Space & Planetary Science: January 2013 Archives

Rocket Launch Colors the Sky Red With Lithium (with photos)

"NASA successfully launched a Terrier-Improved Orion suborbital rocket at 5:50 p.m. EST this evening from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. During the flight, two red-colored lithium vapor trails were produced. Reports from those viewing the launch or vapor trails came from as far away as the Outer Banks, N.C.; eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey."

Let NASA Pursue a Balanced Planetary Exploration Program, Planetary Society

"We must also emphasize that the serious budget cuts to NASA's Planetary Science Division have not been averted. The new rover mission is conceived to fit within the already reduced budget environment proposed by the Obama Administration in February 2012, which, if fully implemented, would result in deep cuts across the entire planetary exploration program. Likely outcomes include early termination of ongoing missions, including the Cassini orbiter at Saturn and the MESSENGER orbiter at Mercury; delays of future missions in the Discovery and New Frontiers programs; and reductions in basic research grants that fund current and future scientists. It also precludes a mission to Europa, long-considered one of the most compelling and scientifically rich destinations in the solar system. A strategic mission to Europa is prioritized as a close second to a caching mission to Mars in the Decadal Survey. We find the shift in budgetary priority deeply troubling. Namely, it represents a step backwards from our nation's long commitment to exploration and the pursuit of answers to the big questions of "where do we come from?" and "are we alone?"

American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences Issues Statement on Mars 2020 Program

"In summary, we support the decision by NASA to pursue a 2020 Mars rover mission as long as it fits within the specific recommendations of the Decadal Survey, which include both scientific and cost-cap guidance, and is part of a balanced exploration portfolio. We urge Congress and the Administration to maintain NASA's leadership in planetary science by restoring the division's budget to FY12 levels of $1.5 billion per year."

Keith's note: NASA SMD sent this "thanks but no thanks" email to everyone who offered their services to the 2020 Mars rover Science Definition Team - but were turned down. SMD made sure to let everyone on the list see everyone else's name/email addresses. Class act.

"From: "Schulte, Mitch (HQ-DG000)"
Subject: 2020 Mars rover Science Definition Team
Date: January 20, 2013 10:51:50 AM EST
To: [DELETED] -- Everyone (more than a hundred) who volunteered but were turned down
Cc: "Meyer, Michael A. (HQ-DG000)", "Tahu, George (HQ-DG000)", "Beaty, David W", John Mustard

20 January 2013

Dear Colleague,

Thank you for your letter of application (LOA) for the Science Definition Team (SDT) for the 2020 Mars science rover. I regret to inform you that you were not selected for the team. We received 158 applications to participate in this important activity from a highly distinguished group of colleagues, and the decision was difficult. We recognize the high level of expertise represented in the LOAs and will be looking to many of you to be expert witnesses to the SDT. We also are planning on forming a red team to critically review the products of the SDT and we will rely heavily on the LOAs to identify the red team members. We hope that you will consider serving in these important roles if asked.

We are delighted at the overwhelming response to the call, and with the quality of the applications. To us, this clearly indicates that the Mars science community is vibrant, active, and engaged, because of people like you, and we look forward to working with this community as we move forward with the Mars Exploration Program.

Best Regards,

Dr. Mitch Schulte
Program Scientist, Mars 2020"

NASA Finally Responds To Simple Questions About the New Horizons Mission to Pluto

"Three months ago I asked the NASA Science Mission Directorate (SMD) some simple questions regarding possible changes to the New Horizons encounter with Pluto based on recent data indicating debris in the region. I was told that I'd get a prompt reply. SMD PAO finally got around to responding to me today after three months of silence. One would think that these answers would be simple to provide - and based on standard mission operating procedures. Guess not."

- NASA Remains Silent on New Horizons Issues (Update)
- Will NASA Have To 'Bail Out' On Close Pluto Encounter?, earlier post

Kepler Has Problems

NASA Kepler Mission Update 17 January 2013

"Earlier this month during a semi-weekly contact with the spacecraft, the team detected an increase in the amount of torque required to spin one of the three remaining reaction wheels. This increase in friction occurred before the Jan. 11, 2013 quarterly roll, and persisted after the spacecraft roll and several momentum desaturations of the reaction wheels. Increased friction over a prolonged period can lead to accumulated wear on the reaction wheel, and possible wheel failure. To minimize wheel friction, the team implemented several mitigations including increased operating temperatures, higher spin rates, and bi-directional operation following the failure of reaction wheel #2 in July 2012."

Keith's note: If a second reaction wheel fails, the mission is over.

Mars Rover Curiosity's Team to Receive Space Foundation Award

"JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. For more information about the mission, visit: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/msl , http://www.nasa.gov/msl and http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl."

Keith's note: Why does NASA spend money to maintain three different MSL websites - websites that do not even link to one another? I can (sort of) understand if there is a turf war of sorts going on (there is) but this press release admits by default that NASA is incapable of coordinating its websites. At a time when Congress is looking for examples of taxpayer dollars being wasted, this is just begging to be investigated - especially when NASA advertises the fact that it is maintaining 3 websites simultaneously. I hear constant complaints from within NASA that they do not have enough funds to maintain their websites. When I see ongoing nonsense like this, those complaints begin to ring hollow. It looks like NASA has more than enough website money.

Oh yes - There's also http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/ which is the same as http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/. That makes 4 website addresses - one of the multiple websites actually has a duplicate. Why?

To summarize: JPL runs two MSL websites that overlap/duplicate one another but don't cross link - and JPL has an extra copy of one of these sites for good measure. Yet none of these JPL sites interact with the site at NASA HQ - and yet they all cater to the same audience. According to formal NASA policy, this is not supposed to happen. But it still does. NASA enacts NPDs and other policies and then ignores these same policies. Why bother having procedures if they are simply ignored?

- Why does NASA need multiple websites for the same mission?, earlier post
- NASA's Tangled Human Spaceflight Web Presence, earlier post
- NASA's Sprawling Web Presence, earlier post
- NASA's Inability To Speak With One Voice Online, earlier post

James Webb Space Telescope squeezing budget, NASA official says, LA Times

"We are operating in a zero sum game right now," [Paul] Hertz said. The talk comes as James Webb's $8.8-billion price tag - up by $3.1 billion - has squeezed the astrophysics division's budget, taking up more than expected by the priority-setting 2010 decadal survey of astronomy and astrophysics. Though NASA's overall astrophysics budget is predicted to rise slightly in the coming years, the James Webb telescope is set to take up roughly half it by fiscal year 2014, Hertz said. Thus, the slice of money for all other astronomy and astrophysics missions has thinned somewhat. "It's not that our budget has gone down, it's that we're spending more on James Webb than we had planned on at the time the decadal survey was done," Hertz said."

At Least One in Six Stars Has an Earth-Sized Planet

"The quest for a twin Earth is heating up. Using NASA's Kepler spacecraft, astronomers are beginning to find Earth-sized planets orbiting distant stars. A new analysis of Kepler data shows that about 17 percent of stars have an Earth-sized planet in an orbit closer than Mercury. Since the Milky Way has about 100 billion stars, there are at least 17 billion Earth-sized worlds out there."

NASA'S Kepler Mission Discovers 461 New Planet Candidates

"NASA's Kepler mission Monday announced the discovery of 461 new planet candidates. Four of the potential new planets are less than twice the size of Earth and orbit in their sun's "habitable zone," the region in the planetary system where liquid water might exist on the surface of a planet. Based on observations conducted from May 2009 to March 2011, the findings show a steady increase in the number of smaller-size planet candidates and the number of stars with more than one candidate."

Earth-Size Planets Are Common in Our Galaxy, University of California Berkeley

"An analysis of the first three years of data from NASA's Kepler mission, which already has discovered thousands of potential exoplanets, contains good news for those searching for habitable worlds outside our solar system. It shows that 17 percent of all Sun-like stars have planets one to two times the diameter of Earth orbiting close to their host stars, according to a team of astronomers from the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Hawaii at Manoa."

15 New Planets Hint at "Traffic Jam" of Moons in Habitable Zone

"Volunteers from the Planethunters.org website, part of the Oxford University-led Zooniverse project, have discovered 15 new planet candidates orbiting in the habitable zones of other stars. Added to the 19 similar planets already discovered in habitable zones, where the temperature is neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water, the new finds suggest that there may be a "traffic jam" of all kinds of strange worlds in regions that could potentially support life."

Planet Hunters. V. A Confirmed Jupiter-Size Planet in the Habitable Zone and 42 Planet Candidates from the Kepler Archive Data, astro-ph

NASA mulls plan to drag asteroid into moon's orbit, New Scientist

"Researchers with the Keck Institute for Space Studies in California have confirmed that NASA is mulling over their plan to build a robotic spacecraft to grab a small asteroid and place it in high lunar orbit. The mission would cost about $2.6 billion - slightly more than NASA's Curiosity Mars rover - and could be completed by the 2020s. .. Robotically bringing an asteroid to the moon instead would be a more attractive first step, the Keck researchers conclude, because an object orbiting the moon would be in easier reach of robotic probes and maybe even humans."

Keith's note: This study has not been released yet so we don't know what is in it. All we hear is how to go get an asteroid and bring it back to Earth - but not why. If the idea is to study an asteroid close up, I would think that you could send a swarm of satellites, large antennas, etc. based on existing hardware to an asteroid and allow high fidelity telepresence capability for the same/less cost and less complexity than using brute force to bring it to Earth. The only possible rationale for bringing an asteroid back to Earth would be to use the materials in it. I have yet to see any mission statement that charters NASA to mine asteroids. Indeed, the White House doesn't even support the more modest L2 station that Charlie Bolden (sometimes) wants to build using traditional engineering.

The last time I checked, one of the main reasons why the White House tasked NASA to send humans to an asteroid in the first place was to test out long duration deep space human capabilities as a prelude to sending humans to Mars. Bringing their asteroidal destination to Earth sort of defeats that initial intent. Who knows: maybe Charlie Bolden wants to bring Mars closer to Earth to cut down on travel time.

Keith's update: the original report has indeed been released previously. But the specific mission proposal that NASA has sent to the White House has not been released - nor will it be any time soon since this is all "predecisional" stuff.

A New Look at Old Images

Lunar Orbiter 3 Image 3121_H1 - Tsiolkovskiy Crater

Keith's note: This newly retrieved high resolution image, frame 3121_H1, was taken by Lunar Orbiter 3 on 19 February 1967 at 19:22 GMT. The prominent feature in this image is Tsiolkovskiy, a large impact crater located on the far side of the Moon. We'll be posting a total of 4 recently retrieved Lunar Orbiter 3 images of the Tsiolkovskiy region this week at the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project.

Changes in the Management of the NASA Mars Exploration Program

"With the retirement of Doug McCuistion, Director of the Mars Exploration Program (MEP) at the end of December, I would like to announce the following:

Acting MEP Director: James Green
Lead MEP Program Executive: Lisa May
Lead MEP Program Scientist: Michael Meyer"


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This page is an archive of entries in the Space & Planetary Science category from January 2013.

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