Exploration: April 2015 Archives

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



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