Recently in Exploration Category

Review of "The Farthest: Voyager In Space" - Becoming Interstellar

"In 1977 the twin Voyager spacecraft left planet Earth bound for the outer reaches of our solar system - and beyond. What they discovered changed our way of thinking about how worlds are built and broadened our notions of where life might be found. The story of this audacious project is told in the captivating new documentary "The Farthest" which is airing on PBS this week. The film itself is weaved together rather artfully - not unlike the sounds and images that were placed on the now-famous "Golden Records" that each spacecraft carried. The story is narrated mostly by people who were there. Indeed its like listening to the crew of a ship of discovery recount the days of wonder that they experienced."

SpaceX informed NASA of slowdown in its commercial Mars program, SpaceflightNow

"Confirming rumors and suspicions that SpaceX is adjusting its plans to begin dispatching robotic landers to Mars, NASA officials said the commercial space company has informed the agency that it has put its Red Dragon program on the back burner. Under the terms of a Space Act Agreement between NASA and SpaceX, the government agreed to provide navigation and communications services for the Red Dragon mission, which originally aimed to deliver an unpiloted lander to Mars in 2018. SpaceX confirmed earlier this year the launch of the experimental lander on a Falcon Heavy rocket had slipped to 2020."

- SpaceX Will Go To Mars Starting in 2018, earlier post
- NASA's SpaceX Mars Mission Briefing That NASA Is Not Telling You About, earlier post

Review: "The Sky Below: A True Story of Summits, Space, and Speed" by Scott Parazynski with Susy Flory

"In 2009 I watched Scott and several hundred of people slog up Mt. Everest. Some made it to the summit. Some of them left base camp but never came back. And many turned back before the summit and then went home - never to return. I have always found the subset of climbers who came back without reaching the summit only to try again (and again) to be the most interesting of them all. Its one thing to try and succeed once. Its quite another to fail and then keep trying until you get it right (which is the whole point of life to begin with). That is what this book is really about."

In Quest to Reach Alpha Centauri, Breakthrough Starshot Launches World's Smallest Spacecraft

"Breakthrough Starshot, a multi-faceted program to develop and launch practical interstellar space missions, successfully flew its first spacecraft -- the smallest ever launched. On June 23, a number of prototype "Sprites" - the world's smallest fully functional space probes, built on a single circuit board -- achieved Low Earth Orbit, piggybacking on OHB System AG's 'Max Valier' and 'Venta' satellites. The 3.5-by-3.5 centimeter chips weigh just four grams but contain solar panels, computers, sensors, and radios. These vehicles are the next step of a revolution in spacecraft miniaturization that can contribute to the development of centimeter- and gram-scale "StarChips" envisioned by the Breakthrough Starshot project."

Larger view

NASA finally admits it doesn't have the funding to land humans on Mars, Ars Technica

"Now, finally, the agency appears to have bended toward reality. During a propulsion meeting of the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics on Wednesday, NASA's chief of human spaceflight acknowledged that the agency doesn't really have the funding it needs to reach Mars with the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft. These vehicles have cost too much to build, and too much to fly, and therefore NASA hasn't been able to begin designing vehicles to land on Mars or ascend from the surface. "I can't put a date on humans on Mars, and the reason really is the other piece is, at the budget levels we described, this roughly 2 percent increase, we don't have the surface systems available for Mars," said NASA's William H. Gerstenmaier, responding to a question about when NASA will send humans to the surface of Mars. "And that entry, descent and landing is a huge challenge for us for Mars."

Kicking The Can Down the Road to Mars, SpaceRef (earlier post)

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

Why No One Under 20 Has Experienced a Day Without NASA at Mars, NASA

"Without Mars Pathfinder, there could not have been Spirit and Opportunity, and without Spirit and Opportunity, there could not have been Curiosity," Pathfinder Project Scientist Matt Golombek of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, said of the subsequent generations of Mars rovers. JPL is now developing another Mars rover for launch in 2020."

Keith's note: Here we go again. NASA wants you to think that everything it does always works and that its path (thus far) on the whole #JourneyToMars thing was logical and paved only with success. As such, this happy piece neglects to mention a billion dollars worth of Mars missions; Mars Observer (blew up in 1993), Mars Climate Orbiter (crashed in 1999), and Mars Polar Lander (crashed in 1999).

Oddly, it is these three unmentioned intermediate missions that had a substantial impact upon the way NASA now explores Mars. This press release is supposed to be all about how one mission contributed to the next mission. Yet without these three mission failures NASA would arguably not have had the subsequent string of successes that it has had.

When Mars Observer was lost NASA went back to the drawing board to reboot its Mars exploration strategy. When MCO and MPL were lost within months of each other NASA did a larger policy reboot. To maximize success with the Mars Science Rover mission plan, two rovers were launched - most explicitly with the intent that if only one of them worked - and only for 90 days - both missions would have been seen as successful. Two landers based on MPL hardware benefited directly from understanding the problems on MPL. Looking back, as a result of these three failures, we now see a more careful and instrumented approach used in traveling to, entering orbit, and landing on - Mars. NASA learned its Mars exploration lessons well - the hard way.

But now NASA Public Affairs is trying to pull a fast one and rewrite the history books. In so doing they obscure the timeline wherein these lessons were learned. They also help to sow the seeds for future mistakes. The people listed as contacts and who wrote and reviewed this release at NASA HQ and JPL know better. Alas, they now have a new, younger generation who was not around when the hard lessons were learned (the other main point of this release) so why not just leave the bad bits out, eh?

Indeed, this selective memory PAO exhibits is akin to trying to describe the history of American human spaceflight while neglecting the tough lessons learned (and unlearned) from Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia. No one is well-served by an edited, sanitized version of NASA's long path outward into space.

Keith's update: NASA loves to use the phrase "Mars is hard" when it comes to missions to Mars - especially when the nail biting begins. How would NASA ever know that it is "hard" unless they experienced hardships along the way - you know, hardships such as mission failures? How are the younger people who are the intended audience for this release going to know about these hardships if NASA will not tell them that they happened along the way?

NASA closing out Asteroid Redirect Mission, Space News

"ARM called for sending a robotic spacecraft to a near Earth asteroid, where it would grab a boulder a few meters across from the asteroid's surface and return it to cislunar space. Astronauts flying on an Orion spacecraft would then visit the boulder, performing studies and collecting samples for return to Earth. The mission, though, struggled to win support since its introduction in 2013, particularly in Congress, where members were skeptical that the mission was on the critical path for NASA's long-term goal of sending humans to Mars in the 2030s. At recent hearings on NASA's 2018 budget request, members showed no interest in reversing plans in the proposal to cancel the mission."

Keith's note: On the heels of the ARM cancelation NASA has come up with a new large project - the mini-space station "Gateway" located near the Moon - under the same strange justification as ARM i.e. that it is necessary in order to send humans to Mars.

Collateral damage from cosmic rays increases cancer risks for Mars astronauts, University of Nevada Las Vegas

"Galactic cosmic ray exposure can devastate a cell's nucleus and cause mutations that can result in cancers," Cucinotta explained. "We learned the damaged cells send signals to the surrounding, unaffected cells and likely modify the tissues' microenvironments. Those signals seem to inspire the healthy cells to mutate, thereby causing additional tumors or cancers." Cucinotta said the findings show a tremendous need for additional studies focused on cosmic ray exposures to tissues that dominate human cancer risks, and that these should begin prior to long-term space missions outside the Earth's geomagnetic sphere."

Accepting More Personal Risk In Space Exploration, earlier post

"People who engage on expeditions to risky and dangerous places on Earth regulary waive certain safety and medical regulations in order to participate. I have done it more than once in the arctic and at Everest. You consider the risks, weigh the benefits, and then sign the forms. There are lifetime radiation exposure limits for astronauts that are supposed to be used to guide the selection of ISS crews. Now, these limits are apparently subject to selective waiver."

Trump wants NASA to send humans to Mars pronto -- by his second term 'at worst', Washington Post

"TRUMP: "Tell me: Mars, what do you see a timing for actually sending humans to Mars? Is there a schedule and when would you see that happening?"

WHITSON: "Well, I think as your bill directed, it'll be approximately in the 2030s. As I mentioned, we actually are building hardware to test the new heavy launch vehicle, and this vehicle will take us further than we've ever been away from this planet. "So, unfortunately space flight takes a lot of time and money so getting there will require some international cooperation to get the - it to be a planet-wide approach in order to make it successful just because it is a very expensive endeavor. But it is so worthwhile doing."

TRUMP: "Well, we want to try and do it during my first term or, at worst, during my second term, so we'll have to speed that up a little bit, okay?"

WHITSON: "We'll do our best."

Keith's note: The Humans to Mars Summit is underway this week in Washington DC. You can watch sessions live at The Twitter hashtag is #HumansToMars

Keith's note: Last night there was a panel at the Humans To Mars Summit about risk and exploration. The panel was moderated by Leonard David and consisted of NAI Director Penny Boston, former astronaut and SMD AA John Grunsfeld, former Google space lead Tiffany Montague, and NASA SMD's Rick Davis. At one point the 2004 Risk and Exploration Symposium that John and I put together back in 2004 was mentioned. The proceedings are online for free download here. I am currently writing two books - one on Astrobiology expeditions and the other as a follow-up to the 2004 Risk and Exploration Symposium (and another we did in 2007 at LSU).

For both of my books I have been amassing information on what risks people have taken (on expeditions in space and elsewhere) and how they have been called upon to take these risks. Specifically, I have been focusing on this question: "Would you be willing to deliberately risk your life to discover evidence of life on another world?". Along with that question I'm wondering "Will NASA astronauts bound for Mars be asked to sign waivers with regard to risk as part of overall risk evaluations and informed consent? Will they only be allowed to go if they specifically agree to accept these risks?".

At one point last night John said this:

Clearly this issue is part of the overall risk assessment that astronauts make albeit somewhat personalized and ad hoc. By coincidence John was in orbit in May 2009 taking care of Hubble while another astronaut, Scott Parazynski, did his own risk analysis as he summitted Mt. Everest. I was 2-3 linear miles away from Scott doing education and public outreach for his climb at base camp recovering from an illness that left me with some permanent damage. So ... I think about this topic a lot. As the notion of NASA sending humans to Mars starts to get serious, many more people will need to be thinking along these lines. Matt Damon got back OK in "The Martian". But that was a movie.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago when Peggy Whitson broke the U.S. space endurance record. People who engage on expeditions to risky and dangerous places on Earth regularly waive certain safety and medical regulations in order to participate. I have done it more than once in the arctic and at Everest. You consider the risks, weigh the benefits, and then sign the forms. There are lifetime radiation exposure limits for astronauts that are supposed to be used to guide the selection of ISS crews. Now, these limits are apparently subject to selective waiver. So are these "limits" now becoming "guidelines"? Are astronauts now doing something similar to what terrestrial explorers do in order to spend more time in space? What is the process whereby NASA makes this waiver decision? What are the implications for the whole #JourneyToMars thing?

Accepting even a small increase in risk be it from radiation, weightlessness, or surface hazards on Mars can have a significant impact on mission design i.e. cost and schedule. Right now cost and schedule are the biggest risk to going to Mars in the first place.


Passage To Mars

Review: Passage To Mars, SpaceRef

"Passage to Mars" is a documentary about a bunch of guys who try to drive across a large frozen stretch of the Northwest Passage. They attempt this feat (in part) as an analog for long distance traverses people will one day attempt on Mars. This film depicts important lessons that are often far more relevant for the actual human exploration of Mars than anything NASA itself is doing right now. This unprecedented adventure, planned to last a few weeks ended up becoming a three-year epic odyssey of hope, fear and survival. The goal of the expedition was to use a specially-outfitted Humvee named the "Okarian" across 2,000 miles of sea ice. Their ultimate goal: to drive to Haughton Crater on Devon Island - the location of a NASA-funded research base where scientists and engineers learn how to live on and explore Mars."

Keith's note: I was on a panel tonight with Penny Boston, Leonard David, and Pascal Lee at the Human to Mars Summit after a screening of the documentary "Passage to Mars" which features the exploits of the team responsible for the Haughton Mars Project on Devon Island. If you have not seen this film you can get it on iTunes and Amazon.

NASA: Lunar Surface Cargo Transportation Services Request for Information (RFI), NASA

"NASA has identified a variety of exploration, science, and technology demonstration objectives that could be addressed by sending instruments, experiments, or other payloads to the lunar surface. To address these objectives as cost-effectively as possible, NASA may procure payloads and related commercial payload delivery services to the Moon. Such delivery services need to be consistent with the National Space Transportation Policy (NSTP). The NSTP requires U.S. Government primary and secondary payloads to use U.S.-manufactured launch vehicles. "Hosted payloads" that meet the hosted payload definition within the National Space Transportation Policy can fly as part of a mission using a foreign launch vehicle. As a first step, NASA is interested in assessing the availability of payload transit and delivery services from Earth to the Lunar surface as early as Fiscal Year 2018 and through the next decade. This approach offers NASA the potential to simultaneously address critical strategic objectives related to exploration, science, and technology demonstration using commercially provided domestic space services and hardware."

NASA OIG: NASA's Management and Development of Spacesuits, NASA OIG

"NASA continues to manage an array of design and health risks associated with the EMUs used by ISS crew. In addition, only 11 of the 18 original EMU Primary Life Support System units - a backpack-like structure that performs a variety of functions required to keep an astronaut alive during a spacewalk - are still in use, raising concerns that the inventory may not be adequate to last through the planned retirement of the ISS."

"Despite spending nearly $200 million on NASA's next-generation spacesuit technologies, the Agency remains years away from having a flight-ready spacesuit capable of replacing the EMU or suitable for use on future exploration missions."

"After examining these spacesuit development efforts, we question NASA's decision to continue funding a contract associated with the Constellation Program after cancellation of that Program and a recommendation made by Johnson Space Center officials in 2011 to cancel the contract. Rather than terminate the contract, NASA paid the contractor $80.8 million between 2011 and 2016 for spacesuit technology development, despite parallel development activities being conducted within NASA's Advanced Exploration Systems Division."

Keith's note: People who engage on expeditions to risky and dangerous places on Earth regulary waive certain safety and medical regulations in order to participate. I have done it more than once in the arctic and at Everest. You consider the risks, weigh the benefits, and then sign the forms. There are lifetime radiation exposure limits for astronauts that are supposed to be used to guide the selection of ISS crews. Now, these limits are apparently subject to selective waiver. So are these "limits" now becoming "guidelines"? Are astronauts now doing something similar to what terrestrial explorers do in order to spend more time in space? What is the process whereby NASA makes this waiver decision? What are the implications for the whole #JourneyToMars thing?

Trump, with NASA, has a new rocket and spaceship. Where's he going to go?, Washington Post

"There are practical issues, too: Musk has a reputation for overpromising on timelines. SpaceX has never launched anyone into space. The Falcon Heavy has never flown. Moreover, NASA officials would be unlikely to embrace a SpaceX moon flyby unless it clearly fit into the agency's long-term plans for deep-space exploration. What does Elon want to do with this - is it just a one-off tourist flight?" said NASA's top official for human spaceflight, William Gerstenmaier, in an interview with The Washington Post. "I don't see it as advancing human presence in the solar system."

Keith's note: NASA has never launched SLS and has never put people into space in Orion. SpaceX has launched (and recovered) multiple Falcon 9 rockets (the components of a Falcon Heavy) and has sent multiple Dragon spacecraft to/from the ISS on those same Falcon 9 rockets. SpaceX may have delays but they always deliver what they promise. NASA doesn't have as good of a record in that regard. With regard to lower cost, reusable spacecraft flying around the Moon - without NASA funding - such as SpaceX is planning to - if Bill Gerstenmaier doesn't "see it as advancing human presence in the solar system" then he really should relinquish his position at NASA to someone who understands what is going on these days. Indeed, Gerstenmaier is going to have a very hard time fitting in with what the Trump folks want to do if he continues with the antiquated mindset he is so fond of promoting.

Trump's call for human space exploration is hugely wasteful and pointless, opinion (or something), LA Times

"Among the dangers of cavalier calls for publicly-funded human space exploration is that monumental Big Science programs like the space race tend to suck resources away from any science left on the outside looking in. A multitrillion-dollar program to put an American on Mars, endorsed by a president, will get first call on the federal budget, leaving programs aimed at disease cures, chemistry, and physics far behind."

Keith's note: Here we go again. "Today few can summon up the names of shuttle astronauts ..." Where's the poll where someone actually measured public knowledge on this and published the results? The author just proclaims this as it it were a commonly accepted fact. "Multi-trillion dollar"? (sigh) No one has ever published an actual cost estimate for anything NASA has done or might do that uses the word "trillion" - other than references that lazy journalists make to references that other lazy journalists make to references to other lazy journalists make etc.

It is quite obvious that the author spent absolutely no time whatsoever researching the facts behind the topic he has written about. He set out to write an anti-humans in space article and found tired old quotes that people have been dredging up for years and uses them out of context, and then adds in unsubstantiated alternative facts to make his point - or so he thought. I am surprised he did not mention Tang or Teflon as NASA spinoffs. If you are going to try and debunk the notion of humans in space don't just dial it in - do some actual research - and don't just repeat the tired old unsubstantiated rants that others have been writing for years.

I am, by no means, a paragon of any manner or form of virtue when it comes to online behavior, but ...

Full House Science Committee Hearing - NASA: Past, Present, and Future

Scheduled witnsses:
- [opening statement] Hon. Harrison Schmitt Apollo 17 Astronaut; Former United States Senator
- [opening statement] Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Stafford Gemini VI, Gemini IX, Apollo 10, Apollo-Soyuz Test Project Astronaut; Chairman, NASA International Space Station Advisory Committee
- [opening statement] Dr. Ellen Stofan Former Chief Scientist, NASA
- [opening statement] Mr. Tom Young Past Director, Goddard Spaceflight Center; Past President/COO, Martin Marietta; Past Chairman, SAIC
- [opening statement] Chairman Smith
- [opening statement] Chairman Babin
- [opening statement] Ranking Member Johnson
- [opening statement] Ranking Member Bera

Watch live

Keith's note: Consider the ages of the witnesses for this hearing: Jack Schmitt, 81; Tom Stafford, 86; Tom Young, 80; and Ellen Stofan, 55. That's three male octogenarian NASA employees who have been retired for decades and one female who actually still worked for NASA until a few weeks ago. I have the utmost respect for Schmitt, Stafford and Young and their legendary accomplishments. But why does this particular congressional committee constantly look back at what was done half a century ago and yet spend so little time listening to people who still work at NASA? And what about the generation that will actually accomplish the things that NASA will be doing in the decades ahead? Is no one interested in what they think?

This hearing is titled "NASA: Past, Present, and Future". Based on the witnesses it should have been titled "NASA: Past, Past, Past, and Present. No Future".

Scott Parazynski: Still on Cloud 10 on the summit of Mt. Everest, SpaceRef

"I tied off a pair of flags I'd made to honor astronauts and cosmonauts who had perished in the line of duty (Apollo 1, Challenger, Columbia, Soyuz 1 and Soyuz 11), as I could think of no finer place on Earth to hang them. In the coming days, weeks, months and years, like their Tibetan prayer flag counterparts, they will weather under the wind, sun and snow, and slowly lift back up into the heavens."

Arctic Memorials and Starship Yearnings, SpaceRef

"Given the sheer mass of the structure, and the slow manner with which things change here, this inukshuk may well be standing 500 years from now. That should be long enough. Maybe someone serving on a starship will think to visit it."

Ancient Memorials for Modern Space Explorers, SpaceRef

"A week prior to my departure I got a call from June Scobee Rodgers, the widow of Challenger's commander Dick Scobee. She was thrilled with what we were doing and asked if we'd like to place a few mementos in the inukshuk. She then described what she was sending. A day or so later a package arrived. As I opened it I told my wife, with a bit of a tear in my eye, "this is history". I had been sent one of the few items Dick Scobee had left in his briefcase when he took off for his last mission: a business card and a mission lapel pin. I am certain that his family has so little in the way of such items. As such I was really honored that the family had chosen this inukshuk we planned to build on Devon Island, as the place where such precious items would rest."

NASA OIG: Audit of the Mars 2020 Rover Project

"The largest risk to the Mars 2020 schedule is the Project's Sample and Caching Subsystem (Sampling System), which will collect core samples of Martian rocks and soil and place them on the planet's surface for retrieval by a future robotic or human mission. At Preliminary Design Review (PDR), three of the Sampling System's critical technologies were below technology readiness level (TRL) 6, meaning the prototype had not yet demonstrated the capability to perform all the functions required. Projects are evaluated during PDR to ensure they meet all system requirements with acceptable risk and within cost and schedule constraints. The immaturity of the critical technologies related to the Sampling System is concerning because, according to Mars 2020 Project managers, the Sampling System is the rover's most complex new development component with delays likely to eat into the Project's schedule reserve and, in the worst case scenario, could delay launch. As of December 2016, the Project was tracking the risk that the Sampling System may not be ready for integration and testing - the period when a spacecraft is built, undergoes final testing, and is prepared for launch - in May 2019, as planned."

NASA's Uncertain Direction

Make NASA Great Again: A Memo to the New Administration, Futurism

"So [George] Abbey thinks the architecture of NASA's future plans should be thoroughly examined and redrawn. It won't even require a budgetary increase - just a smarter allocation of the currently available funding. For instance, he suggests scrapping the SLS program altogether. There's too much redundancy in the heavy-lift rocket market - SpaceX is working on their Falcon Heavy, Blue Origin is busy developing the New Glenn booster, and United Launch Alliance is drawing up plans for a Vulcan rocket. He also thinks a simple scaling-up of Boeing's already-proven and successful X-37 would create a serviceable replacement for the decommissioned shuttle fleet - a spaceplane that could be fitted for crewed flights and that also has the ability to transport matériel into space for orbital, in situ assembly."

NASA under Trump is still waiting for marching (and launching) orders, Washington Post

"The Trump administration's "beachhead team" for NASA showed up Monday. So far, according to Lightfoot, everyone's just getting desks and phones and computers assigned. There has been no command from on high to change policies about communications - nor any attempt to take down the agency's extensive online discussions of human-influenced climate change or other scientific issues."

Funds for exploration of Moon, Mars should be raised abroad, Roscosmos

"To fund preparations for the exploration of the Moon and Mars an international cooperation campaign will have to be launched and private investors invited to participate to raise the money required, the chief of Russia's state-run corporation Roscosmos, Igor Komarov, has said. It emerged in the spring of 2016 that the Russian Rocket and Space Corporation Energiya and the US Boeing were developing a joint project of a lunar orbital station in two versions: either two small living modules or one big module. An SLS super-heavy carrier rocket being developed by NASA is expected to be used to deliver the station's elements and the crew to the Moon's orbit. In case of a multi-modular project, they are intended to be launched together with a US spacecraft Orion, which is also being developed by NASA."

Understanding NASA's Global Reach, SpaceRef

"A young boy in Chile wearing a NASA t-shirt explains a computer game to Pete Worden from Breakthrough Initiatives. How did he get that t-shirt? Why is he wearing it? Worden sent me this picture today. He is currently in Chile to announce that Breakthrough Initiatives has teamed with the European Southern Observatory to use the Very Large Telescope (VLT) to observe Alpha Centauri. Alpha Centauri is the destination of Breakthrough Starshot Initiative. Enhancements will be made to the VLT to allow it to detect small, potentially habitable planets in the Alpha Centauri system and possibly other star systems. So why is a boy wearing a NASA t-shirt in the Atacama region of Chile? Worden did not know. I have a theory."

Keith's note: A chaotic year ends another, possibly more chaotic year begins. Suspend reality for a moment and watch this video, then think of how to push through today's chaos toward that exciting future of exploration - one that is seemingly under constant delay - today.

NASA's next stop--Mars or the Moon? John Grunsfeld and Paul Spudis argue for and against Mars and the Moon, Ars Technica

"Both men agree on one point: with NASA's limited funds, even before possible cuts under a Trump administration, the space agency can't do both. Sending astronauts to the Moon and establishing a colony would push human exploration of Mars into the second half of this century. Alternatively, making a direct push toward Mars would preclude any meaningful human exploration of the Moon. A choice must be made. For the last six years, NASA has continued developing a deep space capsule, Orion, as well as begun construction on a large new rocket, the Space Launch System, as the foundation of an exploration program. NASA has promoted a "Journey to Mars," but in reality the space agency has taken no definitive steps to preclude either a Moon or Mars pathway. That decision will have to be made soon. Within the next four years or so, the space agency must start designing and building specific hardware, for landing and living on either the Moon or Mars."

NASA Future In-Space Operations: MOBIUS - Supersynchronous Earth Orbits for Lunar Missions

Now available is the November 16, 2016 NASA Future In-Space Operations (FISO) telecon material. The speaker was Madhu Thangavelu (USC) who presented "MOBIUS - Supersynchronous Earth Orbits for Lunar Missions."

Note: The audio file and presentation are online and available to download.

Keith's note: Explore Mars had a "leadership dinner" in Washington, DC tonight. This is a group photo (larger image) posted on Facebook. Here we go again. Another space group has a meeting. Guess who shows up: One female, nine males (mostly older white guys). This is not remotely representative of who will - should - explore Mars. The folks at Explore Mars mean well. But this event is representative of a much more pervasive issue in the space advocate community - lack of diversity. Until the usual suspects in the space advocate leadership clique get the message that they need to be far more representative of the taxpayers/citizenry who will pay for their party their impact will be minimal - at best. More choir practice in an echo chamber.

Keith's update: I am told by a participant in this event that this was a "[this was a] random group based on availability. [The] president of the organization is a woman and two of the Board of Advisers are women (and another one pending), none of whom were present." That said, the gender and age imbalance is still unrepresentative of the real world and will continue to be so - until the space crowd gets the message that they need to reflect the reality of the world around them - not the one they imagine inside their heads.

Russia is developing a mega-rocket that will transport supplies to build a base on the MOON, Deputy PM reveals, Daily Mail

"Russia is developing a mega-rocket that will transport supplies to build a base on the moon, the country's Deputy Prime Minister has revealed. President Vladimir Putin wants work to begin on the new 'super-heavy' rocket which will 'pave the way' for a lunar research station. It will enable the construction of a Russian base that will be both 'visitable and inhabitable', according to Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. ... In 2029, a new spacecraft named Federation will fly to the moon's orbit, he added. 'In the 2030s, we set the task of a manned flight to the moon and in 2031 we plan landing on the moon,' Mr Solntsev told TASS. Russia is inviting Esa and Nasa to jointly develop a module for landing on the moon, Mr Solntsev said."

After Scott Kelly's flight, NASA plans five more one-year missions, Ars Technica

"During a subcommittee meeting of NASA's Advisory Committee earlier this month, former space shuttle program manager Wayne Hale asked Paloski why the space agency wasn't considering missions longer than a year to truly reflect the time astronauts would have to spend away from Earth were they to go to Mars or other destinations beyond cislunar orbit. "It seems to me that you're not there yet in determining the health factors for a 30-month voyage," Hale said. In a follow-up interview, the Human Research Program's chief scientist, John Charles, explained to Ars that from a logistic and scientific standpoint, the one-year missions offered a reasonable compromise. The station probably has seven years left in its lifetime, and because of advanced planning requirements, there would be the capability to fly, at most, just a single two- or three-year mission during that time. Not only would this adversely affect crew rotations, there's also the question of statistical significance from just two data points. "Darn it, we biologists like to have statistical validity," Charles explained. "We have discussed it internally and really think we're going to be pushing our luck to get five more one-year missions during the station's lifetime, to get a statistically significant database."

Keith's note: I love it when NASA talks about science and statistics. Gee, no one at JSC complained when they flew one, single, elderly person (John Glenn) for "science" - once i.e. N=1 and they have not repeated that experiment in the following 20 years. Has anyone seen the data? As a former NASA space biologist who used to run peer reviews of this sort of research, I totally understand the need for larger research specimen numbers. But when you take all of the informed consent regulations and risk models that NASA uses into account, sending humans to Mars on a multi-year mission, without any actual experience flying humans in space for that long would be unethical - again, according to NASA's own established procedures.

But if NASA decided to look to other exploration modalities such as mountaineering and polar research - and officially accepted different ways of parsing - and then allowing crew members to personally accept medical risk in exchange for the chance to explore, maybe they could save themselves a lot of time and effort. NASA can't have it both ways. They ask for the money to build all of this incredibly capable stuff in space then they are afraid to use it for the very purposes that it was supposedly built. spent a month living at 17,600 feet at Everest Base Camp while my friend, astronaut Scott Parazynski (who was also John Glenn's orbital doctor) risked his life to reach the summit. He trained as much as he could but in the end he was going to do something he had not done before. In the end it was his choice. He signed waivers in order to do this. While I was much safer at Base Camp, I was still at heightened physical risk to due to my age and my prolonged presence at that altitude. But I signed waivers too. I watched two immense avalanches a few thousand feet from my tent. One of them killed a person whose tent was near mine. Years later an avalanche killed people in the precise location where Scott and I pitched our tents for a month.

You can prepare all you want for stuff like this but at some point you just have to sign off on the risk and go for it. NASA cannot seem to decide whether it truly wants to accept the risk inherent in the human exploration of other worlds - or just study it incessantly. Until it does we'll all be stuck with half-hearted, semi-relevant research on the ISS. And then the ISS will be gone.

Here's a book from an event John Grunsfeld and I put together back in 2004 on this topic for NASA: "Risk and Exploration". Its not as if people at NASA have not talked about risk. Rather its whether they really want to make the same tough choices that other explorers do.

Space Food Bars Will Keep Orion Weight Off and Crew Weight On, NASA

"To help reduce the amount of supplies Orion will carry for its crew, scientists are developing a variety of food bars that astronauts can eat for breakfast during their spaceflight missions. In the United States, it's common for people to substitute an energy bar or shake for breakfast, or to skip the meal all together. Food scientists determined that developing a single calorically dense breakfast substitution can help meet mass reduction requirements."

Keith's note: Why is NASA spending money on a big fancy kitchen to produce something that I can buy at REI? Why doesn't NASA do Space Act Agreements with companies to figure all of this out - at their own expense - and give them the ability to put their logos on the snack bars we send on the #JourneyToMars ?

Keith's note: according to this NASA article "There's no commercially-available bar right now that meets our needs, so we've had to go design something that will work for the crew, while trying to achieve a multi-year shelf-life," said Takiyah Sirmons, a food scientist with the Advanced Food Technology team at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston."

So I have asked NASA "Can you provide me with a copy of the specific NASA nutritional and storage requirements that you are using as the basis for developing the food bars mentioned in this article?"

Let's see if they release this information or try and keep it secret and force me to file a FOIA request.

NASA realizes SLS and Orion are too expensive, opens door to competitors, Ars Technica

"Specifically, the document requests responses about: "Competing exploration services in the mid-2020s timeframe and beyond if the market demonstrates such services are available, reliable, and consistent with NASA architectural needs." Ars understands this to mean that if private competitors such as SpaceX, Blue Origin, United Launch Alliance, or other companies produce less expensive rockets and spacecraft within the next five to seven years, NASA will consider using them in lieu of SLS and Orion."

NASA OIG Reiterates Issues With SLS/Orion

"... Program officials are working toward an optimistic internal launch date of August 2021 for EM-2 - 20 months earlier than the Agency's external commitment date of April 2023. While we understand the desire to meet a more aggressive schedule, this approach has led the Program to defer addressing some technical tasks to later in the development cycle, which in turn could negatively affect cost, schedule, and safety."

Keith's note: What is odd about this SLS RFI and the earlier one concerning Orion is the timing. NASA is releasing them at the very end of the Obama Administration - days after an election that will result in a certain amount of tumult - at a time when White House and NASA senior staff are either gone, leaving, or on travel so as to avoid being in their office. Usually NASA does document drops in this way in the hope that no one will notice. Add in the fact that the due date is just 2 days before Christmas and that responders will need to work over Thanksgiving Day weekend. Do you really think NASA is at all that serious about getting the best possible responses?

Is NASA trying to squeeze its contractors ahead of a new administration that may pivot more toward private sector solutions? Is NASA trying to curry favor with a new administration in the hope that they will get budgetary relief to fix their problems? Or is NASA just plain embarrassed that they have to admit the obvious? There seems to be a pattern emerging. Just the other day Greg Williams from NASA HQ told a NASA Advisory Council subcommittee that NASA did not know what it would actually cost to send humans to Mars because they had only worked out the costs up to a cis-lunar mission. Seven years and NASA does not know how much #JourneyToMars will actually cost? Really?

These RFIs could have easily been issued several years ago since they ask for commercial alternatives to SLS/Orion. Indeed, if anyone at NASA had bothered to read the Commercial Space Act of 1998, Title II - P.L. 105-303 (this is posted on - specifically Title II (a) - they'd see that they should have been seeking commercial alternatives all along: "Except as otherwise provided in this section, the Federal Government shall acquire space transportation services from United States commercial providers whenever such services are required in the course of its activities. To the maximum extent practicable, the Federal Government shall plan missions to accommodate the space transportation services capabilities of United States commercial providers."

Only now, after 7 years of delays, cost overruns, an inexplicably absent mission architecture, and false advertising via social media, does NASA admit that it may need to rethink how it is going to send humans to Mars. This has to be due to the fact that the whole plan (or lack thereof) is not going to work as "planned". Otherwise, why would NASA be asking for alternate ways of doing it?

- Re-Imagining SLS and Orion
- NASA Officially Admits It Has Not Figured Out #JourneyToMars Cost
- SLS Orion posts

With Trump, Gingrich and GOP calling the shots, NASA may go back to the moon, Washington Post

"Here's the key factoid: Because Congress preserved elements of Constellation, it could be revived under a new administration. NASA has the SLS and the Orion, and to get to the surface of the moon it would just need a lunar lander, maybe paid for, at least partially, by international partners. And NASA has already been talking about missions in orbit around the moon in the 2020s. The veterans who run human spaceflight at NASA put themselves in a good position to re-pivot to the moon if that became politically mandated."

Opinion: How Trump Should Restart U.S. Space Momentum, Scott Pace, Aviation Week

"And the Obama administration continued to push away partners, telling Europe to go to the Russians for its next robotic science mission. Plans for human missions to Martian orbit and a distant asteroid failed to find international partners. Mars in the 2030s is not a practical basis for managing a global space enterprise, and our partners are making separate plans. It is increasingly hard to hold the International Space Station partnership together when no one knows that is supposed to come next."

NASA Advisory Council Human Exploration and Operations Committee Meeting

"In accordance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act, Public Law 92-463, as amended, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announces a meeting of the Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Committee of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC). This Committee reports to the NAC. Monday, November 14, 2016, 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Local Time."

Keith's note: After 7 years of all the #JourneyToMars happy talk someone at NASA finally admits the obvious - and they do so with perfect timing: just when a lot of people who want to go back to the Moon instead are looking for reasons to change NASA's goals.

Why Mars? An Astronaut's Perspective, op ed, John Grunsfeld, Huffington Post

"Sending humans (and all that they will need to accompany them) to Mars will require substantial launch capabilities. This need for heavy launch capabilities goes back more than half a century, thus confirming concepts by Werner von Braun and others for Mars exploration. NASA is investing in the Space Launch System (SLS) to launch its large payloads for its expeditions to Mars. But there is more than one way to launch such heavy masses into space - and go to Mars. Indeed, SpaceX and Blue Origin are both investing in their own heavy lift rockets - and SpaceX plans to start sending its own missions to Mars starting in 2018. One way or another, we're going to Mars. ... "

"... NASA is also in the planning stages for a high-power solar electric robotic mission to an asteroid. While I am in favor of learning more about asteroids (as will be done with the recently launched asteroid sample return mission OSIRIS-Rex), the stated driver for the asteroid redirect mission is technology development for Mars exploration. Redirecting this mission to Mars would allow for significantly more Mars-relevant technology development."

Barack Obama: America will take the giant leap to Mars, Barack Obama

"This week, we'll convene some of America's leading scientists, engineers, innovators and students in Pittsburgh to dream up ways to build on our progress and find the next frontiers. Just five years ago, US companies were shut out of the global commercial launch market. Today, thanks to groundwork laid by the men and women of NASA, they own more than a third of it. More than 1,000 companies across nearly all 50 states are working on private space initiatives. We have set a clear goal vital to the next chapter of America's story in space: sending humans to Mars by the 2030s and returning them safely to Earth, with the ultimate ambition to one day remain there for an extended time. Getting to Mars will require continued cooperation between government and private innovators, and we're already well on our way. Within the next two years, private companies will for the first time send astronauts to the International Space Station."

Obama, Gov. Wolf to highlight Pittsburgh science and technology conference, Times Online

"President Barack Obama will be in Pittsburgh on Thursday for a daylong conference that will highlight scientific and technological advances locally and nationally. The Frontiers Conference will take place simultaneously at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. The conference will feature some of the biggest names in business, research and governmental agencies. ... The event is not open to the public but can live-streamed at".

Keith's note: Another meeting that neither regular citizens or news media can attend. The speakers have the benefit of getting to talk to each other while everyone else looks over their shoulders. More closed openness.

Accelerating Innovation with Leadership, Bill Gates

"One of the most indelible examples of a world leader unleashing innovation from both public and private sectors came in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy spoke to the U.S. Congress and challenged the country to put a man on the moon within the decade. That speech came at a time of cultural and political turmoil, when national and economic security dominated the headlines. President Kennedy believed looking to the skies would inspire the country to dream big and accomplish huge things. That speech didn't just launch humankind on a successful journey to the moon. It also inspired America to build a satellite network that changed the way we communicate across the globe and produced new forms of weather mapping which made farmers far more productive. In the face of fear, President Kennedy successfully summoned our country to harness American ingenuity and advance human progress. It's important to remember what made the moonshot the moonshot - that is, what transforms political rhetoric into game-changing breakthroughs. A moonshot challenge requires a clear, measurable objective that captures the imagination of the nation and fundamentally changes how we view what's possible. And it requires marshaling the resources and intellect of both the public and private sectors. When we do that, we chart a course for a future that is safer, healthier, and stronger."

Taking In The View From Wharton Ridge, SpaceRef

"Today I learned that a feature on the surface of Mars has been named after a friend of mine. This was not unexpected since I knew that his name was in the queue waiting for just the right feature to be discovered by the Opportunity rover. "Wharton Ridge" is named after Robert A. Wharton (Bob). Bob was born a few years before me in 1951 and died unexpectedly in 2012. I worked with Bob at the old Life Sciences Division at NASA Headquarters in the late 1980s."

Boeing says it will beat SpaceX to Mars, Business Insider

"Dennis Muilenburg, the CEO of Boeing (one of SpaceX's biggest competitors) casually loosed the remark during a session of The Atlantic's "What's Next?" conference. "I'm convinced that the first person to step foot on Mars will arrive there riding on a Boeing rocket," Muilenburg said during the recorded event."

Here's How Boeing Plans to Send Astronauts to Mars, Inverse

"Boeing doesn't offer a timeline for its missions. "Mars is at least 100 times further away than the moon," Duggan says. "The opportunity to travel from Earth to Mars comes around about every two years. The Earth has to be catching up with Mars in its orbit to give you that shortest distance, and that's the ideal launch window." That window, and the time it takes to develop the tech needed to send astronauts between the two planets, will determine when Boeing reaches the red planet."

Boeing Mars website

Keith's note: First Boeing says they don't have a timeline and then they say that a "Boeing rocket" will beat SpaceX Mars. And of course Boeing is not going to pay for any of this - that's NASA job.

Here's why a Clinton administration might pivot NASA back to the Moon, Ars Technica

"Obama killed Constellation after convening a committee in 2009 that was led by Norm Augustine, which reviewed Constellation and other options for US human spaceflight programs. One of that committee's members, former astronaut Leroy Chiao, said Monday night, "The Constellation program, frankly, had a lot of funding problems and some pretty serious technical problems. You know it probably was the right thing to do to cancel it. But it didn't mean we should not go to the Moon." Moreover, Chiao suggested the decision to remove the Moon as a possible destination was driven by politics, rather than what might be best for the US space enterprise. "Frankly, it came down to us on the committee to not talk too much about the Moon, because there was no way this administration was going to go there, because it was W's program," he said. "Ok, that's a pretty stupid reason not to go to the Moon. I'm hopeful with this election cycle that maybe the moon will be a possibility again."

Humans to Mars: a deeply disturbing idea, Linda Billings

"I have deep moral qualms about this idea, as it appeals to a small fraction of humankind and proposes what would inevitably be an elitist enterprise. Would it be ethical to enable people with enough money to buy a ticket to leave our troubled Earth behind? Would it be ethical for government(s) to subsidize such an enterprise? In Musk's disturbing "vision" - a nightmare in my mind - how many poverty-stricken Bangladeshis or Congolese, how many permanently displaced Syrian refugees, will come up with $200,000 - or $2,000, for that matter - to "start anew," as the colonization zealots say they want to do? I participated in a conference this past weekend about "social and conceptual issues in astrobiology." Among the questions we 30 attendees were asked to consider in our discussions were: "Should humans seek to exploit and/or colonize space? If so, how should this be done? Are there truly universal principals of biology, psychology, morality, etc. that would apply to extraterrestrial life?" My views on these questions are: No. We should not do it. No."

Keith's note: I have known Linda for 30 years and have a lot of respect for her work. But I thought this whole "but people are starving in [fill in the blank]" or "why spend money in space when we should spend it on Earth" mindset was a thing of the 1960 and 1970s. If you want to go after budgets to fix social inequalities then NASA is not the place to start - there is much more low hanging fruit elsewhere.

Decades of public opinion polls, popular media, and other cultural phenomena strongly point to a public viewpoint on space that is exactly opposite of what Linda claims. Moreover her viewpoint flies in the face of human history. People explore. Then they colonize. Then they move on to explore some more because that is what people do. In particular I am not certain why this tiny group of 30 space people (no doubt the usual suspects at meetings like this) meeting in their little echo chamber is in any way representative of what America's 300+ million - or the billions who live elsewhere think about exploring space.

Look at China and India - countries with vast, pressing social issues - issues that surely could use more money. Yet these countries are dedicating large resources toward exploring space - often times repeating what other countries did decades ago. What is it that they have discovered about exploring space that space people in America seem to have forgotten? Meanwhile, as NASA runs in circles with inadequate budgets driven by plans that they were never going to be capable of implementing, the private sector has amassed the resources to do things on their own in space - for their own reasons.

NASA has been 20 years away from sending humans to Mars for over 40 years. Clearly the NASA approach to sending humans on Mars no longer works. Its time for someone else to do it. If not Elon Musk then some other billionaire(s) will certainly step up to the plate. And if not the U.S. then other countries will.

Keith's personal note: I am eternally fond of Linda. We worked together at NASA Life Science Division in the 80s. She knows her Astrobiology. Much of NASA's Planetary Protection policies are the result of her hard work. That said, I do not agree with her opinions about humans on Mars. That said, she's still a true believer in the exploration of space.

Elon Musk's presentation charts (pdf)

Elon Musk has a lot to prove at today's Mars colonization announcement, The Verge

"This isn't a phone, or a new app, or new headphones - it's not a consumer product at all. Rockets are far too expensive; space colonies are more expensive still. If Musk doesn't announce financial backing, it means the presentation is meant to convince someone - probably NASA - to fund him. But this is an extraordinarily awkward time to try to win over money, since one of his rockets blew up earlier this month."

Get Ready, Elon Musk Is About to Outline His Plan to Colonize Mars, Popular Mechanics

"The new Mars shuttle and BFR are only design ideas that have been teased by SpaceX, so it remains to be seen whether a concrete plan to develop one or both of these new spaceflight systems - or something completely unknown to the public at this point - will be revealed during Musk's speech."

Elon Musk to discuss his vision for how he plans to colonize Mars, Washington Post

"Then in 2020, SpaceX would fly multiple Falcon Heavy rockets, he said in an interview with The Post earlier this year. The goal of those missions would be to perfect the difficult art of landing large objects on the Mars surface. If everything goes according to plan, SpaceX would launch a new, more powerful rocket in 2022, and then with crews in 2024."

Elon Musk's dream of going to Mars is SpaceX's biggest strength, and its biggest distraction, Quartz

"Scott Pace, a former NASA official, said that any company attempting to do as much as SpaceX needed to carefully assess whether it was pushing its workers too hard. "It would be ambitious for any company to do a schedule like that," Pace says. "When you look at changes in launch schedule that are increasing over historical norms, you should be worried whether or not schedule pressure is putting unacceptable strains on the workforce." SpaceX rejects out of hand the idea that it is pushing its workers too hard."

Between a rocket and a hard place: Elon Musk to give the speech of his life, Ars Technica

"It also seems likely that NASA won't offer substantial support, either. The space agency is building its own heavy lift rocket, the Space Launch System, and has its own #JourneyToMars. NASA's administrator, Charles Bolden, has wholeheartedly supported SpaceX and commercial space activities in low-Earth orbit, but has been far less effusive about private businesses venturing into deep space on their own. Earlier this month Bolden flatly stated he was not a "big fan" of private companies building heavy-lift rockets. With its Falcon Heavy and BFR, that is exactly what SpaceX is doing."

- Why SpaceX May Get Humans to Mars - First, earlier post
- Yet Another NASA Mars "Plan" Without A Plan - or a Budget, earlier post
- NASA's SpaceX Mars Mission Briefing That NASA Is Not Telling You About, earlier post
- Update on NASA's #JourneyToNowhere, earlier post
- NASA Is Still Kicking The Can Down The Road on the #JourneyToMars, earlier post

NASA iTech Fosters Technology Needed for Journey to Mars

"NASA is seeking innovative technology for the agency's future exploration missions in the solar system and beyond, including the Journey to Mars, from other U.S. government agencies, academia, the aerospace industry and the public through the new iTech initiative."

"NASA's iTech initiative is a yearlong effort to find innovative ideas through a call for white papers that address challenges that will fill gaps in five critical areas identified by NASA as having a potential impact on future exploration. The technology areas are: radiation protection; life support systems in space; astronaut crew health; in-space propulsion; and the ability to achieve very high-resolution measurements of key greenhouse gases."

NASA FISO Presentation: NASA Collaboration with SpaceX's Red Dragon Mission

"Now available is the September 21, 2016 NASA Future In-Space Operations (FISO) telecon material. The speakers was Philip McAlister (NASA HQ) who discussed "NASA Collaboration with SpaceX's Red Dragon Mission".

Note: The audio file and presentation are online and available to download.

NASA to have limited role in SpaceX's planned Mars campaign, Spaceflight Now

"Expertise, input and advice from seasoned NASA engineers will improve SpaceX's chances of nailing the first commercial landing on Mars as soon as late 2018, a senior space agency official said Wednesday, but Elon Musk's space transport company will likely seek more independence from U.S. government support on later expeditions to the red planet."

Programming note: SpaceRef will broadcast live Elon Musk's presentation, Making Humans a Multiplanetary Species, from the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara next week on Tuesday, September 27 at 2:30 pm ET.

Marc's note: We certainly live in a new age of exploration when a private space company is embarking on a mission that no government has yet to undertake.

That mission, to send an uncrewed technology demonstration human spacecraft mission to land on Mars has never been attempted. And make no mistake this is not the spacecraft that SpaceX would send to Mars with humans. It's a technology demonstration. The data collected by this mission will be invaluable to future manned missions to Mars and elsewhere.

NASA FISO Presentation: Low-Latency Teleoperations for the Evolvable Mars Campaign

"Now available is the September 7, 2016 NASA Future In-Space Operations (FISO) telecon material. The speakers were Mark Lupisella, Jack Bleacher and Michael Wright of NASA GSFC who discussed "Low-Latency Teleoperations for the Evolvable Mars Campaign".

Note: The audio file and presentation are online and available to download.

NASA FISO Presentation: Telerobotics from Mars Orbit - Lessons from Robotic Exploration for Human Missions to Mars

"Now available is the August 31, 2016 NASA Future In-Space Operations (FISO) telecon material. The speaker was Jim Bell (ASU) who discussed "Telerobotics from Mars Orbit - Lessons from Robotic Exploration for Human Missions to Mars".

Note: The audio file and presentation are online and available to download.

NASA FISO Telecon: NASA Collaboration with SpaceX's Red Dragon Mission

"The next Future In-Space Operations (FISO) colloquium will be Wednesday, September 21, when we will host Philip McAlister (NASA HQ), who will speak on "NASA Collaboration with SpaceX's Red Dragon Mission."

Keith's note: Elon Musk is getting ready for his big Mars colonization plan presentation at the IAC next week. The first step in this path to Mars is the Dragon mission that SpaceX is planning to send to Mars in 2018. You'd think that NASA would want people to know how it is involved in all of this. Indeed, NASA's Director of Commercial Spaceflight Development Phil McAlister is making a presentation at this week's NASA FISO telecon. Yet no mention is made of this presentation on NASA's calendar, Journey To Mars page, NASA's Commercial Space Transportation page, or anywhere else at

Why is NASA hiding this briefing? Is NASA afraid to be seen supporting a competing plan for the #JourneyToMars ?

Teasing Mars

Elon Musk scales up his ambitions, considering going "well beyond" Mars, Ars Technica

"Musk dropped a surprise on Twitter. The workhorse spacecraft that will carry approximately 100 tons of cargo or 100 people to the surface of Mars, which until now has been popularly known as the Mars Colonial Transporter, can't be called that, Musk said. "Turns out MCT can go well beyond Mars, so will need a new name..." he tweeted on Friday evening. By Saturday evening he had a new name dubbing the spacecraft the "Interplanetary Transport System," or ITS."

Mars and beyond: Elon Musk teases his plans for interplanetary travel, Wired

"So far, Musk has only teased details of planned missions to Mars: both manned and unmanned. The first unmanned probe from SpaceX will be sent to the planet "as soon as 2018," it was said in June. Musk added that probes would be launched by SpaceX every two years, before humans are landed on the planet in 2025."

Video: AIAA Space 2016 Opening Plenary Featuring Charles Bolden, Winston Beauchamp and Steve Jurvetson

"Today the annual AIAA Space 2016 conference began with an opening plenary that included presentations by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Winston A. Beauchamp, Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force for Space, and the Director, Principal DoD Space Advisor Staff, and Steve Jurvetson, Managing Director, DFJ. This was followed by a panel with the opening speakers.

The addition of Jurvetson, of the venture firm DFJ, added a nice mix to the conversation including reinforcing the fact that venture firms no longer ignore space companies as possible investment opportunities."

NASA FISO Presentation: NASA Space Portal - A Framework for Space Exploration and Development in the 21st Century?

"Now available is the August 17, 2016 NASA Future In-Space Operations (FISO) telecon material. The speaker was Dan Rasky (NASA ARC) who discussed "NASA Space Portal - A Framework for Space Exploration and Development in the 21st Century?"

Note: The audio file and presentation are available online and to download.

NASA FISO Presentation: The Deep Space Network - The Next 50 Years

"Dr. Leslie J. Deutsch is the Deputy Director of the Interplanetary Network Directorate at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. This Directorate provides information services to spacecraft exploring the solar system and beyond. The Directorate's facilities include NASA's Deep Space Network, the giant antennas used to communicate with these spacecraft."

Note: The audio file and presentation are available online and to download.

Mars On Earth

Full-Circle Vista from NASA Mars Rover Curiosity Shows 'Murray Buttes'

"Eroded mesas and buttes reminiscent of the U.S. Southwest shape part of the horizon in the latest 360-degree color panorama from NASA's Curiosity Mars rover."

Keith's note: This is why we call Devon Island "Mars On Earth". Top: Mars 2016 Bottom: me on Devon Island 2002. I have been to Devon Island 3 times - twice for a month. Without exception, a day did not go by when my eyes were telling me that I was on Mars every hour or so.

Notice of Centennial Challenges Space Robotics Challenge

"The following virtual challenge scenario serves as a backdrop for developing coding advancements that enable the autonomy of humanoid robotics: In the not too distant future, R5 as arrived on Mars along with supplies ahead of a human mission. Overnight a dust storm damaged the habitat and solar array, and caused the primary communication antenna to become misaligned. R5 must now repair an air leak in the habitat, deploy a new solar panel, and align the communication antenna. Teams will use software to control a simulated R5 in order to resolve the problems caused by the dust storm. ... The competition arena will contain a rover, solar panels, communication dish, and a habitat on a Martian plain. Each component will be within eyesight and walking distance of each other."

Keith's note: Gee, this sounds like a summary of "The Martian" including the notion that wind on Mars is powerful enough to mess with the main communication antenna.

"In 2035, NASA astronaut Mark Watney, a botanist and mechanical engineer, has been left stranded on Mars after the crew of the Ares III mission were forced to evacuate their landing site in Acidalia Planitia due to an intense dust storm with high winds. Watney was impaled by an antenna during the evacuation and believed dead. His injury proves relatively minor, but with no way to contact Earth, Watney must rely on his own resourcefulness to survive."

The Droid That NASA Should Be Sending To Mars, earlier post

"While NASA pours money into its goofy R5 robot that cannot walk unless it is on a hoist, controlled by a human, and is always broken, Boston Dynamics continues to make astonishing progress on autonomous robots."

It is a little odd that NASA is issuing a challenge that focuses on a functional (but simulated) R5 robot when NASA's R5 does not even work - and two college teams have been given contracts to fix what NASA can't fix. One would think that the R5 problems would be solved before people spent a lot of time using its current design to create simulations of how a real robot might work. Indeed, wouldn't it make more sense to use state of the art robots that already exist? You'd think that NASA would encourage people to work with robots that actually work. As currently designed R5 would be part of the problem on Mars - not the solution.

- Using a Last Place Robot for NASA's Robotics Challenge
- NASA JSC Has Developed A Girl Robot in Secret (Revised With NASA Responses), earlier post
- Is JSC's R5 Droid Worth Fixing?
- Never Ask NASA a Simple Question, earlier post
- NASA Awards Two Robots to University Groups for R&D Upgrades, earlier post

NASA Asteroid Redirect Mission Umbrella for Partnerships to be Released in September Seeking Hosted Payloads and Investigation Team, NASA

"The Asteroid Redirect Mission Umbrella for Partnerships(ARM-UP) Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) will solicit concept studies for basic and applied research and technology demonstrations, and mission investigations through partnerships with the ARM. The full BAA Solicitation, with two appendices, is expected to be issued in early September."

NASA's Asteroid Redirect Mission Completes Robotic Design Milestone, NASA

"Earlier this year, NASA updated the target launch date for the robotic mission to December 2021 in order to incorporate acquisition of the industry robotic spacecraft development into the project schedule. To reflect this new target date, the project's cost cap was increased at KDP-B from $1.25 billion to $1.4 billion. This figure does not include the launch vehicle or the post-launch operations phase. The crewed segment, targeted for launch in 2026, remains in an early mission concept phase, or pre-formulation."

NASA's Boulder Retrieval Mission, earlier post (2015)

"And NASA can't even admit that the $1.25 billion cost (without launcher) would balloon to $3 billion or so when it uses the two SLS flights it wants to use. And oh yes: the OSIRIS-REx mission will already do nearly all of the sciencey stuff ARM is doing (as an afterthought) - at a fraction of the cost of ARM."

- House Appropriators Seek To Defund Asteroid Mission - Push NASA To The Moon & Mars, earlier post
- ARM Defenders Forecast Nasty Things If It Is Cancelled, earlier post
- Asteroid Boulder Retrieval Mission Needs a Precursor Mission, earlier post

NASA FISO Presentation: Mars Science Enabled by the Mars Base Camp 2028 Proposed Architecture

"Dr. Steve Jolly is the Lockheed Martin Chief Engineer for the Civil Space line of business. He was the Chief Engineer and Principal Scientist for the GOES-R program and Chief Engineer and Deputy PM for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Steve Bailey has worked exclusively on human and robotic space exploration systems since 1983."

Note: The audio file and presentation are available online and to download.

Marc's note: The concept of a human pre-cursor mission to Phobos and Deimos is not new. I remember having lunch with Pascal Lee of the SETI Institute/Mars Institute along with Elon Musk in 2004 where Pascal pitched the Phobos mission. Elon wasn't interested. However not too long afterward Buzz Aldrin was. In fact, he called me while I was still working with the Mars Institute to discuss the idea and offer his support.

Advocates of a direct mission to Mars will vocally disagree and I can't blame them. After all, we've been discussing a human mission to Mars for as long as I can remember and we're still years from it becoming a reality. But, the idea of a pre-cursor mission is still worth discussion and consideration.

NASA Selects Six Companies to Develop Prototypes, Concepts for Deep Space Habitats

"NASA has selected six U.S. companies to help advance the Journey to Mars by developing ground prototypes and concepts for deep space habitats."

"The selected companies are:

- Bigelow Aerospace of Las Vegas
- Boeing of Pasadena, Texas
- Lockheed Martin of Denver
- Orbital ATK of Dulles, Virginia
- Sierra Nevada Corporation's Space Systems of Louisville, Colorado
- NanoRacks of Webster, Texas

Marc's note: It's interesting to note that in this follow-on contract from the 2015 NextSTEP selections, Sierra Nevada and NanoRacks are included. NanoRacks in particular is an intriguing participant as they attempt to expand their available products.

- NextSTEP Partners Develop Deep Space Habitat Ground Prototypes

NASA FISO Presentation: New Estimates of Space Radiation Risks are Favorable for Human Exploration of Mars

"Dr. Cucinotta developed the astronaut exposure data base of organ doses and cancer risk estimates for all human missions from Mercury to the International Space Station (ISS), and developed risk models for acute, cancer and circulatory disease."

Note: The audio file and presentation are available online and to download.

My Star Trek Episode at Everest, SpaceRef

"As we approach the 50th anniversary of Star Trek (and in anticipation of participating in this week's Star Trek-themed NASA Social), I thought I'd write about how many experiences in my life have intersected with- and have been affected by its legacy. In late April 2009 I found myself at Everest Base Camp for a month. I was living at 17,600 feet in Nepal 2 miles from China and 2 miles from the highest point on our planet. I was surrounded by the epic majesty of the Himalayas, a thousand people supporting several hundred Type A individuals with a shared intent to summit the mountain and stand in the jet stream. And all of this was enabled by the austere and noble Sherpa people. I was on a mission not unlike a space mission. My team mate was my long-time friend Scott Parazynski, an astronaut. I could just stop there and what is in these sentences would be cool enough. This had all the makings of a Star Trek episode - and I knew it."

NASA: On the Edge of Forever

"When Star Trek originally aired in 1966, NASA's space program was still in its infancy. But Star Trek allowed us to imagine what could be, if we dared to boldly go where no one had gone before."

Keith's note: NASA NEEMO 21 is underway at Aquarius Base. Check @NASA_NEMO and @ReefBase on Twitter for updates. On Wednesday NASA JSC microbiologists talked about sending new genome sequencing technology that is being deployed on ISS to NEEMO. Clearly NEEMO is part of NASA's overall #JourneyToMars thing. Yet for some strange reason NASA JSC PAO is not issuing anything about the current NASA NEEMO mission. No media advisories, NASA NEEMO website has not been updated since 2015, etc. If NASA does not take its own exploration activities seriously then why should anyone else?

China's Bizarre Stereotypes of the United States, Foreign Policy

"Carp consumption and Anne Hathaway are not topics one would expect to feature prominently in the world's most important bilateral relationship. Yet both are among the most common things that Chinese netizens ask about the United States, at least according to the autocomplete feature of Baidu, China's most popular search engine. ... "Why doesn't America go back to the moon?" This query leads to a few links rooting the decision in the United States' evolving national priorities following the end of the space race with the USSR. More common, though, it seems an excuse to indulge in speculation about the presence of alien artifacts on the lunar surface, something common in U.S. conspiracy theory circles as well."

- NASA Astronaut Andy Thomas is Still Bashing China On The Job, earlier post
- Earlier China posts

Obama's top scientist talks shrinking budgets, Donald Trump, and his biggest regret, Nature

"[John Holdren]: We knew when we came in that we had to rebalance NASA, and we had a committee chaired by Norm Augustine that looked at the space programme and declared that Constellation [NASA's human space-flight effort] was "unexecutable". And that report informed what we did to scale Constellation way back. We still have an Orion multi-purpose space capsule. We still have the Space Launch System, a heavy-lift rocket, under development. But we scaled them back to the point that there was enough money to revitalize Earth observation, to revitalize planetary science, to revitalize robotic exploration, to think about new missions."

Juno was a success- but there is precious little coming after it, Ars Technica

"There are some fairly big whoppers in there, so let's unpack the response. It is absolutely true that the president convened the Augustine panel, and in the wake of the panel's report, tried to scale Constellation back. However, when Congress objected, the Obama administration folded. In the last full year before Obama took office, fiscal year 2008, the agency spent $3.3 billion on exploration, which included Constellation. In fiscal year 2016, the agency will spend $4.0 billion on similar programs. It is not clear how a 21 percent budget increase can be considered scaling back NASA's human exploration program. Moreover, when Obama assumed office, Constellation's initial exploration aim was the Moon - an aim the Augustine report found to be "unsustainable." Now NASA's stated goal is to send humans to Mars- the so-called "Journey to Mars"- which is an order of magnitude more difficult both from an engineering and fiscal standpoint. In this sense, NASA's goals have become more unexecutable, not less."

- Preserving The Status Quo For The Journey To Nowhere, earlier post
- #JourneyToMars Via #ReturnToTheMoon, earlier post
- Previous exploration posts

Today is Asteroid Day

"Asteroid Day is a growing global movement, supported by international organizations, experts in planetary science, astronauts and citizens around the world to increase awareness, education and support of programs for greater detection, knowledge of the composition, mapping and deflection of dangerous asteroids. ASTEROID DAY is held each year on JUNE 30, the anniversary of the largest asteroid impact of Earth in recent history, 1908 Tunguska event in Siberia, which devastated 2000 square km/800 square miles in Siberia. ASTEROID DAY was co-founded in 2014 by Astrophysicist and QUEEN lead musician Dr. Brian May and Filmmaker Grig Richters, Apollo 9 Astronaut Rusty Schweickart and Silicon Valley operative Danica Remy."

More info:

Slooh: Celebrate World Asteroid Day with Live Show, Expert Guests

"On Thursday, June 30, at 4:00 pm PDT | 7:00 pm EDT | 23:00 UTC (International Times:, Slooh is celebrating World Asteroid Day with four hours of live programming and an amazing roster of guests."

Keith's note: I'll be appearing on SLOOH's Asteroid Day broadcast to talk about the NASA politics behing asteroid detection and collection missions - and how they do/do not relate to human missions to Mars.

Brexit From ESA?

Brexit Does Not Mean the UK Will Leave the European Space Agency, Right?, Inverse

"The resources and partnerships that UK-based companies rely on are now hanging in the balance as the vote moves forward. However, a UK exit from the EU should not affect the country's involvement with ESA. The ESA and EU are two separate entities with different goals and member states."

'Brexit' leaves lingering questions about involvement in European Space Agency, WRAL

"In a May CNN interview from the ISS, Peake commented on how leaving the EU might impact the UK: "The UK will still be part of the European Space Agency, that won't change at all. The European Space Agency is still part of this international partnership here with the International Space Station." Peake added "it really cuts through all barriers, its such a strong partnership."

RAS Statement on the Outcome of the EU Referendum in the UK, RAS

"UK and European science benefit from the free movement of people between countries, something that has allowed UK research to become world leading. Although for example membership of the European Space Agency and European Southern Observatory is not contingent on EU membership, these organizations depend on international recruitment made easier by straightforward migration between countries. We therefore urge the Government to ensure it remains straightforward for UK scientists to travel and work in EU countries, and for EU scientists to come to the UK."

Keith's note: While NASA pours money into its goofy R5 robot that cannot walk unless it is on a hoist, controlled by a human, and is always broken, Boston Dynamics continues to make astonishing progress on autonomous robots. Imagine if you had something like this on Mars as part of a sample return mission. It would allow access to places that rovers cannot go and has dexterity unmatched by anything NASA has built. Wouldn't it be cool if that first SpaceX Red Dragon opened up and one of these droids walked out?

Rescuers succeed in evacuating sick workers at the South Pole, Washington Post

"For the third time ever, rescue workers have successfully evacuated someone from the South Pole during the brutal Antarctic winter, the National Science Foundation said. A plane carrying two sick workers from the Amundsen-Scott research station arrived on the Antarctic Coast early Wednesday afternoon, following a harrowing 10-hour flight across the continent. Both workers require medical attention not available at the station, prompting the rare rescue effort. ... Typically, none of the 50 or so people who overwinter at Amundsen-Scott can leave between February and October. One former worker described the South Pole as more inaccessible than the International Space Station."

Ailing Antarctic personnel transported to safety, nsf

"NSF determined that an evacuation was warranted and called on Calgary-based Kenn Borek Air Ltd., which has a U.S. government contract to fly in support of U.S. Antarctic Program science, to conduct this mission."

Keith's note: I have flown in Kenn Borek Twin Otter planes multiple times in the arctic. More than once my pilot was an antarctic veteran - in once case, a mid-winter medical rescue pilot. These folks really, really know their stuff.

Human flights to Mars still at least 15 years off: ESA head, Reuters

"Dreaming of a trip to Mars? You'll have to wait at least 15 years for the technology to be developed, the head of the European Space Agency (ESA) said, putting doubt on claims that the journey could happen sooner. "If there was enough money then we could possibly do it earlier but there is not as much now as the Apollo program had," ESA Director-General Jan Woerner said, referring to the U.S. project which landed the first people on the moon. Woerner says a permanent human settlement on the moon, where 3D printers could be used to turn moon rock into essential items needed for the two-year trip to Mars, would be a major step toward the red planet. U.S. space agency NASA hopes to send astronauts to Mars in the mid-2030s and businessman Elon Musk, head of electric car maker Tesla Motors, says he plans to put unmanned spacecraft on Mars from as early as 2018 and have humans there by 2030. The ESA's Woerner said it would take longer."

- Moon and/or Mars: Challenging Human Exploration Orthodoxy, Earlier Post
- #JourneyToMars Via #ReturnToTheMoon, Earlier Post

Coalition for Deep Space Exploration Issues Policy Paper to Guide Incoming President and Congress

"The Coalition for Deep Space Exploration has released a policy position paper highlighting the key issues that every presidential and congressional candidate should understand in order to ensure that deep space exploration remains a bipartisan priority over the next several years. The Coalition is the voice of America's deep space industry, with over 40 corporate members supporting NASA's deep space human exploration and science programs. The full paper, entitled "A Space Exploration Roadmap for the Next Administration," is available for download on the Coalition's website."

Keith's note: This document is mostly recycled word salad that states the obvious without ever getting to the point - other than to request continued support SLS and Orion. This is yet another attempt by this organization (actually there is no "organization", its just Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Orbital ATK and Aerojet Rocketdyne with other smaller companies tossed in who write checks) to preserve the status quo. Everything else is just window dressing adjusted to meet the needs of these two programs. Note that there is no support for NASA's "Journey To Mars" or ARM so they're already throwing the Obama folks under the bus. As for space commerce, the Coalition makes little mention of it other than to describe it as something that happens in low Earth orbit - so long as it does not get in the way of SLS and Orion, that is.

We've seen this movie before. Just three months ago a similar effort by many of the usual suspects produced a similar document with the same intent:

Space Policy White Paper = Shopping List For The Journey to Nowhere, March 2016

"Such is the problem with these sort of documents from the space community. On one hand the space groups want to have a say in the political decisions that affect their members (and donors). But on the other hand they'd rather not have the politicians pay too much attention to space such that the current status quo is not upset. In other words "write us the checks but don't rock the boat" - or more bluntly "look but don't touch". This is, at best, naive thinking on the part of the space community. If you read the white paper it becomes immediately apparent that this coalition wants everything that they are doing to be supported and in some cases, they want even more money. They also want a stable funding environment (makes sense). The two main programs being supported by this coalition are SLS/Orion and Commercial Crew and Cargo with gratuitous mention of other projects that are important to the members of this coalition."

- Pioneering Space National Summit One Year Later: No Clear Direction
- Fact Checking SLS Propaganda
- How The #JourneyToMars Becomes The #JourneyToNowhere

Do we really need humans to explore Mars?, Ars Technica

"There's been a myth that there's some things you can do with robots and some only with people," Grunsfeld replied. "All exploration is human research. Even when we use robotic spacecraft, it's still human research. The question is how close are the people to the action? And it's also about the pace of discovery. When you have people on the scene, especially putting planetary scientists, geologists, astrobiologists on Mars, it's really going to accelerate the pace at which we can make discoveries." ... After lunch [Chris] Kraft and I drove back to his home, which overlooks a golf course a stone's throw from Johnson Space Center. As we shook hands in his driveway, he reiterated his closing argument to me: "Oh yes, I've heard the argument that we've been there before. I know that more than most. But we have unfinished business on the moon."

- #JourneyToMars Via #ReturnToTheMoon, Earlier Post

If We Want to Send Astronauts to Mars, We Must Go Back to the Moon First, Scientific American

"Bush's idea was inspiring enough that, in addition to NASA, no fewer than 13 international space agencies signed on to participate in developing a plan for reaching the moon. Unfortunately, the plan's implementation was badly flawed. NASA tried to relive the glory days of Apollo by focusing on one-use vehicles that would transport everything to the moon from Earth. Apollo was a fantastic achievement, but it was not sustainable, which was in part why the program was canceled in the early 1970s. Bush's vision proved too expensive to sustain as well, and in 2010 President Barack Obama declared that the U.S. had no need to go back to the moon, saying, in essence, that we've been there, done that. Instead, he said, we would go to Mars without taking that interim step. But a return to the moon is crucial to the future of human space explorationand - not just for the experience it would give us in off-world living."

Elon Musk provides new details on his 'mind blowing' mission to Mars, Washington Post

"Essentially what we're saying is we're establishing a cargo route to Mars," he said. "It's a regular cargo route. You can count on it. It's going happen every 26 months. Like a train leaving the station. And if scientists around the world know that they can count on that, and it's going to be inexpensive, relatively speaking compared to anything in the past, then they will plan accordingly and come up with a lot of great experiments."

SpaceX's Elon Musk teases 'dangerous' plan to colonize Mars starting in 2024, Geekwire

"Musk said 2022 would mark the first use of the Mars Colonial Transporter, a spaceship that's big enough to carry scores of people to Mars. The first MCT would be uncrewed. However, it's plausible to think that the craft could be pre-positioned at Mars to support the crewed mission to come, and the return trip to Earth. That's the part of the plan that's still fuzzy."

- The Real Cost of a Red Dragon Mission to Mars, earlier Post
- SpaceX Will Go To Mars Starting in 2018, earlier Post

Kennedy's vision for NASA inspired greatness, then stagnation, Ars Technica

"Perhaps the best insight into Kennedy's motives can be found in a recording of a November 21, 1962 meeting in the White House Cabinet Room. Kennedy had boasted of the lunar plan just a month earlier at Rice. The main participants that day were Kennedy and James Webb, administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. At issue was the true purpose of NASA and the Apollo program, and at the outset of the meeting Kennedy asked Webb, "Do you think this program is the top priority of the agency?" In hindsight, Webb's answer was surprising: "No sir, I do not. I think it is one of the top priority programs, but I think it is very important to recognize here, that as you have found out what you could do with a rocket, as you find out how you could get out beyond the Earth's atmosphere and into space to make measurements, several scientific disciplines that are very powerful have (begun) to converge on this area." To this Kennedy responds that Apollo is the top priority. That ought to be very clear, he explained. "This is important for political reasons, for international political reasons," Kennedy said. He told Webb he did not want to finish second to the Soviets in the "race" to the moon."

Keith's note: In other words had there been Twitter in 1960s we'd have heard nothing but #ManOnTheMoon on everything NASA PAO put out. In the case of Apollo in the 1960s NASA had a firm presidential mandate and a specific architecture in place in relatively short order - on a timeline what almost fit into a two-term Kennedy Administration. Flash forward: NASA is in no hurry to explain how it is going to send humans to Mars by a date that requires constant unwavering support from 4 to 5 presidential administrations - and a dozen Congresses. Most importantly, NASA now lacks that compelling reason to amass the requisite blood and treasure needed to mount an interplanetary project of geopolitical importance - because we're now competing with everyone (internally and externally) - each of whom is on their own timetable - each for their own purposes. Add in a lame duck Administration which has been disinterested - at best - for the past 7 years. Anyone with a reasonable grasp of history and current politics would be wise to ponder whether NASA and the U.S. government are no even capable of supporting a human missions to Mars in the ways needed for it to actually happen.

Its time to stop listening to the old professors, reading old advisory reports, and trying to find old historical resonances to justify or inspire future efforts. The world is as it is. Other nations are now starting to do interesting things in space because they see that it confers importance upon their nation, inspires their people, and offers access to new technologies. They also have their own reasons that have little resonance with America's. They learned both from our mistakes and successes and are now filling the vacuum created by our hesitance and lack of interest.

Others are seizing upon the opportunities presented by this American space malaise as well - and they are firmly established on American shores. The motivations may echo NASA's interests but they include many things that would not fit well on a NASA Powerpoint chart. Lets watch as SpaceX sends technology to Mars that NASA is incapable and/or unwilling of doing. There may well be an American #JourneyToMars - but mission control may be in Hawthorne - not Houston. And will the Americans who step out of a future human-rated Red Dragon be any less American?

Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Approriations Bill 2007 (draft report)

NASA begins on Page 54. On page 61 the report says:

"Mission to Mars. While the Committee recognizes the benefits of some of the technology that is under development as part of the asteroid redirect and retrieval missions, namely advanced propulsion technology research, asteroid deflection, and grappling technologies, the Committee believes that neither a robotic nor a crewed mission to an asteroid appreciably contribute to the over-arching mission to Mars. Further, the long-term costs of launching a robotic craft to the asteroid, followed by a crewed mission, are unknown and will divert scarce resources away from developing technology and equipment necessary for missions to Mars, namely deep space habitats, accessing and utilizing space resources, and developing entry, descent, landing, and ascent technologies.

Toward that end, no funds are included in this bill for NASA to continue planning efforts to conduct either robotic or crewed missions to an asteroid. Instead, NASA is encouraged to develop plans to return to the Moon to test capabilities that will be needed for Mars, including habitation modules, lunar prospecting, and landing and ascent vehicles.

Further, the Committee is supportive of NASA's efforts to use the International Space Station (ISS) to conduct research necessary to enable long-term human spaceflight, or ''Earth-reliant'' technology development; cis-lunar space activities, or ''proving ground'' efforts such as Orion flights on SLS in the vicinity of the Moon, and deployment and testing of deep space habitation modules; and finally, NASA's ''Earth independent'' activities which include using cis-lunar space as a staging area, mapping potential human exploration zones and caching samples on Mars as part of the Mars Rover 2020 mission."

U.S. lawmaker orders NASA to plan for trip to Alpha Centauri by 100th anniversary of moon landing, Science

"Representative John Culberson (R-TX), a self-professed space fan who chairs the House appropriations subpanel that oversees NASA, included the call for the ambitious voyage in a committee report released today. The report accompanies a bill setting NASA's budget for the 2017 fiscal year, which begins 1 October; the full House appropriations panel is set to consider the bill on Tuesday. In the report, Culberson's panel "encourages NASA to study and develop propulsion concepts that could enable an interstellar scientific probe with the capability of achieving a cruise velocity of 0.1c [10% of the speed of light]." The report language doesn't mandate any additional funding, but calls on NASA to draw up a technology assessment report and conceptual road map within 1 year."

- Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Approriations Bill 2007 (draft report)
- Announcing "Breakthrough Starshot": Building Earth's First Starships, earlier post

Buzz Aldrin says NASA is going about Mars exploration the wrong way, Ars Technica

"In his remarks, Aldrin said NASA should change the approach it has had in place since the 1960s, that of designing and managing development of its own rockets. He took direct aim at the SLS vehicle, which he reminded listeners was based on 1970s technology and the space shuttle rather than more modern concepts. "It competes with the private sector," Aldrin said. "I thought most of us were in the process of learning that the government shouldn't do that."

Here's why many in aerospace remain skeptical of the Journey to Mars, Ars Technica

"There's no question that Dava Newman is a very smart person. She is a highly respected scientist who was a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before coming to NASA. She also is not entirely new to the job as deputy administrator, having been with the agency for a year as of May 15. So it's difficult to explain her meandering response to a straightforward, valid question. These are questions NASA ought to be striving to clearly answer, because they're exactly the kinds of things a presidential transition team will be asking about at the end of this year. It is one thing to bluff the media and hold NASA "social" events where space enthusiasts are shown hardware and dazzled by astronauts and senior NASA scientists. Newman also will undoubtedly get a rousing roar of approval after her speech to the Humans to Mars conference today."

Keith's note: After one year at NASA, it would seem that Dava Newman's transformation from a normal person into a NASA bureaucrat is now complete. She is incapable of giving a simple, direct answer when asked important questions about NASA's "plan" to send humans to Mars. But its not really her fault. No one at NASA can give a straight answer about the plan. There is no plan. All NASA has is a Twitter hashtag #JourneyToMars. Anyone at NASA who tries to tell you otherwise is being less than honest with you. Listen to this video from the Humans to Mars meeting yesterday. At one point Newman cuts Frank Morring off and then goes off on a time-wasting diversion to run out her time on stage without getting into details.

Keith's note: This week, from 17-19 May, the annual Humans to Mars Summit will be underway in Washington, DC. Much of the event will be webcast live. We'll be live tweeting the event at @NASAWatch.

The Humans to 2016 Mars Report Released at Humans to Mars Summit

"As highlighted in this year's report, there have been significant developments since the premiere issue was released. Mars has been in the news regularly, and the United States has embraced Mars as the goal for human space flight more than ever before. For example, in October 2015 NASA began the process of assessing potential candidate human landing sites on Mars for the first time."

For more information visit

Ask the Astronaut: Why not build and launch spacecraft from the ISS?, Tom Jones, Air & Space

"We won't use the ISS as a departure point for cost reasons. First, the ISS today is a microgravity research lab, not a spacecraft assembly hangar. Modifying it for assembly, checkout, and propellant storage would cost billions of dollars NASA does not have. A second, more serious problem is that the ISS orbit is inclined to the equator at 51.6 degrees, as opposed to a 28.5-degree orbit reached by launching straight east from Kennedy Space Center. (We chose the ISS orbit so the Russians could reach it from their launch sites farther north.) To haul spacecraft parts and propellant to ISS for assembly in that high-inclination orbit, we would lose about 20 percent of each rocket's payload capacity, since we can't use as much of the Earth's eastward rotation to give us a free boost to orbital velocity. That payload penalty would add billions to the costs of any deep space expedition assembled at ISS (e.g., a Mars expedition will need many hundreds of tons of propellant for Earth departure)."

Keith's note: This is a classic example of the old way of thinking. Tom Jones apparently cannot imagine an alternate future where things change.

1. He assumes that everything that we do in the future will be done by NASA - the way that NASA always does things - and that it will be equally as expensive as NASA stuff always is. Narrow thinking.

2. The penalty for launching to 51.6 degrees - yea its real. Launching to 28.5 degrees like the Shuttle did had a penalty when compared to launching from the equator. So we moved the station to make it easier for the Russians - and harder for ourselves. As NASA did at the time, you just factor launch capabilities into the overall equation - one wherein you factor in the counterbalancing benefit of being able to assemble large things in space and test them out from an existing location that has the benefit of generous resources already in place. That's how we built the space station, Tom - remember? Oh yes: NASA also still "hauls spacecraft parts and propellant" to ISS routinely - and a lof the stuff is launched from Virginia and Florida not Kazakhstan. If NASA plans hold up we'll be doing even more of that - with crew too. But that's inefficient, right? So why are we doing it?

3. The inclination issue as it relates to where you want to send things - yea, if you want to use big rockets all the time and get everywhere in a hurry. But if you simply exercise a little advanced planning, be patient, and plan longer delivery times using solar- or nuclear-electric propulsion then time will solve these problems - and you can factor the lower costs of such systems into your overall cost equation.

4. ISS is a microgravity lab - this is something I had to deal with every day when I worked on space station at NASA in the 90s. I had experts telling me that anything the astronauts did would ruin everything that the scientists wanted to do - and vice versa. So NASA came up with rack level vibroacoustic isolation and used scheduling to manage noisy activities. Problem solved. BTW, Tom you have seen the video of how the entire space station flexes when its exercise time for the crew, yes? I do not hear scientists screaming how this makes their research impossible. Crew and cargo vehicles arrive and depart on a regular basis. How is that any different than "launching" a spacecraft from ISS? But wait: Nanoracks is actually launching cubesats from the ISS on a regular basis. Again, no complaints.

I remember back in the 90s when the orbit was shifted to 51.6 - and the implications that had for Shuttle launch windows. I sat in meetings where experts emphatically stated that NASA could never work with 5 minute launch windows. Well, they did. Now SpaceX has managed to design hardware and operations such that they can recycle multiple times within a single launch window. I remember people saying that you could not dock a Soyuz to the space station due to the somewhat brutal way it docks and how fragile the U.S. structure was. So they docked to the Russian segment instead. Problem solved. I remember asking why we couldn't leave logistics modules on the ISS permanently for simple storage. Everyone said "no" because of super high costs to make them meet requirement. Now they do - because they decided to - with only minimal mods. NASA wanted a reusable Space Shuttle that would fly like an airline. It never actually happened. Now Blue Origin and SpaceX are on the cusp of doing it. Just because the same group of experts says that something is not possible or practical doesn't mean that you can't go out and find other experts who can make it work.

Who knows, maybe we will just shift the future role of ISS at some point to focus on on-orbit assembly of larger expeditionary vessels and do the science stuff on the next generation of space stations built by the private sector. Look at Antarctica - there are bases there that have been operating continuously for more than half a century. They are constantly being readjusted to do new things and not do other things. Some are decommissioned. Some are disassembled. New ones now move or raise their height when conditions warrant. Some are rebuilt using parts from older facilities. Fragile cargo and people fly in on planes. Other supplies arrive on slow-moving ships that depart weeks or months in advance of when their cargoes are actually needed. One would hope that we try and instill similar flexibility in what we build in low Earth orbit and beyond. If we don't adopt expeditionary thinking and pragmatism then none of this commercial LEO stuff NASA is praying for is going to happen since no commercial effort will ever be able to afford things that are mired down with outmoded NASA costing and operational mindsets.

Oh yes: then there's Mark Watney and "The Martian". What better way to make sure a Mars ship works than to run it for a year or two in LEO after being assembled from smaller subunits launched by a variety of existing ISS cargo carrier. If we do not promote flexibility and long-term thinking in LEO and cis-lunar space so as to guide the whole #JourneyToMars thing we'll just be begging for something bad to happen because no one thought to equip our Mars crews with the ability (and experience) to fix things that are not supposed to break.

Just because we've done things a certain way in space doesn't mean that this is the only way to do things.

Keith's note: On Wednesday NASA will officially sponsor a teleconference with NASA NIAC grantee Phil Lubin about the Breakthrough Initative's Starshot project to mount the first interstellar mission. But unless you are a pal of a certain NASA civil servant, you won't be allowed to listen in live - even though NASA is paying for this event. Indeed, unless this certain employee decides to tell you, NASA won't even tell you that this event is happening in the first place.

Harley Thronson, a NASA civil servant at GSFC, has operated this series of NASA FISO telecons as a part of his official NASA duties. These telecons use a taxpayer-funded telephone system, are announced via email ( and Thronson devotes billable hours to their operation. The telecons are interesting and relevant to the interests of a wide variety people within (and most importantly) outside of NASA. Yet despite an abundance of directives to all government agencies about making their activities open and transparent to taxpayers, Harley and his pal Dan Lester at the University of Texas in Austin go out of their way to not to tell taxpayers that these teleconferences even exist. Indeed, they block specific taxpayers by targeting their IP address (check this page - its what I see when I try to view information on something my taxes pay for) from having the same level of access as other taxpayers do. This link used to say this.

Thronson and Lester also adopt an elitist stance when it comes to who can - and who cannot - access information about these telecons or listen to them in real time. If they do not deem you to be worthy (no criteria have ever been posted) then you cannot dial in - because you won't know that there is something to dial into. To justify their favoritism they have posted a goofy and arrogant excuse as to why most people will never be allowed to listen to these events live claiming that they are compliant with NASA regulations in this regard because you can listen to things later. Later or delayed access is not the same as live access. And if you do not even know about these teleconferences in the first place, then the whole later Vs live issue is moot. They are operated in a stealth fashion for a hand-selected audience. Dan Lester is clearly ignorant as to the wide variety of open teleconference options that are available - at no cost to participants who dial in.

Wednesday's NASA FISO telecon starts at 3 pm EDT. You can dial in to +1.844.467.4685 - the passcode is 442398. If you cannot gain access I have posted email and address information for Thronson and Lester so that you can contact them directly.

- Another Stealth #JourneyToMars Telecon at NASA, earlier post
- NASA FISO Telecon Organizers Are Confused, earlier post
- How NASA Quietly Releases Alternate Mars Mission Concepts (Update), earlier post

Musk Sleeps Near Factory Floor to Spur Tesla Manufacturing, Bloomberg

"Elon Musk, determined to turn his electric-car company into a great maker of things, said that he keeps a sleeping bag in a conference room adjacent to Tesla Motors Inc.'s production line in Fremont, California."

Why Elon Musk Sleeps in a Sleeping Bag, Motley Fool

"So I move my desk around to wherever the most important place is for the company, and then I sort of maintain a desk there over time to come and check in on things. But I suspect probably by the end of this quarter most of my time will not be spent on the factory floor."

Larger image

Driving To Mars

Review: Passage To Mars

"Passage to Mars" is a documentary about a bunch of guys who try to drive across a large frozen stretch of the Northwest Passage. They attempt this feat as an analog for long distance traverses people will one day attempt on Mars. This film depicts important lessons that are often far more relevant for the actual human exploration of Mars than anything NASA itself is doing right now. This unprecedented adventure, planned to last a few weeks ended up becoming a three-year epic odyssey of hope, fear and survival. The goal of the expedition was to use a specially-outfitted Humvee named the "Okarian" across 2,000 miles of sea ice. Their ultimate goal: to drive to Haughton Crater on Devon Island - the location of a NASA-funded research base where scientists and engineers learn how to live on and explore Mars.

Keith's note: So what would this Dragon 2 mission to Mars cost? SpaceX would use a Falcon Heavy which they sell for $90 million. Of course it costs SpaceX a lot less to make the rocket than what they sell it for. Also, SpaceX is starting to build up an inventory of used first stages that they put into rockets and sell for something like 30-40% less than a new Falcon. Of course, they make a profit on these reused Falcons too. Conceivably they could build a Dragon Heavy for Mars mission use out of used Falcon first stages. Of course there's the cost of a Mars-capable Dragon V2 (aka "Red Dragon")that has to be developed and built. But by then they will have some Dragon V2 vehicles sitting around as well. Then again SpaceX could use all new hardware. With an increased launch cadence there's going to be a lot of these stages sitting in storage making subsequent missions less expensive as well.

My point? This private Mars mission business is not going to be as expensive as some of the SpaceX doubters would have you think - especially if they also start to sell payload space for science instruments. And given the multi-billion dollar cost schemes NASA floats about how it would do sample return missions, one would have to expect that a SpaceX Mars architecture could slash the cost and complexity such that it would be in NASA's best interest to invest. Depending on who you talk to a lot of people would like to have the Mars sample return thing done before humans ever get sent to Mars (e.g. answering the life on Mars question). NASA has a slow-motion, multi-decadal "plan" for sending humans to Mars. What is the value of accelerating the pace at which preliminary things such as sample return and large propulsive landing technology? Answer: billions of dollars and many years.

As some of these articles above start to consider, is there an actual market that investors might start to consider that involves doing things on Mars? The answer is yes since SpaceX just decided to start spending their own money on it.

- SpaceX Now Quotes Payload Launch Prices - To Mars, earlier post
- Changing The Way We Explore Space, earlier post
- SpaceX Will Go To Mars Starting in 2018, earlier post

Crazy diamonds: Billionaires are funding lots of grandiose plans. Welcome their ambition, Economist

"Mr. Musk lists his ultimate goal as "enabling people to live on other planets". Once upon a time the space race was driven by the competition between capitalism and communism. Now it is driven by the competition between individual capitalists."

With or Without NASA, SpaceX Is Going to Mars, Motley Fool

"What it means for investors: Unless and until SpaceX goes public, most of the above probably seems academic. We can't invest in SpaceX today; perhaps we never will. Be that as it may, one thing is clear: Mankind is going to Mars, and sooner than you think. That this will open up the possibilities of new investments -- literally out-of-this-world investments -- seems almost certain."

Changing The Way We Explore Space, earlier post

"SpaceX has their own vertically integrated launch and spacecraft company that can produce absolutely everything needed to do this mission. And they have enough money to do missions on their own. More importantly they have a leader who is compelled to explore Mars and he owns the company. They do not need NASA to do this mission."

NASA's Role in International Affairs, Center for Strategic & International Studies, 26 April 2016 (Video)

"42:20: Q: When are we going to get to Mars? What is the time line?

Bolden: "2030s. As I said before the was no plan. And some people today contest our plan - but we have one. And a plan needs to at least have a definite date in which you're gonna do something. Because the President said so, for one thing."

Keith's note: OK Charlie. You have a plan to send humans to Mars? Post your plan online. Oh wait: you can't - because there is no plan.

NASA Begins Its Journey To Nowhere, earlier post

"No one with even a shred of fiscal accumen will tell you that a multi-decade program to send humans to Mars - as is typically done by NASA (delays, overruns, and PR hype) - is going to be done "within current budget levels, with modest increases aligned to economic growth." This is just back peddling NASA PR mumbo jumbo designed to try and make it seem that Lightfoot said something other than what he actually said."

NASA cuts funds for Mars landing technology work, SpaceNews

"In September Elon Musk is going to reveal his plans for colonizing Mars. "NASA is cutting funding for a Mars landing technology demonstration project by about 85 percent in response to budget reductions to its space technology program and the need to set aside funding within that program for a satellite servicing effort. In a presentation to a joint meeting of the National Academies' Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board and Space Studies Board here April 26, James Reuter, NASA deputy associate administrator for space technology, said the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) project would get only a small fraction of its originally planned budget of $20 million for 2016."

Modified NASA/SpaceX Space Act Agreement

"The purpose of this Amendment No. 1 to Space Act Agreement No. SAA-QA-14-18883 between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ("NASA") and Space Explorations Technologies Corp. ("Partner" or "SpaceX"), effective December 18,2014 (the "Agreement"), is to (1) further define areas of insight and assistance to SpaceX under the Agreement, (2) further define areas in which NASA will have access to and use of SpaceX data and technology to advance NASA's understanding of the development of SpaceX's propulsive descent capabilities and enable NASA's own Mission to Mars, and (3) extend the period of performance under the Agreement."

Keith's note: Wow, how odd that this all happened at exactly the same time. It is probably just a coincidence, right? With near-perfect simultaneity we learn that NASA has decided to cut funding for new technology needed to develop systems to land large payloads (you know, human-related stuff) on Mars. As this news was making the rounds, SpaceX announced that it is sending its own mission to the surface of Mars. If you read the opening section of the Space Act Agreement between NASA and SpaceX (signed 25/26 April, announced 27 April 2016) it is clear that NASA will be obtaining information from SpaceX while (maybe) providing some sort of unspecified assistance. To be certain, NASA has the world's pre-eminent expertise in landing things - big things - on Mars. But in the end, the bulk of the data flow is going to be from SpaceX to NASA - and SpaceX will be doing the vast bulk of the technology trailblazing - and all of the funding.

SpaceX Will Start Going to Mars in 2018

"SpaceX announced today that it is going to start sending specially modified Dragon spacecraft aka "Red Dragon" to Mars as early as 2018. The purpose of these missions is to demonstrate the technologies needed to land large payloads propulsively on Mars. These Mars missions will also be pathfinders for the much larger SpaceX Mars colonization architecture that will be announced in September 2016. With this announcement SpaceX has upped the ante for the human exploration of Mars by beginning technology pathfinder missions a decade or more before NASA plans to do so."

Dava Newman: Exploring Together, NASA

"When he laid out his plans for NASA and the Journey to Mars in 2010, President Obama spoke of how partnership with industry could have the potential to "accelerate the pace of innovations as companies - from young startups to established leaders - compete to design and build and launch new means of carrying people and materials out of our atmosphere." This is exactly what's happening and it's one of the reasons that we're closer to sending humans to Mars than ever before."

Modified NASA/SpaceX Space Act Agreement

"The purpose of this Amendment No. 1 to Space Act Agreement No. SAA-QA-14-18883 between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ("NASA") and Space Explorations Technologies Corp. ("Partner" or "SpaceX"), effective December 18,2014 (the "Agreement"), is to (1) further define areas of insight and assistance to SpaceX under the Agreement, (2) further define areas in which NASA will have access to and use of SpaceX data and technology to advance NASA's understanding of the development of SpaceX's propulsive descent capabilities and enable NASA's own Mission to Mars, and (3) extend the period of performance under the Agreement."

Keith's note: Oddly, just yesterday, NASA Administrator Bolden referred to Falcon 9 as "old technology" when asked why NASA was building SLS. Well, SLS, using decades-old technology, was created to send humans on NASA's #JourneyToMars. Yet those NASA missions won't start sending hardware to Mars until the late 2020s / early 2030s. Meanwhile SpaceX, with its "old technology" will beat NASA by a decade or more when it starts landing Red Dragons on Mars.

- Charlie Bolden Is Very Confused These Days, earlier post

New NASA budget eats the seed corn of its Journey to Mars, Ars Technica

"This week, the US Senate's Appropriations subcommittee overseeing spaceflight put forward its blueprint for NASA's FY2017 budget. The top-line number looks promising at $19.306 billion - a $21 million year-over-year increase. Yet the Senate plan exposes two potentially fatal flaws with NASA's Journey to Mars. Namely, the US Congress continues to place funding for the Space Launch System rocket and Orion space capsule before all other elements of NASA's exploration program. And by raiding other areas of NASA's budget, notably Space Technology, it is hamstringing the agency's ability to carry out the journey."

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- NASA: We're on a #JourneyToMars - But Don't Ask Us How, earlier post
- NAC Doesn't Think NASA Has Tech Or Plans For #JourneyToMars, earlier post
- NASA Begins Its Journey To Nowhere, earlier post
- Previous SLS postings
- Previous Exploration postings

Does Presidential Intervention Undermine Consensus for NASA?, Planetary Society

"I believe these two statements are actually at odds with each other. Consensus for human spaceflight is very difficult, given the lack of an external authority to unite the community or even being able to clearly define what the human spaceflight community actually is. And given the current nature of partisanship in the United States, achieving consensus for the human spaceflight program might actually be undermined by strong actions of a President attempting to provide clarity to NASA. ... But for a Journey to Mars - a major effort that would, at best, require stability and significant funding over many Presidential administrations that may not be enough. Perhaps the solution is for the next President to maintain a light touch on space. Maybe they should speak softly through the budget process, and avoid the Kennedyesque speeches and declarations to Congress that induce the types of partisanship we so dearly need to avoid."

NASA's Mars Announcement: Present-day transient flows of briny water on steep slopes, Planetary Society

"This is one of many reasons I'm glad that The Planetary Society is advocating an orbit-first approach to human exploration. If we keep our filthy meatbag bodies in space and tele-operate sterile robots on the surface, we'll avoid irreversible contamination of Mars -- and obfuscation of the answer to the question of whether we're alone in the solar system -- for a little while longer. Maybe just long enough for robots to taste Martian water or discover Martian life."

Keith's note: Here's how it starts. Sow those seeds of subtle doubt. Don't talk too much about humans to Mars or anywhere else. Talk about more robots. Throw shade on anything having to do with humans. Talk about canceling the space station. If you have to talk about humans going to Mars, just restrict them to Mars orbit so they can drive robots on the surface without making things dirty. Look but don't touch. Don't rock the boat. Since that's not worth billions of dollars, maybe just send robots instead.

The Planetary Society is engaged in a slow motion effort to halt the human exploration of space. If they don't want humans on Mars, what other places will be off limits? Casey Dreier and other Planetary Society operatives are walking the halls of Congress and quietly sowing seeds of doubt about the wisdom and practicality of sending humans outward from Earth. If Mary Lynne Dittmar and the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration have any viability whatsoever they will publicly confront the Planetary Society with regard to their whisper campaign - one that seeks to prevent humans from traveling to other worlds.

But wait: there's more. The Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, a semi-stealth industry lobbying group for the NASA #JourneyToMars effort has an embarrassing lack of a credible budget profile to defend. The Planetary Society, a robot-hugging, human-shunning club, thinks that it will get a non-stop gravy train of huge robotic mission budgets for decades to come. Both efforts are woefully misguided and seriously overdue for a reality check.

Perhaps it is best that space policy not become a campaign issue - if for no other reason than the fact that the adherents and beneficiaries thereof are so utterly out of synch with one another and have little, if any, traction with the 300 million plus taxpayers who are stuck paying for this disorganized space program.

The other day a billionaire threw a huge sum of money - as a down payment - into a program to begin interstellar exploration - he is clearly looking outward - yet today's space community can't even agree how to get out of low Earth orbit. Tick tock.

- What is Good for Pasadena Is Good For The Planetary Society, earlier post
- Planetary Society's Mars Mission Takes Longer To Do Less, earlier post
- The Planetary Society Does Not Want "The Martian" To Happen, earlier post
- Planetary Society Does Not Want Humans on Mars, earlier post
- The Planetary Society Is Against Human Space Flight, earlier post
- Planetary Society is Both For and Against Human Spaceflight, earlier post

Make Mars great again: Can the 2016 election save NASA's Journey to Mars?, Ars Technica

"Bolden hasn't really leveled about two basic truths regarding Mars: it will cost a hell of a lot of money to do it NASA's way, and it's going to take a commitment like the nation hasn't seen since the Apollo program. NASA presently has neither the money nor the commitment from Washington. Many who grasp the challenges of actually going to Mars, including those on the inside, realize this. "I can tell you that my colleagues, at least 90 percent if not more, don't really think we have a good plan," one veteran astronaut, who hopes to fly again and therefore sought anonymity, told Ars. Inside the astronaut office they joke about the Journey to Mars. "I think we've almost done negative work in the last seven years," this flier said."

- No One Knows/Cares How/When NASA Will Make The #JourneyToMars, earlier post
- Will NASA Ever Send Humans to Mars?, earlier post
- Another Stealth #JourneyToMars Telecon at NASA, earlier post
- Houston, We Need A Mars Plan, earlier post
- Space Policy White Paper = Shopping List For The Journey to Nowhere, earlier post

Announcing "Breakthrough Starshot": Building Earth's First Starships, SpaceRef

"Plans for Earth's first starships are being announced today in New York City. At a midday press conference, Yuri Milner's Breakthrough Prize Foundation is unveiling its latest project: "Breakthrough Starshot". If Milner's team can pull this off, people alive today could see starships depart from our planet and reach another star system within their lifetime. And everyone will be invited to help make that happen. The plan is simple: create an immensely powerful, system of ground-based lasers and use them to propel tiny starships up to 20% of the speed of light. The starships' first target would be the Alpha Centauri star system 4.3 light years away. These starships would arrive just 20 years after leaving Earth."

Breakthrough Starshot Project Announced by Yuri Milner and Physicist Stephen Hawking

"Breakthrough Starshot is a $100 million research and engineering program aiming to demonstrate proof of concept for light-propelled nanocrafts. These could fly at 20 percent of light speed and capture images of possible planets and other scientific data in our nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, just over 20 years after their launch. The program will be led by Pete Worden, the former director of NASA AMES Research Center, and advised by a committee of world-class scientists and engineers. The board will consist of Stephen Hawking, Yuri Milner, and Mark Zuckerberg."

Keith's note: I asked NASA for a comment on the Breakthrough Starshot announcement. They replied: "In 2015, the NIAC program selected University of California, Santa Barbara Professor Philip Lubin's study on directed energy propulsion for exploring other worlds. NASA is pleased to hear that Professor Lubin has received external funding to continue the work started in his NIAC study. When the study's final report has been cleared for 508 compliance, it will be posted online here. The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program focuses research on futuristic but technically credible concepts that could one day "change the possible" in aerospace." I have asked for a copy of this report - I do not need a 508 compliant version. This is a hot topic right now. Talk about a cosmic spinoff.

Keith's update: According to NASA: "Professor Lubin actually does a really good job of keeping everyone updated on his own page. His report can be found here."

NASA OIG Audit of the Spaceport Command and Control System for SLS and Orion

"The SCCS development effort has significantly exceeded initial cost and schedule estimates. Compared to fiscal year 2012 projections, development costs have increased approximately 77 percent to $207.4 million and the release of a fully operational version has slipped by 14 months from July 2016 to September 2017. In addition, several planned capabilities have been deferred because of cost and timing pressures, including the ability to automatically detect the root cause of specific equipment and system failures. Without this information, it will be more difficult for controllers and engineers to quickly diagnose and resolve issues. Although NASA officials believe the SCCS will operate safely without these capabilities, they acknowledge the reduced capability could affect the ability to react to unexpected issues during launch operations and potentially impact the launch schedule for the combined SLS-Orion system."

Keith's note: Typical NASA double talk. They design a system to do a bunch of things. They claim that all of the program's requirements are necessary for safety and reliability and worth the large cost. And oh yes, NASA can do it much better in-house rather than use existing commercial solutions since NASA's requirements are one of a kind. Then the costs dramatically increase and implementation delays move to the right. Then the OIG steps in an points out the problems.

Then NASA says 'Oh, [INSERT ANY PROGRAM NAME] will still work without all the stuff we wanted to do. But some things won't work. But it is still safe to use it. But we need more money to fix the things that we don't really need but want to have because maybe it is not totally safe to use it after all - but we'll still use it without those functions because we have no alternative. And oh, by the way: stop bothering us: we know what we are doing.' But wait - there's more: NASA can save its own bacon by slipping SLS/Orion flights further to the right such that the SCCS now has more time to get things right since there's no actual missions for it worry about.

The more things change ...

Neil deGrasse Tyson: 'The delusion is thinking that SpaceX is going to lead the space frontier The Verge

Neil deGrasse Tyson to Elon Musk: SpaceX Is "Delusional" About Mars, Motley Fool

"In less than 10 years from now, SpaceX may or may not beat NASA in the race to Mars. Astrophysicist, Hayden Planetarium director, and host of the National Geographic Channel's StarTalk Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson is placing his bet on "not." "The delusion is thinking that SpaceX is going to lead the space frontier. That's just not going to happen..." Tyson said in an interview with The Verge. Tyson laid out his arguments for why fans of a solo SpaceX trip to Mars suffer from a "delusion."

Keith's note: Once again Neil Tyson demonstrates that he has never run a multi-billion dollar business - nor has he ever been really, really, really rich. These non-trivial resources allow an individual to shift their own paradigms to suit their whims independent of usual norms. In Musk's case - that whim is the exploration of Mars. Deal with it Neil.

NASA's Human Spaceflight Program Can't Afford Another Reset From the Next President, Wired

"But NASA has yet to fill in the blanks when it comes to the Proving Ground phase. Beyond initial plans for a controversial asteroid redirect mission, there's a gap between immediate human spaceflight plansthe ISS and the commercial crew programand the United States' long-term objective of sending humans to Mars. By making more concrete and detailed plans for the Proving Ground phase, the next administration can keep America's human space exploration program on track and make progress toward Mars at the same time."

Buzz Aldrin eyes 2040 for manned Mars mission

"Former astronaut Buzz Aldrin is eyeing 2040 for the first manned mission to Mars, noting that the red planet's moon Phobos could play a vital role for astronauts. "I think that's a good target date," the 86-year-old space legend told "We should be able to reach there with international crews." NASA's goal is to send a manned mission to Mars by 2035, although Aldrin thinks that a slightly later date is more realistic."

- Will NASA Ever Send Humans to Mars?
- Another Stealth #JourneyToMars Telecon at NASA, earlier post
- Houston, We Need A Mars Plan, earlier post
- Space Policy White Paper = Shopping List For The Journey to Nowhere, earlier post
- NASA's Boulder Retrieval Mission is Doomed, earlier post
- More exploration news

NASA OIG: NASA's Management of the Near Earth Network

"By deviating from elements of Federal and Agency cyber and physical security risk management policies, NASA, Goddard Space Flight Center (Goddard), and the Near Earth Network Project Office increased the Network's susceptibility to compromise. Specifically, NASA assigned a security categorization rating of "Moderate" to the Network's IT systems and did not include the Network in its Critical Infrastructure Protection Program. We believe this categorization was based on flawed justifications and the Network's exclusion from the Protection Program resulted from a lack of coordination between Network stakeholders. Given the importance of the Network to the success of NASA Earth science missions, the launch and contingency support it provides for Federal partners, and its importance in supporting human space flight in the future, we believe a higher categorization and inclusion in the Protection Program is warranted."

NASA chief: Apollo engineers who criticize SLS don't grok modern rocketry, Ars Technica

"Bolden then reiterated that Kraft knew more than him about rockets, but he again qualified this praise: "I have the advantage of a team around me that he didn't have," he said. "You have to remember. Most of us forget. I have a very mature leadership team. When Dr. Kraft was in mission control, and when he led the Johnson Space Center, we went to the Moon. Most of the people were 20 years old. They didn't know anything."

Keith's note: Charlie Bolden clearly misses the irony within his insulting characterization about the younger NASA that sent humans to the Moon. If Bolden serves out the end of the current Administration's term he'll have been Administrator for 7 1/2 years - virtually the same distance between Mercury 3 and Apollo 11.

Orion has flown once - without a crew. SLS has yet to fly and its schedule often slips to the right faster than actual progress is made. Humans may finally fly on it in 2023 some 19 years after the Bush Administration originally initiated a return by American astronauts to the surface of the Moon. In the 1960s NASA went from zero human spaceflight capability to putting humans on the surface of the Moon in less than half that time.

I'll bet some of those 20 year old kids could teach Charlie Bolden and his "very mature leadership team" a thing or two.

NASA FISO Telecon: The Mars Human Landing Sites Study Overview

"The next Future In-Space Operations (FISO) colloquium will be Wednesday, March 16, when we will host Rick Davis and Ben Bussey (both of NASA HQ), who will speak on "The Mars Human Landing Sites Study Overview."

Keith's note: As is always the case this NASA-sponsored and supported telecon (NASA's teleconference network is used) is not mentioned on any NASA calendar, not mentioned on any NASA social media account with #JourneyToMars affixed to it, and appears nowhere at Yet the topic of this telecon and many others is utterly relevant to the whole Humans to Mars thing NASA promotes 24/7/365. Truth be known, these teleconferences are just a little play thing for Harley Thronson and his pals. They really do not want the unwashed masses listening in. Indeed, their invitations state "The University of Texas-hosted home page for FISO colloquium materials, has over the years been released to social media and as result it has been getting a flood of somewhat anti-social attacks by bots that want to harvest the invitation-only data on it." Huh? "Invitation-only"? Really? Oh, and the sheer horror of being found on social media must be unbearable to Thronson.

Why can't all taxpayers have access to these telecons and associated materials? In this case two NASA civil servants will be making presentations that are 100% relevant to what their day jobs are. Yet if I go to the website for this officially NASA-sponsored and supported event, I am specifially blocked from gaining full access. Thronson won't answer questions about this and the University of Texas openly admits that they specifically block my office and iPhone IPs such that I do not have full access. Could this whole #JourneyToMars thing at NASA get any more dysfunctional?

Houston, we have an opportunity, OpEd, Lamar Smith and Ed Perlmutter, Denver Post

"We need a detailed plan to put an end to the uncertainties that could delay a mission to Mars. NASA and American space companies must focus their engineering and scientific expertise on the great task before them. Americans will feel a renewed sense of pride and curiosity about their space program. And they will be able to celebrate another historic first as we plant the American flag on Mars. This could be a turning point in the history of our great space-faring nation. We can do this."

Keith's note: Last week a group of space-related organizations rented the National Press Club so they could announce a white paper on space policy. Why bother? Space is not going to be an issue in the 2016 campaign.

At the press event Elliot Pulham from The Space Foundation said "We thought it would be a good time to have a platform of information out there that all candidates could refer to, learn from and take to heart as they plan their campaigns" but moments later he also said "To some extent, the purpose of this is not to have space become a big presidential issue". Pulham added "Let's not undo anything." Sandy Magnus from the AIAA said that this coalition wanted to take the issue of space policy "off the table" but at the same time she said that this group wants to "stress the importance" of space.

Such is the problem with these sort of documents from the space community. On one hand the space groups want to have a say in the political decisions that affect their members (and donors). But on the other hand they'd rather not have the politicians pay too much attention to space such that the current status quo is not upset. In other words "write us the checks but don't rock the boat" - or more bluntly "look but don't touch". This is, at best, naive thinking on the part of the space community.

If you read the white paper it becomes immediately apparent that this coalition wants everything that they are doing to be supported and in some cases, they want even more money. They also want a stable funding environment (makes sense). The two main programs being supported by this coalition are SLS/Orion and Commercial Crew and Cargo with gratuitous mention of other projects that are important to the members of this coalition. Indeed that is all that this white paper is actually about: supporting specific big aerospace contracts. There is no similarly identified support for specific space, planetary, and earth science. Small wonder that the Planetary Society, American Astronomical Society, the American Geophysical Union, et al are not among the members of this coalition.

While a lot of prominent names are affixed to this white paper it is clearly being driven by the so-called "four amigos": Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Aerojet Rocketdyne, and Orbital ATK - the builders of SLS/Orion. Look at the organizations listed and ponder who the prime donors/members are. Its not that hard to fill in the blanks amidst the smoke and mirrors. No surprise folks - this is how these things always work.

Asteroid Redirect Mission Delayed One Year, Space Policy Online

"President Obama's Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) will not meet the 2025 date he set for the program in 2010. ARM Program Director Michele Gates told a NASA Advisory Council (NAC) committee on March 2 that launch of the robotic portion of the mission is now expected in 2021 and the crew portion in 2026. Both are one year slips from earlier projected dates. President Obama announced on April 15, 2010 that the next destination for human space exploration will be sending astronauts to an asteroid as a step to eventually sending them to Mars. The mission has evolved since then. The current concept calls for a robotic spacecraft to be sent to an asteroid where it will pick up a boulder from its surface and move the boulder to an orbit around the Moon. Astronauts aboard an Orion spacecraft will examine the boulder and retrieve a sample for return to Earth."

Keith's note: ARM will be cancelled by the next Administration regardless of who wins the election. Congress is already on the record as being against it. NASA will not complain about the cancellation since they never really liked it to begin with. More road kill on the #JourneyToMars, y'all.

- Asteroid Boulder Retrieval Mission Needs a Precursor Mission, earlier post
- Asteroid Boulder Retrieval Mission Starts To Drift Away, earlier post
- Earlier posts on Bolden and asteroids, earlier post

The 2016 Presidential Candidates' Views on NASA and Space Exploration, Gizmodo

"Want to get to Mars? Well, NASA needs money to do it, and the president, along with Congress, mostly calls the shots. But NASA has been consistently underfunded over the last decade, and only saw its budget restored to healthier levels in 2016, when Congress carved out $19.3 billion for the agency. With missions to Mars and Jupiter on the horizon, and ambitions of curbing US dependency on Russian launches to the ISS, NASA's no doubt hoping that the next president keeps the money flowing."

Keith's note: Space is just a blip on the political radar. Rarely, if ever, has it had any influence on a presidential election whatsoever - and then, it was fleeting and usually on late night comedy shows. Nor is it likely to change during this election. Besides, whatever you hear during the campaign will be revised and reinterpreted after the election. The candidates forget the issue 2 minutes after they answer a question about it.

Nothing on the horizon suggests that there will be a large increase in NASA's budget. Nor is anyone really targeting NASA for drastic cuts. Given the large commitments the agency is already in the middle of, and the prospect of flat budgets, it is unlikely that there will be any seismic shifts. As for the #JourneyToMars - absent a large infusion of money (again, not likely) the current pay-as-you-go, we-don't-need-a-plan approach is simply not going to get us to Mars any sooner.

The most that space advocates should hope for after the dust settles is that the agency will be held more accountable for its performance and that some budgetary and policy stability will be injected into things already underway so as to make them progress more efficiently.

Kicking The Can Down the Road to Mars, earlier post

Coalition of Space Organizations to Release White Paper: Ensuring U.S. Leadership in Space, AIAA

"A coalition of 13 space organizations will release its white paper, "Ensuring U.S. Leadership in Space." White paper to call attention to the need for the next administration and Congress to make space exploration and use a policy priority. White paper will propose solutions to four challenges facing the U.S. space exploration and use enterprise: unpredictable budgeting, foreign competition, the hostile space environment, and workforce trends."

Staying course on the Journey to Mars, Lou Friedman via SpaceReview

"NASA does not yet have a plan for its now generally agreed-upon space exploration goal, human missions to Mars. It would be a mistake if they did. A plan now, without a specified and approved program and with many options for mission design and technology development, would be premature and wasteful. It would force both a timetable and cost estimates that, by their very definition, would be unrealistic and unsustainable. A premature plan might foreclose some of the options cited above for reaching into the solar system, years before the requisite experience is gained to make the best choices."

Keith's note: It would be a "mistake" for NASA to have a plan for human missions to Mars? Really? How do you develop a budget unless you have a plan against which to derive costs and schedule? Indeed, how do you develop a plan if you do not have an overarching strategy with goals and objectives to guide the development of that plan? How do you know what you need to learn and develop if you have no idea where you are going? Lou Friedman is living in some alternate universe where he thinks that we should run that process in reverse.

If Friedman's cluelessness was not already established by this statement, it should be clear from his support for the Asteroid Redirect Mission, a one-off stunt promoted by the Planetary Society that has no strategic relevance to a human mission to Mars (or the Moon). Watch as it evaporates after the election - regardless of who wins. But wait, there's more. Undeterred from supporting one pointless mission, there's yet another that Friedman supports: the Humans Orbiting Mars mission. In this plan the Planetary Society expects NASA to spend billions and take longer than is currently envisioned in NASA plans to *almost* send humans to the surface of Mars.

Its these half-baked ideas that distract people from making the big decisions that need to be made with regard to America's future in space - decisions that need to be clearly stated, clearly described such that everyone understands where NASA wants to go (and why), and then clearly funded such that anyone can glance at a one page chart and see if everything is/is not going according to plan. Without clear goals, coherent strategy, and a solid plan, NASA will continue to stumble down a ever-changing and increasingly hard to support path on the #JourneyToNowhere

The Last Man on The Moon Wants You To Go Back (Review), SpaceRef

"Nearly half a century ago we sent people on improbable voyages to another world - because we could. Indeed, for a while, such voyages became routine. Then, suddenly, it was over. We stopped visiting the Moon before we had barely figured out to do so. We knew that it might be a while before we went back, but we would go back - right?"

Keith's note: Too bad NASA JSC's R5 Robot is broken - and when it does work it can only do so on tethers and hoists. This Boston Dynamics robot can follow you home through the woods and then clean up your garage. Or pick up moon rocks and put them inside the sample return vehicle.

- Is JSC's R5 Droid Worth Fixing?, earlier post
- Too bad NASA's R5 robot is broken and can't do anything unless it is on hoists and tethers., earlier post
- Never Ask NASA a Simple Question, earlier post
- NASA JSC Has Developed A Girl Robot in Secret (Revised With NASA Responses), earlier post

Record Number of Americans Apply to #BeAnAstronaut at NASA

"More than 18,300 people applied to join NASA's 2017 astronaut class, almost three times the number of applications received in 2012 for the most recent astronaut class, and far surpassing the previous record of 8,000 in 1978. "It's not at all surprising to me that so many Americans from diverse backgrounds want to personally contribute to blazing the trail on our journey to Mars," said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, himself a former astronaut. "A few exceptionally talented men and women will become the astronauts chosen in this group who will once again launch to space from U.S. soil on American-made spacecraft."

Keith's note: Of the 18,300 applications NASA will pick - at most - a dozen candidates. And those new NASA astronauts that are selected can expect to wait nearly 20 years before they go on the #JourneyToMars or wherever. One has to assume that most of the people applying knew it was a long shot. Many probably did it so that they could get the rejection letter (larger image) to frame and show people that they tried. Many more, however, really, really, REALLY would like to fly in space.

NASA did a good job via social media in pumping people to apply. But what is NASA going to do with this interest once reality sets in and 99.9% of the applicants get the rejection letter? Think about it - a marketing plan (oh wait, NASA is not supposed to that) - an education and public outreach (EPO) effort - has just identified 18,300 people who want to fly in space. I suspect the real number out there has multiple zeros after it. That said, NASA now knows who these 18,300 people are. They applied for a job, so all manner of government privacy regulations kick in. As such, NASA probably can't do a damn thing with this priceless information. Or maybe they can.

NASA has done a lot of #NASASocial stuff. It is useful, but I think it has reached the limit of its effectiveness. NASA now needs to enlist a more robust, personal, one-on-one approach to its EPO efforts. NASA has/had a "solar system ambassadors" program as well as other EPO programs that enlisted interested educators and citizens. Guess what: 18,300 potential participants just popped up on NASA's radar screen.

Again: 18,300 citizens just said that they want to fly on a NASA rocket. What is NASA going to do with this influx of self-identified and overtly-avowed space explorers?

SLS upper stage caught in political tug-of-war, SpaceNews

"NASA is stopping work, at the request of Congress, on human-rating the initial upper stage for the Space Launch System, even as the agency argues that its funding projections require it to use that upper stage on crewed missions. At issue is the future use of the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS), an upper stage derived from the Delta 4's upper stage. The ICPS is intended for use on at least the first SLS launch, which will not carry a crew. NASA confirmed Feb. 18 that it has instructed teams to stop work on efforts to human-rate the ICPS for later, crewed SLS missions, following instructions from Congress in the report accompanying the 2016 omnibus spending bill."

NASA moves to enforce early switch to EUS for SLS,

"The EUS recieved a specific reference from NASA Chief Financial Officer David Radzanowski in comments made to the media after the announcement, citing that the reduced funding could impact on implementing the EUS on the second flight of SLS."

Keith's note: On one hand NASA stops work on anything that would involve use of the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) for a crewed EM-2 mission but on the other hand its FY 2017 budget request is nowhere near enough to develop the Exploration Upper Stage (EUS) such that crewed EM-2 can stay on its current schedule. In other words the White House, NASA, and Congress are all but ensuring that the first flight of SLS with humans will most certainly slip - possibly after the second term of the next person to be elected president. NASA started this big Ares-V/SLS effort back in the middle of the Bush presidency. This latest threat to SLS could mean that more than two, double-term presidencies will have passed before NASA can send its new big rocket with anyone on board.

I wonder how many Atlas, Delta, and Falcon rockets you could have bought with the money NASA has spent on Ares-V/SLS? How much sooner could we have begun to build and operate a real cis-lunar infrastructure had we gone with private sector rockets? Yes, it would take more launches, but given the chronic inability for NASA to field its new big rocket, we'd have been further along - for less money - if we'd taken the commercial approaches first envisioned when the Vision for Space Exploration was announced in January 2004. But no, NASA is on a #JourneyToNowhere instead.

- NASA Is Building A Rocket That It Can't Afford To Use, earlier post
- NASA Begins Its Journey To Nowhere, earlier post

NASA Report Details Expert Team Investigation of Asteroid Redirect Mission

"A new report chartered by NASA provides input to important areas of robotic mission requirements development and explores the science benefits and potential knowledge gain from the agency's Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). NASA will visit an asteroid boulder during the Proving Ground phase of its journey to Mars in cislunar space the volume of space around the moon featuring multiple stable staging orbits for future deep space missions."

Report: "A precursor to the ARRM target body in order to scout for boulders and provide surface and boulder physical characteristics would effectively increase the characterization phase duration and should be investigated further. This precursor could be a dedicated mission or be co-manifested with the ARV, arriving at the target earlier. Additional benefits would be gained if the precursor had some means of interacting with the surface to provide geotechnical data."

- Asteroid Boulder Retrieval Mission Starts To Drift Away
- Earlier posts on Bolden and asteroids

NASA's New Budget Would Gut Europa But Otherwise Support Planetary Exploration, Planetary Society

"Europa isn't Mars, and studying and eventually getting humans to Mars is NASA's current overriding goal. Pure politics. Several of the Congressional leaders who are strongly backing the Europa mission and planetary exploration in general are highly conservative politically. While they favor spending more money on planetary missions, they also want to cut funding for missions for NASA to study the Earth, especially climate change. Essentially proposing to push out the launch of a Europa mission to forever may be part of a hardball negotiating tactic to trade more funding for the Europa mission for also fully funding the President's generous proposed budget for Earth science missions."

Keith's note: This is hilarious. The Planetary Society is using the "politics" dog whistle when in fact politics is all that they engage in when they lobby Congress for their referred projects - and against those they do not like. In this case, they are not getting their way, so, of course it is due to that horrible Washington scourge called "politics". What will be fun to watch is when the Planetary Society eventually realizes that the only way that they are going to get their preferred Europa mission ala Rep. Culberson, is to fly it on a SLS. That means that they will have to start lobbying for SLS - and against (or not in support of) Earth science and/or commercial crew (where their extra Europa money will come from). Of course SLS is at the heart of NASA's #JourneyToMars so the Planetary Society will have to start to support that effort (which is also eating Europa funds) and not their Almost-Mission to Mars concept.

NASA budget proposal widens divide between White House and Congress, Ars Technica

"Although NASA is proceeding with development of the SLS, a number of outside panels have questioned whether NASA can afford to build, fly and, sustain the expensive program, especially with projections of low flight rates of one launch or fewer per year. The biggest concern is that the rocket is so expensive to fly it precludes a meaningful exploration program within NASA's existing budget."

Keith's note: With the cuts to both SLS and Orion in the Administration's FY 2017 budget you can expect the same food fight with Congress to pick up where it left off last time. And as was the case before, Congress will go after Commercial Crew and Cargo, Technology, and Earth Science to put SLS and Orion back at the level Congress wants. Of course, election time will soon skew everything and the chances that there will be a formal budget will drop. The net result is that NASA will not know for certain what its budget will be and this uncertainty will cause launch dates to slip to the right. With these slips the overall cost of the SLS and Orion programs will increase - and commercial crew will take longer to happen than might otherwise be the case.

Naturally, the next Administration will stall for time and eventually appoint a blue ribbon panel to write a report and the cycle will start all over again. Their conclusion will be that NASA has no plan (and that it needs to hurry up and develop one) and, by the way, NASA cannot do all of the things it has been tasked to do under a budget that does not grow. Considering that all of these arguments are set to occur under a NASA budget that is likely going to stay flat, nothing will change since no one will give up pushing for the things that they want NASA to do. The inevitable result will be that NASA will end up with a launch system that will have nothing to launch on the imaginary #JourneyToNowhere.

NASA's asteroid mission isn't dead yet, Ars Technica

"This week, as the agency's chief financial officer, David Radzanowski, discussed the president's budget in a conference call with reporters, he let slip a seemingly huge piece of news. The robotic spacecraft NASA planned to grab an asteroid boulder would not launch in 2020, as originally planned, but some time in the early- to mid-2020s. The agency's notional launch date had changed to 2023, Radzanowski said. But he then cautioned reporters not to focus on that date. It could be earlier than that, he said, adding: "Don't get fixated that there's a delay at this point in time." But it is difficult to see 2023 as anything but a three-year delay."

Keith's note: This evaporating interest is not surprising given that NASA never really knew why it was doing this Asteroid Boulder Retrieval Mission anyway. Either it was/was not trying to protect Earth and/or this was/was not a stepping stone on the #JourneyToMars or something. Charlie Bolden's confusion on this topic was in evidence last year at budget time:

- Earlier posts on Bolden and asteroids

Introducing Asteroid Day, ESA

"The press conference to reveal the events and partners for Asteroid Day 2016 is due to start on Tuesday, 9 February at 1500 CET (1400 UTC). It is being held at ESA's ESTEC technical centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands."

Asteroid Day Press Event

"Building on the highly successful first-ever Asteroid Day in 2015, organisers, together with the European Space Agency, will announce partners and the addition of premier and independently organised events for Asteroid Day 2016, scheduled for June 30 around the world. The Press Conference will use multimedia platforms to accommodate speakers from around the world."

Keith's note: Interesting. People from all over the world are gathering in person and remotely for this event. This makes sense given the global nature of the threat posed by asteroid impacts. One thing that is glaringly absent about this event: not a single participant is representing NASA. This is especially bizzarre given that NASA has a multi-billion dollar mission (ARM) to retrieve a piece of a Near Earth Object and return it to Earth. NASA trips over itself to cite all of the reasons why this mission is important (to NASA) including lots of asteroid threat studies. Yet when it comes to this global effort: nothing but crickets.

And then this release comes out from PSI promoting the use of the NASA Webb Space Telescope to observe NEOs.

James Webb Space Telescope to Offer Better View of Near Earth Objects, PSI

"NASA's James Webb Space Telescope will allow scientists to better find, study and understand Near Earth Objects (NEOs), a new paper by a Planetary Science Institute researcher said. ... From its orbital position, JWST could have access to observe nearly three-fourths of NEOs, and nearly all asteroids and comets beyond Mars could be observed."

Space experts warn Congress that NASA's "Journey to Mars" is illusory, Ars Technica

"Another panelist, Tom Young, the former director of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and former president and chief operating officer of the Martin Marietta Corporation, agreed that NASA does not currently have a clear pathway to Mars. "What we do not have is a plan, strategy, or architecture with sufficient detail that takes us from today to humans on the surface of Mars," he said. Young said he favored continuing with a mission to Mars but that following such a course required hard choices and narrowing NASA's focus. The agency cannot both have a flourishing program in low Earth orbit with the International Space Station while also trying to mount a Mars exploration program, he argued. Agency officials have said they are not ready to talk in detail about Mars plans because they are evolving."

Congress asks: Can NASA really get astronauts to Mars?, Christian Science Monitor

"We pretend that we are on a '#JourneytoMars,' but in fact, possess neither the technology nor the economic resources necessary to undertake a human Mars mission now or within the foreseeable future," testified Paul Spudis, senior scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute, a Texas-based space research institution."

The Moon or Mars? NASA Must Pick 1 Goal for Astronauts, Experts Tell Congress,

"[Tom] Young spoke about the desire to have fewer "tombstones" for cancelled projects and more "memorials" to successful ones. He reiterated the thesis of his opening remarks, that what NASA needs more than anything is a concrete plan for how it should proceed. "I am personally passionate about humans going to Mars, but I'm equally passionate about a good, disciplined plan that is not frivolous," he said. "A plan that does what is required, but also doesn't just do what's possible."

Many politicians are unhappy with what they see as NASA's disregard for concrete details and deadlines, Inverse

"The committee seemed most irritated about how the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) NASA's plan to send a robotic spacecraft to a near-Earth asteroid, pick up a giant boulder, and bring it to lunar orbit for a crew to study fits into the overall Mars objective. .. [ARM] is a misguided mission without a mission, without a launch date, and without ties to exploration goals," said Representative Lamar Smith from Texas. "It's just a time-wasting distraction."

- ASAP: NASA Has No Plan or Firm Funding For Its #JourneyToMars
- Kicking The Can Down the Road to Mars, earlier post
- NASA Begins Its Journey To Nowhere, earlier post
- Yet Another NASA Mars "Plan" Without A Plan - or a Budget, earlier post
- NASA's Strategic Plan Isn't Strategic - or a Plan, earlier post
- Charlie Bolden's Meandering Strategic Plans, earlier post

Inspiration Endures

My Aunt, Judy Resnik, by Jenna Resnik

"You can shape your destiny and create your future, if only you try. Go find your 'other world', and remember that if you shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you'll land among the stars. The sky's the limit, people! Lastly, during all of your future endeavors, don't let what anyone else thinks get in your way, because as Aunt Judy said, "It is very important for you to realize that people who you consider to be heroes are really quite like yourselves. Only hard work and perseverance will help you to succeed at any venturethere is no magic of being more 'special' than someone else."

NASA Remembers Its Fallen Heroes, 30th Anniversary of Challenger Accident

"NASA will pay will tribute to the crews of Apollo 1 and space shuttles Challenger and Columbia, as well as other NASA colleagues, during the agency's Day of Remembrance on Thursday, Jan. 28, the 30th anniversary of the Challenger accident. NASA's Day of Remembrance honors members of the NASA family who lost their lives while furthering the cause of exploration and discovery."

Keith's update: The Arlington National Cemetery wreath laying will now start at 11 am EST.

Scott Parazynski: Still on Cloud 10 (on the summit of Mt. Everest)

"I tied off a pair of flags I'd made to honor astronauts and cosmonauts who had perished in the line of duty (Apollo 1, Challenger, Columbia, Soyuz 1 and Soyuz 11), as I could think of no finer place on Earth to hang them. In the coming days, weeks, months and years, like their Tibetan prayer flag counterparts, they will weather under the wind, sun and snow, and slowly lift back up into the heavens."

Arctic Memorials and Starship Yearnings

"Given the sheer mass of the structure, and the slow manner with which things change here, this inukshuk may well be standing 500 years from now. That should be long enough. Maybe someone serving on a starship will think to visit it."

Ancient Memorials for Modern Space Explorers

"A week prior to my departure I got a call from June Scobee Rogers, the widow of Challenger's commander Dick Scobee. She was thrilled with what we were doing and asked if we'd like to place a few mementos in the inukshuk. She then described what she was sending. A day or so later a package arrived. As I opened it I told my wife, with a bit of a tear in my eye, "this is history". I had been sent one of the few items Dick Scobee had left in his briefcase when he took off for his last mission: a business card and a mission lapel pin. I am certain that his family has so little in the way of such items. As such I was really honored that the family had chosen this inukshuk we planned to build on Devon Island, as the place where such precious items would rest."

Space Advocates Like To Talk To Themselves (Sept 2015)

"Rick Tumlinson and his New World Institute had all the space advocates in Washington all pumped up for his "Pioneering Space National Summit" event in February 2015. No media were allowed in. If one were to believe all of the pre-game hype, discussions were to be had amongst the pillars of the space community, and momentous statements intended to break the deadlock and propel us all into space were to be issued."

Move Along. This Is Not The Space Policy You're Looking For. (Feb 2015)

"One theme that is circulating among the people who have been invited are window dressing for an apparent push to get everyone to throw their support behind SLS. I wonder how many in attendance know that there are efforts afoot to sculpt this get together into something other than advertised."

Pioneering Space National Summit: So Far, Nothing But Crickets (June 2015)

"The organizers (most notably Rick Tumlinson and Mary Lynne Dittmar) spoke of all the wonderful things that would result from this event. Well, it has been 4 months. Other than a declaration that was proclaimed shortly after the meeting, nothing else seems to have been generated. Checking the website there seems to be little in the way of output. In Spring 2015 two documents that are only a couple of pages long, comprised mostly of semi-edited meeting notes/outlines emerged: Report: Deliberation #1 - Vision (Group A) and Report: Deliberation #2 - Strategy (Group A). Two other documents are apparently being edited." That's it.

Keith's note: Well it has been a year. Nothing new about the Pioneering Space National Summit has emerged from Team Tumlinson that comes anywhere close to the national consensus or powerful alliance of space advocacy and industry groups that everyone thought would emerge. Something called the Alliance for Space Development (a re-tread of some other alliance) emerged with only small and fading organizations as members. It has done nothing. The Coalition for Deep Space Exploration emerged, itself a refit version of an earlier industry effort (minus the word "Deep") emerged, led by Dittmar. This reboot is now focused solely on lobbying for SLS and Orion. The earlier incarnation, the Coalition for Space Exploration, actually did some useful things. However, it's "Deep" version does not seem to do anything except prompt Dittmar to retweet other people's tweets.

So here we are, a year later, with none of the coordinated space policy goodness that all of the space advocates promised one another. They - we - all sit on the cusp of yet another presidential election - yet once again no two space advocates can give you the same vision of what a good, broadly-supported space policy should be for America.

Y'all had your chance - and you blew it (again).

Keith's update: This just in: Rick Tumlinson has written yet another op ed wherein he chastises all of the other space advocates while they all wait for the results from his space policy extravaganza last year. Note that he tweets this as a "warning to DC space". Alas, Tumlinson has become part of the very same "smoke and mirrors" crowd that he professes such disappointment with.

A Letter to the Washington Space Establishment, Huffington Post

"While you've wasted a lot of our time and money on dead ends, I still have hopes for you. While anyone else might look at what you've done -- the lies, the smoke and mirrors, the way you would sometimes dress up our future so nicely and then go out and cheat on it with someone who only wanted our money -- and walk away, I want to give it another go."

- Pioneering Space National Summit Details Emerge, earlier post
- Alliance for Space Development: Yawn - Yet Another Space Group, earlier post
- Space Advocates Work Together By Not Working Together, earlier post
- Move Along. This Is Not The Space Policy You're Looking For., earlier post
- Yet Another Plan For Outer Space, earlier post

British explorer Henry Worsley dies crossing Antarctic, 30 miles short of goal, CNN

"Worsley's last statement sent from Antarctica said: "The 71 days alone on the Antarctic with over 900 statute miles covered and a gradual grinding down of my physical endurance finally took its toll today, and it is with sadness that I report it is journey's end -- so close to my goal."

Charles D. Walker: Don't relinquish all space exploration to private firms, Charles Walker, Arizona Daily Star

"The idea is attractive, even if commercial plans for a Mars mission are hypothetical at best. But as much as I support the private space industry, experience and common sense tell me that a commercial Mars human landing won't ever get off the ground not unless NASA goes there first. Businesses are slaves to short-term balance sheets, and private space-industry investors and shareholders are notoriously risk-averse. Even wealthy entrepreneurs won't throw their money away. They'll back straightforward missions like delivering cargo to the space station 250 miles above the Earth using mature and well-tested technologies if they can turn a profit within a reasonable time with acceptable risk."

Keith's note: This is the sort of Pro-SLS, only-government-can-explore sort of nonsense that Mary Lynne Dittmar and her Coalition for Deep Space Exploration are pushing. (this op ed is linked to from the Coalition's website). This is how Dittmar retweeted a link to this op ed:

This statement by Dittmar is fundamentally silly given that the "whims of market or investors" are precisely what push the management of Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Orbital ATK, ULA, Aerojet, and the rest of the aerospace sector to pursue big government projects such as Orion and SLS. Dittmar can't have it both ways.

Keith's additional note: At the NASA Advisory Council meeting last year, Bill Gerstenmaier made it very clear that NASA needs to have a fully commercialized LEO infrastructure in order to free up NASA resources to focus on SLS/Orion-based exploration of cislunar space - and later, of Mars. When asked what would happen if that LEO commercialization did not happen, Gerstenmaier said that NASA would have to reassess how it would accomplish its exploration goals. Clearly, Mary Lynn Dittmar, NASA's future exploration of space is intimately tied to the success of LEO commercialization - an activity that will be driven by the "whims of market or investors". Besides, everyone knows that NASA's ability to explore is, always has been, and always will be "held hostage to whims of" -- Congress. As such, what is wrong with trying to find an alternate path to enable the exploration and utilization of space?

Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel Annual Report 2015

"In October 2015, NASA published what it called "a detailed outline" of its next steps in getting to the Red Planet. Unfortunately, the level of detail in the report, NASA's Journey to Mars: Pioneering the Next Steps in Space Exploration, does not really validate whether NASA would be capable of achieving such an ambitious objective in a reasonable time period, with realistically attainable technologies, and with budgetary requirements that are consistent with the current economic environment."

- Kicking The Can Down the Road to Mars, earlier post
- NASA Begins Its Journey To Nowhere, earlier post
- Yet Another NASA Mars "Plan" Without A Plan - or a Budget, earlier post
- NASA's Strategic Plan Isn't Strategic - or a Plan, earlier post
- Charlie Bolden's Meandering Strategic Plans, earlier post

ISS Solar Panel Rip, Secret Space Escapes, (Video) Science Channel

How Astronauts Cope When Things Go Wrong in Space, Mental Floss

"Scott Parazynski is no stranger to dangerous situations and extreme environments. The astronaut/doctor/inventor/pilot has summited Mount Everest and gone SCUBA diving in a volcano. But it's his last spacewalk that sticks in his mind. Parazynski was up on the International Space Station in 2007 when a hole appeared in one of the station's electrified solar panels. "As this thing was being unfurled, it began to rip apart," he tells mental_floss. "So we had to go and physically repair a live, fully energized solar panel." It was a dangerous mission, but the crew didn't really have a choice. "If we weren't able to repair the solar panel," Parazynski says, "we would have had to [throw] away a billion-dollar national asset. It would have limited the work that could have been done aboard the International Space Station. It certainly was a huge amount of pressure on my shoulders and on the rest of the team." Keith's note: Scott likes to fiddle with things. The technical term is "McGyvering". In this video on the STS-120 solar panel repair you can see him using a bent item called the "Hockey Stick" made by wrapping lots of Kapton electrical insulating tape. When Scott and I were at Everest in 2009 we needed to come up with a way for him to handle a small lucite hemisphere (the size of a large gumdrop) filed with 4 little flecks of Apollo 11 moon rocks. Our code word for this little collection of moon rocks (which had been in my chest pocket for 3 weeks) was "The Nugget". Given that we wanted Scott to hold the Nugget up on the summit with the Moon in the background - and then bring it back we needed to make it bigger to handle. Five miles in the sky with little oxygen and brutally cold temperatures we needed for Scott to handle the sample without dropping it and if he did drop it we had to make it more readily findable. Losing a moon rock on the summit of Mt. Everest was not an option. Using the resources at hand we got two lids from some Pringles cans (a favorite food there) and some duct tape. Space Nerds that we were we called the completed McGyvered item the "Nugget Containment Device". And it worked perfectly. For me down below it was also fun to stand at Everest Base Camp and hold the Nugget Containment Device up to the sky and eclipse the Moon - with piece of the Moon. The Nugget plus a piece of the summit of Everest are now aboard the ISS.

In your face Mark Watney.

More on the Moon rocks and Everest at "Playing With Moon Rocks and Duct Tape at the Dinner Table" and "Moon and Everest Rocks At Home in Space"

Attempt no landing there? Yeah right we're going to Europa, Ars Technica

"NASA is very publicly planning a mission to Europa in the 2020s, one that will soar over the intriguing moon dozens of times. Yet the reality is more thrilling. Quietly, the same engineers who masterminded the daring Curiosity landing on Mars in 2012 have been plotting how best to drop a lander onto the nightmare glacier. In early November, they presented their preliminary findings for a 230-kg lander to the one person in the world who can, and who dearly wants to, make that happen. "I told them to do whatever it takes," said Representative John Culberson after meeting with the NASA scientists. "All of humanity is going to want to know what's under the ice."

A Lander for NASA's Europa Mission, Planetary Society

"There's been almost no official information on the lander. What we know comes from a long article from Ars Technica's Eric Berger on the then possible addition of a lander and a dedicated plume flyby sub-satellite."

Keith's note: This is one of the more odd posts by the Planetary Society. My talented colleague Eric Berger committed some actual journalism and published a story on this. Then the Planetary Society (or one of their preferred bloggers, Van Kane) did a story - on Eric's story - with some passive insinuations about its veracity such as "Berger is a long time space reporter and has developed a good relationship with House Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Culberson (R-TX)." And then it goes on to use variations on "Berger says" a dozen times - as if Eric is the source of everything about this concept. No, he's a reporter - a rather industrious one at that. Kane then goes on to cast doubt on the notion that anything could - or should be landed on Europa. Oddly, the author never (apparently) spoke to Rep. Culberson. Or to Eric Berger. Or to NASA. The Planetary Society was all over the notion of sending a mission to Europa when it was fanning the flames over the recently approved budget. Now, well, not so much, it would seem. Its becoming difficult to figure out what Planetary Society is against - or what it was for - before it was against. There's no disclaimer on the article other than to note where it first appeared. How odd. A member of Congress totally 'gets' astrobiology and exploration - and yet this second guessing post is the best that Planetary Society can put forth?

Keith's note: Duh. So has every rocket that has gone into space for more than half a century. In the meantime NASA has yet to come up with avionics that can come close to matching the efficiently packaged, elegant wetware inside the small brain of a falcon.

Funny how NASA omits mention of the rocket named FALCON - you know - that reusable rocket that can take off and land - and then take off and land again - just like a real falcon - something that SLS will never be able to do.

NASA Gets Big Boost in Final FY2016 Appropriations Bill, Space Policy Online

"The Orion spacecraft will receive $1.270 billion, $174 million more than the request and $76 million more than FY2014. Within Advanced Exploration Systems funding, Congress also directs NASA to spend no less than $55 million on a habitation module, which will be needed to augment living space for astronauts on lengthy trips beyond low Earth orbit. Congress wants a prototype habitation module no later than 2018."

Congress Pushes NASA To Build Deep Space Habitat For Mars Mission By 2018, HuffPost

"For now, though, very little is known about the habitat, including its requirements and how it will be built. "It's much too early for that," Sam Scimemi, International Space Station director at NASA Headquarters, told SpaceNews. "As soon as I put a picture up there, somebody is going to assume what the configuration is."

Keith's note: Of course Sam Scimemi has no idea. No one does at NASA - even though the agency has played with innumerable Mars vehicles over the past 50 years. But ask them what the requirements are/were for those designs and they suddenly go silent. NASA creates this problem by virtue of not saying what they mean - or meaning what they say. When they want you to think that they are serious they show you all the pretty pictures. But when you try and nail them on specifics - well, their favorite word "notional" suddenly ends up in every sentence.

You can see lots of pictures of NASA's previous Mars mission concepts online here at NASA.

If NASA operates as it always does, the agency will not deliver the required report to Congress within 180 days of the signing of this bill into law. If/when they do deliver it to Congress it will be totally lacking in detail, will punt on the important issues, and will make sure that Congress knows that whatever NASA does it will cost a lot of extra money. Eventually Congress will get mad and ask the National Academy of Sciences to do yet another report. Then there will be an election and everything will get reset to zero again. But wait - we're on a #JourneyToMars - because @NASA says so on Twitter.

Keith's note: NASA's R5 robot can't complete any of the tasks it was designed to do and placed last in DARPA's challenge in 2013. So NASA sent the robot to two universities in 2015 to see if some students could fix it. NASA refuses to tell you how much this robot cost, why it was developed, or how it works. But before they sent their broken droids off to college for repairs they decided that R5 was good for one thing: dancing in music videos - just in time for Star Wars.

Is this what NASA calls "dancing"? This looks more like a slow motion mime with stiff joints. The video's caption says "NASA's latest robotic addition had been created to "perform in extreme environments." The space agency is investing in robotics for deep space exploration and Valkyrie will compete in their Space Robotics Challenge in 2016."

Oh boy - a robot dance off. I can't wait.

- NASA JSC's Failed R-5 Robot Project Refuses To Explain Itself, earlier post
- Is JSC's R5 Droid Worth Fixing?, earlier post
- Never Ask NASA a Simple Question, earlier post
- NASA Awards Two Robots to University Groups for R&D Upgrades, earlier post
- Does NASA Have a Robotics Strategy? Did It Ever Have One?, earlier post
- NASA JSC Has Developed A Girl Robot in Secret (Revised With NASA Responses), earlier post

Keith's note: This 2006 video "Reach" by Karen Lau is my number one favorite thing NASA has ever done for education and public outreach. I try and feature it once a year. The actor in the video is probably 12 years old now. Yet we're no closer to going back to the Moon - or on to Mars on the cusp of 2016 than we were in 2006.

I grew up in the 1960s being told that we'd land on the Moon "by the end of this decade". We did. Then I was told by NASA that we'd be on Mars by 1981. Sure, why not. Now in 2015, nearly 50 years after my younger self was promised Mars by 1981 Charlie Bolden gets excited when he says "we're less than 20 years away from going to Mars".

Had NASA kept its original promise I'd have been 26 when we landed humans on Mars. Now, if NASA does it by 2035 I'll be 80. If.

This is not progress, NASA. Its an embarrassment. And its your fault.

Keith's note: There is no mention of this amazing photo (or many other stunning photos) to be found at this ISS gallery page or at Scott Kelly's Flickr, NASA2Explore Flickr, NASA_JSC_Photo Flickr, NASA Earth Observatory Flickr, etc. No higher resolution version, no mention of what part of Earth's surface is shown, when it was taken, etc. To be certain having crew members tweet things from orbit to 13.5 million people is great - but so many chances to vastly enhance this reach are missed every day.

Yes, I am complaining about the way NASA sends pictures from space (more or less directly) to my iPhone many times a day. NASA could be spreading this magic elsewhere so very easily.

From A Risky Spacewalk To The Top of Mount Everest, Popular Science

"Parazynski just seems to be wired differently than many of us. His pursuit of extreme environments seems to know no bounds. In addition to being an astronaut (who has completed five space shuttle missions, seven space walks and spent 57 days in space), Parazynski is also a medical doctor, scuba diver, pilot, speaker and mountain climber he's the only astronaut to summit Mount Everest. He gives his parents and some key life events credit for his adventurous spirit. "It's hardwired in my blood," he says."

- Photos of Scott Parazynski on the Summit of Mt. Everest, SpaceRef

The Importance of Being There

Astronauts-in-Training Spend a Year in a "Box", KTRH

"Editor Keith Cowing of says similar exercises have been done in the past, but you always knew at the end of the day you were going to get in your car and go home. It's different now. "You know that, in the back of your mind," Cowing says, "but if you're in the middle of a polar desert, you're being stressed by that environment, and how you react is going to show how you might react to a similar situation on Mars." A trip to Mars would take two years, possibly as many as three. It's important for scientists to find out whether a man or woman can deal with the stress of isolation for that long. They also have to be able to fix things. "How do you select people who are one part Captain Kirk, one part Spock and one part Scotty? I mean," he says, "that's what you're really looking for."

New Arrivals at ESA's Concordia Base in Antarctica

Keith's note: in my interview the "similar exercises" that I was referring to are things done onsite at NASA JSC or at IBMP in Moscow(500 day simulated Mars missions) i.e. facilities where the real world was just outside a door. You can never totally remove that knowledge from the mind of an experimental participant. Speaking from personal experience during month-long stays on Devon Island and at Everest Base Camp, when you are actually in a place where you are profoundly aware of just how utterly isolated - and at risk - you are, you do things differently. And you are forced by that isolation/risk to be creative in how you solve problems - especially those you did not anticipate. There's no 911 to dial (easily) and no Home Depot nearby. Its in these expeditionary or so-called "planetary analog" environments that the human - and technological - factor are truly tested.

NASA needs to be doing much more of the planetary analog work that ESA is so supportive of in Antarctica if it wants the whole #JourneyToMars thing to actually happen.

Red Planet red flags? NASA council has doubts about Mars mission, CNet

"A NASA Advisory Council meeting is typically about as exciting as it sounds, but the three-day meeting of the NAC now underway at the Johnson Space Center in Houston included a bit of a bombshell from council member Bill Ballhaus. He chairs a committee tasked with looking into NASA's plans to address risks and challenges of the journey to Mars and reported that the committee did not get the plan from NASA it was expecting. "This is not the outcome we wanted. We wanted a plan that argued for urgency but we did not find that," Ballhaus said. "We might as well face up to it."

Asteroid Redirect Mission FAST Draft Report Available for Public Comment

"The Formulation Assessment and Support Team (FAST) for the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) was a two-month effort that NASA chartered to provide timely inputs for mission requirement formulation in support of the Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission (ARRM) Requirements Closure Technical Interchange Meeting (TIM) in mid-December of 2015. Following the ARM FAST's two-month study with 18 participants, NASA has released a draft report for public comment."

More #JourneyToMars Hype

Keith's note: As if Orion with only a service module will be in Mars orbit.

Oh the Places We Won't Go: Humans Will Settle Mars, and Nowhere Else, Lou Friedman

"Humans will become a multi-planet species by making it to Mars, but no farther. That is, they will never travel beyond Mars."

Keith's note: While Planetary Society Co-founder Lou Friedman proclaims that humans will never go beyond Mars, a stunning video, posthumously narrated by Planetary Society Co-founder Carl Sagan, certainly suggests otherwise. I'm with Sagan on this one. Watch this video full screen with the sound turned up. Ad astra, y'all.

The Planetary Society Is Against Human Space Flight, earlier post

Oh the Places We Won't Go: Humans Will Settle Mars, and Nowhere Else, Lou Friedman

"Humans will become a multi-planet species by making it to Mars, but no farther. That is, they will never travel beyond Mars. Some find this to be negativean absolute statement of limits and thus of giving up. My job here is to prove the opposite: humans exploring the universe with nanotechnology robotics, bio-molecular engineering, and artificial intelligence is something that is exciting and positive, and is based on an optimistic view of the future. ... Getting beyond Mars (with humans) is impossible - not just physically for the foreseeable future but also culturally forever."

Keith's note: Yet another defeatist, robots-instead-of-humans op ed - this time by a founder of the Planetary Society. Indeed, he's afraid to even try. One quick look at the organization's "Humans Orbiting Mars" plan shows that they have to kill the ISS and avoid sending humans back to the Moon so that they can *almost" land on Mars. If this organization has its way humans will never leave low Earth orbit again.

Friedman et al may be too afraid to try and go beyond Mars - back to the Moon - or elsewhere across the solar system - but there are many, many more people who relish the chance to do so.

- Planetary Society Does Not Want Humans on Mars, earlier post
- The Planetary Society Does Not Want "The Martian" To Happen, earlier post
- At Planetary Society: Its Do As I Say - Not As I Do, earlier post
- Planetary Society's Mars Mission Takes Longer To Do Less, earlier post
- Planetary Society is Both For and Against Human Spaceflight, earlier post

Keith's update: Lou Friedman posted a comment (comments section below). He chides me for not reflecting what his book says. DUH, Lou I never read the book. I never said that I had. I responded to your words as posted on the Scientific American website. If there is an "out of context" issue, Lou, then post your entire book online - otherwise, you wrote what you wrote. Don't expect people to be mind readers about what you meant to say - or said somewhere else. Based on your words you are quite clearly a defeatist when it comes to the human exploration of the solar system - a stance that the Planetary Society echoes. Funny how you seek to distance yourself from Planetary Society yet your Twitter handle is @TpsLdf. Just a coincidence, I suppose.

NASA's Efforts to Manage Health and Human Performance Risks for Space Exploration, NASA OIG

"Although NASA continues to improve its process for identifying and managing health and human performance risks associated with space flight, we believe that given the current state of knowledge, the Agency's risk mitigation schedule is optimistic and NASA will not develop countermeasures for many deep space risks until the 2030s, at the earliest."

The First (Analog) Tweet From Space - In 1968

"On October 14, 1968, the Apollo 7 crew became the first to broadcast live from space. Count the characters in their message. "Keep those cards and letters coming in, folks!". 44. A perfect Tweet. In 1968."

Charlie Bolden: Advancing the Journey to Mars (Video)

"NASA Administrator Charles Bolden spoke about the agency's journey to Mars during remarks to the Center for American Progress in Washington, DC., on Wednesday, October 28, 2015. NASA recently released the report "Journey to Mars: Pioneering Next Steps in Space Exploration," outlining its plan to reach Mars in phases, starting by testing technologies and conducting research aboard the International Space Station; developing the necessary hardware and procedures in the proving ground around the moon; and finally sending astronauts to Mars itself."

First NASA Landing Site/Exploration Zone Workshop for Human Missions to the Surface of Mars

"NASA's first Landing Sites/Exploration Zones Workshop for Human Missions to the Surface of Mars will be held Oct. 27-30 at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston. The agency is hosting the workshop to collect proposals for locations on Mars that would be of high scientific research value while also providing natural resources to enable human explorers to land, live and work safely on the Red Planet."

NASA Begins Its Journey To Nowhere, earlier post

"No one with even a shred of fiscal accumen will tell you that a multi-decade program to send humans to Mars - as is typically done by NASA (delays, overruns, and PR hype) - is going to be done "within current budget levels, with modest increases aligned to economic growth."

Yet Another NASA Mars "Plan" Without A Plan - or a Budget, earlier post

"There is no "plan" in this "plan". Its a description of a bunch of things what NASA says it needs to do but there is no budget, firm timeline, architecture, or overarching mission goals. This is just another PDF file with pretty pictures and a unorganized shopping list of ideas."

NASA Calls for American Industry Ideas on ARM Spacecraft Development, NASA

"NASA's ARRM is being formulated to perform a number of technology demonstrations needed for the agency's journey to Mars, including the use of a 20-fold improvement in state-of-the-art deep space solar electric propulsion capability to move and maneuver multi-ton objects. The objective of the robotic segment of ARM is to acquire a multi-ton boulder from a large asteroid and redirect it to a crew-accessible orbit around our moon, setting the stage for future integrated crewed and robotic vehicle operations in deep space."

NASA Virtual Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission Community Update

"NASA's Asteroid Redirect Mission and the robotic component of the overall mission will be the topic of an online Adobe Connect community update on Friday, Oct. 23 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. EDT. During the update, NASA leaders will share recent developments for the Asteroid Redirect Mission, including the recent spacecraft design study solicitation and the selection of the mission's Formulation Assessment and Support Team members."

Conceptual Studies for the Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission (ARRM) Spacecraft

NASA finally talks Mars budget, and it's not enough, Houston Chronicle

"At the Capitol Hill luncheon, Lightfoot said a Mars program would have to be accomplished with a budget that is one-tenth of the budget that sent Apollo astronauts to the moon. "From a NASA perspective it'll be done for about one-tenth of the budget that we were doing back then," Lightfoot said, according to Space News. A NASA spokeswoman said after Lightfoot's speech that he was comparing the Apollo budget and the agency's current budget based on percentages of the overall federal budget. NASA received 4 percent of the total federal budget during the height of the Apollo Program, and today NASA has 0.4 percent. "We intend to carry out our current ambitious exploration plans within current budget levels, with modest increases aligned to economic growth," NASA's Lauren Worley said. The release of the "Journey to Mars" report that contained no specific budget for a Mars mission frustrated some members of Congress."

Keith's note: NASA's answer just confuses things further. No one with even a shred of fiscal accumen will tell you that a multi-decade program to send humans to Mars - as is typically done by NASA (delays, overruns, and PR hype) - is going to be done "within current budget levels, with modest increases aligned to economic growth." This is just back peddling NASA PR mumbo jumbo designed to try and make it seem that Lightfoot said something other than what he actually said. Oddly, as they berate NASA for its delays that are often due to wacky budget actions by Congress, Congress neglects to mention that between FY10-15 the White House has given $1.8 billion more to NASA than Congress wanted to give the agency while Congress simultaneously and consistently cuts the President's request for Commercial Crew every year.

No one has a plan or a budget. This is no way to send people to Mars.

NASA Releases Plan Outlining Next Steps in the Journey to Mars

"NASA is leading our nation and the world on a journey to Mars, and Thursday the agency released a detailed outline of that plan in its report, "NASA's Journey to Mars: Pioneering Next Steps in Space Exploration." "NASA is closer to sending American astronauts to Mars than at any point in our history," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "Today, we are publishing additional details about our journey to Mars plan and how we are aligning all of our work in support of this goal. In the coming weeks, I look forward to continuing to discuss the details of our plan with members of Congress, as well as our commercial and our international and partners, many of whom will be attending the International Astronautical Congress next week."

Keith's note: This is just pathetic. There is no "plan" in this "plan". Its a description of a bunch of things what NASA says it needs to do but there is no budget, firm timeline, architecture, or overarching mission goals. This is just another PDF file with pretty pictures and a unorganized shopping list of ideas. This is not how you prepare for a "Journey to Mars" or a journey anywhere else for that matter. And how does this "plan" integrate with NASA's recently issued Strategic Plan? Wouldn't you think that they'd be intimately integrated?

NASA's Strategic Plan Isn't Strategic - or a Plan, earlier post

"This thing reads like an annual report - there is no "plan" in this strategic plan. The authors are utterly confused as to what a "goal", "objective", and "strategy" are and confusingly use the terms interchangeably. It is almost as if they say "it is important that we do what we are doing because we are already doing it".

As an Emerging Space Nation Israel Makes a Statement in Hosting the International Astronautical Congress, SpaceRef

"Israel's space program was born out of military need, but in recent years the civil space program has received an infusion of funding and next week it will host the annual International Astronautical Congress in Jerusalem."

Marc's note: Charlie Bolden will take part in the annual Heads of Agencies plenary next Monday.

I will be at Congress covering it with stories to be posted here.

Related: Q&A with Isaac Ben-Israel, Chairman of the Israel Space Agency, SpaceNews

Keith's note: "The Martian" is doing very well in theaters. Reviews are strong, space advocates love it, and the media has been putting forth some long, often thoughtful, discussions about the value of human exploration and NASA's ability to work with a prominent film to get that message out. That's human exploration by the way - as in humans going to places to explore. But at the Planetary Society, there is ongoing doubt about this exploration paradigm.

Last week senior Planetary Society staffer Emily Lakdawalla referred to humans on Mars as "filthy meatbag bodies" in response to her organization's report on their preferred mission to Mars where humans would be held at bay for years and maybe land on the surface 25 years from now. Maybe. And they have to kill the ISS to make that plan happen.

As I noted last week, it is quite obvious that the Planetary Society would be happy if it took longer to put humans on Mars than NASA and others would like it to take since "Filthy meatbag bodies" don't belong on Mars - if at all possible. An additional tweet from Lakdawalla tonight, coupled with one last year (there have been others) shows that Planetary Society staff are openly hostile to the notion of humans on Mars - or anywhere else in space. These anti-human spaceflight tweets are never deleted. The Planetary Society never disputes or disavows them. The Planetary Society prefers robots to humans - period.

Meanwhile, if you visit the National Space Society's webpage or Twitter feed @nss you will see no mention whatsoever of this space movie with blockbuster potential. How sad. They were once such a forceful advocate for a balanced program of human and robotic exploration of space. A once prominent space advocacy organization is now a corpse that can't even go through the motions of being relevant.

- Planetary Society Does Not Want Humans on Mars, Earlier post
- Planetary Society is Both For and Against Human Spaceflight, Earlier post
- Planetary Society's Mars Mission Takes Longer To Do Less, Earlier post
- Not Everyone Wants To Be The Martian, Earlier post



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