Recently in ISS News Category

NASA Won't Pay You to Smoke Weed

"Q: Does NASA pay $18,000 for people to stay in bed and smoke weed for 70 straight days?

A: No. NASA conducts bed-rest studies, but it does not allow participants to smoke marijuana or even drink alcohol."

Facebook users flagged a story with the captivating headline "NASA Will Pay You $18,000 To Stay In Bed And Smoke Weed For 70 Straight Days." Don't get too excited. It's false."

Astronauts Prepare For Contingency Spacewalk

"Astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer are getting ready for a contingency spacewalk Tuesday morning. Whitson and Fischer are set to begin the spacewalk at 8 a.m. Tuesday for about two hours of maintenance work. The spacewalk's primary task is the removal and replacement of a data relay box, known as a Multiplexer-Demultiplexer (MDM), which failed Saturday morning. The MDM controls the functionality of station components such as the solar arrays, radiators, cooling loops and other systems."

Keith's note: Reading NASAWatch you might think that this site has a preoccupation with clumsy projects (like SLS) that are over budget, behind schedule, and lacking in terms of mission focus. That is not representative of NASA as a whole. Here is one example - I saw this article in Science last week and thought that this research was worth re-featuring - especially given that a bunch of science is headed for ISS in a week or so. When I worked at NASA helping to design Space Station Freedom, my focus was life and materials science payloads. These little DNA sequencing devices (which will fit in your pocket) were impossible back then - and if they were, would have required several payload racks and a lot of power and crew time. While NASA has problems with its rockets, payload technology is moving ahead at warp speed.

Pocket-sized sequencers start to pay off big, Science

"Aaron Burton, an astrobiologist at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, who is exploring how nanopore devices could help search for life elsewhere in the solar system, agrees: "The rapid improvements have made it a viable technology right now, rather than an emerging technology that 'could be good in a few years.'" ... MinION's portability continues to prove its value. With the aid of warming packs that kept the machine's chemistry working, Sarah Johnson, a planetary scientist at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., used one to generate long reads of DNA while collecting specimens in an Antarctic dry valley, a setting sometimes used as a proxy for Mars."

Sequencing DNA in Space, earlier post SpaceRef

"NASA is not often known for making the best use of existing COTS (commercial off the shelf technology) aboard the ISS. Then again, sometimes they are. This is an example of when the agency really grabs cutting edge biotech and sends it into space. There's usually quite a lag time. The reasons range from slogging through the often cumbersome payload safety and integration process to people at NASA who are simply not up to date with what the ral world is doing in their field. In this instance a rather remarkable gizmo is being flown in space that truly puts genetic sequencing in the palm of your hand. Indeed, its almost as if NASA was flying part of a version 1.0 Tricorder in space. This is cutting edge technology folks."

- First DNA Sequencing Conducted in Space, earlier post
- One Billion Base Pairs Sequenced on the Space Station, earlier post

Keith's 4 May update: @DanaPerino deleted this tweet (but it is still on her Instagram page). Why would she do that - unless she did something wrong? This is what the tweet looked like - before it was deleted.

Keith's 5 May update: Now @Astro2fish has deleted his tweet as well. Why would he do that - unless he also did something wrong? This is what the tweet looked like - before it was deleted.

The only reason that the text of these embedded tweets still appears is that I embedded them before deletion and the words are in the embed code. If you click on the date/time you will get a deletion message. This is what they both looked like - with pictures - before Dana Perino and Jack Fischer deleted them.

Keith's 4 May update: I sent an inquiry to NASA HQ and JSC PAO and got this response:

"- Is there a Space Act Agreement or MOU in place between NASA and Dana Perino and/or Fox News that allows a NASA civil servant on board the ISS to use their NASA position and work place to promote Dana Perino's book?
- Can you provide me with a copy of the official NASA process whereby book authors/publishers can apply to have astronauts conduct promotional activities while aboard the ISS? Have other book authors applied for this promotion aboard ISS?
- What cost to NASA is associated with these on-orbit book promotions? (What is the cost of launching this Felt Jasper, NASA personnel time to coordinate with Perino/Fox, TDRSS bandwidth etc.)
- Did the NASA OGC at JSC or NASA HQ issue a waiver and/or give formal written permission to Jack Fischer to conduct these commercial promotion activities with Dana Perino and Fox News while on board the ISS?
- Under what payload allocation was the "Felt Jasper" flown to the ISS? Did Jack Fischer carry it with him on his Soyuz flight or was this launched on a cargo vehicle? Is this a personal item or is it a NASA PAO-endorsed activity?
- Did NASA PAO interact directly with Fox News to coordinate the coverage given on Dana Perino's Twitter account and/or provide NASA imagery of the Felt Jasper on "The Five" segment that aired last night on Fox News?
- What will be done with the Felt Jasper that Fischer has in orbit? Will it be returned to Earth and used for commercial purposes?
- Will Jack Fischer and Dana Perino be doing any further commercial promotion activities for Perino's book on-orbit or when he returns to Earth?
- Did Jack Fischer personally send the following tweet from the ISS? If he did not, who sent it? "@Astro2fish Well, finally got a chance to show Felt Jasper the office @DanaPerino & pretty sure he dug the view-I know I did! #SpaceDogWalks #NASARocks 5:59 PM - 2 May 2017"

This is what I got back:

"Hi Keith, Astronauts are permitted to take personal mementos to space. Jack Fischer's flight of a "Felt Jasper" as a personal memento and his subsequent release of imagery of that memento via his social media does not imply an endorsement of any commercial activity. Thank you, Jenny, Norma Jennifer Knotts, Public Affairs Specialist"

Apparently Trumpish commercial endorsement behavior is the new normal at NASA. An astronaut is allowed to use his official government position and work place to give significant social media visibility to a book written by a former Bush press spokesperson who appears on the President's favorite news channel (Fox). And that visibility is repeated on Fox News. Yet none of the Trump political appointees on the 9th floor at NASA HQ see anything wrong with this and are OK with a two sentence non-response. Tick tock.

Keith's 2 May note: Now it is apparently acceptable for NASA astronauts to do on-orbit promotion tie-ins for books written by Fox News celebrities like @DanaPerino who has a book out titled "Let me tell you about Jasper". Since Fischer has the mini-Jasper in orbit this promotion had to have planned this ahead of time. How much did Perino pay for this - or did NASA give this orbital PR away for free? Check out her Twitter banner. This a rather overt tie-in. Apparently Fischer and Perino already knew each other prior to his departure - here he is holding a copy of her book at some event they both attended. The "felt Jasper" is something that is used to promote Perino's book.

Keith's update: Fox Five just aired a piece about the Felt Jasper book promotion dog in space and Perino's book. Of course all of this PR and product promotion stuff was coordinated and approved by NASA PAO, right?

Keith's note: People who engage on expeditions to risky and dangerous places on Earth regulary waive certain safety and medical regulations in order to participate. I have done it more than once in the arctic and at Everest. You consider the risks, weigh the benefits, and then sign the forms. There are lifetime radiation exposure limits for astronauts that are supposed to be used to guide the selection of ISS crews. Now, these limits are apparently subject to selective waiver. So are these "limits" now becoming "guidelines"? Are astronauts now doing something similar to what terrestrial explorers do in order to spend more time in space? What is the process whereby NASA makes this waiver decision? What are the implications for the whole #JourneyToMars thing?

Marc's note: At 10:00 a.m. ET President Trump, Ivanka Trump and NASA Astronaut Kate Rubins will call the ISS from the White House to speak with Commander Peggy Whitson and Flight Engineer Jack Fischer of NASA. Will we hear anything of substance? With This President you never know. You can watch the event LIVE on SpaceRef.

Updated: NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson Talks STEM Education with President Trump

Updated: Remarks by President Trump in Video Call with NASA Astronauts Aboard the International Space Station

President Trump Calls Space Station Crew on Record-Setting Day

Interstellar Docking

Keith's note: You have got to watch this. Full screen. Sound turned up - footage of the docking of Soyuz with ISS using the docking sequence from the "Interstellar" soundtrack. (Corrected, it was not a Cygnus.)

No, Russia isn't sending a Terminator robot to the space station, Ars Technica

"The reports this weekend were breathless. Mashable said Russia was sending a "death dealing" robot with the power to shoot guns to the International Space Station. Pravda reported that the Russian cyborg, Fyodor, had frightened the West. It was like the Terminator, only in space, and only for reals. In reality, probably not. The stories were written after the Russian deputy prime minister overseeing military and space activities, Dmitry Rogozin, posted on Facebook and Twitter about the country's humanoid robot, Fyodor."

Russian space robot bound for ISS given power to shoot handguns, for some reason, Mashable

"Just in time for the rise in global military tensions, Russian officials have released video that's sure to calm fears all around: a death dealing humanoid robot that shoots handguns. Posted to Twitter on Friday by Russia's deputy Prime Minister, Dmitry Rogozin, the video shows the country's space robot FEDOR (Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research) accurately shooting twin pistols in a scene chillingly similar to images from The Terminator."

Earlier Robonaut and R5 postings

Space Station Crew Including NASA Astronaut Shane Kimbrough Return to Earth

"Expedition 50 Commander Shane Kimbrough of NASA is among three crew members from the International Space Station (ISS) who returned to Earth Monday, after 173 days in space, landing in Kazakhstan at approximately 7:20 a.m. EDT (5:20 p.m. Kazakhstan time). Also returning were Flight Engineers Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko of the Russian space agency Roscosmos. The three touched down southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan."

Russia may abandon International Space Station to join forces with China, Pravda

"The Russian segment of the International Space Station may separate from the station. Russia's Federal Space Agency Roscosmos is also currently looking into the need for the presence of people in orbit. Do people still have to live on board the ISS or is it possible to entrust space exploration to robots? These issues were put on the agenda of the meeting of the Military Industrial Commission for the development of Roscosmos until 2030."

Russia open to extending international space station partnership: agency chief, Reuters

"Moscow has an alternative if relations with the United States sour. Russia last year unveiled a plan to detach some of its modules and use them to create a new, independent outpost in orbit. "We adjusted and made some minor changes in our programs ... but it doesn't mean that we don't want to continue our cooperation," Komarov said. "We just want to be on the safe side and make sure we can continue our research." The United States is dependent on Russia's propellant module to keep the station in orbit."

Somebody Just Buy the ISS Already, Wired

"Officially, Congress must make a decision on the ISS by 2024, when its funding expires. But beyond routine maintenance and the occasional orbital boost, the station needs no major repairs. "As it happens, some stuff is functioning vastly better than imagined," says Keith Cowing, editor of NasaWatch (a NASA watchdog), who helped design the station as a NASA employee in the 1990s. "Maintenance is little things like replacing batteries when they die or tightening valves when they need it."

... Even with a government-mandated nonprofit charged specifically with ginning up business, nobody has found a killer app for low Earth orbit. Yet. Cowing sympathizes with NASA's funding plight, and says it shouldn't indefinitely tie up resources on a mission barely beyond the stratosphere. But he doesn't think that should seal ISS's fate. "NASA has spent decades building and operating this thing, has gotten it just to the point where it can actually start doing things, and all of a sudden you want to scrap it all and start building something else," he says. What a waste.

... Plus, buying it lets you do whatever the hell you want. "I like to refer to the ISS as the Undiscovered Country, both in the Shakespearean and Star Trek-ian sense," says Cowing. "It's completely underutilized."

UK schoolboy corrects NASA data error, BBC

"A-level student Miles Soloman found that radiation sensors on the International Space Station (ISS) were recording false data. The 17-year-old from Tapton school in Sheffield said it was "pretty cool" to email the space agency. The correction was said to be "appreciated" by Nasa, which invited him to help analyse the problem. "What we got given was a lot of spreadsheets, which is a lot more interesting than it sounds," Miles told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme. The research was part of the TimPix project from the Institute for Research in Schools (IRIS), which gives students across the UK the chance to work on data from the space station, looking for anomalies and patterns that might lead to further discoveries. During UK astronaut Tim Peake's stay on the station, detectors began recording the radiation levels on the ISS."

TimPix Project

"In partnership with Professor Larry Pinsky at the University of Houston, and in collaboration with NASA, the Institute for Research in Schools is able to release data from the Timepix detectors on board the ISS and give students and teachers the opportunity to take part in this research."

Space Subcommittee Hearing- The ISS after 2024: Options and Impacts

"It is the policy of the United States to support full and complete utilization of the International Space Station through at least 2024. What happens to the ISS after that date remains an open question. The hearing will examine the range of choices facing our nation and the impacts of those various options."

- [Statement] William Gerstenmaier, NASA
- [Statement] Mary Lynne Dittmar, Coalition for Deep Space Exploration
- [Opening Statement] Eric Stallmer Commercial Spaceflight Federation
- [Statement] Robert Ferl University of Florida
- Rep. Babin Opening Statement
- Rep. Bera Opening Statement
- Rep. Johnson Opening Statement
- Hearing Charter

Watch live

US astronaut's spaceflight to be financed by Russian corporation as debt repayment, TASS

"U.S. astronaut Joseph M. Acaba will fly to the International Space Stations (ISS) as a third crew member of the Soyuz MS-06 spaceship. His flight will be financed by Russia's Rocket and Space Corporation Energia as debt repayment to US' Boeing under the joint project Sea Launch, a source in the Russian space industry told TASS on Monday. ... According to earlier reports, under an amicable agreement reached by Energia and Boeing as part of debt repayment under the Sea Launch project, the Russian corporation will give the American side five seats aboard Soyuz spacecraft, in particular one seat in 2017, one seat in 2018, and an option on three seats in 2019. Energia's debt to Boeing was 330 million US dollars, as was ruled by a California court in 2015. In the summer of 2015, the sides reached an amicable agreement where Energia undertook to repay its debt by means of works and new projects."

NASA Uses Bait and Switch Tactics To Buy Soyuz Seats, earlier post

Keith's note: How sneaky. Neither SpaceX or Boeing are going to have their crew services ready in time to replace Soyuz in the near term. So NASA uses Boeing to buy more Soyuz seats. Its not the first time that they have bought Soyuz seats. But NASA omits mention of the word "Soyuz" in the title of the presolicitation notice. No one will notice, right NASA? But wait - there's more - RSC Energia gave Boeing 5 Soyuz seats to settle a business deal gone sour (Sea Launch) - and Boeing can charge NASA whatever whatever they want for these seats. And if CST-100 flights are delayed further and more Soyuz seats are needed then Boeing can sell extra seats to NASA. Boeing makes money from NASA one way - or the other - unless SpaceX gets into space with their crewed Dragon.

Shotwell to GAO: "The [heck] we won't fly before 2019", SpacePolicyOnline

"SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell reacted to GAO's report yesterday that commercial crew flights may slip from 2018 to 2019 by expressing utmost confidence in her company's schedule. At a Kennedy Space Center (KSC) press conference today in advance of SpaceX's commercial cargo launch tomorrow, she said the company's response to GAO is "The [heck] we won't fly before 2019."

NASA Commercial Crew Program: Schedule Pressure Increases as Contractors Delay Key Events

"Both of the Commercial Crew Program's contractors have made progress developing their crew transportation systems, but both also have aggressive development schedules that are increasingly under pressure. The two contractors - Boeing and Space Exploration Technologies, Corp. (SpaceX) - are developing transportation systems that must meet the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) standards for human spaceflight - a process called certification. Both Boeing and SpaceX have determined that they will not be able to meet their original 2017 certification dates and both expect certification to be delayed until 2018. The schedule pressures are amplified by NASA's need to provide a viable crew transportation option to the International Space Station (ISS) before its current contract with Russia's space agency runs out in 2019. If NASA needs to purchase additional seats from Russia, the contracting process typically takes 3 years. Without a viable contingency option for ensuring uninterrupted access to the ISS in the event of further Commercial Crew delays, NASA risks not being able to maximize the return on its multibillion dollar investment in the space station."

NanoRacks and Boeing Building First Commercial Airlock on ISS, NanoRacks

"NanoRacks, LLC will partner with Boeing on the building and installation of the first commercial airlock module, which will attach to the U.S. segment on the International Space Station (ISS). In May 2016, NanoRacks and NASA signed a Space Act Agreement in order to install a private airlock module onboard the International Space Station - the first in station history. The NanoRacks Airlock Module will be both a permanent commercial uncrewed module onboard International Space Station, and also a module capable of being removed from the space station and used on a future commercial platform."

Station cargo flight leapfrogs commercial satellite launch on SpaceX manifest, Spaceflight Now

"SpaceX said Sunday that the first Falcon 9 rocket launch from pad 39A, a former shuttle-era complex at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is scheduled to send a Dragon supply ship to the International Space Station in mid-February, deferring a mission with an EchoStar communications satellite that was set to take off this month."

Procurement of Crew Transportation and Rescue Services From Boeing, NASA

"NASA is considering contracting with The Boeing Company (Boeing) for crew transportation services to and from the International Space Station (ISS) on the Russian Soyuz vehicle. This transportation would be for one crewmember in the Fall of 2017 and one crewmember in the Spring of 2018. NASA is considering purchasing these services from Boeing, without competition, because no other vehicles are currently capable of providing these services in Fall 2017 or Spring 2018. NASA has contracts with two U.S. commercial companies for crew transportation to the ISS. However, these vehicles are still in the developmental stage, and not expected to begin fully operational flights to the ISS until 2019. NASA also is considering an option to acquire crew transportation from Boeing for three crewmembers on the Soyuz in 2019, to ensure the availability of back-up transportation capability in the event the U.S. commercial contractor vehicles are delayed or to augment future ISS operations and research."

"Russia recently announced its plans to decrement the Russian crew count onboard ISS from three to two, beginning in CY 2017. As a result of Russia reducing its crew count by one crewmember, there is now an available Soyuz seat in the 2017-2018 timeframe on each of the two planned spacecraft that would have otherwise had two Russian crew aboard. Of the 24 total Soyuz seats available in 2017-2018, the three seats resulting from the Russian crew decrement are the only available means of transporting additional US crewmembers to ISS during this period."

"An agreement was recently reached between the Boeing Company and S.P. Korolev Rocket and Space Public Corporation, Energia ("RSC Energia"), who is the manufacturer of the Soyuz spacecraft and has the legal rights to sell the seats and associated services. As a part of this agreement, Energia agreed to provide to Boeing two specifically identified seats on the Soyuz spacecraft for long-duration travel to and from the ISS, one on a flight to occur in the Fall 2017 timeframe and another on a flight to occur in the Spring 2018 timeframe. Additionally, Energia provided Boeing three additional specifically identified seats in the Spring 2019 timeframe on two Soyuz spacecraft. Finally, Boeing and RSC Energia agreed that each of these five seats will include a launch of an individual to and from the ISS, including all services normally provided during launches to ISS. Boeing and RSC Energia have represented that Boeing has the full rights to these seats and can sell them to any third party."

Keith's note: How sneaky. Neither SpaceX or Boeing are going to have their crew services ready in time to replace Soyuz in the near term. So NASA uses Boeing to buy more Soyuz seats. Its not the first time that they have bought Soyuz seats. But NASA omits mention of the word "Soyuz" in the title of the presolicitation notice. No one will notice, right NASA? But wait - there's more - RSC Energia gave Boeing 5 Soyuz seats to settle a business deal gone sour (Sea Launch) - and Boeing can charge NASA whatever whatever they want for these seats. And if CST-100 flights are delayed further and more Soyuz seats are needed then Boeing can sell extra seats to NASA. Boeing makes money from NASA one way - or the other - unless SpaceX gets into space with their crewed Dragon.

As leadership departs, NASA quietly moves to buy more Soyuz seats, Ars Technica

"Last September, based upon anonymous sources, Ars reported that NASA had begun considering buying additional seats in 2019 as a hedge against further delays with the commercial crew program. Both NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and the agency's head of human spaceflight, Bill Gerstenmaier, subsequently denied this report."

NASA considering Boeing offer for additional Soyuz seats, SpaceNews

"NASA officials previous indicated that there were no plans by the agency to purchase additional Soyuz seats directly from Roscosmos. William Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said in an October interview that the deadline had passed for NASA to purchase additional Soyuz seats from Roscosmos for 2019 missions."

Keith's note: Have a look at the board of directors of RSC Energia. Five of the Eleven members work for Roscosmos including Yuri Vlasov "deputy general director for rocket and space industry of State Corporation for space activities Roscosmos". RSC Energia is owned by the Russian government. Buying Soyuz seats from RSC Energia instead of Roscosmos is a distinction without a difference. Boeing has not disclosed what the value of these seats are or what they will charge NASA for them.

Obama orders Russia expulsions, sanctions for interference in 2016 election, Reuters

"President Barack Obama on Thursday ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats and sanctioned Russian intelligence officials who Washington believes were involved in hacking U.S. political groups in the 2016 presidential election. The measures, taken during the last days of Obama's presidency, mark a new low in U.S.-Russian relations which have deteriorated over serious differences on Ukraine and Syria. "These actions follow repeated private and public warnings that we have issued to the Russian government, and are a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests in violation of established international norms of behavior," Obama said in a statement from vacation in Hawaii."

Joint DHS, ODNI, FBI Statement on Russian Malicious Cyber Activity, FBI

"This activity by Russian intelligence services is part of a decade-long campaign of cyber-enabled operations directed at the U.S. government and its citizens. These cyber operations have included spearphishing, campaigns targeting government organizations, critical infrastructure, think tanks, universities, political organizations, and corporations; theft of information from these organizations; and the recent public release of some of this stolen information."

- Cold War Echoes On Earth And In Space, Earlier post
- How Long Will ISS Remain Isolated From Terrestrial Politics?, Earlier post

Commercial Crew Flight Dates Delayed To 2018

"The next generation of American spacecraft and rockets that will launch astronauts to the International Space Station are nearing the final stages of development and evaluation. Targeted Flight Dates:
Boeing Orbital Flight Test: June 2018
Boeing Crew Flight Test: August 2018
SpaceX Demonstration Mission 1: November 2017
SpaceX Demonstration Mission 2: May 2018"

Progress Launch Fails

Problem Occurs During Launch of Progress 65 Resupply Mission to the ISS - Vehicle Burns up in Atmosphere (with video)

"A launch that seemingly was going perfect, quickly became a concern to Russian mission controllers when the third stage of the Soyuz rocket apparently shut down early, possibly leaving the Progress resupply spacecraft in a improper orbit. To make matters worse mission controllers have been unable to confirm at this point if the solar arrays are fully deployed. Contact was lost at T+ 6:23 just before it was supposed to achieve orbit."

U.S. Govt. Hackers Ready to Hit Back If Russia Tries to Disrupt Election, NBC

"U.S. military hackers have penetrated Russia's electric grid, telecommunications networks and the Kremlin's command systems, making them vulnerable to attack by secret American cyber weapons should the U.S. deem it necessary, according to a senior intelligence official and top-secret documents reviewed by NBC News."

The Curious Geopolitical Immunity of the International Space Station, earlier Post

"Interestingly, every time the bad relationship between the U.S. and Russia gets worse there is no mention of altering U.S./Russian cooperation in space. Indeed, when U.S./China tensions are mentioned, you hear increased talk of cooperation between the U.S. and China in space. Oh wait: the Chinese are going to visit their new space station in a few weeks. Why is space seen as a venture that seemingly transcends terrestrial politics - indeed, one where peaceful collaboration regularly prevails over less desirable behavior? There is a precedent: Antarctica."

Keith's note: How long is the ISS going to be able to remain an orbital, Antarctic-like, politics-free zone? The longer it manages to remain apart from terrestrial turmoils, the more space exploration speaks to a way to transcend such things. But there has to be a breaking point sooner or later.

The weak pull of artificial gravity, The Space Review

"Gerstenmaier, while skeptical of the need for and ability to accommodate artificial gravity, didn't rule it out entirely. He noted that there's very little information on the effectiveness of partial gravity, including the minimum levels needed to offset the deleterious effects of microgravity. Some of that research is being done with a small rodent centrifuge on the station's Kibo module. "We'll take a look and see if there's some magic partial gravity that actually mitigates most of the concerns of the zero-gravity levels," he said. Until then, astronauts on the ISS and future exploration missions will have to learn to take the good with the bad when it comes to weightlessness--and hope they love to exercise for a couple hours every day."

Keith's note: Well, DUH, Bill. You guys cancelled the 2.5 meter centrifuge facility that was supposed to fly on ISS to answer those exact same questions. Gee, I wonder why they have not been addressed? Don't try and duck the issue: I can remember sitting in meetings where it was discussed that you attended back in the day ;-)

Expedition 49 Is Back On Earth (with video)

"NASA astronaut and Expedition 49 crew member Kate Rubins, who became the first person to sequence DNA in space, returned to Earth Saturday after a successful mission aboard the International Space Station. Rubins and her crewmates Anatoly Ivanishin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, touched down in their Soyuz MS-01 at 11:58 p.m. EDT (9:58 a.m. Oct. 30, Kazakhstan time) southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan."

Keith's note: When "Interstellar" came out there was an Oculus Rift "experience" that toured a few locations around the country. The Oculus Rift tour inside the "Endurance" was pretty cool. If only NASA could find a way to take this ISS footage and convert it for use with Play Station VR, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard. etc. I am sure it would be a hit. Nice for training astronauts too.

NASA FISO Presentation: An ISS Space Ambulance Based on X-37B Technology

Now available is the October 19, 2016 NASA Future In-Space Operations (FISO) telecon material. The speakers was Steve Robinson (UC Santa Cruz) who discussed "An ISS Space Ambulance Based on X-37B Technology."

Note: The audio file and presentation are online and available to download.

Marc's note: An interesting concept. Is there a future commercial application for this concept should other space stations come online (Bigelow etc.)?

After Month Long Delay Soyuz Rocket Launches Astronauts to the International Space Station [With video]

"Three crew members representing the United States and Russia are on their way to the International Space Station after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 4:05 a.m. EDT Wednesday (2:05 p.m. Baikonur time). The Soyuz spacecraft carrying astronaut Shane Kimbrough of NASA, and cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, is scheduled to dock to the Poisk module of the space station at 5:59 a.m. Friday, Oct. 21. NASA Television coverage of docking will begin at 5:15 a.m. Hatches are scheduled to open about 8:35 a.m., with NASA TV coverage starting at 8 a.m."

- ISS Crew Could be Short Staffed for Another Month and a Half, earlier post

Orbital ATK Successfully Launches the Antares Rocket on its Return to Flight (with video), SpaceRef

"In a successful return to flight, Orbital ATK launched the upgraded Antares rocket with the Cygnus spacecraft on a resupply mission to the International Space Station. The launch scheduled for 7:40 pm EDT (2340 GMT) was delayed briefly due to a minor engine anomaly. Mission launch control cleared the rocket to launch which it did at 7:45 pm EDT, right as launch window was closing."

Keith's note: It has been 2 years since I tried to watch a launch from the street in front of my house in Reston, VA. Not an easy thing to do in a town that is certified as a 'tree city'. Luckily the notch in the trees in the direction of Wallops is still there. About 2 minutes after launch a steady red light appeared and I could see it for another minute or so.

Shenzhou-11 Is In Orbit, SpaceRef

"China placed the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft with two astronauts aboard into orbit today. The launch happened exactly on time at 7:30 am local time at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. Shenzhou-11 is in its planned orbit and will dock with China's second space station Tiangong-2 on Tuesday. The two astronauts will remain onboard Tiangong-2 for a month."

Upcoming Space News

China to launch manned space mission Shenzhou 11 on Monday

"China will launch a two-man space mission, Shenzhou 11, on Monday, officials with the space program said, taking the country closer to its ambition of setting up a permanent manned space station by 2022. After Monday's launch at 7:30 a.m. (2330 GMT) in the remote northwestern province of Gansu, the astronauts will dock with the Tiangong 2 space laboratory, where they will spend about a month."

Schiaparelli Released From Trace Gas Orbiter and Begins Its Descent to Mars

"Today, three days before gravity will ensure the arrival of ExoMars 2016 at Mars, the Schiaparelli Entry, Descent & landing demonstrator Module separated from the TGO orbiter and is now en route on a ballistic trajectory to reach the Red Planet, enter its atmosphere and land softly in an area close to the equator known as Meridiani Planum."

Antares OA-5 Launch Delayed to October 17, 2016

"Today's launch of Orbital ATK's Antares rocket is postponed 24 hours due to a ground support equipment (GSE) cable that did not perform as expected during the pre-launch check out. We have spares on hand and rework procedures are in process."

Keith's note: I will be on BBC World News live tonight at 8:00 pm and 9:00 pm 11:15 pm EDT to discuss these three mission events.

White House says U.S. will retaliate against Russia for hacking, Politico

"White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest promised on Tuesday that the U.S. would deliver a "proportional" response to Russia's alleged hacking of American computer systems. In addition to pledging that the U.S. "will ensure that our response is proportional," Earnest told reporters flying on Air Force One that "it is unlikely that our response would be announced in advance."

China, Russia consider joint defense response to U.S. missile shield

"Amid escalating U.S.-Russia tensions, the Russian military said Tuesday it will cooperate with China on efforts to fend off a threat posed by the U.S. missile defense program. Lt. Gen. Viktor Poznikhir of the Russian military's General Staff accused the Pentagon of developing the shield as part of planning for a possible first nuclear strike. "The missile defense system considerably shifts the balance of offensive weapons, allowing the planning of a more efficient pre-emptive strike," he said at a security conference in China."

Keith's note: Interestingly, every time the bad relationship between the U.S. and Russia gets worse there is no mention of altering U.S./Russian cooperation in space. Indeed, when U.S./China tensions are mentioned, you hear increased talk of cooperation between the U.S. and China in space. Oh wait: the Chinese are going to visit their new space station in a few weeks. Why is space seen as a venture that seemingly transcends terrestrial politics - indeed, one where peaceful collaboration regularly prevails over less desirable behavior? There is a precedent: Antarctica.

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Roscosmos Sets October 19th as Launch Date for Next Space Station Crew, Roscosmos

"Based on quality assurance tests of MTV Soyuz MS-02, the specialists of Rocket and Space Corporation Energiya determined that the control equipment was activated by the landing system cable, which was jammed during the test operations. After the cable malfunction was fixed, engineers ran a full trial of the space ship.

Based on trial results, the Commission resolved to launch MTV Soyuz MS-02 (decree #732) on October 19, 2016, at 11:05 AM MT."

Manned flights to ISS to be rescheduled -- Roscosmos, TASS

"The schedule of manned flights to the International Space Station (ISS) will be changed after the launch of Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft was postponed due to technical malfunction, the press service of Russian space agency Roscosmos told reporters on Tuesday."

Marc's note: Originally scheduled for this Friday, the launch of the Soyuz MS-02 has been delayed until November 1 though it has also been reported by Interfax that October 12th was also considered.

There is an unspecified issue with the Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft. Plans for a November 16th launch of the follow-on Soyuz MS-03 are proceeding as planned with no issues. So is this a one-off issue? Or could the issue crop up on Soyuz MS-03?

Marc's update: According to RIA Novosti and other media reports from Russia the issue with the Soyuz MS-02, a short circuit, has been traced to a faulty part that will be replaced.

Marc's September 22nd Update update:

Soyuz MS- 02 Team Faces Dangerous Repairs of Improperly Bent Electric Cable., Russian Space Web

"Replacing the damaged cable is relatively straight forward, but it now has to be conducted on the vehicle fully loaded with toxic propellants and pressurized gases. Such an attempt would violate usual safety rules, but draining the spacecraft off its propellants and gases would likely be even more unprecedented and require lengthy repairs."

US expert: Launch of Tiangong-2 a 'great leap', CCTV (with video)

"Tiangong-2 is very important because it's the 2nd space station that China has launched. It's improved on the earlier version. This will be used for several years, and then it will be followed by a larger and more complex space station. This is how you learn to do things in space. This is the way the US did it, Russia did it. This is a very significant space station because it can also be refueled, which the earlier one could not. The Tiangong 2 also will last a lot longer. It has a matter of fact, the first mission, Shenzhou 11 is going up in October, and they will be up there for over a month. So, that now is twice the length of the previous mission. Every mission gets longer and more complex, that's what China is doing. China, within 2 or 3 years, could be seen as an equal competitor to the Russian goverment's space manned program, and the US's, the European's, and the Japanese space program," said Keith Cowing, former NASA employee."

The Future of the International Space Station Is Up to a Weird Little Florida Nonprofit, Wired

"Which brings us to March, when the NASA Advisory Council released a memo that included this: The Council has also been told by NASA that a successful transition from the "Earth Reliant" phase to the "Proving Ground" is dependent at least in part on the success of attracting future commercial users of the ISS and/or the availability of commercial LEO laboratory capability that NASA could use. The Council therefore feels that it would be beneficial for the agency to better understand the effect that the resources being devoted to the ISS National Laboratory might have on the important research needed to reduce technology and human health risk for the Journey to Mars."

Ken Shields, director of operations for Casis, takes issue with the assessment. "This is one man's opinion, but there were a few vociferous members of NAC who didn't do a lot of due diligence on what we do, our history," he says. "They read some news stories, brought some gotcha information, and I wish I had been there in person."

Keith's note: This is strange. With regard to this NASA Advisory Council meeting on 31 March/1 April 2016 CASIS employees Greg Johnson, Michael Roberts, and Brian Talbot from CASIS were physically in attendance. In addition, CASIS employees Ken Shields, Warren Bates, Patrick O'Neill, and Cindy Martin Brennan attended via dial-in. So Ken Shields should have heard the entire conversation, right? He could have sent a text to his boss and asked to say something if his ears were burning. NASA Advisory Council meetings are open to the public, available for free via dial-in and Webex. The words Shields takes issue with were blessed by the entire NAC.

At this meeting the NAC decided that a team should make a site visit to CASIS to look into these issues. Shortly thereafter the NAC chair, Steve Squyres resigned and NAC leadership was thrown into disarray. CASIS objected to the whole idea of a NAC site visit. During the leadership vacuum CASIS, NASA, and a sympathetic NAC member made certain that site the visit and further consideration of NAC were buried. It is quite clear that CASIS is afraid of external scrutiny and does not think that it should be help publicly accountable for what it does with $15 million of NASA money every year.

CASIS Had A Bad Week In Washington, earlier post, earlier post

"The next day the CASIS entourage, led by President and Executive Director Greg Johnson, showed up at the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) meeting. Things did not go so well for them at the NAC. Within minutes of starting to talk, NAC members started to pepper Johnson with questions- questions that he was unable and/or unwilling to answer. It went downhill from there."

A Closer Look At The CASIS "Space Is In It" Endorsement, earlier post

"On 31 March 2016 NASA International Space Station Director Sam Scimemi sent a letter to Greg Johnson on a number of topics. One of the issues Scimemi raised had to do with how CASIS hypes/promotes the research that it takes credit for having facilitated onboard the ISS. "

Letter From NASA to CASIS 31 March 2016, earlier post

"We would advise caution in the lending of the ISS National Lab brand (via your "Space is in it" certification) too freely; care must be taken to that research performed on the ISS has actually influenced product development in advance of awarding the certification. Failure to do so weakens the brand and may lend an air of being nonserious in our mutual quest to fully utilize the ISS as a national lab.

First DNA Sequencing Conducted in Space, NASA

"For the first time ever, DNA was successfully sequenced in microgravity as part of the Biomolecule Sequencer experiment performed by NASA astronaut Kate Rubins this weekend aboard the International Space Station. The ability to sequence the DNA of living organisms in space opens a whole new world of scientific and medical possibilities. Scientists consider it a game changer."

In Depth Look: Sequencing DNA in Space, SpaceRef

"NASA is not often known for making the best use of existing COTS (commercial off the shelf technology) aboard the ISS. Then again, sometimes they are. This is an example of when the agency really grabs cutting edge biotech and sends it into space. There's usually quite a lag time. The reasons range from slogging through the often cumbersome payload safety and integration process to people at NASA who are simply not up to date with what the ral world is doing in their field. In this instance a rather remarkable gizmo is being flown in space that truly puts genetic sequencing in the palm of your hand. Indeed, its almost as if NASA was flying part of a version 1.0 Tricorder in space. This is cutting edge technology folks."

Keith's note: Of course, do you see any mention of this groundbreaking accomplishment inside the ISS National Laboratory on the CASIS website? Of course not. But the NASA ISS National Lab webpage and mention it. CASIS seems to be totally unaware of what is going inside the facility it is supposed to manage. More on that in the weeks ahead.

SpaceX Dragon Splashes Down with Crucial NASA Research Samples, NASA

"SpaceX's Dragon cargo spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 11:47 a.m. EDT Friday, Aug. 26, southwest of Baja California with more than 3,000 pounds of NASA cargo, science and technology demonstration samples from the International Space Station. The Dragon spacecraft will be taken by ship to a port near Los Angeles, where some cargo will be removed and returned to NASA immediately. Dragon then will be prepared for a return trip to SpaceX's test facility in McGregor, Texas, for processing."

Roscosmos plans to reduce Russian ISS crew to two, TASS

"Russia's state space corporation Roscosmos plans to reduce Russia's crew at the International Space Station (ISS) from three to two cosmonauts, the Izvestia newspaper writes on Thursday, citing Roscosmos manned programs director Sergei Krikalev. "Plans to reduce the crew stem from the fact that less cargo ships are sent to the ISS and from the necessity to boost the efficiency of the program," the newspaper quotes Krikalev. Apart from that, it will make it possible to lower expenses on the space station's maintenance."

Space station crew may drop to five because of Russia, Ars Technica

"In a statement on Monday, NASA confirmed that Russia is considering dropping back to two crew members. However, the agency did not provide any additional information. According to NASA: "Any questions about the near-term Russian Space budget or Russian ISS expedition size should be directed to the Roscosmos press office. Roscosmos has joined NASA and other International Space Station partners in extending support for the orbiting laboratory to at least 2024, and the current level of research of both NASA and the international partners on ISS is at an all-time high."

NASA Wants to Bring Enterprise to the Space Station

"In its RFI, NASA stressed that that for the moment, it just wants to hear ideas. It doesn't have a budget to help spur any proposed projects, or plans to release them for public perusal. NASA received 11 submissions "from a broad range of respondents including individuals, small companies and large companies," Sam Scimemi, division director for the ISS program, said in an e-mail."

NASA hopes to hand the International Space Station to a commercial owner by mid 2020s, TechCrunch

"NASA's trying to develop economic development in low-earth orbit," [NASA Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development Bill] Hill said, speaking on a panel of NASA staff assembled to discuss the upcoming Mars mission. "Ultimately, our desire is to hand the space station over to either a commercial entity or some other commercial capability so that research can continue in low-earth orbit, so that research can continue in low-earth orbit. ... NASA didn't specify any potential buyer, but two commercial entities are about to add significant real estate to the ISS: a new docking adapter is being put in place to support crew shuttle missions from Boeing and SpaceX, both of which are set to start shuttling personnel to the station in 2017."

Keith's note: Every time someone from NASA talks about the future of ISS and the #JourneyToMars thing they contradict themselves and further muddy the issue.

1. CASIS is supposed to be doing this commercial stuff already with the U.S. portion of the ISS - NASA doesn't mention that very often.
2. The ISS is owned by more countries/agencies than just NASA. So how can NASA hand the ISS over to anyone?
3. "Buyer"? NASA is going to sell the ISS? (see #2)
4. Boeing and SpaceX own their visiting spacecraft - "real estate" that comes and goes.

NASA's Plan For Commercializing Low Earth Orbit Is Still A Mystery, earlier post
NASA: We're on a #JourneyToMars - But Don't Ask Us How, earlier post
Dazed and Confused About Space Commerce At NASA, earlier post
A Closer Look At The CASIS "Space Is In It" Endorsement, earlier post

Mouser Electronics and Grant Imahara Launch Groundbreaking Contest to 3D-Print Design Aboard International Space Station

"Imagine how exciting it would be to see your design made in space," said Glenn Smith, President and CEO of Mouser Electronics, a leading global distributor of the newest semiconductors and electronic components. "We are really excited to present this unique contest. We hope our wide range of electronic components will enable people to create whatever their imagination sparks." For the I.S.S. Design Challenge, Mouser has partnered with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and Made In Space, along with Hackster and MacroFab. The winner of the I.S.S. Challenge will receive a 3D printer, a consultation with Made In Space - pioneers in additive manufacturing technology for use in the space environment - and the prestige of seeing their design 3D-printed aboard the I.S.S."

Keith's note: How cool. A bunch of companies are offering a competition where the winner gets to print something on a commercial device on board the ISS. Isn't this the sort of thing that NASA and CASIS should be promoting? Sam Scimemi from NASA and Greg Johnson from CASIS constantly proclaim their intent to bring education and commerce to Low Earth Orbit on board the ISS. But when it starts to happen in LEO on ISS - on its own - NASA and CASIS could not be bothered to even mention it. One would think that any news like this is good news for everyone involved with the promotion of ISS commercial capabilities. CASIS has signed agreements and has flown Made in Space hardware. But in this case, CASIS prefers to play around with comic book illustrators instead of highlight how its efforts and those of NASA are actually resulting in novel private sector interest in the ISS.

Yet just last week NASA put a notice out seeking new ideas for commercial activities in LEO - activities that involve both NASA and CASIS. If they ignore current efforts already underway, what confidence do we have that they will be able to identify new ones?

Advancing Economic Development in LEO via Commercial Use of Limited Availability Unique ISS Capabilities, NASA

"This is a Request for Information (RFI) only and does not constitute a commitment, implied or otherwise, that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will take action in this matter. NASA is investigating options and approaches to expedite commercial activity in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Specifically, NASA is looking to increase private sector demand for space research and expand on the work of Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the manager of the ISS National Laboratory. NASA is not only interested in technical solutions to advance these goals, but also in contract or agreement structures that potential offerors would see as beneficial to advance private sector demand for low Earth orbit research."

NASA Will Put Rocket Raccoon And Groot On Its New Mission Patch, Gizmodo

"A major mission for us here at CASIS is to find unique and innovative ways to bring notoriety to the ISS National Laboratory and the research that is being conducted on our orbiting laboratory," said CASIS Director of Operations and Educational Opportunities Ken Shields. It's also part of a secret mission that might help us get a Rocket and Groot of our very own. "The reward for us [is that] we'll actually have two characters go into space," said Mitch Dane, director of custom publishing. Then he joked, "With a little luck, there'll be a little cosmic radiation going on, they'll come back alive."

'Guardians of the Galaxy' team up with NASA: Groot, Rocket Raccoon on mission patch, Washington Times

"Director James Gunn, whose "Guardians of the Galaxy" grossed $773 million worldwide in 2014, was awed by the decision. "So cool. NASA Oasis has paired with Marvel and is using Rocket & Groot as an official emblem for the mission to Mars," Mr. Gunn wrote."

A Closer Look At The CASIS "Space Is In It" Endorsement, earlier post

"On 31 March 2016 NASA International Space Station Director Sam Scimemi sent a letter to Greg Johnson on a number of topics. Scimemi said: "We would advise caution in the lending of the ISS National Lab brand (via your "Space is in it" certification) too freely; care must be taken to that research performed on the ISS has actually influenced product development in advance of awarding the certification. Failure to do so weakens the brand and may lend an air of being nonserious in our mutual quest to fully utilize the ISS as a national lab."

Keith's note: CASIS issues a press release that mentions that Marvel comic book/movie characters at ComicCon are now ISS mascots or something. Alas NASA is there too - as @NASASocial - at the Marvel booth - and neither @NASASocial or @ISS_CASIS mention one another's presence. Apparently CASIS thinks that Groot, a giant rock tree man thing, and a foul-mouthed raccoon are better poised to explain ISS science than ISS scientists. So - the movie director whose characters are being featured refers to "CASIS" as "OASIS" and doesn't seem to know that this is all about the International Space Station - referring instead to "the mission to Mars".

Meanwhile NASA makes no mention of this news and NASA is never mentioned in the CASIS press release. Yet news stories say that NASA is behind all of this. NASA only gets the credit from third parties - and when they get mention it is factually mangled. Nice job CASIS.

CASIS and NCATS Collaborate to Promote Human Physiology Research on the International Space Station, CASIS

Keith's note: Senior managers and PR people at CASIS have been heard to complain that they wish NASA would do more to promote them. So what does CASIS do to encourage more interaction with NASA? Why, they ignore NASA, of course. This press release is about research aboard the ISS that NASA paid billions to build and operate. NASA pays 99.97% or more of CASIS' budget every year. So everything that CASIS does is paid for with NASA money. Yet, if you read this press release, you will see that the word "NASA" is not even mentioned. This may sound trivial but CASIS is constantly taking credit for things without acknowledging NASA's role. And then they whine when NASA doesn't show them enough love. If the management of CASIS had half a brain they'd be trying to be NASA's best friend. Instead, all they do is throw them shade.

Keith's note: Based on a recent NASA Freedom of Information Act response CASIS has been operating for two years without the Annual Program Plan it is required to have. Or maybe it is. Either way NASA doesn't seem to care.

On 5 April 2016 I submitted a FOIA request to NASA for information related to CASIS. CASIS (Center for the Advancement of Science in Space) is the non-profit organization that NASA relies upon to operate its research facilities aboard the International Space Station. CASIS gets $15 million a year from NASA to do this and relies on this funding for 99.97% of its annual budget.

At first the NASA HQ FOIA refused to even consider my FOIA request as a "media" request despite the fact that I have been accredited as media by NASA for more than 15 years. After a lot of emails, complaints, and foot dragging, NASA HQ's FOIA office finally complied with my FOIA request. To their credit they provided a lot of information which is going to take some time to analyze. My request was focused and straightforward:

"I am requesting the full text of NASA cooperative agreement NNH11CD70A between NASA and CASIS including any revisions, annexes, modifications, or associated contractual amendments made by NASA from the inception of this agreement with CASIS until the date of this FOIA request. I am also requesting all progress and status reports and memos provided by CASIS to NASA from the onset of NASA Cooperative Agreement NNH11CD70A until the date of this FOIA request as well as all correspondence/memos from NASA to CASIS in response to CASIS progress and status reports from the onset of NASA Cooperative Agreement NNH11CD70A until the date of this FOIA request."

Let's start with the means whereby NASA and CASIS agree on what CASIS should be doing i.e. the CASIS Annual Program Plan. In response to the FOIA request NASA provided CASIS Annual Program Plans for FY 2012 (submitted 31 October 2011); 2013 (submitted 21 March 2013); and 2014 (submitted 20 October 2013). However NASA did not provide a copy of the CASIS Annual Program Plan for FY 2015 (FY 2015 began on 1 October 2014) or the plan for FY 2016 (FY 2016 began on 1 October 2015). Both Annual Program Plans clearly fall within the period of time and scope specified in my FOIA request.

These reports are required to be prepared and submitted annually. According to the Cooperative Agreement between NASA and CASIS:

Russian ISS docking system test doesn't go as planned, SpaceRef (With video)

"According to veteran Russian space program reporter Anatoly Zak an ISS test of the cosmonaut-operated docking system on the Progress 62 cargo spacecraft didn't quite go as expected earlier this morning."

Marc's note: Despite a statement from Roscosmos saying the test was successful you can watch the video yourself and see docking with considerable pitch at the end. And yes, there's a reason these tests are performed and I'm sure there will be another scheduled not in the too distant future.

Ruexit For ISS?

Russia's Plan To Spin Off a New Space Station From the ISS, Popular Mechanics

"According to RKK Energia, the prime Russian contractor on the ISS, the new outpost would begin with the separation of the Nauka from the rest of the old station in mid-2020s. By that time, Nauka should have two even newer modules in tow. One would be the so-called Node Module, a tinker-toy-like component that could connect to six other modules, crew ships, cargo tankers, structural elements, you name it. The Node Module is already in RKK Energia's garage and ready to go within a few months after the Nauka. Next would be the new Science and Power Module (NEM) which, as it name implies, will finally give cosmonauts a state-of-the-art science lab and a pair of large solar arrays, making the Russian segment fully independent from the rest of the ISS in terms of power, communications, and other resources."

Keith's note: As readers of NASAWatch have noted by now, I have an interest in the utilization of the International Space Station. When the amazing capabilities of ISS are used to their fullest potential we all benefit. When those resources are under-utilized our tax dollars and the finite utility of the ISS are wasted. CASIS has been given responsibility for managing the U.S. assets aboard the ISS that have been collectively proclaimed as being the ISS National Laboratory. I've already written a lot about CASIS. I'll be writing much more in the weeks to come.

Let's start with a clear-cut example of how CASIS has stumbled: its preoccupation with golf and its relationship with Cobra Puma Golf, a large and very successful golfing gear manufacturer. If you look at the LinkedIn page of Patrick O'Neill, CASIS Marketing & Communications Manager, you will see that he was an account executive for VitroRobertson. Between 2008-2009 he was "Account Executive on the Cobra Golf Account. Managed the day to day operations of all Brand Marketing efforts and assisted in the production of all Advertising efforts for Cobra Golf." If you read CASIS President/Executive Director Greg Johnson's astronaut bio you'll see that he lists golf among his recreational interests. So, senior CASIS management likes golf. "Go with what you know", so they say.

On 31 March 2016 NASA International Space Station Director Sam Scimemi sent a letter to Greg Johnson on a number of topics. One of the issues Scimemi raised had to do with how CASIS hypes/promotes the research that it takes credit for having facilitated onboard the ISS. In that letter Scimemi notes: "We would advise caution in the lending of the ISS National Lab brand (via your "Space is in it" certification) too freely; care must be taken to that research performed on the ISS has actually influenced product development in advance of awarding the certification. Failure to do so weakens the brand and may lend an air of being nonserious in our mutual quest to fully utilize the ISS as a national lab." Coincidentally this letter was sent on the same day that CASIS staff made a rather awkward presentation to the NASA Advisory Council.

The "Space Is In It" designation that CASIS calls an "endorsement" has apparently only been awarded once - to Cobra Puma Golf. As such it would be illustrative to examine how that whole process came about and what it says about the ability of CASIS to recognize the actual commercial research potential of the ISS.

NASA Administrator Bolden Addresses ESA Council

"The third phase is becoming "Earth Independent" by building upon what we are learning on the Space Station and what we will learn in the "Proving Ground" of the lunar vicinity to enable human missions to Mars. It is with this plan in mind that I'm here today to encourage you to continue your support for human exploration, starting with an ESA Council decision this coming December to extend ISS operations to at least 2024, a critical step to continue advancing humanity's presence farther into the solar system and, ultimately, completion of the Journey to Mars."

Hearing - Human Spaceflight Ethics and Obligations: Options for Monitoring, Diagnosing, and Treating Former Astronauts - Hearing Charter

"The hearing will evaluate the impacts of long duration human spaceflight on astronaut health; federal obligations and ethical considerations related to those impacts; as well as potential options for monitoring, diagnosing, and treating retired and management NASA astronauts for conditions resulting from their federal service."

- Subcommittee Discusses Healthcare for Former Astronauts, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Democrats
- Subcommittee Seeks Better Health Care for Former Astronauts, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
- Prepared Statement: Scott Kelly
- Prepared Statement: Richard Williams
- Prepared Statement: Chris Cassidy
- Prepared Statement: Michael Lopez-Alegria
- Prepared Statement: Jeffrey P. Kahn

Keith's note: It has been interesting to listen to astronauts and medical professionals talk about the various medical aspects of flying in space - especially what Scott Kelly has gone through as he re-adapts to life on Earth after his long flight. There is still so much we do not know. My first job at NASA in 1986 was at the Life Sciences Division at NASA Headquarters working on a large report documenting life science issues in space. A lot of the work had to do with crew health and safety. A lot of good research has been accomplished in the decades that have followed. We now know a lot more about how long duration spaceflight affects human health - but we do not know everything. Nor do we know how to deal with all of the potential risks - yet. As more research is done on the ISS, these issues will be better understood. When NASA sends humans on the #JourneyToMars they're going to need to understand just what the risks are for a trip that could last years before they sign off on the missions. Some risks simply have to be accepted. Yet others can be avoided - easily. Like being pregnant.

There is a movie coming out in August called "The Space Between Us". Based on the movie trailer and the film's website a pregnant astronaut files all the way to Mars and gives birth to a child - on Mars, dying in the process of childbirth. After lots of talk about how the boy could never adapt to Earth, they go ahead and fly him back to Earth anyway. Go figure. I just do not understand how any individual astronaut - or anyone at NASA - could ever allow a pregnant person to do this given how little we know about mammalian reproduction in a spaceflight environment. We do not fly pregnant astronauts now. This movie (based on what has been released) is going to be bioethics nightmare for any space life science expert who will be called upon to comment.

Had they changed the plot such that conception, development and birth all happened on Mars, they'd have been in much less risky territory since the 0.38G gravity on Mars may well be enough for normal development to proceed. Maybe. But having a pregnant woman - probably very close to term - do a multi-G entry and landing after 9 months of zero G gestation is just pushing the limits of ethics and credibility.

NASA Centennial Challenges Vascular Tissue Challenge

"The Vascular Tissue Challenge is open and teams that wish to compete may now register. Centennial Challenges is a program of prize competitions to stimulate innovation in technologies of interest and value to NASA and the nation. The Vascular Tissue Challenge is a prize competition with a $500,000 prize purse for teams that can successfully create thick, human vascularized organ tissue in an in vitro environment while maintaining metabolic functionality similar to their in vivo functionality throughout a 30-day survival period. NASA is providing the prize purse. The Methuselah Foundation's New Organ Alliance is the Allied Organization managing the competition."

Keith's 12 June note: I sent NASA STMD AA Steve Jurczyk, NASA PAO, and HEOMD an email inquiry on this Challenge asking: "Can you tell me why NASA is providing $500,000 in award money for a competition to "create thick, human vascularized organ tissue in an in vitro environment while maintaining metabolic functionality similar to their in vivo functionality throughout a 30-day survival period"?

According to this partner organization link referenced by this notice: "Specifically, innovations may enable the growth of de novo tissues and organs on orbit which may address the risks related to traumatic bodily injury, improve general crew health, and enhance crew performance on future, long-duration missions."

That said, is there an existing NASA mission/medical/safety requirement for ISS or NASA's human spaceflight activities to develop such a capability in space - or on Earth? If so can you provide me with the specific justification and the expected specific application of technology developed from the results of this challenge? When is this capability planned for implementation in space? Is NASA's participation in the topic of this specific challenge reflected in existing NASA plans for human health and countermeasures research? If there is no specific plan to implement this technology on space missions, can you explain why NASA is spending half a million dollars on research that is clearly much more relevant to NIH's or DoD's respective research portfolios? How (specifically) is this line of research "of interest and value to NASA"? This research has a clear overlap with the biotech research being conducted by the ISS National Laboratory. Is CASIS involved in this challenge?

As a biologist and former NASA life science division employee I am both intrigued and puzzled by this announcement."

Keith's 13 June update: By coincidence CASIS announced yet another cool biotech challenge today. Organs-on-chips have broad utility on Earth and in space - within and outside of space research. Cool, cutting-edge stuff, yes? But the rest of NASA (most notably NASA's Centennial Challenges) makes no reference to the CASIS biotech challenge announcement - and CASIS makes no announcement of the STMD Vascular Tissue Challenge. And NASA HEOMD does not mention either despite obvious linkages to human health and disease. So I forwarded this to the folks at STMD and HEOMD and asked if there is an agency-wide strategic plan that governs things like this. i.e. who does what - and why.

CASIS Announces $1 Million In Grant Awards For Organs-On-Chips Challenge

"The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) announced it has awarded $1 million in grant funding to two research entities stemming from its 3D Microphysiological Systems for Organs-On-Chips Grand Challenge. CASIS is the organization tasked with managing and promoting research onboard the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory."

Keith's 13 June update: Here's the response I got from Sarah Ramsey at NASA PAO:

Launch of new series manned spacecraft rescheduled due to risk of docking disruption, TASS

"The launch has been rescheduled for July 7," he said. "The crew is expected to come to Baikonur (the Russian space center located is Kazakhstan TASS) on June 24." "Experts have established the ship will be rolling as it docks the ISS and they are unable to stop this rolling motion so far," the source said.

NASA Inflates BEAM

Bigelow Module Fails First Expansion Attempt

"NASA is working closely with Bigelow Aerospace to understand why its module did not fully expand today as planned. Engineers are meeting at the Johnson Space Center in Houston to discuss a path forward for the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM)."

Packing for space flattened NASA's Space Hotel, New Scientist

"The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, was installed on the space station on 16 April and was supposed to be inflated on Thursday. But like a stubborn air mattress that stays flat, folds in the soft fabric kept it from expanding even as astronaut Jeff Williams tried to pump in air. In a 27 May teleconference, representatives from NASA and Bigelow Aerospace discussed what went wrong. "We went through a sequence, stepping up the pressure," said NASA's Jason Crusan. After some initial growth, the habitat stopped expanding even as pressure built up. "We ran into higher forces than our models predicted," he said."

miniPCR announces first DNA amplification in space

"miniPCR announced the first successful DNA amplification on the International Space Station (ISS). Using a miniPCR thermal cycler, astronauts performed Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) on DNA samples on April 19th. Analysis performed today on Earth confirms that DNA amplification done in microgravity was successful, ushering in a new era in space exploration."

miniPCR, GenesInSpace

Keith's note: This is really cool news. But does CASIS make any mention of this major accomplishment on their website or @ISS_CASIS? Of course not.

Boeing falls behind SpaceX in next space race, CNN Money

"Boeing said Tuesday that it has pushed the date of its first manned space mission back from 2017 to 2018. Boeing's CST-100 Starliner, which will carry the astronauts, is still under development. SpaceX, led by Tesla Motors (TSLA) CEO Elon Musk, says it intends to have a manned mission in 2017 using its Dragon space capsule. Unlike the Starliner, Dragon is already built and in use, delivering supplies to the International Space Station with unmanned missions. But it will need to go through further testing before it can carry humans."

Boeing's Starliner schedule for sending astronauts into orbit slips to 2018, GeekWire

"However, if both companies stick to their stated schedules, SpaceX would become the first U.S. commercial venture to send astronauts to the space station and as a result would take possession of a highly prized trophy: a U.S. flag that was left aboard the station by the last space shuttle crew in 2011."

Ask the Astronaut: Why not build and launch spacecraft from the ISS?, Tom Jones, Air & Space

"We won't use the ISS as a departure point for cost reasons. First, the ISS today is a microgravity research lab, not a spacecraft assembly hangar. Modifying it for assembly, checkout, and propellant storage would cost billions of dollars NASA does not have. A second, more serious problem is that the ISS orbit is inclined to the equator at 51.6 degrees, as opposed to a 28.5-degree orbit reached by launching straight east from Kennedy Space Center. (We chose the ISS orbit so the Russians could reach it from their launch sites farther north.) To haul spacecraft parts and propellant to ISS for assembly in that high-inclination orbit, we would lose about 20 percent of each rocket's payload capacity, since we can't use as much of the Earth's eastward rotation to give us a free boost to orbital velocity. That payload penalty would add billions to the costs of any deep space expedition assembled at ISS (e.g., a Mars expedition will need many hundreds of tons of propellant for Earth departure)."

Keith's note: This is a classic example of the old way of thinking. Tom Jones apparently cannot imagine an alternate future where things change.

1. He assumes that everything that we do in the future will be done by NASA - the way that NASA always does things - and that it will be equally as expensive as NASA stuff always is. Narrow thinking.

2. The penalty for launching to 51.6 degrees - yea its real. Launching to 28.5 degrees like the Shuttle did had a penalty when compared to launching from the equator. So we moved the station to make it easier for the Russians - and harder for ourselves. As NASA did at the time, you just factor launch capabilities into the overall equation - one wherein you factor in the counterbalancing benefit of being able to assemble large things in space and test them out from an existing location that has the benefit of generous resources already in place. That's how we built the space station, Tom - remember? Oh yes: NASA also still "hauls spacecraft parts and propellant" to ISS routinely - and a lof the stuff is launched from Virginia and Florida not Kazakhstan. If NASA plans hold up we'll be doing even more of that - with crew too. But that's inefficient, right? So why are we doing it?

3. The inclination issue as it relates to where you want to send things - yea, if you want to use big rockets all the time and get everywhere in a hurry. But if you simply exercise a little advanced planning, be patient, and plan longer delivery times using solar- or nuclear-electric propulsion then time will solve these problems - and you can factor the lower costs of such systems into your overall cost equation.

4. ISS is a microgravity lab - this is something I had to deal with every day when I worked on space station at NASA in the 90s. I had experts telling me that anything the astronauts did would ruin everything that the scientists wanted to do - and vice versa. So NASA came up with rack level vibroacoustic isolation and used scheduling to manage noisy activities. Problem solved. BTW, Tom you have seen the video of how the entire space station flexes when its exercise time for the crew, yes? I do not hear scientists screaming how this makes their research impossible. Crew and cargo vehicles arrive and depart on a regular basis. How is that any different than "launching" a spacecraft from ISS? But wait: Nanoracks is actually launching cubesats from the ISS on a regular basis. Again, no complaints.

I remember back in the 90s when the orbit was shifted to 51.6 - and the implications that had for Shuttle launch windows. I sat in meetings where experts emphatically stated that NASA could never work with 5 minute launch windows. Well, they did. Now SpaceX has managed to design hardware and operations such that they can recycle multiple times within a single launch window. I remember people saying that you could not dock a Soyuz to the space station due to the somewhat brutal way it docks and how fragile the U.S. structure was. So they docked to the Russian segment instead. Problem solved. I remember asking why we couldn't leave logistics modules on the ISS permanently for simple storage. Everyone said "no" because of super high costs to make them meet requirement. Now they do - because they decided to - with only minimal mods. NASA wanted a reusable Space Shuttle that would fly like an airline. It never actually happened. Now Blue Origin and SpaceX are on the cusp of doing it. Just because the same group of experts says that something is not possible or practical doesn't mean that you can't go out and find other experts who can make it work.

Who knows, maybe we will just shift the future role of ISS at some point to focus on on-orbit assembly of larger expeditionary vessels and do the science stuff on the next generation of space stations built by the private sector. Look at Antarctica - there are bases there that have been operating continuously for more than half a century. They are constantly being readjusted to do new things and not do other things. Some are decommissioned. Some are disassembled. New ones now move or raise their height when conditions warrant. Some are rebuilt using parts from older facilities. Fragile cargo and people fly in on planes. Other supplies arrive on slow-moving ships that depart weeks or months in advance of when their cargoes are actually needed. One would hope that we try and instill similar flexibility in what we build in low Earth orbit and beyond. If we don't adopt expeditionary thinking and pragmatism then none of this commercial LEO stuff NASA is praying for is going to happen since no commercial effort will ever be able to afford things that are mired down with outmoded NASA costing and operational mindsets.

Oh yes: then there's Mark Watney and "The Martian". What better way to make sure a Mars ship works than to run it for a year or two in LEO after being assembled from smaller subunits launched by a variety of existing ISS cargo carrier. If we do not promote flexibility and long-term thinking in LEO and cis-lunar space so as to guide the whole #JourneyToMars thing we'll just be begging for something bad to happen because no one thought to equip our Mars crews with the ability (and experience) to fix things that are not supposed to break.

Just because we've done things a certain way in space doesn't mean that this is the only way to do things.

Keith's note: I am not sure what to make of this comment by Charlie Bolden. Either he is very confused or someone is giving him really stupid talking points. Let's see, where do I start: how "old" is SLS technology? The Solid Rocket Boosters SLS uses are stretched and improved versions of the same design that Space Shuttles flew beginning in 1981 - but were designed in the 1970s (source). Oh, and SLS uses re-flown Space Shuttle Main Engines (RS-25) which were also designed in the 1970s (source). And, FWIW Bolden flew these vehicles multiple times in the 80s.

SpaceX vehicles and engines were designed in the 21st century, use advanced manufacturing technology and require an ever-shrinking number of people to launch. Instead of re-using the reusable SSMEs on SLS, NASA will throw them away whereas SpaceX can use their first stages over and over and over again - after they wash the soot off the rocket, that is.

Keith's note: JSC announced recently they were terminating the Oral History Project that has been ongoing for several decades. People working on the project have received lay-off notices. Have a look at the first recently completed ISS oral history reports. Some of these recollections are rather blunt. One NASAWatch reader notes:

"Especially eye-opening, the Suffredini oral history where he says his greatest challenge was taking $3.5 billion from research and technology (Code U, C and T budgets?) to put into hardware development. This and its effects is confirmed by Julie Robinson (Chief Scientist) and Mike Read (National Lab Manager) in their histories (was the change of funding use authorized?) Or Mike Read's history, where he was put in charge of payload integration, national lab and commercialization but without what he felt was the requisite experience or knowledge (both areas that have been suffering from lack of experience. Or John Charles, Chief Scientist for the 1 year mission, in his interview where he told the program manager, prior to the beginning of the one year mission, that ISS needed to get its house in order in terms of how they integrate payloads and science because the effort was totally disjointed. Gerstenmaier earlier pulled all funds for "lessons learned" beginning FY2014. There apparently is no interest in learning what is happening and why we wind up in the sort of shape we are in."

Will ISRO Participate in the International Space Station?, The Wire

"From a partner-country perspective, let's take the example of Japan. The annual running costs for the Japanese Experiment Module will be totally around $350-400 million (almost half of ISRO's annual budget). Which means that if India has to participate meaningfully and do some interesting science, ISRO will need an almost 50% hike (to Rs.3,500 crore) in its budget. Although this is one-tenth of the cost of having our own manned space programmes, this is also the cost of having 50 Mars Orbiter Missions a year!"

Groundbreaking Epigenetics Research to be Conducted on International Space Station, Zymo Research Corporation

"Zymo Research Corporation is taking epigenetics research to the next level outer space. DNA, that was bisulfite converted using the EZ DNA Methylation-Lightning Kit manufactured by Zymo Research Corporation, will be sent to the International Space Station (ISS), as part of the inaugural "Genes in Space" challenge. The contest invites young scientists to design a DNA experiment that uses PCR to test their scientific hypothesis."

Keith's update: This is a really cool project that taps the unique research capabilities of the ISS as well as stimulates students to pursue a career in science. I hope this is just the beginning and that there will be more payloads like this. But there is no mention in this press release of CASIS who underwrites experiments like these to the tune of $7.5 million - or of NASA who pays all of CASIS' bills. It is somewhat odd that CASIS has not made certain that they - and NASA - get some credit for underwriting things like this.

Keith's update: At a NASA press conference on Thursday a senior representative from CASIS refused to provide basic cost numbers for the space station payloads it funds. Yet last week another senior CASIS representative volunteered specific ISS payload cost information. Why is CASIS leadership so confused about the basic services that it provides?

The press conference was about the science payloads on the upcoming CRS-8 SpaceX flight, Ken Shields, CASIS' Director of Operations (on the right) appeared with 3 employees from Eli Lilly (in lab coats). Shields was asked what the costs associated with the CASIS-sponsored payloads aboard CRS-8 provided by pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly are. Shields declined to provide specifics other than to say that CASIS supports these payloads. When pressed again for a dollar amount, Shields again declined to provide a clear answer as to the cost borne by CASIS or NASA and punted to Lilly who then declined to say how much money they had put into this research. NASA PAO did not inform off-site media in advance that there was a dial-in number for this press event, so I tried using the #askNASA option via Twitter (which of course was ignored).

Keith's update: NASA held a press conference on CRS-8 SpaceX cargo flight. Jason Crusan was talking about the Bigelow Module that is being flown up to the ISS. Don't call it "inflatable". Call it "expandable". This strange insistence by Crusan et al at NASA with regard to BEAM not being an "inflatable" module but rather being an "expandable" module instead is weird since it can only "expand" if it is "inflated" and it is a module that is capable of being inflated ergo it is an "inflatable" module. Then again "NASA" = "Never A Straight Answer".

Keith's note: It is time to examine how NASA and CASIS have interacted since 2011. Little, if anything, has ever been publicly released with regard to how CASIS reports its progress to NASA or how NASA measures or responds to CASIS about their performance. The OIG and GAO have mentioned this matter in prior reports. Last week the NASA Advisory Council spent a lot of time trying (with little success) to figure out what CASIS does. So I just submitted a FOIA request.

Keith's update: Despite my voluminous FOIA request, NASA once again does not accept my claim to be news media even though they themselves granted me news media accreditation 16 years ago. See "NASA Refuses To Accept Its Own News Media Accreditation"

Despite their constant harping about the procedures that they have to follow the letter they sent me to deny my request was dated a year ago. So much for their attention to detail.

This FOIA request is long due to the fact that the last time I submitted a FOIA request in late 2015 NASA decided that I had to prove that I was a member of the news media after more than 15 years of being credentialed by NASA PAO and after having submitted multiple FOIA requests which were processed without incident for more than a decade. Indeed, some of my simple emails to PAO requesting information from NASA were converted into FOIA requests and then promptly processed as such without me even asking that they be considered as FOIA requests. The following is the full text of my FOIA request (click on the link below to read it all):

I am requesting the full text of NASA cooperative agreement NNH11CD70A between NASA and CASIS including any revisions, annexes, modifications, or associated contractual amendments made by NASA from the inception of this agreement with CASIS until the date of this FOIA request.

I am also requesting all progress and status reports and memos provided by CASIS to NASA from the onset of NASA Cooperative Agreement NNH11CD70A until the date of this FOIA request as well as all correspondence/memos from NASA to CASIS in response to CASIS progress and status reports from the onset of NASA Cooperative Agreement NNH11CD70A until the date of this FOIA request.

Keith's note: CASIS (Center for Advancement of Science in Space, Inc.) came to Washington this past week to talk about their management of science and commercial activity aboard the International Space Station National Laboratory. The first stop for CASIS was an event at the National Academy of Sciences on low Earth orbit commerce on Wednesday. The presentation that CASIS gave was their standard Powerpoint chart collection totally lacking in any meaningful information other than what you'd expect to see in a brochure.

As it always does, the presentation glossed over some important facts yet contained some outright inaccuracies about funding that CASIS avoided discussing. Since the Academy audience - as well as most of the other audiences that CASIS presents to - was not inclined to ask probing questions, CASIS sailed through their presentation and then sat down.

The next day the CASIS entourage, led by President and Executive Director Greg Johnson, showed up at the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) meeting. Things did not go so well for them at the NAC. Within minutes of starting to talk, NAC members started to pepper Johnson with questions- questions that he was unable and/or unwilling to answer. It went downhill from there.

The CASIS presentation to the NAC did not provide the basic answers that the NAC membership sought. Committee members repeatedly asked CASIS' Johnson what the CASIS budget was, where it came from, and how much money CASIS had raised. You could hear the growing frustration in the voices of the NAC members the more that CASIS dodged their questions. Eventually CASIS' Johnson admitted that their budget was $15 million a year and that it all comes from NASA. When probed about fundraising that they had been so overt about in their presentation charts, Johnson eventually admitted that philanthropy had not worked for CASIS (in other words simply asking for money was not working). Johnson, with help from David Roberts, their lead scientist, then immediately started to crow again about all the money that CASIS had raised. This contradicted their prior statements. Further questioning eventually got Johnson and Roberts to admit that the money that they raised did not go to CASIS but rather, that funds from a sponsoring company went directly to the payload developer (which is not a bad thing).

CASIS' repeated refusal to speak clearly on the topic of its income, funding, grants, and operations became problematical for the NAC. When pressed further on their income CASIS said that they were not allowed to generate "revenue" (even though their IRS returns clearly show that they did generate revenue albeit only a little). When the NAC members asked for more details on what CASIS was funding CASIS emphatically stated that they are not a "funding" organization. Moments later CASIS staff showed slides that talked about funding.

China wants to mine the moon for 'space gold', PBS NewsHour

"At a cost of more than $150 billion, the International Space Station is the most expensive object ever built. This price tag is more than double the combined costs of China's Three Gorges Dam, Boston's Big Dig and the Chunnel. But as noted by CNN, funding for the International Space Station may run out in the early 2020s."

Keith's note: $150 billion? Where did that number come from? The cost reference is a Wikipedia article that cites a 2010 post on some website called "Zidbits" (that says ISS cost $160 billion) and a 2010 SpaceReview article by some french journalist who cites old NASA budget charts and cost estimates from other news stories.The Wikipedia article has separate numbers for ISS construction and shuttle flights that simply do not jive in any mathematical way with what NASA OIG says - they overstate NASA's costs by $50 billion when compared to a more recent NASA OIG report - that's a 33% difference in the overall cost.

Keith's note: The National Academy of Sciences held a "Full-Day Mini Symposium: NASA Intentions for Commercial LEO" on Wednesday. Below are some Tweets regarding the opening session with Sam Scimemi. Among other things we learned that the 2024 ISS retirement date for NASA is, well, not a retirement date after all. Something different will happen. What? No one knows. P.S. sorry for the typos: the tweets were done rapid fire in real time.

Keith's note: On Saturday a Cygnus cargo vehicle arrived at the International Space Station (ISS). On board: a variety of experiments. Some of the experiments made it to the ISS via CASIS - a non-profit organization that relies on NASA for 99.9%+ of its income.

Yet if you look at the press release issued to news media by CASIS about Cygnus' arrival, there is no mention whatsoever of "NASA" - even though NASA paid for Cygnus - and all of CASIS' payloads on board.

Last Fall I posted a series of articles that looked into how CASIS operates. I am told that this exercise caused some consternation within CASIS and, to some extent, within NASA as well. I was also told that changes were being made at CASIS - by CASIS staff themselves. So I thought I'd wait a bit and see if anything started to change. It has been 6 months since I started posting this series. I detect no change in CASIS whatsoever. They are as oblivious to their long-standing problems - and equally as clueless as to the need to change - as they were last year.

CASIS is making a presentation at a National Academy of Sciences event on Wednesday and at a NASA Advisory Council meeting on Thursday. Since they're going to be explaining themselves to several influential audiences here in Washington, let's pick up where I left off - starting with a recap.

Orbital ATK's Cygnus Spacecraft Successfully Launched to ISS

"The launch marks the beginning of the company's fifth operational cargo resupply mission (OA-6) for NASA, and the first Cygnus to conduct scientific experiments onboard the spacecraft. Cygnus will deliver vital equipment, supplies and experiments to astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) as part of its Commercial Resupply Services-1 (CRS-1) contract with NASA."

Video: ULA Atlas V Launches Orbital ATK CRS-6 Mission to the International Space Station

New Crew Leaves Earth For The Space Station (with video)

"NASA astronaut Jeff Williams is now the first American to become a three-time, long-term resident of the International Space Station. He arrived at the orbiting laboratory at 11:09 p.m. EDT Friday, with cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka of the Russian space agency Roscosmos. The trio launched aboard a Soyuz TMA-20M spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 5:26 p.m. (3:26 a.m. Saturday, March 19, Baikonur time), orbited Earth four times, and docked at the station. The hatches between the spacecraft and station opened at 12:55 a.m. Saturday, March 19."

Sequencing DNA in Space, NASA/SpaceRef

"NASA is not often known for making the best use of existing COTS (commercial off the shelf technology) abord the ISS. There's usually quite a lag time. The reasons range from slogging through the often cumbersome payload safety and integration process to people at NASA who are simply not up to date with what the real world is doing in their field. In this instance a rather remarkable gizmo is being flown in space that truly puts genetic sequencing in the palm of your hand. Indeed, its almost as if NASA was flying part of a version 1.0 Tricorder in space."

Keith's note: This article is an original posting enhanced with additional illustrations and reference links. I have sent NASA the following request for additional information. "This is very cool stuff and using the MinION DNA sequencer is a paradigm shifting move on NASA's part. This technology has applicability not only to crew health/safety and life support but also advanced technology development and astrobiology (life detection/characterization). Can you provide me with pictures of the actual flight hardware that NASA will be flying to ISS? Can you also tell me when this device will be activated and specifically what organisms you intend to sequence? When will results from this investigation be published - and where will they be published? Will interim results prior to the completion of the investigation be released - and if so when/where will they be released? Is CASIS involved in this activity? Is the NASA Astrobiology Institute involved?"

Meanwhile CASIS has a competing system "Genes in Space" to do genomics on orbit using minipcr proprietary technology. As best I can tell (and I have asked for more information) the NASA JSC minIOn and CASIS minipcr based efforts are separate. They make no mention of each other. The NASA Genelab web portal makes no mention of either genomic project. Yet Genelab does have interaction with Twins in Space effort which includes genomics studies. When I asked the Genelab folks at the recent American Society for Gravitational and Space Research meeting why NASA's various genomics projects are not coordinated no one had an answer. And NASA's Astrobiology Institute (which has a great interest in genomics) has zero interactions - at least none that have been made public. More stove piping at NASA.

Keith's update: I got very informative responses to my inquiry from Aaron Burton at the NASA JSC Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Division and from Sarah Castro, NASA JSC Biomedical Research and Environmental Sciences Division. Check the article link for those updates. Cool stuff. These folks are clearly appreciative of what this technology has to offer. They're also using minipcr which complements the CASIS work.

Soyuz Crew Arrives Back on Earth

"NASA astronaut and Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly and his Russian counterpart Mikhail Kornienko returned to Earth Tuesday after a historic 340-day mission aboard the International Space Station. They landed in Kazakhstan at 11:26 p.m. EST (10:26 a.m. March 2 Kazakhstan time). Joining their return trip aboard a Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft was Sergey Volkov, also of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, who arrived on the station Sept. 4, 2015. The crew touched down southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan."

Scott Kelly's giant step for mankind: James Lovell, USA Today

"Even an old astronaut like me can still marvel at the power of President Kennedy's declaration more than a half-century ago that space was the "new ocean" and one we must "sail on." Sailed we have. For more than 50 years, we have explored those dangerous and unknown waters to become a leader in space: Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, the space shuttle, the Hubble Space Telescope, the Mars rovers and the International Space Station an orbiting base occupied for the past 15 years by an international crew. Now we have another American achievement and milestone in our space program: One of our countrymen has spent nearly a year off of our planet. Astronaut Scott Kelly has orbited our planet more than 5,000 times, traveling well over 100 million miles aboard the International Space Station."

Keith's Update: Nearly 3 days after I originally submitted my Gorilla suit request to NASA PAO (long after foreign publications had already gotten answers from NASA PAO on this topic) I finally got my response back from NASA. What is hilarious is that NASA says officially that it has no idea what the suit is made out of (or how much it weighs or what volume it uses) but states that it meets all safety requirements. How does one say that a safety certification has been made unless you know what the suit is made out of? In addition, no one at JSC approved it for shipping. It just got stuck in there.

I am all for the health and well being of the crew, but when NASA drags its feet on such a simple set of questions and then issues replies that are inherently contradictory, you have to wonder if there actually is a "process" in place or if they just make this all up as they go. As for the cost: well, it costs money to send things up, and even if there is an allocation for these things, it still costs the same amount to ship a pound of science as it does to ship a pound of gorilla suit. Just sayin'

Here is the official NASA response (below) from Brandi Dean at NASA JSC, verbatim:

Keith's 4:38 pm Update: Well, if nothing else, PeTA finally got a protester inside the International Space Station. As readers of NASA Watch know, I am all for making the ISS relevant to the public in new ways and for making childish jokes at NASA's expense whenever possible. But given the immense cost of the ISS, its untapped potential for research, and complaints from potential users that there is not enough upmass or crew time, I have to wonder why NASA goes out of its way to highlight such stuff - especially when people like Sen. Grassley already criticize some of the real science done on ISS.

I did not hear back from NASA PAO on my initial request so I sent the following questions to NASA PAO. Someone will tell me to go file a FOIA request and then NASA will try to weasel out of answering that request. But if they can spend money flying a gorilla suit into outer space then they can waste some more time explaining why they did it. The answer may well be simple and routine but NASA will make the process as complicated as they possibly can.

- Can you tell me what the Gorilla suit is made out of i.e. what kind of material(s)?
- Is this Gorilla suit COTS (where was it purchased?) or was it specially made? How much did it cost?
- Was the Gorilla suit subjected to standard outgassing, flammability, microbial, and particulate standards? Did it meet those requirements or was a waiver granted?
- How much does the Gorilla suit weigh and how much volume did it use inside the cargo vehicle that carried it up?
- Is the suit considered "crew preference", "crew clothing", or "education and outreach"?
- Will the Gorilla suit remain on the ISS after Kelly leaves? If so where will it be stored?
- Did the shipping of the Gorilla suit to orbit bump anything off the manifest - if so, what was bumped?
- Was this manifested by JSC or CASIS?
- Who approved of the shipping of the gorilla suit to the ISS? Was NASA HQ involved in the decision making process?

Keith's 6:23 pm update: ULA says that it charges something around $100 million for an Atlas V launch. ULA also says that it charges $164 million for a Atlas V launch. Lets go with the lower number. The most recent Cygnus OA-4 carried 7,745 pounds of cargo. Lets not even bother to include what it cost to build the Cygnus. Assuming a $100 million launch cost simple math shows a per pound cost of $12,911. If you use the higher number its $21,174 per pound. This gorilla suit weighs 4.3 pounds. Lets assume that the gorilla suit in space is a generic gorilla suit. That means that NASA probably spent between $55,517 and $91,052 to ship a gorilla suit to the ISS that will probably only be worn once - and only for an hour or two. In other words it will probably end up as trash at some point and be thrown away. Then, of course, there was the personnel cost to certify that it could fly safely, pack it, etc. etc. So the real cost goes up a lot - certainly close to $100,000. Scott Kelly has already completed more than 99% of his mission. He could have waited another week to wear the gorilla suit and saved NASA a lot of money. Just sayin'

Keith's 24 Feb 2016 8:07 pm update: Still nothing from NASA.

Keith's 25 Feb 2016 4:04 pm update: Still nothing from NASA.

Silent Running on the International Space Station (with pictures and video)

Keith's note: I was looking at Scott Kelly's Flickr page today and was immediately struck by several photos that were hauntingly familiar. More flower pictures. I am a biologist and spent a lot of time studying (and teaching about) plants in college and grad school so I like to look at things like this. In particular the close-up, high resolution pictures of his zinnias really caught my attention. Then I realized why this looked so familiar. "Silent Running" - a cult classic film released in 1972. I first saw the when I was at the impressionable age of 16 and it has been stuck in my head ever since. Decades later it inspired me to build a spacecraft-inspired green house on a remote arctic island. Look at these two pictures - and then watch the opening of the film. Scott Kelly was most channeling his inner Freeman Lowell.

Trends in ISS Anomalies

International Space Station (ISS) Anomalies Trending Study, NTRS

"The NASA Engineering and Safety Center (NESC) set out to utilize data mining and trending techniques to review the anomaly history of the International Space Station (ISS) and provide tools for discipline experts not involved with the ISS Program to search anomaly data to aid in identification of areas that may warrant further investigation. Additionally, the assessment team aimed to develop an approach and skillset for integrating data sets, with the intent of providing an enriched data set for discipline experts to investigate that is easier to navigate, particularly in light of ISS aging and the plan to extend its life into the late 2020s. This report contains the outcome of the NESC Assessment."

Source Selection Statement for the ISS Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS2) Contract, NASA (PDF)

SpaceX: 992/1000
Orbital ATK: 880/1000
Sierra Nevada: 879/1000

Buzz Aldrin: The next giant leap for space exploration, Washington Post

"Thus, taking our trajectory deeper into space is about more than just the United States. We must explore our solar system with the entire community of current and future space-faring nations. To this point, China should be a part of a global space outreach, as should the 16 nations that currently participate in the International Space Station. We should also look to include the emerging space-faring countries, such as India, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates. Nothing will do more to promote international understanding, particularly when it comes to developing norms of behavior in space."

Keith's note: Beautiful pictures of flowers in space have been posted by Scott Kelly on Twitter - and they're very popular. Alas, NASA does not post these high resolution images online. There's no mention at Scott Kelly's flickr, JSC's Flickr, etc. But more importantly this "First ever flower grown in space" claim is totally bogus - just ask Google. It has been done more than once - and many years ago. Score another failed tagline for PAO's fact checking folks.

First species of plant to flower in space, Guinness

"In 1982, the then Soviet Union's Salyut-7 space station crew grew some Arabidopsis on board. During their 40-day lifecycle, they became the first plants to flower and produce seeds in the zero gravity of space."

Plant growth, development and embryogenesis during Salyut-7 flight, Adv Space Res. 1984;4(10):55-63.

"The seeds sown during the flight germinated, performed growth processes, formed vegetative and generative organs and, judging by the final result, they succeeded in fecundation, embryogenesis and ripening."

Modification of reproductive development in Arabidopsis thaliana under spaceflight conditions, Planta, April 1996, Volume 198, Issue 4, pp 588-594

"Reproductive development in Arabidopsis thaliana (L.) Heynh. cv. Columbia plants was investigated under spaceflight conditions on shuttle mission STS-51. Plants launched just prior to initiation of the reproductive phase developed flowers and siliques during the 10-d flight."

June 17-26 - Diary of a Space Zucchini, Don Pettit (2012)

"Sunflower is going to seed! His blossom is wilted-brown and has a few lopsided packed seeds. This is not quite normal, but then, we are living on the frontier and things are different here. They are not ready now; I wonder if they will be by the time Gardener is with his seed pod?"

NASA astronauts just made flowers bloom in space - but they're not actually the first, Washington Post

"And according to the website NASA Watch, cosmonauts produced flowers several times in the pre-ISS days of spaceflight. It seems that in at least one case, the entire growth process occurred during flight. That was a lettuce plant, but lettuce plants can flower - and according to research published on the subject, it appears the Russian lettuce did."

NASA Awards International Space Station Cargo Transport Contracts

"NASA has awarded three cargo contracts to ensure the critical science, research and technology demonstrations that are informing the agency's journey to Mars are delivered to the International Space Station (ISS) from 2019 through 2024. The agency unveiled its selection of Orbital ATK of Dulles, Virginia; Sierra Nevada Corporation of Sparks, Nevada; and SpaceX of Hawthorne, California to continue building on the initial resupply partnerships with two American companies."

Building a Robust Commercial Market in Low Earth Orbit En Route to Mars, NASA

"NASA is on a Journey to Mars and a new consensus is emerging around our plan, vision and timetable for sending American astronauts to the Red Planet in the 2030s. Our strategy calls for working with commercial partners to get our astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station while NASA also focuses - simultaneously -- on getting our astronauts to deep space."

- CSF Congratulates ISS Commercial Resupply Awardees and Partners
- NASA Selects Orbital ATK For Space Station Cargo Contract
- NASA Selects Sierra Nevada Corporation's Dream Chaser Spacecraft for CRS2 Contract
-Smith, Babin Congratulate NASA Commercial Cargo Awardees

ISS Solar Panel Rip, Secret Space Escapes, (Video) Science Channel

How Astronauts Cope When Things Go Wrong in Space, Mental Floss

"Scott Parazynski is no stranger to dangerous situations and extreme environments. The astronaut/doctor/inventor/pilot has summited Mount Everest and gone SCUBA diving in a volcano. But it's his last spacewalk that sticks in his mind. Parazynski was up on the International Space Station in 2007 when a hole appeared in one of the station's electrified solar panels. "As this thing was being unfurled, it began to rip apart," he tells mental_floss. "So we had to go and physically repair a live, fully energized solar panel." It was a dangerous mission, but the crew didn't really have a choice. "If we weren't able to repair the solar panel," Parazynski says, "we would have had to [throw] away a billion-dollar national asset. It would have limited the work that could have been done aboard the International Space Station. It certainly was a huge amount of pressure on my shoulders and on the rest of the team." Keith's note: Scott likes to fiddle with things. The technical term is "McGyvering". In this video on the STS-120 solar panel repair you can see him using a bent item called the "Hockey Stick" made by wrapping lots of Kapton electrical insulating tape. When Scott and I were at Everest in 2009 we needed to come up with a way for him to handle a small lucite hemisphere (the size of a large gumdrop) filed with 4 little flecks of Apollo 11 moon rocks. Our code word for this little collection of moon rocks (which had been in my chest pocket for 3 weeks) was "The Nugget". Given that we wanted Scott to hold the Nugget up on the summit with the Moon in the background - and then bring it back we needed to make it bigger to handle. Five miles in the sky with little oxygen and brutally cold temperatures we needed for Scott to handle the sample without dropping it and if he did drop it we had to make it more readily findable. Losing a moon rock on the summit of Mt. Everest was not an option. Using the resources at hand we got two lids from some Pringles cans (a favorite food there) and some duct tape. Space Nerds that we were we called the completed McGyvered item the "Nugget Containment Device". And it worked perfectly. For me down below it was also fun to stand at Everest Base Camp and hold the Nugget Containment Device up to the sky and eclipse the Moon - with piece of the Moon. The Nugget plus a piece of the summit of Everest are now aboard the ISS.

In your face Mark Watney.

More on the Moon rocks and Everest at "Playing With Moon Rocks and Duct Tape at the Dinner Table" and "Moon and Everest Rocks At Home in Space"

Station Managers "GO" For Monday Morning Spacewalk

"The International Space Station Mission Management Team met Sunday and gave its approval to proceed with a spacewalk Monday out of the Quest airlock by Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly and Flight Engineer Tim Kopra of NASA to assist in moving the Mobile Transporter rail car a few inches to a worksite on the station's truss where it can be latched in place and electrically mated to the complex. The green light for the unplanned spacewalk to take place Monday came three days after the Mobile Transporter stalled just four inches away from its embarkation point at worksite 4 near the center of the station's truss as it began to move to another worksite to support robotic payload operations with its attached Canadarm2 robotic arm and the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (Dextre)."

Marc's note: Watch it live.

Marc's update: The mobile transporter rail car was successfully moved and is in place for the Progress 62 cargo resupply spacecraft arrival scheduled for Wednesday.

Related: Video: Russian Cargo Ship Sets Sail for the International Space Station

NASA Astronauts to Conduct Spacewalk as Early as Monday, Dec. 21

"Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly and Flight Engineer Tim Kopra of NASA are preparing for a previously unscheduled spacewalk outside the International Space Station on either Monday, Dec. 21, or Tuesday, Dec. 22. The pair will move the station's mobile transporter rail car so it can be latched in place ahead of the Wednesday, Dec. 23 docking of a Russian cargo resupply spacecraft.

The mobile transporter -- used to position the station's robotic Canadarm2 -- stalled on Dec. 16, just four inches (10 centimeters) from where it began its move, while flight controllers in the Mission Control Center at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston were attempting to reposition it robotically. The cause of the stall still is being evaluated."

CASIS and NSF Announce Joint Solicitation in Fluid Dynamics on International Space Station

"The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) today announced a joint solicitation wherein researchers from the fluid dynamics community will have the ability to leverage resources onboard the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory. Up to $1.8 million will be awarded for multiple research investigations to support flight projects to the ISS National Laboratory. Through this partnership, CASIS will facilitate hardware implementation and on-orbit access to the ISS National Laboratory. NSF will fund the selected projects to advance fundamental science and engineering knowledge. CASIS is the nonprofit organization responsible for managing and promoting research onboard the ISS National Laboratory. NSF supports transformative research to help drive the U.S. economy, enhance national security and maintain America's position as a global leader in innovation."

Keith's note: First and foremost, this is good news - and interesting since NSF (another government agency) is putting money into ISS research. NSF is paying the bills here - CASIS only does the paper work. But still, new users are new users - the more the merrier. What is odd about this CASIS press release is that "NASA" is mentioned nowhere. Of course, CASIS is obsessed with their whole branding thing - but instead of building upon a world-wide brand like NASA's, they just ignore it and grasp at straws to build their own identity.

More interesting (at least to me) is how a non-profit organization like CASIS can have a peer-to-peer interaction with a Federal Government agency - an agency that is on a par level with NASA - without NASA in the loop such that NASA does not even need to be mentioned. Indeed, NASA has not made any mention of this on its ISS National Labroratory website. Oddly, NSF makes no mention of this on their news page either. It is interesting news when another government agency signs on to the ISS. NASA's overt omission points to dysfunction on both sides of the NASA/CASIS relationship.

- Are CASIS Funding "Commitments" Just Smoke and Mirrors?, earlier post
- Examining Staff and Board Member Salaries at CASIS, earlier post
- CASIS Has No Idea How To Raise Money - Only How To Spend It, earlier post
- Trying To Understand CASIS Press and Social Media Impact, earlier post
- Previous CASIS posts

Keith's note: There is no mention of this amazing photo (or many other stunning photos) to be found at this 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.

Soyuz Lands With ISS Crew

Space Station Crew Returns to Earth

"Expedition 45 Flight Engineer Kjell Lindgren of NASA is among three crew members who returned to Earth Friday after a 141-day mission aboard the International Space Station, landing in Kazakhstan at approximately 8:12 a.m. EST (7:12 p.m. Kazakhstan time). Also returning were Flight Engineers Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos (Russian Federal Space Agency) and Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The crew touched down northeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan, marking the first crew landing to occur after sunset and only the sixth nighttime Soyuz spacecraft return from the space station."

Cygnus Berthed To International Space Station

"The Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo ship was bolted into place on the International Space Station's Earth-facing port of the Unity module at 9:26 a.m. EST. Cygnus is the first cargo ship to be berthed to the Earth-facing port on the Unity module."

ULA Successfully Launches OA-4 Cygnus to International Space Station

"A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-4 Cygnus resupply spacecraft to the International Space Station lifted off from Space Launch Complex-41 Dec. 6 at 4:44 p.m. EST. The mission, flown for Orbital ATK under NASA's Commercial Resupply Services contract, marks the first time the Cygnus has flown on an Atlas V rocket. This was ULA's 12th launch in 2015. At just over 8 tons, Cygnus is the heaviest payload to launch atop an Atlas V rocket."

Cygnus Launch Seen From Orbit, NASA

@StationCDRKelly Day 254. We got our candle lit. #HappyHanukkah and #GoodNight from @Space_Station!

NASA Orders SpaceX Crew Mission to International Space Station

"NASA took a significant step Friday toward expanding research opportunities aboard the International Space Station with its first mission order from Hawthorne, California based-company SpaceX to launch astronauts from U.S. soil. This is the second in a series of four guaranteed orders NASA will make under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts. The Boeing Company of Houston received its first crew mission order in May."

Keith's note: CASIS is tasked to manage the portion of the International Space Station designated as the ISS National Laboratory. But other than NASA funding, CASIS has failed to attract any significant income other than that provided - by NASA. Yet they want you to think that people beating a path to their door with multi-million dollar "commitments" in hand. Exactly what are these CASIS "commitments"?

According to the CASIS Strategic Plan, page 11, CASIS says that it will "Develop a robust financial model to supplement government funding. CASIS funding from NASA is currently projected at $15M per year, to cover operating costs and to provide seed money for promising R&D. To meet the variety of demands on personnel, infrastructure, business processes and outreach that will grow over time, CASIS must develop additional resources in the form of partnerships and funding and create rigorous business and economic models in order to sustain these. Sources will include private financiers, corporate sponsorship, philanthropists and federal grants that may leverage cost sharing and equity investment in new ventures. Additionally, CASIS will practice management excellence in its operating models to ensure costs are minimized while ISS utilization is maximized effectively toward mission success."

In its April 2015 report "International Space Station: Measurable Performance Targets and Documentation Needed to Better Assess Management of National Laboratory" the GAO noted (page 7) "According to the cooperative agreement, CASIS will solicit non-NASA funding for research by targeting various sources such as government grants, foundation funding, charitable contributions, private equity, venture financing, and private investors and facilitate matching of projects that meet the research objectives with those qualified funding sources."

So it is quite clear that CASIS is supposed to be out beating the bushes looking for funding and contributions. So far their success is puzzling to say the least. On one hand they claim to be making all manner of agreements and relationships with the private sector but when it comes to documenting actual contributions, well. There really are none - at least not the kind that a non-profit organization usually documents i.e. cash or in-kind donations.

Genes in Space Competition Launches, New England Biolabs

"Genes in Space, a competition aimed at fostering creativity, collaboration and critical thinking among young innovators opened a call for entries today. The competition challenges U.S. based students in grades seven through 12 to design an experiment that can solve a space exploration problem through DNA analysis. The competition is sponsored by miniPCR, Math for America (MA), Boeing, The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) and New England Biolabs, Inc. (NEB). The winning experiment will be flown to the International Space Station (ISS)."

Keith's note: If you go to the CASIS website there is no mention of this competition. There is no mention of this cool idea at the NASA ISS National Laboratory website. No mention on Twitter at @ISS_CASIS or @ISS_Research. When it says that CASIS has sponsored this activity does that mean that they wrote a check? $15,000,000 a year and CASIS can't even tell people what they are doing with all this money?

CASIS is going to be briefing Mike Suffredini's replacement Kirk Shireman. Maybe they can explain their chronic under-performance to Shireman on simple things such as this.

Keith's update: @ISS_CASIS tweeted something late in the day - still nothing on their website etc.

Keith's note: Let's look at the media reach CASIS claims to have achieved in FY 2014. Page 32 of their FY 2014 Annual Report gives a summary (Larger image). This report represents what CASIS was capable of doing after being in operation for more than 3 years - after having received more than $42 million from NASA. Prior to this CASIS did not include these metrics in their reports. So this is the only snapshot we have.

In this 2014 summary CASIS claims to have issued 30 news releases. That's one release issued a bit more often than once every 2 weeks. They also claim to have had 30 media events in FY 2014 but do not explain what constitutes an "event". This could be a telecon or a full blown press conference. Hard to tell. They also claim to have had 3,891 "news mentions - clips, blogs". If you go to this page and click on "Media Reach" you get a page that shows for 2015 CASIS has (first 3 quarters) had 18 press releases, 19 media events, 3,065 news mentions, and 2,711 Twitter mentions. Not much has changed.

This is not very revealing. There are lots of news services that have automated systems that grab and repost press releases without any thought given to what the releases say. But the word "CASIS" gets counted none the less. 30 press releases automatically (and mindlessly) posted by several dozen of these automated systems each time one of these releases is issued could easily explain a large portion of these "news mentions".

Keith's note: The American Society for Gravitational and Space Research is holding its 31st annual meeting in Alexandria, VA this week. Topics covered span the range of life science and microgravity research conducted on the ISS, on suborbital rockets, and on the ground. It is the largest such meeting of space station life scientists in the world. I covered yesterday's session on Nanoracks and Genelab and will be covering session on Thursday and Friday.

- Program
- Webcast info

Final NASA Cooperative Agreement Notice (CAN): Translational Research Institute Issued

"The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Human Research Program (HRP) is establishing a Translational Research Institute. The Institute is aimed at translating promising cutting edge human health and performance methodologies into validated space flight human health and performance prediction, prevention, monitoring, detection, maintenance and treatment capabilities for exploration missions. In addition, the Institute will provide a translational workforce, providing opportunities for scientists to propose new NASA research, gain experience in cutting edge research laboratories within and external to NASA, and apply their knowledge and expertise to reducing human exploration risks. The Institute will be a virtual institute (no brick & mortar) responsible for the solicitation, selection, funding, and translation of results from interdisciplinary project teams."

- NASA Presolicitation: Translational Research Institute
- Doubts About Crew Health on NASA's #JourneyToMars, earlier post

Keith's note: The music in this official "He Haw"-style shout out is the theme from the old TV show "Beverly Hillbillies". I do not see that it is credited to writer/composer Paul Henning. Just sayin' Y'all come back now.

Keith's note: CASIS (The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization chosen by NASA in 2011 to manage the portion of the International Space Station that has been designated as a U.S. National Laboratory. Non-profit organizations are established to do things in the public interest and not to generate a profit - or enrich their employees or advisors. Recently the IRS has started to look more deeply into compensation of non-profit executives and staff. CASIS likes to pay a lot of its employees hefty salaries - the top ten employees make much more than virtually everyone at NASA - including the NASA Administrator.

According to the Foundation Group: "There are legitimate, charitable organizations whose executives make up to, and sometimes more than, $250,000. For a very select few, a lot more. But let me put it like this if you have an employee whose compensation package exceeds $100,000, you better be prepared to defend it. Needless to say, Wall Street-style perks and bonuses are out of the question. And, depending on your organization's budget, a $10,000 salary package could be considered unreasonable."

According to a report "Nonprofit Organizations Salary and Benefits Report", published in 2014 by the NonProfit Times "The average salary for a nonprofit chief executive officer/president last year was $118,678. The median salary was $100,000 while the maximum found was $666,266. The average tenure for a nonprofit CEO was almost 12 years and almost 40 percent of participating organizations paid their CEO some type of bonus."

Let's look at the reportable compensation and nontaxable benefits for the top employees at CASIS as listed on their 2013 Form 990, Part VII: Gregory Johnson, President and Executive Director: $148,333 + $5,375; Duane Ratliff, Chief Operating Officer: $225,000 + $31,689; Jorge Fernandez, Chief Financial Officer: $200,000 + $18,689; Charles Resnick, Chief Economist: $220,000 + $30,701; Warren Bates, Director of Portfolio Management: $200,008 + $19,370; James Royston, Interim Executive Director (Until 9-9-14): $228,012 + $11,312, Eddie Harris, Director of Development: $197,000 + $29,986; Melody Kuehner, Director of Human Resources, $160,000 + $27,277; Brian Harris, Director of Business Development, $153,000 + $26,756, and Kenneth Shields, Director of Operations and Education: $131,220 + $32,117. That's 6 employees making over $200,000 a year and 4 others making over $170,000 a year. By comparison the NASA Administrator made $179,700 in 2014. 99.96% of CASIS funds come from NASA. Note: The fiscal year for CASIS ends on 30 September - so they have a while to file their next return with the IRS. Sources report that the 2014 Form 990 for CASIS will show a salary for Greg Johnson in the $300,000 range.

NASA Review of Orbital ATK Accident Released, NASA

"The team determined the proximate cause of the Antares launch vehicle failure was an explosion within the AJ-26 rocket engine and identified three credible technical root causes, any one or combination of which could have resulted in the engine failure. The team outlined six technical findings and made seven recommendations to address those technical findings. In addition, since Orbital ATK was in the process of procuring and testing new engines to replace the AJ-26 for future Antares flights while the investigation was ongoing, the team provided several recommendations for Orbital ATK and the ISS Program that were used to support those testing activities and to reduce overall risk for Antares return-to-flight and follow-on mission efforts. The NASA team's findings are consistent with the AIB's findings."

Keith's note: On Wednesday 21 October there will be another unpublicized NASA-funded/supported FISO telecon "CASIS: Enabling Research on the ISS National Lab for the Benefit of Earth". There is no mention of this telecon at the GSFC website (where telecon sponsor Harley Thronson works), at NASA HQ's Calendar (which is empty for October anyway), at the ISS national Laboratory's webpage - or (no surprise) at CASIS. How strange: CASIS spent $862,234 on advertising in 2013 and yet it has yet to find a way to send an email out to these obvious websites (and news media, "stakeholders", etc.) to notify them of public events wherein the topic of using the ISS will be discussed? What are they spending all of this advertising money on since no one seems to know what they are doing?

- CASIS Has No Idea How To Raise Money - Only How To Spend It, earlier post

NASA Notice of Proposed Rulemaking: Revision to Regulations Governing Crew Members

"The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is proposing to amend its regulations that govern International Space Station crewmembers, mementos aboard Orion and Space Launch System (SLS) missions, the authority of the NASA Commander, and removes the Agency's policy on space flight participation and other policies that were relevant to the Space Shuttle. The revisions to this rule are part of NASA's retrospective plan under Executive Order (E.O.) 13563 completed in August 2011."

14 CFR Part 1214 - SPACE FLIGHT

Keith's note: Gee, the Space Shuttle was retired in 2011 - and the retirement date was known for several years before that. SLS/Orion has been under development even longer. Yet it took NASA 4 years or more to simply remove "space shuttle" relevant verbiage from these regulations and add SLS/Orion wording? Why did this simple task take so long? And what was the impact of leaving the verbiage in these regulations for 4 years after the Shuttle stopped flying? Nothing, it would seem. So ... the regulations were flawed/out of date for 4 years and no one cared? One has to wonder if these regulations really mean much of anything if it takes so long to change them and everyone ignores the parts they want to ignore.

I wonder how long it will take NASA to revise these regulations so as to allow the whole #JourneyToMars thing to happen so that astronauts can bring their favorite college t-shirts to Mars.

Night Wolves Biker Gang Flag Flown In Russian Segment of Space Station, Moscow Times

"President Vladimir Putin's favorite nationalist biker gang, the Night Wolves, flew their flag aboard the International Space Station a $150 billion project co-managed by the U.S. and Russian space agencies. A photo of the group's flag appeared on Twitter on Wednesday, when it was posted by an unverified account apparently owned by the gang's controversial figurehead, Alexander Zaldostanov known to his friends, and even Putin himself, as "the Surgeon."

Night Wolves, Wikipedia

"Members of the Night Wolves have fought on the side of pro-Russian militants during the Crimean Crisis and war in Donbass. They have blockaded the main routes into Sevastopol and participated in attacks on a natural gas facility and the naval headquarters in the city. In April 2015, Agence France-Presse stated that Alexei Vereshchyagin had fought against Ukrainian government forces in Luhansk."

Keith's note: The organization chosen by NASA to promote the scientific utilization of the International Space Station has been unable to raise funds it planned to raise. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) chosen by NASA in 2011 to manage the portion of the International Space Station that has been designated as a U.S. National Laboratory. Developed at the direction of Congress, CASIS was to be given NASA funds to promote research on the ISS while seeking to generate additional funds from the private sector to augment this research. The maximum annual value of this arrangement with NASA is $15 million per year.

According to the CASIS Strategic Plan, one of their operational strategies is to: "Develop a robust financial model to supplement government funding. CASIS funding from NASA is currently projected at $15M per year, to cover operating costs and to provide seed money for promising R&D. To meet the variety of demands on personnel, infrastructure, business processes and outreach that will grow over time, CASIS must develop additional resources in the form of partnerships and funding and create rigorous business and economic models in order to sustain these. Sources will include private financiers, corporate sponsorship, philanthropists and federal grants that may leverage cost sharing and equity investment in new ventures. Additionally, CASIS will practice management excellence in its operating models to ensure costs are minimized while ISS utilization is maximized effectively toward mission success."

Well CASIS has failed miserably in this regard. If you look at their IRS 990 forms from 2011, 2012, and 2013 (the only returns available) you will see that for at least the past 3 years 99.9% of CASIS' income was from NASA.

Keith's note: Russia (USSR) did this 4 times decades ago. Its all listed here on Wikipedia.

Keith's note: JSC is webcasting part of their media event with some of the cast of The Martian (it was a last minute decision for JSC to put this on NASA TV BTW). In the movie there is artificial gravity on the ship that goes to/from Mars. The new ISS Program Manager Kirk Shireman spent a lot of time describing what the 2.5 meter Centrifuge Facility could/might provide in terms of supporting human missions to Mars. But Shireman neglected to mention that NASA traded the development of the Centrifuge Facility and Module in one of its bait and switch moves to Japan to offset some ISS costs and then eventually cancelled it outright in 2005. But NASA JSC clearly doesn't want movie goers to know that NASA did dumb stuff like this.

Funny thing: back in the day (early 1990s) I was Payload Accommodations Manager for that the Space Station Freedom Program Office for the CF and CAM - and JSC fought that thing tooth and nail. Now they love it. Go figure.

The revolution will not be crystallized: a new method sweeps through structural biology, Nature

"In labs around the world, cryo-electron microscopes such as this one are sending tremors through the field of structural biology. In the past three years, they have revealed exquisite details of protein-making ribosomes, quivering membrane proteins and other key cell molecules, discoveries that leading journals are publishing at a rapid clip. Structural biologists say - without hyperbole - that their field is in the midst of a revolution: cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) can quickly create high-resolution models of molecules that have resisted X-ray crystallography and other approaches, and labs that won Nobel prizes on the back of earlier techniques are racing to learn this upstart method. The new models reveal precisely how the essential machinery of the cell operates and how molecules involved in disease might be targeted with drugs."

Keith's note: NASA has been thumping on the value of using the microgravity environment afforded by spaceflight as a way to create large, ultra-pure protein crystals - the kind you need to get the best structural measurements using x-ray crystallography. It was a cool idea with considerable merit. Full disclosure: part of my job at NASA back in the 90s was to promote this type of research and I did so enthusiastically. But it took NASA a long time to actually try this in space while the real world back on Earth pushed ahead.

Now, the ability to use exceptionally small amounts of material on Earth using high-precision, ultra-powerful x-ray sources has allowed materials developed for ground-based crystallography that exceed what is obtained from research using space-based materials. Recently crystallography itself, in its traditional form, is now being eclipsed by new methods that offer even more precise structural information - with no apparent need for the trip to and from space.

So where is NASA in this story?

Whisky goes where no dram has gone before, Guardian

"Whisky fired into space almost four years ago as part of an experiment has returned to Earth with enhanced flavour and character, according to its creator. A vial of unmatured malt from the Ardbeg distillery on Islay, Scotland, was sent to the International Space Station in a cargo spacecraft in October 2011, along with particles of charred oak. Another vial of the same whisky was kept at the distillery for comparison. ... Dr Bill Lumsden, Ardbeg's director of distilling, said: "The space samples were noticeably different. When I nosed and tasted the space samples, it became clear that much more of Ardbeg's smoky, phenolic character shone through to reveal a different set of smoky flavours which I have not encountered here on Earth before."

ISS Commercial Research That CASIS Utterly Ignores, Earlier post (2014)

"This is an interesting commercial use of the ISS - if somewhat unconventional - one that has attracted actual private investment (from a high-quality, high-visibility, world-class manufacturer) at a time when NASA's scorecard is rather lacking in this regard. Imagine this: an actual biotech process that is being investigated in the unqiue environment of space with significant commercial backing and promotion. Of course, the NASA ISS National Lab and CASIS folks seem to be totally uninterested in how real commercial space activities happen."

Keith's note: CASIS still utterly ignores this whole project - but focuses instead on their golf game in space. Fermentation, distillation, and aging - regardless of what you are producing - are key industrial processes on Earth - ones that involve a lot of precise biochemistry. If something works differently in the space environment then that helps to expand the knowledge of microgravity-based biochemistry (both basic and applied) and the entire field moves ahead. Not so with the space-inspired golf clubs that actually do not use ISS-based research - which is what CASIS is supposed to be promoting.

Funny thing: this Ardbeg research was all done via Nanoracks - the one clear ISS success story that CASIS has had anything to do with. Oh .. but wait - this experiment was done via the ISS National Laboratory - not CASIS - so its the established policy of CASIS to ignore it. Come to think of it, the ISS National Lab people have not been chatty about this success story either.

Oh yes: when I first posted this photoshopped image in 2012 some people within NASA thought it was real and started to try and figure out how it happend i.e. a glass bottle [safety] with a brand name [no agreement?] freely floating around the ISS. Memos and phone calls happend. Oops.

Expedition 45 Is In Orbit

Expedition 45 With Visiting Crew Launch to the International Space Station (with video)

"Expedition 45 Soyuz Commander Sergey Volkov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and visiting crew members Andreas Mogensen of the European Space Agency (ESA) and Aidyn Aimbetov of the Kazakh Space Agency (Kazcosmos) launched on the Russian Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft on Sept. 2, Kazakh time from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan bound for the International Space Station."

Point the Way to the International Space Station with This DIY Orbit Tracker, Make

"Given the International Space Station's host of superlatives (i.e. most expensive man made structure, largest artificial body in Earth's orbit, longest functioning habitable satellite, greatest engineering accomplishment of all time, coolest flying space laboratory, etc.), you'd think that it would be on our minds constantly. Yet many of us go hours, even days, without thinking about it once. There's a growing movement of people who believe that our space agencies are underfunded because humanity is just not paying enough attention to our present accomplishments and future plans in space exploration. Well, I know one way to direct attention to something. Point at it."

- Barn door tracker, Wikipedia
- Keith Cowing at Maker Faire: Hacking NASA

U.S. and Russia Can't Even Agree on How to Handle Astronaut Pee, Bloomberg

Keith's note: Too bad this reporter (or his editor) did not really understand what NASA was telling him. This article title is simply wrong. This has nothing to do with a disagreement. Rather it has to do with an agreement made in the 1990s allowing the Russians to use their heritage hardware and the U.S. using its existing systems, and then looking for ways that each approach can complement, supplement, or improve upon the other's systems. If nothing else having more than one approach to things offers dissimilar redundancy - something that has saved the ISS program's butt more times than many people know. In the mean time and engineering and operational synergy has emerged from the ISS program with unexpected wisdom that can be applied to future missions.

Oddly, despite this totally inaccurate title, the author even notes the concept of dissimilar redundancy in his article: "NASA has decided to switch to silver-ionized water on future missions, but Carter says he likes that there's both silver- and iodine-treated water aboard the ISS: "It really makes a lot of sense," he says, "to have dissimilar redundancies in the space station in case one of the systems has problems."

Keith's note: If you look at the JSC webpage for Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) 2 Contract you will see a schedule page that shows that proposals were received on 12/2/14. NASA originally planned to have a CRS2 award announcement in May 2015 but was delayed with the rationale being "4/16/15 Updated the Milestone Schedule Award date due to additional time required to evaluate proposals." There is a new note stating "8/7/15 Updated the Milestone Schedule to reflect an updated award date to provide additional time to evaluate Final Proposal Revisions (FPRs)." The planned CRS2 contract award date is now shown as 11/05/15. No CRS2 contract start date is shown.

Oh yes: both of the two current contractors lost a rocket and its cargo in the past year.

Orbital ATK Updates Progress on International Space Station Cargo Delivery Program for NASA, Orbital ATK

"Orbital ATK is on track to launch its next CRS mission late this year and is moving forward with integration of a new first stage propulsion system into the Antares launch vehicle in preparation for multiple CRS missions in 2016."

"Three main CRS program efforts are simultaneously underway, including preparing the enhanced Cygnus spacecraft for the next ISS cargo mission (OA-4) to launch aboard an Atlas V rocket this December; upgrading the Antares rocket by integrating and testing the new RD-181 main engines with the modified first stage core structure; and working with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) to complete repairs to the Pad 0A launch complex at Wallops Island to support the resumption of CRS missions from Wallops Island in early 2016."

- United Launch Alliance to Launch Second Orbital ATK Cygnus Spacecraft to International Space Station on Cargo Mission

Ad Astra Rocket Company and NASA move to execution phase of NextSTEP VASIMR partnership

"NASA's Advanced Exploration Systems Program sponsors NextSTEP awards in a 50/50 cost partnership with industry. Under this award, Ad Astra will conduct a long duration, high power test of an upgraded version of the VX-200TM VASIMR prototype, the VX-200SSTM (for steady state), for a minimum of 100 hours continuously at a power level of 100 kW. These experiments aim to demonstrate the engine's new proprietary core design and thermal control subsystem and to better estimate component lifetime. The tests will be conducted in Ad Astra's large, state-of-the-art vacuum chamber in the company's Texas facility."

Kirk Shireman Replaces Mike Suffredini as International Space Station Program Manager

"William H. Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, has named Kirk A. Shireman as manager, International Space Station (ISS) Program. Shireman has served as deputy director of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston since 2013. Shireman succeeds Michael T. Suffredini, who is leaving the agency to take a position in private industry."

For the first time Chinese research to fly on NASA's space station, Houston Chronicle

"A Houston company has negotiated a historic agreement to fly a Chinese experiment on the International Space Station, a small but symbolic maneuver around a law that bans any scientific cooperation between NASA and the communist country. Over a conference table adorned with an American and a Chinese flag, Jeff Manber last week agreed to take a DNA experiment into space next year. Manber's Houston-based company, NanoRacks, helps scientists do research on board the station. Because of decades of suspicion about Chinese motives and the country's regime, Congress prohibits NASA from working with the country in any capacity. But the new deal, which is apparently legal, could begin to change that. "It's symbolic, and it's meaningful," Manber said Monday, after returning from Beijing. "But let's not get ahead of ourselves."

Keith's note: According to a NanoRacks source, in crafting this agreement with Beijing Institute of Technology, NanoRacks worked to assure compliance with the 2011 spending bill Amendment offered by former Rep. Frank Wolf which places restrictions on formal NASA cooperation with China's space program. After consultation with NASA and the Obama Administration, NanoRacks approached Professor Feng of Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT) and invited him to continue his immune system research using NanoRacks' commercial hardware on the ISS.

NanoRacks notes that money flows from China to the U.S.; that no hardware or technology flows to China (just a return of data and experiment samples); that this experiment has intrinsic scientific value; and that the payload uses NanoRacks hardware and is a NanoRacks customer payload as part of their normal ISS payload allocation. This is NOT a NASA/Chinese research project. In addition, this project ("DNA Mismatching During PCR Reaction Exposed to Space Environment") reflies payload hardware that was flown on Shenzou 8. As such, the payload developer already has their own independent pathway to long-duration exposure in space. Lastly, The Beijing Institute of Technology Life Sciences Department publishes their scientific results in leading Western research publications thereby assuring a full dissemination of results in compliance with the spirit of ISS basic research.

NanoRacks was informed by the Obama Administration that it believes that this project is in compliance with the Wolf Amendment. Also, in accordance with ISS International Partners agreements, member nations of the ISS were informed of this project.

Soyuz Launches Expedition 44 Crew to the International Space Station

"The Soyuz TMA-17M launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the International Space Station at 5:02 p.m. EDT (3:02 a.m. on July 23 Baikonur time). Soyuz TMA-17M is carrying Expedition 44 Soyuz Commander Oleg Kononenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), Flight Engineer Kjell Lindgren of NASA, and Flight Engineer Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) into orbit to begin their five month mission on the Station."

Keith's note: On board was a mini-R2D2 who's purpose on this mission is not exactly clear ... yet. Maybe he'll fix the un-deployed solar array.

SpaceX - CRS-7 Investigation Update

"From the first indication of an issue to loss of all telemetry was just 0.893 seconds. Over the last few weeks, engineering teams have spent thousands of hours going through the painstaking process of matching up data across rocket systems down to the millisecond to understand that final 0.893 seconds prior to loss of telemetry.

At this time, the investigation remains ongoing, as SpaceX and the investigation team continue analyzing significant amounts of data and conducting additional testing that must be completed in order to fully validate these conclusions. However, given the currently available data, we believe we have identified a potential cause."

Marc's note: Today Elon Musk of SpaceX stressed that the substance of the media briefing was preliminary analysis and not a definitive result.

Having said the likely cause of the failed Falcon 9 launch was a failed strut that broke free in the second stage liquid oxygen tank that was holding down a helium tank.

At approximately 3.2 g, the strut holding down the tank snapped. There was no evidence of damage prior to launch from close-out photos. The struts are not made in-house. The supplier was not named. Musk said that they were able to replicate failure with 1000's of struts and they found a few that did not meet specifications.

MEDIA ADVISORY: SpaceX to Hold CRS-7 Update Telecon

"SpaceX is hosting a 30-minute telecon for members of the media at noon PDT/3pm EDT on Monday, July 20 to discuss preliminary results to our investigation into the CRS-7 mishap."

Audit of NASA's Management of International Space Station Operations and Maintenance Contracts, NASA OIG

"To its credit, NASA has taken steps to reduce and control the operations and maintenance costs of the ISS, including competing contracts and eliminating some unneeded requirements. However, due to the unique operating environment of the ISS, in many cases the Agency continues to use incumbent contractors and obtain most services via cost-reimbursement contracts. We acknowledge the difficulty associated with contracting for ISS operations and urge NASA to continue to seek opportunities to control Station operations and maintenance costs, including revisiting the fixed-price option when appropriate."

Hearing: International Space Station: Addressing Operational Challenges

"The Subcommittee on Space will hold a hearing to examine the current status of the International Space Station (ISS). The Subcommittee will evaluate the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) plans for dealing with operational and maintenance challenges, the status of the ISS partnership, how NASA is utilizing the ISS to enable future deep space exploration, and the Administration's request to extend ISS operations to 2024."

- Hearing charter
- 9 am EDT Live webcast
- Brian Babin (R-Texas), House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
- Subcommittee Reviews Challenges to International Space Station

Witness Statements:

- Bill Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, NASA
- John Elbon, Vice President and General Manager, Space Exploration, The Boeing Company
- Paul K. Martin, Inspector General, NASA
- Shelby Oakley, Acting Director, Acquisition and Sourcing Management, Government Accountability Office
- James A. Pawelczyk, Associate Professor of Physiology and Kinesiology, The Pennsylvania State University

NASA Selects Astronauts for First U.S. Commercial Space Flights

"I am pleased to announce that four American space pioneers have been selected to be the first astronauts to train to fly to space on commercial crew carriers, all part of our ambitious plan to return space launches to U.S. soil, create good-paying American jobs and advance our goal of sending humans farther into the solar system than ever before. These distinguished, veteran astronauts are blazing a new trail, a trail that will one day land them in the history books and Americans on the surface of Mars."

Keith's update: I made a mistake when I tweeted - the real address is‎ but if you want to buy the domain you can get it for $200. CASIS forgot to buy it. You'd think CASIS would keep an eye on things like this ...

Keith's update: I just listened to Ken Savin, the Eli Lilly representative being interviewed at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference (ISSRDC). Lilly has 4 experiments that will fly on the ISS next year. I listened to this while I was out in the woods walking. These experiments are all very basic, clear-cut and rather elegant - so much so that I came up with a parallel classroom experiment for each instantly - and I am not especially talented in that regard. Savin said that he wished there was an organization to coordinate among companies to share data and information. Gee, I thought CASIS was supposed to do this. Savin was then asked if there was some sort of database where data and ISS research results were posted. He said "I am told there is one" and that someone just sent him a link to it. I am baffled as to why CASIS could not send him this stuff earlier in the process.

Savin said that his company does not plan to make drugs in space and that they are really doing these experiments to learn. That is a rather cool thing for a large multinational pharmaceutical company to say about using the ISS. It ought to be on a NASA bumper sticker. I did a quick Google search for "Eli Lilly CASIS" and only came up with a few article links - all of them inside the space community. A search for "Eli Lilly NASA" only found a few more links.

With all the moaning and groaning and self-loathing evidenced by NASA and others at the ISSRDC about not having told the public about what they are doing and why, that someone would have flagged this sort of activity and built a much larger education and public outreach effort for it. But no. NASA and CASIS would rather complain about not being able to do this than actually trying to do it.

NASA FISO Presentation: Bigelow Aerospace's Past Accomplishments, Present Activities, and Future Plans, SpaceRef

"Now available is the July 1, 2015 NASA Future In-Space Operations (FISO) telecon material. The speaker was Mike Gold (Bigelow Aerospace) who discussed "Bigelow Aerospace's Past Accomplishments, Present Activities, and Future Plans".

International Space Station Resupply Mission Underway [Watch the launch], SpaceRef

"Less than a week after the SpaceX resupply mission to the International Space Station ended in failure, the Russian Progress 60 cargo resupply mission launched on schedule to bring much needed supplies to the International Space Station.

The cargo spacecraft is carrying over 2700 kilograms of food, fuel and supplies for the Expedition 44 crew members. The supplies will arrive on Sunday."

Impact of CRS-7 Loss

Another major rocket failure for a space industry out to prove itself, Washington Post

"SpaceX and Dulles-based Orbital ATK won contracts to carry cargo to the station. Then last year, NASA awarded contracts to SpaceX and Boeing to develop capsules that can carry astronauts to the space station, with the first such mission scheduled for December 2017. Politics may confound that. Congress recently slashed more than $300 million from the administration's budget request for the commercial crew program. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said the cuts would delay the mission by two years. And that was before Sunday's SpaceX failure."

Keith's note: Dan Billow specifically asked for an answer from both SpaceX and NASA as to whether a destruct signal was sent to the Falcon 9. Gwen Shotwell answered. NASA did not.

Keith's update: When I asked NASA PAO "Did the Range Safety Officer send a signal to the Falcon 9 to self-destruct?" they replied "No, the range didn't have a chance."

SpaceX Falcon 9 Mishap: More Details Emerge, SpaceRef

"SpaceX now confirms that the U.S. Air Force Range Safety Officer did initiate a destruct command but that this command was sent 70 seconds after the mishap occurred, as a formal matter of process. There was nothing left to destroy at that point."

SpaceX Launch Failure

Keith's note: The Falcon 9 Carrying CRS-7 either exploded or was destroyed shortly after launch a few minutes ago. SpaceX has assembled a team to look into this. NASA has referred to a launch vehicle "failure" and that the last data came down from the vehicle at T+ 2:19. No more news or NASA TV until contingency press conference no earlier than 12:00 pm 12:30 pm 12:50 pm 1:00 pm EDT.

- SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Fails on Launch, SpaceRef

Keith's note: this is Internet rocket analysis and has nothing to do with what actually happened.

Keith's note: This slow motion video from Astronomy Now shows that the Falcon 9 engines seem to be burning well after the explosion - and also that something shaped like a Dragon is seen exiting the cloud. Note: this is Internet rocket analysis and has nothing to do with what actually happened.

UrtheCast Releases First Full-Color HD Videos from the International Space Station, SpaceRef Business

"Today UrtheCast released their first full-color HD video of Earth filmed in roughly 1 meter resolution of London, Boston and Barcelona."

Marc's note: It's quite something to watch cars drive around from LEO.

Expedition 43 Crew Returns to Earth (with video)

"Three crew members of the International Space Station (ISS) returned to Earth Thursday after a 199-day mission. Expedition 43 Commander Terry Virts of NASA, Flight Engineers Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA (European Space Agency) touched down at 9:44 a.m. EDT (7:44 p.m., Kazakh time), southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan."

NASA ISS On-Orbit Status 9 June 2015

"Today at 10:27 a.m. Central time during the routine testing of communications systems between the Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft and the International Space Station (ISS), Soyuz thrusters activated inadvertently which led to a slight change in the orientation of the ISS. Actions were immediately taken to reorient the ISS. There was no threat to the crew or the station itself, and the issue will have no impact to a nominal return to Earth of the Soyuz TMA-15M on Thursday. Roscosmos specialists are determining the cause of the incident. Once more information is known, additional information will be provided."

Keith's note: Hmmm ... rocket engines on a spacecraft just fire for some unknown reason, alter the ISS orientation such that contingency measures need to be taken and ... that's it: stay tuned? When I worked at NASA something like this in a safety review would have justifiably been a cosmic issue of epic proportions. Not any more, it would seem. I guess there will be some telecons and some Powerpoint slides.

- Soyuz Engines Fire When They're Not Supposed To, earlier post

Unexpected Soyuz engine start shifts orbital position of ISS, Aperture

"A glitch at the International Space Station on Tuesday caused its position in orbit to change, but the crew was not in danger, the Russian space agency said. Roscosmos said the engines of a Soyuz spacecraft docked at the station unexpectedly started during testing of the radio system that controls the docking procedure. Steps were taken to stabilize the station and specialists were now working to determine what caused the engines to start, the agency said."

Keith's note: A Proton launch fails, a Progress launch fails, a planned Progress reboost burn fails, and now a Soyuz fires its engines at a time when they are not supposed to be firing. Meanwhile Russia's new cosmodrome is going to be delayed 3 years while an employees embezzles funds and drives around in a diamond-encrusted Mercedes. So ... what does Congress want to do? They want to cut the commercial crew program that will eliminate U.S. crew launching dependence on this increasingly unreliable space partner.

- Design Problems Are Causing Russian Launch Failures, earlier post
- A Bad Day for Russia, earlier post
- Man Driving Diamond-encrusted Mercedes Caught Embezzling Cosmodrome Funds, earlier post
Vostochny Cosmodrome First Launch Slips 3 Years, earlier post

International Space Station: Measurable Performance Targets and Documentation Needed to Better Assess Management of National Laboratory, GAO

"- CASIS, however, has not been able to fulfill its responsibility in the cooperative agreement to interact with the ISS National Laboratory Advisory Committee, which NASA was statutorily required to establish under the Federal Advisory Committee Act, because NASA has yet to staff the committee as required by the NASA Authorization Act of 2008. As a result, CASIS is not able to fulfill its responsibility in the cooperative agreement that requires it to coordinate with this committee and review any report or recommendations it originates.

- NASA and CASIS did not establish measurable targets for these performance metrics, and NASA's annual assessment of CASIS was not documented.

- CASIS officials told GAO in July 2014 that setting measurable targets would be arbitrary because CASIS processes and metrics are still evolving. In January 2015, however, the Chairman of the CASIS Board of Directors told GAO that setting measurable targets is a priority for the board. CASIS, however, has yet to establish a date by which measurable targets will be developed. Using the established metrics, NASA is required by the cooperative agreement to perform an annual program review of CASIS's performance."

Russian Cosmonaut Says Alcohol Should Be Allowed on ISS, MosNews (2005)

"The Russian cosmonaut said that it would be "desirable" for spacemen to have 50 milliliters of wine or cognac every day. "But only to improve our work, to better cope with the psychological stress," Sharipov said."

Keith's note: Perhaps this is a good idea. It sure beats the alternatives if on-orbit "psychological stress" is allowed to go untreated ... ISS Emergency Procedures: Behavioral - Suicidal - Emergency and Behavioral - Acute Psychosis

"Talk with the patient while you are restraining him. Explain what you are doing, and that you are using a restraint to ensure that he is safe. Restrain patient using Gray Tape around wrists, ankles, and use a bungee around the torso. Administer 5 mg *Valium (Diazepam) Oral (P1-A12) - Sedative, (blue) anticonvulsant, antiseizure drug"

A Bad Day for Russia

ISS Orbit Correction Failed, Sputnik News

"Engines of the Progress M-26M cargo spacecraft, which is currently docked to the International Space Station (ISS), did not start on time, and a planned correction of the ISS orbit could not be carried out, a source in the Russian Federal Space Agency said Saturday."

NASA ISS On-Orbit Status 18 May 2015

"A reboost of the International Space Station using the Russian Progress 58 cargo craft was completed successfully on Sunday at 7:30 p.m. CDT. A previous attempt on Friday evening was aborted one second into the burn automatically by the Progress vehicle. Russian flight controllers identified an issue with one of the eight thrusters on the spacecraft that was disabled for Sunday's backup attempt."

Russian Proton Rocket Experiences Anomaly Shortly After Launch [With Video], SpaceRef Business

"Almost exactly to the day a year after Russia lost a Proton-M rocket, yet another Proton-M has failed. In this latest setback to the Russian commercial space program, today's Proton-M rocket appeared to launch normally, but failed soon into the launch and did not deliver its payload, a Mexican satellite, to orbit."

Marc's note: The Russians must be besides themselves with all these anomalies ongoing. It begs the question, if the Progress and Protons are having issues, could the venerable Soyuz have issues going forward?

NASA's Physical Science Informatics Database Now Open to the Public, NASA

"At NASA, we are excited to announce the roll-out of the Physical Science Informatics (PSI) data repository for physical science experiments performed on the International Space Station (ISS). The PSI system is now accessible and open to the public. This will be a resource for researchers to data mine the PSI system and expand upon the valuable research performed on the ISS using it as a research tool to further science, while also fulfilling the President's Open Data Policy."

Public Release of NASA GeneLab Data System 1.0, NASA

"Based on the philosophy of open science, the GeneLab Platform will maximize the scientific return on investment and maximize the use of the International Space Station given the limited number of biological research opportunities in space. Open science will expand the number of researchers in the community, bringing new ideas and innovation to space biology research, while enabling discovery and advances for both NASA Exploration and Earth-based benefit."

Keith's note: Great news. As a one-time biologist at NASA I find this approach to posting data online to be one of the most important things NASA can do to show the value - and availability - of research done on the ISS. NASA has been generating research papers for more than half a century. One very useful resource is NASA Spaceline (latest issue) a regular (now weekly) NASA-funded summary of research sponsored by and relevant to NASA life science research. Given all of the hype and hoopla over the Kelly twins and the #YearInSpace research that is underway, you'd think that NASA would be promoting what it has done - and is doing - on ISS.

Guess again.

NASA Briefing: SpaceX Commercial Crew Pad Abort Test

"A May 1 news briefing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, previewed the pad abort test of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, scheduled for no earlier than Wednesday, May 6."

Russian Progress Cargo Space Station Resupply Spacecraft Launches but has Problem

"In the early morning hours today a Russian Progress unmanned cargo spacecraft launched from Kazakhstan with supplies for the International Space Station (ISS). The launch appeared to be picture perfect until it reached orbit. At that time there was a communication issue. Controllers in Russia were unable to confirm 'deployment of navigational antennas or the repressurization of the manifolds in the propulsion system' according to NASA commentator Rob Navias."

Keith's note: We've added a video to this story which clearly shows the abnormal spinning that Progress is experiencing.

Keith's update: NASA UPDATE (4/29 9:50 a.m. EDT): Docking has been called off for the Progress 59 spacecraft. Russian flight controllers are continuing to assess the vehicle and what the plan going forward will be. Additional information will be provided as it becomes available.

NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly Kicks Off Geography Trivia from Space

Keith's note:Have you seen any of Scott Kelly's photos (in high resolution) on the official NASA Flickr page? You won't. He only posts low resolution versions on Twitter at @StationCDRKelly. He's calling his own shots on all of this PR from orbit. He makes the decision - not NASA PAO - as to what taxpayers do and do not see. Too bad - some of his pictures are rather stunning. This whole special project is being set up just for him. He's apparently only going to post one picture a week in contrast to his fellow crew members who have posted hundreds.

The rules behind this contest are hilarious - all 3,009 words. Read them here. I can only imagine what it will cost the agency to actually enforce these rules or to adjudicate complaints by participants who feel that they have been incorrectly denied a prize.

Is a contest like this a good idea? Of course it is. But if the public gets fewer pictures from space? That is a bad idea. Has NASA come up with the most complex way possible to do this? Of course it has.

3,009 words in the rules - and all we'll get are 50 or so pictures?

NASA SpaceX CRS-6 Pre-Launch News Briefings [Watch]

"Today, a Falcon 9 rocket will launch from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40), Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on the 6th SpaceX cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Yesterday, NASA held three news briefings to discuss the mission and research on the ISS."

Marc's note: At the briefing, SpaceX's Hans Koenigsmann was asked what the probability of success for the Falcon 9 first stage landing on the drone ship. His response was 75% and then he said perhaps 80%. It seems SpaceX is quite a bit more confident on this third attempt.

Marc's update: The launch was scrubbed until Tuesday at 4:10 pm EDT due to weather. The weather forecast for tomorrow is 50-50.

Finding gene activity differences in identical twins, Ars Technica

"They're called identical twins because their genomes are identical. But even though all of their DNA is the same, they clearly are not. The environment must play a role in how identical twins and everyone else uses their genes to become who they are."

One if by Land, Two if by Space: Astronaut Twins Tantalize Human Research Possibilities in Spaceflight, NASA

"A multitude of human research investigations currently are underway and are scheduled for upcoming expeditions aboard the space station by NASA and its international partners. The opportunity to compare the effects of spaceflight accumulated over one year and observe changes in the genetic makeup between twin brothers is new. These investigations could have lasting implications for protecting astronauts on deep space exploration missions, including travel to asteroids and Mars."

Keith's note: NASA has spent a lot of time hyping the whole twins thing. It is important to note that "identical" twins are not identical. Just take that face-to-face photo of the Kelly twins (larger view), flip one image, superimpose it on the other, align for facial features and look what you get: altered skull shape (ergo brain shape) and ear shape and placement. But they are identical - how did that happen? Hmm. Prenatal environment is likely the prime factor but other things during their early lives could be at work as well. To be certain the Kelly twins are vastly more alike at the genetic level than this crude photo comparison might suggest. But they are not identical - and they become less identical with every passing day.

Keith's note: Why is NASA saying that this is going to be a year-long mission? It is not. Close - but not a year. NASA goes out of their way to use simple math on Twitter to make their #YearInSpace point - but - that math also easily shows that Kelly is only going to be in space for 342 days. A year is 365 days long. I guess its too much to ask for NASA to be accurate on Twitter as it simultaneously hypes all of this STEM education stuff. Its not as if any of the 9 million Twitter followers are actually paying attention. Or are they?

Reader (Max Fagin) comment: "And actually, since the ISS will be going through two high-beta periods in the next 342 days (one in late Dec 2015, and one in early June 2016) there won't even be that many sunsets. In the 342 day period starting with the last Soyuz launch, the ISS will only see 10,372 sun-rise/set pairs." Click on image to enlarge.

Reader (Max Fagin) correction: "High-Beta periods are June and December of THIS YEAR (not 2016). And if you define a sunset/rise cycle as a complete eclipse (rather than just anytime the sun contacts the horizon), the number falls to 10356."


Keith's update: Unlike a certain space agency, Max is quick to clarify and update inaccurate data.

Scenic Descent For Expedition 42

NASA ISS On-Orbit Status 11 March 2015

"Expedition 42 Commander Barry Wilmore of NASA, and Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova of the Russian Federal Space Agency landed their Soyuz TMA-14M spacecraft in Kazakhstan at approximately 10:07 p.m. EDT. Russian recovery teams are helping the crew exit the Soyuz vehicle and adjust to gravity after their stay in space."

A new space race emerges as NASA prepares to award contract to ferry supplies to space station, Washington Post

"Lugging groceries and supplies to the astronauts on the International Space Station may not be as cool as ferrying the astronauts themselves into orbit. But the NASA contract to fly cargo to the station in unmanned rocket ships has attracted bids from high-profile companies in what analysts say is another indication of commercial spaceflight's recent renaissance. It appears that at least five space firms have submitted proposals for the work, including giants such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin, which didn't bother to bid on the work the last time. In a new sort of space race, the contract has touched off an intense competition between stalwart defense contractors and new space start-ups that have, in just a few years, shown they can compete."

Culberson Statement on NASA Budget Hearing

"Administrator Bolden made it clear in his answers that the Obama Administration has no contingency plan in place to send U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station if Russia chooses to end the current agreement that allows our astronauts to travel to the space station on board its Soyuz capsules."

NASA's chief confirms it: Without Russia, space station lost, Houston Chronicle

'If Russia stops flying U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station, the U.S., lacking a backup plan, would have no choice but to abandon the multibillion dollar outpost to its own fate, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said Wednesday. "We would make an orderly evacuation," Bolden said during a U.S. House Appropriations subcommittee hearing."

Keith's note: Culberson is not exaggerating. When asked, Bolden could not give a 'yes' or 'no' answer to rather specific and repeated questions as to whether or not NASA has a post-Russia ISS contingency plan in place. Bolden stumbled for a bit before he started to talk about an orderly evacuation of the ISS. Culberson interrupted at one point and said "please tell me that you do". Bolden also seemed to suggest that the U.S. can operate the ISS without Russian permission/cooperation.

A Waste Of Space, Scientific American

"More likely, Kelly's and Kornienko's tests will just confirm in greater detail what we already know from several previous long-duration missions: Our current space habitats are not adequate for voyages to other worlds. The lack of money to build these habitats, more than any lack of medical knowledge, is what keeps humans from Mars and other off-world destinations. ... It would be unfair to blame NASA alone for this shortsightedness. Integrating artificial gravity and better propulsion into its human spaceflight program would require many billions of dollars, and that money is not forthcoming from Congress. So NASA has struck a pragmatic course, tinkering with well-worn technologies instead of spending the financial and political capital to develop new ones."

Keith's note: Will NASA learn anything from the one year space twins study? Yes, of course they will. Will this knowledge help us "go to Mars"? (gotta use that phrase once a day, right NASA?). Who knows. Not likely. The studies are superficial and scattered in their focus. As this article notes NASA will, at best, simply understand their collective lack of capability to semi-safely send humans to Mars slightly better. Meanwhile, NASA will still kick the can down the road to Mars (I used the Mars meme twice, NASA!). NASA does not have the money or the scientific strategy to actually answer the questions it needs to answer. So they grab everything they can slap a Mars label on it and proclaim progress on the road to Mars (three times!).

As was the case with John Glenn's mission to solve aging problems in space we will never see the results of this research - in any form - that NASA uses to justify the hype surrounding this otherwise ho hum stay aboard ISS. And we will still be in Earth - not Mars - orbit. And the news media will still be confused which twin has the moustache.

The ISS still has an amazing untapped potential to actually address these very real issues of human physiology and long duration spaceflight with direct applicability to Mars. But NASA is simply not up to the task of using these resources in a concerted, strategic, long-term fashion - and assembling the resources to do so. They just make it up as they go. And their poorly equipped junior partner CASIS is simply clueless.

- NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly Available for Interviews before One-Year Space Station Mission
- Correcting NASA's Inaccurate Budget Infographic, earlier post

Reader note: "FYI I tried to reach CASIS by phone. When you call their CASIS Corporate Headquarters listed here i.e. 321.253.5101 and hit 3 for "Contracts" you get a dead end. Your call is eventually disconnected.

Another Vulcan on ISS

Keith's update: Wow. Mike and I got retweeted from orbit. How cool.

Keith's note: In space Samantha Cristoforetti honors Leonard Nimoy/Spock by continuing the Vulcan science officer tradition on ISS. Altered imagery by Michael Okuda.

Years ago, when John Grunsfeld left NASA headquarters, Mike Okuda made a "vulcanized" version of John. Everyone loved it - including (so it would seem) the Smithsonian's National Air & Space Museum. For a number for years, there was a copy of this faux picture adjacent to Hubble instruments on display that John had helped to bring back to Earth. It took quite some time for the Smithsonian to notice the details in the photos. Oops.



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