November 2021 Archives

Russia threatens criminal charges against a NASA astronaut, Ars Technica

"The Russian state news service, TASS, escalated the issue in April when it published accusations that Auñón-Chancellor had "an acute psychological crisis" after suffering an instance of deep vein thrombosis in space and drilled the hole in an attempt to expedite her return to Earth. NASA pushed back against those claims at the time. Now, with the announcement that its investigation is complete, Russian officials have floated another conspiracy theory. In the RIA Novosti article, translated for Ars by Rob Mitchell, the publication cites reports that Auñón-Chancellor may have drilled the hole "due to stress after an unsuccessful romantic relationship with another crew member."

Keith's note: If he was a remotely credible leader Dmitry Rogozin would simply issue a statement saying that none of this nonsense is true. But he doesn't. фигня Dmitry.

Saga of Tiny Drill Hole in the ISS Continues as Russia Sends Investigation to Police, Gizmodo

"The notion that any astronaut - or cosmonaut - would deliberately drill holes in their spacecraft - especially one designed to take them back to Earth - for any reason - is ludicrous," Keith Cowing, a former NASA employee and editor of the site NASA Watch, explained in an email. "The only plausible explanation is that the damage happened on Earth before [the Soyuz MS-09] was even launched." To which he added: "Russia is clearly sensitive about the way its chronically underfunded space efforts are portrayed." Cowing described Nelson's denunciation of the Russian claims as "flat," and he criticized Rogozin for allowing "these conspiracy stories to fester in the Russian media" instead of putting them to a stop."

Keith's 30 November update: I will have an update for everyone at 11:00 am ET Wednesday morning.

Keith's 30 November update: I just got an email invitation to a post-National Space Council reception by the usual big aerospace suspects. "Following the National Space Council meeting on December 1, AIA, AIAA, CDSE, and CSF will be hosting a reception at the Willard Continental Hotel. Proof of vaccination will be required. This is a widely attended gathering." Funny how the White House and the NSpC can't bother to tell the media or the public when/where/what/why about the actual NSpC meeting. But the standard after-party planning thing still goes on - even as a new pandemic surge looms.

The event starts at 1:30 pm ET. There will be a live webcast at https://www.whitehouse.gov/live/. Apparently NASA is not going to show it since there is no mention on their TV schedule. Or maybe they will.

Keith's 29 November update: Looks like the National Space Council Meeting is being held at the United States Institute of Peace. But there is still no agenda, media advisory, links to webcasts etc. No mention is made at the Institute's website. Apparently NASA Senator Administrator Bill Nelson will be there. They picked a fancy backdrop - just like the sort of venue that the Trump folks liked to pick. Let's hope that there is actually some important content to match the photo ops at this impressive location.

The NSpC staff really need to pay a little more attention to the real world. Given the bad vibes that VP Harris has been getting about staff issues etc. - warranted or not - this whole space issue is going to rise or fall based on what media writes and how the public perceives what the VP's office does with the NSpC. They should have started on 5 Nov to circulate memes, links to relevant events, Biden Administration policy synergies etc. They should have posted an agenda in Federal Register with 5 place holder bullet points. Moreover, the NSpC needs to demonstrate that it is worth the time of people within and outside of the space bubble that space is worth thinking about during a relentless global pandemic and increasing civil strife. We'll see what they do. Or not do.

Keith's 25 November note: On 5 November 2021 Vice President Harris visited NASA GSFC. During that event it was announced that the first meeting of the National Space Council under the Biden-Harris Administration would be on 1 December 2021. No location or agenda was provided. In checking the Federal Register since then there seems to have been nothing posted by The Executive Office of the President or NASA regarding any event having to do with the National Space Council. Usually such advisory events are required to give at least 2 weeks prior public notice.

The NASA Office of International and Interagency Relations (OIIR) makes no mention and if you go to their helpful links page, after months of pointing this out, they still have no idea where the text is regarding the establishment/operations of the National Space Council. If you visit the National Space Council Users' Advisory Group (UAG) web page it is still in fossilized form dating back to the last time that the Trump Administration did anything. The UAG sought new member nominations several months ago but no one has said anything about when the new committee will be announced or when it will meet - if it will meet.

No mention is made at NASA.gov, on NASA TV's schedule here or here, nor has any press release or media advisory been issued. Given that the meeting is supposed to be happening in a few days it would seem that no one at the White House or NASA is especially interested in telling people that it is even happening or what (if anything) will be discussed. Is this any way to develop a space policy?

Space Team Biden Needs To Get The Space Council Thing Right The Very First Time, earlier post

"IMHO ... the National Space Council (NSpC) needs to make an attempt to put space - logically - into a larger societal context - and do so right out of the gate in the very first presentation on 1 December. This societal context needs to be one wherein we make big decisions - with big budgets - so as to do things (like space) - in a time of limited resources and societal upheaval. And it must be made crystal clear why we do these things in space i.e. to provide real, measurable value to actual people - not focus groups that PR firms create. The gee whiz, "exploration is in our DNA", "isn't space inspirational" thing works for a short time - but only on a subset of the populace. If the value of space, as put forth by this Administration, is not instantly obvious - and pre-briefed to cynical media/stake holders in advance - then the whole NSpC effort - and the Biden/Harris Administration's chances of doing something valuable in space - will evaporate before they even start. There are really no second chances to get things right in DC any more."

- After 9 Months Biden's Space Policy Is Totally TBD, earlier post
- Sleepwalking Through Space Policy At NASA Headquarters, earlier post
- No One Really Knows/Cares What The NASA Advisory Council Does, earlier post
- Joe Biden's NASA Needs A Wake Up Call, earlier post
- Chirag Parikh Selected As National Space Council Executive Secretary, earlier post
- National Space Council's Chirag Parikh Says The Right Things, earlier post
- Biden No Longer Gives All Those NASA Shout Outs, earlier post
- Join Space Team Biden: Apply For The National Space Council Users' Advisory Group, earlier post
- Actors Were Hired To Promote The Whole VP Space Thing, earlier post
- VP Harris Kicks Off World Space Week And NASA Ignores Her (Update), earlier post
- NASA History Office Loved Those Space Council Photo Ops, earlier post

NASA's Management of the International Space Station and Efforts to Commercialize Low Earth Orbit, NASA OIG

"... Under the Agency's current plans, both health risk mitigation and technology demonstrations will not be complete by 2030 - the expected retirement date of the ISS. Consequently, a substantial gap between the Station's retirement and the introduction of a new, commercial destination in low Earth orbit would force NASA to accept a higher level of health risk or delay start dates for long-duration, deep space human exploration missions."

"...Challenges of commercialization include limited market demand, inadequate funding, unreliable cost estimates, and still-evolving requirements. The risk of deep space human exploration missions will increase significantly if NASA is not able to conduct the required microgravity health research and technology demonstrations on a habitable space destination in low Earth orbit. Furthermore, without a destination the nascent low Earth orbit commercial space economy would likely collapse, causing cascading impacts to commercial space transportation capabilities, in-space manufacturing, and microgravity research."

Testing Confirms Webb Telescope on Track for Targeted Dec. 22 Launch, Arianespace

"Engineering teams have completed additional testing confirming NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is ready for flight, and launch preparations are resuming toward Webb's target launch date of Wednesday, Dec. 22, at 7:20 a.m. EST. Additional testing was conducted this week to ensure the observatory's health following an incident that occurred when the release of a clamp band caused a vibration throughout the observatory."

NASA Provides Update on Webb Telescope Launch

"The launch readiness date for the James Webb Space Telescope is moving to no earlier than Dec. 22 to allow for additional testing of the observatory, following a recent incident that occurred during Webb's launch preparations. The incident occurred during operations at the satellite preparation facility in Kourou, French Guiana, performed under Arianespace overall responsibility. Technicians were preparing to attach Webb to the launch vehicle adapter, which is used to integrate the observatory with the upper stage of the Ariane 5 rocket. A sudden, unplanned release of a clamp band - which secures Webb to the launch vehicle adapter - caused a vibration throughout the observatory." A NASA-led anomaly review board was immediately convened to investigate and instituted additional testing to determine with certainty the incident did not damage any components. NASA and its mission partners will provide an update when the testing is completed at the end of this week."


Alan Shepard's daughter Laura Shepard Churchley and GMA co-anchor Michael Strahan to fly on NS-19 alongside four customers, Blue Origin

"Blue Origin today announced the crew of its upcoming NS-19 flight on December 9 will include two honorary guests and four paying customers. Guests include Good Morning America co-anchor Michael Strahan and Laura Shepard Churchley, the eldest daughter of Alan Shepard, who was the first American to fly to space. The four customers include space industry executive and philanthropist Dylan Taylor, investor Evan Dick, Bess Ventures founder Lane Bess, and Cameron Bess. Lane and Cameron Bess will become the first parent-child pair to fly in space."

Journey to the Dream, Dylan Taylor, Voyager Space Holdings

"As I wrap up Part 1 of this blog series, "I want to announce a set of gifts that I would ask all other commercial astronauts to consider. I call it buy one, give one, a term I first heard coined by my friends Ami Dror and Navyn Salem. It is simple, donate to worthy causes here on Earth the equivalent of the ticket price for the spaceflight. Commercial Astronauts are predicted to spend several hundred million dollars in the next five years. The impact that cohort could have here on Earth if they all supported this initiative could be very substantial."

Keith's note: I just watched "The Hunt For Planet B", a documentary on the James Webb Space Telescope which aired on CNN. I must say that this is a splendid film. It managed to capture the scope and breadth of what JWST is going to do and the scientific and political complexities that have dogged its development. Most importantly, however, this fim is about the people who have labored to build this spacecraft and those who have developed the science that will now be turbocharged once it is in operation.

When you work on something that takes decades to develop and then has decades of operations ahead, you find your lifetime becoming inexorably intermeshed with the mission. Some of the people in this documentary are young and have their entire careers ahead of them. Imagine what they will learn. Others in this film, some of whom I have known for 30 years, provide the shoulders upon which this next generation will stand. Yet despite their age, they are all compelled - drawn - sometime in ways that are hard to voice - to this mission for a singular purpose - to peer back in time and to understand the origin of the universe and the distribution of life beyond our own planet.

The focus of this film was very much in the direction of the search for life. NASA calls its program Astrobiology - a synergistic mix of astronomers, biologists, geologists, and others who are all drawn together to try and understand the origin, evolution, and distribution of life in the universe. I was at the original organizing meetings in 1996-1998 where Astrobiology was laid out. Back then we had no proof that there any planets - anywhere - except in our own solar system. Now they are discovered almost daily. Planets are not a bug - but rather, a feature of the universe it would seem.

Webb is scheduled for launch on 18 December. The 7 minutes of terror we have all gotten used to for Mars landings will stretch out across nearly a month as Webb journeys to L2 and deploys itself. Hopefully it will. Just as Hubble has caused billions to pause at least once and look at an image of the universe around us, Webb will take that to the next level.

At a time when civil strife is on the rise, a global pandemic threatens billions, and budgets are tight, a multi-billion dollar effort like Webb needs to have some context provided. NASA has done an OK job thus far. Alas, NASA Public Affairs and, to some extent, the Science Mission Directorate, is sadly lacking when it comes to utilizing all possible avenues to provide this context.

This film was shot on multiple NASA locations, featured many NASA employees starting with the SMD AA, and had extensive interaction with NASA, Space Telescope Science Institute, AURA, and Northrop Grumman. CNN offered a free, global platform to distrubute this wonderful documentary. You would think that NASA would want to utilize this opportunity. You'd think that NASA would want to use its social media presence which reaches 50 million people on the @NASA Twitter account alone, and hundreds of millions around the world via its websites. You'd think that good PR like this would be a welcome addition to the story of how this amazing instrument came to be and what it can do. Guess again.

NASA has made no mention of this documentary on Twitter at @NASA, @NASAWebb, @NASAExoplanets or @NASAAstroBio. No mention was made at websites such as NASA.gov, Science.nasa.gov, exoplanets.nasa.gov/, nasa.gov/mission_pages/webb/, jwst.nasa.gov or astrobiology.nasa.gov.

I am utterly baffled as to why NASA PAO, NASA SMD, and NASA's Astrobiology Program constantly ignore things like this. They went out of their way to make NASA employees available. They were certainly aware that it was going to air. Yet when I ask NASA why they ignore it NASA ignores my questions. Yet NASA PAO doesn't pass up on a chance to do product placement for the stuffed Snoopy doll that they are sending to the Moon. And of course, if something goes wrong with Webb NASA PAO will suddenly want all of the news media to run with whatever spin the agency tries to put on the situation. The only conclusion I can draw from this is that something inside NASA Public Affairs and Outreach offices is very broken - and that NASA does not really care that it is.

House passes infrastructure bill with $1,115 Billion For NASA, Space Policy Online

"The House finally passed the second bill to address President Biden's infrastructure agenda. This "human infrastructure" bill has $1.115 billion for NASA, far less than what NASA Administrator Bill Nelson once hoped for, but would be a significant boost for the agency on top of its regular appropriations nonetheless. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration."

Bill Nelson Says He's Discovered A New Pile Of Money For NASA, earlier post

"Nelson decided that the way for NASA to get out of the fiscal mess it is in is to do a Hail Mary pass and dive into the new TBD Jobs Bill that the Administration is formulating and grab some dollars. He said "You can put $5.4 Billion into the jobs bill for the HLS that would be at the end of the day producing jobs. Another $200 million could go into that bill for spacesuits." He went on to say "We can also put $585 million on nuclear thermal propulsion."

Nelson then turned to another pot of forthcoming money - the multi-trillion dollar Infrastructure bill and said "Part of the jobs bill is infrastructure - there's another $5.4 Billion. Look at NASA facilities in your state (congressman) - there is aging infrastructure." Do the math. All told, it looks like he wants to raid the cookie jar for something like $10 - 11 billion. One would assume that OMB is on board with this plan."

- NASA CFO Commentary On FY 2022 Budget Negotiations, earlier post
- Has Anyone Seen Bill Nelson's NASA Budget Windfall?, earlier post

Newly Released Court Documents Obliterate Blue Origin's Lawsuit Against NASA, Futurism

The US Court of Federal Claims has released a 47 page document detailing its decision to drop Blue Origin's legal challenge against NASA -- and it's a scathing rebuttal, full of damning details. In the documents, shared by New York Times space reporter Joey Roulette on Twitter today, the court expanded on its decision. "The Court finds that Blue Origin does not have standing because it did not have a substantial chance of award but for the alleged evaluation errors," it reads. The court also found that Blue Origin's proposal "was priced well above NASA's available funding and was itself noncompliant."

Keith's note: Finally, after a day of not answering media requests, kicking the can down the road, and playing favorites via phone chats with certain friendly news media before saying anything to everyone else, NASA PAO finally released a Russian ASAT statement around 6:00 pm ET. They did so hours after other government agencies made public statements. Sources report that NASA was constrained from responding earlier while the situation was analyzed by the State Department and DOD.

There is a much broader issue here. Why would Russia deliberately blow something up in space such that its space debris knowingly threatened its own citizens and hardware on the ISS? Has the Russian military gone rogue? Or is this saber rattling something that should be considered in the larger context of the Ukraine build up? Stay tuned.

- Russian direct-ascent anti-satellite missile test creates significant, long-lasting space debris, Space Command
- NASA Administrator Statement on Russian ASAT Test, NASA
- Russia Conducts Destructive Anti-Satellite Missile Test, State Department


NASA OIG: NASA's Management Of The Artemis Program

"With Artemis I mission elements now being integrated and tested at Kennedy Space Center, we estimate NASA will be ready to launch by summer 2022 rather than November 2021 as planned. Although Artemis II is scheduled to launch in late 2023, we project that it will be delayed until at least mid-2024 due to the mission's reuse of Orion components from Artemis I. While the Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) Division--which includes HLS, Gateway, and next-generation spacesuits--is working on an integrated master schedule (IMS) for Artemis III that incorporates Exploration Systems Development (ESD) Division programs--SLS, Orion, and Exploration Ground Systems--the draft version does not include information on programs critical to Artemis that are outside of AES and ESD. Given the time needed to develop and fully test the HLS and new spacesuits, we project NASA will exceed its current timetable for landing humans on the Moon in late 2024 by several years.

In addition, NASA lacks a comprehensive and accurate cost estimate that accounts for all Artemis program costs. For FYs 2021 through 2025, the Agency uses a rough estimate for the first three missions that excludes $25 billion for key activities related to planned missions beyond Artemis III. When aggregating all relevant costs across mission directorates, NASA is projected to spend $93 billion on the Artemis effort up to FY 2025., We also project the current production and operations cost of a single SLS/Orion system at $4.1 billion per launch for Artemis I through IV, although the Agency's ongoing initiatives aimed at increasing affordability seek to reduce that cost. Multiple factors contribute to the high cost of ESD programs, including the use of sole-source, cost-plus contracts; the inability to definitize key contract terms in a timely manner; and the fact that except for the Orion capsule, its subsystems, and the supporting launch facilities, all components are expendable and "single use" unlike emerging commercial space flight systems. Without capturing, accurately reporting, and reducing the cost of future SLS/Orion missions, the Agency will face significant challenges to sustaining its Artemis program in its current configuration."

Keith's note: "$4.1 billion/launch" - "Artemis III several years after late 2024". Money cannot solve this. This is going to come up at NSpC meeting on 1 December 2021 whether or not it is on the agenda - and if not mentioned in the meeting - then it certainly will be mentioned in the media. Now would be a good time for Space Team Biden to really consider how to "Build Back Better" and consider a pivot wherein you open up the entire Artemis architecture up to private sector solutions - and do so from a blank sheet of paper. These companies have all been thinking about how to do this for years. The standard reflex government action of setting up a "blue ribbon panel" to find out what went wrong will simply delay all of this and result in the same answer that we already have. If America wants to put Americans back on the Moon then someone needs to start to take this issue seriously. It will not solve itself.

Keith's note: I have been watching some back and forth on Twitter where journalists are questioning the value of space and biased space people are responding with talking points. IMHO ... the National Space Council (NSpC) needs to make an attempt to put space - logically - into a larger societal context - and do so right out of the gate in the very first presentation on 1 December. This societal context needs to be one wherein we make big decisions - with big budgets - so as to do things (like space) - in a time of limited resources and societal upheaval. And it must be made crystal clear why we do these things in space i.e. to provide real, measurable value to actual people - not focus groups that PR firms create.

The gee whiz, "exploration is in our DNA", "isn't space inspirational" thing works for a short time - but only on a subset of the populace. If the value of space, as put forth by this Administration, is not instantly obvious - and pre-briefed to cynical media/stake holders in advance - then the whole NSpC effort - and the Biden/Harris Administration's chances of doing something valuable in space - will evaporate before they even start. There are really no second chances to get things right in DC any more.

Glen De Vries

NASA CFO statement on FY22 budget negotiations

"Please see the attached fact sheet from OMB underscoring the importance of Congress reaching an agreement on FY 2022 appropriations, and avoiding the continuation of 2021 funding levels under a full-year continuing resolution (CR). Outlined are some of the consequences that a CR would have on NASA, including impacts on the Artemis program and climate change initiatives.

Below is a statement from NASA CFO Margaret Vo Schaus regarding an agreement on full-year 2022 appropriations:

NASA's priorities are ambitious: addressing the global climate crisis, landing the first woman and person of color on the Moon, exploring the farthest reaches of our universe, and advancing sustainable U.S. aviation - just to name a few. It's critical that Congress come to a bipartisan, bicameral agreement on FY22 funding. A full-year continuing resolution would impair NASA's ability to accomplish our goals, leaving the agency without the funding needed to achieve our important goals on behalf of the nation.

And a selection from the attached document:

Support the space program. The President's Budget and the House and Senate appropriations bills provide the funds needed to keep NASA's program of lunar exploration on track. Extending current funding levels would disrupt these plans, reduce NASA's ability to support competition in the human lander program and delay our astronauts' return to the Moon. A full-year CR would also leave NASA's science programs $630 million short of the funding they need to continue development of important missions to explore Mars and understand our home planet's changing climate. Finally, reductions to NASA's aeronautics research would impact plans to work with U.S. industry to develop quieter and more efficient aircraft."

Keith's note:Of course the FY 2022 budget that the Administration is seeking to maintain - with regard to NASA - makes no mention of those billions that Senator Administrator Bill Nelson said was going to be sitting in a bucket waiting for NASA to scoop up and spend.

- Has Anyone Seen Bill Nelson's NASA Budget Windfall?

- Bill Nelson Says He's Discovered A New Pile Of Money For NASA

"Nelson decided that the way for NASA to get out of the fiscal mess it is in is to do a Hail Mary pass and dive into the new TBD Jobs Bill that the Administration is formulating and grab some dollars. He said "You can put $5.4 Billion into the jobs bill for the HLS that would be at the end of the day producing jobs. Another $200 million could go into that bill for spacesuits." He went on to say "We can also put $585 million on nuclear thermal propulsion."

Nelson then turned to another pot of forthcoming money - the multi-trillion dollar Infrastructure bill and said "Part of the jobs bill is infrastructure - there's another $5.4 Billion. Look at NASA facilities in your state (congressman) - there is aging infrastructure." Do the math. All told, it looks like he wants to raid the cookie jar for something like $10 - 11 billion. One would assume that OMB is on board with this plan."

How Commercial Companies Are Advancing Space Exploration, Newsy

"He says, 'I want to die on Mars, just not on impact,'" editor for Spaceref.com Keith Cowing said. "I've known Elon forever, for like 20 years. I met him when he was actually a kid and I was a lot younger with less gray hair. So, for him to do this doesn't surprise me. He's always just been as awed by this stuff as anybody else, which I think is kind of important when you're trying to do audacious things."

Keith's note: There was a media briefing today. NASA Administrator Senator Bill Nelson gave an Artemis update and guess what: everything is delayed and it will cost billions more than it was going to cost yesterday. Surprise.

Mostly Nelson blamed lack of NASA progress on Artemis on unrealistic schedules set by the Trump Administration (2024 etc.); the Blue Origin lawsuits; Congressional issues; and of course COVID. And, for good measure he threw in a Chinese threat he has been creating out of thin air saying that China may be landing humans on the Moon sooner than expected - without a single reference to substantiate his claim.

At no point did Nelson or anyone else from NASA accept any blame for things being years late and billions over budget either by NASA or its contractors. Instead there was a lot of happy talk from people reading words that someone else wrote in a monotone, disinterested tone of voice - not exactly the best way to inspire confidence among NASA employees and all of those stakeholder types that they "get it" at NASA. Nelson did say "we have to do better" but he never really defined who "we" is - and no one speaking on behalf of NASA today ever mentioned anything that was "better".

The obvious solution is to distract people from the obvious and split HEOMD into two new directorates since that will make everyone more efficient and happier. Next, NASA will somehow consolidate all SLS activities into a new single contract that sounds a lot like United Space Alliance from the Shuttle era. And of course everything is delayed. Artemis I will be launched no earlier than February 2022. Artemis II - the crewed lunar fly around mission - is now no earlier than May 2024. And there will be no flags and footprints on the Moon with Artemis III until some time in 2025. Oh and Nelson says that NASA still needs an additional $5.7 billion over the next six years to meet the 2025 date. If that additional money is not found then 2025 becomes unlikely and we're talking about 2026 - or beyond.

NASA wants to cut the cost of flying SLS to 50% of what it is now. So, you ask, how NASA is going to lower the SLS cost to 50% of whatever it is now - if we do not know what it costs - now? Pam Melroy was asked what the current cost is. She avoided answering that but said that NASA wanted to get the SLS per flight cost down to a $1 - $1.5 billion. If you apply a little logic that means that a SLS flight cost somewhere around $2 to $3 billion - but of course that is according to NASA's math using funny money.

Even if that SLS cost reduction aspirational goal is met, everything else associated with Artemis will still cost more. Because it always costs more. The new projected cost baseline for SLS/Orion - computed from from FY 2012 to the first crewed flight - will be dialed up from $6.7 billion to $9.3 billion. That is up by almost $2.6 billion from the earlier baseline. And then Nelson said that Congress wants a competition for human landers for the 10 or so landings in the notional Artemis storyline. And that is going to cost a lot of money too. Of course the promised windfall that Nelson thought he had discovered in the whole Infrastructure cookie jar never materialized for Artemis.

When asked about other ways to do this Jim Free, the new AA for the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate (ESDMD), said that using a direct landing by Starship would not work since the crew has to be launched on a SLS/Orion. OK. So launch the Artemis III crew on a Falcon-9/Dragon - and save some money while you are at it. Nelson added that there is "only one rocket that can do this - SLS/Orion". But he added that if anyone happened to know about another rocket to please give him a call.

Speaking of other rockets - the SpaceX Starship test flight will likely happen before SLS ever flies and it will be testing a precursor of the Artemis III human lander. But NASA wants you to keep your eyes on SLS - not on that shiny new Starship thing. That said Nelson and his 9th floor posse will be going down to SpaceX in Texas to see the other rocket as soon as they can i.e. next year. Why hurry?

As for the whole Artemis program itself Nelson says that it is being done so that we can learn how to live on Mars and that he expects NASA to send crews there by the end of the 2030s. Charlie Bolden used to say that we'd do this by the early- to mid-2023s. At the rate NASA is dragging its feet it will be the late 2040s/early 2050s.

Just sayin'.

P.S. If you thought today's Artemis news was fun just wait until tomorrow when the NASA IG office releases a report on NASA SLS.

Keith's note: It has been 24 hours and NASA has made no mention of this report. This new Decadal Survey covers the astronomy and astrophysics things that NASA will spend billions on over the coming decades. You'd think that this forward-looking, optimistic appraisal of the field would be something that NASA PAO and SMD would embrace. Yet NASA.gov, @NASA and SMD and PAO seem to be content to simply ignore it. NASA gets handed great news and it squanders the chance to make the support for its research more widely known and appreciated. Go figure.

New Report Charts Path for Next Decade of Astronomy and Astrophysics; Recommends Future Ground and Space Telescopes, Scientific Priorities, Investment

"A new decadal survey from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine identifies scientific priorities, opportunities, and funding recommendations for the next 10 years of astronomy and astrophysics. The report presents a visionary plan for the field to pursue discovery and exploration of habitable planets, enhance understanding of the dynamic and changing universe, and study what drives the formation of galaxies. It recommends an ambitious program of investments to strengthen the profession, change how large strategic space missions are developed and matured, and achieve broad scientific capabilities."

- Pathways to Discovery in Astronomy and Astrophysics for the 2020s, NAS Decadal Report
- Chairs Johnson, Beyer, and Stevens Statement on Release of Decadal Survey on Astronomy and Astrophysics 2020, House Science Committee
- Next Generation Very Large Array Strongly Endorsed by Decadal Survey, NRAO
- American Astronomical Society Supports Astro2020 Decadal Survey, AAS
- NOIRLab Response to Astro2020 Decadal Survey, NOIRLab

Keith's note: On Friday 5 November Vice President Harris will visit NASA GSFC to talk about climate change and protecting vulnerable communities. VP Harris will be joined by Bill Nelson and representatives from USGS and NOAA. After her tour at 4:45 to 5:00 pm ET she will deliver remarks which will be live streamed at http://whitehouse.gov/live. VP Harris will also announce that the first National Space Council meeting will be held on 1 December. She will also present the first imagery received from Landsat 9.

Vice President Harris to Visit NASA Goddard Today, Deliver Live Remarks

Remarks by Science Advisor to the President and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Dr. Eric Lander to The World Academy of Sciences, OSTP

"The United States can and must do more ourselves. We're proud to directly support local scientific researchers: from physician-scientists in Ghana studying if a certain gene increases risk of preeclampsia in mothers-to-be, to tropical forest ecologists in Colombia working to institute science-based forest management policies after devastating wildfires. And those are just two of hundreds of examples, across more than 50 countries in South America, sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia. The United States is blessed with unique financial and scientific resources. We must make sure that these programs endure, expand, and receive more funding. And we must continue to welcome and exchange global scientific talent, with renewed commitment. Our shared scientific values are crucial to maximizing the benefit of science for humanity. These values will guide the United States' science, technology, and innovation policies in the years ahead. I am so grateful for the work of the World Academy of Sciences and look forward working together in the coming years. Thank you very much."

Keith's note: This is a nice speech and says many things I totally agree with. Alas, at NASA, other than a very small handful of people at NASA HQ, I do not think that anyone in NASA management actually cares - or is even aware that this is subtle - yet clear guidance (soft power projection) from President Biden's top science guy, You see, NASA has been conditioned to not pay attention to what the White House wants NASA to do. The only time NASA really pays quality attention to the White House is when something really bad happens to NASA. Meanwhile, as I have ranted about for years, NASA has an immense, potent, global soft power capacity- one that no one at NASA remotely understands.

NASA Statement on Artemis Lunar Lander Court Decision

"NASA was notified Thursday that the U.S. Court of Federal Claims denied Blue Origin's bid protest, upholding NASA's selection of SpaceX to develop and demonstrate a modern human lunar lander. NASA will resume work with SpaceX under the Option A contract as soon as possible."

Keith's note: In case you have not noticed, Joe Biden has stopped talking about Moon rocks and Mars Helicopters or NASA. But he does allude to "winning the space race" on occasion (whatever that means half a century later). Alas, the vice president's office was incapable of finding actual human children with an interest in space here in the DC metro area so her staff hired a bunch of child actors from around the country to pretend to be interested and flew them to a set for a show-and-tell thing.

There is a National Space Council which the VP's office decided to keep - but it needed a make over first to get rid of the Pence/Trump vibes. Although its membership is mostly set by charter we have heard nothing about that or when it will meet. After the first deadline for the Space Council's Users Advisory Group (UAG) membership solicitation came and went (low response rate apparently) they extended it another month. The new date was 29 October so, given the glacial pace that space policy moves these days, it will be next year before we find out who is on the UAG. And of course we'll need to see when it meets and whether it will be yet another space policy Potemkin village with no real responsibilities. And when it comes to OSTP and NSC there's nothing but crickets there.

As for what NASA is doing policy wise, well, the NASA Office of International and Interagency Relations (OIIR) the folks who run that show still cannot figure out where the website links are for some crucial space policy documents - including the enabling charter for the National Space Council and the documents that codify international participation in the ISS program. If you go to the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) home page you can see a nice picture of the NAC - as it appeared exactly two years ago. Except Mike Gold and Jim Morhard have left NASA and Senator Bill Nelson is now Senator Administrator Bill Nelson. If you go to this page (last updated 31 August 2021) for the membership you'll see 12 people. Some faces are the same. Some are not. NASA has not announced any change in membership of the NAC. Nor has it announced a meeting date.

The last time that the NASA Advisory Committee had a public meeting was 31 October - 1 November 2019 - two years ago - one year before the 2020 election. Yes, the pandemic upset things but NASA now has a thousand webinars, telecons, etc, every single day. NASA and its external communities have the whole telework thing down - just like the rest of us.

Some of the NAC committees still manage to meet but there is only so much they can do if there is no NAC to report back to. But since NASA has one singular thing to worry about (after the Webb launch that is) i.e. launching SLS with an totally TBD budget, small matters such as having a functional agencywide advisory Council seem to have fallen by the wayside.

So, to sumarize, the White House effort to coordinate space policy matters is still a work in progress; The National Space Council exists only in Powerpoint; NASA cannot figure out how to get NAC members or have NAC meetings; the agency's own website has no idea where some basic information on space policy stuff resides, and no one quite knows if the whole Moon thing is going to happen as NASA says it will and if so when, how many moon landers it must build, and how much the whole party will cost.

Got that?

- Sleepwalking Through Space Policy At NASA Headquarters, earlier post
- No One Really Knows/Cares What The NASA Advisory Council Does, earlier post
- Joe Biden's NASA Needs A Wake Up Call, earlier post
- Chirag Parikh Selected As National Space Council Executive Secretary, earlier post
- Biden No Longer Gives All Those NASA Outs, earlier post
- Join Space Team Biden: Apply For The National Space Council Users' Advisory Group, earlier post
- Actors Were Hired To Promote The Whole VP Space Thing, earlier post
- VP Harris Kicks Off World Space Week And NASA Ignores Her (Update), earlier post
- NASA History Office Loved Those Space Council Photo Ops, earlier post

Organic molecules revealed in Mars's Bagnold Dunes by Curiosity's derivatization experiment, Nature Astronomy

" .. No amino-acid derivatives were detected. However, chemically derivatized benzoic acid and ammonia were detected. Mass spectra matching derivatized phosphoric acid and phenol were present, as were several nitrogen-bearing molecules and as yet unidentified high-molecular-weight compounds. ... This derivatization experiment on Mars has expanded the inventory of molecules present in Martian samples and demonstrated a powerful tool to further enable the search for polar organic molecules of biotic or prebiotic relevance."

Organic Molecules Found On Mars For The First Time, Inverse

"The molecules released from the cup were then trapped and analyzed, revealing organic molecules on Mars that no space agency had previously detected."

Keith's note: No mention is made of this anywhere at NASA - not NASA HQ, JPL, GSFC, or NASA's Astrobiology Program. Why send these billion dollar missions to search for evidence of past life on Mars if you are not going to report things like this, NASA?

New Roles, Combined Offices for NASA Administrator Leadership Team

"NASA Administrator Bill Nelson is announcing new leadership roles, as well as the merging of two offices into the Office of Technology, Policy, and Strategy (OTPS), in support of Biden-Harris Administration priorities and the focus on space strategy.

- Dr. Bhavya Lal will serve as the associate administrator for OTPS
- Melanie Saunders will serve as the agency's new chief resilience officer
- Casey Swails will serve as the deputy associate administrator for business operations
- Tom Cremins will serve as the associate administrator for space security interests
- Douglas Terrier, the agency's current chief technologist, will serve in a new position as the associate director for vision and strategy at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston. In the interim, Lal will serve as acting chief technologist."


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