Keith Cowing: November 2017 Archives

Keith's note: NASA and the SETI Institute are about to complete a competition wherein people get to suggest names for MU69 - the distant body that New Horizons will fly by in January 2019. Among the top choices right now are Chomolungma ཇོ་མོ་གླང་མ and Sagarmatha सगरमाथा - the original Tibetan and Nepali names for Mt. Everest. These names were nominated by someone living in Kathmandu, Nepal. MU69 represents the the most distant world in our solar system that humans will likely visit for another decade or more. As such it represents the acme - the pinnacle - of robotic spacecraft exploration. There are already two features on Pluto named after the first two humans to stand atop Everest/Chomolungma/Sagarmatha - Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. As such, it would be fitting and in keeping with the spirit and adventure to name MU69 (which may be a double object) Chomolungma and/or Sagarmatha. You can visit the naming website at and vote for Chomolungma/Sagarmatha (or other choices). The campaign closes at noon Pacific Time (20:00 GMT) on December 1, December 6 2017.

NASA CFO Nominee Announced

NASA Statement on Nomination for Agency Chief Financial Officer

"It is encouraging to see more members of the agency's leadership team being named. Jeff's solid financial background will be a tremendous addition as we continue to advance our nation's aeronautic and exploration initiatives."

Arizona Treasurer Jeff DeWit nominated by Trump for NASA finance post

"Many expected DeWit would immediately join the administration after Trump's surprise victory. When that didn't happen, speculation shifted to his running against Sen. Jeff Flake, who had been among the president's most high-profile GOP critics. Flake has since announced he will not seek re-election. A Republic review of the notifications DeWit is required to file with the secretary of state when he leaves Arizona show he spent about 50 days, including weekends, outside the state since early October 2016, about a month before the general election. Those dozen or so trips included Washington, D.C., New York and Trump properties."

Keith's note: Now is the time to read through the new NASA CFO nominee Jeffrey DeWit's Twitter account before it becomes sanitized - check @JeffDeWitAZ

Keith's note: NASA HEOMD AA Bill Gerstenmaier was speaking at the NASA Advicory Council Human Exploration and Operations Committee meeting today. It certainly seems that he has decided that NASA is not going to comply with S.442 - National Aeronautics and Space Administration Transition Authorization Act of 2017 - which is now law. In that law Congress told NASA that they are to deliver a ISS Transition plan no later than 1 December 2017 - this Friday. All indications I get from NASA - and Gerstenmaier's statement - make it clear that there is no plan to be delivered.

According to S.442 - National Aeronautics and Space Administration Transition Authorization Act of 2017 (Public Law No: 115-10 (03/21/2017))

"(1) ((NOTE: Coordination.)) In general.--The Administrator, in coordination with the ISS management entity (as defined in section 2 of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Transition Authorization Act of 2017), ISS partners, the scientific user community, and the commercial space sector, shall develop a plan to transition in a step-wise approach from the current regime that relies heavily on NASA sponsorship to a regime where NASA could be one of many customers of a low-Earth orbit non-governmental human space flight enterprise.

(2) Reports.--Not later than December 1, 2017, and biennially thereafter until 2023, the Administrator shall submit to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate and the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology of the House of Representatives a report that includes--"

Full section below

Astrobiologist Dale Andersen Antarctic Status Report 28 November 2017: Last Week at Lake Untersee

"We are in our last week of work here at Lake Untersee before heading back to Novo on the 6th. Hope to get in a few more dives for sample collection and imagery beneath the ice, and we have to pull experiments that are ongoing in the lake right now. ... All ok here right now and for the moment our winds are calm; but that will probably change over the the next few hours - maybe we will get lucky and we will miss most of the bad weather forecast for Novo. I am hoping the new met station is up and running but there may be one or two other things we need to do to get it online; once I get confirmation I will let you know and will send you a web link so you can see a daily download of the data. Hopefull it will work. Will check in with you tomorrow with an update."

Antarctic Selfie's Journey to Space via Disruption Tolerant Networking, NASA

"NASA is boosting cyber to space with benefits for Earth. On Nov. 20, 2017, a selfie snapped from the National Science Foundation's McMurdo Station in Antarctica demonstrated technology that can enable the future interplanetary internet. Called Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN), the technology is NASA's solution to reliable interplanetary data transmissions when vast distances or alignments of celestial bodies may disrupt communications."

My Star Trek Episode at Everest

"In late April 2009 I found myself at Everest Base Camp for a month. I was living at 17,600 feet in Nepal 2 miles from China and 2 miles from the highest point on our planet. I was surrounded by the epic majesty of the Himalayas, a thousand people supporting several hundred Type A individuals with a shared intent to summit the mountain and stand in the jet stream. And all of this was enabled by the austere and noble Sherpa people. I was on a mission not unlike a space mission. My team mate was my long-time friend Scott Parazynski, an astronaut.

I could just stop there and what is in these sentences would be cool enough. This had all the makings of a Star Trek episode - and I knew it."

Keith's note: After posting the two items above, I had to toss this in. There is something about "being there" when it comes to exploration. May 2009. Everest Base Camp. It was -20F or so, I was sick with food poisoning which eventually led to some permanent physical damage that affects me to this day, at 17,600 feet breathing half the oxygen I was designed to breathe, while one friend was standing atop Everest above the sky, while another (who was supposed to be with us) was in his laundry room in New York - all linked by radio and satellite. Another mutual friend was in orbit fixing Hubble. This was one of those life-altering moments - and we all wanted to share it. We still do.

NASA used to have a lot of these moments. Now ... not so many. That needs to change.

Maybe the new guy will fix that. Someone has to.

Keith's note: What is really strange is the fact that NASA gives free promotion/advertising to its contractors yet Congress prohibits NASA from advertising about itself.

The reason for the unsuccessful launch of "Meteor-M" was called the human factor, Interfax (Google Translate)

"The reason for the Meteor-M satellite accident after launching from the Vostochny cosmodrome in the Amurskaya region could be the human factor, a source in the rocket and space industry told Interfax. "According to preliminary data, there was an error in the flight task of the carrier rocket and the Fregat booster block, as a result of which the first impulse was issued in the wrong orientation, so the upper stage together with the satellite entered the atmosphere and fell into the Atlantic Ocean ", the source said."

NASA Office of Inspector General Annual Report April - September 2017

"Specifically, despite spending almost $200 million on three spacesuit development efforts, NASA remains years away from having a spacesuit capable of replacing the suits used on the ISS or suitable for use on future exploration missions. Furthermore, given the current development schedule, there is significant risk a next-generation prototype will not be sufficiently mature for testing on the ISS prior to the Station's planned 2024 retirement. In addition, we questioned NASA's decision to spend $80.8 million between 2011 and 2016 to fund a spacesuit development effort despite parallel development activities being conducted elsewhere in the Agency. NASA management concurred with and described corrective actions to address our three recommendations."

"In August 2013, NASA entered into an agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers to build two test stands at Marshall Space Flight Center (Marshall) to test liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen tanks from the core stage of the Agency's new heavy-lift rocket. Our review found that the compressed project schedule, uncertain requirements, and design changes resulted in significant cost increases for the project. In addition, NASA did not adequately consider alternative locations before selecting Marshall as the site for the test stands and therefore cannot ensure it made the most cost-effective decision regarding where to build the stands."

Keith's note: There is a lot of talk these days about yet another pivot in America's civilian space policy. This time it is "back" to the Moon. Mars is not off the agenda - but it is not moving forward either. Personally I think we have unfinished business on the Moon and that creating a vibrant cis-lunar space infrastructure is the best way to enable humans to go to many places in the solar system - including Mars. Regardless of your stance on this issue, a common refrain about going back to the Moon - starting with President Obama is that "We've been there before".

Humans first reached the South Pole by an overland route in 1911/1912. While we visited the pole by plane in the intervening years, no one traversed Antarctica's surface again until 1958. 46 years between Antarctic polar traverses. Why did we go back to do something - again - in a similar way - to a place "we've been [to] before" after 46 years? Because there was still something of interest there - something we'd only had a fleeting exposure to - and we had developed new ways to traverse polar environments. James Cameron revisited the Challenger Deep in 2012 - after a human absence of 52 years. Why? See above. It is understandable that explorers seek to explore new places and not redo what has been done before. There is only so much funding and there are still so many places yet to be explored. But it is also not uncommon for explorers to revisit old, previously visited locations with new tools - and new mindsets.

Look at the stunning imagery Juno is sending back of Jupiter. Compare that to what we got from Galileo - and Voyager - and Pioneer. Why send yet another mission to the same destination unless, well, you have better tools - tools that enable the pursuit of ever greater exploration goals.

I was 15 when humans first walked on the Moon. The generations who have followed mine have never seen humans land and walk on the Moon. Indeed a lot of them seem to think it never happened. But American space policy is made by Baby Boomers (and older) population cohorts so we just operate on our own biases i.e. been there, done that.

Take a look at the chart below. More than half of the Americans alive today never saw humans walk on the Moon - as it happened - including the person slated to become the next administrator of NASA and the entire 2013 and 2017 astronaut classes. If/when we go back to the Moon in the next 5-10 years this number will increase. For them these future Moon landings will be THEIR FIRST MOON LANDINGS. That's several hundred million Americans waiting to see what I saw in 1969.

Just sayin'

Rosanna Sattler

Keith's note: Rosanna was a former board member of Women in Aerospace and a co-founder of the Space Enterprise Council.


Keeping the Focus on Mars, Scott Hubbard, editorial

"The Moon is scientifically much less diverse and interesting than Mars. For example, no one claims that life could have originated on the Moon - unlike Mars. The technologies needed for landing and living on an airless body like the Moon are quite different from Mars. Lunar technologies will have limited benefit to future Mars exploration. Finally, some claim that the Moon's resources, especially water ice, can be exploited for future exploration. In general, the Moon is extremely dry. There are data from previous missions to suggest that there may be more abundant water ice trapped at the poles of the Moon, but getting there and mining in temperatures nearing absolute zero will prove very challenging and expensive. By comparison, Mars has water in much greater concentrations distributed more broadly across the planet."

Keith's note: Former NASA "Mars Czar" and Planetary Society Mars advocate Scott Hubbard clearly thinks that there is no value in going back to the Moon. And he's not afraid to cherry pick facts and skew recent history to make his point. Of course he just thinks that he can proclaim that Mars is the nation's priority (he still thinks that he's the Mars Czar, apparently). Add in the Planetary Society's barely concealed aversion to putting humans on the surface of Mars. It should be quite obvious that the Planetary Society is soon going to be in an adversarial position once a new NASA Administrator is in place and this Administration's pivot toward the Moon becomes more evident. If Hubbard et al have their way everyone but America will be going to the Moon and only robots will ever land on Mars.

Oh yes, Mars Czar Scott - you did see this latest research about Mars, water, etc.? Resources to support human activity are abundant - but they are hard to access - everywhere.

Recurring Martian Streaks: Flowing Sand, Not Water?

"The findings published today in Nature Geoscience argue against the presence of enough liquid water for microbial life to thrive at these sites."

- Planetary Society Is For And Against Mars Colonization Or Something, earlier post
- The Planetary Society is For And Against Human Spaceflight, earlier post

Rocket Boys in Carbon Creek

Rocket Boys, Vulcans, and Wandering Apollo Rockets, SpaceRef

"I first wrote this for StarTrek's official website in 2002 the day after the "Enterprise" episode "Carbon Creek" first aired. The story was clearly inspired by my friend Homer Hickam's book "Rocket Boys" Well, that episode was on TV last night. Curiously, after 15 years, and several pivots, NASA seems to be moving back toward the Moon again (which happens to be my favorite destination for human exploration as well as Homer's) and interstellar object 1I/'Oumuamua (previously A/2017 U1) is passing through our solar system - echoes of the plot of yet another Star Trek tale i.e. "Star Trek First Contact". Within - and below - my article are references to thinking that was on everyone's mind as talk of going back to the Moon and on to Mars was on everyone's mind. This was a few months before the loss of Columbia and more than a year before President Bush announced the "Vision for Space Exploration"."

WFIRST Report Released

WFIRST Independent External Technical/Management/Cost Review (WIETR), NASA

"This report responds to the questions asked in the Terms of Reference (TOR) that established the WIETR and includes recommendations and options for NASA to consider. This report is input to NASA in support of its formulation of the WFIRST implementation plan so that the mission is both 1) well understood in terms of scope and required resources (cost, funding profile, schedule) and 2) executable. The WIETR recognizes the scientific importance and timeliness of WFIRST. The objectives of this ambitious mission are driven by the goal of answering profound questions about the Universe beyond our solar system and planet Earth. This ambition comes with challenges that must be recognized and addressed - these are the focus of this report."

- NASA Decides To Reduce Cost/Complexity of WFIRST, earlier post

Waiting For Bridenstine

Is Trump's NASA Nominee Ready to Tackle Climate Change?, Wired

"[Tony] Busalacchi, who has twice testified before Bridenstine's House Subcommittee on Space, says he's had two phone calls with Bridenstine since his nomination became public September 1. "He told me he regrets his [2013 House floor] statement in the past, and that he believes CO2 is a greenhouse gas and is contributing to climate change and man is contributing to climate change," Busalacchi says. Is Bridenstine just saying that to get in office? Busalacchi says he's taking Bridenstine at his word. "I see him as pragmatic and not an ideologue," Busalacchi says. "As a congressman he has been standing up for his constituents. It's one thing to be a congressman from Tulsa, it's another to be working for the American people as NASA administrator."

Keith's note: FWIW I think people will be pleasantly surprised by Bridenstine, should he be confirmed as the next Administrator of NASA.

Rendezvous With `Oumuamua

Keith's note: Larger image. Objects are to scale. But the way that this thing rotates might dictate a more prudent station keeping distance.

First Interstellar Asteroid `Oumuamua is Like Nothing Seen Before, ESO

"Observations from ESO's Very Large Telescope in Chile and other observatories around the world show that this unique object was traveling through space for millions of years before its chance encounter with our star system. It appears to be a dark, reddish, highly-elongated rocky or high-metal-content object."

First Known Interstellar Visitor Is an "Oddball"

"While study of 'Oumuamua's colors shows that this body shares characteristics with both Kuiper Belt objects and organic-rich comets and Trojan asteroids," says Meech, "its orbital path says it comes from far beyond."

An Interstellar Visitor Unmasked, IFA

"Originally denoted A/2017 U1 (with the A for "asteroid"), the body is now the first to receive an "I" (for interstellar) designation from the International Astronomical Union, which created the new category after the discovery. In addition, it has been officially given the name `Oumuamua."

Solar System's First Interstellar Visitor Dazzles Scientists, NASA

"The asteroid, named 'Oumuamua by its discoverers, is up to one-quarter mile (400 meters) long and highly-elongated--perhaps 10 times as long as it is wide. That aspect ratio is greater than that of any asteroid or comet observed in our solar system to date."

Keith's 4:40 pm Update: They fixed it.

We just sent a message to try to talk to aliens on another world, New Scientist

"Ninety-eight percent of astronomers and SETI researchers, including myself, think that METI is potentially dangerous, and not a good idea," says Dan Werthimer, a SETI researcher at the University of California at Berkeley. "It's like shouting in a forest before you know if there are tigers, lions, and bears or other dangerous animals there."

Scientists Have Sent Messages to Advanced Civilizations, Newsweek

"[Douglas Vakoch, president of METI] Everyone engaged in SETI is already endorsing transmissions to extraterrestrials through their actions. If we detect a signal from aliens through a SETI program, there's no way to prevent a cacophony of responses from Earth. And these wouldn't be responses to a possibly habitable exoplanet, but to a star system where we know there is intelligent life. There's no way to enforce the SETI protocols that call for consultation before replying. Once the news gets out that we've detected extraterrestrials, anyone with a transmitter can say whatever they want."

Declaration of Principles Concerning the Conduct of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (2010 protocol), SETI Permanent Study Group of the International Academy of Astronautics

"8. Response to signals: In the case of the confirmed detection of a signal, signatories to this declaration will not respond without first seeking guidance and consent of a broadly representative international body, such as the United Nations."

Keith's note: This is all rather silly. SETI scientists like Werthimer would prefer not to transmit anything to anyone. But they want people to give them millions of dollars to listen for transmissions from other intelligent species. If alien intelligences are similar to us i.e. afraid of other letting civilizations know where they are then they are not going to be transmitting either. If that is true then Werthimer et al are wasting a lot of money listening for signals that are not going to be there - if you follow their self-canceling logic, that is.

Also, Wetheimer claims his statements are shared by "Ninety-eight percent of astronomers and SETI researchers". Really - he has polled all astronomers and SETI researchers - everywhere? Reference, please. We have been announcing our presence to alien civilizations in one form or another for nearly a century via radio. The bulk of these transmissions have not been done by governments. As such the 2010 statement by IAA (which is also utterly non-binding) would have little effect on stoping anyone with money and a big dish from saying "hello".

On the other hand, just because someone can do something does not mean that they should. This topic needs a broader airing - not just food fights in the news between dueling METI/SETI sandboxes. Both the SETI and METI tribes are myopic, and somewhat inbred, by definition. Their pronouncements from on high should not be the final say on the way that humanity deals with this topic. There are 6 billion other humans who should have a say.

Please stop annoying this NASA scientist with your ridiculous Planet X doomsday theories

"David Morrison is a real NASA scientist who studies real planets and makes real discoveries about the real universe. Unfortunately for him, Morrison's duties also include debunking perennial Internet theories that a fake planet is about to destroy the Earth, which was supposed to happen in 2003, then 2012, then Sept. 23, then October - and now the world is supposed to end again some time Sunday. And the astronomer sounds like he's just about had it. "You're asking me for a logical explanation of a totally illogical idea," Morrison said on this week's SETI Institute podcast, after the hosts asked for his take on third scheduled apocalypse in three months. "There is no such planet, there never has been, and presumably there never will be - but it keeps popping up over and over."

Keith's note: Please let me know on Monday if the world ends on Sunday so I can update this post.

Statement on NSF Record of Decision on Arecibo Observatory, NSF

"On Nov. 15, 2017, the National Science Foundation (NSF) signed its Record of Decision for the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. This important step concludes the agency's decision-making process with respect to the general path forward for facility operations in a budget-constrained environment and provides the basis for a future decision regarding a new collaborator."

Keith's 16 Nov update: Just the other day I posted some new video (below) of the latest cool droid from Boston Dynamics. Now they have simply outdone themselves. Compare NASA's tethered/hoisted R5 make stiff dance moves and then watch Boston Dynamics' untethered and nimble Atlas DOING A BACKFLIP. NASA really needs to put their own bot research on the shelf and see what the private sector can offer.

Keith's 14 Nov note: NASA poured lots of money into its R5 robot that cannot walk unless it is on a hoist and controlled by a human. It is always broken. So they gave away these broken droids to several universities to see if the students could salvage something useful. Meanwhile, Boston Dynamics continues to make astonishing progress on autonomous robots.

Imagine if you had something like this on Mars as part of a sample return mission. This droid, equipped with other features that Boston Dynamics has mastered, would allow access to places that rovers cannot go and has dexterity unmatched by anything NASA has ever built. And I am sure you could buy a bunch of them for vastly less than it would take NASA to develop them.

- Does NASA Have A Robot That Can Do This?, earlier post
- The Droid That NASA Should Be Sending To Mars, earlier post
- NASA Challenges People To Use Its Broken Robot To Fix Things on Mars, earlier post
- Using a Last Place Robot for NASA's Robotics Challenge, earlier post
- NASA JSC Has Developed A Girl Robot in Secret (Revised With NASA Responses), earlier post

NASA's Fiscal Year 2017 Financial Audit Result

"NASA has received an unmodified audit opinion on its Fiscal Year 2017 (FY 2017) financial statements, making this the seventh consecutive year of "clean" opinions. The agency released its FY 2017 Agency Financial Report (AFR) Wednesday, which provides details on its financial results and performance highlights."

NASA FY 2017 Financial Report

"NASA did not substantially address deficiencies in its vulnerability management program, which continued to inadequately address monitoring, detecting, and timely remediation of vulnerabilities associated with their financial application and general support systems. Additionally, management did not substantially address control failures at the Financial System Application layer. Therefore, the prior year Significant Deficiency 1 remains open and was renamed "Information Technology Management" in fiscal year 2017."

SpaceX will launch a secret government payload to orbit Wednesday, Mashable

"Very little is known about the Zuma mission, as no government or commercial entity has claimed it. Usually, even the National Reconnaissance Office - the branch of the government responsible for maintaining spy satellites - will say when a payload is theirs while keeping the mission details classified. But for some reason, whatever agency is behind Zuma isn't coming forward. All we know is that the aerospace and defense giant Northrop Grumman was asked by the government to procure a launch vehicle for the mission and it chose SpaceX, a spokesman for Northrop Grumman said via email. The spokesman also added that Zuma will be headed to low-Earth orbit, which is the region of space about 1,200 miles above the planet."

Dream Chaser Completes Free Flight Test

"Completion of Dream Chaser's free flight test on Nov. 11, 2017, was a major milestone under a space act agreement with NASA's Commercial Crew Program. NASA selected Sierra Nevada Corp., along with Orbital ATK and SpaceX, for the agency's second commercial resupply contracts to deliver critical science, research and technology demonstrations to the International Space Station from 2019 to 2024."

Orbital ATK Launches S.S. Gene Cernan To The International Space Station (with video)

"The Antares rocket launched the Cygnus spacecraft loaded with approximately 7,400 pounds (3,350 kilograms) of cargo to the crew of six who are aboard the space station. Following an approximate nine-minute ascent, the "S.S. Gene Cernan" Cygnus spacecraft, named in honor of the late astronaut and the last man to leave the moon, was successfully deployed into orbit. Orbital ATK's engineering team confirmed reliable communications have been established and the vehicle's solar arrays are fully deployed, providing the necessary electrical power to operate the spacecraft."

In emails, NASA denies child slave ring on Mars, confirms politician-eating tentacle monster on Europa, Muckrock

"Back in July, (alleged) former Central Intelligence Agency officer and one-time Reform Party presidential nominee Robert David Steele appeared on Alex Jones' InfoWars to voice a pet canard: he claims that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration had a colony of child slaves on Mars. The Daily Beast reached out to NASA to respond. The agency confirmed with barely concealed irritation that it does not, in fact, have a colony of child slaves on Mars."

Goofy Mars Conspiracies Part 2 (Update), earlier post (July 2017)

Keith's note: I was just interviewed by BBC Live at Five about this nonsense. Audio below.

Hearing on An Update on NASA Exploration Systems Development

"The U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology will hold a Subcommittee on Space hearing titled, An Update on NASA Exploration Systems Development. The purpose of the hearing is to examine the development of the Space Launch System, Orion Crew Vehicle and the associated ground systems."

- Chairman Babin Opening Statement
- Chairman Smith Opening Statement
- Ranking Member Johnson's Opening Statement
- Ranking Member Bera's Opening Statement
- Prepared Statement by William Gerstenmaier
- Prepared Statement by Sandra Magnus

NASA Completes Review of First SLS, Orion Deep Space Exploration Mission

"While the review of the possible manufacturing and production schedule risks indicate a launch date of June 2020, the agency is managing to December 2019," said acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot. "Since several of the key risks identified have not been actually realized, we are able to put in place mitigation strategies for those risks to protect the December 2019 date."

Keith's note: NASA says "December 2019" because it sounds better than some date in "2020" - even if the launch date was 1 January 2020. Its like saying that something costs $19.99 instead of $20.00. It sounds better. Truth be known they have no idea - as OIG and GAO have been saying again and again every year.

Bridenstine Nomination APproved by Committee on Party-Line Vote, SpacePolicyOnline

"The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee approved the nomination of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) to be NASA Administrator this morning on a party-line vote. The committee also approved Neil Jacobs to be Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction on a voice vote. The nominations next will go to the full Senate for a vote. Dates have not been announced."

Answers From Rep Bridenstine To Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Questions for the Record

Question: Mr. Bridenstine, in the documents you presented to the Committee, you stated that you believe that one of NASA's top challenges is "Bringing together traditional space companies and new space entrepreneurs into a comprehensive NASA vision to maximize resources and efficiencies." What role do you envision the private sector playing in helping NASA fulfill its mission? How will continued private sector involvement make NASA more efficient and allow it to fully maximize resources?

Answer: We must recognize that NASA currently has more mission than it has budget. The days when NASA's budget represented 3 to 4 percent of the federal budget are not likely to return. Nor would we want to necessarily replicate that model, as it proved to ultimately be unsustainable. Fortunately, times have changed and great advancements have been made. The American space industry is more capable than ever before. A lot of this is due to advancements in research and technology development made by NASA decades ago that entrepreneurial Americans have taken and advanced further. Should I be confirmed, NASA will develop exploration and science architectures that leverage everything the United States has to offer. This includes the private sector. This way, we will maximize resources and ensure NASA can carry out its mission.

Question: What are your thoughts on the establishment of a Deep Space Gateway as part of the exploration architecture?

Answer: The idea of a platform beyond LEO and in cislunar space provides a lot of opportunities for the United States. These opportunities include: partnerships with both the international community and commercial industry, staging area for lunar surface and Martian missions, testing life support systems outside of the Van Allen Belt, and more. Should I be confirmed, I look forward to working with Congress to determine if the Deep Space Gateway or other Deep Space architectures enable sustainable deep space exploration.

Question: Earlier this year, the President signed into law the NASA Transition Authorization Act. This law seeks continuity in NASA's core programs, such as the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft. Do you intend to continue NASA's work on SLS and Orion?

Answer: Yes, I am absolutely committed to continuing NASA's valuable work developing SLS and Orion, which will serve as the backbone of our architecture to return humans to the Moon, on to Mars, and further into Deep Space.

Question: Representative Bridenstine, though it doesn't receive as much public attention as NASA's exploration missions, the agency's Earth Science mission provides data critical for both scientific research and practical application. In fact, Indiana companies contribute to these missions by building sophisticated instruments to measure certain properties and conditions in the atmosphere. In turn, this data in part feeds into weather forecasting models to help create longer term and seasonal forecasts utilized by a variety of industries, such as agriculture and energy. I'm focused on making sure we retain the capability to perform these science missions that have a significant real-world application. Would you explain your view of NASA's Earth Science mission and whether you intend to prioritize it in future NASA budget submissions?

Answer: I support NASA's Earth Science mission. As a Representative from and resident of the state of Oklahoma, I have a keen appreciation for the role space plays in helping us save lives, protect property, and produce energy and food. NASA's Earth Science mission is critical to facilitating these activities, both through the programs that NASA operates itself as well as acting as the procurement agent for NOAA's weather satellites. If confirmed, NASA will continue to follow the guidance of the Earth Science decadal surveys and I will advocate within the Administration and with Congress to see that the agency is able to carry out the recommendations of those decadal surveys.

J.R. Thompson

Keith's note: James R. (J.R.) Thompson died on Tuesday. (bio) "Thompson became Deputy Administrator of NASA in 1989. Beforehand, he had served as director of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. He had assumed his position at Marshall on September 29, 1986, after having served three years as deputy director for technical operations at Princeton University's Plasma Physics Laboratory in Princeton, New Jersey. From March to June of 1986, he was vice-chair of the NASA task force inquiring into the cause of the Space Shuttle Challenger accident. In that capacity, he headed the day-to-day operations of the 51-L Data and Design Analysis Task Force, which collected and analyzed accident-related information in support of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger accident."

Former Marshall Space FLight Center SDirector James R. Thompson Jr. Dies, WAAY

"[Thompson] left NASA again in September 1991 and jointed Orbital Sciences Corporation. He served as president and chief operating officer of the company from 1999 until 2011, and he retired in 2013. Thompson is survived by his wife, Sherry Gray Thompson; children James Thompson III, Scott Thompson and Paige Moore; and a number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Visitation will be from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Nov. 13 at First United Methodist Church in Huntsville. The funeral will follow at the church."

Breitbart, other conservative outlets escalate anti-SpaceX campaign, Ars Technica

"The central canard of these attacks is that John McCain did not, in fact, add "Section 1615" to the Defense Authorization Act, which is now being finalized by a conference between the House and Senate. This clause does not exist at all in the Senate language. Rather, it was inserted into the House legislation by US Rep. Mike Rogers, a Republican from Alabama. ... Two sources familiar with the legislation told Ars that Rogers added Section 1615 specifically to benefit Aerojet and its AR1 rocket engine."

Dick Gordon

Noted Gemini, Apollo astronaut dies at 88, News965

"Space pioneer Richard Gordon, Jr. has died at age 88, according to an announcement by the Orlando-based Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. ... Gordon first went into space as pilot of Gemini 11 in September 1966. Three years later, he piloted the command module for Apollo 12."

- Remembering Dick Gordon, NASA
- NASA Pays Tribute to Early Space Pioneer Richard Gordon, NASA

OIG: NASA Chief Information Officer Is Doing A Crappy Job, earlier post (2017 OIG report)

"In the 4 years since issuance of our IT governance report and the 3 years since completion of its own internal review, the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) has made insufficient progress to improve NASA's IT governance, casting doubt on the office's ability to effectively oversee the Agency's IT assets. Specifically, the NASA Chief Information Officer (CIO) continues to have limited visibility into IT investments across the Agency and the process NASA developed to correct this shortcoming is flawed."

Agencies Need to Improve Certification of Incremental Development, GAO

"... Among the reported investments, we identified 166 investments undertaking software development activities in which at least 50 percent or more of funding was allocated to development, modernization, and enhancement activities. For each of these investments, we assessed the status of reported certifications by the CIOs of the respective agencies. [Three agencies, NASA, NSF, and NRC, did not have any investments that met this criteria for fiscal year 2017.]"

Q&A: Plotting U.S. Space Policy with White House Adviser Scott Pace, Scientific American

"Heavy-lift rockets are strategic national assets, like aircraft carriers. There are some people who have talked about buying heavy-lift as a service as opposed to owning and operating, in which case the government would, of course, have to continue to own the intellectual properties so it wasn't hostage to any one contractor. One could imagine this but, in general, building a heavy-lift rocket is no more "commercial" than building an aircraft carrier with private contractors would be."

Trump space adviser: Blue Origin and SpaceX rockets aren't really commercial, Ars Technica

"With these comments, Pace seems to be equating NASA's SLS rocket with Blue Origin's New Glenn and SpaceX's Falcon Heavy, saying one rocket is no more commercial than any other. However, under closer scrutiny, there is no comparison between the amount of funding that NASA has spent on its own rocket and the other boosters. The space agency has been working on the SLS rocket since 2011, and it annually spends in excess of $2 billion on development of the vehicle. Additionally, NASA spends $400 million or more per year on ground systems at Kennedy Space Center to support future SLS launches. These costs are likely to continue for nearly a decade until the SLS rocket reaches an operational cadence of approximately one mission per year."

NASA's 2017 Top Management and Performance Challenges, NASA OIG

"... In the long term, NASA's plans beyond EM-2 for achieving a crewed Mars surface mission in the late 2030s or early 2040s remain high level, serving as more of a strategic framework than a detailed operational plan. For example, the Agency's current Journey to Mars framework lacks objectives; does not identify key system requirements other than SLS, Orion, GSDO, and a Deep Space Gateway; and does not suggest target mission dates for crewed orbits of Mars or planet surface landings. If the Agency is to reach its goal of sending humans to Mars in the late 2030s or early 2040s, significant development work on key systems - such as a deep space habitat, in-space transportation, and Mars landing and ascent vehicles - must be accomplished in the 2020s. In addition, NASA will need to begin developing more detailed cost estimates for its Mars exploration program after EM-2 to ensure the commitment from Congress and other stakeholders exists to fund an exploration effort of this magnitude over the next several decades. Finally, NASA's decision whether to continue spending $3-$4 billion annually to maintain the ISS after 2024 - roughly a third of its exploration budget - will affect its funding profile for human exploration efforts in the 2020s, and therefore has significant implications for the Agency's Mars plans.

"... The rising cost of the SLS Program also presents challenges for NASA given the program may exceed its $9.7 billion budget commitment. The Agency plans to spend roughly $2 billion a year on SLS development but has minimal monetary reserves to address any technical challenges that may arise for EM-1 or EM-2. According to guidance developed at Marshall Space Flight Center (Marshall), the standard monetary reserve for a program such as the SLS should be between 10 and 30 percent during development. The SLS Program did not carry any program reserves in fiscal year (FY) 2015 and only $25 million in FY 2016 - approximately 1 percent of its development budget. Moving forward, the SLS Program plans to carry only minimal reserves through 2030, which in our view is unlikely to be sufficient to enable NASA to address issues that may arise during development and testing."

"... Despite the extension, in October 2015, we reported NASA will not have enough time to mitigate several known human space flight risks for future deep space missions. Accordingly, the Agency needs to prioritize its research to address the most important risks in the time available while also ensuring a spacecraft originally designed and tested for a 15-year life span will continue to operate safely and as economically as possible. While the amount of research being conducted on the ISS has increased over the past 8 years, several factors continue to limit full utilization."

"... The selection and balance of NASA's science missions is heavily influenced by stakeholders external to the Agency, including the President, Congress, the science community, and, to a lesser extent, other Federal and international agencies. The President and Congress provide direction through the budgeting and appropriation processes, which has a strong influence on the composition and overall balance of the Agency's science portfolio. The science community - as represented by the National Research Council (NRC) - establishes mission priorities based on a broad consensus within various science research disciplines. These priorities are set forth in the NRC's decadal surveys on the subject matter areas encompassed by the Science Mission Directorate's four divisions ... Managing differing priorities from numerous stakeholders and funding changes on a year-to-year basis (which we described as "funding instability" in a September 2012 report) can lead to inefficiencies, resulting in cost increases and schedule delays that can have a cascading effect on NASA's entire science portfolio."

You Can Still Help Project Blue Search For Another Earth at Alpha Centauri,

"The deadline is quickly approaching for the BoldlyGo Institute crowdfunding campaign to search for Earth-like planets circling Alpha Centauri. All donations are now being doubled - matched dollar-for-dollar by a generous donor. You can donate by visting their crowdfunding page."

Keith's update: the crowdfunding effort concluded early this morning. A total of $150,153 was raised from 587 backers.

Astrobiologist Dale Andersen Antarctic Status Report 4 November 2017 (maps, links, pictures)

"Dale Andersen sent this message via Garmin inRreach on 4 November 2017 at 8:44 am EDT from: Lat -70.774999 Lon 11.837554: "We are almost ready for the traverse to Lake Untersee but today and tomorrow we will have high winds and blowing snow with white-out conditions so we will remain here in the warmth and safety of the huts located at Novolazarevskaya. ..."

Astrobiologist Dale Andersen Antarctic Status Report 5 November 2017: Buran!

Elon Musk made a secret appearance to elite US Marines and gave a stirring speech, Business Insider

As the guest of honor, Musk reportedly delivered the opening statement that appeared to make an impact to the group of elite Marines. "I will never forget it; it set the tone for his entire talk," Musselman said. "He said, 'I wanted to come and speak to this group,' and I get the chills even saying it, 'Because whenever there's danger in the world, you all are the first to go and die."

Vice President Mike Pence met with Elon Musk, source says, CNN

"Vice President Mike Pence discussed the National Space Council with entrepreneur and inventor Elon Musk during a trip to California last month, a source familiar with the meeting says. The two powwowed at a Los Angeles hotel one evening while the vice president was in the state for a fundraising swing. The conversation focused on the council, which aims to streamline and coordinate national space policy. Pence leads the panel at President Donald Trump's direction."

Controversial chairman of US House science committee to retire, Nature

"I think [Smith's] position on peer review, on the NSF and climate science put him at odds with the science community," says physicist Neal Lane, a former NSF director who served as science adviser to former president Bill Clinton. "But it was consistent with that of the leadership in the House, which can hardly be described as pro-science."

"Smith, a Texas Republican, has repeatedly questioned the science behind climate change, sought to pare back the US National Science Foundation's (NSF) research portfolio and has launched dozens of probes into alleged wrongdoing by individual scientists and US government science agencies. Since taking the helm in 2013, the politician has transformed the science panel from a relatively deliberative group into an investigative weapon."

Federal report blames humans for global warming and its effects, The Hill

"An extensive report published by the federal government Friday asserts that humans are the primary driver of climate change, causing higher temperatures, sea level rise, agriculture problems and more. The report, the first volume of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, is years in the making, and involved contributions from more than a dozen federal agencies. It is meant to be an authoritative assessment of the current state of climate change science. Many of the report's conclusions directly contradict the Trump administration's positions on climate change."

Climate Science Special Report Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4), Volume I, U.S. Global Change Research Program

"This assessment concludes, based on extensive evidence, that it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence. In addition to warming, many other aspects of global climate are changing, primarily in response to human activities."

U.S. Report Says Humans Cause Climate Change, Contradicting Top Trump Officials, NY Times

"The report was approved for release by the White House, but the findings come as the Trump administration is defending its climate change policies on several fronts. ... While there were pockets of resistance to the report in the Trump administration, there was little appetite for a knockdown fight over climate change among Mr. Trump's top advisers, who are intensely focused on passing a tax reform bill - an effort they think could determine the fate of his presidency."

ALMA Discovery of Dust Belts Around Proxima Centauri , astro-ph.EP

"Proxima Centauri, the star closest to our Sun, is known to host at least one terrestrial planet candidate in a temperate orbit. Here we report the ALMA detection of the star at 1.3 mm wavelength and the discovery of a belt of dust orbiting around it at distances ranging between 1 and 4 au, approximately."

Trump's NASA pick faces blistering criticism on Capitol Hill, Politco

"Nelson is the committee's ranking Democrat. He's also the only sitting congressman to have flown on the space shuttle and hails from the part of Florida that includes Cape Canaveral. During the hearing, Nelson said that Bridenstine's "time as a pilot and your service to our country in the military is certainly commendable," but he said it doesn't qualify him to "make the complex and nuanced engineering, safety and budgetary decisions for which the head of NASA must be accountable."

Keith's note: Odd. Nelson overtly used his political position to force NASA to fly him on a space shuttle mission. His only professional qualification? He was a lawyer. That's it. His (not so) secret astronaut nickname was "ballast". If NASA can teach a lawyer how to be an astronaut then I am certain that a fighter pilot with extensive combat experience (just like 3 previous NASA Administrators and many, many astronauts), 3 terms in Congress, with a MBA can be taught to run NASA. Just sayin'.

Trump's Nominee For NASA Chief Could Remake The Agency, Five Thirty Eight

"[Phil] Larson, a veteran of both the Obama administration's Office of Science and Technology Policy and SpaceX, said the confirmation hearing this week will be the true test of where Bridenstine stands. "For an Obama administration official, I am fairly bullish on his appointment, mainly because (a) I think it could be a lot worse, and (b) he does seem to have a passion for these issues," Larson said. "But his confirmation hearing will be important for getting him on the record on climate change."

Statement By Rep. James Bridenstine Before The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

"NASA is at a crucial time in its history, preparing to explore Deep Space again for the first time in forty-five years. To do this sustainably, we must develop a consensus-driven agenda, based on national interests. Should I be confirmed, it will be my intention to build off the work done by the great people at NASA during the last administration, and to move forward by following the guidance of the NASA Transition Authorization Act, appropriations legislation, and science decadal surveys. We must all do this together."

Contentious Bridenstine Nomination Hearing Splits Along Party Lines, Space Policy Online

"In the past, Bridenstine had indicated that he did not accept the scientific consensus that the climate is changing because of human activity. Today he said that he accepts that humans are a cause of climate change, but would not go as far as to say that it is the primary cause. He went on to say that NASA is the only agency in the world that can do the kind of science needed to answer questions like that."



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This page is an archive of recent entries written by Keith Cowing in November 2017.

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