Recently in Exploration Category

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: http://asteroidday.org

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: http://bit.ly/28YW91a), 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 h2m.exploremars.org.

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 nasa.gov email (fiso@lists.nasa.gov) 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."

Larger image

- 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 FoxNews.com. "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 NASA.gov. 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, NASASpaceflight.com

"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, Space.com

"[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."

http://images.spaceref.com/news/2009/IMG_3918.s.jpg 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 NASA.gov 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 NASAWatch.com 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.

http://images.spaceref.com/news/2015/nac.cartoon.l2.jpg

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

Don't worry. Matt Damon won't get stuck on Mars. NASA can't get him there, Washington Post

"We're setting expectations for something that is decades away. The public has a short attention span," said Lori Garver, the former deputy administrator of NASA under President Obama. Doug Cooke, a former NASA associate administrator for exploration, thinks NASA needs to spell out intermediate steps to Mars. There's one obvious stopping point between the third and fourth rocks from the sun: The moon. Cooke says it could be a proving ground for off-world living. "There needs to be more of a plan for actually getting there," Cooke said. "You can't have a flat-line budget indefinitely and think you're going to put all of this together by 2030."

Astronauts again blast off at box office, 'The Martian' lands with $55 million debut, US News & World report

"The 20th Century Fox release, starring Matt Damon as an astronaut left for dead on Mars, exceeded expectations to nearly rank as the top October debut ever. The estimated North American opening of "The Martian" surpassed that of Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar" ($47.5 million) and virtually equaled the debut of Alfonso Cuaron's "Gravity" ($55.8 million)."

Keith's note: Once the feel-good hoopla surrounding "The Martian" fades, NASA will be in the exact same place it was before the film was released: frantically inserting "Journey To Mars" into every public utterance - however tenuous the actual connection - with no clear plan or guaranteed budget to actually make it all happen. And there aren't any more Mars movies in the Hollywood pipeline to keep the buzz going.

The Martian: How NASA Soars - and Stumbles - Simultaneously, earlier post

Film Review: "The Martian", Keith Cowing

"The Martian is a really good movie. It would be a good movie even if it was not set in outer space. But it does happen in space and does so in superbly flawless fashion. The movie is fast-paced and really doesn't miss a beat. Little time is wasted on things that do not support the story. You are on Mars with Mark Watney and you really want to see him get home."

NASA = Mars = Delusional, Paul Spudis

"Apparently, NASA believes that as this movie takes off in popularity, a public wound-up about space exploration will demand that the agency be showered with additional money."

Keith's note: No, Paul I have yet to find a single person even remotely involved in PR or EPO efforts at NASA who thinks that this is going to happen and/or have adopted this as a strategy. Indeed a lot of them are a little leery that some space advocates seem to be operating under this delusion. NASA PAO folks are doing the PR for the reasons I cite below in "Growing The Next Generation Of Space Explorers" I do have to pose the question: why are so many movies (viewed by the public) about going to Mars, and so very few about going to the Moon? Hollywood (at least) tries to make movies that large audiences will go and see. The Moon is not sexy right now - hate to burst your balloon. Whose fault is it that the Moon is not hip right now?

That said, if you strip out Paul's barely suppressed hostility about Mars-o-mania, he does touch on some important points in this posting - and you should read it. As Spudis knows, I think the notion of sending humans back to the Moon has been ignored for far too long. So has the notion of sending humans to Mars. We should do both in a coordinated, synergistic, evolutionary way. The fact that prominent space advocates/scientists fight in public like this simply reaffirms my ongoing commentary about how space policy is (rather is not) made and that space advocates need to stop talking to one another and go outside their sandboxes into the real world and see what passes for important.

I suspect that the elusive secret sauce needed to link what NASA and the space sector can do, what they should do, and how they should do it - in a growing fashion - lies outside the agency all together. Space fans just have to accept some humility, adopt a open mind, and look. Its there. Sometimes it lingers just out of reach when a big space movie comes out. Other times its brought on by something interesting in the sky. Its there. Its like dark matter since we can see its influence. But space fans have yet to figure out how to actually detect it.

So long as prominent members of the space science/policy advocacy communities have these stark, incompatible, almost religious disagreements about where to go (and where not to go) they will make no progress. Indeed as costs increase they are going to continue to make negative progress. Absent from all of these intramural squabbles is a lucid explanation as to why NASA should spend billions of "regular" people's tax dollars on things that a lot of regular folks simply do not understand - all while college tuition has become obscene and health care costs are increasing like a runaway train. Given this dysfunctional behavior I remain totally baffled as to how the space community at large (or its various dueling tribes) thinks that they can just turn around and get the public to clamor for more money for ANY of these projects when they are so utterly detached from the real world that pumps money into NASA's lap in the first place.

Can Hollywood save NASA?, Washington Post

"NASA is having something of a moment. "The Martian" debuts this week to huge expectations: starring Matt Damon and directed by Ridley Scott, the $100-million-plus film highlights not only the ingenuity and pluck of those who would go to the stars, but also the bureaucratic stumbling blocks facing our spacefarers at home."

The Martian is a great movie, but it sends the wrong message about our happy little journey to Mars, Houston Chronicle

"What I'm concerned about is the way in which a mission to Mars is portrayed in the book and film. It looks a lot like an Apollo mission to Mars, and in 2015 that's a problem. From outward appearances, almost all of the hardware is NASA hardware. All of the important decisions are made by NASA people. There isn't a whiff of commercial space in the film. Not a SpaceX, nor even a Boeing. It's all NASA. (Not that NASA isn't great. It is.)"

Keith's note: One on hand "The Martian" shows how NASA people can do almost anything when they put their minds to it. On the other hand it shows that even a future NASA is plagued by seemingly inescapable bureaucratic inertia. This strange duality was inherent in "Apollo 13" set nearly half a century ago - and seems to be what people expect will exist at NASA decades from now. Its almost as if one person at NASA can't excel at something without having someone down the hall doing something stupid. The time span between "Apollo 13" and "The Martian" is some 60 or so years. I'm not sure what to think about an agency that still can't find a better way to do things after 60 years. Its as if no one can imagine a future NASA different than the NASA of today - or yesterday.

40-50-60 years and NASA can't fix itself? I am not sure it will be around when this movie is supposed to happen. Is this any way to explore the solar system? No ... after 19.5 years of ranting online about this, I still don't have an answer.

Do any of you?

Keith's note: The result of the closed door Humans Orbiting Mars report has been released. According to this report missions to Mars only orbit the planet by 2033. Crews would control robots on the surface. If there's enough money then the report suggests a landing in 2039 but they'd only stay on the surface for 24 days. Long duration missions on the surface of Mars would not start until 2043 a decade after NASA's current (but unfunded) plans. All of the missions in this report require hardware that has not been designed or budgeted for (just like NASA). NASA will be required to walk away from ISS in 2024 so as to free up money for Mars - and the report assumes that human spaceflight budgets will be flat with growth for inflation for several decades. This plan puts humans on Mars a quarter of a century away.

NASA is already challenged to mount a program that takes 20 years - Planetary Society wants to stretch that even further - indeed, in their plan serious surface expeditions would have to wait nearly 30 years. Of course there's always the magic unicorn of foreign partners, commercial donations, or other sources of money (not spelled out) which might pop up and make things happen earlier - or maybe not. Oh yes: this plan makes no mention of the two year slip in launching the first crewed Orion mission which should push everything to the right by a year or two.

In summary the Planetary Society has taken NASA's various plans, thrown them up in the air, rearranged the pieces and tried to do things on the cheap. The net result is an unrealistic delay in getting humans to the surface based on hardware that is not even budgeted for by NASA. I am trying to picture how Congress is going to fund a program for 20 years that almost puts humans on Mars.

Yesterday the Planetary Society posted an article on the Mars water news which included this gem: "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."

It is quite obvious that the Planetary Society would be quite 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.

Destination Phobos: 'Humans Orbiting Mars' report goes public, Geekwire

"Critics, including NASA Watch's Keith Cowing, say the Planetary Society's "orbit-first" blueprint is too timid and relies on hardware that NASA has not yet budgeted for. "I am trying to picture how Congress is going to fund a program for 20 years that almost puts humans on Mars," Cowing wrote on Tuesday. [Planetary Society's Casey] Dreier, however, was doubtful that a more accelerated schedule would draw enough political support. "It'd be great if we could do it in 10 years," he said. "But that will take a lot of money over not a lot of years, and I don't see any pathway to making that happen."

- Planetary Society Does Not Want Humans on Mars, earlier post
- Not Everyone Wants To Be The Martian, earlier post

Mars Needs Money

Toronto Film Review:'The Martian', Variety

"But instead of trying to scare people off space travel, Scott and company recombine these elements in hopes of inspiring a generation for whom the moon landing and shuttle missions are now ancient history, practically nostalgia, while the American space program sits mothballed. While not propaganda per se, the film seeks to galvanize (rather than terrorize) those who might shape the future."

The Martian Review, ComingSoon.net

"Ridley Scott's return to space may defy credibility at times, but it's a joyous and triumphant tribute to science and the space program that's consistently entertaining, which should allow it to be a substantial crowdpleaser."

Ridley Scott's The Martian Is Sublime, Sophisticated Entertainment

"If you are worried about heading to space again with Ridley Scott after the grim, muddled Prometheus, fear not. His new space yarn, The Martian, based on the science-heavy novel by Andy Weir, is a pure delight, a tense survival tale leavened by an abundance of geeky wit and an array of fine actors at their snappy best. It's the first Ridley Scott picture in a long time that feels energized by its scope and ambition rather than buried under it."

Keith's note: Positive reviews. Lots of cross-over promotion videos and advertisements too. And NASA is engaged. Should be a great movie. But ... there are still no comments from Explore Mars (or any other space advocacy organizations) as to how the movie is going to increase NASA's budget. Of course, the space advocacy groups will all argue as to how such imaginary money should be spent since none of them agree with NASA or each other as to how humans should travel to Mars and what they should do there. Maybe the movie will inspire a new generation of space advocates that will actually do the things needed to go to Mars instead of just talking about doing them decade after decade after decade.

Space Advocates Think A Movie Will Send Humans to Mars. If Only., earlier post

Mars, national infrastructure, and dispelling myths, OP Ed, Chris Carberry and Blake Ortner, The Hill

"In addition to inflated perceptions of cost, some believe that when budgets for space missions are proposed, this constitutes entirely new spending (on top of the current NASA budget projections). In reality, the majority of mission budgets come from funds already projected within the NASA budget - it's mostly a decision of how we decide to use these NASA funds. This fall presents an ideal opportunity to engage the candidates. Mars exploration will be a hot topic as a result of the upcoming film adaption of Andrew Weir's novel, The Martian, that will arrive in theaters and generate a lot of discussion on the real prospects of human missions to Mars. Later in October, NASA will be presenting a workshop to select ten potential landing sites for human missions to Mars. The workshop is an important milestone for advocates of human exploration of Mars and will help connect the science fiction film, The Martian, with a very real potential future."

Keith's note: Yawn, these space advocates still hope that a Hollywood movie will shift the political calculus when it comes to sending humans to Mars. I most fervently wish them good luck in this regard. I'd love to see it happen. Alas, over the course of the past half century of space exploration and space movies this has yet to happen.

They also repeat the perennial space advocate complaint that "the general public and many policymakers have a vastly inflated perspective of the cost of human space exploration." OK Chris Carberry and Blake Ortner, can you tell us what your Humans to Mars Mission would cost - total amount and yearly run out? Can you also summarize the processes whereby the taxpaying public can be assured that cost overruns ala SLS, ISS, Shuttle, Mars Curiosity, will not occur? Oh yes - please show me where I can find details of the NASA budget increases that resulted from the blockbusters "Gravity" and "Interstellar". You can post your details in the comments section. Sometimes the problem with the cost of sending humans to Mars is not a large scary number rather its that no one comes up with the same large scary number - nor the source of the money required for *any* humans to Mars scenario.

Space advocates never explain why the remaining 99.99999% of the people who will pay for the humans to Mars thing should want to do so - especially when there are things that people see as being more relevant/important to themselves and their families. As Alan Ladwig recently noted NSF NIH gets budget increases - more than NASA - but no one makes movies about them.

- Space Movies Do Not Drive Space Policy, earlier post
- Space Advocacy By Space Advocates Is A Failure, earlier post
- Why Worry About Public Support For NASA If It Really Doesn't Matter?, earlier post
- Pioneering Space National Summit: So Far, Nothing But Crickets, earlier post
- Hollow Promises From Stealthy Inept Space Advocacy Organizations, earlier post
- Humans to Mars Summit: Wayne Hale Tells it Like it is, earlier post

Innovative Study Supports Asteroid Initiative, Journey To Mars

"NASA employed ECAST to engage in a "participatory technology assessment," an engagement model that seeks to improve the outcomes of science and technology decision-making through dialog with informed citizens. Participatory technology assessment involves engaging a group of non-experts who are representative of the general population but who unlike political, academic, and industry stakeholders who are often under represented in technology-related policymaking. ... During meetings in Phoenix and Boston in November, 2014, participants voiced their thoughts and preferences about asteroids, planetary defense and space exploration."

Informing NASA's Asteroid Initiative - A Citizen's Forum - Full report

Keith's note: According to the report "We at ECAST designed the forums to explore what a diverse group of lay citizens thought about complex issues when provided with unbiased information and offered the opportunity to have a respectful and open conversation about these matters with their peers. Quite different from a poll or survey, forums like the one developed for this project explore the views and values that citizens use in assessing sociotechnical issues. ... ECAST undertook the recruitment of the lay citizen participants, achieving a distribution that aligned with the demographic characteristics of their respective states by taking into account gender, age, education, ethnicity, income, and employment status."

So ... how did these people from nowhere in particular get up to speed on NASA's Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM)? According to the report "Rather than survey people who may have little understanding of the subject, these forums provided the opportunity for participants to learn a great deal about NASA's Asteroid Initiative. In fact, participants were provided with much the same technical information that NASA's administrators and program managers use, but presented in short thematic background papers provided prior to the workshop and four informational videos at the start of each session."

Ah, so they only showed the participants NASA stuff. Did the participants receive materials that were in any way critical of ARM? Seriously. The participants were being asked to weigh all aspects of ARM, asteroid defense etc. Given that Congress, the NASA Advisory Council and a significant portion of the planetary science community doubt the value of ARM and/or are totally against it one would hope that this was factored in. If the participants were not given the full spectrum of viewpoints on this topic then the entire effort was null and void at its very inception.

Moon village would host first class research, Nature

"[ESA Director General Johann-Dietrich Wörner]: The Americans are saying Mars is the ultimate goal, but I'm rather convinced that Mars is not the ultimate goal. If we continue on planet Earth, I'm sure humans will go even beyond Mars, but the question is when and how. We need some targets in between. The Moon is a very scientifically interesting body and it's reachable by humans even with today's technology. For Mars and other bodies, we need totally different technologies. Imagine if you send a human to Mars on a two-year return journey and after two months he or she gets difficult health problems. What do you do? We have to have better technology, stronger launchers and other propulsion systems, to go to Mars."

To the Moon - Again, Paul Spudis

"A NASA-sponsored study has been released which outlines a plan to return to the Moon with people and set-up an outpost at one of the poles to mine water for propellant. This report has drawn both attention and puzzlement within the space community, as the agency continues to make clear that they have no interest in human lunar missions. This disconnect is covered because NASA will not do these activities - instead, the agency will pay commercial companies to develop and implement the plan. The propellant produced at the outpost from lunar polar water will then be sold to NASA for use in future human missions to Mars."

- A New Spin on the Journey to Mars - By Way of the Moon, earlier post

Back To The Moon

Lost in space, opinion, George Abbey, Washington Examiner

"America needs a space policy that has a vision that can build on past achievements and keep moving forward. A big part of that is construction, maintenance and servicing in low-Earth orbit. Another is international cooperation. And we should realign our goals with those of other major space-faring nations and look back to the Moon, so we again become the leaders in space. After all, we've been there before. A lunar exploration program would provide the foundation for manned missions beyond the Moon. Our eyes must look to the skies with purpose toward that limitless frontier."

5 facts about Americans' views on space exploration, Pew Research Center

"Although they value the program and are proud of its achievements, Americans are reluctant to pay more for space exploration. Just 23% of Americans said the U.S. spends too little on space exploration, according the National Opinion Research Center's General Social Survey (GSS) conducted last year. About four-in-ten (42%) said the U.S. spends about the right amount, and 25% said the U.S. spends too much on space exploration. Americans were more likely to say the government is spending too little on areas such as education (70%) and health (57%)."

Keith's note: Hmmm ... this is going to be a problem if NASA wants to send astronauts on the #JourneyToMars given that a substantial increase in NASA's budget - sustained over a long period of time - will be required to make this happen. One would hope that NASA would be a little more honest and open on this matter - if for no other reason to describe the coming need for budget increases and then lay the ground work and build some public sentiment for budget increases.

- Recent Space Poll: The Public is Not Always in Synch With Space Advocates (2015), earlier post
- Poll Suggests Public Concern Over Direction In Space (2011), earlier post
- New Gallup Poll Reveals Americans Strongly Support Space Exploration, Believe it Inspires Younger Generation (2008), earlier post
- Washington Post Poll on Space Spending (2009), earlier post
- New Poll Shows Support For Space Funding Cuts (2010), earlier post
-New Poll: Moon Yes, Mars No (2004), earlier post

Keith's note: The New Horizons flyby of the Pluto system is quite an accomplishment. Say that 10 times. And congratulations are to be offered to everyone who made it happen - regardless of their contribution. Alas, the thanks have to include the 300,000,000 people who paid for it. To be certain, this mission is nerd cool and exciting - and inspirational - even if you do not know all (or any) of the science behind it. But at the end of the day, how many of the 300,000,000 people who paid for this truly understand what was done, why it was done, and why it was more important to spend ~$700,000,000 on this as opposed to [fill in the blank]. To be certain, that is $2.33 each. But what could $700,000,000 do in their own community where unemployment is high or where schools are crowded? Space supporters chuckle at this sort of math because space is cool by definition (so, who cares), but non-nerd taxpayers vastly outnumber nerds (of any flavor) or space supporters.

Tonight Charlie Bolden actually said that this mission (launched almost a decade ago) was a necessary step on the #JourneyToMars established by the Obama administration a few years ago. That, of course, is nonsense. You do not need to go 3 billion miles to Pluto so that you can go 100 million or so miles to Mars and back.

Until NASA decides to come clean and be straight with taxpayers - and comes up with a story that passes the who/what/when/where/why smell test it will have enough funds to do some wow stuff now and then - but nowhere near enough to do the big things that its Public Affairs office would have you think are a done deal.

Keith's note: NASA quietly admitted today at the Small Bodies Assessment Group (SBAG) Meeting that one of the formally baseline, prime science requirements of the Asteroid Retrieval Mission (ARM) is to retrive a boulder from the surface of an asteroid and bring it back to lunar orbit where a human crew will do science with it. Despite the mission's name no "asteroid" will actually be "retrieved". As such NASA really should refine the mission to be the "Boulder Retrieval Mission". To be honest the whole notion of grabbing anything in space was never a driver for this mission - despite the name.

NASA seems to be having some issues with the whole boulder thing too. Today a speaker outlining hardware design work for ARM at JPL noted that there was a lot of hard thinking and work put into how to build a "synthetic boulder" to be used to test things. Its not a real boulder, its a mockup of a boulder. Its really odd that this would be so hard - especially in southern California where JPLers could easily visit Disney Land which has been making synthetic boulders since the 1950s. A little more freeway driving and they could also visit Hollywood which also has some fair expertise in the creation of synthetic boulders such as the one used in "Star Trek" in 1967.

Another topic of discussion was whether the SBAG get togethers should be a "conference" or a "meeting". This of course sent SMD's Jim Green into a long discussion of how hard it is for NASA to do conferences these days since it is hard for NASA to do conferences. It also led to a discussion amongst the participants as to what a "conference" is and what a "meeting" is. Gee, after half a century NASA still has not figured out what a "conference" or a "meeting" is and used meeting/conference time to discuss the topic. I am not certain anything was resolved on this topic.

Back to ARM. At its last meeting the NASA Advisory Council came within a millimeters of recommending that NASA abandon the whole ARM concept and use the solar electric asteroid grabbing vehicle to go to Phobos (and back) instead. This way it would actually serve as a real step on NASA's #JourneyToMars - by actually going to Mars - instead of a dead end sideshow. It is all but certain that the NAC will take this action at their meeting at JPL on 30-31 July. Of course, Congress is already formally against ARM and with the exception of a few companies who want to mine asteroids, no one really supports it at the present time. 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.

So much for the first big step on the road to Mars. It just keeps shrinking.

- NASA Advisory Council Wants to Cancel Asteroid Redirect Mission and Send it to Phobos Instead
- Asteroid Retrieval Is Not The Prime Intent of NASA's Asteroid Retrieval Mission
- NASA: Two SLS Launches Likely Needed For $3 billion+ ARM, earlier post
- Asteroid Redirect Mission Critique
- Congress, NAC, SBAG, Question Asteroid Mission, earlier post
- Report of the Small Bodies Assessment Group Asteroid Redirect Mission Special Action Team, 30 July 2014 (Draft), earlier post
- SBAG Asteroid Redirect Mission Special Action Team, July 2014 presentation, earlier post
- Asteroid Experts Are Not Very Fond of NASA's Asteroid Mission, earlier post

Keith's note: In April 2015 the Planetary Society held an invitation-only "Humans Orbiting Mars" workshop wherein they unveiled their idea for a mission to Mars. At a quick press conference after the event (no media were allowed to attend the workshop) the Planetary Society promised more detail would be made public - later. Since then nothing but crickets. Well, it now looks like the Planetary Society Mars plan is now online - but only for a few weeks - then you will have to pay to read it. An article on the grand plan by Scott Hubbard will only be online here until 29 July 2015. I do not see any mention of this report's availability on the Planetary Society website. I am not sure how far a mission concept like this is going to get if no one can read the details. Given that most of these new space policy ideas have been semi-secret lately it would seem that the authors are not really interested in any meaningful public engagement.

- Stealthy Humans Orbiting Mars Workshop Update, earlier post
- Making Space Policy In Secret (Again), earlier post
- Good News Everyone: Another Closed Door Humans to Mars Thing, earlier post

Invitation to Membership on the Formulation Assessment and Support Team for the Asteroid Redirect Mission

"The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) intends to release a letter of invitation for membership on the Formulation Assessment and Support Team (FAST) for the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). ARM is part of NASA's plan to advance the new technologies and spaceflight capabilities needed for a human mission to the Martian system in the 2030s, as well as other future human and robotic missions. ARM includes the Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission (ARRM) and the Asteroid Redirect Crewed Mission (ARCM), along with leveraging the global asteroid-observation community's efforts to detect, track and characterize candidate asteroids. For additional information on how to apply for FAST membership ..."

NASA Advisory Council Wants to Cancel Asteroid Redirect Mission and Send it to Phobos Instead, earlier post

Empty Promises On NASA's Road to Mars, SpaceRef

"These days you can't seem to go anywhere in the Internet without seeing #JourneyToMars slapped on Tweets about, well, everything that NASA does - regardless of how it is actually related to sending humans to Mars. Its in press release titles, on posters, YouTube videos. NASA is all about the "Journey To Mars" these days and its marketing campaign reflects a concerted effort to make you truly believe that this is happening - except ... it is not."

NASA FISO Telecon: An Overview of NASA's Evolvable Mars Campaign

"Our next Future In-Space Operations (FISO) telecon colloquium will be June 10, when Doug Craig (NASA HQ HEOMD) will speak on "An Overview of NASA's Evolvable Mars Campaign." As always, the colloquium will be at 3pm ET. And please note that there is a new dial-in number for the colloquium as NASA has migrated to a new service: TEL: 844 467 4685 PC: 442398."

Keith's note: If you go to NASA's Journey to Mars page there is no mention of this NASA-sponsored, openly-accessible telecon regarding a NASA study of how the agency might go to Mars. There is no mention of this telecon on NASA's calendar either - nor is there mention on NASA's Human Exploration and Operations home page, or NASA Goddard's home page (where telecon organizer Harley Thronson works). NASA is all about the #JourneyToMars thing 24/7/365 according to Charlie Bolden and it is mentioned in virtually every press release the agency issues these days. NASA is telling everyone that it is headed to Mars yet it can't even figure out how to tell the public about openly accessible events like this? You know, how NASA might actually do this whole exciting Mars thing?

- How NASA Quietly Releases Alternate Mars Mission Concepts (Update), earlier post
- Yet Another Stealth NASA Briefing On Mars Mission Concepts, earlier post

LightSail Unfurls Its Sail

"The Planetary Society's LightSail test mission successfully completed its primary objective of deploying a solar sail in low-Earth orbit, mission managers said today. During a ground station pass over Cal Poly San Luis Obispo that began at 1:26 p.m. EDT (17:26 UTC), the final pieces of an image showcasing LightSail's deployed solar sails were received on Earth. The image confirms the sails have unfurled, which was the final milestone of a shakedown mission designed to pave the way for a full-fledged solar sail flight in 2016."

Satellite Developed by Stellar Exploration Inc Completes First Deployment Test, Stellar Exploration

"Under a contract with the Society, Stellar developed and manufactured Lightsail. Two completed and tested satellites were delivered in early 2013 (Ecliptic Enterprises provided the final software update, and integration & testing support for the 2014 launch opportunity). This project was conceived as a major step along the solar sail roadmap Lightsail builds on the NASA experience with NanoSail-D2, doubling the sail dimension (thus quadrupling its surface area) and adding active attitude control, two cameras and other diagnostics. In turn, the Lightsail design evolved into the next solar sail missions, sponsored by NASA Flashlight and NEOScout."

Deployment! LightSail Boom Motor Whirrs to Life, Planetary Society

"LightSail's tiny solar sail deployment motor sprung to life Sunday afternoon, marking an important milestone for The Planetary Society's nail-biting test mission. Sail deployment began at 3:47 p.m. EDT (19:47 UTC) off the coast of Baja California, Mexico, as the spacecraft traveled northwest to southeast. Telemetry received on the ground showed motor counts climbing to the halfway point before LightSail traveled out of range. Power levels were consistent with ground-based deployment tests, and the spacecraft's cameras were on. "All indications are that the solar sail deployment was proceeding nominally," wrote mission manager David Spencer in an email update. LightSail is currently out of range until 2:26 a.m. EDT Monday. Ground control teams at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Georgia Tech will begin transferring the spacecraft's images from its cameras to flight system. "

LightSail Reboots Itself - Now Ready to Sail, earlier post

LightSail Team Prepares for Possible Tuesday Sail Deployment, Planetary Society

"LightSail is almost ready for its moment in the sun. This afternoon, mission managers gave the go-ahead for a manual solar sail deployment as early as Tuesday, June 2 at 11:44 a.m. EDT (15:44 UTC), providing the spacecraft completes an arduous set of Monday preparations. Since waking up Saturday after eight days of silence, the spacecraft has been busy sending telemetry back to Earth, snapping test images and preparing itself for sail deployment."

Science Drives NASA's Journey to Mars, NASA

"Repeat after me: Mars matters," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told the auditorium of participants at the May 5, 2015 Humans to Mars Summit organized by the non-profit Explore Mars, Inc. "Mars matters!" everyone agreed. But why does Mars matter? "Because it's there' isn't good enough," stated Bolden. Luckily, summit presenters had a host of compelling reasons for humans to venture to Mars, ranging from political, economic, and at the forefront, scientific reasons."

Recent Space Poll: The Public is Not Always in Synch With Space Advocates, previous post

"The study also notes "Just over 4-in-10 (42%) Americans are in favor of the U.S. government spending billions of dollars to send astronauts to places like the moon, Mars, and asteroids, while half (50%) oppose such an expenditure. There are no partisan differences in this opinion, although men (50%) are more supportive than women (36%) of funding this new program."

Keith's note: A rah rah speech to a pep rally of true believers is hardly the basis upon which to proclaim that going to Mars is "compelling" or that it "matters". Says who? Poll after poll show that while some of the American public is supportive not a majority of them are. Space advocates (and NASA Administrators) need to come up with real world reasons that make sense to the public to support space projects. 'Because we say so' is not going to work. Otherwise, spending billions of dollars and decades to send a couple of people to Mars when (fill in your favorite other thing to spend money on) is a more pressing and immediate concern to the public is going to win every single time.

- Kicking The Can Down the Road to Mars, previous post
- Previous policy postings

NASA FISO Telecon: A Scenario for a Human Mission to Mars Orbit in the 2030s

"Our Wednesday, May 20, Future In-Space Operations (FISO) telecon colloquium will host Mr. Hoppy Price (JPL) who will speak on "A Scenario for a Human Mission to Mars Orbit in the 2030s. As always, the colloquium will be at 3pm ET. And please note that there is a new dial-in number for the colloquium as NASA has migrated to a new service: TEL: 844 467 4685 PC: 442398"

Keith's note: If you go to NASA's Journey to Mars page there is no mention of this NASA-sponsored, openly-accessible telecon regarding a NASA study of how the agency might go to Mars. There is no mention of this telecon on NASA's calendar either - nor is there mention on NASA's Human Exploration and Operations home page, or NASA Goddard's home page (where telecon organizer Harley Thronson works), or on JPL's home page where presenter Hoppy Price works. Indeed, this NASA-funded JPL study apparently had a lot to do with the Planetary Society's recent stealth Mars workshop (note the agenda). Yet the Planetary Society is mum on this too.

Investing in Our Journey to Mars Posted on May 19, 2015 at 6:01 pm by Administrator Charles Bolden.

"This at a time when a new consensus is emerging around NASA's goal, timetable, and plan for sending American astronauts to Mars by 2016. Make no mistake: This plan is clear. This plan is affordable, and this plan is sustainable."

Keith's note: "Sending American astronauts to Mars by 2016" Charlie? Really?

This is a screengrab of what the blog post originally looked like - NASA eventually changed the post to say "2030s".

Military pushes for emergency robots as skeptics worry about lethal uses, Washington Post

"Most of the [DARPA Robotics Challenge] entrants resemble humans, with two arms and two legs, and could be cast in Hollywood's next futuristic blockbuster. But there is also "CHIMP," developed by Carnegie Mellon University, a squat, long-armed machine that uses wheeled treads to get around. Another, named "RoboSimian," is a four-legged "ape-like" creature developed by NASA that, depending on how its limbs are situated, is also strikingly arachnid-like."

NASA Centennial Challenges Program: Space Robotics Challenge Request for information, NASA MSFC

"The robots involved as testbeds for the challenge would be both the Valkyrie and Robonaut 2 humanoids, as examples of surface and in-space robots. ... The target platforms for this challenge are the Valkyrie and Robonaut 2 robots at NASA JSC. ... Valkyrie and Robonaut 2 platforms would be available for preparing for the final challenge. Robots would be accessible at NASA Johnson Space Center, and NASA is currently seeking separate proposals for hosting Valkyrie robots around the country."

Keith's note: The next event is 5-6 June in Pomona, CA. There is no mention from NASA or JPL about Robosimian's participation in this event. JSC's Valkyrie robot is a no-show since it placed last in 2013 (they are not listed as a qualified team). Is JSC still funding Valkyrie? Is NASA HQ? The Centennial Challenges RFI seemingly speaks of Valkyrie as if it is still a viable ongoing/future program. But it is not clear who pays for it. What is JPL spending on Robosimian? Why is it not part of the Centennial Challenge effort along with Robonaut and Valkyrie? How are Valkyrie and Robosimian related to Robonaut? Does NASA actually have a coherent, focused robotics program or are various centers and directorates just doing whatever they want (because they can/lack of managerial guidance)? NASA spends all this money on these cool things, puts out a few flashy news things, and then they go silent about what they are doing. If you ask for a plan, they have none to offer and they just mumble #JourneyToMars and #YearInSpace.

If there is a strategy here, I do not see it.

Keith's update: I stand corrected NASA has posted 2015 NASA Technology Roadmaps: Robotics and Autonomous Systems. I am not sure that a "roadmap" is a "strategy" or a formal "plan" - but this is NASA, so words like these are never clearly or consistently defined and are often used interchangeably. To my earlier point: if you search the document for the word "Valkyrie" you will see that this robot is not mentioned. Neither is "Robosimian". But "Robonaut" is mentioned several times. Not exactly an inclusive document that references all of what NASA is doing - and why.

- NASA JSC's Valkyrie Robot Tied For Last Place in DARPA Competition, earlier post
- NASA JSC Has Developed A Girl Robot in Secret (Revised With NASA Responses), earlier post
- JPL Rolls Out Robosimian While JSC Hides Valkyrie, earlier post

NASA Announces Journey to Mars Challenge, Seeks Public Input on Establishing Sustained Human Presence

"NASA is embarking on an ambitious journey to Mars and Tuesday announced a challenge inviting the public to write down their ideas, in detail, for developing the elements of space pioneering necessary to establish a continuous human presence on the Red Planet."

Keith's note: I was listening to WTOP radio around 11:15 am today when Scott Goldberg from ABC Radio came on as a guest. He was talking about NASA's recent call for the public to submit ideas for how to go to Mars. Goldberg wondered if there weren't enough rocket scientists already at NASA to work on this and that perhaps NASA was doing this to somehow keep the public momentum going while they battle for funds in Congress. (main points, rough paraphrase). It would seem that the PAO #JourneyToMars thing isn't fooling the news media much.

Keith's note: With regard to the Eagle Works EmDrive "warp core" research underway at JSC, NASA HQ PAO has told NASAWatch: "While conceptual research into novel propulsion methods by a team at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston has created headlines, this is a small effort that has not yet shown any tangible results. NASA is not working on 'warp drive' technology. "However, the agency does fund very fundamental research as part of our advanced concepts and innovative investments that push the frontiers of science and engineering. This is part of what NASA does in exploring the unknown, and the agency is committed to and focused on the priorities and investments identified by the NASA Strategic Space Technology Investment Plan. "Through these investments, NASA will develop the capabilities necessary to send humans further into space than ever before."

- Ellen Ochoa's Warp Drive: Smoke and Mirrors, earlier post
- Ellen Ochoa's Warp Drive Gizmo, earlier post
- JSC's Warp Drive: Fact or Fluff?, earlier post
- Clarifying NASA's Warp Drive Program, earlier post
- JSC's Strange Thruster Violates The Laws of Physics, earlier post

Humans to Mars Summit 2015 - Political Roundtable, Building Political Sustainability, SpaceRef Business

"While there were plenty of interesting sessions at the Humans to Mars Summit it was the political roundtable which brought home some of the key messages of the conference."

Keith's note: When I was growing up in the 1960s NASA said that they'd have humans on the Moon by the end of the 1960s. They did.
- NASA also said that they'd have humans on Mars by 1981. I would have been 26. Tick Tock.
- Now NASA says they might have humans on Mars by the mid-2030s when I will be in my mid-80s.
- NASA went from zero to humans on the Moon in less than 10 years.
- But humans on Mars takes an additional 60+ years?
- And we have not even sent humans back to the Moon?

- Charlie Bolden almost seems to be bragging these days when he proclaims "I have spent my life being '20 years away from Mars' now we're closer than that". He's just admitting how pathetic NASA has become in this regard. And he's so utterly clueless as to not even be embarrassed as he says these things.

- This has nothing to do with the White House or Congress. Rather, it has to do with NASA's ever-diminishing ability to translate its undeniably stellar, collective genius into clear-cut programs with timelines that can be met, budgets that can be (more or less) adhered to, and deliverables that can be delivered. To compound things, NASA has no idea how to explain what it does to the people who pay the bills. Pretty pictures only go so far.

These days NASA does less - with more. Not a good sign.

As the kids say #EpicFail

Report Released: The Humans to Mars Report 2015

The non-profit Explore Mars Inc. group today released its first annual Humans to Mars Report. According to Explore Mars the report "provides updates on challenges, plus progress in areas such as mission architecture design and development, scientific discoveries, policy, public perception, international cooperation and competition, and new private capabilities".

Marc's note: The report is not comprehensive but it does promise a website for ongoing updates and an annual report. We'll see what the website provides once it's launched and how it evolves before passing judgement. This isn't the first try for something like this, the Mars Society and other have tried.

NAC Gets Stuck on Mars Technology Development Finding, Space Policy Online

"The NASA Advisory Council (NAC) reached agreement on a number of findings and recommendations at its meeting over the past two days. Its finding about the Asteroid Redirect Mission has received widespread attention, but other important topics also were discussed. One case where consensus could not be reached was a proposed finding that NASA's technology development effort in support of a human mission to Mars is underfunded. The NAC meetings are lively affairs and it can be difficult to keep track of where a finding or recommendation stands with all the crosstalk and conversations. Eventually, those that are approved are posted to the NAC website, sometimes after additional wordsmithing. The posted versions on the NAC website are the definitive authority. Until then, here are some of the key points and where they seemed to end up. The proposed finding that ran into headwinds was championed by Bill Ballhaus who chairs NAC's Technology, Innovation and Engineering Committee. The strongest objection was voiced by Dave McComas who chairs the NAC Science Committee."

Kicking The Can Down the Road to Mars, SpaceRef

"I just listened to 45 minutes of NASA presentations at the NASA Advisory Committee's Human Exploration and Operations Committee Meeting. The topic: radiation risks during a human mission to Mars. I have seen this movie before. I was not exactly sure who was talking since no one ever bothers to give their names such that people listening on telephone/Webex know who's who. The topic was radiation and a human mission to Mars. Let me preface all of this by noting that I organized peer reviews and advisory panel for NASA's life science division back in the 80 and 90s. I have been listening to this discussion at various levels of technical jargon for 30 years. What I heard today could have easily been said 20 years ago - and often was. It does not matter now who the NASA speaker is or was."

NASA Mars Czar Defends Plan To Follow Mars 2020 Rover with Orbiter, Space News

"Watzin made his case for the orbiter to the NASA Advisory Council's (NAC) planetary science subcommittee at NASA Headquarters here. Some NAC members wondered why, in Watzin's words, an orbiter is the "next logical step" in the Mars sample-return campaign anointed as the top U.S. planetary science priority in a 10-year science roadmap, or decadal survey, published by the National Research Council in 2011. The White House has been reluctant to commit to a multimission sample-return program because of the substantial investment required. However, it did allow NASA to start work in 2013 on a Mars 2020 sample-digging rover leveraging designs and hardware recycled from the Mars Science Laboratory mission, which landed the nuclear-powered Curiosity rover on the red planet in 2012. When the Mars 2020 rover arrives in 2020, it will dig up samples and leave them on the ground to be collected and returned to Earth by a future mission or missions."

Keith's note: NASA loves to cite the NRC Space Studies Board and its Decadal Surveys as being the driver for how it prioritizes missions. Indeed NASA often does so as if these Decadal Surveys are holy scripture that preordain their mission choices. Congress does this too - and pays the NRC to do studies that support its whims so as to allow them to order NASA to follow these holy recommendations. So what does NASA do this time? It ignores the NRC SSB. Talk to anyone who has been planning these various humans to Mars scenarios at NASA and they all say that there needs to be a sample return mission before humans can be sent to Mars. Its like a mantra - no one knows exactly why but everyone buys into it. And of course the NRC SSB includes the need for a sample return in its holiest of holy Mars/astrobiology recommendations so as to inform and support human missions.

Quietly, NASA is reconsidering the moon as a destination, Houston Chronicle

"Despite a declaration from President Barack Obama that the moon is not a planned destination for American astronauts, senior NASA engineers have quietly begun reconsidering it as a staging point for an eventual mission to Mars. William Gerstenmaier, the chief of human exploration for NASA, does not see the president's plan of a direct, 900-day mission to the red planet as achievable. Instead, Gerstenmaier believes large amounts of ice at the lunar poles may provide an important reservoir of oxygen and hydrogen fuel to propel rockets and spaceships across the 40 million miles of space to Mars."

NASA Disputes Chronicle Report That NASA Is Reassessing Lunar Surface Plans, SpacePolicyOnline

"NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz told SpacePolicyOnline.com via email that Gerstenmaier was only responding to a question from Berger about the possibility of using lunar resources for Mars missions. "The Evolvable Mars Campaign, which envisions using the lunar vicinity to support a human mission to the Red Planet, is in line with and designed to advance the president's ambitious space exploration plan. We're making great progress on this journey to Mars. A key element of our plan to get to the Red Planet is employing a stepping stone approach, including living, working and learning in cis-lunar space." ... The statement sidesteps the substance of the Chronicle article that NASA engineers are reassessing the need for lunar surface missions, but are in a "delicate position" because returning to the lunar surface is not part of President Obama's plan."

Keith's note: The interest in the Moon inside NASA is a lot more pervasive than they'd have you believe. There are some folks at JSC and elsewhere who have never given up on it and are keeping things warm until there is a change in Administrations. The fact that certain members of Congress and their staffers are interested in the Moon as a destination for humans is seen as bolstering this internal position. To many the clear logic of including human surface activity on the Moon in the overall utilization of cis-lunar space (and beyond) is inescapable. The only place it is not mentioned by NASA is in public. Stay tuned.


Yes, NASA really is reconsidering the moon, and here's why that's important, Houston Chronicle

"It's easy to understand why NASA is defensive about stories that bring to light their renewed interest in the moon and its resources. The President, in 2010, made it clear that he wanted to avoid the moon, perhaps partly because that was part of President George W. Bush's space policy. Nevertheless, the general consensus is that in the modern era of a constrained NASA budget, the most feasible pathway to Mars goes through the moon. So NASA deserves credit for reconsidering this approach. Even if it's not yet quite ready to talk about it."

Our Wednesday, April 8, Future In-Space Operations (FISO) telecon colloquium will host Cesar Ocampo (Odyssey Space Research/NASA JSC) and Damon Landau (NASA JPL), who will speak on "A Crewed Mars Exploration Architecture Using Fly-by and Return Trajectories."

Keith's note: I have sent an inquiry to Harley Thronson who was listed as a speaker in an official NASA capacity at the Planetary Society's closed door Humans Orbiting Mars event last week - and also NASA PAO - asking "Is this upcoming NASA FISO presentation related to the Planetary Society's Humans Orbiting Mars event last week - the one where you were listed as a speaker on the agenda? If so why is it being released by two NASA employees in this fashion and not by NASA HQ/NASA PAO?". Stay tuned.

Keith's update: The Planetary Society and Harley Thronson have replied and said that they don't think there is a connection between this upcoming FISO presentation and what was discussed at last week's Planetary Society event. So it would seem that there is more than one team inside of NASA JPL/JSC working on this idea of not landing humans on Mars but doing orbital operations instead. Add in the ongoing internal work at NASA that seeks to put humans on the Moon to develop and infrastructure to enable further exploration (such as Mars) and it is clear that NASA is not working within the narrow parameters that the White House told them to work within. That is not necessarily a bad thing. But all of this certainly seems to be uncoordinated - and NASA is rather shy about talking about it.

So this is how NASA is going to send humans to live and work on other worlds: behind closed doors, off the record, and without apparent coordination. Yea. That will work.

Planetary Society Announces "Humans Orbiting Mars" Workshop Results, Planetary Society

"The goal of the workshop was to gather expert science, engineering, and policy professionals to build consensus on the key elements of a long-term, cost constrained, executable program to send humans to Mars ... As a result of workshop discussions, 70 attendees reached consensus on the following points: ... A full report on the "Humans Orbiting Mars" workshop will be released later in the year."

Keith's note: There will be a post-meeting media briefing this morning with Bill Nye, Scott Hubbard, and John Logsdon. It is doubtful that we'll learn what the remaining 63 participants actually had to say - just what these three want you to think that the participants said. Among the participants were NASA civil servants who were invited - and participated - in an official capacity. Among those listed on the agenda are NASA Advisory Council Chair Steve Squyres and more than half a dozen NASA civil servants including Loren Worley from NASA PAO. Indeed 9/31 people listed on the agenda as speakers work for NASA. All attendees - including the NASA civil servants - agreed in advance never not talk about their participation. This is, of course, in direct contrast to established Obama Administration Open Government and transparency policies when it comes to NASA employees participating in an official capacity. Given that NASA PAO had someone there who is bound not to speak just compounds this matter. In addition, I am told that NASA HQ management saw this event as being advisory in nature which calls into question whether the FACA has been breached.

- Making Space Policy In Secret (Again)
- Good News Everyone: Another Closed Door Humans to Mars Thing, earlier post

NASA Chooses Asteroid Mission Plan

"NASA Wednesday announced more details in its plan for its Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), which in the mid-2020s will test a number of new capabilities needed for future human expeditions to deep space, including to Mars. NASA also announced it has increased the detection of near-Earth Asteroids by 65 percent since launching its asteroid initiative three years ago. For ARM, a robotic spacecraft will capture a boulder from the surface of a near-Earth asteroid and move it into a stable orbit around the moon for exploration by astronauts, all in support of advancing the nation's journey to Mars."

Keith's note: The original idea would have had astronauts actually go into deep space and visit an asteroid as part of a plan for longer duration spaceflight from Earth. There are some real operational applications to a mission like that. Then the policy wonks got involved and NASA started to lower expectations because they could not figure out how to do the engineering behind the press release images. NASA has now wimped out completely and decided to only grab a small boulder from an asteroid that a robot has already brought to lunar orbit as part of a pale Apollo reboot. Why even use humans at all for this? If NASA wants the boulder that bad why not just bring it back to Earth orbit where it would be much easier to access and study?

NASA wants everyone to think that this is actually part of the things they need to do to send humans to Mars. And they make sure you know that when they issue press releases with titles such as "NASA Announces Next Steps on Journey to Mars: Progress on Asteroid Initiative." Yet there is no budget identified for any of this. Congress is formally against it. The planetary science community is either against it or has been blackmailed into tepid support. And the White House wonks who pushed this idea on NASA will be gone very soon - and with them goes their support. NASA doesn't ever address any of that, do they?

If NASA wants to send humans on a "journey" to Mars then it needs to aim at Mars - not at the lowest hanging fruit on their capability matrix - fruit that they keep lowering.

A Waste Of Space, Scientific American

"More likely, Kelly's and Kornienko's tests will just confirm in greater detail what we already know from several previous long-duration missions: Our current space habitats are not adequate for voyages to other worlds. The lack of money to build these habitats, more than any lack of medical knowledge, is what keeps humans from Mars and other off-world destinations. ... It would be unfair to blame NASA alone for this shortsightedness. Integrating artificial gravity and better propulsion into its human spaceflight program would require many billions of dollars, and that money is not forthcoming from Congress. So NASA has struck a pragmatic course, tinkering with well-worn technologies instead of spending the financial and political capital to develop new ones."

Keith's note: Will NASA learn anything from the one year space twins study? Yes, of course they will. Will this knowledge help us "go to Mars"? (gotta use that phrase once a day, right NASA?). Who knows. Not likely. The studies are superficial and scattered in their focus. As this article notes NASA will, at best, simply understand their collective lack of capability to semi-safely send humans to Mars slightly better. Meanwhile, NASA will still kick the can down the road to Mars (I used the Mars meme twice, NASA!). NASA does not have the money or the scientific strategy to actually answer the questions it needs to answer. So they grab everything they can slap a Mars label on it and proclaim progress on the road to Mars (three times!).

As was the case with John Glenn's mission to solve aging problems in space we will never see the results of this research - in any form - that NASA uses to justify the hype surrounding this otherwise ho hum stay aboard ISS. And we will still be in Earth - not Mars - orbit. And the news media will still be confused which twin has the moustache.

The ISS still has an amazing untapped potential to actually address these very real issues of human physiology and long duration spaceflight with direct applicability to Mars. But NASA is simply not up to the task of using these resources in a concerted, strategic, long-term fashion - and assembling the resources to do so. They just make it up as they go. And their poorly equipped junior partner CASIS is simply clueless.

- NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly Available for Interviews before One-Year Space Station Mission
- Correcting NASA's Inaccurate Budget Infographic, earlier post

NASA OIG Testimony, NASA Oversight Hearing

"As we reported in August 2013, even after the SLS and Orion are fully developed and ready to transport crew NASA will continue to face significant challenges concerning the long-term sustainability of its human exploration program. For example, unless NASA begins a program to develop landers and surface systems its astronauts will be limited to orbital missions of Mars. Given the time and money necessary to develop these systems, it is unlikely that NASA would be able to conduct any manned surface exploration missions until the late 2030s at the earliest."

Let's Fix the Asteroid Redirect Mission, Marcia Smith Aviation Week

"Fundamentally, ARM is two good ideas kluged together into one bewildering idea that NASA itself seems unable to explain effectively. NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden's hand-picked advisers on the NASA Advisory Council have debated the problem in recent meetings. The council's question basically is -- how does moving a rock from one place in the solar system to another get us to Mars? ARM involves developing high-power solar electric propulsion (SEP). Good idea. It has many uses in Earth orbit and deep space, including support of human exploration of Mars. ARM involves sending astronauts to cis-lunar space (between the Earth and the Moon) for up to three weeks at a time. Good idea. Breaking the umbilical cord to Earth is a necessary step to Mars. ARM involves moving an asteroid to lunar orbit. Huh?"

Throwing Shade on Mars One

Mars Missions Are A Scam, BuzzFeed

"It looks like a scam," John Logsdon, a space policy expert at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., told BuzzFeed News. "They don't have any technology, they don't have any agreements with the space industry. It looks very shaky." The bigger problem? Mars One's flaws too few spaceships, nonexistent life-support technologies, not nearly enough money, and, really, no good reason for going discredit all Mars exploration plans, including NASA's."

Mars One plan to colonise red planet unrealistic, says leading supporter, The Guardian

"Gerard 't Hooft, a Dutch Nobel laureate and ambassador for Mars One, said he did not believe the mission could take off by 2024 as planned. "It will take quite a bit longer and be quite a bit more expensive. When they first asked me to be involved I told them 'you have to put a zero after everything'," he said, implying that a launch date 100 years from now with a budget of tens of billions of dollars would be an achievable goal. But, 't Hooft added, "People don't want something 100 years from now."

No more 'Big Brother' on the red planet, Daily Mail

"Last week Mars One announced a list of 100 people who will train on Earth for a one-way mission to the red planet in 2025. But the venture's accompanying reality TV show - which was to be made by the makers of Big Brother to document their training and new lives on the red planet - has been shelved after the companies were 'unable to reach an agreement on details', MailOnline has learned. Instead, Mars One is working with a new production company to record the colonists' progress."

Asteroid Abduction

The Space Program - A Modest Proposal, Paul Spudis

"I'm at a loss to explain why one aspect of the ARM mission hasn't been discussed in the media: seeing that advocates of the ARM think nothing about re-arranging the architecture of the Solar System for their convenience, environmental activists might object to the very idea behind the mission. We can't get to a near-Earth asteroid with the Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System (SLS), so let's just drag the asteroid to us! Imagine a defenseless rock, innocently tumbling its way through space, only to be snagged, bagged, and defiled appropriated and exploited by arrogant, human interlopers. There ought to be a law!"

The Debate About The Future Of Human Spaceflight - 30 Years On, Marcia Smith, Aviation Week

"Will NASA's newest plans languish as well, or are we finally ready to move out on the next phase of human exploration? Can we avoid diversions like the Asteroid Redirect Mission? Will Congress sustain the level of funding it provided for NASA in FY2015 -- $549 million more than the President requested? Is that enough to make real progress? The "Journey to Mars" hype associated with the Orion test last month seems to have been effective in educating the public that NASA has not, in fact, gone out of business, but won't the public wonder what happened when this year and next year and the year after that pass with no more Orion flights?"

- Yet Another Space Policy Advisory Committee, earlier post
- Yet Another Slow Motion Advisory Committee on Human Space Flight, earlier post
- Yet Another NASA Pick-the-Next-Destination Effort, earlier post
- Bolden: NASA Does Not Have To Actually Go To An Asteroid, earlier post

Redirecting Asteroid Not Top Objective of Asteroid Redirect Mission, NASA Official Says, Space News

"After a presentation in Phoenix to the NASA-chartered Small Bodies Assessment Group (SBAG), Lindley Johnson, head of the agency's Near Earth Object Observations Program, said redirecting an asteroid to a distant retrograde orbit around the Moon is "not the top objective of the [ARM] mission," which was trotted out in spring 2013 as a means to road test technology needed for a crewed Mars expedition and provide -- in the form of the titular asteroid -- a near-term destination for the Space Launch System rocket and Orion crew capsule NASA is building."

Bolden's Confusing Asteroid Mission Rationale (Revised), earlier post

"And this is subtle. I have this discussion with my science friends all the time and those who are purist. The president said by 2025 we should send humans to an asteroid. What he meant was, you should send humans to somewhere between Mars and Saturn, because that's where the dominant asteroids in the asteroid belt are. But no, he didn't say that. He said: humans to an asteroid."

- NASA: Two SLS Launches Likely Needed For $3 billion+ ARM, earlier post
- Asteroid Redirect Mission Critique
- Congress, NAC, SBAG, Question Asteroid Mission, earlier post
- Report of the Small Bodies Assessment Group Asteroid Redirect Mission Special Action Team, 30 July 2014 (Draft), earlier post
- SBAG Asteroid Redirect Mission Special Action Team, July 2014 presentation, earlier post
- Asteroid Experts Are Not Very Fond of NASA's Asteroid Mission, earlier post

Keith's note: At today's Small Bodies Assessment Group (SBAG) telecon, I asked Lindley Johnson via Webex "Can you show the chart again that has SLS as a launch option for the ARM spacecraft? Does this mean TWO SLS launches needed - one for ARM and another for crew?" He confirmed that yes, there will be two SLS launches - one SLS for the ARM spacecraft (Delta IV seems less desirable) and the other SLS for the crew. So ... this $1.25 billion cap for the ARM mission ignores the $1 billion-plus cost of a SLS for the ARM spacecraft, and the $1 billion-plus cost of SLS/Orion. So ... we're looking at a $3-4 billion cost for the whole ARM effort.

Keith's update: Johnson's charts are now online here. Pages 14-17 make explicit mention of SLS as a candidate for both the ARM spacecraft and the crewed launch. In the past, when asked if SLS is a candidate for the ARM spacecraft, HEOMD AA Bill Gerstenmaier has always said "no". Clearly there has been a change of mind.

One thing to consider: NASA is supposed to consider commercial launch alternatives unless there are compelling performance or technical reasons not to. Delta IV is mentioned, but no consideration seems to have been given to Falcon Heavy or the new Atlas that has been proposed. Of course, you can expect NASA to tweak things such that only SLS can meet the requirements because they have to.

51 U.S. Code § 50131 - "Requirement to procure commercial space transportation services" (full text below)

Asteroidal Confusion

This Week in Space - January 5-11, 2015, SpaceRef Business

"Here are some of the highlights for the coming week. As always, you can add an event to our events calendar by using this form. You can also take advantage of low advertising pricing, starting at $75/mth, to further promote your event or product on the SpaceRef network of websites."

Video: Shoot For The Moon

Video: NASA Provides an Astronaut's-Eye View of Orion's Re-entry

"New video recorded during NASA's Orion return through Earth's atmosphere provides viewers a taste of what the vehicle endured as it returned through Earth's atmosphere during its Dec. 5 flight test."

NASA to Discuss Today Asteroid Redirect Mission Capture Concept, Next Step in Journey to Mars

"NASA will host a media teleconference at 4 p.m. EST today during which agency officials will discuss and answer questions on the selection of an Asteroid Redirect Mission concept. The mission is to retrieve an asteroid mass and redirect it into lunar orbit, where astronauts will explore it in the 2020s. The mission will test a number of new capabilities needed for future human deep space expeditions, including to Mars."

Asteroid Redirect Mission Critique, earlier post

"... It will require an ancillary spacecraft deploying either a huge capture bag or a Rube Goldberg contraption resembling a giant arcade-game claw. Neither technology is useful for getting humans to Mars."

"Has a Massive BOONDOGGLE Hobbled NASA? - Chris Hayes: NASA space agency celebrated a major successful launch on Friday. However, a former NASA official says it's being undermined by short-sighted politicians pushing old technology to keep pork barrel spending in their districts With Lori Garver, former Deputy NASA Administrator.
From ALL IN, MSNBC"

Orion Is Back on Earth

Keith's note: Orion has landed perfectly in the Pacific. Alas, only CNBC showed it live. NASA TV broke again.

Conclusions:
1. NASA needs to buy more bandwidth.
2. NASA missions are popular with people even if TV networks are clueless.





Before NASA Pioneers Mars, Orion Spacecraft Faces Tests, PBS NewsHour

Presidential Science Adviser John Holdren: (8:28): "I don't think that the current budgets amount to kicking the can down the road. They amount to - within reasonable limits - getting done the steps that we need to achieve in order, ultimately, to get to Mars. Eventually, yes, between now and the 2030s, we would need to ramp up the budget. At the current budgets we would not get to Mars, that's correct."

Statement by John P. Holdren on the Successful Test Launch and Recovery of the Orion Spacecraft

"We congratulate the men and women of NASA and their commercial partners for this successful test launch, and we look forward to future milestones on the journey to Mars."

"Miles O'Brien: It doesn't feel like its a well thought out campaign at this point. Its like a horse designed by a committee at times.

Chris McKay: The plan for going to Mars is not well thought through. I think that part of the reason why it is not well thought through is because the pieces are so expensive that they do not fit in the box. If we can knock the prices down on all of the pieces then we can fit them into the box reasonable and we may have a plan that works more clearly. Right now they won't fit because the pieces are so expensive that you can't put more than one in. So ... some people want this, other people want that. They've gotta fight because they can't both fit in the budget.If you can drive the cost down then everything fits in and everything can happen."

Smoke and Mirrors in Space

Orion Cockpit Promo Video

Video: NASA's Orion Cockpit, SpaceRef

"Orion's December flight test will be uncrewed, but the spacecraft is meant to carry people. Astronaut Lee Morin shows off the cockpit future Orion crews will use in this video. The first test flight of Orion is scheduled for December 4th."

ESA Ministerial Conference to Focus on Ariane 6, ISS, Exploration and the Evolution of ESA , SpaceRef Business

"The next ESA Ministerial Conference will take place this Tuesday in Luxembourg. At the top of the agenda is Europe's future access to space with a modular Ariane 6 intended to be meet the changing demands of the satellite industry as well as being more price competitive."

- NASA Advisory Council Human Exploration and Operations Committee - Meeting Postponement
- NASA Advisory Council Science Committee - Meeting Postponement
- NASA Advisory Council - Meeting Postponement

"The meeting is being postponed by NASA due to exceptional circumstances and schedule conflicts of the NASA top leadership in connection with post-launch programmatic requirements of the Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT- 1) on December 4, 2014, at NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida."

Keith's note: The original notices for these NAC meetings were posted in the Federal Register 1-2 weeks ago. How many months has everyone known that EFT-1 was going to be launched on 4 December 2014? Just wondering. There's an app for things like this.

How NASA Plans to Land Humans on Mars, Planetary Society

"On the surface, NASA's humans to Mars plans seem vague and disjointed. For instance, it's difficult to see how visiting a captured asteroid in lunar orbit fits into a bigger picture. But if you combine Gerst's speech with two days of symposium panels and a day of interviews at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, the full breadth of what the agency is trying to do begins to makes sense. There is indeed a plan to put humans on Mars. Vague? Yes. Hard to see? Absolutely. But that's because Gerst and NASA are playing the long game. And right now, it may be the only game they can play."

Food For Thought

Human spaceflight: Find asteroids to get to Mars

"Some options are better than others. The cost and complexity of human space exploration demands that each element be measured by its value towards the ultimate goal: Mars. But NASA's stated next priority will not contribute to that aim. Its Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM)2 is a multibillion-dollar stunt to retrieve part of an asteroid and bring it close to Earth where astronauts can reach it. It will require an ancillary spacecraft deploying either a huge capture bag or a Rube Goldberg contraption resembling a giant arcade-game claw. Neither technology is useful for getting humans to Mars."

- Bolden's Confusing Asteroid Mission Rationale (Revised), earlier post
- Congress, NAC, SBAG, Question Asteroid Mission, earlier post
- Report of the Small Bodies Assessment Group Asteroid Redirect Mission Special Action Team, 30 July 2014 (Draft), earlier post
- SBAG Asteroid Redirect Mission Special Action Team, July 2014 presentation, earlier post
- Asteroid Experts Are Not Very Fond of NASA's Asteroid Mission, earlier post

Building Blocks to Mars - AIAA Space 2014, SpaceRef Business

"At this years AIAA Space 2014 conference a panel of experts from NASA and industry discussed the building blocks of to Mars.

The panel discussion: The first step on a path of exploration that will lead to human landings on Mars will be taken in the coming months with the Exploration Flight Test 1 of Orion on a Delta IV Heavy rocket. After that, Orion and Space Launch System will begin a series of exploration missions that will lead to human journeys to Mars. As a capabilities-driven framework, these systems will enable a variety of potential paths to the Red Planet."

Marc's note: The panel discussed the "current" NASA approach. Politics, the private sector, other efforts outside the U.S. were not part of the discussion.


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