Recently in Space & Planetary Science Category

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

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

Chandra X-ray Observatory Enters Safe Mode; Investigation Underway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NASA Earth Science Director Announces Retirement

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

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

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

Update: NASA caught their omission and corrected it.

ULA Launches NASA's Parker Solar Probe to Touch Sun

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

ULA Delta IV Parker Solar Probe Heavy Scrub Statement

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

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

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

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

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

Petition signers below:

House Science Committee Demands Answers on James Webb Space Telescope Delays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch live

Hearing charter

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

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

Clueless Webb Telescope Advertisement From Northrop Grumman

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

Brad Smith

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

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

"MAKING HISTORY REQUIRES MISSION SUCCESS.

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

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

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

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

More Cost Increases And Delays For Webb Space Telescope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Near Earth Object Preparedness Plan Released

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

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

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

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

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

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

NASA: Mars Has Ancient Organic Material, Mysterious Methane

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

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

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

NASA Evaluating JWST Independent Review Report, Space Policy Online

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

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

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

Insight Is On Its Way To Mars (with video)

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

NASA Deep Space CubeSats Are Alive And Well

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

JWST suffers new problem during spacecraft testing, Space News

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

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

NASA Announces Independent Review Board Members for James Webb Space Telescope

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

Management Shake Up on Webb Space Telescope, earlier post

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

Management Changes at Webb Announced (2010)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NASA Hosts Media Teleconference on Status of James Webb Space Telescope

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Day for Longest-Working Mars Rover

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

5,000 Days on Mars For Mars Rover Opportunity

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

Mars Rover Opportunity Keeps Finding Surprises

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

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

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

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

Source: NASA FY 2018 Budget Estimates page PS 69


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


An Interesting Picture From Mars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Hearing charter

- Statements by Ranking Member Johnson and Ranking Member Bera

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

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

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

WFIRST Report Released


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

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

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

Rendezvous With `Oumuamua

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

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

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

First Known Interstellar Visitor Is an "Oddball"

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

An Interstellar Visitor Unmasked, IFA

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

Solar System's First Interstellar Visitor Dazzles Scientists, NASA

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

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

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

Scientists Have Sent Messages to Advanced Civilizations, Newsweek

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

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

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

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

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

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

Statement on NSF Record of Decision on Arecibo Observatory, NSF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NASA Internal Memo: Next Steps for WFIRST Program

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pluto Features Given First Official Names, IAU

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

The Real Origin Of Some Notable Pluto Nomenclature, earlier post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Juno Completes Flyby Over Jupiter's Great Red Spot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NASA Releases Kepler Survey Catalog with Hundreds of New Planet Candidates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cassini Completes Final and Fateful Titan Flyby

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

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

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

Breakthrough Initiatives Summit on Life in the Universe and Space Exploration

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

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

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

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

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

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


New Insights into Ocean Worlds Enceladus and Europa

"Two veteran NASA missions are providing new details about icy, ocean-bearing moons of Jupiter and Saturn, further heightening the scientific interest of these and other "ocean worlds" in our solar system and beyond. The findings are presented in papers published Thursday by researchers with NASA's Cassini mission to Saturn and Hubble Space Telescope. In the papers, Cassini scientists announce that a form of chemical energy that life can feed on appears to exist on Saturn's moon Enceladus, and Hubble researchers report additional evidence of plumes erupting from Jupiter's moon Europa."

Keith's note: correction - "Linda" who made the shrimp comment is not from PAO - she is Dr. Linda Spilker the Cassini Project Scientist. NASA gets all upset when newspapers start to make things up about these upcoming announcements - especially when they start speculating on all sorts of alien life forms that might be on the verge of being announced. NASA PAO constantly complains that they have to shoot down all of the loony speculation. Then someone at NASA starts asking about shrimp on Enceladus in an official capacity at a NASA press event.

Hydrothermal Activity in The Seas of Enceladus: Implications For Habitable Zones, Astrobiology.com

First posted on 11 April 2017 at 7:16 pm EDT. "On Thursday NASA will announce evidence that hydrothermal activity on the floor of an ice-covered ocean on Saturn's moon Enceladus is most likely creating methane from carbon dioxide. The process is indicative of possible habitable zones within the ocean of Enceladus. But before we go any further, "habitable" does not mean "inhabited". NASA bases this determination on the amount of hydrogen in plumes emanating from the moon's south pole. The large amount of hydrogen is strongly suggestive of a constant hydrothermal process wherein the ocean under the surface of Enceladus is interacting with rock and organic compounds. The amount of hydrogen present is in disequilibrium i.e. if there was not a process that was constantly generating hydrogen the observed hydrogen levels would likely be lower than what is seen. Something is pumping it out."

NASA News Conference on Oceans Beyond Earth, NASA

"NASA will discuss new results about ocean worlds in our solar system from the agency's Cassini spacecraft and the Hubble Space Telescope during a news briefing 11 a.m. PDT (2 p.m. EDT, 18:00 UTC) on Thursday, April 13. These new discoveries will help inform future ocean world exploration -- including NASA's upcoming Europa Clipper mission planned for launch in the 2020s -- and the broader search for life beyond Earth."

Keith's note: I just love the media advisories NASA issues such as this one for tomorrow's "NASA to Reveal New Discoveries in News Conference on Oceans Beyond Earth" press event. They are always filled with names, affiliations, specific instruments, buzz words, tantalizing hints, etc. This makes it so much easier for me to use Google, preprint servers, and simple journalistic tools like email and phone calls to figure out what NASA is going to announce. Who needs embargoed papers? NASA loves to make the media play connect the dots. And if you follow these missions, then its even easier to play.

This advisory includes the sentence "NASA will discuss new results about ocean worlds in our solar system from the agency's Cassini spacecraft and the Hubble Space Telescope" and lists participants including "Hunter Waite, Cassini Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer team lead at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio, Chris Glein, Cassini INMS team associate at SwRI".

Duh "ocean worlds", "Cassini" - they are talking about Enceladus. Hmm ... 2 people who work with the "Cassini Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer". Let's do some Googling. Ah "Enceladus Flyby 21 (E-21): Deepest Dive Through the Plume" which says "1. Confirm presence of molecular hydrogen (H2). This measurement will be accomplished using Cassini's sensor that sniffs the gases in the plume (called INMS). Confirmation of H2 would be an independent line of evidence that hydrothermal activity is taking place in the Enceladus ocean, on the seafloor. Amount of H2 Cassini measures would reveal how much hydrothermal activity is going on in the ocean. This has implications for the amount of energy available for creating a habitable environment in the ocean". This instrument's data is posted by NASA here: Cassini (INMS) level 1A high and the low sensitivity counter (Data archive), PDS/PPI, NASA

And "William Sparks" from STSCI is listed. That's easy: he looks at plumes erupting from Europa. He just completed 14891 - Confirming the ice plumes of Europa "We propose a campaign to image Europa in transit against Jupiter close to the April 2017 opposition, in order to maximize spatial resolution, sensitivity, and time sampling. These measurements have the potential to profoundly influence a topic of fundamental scientific importance and of great strategic interest to NASA. If the ice plumes of Europa arise from the deep ocean, we have gained access to probably the most astrobiologically interesting location in the Solar System." He has also completed 14112 - Monitoring the ice plumes of Europa, 13829 - The ice plumes of Europa, and 13620 - Probing the atmosphere of a transiting ocean world: are there ice fountains on Europa?

So its all about ice world/ocean world plumes folks. Bingo.

Keith's note: The artists at JPL who created the farewell video for Cassini must have seen "Wanderers" - and "Interstellar". If so, it shows. That's OK. This JPL creation sets a new standard for displaying what NASA missions have done and the true scale of the vistas these probes would see if we humans were not constantly telling them what to look at. The more of these videos NASA makes, the more it will explain itself to more people, and the stronger its support amongst the populace will be. Watch both videos. One is a prequel. Oh and the Interstellar clip is a must-see as well. We will one day see these things with our own eyes.

A new definition would add 102 planets to our solar system -- including Pluto, Washington Post

"[Alan Stern] scoffed at Pluto's new classification, "dwarf planet" -- "How can an adjective in front of a noun not describe the noun?" Stern asked. "There are dwarf stars but they're still considered stars..."

... "The paper that [Kirby Runyon will present this week isn't a formal proposal, like the one that was devised at the IAU. He's not putting his definition up to a vote, or even suggesting that it should replace the IAUs. If he did, it's unlikely that the IAU would adopt it. [Carolyn] Porco, who is one of the lead scientists for NASA's Cassini mission to Saturn, pointed out that she is a planetary scientist and has no problem with the IAU's orbital dynamics-based definition. She also noted that astronomers already have a perfectly serviceable term for the kind of body Stern and Runyon are trying to describe: "world." In her view, the only scientists who want to make those places planets are people who study Pluto."

Keith's note: What is Stern's point? he says "There are dwarf stars but they're still considered stars". OK, by his logic a "dwarf planet" is therefore still considered a "planet". Hooray: Pluto is a planet. So why does Stern continue to moan and groan about whether or not Pluto is a planet? Stern and his small cadre of Pluto loyalists complain incessantly about the 2006 IAU vote to reclassify Pluto - yet in the ensuing decade no one has seen fit to try and formally submit a better definition to the IAU and have a discussion that involves the entire space science community. They'd rather just complain, it would seem, since that attracts more attention - to Pluto.

Bill Nye has a few tips for President Trump on how to manage NASA, The Verge

"Nye saves his most optimistic hope for last. He argues that the Trump administration should increase NASA's budget by 5 percent each year for the next five years. That way, the agency will have the money it needs to execute its ambitious human spaceflight program and science programs. It's an incredibly hopeful thought at a time when NASA is currently working on the president's budget request for 2018. And all signs point to NASA facing a potentially large cut in its funding from the new administration. It's something that the Planetary Society is aware of. "Obviously we knew based on hints and signs that funding was going to be a challenge, but at the same time, the space community has to be honest about what it needs if it's going to succeed," says Dreier. "We should not change our message because the non-defense discretionary part of the budget may shrink. The 'five over five' plan is totally realistic in terms of overall spending."

Keith's note: All discretionary government spending faces extreme budget cuts and yet Bill Nye and The Planetary Society somehow expect NASA to be exempt from this government-wide budget reformatting effort - and get an increase - every year for 5 years - for they things that they want to be funded - all while NOAA's satellite data systems will be gutted, large number of government employees will be laid off, and tens of millions of people face the prospect of losing their health care? Really Bill?

Collective Denial At Planetary Science: Vision 2050 Workshop, earlier post

NASA Planetary Science Vision 2050 Workshop

"NASA's Planetary Science Division (PSD) is planning to host a community workshop at NASA headquarters in Washington, DC on February 27-28 and March 1, 2017. This workshop is meant to provide PSD with a very long-range vision of what planetary science may look like in the future. The workshop is to gather the leading experts in Solar System planetary science and related disciplines, together with experts in space technologies, to identify potential science goals and enabling technologies that can be implemented by the end of the 2040s and would support the next phase of Solar System exploration."

Keith's note: The workshop will be held in the Auditorium at NASA Headquarters. However neither news media or the public are allowed to attend or participate in this event in any way. Here is the program and abstracts. You can watch portions of the event on LiveStream - but that's it. But since the Planetary Society (not a news or media organization) is a co-sponsor they will be able to have their 'reporters' present. This is how NASA involves the public these days: Look (or listen) but don't touch.

If you go to the NASA.gov website calendar there is no mention of this event. Nor is there any mention on the Solar System and Beyond page or the NASA Science Mission Directorate page. If you go to the NASA TV webpage and the Upcoming Events page there is no mention of this 3 day event. So the public will not know anything about it either. Nothing has been posted on any NASA Twitter account that I can find. Even though there is a Livestream for this 3 day event no one other than the attendees will know about it since NASA is not promoting the link in any way.

Last week NASA wanted the entire world to revel in the amazing discovery of 7 Earth-sized planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1. This week all of the NASA people who do this sort of stuff are meeting in Washington to plan what to do next - but not a single one of us can ask any of them a question, look at their posters, or interact with them in any way.

Keith's update: NASA PAO said that I can attend this event.

NASA to Host News Conference on Discovery Beyond Our Solar System

"NASA will hold a news conference at 1 p.m. EST Wednesday, Feb. 22, to present new findings on planets that orbit stars other than our sun, known as exoplanets. The event will air live on NASA Television and the agency's website. Details of these findings are embargoed by the journal Nature until 1 p.m."

Keith's update: I have now learned that tomorrow's NASA news announcement is not about Alpha Centauri as I had been guessing (darn) but it is is something even more cool - or "warm" to be precise. Instead, the NASA announcement on Wednesday will be about a nearby star that has at least 7 Earth-sized planets.

The individuals attending this press event at NASA have been looking for planets circling other stars. Last year one of the participants, Michael Gillon, was lead author on a paper "Temperate Earth-sized planets transiting a nearby ultracool dwarf star" in Nature detailing how his team had confirmed 3 small terrestrial (Earth-sized) planets circulating a cool dwarf star 2MASS J23062928-0502285 (now known as TRAPPIST-1), a M8V class star which is only 39.5 light years away.

It will be announced tomorrow by NASA that Gillon et al have confirmed 4 more Earth-sized planets circling TRAPPIST-1. It is possible that most of the planets confirmed thus circling far TRAPPIST-1 could be in the star's habitable zone. The inner 6 planets are probably rocky in composition and may be just the right temperature for liquid water to exist (between 0 - 100 degrees C) - if they have any water, that is. The outermost 7th planet still needs some more observations to nail down its orbit and composition.

Astronomers are clearly excited about these planets (see below). The article will appear in Nature magazine, as noted by NASA in its media advisory.

But - and this is important for all you UK tabloid writers - NO ONE HAS DISCOVERED LIFE ON ANOTHER PLANET. Got that?

Important note: No one sent us anything in advance about the details of this specific announcement or paper under embargo - or any other pre-announcement arrangement. No scientific paper - nothing. We honor embargoes - when we are under them. I saw what NASA had posted yesterday to tease people (including participant names and a topic) and went to work - hence my earlier Alpha Centauri sleuthing which strongly overlapped with TRAPPIST-1 discoveries. I eventually figured it out and sourced it - all by myself - using openly available preprints, observation proposals and results, email, and phone calls folks. I am leaving my earlier Alpha Centauri speculation up for all to see (below).

Juno Mission to Remain in Current Orbit at Jupiter

"The orbital period does not affect the quality of the science collected by Juno on each flyby, since the altitude over Jupiter will be the same at the time of closest approach. In fact, the longer orbit provides new opportunities that allow further exploration of the far reaches of space dominated by Jupiter's magnetic field, increasing the value of Juno's research. ... The original Juno flight plan envisioned the spacecraft looping around Jupiter twice in 53-day orbits, then reducing its orbital period to 14 days for the remainder of the mission. However, two helium check valves that are part of the plumbing for the spacecraft's main engine did not operate as expected when the propulsion system was pressurized in October. Telemetry from the spacecraft indicated that it took several minutes for the valves to open, while it took only a few seconds during past main engine firings. ... Juno's larger 53-day orbit allows for "bonus science" that wasn't part of the original mission design."

Keith's note: So NASA's Juno spacecraft has engine problems that prevent it from accomplishing its planned i.e. optimal science mission. But that's OK since NASA says that none of the science is affected by the engine problems. Indeed, they say that the science is better - and they get "Bonus science" too! Bonus science is good, yes? But wait: if Juno's science is not affected by engine failures - indeed its now better without the engine firings - then why did they plan the engine firings and orbit changes in the first place?

And all of these extra longer orbits will require 3-4 years to complete to get all that bonus science goodness. Oh yes: the spacecraft was not designed to operate that long - and it is going to cost another $100 million or so to operate the spacecraft during this time - not something NASA has in its budget. When you read these feel good releases that try and make technical failures look like good news just remember that NASA = Never A Straight Answer

Trump's Advisers Want to Return Humans to the Moon in Three Years, The Atlantic

"[Planetary Society's Casey] Dreier cautions that the latest glimpse of potential Trump space policy may be just that--a peek into the internal debate over NASA's mission, rather than a clear roadmap for the space agency's future. ... Human spaceflight programs are expensive, and risk overshadowing such projects. "Science always tends to suffer when human spaceflight programs go over budget," Dreier says."

Keith's note: Of course Casey Drier omits the flip side of this statement - when space science missions go over budget (crashing Mars probes in the 90s, James Webb Space Telescope, Mars Science Laboratory, Mars 2020 rover etc.) Space Science tends to suffer much, much more - and it is self-inflicted.

Keith's note: There as a live Facebook webcast today about the New Horizons mission. I submitted this question which was asked of New Horizons PI Alan Stern: "A variety of names are used by the New Horizons team in public and in scientific publications for features on Pluto and Charon based on images obtained during the flyby. Have any of these names been formally submitted to the IAU by the New Horizons team or NASA? Have any of these feature names been formally approved by the IAU?"

Dawn arrived at Ceres in 2015 a few months before New Horizons flew past Pluto. IAU has already approved a bunch of names on Ceres yet no names have been formally approved for Pluto. During the webcast Stern replied to my question by saying that the IAU required that a proposal for themes for naming be submitted, that "the ball is in the IAU's court", and that once that has been approved then they will submit names by the end of this year. Yet if you go to the IAU website you will see that they already have a naming theme for Pluto and its moons. So it is somewhat confusing as to why New Horizons has yet to submit any feature names.

Meanwhile all of the unofficial feature names are used in scientific papers and even on commercial products such as Pluto globes. It would certainly seem that the New Horizons team is in no hurry to send anything to the IAU due to the "dwarf planet" nomenclature hostility that has been simmering between them for years. In other words they can force the issue of their feature names being accepted (in contrast to what IAU had already established) by dragging their feet and allowing the names to become official by default. There's certainly nothing wrong with allowing the discoverers of new planetary features name those places. But if there is a process that NASA has signed up to for all of its missions - missions that it has paid for - then everyone needs to follow the same rules.

The Real Origin Of Some Notable Pluto Nomenclature, earlier post

NASA Selects Two Missions to Explore the Early Solar System, NASA

"In addition to selecting the Lucy and Psyche missions for formulation, the agency will extend funding for the Near Earth Object Camera (NEOCam) project for an additional year. The NEOCam space telescope is designed to survey regions of space closest to Earth's orbit, where potentially hazardous asteroids may be found."

NASA Cancels Space Act Agreement With B612 Foundation, earlier post

NASA Cancels B612 Sentinel Agreement and Then Picks JPL NEOCam, earlier post

Keith's earlier 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.

Keith's update: A lot of people in the planetary science community were pushing for an in-space NEO/asteroid detection capability such as this. For a while, NASA SMD used to get around the issue (and funding it) by saying "Oh, we don't have to worry about that, B612 is going to do that for us". But then the pressure from JPL began to mount and NASA pulled the rug out from under B612 to make the way easier for NEOCam. Now, a year later, they don't even pick NEOCam - but they keep it on life support - perhaps until JPL can submit another proposal next time.

NASA to Hold Media Call for Discovery Program Announcement

"NASA will discuss the results of its latest Discovery mission selection during a media teleconference at 4 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Jan. 4. Members of the public also may submit questions to be answered during and immediately following the briefing using #AskNASA."

Streaming audio of the briefing will be available on this page: https://www.nasa.gov/nasalive

NASA Selects Two Missions to Explore the Early Solar System

"NASA has selected two missions that have the potential to open new windows on one of the earliest eras in the history of our solar system - a time less than 10 million years after the birth of our sun. The missions, known as Lucy and Psyche, were chosen from five finalists and will proceed to mission formulation, with the goal of launching in 2021 and 2023, respectively."

Keith's note: Simon Porter (@ascendingnode) works at SwRI on New Horizons. Juno is managed by SwRI, so I assume he knows something about JunoCam too. Despite the Twitter scolding by Porter, the JunoCam website has no statement as to when specific images will be released. Here's the strange thing: someone on the Juno team clearly has an image file of Jupiter's rings as seen by Juno - an image that they managed to put into a format that could be shown via a laptop on a screen for hundreds (thousands) of people to see at AGU. So, if such an image file exists, why can't the Juno folks Tweet that same image for the rest of us to see? If it was not technically possible to Tweet the image, someone in the audience could have taken a picture of the picture and then tweeted it. But wait, there is some sort of ban of pictures taken inside of the AGU sessions - even though people in those sessions constantly post them with a #AGU16 tag on them anyway.

Meanwhile, today, in a public park across the street from the meeting site in San Francisco lots of AGU attendees went to a rally to promote transparency for climate science research - something that may be threatened under the incoming Trump administration. On one hand these scientists want government funding for their research and for their data to be publicly available. Yet in other cases they want government funding for their research but only show the results of their research to each other and maybe to the public - eventually. I have made a request to NASA SMD and PAO for this image. I am waiting for a yes or a no.

You science folks can't have it both ways. If you want government money then you need to be proactive in all instances with the results of your government-funded research.

Keith's update: According to NASA PAO: "the plan is to post the Jupiter ring image to the Mission Juno website tomorrow morning. As you may have noticed, most of the images from Sunday's second science pass (PJ3) have already posted - a day ahead of schedule. Unlike most of our raw images, the "ring" needs some processing, since it's a full spin image with 360-degrees of spacecraft rotation vs an arc."

I still do not understand why the image shown publicly at AGU could not have been tweeted. NASA posted/tweeted raw images from Opportunity, Spirit, and Curiosity as soon as they arrived on Earth. Cleaned up versions were posted later.

Keith's note: NASA PAO offered news media a chance to ask questions of Thomas Zurbuchen, the new Science Mission Directorate Associate Administrator. The audio of that event should be online shortly.

NASA Watch Question: "I have heard you mention massive things such as the Webb Space Telescope and tiny things like cubesats in the same sentence. You mentioned National Academy and White House initiatives for cubesats and Decadal designations for larger things. There is a vast gap there. The vast majority of taxpayers really do not understand what huge things like Webb do other than take pictures. But small cheap things like cubesats - something that they can hold in their hands do make that connection. Is there a use for cubesats other than strictly the doing science - perhaps EPO (education and public outreach)? Given that at least one presidential candidate has speculated about filling potholes as being more important than NASA how do you bring the potential of space research within the reach of the rest of America? Maybe start with cubesats? Any school in America can build and launch a cubesat from ISS for just over $100,000 - that's $10 from every person in a small community of 10,000 people. That's bake sale and car wash sort of funding levels. Aren't we already at the point where massive disruption that you have mentioned is now possible and that you are able to be that agent of change?"

Thomas Zurbuchen's Answer (transcribed live): "NASA activities are a range of investments and sizes. Not one size fits all. Take Hubble - with all its challenges and initial drawbacks - budgetary, performance - it is one of the most impactful tools we have ever launched especially when measured by Noble Prizes and brand recognition. How many of us have a Hubble image as a screen saver? I do. For that to happen it takes size. The Earth science program is not going to be done for the size of a cubesat. But we are looking at making data buys. We do make technology and innovation grants - even smaller amounts than cubesats - small investments that can allow many flowers to bloom. Cubesats are interesting because there is a commercial sector that is growing because of attitude of players in the market space. I have talked about the value of inspiration that comes from building something and putting it into space. Id like to enable careers for students. I see value at both ends of the spectrum and its hard to play them against each other."

Schiaparelli Impact Site on Mars Viewed From Orbit

"This Oct. 25, 2016, image shows the area where the European Space Agency's Schiaparelli test lander reached the surface of Mars, with magnified insets of three sites where components of the spacecraft hit the ground. It is the first view of the site from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter taken after the Oct. 19, 2016, landing event. The Schiaparelli test lander was one component of ESA's ExoMars 2016 project, which placed the Trace Gas Orbiter into orbit around Mars on the same arrival date."

Making 3D Images With Hubble and Webb Space Telescopes

"The two most powerful optical/IR telescopes in history -- NASA's Hubble and James Webb Space Telescopes -- will be in space at the same time. We have a unique opportunity to leverage the 1.5 million kilometer separation between the two telescopic nodal points to obtain simultaneously captured stereoscopic images of asteroids, comets, moons and planets in our Solar System. Given the recent resurgence in stereo-3D movies and the recent emergence of VR-enabled mobile devices, these stereoscopic images provide a unique opportunity to engage the public with unprecedented views of various Solar System objects."

Schiaparelli Crash Site Located From Orbit

"NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has identified new markings on the surface of the Red Planet that are believed to be related to ESA's ExoMars Schiaparelli entry, descent and landing technology demonstrator module. Estimates are that Schiaparelli dropped from a height of between 2 and 4 kilometres, therefore impacting at a considerable speed, greater than 300 km/h. The relatively large size of the feature would then arise from disturbed surface material. It is also possible that the lander exploded on impact, as its thruster propellant tanks were likely still full. These preliminary interpretations will be refined following further analysis."

Juno Enters Safe Mode And Then Regains Normal Operations

"NASA's Juno spacecraft entered safe mode Tuesday, Oct. 18 at about 10:47 p.m. PDT (Oct. 19 at 1:47 a.m. EDT). Early indications are a software performance monitor induced a reboot of the spacecraft's onboard computer. The spacecraft acted as expected during the transition into safe mode, restarted successfully and is healthy. High-rate data has been restored and the spacecraft is conducting flight software diagnostics. All instruments are off and the planned science data collection for today's close flyby of Jupiter (perijove 2), did not occur."

Engine Problems Delay Juno Engine Burn at Jupiter, SpaceRef

"Telemetry indicates that two helium check valves that play an important role in the firing of the spacecraft's main engine did not operate as expected during a command sequence that was initiated yesterday," said Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "The valves should have opened in a few seconds, but it took several minutes. We need to better understand this issue before moving forward with a burn of the main engine."

NASA's Juno Team to Discuss Jupiter Mission Status, Latest Science Results, NASA

"Team members of NASA's Juno mission to Jupiter will discuss the latest science results, an amateur imaging processing campaign, and the recent decision to postpone a scheduled burn of its main engine, during a media briefing at 4 p.m. EDT Wednesday, Oct. 19."

Notice of Intent To Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement and Initiate Section 106 Consultation for Proposed Changes to Green Bank Observatory Operations, Green Bank, West Virginia and Notice of Public Scoping Meetings and Comment Period, NSF

"The NSF Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences, Division of Astronomical Sciences, through a series of academic community-based reviews, has identified the need to divest several facilities from its portfolio. This would allow NSF to retain the balance of capabilities needed to deliver the best performance on emerging and key science technology of the present decade and beyond. In 2012, NSF's Division of Astronomical Sciences' (AST's) portfolio review committee recommended divestment of the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) from the AST portfolio."

Green Bank Observatory Inaugurated

"Formerly a cornerstone of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), the Green Bank Observatory [https://greenbankobservatory.org] is now a fully-fledged, independent astronomical and educational facility of the National Science Foundation (NSF), operated under a cooperative agreement with Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI)."

Looking for Schiaparelli At Wharton Ridge

"On Wednesday 19 October the ExoMars Schiaparelli module will land on Mars at 10:48 am EDT. There is a chance that Opportunity may see it on the horizon as it descends. The name of this location on the rim of Endeavour crater was initially announced a week or so ago. "Wharton Ridge" is named after Robert A. Wharton."

Taking In The View From Wharton Ridge, earlier post

Upcoming Space News

China to launch manned space mission Shenzhou 11 on Monday

"China will launch a two-man space mission, Shenzhou 11, on Monday, officials with the space program said, taking the country closer to its ambition of setting up a permanent manned space station by 2022. After Monday's launch at 7:30 a.m. (2330 GMT) in the remote northwestern province of Gansu, the astronauts will dock with the Tiangong 2 space laboratory, where they will spend about a month."

Schiaparelli Released From Trace Gas Orbiter and Begins Its Descent to Mars

"Today, three days before gravity will ensure the arrival of ExoMars 2016 at Mars, the Schiaparelli Entry, Descent & landing demonstrator Module separated from the TGO orbiter and is now en route on a ballistic trajectory to reach the Red Planet, enter its atmosphere and land softly in an area close to the equator known as Meridiani Planum."

Antares OA-5 Launch Delayed to October 17, 2016

"Today's launch of Orbital ATK's Antares rocket is postponed 24 hours due to a ground support equipment (GSE) cable that did not perform as expected during the pre-launch check out. We have spares on hand and rework procedures are in process."

Keith's note: I will be on BBC World News live tonight at 8:00 pm and 9:00 pm 11:15 pm EDT to discuss these three mission events.

More Problems For Arecibo

Arecibo Observatory hit with discrimination lawsuit, Nature

"Two former researchers at the troubled Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico have filed a lawsuit claiming that illegal discrimination and retaliation led to their dismissal. James Richardson and Elizabeth Sternke are suing the Universities Space Research Association (USRA), which oversees radio astronomy and planetary science at Arecibo, and the observatory's deputy director, Joan Schmelz -- a prominent advocate for women in astronomy. ... The EEOC ultimately found evidence of discrimination and that Sternke and Richardson were terminated in retaliation for their complaints, according to documents provided by the researchers' lawyer. In their lawsuit, filed on 4 October in the US District Court in Puerto Rico, Richardson and Sternke are seeking more than US$20 million in back pay and damages."

National Astronomical Observatories of China, Breakthrough Initiatives Launch Global Collaboration in Search for Intelligent life in the Universe

"The National Astronomical Observatories of China (NAOC) is joining forces with the Breakthrough Initiatives to launch a coordinated search for evidence of intelligent life beyond Earth Using some of the world's most powerful telescopes. NAOC's brand-new FAST telescope - the world's largest filled-aperture radio receiver - will join the Breakthrough Listen program at Green Bank Telescope in the US and the Parkes Observatory in Australia, and together the organization's will exchange observing plans, search methods and data - including the rapid sharing of promising new signals for additional observation and analysis. The two parties are also planning a series of meetings and conferences to refine search strategies, data analyses and results. At a signing ceremony at NAOC headquarters in Beijing, the collaboration was announced via a joint statement by Prof. Jun Yan, Director General of NAOC, and Pete Worden, Chairman of Breakthrough Prize Foundation and Executive Director of Breakthrough Initiatives. They looked forward to "a long and productive scientific collaboration," and invited scientists around the world to join in "one of humanity's greatest quests."

Taking In The View From Wharton Ridge, SpaceRef

"Today I learned that a feature on the surface of Mars has been named after a friend of mine. This was not unexpected since I knew that his name was in the queue waiting for just the right feature to be discovered by the Opportunity rover. "Wharton Ridge" is named after Robert A. Wharton (Bob). Bob was born a few years before me in 1951 and died unexpectedly in 2012. I worked with Bob at the old Life Sciences Division at NASA Headquarters in the late 1980s."

NASA rethinks approach to Mars exploration, Nature

"This broadening context prompted Watzin to propose the new way of operating Mars missions. "I'm not trying to fix something that's broken," he said. "I'm trying to open the door to a larger level of collaboration and participation than we have today, looking to the fact that we're going to have a larger pool of stakeholders involved in our missions." Under the new, facility-based approach, scientists would propose investigations using one or more instruments on a future spacecraft. NASA would award observing time to specific proposals, much as telescope allocation committees parcel out time on their mountaintops. This would be different than the current approach where instruments are proposed, built and operated by individual teams of scientists."

Thomas Zurbuchen Named Head of NASA Science Mission Directorate, NASA

"NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has named Thomas Zurbuchen as the new associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington, effective Monday, Oct. 3. Zurbuchen is a professor of space science and aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He also is the university's founding director of the Center for Entrepreneurship in the College of Engineering. Zurbuchen's experience includes research in solar and heliospheric physics, experimental space research, space systems, and innovation and entrepreneurship."

Memo From Acting NASA Science Mission Directorate AA Geoff Yoder, NASA

"My NASA experience has been challenging, exciting, full of new discoveries, and more importantly part of a unique family. I am excited to transition into my next phase of life and plan to retire from NASA December 2016. I don't know what the future holds for me but if history is any indication, I will be blessed with meeting new challenges, opportunities, and making new friends."

Water Plumes on Europa

Evidence of Water Vapor Plumes on Europa, NASA

"Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have imaged what may be water vapor plumes erupting off the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa. This finding bolsters other Hubble observations suggesting the icy moon erupts with high altitude water vapor plumes. The observation increases the possibility that missions to Europa may be able to sample Europa's ocean without having to drill through miles of ice."

Tectonics on Mercury

Mercury is Tectonically Active, NASA

"Images obtained by NASA's MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft reveal previously undetected small fault scarps-- cliff-like landforms that resemble stair steps. These scarps are small enough that scientists believe they must be geologically young, which means Mercury is still contracting and that Earth is not the only tectonically active planet in our solar system, as previously thought."

NASA Likes LISA Again

NASA moves to rejoin sped-up gravitational wave mission, Science

"This week, at the 11th LISA symposium in Zürich, Switzerland, a NASA official said he was ready to rejoin the LISA mission, which the agency left in 2011. Meanwhile, ESA says it is trying to move the launch of the mission up several years from 2034. "This is a very important meeting," says David Shoemaker, a gravitational wave physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. ... on 15 August, a midterm assessment of the National Academy of Sciences's (NAS) 2010 Decadal Report, which reviews U.S. priorities for astronomy and astrophysics, strongly recommended NASA to restore support to the space observatory this decade, and to help restore the mission to its original full capacity."

OSIRIS-REx Speeds Toward Asteroid Rendezvous (Watch the replay of the launch)

"The OSIRIS-REx mission will be the first U.S. mission to carry samples from an asteroid back to Earth and the largest sample returned from space since the Apollo era."

United Launch Alliance Successfully Launches OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft for NASA

"A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft for NASA lifted off from Space Launch Complex-41 Sept. 8 at 7:05 p.m. EDT."

NASA Report: New Worlds, New Horizons: A Midterm Assessment, National Academies of Sciences

"NASA's WFIRST, the top-ranked large space-based mission in the 2010 survey, is designed to answer questions about dark energy, exoplanets, and general astrophysics. Since the release of the survey, the WFIRST scope and design have evolved to include a 2.4-meter telescope, larger infrared detectors, and an instrument called a coronagraph that enables directly imaging an exoplanet by blocking the light emitted by its parent star. These changes, while scientifically compelling, could result in further increased costs and further delays for the mission, the committee said. It recommended that prior to final confirmation of the changes, NASA conduct an independent review of the project to ensure it does not crowd out investment in the rest of NASA's astrophysics portfolio and, if necessary, de-scope the mission. The report also finds that the driving factor in the delay or non-pursuit of some new NASA initiatives, including WFIRST, was the schedule change and increased cost associated with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) - a successor to the Hubble Space Telescope that is set to launch in 2018. As a result, NASA's WFIRST mission was delayed, and the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) - a space-based gravitational wave detector that first took shape as collaboration between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) - did not go forward."

What can Space Resources do for Astronomy and Planetary Science?, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

"The rapid cost growth of flagship space missions has created a crisis for astronomy and planetary science. We have hit the funding wall. For the past 3 decades scientists have not had to think much about how space technology would change within their planning horizon. However, this time around enormous improvements in space infrastructure capabilities and, especially, costs are likely on the 20-year gestation periods for large space telescopes. Commercial space will lower launch and spacecraft costs substantially, enable cost-effective on-orbit servicing, cheap lunar landers and "interplanetary cubesats" by the early 2020s. A doubling of flagship launch rates is not implausible. On a longer timescale it will enable large structures to be assembled and constructed in space. These developments will change how we plan and design missions."

Inclusive Astronomy

American Astronomical Society Endorses Vision Statement for Inclusive Astronomy, AAS

"We believe that people of all races, genders, sexual orientations, and physical abilities are capable of doing excellent science and shaping the future of our discipline. We know that identity is intersectional, and we see connections among barriers facing communities of color, women, people with disabilities, and LGBTIQA* people in science. We believe in equal opportunity. We share a vision of a more inclusive, more productive profession. We know that true inclusion and diversity require hard work from individual astronomers, organizations, and our profession as a whole to re-examine our professional culture, modify our existing practices, and remove barriers to inclusion. We assert that progress can and should be measured, and should be pursued with the same zeal as other strategic scientific goals. We have faith that we all -- as colleagues and as a profession -- can learn and improve."

NASA Viking at 40 Symposium Lectures

"This week NASA hosted the Viking Mars Landers 40th anniversary symposium. In 1976 Viking 1 and 2 were the first landers to successfully land on Mars."

"NASA's Viking 1 and 2 missions to Mars, each consisting of an orbiter and a lander, became the first space probes to obtain high resolution images of the Martian surface; characterize the structure and composition of the atmosphere and surface; and conduct on-the-spot biological tests for life on another planet."

"Viking provided the first measurements of the atmosphere and surface of Mars. These measurements are still being analyzed and interpreted. The data suggested early Mars was very different from the present day planet. Viking performed the first successful entry, descent and landing on Mars. Derivations of a Viking-style thermal protection system and parachute have been used on many U.S. Mars lander missions since."

NASA's Management of the Mars Science Laboratory Project, NASA OIG, 8 June 2011

"... in February 2009, because of the late delivery of several critical components and instruments, NASA delayed the launch to a date between October and December 2011. This delay and the additional resources required to resolve the underlying technical issues increased the Project's development costs by 86 percent, from $969 million to the current $1.8 billion, and its life-cycle costs by 56 percent, from $1.6 billion to the current $2.5 billion. ... Finally, since the 2009 decision to delay launch, the Project has received three budget increases, most recently an infusion of $71 million in December 2010. However, in our judgment because Project managers did not adequately consider historical cost trends when estimating the amount required to complete development, we believe the Project may require additional funds to meet the 2011 scheduled launch date."

NASA announces plans for new $1.5 billion Mars rover, CNet, 4 December 2012

"The new rover announced Tuesday, along with the rocket needed to boost it to Mars, will cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5 billion, plus or minus $200 million, according to a rough estimate by the Aerospace Corp."

Mars 2020 rover mission to cost more than $2 billion, Space News

"[George] Tahu said that the mission also decided to add new technologies to the rover, including a system that increases the accuracy of the rover's landing and another to improve the rover's ability to drive autonomously. "Our confirmed cost today, in real year dollars, of $2.1 billion for development and launch and $300 million for prime mission operations remains consistent with the scope and cost approved at the start of the project," he said."

Keith's note: So that's $2.4 billion for a rover that was supposed to cost around $1.5 billion - a rover that was sold as being inherently cheaper because it was made with MSL spare part, lessons learned from MSL mistakes, etc. Once again JPL has ignored NASA's price claims - and NASA SMD just can't fight the urge and lets it happen. Can you imagine what will happen when NASA starts to price the whole #JourneyToMars thing?

Keith's 4 July note: At a press briefing today Juno PI Scott Bolton said that they will turn on JunoCam once Juno is in orbit and may release a few "interesting" images. No word when this will happen. What is really odd about this is that JPL missions such as Cassini have been posting raw imagery online almost as soon as they get it for more than a decade. MSL has also been posting raw images since it landed. Mars landing missions have been sending back images in real time for everyone to see in real time since the days of Spirit and Opportunity. Yea its scary to risk failing in real time but NASA has done this many times before. It is understandable that the camera won't be activated for a while as the spacecraft is checked out. But once the images start heading back to Earth why not let everyone see them? This decision to sit on them is especially odd since JunoCam was added to the mission as an education and public outreach effort. Baffling.

Keith's 5 July update: There was a post-JOI press briefing at 1:00 am EDT. When directly asked about his earlier comment wherein he said that the Juno team might release some "interesting" JunoCam images Scott Bolton passed on a chance to clarify what he will or will not release by saying that "all images are interesting". Sigh. Yet another NASA mission PI who can't answer a simple direct question about releasing information to the public.

How to Get to Mars: Q&A With NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman, PC Magazine

"[Dava Newman] We have something called the Juno-cam, which will send take high-def images and the public will help decide what images to capture. As long as we're in orbit, we're going to say, "Okay," to the public, "where do you want it? Help us explore." We really want to take people with us to Jupiter, and I think that's the best way to do it. It's a huge experiment in citizen science, so you can tell us where you want to look on Jupiter and we'll point the camera."

Last Image Of Jovian System Before Juno Arrives

Juno Is Orbiting Jupiter, NASA

"Juno has arrived at Jupiter after an almost five-year journey. NASA TV will broadcast a briefing at 1 a.m. EDT/10 p.m. PDT. Juno will circle the Jovian world 37 times during 20 months, skimming to within 3,100 miles (5,000 km) above the cloud tops. This is the first time a spacecraft will orbit the poles of Jupiter, providing new answers to ongoing mysteries about the planet's core, composition and magnetic fields."

Marc's note: Missed the late night, early morning, press conference and orbital insertion? Watch them again with the links below. Oh, and if you didn't already know it we have a Twitter account for Jupiter, @JupiterToday.

- NASA provides an update on Juno's arrival at Jupiter after it enters orbit, SpaceRef
- Replay: Juno orbital insertion at Jupiter, SpaceRef

Fireworks Juno Style

Keith's note: I did a live interview on CTV tonight at 7:30 pm EDT on Juno. Then I did another live with BBC World News at 9:10 pm EDT. The Fairfax Country, VA fireworks are launched 2 miles from my house over at Lake Fairfax. They started 10 minutes early while I was doing a live interview via Skype on BBC World News. The BBC control room guys said they could hear them. So the sound of Fairfax County fireworks reached an audience of 300+ million people. Thanks Juno ;-)

New Horizons Receives Mission Extension to Kuiper Belt, Dawn to Remain at Ceres

"In addition to the extension of the New Horizons mission, NASA determined that the Dawn spacecraft should remain at the dwarf planet Ceres, rather than changing course to the main belt asteroid Adeona. Green noted that NASA relies on the scientific assessment by the Senior Review Panel in making its decision on which extended mission option to approve. "The long-term monitoring of Ceres, particularly as it gets closer to perihelion - the part of its orbit with the shortest distance to the sun -- has the potential to provide more significant science discoveries than a flyby of Adeona," he said. Also receiving NASA approval for mission extensions, contingent on available resources, are: the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN), the Opportunity and Curiosity Mars rovers, the Mars Odyssey orbiter, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), and NASA's support for the European Space Agency's Mars Express mission."

Watch: Media Briefing - The Science of Juno's Mission to Jupiter

"During a news briefing from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California the science team involved with the Juno mission to Jupiter talked about the scientific goals of the mission.

This Fourth of July, the solar-powered Juno spacecraft will arrive at our solar system's most massive planet after an almost five-year journey. Once in Jupiter's orbit, the spacecraft will circle the Jovian world 37 times during 20 months, skimming to within 3,100 miles (5,000 kilometers) above the cloud tops. This is the first time a spacecraft will orbit the poles of Jupiter, providing new answers to ongoing mysteries about the planet's core, composition and magnetic fields."

Marc's note: NASA and Apple Music collaborated on short film, Visions of Harmony. The film and original music is available from the link in the tweet below on iTunes. It's worth watching.

Keith's note: The next time you hear the space and planetary science communities complaining about budget cuts consider what their NASA mission PIs are paid at SwRI (2014 IRS Form, Part VII)

[Juno] Scott J Bolton $345,145 + 51,887
[New Horizons] Sol A Stern $370,522 + 52,435

SwRI is not at all shy about telling you how much money they earn - indeed they put this on their press releases. They are a non-profit, so this whole income thing should not be all that important - right? Just sayin'

"About SwRI: SwRI is an independent, nonprofit, applied research and development organization based in San Antonio, Texas, with nearly 2,800 employees and an annual research volume of $549 million."

Keith's note: NASA is holding a Viking 40th Anniversary Symposium at NASA LaRC on 19 & 20 July. This event has quite a line up of speakers for something that ought to resonate with #JourneyToMars (their poster even uses the hashtag). So ... when are NASA LaRC or NASA HQ going to tell people about this? There is nothing online at NASA LaRC, on the NASA HQ Journey To Mars webpage, or at NASA.gov calendar. I only heard about this via a NIA email notice for the live webcast and agenda.

Keith's update: PAO tells me that they just got approval to start talking about this event.

Why It'll Take New Horizons 16 Months to Send Us This Week's Data, Gizmodo (2015)

"4,000 bits per second may be double our current downlink speed, but downloading planetary science data over 3 billion miles is still quite a bit slower than loading your email on a 56K connection. Hence the reason it's going to take us an estimated 16 months to send home all the data we collect in the next several days."

Asteroid Named for Nobel Prize Winner Malala Yousafzai, NASA

"An asteroid discovered by NASA's NEOWISE spacecraft has been given the formal designation 316201 Malala, in honor of Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. The asteroid's previous appellation was 2010 ML48. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) renamed the asteroid as the request of Amy Mainzer of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. Mainzer is the principal investigator of NASA's NEOWISE space telescope."

Asteroid thermal modeling in the presence of reflected sunlight with an application to WISE/NEOWISE observational data, arxiv.org (Revised version)

"As a result, the new analysis finds asteroid diameter and other physical properties that have large differences from published NEOWISE results, with greatly increased error estimates. NEOWISE results have a claimed ±10% accuracy for diameter estimates, but this is unsupported by any calculations and undermined by irregularities in the NEOWISE results."

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

"Examination of the paper by members of the science community studying near-Earth objects has found several fundamental errors in Myhrvold's approach and analysis- mistakes that an independent peer review process is designed to catch. The errors in the paper lead to results that are easily refuted, such as sizes for well-known asteroids that are significantly larger or smaller than their already-verified sizes. While critique and re-examination of published results are essential to the scientific process, it is important that any paper undergo peer review by an independent journal before it can be seriously considered. This completes a necessary step to ensure science results are independently validated, reproducible, and of value to the science community."

Billionaire technologist accuses NASA asteroid mission of bad statistics, Science

"Myhrvold retorts that he is fixing the errors, which he says are cosmetic and do not alter the thrust of his criticism. He says the NEOWISE scientists are defensive because many are involved in a proposal for a future asteroid-hunting telescope called NEOCam, one of five finalists in NASA's Discovery program. "They're up for this NEOCam thing and they're afraid it looks bad. And it does look bad," he says."

Repurposed NEOWISE Spacecraft Observes and Discovers Asteroids, earlier post

http://images.spaceref.com/news/2016/europa.landing.jpg

House tells NASA to stop messing around, start planning two Europa missions

"As part of the mission to Europa, Culberson would also like to send a lander to the surface of the heaving, ice-encrusted world. This would allow scientists to better characterize the oceans below and, if the lander touches down near a fissure, possibly even sample the ocean. However, there has been some concern that having both an orbital spacecraft and a lander in a single mission would prove too challenging for a single rocket to deliver. So as part of the new House bill, the Europa mission is broken into two parts: an orbiter and, two years later, a lander."

Keith's note: This looks like it would be something like a dual "flagship" mission. Each spacecraft will be on the order of, oh $500 million each, and then, knowing Culberson's preferences, each would require its own SLS launch at $500 million to $1 billion each. Unless NASA's budget is going to get a big plus up on top of what it already needs to do other things that is going to eat into the whole #JourneyToMars thing - an effort that is already utterly underfunded.

Gregg Popovich reminds us that a lost game is nothing compared to NASA finding 1,200 habitable planets, USA Today

"On Thursday night, the Spurs lost to the Thunder in Game 6 and were knocked out of the postseason. On Tuesday, NASA announced that it found 1,284 new planets - the biggest group of planets ever discovered. ... Popovich says: "NASA discovered all those habitable planets the other day. Do you guys know about that? (a reporter says there were 1,200 planets found) 1,200 habitable planets. And then last night somebody lost a basketball game (reporters begin chuckling) Come on. Get over yourself."

NASA's Kepler Mission Announces Largest Collection of Planets Ever Discovered, NASA

"In the newly-validated batch of planets, nearly 550 could be rocky planets like Earth, based on their size. Nine of these orbit in their sun's habitable zone, which is the distance from a star where orbiting planets can have surface temperatures that allow liquid water to pool. With the addition of these nine, 21 exoplanets now are known to be members of this exclusive group."

Keith's note: Perhaps Seth Statler should have read the story he linked to a little more closely - before tweeting it. That said, it is certainly nice that news of Kepler's discovery of planets circling other stars has expanded beyond the usual space and astronomy fans to a much broader portion of the general population. More importantly, its good that the true scope and significance of such discoveries is made known by prominent figures in public venues to audiences who'd usually not hear mention of astronomy news. Alas, NASA staff (like Statler), some news media, and the general public now need to get a briefing as to what terminology such as "inhabited" vs "habitable", "earth-sized" vs "earthlike" means. Again, to be clear, it is very good news that Kepler's discoveries showed up where no NASA press release has surfaced before. NASA now needs to be building up on this - and do so strategically.

Keith's note: Just in case you missed this post last Wednesday.

NASA to Announce Latest Kepler Discoveries During Media Teleconference

"NASA will host a news teleconference at 1 p.m. EDT Tuesday, May 10 to announce the latest discoveries made by its planet-hunting mission, the Kepler Space Telescope. The briefing participants are: ... Timothy Morton, associate research scholar at Princeton University in New Jersey ..."

False Positive Probabilities for all Keper Objects of Interest: 1,284 Newly Validated Planets and 428 Likely False Positives

"We present astrophysical false positive probability calculations for every Kepler Object of Interest (KOI)the first large-scale demonstration of a fully automated transiting planet validation procedure. Out of 7056 KOIs, we determine that 1935 have probabilities <1% to be astrophysical false positives, and thus may be considered validated planets. 1284 of these have not yet been validated or confirmed by other methods. In addition, we identify 428 KOIs likely to be false positives that have not yet been identified as such, though some of these may be a result of unidentified transit timing variations. A side product of these calculations is full stellar property posterior samplings for every host star, modeled as single, binary, and triple systems. These calculations use vespa, a publicly available Python package able to be easily applied to any transiting exoplanet candidate."

Associate Administrator, Science Mission Directorate

"The Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate is a senior level position responsible for providing executive leadership, overall planning, direction, and effective management of NASA programs concerned with the scientific exploration of the Earth, Moon, Mars and beyond, including charting the best route of discovery and reaping the benefits of Earth and space exploration for society."

Keith's 4 May update: JPL has released Conceptual Studies for the Next Mars Orbiter (NeMO) Solicitation Number: MM-2672-911140 which says "For access to the RFP, please visit the JPL solicitation website at: https://acquisition.jpl.nasa.gov/bizops/". When I go there and click on "Next Mars Orbiter (NeMO) Conceptual Study" at https://acquisition.jpl.nasa.gov/rfp/mm-2672-911140/ that site it asks me for a username and password. When I go to "Synopsis (DOCX, 21 KB)" https://acquisition.jpl.nasa.gov/files/mika.docx I get the same text in the RFP posting. In other words the public is not allowed to read any of this. No mention is made of ITAR, security, or other constraints placed on this information. I sent a request for access to the procurement person listed on this solicitation. Stay tuned.

Keith's second 4 May update: JPL procurement got back to me rather promptly with a form that has standard ITAR boilerplate wording that I need to fill out (but won't) that needs to be approved in order to get access to RFP materials. The reason I asked is that the publicly available URL in the solicitation sent me to a page that had links to password-protected webpage without any prior notification that the link was password protected or that it might link to ITAR-controlled information. One would think that this would be made clear on those pages so as to prevent people like me (media) from inquiring about access in the first place. Of course using the ITAR flag (or the threat thereof) for stuff that is actually ITAR sensitive allows lots of information that is not even remotely ITAR sensitive to be shielded from public view. Oh well. The charts I posted provide some basic information. NASA and JPL could provide a lot more about this mission than they are clearly inclined to do - because they don't have to. So they don't.

Keith's 3 May note: JPL held a Next Mars Orbiter (NeMO) Industry day on Monday. They plan to put a RFP out on Thursday. Proposals are due 3 weeks later. This presentation gives a preview of the RFP. JPL has $400,000,000 $400,000 to spend.* The decks are clearly stacked such that only large aerospace companies who have done previous business with NASA are eligible. Also, although 100% of the cost of this spacecraft is being paid with NASA (taxpayer) dollars, JPL requires that anyone who bids on NeMO are required to sign a JPL "Waiver of Rights to Inventions" form - in other words, if they so desire, Caltech/JPL gets to keep all the intellectual property emerging from this mission - IP that NASA has arguably paid for. They do this because they can. Yet another example of a lack of interest in actually being innovative at NASA.

*My error. For some strange reasons the charts I posted say $400,000.00 - NASA never uses cents after their dollar figures - so I did not notice the decimal point.

"Proposers must meet the following mandatory qualifications by time of award in order to be considered a qualified source and thereby eligible for award.
- MQ 1: Within the last 10 years, the proposer shall have successfully developed and flown a spacecraft with a solar power system of at least 10KW at 1 AU.
- MQ 2: Within the last 5 years, the proposer shall have successfully developed and flown a spacecraft that operated in deep space (beyond Earth orbit) or geosynchronous orbit (GEO).
- MQ 3: The proposer (both the prime contractor and its major lower-tier subcontractors for this effort) shall be a concern incorporated in the United States of America."

NASA cuts funds for Mars landing technology work, SpaceNews

"In September Elon Musk is going to reveal his plans for colonizing Mars. "NASA is cutting funding for a Mars landing technology demonstration project by about 85 percent in response to budget reductions to its space technology program and the need to set aside funding within that program for a satellite servicing effort. In a presentation to a joint meeting of the National Academies' Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board and Space Studies Board here April 26, James Reuter, NASA deputy associate administrator for space technology, said the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) project would get only a small fraction of its originally planned budget of $20 million for 2016."

Modified NASA/SpaceX Space Act Agreement

"The purpose of this Amendment No. 1 to Space Act Agreement No. SAA-QA-14-18883 between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ("NASA") and Space Explorations Technologies Corp. ("Partner" or "SpaceX"), effective December 18,2014 (the "Agreement"), is to (1) further define areas of insight and assistance to SpaceX under the Agreement, (2) further define areas in which NASA will have access to and use of SpaceX data and technology to advance NASA's understanding of the development of SpaceX's propulsive descent capabilities and enable NASA's own Mission to Mars, and (3) extend the period of performance under the Agreement."

Keith's note: Wow, how odd that this all happened at exactly the same time. It is probably just a coincidence, right? With near-perfect simultaneity we learn that NASA has decided to cut funding for new technology needed to develop systems to land large payloads (you know, human-related stuff) on Mars. As this news was making the rounds, SpaceX announced that it is sending its own mission to the surface of Mars. If you read the opening section of the Space Act Agreement between NASA and SpaceX (signed 25/26 April, announced 27 April 2016) it is clear that NASA will be obtaining information from SpaceX while (maybe) providing some sort of unspecified assistance. To be certain, NASA has the world's pre-eminent expertise in landing things - big things - on Mars. But in the end, the bulk of the data flow is going to be from SpaceX to NASA - and SpaceX will be doing the vast bulk of the technology trailblazing - and all of the funding.

John Newcomb

NASA Langley Engineer and Author John Newcomb Dies

"An engineer at NASA's Langley Research Center during the critical Apollo years and those that successfully landed Viking on Mars, John Foster Newcomb passed away March 10, 2016. In the early heady days of space exploration, Newcomb worked on the Lunar Orbiter Project which placed five Lunar Orbiters around the moon, a mission critical to the success of the Apollo Project. The Lunar Orbiters photographed and mapped the moon, giving researchers insight into the best potential landing sites for the crewed Apollo missions."

Keith's note: John Newcomb and I recently exchanged voicemails about his book but never managed to talk. I wanted to talk to him about his Lunar Orbiter experiences. He spoke at NASA HQ just last week - but NASA does not tell people about these events. Now he is gone. Dammit. I'm glad he was able to write this book and speak to people about it such that we know what it was like to do crazy things that no one has ever done before.

NASA Targets May 2018 Launch of Mars InSight Mission

"NASA's Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission to study the deep interior of Mars is targeting a new launch window that begins May 5, 2018, with a Mars landing scheduled for Nov. 26, 2018. InSight project managers recently briefed officials at NASA and France's space agency, Centre National d'tudes Spatiales (CNES), on a path forward; the proposed plan to redesign the science instrument was accepted in support of a 2018 launch."

Keith's note: According to this release "The cost of the two-year delay is being assessed. An estimate is expected in August, once arrangements with the launch vehicle provider have been made." That is 6 months away. But NASA is already going ahead with this plan without knowing what the actual cost impact will be. Nor has any plan been released with regard to who pays for all of these delays. But, due to the way that MOUs are crafted between space agencies, no money ever changes hands. As such, U.S. taxpayers will ultimately be stuck for the delay costs that are the direct result of French mistakes. In addition, no one from NASA will talk about the impact of these additional costs will have on other missions awaiting selection - nor has anyone bothered to explain how this decision affects subsequent missions such as Mars 2020 or missions currently in operation at Mars. More creative budgeting on the #JourneyToMars.

NASA Mars woes could delay other planetary missions, Nature

"Some wonder if the mistake may cause NASA to tighten the reins on future projects. The most recent call for Discovery proposals, made before the problem with InSight occurred, mandated that no more than one-third of instrument costs could be spent on foreign sources. "The word on the street is that NASA's a little more wary of collaborating with groups that they don't know so well or don't control directly," says Elkins-Tanton."

Exclusive photos: Clouds seen on Pluto for first time, New Scientist

"There has been no public mention of the clouds, suggesting that the team isn't sure about the detection. In February emails, the team discussed a paper due to be published in the journal Science entitled "The Atmosphere of Pluto as Observed by New Horizons" which only mentions clouds in passing, as an as yet-unsolved mystery. But an email sent by John Spencer of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, on 1 March includes a picture (see top of article) of a cloud that seems to stand out from the surface. "In the first image an extremely bright low altitude limb haze above south-east Sputnik on the left, and a discrete fuzzy cloud seen against the sunlit surface above Krun Macula (I think) on the right," he wrote. ... The emails suggest that the top cloud image has only just been downloaded from New Horizons."

Keith's update: According to the NASA New Horizons PAO rep: "To be clear, no New Horizons personnel broke a news embargo on the Pluto "clouds" story. A listserv used to internally email team members was mistakenly left public and was discovered by New Scientist. The website published imagery and email exchanges without NASA or New Horizons' knowledge or coordination, and before the data had been fully analyzed and confirmed. The email listserv is no longer publicly accessible, and the data remain under scientific review."

My response: "You just admitted that someone made information public. Whether deliberate or by mistake they broke their own embargo."

FWIW if the New Horizons team had submitted a paper "The Atmosphere of Pluto as Observed by New Horizons" to Science magazine then you can be certain that the editors of Science will want the authors to hold all information about that paper under an internal embargo - even before anything is provided (under embargo) to news media. But ... if the authors discuss this paper in a public forum - outside of any media embargo - well, the authors broke that internal embargo and made it public. And it is fair game for news media to cover. Kudos to New Scientist for discovering this news!

Gravitational Waves Detected

Gravitational Waves Detected, NSF

"For the first time, scientists have observed ripples in the fabric of spacetime called gravitational waves, arriving at Earth from a cataclysmic event in the distant universe. This confirms a major prediction of Albert Einstein's 1915 general theory of relativity and opens an unprecedented new window to the cosmos."

Hanford's scientists finally spill gravitational-wave secrets - but they still can't tell all, Geekwire

"Meanwhile, there are already rumors that LIGO registered more readings that aren't yet ready to be reported."

- Observation of Gravitational Waves from a Binary Black Hole Merger, Physical Review Letters
- The First Sounds of Merging Black Holes, Physics

Keith's note: Taxpayers have seen more than $600 million spent on LIGO yet NSF purposefully shut off their live webcast from their LIGO event well before it was completed. Why would taxpayers want to hear what the scientists have to say?

Keith's note: Of course this is not the first time that the New Horizons team has played games with NASA when it comes to naming things on Pluto.

- More New Horizons Nomenclature Food Fights, earlier post
- Bolden Gets EPO Briefing From New Horizons Mission Team, earlier post
- Campaign for Public Participation in Naming Features on Pluto, earlier post
- NASA Extends Campaign for Public to Name Features on Pluto, earlier post
- New Horizons Redefines Definition of "Planet" and "Moon", earlier post

Keith's note: This is what Alan Stern, the Principal investigator for the NASA New Horizons mission does with the Twitter account @NewHorizons2015 that served as the the official - and then the quasi-official mission's Twitter presence. He wants you to know that he just bought an expensive Tesla. Clearly the job pays well. Check out the most recent IRS 990 form for SwRI. Scroll past Part XII for "additional data" and you'll see that senior SwRI staff (including Stern) are exceptionally well paid - vastly in excess of what anyone at NASA is paid. Of course, with regard to work on New Horizons, the funding comes from NASA.

What NASA's $1.3 billion budget increase means for JPL, Los Angeles Daily News

"The higher than usual appropriations are "almost unprecedented," according to Jason Callahan, a space policy advisor for the Planetary Society, an advocacy group based in Pasadena. It's members sent over 120,000 requests for an increase to Congress and the White House this year. "JPL comes off very well in this budget," Callahan said." NASA received $1.631 billion for Planetary Science, nearly $200 million more than 2015, after years of cuts. The $250 million for the Mars 2020 Rover should give the space agency more room if problems arise down the road, Callahan said. "It really takes the pressure off of that mission," he said."

Keith's note: In other words, JPL is worried that they will have to slip Mars 2020 Rover due to technical issues/cost overruns for the same reason that its half-brother MSL experienced similar problems. After half a century of building Mars probes JPL still can't do anything more efficiently or cheaper. And of course the Pasadena-based JPL cheerleaders at the Planetary Society won't discuss this issue.

Making the cut: CRISPR genome-editing technology shows its power, Science

"[CRISPR] was conceived after a yogurt company in 2007 identified an unexpected defense mechanism that its bacteria use to fight off viruses. A birth announcement came in 2012, followed by crucial first steps in 2013 and a massive growth spurt last year. Now, it has matured into a molecular marvel, and much of the worldnot just biologistsis taking notice of the genome-editing method CRISPR, Science's 2015 Breakthrough of the Year."

"For the second year in a row, the public weighed in through the Internet, voting for its top discovery while the Breakthrough team was hammering out its choices. High on the list, the results mirrored Science staffers' own deliberations. CRISPR surged to an early lead, as high-profile meetings and magazine articles focused public attention on the genome-editing technique. Pluto, a media darling in July when the New Horizons probe swooped past it en route to points beyond, was a distant second. But the dwarf planet rallied, as New Horizons scientists blitzed Twitter with get-out-the-vote tweets. When the final returns were in, Pluto finished comfortably ahead of CRISPR in the popular vote."

Keith's note: NASA used its 13.5 million followers on Twitter @NASA in a last minute effort to stuff the ballot box so as to give the impression that the nation thought that Pluto was the most important breakthrough of the year. Luckily this was just a poll - a skewed one at that. The editors of Science clearly saw through this and named CRISPR as this year's breakthrough.

Dear NASA: Some Things Are More Important Than You, earlier post

"CRISPR was leading Pluto in the Science magazine poll until NASA decided to skew the results by using its 13.5 million follower Twitter account to tell people to vote for Pluto. Just because NASA can use its social media presence to make a loud impact does not necessarily mean that it should automatically do so - without exercising some strategic thought to decide if it is truly the best use of that power. NASA should focus on explaining the whole #JourneyToMars thing, spreading planetary climate change information, education, advanced technology, etc. and let the biomedical "breakthroughs" have their day in the sun. New Horizons will never save a single human life. CRISPR will."

James Webb Space Telescope Project on Track but May Benefit from Improved Contractor Data to Better Understand Costs, GAO

"JWST continues to meet its cost commitments, but unreliable contractor performance data may pose a risk to project management. To help manage the project and account for new risks, project officials conducted a cost risk analysis of the prime contract. ... GAO found that while NASA's cost risk analysis substantially met best practices for cost estimating, officials do not plan to periodically update it. ... Further, the project does not have an independent surveillance mechanism, such as the Defense Contract Management Agency, to help ensure data anomalies are corrected by the contractor before being incorporated into larger cost analyses, as GAO recommended in 2012. As a result, the project is relying partially on unreliable information to inform its decision making and overall cost status."

ESA and Arianespace Sign James Webb Space Telescope Launch Contract

"The JWST is a joint project of NASA, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency. Europe's contribution includes the Ariane 5 launch, along with two of the four state-of-the-art science instruments optimized for infrared observation of the Universe, and support for scientific operations."

Lockheed Martin Delivers NASA's InSight Spacecraft to Launch Site

"InSight was previously scheduled to ship to California in early January, but delivery was moved three and a half weeks early to provide more time at the launch site for the integration of the seismometer instrument (SEIS) developed by the French Space Agency, CNES."

Mars InSight Spacecraft Shipped to California for March Launch, NASA

"A vacuum leak detected during testing of the seismometer was repaired last week in France and is undergoing further testing."

Payload Problems May Delay Mars InSight Launch (Update), earlier post

"Consideration is being given to delaying the launch of NASA's Mars InSight lander mission. The problem has to do with the French seismometer. There is a persistent leak inside the seismometer that has been hard to fix."

Congress: NASA must not only go to Europa, it must land, Ars Technica

"NASA's administrator, Charles Bolden, has accepted the Europa mission only grudgingly. When NASA didn't ask for Europa funding in its 2013 or 2014 budgets, Culberson gave it a total of more than $120 million. Finally, in its fiscal year 2015 budget request, NASA acquiesced and created a Europa program. The president's budget called for $15 million to begin preliminary studies. Culberson appropriated $100 million. For fiscal year 2016, NASA requested $30 million. It got nearly six times that. Now that NASA has accepted an orbital mission to Europa, the biggest point of contention has been a lander. During a November interview with Ars, Bolden explained why he didn't want to tackle such an ambitious mission. "My scientific community, the people who do mission planning, say we need to go and do a little research with the first mission to Europa to determine whether that's a place we want to send a lander," Bolden said. "That's the point of our big disagreement with Congressman Culberson right now. He wants a multibillion dollar Europa mission that has a lander on the first flight and everything. Our belief is that that is imprudent from a scientific perspective."

Brine Deposits Are The Source of Ceres' Bright Spots

"Bright spots seen by NASA's Dawn spacecraft on the surface of dwarf planet Ceres are likely salt deposits, a paper published Dec. 9 in Nature says. Ceres has more than 130 bright areas, and most of them are associated with impact craters. Observations from Dawn's Framing Camera suggest the occurrence of salts originating from Ceres' interior. These salts are consistent with a type called magnesium sulfate."

Japan's Akatsuki Is Orbiting Venus

"The nail-biting maneuver that sent Japan's Akatsuki spacecraft into orbit around Venus this week is being celebrated by NASA scientists, eager to learn more about the atmosphere and climate of Earth's enigmatic sister planet. At about 7 p.m. EST on Sunday, Dec. 6, the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) commanded the climate orbiter to fire four thrusters, aimed at nudging the spacecraft into orbit around Venus. About a half hour later, JAXA/ISAS announced that the small probe had successfully achieved an elliptical orbit around Venus."

A New View of Prometheus

Close Up View of Prometheus

"NASA's Cassini spacecraft spied details on the pockmarked surface of Saturn's moon Prometheus (86 kilometers, or 53 miles across) during a moderately close flyby on Dec. 6, 2015. This view looks towards the anti-Saturn side of Prometheus. North on Prometheus is up. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera."

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

Flash forward to July 2015 - mountain ranges on Pluto have been provisionally named "Hillary Montes" and "Norgay Montes". According to the Washington Post "For many years, we referred to Pluto as the Everest of planetary exploration," New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern said in a statement. "It's fitting that the two climbers who first summited Earth's highest mountain, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, now have their names on this new Everest." I hope the names stick. That said, who first suggested it to Stern? Just sayin'.

Mountaineering on Pluto

- The Rough Guide to Solar System Mountaineering, io9
- Mountaineering and Climbing on Mars, SpaceRef

Keith's 3 Dec 10:33 am ET note: Consideration is being given to delaying the launch of NASA's Mars InSight lander mission. The problem has to do with the French seismometer. There is a persistent leak inside the seismometer that has been hard to fix. Given that this payload is one of the two prime functions of InSight if the issue is not resolved in the next month or so then the launch will be slipped until the next favorable Mars launch window opens. I am awaiting a formal statement from NASA PAO.

NASA Mars InSight Team Addressing Vacuum Leak on Key Science Instrument, NASA

"A key science instrument that will be carried aboard NASA's Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) spacecraft being prepared for launch in March 2016 is experiencing a leak in the vacuum container carrying its main sensors. The sensors are part of an instrument called the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), which is provided by the French Space Agency (CNES)."

NASA Mars mission suffers problem with key instrument, Nature

"Technicians have detected a small leak in the vacuum-sealed sphere that holds the instrument's three seismometers, NASAWatch reported and NASA confirmed on 3 December. The leak must be fixed for the mission to accomplish its science goals. CNES engineers are working to repair it before shipping the instrument to the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California to be installed in the spacecraft and tested."

Hawaiian court revokes permit for planned mega-telescope, Nature

"Hawaii's supreme court has ruled that the construction permit for the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) atop the mountain of Mauna Kea is invalid. The 2 December decision is a major blow to the international consortium backing the US$1.5-billion telescope, and a win for the Native Hawaiians who have protested its construction on what they regard as a sacred summit. Hawaii's Board of Land and Natural Resources should not have approved the permit in 2011, the court said, because it did so before protestors could air their side in a contested case hearing. "Quite simply, the Board put the cart before the horse when it issued the permit," the court decision reads. "Accordingly, the permit cannot stand." It is unclear whether and how the TMT will move forward given the new ruling."

Thirty Meter Telescope Selects Mauna Kea, earlier post

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.

http://images.spaceref.com/news/2015/alive.retweet.jpg

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


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