October 2019 Archives

NASA shares details of lunar surface missions--and they're pretty cool

"One of the limitations on returning samples is the Orion spacecraft, which will carry astronauts back from lunar orbit to Earth. Chavers said the Orion spacecraft does not have any designated space for a box of sample rocks taken from the lunar surface. "We just don't know what the capability will be," Chavers said of bringing rocks back to Earth inside Orion. This would seem to be an important detail to nail down."

Keith's note: There are times when I am convinced that NASA people are simply unaware that people are actually listening to what they say. The answer should have been "Of course we'll be bringing Moon rocks back. We're working on the exact mass/volume right now" - unless NASA is actually not planning to bring Moon rocks back to Earth - after spending tens of billions to go back to the Moon.

Rock Climbing Destination Seneca Rocks, West Virginia Viewed By A Climber In Space, SpaceRef

"Christina H Koch @Astro_Christina "The famous knife edge of Seneca Rocks, West Virginia, from the @Space_Station. This rock formation is where I first learned traditional lead-style rock climbing and gained the confidence and teamwork skills that I continue to rely on every day."

Taking In The View From Wharton Ridge, SpaceRef

"Bob was an astrobiologist before the word had even been coined. He was an adventurer and a jack of all trades. Among other things, he spent a lot of time diving under Antarctic ice and roaming the dry valleys of Antarctica with Chris McKay and Dale Andersen. ... Bob was an avid climber and mountaineer and we went rock climbing a bunch of times mostly in the immediate DC area. One trip in particular, to Seneca Rocks, West Virginia, on a stunning day (1 September 1991 to be exact) is etched into my mind. It was such a classic rock climbing day."

From Cavewalking To Spacewalking, ESA

"It might not be obvious, but there are many similarities between working deep underground and in outer space. Just as with spacewalks, underground 'cavewalks' require safety tethering, 3D orientation, careful planning and teamwork. Cave explorers need to stay alert in an environment where they are deprived of natural light and every move is a step into the unknown. ESA's CAVES training course has been taking astronauts below Earth's surface and prepared them to work safely in an environment where the terrain, climate and climbing techniques pose high demands."

My Star Trek Episode at Everest, SpaceRef

"My job was to stay at Everest Base Camp (analogous to working aboard the space station/space shuttle - or an Apollo Command Module in lunar orbit) and relay news of Scott's climb (his EVA, if you will) while he ventured forth into the so-called "death zone" on Everest. His goal: being able to see an orbital sunrise - on Earth. Back home our mission support was provided by seasoned CNN journalist and almost-astronaut Miles O'Brien. Meanwhile another friend, astronaut John Grunsfeld (also a mountaineer) would spend several weeks in orbit fixing Hubble while Scott and I were at Everest."

Keith's note: If you look at Christina's photo you can see the ridge at Seneca Rocks that I climbed with my late friend Bob Wharton - from orbit. There's a ridge named after Bob on Mars - you can see that from orbit too. A piece of the Moon went to Everest with my friend Scott. It is now in orbit on the ISS with a piece of the summit of Everest. Christina sought out her rock climbing origins - from orbit.

The people who will visit other worlds will need skills not usually associated with astronauts. Some of the newer astronauts have them. Many of the Apollo astronauts had them. More astronauts with these skills are needed if NASA is truly going to explore the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

For the past 30 years no American astronaut has needed any real exploration skills on ISS. They just pushed buttons and sometimes did EVAs. Exploring other worlds - in person - requires a skillset that is mostly absent at NASA.Yes, NASA did NEEMO and Desert RATS, but these things are done on a shoestring. Nothing akin to Apollo training is going on. Planning to explore other worlds in person also requires an expeditionary mindset that is also mostly absent - except for the people who drive robots from JPL. It would be wrong to repeat Apollo but it would be wise to emulate how they did it. They sent explorers to explore. Calling each new ISS crew another "expedition" has always baffled me since they just go in circles. They do not actually go anywhere.

Keith's update: By coincidence this came out onTuesday. Let me dial back my statement a bit about no one having expeditionary expertise.

NASA Administrator, Astronaut Candidate to Visit University of North Carolina

"As an undergraduate researcher - and later a master's student - in Marine Sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill, Cardman studied microorganisms in subsurface environments, ranging from caves to deep sea sediments. Cardman's field experience includes multiple Antarctic expeditions, work aboard research vessels, and NASA analog missions in British Columbia, Idaho, and Hawaii. Cardman was selected by NASA to join the 2017 Astronaut Candidate Class and reported for duty in August 2017. After completing her training, Cardman will be assigned technical duties in the NASA Astronaut Office while she awaits a flight assignment."

NASA should shed lesser priorities to achieve a 2024 moon landing, Op Ed, Doug Cooke

"NASA should focus major new development on an integrated lander/ascent vehicle launched on an SLS 1B. With Orion launched on a separate SLS, the lunar landing would be achieved with these two flights, and at most one commercial launch with additional fuel. This is a much simpler approach with a significantly higher probability of success."

Keith's note: On one hand Boeing consultant Doug Cooke wants to kill Gateway because it adds complexity and increases the number of points where a failure could derail the Moon 2024 thing. No argument there. He then goes on to push for the SLS variant that features Boeing's Exploration Upper Stage (EUS) - and requires more SLS flights. The net result is likely going to be a wash when it comes to cost. And given the SLS program's chronic inability to do anything on time or within budget, there are likely to be SLS and EUS issues that will also cause the 2024 deadline to be missed.

Or, NASA could adopt an open source, multi-path, modular approach relying on existing commercial launchers, and standard interfaces. And if you have to build SLS then use it as a cargo vehicle only. If a large effort is to be mounted on the Moon and cislunar space then propellant depots should be thrown into the mix. Relying on SLS in an architecture for sending Americans and cargo back to the Moon is, itself, the prime risk factor so long as it remains in the critical path - whether it is 2024 or 2028 that you are aiming for.

Its anyone's guess right now as to how the election will turn out. As we've all seen, when a new Administration arrives they have a strong tendency to fiddle with the previous Administration's space goals. Adopting flexibility in terms of launch vehicles and space assets is the best way to assure that something will survive a potential transition and put people on the Moon. But sticking with a program that is utterly reliant upon SLS - a program that gets more expensive and extends its target date with every passing day - is not the best way to assure that we'll be heading back to the Moon. And if this whole Moon thing is supposedly being done to get humans to Mars sooner, then the need to be more flexible and creative is underscored.

Then again Jeff and Elon may just make this whole NASA Moon/Mars thing moot.

Mars InSight's Mole Has Partially Backed Out of Its Hole

"After making progress over the past several weeks digging into the surface of Mars, InSight's mole has backed about halfway out of its hole this past weekend. Preliminary assessments point to unusual soil conditions on the Red Planet. The international mission team is developing the next steps to get it buried again. A scoop on the end of the arm has been used in recent weeks to "pin" the mole against the wall of its hole, providing friction it needs to dig. The next step is determining how safe it is to move InSight's robotic arm away from the mole to better assess the situation. The team continues to look at the data and will formulate a plan in the next few days."

Quantum supremacy using a programmable superconducting processor, Nature

"Our Sycamore processor takes about 200 seconds to sample one instance of a quantum circuit a million times--our benchmarks currently indicate that the equivalent task for a state-of-the-art classical supercomputer would take approximately 10,000 years. This dramatic increase in speed compared to all known classical algorithms is an experimental realization of quantum supremacy for this specific computational task, heralding a much-anticipated computing paradigm."

Quantum Supremacy Using a Programmable Superconducting Processor, NASA

"Here, we report using a processor with programmable superconducting qubits to create quantum states on 53 qubits ... While our processor takes about 200 seconds to sample one instance of the quantum circuit 1 million times, a state-of-the-art supercomputer would require approximately 10,000 years to perform the equivalent task."

Keith's 9:00 am EDT note: A month ago I noted that a paper on this achievement was posted and then removed by NASA from NTRS. It had Eleanor G. Rieffel as an author - as does this Nature apaper - the titles are identical. Let's see if NASA bothers to mention their role in all of this - or not. When I asked PAO about this a month ago they did not want to talk about it. I wonder if they even know it has been published. NASA has not emailed anything out nor has it posted this on PRNewswire.

Keith's 10:05 am EDT update: NSF has issued a statement. Still nothing from NASA.

Keith's 1:45 pm EDT update: I just got an email from someone at the NASA Ames Headquarters building - but not from Ames PAO. They informed me that a story had been posted. This is important stuff - but other than this email - I'd have never been alerted to this.

NASA and Google Achieve Quantum Supremacy, NASA Ames

"Achieving quantum supremacy means we've been able to do one thing faster, not everything faster," said Eleanor Rieffel, co-author on the paper on this result, published today in Nature, and the Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory Lead at Ames. "And even though that one thing isn't terribly useful, that it has been done at all is groundbreaking."

Keith's 5:07 pm EDT update: NASA PAO finally sent the press release out at 5:07 pm EDT - half a day after everyone else.

Did NASA Ames Achieve Quantum Supremacy? (Update), earlier post

https://s3.amazonaws.com/images.spaceref.com/news/2019/luke.gifMessage from the NASA Administrator: NASA Strategic Alignment, NASA

"There continues to be a requirement for greater coordination in the Agency to ensure alignment with the Office of the Administrator given the increasingly diverse and growing interests and capabilities in space and aeronautics, and in light of the President's major exploration campaign. Last November, I named Tom Cremins as the Associate Administrator for Strategic Engagement and Assessments to put a greater focus around these technical areas, as well as continue to support me in defining and setting Agency strategy and plans. We have now determined that a Federated Board, working closely with Tom, and led by the relevant deputy associate administrators in the Human Exploration and Operations, Science, and Space Technology mission directorates, will add to these efforts. The Board will ensure Agency alignment and coordination with my strategic direction and help to define and implement Agency priorities. The Board leverages mission directorate staff and support from Agency support offices as needed for Board discussions and coordination. I have asked the associate administrators and the center directors for their full support in making the Federated Board successful in their efforts to ensure strategic alignment across the Agency."

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Remarks by Vice President Pence at the 2019 International Astronautical Congress Opening Ceremony

"The truth is, for more than a generation, a vision for human space exploration had languished in this country and around the world. But those days are over. With America's renewed vision for human space exploration, we will lead mankind into the vast expanse of space. The task before us will involve hardship and hazard, sacrifice and determination. And it will require faith. Faith in the boundless capacity of American ingenuity and the ingenuity and cooperation of freedom-loving nations around the world. Faith in the extraordinary courage of the men and women who, even now, train and prepare to move the boundary lines of human knowledge. And faith, as generations of Americans have long believed, that even if we rise on the wings of the dawn, even if we go up to the heavens, even there, His hand will guide us and His right hand will hold us fast."

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NASA OIG: NASA's Security Management Practices

"While overall security policy and oversight are managed by OPS at the Agency level, implementation and funding of protective services operations remains a responsibility of Center leadership who used their resources to pursue Center- based priorities. As a result, OPS authority is marginalized and Centers, at times, develop and implement strategies that conflict with the intent of Agency directives. As part of MAP, OPS was to assume funding and day-to-day operational responsibility for protective services across the Agency. However, in August 2019 NASA changed its plans to centralize management of the physical security portion of the Agency's protective services operations and as of the time of this report the impact of this decision on the Agency's overall approach to security management remains unclear. Despite our concerns that OPS was not well positioned to manage such a change because it currently lacks an organizational or governance structure to implement and oversee such enterprise-level responsibilities, we do believe several planned initiatives, if properly implemented, could leverage economies of scale and improve protective services operations."

NASA to Provide Coverage of Key Events at 70th International Astronautical Congress

"NASA will provide live coverage on NASA Television of key events at the 70th International Astronautical Congress (IAC), which takes place Oct. 21-25 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington. In addition, the agency will provide coverage of other events during the week online and via its social media channels."

IAC 2019 website

Keith's note: This is a perfect example of so-called "soft power". This costs NASA virtually - literally - nothing. Having worked with folks in Nepal on things related to this, the mere visibility of the NASA logo and recognition by NASA is enticement enough to generate in-country resources and support. Done properly you can have a global awareness of what NASA is and does and spark interest in other nation's space efforts. And the cases where a country has no space activities, spur their development. One would hope that this becomes part of what NASA includes in its Artemis outreach activities - since the ultimate goal is to go there with other nations.

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Understanding NASA's Global Reach, Earlier post

"A young boy in Chile wearing a NASA t-shirt explains a computer game to Pete Worden from Breakthrough Initiatives. How did he get that t-shirt? Why is he wearing it? ... You would think that NASA would want to capitalize on such a potent branding strength. To be certain, they try. Due to Federal regulations the NASA logo cannot be used for commercial purposes or to imply any endorsement without formal approval by NASA. While this limits its use to some extent NASA is able to control its brand - something that is very important. But the one thing that you would think that NASA should be able to do i.e. use that logo in overt advertising and promotion, is banned by Federal law. Congress seems to think that NASA promotes itself too much. Yet they simultaneously chide NASA for not explaining itself better."

Trump: "THIS IS THE FIRST TIME FOR A WOMAN OUTSIDE OF THE SPACE STATION. OUR FLIGHT ENGINEER, CHRISTINA COOK AND FLIGHT ENGINEER JESSICA MEIR. I JUST WANT TO CONGRATULATE YOU, WHAT YOU DO IS INCREDIBLE. SO, YOU'RE VERY BRAVE PEOPLE. I DON'T THINK I WANT TO DO IT. I MUST TELL YOU THAT. BUT YOU ARE AMAZING PEOPLE. THEY'RE CONDUCTING THE FIRST EVER FEMALE SPACE WALK TO REPLACE AN EXTERIOR PART OF THE SPACE STATION."

Crew: "THANK YOU. FIRST OF ALL, WE DON'T WANT TO TAKE TOO MUCH CREDIT BECAUSE WE HAVE BEEN -- THERE HAVE BEEN MANY OTHER FEMALE SPACE WALKERS BEFORE US, THIS IS JUST THE FIRST TIME THERE'S BEEN TWO WOMEN OUTSIDE AT THE SAME TIME."

Trump "ON ANOTHER LAND. PRESIDENT TRUMP: VERY EXCITING. EXCITING TIMES. THAT WHOLE PROGRAM WAS DEAD WHEN I TOOK IT OVER. WHEN WE CAME INTO OFFICE. AND SOMETHING THAT MIKE LIKED VERY MUCH, I LIKED VERY MUCH. AND YOU'RE BOTH DOING A FANTASTIC JOB, EVERYBODY IS DOING A FANTASTIC JOB. IT'S BEEN TOTALLY REINVIGORATED I THINK TO A LEVEL THAT'S IT'S NEVER BEEN. AND WE'RE ALSO THINKING IN TERMS OF DEFENSE. WE HAVE THE SPACE FORCE HAPPENING THAT'S GOING ALONG VERY NICELY AS YOU KNOW. WE'RE CREATING A NEW FORCE, IT'S CALLED THE SPACE FORCE..."

NASA's Planetary Protection Review Addresses Changing Reality of Space Exploration

"NASA released a report Friday with recommendations from the Planetary Protection Independent Review Board (PPIRB) the agency established in response to a recent National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report and a recommendation from the NASA Advisory Council. With NASA, international, and commercial entities planning bold missions to explore our solar system and return samples to Earth, the context for planetary protection is rapidly changing. NASA established the PPIRB to conduct a thorough review of the agency's policies. Planetary protection establishes guidelines for missions to other solar system bodies so they are not harmfully contaminated for scientific purposes by Earth biology and Earth, in turn, is protected from harmful contamination from space. The board's report assesses a rapidly changing environment where more samples from other solar system bodies will be returned to Earth, commercial and international entities are discussing new kinds of solar system missions, and NASA's Artemis program is planning human missions to the Moon and eventually to Mars.""

Full report: NASA Response to Planetary Protection Independent Review Board Recommendations

- NASA's New Planetary Protection Board
- Planetary Protection Classification of Sample-Return Missions from the Martian Moons
- Report: Review and Assessment of Planetary Protection Policy Development Processes
- More planetary Protection postings

NASA Commits to Future Artemis Missions With More SLS Rocket Stages

"For the first three Artemis missions, the SLS rocket uses an interim cryogenic propulsion stage to send the Orion spacecraft to the Moon. The SLS rocket is designed to meet a variety of mission needs by evolving to carry greater mass and volume with a more powerful EUS. The EUS is an important part of Artemis infrastructure needed to send astronauts and large cargo together, or larger cargo-only shipments, to the Moon, Mars and deep space. NASA aims to use the first EUS on the Artemis IV mission, and additional core stages and upper stages will support either crewed Artemis missions, science missions or cargo missions. "The exploration upper stage will truly open up the universe by providing even more lift capability to deep space," said Julie Bassler, the SLS Stages manager at Marshall. "The exploration upper stage will provide the power to send more than 45 metric tons, or 99 thousand pounds, to lunar orbit."

NASA will award Boeing a cost-plus contract for up to 10 SLS rockets, Ars Technica

"If it seems remarkable that a government contractor would get a cost-plus contract to produce a rocket that it has had nearly a decade to learn how to build, and which has moved into production, and which is based on heritage technology--that's because it is. However, in their negotiations with NASA, companies like Boeing (and Lockheed Martin, which recently got a similar deal for the Orion spacecraft) know they have strong political backers. In the case of the SLS rocket, the Alabama delegation, which includes a Senator who effectively writes the agency's budget, has made it clear that funding the SLS rocket is his priority. So in this case, while NASA may not have necessarily wanted to give Boeing a cost-plus contract for SLS rockets for the next 15 years, it may have had little choice."

Keith's note: One small problem. The money for EUS (or an accelerated Artemis for that matter) is not there despite the forward leaning language that NASA , Boeing, and the Alabama delegation like to use. Just sayin' Indeed, if NASA had pushed the EUS earlier they could have avoided the whole Gateway thing. But NASA never does things logically.

- GAO Anticipates First SLS Launch Date In 2021, earlier post
- Today's Hearing on SLS, Orion, Artemis, earlier post
- NASA Admits That SLS Is A "Jobs Program". Wow. Who Knew?, earlier post
- GAO: Human Space Exploration: Persistent Delays and Cost Growth Reinforce Concerns over Management of Programs, earlier post
- More SLS postings

Chairman Serrano Statement at Hearing on NASA's Moon Landing Proposal

"Not even NASA's own leadership has enough confidence in the success and safety of advancing this timeline. NASA Acting Associate Administrator Bowersox, who is a former astronaut and here with us today, referred to the 2024 moon landing date as difficult to achieve in a House Science hearing last month, saying quote "I wouldn't bet my oldest child's birthday present or anything like that." Additionally, NASA's Manager for the Human Landing System, Lisa Watson-Morgan, was quoted in an article about the timing of the mission saying, quote: "This is a significant deviation for NASA and the government... all of this has to be done on the fast. It has to be done on the quick ... Typically, in the past, NASA is quite methodical ... which is good. We're going to have to have an abbreviated approach to getting to approval for industry standards for design and construction ... and how we're going to go off and implement this. So, this is a big paradigm shift, I would say, for the entire NASA community, too." Unquote. We cannot sacrifice quality just to be quick. We cannot sacrifice safety to be fast. And we cannot sacrifice other government programs just to please the President. Before asking for such a substantial additional investment, NASA needs to be prepared to state unequivocally which NASA missions will be delayed or even cancelled in the effort to come up with an additional $25 billion."

Budget leader says NASA's accelerated moon mission timeline unnecessary, Huston Chronicle

"And its for political reasons that the initiative could get stalled, said Keith Cowing, a former NASA employee and editor of NASA Watch, a website devoted to space news. "Here we are, 14 months from (an election) and everyone is doing the classic thing we see here in Washington: It's time to start either waiting people out until after the election or now is the time to strike and get something in place before change happens," Cowing said. That's likely one of the reasons Serrano is OK with a 2028 moon mission, Cowing said, especially since NASA programs backed by the current administration are typically gutted by the incoming president after the election."

Keith's note: I got this from a long time reader:

"The student chapter at UCCS is hosting a NASA Watch Party on 23 October. All AIAA members are welcome to participate. See more info below. The address for UCCS is 1420 Austin Bluffs Pkwy, Colorado Springs, CO 80918. Info to Columbine Hall: https://events.uccs.edu/columbine_hall_472#.XaXTrOhKiUk
Enjoy!
[deleted]
AIAA RMS Educational Outreach"

NASA paid SpaceX for safety review after Musk smoked pot, Politico

"The episode raises a number of questions, said Pete Garrettson, a recently retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and space strategist. "As a taxpayer why would I pay when I don't have to?" he asked. "If I was Boeing, I also would have said, 'Why am I being punished without the same compensation?' But if the aerospace giant wanted NASA to cover the costs of the review, he added, it may have faced uncomfortable questions about why its costs for the Commercial Crew Program are so much higher than SpaceX's. "If I was at NASA," Garrettson added, "I'd say, 'How much was your contract [for the Commercial Crew Program] padded compared to SpaceX?'"

"The idea of NASA ever giving SpaceX preferential treatment over Boeing is simply giggle-inducing to industry insiders," said Greg Autry, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California who served on the Trump administration's NASA transition team. "At every step of the way Boeing got more [money] in the [Commercial Crew development] program. Far, far more than $5 million. Even discussing $5 million in this context is silly."

Keith's note: This whole story is goofy. The initial investigation was highly questionable to say the least - but when space industry "experts" inject conspiracy mongering and start to conflate Boeing commercial crew costs with a routine workplace drug compliance review at SpaceX you gotta ask yourself if these experts can see the forest through the pot smoke.

New Associate Administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate: Douglas Loverro

"NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine Wednesday selected Douglas Loverro as the agency's next Associate Administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. Loverro succeeds former astronaut Kenneth Bowersox who has been acting associate administrator since July. "I worked with Doug for many years on the Hill and he is a respected strategic leader in both civilian and defense programs, overseeing the development and implementation of highly complicated systems," said Administrator Bridenstine from Headquarters in Washington. "He is known for his strong, bipartisan work and his experience with large programs will be of great benefit to NASA at this critical time in our final development of human spaceflight systems for both Commercial Crew and Artemis." For three decades, Loverro was in the Department of Defense (DoD) and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) developing, managing, and establishing national policy for the full range of National Security space activities."

Douglas L. Loverro, LinkedIn

Why the United States needs a Space Force, OpEd, Douglas Loverro, Space News

"The president got it right. We need a Space Force. Space is too critical for the nation's defense not to have an organization that speaks for its importance, defends it against all comers, and jealously advocates for new missions and new responsibilities. Space is too crucial to national security to be stalled by a lack of focus and an unwillingness to respond until pushed."

Keith's note: Loverro still has to drink from multiple fire hoses for a while to get up to speed before he can make the big SLS decisions. And if the whole Space Force thing happens then NASA will now have firm support for it at the top levels of agency management.

Interestingly Loverro appears in the FEC donor database most recently as having made multiple contributions to Democratic Senate candidate Amy McGrath who is challenging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Earlier donations noted in OpenSecrets show him to be a Democrat - or perhaps an Independent - which tends to support the notion that Bridenstine simply sought expertise in his choice without letting politics becoming involved. A good sign.

Budget leader says NASA's accelerated moon mission timeline unnecessary, Huston Chronicle

"Cowing said he is heartened by the pick, even though Loverro appears to lack civilian space experience. "It's kind of a refreshing choice to pick someone outside the usual suspects within NASA human spaceflight," Cowing said. "Clearly, how things have been running for the past decade is rockets don't launch and bringing a new perspective is required."

Keith's note: So when does the whole "open source" thing begin with regard to NASA's moon stuff?

NASA Invites Media to Events Highlighting Spacesuits for Moon to Mars

"Media are invited to NASA Headquarters in Washington Tuesday, Oct. 15 to get an up-close look at the next generation spacesuits the first woman and next man to explore the Moon will wear as part of the agency's Artemis program. The public event will take place at 2 p.m. EDT and feature NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who will host a demonstration with spacesuit engineers. The spacesuit demonstration will air live on NASA Television and the agency's website."

Exploration Extravehicular Activity (xEVA) Production and Services

"The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Johnson Space Center is issuing this sources sought synopsis as a means of conducting market research to identify parties having an interest in and the resources to support the requirement for Exploration Extravehicular Activity (xEVA) Production and Services. The result of this market research will contribute to determining the method of procurement."

Exploration Extravehicular Activity (xEVA) Production and Services

"The purpose of this RFI is to inform industry of NASA's Exploration Space Suit requirements and to collect industry input on key parameters that will help develop future acquisition plans for procuring the production and evolution of space suits and supporting equipment such as EVA tools and vehicle interface hardware. This future procurement instrument will be referred to as the xEVA Production and Services Contract."

Exploration Extravehicular Activity (xEVA) Production and Services

Oops. Some things are sort of secret right now.

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That Giant Asteroid of Gold Won't Make Us Richer

"Rejoice, people of Earth! News outlets are reporting that NASA is planning to visit an asteroid made of gold and other precious metals! At current prices, the minerals contained in asteroid 16 Psyche are said to be worth $700 quintillion -- enough to give everyone on the planet $93 billion. We're all going to be richer than Jeff Bezos! OK, now for the bad news: This isn't going to happen. Yes, 16 Psyche and other asteroids will probably be mined for their metals. But once those metals start hitting the market in large quantities, they're unlikely to be precious for much longer. As any introductory economics student knows, price is a function of relative scarcity -- flood the market with gold, and it will go from being a rarity to being a common decoration. Supply goes up, price goes down."

Jeff Bezos's Master Plan, The Atlantic

"Bezos is unabashed in his fanaticism for Star Trek and its many spin-offs. He has a holding company called Zefram, which honors the character who invented warp drive. He persuaded the makers of the film Star Trek Beyond to give him a cameo as a Starfleet official. He named his dog Kamala, after a woman who appears in an episode as Picard's "perfect" but unattainable mate. As time has passed, Bezos and Picard have physically converged. Like the interstellar explorer, portrayed by Patrick Stewart, Bezos shaved the remnant strands on his high-gloss pate and acquired a cast-iron physique. A friend once said that Bezos adopted his strenuous fitness regime in anticipation of the day that he, too, would journey to the heavens. When reporters tracked down Bezos's high-school girlfriend, she said, "The reason he's earning so much money is to get to outer space."

Keith's note: I first published this two years ago. Yesterday both Jim Bridenstine and Elon Musk noted that they were not alive when humans walked on the Moon - so they do not have memories of that event. Alas, so much of how NASA has conveyed the importance of Artemis - and the way that the media describes it - seems to harken back to events that my fellow Baby Boomers and I resonate with. What is often neglected - and is therefore needed - as Bridenstine noted, is an effort to create new memories for a whole new generation for whom seeing people walking on the Moon is a novelty. Bridenstine and Musk also spoke in global terms with regard to the value and impact of seeing humans walk on another world- so I have added some global figures as well.

Keith's original 28 November 2017 note (update): 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 (Source: CIA based on UN data). More than half of the Americans alive today never saw humans walk on the Moon - as it happened - including Administrator of NASA, the head of SpaceX, and the entire 2013 and 2017 NASA astronaut classes. If you look at the global chart (Source: CIA based on UN data) you will see that perhaps 2/3 of humanity was not alive. If/when we go back to the Moon in the next 5-10 years the number of people with no personal memory of humans walking on another world will increase at a rate of 15,000 an hour. For them these future Moon landings will be THEIR FIRST MOON LANDINGS. That's billions of people waiting to see what I saw in 1969. Has anyone stopped to think of what the impact of this will be? We need to be thinking of this not in terms of Baby Boomer nostalgia but rather as a new adventure for billions.

Just sayin'

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NASA engineer's 'helical engine' may violate the laws of physics, New Scientist

"Burns has worked on his design in private, without any sponsorship from NASA, and he admits his concept is massively inefficient. ... I know that it risks being right up there with the EM drive and cold fusion," he says. "But you have to be prepared to be embarrassed. It is very difficult to invent something that is new under the sun and actually works."

Helical Engine, David Burns Manager, Science and Technology Office, Marshall Space Flight Center, NTRS (NASA Techncial Reports Server)

"This in-space engine could be used for long-term satellite station-keeping without refueling. It could also propel spacecraft across interstellar distances, reaching close to the speed of light. The engine has no moving parts other than ions traveling in a vacuum line, trapped inside electric and magnetic fields."

"• Many technical challenges ahead"

Keith's note: So ... the person in charge of the NASA MSFC Science and Technology Office is publishing and presenting research with his NASA affiliation - research that most likely violates the laws of physics and has had no apparent peer review to check this stuff before it is posted on an official NASA server.

- JPL Falls For LaRC Cold Fusion / LENR Story, earlier post
- Quack Science: Why Are NASA Glenn and Langley Funding Cold Fusion Research?, earlier post
- Cold Fusion Update From LaRC (Update), earlier post
- NASA: We're Not Working on Warp Drive, earlier post
- Clarifying NASA's Warp Drive Program, earlier post
- Ellen Ochoa's Warp Drive Nonsense Is Now Officially Published U.S. Government Research, earlier post
- other postings on NASA's warp drive and cold fusion research.

Restructuring NASA's Planetary Research Program For ROSES 2021

"In 2014, NASA announced the reorganization of the planetary research and data analysis programs to align them by subject area to Planetary Science Division strategic goals. A number of disparate programs were merged into the Solar System Workings program, creating a behemoth to which well over 300 proposals have been submitted each year. This has proved unwieldy for managers, reviewers, and proposers alike. A survey (Appendix A) shows it is supported by less than 10% of respondents. In this grass roots effort, we propose SSW be broken up into five core programsanda separate pilot program for geologic mapping. We propose a restructuring of mission data analysis programs with some guidelines for future programs. We would maintain most of the other existing programs. An initial draft of this proposal was posted online and an online community survey (Appendix A) was conducted from October 1-7, advertised through the Planetary Exploration Newsletter, AAS DPS Newsletter, and other community forums. This proposal is informed by the 249 responses to the survey including a large number of comments."

Keith's 10 Oct update: I just got an answer from NASA PAO that there will be no media dial-in for offsite news media. It took them 3 days to respond.

NASA Administrator to Visit SpaceX Headquarters

"Following the tour, SpaceX will host a media availability with Bridenstine, SpaceX Chief Engineer Elon Musk, and NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley - the crew for the Demo-2 flight test to the space station. The media availability will be streamed live on Bridenstine's Twitter account: https://twitter.com/jimbridenstine?lang=en."

Keith's note: I sent 2 inquires to PAO and SpaceX - yesterday and today - asking if off-site media can ask questions. No reply. Funny how PAO can use Jim Bridenstine's iPhone to send video of this out over his twitter account but no one knows how to have a speaker phone or take questions by email.

Keith's update: I have not heard anything at all about the time of this event or whether offsite media will be able to participate in the last minute thing. I used to do live webcasts from Everest Base Camp almost daily - for a month - a decade ago. So how hard can this be. Just wondering.

Keith's additional update: Well NASA quietly updated the online version of the release sent out 2 days ago but didn't bother to email media a revised version: "Editor's Note: This media advisory was updated on Oct. 8 to reflect the live stream of the media event now is scheduled for 5 p.m. EDT (2 p.m. PDT) Thursday, Oct. 10." Still no information as to whether there will be offsite media access to the web event which was announced at the last minute. But at least the world is in balance once again:

Keith's note: The ISPCS - International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight - is being held this week. They do not webcast anything and other than tweets this event is held in an echo chamber with the usual suspects engaged in choir practice. Its great that all of these rides into space will soon be available for purchase. But so long as short suborbital hops cost as much as a house, several college educations, or two years of care for an Alzheimer's patient, this is just going to be a limited market catering to the elite. The only exception to this seems to be the SpaceX Starship ... let's see where that goes.

Keith's 7 October update: Today NASA JPL issued a press release "NASA's Curiosity Rover Finds an Ancient Oasis on Mars" It includes the text: "For more about NASA's Curiosity Mars rover mission, visit: https://mars.nasa.gov/msl/ https://nasa.gov/msl"

JPL has the release posted here with the same text and imagery as is used by NASA HQ's version here. But if you go to https://mars.nasa.gov/msl/ and dig a little bit to "news and events" you find a link to the same story here which uses the exact same text as the other two versions but is formatted differently than the JPL PAO and NASA HQ versions and uses different graphics. So this time NASA and JPL posted the same thing not twice, but three different ways - in three different places.

Oh yes: the main point of this release is more evidence of habitable periods and locations on Mars i.e. : "We went to Gale Crater because it preserves this unique record of a changing Mars," said lead author William Rapin of Caltech. "Understanding when and how the planet's climate started evolving is a piece of another puzzle: When and how long was Mars capable of supporting microbial life at the surface?". And of course NASA makes zero mention of (or link to) its Astrobiology program which is chartered to do the whole search for life in the universe thing.

Keith's 3 October note: NASA issued this press release today: NASA's Push to Save the Mars InSight Lander's Heat Probe. If you go to the end of this press release you will see links to two InSight websites

"More about InSight:
https://mars.nasa.gov/insight/
https://www.nasa.gov/insight/"

If you go to https://mars.nasa.gov/insight/ you go to the JPL Mars InSight website. If you go to the news link you will see a story "NASA's Push to Save the Mars InSight Lander's Heat Probe"

If you go to https://www.nasa.gov/insight/ it redirects you to https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/insight/main/index.html which is a NASA HQ website. If you go to "NASA's Push to Save the Mars InSight Lander's Heat Probe" you get the exact same story and graphics as you get on the JPL page.

The text is exactly the same on both pages - with links to both InSIght websites at the end. In essence NASA sends you to one page and when you get to the bottom it sends you back on the same dual path to another page that sends you to the same dual path - and so on in an infinite DO loop. In addition, NASA uses one link to a HQ page that then redirects you to another - so why not use the link to which you are redirected to in the release instead?

The real question is: why is NASA constantly doing things like this twice? Someone wrote the original press release, collected the graphics and then formatted it for one website while someone else in another part of NASA took the same text and reformatted it again for another website with the same graphics - but formatted differently. That means NASA is knowingly doing things twice - and paying people to do things twice. Why not just have one website? Why not just have one place where press releases like this are posted? But wait - if you go to the NASA HQ press release page this press release is not even listed. I know NASA is working on fixing this duplication per direction from the Administrator, but this silliness could be fixed now with a simple memo from NASA HQ. Just sayin'

- Overhauling NASA's Tangled Internet Presence, earlier post
- Progress Made In Making NASA's Internet Presence Leaner, earlier post

Keith's note: If you go to the NASA GSFC website you will see this release "Laser Precision: NASA Flights, Satellite Align Over Sea Ice". In the release you will see this at the bottom: "For more information, visit: nasa.gov/icesat-2 or icesat-2.gsfc.nasa.gov". There's no HMTL for the links on this webpage thus making it more difficult for people to follow the non-existent links.

If you go to nasa.gov/icesat-2 you get the NASA ICESAT -2 website which features a link to this release. If you go to icesat-2.gsfc.nasa.gov you see the GSFC ICESAT-2 website but this press release is not even mentioned. [7 Oct Update: they added a link to the release today]. If you go to the NASA main page or the NASA Earth Science topic page there is no mention of this release. If you go to the NASA Science Mission directorate page there is no mention of this release either.

If you go to the Science Mission Directorate Press Releases page there is no mention either. In fact the last press release - of any kind - that is mentioned is from 30 July 2019 - more than 2 months ago.

Yet this press release is posted on AAAS' Eurekalert and is shown as being from "NASA GSFC" - not from "NASA". If this research is being done by NASA - and is important enough to warrant paid posting on a press release service then is it not also worth posting on NASA and NASA SMD websites? Is it not also worth posting on the GSFC ICESAT-2 website along with other ICESAT-2 news? And why does NASA Need two ICESAT-2 websites - both of which cater to a wide range of public interest audiences?

- NASA Just Can't Stop Doing Web Stuff Twice, earlier post
- Overhauling NASA's Tangled Internet Presence, earlier post
- Progress Made In Making NASA's Internet Presence Leaner, earlier post

Keith's note: The 'Pluto is a planet fan club' has been howling about the demotion of Pluto from a "planet" to "dwarf planet" status after an IAU vote for more than a decade. Despite their outrage no one has been willing or able to muster enough votes to reverse the IAU vote or to find another professional body willing to endorse their definition of what a planet is. Apparently this is not that big of an issue otherwise the planetary science community would have staged an uprising to correct this grave error, right? Nothing but crickets.

So ... some of the Pluto fan club members have decided to try and use Wikipedia and other non-scientific means to accomplish what they can't get their scientific colleagues to do. Funny thing about Wikipedia - you can see every edit made and, with a little patience, figure out who is making the edits. Some of the stuff they are trying to post is really silly.

That said, crowd sourcing is a thing these days. The evolving "Geophysical planet definition" - definition - is online here. You can watch the process of editing this entry in real time - additions, deletions, edits, clarifications, etc. here. You are also welcome to make your own contributions and comments. Is 'Science' now something that now operates by popular whim? Let's open it up and see what happens.

Keith's 7 October update: There has been a surge of edits and deletions in the past 48 hours. It would seem that there is not unanimity on this topic (based a small sample size). FYI the Wkipedia page for "planet" has been "protected to prevent vandalism". If you look back at the edits that were aligned with the Pluto faction (now deleted) some of them were attempted by members of the 'Pluto is a planet fan club' i.e. @Nasaman58 - Kirby Runyon. Runyon has made the most edits (thus far) of "Geophysical Planet definition". Stay tuned.

Keith's note: Looks like AIAA is making a positive step in terms of inclusion and diversity according to a post by AIAA President Dan Dumbacher on the AIAA members messaging system about using "crewed" and "human" instead of "manned" spaceflight. Well done Dan! (original post by Dan Dumbacher)

"AIAA is dedicated to open discourse across the Institute, including on member platforms such as Engage. AIAA prefers to use "crewed" or "human" rather than "manned" when referring to space travel in our publications and on AIAA.org. Increasing diversity the diversity of the aerospace community and the future workforce has been-and continues to be - a mission priority for AIAA. We've been seeing improvements in recent years, especially through the hard work of our dedicated AIAA Diversity Working Group. The Institute will continue our efforts to be as inclusive and diverse as possible, acknowledging that we as a community have work to do."

Dumbacher's post was at the end of a discourse on the AIAA's internal forum "Engage". Last night Lori Garver and several members had an interaction which is typical of the mindset that persists within the aerospace community. Kudos to Dan Dumbacher for trying to push an more open discussion ahead. (Larger view - participants' identities anonymized)

- AIAA Responds To Diversity Concerns, earlier post

"However, the aerospace industry and AIAA need to better represent the diverse world around us. .... It will take years of intentional, hard--but important--work to increase the percentage of women and underrepresented minorities in our industry, but we must achieve this moral imperative. I urge everyone to help build a stronger more diverse workforce for the future."

- AIAA Shuns Gender Diversity In Scholarship Selections, earlier post

CASIS Update

Keith's note: According to LinkedIn CASIS has a new Director of Programs and Partnerships - Gary Rodrigue. Based on his LinkedIn page Rodrigue apparently has zero space experience. No surprise. CASIS hires lots of people with no space experience to run the place. Oh yes - Rodrigue worked at IBM for nearly 20 years. Christine M. Kretz, CASIS Vice President of Programs and Partnerships worked for IBM for nearly 20 years. Just a coincidence.

The person who was supposed to replace former CASIS PR guy Brian Talbot, Chief Communications Officer John Murphy, is out of his job at CASIS. So is Chief Strategic Officer Rick Leach according to sources. CASIS CEO Joe Vockley is still on full pay - but without any current CASIS responsibilities.

The new NASA HQ liaison to CASIS, Doug Comstock, met with the CASIS board and Acting CEO Ken Shields last week. In essence, the NASA review of CASIS performance is going to take a while - longer than the 12 weeks mentioned in the 13 August 2019 NASA memo and CASIS is being told to stand down (the so-called "strategic pause") from new initiatives and focus on the payloads already in the pipeline.

This is not the best news for NASA's plans to move out on the commercialization of LEO on ISS and then move to cis-lunar space. On the other hand, taking the time to take a close look at CASIS, then sit back, and come up with a strategic plan to fix things, is a good idea. Alas, if NASA cannot get LEO commercialization to work on an existing, fully-operational and mature platform like ISS close to home, then the chances that they can make the whole commercial thing work all the way out in cis-lunar space are questionable. And of course, if the election changes out the current Administration then all of this will get a hard reset in early 2021.

ISS is too valuable a resource to waste. Stay tuned.

Letter From NASA JSC to CASIS Board Of Directors Regarding Cooperative Agreement No. NNH11CD70A/80JSC018M0005, NASA, Earlier post

"The NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration & Operations is requesting a strategic pause in CASIS activities relative to changes in the CASIS PI in order to enable NASA to establish an Independent Review Team to assess the underlying Cooperative Agreement to ensure we are on mission and appropriately resourced to produce breakthroughs that improve lives on Earth. NASA anticipates that this assessment will be completed within 12 weeks after the team has been established."

- Former CASIS Employee Indicted For Charging For Prostitutes on Travel Reports, Earlier post
- Letter from NASA to CASIS Regarding Complaints About CASIS Activities, Earlier post
- Crisis at CASIS: New Opportunities or Looming End Game?, Earlier post

When -- or if -- NASA finds life on Mars, the world may not be ready for the discovery, the agency chief says, CNN

"NASA's next mission to Mars will be its most advanced yet. But if scientists discover there was once life -- or there is life -- on the Red Planet, will the public be able to handle such an extraterrestrial concept? NASA chief scientist Jim Green doesn't think so. "It will be revolutionary," Green told the Telegraph. "It will start a whole new line of thinking. I don't think we're prepared for the results. We're not." The agency's Mars 2020 rover, set to launch next summer, will be the first to collect samples of Martian material to send back to Earth. But if scientists discover biosignatures of life in Mars' crust, the findings could majorly rock astrobiology, said Green, the director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA."

Keith's note: Sloppy work from CNN. Jim Green is not the "agency chief" as the headline claims.Jim Bridenstine is. Nor is Green the director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA. Lori Glaze is. He is the NASA Chief Scientist. As for Green's comments, this article recycles quotes published by UK papers who are known to skew things and write articles about other articles. Now CNN is writing articles about other articles.

Oddly, while the article refers to NASA's search for life as "astrobiology" (which is correct), the Mars 2020 rover website never mentions the word "astrobiology" nor does it link to any NASA Astrobiology websites. If you google "Jim Green NASA" The first search result is a NASA page titled "Dr. Jim Green, Planetary Science Division Director" so its not CNN's fault that they said this - I guess. 2 Oct Update - they fixed the link to reflect Jim Green's current position - but only after I pointed this out.

As for "not being prepared for the results" Green is entitled to his own opinion. I do not think this is NASA's stance on this issue. Nor is it what most astrobiologists I know think.

If NASA can't get is own story straight in terms of what its spokespeople and websites say and who is in charge of what, then how are news media going to be able convey an accurate message?

That NASA/SpaceX Thing

Elon Musk: Crew Dragon spacecraft for NASA could fly astronauts in 3 to 4 months, CNN

"SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule could be ready to fly NASA astronauts in three to four months. It would mark the first time humans have launched to orbit from US soil in almost a decade. CEO and chief engineer Elon Musk told CNN Business' Rachel Crane that SpaceX is "going as fast as we can" to get the overdue spacecraft, which is designed to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station, ready for flight. Jim Bridenstine, NASA's administrator, said in an interview on Monday that he is not confident in that timeline. ... Bridenstine referred to Crew Dragon's explosion as a "catastrophic failure," and said one of the reasons he's skeptical of the idea that Crew Dragon will be ready in the near future is because the updated emergency abort system "has not been qualified" and has not been tested."

NASA Hands Elon Musk a Reality Check, The Atlantic

"Koren: After the big presentation on Saturday, a reporter asked Elon to respond to your tweet. Elon said, "did he say Commercial Crew or SLS?" [SLS stands for the Space Launch System, the NASA capsule and rocket that is meant to bring astronauts to the moon.] What do you make of that?

Bridenstine: Well, I don't think that's helpful. Commercial Crew is about getting to low-Earth orbit. We are spending $85 million every time we have to buy a Russian Soyuz seat to get to the International Space Station."

What's going on with Elon Musk and the head of NASA?, Quartz

"More shocking to observers of the space program is Bridenstine's decision to call out the chief executive of a NASA contractor before a public event. Boeing, the other company building a spacecraft for the commercial crew program, is also well behind schedule on that project, as well as on the SLS rocket it is building for NASA. Bridenstine has never challenged its CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, ahead of a public appearance. Asked if Bridenstine could clarify where he saw SpaceX falling short or what problems needed to be addressed, a NASA spokesperson said no further comment would be forthcoming."

Dear Colleague Letter From NASA Science Mission Directorate Associate Administrator Thomas Zurbuchen

"As we leave the FY19 year behind, I recognize that we stressed our system and often ourselves. Despite that, I observed true excellence on many occasions. You and your colleagues completed our challenging tasks, even though it would have been easy to find an excuse not to do them. I have received a number of comments from the science community expressing gratitude for the work of the NASA Science team - you and your colleagues. The community sees - and so does the entire leadership team -- that NASA Science remains high-performing and has in many domains even improved over and above expectations. I am proud to be part of this team, which stands with the best worldwide making history each year."


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