Space & Planetary Science: September 2011 Archives

NASA Internal Memo: Director of the SMD Heliophysics Division

"The Office of Personnel Management and the National Aeronautics and Space Agency have completed the process of selection for the position of Director, Heliophyiscs Division, Science Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters. The newly selected director is Dr. Barbara Giles. I am taking this opportunity to inform you of this action prior to more formal announcements by the Directorate and the Agency."

Geological Society of America Planetary Geology Division: NASA Funding and James Webb Space Telescope

"... advocates such as the American Astronomical Society have identified JWST as their highest priority (it was the top major initiative for U.S. astrophysics in the 2001 & 2010 NRC Astrophysics Decadal Surveys). That prioritization is among activities only within astrophysics, not planetary science, Earth science or heliophysics. Because astronomers have been so strongly supportive of JWST for the current and future budgets, it is only appropriate that they be responsible for the consequences of such a choice. The biggest concern of planetary scientists, therefore, is that our own current and planned planetary missions, and supporting research and data analysis funding, will be severely reduced over the next decade to pay for the JWST overruns (JWST is now scheduled for a 2018 launch with a total cost approaching $8.7 billion)."

Letter from Rep. Frank Wolf to OMB Director Jacob Lew Regarding James Webb Space Telescope

"In the coming weeks, the House and Senate will sit down to negotiate final appropriations bills for fiscal year 2012, and the appropriate level of funding for JWST will be one of the most significant issues considered. For us to make a truly informed decision that takes into account both the value of JWST and the value of opportunities that may be precluded by the JWST replan, we must have the offset information. If such information is not provided by the time that conference negotiations begin, I will consider that to be an indication that JWST is no higher in priority than any other existing or planned NASA activity."

FY2012 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee Mark - NASA Excerpt

* The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is funded at $17.9 billion, a reduction of $509 million or 2.8 percent from the FY2011 enacted level.

* The bill preserves NASA portfolio balanced among science, aeronautics, technology and human space flight investments, including the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle, the heavy lift Space Launch System, and commercial crew development.

* The bill provides funds to enable a 2018 launch of the James Webb Space Telescope.

Webb telescope gets rescued in the Senate, Nature

"At the subcommittee meeting today, the Senator said the beleaguered mission would get $530 million in 2012 -- much more than the $374 million that had been asked for in the president's budget request. But the agency as a whole would get $17.9 billion -- half a billion less than it received in 2011.'"

Hope, With 'Stringent' Orders, for NASA's Webb Telescope

"In remarks delivered at the markup today, Mikulski noted that although her panel wanted to continue funding for the telescope, it also wanted NASA to be more accountable in executing the project. "We have added stringent language, limiting development costs" and insisted on "a report from NASA senior management, ensuring that the NASA has gotten its act together in managing the telescope," she said."

Keith's note: I have to wonder why yet another report from the same people who have botched JWST managment is going to be any more accurate or reliable than what they have reported or said thus far. Oh yes - adding $156 million to one project (JWST) while cutting NASA's top line by $500 million is just going to exacerbate trench warfare between NASA's space and planetary science community. Do the math: NASA overall gets $500 million less than 2011 and yet JWST gets more than the President asked for. NASA has to deal with that $500 million cut plus the additional $156 million that JWST has sucked up out of NASA's reduced budget i.e. NASA has $656 million less to work with - according to the Senate - so far. Stay tuned.

JWST Supporters to Make Their Case As Controversy Grows, Space Policy Online

"A NASA spokesman told on July 28 via email that $3.5 billion will have been spent on JWST by the end of FY2011. In response to a statement by University of Chicago cosmologist Michael Turner on NPR's Science Friday that JWST was 75 percent complete, the NASA spokesman clarified that 75 percent of JWST "flight hardware, by weight, is either ready to be fabricated, in fabrication, in testing, or delivered." He declined to specify a cost estimate or launch date because discussions among NASA, its contractors and international partners on a "sustainable path forward...based on a realistic cost, funding, and schedule assessment" are ongoing. He said a decision would be announced as part of the FY2013 budget request."

Letter from AURA President William Smith to House Appropriations Committee Chair Rogers

"Overall 75% of the hardware is in fabrication"

Reaching for the stars, opinon, LA Times

"More than three-quarters of the hardware is either complete or in production, and most of the technical obstacles have been solved."

Keith's note: Hmm ... "75 percent of JWST "flight hardware, by weight, is either ready to be fabricated, in fabrication, in testing, or delivered." (according to NASA) is far different than "75% of the hardware is in fabrication" or "More than three-quarters of the hardware is either complete or in production". NASA specifies that some things have not been fabricated yet and that the 75% number refers to weight - not the number of components. JWST suppporters like AURA etc. omit the "by weight" factor and the "ready for fabrication" issue.

If the spacecraft is so close to being done, then why is it still 75% of a decade away from launch? What is so hard about the remaining 25%? No one seems to want to talk about that.

Keith's update: A few minutes ago this tweet

@SaveJWST: Nicely coated & 75% complete. My other 25% is in production or being tested. Don't cut my funding now! #JWST #SaveJWST

was quickly replaced with

@SaveJWST: Nicely coated & 75% complete, in production or being tested. Don't cut my funding now! #JWST #SaveJWST

When I pointed out this blatant inaccuracy on Twitter.

Webb Team Fights Back (Update)

James Webb Space Telescope Q&A Session: A Town Hall Webinar

"During the webinar, presenters from NASA, the Space Telescope Science Institute, and the astronomical community will describe the current state of the observatory and update attendees on the development of its instruments and other hardware. Presenters will clarify the costs of the mission and address recent media coverage of JWST. The panel will also discuss the science enabled by JWST and the mission's planned observer program. Brief presentations will be followed by a question-and-answer session, during which attendees may submit questions to the panelists. Submit questions for the presenters in advance by e-mail or on Twitter E-Mail: Tweet: Use hashtag #jwstqa"

Keith's note: STScI sources tell me that this event has been moved to Wednesday 21 September and that JWST Program Director Rick Howard from NASA will be a participant. More to follow.

The James Webb Space Telescope--It's Complicated, but so Is Leadership'', Source: Space Telescope Science Institute

"The recent release of NASA's Independent Comprehensive Review Panel report (the Casani report) on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has understandably caused consternation within the community, and some of our colleagues' sound-bite quotes decrying the state of space astrophysics were quickly circulated in the press and on the Internet. As the dust has settled, it's important to step back for a moment to reflect on why we want to build such an audacious telescope."

- Webb Costs Are Fragmenting The Space & Planetary Science Community, earlier post
- AAS SPD Memo to AGU Heliophysics Section on Webb Costs, earlier post
- Planetary Scientists Express Concern Over Webb Cost Overruns, earlier post
- Webb Cost Overruns Concern AAS Members, earlier post

Space science caught in a Webb, Space Review

"Speaking at a workshop on suborbital research held last Wednesday at NASA Goddard, Webster Cash, an astronomer at the University of Colorado, said there was growing skepticism in the astronomy community that the top-priority large mission from the 2010 report, the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), would even be started. "It's bleak out there. Space science has effectively ground to a halt" in large part because of the costs of Webb, Cash warned. Killing Webb would cause major problems for astronomers since it would deprive them of an instrument they have been counting on for years to address some of the major questions in the field, but continued funding could leave them with nothing but Webb. "We're facing a no-win scenario here in astrophysics," he said."

Twin Towers on Mars

Mars Rover Opportunity Update: September 01-07, 2011

"Photo taken by Mars Rover Opportunity of itself on 11 Sep 2011 showing piece of metal taken from the Twin Towers - with an American flag on it - after 7 years on Mars. NOTE: Work Continues on Crater Rim - sols 2703-2709, September 01-07, 2011: Opportunity is moving to other in-situ (contact) targets of interest around the region, called Cape York on the rim of Endeavour crater."

Statement from the Division for Planetary Science of the American Astronomical Society

"The Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society, the world's largest professional organization of planetary scientists, is following with close attention the on-going discussions within Congress, the Office of Management and Budget, and NASA over future funding for science, and for the James Webb Space Telescope. As budgetary priorities are set, it is important to consider the scientific bounty reaped by planetary missions in the last decade."

16 Super-Earths Discovered

50 New Exoplanets Discovered by HARPS including 16 New Super-Earths

"Astronomers using ESO's world-leading exoplanet hunter HARPS have today announced a rich haul of more than 50 new exoplanets, including 16 super-Earths, one of which orbits at the edge of the habitable zone of its star. By studying the properties of all the HARPS planets found so far, the team has found that about 40% of stars similar to the Sun have at least one planet lighter than Saturn."

Planetary scientists: Webb telescope not too big to fail, Nature

"The internecine warfare among NASA scientists over the fate of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has begun. The rising financial burden of the JWST -- now projected to cost $8.7 billion to launch in 2018 and then operate for five years -- has increasingly prompted the question: whose responsibility is it to bail out the telescope? Planetary scientists among others are now saying they want little part of the rescue operation, lest their own grand ideas be derailed."

Scientists balk at telescope bailout, MSNBC

"NASA says the James Webb Space Telescope would be powerful enough to see the first stars and galaxies form on the edge of the observable universe. It could also study the mechanics of planet formation in unprecedented detail, and investigate the potential for life in alien planetary systems. But the debate is starting to turn from those lofty scientific goals to issues of dollars and cents. Is this the beginning of the end for the JWST bailout, or will NASA stick to its view that Hubble's heir is too big to fail? Feel free to weigh in with your comments below."

Memo from AAS Solar Physics Division to AGU Heliophysics Section Regarding Webb Space Telescope Costs

"One of our most important conduits to NASA leadership is through the NAC and the HPS provides the necessary voice for our community. I hope that the HPS can give due and timely consideration to this issue. If there is anything the SPD committee can do to help, please let us know. FYI, the SPD position has been made known to the AAS, and while we accept the AAS support of JWST, we have urged the Society to " balance the various concerns of each of its constituents and to work towards a solution that does not promote one division's interests at the expense of another's"."

James Webb Space Telescope Threatens Planetary Science (with signatures), Planetary Exploration Newsletter

"JWST has, however, been a priority in the NRC Astrophysics Decadal Surveys. When JWST was ranked as the top major initiative for NASA astrophysics in the 2001 NRC Astronomy Decadal Survey, it was estimated to cost $1B and launch by 2011. NASA has now spent $3.5B on JWST and it is now projected to cost a minimum of $8.7B for a launch no earlier than late 2018. As a result, JWST's cost increases have outstripped the resources of the NASA Science Mission Directorate's Astrophysics Division, and NASA leadership has now declared JWST an "agency priority." Resources of other NASA programs, including the Agency's Planetary Sciences Division within the Science Mission Directorate, are now threatened to cover current and future JWST cost overruns."

Letter From American Astronomical Society Solar Physics Division Regarding NASA James Webb Space Telescope Costs

"The AAS should continue to be a strong advocate of the JWST, while being mindful of the concerns of all its divisions. I know from your activities in support of the various decadal surveys that all of the divisions are well represented by the society. However, the cost of the JWST threatens to swamp us all and the AAS should be careful, as a multi-disciplinary organization, to balance the various concerns of each of its constituents and to work towards a solution that does not promote one division's interests at the expense of another's. The SPD is anxious to work together with all of our AAS colleagues to find an effective and equitable way forward."

Earlier posts about James Webb Space Telescope Issues

Keith's update: Acccording to Kevin Marvel at the AAS "I think that is an irresponsible position to take and believe that you should reveal the source of the letter, who is likely conflicted due to financial ties to future heliophysics missions. The source is not AAS." I don't get it. The letter is on AAS SPD letterhead from the head of a AAS division. See for yourself: Download the original letter on AAS SPD letterhead. And this is not from an individual, Kevin - it is from a committee whose membership was elected by the AAS SPD membership. As for this Marvel's absurd suggestion that there is a conflict of interest with regard to the author of this letter, this is a classic case of pot-kettle-black. Gee, as if there are no members of the AAS who have a vested interest in seeing JWST funded. This is just blatant, transparent hypocrisy.

Keith's further update: Kevin Marvel just sent this statement:

"The American Astronomical Society represents more than 7500 astronomers, planetary scientists, heliophysicists and others connected to the research endeavor broadly labeled as 'astronomy'. To best represent the interests of these specialized fields, the Society grants its Divisions the ability to print their own letterhead. SpaceRef earlier today (September 8, 2011) posted a letter, which was a communication from the leadership of the Solar Physics Division to the leadership of the Society. SpaceRef claims the source of the letter is the Society in its online posting. It is correct that the Society's name is printed on the letterhead, but it is also true that the letter was not forwarded to SpaceRef from any member of the AAS leadership who were the recipients of the letter. It is difficult to understand how the 'source' of a letter could be the organization listed as the recipient of the letter. The authorship of the letter rests firmly with the Solar Physics Division of the organization. The source who provided the letter to SpaceRef remains unidentified. The Society and its Divisions will continue to work actively to support the Decadal Priorities for all of our Divisions and all of our members."

This gets goofier by the minute. It matters not whether AAS sent this to NASA Watch/SpaceRef formally or not, the source is the AAS. It would seem that AAS allows people to use its letterhead who (apparently) do not represent the AAS (at least when they say things that diverge from the official AAS position that is). But wait - this is from the chair of the AAS SPD - part of the AAS. I am confused. So is the AAS.

There are deep and growing divisions within the AAS - and the space/planetary science community - with regard to JWST and Kevin Marvel is obviously afraid to admit this. I'll bet that this letter - written by the Chair of the AAS SPD to the AAS will never make it onto the AAS website with all the glowing pro-Webb commentary.

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Images Offer Sharper Views of Apollo Landing Sites

"NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) captured the sharpest images ever taken from space of the Apollo 12, 14 and 17 landing sites. Images show the twists and turns of the paths made when the astronauts explored the lunar surface. At the Apollo 17 site, the tracks laid down by the lunar rover are clearly visible, along with the last foot trails left on the moon. The images also show where the astronauts placed some of the scientific instruments that provided the first insight into the moon's environment and interior."

Astronauts' tracks, trash seen in new moon photos, AP

"Apollo 17 Commander Eugene Cernan wrote in an email to The Associated Press that the photo gives him a chance to revisit those days, "this time with a little nostalgia and disappointment. Nostalgia because those special days are fondly etched in my memory and disappointment because it looks like now we will not be going back within the days I have left on this planet."

- Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) Releases New Image of Apollo 12/Surveyor III Landing Site, earlier post

- Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) Releases New High Resolution Image of The Apollo 14 Landing Site With EVA Details, earlier post

- Damaged Tape and Murky Moon Views (Apollo 11), earlier post

- LOIRP Mentioned at Apollo 11 Anniversary Celebration, earlier post

Scientists Perceive NASA Bias Against Venus, Scientific American

"Venus would seem to be a tempting destination for planetary probes: conveniently close, and an extreme laboratory for atmospheric processes familiar on Earth. So why won't NASA send a mission there? That was the frustrated question coming from scientists at the annual meeting of NASA's Venus Exploration Analysis Group (VEXAG) near Washington, D.C., on August 30-31. They perceive an agency bias against Venus, a planet that hasn't seen a U.S. mission since the Magellan probe radar-mapped its shrouded surface in the early 1990s, and which won't see one any time soon, after NASA this year rejected a bumper crop of Venus proposals."

NASA will host a media teleconference at noon on Tuesday, Sept. 6, to reveal new images of three Apollo landing sites taken from the agency's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO. Supporting information and visuals for the briefing will be posted at 11:45 a.m. EDT Sept. 6 at: Audio of the teleconference will be streamed live on the Web at:



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