Space & Planetary Science: September 2013 Archives

Water for Future Mars Astronauts?, LANL

"Perhaps most notable among findings from the ChemCam team is that all of the dust and fine soil contains small amounts of water."

A Martian Igneous Rock That's Surprisingly Earth-like, Caltech

"But Curiosity is far more than a one-trick rover, and in a paper published today in the journal Science, a team of MSL scientists reports its analysis of a surprisingly Earth-like Martian rock that offers new insight into the history of Mars's interior and suggests parts of the red planet may be more like our own than we ever knew."

NASA paywalls first papers arising from Curiosity rover, I am setting them free, Michael EIsen

"The Mars Curiosity rover has been a huge boon for NASA - tapping into the public's fascination with space exploration and the search for life on other planets. Its landing was watched live by millions of people, and interest in the photos and videos it is collecting is so great, that NASA has had to relocate its servers to deal with the capacity. So what does NASA do to reward this outpouring of public interest (not to mention to $2.5 billion taxpayer dollars that made it possible)? They publish the first papers to arise from the project behind a Science magazine's paywall."

Keith's note: I am really baffled by this. I got this unsolicted email today from the JPL OIG. I had no idea that this SOFIA audit was going on. My reply (to PAO, OIG): "Thanks for thinking that I may have opinions relevant to your audit/investigation. But what I want to know (and, heads up,  I consider this to be newsworthy and hence publishable) is why are you using an official  NASA.gov email address to send me (media) wholly unsolicited email with threatening legal language attached with regard to disclosure of this unsolicited email? Again, thanks for thinking I might have useful commentary, but I do not like to have people in government positions send me news about a government activity - in an official capacity - and then dangle legal threats at the bottom of the very same email."

After I sent my response I got this "Xu, Tiffany L (0920-NASA) would like to recall the message, "NASA - Discussion regarding SOFIA"." Duh. I do not work at NASA so you can't "recall" anything. Then I got the same (original) email again. I do not care what legal language the OIG attached. The email was official, unsolicted, and sent again after an initial complaint.

Keith's 30 Sep note: Neither PAO or the OIG has responded to the comments I included when I forwarded all of this to them. I have to therefore assume that they have no issues with this process.

Here it is - maybe some of you have information on the value of/problems with SOFIA to provide to the JPL OIG:

Mr. Cowing, My name is Tiffany Xu and work for NASA Office of Inspector General out of our field office at JPL. Currently we are conducting the survey phase of an audit on the SOFIA project. Since SOFIA has had many delay of instrument deliverables, one of the question that we are be tasked to find out is how astronomical society feel towards SOFIA: is it still an observatory that the general community is excited about, is the project delivering what it has been promised, and is it still relevant considering the up and coming JWST.

We have noted the many articles you had written about NASA and we are interested in getting your feed on this project. Specifically, we are trying to determine

NASA Has A Plutonium Problem

NASA's Plutonium Problem Could End Deep-Space Exploration, Wired

"The country's scientific stockpile has dwindled to around 36 pounds. To put that in perspective, the battery that powers NASA's Curiosity rover, which is currently studying the surface of Mars, contains roughly 10 pounds of plutonium, and what's left has already been spoken for and then some. The implications for space exploration are dire: No more plutonium-238 means not exploring perhaps 99 percent of the solar system. In effect, much of NASA's $1.5 billion-a-year (and shrinking) planetary science program is running out of time. The nuclear crisis is so bad that affected researchers know it simply as "The Problem."

Vesta Atlas Released

Take a Virtual, High-Resolution Tour of Vesta, NASA

"An atlas of the giant asteroid Vesta, created from images taken as NASA's Dawn mission flew around the object (also known as a protoplanet), is now accessible for the public to explore online.

The set of maps was created from mosaics of 10,000 images taken by Dawn's framing camera instrument at a low altitude of about 130 miles (210 kilometers)."

Keith's 11 Sep 7:00 pm EDT note: Looks like NASA will admit on Thursday that Voyager 1 has indeed left our solar system, but that it did so more than a year ago. NASA prefers Yes/No answers i.e. has it or has it not crossed that imaginary dotted line that is in place around the edge of our solar system.

The press event will be at 2:00 pm EDT. NASA has still not sent out a media advisory.

What's sort of funny is how all of the science types go back and forth as to whether Voyager 1 has or has not crossed this imaginary line that marks the boundary of our solar system - when no one has never been to the place where that line is - and the line is based on things we expect to find - but we don't exactly know when/where that magic line crossing will actually happen (or have already happened).

What I want to know is when Voyager 1 becomes VGER. Just wondering.

Jonathan McDowell agrees and wants NASA to rename Voyager 1 as "VGER" now - i.e. "Voyager Grand Extrasolar Recon".

What say you?

- A Porous, Layered Heliopause,
- NASA Is Not Sure if Voyager 1 Has Left The Solar System, earlier post
- Is Voyager 1 in Interstellar Space? The Debate Continues, earlier post
- Has Voyager 1 Left The Solar System?, earlier post

Keith's 12 Sep 11:00 am EDT update: NASA PAO finally squeezed out a media advisory.

NASA News Conference Today To Discuss Voyager Spacecraft

"NASA will host a news conference today at 2 p.m. EDT (11 a.m. PDT), to discuss NASA's Voyager mission. It is related to a paper to be published in the journal Science, which is embargoed until 2 p.m. EDT."

Confirmed: NASA's Voyager 1 is Travelling in Interstellar Space, NASA

"New and unexpected data indicate Voyager 1 has been traveling for about one year through plasma, or ionized gas, present in the space between stars."

Keith's 3:10 pm EDT note: LADEE slipped into safe mode again yesterday morning when its star trackers experienced an alignment error. This error has been fixed and the spacecraft is expected to exit safe mode today and proceed normally with the mission.

Keith's 5:16 pm EDT update: I just got this baffling update from ARC PAO 4 hours after I asked for a statement (they have been sitting on this for 3 hours): "On Sept. 10 around 7 a.m. Pacific Time, the spacecraft went into safe mode due to an alignment error between the two star tracker camera heads affecting the rate estimator when the sun occludes one of the cameras. We corrected that and came out of safe mode this morning, Sept. 11, to resume normal operations. To keep the media and public informed about the spacecraft status, NASA will issue weekly Project Manager Updates written by Dr. Butler Hine. The incident that occurred Sept. 10 and was corrected Sept. 11 will be in the next Project Manager Update."

Why isn't @NASALADEE tweeting about this? It happened more than 24 hours ago. Why isn't the official NASA LADEE website being updated with this information? Why is NASA ARC PAO waiting for a "weekly project manager update" to release this information to the public? What else are they not releasing?

Keith's 7:29 pm EDT update: according to this tweet: @worden: After two not unexpected glitches since launch @NASALADEE just demonstrated main propulsion system.

Keith's 9:00 pm EDT update: @NASALADEE only tweeted about this news 36 hours after the fact. It must be so hard at NASA these days to find the right 140 characters ...

Lunar Orbiter Imagery Presented on NASA Ames Hyperwall 2, Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project

"Last week one of the images retrieved by the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) was presented on the NASA Ames Hyperwall visualization system. The image that was presented was a portion of the floor of crater Copernicus taken by Lunar Orbiter 5 on 11 August 1967. Specifically frame 5151_H1. FYI at the native resolution of this restored image and the resolution of the individual monitors used in this hyperwall, we'd need 50 - yes fifty - hyperwall 2 set ups to show this LOIRP image at its full resolution."

LADEE is Heading For The Moon with One Small Glitch (with video)

"NASA has confirmed that the reaction wheels of its Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) were successfully brought back on-line and the spacecraft has acquired its safe-mode attitude profile."

Mission updates will be carried on NASA TV. You can also track mission status by following @NASALADEE or at the mission website.

Space Laser: Testing an Interplanetary Internet from the Moon, OSTP

"Optical laser communications will enable a variety of robust future science and human exploration missions--providing a higher data rate, and delivering more accurate navigation capabilities with reduced size, weight, and power requirements. Someday, maybe, the Solar System will be peppered with a high-speed interplanetary communications network much like the wireless Web currently spinning here on Earth."

Female Astronauts Said To Face Discrimination Over NASA's Space Radiation Concerns, Huffington Post

"Depending on when you fly a space mission, a female will fly only 45 to 50 percent of the missions that a male can fly," Peggy Whitson, the former chief of NASA's Astronaut Corps, said. "That's a pretty confining limit in terms of opportunity. I know that they are scaling the risk to be the same, but the opportunities end up causing gender discrimination based on just the total number of options available for females to fly. [That's] my perspective."


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