Keith Cowing: April 2021 Archives

NASA Suspends HLS Contract With SpaceXS, SpacePolicyOnline

"NASA has suspended its contract with SpaceX for the landing system to take astronauts down to and back from the lunar surface. Two other competitors for the contract, Blue Origin and Dynetics, have filed protests with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and NASA issued the stop work order until GAO resolves the matter. NASA awarded 10-month contracts to three companies one year ago today to further develop their concepts for Human Landing Systems (HLS) as part of the Artemis program to return astronauts to the lunar surface: SpaceX, Dynetics, and Blue Origin's "National Team" that includes Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper."

Keith's note: According to NASA PAO: "Pursuant to the GAO protests, NASA instructed SpaceX that progress on the HLS contract has been suspended until GAO resolves all outstanding litigation related to this procurement."

- NASA's Dilemma: Put Humans On The Moon Or Feed Big Aerospace, earlier post
- Blue Origin Formally Protests NASA HLS Contract Award, earlier post
- Formal NASA Human Lander Announced, earlier post

Biden-Harris Administration Shows Strong Support for NASA in First 100 Days, NASA

"In the first 100 days of the Biden-Harris Administration, NASA has taken bold steps to expand America's exploration and scientific frontiers, advancing the nation's commitment to build back better through innovation, combat climate change, re-establish America's standing abroad, and inspire the next generation."

Keith's note: Lots of stuff is mentioned in this self-issued report card. Apparently Space Team Biden gives itself an 'A' grade on everything. But some caveats need to be brought up to adjust the rosy glow. For starters, the Mars Perseverance/Ingenuity mission left Earth for Mars before the election or the Inauguration. The SLS stuff was more or less a done deal as well. So ... the new Biden folks mostly kept the lights on and did not break anything. As for the attention paid to NASA by the Biden Administration, there has been quite a lot - right from the onset. Not the rah rah type of semi-campaign rally stuff that the Trump folks seemed to revel in. Rather, the Biden folks have been placing NASA in a larger context of what the nation aspires to be - and do - as we emerge from the economic downturn and the pandemic.

Those big ticket items aside, there are some other accomplishments noted in this update that require a little more transparency - and some actual information - from Space Team Biden. Of course, the logical place to look would be NASA's website which, as I have noted previously, is broken, stale, confusing, and totally inadequate for the tasks it should be accomplishing. Some examples:

"Appointed a diversity and inclusion advisor to advance the administration's commitment to advance racial equity. The advisor will work with NASA leadership to further advance diversity and inclusion in the strategic decision-making of the agency to enhance organizational effectiveness, help achieve mission goals, and meet future challenges."

Who is this person? What is their background? What are their responsibilities? Is this a civil service hiring or a political appointee? The NASA ODEO (Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity) website makes no mention of this person or their responsibilities.

"Established an internal working group on orbital debris to improve the safety and sustainability of the orbital environment, which is a critical component of the space-based activities that our modern society depends on."

Who is on this working group? What is their charter and when will they issue a report? If you use the NASA.gov website to search for this effort all you get are old results. If you go to the Orbital Debris Program Office page there is no mention made of this activity,

"Initiated an internal review of the Artemis program to evaluate the current program budget and timeline, and develop high level plans that include content, schedule, and budgets for the program."

When will this review be made public? Who is on the review team? Is it already complete given that the HLS contract was awarded? There is no mention made on the NASA Artemis or NASA HEOMD websites.

"Established a new position of senior climate advisor to provide NASA leadership critical insights and recommendations for the agency's full spectrum of science, technology, and infrastructure programs related to climate."

When is this person (Gavin Schmidt) going to tell us what he is doing? There is nothing on the GISS or SMD Earth Science pages that mentions what he will be doing. His Twitter account (is this personal or official?) does not seem to mention anything about the job either.

Hopefully NASA PAO and OCOMMS will fix this dilapidated web presence once and for all so that everyone can find out what the agency is actually doing. Right now the NASA website presence is often more of hindrance than an asset.

Mars Hearing Today

Michael Collins

Family Statement on Passing of Astronaut Michael Collins

"We regret to share that our beloved father and grandfather passed away today, after a valiant battle with cancer. He spent his final days peacefully, with his family by his side. Mike always faced the challenges of life with grace and humility, and faced this, his final challenge, in the same way. We will miss him terribly. Yet we also know how lucky Mike felt to have lived the life he did. We will honor his wish for us to celebrate, not mourn, that life. Please join us in fondly and joyfully remembering his sharp wit, his quiet sense of purpose, and his wise perspective, gained both from looking back at Earth from the vantage of space and gazing across calm waters from the deck of his fishing boat.

Our family asks for privacy during this difficult time. Details on services will be forthcoming."

Ad Astra

Keith's note: Congress has consistently appropriated a small fraction of what is needed to continue with Human Lander work. The proposed FY 2022 budget from the Biden Administration still falls far short of what NASA has said that it needs to implement the Artemis program of record. NASA cannot award contracts with money it does not have - or will not get. According to the GAO, who will handle the Blue Origin and Dynetics HLS complaints, the Antideficiency Act provides a rather blunt roadblock to these protests since this law "prohibits federal agencies from obligations or expending federal funds in advance or in excess of an appropriation, and from accepting voluntary services."

Faced with a substantial shortfall in funds, NASA had to take that fact into account as it evaluated HLS proposals. Significant technical merits and issues aside, the numbers from Dynetics and Blue Origin were simply beyond the possible. SpaceX was much cheaper at $2.89 billion and an adjustment in its stated cost was possible. So, NASA went to the lowest bidder and asked if they could adjust their price. They did.

Blue Origin has stated that its bid was $5.99 billion. NASA stated that the Dynetics bid was "significantly higher" than the Blue Origin bid. It seriously stretches the imagination to think that they could match the SpaceX bid. Now they are protesting the decision.

NASA has not said whether they will pause work with SpaceX or on-going work with Blue Origin and Dynetics while GAO examines the two protests. Protests like these rarely succeed. The only real impact these protests will likely have is to delay work on meeting Artemis programmatic goals.

There are other threats too. Many in Congress would rather have NASA own the human lander outright which would cost more. Others think that the budgetary underpinnings of the Artemis program are too uncertain to make such a contract award. As such, even if GAO dismisses these two HLS contract award protests, NASA still faces a lot of resistance as it strives to put Americans back on the lunar surface.

Of course Big Aerospace could dial up their lobbying game and push Congress for billions more to build their systems. NASA Administrator-in-waiting Bill Nelson has been a big SLS fan since Day One, so you know that he'd certainly be listening to that option with some lingering interest.

The real question is where the Biden Administration decides to come down on all of this. Either they can adapt to national fiscal realities, think outside the box as they did with the SpaceX decision, and try to minimize the lingering impact of NASA's perennial delays and overruns -- or they can give in to Big Aerospace and pump more money into a clearly broken process that has yet to show a chance of ever meeting a program deadline.

- Blue Origin Formally Protests NASA HLS Contract Award, earlier post
- NASA Submits A Budget - And Adjusts Its Artemis Aspirations, earlier post
- House FY 2021 Budget Makes 2024 Moon Landing Doubtful, earlier post
- Senators Urge Biden To Fully Fund Artemis Human Landing System, earlier post
- Artemis Human Lander Contract Decision Delayed, earlier post
- NASA OIG: Planned Artemis Launch Dates Are "Highly Unlikely", earlier post
- GAO On Artemis: Behind Schedule, Over Cost, Lacking Clear Direction, earlier post
- OIG On NASA's Challenges: A Moon Landing By 2024 Is Unlikely, earlier post
- Congress Still Wants An Artemis Plan From NASA, earlier post

And so on. More here.

Blue Origin Filed Protest With GAO Over NASA's HLS Option A decision, Blue Origin

"Today, Blue Origin filed a protest with the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) regarding NASA's HLS Option A decision. Attached is a redacted copy of the protest. Additionally, here is a statement from Blue Origin: "NASA has executed a flawed acquisition for the Human Landing System program and moved the goalposts at the last minute. In NASA's own words, it has made a 'high risk' selection. Their decision eliminates opportunities for competition, significantly narrows the supply base, and not only delays, but also endangers America's return to the Moon. Because of that, we've filed a protest with the GAO."

Redacted copy of Blue Origin's formal protest, 175 pages, PDF

Keith's note: They say this, which has some inherent logic:

"NASA's selection of only a single provider based on the Source Selection Statement claim that "NASA's current fiscal year budget did not support even a single Option A award" is inconsistent with NASA's documented acquisition strategy and public statements. Additionally, with only a single HLS provider, NASA risks the Nation's return to the Moon entirely on SpaceX's ability to deliver its proposed solution - Starship and the new Super Heavy booster - despite the "immense complexity" and "high risk" NASA itself documented in the source selection rationale."

But then 2 inches away on the same page they say this - which is simply a reflection of how Big Aerospace sees the world i.e. everyone needs to piece of the pie - even if it is more expensive - and requires funds that NASA simply does not have:

"This single award endangers domestic supply chains for space and negatively impacts jobs across the country, by placing NASA space exploration in the hands of one vertically integrated enterprise that manufactures virtually all its own components and obviates a broad-based nationwide supplier network. Such supplier consolidation cuts most of the space industrial base out of NASA exploration, impacting national security, jobs, the economy, and NASA's own future options. Exacerbating this situation is the fact that SpaceX's Starship uses the Super Heavy booster. Starship is incompatible with other U.S. commercial launch vehicles, further restricting NASA's alternatives and entrenching SpaceX's monopolistic control of NASA deep space exploration."

Source Selection Statement, NASA

"My selection determination with regard to Blue Origin's proposal is based upon the results of its evaluation considered in light of the Agency's currently available and anticipated future funding for the HLS Program. Blue Origin's proposal has merit and is largely in alignment with the technical and management objectives set forth in the solicitation. Nonetheless, I am not selecting Blue Origin for an Option A contract award because I find that its proposal does not present sufficient value to the Government when analyzed pursuant to the solicitation's evaluation criteria and methodology."

Keith's 22 April update: Sources report that despite pleading guilty to COVID-19 Related Loan Fraud Andrew (Nestor) Tezna still works at NASA - in his capacity of running the NASA CFO Policy & Grants Office as is shown in this org chart. He is still being paid for official duties related to the financial operations and integrity of NASA - even though this loan issue was discovered as long ago as December 2020. He led the COVID-19 response efforts and got an award for that. And apparently when he travelled - he approved his own travel orders.

Note: NASA only provides statements like this to some media - but not others: NASA executive spent $272,000 in COVID loans on pool, cars and dog breeder, feds say, News and Observer

"A representative from NASA did not confirm Tezna's current employment status but provided the following statement: "NASA is aware of reports concerning fraud charges brought against an employee unrelated to the individual's work for the agency," the statement reads. "NASA refers all inquiries to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, which has jurisdiction over this ongoing matter."

But wait NASA says that "NASA is aware of reports concerning fraud charges"? Really - that's all? It is more than "reports about charges". Tezna pled guilty and will be sentenced on 16 July. Its over. And yet NASA is only aware of the "reports of charges"?

But the NASA OIG seems to take this far more seriously - from the DOJ release: "As a NASA senior executive, the Agency placed a great deal of trust in Tezna. Taking advantage of the CARES Act to fraudulently obtain PPP loans not only violated the Agency's trust, but the trust of American people that sought assistance for the legitimate needs of their struggling businesses," said Special Agent in Charge Mark J. Zielinski, NASA Office of Inspector General, Eastern Field Office."

I am trying to imagine what the reaction would have been for this guy to apply for his present position at NASA with this sort of criminal offense on his resume. I doubt they'd hire him to do government finances. That said, why does he still have those responsibilities after a guilty plea for financial crimes? In other words Why is Andrew Tezna still working at NASA?

Senior NASA Employee Pleads Guilty to COVID-19 Related Loan Fraud, DOJ

"According to court documents, Andrew Tezna, 36, of Leesburg, fraudulently submitted three loan applications to two financial institutions (totaling $272,284) under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a federal initiative designed to help businesses pay their employees and meet their basic expenses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tezna also submitted two Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program applications to the Small Business Administration (totaling $69,500), and he applied for COVID-related unemployment benefits from Virginia, ostensibly for his mother-in-law, who was retired and did not qualify for the benefits (totaling $15,950). In support of the fraudulent PPP loan applications, Tezna submitted fabricated IRS tax returns and fraudulently claimed payroll expenses that did not exist."

New NASA CFO Nominated

NASA Statement on Nomination of Margaret Vo Schaus for Agency CFO, NASA

"[Margaret Vo] Schaus is a career member of the Senior Executive Service. Over the past decade, she has held numerous leadership roles with responsibility for the financial management and business operations of science and engineering organizations at the Departments of Energy and Defense. She currently serves as the director for business operations in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, where she is responsible for oversight of a multibillion-dollar budget. Schaus has been recognized with awards, including the Office of the Secretary of Defense's Exceptional Civilian Service Award, the Department of Energy's Distinguished Career Service Award, and the Secretary of Energy's Honor Award."

Keith's note: I certainly hope Schaus is ready to shake up the CFO's office. The NASA CFO org chart still shows Nestor Tezna as head of the CFO's Policy and Grants Division. Tezna worked on NASA grants and continued to work for the agency for nearly a year after he fraudulently applied for a PPP grant.

Watch TIME's Exclusive Footage of NASA's Most Powerful Rocket Ever Under Construction, Time

Time's Jeffrey Kluger says "A rocket this big does not come cheap. Developing both the SLS and the ground systems that will support it will cost $11.5 billion, NASA says. And this is for a rocket that, unlike the space shuttle or the reusable boosters built by SpaceX, will be flown once and thrown away. According to a 2019 estimate by the Office of Management and Budget, the cost of building and flying a single SLS will reach $2 billion."

Keith's note: Well the NASA OIG just told us the other day that "In total, NASA has spent $37.2 billion to date on Artemis-related program activities." So Kluger's numbers are off by several hundred per cent. He cites OMB numbers - so maybe OIG numbers should be considered as well.

Kluger also says "NASA answers that while the private rockets may have muscle, they don't have as much as the SLS. The Falcon Heavy's liftoff thrust, for example, is 5 million pounds (2.25 kg). That makes a difference, since it may take two launches of a Falcon Heavy to lift as much payload as a single SLS, significantly cutting into any savings from a switchover to private rockets."

The advertised cost of a Falcon Heavy launch is $150 million. Let's just say that it would take two Falcon heavy's to launch something that only one SLS is required to launch i.e. a cost of $300 million. Kluger cites a $2 billion per launch cost of a SLS - so let's use that cost too. So - using only one Falcon Heavy would save $1.85 billion - but using two Falcon Heavy's would save taxpayers less, only $1.7 billion. Please tell me what is wrong with ONLY saving $1.7 billion per launch by using Falcon Heavy's instead of a SLS? Is this not a "significant" savings? Saved money is money that can be used for other things.

Using more math, at 2 Falcon Heavys = 1 SLS, this means that with the $1.7 billion saved by using Falcons instead of SLS, you save enough to launch an additional 5.6 SLS equivalents of upmass. All told for the launch of one SLS at $2 billion you can launch the equivalent upmass, using Falcon Heavy's, of 5.6 SLS launches.

Just sayin'

Russian cosmonautics under huge financial restraints -- Roscosmos chief, TASS

"Russian cosmonautics lacks the funds that were available during the Soviet period and thus is under huge financial restraints, Roscosmos Chief Dmitry Rogozin said at a general meeting of the Russian Academy of Sciences on Wednesday. "There is a big difference between the spending on the Soviet and Russian cosmonautics. We are under huge financial restraints," the Roscosmos chief said. This prompts the Russian space agency to set priorities and choose those that will yield a big effect. And it should not in any case engage in those 'championships and competitions' where Russia is bound to get only second or third places from the very outset, he stressed."

Testimony By Bill Nelson Nominee for Administrator, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

"I also believe NASA plays an important role in inspiring the next generation of inventors and scientists. After the Apollo program, thousands of young people dedicated themselves to studying engineering, science, and computing. Not all of these people joined the space program. Some went into biology or the nascent computer industry. They made this country a technology and economic powerhouse. 60 percent of people alive today weren't alive to see a human walk on the Moon. Imagine who NASA and America inspires when we return to the Moon, and this time include women and people of color.

Finally, the President has highlighted that space investments spur economic growth, improve life on Earth, and keep America competitive. Through all NASA activities, the agency generated more than $64.3 billion in total economic output during fiscal year 2019, supported more than 312,000 jobs nationwide. Every state in the country benefits economically from NASA. Investments in research and technology are our seed corn for future economic growth, and are a key part of the Build Back Better plan."

Keith's note: The hearing got started with a seemingly endless stream of compliments that included the phrase "my good friend Bill Nelson". By the time that ended it was obvious that Nelson was going to be confirmed no matter what he said. Nelson was light on specifics - saying that he was nto allowed to talk to NASA - which is a little strange given how NASA helped him prepare Nelson for this hearing and escorted him around the Hill for office visits.

Sen. Wicker asked a question wherein he stated that NASA was planning a Moon landing on 2024 and a Mars landing in 2029, Nelson did not seek to correct Wicker about the 2029 Mars date. Later in the hearing Sen. Blackburn said that the Mars landing was planned for 2030. Nelson did not correct that. Later he said that the 2024 Lunar landing timetable set by the Trump Administration is still in place and that "space is hard". Nelson later said going to Mars was set to happen in the decade of the 2030s. So it is apparent that Sen. Nelson is somewhat uncertain about exactly what all of NASA's major human spaceflight goals are.

Nelson also tried to pass off some revisionist history wherein he was a staunch supporter of a "dual course" wherein NASA pursued both a government and commercial path do doing things in space. In reality he was a staunch supporter of the government approach (SLS aka "the big rocket") and sought to limit or move funds for commercial space to support SLS. Now he's found religion and claims to be a strong supporter of commercial space. So, stay tuned.

Sen. Cantwell made several comments suggesting that she was not exactly thrilled with the recent decision by NASA to sole source the Human Landing System (HLS) contract to SpaceX. Nelson made several comments saying that he supported competition in such activities but did not go so far as to suggest that he might change the HLS award to SpaceX. Given that the NASA HLS decision was overtly driven by NASA budget shortfalls efforts by Nelson to increase NASA's budget might hint at a revisit to this decision.

As for NASA and China - well, Nelson said that NASA will adhere to the law- specifically that enacted by Rep. Wolf. Regarding the Artemis Accords Nelson said that he hopes to expand the number of signatories to include countries that have yet to sign - with a focus on peaceful uses of space.

When asked what the specific value of the Biden budget for NASA Earth Science and climate change Nelson had no real specific answer other than to support the budget increase and note that NASA observes climate change and that this is (obviously) important.

Nelson was asked about education benefits that can be derived from the space program. He replied that "This is one of the areas I really want to pour the juice to at NASA as requested by the White House." He repeated the 'juice' phrase several more times. One would hope that Nelson is looking to truly overhaul NASA's education office and fix what is broken - and not simply pour money into it.

Again, as far as Nelson's confirmation is concerned, based on the hearing, this is a done deal.

Russia says to launch own space station in 2025, AFP

"Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov said in recent days that Moscow was considering whether to leave the ISS programme from 2025 because of the station's age. Roscosmos said on Monday that a decision on quitting the ISS had not yet been made. "When we make a decision we will start negotiations with our partners on forms and conditions of cooperation beyond 2024," the space agency told AFP in a statement."

Russia to Quit Int'l Space Station in 2025 - Reports, Moscow Times

"We have 2024 as an agreed time limit with our partners on the work of the ISS. After that, decisions will be made based on the technical condition of the station's modules, which have mostly worn out their service life, as well as our plans to deploy a next-generation national orbital service station," Roscosmos said."

Keith's note: It is springtime and right on schedule the Russians are once again making strange noises as a prelude to renegotiating something. It happens every year. They never have enough money to do the things that they threaten to do - or not do - or both. Of course, all of the problems they allude to seem to have to do with their hardware (and lack of Soyuz seat sales). So ... what are they going to do? Give their ISS hardware to the ISS partners? Sell it? Detach it and deorbit it? FYI there is a huge lien against the entire program to deorbit ISS once it has completed its task. Is Russia going to help pay for this? As for the new Russian space station - show me the money.

- Earlier posts about Russia

The NASA CIO OpenNASA Website Has Expired

Keith's update: It has been 3 weeks since this post and not much has changed - except that the page was supposedly updated on 2 April 2021 (but shows a responsible NASA official who retired several years ago). And if you go to the Datanauts link you get a broken link error "Not Found The requested URL /explore/datanauts/ was not found on this server." Typical NASA CIO. When they try to fix things they just end up breaking more things instead.

Keith's 27 March note: The NASA Office of the Chief Information Officer is charged with lots of things and has dabbled over the years in "Open Government" - something that the Obama Administration championed and the Trump people ignored. There is a website called OpenNASA that is supposed to be a focal point for NASA's engagement in Open Government. When you click on the NASA Open Government Plan (the "most recent" report from 2016) you see a CIO who left NASA a year ago. The current CIO seems to have had no interest in revising this activity.

Let's look at the OpenNASA main page. Note that says: "Page Last Updated: Dec. 4, 2019 April 2, 2021 Page Editor: Jason Duley NASA Official: Beth Beck". Beth Beck retired from NASA in 2018. And yet she is listed as the NASA official on virtually all of the OpenNASA pages. Anyone from outside NASA who wants to contact Open NASA is going to have a hard time. As a matter of fact despite, being established to promote openness, this website has no way to contact the page's authors or the NASA CIO. No link or email address or phone number. Nothing. Isn't this a little ironic that the NASA CIO makes it hard to interact with all of this supposed openness? In fact, this site does not even have a link to the NASA CIO organization itself - or even to NASA.gov.

But wait there's much more.

Let's look at the top menu items (all pages have "Page Editor: Jason Duley NASA Official: Beth Beck"). So even though she has left NASA nearly 3 years ago she is listed as the responsible NASA official. Unless of course she is not and the CIO folks have not found a replacement. That said some pages still list her as the responsible official even though they were updated several years after her departure. So how do you contact this program? BTW email addresses are not provided for either Beth Beck or Jason Duley.

earlier post

Artemis Status Update: NASA OIG

"While NASA had been working for the past decade to return astronauts to the Moon, in March 2019 the White House directed the Agency to accelerate its timetable by approximately 4 years in order to land on the Moon by the end of 2024. Although the new Administration has expressed support of the Artemis program, it has not spoken in any detail about its human exploration plans or its intent to maintain the goal of a 2024 lunar landing. .... Nonetheless, the Agency faces significant challenges that we believe will make its current plan to launch Artemis I in 2021 and ultimately land astronauts on the Moon by the end of 2024 highly unlikely."

"... At the time of our November 2020 report, the Gateway program faced challenges related to the PPE's propulsion system development, vehicle weight, and mass levels, as well as defining requirements for the HALO component to avoid schedule delays and cost increases."

"... In January 2021, the program reported no schedule margin for a January 2024 launch with the PPE component facing the same challenges reported in November 2020. Combined with issues in HALO's thermal control systems, as of March 2021 the program faces up to 12 months of schedule risk."

"... As we reported in November 2020, the Agency suggested that an integration on the ground and a co-manifested launch of the PPE and HALO would also result in time savings. However, the requirements changes resulting from co-manifesting the PPE and HALO launches are not certain to result in the Agency's suggested savings and instead have led to schedule delays."

"... NASA's plan was to "downselect" from three contractors to one or two to begin the HLS development phase with award of a development contract in April 2021. According to NASA officials, the wide gulf in funding between what the program requested and what it received in FY 2021 jeopardized the Agency's plan to select two contractors to build the HLS. At the time, officials expressed concern that selecting a single contractor would result in a lack of redundancy and potenially higher, less sustainable future HLS costs due to a lack of competition. Nevertheless, on April 16, 2021, NASA announced award of a $2.9 billion contract to SpaceX for the HLS. Despite selecting a single contractor, the reduction in funding will likely slow HLS development and extend its schedule. Given the lunar lander's central role, any development delays could jeopardize NASA's plans to land astronauts on the Moon in 2024 or the foreseeable future."

"... Although the new Administration has publicly expressed support for the Artemis missions, it has not weighed in on the Agency's current plans for a lunar landing by the end of 2024. Nonetheless, achieving any date close to this ambitious goal--and reaching Mars in the 2030s--will require strong, consistent, sustained leadership from the President, Congress, and NASA, as well as stable and timely funding."

Coalition for Deep Space Comment As NASA Continues Path to Return to Moon

"The Coalition for Deep Space Exploration (Coalition) applauds NASA for awarding a Human Landing System (HLS) contract for the Artemis program. Along with the Space Launch System, the Orion spacecraft, Exploration Ground Systems, and the Gateway, the HLS is a critical component for enabling the return of astronauts to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo era."

Keith's note: If you read this Coalition for Deep Space Exploration statement carefully you will see that while they "applaud NASA" on the HLS contract thing they are so small that can't even mention or congratulate SpaceX. SpaceX is not a member of the Coalition but all of the Big Aerospace companies who lost out on this contract are members.

Chairwoman Johnson Statement on NASA's Artemis Human Landing System Award

"I am disappointed that the Acting NASA leadership decided to make such a consequential award prior to the arrival of a new permanent NASA Administrator and Deputy Administrator. The decision to make the award today also comes despite the obvious need for a re-baselining of NASA's lunar exploration program, which has no realistic chance of returning U.S. astronauts to the Moon by 2024. While work continues on the upcoming Artemis-1 mission, it will be critically important for the new NASA leadership team to carry out its own review of all elements of NASA's Moon-Mars initiative to ensure that this major national undertaking is put on a sound footing."

Keith's note: My question at the NASA press event: "Senator Nelson has been a staunch SLS supporter since day one. If NASA really used the capability of SpaceX Starship architecture to its fullest sustainable extent this could easily set forth a path to reduce the need for SLS launches. Sen. Nelson's confirmation hearing is next week. If Sen. Nelson says that this procurement decision should be revisited is NASA prepared to re-do the initial procurement to pick more than one HLS contractor? And if Congress needs to enact changes in law to accomodate a procurement change has NASA given thought as to how that would be accomplished?"

Jurczyk: "We have no plans to change our architecture for lunar landing missions. We did this procurement with a competition etc etc and made selection and we are moving forward we have no intent to revisit the selection."

NASA Picks SpaceX to Land Next Americans on Moon

"At least one of those astronauts will make history as the first woman on the Moon. Another goal of the Artemis program includes landing the first person of color on the lunar surface. The firm-fixed price, milestone-based contract total award value is $2.89 billion."

Keith's note: Apparently neither NASA or the White House are inclined to issue a formal press release about the nomination of Pam Melroy to be NASA's new Deputy Administrator. Nothing on NASA.gov. I guess its not a big deal to NASA or the Administration. They just let things dribble out. Oh well, welcome back to NASA, Pam. Nothing has changed.

Keith's 3:20 pm EDT udpate: Today, President Joe Biden announced his intent to nominate eight leaders to key Administration posts (Pam Melroy)
Keith's 4:09 pm EDT udpate: NASA Statement on Nomination of Pam Melroy for Agency Deputy Administrator

-----

Melroy:
It's a great honor to be nominated by President Biden to support Senator Nelson and help lead NASA. The agency is critical in America's fight to combat climate change and maintain leadership in space.

This year, NASA will embark on the first human deep space exploration program since Apollo, launch the James Webb Telescope, test the first all-electric X-Plane, and further technologies to take humans to Mars. And the way to do it is as a team that honors diversity in every dimension!

Nelson:
As a retired USAF Colonel and test pilot, former NASA astronaut and Space Shuttle commander, and a dynamic leader with a wide breadth of experience, I believe that Pam Melroy will be a great partner to help lead NASA.

Pam has the longstanding technical and leadership experience that will help NASA on its mission to explore the cosmos, expand climate change research, and ensure NASA-developed technologies benefit life here on Earth. It's important that NASA has a team leading the agency towards the future - one of partnership and collaboration with commercial providers and committed to advancing equity for all Americans. Together, we will work to help NASA reach its full potential and accomplish the agency's critical missions in the years and decades to come.

NASA Lands in Oakland! New Partnership with Chabot Space & Science Center Will Create NASA Learning Opportunities in the East Bay, NASA Ames

"A new partnership between NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley and Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland, California, is now underway. Anchoring the partnership, a new visitor center for Ames will provide an immersive, dynamic STEAM environment called "The NASA Experience," opening at Chabot in November 2021. Under the terms of a five-year Space Act Agreement, the organizations are beginning a long-term collaboration to create accessible STEAM, or science, technology, engineering, art, and math, community engagement and education opportunities in Oakland and beyond."

Keith's note: A new STEM education activity at NASA Ames has been announced at - and by - NASA Ames. Typically, there is no mention of this NASA STEM education news by @NASASTEM Twitter account. There is no link within the NASA Ames press release of the NASA STEM Engagement Office at NASA HQ - which, in turn, makes no mention of this new NASA STEM educational partnership at NASA Ames.

No one within the NASA education community seems to want to cooperate with any other part of NASA and the NASA STEM Office at NASA HQ - the place where you'd expect some sort of central focus on all that NASA does in terms of education, seems to be out of the loop. And NASA Public Affairs does not seem to care either.

This is not #BuildBackBetter folks.

Keith's note: This article in The Sun is featured front and center on Drudge Report which means that a hundred million people are going to see it and - even if they do not actually click on the link - they still get the impression that "NASA lander 'in crisis' as probe engulfed by Martian dust storms..." which points to "LIGHT'S OUT Nasa's Insight lander 'in crisis' as $800m probe is engulfed by Martian dust storms" on The Sun in the UK. The Sun does link to the latest NASA Insight report from JPL - dated 12 February 2021 - two months ago. Given the false impressions that are circulating one would think that JPL, SMD, and PAO would fix this situation with an update such that these stupid arm waving headlines do not start to echo around the world.

And of course everyone in the media - seeing one incendiary headline - and absent any update for 2 months from NASA - piles onto the exaggerated narrative with headlines using the words "die", "deep trouble", etc. Someone at NASA needs to manage this news much better. If the lander is indeed on the verge of shutting down - then say so. If not, then say so. Letting editors who pick headlines to get clicks is not the way to circulate accurate spacecraft health reports. Just sayin'

- NASA's Lander Is About to Die on Mars, Interesting engineering
- NASA's Insight Mars Lander Is 'in Crisis', And Has Entered Emergency Hibernation, ScienceAlert
- NASA's Mars InSight lander may be in deep trouble, BGR
- NASA's InSight Mars lander is going into emergency hibernation. If it can't save its batteries, it could die., Yahoo

Keith's update:

Sierra Nevada Memo Announcing New Company "Sierra Space"

"To achieve this growth and even greater impact more quickly, today we are announcing our space business area will transition to become an independent, commercial space company - Sierra Space. Our teams and technologies are uniquely positioned to realize this significant current market opportunity to build the new space economy. Sierra Space will remain part of the SNC family as a subsidiary and continue deep cooperation and synergy across customers, technologies, and many shared activities."

The High Frontier: The Untold Story Of Gerard K. O'Neill: A Review

As the size of satellites shrinks and the ubiquity of the technology expands it is close to being possible to build a rocket in a garage and put something into space. OK, I am exaggerating. But my straw man talking point is a lot closer to reality today than it might have been 40 years ago.

Back in the late 1970s and 1980s the potential of space exploration had started to morph into the era of space utilization. Utilization meant different things to different people. Some wanted to make money. Full stop. Others wanted to settle the solar system. Most were somewhere in the middle with an eye on both extremes. But most people tended to think small since space efforts had, to date, involved putting small things in space, once in a while and at great expense to get them there.

Some of you may recall the world before Federal Express or the Internet. It cost a lot to move things across Earth. More to get things into space. What happens when the cost of putting things into space drops while the need to bring things to space from Earth drops as well? That was at the heart of what Gerald K. O'Neill thought about - what this documentary aptly focuses on.

Full Review

IMEC and Cook County Partner with NASA to Bring New Business Opportunity Event to Manufacturers

"Cook County Board President Preckwinkle, the Chicago Metro Metal Consortium (CMMC), and IMEC will host a 3-Day virtual event with NASA and its prime contractors to bring new business opportunities to manufacturers in Cook County and throughout Illinois. In 2020, NASA's prime contractors received over $2B in contract funding to support the Marshall Space Flight Center's ongoing development of NASA's Space Launch System and its proposals to create complementary systems."

Keith's note: If you look at what the Biden Administration is saying about business and infrastructure they have a page focused on Illinois. They have one for every state. They are looking to reinvigorate a broad range of activities in America - not just infrastructure but also basic aspects of business.

You'd think that someone at NASA HQ would be reading the policy memos from the White House as to what is important and worth promoting a visible way. This event sounds like it is resonating with all of these new White House efforts. You'd think that NASA would want everyone to know about this - and show the White House that they are on board with all of there initiatives - not just in Illinois - but as an example of NASA-related events that could be conducted across America. Guess again.

There is no mention of this event or associated activity at the NASA MSFC home page or on its Doing Business page. No mention at NASA.gov. No mention at the NASA Office of Small Business Programs, or the NASA SLS home page, or at the NASA Commercial Space page.

As you can see below this is not the first time that NASA has bungled the outreach for the true economic impact of what it does.

- That NASA SLS Small Business Report Is Out Of Date, earlier post
- Another NASA Business Event Few Will Ever Hear About, earlier post
- JSC Is Not Very Excited About NASA's Economic Impact on Texas (Update), earlier post
- SLS Spurred The Private Sector By Being A Bad Example, earlier post
- NASA Centers Can't Be Bothered To Mention The Economic Report, earlier post
- Lockheed Martin's Bad Orion Marketing Hype, earlier post
- NASA: A Texas Institution with a Large Economic Impact, earlier post
- NASA Orion Buying Spree Makes Texas Happy Again, earlier post

"The Mission: A True Story" By David W. Brown: A Review

"To most people outside of NASA, a space mission that is making the news often appears out of nowhere. Sometimes there may be a little news when it is launched and maybe some tidbits along the way. Otherwise, when it does something cool - like land on a planet or sends back pretty pictures, you hear about it albeit with no back story. For a moment NASA gets a sugar high and then ... nothing - unless the mission makes a big discovery down the road. 

Yes, NASA puts out newsy things with factoids and status reports, but for most people, these missions just seem to happen. But where did the mission come from, people may wonder. Whose idea was it? Who are those people jumping up and down in the control room? Were there other ways to do the mission? Did someone want to go somewhere else instead? Did everyone agree or were there arguments? And by the way, where did that mission's name come from anyway?

"The Mission" by David W. Brown takes a rather unorthodox look into the backstory of space missions by focusing on one in particular: the mission currently known as Europa Clipper. Brown documents how this mission came to be, the iterations and name changes it went through, the internal gyrations among program managers, budgeteers, scientists, and politicians, but most importantly, the people. Yes, while the spacecraft are usually the stars of the show, this expensive, shiny hardware is simply a reflection of a team of humans putting their mind toward a distant task -  while swatting off other humans who would seek to deter them from their task "

Full review

My STS-1 Story

Keith's note: I had an interesting job at STS-1 - I was Jerry Brown's advance man. I took a few days off from my job at Rockwell Downey where I stood inside of Discovery and Atlantis as they were being built to work for my old boss (I worked on his 1980 presidential campaign). The trip to the launch was insane. The area was still somewhat boarded up after the post-Apollo economic downturn and things were opening up for the shuttle era. So everyone was happy on the Space Coast.

At one point I: drove a large Chevy back and forth between the Mouse Trap and the old Holiday Inn (more than once) with Mercury and Gemini astronauts inside: tried to get Jerry to say hi to Christopher Reeve (he did, what a really nice guy he was); tried to keep Jerry away from Pat Boone (failed); set up a dinner with our group and (then) Rep. Bill Nelson - who then stood us up; and spent a lot of time talking to author James Michener about the new space book he was writing. The son of the President of Mexico, Nichelle Nichols, astronaut Rusty Schweickart, and Whole Earth Catalog founder Stewart Brand were in our traveling entourage.

Before the launch I also spent a lot of time walking around with George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg (who joined our merry bunch) looking at IMAX cameras and bothering Tom Brokaw while a very patient Judy Resnik answered questions. We then walked down A1A to Al Neuharth's Punkin Center. "Raiders of the Lost Ark" premiered 15 June 1981. Let's just say I got a slight preview of coming attractions. I left them saying "keep doing what you are doing". They did.

After the launch at Al Neuharth's house I let Alan Shephard and Buzz Aldrin use my motel key to scratch their signatures on the viewfinder of the Hasselblad camera that our photographer Jamie Stoughton used - his father was JFK's photographer (he also took the B&W photos of me and Jerry at the launch). An hour or so after the launch a helicopter flew over the house and dropped bundles of Florida Today newspapers showing pictures of the launch we just saw. The entire event was surreal.

Oh and then there was the landing. At the landing I offered Nastassja Kinski a donut on the bus up to Edwards and she acted insulted that I'd offer her junk food. At the VIP area John Denver and I were trying to figure out how to properly use the Canon A-1 cameras we had both just bought. And then the shuttle dropped like a brick onto the runway. I was 25. My feet never touched through ground through out this mission.

That is my STS-1 story.

Acting NASA Administrator Statement on Agency FY 2022 Discretionary Request

"Keeps NASA on the path to landing the first woman and the first person of color on the Moon under the Artemis program. This goal aligns with President Biden's commitment to pursue a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all. With NASA's Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft, as well as U.S. commercial partnerships with the human landing system and Gateway lunar outpost, we will send astronauts to the Moon and provide learning opportunities for future missions."

NASA's Fiscal Year 2022 Discretionary Request

"The President's 2022 discretionary request includes $24.7 billion for NASA, a $1.5 billion or 6.3-percent increase from the 2021 enacted level."

Keith's note: Note that the Trump era stock phrase "first woman and the next man" has been replaced with "first woman and the first person of color".

Keith's update: I just got this statement from former NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine:

"I am extremely pleased to see that the Biden administration has increased funding for NASA in the FY2022 budget request. This budget continues the bipartisan Moon to Mars effort under the Artemis program. I urge the Senate to quickly confirm Senator Nelson so that he can assess and advocate for NASA requirements."



Keith's note: You may have seen some stories, tweets, and LinkedIn comments about Space Hero and their TV program that will send someone to the ISS. Stephen Colbert mentioned it on TV. They openly claim that NASA is a "partner" on their website. Well, I specifically asked NASA HQ Public Affairs about the overt statement at https://www.spacehero.org that NASA is a "partner" with Space Hero. NASA replied and declined to confirm that an agreement is in place between NASA and Space Hero - or that they are a "partner" - saying instead:

"You asked about Stephen Colbert's comments on the Space Hero release. For us, we're still working out the final details and agreements on the Private Astronaut Missions. We believe it opens the door to interesting opportunities for private industry and we look forward to seeing the final proposals that could lead to programs like a Space Hero. We know companies will be out there talking about their shows and once we have final agreements in place we will be able to talk more about NASA's participation."

Keith's update: But wait: there's more - and "its complicated".

My response to NASA PAO's original comment: "So the answer is that there is no agreement in place between NASA and Space Hero at the present time and that NASA is not officially a partner with Space Hero as is overtly stated on the Space Hero website - Yes?"

Answer: "It's not that simple. The agreement is in phases. There is an initial agreement in place, but there are other steps that need to be completed. We working toward a final agreement that makes it possible."

I am still waiting to find out if NASA is actually "partner" as is stated on the Space Hero website. NASA's lawyers get very finicky about people claiming that NASA is a "partner" and the use of the agency's logo to imply a formal relationship. Stay tuned.

Philip K. Chapman

NASA Mourns the Passing of Astronaut Philip K. Chapman

"NASA is saddened by the death of Apollo-era astronaut Philip K. Chapman. He was selected in August 1967 to be a member of Astronaut Group 6, who were primarily scientists rather than pilots. Chapman was the first Australian-born American astronaut."

EmDrive, a Supposed Fuel-less Engine, Is Knocked Down Again, Gizmodo

"Five years ago, NASA researchers experimented with an object called the EmDrive (or electromagnetic drive), a Y-shaped metal chamber in which, they reported, thrust could be produced without propellant. Such a contraption would refute core principles of physics as we know them and eliminate a huge barrier to deep space travel by nullifying the need to carry fuel. ... If that sounds too good to be true, well, other scientists had the same thought. Since that paper, published in the Journal of Propulsion and Power, plenty of research has come along explaining where EmDrive's original math went wrong."

Keith's note: This is what happens when a NASA field center (JSC) has a center director who funds a pet project that has not undergone adequate review - especially when the proposed work violates the laws of physics. You end up with quack science - just like the NASA Langley and NASA Glenn folks encountered with their equally bogus cold fusion research pet project (see "Quack Science: Why Are NASA Glenn and Langley Funding Cold Fusion Research?"). Don't get me wrong, NASA should be pushing the boundaries of the possible. But if you look at these warp drive and cold fusion things, NASA did not do due diligence in funding them. they were less than responsive when asked about them, and if you submit a media inquiry now they act as if they never heard of the projects that used scarce tax dollars.

- NASA JSC's Warp Drive Flops During Independent Tests, earlier post
- Ellen Ochoa's Warp Drive Gizmo, earlier post
- JSC's Warp Drive: Fact or Fluff?, earlier post
- Clarifying NASA's Warp Drive Program, earlier post
- JSC's Strange Thruster Violates The Laws of Physics, earlier post

Keith's note: C'mon Mike Kincaid. Both of these items were sent out today via NASA email lists. You just need to get someone in your office to subscribe. Then, when something like this is sent out that is education-related you tweet a link via @NASASTEM and 321,886 followers will be informed. Or you can follow more NASA and space education Twitter and social media accounts and simply retweet their links. How much simpler could this be?

Keith's note: Mike Gold is leaving NASA Headquarters to join Redwire Space. I am really sorry to see Mike go. While he (deservedly) got a lot of credit for the whole Artemis Accords effort, he played a role in taking on a lot of less glamorous tasks - many of which laid half baked and ignored for a long time and needed to be dealt with. I wish him well at Redwire - so long as they do not make him a redshirt.

Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX - Book Review

"This retro future we are now witnessing is happening in many companies in many countries. But it can be traced back to one company - and one person: SpaceX, the brainchild of Elon Musk. With the notion of reusing rockets now accepted fact due to the Falcon 9, Musk is now building shiny stainless steel rockets in the middle of nowhere in Texas and blowing them up on a regular basis. And as soon as he can he plans to send people around the Moon and then to the surface of Mars. And when he does it will be in shiny aerodynamically-shaped spaceships from more than half a century ago.

The story of SpaceX - utterly synonymous with the story of Elon Musk - is the subject of Eric Berger's marvelous book "Liftoff". In a nutshell this book is a day-to-day diary of frequent near death corporate experiences, world-class MacGyvering, and engineers propelled by one part caffeine, one part RP-1, and one part dreams. This is all mixed in with in-your-face political jockeying, and a child-like drive on the part of Musk who read far too much science fiction as a kid and has the means to make it become reality. So he does."

NASAWatch Is 25

How It Started | How It's Going

Keith's note: NASAWatch turns 25 on 1 Apr 2021. It started as "NASA RIFWatch" on 1 Apr 1996 with this post "RIF at NASA In Summer 1997?". The website was first hosted on a Mac Classic II on a 128 kbps ISDN line in my old little condo in Reston, Virginia (see 20 Years Ago Today: The Seeds of NASAWatch). Here are a few things from those early days that are still online:

- Rogue Webmasters, Government Executive, 1 Oct 1996
- NASA's Most Important Asset, Gerry Griffin, 31 December 1996
- Dan Goldin Comments to the Space Science Advisory Committee (SSAC) Meeting, 6/17/96
- Changes in Thinking At NASA November 29, 1996, PBS News Hour


Loading

 



Monthly Archives

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries written by Keith Cowing in April 2021.

Keith Cowing: March 2021 is the previous archive.

Keith Cowing: May 2021 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.