Recently in Space & Planetary Science Category

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

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

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

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

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

NASA Responds: NASA Voyager Statement About Solar Wind Models

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

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

Related: Voyager 1 stories on SpaceRef

NASA Planetary Science Review To Be Released Soon, Space News

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

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

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

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

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

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

NASA Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator Update 12 June 2014

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

NASA Prepares to Launch Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2

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

NASA Releases Orbiting Carbon Observatory Accident Summary, earlier post

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

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

NASA SMD Internal Memo: Interim Heliophysics Director

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

NASA Heliophysics Director Fired

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shutdown for Spitzer and MaxWISE?, earlier post

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

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

Pluto-bound probe faces crisis, Nature

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

2014 NASA Astrophysics Senior Review

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

NASA Response to the 2014 Senior Review for Astrophysics Operating Missions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maximizing Dawn's Scientific Mission at Ceres: SBAG Report

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

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

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

Help us make ISEE-3 do science again at http://rkthb.co/42228

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

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

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

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

New Rocky Planet May Have Liquid Water, SFSU

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

NASA Hosts Media Teleconference to Announce Latest Kepler Discovery

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

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

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

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

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

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

NASA missions bid for extensions, Nature

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

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

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

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

American Astronomical Society Statement on Proposed FY 2015 Budget

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Direct Evidence of Cosmic Inflation, HSCFSA

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

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

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

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

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

Mars Rover Opportunity Faces New Threat: Budget Ax, Discovery

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

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

NASA Wants to Explore Europa On the Cheap, Planetary Society

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

Did NASA Ground SOFIA?

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

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

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

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

Kepler Has Discovered 715 New Extrasolar Planets

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

Tom Pierson

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

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

Looking For Other Earths

Looking for a Mirror, NY Times

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

Opportunity Heads Uphill After Solving 'Doughnut' Riddle

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

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

LADEE Extended

NASA Extends LADEE Moon Exploring Satellite Mission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clementine +20

Clementine - The Mission, Twenty Years Later, Paul Spudis

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

Dueling NASA Flagships?

The Final Frontier's Financial Limits, NY Times

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

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

Rosetta Is Awake

ESA's Rosetta Wakes Up From Hibernation

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

Continued Victories for Planetary Exploration, Planetary Society

"The book is not closed on 2014. Now that NASA has its money, it has to spend it. It does this through its operating plan, where the agency can make minor adjustments to project funding based on programmatic needs. Last year NASA abused this process and tried to shift all additional money allocated for Planetary Science by Congress to unrelated projects. I feel that this is unlikely to happen again, but it's something that we will be watching closely. I know it sounds crazy, but sometimes you have to ensure that NASA spends planetary money on planetary projects."

The big problem with the "big win" for NASA's exploration program budget, Houston Chronicle

"Sen. Bill Nelson, who chairs the Senate subcommittee that oversees NASA, and bills himself as "one of the leading architects of a plan to build a new monster rocket and crew capsule for deep space exploration," said of the plan, "This is a big win." NASA's administrator, Charles Bolden, also praised the budget deal. This is the same Nelson who along with other congressional leaders and the White House agreed on a budget plan to fund and build the SLS and Orion during the summer of 2010 (see authorizing legislation). In that bill Congress called, for example, in fiscal year 2013 to fund the SLS rocket at a level of $2.64 billion. It received significantly less than that in fiscal year 2013. And one would presume funding along those lines, or more, would be needed as the SLS rocket program was building up toward a 2017 test launch. So what did the government give NASA in the new budget for fiscal year 2014? $1.6 billion."

Keith's note: Let's see what the FY 2015 Budget looks like. Those projects that benefited from the FY 2014 budget may see different news in a few weeks. And some projects that did not benefit in FY 2014 may well do even worse in FY 2015. Alas, everyone seems to be parroting the buzz phrase "flat is the new up". When your budget is supposed to be ramping up, "flat" is a budget cut folks.

Once the dust settles is will become clear that there is still not enough money for everything. Congress is going to fund SLS/Orion no matter what the White House or NASA wants them to do and they will raid commercial crew and technology budgets to do so. And when Congress realizes that even more money for SLS is needed it will go back and take more. The asteroid mission is one step away from dead as far as Congress is concerned. Commercial crew is substantially underfunded and will not be able to continue at NASA's advertised pace of flying its first crew in 2017. And despite all of this, the space science crowd thinks that they are somehow immune from these pressures and should be given more money. They are in for a shock.

Editorial: First Do No Harm, Mark V. Sykes, Planetary Science Institute

"The most immediate threat is the ROSES2014 proposal due date of late February 2015 for the monster "Solar System Workings" (SSW) to which 1/3 of all planetary research and data analysis proposals will be submitted. For proposers to the major programs Cosmochemistry, Planetary Geology and Geophysics, Planetary Atmospheres and Mars Fundamental Research, this means a 20-22 month interval from the previous due dates in 2013, guaranteeing funding gaps for scientists, many of whom will be forced to seek other employment."

James Webb State Telescope: Meeting Commitments but Technical, Cost, & Schedule Challenges Could Affect Continued Progress, GAO

"Overall the project is maintaining a significant amount of cost reserves; however, low levels of near-term cost reserves could limit its ability to continue to meet future cost and schedule commitments. Development challenges have required the project to allocate a significant portion of cost reserves in fiscal year 2014. Adequate cost reserves for the prime contractor are also a concern in fiscal years 2014 and 2015 given the rate at which these cost reserves are being used. Limited reserves could require work to be extended or work to address project risks to be deferred--a contributing factor to the project's prior performance issues. Potential sequestration and funding challenges on other major NASA projects could limit the project's ability to address near-term challenges."

Webcast Events Today

- NASA and Smithsonian to Host 10 Year Anniversary Events for Mars Rovers

8:30 AM - 12:00: NASA Television and the agency's Web site will provide live coverage of the event. The discussion will also be Webcast live at: www.livestream.com/mars. Reporters and the public can ask questions from NASA centers and via Twitter using the hashtag #10YrsOnMars.

- American Astronomical Society NASA Town Hall

12:45pm-1:45pm, AAS meeting, Potomac Ballroom A http://www.ustream.tv/channel/hubble-stream and http://hubblesite.org/explore_astronomy/deep_astronomy/

Keith's note: At a time when NASA science budgets are being slashed, I find it to be a little odd that USRA, a non-profit that could simply not exist without a constant influx of NASA funds (and the overhead that they charge on those funds) is able to find the money to host a reception for 5,000 astronomers - and to be telling everyone that they have done so. Receptions like this can easily cost $20 to $30 per person - or more. Perhaps USRA can tell us what they spent on this. My guess is that it would cover a good portion of someone's college education.

I guess this was what it was like when Rome was burning.

Finding Pandora and Endor

Sub-Earth-Mass Moon Orbiting a Gas Giant Primary or a High Velocity Planetary System in the Galactic Bulge

"We present the first microlensing candidate for a free-floating exoplanet-exomoon system, MOA-2011-BLG-262, with a primary lens mass of M_host ~ 4 Jupiter masses hosting a sub-Earth mass moon. The data are well fit by this exomoon model, but an alternate star+planet model fits the data almost as well. Nevertheless, these results indicate the potential of microlensing to detect exomoons, albeit ones that are different from the giant planet moons in our solar system. The argument for an exomoon hinges on the system being relatively close to the Sun. The data constrain the product M pi_rel, where M is the lens system mass and pi_rel is the lens-source relative parallax."

A New Site to Explore on the Moon, Paul Spudis, Air & Space

"... we are poised to investigate a new site on the Moon of considerable interest and complexity, one that displays a variety of geological units and processes. The Chang'E 3 lander and Yutu rover can provide many answers to our questions regarding the geological history of this region of the Moon and about lunar history in general. That will be a lot to learn over 3 lunar days (one lunar day equals 14 Earth days of light, sandwiched between 14 days of dark)."

American Exceptionalism and Space Exploration, Paul Spudis

"China on the Moon is not the issue. The issue - and the problem - is that the United States is not on the Moon, nor planning to return there to harvest resources necessary to build and profit from the inevitable transportation system to be built in cislunar space (the area between the Earth and the Moon, where all of our commercial and national space assets reside). American exceptionalism must stay viable and be a strong presence along side China and other nations."

NRC Panel Pans NASA's Draft Science Plan

"A panel of scientists from fields NASA spends $5 billion a year to address finds that the draft strategic plan fails to tackle the agency's uncertain funding outlook in a meaningful way. This means important exploration capabilities could fall by the wayside and "a generation of scientists" may be lost in some disciplines, they say. ... The panel's report, requested by Associate Administrator John Grunsfeld, the Hubble-servicing astronaut who runs SMD, underscores the problems NASA faces in sustaining the space-science program it built over 50-plus years. It was prepared by the Space Studies Board panel that was chaired by the University of Michigan's Dr. James P. Bagian, who conducted biomedical research as an astronaut-scientist on two shuttle missions."

Review of the Draft 2014 Science Mission Directorate Science Plan, NRC SSB

"As discussed in Chapter 8, the draft Science Plan is uneven with respect to the level of detail and clarity across disciplines as well as in its use of examples and graphics that clearly communicate the salient points. It appeared as if the document was written by a committee without the benefit of a cohesive editing effort to ensure that the important points were made in a clear, concise, and compelling manner and that the facts had been appropriately checked. There are numerous factual and other errors in the draft Science Plan (see Appendix B for examples) as well as the absence of a consistent style or level of detail across the document. The draft Science Plan does not contain a clear description of how the program, as now proposed, is consistent with or varies from past NASA plans and the recommendations from the various decadal surveys."

House Committee Approves Bill To Shield Big NASA Programs from Cancellation, Space News

"The House Science Committee on Dec. 11 approved a bill that would require NASA to obtain legislative permission to cancel some of its most expensive human spaceflight and science programs, while at the same time allowing contractors for these programs to tap into hundreds of millions of dollars in reserve funding. The bill, H.R. 3625, was introduced Dec. 2 by Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), whose district includes the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville."

House Committee Approves Bill Requiring Congressional Approval Before Terminating JWST, ISS, SLS or Orion, Space Policy Online

"The markup lasted less than 10 minutes and the amendment and bill were adopted by voice vote. ... Another change made by the amendment replaces language that would have voided existing contract provisions that provide for payment of termination liability costs in a manner inconsistent with the bill. The new language simply states that funds being held in reserve for termination liability "shall be promptly used" for executing the program. The bill also makes clear that it is the intent of Congress to authorize appropriations to cover termination liability if, in fact, Congress agrees that the Administration should terminate a contract and that it is the Administration's responsibility to spend such funds for that purpose."

Turning SLS and Orion into Entitlements (Update: Webb Too), earlier post

"If passed into law, H.R. 3625 would make it exceptionally difficult to ever halt SLS, Orion, or Webb or to adjust funds internally by treating them in a way that is utterly different than other NASA programs. Indeed it would make these programs into Zombies that can never be killed. I have to wonder what CBO will say when it scores this bill and what the Budget Committee might have to say. This bill sets a precedent that could spread across the government."

Are the Days of NASA's Science Flagship Missions Over?, Space Policy Online (last week)

"NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden had a tough message for the space science community today - forget about flagship missions, they're not affordable today. At the very same time on Capitol Hill, however, the chairman of one of NASA's key committees was expressing enthusiasm about a mission to Europa - unquestionably a flagship mission. The disconnect could not be more stark. Flagship missions are NASA's most expensive (over $1 billion) and risky space science missions, but offer exceptional scientific payoff."

Statement of Administrator Charles Bolden Regarding NASA's Commitment to Flagship Missions

"NASA remains committed to planning, launching and operating flagship missions that meet the challenging objectives of our science, technology and aeronautics communities as identified through decadal surveys, advisory groups, the Administration and Congress. We are dedicated to pursuing the most cost-effective ways to accomplish this goal in order to provide balance with an increased cadence of missions that vary in size, destination and complexity."

NASA's Planetary Science Shift Rattles Researchers, Science

"Jim Green, the head of NASA's Planetary Science Division, shook things up for planetary scientists this week by announcing a restructuring that will change how the division funds grant proposals. ... That's why some researchers--including Mark Sykes, director of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona--have been railing against the restructuring on Twitter and in the blogosphere. Sykes says the change Green has made is ill-considered because it doesn't take into account the impact on the workforce. "There are many people whose research programs and salaries depend upon successfully proposing to several major programs in 2014," Sykes says. "They have just learned that there will be no opportunity for these programs until 2015. I have had several people tell me that if there is no regular ... call at the regular time in 2014, they will have to look for other employment in a year. There are postdocs whose positions are ending this next year, who would have applied to these programs to get started as independent planetary scientists. They need to find something else to do."

When it comes to planetary science will NASA soon stand for NADA?, Houston Chronicle

"Let's start with a town hall meeting (watch it here) that occurred on Tuesday during which NASA's $1.2 billion planetary science division announced a restructuring of how it funds research and analysis. Restructuring is a nice euphemism here. Due to budget cuts, in essence, NASA officials announced that it would not seek new research grant submissions in 2014."

NASA funding shuffle alarms planetary scientists, Nature

"But at the town-hall meeting, NASA's Jonathan Rall said that funding proposals in this field are not likely to be due until February 2015. That was the last straw for many researchers who live from grant to grant, because most of their existing funding is likely to expire well before money becomes available for the new Solar System workings area. Outraged scientists vented their frustration in the comments section of the meeting website and on Twitter. "People are upset with not knowing where their next paycheck is going to come from, how they're going to pay the mortgage," says Schmidt."

Comments Transcript: NASA Planetary Science Division Research and Analysis Program Restructuring Virtual Town Hall

"Michael H. New: [personal, non-official, comment] The degree to which the field shrinks is driven by the budget and the number of hard-money positions available. Regardless of how PSD's solicitations are organized, when the budget is flat and there are few hard-money positions available, people will be forced to leave the field. [end]"

(Update) SMD Planetary Town Hall: Time For Planetary Scientists To Job Hunt, Earlier post

NASA Planetary Science Division Research and Analysis Program Restructuring Virtual Town Hall

"The Planetary Science Division announces a virtual town hall presenting the Research and Analysis Program Restructuring. The town hall will be held on Tuesday, December 3, 2013, 12:00 noon to 4:00 pm (EST). A presentation by Jonathan Rall will be followed by a question/answer period. The town hall will be live-streamed with participation available to anyone having Internet access."

Keith's note: Follow comments on Twitter in real time here

Keith's note: From the comments section: "Michael H. New: [personal, non-official, comment] The degree to which the field shrinks is driven by the budget and the number of hard-money positions available. Regardless of how PSD's solicitations are organized, when the budget is flat and there are few hard-money positions available, people will be forced to leave the field. [end]"

New also posted this: "Michael H. New: Do you want us to predict the number of funded PIs in FYxx? A very, very, rough estimate is to take your favorite R&A budget estimate and divde by $125,000 which is not a bad approximation for the overall average annual award size. This estimate, of course, ignores all year-to-year variations in the actual budget and how that propagates from year-to-year."

NASA Statement on Planetary Research and Analysis Restructuring

"The following is a statement from NASA's Planetary Director Jim Green on Tuesday's virtual town hall meeting with the planetary scientific community. During the afternoon call, he outlined and answered questions about the proposed agency restructuring plans to consolidate some of the supporting research and technology activities to ensure a balanced planetary science portfolio for the next decade."

Comments Transcript: NASA Planetary Science Division Research and Analysis Program Restructuring Virtual Town Hall

"NASAWATCH: Is SMD management reading what the Twitterverse is saying about this Town Hall? Audience of followers exceeds 100,000 and includes journalists."

Photographer Captures Meteor Streaking Through the Aurora Borealis, PetaPixel

"Photographer Shannon Bileski of Signature Exposures captured this beautiful photograph last Friday at Patricia Beach in Canada. It shows a bright meteor streaking through a sky filled with the green glow of the aurora borealis. Bileski tells us she was out at the beach attempting to witness and photograph the northern lights with others from a photography club and an astronomy club."

Review of the NASA Science Mission Directorate Draft Strategic Plan

"In preparation for the release of its quadrennial strategic plan in February 2014, the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) at NASA asked the National Research Council to review a draft plan. In a new report, the Research Council provides specific recommendations in each of these key areas that would improve the clarity and consistency of the plan. The report notes that it is "more important than ever" for NASA to describe in plain language how it will prioritize and apportion its resources within the science program."

China's Chang'e-3 Heads For The Moon (with video), SpaceRef

"China's Chang'e-3 lunar rover Yutu ("Jade rabbit") left Earth today aboard a Long March IIIB rocket today. Liftoff occurred at 12:30 pm EST from Xichang launch facility in in China's Sichuan province. Chang'e-3 will take approximately four days to reach the Moon and will enter orbit on or around 6 December. A week or so later Change'e-3's large landing stage will deliver the Yutu rover to a landing site in Sinus Iridum - The Bay of Rainbows. The current expected landing date is 14 December."

- Were You Wondering About China's Long-Term Moon Goals?
- China/U.S. Collaboration on LADEE/Chang'e 3? Not Likely

India Is On Its Way To Mars

Mars Orbiter Spacecraft Successfully Placed in Mars Transfer Trajectory

"The critical manoeuvre to place India's Mars Orbiter Spacecraft in the Mars Transfer Trajectory was successfully carried out in the early hours of today (Sunday, December 1, 2013). The spacecraft is now on a course to encounter Mars after a journey of about 10 months around the Sun."

China aims for the Moon, Nature

"Space analysts expect that the lunar and crewed objectives of China's space-flight programme will merge, with Chinese astronauts (known as taikonauts) aiming to walk on the Moon some time in the 2020s."

- China will achieve first soft landing on the moon, CNTV (Video)
- Meet China's Jade Rabbit, the peace-loving moon rover, Quartz (Photos)
- NASA Exploration Ideas - With Added China Bashing (Update), earlier post

Comet ISON May or May Not Still Exist

"Comet ISON went around the sun on Nov. 28, 2013. Several solar observatories watched the comet throughout this closest approach to the sun, known as perihelion. While the fate of the comet is not yet established, it is likely that it did not survive the trip."

- Comet ISON Streams Toward the Sun (video)
- Hyper Suprime-Cam Captures Comet ISON's Long Tails, NAOJ
- NASA Hosts Nov. 28 Hangout to Discuss Comet Nearing Sun

China's 1st Moon Lander May Cause Trouble for NASA Lunar Dust Mission, Space.com

"Conversely, with some sort of communication between the missions, including NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)," talk between countries could enhance both LADEE and Chang'e 3 investigations, [Clive] Neal said. "What we have here is a situation where politics is certainly inhibiting good scientific cooperation and discovery because the NASA mission people are not allowed to communicate bilaterally with their Chinese counterparts," Neal said."

Keith's note: The possibility that the U.S. and China might collaborate on Chang'e 3 and LADEE is certainly moot now that the U.S. just flew B-52's through China's new self-declared air defense zone. Add this to existing China prohibitions from the Frank Wolf contingent and ...

Maven Leaves Earth

MAVEN Leaves Earth for Mars

"Flight of NASA's MAVEN spacecraft continues to go well following an on-time launch at 1:28 p.m. EST aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket."

NASA TV coverage.

Important Changes in the NASA Planetary Science Division's (PSD) Radioisotope Program

"With an adequate supply of Pu-238, and considering the current budget-constrained environment, NASA has decided to discontinue procurement of ASRG flight hardware. We have given direction to the Department of Energy, which manages the flight procurement, to end work on the flight units. The hardware procured under this activity will be transferred to the Glenn Research Center to continue development and testing of the Stirling technology."

Keith's note: At bottom of this release "Mars Rover Teams Dub Sites in Memory of Bruce Murray", JPL has included "For more information about Opportunity, visit http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/msl , http://www.nasa.gov/rovers and http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov . For more information about Curiosity, visit http://www.nasa.gov/msl and http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl" .

Two missions - five websites.

First for the Opportunity links. if you go to http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/ you do not get anything on Opportunity but rather its a Curiosity page. If you go to http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov it redirects you to http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/home/index.html at JPL. If you go to http://www.nasa.gov/rovers it redirects you to http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/mer/index.html at NASA HQ. If you go to the NASA HQ rover site it has a link to a JPL rover website at http://marsrover.nasa.gov/home/index.html it does not link to http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov. And http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov is identical to http://marsrover.nasa.gov/home/index.html. So, one of the three links listed has nothing to do with Opportunity. The NASA HQ MER site links to a JPL MER site but it is at a different address than the JPL MER website listed in the release even though the content is identical.

Now for the Curiosity links. If you go to http://www.nasa.gov/msl it redirects you to http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/index.html at NASA HQ. If you go to http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl you end up at a MSL website at JPL. The NASA HQ MSL site points to the JPL MSL site but the JPL MSL site does not point to the NASA HQ MSL site.

So, NASA is paying to maintain two MSL websites and the web addresses they give out are different than the actual web addresses - but they won't bother to put the actual addresses in press releases. Meanwhile, NASA is paying for 2 (or 3) MER websites - and again the links put in the press release are not the actual website address. And a website link that has "MSL" in it is listed as a place to get MER information. In total 5 links are included for 2 missions - and JPL PAO seems to think this is just fine. Meanwhile NASA PAO and SMD have the nerve to moan and complain about lack of education and public outreach funds? They are squandering their money on overlapping websites that don't even coordinate their content or links. I have raised this issue at several SMD media telecons. All they say is "we'll look into it". They don't. They just don't care about being efficient or coordinating. No - they just want more money and refuse to change the way that they operate. Clueless.

Oh yes --- did you know that NASA's Constellation Program is building the Altair Lunar Lander that will land on the moon by 2020? Moreover, the Altair will be launched on the Ares V rocket. HEOMD has an incredibly tangled web presence too.

- Why Does NASA Maintain Three (Four) Different MSL Websites?
- 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
- NASA's Inability To Speak With One Voice Online, earlier post

Editorial: NASA Planetary R&A Reorganization

"The planetary research and analysis programs, along with mission data analysis programs, support most of the US planetary community. Their streamlining could provide benefits. A misstep could permanently damage US solar system exploration capability. The plan laid out is very vague. Its implementation is premature. So, it is very good that NASA is reaching out to the community for input. This should be the first step in a more extended process that will transparently and iteratively add important details and well-defined improvements to any reorganization plan. It is far more important to get it right, than to rush and cause harm."

Request for Questions Regarding Planetary Science R&A Restructuring

Keith's note: The NAS Space Studies Board is meeting today. Here is the webex Link that the NAS doesn't want you to know about. Their PR office told me several weeks ago that they would be letting media know about webcasting in advance of their meetings. They never sent me anything despite their pledge to do so. You have to know which internal NASA webpage to go to in order to download an agenda that has the links on them. Alas when you dial in the audio is so faint that you can't really hear what people are saying. Here are the presentations (not that there is anything interesting)

- Space Studies Board is (Not Really) Interested In What You Think, earlier post

Chelyabinsk Meteoroid Airburst Event Yields Crucial Data

"A team of NASA and international scientists for the first time have gathered a detailed understanding of the effects on Earth from a small asteroid impact. The unprecedented data obtained as the result of the airburst of a meteoroid over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk on Feb. 15, has revolutionized scientists' understanding of this natural phenomenon."

New research shows events like Russian asteroid may happen more frequently

"Existing models predict events like the Chelyabinsk asteroid might hit every 120 or 150 years, but our data shows the frequency may be closer to every 30 or 40 years," explains Brown, the Canada Research Chair in Meteor Science, who also serves as CPSX Director. "That's a big surprise. When Chelyabinsk happened, I would have never expected to see an event big enough to cause damage on the ground. It's totally outside the realm of what we thought likely in our lifetimes based on earlier statistics. Our statistics now suggest this type of event likely happens with more frequency."

AeroCube-4 Captures Images of the Moon's Shadow

"One of Aerospace's CubeSats captured a photo of the moon's shadow on Earth's surface during the solar eclipse that occurred on Nov. 3. This solar eclipse began at 11 a.m. UTC and lasted for about two hours, with the shadow of the moon tracing a thin path that began in the Atlantic near Bermuda, crossed the ocean in a southeasterly direction, and ended over central Africa."

Gloomy Budget News for SMD

Hertz Paints Bleak Near-Term Outlook for NASA Astrophysics Division if Sequester Continues, Space PolicyOnline

"NASA Astrophysics Division Director Paul Hertz painted a bleak picture of NASA's FY2014 astrophysics budget today and forecast a future filled with uncertainty. The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) may be secure, but the rest of NASA's astrophysics program could have tough sailing ahead. Hertz stressed that the country spends quite a bit of money on NASA's astrophysics portfolio - a total of $1.3 billion "and you can't plead poverty when there's $1.3 billion on the table." Roughly half of that is for JWST, however, which is managed separately from the rest of NASA's astrophysics programs."

Prevalence of Earth-size planets orbiting Sun-like stars, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (full article behind paywall)

"We find that 22% of Sun-like stars harbor Earth-size planets orbiting in their habitable zones. The nearest such planet may be within 12 light-years."

1 in 5 Sun-like Stars Has Earth-size Planet in Habitable Zone, UC Berkeley

"The research was funded by UC Berkeley and the National Science Foundation, with the assistance of the Keck Observatories and NASA."

NASA paywalls first papers arising from Curiosity rover, I am setting them free, Michael Eisen, UC Berkeley

"This whole situation is even more absurd, because US copyright law explicitly says that all works of the federal government - of which these surely must be included - are not subject to copyright. So, in the interests of helping NASA and Science Magazine comply with US law, I am making copies of these papers freely available here"

Keith's 5 Nov update: PNAS has finally made this paper available to the public free of charge. Its just baffling how NASA is unable to coordinate this sort of thing in advance rather than after the fact. Now, will NASA make a point of letting people know that this paper is online?

Sun Emits Third Solar Flare in 2 Days

"Oct. 25, 2013 Another solar flare erupted from the same area of the sun on Oct. 25, 2013,which peaked at 11:03 a.m. EDT. This flare is classified as an X2.1 class. The sun emitted a significant solar flare, peaking at 4:01 a.m. EDT on Oct. 25, 2013. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth's atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however -- when intense enough -- they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel. This disrupts the radio signals for as long as the flare is ongoing, anywhere from minutes to hours."

- Space weather alerts on Twitter at @SpaceWeather

Stunning View From High Above Saturn

"This portrait looking down on Saturn and its rings was created from images obtained by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on Oct. 10, 2013. It was made by amateur image processor and Cassini fan Gordan Ugarkovic. This image has not been geometrically corrected for shifts in the spacecraft perspective and still has some camera artifacts."

Keith's note: The following is being sent out by the Kepler SciCon organizers:

"We have just learned that the efforts of NASA's Ames Research Center to ensure that our Chinese astronomer colleagues will be able to attend the Second Kepler Science Conference have been halted by the fact these approvals must be entered into a computer system at NASA HQ in Washington DC. Because of the ongoing federal government shutdown, there is no one at NASA HQ who can complete the approval process. Of course, if the federal shutdown continues much longer, the conference will not be able to begin as scheduled on November 3, 2013. We fear that the meeting may have to be cancelled as a result, or delayed. The ability of scientists to attend an open scientific meeting about the spectacular results produced by NASA's Kepler Space Telescope is another likely fatality of the failure of the U.S. Congress to enact a federal budget for FY2014. Alan Boss, SOC Co-Chair, KSC II"

Keith's note: As I understand the situation all of the final arrangements for this meeting - including the processing of all foreign visitors (not just Chinese) - can only happen if the government is open. If the government does not open in time then there's a chance that the meeting simply will not happen. And of course, Frank Wolf voted for the shutdown ...

- Confusion Over NASA's Policies That Ban Certain People, earlier post
- Frank Wolf Dumps on NASA For Doing What He Told Them To Do, earlier post
- Astronomers Dump on NASA About China When Congress Is To Blame, earlier post

Juno Earth Flyby Today

Juno Prepares For Earth Flyby on Wednesday

"The flyby will function as a gravity assist for Juno, with Earth's gravity accelerating the solar-powered spacecraft's velocity by 16,330 miles per hour. NASA launched Juno to an area just past Mars, then two main engine burns executed a year ago maneuvered it back around toward Earth. The purpose of using a gravity assist to get Juno on its way to Jupiter is one of cost."

- Flyby info, SwRI
- Earth Image from JunoCam

LADEE Makes LOI-2 Burn

Keith's note: According to someone at NASA: "LADEE just completed a successful firing of its main engine in the second lunar orbit insertion (LOI-2) burn! We are now in a 4 hour elliptic orbit, with the perilune at our commissioning altitude. This follows the LOI-1 burn on Oct 6 that first got us into lunar orbit. The accuracy of the LOI-1 burn was such that we did not need to do the LAM-1 (apolune) maneuver. The final of the three LOI burns is scheduled for October 12. This will settle us into the commissioning orbit."

LADEE Is Orbiting The Moon

Keith's note: According to someone at NASA: "Early this morning (October 6), we fired LADEE's main engine in a braking maneuver known as the Lunar Orbit Insertion (LOI) burn. This slowed the spacecraft's velocity enough for it to be captured by the Moon's gravity. This critical burn went flawlessly and LADEE is now in lunar orbit! Two more main engine burns, on October 9 and 12 will adjust LADEE's trajectory, settling it into its commissioning orbit."

LADEE Wikipedia Page

US scientists boycott Nasa conference over China ban, Guardian

"Nasa officials rejected applications from Chinese nationals who hoped to attend the meeting at the agency's Ames research centre in California next month citing a law, passed in March, which prohibits anyone from China setting foot in a Nasa building. The law is part of a broad and aggressive move initiated by congressman Frank Wolf, chair of the House appropriations committee, which has jurisdiction over Nasa. It aims to restrict the foreign nationals' access to Nasa facilities, ostensibly to counter espionage."

Keith's note: Some of the scientists who are quoted in this article with complaints about NASA have apparently been living under a rock for the past several years. Newsflash: It is utterly illegal for NASA to allow Chinese participation - in any way. Complaining about NASA's decision is simply ill-informed. Where were all these people when this law was being formulated - or when hearings were held on it? Dumping on NASA or boycotting this meeting is pointless - only Kepler will suffer. If a change in the law is what is needed then these people need to talk to Congress about that - starting with Rep Wolf.

Check H.R. 1473 (112th): Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011, Sec. 1340. (a) to see the sort of prohibitive language has been in place for several years. NASA's hands are tied.

- Second Kepler Science Conference - Nov. 4-8, 2013, NASA Ames
- Previous China postings

Keith's note: As NRAO lays everyone off and starts to go dark, it posted this really nice promotional video for the VLA narrated by Ellie Arroway aka Jodie Foster.

If you go to NRAO you get a shutdown notice: "Effective 7 p.m. EDT, Friday, 4 October 2013, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) temporarily suspended all operations because of the US Federal government shutdown."

US Antarctic research season is in jeopardy, Nature

"The National Science Foundation (NSF) is likely to cancel the US Antarctic programme's upcoming field season if the US government shutdown persists through mid-October -- jeopardizing hundreds of scientists' work in glaciology, ecology and astrophysics. The agency has kept its three Antarctic research stations open during the initial days of the shutdown, which began on 1 October, under rules designed to protect human lives and US government property. But Lockheed Martin, the contractor that runs the NSF's Antarctic operations, has told researchers that it will run out of money by mid-October."

Government Shutdown Mars Arecibo Anniversary, Space News

"Operations of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico are continuing for the moment despite the shutdown, observatory director Robert Kerr said at an Oct. 2 press conference here. He said the National Science Foundation, Arecibo's principal funder, authorized the observatory to spend what remaining funds it has on hand, although because the shutdown occurred at the beginning of the new fiscal year, there are few such funds available."

NASA's MAVEN's Mission Spared from Shutdown, Planetary Society

"In an increasingly rare display of sanity from Washington, NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) was declared "excepted" from the current government shutdown so preparations for its November launch could continue. Bruce Jakosky, the Principle Investigator for the MAVEN mission, shared the news."

Water for Future Mars Astronauts?, LANL

"Perhaps most notable among findings from the ChemCam team is that all of the dust and fine soil contains small amounts of water."

A Martian Igneous Rock That's Surprisingly Earth-like, Caltech

"But Curiosity is far more than a one-trick rover, and in a paper published today in the journal Science, a team of MSL scientists reports its analysis of a surprisingly Earth-like Martian rock that offers new insight into the history of Mars's interior and suggests parts of the red planet may be more like our own than we ever knew."

NASA paywalls first papers arising from Curiosity rover, I am setting them free, Michael EIsen

"The Mars Curiosity rover has been a huge boon for NASA - tapping into the public's fascination with space exploration and the search for life on other planets. Its landing was watched live by millions of people, and interest in the photos and videos it is collecting is so great, that NASA has had to relocate its servers to deal with the capacity. So what does NASA do to reward this outpouring of public interest (not to mention to $2.5 billion taxpayer dollars that made it possible)? They publish the first papers to arise from the project behind a Science magazine's paywall."

Keith's note: I am really baffled by this. I got this unsolicted email today from the JPL OIG. I had no idea that this SOFIA audit was going on. My reply (to PAO, OIG): "Thanks for thinking that I may have opinions relevant to your audit/investigation. But what I want to know (and, heads up,  I consider this to be newsworthy and hence publishable) is why are you using an official  NASA.gov email address to send me (media) wholly unsolicited email with threatening legal language attached with regard to disclosure of this unsolicited email? Again, thanks for thinking I might have useful commentary, but I do not like to have people in government positions send me news about a government activity - in an official capacity - and then dangle legal threats at the bottom of the very same email."

After I sent my response I got this "Xu, Tiffany L (0920-NASA) would like to recall the message, "NASA - Discussion regarding SOFIA"." Duh. I do not work at NASA so you can't "recall" anything. Then I got the same (original) email again. I do not care what legal language the OIG attached. The email was official, unsolicted, and sent again after an initial complaint.

Keith's 30 Sep note: Neither PAO or the OIG has responded to the comments I included when I forwarded all of this to them. I have to therefore assume that they have no issues with this process.

Here it is - maybe some of you have information on the value of/problems with SOFIA to provide to the JPL OIG:

Mr. Cowing, My name is Tiffany Xu and work for NASA Office of Inspector General out of our field office at JPL. Currently we are conducting the survey phase of an audit on the SOFIA project. Since SOFIA has had many delay of instrument deliverables, one of the question that we are be tasked to find out is how astronomical society feel towards SOFIA: is it still an observatory that the general community is excited about, is the project delivering what it has been promised, and is it still relevant considering the up and coming JWST.

We have noted the many articles you had written about NASA and we are interested in getting your feed on this project. Specifically, we are trying to determine

NASA Has A Plutonium Problem

NASA's Plutonium Problem Could End Deep-Space Exploration, Wired

"The country's scientific stockpile has dwindled to around 36 pounds. To put that in perspective, the battery that powers NASA's Curiosity rover, which is currently studying the surface of Mars, contains roughly 10 pounds of plutonium, and what's left has already been spoken for and then some. The implications for space exploration are dire: No more plutonium-238 means not exploring perhaps 99 percent of the solar system. In effect, much of NASA's $1.5 billion-a-year (and shrinking) planetary science program is running out of time. The nuclear crisis is so bad that affected researchers know it simply as "The Problem."

Vesta Atlas Released

Take a Virtual, High-Resolution Tour of Vesta, NASA

"An atlas of the giant asteroid Vesta, created from images taken as NASA's Dawn mission flew around the object (also known as a protoplanet), is now accessible for the public to explore online.

The set of maps was created from mosaics of 10,000 images taken by Dawn's framing camera instrument at a low altitude of about 130 miles (210 kilometers)."

Keith's 11 Sep 7:00 pm EDT note: Looks like NASA will admit on Thursday that Voyager 1 has indeed left our solar system, but that it did so more than a year ago. NASA prefers Yes/No answers i.e. has it or has it not crossed that imaginary dotted line that is in place around the edge of our solar system.

The press event will be at 2:00 pm EDT. NASA has still not sent out a media advisory.

What's sort of funny is how all of the science types go back and forth as to whether Voyager 1 has or has not crossed this imaginary line that marks the boundary of our solar system - when no one has never been to the place where that line is - and the line is based on things we expect to find - but we don't exactly know when/where that magic line crossing will actually happen (or have already happened).

What I want to know is when Voyager 1 becomes VGER. Just wondering.

Jonathan McDowell agrees and wants NASA to rename Voyager 1 as "VGER" now - i.e. "Voyager Grand Extrasolar Recon".

What say you?

- A Porous, Layered Heliopause,
- NASA Is Not Sure if Voyager 1 Has Left The Solar System, earlier post
- Is Voyager 1 in Interstellar Space? The Debate Continues, earlier post
- Has Voyager 1 Left The Solar System?, earlier post

Keith's 12 Sep 11:00 am EDT update: NASA PAO finally squeezed out a media advisory.

NASA News Conference Today To Discuss Voyager Spacecraft

"NASA will host a news conference today at 2 p.m. EDT (11 a.m. PDT), to discuss NASA's Voyager mission. It is related to a paper to be published in the journal Science, which is embargoed until 2 p.m. EDT."

Confirmed: NASA's Voyager 1 is Travelling in Interstellar Space, NASA

"New and unexpected data indicate Voyager 1 has been traveling for about one year through plasma, or ionized gas, present in the space between stars."

Keith's 3:10 pm EDT note: LADEE slipped into safe mode again yesterday morning when its star trackers experienced an alignment error. This error has been fixed and the spacecraft is expected to exit safe mode today and proceed normally with the mission.

Keith's 5:16 pm EDT update: I just got this baffling update from ARC PAO 4 hours after I asked for a statement (they have been sitting on this for 3 hours): "On Sept. 10 around 7 a.m. Pacific Time, the spacecraft went into safe mode due to an alignment error between the two star tracker camera heads affecting the rate estimator when the sun occludes one of the cameras. We corrected that and came out of safe mode this morning, Sept. 11, to resume normal operations. To keep the media and public informed about the spacecraft status, NASA will issue weekly Project Manager Updates written by Dr. Butler Hine. The incident that occurred Sept. 10 and was corrected Sept. 11 will be in the next Project Manager Update."

Why isn't @NASALADEE tweeting about this? It happened more than 24 hours ago. Why isn't the official NASA LADEE website being updated with this information? Why is NASA ARC PAO waiting for a "weekly project manager update" to release this information to the public? What else are they not releasing?

Keith's 7:29 pm EDT update: according to this tweet: @worden: After two not unexpected glitches since launch @NASALADEE just demonstrated main propulsion system.

Keith's 9:00 pm EDT update: @NASALADEE only tweeted about this news 36 hours after the fact. It must be so hard at NASA these days to find the right 140 characters ...

Lunar Orbiter Imagery Presented on NASA Ames Hyperwall 2, Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project

"Last week one of the images retrieved by the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) was presented on the NASA Ames Hyperwall visualization system. The image that was presented was a portion of the floor of crater Copernicus taken by Lunar Orbiter 5 on 11 August 1967. Specifically frame 5151_H1. FYI at the native resolution of this restored image and the resolution of the individual monitors used in this hyperwall, we'd need 50 - yes fifty - hyperwall 2 set ups to show this LOIRP image at its full resolution."

LADEE is Heading For The Moon with One Small Glitch (with video)

"NASA has confirmed that the reaction wheels of its Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) were successfully brought back on-line and the spacecraft has acquired its safe-mode attitude profile."

Mission updates will be carried on NASA TV. You can also track mission status by following @NASALADEE or at the mission website.

Space Laser: Testing an Interplanetary Internet from the Moon, OSTP

"Optical laser communications will enable a variety of robust future science and human exploration missions--providing a higher data rate, and delivering more accurate navigation capabilities with reduced size, weight, and power requirements. Someday, maybe, the Solar System will be peppered with a high-speed interplanetary communications network much like the wireless Web currently spinning here on Earth."

Female Astronauts Said To Face Discrimination Over NASA's Space Radiation Concerns, Huffington Post

"Depending on when you fly a space mission, a female will fly only 45 to 50 percent of the missions that a male can fly," Peggy Whitson, the former chief of NASA's Astronaut Corps, said. "That's a pretty confining limit in terms of opportunity. I know that they are scaling the risk to be the same, but the opportunities end up causing gender discrimination based on just the total number of options available for females to fly. [That's] my perspective."

Summary of Rules and Requirements, Google Lunar X Prize

"The competition's grand prize is worth $20 million. To provide an extra incentive for teams to work quickly, the grand prize value will change to $15 million whenever a government-funded mission successfully explores the lunar surface, currently projected to occur in 2013."

China sets course for lunar landing this year, CNN

"China set a bold new course in its ambitious space program Wednesday, when it announced plans to land its first probe on the moon by the end of the year."

- Google Lunar X Prize: Changing Rules - and Fewer Entrants?, earlier post
- Changes Coming to the Google Lunar X Prize, earlier post

Are We All Martians?

'We are all Martians': Chemist's otherworldly claim stirs debate, NBC

"Is Benner's story too kooky to believe? One thing's for sure: Benner is not a kook. He was one of the first chemists to voice skepticism about the claims for arsenic-based life, which stirred up such a fuss in 2010. ... This time, the wet-blanket role is filled by David Grinspoon, an astrobiologist from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Grinspoon, who's spending a year doing research at the Library of Congress, says that he's a "huge fan" of Benner's, but that his extraordinary claim isn't sufficiently supported by the evidence."

New Research Supports Theory That Life Started on Mars, Westheimer Institute for Science and Technology

Curiosity Rover Debuts Autonomous Navigation

"NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has used autonomous navigation for the first time, a capability that lets the rover decide for itself how to drive safely on Mars. The capability uses software that engineers adapted to this larger and more complex vehicle from a similar capability used by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, which is also currently active on Mars. Using autonomous navigation, or autonav, Curiosity can analyze images it takes during a drive to calculate a safe driving path. This enables it to proceed safely even beyond the area that the human rover drivers on Earth can evaluate ahead of time."

More Evidence of Water on the Moon

"NASA-funded lunar research has yielded evidence of water locked in mineral grains on the surface of the moon from an unknown source deep beneath the surface. Using data from NASA's Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) instrument aboard the Indian Space Research Organization's Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, scientists remotely detected magmatic water, or water that originates from deep within the moon's interior, on the surface of the moon."

The Importance of Lunar Water, Dennis Wingo, SpaceRef

"The argument of the Mars advocates are all based upon the results of missions to the red planet over the past few decades, this lunar advocate just wonders how much more we would have learned about the Moon if a similar number of missions had flown there. Mars is a destination of romance, the moon of utility. At the end of the day, utility will triumph as without the utility of the riches in resources that the Moon brings, there will be no romance on Mars."

- New research shows water present across the moon's surface - It turns out the moon is a lot wetter than we ever thought, earlier post
- Water on the Moon: It's Been There All Along, earlier post
- Water on the Moon and Earth Came From The Same Primitive Meteorites, earlier post

How to Watch the Launch of LADEE (with lots of images), Orbital

" ... Although the views are shown in daylight, the LADEE launch is scheduled to occur at approximately 11:27 PM EST. The views below give an indication of the direction where you should look to see the launch, along with nearby features. In addition, weather and local lighting conditions can and will have a large effect on what a viewer will see."

Keith's note: Luckily for me, I can walk across the street from my house in Reston, VA and look at an opening in the trees to the east and see nearly all of the launch.

Keith's note: NASA has lots of Twitter accounts and websites - more than any other Federal agency - by far. But as NASA PAO AA David Weaver recently said at a NASA Advisory Council EPO Subcommittee (and I paraphrase) "clearly quantity does not always equal quality". Virtually every NASA project, program, center - and mission - has at least one (sometimes more) Twitter account and website. In the case of Mars Science Laboratory NASA pays to maintain 3 (or 4 depending on how you count) websites for MSL - and they do not seem to think this is wasteful.

But what about the New Horizons mission to Pluto?

LADEE - Back to the Moon

LADEE - Going Back to the Moon [Watch], NASA

"A model of the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft is seen in the foreground during a LADEE mission briefing at NASA Headquarters, Thursday, August 22, 2013 in Washington."

Marc's note: While the debate continues on how many launches have taken place at Wallops, we do know that this is the first to the moon. And along with the adjacent Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport and Orbital launches from there, the Virginia space profile is increasing. You can follow the happenings in Virginia through our Twitter account Space Virginia.

First Earthrise Photo Taken 47 Years Ago Today

"47 Years ago today, on 23 August 1966, Lunar Orbiter 1 snapped the first photo of Earth as seen from lunar orbit. While a remarkable image at the time, the full resolution of the image was never retrieved from the data stored from the mission. In 2008, this earthrise image was restored by the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project. We obtained the original data tapes from the mission (the last surviving set) and restored original FR-900 tape drives to operational condition using both 60s era parts and modern electronics."

More information on the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project

NASA Releases New Imagery of Asteroid Mission [Watch], NASA

"NASA released Thursday new photos and video animations depicting the agency's planned mission to find, capture, redirect, and study a near-Earth asteroid. The images depict crew operations including the Orion spacecraft's trip to and rendezvous with the relocated asteroid, as well as astronauts maneuvering through a spacewalk to collect samples from the asteroid."

Marc's note: So while Congress refuses to fund the Asteroid Redirect Mission in the current budget process, NASA is pressing forward as if this mission is going to happen. You have to love their tenacity. However since Congress can't agree on a budget NASA is proceeding as it should under its existing mandate.

NASA Spacecraft Reactivated to Hunt for Asteroids, NASA

"A NASA spacecraft that discovered and characterized tens of thousands of asteroids throughout the solar system before being placed in hibernation will return to service for three more years starting in September, assisting the agency in its effort to identify the population of potentially hazardous near-Earth objects, as well as those suitable for asteroid exploration missions.

The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) will be revived next month with the goal of discovering and characterizing near-Earth objects (NEOs), space rocks that can be found orbiting within 45 million kilometers (28 million miles) from Earth's path around the sun. NASA anticipates WISE will use its 16-inch (40-centimeter) telescope and infrared cameras to discover about 150 previously unknown NEOs and characterize the size, albedo and thermal properties of about 2,000 others -- including some of which could be candidates for the agency's recently announced asteroid initiative."

NASA Asteroid Initiative Idea Synthesis Workshop, NASA

"The purpose of this conference is to publicly examine and synthesize highly rated responses to the NASA's Asteroid Initiative RFI. Findings will be developed and provided as inputs to NASA's planning activities.

Dates: (12 p.m. CDT) Monday, September 30, 2013-(5 p.m. CDT) Wednesday October 2, 2013

Address: Lunar and Planetary Institute, 3600 Bay Area Boulevard, Houston, TX 77058."

Crater Wargo

NASA Asks International Astronomical Union to Name Lunar Crater After Mike Wargo

"NASA is asking the International Astronomical Union to name a crater on the moon in his honor "so his name will be forever enshrined in the heavens."

- NASA Lunar Exploration Analysis Group Statement on the Passing of Dr. Michael Wargo, earlier post
- Mike Wargo, earlier post

NASA's mission improbable, Washington Post

"It is really an elegant bringing together of our exciting human spaceflight plan, scientific interest, being able to protect our planet, and utilizing the technology we had invested in and were already investing in," said Lori Garver, NASA deputy administrator. But the mission is viewed skeptically by many in the space community. At a July gathering of engineers and scientists at the National Academy of Sciences, veteran engineer Gentry Lee expressed doubt that the complicated elements of the mission could come together by 2021, and said the many uncertainties would boost the costs. "I'm trying very, very hard to look at the positive side of this, or what I would call the possible positive side," he said. "It's basically wishful thinking in a lot of ways - that there's a suitable target, that you can find it in time, that you can actually catch it if you go there and bring it back," said Al Harris, a retired NASA planetary scientist who specializes in asteroids. "Of course there's always luck. But how much money do you want to spend on a chance discovery that might have a very low probability?" said Mark Sykes, a planetary scientist who chairs a NASA advisory group on asteroids."

- Bolden's Confusing Asteroid Mission Rationale (Revised), earlier post
- Asteroid Redirect Mission Full-Court Press Continues, earlier post

NASA Ends Attempts to Fully Recover Kepler Spacecraft

"Following months of analysis and testing, the Kepler Space Telescope team is ending its attempts to restore the spacecraft to full working order, and now is considering what new science research it can carry out in its current condition.

Two of Kepler's four gyroscope-like reaction wheels, which are used to precisely point the spacecraft, have failed. The first was lost in July 2012, and the second in May. Engineers' efforts to restore at least one of the wheels have been unsuccessful.

Kepler completed its prime mission in November 2012 and began its four-year extended mission at that time. However, the spacecraft needs three functioning wheels to continue its search for Earth-sized exoplanets, which are planets outside our solar system, orbiting stars like our Sun in what's known as the habitable zone -- the range of distances from a star where the surface temperature of a planet might be suitable for liquid water. As scientists analyze previously collected data, the Kepler team also is looking into whether the space telescope can conduct a different type of science program, including an exoplanet search, using the remaining two good reaction wheels and thrusters."

Voyager 1 Has Left the Solar System, Says New Study, University of Maryland

"Voyager 1 appears to have at long last left our solar system and entered interstellar space, says a University of Maryland-led team of researchers. Carrying Earthly greetings on a gold plated phonograph record and still-operational scientific instruments - including the Low Energy Charged Particle detector designed, built and overseen, in part, by UMD's Space Physics Group - NASA's Voyager 1 has traveled farther from Earth than any other human-made object. And now, these researchers say, it has begun the first exploration of our galaxy beyond the Sun's influence."

NASA Statement on Competing Models to Explain Voyager 1 Data

"Other models envision the interstellar magnetic field draped around our solar bubble and predict that the direction of the interstellar magnetic field is different from the solar magnetic field inside. By that interpretation, Voyager 1 would still be inside our solar bubble. The fine-scale magnetic connection model will become part of the discussion among scientists as they try to reconcile what may be happening on a fine scale with what happens on a larger scale."

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Update: Swapping Motion-Sensing Units, NASA

"NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is switching from one motion-sensing device to a duplicate unit onboard.

... The spacecraft has two identical copies of this motion-sensing device, called IMU-1 and IMU-2. Either of them can be used with either of the spacecraft's redundant main computers. Each contains three gyroscopes and three accelerometers.

"The reason we're doing this is that one of the gyroscopes on IMU-1 is approaching its end of life, so we want to swap to our redundant unit early enough that we still have some useful life preserved in the first unit," said Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission Manager Reid Thomas of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif."

Marc's note: An apparent minor servicing for MRO which has been on-duty for seven years and appears to be still be going strong.

Suborbital Rocket Launches From NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, NASA

"A Terrier-Improved Malemute suborbital rocket carrying experiments developed by university students nationwide in the RockSat-X program was successfully launched at 6 a.m. EDT, August 13, from NASA's launch range at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia."

Easily Retrievable Objects among the NEO Population, arXiv.org

"Asteroids and comets are of strategic importance for science in an effort to understand the formation, evolution and composition of the Solar System. Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) are of particular interest because of their accessibility from Earth, but also because of their speculated wealth of material resources.

The exploitation of these resources has long been discussed as a means to lower the cost of future space endeavours. In this paper, we consider the currently known NEO population and define a family of so-called Easily Retrievable Objects (EROs), objects that can be transported from accessible heliocentric orbits into the Earth's neighbourhood at affordable costs.

... Despite the highly incomplete census of very small asteroids, the ERO catalogue can already be populated with 12 different objects retrievable with less than 500 m/s of {\Delta}v. Moreover, the approach proposed represents a robust search and ranking methodology for future retrieval candidates that can be automatically applied to the growing survey of NEOs."

NASA Notice of Intent to Release Mars 2020 Announcement of Opportunity

"NASA SMD intends to release an Announcement of Opportunity (AO) entitled Mars 2020 Investigations to solicit proposals for investigations for a space flight mission to Mars, to be launched in July/August 2020. The target date for release of the AO is no earlier than (NET) September 16, 2013. The SMD budget for Phases A-D is expected to be approximately $100 million in real year (RY) dollars. Investigations comprised of individual instruments or multiple instruments (suites) may respond to the overall Mars 2020 science objectives to explore and quantitatively assess Mars as a potential habitat for life, to search for signs of past life, and to collect carefully selected samples for possible future return to Earth. Proposals that address objectives for advancing knowledge or technologies for future robotic and/or human exploration of Mars will also be solicited."

- Mars Rover 2020 Science Definition Team Report, earlier post

Has CubeSats Time Come?

Can CubeSats do quality science? For one group, yes NewSpace Journal

"While interest in CubeSats--spacecraft as small as ten centimeters on a side and weighing one kilogram--has grown in recent years, one challenge facing the community of CubeSat developers is whether such spacecraft can perform useful missions, beyond education (many satellites are built by student groups) and technology development and demonstration. For one group at the University of Colorado, it appears that CubeSats can carry out research worthy of publication in scientific journals."

Europa Questions

If We Landed on Europa, What Would We Want to Know?, NASA

"Most of what scientists know of Jupiter's moon Europa they have gleaned from a dozen or so close flybys from NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1979 and NASA's Galileo spacecraft in the mid-to-late 1990s.

Even in these fleeting, paparazzi-like encounters, scientists have seen a fractured, ice-covered world with tantalizing signs of a liquid water ocean under its surface. Such an environment could potentially be a hospitable home for microbial life. But what if we got to land on Europa's surface and conduct something along the lines of a more in-depth interview? What would scientists ask? A new study in the journal Astrobiology authored by a NASA-appointed science definition team lays out their consensus on the most important questions to address."

Soliciting Community Input: Alternate Science Investigations for Kepler

"The purpose of this call for white papers is to solicit community input for alternate science investigations that may be performed using Kepler and are consistent with its probable two-wheel performance. Herein, we provide initial information as to the preliminary assessment of the pointing ability of the Kepler spacecraft using only two reaction wheels. In addition, we provide baseline information on the Kepler focal plane imaging CCD array (Kepler's only instrument) and give estimates of the photometric performance that may be possible in two-wheel mode."

A Year of Curiosity on Mars [Watch], NASA

"Curiosity Rover team members at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., re-live the dramatic Aug. 6, 2012 landing and the mission's achievements to date in an event aired on NASA Television and the agency's website."

Marc's note: In case you missed JPL's Curiosity birthday special today, here it is.

Mike Wargo

Keith's note: According the NLSI Twitter: "NASA's chief exploration scientist, Mike Wargo, passed away unexpectedly yesterday. We will miss his leadership and friendship enormously." I'll post more information as I receive it. Very sad - Mike was such a nice person and believed in space exploration in a very personal way.

NASA Lunar Exploration Analysis Group Statement on the Passing of Dr. Michael Wargo

"The Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG) on behalf of the broader lunar community wishes to expresses its deep shock and sadness at the news that Dr. Mike Wargo passed away unexpectedly over the weekend of August 3-4, 2013. Mike was the Executive Secretary of LEAG and championed the Moon at NASA HQ."

Orbits of Potentially Hazardous Asteroids, NASA

"This graphic shows the orbits of all the known Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs), numbering over 1,400 as of early 2013.

These are the asteroids considered hazardous because they are fairly large (at least 460 feet or 140 meters in size), and because they follow orbits that pass close to the Earth's orbit (within 4.7 million miles or 7.5 million kilometers). But being classified as a PHA does not mean that an asteroid will impact the Earth: None of these PHAs is a worrisome threat over the next hundred years. By continuing to observe and track these asteroids, their orbits can be refined and more precise predictions made of their future close approaches and impact probabilities."

Marc's note: On a lighter note, imagine Planetary Resources, DSI and others "cleaning" up near space by mining these.

Kepler Mission Manager Update: Pointing Test, NASA

"While both RW4 and RW2 have spun bi-directionally, friction levels remain higher than would be considered good for an operational wheel. However, it will be important to characterize the stability of the friction over time. A constant friction level may be correctable in the spacecraft's attitude control system, whereas a variable friction level will likely render the wheels unusable.

With the demonstration that both wheels will still move, and the measurement of their friction levels, the functional testing of the reaction wheels is now complete. The next step will be a system-level performance test to see if the wheels can adequately control spacecraft pointing.

... The team anticipates beginning the pointing performance testing on Thursday, August 8, 2013 and will continue into the following week if all goes well. A determination of whether Kepler can return to exoplanet data collection is expected a couple weeks after these pointing tests are complete."

NASA Curiosity Rover Approaches First Anniversary on Mars, NASA

"NASA's Curiosity rover will mark one year on Mars next week and has already achieved its main science goal of revealing ancient Mars could have supported life. The mobile laboratory also is guiding designs for future planetary missions.

... Curiosity team members at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.,will share remembrances about the dramatic landing night and the mission overall in an event that will air on NASA Television and the agency's website from10:45 a.m. to noon EDT (7:45 to 9 a.m. PDT) on Tuesday, Aug. 6.

Immediately following that program, from noon to 1:30 p.m., NASA TV will carry a live public event from NASA Headquarters in Washington. That event will feature NASA officials and crew members aboard the International Space Station as they observe the rover anniversary and discuss how its activities and other robotic projects are helping prepare for a human mission to Mars and an asteroid. Social media followers may submit questions on Twitter and Google+ in advance and during the event using the hashtag #askNASA."

Small Bodies Assessment Group FIndings

"While the SBAG committee finds that there is great scientific value in sample return missions from asteroids such as OSIRIS-Rex, ARRM has been defined as not being a science mission, nor is it a cost effective way to address science goals achievable through sample return. Candidate ARRM targets are limited and not well identified or characterized. Robotic sample return missions can return higher science value samples by selecting from a larger population of asteroids, and can be accomplished at significantly less cost (as evidenced by the OSIRIS-REx mission). Support of ARRM with planetary science resources is not appropriate."

NASA Completes First Internal Review of Concepts for Asteroid Redirect Mission, NASA

"In preparation for fiscal year 2014, a mission formulation review on Tuesday brought together NASA leaders from across the country to examine internal studies proposing multiple concepts and alternatives for each phase of the asteroid mission. The review assessed technical and programmatic aspects of the mission.

"At this meeting, we engaged in the critically important work of examining initial concepts to meet the goal of asteroid retrieval and exploration," said NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot, who chaired the review at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "The agency's science, technology and human exploration teams are working together to better understand near Earth asteroids, including ones potentially hazardous to our planet; demonstrate new technologies; and to send humans farther from home than ever before. I was extremely proud of the teams and the progress they have made so far. I look forward to integrating the inputs as we develop the mission concept further."

NASA Response to NASA Advisory Council Recommendations from April 2013 (Includes PDF), NASA

"Dear. Sr. Squyres:

Enclosed are NASA's responses to the nine recommendations from the NASA Advisory Council meeting held April 24-25, 2013, at NASA Headquarters. Please do not hesitate to contact me if the Council would like further background on the responses. I appreciate the Council's thoughtful consideration leading to the recommendations and welcome its continued findings, recommendations, and advice concerning the U.S. civil space program.

Charles F. Bolden, Jr. Administrator"

NASA X-ray Telescope Observes Planet Passing in Front of its Star for the First Time, NASA

"For the first time since exoplanets, or planets around stars other than the sun, were discovered almost 20 years ago, X-ray observations have detected an exoplanet passing in front of its parent star.

An advantageous alignment of a planet and its parent star in the system HD 189733, which is 63 light-years from Earth, enabled NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency's XMM Newton Observatory to observe a dip in X-ray intensity as the planet transited the star."

NASA Welcomes New Chief Scientist, NASA

"NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has named planetary geologist Ellen Stofan the agency's chief scientist, effective Aug. 25.

The appointment marks Stofan's return to NASA. From 1991 through 2000, she held a number of senior scientist positions at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., including chief scientist for NASA's New Millennium Program, deputy project scientist for the Magellan Mission to Venus, and experiment scientist for SIR-C, an instrument that provided radar images of Earth on two shuttle flights in 1994."

NASA and Korean Space Agency Discuss Space Cooperation, NASA

"NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and the president of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), Seung Jo Kim, met in Washington Monday to discuss collaboration in aeronautics research and space exploration, including KARI's robotic lunar mission and NASA's asteroid initiative.

Bolden and Kim also discussed NASA's plans for a new asteroid initiative, previously announced in President Obama's fiscal year 2014 budget proposal. Kim welcomed the chance to discuss opportunities for collaboration."

NASA Advisory Council Science Committee Meeting 29-31 Jul 2013, NASA

"The meeting will be open to the public up to the capacity of the room. This meeting is also available telephonically and by WebEx."

--Subcommittee Reports
--Program Status
--2013 Science Plan

IRIS First Light

New NASA Telescope Offers a First Glimpse of the Sun's Mysterious Atmosphere [Watch], NASA

"NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) spacecraft has captured its first observations of a region of the sun that is now possible to observe in detail: the lowest layers of the sun's atmosphere.

The first images from IRIS show the solar interface region in unprecedented detail. They reveal dynamic magnetic structures and flows of material in the sun's atmosphere and hint at tremendous amounts of energy transfer through this little-understood region. These features may help power the sun's dynamic million-degree atmosphere and drive the solar wind that streams out to fill the entire solar system.

"With this grand opening of the telescope door and first observations from IRIS we've opened a new window into the energetics of the sun's atmosphere," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The mission is a great example of a successful partnership for science between government, industry, academia, and international institutions. We look forward to the new insights IRIS will provide."

NASA Discusses First IRIS Solar Images in Media Teleconference, NASA

"NASA will host a media teleconference at 1 p.m. EDT today to present the first images from NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS), which was launched June 27 on a mission to study the sun."

The panelists for the briefing are:

-- John Grunsfeld, associate administrator, Science Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters, Washington
-- S. Pete Worden, director, NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
-- Alan Title, IRIS principal investigator, Lockheed Martin's Advanced Technology Center, Palo Alto, Calif.
-- Gary Kushner, IRIS project manager, Lockheed Martin's Advanced Technology Center, Palo Alto, Calif.
-- Bart DePontieu, IRIS science lead, Lockheed Martin's Advanced Technology Center, Palo Alto, Calif.

- Supporting information will be available online just before the briefing at: http://www.nasa.gov/sunearth

- You can listen to audio here.


Hubble Finds New Moon Orbiting Neptune, NASA

"NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has discovered a new moon orbiting the distant blue-green planet Neptune, the 14th known to be circling the giant planet.

The moon, designated S/2004 N 1, is estimated to be no more than 12 miles across, making it the smallest known moon in the Neptunian system. It is so small and dim that it is roughly 100 million times fainter than the faintest star that can be seen with the naked eye. It even escaped detection by NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft, which flew past Neptune in 1989 and surveyed the planet's system of moons and rings."

Hubble Spots Blue Planet [With Video], NASA/ESA/STSCI

"Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have, for the first time, determined the true color of a planet orbiting another star. If seen up close this planet, known as HD 189733b, would be a deep cobalt blue, reminiscent of Earth's color as seen from space.

But that's where the similarities end. This "deep blue dot" is a huge gas giant orbiting very close to its host star. The planet's atmosphere is scorching with a temperature of over 1000 degrees Celsius, and it rains glass, sideways, in howling 7000 kilometre-per-hour winds."

NASA Satellite Provides First View of the Solar System's Tail [Watch], NASA

"Like a comet, the solar system has a tail. NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) has for the first time mapped out the structure of this tail, which is shaped like a four-leaf clover. Scientists describe the tail, called the heliotail, based on the first three years of IBEX imagery in a paper published in the July 10 edition of the Astrophysical Journal."


Science Team Outlines Goals for NASA's 2020 Mars Rover, NASA

- Report of the Mars 2020 Science Definition Team (PDF), NASA

- Appendices (PDF)

- Audio of today's teleconference (MP3)

"The Mars 2020 Science Definition Team (SDT) has outlined a mission concept for a science-focused, highly mobile rover to explore and investigate in detail a site on Mars that likely was once habitable. The SDT-preferred mission concept employs new in situ scientific instrumentation in order to seek signs of past life (had it been there), select and store a compelling suite of samples in a returnable cache, and demonstrate technology for future robotic and human exploration of Mars. The mission concept fully addresses the requirements specified by NASA in the SDT charter while also ensuring alignment with the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences Decadal Survey for Planetary Science (Visions and Voyages, 2011).

Key features of the integrated science mission concept include:
- Broad and rigorous in situ science, including seeking biosignatures
- Acquiring a diverse set of samples intended to address a range of Mars science questions and storing them in a cache for potential return to Earth at a later time
- Improved landing technology to allow unprecedented access to scientifically compelling geological sites
- Collection of critical data needed to plan for eventual human missions to the martian surface
- Maximizing engineering heritage from NASA's successful Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission to constrain costs
"

NASA Discusses Mars 2020 Plans in July 9 Teleconference, NASA

"NASA will host a media teleconference at 3 p.m. EDT Tuesday, July 9 to provide details about a report that will help define science objectives for the agency's next Mars rover.

The report, prepared by the Mars 2020 Science Definition Team (SDT) NASA appointed in January, is an early, crucial step in developing the mission and the rover's prime science objectives."

NASA Hosts July 10 Online Media Briefing on Solar System Finding, NASA

"NASA will host its first Google+ Hangout news briefing at 1 p.m. EDT Wednesday, July 10, on a new finding from the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) mission.

The briefing will be shown live on YouTube, NASA Television and the agency's website. Journalists may participate in the briefing and ask questions by phone by contacting Steve Cole at 202-358-0918 or stephen.e.cole@nasa.gov with their affiliation by 10 a.m. July 10."

Marc's note: I'm all for holding a news briefing by Google+ Hangout but why not allow questions using the Hangout features?

NASA OIG: NASA's Efforts to Maximize Research on the International Space Station,

"The OIG found that although NASA has made progress towards maximizing the research capabilities of the ISS, opportunities exist for increased utilization. NASA uses three main data points to assess utilization of ISS research capabilities: average weekly crew time dedicated to research activities, number of investigations, and use of allocated space for research. While no one measure provides a complete picture of the utilization rate, NASA has generally increased the level of activity for each metric since completion of ISS assembly in 2011.

Further progress in maximizing Station research capabilities largely hinges on two factors: the ability of CASIS to attract sufficient interest and funding from private users and the availability of reliable transportation to and from the Station for crew and cargo."

Significant Titan Flyby Happening on July 10th, NASA

"For the Radar instrument, one of the most significant Titan fly-bys of the extended Solstice mission occurs July 10. Measurements from this flyby, combined with data from the previous flyby, will allow scientists to produce stereo images of lakes.

Inbound, the imaging science subsystem (ISS) will acquire a mosaic of high northern latitudes on Titan's leading hemisphere, approaching northern summer. This area of Titan's surface has only recently been well observed and each new flyby adds significantly to our data set."

Some Hope for Kepler

Kepler Mission Manager Update: Preparing for Recovery, NASA

"The engineering team has devised initial tests for the recovery attempt and is checking them on the spacecraft test bed at the Ball Aerospace facility in Boulder, Colo. The team anticipates that exploratory commanding of Kepler's reaction wheels will commence mid-to-late July. The Kepler spacecraft will remain in PRS until and during the tests.

Later this month, an update to the data processing pipeline software will be deployed. Called SOC 9.1, this enhancement has been underway for several months and is in the final stages of verification and validation. This software release provides additional refinements to better tease out small planet signatures from the four years of Kepler data. It will also decrease the frequency of false positives."

Related: NASA To Attempt To Revive Stricken Kepler Telescope in July, Space News

"I think the general feeling is that the odds are not good. We might see a wheel spin, but I suspect that it will not spin freely, that there will be noise on it -- vibrations -- which would not make the science happy," Charlie Sobeck, deputy project manager at NASA's Ames Research Center, told SpaceNews."

Marc's note: According to the Space News article they will work on wheel 4 first and then 2. Let's hope they beat the odds and some remote engineering does the trick.

Comet ISON Brings Holiday Fireworks [Watch], NASA

"This July Fourth, the solar system is showing off some fireworks of its own. Superficially resembling a skyrocket, comet ISON is hurtling toward the sun presently at a whopping 48,000 mph.

Its swift motion is captured in this time-lapse movie made from a sequence of pictures taken May 8, 2013, by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. At the time the images were taken, the comet was 403 million miles from Earth, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
The movie shows a sequence of Hubble observations taken over a 43-minute span and compresses this into just five seconds. The comet travels 34,000 miles in this brief video, or 7 percent of the distance between Earth and the moon. The deep-space visitor streaks silently against the background stars.
"

Space Station Changes its Position for Solar Science, NASA

"The sun lightens our world and enlightens our scientists as they look to our closest star for a better understanding of solar activity and what it means for our planet. Unique data from solar studies help researchers build on their knowledge of the Earth's atmosphere and climate change. June 30 marked the second time the International Space Station literally went out of its way to accommodate this research by providing a better viewing opportunity to meet Solar facility science objectives."

NASA Decommissions Its Galaxy Hunter Spacecraft, NASA JPL

"NASA has turned off its Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) after a decade of operations in which the venerable space telescope used its ultraviolet vision to study hundreds of millions of galaxies across 10 billion years of cosmic time.

"GALEX is a remarkable accomplishment," said Jeff Hayes, NASA's GALEX program executive in Washington. "This small Explorer mission has mapped and studied galaxies in the ultraviolet, light we cannot see with our own eyes, across most of the sky."

UPDATE: Here's a couple of images released yesterday.

- NGC 4565 Galaxy's Pencil-Thin Profile
- NGC 6744 Big Brother to the Milky Way

Voyagers in the Heliosheath [Download Larger Version], NASA

"This artist's concept shows NASA's two Voyager spacecraft exploring a turbulent region of space known as the heliosheath, the outer shell of the bubble of charged particles around our sun. After more than 35 years of travel, the two Voyager spacecraft will soon reach interstellar space, which is the space between stars."


NASA Launches Satellite to Study How Sun's Atmosphere is Energized [Watch],NASA

The IRIS launch was successful after a 13-minute ride into orbit aboard a Pegasus XL rocket. The launch was at 7:27:44 p.m. PDT. Although there were a few tense moments at launch time with the fins, the problem was quickly resolved. A loss signal due to a problem on the DC 8 plane was also experienced but NASA's in orbit TDRS satellite picked up telemetry and commands were sent to IRIS successful. At this time everything looks nominal.

"NASA Launch Manager Tim Dunn reports that the mission team has made initial contact with the IRIS spacecraft through the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System and received good data in return. The telescope is right on track and its solar arrays are deploying. "We've got a very happy spacecraft on orbit and a thrilled launch team on the ground," Dunn said."

NASA's IRIS mission will focus a precise telescope on the sun to find out how energy moves and changes from the surface to the corona.

NASA Google+ Hangout Answering Questions about the Asteroid RFI [Watch], NASA

"NASA invites all interested parties to participate in a Google+ Hangout on June 27 at 2 p.m. EDT. During the session, NASA experts will answer your questions about the recently released Asteroid Initiative Request for Information (RFI)."


NASA's Voyager 1 Explores Final Frontier of Our 'Solar Bubble', NASA JPL

"Data from Voyager 1, now more than 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers) from the sun, suggest the spacecraft is closer to becoming the first human-made object to reach interstellar space."

Related (Previous):
- Voyager 1 Has Left Our Solar System
- Has Voyager 1 Left The Solar System?

Bacteria Sent Into Space Behave in Mysterious Ways, NASA

"Colonies of bacteria grown aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis behaved in ways never before observed on Earth, according to a new NASA-funded study from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York. Recent findings provide important evidence of spaceflight's effect on the behavior of bacterial communities, and represent a key step toward understanding and mitigating the risk these bacteria may pose to astronauts during long-term space missions.

The research team, led by Rensselaer faculty member Cynthia Collins, sent the experiment into orbit aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis missions STS-132 on May 16, 2010 and STS-135 on July 8, 2011. Samples of the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa were cultured for three days in artificial urine. The space-grown communities of bacteria, called biofilms, formed a "column-and-canopy" structure not previously observed on Earth. Additionally, biofilms grown during spaceflight had a greater number of live cells, more biomass, and were thicker than control biofilms grown under normal gravity conditions."

3D Systems and Planetary Resources Announce Investment and Collaboration, SpaceRef Business

"3D Systems and Planetary Resources, Inc. today announced that 3D Systems has joined Planetary Resources' core group of investors and will be a collaborative partner in assisting Planetary Resources to develop and manufacture components of its ARKYD Series of spacecraft using its advanced 3D printing and digital manufacturing solutions."

"We are excited to work very closely with Planetary Resources' engineering team to use advanced 3D printing and manufacturing technologies to increase functionality while decreasing the cost of their ARKYD spacecraft," said Avi Reichental, Chief Executive Officer, 3D Systems. "In success, we will create the smartphone of spacecraft and transform what has been an old-style, labor-intensive process, into something very scalable and affordable that will democratize access to space, the data collected from space and off-Earth resources for scientists and the public. We are delighted to join the Planetary Resources team."

Marc's note: This is a good news for Planetary Resources. They get an undisclosed investment and collaboration with an industry leader.

Space Station Live: Women in Science and Spaceflight [Watch], NASA

"Dr. Camille Wardrop Alleyne, Assistant ISS Program Scientist, joins NASA Public Affairs Officer Josh Byerly in the International Space Station Flight Control Room for a discussion of women in science and spaceflight. Alleyne also provides an overview of some of her favorite experiments taking place aboard the orbiting laboratory."


The Heliophysics System Observatory [Large version]

"This image shows the Heliophysics System Observatory (HSO). The HSO utilizes the entire fleet of solar, heliospheric, geospace, and planetary spacecraft as a distributed observatory to discover the larger scale and/or coupled processes at work throughout the complex system that makes up our space environment."

Marc's note: This image was released as part of the IRIS science briefing today. All the briefing material can be accessed here.

Launch Update: Due to a power outage at the 30th Space Wing the IRIS mission is delayed 24 hours to 7:27 p.m. PDT Thursday, June 27. (Corrected)

UPDATE: IRIS Mission and Science Briefings [Watch]


Ten Thousandth Near-Earth Object Unearthed in Space [Watch], NASA JPL

"More than 10,000 asteroids and comets that can pass near Earth have now been discovered. The 10,000th near-Earth object, asteroid 2013 MZ5, was first detected on the night of June 18, 2013, by the Pan-STARRS-1 telescope, located on the 10,000-foot (convert) summit of the Haleakala crater on Maui. Managed by the University of Hawaii, the PanSTARRS survey receives NASA funding."

NASA and Italian Space Agency Sign Agreement on Exploration of Mercury, NASA

"At a meeting in Rome Thursday, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Italian Space Agency (ASI) President Enrico Saggese signed a Memorandum of Understanding for cooperation on the European Space Agency- (ESA) led BepiColombo mission to Mercury, strengthening mutually beneficial cooperation between NASA and ASI in planetary exploration."


Billion-Pixel View of Mars Comes From Curiosity Rover, NASA JPL

"A billion-pixel view from the surface of Mars, from NASA's Mars rover Curiosity, offers armchair explorers a way to examine one part of the Red Planet in great detail.

The first NASA-produced view from the surface of Mars larger than one billion pixels stitches together nearly 900 exposures taken by cameras onboard Curiosity and shows details of the landscape along the rover's route."

Marc's update: It seems folks at JSC can't access NASA's own the Billion-Pixel View of Mars web page due to an automated program which has deemed the page "non-job related" viewing and is blocking access to. Now there's an algorithm that needs updating.


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