Space & Planetary Science: December 2012 Archives

Editorial on NASA Planetary R&A Programs, Mark V. Sykes, Planetary Science Institute

"At a minimum, this year's decline needs to be reversed to ensure that selection rates are improved to stop the imminent loss of the younger generation of planetary scientists as well as many seasoned researchers. The cost is frankly small and demands high priority. Multi-year budget planning is essential. We also face significant negative consequences from the effective collapse of the Discovery program combined with the termination of the Mars Scount program."

- NASA SMD Responds to Community Budget Priority Concerns, earlier post
- Losing a Generation of Planetary Scientists, earlier post
- Independent Look at NASA Planetary Science Budgets, earlier post

Keith's note: In October NASA SMD PAO was caught totally off guard when the New Horizons team announced that debris in the vicinity of Pluto might force them to "bail out" (their term) of the original encounter. I submitted the following questions to NASA SMD PAO on 16 October and was told that a reply was being prepared. It has been 2 1/2 months and I still haven't heard anything back from them. My questions:

"- Will there be a formal statement from NASA regarding debris issues in the vicinity of Pluto and how it will affect mission plans?
- Will NASA be spending additional funds for additional telescope observations of Pluto? If so how much will these observations cost, what budget pays these costs, what telescopes/spacecraft will be used, and how long will these observations be conducted?
- When will contingency plans for changing the trajectory of New Horizons at Pluto be finalized?
- Who (Individual, agency) makes the final decision as to whether New Horizons continues on its original trajectory or if that trajectory is modified?
- When was NASA notified by New Horizons mission team that the original flight trajectory was in jeopardy due to debris concerns?"

Will NASA Have To 'Bail Out' On Close Pluto Encounter?, earlier post

NASA Planetary Division Management Responds to Community Concerns, Planetary Exploration Newsletter

"Contrary to statements being made by some individuals in the science community, the recent announcement of the Mars 2020 rover has nothing to do with the current R&A selection rates nor has it impacted the current or projected amounts to be spent in the R&A program. The Mars 2020 rover will be designed to "conduct mobile surface-based science at a site selected for its ability to preserve evidence of life, and prepare for the future return of samples per the NRC Planetary Decadal Survey."

Keith's note: I find it to be a little odd that Jim Green would wait until Christmas Eve to send out his official NASA response - and only send it to one newsletter - not to the rest of the media via PAO. It is sort of hard to reach the space science community using this approach.

NASA Chief Scientist Abdalati Returning to University of Colorado

"Gale Allen, associate chief scientist for Life and Microgravity Sciences, will serve as acting NASA chief scientist until a successor is named. Allen joined the Office of the Chief Scientist in 2011 from the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD) at Headquarters, where she was director of Strategic Integration and Management. Before joining ESMD, Allen was deputy for Bioastronautics in the Office of Biological and Physical Research."

Editorial: U.S. Planetary Program Poised to Lose a Generation of Scientists, Planetary Exploration Newsletter

"National Research Council reports have long recognized these programs as fundamental to US solar system exploration efforts. The recent NRC planetary decadal survey gave them high priority, independent of the fiscal situation (the worse the fiscal climate, the more important these programs are to sustaining national capabilities in this area). Unfortunately, policy decisions by NASA leadership have resulted in selection rates for competitive proposals plummeting to historic lows with negative impact."


NASA Solicitation: Science Definition Team for the 2020 Mars Rover

"The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) invites scientists, technologists, and other qualified and interested individuals at U.S. institutions and elsewhere to apply for membership on the Science Definition Team (SDT) for the 2020 Mars science rover mission (hereafter Mars-2020). Mars-2020 is a strategic mission sponsored by NASA's Planetary Science Division, through the Mars Exploration Program, all of which are part of the Science Mission Directorate (SMD)."

NASA's GRAIL Lunar Impact Site Named for Astronaut Sally Ride, NASA

"NASA has named the site where twin agency spacecraft impacted the moon Monday in honor of the late astronaut, Sally K. Ride, who was America's first woman in space and a member of the probes' mission team. Last Friday, Ebb and Flow, the two spacecraft comprising NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission, were commanded to descend into a lower orbit that would result in an impact Monday on a mountain near the moon's north pole."

China's Chang'e-2 Does Close Flyby of Asteroid Toutatis (with image), CNSA

New milestone for China: Probe snaps close-ups of asteroid Toutatis, MSNBC

"China's official news agency is reporting that the country's Chang'e 2 deep-space probe made an amazing flyby of the asteroid Toutatis this week, snapping a series of pictures as it passed just 2 miles away. The achievement signals China's entry into yet another exclusive space club. Only four of the world's space efforts have managed close encounters with asteroids: NASA (with NEAR Shoemaker and Dawn, for example), the European Space Agency (with Rosetta), Japan (with Hayabusa) -- and now China with Toutatis."

NASA Planetary Science Division Research and Analysis Programs - An Assessment, Editorial, Mark V. Sykes Planetary Science Institute

"Despite high priority in the recent Planetary Decadal Survey and prior NRC reports, NASA Planetary Science Division Research and Analysis programs continue to suffer from uncertain budgets and low selection rates, undermining US solar system exploration. I have written a report, with the above title, on the budget history and status of these programs."

NASA Announces Robust Multi-year Mars Program - New Rover to Close Out Decade of New Missions

"Building on the success of Curiosity's Red Planet landing, NASA has announced plans for a robust multi-year Mars program, including a new robotic science rover set to launch in 2020. This announcement affirms the agency's commitment to a bold exploration program that meets our nation's scientific and human exploration objectives. The future rover development and design will be based on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) architecture that successfully carried the Curiosity rover to the Martian surface this summer."

NASA's John Grunsfeld Speaks With Media About New Mars Mission

"Grunsfeld will host a media briefing on these plans at 7 p.m. EST (4 p.m. PST) today at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco."

Cowing: "When will NASA actually try and find evidence of life on Mars? Viking tried in 1976 but since then NASA has gone out of its way to state that each and every one of its missions cannot actually "detect life" but rather that the hardware can only detect things that might point to the possibility - that maybe there might be something that might hint at life - maybe."

Grunsfeld: "I side with Keith on this. I think it would be interesting to send a mission to a location where there could be extant life on Mars. There would be some planetary protection issues. On the original ExoMars proposal the UK had a life detection experiment planned. During the MPPG the UK wanted to put it on a new lander. All of these things are on the table. The Science Team should evaluate all of these things. I think that this would be a very exciting thing to do."

James Webb Space Telescope: Actions Needed to Improve Cost Estimate and Oversight of Test and Integration

"The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has provided significantly more time and money to the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) than previously planned and expressed high confidence in the project's new baselines. Its current cost estimate reflects some features of best practices for developing reliable and credible estimates."

Curiosity Analyzes First Martian Soil Samples

"We have no definitive detection of Martian organics at this point, but we will keep looking in the diverse environments of Gale Crater," said SAM Principal Investigator Paul Mahaffy of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. ... SAM tentatively identified the oxygen and chlorine compound perchlorate. This is a reactive chemical previously found in arctic Martian soil by NASA's Phoenix Lander. Reactions with other chemicals heated in SAM formed chlorinated methane compounds -- one-carbon organics that were detected by the instrument. The chlorine is of Martian origin, but it is possible the carbon may be of Earth origin, carried by Curiosity and detected by SAM's high sensitivity design."

Plastic beads on Mars: The short life of a NASA spoof site, MSNBC

"Update for 10:30 p.m. ET: Veronica McGregor, who manages the news and social media office at JPL, sent me an email that filled in most of the remaining gaps in the story. "What I know about the site is, the manager/owner was contacted," she wrote. "The content on the site was not a concern, in fact we've truly enjoyed all of the spoofs out there. As you mentioned, it was the use of the page design, name and logos --and the possibility of confusion-- that was the concern. ... We didn't think people would be confused over the beads, just the page design."

Keith's note: Veronica McGregor only wants nice pro-JPL things out there. When a parody appears that strikes too close to home and intrudes on JPL's comfort zone she suddenly gets nervous and pulls out the rule book. Funny how all of the parodies out there that make overt use of NASA imagery, personal likelnesses (haircuts), etc. that make the Curiosity team look good are not only tolerated - JPL actually assists in their production - sometimes on-site.



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This page is an archive of entries in the Space & Planetary Science category from December 2012.

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