Exploration: March 2007 Archives

Editor's note: Last week, NASA Watch reported "Tony Lavoie, who had served at MSFC as NASA's Lunar Precursor and Robotic Program Manager, has been reassigned. No formal replacement has been announced. Nor has NASA PAO replied (yet) to an inquiry I submitted yesterday regarding this move." I heard from HQ PAO on Wednesday. When I asked if Lavoie had been reassigned - and if so, what his new job was - PAO said "We do not comment on personnel matters". When I asked who the current head of the Lunar Precursor and Robotic Program was, PAO again declined to answer personnel questions, and suggested that I contact MSFC PAO. Does NASA ESMD really not know who is in charge of this activity at MSFC? I doubt it. Must be that dang Operating Plan again.

So, how about it, MSFC PAO, help me out. "Who" is running "what" down there?

Alas, if you check This link for the Lunar Programs & Projects Office at MSFC, which says that it was "Last Updated: 31 December 1969.", (screen grab of page before it was fixed) all seems to be well - Heck, RLEP-2 is mentioned, yet there is no mention of mission cancellations, etc. So maybe this is all just a lot of noise and armwaving after all.

Lunar Precursor Robotic Program Changes Continue , earlier post

Lunar Precursor Robotic Program Changes Ahead, earlier post

Oh yes - the NASA Watch Bad Internet Security Award for today goes to the people who run this page. Click on either 2007 News Articles Archive or 2006 News Articles Archive. In both cases, the page opens - and after it has opened a username/password box drops down which says "To view this page, you need to log in to area "Intranet Web Site" on smsinternal.msfc.nasa.gov.". Well, since you can already read the page, just click "cancel" and this pointless box will disappear. (See this screengrab to see what happened before the MSFC folks fixed it this morning). Please tell me how this username/password box limits access to this page? This is not security, it is an annoyance. Also, isn't it a sad state of affairs when security screw ups like this only get fixed when NASA Watch makes mention of them?

Haughton Mars Project Research Station Photo Report - Aerial Views, Mars Institute

"In February the Mars Institute undertook its annual trip to the high arctic for talks with local communities and had the opportunity for an aerial survey of the HMP Research Station. Some of those photographs are now online."

Mars Institute

Haughton-Mars Project

Issues Du Jour

"First, I think one of the systemic problems the space community faces is the inability to set realistic expectations. We speak in lofty terms about the goals we seek with our space missions, and we should, but let me speak now about some brass tacks. Every time NASA or the scientists and researchers we support have low-balled a cost estimate or over-promised on the technical feasibility of a project or program, we have lost credibility with our overseers in the White House and Congress, and, more importantly in the long run, the American people. As a matter of public policy, we as a nation do not seem to be willing to provide sufficient money for NASA to do everything that everyone would like us to do. Thus, we must make carefully considered choices."

Editor's update: Yesterday (Friday) morning, NASA PAO refused to comment on the record to me about the new operating plan or changes in the LPRP (see quote below). Yet a few hours later NASA PAO is quoted on space.com and the Huntsville Times answering the very same questions I asked hours before - questions that were specifically not answered. Something fishy is going on here.

Reliable sources report that this LPRP move is not just a budget driven decision There are also issues of technical competence - and overall VSE implementation philosophy at work as well.

Ask yourself this: how much time has been lost (and money wasted) moving these lunar program and project offices around the country every few months - and why was this done? Word has it that Mike Griffin is very dissatisfied with the technical expertise (or lack thereof) at MSFC. Of course he also felt this way about GSFC and ARC at one point or another.

One look at comments made by Mike Griffin and Scott Horowitz (see below) is clear evidence of their lack of interest in any precursor lunar robotic missions. Indeed, they feel that all NASA needs for human missions is a "map" (of the moon).

In addition, there is a clear budget component to this current move. By cancelling or descoping these robotic missions, money is freed up to cover nagging problems that Griffin and Horowitz feel they need to attend to i.e. Ares 1 and Orion.

Editor's 15 Mar note: Word has it that the LPRP office at MSFC is either being totally shut down or dramatically reduced in size with lunar mission coordination moving back to HQ (after making a cross country tour from GSFC to ARC, then MSFC). Meanwhile, contracts are being terminated for robotics work given that the number of post-LRO robotics programs has begun to shrink rather dramatically. It is almost certain that such changes will be reflected in the agency's new Operating Plan.

According to NASA PAO: "NASA hopes to be sending the draft Operating Plan to Congress for review this week. By law, Congress will have 15 days to review this draft and send comments back to NASA. After we [NASA] have worked with Congress and the final Operations Plan is in place, NASA will be able to discuss specific aspects of the plan. It would be inappropriate for NASA to comment on draft version of this plan as they are circulated on Capitol Hill for congressional review."

President Bush Announces New Vision for Space Exploration Program, White House

"Beginning no later than 2008, we will send a series of robotic missions to the lunar surface to research and prepare for future human exploration."

Lunar Science: Asking for the Moon, Science (subscription)

"Scott Horowitz, NASA's exploration chief, says that those robotic missions would be nice to do--if the agency had the money. All he really needs, he told the scientists, is "a damn good map," which LRO will provide. He made it clear his interest is not in blue-sky research. "We don't have to get rocks back."

NASA Urges Closing Lunar Robotics Office, Aviation Week

"Among the actions NASA recommends in its fiscal 2007 operating plan is shutting down the Lunar Precursor and Robotic Program Office at Marshall Space Flight Center, where a whole generation of unmanned orbiters, rovers, hoppers and penetrators was under consideration as scouts for a human landing on the moon."

FY08 NASA Budget Request Insufficient for Space Exploration Program

"In the years since, the Administration requests for NASA have come in lower, and unfortunately Congress failed to fully fund the FY2007 request. Everyone bears some blame for the funding shortfalls, but the point I want to stress is that NASA continues to hold to its original schedule for the Vision, but doing it with smaller budgets. Consequently, the stress on the agency is enormous.""

Opening Statement by Rep. Bart Gordon - House Committee on Science and Technology Hearing: NASA's Fiscal Year 2008 Budget Request

"First, the FY 2008 budget request continues a pattern of Administration requests that fail to ask for the level of funding that the White House had said NASA would need to carry out the exploration initiative and its other core activities. Specifically, in the three years since the President announced his exploration initiative, the White House has cut NASA's five-year budget plan by a total of $2.26 billion. And based on this year's budget submittal, that shortfall will worsen by another $420 million in FY 2009."

Opening Statement by Rep. Mark Udall - House Committee on Science and Technology Hearing: NASA's Fiscal Year 2008 Budget Request

"I agree with Chairman Gordon's assessment of the situation we are facing. It is going to be a tough year for space and aeronautics supporters to get the budgetary resources NASA needs, but we are going to try. We are going to try because NASA's space and aeronautics programs are a very important component of the nation's R&D enterprise, and we need to be investing more in those areasnot less."

Statement of NASA Administrator Michael Griffin Before the House Committee on Science & Technology

"I am deeply concerned that the gap between the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2010 and our new U.S. human spaceflight systems does not grow longer, and I am asking for your help on this point. Full funding of NASA's FY 2008 Exploration Systems budget request is critical to ensuring the gap between retirement of the Space Shuttle and the new U.S. human spaceflight capability does not grow longer. As the CAIB report observed, "this approach can only be successful... if the U.S. government is... to commit the substantial resources required to implement it."

Statement of NASA Administrator Michael Griffin Before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies

Statement of NASA Administrator Michael Griffin Before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies

"Less funding than planned for 2007 means that less will be obligated on the Orion contract, slowing the pace of development planned for 2008-10. To the extent that schedules are allowed to slip further into the future for bringing these new Exploration systems on-line, already difficult challenges in transitioning the highly-skilled, highly-specialized workforce from the Space Shuttle to our new systems will be exacerbated."

Human Space Exploration: The Next 50 Years, Mike Griffin, Aviation Week

"Prediction is difficult, especially the future," said quantum physicist Niels Bohr, and no one has since captured the underlying concept quite so cleverly. But having been foolish enough to accept the challenge of speculating upon where the next 50 years will take us in human space exploration, the first question to be answered is, where to begin? What is the global view that can best shape our thinking? It is so very easy to be completely wrong, since a variety of radically different futures in spaceflight can be presumed with equal apparent credibility today."

Editor's update: Copies of this article were frantically jumping across the Internet today - with arm waving claiming that this was a "speech" Mike Griffin would soon deliver - somewhere. Wrong. This was an article intended for publication from the onset. Speech texts do not include multiple embeded tables (as the circulated Word file included) - nor are they written as this article is constructed. Moreover, prepared speeches always carry a statement as to where they are to be delivered.

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin Provides Exclusive Online Commentary and Analysis to AVIATION WEEK as Part of 50 Years of Spaceflight

Party of One:Washington, we have a problem, Nature

"So the story one hears now from most members of Congress, and some in the media, is that the president made a speech about going to Mars in 2004, got nothing but grief for it, and the proposal went nowhere. This is, of course, almost entirely wrong. The bottom line of the president's speech was to return astronauts to the Moon by 2020. That programme has been going forward steadily, albeit with less funding than originally proposed. The president's silence has been, if anything, a strategic retreat that has actually hastened plans for a lunar mission - because few other than NASA's most ardent supporters in Congress are paying much attention."

Stone Aerospace Announces Formation of a Company to Establish a Commercial Refueling Station in Low Earth Orbit (LEO)

"On March 10, 2007, at the Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) Conference in Monterey, California, Dr. Bill Stone presented a briefing entitled "Pushing the Limits of Exploration on Earth and in Space" to over 900 attendees. In the briefing, Stone announced his intent to be the first explorer to lead an industrial team to the moon to explore for water and other fuels, and, if found in sufficient quantity, process the fuels on the moon, then transfer them to a low Earth orbit (LEO) refueling station. The commercial enterprise will provide a variety of fuels and life support compounds, such as water, liquid oxygen, liquid hydrogen, gaseous oxygen and hydrogen, and potentially nitrogen and methane at market prices to space farers on a first come, first serve basis."

DEPTHX Tests Resume

Prototype Space Probe Prepares To Explore Earth's Deepest Sinkhole

"Scientists return this week to the world's deepest known sinkhole, Cenote Zacaton in Mexico, to resume tests of a NASA-funded robot called DEPTHX, designed to survey and explore for life in one of Earth's most extreme regions and potentially in outer space. If all goes well with this second round of testing and exploration, the team will return in May for a full-scale exploration of the Zacaton system."

Music Of the Spheres - Why a Moon Mission Is Worth the Money, Washington Post

"The Luddites have long opposed manned exploration as a waste of resources when, as the mantra goes, we have so many problems here on Earth. I find this objection incomprehensible. When will we stop having problems here on Earth? In a fallen world of endless troubles, that does not stop us from allocating resources to endeavors we find beautiful, exciting and elevating -- opera, alpine skiing, feature films -- yet solve no social problems. Moreover, the moon base is not pointless. The shuttles were on an endless trip to the nowhere of low Earth orbit. The moon is a destination. The idea this time is not to go to plant a flag, take a golf shot and leave, but to stay and form a real self-sustaining, extraterrestrial human colony."

NASA's robotic sub readies for dive into Earth's deepest sinkhole, Carnegie Mellon University

"Bill Stone, leader of the NASA-funded Deep Phreatic Thermal Explorer (DEPTHX) mission, said the 2.5-meter-diameter vehicle performed "phenomenally well" during early February tests in the geothermal sinkhole, or cenote, known as La Pilita. Carnegie Mellon University researchers developed the software that guided the DEPTHX craft. ... NASA has funded the mission to develop and test technologies that might someday be used to explore the oceans hidden under the icy crust of Europa, one of Jupiter's moons."

Editor's note: A very cool mission - one that embodies a synergistic overlap of science, operations, and exploration. And what does NASA PAO do? As has been the case with NEEMO: nothing.

Deep/Underwater Cave Environments: Comments by William Stone at the First NASA Risk and Exploration Symposium

"You do not get Brownie points for having your name on a tombstone. You have to come back. With that in mind, I have actually taken a lot of cues from how NASA trains its astronauts when preparing for, and staffing, expeditions. In the subterranean world, where we are about to go, it is a gloves-off environment. The exploration front is now getting to the stage where it is so remote and so difficult to reach that no matter what technology we have at our disposal, and no matter how Olympically-trained and fit the people are who are involved with it, we still get stopped. Every time you go for four or five months in the field, if you're lucky, you're a kilometer or two deeper into the planet. I am going to try to give you an idea here just what this world is like. I'm going to show here what would be the equivalent of summitting Everest and K2, but it's all going to be in one continuous trip proceeding down, in order to give you a sequential feel for the logistics and remoteness."

Stone Aerospace -- Design Philosophy (cool photos)

"StoneAerospace is a Texas-based company dedicated to the exploration and commercialization of the frontiers we know of and the discovery of the ones yet to come. We develop the tools needed to explore the frontier, to survive and work in it, to characterize it, and to exploit it."

Building Orion

Shooting For Mars, Government Executive

"GAO wanted NASA to rethink its decision to award the second part of the contract for Orion in September 2006. The contract was scheduled to continue through 2019, and GAO didn't think NASA had done enough research to make such a big commitment. There was a risk of cost overruns, schedule delays and overall poor performance, GAO wrote. If NASA did not reconsider its plans, then Congress should consider restricting its funding, GAO recommended. NASA officials disagreed. In their response letter, they said the agency had done enough preparation to proceed with the contract."

NASA Lunar Lander Project Office Presentation

"On 22 February 2007, John Connolly from the Lunar Lander Project Office at NASA JSC gave a dinner presentation at an AIAA dinner meeting in Houston.

These charts were used as part of that presentation and contain an overview of the hardware being proposed for returning to the Moon plus some of the thinking behind how a lunar base might be established."



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This page is an archive of entries in the Exploration category from March 2007.

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