Space & Planetary Science: July 2009 Archives

Europe's Mars rover slips to 2018, BBC

"The ExoMars vehicle is intended to search the Red Planet for signs of past or present life. The delay is the third for the mission originally planned to launch in 2011. While the switch will disappoint many people, officials say the change will open up a greatly expanded programme of exploration at the Red Planet. The European Space Agency (Esa) will now join forces at Mars with the US space agency (Nasa). The two organisations believe they can achieve far more by combining their expertise and budgets."

Keith's note: Indeed, think of the size of the rover cost overruns ESA can achieve now that they will be working together with NASA!

NRC Executive Office Approved Names for Inner Planets, Mars, Primitive Bodies and Satellites panels of the Planetary Sciences Decadal Survey

"It is my pleasure to announce that the NRC's Executive Office has approved the nominations of the individuals listed below to serve on the Inner Planets, Mars, Primitive Bodies and Satellites panels of the Planetary Sciences Decadal Survey. Membership of the Giant Planets Panel will be announced later. The individuals concerned will receive appointment paperwork and logistical information concerning their respective panel meetings in August and September in the near future. A complete list of scheduled meeting dates is given below."

Recovery Act - James Webb Space Telescope Observatory Contract Effort and Report

"NASA/GSFC has a requirement for the design, development and launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), and is utilizing American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds to provide for key elements of the observatory contract performance through approximately September 30, 2009. These performance elements are focused on the completion of critical tasks (e.g., design, development and fabrication) for the Optical Telescope Element, the Sunshield, and various system and subsystem areas, as well as completion of tasks for integration and testing of critical hardware. NASA/GSFC is purchasing the items from Northrop Grumman Corporation, Redondo Beach, CA under the existing contract that was competitively awarded to the company on 9/16/2002."

Keith's note: I thought that the Recovery Act was supposed to create or save jobs. Wasn't work on Webb already being paid for? Is this money going to create new jobs? If so, how many? Or was there a chance that people would be laid off without this money? If so, how many? If this revovery money is being used to pay existing Webb bills, will Ed Weiler deduct that sum from the amount already in the budget for Webb? Just curious.

Was 'one small step for man' worth it?, LA Times

[Bill Nye] "Nowadays, NASA does more robotic space science exploring stars and planets in a single afternoon than the moon-seeking astronauts did in 12 years."

Steve Squyres: Robot Guy Says Humans Should Go To Mars, space.com

[Steve Squyres] "What Spirit and Opportunity have done in 5 1/2 years on Mars, you and I could have done in a good week. Humans have a way to deal with surprises, to improvise, to change their plans on the spot. All you've got to do is look at the latest Hubble mission to see that."

Keith's note: Let's see: Steve Squyres has extensive hands-on experience with actual science missions on Mars (and elsewhere) while Bill Nye does science shows on TV for kids. As such, I'd really like to see Bill Nye provide some numbers to back up his claim.

Newsletter #2 - Planetary Science Decadal Survey

"As most of you know, the Planetary Science Decadal Survey is organized by the National Research Council at the request of NASA and NSF. Its objective is to set clear priorities for solar system exploration for the coming decade.

The decadal survey will involve the entire U.S. planetary science community, and will be led by six groups. ... There are also five panels (Inner Planets, Mars, Outer Planets, Outer Planet Satellites, and Primitive Bodies). Candidates to serve as the chairs and members of these panels have been identified, and are under review by the NRC. Once approved, their names will be provided in a subsequent newsletter."

MOON PICTURES: 1960s Orbiter Images Restored, National Geographic

All these steps took their toll on the quality of the images: Much like making a photocopy of a photocopy, the images of the moon created 40 years ago were fairly fuzzy and lacking in detail. Now, after recovering the decades-old recordings and refurbishing outdated tape drives, a team of volunteers has begun digitizing the most famous images from the 1960s Lunar Orbiter missions with much-improved clarity and detail.

APOLLO 11: New Before-and-After Photos of Moon Bases, National Geographic

"Despite extensive restoration efforts, this photo is fuzzier and grainier than many of the restored 1960s orbiter images because of repeated viewings of the magnetic tape on which the photo was recorded."

LOIRP Mentioned at Apollo 11 Anniversary Celebration (Video), MoonViews

"At one point, Tyson talked about the recent LRO images taken of the Apollo landing sites - and the hardware left behind. Our Apollo 11 landing site image was used to set the context for the LRO picture. Mention was also made of the LOIRP - Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project."

Administrative change to New Frontiers 2009 AO (NNH09ZDA007O)

"An administrative change is being made to the Announcement of Opportunity (AO) for New Frontiers 2009 (NNH09ZDA007O). 90 copies of the proposal are required to be submitted. The proposal due date and all other requirements remain unchanged. Requirement 86 on page 46 now reads: "Requirement 86. The original signed proposal and 90 paper copies, each of which contains an attached, clearly labeled CD-ROM that contains electronic proposal files (see Appendix B), shall be delivered to the following address by the proposal submittal deadline specified in Section 3."

Keith's note: This would be hilarious if it was not so stupid. NASA asks for an electronic copy of a proposal and then tells the submitters to leave a large carbon footprint and ship 90 paper copies of the proposal as well. Why not just use the CD and print them out at HQ? Oh wait, printing uses up trees. Why not just send copies of the CD to reviewers? If no one is going to use the electronic version then why ask for the CD in the first place? Hmm - is this the same process that SMD Earth Science proposals will follow? Al Gore certainly won't be happy ...

NASA to Take Photos of Lunar Landing Sites, End Conspiracy Theories, Gizmodo

"Grey Hautaluoma (NASA Headquarters, Office of Public Affairs): Yes, it will. We don't have a timeline yet for viewing the Apollo sites, but it will be in the near future."

Keith's note: "near future" = ????

NASA Briefing Charts: Mars Exploration Program Status Planetary Sciences Subcommittee of NAC

"Expect a requirement for additional resources to restore reserves to adequate levels ($15-115M), predicted by several different cost models - Amount to be determined this calendar year after more progress has made on technical issues" ... "Impacts must be contained in Planetary Division - The Mars Program will repay non-Mars "loans".

"Impacts increase to cover mid- to upper-range budget needs, in order: Further reduce US portion of Mars-16/18/20 missions; Delay LADEE and ILN missions; Delay New Frontiers 3 phase B selection"

Planetary Science Decadal Survey Steering Committee Summary, SpacePolicyOnline

"OMB's Amy Kaminski and OSTP's Damon Wells strongly advised the committee to keep its recommended program within the bounds of the FY2010 budget now under consideration by Congress and its "outyear" projections. They stressed they were not trying to forecast the future, but in light of country's economic situation, they view budget increases for NASA as unlikely. Their message was in contrast to what the committee heard from NASA's Jim Green the previous day. Dr. Green urged the committee to wait for the FY2011 budget that will be released next February, which he believes will better reflect Obama Administration priorities."

Mars rover devours budgets, Nature

"The rover's latest price tag is US$2.286 billion - 40% more than the official $1.63-billion estimate made in 2006. But even that will not be enough. In a 'breach report' due to be handed to the US Congress by the end of July, NASA will report that the troublesome mission, now also called Curiosity, needs $15115 million more on top of the $2.286-billion estimate. NASA has so far avoided delays and cancellations to other missions by raiding technology-development funds within the Mars programme. But officials are now considering delays to two planned Moon missions. "The time for some tough decisions is here," said NASA science chief Ed Weiler. He broke the news to planetary scientists at an advisory-committee meeting on 9 July at NASA headquarters in Washington DC, along with Jim Green, director of the planetary science division, and Mars programme chief Doug McCuistion."

Keith's note: It is quite obvious that JPL is in complete control of how Ed sets SMD priorities and that he is powerless to stop JPL from getting what it wants - no matter what collateral damage is done to the rest of NASA's space and planetary science portfolio.

According to sources who heard Weiler speak. during his presentation at a meeting to discuss the NRC's Decade Survey for Planetary Sciences, Ed Weiler said that the 2020 Outer Planets Flagship mission to Europa cannot be paid for within the currently anticipated SMD Planetary Sciences Division run out. Weiler also went out of his way to dump on much of NASA's current lunar science mission planning making a point of noting that its missions were not selected via peer review. He also urged the NRC committee to take the money that was being considered for future lunar missions and to give it to SMD. As for cost increases within MSL sources report that the $115 million figure cited in Nature is just the beginning of a new cost overrun and that this number will grow substantially in the weeks to come. As Clive Neal from the University of Notre Dame is quoted in the Nature article observed "Where's it going to end?"

Of course, any time that anyone in the space science community dares to report what Weiler has said or plans to do, Ed mounts a witch hunt to find out who they are with dire repercussions threatened. Just watch as Ed mounts yet another witch hunt over this topic.

SMD PAO promised to send me copies of Weiler's charts yesterday. I have yet to get them.

Stay tuned.

Keith's update: Just got the carts from SMD PAO; NASA Briefing Charts: Mars Exploration Program Status Planetary Sciences Subcommittee of NAC

Keith's note: Sources report that Northrop Grumman Space Technology (NGST), the prime contractor on James Webb Space Telescope told its subcontractor, Ball Aerospace, that NGST was out of money for Webb. This of course points back to money issues at NASA. In response Ball reportedly stopped work the program. Sources report that NGST subsequently told Ball that they now have money. As a result Ball should start up again on Monday. I am awaiting word from NASA SMD PAO on this matter.

Keith's update: According to NASA PAO "NASA has checked with Northrop Grumman and Ball and confirmed that no stop work actions have been taken at Ball.Work on JWST continues as planned."

Google Earth event hints at moon mapping, CNet

"At least the residents of the moon are unlikely to be annoyed by the Google Street View car. Google announced plans Thursday to hold a press conference on July 20 in Washington, D.C., to discuss "a very special announcement about the newest addition to Google Earth," according to an invitation sent to reporters. Further details were not included, but it's not too hard to guess what Google might be up to here."

ESA and NASA establish a joint Mars exploration initiative, ESA

"On 29 and 30 June the ESA Director of Science and Robotic Exploration, David Southwood, met NASA's Associate Administrator for Science, Ed Weiler, in Plymouth, UK, to establish a way for a progressive programme for exploration of the Red Planet. The outcome of the bilateral meeting was an agreement to create a Mars Exploration Joint Initiative (MEJI) that will provide a framework for the two agencies to define and implement their scientific, programmatic and technological goals at Mars."

Keith's note: Why is it that NASA has not issued a press release on this topic?

First Moon Images From NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

"NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has transmitted its first images since reaching the moon on June 23. The spacecraft's two cameras, collectively known as the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera, or LROC, were activated June 30. The cameras are working well and have returned images of a region in the lunar highlands south of Mare Nubium (Sea of Clouds). As the moon rotates beneath LRO, LROC gradually will build up photographic maps of the lunar surface.

"Our first images were taken along the moon's terminator -- the dividing line between day and night -- making us initially unsure of how they would turn out," said LROC Principal Investigator Mark Robinson of Arizona State University in Tempe. "Because of the deep shadowing, subtle topography is exaggerated, suggesting a craggy and inhospitable surface. In reality, the area is similar to the region where the Apollo 16 astronauts safely explored in 1972. While these are magnificent in their own right, the main message is that LROC is nearly ready to begin its mission."


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