Recently in Space & Planetary Science Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cassini Completes Final and Fateful Titan Flyby

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

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

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

Breakthrough Initiatives Summit on Life in the Universe and Space Exploration

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Insights into Ocean Worlds Enceladus and Europa

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

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

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

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

NASA News Conference on Oceans Beyond Earth, NASA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NASA Planetary Science Vision 2050 Workshop

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

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

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

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

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

NASA to Host News Conference on Discovery Beyond Our Solar System

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Juno Mission to Remain in Current Orbit at Jupiter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Real Origin Of Some Notable Pluto Nomenclature, earlier post

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

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

NASA Cancels Space Act Agreement With B612 Foundation, earlier post

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

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

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

NASA to Hold Media Call for Discovery Program Announcement

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

Streaming audio of the briefing will be available on this page:

NASA Selects Two Missions to Explore the Early Solar System

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Schiaparelli Impact Site on Mars Viewed From Orbit

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

Making 3D Images With Hubble and Webb Space Telescopes

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

Schiaparelli Crash Site Located From Orbit

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

Juno Enters Safe Mode And Then Regains Normal Operations

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

Engine Problems Delay Juno Engine Burn at Jupiter, SpaceRef

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

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

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

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

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

Green Bank Observatory Inaugurated

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

Looking for Schiaparelli At Wharton Ridge

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

Taking In The View From Wharton Ridge, earlier post

Upcoming Space News

China to launch manned space mission Shenzhou 11 on Monday

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

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

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

Antares OA-5 Launch Delayed to October 17, 2016

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

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

More Problems For Arecibo

Arecibo Observatory hit with discrimination lawsuit, Nature

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

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

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

Taking In The View From Wharton Ridge, SpaceRef

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

NASA rethinks approach to Mars exploration, Nature

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

Thomas Zurbuchen Named Head of NASA Science Mission Directorate, NASA

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

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

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

Water Plumes on Europa

Evidence of Water Vapor Plumes on Europa, NASA

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

Tectonics on Mercury

Mercury is Tectonically Active, NASA

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

NASA Likes LISA Again

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

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

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

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

United Launch Alliance Successfully Launches OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft for NASA

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

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

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

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

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

Inclusive Astronomy

American Astronomical Society Endorses Vision Statement for Inclusive Astronomy, AAS

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

NASA Viking at 40 Symposium Lectures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Image Of Jovian System Before Juno Arrives

Juno Is Orbiting Jupiter, NASA

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

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

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

Fireworks Juno Style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asteroid Named for Nobel Prize Winner Malala Yousafzai, NASA

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

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

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

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

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

Billionaire technologist accuses NASA asteroid mission of bad statistics, Science

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

Repurposed NEOWISE Spacecraft Observes and Discovers Asteroids, earlier post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NASA to Announce Latest Kepler Discoveries During Media Teleconference

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

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

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

Associate Administrator, Science Mission Directorate

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

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

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

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

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

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

NASA cuts funds for Mars landing technology work, SpaceNews

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

Modified NASA/SpaceX Space Act Agreement

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

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

John Newcomb

NASA Langley Engineer and Author John Newcomb Dies

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

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

NASA Targets May 2018 Launch of Mars InSight Mission

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

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

NASA Mars woes could delay other planetary missions, Nature

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gravitational Waves Detected

Gravitational Waves Detected, NSF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ESA and Arianespace Sign James Webb Space Telescope Launch Contract

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

Lockheed Martin Delivers NASA's InSight Spacecraft to Launch Site

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

Mars InSight Spacecraft Shipped to California for March Launch, NASA

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

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

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

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

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

Brine Deposits Are The Source of Ceres' Bright Spots

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

Japan's Akatsuki Is Orbiting Venus

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

A New View of Prometheus

Close Up View of Prometheus

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

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

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

Mountaineering on Pluto

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

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

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

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

NASA Mars mission suffers problem with key instrument, Nature

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

Hawaiian court revokes permit for planned mega-telescope, Nature

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

Thirty Meter Telescope Selects Mauna Kea, earlier post

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saving Arecibo - From Itself

Arecibo observatory director quits after funding row, Nature

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

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

More Strange Things On and Around Pluto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MAVEN Reveals Speed of Solar Wind Stripping Martian Atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blocking Good News From New Horizons, earlier post

Barnstorming Enceladus

Closest Northern Views of Saturn's Moon Enceladus, NASA

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

New Closeup Images of Enceladus, NASA

Lakes on Mars

Curiosity Rover Team Confirms Ancient Lakes on Mars

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

Powerboats on Mars, earlier post (1998)

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

Blue Skies and Water Ice on Pluto, NASA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NASA Selects Investigations for Future Key Planetary Mission

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

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

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

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

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

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

NASA Cancels Space Act Agreement With B612 Foundation, earlier post

NASA Terminates Space Act Agreement with B612 Foundation for Sentinel Spacecraft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yesterday the Planetary Society posted an article on the Mars water news which included this gem: "This is one of many reasons I'm glad that The Planetary Society is advocating an orbit-first approach to human exploration. If we keep our filthy meatbag bodies in space and tele-operate sterile robots on the surface, we'll avoid irreversible contamination of Mars -- and obfuscation of the answer to the question of whether we're alone in the solar system -- for a little while longer. Maybe just long enough for robots to taste Martian water or discover Martian life."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spectral evidence for hydrated salts in recurring slope lineae on Mars

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

Delirious Rover Hallucinates Water On Mars, The Onion

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

NASA to Announce Mars Mystery Solved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hinners Point Above Floor of Marathon Valley on Mars

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

Noel Hinners, earlier post

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

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

Kickstarter Success for Xtronaut Game Supports Space-Science Outreach Programs

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

Kickstarter campaign

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

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

Second Horizon, Space Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hearing on Pluto Flyby

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

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

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

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

Nightside Image Reveals Pluto's Hazy Skies

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

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

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

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

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

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

NASA Media Teleconference to Announce Latest Kepler Discoveries

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

Press briefing graphics

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

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

Kepler Discovers Bigger, Older Cousin to Earth, NASA

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

Deep Space Climate Observatory Captures EPIC Earth Image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- New Horizons Reveals Pluto's Extended Atmosphere

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

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

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

New Horizons Phones Home Safe after Pluto Flyby

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

Pluto and Charon Shine in False Color, SpaceRef

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

New Spectacular Pluto Image Released, SpaceRef

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

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

Message from NASA Administrator: Reaching Pluto With New Horizons

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

Three-Billion-Mile Journey to Pluto

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

Charon Emerges

New Image Shows Charon's Chasms and Craters

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

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

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

Pluto Comes Into Focus

Houston, We Have Geology

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

Latest Images of Pluto from New Horizons

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

New Horizons Spacecraft In Safe Mode

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

New Horizons Plans July 7 Return to Normal Science Operations

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

NASA Media Call: New Horizons Mission Plans Following Spacecraft Anomaly

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

Color Images Reveal Two Distinct Faces of Pluto, NASA

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

New Horizons Stays the Course to Pluto, NASA

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

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

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

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

QR Codes on Ceres?

New Images of Ceres

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

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

Hubble Finds Two Chaotically Tumbling Pluto Moons

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

- News briefing materials

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

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

Report Released: The Humans to Mars Report 2015

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

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

Hubble at 25: The Documentary, Memories and Social

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public Asked to Help Name Features on Pluto, SETI Institute

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

NASA Extends Campaign for Public to Name Features on Pluto

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

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

MESSENGER's Operations at Mercury Extended

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

Earth-like Tatooines From Star Wars May Be Common

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

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

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

Statement by John Grunsfeld, NASA

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

Statement by Cristina Chaplain, GAO

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

- Hearing Charter

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

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

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

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

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

MMS Flock Leaves Earth

Magnetospheric Multiscale Spacecraft Launched

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

Throwing Shade on Mars One

Mars Missions Are A Scam, BuzzFeed

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

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

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

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

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

Getting Closer to Ceres

Dawn Captures Sharper Images of Ceres

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

Keith's note: Larger screen grab

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

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

NASA TV Coverage Set for NOAA DSCOVR Launch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asteroid Abduction

The Space Program - A Modest Proposal, Paul Spudis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beagle 2 Lander Found on Mars

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

Some Advice For Congress



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