ISS News: July 2006 Archives

ISS Science Cut Update

Marshall cuts real or politics? NASA says budget too tight; lawmakers say funds adequate, Huntsville Times

"In 2005, Congress passed a resolution requiring NASA to fund station science. "How can they fly in the face of that?" [Keith] Cowing asked. "If this item is a politically inspired activity for more (money), then it just shows how amateurish NASA is now when it comes to politics," Cowing said. "It's going to blow up in their faces." Cowing said NASA leaders have "virtually erased microgravity research on the station and now it seems they are trying to cut out life-science research."

Editor's note: In response to a request by NASA Watch three weeks ago, NASA has posted the following Contingency Shuttle Crew Support (CSCS) (Safe Haven) Documents on its website:

  • CSCS/Rescue Flight Resource Book (2.3 MB PDF)
  • STS-121 CSCS Capbility Report (104 Kb PDF)
  • CSCS Flight Rules (36 Kb PDF)
  • NASA's Space Station Research in Budget Peril, LA Times

    NASA may halt space station research work, Reuters

    "Some critics said NASA's proposal to eliminate station research entirely for 2007 might be going too far. "I'm startled that they would even discuss this with a straight face given that this would be dead-on-arrival in Congress, which has put it into law that it supports station research," said Keith Cowing, who runs the privately funded NASAWatch.com."

    Day negative six, George Viebranz, 25 July 2006

    "Strangely enough, despite a trip to the clinic yesterday for bloodwork and other reasons, I find myself forgetting that I'm lying down on Monday. This study has taken up roughly 70-75% of my brain since January when I first heard about it, and over the past few days I have caught myself thinking, "Oh yeah, that starts Monday." I am mostly excited, but also a little nervous. It's on par with an interview for a job I really want. But, as I have said before, everyone I have met that is connected with this study is beyond nice, beyond accommodating. Call me naive, but it seems like it could be smooth sailing for the most part. I'll deal with the hard parts when they come."

    Editor's note: George Viebranz is about to embark on an earthbound space voyage - a NASA-funded bedrest study at the Cleveland Clinic. Such research helps NASA to understand the effects of prolonged microgravity exposure upon humans. Earlier this year Erin Peterson went through the same research protocol. You have to ask yourself why someone would take three months out of their lives to help NASA do research that might benefit astronauts - unless, of course, that person saw a value to human spaceflight. As such, you would expect that NASA would be featuring the exploits of these volunteers (they get paid next to nothing). But no, NASA doesn't seem to care. Indeed, when Erin Peterson got media exposure on CNN, it was directly because of being previously featured on NASA Watch - not because NASA PAO lifted a finger to help promote this important research.

    Editor's note: NASA is considering shutting down all U.S. science aboard the ISS for a year or more for budgetary reasons. According to multiple sources, during the Space Station Program Control Board two weeks ago, Mike Suffredini issued an action to Code OZ (ISS Payloads Office) to evaluate the impacts of not funding any U.S. science on the ISS in FY07. This action would effectively eliminate science until Increment 19 in 2009. The underlying reason: to fix the funding shortfall of $100 million that exists from losing funds to Katrina and other funding pressures at NASA.

    The action was issued during a budget presentation by Richard Fox during which Suffredini was told that the ISS program has a $100 million shortfall for FY 2007. One of the impacts of shutting all science down for FY07 is that it will take as long as 3 years (FY08 - 10) to restore the capability to operate payloads aboard ISS. If implemented, the shut down would close the Payload Operations Integration Center (POIC) at MSFC, lay off both the contractor flight controller and facility support staff, as well as contractor staff at both JSC and KSC who support payload integration.

    Suffredini has not been given the results of this action - nor has he made any decision to shut down ISS science - yet. Suffredini could be briefed as early as this Friday (tomorrow). Some people in the ISS program feel that this may be simply a political exercise to show just how tight funds are. None the less, the immediate effect of this action item is to further lower the morale of many at NASA who already doubt the agency's commitment to doing what the ISS was originally designed to do: science.

    Implementing Safe Haven (earlier post from 6 Jul)

    KEITH COWING: Follow-up. Then, can you release that documentation so that we can get an idea of how this would come about?
    TONY CECCACCI: [pause] Oh, I don't know ...
    JSC PAO PERSON: [interrupts] That's something we'll have to look into.

    Editor's note: It has been more than a week since PAO told me that they'd handle this request. I have heard nothing. Despite a conversation with Grey Hautaluoma immediately after this teleconference, and sending multiple emails to PAO to confirm that they are indeed looking into getting me the documents I requested, no one has bothered to reply - except one email from Kylie Clem telling me that someone else was going to take care of this. As such, I can only conclude that either NASA has a plan but they won't release it -- or they don't have a plan and they can't release it.

    Editor's 17 Jul update: Just as I thought PAO was ignoring me (after no feedback for a week) I got a call from JSC PAO telling me that they'd have some documents rounded up in a day or so.

    Editor's 27 Jul update: Well, it has been a week and a half since I last heard anything from JSC - and three weeks since I first asked for these documents. No one has provided me with anything. This obviously is not a priority task for them. I am getting the clear impression that they'd rather not discuss this topic in public.

    Editor's note: Apparently no one in the U.S. or Russia has approved the Space Adventures plan to sell EVAs from the ISS. According to this Roscosmos press release "information for The Media" (in Russian): "There have only been some discussions about the possibility for a non-professional to perform an EVA. There is a set of requirements in order to implement this task. One of the future space flight participants would like to do an EVA. But at current time he has not obtained the appropriate approvals from the experts."

  • NASA Is Unaware of Space Adventures' Commercial ISS Spacewalks, earlier post
  • Space Adventures Announces Spacewalk Option for Orbital Spaceflight Clients

    "Space Adventures, Ltd., the world's leading space experiences company, announced today that orbital spaceflight clients can now participate in a spacewalk during their stay aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Also known as an extra-vehicular activity (EVA), those clients interested in the spacewalk option have the availability to spend up to 1.5 hours outside of the space station."

    Virginia Firm Offers Spacewalks for $35M, AP

    "NASA, which has grudgingly accepted Russian-initiated space tourism, would not comment on the proposal."

    Editor's 10:50 am EDT note: I submitted a few questions on this topic (below) to NASA HQ PAO this morning. Someone from NASA HQ PAO promptly replied: "We have not been informed by any of our partners about an intention to sell spacewalks. So I really couldn't speculate on the rest of your questions. But on your fourth question, I would point out that, as you know, the space station partnership has procedures in place to review things like crew assignments, EVAs, and any other proposals."

    Safe Return for the Shuttle, editorial, NY Times

    "Discovery's seemingly unblemished flight raises some hope that a shuttle mission to rejuvenate the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA's most important scientific instrument, may prove feasible. Such a mission would be somewhat more risky than a trip to the space station because the astronauts would not have a place to take refuge were the shuttle orbiter to be damaged. But the scientific payoff, in our view, would be far greater than any likely research benefits from the space station."

    Bigelow Spacecraft Carries NASA 'GeneBox' for Tests in Orbit, NASA ARC

    "During this mission, we are verifying this new, small spacecraft's systems and our procedures," said John Hines, the GeneBox project manager at NASA Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley, where scientists and engineers designed and built GeneBox. "GeneBox is an example of a low-cost spacecraft model that we hope will provide a short turn-around time for scientists, is responsive to their needs and that we feel will contribute to the Vision for Space Exploration."

    Editor's note: I find it interesting to note that at the same time that NASA is abandoning much of the cutting edge space biology research that was planned for the ISS, that the private sector seems to be developing an interest in this research - aboard a private space station.

    One therapeutic dose of radiation causes 30 percent spongy bone loss in mice, American Physiological Society

    "Astronauts lose 2% of bone mass for each month they are exposed to the effects of microgravity. So far, astronauts have not been exposed to the increased radiation of outer space, but that will change when they undertake a proposed 30-month trip to Mars, Bateman said. NASA has focused on radiation's cancer-causing properties and its ability to compromise the central nervous and immune systems. But the effect on bone health is an unexamined concern."

    Editor's update: I am certain Bob Zubrin will fire out yet another ill-informed rant about how these experts don't know what they are talking about. C'mon Bob, fire away.

    Bob Zubrin Steps In It Again, earlier post

    Science Shift on ISS

    Research Shifts at Space Station, Washington Post

    "As it was originally planned, the space station would be a facility for all users," said Donald A. Thomas, NASA's space station program scientist. "Any scientist with an interesting experiment to do -- combustion and fluid scientists, plant and cell scientists, crystal growers -- they could all come to NASA, and we would try to accommodate them. But our cutbacks and refocusing have changed that."

    Editor's note:The following is a transcript of an exchange during a STS-121 press briefing on 6 July 2006 with reporters participating on site at NASA JSC and by telephone from KSC and NASA Headquarters. The briefer at JSC was Lead flight director Tony Ceccacci. I asked if NASA could release the procedure document(s) that describe how NASA would implement a CSCS [Contingency Shuttle Crew Support] or "Safe Haven" scenario if a shuttle crew were required to await rescue aboard the ISS.

    Given that NASA has already posted the Space Shuttle Program Contingency Action Plan, NSTS-12820 Generic Flight Rules, and NSTS-18308 STS-107 Flight Rules as well as daily STS-121 Execute Packages, one would think that the release of this material would be a simple matter to accomplish. Alas, NASA did not say "Yes" when I asked. Instead they said "that's something we'll have to look into."


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