News: February 2012 Archives

Another Pointless EPO Junket

LAUNCH: Innovating the Way We Create, Beth Beck

"The amazing LAUNCH core team is gathering in San Francisco to host a brainstorming session with thought leaders in the field of "sustainable waste" -- creating less and creating more value from existing and future waste. We call this brainstorming session, LAUNCH: Big Think."

Keith's note: NASA HEOMD's EPO lead, Beth Beck is off on yet another fun trip - one whose value to NASA is hard to fathom. But apparently that isn't important - even as NASA struggles to inform the public and its "stakeholders" of what it does - and why. What does this event have to do with NASA human spaceflight i.e. the part of NASA where Beth works? As far as I can tell, nothing has been published, released, or otherwise discussed wherein value to the agency has been described resulting from activities. There seems to be no description of what has been provided of value to NASA human spaceflight efforts. Nor is there any mention of what NASA's human spaceflight programs have provided of value to Why isn't NASA External Relations doing this? Or perhaps the CTO? It is pointless junkets like this that get Congress angry and force them to issue those "no travel" edicts.

NASA stealth meetingQuebec City to Host Space Agency Leaders This Week, SpaceRef Canada

"Starting today Quebec City is hosting approximately 80 delegates for the International Space Agency Heads of Agency meeting. Attending will be representatives from NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the Russian Federal Space Agency (ROSCOSMOS) along with the hosts the Canadian Space Agency."

Marc's note: The Canadian Space Agency plans to issue a release for the event but this event has already started. It should be noted however that it is traditional for the ISS Head of Agency meeting to take place in March each year. However there usually is some heads up.

Keith's note: "Rocket Boys" author and former NASA employee Homer Hickam has a new book coming out titled "Crater". According to his website: "A mining colony on the moon. A teen sent on a deadly mission. And a secret bigger than two worlds. It's the 22nd Century. A tough, pioneering people mine the moon for Helium-3 to produce energy for a desperate, war-torn Earth. Sixteen-year old Crater Trueblood loves his job as a Helium-3 miner. But when he finds courage he didn't know he had and saves a fellow miner, his life changes forever. Impressed by his heroism, the owner of the mine orders Crater to undertake a dangerous mission. Crater doubts himself, but he has no choice. He must go." Check out the nicely done trailer for the book.

New Angry Birds game blasts off March 22, will team with NASA, Orlando Sentinel

"[Andrew] Stalbow also mentioned that National Geographic and NASA have signed on as launch partners. "Science and education are very important to us, and we're very excited to have NASA and National Geographic as launch partners on Angry Birds Space," he said. Unfortunately, the Yahoo story was short on details about the nature of the collaboration and neither Rovio nor NASA responded to a Los Angeles Times request for comment Monday morning."

Keith's note: New Trailer. Yea, this video nails it. NASA would do it this way. Meanwhile, I wonder if the angry birds will make those horrid noises in the vacuum of space ... Oh well - it will certainly be more interesting than those banal PAO people talking over boring ISS video ...

Scientists Launch NASA Rocket into Aurora, University of New Hampshire

"Funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Magnetosphere-Ionosphere Coupling in the Alfven resonator (MICA) mission sent a 40-foot Terrier-Black Brant rocket arcing through aurora 186 miles above Earth. The rocket sent a stream of real-time data back before landing some 200 miles downrange shortly after the launch."

Rocket Launched into Northern Lights To Illuminate GPS Effects, Cornell University

"A NASA-funded collaborative research team led by Steven Powell, Cornell senior engineer in electrical and computer engineering, launched a sounding rocket from Alaska's Poker Flat Research Range on Saturday, Feb. 18 at 8:41 p.m. Alaska Standard Time (Sunday, Feb. 19, 2012 at 12:41 a.m. EST) to collect data straight from the heart of the aurora."

Keith's 20 Feb note: While these two universities are obviously excited about this launch, NASA certainy isn't. All that was announced by Poker Flat (on their webpage only) was a long launch window. No press release, media advisory before or after the launch. Nothing whatsoever from NASA or any of its field centers either. According to the Poker Flat website "Poker Flat Research Range is the world's only scientific rocket launching facility owned by a university. Poker Flat is located approximately 30 miles north of Fairbanks, Alaska and is operated by the University of Alaska's Geophysical Institute under contract to NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, which is part of the Goddard Space Flight Center."

Ah, that should explain the situation: Wallops is apparently mentoring Poker Flats on PR. Not a good sign since NASA Wallops PAO is barely capable of even the most rudimentary launch event public awareness itself.

Keith's 21 Feb update: CNN just spent 30 seconds showing this pretty picture. Too bad NASA doesn't seem to think enough to post it.

Keith's 22 Feb update: NASA is still ignoring this NASA rocket launch. Very odd.

Celebrating America's First Manned Orbital Flight - Friendship 7 50th Anniversary

"February 20th marks the 50th anniversary of the day in 1962 when U.S. Senator John Glenn piloted his Friendship 7 spacecraft on the first U.S. orbital mission. This video recounts that event in history."

- @SPOTScott (Scott Parazynski): "No way to properly thank my boyhood hero and eventual crewmate, John Glenn- My fav photo: bloodletting w/Dracula fangs!" (Image)

- Video: John Glenn's Flight

NASA's Misaligned PR Machine

John Kelly: NASA needs to power up PR machine, Florida Today

"The solution is for NASA to use its broad, and well-funded, public relations arm to make sure that the public does hear about its successes and its progress. NASA must make it known that the new super rocket is being built, tests are being completed, and progress is being made toward test flights."

Keith's note: I am a chronic critic of NASA PAO, but this throwaway line by John Kelly begs a response. NASA's "public relations arm" is anything but "well-funded". Quite the contrary: overall PAO resources have been reduced nearly 75% since 2006. That does not mean NASA does not spend a lot of taxpayer's dollars on various communications activities. As the agency's corporate communications ability shrinks (thanks in large part to a $10 million OMB mandated reduction for a project wrongfully credited to NASA PAO), individual NASA projects and mission directorates make up the difference through independent PR efforts executed under an umbrella known as "public outreach".

However, those public outreach efforts are rarely coordinated with each other or with the agency's corporate communications arm at NASA PAO. As such, PAO often watches in frustration as money is spent on websites, philanthropic efforts, videos, and toys that have little overall value to NASA while resources for the agency's primary communications efforts dwindle due constant Congressional cuts.

If you want to send a message to the managers of SLS and Orion and other spaceflight projects, tell them to worry about completing their projects on time and on budget, and stop trying to figure out how to make these vital programs popular with the American people. They may be terrific engineers but they often make lousy decisions when it comes to executing PR activities and almost always ignore in-house expertise, thus duplicating efforts and wasting money.

Instead, the programs and projects should turn over the resources, responsibility, and accountability to the agency's communications professionals and empower them to execute the kind of coordinated and strategic efforts suggested in Kelly's article. And of course, if NASA gets too good at the sort of PR Kelly would like to see, then he and the rest of the news media will invariably start to dump on NASA - but this time for spending too much money on PR.

Keith's note: A note for all of the "citizen journalists" who will be participating in the budget briefing on Monday at NASA HQ. This is a great idea - but this is by no means a "first". There is a long road - one traveled by others before you to where you will be - and it started more than 10 years ago, before "blogging" was even a word, when there were no Tweetups, and the first citizen journalists dared to claim that they were legitimate media and demanded access to their government. As such, for those of us who helped pave the way (inside and outside of NASA), do us proud. Don't waste the opportunity. Ask something useful.

Brian Welch would find this all to be rather fascinating. He had his hands full just dealing with only me ...

Questions at this afternoon's budget press conference can be tweeted with the hashtag #askNASA NASA will try and answer some of them.

Letter from the NASA Inspector General to Rep. James Sensenbrenner, 4 February 2000. Topic: NASA Watch's application for press accreditation. Note: by this point NASA "RIF" Watch had been online for more than 3 years.

"The editor of NASA Watch has twice applied for press accreditation from NASA and was rejected both times. The first application was a verbal request to NASA Headquarters PAO for credentials to attend the launch of the Mars Pathfinder spacecraft in June 1997. That request was verbally rejected on the grounds that NASA Watch was not legitimate press but rather was closer to a "vanity press." The editor of NASA Watch again applied (via email) for press credentials to NASA Headquarters PAO in July 1999 (see Appendix B) and was again rejected (see Appendix C) on the grounds that NASA Watch did not meet the PAO's new policy for press accreditation (see Appendix D). NASA has no formal process for appealing rejection of press credentials."

Rogue Webmasters, Government Executive, October 1996

"Donald Teague, president of the NASA Headquarters Professional Association, says the RIF Watch site provides invaluable information. "You have to turn it on each morning to see what's going on," he says. A committee of headquarters employees nominated Cowing for an agency award for running the RIF Watch site. But NASA Associate Administrator for Headquarters Operations Michael Christensen, rejected the idea. "The tone of the page is unacceptable," says Christensen. "None of us dispute his right to run the Web site. My own personal decision was that it would be inappropriate to honor him for it."

Keith's note: There was supposed to be an embargoed press briefing on the FY 2013 budget at NASA HQ today at 2:00 pm EST. That has now been cancelled. I do not know who cancelled it but Brian Berger at Space News is reporting that this was done on orders from the White House - and that's a good enough source for me. I was not planning on attending this event (I have in the past) since these things tend to be high level, no policy questions allowed, no quotes, and you have to decide between listening to the off the record briefer or furiously write down the budget numbers they flash on a screen (no handouts). Of course, if you attend you are then under an embargo until the budget is released on Monday - and I honor embargoes when I agree to be under them. But now the White House has clamped down on this so its a moot point. That said, I really do appreciate NASA PAO for taking the time to try and do this and for inviting me and others.

Keith's note: Too bad that NASA OCT does seem to know how to feature - or at least make people aware of - articles like this - and do so in real time. Articles like this on prominent blogs such as Gizmodo point to the true potential - and real spinoffs - that NASA has already created - ones that await promotion and full utilization. Gizmodo gets 5.9 million page views per day and has approximately 3 million unique visitors - daily. Funny thing, NASA ARC and JPL PAO have been helping Gizmodo with this series of articles. But no one at NASA PAO seems to talk to anyone at NASA OCT (or vice versa). Free PR, y'all.

NASA takes first ever video of dark side of the moon, Fox News

Keith's note: Of course, video has been shot from lunar orbit before and there is no "dark side" of the Moon - all portions of the surface are dark or sunlit at one point or another depending on where the Moon is in its orbit. The only exceptions are some craters in the polar regions which have areas that are always "dark". But if there actually was a "dark" side of the Moon, how would you be able to take a video of it? Alas, despite the inaccurate headline that some genius at Fox came up with, the article itself, written by's Tariq Malik is completely accurate.

To the moon? It's not that loony, MSNBC

"GOP hopeful Mitt Romney says that he'd fire anyone who suggested spending hundreds of billions of dollars to build a moon colony -- but what about tens of billions of dollars? A former NASA adviser says he and others at the space agency drew up an approach that could put astronauts on the moon for $40 billion, as a "Plan B" for future exploration. "We figured out at NASA how to do it in about 10 years for $40 billion," said Charles Miller, who recently left his position as NASA Headquarters' senior adviser for commercial space and is now president of NextGen Space. "The question is, would Mitt Romney fire me for a proposal to return to the moon for $40 billion?"

Technologies that we've lost - and the quest to find them again, io9

"I asked NASA Watch's Keith Cowing about this, and he explained that this is just an urban legend. The schematics are all still around, mostly on microfiche, and any ancient computer files just hold images of the original plans as opposed to now unreadably obsolete data. Still, while the knowledge wasn't lost, it was certainly forgotten, and worse, it was badly organized. As Cowing - himself working on the rediscovery of old NASA documents with the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project - told me, all this archival information was basically abandoned until NASA's started working on the Constellation program last decade, and now that that project has been forgotten the information is again beginning to gather dust. If there is a point of disconnect, it's more in terms of how we understand the information and the different ways in which we approach science forty-five years on"



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