November 2020 Archives

Vice President Mike Pence to Convene Eighth Meeting of the National Space Council

"The Eighth Meeting of the National Space Council will take place at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on December 9th, 2020 at 12:30 PM EST. The meeting will be chaired by Vice President Mike Pence. The meeting will be livestreamed here on NASA TV, and additional details will be forthcoming. Following NASA's COVID-19 response protocols, the use of face coverings will be required for invited guests, and hand sanitizer stations will be available. Attendance will be limited to promote social distancing, and temperature screenings will be required prior to entry."

Keith's note: The event starts at 12:30 pm ET. According to the draft agenda there are 120 minutes of events to be discussed - 2 hours. That's it - all the security and physical arrangements and the whole Air Force Two thing - for a 2 hour meeting that could be done on Zoom. Gee, they could have just used a green screen on Zoom and inserted some shots of pretty rocket ships at KSC and it would look like they were actually there.

Right now the main topic of speculation is whether this event in Florida is just a victory lap for Mike Pence - or if the new National Space Policy that is finished and in the can will be announced. A "new National Space Policy" is listed as an agenda item (see below). But it only gets 10 minutes. Really? An entire, brand new national space policy only gets 10 minutes? Wow. What a rollout. Why bother. But this is all sort of pointless since any policy that is announced will be dead on arrival at the Biden Administration's doorstep.

Either way, staff involved in this physical event are not especially pleased to be called in to work a physical event during a worsening pandemic when a virtual event would suffice. And you can bet that most of the members are going to Zoom in anyway.

DRAFT Agenda: Meeting of the National Space Council Wednesday, December 09, 2020

"III. National Space Policy Update (10 minutes)
a. Dr. Scott Pace, Executive Secretary, National Space Council, provides summary of the new National Space Policy (public discussion on previously approved policy)"

Lucas Warns of Risk Posed by Chinese Launch to the Moon, Rep. Lucas

"The launch of Chang'e-5 is a significant step by China towards their goal of establishing a long-term presence on the Moon. The nation that leads in space will dictate the rules of the road for future technological development and exploration, and the influence of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) in the CCP's space program makes China a particularly irresponsible and dangerous candidate. Advancements by the CCP also jeopardize American international competitiveness in science and technology. We can no longer take America's leadership in space for granted and must continue supporting the men and women of the American space program aspiring to launch crewed missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond."

Keith's note: And meanwhile back in the U.S. we have the Space Force whose leadership and fanboys have openly talked about sending soldiers into space and to the Moon. They stage military ceremonies and events on the civilian ISS. That certainly doesn't help to calm things down. As for China becoming more competitive with the U.S. in human and robotic space exploration, OK, they are. If we just got off our collective ass here in the U.S. and devoted the resources needed to deliberately stay ahead of the crowd then everyone else would be in our departure screens as we moved outward into the solar system. Unless, that is, we decide that thoughtful cooperation is better than blunt competition for the sake of competition.

This sort of paranoid rhetoric surfaced back in the 1990s when the notion of bringing the Russians into the space station program first surfaced. Everything the Russians did was evil. They could not be trusted. etc. Two decades later and the ISS is a stellar example of how nations can work together in a cooperative fashion in space. Indeed, the U.S. and Russia get along vastly better in space than they do on Earth. There is a powerful lesson there. If only we'd stop to understand it.

Keith's note: China has launched its Change'e-5 mission to return samples from the Moon. The launch aboard a Long March 5 rocket went off as planned and the spacecraft is now on its way out of Earth orbit and heading toward the Moon. Change'e-5 will land on 27 November, drill 2 meters into the lunar surface, and collect 2 kg of samples for return to Earth. The landing site is a volcanic feature in the Ocean of Storms. As such these samples could teach us how long the Moon was active after its formation, what its magnetic field was like, and what the interior may be like today. The samples are due to be returned to Earth on 16-17 December. Many nations are participating in the scientific analysis of the samples including U.S. researchers.

I am scheduled to be on Deutsche Welle TV at 4:00 and 6:00 pm and on CGTN at 8:30 Pm today to talk about this mission.

Keith's note: Do a Google search for "NASA search engine". The first search result that comes up is NASA Multimedia Search last updated on 26 February 2006. The second result that comes up is Tools for searching last updated on 21 July 2005. Look on the left hand side of either page. Click on simple search, category search, or Advanced search and you get "404 The cosmic object you are looking for has disappeared beyond the event horizon." Indeed the subsequent 5 or so Google search results point back to the same pages with broken links. But wait - use the search box in the upper right hand corner of either page and enter a term - any term. Guess what you get? "404 The cosmic object you are looking for has disappeared beyond the event horizon."

Summary: if you do a Google search for NASA Search engines you get a bunch of NASA pages with links to NASA search engine pages that are actually a collection of broken links and a search box that does not search. These pages have been sitting atop Google search results without any one at NASA noticing - and the pages were last updated 15 years ago.

Oh yes: go and Google "NASA CIO" and look at the top search result. According to Google Renee Wynn is stili the NASA CIO. This is because of a web page hosted by NASA. They could easily fix this - as I pointed out months ago. But the NASA CIO seems to be utterly uninterested in the accuracy of NASA's websites. But he is interested in making it harder for citizens to contact government employees at NASA.

Keith's note: Here we go again. Its presidential transition team season and all the space fans are lining up trying to get their ideas in front of the new Administration. As is usually the case someone starts a white paper and looks for supporters who invariably start to edit and nick pick and add wish lists. Space organizations such as the Space Foundation, the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, the Satellite Industry Association, and the Aerospace Industries Association are supporting this particular white paper/position paper effort. There may be other organizations lurking in the shadows. Meanwhile, organizations such as the Commercial Spaceflight Federation and the AIAA are shunning the effort. For now. Other organizations have not been approached. Then there's swarm of space advocacy groups, pundits, and thought influencers, whose views will be all over the map. Welcome to the space community.

Eventually, since these efforts inevitably turn into a circular firing squad with everyone wanting everything they want - but not what anyone else wants, some early participants will walk out in a huff and badmouth the effort. In the end this will be yet another example of choir practice by the usual suspects in an echo chamber. Invariably, since only a subset of the usual suspects are involved, other efforts will pop up and the net result will be a inconsistent bunch of noise from the space community. Surprise surprise.

At one point the white paper says "It is imperative to fully fund the nation's space exploration enterprise in the face of competing policy priorities." Why is that at all imperative? Isn't defeating COVID-19 and bringing our economy back more of an imperative? Space fans seem to not be listening to President-elect Biden or reading the newspapers. It may well be that NASA's budget and the budgets of other agencies will need to take a hit to get us through this. Or maybe NASA can tweak what it does to be more of partner in a whole-of-government effort to solve pressing national challenges.

Oh and then there's the whole climate change issue that the Biden team has listed as one of its top 4 priorities. That is not even mentioned. Nor does this paper even reflect a cognizance of what the Biden team has been saying that it wants to do in other areas - and why it thinks that these things are important. Is NASA Independent of the national priorities that affect the rest of the government? Indeed the word "Biden" appears nowhere in this paper. Nor is there any mention of the pending issues affecting the new Congress. Cluelessness abounds within this paper that purports to represent the consensus of the space community. But space fans know more than the Biden folks do, I guess.

Meanwhile, the Biden Transition Team is having to work with zero cooperation from the Trump Administration while facing a raging pandemic and an economy that is spiraling downward. Yet space people seem to think that there is going to be a lot of interest by the Biden Transition Team in the self-serving wish list of all the space fans who think that all of their things are important because they think that these things are important. Read on and you will see every tired and worn justification for spending piles of money on space stuff in a shopping list meant to make everyone's Christmas stocking full.

And when the Biden Transition Team gives the space fans a look of bewilderment in reaction to a totally self-serving laundry list of "gimmies" the space community will turn and tell everyone that Biden is anti-space. Truth be known, the space community has lived in a little alternate reality bubble for far too long - a bubble inflated to near bursting with fairy dust and unicorns by the Trump Administration and its Make Space Great Again memes. Oh and then there's the Space Force waiting to beam everyone up.

The exploration and utilization of space offers to enable an incredible future full of promise, benefits, and adventure for both our nation and the rest of the world. Yet if we just leave it to the space community to call the shots then all we will get is a disjointed collection of more of the same - and less of the immense potential of what could otherwise come to be.

As such, here is the latest iteration of the space community wish list I have seen. Stay tuned. There will be more ...

"Leading the next generation in space - A vision for the 117th Congress"

"Space impacts every facet of 21st-century life. Business, governance, security, education, manufacturing, healthcare, communication, and many other sectors rely on space-based infrastructure and technologies. The nation's space exploration enterprise is facing unprecedented challenges and demands attention and action from policy makers.

To ensure that the United States continues to prosper and lead in outer space, the incoming 117th Congress will have to:"

Keith's note: I was hoping to ask a space biology question to one of the ISS crew today. So, a few days ago I called the number listed in the NASA media release to get on the list but it kept giving me a "this number has been disconnected" message. So I sent an email to NASA PAO. They said that JSC PAO would send me the dial-in information for the media event. Two days later - nothing was ever sent. Last week NASA PAO pulled the same stunt on me at a Crew-1 briefing at KSC. And a few weeks prior they would not let me do a crew interview. Each time I ask why I get a lame excuse from PAO akin to "a dog ate my homework". I am the only actual space biologist (that I know of) who covers NASA. I just wanted to ask the space biologist in orbit an actual sciencey question or two since everyone else was asking about Baby Yoda and sleeping in space. Oh well. No one at NASA PAO takes the space station seriously any more - so why bother, I guess.

Keith's update: OK so JSC PAO says that their process broke down and that I was supposed to be a participant. The question I had planned to ask is being sent up to the ISS. This is what I was going to ask during the press event:

"Question for Kate Rubins: On your first stay on the ISS you became the first person to sequence genomes in space. On that expedition you used standard, known genomes as a proof of concept to test out the sequencing hardware. Now you're back to do more sequencing but this time you are going to do more extensive sampling and preparation activities. From one space biologist to another: Have you done any of this advanced sequencing yet and if so what species have you sequenced? Also - are you going to have the chance to exercise a biologist's inherent curiosity and swab the interior of ISS to see what you can find via sequencing? Follow-up question: Once upon a time NASA used to designate a "Science Officer" on the ISS. Now that you are there, arguably as the first space biologist/astrobiologist-astronaut, don't you think that it is time to resume that practice?"

NSF begins planning for decommissioning of Arecibo Observatory's 305-meter telescope due to safety concerns

"Following a review of engineering assessments that found damage to the Arecibo Observatory cannot be stabilized without risk to construction workers and staff at the facility, the U.S. National Science Foundation will begin plans to decommission the 305-meter telescope, which for 57 years has served as a world-class resource for radio astronomy, planetary, solar system and geospace research."

Keith's note: Having done crowd funding activities that raised ~$100K - LOIRP & ISEE-3 - let me just suggest that if the NSF & UCF people had half a brain they'd sell pieces of Arecibo dish for a GoFundMe. Who wouldn't want to buy a piece of something that amazing to help replace it with something even better?

The Worm is Back: A Discussion with Designer Richard Danne, NASA

"NASA Worm creator Richard Danne answers your questions in a conversation about the relevance of the Worm in the 1970s and today, and why the Worm continues to be so popular, now available online at Bettina Inclán, Associate Administrator for Communications, hosts this conversation, which includes a presentation from NASA's Worm Working Group on the philosophy of the comeback of the logo, led by David Rager and Bert Ulrich."

LOST IN SPACE; Meatballs Devour Worms!!, NY Times, 10 January 1999.

"For the past six years NASA has been trying to wipe out the tubular red logo (''the worm'') that has symbolized space exploration since 1975. The chief exterminator is Dan Goldin, NASA's administrator, who says that the original 1958 emblem (''the meatball'') better commemorates the program's mission. But wasting the worm, which has adorned everything from welcome mats to wind tunnels, is taking longer than Goldin would like. Keith Cowing, an ex-NASA payload manager who documents worm sightings on the NASA Watch Web site raps Goldin's subordinates for obsessively hiding the worm from the boss."

Keith's note: I sent a note to NASA PAO the other day: "Decades before the current leadership's time at NASA, as you know, I ran "worm watch" on NASAWatch which traced Dan Goldin's attempt to eradicate the worm. I believed in the worm when no one else did. I even ended up in the New York Times as a result. I had many interactions over the years with worm designer Richard Danne. Bettina asked me to submit a question for him to answer in the video but she did not include it. This is the question I submitted to Bettina:"

"The worm logo is on the records carried by the twin Voyagers which are now traversing interstellar space. It adorns the Hubble which has opened the universe to us. Simple question: what is it like to have something so simple in form spring from your mind - something that goes on to become the symbol that adorns humanity's tools for exploring the universe?"

I got this response from Richard Danne today:

Hello Keith! Well it finally happened... and the Worm is Back. Thanks for this great question which I wish had been asked in the Town Hall video. My response: I'm fully aware of your ongoing support of the Logotype over these many years, and I greatly appreciate it. One of the things I'm most proud of is that those extraordinary missions, Voyager and Hubble, still proudly carry our mark through interstellar space. Even when the program was scuttled, I could still point to that profound fact. It's a glorious feeling to have helped create one of the most famous logos of the last half century. "Simplicity" is one of our guiding principles and it played a major role in the development of the NASA worm. We knew back then as we know today, that if a mark is to be useful and successful for decades it must be born of simplicity. I think we got it right... and all has been proven out over some 46 years now. It's thrilling, especially seeing how the younger people have gravitated to it. Very rewarding with great validation! Thanks again Keith for your good work and long-term support. And, as always, Onward! Dick"

Keith's 18 Nov update: NASA wants to transmit their stuff to you. But they really don't want you to talk to their people about it.

Once upon a time - actually for more than a decade - you could go to to find out how to contact a government employee at NASA. Not any more. Here is what the site looked like on 28 October 2020. You used to be able to type in names and find out their email address and phone number. Now all you get is a statement that says "This site and its contents are no longer available. Visitors are encouraged to learn more about space and NASA's mission by visiting the NASA homepage. NASA employees visiting this site should refer to internal directory services for employee information."

I just got another response from NASA PAO to my five follow-up questions regarding the shutdown of NASA's online employee directory. In a nutshell they are afraid that letting people see email and phone numbers of government employees puts the agency at risk so that is now stopping. OK, phishing and scams are on the rise so you cannot fault them with being responsive to that. But many - most - other Federal agencies still let citizens, the media, other government employees, researchers, and congressional staff query their agency's websites to find employees. They will no longer be able to find the people who work on various NASA programs.

Instead, everyone outside of the NASA firewall will now have to go to a "Contact Page" at NASA with high level links to everything except a personnel search. Instead of finding the person you need you will have to hope that these generic links will send you some where where someone will decide that maybe you can contact someone else. Given the glacial speed at which it took CIO to fix simple errors in their own directory takedown you can imagine how slow it will be for NASA to get back to you when you are looking for someone. If they even respond, that is.

But OK, they have their "Contact" page. Is this Contact page mentioned at Answer: It is a small little link at the lower right at the bottom of the home page where most people will never think to see it. How do you contact NASA if the Contact page itself is more or less hidden from view? Shouldn't it be a prominent link in all of the top menus? Seriously, doesn't NASA want to interact with actual human people while it blasts all the space stuff put on the Internet? NASA complains about not being able to do enough outreach and why people often do not understand what NASA does. So what does NASA do? It continues to shrink the ability for the public - the people who pay for the whole party - to interact with NASA. NASA's big cosmic radio is set on "TRANSMIT". It is never set on "RECEIVE".

We should all be concerned. This is another example of dumbing down NASA's public functionality and reducing overall transparency. Hopefully this will change after 20 January 2021.

NASA PAO Response:

1. Why am I still able to access that database via a rather elementary work around a day after I posted mention that the database is still accessible?

NASA Answer: The Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) database is a service that enables secure email to be exchanged with our partners and other federal agencies. Reconfiguration is being implemented in phases in order to ensure sufficient testing is performed to not disrupt current operational services. You noticed that the main search page for the public directory was disabled. Additional changes are planned that will address other ways of obtaining this information.

2. Why are other Federal agencies not adopting your "industry standard" i.e. why are their employee directories still openly accessible by the public?

NASA Answer: With respect to other federal agencies, it is certainly up to them to determine what risks they face and how they will address those risks.

3. When was the determination made that long-standing publicly available information now presents a risk to NASA?

NASA Answer: When was established over 20 years ago, the risks of sharing internal official communication email addresses and phone numbers was significantly lower than it is today. Since then, internet-facing organizations have had to adapt to a vastly different threat environment by changing how they present and protect their services. Examples of these types of infrastructure service changes include transitioning to Secure HTTP servers, replacing passwords with multifactor authentication, and closing down insecure internet-facing services like NFS and telnet.

The NASA CIO team is working to strengthen cybersecurity across the agency, and this is part of that process. Spear phishing attacks, which are targeted email-based social engineering threats to an organization, are a very common form of attack. NASA is simply trying to prevent attackers from easily obtaining the information needed to facilitate these phishing attacks. You noticed that the main search page for the public directory was disabled. Additional changes are planned that will address other ways of obtaining this information. With respect to other organizations, it is certainly up to them to determine what risks they face and how they will address those risks.

4. Can you provide me with the specific "industry best practices" that NASA is using as a basis for this action?

NASA Answer: NASA is simply trying to prevent attackers from easily obtaining the information needed to facilitate these phishing attacks. Keith's note: in other words they actually do not have any standards even though they claim to be following them. I hope someone sends in a FOIA on this)

5. Are members of the media and general public at legal risk if they post information that can be readily accessed from this database or post the way in which this database can still be accessed by the public?

NASA Answer: The public may certainly access information that NASA makes publicly available. While the main search page for the public directory was disabled, additional changes are planned that will address other ways of obtaining this information. The public can find information about contacting NASA at:

Earlier post

A top NASA official asked Boeing if it would protest a major contract it lost. Boeing then tried to profit from the inside information, Washington Post

"Boeing did not protest the award of the lunar lander contract -- which was awarded on April 30 to three bidders for a total of nearly $1 billion: a team led by Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin; the defense contractor Dynetics; and Elon Musk's SpaceX. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.) But it did something that NASA officials found just as alarming: After Loverro told Chilton that Boeing would not win the award, the company attempted to revise and resubmit its bid. That last-ditch effort to win one of the contracts was so unusual, given that the time for bids had passed, that members of the NASA committee considering the award feared it may amount to a violation of procurement regulations. They alerted the agency's inspector general, who in turn referred the matter to the Justice Department. The U.S. attorney's office in the District of Columbia has impaneled a grand jury and is investigating, officials said."

Keith's update: In this well-researched article we learn that former HEOMD AA Doug Loverro was concerned that Boeing would file a protest when it did not win and that the protest would slow down NASA's fast-paced effort to land humans on the Moon by 2024. So Loverro called to see if Boeing was going to protest a loss. In hindsight, not the best action to take - but he was not the selecting official so it did not affect the procurement. It is what Boeing did after that call that is highly problematic - possibly illegal - not what Loverro did.

Crew-1 Dragon Arrives At the International Space Station

"The SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience successfully docked to the International Space Station at 11:01 p.m. EST Monday, transporting NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi."

A new era for space travel? Space X makes history with first crewed mission (video), France24

Keith's note: I was on France 24 today for a 45 minute segment on the SpaceX Crew-1 mission and space commerce. If you go to 9:15 you will hear my neighbor's cat "Ruby" ask to be on TV. And she was. Welcome to PandemicTV.

Marcia Smith on U.S. space policy after the election, The Space Economy podcast

The U.S. election has left the public with many questions, including when or if President Trump will concede. The Democrats won the House of Representatives as expected, but lost seats. The fate of the Senate rests upon two run-off elections in Georgia scheduled for January 5th. Some members of House and Senate committee's on space lost their elections. So what does this mean for space policy and the space economy?

On this weeks episode of the Space Economy podcast my guest is Marcia Smith the founder of Space Policy Online.

NASA Watch On BBC For Crew-1

Keith's note: Here is the text of the comments - the number in front of each was the number of times it was voted up when this text was grabbed at 2:05 pm EDT on 13 November 2020 from "JSC Virtual Town Hall online" at!/dashboard (link may become inactive) Update: about 10-15 minutes after this was posted on NASAWatch JSC made the page's contents disappear .

"Please submit questions for the JSC Virtual Town Hall and vote for other questions that you would like to see answered. Top questions will be addressed by Mr. Geyer, Ms. Wyche, and Dr. Taddeo on Nov. 17th. Submissions will be accepted until 2 p.m. on Nov. 13th."

Social Q&A Ask Vote by clicking / tapping the arrow

268 Biden's NASA transition team has been announced and they have made several statements. They support moving the moon landing to 2028. How will this and their desire for NASA to primarily focus on Climate Change impact JSC?

160 What-a-Burger of Chick-fil-A?

148 Found it pretty shocking at last townhall that there was not yet any criteria for what would cause a move back to stage 3. This is incredibly important and was brought up in townhall questions before transition where you all agreed it would be important so what happened and why?

143 What is JSC doing to proactively prepare for a presidential transition?

142 Bridenstine recently warned of a gap between ISS retirement and future commercial space station to take over LEO operations. What is being done currently to ensure we don't have a long gap like we just experienced at the end of the Shuttle retirement.

Report of NASA's Top Management and Performance Challenges, OIG

"Challenge 1: Landing the First Woman and the Next Man on the Moon by 2024

Given the multiple challenges outlined above, we believe the Agency will be hard-pressed to land astronauts on the Moon by the end of 2024. At the very least, achieving any date close to this ambitious goal--and reaching Mars in the 2030s--will require strong, consistent, sustained leadership from the President, Congress, and NASA, as well as stable and timely funding. For its part, NASA must determine the true long-term costs of its human exploration programs, set realistic schedules, define system requirements and mission planning, form or firm up international partnerships, and leverage commercial space capabilities. Over the past decade, our oversight work has found NASA consistently struggling to address each of these significant issues and the Artemis mission's accelerated timetable will likely further exacerbate these challenges."

Keith's note: But wait - there's more:

"Challenge 2: Improving LEO moves here Management of Major Projects
Challenge 3: Sustaining a Human Presence in Low Earth Orbit
Challenge 4: Attracting and Retaining a Highly Skilled Workforce.
Challenge 5: Improving Oversight of Contracts, Grants, and Cooperative Agreements
Challenge 6: Managing and Mitigating Cybersecurity Risk
Challenge 7: Addressing Outdated Infrastructure and Facilities"

Report of NASA's Top Management and Performance Challenges, OIG

"Challenge 3: Sustaining a Human Presence in Low Earth Orbit

NASA's plan for the ISS, as detailed in the President's FY 2021 budget request, envisions new commercial facilities and platforms in low Earth orbit. This plan includes a request for $150 million for commercialization of low Earth orbit. The effectiveness of this plan while continuing to provide substantial funding to maintain and operate the ISS remains to be seen, particularly with regard to the feasibility of fostering increased commercial activity in low Earth orbit. It is clear that the ISS will require significant federal funding beyond 2025, given the current limited commercial market interest in assuming the Station's operational costs. To the point, an independent review conducted in 2017 concluded that the profitability of a commercial platform like the ISS in low Earth orbit is questionable and will be highly dependent upon generating sufficient revenue from commercial activities and keeping operation costs low."

Keith's note: Odds are that the new NASA Administrator will be dealing with this next Spring/Summer.

Top Trump appointee at USAID tells colleagues not to support Biden transition, Washington Post

"John Barsa, who holds the title of acting deputy administrator, told political appointees at USAID on Monday afternoon that the agency would not cooperate with the transition until Murphy does so. Barsa has told colleagues in other conversations that Biden has not won and emphasized the importance of not abetting the process, two people said."

Keith's note: According to Wikipedia "During the George W. Bush Administration, Barsa worked as a legislative affairs special assistant at NASA." and "Barsa became acting administrator [of USAID] on April 13, 2020, after the resignation of Mark Andrew Green. Under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998, he was required to step down after 210 days unless he was nominated for the position and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Instead, on November 6, 2020, Trump fired Deputy Administrator Bonnie Glick and named Barsa to her position in an acting capacity, effectively keeping him at the helm of the agency, even though the role was a demotion."

- Trump Fires Head Of U.S. Global Change Research Program, earlier post
- Former NASA Chief Of Staff Erik Noble Purges NOAA Chief Scientist, earlier post
- USGS Director (Former NASA Astronaut) James Reilly Retaliated Against Whistleblower (Update), earlier post

Senate Appropriations: Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies FY 2021

"National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) - $23.5 billion. The bill provides an increase of $866 million above the funding level for the previous year. It includes a funding increase of $689 million for human exploration activities related to returning U.S. Astronauts to the Moon. Funding levels for the Space Launch System, Orion, and associated ground systems remain unchanged from previous year levels, while funding for lunar landing systems is funded at $1 billion. Also provided is $120 million to restore funding for NASA's STEM education programs while also funding ongoing science missions, including the Roman telescope and PACE, and continuing critical aeronautics research."

Keith's note: NASA has been seeking $3 billion for Artemis systems including the Human Landing System to meet their current 2024 landing goal. Without this funding NASA has said that it would be rather difficult to accomplish this goal. The Senate has allotted more ($1 billion) that the House has ($628 million) but it still falls far short of what NASA says that it needs.

White House tells federal agencies to proceed with plans for Trump's February budget in latest sign of election defiance, Washington Post

"The White House budget proposal is typically issued in February, which would be at least two weeks after President Trump is scheduled to depart the White House. He lost the Nov. 3 election to former vice president Joe Biden, who is set to be sworn in on Jan. 20, though Trump has refused to accept the results. The decision to proceed with Trump's budget for the 2022 fiscal year has rankled and surprised several career staffers given Biden's victory, as well as the fact that the incoming Biden administration is expected to submit its budget plan to Congress early next year."

Biden NASA Transition Team

NASA's Management of the Gateway Program for Artemis Missions, NASA OIG

"NASA selected Maxar in May 2019 to provide the PPE under a fixed-price contract because the Agency anticipated few design and development changes. However, the contract value has increased by $78.5 million since the award, with more increases expected to accommodate additional evolving requirements and technical challenges. PPE has also experienced other contract management challenges, including the collapse of negotiations between Maxar and a subcontractor to provide its high-power electric propulsion system. ... In our judgment, NASA's acceleration of the acquisition for both the PPE and HALO before fully defining the Gateway's requirements added significant costs to the projects' development efforts and increases the risk of future schedule delays and additional cost increases."

Keith's note: You would think that after Joe Biden's win that hearings on Trump Administration appointees would be moot. I guess not. Senators could be off focusing on pandemic-related legislation that has stalled - you know, something far more pressing. Instead, they prefer to waste their time rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. This hearing for three Trump nominees includes former Trump Landing Party member Greg Autry who has been nominated to become NASA CFO is still going ahead today at 2:30 pm EST. You can watch the pointlessness here.

Mars Sample Return Update

NASA-ESA Mars Sample Return Independent Review Board Report

"Mars Sample Return (MSR) is a highly complex and ambitious program of national importance. As noted by the MSR Independent Review Board (IRB), it is one of the most technically difficult and operationally demanding robotic space missions ever undertaken. The MSR IRB's nonconsensus report highlights this complexity and importance in laying out their observations, findings, and recommendations. The IRB recommends that NASA proceed with this important program and their detailed recommendations will inform the decisions we make moving forward to maximize MSR's success."

Trump administration removes head of Federal climate program that oversees key reports, Washington Post

"[Michael Kuperberg's removal] seems quite consistent with decisions at NOAA and elsewhere," said Kathy Jacobs, director of the Center for Climate Adaptation Science and Solutions at the University of Arizona, who ran the third National Climate Assessment. "[It's] a last-minute attempt to remove people who may not be perceived as supporting the president's agenda." Kuperberg's removal comes in the wake of the hiring of two recent high-level political officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), David Legates and Ryan Maue, who are on the record challenging the seriousness of climate change. Staff at that top climate science agency have expressed concerns that those appointees could try to influence the next assessment as well, though neither has been tasked with a formal role in producing it so far."

- Former NASA Chief Of Staff Erik Noble Purges NOAA Chief Scientist, earlier post
- USGS Director (Former NASA Astronaut) James Reilly Retaliated Against Whistleblower (Update), earlier post

Keith's note: A lot of people want Jim Bridenstine to stay at NASA. There's even a petition online. It should be no surprise to people that I am a fan of Jim Bridenstine - starting with my posts prior to his nomination and confirmation. And I'd like to see him stay in the job. But as Jim notes in these quotes from Irene Klotz, it is preferable for an incoming Administration to have their agency heads and cabinet secretaries totally aligned politically with the Administration's policies.

Moreover, the Administration needs to know that they can count on their political appointees to work toward these goals. Not that Jim Bridenstine is incapable of doing so under a Biden Administration. Rather, he feels that they should have the best person they can find who they have the strongest confidence in. And before you cite Dan Goldin's ability to span 3 Administrations, let's just say: that was then - this is now. Let me add that space exploration is not done with Jim Bridenstine.

A little-known Trump appointee is in charge of handing transition resources to Biden -- and she isn't budging, Washington Post

"No agency head is going to get out in front of the president on transition issues right now," said one senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. The official predicted that agency heads will be told not to talk to the Biden team."

Keith's note: The following is based on what I have heard, and what I can surmise as being representative of what you can expect from the incoming Biden-Harris Administration. As for who the next NASA Adminstrator will be: pick a name. Your guess is as good as anyone else's.

One of the top priorities listed by the Biden-Harris Transition Team is Climate Change . While climate science/ Earth science is not explicitly mentioned, understanding how our planet's climate is changing is at the top of the list of science priorities for agencies such as NASA and NOAA. And the Biden folks like to use that word "science". How the Transition Team conducts itself will be guided by a Code of Ethical Conduct and Ethics Plan. We'll just have to wait and see if the Trump Administration allows a professional level of cooperation during the transition - or not. FWIW I do not sense that the Biden folks have any plans to blow anything up or make dramatic changes. So everyone reading this should chill out a bit. (See "Draft 2020 Democratic Party Platform Statement On Space")

We'll all get an idea as to how the transition is going to go tomorrow when the Biden Team names their COVID-19 task force. The obvious question be asked by the media is whether this august group of experts has - or will - even be allowed to talk to people at NIH, CDC, FDA, etc. so as to best understand the state of play for the pandemic and to line up their plan with what is or is not being done. Whether or not transition activities can proceed depends on whether the GSA says that they can. So far they are not giving the go ahead (as noted above). And the White House has not even admitted that the Biden-Harris team won the election. So ... if the Administration wants to allow roadblocks to prevent efforts to address the pandemic to proceed, trivial matters such as NASA are certainly not going to get any attention.

With regard to Transition Teams, every new Administration has their own way of doing things. Some are more organized than others. The Obama Transition Team was organized and had people in place on inauguration Day. Had Hillary Clinton won in 2016 they had a team with tickets to place them at National Airport on the day after election day and had planned to wrap up their activities by Thanksgiving 2016.

The Trump Transition Team was a mess. They had not expected to win so they stumbled around when they did. Eventually a bunch of people - many of them from the campaign - were part of a "landing Party" that parachuted into NASA. None of them had a plan. In short order they started to compete internally and stab each other in the back. Then, one after another, they were ejected from NASA. To his credit Robert Lightfoot held things together until Jim Bridenstine arrived.

Eventually the National Space Council was re-created along with the User's Advisory Group. Both entities were stacked with political members and pro forma agency and industry members - many of whom did zero work and provided no real value other than attending staged public events and rubber stamping decisions already made elsewhere. What was actually accomplished by the National Space Council (and there was a lot) was due almost exclusively to the determined and dedicated efforts of Scott Pace and his staff - with the full support of Vice President Pence.

As to what lies ahead - stay tuned. Whether or not there will continue to be a National Space Council is not clear. The National Space Council is enabled by law - but not required by law. Indeed, the nation functioned for decades without a National Space Council.

As for NASA's existing programs, the usual reflex with a new Administration is to set up a Blue Ribbon panel and study things for 8 months and kick the can down the road. Given that NASA is poised to embark on a lot of hardware it is likely that a more expedient review will be done. It is highly probable that there will be an enhanced focus on science at NASA - especially with regard to Earth science as it relates to expressed intentions by the Biden Team to deal with climate change. You may see some delayed or cancelled missions due to actions by the Trump Administration brought back to live - plus some new ones.

Nothing has yet appeared to suggest that the Biden Administration is hostile toward the Artemis Program to land humans on the Moon - or send humans to Mars. However, given delays with SLS and budgetary issues it is probable that the 2024 lunar landing date imposed by Vice President Pence will be pushed back a few years. One should expect that a hard look will be made as to whether the "program of record" for Artemis using SLS, Orion, Gateway etc. is the desired path or whether an alternate plan - perhaps one using much more in the way of commercial options, would work better.

As for Space Force, there will likely be a review of progress made thus far and an assessment made as to whether the rapidly expanding infrastructure of the Space Force enables or hinders the ability of the U.S. to coordinate its defense efforts in space. There is also the issue seen by many that Space Force seems to feel that it is competing with NASA to do things that NASA is supposed to do. This is not only beyond the scope of their charter, it is also duplicative and redundant.

As for NASA's biggest project, there are a lot of people who want to drive a stake through the heart of SLS. Well, NASA is about to fire its engines for the first time, so the thing is real. Get over it. Building more of them is vastly cheaper than the process of designing the rocket in the first place. To walk away from billions in sunk costs and more than a decade of development would certainly cause critics of NASA to wonder if the agency can or should do things like this ever again.

But more importantly, with the U.S. in the midst of a worsening pandemic and an associated economic downturn, you should assume that the Biden Administration is not going to be especially interested in putting more people out of work. As such you might see a compromise: perhaps a block buy of 5 or 6 SLS block 1 rockets (no EUS) to do space science missions or one-off heavy lift missions thus keeping the assembly lines open. Meanwhile NASA might pivot to more commercial options which will keep other production lines open while holding down costs. The upcoming SLS Green Run and SpaceX Starship tests will certainly have an impact on these considerations.

With regard to NASA's broader role as one agency among many within the Federal Government, you will no doubt see an impact of the new Administration's broader themes. With a teacher as First Lady it is highly likely that the Trump Administration's attempts to eliminate funding for education at NASA will be halted, reversed, and funding increased beyond prior levels. And sources report that Vice President-elect Harris is a total Star Trek fan.

With the implementation of the Biden Administration's theme of "Build Back Better" you will likely see all government agencies called upon to look for ways to deal with the pandemic, the economic downturn, infrastructural issues, and, to put it bluntly - the callous - sometimes hostile - indifference that the Trump Administration showed toward various sectors of our society.

In other words, NASA will likely be called upon to be more relevant to the nation than it has been in a long time. And when I say relevant, I do not mean what NASA thinks is relevant or what space fans think is relevant. Rather, it is what the 300 million or so people who pay for the party deem to be relevant. This may well be NASA's greatest challenge in the years ahead.

Kelly Wins, Gardner and Horn Lose, Space Policy Online

"A former NASA astronaut will join the ranks of the Senate in January, while two other notable space supporters, one in the Senate and one in the House, will be leaving according to election results called by the Associated Press (AP). Votes are still being counted, but two have already conceded."

Michael Mishchenko

Keith's 29 October note: Why does the NASA HQ STEM Engagement Office, NASA Wallops, and NASA Langley ignore this overtly space-themed activity that involves NASA employees - in Virginia? This 4-H activity is precisely the sort of new audience that NASA needs to be cultivating since they represent the "Artemis Generation" that NASA keeps talking about inspiring. I just asked Mike Kincaid, the AA at the STEM Engagement Office and HQ PAO NASA about this, FWIW.

Keith's 2 November Update: I never heard back from NASA HQ STEM Engagement Office or NASA PAO. A statewide space-related STEM activity is underway within driving distance of HQ. This activity utilizes NASA personnel and is aimed at the Artemis Generation. Yet NASA HQ and the NASA centers located in that state can't be bothered to make note of it.

Opinion: Joe Biden can unite our pale blue dot, Houston Chronicle, Op Ed by Astronaut Garrett Reisman

"As vice president, Biden followed the science. He made possible the funding that returned human space flight to the United States by partnering with private companies through NASA's commercial crew program. He saved thousands of jobs in Texas by extending the International Space Station program until 2024, and as president he will continue NASA funding for the space station beyond 2024. We need people in the White House who listen to our nation's scientists, engineers and technologists. Biden is not afraid to take on difficult challenges head-on while Trump's approach to complex problems is to pretend that they don't exist."

- Former NASA Administrator And Navy Secretary Sean O'Keefe Endorses Joe Biden, earlier post



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