Keith Cowing: September 2016 Archives

Congress members question whether SpaceX should conduct its own investigation, LA Times

"The letter, dated Thursday, also cited SpaceX's prior explosion in June 2015 while carrying cargo for NASA to the International Space Station. The Hawthorne space company led its own investigation for that launch failure. Under federal law, SpaceX is allowed to conduct its own investigation. SpaceX ... and other companies lobbied successfully to extend the law last year. The FAA oversees such investigations. The Congress members said the investigation responses raised "serious concerns about the authority provided to commercial providers and the protection of national space assets."

"Ten Republican Congress members led by Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) have sent a letter to the heads of the Air Force, NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration questioning whether SpaceX should be allowed to lead its own investigation ... Coffman's congressional district includes United Launch Alliance's headquarters. Many of the congressmen represent states where ULA has operations."

Keith's note: But wait. ULA did their own internal review when the first stage of the Atlas V delivering OA-6 Cygnus shut down early. Oops. H/t to Tim B.

United Launch Alliance Provides Update to OA-6 Cygnus Launch

"Per standard processes when a flight data item such as this has been identified, the ULA engineering team, along with our engine supplier and several government customers, forms a robust review team. The review team assessed all flight and operational data to determine direct and root causes and implemented the appropriate corrective actions for future flights. .. "We would like to thank our customers and supplier partners for their outstanding collaboration in the detailed review of this anomaly."

Humans to Mars: a deeply disturbing idea, Linda Billings

"I have deep moral qualms about this idea, as it appeals to a small fraction of humankind and proposes what would inevitably be an elitist enterprise. Would it be ethical to enable people with enough money to buy a ticket to leave our troubled Earth behind? Would it be ethical for government(s) to subsidize such an enterprise? In Musk's disturbing "vision" - a nightmare in my mind - how many poverty-stricken Bangladeshis or Congolese, how many permanently displaced Syrian refugees, will come up with $200,000 - or $2,000, for that matter - to "start anew," as the colonization zealots say they want to do? I participated in a conference this past weekend about "social and conceptual issues in astrobiology." Among the questions we 30 attendees were asked to consider in our discussions were: "Should humans seek to exploit and/or colonize space? If so, how should this be done? Are there truly universal principals of biology, psychology, morality, etc. that would apply to extraterrestrial life?" My views on these questions are: No. We should not do it. No."

Keith's note: I have known Linda for 30 years and have a lot of respect for her work. But I thought this whole "but people are starving in [fill in the blank]" or "why spend money in space when we should spend it on Earth" mindset was a thing of the 1960 and 1970s. If you want to go after budgets to fix social inequalities then NASA is not the place to start - there is much more low hanging fruit elsewhere.

Decades of public opinion polls, popular media, and other cultural phenomena strongly point to a public viewpoint on space that is exactly opposite of what Linda claims. Moreover her viewpoint flies in the face of human history. People explore. Then they colonize. Then they move on to explore some more because that is what people do. In particular I am not certain why this tiny group of 30 space people (no doubt the usual suspects at meetings like this) meeting in their little echo chamber is in any way representative of what America's 300+ million - or the billions who live elsewhere think about exploring space.

Look at China and India - countries with vast, pressing social issues - issues that surely could use more money. Yet these countries are dedicating large resources toward exploring space - often times repeating what other countries did decades ago. What is it that they have discovered about exploring space that space people in America seem to have forgotten? Meanwhile, as NASA runs in circles with inadequate budgets driven by plans that they were never going to be capable of implementing, the private sector has amassed the resources to do things on their own in space - for their own reasons.

NASA has been 20 years away from sending humans to Mars for over 40 years. Clearly the NASA approach to sending humans on Mars no longer works. Its time for someone else to do it. If not Elon Musk then some other billionaire(s) will certainly step up to the plate. And if not the U.S. then other countries will.

Keith's personal note: I am eternally fond of Linda. We worked together at NASA Life Science Division in the 80s. She knows her Astrobiology. Much of NASA's Planetary Protection policies are the result of her hard work. That said, I do not agree with her opinions about humans on Mars. That said, she's still a true believer in the exploration of space.

Follow-up Evaluation of NASA's Implementation of Executive Order 13526, Classified National Security Information, NASA OIG

"Although NASA has taken steps to implement our prior recommendations, we continued to identify inconsistencies in the Agency's application of CNSI policies and procedures that led to improper marking of classified documents. This occurred because of insufficient identification and training of classifiers. Further, implementation of the Agency's self-inspection program was not fully effective because NASA Centers did not consistently review documents to verify the accuracy of classified markings. Improved identification and training of classification officials and effective self-inspections would help ensure classified information at NASA is managed in accordance with Federal requirements."

Information Security: NASA Needs to Improve Controls over Selected High-Impact Systems. GAO-16-688SU, September 23, GAO (Restricted report)

Elon Musk's presentation charts (pdf)

Elon Musk Outlines his Plan for Colonizing Mars and Why We Should Do It, SpaceRef [Includes the full video of Elon Musk's talk and the presentation slides.]

"In a presentation today at the 67th International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, Elon Musk outlined his ambitious plan to colonize Mars. His personal motivation is to make humanity a multi-planetary species. The reason is to avoid an extinct level event on Earth that would wipe out humanity.

To achieve a self-sustaining society you'll need to send 1 million people to Mars which could take 40-100 years. To get those people there Musk introduced the SpaceX Interplanetary Transport System. The rocket, the largest ever built, could carry 100 plus people per flight and would need 10,000 flights to carry those million people. Musk hopes to be able to eventually carry 200 people per flight which would reduce the number of flights needed."

Updated: Congress Hearing: Are We Losing the Space Race to China [Hearing video]

Subcommittee Examines China's Space Exploration Capabilities and Achievements, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Democrats

"Now, almost 50 years since that historic event, some are asking if we are again in a space race, but this time with China. Two weeks ago, China successfully placed in orbit its Tiangong-2 experimental orbiting space lab. And that accomplishment comes on the heels of China's landing a robotic rover on the Moon, with plans announced to do the same on Mars. So, should we be concerned that China is may be closing the gap in spaceflight capabilities?"

Chairman Smith Opening Statement: Are We Losing the Space Race to China?

"China continues to make progress. We cannot resign ourselves to the remembrance of past achievements. It is time for the United States to reassert its leadership. For over fifty years, the United States has been committed to the peaceful use and exploration of outer space. Our philosophical principles of freedom, the rule of law, and transparency are evident in the actions we take. The United States shares scientific data and findings, promotes international cooperation, and maintains international peace and security in outer space. The world has benefited from U.S. space leadership."

Witness Statements: Dennis Shea, Mark Stokes, Dean Cheng, James Lewis

Earlier China postings

Thomas Zurbuchen Named Head of NASA Science Mission Directorate, NASA

"NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has named Thomas Zurbuchen as the new associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington, effective Monday, Oct. 3. Zurbuchen is a professor of space science and aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He also is the university's founding director of the Center for Entrepreneurship in the College of Engineering. Zurbuchen's experience includes research in solar and heliospheric physics, experimental space research, space systems, and innovation and entrepreneurship."

Memo From Acting NASA Science Mission Directorate AA Geoff Yoder, NASA

"My NASA experience has been challenging, exciting, full of new discoveries, and more importantly part of a unique family. I am excited to transition into my next phase of life and plan to retire from NASA December 2016. I don't know what the future holds for me but if history is any indication, I will be blessed with meeting new challenges, opportunities, and making new friends."

Elon Musk has a lot to prove at today's Mars colonization announcement, The Verge

"This isn't a phone, or a new app, or new headphones - it's not a consumer product at all. Rockets are far too expensive; space colonies are more expensive still. If Musk doesn't announce financial backing, it means the presentation is meant to convince someone - probably NASA - to fund him. But this is an extraordinarily awkward time to try to win over money, since one of his rockets blew up earlier this month."

Get Ready, Elon Musk Is About to Outline His Plan to Colonize Mars, Popular Mechanics

"The new Mars shuttle and BFR are only design ideas that have been teased by SpaceX, so it remains to be seen whether a concrete plan to develop one or both of these new spaceflight systems - or something completely unknown to the public at this point - will be revealed during Musk's speech."

Elon Musk to discuss his vision for how he plans to colonize Mars, Washington Post

"Then in 2020, SpaceX would fly multiple Falcon Heavy rockets, he said in an interview with The Post earlier this year. The goal of those missions would be to perfect the difficult art of landing large objects on the Mars surface. If everything goes according to plan, SpaceX would launch a new, more powerful rocket in 2022, and then with crews in 2024."

Water Plumes on Europa

Evidence of Water Vapor Plumes on Europa, NASA

"Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have imaged what may be water vapor plumes erupting off the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa. This finding bolsters other Hubble observations suggesting the icy moon erupts with high altitude water vapor plumes. The observation increases the possibility that missions to Europa may be able to sample Europa's ocean without having to drill through miles of ice."

Tectonics on Mercury

Mercury is Tectonically Active, NASA

"Images obtained by NASA's MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft reveal previously undetected small fault scarps-- cliff-like landforms that resemble stair steps. These scarps are small enough that scientists believe they must be geologically young, which means Mercury is still contracting and that Earth is not the only tectonically active planet in our solar system, as previously thought."

NASA Headquarters Is For Sale

NASA's HQ, one of D.C.'s largest federal leases, offered for sale, Washington Business Journal

"Piedmont Office Realty Trust wants to shed one of the largest federally leased office properties in Greater Washington, NASA's Southwest Washington headquarters - another sign that investment sales activity is gaining momentum heading into the fall buying season."

Elon Musk's dream of going to Mars is SpaceX's biggest strength, and its biggest distraction, Quartz

"Scott Pace, a former NASA official, said that any company attempting to do as much as SpaceX needed to carefully assess whether it was pushing its workers too hard. "It would be ambitious for any company to do a schedule like that," Pace says. "When you look at changes in launch schedule that are increasing over historical norms, you should be worried whether or not schedule pressure is putting unacceptable strains on the workforce." SpaceX rejects out of hand the idea that it is pushing its workers too hard."

Between a rocket and a hard place: Elon Musk to give the speech of his life, Ars Technica

"It also seems likely that NASA won't offer substantial support, either. The space agency is building its own heavy lift rocket, the Space Launch System, and has its own #JourneyToMars. NASA's administrator, Charles Bolden, has wholeheartedly supported SpaceX and commercial space activities in low-Earth orbit, but has been far less effusive about private businesses venturing into deep space on their own. Earlier this month Bolden flatly stated he was not a "big fan" of private companies building heavy-lift rockets. With its Falcon Heavy and BFR, that is exactly what SpaceX is doing."

- Why SpaceX May Get Humans to Mars - First, earlier post
- Yet Another NASA Mars "Plan" Without A Plan - or a Budget, earlier post
- NASA's SpaceX Mars Mission Briefing That NASA Is Not Telling You About, earlier post
- Update on NASA's #JourneyToNowhere, earlier post
- NASA Is Still Kicking The Can Down The Road on the #JourneyToMars, earlier post

Raptor Roars

Gaffe-prone Gary Johnson says humans must inhabit other planets, NY Daily News

"Gary Johnson might want to study up about Earth before worrying about other planets. The Libertarian Party presidential nominee -- who earlier this month infamously failed to recognize the Syrian city of Aleppo during a nationally televised interview -- said Sunday that the human race will ultimately be forced to live on other planets. "I mean, the plate tectonics at one point, Africa and South America separated and I am talking now about the Earth and the fact that we have existed for billions of years and will going forward," the gaffe-prone former New Mexico governor said on ABC's "This Week." "We do have to inhabit other planets. I mean, the future of the human race ... is space exploration. So, no, we should be prudent with the environment. We care about the environment," he said."

Gary Johnson's Solution For Climate Change Involves Moving to Other Planets, Gizmodo

"Look, what it points to also is the fact that we do have to inhabit other planets," Johnson continued. "The future of the human race is space exploration."

Keith's note: I just deleted half a dozen posts by readers that have nothing to do with the topic of this post: space policy. If you people cannot stay on topic I will shut off comments on election 2016 posts again.

David Weaver Is Leaving NASA

Keith's note: Sources report that NASA Associate Administrator for the Office of Communications David Weaver is leaving the agency for a position at the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA).

David S. Weaver, NASA Associate Administrator for the Office of Communications

"David Weaver became NASA's associate administrator for the Office of Communications on July 18, 2010. Weaver is a senior public administration professional with 25 years of experience in government, politics, media relations and public policy."

Posting Update

Keith's note: I am heading off to the UK on Tuesday for the rest of the week - so Marc will be doing the bulk of the posting until next Monday.

NASA FISO Telecon: NASA Collaboration with SpaceX's Red Dragon Mission

"The next Future In-Space Operations (FISO) colloquium will be Wednesday, September 21, when we will host Philip McAlister (NASA HQ), who will speak on "NASA Collaboration with SpaceX's Red Dragon Mission."

Keith's note: Elon Musk is getting ready for his big Mars colonization plan presentation at the IAC next week. The first step in this path to Mars is the Dragon mission that SpaceX is planning to send to Mars in 2018. You'd think that NASA would want people to know how it is involved in all of this. Indeed, NASA's Director of Commercial Spaceflight Development Phil McAlister is making a presentation at this week's NASA FISO telecon. Yet no mention is made of this presentation on NASA's calendar, Journey To Mars page, NASA's Commercial Space Transportation page, or anywhere else at

Why is NASA hiding this briefing? Is NASA afraid to be seen supporting a competing plan for the #JourneyToMars ?

Teasing Mars

Elon Musk scales up his ambitions, considering going "well beyond" Mars, Ars Technica

"Musk dropped a surprise on Twitter. The workhorse spacecraft that will carry approximately 100 tons of cargo or 100 people to the surface of Mars, which until now has been popularly known as the Mars Colonial Transporter, can't be called that, Musk said. "Turns out MCT can go well beyond Mars, so will need a new name..." he tweeted on Friday evening. By Saturday evening he had a new name dubbing the spacecraft the "Interplanetary Transport System," or ITS."

Mars and beyond: Elon Musk teases his plans for interplanetary travel, Wired

"So far, Musk has only teased details of planned missions to Mars: both manned and unmanned. The first unmanned probe from SpaceX will be sent to the planet "as soon as 2018," it was said in June. Musk added that probes would be launched by SpaceX every two years, before humans are landed on the planet in 2025."

ILS Offers Proton Variants For Smaller Payloads, ILS

"International Launch Services (ILS) announces a product line extension of the Proton Breeze M commercial launch vehicle designed to expand the addressable GEO market for cost effective launch solutions in the small and medium satellite class range (3 to 5 metric tons). Designated as "Proton Variants," these two additional vehicles will be optimized 2-stage versions of the time tested and flight proven Proton Breeze M launch system for exclusive commercial use by ILS."

US expert: Launch of Tiangong-2 a 'great leap', CCTV (with video)

"Tiangong-2 is very important because it's the 2nd space station that China has launched. It's improved on the earlier version. This will be used for several years, and then it will be followed by a larger and more complex space station. This is how you learn to do things in space. This is the way the US did it, Russia did it. This is a very significant space station because it can also be refueled, which the earlier one could not. The Tiangong 2 also will last a lot longer. It has a matter of fact, the first mission, Shenzhou 11 is going up in October, and they will be up there for over a month. So, that now is twice the length of the previous mission. Every mission gets longer and more complex, that's what China is doing. China, within 2 or 3 years, could be seen as an equal competitor to the Russian goverment's space manned program, and the US's, the European's, and the Japanese space program," said Keith Cowing, former NASA employee."

Cruz, Nelson, Others Introduce the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2016

"U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) today announced the introduction of S. 3346, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Transition Authorization Act of 2016. The legislation provides stability for NASA to sustain and build upon existing national space investments designed to advance space exploration and science with an overall authorization level of $19.508 billion for fiscal year 2017."

Full text of legislation

How Do You Make the Fake NASA Documentary Operation Avalanche? Hire a Really Good Lawyer, Wired

"As to NASA, well, the agency isn't too happy. In a statement, it says the "the film project was misrepresented" to the Science and Entertainment Exchange and to NASA, which supports more than 100 films each year. "We are disappointed the filmmakers would exploit the openness and transparency of those involved," the agency says. That might explain why no one at NASA accepted Johnson's invitation to see the film when it played at South by Southwest."

The director who fooled NASA into helping make fake moon-landing movie 'Operation Avalanche', Mashable

"After making a name for himself in the independent film world with The Dirties, Canadian director Matt Johnson is back with Operation Avalanche, a faux documentary about four CIA agents who go undercover inside NASA, where they make a startling discovery about the space agency's ability to put a man on the moon. And the way they did it is some real tinfoil-hat stuff: Johnson and his cohorts told NASA they were student filmmakers looking to do a documentary on the Apollo program. NASA was all too happy to oblige, giving them access to NASA officials conversations that were recorded and edited to fit the secret concept and facilities. Operation Avalanche debuted at Sundance earlier this year and has been making the rounds at film festivals. Lionsgate Premiere releases the low-budget thriller (the largely improvised film is presented in grainy 16mm to make it feel more authentic) on Friday, and it's worth a look, if only to see how Johnson and his collaborators talked their way inside the hallowed walls of NASA."

'Operation Avalanche': A Fake Documentary About A Faked Moon Landing, NPR

"To film this adventure, Johnsonwith collaborators Owen Williams and Josh Bolesreally did infiltrate NASA, telling the agency he was a student filmmaker shooting a documentary about the space race. No one at the research-rigorous center bothered to Google him, apparently, or they would have found a man with a history of video pranks. (The candid-camera approach may help explain why no one in the film talks like they're in the 1960s. Johnson and company likely had to keep up appearances in front of present-day NASA staff.)"

Sneaking into NASA and other money-saving strategies from the set of 'Operation Avalanche', Business Journal

"Think about it: Just from a raw economics point of view, how the hell are we going to rebuild all that [stuff] in a credible way?" he told me. "There's no way that we're going to rebuild the outside of Shepperton Studios or even anything that looked like Shepperton studios. We just would have had to cut it from the script. The same with NASA."

NASA Open Government 2016 Plan, NASA CIO

Keith's 15 Sept note: With regard to the Open NASA thing at FOIA this report says "NASA's FOIA program provides access to agency documents through a citizen-centered service. NASA is committed to providing the public with excellent customer service as well as access to disclosable agency documents in accordance with all appropriate laws and regulations. Each Plan listed improvements, consolidations, and revised processes. Each of these commitments was met, and the effort to provide excellence continues."

With regard to the "excellent customer service" that the NASA CIO is so excited about, if you go to you get:

"Not Found The requested URL /foia was not found on this server. Apache/2.4.7 (Ubuntu) Server at Port 443"

If you go to NASA's actual FOIA page and click on "Submit a FOIA Request
+ View Form"
- it also links to which leads you to the same dead link.

So much for enhanced customer service by the NASA CIO.

Keith's 18 Sept note: It took NASA 3 days to fix this problem once it was highlighted here. Just sayin'

Keith's note: Rich people giving each other awards. I rented the National Air & Space Museum - twice - for NASA In the late 80s as a NASA contractor employee. I have been to a bunch of them over the years. I know what these receptions cost. This one was easily $50K - and most of the money went to caterers. To his credit, Jeff Bezos gave his $250,000 award to SEDS (Students for the Exploration and Development of Space) - an organization that Bezos once belonged to as a student. If only these rich people could skip the overhead that goes with these dress-up events and write checks to organizations that matter. The cost of this reception alone could have put someone through college. I get invited to this thing every year and refuse to attend.

The space community has convinced itself that it needs to have parties like this to make themselves feel good about whatever it is they do. Instead of receptions in fancy museums in DC why not write the checks that would pay for that party to fund students, small start-ups, and other "little" things that will have an actual difference. 99.999% of americans have no idea who the space elite are or what they do. Regular folks worry about their jobs and their kids' future. The space community needs to pivot away from this self-indulgence and focus on the taxpayers who pay for all of their toys. As long as the populace sees no clear value to space exploration and has no personnel connection to it they are not going to rise up to save it when budgets start to get thin.

One candidate for the presidency has wondered aloud whether potholes and crumbling infrastructure should be given priority over more funds for NASA. To be honest, in the minds of the vast majority rational folks who work hard every day to feed their families, better roads to cut their commuting times are far more likely to be seen as having an effect on their lives than some rocket to another planet. And yet the space people have big parties that they invite one another to.

This must have been what it was like when Rome was burning.

White House, NASA to Discuss Asteroid Redirect Mission's Importance for Journey to Mars, Planetary Defense

"NASA will provide three virtual updates on two planned Asteroid Redirect Missions (ARM) Wednesday, Sept. 14 at the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. NASA Television will provide coverage at 11 a.m. EDT of the first briefing to discuss ARM's contributions to the Journey to Mars and protection of our planet."

"This event will be streamed live for virtual participation only. The stream will be accessible starting at 12 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, Sept. 14: The public and media are invited to watch the virtual update online, and submit questions throughout the event. ... Social media followers can watch live and submit questions online."

Keith's note: In other words news media will not be allowed to interact directly with Holdren or Bolden or anyone else. Questions will be screened by NASA PAO before the are asked. In other words: do no expect any news. This is called "running out the clock" here in Washington. In the waning days of an administration you say only what you want to say and make it all but impossible for anyone to dispute what you say. But you make it look like you are saying something because innocuous, safe questions are asked.

Falcon Heavy? New Glenn? NASA chief says he's not a "big fan", Ars Technica

"On Tuesday, during a Q&A session at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics' Space 2016 Conference, Bolden was asked for his opinion on the emerging market for small satellites and launchers. He chose to respond instead with his thoughts on NASA's own rocket, the Space Launch System, and private-sector development of larger launch vehicles. "If you talk about launch vehicles, we believe our responsibility to the nation is to take care of things that normal people cannot do, or don't want to do, like large launch vehicles," Bolden said. "I'm not a big fan of commercial investment in large launch vehicles just yet."

Keith's update: Hey Charlie, normal people seem to be building rockets at a much lower cost than NASA people can. Just sayin'.

As for "commercial investment in large vehicles", newsflash: that's not your money they are investing. Its theirs. Ask Steve Jurvetson, that guy you spoke with at AIAA today. As for your comment about "normal people" (who are they, BTW?) and their inability to build rockets is contrary to the open access, inclusive, Maker-oriented, commercial space policy advocated by the Obama Administration.

You are retiring from NASA soon, yes?

Keith's note: According to this press release from Deals Secure Group Holding Company GP, Elite Capital & Co. Limited, and Dr. Faisal Khazaal, LLD. Law Group, LP: "Dr. Khazaal was one of those who participated in the funding of the spacecraft LightSail. Being recognized for his participation he was granted ownership of a square centimeter of this spacecraft as a symbolic property for his belief in the importance of space science."

According to the Planetary Society "We also collected 440,000 names from well-wishers that wanted to symbolically join the seven-year mission. One copy of those names is stored aboard the spacecraft's sample return capsule, and will plunge back to Earth in 2023. Another copy, aboard OSIRIS-REx itself, will slip into a permanent heliocentric orbit."

Putting people's names on a small data storage device in a spacecraft is a long-standing NASA tradition. But, since when does the Planetary Society get to give someone "ownership" of a piece of an active NASA spacecraft - symbolic or otherwise? And why is this being done in exchange for someone funding a non-NASA project like LightSail? The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft belongs to the taxpayers who paid for it - not donors to a non-profit organization. Usually when a press release about a NASA mission is issued, NASA has to approve it. That is apparently not what happened here. I have asked NASA PAO for clarification.

Keith's update: According to one of my reader's posted comment - just posted - "One of the LightSail Kickstarter perks is a certificate with a 1cm square of the extra light sail material." As such this may be an example of lack of a skilled editor who is on the alert for bad writing i.e. what does "this spacecraft" mean? The press release is about OSIRIS-REx - bad grammar certainly serves conflate/equate the issuer's LightSail donation and OSIRIS-REx. That said NASA PAO says that it did not see this press release prior to its issuance and are checking the facts behind its statements. That is not how NASA EPO partners are supposed to work these things. Having a skilled set of eyes at PAO can avoid misleading press releases like this. Planetary Society and University of Arizona need to get their act together in this regard. Its a long mission, so there is time to tweak the EPO.

ScienceDebate2016 Answers,

"16. Space - There is a political debate over America's national approach to space exploration and use. What should America's national goals be for space exploration and earth observation from space, and what steps would your administration take to achieve them?"

Hillary Clinton (D): "President Kennedy's challenge in 1962 to go to the Moon within a decade electrified the nation, prompted a long period of American leadership in science and technology, and spurred a generation of innovators.

In the decades since, we have explored the sun and every planet in our solar system; mapped the surface and studied the atmosphere of Mars and confirmed the presence of water on the Red Planet; discovered new solar systems with Earth-like planets; mapped the distribution of galaxies in the universe; observed black holes, dark matter, and dark energy; built programs to monitor our ozone layer and the catastrophic impact of global climate change; and identified and mapped near-Earth asteroids as a first step to protect our planet from a major asteroid impact. The International Space Station stands as the largest and most complex international technological project in history and has been key to understanding the response of the human body to long periods in zero gravity. And in recent years, new companies have sprung up that offer the promise of innovative approaches to transporting cargo and, eventually, humans in space. Americans have always been willing to think big, take risks, and push forward. These pillars will continue to underpin what America does in space, just as they define who we are as a people.

As president, my administration will build on this progress, promote innovation, and advance inspirational, achievable, and affordable space initiatives. We must maintain our nation's leadership in space with a program that balances science, technology and exploration; protect our security and the future of the planet through international collaboration and Earth systems monitoring; expand our robotic presence in the solar system; and maximize the impact of our R&D and other space program investments by promoting stronger coordination across federal agencies, and cooperation with industry. I will work with Congress to ensure that NASA has the leadership, funding and operational flexibility necessary to work in new ways with industry, placing emphasis on inventing and employing new technologies and efficiencies to get more bang for the buck while creating jobs and growing the American economy.

Today, thanks to a series of successful American robotic explorers, we know more about the Red Planet than ever before. A goal of my administration will be to expand this knowledge even further and advance our ability to make human exploration of Mars a reality.

As a young girl, I was so inspired by America's leadership and accomplishments in space that I wrote to NASA about becoming an astronaut. As president, I will help inspire the next generation of young Americans and do what I can to ensure that we have the world's most exciting and advanced space program, one that meets our highest human aspirations in a world where the sky is no longer the limit."

Donald Trump (R): "Space exploration has given so much to America, including tremendous pride in our scientific and engineering prowess. A strong space program will encourage our children to seek STEM educational outcomes and will bring millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in investment to this country. The cascading effects of a vibrant space program are legion and can have a positive, constructive impact on the pride and direction of this country. Observation from space and exploring beyond our own space neighborhood should be priorities. We should also seek global partners, because space is not the sole property of America. All humankind benefits from reaching into the stars."

Keith's note: Gary Johnson did not respond. Jill Stein is against space commerce and military uses of space.

Blue Origin Announces Immense "New Glenn" Rocket

"Named in honor of John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth, New Glenn is 23 feet in diameter and lifts off with 3.85 million pounds of thrust from seven BE-4 engines. Burning liquefied natural gas and liquid oxygen, these are the same BE-4 engines that will power United Launch Alliance's new Vulcan rocket. The 2-stage New Glenn is 270 feet tall, and its second stage is powered by a single vacuum-optimized BE-4 engine. The 3-stage New Glenn is 313 feet tall. A single vacuum-optimized BE-3 engine, burning liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, powers its third stage. The booster and the second stage are identical in both variants."

Bad News From Earth

11 September 2001: Bad news from Earth, SpaceRef

"The news from Earth that morning wasn't good. Frank Culbertson would soon find that some of the day's pre-planned routine would be altered. As soon as he was told of the attacks, Culbertson checked to see when they would be passing over the east coast of the U.S. Discovering that this was only some minutes away, Culbertson grabbed a camera. The window in Mikhail Tyurin's cabin turned out to be the one with the best view."

NASA Likes LISA Again

NASA moves to rejoin sped-up gravitational wave mission, Science

"This week, at the 11th LISA symposium in Z├╝rich, Switzerland, a NASA official said he was ready to rejoin the LISA mission, which the agency left in 2011. Meanwhile, ESA says it is trying to move the launch of the mission up several years from 2034. "This is a very important meeting," says David Shoemaker, a gravitational wave physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. ... on 15 August, a midterm assessment of the National Academy of Sciences's (NAS) 2010 Decadal Report, which reviews U.S. priorities for astronomy and astrophysics, strongly recommended NASA to restore support to the space observatory this decade, and to help restore the mission to its original full capacity."

Mars Rover Views Spectacular Layered Rock Formations

"Curiosity took the images with its Mast Camera (Mastcam) on Sept. 8. The rover team plans to assemble several large, color mosaics from the multitude of images taken at this location in the near future. "Curiosity's science team has been just thrilled to go on this road trip through a bit of the American desert Southwest on Mars," said Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. The Martian buttes and mesas rising above the surface are eroded remnants of ancient sandstone that originated when winds deposited sand after lower Mount Sharp had formed."

Keith's note: Boston Dynamics has robots that can do things that NASA's R5 and Robonaut are simply incapable of doing. Yet NASA continues to pour money into their antiquated in-house hobby shop efforts when the private sector would happily sell them vastly more capable devices - devices that constantly improve. Look at the Mars Curiosity images that NASA featured today. They were taken by a rover with a limited ability to traverse terrain. A robot like the ones that Boston Dynamics makes could scramble up these scree slopes with a rock hammer and get samples. NASA's broken R5 robot can't even walk without a hoist to keep it upright.

- NASA Challenges People To Use Its Broken Robot To Fix Things on Mars, earlier post
- The Droid That NASA Should Be Sending To Mars, earlier post
- Earlier posts

How I learned to stop worrying and love the big $60B NASA rocket, Ars Technica

"So if NASA makes 20 SLS flights by the end of the 2030s, the rocket will roughly cost the agency a total of $60 billion, or $3 billion per flight. Now imagine NASA issuing a Request for Information for heavy lift in 2011. Say the agency was willing to pay a fixed-price sum of $10 billion to a private company to develop a 100-ton heavy lift launch vehicle and a per flight fee of $500 million. Either SpaceX, United Launch Alliance, or another company (Blue Origin, perhaps) certainly would have been capable of delivering a flight-ready rocket within a decade. After buying 20 launches, NASA would still have $40 billion left to spend on things other than rockets. During this decade, then, the agency could have focused on deep space habitats, landers, in-space propulsion, Mars gravity studies, and more. When the private rocket was ready to go in 2021, NASA would be prepared to fly meaningful missions. This isn't a hypothetical, by the way. Back in the late 2000s, United Launch Alliance outlined a path of upgrades for its Delta IV Heavy rocket that included derivatives (based upon an innovative ACES upper stage and new engines) that could get 90 tons or more to low-Earth orbit. This could be flying today for less than $10 billion. This was common knowledge to NASA and the aerospace community at the time SLS came into existence, but Congress wasn't interested."

Keith's 29 September update: Sources report that a substantial portion of the contractor staff working for the SLS safety contractor at NASA MSFC QD34 want out and are asking for reassignment to other programs. Many are openly looking for new jobs elsewhere. The prime contractor has been told by NASA MSFC management that if anyone leaves SLS safety support without permission or by other than NASA-directed termination that the incumbent contractor risks not receiving consideration during the contract re-competition next year. SLS safety risks under development are being deleted. People are scared to come forward with issues. SLS management was at Michoud and Stennis for an AOA yesterday and today. This was reportedly a topic for discussion.

OSIRIS-REx Speeds Toward Asteroid Rendezvous (Watch the replay of the launch)

"The OSIRIS-REx mission will be the first U.S. mission to carry samples from an asteroid back to Earth and the largest sample returned from space since the Apollo era."

United Launch Alliance Successfully Launches OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft for NASA

"A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft for NASA lifted off from Space Launch Complex-41 Sept. 8 at 7:05 p.m. EDT."

Congress and NASA's Budget

US science agencies face budget limbo,

"Another year, another round of budget roulette for US science agencies. When Congress returns from its summer break on 6 September, it will have just three weeks to pass a new government funding bill before the 2017 budget year begins on 1 October. ... Policy analysts predict that lawmakers will pass a stopgap funding measure that will keep agencies' budgets flat until the presidential election in November - and perhaps into next year. The House spending bill for NASA includes an extra $200 million for the agency's planetary-science programme compared with the current level, whereas the Senate has proposed cutting the programme's budget by about $300 million."

NASA OIG: NASA's Management of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle Program

"Over its life, the Orion Program has experienced funding instability, both in terms of overall budget amounts and the erratic timing of receipt of those funds. In past reports, we noted that the most effective budget profile for large and complex space system development programs like Orion is steady funding in the early stages and increased funding during the middle stages of development. In contrast, the Orion Program's budget profile through at least 2018 was nearly flat and Program officials acknowledged that this funding trajectory increased the risk that costly design changes may be needed in later stages of development when NASA integrates Orion with the SLS and GSDO. In addition, Orion officials noted that the timing of appropriations affected their ability to perform work as planned, with the Program receiving its funding between 4 and 8 months after the start of fiscal years 2012 - 2016. ... Finally, the Program is working toward an internal planned launch date significantly earlier than the Agency's external commitment date or estimates by an independent review board. We are concerned that such an optimistic approach, given the Program's flat budget profile, increases the risk that Orion officials will defer certain tasks, which ultimately could delay the Program's schedule and increase costs."

Satellite owner says SpaceX owes $50 million or free flight, Reuters

"Israel's Space Communication Ltd said on Sunday it could seek $50 million or a free flight from Elon Musk's SpaceX after a Spacecom communications satellite was destroyed last week by an explosion at SpaceX's Florida launch site. Officials of the Israeli company said in a conference call with reporters Sunday that Spacecom also could collect $205 million from Israel Aerospace Industries, which built the AMOS-6 satellite. SpaceX said in an email to Reuters that it does not disclose contract or insurance terms. The company is not public, and it has not said what insurance it had for the rocket or to cover launch pad damages beyond what was required by the Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees commercial U.S. launches, for liability and damage to government property."

SpaceCom to recoup $173m, plus interest, for destroyed satellite, Times of Israel

"The satellite's owners, Space Communication, will receive over $173 million from IAI plus interest, which provided insurance for the device, a company official said. According to Space Communication, also known as SpaceCom, the total sum from IAI is "approximately $205 million." Under the insurance policy, IAI will have to pay the amount "in under 60 days," a spokesperson for the quasi-governmental firm said. In addition, the Israeli company said it expects to receive either $50 million from SpaceX or "have the launch of a future satellite carried out under the existing agreement and with the payments that have [already] been made."

SpaceX to shift Florida launches to new pad after explosion, Reuters

"With its launch pad likely facing major repairs, SpaceX said it would use a second Florida site, called 39A, which is located a few miles north at NASA's Kennedy Space Center and was used for space shuttle missions. The pad is on schedule to be operational in November, SpaceX said. The company had planned to use the pad for the first time later this year for a test flight of its new Falcon Heavy rocket. NASA spokesman Michael Curie said in an email that the site could be used for commercial and government flights, and SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell in a May conference said one customer, SES SA of Luxembourg, had expressed interest in flying from the historic launch pad."

Keith's note: Someone just sent this to me - they found it on a bulletin board at the NASA center where they work. For a moment, as I started to read it, I thought it was legit. Then it became clear that it was not. Then I looked at the date on the letter. Lets just say that this letter is not real but given the way that this election has devolved since it was written it probably should be true. The original faux letter is presented below. The original can be downloaded here.

Op-ed: We love you SpaceX, and hope you reach Mars. But we need you to focus, Ars Technica

"I understand SpaceX has a master plan--the company wants to colonize Mars. It has been brilliant to watch the plan unfold as SpaceX has used NASA contracts to bootstrap up to the Falcon 9 rocket and used Falcon 9 flights to simultaneously test reusability and supersonic retropropulsion for the Martian environment. I mean, it's genius. But at some point you have to focus on the here and now, and that is the Falcon 9 rocket. The Falcon 9 rocket lies at the core of everything SpaceX wants to do. It delivers commercial satellites and cargo. It will deliver astronauts into orbit. Three Falcon 9 boosters will power the Falcon Heavy. It is the basis of proving the reusability of orbital launch systems. So if there is no Falcon 9, there is no business. And now there have been two failures in 15 months. While the cause of the second failure is not known to outsiders, and it may have been caused by ground systems rather than the rocket itself, the company has nonetheless lost two of its rockets and associated payloads in 15 months. That is sobering."

SpaceX and Boeing delays could mean more money for Russia, NASA watchdog says, Washington Post

"Boeing has already said it would have to push back its first crewed flights to early 2018. SpaceX has maintained that it would fly by the end of 2017. But the IG investigators weren't buying either of those timetables: "Notwithstanding the contractors' optimism, based on the information we gathered during our audit, we believe it unlikely that either Boeing or SpaceX will achieve certified, crewed flight to the ISS until late 2018."

Commercial crew now delayed until at least 2018, report finds, Ars Technica

"Sources at Johnson Space Center, which plays a secondary role in managing the commercial crew program to Kennedy Space Center, have privately told Ars for months that neither Boeing nor SpaceX would fly in 2017. Moreover, these sources have said, it will be fortunate if either company launches test flights, with crew, during the second half of 2018. The key factor to watch now is whether NASA procures additional seats from the Russians to deliver NASA astronauts to the International Space Station in 2019 and beyond."

NASA OIG: NASA'S Commercial Crew Program: Update on Development and Certification Efforts

"Moreover, both companies must satisfy NASA's safety review process to ensure they meet Agency human-rating requirements. As part of the certification process, Boeing and SpaceX conduct safety reviews and report to NASA on potential hazards and their plans for mitigating risks. We found significant delays in NASA's evaluation and approval of these hazard reports and related requests for variances from NASA requirements that increase the risk costly redesign work may be required late in development, which could further delay certification. Although NASA's goal is to complete its review within 8 weeks of receipt of a hazard report, the contractors told us reviews can take as long as 6 months. We also found NASA does not monitor the overall timeliness of its safety review process. Given delays in the Commercial Crew Program, NASA has extended its contract with Roscosmos for astronaut transportation through 2018 at an additional cost of $490 million or $82 million a seat for six more seats. If the Program experiences additional delays, NASA may need to buy additional seats from Russia to ensure a continued U.S. presence on the ISS."

The Future of the International Space Station Is Up to a Weird Little Florida Nonprofit, Wired

"Which brings us to March, when the NASA Advisory Council released a memo that included this: The Council has also been told by NASA that a successful transition from the "Earth Reliant" phase to the "Proving Ground" is dependent at least in part on the success of attracting future commercial users of the ISS and/or the availability of commercial LEO laboratory capability that NASA could use. The Council therefore feels that it would be beneficial for the agency to better understand the effect that the resources being devoted to the ISS National Laboratory might have on the important research needed to reduce technology and human health risk for the Journey to Mars."

Ken Shields, director of operations for Casis, takes issue with the assessment. "This is one man's opinion, but there were a few vociferous members of NAC who didn't do a lot of due diligence on what we do, our history," he says. "They read some news stories, brought some gotcha information, and I wish I had been there in person."

Keith's note: This is strange. With regard to this NASA Advisory Council meeting on 31 March/1 April 2016 CASIS employees Greg Johnson, Michael Roberts, and Brian Talbot from CASIS were physically in attendance. In addition, CASIS employees Ken Shields, Warren Bates, Patrick O'Neill, and Cindy Martin Brennan attended via dial-in. So Ken Shields should have heard the entire conversation, right? He could have sent a text to his boss and asked to say something if his ears were burning. NASA Advisory Council meetings are open to the public, available for free via dial-in and Webex. The words Shields takes issue with were blessed by the entire NAC.

At this meeting the NAC decided that a team should make a site visit to CASIS to look into these issues. Shortly thereafter the NAC chair, Steve Squyres resigned and NAC leadership was thrown into disarray. CASIS objected to the whole idea of a NAC site visit. During the leadership vacuum CASIS, NASA, and a sympathetic NAC member made certain that site the visit and further consideration of NAC were buried. It is quite clear that CASIS is afraid of external scrutiny and does not think that it should be help publicly accountable for what it does with $15 million of NASA money every year.

CASIS Had A Bad Week In Washington, earlier post, earlier post

"The next day the CASIS entourage, led by President and Executive Director Greg Johnson, showed up at the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) meeting. Things did not go so well for them at the NAC. Within minutes of starting to talk, NAC members started to pepper Johnson with questions- questions that he was unable and/or unwilling to answer. It went downhill from there."

A Closer Look At The CASIS "Space Is In It" Endorsement, earlier post

"On 31 March 2016 NASA International Space Station Director Sam Scimemi sent a letter to Greg Johnson on a number of topics. One of the issues Scimemi raised had to do with how CASIS hypes/promotes the research that it takes credit for having facilitated onboard the ISS. "

Letter From NASA to CASIS 31 March 2016, earlier post

"We would advise caution in the lending of the ISS National Lab brand (via your "Space is in it" certification) too freely; care must be taken to that research performed on the ISS has actually influenced product development in advance of awarding the certification. Failure to do so weakens the brand and may lend an air of being nonserious in our mutual quest to fully utilize the ISS as a national lab.



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This page is an archive of recent entries written by Keith Cowing in September 2016.

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