Exploration: December 2015 Archives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Importance of Being There

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

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

New Arrivals at ESA's Concordia Base in Antarctica

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

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


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

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



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This page is an archive of entries in the Exploration category from December 2015.

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