ISS News: April 2016 Archives

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.



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This page is an archive of entries in the ISS News category from April 2016.

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