Recently in Space & Planetary Science Category

Oh the Places We Won't Go: Humans Will Settle Mars, and Nowhere Else, Lou Friedman

"Humans will become a multi-planet species by making it to Mars, but no farther. That is, they will never travel beyond Mars. Some find this to be negativean absolute statement of limits and thus of giving up. My job here is to prove the opposite: humans exploring the universe with nanotechnology robotics, bio-molecular engineering, and artificial intelligence is something that is exciting and positive, and is based on an optimistic view of the future. ... Getting beyond Mars (with humans) is impossible - not just physically for the foreseeable future but also culturally forever."

Keith's note: Yet another defeatist, robots-instead-of-humans op ed - this time by a founder of the Planetary Society. Indeed, he's afraid to even try. One quick look at the organization's "Humans Orbiting Mars" plan shows that they have to kill the ISS and avoid sending humans back to the Moon so that they can *almost" land on Mars. If this organization has its way humans will never leave low Earth orbit again.

Friedman et al may be too afraid to try and go beyond Mars - back to the Moon - or elsewhere across the solar system - but there are many, many more people who relish the chance to do so.

- Planetary Society Does Not Want Humans on Mars, earlier post
- The Planetary Society Does Not Want "The Martian" To Happen, earlier post
- At Planetary Society: Its Do As I Say - Not As I Do, earlier post
- Planetary Society's Mars Mission Takes Longer To Do Less, earlier post
- Planetary Society is Both For and Against Human Spaceflight, earlier post

Keith's update: Lou Friedman posted a comment (comments section below). He chides me for not reflecting what his book says. DUH, Lou I never read the book. I never said that I had. I responded to your words as posted on the Scientific American website. If there is an "out of context" issue, Lou, then post your entire book online - otherwise, you wrote what you wrote. Don't expect people to be mind readers about what you meant to say - or said somewhere else. Based on your words you are quite clearly a defeatist when it comes to the human exploration of the solar system - a stance that the Planetary Society echoes. Funny how you seek to distance yourself from Planetary Society yet your Twitter handle is @TpsLdf. Just a coincidence, I suppose.

Saving Arecibo - From Itself

Arecibo observatory director quits after funding row, Nature

"Kerr traces his departure to a disagreement over a possible windfall for the Puerto Rico observatory. In late July, he publicly criticized the NSF for planning to cut its contribution to Arecibo if the facility began taking payments for helping in a private survey for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence. NSF officials say that his assertions were inaccurate and that its communication with Kerr never lapsed. Whatever the facts, some Arecibo observers see Kerr's exit as an ill-timed loss for a storied, but financially threatened, scientific facility that faces a murky future.

... In Kerr's telling, NSF officials told him that if Arecibo got funding from Breakthrough, its own funding would fall by the same amount. In a 29 July article, an angry Kerr told Scientific American that the NSF had placed Arecibo in an "unscrupulous" bind: walk away from the Breakthrough money or accept it and lose NSF dollars."

More Strange Things On and Around Pluto

"From possible ice volcanoes to twirling moons, NASA's New Horizons science team is discussing more than 50 exciting discoveries about Pluto at this week's 47th Annual Meeting of the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences in National Harbor, Maryland."

NASA Blames "Organizational Confusion" for Embargo on Latest New Horizons Results, Space News

"Scientists involved with NASA's New Horizons mission showed off the latest analysis of data collected during the spacecraft's flyby of Pluto in July, despite "organizational confusion" at the event that mistakenly prevented attendees from initially sharing the results with the public. However, that debate of the findings was initially limited to the people attending the meeting. Attendees of the morning conference sessions Nov. 9 were told that the results were embargoed until a midday press conference. This prevented both scientists and reporters from sharing the results presented in those talks to the public, including through social media, much to the consternation of some in attendance. Sources at the conference blamed the embargo on NASA, in contrary to the conference embargo policy established for conferences run by the American Astronomical Society. Niebur said later that the embargo was a misunderstanding that won't apply to other sessions during the week-long conference. "There was some kind of miscommunication," he said. "There was a little bit of organizational confusion."

NASA's Blatant Hint About Its Own Embargoed Research News (Update), earlier post

"What is the purpose of these embargoes if NASA is just going to play games with access to the embargoed news? And why does it allow a magazine like Science control how taxpayer-funded news is released?"

NASA Maven Briefing on New Findings on the Fate of Mars' Atmosphere

"(Science and Geophysical Research Letters embargoed details until 2 p.m. EST Nov. 5) NASA will provide details of key science findings from the agency's ongoing exploration of Mars during a news briefing at 2 p.m. EST on Thursday, Nov. 5 in the James Webb Auditorium at NASA Headquarters in Washington."

Keith's 4 Nov 11:00 pm note: What a tease. NASA is clearly dropping a hint - to over 13 million people - complete with an illustration - about its own research news - news that is supposedly under embargo - until Thursday at 2 pm EST - news that they have already given to hand-selected news media ... why even bother with an embargo?

MAVEN Reveals Speed of Solar Wind Stripping Martian Atmosphere

"NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission has identified the process that appears to have played a key role in the transition of the Martian climate from an early, warm and wet environment that might have supported surface life to the cold, arid planet Mars is today."

Keith's 5 Nov update: Of course NASA looks the other way when some media (but not others) are given advanced access to NASA mission results and they also openly allow media to interview mission personnel, etc. in advance about these results such that fully written articles appear online 1 minute after the embargo lifts. Meanwhile NASA teases everyone about this news in advance by parting the curtains on the pending news and hyping it via social media. What is the purpose of these embargoes if NASA is just going to play games with access to the embargoed news? And why does it allow a magazine like Science control how taxpayer-funded news is released?

Annual Invitation for Public Nominations for NASA Advisory Council Science Subcommittees 2015

"NASA announces its annual invitation for public nominations for service on the NASA Advisory Council's Science Committee subcommittees. Five science subcommittees report to the Science Committee of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC), a Federal advisory committee under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). U.S. citizens may submit self-nominations for consideration to fill intermittent vacancies on these five science subcommittees. NASA's science subcommittees have member vacancies from time to time throughout the year, and NASA will consider self-nominations to fill such intermittent vacancies. Nominees will only be contacted should a vacancy arise and it is judged that their area(s) of expertise is appropriate for that specific vacancy. NASA is committed to selecting members to serve on its science subcommittees based on their individual expertise, knowledge, experience, and current/past contributions to the relevant subject area."

Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson, & Fans Celebrate Past & Future of Space Exploration at Planetary Society's 35th Anniversary

"Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and 19-year Planetary Society Board Member, received The Planetary Society's Cosmos Award for Outstanding Public Presentation of Science. Tyson, Director of New York City's Hayden Planetarium, hosted Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey, a television series that paid tribute to Carl Sagan's original Cosmos program. "Every day, Neil deGrasse Tyson inspires this and the next generation of explorers," Nye explained. "He encourages us all to use the process of science to ask questions, to seek answers to nature's mysteries, to keep searching, to know the cosmos and our place within it. Neil inspires the students among us today, who will carry on with the search for life on Mars and Europa. They will solve cosmic mysteries that many of us have yet to even imagine. It's an honor to know him."

Keith's note: Once again the Planetary Society's own mutual admiration and self-indulgent society awards one of its members with an award invented just for them - an award even more grandiose than the last one they gave him. Meanwhile Neil Tyson has already started to blast another movie he is not involved in. Sooner or later they are going to run out of award to give on another.

According to "Neil deGrasse Tyson on 'Star Wars,' 'Star Trek' and 'StarTalk'," Wall Street Journal: "Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson hasn't gotten around to watching the "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" trailer yet--and he also doesn't think the "Star Wars" franchise takes science seriously enough to be worth his time. "When you are that kind of storytelling, I don't spend time analyzing what you're doing," Tyson says."

So I guess that we can expect a torrent of Tysonisms about how Luke's light saber wont work or how Jedi mind tricks will never happen (recent articles in Science and Nature challenge that but who reads those papers before tweeting,eh? )

Keith's note: Cool stuff, eh? Yet if you go to @NASANewHorizons (the Twitter account run by NASA) you see no mention of it - and infrequent mission updates such as this engine firing. But if you go to @NewHorizons2015 (run by mission PI Alan Stern) there are more official mission updates. Stern's salary (and those of other SwRI employees) when working on New Horizons comes from NASA. Yet SwRI staff specifically block access to news media Twitter accounts such as @NASAWatch forcing additional steps to be taken to get this information - information about a NASA mission paid for with NASA money. This also makes it impossible to directly retweet these Tweets to @NASAWatch followers (over 60,000 at this point). Again, what a splendid E&PO campaign this mission has i.e. blocking news media to easy access to mission information such that it is harder to redistribute that news. Funny, Alan Stern uses his @goldenspikeco Twitter account to follow @NASAWatch.

Blocking Good News From New Horizons, earlier post

Barnstorming Enceladus

Closest Northern Views of Saturn's Moon Enceladus, NASA

"NASA's Cassini spacecraft has begun returning its best-ever views of the northern extremes of Saturn's icy, ocean-bearing moon Enceladus. The spacecraft obtained the images during its Oct. 14 flyby, passing 1,142 miles (1,839 kilometers) above the moon's surface. Mission controllers say the spacecraft will continue transmitting images and other data from the encounter for the next several days."

New Closeup Images of Enceladus, NASA

Lakes on Mars

Curiosity Rover Team Confirms Ancient Lakes on Mars

"A new study from the team behind NASA's Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity has confirmed that Mars was once, billions of years ago, capable of storing water in lakes over an extended period of time."

Powerboats on Mars, earlier post (1998)

"Despite suggestions in various news tabloids, project scientists were quick to dispell any suggestion that the branched structure seen northeast of the dam-like structure is a marina. In making this statement, project scientists point out that there is very little air on Mars and that sailboats would be impractical nor is there enough Oxygen to support the internal or external combustion engines used in powerboats."

Blue Skies and Water Ice on Pluto, NASA

"The first color images of Pluto's atmospheric hazes, returned by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft last week, reveal that the hazes are blue."

NASA scientist hints at 'amazing' Pluto finding, NY Post

"NASA won't let me tell you what we're going to tell you on Thursday," Dr. Alan Stern, the mission's lead scientist, told students on Monday at the University of Alberta in Canada, according to The Guardian. "It's amazing." "This world is alive," Stern added. "It has weather, it has hazes in the atmosphere, active geology." But NASA said there's nothing out of this world to announce. "There is a false rumor going around that there will be a BIG New Horizons science announcement tomorrow," according to a tweet from the New Horizons team on Wednesday. "Completely false."

Keith's note: I am not sure Stern was wrong in what he is quoted as saying. I think think this news is a big deal. As for how the "false rumor" started. It should obvious that @NewHorizons2015 was promoting it (by retweeting an excited quote) before it was debunking it.

As an Emerging Space Nation Israel Makes a Statement in Hosting the International Astronautical Congress, SpaceRef

"Israel's space program was born out of military need, but in recent years the civil space program has received an infusion of funding and next week it will host the annual International Astronautical Congress in Jerusalem."

Marc's note: Charlie Bolden will take part in the annual Heads of Agencies plenary next Monday.

I will be at Congress covering it with stories to be posted here.

Related: Q&A with Isaac Ben-Israel, Chairman of the Israel Space Agency, SpaceNews

NASA Wakes Up: Saving Earth From Killer Asteroids Is A Waste

"The answer to the first question should we be monitoring what's out there is yes, but not with the urgency so many advocate. And to the second question should we be prepping the defenses the answer is not likely. We may get some very smart, very famous people arguing counter to this, but even smart people fall prey to a common human fallacy: risk estimation when the odds are low but the consequences are great. ... There are real dangers to Earth (and to the humans on it) facing us today, but asteroids aren't one of them. If our species sticks around for another few thousand years, it will be time to make that investment. But until then? We've got a planet to save, and an entire Universe to discover."

Keith's note: This has to be one of the dumbest things I have read in a long time. Forbes doesn't fact check their articles, so it would seem. The author uses lots of numbers in his article. But when you ask the author for the specific sources of his data - data used to make specific risk assessment statements, he won't provide it.

NASA Selects Investigations for Future Key Planetary Mission

"NASA has selected five science investigations for refinement during the next year as a first step in choosing one or two missions for flight opportunities as early as 2020. The submitted proposals would study Venus, near-Earth objects and a variety of asteroids. Each investigation team will receive $3 million to conduct concept design studies and analyses."

Venus and a bizarre metal asteroid are leading destinations for low-cost NASA missions, Science

"NEOCam competed in the last round of Discovery, but it had some competition from outside NASA: the B612 foundation. The nonprofit organization, dedicated to finding hazardous asteroids, said it would raise private money to build its own space telescope, Sentinel. But B612 has struggled to meet its fundraising goals and scheduled objectives, and, earlier this week, it was reported that NASA had ended a cooperative agreement with B612. Hap McSween, a planetary scientist at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, says NEOCam's selection is not unrelated to the end of the B612 agreement. "The choice of NEOCam here is perhaps a reflection of harsh reality," McSween says. "If this is going to happen, NASA is going to have to pay for it."

Keith's note: Isn't it a litte odd that the decision to cancel the Space Act Agreement with B612 for its "Sentinel" asteroid hunting mission suddenly came to light on the eve of Discovery mission finalists being announced -- and that JPL's asteroid hunting "NEOCam" mission is among those selected for further work?. These spacecraft even look a lot alike. JPL folks clearly saw Sentinel as competition - even if it was Sentinel team that first pushed the envelope on this whole idea. JPLers were pushing Lindley Johnson and others at NASA HQ to end the Sentinel agreement. At this point Johnson could use all the help he can get given how miserably his organization's NEO work has been progressing.

NASA OIG Report: NASA's Efforts to Identify Near-Earth Objects and Mitigate Hazards (2014)

"The NASA Authorization Act of 2005 required the Agency to implement a "program to detect, track, catalogue, and characterize the physical characteristics of near-Earth objects equal to or greater than 140 meters in diameter" and established a goal of cataloging 90 percent of these objects by 2020. However, even with a ten-fold increase in the NEO Program budget in the past 5 years - from $4 million in fiscal year (FY) 2009 to $40 million in FY 2014 - NASA estimates that it has identified only about 10 percent of all asteroids 140 meters and larger. Moreover, given its current pace and resources, the Agency has stated that it will not meet the goal of identifying 90 percent of such objects by 2020."

NASA Cancels Space Act Agreement With B612 Foundation, earlier post

NASA Terminates Space Act Agreement with B612 Foundation for Sentinel Spacecraft

"NASA spokesmen Dwayne Brown and Dave Steitz confirmed via email that NASA terminated the agreement with B612. Steitz explained that B612 had not met an important milestone in the SAA -- starting Sentinel's development -- and NASA therefore terminated the agreement because "due to limited resources, NASA can no longer afford to reserve funds" to support the project. "NASA believes it is in the best interest of both parties to terminate this agreement but remains open to future opportunities to collaborate with the B612 Foundation," he added."

Keith's note: This certainly sucks. Odd that NASA gave up this easily. Curiously NASA is promoting a #JourneyToMars program with a fantasy budget and rockets whose launch dates slip year after year. But wait: B612 was going to pay for the spacecraft. NASA only had to use it.

If you read the actual Space Act Agreement between NASA and B612 these two articles pretty much rive everything else:

"ARTICLE 3. GATES Four Gates are identified that constitute milestones in the determination of the benefit to NASA from the Sentinel Mission. In the event that the Sentinel Mission does not fulfill a Gate, NASA will assess the impact thereof to the NASA benefit from the Sentinel Mission to determine whether or not to proceed with this Agreement. Any follow-on agreements or modifications agreed to by the Parties in the course of implementing the Sentinel Mission as described herein shall be fully incorporated in this Agreement and shall constitute a modification of this Agreement in Accordance with ARTICLE 24 Modifications.

ARTICLE 6. FINANCIAL OBLIGATIONS There will be no transfer of funds between the Parties under this Agreement and each Party will fund its own participation. All activities under or pursuant to this Agreement are subject to the availability of funds, and no provision of this Agreement shall be interpreted to require obligation or payment of funds in violation of the Anti-Deficiency Act,(31 U.S.C. § 1341)."

So B612 pays for, builds, launches, and operates Sentinel - and all NASA needs to do is provides the things needed to use it, collect data etc. NASA can walk away from this agreement at any time and B612 does not get a penny from NASA. I can tell you that there are others (i.e. traditional space mission vendors like APL, JPL, etc.) who tell people that they'd be building a spacecraft like Sentinel (but paid for by NASA) if it were not for the fact that NASA keeps saying "No, no we'll just use Sentinel".

Keith's note: The result of the closed door Humans Orbiting Mars report has been released. According to this report missions to Mars only orbit the planet by 2033. Crews would control robots on the surface. If there's enough money then the report suggests a landing in 2039 but they'd only stay on the surface for 24 days. Long duration missions on the surface of Mars would not start until 2043 a decade after NASA's current (but unfunded) plans. All of the missions in this report require hardware that has not been designed or budgeted for (just like NASA). NASA will be required to walk away from ISS in 2024 so as to free up money for Mars - and the report assumes that human spaceflight budgets will be flat with growth for inflation for several decades. This plan puts humans on Mars a quarter of a century away.

NASA is already challenged to mount a program that takes 20 years - Planetary Society wants to stretch that even further - indeed, in their plan serious surface expeditions would have to wait nearly 30 years. Of course there's always the magic unicorn of foreign partners, commercial donations, or other sources of money (not spelled out) which might pop up and make things happen earlier - or maybe not. Oh yes: this plan makes no mention of the two year slip in launching the first crewed Orion mission which should push everything to the right by a year or two.

In summary the Planetary Society has taken NASA's various plans, thrown them up in the air, rearranged the pieces and tried to do things on the cheap. The net result is an unrealistic delay in getting humans to the surface based on hardware that is not even budgeted for by NASA. I am trying to picture how Congress is going to fund a program for 20 years that almost puts humans on Mars.

Yesterday the Planetary Society posted an article on the Mars water news which included this gem: "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."

It is quite obvious that the Planetary Society would be quite happy if it took longer to put humans on Mars than NASA and others would like it to take since "Filthy meatbag bodies" don't belong on Mars - if at all possible.

Destination Phobos: 'Humans Orbiting Mars' report goes public, Geekwire

"Critics, including NASA Watch's Keith Cowing, say the Planetary Society's "orbit-first" blueprint is too timid and relies on hardware that NASA has not yet budgeted for. "I am trying to picture how Congress is going to fund a program for 20 years that almost puts humans on Mars," Cowing wrote on Tuesday. [Planetary Society's Casey] Dreier, however, was doubtful that a more accelerated schedule would draw enough political support. "It'd be great if we could do it in 10 years," he said. "But that will take a lot of money over not a lot of years, and I don't see any pathway to making that happen."

- Planetary Society Does Not Want Humans on Mars, earlier post
- Not Everyone Wants To Be The Martian, earlier post

Did NASA time its Mars announcement to coincide with 'The Martian'?, Yahoo

"Talk about some otherworldly timing ... or was it? Did NASA time its Mars announcement to coincide with the film's release? "No, the timing was dictated by the publication of the Nature Geoscience article, which was released today," Laurie Cantillo, a NASA spokeswoman, told Yahoo News. It would be a bit hard to imagine the space agency sitting on major Mars news in order for it to collide with a Hollywood movie."

Keith's note: 1. The research paper was submitted to Nature Geoscience months ago and the EPSC sessions were organized months ago as well - before any release date was chosen for "The Martian"
2. The release date for the movie was set months ago by movie marketing people who have no idea what this announcement is even about.

Were NASA and "The Martian" wrong to leverage this coincidence with cross-promotions? Heavens no. They have been cross-promoting this movie and NASA exploration activities for months so they'd look rather lame - and kinda stupid - if they did not take the time to cross-promote this blatantly obvious big news about Mars when NASA announced the press event last week. Given the glacial pace at which science papers crawl toward release and NASA's quirky way of dealing with embargoed science results there's no way any Hollywood marketing person could - or would - adjust a movie release to an indeterminate and ever shifting date in the future.

NASA PAO and "The Martian" are paying a lot of attention to each other right now - each for their own reasons. That said, the net result (one would hope) of this interaction is that an immense audience has a great time at the movies and that they leave the theater with something inspiring lingering in their minds about exploration.

Oh yes: this video was just posted on Twitter - a salute to NASA from Matt Damon.

NASA Confirms Evidence That Liquid Water Flows on Today's Mars, NASA

"New findings from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) provide the strongest evidence yet that liquid water flows intermittently on present-day Mars. Using an imaging spectrometer on MRO, researchers detected signatures of hydrated minerals on slopes where mysterious streaks are seen on the Red Planet. These darkish streaks appear to ebb and flow over time. They darken and appear to flow down steep slopes during warm seasons, and then fade in cooler seasons. They appear in several locations on Mars when temperatures are above minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 23 Celsius), and disappear at colder times."

Spectral evidence for hydrated salts in recurring slope lineae on Mars

"We find evidence for hydrated salts at all four locations in the seasons when recurring slope lineae are most extensive, which suggests that the source of hydration is recurring slope lineae activity. The hydrated salts most consistent with the spectral absorption features we detect are magnesium perchlorate, magnesium chlorate and sodium perchlorate. Our findings strongly support the hypothesis that recurring slope lineae form as a result of contemporary water activity on Mars."

Delirious Rover Hallucinates Water On Mars, The Onion

"Earlier this morning, mission control received an enthusiastic transmission from Curiosity indicating that it had detected a significant volume of cold, clear, crystal-blue water capable of supporting life," said project scientist Ashwin Vasavada, adding that the demented rover then made a beeline for what its strained, dust-clogged sensors determined to be a sparkling desert oasis encircled in waving palm fronds."

NASA to Announce Mars Mystery Solved

"**Nature Geoscience has Embargoed Details until 8 a.m. PDT/11 a.m. EDT Sept. 28)**

NASA will detail a major science finding from the agency's ongoing exploration of Mars during a news briefing at 8:30 a.m. PDT (11:30 a.m. EDT) on Monday, Sept. 28 at the James Webb Auditorium at NASA Headquarters in Washington. The event will be broadcast live on NASA Television and the agency's website."

Keith's 24 Sep note: As is standard practice NASA JPL and researchers have already provided advance information on this news to hand-picked news media - but not to others. But let's try and figure out what the big 'ol mystery is. Lujendra Ojha is one of the presenters at the press event and he's totally into recurring slope lineae on Mars using MRO. Alfred McEwen is a frequent co-author. And they have been trying to figure out how these features form on Mars. One would assume that they have figured that out.

NASA Mars Orbiters See Clues to Possible Water Flows (2014)

"We still don't have a smoking gun for existence of water in RSL [recurring slope lineae], although we're not sure how this process would take place without water," said Lujendra Ojha, a graduate student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, and lead author of two new reports about these flows. He originally discovered them while an undergraduate at the University of Arizona, Tucson, three years ago, in images from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter."

Recurring slope lineae in equatorial regions of Mars, Nature (2013)

"The presence of liquid water is a requirement of habitability on a planet. Possible indicators of liquid surface water on Mars include intermittent flow-like features observed on sloping terrains. These recurring slope lineae are narrow, dark markings on steep slopes that appear and incrementally lengthen during warm seasons on low-albedo surfaces."

Keith's 24 Sep update: A NASAWatch reader artfully tipped us off to this session of the European Planetary Science Congress 2015 in France on Monday, 28 September - and one paper authored by several of the participants (McEwen and Ojha) in the NASA press conference:

17:00-17:15 EPSC2015-786 Recurring Slope Lineae on Mars: Atmospheric Origin?, AS McEwen, M Chojnacki, C Dundas, L Ojha, M Masse, E Schaefer, and C Leung

"Recurring Slope Lineae (RSL) are seasonal flows or seeps on warm Martian slopes. Observed gradual or incremental growth, fading, and yearly recurrence can be explained by seasonal seeps of water, which is probably salty. The origin of the water is not understood, but several observations indicate a key role for atmospheric processes. If sufficient deliquescent salts are present at these locations, the water could be entirely of atmospheric origin."

Hinners Point Above Floor of Marathon Valley on Mars

"The summit takes its informal name as a tribute to Noel Hinners (1935-2014). For NASA's Apollo program, Hinners played important roles in selection of landing sites on the moon and scientific training of astronauts. He then served as NASA associate administrator for space science, director of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, director of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA chief scientist and associate deputy administrator of NASA. Subsequent to responsibility for the Viking Mars missions while at NASA, he spent the latter part of his career as vice president for flight systems at Lockheed Martin, where he had responsibility for the company's roles in development and operation of NASA's Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Odyssey, Phoenix Mars Lander, Stardust and Genesis missions."

Noel Hinners, earlier post

"He did everything you could do in and around NASA once," Cowing said."

Keith's note: Noel would be totally humbled to learn of this.

Kickstarter Success for Xtronaut Game Supports Space-Science Outreach Programs

"Dante Lauretta, Leader of the NASA OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission and University of Arizona Professor, combined his expertise in space mission planning and technology with his passion for strategy gaming to create Xtronaut: The Game of Solar System Exploration. The Xtronaut game captures the various challenges and excitement of planning a space mission. Lauretta co-founded Xtronaut Enterprises with space entrepreneur Michael Lyon to increase awareness of OSIRIS-REx and other space missions through entertainment and education programs. They launched a Kickstarter campaign to support the game on September 12, 2015, and have exceeded their funding goal of $15,000 with over 300 backers."

Kickstarter campaign

NAS Report: Review of the MEPAG Report on Mars Special Regions

"At NASA's request, the community-based Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG) established the Special Regions Science Analysis Group (SR-SAG2) in October 2013 to examine the quantitative definition of a Special Region and proposed modifications to it, as necessary, based upon the latest scientific results. Review of the MEPAG Report on Mars Special Regions reviews the conclusions and recommendations contained in MEPAG's SR-SAG2 report and assesses their consistency with current understanding of both the Martian environment and the physical and chemical limits for the survival and propagation of microbial and other life on Earth. This report provides recommendations for an update of the planetary protection requirements for Mars Special Regions."

Second Horizon, Space Review

"The New Horizons 2 proposal was an effort to gain approval for a mission that was not recommended by the planetary science decadal survey or any other independent group. But the NASA review panel recommended that any New Horizons 2 proposal should also be reviewed by the National Research Council's Committee on Planetary and Lunar Exploration, or COMPLEX, which was considered to be the "the keeper of the decadal." No such review occurred and New Horizons 2 was soon forgotten."

Keith's note: Interesting how New Horizons supporters hyped the Decadal Survey backing of their mission to get it approved and then turned around and tried to push a mission on NASA that had no Decadal Survey backing or credibility whatsoever. #hypocrites.

NASA - Lunar IceCube to Take on Big Mission From Small Package

"In what scientists say signals a paradigm shift in interplanetary science, NASA has selected a shoebox-size mission to search for water ice and other resources from above the surface of the moon."

Marc's note: CubeSats for deep-space exploration is an exciting new aspect of space exploration. It opens space exploration to more participants at a much lower cost. Combined with an eventual lower cost in launch through reusability, this could lead to a proliferation of new missions.

Pluto's dwarf planet status is 'bulls---,' says lead scientist of NASA mission, Business Insider

"The mission to Pluto was meant to complete the exploration of the planets in the Solar System. But scientists reclassified Pluto from a planet to a "dwarf planet" shortly after New Horizons launched in 2006. That reclassification split the space science community. But Stern has a clear opinion about Pluto's demotion: "It's bullsh*t," he told Tech Insider (and said we could quote him on that)."

Keith's note: (Sigh) once again this NASA principal investigator sets a new low standard for public discourse. At a time when NASA is focusing on education and inspiring the next generation of space explorers I find it rather odd that a NASA PI, speaking in an official capacity, would be putting forth such a crude example of how NASA scientists conduct themselves in the public's eye - and that he does so over such a tired and worn-out issue. Pluto is Pluto. Get over it.

- Planetary Science Trash Talking, earlier post
- NASA's Pluto Mission Seeks to Confuse People, earlier post

Hearing on Pluto Flyby

"Tuesday, July 28, 2015: The Science Committee's NASA Authorization Act for FY16 and FY17 restored funds the Obama administration proposed cutting from planetary science budgets. This would bring parity between NASA's science accounts and allow for development of missions like New Horizons to continue at the current pace."

Keith's note: The New Horizons team is now openly talking about a New Horizons-2 mission back to Pluto. It will be interesting to see if this topic is raised given that this committee is on the record about their interest in Europa - not Pluto. Also, given the NASA's budgetary issues, it will be interesting to see how the extra $1 billion-plus needed for New Horizons-2 would be squeezed out of an already constrained budgetary future - one that will inevitably stressed by SLS costs.

- Video
- Hearing charter
- Scientists Advocate for Planetary Funding in Wake of #PlutoFlyby, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
- Committee Discusses New Accomplishments in the Exploration of the Solar System, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Democrats

- Statement of Brian Babin
- Statement of Lamar Smith
- Statement of Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson
- Statement of Rep. Donna Edwards
- Statement of Robert Pappalardo
- Statement of John Grunsfeld
- Statement of Robert Braun
- Statement of Chris Russell
- Alan Stern did not provide a prepared statement - just pictures and the New Horizons Press Kit

Nightside Image Reveals Pluto's Hazy Skies

"Speeding away from Pluto just seven hours after its July 14 closest approach, the New Horizons spacecraft looked back and captured this spectacular image of Pluto's atmosphere, backlit by the sun. The image reveals layers of haze that are several times higher than scientists predicted."

- New Horizons Discovers Flowing Ices on Pluto
- New Horizons Reveals Pluto's Atmospheric Pressure Has Sharply Decreased
- Pluto and Charon in Natural Color
- NASA's New Horizons Team Finds Haze, Flowing Ice on Pluto
- Pluto Flyby Lead, Planetary Scientists to Discuss Discoveries at Hearing
- Pluto Dazzles in False Color

"Potential reach and Number of Mentions of all social media posts(NASA & non-NASA) across 21 different social media platforms using one or more of the following keywords between July 13-17, 2015: Pluto, "New Horizons", #PlutoFlyby, or #Pluto:"

- Download NASA presentation
- NASA's Pluto Web Stats, earlier post

NASA's Social Media Strategy Is Genius And Kinda Maddening, Wired

"Organizations can sometimes let social media metrics obscure their core goals and mission. (Trust us on this.) On the evening of July 14, the world was waiting for New Horizons to phone home and say it had successfully passed by Pluto. With less than two minutes until the message was scheduled to arrive, the cameras cut to (drumroll) a NASA social media representative, who proceeded to tell the world how high New Horizons was trending on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The Pluto Press Corps was not too amused. The camera cut to New Horizons Mission Operations Manager Alice Bowman in the nick of time, seemingly the moment she received the I'm-OK signal from New Horizons. For a moment, it seemed, NASA's ace team of publicists had forgotten that the cameras were supposed to be on Pluto."

NASA Media Teleconference to Announce Latest Kepler Discoveries

"NASA will host a news teleconference at 9 a.m. PDT (12 p.m. EDT) Thursday, July 23 to announce new discoveries made by its planet-hunting mission, the Kepler Space Telescope. The teleconference audio and visuals will be streamed live at:"

Press briefing graphics

Kepler Finds 12 Earth-sized Worlds In Stellar Habitable Zones, SETI Institute

"The new catalog includes 12 candidates that are less than twice Earth's diameter, orbiting in the so-called habitable zone of their star. This zone is the range of distances at which the energy flux from the star would permit liquid water to exist on the planet's surface. Of these candidates, Kepler 452b is the first to be confirmed as a planet. At a distance of 1,400 light-years, Kepler 452b accompanies a star whose characteristics are very similar to the Sun: it is 4 percent more massive and 10 percent brighter. Kepler 452b orbits its star at the same distance as Earth orbits the Sun."

Kepler Discovers Bigger, Older Cousin to Earth, NASA

"The newly discovered Kepler-452b is the smallest planet to date discovered orbiting in the habitable zone -- the area around a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of an orbiting planet -- of a G2-type star, like our sun."

Deep Space Climate Observatory Captures EPIC Earth Image

"A NASA camera on the Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite has returned its first view of the entire sunlit side of Earth from one million miles away."

"This color image of Earth was taken by NASA's Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC), a four megapixel CCD camera and telescope. The image was generated by combining three separate images to create a photographic-quality image. The camera takes a series of 10 images using different narrowband filters -- from ultraviolet to near infrared -- to produce a variety of science products. The red, green and blue channel images are used in these color images."

NASA's New Horizons Discovers Frozen Plains in the Heart of Pluto's Heart

"In the latest data from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, a new close-up image of Pluto reveals a vast, craterless plain that appears to be no more than 100 million years old, and is possibly still being shaped by geologic processes."

"This frozen region is north of Pluto's icy mountains, in the center-left of the heart feature, informally named "Tombaugh Regio" (Tombaugh Region) after Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930."

"This terrain is not easy to explain," said Jeff Moore, leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GGI) at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. "The discovery of vast, craterless, very young plains on Pluto exceeds all pre-flyby expectations."

- Pluto Wags its Tail: New Horizons Discovers a Cold, Dense Region of Atmospheric Ions Behind Pluto

- New Horizons Reveals Pluto's Extended Atmosphere

Ted Cruz Is Really Excited About Pluto. So Why Does He Want to Cripple NASA?, Mother Jones

"But NASA is also one of the main purveyors of the satellite observations of Earth that are a basic necessity for many fields of Earth science. That's the part Cruz doesn't like: He wants to slash the agency's budget for Earth sciencesin particular, for climate change, a subject on which Cruz's theories are, in the words of one scientist, "a load of claptrap." It's not just Cruz. In the House, Republicans are forging ahead with a bill that would gut $90 million from NASA's Earth science budget. There are a couple major problems with that approach, and they make Cruz's lauding of the Pluto mission distinctly ironic and hypocritical. First, NASA is uniquely equipped among federal agencies to send satellites into space, so it would be hard to transfer its Earth research to some other outfit. (These are the very satellites, by the way, that produce the data Cruz likes to erroneously cite as evidence against global warming.)"

Keith's note: Comments are closed. People have gone totally off topic and are ranting and making personal attacks. Please do not try and post comments elsewhere since they will be deleted.

New Horizons Phones Home Safe after Pluto Flyby

"The call everyone was waiting for is in. NASA's New Horizons spacecraft phoned home just before 9 p.m. EDT Tuesday to tell the mission team and the world it had accomplished the historic first-ever flyby of Pluto. "I know today we've inspired a whole new generation of explorers with this great success, and we look forward to the discoveries yet to come," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "This is a historic win for science and for exploration. We've truly, once again raised the bar of human potential."

Pluto and Charon Shine in False Color, SpaceRef

"New Horizons has obtained impressive new images of Pluto and its large moon Charon that highlight their compositional diversity. These are not actual color images of Pluto and Charonthey are shown here in exaggerated colors that make it easy to note the differences in surface material and features on each planetary body."

New Spectacular Pluto Image Released, SpaceRef

"As New Horizons flew by Pluto on its closet approach today NASA released the best ever image of the planet. Should the spacecraft has survived its closet approach and did collect the data it was expected to, we should see much more stunning images in the coming days."

- Get the latest updates.
- Live updates. Next update at 9:30 pm ET.

Message from NASA Administrator: Reaching Pluto With New Horizons

"Today, our nation is poised to reach a new milestone in exploration and discovery. More than 50 years after our first flyby of another planet, and five years after President Obama challenged America's space program to extend humanity's reach in space while strengthening America's leadership here on Earth, the New Horizons spacecraft will reach Pluto, providing the closest view humanity has ever seen of the dwarf planet."

Three-Billion-Mile Journey to Pluto

"Because New Horizons is the fastest spacecraft ever launched hurtling through the Pluto system at more than 30,000 mph, a collision with a particle as small as a grain of rice could incapacitate the spacecraft. Once it reestablishes contact Tuesday night, it will take 16 months for New Horizons to send its cache of data 10 years' worth -- back to Earth."

Charon Emerges

New Image Shows Charon's Chasms and Craters

"New Horizons' newest images reveal Pluto's largest moon Charon to be a world of chasms and craters. The most pronounced chasm, which lies in the southern hemisphere, is longer and miles deeper than Earth's Grand Canyon, according to William McKinnon, deputy lead scientist with New Horizon's Geology and Geophysics investigation team."

New Horizons' Last Portrait of Pluto's Puzzling Spots, NASA

"Three billion miles from Earth and just two and a half million miles from Pluto, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has taken its best image of four dark spots that continue to captivate. The spots appear on the side of Pluto that always faces its largest moon, Charonthe face that will be invisible to New Horizons when the spacecraft makes its close flyby the morning of July 14. New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado, describes this image as "the last, best look that anyone will have of Pluto's far side for decades to come."

Pluto Comes Into Focus

Houston, We Have Geology

"It began as a point of light. Then, it evolved into a fuzzy orb. Now in its latest portrait from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft Pluto is being revealed as an intriguing new world with distinct surface features, including an immense dark band known as the "whale." As the newest black and white image from New Horizons' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) appeared on the morning of July 10, members of the science team reacted with joy and delight, seeing Pluto as never before. There will no doubt be many similar moments to come. New images and data are being gathered each day as New Horizons speeds closer to a July 14 flyby of Pluto, following a journey of three billion miles."

Latest Images of Pluto from New Horizons

"These are the most recent high-resolution views of Pluto sent by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, including one showing the four mysterious dark spots on Pluto that have captured the imagination of the world."

New Horizons Spacecraft In Safe Mode

"The New Horizons spacecraft experienced an anomaly the afternoon of July 4 that led to a loss of communication with Earth. Communication has since been reestablished and the spacecraft is healthy. "

New Horizons Plans July 7 Return to Normal Science Operations

"NASA's New Horizons mission is returning to normal science operations after a July 4 anomaly and remains on track for its July 14 flyby of Pluto."

NASA Media Call: New Horizons Mission Plans Following Spacecraft Anomaly

"NASA will host a media teleconference at 3 p.m. EDT today to discuss the New Horizons spacecraft returning to normal science operations after a July 4 anomaly."

Color Images Reveal Two Distinct Faces of Pluto, NASA

"New color images from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft show two very different faces of the mysterious dwarf planet, one with a series of intriguing spots along the equator that are evenly spaced. Each of the spots is about 300 miles in diameter, with a surface area that's roughly the size of the state of Missouri."

New Horizons Stays the Course to Pluto, NASA

"After seven weeks of detailed searches for dust clouds, rings, and other potential hazards, the New Horizons team has decided the spacecraft will remain on its original path through the Pluto system instead of making a late course correction to detour around any hazards. Because New Horizons is traveling at 30,800 mph (49,600 kph), a particle as small as a grain of rice could be lethal."

A spacecraft launched in 2006 is about to try for our first good photo of Pluto, Washington Post

"NASA's Jim Green is dismissive of the controversy: "That's nomenclature. To me, that's unimportant. What's important is that this is a body well worth going to. It represents a brand new frontier." Does Alan Stern think Pluto is still a legitimate, no- qualifiers "planet"? "Of course I do!" Stern said. "It has all the attributes of a planet. Screw the astronomers! Would you go to a podiatrist for brain surgery? They don't know what they're talking about!"

Keith's note: At a time when NASA is focusing on education and inspiring the next generation of space explorers I find it rather odd that a NASA mission principal investigator, speaking in an official capacity, would be dumping on astronomers in such a public fashion. Why would anyone want to pursue a career in astronomy if a NASA mission PI says things like this in connection with their mission? Its also a bit baffling that a NASA PI, using their mission as a pulpit, pushes their own personal planetary nomenclature system - one that is at odds with what the agency and astronomical community has adopted.

QR Codes on Ceres?

New Images of Ceres

"New images of dwarf planet Ceres, taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft, show the cratered surface of this mysterious world in sharper detail than ever before. These are among the first snapshots from Dawn's second mapping orbit, which is 2,700 miles (4,400 kilometers) above Ceres."

Keith's note: Looks like someone at NASA PAO used Dawn's ion drive to paint QR code graffiti on Ceres. Just sayin'.

Hubble Finds Two Chaotically Tumbling Pluto Moons

"If you lived on one of Pluto's moons Nix or Hydra, you'd have a hard time setting your alarm clock. That's because you could not know for sure when, or even in which direction, the sun would rise. A comprehensive analysis of all available Hubble Space Telescope data shows that two of Pluto's moons, Nix and Hydra, are wobbling unpredictably. Scientists believe the other two moons, Kerberos, and Styx, are likely in a similar situation, pending further study."

- News briefing materials

- Resonant interactions and chaotic rotation of Pluto's small moons, Nature (it costs $32 to read this article if you do not subscribe to Nature)

- Update: The text is online here - for free.

Report Released: The Humans to Mars Report 2015

The non-profit Explore Mars Inc. group today released its first annual Humans to Mars Report. According to Explore Mars the report "provides updates on challenges, plus progress in areas such as mission architecture design and development, scientific discoveries, policy, public perception, international cooperation and competition, and new private capabilities".

Marc's note: The report is not comprehensive but it does promise a website for ongoing updates and an annual report. We'll see what the website provides once it's launched and how it evolves before passing judgement. This isn't the first try for something like this, the Mars Society and other have tried.

Hubble at 25: The Documentary, Memories and Social

"On the occasion of the 25th anniversary take a stroll down memory lane and learn how the Hubble Space Telescope became so instrumental to our knowledge of the universe."

Celestial Fireworks Celebrate Hubble's 25th Anniversary (With Amazing Video)

"This glittering tapestry of young stars exploding into life in a dramatic fireworks display has been released today to celebrate 25 incredible years of the Hubble Space Telescope. The NASA/ESA Hubble was launched into orbit by the Space Shuttle on 24 April 1990. It was the first space telescope of its kind, and has surpassed all expectations, providing a quarter of a century of discoveries, stunning images and outstanding science."

Keith's note: At a NASA press event today, the New Horizons team decided to make their mission less accessible to the public in real time. New Horizons was supposed to be an open mission where everything is shared with everyone as soon as it arrives on Earth. Not any more. They changed their mind and have reversed previous public statements. Just watch as these images will be leaked to selected media first as has been the case with other mission news. What is really baffling is the TBD nature of image release policy. This mission left Earth 9 years ago and basic things such as the overall image release policy are still TBD? #FAIL

NAC Adopts Finding To Redirect the Asteroid Redirect Mission -- to Mars, SpacePolicyOnline

"The NASA Advisory Council (NAC) today unanimously adopted a finding that it thinks NASA should change the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) into a mission that would go all the way to Mars and thus be more closely aligned with the goal of sending humans there. NAC chairman Steve Squyres stressed that it is a finding, not a recommendation, and requires no action from NASA. NASA's existing concept for ARM responds to Obama Administration policy and NAC recommendations at odds with Administration policy have little value, he explained, since NASA must implement what it is told to do."

Public Asked to Help Name Features on Pluto, SETI Institute

Keith's 6 April update: NASA has yet to mention this public engagement project on its own New Horizons website. Nor has JHUAPL. Gee, and there's only 1 day left. Next time perhaps SETI Institute and SwRI will actually get NASA's permission for things like this before they go off and tell others (IAU etc.) that they already have NASA's permission - permission they never had, according to NASA sources. There is a meeting between senior New Horizons mission staff and Charlie Bolden today. They will be talking about this issue ...

NASA Extends Campaign for Public to Name Features on Pluto

"The public has until Friday, April 24 to help name new features on Pluto and its orbiting satellites as they are discovered by NASA's New Horizons mission."

Keith's 6 April update: Funny how NASA did not say a thing about this activity until less than 24 hours before it was due to end - and only a few minutes after the meeting with Bolden concluded ...

MESSENGER's Operations at Mercury Extended

"MESSENGER mission controllers conducted a maneuver yesterday to raise the spacecraft's minimum altitude sufficiently to extend orbital operations and further delay the probe's inevitable impact onto Mercury's surface. The previous maneuver, completed on March 18, raised MESSENGER to an altitude at closest approach from 11.6 kilometers (7.2 miles) to 34.4 kilometers (21.4 miles) above the planet's surface. Because of progressive changes to the orbit over time in response to the gravitational pull of the Sun, the spacecraft's minimum altitude continued to decrease."

Earth-like Tatooines From Star Wars May Be Common

"Luke Skywalker's home in "Star Wars" is the desert planet Tatooine, with twin sunsets because it orbits two stars. So far, only uninhabitable gas-giant planets have been identified circling such binary stars, and many researchers believe rocky planets cannot form there. Now, mathematical simulations show that Earth-like, solid planets such as Tatooine likely exist and may be widespread."

NASA OIG: NASA's Management of the Deep Space Network, NASA OIG

"Although DSN is meeting its current operational commitments, budget reductions have challenged the Network's ability to maintain these performance levels and threaten its future reliability. ... If budget reductions continue, DSN faces an increased risk that it will be unable to meet future operational commitments or complete the upgrade project on schedule. We also found that NASA, JPL, and DSN have significantly deviated from Federal and Agency policies, standards, and governance methodologies for the security of the Network's IT and physical infrastructure."

Statement by John Grunsfeld, NASA

"The project has done an excellent job of managing its budget reserves, and this ability to efficiently address problems as they come up has enabled Webb to remain on schedule for its 2018 launch."

Statement by Cristina Chaplain, GAO

"The proximity of all the elements and major subsystem schedules to the critical path means that a delay on any of the elements or major subsystems may reduce the overall project schedule reserve further, which could put the overall project schedule at risk. As a result, the project has less flexibility to choose which issues to mitigate. While the project has been able to reorganize work when necessary to mitigate schedule slips thus far, with further progression into subsequent integration and testing periods, flexibility will be diminished because work during integration and testing tends to be more serial, as the initiation of work is often dependent on the successful and timely completion of the prior work. This is particularly the case with JWST given its complexity."

- Hearing Charter

- Statements: Rep. Lamar Smith, Rep. Steven Palazzo, John Mather, Jeffrey Grant, John Grunsfeld, and Cristina Chaplain

Space Weather Alert: Geomagnetic K-index of 8 (G4)

"Space Weather Message Code: WARK07
Serial Number: 47
Issue Time: 2015 Mar 17 1642 UTC

EXTENDED WARNING: Geomagnetic K-index of 7 or greater expected
Extension to Serial Number: 46
Valid From: 2015 Mar 17 1215 UTC
Now Valid Until: 2015 Mar 17 1900 UTC
Warning Condition: Onset

Potential Impacts: Area of impact primarily poleward of 50 degrees Geomagnetic Latitude.
Induced Currents - Power system voltage irregularities possible, false alarms may be triggered on some protection devices.
Spacecraft - Systems may experience surface charging; increased drag on low Earth-orbit satellites and orientation problems may occur.
Navigation - Intermittent satellite navigation (GPS) problems, including loss-of-lock and increased range error may occur.
Radio - HF (high frequency) radio may be intermittent.
Aurora - Aurora may be seen as low as Pennsylvania to Iowa to Oregon."

MMS Flock Leaves Earth

Magnetospheric Multiscale Spacecraft Launched

"Following a successful launch at 10:44 p.m. EDT Thursday, NASA's four Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft are positioned in Earth's orbit to begin the first space mission dedicated to the study of a phenomenon called magnetic reconnection. This process is thought to be the catalyst for some of the most powerful explosions in our solar system."

Throwing Shade on Mars One

Mars Missions Are A Scam, BuzzFeed

"It looks like a scam," John Logsdon, a space policy expert at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., told BuzzFeed News. "They don't have any technology, they don't have any agreements with the space industry. It looks very shaky." The bigger problem? Mars One's flaws too few spaceships, nonexistent life-support technologies, not nearly enough money, and, really, no good reason for going discredit all Mars exploration plans, including NASA's."

Mars One plan to colonise red planet unrealistic, says leading supporter, The Guardian

"Gerard 't Hooft, a Dutch Nobel laureate and ambassador for Mars One, said he did not believe the mission could take off by 2024 as planned. "It will take quite a bit longer and be quite a bit more expensive. When they first asked me to be involved I told them 'you have to put a zero after everything'," he said, implying that a launch date 100 years from now with a budget of tens of billions of dollars would be an achievable goal. But, 't Hooft added, "People don't want something 100 years from now."

No more 'Big Brother' on the red planet, Daily Mail

"Last week Mars One announced a list of 100 people who will train on Earth for a one-way mission to the red planet in 2025. But the venture's accompanying reality TV show - which was to be made by the makers of Big Brother to document their training and new lives on the red planet - has been shelved after the companies were 'unable to reach an agreement on details', MailOnline has learned. Instead, Mars One is working with a new production company to record the colonists' progress."

Getting Closer to Ceres

Dawn Captures Sharper Images of Ceres

"Craters and mysterious bright spots are beginning to pop out in the latest images of Ceres from NASA's Dawn spacecraft. These images, taken Feb. 12 at a distance of 52,000 miles (83,000 kilometers) from the dwarf planet, pose intriguing questions for the science team to explore as the spacecraft nears its destination."

Keith's note: Larger screen grab

NASA Television will provide live coverage of a news briefing on the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) mission

"NASA Television will provide live coverage of a news briefing on the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) mission, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) new satellite mission to monitor space weather, at 1 p.m. EST Saturday, Feb. 7 from the Press Site at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The briefing also will stream live on the agency's website."

NASA TV Coverage Set for NOAA DSCOVR Launch

"The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) is scheduled to launch at 6:10 p.m. EST Sunday, Feb. 8 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. A backup launch opportunity is available at 6:07 p.m. on Feb. 9, if needed."

Good Thing We Waited 14 Years to Launch Goresat, earlier post
DSCOVR/Triana/Goresat Is Ready For Launch, earlier post
GoreSat Lives - Again and Again and Again, earlier post
Vice President Gore challenges NASA to build a new satellite to provide live images of Earth from outer space, 13 March 1998
Earlier DSCOVR/Triana/Goresat posts

NASA's $349 million monument to its drift, Washington Post

"In June, NASA finished work on a huge construction project here in Mississippi: a $349 million laboratory tower, designed to test a new rocket engine in a chamber that mimicked the vacuum of space. Then, NASA did something odd. As soon as the work was done, it shut the tower down. The project was officially "mothballed" closed up and left empty without ever being used."

Keith's note: Under the FY 2016 budget Mars Opportunity shuts down in FY 2016 and Mars Odyssey shuts down in FY 2017. Both spacecraft still work. Funny how NASA, Congress, and the White House can spend hundreds of millions on an engine and test stand facilities that will not be used - but keeping still-useful Mars probes operational for a few million is not possible? Where is the logic in that? The "State of NASA" is confused - and adrift - if this is what passes for a good space policy.

Keith's update: According to Dave Radzanowski NASA is looking to zero out LRO, Opportunity, Odyssey etc. in FY 2016 BUT that this happened last year as well and NASA looked at the missions and eventually found the money to keep them going. That said, its a little bit like Charlie Brown and Lucy and the football. They do this every year with small missions. Everyone screams, they find the money, and nothing gets cancelled. You have to wonder why they do this in the first place since they already know that they will fund these missions. Again, this speaks to a lack of strategic thought - the sort of thing you'd expect within an agency that is adrift.

Keith's note: NASA JPL PAO issued this media advisory yesterday giving 4 days advanced notice of a media event covering NASA missions to Europa, Ceres, Pluto, and Saturn. But if you want to know what NASA is saying about these missions you have to physically be there. No NASA TV, no NASA news audio, no dial-in - nothing. So if you can't afford to buy plane tickets at the last minute, your media outlet is out of luck. So are your classrooms. In other words this is a southern California-only update. I asked JPL PAO about this. Their response: "The event is for media who can attend at JPL in person." Oddly, JPL is the first to brag about how they can communicate with - and even reprogram spacecraft millions - billions - of miles away. But a simple audio or video recording ...

Asteroid Abduction

The Space Program - A Modest Proposal, Paul Spudis

"I'm at a loss to explain why one aspect of the ARM mission hasn't been discussed in the media: seeing that advocates of the ARM think nothing about re-arranging the architecture of the Solar System for their convenience, environmental activists might object to the very idea behind the mission. We can't get to a near-Earth asteroid with the Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System (SLS), so let's just drag the asteroid to us! Imagine a defenseless rock, innocently tumbling its way through space, only to be snagged, bagged, and defiled appropriated and exploited by arrogant, human interlopers. There ought to be a law!"

Al Gore's dream spacecraft gears up for launch, Nature

"For Jay Herman, an atmospheric scientist at Goddard and EPIC instrument scientist, the delay has a silver lining: the refurbishment revealed a manufacturing defect in EPIC that would have let in stray light and potentially ruined its image of Earth. The delay allowed enough time to study the problem and correct for it. "So in some ways," says Herman, "I'm very glad it did not fly 14 years ago. Because it might have been embarrassing."

Keith's note: Wow. It was a good idea to wait 14 years after all - imagine another Hubble-like embarrassment for NASA? It will be interesting to see how NASA calculates the total cost of Goresat/DSCOVR- from inception to final launch. I doubt they can. And if they do, they'll lowball it to avoid another form of embarrassment.

NASA Spacecraft Get a Closer Look at Dwarf Planets Pluto and Ceres, NY Times

"Marc W. Buie, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., and a member of the New Horizons team, agrees with Dr. Stern but wishes the issue would go away. Years ago, people would be fascinated to hear the scientific puzzles about Pluto. Now, conversations usually start with "Is Pluto a planet?" "It's a very annoying, distracting issue," Dr. Buie said. "You have to get past this wall of this nonscientific issue before you get to the good things."

"The moon is such a planet I can't even stand it," [Fashion designer] Mizrahi says, exasperated. "Well, what else is it if it's not a planet?" Under Dr. Stern's definition, Mr. Mizrahi would win the argument. "I am happy to defend him," Dr. Stern said via email Sunday. "I see no logical reason why large moons that are in hydrostatic equilibrium should not be considered planets too, and I call them that." Dr. Stern's classification system distinguishes moons as "secondary planets," while "primary planets" directly orbit around the sun -- pushing the number of planets in the solar system to more than 20."

Keith's note: So ... let's see if I understand the New Horizons mission's revised solar system nomenclature: Planets orbit the sun. Planets also orbit other Planets. Moons orbit Planets but Moons do not orbit the sun otherwise they'd be Planets which also orbit Planets and the sun. But wait - there's more: now we need to add Primary Planets and Secondary Planets into the mix. So when does a Moon become a Secondary Planet? Is it still a Moon also? Can Planets be Moons and Moons be Planets?

Iapetus is not in hydrostatic equilibrium so it is not a Planet (right?). But it is a Moon (right?). But Iapetus is larger than Ceres which is .. a Planet (right?) Pluto's Moon Charon is smaller than Iapetus but Pluto fans refer to it as a Planet. Alas, Pluto fans always love to use the "Titan is larger than Mercury" argument to justify Titan as a Planet.

I can't wait to see how all NASA education materials are adjusted for the New Horizons mission so as to tackle this issue. Textbooks will clearly need to be revised to reflect NASA's latest discoveries. Who determines how these revisions will be made? Will other missions be required to adapt accordingly or is NASA going to be talking about more than one system of planetary nomenclature? What will happen at press events - will NASA be required to issue press releases in both nomenclatures (as well as English/metric)? WiIl this IAU Vs Pluto fans thing just drag on and on?

The oddest thing of all is how the Pluto fans rant about how some small group of people at IAU made this decision about what a Planet is without consulting everyone else - yet the Pluto fans have gone out and proclaimed this new nomenclature for Planets and Moons without consulting anyone else. Pot-Kettle-Back.

Why make things more complex? Our solar system has lots of worlds. Ice worlds. Rock worlds. Gas worlds. Some worlds are big others are small. Some worlds orbit the sun and are "planets". Some worlds orbit planets and are called "moons". This simply defines the location of a world - not its inherent physical nature. #OcamsRazor

Beagle 2 Lander Found on Mars

"The UK-led Beagle-2 Mars lander, which hitched a ride on ESA's Mars Express mission and was lost on Mars since 2003, has been found in images taken by a NASA orbiter at the Red Planet. Beagle-2 was released from its mother craft on 19 December 2003 and was due to land six days later. But nothing was heard from the lander after its scheduled touchdown, and searches by Mars Express and NASA's Mars Odyssey mission were fruitless."

Some Advice For Congress

Beagle 2 Mars lander's remains may have been spotted on red planet, Guardian

... Beagle 2's final resting place may finally have been discovered. Scientists operating the HiRise camera on Nasa's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) will take part in a press conference this Friday to announce "an update" on the ill-fated mission."

Goresat Gets Closer To Launch

DSCOVR Mission Passes Major Milestones

"NOAA will manage the DSCOVR mission, giving advanced warning of approaching solar storms. NASA, funded by NOAA, refurbished the DSCOVR satellite and instruments, which were in storage for several years. The U.S. Air Force is funding and overseeing the launch of DSCOVR, which will be aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket."

Keith's note: In storage for "several years"? It would be more accurate to say "for more than a decade".

- DSCOVR/Triana/Goresat Is Ready For Launch, earlier post
- Earlier DSCOVR/Triana/Goresat posts

Osiris Spots Philae Drifting Across Comet 67P/C

"These incredible images show the breathtaking journey of Rosetta's Philae lander as it approached and then rebounded from its first touchdown on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 12 November 2014."

Philae Spacecraft - robotic european space agency (ESA) lander, eBay

"Highly complex spacecraft with on-board laboratory, solar panels (requires sun), inter-stellar communications pack. Power system, Thermal control system, Landing gear, Anchoring system (faulty). Buyer must collect item from it's storage location on Comet 67P."

Why we all fell in love with Rosetta's Philae lander, Washington Post

"By Friday night, we knew it was coming to an end: That morning, Rosetta scientists had told the public that Philae's batteries were almost certainly going to die during their next communication link with the probe. And sure enough, Philae's Twitter account followed through until the end, tweeting out a series of messages about going to sleep that made many (myself included) express grief for - and immense pride in - the little lander that could."

Keith's note: Looks like the Planetary Society's Emily Lakdawalla is not a fan of putting people in space - she endorsed this anti-human spaceflight tweet by a factor of "+100". This is kind of odd given that the Planetary Society pushed NASA and the White House to adopt the crewed Asteroid Retrieval Mission. Also, since she has endorsed this tweet, just what are the "highs and lows of the last week" ? SpaceShipTwo and Antares? What is the connection between an unrelated airplane control surface issue and a rocket engine malfunction with a ten year old robot landing on a comet? And how could any of this point to deciding factors as to whether its better to send humans or robots into space? Her follow up tweet is below. In essence it says we can send robots instead of humans because they are humans or we are them. Huh? We (they) are not - no more than your car or your cellphone is you.

Philae Has Landed on a Comet

Philae Image of Comet From 3 km

"The image shows comet 67P/CG acquired by the ROLIS instrument on the Philae lander during descent on Nov 12, 2014 14:38:41 UT from a distance of approximately 3 km from the surface. The landing site is imaged with a resolution of about 3m per pixel."

Touchdown! Rosetta's Philae probe lands on comet

"ESA's Rosetta mission has soft-landed its Philae probe on a comet, the first time in history that such an extraordinary feat has been achieved. After a tense wait during the seven-hour descent to the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the signal confirming the successful touchdown arrived on Earth at 16:03 GMT (17:03 CET)."

Tensions surround release of new Rosetta comet data, Science

"The comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which the Rosetta spacecraft is now orbiting, is by all accounts a fascinating chunk of dust and ice. This week, scientists using the spacecraft's high-resolution camera presented some staggering images of the duck-shaped comet at a planetary science conference in Tucson, Arizona. They showed the first color images of the comet. They showed dust grains being ejected from the surface, arcs that could be traced back, presumably, to geysers of sublimating ice. And they showed brightness variations less than 10 centimeters apart--which could indicate that they have found sparkling bits of ice peeking through a black crust of dust. But Rosetta's operator, the European Space Agency (ESA), has released none of these images to the public. Nor have any of these images been presented in Darmstadt, Germany, where scientists at ESA's mission control are preparing to drop the Philae lander to the comet surface on Wednesday. Project scientist Matt Taylor was reduced to learning about the new results at the Arizona conference by thumbing through Twitter feeds on his phone."

NASA's Plan to Visit an Asteroid Faces a Rocky Start, Scientific American

"What the critics don't seem to understand is that if we don't send humans to an asteroid that is moved closer to Earth, we will send humans nowhere for the foreseeable future, which means the next decade or two," Friedman says. "If we drop this mission, our planned rockets and crew modules can go out as far as the moon but we won't be able to land without investments that are frankly unrealistic right now." ARM's harshest critics, asteroid scientists such as [Mark] Sykes of the Planetary Science Institute and M.I.T. professor Richard Binzel, remain unconvinced. "It's an empty threat to say if you don't take this thing that came from nowhere you'll get nothing and that will be the end of everything," Sykes says. "Well, you know, okay, fine--pull the trigger, guys. Maybe some people don't get the toy that they want but there are other options our leaders can pursue."

Earlier posts

Loss of Contact with STEREO Behind

"Communications with the STEREO Behind spacecraft were interrupted on October 1, 2014 immediately after a planned reset of the spacecraft performed as part of a test of solar conjunction operations. There have been no successful communications since then, though attempts to recover the spacecraft continue. Here we explain the events that led up to the loss in communications, and the activities that have been carried out in an attempt to recover the spacecraft. As explained below, initial indications are that a series of problems in the guidance and control system led to the anomaly."

STEREO Behind Spacecraft Experiencing Communication Problems, Earlier story

ALMA Image Reveals Planetary Genesis, ESO

"This new image from ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, reveals extraordinarily fine detail that has never been seen before in the planet-forming disc around a young star. These are the first observations that have used ALMA in its near-final configuration and the sharpest pictures ever made at submillimeter wavelengths. The new results are an enormous step forward in the observation of how protoplanetary discs develop and how planets form."

Keith's note: This is a REAL IMAGE - not an artist's concept. Update: here's another - from Hubble.

Hubble Surveys Debris-Strewn Exoplanetary Construction Yards

"Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have completed the largest and most sensitive visible-light imaging survey of dusty debris disks around other stars. These dusty disks, likely created by collisions between leftover objects from planet formation, were imaged around stars as young as 10 million years old and as mature as more than 1 billion years old."

STEREO Behind Spacecraft Experiencing Communication Problems (Updated with NASA Comments)

"Communications with the STEREO Behind spacecraft were interrupted on October 1, immediately after a planned reset of the spacecraft performed as part of a test of solar conjunction operations. The cause of the anomaly is not yet known, though a sensor anomaly in the guidance and control system is suspected. Attempts to recover the spacecraft are continuing."

Letter From Clive Neal to NASA Inspector General Regarding NASA SMD Mission Extension Process Report

"I am writing this open letter with regard to the Inspector General Report No. IG-15- 001 (hereafter "IG-Report") regarding the Science Mission Directorate's (SMD) Mission Extension Process that was released on 9 October of this year. In this report you highlighted the Planetary Science Division (PSD) for particular criticism because of its non-standardized approach to evaluating mission extensions. Having been part of the PSD 2012 Senior Review, and chair of the GRAIL and the PSD 2014 Senior Reviews, I feel I must respond to note some errors and misunderstandings within the IG report. It is my opinion that the proposed recommendations could have a serious deleterious impact on the effectiveness of planetary science missions."

OIG Finds Major Flaws in Planetary Science Division Mission Extension Process, earier post

Sun's stroke keeps Kepler online, Nature

"Wiemer had fashioned a crutch for Kepler using the only resource available: sunlight. Positioned so that its long side faces the Sun, the spacecraft leans against the pressure created by the onslaught of photons and balances using its two good wheels. With this approach, the team hoped to get within a factor of ten of Kepler's original performance -- but with additional software refinements, NASA's Kepler project manager Charlie Sobeck says that it is better than that, more like a factor of two or three. Wiemer thinks that further tweaks will close the gap entirely. One limitation of the K2 mission is that Kepler must keep the Sun side-on as it orbits, forcing the telescope to switch its field of view roughly every 80 days. This is not enough time to hunt for Earth-like planets around Sun-like stars, but it does let K2 track other celestial bodies such as clusters of newly-formed stars."

Earth at risk after cuts close comet-spotting program, scientists warn, The Guardian

"The Earth has been left with a huge blind spot for potentially devastating comet strikes after the only dedicated comet-spotting program in the southern hemisphere lost its funding, leading astronomers have warned. The program, which discovered the Siding Spring comet that narrowly missed Mars on Sunday, was shut down last year after losing funding. "It's a real worry," Bradley Tucker, an astronomer at the Australian National University (ANU) and University of California Berkeley, told Guardian Australia. "There could be something hurtling towards us right now and we wouldn't know about it."

Siding Spring survey

All Three NASA Mars Orbiters Healthy After Comet Flyby

"All three NASA orbiters around Mars confirmed their healthy status Sunday after each took shelter behind Mars during a period of risk from dust released by a passing comet. Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) orbiter all are part of a campaign to study comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring and possible effects on the Martian atmosphere from gases and dust released by the comet. The comet sped past Mars today much closer than any other know comet flyby of a planet."

- NASA's Mars Odyssey Orbiter Watches Comet Fly Near
- NASA's MAVEN Studies Passing Comet and Its Effects
- NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Studies Comet Flyby

NASA OIG: The Science Mission Directorate's Mission Extension Process

"We concluded SMD's Astrophysics, Earth Science, and Heliophysics Divisions conducted Senior Reviews that included all eligible projects and provided budgetary and programmatic guidance for these missions for up to 5 fiscal years (FY). In contrast, we found the Planetary Science Division's Senior Review process focused too narrowly on the short term and unnecessarily excluded some projects. Furthermore, the Division had no documented rationale for extended mission budget guidelines. In our judgment, these shortcomings impair the Planetary Science Division's ability to inform its budget formulation process and ensure the effectiveness and transparency of its Senior Review process."

India's Mars Orbiter Sends Back Its First Images

"India's Mars Orbiter Spacecraft has captured its first image of Mars. The image was taken from a height of 7300 km; with 376 m spatial resolution. Another image shows the limb of Mars."

India becomes first Asian nation to reach Mars orbit, joins elite global space club, Washington Post

"By comparison, India's $72 million Mars orbiter is the cheapest interplanetary mission ever. [Indian Prime Minister] Modi said that India's Mars mission cost less than what it took to make the famous Hollywood space movie "Gravity." "We kept it low cost, high technology. That is the Indian way of working," Sandip Bhattacharya, assistant director of B.M. Birla Planetarium in the northern city of Jaipur, said in a telephone interview. " ... "

Five things to know about India's Mars orbiter, CNN

"In a rapid turnaround, the ISRO worked at breakneck speed to engineer, assemble and launch the Mars Orbiter. By November 2013, it launched from Chennai and 10 months later, it reached Mars' orbit to inspire a nation. From announcement to execution, the Mars mission took India's space agency two years and one month."

Why India's Mars mission is so cheap - and thrilling, BBC

"So how has India done it? For sure, people costs are less in this populous nation, and the scientists and engineers working on any space mission are always the largest part of the ticket price. Home-grown components and technologies have also been prioritised over expensive foreign imports. But, in addition, India has been careful to do things simply."

India Enters Mars Orbit

India's Mars Orbiter Spacecraft Enters Mars Orbit (with video)

"India successfully placed its Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft into orbit around Mars this evening - and in so doing it became the first nation to put something into Mars orbit on its very first attempt."

Mars Fleet +1

MAVEN Enters Orbit Around Mars

"NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft successfully entered Mars' orbit at 10:24 p.m. EDT Sunday, Sept. 21, where it now will prepare to study the Red Planet's upper atmosphere as never done before. MAVEN is the first spacecraft dedicated to exploring the tenuous upper atmosphere of Mars."

NASA's Efforts to Identify Near-Earth Objects and Mitigate Hazards

"NASA has organized its NEO Program under a single Program Executive who manages a loosely structured conglomerate of research activities that are not well integrated and lack overarching Program oversight, objectives, and established milestones to track progress. In addition, NASA is undertaking NEO-related activities not managed by the Program and not sufficiently integrated into ongoing Program activities. Furthermore, NASA lacks formal agreements or procedures for NEO-related activities it conducts with other Federal agencies and foreign governments and has not taken advantage of possible partnership opportunities. Consequently, managers could not identify the level of resources required to adequately support the Program or explain how activities to which the NEO Program is contributing further Program goals. Even though the Program has discovered, categorized, and plotted the orbits of more than 11,000 NEOs since 1998, NASA will fall short of meeting the 2005 Authorization Act goal of finding 90 percent of NEOs larger than 140 meters in diameter by 2020."

Nasty Space Weather Ahead

ALERT: Geomagnetic K-index of 7 (G3), Space Weather Prediction Center (NOAA)

WARNING: Geomagnetic K-index of 7 or greater (G3 or Greater), Space Weather Prediction Center (NOAA)

"NOAA Scale: G3 or greater - Strong to Extreme

- Potential Impacts: Area of impact primarily poleward of 50 degrees Geomagnetic Latitude.
Induced Currents - Power system voltage irregularities possible, false alarms may be triggered on some protection devices.
- Spacecraft - Systems may experience surface charging; increased drag on low Earth-orbit satellites and orientation problems may occur.
- Navigation - Intermittent satellite navigation (GPS) problems, including loss-of-lock and increased range error may occur.
- Radio - HF (high frequency) radio may be intermittent.
- Aurora - Aurora may be seen as low as Pennsylvania to Iowa to Oregon."

Alerts and related information available at @SpaceWeather

Mission to Mt. Sharp - Habitability, Preservation of Organics, and Environmental Transitions
Senior Review Proposal Sections 1 and 2 April 2014

Keith's note: Jim Green just made a point of spelling out the URL for this report. He did so rather defensively in an effort to show that there was a science plan in place for MSL. In the process he sought to minimize the comments made by NASA's own NASA Planetary Senior Review Panel Report wherien the MSL science plan was bluntly criticized. If Green thinks that the Review Panel was wrong on their MSL criticism, then does that not call into question everything else they said? If so why did NASA make funding decisions based on the committee's report?

Looking at the report there are no ITAR or SBU notations. Of course they were removed - or were they? Looking at the document properties [image] it is clear that this document was created on 10 April 2014 and modified on 9 September 2014. Why is it that NASA only voluntarily releases documents like this to defend their actions but they don't just publish them - for all to see - simply because they are interesting? Why didn't NASA release this document when the review committee report first came out? Why wasn't this report mentioned in yesterday's hearing where Green testified - when this topic came up?

Oh yes ... by voluntarily releasing this document NASA SMD has set a new precedent for things that a FOIA request can obtain. They have nulified any "predecisional" claims that they might have once been able to make. Oops.

NASA Holds Teleconference to Discuss Science Campaign of Curiosity Mars Rover

Keith's note: NASA SMD PAO's Dwayne Brown continues to refuse to respond to media inquiries from last month's Mars 2020 media opportunity - despite overtly soliciting such inquiries. Let's see who Dwayne ignores during this briefing - since he's NASA PAO - and I am not. As such I am not going to bother to dial in since it is a waste of my time. More opportunity for others to ask questions. I have had multiple interactions with NASA PAO on this non-response by Dwayne and their lack of response is a de facto endorsement of Dwayne's behavior. So it goes. I'll live tweet the event - with commentary.

- SMD Wants To Talk About MSL Science (Or Lack Thereof), earllier post
- Results of Planetary Science Mission Review: MSL = Yawn, earllier post
- NASA PAO Promises To Answer Questions and Then Does Not, earllier post

Planetary Science Hearing

Subcommittee Considers Asteroid Mining, Planetary Exploration Priorities

"The Space Subcommittee today held a hearing to review issues facing planetary exploration of our solar system, including NASA's proposed budget for planetary science, and potential commercial interests. Witnesses also testified on the American Space Technology for Exploring Resource Opportunities In Deep Space (ASTEROIDS) Act, H.R. 5063."

Prepared statements: Rep. Lamar Smith, Rep. Steven Palazzo, Jim Green, Jim Bell, Mark Sykes, Joanne Gabrynowicz, Philip Christensen

NASA Holds Teleconference to Discuss Science Campaign of Curiosity Mars Rover

"NASA will host a teleconference at 1 p.m. EDT Thursday, Sept. 11, to discuss mission status and the future science campaign for the Mars rover Curiosity mission."

NASA Planetary Senior Review Panel Report

"Unfortunately the lead Project Scientist was not present in person for the Senior Review presentation and was only available via phone. Additionally, he was not present for the second round of Curiosity questions from the panel. This left the panel with the impression that the team felt they were too big to fail and that simply having someone show up would suffice. ... As Curiosity is a flagship mission, the panel was surprised by the lack of science in the EM1 proposal ..."

Hearing Charter: Exploring Our Solar System: The ASTEROIDS Act as a Key Step, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology

"Specifically, the panel felt that Curiosity's extended mission plan to take only eight samples in the next two years was not efficient and that "this is a poor science return for such a large investment in a flagship mission." The panel also found that "the proposal lacked specific scientific questions to be answered, testable hypotheses, and proposed measurements and assessment of uncertainties and limitations."

NASA Planetary Senior Review Panel Report

"After the presentation and subsequent discussion within the panel during executive session, other questions were formulated and then presented to the Curiosity team. Unfortunately the lead Project Scientist was not present in person for the Senior Review presentation and was only available via phone. Additionally, he was not present for the second round of Curiosity questions from the panel. This left the panel with the impression that the team felt they were too big to fail and that simply having someone show up would suffice. ... As Curiosity is a flagship mission, the panel was surprised by the lack of science in the EM1 proposal (the Overguide budget would support greater roving distance over samples analyzed, with only a promise of a maximum of eight analyses throughout EM1)."

"There should always be one Senior Review panel - not two that meet at separate times as there was in 2014. The Senior Review is for the Planetary Science Division, not the Mars Program and then everyone else. Having one panel assures that ALL missions are treated equally and fairly."

NASA Still Won't Look For Existing Life on Mars (update), earlier post

Keith's 31 July note: I obviously expected Jim Green to answer in the same cautious way that NASA has always answered this question - one I have asked again and again for the nearly 20 years. Instead, Green launched into a detailed description of all the things that the Mars 2020 rover could detect that have a connection with life. Much of what he said clearly referred to extant / existing life. Now THAT is cool. To clarify things I sent the following request to NASA PAO "Can the Mars 2020 rover detect extant/existing life on Mars?  Will NASA be looking for extant/existing life on Mars?" Let's see how they respond.

Keith's 3 Sep update: Well it has been more than a month. Dwayne Brown from NASA SMD PAO specifically asked media reps who were on the telecon to send him any questions via email they might have and that he'd get an answer back to them. I haven't heard a thing from him since I sent him the email he requested (wth cc: to SMD management). So much for his promises. Either NASA cannot/will not answer this rather simple question or it is not on Dwayne's priority list right now. I sent additional requests via email to NASA SMD and PAO last week. Still no response.

Keith's note: Planets orbit stars. Moons orbit planets. Planets and moons are worlds. Our solar system has lots of worlds and no two are the same - Right? "Planet" and "Moon" define where a world is located - not what it is made of. But it seems that NASA's New Horizons mission has decided that they want to unilateraly rewrite the definitions for these terms and, in so doing, confuse everyone.

NASA Still Won't Look For Existing Life on Mars (update), earlier post

Keith's 31 July note: I obviously expected Jim Green to answer in the same cautious way that NASA has always answered this question - one I have asked again and again for the nearly 20 years. Instead, Green launched into a detailed description of all the things that the Mars 2020 rover could detect that have a connection with life. Much of what he said clearly referred to extant / existing life. Now THAT is cool. To clarify things I sent the following request to NASA PAO "Can the Mars 2020 rover detect extant/existing life on Mars?  Will NASA be looking for extant/existing life on Mars?" Let's see how they respond.

Keith's 25 Aug update: Well it has been nearly a month. Dwayne Brown from NASA SMD PAO specifically asked media reps who were on the telecon to send him any questions via email they might have and that he'd get an answer back to them. I haven't heard a thing from him since I sent him the email he requested (wth cc: to SMD management). Either NASA cannot/will not answer this rather simple question or it is not on Dwayne's priority list right now.

Keith's 27 Aug update: I have sent additional requests via email to NASA SMD and PAO. No response.

New Study: Electric Sparks May Alter Evolution of Lunar Soil, University of New Hampshire

"The study, published recently in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Planets, proposes that high-energy particles from uncommon, large solar storms penetrate the moon's frigid, polar regions and electrically charge the soil. The charging may create sparking, or electrostatic breakdown, and this "breakdown weathering" process has possibly changed the very nature of the moon's polar soil, suggesting that permanently shadowed regions, which hold clues to our solar system's past, may be more active than previously thought."

ISEE-3 Science Status Report 7 August 2014

"As promised, the time of closest approach to the Moon is 18:16 UTC (on Sunday, 10 August). Vassilis Angelopolous at UCLA is now involved. He has two spacecraft in lunar orbit and is planning to acquire data during the ISEE flyby in a special telemetry mode. That should add immeasurably to the scientific results. The telemetry signal continues to improve. There is still random telemetry noise but few if any long gaps so there is little disruption of the data and real signals are becoming clear. Don Gurnett's team (SCH or Plasma Waves) recently reported seeing Auroral Kilometric Radiation from Earth, ion acoustic waves in the solar wind and electron plasma oscillations usually caused by a shock wave. They are debating whether they are seeing waves from Earth's bow shock or an interplanetary shock."

- Recent ISEE-3 Electric Wave Experiment Data
- Infographic: ISEE-3 Closest Approach to the Moon
- ISEE-3 Detects Type III Solar Burst
- Updated Ephemeris for ISEE-3 at JPL Horizons for August 2014

The Past is Prologue to the Future When It Comes to the Next Decade of Mars Exploration, SpaceRef

"Past missions, and in some case the spare parts of past missions, will help drive the next decade of Mars exploration, a panel of experts from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the University of California at Berkeley, told an audience yesterday at the AIAA SPACE 2014 Forum in San Diego."

ESA Releases Stunning New Images of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, ESA

Marc's note: ESA has released these detailed images from Rosetta of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko now that it's in "orbit". The images use the OSIRIS narrow-angle camera from a distance of 285 km. Image resolution is 5.3 metres/pixel.

Comet Siding Spring's October Encounter with Mars Will Create 30 Minutes of Concern for Global Space Agencies, SpaceRef (An AIAA Space 2014 Report)

"On October 19, 2014, at 18:32 UTC, Comet Siding Spring (2013A1) will pass Mars at roughly 150,000 kilometers, about 1/3 the distance between Earth and the Moon, in a direction putting it on a track for its dust to pass over the Martian North Pole, possibly endangering, over a thirty minute window, the collection of orbital spacecraft currently on station in that region."

Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chair Smith Statement on NASA Advisory Council Recommendations

"Contrary to this administration's rhetoric, the President's proposed Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) has many skeptics within the scientific community. And the experts who advise NASA recently stepped up their criticism. The NASA Advisory Council warns that NASA 'runs the risk of squandering precious national resources' if they move forward with ARM. One expert, Mr. Tom Young, went so far as to say that the ARM proposal 'dumbed down NASA.' For months, the Obama administration has downplayed such criticism. I appreciate the good work of NASA's technical advisors and encourage the Obama administration to take their recommendations seriously."

SBAG Asteroid Redirect Mission Special Action Team, July 2014 presentation

Report of the Small Bodies Assessment Group Asteroid Redirect Mission Special Action Team, 30 July 2014 (Draft)

"This report summarizes discussions and findings of the SBAG ARM SAT. The report will be presented at the SBAG meeting on July 30, 2014, and made available to the SBAG community for comment. The report will be finalized in August, 2014, following the opportunity period for comments. The SBAG ARM SAT echoes the statement in the CAPTEM ARM report: of necessity, this is a preliminary report. If such a mission goes forward, we recommend that the prioritization of the science, planetary defense, and resource utilization requirements be refined through a more comprehensive process."

Future of NASA's Human Spaceflight Program Dominates NAC Meeting, SpacepolicyOnline

"Another criticism is that NASA does a poor job of explaining why it is pursuing ARM. Williams used a chart with several bullets, one of which pointed to ARM's role in demonstrating techniques that could be used to defend Earth from potentially hazardous asteroids -- planetary defense. During questioning about those bullets, Bolden quickly chimed in to say that planetary defense is NOT a goal of ARM. It is a goal of the Asteroid Grand Challenge, which NASA is funding at $7 million in FY2014, he said, but not of ARM. He acknowledged that because NASA is doing both ARM and the Grand Challenge, there is a lot of confusion. "We need to get that confusion out of it. We are not saving the planet," he exclaimed. However, many other NASA officials, including Williams, include planetary defense in the list of rationales for ARM. Scott Hubbard insisted that NASA needs to have a single bullet explaining why ARM is needed, not a list of them, in any case."

NASA Announces Mars 2020 Rover Payload

"The Mars 2020 mission will be based on the design of the highly successful Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, which landed almost two years ago, and currently is operating on Mars. The new rover will carry more sophisticated, upgraded hardware and new instruments to conduct geological assessments of the rover's landing site, determine the potential habitability of the environment, and directly search for signs of ancient Martian life."

NASA Hosts 3 p.m. EDT Teleconference with Mars 2020 Principal Investigators

Keith's note: (sigh) NASA still does not have the imagination or inclination to search for signs of extant life on Mars. All they seem to be willing to do is see if it used to be there. At the rate that they are going it will be 20 years before they get up the nerve to try and answer the question.

Keith's update: I asked the following question at the Mars 2020 Rover press event today. "Your press release says "determine the potential habitability of the environment, and directly search for signs of ancient Martian life." Why isn't NASA directly searching for signs of EXISTING LIFE on Mars? And I will ask my follow-up since the answer to this question is always "we don't know how to look for life on Mars - yet". - How are you going about the task of learing how to look for existing life on Mars, when will you have this capability and why is it that NASA was eager to search for existing life on Mars 40 years ago but is unwilling or unable to do so now?"

I obviously expected Jim Green to answer in the same cautious way that NASA has always answered this question - one I have asked again and again for the nearly 20 years. Instead, Green launched into a detailed description of all the things that the Mars 2020 rover could detect that have a connection with life. Much of what he said clearly referred to extant / existing life. Now THAT is cool. To clarify things I sent the following request to NASA PAO "Can the Mars 2020 rover detect extant/existing life on Mars?  Will NASA be looking for extant/existing life on Mars?" Let's see how they respond.

NASA limits foreign contributions to U.S. planetary missions, Science Insider

"Today, at a meeting of asteroid and comet scientists in Washington, D.C., NASA officials explained some of the new rules for the next mission, to be selected in 2016. Among them was a stipulation that the principal investigator would not be allowed to recruit foreign instrument contributions in excess of one-third the value of the U.S. instruments on the payload, even though those contributions don't count against the $450 million cap."

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope Sunshield Stacks Up to Test, NASA

"The Sunshield on NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is the largest part of the observatory--five layers of thin membrane that must unfurl reliably in space to precise tolerances. Last week, for the first time, engineers stacked and unfurled a full-sized test unit of the Sunshield and it worked perfectly."

AGU: Voyager Spacecraft Might Not Have Reached Interstellar Space, AGU

"In 2012, the Voyager mission team announced that the Voyager 1 spacecraft had passed into interstellar space, traveling further from Earth than any other manmade object.

But, in the nearly two years since that historic announcement, and despite subsequent observations backing it up, uncertainty about whether Voyager 1 really crossed the threshold continues. There are some scientists who say that the spacecraft is still within the heliosphere - the region of space dominated by the Sun and its wind of energetic particles - and has not yet reached the space between the stars."

NASA Responds: NASA Voyager Statement About Solar Wind Models

"A paper recently published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters describes an alternate model for the interaction between the heliosphere -- a "bubble" around our planets and sun -- and the interstellar medium. It also proposes a test for whether Voyager 1 has, indeed, left the heliosphere.

NASA's Voyager project scientist, Ed Stone of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, responds."

Related: Voyager 1 stories on SpaceRef

NASA Planetary Science Review To Be Released Soon, Space News

"The planetary senior review, from a scientific report standpoint, has just been completed," said Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division, in a presentation at the NASA Exploration Science Forum at NASA's Ames Research Center here. NASA is now drafting "letters of direction" to the various missions covered by the review, he said."

NASA OIG: SOFIA: NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy

"We found that despite substantial delays in reaching operational capacity, SOFIA remains capable of contributing to the scientific body of knowledge and many in the science community view the observatory as a valuable resource. However, we understand that the SOFIA Program is competing for limited resources and policymakers will have to decide whether other NASA projects are a higher scientific and budgetary priority. If the decision is made to continue the Program, we identified several challenges SOFIA will face going forward."

Ocean on Saturn's Moon Titan Could be as Salty as the Dead Sea, NASA

"Scientists analyzing data from NASA's Cassini mission have firm evidence the ocean inside Saturn's largest moon, Titan, might be as salty as the Earth's Dead Sea.

The new results come from a study of gravity and topography data collected during Cassini's repeated flybys of Titan during the past 10 years. Using the Cassini data, researchers presented a model structure for Titan, resulting in an improved understanding of the structure of the moon's outer ice shell. The findings are published in this week's edition of the journal Icarus."

NASA Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator Update 12 June 2014

"NASA did not conduct the flight test of the agency's Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) from the U.S. Navy's Pacific Missile Range in Kauai, Hawaii, during its designated launch period. The project's reserved time at the range will expire Saturday, June 14, with NASA unable to fly the test because of continuing unfavorable weather conditions."

NASA Prepares to Launch Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2

The spacecraft will sample the global geographic distribution of the sources and sinks of carbon dioxide and allow scientists to study their changes over time more completely than can be done with any existing data. Since 2009, Earth scientists have been preparing for OCO-2 by taking advantage of observations from the Japanese GOSAT satellite. OCO-2 replaces a nearly identical NASA spacecraft lost because of a rocket launch mishap in February 2009.

NASA Releases Orbiting Carbon Observatory Accident Summary, earlier post

"A NASA panel that investigated the unsuccessful Feb. 24 launch of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, or OCO, has completed its report."

Keith's note: David Chenette has been terminated as Heliophysics Director at NASA SMD. His termination is effective COB 20 June 2014. Chenette has been placed on paid administrative leave until that time. Chenette was escorted out of NASA HQ building last week by security personnel.

NASA SMD Internal Memo: Interim Heliophysics Director

"Dr. Jeffrey Newmark will be interim Director for NASA's Science Mission Directorate Heliophysics Division as of June 6, 2014."

NASA Heliophysics Director Fired

"You have demonstrated little effort to engage your personnel and provide an inclusive workplace that fosters development to their full potential, despite being instructed that this was your primary objective when you were selected for this position," Grunsfeld, said in the notice, adding that the former Lockheed Martin executive had sown "confusion and apprehension in the scientific community."

55-year old dark side of the moon mystery solved, Penn State

"UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The "man in the moon" appeared when meteoroids struck the Earth-facing side of the moon creating large flat seas of basalt that we see as dark areas called maria. But no "face" exists on farside of the moon and now, Penn State astrophysicists think they know why."

Keith's note: This is an odd thing to put in the title i.e. "dark side of the Moon" since this constantly changes - and yet this research focuses on a specific part of the Moon that does not change. So I sent a note to the author, A'ndrea Elyse Messer, Ph.D. Sr. Science & Research Information Officer at Penn State. She replied by email "As it says in the story, the "dark" side of the moon is the side that is always turned away from the Earth. It does not change."

Baffled by her response, I asked her (again) about this and she followed with really goofy stuff i.e. "yes, the "dark" side of the moon is called that because it is the farside of the moon and was completely unknown until the Russians sent a probe around the back to photograph it. It has absolutely nothing to do with sunlight -- as is explained in the story. Dark is used in the same way it used to be used in Darkest Africa. It wasn't dark in africa, it was unknown."

Keith's note: NASA's Astrobiology Institute has over 879,000 followers on its Twitter account @AstrobiologyNAI. Not once in the months that "Cosmos" has been on air has it ever made mention of the show - despite the fac that it amounted to a free multi-week advertisement for Astrobiology. If you go to the offocial NASA NAI website you will see that it totally ignored Cosmos too. Yet @NASA and other Twitter and social media accounts openly featured links of direct relevance to the show. Even the President chimed in on the opening episode.

The NASA Astrobiology Institute has made a colossal mistake by not taking advantage of this teaching moment for millions on national television - one wherein all of the things that NASA seeks to study under the banner of "astrobiology" have been thoroughly explained in terms almost anyone can grasp. Indeed, this amounts to utter incompetence on the part of the entire leadership and staff at the NASA Astrobiology Institute - and those at NASA Headquarters who manage Astrobiology as a whole. They simply do not care if they are doing their job and explaining their research to the rest of us who pay the bills.

Why Is NASA's Astrobiology Program STILL Ignoring "Cosmos"?, earier post

Scientists Finish Last-Ditch Plan to Save Infrared Spitzer Space Telescope,

"Spitzer likely can operate through 2018, Helou said. To get there, the project will have to trim its full-time staff, discontinue some engineering support services and cease efforts to make spacecraft operations more efficient, Helou said. There are about 45 full-timers on Spitzer now, including 27 at the Spitzer Science Center. The others are at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, which is run by Caltech, and Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, California, which built the telescope."

Shutdown for Spitzer and MaxWISE?, earlier post

Keith's note: The Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics is making some sort of big extrasolar planet announcement Thursday. That's all we know (we have received nothing under embargo).

Keith's update: This announcement will be made on Monday at the AAS meeting.

Pluto-bound probe faces crisis, Nature

"Nearly 4.3 billion kilometres from Earth, and most of the way to Pluto, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is in danger of missing out on half of its mission. Project managers face a looming deadline to identify an icy object in the outer Solar System for the probe to fly by after it passes Pluto. A visit to a Kuiper belt object, or KBO, was always meant to be a key part of New Horizons' US$700-million journey, which began in 2006. But there is only a slim chance that astronomers will find a suitable KBO with their current strategy of using ground-based telescopes - and securing time on the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope is far from guaranteed."

2014 NASA Astrophysics Senior Review

Spitzer: "Given the budget climate, the SRP cannot recommend funding of Spitzer at the levels requested. Should the mission be unable to operate given the levels of funding recommended through FY18, the mission should plan, in consultation with NASA HQ, for termination."

NASA Response to the 2014 Senior Review for Astrophysics Operating Missions

"Spitzer Space Telescope: The Spitzer mission extension for FY 2015 is not approved due to the constrained budget conditions and based on the findings and recommendations of the Senior Review report."

"Widefield Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE): The MaxWISE proposal was recommended for selection by the Senior Review. However, the only source of funding would be to displace funding from higher rated operating missions in the Senior Review. Due to constrained budget conditions, the MaxWISE proposal is declined."

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

"Sitting incongruously among the hangars and laboratories of NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley is the squat facade of an old McDonald's. You won't get a burger there, though-its cash registers and soft-serve machines have given way to old tape drives and modern computers run by a rogue team of hacker engineers who've rechristened the place McMoon's. These self-described techno-archaeologists have been on a mission to recover and digitize forgotten photos taken in the '60s by a quintet of scuttled lunar satellites. The Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Progject has since 2007 brought some 2,000 pictures back from 1,500 analog data tapes. They contain the first high-resolution photographs ever taken from behind the lunar horizon, including the first photo of an earthrise (first slide above). Thanks to the technical savvy and DIY engineering of the team at LOIRP, it's being seen at a higher resolution than was ever previously possible."

NASA's Extended Science Missions in Peril, Paul Spudis, Air & Space

"We do not yet know how the Senior Review will turn out. NASA is famous for wanting to "move on" to the next thing and often abandons working spacecraft. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush but as things currently stand, there isn't much in the mission pipeline to move on to. Planetary Science has taken several massive budgetary hits in the past few years, with more on the way. The termination of LRO and MER will not help move new missions off the drawing board. Money not spent on these extended missions will probably slide into SMD's Black Hole of Funding (the James Webb Space Telescope) or be dissipated on new paperwork, committee meetings and concept studies. It would be both fiscally prudent and programmatically responsible for NASA to fund and retain these working and still productive extended missions."

Maximizing Dawn's Scientific Mission at Ceres: SBAG Report

"At the last SBAG meeting, it was implied that the Dawn at Vesta Participating Scientist Program had not been fully successful. To gain insight into the issue, SBAG undertook a confidential survey of all the U.S. Dawn at Vesta Participating Scientists, receiving responses from 15 of 18 individuals. A sixteenth person did not want to participate. Responses ranged from extremely positive to deeply negative. The details provided indicated no hesitance on the part of the respondents to voice their opinion and provide specifics. Overall, 9 indicated very positive and productive experiences, 4 both positive and negative, and 2 deeply negative. 12 of the 15 respondents would propose to a Dawn at Ceres Participating Scientist Program. While some participating scientists had serious issues, the SBAG survey did not find evidence that the Dawn at Vesta Participating Scientist Program would offer a basis for not proceeding with a Dawn at Ceres Participating Scientist Program."

Keith's update: We REALLY Need this document: GSFC Document ISEE-733-74-001, Revision C, dated 28 June1976 "International Sun-Earth Explorer - A/C, Electrical Interface Specification".  Does anyone have a copy?

Keith's note: We have had multiple folks ask if we have any received data telemetry tapes from ISEE-3 or the others in the series (ISEE-1 or ISEE-2). If anyone has any of these tapes it would be incredibly useful as we could then feed them into our software radio program. We have the ability to read a lot of different formats as that is what we have been doing with the Lunar Orbiter and the Nimbus data recovery efforts. If anyone has them squirreled away in boxes anywhere it would be great to know about. Send an email to wingod - at - if you have any information on possible tapes.

Help us make ISEE-3 do science again at

NASA Completes LADEE Mission with Planned Impact on Moon's Surface

"Ground controllers at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., have confirmed that NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft impacted the surface of the moon, as planned, between 9:30 and 10:22 p.m. PDT Thursday, April 17. LADEE lacked fuel to maintain a long-term lunar orbit or continue science operations and was intentionally sent into the lunar surface. The spacecraft's orbit naturally decayed following the mission's final low-altitude science phase."

Earth-Size Planet Found that Might Hold Liquid Water, University of Michigan

"In a dim and faraway solar system, astronomers have for the first time discovered a rocky, Earth-sized planet that might hold liquid water -- a necessary ingredient for life as we know it."

New Rocky Planet May Have Liquid Water, SFSU

"San Francisco State University astronomer Stephen Kane and an international team of researchers have announced the discovery of a new rocky planet that could potentially have liquid water on its surface."

NASA Hosts Media Teleconference to Announce Latest Kepler Discovery

"NASA will host a news teleconference at 11 a.m. PDT (2 p.m. EDT) Thursday, April 17, to announce a new discovery made by its planet-hunting mission, the Kepler Space Telescope. The journal Science has embargoed the findings until the time of the news conference."

ISEE-3 Reboot Project (IRP): Our plan is simple: we intend to contact the ISEE-3 (International Sun-Earth Explorer) spacecraft, command it to fire its engine and enter an orbit near Earth, and then resume its original mission - a mission it began in 1978.

ISEE-3 was rechristened as the International Comet Explorer (ICE). If we are successful it may also still be able to chase yet another comet.

Working in collaboration with NASA we have assembled a team of engineers, programmers, and scientists - and have a large radio telescope fully capable of contacting ISEE-3. If we are successful we intend to facilitate the sharing and interpretation of all of the new data ISEE-3 sends back via crowd sourcing.

NASA has told us officially that there is no funding available to support an ISEE-3 effort - nor is this work a formal priority for the agency right now. But NASA does feel that the data that ISEE-3 could generate would have real value and that a crowd funded effort such as ours has real value as an education and public outreach activity.

Time is short. And this project is not without significant risks. We need your financial help. ISEE-3 must be contacted in the next month or so and it must complete its orbit change maneuvers no later than mid-June 2014. There is excitement ahead as well: part of the maneuvers will include a flyby of the Moon at an altitude of less than 50 km.

NASA missions bid for extensions, Nature

"... like six other ongoing NASA missions studying the Moon, Mars and Saturn, Opportunity's money is due to run out at the end of the US fiscal year, on 30 September. Managers for each mission are trying to convince the agency to cough up continued funding, and their arguments are due on 11 April. A 'senior review' panel of external planetary scientists will rank the proposals' potential science return, and submit their suggestions to NASA headquarters for a final decision."

Mars mission cost citizen less than BEST bus fare, Times of India

"How much did the Rs 450-crore India's Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) cost an individual? Believe it or not it is less than the minimum BEST bus fare. While the minimum fare is Rs 6, each Indian on the other hand has spent just Rs four for the Mars mission. This unbelievable fact that the mission cost each citizen of this country a pittance was revealed to TOI by Isro chairman K Radhakrishnan recently. He said, "The fact it cost each person Rs 4 was moreover just a one-time payment. It was neither weekly, monthy or yearly."

Keith's note: Rs 4 = $0.07, India has 1.237 billion people. If they can go to Mars for 7 cents each, I wonder what they could do for 10 cents each ...

American Astronomical Society Statement on Proposed FY 2015 Budget

"At a time when space science is one of nation's brightest lights, delivering outstanding scientific discoveries and substantial public support, the President's proposed 3.5-percent cut for NASA's SMD is extremely worrying. We are particularly concerned by the 9 percent cut to the Astrophysics Division and the unanticipated decision to mothball a major mission outside the well-established senior review process. The AAS is also concerned about the imbalance within SMD given the inadequate funding for ongoing mission operations (including damaging cuts to major missions), flat or declining research and analysis grant funding, and the outlook for the Planetary New Frontiers and Heliophysics Explorer competed mission lines."

Planetary Society Decries NASA Science Cuts - Calls on Congress to Support Planetary Exploration

"NASA's planetary exploration is one-of-a-kind," said Casey Dreier, The Planetary Society's Director of Advocacy. "Our members know this, the public knows this, and we want to make sure that The White House knows this, too. We've had very strong support from key members of Congress, and we will depend on them once again to help preserve NASA's leadership in solar system exploration." Within two days of the Society's call, more than 20,000 messages of support have been sent to Congress, once again demonstrating the intense public support for this key NASA capability."

The 'Other' Lunar Orbiter 1 Earthrise Image, Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project

"A newly enhanced image of Earth taken from lunar orbit 47 years ago has been released. The image, taken by Lunar Orbiter 1 in 1966, is the latest in a series of images released by the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP). This image is actually one of a pair of images taken of Earth by Lunar Orbiter 1. Its twin image, taken first, was much more famous and captured the world's imagination when first released by NASA nearly half a century ago. That "Earthrise" image, as it came to be known, was also the first image re-released by the LOIRP in November 2008. These two pictures were not included in the original mission plan. Taking these images required that the spacecraft's attitude in relation to the lunar surface be changed so that the camera's lenses were pointing away from the Moon. Such maneuvering meant a calculated risk and, coming early in the flight, the unplanned photograph of Earth raised some doubts among Boeing management about the safety of the spacecraft - especially on the very first Lunar Orbiter mission."

Redesign of Planned Space Telescope Would Add Scientific Capabilities, Costs to Original Mission

"However, the inherited hardware was designed for another purpose, and the degree to which changes to the hardware must be made to accommodate a different launch vehicle and scientific requirements is uncertain at this time. This uncertainty contributes to higher technical risk and a greater likelihood that costs will increase beyond current estimates, the report says. The WFIRST/AFTA without the coronagraph was estimated to cost $2.1 billion, up from an estimate of $1.8 billion for an earlier design which was more similar to the mission recommended in the 2010 survey report."

- NRO Gives NASA Two Hubble-Class Telescopes (Shh!), earlier post
- How Much Will the Free NRO Space Telescopes Cost?, earlier post
- Are NASA's New Telescopes NRO Future Imagery Architecture Leftovers?, earlier post

First Direct Evidence of Cosmic Inflation, HSCFSA

"Researchers from the BICEP2 collaboration today announced the first direct evidence for this cosmic inflation. Their data also represent the first images of gravitational waves, or ripples in space-time. These waves have been described as the "first tremors of the Big Bang." Finally, the data confirm a deep connection between quantum mechanics and general relativity."

Studying Gender in Conference Talks: Data From 223rd American Astronomical Society Meeting

"The most significant result from this study is that while the gender ratio of speakers very closely mirrors that of conference attendees, women are under-represented in the question-asker category. We interpret this to be an age-effect, as senior scientists may be more likely to ask questions, and are more commonly men. A strong dependence on the gender of session chairs is found, whereby women ask disproportionately fewer questions in sessions chaired by men. While our results point to laudable progress in gender-balanced speaker selection, we believe future surveys of this kind would help ensure that collaboration at such meetings is as inclusive as possible."

SOFIA ... eine Erfolgsgeschichte ist in Gefahr (in German), January Wörners Blog, DLR

[translation] "As part of the current budget statement of NASA it has now let announced from Washington that the continued operation as of 2015 could no longer be financed. That would not only be a major blow for the science that has planned many interesting astronomical research for the coming years, but also for the relationship between NASA and DLR."

Mars Rover Opportunity Faces New Threat: Budget Ax, Discovery

"NASA's baseline budget for the year beginning Oct. 1 pulls the plug on the 10-year-old Mars rover Opportunity, newly released details of the agency's fiscal 2015 spending plan show. The plan, which requires Congressional approval, also anticipates ending the orbiting Mars Odyssey mission on Sept. 30, 2016. "There are pressures all over the place," NASA's planetary science division director Jim Green said during an advisory council committee teleconference call on Wednesday. NASA currently spends about $13 million a year to support Opportunity."

Keith's note: Just as JWST cost growth is killing off valuable existing missions that cost a pittance to continue - and stiffling others from even being started - SLS will soon start to eat Human Spaceflight's budgetary lunch - and the 2024 ISS extension will become less and less of a certainty

NASA Wants to Explore Europa On the Cheap, Planetary Society

"Over the past few years, JPL and APL has been working on a reduced-cost Europa concept called the Europa Clipper, which would fly by Europa on the order of 50 times over a few years to map the surface and determine the properties of the assumed ocean and ice sheet. The Clipper had an estimated cost of $2.1 billion, less than half of the originally-conceived Europa Orbiter, which was around $4.7 billion. This would place the Clipper as a "flagship" mission, though on the low side for a flagship."

Did NASA Ground SOFIA?

Computing a Winner, Fusion a Loser in U.S. Science Budget, Science Insider

"A White House summary of NASA's budget notes that the savings achieved by reducing funding for SOFIA will enable "continued support for higher priority programs, including lower cost, competitive science missions, and extended operations for the Cassini Saturn mission." A more detailed presentation of the space agency's budget proposal, unveiled this afternoon by NASA, says the agency is in talks with its German partner to determine the best path forward for SOFIA."

NASA Media Telecon to Announce Latest Kepler Discoveries, 26 Feb.

"NASA will host a news teleconference at 1 p.m. EST (18:00 UTC), Wednesday, Feb. 26, to announce new discoveries made by its planet-hunting mission, the Kepler Space Telescope."

Kepler Has Discovered 715 New Extrasolar Planets

"NASA's Kepler mission announced Wednesday the discovery of 715 new planets. These newly-verified worlds orbit 305 stars, revealing multiple-planet systems much like our own solar system. Nearly 95 percent of these planets are smaller than Neptune, which is almost four times the size of Earth. This discovery marks a significant increase in the number of known small-sized planets more akin to Earth than previously identified exoplanets, which are planets outside our solar system."

Tom Pierson

Keith's note: SETI Institute Founding CEO Tom Pierson has left our planet. Learn more about his life here. Ad Astra, Tom.

"Under Pierson's guidance, the Institute grew from a tiny, narrowly focused research center with a handful of employees to its current status: an internationally known organization that is home to more than 130 scientists, educators, and support staff.  While founded to conduct SETI searches, the Institute soon broadened its mandate to encompass all aspects of understanding the nature and prevalence of life beyond Earth."

Looking For Other Earths

Looking for a Mirror, NY Times

"The challenges to photographing a mirror Earth are daunting, but not insurmountable. A small rocky planet is a dim mote of dust lost in the glare from a thermonuclear fireball we call a star. For every photon of planetary light that goes into making a picture, 10 billion stellar photons must first be filtered out; remarkably, researchers have already devised several ways to do this. All that the planet-hunters really need to find the mirror Earths is a big mirror, high above the Earth's blurring atmosphere -- a space telescope large enough to gather the faint light of Goldilocks worlds around a sizable sample of stars."

Opportunity Heads Uphill After Solving 'Doughnut' Riddle

"Researchers have determined the now-infamous Martian rock resembling a jelly doughnut, dubbed Pinnacle Island, is a piece of a larger rock broken and moved by the wheel of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity in early January. Only about 1.5 inches wide (4 centimeters), the white-rimmed, red-centered rock caused a stir last month when it appeared in an image the rover took Jan. 8 at a location where it was not present four days earlier."

Keith's update: As you will see below this just got sillier when NASA GSFC PAO responded.

LADEE Extended

NASA Extends LADEE Moon Exploring Satellite Mission

"NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, or LADEE, observatory has been approved for a 28-day mission extension. The spacecraft is now expected to impact the lunar surface on or around April 21, 2014, depending on the final trajectory. The extension provides an opportunity for the satellite to gather an additional full lunar cycle worth of very low-altitude data to help scientists unravel the mysteries of the moon's atmosphere."

Keith's note: NASA has spent $2 billion on Curiosity. But NASA allows researchers to post the research results - results paid for by taxpayers - behind a paywall at Science. You have to pay twice if you want to see what has been discovered. Too bad NASA is not interested in following OSTP guidelines on Open Data, Transparency, etc.

Keith's update: Note: the papers from the 24 January issue of Science are now also online here at JPL (some are listed as being from 9 Dec 2013) with the warning "This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only.". With two exceptions, if you go to Science magazine (see links below) which is what all the public statements would prompt you to do, Science still requires payment in order to read the articles.

This posting of the papers at is a good step forward, but NASA really doesn't tell you that the papers are even online at Nothing in the website menu leads you to think they are online and nothing is included in press releases. There is another list of other papers but all of them require steep fees in order to read in full.

If only NASA made ALL of the research it conducts with taxpayer funds openly available, and then prominently featured these papers so as to overtly tell people that these papers are online, then the agency would see the greatest possible use of these discoveries.

Another Lunar Orbiter Earthrise Retrieved and Enhanced, Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project

"The other day, as we were going through tapes from Lunar Orbiter IV we came across a picture of the Earth and the Moon - one that was not instantly familiar to us. This image is not included in the LPI Lunar Orbiter IV image gallery but is listed in another, more obscure document at LPI. So we downloaded the data and set to work on restoring and enhancing the image."

Keith's note: Space Artist Don Davis Has Re-imagined our newly emhanced Lunar Orbiter IV Earthrise.

Adam Mann (@adamspacemann) at @wiredspacephoto and @wiredscience was nice enough to tweet a link to our Lunar Orbiter IV earthrise image to over a million followers as the WIred's Space Photo of the day - thanks, Adam!

Clementine +20

Clementine - The Mission, Twenty Years Later, Paul Spudis

"In the twenty years following the end of the Apollo program, the lunar science community tried to interest NASA in sending a robotic orbiter to the Moon to map its shape, composition and other physical properties. Such a mission would not only document the processes and history of the Moon, but would also serve as an operational template for the exploration of other airless planetary objects through the collection of global remote sensing data and use of surface samples to provide ground truth."

Dueling NASA Flagships?

The Final Frontier's Financial Limits, NY Times

"The Obama administration, which proposed deep cuts in the planetary sciences budget the past two years, could also ask for more money for 2015. "The administration remains committed to operating the pathbreaking Cassini and Curiosity missions as long as they keep passing these rigorous reviews," said Phillip Larson, a White House space policy adviser. "If we keep one going, that doesn't mean we have to cancel the other." The administration's budget request is likely to be disclosed in late February or early March."

- Bolden: No More Flagship Missions (Update: Bolden Flip Flops), earlier post

Rosetta Is Awake

ESA's Rosetta Wakes Up From Hibernation

"It was a fairy-tale ending to a tense chapter in the story of the Rosetta space mission this evening as ESA heard from its distant spacecraft for the first time in 31 months. Rosetta is chasing down Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, where it will become the first space mission to rendezvous with a comet, the first to attempt a landing on a comet's surface, and the first to follow a comet as it swings around the Sun."



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