Recently in Exploration Category

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.

NASA Exploration Technology Review - AIAA Space 2014, SpaceRef Business

"At this years AIAA Space 2014 conference NASA provided a panel of experts to discuss their Exploration Technology. The panel focused on the importance of sustained space technology investments to current and future explorations missions with special emphasis on future asteroid and Mars mission requirements. The panelists also discussed recent technology project successes and challenges."

NASA Exploration Systems Division Quarterly Report #2 - 2014 [Video], NASA

"NASA has released its quarterly from the Exploration Systems Division on the ongoing Orion, Space Launch System, Ground Systems Development and Operations programs for April, May and June of 2014."

Marc's note: Google last week launched new maps for the moon and Mars. They're available here:

- https://google.com/maps/space/moon
- https://google.com/maps/space/mars

NASA Holds Briefing on New Planetary Landing Technology, SpaceRef

"Today NASA held a briefing on its recent Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) project test. LDSD is a rocket-powered, saucer-shaped test vehicle which may be used on future planetary missions."

Space is Dangerous - Be Prepared (AIAA Space 2014 Astronaut Panel) , SpaceRef

"The panel fielded questions about NASA's seemingly risk adverse culture and its possible effect on future exploration, with Crippen admitting that "NASA has become risk adverse." Brandenstein added "that if we would have had the risk culture of the late shuttle era at its beginning, we would have never have launched STS-1."

... "On actual cooperation with the Chinese, Crippen expressed his support: "I believe we ought to be approaching the Chinese to be a part of that as well, they have a space program, they are well proven. We did it with the Russians and it worked out well for us." Crippen also noted that cooperation and information sharing would "naturally be tempered by national security concerns."

NIAC Announces Five Phase II Funded Concepts, SpaceRef Business

"Looking ahead to an exciting future, NASA is continuing to invest in concepts that may one day revolutionize how we live and work in space with the selection of five technology proposals for continued study under the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program."

The Past is Prologue to the Future When It Comes to the Next Decade of Mars Exploration, SpaceRef

"Past missions, and in some case the spare parts of past missions, will help drive the next decade of Mars exploration, a panel of experts from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the University of California at Berkeley, told an audience yesterday at the AIAA SPACE 2014 Forum in San Diego."

Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chair Smith Statement on NASA Advisory Council Recommendations

"Contrary to this administration's rhetoric, the President's proposed Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) has many skeptics within the scientific community. And the experts who advise NASA recently stepped up their criticism. The NASA Advisory Council warns that NASA 'runs the risk of squandering precious national resources' if they move forward with ARM. One expert, Mr. Tom Young, went so far as to say that the ARM proposal 'dumbed down NASA.' For months, the Obama administration has downplayed such criticism. I appreciate the good work of NASA's technical advisors and encourage the Obama administration to take their recommendations seriously."

SBAG Asteroid Redirect Mission Special Action Team, July 2014 presentation

Report of the Small Bodies Assessment Group Asteroid Redirect Mission Special Action Team, 30 July 2014 (Draft)

"This report summarizes discussions and findings of the SBAG ARM SAT. The report will be presented at the SBAG meeting on July 30, 2014, and made available to the SBAG community for comment. The report will be finalized in August, 2014, following the opportunity period for comments. The SBAG ARM SAT echoes the statement in the CAPTEM ARM report: of necessity, this is a preliminary report. If such a mission goes forward, we recommend that the prioritization of the science, planetary defense, and resource utilization requirements be refined through a more comprehensive process."

Future of NASA's Human Spaceflight Program Dominates NAC Meeting, SpacepolicyOnline

"Another criticism is that NASA does a poor job of explaining why it is pursuing ARM. Williams used a chart with several bullets, one of which pointed to ARM's role in demonstrating techniques that could be used to defend Earth from potentially hazardous asteroids -- planetary defense. During questioning about those bullets, Bolden quickly chimed in to say that planetary defense is NOT a goal of ARM. It is a goal of the Asteroid Grand Challenge, which NASA is funding at $7 million in FY2014, he said, but not of ARM. He acknowledged that because NASA is doing both ARM and the Grand Challenge, there is a lot of confusion. "We need to get that confusion out of it. We are not saving the planet," he exclaimed. However, many other NASA officials, including Williams, include planetary defense in the list of rationales for ARM. Scott Hubbard insisted that NASA needs to have a single bullet explaining why ARM is needed, not a list of them, in any case."

NASA Needs an Indian Tutorial, Bloomberg Review

"What can the U.S. space program learn from the Indian one? Not much, if the standard is outer-space achievement: India's modest record mostly includes feats the U.S. accomplished decades ago. But if the standard is having a clear vision of what you want to accomplish -- and getting that done quickly and economically, there might be a lesson or two. Consider the speech that India's new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, gave Monday, shortly after India's space program successfully launched five satellites belonging to far wealthier countries on an Indian-designed rocket. Combatting criticism that India's space program is a profligate waste when so many of the nation's citizens struggle to fulfill basic needs, Modi offered a concise vision for why such launches are necessary: Many misunderstand space technology to be for the elite. That it has nothing to do with the common man. I however believe such technology is fundamentally connected with the common man. As a change agent, it can empower and connect, to transform his life."

India's Rocket Missions Are Cheaper Than What It Takes To Make A Single Hollywood Movie Inquisitor

"India's Mangalyaan satellite to Mars, cost a total of $75 million. The entire budget for the mission didn't even cross a measly $100 million. The movie Gravity alone cost $100 million, quipped India's newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi: "I have heard about the film Gravity. I am told the cost of sending an Indian rocket to space is less than the money invested in making the Hollywood movie."

Related stories at @india_inspace

NASA's First Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator Test Flight a Success [With Full Flight Video and Highlights], NASA

"NASA representatives participated in a media teleconference this morning to discuss the June 28, 2014 near-space test flight of the agency's Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD), which occurred off the coast of the U.S. Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii.

A high-altitude balloon launch occurred at 8:45 a.m. HST (11:45 a.m. PDT/2:45 p.m. EDT) from the Hawaiian island facility. At 11:05 a.m. HST (2:05 p.m. PDT/5:05 p.m. EDT), the LDSD test vehicle dropped away from the balloon as planned and began powered flight. The balloon and test vehicle were about 120,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean at the time of the drop. The vehicle splashed down in the ocean at approximately 11:35 a.m. HST (2:35 p.m. PDT/5:35 p.m. EDT), after the engineering test flight concluded. The test vehicle hardware, black box data recorder and parachute were all recovered later in the day."

Pathways to Exploration: A Review of the Future of Human Space Exploration

Witnesses will be:

- Governor Mitch Daniels, Report Co-Chair (testimony)
- Dr. Jonathan Lunine, Report Co-Chair (testimony)

Committee Reviews Report on Future of Human Spaceflight, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology

"The report confirmed that NASA lacks a plan for human space exploration. The NASA Authorization Act of 2014, which recently passed the House with bipartisan support, requires a detailed plan for how NASA will land humans on Mars. The NRC's report offers suggestions on the best way to reach that goal. The report also calls into question the Obama administration's continued focus on the Asteroid Retrieval Mission (ARM), highlighting "an underlying concern that ARM would divert U.S. resources and attention" from other potential missions."

Committee Considers the Path Forward in Human Spaceflight, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Democrats

"The witnesses emphasized the need for sustained investments in the U.S. human space exploration program over multiple Congresses and Administrations in order to commit to a pathway approach and successfully achieve a human mission to Mars. Specifically, both Governor Daniels and Dr. Lunine emphasized that if budgets continue to only increase at the rate of inflation, the goal of landing humans on Mars will never be attained. The co-chairs also made it clear that regardless of the pathway that is adopted, there needs to be consistency over a long period of time that survives the changing U.S. political landscape."

- Hearing Charter
- NRC Says NASA Is On The Wrong Path to Mars, earlier post
- Report From Slow Motion Advisory Committee on Human Space Flight, earlier post
- NASA Should Maintain Long-Term Focus on Mars as "Horizon Goal" for Human Space Exploration, earlier post

NASA Announces Latest Progress, Upcoming Milestones in Hunt for Asteroids

"NASA is on the hunt for an asteroid to capture with a robotic spacecraft, redirect to a stable orbit around the moon, and send astronauts to study in the 2020s -- all on the agency's human Path to Mars. Agency officials announced on Thursday, June 19, recent progress to identify candidate asteroids for its Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), increase public participation in the search for asteroids, and advance the mission's design."

NASA's real life Enterprise may take us to other star systems one day, Gizmodo

"Dr. Harold "Sonny" White is still working on a warp drive at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Their work is still in the experimental stages but that doesn't mean they can't imagine already what the real life Enterprise ship should look like according to their math. You're looking at it right now."

What an Enterprise! NASA physicist, artist unveil warp-speed craft design

"According to NASA, there hasn't been any proof that a warp drive can exist, but the agency is experimenting nonetheless. Although the concept doesn't violate the laws of physics, that doesn't guarantee that it will work."

Status of "Warp Drive", NASA

"Warp Drives", "Hyperspace Drives", or any other term for Faster-than-light travel is at the level of speculation, with some facets edging into the realm of science. We are at the point where we know what we do know and know what we don't, but do not know for sure if faster than light travel is possible."

Clarifying NASA's Warp Drive Program, earlier post

"How much has NASA already spent on this project? How much does it intend to spend on this project? Where do the funds for Eagleworks and White's advanced propulsion/warp drive research come from? JSC? HQ? Answer: The scope and scale of this project is small and commensurate with a university effort. Most of the equipment was pulled from storage to minimize capital procurement. Total procurement to implement the warp field interferometer is ~$50k. The funding comes from JSC."

Keith's note: Given the PR that centers on Dr. White it is a little difficult to believe that all NASA spends on this effort is on the order of $50,000 a year. Is this his full time job? If not, what is it that he does to get a salary from NASA? When you ask JSC what this costs you either get no answer or non-answers liek this. If this is a real project then you'd think NASA would want to be a little more forthcoming. If it is a real project, that is.

What will be interesting to watch is what visibility NASA PAO does - or does not - give to this in-house warp drive skunk works when it starts to work with the PR people for the film< em> "Interstellar" (there has been some preliminary interaction). Will NASA want taxpayers to know that it is thinking ahead or will it avoid all mention of this effort for fear of being ridiculed in the press?

Warp Drive Research at NASA JSC, earlier post

NRC human spaceflight report says NASA strategy can't get humans to Mars

"John Logsdon, professor emeritus of George Washington University's Space Policy Institute, said the report has a familiar ring to it. "They go through all this negative analysis and still conclude we ought to go to Mars. No one ever says, 'Let's lower our ambitions.' It's always, 'Increase the budget,' not 'Lower ambitions,'" he said. As for going to Mars: "It's a dream. It's been a dream forever. And will remain a dream unless something changes."

Mars or bust, says new report on NASA human space exploration, LA Times

"But the report said that if the U.S. is to take its space program to the next level, it will require more funds for the step-by-step missions that will lead to the Martian surface. It will also require, the authors said, more international cooperation -- including with China. Current federal law blocks NASA from working on bilateral projects with the Chinese."

New report: NASA Mars goal is not viable, Houston Chronicle

"There is also concern because, critics say, NASA is building this rocket without a clear path to Mars. As the report notes it is difficult to sustain a rocket program, absent a concrete, widely accepted goal, over multiple presidential administrations, and Congresses. "I would say the SLS is very vulnerable," said Mark Albrecht, an aerospace executive and principal space adviser to President George H.W. Bush, this year. "The wrong way to think about spaceflight is to build a bunch of stuff and then find an objective for it to achieve."

Keith's note: NRC says NASA Is on the wrong path to Mars. That's about the only thing they took a clear position on in their report. In writing their report the committee dodged all of the big questions with the excuse that it was beyond their scope/charter. Trivial mention was made of commercial alternatives or whether the SLS-based model is the right way to get to Mars. In the briefing yesterday Mitch Daniels said that funding for all of this is "the secondary question". So there you go - yet another space policy report - one that cost $3.6 million and is being delivered more than 3 years after it was requested. The White House and NASA will ignore it. Congress will wave it around and then ignore it too. In the end we'll all be where we are now - with incomplete plans, no strategy, a big rocket with no payload, and nothing close to a budget to make any of it happen.

Report From Slow Motion Advisory Committee on Human Space Flight, earlier post

NASA Should Maintain Long-Term Focus on Mars as "Horizon Goal" for Human Space Exploration

"The technical analysis completed for this study shows that for the foreseeable future, the only feasible destinations for human exploration are the moon, asteroids, Mars, and the moons of Mars," Lunine added. "Among this small set of plausible goals, the most distant and difficult is putting human boots on the surface of Mars, thus that is the horizon goal for human space exploration. All long-range space programs by our potential partners converge on this goal."

Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration (report)

NASA Statement on National Research Council Report on Human Spaceflight

"NASA welcomes the release of this report. After a preliminary review, we are pleased to find the NRC's assessment and identification of compelling themes for human exploration are consistent with the bipartisan plan agreed to by Congress and the Administration in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 and that we have been implementing ever since."

The Planetary Society Announces Strong Support for NASA's Asteroid Initiative

"Our concern is that a rigorous and independent cost and technical evaluation of the mission has not yet been completed. We worry that the ARM effort will prove a great deal more expensive than is currently being suggested. As has happened too often in the past, cost overruns lead to budgeting difficulties for years into the future. NASA's numerous other worthy science and exploration endeavors become difficult to manage and complete. We thus urge NASA as soon as possible to undertake as comprehensive a cost and technical evaluation as is feasible at this early stage in mission definition."

NASA Exploration Forum to Showcase Human Path to Mars

"NASA is developing the capabilities needed to send astronauts to an asteroid by 2025 and Mars in the 2030s. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and other agency leadership will showcase NASA's human exploration path to Mars at an Exploration Forum from 12:30 to 3 p.m. Tuesday, April 29. The forum will be held in NASA Headquarters' Webb Auditorium at 300 E St. SW in Washington. The event is open to the public and will be carried live on NASA Television and the agency's website."

Video: NASA's Path to Mars, NASA

"Get an inside look at NASA's next steps in deep space exploration -- from the space station, to an asteroid and on to the human exploration of Mars."

NASA's lofty goal of a manned Mars mission doesn't match budget reality , opinion, Washington Post

... But our current trajectory won't get us there anyway; estimates of the cost of a human trip to Mars run into the hundreds of billions. "We're going to have to figure out ingenious ways to do it based on the present budget plus modest increases," Bolden said at the summit. Or maybe more than modest. William Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for human exploration, told the same audience of the need to "break the paradigm" of current funding. "We cannot do it at the same budget level we're at today. It's just not going to work."

NASA Administrator Discusses Getting Humans to Mars [Watch], NASA

"Administrator Charles Bolden outlined NASA's human exploration path to Mars during a keynote address at the April 22 Humans to Mars Summit 2014, held at George Washington University in Washington."

Marc's note: Bolden didn't say anything that we haven't heard before. He talked about the need for humanity to become a multi-planet species for survival and that the audience needs to face facts that we're in a very constraining budget period.

Risk and Exploration

Avalanches: Beauty, Wonder, and Danger - with video (May 2009)

Keith's note: There was a huge avalanche at Everest yesterday. So far it seems that 12 people were killed - all Sherpa guides. They were walking up the Khumu Icefall on their way to work. This (link above) is what Scott Parazynski and I witnessed in May 2009. At the time this was described as being a very, very big avalanche for Everest. As such, I can only imagine what yesterday's fatal avalanche at Everest looked like. No one was injured in the avalanche in this video.

Massive Avalanche Over The Lower Khumbu Icefall - with video (May 2009)

As I watched this equally huge avalanche (link above) a week later I was almost certain that Scott was in it. We did not know for a while if he was. As it happened Scott and Danuru Sherpa climbed fast and were above the Khumbu icefall when it happened. But Scott's climbing partner Rejean and his sherpa Dawa were caught in it. Dawa's quick thinking saved Rejean's life. Alas, one Sherpa guide was lost in this avalanche. It was a curious existence at Everest Base Camp. I awoke every morning to see the Khumbu Icefall outside my tent flap - calm and serene and always an instant away from becoming deadly. You get used to this - and then again you don't.

NASA has its risks and tragedies as well. That said it is always - odd - to watch both cultures (climbing and space) deal with risk. The similarities in risks are often eerily similar yet the ways that the risks are dealt with is often utterly different. FYI I noted this disaprity a decade ago and this led to the Risk and Exploration Symposium that John Grunsfeld and I put together for NASA in 2004. By coincidence, John Grunsfeld was in orbit while Scott and I were at Everest.

Life is very fragile - even for the strongest of climbers - or the most skilled astronauts. But that doesn't mean that all risks should be avoided. Many simply need to be confronted. The risks need to be understood and dealt with in a way that safeguards people while still allowing adventure and exploration to continue. Exploration is a risky endeavour - by definition.

NASA Advisory Committee meeting agenda, dial-in/Webex instructions

ISEE-3 Reboot Project (IRP): Our plan is simple: we intend to contact the ISEE-3 (International Sun-Earth Explorer) spacecraft, command it to fire its engine and enter an orbit near Earth, and then resume its original mission - a mission it began in 1978.

ISEE-3 was rechristened as the International Comet Explorer (ICE). If we are successful it may also still be able to chase yet another comet.

Working in collaboration with NASA we have assembled a team of engineers, programmers, and scientists - and have a large radio telescope fully capable of contacting ISEE-3. If we are successful we intend to facilitate the sharing and interpretation of all of the new data ISEE-3 sends back via crowd sourcing.

NASA has told us officially that there is no funding available to support an ISEE-3 effort - nor is this work a formal priority for the agency right now. But NASA does feel that the data that ISEE-3 could generate would have real value and that a crowd funded effort such as ours has real value as an education and public outreach activity.

Time is short. And this project is not without significant risks. We need your financial help. ISEE-3 must be contacted in the next month or so and it must complete its orbit change maneuvers no later than mid-June 2014. There is excitement ahead as well: part of the maneuvers will include a flyby of the Moon at an altitude of less than 50 km.

This Way to Mars

International Cooperation a Focus of From Here to Mars Senate Hearing, SpaceRef

"If we're going to send Humans to Mars it should be an international effort where cooperation with the Russia and other partners is essential. However relations with Russia have taken a decided cold turn of late including barring NASA from working with Russian colleagues unless it's directly related to the International Space Station."

Marc's note: Includes testimony, audio of hearing and link to video archive.

Keith's note: There has been a flurry of comments via Twitter and press releases over the past 24 hours about going to Mars - and what things we can do now to help us to get there. It all started with NASA Administrator Bolden telling an advisory group yesterday that "Inspiration Mars is not Inspirational". He was referring the the latest incarnation of the ever-changing mission idea first proposed by Dennis Tito. This is part of a larger discussion regarding the SLS (Space Launch System), destinations in space, the value of commercial space - all of which was turbocharged by NASA's stealthy direction to its staff to cut off all ties with Russia except those involving the International Space Station.

Bolden, the White House, and some Democrats want to do the ARM (Asteroid Retrieval Mission) as a first test of the Orion/SLS system. Republicans and members of Congress from states where SLS/Orion hardware is made want a more robust Mars flyby mission using additional SLS hardware. All of this is fueled behind the scenes by partisan politics and the puppetry by former NASA employees scorned by the cancellation of the Constellation program.

And no one in this food fight can point to a clear, cohesive space policy proposal - one with budgets, milestones, and overall goals. Indeed everyone's notional policy is deeply flawed and wholly out of synch with the realities of using the same old approaches to conduct a program of human exploration mandated by the government. But when has that stopped anyone from having a good argument about what the current Administration's policy is - or is not? Indeed that is what this is all about. No one wants to really explore space any more. They just want to argue about it.

The argument currently finds itself focused on asteroids Vs Mars. So lets start there.

ARM is not without its fiscal problems and fundamental flaws. If the whole idea of ARM is to give Orion/SLS system a test in deep space then they should actually send a crew *to* an asteroid IN DEEP SPACE. Grabbing an asteroid and then bringing it back to a location close to Earth via robot such that Orion can visit it totally undermines the purpose of a deep space test. Its like lowering a basketball hoop to make it easier for you to sink the ball. Your test now becomes a stunt. It would be vastly simpler and less expensive to send a robotic mission to characterize the target asteroid - if asteroid characterization was the main goal.

If a true test of Orion/SLS systems in a risky environment - for a first flight - was the goal, then NASA should do just that. But to suggest that a Mars Flyby is a good way to do this test is to run in the exact opposite direction - for a first mission. Operating much closer to Earth ARM has the virtue of providing a contingency return if any critical systems fail on their first flight. Mars Flyby commits to everything with no way to abort. The crew is along for a 500+ day ride no matter what.

So ARM is too wimpy and Mars Flyby is too risky. How do we test Orion/SLS? And oh yes, everyone is waving their arms as to whether either mission "helps us get to Mars". Well, if you have already decided that Orion/SLS is the only (preferred) way you want to send humans to Mars then ANY flight has to provide some value. Of course some missions provide more bang for the buck than others. So people saying that it doesn't help us get to Mars are simply playing politics with their preferred mission.

The issue as I see it is how you use this absurdly expensive system in a strategic, systematic way that reduces real risk without taking unreasonable risks and demonstrates systems and technologies specifically needed to land people on Mars. You need a firm goal, and a long term plan for what you do once you get to Mars and build backward from what it takes to meet those goals.

Here's the problem: NASA has no firm plan, goals, destinations, and it doesn't even have the slightest hint of any evidence that a budget significant enough to make Mars exploration possible is in the cards. "Some time in the 2030s" is not a policy to send humans to Mars. Its a punchline for policy wonks to use.

Indeed there is not enough money NOW in order to get started. Moreover, we have one singular government solution (Orion/SLS) irreparably mandated by a collision of meandering policies from successive White Houses with overt pork preservation tactics by Congress. No discussion of alternate approaches is possible. And when one private sector alternate approach appeared (the original Inspiration Mars) it was immediately abducted by big aerospace companies and morphed so as to now justify the Orion/SLS - the very thing it originally sought to eclipse.

Have I missed anything?

- Bolden: Inspiration Mars is Not Inspirational, earlier post
- Is Inspiration Mars a "NASA Mission"? It Depends Who You Ask, earlier post

Chairman Smith Responds to NASA Administrator Bolden about Mars Flyby Mission

"In comments before the National Academies, Administrator Bolden today misrepresented a Mars Flyby 2021 mission. The Administrator indicated that a Mars Flyby is not a worthy stepping stone to an eventual Mars landing because it doesn't demonstrate technologies. That is factually incorrect. Experts have testified that a Mars Flyby mission would utilize the Space Launch System, architecture that will be central to a Mars landing. He further contended that the Obama administration's proposed Asteroid Retrieval Mission (ARM) is a better stepping stone to Mars. However, the administration has not provided any details of how it fits into a larger exploration roadmap. The ARM mission lacks support from the stakeholder community and NASA's own advisory bodies. It is a mission without a realistic budget, without a destination and without a certain launch date. I urge the Administrator to get his facts straight when comparing the value of potential NASA missions."

Keith's note: Looks like Mike Griffin Dennis Tito Boeing Doug Cooke Chris Shank Lamar Smith is upset that someone has an opinion that differs from the (previously all-private) bait and switch Mars Flyby mission Dennis Tito now wants everyone else to pay for. Oddly, Smith and his pro-Mars Flyby cabal have yet to explain where the money would come from for such a mission - now that taxpayers are funding it. Kudos to Charlie Bolden for being honest. But His plan is equally flawed.

NASA Should Use an Ethics Framework When Making Decisions About Health Standards For Long Duration and Exploration Spaceflights

"NASA should use an ethics framework when deciding whether, and under what conditions, spaceflights that venture outside low Earth orbit or extend beyond 30 days are acceptable if they do not meet current health standards, says a new report from the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences."

NASA to Host Media Teleconference on an Asteroid Initiative Broad Agency Announcement

"NASA will host a media teleconference at 3 p.m. EDT Friday, March 21, to discuss the same-day release of its Asteroid Initiative Announcement of Opportunities."

NASA Asteroid Redirect Mission Broad Agency Announcement

"NASA intends to issue has issued an Asteroid Redirect Mission Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) on March 21, 2014. NASA is developing concepts for the Asteroid Redirect Mission, which would use a robotic spacecraft to capture a small near-Earth asteroid, or remove a boulder from the surface of a larger asteroid, and redirect the asteroid mass into a stable orbit around the moon. Astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft launched on the Space Launch System would rendezvous with the asteroid mass in lunar orbit, and collect samples for return to Earth."

NASA Asteroid Redirect Mission Broad Agency Announcement

"NASA intends to issue an Asteroid Redirect Mission Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) on March 21, 2014. NASA is developing concepts for the Asteroid Redirect Mission, which would use a robotic spacecraft to capture a small near-Earth asteroid, or remove a boulder from the surface of a larger asteroid, and redirect the asteroid mass into a stable orbit around the moon. Astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft launched on the Space Launch System would rendezvous with the asteroid mass in lunar orbit, and collect samples for return to Earth."

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

"To be blunt, there is no compelling rationale for the Asteroid Redirect & Return Mission (ARRM). There never has been. Based on the way that Charlie Bolden continually stumbles through his conflicting explanation of what the mission is and is not, there never will be a clear reason why it needs to be done."

Asteroid Experts Are Not Very Fond of NASA's Asteroid Mission, earlier post

The Path Forward In American Space - 2014 Edition, Dennis Wingo, SpaceRef

"I AM UNEASY. I resent the passive attitudes many scientists have toward the challenge of science, especially their passivity concerning the greatest scientific, technological, and industrial opportunity of all time--- the development of space--- a challenge so limitless and exciting as ultimately to surpass all previous human accomplishments.... I am angry that so many scientists do not voice the scientific benefits of the expedition to the moon, concerned that industrial directors in charge of tomorrow are tranquil to the future, disturbed that our non-scientific Congress is unrealistic in its reasons for space appropriations, and disgusted with scientific journals that have abdicated their responsibilities of leadership and fail, even, to present a point of view. Hundreds of important scientific and cold-cash reasons abound for going to the moon..."

These words could have been written by myself or a number of other space advocates over the last few years (it could also be written about Mars). However, these were written as the preface to a book "The Case for Going to the Moon", written in 1965 by Neil Ruzic, the editor and publisher of the 1960's era journal Industrial Research. The forward to the "Case for Going to the Moon" was written by Arthur C. Clarke. ...

Cooke: America needs a plan for space exploration, Opinion, Houston Chronicle

"Through logical progression and meaningful missions, I believe Americans will be motivated to support appropriate but reasonable budgets, that are commensurate with the value of the plan and the work needed to accomplish it. We cannot afford to delay or prolong the debate, because timing is critical to catch the unique planetary alignment that makes the first step possible in 2021."

Keith's note: Once again Doug Cooke is incapable and/or unwilling to give budget estimates. But he knows enough, so it would seem, to state that everyone will accept these "reasonable" costs. He never says that NASA's budget will need to be increased substantially in order to do this Mars flyby with SLS/Orion. Does that mean he will take the funds from elsewhere? Flying a mission to Mars in 2021 means that NASA needs to start on this yesterday - and its current and projected budgets will simply not allow SLS/Orion/Mars flyby and ISS to be fully supported simultaneously. Clearly ISS will bear the brunt of the obvious budget reconfiguration. He is saving the sticker shock for later.

Cooke also neglects to mention that he is a Boeing consultant (they are heavily involved in SLS) and that he advises Dennis Tito's Inspiration Mars project - where this whole flyby thing began.

Letter from Rep. Wolf and Smith To NASA About Mars Flyby 2021

"Last year the Administration championed an Asteroid Mission as a next step. However, the mission was not vetted by NASA's own advisory committees or the stakeholder community before it was presented formally to Congress. Upon review, a majority of experts said that such a mission did not demonstrate sufficient technical applicability to an eventual Mars landing."

Keith's note: This is beyond hilarious. It is pathetic. Lamar Smith (upon the advice of Mike Griffin's former staff on both sides of the dais) did not like Constellation's cancellation so they immediately dismiss whatever this White House and NASA puts forward. They claim "a majority of experts" (who are they?) agree with them. So what do they do? They take a multi-millionaire's ever-changing Powerpoint presentation (with no cost estimates) that NASA is expected to pay for with additional money no one has identified, and hold a hearing with NASA specifically banned - and no contrary opinions allowed.

But wait: this Mars flyby concept is also "not vetted by NASA's own advisory committees or the stakeholder community" (their main complaint about the asteroid mission). But that doesn't stop the contradictory hypocrisy on the part of Lamar Smith, Frank Wolf et al. They just direct NASA to study it. It should be obvious that whatever NASA says will be unacceptable by this committee. But who cares?

Then you see Republican NASA Administrator-in-waiting Scott Pace pontificating about what a space policy should be i.e. a bigger picture with missions selected to implement the grand plan. In fact Pace is saying that he wants to see this specific mission happen and that a space policy should then be crafted after the fact to justify it. He's got his own ideas about space policy backward. Again, who cares?

Isn't that the problem NASA/Congress/White House has had for the past 30+ years? They keep changing their mind about what they want NASA to do - and complain about what it is doing - but then go off and do something new anyway. Then they change the rules to justify what they have already done. And then just as they change the rules (or some big problem erupts) someone changes what NASA should be doing and the idiotic cycle starts all over again. And this process is fueled by partisan hearings that are actually pre-staged puppet shows with everything scripted toward a desired partisan outcome.

You can get neck damage trying to watch things swing back and forth. Imagine trying to distill a cogent, long-term policy from all of this. It is clearly impossible. Yet all of these half-baked, ever-changing ideas absolutely require a long-term bipartisan, multi-administration commitment in order to happen.

Whiplash is no way to explore space. Small wonder other countries are nipping at our heels. We make it so easy for them to do.

- Dennis Tito's Congressional Infomercial - in 5 Tweets, earlier post
- The Band of Brothers Wants a Mars Flyby, earlier post

Hearing: Mars Flyby 2021: The First Deep Space Mission for the Orion and Space Launch System?

27 Feb 2014 10:00am live webcast

- Dr. Scott Pace, Director of the Space Policy Institute, George Washington University Statement
- General Lester Lyles (ret.), Independent Aerospace Consultant and former Chairman of the Committee on "Rationale and Goals of the U.S. Civil Space Program" established by the National Academies Statement
- Mr. Doug Cooke, Owner, Cooke Concepts and Solutions and former NASA Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Mission Directorate Statement
- Dr. Sandra Magnus, Executive Director, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Statement

- Rep. Lamar Smith Statement; Hearing on Mars 2021 Flyby Mission
- Statement from Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson - Mars 2021 Flyby Hearing
- Statement by Rep. Steven Palazzo on Mars 2021 Flyby Hearing
- House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Democrats Emphasize Need for Human Space Exploration Roadmap
- House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Examines Mars Flyby Mission
And oh yes

Statement from Inspiration Mars Chairman Dennis Tito on Feb. 27 "Mars Flyby 2021" Hearing

Ten Tough Days for NASA, Clay Anderson, Huffington Post

"But did we, America, learn and truly understand? As I discussed in my previous Huffington Post blog post, "Never Give Up, Never Surrender," some of us did, while others did not. Understand that these tragedies did not have to happen. But the lessons learned and the resultant technological growth would ultimately contribute to discoveries and opportunities benefiting all humankind. And that, I believe, should be the legacy of these brave men and women. We must continue to explore."

2014 BA3 Goldstone Radar Observations Planning

"2014 BA3 was discovered by the Mt. Lemmon Survey (Arizona) on January 21, 2014. It has an absolute magnitude of 28.3 suggesting a diameter within a factor of two of only 7 meters, but nothing else is known about its physical properties. This object is one of the best candidates ever discovered for NASA's new Asteroid Robotic Retrieval Mission, so we will try to detect echoes at Goldstone to improve the asteroid's orbit and to characterize its physical properties. ... 2014 BA3 will approach within 0.0151 AU on January 26. This object is at about 20th magnitude so it is a difficult target for observers using optical telescopes. "

- Asteroid 2014 BA3, JPL Small Body Database Simulator
- NASA Asteroid Initiative

Clementine +20

Clementine - The Mission, Twenty Years Later, Paul Spudis

"In the twenty years following the end of the Apollo program, the lunar science community tried to interest NASA in sending a robotic orbiter to the Moon to map its shape, composition and other physical properties. Such a mission would not only document the processes and history of the Moon, but would also serve as an operational template for the exploration of other airless planetary objects through the collection of global remote sensing data and use of surface samples to provide ground truth."

Morpheus Flies Free Again

Morpheus Completes Third Free Flight Test at Kennedy Space Center (Video)

A Decade of the Vision for Space Exploration: An Alternative Retrospective, Paul Spudis

"Reflecting on the last decade of U.S. space accomplishment, it is apparent that the strategic direction of the Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) first outlined by President Bush on January 14, 2004 has dramatically transformed the civil space program of the United States. Instead of drifting aimlessly, as had been our wont, we are now poised to expand outward with activities undreamed of only a few years ago - ready to set sail into the Solar System with both humans and machines. It is important to revisit this decade of events to appreciate what (and who) is responsible for the developments that cemented this enviable level of space capability - the effort keeping us at the forefront of space development."

Going Beyond The Status Quo In Space, Dennis WIngo, Paul Spudis, Gordon Woodcock, earlier post

"The next step in our space program is the development of a true space faring civilization using the Moon as a stepping stone. Elements of such a system include a lunar spaceport, settlement, and industrial infrastructure to support the further economic development of the Solar System. Pursuing this goal requires a different way of thinking about space infrastructure and operations. Reducing operating cost is paramount. We must accept high-payoff new technologies and manage their risks until they are mature. But the payoff is huge: a new economic frontier in space."

Statement from the Coalition for Space Exploration: Frank Wolf's Letter to President Obama
 
"... policy decisions made in the next few years will determine whether the international space and science community supports a U.S.-led space exploration program for the next several decades or if they align with others. The Coalition for Space Exploration encourages the proposal to hold a conference early in the new year to develop a mission-oriented plan for a U.S.-led exploration program to send humans to Mars using the SLS and Orion systems, augmented by other systems and technologies contributed by our international partners."

Wolf Asks Obama to Hold White House Conference in 2014 on Return to Moon, Space Policy Online

"Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) may be retiring, but that's not till the end of next year.   Until then, he clearly plans to remain passionately involved in both civil and national security space policy as evidenced by two letters he sent today.  The one addressed to President Obama calls on the President to hold a White House conference early in 2014 to develop an international plan to return humans to the Moon within the next 10 years."

Letter from Frank Wolf To President Obama, Space Policy Online

41 Years Ago Today Humans Left The Moon

"41 years ago today, 14 December 1972, Lunar Module "Challenger" in lunar orbit before rendezvous with the Apollo 17 Command Module "America"."

Statement of NASA Spokesman David Weaver Regarding Commercial Space and Inspiration Mars

"NASA has had conversations with Inspiration Mars to learn about their efforts and will continue discussions with them to see how the agency might collaborate on mutually-beneficial activities that could complement NASA's human spaceflight, space technology and Mars exploration plans. Inspiration Mars' proposed schedule is a significant challenge due to life support systems, space radiation response, habitats, and the human psychology of being in a small spacecraft for over 500 days. The agency is willing to share technical and programmatic expertise with Inspiration Mars, but is unable to commit to sharing expenses with them. However, we remain open to further collaboration as their proposal and plans for a later mission develop."

Millionaire revises plan for Mars flyby in 2018: Now it's up to NASA, NBC

"Tito initially envisioned the flyby as an effort primarily backed by private contributions, but the 90-day study determined that the mission had to be done with NASA hardware. "This is really a NASA mission," Taber MacCallum, Inspiration Mars' chief technology officer, told NBC News. "This is a mission we believe NASA should do."

Inspiration Mars pivots, seeks government support and backing, Space Politics

"Are you suggesting that the mission couldn't be undertaken without additional NASA funding?" asked Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), ranking member of the space subcommittee. "Right now, I don't see a lot of evidence that money is available," Tito responded."

Keith's note: In a media interview today Dennis Tito and Taber MacCallum said that they viewed the Inspiration Mars mission as a "NASA mission" and that Congress and the White House would need to direct NASA to do this mission as part of their SLS program. Tito also said that there would be legislation submitted on their behalf soon but declined to say who the sponsor was. Tito and MacCallum also said that they had briefed the White House on the Inspiration Mars concept and that the White House was supportive. Administration sources contacted tonight note that it has been many months since Inspiration Mars briefed them and that the mission that they were briefed on was a wholly private venture that did not require NASA funds - certainly not a "NASA Mission". Administration sources add that it would be incorrect to state that Administration supports the Inspiration Mars mission as a "NASA mission" requiring NASA funds or hardware.

- Inspiration Mars Foundation Chairman Dennis Tito testifies before House Subcommittee on Space
- Tito prepared statement
- Inspiration Mars Architecture Study Report Summary
- Inspiration Mars: Some Thoughts About Their Plan, earlier post
- Inspiration Mars: Some Thoughts About Our Plan, earlier post

Subcommittee on Space Hearing - Commercial Space

Nov 20, 2013 10:00am

Panel I
Rep Kevin McCarthy, House Majority Whip

Panel II
Patricia Cooper - President, Satellite Industry Association
Stu Witt - CEO and General Manager, Mojave Air and Space Port
Dennis Tito - Chairman, Inspiration Mars Foundation Prepared statement

- Hearing Charter
- Watch live
- Inspiration Mars: Some Thoughts About Their Plan, earlier post
- Inspiration Mars: Some Thoughts About Our Plan, earlier post

Recognizing Giant Leaps: Google Lunar XPRIZE Establishes Milestone Prizes, Alex Hall, Space.com

"Two years ago, XPRIZE began a dialogue with teams to better understand the challenges that they were facing and to determine what steps we might take to better nurture and support this prize ecosystem. As a result, we determined that we needed to find a way to recognize and support the teams that were making substantial technical progress toward the requirements of the competition."

Keith's note: All of the Google Lunar X Prize competitors really need money. By creating these smaller prizes that are easier to achieve, the competitors have a chance to get some much-needed funding to keep their doors open. Of course, if Chang'e 3 lands on the Moon and deploys its rover, the Google Lunar X Prize automatically reduces by a significant amount. Add in the fact that none of the GLXP competitors have exhibited actual flight hardware or raised the funds to build and launch their vehicles and the chances for pulling this off by the December 2015 deadline are really starting to fade. This effort tosses some cash their way but also allows GLXP to proclaim "winners". Whether this will actually improve the odds that the teams launch anything remains to be seen.

Keith's update: The rules used to say "The competition's grand prize is worth $20 million. To provide an extra incentive for teams to work quickly, the grand prize value will change to $15 million whenever a government-funded mission successfully explores the lunar surface, currently projected to occur in 2013." Well, the prize decrease that would have resulted from a government-funded mission (e.g. Chang'e 3) has been removed. You can read the new rules here. Clearly the Google Lunar X Prize is quietly trying to get money to some of their teams much more easily - and sooner - and they are moving (or removing) the older goal posts so as to make it easier for teams to win these smaller prizes.

- Google Lunar X Prize: Changing Rules - and Fewer Entrants?, earlier post
- Dramatic Changes to Google Lunar X Prize Cash Prizes Under Consideration, earlier post

NASA Selects Research Teams for New Virtual Institute

"NASA has selected nine research teams from seven states for a new institute that will bring researchers together in a collaborative virtual setting to focus on questions concerning space science and human space exploration. The teams participating in the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) will address scientific questions about the moon, near-Earth asteroids, the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos, and their near space environments, in cooperation with international partners."

NASA, Harvard & TopCoder Partner to Develop a Secure Solar System Internet Protocol

"TopCoder, the world's largest professional development and design community, with NASA and the Harvard-NASA Tournament Lab (at Harvard's Institute for Quantitative Social Science), today announced the launch of a series of innovation challenges that will develop foundational technological concepts for disruption tolerant deep space networking. NASA has made significant progress in developing Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN) protocols that aide in deep space communication. DTN protocols are an approach to network architecture that seeks to address the potential for lack of continuous connectivity in deep space. It is meant to aid NASA in the exploration of the solar system by overcoming communication time delays caused by interplanetary distances, and the disruptions caused by planetary rotation, orbits and limited transmission power."

Keith's note: This sounds pretty cool builds upon the Interplanetary Internet work that NASA has engaged in over the past decade or so. You'd think that extending the Internet (so to speak) to allow interaction between other worlds and spacecraft traversing our solar system would be something that all of NASA's IT and Technology, and Innovation people would want to crow about - especially since this effort is geared to engage the public via crowd sourcing. In this wired world, this is something that almost everyone in the public can relate to. Indeed, utilized crowd sourced efforts and making the results widely known is something that the Open Government Initiative is supposed to be promoting.

This effort is being coordinated by the NASA Tournament Lab at TopCoder. No specific sponsoring office or organization at NASA is mentioned. TopCoder put out a press release last week. Alas, despite the obvious nexus of interest you'd expect, NASA has been totally silent:

- NASA Public Affairs (no press release issued)
- NASA Chief Information Officer (no mention)
- NASA Space Technology Directorate (no mention)
- NASA - Office of the Chief Technologist (no mention)
- NASA Space Communications and Navigation (no mention - they also make no mention of LADEE's recent laser comms test)
NASA Open Government Initiative (no mention)

Curiously, NASA PAO did promote NASA's Interplanetary Internet efforts last year when someone commanded Robonaut to do something on the ISS. A week prior to this recently announced Interplanetary Internet challenge NASA posted this:

NASA Engages the Public to Discover New Uses for Out-of-this-World Technologies

"Now NASA has joined forces with the product development startup Marblar (www.marblar.com) for a pilot program allowing the public to crowd source product ideas for forty of NASA's patents. This initiative will allow Marblar's online community to use a portion of NASA's diverse portfolio of patented technologies as the basis of new product ideas."

Again, for the most part, NASA's Technology and Information organizations have been mostly mute:

- NASA Public Affairs (no press release issued - just an online feature)
- NASA Chief Information Officer (no mention)
- NASA Space Technology Directorate (no mention)
- NASA - Office of the Chief Technologist (posted a link)
- NASA Open Government Initiative (no mention)

Add in the curious case of innovate.nasa.gov which is apparently now "under construction, but we will be re-launching soon" after being online for a year and doing absolutely nothing to warrant its existence (or expense), and you really have to wonder what NASA is planning to do with all this Technology money that is heading their way. If the agency cannot internally coordinate a simple mechanism to organize this technology stuff - and then share it with the public - then maybe that technology money belongs elsewhere.

NASA MSFC/Moon Express Space Act Agreement

NASA MSFC/Moon Express Space Act Agreement Annex

"This Annex shall be for the purpose of MSFC providing support to Moon Express, Inc. (MEl) in their efforts to design, develop, integrate, and test their Guidance Algorithms for a terrestrial lander. The MEl provided algorithms will be integrated into the existing Guidance, Navigation and Control (GN&C) Software on-board MSFC's Warm Gas Test Article (WGTA) and used to perform a hazard avoidance test series."

"Partner agrees to reimburse NASA an estimated cost of $31,500.00 for NASA to carry out its responsibilities under this Annex."

Robots and Parades

Keith's note: Clearly Dr. Tyson is unaware of the cross training and multiple skills possessed by NASA astronauts. Astronaut Scott Parazynski did a solar array repair on STS-120. He's an MD. John Grunsfeld did a number of arduous Hubble EVAs involving hardware repairs - no astronomy. He's an astronomer. Sally Ride (a physicist) was a robotic arm expert as was elementary school teacher Barbara Morgan. Rick Linnehan is a veterinarian and did a Hubble repair EVA (with Grunsfled the astronomer). With one exception, every human who has walked on the Moon doing geology was not a geologist. And so on. There are endless examples of people in the astronaut office trained in one area becoming experts in others. That's why they were selected in the first place. But Tyson did not bother to do even superficial research before Tweeting. So much for accuracy.

If you read Tyson's tweets you'll see that he clearly did not like "Gravity" - a movie that is breaking box office records (a movie that actual astronauts seem to really like). This is rather odd for someone (Tyson) who complains about the way that space exploration is portrayed to the public. The public is speaking with their wallets. He's not listening.

Alas, it will be interesting to see what nitpicking is done when the reboot of Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" comes out - with Tyson as the host. I am certain he'll have music and sound effects during scenes depicting events that occur in space - i.e. sound in a vacuum - even though its totally inaccurate from a technical perspective.

Keith's note: Around 1:00 am EDT Tyson tweeted: "My Tweets hardly ever convey opinion. Mostly perspectives on the world. But if you must know, I enjoyed #Gravity very much." Contrary to his claim, his tweets regularly contain opinion. Usually, that is why his tweets are interesting - unless he's wrong, that is.


'Gravity': Panel of astro-experts on the science behind the film, Entertainment Weekly

"Would she, a medical doctor, have been needed for a spacewalk in the first place?

Leroy Chiao: It's certainly plausible. It's not at all uncommon for medical doctors of different backgrounds to be trained for a spacewalk, because if you show an aptitude for that, then it doesn't matter what your background is, whether you're an engineer like me or a medical doctor like some of my colleagues. You would be trained to do spacewalks."

NASA Will Face Solomon's Choice in 2014, Dennis Wingo

"If a budget in the range of $16.6 billion is what happens NASA will have a major problem maintaining both the International Space Station (ISS) and the SLS/Orion Exploration program. Given that the funds are simply not going to be available to keep the ISS alive and functioning and to fully construct and operate the SLS/Orion system, something has to give. Are we going to have to kill one to insure the other's survival? That is the choice that that is presenting itself - a clear recipe for disaster as far as NASA's human space flight plans are concerned."

From B612 Foundation: "Since the government got shut down and NASA canceled the remainder of the asteroid workshop in Houston today and tomorrow, B612 decided to just go ahead and sponsor the meeting ourselves so the participants can still meet. Here is what we sent to the participants this morning:

Dear Asteroid Initiative Ideas Synthesis Workshop Attendees: To keep the asteroid initiative conversation moving forward, B612 is hosting an Asteroid Un Conference today Hilton Hotel @ NASA on 3000 Parkway from 2:30 pm to 6pm. Coffee and healthy snacks will be provided and other items can be purchased on your own dime. You can learn more about the unconference format here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unconference. Essentially discussions in small groups will be created by whatever the participants would like to propose, i.e. one big networking session."


Astronauts Practice Launching in NASA's New Orion Spacecraft, NASA

"Astronauts Rick Linnehan and Mike Foreman try out a prototype display and control system inside an Orion spacecraft mockup at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston during the first ascent and abort simulations for the program.

For the first time, NASA astronauts are practicing a launch into space aboard the agency's Orion spacecraft, and provided feedback on the new capsule's cockpit design."

Astronaut training resumes at undersea lab in the Florida Keys with 5-day mission, AP

"Starting Tuesday, five astronauts will spend five days living and working at the Aquarius Reef Base. While they're underwater, they'll be trying out an exercise device that could be used on the International Space Station and spacewalking tools."

Keith's note: NASA Astronauts living underwater - sound familiar? NASA's NEEMO used to do this. Not any more. NASA killed NEEMO. Now they have a stealthy low-key version they call "Space Environment Analog for Testing EVA Systems and Training (SEA TEST)". There is no mention of this activity at NASA HQ. JSC has a page up but no press release was ever issued. No mention of "NEEMO" is made - not even in photos that are shown from earlier NEEMO missions. Why is NASA being so shy about this activity? Is NASA embarrassed to admit that it killed NEEMO? Among the current visitors of the Aquarius Facility is legendary aquanaut Sylvia Earle. You'd think that some one at NASA would be paying attention. Think again.

- Aquarius Reef Base, main website
- Live streaming video

Even though NASA PAO is ignoring these activities you can follow tweets at @ReefBase, @Astro_Soichi, @AstroAcaba, @Astro_Andreas, @Asto_Kate7, and @Thom_astro

It's rocket science at Penn State's Applied Research Lab, Penn State News

MOA Between NASA JSC and Penn State for Collaboration on the Development and improvement of Reaction Control Engines

"NASA JSC and Penn State wish to collaborate on the further development of a JSC inhouse designed liquid oxygen (L02)lliquid methane (LCH4) reaction control engine (RCE) to characterize its performance over an expanded range of operating conditions... Penn State is seeking an RCE for their Lunar Lion vehicle as part of its participation in the Google Lunar X-Prize."

NASA Selects Top 96 Asteroid Initiative Ideas

"NASA has chosen 96 ideas it regards as most promising from more than 400 submitted in response to its June request for information (RFI) about protecting Earth from asteroids and finding an asteroid humans can explore."

- Bolden's Confusing Asteroid Mission Rationale, earlier post

NASA Exploration Systems Division Quarterly Report #3 2013 (Video)

According to NASA "NASA's Orion, Space Launch System and Ground Systems Development and Operations programs continued to make progress towards sending humans beyond Earth's orbit during the past quarter." This video has lots of computer animations and video of how SLS and other systems are being designed and built.

LADEE - Back to the Moon

LADEE - Going Back to the Moon [Watch], NASA

"A model of the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft is seen in the foreground during a LADEE mission briefing at NASA Headquarters, Thursday, August 22, 2013 in Washington."

Marc's note: While the debate continues on how many launches have taken place at Wallops, we do know that this is the first to the moon. And along with the adjacent Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport and Orbital launches from there, the Virginia space profile is increasing. You can follow the happenings in Virginia through our Twitter account Space Virginia.

NASA Releases New Imagery of Asteroid Mission [Watch], NASA

"NASA released Thursday new photos and video animations depicting the agency's planned mission to find, capture, redirect, and study a near-Earth asteroid. The images depict crew operations including the Orion spacecraft's trip to and rendezvous with the relocated asteroid, as well as astronauts maneuvering through a spacewalk to collect samples from the asteroid."

Marc's note: So while Congress refuses to fund the Asteroid Redirect Mission in the current budget process, NASA is pressing forward as if this mission is going to happen. You have to love their tenacity. However since Congress can't agree on a budget NASA is proceeding as it should under its existing mandate.

NASA Spacecraft Reactivated to Hunt for Asteroids, NASA

"A NASA spacecraft that discovered and characterized tens of thousands of asteroids throughout the solar system before being placed in hibernation will return to service for three more years starting in September, assisting the agency in its effort to identify the population of potentially hazardous near-Earth objects, as well as those suitable for asteroid exploration missions.

The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) will be revived next month with the goal of discovering and characterizing near-Earth objects (NEOs), space rocks that can be found orbiting within 45 million kilometers (28 million miles) from Earth's path around the sun. NASA anticipates WISE will use its 16-inch (40-centimeter) telescope and infrared cameras to discover about 150 previously unknown NEOs and characterize the size, albedo and thermal properties of about 2,000 others -- including some of which could be candidates for the agency's recently announced asteroid initiative."

NASA Asteroid Initiative Idea Synthesis Workshop, NASA

"The purpose of this conference is to publicly examine and synthesize highly rated responses to the NASA's Asteroid Initiative RFI. Findings will be developed and provided as inputs to NASA's planning activities.

Dates: (12 p.m. CDT) Monday, September 30, 2013-(5 p.m. CDT) Wednesday October 2, 2013

Address: Lunar and Planetary Institute, 3600 Bay Area Boulevard, Houston, TX 77058."

"NASA and 11 other ISECG member agencies have released an update to the 2011 Global Exploration Roadmap. The updated document reflects ongoing dialog and continued preparation for exploration beyond low-Earth orbit - beginning with the International Space Station (ISS) and expanding human presence throughout the solar system, leading to human missions to the surface of Mars. The GER highlights the critical role of the International Space Station in preparing for deep-space exploration.

It also demonstrates that the global community is working together on a space exploration strategic plan, with robotic and human missions to destinations that include near-Earth asteroids, the Moon and Mars. NASA plans to host a workshop in early 2014 to engage the space community in discussions about the updates to the Global Exploration Roadmap. Comments are welcome! NASA is interested in obtaining feedback on the Global Exploration Roadmap. You are invited to submit your comments to: HQ-GER-Comments@mail.nasa.gov" Download the Global Exploration Roadmap (5.8 MB PDF)

Keith's note: Page 8: "Observation: In order to build a sustainable human space exploration endeavour that lasts decades, agency leaders should maintain a focus on delivering value to the public." Alas, Charlie Bolden still cannot explain to the public why NASA needs to go grab an asteroid and put it into lunar orbit and then have people visit it. How can people see the value of this mission if no one at NASA can explain why it needs to be done?

Can lightning strike twice for RLVs?, The Space Review

"In a speech the following day at the conference, [Mike] Griffin said that X-vehicles in general can do several key things essential in aerospace development, including proving out technologies before getting locked into vehicle configurations, determining what the requirements should be for future vehicles, and demonstrating systems engineering. He lamented, though, the lack of X-vehicle development today. "It is a lapse of government science and technology policy at the very top levels that has caused our aggressive pursuit of X-vehicle programs to lapse," he said. "I would do anything to bring it back to the forefront of public thinking."

Keith's note: Gee, Mike ... who was it that killed everything that Craig Steidle wanted to do at NASA? There was certainly a whole lot of x-vehicle type thinking in Steidle's plan. And Steidle's plan was killed so as to create your government-designed "Apollo on Steroids" (your exact words)? Am I missing something? Pot-Kettle-Black, Mike?

NASA's mission improbable, Washington Post

"It is really an elegant bringing together of our exciting human spaceflight plan, scientific interest, being able to protect our planet, and utilizing the technology we had invested in and were already investing in," said Lori Garver, NASA deputy administrator. But the mission is viewed skeptically by many in the space community. At a July gathering of engineers and scientists at the National Academy of Sciences, veteran engineer Gentry Lee expressed doubt that the complicated elements of the mission could come together by 2021, and said the many uncertainties would boost the costs. "I'm trying very, very hard to look at the positive side of this, or what I would call the possible positive side," he said. "It's basically wishful thinking in a lot of ways - that there's a suitable target, that you can find it in time, that you can actually catch it if you go there and bring it back," said Al Harris, a retired NASA planetary scientist who specializes in asteroids. "Of course there's always luck. But how much money do you want to spend on a chance discovery that might have a very low probability?" said Mark Sykes, a planetary scientist who chairs a NASA advisory group on asteroids."

- Bolden's Confusing Asteroid Mission Rationale (Revised), earlier post
- Asteroid Redirect Mission Full-Court Press Continues, earlier post

NASA Selects Innovative Technology Proposals for Suborbital Flights, NASA

"NASA has selected for possible flight demonstration 10 proposals from six U.S. states for reusable, suborbital technology payloads and vehicle capability enhancements with the potential to revolutionize future space missions.

After the concepts are developed, NASA may choose to fly the technologies to the edge of space and back on U.S. commercial suborbital vehicles and platforms. These types of flights provide opportunities for testing in microgravity before the vehicles are sent into the harsh environment of space."

Leading the end of one space era, and the beginning of another, Washington 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."

Keith's note: Unless he is misquoted, Bolden seems to be a little confused. Bolden also neglects to mention that there is a big difference between sending humans to regions of the solar system where asteroids are located as a stepping stone toward sending humans to Mars -- and bringing the asteroid to Earth so we do not have to go as far to visit it. This defeats the original intent of sending humans greater distances during longer missions and replaces that intent with placing a small rock in orbit around a place we've already visited. We're really not much closer to sending humans to Mars - and the President never said "bring the asteroid back to humans" either. That idea bubbled up on the 9th floor and at OSTP.

To be blunt, there is no compelling rationale for the Asteroid Redirect & Return Mission (ARRM). There never has been. Based on the way that Charlie Bolden continually stumbles through his conflicting explanation of what the mission is and is not, there never will be a clear reason why it needs to be done.

A Year of Curiosity on Mars [Watch], NASA

"Curiosity Rover team members at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., re-live the dramatic Aug. 6, 2012 landing and the mission's achievements to date in an event aired on NASA Television and the agency's website."

Marc's note: In case you missed JPL's Curiosity birthday special today, here it is.

NASA Curiosity Rover Approaches First Anniversary on Mars, NASA

"NASA's Curiosity rover will mark one year on Mars next week and has already achieved its main science goal of revealing ancient Mars could have supported life. The mobile laboratory also is guiding designs for future planetary missions.

... Curiosity team members at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.,will share remembrances about the dramatic landing night and the mission overall in an event that will air on NASA Television and the agency's website from10:45 a.m. to noon EDT (7:45 to 9 a.m. PDT) on Tuesday, Aug. 6.

Immediately following that program, from noon to 1:30 p.m., NASA TV will carry a live public event from NASA Headquarters in Washington. That event will feature NASA officials and crew members aboard the International Space Station as they observe the rover anniversary and discuss how its activities and other robotic projects are helping prepare for a human mission to Mars and an asteroid. Social media followers may submit questions on Twitter and Google+ in advance and during the event using the hashtag #askNASA."

Artist Concept: NASA Space Launch System and Orion Spacecraft, SpaceRef

"NASA has releases new artist concepts of the SLS and Orion spacecraft including being stacked in the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida."

NASA's Space Launch System Completes Preliminary Design Review, NASA

"NASA has achieved a major milestone in its effort to build the nation's next heavy-lift launch vehicle by successfully completing the Space Launch System (SLS) preliminary design review.

Senior experts and engineers from across the agency concluded Wednesday the design, associated production and ground support plans for the SLS heavy-lift rocket are technically and programmatically capable of fulfilling the launch vehicle's mission objectives. NASA is developing the SLS and Orion spacecraft to provide an entirely new capability for human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit, with the flexibility to launch spacecraft for crew and cargo missions, including to an asteroid and Mars."

NASA Completes First Internal Review of Concepts for Asteroid Redirect Mission, NASA

"In preparation for fiscal year 2014, a mission formulation review on Tuesday brought together NASA leaders from across the country to examine internal studies proposing multiple concepts and alternatives for each phase of the asteroid mission. The review assessed technical and programmatic aspects of the mission.

"At this meeting, we engaged in the critically important work of examining initial concepts to meet the goal of asteroid retrieval and exploration," said NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot, who chaired the review at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "The agency's science, technology and human exploration teams are working together to better understand near Earth asteroids, including ones potentially hazardous to our planet; demonstrate new technologies; and to send humans farther from home than ever before. I was extremely proud of the teams and the progress they have made so far. I look forward to integrating the inputs as we develop the mission concept further."

NASA X-ray Telescope Observes Planet Passing in Front of its Star for the First Time, NASA

"For the first time since exoplanets, or planets around stars other than the sun, were discovered almost 20 years ago, X-ray observations have detected an exoplanet passing in front of its parent star.

An advantageous alignment of a planet and its parent star in the system HD 189733, which is 63 light-years from Earth, enabled NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency's XMM Newton Observatory to observe a dip in X-ray intensity as the planet transited the star."

NASA and Korean Space Agency Discuss Space Cooperation, NASA

"NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and the president of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), Seung Jo Kim, met in Washington Monday to discuss collaboration in aeronautics research and space exploration, including KARI's robotic lunar mission and NASA's asteroid initiative.

Bolden and Kim also discussed NASA's plans for a new asteroid initiative, previously announced in President Obama's fiscal year 2014 budget proposal. Kim welcomed the chance to discuss opportunities for collaboration."

NASA Advisory Council Science Committee Meeting 29-31 Jul 2013, NASA

"The meeting will be open to the public up to the capacity of the room. This meeting is also available telephonically and by WebEx."

--Subcommittee Reports
--Program Status
--2013 Science Plan

NASA Sees Enthusiastic Response to Asteroid Call for Ideas, NASA

"NASA has received more than 400 responses to its request for information (RFI) on the agency's asteroid initiative, Deputy Administrator Lori Garver announced Friday.

"Under our plan, we're increasing the identification, tracking and exploration of asteroids, and the response to this initiative has been gratifying," said Garver, speaking at the Space Frontier Foundation's NewSpace 2013 conference in San Jose, Calif. "The aerospace industry, innovative small businesses and citizen scientists have many creative ideas and strategies for carrying out our asteroid exploration mission and helping us to protect our home planet from dangerous near-Earth objects."

Marc's updated note: Members of Congress have been very vocal about their desire that NASA should NOT proceed with the Asteroid Initiative, specifically the Asteroid Redirect Mission. Until Congress is reassured about the merits of the mission, it will be difficult for NASA to proceed.

Kepler Mission Manager Update: Initial Recovery Tests, NASA

"The initial test began on Thursday, July 18, 2013, with RW4. In response to test commands, wheel 4 did not spin in the positive (or clockwise) direction but the wheel did spin in the negative (or counterclockwise) direction. Wheel 4 is thought to be the more seriously damaged of the two.

On Monday, July 22, 2013, the team proceeded with a test of RW2. Wheel 2 responded to test commands and spun in both directions."

Marc's note: It looks like there has been some partial success however there's still a long way to go before Kepler can be recovered to operate as it should.

Tenth Parachute Test for NASA's Orion Adds 10,000 Feet of Success [Watch], NASA

"A complicated, high-altitude test Wednesday demonstrated NASA's new Orion spacecraft could land safely even if one of its parachutes failed.

The 10th in a series of evaluations to check out the Orion multipurpose crew vehicle's parachute system dropped the test capsule from a C-17 aircraft at its highest altitude yet, 35,000 feet above the Arizona desert. One of three massive main parachutes was cut away early on purpose, leaving the spacecraft to land with only two. The test at the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Ground was the highest-altitude test of a human spacecraft parachute since NASA's Apollo Program."

Marc's note: Unfortunately the broadcast quality was subpar and barely worth watching.

Draft Findings: 9th Meeting of the NASA Small Bodies Assessment Group, NASA

"(2) Draft Finding - Travel Restrictions

The current NASA and government restrictions on travel and attendance at workshops, conferences, science team meetings, etc. is severely impacting the ability of the planetary science and engineering communities to conduct their work. The increased level of oversight forces a disproportionate amount of time and effort by agency personnel to comply with the necessary waivers and forms to attend such functions at the expense of focusing on NASA goals and objectives. In addition, these travel restrictions undermine the effective planning of domestic and international meetings by suppressing attendance in a manner that is difficult to predict, limiting vital interactions of individuals working on projects and missions relevant to NASA interests.

(9) DRAFT FINDING - Relevance of ARRM to Planetary Defense

Given the size of the ARRM target (< 10m), ARRM has limited relevance to planetary defense. Retrieving a NEO this small only tangentially benefits planetary defense, as the stated target body may not be representative of the larger, hazardous bodies."

Keith's note: Although this document has been widely circulated, these are DRAFT findings and are subject to change. A final version will be issued next week and will replace this draft version.

Marc's note: I've only highlighted two of the findings here but there are several others worth reading.

Keith's note: Care to guess where this donation box is? Note the diversity of currencies. This diversity is quite normal for this location. Click on image to enlarge.

2013 NASA Advanced Technology Phase I Concepts Selected For Study, NASA

"NASA has selected 12 proposals for study under Phase I of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program, which aims to turn science fiction into fact.

The selected proposals include a wide range of imaginative concepts, including 3-D printing of biomaterials, such as arrays of cells; using galactic rays to map the insides of asteroids; and an "eternal flight" platform that could hover in Earth's atmosphere, potentially providing better imaging, Wi-Fi, power generation, and other applications."

Orion's Heat Shield Takes Shape [Watch], NASA

"Technicians at Textron Defense Systems near Boston are applying Avcoat ablator material to some 330,000 cells of a honeycomb on the heat shield of NASA's new Orion spacecraft. To ensure that each cell is filled correctly, they are individually X-rayed and a robot is used to machine the material, sanding off fractions of an inch so that the heat shield matches Orion's precise plans."

Asteroid retrieval is costly and uninspiring, Lamar Smith Op-ed, The Hill

"The proposed asteroid retrieval mission would contribute very little to planetary defense efforts. The size of the target asteroid for this mission is only 7-10 meters in diameter, too small to cause any damage to Earth. Any insight gained by such a mission would have little relevance to protecting against larger "city-killer" asteroids. Congress directed NASA in 2005 to identify and track 90 percent of asteroids larger than 140 meters by 2020. Asteroids of this size are ones that could cause significant damage, and NASA still has work to do to accomplish this goal. Asteroids that are 7-10 meters simply disintegrate in our atmosphere."

Russian Meteor's Origin and Size Pinned Down, Space.com

"The asteroid was about 17 meters in diameter and weighed approximately 10,000 metric tons," Peter Brown, a physics professor at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, said in a statement. "It struck Earth's atmosphere at 40,000 mph and broke apart about 12 to 15 miles above Earth's surface. The energy of the resulting explosion exceeded 470 kilotons of TNT." That's 30 to 40 times more powerful than the atomic bomb the United States dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima during World War II. The Russian fireball likely produced the most powerful such space rock blast since a 130-foot (40 m) object exploded over Siberia in 1908, flattening 825 square miles (2,137 square km) of forest.

NASA Satellite Provides First View of the Solar System's Tail [Watch], NASA

"Like a comet, the solar system has a tail. NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) has for the first time mapped out the structure of this tail, which is shaped like a four-leaf clover. Scientists describe the tail, called the heliotail, based on the first three years of IBEX imagery in a paper published in the July 10 edition of the Astrophysical Journal."


Science Team Outlines Goals for NASA's 2020 Mars Rover, NASA

- Report of the Mars 2020 Science Definition Team (PDF), NASA

- Appendices (PDF)

- Audio of today's teleconference (MP3)

"The Mars 2020 Science Definition Team (SDT) has outlined a mission concept for a science-focused, highly mobile rover to explore and investigate in detail a site on Mars that likely was once habitable. The SDT-preferred mission concept employs new in situ scientific instrumentation in order to seek signs of past life (had it been there), select and store a compelling suite of samples in a returnable cache, and demonstrate technology for future robotic and human exploration of Mars. The mission concept fully addresses the requirements specified by NASA in the SDT charter while also ensuring alignment with the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences Decadal Survey for Planetary Science (Visions and Voyages, 2011).

Key features of the integrated science mission concept include:
- Broad and rigorous in situ science, including seeking biosignatures
- Acquiring a diverse set of samples intended to address a range of Mars science questions and storing them in a cache for potential return to Earth at a later time
- Improved landing technology to allow unprecedented access to scientifically compelling geological sites
- Collection of critical data needed to plan for eventual human missions to the martian surface
- Maximizing engineering heritage from NASA's successful Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission to constrain costs
"

NASA Discusses Mars 2020 Plans in July 9 Teleconference, NASA

"NASA will host a media teleconference at 3 p.m. EDT Tuesday, July 9 to provide details about a report that will help define science objectives for the agency's next Mars rover.

The report, prepared by the Mars 2020 Science Definition Team (SDT) NASA appointed in January, is an early, crucial step in developing the mission and the rover's prime science objectives."

Significant Titan Flyby Happening on July 10th, NASA

"For the Radar instrument, one of the most significant Titan fly-bys of the extended Solstice mission occurs July 10. Measurements from this flyby, combined with data from the previous flyby, will allow scientists to produce stereo images of lakes.

Inbound, the imaging science subsystem (ISS) will acquire a mosaic of high northern latitudes on Titan's leading hemisphere, approaching northern summer. This area of Titan's surface has only recently been well observed and each new flyby adds significantly to our data set."

Some Hope for Kepler

Kepler Mission Manager Update: Preparing for Recovery, NASA

"The engineering team has devised initial tests for the recovery attempt and is checking them on the spacecraft test bed at the Ball Aerospace facility in Boulder, Colo. The team anticipates that exploratory commanding of Kepler's reaction wheels will commence mid-to-late July. The Kepler spacecraft will remain in PRS until and during the tests.

Later this month, an update to the data processing pipeline software will be deployed. Called SOC 9.1, this enhancement has been underway for several months and is in the final stages of verification and validation. This software release provides additional refinements to better tease out small planet signatures from the four years of Kepler data. It will also decrease the frequency of false positives."

Related: NASA To Attempt To Revive Stricken Kepler Telescope in July, Space News

"I think the general feeling is that the odds are not good. We might see a wheel spin, but I suspect that it will not spin freely, that there will be noise on it -- vibrations -- which would not make the science happy," Charlie Sobeck, deputy project manager at NASA's Ames Research Center, told SpaceNews."

Marc's note: According to the Space News article they will work on wheel 4 first and then 2. Let's hope they beat the odds and some remote engineering does the trick.

NASA Seeks Information on Commercial Robotic Lunar Lander Capabilities

"NASA Tuesday issued a Request for Information (RFI) that will help agency officials better understand current plans in the U.S. commercial space industry for a robotic lunar landing capability. The RFI will assist NASA in assessing U.S. industry's interest in partnerships to develop a robotic lander that could enable commercial and agency missions.

NASA does not envision an exchange of funds between the agency and any industry partners. Potential NASA contributions to a partnership could include the technical expertise of NASA staff on integrated teams, providing NASA center test facilities at no cost, or contributing hardware or software for commercial lander development and testing."

Related:
- NASA RFI on Potential Partnerships for Industry-Led Development of Robotic Lunar Landers
- Space Development: Going Everywhere and Nowhere

Marc's note: No doubt commercial entities will be intrigued to have access to NASA expertise etc. but at what cost? They have to think about their business plan, intellectual property (IP) etc. What does NASA get out of it? There's no exchange of funds and there's definitely an IP issue to consider. How will Congress react? Is this a possible model for private/public commercial exploration of the moon?

Comet ISON Brings Holiday Fireworks [Watch], NASA

"This July Fourth, the solar system is showing off some fireworks of its own. Superficially resembling a skyrocket, comet ISON is hurtling toward the sun presently at a whopping 48,000 mph.

Its swift motion is captured in this time-lapse movie made from a sequence of pictures taken May 8, 2013, by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. At the time the images were taken, the comet was 403 million miles from Earth, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
The movie shows a sequence of Hubble observations taken over a 43-minute span and compresses this into just five seconds. The comet travels 34,000 miles in this brief video, or 7 percent of the distance between Earth and the moon. The deep-space visitor streaks silently against the background stars.
"

NASA Tests Game Changing Composite Cryogenic Fuel Tank [Watch] NASA Marshall

"NASA recently completed a major space technology development milestone by successfully testing a pressurized, large cryogenic propellant tank made of composite materials. The composite tank will enable the next generation of rockets and spacecraft needed for space exploration.

... "These successful tests mark an important milestone on the path to demonstrating the composite cryogenic tanks needed to accomplish our next generation of deep space missions," said Michael Gazarik, NASA's associate administrator for space technology at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "This investment in game changing space technology will help enable NASA's exploration of deep space while directly benefiting American industrial capability in the manufacturing and use of composites."

... "The tank manufacturing process represents a number of industry breakthroughs, including automated fiber placement of oven-cured materials, fiber placement of an all-composite tank wall design that is leak-tight and a tooling approach that eliminates heavy-joints," said Dan Rivera, the Boeing cryogenic tank program manager at Marshall."

Voyagers in the Heliosheath [Download Larger Version], NASA

"This artist's concept shows NASA's two Voyager spacecraft exploring a turbulent region of space known as the heliosheath, the outer shell of the bubble of charged particles around our sun. After more than 35 years of travel, the two Voyager spacecraft will soon reach interstellar space, which is the space between stars."


NASA Launches Satellite to Study How Sun's Atmosphere is Energized [Watch],NASA

The IRIS launch was successful after a 13-minute ride into orbit aboard a Pegasus XL rocket. The launch was at 7:27:44 p.m. PDT. Although there were a few tense moments at launch time with the fins, the problem was quickly resolved. A loss signal due to a problem on the DC 8 plane was also experienced but NASA's in orbit TDRS satellite picked up telemetry and commands were sent to IRIS successful. At this time everything looks nominal.

"NASA Launch Manager Tim Dunn reports that the mission team has made initial contact with the IRIS spacecraft through the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System and received good data in return. The telescope is right on track and its solar arrays are deploying. "We've got a very happy spacecraft on orbit and a thrilled launch team on the ground," Dunn said."

NASA's IRIS mission will focus a precise telescope on the sun to find out how energy moves and changes from the surface to the corona.

NASA Google+ Hangout Answering Questions about the Asteroid RFI [Watch], NASA

"NASA invites all interested parties to participate in a Google+ Hangout on June 27 at 2 p.m. EDT. During the session, NASA experts will answer your questions about the recently released Asteroid Initiative Request for Information (RFI)."


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