Exploration: November 2017 Archives

http://images.spaceref.com/news/2017/oomu69.names2.jpg

Keith's note: NASA and the SETI Institute are about to complete a competition wherein people get to suggest names for MU69 - the distant body that New Horizons will fly by in January 2019. Among the top choices right now are Chomolungma ཇོ་མོ་གླང་མ and Sagarmatha सगरमाथा - the original Tibetan and Nepali names for Mt. Everest. These names were nominated by someone living in Kathmandu, Nepal. MU69 represents the the most distant world in our solar system that humans will likely visit for another decade or more. As such it represents the acme - the pinnacle - of robotic spacecraft exploration. There are already two features on Pluto named after the first two humans to stand atop Everest/Chomolungma/Sagarmatha - Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. As such, it would be fitting and in keeping with the spirit and adventure to name MU69 (which may be a double object) Chomolungma and/or Sagarmatha. You can visit the naming website at http://www.frontierworlds.org/home and vote for Chomolungma/Sagarmatha (or other choices). The campaign closes at noon Pacific Time (20:00 GMT) on December 1, December 6 2017.

Astrobiologist Dale Andersen Antarctic Status Report 28 November 2017: Last Week at Lake Untersee

"We are in our last week of work here at Lake Untersee before heading back to Novo on the 6th. Hope to get in a few more dives for sample collection and imagery beneath the ice, and we have to pull experiments that are ongoing in the lake right now. ... All ok here right now and for the moment our winds are calm; but that will probably change over the the next few hours - maybe we will get lucky and we will miss most of the bad weather forecast for Novo. I am hoping the new met station is up and running but there may be one or two other things we need to do to get it online; once I get confirmation I will let you know and will send you a web link so you can see a daily download of the data. Hopefull it will work. Will check in with you tomorrow with an update."

Antarctic Selfie's Journey to Space via Disruption Tolerant Networking, NASA

"NASA is boosting cyber to space with benefits for Earth. On Nov. 20, 2017, a selfie snapped from the National Science Foundation's McMurdo Station in Antarctica demonstrated technology that can enable the future interplanetary internet. Called Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN), the technology is NASA's solution to reliable interplanetary data transmissions when vast distances or alignments of celestial bodies may disrupt communications."

My Star Trek Episode at Everest

"In late April 2009 I found myself at Everest Base Camp for a month. I was living at 17,600 feet in Nepal 2 miles from China and 2 miles from the highest point on our planet. I was surrounded by the epic majesty of the Himalayas, a thousand people supporting several hundred Type A individuals with a shared intent to summit the mountain and stand in the jet stream. And all of this was enabled by the austere and noble Sherpa people. I was on a mission not unlike a space mission. My team mate was my long-time friend Scott Parazynski, an astronaut.

I could just stop there and what is in these sentences would be cool enough. This had all the makings of a Star Trek episode - and I knew it."

Keith's note: After posting the two items above, I had to toss this in. There is something about "being there" when it comes to exploration. May 2009. Everest Base Camp. It was -20F or so, I was sick with food poisoning which eventually led to some permanent physical damage that affects me to this day, at 17,600 feet breathing half the oxygen I was designed to breathe, while one friend was standing atop Everest above the sky, while another (who was supposed to be with us) was in his laundry room in New York - all linked by radio and satellite. Another mutual friend was in orbit fixing Hubble. This was one of those life-altering moments - and we all wanted to share it. We still do.

NASA used to have a lot of these moments. Now ... not so many. That needs to change.

Maybe the new guy will fix that. Someone has to.

NASA Office of Inspector General Annual Report April - September 2017

"Specifically, despite spending almost $200 million on three spacesuit development efforts, NASA remains years away from having a spacesuit capable of replacing the suits used on the ISS or suitable for use on future exploration missions. Furthermore, given the current development schedule, there is significant risk a next-generation prototype will not be sufficiently mature for testing on the ISS prior to the Station's planned 2024 retirement. In addition, we questioned NASA's decision to spend $80.8 million between 2011 and 2016 to fund a spacesuit development effort despite parallel development activities being conducted elsewhere in the Agency. NASA management concurred with and described corrective actions to address our three recommendations."

"In August 2013, NASA entered into an agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers to build two test stands at Marshall Space Flight Center (Marshall) to test liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen tanks from the core stage of the Agency's new heavy-lift rocket. Our review found that the compressed project schedule, uncertain requirements, and design changes resulted in significant cost increases for the project. In addition, NASA did not adequately consider alternative locations before selecting Marshall as the site for the test stands and therefore cannot ensure it made the most cost-effective decision regarding where to build the stands."

Keith's note: There is a lot of talk these days about yet another pivot in America's civilian space policy. This time it is "back" to the Moon. Mars is not off the agenda - but it is not moving forward either. Personally I think we have unfinished business on the Moon and that creating a vibrant cis-lunar space infrastructure is the best way to enable humans to go to many places in the solar system - including Mars. Regardless of your stance on this issue, a common refrain about going back to the Moon - starting with President Obama is that "We've been there before".

Humans first reached the South Pole by an overland route in 1911/1912. While we visited the pole by plane in the intervening years, no one traversed Antarctica's surface again until 1958. 46 years between Antarctic polar traverses. Why did we go back to do something - again - in a similar way - to a place "we've been [to] before" after 46 years? Because there was still something of interest there - something we'd only had a fleeting exposure to - and we had developed new ways to traverse polar environments. James Cameron revisited the Challenger Deep in 2012 - after a human absence of 52 years. Why? See above. It is understandable that explorers seek to explore new places and not redo what has been done before. There is only so much funding and there are still so many places yet to be explored. But it is also not uncommon for explorers to revisit old, previously visited locations with new tools - and new mindsets.

Look at the stunning imagery Juno is sending back of Jupiter. Compare that to what we got from Galileo - and Voyager - and Pioneer. Why send yet another mission to the same destination unless, well, you have better tools - tools that enable the pursuit of ever greater exploration goals.

I was 15 when humans first walked on the Moon. The generations who have followed mine have never seen humans land and walk on the Moon. Indeed a lot of them seem to think it never happened. But American space policy is made by Baby Boomers (and older) population cohorts so we just operate on our own biases i.e. been there, done that.

Take a look at the chart below. More than half of the Americans alive today never saw humans walk on the Moon - as it happened - including the person slated to become the next administrator of NASA and the entire 2013 and 2017 astronaut classes. If/when we go back to the Moon in the next 5-10 years this number will increase. For them these future Moon landings will be THEIR FIRST MOON LANDINGS. That's several hundred million Americans waiting to see what I saw in 1969.

Just sayin'

http://images.spaceref.com/news/2017/united-states-population-py.jpg

Keeping the Focus on Mars, Scott Hubbard, editorial

"The Moon is scientifically much less diverse and interesting than Mars. For example, no one claims that life could have originated on the Moon - unlike Mars. The technologies needed for landing and living on an airless body like the Moon are quite different from Mars. Lunar technologies will have limited benefit to future Mars exploration. Finally, some claim that the Moon's resources, especially water ice, can be exploited for future exploration. In general, the Moon is extremely dry. There are data from previous missions to suggest that there may be more abundant water ice trapped at the poles of the Moon, but getting there and mining in temperatures nearing absolute zero will prove very challenging and expensive. By comparison, Mars has water in much greater concentrations distributed more broadly across the planet."

Keith's note: Former NASA "Mars Czar" and Planetary Society Mars advocate Scott Hubbard clearly thinks that there is no value in going back to the Moon. And he's not afraid to cherry pick facts and skew recent history to make his point. Of course he just thinks that he can proclaim that Mars is the nation's priority (he still thinks that he's the Mars Czar, apparently). Add in the Planetary Society's barely concealed aversion to putting humans on the surface of Mars. It should be quite obvious that the Planetary Society is soon going to be in an adversarial position once a new NASA Administrator is in place and this Administration's pivot toward the Moon becomes more evident. If Hubbard et al have their way everyone but America will be going to the Moon and only robots will ever land on Mars.

Oh yes, Mars Czar Scott - you did see this latest research about Mars, water, etc.? Resources to support human activity are abundant - but they are hard to access - everywhere.

Recurring Martian Streaks: Flowing Sand, Not Water?

"The findings published today in Nature Geoscience argue against the presence of enough liquid water for microbial life to thrive at these sites."

- Planetary Society Is For And Against Mars Colonization Or Something, earlier post
- The Planetary Society is For And Against Human Spaceflight, earlier post

Keith's 16 Nov update: Just the other day I posted some new video (below) of the latest cool droid from Boston Dynamics. Now they have simply outdone themselves. Compare NASA's tethered/hoisted R5 make stiff dance moves and then watch Boston Dynamics' untethered and nimble Atlas DOING A BACKFLIP. NASA really needs to put their own bot research on the shelf and see what the private sector can offer.

Keith's 14 Nov note: NASA poured lots of money into its R5 robot that cannot walk unless it is on a hoist and controlled by a human. It is always broken. So they gave away these broken droids to several universities to see if the students could salvage something useful. Meanwhile, Boston Dynamics continues to make astonishing progress on autonomous robots.

Imagine if you had something like this on Mars as part of a sample return mission. This droid, equipped with other features that Boston Dynamics has mastered, would allow access to places that rovers cannot go and has dexterity unmatched by anything NASA has ever built. And I am sure you could buy a bunch of them for vastly less than it would take NASA to develop them.

- Does NASA Have A Robot That Can Do This?, earlier post
- The Droid That NASA Should Be Sending To Mars, earlier post
- NASA Challenges People To Use Its Broken Robot To Fix Things on Mars, earlier post
- Using a Last Place Robot for NASA's Robotics Challenge, earlier post
- NASA JSC Has Developed A Girl Robot in Secret (Revised With NASA Responses), earlier post

Astrobiologist Dale Andersen Antarctic Status Report 4 November 2017 (maps, links, pictures)

"Dale Andersen sent this message via Garmin inRreach on 4 November 2017 at 8:44 am EDT from: Lat -70.774999 Lon 11.837554: "We are almost ready for the traverse to Lake Untersee but today and tomorrow we will have high winds and blowing snow with white-out conditions so we will remain here in the warmth and safety of the huts located at Novolazarevskaya. ..."

Astrobiologist Dale Andersen Antarctic Status Report 5 November 2017: Buran!


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