Keith Cowing: December 2017 Archives

How the Trump era is changing the federal bureaucracy, Washington Post

"The clock ran out for hundreds of acting officials in November when a little-known law called the Vacancies Act - designed to spur presidents to staff their government - kicked in, limiting them from making official decisions. The law allows acting officials to serve for up to 300 days, at which point they must yield their authority to the agency head, unless the president has nominated someone to the job. An official action taken in violation of the law could face a legal challenge."

Keith's note: If I understand this correctly, Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot could technically get caught up in this. Rep. Bridenstine's nomination was not carried over by the Senate - so the White House has to resubmit it - and sources report that they intend to do that. In the interim, one could argue that there is no active nomination for someone to head NASA. More than 300 days have passed since Lightfoot's appointment has passed (he assumed the position on 20 January 2017).

Keith's update: As I now understand things when Bridenstine's original nomination is returned to the White House by the Senate, the clock for temporary appointments (like Lightfoot's) is reset for another 210 days. When the White House resubmits Bridenstine's nomination to the Senate that clock will be reset again for 210 days from the date that he was renominated and will run until he is confirmed. If his second nomination is rejected, if he withdraws, or if it is not voted on and returned, then the clock is reset again for another 210 days.

Jim bridenstine, donald trump's choice to lead nasa back to the moon, has a new take on climate change -- quartz, Hearthstone

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Keith's note: This is what happens when an Indian text generator bot with a poor English module tries to autowrite an article on the next NASA administrator and then autotweets it through a Twitter bot. Or, better yet, this article has been cycled back and forth through an autotranslator bot between one language and another multple times with new translation errors piled on top of previous translation errors - and is then tweeted out by a bot that says it is in the Cayman Islands.

Actually this is all about click bait that sends you to a landing site with ads. Every time someone visits the ad gets seen. There are just enough words in what appear to be sentences to fool the search bots. But there are more sophisticated bots out there that actually write news stories automatically and in many cases you have no idea that you are reading something written by a non-fuman. It is going to become increasingly common to see news stories that have never been touched by human hands, so to speak.

Could the Pentagon's new R&E head take over military space programs?

"We haven't laid flat the final responsibilities there, but what's really exciting about next year is we've got Mike Griffin on board," who touts extensive experience in the space domain, the deputy told reporters Dec. 21. Griffin, a former NASA administrator during the George W. Bush administration, was formally nominated this month. He has yet to have a confirmation hearing but is expected to have one in January with the goal of having him in place by the Feb. 1 creation of the R&E job. As currently constructed, the R&E office is not planned to have a heavy hand in space issues, aside from its broad mandate to help develop new technologies. But Griffin's space experience seems to have captured the interest of Shanahan as the deputy is working through broader changes to the Pentagon."

On Hiatus

Keith's note: Posting on NASAWatch will be minimal until after New Year's. Happy holidays!

Keith's note: With government shut down issues and an evaporating calendar, it is unlikely that Rep. Bridenstine nomination to be NASA Administrator will come up in 2017. Right now the expected support for Rep. Bridenstine remains exactly where it has been for him (and many other Trump nominees) for many months: split along party lines. With Sen. Rubio still in the "no" column if the vote were taken today (and Sen. McCain and Sen. Cochran were well enough to be in town to vote) it is expected that Bridenstine would be confirmed 51 to 49. With a vote that is now most likely to happen in January (or later) in 2018, and the seating of Sen.-Elect Jones (D-AL), the expected vote would be 50/50 with Vice President Pence casting a tie breaking vote.

There is also an issue of the time needed for a floor debate. In the Senate 30 hours is formally set aside for confirmation of nominees. But usually the 30 hours is waived by unanimous consent or significantly shortened by agreement between Democrats and Republicans to a much more manageable period. Alas, Sen. Nelson has refused to accept any deals. As such there was simply no way to really schedule this confirmation in the remaining time that the Senate was going to be in session. More details on this issue can be found here.

Bridenstine's nomination from the White House will have to be resubmitted for the second session of this Congress. All sources report that the Administration is still quite firmly behind Bridenstine and that this "re-nomination" is simply a matter of routine paperwork that will happen after the holidays. Whether there will need to be another confirmation hearing is unclear at this point.

The knife edge aspect of the expected vote is due to the hyper-partisan state of affairs here in Washington. Many confirmations are stalled. Contrary to some reports Bridenstine's nomination was not delayed by Senate Republicans due to a lack of votes. Bridenstine had a narrow, but very consistent block of votes that would have led to his confirmation had the vote occurred. Under more traditional circumstances Bridenstine would have had a number of Democratic votes to confirm. If he is confirmed that bipartisan support should become evident.

Keith's note: Elon Musk could have some serious citizen science fun with this. I was thinking back to the ISEE-3 Reboot Project and all of the amateurs - many with home made satellite dishes - who listened for the spacecraft. If the #SpaceTesla does actually make it into space it would be an enticing object for amateurs to track - and analyze. It has known exterior characteristics. How much of its adaptation to space over time could be gleaned from citizen science observations? Not that a sports car with red paint is your ideal space craft. But if it is out there, why not use it as a thing to entice people to look up at the sky and figure out what it is doing? Maybe SpaceX could put a transponder on it. Has NASA discussed anything like this with SpaceX? This is the sort of thing a spacecraft in orbit around Mars should try and image ...

Bruce McCandless

Astronaut Bruce McCandless II Dies at 80

"Former NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless II, mission specialist on the STS-41B and STS-31 missions, died Dec. 21, 2017, at the age of 80. McCandless is perhaps best remembered as the subject of a famous NASA photograph flying alongside the space shuttle in the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) - the first astronaut to fly untethered from his spacecraft. His time as an astronaut encompassed much more than that mission, including serving as the mission-control communicator for Neil Armstrong's and Buzz Aldrin's moonwalk on the Apollo 11 mission."

The UFO spotter: Navy pilots used Raytheon tech to track a strange UFO, Raytheon

"We might be the system that caught the first evidence of E.T. out there," said Aaron Maestas, director of engineering and chief engineer for Surveillance and Targeting Systems at Raytheon's Space and Airborne Systems business. "But I'm not surprised we were able to see it." ... So how best to track an alien spaceship in our skies? "Wide-area search of some form or another," said Cummings. "I would want want at least two sensors, like radar and [electro-optical/infrared], to search the skies...One way to actually verify these and be absolutely certain that this is not an anomaly is to get the same target, behaving the same way on multiple sensors."

Keith's note: Fast forward to 28:45 for an interview with deaf student astronaut Julia Velasquez in ASL who is currently at HI-SEAS Mars analog habitat in Hawaii. In a previous life I worked as a professional Sign Language interpreter so I think this is especially cool. Another language that may one day be used in space? I used to go snorkeling with one of my deaf roommates. We used to have perfectly normal conversations underwater except that they caused us to move our bodies. When I flew on ZeroG parabolic flight I started to sign to myself in an exaggerated fashion. If I was already rotating what I said in sign language affected my rotation. I also signed to myself when I was in the NASTAR centrifuge at 3Gs - because I could (with my 200 pound arms). Anyone who has gone SCUBA diving knows that there are a bunch of hand signs you use in certain situations. But they are very limited. How do you communicate in space if your radio is dead? I can imagine that people living in zeroG for prolonged periods will develop their own unique art forms - and there is an obvious overlap between sign language, song, dance, and acrobatics - especially when you remove the downward pull of gravity. Maybe Andy Weir can write a book about that. Just sayin'

Robonaut-2 Says "Hello world" in American Sign Language From the ISS, SpaceRef (2012)

"On 13 March 2012, NASA's Robonaut-2 said "hello world" in American Sign Language (ASL) from the International Space Station. I am told that the idea for this came from my suggestion posted on NASA Watch several months ago (below). How cool."

First International Comparative List of Astronomical Words In Sign Languages

"The first international comparative list of astronomical words in sign languages is now available. As part of this proposal, the Encyclopedic Dictionary of Astronomy for Sign Languages has been translated into English and Spanish and is now available online. This is the result of a long-term project developed by the IAU Commission C1 Education and Development of Astronomy and its WG3 Astronomy for Equity and Inclusion. The new list currently includes 47 words most commonly used in education."

NASA Invitation for Public Nominations of U.S. Citizens for Potential Service on the National Space Council Users' Advisory Group

"NASA announces an invitation for public nominations of U.S. citizens to serve as potential members of the National Space Council Users' Advisory Group (UAG). The UAG is a new Federal advisory committee under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) being established pursuant to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act, Fiscal Year 1991 (Pub. L. 101611, Section 121) and Executive Order 13803, Section 6 (''Reviving the National Space Council'') signed by the President on June 30, 2017. The UAG is purely advisory and will ensure that the interests of industry and other non- Federal entities are adequately represented in the deliberations of the National Space Council. NASA is sponsoring the UAG on behalf of the National Space Council, an Executive Branch interagency coordinating committee chaired by the Vice President, which is tasked with advising and assisting the President on national space policy and strategy. Members of the UAG will serve either as ''Representatives'' (representing industry, other non-Federal entities, and other recognizable groups of persons involved in aeronautical and space activities), or as ''Special Government Employees'' (individual subject matter experts or consultants)."

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Why The International Space Station Is The Single Best Thing We Did, Wired

"The International Space Station is one of the few nonstellar things up there that we can see from down here without instruments. It's a prefab home the size of a football field, 462 tons and more than $100 billion worth of pressurized roomlike modules and gleaming solar arrays, orbiting 250 miles above the surface of the Earth. Its flight path is available online, and you can find out when it will make a nighttime pass over your backyard. Right on schedule, you'll spot an unblinking white light that's moving at 17,500 miles an hour. It will cross your field of view, on a line straight enough to have been drawn with a ruler, in only a few seconds. A few minutes more and the men and women inside that light will be over Greece. A few minutes more, Mongolia. There have been 53 expeditions to the ISS; 53 long-duration crews have called it home since Expedition 1 floated aboard in 2000. They've been mostly from America and Russia, the two principal and unlikely partners in one of the most expensive and challenging construction projects ever completed. (The ISS rose out of the ashes of two previous space stations: Russia's Mir, last occupied in 1999 before it fell out of the sky in 2001, and Ronald Reagan's proposed Freedom, which never got past the blueprints.) Its first few residents came and went largely without incident, conducting scientific experiments in everything from fluid dynamics to zero-G botany while studying what month after weightless month can do to the human body."

Glowing Auras and 'Black Money': The Pentagon's Mysterious U.F.O. Program, New York Times

"Contracts obtained by The Times show a congressional appropriation of just under $22 million beginning in late 2008 through 2011. The money was used for management of the program, research and assessments of the threat posed by the objects. The funding went to Mr. Bigelow's company, Bigelow Aerospace, which hired subcontractors and solicited research for the program. Under Mr. Bigelow's direction, the company modified buildings in Las Vegas for the storage of metal alloys and other materials that Mr. Elizondo and program contractors said had been recovered from unidentified aerial phenomena. Researchers also studied people who said they had experienced physical effects from encounters with the objects and examined them for any physiological changes. In addition, researchers spoke to military service members who had reported sightings of strange aircraft."

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Keith's note: As is usually the case when a story like this appears one part or another of the BBC calls to ask me what is going on. I thought I'd invite an expert to appear on the Skype interview with me so my little green alien pal I bought at Ron Jons in Cocoa Beach made his first international Tee Vee appearance tonight to help me through the interview. Beam me up.


The government admits it studies UFOs. So about those Area 51 conspiracy theories ..., Washington Post

"For decades, Americans were told that Area 51 didn't really exist and that the U.S. government had no official interest in aliens or UFOs. Statements to the contrary, official-sounding people cautioned, were probably the musings of crackpots in tinfoil hats. Well, score one for the crackpots. The Pentagon has officially confirmed that there was, in fact, a $22 million government program to collect and analyze "anomalous aerospace threats" -- government-speak for UFOs."

On the Trail of a Secret Pentagon U.F.O. Program, NY Times

"Leslie interviewed the aerospace magnate Robert Bigelow, who also confirmed his participation, saying Americans were being held back from serious research into U.F.O.'s by "a juvenile taboo."

Alien Hunter Reveals the Most Disturbing Part of the Pentagon's UFO Program, Inverse

"For [Seth] Shostak, what's "a little disturbing" about the ordeal is that Bigelow, who has collaborated with NASA despite having no scientific background, has received so much money from the project. "[Bigelow] doesn't need more money," he explains. "He's a very likeable guy, but he's been convinced all along that we're being 'visited.' And it doesn't mean [aliens are visiting us] just because a person of note thinks it's true. The thing that's a little disturbing about this is that it seems a lot of the money for this study went to Bob Bigelow. I think that if you really wanted to investigate this stuff, the thing to do is to give this to scientists or experts in the field that don't have a dog in the fight."

UFO IPO-182 - Take me to your dealer: the Pentagon UFO story, crowdfunding, and Blink-182, Boing Boing

"The New York Times has an article about "Glowing Auras and 'Black Money': The Pentagon's Mysterious U.F.O. Program." $22 million spent on the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, there are 2 declassified released videos that the reader is left to assume is proof of alien visitors (one of the authors of the articles is promoting a UFO book at this time). It has a lot of facts the NYTimes left out like the CEO of the newly formed crowdfunded company via the CROWDFUND ACT, Tom DeLonge. If you're wondering if it's that Tom DeLonge, yes! DeLonge was the guitarist and co-lead vocalist of the band Blink-182. It was reported that DeLonge allegedly left Blink-182 in 2015 because of aliens and national security."

CDC gets list of forbidden words: fetus, transgender, diversity, Washington Post

"The Trump administration is prohibiting officials at the nation's top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases - including "fetus" and "transgender" - in any official documents being prepared for next year's budget. Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden words at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. The forbidden words are "vulnerable," "entitlement," "diversity," "transgender," "fetus," "evidence-based" and "science-based." In some instances, the analysts were given alternative phrases. Instead of "science-based" or "evidence-based," the suggested phrase is "CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes," the person said. In other cases, no replacement words were immediately offered."

After report on CDC's forbidden words policy draws outrage, HHS pushes back, Stat

A spokesman for the Health and Human Services Department said Saturday the agency remains committed to the use of outcomes data and scientific evidence in its decisions, pushing back on the characterization of a Washington Post report that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now banned from using words like "science-based" and "transgender" in budget documents. The spokesman, Matt Lloyd, didn't respond to follow-up questions about whether the policy might apply more broadly, now or in the future, to other HHS agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration or the National Institutes of Health. A separate FDA spokeswoman said earlier on Saturday that the FDA hasn't yet received or implemented a policy to avoid certain words in budget or policy work.

Keith's note: What science-related words might be banned at NASA? "Science-based" or "evidence-based" seem to be natural ones since CDC can't use them. "Climate change" is also a no-brainer since NASA studies a planet called Earth and NOAA and EPA have already had some guidance on that. With regard to Astrobiology "origin and evolution of life" might be a ripe target too. On the other hand, maybe we'll get lucky and NASA will be forced to stop saying "notional" on every powerpoint slide they show and say "we're just guessing" instead.

Thinking Of Sir Arthur C. Clarke On His 100th Birthday

"Today would have been Sir Arthur C. Clarke's 100th birthday. Arthur C. Clarke has had more influence on me as a writer than just about anyone else has - and it started at a very early age. ... In the early 1990s I was a NASA employee and served as Payload Accommodations Manager for the 2.5 meter Centrifuge Facility that we planned to attach to Space Station Freedom (you call it ISS now). Eventually it was dropped by the program. At every possible opportunity I would sneak in gag charts showing the crew of Discovery from the film "2001: A Space Odyssey" inside the "25 meter centrifuge" and then say "oops, wrong chart"."

Keith's note: Last week President Trump signed the H.R.2810 - National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 into law. Included in this legislation is a provision that calls for a memorial to the crew of Apollo 1 at Arlington National Cemetery:

"SEC. 1087. CONSTRUCTION OF MEMORIAL TO THE CREW OF THE APOLLO I LAUNCH TEST ACCIDENT AT ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY.
Subject to applicable requirements of section 2409(b)(2)(E) of title 38, United States Code, the Secretary of the Army, in consultation with the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Commission of Fine Arts, and the Advisory Committee on Arlington National Cemetery, shall authorize the construction, at an appropriate place in Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, of a memorial marker honoring the three members of the crew of the Apollo I who died during a launch rehearsal test on January 27, 1967, in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The memorial may not be constructed in a location that is otherwise suitable as an interment site."

An effort to get this memorial established has been underway for a number of years here in the Washington, DC aerospace community led by primarily folks at the Aerospace Industries Association with the assistance of the Challenger Center for Space Science Education. Exactly what the memorial will look like or where it will be placed has not been decided but the preference of the space community in Washington is to put the Apollo 1 memorial next to the memorials for the crews of Columbia and Challenger with a marker of a similar size and design. There will likely be a public fundraising effort for this memorial. Details to follow.

Keith's note: After spending decades and tens of billions of dollars NASA still cannot implement a strategic plan for the use of the ISS or explain how it plans to transition from the ISS to future facilities. If NASA cannot get it right in low Earth orbit, how can they expect to build even more complex facilities near the Moon or at Mars?

Did NASA Deliver The ISS Transition Plan To Congress Required By Law? Update: No, earlier post

"In other words the [ISS Transition Plan Congress requires - by law] is late, has not been delivered, NASA does not know when it will be delivered. NASA is not going to tell anyone when it has been delivered and people will have to go ask Congress where the report is - whenever NASA gets around to delivering it."

NASA Makes Progress Toward Space Exploration Science Priorities Outlined in 2011 Decadal Survey, Should Develop U.S. Strategy for International Space Station Beyond 2024, NAS

"Although NASA has made progress toward the overall space exploration science priorities recommended in a 2011 decadal survey by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, the space agency should raise the priority of scientific research that addresses the risks and unknowns of human space exploration. This heightened priority is particularly important given the limited remaining lifetime of the International Space Station (ISS) - the most significant destination for microgravity research - and because the U.S. currently does not have a strategy for the station beyond 2024, says a new midterm assessment report by the National Academies."

A Midterm Assessment of Implementation of the Decadal Survey on Life and Physical Sciences Research at NASA, NAS

"... In assessing the progress of implementation of the decadal survey portfolio, the committee found difficulty in navigating the research tracking within various parts of the Agency that report on research alignments with the decadal recommendations. While overall programmatic attention to space life and physical sciences was readily apparent in the many presentations from NASA to the committee, a cumulative alignment or mapping of agency research projects to specific decadal survey recommendations proved problematic."

"... It is essential that NASA as quickly as possible develop a International Space Station-post-2024 strategy. This development factors strongly in the overall exploration strategy, space life and physical sciences research priorities, and resource allocation in terms of crew time, cargo delivery, and funding. This post-2024 strategy should address clear cost allocation among the various research activities and partners."

"... The committee has seen that microgravity research is included in the SBIR and STTR topic areas. However, NASA does not track the SBIR or STTR projects against the decadal survey priorities, and therefore neither NSBRI, SBIR, nor STTR research results entered into any attempts to map inputs to specific decadal survey recommendations."

"... The committee was further briefed on approximately 2,000 ground-based studies reported through the SLPSRA Task Book database: nearly 200 studies reported by CASIS; a large, yet undetermined, amount of funding for intramural directed intramural research projects; and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of ground- and space-based studies sponsored by NASA's international partners. Through individual queries to representatives of SBIR/STTR, the committee also learned of potentially hundreds of relevant SBIR/STTR research projects. Unfortunately, no mechanism currently exists, particularly in the Task Book, to summarize this vast body of research in a manner that allows mapping to specific priorities."

"... This allocation of resources can lead to allocation difficulties, because the various entities having different, and sometimes competing, priorities negotiate for resources. As in the case for Space Biology, shown in Figure 2.9, while both CASIS and NASA may start off with similar fundamental science needs, the NASA needs for flight medicine to enable humans to go to Mars can pull research in a very different direction than the CASIS need to produce medicinal results relevant back on Earth. Sometimes research can synergistically serve both needs; however, this creative tension between legitimate end goals does not always result in commonality of science needs or resource utilization."

Earlier posts on ISS and CASIS

Former NASA Flight Director Says A Return To The Moon Is Necessary Before Heading To Mars

"But what about plans for a return to the moon? ""First, you go to the moon before you go to Mars," George W.S. Abbey, a former director of NASA's Johnson Space Center said in an interview with the International Business Times. Abbey, is currently the Baker Botts Senior Fellow in Space Policy at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy. Abbey was named director of flight operations in 1976 and helped develop strategies for future moon and Mars missions. Speaking to International Business Times, Abbey said international cooperation is a key to future missions and a return to the moon is necessary before NASA can get to Mars."

Artificial Intelligence Used to Discover Eighth Planet Circling Distant Star

"The discovery came about after researchers Christopher Shallue and Andrew Vanderburg and trained a computer to learn how to identify exoplanets in the light readings recorded by Kepler - the miniscule change in brightness captured when a planet passed in front of, or transited, a star. Inspired by the way neurons connect in the human brain, this artificial "neural network" sifted through Kepler data and found weak transit signals from a previously-missed eighth planet orbiting Kepler-90, in the constellation Draco."

Breakthrough Listen Releases Initial Results and Data from Observations of 'Oumuamua

"Breakthrough Listen - the initiative to find signs of intelligent life in the universe - is reporting preliminary results and making initial data available from its observations of the "interstellar visitor" 'Oumuamua. No evidence of artificial signals emanating from the object so far detected by the Green Bank Telescope, but monitoring and analysis continue. Initial data are available for public inspection in the Breakthrough Listen archive."

Pace Outlines Trump Administration's Approach to Space Development and Law, Space Policy Online

"The United States should seek to ensure that its space activities reflect "our values and not just our technologies," Pace urged. "We should seek to ensure that our space activities reflect those values: democracy, liberty, free enterprise, and respect for domestic and international law in a peaceful international order." To influence the development and utilization of space, the United States needs to "create attractive projects and frameworks in which other nations choose to align themselves and their space activities with us, as opposed to others." Pace praised the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which just turned 50 years old, saying there is "no doubt" that U.S. national interests are served by conducting space activities within that international legal framework. Conversely, he lambasted the 1979 Moon Agreement as "contrary to American interests." It declares the Moon to be the common heritage of mankind with all nations sharing equitably in benefits derived from its resources.

Trump signs NASA directive aiming at moon, Mars and beyond, Houston Chronicle

"When people question why the U.S. would return to the moon, Keith Cowing, editor of NASA Watch, a website devoted to space news, has a pretty simple answer: most people alive today have never seen a human walk on another world. "I think my generation should stop being selfish about what we did," said Cowing. "It really is time for the vast majority of the people in the world to have their chance to see this."

Doing Something Again For The First Time, earlier post

"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."

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Larger Image

Keith's note: As former Obama OSTP official Phil Larson notes, the Space Policy Directive 1 issued on Monday only revises a very, very small portion of the existing space policy. Since this White House did not change anything else it is reasonable to assume that they agree with the Obama space policy, as written. Of course, these space policies are iterative and you can trace certain themes back through the Obama, Bush 2, Clinton, Bush 1, and Reagan Administrations - and even further.

To be blunt, Monday's event at the White House was a hastily arranged photo op with some spoken words. The document that was signed also represents an indication that whatever space policy the National Space Council will eventually come up with will have its roots firmly planted in what has come before. However, Space Policy Directive 1 is also a course correction - a potentially significant one that pivots NASA from Mars (back) toward the Moon - something that is far more significant than the small number of words used to make the pivot.

Space policy is something that transcends Administrations and those who craft and refine it stand on the shoulders of those who came before. Sometimes a few well-placed words can have a disproportionately big impact. Sometimes.

- National Space Policy of the United States of America, June 28, 2010

- Presidential Memorandum on Reinvigorating America's Human Space Exploration Program, December 11, 2017

"Presidential Policy Directive-4 of June 28, 2010 (National Space Policy), is amended as follows: The paragraph beginning "Set far-reaching exploration milestones" is deleted and replaced with the following: "Lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities. Beginning with missions beyond low-Earth orbit, the United States will lead the return of humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and utilization, followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations;".

Keith's note: Oh yes, and these two guys said this:

Gingrich & Walker: Obama's brave reboot for NASA, op ed, Washington Times (2010)

"With the new NASA budget, the leadership of the agency is attempting to refocus the manned space program along the lines that successive panels of experts have recommended. The space shuttle program, which was scheduled to end, largely for safety reasons, will be terminated as scheduled. The Constellation program also will be terminated, mostly because its ongoing costs cannot by absorbed within projected NASA budget limits. The International Space Station will have its life extended to at least 2020, thereby preserving a $100 billion laboratory asset that otherwise was due to be dumped in the Pacific Ocean by middecade. The budget also sets forth an aggressive program for having cargo and astronaut crews delivered to the space station by commercial providers."

Moon, Mars, and Beyond 2.0

Trump Policy Promises Moon, Mars, and Beyond - Will This Time Be Different?, Space Policy Online

"Bold goals to continue trips to the Moon and go on to Mars envisioned in the immediate post-Apollo period never gained traction, nor did pronouncements by President George H.W. Bush in 1989 or President George W. Bush in 2004. President George W. Bush's plan to return astronauts to the lunar surface by 2020, called Constellation, was cancelled by Obama after a 2009 independent review concluded that NASA would need $3 billion more per year to implement it. Obama decided to focus instead on the "Journey to Mars" with the goal of putting humans in orbit around Mars in the 2030s, bypassing the lunar surface and saving the billions of dollars required to build a lunar landing system and associated lunar surface systems for habitation and exploration."

President Bush Announces New Vision for Space Exploration Program, earlier post (2004)

"Our second goal is to develop and test a new spacecraft, the Crew Exploration Vehicle, by 2008, and to conduct the first manned mission no later than 2014. The Crew Exploration Vehicle will be capable of ferrying astronauts and scientists to the Space Station after the shuttle is retired. But the main purpose of this spacecraft will be to carry astronauts beyond our orbit to other worlds. This will be the first spacecraft of its kind since the Apollo Command Module. Our third goal is to return to the moon by 2020, as the launching point for missions beyond. Beginning no later than 2008, we will send a series of robotic missions to the lunar surface to research and prepare for future human exploration. Using the Crew Exploration Vehicle, we will undertake extended human missions to the moon as early as 2015, with the goal of living and working there for increasingly extended periods. Eugene Cernan, who is with us today -- the last man to set foot on the lunar surface -- said this as he left: "We leave as we came, and God willing as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind." America will make those words come true. (Applause.)"

Keith's note: Gene Cernan stood with George Bush in 2004. Jack Schmitt Stood With Donald Trump in 2017. Not much has changed - except that Apollo 17 has now been the last mission where humans walked on another world for 45 years.

Notice of establishment of the National Space Council Users' Advisory Group.

"Purpose: The purpose of the UAG is purely advisory and shall be to ensure that the interests of industry, other nonFederal entities, and other persons involved in aeronautics and space activities are adequately represented in the deliberations of the National Space Council. The National Space Council is an Executive Branch interagency coordinating committee chaired by the Vice President, which is tasked with advising and assisting the President regarding national space policy and strategy.

Membership: Members of the UAG will serve either as ''Representatives'' (representing industry, other nonFederal entities, and other recognizable groups of persons involved in aeronautical and space activities) or ''Special Government Employees'' (individual subject matter experts)."

Keith's bote: The call for nominations will be published on Thursday.

Keith's 11 Dec update: I did not hear back from NASA so I sent a second request. Stephanie Schierholz at NASA HQ PAO just sent this reply to my second request: "NASA is keeping Congress apprised as to the progress of the ISS Transition Report and plans to provide this report to the Committee as soon as possible. Please reach out to the Committee about obtaining a copy of the report once it is submitted."

In other words the report is late, has not been delivered, NASA does not know when it will be delivered. NASA is not going to tell anyone when it has been delivered and people will have to go ask Congress where the report is - whenever NASA gets around to delivering it.

Keith's 8 Dec update: Several sources report that the congressionally-mandated "ISS Transition Plan" (or whatever NASA decides to call it) may be part of the Administration's FY2019 budget proposal package that is sent to Congress in the January/February 2018 time frame. This does not mean, however, that NASA will publicly release the report at that time - if they ever release it at all.

Remarks By President Trump and Vice President Pence at Space Policy Directive 1 Signing Ceremony

"The directive I'm signing today will refocus America's space program on human exploration and discovery. It marks an important step in returning American astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972 for long-term exploration and use. This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprint, we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars. And perhaps, someday, to many worlds beyond. This directive will ensure America's space program once again leads and inspires all of humanity. The pioneer spirit has always defined America, and we're picking that up in many other fields. I think you see that. I think it's obvious. All you have to do is look at what's happening with the markets and all of the great things that are happening. We're leading in many different fields again, and it'll get more and more obvious as you go along."

Presidential Memorandum on Reinvigorating America's Human Space Exploration Program

"Presidential Policy Directive-4 of June 28, 2010 (National Space Policy), is amended as follows: he paragraph beginning "Set far-reaching exploration milestones" is deleted and replaced with the following: "Lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities. Beginning with missions beyond low-Earth orbit, the United States will lead the return of humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and utilization, followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations;".

- Coalition for Deep Space Exploration Comment on Today's SPD-1 by President Trump
- AIA Welcomes Presidential Announcement of Human Space Exploration Goals
- CSF Statement on President Trump signing of Space Policy Directive 1

Keith's note: Today's White House event will likely be carried live on NASA TV and will be online here as well https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7fuer5ws6ZY

White House Statement on Space Policy Directive 1 (SPD-1)

"The President, today, will sign Space Policy Directive 1 (SPD-1) that directs the NASA Administrator to lead an innovative space exploration program to send American astronauts back to the Moon, and eventually Mars."

NASA Provides Coverage of Today's Space Policy Directive Signing

"Following the event, images, b-roll video, and interview video clips with acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot and National Space Council Executive Secretary Scott Pace will be available for download."

Keith's note: This White House event could serve to put some wind into Rep. Bridenstine's sails as he awaits a vote to confirm him as NASA administrator. If the White House is going to continue to throw its strong support toward NASA one can argue that this would only serve to suggest that Bridenstine will have the strong backing of the Administration in the implementation of its new space policies. In the past 11 months there have been a number of high-visibility NASA-related events with overt White House participation - more than what happened in the previous Administration's two terms. So, at this point, no one can accuse this White House of not being willing to expend political capital on NASA.

Senate Democrats and Independents (46+2=48) are expected to solidly oppose Bridenstine's confirmation due to direction from party leadership - even if they wanted to vote for Bridenstine (and there are a number of Democratic Senators who would otherwise vote for Bridenstine). The expected vote tally for Bridenstine's assumes that Sen. Rubio and Sen. McCain are "no" votes. So that makes 48+2=50. That leaves a probable 50/50 vote for confirmation with Vice President Pence on hand in case a tie breaker vote is required. If the vote happens before the holiday recess then Pence could tip the balance in a tie vote. But if the vote does not happen in December and a Democrat is elected in Alabama and is seated before a confirmation vote in January - and Rubio and McCain are still "no" votes - then there could be a 49/51 vote and Bridenstine would not be confirmed.

Then again everything could change. Stay tuned.

NASA Advisory Council Meeting (Dial-in, WebEx info, agenda)

DATES: Thursday, December 7, 2017, 1:00-5:00 p.m.; and Friday, December 8, 2017, 9:00 a.m.-12:00 noon, Local Time.

NASA's employee satisfaction continues to soar, report finds, CNN

"If you're looking to enjoy working for the federal government, apply to NASA -- its employees are the happiest of any large government agency, according to a report released Wednesday that compiled government employee satisfaction data. NASA's rankings have earned it the top spot among large federal agencies for six years in a row, with an employee engagement score, or happiness rating, of 80.9 out of 100 this year, according to rankings compiled by the Partnership for Public Service."

Best Places to Work Agency Rankings

"The overall rankings are determined by the Best Places to Work index score, which measures employee engagement."

1 National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)2017: 80.9 -- 2016: 78.6 -- Change +2.3

Keith's 6 December update: Sources report that the two individuals who spoke with a potential employer of Ben Samouha were NASA employees George Mitchell and Andy Gamble. They were reportedly bragging about how they had done this until they read NASAWatch - and then they shut up.

Keith's 4 December update: According to a friend who has spoken with Ben Samouha, he has been retaliated against. Two NASA MSFC people became aware he was being interviewed for a new job and called the new employer. Speaking for NASA, they said not to hire him, that he's trouble, incompetent, makes waves. More to follow.

Keith's 27 November note: A letter was sent to NASA MSFC management last week by Ben Samouha, a 30+ year veteran in software safety whose career reaches back to the Challenger era. As has been noted previously on NASAWatch there has been a significant amount of internal controversy over safety and software being developed for SLS. Clearly these safety issues remain. People are quitting instead of trying to fight the system, or in some cases, they leave after having been forced out for speaking up about their concerns. As Samouha notes:

"These people have been for a long time (and still are) continuously ignoring or not properly addressing FSW Safety related observations and findings and unethically do not disclose issues to the upper management in order to show a virtual progress in order to keep their jobs. Anyone with years of experience and integrity to Safety can see through these imposters just like I did."

- MSFC To Safety Contractor: Just Ignore Those SLS Software Issues, earlier post
- SLS Flight Software Safety Issues Continue at MSFC, earlier post
- SLS Flight Software Safety Issues at MSFC (Update), earlier post

NASA: Preliminary Observations on the Management of Space Telescopes, Cristina Chaplain GAO

"GAO's ongoing work indicates that these projects are each making progress in line with their phase of the acquisition cycle but also face some challenges. For example, the current launch date for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) project reflects a 57-60-month delay from the project's original schedule. GAO's preliminary observations indicate this project still has significant integration and testing to complete, with very little schedule reserve remaining to account for delays. Therefore, additional delays beyond the delay of up to 8 months recently announced are likely, and funding available under the $8 billion Congressional cost cap for formulation and development may be inadequate."

Chairman Babin's Opening Statement: NASA's Next Four Large Telescopes

"It has been mentioned to me that with Hubble you could take a single picture into a meeting to show what was discovered but with W-FIRST you'll have to wallpaper their entire office. The capability has increased 100 times from Hubble. W-FIRST is a critical new flagship mission and we need to make sure it stays on course. The assets provided to NASA from the National Reconnaissance Office, or NRO, seem like a good fit for the mission but the program needs reasonable timelines and a realistic budget."

- Hearing charter

- Statements by Ranking Member Johnson and Ranking Member Bera

- Prepared statements: Thomas Zurbuchen, Thomas Young, Matt Mountain, Chris McKee

Ted Stecher

Obituary, AAS

"Theodore P. (Ted) Stecher, 86, passed away peacefully on Sunday, 29 October2017 in Silver Spring, MD, surrounded by his family. A major highlight of Ted's career was his service as Principal Investigator for the Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope (UIT), flown aboard Space Shuttle Columbia (STS-35/ASTRO-1 mission, 2-10 December 1990) and on Space Shuttle Endeavor (STS-67/ASTRO-2 mission, 2-18 March 1995). Ted retired in 2002 after 43 years with NASA, but retained an emeritus position and office for several years thereafter. He was stimulated, challenged, and rewarded by his work at Goddard; it was his passion."

http://images.spaceref.com/news/2017/oodale6deca.jpg

Astrobiologist Dale Andersen Antarctic Status Report 6 December 2017: Traverse to Novolazarevskaya Station

"Dale Andersen sent this via inReach on December 6, 2017 2:47:47 AM EST "Heading back to Novo in an hour nice sunny day. I'm starting my traverse, follow along at my MapShare https://share.garmin.com/DaleAndersen " Dale sent this message from: Lat -71.332995 Lon 13.45293."

http://images.spaceref.com/news/2017/daleok.jpg
Keith's 10:48 am EST update: Dale and his traverse team have arrived at Novolazarevskaya Station. "December 6, 2017 10:48:39 AM EST "Now at novo all ok" (click on image to enlarge)

Keith's 1:40 pm EST update: Just got a phone call from Dale:

Keith's note: Dale Andersen and I have been reporting from remote polar and alpine regions for more than 20 years - Dale much more than I. Indeed, we think that we may well have had the first webserver in the U.S. directly updated from Antarctica back in 1997 - that website is still online here. When researchers go to remote locations to conduct NASA-funded research and engage in dangerous procedures (drilling though meters of ice and then diving underneath) in search of clues to what form of life could be possible on worlds such as Mars, you'd think that NASA would pay attention. I have been posting Dale's reports almost daily for the past month. Speaking from personal experience reporting from Devon Island and Everest Base Camp it takes a lot of discipline and effort to send reports back to civilization - especially when your comms are limited such as they are at Lake Untersee, Antartica. Add in hurricane force winds and brutal temperatures and its not like texting from your iPhone.

http://images.spaceref.com/news/2017/dale3.jpgYet if you look at the webpages of NASA Science Mission Directorate, NASA Astrobiology, the NASA Astrobiology Institute and SETI Institute there is no mention of these daily reports that Dale diligently sends back from his tent in Antarctica. But I do post them here and on my astrobiology.com website (which is ranked 3rd on Google search for "astrobiology") so its not like he's getting no visibility.

All too often NASA sponsors research where teams of actual explorers engage in dangerous activities to conduct astrobiology field research so as to further the whole #JourneyToMars thing and yet no one at NASA bothers to pay attention. This mindset is not just limited to Dale. Much of the field work like this never gets any mention. People would be amazed at the things that NASA never bothers to mention where it is involved directly and/or indirectly. But astronauts wearing funny t-shirts on ISS? That warrants a news story with video.

Dale is heading back to Novolazarevskaya Station (check his location live) and should be back in the States in time for Christmas. And there will be cool photos and other things I hope to post.

Earlier reports

- 29 November 2017: Blizzard Conditions
- 28 November 2017: Last Week at Lake Untersee
- 26 November 2017: Busy Days at Lake Untersee
- 23 November 2017: High Winds
- 22 November 2017: Nice Weather
- 20 November 2017: Preparing Diving Gear
- 19 November 2017: Bad Weather
- 15 November 2017: Deploying Instruments
- 14 November 2017: Setting Up Camp
- 11 November 2017: Arrival at Lake Untersee
- 8 November 2017: More Snow
- 5 November 2017: Buran!
- 4 November 2017: Traverse Preparations

Major Policy Issues in Evolving Global Space Operations, Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies

"This paper is designed to inform decision-makers and other interested parties on how the United States may develop national space policy to address the dynamic space environment, based on input from a variety of experts. The issues addressed here, such as space traffic management, small satellites, proximity operations, orbital debris, counterspace threats, and norms of behavior, were chosen because they are likely to demand the attention of decision-makers in the near future. In addition to highlighting the issues, the report presents an overview of options for addressing them." .... The authors recognize that the experts consulted for this paper do not constitute a scientifically selected, statistically significant random sample from the community of space policy professionals. Nonetheless, the group includes a wealth of experience and a diversity of opinions sufficient to convey important insights and lessons on the range of questions they were asked to address."

Keith's note: These studies are fun to read but until/unless NASA in particular - and the U.S. government in general - can write down its top space priorities on a single sheet of paper this is just another one of those reports written by the usual suspects that will get tossed into the policy sausage grinder. Lets see what the National Space Council (NSpC) does.

Deadline for Students to Apply to the Brooke Owens Fellowship Program Is Fast Approaching

"The deadline for students to apply to the Brooke Owens Fellowship Program is almost here! Please spread the word--every undergraduate woman you know should seriously consider applying for this one-of-a-kind program. Applications are due on Tuesday, December 5th. The Brooke Owens Fellowship Program offers paid internships and executive-level mentorship to extraordinary undergraduate women who want careers in aviation or space exploration. Fellowships are available for a wide range of disciplines related to aerospace, including engineering, policy, business analysis, investment, communications, education, airport operations, and more."

Going Off Source: Time Away With SETI In West Virginia

"20 years ago I made a trip to West Virginia to hang out with SETI researcher Jill Tarter and see how she searched the skies for evidence of life elsewhere. The region is very familiar to me since my wife and I have spent a lot of time there rock climbing and camping. What unfolded was part camping trip, part astronomy class, cruising around in diesel taxis, and a strange collision of ancient and modern hardware. More thoughts at the end of this story."

http://images.spaceref.com/news/2017/falcontesla.jpg

SpaceX will try to launch Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster on new heavy-lift rocket, Spaceflight Now

"Musk told reporters in March that SpaceX would put "the silliest thing we can imagine" on the first Falcon Heavy flight. The company placed a wheel of cheese on the first flight of its Dragon cargo craft in an ode to the Monty Python comedy group. The Tesla Roadster weighs about 2,760 pounds (1,250 kilograms), measures nearly 13 feet (3.9 meters) long and spans about 5.7 feet (1.7 meters) wide, according to Car and Driver magazine. That's well within the Falcon Heavy's lift capability to go to Mars."

Keith's note: I totally get the playfulness with which SpaceX does many things. Its one of the things I really like about the company. Its often infectious - often disarmingly so - and helps to paint space as something more approachable than just launching expensive stuff that does hard-to-understand things into outer space. Its even more fun to kid around when the company does things that NASA cannot do.

Elon Musk has been totally blunt when he comes to the complexity of launching the first Falcon Heavy and that it may well blow up. Other than instrumentation needed to control and monitor the rocket, it would be a risky proposition for anyone to put anything of value on the rocket as a payload. NASA has often flown inert ballast on rockets during early test flights to allow the rocket to behave under properly loaded conditions. The Shuttle often flew with big slugs of lead to balance payloads.

But I have to wonder if something a little more useful could be done on this first Falcon Heavy flight- like auctioning off the $200,000 Tesla Roadster and using the proceeds to fund lots of cubesats that could be given out free to students with the caveat that they may become space toast. To a lot of people in America $200,000 is the cost of a house or one or two full college educations. This is Elon Musk's decision of course. And while it does have a sort of daring, tongue-in-cheek, out of the box aspect to it, I am also a little disappointed. This is a chance to do something that really resonates with people. Instead a lot of people will see some guy throw his expensive car away in outer space or make a shiny red reef in the Atlantic.

Too bad Elon couldn't put a Tesla SUV with fat tires inside a heat shield with a parachute and throw it toward Mars. He could even paint it red.

Keith's update: Now that I have been thinking about this a bit. Elon Musk could have some serious citizen science fun with this. I was thinking back to the ISEE-3 Reboot Project and all of the amateurs - many with home made satellite dishes - who listened for the spacecraft. If the #SpaceTesla does actually make it into space it would be an enticing object for amateurs to track - and analyze. It has known exterior characteristics. How much of its adaptation to space over time could be gleaned from citizen science observations? Not that a sports car with red paint is your ideal space craft. But if it is out there, why not use it as a thing to entice people to look up at the sky and figure out what it is doing? Maybe SpaceX could put a transponder on it ...

Elon Musk, ever the merry prankster, plans to launch a Tesla to Mars on a SpaceX rocket

"Since then, his rocket company has pulled off an array of increasingly important -- and improbable -- feats, from winning billions of dollars in U.S. government contracts to landing rocket boosters on ships at sea. But nothing would quite solidify Musk's merry-prankster, ringmaster status than his recently announced plan to use the often-delayed launch of his Falcon Heavy rocket into a cross-promotional marketing campaign for Tesla, one of his other companies."

Further Update:

NASA has never gone this long without a formal administrator, Ars Technica

"Four-time astronaut Charles Bolden resigned as NASA administrator on January 20, 2017, leaving the space agency after more than seven years on the job. Since then, a former director of the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, Robert Lightfoot, has served as interim director. He has held this post now for 315 days, or nearly 11 months. According to an analysis of the gaps between administrators at the space agency, NASA has never gone this long without a formal administrator. Beginning with T. Keith Glennan in 1958 and running through the term of Charles Bolden six decades later, there have been ten transitions between NASA administrators. The average gap between administrators has been 3.7 months."

http://images.spaceref.com/news/2017/walmart-nation.jpg

Keith's note: Several weeks ago I posted "Doing Something Again For The First Time" which focused on the sector of the U.S. population that was not alive when humans landed on the moon. I have had 3 publication requests to reuse my graphic. Tonight I came across another graphic on Facebook. You can see it here at visualcapitalist.com.

In 2016 people talked about "flyover country" without giving it too much thought as to what it meant other than that's where Trump voters and/or Hillary haters lived. You've all heard me rant about how I think NASA needs to readjust its education and public outreach efforts so as to reach the large sectors of America that do not usually get NASA's attention. In my mind there is some overlap between the flyover country meme and what I consider to be a chronically underserved portion of America's population when it comes to NASA outreach.

I used to be on the board of Directors of the Challenger Center for Space Science Education. We were always trying to understand where the underserved education markets were. I used to amuse myself by using Google Earth and its street view function to roam the U.S. at random looking for towns in flyover country that might have foreclosed buildings that could become Challenger Centers. I always found them - and they were always near big Walmart box stores.

Households revolve around income - where it comes from - and where it ends up being spent. It goes without saying that more income usually means more opportunities for people. And certain skilled portions of the labor market pay better than others. Look at this map (click to enlarge). In many ways there are "Two Americas" but not the ones you normally think about. In one America ("non-Walmart America") education, medical, and high-end manufacturing jobs lead the local economy. With that is a prerequisite focus on technical and scientific skills. In the the other "Walmart" America the focus is more on retail and service economy. Yet I would submit that while both Walmart and non-Walmart Americas have different business and educational mixes, their residents both share an equal capacity and desire to learn - and explore. And NASA is historically a prime magnet for such ambitions.

I'm not here to dump on Walmart. I shop there. But here in non-Walmart America when you ask someone to name the largest building in their city or town people talk about lots of universities, arenas, skyscrapers, factories, etc. Often in Walmart America the largest building is a Walmart - and you have to drive for many miles to reach it. But NASA focuses on communities where the big buildings are schools.

I am going to generalize and will get in trouble for doing so. In my 30 years of working for and/or watching NASA I feel that NASA aims virtually all of itself in terms of education and public outreach as if it is only talking to the the non-Walmart parts of the country - where people have a high technical expertise, easy Internet access, vote in urban trends, and have the income to pursue careers in exciting areas such as space exploration. It is always assumed that schools have the money to implement the stuff NASA posts on its websites.

That is not what you'd normally associate with flyover country. When Internet access is non-existent, school budgets are limited, and local job prospects lead young people away from (instead of toward) the chance to explore space, all of the fancy Internet stuff NASA blasts out online never makes contact. NASA has a website where you can find your town and get alerts by email when the space station is going to fly overhead. I go out every chance I get to watch it fly over my house. But what happens when your internet access requires a long bus ride - back and forth - every day - just to get those daily emails? The immediacy that non-Walmart America has to NASA falls flat in Walmart America. A space station flyover in flyover country is not all that it could be.

Oddly Johnson, Marshall, Kennedy, Langley, Wallops, Michoud, Stennis, and White Sands are all in Walmart America. Yet the interest within these field centers in engaging with surrounding Walmart America on themes and issues relevant to this sector of the population seems to fade after you drive out the center gates through a few county lines or zip codes.

The next time NASA crows in their #JourneyToMars tweets and SLS propaganda pieces about all the jobs that it has created in Texas, Alabama, Ohio, Florida etc. just remember that Walmart consistently does an even better job at employing more people than NASA does. Fact.

I'm not proposing any solutions. Let's see what the new guy does. But maybe NASA should partner with Walmart on the whole spinoff thing and put up a booth or kiosk in every store. They have 4,600 stores in the U.S. and 140,000,000 customers walk in their doors every week.


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

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