idea of terraforming Mars, as respectful as I can be, are you guys high?" Nye said in an interview with USA TODAY. "We can't even take care of this planet where we live, and we're perfectly suited for it, let alone another planet." The famous science educator and CEO of The Planetary Society appears on National Geographic Channel's series "MARS." While the series explores human beings living on the Red Planet and even mining it, that doesn't mean Nye buys into the idea."

Keith's note: If you are interested in the prospect of humans living on other worlds such as Mars it would seem that the Planetary Society is not the organization for you - and its not just Bill Nye who is openly hostile to the notion of humans living on Mars.

- The Planetary Society Is Against Human Spaceflight, earlier post
- What is Good for Pasadena Is Good For The Planetary Society, earlier post
- Planetary Society's Mars Mission Takes Longer To Do Less, earlier post
- The Planetary Society Does Not Want "The Martian" To Happen, earlier post
- Planetary Society Does Not Want Humans on Mars, earlier post
- The Planetary Society Is Against Human Space Flight, earlier post
- Planetary Society is Both For and Against Human Spaceflight, earlier post

NASA will retire its new mega-rocket if SpaceX or Blue Origin can safely launch its own powerful rockets, Business Insider

"I think our view is that if those commercial capabilities come online, we will eventually retire the government system, and just move to a buying launch capacity on those [rockets]," Stephen Jurczyk, NASA's associate administrator, told Business Insider at The Economist Space Summit on November 1. However, NASA may soon find itself in a strange position, since the two private launch systems may beat SLS back to the moon -- and one might be the first to send people to Mars. ... "We haven't really engaged SpaceX on how we'd work together on BFR, and eventually get to a Mars mission -- yet," Jurczyk said of NASA's leadership. "My guess is that it's coming."

Keith's note: Dave Mosher is a solid reporter so I am confident he reported what was said. Either Steve Jurczyk misspoke or was mistaken. Either way the boss just cleared this up. Twitter is handy that way.

Keith's note: According to the official NASA Mars 2020 website: "The Mars 2020 mission addresses high-priority science goals for Mars exploration, including key questions about the potential for life on Mars. The mission takes the next step by not only seeking signs of habitable conditions on Mars in the ancient past, but also searching for signs of past microbial life itself."

That's Astrobiology. Mars 2020 is an Astrobiology mission - the first overt Astrobiology mission since the twin Viking landers in 1976. Why doesn't NASA call it an "Astrobiology mission"? Why doesn't NASA even use the word "Astrobiology" on the Mars 2020 website - or elsewhere - to describe the mission? Yet the word appears in today's Mars 2020 landing site press release.

Jezero Crater Announced As Mars 2020 Rover Landing Site

"The landing site in Jezero Crater offers geologically rich terrain, with landforms reaching as far back as 3.6 billion years old, that could potentially answer important questions in planetary evolution and astrobiology," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "Getting samples from this unique area will revolutionize how we think about Mars and its ability to harbor life."

Another Cygnus Leaves Earth

NASA, Northrop Grumman Launch Space Station, National Lab Cargo

"The spacecraft launched on an Antares 230 Rocket from the Virginia Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport's Pad 0A at Wallops on the company's 10th cargo delivery flight, and is scheduled to arrive at the orbital laboratory Monday, Nov. 19. Expedition 57 astronauts Serena Auñón-Chancellor of NASA and Alexander Gerst of ESA (European Space Agency) will use the space station's robotic arm to grapple Cygnus about 5:20 a.m."

Keith's note: NASA has some pretty amazing websites. Some of the best ones are made by JPL. They are immensely popular. A lot of work goes into making sure that they work, that they are accurate, and, if needed, that caveats are posted explaining why the information depicted may be modified, delayed, or missing. In other words, there's a lot of transparency and honesty that goes with thee websites - as there should be. Sometimes the websites have flaws that only emerge over time. Usually NASa is good about fixing these bugs. But sometimes a few NASA employees decide to get snarky and try to blame inaccuracies on the inability of news media or the public to understad a lot of geeky details that they should not be expected to know. That's not how to behave when it comes to the presentation and maintenance of a "public facing" NASA website.

The other day someone at NASASpaceflight.com was sharp enough to notice that there seemed to be a signal coming from a Mars Exploration Rover- specifically via a DSN dish in Madrid, Spain. Their source: the NASA DSN Now website. Since Spirit is dead, Opportunity is the only MER rover left who could do this, right? Indeed on the right hand side of the screen you could see that Opportunity was sending information back to Earth. So, assuming that the NASA website was correct he tweeted his observation. Someone replied to note that the NASA Eyes website showed that there were up and down links from Opportunity. Even the unofficial NASA DSN Twitter account @DSN_Status (which gets its data directly from the NASA Eyes website) said that DSN was talking to - and getting data from - Opportunity.

Lots of Twitter traffic ensued. I checked with several NASA sources who said that they were checking to confirm and tweeted that this might be a "false positive". A short while later JPL tweeted "Today http://eyes.nasa.gov/dsn/dsn.html showed what looked like a signal from @MarsRovers Opportunity. As much as we'd like to say this was an #OppyPhoneHome moment, further investigation shows these signals were not an Opportunity transmission." And that should have been the end of the story.

But it wasn't. NASA JPL employee Doug Ellison, one of the designers of the NASA DSN website, started to complain on his Twitter account @Doug_Ellison about things he does as part of his day job at NASA JPL. He was whining about how people misunderstood what the website was saying. In essence, it was the public and news media's fault for getting things wrong. Among his tweets he chided people by saying "Willing a spacecraft to phone home is awesome. Misinterpreting data (in a way that's been done before) that has people thinking it HAS phoned home isn't." In other words its our fault for believing NASA.

I have gotten tweets and emails from people lecturing me how this JPL DSN website works with lots of geeky details. I'm sure everyone is correct. Funny thing: none of what they are saying to me appears on the NASA DSN website. All visitors to this website see is a page showing little graphical dishes sending or receiving animated signas rom spacecraft. NASA tels people to go this website to see what is going on across the solar system. Since NASA is showing this happening as if it was happening in real time, visitors naturally assume that what NASA is showing is real since people trust NASA websites. If this is not a true representation of what DSN is doing then why did NASA go to such lengths to make it look real and not tell people that it is not real.

Right now if you go to this website there is no obvious note to people that the data may not be accurate. There is a little "last updated" notation with a time. And there's a little "i" link. If you click on it you get this: "Below is the current state of the Deep Space network as established from available data updated every 5 seconds. Click a dish to learn more about the live connection between the spacecraft and the ground. The legend (below) shows the various connections between spacecraft and the ground. A carrier is a pure radio 'tone' used to establish communications or for navigation. Data is commands, scientific measurements or housekeeping engineering information. Uplink is commands being sent 'up' to a spacecraft. Downlink is data received from a spacecraft."

In other words NASA is saying that this is what is actually going on with their DSN. Since NASA websites tend to have a stellar reputation when they show stuff like this, one would naturally assume that if NASA is showing something like this then it is accurate.

Based on the obvious flaws in this website's depiction of ghost signals from a Mars rover, NASA JPL needs to put a caveat on their website saying that information on the website may not be accurate. Or take the site offline. This is an official NASA website and people tend to believe what NASA posts online. Faulting people for doing like some JPL people and fans have been doing, is silly. If NASA JPL PAO can take the time to add "artist's impression", "Illustration", or "false color" to graphics they post then they can put a notice on this website stating that "the graphics depicted are conceptual and may not represent actual spacecraft communications".

Dialing back the error, what happend? A lot of people were overjoyed to see a NASA website saying that Opportunity had phoned home. They trusted NASA on this. But in the end it was a mistake. Oh well. NASA JPL quickly admitted this. Hopefully JPL will understand that they have engendered an amazing amount of trust among visitors to many of the agency's websites and will adjust this otherwise cool website to inform visitors that glitches happen. They also need to send at least one of their employees to training class for "NASA Public Outreach 101".

NASA Advisory Council Regulatory and Policy Committee Observations, Findings, and Recommendations, NASA Advisory Council

NASA Advisory Council Regulatory and Policy Committee Meeting

"Date: Friday, November 16, 2018. In accordance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act, as amended, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announces the first meeting of the Regulatory and Policy Committee of the NASA Advisory Council. This Committee reports to the NAC."

NASA's Moon Plan Panned by Space Council Advisers

"Stressing that these are his private views, [Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin] said 2028 "is so late to need as to not be worthy to be on the table." From a systems engineering standpoint, building the Gateway before humans are on the surface is a "stupid architecture" because it will be needed only as a depot for propellant once it is being manufactured on the surface."

Former NASA administrator says Lunar Gateway is "a stupid architecture", Ars Technica

"Prefacing his comments by saying that these were his personal beliefs, Griffin said, "I think 2028 is so late-to-need that it doesn't even need to be on the table. Such a date does not demonstrate that the United States is a leader in anything. This is 2018. It took us eight years to get to the Moon the first time, and you're going to tell me it takes 10 to 12 to 14 to do it again when we know how? I just want to drop a flag on the play."

National Space Council Users' Advisory Group Meeting

"In accordance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act, as amended, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announces a meeting of the National Space Council Users' Advisory Group (UAG). This will be the second meeting of the UAG. DATES: Thursday, November 15, 2018, from 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m., Eastern Time."

Keith's note: Have a look at the National Space Council User's Advisory Group meeting agenda. Not a single person who is speaking is actually a "user" of space - they are either big Aerospace Reps, politicians, government employees, or reps from other advisory bodies. There is no "user" input in evidence. This is not at all surprising when you look at the UAG subcommittee membership. Yet another pointless example of choir practice in a echo chamber by the usual suspects inside the Beltway.



NASA says it can put humans on Mars within 25 years, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"The cost of solving those means that under current budgets, or slightly expanded budgets, it's going to take about 25 years to solve those," former NASA astronaut Tom Jones told reporters. "We need to get started now on certain key technologies."

NPC Newsmaker: Becoming Martians: NASA's 25-year Plan for Humans to Inhabit the Red Planet

"Humans are on the precipice of becoming an interplanetary species. We earthlings are on our way to becoming Martians. In fact, the future Martians are here on Earth now, training for Mars missions using new technological developments following a strict timeline that will get us there within 25 years."

Keith's note: Blah blah blah. In 2010 NASA started to talk about sending humans to Mars in the early 2030s i.e. approximately 25 years away. 8 years later and its still 25 years away. When I was a boy growing up in the 60s we were going to be on Mars in 1981 when I'd have been 26. Based on this latest 25 year prediction I will be 88. There is something fundamentally wrong with these predictions on the part of NASA. Some astronauts and space pros like participants Tom Jones, James Garvin, and Richard Davis would be perfectly happy if we never went anywhere. They'd rather talk about going somewhere than actually go somewhere. Meetings = action at NASA.

I am a space biologist. When I started working at the NASA Life Science Division at NASA HQ in 1986 we were already working on sending humans to Mars. We never stopped. This has nothing to do with science per se. Yes the risks are real. But they can be dealt with. This has everything to do with using the funding and assets at NASA's disposal for a strategic research plan to methodically reduce risk and flight certify humans for trips to destinations such as Mars. NASA has never had such a strategy and has dabbled in meandering hobby shop science for decades. Now would be a good time to start thinking strategically. Otherwise NASA will never find a way to go to Mars.

Meanwhile SpaceX is building a Mars rocketship and can go to Mars without NASA funding or permission. How will they do it? They'll take the best science at hand, maybe do a little of their own, do informed consent, have their crew sign waivers, and then go to Mars. If NASA won't let their employees take the risk the private sector will. When I lived at Everest Base Camp for a month in 2009 I did so after signing a waiver. People do this risk/benefit calculation all the time. Virtually everyone at Everest signed a waiver. NASA has to WANT to go to Mars and then focus its scattered energies on that end point. In the end someone has to step up and sign off on the increased risk. It will never be zero. Otherwise NASA needs to stand back and let others do it. And they will. Will SpaceX make it? We'll see. Are they trying? Yes. Is NASA trying? No. They just do telecons and Powerpoint.

We're about to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11. Yea. Let's have a big feel-good party to celebrate the fact that we dropped the ball on our Apollo achievements and no longer know how to do something that we once did with style and daring half a century ago.

SpaceX's next big BFR spaceship part finished in Port of LA tent facility, Teslarati

"The first 9-meter (29.5-foot) diameter composite propellant tank dome for SpaceX's full-scale BFR spaceship prototype has been spotted more or less complete at the company's temporary Port of Los Angeles facility, unambiguous evidence that SpaceX is continuing to rapidly fabricate major components of its next-generation rocket."

NASA Is Still Kicking The Can Down the Road to Mars, earlier Post

Keith's note: Didn't they do this sort of thing back in the 80s when they copied the U.S. Space Shuttle?

Keith's note: The Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG 2018) will be meeting from 14-15 November at USRA and can be followed via the following Adobe Connect website.
https://ac.arc.nasa.gov/leag2018/ Online attendees may enter as a guest. Twitter comments have the hashtag #LEAG2018.

We need to change the way we talk about space exploration, National Geographic

"When discussing space exploration, people often invoke stories about the exploration of our own planet, like the European conquest and colonization of the Americas, or the march westward in the 1800s, when newly minted Americans believed it was their duty and destiny to expand across the continent. But increasingly, government agencies, journalists, and the space community at large are recognizing that these narratives are born from racist, sexist ideologies that historically led to the subjugation and erasure of women and indigenous cultures, creating barriers that are still pervasive today. To ensure that humanity's future off-world is less harmful and open to all, many of the people involved are revising the problematic ways in which space exploration is framed."

Keith's note: This article proceeds from a false premise: that human exploration will always result in subjugation and exploitation. Oops: that hasn't happened in Antarctica. Humans can learn from their mistakes.

Culberson's ouster could spell big problems for NASA's Orion program, experts say, Houston Chronicle

"NASA programs -- especially Orion, which is focused on putting humans back on the moon -- could be in trouble after Republican U.S. Rep. John Culberson lost his House seat to Democrat Lizzie Pannill Fletcher. Culberson, a Republican from Texas, led the House Appropriations Committee that funds NASA for the last four years. And he's been a stanch advocate of science and human spaceflight over his nearly two decades in office, said Keith Cowing, editor of NASA Watch, a website devoted to space news. "Nothing is better than to have an advocate for space science and exploration sitting on the committee in the House where NASA funding starts," Cowing said Wednesday morning. ... "Culberson may be partisan, but he's a clear advocate for science," Cowing said. ... Still, it's a shame to lose Culberson, Cowing said, because "so few people are championing science and exploration missions and putting their partisan stances aside, but here's Culberson forcefully looking for life elsewhere."

"The question is how will that affect NASA's space science portfolio?""

Some takeaways for science from yesterday's U.S. elections, Science

"Representative John Culberson (R-TX), who chairs a spending panel that funds NASA and the National Science Foundation, lost to Democrat Lizzie Fletcher. Culberson has been a major advocate of NASA's Europa Clipper mission to a jovian moon; his defeat could mean the project will face obstacles."

What the 2018 midterms mean for NASA and planetary science, Planetary Society

"Europa Clipper, the mission currently in formulation that would fly by Europa dozens of times, is likely to continue without Culberson's support. NASA has formally endorsed the mission, and it is highly ranked by the planetary science decadal survey report. If pressed, I would say the odds of Europa Clipper launching on an SLS have now dropped considerably, and its launch date also now likely to be in the mid-2020s as opposed to 2022. I have a hard time seeing how the Europa lander project continues without Culberson, because NASA has not formally requested the mission, and it lacks consensus support from the scientific community. Culberson had been planning -- and still may be able to -- allocate hundreds of millions of dollars to this effort in fiscal year 2019, but no other member of Congress is likely to pick up that effort in 2020 or beyond."

Keith's note: Looks like Planetary Society wants you to think that its time to give up on the exploration of Europa.

Russian space leader issues decree against trash, "sloppy" work attitudes, Ars Technica

"Dmitry Rogozin is not having the best year. Earlier, he was essentially demoted from his position as deputy prime minister over defense and space to a position managing Roscosmos, the Russian space corporation. And since then he has had to grapple with a number of embarrassing spaceflight problems, including an errant drill hole in a Soyuz spacecraft and an emergency landing of another one after a rocket exploded mid-flight. But Rogozin is nothing if not a fighter, and he now appears to be taking steps to address the deteriorating situation at Roscosmos - and the Russian aerospace companies that build rockets and spacecraft for the country."

Election Snapshot

Keith's note: Sen. Bill Nelson D-FL and Rep. John Culberson R-TX have been defeated. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson D-TX is seeking to become the chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

Keith's update: Dana Rohrabacher R-CA has lost as well. Bill Nelson apparently wants a recount.

Keith's note: If you go to this NASA CIO page "Security Requirements & Policies" you will see that they list all of their directives and memos but you cannot download any of them since there are no links. Lets focus on the first one on the list: "NPR 1382.1A, NASA Privacy Procedural Requirements, July 10, 2013". If you go to NASA NODIS (NASA Online Directive Information System) and enter the document number the search engine cannot find the document. But if you go to the link 1000-1999 Organization and Administration and search for it manually you can find it. But if you use Google and just cut and paste the title in the search box a link to the document magically appears. So please tell me how much credence you can put on a IT management system or a CIO organization where you cannot even use an official policy policy document search engine to find the documents that governs their own core responsibilities?

Google has enlisted NASA to help it prove quantum supremacy within months, Technology Review

"Quantum supremacy is the idea, so far undemonstrated, that a sufficiently powerful quantum computer will be able to complete certain mathematical calculations that classical supercomputers cannot. Proving it would be a big deal because it could kick-start a market for devices that might one day crack previously unbreakable codes, boost AI, improve weather forecasts, or model molecular interactions and financial systems in exquisite detail. The agreement, signed in July, calls on NASA to "analyze results from quantum circuits run on Google quantum processors, and ... provide comparisons with classical simulation to both support Google in validating its hardware and establish a baseline for quantum supremacy."

NASA/Google Space Act Agreement

Keith's note: If you search for "Space Entrepreneurship Conference USC Marshall" you get this link but if you go there, it says "404 - Page Not Found". If you go to the events page at USC Marshall there is no mention of this event. Greg Autry, who was fired by the Trump NASA Transition Team, has taught at USC Marshall. Yet another example of choir practice in an echo chamber by the usual suspects out of reach of the people who actually pay for the all the shiny space things. This whole National Space Council thing lacks transparency and simply rubber stamps things done behind the scenes, out of sight of the rest of us. And NASA is complicit in the way that these things are being done.

NASA Awards Grant for New Life Detection Project, NASA GSFC

"NASA has awarded funding for a new interdisciplinary project called the Laboratory for Agnostic Biosignatures (LAB). The award, totaling nearly $7 million dollars, will be used to develop new, non-Earth like life detection approaches for use on Mars and on Jupiter and Saturn's icy moons."

NASA Making Changes to its Astrobiology Program, earlier post

"To better support the broad, interdisciplinary field of astrobiology - the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe - NASA is announcing a new programmatic infrastructure for the Astrobiology Program."

New Report Calls For NASA To Expand Astrobiology Research, earlier post

"To advance the search for life in the universe, NASA should support research on a broader range of biosignatures and environments, and incorporate the field of astrobiology into all stages of future exploratory missions, says a new congressionally mandated report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine."

Keith's note: The people at the Laboratory for Agnostic Biosignatures (LAB) just got $7m from NASA - specifically from NASA GSFC. Even though this is overtly Astrobiology-related, the official NASA press release makes *zero* mention of "Astrobiology". The grantee makes no mention of anything related to NASA Astrobiology on their website. In addition, no mention is made of this Astrobiology-rich grant award at https://astrobiology.nasa.gov, https://nai.nasa.gov, or https://science.nasa.gov

I'm really shaking my head at this one since this entire effort is 200% about Astrobiology - and it resonates with what the recent NAS report and Congress want NASA to be doing with regard to Astrobiology - specifically with regard to Europa. If NASA is going to be re-organizing its Astrobiology research, a good place to start would be on super simple things like this. One hand does not seem to know - or care - what the other is doing in Astrobiology with NASA funding.

U.S.-Russia space partnership has had its ups and downs, but failed launch might end up helping, LA Times

"For more than 20 years, NASA's relationship with Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, has been the model of post-Cold War reconciliation between Washington and Moscow. Those ties only grew deeper in 2011, when the U.S. retired its fleet of space shuttles and Russia's Soyuz rocket, a design that dates to the 1960s, became the sole means of reaching the $100-billion space outpost. This marriage between the two space programs has weathered the atmosphere of distrust that now permeates U.S.-Russia relations. Across the field of bilateral ties between Moscow and Washington, only space exploration has succeeded in staying above the fray. But when evidence arose that the hole in Soyuz was deliberately drilled, that resilience was put to a test."

Russia to hold 2 new space launches in wake of Soyuz failure, UPI

"The quick turnaround of getting the Soyuz back to space quickly comes from the need to relieve the crew currently manning the ISS. After NASA shut down its space shuttle program in 2011, the Soyuz has been the only delivery method for astronauts going to or leaving the floating space station."

Airbus Delivers First European Service Module for NASA's Orion Spacecraft, Airbus Defence and Space

"Airbus will deliver the first European Service Module (ESM) for NASA's Orion spacecraft from its aerospace site in Bremen, Germany on 5 November 2018."

"An Antonov cargo aircraft will fly the ESM to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA. This is the result of four years of development and construction, and represents the achievement of a key milestone in the project. ESA selected Airbus as the prime contractor for the development and manufacturing of the first ESM in November 2014."

Note: Includes the video of the Orion ESM delivery ceremony from Bremen, Germany. (In German and English)

NASA's Astrobiology Program Evolving to Meet the Future, NASA

"To better support the broad, interdisciplinary field of astrobiology - the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe - NASA is announcing a new programmatic infrastructure for the Astrobiology Program."

"By the end of 2019, the Astrobiology Program will establish several virtual collaboration structures called "research coordination networks" (RCNs) that will replace the Program's virtual institute, the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI). With this shift, NASA's overall investment in the Astrobiology Program is not changing. Astrobiology is an important part of NASA's portfolio and Congress formally added Astrobiology as one of NASA's ten objectives in 2017. This will only change how this interdisciplinary research is coordinated between researchers."

NASA's Dawn Mission to Asteroid Belt Comes to End

"NASA's Dawn spacecraft has gone silent, ending a historic mission that studied time capsules from the solar system's earliest chapter. Dawn missed scheduled communications sessions with NASA's Deep Space Network on Wednesday, Oct. 31, and Thursday, Nov. 1. After the flight team eliminated other possible causes for the missed communications, mission managers concluded that the spacecraft finally ran out of hydrazine, the fuel that enables the spacecraft to control its pointing. Dawn can no longer keep its antennae trained on Earth to communicate with mission control or turn its solar panels to the Sun to recharge."

Dawn Mission Cancelled, earlier post (2006)

"Upon returning to her office from this morning's hearing, Mary Cleave cancelled the Discovery "Dawn" mission. Curiously, with several hours during the hearing to do so, she did not bother to mention to the House Science Committee that she was about to do this."

- Congress Hears About Dawn Mission Cancellation, earlier post (2006)
- Letter from PSI Director Sykes to House Science Committee Chair Boehlert Regarding Cancellation of NASA's Dawn, earlier post (2006)
- Cancellation of Dawn Mission on Hold Pending Review By NASA Administrator , earlier post (2006)
- NASA Reinstates the Dawn Mission, earlier post (2006)

Keith's note: At its last meeting in September 2018 the NASA Advisory Council adopted this recommendation:

"Elevating the Status of the Ad Hoc Task Force on STEM Education. Recommendation: The Council recommends that the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) Ad Hoc Task Force on STEM Education should become a regular committee of the NAC. Major Reasons for the Recommendation: A regular committee of the NAC that focuses on STEM engagement, and is made up of representatives from key stakeholder groups, will provide a set of diverse perspectives from difference constituent groups about trends and current events in the national STEM movement. Consequences of No Action on This Recommendation:
- The institutional knowledge developed by the current NAC Ad Hoc Task Force on STEM Education over the last 43 months will be lost.
- The Terms of Reference for the NAC Ad Hoc Task Force on STEM Education indicate that with no extension or formalization, the Task Force dissolves in November 2018."

On 26 October 2018 NASA Administrator Bridenstine sent a letter to NAC Chair Lester Lyles with the following response to this recommendation:

"NASA Response: NASA concurs with the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) recommendation to elevate the NAC Ad Hoc Task Force on STEM Education to become a regular committee of the NAC. To that end, BASA is in the process of formally amending the NAC CHarter to reflect this change. The name of this committee will be the STEM Engagement Committee. This change will tak effect immediately upon the signature of the NASA Administrator to the amended NAC Charter."


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