News: August 2009 Archives

Conspiracy Theorist Convinces Neil Armstrong Moon Landing Was Faked, The Onion

"LEBANON, OHIO--Apollo 11 mission commander and famed astronaut Neil Armstrong shocked reporters at a press conference Monday, announcing he had been convinced that his historic first step on the moon was part of an elaborate hoax orchestrated by the United States government.

According to Armstrong, he was forced to reconsider every single detail of the monumental journey after watching a few persuasive YouTube videos, and reading several blog posts on conspiracy theorist Ralph Coleman's website."

Keith's note: These photos were sent in by a reader who works at JPL. You can clearly see how close the fire has gotten to JPL. You can see larger photos here.

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Status for Monday, Aug. 31

"Fire conditions around JPL have continued to improve throughout the day, and the Lab is no longer threatened by the Station Fire. However, there has been heavy smoke in the area. To ensure acceptable air quality for the health and safety of employees, JPL will be closed to all except mission-critical personnel on Monday, Aug. 31."

Calif. fire to reach mountain's TV transmitters, AP

"Authorities say flames from a major wildfire north of Los Angeles are about to reach Mount Wilson, home to a historic observatory and transmitters for every major television and radio station in the area."

JPL Update August 30, 2009 9 a.m. "The fire situation around JPL has improved considerably. The lab is not in danger at present. However, JPL's Oak Grove site remains closed today except for essential personnel. Non-essential personnel are not allowed on-Lab. Facilities at the nearby Woodbury complex, buildings 600, 601, 602 and 605, are open. A decision will be made later today regarding whether employees should report to work on Monday. For updates, call (800) 303-4575 or (818) 354-8601, or visit this site, the JPL home page, at Updates will also be communicated to JPL personnel by JPL e-mail; through the State of the Lab call-in numbers; and the Emergency Communication System. JPL employees who have been evacuated from their homes are asked to check in with Rick Roessler at 818-354-0805, 310-422-9853 or JPL staffers needing assistance are urged to call the Employee Assistance Program at 818-354-3680."

Live Webcam from Mt. Wilson

Keith's 29 Aug update: Thanks to Kevin Parkin, we now have a link on Google Maps that shows the extent of the fire. According to a JPL reader "at 12 noon PDT a report on the local NPR station now puts the hillside fire only about 500 m above JPL."

NASA OIG: Final Memorandum on the Audit of the Reporting of NASA's National Security Systems (IG-09-024, August 28, 2009)

"We found that NASA did not comply with FISMA requirements for the reporting of national security systems for FYs 2007 and 2008 because NASA had not clearly assigned this responsibility to a specific NASA office. Further, NASA had not formally designated an entity with appropriate resources to complete the annual independent evaluations of its national security systems required by FISMA. We notified the Agency about this issue in February 2009, and NASA immediately assigned the responsibility to the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO). In response to our draft report, NASA assigned the Office of Protective Services (OPS) to work with the OCIO to gather and compile the required information to report to OMB and stated that a formal agreement with an independent entity was being developed. We consider management's proposed actions to be responsive and will close the related recommendation after verifying that the Agency has established a formal agreement with an entity with the appropriate resources to conduct the annual independent evaluation of NASA's national security systems."

Bolden Update

NASA Internal Memo: Message From the Administrator - Aug. 26, 2009 Update

"As has been our practice since assuming our duties as NASA administrator and deputy administrator, Lori and I are going to attempt to keep you informed and up to date on issues affecting all of us in the NASA family as best we can. ... Lori and I have now completed visits to seven of our ten centers and will complete the cycle at the end of this week with visits to JPL and Dryden on Thursday and Ames on Friday. A number of messages have come to us loud and clear in our visits to date."

Keith's note: Curiously, while many other NASA programs and projects are specifically mentioned in this update, Constellation, Ares, Orion, etc., are not. Given all of the things that are mentioned in the update, and the sheer size of Constellation (and the emphasis given it by NASA in previous years) this is rather curious. Add in the continuing reports that are being received with regard to what Bolden said about Ares during his MAF/Stennis trip, and a trend seems to be developing. Stay tuned.

White House: Obama would go to moon for his goal, AP

"How far is President Barack Obama willing to go for a deal on overhauling the health care system? Try all the way to the moon. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs joked Wednesday that Obama would orbit the moon if he thought it would help get a deal on a bill Congress can vote on after it returns from summer break."

Records regarding 36 National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) closed investigations, 08-January-1991- 21-October-2008, Government Attic (PDF)

Keith's note: This compendium of closed NASA OIG investigations from, most of which have had material (names, numbers, etc.) redacted, makes fascinating reading.

One investigation in particular in June 2008 resulted from an anonymous hotline complaint alleging that Mike Griffin told Lockheed Martin not to bid on a ISS Service RFP.

In addition there are complaints that were investigated regarding shuttle parts being sold on eBay, conflicts of interest, over charging, stiffling of dissent by PAO, and improper use of NASA affiliation in complaints about textbook contents.

There was also a complaint and investigation about the quality of the Apollo 11 TV broadcast. Speaking of which, where is that report that Dick Nafzger at GSFC has been working on - the one he publicly stated was supposed to be released "within days"? It has been a month.

Table of contents listing below

Keith's note: According to the NRC: "In the 2005 NASA Authorization Act, Congress mandated that by 2020 NASA should be capable of detecting at least 90 percent of objects over 140 meters wide in the vicinity of Earth's orbit. NEAR-EARTH OBJECT SURVEYS AND HAZARD MITIGATION STRATEGIES, an interim report of a congressionally mandated study by the National Research Council, examines NASA's current ability to survey and detect these near-Earth objects. A final report will address hazard mitigation and make recommendations on ways to improve the program."

The report will be released on 12 August at 11 am EDT.

Bringing Back NIAC

NRC: Fostering Visions for the Future: A Review of the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts

"Until August 2007, NIAC provided an independent open forum, a high-level point of entry to NASA for an external community of innovators, and an external capability for analysis and definition of advanced aeronautics and space concepts to complement the advanced concept activities conducted within NASA. Throughout its 9-year existence, NIAC inspired an atmosphere for innovation that stretched the imagination and encouraged creativity.

NIAC was featured in more than 40 general-interest publications, attracting mainstream media coverage for the agency and receiving more than 226,000 Google hits to its website. Originally conceived as reporting to the agency's chief technologist so that infusion across all NASA enterprises could be assured, NIAC operated in an environment of frequent NASA organizational changes. In 2004, NASA management of NIAC was transferred to the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, where it was not well aligned with its sponsor's near-term mission objectives. NIAC was terminated in 2007."

NRC Weighs in on NIAC

Expert panel urges NASA to revive futuristic think tank, New Scientist

"NASA should revive its Institute for Advanced Concepts, a blue-skies idea mill that closed in 2007, says an expert panel - but it says the new incarnation should have its feet a little closer to the ground. NASA's Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) was founded in 1998 to harvest innovative ideas for spaceflight and aeronautics from outside the NASA community."

Panel Says NASA Should Reopen Innovation Institute, Science

"The panel, chaired by aerospace engineer Robert Braun of Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, determined that NIAC's program was effective, that NASA has nothing comparable, and that the agency needs an organization to provide "visionary, far-reaching concepts." As a result, the panel urged NASA to create a next-generation NIAC that reports directly to the agency's chief. No comment yet from NASA. But the agency's new administrator, Charles Bolden, is likely to be sympathetic to the recommendation. He said at his confirmation hearing in the Senate last month that he would push to reinvigorate an ambitious technology program at the agency."

The NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) is Closing, earlier post
Killing NIAC, earlier post
NIAC Rises From The Dead to Make Time's Best Inventions Of The Year, earlier post
Should NIAC be Revived?,

Stadd Found Guilty

Ex-top NASA official guilty of ethics violations, AP

"A former top NASA official has been found guilty of breaking ethics laws by steering nearly $10 million of the agency's funds to a consulting client. A jury found Courtney Stadd of Bethesda, Md., illegally benefited a private client while on the agency's payroll and lied to ethics officials. Stadd was NASA's chief of staff from 2001-2003. He left to start a consulting business, but came back temporarily in 2005 to help a new administrator reorganize the agency."

Jury Takes Up NASA Ethics Case, NY Times

"The case of a former top NASA official, accused of enriching himself and helping a consulting client get $9.6 million in grants, was headed to the jury Thursday. Courtney Stadd, NASA's former chief of staff and White House liaison, ''owed the public and taxpayers his undivided loyalty, but he betrayed that loyalty to line his and his client's pockets,'' said prosecutor Matthew Solomon in closing arguments. Defense attorney Dorrance Dickens said Stadd was following his boss' orders on where to send the grant money."

Mars Enthusiasts Gather at the University of Maryland

"Patricia Czarnik, director of membership for the society, said that about one-third of the group's 7,000 members are engineers or scientists, another third are students and the remaining third are "just everyday people who have a common interest in the exploration of Mars."

Keith's note: Someone from the Mars Society will make a presentation at the Augustine Committee's meeting here in Washington, DC on 5 August. No doubt they will claim that the Society has 7,000 members. If you look at the Society's 2008 filing (form 990 for 4-1-07 to 3-3-08) with the IRS they state that they received $25,200 from "Membership dues and assessments" and $175,259 from "Direct public support".

If the Society does indeed have 7,000 members who pay dues totalling $25,200 then they each seem to be paying $3.60 a year in dues. Yet the Mars Society states that its annual membership rates are $50/year ($25/year for students). As such, if they had 7,000 dues paying members paying the listed dues then they'd be reporting somewhere between $175,000 to $350,000 a year in "Membership dues and assessments"to the IRS.

The $25,200 stated to the IRS divided by $50 you get 504 members. If you assume that they all pay the student rate then you have as many as 1,008 members. Membership fees reported to the IRS for 2006: $23,067; 2005: $25,299; 2004: $11,706; 2003: $42,712 - so it does not seem as if they have had revenue to justify the 7,000 figure for quite some time - assuming that you need to pay dues in order to be a "member" that is.

According to the Society's bylaws . "II. Membership A. Requirements: Anyone can be a member of the Mars Society who supports its principles and projects and who pays the required annual dues." So, it would seem that you can only be a member if you pay "required annual dies."

As best I understand this, if you ever attended a Mars Society convention you are automatically a member - even if you never renew. If you were a past member (as I once was) you are still counted even if you no longer pay dues. Indeed, for a number of years I had two ID numbers and got double mailings until I made note of this on NASA Watch.

To be certain, how many members the Mars Society does or does not have means nothing in terms of the inherent logic of the policies they advocate - policies that many people support. Yet claims by the Mars Society that they are of a specific membership size, when made in public fora, do need to be accurate or at least clarified.

So, how many (dues paying) members does the Mars Society actually have at the present time?

Keith's update: Dave R (a tax attorney) explains why my math is right but that the numbers I use are not what the IRS is asking for. That said, $175,259 (from line 1e) divided by 7,000 = $25. So, are all members of the Mars Society student members? If all members paid full dues of $50 then $175,259 would only represent a membership of 3,505. So, either all members are students or the number of members is less than 7,000. Another explanation is that they count people who do not pay dues as being "members" which is in disagreement with the definition of "member" as set by their bylaws. The numbers still do not add up to match the claims made.



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