February 2019 Archives

New Cornyn, Peters Bill Will Usher in New Era of Space Exploration,

"U.S. Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Gary Peters (D-MI) today introduced the Advancing Human Spaceflight Act, which would extend the International Space Station (ISS) through 2030, direct NASA to develop a next-generation spacesuit to enable human exploration beyond low earth orbit, and establish the goal of permanent human presence beyond Earth as national policy. "The only way to continue learning about the universe around us is to aim high and dream big," said Sen. Cornyn. "I'm grateful for the continued work of and input from Houston's space community as we drafted this bill, which sets the stage for a new era of space exploration and to reassert American leadership in space discovery." "Investing in space exploration helps solidify our leadership in the global economy, uncover new discoveries and inspire the next generation of scientists and astronauts," said Senator Peters. "This bipartisan legislation would ensure that the servicemen and women of NASA can continue their cutting-edge research and exploration missions, and I look forward to seeing the pioneering solutions that drive the next era of innovation."

Let's Go Back To The Moon With Less Money, earlier post

Canada Is Going To The Moon, SpaceQ

"Today Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed what many had hoped for by committing Canada to participate in the NASA led effort to return to the moon. Canada will contribute a smart robotic system to the NASA's Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G) program. The smart robotic system includes a next-generation robotic arm, which is already being called the Canadarm3, other unnamed equipment, and specialized tools to be used on this unique system."

NASA Secures First International Partnership for Moon to Mars Lunar Gateway

"NASA is thrilled that Canada is the first international partner for the Gateway lunar outpost. Space exploration is in Canada's DNA. In 1962, Canada became the third nation to launch a satellite into orbit with Alouette 1."

Frank Hicks

Obituary of Dr. H. Frank Hicks Jr., The Union

"Dr. H. Frank Hicks Jr., 95, of Fort Myers, FL passed away on February 21, 2019. Frank led the design and manufacture of America's first high resolution reconnaissance satellite cameras starting in 1958 a few months after the Soviets launched Sputnik. Presidents Johnson and Reagan both spoke about the critical contributions that these spy satellites made to preventing nuclear war. The camera systems on the Lunar Orbiter missions that mapped the moon's surface in advance of the Apollo missions were also developed under his direction. Frank retired from Kodak in 1981 as the Director of Research and Engineering for the Kodak Apparatus Division, and was named Director Emeritus."

Jack Lee

Thomas J. "Jack" Lee

"Thomas J. "Jack" Lee, 83 of New Market, died Sunday at Grandview Medical Center in Birmingham following a battle with pancreatic cancer. Born in Wedowee, AL, he was the son of John Tom Lee and Virginia Hodnett Walker. Mr. Lee graduated from the University of Alabama in 1958 with a BS in Aeronautical Engineering. He received an honorary doctorate from the University of Alabama-Huntsville. Mr. Lee served as the sixth Director of the NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville from July 1989 to January 1994. He began his professional career in 1958 as an Aeronautical Research Engineer with the U.S. Army Ballistic Missile Agency. He transferred to the Marshall Center when it was formed in 1960, as a Systems Engineer with the Center's Centaur Resident Manager Office in San Diego."

NASA could see a 5 percent budget cut next year, official says, Houston Chronicle

"President Donald Trump is expected to propose a 5 percent cut to NASA's budget next year, a decision that stands in stark contrast to the president's pushed to return humans to the moon for the first time since 1972. The proposed cuts -- part of sweeping cuts to non-defense discretionary spending in every agency -- was disclosed in an article published online Monday by Russ Vought, acting head of the Office of Management and Budget. "It's unfortunate that once again when everyone is getting excited about going back to the moon ... that the announcement is on the heels of cuts for NASA," said Keith Cowing, editor of NASA Watch, a website devoted to space news. "This is not the signal you would hope to see at an agency that is about to embark on a multi-decade program of returning to and exploring the moon. ... "Again, NASA is caught making all these plans with faith-based projections where budgets will be," Cowing said. "There's nothing wrong with being optimistic, but at the end of the day, you can't just click your heels three times and hope money falls out of the sky."

New "NASA Science Live" Program Premieres This This Week

"NASA invites you to take a behind-the-scenes look at how the agency explores Earth and outer space with a new monthly television series that premiers this week. The inaugural episode of "NASA Science Live" will air at 3 p.m. EST Wednesday, Feb. 27, on NASA Television, the agency's website, Facebook Watch, YouTube, and Ustream. Viewers will be able to submit questions on social media using the hashtag #askNASA or by leaving a comment in the chat section on Facebook."

Keith's 23 February note: Last thursday NASA HQ issued a press release "NASA-Funded Research Creates DNA-like Molecule to Aid Search for Alien Life" which notes that "this new molecular system, which is not a new life form, suggests scientists looking for life beyond Earth may need to rethink what they are looking for. The research appears in Thursday's edition of Science Magazine." Mary Voytek, senior scientist for Astrobiology at NASA Headquarters is even quoted.

Readers of the press release are told "To learn more about NASA's Astrobiology Program, visit https://astrobiology.nasa.gov/". If you go to that link you will see that there is no mention of this press release or the research cited by the release. Nor is there any mention at the NASA Astrobiology Institute website or the NASA Science Mission Directorate website (which does not even mention the word "Astrobiology"). NASA's Astrobiology account on Twitter @NASAastrobio makes no mention of this press release or its research either. None of these locations bother to link to the actual research either ("Hachimoji DNA and RNA: A genetic system with eight building blocks").

Keith's 25 Feb update: https://astrobiology.nasa.gov/ Just did an update. No mention of last week's release has been added. Meanwhile there are dozens of news stories that have been written about the importance of this research - and NASA's sponsorship of it. NASA's Astrobiology folks seem to be uninterested in being relevant. Oh yes: NASA JPL posted this Astrobiology release today: " NASA Study Reproduces Origins of Life on Ocean Floor". No mention is made at https://astrobiology.nasa.gov/ even though this release also says "To learn more about NASA's Astrobiology Program, visit https://astrobiology.nasa.gov/". This happens since one part of NASA that does Astrobiology does not talk - or listen to - other parts of NASA that also do Astrobiology.

Keith's 26 Feb update: Finally. Someone in the NASA Astrobiology program noticed the dozens or articles in prominent publications about the DNA research announced last week. There's another important NASA Astrobiology story coming out in several days. Lets see if the Astrobiology folks are paying attention.

Meanwhile, NASA Administrator Bridenstine is making prominent mention of NASA's search for life elsewhere (see "We're 'Well On Our Way' to Discovering Alien Life, NASA Chief Says"). Multiple news outlets have picked up on his comments. You'd think that the Astrobiology folks at NASA would want to be talking up what they do. Guess again.

The National Academy of Sciences recently took note of how NASA runs its Astrobiology programs: New Report Calls For NASA To Expand Astrobiology Research "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 ... Astrobiology, the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe, is a rapidly changing field, especially in the years since the publication of NASA's Astrobiology Strategy 2015. Recent scientific advances in the field now provide many opportunities to strengthen the role of astrobiology in NASA missions and to increase collaboration with other scientific fields and organizations. The report finds that these changes necessitate an updated science strategy for astrobiology."

NASA replied to this report: NASA Making Changes to its 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."

Alas, while the agency looks at how to reorganize the way it conducts Astrobiology it still lacks the basic ability to do simple website updates to reflect its own good news. One would think that some focus on basic principles is in order before all of the deck chairs get rearranged. Oh yes, FWIW Google the term "Astrobiology". Look where my Astrobiology.com website ranks. Its not that hard to do the Internet stuff, NASA. Just sayin'

- NASA Leads In Astrobiology. It Needs To Act That Way., earlier post
- NASA Is Incapable Of Explaining How It Does Astrobiology, earlier post
- NASA's Semi-Stealth Astrobiology Mission, earlier post
- NASA's Astrobiology Programs Ignore One Another, earlier post
- NASA Making Changes to its Astrobiology Program, earlier post

Keith's note: NASA has completed its Flight Readiness Review (FRR) for the SpaceX Demo-1 fight of its crewed Dragon. The flight is scheduled for 2 March and will use a vehicle identical to the one which will eventually fly with humans with some sort of SpaceX dummy on board (think Starman in the Tesla). The only real issue that was mentioned had to do with software and one of the partners (Russia) wanted more work to done. Luckily the Russians did not detect any drilling mistakes ;-).

Listening to the NASA people talk at the press briefing today I could help but notice a certain weirdness. They all seemed to be pinching themselves - either because this is the first time NASA has approached a human mission in a while or that the spacecraft was not built by NASA. Or maybe a little of both.

I had hoped to ask Bill Gertstenmaier about this weirdness but KSC PAO decided otherwise. Had I been allowed to ask a question it would have been this:

"Bill, you and I sat in the same design reviews 30 years ago for Space Station. Our bosses were old Apollo guys. We were looking to build something that was a paradigm shift from what they did. Every now and then however they'd say something that spoke of great wisdom. This SpaceX Review was being held in the same room where shuttle FRRs were held. And there was a capsule on the powerpoint slides - just like Apollo. I was wondering if there were any friendly ghosts in the room prompting you to be the guy offering the wisdom."

https://s3.amazonaws.com/images.spaceref.com/news/2019/IMG_7050.jpg Keith's addendum: On the first day of my job at Rockwell International in Downey in 1981 I was assigned an old, military drab green desk. My boss told me to empty the drawers into a waste basket since it had not been used in years and that it was just "old Apollo stuff'. We were building Space Shuttles a few hundred feet away. I opened the big drawer and this was sitting inside with papers of similar age. I threw everything else into the waste basket except this - an Apollo 7 FRR badge. There is a long line in the NASA family that stretches back from today to the earliest days of space exploration - and it leads forward into the future. I was thinking about this today while I waited to ask Gerst a question.

Keith's update: I got this response from Bill Gerstenmaier to my question: "The badge and your story are amazing. There is something about human spaceflight that is special. The precision and expertise demanded from the team is unprecedented in any normal human activity. We are taking hardware to the limits while protecting human life. The Apollo folks were amazing, the Shuttle folks followed, and as you say this is the next generation of engineers and scientists. The tools that we have today are very sophisticated and are radically better than Apollo. However, the process of reviewing readiness for flight is still fundamentally the same. By building on the past, staying humble and being open to learning we can improve on the ways of the past and do ever more challenging things. We stand on the shoulders of giants. Nice that you kept this piece of history."

SpaceShipTwo Returns To Space With Crew Of Three

"This space flight means Chief Pilot Dave Mackay and co-pilot Michael "Sooch" Masucci become commercial astronauts and the 569th and 570th humans in space. Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic's Chief Astronaut Instructor, flew as the third crew member in a first, live evaluation of cabin dynamics. She is the 571st person to fly to space and the first woman to fly on board a commercial spaceship."

NASA Selects Experiments for Possible Lunar Flights in 2019

"NASA has selected 12 science and technology demonstration payloads to fly to the Moon as early as the end of this year, dependent upon the availability of commercial landers. These selections represent an early step toward the agency's long-term scientific study and human exploration of the Moon and, later, Mars. NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD) initiated the request for proposals leading to these selections as the first step in achieving a variety of science and technology objectives that could be met by regularly sending instruments, experiments and other small payloads to the Moon."

NASA Administrator Statement on Israeli Moon Mission

"In July, I was in Israel and was very impressed with their commitment to expanding their role in the world's space community. As we better understand Israel's capabilities and the innovative work of their private industry, we know they'll be an even stronger international partner in the future, one vital to the success of extending commercial space to the Moon and eventually on to Mars and beyond. There are terrific opportunities awaiting Israel and all of us in advancing the space frontier."

SpaceX, Boeing design risks threaten new delays for U.S. space program, Reuters

"Two people with direct knowledge of the program told Reuters that the space agency's concerns go beyond the four items listed, and include a risk ledger that as of early February contained 30 to 35 lingering technical concerns each for SpaceX and Boeing. Reuters could not verify what all of the nearly three dozen items are. But the sources familiar with the matter said the companies must address "most" of those concerns before flying astronauts and, eventually, tourists to space."

The Tragic Tale Of How NASA's X-34 Space Planes Ended Up Rotting In Someone's Backyard, TheWarZone

"The X-34 story took a very bizarre turn in the last couple of years when the Air Force apparently donated the craft to a museum in Florida. The man who was the point of contact for the museum had to take possession of them, but was not anywhere near ready logistically to move them across the country. This would have been a major administrative and operational undertaking as each state would require special permits to move the wide loads through. We can only imagine what the bill would be to ship the rocket planes 2,000 miles east would have been, but it would have been substantial. This is how they ended up in the back yard of the proprietor of Smith's Quickcrane Inc."

Bird poop and dust could seriously complicate Elon Musk and SpaceX's latest plan to reach Mars, Business Insider

"Dwayne Day*, who helped investigate the loss of NASA's Columbia space shuttle and its crew, said such clogs could come from any number of mundane factors. "What if a bird poops on your rocket and it plugs up a few holes, and then when the thing is returning no coolant comes out of those holes and that section of the vehicle overheats?" he said."

* Dwayne Day is a Senior Program Officer at the National Academy of Science Space and Aeronautics Board. His training is in space policy.

Video of signing activities at the White House, CSPAN

Text of Space Policy Directive-4: Establishment of the United States Space Force, White House

"Section 1. Introduction. Space is integral to our way of life, our national security, and modern warfare. Although United States space systems have historically maintained a technological advantage over those of our potential adversaries, those potential adversaries are now advancing their space capabilities and actively developing ways to deny our use of space in a crisis or conflict. It is imperative that the United States adapt its national security organizations, policies, doctrine, and capabilities to deter aggression and protect our interests. Toward that end, the Department of Defense shall take actions under existing authority to marshal its space resources to deter and counter threats in space, and to develop a legislative proposal to establish a United States Space Force as a sixth branch of the United States Armed Forces within the Department of the Air Force. This is an important step toward a future military department for space. Under this proposal, the United States Space Force would be authorized to organize, train, and equip military space forces of the United States to ensure unfettered access to, and freedom to operate in, space, and to provide vital capabilities to joint and coalition forces in peacetime and across the spectrum of conflict."

Remarks by President Trump at Signing Ceremony for Space Policy Directive-4 (Space Policy Comments Excerpt)

"Our adversaries and -- whether we get along with them or not, they're up in space. And they're doing it, and we're doing it. And that's going to be a very big part of where the defense of our nation -- and you could say "offense" -- but let's just be nice about it and let's say the defense of our nation is going to be. America must be fully equipped to defend our vital interests. Our adversaries are training forces and developing technology to undermine our security in space, and they're working very hard at that. That's why my administration has recognized space as a warfighting domain and made the creation of the Space Force a national security priority. I think we'll have great support from Congress, because they do support something when we're talking about such importance. And a lot of the generals, a lot of the people involved have been speaking to Congress. And we have some very interesting dialogue going on."

Alabama Wants Y'all To Join Their Space Force, earlier post

Rep. Mo Brooks pushes to put 'Space Force' command in Alabama, AL.com

"Alabama's congressional representatives aren't wasting any time lobbying for the Pentagon to put President Trump's new "Space Force" command on Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville. U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks told an all-star panel of witnesses at a committee hearing today that, "I hope that you will help make Redstone Arsenal a finalist in the space command headquarters debate." On Tuesday, it was U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Mobile) saying the headquarters of the new force should be in Huntsville."

Keith's note: Despite the intention of keeping military and civilian space activities clearly separate (something this White House and previous Administrations have tried to do) it would seem that at least two state's politicians want to blend them together - or muddy the distinctions - for local political reasons.

Keith's note: There was a White House media telecon this morning dealing with the signing of SPD-4 to create Space Force this afternoon at 2:00 pm ET by the President. According to the senior Administration official who spoke SPD-4 establishes United States Space Force. Space is integral to our way of life and modern warfare. Our adversaries are preparing ways to use space. Space Force seeks to deter aggression and protect our interests.

Video of signing activities at the White House, CSPAN

SPD-4 will lead to legislative proposals to create a 6th branch of the DOD. Space Force will be created initially under USAF as a first step with an option to eventually set up a separate Space Force. The head of the Space Force will be a member of the Joint Chiefs of Space. DOD Undersecretary of Space will appointed by president with Senate confirmation

Space Force will consolidate military authorities to prevent overlaps and duplication and will assume all military space acquisition and establish career paths. #SpaceForce Space Force will *NOT* include NASA, NOAA, NRO, or other non-military space organizations or mission of the federal government. Space Force will organize, train, and equip forces to operate in space domain, on Earth, and within the electromagnetic spectrum. Space Development Agency is not a specific part of SPD-4 but it is part of existing authority and not a focus of SPD-4.

DDO will establish a combatant command called the United States Space Command. This legislation will enable lethality of this joint Force. The Space Force Legislative proposal will deal with ranks and promotion potential to make sure everyone who transfers to Space Force. Space Force and Space Command are two different organizations. Space Force is under civilian command organize, training, equipping. Space Command will be created by DOD to implement combatant activities that Space Force puts into place.

DOD secretary will be tasked to submit a budget as part of the President's FY 2020 budget request. DOD and DNI will issue a report of progress in 180 days. DOD Secretary will propose suggested authority changes within 90 days.

No estimates of the budget for Space Force were provided. Standing up a new branch of the military is something we have not done in 70 yeas so there will be some significant costs.

Keith's note: Earlier this week the Commercial Spaceflight Federation and the commercial space community held their annual Commercial Space Transportation Conference in Washington, DC. True to form they seemed to be uninterested in letting the rest of the country know what commercial space is all about and nothing was webcast. NASA Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard spoke to the same old commercial space people inside yet another echo chamber.

In contrast, the day before this event, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and 2 staffers used a cellphone to livestream his comments to the World Ag Expo in rural California. Bridenstine told me today that he had 130,000 viewers for his live streamed remarks. Bridenstine has stated that he is overtly reaching out to new audiences. Using simple tools he did that. Meanwhile the usual suspects in Washington, DC would rather just be left alone to their inside-the-beltway choir practice sessions.

Oddly, one of the big things that the commercial space crowd wants to sell you these days is constellations of satellites that will offer communications and imaging to the same rural communities that Bridenstine reached out to. You'd think that these commercial space folks would want the broadest possible customer base to be aware of what is coming their way. Guess again.

Look at the net result of Bridenstine's trip. He's not on CNBC talking about commercial space. He's talking about NASA and agriculture and how space technology aids the production of food and supports farms large and small. At the end of the day his cellphone webcast probably had more real Impact than the commercial space thing in DC.

Watch NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine's full interview with CNBC from CNBC.

Keith's note: NASA held a media briefing session today at NASA HQ. The purpose of the briefing was to talk about the various lunar activities NASA is engaged in. Specifically there was discussion by NASA SMD AA Thomas Zurbuchen about the science and technology missions that NASA is planning. Next week 12 payloads will be announced as part of the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. 9 companies are cometing to place these payloads on the Moon. Zurbuchen is off on a race to make these things happen much faster than is usually the case at NASA. This means that there will be more risks taken - but with that comes a greater chance to try new things. Indeed, if the program achieves what it aspires to do, there could be payloads on the surface of the Moon by the end of 2019.

These missions will conduct pure science and applied technology. The applied technology is designed to build up capabilities that will be needed when human landings are attempted at the end of the next decade. Among other things locating resources for fuel generation and lunar base construction will be explored.

A Human Lunar Landing System Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) has been issued by NASA. NASA Administrator Bridenstine and HEOMD AA Bill Gerstenmaier described the approach within this BAA as using an "open architecture". Yet when you read the BAA it refers to a "Reference Architecture" that proposers are supposed to base their ideas on - anything outside of that Reference Architecture would be deemed beyond the scope of this BAA. That sounds a bit contradictory. NASA says they want people's ideas - even if they are different than what NASA wants to do yet the procurement vehicle they use seems to preclude that.

The following is my question to Bridenstine and Gerstenmaier - in essence I asked what NASA would do if SpaceX shows up with a proposal and says that they can do everything NASA wants without the need of a Gateway-based architecture:

In essence NASA wants everyone's ideas - even if they may not match up against what this current BAA solicits. They say that will take ideas that do not conform to the BAA's language and consider them (even though the BAA does not mention this). The real question is whether NASA truly wants to use the engines of creativity that a fully open architecture would instill or whether they want to be seen as trying to be open when in fact they still want to impose agency solutions when all is said and done. This is sort of a "closed openness" approach.

Another analogy is to compare the way that Google leaves its Android architecture rather open to outside developers and hardware manufacturers while Apple has adopted a "walled garden" approach where they control the extent of software operations and hardware implementation. Both approaches work - but one is far more "open" than the other.

It might be a good idea for NASA to put out an amendment to this BAA that explicitly states this since simply reading the BAA could leave a proposer with the (apparently incorrect) impression that only ideas that resonate with the official NASA Reference Architecture as presented in the BAA are sought.

But to be honest NASA is trying to do the whole return to the Moon thing much faster than you'd expect. NASA has made flashy proclamations to this effect 4 or 5 times since humans last walked on the Moon. Yet half a century and many false starts later later we have still not put a human on the Moon again. This time NASA is taking more risks than they are used to taking. With that comes the chance to try more new approaches and get back to the Moon faster than might otherwise be the case.

- Human Landing System Broad Agency Announcement Industry Day presentations

NASA Administrator Hosts Media, Industry Forum on Lunar Exploration Plans, NASA

"NASA invites media to its headquarters in Washington Thursday, Feb. 14, to learn more about agency partnership opportunities with American companies to develop reusable systems that can land astronauts on the Moon. Events will begin with a media roundtable at 12:30 p.m. EST with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator of the agency's Human Exploration and Operations Missions Directorate, and Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate."

NASA has taken a significant step toward human landings on the Moon, Ars Technica

"For two years, the Trump administration has made various noises about returning humans to the Moon. There have been bill signings with Apollo astronauts such as Buzz Aldrin and Harrison Schmitt. Vice President Mike Pence has traveled to NASA facilities around the country to make speeches. And the president himself has mused about the Moon and Mars. However, beyond talk of returning humans to the Moon, much of the country's civil space policy and budgeting priorities really hadn't changed much until late last week. On Thursday, NASA released a broad agency announcement asking the US aerospace industry for its help to develop large landers that, as early as 2028, would carry astronauts to the surface of the Moon."

Partnerships Between NASA and Industry Can Support Lunar Exploration, Say Two New Reports, NAS

"However, the two reports find that the activities undertaken to date, although aligned with community consensus for lunar science priorities, do not replace missions recommended in the National Academies' most recent planetary science decadal survey and remain subject to many unknowns, such as the ability of standardized commercial lunar landers to interface with complex science payloads."

Keith's note: I asked former NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe what his thoughts were today as Opportunity ended its mission on Mars:

"The Mars Exploration Rovers - Spirit and Opportunity - missions were stunning achievements that exceeded expectations beyond anyone's imagination. Over the span of 15 years, for a program designed to last no more than six months, the MER team's scientific and engineering achievements have informed our understanding of Mars to pave the way for future exploration. They started operations at a critical moment in the wake of the Columbia shuttle tragedy and after a series of missions to Mars with little success. As the chapters of NASA history continue to be written, the MER program will be remembered as a moment that restored our resolve to explore space beyond our own planet.

Charles Elachi and Steve Squyres are the heroes of MER in my book. Both were routinely deployed to convince dubious decision makers on Capitol Hill that the engineering project was sound, the scientific mission was well considered and the probability for success was higher than the mission failures that preceded. Their credibility and expertise made very Doubting Thomas a convert. After the Rovers landed, Steve proved to be the go-to guy to explain to television audiences around the globe exactly what we were looking for on the Red Planet. Today it's treated as "Truth according to Squyres" thanks to his capacity to bring the science to life for all of us who are pedestrians."

I also had a chance to ask Steve Squyres about the twin rovers and their place in the pantheon of human exploration:

Opportunity

NASA's Opportunity Rover Mission on Mars Comes to End

"It is because of trailblazing missions such as Opportunity that there will come a day when our brave astronauts walk on the surface of Mars," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "And when that day arrives, some portion of that first footprint will be owned by the men and women of Opportunity, and a little rover that defied the odds and did so much in the name of exploration."

NASA to Share Results of Effort to Recover Mars Opportunity Rover

"NASA will discuss the status of its Mars Exploration Rover(MER) Opportunity in a media briefing at 2 p.m. EST (11 a.m. PST) Wednesday, Feb. 13, from the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. The briefing will air live on NASA Television, the agency's website and YouTube. The briefing will follow NASA's last planned attempts to communicate with Opportunity late Tuesday evening. The solar-powered rover last communicated with Earth June 10, 2018, as a planet-wide dust storm was blanketing the Red Planet."

Taking 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. ... Bob would have been in his element on Mars. He was perfectly suited for it. When we do send people to Mars they will truly be following in his footsteps. In the tradition of polar explorers Bob's colleagues waited until just the right place revealed itself to them. As Opportunity made its way down into Endeavour Crater via Bitterroot Valley to Spirit Mound it passed Wharton Ridge."

Girl with Dreams Names Mars Rovers 'Spirit' and 'Opportunity'

"Twin robotic geologists NASA is sending to Mars will embody in their newly chosen names -- Spirit and Opportunity -- two cherished attributes that guide humans to explore. NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe and 9-year-old Sofi Collis, who wrote the winning essay in a naming contest, unveiled the names this morning at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. "Now, thanks to Sofi Collis, our third grade explorer-to-be from Scottsdale, Ariz., we have names for the rovers that are extremely worthy of the bold mission they are about to undertake," O'Keefe said."

Keith's note: At a 2003 press event at NASA HQ I asked NASA Science AA Ed Weiler what would happen if some martian wind blew the dust off of the solar panels and the Mars Rovers had some extra time to do things. He thought my question was silly. Silly me.

Media Invited to Talk Tech with NASA Administrator at World Ag Expo, NASA

"NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine will speak to, and take questions from, media about how technologies originally developed for space exploration now are used to cultivate farms, predict crop yields, manage water resources, and more, during his Tuesday, Feb. 12, visit to World Ag Expo in Tulare, California."

Space Station Flyovers In Flyover Country Are Not All That They Could Be, earlier post

"In 2016 people talked about "flyover country" without giving it too much thought as to what it meant other than that's where Trump voters and/or Hillary haters lived. You've all heard me rant about how I think NASA needs to readjust its education and public outreach efforts so as to reach the large sectors of America that do not usually get NASA's attention. In my mind there is some overlap between the flyover country meme and what I consider to be a chronically underserved portion of America's population when it comes to NASA outreach."

Doing Something Again For The First Time, earlier post

"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'

Farside Politics: The West Eyes Moon Cooperation with China, Scientific American

"The final law Wolf put in place--the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015, which remains in effect today--states no funds may be spent by NASA to "develop, design, plan, promulgate, implement or execute a bilateral policy, program, order or contract of any kind to participate, collaborate or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China or any Chinese-owned company unless such activities are specifically authorized by law after the date of enactment of this act." NASA is able to formally collaborate with China as long as it notifies Congress in advance and gets congressional approval of the specific interaction."

Wallops director moving to NASA HQ; acting director named. Delmarva Now

"NASA Wallops Flight Facility's director is taking a job at the agency's Washington D.C. headquarters, leaving his post after nearly a decade in the role. William Wrobel, known by many as Bill, is serving on a detail with NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. Keith Koehler, a spokesperson for Wallops, confirmed the move Wednesday."

Keith's note: CASIS, sometimes also known as the ISS National Laboratory (depending who you talk to), held a board meeting today in Washington, DC. In a nutshell, while they have spent a lot of money and time erasing "CASIS" from their branding, websites, and publications, they admitted that they are not changing their name - even if they are. They also claimed that there have been no discussions of setting up a commercial entity even though multiple sources tell me that they have had these conversations with and about this topic and CASIS. I had a short exchange with Joe Vockley, the executive director of CASIS.

Some Twitter notes from the event today:

Earlier posts

- CASIS Now Has An Official Fictitious Name
- CASIS Is Changing Its Name But It Missed A Few Things (update)
- CASIS Is Changing Its Name By Pretending That Its Not
- Why Is CASIS Making Itself Disappear?

Christopher Scolese Nominated to be the Director of the National Reconnaissance Office

"Mr. Scolese currently serves as the Director of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Previously, he served as the associate administrator at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., and as NASA's chief engineer. Mr. Scolese is the recipient of the Presidential Rank Award of Meritorious Executive, the NASA Distinguished Leadership Medal, the Goddard Outstanding Leadership Medal, two NASA Outstanding Leadership Medals, and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) National Capital Section Young Engineer/Scientist of the Year award."

Keith's note: Vice President Pence made a surprise visit to Arlington National Cemetery today as part of the NASA Remembrance Activities. Those of us in attendance only found out he was going to be there a few minutes before he arrived. I was standing about 15 feet away as I recorded his remarks so you may need to turn up the volume a bit to hear what he had to say.

Remembrance

NASA Pays Tribute to Fallen Heroes

"NASA will honor members of the NASA family who lost their lives while furthering the cause of exploration and discovery, including the crews of Apollo 1 and space shuttles Challenger and Columbia, during the agency's annual Day of Remembrance Thursday, Feb. 7. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, and other agency senior officials, will lead an observance at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia starting at 1 p.m. EST. A wreath-laying ceremony will be held at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, followed by observances for the Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia crews."

Earth Continues To Warm

2018 Was The Fourth Warmest Year In A Continued Warming Trend

"Earth's global surface temperatures in 2018 were the fourth warmest since 1880, according to independent analyses by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Global temperatures in 2018 were 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit (0.83 degrees Celsius) warmer than the 1951 to 1980 mean, according to scientists at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York. Globally, 2018's temperatures rank behind those of 2016, 2017 and 2015. The past five years are, collectively, the warmest years in the modern record. "2018 is yet again an extremely warm year on top of a long-term global warming trend," said GISS Director Gavin Schmidt."

NASA, SpaceX, and Being Update Commercial Crew Launch Dates

"Test Flight Planning Dates:
SpaceX Demo-1 (uncrewed): March 2, 2019
Boeing Orbital Flight Test (uncrewed): NET April 2019
Boeing Pad Abort Test: NET May 2019
SpaceX In-Flight Abort Test: June 2019
SpaceX Demo-2 (crewed): July 2019
Boeing Crew Flight Test (crewed): NET August 2019"

"In 2019 we also celebrate 50 years since brave young pilots flew one quarter of one million miles through space to plant an American flag on the face of the Moon. Half a century later, we are joined by one of the Apollo 11 astronauts who planted that flag, Buzz Aldrin. Thank you, Buzz. This year, American astronauts will go back to space in American rockets."

China, US need to build trust in space, Global Times

"After Chang'e-4 lunar probe successfully landed on the far side of the Moon, there has been considerable discussion among the US scientific community as to whether the US should embark upon a new cooperation with China for space exploration. A few weeks ago, US space agency NASA said in a statement that it is collaborating with the China National Space Administration for a lunar mission, and it is expected to image the landing site of Chang'e-4, using its lunar orbiter on January 31. The development marks the first time in eight years that China and the US have achieved such cooperation in aerospace, science and technology. ... China plans to launch a manned space station and make it fully operational by 2022. If the International Space Station retires in 2024 as planned, then China will be the only country that has its own space station, at that time. Other countries including the US may need the Chinese space station to provide reliable support, which is also an opportunity to continue pushing forward with space technology through cooperation."

https://s3.amazonaws.com/images.spaceref.com/news/2019/issdomain.jpg

Keith's update: A short time after I posted this someone bought this domain. It does not seem to have been purchased by CASIS. Oops.

https://s3.amazonaws.com/images.spaceref.com/news/2019/issdomain.2.jpg

Keith's 11:03 am ET note: CASIS has decided to change its name to "ISS National Laboratory." It has filed paperwork with the state of Florida to allow it to openly use a "fictitious name" to do business (that's what it says on the forms). Sources report that CASIS asked NASA if they could do this and NASA said no. So CASIS did it anyway. On Friday CASIS is having a public meeting. It will be interesting to see if this issue and CASIS' interest in starting up a new commercial entity will be discussed or swept under the carpet.

"ISS National Laboratory", as defined by the Congressional language that created it, refers to hardware in orbit owned, built and operated by the US government on board the International Space Station (ISS). It still belongs to the government. CASIS was hired by the government to run the process of finding users for ISS National Laboratory. No one gave ownership of ISS National Laboratory to CASIS. So how can CASIS claim to BE the ISS National Laboratory? This would be like a company that runs giftshops and cleans the bathrooms at a national Park deciding to adopt the name of the national park that they work for.

This name change is inherently deceptive and will inevitably be confusing. The NASA web page on ISS National Lab says "The ISS National Lab is managed by the Center for the Advancement for Science in Space under agreement with NASA." Will this change to say that "the ISS National Laboratory manages the ISS National Laboratory"? CASIS has always be shy about using the word "NASA" in its public facing statements. Now, they don't even want to use their own name. So, when people hear that "the ISS National Laboratory Announced ..." there is going to be a logical assumption that this refers to NASA.

The International Space Station is one of the most amazing pieces of human engineering ever created. NASA gives CASIS $15 million a year - 99.8% of CASIS' budget - to provide user access to ISS - often at a tiny fraction of what it actually costs - yet CASIS still can't use all the crew time and other resources that NASA gives them.

A week ago I sent the a series of questions to CASIS on these topics (with a cc: to NASA). CASIS has declined to respond.

Oh yes - with this name change comes the need to protect corporate identity and branding. It would seem that CASIS has not bothered to try and trademark its new name, thus leaving the option open for others to do so. While CASIS bought a few Internet domains such as issnationallab.org they did not buy domains such as issnationallaboratory.org (check here) The domains are still for sale. So now you too can pretend to be the ISS National Laboratory online with a nice, easy-to-remember domain. Too late. Someone read NASAWatch and bough all of the issnationallaboratory.*** domains. You had your chance!

- CASIS Is Changing Its Name By Pretending That Its Not
- CASIS Now Has An Official Fictitious Name
- Why Is CASIS Making Itself Disappear?
- Is CASIS Fixing Its Management Problems?
- CASIS Pays Big Bucks For Leadership With No Space Experience (Update)
- Earlier CASIS posts

Suzanne Gillen Named NASA Associate Administrator for Legislative Affairs

"Gillen spent 14 years in the U.S. Senate, where she served as professional staff for NASA, civil space, and aviation policy for Chairman John Thune on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation from September 2013 to March 2018. In this position, she managed the development and legislative advancement of both the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act of 2015 and the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017. She also worked as part of the team drafting the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act. Gillen also served in various staff roles for several U.S. Senators and the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works."

Columbia

Columbia: Thinking Back - Looking Ahead, Excerpt from "New Moon Rising", by Frank Sietzen, Jr. and Keith Cowing

"At the end of the event, Rona Ramon, Ilan's widow, spoke last. Steeling her emotions with grace and clarity, she spoke elegantly and briefly. She thanked all for coming. And then she talked of her husband, and the flight of the lost shuttle. "Our mission in space is not over" she told the hushed audience. "He was the first Israeli in space -- that means there will be more."

Keith's note: This was a very sad day. I lost track of number of the TV interviews I did. At one point I was doing 2 simultaneously while standing on top of a milk crate on the sidewalk outside of NASA HQ. No one knew anything other than the fact that the crew was gone. So what was I supposed to say? I managed to make it through the first 24 hours before I finally teared up and almost lost it during a CTV interview when I started to think of all my friends at NASA who had to deal with this loss on a personal level. Six months later on Devon Island a bunch of space people tried to encapsulate that day's grief into something that would last for a long time.

http://images.spaceref.com/news/2011/IMG_1407.s.jpg20 July 2003: Arctic Memorials and Starship Yearnings, SpaceRef

"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."


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