Recently in Space & Planetary Science Category

NASA OIG: NASA's Planetary Science Portfolio

"While PSD and the Centers are focused on meeting current mission needs, they are at risk of neglecting investments that would help ensure long-term maintenance of NASA's unique planetary science infrastructure. These include (1) sustaining technical capabilities to support future mission needs; (2) a workforce facing increasing risk from an impending wave of retirements that is exacerbated by the lack of sufficient workforce data for management to make informed decisions, challenges associated with transfer of knowledge, and limited awareness of hiring authority best practices; (3) a lack of adequate funding to repair, maintain, and modernize the Deep Space Network, which provides tracking, telemetry, and command services for deep space missions; and (4) funding mid-level technology development. Moreover, the lack of a cohesive "One NASA" approach by stakeholders, including Center management, Mission Directorate management, and NASA's technical workforce, is hindering the Agency's ability to identify, prioritize, and address longer-term risks to planetary science infrastructure."

Breakthrough Initiatives to Fund Study into Search for Primitive Life in the Clouds of Venus

"Breakthrough Initiatives, the privately-funded space science programs founded by science and technology investor and philanthropist Yuri Milner, are funding a research study into the possibility of primitive life in the clouds of Venus. The study is inspired by the discovery, announced yesterday, of the gas phosphine, considered a potential biosignature, in the planet's atmosphere. The science team undertaking the research will comprise world-class physicists, astronomers, astrobiologists, chemists and engineers, led by Dr. Sara Seager, Professor of Planetary Science, Physics and Aerospace Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The group will investigate the scientific case for life and analyze the technical challenges of an exploratory mission in the event that such evidence proves compelling."

OIG: NASA's Management of the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy Program

"The lack of clear and achievable performance expectations and lack of concurrence between SMD and SOFIA management on science output goals including publication and citation metrics has reduced productivity and threatens the Program's future viability. The Program is unlikely to achieve the community's expectation of 150 publications per year by 2022, or the Program's goal of 100 annual publications, as it only produced 33 publications in 2019 and the actions proposed to meet this goal fall short of the transformational changes required to address current operational and technical challenges. Further, the proposed actions are unlikely to mitigate SOFIA's lack of competitiveness because of the Program's poor efficiency on a science-per-dollar basis when compared to other observatories."

Keith's note: A year and a half ago Jim Bridenstine directed NASA to fix its online services. he told the agency "I am calling for a full modernization of NASA's digital presence to best reflect the priorities and activities of the Agency in this new era of science, discovery, and exploration. To accomplish that we will: ..." . Have they done what he asked them to do? No. In fact, some things have just gotten worse.

Here's one example. Go to NASA Science Mission Directorate homepage and click on "news" and then "press releases". You'd expect to see a current listing, right? Guess again. The last one posted is dated 30 July 2020. No mention of NASA's Chandra Opens Treasure Trove of Cosmic Delights or Primary Mirror for NASA's Roman Space Telescope Completed or The Moon Is Rusting, and Researchers Want to Know Why issued in the past 24 hours. If you go to More science news they are not mentioned either.

But if you go to NASA.gov these things are available. Curiously when you go to NASA.gov there is no way to find the SMD homepage. If you click on Solar System and Beyond you see SMD's recent stories but no link to the SMD homepage. If you look at the SMD homepage you will notice that there is no link to NASA.gov - unless you scroll all the way down to a little link at the bottom of the page.

If you use the NASA.gov search engine and look for "astrobiology" the official NASA Astrobiology website never shows up in the search results (I stopped looking after 3 pages of results).

In summary: NASA SMD won't easily send you to NASA.gov and NASA.gov won't send you to SMD. None of these sites has a consistent and current link to the things that SMD releases - and the search engine for all of NASA can't even find the main home page of the program (Astrobiology) that drives all the science on the fancy new $2 billion rover headed to Mars.

- NASA Has Had A Year To Reorganize Their Web Presence. Did They?, earlier post
- SMD Sends A $2 billion Astrobiology Mission to Mars and Then Forgets About Astrobiology, earlier post
- NASA Just Can't Stop Doing Web Stuff Twice UPDATE: Three Times, earlier post
- NASA's Confusing ICESAT-2 Websites, earlier post
- Progress Made In Making NASA's Internet Presence Leaner, earlier post
- Dueling NASA Websites Update, earlier post

Perseverance: Being There

Perseverance: The Mission and the Team, Thomas Zurbuchen

"As we went through the countdown, just minutes before the launch of NASA's Perseverance rover, we got a message that seemed fitting: "there is an Earthquake in Pasadena." MiMi Aung, the project director of Ingenuity, the pioneering Mars helicopter was just on air from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory when her world started shaking. "She seemed a little more nervous than normal." somebody remarked and wondered why. Minutes later, the same person wondered: "how did she keep it together during all this?" This is the question many have asked many times, and the Perseverance team answered it over and over, not by words, but by actions. Here are some Perseverance moments during the past few years."

Keith's note: NASA Launched the Mars 2020 rover Perseverance today. As Perseverance departs it leaves a troubled world behind to explore a new one in search of life. At the Perseverance post-launch media event I asked NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Science Mission Directorate Associate Administrator Thomas Zurbuchen about exploring a new world during such difficult times.

I asked: "Right now the nation is in the midst of a pandemic nightmare that is not going to end any time soon, It is going to be a dark, scary winter. 328 million Americans are going to be staring at their computers and TVs as will billions around the world. NASA is sending an Astrobiology droid to Mars to look for evidence of life. It may discover that we are not alone. How cool is that. It has been nearly half a century since the Viking landers attempted much the same task. The world could use some good news now. How is NASA going to involve the world in a way that speaks to the way we are all isolated - yet still connected? How will NASA make the Perseverance mission a bright light amidst an otherwise gloomy winter?"

The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover, powered by the United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket, has blasted off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station! The liftoff went right on time, at 7:50 a.m. EDT.

Viking Mission Overview, NASA

"NASA's Viking 1 and 2 missions to Mars, each consisting of an orbiter and a lander, became the first space probes to obtain high resolution images of the Martian surface; characterize the structure and composition of the atmosphere and surface; and conduct on-the-spot biological tests for life on another planet. Viking 1 was launched Aug. 20, 1975, and arrived at Mars on June 19, 1976. On July 20, 1976, the Viking 1 lander separated from the orbiter and touched down at Chryse Planitia. Viking 2 was launched Sept. 9, 1975, and entered Mars orbit Aug. 7, 1976. The Viking 2 lander touched down at Utopia Planitia on Sept. 3, 1976."

Viking Landing Sites, NASA press release 7 May 1973

"Project Viking seeks to advance significantly scientific knowledge of the planet Mars, with emphasis on determining if life once existed or is now present."

- Viking, NASA

James Webb Space Telescope to launch in October 2021, ESA

"The launch of the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope (Webb) on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana is now planned for 31 October 2021. NASA has announced the decision, based on a recently completed schedule risk assessment of the remaining integration and test activities before launch, accounting for impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic and technical challenges. Previously, Webb was targeted to launch in March 2021."

One Of Everything: The Breakthrough Listen Exotica Catalog

"We present Breakthrough Listen's "Exotica" Catalog as the centerpiece of our efforts to expand the diversity of targets surveyed in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). As motivation, we introduce the concept of survey breadth, the diversity of objects observed during a program. ... As far as we are aware, this is the first object list in recent times with the purpose of spanning the breadth of astrophysics. We share it with the community in hopes that it can guide treasury surveys and as a general reference work. Accompanying the catalog is extensive discussion of classification of objects and a new classification system for anomalies. We discuss how we intend to proceed with observations in the catalog, contrast it with our extant Exotica efforts, and suggest similar tactics may be applied to other programs."

Making a Splash With a Hint of Mars Water, Science 30 June 2000

"It began as a whisper on the Web a week ago Monday evening, grew to a noisy torrent of media babble by Wednesday, and on Thursday morning crashed onto the front pages. Moving at the light-speed pace of modern media, a wave of chatter about water and therefore possible life on Mars swept a paper at Science into headline news a week before its scheduled publication. ....

.... Opening the press conference, planetary geologist Michael Malin of Malin Space Science Systems Inc. (MSSS) in San Diego warned that "the actual science may pale before the science fiction that has been written." The fiction grew out of an accurate, if vague, item on the independent watchdog Web site, NASA Watch (http://www.nasawatch.com/), late afternoon on 19 June. It reported, apparently from sources in the astrobiology community, that NASA had briefed the White House (presidential science adviser Neal Lane, as it turned out) on a major discovery involving water on Mars. Other Web sites added details through Tuesday, 20 June; USA Today put a Web-sourced story at the top of its front page Wednesday morning. The information gleaned anonymously from NASA headquarters personnel and researchers around the country ranged from on target--signs of recent spring activity--to unlikely: ponds and even the possibility of geysers. Although no reporters appeared to have seen the paper (by Malin and his MSSS colleague Kenneth Edgett), Science decided to stem the flow of misinformation by releasing it."

Keith's note: I almost forgot about this little scoop that was on NASAWatch on 19 June 2000. It caused quite a stir and a media feeding frenzy. Those older pages from NASAWatch are sitting on a Zip Drive somewhere. But Science magazine - which rushed the scientific article to publication - chronicled the scoop.

Here's the article "Evidence for Recent Groundwater Seepage and Surface Runoff on Mars", Science

Lessons learned from (and since) the Voyager 2 flybys of Uranus and Neptune, Heidi Hammel

"More than 30 years have passed since the Voyager 2 fly-bys of Uranus and Neptune. I discuss a range of lessons learned from Voyager, broadly grouped into process, planning, and people. In terms of process, we must be open to new concepts: reliance on existing instrument technologies, propulsion systems, and operational modes is inherently limiting. I cite examples during recent decades that could open new vistas in exploration of the deep outer Solar System. Planning is crucial: mission gaps that last over three decades leave much scope for evolution both in mission development and in the targets themselves. .. I turn to people: with generational-length gaps between missions, continuity in knowledge and skills requires careful attention to people. The youngest participants in the Voyager missions (myself included) now approach retirement. We share here ideas for preparing the next generation of voyagers."

NASA's Curiosity Team Operates A Mars Rover From Home

"For people who are able to work remotely during this time of social distancing, video conferences and emails have helped bridge the gap. The same holds true for the team behind NASA's Curiosity Mars rover. They're dealing with the same challenges of so many remote workers - quieting the dog, sharing space with partners and family, remembering to step away from the desk from time to time - but with a twist: They're operating on Mars."

In Response to COVID-19, Space Dynamics Lab Satellite Operators "Fly" Small Sats from Home, Space Dynamics Laboratory

"The Space Dynamics Laboratory announced today that satellite operators are flying NASA spacecraft from their homes to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The emphasis on social distancing and stay-at-home work has become ubiquitous throughout the world and has affected sectors of many industries, including the space industry. In response to disruptions of normal work methods due to the global pandemic, SDL satellite operators have successfully shifted operations of two NASA small satellites away from traditional Mission Operations Centers to alternative flight centers--their living rooms."

236th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society Goes Virtual

"The 236th meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), originally scheduled 31 May to 4 June in Madison, Wisconsin, will instead be held online, 1-3 June. The AAS Board of Directors decided to make this move in alignment with worldwide efforts to minimize the impact of COVID-19. Most of our Madison plenary lecturers and other presenters have committed to join us for this virtual experience, which will be held jointly with the AAS Laboratory Astrophysics Division (LAD)."

International Astronautical Congress, Global Space Exploration Conference, Global Space Conference on Climate Change - All Postponed, IAF

"Following the growing escalation of the Covid-19 outbreak around the world, the IAF is saddened to inform you that the International Astronautical Congress - IAC in Dubai will not be taking place this year, but will be postponed. We are in the process of re-assessing the overall schedule of IACs and will inform you within the coming weeks about the new dates. As a consequence, the Call for Applications to Host the IAC in 2023 is suspended and a new Call for Hosting IAC 2024 will be opened in November 2020. ... Also, the Global Space Exploration Conference - GLEX 2020 in St. Petersburg, and the Global Space Conference on Climate Change - GLOC 2021 in Oslo will be postponed by a year to 2021 and 2022 respectively. New dates will be communicated in the coming months."

NASA RFI: Payloads and Research Investigations on the Surface of the Moon released

"NASA is soliciting input to assist the Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration in the Science Mission Directorate in planning the development of investigations on the lunar surface to be delivered by the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program."

HeroX Helps NASA Advance Moon Exploration with Miniaturized Payload Design Competition

"HeroX, the leading crowdsourcing platform that solves global problems, today launched the crowdsourcing competition "Honey I Shrunk the NASA Payload" on behalf of the NASA Tournament Lab (NTL) and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The challenge calls on the global community of solvers to develop miniature payloads that could be sent to the moon in the next several years to fill strategic lunar knowledge gaps."

NASA Awards Contract to Deliver Science, Tech to Moon Ahead of Human Missions

"NASA has selected Masten Space Systems of Mojave, California, to deliver and operate eight payloads - with nine science and technology instruments - to the Moon's South Pole in 2022, to help lay the foundation for human expeditions to the lunar surface beginning in 2024. The payloads, which include instruments to assess the composition of the lunar surface, test precision landing technologies, and evaluate the radiation on the Moon, are being delivered under NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative as part of the agency's Artemis program."

NASA's Science Mission Directorate Seeks Earth and Space Science Volunteer Reviewers

"NASA's Science Mission Directorate is seeking subject matter experts to serve as external (email) and/or virtual panel reviewers of proposals to ROSES. All of the forms may be accessed on the main landing page at https://science.nasa.gov/researchers/volunteer-review-panels or just follow the links below to the volunteer review forms and click the boxes to indicate the topics in which you consider yourself to be a subject matter expert. If your skills match our needs for that review and there are not too many organizational conflicts of interest, we will contact you to discuss scheduling."

NASA JPL Internal Email: Creating the Future of Planetary Science, NASA JPL

"Today, the Mars Exploration Directorate and the Solar System Exploration Directorate are integrating to form the new Planetary Science Directorate (4X). This new organization comes at a critical time as the nature of NASA's planetary science efforts continues to expand and the next decade's blueprint has yet to be written. This new organization is designed to improve our alignment and communications with NASA HQ and our partner organizations, improve the integration & communication of our priorities and challenges across the Lab, and strengthen our collaboration and interactions with the planetary science community."

NASA JPL Internal Memo: Creating the Future of Planetary Science (with JPL Planetary Science Directorate leadership assignments), NASA JPL

"Since the fall, we have been assessing options to best position the Lab to execute its future in planetary science. Effective today, the Mars Exploration Directorate and the Solar System Exploration Directorate are integrating to form the new Planetary Science Directorate (4X). This organizational change is designed to improve alignment and communications with NASA HQ and our partner organizations, improve the integration & communication of our priorities and challenges across the Lab, and strengthen our collaboration and interactions with the planetary science community. We will team with other organizations across the Lab in development of a strong, diverse and inclusive personnel pipeline for the future roles in the Directorate and across the Lab. We will learn from each other and be an even greater force for discovery going forward."

NAS Space Science Week 2020 Events March 31-April 1

"During Space Science Week, five committees meet simultaneously to discuss recent advances in their fields, hear from federal agencies about upcoming projects, and plan future work. We invite you to tune in remotely for the open sessions of these meetings, which will take place on March 31-April 1, 2020."

NASA Science Division Updates to the Community, NASA

"The NASA Science Division Directors will provide community updates on Tuesday, March 31, when they address the discipline committees of the National Academies' Space Studies Board (SSB) during Space Science Week 2020. During the updates, the Science Division Directors will discuss the President's Fiscal Year 2021 budget request for NASA Science and other Division specific updates of NASA's science programs."

NASA Science Mission Directorate Virtual Town Hall 2020

"The leadership of SMD recognizes that the COVID-19 epidemic has placed tremendous strain on all of us and our families, disrupting our lives and putting new hurdles in the way of accomplishing our professional goals. Our first priority is the safety of everyone who works on NASA missions and funded research and SMD leadership is committed to doing all it can to support our community. I want to thank all of you for your patience and hard work as we transition to this new normal.

We know that progress on funded research may slow and in some cases even stop due to necessary telework and lack of access to facilities and labs, the closing of public schools and daycare facilities for our children, the transition of teaching activities to on-line classes, and other family obligations. SMD understands this potential outcome of the current epidemic response and will work with the research community and its institutions to mitigate any impacts and to make plans, when possible, for a way forward. This situation will undoubtedly cause some inefficiencies, but we continue to be supportive of any research that can be done remotely."

ExoMars to Take Off for the Red Planet in 2022, not 2020

"In the frame of a dedicated meeting, ESA and Roscosmos heads Jan Wörner and Dmitry Rogozin agreed that further tests to the spacecraft with the final hardware and software are needed. In addition, the parties had to recognise that the final phase of ExoMars activities are compromised by the general aggravation of the epidemiological situation in European countries."

Nancy Evans

"Nancy Liggett Evans 11/22/1937 - 1/17/2020 was born to M. Margaret and Dr. Robert Samuel Liggett in Denver Colorado. She was married to E. Wayne Bamford bearing a daughter Megan Ann. She was later married to William J. Evans of Denver. Moving to California in the 70's, she was employed in planetary exploration at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA headquarters and the California Institute of Technology. Known as the "mother" of the Planetary Data System; she later enabled the digitization of the Lunar orbiter images. However, the work of her lifetime was the development, documentation and practice of veterinary acupuncture. She was working on a book about this subject, but it was not completed. She is remembered by her daughter Megan, son in law Mike Flynn, her sister Margaret Ann and many friends and acquaintances."

Image: From 2008: Lunar Orbiter Program Manager Lee Scherer and Nancy Evans in front of the restored and operational FR-900 tape drive used to retrieve Lunar Orbiter images. There was not a dry eye in the house when they both visited. Link

The Hackers Who Recovered NASA's Lost Lunar Photos, Wired

"When they learned through a Usenet group that former NASA employee Nancy Evans might have both the tapes and the super-rare Ampex FR-900 drives needed to read them, they jumped into action. They drove to Los Angeles, where the refrigerator-sized drives were being stored in a backyard shed surrounded by chickens. At the same time, they retrieved the tapes from a storage unit in nearby Moorpark, and things gradually began to take shape. Funding the project out of pocket at first, they were consumed with figuring out how to release the images trapped in the tapes."

https://s3.amazonaws.com/images.spaceref.com/news/2020/earthise.old.new.med.2.jpg

Keith's note: Nancy Evans saw the undiscovered value in the Lunar Orbiter tapes when no one else did. NASA usually likes new, shiny things - not old, dusty things. Nancy put her money where her mouth was and fought to save these tapes as best she could - as well as the drives needed to read them. As a result the world now has an archive of ultra-high lunar imagery from the mid-1960s which can often exceed contemporary imagery and can be used to study changes in the lunar surface over the span of half a century. That imagery is now online in the Planetary Data System - which Nancy lead the development of - where it belongs, along side data from other NASA missions.

Sometimes being a true space pioneer can be as simple as not throwing things out when you are told to throw them out. History is an inexhaustible resource for new discoveries. Nancy Evans did a diving catch and saved some of that NASA history. NASA would do well to take a fresh look at its old data. Who knows what lies within that data awaiting discovery.

Ad Astra Nancy.

- Memorial information (21 March 2022).
- Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project, official (archived) website
- Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project, Wikipedia
- Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) Online Data Volumes, NASA PDS

Virginia Middle School Student Names NASA's Next Mars Rover

"NASA's next Mars rover has a new name -- Perseverance. The name was announced Thursday by Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate, during a celebration at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia. Zurbuchen was at the school to congratulate seventh grader Alexander Mather, who submitted the winning entry to the agency's "Name the Rover" essay contest, which received 28,000 entries from K-12 students from every U.S. state and territory. "Alex's entry captured the spirit of exploration," said Zurbuchen. "Like every exploration mission before, our rover is going to face challenges, and it's going to make amazing discoveries. It's already surmounted many obstacles to get us to the point where we are today -- processing for launch. Alex and his classmates are the Artemis Generation, and they're going to be taking the next steps into space that lead to Mars. That inspiring work will always require perseverance. We can't wait to see that nameplate on Mars."

Keith's note: I had a chance to ask a question at the Mars 2020/Perseverance media telecon: "it was good to hear the word Astrobiology and Mars 2020 in the same sentence since this is an overt Astrobiology mission. Astrobiology is an emergent discipline for the 21st Century that the Artemis Generation will be studying as they prepare for careers studying Mars. The word "Astrobiology" is used elsewhere by NASA, and is in the title of innumerable high school and university classes and text books around the world. Is NASA going to use the Mars 2020 mission to enhance the visibility of its Astrobiology program? We humans are going to have as many as 4 rovers on Mars doing Astrobiology in the near future. This is unprecedented. Are there any plans to have coordination of public outreach for the 4 rovers that will soon be doing Astrobiology research on Mars - again as something to inspire the Artemis Generation?"

Lori Glaze replied "We intend to use Mars 2020 to bring visibility to Astrobiology as a discipline and a focus of this mission. We'll also use Dragonfly and Europa Clipper to highlight Astrobiology as well." She added that it is going to be a fantastic international year on Mars with 4 rovers and we are looking to bringing more focus on the partners and cooperation on Mars.

When asked of it is OK to call Perseverance by the nickname "Percy" Thomas Zurbuchen said it was just fine and that this sort of personalization is part of the way that people will identify with the mission.

NASA Approves Development of Universe-Studying, Planet-Finding Mission

"The FY2020 Consolidated Appropriations Act funds the WFIRST program through September 2020. The FY2021 budget request proposes to terminate funding for the WFIRST mission and focus on the completion of the James Webb Space Telescope, now planned for launch in March 2021. The Administration is not ready to proceed with another multi-billion-dollar telescope until Webb has been successfully launched and deployed."

FY 2021 Budget, OMB

"Consistent with prior budgets, the Budget provides no funding for the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope".

White House Wants To Kill WFIRST - Again (2019), earlier post

"The Budget proposes to terminate the WFIRST mission and instead focus on completing the delayed James Webb Space Telescope."

AAS Officials Concerned with Proposed Cancellation of WFIRST, (2018), earlier post

"Sharing alarm voiced by other scientists, leaders of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) are expressing grave concern over the administration's proposed cuts to NASA's astrophysics budget and the abrupt cancellation of theWide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST)."

More posts on WFIRST

Keith's note: Over the past week I have posted several commentaries about how NASA shies away from using the word "astrobiology" in official agency releases and stories to describe missions and research designed to search for evidence of life on other worlds - which, of course, is the core mission of NASA's 20 year old Astrobiology Program:

- NASA Continues To Hide Its Astrobiology Program
- NASA's Science Mission Directorate Has An Issue With Certain Words

I asked NASA several times why this is the case. Below is my inquiry, their response, and my commentary on their response:

Keith's note: NASA SMD has an extensive Program Officers list of contact information for all of its research programs. Virtually everything SMD does has a contact listed - except Astrobiology. The word is not mentioned at all - even though many of its sub topics are mentioned. NASA issues research solicitations for "Astrobiology" yet they can't be bothered to tell people who to contact for the programs managed under "Astrobiology" at NASA?

Oh yes - it has been a week and no one from NASA SMD, PAO, JPL, etc. has responded to my inquiry to explain why JPL and GSFC avoid the use of the word "Astrobiology" when referring to missions overtly focused on Astrobiology research. See "NASA's Science Mission Directorate Has An Issue With Certain Words"

While I am on this topic last week NASA issued this release "NASA Adds Return Sample Scientists to Mars 2020 Leadership Team" which says "the Mars 2020 mission will search for signs of past microbial life..." Yes folks, that is "Astrobiology". The JPL and NASA HQ PAO folks just cannot bring themselves to mention NASA's Astrobiology program or the discipline of "Astrobiology". Searching for life on other worlds is what NASA's Astrobiology program is chartered to do. Read the reports from the National Academy of Sciences and NASA ROSES solicitations and you will see. Read NASA's own websites and you will see what the agency defines Astrobiology as being. Indeed, one of the two scientists mentioned, Tanja Bosak, is part of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. But does anyone bother to mention this? No.

And FWIW as an actual former NASA biologist, this stock phrase of NASA JPL's PAO folks "signs of past microbial life" is goofy. Are you only looking for microbial evidence? What if the only biosignatures the Mars 2020 rover finds are chemical in nature with no remaining or obvious structural fossils? How will NASA know if the past life was microbial i.e. unicellular or multi-cellular? This is another planet so what may have once lived there might not even fit the terrestrial classification of "microbial". What if viral forms are what existed - they are acellular (i.e. not composed of cells) and not considered to be "microbes" - even though some of them can be as large as cellular life i.e. "microbes". What if NASA finds bones or exoskeletal remains? Or trails made by larger living things as they moved? They are not "microbial" in nature so will NASA's rover not see them? And what if the rover finds evidence of recent/current life? It does have that ability even if it is indirect. NASA press statements suggest that NASA is not interested in that either.

I would hope that that answer is "of course we're interested in whatever we find on Mars". OK, then say so. I can understand the hesitance to say that the Mars 2020 rover mission has the ability to find extant life when that is not its explicit purpose. Why not just say "evidence of past life?" Why use this odd "past microbial life" phrase? Otherwise it sounds like NASA has already decided what sort of life was on Mars before ever having seen any evidence of it - and that this is all that the agency cares to think about.

Missions searching for evidence of life on another world have the potential to for paradigm-shifting and sociologically explosive repercussions. One would think that the agency could get its act together as to what you call things and not ignore the people who actually do the core research that serves as the purpose of your missions. If NASA is incapable of making internal sense of what it is doing, then how can NASA expect the public to fully grasp what NASA is doing?

Within the next year or so there could be as many as four rovers operating on Mars with overt Astrobiology-related missions: Mars Curiosity, Mars 2020, ExoMars/Rosalind Franklin, and China's rover. Nothing like this has ever happened before on another world. Again, one would think that there'd be some sort of coordinated effort to show the country and the world that we're really dialing up the search for life on Mars - past and/or present - and in so doing, use the globally-accepted name for the the discipline wherein such research is conducted i.e. "Astrobiology".

NASA Selects Four Possible DIscovery Program Missions to Study the Secrets of the Solar System

"NASA has selected four Discovery Program investigations to develop concept studies for new missions. Although they're not official missions yet and some ultimately may not be chosen to move forward, the selections focus on compelling targets and science that are not covered by NASA's active missions or recent selections. Final selections will be made next year. NASA's Discovery Program invites scientists and engineers to assemble a team to design exciting planetary science missions that deepen what we know about the solar system and our place in it. These missions will provide frequent flight opportunities for focused planetary science investigations. The goal of the program is to address pressing questions in planetary science and increase our understanding of our solar system."

NASA Internal Memo: Website Modernization and Enhanced Security Protocols 15 May 2019 (PDF)

"Currently there are an estimated 3,000 public-facing NASA Web sites, yet the top 10 sites receive 80 percent of all Web traffic. Additionally, some NASA partners operate Web sites on our behalf outside of the Agency, creating redundancy and accumulating unnecessary costs. Not only does this duplication of information cause confusion, each Wen site provides potential access for a cyber-attack on NASA's assets. The shutdown earlier this year gave us a clear view of the cyber vulnerabilities inherent in operating thousands of Web sites. We need to take steps to protect our resources in a hostile cyber landscap, examine our digital footprint, reduce costs, and maximize the effectiveness of communications efforts. In addition to security risk, multiple sites dilute our effectiveness in communicating key messages about our missions."

Keith's update: OK. It has been 9 months. Has anyone actually done anything called for in this memo from the Administrator? The CIO shows no evidence of having done so (no surprise). Same goes for PAO. Its is not even clear who is responsible for this - I have heard that the task was tossed into the Chief Scientist's lap - that makes no sense. SMD issued a memo about this yet little seems to have been done. Indeed, NASA issued a press release today 'Pale Blue Dot' Revisited' which says "For more information about the Voyager spacecraft, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/voyager https://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov" Why does NASA need to pay people to maintain TWO websites for Voyager? Why do they have multiple websites for virtually all of their missions?

- NASA Just Can't Stop Doing Web Stuff Twice UPDATE: Three Times, earlier post
- NASA's Confusing ICESAT-2 Websites, earlier post
- Progress Made In Making NASA's Internet Presence Leaner, earlier post
- Dueling NASA Websites Update, earlier post

James Webb Space Telescope: Technical Challenges Have Caused Schedule Strain and May Increase Costs, GAO

"The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) project has made significant progress since GAO's last report in March 2019, such as completing testing of the observatory's individual elements and integrating them together in August 2019. However, new technical challenges have required the project to use more schedule reserve extra time set aside in the project's schedule to accommodate unforeseen risks or delays than planned. As of October 2019, the project had used about 76 percent of its available schedule reserve and no longer plans to launch in November 2020. The project is now managing to a March 2021 launch date but estimates only a 12 percent likelihood that this date will be achieved. NASA plans to reassess the launch date in the spring of 2020."

Keith's note: I was on Deutsche Welle TV - live - just after Noon EST today talking about the Mars 2020 rover mission..

NASA to Present First Findings of Solar Mission in Media Teleconference

"NASA will announce the first results from the Parker Solar Probe mission, the agency's revolutionary mission to "touch" the Sun, during a media teleconference at 1:30 p.m. EST Wednesday, Dec. 4. During the teleconference, mission experts will discuss research results from four instruments on the probe, which are changing our understanding of the Sun and other stars. Their findings also will be published at 1 p.m. Wednesday on the website of the journal Nature. Teleconference audio will stream live at: https://www.nasa.gov/live"

Parker Solar Probe: We're Missing Something Fundamental About the Sun, University of Michigan

"Our closest-ever look inside the Sun's corona has unveiled an unexpectedly chaotic world that includes rogue plasma waves, flipping magnetic fields and distant solar winds under the thrall of the Sun's rotation, according to University of Michigan researchers who play key roles in NASA's Parker Solar Probe mission."

Keith's note: The announcement starts at 4:30 pm EST and will be carried live on NASA TV

New Companies Join Growing Ranks of NASA Partners for Artemis Program

"The selected companies are:

Blue Origin, Kent, Washington
Ceres Robotics, Palo Alto, California
Sierra Nevada Corporation, Louisville, Colorado
SpaceX, Hawthorne, California
Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems Inc., Irvine, California"

Keith's 18 Nov note: Here we go again. This just appeared online at NASA. "NASA Scientists Confirm Water Vapor on Europa". Look how the article opens: "Forty years ago, a Voyager spacecraft snapped the first closeup images of Europa, one of Jupiter's 79 moons. These revealed brownish cracks slicing the moon's icy surface, which give Europa the look of a veiny eyeball. Missions to the outer solar system in the decades since have amassed enough additional information about Europa to make it a high-priority target of investigation in NASA's search for life . What makes this moon so alluring is the possibility that it may possess all of the ingredients necessary for life. "

NASA has a program that searches for life elsewhere - its called Astrobiology. The program has existed for more than 20 years. Once again there's a NASA press release about research results with blatant, undeniable relevance to Astrobiology - yet no mention is made of NASA's Astrobiology program. Nor is any link made to anything related to NASA's Astrobiology program even though the prospect of finding life on Europa have been among the most prominent examples of what NASA's Astrobiology program is all about. All that talk we now hear of "ocean worlds" - well it started with Astrobiology's interest in Europa.

But its not just other parts of NASA that ignore Astrobiology-related news, NASA's Astrobiology program ignores it too. No mention is made of this at https://astrobiology.nasa.gov/ and the @NASAAstroBio Twitter account - with over 747,000 followers - has only been tweeting about one of a NASA staffer and his comic books for the past several weeks.

But wait: there's more: JPL issued this press release "Aquatic Rover Goes for a Drive Under the Ice" today. It also makes no reference or link to NASA's Astrobiology program, is not mentioned by NASA's Astrobiology program yet it is also filled with phrases overtly resonant with NASA's search for life aka Astrobiology.

"BRUIE, or the Buoyant Rover for Under-Ice Exploration, is being developed for underwater exploration in extraterrestrial, icy waters by engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. It will spend the next month testing its endurance at Australia's Casey research station in Antarctica, in preparation for a mission that could one day search for life in ocean worlds beyond Earth. ... these lunar oceans, such as those on Jupiter's moon Europa and Saturn's moon Enceladus, may be the best places to look for life in our solar system. ... The ice shells covering these distant oceans serve as a window into the oceans below, and the chemistry of the ice could help feed life within those oceans ... We've found that life often lives at interfaces, both the sea bottom and the ice-water interface at the top ... BRUIE will carry several science instruments to measure parameters related to life, such as dissolved oxygen, water salinity, pressure and temperature ... we only really know how to detect life similar to that on Earth."

And then there's this release "First Detection of Sugars in Meteorites Gives Clues to Origin of Life" also issued today by NASA GSFC. It also has multiple references to the search for life. It uses the word "astrobiology" at the end of the release and only links GSFC's Astrobiology page (not NASA's main Astrobiology page) and when you arrive at the GSFC Astrobiology page you are welcomed by a giant broken image.

Keith's 21 Nov: NASA updated astrobiology.nasa.gov to add the Europa and sugar in meteorites stories but only did so a day or two after NASA itself released them and news media wrote about them. They have yet to make mention of the BRUIE story. If you check our Astrobiology.com website you will see a number of Astrobiology stories - most of which represent NASA funded activities - that NASA's Astrobiology program simply ignores. If you go to google and search for "astrobiology" news stories you will see that Astrobiology.com dominates the search results. It is baffling that NASA is incapable - and apparently unwilling - to promote its own good news.

Thursday's Stealth Astrobiology Event At Ames, earlier posting

Keith's note: The new name is "Arrokoth" which means 'sky' in Powhatan. It is cool that the IAU named 2014 MU69 this way. Oddly the formal announcement was done in a windowless NASA room with no public visibility. They should have done it outdoors under the 'sky' at the National Museum of the American Indian 2 blocks away. Just sayin'

Keith's update: NASA did talk to the National Museum of the American Indian about hosting this event however the museum does not host events like this so they declined.

"From:
Subject: Name of Powhatan heritage and the Algonquian languages Program
Date: 12 November 2019 08:56
To: "smd@hq.nasa.gov"

Good morning SMD: Please join us for an official ceremony to formally bestow upon 2014 MU69 a name of Powhatan heritage and the Algonquian languages. NASA Headquarters Webb Auditorium Tuesday, November 12, 2019 9:00-10:00 a.m. EST".

Keith's update:

New Horizons Kuiper Belt Flyby Object Officially Named 'Arrokoth'

"In a fitting tribute to the farthest flyby ever conducted by spacecraft, the Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 has been officially named Arrokoth, a Native American term meaning "sky" in the Powhatan/Algonquian language. With consent from Powhatan Tribal elders and representatives, NASA's New Horizons team - whose spacecraft performed the record-breaking reconnaissance of Arrokoth four billion miles from Earth - proposed the name to the International Astronomical Union and Minor Planet Center, the international authority for naming Kuiper Belt objects. The name was announced at a ceremony today at NASA Headquarters in Washington."

Mars InSight's Mole Has Partially Backed Out of Its Hole

"After making progress over the past several weeks digging into the surface of Mars, InSight's mole has backed about halfway out of its hole this past weekend. Preliminary assessments point to unusual soil conditions on the Red Planet. The international mission team is developing the next steps to get it buried again. A scoop on the end of the arm has been used in recent weeks to "pin" the mole against the wall of its hole, providing friction it needs to dig. The next step is determining how safe it is to move InSight's robotic arm away from the mole to better assess the situation. The team continues to look at the data and will formulate a plan in the next few days."

Restructuring NASA's Planetary Research Program For ROSES 2021

"In 2014, NASA announced the reorganization of the planetary research and data analysis programs to align them by subject area to Planetary Science Division strategic goals. A number of disparate programs were merged into the Solar System Workings program, creating a behemoth to which well over 300 proposals have been submitted each year. This has proved unwieldy for managers, reviewers, and proposers alike. A survey (Appendix A) shows it is supported by less than 10% of respondents. In this grass roots effort, we propose SSW be broken up into five core programsanda separate pilot program for geologic mapping. We propose a restructuring of mission data analysis programs with some guidelines for future programs. We would maintain most of the other existing programs. An initial draft of this proposal was posted online and an online community survey (Appendix A) was conducted from October 1-7, advertised through the Planetary Exploration Newsletter, AAS DPS Newsletter, and other community forums. This proposal is informed by the 249 responses to the survey including a large number of comments."

Keith's note: If you go to the NASA GSFC website you will see this release "Laser Precision: NASA Flights, Satellite Align Over Sea Ice". In the release you will see this at the bottom: "For more information, visit: nasa.gov/icesat-2 or icesat-2.gsfc.nasa.gov". There's no HMTL for the links on this webpage thus making it more difficult for people to follow the non-existent links.

If you go to nasa.gov/icesat-2 you get the NASA ICESAT -2 website which features a link to this release. If you go to icesat-2.gsfc.nasa.gov you see the GSFC ICESAT-2 website but this press release is not even mentioned. [7 Oct Update: they added a link to the release today]. If you go to the NASA main page or the NASA Earth Science topic page there is no mention of this release. If you go to the NASA Science Mission directorate page there is no mention of this release either.

If you go to the Science Mission Directorate Press Releases page there is no mention either. In fact the last press release - of any kind - that is mentioned is from 30 July 2019 - more than 2 months ago.

Yet this press release is posted on AAAS' Eurekalert and is shown as being from "NASA GSFC" - not from "NASA". If this research is being done by NASA - and is important enough to warrant paid posting on a press release service then is it not also worth posting on NASA and NASA SMD websites? Is it not also worth posting on the GSFC ICESAT-2 website along with other ICESAT-2 news? And why does NASA Need two ICESAT-2 websites - both of which cater to a wide range of public interest audiences?

- NASA Just Can't Stop Doing Web Stuff Twice, earlier post
- Overhauling NASA's Tangled Internet Presence, earlier post
- Progress Made In Making NASA's Internet Presence Leaner, earlier post

Keith's note: The 'Pluto is a planet fan club' has been howling about the demotion of Pluto from a "planet" to "dwarf planet" status after an IAU vote for more than a decade. Despite their outrage no one has been willing or able to muster enough votes to reverse the IAU vote or to find another professional body willing to endorse their definition of what a planet is. Apparently this is not that big of an issue otherwise the planetary science community would have staged an uprising to correct this grave error, right? Nothing but crickets.

So ... some of the Pluto fan club members have decided to try and use Wikipedia and other non-scientific means to accomplish what they can't get their scientific colleagues to do. Funny thing about Wikipedia - you can see every edit made and, with a little patience, figure out who is making the edits. Some of the stuff they are trying to post is really silly.

That said, crowd sourcing is a thing these days. The evolving "Geophysical planet definition" - definition - is online here. You can watch the process of editing this entry in real time - additions, deletions, edits, clarifications, etc. here. You are also welcome to make your own contributions and comments. Is 'Science' now something that now operates by popular whim? Let's open it up and see what happens.

Keith's 7 October update: There has been a surge of edits and deletions in the past 48 hours. It would seem that there is not unanimity on this topic (based a small sample size). FYI the Wkipedia page for "planet" has been "protected to prevent vandalism". If you look back at the edits that were aligned with the Pluto faction (now deleted) some of them were attempted by members of the 'Pluto is a planet fan club' i.e. @Nasaman58 - Kirby Runyon. Runyon has made the most edits (thus far) of "Geophysical Planet definition". Stay tuned.

Dear Colleague Letter From NASA Science Mission Directorate Associate Administrator Thomas Zurbuchen

"As we leave the FY19 year behind, I recognize that we stressed our system and often ourselves. Despite that, I observed true excellence on many occasions. You and your colleagues completed our challenging tasks, even though it would have been easy to find an excuse not to do them. I have received a number of comments from the science community expressing gratitude for the work of the NASA Science team - you and your colleagues. The community sees - and so does the entire leadership team -- that NASA Science remains high-performing and has in many domains even improved over and above expectations. I am proud to be part of this team, which stands with the best worldwide making history each year."

Bobby Braun Is Headed For JPL

Personnel and Organizational Announcements, NASA JPL

"I am very pleased to inform you that Bobby Braun will be joining the Laboratory Executive leadership team effective January 15, 2020 in this capacity. ... Due to the increasingly integrated nature of NASA's Planetary program, and to Bobby's long experience with the Mars Program, we will conduct a study this fall to merge significant portions of the existing Mars Exploration Directorate (6X) into the Solar System Exploration Directorate (4X)."

Bobby Braun, Dean Of CU Engineering, To Step Down In 2020, UC Boulder

"Dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Science Bobby Braun is stepping down in January 2020 to join NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory executive leadership team. JPL is an operating division of the California Institute of Technology."

Keith's note: I got this response from NASA GSFC PAO with regard to my initial posting last night. This is what happens when a biologist (me) thinks they are a know-it-all. I stand thoroughly corrected. My initial post follows below this correction.

Hi, Keith. You write:

"Anyone who saw the film Interstellar would recognize the similarity between the NASA and film images of a black hole. Oddly there is no mention by NASA of the fact that the initial work on the core aspect of this visualization was done by a team formed by Nobel laureate Kip Thorne who was working on."

The initial work on the core aspect of this visualization is much older than you suggest. It was first calculated to produce in a "simulated photograph" published by Jean-Pierre Luminet in 1979 (Image of a Spherical Black Hole with Thin Accretion Disk, Astronomy & Astrophysics 75, 228-235), where he specifically linked it to the possible appearance of the supermassive black hole in M87 (his image can be seen here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Pierre_Luminet#/media/File:Luminet's_Simulation_of_a_Black_Hole_Accretion_Disk.jpg); the results have been replicated in many visualizations since, including the one shown in Interstellar. One aspect shown by Luminet and the visualization we released (and that Interstellar chose not to, apparently because the director thought it would confuse the audience) is the asymmetric emission across the disk. We also released numerous extra graphics that show the simulation from perspectives not seen in the movie.

Jeremy has been working on his black hole rendering code since his graduate work in the early 2000s. You may be interested in Jeremy's talk, "The Science of Interstellar: Life on Planets Around Black Holes," on the Library of Congress website (https://www.loc.gov/item/webcast-7344). We have also issued a couple of other videos around Jeremy's work: "Turning Black Holes into Dark Matter Labs" (2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n_HlPxZUkIo) and "Peer into a Simulated Stellar-mass Black Hole" (2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rhJOLzwraA). Links to the stories can be found in the descriptions.

Best regards,

Frank"

The Science of Social Media Strategy, Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA

"With this rapidly evolving platform, informed strategy is key. During a recent review, we took a look at all of the social media accounts associated with NASA's Science Mission Directorate. We found that there are around 300 accounts across 8 platforms (Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter and YouTube). Although well-intended in all cases, our initial "more is better" strategy did not always work in all cases as we hoped. For example, a significant number of these accounts were inactive for time-periods over years, and others were highly duplicative and confusing at times, with respect to focus and content, resulting in the fact that many great posts were not seen by large audiences. Because of this and to improve the reach and impact of our social media efforts, we are working on a strategic social media plan that will consolidate these existing profiles across the 8 platforms. This consolidation does not mean that information will no longer be shared. In fact, the goal is to share the same information under more thematic and broader account handles that have larger audiences. Based on our deeper understanding of social media gained during the past years, we believe that this more focused and aligned effort will result in higher followership for these accounts and broader engagement, especially around missions or research efforts that might not normally get public attention."

NASA Internal Memo: Website Modernization and Enhanced Security Protocols (PDF), earlier post

"Currently there are an estimated 3,000 public-facing NASA Web sites, yet the top 10 sites receive 80 percent of all Web traffic. Additionally, some NASA partners operate Web sites on our behalf outside of the Agency, creating redundancy and accumulating unnecessary costs. Not only does this duplication of information cause confusion, each Wen site provides potential access for a cyber-attack on NASA's assets. The shutdown earlier this year gave us a clear view of the cyber vulnerabilities inherent in operating thousands of Web sites. We need to take steps to protect our resources in a hostile cyber landscap, examine our digital footprint, reduce costs, and maximize the effectiveness of communications efforts. In addition to security risk, multiple sites dilute our effectiveness in communicating key messages about our missions."

NASA Can't Figure Out What Astrobiology Is - Or Who Does It, earlier post

"Oh yes the NASA Mars 2020 website has two different addresses: https://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/mars2020/ and https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/. Then there is another Mars 2020 webpage at NASA HQ which does not point to either of these web links but points to yet another Mars 2020 page at NASA HQ instead."

- Overhauling NASA's Tangled Internet Presence, earlier post
- NASA's Semi-Stealth Astrobiology Mission, earlier post
- Dueling NASA Websites Update, earlier post
- NASA's Astrobiology Programs Ignore One Another, earlier post

NASA OIG Follow-up to May 2019 Audit of Europa Mission: Congressional Launch Vehicle Mandate, NASA OIG

"NASA's renewed focus on returning humans to the Moon on an accelerated timetable means that an SLS will not be available to launch the Clipper mission to Europa before 2025 at the earliest. Given all of the foregoing factors, we urge Congress to consider removing the requirement that NASA launch the Europa Clipper on an SLS and allow the Agency to decide whether to use an SLS or a commercial vehicle based on cost, schedule, vehicle availability, and impact on science requirements."

"However, because of developmental delays and, more significantly, NASA's plans to use the first three SLS rockets produced for its Artemis lunar program, an SLS will not be available until 2025 at the earliest. Consequently, if completed on its projected schedule, the approximately $3 billion dollar Europa spacecraft (known as "Europa Clipper") will need to be stored for at least 2 years at a cost of $3 to $5 million per month until an SLS becomes available. NASA recently added $250 million in Headquarters-held reserves to the project to address these storage and related personnel costs. Congress could reduce risks to both the Europa mission and Artemis program while potentially saving taxpayers up to $1 billion by providing NASA the flexibility in forthcoming fiscal year (FY) 2020 appropriations legislation to determine the most cost effective and timely vehicle to launch the Europa Clipper mission in 2023 or whenever the satellite is completed."

NASA OIG Audit: Management Of NASA's Europa Mission, NASA OIG, earlier post

"In addition, although Congress directed NASA to use the SLS to launch the Clipper, it is unlikely to be available by the congressionally mandated 2023 date and therefore the Agency continues to maintain spacecraft capabilities to accommodate both the SLS and two commercial launch vehicles, the Delta IV Heavy and Falcon Heavy."

Keith's note: NASA JPL issued a press release on Monday titled "Mission to Jupiter's Icy Moon Confirmed". Great news for the Astrobiology community as noted by the release - except that the NASA Astrobiology website linked to in this release makes no mention of this news (maybe they will on Tuesday).

But if you go to the link featured in today's NASA JPL press release about Europa Clipper - you know the "astrobiology" mission that is going to Europa to search for possible indications of life etc., Astrobiology is nowhere to be found. I looked throughout the entire europa.nasa.gov website. The word "astrobiology" is never mentioned once. The only related term is used to describe several participating scientist as being an "astrobiologist". But "life" - as in the search for - shows up more than a hundred times. Nor is any link provided to NASA's Astrobiology program.

Why is that?

How is it that NASA's 20+ year old program - one that recognized by the National Academies of Science in multiple reports and mentioned by name in congressional legislation - cannot be mentioned on the official NASA website for a mission that is overtly Astrobiology-themed? It really does look like one part of NASA does not know and/or does not seem to care what other parts of NASA are doing. If NASA cannot coordinate the interaction between some of its basic programs and organizations regarding this billion dollar mission how is the public is going to fully understand what this mission will do - and how other related work that NASA does in Astrobiology relates to it?

- NASA Makes Big Astrobiology Mission Announcement Without Saying "Astrobiology"
- NASA Leads The World In Astrobiology. Wow, Who Knew?, earlier post
- NASA Can't Figure Out What Astrobiology Is - Or Who Does It, earlier post
- NASA Is Incapable Of Explaining How It Does Astrobiology, earlier post
- NASA's Astrobiology Program Works Hard To Ignore Itself, earlier post
- NASA's Astrobiology Programs Ignore One Another, earlier post
- NASA Leads In Astrobiology. It Needs To Act That Way., earlier post

Keith's note: Earlier today I featured a silly slide shown by NASA Astrophysics Division Director Paul Hertz to the Astro2020 Decadal Survey Committee Meeting at the National Academy of Science (Mocking Cost Overruns And Schedule Slips At NASA (Update)). If you download his entire presentation (link) you will see that there several slides which serve one purpose: to confuse anyone who tries to understand what they are trying to say.

https://s3.amazonaws.com/images.spaceref.com/news/2019/not.science.jpg

In this slide (larger). Hertz says NASA is "not a science agency". Then he says that what "NASA is a mission-oriented agency, and science is the purpose and consequence of our space missions". So Science is what NASA does. And NASA is an agency - in this case an agency that does science. So why is NASA not a "science agency"? There is a distinction lacking a difference at work here.

"Science" is mentioned multiple times in the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, As Amended. Hertz quotes this Act by saying "... carrying instruments and humans through space" when in fact neither the original or amended version of the Act uses these words. Instead they both say "living organisms through space". Hertz is trying to spin the language and intent of NASA's charter to say NASA does not do science - at a workshop where the next decade of space science is being planned. In the process he seems to have confused himself. I can only guess that Hertz changed "living organisms" to "humans" to try and make NASA sound more operational and less scientific.

https://s3.amazonaws.com/images.spaceref.com/news/2019/nasa.science.jpg

And then he includes a chart (larger) about "NASA Principles of Science" even though he claims NASA is not a science agency. My brain hurts.

https://s3.amazonaws.com/images.spaceref.com/news/2019/flagship.jpg

Then there's this confusing chart (larger) about why flagship missions cost so much. It seems to be saying that if NASA waited longer it would cost more to build things. But that we can now build better things for less money. Hertz then says "we started Webb in 2007, it will cost $8.8 billion and it has ~10x the collection area of Hubble". OK, so it will be a cool telescope - but what was the original cost of Webb supposed to be? $824.8 million was the advertised sticker price in 2002. By 2010 it had increased to $6.8 billion. But Hertz mentions none of this because the real villan is "the tyranny of inflation" according to the title on this chart. No it wasn't. Webb's obscene cost increase is not due to inflation - it is due to the fact that NASA did not know what it would cost when it started and then went on to mismanage the project for a decade - leading to delays and cost increases.

I think most people involved in the Decadal review see through Hertz's confusing charts. He has been doing this for a long time. That said, at a time when budgets are ever tighter - especially for science - you would hope that the government representatives from agencies who want to spend billions on science could at least use plain language to make their points.

Just sayin'

https://s3.amazonaws.com/images.spaceref.com/news/2019/hertz.jpg

Keith's note: This Powerpoint chart (enlarge) was shown yesterday by NASA Astrophysics Division Director Paul Hertz to the Astro2020 Decadal Survey Committee Meeting at the National Academy of Science where they are working on the next decadal plan. At the heart of this plan is a strategic discussion of what resources can reasonable be expected to be available during the time frame under consideration and how to prioritize their wish list accordingly. We're all familiar with the immense cost overruns and schedule delays for the Webb Space Telescope.

I have watched Paul Hertz make these sort of presentations over the years. It is obvious that he has spent far too much time inside the alternate reality bubble at NASA and is unaware how charts like this can be interpreted by external eyes or, via webstreaming, that his words can be heard by external audiences. To be certain this is one chart from a larger presentation that I did not hear. That is the problem with NASA Powerpoint charts and their stilted language. When they escape into the wild they stand on their own without context as this chart has. But the words say what they say. Nowhere do we see words to the effect that cost overruns and schedule slips are bad and are to be avoided. Why state the obvious, eh? Maybe if it gets stated more often people at NASA will start to pay attention to these delays/overruns.

As NASA Administrator Bridenstine noted in testimony before the Senate yesterday "NASA has not been good at realistic budgets and schedules. We need to get better at that. ... We have a long history at NASA for cost and schedule not being set in a realistic way and that leads to a lack of confidence in people - such as this committee." Whether it is Webb or Mars landers or SLS NASA has some major work to do to restore confidence in its budgeting and program management.

As such you would think that official NASA presentations would take the matter seriously and not be flippant or try and debunk cost overrun "myths" or negate their impact as not being all that bad. Moreover, one would think that the Administrator's concerns would translate into a more serious tone about the budget realities that lie ahead and not feed the collective denial among space scientists who think that they are running all of their programs just fine and more money is always available.

Just sayin'

I sent a request to Paul Hertz, SMD, and PAO asking "Can you provide me with the background information used by SMD to reach the conclusions stated on this chart? Also: are there any charts in your presentation that state that cost overruns and schedule slips are bad and are to be avoided?" Hertz will ignore my request.

Keith's note: Response from Paul Hertz (surprised me): "My complete chart set is posted at https://www8.nationalacademies.org/pa/projectview.aspx?key=51398#MeetingId11211.

You posted Chart 59.

"Are there any charts in your presentation that state that cost overruns and schedule slips are bad and are to be avoided?" -- See charts 69-72.

"NASA has always spent 55%-70% of the annual budget on developing large missions." - See Chart 58. This statement is only about Astrophysics (that was clear in the context of the presentation, but it is not explicitly stated).

"When a flagship overruns, it delays the next flagship. NASA protects R&A and the Explorers from flagship overruns to maintain a balanced program." - See Chart 36 (amount of funding for R&A or Explorers during period of Webb overruns). This statement is only about Astrophysics (that was clear in the context of the presentation, but it is not explicitly stated).

"The reduction in Explorer launch rate around 2010 was due to a reduction in the overall Astrophysics budget." - See Chart 36 (top line from FY09 to FY13)."

NASA's Dragonfly Will Fly Around Titan Looking for Origins, Signs of Life, NASA

"NASA has announced that our next destination in the solar system is the unique, richly organic world Titan. Advancing our search for the building blocks of life, the Dragonfly mission will fly multiple sorties to sample and examine sites around Saturn's icy moon. ... Titan is an analog to the very early Earth, and can provide clues to how life may have arisen on our planet. During its 2.7-year baseline mission, Dragonfly will explore diverse environments from organic dunes to the floor of an impact crater where liquid water and complex organic materials key to life once existed together for possibly tens of thousands of years. Its instruments will study how far prebiotic chemistry may have progressed. They also will investigate the moon's atmospheric and surface properties and its subsurface ocean and liquid reservoirs. Additionally, instruments will search for chemical evidence of past or extant life. ... "With the Dragonfly mission, NASA will once again do what no one else can do," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "Visiting this mysterious ocean world could revolutionize what we know about life in the universe. ... evidence of past liquid water, organics - the complex molecules that contain carbon, combined with hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen - and energy, which together make up the recipe for life. ... Dragonfly will visit a world filled ith a wide variety of organic compounds, which are the building blocks of life and could teach us about the origin of life itself." ... The moon's weather and surface processes have combined complex organics, energy, and water similar to those that may have sparked life on our planet. ... and exploring a near-Earth asteroid for the building blocks of life," said Lori Glaze, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division."

Keith's note: Look at these multiple references to one of the prime tasks of Dragonfly - to search for organic compounds on Titan due to their relevance to the possibility of life. Once again, for those of you who have not been paying attention: NASA has an astrobiology program and this is what it does. I was in the auditorium at the Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon) in Seattle when this was announced. A loud cheer went up (see video below). With all this blatant relevance to topics key to Astrobiology and broad enthusiasm for the mission from the Astrobiology community you'd think that NASA SMD and NASA PAO would use the word "astrobiology" at least once or link to the NASA Astrobiology program webpage. Guess again. Alana Johnson from PAO is listed as a contact on this press release. She attended the entire Astrobiology Science Conference. Either she was not paying attention to the topic of the meeting or she had no influence on the wording of this press release.

NASA complains that people do not understand the scope and breadth of its programs. Small wonder when NASA so effectively and deliberately ignores some of its own programs the way that it ignores "Astrobiology".

- NASA Leads The World In Astrobiology. Wow, Who Knew?, earlier post
- NASA Can't Figure Out What Astrobiology Is - Or Who Does It, earlier post
- NASA Is Incapable Of Explaining How It Does Astrobiology, earlier post
- NASA's Astrobiology Program Works Hard To Ignore Itself, earlier post
- NASA's Astrobiology Programs Ignore One Another, earlier post
- NASA Leads In Astrobiology. It Needs To Act That Way., earlier post

NASA Selects Flying Mission to Study Titan for Origins, Signs of Life, NASA

"NASA has announced that our next destination in the solar system is the unique, richly organic world Titan. Advancing our search for the building blocks of life, the Dragonfly mission will fly multiple sorties to sample and examine sites around Saturn's icy moon."

Keith's note: If you visit the NASA Mars 2020 website and go to the Science page it talks about the mission's strategy as being to "Seek Signs of Life" on Mars. That is what NASA's Astrobiology program does, right? Alas, this JPL website does not use the word "astrobiology" - anywhere. Not even in the Instruments page. Nor does this other JPL website on the mission.

Oddly If you go to the NASA Mars Exploration Program page on science there is a link to "Astrobiology" which refers to Mars 2020. If you go to the NASA Astrobiology page on Mars 2020 it describes the Mars 2020 mission as a mission with lots of Astrobiology on it.

If you go to the main NASA science page (which makes no mention of "Astrobiology") and use the search function to search for "astrobiology" you get a search results page that says "no results found" but has some old Astrobiology press releases from 2008.

Oh yes the NASA Mars 2020 website has two different addresses: https://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/mars2020/ and https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/. Then there is another Mars 2020 webpage at NASA HQ which does not point to either of these web links but points to yet another Mars 2020 page at NASA HQ instead.

Why are these parts of NASA incapable of presenting a common description of this mission and/or its relevance to Astrobiology?

- Overhauling NASA's Tangled Internet Presence, earlier post
- NASA's Semi-Stealth Astrobiology Mission, earlier post
- Dueling NASA Websites Update, earlier post
- NASA's Astrobiology Programs Ignore One Another, earlier post

NASA to Announce Selection of Science Commercial Moon Landing Services, Hold Media Teleconference

"NASA will announce the next major step in the Artemis program's lunar surface exploration plans during a NASA Science Live broadcast at 1 p.m. EDT Friday, May 31. The announcement will air on NASA Television and the agency's website. Paving the way to return astronauts to the surface of the Moon, and ultimately Mars, NASA will announce the selection of the first commercial Moon landing service providers that will deliver science and technology payloads as part of the agency's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS). These missions will acquire new science measurements and enable important technology demonstrations, whose data will inform the development of future landers and other exploration systems needed for astronauts to return to the Moon by 2024."

NASA Selects First Commercial Moon Landing Services for Artemis Program

"- Astrobotic of Pittsburgh has been awarded $79.5 million and has proposed to fly as many as 14 payloads to Lacus Mortis, a large crater on the near side of the Moon, by July 2021.
- Intuitive Machines of Houston has been awarded $77 million. The company has proposed to fly as many as five payloads to Oceanus Procellarum, a scientifically intriguing dark spot on the Moon, by July 2021.
- Orbit Beyond of Edison, New Jersey, has been awarded $97 million and has proposed to fly as many as four payloads to Mare Imbrium, a lava plain in one of the Moon's craters, by September 2020."

NASA OIG Audit: Management Of NASA's Europa Mission

"Despite robust early-stage funding, a series of significant developmental and personnel resource challenges place the Clipper's current mission cost estimates and planned 2023 target launch at risk. Specifically, NASA's aggressive development schedule, a stringent conflict of interest process during instrument selection, and an insufficient evaluation of cost and schedule estimates has increased project integration challenges and led the Agency to accept instrument cost proposals subsequently found to be far too optimistic. Moreover, Clipper has had to compete with at least four other major JPL-managed projects for critical personnel resources, causing concern that the project may not have a sufficient workforce with the required skills at critical periods in its development cycle. ... In addition, although Congress directed NASA to use the SLS to launch the Clipper, it is unlikely to be available by the congressionally mandated 2023 date and therefore the Agency continues to maintain spacecraft capabilities to accommodate both the SLS and two commercial launch vehicles, the Delta IV Heavy and Falcon Heavy. ... We also believe that requiring the Agency to pursue a Lander mission at the same time it is developing the Clipper mission is inconsistent with the NRC's recommended science exploration priorities."

NASA OIG: NASA's Heliophysics Portfolio

"To improve NASA's management of its heliophysics portfolio, we recommended the Associate Administrator for Science direct the HPD Director to (1) require that all JCL analyses include all discrete development risks including important risks managed outside of the project--such as a project's launch vehicle--with potential cost and/or schedule impacts; (2) complete implementation of NSWAP tasks; (3) reassess HPD's capabilities and resources and update its roadmap for implementing 2013 Decadal recommendations with expected completion dates based on the Division's updated budget and priorities over the next 5 years; and (4) establish a formal mechanism to increase collaboration with DOD and the commercial space industry regarding heliophysics research and space weather modeling and forecasting efforts."

NASA Seeks New Options for Science Instrument on Europa Clipper, NASA

"The mission's initial planned magnetometer, called Interior Characterization of Europa Using Magnetometry, or ICEMAG, will not fly with the spacecraft because of cost concerns. Instead, NASA will seek options for a simpler version of this instrument. ICEMAG currently is in its preliminary design phase, and its flight hardware hasn't been built yet."

ICEMAG Update on Europa Clipper, NASA

"During Phase A the entire Europa Clipper payload experienced significant resource growth, (including cost growth) due to accommodation challenges. This is expected due to system and environmental challenges for this mission, and typically confined to Phase A. However, during the System Requirements Review/Mission Definition Review and at the subsequent KDP B gate review concerns were raised that further growth was probable. This was a concern for NASA because of the guidance from the National Academies received directing NASA to keep Clipper cost in check due to the importance of program balance across all of planetary sciences."

NASA Selects Experiments for Possible Lunar Flights in 2019

"NASA has selected 12 science and technology demonstration payloads to fly to the Moon as early as the end of this year, dependent upon the availability of commercial landers. These selections represent an early step toward the agency's long-term scientific study and human exploration of the Moon and, later, Mars. NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD) initiated the request for proposals leading to these selections as the first step in achieving a variety of science and technology objectives that could be met by regularly sending instruments, experiments and other small payloads to the Moon."

NASA Administrator Statement on Israeli Moon Mission

"In July, I was in Israel and was very impressed with their commitment to expanding their role in the world's space community. As we better understand Israel's capabilities and the innovative work of their private industry, we know they'll be an even stronger international partner in the future, one vital to the success of extending commercial space to the Moon and eventually on to Mars and beyond. There are terrific opportunities awaiting Israel and all of us in advancing the space frontier."

Keith's note: I asked former NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe what his thoughts were today as Opportunity ended its mission on Mars:

"The Mars Exploration Rovers - Spirit and Opportunity - missions were stunning achievements that exceeded expectations beyond anyone's imagination. Over the span of 15 years, for a program designed to last no more than six months, the MER team's scientific and engineering achievements have informed our understanding of Mars to pave the way for future exploration. They started operations at a critical moment in the wake of the Columbia shuttle tragedy and after a series of missions to Mars with little success. As the chapters of NASA history continue to be written, the MER program will be remembered as a moment that restored our resolve to explore space beyond our own planet.

Charles Elachi and Steve Squyres are the heroes of MER in my book. Both were routinely deployed to convince dubious decision makers on Capitol Hill that the engineering project was sound, the scientific mission was well considered and the probability for success was higher than the mission failures that preceded. Their credibility and expertise made very Doubting Thomas a convert. After the Rovers landed, Steve proved to be the go-to guy to explain to television audiences around the globe exactly what we were looking for on the Red Planet. Today it's treated as "Truth according to Squyres" thanks to his capacity to bring the science to life for all of us who are pedestrians."

I also had a chance to ask Steve Squyres about the twin rovers and their place in the pantheon of human exploration:

Opportunity

NASA's Opportunity Rover Mission on Mars Comes to End

"It is because of trailblazing missions such as Opportunity that there will come a day when our brave astronauts walk on the surface of Mars," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "And when that day arrives, some portion of that first footprint will be owned by the men and women of Opportunity, and a little rover that defied the odds and did so much in the name of exploration."

NASA to Share Results of Effort to Recover Mars Opportunity Rover

"NASA will discuss the status of its Mars Exploration Rover(MER) Opportunity in a media briefing at 2 p.m. EST (11 a.m. PST) Wednesday, Feb. 13, from the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. The briefing will air live on NASA Television, the agency's website and YouTube. The briefing will follow NASA's last planned attempts to communicate with Opportunity late Tuesday evening. The solar-powered rover last communicated with Earth June 10, 2018, as a planet-wide dust storm was blanketing the Red Planet."

Taking In The View From Wharton Ridge, earlier post

"Today I learned that a feature on the surface of Mars has been named after a friend of mine. This was not unexpected since I knew that his name was in the queue waiting for just the right feature to be discovered by the Opportunity rover. "Wharton Ridge" is named after Robert A. Wharton (Bob). Bob was born a few years before me in 1951 and died unexpectedly in 2012. I worked with Bob at the old Life Sciences Division at NASA Headquarters in the late 1980s. ... Bob would have been in his element on Mars. He was perfectly suited for it. When we do send people to Mars they will truly be following in his footsteps. In the tradition of polar explorers Bob's colleagues waited until just the right place revealed itself to them. As Opportunity made its way down into Endeavour Crater via Bitterroot Valley to Spirit Mound it passed Wharton Ridge."

Girl with Dreams Names Mars Rovers 'Spirit' and 'Opportunity'

"Twin robotic geologists NASA is sending to Mars will embody in their newly chosen names -- Spirit and Opportunity -- two cherished attributes that guide humans to explore. NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe and 9-year-old Sofi Collis, who wrote the winning essay in a naming contest, unveiled the names this morning at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. "Now, thanks to Sofi Collis, our third grade explorer-to-be from Scottsdale, Ariz., we have names for the rovers that are extremely worthy of the bold mission they are about to undertake," O'Keefe said."

Keith's note: At a 2003 press event at NASA HQ I asked NASA Science AA Ed Weiler what would happen if some martian wind blew the dust off of the solar panels and the Mars Rovers had some extra time to do things. He thought my question was silly. Silly me.

Wide Field Camera 3 Anomaly on Hubble Space Telescope

"At 17:23 UTC on Jan. 8, the Wide Field Camera 3 on the Hubble Space Telescope suspended operations due to a hardware problem. Hubble will continue to perform science observations with its other three active instruments, while the Wide Field Camera 3 anomaly is investigated."

Keith's note: The original comment due date for NASA DRAFT 2019 Announcement of Opportunity for Planetary Science Division Discovery Program was January 16, 2019. Due to the government shutdown that date will be extended - but the new due date is currently TBD. Stay tuned.

- NASA DRAFT 2019 Announcement of Opportunity for Planetary Science Division Discovery Program
- AO text

Ultima Thule Revealed

New Horizons Reveals Ultima Thule

"The new images -- taken from as close as 17,000 miles (27,000 kilometers) on approach -- revealed Ultima Thule as a "contact binary," consisting of two connected spheres. End to end, the world measures 19 miles (31 kilometers) in length. The team has dubbed the larger sphere "Ultima" (12 miles/19 kilometers across) and the smaller sphere "Thule" (9 miles/14 kilometers across)."

New Horizons Phones Home

New Horizons Successfully Explores Ultima Thule

"Signals confirming the spacecraft is healthy and had filled its digital recorders with science data on Ultima Thule reached the mission operations center at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) today at 10:29 a.m. EST, almost exactly 10 hours after New Horizons' closest approach to the object."

Pale Blue Dot 2.0?

Media Briefings, Online Coverage of Ultima Thule Flyby

"NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is on track to perform the farthest flyby in history, when it zips past a Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule -- more than four billion miles from Earth -- at 12:33 a.m. EST on Jan. 1. Flyby activities are taking place at the home of New Horizons operations, the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. A schedule of events, set for broadcast and streaming on NASA TV and social media channels, is below."

The Most Famous Person To Die In 2018, According To Data Science, Huffington Post

"What this graph doesn't tell us, however, is who specifically was the most famous person to die in 2018. To calculate this, we need a means to measure an individual's level of fame. And this is where we can borrow a trick from Google. The search engine ranks results by counting the number of pages linking into a given page - the theory being that the more pages linking there, the more authoritative it is. And using this Wikipedia data, we can do something similar: We can count the number of other Wikipedia pages linking to the dead person. The bigger the number, the bigger the impact that person had on our world."

"10 - Paul Spudis - Aug. 29 - Scientist - 1502"

Paul Spudis, earlier post

Nancy Grace Roman

Nancy Grace Roman, astronomer celebrated as 'mother' of Hubble, dies at 93, Washington Post

"Undeterred by the barriers to women in the sciences, Dr. Roman found a professional home at NASA. Even there, she recalled in an interview years later, she felt compelled to use the honorific "Dr." "Otherwise," she said, "I could not get past the secretaries." After joining the fledgling space agency in 1959, Dr. Roman became the first chief of astronomy at NASA headquarters, a role that made her one of the agency's first female executives. She remained in that position for nearly two decades before her retirement in 1979."

- NASA Administrator's Statement Regarding Nancy Grace Roman
- Nancy Roman, Wikipedia

https://s3.amazonaws.com/images.spaceref.com/news/2018/dsn.stats.jpg

Keith's 9:30 am ET note: Apparently the NASA Deep Space Network Now website only operates with human intervention - NASA civil servant intervention, to be specific. If you visit the site now it is online but it does not show any activity on the DSN. There is a clock in the upper former that shows that it is updating. Obviously the DSN is still talking to spacecraft such as New Horizons during the government shutdown. But the software that talks to the DSN and makes the squiggly lines appear over the antenna icons can only operate while a civil servant is doing something. But wait: the DSN itself and the DSN Now website are run by JPL which is part of Caltech - not NASA. Why has JPL shut down the data feed to the DSN now website? Are they trying to make a point or is the set up so fragile that lack of a civil servant makes it break? I'd ask JPL PAO but they do not respond to media inquiries these days. But someone will post a snarky explanation on Twitter, I'm certain. Larger image.

Keith's 12:22 pm update: It is working again - for now.

http://images.spaceref.com/news/2018/NH.nasawatch.2.jpg

Keith's note: Yesterday I posted a Twitter response to a tweet my New Horizons mission PI Alan Stern. This is what it originally looked like in case it is deleted. My response originally said "Strange media strategy for New Horizons #UltimaThule encounter. Mission PI @AlanStern tweets link to his own mission twitter account @NewHorizons2015 - not NASA's mission Twitter account @NASANewHorizons - and then he bans certain media outlets from following his twitter account."

@NASAWatch is still banned from following or reading this Twitter account - an account regularly used by a NASA-funded PI to convey information about a NASA-funded mission. Any annotation about this Twitter account being "personal" is meaningless and is amply contradicted by the way that Stern uses it. It is now (apparently) accepted practice by NASA to allow mission PIs to block access to mission information - as they please.

OSIRIS-REx Arrives at Bennu

OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Arrives at Asteroid Bennu

"The spacecraft executed a maneuver that transitioned it from flying toward Bennu to operating around the asteroid. Now, at about 11.8 miles (19 kilometers) from Bennu's Sun-facing surface, OSIRIS-REx will begin a preliminary survey of the asteroid. The spacecraft will commence flyovers of Bennu's north pole, equatorial region, and south pole, getting as close as nearly 4 miles (7 kilometers) above Bennu during each flyover."

It Takes Humans AND Robots

So what's the big deal about Mars InSight?, Sean O'Keefe, OpEd, The Hill

"The late, great courageous explorer Neil Armstrong once described his experience listening to a team of lunar scientists debate whether the Apollo 11 mission would result in a one-way trip to the Moon. The fear was the legs of the lunar lander module Eagle would be subject to a magnetic reaction such that significant volumes of lunar dust would adhere to the lander's legs adding so much weight that Eagle would be incapable of taking off to rejoin the command module Columbia circling the Moon and make the trip back to Earth safely. After several days of witnessing the endless debate, Armstrong told the lunar experts that he'd let them know how it turned out when he got back. The upshot of that story was that we knew only a fraction of what we wanted to know before accelerating the Apollo program more than 50 years ago."

Keith's 30 Nov note: People make honest mistakes on social media. I get that. But its hard to take the JPL science communicators very seriously when they make errors like this and then do nothing to fix them. I and others have pointed this out to JPL. Three days later and the incorrect tweet is still up. Either they do not care or they do not pay attention to detail. Its also becoming obvious that a lot of people who tweet for NASA have no real background on previous NASA missions. As such thousands of people have now liked an official NASA tweet that has several errors - one of them factually incorrect and totally germane to the point that JPL was trying to make i.e. "energy generated by a rover or lander on Mars". Keith's 3 Dec update: JPL finally took their incorrect went down after letting it misinform people for 3 days. Here is what it looked like:
http://images.spaceref.com/news/2018/power.tweet.jpg

Keith's note: According to the official NASA Mars 2020 website: "The Mars 2020 mission addresses high-priority science goals for Mars exploration, including key questions about the potential for life on Mars. The mission takes the next step by not only seeking signs of habitable conditions on Mars in the ancient past, but also searching for signs of past microbial life itself."

That's Astrobiology. Mars 2020 is an Astrobiology mission - the first overt Astrobiology mission since the twin Viking landers in 1976. Why doesn't NASA call it an "Astrobiology mission"? Why doesn't NASA even use the word "Astrobiology" on the Mars 2020 website - or elsewhere - to describe the mission? Yet the word appears in today's Mars 2020 landing site press release.

Jezero Crater Announced As Mars 2020 Rover Landing Site

"The landing site in Jezero Crater offers geologically rich terrain, with landforms reaching as far back as 3.6 billion years old, that could potentially answer important questions in planetary evolution and astrobiology," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "Getting samples from this unique area will revolutionize how we think about Mars and its ability to harbor life."

Keith's note: The Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG 2018) will be meeting from 14-15 November at USRA and can be followed via the following Adobe Connect website.
https://ac.arc.nasa.gov/leag2018/ Online attendees may enter as a guest. Twitter comments have the hashtag #LEAG2018.

Culberson's ouster could spell big problems for NASA's Orion program, experts say, Houston Chronicle

"NASA programs -- especially Orion, which is focused on putting humans back on the moon -- could be in trouble after Republican U.S. Rep. John Culberson lost his House seat to Democrat Lizzie Pannill Fletcher. Culberson, a Republican from Texas, led the House Appropriations Committee that funds NASA for the last four years. And he's been a stanch advocate of science and human spaceflight over his nearly two decades in office, said Keith Cowing, editor of NASA Watch, a website devoted to space news. "Nothing is better than to have an advocate for space science and exploration sitting on the committee in the House where NASA funding starts," Cowing said Wednesday morning. ... "Culberson may be partisan, but he's a clear advocate for science," Cowing said. ... Still, it's a shame to lose Culberson, Cowing said, because "so few people are championing science and exploration missions and putting their partisan stances aside, but here's Culberson forcefully looking for life elsewhere."

"The question is how will that affect NASA's space science portfolio?""

Some takeaways for science from yesterday's U.S. elections, Science

"Representative John Culberson (R-TX), who chairs a spending panel that funds NASA and the National Science Foundation, lost to Democrat Lizzie Fletcher. Culberson has been a major advocate of NASA's Europa Clipper mission to a jovian moon; his defeat could mean the project will face obstacles."

What the 2018 midterms mean for NASA and planetary science, Planetary Society

"Europa Clipper, the mission currently in formulation that would fly by Europa dozens of times, is likely to continue without Culberson's support. NASA has formally endorsed the mission, and it is highly ranked by the planetary science decadal survey report. If pressed, I would say the odds of Europa Clipper launching on an SLS have now dropped considerably, and its launch date also now likely to be in the mid-2020s as opposed to 2022. I have a hard time seeing how the Europa lander project continues without Culberson, because NASA has not formally requested the mission, and it lacks consensus support from the scientific community. Culberson had been planning -- and still may be able to -- allocate hundreds of millions of dollars to this effort in fiscal year 2019, but no other member of Congress is likely to pick up that effort in 2020 or beyond."

Keith's note: Looks like Planetary Society wants you to think that its time to give up on the exploration of Europa.

NASA's Dawn Mission to Asteroid Belt Comes to End

"NASA's Dawn spacecraft has gone silent, ending a historic mission that studied time capsules from the solar system's earliest chapter. Dawn missed scheduled communications sessions with NASA's Deep Space Network on Wednesday, Oct. 31, and Thursday, Nov. 1. After the flight team eliminated other possible causes for the missed communications, mission managers concluded that the spacecraft finally ran out of hydrazine, the fuel that enables the spacecraft to control its pointing. Dawn can no longer keep its antennae trained on Earth to communicate with mission control or turn its solar panels to the Sun to recharge."

Dawn Mission Cancelled, earlier post (2006)

"Upon returning to her office from this morning's hearing, Mary Cleave cancelled the Discovery "Dawn" mission. Curiously, with several hours during the hearing to do so, she did not bother to mention to the House Science Committee that she was about to do this."

- Congress Hears About Dawn Mission Cancellation, earlier post (2006)
- Letter from PSI Director Sykes to House Science Committee Chair Boehlert Regarding Cancellation of NASA's Dawn, earlier post (2006)
- Cancellation of Dawn Mission on Hold Pending Review By NASA Administrator , earlier post (2006)
- NASA Reinstates the Dawn Mission, earlier post (2006)

NASA Retires Kepler Space Telescope

"After nine years in deep space collecting data that indicate our sky to be filled with billions of hidden planets - more planets even than stars - NASA's Kepler space telescope has run out of fuel needed for further science operations. NASA has decided to retire the spacecraft within its current, safe orbit, away from Earth. Kepler leaves a legacy of more than 2,600 planet discoveries from outside our solar system, many of which could be promising places for life."

Hubble Is Working Again

Hubble Moving Closer to Normal Science Operations

"NASA took great strides last week to press into service a Hubble Space Telescope backup gyroscope (gyro) that was incorrectly returning extremely high rotation rates. The backup gyro was turned on after the spacecraft entered safe mode due to a failed gyro on Friday, Oct. 5. The rotation rates produced by the backup gyro have since reduced and are now within an expected range. Additional tests will be performed to ensure Hubble can return to science operations with this gyro."

NASA Chandra X-ray Observatory Update: Out Of Safe Mode

"The cause of Chandra's safe mode on October 10 has now been understood and the Operations team has successfully returned the spacecraft to its normal pointing mode. The safe mode was caused by a glitch in one of Chandra's gyroscopes resulting in a 3-second period of bad data that in turn led the on-board computer to calculate an incorrect value for the spacecraft momentum. The erroneous momentum indication then triggered the safe mode."

Chandra X-ray Observatory Enters Safe Mode; Investigation Underway

"At approximately 13:55 GMT on October 10, 2018, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory entered safe mode, where the telescope's instruments are put into a safe configuration, critical hardware is swapped to back-up units, the spacecraft points so that the solar panels get maximum sunlight, and the mirrors point away from the Sun. Analysis of available data indicates the transition to safe mode was nominal, i.e., consistent with normal behavior for such an event. All systems functioned as expected and the scientific instruments are safe. The cause of the safe mode transition is currently under investigation, and we will post more information when it becomes available."

Hubble Is In Safe Mode As Gyroscope Issues Are Diagnosed, NASA

"The gyro that failed had been exhibiting end-of-life behavior for approximately a year, and its failure was not unexpected; two other gyros of the same type had already failed. The remaining three gyros available for use are technically enhanced and therefore expected to have significantly longer operational lives. Two of those enhanced gyros are currently running. Upon powering on the third enhanced gyro that had been held in reserve, analysis of spacecraft telemetry indicated that it was not performing at the level required for operations. As a result, Hubble remains in safe mode. Staff at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and the Space Telescope Science Institute are currently performing analyses and tests to determine what options are available to recover the gyro to operational performance."

Keith's 7 October note: According to these tweets from Dr. Rachel Osten, Deputy Mission Head for the Hubble Space Telescope at the Space Telescope Science Institute, the Hubble Space Telescope is in Safe Mode after a gyroscope failure. No word from NASA PAO yet.

Keith's 8 October 9:21 am EDT update: According to According to this update: "Daily Report #8120 Period Covered: 08:00 PM October 06, 2018 - 07:59 PM October 07, 2018 (DOY 280/0000z - 280/2359z) There were no scheduled observations during the report period."

Could November elections scramble a controversial U.S. mission to a frozen moon?, Science

"Culberson's lander has been somewhat controversial among scientists because it hasn't gone through NASA's traditional selection and vetting process. And today, researchers at an agency advisory meeting debated whether the congressional elections in November could bring a new lander-related headache: the defeat of Culberson, who is facing a tough re-election contest. If Culberson loses, NASA risks becoming "locked in" to an expensive and complicated project that lacks a key champion in Congress, one researcher worried.

"The science goals of the Europa lander do not follow from our current knowledge of Europa," said Chris McKay, a planetary scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. Although there is abundant ice for a lander to sample on Europa, he suggested, there is no concrete evidence of other ingredients necessary for life, such as carbon, nitrogen, biologically useful energy, or organic molecules. But given that the lander is already receiving money, he concluded in an about-face, scientists should support it. "A bad life detection mission is better than no life detection mission," he said."

Keith's note: With regard to the frank commets by participants in the NASA Outer Planets Assessment Group meeting as presented in this Science article: the event was open and on the record and news media were listening in. Based on this article one can easily get the impression that the Europa Lander is viewed by some NASA scientists as having little value other than political - but its funded so - hey, lets run with it and take the money. The politicians who support this mission are viewed as disposable i.e. if one is not re-elected or the House flips and they lose their committee chairmanship, another politician can be found to support a given pet NASA/JPL/SwRI/etc. mission. This may be true in a cynical sense, but I feel silly having to remind a bunch of otherwise smart people that they are saying things in a not-so-smart context. The politicians are listening. What are they and their staff supposed to think when they hear this stuff? They stick their necks out to listen to the science community, support missions, get the money year after year, fight off enemies, and sign NASA's praises and yet the ever-so-clever scientists at NASA sit in their little meetings and try to out-strategize the actual decision makers. People at NASA are never satisfied with good enough and can't fight the urge to complain when their particular science thing is not the way they want it to be. This behavior never ends well for NASA.

A note of science clarification: Chris McKay is quoted as saying "A bad life detection mission is better than no life detection mission." The Europa Lander is not a "life detection mission" any more than Europa Clipper is. Reading the Europa Lander Study 2016 Report it becomes immediately and abundantly clear that this mission is looking for biosignatures - not overt life detection. This may sound confusing but there is a big difference. Biosignatures are a range of measurements of substances and conditions known to be produced (most likely if not exclusively) by Earth life. But any one biosignature is not necessarily a solid indicator of life (past or present). Indeed, in many cases organic molecules associated with life (biosignatures) can also be formed naturally by chemical processes (abiotic) that do not involve life at all. But data taken from a series of biosignatures, repeatedly taken in various locations over time can be used to point to life's increasing probability - or absence. Short of actually seeing a life form and directly measuring its chemistry detecting life on another world is not going to be a simple, one shot "detection" process. To understand the current NASA Astrobiology approach to searching for biosignatures please read the 2018 NASA-authored paper "The Ladder of Life Detection"

You can be assured that future meetings of NASA's Outer Planets Assessment Group will have many more people listening in. NASA people need to learn when to speak their minds and when to sit down and shut up. This has nothing to do with transparency. It has everything to do with common sense.

NASA Earth Science Director Announces Retirement

"Michael Freilich, director of the Earth Science Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters since 2006, announced he will retire from the agency in February 2019. Freilich leads NASA's mission to increase understanding of our home planet and help safeguard and improve lives for humanity's future."

Open Positions at NASA HQ: Planetary Science Division Director and NASA Deputy Chief Scientist

"NASA is now advertising for the Director of the Planetary Science Division in the Science Mission Directorate. In addition, NASA is now advertising for the Deputy Chief Scientist in the Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS)."

Update: NASA caught their omission and corrected it.

ULA Launches NASA's Parker Solar Probe to Touch Sun

"Hours before the rise of the very star it will study, NASA's Parker Solar Probe launched from Florida Sunday to begin its journey to the Sun, where it will undertake a landmark mission. The spacecraft will transmit its first science observations in December, beginning a revolution in our understanding of the star that makes life on Earth possible. Roughly the size of a small car, the spacecraft lifted off at 3:31 a.m. EDT on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. At 5:33 a.m., the mission operations manager reported that the spacecraft was healthy and operating normally. The mission's findings will help researchers improve their forecasts of space weather events, which have the potential to damage satellites and harm astronauts on orbit, disrupt radio communications and, at their most severe, overwhelm power grids."

ULA Delta IV Parker Solar Probe Heavy Scrub Statement

"The launch of a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy carrying the Parker Solar Probe spacecraft was scrubbed today due to a violation of a launch limit, resulting in a hold. There was not enough time remaining in the window to recycle. The launch is planned for Sunday, Aug. 12 from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The forecast shows a 60 percent chance of favorable weather conditions for launch. The launch time is 3:31 a.m. ET."

NASA Makes Progress Toward Planetary Science Decadal Priorities, National Academy of Sciences

"Despite significant cuts to NASA's Planetary Science Division budget early in this decade, the space agency has made impressive progress in meeting goals outlined in the 2013-2022 planetary decadal survey by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, says a new midterm assessment from the National Academies. The report notes that the agency met or exceeded the decadal survey's recommendations for funding research and analysis, and for technology programs. However, NASA has not achieved the recommended timeline for New Frontiers and Discovery missions for the decade. At least one more New Frontiers mission and three Discovery missions should be selected before the end of the decade in order to achieve the schedule recommended in Vision and Voyages. The decadal survey, "Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022", recommended a suite of planetary science flagship missions that could provide a steady stream of important new discoveries about the solar system as well as prospective mid-size missions and science, research, and technology priorities. It also included a set of decision rules on how to deal with funding shortfalls as well as possible increases. The new report assesses progress made by NASA so far and offers recommendations for preparing for the next decadal survey."

Keith's note: (Sigh) This had to happen. Now there are planetary scientists who actually think that use of the term "Planet 9" is "insensitive" - and they even have a petition urging support for their barely-contained outrage. If the Pluto huggers were serious about the responsibility that goes with naming things on worlds they should have thought twice about naming surface features on Pluto after things such as a SciFi monster named "Cthulhu" whose head is shaped like calamari. And they were all nicknaming features like crazy before the IAU even had a chance to weigh in. But wait - weren't many of the same undersigned complainers recently complaining about the IAU naming process - and demanding a greater role for public input in this process? Well, that is what is happening: there may be a large planet lurking in the outer solar system and some scientists and the public want to call it "Planet 9". And they are. C'mon Alan Stern. You can't have it both ways. Just sayin'

"ON THE INSENSITIVE USE OF THE TERM "PLANET 9" FOR OBJECTS BEYOND PLUTO: We the undersigned wish to remind our colleagues that the IAU planet definition adopted in 2006 has been controversial and is far from universally accepted. Given this, and given the incredible accomplishment of the discovery of Pluto, the harbinger of the solar system's third zone - the Kuiper Belt - by planetary astronomer Clyde W. Tombaugh in 1930, we the undersigned believe the use of the term "Planet 9" for objects beyond Pluto is insensitive to Professor Tombaugh's legacy. We further believe the use of this term should be discontinued in favor of culturally and taxonomically neutral terms for such planets, such as Planet X, Planet Next, or Giant Planet Five."

Petition signers below:

House Science Committee Demands Answers on James Webb Space Telescope Delays

"In questioning, Smith asked whether Northrop Grumman had taken responsibility for the problems listed in the IRB report. "In Mr. Young's report there were several instances of preventable human error that were pinpointed that led to millions of dollars in cost overruns. I'm wondering if those employees are still employed by Northrop Grumman," Smith asked. Bush could not confirm that anyone had been fired as a result of the human errors that have delayed JWST. Smith asked if Northrop Grumman was planning to pay the $800 million in above-cap expenses, and the answer was also no. "I wish that Northrop Grumman would take responsibility and show a little bit more good faith both for the taxpayer and for the cost overruns," Smith said."

Mars Express Detects Liquid Water Under Mars' South Pole, ESA

"Evidence for the Red Planet's watery past is prevalent across its surface in the form of vast dried-out river valley networks and gigantic outflow channels clearly imaged by orbiting spacecraft. Orbiters, together with landers and rovers exploring the Martian surface, also discovered minerals that can only form in the presence of liquid water. But the climate has changed significantly over the course of the planet's 4.6-billion-year history and liquid water cannot exist on the surface today, so scientists are looking underground. Early results from the 15-year-old Mars Express spacecraft already found that water ice exists at the planet's poles and is also buried in layers interspersed with dust."

NASA's next great space telescope is stuck on Earth after screwy errors, Washington Post

"Mission success is the cornerstone of everything we do. Getting it right is the most important thing," said Scott Willoughby, program manager for the Webb at Northrop Grumman. "No, we don't need a culture change. We need people to understand how hard it is. We need people to know that we're going to get it right."

Keith's note: Given the immense cost overruns and delays with Webb, this has to be the most clueless, tone deaf comment I have ever heard from an aerospace company. "No, we don't need a culture change." Seriously? This week there will be an unusual pair of hearings - same committee, same topic, but a different witness lineup. Have a look:

Panel 1 - Wednesday July 25, 2018 at 10:00 a.m.
Hon. Jim Bridenstine, administrator, NASA
Mr. Tom Young, chairman, JWST Independent Review Board

Prepared statements: Thomas Young; Jim Bridenstine; Rep. Babin; Rep. Smith;
Rep. Johnson; Rep. Bera

Panel 2 - Thursday, July 26, 2018 at 9:00 9:30 a.m.
Mr. Wesley Bush, chief executive officer, Northrop Grumman Corp.
Mr. Tom Young, chairman, JWST Independent Review Board

Watch live

Hearing charter

"Since the JWST program has now breached under 51 USC 30104 notification conditions, the hearing discussion on July 25 will explore NASA program management effectiveness, program continuation and reauthorization, and budgetary implications across NASA's entire science portfolio, to include the WFIRST program. The second part on July 26 will explore contractor issues and recommended improvements regarding contractor accountability."

Keith's note: Northrop Grumman has a big Webb Space Telescope Charm offense underway. Their ads are everywhere. First they took out that huge $200,000 full page ad in the Washington Post. Now they have a companion website using this code under ad links that pop up all over the place: http://www.northropgrumman.com/MediaResources/MediaKits/JWST/Home.aspx?utm_source=PrintAd&utm_medium=Redirect&utm_campaign=FromOrigJWSTurl+Redirect When you get to the website you are treated to nothing but happy aerospace banter. No mention of launch dates and delays, more than a decade of multi-billion dollar cost overruns, the need for Congressional reauthorization due to cost overruns, anger by NASA managers, dumb engineering mistakes, etc. Instead, NorthropGrumman just pounds out their oxymoronic tag line "Making History Requires Mission SUccess".

Clueless Webb Telescope Advertisement From Northrop Grumman

"Northrop Grumman just wants you to know that "mission success" is important. Duh. I am not certain they care so long as they get paid. This is not how America is going to do that whole leadership-in-space thing. If this is an example of how we do that leadership thing we won't be able to afford to lead the way."

Brad Smith

Planetary Exploration Newsletter: "Brad Smith was a pioneer in the exploration of the solar system. He participated in a number of US and international space missions, including Mars Mariners 6 and 7, the Mars Viking mission, the Soviet Vega mission to Halley's Comet, the Soviet Phobos mission to Mars, and the Wide Field/Planetary Camera team for the Hubble Space Telescope. He was the deputy team leader of the imaging team on the Mariner 9 Mars Orbiter, and was chosen by NASA to lead the camera team on the Voyager missions to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. He co-discovered a circumstellar disk around the nearby star, Beta Pictoris, the first direct evidence of a planetary system beyond our own, and continued these studies as a member of the infrared camera (NICMOS) experiment on the Hubble Space Telescope. For the full obituary and memorial service information, go to: http://shorelips.net/bradsmith The memorial service for Brad will be held from 2 to 5 PM on Saturday, September 22, 2018 at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, Room 308, at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Please RSVP to Amy Phillips (amy_p -at - mac.com). More information will be posted at the above site as it becomes available."

Keith's note: The following full page color advertisement by Northrop Grumman appears on page A5 of today's Washington Post (larger image).

"MAKING HISTORY REQUIRES MISSION SUCCESS.

Northrop Grumman is proud to lead the industry team of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope - the largest, most complex and powerful space telescope ever built. Webb will fundamentally alter our understanding of the universe, and we are focused on ensuring that this once-unthinkable achievement becomes a reality. Webb pushes the limits of technology. We only get one chance to get it right - and we take that responsibility seriously. From putting men on the moon to seeing he first images from Hubble, there are many great firsts in space. When Webb travels one million miles from Earth and peers back over 13.5 billion years to see the first stars and galaxies forming out of the darkness of the early universe, we will marvel at its discoveries and write the next chapter of great firsts in space. Making history requires mission success and we are all in."

Yea, Northrop Grumman is "all in" on this. Non-stop cost increases and schedule delays for 16 years have turned this project into a cash cow for the company. You bet they're "all in" - even if they can't seem to attach fasteners properly and don't read the instructions on what solvents to use to clean hardware. But that's OK since NASA will just keep paying those invoices.

Advertisements like this in the Washington Post like this can easily cost between $100,000 to $200,000. At a minimum you'd hope that the money for ads (which should be spent on fixing Northrop Grumman's dumb mistakes) would at least be used for public commentary that is a little more honest about the situation. Instead, you see no mention of any of these screw ups or obscene cost increases - problems that are so bad that Congress now has to reauthorize this project.

Northrop Grumman just wants you to know that "mission success" is important. Duh. I am not certain they care so long as they get paid. This is not how America is going to do that whole leadership-in-space thing. If this is an example of how we do that leadership thing we won't be able to afford to lead the way.

More Cost Increases And Delays For Webb Space Telescope

"As a result of the delay, Webb's total lifecycle cost to support the March 202l launch date is estimated at $9.66 billion. The development cost estimate to support the new launch date is $8.8B (up from the $8B development cost estimate established in 2011)."

NASA Announces Contract for Next-Generation Space Telescope Named after Space Pioneer (2002)

"The James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled for launch in 2010 aboard an expendable launch vehicle. NASA today selected TRW, Redondo Beach, Calif. [Bought by Northrop Grumman 2 months earlier], to build a next-generation successor to the Hubble Space Telescope in honor of the man who led NASA in the early days of the fledgling aerospace agency. Under the terms of the contract valued at $824.8 million, TRW will design and fabricate the observatory's primary mirror and spacecraft. TRW also will be responsible for integrating the science instrument module into the spacecraft as well as performing the pre-flight testing and on-orbit checkout of the observatory."

NASA Is Delaying The Launch Of Its $9 Billion Space Telescope -- Again, Buzzfeed

"Make no mistake, I'm not happy sitting here telling you this," NASA's Thomas Zurbuchen told reporters on a briefing about the delay. He deflected criticism from spacecraft contractor Northrop Grumman, saying, "we are part of the team that caused this problem and we are going to have to solve it together." Blowing the budget cap for JWST means that Congress will have to vote to reauthorize completion of the telescope, which has already drawn ire from lawmakers. NASA plans to ask for the authorization and extra money in February. "Program delays and cost overruns don't just delay the JWST's critical work, but they also harm other valuable NASA missions, which may be delayed, defunded, or discarded entirely," Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, chairman of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee told BuzzFeed News in a statement. His committee will hold a hearing to address the report next month. The witnesses will include the NASA administrator, James Bridenstine, and Northrup Grumman CEO Wes Bush. "I expect to see progress on keeping projects on budget and on time," said Smith."

Media Telecon on Status of James Webb Space Telescope, June 27th

"NASA will host a media teleconference at 1 p.m. EDT [17:00 UTC], Wednesday, June 27, to provide an update on the agency's James Webb Space Telescope and the findings of an external independent review board. Webb will be the world's premier infrared space observatory and the largest astronomical space science telescope ever built. Audio of the call will stream live on NASA's website [https://www.nasa.gov/live]."

NASA Completes Webb Telescope Review, Commits to Launch in Early 2021

"The Independent Review Board (IRB) established by NASA to assess progress on its James Webb Space Telescope has unanimously recommended that development on the world's premier science observatory should continue; NASA has established a new launch date for Webb of March 30, 2021. A report issued by the review board addresses a range of factors influencing Webb's schedule and performance, including the technical challenges and tasks remaining by primary contractor Northrop Grumman before launch."

"As a result of the delay, Webb's total lifecycle cost to support the March 202l launch date is estimated at $9.66 billion. The development cost estimate to support the new launch date is $8.8B (up from the $8B development cost estimate established in 2011). Along with the IRB's broad-view assessment, NASA also considered data from the project's Standing Review Board (SRB). Both review panels had concluded that a 2020 launch date would have been feasible before the recent acoustics test anomaly."

"Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems (NGAS) should establish corrective actions in processes, training, personnel certification, individual accountability and a robust testing, analysis and inspection process. Agree. NGAS stood down operations and performed an independent set of reviews and rewrites of all propulsion procedures including feedback from the performers. Also, applied Integration & Test (I&T) procedure expertise to manufacturing operations. To further enhance robustness in I&T, NGAS will be incorporating cross program independent reviews of the table top and pre-task briefing processes."

NASA Announces Contract for Next-Generation Space Telescope Named after Space Pioneer (2002)

"The James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled for launch in 2010 aboard an expendable launch vehicle. NASA today selected TRW, Redondo Beach, Calif., to build a next-generation successor to the Hubble Space Telescope in honor of the man who led NASA in the early days of the fledgling aerospace agency. Under the terms of the contract valued at $824.8 million, TRW will design and fabricate the observatory's primary mirror and spacecraft. TRW also will be responsible for integrating the science instrument module into the spacecraft as well as performing the pre-flight testing and on-orbit checkout of the observatory."

- Webb Space Telescope May Bust Its Budget Cap Yet Again (Updated) (2018)
- Management Shake Up on Webb Space Telescope (2018)
- Yet Another Webb Problem Review Panel (2018)
- More Cost Overruns and Delays for Webb (2010)

National Near Earth Object Preparedness Plan Released

"A new multiagency report outlines how the U.S. could become better prepared for near-Earth objects -- asteroids and comets whose orbits come within 30 million miles of Earth -- otherwise known as NEOs. While no known NEOs currently pose significant risks of impact, the report is a key step to addressing a nationwide response to any future risks. NASA, along with the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and several other governmental agencies collaborated on this federal planning document for NEOs."

Two years of stonewalling: What happened when a scientist filed a public records request for NASA code, Retraction Watch

"In June 2016, I filed a FOIA request with NASA and JPL for materials related to the NEOWISE project. Both NASA and JPL immediately bounced my requests. They were "unable to process" them, they said, because "it is unclear what specific records you are requesting." Really? One of the requested categories on my list was "Documents about WISE/NEOWISE data analysis, model fitting and details thereof, including any documents on least-squares algorithms, for example the Levenberg-Marquardt algorithm or variations thereof." That was not specific enough? Frustrated, I hired some attorneys to revise the request into a form that met all legal requirements. My lawyers submitted very lawyerly clarification letters a few weeks later. Incredibly, NASA persisted in its claim that it could not process the requests, going so far as to "close" the cases. Among other absurdities, NASA claimed that it could only search paper files and not email. They can send men to the moon but...never mind."

NASA Response to Recent Paper on NEOWISE Asteroid Size Results, earlier post

"Examination of the paper by members of the science community studying near-Earth objects has found several fundamental errors in Myhrvold's approach and analysis--mistakes that an independent peer review process is designed to catch. The errors in the paper lead to results that are easily refuted, such as sizes for well-known asteroids that are significantly larger or smaller than their already-verified sizes."

Asteroid thermal modeling in the presence of reflected sunlight with an application to WISE/NEOWISE observational data, astro-ph

NASA: Mars Has Ancient Organic Material, Mysterious Methane

"NASA's Curiosity rover has found new evidence preserved in rocks on Mars that suggests the planet could have supported ancient life, as well as new evidence in the Martian atmosphere that relates to the search for current life on the Red Planet."

"While not necessarily evidence of life itself, these findings are a good sign for future missions exploring the planet's surface and subsurface."

"The new findings - 'tough' organic molecules in three-billion-year-old sedimentary rocks near the surface, as well as seasonal variations in the levels of methane in the atmosphere - appear in the June 8 edition of the journal Science."

NASA Evaluating JWST Independent Review Report, Space Policy Online

"NASA is in the process of evaluating the report from the Independent Review Board chaired by Tom Young to assess the status of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Established in March, the Board was due to submit its report on May 31. NASA said today that the Board has completed its work and briefed NASA. The report will be released later this month after NASA determines the impact on cost and schedule."

Keith's note: Oddly employee Alan Stern's SwRI colleague Christopher Glein was quoted in a SwRI press release issued last week saying: "We've developed what we call 'the giant comet' cosmochemical model of Pluto formation," said Dr. Christopher Glein of SwRI's Space Science and Engineering Division. The research is described in a paper published online today in Icarus."

Keith's note: Few people ever get a chance to fly something they helped to design in space. Even fewer people get to be a NASA mission Principal investigator. These missions are paid for by NASA and NASA is paid for by taxpayers. Contractual fine print aside, when you have a position like this on a NASA mission, you represent the agency - especially when you talk to taxpayers about it. In this case a taxpayer paid the New Horizons mission several compliments. And how does the mission's PI respond? He dumps on the positive things that the taxpayer says because he's ultra-sensitive about the whole Pluto is/isn't a planet thing. The proper thing to do would be to take the compliments when you get them and say thank you to those who paid for the party.

Insight Is On Its Way To Mars (with video)

"An Atlas V rocket lifted off at 7:05 a.m. EDT (4:05 a.m. PDT) from Space Launch Complex 3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, carrying NASA's InSight spacecraft. The rocket is on its way, carrying NASA's Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) to begin its six month voyage to Mars."

NASA Deep Space CubeSats Are Alive And Well

"Mars Cube One, or MarCO, is a pair of briefcase-sized spacecraft that launched along with NASA's InSight Mars lander at 4:05 a.m. PDT (7:05 a.m. EDT) today from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Central California."

JWST suffers new problem during spacecraft testing, Space News

"In a presentation at a meeting of the National Academies' Space Studies Board here May 3, Greg Robinson, the JWST program director at NASA Headquarters, said some "screws and washers" appear to have come off the spacecraft during recent environmental testing at a Northrop Grumman facility in Southern California. Technicians found the items after the spacecraft element of JWST, which includes the bus and sunshield but not its optics and instruments, was moved last weekend from one chamber for acoustics tests to another to prepare for vibration testing. "Right now we believe that all of this hardware - we're talking screws and washers here - come from the sunshield cover," he said. "We're looking at what this really means and what is the recovery plan." The problem, he said, was only a couple of days old, and he had few additional details about the problem. "It's not terrible news, but it's not good news, either," he said."

Keith's note: "It's not terrible news?" Really, Northrop Grumman? The spacecraft was designed such that every part was included for a reason, yes? If the parts are falling out during routine ground handling that means something went wrong. After how many years of delays and billions in cost over runs, Northrop Grumman can't even keep bolts properly tightened on the spacecraft?

NASA Announces Independent Review Board Members for James Webb Space Telescope

"The Independent Review Board review process will take approximately eight weeks. Once the review concludes, the board members will deliver a presentation and final report to NASA outlining their findings and recommendations, which are expected to complement recent data input from Webb's Standing Review Board. NASA will review those findings and then provide its assessment in a report to Congress at the end of June. Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, the project's observatory contractor, will proceed with the remaining integration and testing phase prior to launch."

Management Shake Up on Webb Space Telescope, earlier post

"NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD) is taking essential steps to refocus efforts to ensure a successful mission for the agency's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) after an independent assessment of remaining tasks revealed more time is needed for testing and integration to meet a new launch window of approximately May 2020."

Management Changes at Webb Announced (2010)

"For the past 8 years, the JWST team has been led by Phil Sabelhaus, and in my view, no one could have been more effective leading this government, industry, and international team, especially in light of the enormous challenges and constraints."

James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) Independent Comprehensive Review Panel (ICRP) Final Report (2010)

"The problems causing cost growth and schedule delays on the JWST Project are associated with budgeting and program management, not technical performance. The technical performance on the Project has been commendable and often excellent. However, the budget baseline accepted at the Confirmation Review did not reflect the most probable cost with adequate reserves in each year of project execution. This resulted in a project that was simply not executable within the budgeted resources."

NASA Announces Contract for Next-Generation Space Telescope Named after Space Pioneer (2002)

"The James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled for launch in 2010 aboard an expendable launch vehicle."

Keith's note: I agree with Alan Stern. I doubt that the mission would have ever been sold were it not for "the last planet we have not visited" meme. Visiting something described as being somehow less than a planet (or less important/interesting than a "planet") - for nearly a billion dollars - would have been quite a stretch - and it was a big stretch to begin with.

NASA Announces Senior Leadership Changes to Refocus Launch Readiness Efforts for Webb Telescope

"NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD) is taking essential steps to refocus efforts to ensure a successful mission for the agency's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) after an independent assessment of remaining tasks revealed more time is needed for testing and integration to meet a new launch window of approximately May 2020. Webb is SMD's highest priority project and the largest international space science project in U.S. history. All of the observatory's flight hardware is now complete. To best assure launch readiness, SMD has made the following personnel changes:"

NASA Hosts Media Teleconference on Status of James Webb Space Telescope

NASA's Webb Observatory Requires More Time for Testing and Evaluation; New Launch Window Under Review

"NASA's James Webb Space Telescope currently is undergoing final integration and test phases that will require more time to ensure a successful mission. After an independent assessment of remaining tasks for the highly complex space observatory, Webb's previously revised 2019 launch window now is targeted for approximately May 2020."

"From: James Green, Director, NASA's Planetary Science Division via Lunar and Planetary Institute: After analysis and consultation with the Department of Energy, NASA's Planetary Science Division is pleased to announce that the ban on the use of Radio-isotope Power Systems (RPS) by proposers responding to the upcoming Discovery 2018 Announcement of Opportunity (AO) has been removed. Proposers will be able to include the use of up to two (2) Multi-mission Radio-Isotope Thermal Generators (MMRTG's) to enable or significantly enhance their mission concept. Costs to be borne by proposers for the MMRTGs, the related environmental impact assessments, and the required Nuclear Launch Approval process will be announced once determined."

James Webb Space Telescope Integration and Test Challenges Have Delayed Launch and Threaten to Push Costs Over Cap, GAO

"Extending the launch window provided the project up to 4 months of schedule reserve. However, shortly after requesting the new launch window in September 2017, the project determined that several months of schedule reserve would be needed to address lessons learned from the initial folding and deployment of the observatory's sunshield. Given remaining integration and test work ahead--the phase in development where problems are most likely to be found and schedules tend to slip--coupled with only 1.5 months of schedule reserves remaining to the end of the launch window, additional launch delays are likely. The project's Standing Review Board will conduct an independent review of JWST's schedule status in early 2018 to determine if the June 2019 launch window can be met. JWST will also have limited cost reserves to address future challenges, such as further launch delays, and is at risk of breaching its $8 billion cost cap for formulation and development set by Congress in 2011. For several years, the prime contractor has overestimated workforce reductions, and technical challenges have prevented these planned reductions, necessitating the use of cost reserves. Program officials said that existing program resources will accommodate the new launch window--provided remaining integration and testing proceeds as planned without any long delays. However, JWST is still resolving technical challenges and work continues to take longer than planned to complete. As a result, the project is at risk of exceeding its $8 billion formulation and development cost cap."

Keith's 1 March update: NASA PAO just sent me this statement to post: "After the successful test performance of the James Webb Space Telescope science payload last year, and the delivery of that payload to Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, NASA looks forward to the mission's final integration and test phase now that the two major observatory elements (science payload and spacecraft with sunshield) are together under one roof for the first time. As we enter this critical and challenging period, the Webb project is carefully reviewing its plans for the remaining tasks. The mission's Standing Review Board will begin an independent assessment of the project plans in mid-March with an expected report out in early April."

New Day for Longest-Working Mars Rover

"NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity recorded the dawn of the rover's 4,999th Martian day, or sol, with its Panoramic Camera (Pancam) on Feb. 15, 2018, yielding this processed, approximately true-color scene."

5,000 Days on Mars For Mars Rover Opportunity

"The Sun will rise on NASA's solar-powered Mars rover Opportunity for the 5,000th time on Saturday, sending rays of energy to a golf-cart-size robotic field geologist that continues to provide revelations about the Red Planet."

Mars Rover Opportunity Keeps Finding Surprises

"One possible explanation of these stripes is that they are relics from a time of greater obliquity when snow packs on the rim seasonally melted enough to moisten the soil, and then freeze-thaw cycles organized the small rocks into stripes," Arvidson said."

Keith's note: I asked former NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe to look back at Opportunity's exploration of Mars:

"This is a stunning achievement for a capability we thought would survive long enough for a sprint and instead, it's completed a marathon and still going! Opportunity was designed, built, flown and landed with materials and processes we had available. The limited planetary alignment opportunity forced the project team to make due with what they had. The performance since 2004 had surpassed anything anyone thought imaginable. If back in 2004 NASA had dared to declare what Opportunity has achieved as the mission objective, the legion of critics would have told us the cost, schedule and mission were unrealistic. Maybe that would be worth a hearing!"

Alas, the Trump Administration is not interested in supporting Opportunity after FY 2019. This is not the first time that the White House has tried to kill funding for Opportunity (the Obama folks tried too). Congress will likely step in and halt this as they have in the past. That said, maybe its time for someone to start a crowd funding effort. This White House wants NASA to do the public private partnership things, so why not take them up on that offer?

Source: NASA FY 2018 Budget Estimates page PS 69


http://images.spaceref.com/news/2018/oppybudget.jpg


An Interesting Picture From Mars

"NASA recently posted an image taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) aboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity. A reader from Australia contacted me to point out some curious structures within the rock featured in that image. I get a lot of emails like this. Normally these emails include something that the reader has totally distorted using Photoshop or contains some blurry shape on Mars that reminds them of a household appliance or cute little animal. I am a biologist and used to work at NASA's life science division and have done some fossil collecting in the field. So I've looked at things before that look like they are fossils only to determine that they are the result of non-biological processes. I noticed something curious about this image right away. ... I have sent an inquiry to NASA. Let's see what they say. I'll include their response in a revised version of this posting."

Keith's update: My original source in Australia heard from someone@nasa to the effect that these markings are the result of the laser used to analyze rocks but that the markings look different this time. I am still awaiting an official response directly from NASA. Today's lesson: when looking for life on another world it is important to remember what is happening on both sides of the microscope.

Search For Zuma Unearths Lost NASA Satellite, Aviation Week (Paywall)

"An amateur astronomer on the hunt for the classified Zuma satellite has discovered a long-lost NASA science satellite. "Over the past week. the station has been dedicated to an S-band scan looking for new targets and refreshing the frequency list, triggered by the recent launch of the mysterious Zuma mission," amateur visual and radio astronomer Scott Tilley wrote on his blog skyriddles.wordpress.com." ... Tilley set to work to identify the signal and soon revealed the source: a NASA science satellite known as IMAGE, which disappeared from radar tracking on Dec. 18, 2005.

January 26, 2018 - NASA Confirms IMAGE is indeed alive!, Scott Tilley

"Over the past week the station has been dedicated to an S-band scan looking for new targets and refreshing the frequency list, triggered by the recent launch of the mysterious ZUMA mission. This tends to be a semi-annual activity as it can eat up a lot of observing resources even with much of the data gathering automated the data reviewing is tedious. Upon reviewing the data from January 20, 2018, I noticed a curve consistent with an satellite in High Earth Orbit (HEO) on 2275.905MHz, darn not ZUMA... This is not uncommon during these searches. So I set to work to identify the source. A quick identity scan using 'strf' (sat tools rf) revealed the signal to come from 2000-017A, 26113, called IMAGE."

NASA: Preliminary Observations on the Management of Space Telescopes, Cristina Chaplain GAO

"GAO's ongoing work indicates that these projects are each making progress in line with their phase of the acquisition cycle but also face some challenges. For example, the current launch date for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) project reflects a 57-60-month delay from the project's original schedule. GAO's preliminary observations indicate this project still has significant integration and testing to complete, with very little schedule reserve remaining to account for delays. Therefore, additional delays beyond the delay of up to 8 months recently announced are likely, and funding available under the $8 billion Congressional cost cap for formulation and development may be inadequate."

Chairman Babin's Opening Statement: NASA's Next Four Large Telescopes

"It has been mentioned to me that with Hubble you could take a single picture into a meeting to show what was discovered but with W-FIRST you'll have to wallpaper their entire office. The capability has increased 100 times from Hubble. W-FIRST is a critical new flagship mission and we need to make sure it stays on course. The assets provided to NASA from the National Reconnaissance Office, or NRO, seem like a good fit for the mission but the program needs reasonable timelines and a realistic budget."

- Hearing charter

- Statements by Ranking Member Johnson and Ranking Member Bera

- Prepared statements: Thomas Zurbuchen, Thomas Young, Matt Mountain, Chris McKee

http://images.spaceref.com/news/2017/oomu69.names2.jpg

Keith's note: NASA and the SETI Institute are about to complete a competition wherein people get to suggest names for MU69 - the distant body that New Horizons will fly by in January 2019. Among the top choices right now are Chomolungma ཇོ་མོ་གླང་མ and Sagarmatha सगरमाथा - the original Tibetan and Nepali names for Mt. Everest. These names were nominated by someone living in Kathmandu, Nepal. MU69 represents the the most distant world in our solar system that humans will likely visit for another decade or more. As such it represents the acme - the pinnacle - of robotic spacecraft exploration. There are already two features on Pluto named after the first two humans to stand atop Everest/Chomolungma/Sagarmatha - Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. As such, it would be fitting and in keeping with the spirit and adventure to name MU69 (which may be a double object) Chomolungma and/or Sagarmatha. You can visit the naming website at http://www.frontierworlds.org/home and vote for Chomolungma/Sagarmatha (or other choices). The campaign closes at noon Pacific Time (20:00 GMT) on December 1, December 6 2017.

WFIRST Report Released


WFIRST Independent External Technical/Management/Cost Review (WIETR), NASA

"This report responds to the questions asked in the Terms of Reference (TOR) that established the WIETR and includes recommendations and options for NASA to consider. This report is input to NASA in support of its formulation of the WFIRST implementation plan so that the mission is both 1) well understood in terms of scope and required resources (cost, funding profile, schedule) and 2) executable. The WIETR recognizes the scientific importance and timeliness of WFIRST. The objectives of this ambitious mission are driven by the goal of answering profound questions about the Universe beyond our solar system and planet Earth. This ambition comes with challenges that must be recognized and addressed - these are the focus of this report."

- NASA Decides To Reduce Cost/Complexity of WFIRST, earlier post

Rendezvous With `Oumuamua

Keith's note: Larger image. Objects are to scale. But the way that this thing rotates might dictate a more prudent station keeping distance.

First Interstellar Asteroid `Oumuamua is Like Nothing Seen Before, ESO

"Observations from ESO's Very Large Telescope in Chile and other observatories around the world show that this unique object was traveling through space for millions of years before its chance encounter with our star system. It appears to be a dark, reddish, highly-elongated rocky or high-metal-content object."

First Known Interstellar Visitor Is an "Oddball"

"While study of 'Oumuamua's colors shows that this body shares characteristics with both Kuiper Belt objects and organic-rich comets and Trojan asteroids," says Meech, "its orbital path says it comes from far beyond."

An Interstellar Visitor Unmasked, IFA

"Originally denoted A/2017 U1 (with the A for "asteroid"), the body is now the first to receive an "I" (for interstellar) designation from the International Astronomical Union, which created the new category after the discovery. In addition, it has been officially given the name `Oumuamua."

Solar System's First Interstellar Visitor Dazzles Scientists, NASA

"The asteroid, named 'Oumuamua by its discoverers, is up to one-quarter mile (400 meters) long and highly-elongated--perhaps 10 times as long as it is wide. That aspect ratio is greater than that of any asteroid or comet observed in our solar system to date."

We just sent a message to try to talk to aliens on another world, New Scientist

"Ninety-eight percent of astronomers and SETI researchers, including myself, think that METI is potentially dangerous, and not a good idea," says Dan Werthimer, a SETI researcher at the University of California at Berkeley. "It's like shouting in a forest before you know if there are tigers, lions, and bears or other dangerous animals there."

Scientists Have Sent Messages to Advanced Civilizations, Newsweek

"[Douglas Vakoch, president of METI] Everyone engaged in SETI is already endorsing transmissions to extraterrestrials through their actions. If we detect a signal from aliens through a SETI program, there's no way to prevent a cacophony of responses from Earth. And these wouldn't be responses to a possibly habitable exoplanet, but to a star system where we know there is intelligent life. There's no way to enforce the SETI protocols that call for consultation before replying. Once the news gets out that we've detected extraterrestrials, anyone with a transmitter can say whatever they want."

Declaration of Principles Concerning the Conduct of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (2010 protocol), SETI Permanent Study Group of the International Academy of Astronautics

"8. Response to signals: In the case of the confirmed detection of a signal, signatories to this declaration will not respond without first seeking guidance and consent of a broadly representative international body, such as the United Nations."

Keith's note: This is all rather silly. SETI scientists like Werthimer would prefer not to transmit anything to anyone. But they want people to give them millions of dollars to listen for transmissions from other intelligent species. If alien intelligences are similar to us i.e. afraid of other letting civilizations know where they are then they are not going to be transmitting either. If that is true then Werthimer et al are wasting a lot of money listening for signals that are not going to be there - if you follow their self-canceling logic, that is.

Also, Wetheimer claims his statements are shared by "Ninety-eight percent of astronomers and SETI researchers". Really - he has polled all astronomers and SETI researchers - everywhere? Reference, please. We have been announcing our presence to alien civilizations in one form or another for nearly a century via radio. The bulk of these transmissions have not been done by governments. As such the 2010 statement by IAA (which is also utterly non-binding) would have little effect on stoping anyone with money and a big dish from saying "hello".

On the other hand, just because someone can do something does not mean that they should. This topic needs a broader airing - not just food fights in the news between dueling METI/SETI sandboxes. Both the SETI and METI tribes are myopic, and somewhat inbred, by definition. Their pronouncements from on high should not be the final say on the way that humanity deals with this topic. There are 6 billion other humans who should have a say.

Statement on NSF Record of Decision on Arecibo Observatory, NSF

"On Nov. 15, 2017, the National Science Foundation (NSF) signed its Record of Decision for the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. This important step concludes the agency's decision-making process with respect to the general path forward for facility operations in a budget-constrained environment and provides the basis for a future decision regarding a new collaborator."

NASA's 2017 Top Management and Performance Challenges, NASA OIG

"... In the long term, NASA's plans beyond EM-2 for achieving a crewed Mars surface mission in the late 2030s or early 2040s remain high level, serving as more of a strategic framework than a detailed operational plan. For example, the Agency's current Journey to Mars framework lacks objectives; does not identify key system requirements other than SLS, Orion, GSDO, and a Deep Space Gateway; and does not suggest target mission dates for crewed orbits of Mars or planet surface landings. If the Agency is to reach its goal of sending humans to Mars in the late 2030s or early 2040s, significant development work on key systems - such as a deep space habitat, in-space transportation, and Mars landing and ascent vehicles - must be accomplished in the 2020s. In addition, NASA will need to begin developing more detailed cost estimates for its Mars exploration program after EM-2 to ensure the commitment from Congress and other stakeholders exists to fund an exploration effort of this magnitude over the next several decades. Finally, NASA's decision whether to continue spending $3-$4 billion annually to maintain the ISS after 2024 - roughly a third of its exploration budget - will affect its funding profile for human exploration efforts in the 2020s, and therefore has significant implications for the Agency's Mars plans.

"... The rising cost of the SLS Program also presents challenges for NASA given the program may exceed its $9.7 billion budget commitment. The Agency plans to spend roughly $2 billion a year on SLS development but has minimal monetary reserves to address any technical challenges that may arise for EM-1 or EM-2. According to guidance developed at Marshall Space Flight Center (Marshall), the standard monetary reserve for a program such as the SLS should be between 10 and 30 percent during development. The SLS Program did not carry any program reserves in fiscal year (FY) 2015 and only $25 million in FY 2016 - approximately 1 percent of its development budget. Moving forward, the SLS Program plans to carry only minimal reserves through 2030, which in our view is unlikely to be sufficient to enable NASA to address issues that may arise during development and testing."

"... Despite the extension, in October 2015, we reported NASA will not have enough time to mitigate several known human space flight risks for future deep space missions. Accordingly, the Agency needs to prioritize its research to address the most important risks in the time available while also ensuring a spacecraft originally designed and tested for a 15-year life span will continue to operate safely and as economically as possible. While the amount of research being conducted on the ISS has increased over the past 8 years, several factors continue to limit full utilization."

"... The selection and balance of NASA's science missions is heavily influenced by stakeholders external to the Agency, including the President, Congress, the science community, and, to a lesser extent, other Federal and international agencies. The President and Congress provide direction through the budgeting and appropriation processes, which has a strong influence on the composition and overall balance of the Agency's science portfolio. The science community - as represented by the National Research Council (NRC) - establishes mission priorities based on a broad consensus within various science research disciplines. These priorities are set forth in the NRC's decadal surveys on the subject matter areas encompassed by the Science Mission Directorate's four divisions ... Managing differing priorities from numerous stakeholders and funding changes on a year-to-year basis (which we described as "funding instability" in a September 2012 report) can lead to inefficiencies, resulting in cost increases and schedule delays that can have a cascading effect on NASA's entire science portfolio."

You Can Still Help Project Blue Search For Another Earth at Alpha Centauri, Astrobiology.com

"The deadline is quickly approaching for the BoldlyGo Institute crowdfunding campaign to search for Earth-like planets circling Alpha Centauri. All donations are now being doubled - matched dollar-for-dollar by a generous donor. You can donate by visting their crowdfunding page."

Keith's update: the crowdfunding effort concluded early this morning. A total of $150,153 was raised from 587 backers.

ALMA Discovery of Dust Belts Around Proxima Centauri , astro-ph.EP

"Proxima Centauri, the star closest to our Sun, is known to host at least one terrestrial planet candidate in a temperate orbit. Here we report the ALMA detection of the star at 1.3 mm wavelength and the discovery of a belt of dust orbiting around it at distances ranging between 1 and 4 au, approximately."

NASA Internal Memo: Next Steps for WFIRST Program

"I have reviewed the findings of the independent review team and have accepted them. As a result, I believe reductions in scope and complexity are needed. I am directing the Goddard Space Flight Center to study modifying the current WFIRST design, the design that was reviewed by the WIETR, to reduce cost and complexity sufficient to have a cost estimate consistent with the $3.2B cost target set at the beginning of Phase A."

The mission to Mars is one stupid leap for mankind, op ed, Washington Post

"Still, a human traveler to Mars should make the most of its airless monotony, because there is no coming back. The long passage through the vacuum of space will expose astronauts to intense and prolonged bombardment by cosmic rays and unimpeded solar radiation -- a death sentence for which NASA has no solution (though scientists continue to seek one). At the Hotel Mars, you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. What's more, Mars is a dead end. As fatally desolate and brutal as Mars is, our neighbor planet is the most habitable destination for many, many light years in any direction."

Keith's note: I'm rather surprised that the Washington Post would print such an error-riddled opinion piece - and devote half a page to it. Its take on the whole 'why fly people in space when we can fly robots' rant is breathtaking in its ignorance. And, for what its worth, I find it ironic that the Post, whose space reporting is otherwise quite stellar, is owned by Jeff Bezos who is a clear adherent of the notion of opening space up to as many people as possible.

But these anti-human space flight opinions are not exactly uncommon. One of the hotbeds of these sentiments is the Planetary Society. This video "A space engineer explains why humans will never go past Mars" was just posted by Business Former Planetary Society Executive Director Lou Friedman parrots the anti-human spaceflight mantra: "Louis Friedman, an aerospace engineer and author of "Human Spaceflight: From Mars to the Stars," believes that humans may never travel past Mars. The former head of The Planetary Society says technology will replace exploring humans."

Recently, as he sat in the audience waiting for Elon Musk to talk about his plans for space exploration - including Mars, current Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye said "no one wants to colonize Mars" and then explained why.

In 2014 Planetary Society Senior editor Emily Lakdawalla‏ tweeted "The highs and lows of the last week remind us why the future must be in robotic, not crewed, space flight." Just to be clear on this, in 2015 Lakdawalla wrote "This is one of many reasons I'm glad that The Planetary Society is advocating an orbit-first approach to human exploration. If we keep our filthy meatbag bodies in space and tele-operate sterile robots on the surface, we'll avoid irreversible contamination of Mars -- and obfuscation of the answer to the question of whether we're alone in the solar system -- for a little while longer. Maybe just long enough for robots to taste Martian water or discover Martian life."

In their summary of the recent National Space Council meeting Casey Dreier and Jason Davis from the Planetary Society tried (like the rest of us) to figure out what America's new space policy would be. They noted "Through its Humans Orbiting Mars workshop and report, The Planetary Society found great value in sending humans to Mars in terms of scientific return, searching for life, and challenging our technological capabilities. How these objectives will fit into a revamped human exploration program for either the Moon or Mars is still unclear."

Its hard to reconcile what Dreier and Davis write with what Nye, Friedman, and Lakdawalla have said. At best, the Planetary Society's take on human exploration (Mars in particular) is 'look but don't touch' which is in direct contrast to the path NASA has been taking - and the path that the current White House has clearly stated that it intends to follow.

Keith's update: Just to be clear: I used to work for NASA as a space biologist and I fully appreciate the issue and challenges of planetary protection. Also, I think that orbiting Mars initially to do recon and telerobotics is a perfectly fine approach with historical precedents - so long as it is done in preparation for human landings - not instead of human landings.

Pluto Features Given First Official Names, IAU

"Tenzing Montes and Hillary Montes are mountain ranges honouring Tenzing Norgay (1914-1986) and Sir Edmund Hillary (1919-2008), the Indian/Nepali Sherpa and New Zealand mountaineer who were the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest and return safely."

The Real Origin Of Some Notable Pluto Nomenclature, earlier post

"On 10 January 2008 Sir Edmund Hillary, one of two humans to first stand atop Mt. Everest died. I sent Alan Stern, then AA for NASA's Science Mission Directorate an email: "I hope you name a new, large feature on Mercury after Edmund Hillary - and Tenzing Norgay..." Stern promptly sent an email to MESSENGER PI Sean Solomon saying "Sean-As you may have seen in the past few hours, Sir Edmund Hillary died today. Let's name prominent features for him and Tenzing Norgay on Mercury. It's ALL about exploration." Solomon concurred. Eventually it became clear that the IAU only wanted to name things on Mercury after painters for some unexplained reason."

- Confusion Over Naming of Features on Pluto, earlier post
- Silly Pluto Food Fights Continue, earlier post

NASA's Next Mars Mission to Investigate Interior of Red Planet, Lockheed Martin

"More information about InSight is online at:
https://www.nasa.gov/insight
https://insight.jpl.nasa.gov/"

Keith's note: Here we go again. NASA has deliberately created - and pays to maintain - two official mission websites - this time, for Mars InSight. NASA is paying twice for this. I'd ve willing to bet that a FOIA request would show that the duplication costs in terms of website contractor personnel would amount to several hundred thousand dollars over the course of the mission. This is not new wastefulness on NASA's part: the Mars 2020 Rover already has three official BASA mission websites: https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/, https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/mars-2020/, and https://www.nasa.gov/mars2020. Every few years I ask NASA SMD about this. Someone says that they'll look into it. Tick tock - nothing changes. The real answer is stove piping: NASA cannot really tell its field centers (or JPL) what to do and they go off and do their own thing regardless of whether someone else is already dong it. The field centers and JPL want people to think of them when it comes to NASA - instead of NASA.gov. But NASA HQ wants a unified way for people to find mission information so they set up a duplicate set of mission websites. Try as they may, these dueling sites are never totally in synch - and one is almost always out of sate with respect to the other. Let's #MakeNASAConfusingAgain

NASA's Inability To Speak With One Voice Online, earlier post (2011)

"Probably the most blatant example whereby NASA simply cannot make its mind up as to where an official mission website is has to do with Hubble - here are the official websites: http://hubble.nasa.gov/, http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/hubble/main/index.html, http://hubblesite.org/, http://heritage.stsci.edu/, http://www.nasa.gov/hubble, and http://www.spacetelescope.org/. And NASA Hubble press releases typically offer 3 links - on three different official Hubble websites - for the same image."

- Why Does NASA Maintain Three (Four) Different MSL Websites?, earlier post (2013)
- Why does NASA need multiple websites for the same mission?, earlier post
- NASA's Tangled Human Spaceflight Web Presence, earlier post
- NASA's Sprawling Web Presence, earlier post

Review of "The Farthest: Voyager In Space" - Becoming Interstellar

"In 1977 the twin Voyager spacecraft left planet Earth bound for the outer reaches of our solar system - and beyond. What they discovered changed our way of thinking about how worlds are built and broadened our notions of where life might be found. The story of this audacious project is told in the captivating new documentary "The Farthest" which is airing on PBS this week. The film itself is weaved together rather artfully - not unlike the sounds and images that were placed on the now-famous "Golden Records" that each spacecraft carried. The story is narrated mostly by people who were there. Indeed its like listening to the crew of a ship of discovery recount the days of wonder that they experienced."

Cameras on NASA exoplanet spacecraft slightly out of focus, Space News

"NASA confirmed July 26 that the focus of the four cameras on the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) spacecraft will drift when the spacecraft cools to operating temperatures after launch next March. The problem was noticed in recent tests when the cameras were chilled to approximately -75 degrees Celsius. "Recent tests show the cameras on TESS are slightly out of focus when placed in the cold temperatures of space where it will be operating," NASA spokesperson Felicia Chou said in response to a SpaceNews inquiry. "After a thorough engineering evaluation, NASA has concluded TESS can fully accomplish its science mission with the cameras as they are, and will proceed with current integration activities." ... "The question is how much science degradation will there be in the results," Boss said. "The TESS team thinks there will be a 10 percent cut in terms of the number of planets that they expect to be able to detect."

Keith's 27 July note: Strange that NASA will fly a flawed spacecraft that can only accomplish 90% of what it is supposed to do. Maybe NASA will explain this in a little more detail.

Keith's 4 August update: NASA Just posted this update about TESS "NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite Passes Critical Review" This is what NASA says: "Recent measurements revealed the TESS cameras to have slightly reduced focus and image quality near the outer edge of the image when placed in the cold temperatures of space, and better camera focus and image quality towards the center of the image. The difference between the designed and measured focus and image quality will not affect the mission's science goals." Last week this was a 10% decrease in capability. Now its no big deal, right NASA?

Juno Completes Flyby Over Jupiter's Great Red Spot

"NASA's Juno mission completed a close flyby of Jupiter and its Great Red Spot on July 10, during its sixth science orbit. All of Juno's science instruments and the spacecraft's JunoCam were operating during the flyby, collecting data that are now being returned to Earth. Juno's next close flyby of Jupiter will occur on Sept. 1. Raw images from the spacecraft's latest flyby will be posted in coming days."

Keith's note: The first raw #images of Juno's flyover of Jupiter's great red spot have been posted online.

NAS Report: Review of the Restructured Research and Analysis Programs of NASA's Planetary Science Division

"Recently, PSD reorganized the R&A program to provide better alignment with the strategic goals for planetary sciences. The major changes in the R&A program involved consolidating a number of prior program elements, many of which were organized by subdiscipline, into a smaller number of thematic core research program elements. Despite numerous efforts by PSD to communicate the rationale for the reorganization and articulate clearly the new processes, there has been significant resistance from the planetary science community and concerns in some sectors regarding the major realignment of funding priorities. ... This report explores whether any specific research areas or subdisciplinary groups that are critical to NASA's strategic objectives for planetary science and PSD's science goals are not supported appropriately in the current program or have been inadvertently disenfranchised through the reorganization."

Why No One Under 20 Has Experienced a Day Without NASA at Mars, NASA

"Without Mars Pathfinder, there could not have been Spirit and Opportunity, and without Spirit and Opportunity, there could not have been Curiosity," Pathfinder Project Scientist Matt Golombek of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, said of the subsequent generations of Mars rovers. JPL is now developing another Mars rover for launch in 2020."

Keith's note: Here we go again. NASA wants you to think that everything it does always works and that its path (thus far) on the whole #JourneyToMars thing was logical and paved only with success. As such, this happy piece neglects to mention a billion dollars worth of Mars missions; Mars Observer (blew up in 1993), Mars Climate Orbiter (crashed in 1999), and Mars Polar Lander (crashed in 1999).

Oddly, it is these three unmentioned intermediate missions that had a substantial impact upon the way NASA now explores Mars. This press release is supposed to be all about how one mission contributed to the next mission. Yet without these three mission failures NASA would arguably not have had the subsequent string of successes that it has had.

When Mars Observer was lost NASA went back to the drawing board to reboot its Mars exploration strategy. When MCO and MPL were lost within months of each other NASA did a larger policy reboot. To maximize success with the Mars Science Rover mission plan, two rovers were launched - most explicitly with the intent that if only one of them worked - and only for 90 days - both missions would have been seen as successful. Two landers based on MPL hardware benefited directly from understanding the problems on MPL. Looking back, as a result of these three failures, we now see a more careful and instrumented approach used in traveling to, entering orbit, and landing on - Mars. NASA learned its Mars exploration lessons well - the hard way.

But now NASA Public Affairs is trying to pull a fast one and rewrite the history books. In so doing they obscure the timeline wherein these lessons were learned. They also help to sow the seeds for future mistakes. The people listed as contacts and who wrote and reviewed this release at NASA HQ and JPL know better. Alas, they now have a new, younger generation who was not around when the hard lessons were learned (the other main point of this release) so why not just leave the bad bits out, eh?

Indeed, this selective memory PAO exhibits is akin to trying to describe the history of American human spaceflight while neglecting the tough lessons learned (and unlearned) from Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia. No one is well-served by an edited, sanitized version of NASA's long path outward into space.

Keith's update: NASA loves to use the phrase "Mars is hard" when it comes to missions to Mars - especially when the nail biting begins. How would NASA ever know that it is "hard" unless they experienced hardships along the way - you know, hardships such as mission failures? How are the younger people who are the intended audience for this release going to know about these hardships if NASA will not tell them that they happened along the way?

NASA Releases Kepler Survey Catalog with Hundreds of New Planet Candidates

"NASA's Kepler space telescope team has released a mission catalog of planet candidates that introduces 219 new planet candidates, 10 of which are near-Earth size and orbiting in their star's habitable zone, which is the range of distance from a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of a rocky planet. With the release of this catalog, derived from data publically available on the NASA Exoplanet Archive, there are now 4,034 planet candidates identified by Kepler. Of which, 2,335 have been verified as exoplanets. Of roughly 50 near-Earth size habitable zone candidates detected by Kepler, more than 30 have been verified."

NASA's Dark-Energy Probe Faces Cost Crisis, Scientific American

"Above all, the agency wants to keep WFIRST from following the path of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), a successor to the Hubble telescope that is scheduled to launch in 2018. That project's cost spiralled from $1 billion in the early 2000s to $8.8 billion--and nearly exhausted NASA's astrophysics budget. The WFIRST review is meant to stave off that kind of meltdown. "This is a good time to take a look at the scale and scope of the mission," says Jon Morse, a former head of NASA's astrophysics division who is now chief executive of the BoldlyGo Institute, a non-profit space-exploration organization in New York City. "Nobody wants this thing to double in cost."

Keith's note: One planetary scientist is doing a systematic search for a large planet that may be lurking in the outermost reaches of our solar system. Meanwhile another planetary scientist who got his own mission to visit the farthest objects yet visited in our solar system just can't get over a nomenclature decision made a decade ago.

Dawn Observing Ceres; 3rd Reaction Wheel Malfunctions, NASA JPL

"While preparing for this observation, one of Dawn's two remaining reaction wheels stopped functioning on April 23. By electrically changing the speed at which these gyroscope-like devices spin, Dawn controls its orientation in the zero-gravity, frictionless conditions of space."

"The team discovered the situation during a scheduled communications session on April 24, diagnosed the problem, and returned the spacecraft to its standard flight configuration, still with hydrazine control, on April 25. The failure occurred after Dawn completed its five-hour segment of ion thrusting on April 22 to adjust its orbit, but before the shorter maneuver scheduled for April 23-24. The orbit will still allow Dawn to perform its opposition measurements. The reaction wheel's malfunctioning will not significantly impact the rest of the extended mission at Ceres."

SwRI-Led Team Discovers Lull in Mars' Giant Impact History

"The new results reveal that Mars' impact history closely parallels the bombardment histories we've inferred for the Moon, the asteroid belt, and the planet Mercury," Bottke said. "We refer to the period for the later impacts as the 'Late Heavy Bombardment.' The new results add credence to this somewhat controversial theory. However, the lull itself is an important period in the evolution of Mars and other planets. We like to refer to this lull as the 'doldrums.'"

Cassini Completes Final and Fateful Titan Flyby

"NASA's Cassini spacecraft has had its last close brush with Saturn's hazy moon Titan and is now beginning its final set of 22 orbits around the ringed planet."

"The spacecraft made its 127th and final close approach to Titan on April 21 at 11:08 p.m. PDT (2:08 a.m. EDT on April 22), passing at an altitude of about 608 miles (979 kilometers) above the moon's surface."

Marc's note: There are a couple of new images.

Breakthrough Initiatives Summit on Life in the Universe and Space Exploration

"Breakthrough Initiatives today announced its second annual Breakthrough Discuss scientific conference, which will bring together leading astronomers, engineers, astrobiologists and astrophysicists to advance discussion surrounding recent discoveries of potentially habitable planets in nearby star systems. The two days of discussions will focus on newly discovered Earth-like 'exoplanets' in the Alpha Centauri and TRAPPIST-1 planetary systems, and new evidence that these planets could be habitable, as well as their potential as targets for novel methods of space exploration."

Breakthrough Discuss Opens with Lively Sessions Dedicated to the Search for Planets and Life in Our Cosmic Neighborhood, Breakthrough Initiatives

"Peter Michelson emphasized that the last century of scientific investigation has transformed questions about origins from the realm of metaphysics to a place where they can be investigated observationally."

Breakthrough Discuss Conference Closes with Full Day Dedicated to Newly Discovered Exoplanets and SETI, Breakthrough Initiatives

"Breakthrough Initiatives are a suite of scientific and technological programs exploring the big questions around life in the Universe, such as, Are we alone? What are the nearest habitable planets? And can we become an interstellar civilization?"

Keith's note: I had a few thoughts about this official Science March T-shirt design.



Loading

 



Monthly Archives

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Space & Planetary Science category.

SLS and Orion is the previous category.

Space Elevators is the next category.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.