Exploration: March 2016 Archives

NASA OIG Audit of the Spaceport Command and Control System for SLS and Orion

"The SCCS development effort has significantly exceeded initial cost and schedule estimates. Compared to fiscal year 2012 projections, development costs have increased approximately 77 percent to $207.4 million and the release of a fully operational version has slipped by 14 months from July 2016 to September 2017. In addition, several planned capabilities have been deferred because of cost and timing pressures, including the ability to automatically detect the root cause of specific equipment and system failures. Without this information, it will be more difficult for controllers and engineers to quickly diagnose and resolve issues. Although NASA officials believe the SCCS will operate safely without these capabilities, they acknowledge the reduced capability could affect the ability to react to unexpected issues during launch operations and potentially impact the launch schedule for the combined SLS-Orion system."

Keith's note: Typical NASA double talk. They design a system to do a bunch of things. They claim that all of the program's requirements are necessary for safety and reliability and worth the large cost. And oh yes, NASA can do it much better in-house rather than use existing commercial solutions since NASA's requirements are one of a kind. Then the costs dramatically increase and implementation delays move to the right. Then the OIG steps in an points out the problems.

Then NASA says 'Oh, [INSERT ANY PROGRAM NAME] will still work without all the stuff we wanted to do. But some things won't work. But it is still safe to use it. But we need more money to fix the things that we don't really need but want to have because maybe it is not totally safe to use it after all - but we'll still use it without those functions because we have no alternative. And oh, by the way: stop bothering us: we know what we are doing.' But wait - there's more: NASA can save its own bacon by slipping SLS/Orion flights further to the right such that the SCCS now has more time to get things right since there's no actual missions for it worry about.

The more things change ...

Neil deGrasse Tyson: 'The delusion is thinking that SpaceX is going to lead the space frontier The Verge

Neil deGrasse Tyson to Elon Musk: SpaceX Is "Delusional" About Mars, Motley Fool

"In less than 10 years from now, SpaceX may or may not beat NASA in the race to Mars. Astrophysicist, Hayden Planetarium director, and host of the National Geographic Channel's StarTalk Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson is placing his bet on "not." "The delusion is thinking that SpaceX is going to lead the space frontier. That's just not going to happen..." Tyson said in an interview with The Verge. Tyson laid out his arguments for why fans of a solo SpaceX trip to Mars suffer from a "delusion."

Keith's note: Once again Neil Tyson demonstrates that he has never run a multi-billion dollar business - nor has he ever been really, really, really rich. These non-trivial resources allow an individual to shift their own paradigms to suit their whims independent of usual norms. In Musk's case - that whim is the exploration of Mars. Deal with it Neil.

NASA's Human Spaceflight Program Can't Afford Another Reset From the Next President, Wired

"But NASA has yet to fill in the blanks when it comes to the Proving Ground phase. Beyond initial plans for a controversial asteroid redirect mission, there's a gap between immediate human spaceflight plansthe ISS and the commercial crew programand the United States' long-term objective of sending humans to Mars. By making more concrete and detailed plans for the Proving Ground phase, the next administration can keep America's human space exploration program on track and make progress toward Mars at the same time."

Buzz Aldrin eyes 2040 for manned Mars mission

"Former astronaut Buzz Aldrin is eyeing 2040 for the first manned mission to Mars, noting that the red planet's moon Phobos could play a vital role for astronauts. "I think that's a good target date," the 86-year-old space legend told FoxNews.com. "We should be able to reach there with international crews." NASA's goal is to send a manned mission to Mars by 2035, although Aldrin thinks that a slightly later date is more realistic."

- Will NASA Ever Send Humans to Mars?
- Another Stealth #JourneyToMars Telecon at NASA, earlier post
- Houston, We Need A Mars Plan, earlier post
- Space Policy White Paper = Shopping List For The Journey to Nowhere, earlier post
- NASA's Boulder Retrieval Mission is Doomed, earlier post
- More exploration news

NASA OIG: NASA's Management of the Near Earth Network

"By deviating from elements of Federal and Agency cyber and physical security risk management policies, NASA, Goddard Space Flight Center (Goddard), and the Near Earth Network Project Office increased the Network's susceptibility to compromise. Specifically, NASA assigned a security categorization rating of "Moderate" to the Network's IT systems and did not include the Network in its Critical Infrastructure Protection Program. We believe this categorization was based on flawed justifications and the Network's exclusion from the Protection Program resulted from a lack of coordination between Network stakeholders. Given the importance of the Network to the success of NASA Earth science missions, the launch and contingency support it provides for Federal partners, and its importance in supporting human space flight in the future, we believe a higher categorization and inclusion in the Protection Program is warranted."

NASA chief: Apollo engineers who criticize SLS don't grok modern rocketry, Ars Technica

"Bolden then reiterated that Kraft knew more than him about rockets, but he again qualified this praise: "I have the advantage of a team around me that he didn't have," he said. "You have to remember. Most of us forget. I have a very mature leadership team. When Dr. Kraft was in mission control, and when he led the Johnson Space Center, we went to the Moon. Most of the people were 20 years old. They didn't know anything."

Keith's note: Charlie Bolden clearly misses the irony within his insulting characterization about the younger NASA that sent humans to the Moon. If Bolden serves out the end of the current Administration's term he'll have been Administrator for 7 1/2 years - virtually the same distance between Mercury 3 and Apollo 11.

Orion has flown once - without a crew. SLS has yet to fly and its schedule often slips to the right faster than actual progress is made. Humans may finally fly on it in 2023 some 19 years after the Bush Administration originally initiated a return by American astronauts to the surface of the Moon. In the 1960s NASA went from zero human spaceflight capability to putting humans on the surface of the Moon in less than half that time.

I'll bet some of those 20 year old kids could teach Charlie Bolden and his "very mature leadership team" a thing or two.

NASA FISO Telecon: The Mars Human Landing Sites Study Overview

"The next Future In-Space Operations (FISO) colloquium will be Wednesday, March 16, when we will host Rick Davis and Ben Bussey (both of NASA HQ), who will speak on "The Mars Human Landing Sites Study Overview."

Keith's note: As is always the case this NASA-sponsored and supported telecon (NASA's teleconference network is used) is not mentioned on any NASA calendar, not mentioned on any NASA social media account with #JourneyToMars affixed to it, and appears nowhere at NASA.gov. Yet the topic of this telecon and many others is utterly relevant to the whole Humans to Mars thing NASA promotes 24/7/365. Truth be known, these teleconferences are just a little play thing for Harley Thronson and his pals. They really do not want the unwashed masses listening in. Indeed, their invitations state "The University of Texas-hosted home page for FISO colloquium materials, has over the years been released to social media and as result it has been getting a flood of somewhat anti-social attacks by bots that want to harvest the invitation-only data on it." Huh? "Invitation-only"? Really? Oh, and the sheer horror of being found on social media must be unbearable to Thronson.

Why can't all taxpayers have access to these telecons and associated materials? In this case two NASA civil servants will be making presentations that are 100% relevant to what their day jobs are. Yet if I go to the website for this officially NASA-sponsored and supported event, I am specifially blocked from gaining full access. Thronson won't answer questions about this and the University of Texas openly admits that they specifically block my office and iPhone IPs such that I do not have full access. Could this whole #JourneyToMars thing at NASA get any more dysfunctional?

Houston, we have an opportunity, OpEd, Lamar Smith and Ed Perlmutter, Denver Post

"We need a detailed plan to put an end to the uncertainties that could delay a mission to Mars. NASA and American space companies must focus their engineering and scientific expertise on the great task before them. Americans will feel a renewed sense of pride and curiosity about their space program. And they will be able to celebrate another historic first as we plant the American flag on Mars. This could be a turning point in the history of our great space-faring nation. We can do this."

Keith's note: Last week a group of space-related organizations rented the National Press Club so they could announce a white paper on space policy. Why bother? Space is not going to be an issue in the 2016 campaign.

At the press event Elliot Pulham from The Space Foundation said "We thought it would be a good time to have a platform of information out there that all candidates could refer to, learn from and take to heart as they plan their campaigns" but moments later he also said "To some extent, the purpose of this is not to have space become a big presidential issue". Pulham added "Let's not undo anything." Sandy Magnus from the AIAA said that this coalition wanted to take the issue of space policy "off the table" but at the same time she said that this group wants to "stress the importance" of space.

Such is the problem with these sort of documents from the space community. On one hand the space groups want to have a say in the political decisions that affect their members (and donors). But on the other hand they'd rather not have the politicians pay too much attention to space such that the current status quo is not upset. In other words "write us the checks but don't rock the boat" - or more bluntly "look but don't touch". This is, at best, naive thinking on the part of the space community.

If you read the white paper it becomes immediately apparent that this coalition wants everything that they are doing to be supported and in some cases, they want even more money. They also want a stable funding environment (makes sense). The two main programs being supported by this coalition are SLS/Orion and Commercial Crew and Cargo with gratuitous mention of other projects that are important to the members of this coalition. Indeed that is all that this white paper is actually about: supporting specific big aerospace contracts. There is no similarly identified support for specific space, planetary, and earth science. Small wonder that the Planetary Society, American Astronomical Society, the American Geophysical Union, et al are not among the members of this coalition.

While a lot of prominent names are affixed to this white paper it is clearly being driven by the so-called "four amigos": Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Aerojet Rocketdyne, and Orbital ATK - the builders of SLS/Orion. Look at the organizations listed and ponder who the prime donors/members are. Its not that hard to fill in the blanks amidst the smoke and mirrors. No surprise folks - this is how these things always work.

Asteroid Redirect Mission Delayed One Year, Space Policy Online

"President Obama's Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) will not meet the 2025 date he set for the program in 2010. ARM Program Director Michele Gates told a NASA Advisory Council (NAC) committee on March 2 that launch of the robotic portion of the mission is now expected in 2021 and the crew portion in 2026. Both are one year slips from earlier projected dates. President Obama announced on April 15, 2010 that the next destination for human space exploration will be sending astronauts to an asteroid as a step to eventually sending them to Mars. The mission has evolved since then. The current concept calls for a robotic spacecraft to be sent to an asteroid where it will pick up a boulder from its surface and move the boulder to an orbit around the Moon. Astronauts aboard an Orion spacecraft will examine the boulder and retrieve a sample for return to Earth."

Keith's note: ARM will be cancelled by the next Administration regardless of who wins the election. Congress is already on the record as being against it. NASA will not complain about the cancellation since they never really liked it to begin with. More road kill on the #JourneyToMars, y'all.

- Asteroid Boulder Retrieval Mission Needs a Precursor Mission, earlier post
- Asteroid Boulder Retrieval Mission Starts To Drift Away, earlier post
- Earlier posts on Bolden and asteroids, earlier post

The 2016 Presidential Candidates' Views on NASA and Space Exploration, Gizmodo

"Want to get to Mars? Well, NASA needs money to do it, and the president, along with Congress, mostly calls the shots. But NASA has been consistently underfunded over the last decade, and only saw its budget restored to healthier levels in 2016, when Congress carved out $19.3 billion for the agency. With missions to Mars and Jupiter on the horizon, and ambitions of curbing US dependency on Russian launches to the ISS, NASA's no doubt hoping that the next president keeps the money flowing."

Keith's note: Space is just a blip on the political radar. Rarely, if ever, has it had any influence on a presidential election whatsoever - and then, it was fleeting and usually on late night comedy shows. Nor is it likely to change during this election. Besides, whatever you hear during the campaign will be revised and reinterpreted after the election. The candidates forget the issue 2 minutes after they answer a question about it.

Nothing on the horizon suggests that there will be a large increase in NASA's budget. Nor is anyone really targeting NASA for drastic cuts. Given the large commitments the agency is already in the middle of, and the prospect of flat budgets, it is unlikely that there will be any seismic shifts. As for the #JourneyToMars - absent a large infusion of money (again, not likely) the current pay-as-you-go, we-don't-need-a-plan approach is simply not going to get us to Mars any sooner.

The most that space advocates should hope for after the dust settles is that the agency will be held more accountable for its performance and that some budgetary and policy stability will be injected into things already underway so as to make them progress more efficiently.

Kicking The Can Down the Road to Mars, earlier post

Coalition of Space Organizations to Release White Paper: Ensuring U.S. Leadership in Space, AIAA

"A coalition of 13 space organizations will release its white paper, "Ensuring U.S. Leadership in Space." White paper to call attention to the need for the next administration and Congress to make space exploration and use a policy priority. White paper will propose solutions to four challenges facing the U.S. space exploration and use enterprise: unpredictable budgeting, foreign competition, the hostile space environment, and workforce trends."



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This page is an archive of entries in the Exploration category from March 2016.

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