Space & Planetary Science: March 2006 Archives

NASA Space Science Continues To Be at Risk

"Even more serious are the cuts and money transfers going on right now in the 2006 budget from science to human spaceflight. Unfortunately, even if Congress were to increase funding for NASA science, such funding could be quickly lost. Administrator Griffin already has said that science will be used to cover funding shortages for the "higher-priority" expenses associated with human spaceflight such as the shuttle and its replacement. Barring specific direction from Congress forbidding NASA to make such transfers, the prospect for NASA space science is grim."

Dawn Revived

NASA Announces Final Dawn Decision Today

"NASA will host a media telecon at 2:30 p.m. EST today to discuss results of the committee reviewing the decision to terminate the DAWN mission."''

Editor's 11:00 am EST update: NASA Watch has learned that NASA will restart the Dawn mission.

NASA Reinstates the Dawn Mission

"NASA senior management announced a decision Monday to reinstate the Dawn mission, a robotic exploration of two major asteroids. Dawn had been canceled because of technical problems and cost overruns."

"We revisited a number of technical and financial challenges and the work being done to address them," said NASA Associate Administrator Rex Geveden, who chaired the review panel. "Our review determined the project team has made substantive progress on many of this mission's technical issues, and, in the end, we have confidence the mission will succeed."

Letter from NASA Associate Administrator Rex Geveden to JPL Director Regarding Dawn Cancellation Reclama (PDF)

Editor's note: Then why was Dawn cancelled in the first place, Rex? And why was it cancelled with so many people left out of the loop including international participants? This doesn't say much for the veracity or consistency of the process whereby NASA evaluates its various projects these days.

First MRO Images

First Mars Image from Newly Arrived Camera on NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

Detail of First Mars Image from Newly Arrived Camera on NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

"This view shows a full-resolution portion of the first image of Mars taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera (HiRISE) on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The spacecraft, launched Aug. 12, 2005, began orbiting Mars on March 10, 2006. The image is of an area in Mars' mid-latitude southern highlands."

Editor's 24 Mar update: Sources now report that Mars Odyssey is out of safe mode, with the spacecraft behaving nominally. Apparently, the trigger was something in the attitude control system that caused a similar event last year; the ultimate cause is still being worked out.

Editor's 23 Mar note: Word has it that Mars Odyssey went into safe mode on March 22, 2006 at approximately 7:30 UTC. Stay tuned.

Editor's update: multiple sources note that NASA HQ has decided - that there won't be a decision about Dawn's fate - Today.

Editor's note: This afternoon the decision about the Dawn will be made at NASA HQ. The meeting is taking place right now with several hours to go. The review board consists of Rex Geveden, Chris Scolese, Bryan O'Connor and Scott Pace.


15 min - Introduction
60 min - Discussion of IAT findings
60 min - Cost/schedule presentation
45 min - Discussion/Decision

Mimas and Saturn's Limb, Saturn Today

"This image was taken on March 21, 2006 and received on Earth March 22, 2006. The camera was pointing toward Mimas at approximately 190,524 kilometers away, and the image was taken using the CL1 and CL2 filters."

Many more stunning images such as this are online at Saturn Today.

A Tale of Two Comets - NASA's Stardust Samples Amaze Researchers, as Mothership is Eyed for Recon at Deep Impact Site, Aviation Week & Space Technology

"In a dramatic bid to maximize the utilization of existing, low- cost planetary spacecraft, researchers want to divert the NASA/Lockheed Martin Stardust comet-sample-return mothership to intercept and image a second comet, blasted open last July 4 by the Deep Impact mission. Stardust is about 20 million mi. behind the Earth in a solar orbit that earlier enabled it to collect samples from the comet Wild 2."

Editor's 20 Mar update: I got a note from the folks: "The solicitation was not intentionally posted without copy capability. That function is now available. Thank you for bringing the issue to our attention."

Editor's 18 Mar note: On 22 February 2006 NASA JSC published a presolicitation notice Ground-based Studies in Radiation Biology stating that the NRA would be available "on or about March 7, 2006 by opening the NASA Research Opportunities homepage at"

A week late, on 15 March 2006, NASA issued a new Ground Based Studies in Radiation Biology.

Science Cuts Continue

Jonathan's Space Report No. 562 2006 Mar 17

"The recent cuts to NASA's astrophysics program are ill-advised and unfair to the hard-working scientists who dedicate their lives to these missions. But until we astronomers get our own house in order again, it's going to be hard to convince Mike Griffin and Mary Cleave (the NASA boss and head of science, respectively) that we deserve different treatment."

NASA HQ Solicitation: Lesson Learned Workshop for PI-Led Planetary Science Missions

"NASA Headquarters will conduct a Lessons Learned Workshop for PI-Led Planetary Science Missions in anticipation of the upcoming Mars Scout Announcement of Opportunity (AO). The Workshop is jointly sponsored by the Mars Scout, Discovery, and New Frontiers programs in the Planetary Science Division of the Science Mission Directorate."

NASA Chief Backs Agency Openness, NY Times

"In October, for example, George Deutsch, a presidential appointee in NASA headquarters, told a Web designer working for the agency to add the word "theory" after every mention of the Big Bang, according to an e-mail message from Mr. Deutsch that another NASA employee forwarded to The Times."

New Images Support 'Big Bang' Theory, Washington Post

Editor's note: Looks like George Deutsch got people to use the word "theory" after "Big Bang" after all.

Space Science: A Space Race to the Bottom Line, Science (subscription)

"... last week, two dozen senior researchers met in a windowless Washington, D.C., conference room to try to avert what some fear could turn into a civil war among earth and space science disciplines scrambling for science's decreasing share of the space agency's budget."

Space Science: Bumpy Ride for Data-Driven NASA Chief, Science (subscription)

"Under fire, Griffin's refreshing forthrightness can come across as political insensitivity. He dismisses the community's outcry as "a hysterical reaction, a reaction out of all proportion to the damage being done." But those words are likely to antagonize rather than assuage science advocates. Griffin is famous for responding rapidly to e-mails; he carries his Blackberry everywhere. Yet he's uncomfortable with the face-to-face socializing and back scratching that his predecessors practiced so adroitly. "You have to form relationships, not just send an e-mail," says one who has worked closely with him. Although Griffin responds rapidly, adds another, "his impatience often shows."

Dawn's Last Chance?

LPSC: The natives are restless, Nature News Blog

"Gerhard Neukum ... railed against the decision to defer the Dawn mission to Ceres and Vesta, the two largest asteroids, saying NASA had reneged on international agreements without any consultation of its European partners. "This is not the way NASA should treat these things if you want continued international cooperation," he said. "Things are really degrading in terms of cooperation, and I'm not the only one who feels that way." Huge applause from the room."

NASA reviews canceled asteroid mission, AP

"NASA's unusual step to review Dawn's termination came after the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, which manages the mission, presented new evidence, the space agency said in a statement. It's the first time in recent memory that a NASA center has challenged a headquarters decision on a canceled mission, said NASA spokeswoman Erica Hupp."

Previous NASA Watch posts:

- A Stay of Execution for Dawn?
- Congress Hears About Dawn Mission Cancellation
- Dawn Mission Cancelled

LPSC: The natives are restless, Nature News Blog

"This comes up again in the meeting, with Cleave countering that astrobiology was not being killed, "just slowed down." An audience member disagrees, saying that it is the biggest threat to their science in a generation. Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society stood up to announce that they were launching a 'Save Our Science' campaign. At one point, Cleave became so frustrated she said, "I don't understand why you're so angry." The response was gales of bitter laughter."

Scientists sound off on NASA budget, Astronomy

"[Glenn] MacPherson said NASA's new organizational structure left him feeling more isolated from the planning process, adding there was a "science vacuum" on the top floor of NASA headquarters in Washington. Both laughter and applause followed.

"I don't understand why you're so angry. We really care about this program," said Cleave."

"In response to your recent email about SIM as reported on NASA Watch, I thought it would be useful to remind you of the goals of the SIM investigations that were selected while you were Associate Administrator for the Office of Space Science at NASA Headquarters." ... "SIM remains the only NASA mission capable of discovering terrestrial worlds around nearby stars."

Full letter below:

Editor's update: It would seem, according to this email (below) from GSFC Center Director (and former Space Science AA) Ed Weiler, that SIM (Space Interferometry Mission) is being promoted via a "stretch of the truth" as a mission capable of searching for "Earth-like planets orbiting nearby stars.". Weiler notes: "Just a plea for truth in advertising in these interesting times..."

Editor's update: Feedback from Houston - at the LSPC - where Mary Cleave has been speaking is that she was roasted by the audience. The astrobiologists and astrophysicists were the most vocal.

Dear Colleague Letter from NASA Associate Administrator Mary Cleave, Science Mission Directorate

"One impact that spans all science disciplines within SMD is a 15% reduction in research and analysis (R&A) annual funding. The reduction in R&A funding is directly related to the slowing rate of growth of SMD programs. Because there will be fewer missions within SMD, a larger body of advanced research and development to prepare for future missions is not required. It is important, as these activities are reduced, that NASA preserve the essential capabilities within the research community that are needed for the missions that NASA will be executing in the future. Also NASA will work to ensure that the students who represent the Nation's future technical workforce are not disproportionately affected by these reductions."

CEV billions criticized as threat to science missions, Rocky Mountain News

Fran Bagenal, professor of astrophysics and planetary science at the University of Colorado, worries that spending on the CEV ultimately will short-change spending on NASA science missions. "Everyone knows these big programs tend to be under-costed and come in over budget," she said. "The concern is there will be a temptation by Michael Griffin to raid the science budget to pay for it."

Teeing off over golf shot from the space station (opinion), LA Times

"If this is the best the United States can offer for space exploration initiatives, we're in a bigger technological hole than most would care to imagine."

Google Mars

New Google Mars site features ASU Mars images

"A new planet-spanning Web site, Google Mars launches today on what would have been Mars astronomer Percival Lowell's 151st birthday. At the heart of the new Web site lies a gigantic picture-puzzle image of Mars created by researchers at Arizona State University's Mars Space Flight Facility in Tempe, Arizona."

Editor's note: MRO is safely in Mars orbit. The shouted phrase "Right on the Money" could be heard repeatedly from excited folks in Mission Control.

Robotic NASA Craft Begins Orbiting Mars for Most-Detailed Exam

"The orbiter can radio data to Earth at up to 10 times the rate of any previous Mars mission. Besides sending home the pictures and other information from its own investigations, it will relay data from surface missions, including NASA's Phoenix Mars Scout scheduled for launch in 2007 and Mars Science Laboratory in development for 2009."

Science Cut Update

Space Science: NASA Agrees to Review What's on the Chopping Block (summary - subscription), Science

"NASA's science chief has offered space and earth scientists half a loaf in response to withering complaints about cuts in the agency's proposed 2007 budget. Even so, it's a better offer than the one NASA Administrator Michael Griffin made last week to life and microgravity scientists: He announced a new timetable for finishing the international space station that will leave almost no room in the next 4 years for U.S. research projects."

NASA's Cassini Discovers Potential Liquid Water on Enceladus

"NASA's Cassini spacecraft may have found evidence of liquid water reservoirs that erupt in Yellowstone-like geysers on Saturn's moon Enceladus. The rare occurrence of liquid water so near the surface raises many new questions about the mysterious moon."

"We realize that this is a radical conclusion -- that we may have evidence for liquid water within a body so small and so cold," said Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team leader at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo. "However, if we are right, we have significantly broadened the diversity of solar system environments where we might possibly have conditions suitable for living organisms."

Editor's note: The following are talking points developed by the JWST Science Working Group as of 8 March 2006. These talking points have a somewhat greater air of accuracy and official stature than the other set of talking points originally posted yesterday - points which are still being circulated within NASA and the space science community.

Hansen/Deutsch Again

The Planet Can't Wait, OpEd, Washington Post

"But woe unto any administration official who becomes so concerned about global warming that he actually tries to sound the alarm. James E. Hansen, the top climate scientist at NASA, found that political minders at NASA headquarters had ordered a review of his lectures, papers, interviews and Internet postings after he called for quick reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to ease global warming."

NASA satellites feel budget crunch, AP

"Budget cuts and poor management may be jeopardizing the future of our eyes in orbit -- America's fleet of environmental satellites, vital tools for forecasting hurricanes, protecting water supplies and predicting global warming."

AURA Comments on JWST

Reader note: "I would like to ask you to consider posting a story on the planned demolition of the Bracewell Radio Observatory by Stanford University. Below is a link to the online petition to Stanford asking that they consider a NASA/JPL proposal to save the observatory. The observatory is considered a historical site as it was the first observatory to reveal the direction of the solar system relative to the cosmic background."

American Astronomical Society Statement to House Science Committee Regarding NASA FY 2007 Budget

"The current NASA budget for science is disappointing. Although it maintains JWST and provides for a possible refurbishment mission to HST, the sudden and wide-ranging retrenchments in this budget will halt, defer, or postpone programs to explore the solar system, to detect planets around other stars, to measure gravitational waves from astronomical events, and to seek the nature of the dark energy. Large, medium, and small programs are all proposed for cuts, without broad consultation with the community to see how best to shape NASA's program in times of finite resources. This seems unwise."

Letter from PSI Director Sykes to House Science Committee Chair Boehlert Regarding Cancellation of NASA's Dawn Mission

"I was shocked that after testifying before your Committee yesterday, the first thing Dr. Mary Cleave did upon returning to her office at NASA Headquarters was to cancel the Dawn Discovery mission. She made no mention of her intention to do this while testifying."... "Considering the concern raised at the hearing yesterday about the poor reputation of NASA as an international partner, which reflects poorly on the US, cancelling Dawn is a surprise at that level as well."

A conversation with Mark Sykes, Dawn Co-Investigator, Planetary Society

"Mark sees the cancellation of Dawn as typifying the fact that the NASA budget "has its priorities upside down," valuing high-dollar, expensive missions over all else."

Editor's note: NASA Watch has learned that the shutdown costs for Dawn are $10 million - on a project that would take $40 million on top of what was previously estimated to complete - with 98% of hardware done - much of it already integrated into the spacecraft. Also, on the day that Mary Cleave killed the mission she received a letter stating that previous Xenon tank concerns had been resolved and that there was no longer any issue with it.

As such, a spacecraft that is almost ready to explore Ceres and Vesta is going to end up in a box in a hangar. All this for $30 million. So far, as SMD AA, Mary Cleave is known only for the things she has killed.

Memo From SOFIA Chief Engineer to NASA Chief Engineer Chris Scolese regarding SOFIA Technical Issues

"I am the Chief Engineer of the SOFIA Program and under the current implementation of the iTA I am also the Systems-Technical Warrant Holder (STWH). This email is in regard to the SOFIA technical issues that were raised during the House Committee Hearing for NASA's 2007 Budget Proposal last week (February 16th)."

Editor's note: Rep. Ralph Hall made specific mention of this memo in a question to NASA Science Mission Directorate Associate Administrator Dr. Mary Cleave during a House Science Committee hearing on NASA's FY 2007 science budget on 2 March 2006.

NASA MEPAG meeting #15 - First Information Circular

"This meeting is open to all members of the Mars science community, including international colleagues."

Editor's note: And just what does "all members of the Mars science community" mean? In the past this statement has been coupled with a statement that meeting is "not open to members of the press". Further inquiries revealed that the general public was not welcome either. At a time when Mars mission funding - and all space science funding is being cut - cloistered meetings aren't necessarily the best way to formulate strategy. If foreign nationals can attend, why can't U.S. taxpayers? (reporters pay taxes too).

Outsiders Not Welcome at MEPAG Meeting, previous post

Astrobiology under assault, The Scientist

"Carl B. Pilcher, NASA's senior scientist for astrobiology, said the cut would send the wrong signal to universities that had, at NASA's prompting, established astrobiology programs during the past decade. "The impact [of the cut] is not only on the amount of research that NASA can support, but also the willingness of universities and other organizations to make investments of their own in this field," Pilcher told The Scientist."

Statement by Wesley T. Huntress, Jr - House Science Committee Hearing on NASA FY 2007 Science Budget

"For reasons hard to fathom, one particular program, Astrobiology, is targeted for a 50-percent reduction. Astrobiology was specifically named by the Decadal report as an important new component in the R&A program and is recognized even outside NASA as the agency's newest and most innovative research program bringing biologists, geologists and space scientists together to understand the earliest life on Earth and how we might search for life elsewhere beyond our own planet."

Science Leaders Argue for Different Priorities in NASA's Science Budget for FY07

"In response to a question from Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), the scientists said that, if NASA did not get more money for science than it has proposed, then NASA should first preserve smaller scientific missions and research funding rather than setting aside funds for large, flagship missions. They said the smaller missions and research funding were more important to the continued health of their fields."

NASA Budget Puts Key Science Priorities at Risk of Delay, Cancellation

"NASA's science programs have helped to nurture and develop generations of scientists and engineers through university-based research, participation in space science missions and data analysis," stated Ranking Member Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN). "But NASA's proposed budget plan puts all of that at serious risk."

Statement by Mary L. Cleave
Statement by Fran Bagenal
Statement by Berrien Moore III
Statement by Joseph H. Taylor
Statement by Rep. Ken Calvert
Statement by Rep. Boehlert
Statement by Rep. Bart Gordon
Statement by Rep. Mark Udall

Statement by Wesley T. Huntress, Jr

"I am an advocate for the scientific exploration of spaceusing both robotic and human elements- with the emphasis on scientific exploration. I also believe in the President's new Space Policy and that the CEV is the right way to start. But this FY07 budget proposes to implement the 2-year old Vision for Space Exploration without sufficient funding, and as a consequence does considerable damage to NASA's robotic, scientific exploration program. NASA's plans have been called Apollo on steroids, but the budget provided is Apollo on food stamps."

Dawn Mission Cancelled

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

Editor's update: Reliable sources report that NASA called Dawn Principal Investigator Chris Russell today with the news of the mission's cancellation - just as he was off to attend his mother's funeral.

Dawn asteroid mission killed, says report, New Scientist

House Science Committee Hearing Charter: NASA's Science Mission Directorate: Impacts of the Fiscal Year 2007 Budget Proposal

House Science Committee to Explore FY 2007 Budget Impact on NASA Science Programs

"The Committee plans to explore the following overarching questions at the hearing:

  • How did NASA determine its science priorities for the FY07 budget? To what extent are NASA's priorities based on the decadal surveys in which scientists determine the priorities for their fields? Do those surveys need to be redone now that science funding may be lower than was expected?
  • 2 March 2006, 10:00 am noon EST [Webcast]

    Editor's note: Gee that's an easy one to answer. I am reminded of the quote by famous bank robber Willie Sutton: "I rob banks because that's where the money is."

    NASA to Cut Back Scientific Missions Because of Budget, NY Times

    "Senator Pete Domenici, Republican of New Mexico, and 56 other senators have introduced a bill to mandate a 10 percent increase per year in NASA's science budget from now through 2013."

    Reader note: "NASA's Science budget is $5.3B in FY07 and Aeronautics Research another $724M. So how is the authorized amounts in S.2198 a good thing for NASA Science, Aero, or BPR? These are 10% annual increases over a much smaller base than is already in the President's budget."

    S.2198 Protecting America's Competitive Edge Through Education and Research Act of 2006

    Subtitle B--National Aeronautics and Space Administration Matters

    NASA to Cut Back Scientific Missions Because of Budget, NY Times

    "In another move last month, NASA slashed this year's budget for individual research projects by 15 percent, retroactive to last fall, yanking the rug out from researchers and their institutions that had already begun work. Dr. Cleave, the NASA associate administrator for science, acknowledged that she had been deluged with faxes and e-mail messages from scientists alarmed about these developments. She said the agency would be willing to adjust "the mix" in favor of more research and analysis, but added that something would have to give. "I have my budget; I don't expect relief," she said. "There's no free lunch here."

    Editor's note: Contact Mary:
    FAX: +1 202 358-3092
    Voice: +1 202 358-3889



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    This page is an archive of entries in the Space & Planetary Science category from March 2006.

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