News: June 2011 Archives

Keith's update: The National Press Club (NPC) invited Charlie Bolden to speak at a luncheon and he accepted. No cost to NASA. NPC makes a lot of money renting out their rooms for press conferences and hosting these luncheons so having Bolden there is a guaranteed money maker. The original NPC notice for this event said it was for NPC members and their guests. That was eventually amended to say that the public could attend too (and pay $36) or watch the event on TV and web streaming. But no one will be allowed to ask Bolden questions directly. You have to submit them ahead of time and then NPC screens them and asks the questions they have selected.

They also added that the media could "cover" this too. When I inquired what media "coverage" meant they said that I had to have a "hard badge" credentials. When I asked them what credentials they mean (NPC, NASA, NASA Watch, etc.) they did not answer. NASA HQ has not issued "hard" media credentials for more than 5 years - so media who only cover NASA are not going to have these things. I asked NPC if I could simply make a laminated badge (as editor of NASA Watch) and credential myself (other media outlets/publications do this). I have asked them three times. No response. As such I have to assume that I will not be allowed on the premises to cover this event - but if I want to pay $36 (the food is awful so I never eat it) I can sit and listen but not ask questions.

How odd. The NPC is supposed to be promoting journalism and news coverage - yet they put a barrier between media who cover their events by requiring all questions be submitted in advance. In addition, they pick and chose as to what media allowed to "cover" the event based on whether or not they have some sort of laminated name tag (they are not exactly clear on where you get these tags). And those who do not meet their criteria have to pay money to have access to the government official who is speaking. What is really odd is that I have covered events at the NPC multiple times in the past decade and asked questions of the speakers. Now they suddenly go retro.

NPC is a business, so they need to make money I suppose. What is odd is how they hold themselves up as some sort of bastion of journalistic integrity and excellence when in fact they are stuck in the the way that the news media used to work - not the way that it actually works today. Its like having lunch at The Dinosaur Club - they follow a process that is quickly becoming extinct. They invite a newsmaker to their club and then go out of their way to prevent news media from doing their job i.e. covering (interacting) with that same guest. How this is promoting excellence in journalism and news coverage baffles me.

Funny thing: I have discovered that a number of reporters on the space beat are inclined to skip the event (since no questions will be allowed) and just watch it back in their office. So much for fostering interaction between newsmakers and reporters. Bolden is not expected to make any "news" either since nothing about SLS etc. is included in his prepared remarks and questions will be screened/filtered in advance.

The food (money making) part of the event begins at 12:30 pm EDT. Bolden's remarks will begin just after 1:00 pm EDT, followed by a staged question-and-answer session. To submit a question in advance, type BOLDEN in the subject line and email president@press.org before 10 am EDT tomorrow. The luncheon program will be on C-SPAN, NASA Television and webcast live via NPC.

You can follow along on Twitter using the hashtag #NPCLunch and at @PressClubDC. You can also submit questions during the live event by sending them to @QNPCLunch. I will be live tweeting the event at @NASAWatch

Shielding Bolden From Unfiltered Questions, Earlier post

Keith's note: A personal note about aerospace companies and corporate giving. Every company who supported the nuclear space event at the Air & Space Museum tonight has a clear, consistent record of giving to meritorious causes. All aerospace companies do. I know many of the people who write the checks and the professional associations that participate. I have worked with these people on educational and outreach projects. Their intentions and generosity, while facilitated by commerce, are honest and true - and if at all possible they'd love to be able to spend much, much more if only the funds were there. Indeed, some of their projects are simply inspired. Often times they fill in the gaps where NASA is lacking in funds or flexibility and push their employers to squeeze out a few more dollars.

NASA Launching Department of Defense Rocket And Satellite From Virginia June 28

"Further information on the mission, including where to view the launch, is available here. The launch will be web cast beginning at 1:30 p.m. on launch day here. Launch status can be followed on Twitter."

Minotaur Rocket Launch from NASA Wallops Re-scheduled for 29 June

"NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia has rescheduled the launch of an United States Air Force Minotaur 1 rocket carrying the ORS-1 satellite for the Department of Defense's Operationally Responsive Space Office. Originally set for June 28, the new launch date is June 29. The launch on June 28 was postponed due to thunderstorms in the area."

National Press Club Luncheon with Charles F. Bolden Jr., Administrator, NASA

"July 1, 2011. 12:30 PM. This event is open only to members of The National Press Club & their guests."

Keith's 6 June note: Well, unless media, citizen journalists, or plain old taxpayers who wish to attend/cover this event happen to be paid members of the National Press Club (or invited by a guest), access to Bolden's remarks will only be offered to a select few. So much for that whole openness/transparency thing.

Keith's 18 June update: It looks like media (and the public) can attend but it will cost up to $36 to get in (but it will be webcast live) and no one can actually ask questions at the event since the website says "Submit questions for speakers in advance and during the live event by sending them to @QNPCLunch on Twitter, or email a question in advance, with BOLDEN in the subject line, to president@press.org before 10 a.m. on July 1." This makes sense, of course. Screening questions in advance is always a good way to limit embarassment of a guest and is also an efficient means to avoid having to answer questions from certain individuals.

Keith's 27 June update: According to Melinda Cooke at the National Press Club I "need to be a member of the press and have hard pass press credentials." Alas, NASA stopped issuing "hard" press credentials more than 5 years ago. Oh well. I guess I'll have to pay - but wait: no one can actually ask Bolden questions at the event (they must be submitted in advance and will be screened) - so what's the point of "covering" it anyway?

What a great way to keep the NASA-centric media away from NASA-centric events - require a press badge that NASA no longer issues! Sheer genius ! Hmm, maybe I can print one out that says "NASAWatch.com" and then laminate it myself. I am the editor so I hereby authorize myself. Funny, no one at NPC ever asked me for one in the past. Oops. Busted.

Developing the Next Generation of Robots, OSTP

"Today, in a speech at Carnegie Mellon University, President Obama is launching the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, a research initiative that will promote a renaissance of American manufacturing. ... four agencies (the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, NASA, and the United States Department of Agriculture) are issuing a joint solicitation that will provide up to $70 million in research funding for next-generation robotics."

NASA OIG Final Report: NASA's Hangar One Re-Siding Project

"NASA Inspector General Paul Martin today released a report that examines the $32.8 million re-siding project for Hangar One - one of the world's largest freestanding structures - at NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California. Hangar One, built in the 1930s to house the naval airship the USS Macon, covers approximately 8 acres and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. NASA acquired the hangar in 1994 as a result of the base realignment and closure process that involved Moffett Field, a Navy base adjoining Ames."

Keith's note: I had a rather special guest visit me today at the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) at Building 596 (aka "McMoon's") at NASA Ames Research Center. Dan Goldin. Having Dan visit was really cool. It was great to have him stop by and visit our rebel operation. I really enjoyed showing him around. Dan asked a string of very sharp, cogent questions and offered us some valuable advice. He totally gets the value of such things and the importance of history - and that we have adopted the mantra of "older-better-cheaper". Dan was at Ames as part of the memorial services for the late Baruch "Barry" Blumberg. Barry was a mutual friend of ours. As I mentioned at the memorial ceremony, Barry once told me "you and Dan are a lot alike. I just wish you two could get along". Well, after Barry's passing, we do. Barry's amazing "people skills" continue to work their magic. Larger photo here.

Pentagon dreams of interstellar travel, AP

"This month 150 competitors answered the federal government's initial call for private sector cosmic ideas. Officials say some big names are among those interested. The plan is to make interstellar travel possible in about a century."

Could You Head Up DARPA's 100-Year Starship Program?, Universe Today

"Just like all the technology development that DARPA has done in the past which required only small initial investments but ultimately lead to things, such as the internet and GPS technology -- as well as NASA's investment in space travel which has spawned items we use every day here on Earth -- they believe a small investment now could lead to a big payoff for everyone in the future."

Let's Reconstitute Humans From Genomes Launched Into Space! and Other Ambitious Proposals for Galactic Colonization, Popular Science

"We have no idea what interstellar travel might look like in 100 years, of course -- just as Jules Verne could never have conceived of the technology required to really send humans to the moon when he wrote about it in 1865. But if we start now, we can make it happen, according to David Neyland, who directs DARPA's Tactical Technology Office."

More reaction here

DARPA Encourages Individuals and Organizations to Look to the Stars - Issues Call for Papers for 100 Year Starship Study Public Symposium

"A century can fundamentally change our understanding of our universe and reality. Man's desire to explore space and achieve the seemingly impossible is at the center of the 100 Year Starship Study Symposium. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and NASA Ames Research Center (serving as execution agent), are working together to convene thought leaders dealing with the practical and fantastic issues man needs to address to achieve interstellar flight one hundred years from now."

Keith's note: Cool stuff. Yet NASA PAO makes zero mention of this event. I asked DARPA why this is the case in a telecon today. They said that this is because they have the lead on this and that NASA is doing the right thing by referring all inquiries to DARPA. I then asked if NASA will be allowed - encouraged - to openly participate in the conference that DARPA is holding in Orlando this Fall. DARPA said that NASA would be sending speakers, etc. DARPA is supposed to be posting a link to the proceedings of a workshop that they held with NASA a few months ago. When I asked if NASA would be asked to post a link to this report, DARPA did not know.

This is all rather baffling. The intent of this project is to spur imagination and new technologies such as life support, energy production etc. The DARPA folks are really good at this sort of thing and are being very inclusive. The cost is barely a blip on people's radar screens. This thing is bursting at the seams with potential spinoffs - and is the sort blue sky, what-if activity that you'd expect - hope - that a forward-thinking space agency would engage in - yet NASA HQ is going out of its way to ignore it. Go figure.

Bolden's Latest Junket

Keith's note: NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and his wife are off on an official tour of Europe - a lot of which is reportedly filled with vacation time and light duty in terms of work. Nice gig if you can get it.

Here's a photo of hiim being a motivational speaker to French students earlier today.

Senator Shelby Letter Expressing Concern to NASA About Shuttle Derived Booster Space Launch System, Senator Shelby

"I am concerned, therefore, that NASA is considering a Space Launch System architecture that relies on a booster system developed for the Space Shuttle. I am particularly concerned that this plan might be implemented without a meaningful competitive process. Designing a Space Launch System for heavy lift that relies on existing Shuttle boosters ties NASA, once again, to the high fixed costs associated with segmented solids. Moreover, I have seen no evidence that foregoing competition for the booster system will speed development of SLS or, conversely, that introducing competition will slow the program down."

Mars Rover Curiosity, NASA

"Taken during mobility testing on June 3, 2011, this image is of the Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, inside the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif."

Marc's note: Looks menacing, do you think the Martians will be intimidated? :-)

NASA Spacecraft to Make Cross Country Voyage, NASA

"NASA is inviting the public to view a test version of the agency's next spacecraft that will carry humans into deep space.

The Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, which NASA announced last month would be the agency's deep space crew module based on the original work on the Orion capsule, will make three stops as it travels by truck from NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in California to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida."

Marc's note: Tucson, Austin and Tallahassee residents can get an up close and personal look at the MPCV. Goodness, can't we just call it Orion or Orion2? The public's just going to go huh with that acronym.

Shuttle's End Leaves NASA a Pension Bill, New York Times

"The nation's space agency plans to spend about half a billion dollars next year to replenish the pension fund of the contractor that has supplied thousands of workers to the space shuttle program.

The shuttle program accounts for a vast majority of the business of United Space Alliance, originally a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. With the demise of the shuttle program, United Space Alliance will be left without a source of revenue to keep its pension plan afloat. So the company wants to terminate its family of pension plans, covering 11,000 workers and retirees, and continue as a smaller, nimbler concern to compete for other contracts."

Previously: NASA Facing $548 Million Payment To Cover USA Pension Fund Shortfall, Space News (April 1, 2011)

"The single biggest check NASA expects to write next year will go to United Space Alliance (USA) to cover a half-billion-dollar shortfall in the space shuttle contractor's pension fund."

Transcript of Republican Presidential Debate - NASA Excerpt, CNN

"KING: All right, let's continue the conversation, but we'll come back to this if we have to. Let's go to Jean Mackin in Hancock. She has a question.

MACKIN: Thanks, John. This question goes out to Speaker Gingrich. Next month, the space shuttle program is scheduled to retire after 30 years, and last year, President Obama effectively killed government-run space flight to the International Space Station and wants to turn it over to private companies. In the meantime, U.S. astronauts would ride Russian spacecraft at a cost of $50 million to $63 million a seat. What role should the government play in future space exploration?

GINGRICH: Well, sadly -- and I say this, sadly, because I'm a big fan of going into space and I actually worked to get the shuttle program to survive at one point -- NASA has become an absolute case study in why bureaucracy can't innovate.

If you take all the money we've spent at NASA since we landed on the moon and you had applied that money for incentives to the private sector, we would today probably have a permanent station on the moon, three or four permanent stations in space, a new generation of lift vehicles. And instead, what we've had is bureaucracy after bureaucracy after bureaucracy and failure after failure."


Update: NASA insider: Some truth to Gingrich's barb, CNN

"Why so quiet? Some NASA officials suspect Gingrich may be letting us know that the emperor has no clothes.

Some insiders are wondering if NASA is operating with an outdated management paradigm better suited to the 1960s Apollo era rather than the 21st century."

Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab to Host International Conference on Low-Cost Planetary Missions - Media Invited, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab

"Devising ways to explore space in tight fiscal times tops the agenda of the 9th International Conference on Low-Cost Planetary Missions, set for June 21-23, 2011, at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md."

NASA ConstellationMemo Marks Official End of Constellation, Space News

"A senior NASA official has signed the formal death warrant for the Constellation deep space exploration program even as work proceeds on one of Constellation's legacy development efforts and agency officials continue to ponder the fate of another.

"I have signed the letter to close out the Constellation Program," Douglas Cooke, associate administrator for NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, wrote in a June 10 memo."

Major Drop in Solar Activity PredictedMajor Drop in Solar Activity Predicted, National Solar Observatory and American Astronomical Society

"A missing jet stream, fading spots, and slower activity near the poles say that our Sun is heading for a rest period even as it is acting up for the first time in years, according to scientists at the National Solar Observatory (NSO) and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL)."

"If we are right," Hill concluded, "this could be the last solar maximum we'll see for a few decades. That would affect everything from space exploration to Earth's climate."

Family/Personal Preparedness, NASA HQ Emergency Operations

"A major initiative has been placed on Family/Personal Preparedness for all NASA personnel. The NASA Family/Personal Preparedness Program is designed to provide awareness, resources, and tools to the NASA Family (civil servants and contractors) to prepare for an emergency situation. The most important assets in the successful completion of NASA's mission are our employees' and their families. We are taking the steps to prepare our workforce, but it is your personal obligation to prepare yourself and your families for emergencies."

Marc's note: This video was released this past weekend for NASA employees.

LaserMotiveLaserMotive to Present at NASA Day on the Hill, LaserMotive

"LaserMotive is pleased to have the opportunity to demonstrate its wireless power technology next week at the NASA Day on the Hill. This annual event is open to the public as well as to Congress, but the presenters (such as LaserMotive) are by invitation only. Most of the presenters are from NASA or NASA contractors. However, LaserMotive is just one of two companies presenting that are not NASA contractors, making this honor extra special."

Marc's Note: This is a good story. Here's a startup out of Seattle that entered and won the first phase of NASA's Power Beaming Centennial Challenge and has since gone on to build a business case for their technology development. You can see them in DC on the Hill tomorrow.

Previous: NASA and Spaceward Foundation Award Prize Money for Successful Wireless Power Demonstration, NASA (Nov. 9, 2009)

"NASA has awarded $900,000 in prize money to a Seattle company that successfully demonstrated new wireless energy beaming technology which could one day be used to help power a "space elevator."

Vesta Images and Movie Finally ReleasedVesta's Surface Comes into View, NASA

"This movie shows surface details beginning to resolve as NASA's Dawn spacecraft closes in on the giant asteroid Vesta. The framing camera aboard NASA's Dawn spacecraft obtained the images used for this animation on June 1, 2011, from a distance of about 300,000 miles (483,000 kilometers)."

-- NASA Spacecraft Captures Video of Asteroid Approach, NASA JPL

Marc's Note: The video "One Earth" by Fiona Conn won NASA's Earth Day Video Contest. NASA's Earth Observatory blog latest post features all the entries.

J-2X Ready For Testing

NASA's New Upper Stage Rocket Engine Ready For Testing
NASA's New Upper Stage Rocket Engine Ready For Testing, NASA

"An upper stage engine is essential to making space exploration outside low-Earth orbit a reality," said Mike Kynard, manager of the J-2X upper stage engine project at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. "The J-2X goes beyond the limits of its historic predecessor and achieves higher thrust, performance, and reliability than the J2. We are thrilled to have the engine in the test stand to validate our assumptions about engine performance and reliability."

12:55 p.m. EDT Update: J-2X Progress: Road Trip, Baby!, NASA Blog (With images)

"Our little engine is pulled out of the air-conditioned confines of its assembly area and trucked across the NASA Stennis Space Center to its test stand. No more pleasantly cool and dry air for you, E10001. This is Mississippi in June. Thus, in order to make this trip out in the open like this on the back of the truck (don't try this at home!), the engine has to be sealed up tight against the humidity (and bugs) hanging in the air. Anywhere where there is an opening, there is a cover, a closure, or a plug."

MarsMars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG) Meeting 24, NASA

Marc's note: For the first time NASA's community-based forum, the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG), will be holding its meeting outside the U.S., and in this case in Lisbon, Portugal. This is significant in the context of tighter budgets for all concerned where future Mars missions will see greater international cooperation to share costs while at the same time achieving mutual desired science and exploration results. The era of NASA doing Mars mission wholly or mostly on its own appears to be ending. At least for the foreseeable future.

Some of the key topics of the meeting include:

- Discussion of NASA's and ESA's Mars program status, budget, current missions, and forward planning.
- First MEPAG meeting that can respond to the Decadal Survey results.

Lee Scherer

Lee Scherer, KSC's 2nd leader, dies at 91, Florida Today

"Lee Scherer, who led Kennedy Space Center through its last major transition between human spaceflight programs, will be remembered in a service later this month near his home in San Diego, Calif. Scherer, KSC's second center director from 1975 to 1979, died May 7 at age 91. ... Joining NASA in 1962 on loan from the Navy, Scherer managed a program that launched five lunar orbiters mapping Apollo landing sites."

Keith's note: We were beyond thrilled to have Lee Scherer visit our Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) operation at NASA Ames in November 2008 as we released the newly retrieved and restored "Earthrise" image taken by Lunar Orbiter 1 in 1966. As he walked into Building 596 (aka "McMoons" - it used to be a McDonalds) Lee was clearly stunned to see that we had found all of this old stuff and got it working again. We all had a tear in our eyes - it was like being in a Star Trek episode where something comes back from the past to a future where it simply should not exist.

At one point Lee told a story about some kids in his neighborhood who asked about an old picture he had hanging in his garage. Of course, it was the famous Earthrise image. You can imagine his reaction to seeing it presented in all its glory in a way not possible (technically) in 1966 - but in a way that now truly matched what one's mind's eye saw when this image first went viral in 1966. More than a generation later this image inspired the mission patch
for STS-130 - the shuttle flight that carried a piece of the summit of Mt. Everest and four small Apollo 11 moon rocks that had been to the summit up to the International Space Station. The past meets the future once again.

Ad astra Lee.

Photos of Lee's visit to McMoons and LOIRP here.

NASA: Reducing Regulatory Burden; Retrospective Review Under E.O. 13563

"As part of its implementation of Executive Order 13563, Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review, issued by the President on January 18, 2011, NASA is seeking comments on the Agency's preliminary plan to conduct a retrospective analysis of its existing regulations. The purpose of this analysis is to make NASA's regulatory program more effective and less burdensome in achieving its regulatory objectives."

As NASA prepares to retire its final shuttle, agency leaders face an uncertain future, nextgov

"NASA's 2012 budget calls for money to invest in flight systems that would take humans beyond low-Earth orbit, including a deep space capsule and heavy lift rocket, and research to enable the long journeys. But near-term goals are scant in the budget request. Obama is recommending a slight increase for exploration, but much of it is slated to go toward partnerships with the commercial space industry to get cargo and crew to the international space station--part of the president's controversial push to privatize more of NASA's work."


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