Astronauts: January 2013 Archives

Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel Releases Annual Report

"This report is based on the panel's 2012 fact-finding and quarterly public meetings; center visits and meetings; direct observations of NASA operations and decision-making; discussions with NASA management, employees, and contractors; and the panel members' past experiences. The report highlights issues that could have an impact on safety."

2012 ASAP Report

"In FY13, we predict this planning-funding disconnect will again drive a change to acquisition strategy, schedule, and/or safety risk. The ASAP is concerned that some will champion an approach that is a current option contained in the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreement. There is risk this optional, orbital flight-test demonstration with a non-NASA crew could yield two standards of safety--one reflecting NASA requirements, and one with a higher risk set of commercial requirements. It also raises questions of who acts as certification authority and what differentiates public from private accountability. Separating the level of safety demanded in the system from the unique and hard-earned knowledge that NASA possesses introduces new risks and unique challenges to the normal precepts of public safety and mission responsibility. We are concerned that NASA's CCiCap 2014 "Option" prematurely signals tacit acceptance of this commercial requirements approach absent serious consideration by all the stakeholders on whether this higher level of risk is in fact in concert with national objectives."

Keith's note: It is exceptionally odd that the ASAP gets all hot and bothered about certifying American-produced commercial crew spacecraft when the ASAP all too willingly said it was OK to fly Americans on Russian Soyuz spacecraft - spacecraft which have never been given the same level of formal safety certification by NASA - i.e. the certification that the ASAP apparently wants for domestically produced commercial spacecraft. A number of years ago, at a time when Americans living on Mir were exposed to repeated accidents, I asked (then) NASA Deputy Administrator Fred Gregory in a public setting if Russian spacecraft meet or exceed NASA safety requirements. Gregry said "clearly they do not". This question and response was subsequently referenced in a congressional hearing.

It is also a bit odd that the ASAP was perfectly happy with NASA's plan to fly crews on Orion/Ares 1 flight after only one unmanned test. The same (apparently) goes for the current plan for Orion/SLS. The ASAP's credibility suffers when they pursue contradictory and inconsistent paths such as this.

No More NEEMO?

Florida university to take over operations of undersea lab Aquarius, Star News

"A lack of federal support and local funding has forced the University of North Carolina Wilmington to stop operations at Aquarius, the world's only permanent undersea laboratory - a loss that will take away a key component of the school's marine science program, a school official said. "Aquarius is unique. It's the only asset like this in the world," Aquarius director Tom Potts said of the facility in the Florida Keys. "UNCW does lose a little of what makes it unique by losing this program." But the program is not completely lost. It will soon be operated by Miami-based Florida International University."

Houston, We Have Another Problem: Study Shows that Space Travel is Harmful to the Brain

"The possibility that radiation exposure in space may give rise to health problems such as cancer has long been recognized. However, this study shows for the first time that exposure to radiation levels equivalent to a mission to Mars could produce cognitive problems and speed up changes in the brain that are associated with Alzheimer's disease."

Galactic Cosmic Radiation Leads to Cognitive Impairment and Increased AB Plaque Accumulation in a Mouse Model of Alzheimer's Disease, PLoS (original research paper)

Keith's note: I can't seem to find any mention of this NASA-funded research at Given the animal rights controversy that surrounded these experiments, and the results of this specific research project (with clear relevance to missions to asteroids, Mars, etc.), you'd think that NASA would want taxpayers, stakeholders, and the media, to know about these findings. Guess not.

NASA produces a regular listing of publications (NASA Spaceline Current Awareness) on the space life science research it funds. However, NASA is unable to find a way to publish it online. As a result no one really gets to see what the agency does - unless they visit SpaceRef, that is. We have a complete archive online stretching back to 1999.

Keith's update: This PLoS research paper made the rounds of various news outlets - all of them asking the question: Does space travel cause/aggravate Alzheimer's? Given than many of us have had our families directly affected by this disease, stories that mention it tend to get our attention. NASA's public response? Nothing. Yet, its not as if they are not concerned about radiation health (they funded this research after all). This was a perfect opportunity for the agency to show how its research not only serves space exploration needs but also has a relevance to issues facing the public.

By coincidence, this solicitation "Development of the Expandable Coil Concept" was issued today by NASA JSC and shows one way that this issue is being addressed in terms of spacecraft design. Yet another golden opportunity for NASA to link up its research and inform the public. Again, nothing but silence. If NASA does care enough to tell people what they are doing, then how can the agency expect people to care enough to be interested?

NASA JSC Solicitation: Development of the Expandable Coil Concept, NASA JSC

"NASA/JSC has a requirement to continue the study of active radiation shielding for crew protection, a key challenge with human exploration of space."

Radiation Protection and Architecture Utilizing High Temperature Superconducting Magnets, NASA



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This page is an archive of entries in the Astronauts category from January 2013.

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