February 2020 Archives

NASA, Boeing to Provide Outcome of Starliner Orbital Flight Test Reviews

"NASA and Boeing will host a media teleconference at 11 a.m. EST Friday, March 6, to discuss the outcome of the joint independent review team investigation into the primary issues detected during the company's uncrewed Orbital Flight Test in December as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program."

Keith's note: The first I learned of this event was a Tweet hours after it was over. I guess I would not invite me either. Maybe they will be a little more forthcoming next week when they are in the hot seat and NASA is sitting next to them.

NASA planning document may offer clues to changes in Artemis program, Ars Technica

"For this assessment, about 60 people at the agency and from industry sought to determine the status of the program as it was currently structured. After the analysis, Loverro told staffers at NASA he had "concerns" about whether the existing plan would work. In particular, during internal briefings, Loverro expressed doubts about the remote assembly of elements of the lunar lander at the Gateway. He also wanted NASA engineers to make sure the Orion spacecraft, with crew on board, could dock to the lander without the Gateway. The potential revision of this plan, which may entail the launch of an entire lunar lander on an upgraded version of the SLS rocket, is notable for several reasons. Perhaps most significantly, it would place primary responsibility for NASA's Moon program on the shoulders of Boeing. That company is building the core stage of the SLS rocket, as well as an upgraded upper stage--the Exploration Upper Stage--that would now be required for use by August 2024 on the Block 1B version of the SLS. In fact, it would be required to accelerate development of the beefier SLS rocket."

https://s3.amazonaws.com/images.spaceref.com/news/2020/data.gifBoeing didn't perform full end-to-end test of its astronaut capsule before troubled mission, 'surprising' NASA safety panel, Orlando Sentinel

"Boeing and NASA officials are expected to release the results of an independent investigation into the set of issues that occurred during Boeing's late December test of Starliner, its astronaut crew capsule, within the next week. But speaking to the Orlando Sentinel, members of NASA's safety advisory panel expanded on some of the testing decisions Boeing made that drew questions about whether Starliner was ready to fly. Critically, the panel learned early this month that Boeing did not perform a full, end-to-end integrated test of Starliner in a Systems Integration Lab with ULA's Atlas V rocket. The test typically shows how all the software systems during each component of the mission would have responded with each other through every maneuver -- and it could potentially have caught the issues Boeing later experienced in the mission."

- Boeing Really Needs To Get Their Software Fixed, earlier post
- ASAP: Boeing Starliner Software Issue Potentially "Catastrophic", earlier post

Keith's note: Over the past week I have posted several commentaries about how NASA shies away from using the word "astrobiology" in official agency releases and stories to describe missions and research designed to search for evidence of life on other worlds - which, of course, is the core mission of NASA's 20 year old Astrobiology Program:

- NASA Continues To Hide Its Astrobiology Program
- NASA's Science Mission Directorate Has An Issue With Certain Words

I asked NASA several times why this is the case. Below is my inquiry, their response, and my commentary on their response:

Keith's note: Too bad news media were not invited to this event. Perhaps more people could have learned about the various education programs NASA supports. There is no mention of this event on the National Space Grant page, NASA.gov home page calendar, on the Welcome to 'Inside Space Grant' page, or on the NASA STEM Engagement home page, When you visit the main NASA STEM page and go to the about the project, Consortium Directors and Websites, NASA Wants to Tell Your Space Grant Story!, and Space Grant in Action Image Gallery links under National Space Grant College and Fellowship Project on the left side of the web page you get a "404" (not found) error message (the links in the middle work). How can people learn about Space Grant when NASA does not tell people about events like this and can't even keep a basic website working?

According to the proposed NASA FY 2021 Congressional budget (page 651):

"EXPLANATION OF MAJOR CHANGES IN FY 2021 No funding is requested for Space Grant, Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), and Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP). NASA proposes to use unobligated balances previously appropriated to support the termination of these activities, including but not limited to, ongoing administration, oversight, monitoring, and funding of grants previously awarded by the Office of STEM Engagement."

No money for Space Grant. Not good news. So wouldn't you think that everyone involved with Space Grant activities would want the news media to know the value of what they do? Guess not.

Keith's note: NASA and the military have done low level things together for half a century when an astronaut from one of the service branches has flown in space. The two organizations share a common aeronautical and engineering heritage - so this is not at all surprising. But there has always been a clear line denoting NASA's chartered nature as a civilian organization. But now the brand new Space Force is dialing up that interaction - using NASA imagery on social media to promote a large, national military-themed event on board a NASA (civilian) spacecraft. Oddly NASA is not telling anyone about this event at NASA.gov - it is not on the home page or on the NASA.gov calendar. But it you happen to dig down into the schedule for NASA TV it is listed. NASA overtly promotes events between ISS astronauts and a hundred kids at a grammar school - why not this event? Just sayin'

Meanwhile. it is sort of strage that while the Space Force PR squad is pumping out social media posts with pictures of astronauts in space - and then swearing a bunch of them in - from space - that the deputy Space Force guy says that there is scant opportunity for any recruits to actually go into space. Looks like they need to work on their messaging - this is bit like the old "bait and switch" marketing ploy

Space Force's second-in-command admits he's a Star Trek fan but says there's 'almost ZERO' chance for recruits to follow in the footsteps of his heroes and go into space with his organization, Daily Mail

"The Space Force will also have a series of sensors on the ground, hiring 26,000 people with a $12 billion annual budget. But he warned that budding astronauts need not apply. 'That opportunity to be an astronaut inside the Space Force today is almost zero. The best thing to do if you want to be an astronaut is go talk to NASA,' he declared. 'But the rest of the world is going in the direction of the Space Force. We're talking about remotely piloted aircraft, drones, artificial intelligence, vehicles that operate by remote control or autonomous control -- that's Space Force.'"

Keith's note: NASA SMD has an extensive Program Officers list of contact information for all of its research programs. Virtually everything SMD does has a contact listed - except Astrobiology. The word is not mentioned at all - even though many of its sub topics are mentioned. NASA issues research solicitations for "Astrobiology" yet they can't be bothered to tell people who to contact for the programs managed under "Astrobiology" at NASA?

Oh yes - it has been a week and no one from NASA SMD, PAO, JPL, etc. has responded to my inquiry to explain why JPL and GSFC avoid the use of the word "Astrobiology" when referring to missions overtly focused on Astrobiology research. See "NASA's Science Mission Directorate Has An Issue With Certain Words"

While I am on this topic last week NASA issued this release "NASA Adds Return Sample Scientists to Mars 2020 Leadership Team" which says "the Mars 2020 mission will search for signs of past microbial life..." Yes folks, that is "Astrobiology". The JPL and NASA HQ PAO folks just cannot bring themselves to mention NASA's Astrobiology program or the discipline of "Astrobiology". Searching for life on other worlds is what NASA's Astrobiology program is chartered to do. Read the reports from the National Academy of Sciences and NASA ROSES solicitations and you will see. Read NASA's own websites and you will see what the agency defines Astrobiology as being. Indeed, one of the two scientists mentioned, Tanja Bosak, is part of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. But does anyone bother to mention this? No.

And FWIW as an actual former NASA biologist, this stock phrase of NASA JPL's PAO folks "signs of past microbial life" is goofy. Are you only looking for microbial evidence? What if the only biosignatures the Mars 2020 rover finds are chemical in nature with no remaining or obvious structural fossils? How will NASA know if the past life was microbial i.e. unicellular or multi-cellular? This is another planet so what may have once lived there might not even fit the terrestrial classification of "microbial". What if viral forms are what existed - they are acellular (i.e. not composed of cells) and not considered to be "microbes" - even though some of them can be as large as cellular life i.e. "microbes". What if NASA finds bones or exoskeletal remains? Or trails made by larger living things as they moved? They are not "microbial" in nature so will NASA's rover not see them? And what if the rover finds evidence of recent/current life? It does have that ability even if it is indirect. NASA press statements suggest that NASA is not interested in that either.

I would hope that that answer is "of course we're interested in whatever we find on Mars". OK, then say so. I can understand the hesitance to say that the Mars 2020 rover mission has the ability to find extant life when that is not its explicit purpose. Why not just say "evidence of past life?" Why use this odd "past microbial life" phrase? Otherwise it sounds like NASA has already decided what sort of life was on Mars before ever having seen any evidence of it - and that this is all that the agency cares to think about.

Missions searching for evidence of life on another world have the potential to for paradigm-shifting and sociologically explosive repercussions. One would think that the agency could get its act together as to what you call things and not ignore the people who actually do the core research that serves as the purpose of your missions. If NASA is incapable of making internal sense of what it is doing, then how can NASA expect the public to fully grasp what NASA is doing?

Within the next year or so there could be as many as four rovers operating on Mars with overt Astrobiology-related missions: Mars Curiosity, Mars 2020, ExoMars/Rosalind Franklin, and China's rover. Nothing like this has ever happened before on another world. Again, one would think that there'd be some sort of coordinated effort to show the country and the world that we're really dialing up the search for life on Mars - past and/or present - and in so doing, use the globally-accepted name for the the discipline wherein such research is conducted i.e. "Astrobiology".

Keith's note: The following is being added to all of the NASA advisory group meeting notices such as the one for NASA Advisory Council Human Explorations and Operations Committee Meeting: "Note: As a precaution, individuals returning from China will not allowed into NASA Headquarters until the 14 days of observation and self-care period has expired, and they are determined not to be infectious. Attendees to the NAC Human Explorations and Operations Committee meeting who are returning from China should only participate virtually through the provided dial-in audio and WebEx, until the 14 days of observation and self-care period has expired."

You'd think that NASA would be just a little more explicit as to what "infectious" means i.e. identify the specific reason - like "Coronavirus" or "COVID-19". Reading/refering to the actual CDC guidelines might be useful. NASA is simply treating all persons who have been in China as high risk. Oddly there have been no such warnings issued for other NASA meetings. And the concern amongst experts now is that the threat is no longer limited to people who have been in China. When agencies and organizations are inconsistent on things like this people simply get more confused. Just sayin'

- Bridenstine: "The NASA brand is the most valuable brand America has", earlier post

Keith's note: NASA has done a good job - an increasingly good one - at allowing the logo's use - and not discouraging its use when the its is used in a positive and inspiring context. This is a consumate, textbook example of soft power. One would hope that NASA can continue along this path and that legislation that currently hinders NASA's ability to project its message via advertising and other venues - can be lifted by Congress.

- NASA's Global Branding Reach Is Often Under Appreciated, earlier post
- Understanding NASA's Global Reach, earlier post
- NASA is Still A Potent (If Underutilized) Brand, earlier post
- Using NASA's Logo: Expensive T-Shirts Or Global Soft Power?, earlier post
- NASA's Pervasive Brand Recognition, earlier post
- One Major Road Block To Bridenstine's Advertising Ideas, earlier post

Katherine Johnson

Let the moon rush begin, op ed, Homer Hickam, Washington Post

"As these efforts get going, however, it's important to avoid the thinking of a half-century ago and look at the moon in a different way. This is, after all, not your grandfather's moon. After the Apollo moon-landing program of the 1960s and '70s, a series of robotic missions discovered that Luna was a lot more interesting than many had previously thought. It has abundant water and oxygen, as well as helium, platinum, thorium, rare earth metals and other minerals that may well be worth digging up and transporting back for use in thousands of products."

Former ISS executive, accused of 'expensing' prostitutes, pleads guilty to tax fraud, Florida Today

"A former economist employed by a Space Coast nonprofit that operates the International Space Station's U.S. laboratory pleaded guilty to one tax fraud-related count in an indictment filed last year, federal prosecutors said Wednesday. Charles Resnick, once the chief economist for the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, or CASIS, was indicted in April by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa on 10 counts. The charges alleged the creation of phony receipts when filing expense reports, as well as hidden spending of government funds on prostitutes and escorts during trips to Europe and New York between 2011 and 2015."

Former exec at International Space Station science lab pleads guilty in tax case involving 'expensing' prostitutes, Orlando Sentinel

"The agreement also states that Resnick improperly deducted business expenses worth about $51,500 even though he had already been reimbursed for some of the expenses and that "some of the deducted expenses were not ordinary and necessary business expenses." The plea agreement does not mention the original indictment references to escorts or prostitutes. Resnick is responsible for total tax loss for the tax years from 2010-2013, according to the agreement, and that amount will be determined at sentencing, a date for which has yet to be determined."

Former CASIS Employee Indicted For Charging For Prostitutes on Travel Reports, earlier post

NASA Has A New CFO

Saunders Replaces DeWit As NASA CFO, Space Policy Online

"NASA has a new acting Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Melanie Saunders, replacing Jeff DeWit who resigned last week. Saunders was Deputy Associate Administrator and her replacement on an acting basis is Cathy Mangum, who has been Associate Director of Langley Research Center. Saunders will have to be confirmed by the Senate as well, although the CFO position usually is non-controversial and considered under expedited Senate procedures that do not require a hearing or vote by committee, only a vote by the full Senate."

https://s3.amazonaws.com/images.spaceref.com/news/2020/19feb2020pence.jpg

Remarks by Vice President Pence to NASA Langley Research Center, White House (larger word cloud image)

"The President has directed NASA and the Administrator to accomplish our goal to return to the Moon and then on to Mars not only within five years, but let me be clear: The President has made it clear that we're going to accomplish this goal by any means necessary. In order to succeed, we are going to continue to focus on the mission over the means. We want to challenge each one of you here at Langley: Consider every available option and platform to meet our goals, including industry, government, and the entire American space enterprise. It's the reason why we're cutting out the underbrush of needless regulations and barriers to innovation, because we want you all to be able to reach, to engage, and to draw on the best ideas in America to get us where we're going by the time we set ourselves to get there. Our administration is absolutely committed to this goal and we want you all to have the same determination and resolve to get there. And this President and this administration and the American people are committed to achieving this goal through NASA and through the Langley Research Center. So let me at least give you one word of admonition on behalf of your President and on behalf of the entire National Space Council: More than ever before, we want you to engage your imaginations, your creativity. Challenge one another. You know, there's that old proverb that says, "Iron sharpens iron." So I encourage you to come in every day with that same impatience and energy that, frankly, I heard in the voices of everybody that Director Turner introduced me to today. The enthusiasm as we walked through the Center, the fire in their eyes -- just let that be in your eyes."

Keith's note: I sent this media request to a list of people at NASA SMD, GSFC, and JPL: "I have a question. Why does this NASA GSFC authored story "How Earth Climate Models Can Help Scientists Search for Life on Other Planets" - posted on 24 January 2020 - on a JPL we site at - and funded by the NASA HQ Science Mission Directorate Astrophysics Division - never use the word "astrobiology"? The story is dripping with Astrobiology themes - things funded by NASA as part of its Astrobiology program?

While I have your attention, why doesn't the JPL Mars 2020 website mention "astrobiology" - the mission is dedicated to searching for life which is what the whole Astrobiology thing is all about. And then there is "NASA's Webb Will Seek Atmospheres around Potentially Habitable Exoplanets" which only has "astrobiology" as a tag at the bottom of the page - but no mention is made in the article itself which, again, is clearly an astrobiology-themed topic. I'd like an answer. Seriously. This is a formal media request."

Keith's note: The Washington Post (owned by Jeff Bezos) ran a full page advertisement/op ed by Blue Origin (also owned by Jeff Bezos) in today's Washington Post written in response to a recent editorial about space policy by the Washington Post editorial board.

NASA keeps falling victim to presidential whims, Washington Post (image of full advertisement)

"Mars (of which the Moon is a part)" is either nonsense or exactly what legislators in the House of Representatives seem to have their eye on today: putting humans on the moon only as a jumping-off point to explore the red planet in person. That's different from the plan NASA is envisioning, despite the president's contradictory tweets; the agency looks to Mars in the distant future but treats the moon as an end in itself -- where it can establish bases on the far side and mine lunar ice, ostensibly for life support and rocket fuel. There's a powerful argument that satisfying the human drive to know doesn't actually require humans. Robots can do lots of exploring for lots less money than it costs to put people on (or float people above) celestial bodies; projects from the Curiosity rover to the Cassini spacecraft and beyond have taught us so. There's also an argument that the private companies increasingly interested in low-orbit adventuring should be entrusted with as much as they're able to carry out, to save NASA money and to ensure that exploratory work continues even as the whims of politicians shift. (Disclosure: One of those companies is owned by Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Post.) These shifting whims are the greatest threat to a space program constantly afflicted by whiplash. Preferable as a greater emphasis on robotics might be, leaders are unlikely to stop insisting on going places because we can. These long-term goals are most likely to be achieved if they're guided by thoughtful science and professional planning, rather than the allure of a potential geopolitical coup or the grievances of constituent contractors. The longer the politicians argue back and forth about the moon vs. Mars, the less likely we are to go to either one."

To which Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith responds:

"Recently, the Washington Post editorial board cited presidential whim as being at the heart of today's efforts to push for greater United States leadership and focus in space. That view is representative of uniformed critiques that come from many corners and have helped stymie well-intentioned prior efforts to move our nation forward into space. It fails to recognize the massive shifts in the space industry that allow us to maje greater strides and the emerging threats that require us to re-double our efforts. Last year, the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo landing on the Moon reminded us of the great pioneering capabilities and innovation that the U.S. has always demonstrated. But the first steps of Apollo were just that - the first steps in an unprecedented journey that is just beginning. ... All the forces - economic, political, technological, cultural - are in place for this transformation and we are now participating in an historic moment. This inevitable expansion will not be stopped by those that waiver and merely critique, but will be forged by those across government and industry who are un apologetic in their vision, and who are unafraid to build and to dream."

Keith's note: This is interesting. GAO usually just issues its reports and that's that. However, they are now overtly mentioning the recently released FY 2021 budget and are directing people to a report "NASA Lunar Programs: Opportunities Exist to Strengthen Analyses and Plans for Moon Landing" that says:

"In March 2019, the White House directed NASA to accelerate its plans to return humans to the moon by 2024--4 years earlier than NASA had planned. To meet this new goal, NASA made some changes to its approach. But it is still pursuing an array of complex efforts, including a small platform in lunar orbit called the Gateway, where crew could transit to and from the moon. Some have questioned the path NASA is taking and NASA has not fully explained how it arrived at its plans. So we that NASA document its rationale for these decisions. We also recommended that NASA develop an official cost estimate for the 2024 lunar landing mission."
Not very subtle - especially for the GAO. If the GAO is publicly reminding people that NASA needs to provide more details then it is a sure thing that Congress will be asking for the same thing - since the report that GAO is referring to was delivered to Congress on 19 December 2019 in response to a request from the House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies.

NASA Selects Four Possible DIscovery Program Missions to Study the Secrets of the Solar System

"NASA has selected four Discovery Program investigations to develop concept studies for new missions. Although they're not official missions yet and some ultimately may not be chosen to move forward, the selections focus on compelling targets and science that are not covered by NASA's active missions or recent selections. Final selections will be made next year. NASA's Discovery Program invites scientists and engineers to assemble a team to design exciting planetary science missions that deepen what we know about the solar system and our place in it. These missions will provide frequent flight opportunities for focused planetary science investigations. The goal of the program is to address pressing questions in planetary science and increase our understanding of our solar system."

NASA Internal Memo: Website Modernization and Enhanced Security Protocols 15 May 2019 (PDF)

"Currently there are an estimated 3,000 public-facing NASA Web sites, yet the top 10 sites receive 80 percent of all Web traffic. Additionally, some NASA partners operate Web sites on our behalf outside of the Agency, creating redundancy and accumulating unnecessary costs. Not only does this duplication of information cause confusion, each Wen site provides potential access for a cyber-attack on NASA's assets. The shutdown earlier this year gave us a clear view of the cyber vulnerabilities inherent in operating thousands of Web sites. We need to take steps to protect our resources in a hostile cyber landscap, examine our digital footprint, reduce costs, and maximize the effectiveness of communications efforts. In addition to security risk, multiple sites dilute our effectiveness in communicating key messages about our missions."

Keith's update: OK. It has been 9 months. Has anyone actually done anything called for in this memo from the Administrator? The CIO shows no evidence of having done so (no surprise). Same goes for PAO. Its is not even clear who is responsible for this - I have heard that the task was tossed into the Chief Scientist's lap - that makes no sense. SMD issued a memo about this yet little seems to have been done. Indeed, NASA issued a press release today 'Pale Blue Dot' Revisited' which says "For more information about the Voyager spacecraft, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/voyager https://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov" Why does NASA need to pay people to maintain TWO websites for Voyager? Why do they have multiple websites for virtually all of their missions?

- NASA Just Can't Stop Doing Web Stuff Twice UPDATE: Three Times, earlier post
- NASA's Confusing ICESAT-2 Websites, earlier post
- Progress Made In Making NASA's Internet Presence Leaner, earlier post
- Dueling NASA Websites Update, earlier post

Hearing: Space Situational Awareness: Key Issues in an Evolving Landscape, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology (with video)

- Rep. Kendra Horn [statement]
- Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson [statement]
- Rep. Brian Babin [statement]
- Rep. Frank Lucas [statement]
- Brian Weeden, Secure World Foundation [statement]
- Daniel Oltrogge, AIAA Space Traffic Management Space Governance Task Force Chair [statement]
- Joanne Gabrynowicz, University of Mississippi Law Center [statement]
- Danielle Wood, Massachusetts Institute of Technology [statement]
- Ruth Stilwell, George Washington University [statement]

Space Missions of Global Importance: Planetary Defense, Space Weather Protection, and Space Situational Awareness, Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation (with video)

- Chairman Roger Wicker [statement]
- Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA [statement]
- William Murtagh, NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center [statement]
- Kevin O'Connell, DOC Office of Space Commerce [statement]
- Moriba Jah, University of Texas [statement]

NASA CFO Jeff DeWit Is Leaving NASA

"It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve as the Chief Financial Officer of NASA, especially during a time when we have been tasked to go further and faster than ever before. I can hardly describe how wonderful this job is, how many great people I have met here, and how much I love and will miss NASA. The dedication of everyone here towards the mission is inspiring, and the people here are what I will miss the most."

Elon Hired Gerst

Trump budget cuts funding for health, science, environment agencies, Washington Post

"President Trump once again is asking Congress to make major cuts to the budgets of science and health agencies while favoring research deemed essential to national security. The 2021 budget request delivered Monday to Congress includes a nearly 10 percent cut to Health and Human Services and a 26 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency. It asks for increases in funding for research on quantum computing and artificial intelligence, areas in which the United States competes with China. Trump also wants to grant NASA a multibillion-dollar boost to help the space agency put astronauts back on the moon. Trump budgets have repeatedly targeted agencies and programs that deal with science, health and the environment, but if tradition holds, the requested cuts have little chance of winning approval from the House of Representatives, which has the power of the purse and a Democratic majority."

Keith's note: Learning that the White House has singled NASA out for a substantial budget increase is always welcome news for the space community since it highlights the fact that space is important and space people think that space is important. Add in strong mention in the State of The Union address and at other high visibility events, a push for Space Force, and space folks certainly have a right to feel that there is new wind in their sails. One small problem: much of this is temporary. Alas, as has been the case in the past, large cuts in social services, education, science, and infrastructural budgets fall flat when they arrive at Congress. NASA stands out as a target by virtue of its large plus up while everyone else is getting cut back. Soon we'll hear the old saws "why spend money in space when it is needed here on Earth" and "We already did the Moon thing 50 years ago". As inspirational as this 12% increase is, the chances that it will actually happen are not very encouraging.

Today at the Space Foundation's State of Space event, Rep. Kendra Horn, the lead proponent of the recent NASA Authorization Act that is making its way through Congress said that the 12% proposed increase in NASA's budget is welcome, but that it does not address the $5-6 billion that she says that NASA has told her that they need every year to make the 2024 Artemis lunar landing to happen - and by the way where is NASA's actual plan to do this? When asked about the interest in having actual private sector participation in Artemis as proposed by the White House, Horn said instead that making everyone NASA contractors is better - something her NASA Authorization Act strives to do. Add in the Act's gutting of actual lunar utilization and exploration after the landings begin we'd be facing a Flags and Footprints 2.0 situation. Just as a huge NASA budget increase is going to be hard to sell to Congress against a backdrop of cuts elsewhere, spending any large amount of money on NASA - with or without a big increase - to go back and walk around on the Moon is going to be a hard sell as well when basic support services are on the chopping block.

When asked if she thought Artemis could survive the election and a possible change in the White House Horn replied that her authorization act had bipartisan support - so that was a good sign. We all saw what the Obama Administration did to the Bush Administration's human spaceflight program plan when they took over and what happened to Obama's space efforts when the Trump team took over. Horn referred to a certain amount of "whiplash" as being an integral part of what passes for space policy - and that this back and forth contributes to a lot of the problems we see in what NASA is doing or not doing at any given moment.

Now that I have served up a pile of negativity, lets look on the bright side. There is great interest - globally - in going back to the Moon - with both humans and robots, to do science and exploration, to both further national goals and conduct private sector projects. Oh yea Mars too. Alas, no one is exactly on the same page. Until we have an actual national strategy with goals, objectives, roles, and responsibilities clearly enumerated then this ad hoc, constantly pivoting approach is going to continue to stumble along. It takes more than short presidential directives or tedious, verbose NASA authorization Acts to make that happen. Barking orders and long wish lists chopped up into 4 year long bite size pieces won't work. It never has. We're just kicking the can down the road. Will someone please fix this? Thanks.

https://s3.amazonaws.com/images.spaceref.com/news/2015/canmars.jpgKicking The Can Down the Road to Mars, 2015, earlier post

"And of course none of these Mars missions in the 2030s are in any budget - notional, proposed, or projected - that means anything to anyone actually working at NASA today. So it is hard to blame people who can't give you a straight answer. Just look at what their management has given them to work with - and what the agency has had to work with in terms of guidance from Congress and the White House. Just in the past 10-12 years NASA has veered away from the shuttle towards the Moon, then away from the ISS to Mars and away from the Moon and back to ISS, and now back to Mars (and maybe the Moon) and also some boulder on an asteroid."

Keith's note: In the NASA FY 2021 budget briefing I asked Jim Morhard what the total cost of Artemis would be up to the point of landing people on the Moon. He said $35 billion. Yea that's apparently the additional cost to do Artemis I, II, III - on top of what was already being done. But what was already being done was to send humans to the Moon - you know, like SLS, Orion, ground systems, etc. NASA has been sending humans back to the Moon since 14 January 2004. This guessing game has been an ongoing sport amongst the media for 16 years - trying to find out how much the NASA Moon program will cost. NASA now tries to pretend that Orion and SLS are somehow not part of the Artemis cost since they have been underway for so long that NASA would be doing those things anyway without the whole Artemis thing. Back in the day NASA never included the costs of Shuttle flights in what it cost to build ISS since "we'd be flying them anyway".

Somehow Artemis has become separate from the original "Vision for Space Exploration", "Moon, Mars, and Beyond", Constellation, "Journey To Mars" things - all of which are the overlapping, evolutionary, sequential steps that led to SLS and Orion - right? And all of these efforts cost billions - billions that have vanished from the overall humans to the Moon balance sheet. Of course if you really wanted to be accurate about what this cost you'd need to include Ares 1 and Ares V - since they were once NASA's original "program of record" plan for sending humans to the Moon. But NASA wants everyone to forget all of those billions. Oh yes, then there's the billion they spent on the J-2 testing - and the test stand they never needed - and ... see where I am going?

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- NASA Administrator Statement on Moon to Mars Initiative, FY 2021 Budget

- NASA FY 2021 Budget Info, NASA

- FY 2021 Budget, OMB

Keith's 9 Feb update: NASA is on page 101. Some highlights:

"The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is responsible for leading an innovative program of exploration that would return American astronauts to the Moon by 2024 and build a sustainable presence on the lunar surface as the first steps on a journey that will take America to Mars.

The Budget increases funding for innovative programs that would land astronauts on the Moon and support precursor missions and advanced technologies that would enable further exploration. The Budget also supports a broad range of high-performing NASA programs that are not directly supporting the Moon to Mars program, and includes reductions to some lower-performing programs.

The Budget provides $25.2 billion for NASA, a 12-percent increase from the 2020 enacted level.

The Budget provides robust funding for the programs that support this goal, including $3.4 billion for the development of lander systems, over $700 million to support lunar surface activities, and $233 million for robotic precursor missions to Mars that would also conduct cutting-edge science.

The Budget defers funding of upgrades--known as "Block 1B"--for the SLS, and instead focuses the program on completing the initial version of the SLS and ensuring a reliable SLS and Orion annual flight cadence. While a potentially beneficial future capability, the costly Block 1B upgrades are not needed to land astronauts on the Moon.

Consistent with prior budgets, the Budget provides no funding for the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, two Earth science missions, and the Office of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Engagement. The Budget continues to support education activities such as internships and fellowships funded outside of the Office of STEM Engagement. The Budget also proposes to terminate the SOFIA telescope, which has not proven to be as scientifically productive as other missions."

Keith's 9 Feb update: You should scroll down and click on the comments. At the top you will see that I highlighted comments by NASA HEOMD AA Doug Loverro. He replied to the question that I did not get to ask and spent a lot of time - with a lot of words - in a quality response. Well worth reading.

Keith's 7Feb note: NASA and Boeing held a telecon today about Starliner problems. They said that they held today's media telecon as a result of things posted in the media yesterday after the ASAP meeting. (See ASAP: Boeing Starliner Software Issue Potentially "Catastrophic"). Apparently Congress was reading the same articles. When asked about flying people on the next Starliner mission Jim Bridenstine punted. Doug Loverro went into some detail as to what needs to be done with Boeing next but would not answer yes/no either. Alas, NASA is picking favorites again on news telecons. Probably a good idea since this was my question for Boeing:

"Boeing launched a spacecraft designed to carry humans and discovered two fundamental software issues in flight. Now Boeing wants to launch people in that spacecraft the next time it flies. I have been reporting on software issues for another Boeing product - SLS. Add in 737 Max software problems and it would seem that Boeing has some major software weaknesses. Is there any overlap between software teams or management between Starliner and SLS (or 737 Max)? Since Boeing's current software process has clearly failed after many years and billions of dollars spent, what do you need to do differently in order to get this whole software thing working properly again?"

I was half tempted to get into the weeds with a question about breadboards, wiring jigs, software verification checks, and things like SAIL that we used to test Shuttle avionics and what passed for "software" - all done by Boeing and its heritage companies like Rockwell and McDonnell Douglas - all designed to beat problems out of a design with brut force before it flew. You'd think they'd have that down pat by now. That is the real story here - NASA and its contractors have forgotten how to do stuff like that.

Trump said to propose roughly $3 billion NASA budget boost for 2021, TechCrunch

"President Donald Trump is set to request a budget of $25.6 billion for NASA for its fiscal 2021 operating year, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday. It's looking for nearly $3 billion more than the $22.6 billion NASA had for its current fiscal year, and the bulk of the new funding is said to be earmarked for development of new human lunar landers. This represents one of the single largest proposed budget increases for NASA in a couple of decades, but reflects Trump's renewed commitment to the agency's efforts as expressed during the State of the Union address he presented on February 4, during which he included a request to Congress to "fully fund the Artemis program to ensure that the next man and first woman on the Moon will be American astronauts."

Keith's note: More tweets below. FYI I stumbled across this in my Facebook feed. NASA did not make any mention of this appearance. Toward the end they played a question and answer game with Jim Bridenstine. Whoever was wrong had to eat a popsicle with increasingly incendiary hot sauce on it. This might be a useful management tool for Bridenstine to employ at NASA. Just sayin'

https://s3.amazonaws.com/images.spaceref.com/news/2020/data.gifNASA, Boeing to Provide Update on Starliner Orbital Flight Test Reviews

"NASA and Boeing will host a media teleconference at 3:30 p.m. EST Friday, Feb. 7, to discuss the status of the joint independent review team investigation into the primary issues detected during the company's uncrewed Orbital Flight Test in December as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program."

NASA Safety Panel: Second Starliner OFT Software Error COuld Have Been :Catastrophic", Space Policy Online

"In an emailed statement to SpacePolicyOnline.com this evening, Boeing said it accepts and appreciates the recommendations of the IRT as well as suggestions from ASAP: "They are invaluable to the Commercial Crew Program and we will work with NASA to comprehensively apply their recommendations."

Starliner faced "catastrophic" failure before software bug found, Ars Technica

"At Thursday's meeting, Hill revealed the second issue related to software and thruster performance publicly for the first time. However, as part of reporting on a story about Starliner software and thruster issues three weeks ago, a source told Ars about this particular problem. According to the source, Boeing patched a software code error just two hours before the vehicle reentered Earth's atmosphere. Had the error not been caught, the source said, proper thrusters would not open during the reentry process, and the vehicle would have been lost."

Keith's note: And of course there are all of the SLS software issues that have plagued the Boeing and NASA MSFC folks:

- SLS Upper Stage Changes While Software Problems Linger, earlier post
- SLS Software Problems Continue at MSFC, earlier post
- This Is How NASA Covers Up SLS Software Safety Issues (Update), earlier post
- MSFC To Safety Contractor: Just Ignore Those SLS Software Issues, earlier post
- SLS Flight Software Safety Issues Continue at MSFC, earlier post
- SLS Flight Software Safety Issues at MSFC (Update), earlier post
- Previous SLS postings

But wait, there's more in other parts of Boeing:

Boeing Finds New Software Problem With Scandal-Plagued 737 Max Plane, Gizmodo

"During flight testing of the 737 MAX's updated software, an indicator light associated with the stabilizer trim system illuminated in the flight deck," a Boeing spokesperson told Gizmodo via email. "We determined that the illumination of this light was caused by differences in input data between the flight control computers (FCC). This is a result of the FCC cross compare redundancy software update issued in June 2019."

NASA to Industry: Send Ideas for Lunar Rovers

"As NASA's Artemis lunar exploration program mounts toward a robust decade of modern science, research, and human exploration at the Moon, the agency is asking American companies to think about how to get around on the lunar surface. NASA issued two separate Requests for Information (RFI) seeking industry approaches for development of robotic mobility systems and human-class lunar rovers. With these RFIs, NASA seeks to foster an emerging American market of lunar transportation capability by engaging the terrestrial vehicle and robotic communities."

Comprehensive Plan On The Organizational Structure Of The U.S. Space Force - Full report, USAF

"This report details the structure and organizational elements required for the newly authorized U.S. Space Force, including the organization and staff required to support the Secretary of the Air Force via the Chief of Space Operations. This report describes how the Space Force will be organized, trained, and equipped to carry out its responsibilities as an Armed Force under title 10, United States Code, and details how it will coordinate with U.S. Space Command and other space elements within the Armed Forces. It also details how the Space Force is expected to affect the composition and function of the space elements within the Armed Forces as they are organized today. The information contained herein details how current planning efforts and associated plans will continue to be updated and refined throughout the implementation process."

Toward a greater good: TMT & Starlink, Pamela Gay, Medium

"We have a choice to either deny people the internet to make it easier for people to do ground-based astronomy, in the process denying them educational, financial, and other opportunities. Alternatively, we can slow the progress of astronomy, and build into our observing plans the need to linger longer on targets to make sure we get satellite free images, while at the same time allowing Starlink and other satellite constellations to grant global access to the internet you are using to read these words. Yes, they sky will be full of satellites, but which is the greater good?"

Concerns about ground based astronomical observations: A step to Safeguard the Astronomical Sky, arXiv

"Also, as it turns out, according to the Outer Space Treaty and its progeny, there are no private companies operating in outer space, but only governments can operate in outer space. And the legal process is that the state government, this time the USA government, is legally responsible for all objects sent into outer space that launch from USA borders. That means, that it is the USA government that is responsible for the harm caused by its corporation, Starlink, sending objects into orbit that cause harm. So under this international law, any country that suffers harm by Starlink can sue the United States government in the International Court of Justice in the Hague. ... So it is essential that a government, like Chile, Italy or France, sues the USA in the International Court of Justice."

Keith's note: Of course if the lawyers decide that SpaceX satellites are illegal it follows that all satellites can be declared illegal since a substantial number can be seen with the naked eye. Airplanes can also ruin one's view of the sky so they'd certainly be subject to legal bans as well. And streetlights, the biggest offenders of all when it comes to ruining the night sky, would also be subject to legal action - globally. As Pamela Gay notes in her article "I can't think of any western child who is taken out and taught the darkest skies are our cultural heritage, and if the skies are sacred and need protected, why is it so hard to pass lighting ordinances?"

There is a strange confluence here. Astronomers who would deny humanity the chance to place their scientific instruments atop high mountains to study the splendor of the universe for the benefit of all would also deny billions of their fellow humans access to the same global communications capabilities that the developed world has so as to share in that knowledge. In both cases the developed world's elite astronomers (via lawyers) want to deny access by people in the developing world to the nature of the universe around them and the benefits of a planetary scale civilization. That is not a good thing to aspire to. It is also immensely ironic when you consider that we in the developed world have ruined our own night skies and use our global information access for p0rn, online shopping, and cat videos.

And by the way - there is some inaccuracy in the arguments about Starlink i.e. which populations it will serve. To be certain the developing world will reap the greatest benefit . But there are vast rural swaths of developed nations such as the U.S, Canada, Australia and other nations where there is no quality Internet access. Starlink will bring these people into the global community as well.

Pamela's piece is worth reading. It is certain to annoy people - on both sides of these issues. That's good. Maybe some people will start to work to overcome the obstacles poised by telescopes and satellites instead of deciding that they are insurmountable hurdles that can only be fought over in court.

For what its worth, below are instances of two people from the developed world interacting with people in less developed areas where the skies are dark - and filled with satellites. Both Pamela and I are reminding everyone that the choice to become a planetary-scale civilization with aspirations of becoming a space-faring civilization requires hard choices and new ways of looking at the universe around us as our increasing presence and influence changes the things that we see.

More below

Keith's note: As I have noted before NASA does not really seem to be interested in letting people know about their NASA iTech thing. Last Friday I posted some comments about the NASA iTech activity. I never heard from STMD so I sent NASA STMD and NASA PAO some questions, NASA PAO replied rather promptly. I have added some follow-up comments to the NASA responses.

In summary: This NASA iTech effort is supposed to engage companies with innovations that could benefit NASA as well as help innovators realize potential space applications of their technologies that may have been designed for another purpose.Hopefully that will inspire companies to invest their own money in the use of NASA technology. NASA makes claims that this program has led to $500 million in private sector investments - but they cannot actually verify that claim. Nor does NASA iTech bother to interact with the rest of the agency's various commercialization activities wherein much more technology awaits wider distribution and use. Most paradoxically, the NASA itTech folks are incapable of generating standard PR for their supposed successes. Also NASA cannot decide if NASA iTech is a NASA thing or something that a vendor does - or both - and NASA STMD clearly did not think this through when it allowed the NASA iTech folks to run around promoting this effort.

I am posting everything here as an example of just how scattered NASA can be when it comes to demonstrating its value to the public and private sectors. The fact that NASA STMD and NASA HQ refuse to give NASA iTech more visibility (given the $500 million claim) and that the NASA iTech folks seek to distance themsleves from NASA's global branding and visibility speaks to a lot of entrenched dysfunction within NASA's technology efforts. I hope someone fixes this. A lot of real value from NASA's abundant technology expertise is being woefully under utilized. And NASA iTech is not doing the best job it could to avail itself of the opportunity to highlight this technology.

1. Why don't the @NASAiTech and @NASA_Technology Twitter accounts mention one another? Why does Kira Blackwell, the NASA iTech Program Executive use her official NASA Twitter account @KiraBlackwell to only promote NASAiTech and yet make no mention of anything else that NASA STMD (or NASA) does?

NASA PAO: In addition to other NASA technology-related news, @NASA_Technology shares information about NASA iTech:
https://twitter.com/nasa_technology/status/1184210708432637952?s=21
https://twitter.com/nasa_technology/status/1181559974188736512?s=21
https://twitter.com/nasa_technology/status/1174094949442359296?s=21
https://twitter.com/nasa_technology/status/1171535613582925827?s=21

At this time @NASAiTech is not an official NASA social media account. NASA/STMD is reviewing the need for this account (and others) and will make the decision whether to make it an official NASA account or shut it down by directing followers to the broader agency technology account. This is something NASA/STMD did last year with an unofficial NASA Flight Opportunities account (@NASAfo). @KiraBlackwell is a personal account.

NASAWatch follow up: if you look at @NASAitech it says "The Official NASA iTech Twitter account. NASA's program searches for cutting-edge tech's external to NASA & that have potential to be a solution for NASA. NASA HQ -Space Tech Office https://www.nasa.gov/directorates/spacetech/itech". [screengrab] If you look at @KiraBlackwell it says "Program Executive for @NASAiTech searching for innovative solutions to solve some of NASA's challenges." and it is used for official business purposes. There is no mention that it is a personal account. [screengrab]

2. Why does the NASAiTech activity exclusively use its own logo on its social media posts and on all of its large event displays and promotion materials and not use the official NASA logo? Is the NASAiTech logo officially recognized - and owned by - NASA?

NASA PAO: The NASA iTech identifying mark was created as "work for hire" under an existing cooperative agreement with NIA and is therefore owned by NASA. The identifying mark has been used since NASA iTech started under NASA's Office of the Chief Technologist.

NASAWatch follow up: But why is NASAiTech special - no other NASA programs seek to distance themsleves from NASA by purposefully not using the NASA logo?

3. Why aren't the NASAiTech "Ignite the Night" events promoted on the NASA STMD website? Why are they not mentioned in media advisories or press releases/media advisories? Why is there no mention of these events on the NASA.gov calendar?

NASA PAO: As we work to move the current .org NASA iTech website content to the nasa.gov portal, we are building out this information. There is a nasa.gov page dedicated to upcoming events where you can find information about the next Ignite the Night: https://www.nasa.gov/directorates/spacetech/itech/upcoming_events.

The primary audience for Ignite the Night events is local innovators. Media are welcome to attend as well. NASA regularly interacts with local media who may be interested in covering iTech events.

The main nasa.gov calendar is, for the most part, limited to NASA TV coverage and launch/mission operations.

NASAWatch follow up: but NASA STMD and NASAiTech never send out media advisories? If this is so important why are live webcasts not promoted as are a myriad of other NASA activities - many of which have a local focus?

https://s3.amazonaws.com/images.spaceref.com/news/2020/BoeingEUSFacebook.jpg

Keith's note: Boeing has restarted its social media campaign on Facebook which means they are mining your Facebook user data for other uses that it is not bothering to tell you about. The Boeing ad points you to this page https://www.boeing.com/space/space-launch-system/. But this is how it tracks the social media user from Facebook with a campaign they call "slsphase2"

https://www.boeing.com/space/space-launch-system/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=socialad&utm_campaign=slsphase2 ...

When you get to the page it says "Additional missions are planned with this configuration as the even more powerful Block 1B version of the rocket is designed and built. This follow-on, evolved two-stage configuration will provide a lift capability of more than 105 metric tons, using the Boeing-built Exploration Upper Stage."

Hmmm ... "slsphase2" Boeing is being rather blunt in what it sees this effort as. Unless I missed something NASA has not ordered production of EUS. As you may recall from the NASA Authorization Act wording in draft House legislation Boeing has been lobbying hard for the EUS and excluing private sector commercial alternatives at the same time.

Back in December Jim Bridenstine called B.S. on these efforts by Boeing, telling the Washington post "... any plan that requires an EUS to be ready by 2024 is a plan that reduces the probability of success. It's just not going to be ready. ... "All of our contractors lobby Congress to achieve what is in their best interest even though it may not be in the best interest of the nation," Bridenstine said in an interview. "This is another example of that. My job as NASA administrator is to make sure we do what's right for the country, and for the taxpayer."

And of course Boeing wants you to forget that the SLS is billions over budget, years behind schedule, and is still a year or more away from flying. They most certainly want you to forget that SpaceX is flying Falcon Heavy rockets and is preparing to test its immense Starship. Meanwhile development of Blue Origin's monster rocket New Glenn is underway.

- Boeing Uses Deceptive Social Media To Grab Your Browsing Data, previous post
- Boeing's Misleading Anti-SpaceX Pro-SLS Facebook Ad Campaign, previous post
- Join Boeing's SLS Fan Club So They Can Track Your Activity, previous post
- Boeing's Creepy Petition Wants To Track Your Online Activity, previous post

A Small Rocket Maker Is Running A Different Kind of Space Race, Bloomberg

"The 42-year-old CEO [Chris Kemp] spent almost five years at NASA, but he's not a rocket scientist by training. He joined NASA in 2007 after running a string of internet startups, eventually becoming the space agency's chief technology officer. Astra has operated in secrecy partly to avoid being pushed to set unrealistic deadlines. Most of its workers have online résumés that list their employer as "Stealth Space Company," and there hasn't been a website. At the former Alameda Naval Air Station, Astra took over a decrepit building used decades ago to test jet engines indoors, which has helped keep its secrecy intact. The facility has two long tunnels that send fire and scorching hot air up through exhaust towers and thick concrete walls capable of absorbing the explosive impacts of tests gone wrong. This setup has allowed Astra to conduct thousands of runs on its rocket engines without its neighbors noticing much of anything. It's also meant Astra can put the engines through their paces on-site and make adjustments to the hardware quickly, instead of going to the Mojave Desert or an open field in Texas where other rocket makers typically run engine trials."

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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