Space & Planetary Science: March 2021 Archives

Keith's note: When you think of NASA you think of science. That is because NASA wants you to think that. And since there is a lot of science at NASA, this is rather easy to do. Indeed, many times the people or organizations tasked with getting the science out via education and outreach at NASA are not very good at doing so. But the science is so compelling that it gets out despite attempts to trip it up. And when excellence in communication is coupled with the compelling science the world often stops what it is doing to take a look.

Let's pretend for a moment that we are not NASA employees, space fans, or people familiar with how NASA is organized. Let's just think like regular people who want to understand the science that NASA is always talking about. Maybe you are a student. Perhaps a parent. Or maybe just someone who is curious.

As a regular person you'd think that NASA would position its social and online media assets - the most extensive of any government agency on Earth - to best guide you to all the agency's science. Google "NASA Science" and you see a page of links that all refer to the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) - the top one being science.nasa.gov - the SMD home page. This is good. And it is also not so good. At NASA "Science" and "science" are not the same thing.

Keith's note: Take a look at the NASA Advisory Council STEM Engagement Committee. The page has lots of meeting agendas but no one seems to have taken any notes at the meetings in 2020.

The October 2019 meeting minutes has a few strange entries. This one stands out:

"Mr. Dan Dumbacher noted that the five Sphere 1 activities did not include Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate content. Ms. Brown noted no aeronautics activities were brought forward for Sphere 1. While Office of STEM Engagement strives to be equitable across Mission Directorates each year, no aeronautics activities with a high level of magnitude were brought forward. Not every Mission Directorate will be highlighted each year but will be across years."

So let me get this right: the NASA STEM organization is only going to cover part of NASA's science and technology part of the time? In this case Aeronautics is not being highlighted? And yet in a few days there will be a helicopter flying on Mars - and in so doing - this helicopter will demonstrate every possible aspect of aeronautics as people learn how you can actually fly in an atmosphere 1/100th the density of Earth's at sea level.

If you go to the NASA STEM Engagement main page - there is no mention of Ingenuity or or Mars Perseverance. You would think that a multi-billion dollar mission on Mars - one that utilizes virtually every aspect of NASA science and Technology - would be front and center on the page of the part of NASA dedicated to teaching and learning. Talk about an opportunity dripping with teaching opportunities. Guess again. This organization only serves some of the students some of the time - and it tells you that it is doing so.

Just to be fair the NASA Science Mission Directorate is not exactly promoting educational opportunities associated with this mission either but I suspect they will dial that up. But the NASA Aeronautics folks are much more proactive with a link to a page with overt STEM activities - something that the NASA STEM Engagement Office is ignoring.

Book Review: "Alien Oceans: The Search For Life In The Depths Of Space" by Kevin Hand

"We live on an ocean world with 71% its surface covered by a water. For all of history humans had an intrinsic bias that all inhabited worlds would have large oceans - since we do. Indeed, the large flat plains of our Moon still bear names of imaginary seas based on that bias and early telescopes. That said we held to the notion that life would arise on a world if only it had Earth's basic characteristics - one of which was large bodies of water. Well, we now know that there is more than one way to have a planet with lots of liquid water."

Babin Requests Information on Europa Clipper Mission and SLS Use

" I'm expecting a prompt response from NASA answering our questions on their analyses of launch vehicles, as well as cost, schedule, and mission impacts."

Letter From Rep. Babin To NASA Administrator Jurczyk Regarding Europa Clipper and SLS Launch Issues

https://s3.amazonaws.com/images.spaceref.com/news/2021/babin.s.jpg

Image guide: White = Actual information request from Babin to NASA; Gray = legal gotcha language from a Babin staffer (larger image)

Keith's note: You really should take a look at the letter that Rep. Babin sent to Steve Jurczyk on this whole Europa Clipper/SLS launch decision thing. I gotta tell you, I have neen reading letters between Congress and NASA for 25 years. Some have been rather pointed, confrontational, and snarky. And I have certainly written more than my fair share of snarky gotcha PAO and FOIA requests to NASA designed to make sure that no stone is left unturned. But I have to say that in all the time I have been editing NASAWatch I have never seen a letter from Congress to NASA requesting formation wherein the quasi-legalistic definitions of what constitutes the requested information - and how it is to be identified, sourced, and transmitted to Congress - that uses three times the words of what information is actually being asked for.

Rep. Babin is in the minority, so there is only so much mischief that he can do with whatever NASA provides. But he clearly has some legal eagle on his staff who is trying use their law degree to catch NASA in the act of doing something bad or not being responsive - however trivial the infraction may be.

- Moon 2024 Goal Delays SLS Availability For Europa Clipper, earlier post
- NASA OIG Audit: Management Of NASA's Europa Mission, NASA OIG, earlier post
- NASA OIG Follow-up to May 2019 Audit of Europa Mission: Congressional Launch Vehicle Mandate, earlier post

Book Review: "The Sirens of Mars: Searching For Life On Another World" by Sarah Stewart Johnson

"We humans just landed yet another rover on Mars. As has been the case for decades, each mission to Mars builds upon the successes and failures of those that preceded it. And each mission seeks to ask more profound questions that its predecessors. The Perseverance rover is now unpacking itself and preparing to explore Jezero crater - a mobile astrobiologist in search of evidence that Mars may have once harbored life.

How we got the point where we can send complex droids to Mars was not easy. It all started with people looking through telescopes - often with overactive imaginations. That led to spacecraft barely more sophisticated than a toaster with a shortwave radio which shattered many of those earlier preconceptions. Those early missions blazed a trail of ever increasing complexity and sophistication."

Keith's note: NASA has some amazing online resources - you can find exoplanets, track satellites, watch weather, and see meteors. These resources intrinsically overlap. So you'd think that NASA would always be thinking of ways to leverage one resource with another so as to provide an emergent property: a fuller, richer picture of the world - and the universe around us - using all of the tools NASA can offer. Guess again.

One part of NASA regularly knows that there is a synergy with someone else's stuff but they won't act on that since someone else's resources are well, someone else's resources. Different divisions or directorates or centers, different pots of money, different management interests. Net result: NASA is an amazing mix of neat toys spread out across the web with minimal thought given as to how best to convey them to the public. And then there is a sexy mission landing or launch and NASA is on a sugar high for a few days. Then its back to being dysfunctional. Why fix the routine stuff, they ask - did you see how many people watched the landing?

NASA stove pipes prevent collaboration. The net result of these artificial barriers is that trying to navigate the totality of NASA's web presence is often an exercise in rabbit hole diving. Yes, O my readers, I have ranted relentlessly about this before. But it is the gift that keeps on giving. NASA never fixes these things even when they are pointed out to them.

Some new examples. The NASA Meteorwatch Facebook page has a NASA MSFC website address that links to the NASA MSFC Meteoroid Environment Office. The Twitter account also has a MSFC home - yet the Twitter account has not tweeted anything about meteors since 2015 but retweeted a @NASA Tweet once in 2019 and another in 2020. And the Flickr account you are sent to has nothing to do with meteors. So why have this inert Twitter account named exactly the same as a NASA activity - one that is active?


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This page is an archive of entries in the Space & Planetary Science category from March 2021.

Space & Planetary Science: February 2021 is the previous archive.

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