ISS News: October 2011 Archives

Keith's note: President Obama will host the crew of STS-135 on Tuesday at 12:20 pm EDT in the Oval Office.

NASA Signs Agreement with Space Florida to Reuse Kennedy Facilities For Boeing CST-100 Development

"The next era of space exploration won't wait, and so we can't wait for Congress to do its job and give our space program the funding it needs. That's why my Administration will be pressing forward, in partnership with Space Florida and the private sector, to create jobs and make sure America continues to lead the world in exploration and discovery," President Barack Obama said."

We Can't Wait, Atlanta Journal Constitution

"The White House continues to run with the new theme of President Obama, "We Can't Wait," making the argument that if the Congress won't approve Obama Administration initiatives, then the President will do what he can on his own."

Boeing to Establish Commercial Crew Program Office in Florida

""Pending the continued selection of Boeing for future Commercial Crew development and service contracts, and sufficient NASA funding, we project a Commercial Crew program workforce ramping up to 550 local jobs by our scheduled operational date of December 2015."

Keith's note: This is interesting. An Obama 2012 campaign slogan is used in an official NASA press release. Just Google "Obama we can't wait" and you will see this campaign phrase embedded in virtually everything that the President says these days - especially when it relates to employment.

Photo: Progress Reentry As Seen From The International Space Station

@astro_aggie (Mike Fossum) "Enjoy this picture I took #fromspace of the Progress cargo ship burning up after undock on Saturday."

Successful Progress Launch Sets Stage for Soyuz Flight

"The following is a statement from Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA Headquarters in Washington, on Sunday's launch of the Progress 45 spacecraft to the International Space Station. The rocket lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 6:11 a.m. EDT (4:11 p.m. Baikonur local time). ..."

Fueling Stations vs. Monster Rocket, Dana Rohrabacher, Space News

"At the end of our July 12 House Science, Space, and Technology Committee hearing, "A Review of NASA's Space Launch System," I asked NASA Administrator Charles Bolden about the relative cost of using the technology of on-orbit propellant depots instead of relying on new large heavy-lift launch vehicles. He replied that he believed the studies had been done, and the fuel depot solution proved to be more expensive, and promised to get me the full answer. As of this writing, I am still waiting for that answer. It has been more than three months, and NASA has not provided any analysis, or any data at all, that shows why depots are not a good solution or why they are more expensive."

- Rohrabacher Demands Release of NASA's Recent On-Orbit Fuel Depot Analysis, earlier post - Update on NASA's Hidden Fuel Depot Studies - NASA Studies Show Cheaper Alternatives to SLS, earlier post

Full Committee Hearing: NASA's Commercial Crew Development Program: Accomplishments and Challenges

Panel One
- John Elbon, Boeing - statement
- Steve Lindsey, Sierra Nevada - statement
- Elon Musk, SpaceX - statement
- Charles Precourt, ATK - statement
- George Sowers, United Launch Alliance - statement

Panel Two
- Paul Martin, Inspector General, NASA - statement
- Bill Gerstenmaier, HEOMD, NASA - statement

- Rep. Hall: "Blue Origin declined to testify despite getting $14.9 million from NASA and will have to explain that to the rest of the committee."

- Hearing Charter
- Live webcast

Opening statements:

- Rep. Hall
- Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson
- Rep. Jerry Costello

iPads in Space?

Keith's Note: If you watch the live video from the Aquarius undersea habitat you can see that the NEEMO-15 crew are currently using tablet computers. According to an interview I did a few minutes ago, NEEMO-15 crew member Astronaut Shannon Walker says that they use these tablet computers to track their mission tasks. Walker also said that there will be several tablet computers aboard the next Progress cargo flight to the International Space Station. When asked, she was not able to say what brands of tablets would be going up.

Keith's update: According to NASA Public Affairs, the Russians plan to fly two iPads on the December Progress mission as a replacement for the iPod they currently have on the ISS The only use for these two iPads will be for entertainment. The Russians have no plans to use them operationally. NASA is still reviewing other tablet systems and plans to fly at least one more next year although the brand that they will fly is still TBD.

Commercial Crew Initiative Called Underfunded, Aviation Week

"Funding for NASA's commercial crew space transportation services initiative appears headed for funding problems that could undermine the agency's efforts to regain the independent U.S. human launch capability that lapsed with the shuttle program's retirement earlier this year, members of NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) warned Oct. 21."

Comments by NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight

"While not a new idea, it should not be surprising that this increased emphasis and investment has now reached the stage where a real threat exists to the status quo. It is only natural that this success has "inspired" a negative reaction by vested interests. History is rich with examples of industries and entities in transition - those whose livelihoods and in some cases very lives were threatened by a new paradigm often choose the bitter fight instead of, or in some cases, in advance of, their own adaptation."

NASA OIG Report: NASA's Challenges Certifying and Acquiring Commercial Crew Transportation Services, earlier post

"Our review found that NASA is making sustained progress toward its goal of obtaining commercial crew transportation services. However, the Agency faces a series of significant challenges, including the need to select an acquisition strategy, modify existing human-rating requirements to make them applicable to commercially developed systems, and establish the appropriate insight/oversight model for commercial partner vehicle development."

Breaking The Soyuz Habit

NASA: Pay the Americans now ... or pay the Russians later, MSNBC

"If NASA can't provide as much support for U.S. spaceship-builders as it's hoping for, it'll have to keep paying the Russians $450 million for every year of delay, the space agency's No. 2 official said today. NASA's deputy administrator, Lori Garver, laid out that "pay now or pay later" message at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight in Las Cruces, N.M."

Back space taxis or pay more for Russian rides, Reuters

"The Obama Administration is requesting $850 million for the [commercial] program for the fiscal year that began Oct 1. Bills pending in the House and Senate cut that to $312 million and $500 million, respectively. Without full funding in 2012, the United States' ability to stop buying rides from Russia in 2016 is at risk, NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver said at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight, under way in Las Cruces, New Mexico, this week."

NASA may extend Russian contract to fly to space station, Orlando Sentinel

"Top NASA officials are quietly working to extend a contract with Moscow that would continue using Russian rockets to fly U.S. astronauts into space until 2016 and beyond -- a move that underscores how much the U.S. now relies on its former Cold War adversary. Already, NASA is committed to pay Russia $1.5 billion during the next five years to transport its astronauts to and from the International Space Station, a necessary arrangement because the U.S. no longer flies a human-rated spacecraft since NASA retired the space shuttle last summer."

A Pre-Mission Conversation With NASA NEEMO Aquanaut Steve Squyres

"I had a chance to chat with NEEMO 15 crew member Steve Squyres today as he waits out some bad weather before his 13 day underwater mission begins. According to Steve its looking like Thursday before they can "splash down" and begin their mission."

Secretive US X-37B Space Plane Could Evolve to Carry Astronauts,

"The maker of the X-37B robotic space plane has outlined new plans for the spacecraft and a scaled-up version to support space station cargo deliveries or even carry astronauts into orbit. The Boeing X-37B robotic space plane -- also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle or OTV -- is being operated by the U.S. Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, toting top-secret payloads into Earth orbit. An X-37B OTV and derivatives plan was outlined here by Arthur Grantz, chief engineer, Experimental Systems Group at Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems in Seal Beach, Calif. He spoke at Space 2011, a conference organized by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA)."

YouTube SpaceLab Lifts Off With Lenovo Aboard

"Lenovo ThinkPad laptops have played a critical role aboard dozens of NASA space shuttle missions since 1995 and are currently used by astronauts in critical operations onboard the International Space Station."

Keith's note: This is not exactly accurate. Lenovo completed its purchase of IBM's laptop division - the original manufacturer of ThinkPads - in 2005. Only in the past year or so have these original IBM-manufactured Thinkpads on the ISS begun to be replaced with laptops manufactured by Lenovo. One recent example is this photo showing "a new [Lenovo] T61p laptop to replace the previous A31p as OCA Router in the Joint Station LAN/Local Area Network (JSL LAN).". Also, a ThinkPad flew on a shuttle mission in 1993 several years earlier than Lenovo claims.

2001: A Space Laptop, earlier post

Keith's note: In the very near future NASA, Google, and computer manufacturer Lenovo are set to announce an interesting educational project. As I understand the gist of the effort from various sources, students will be asked to come up with ideas for experiments that can be performed on the ISS and submit a video via YouTube that describes their idea. Winners will be selected and the experiments described in the videos will actually be performed aboard the ISS. This is an interesting way to get novel ideas onboard the ISS - and possibly to spark careers. Moreover, it is a way to show that the ISS has utility beyond the experiments proposed by a small cadre of insiders.

The odd thing about this, however, is that the largest shareholder of Lenovo is an agency of the Chinese government. According to Wikipedia: "50.4% of Lenovo is owned by public shareholders, 42.3% by Legend Holdings Limited ... Because the Chinese Academy of Sciences, a Chinese government agency, owns 65% of Legend Holdings, effectively the Chinese government owns about 27% of Lenovo and is the largest shareholder." As such, this announcement is certain to gain attention from members of Congress (such as Rep. Frank Wolf) who are constantly putting NASA on the spot vis a vis any interactions with China - direct or by proxy. One would have thought that NASA would have found a way to work with a sponsor without such an overt link to the Chinese government.

Reader note: "I received an email invite to a Lenovo / YouTube webcast on the 10th about an "interesting" and "educational" project. I'm not sure why it's embargoed until Tuesday, but I'm guessing that it relates to this post. The email I received didn't mention NASA at all though."

Keith's 7 Oct update: Here is the Space Act Agreement between NASA and Space Adventures that outlines this competition. What is odd about this Space Act Agreement is that it has milestones for this project starting in June 2011 - yet the agreement was only signed a few weeks ago in September 2011. Also, "YouTube" appears in the title of this Space Act Agreement yet no one from YouTube (or Google who owns YouTube) signed this agreement. How can they be bound to this agreement if they are not a party to it? Also, the contest is supposed to be announced in October 2011 and students only have one month to come up with an experiment. And then "certified hardware [will be] provided to NASA for launch" in March 2012 with a launch to the ISS in May 2012. Wouldn't you want to give students more time so as to have more experiments submitted - and more thought put into the preparation of the proposals? These students also have their regular classwork to do. Also, since when does NASA have an expedited process whereby payloads can go from zero to flight in 6 months? Why isn't this capability more widely advertised?

Keith's 7 Oct update: NASA PAO just issued this press release: "NASA Performs Student Experiments For Whole World To See". In this release there is a link is provided to a YouTube site called "SpaceLab" where you will see a countdown clock that says "SpaceLab Launching with Lenovo" that reaches zero at noon on Monday. Why they picked a federal holiday to announce this is a little odd.

There is some disparity between the Space Act Agreement that formally enables this project and what this press release says. The press release says "Contest entrants may submit up to three experiments in either life sciences or physics. They must submit a two-minute video application by Dec. 7 via" However the Space Act Agreement says "entry deadline November 2011". The press release says "Six regional finalists will be selected in March 2012. Regional finalists will receive get a flight on a ZERO-G aircraft." but the Space Act Agreement says "finalists announced January 2012".

YouTube has started its viral prelaunch marketing by tweeting "T-minus 3 days and counting... What's a @YouTube Space Lab? #SpaceLab" today and tweeting this yesterday "There's going to be a BIG launch in four days time... Subscribe at #spacelab". No mention on the Space Adventures, YouTube, Google, or Lenovo websites though.

Keith's 8 Oct update: According to a retweet by @LenovoEducation "RT @YouTube T-minus 3 days and counting... What's a @YouTube Space Lab? #SpaceLab". A tweet from @Lenovo_ANZ "There's going to be a BIG launch in a few days time @YouTube ... Subscribe at #spacelab". Still nothing from @SpaceAdventures

Keith's 5 Oct note: What an amazing photo (larger). I found it on the FragileOasis Facebook page. But is it online at the official NASA Expedition 29 photo gallery? No. This is just insane. HEOMD EPO Lead Beth Beck doesn't even coordinate these things with other HEOMD websites, to say nothing of ignoring NASA PAO and the vastly larger audience this image would otherwise get at

I am tired of watching [SOMD + ESMD = HEOMD] absolutely bungle the utilization and awareness of the vast potential of the ISS - simply because their mediocre staff are incapable of coordination with the rest of the agency with the greater good as the ultimate intent. Amateurs are not what is called for. NASA can - and must - do MUCH better.

Questions for Beth Beck Regarding, earlier post

Keith's 7 Oct note: So, Beth Beck, HEOMD EPO Lead, why isn't this utterly astonishing photo - indeed, an image that is ethereally transcendental in terms of its colors and what it depicts - an image that simply takes one's breath away - not on and ? What is it that you do any way? If your job is to promote ISS activities, well, you have failed. is not carrying your stuff and promoting it to the public.

Crowdsourced Product: Know When ISS Flies Over Your House

"Human space flight is an awesome part of living in the future. But why does it still seem so abstract? There are people in space right now! Did you know that? Do you know how many there are? ISS-Notify is a simple attempt at making our space program more real. Many times a day the international space station passes overhead unnoticed."

Keith's note: An interesting new website International Space Station Live!, hosted at JSC, is now online. It displays a variety of telemetry and data feeds from the ISS. But NASA is not telling anyone about this website. If you go to NASA's ISS home page there is no mention of this website. Nor is there any mention at,, the ISS National Laboratory page, the HEOMD home page, or the NASA Office of Education (a sponsor).

Once again, one has to ask who is actually in charge of NASA's communications activities? Clearly people at NASA's centers, directorates, and missions seem to feel that they can do anything they want - and not bother to coordinate with anyone else including NASA PAO. Now if only HEOMD's crack EPO squad can find a way to couple this real time ISS telemetry website with the Google/YouTube/Lenovo/NASA student science contest and and you could have something very, very cool to engage the public. Alas, this is unlikely to happen.

HEOMD Management Update

Keith's note: Several months ago Assistant Associate Administrator for the International Space Station Mark Uhran had been telling people that he was going to leave NASA on or around 1 October. Those plans have apparently changed. Former Deputy Associate Administrator for NASA Exploration Systems Mission Directorate Laurie Leshin's departure led to a change in the new HEOMD management structure (due to the fusion of ESMD and SOMD) and Uhran is staying. Stay tuned.

Keith's 4 Oct note: Astronaut Ron Garan recently returned to Earth. While he was on the ISS he was a rather active, creative, and effective communicator. However, the vast majority of what he sent back to Earth did not appear on a website. Instead, it appeared on his own effort - the officially semi-official "Fragile Oasis". Beth Beck from HEOMD runs this site. The site is operated independent of NASA PAO and of any oversight by NASA's office of communications. Contrary to established agency policy Beck decided to run it outside of the NASA portal and makes little if any effort to coordinate with the way that the rest of the agency coordinates with NASA PAO. Indeed, if you even try to find who owns the domain you are unable to do so since that information is hidden.

Now this effort has created a project wherein a Fragile Oasis Prize which is apparently going to be given out to people. Prize medals were even flown in space. According to the website: "By becoming a Fragile Oasis Crewmember, you will be able to nominate and vote on projects that you believe are making the world a better place. You can encourage those that you feel are making a difference and receive encouragement from others. You can discover people and organizations with similar goals and interests and get involved with beneficial projects."

Ron Garan did a wonderful job while he was in space as he reached out to people back on Earth - one that is worthy of emulation by future crews. It is unfortunate that Beth Beck chose to implement this project in a way that diminished its reach via the vastly more popular web audience.

Questions for Beth Beck:

- How much has the effort cost NASA HEOMD to date? What is the budget for this entire project?
- How long will this project continue?
- Who owns the content on this website? Who actually owns the domain
- Which contractors have been paid to run and how much has each of them been paid?
- How were the contractors that operate selected and how is their performance on this activity tracked?
- What are the metrics you use to track effectiveness?
- What are your web traffic numbers? What is the age and geographical break down of your web traffic?
- How much web traffic did send (refer) to How much web traffic did send to
- What information do you retain for people who visit and join your website and is this being done in accordance with NASA/government requirements?
- How many people have signed up to "join" your website?
- What target audience(s) is this project designed to reach?
- How many times have Tweets been retweeted or mentioned?
- How many of the images and videos that Ron Garan sent back to Earth were published on a website?
- Why is this official (is it official?) NASA website not hosted within the portal?
- What are the criteria for evaluating and selecting Fragile Oasis prize winners? Who are the judges?
- How long does this competition last? How many prizes will be awarded?
- Why have there been no NASA press releases about this prize?

One last thing. Beth Beck does not like public scrutiny when it comes to questions like the ones I have asked. Not at all. Sources inside the agency report that she has formally complained to the NASA Office of General Counsel about my repeated public comments and formal inquiries about how she does her job and how her projects accomplish their intended purpose. You will recall that her disastrous NASA Buzzroom efforts were featured on NASA Watch.

Any communications or outreach person with skin this thin is most certainly in the wrong job.

Ron Garan's Earth Gazing - Who Is Actually In Charge of NASA Public Affairs?, earlier post

Keith's 5 Oct update: I haven't heard anything from Beth Beck or anyone at HEOMD or I did not really expect to hear anything. They also deleted the link I put to this posting on the FragileOasis Facebook page. So ... I guess I'll just submit a FOIA request - and then wait for months as they drag their feet developing a non-answer to my request.

Space Oddity? China Plays 'America the Beautiful' During Space Lab Launch, Spacecom

"State broadcaster CCTV and the Chinese space agency collaborated on a short video to mark the liftoff of China's unmanned Tiangong 1 space lab Thursday night (Sept. 29), The Guardian newspaper reports. The 98-second video gives an animated look at the launch and Tiangong 1's mission -- all set, puzzlingly, to an instrumental version of "America the Beautiful."

NASA Exploration Ideas - With Added China Bashing (Update)

Keith's note: Gee, the Chinese certainly seem to like the U.S. - quite a contrast from the chart that astronaut Andy Thomas used recently within an official NASA presentatino wherein several Chinese astronauts are shown having trampled an American flag left on the Moon by Apollo astronauts.



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This page is an archive of entries in the ISS News category from October 2011.

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