Keith Cowing: June 2011 Archives

Letter from Sens. Rockefeller and Hutchison Regarding Earlier NASA Document Request

"Over the past few weeks, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has repeatedly refused to provide documents the Senate Commerce Committee needs to conduct appropriate oversight of your agency. We are writing to inform you that if you do not provide these documents to us by 6:00 p.m. on Monday, June 27, 2011, Chairman Rockefeller will issue a subpoena requiring the production of these documents."

Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Letter Regarding NASA Authorization Act of 2010 Compliance, earlier Post

"The 2010 Act requires NASA to provide a number of reports on implementing the policy changes; however, despite several reports, dozens of briefings, and two Commerce Committee hearings since the Act's passage, NASA's progress in implementing the policy changes remains unclear. We are now requesting the information and documents listed below to determine what steps NASA is taking to comply with the law. ... Please provide the requested information and documents by June 3, 2011."

More Webb Problems

Keith's note: Sources report that project management for the Webb Space Telescope's OSIM (Optical SIMulator), over budget due to not meeting the BIA (Beam Image Analyzer) schedule, has decided to save money by capping charge time for all contractors (not government employees). There are approximately 15 employees working on OSIM. Their time is being cut to 20 hours per week from 1 July to 1 October 2011. This terminates insurance and benefits for the contractor employees involved because they are forced to be part-time employees. Civil servants keep their full salaries.

Prox Ops At Vesta

Dawn Nears Start of Year-Long Stay at Giant Asteroid Vesta

NASA's Dawn spacecraft is on track to begin the first extended visit to a large asteroid. The mission expects to go into orbit around Vesta on July 16 and begin gathering science data in early August. Vesta resides in the main asteroid belt and is thought to be the source of a large number of meteorites that fall to Earth.

First TV Image of Mars From Mariner IV in 1964 - Hand Colored

"A 'real-time data translator' machine converted a Mariner 4 digital image data into numbers printed on strips of paper. Too anxious to wait for the official processed image, employees from the Voyager Telecommunications Section at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, attached these strips side by side to a display panel and hand colored the numbers like a paint-by-numbers picture."

Developing the Next Generation of Robots, OSTP

"Today, in a speech at Carnegie Mellon University, President Obama is launching the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, a research initiative that will promote a renaissance of American manufacturing. ... four agencies (the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, NASA, and the United States Department of Agriculture) are issuing a joint solicitation that will provide up to $70 million in research funding for next-generation robotics."

NASA Suspends Payments on Launch Contract with Orbital, Space News

"Dulles, Va.-based Orbital remains under contract to build OCO-2, a duplicate of the $200 million carbon-mapping satellite destroyed in a 2009 Taurus XL launch failure blamed on payload-fairing separation error. However, the $68.1 million NASA had budgeted for a February 2013 Taurus XL launch of OCO-2 has been "temporarily put on hold" as the agency evaluates "launch services options for the OCO-2 mission," according to NASA's 2011 initial operating plan."

UrtheCast Announces New Space Venture

"UrtheCast is building, launching, and operating the world's first and only high definition streaming video cameras being installed on the International Space Station (ISS). UrtheCast will supply video data and imagery of Earth collected by two HD cameras on the Russian module of the Space Station. This data and imagery will be down-linked to ground stations around the planet and then displayed in real time on the Internet and distributed directly to UrtheCast's exclusive partners and customers."

Commercial space ready to take the lead, opinion, Alan Stern, Orlando Sentinel

"For too long, the economy of Florida's Space Coast has been too heavily dependent on a small number of huge government projects. This narrow business model calls to mind the adage "if you only own one stock, you probably deserve what you get when it goes down." ... Fortunately though, the dawning era of commercial American space efforts is giving rise to a far wider variety of new space systems and projects with refreshingly diverse markets and backers. The opportunity is there to create a Florida space economy that will be far more robust than any in the past 50 years."

Senators Bill Nelson & Kay Bailey Hutchison: Blueprint shows way to next space frontier, OpEd, Orlando Sentinel

"While NASA and America's space program are in a time of transition, one thing that most people can agree on is the need to press forward with human space exploration. Our country's commitment to exploring space is a key in keeping the United States at the forefront globally of science and technology. Space exploration and a deeper understanding of how we can best utilize the great unknown is also vital to our national-security interests."

Study Shows Interference with GPS Poses Major Threat to U.S. Economy

"More than 3.3 million U.S. jobs in agriculture and industries rely heavily on Global Positioning System (GPS) technology and the disruption of interference with GPS posed by LightSquared's planned deployment of 40,000 ground stations threatens direct economic costs of up to $96 billion to U.S. commercial GPS users and manufacturers, according to an economic study released today."

Deere Says LightSquared Wireless Network Interferes With GPS For Machinery, Dow Lones

Deere said its tests have shown that LightSquared's wireless signal interfered with Deere's GPS-dependent system more than 20 miles away. The U.S. Defense Department, Federal Aviation Administration and General Motors' OnStar subsidiary have complained of similar problems with LightSquared's network.

Setback for Taurus II

Taurus II Engine Sustained Damage In Fire, Aviation Week

"An Aerojet AJ26 engine destined to power the Orbital Sciences Corp. Taurus II launch vehicle in the run-up to commercial resupply flights for the International Space Station (ISS) was badly damaged in a fuel fire June 9. "There was significant damage to the engine," Orbital spokesman Baron Beneski said June 21."

NASA Commercial Spaceflight Status Briefing to the AIA Space Council June 16, 2011

"Why Commercial Crew and Why Now?

1) Federal budgets, including NASA's, are extremely constrained
- COTS and CCDev have shown that we can change the cost equation
- We hope to fund multiple partners for less than $6B

2) Well understood technology
- Human spaceflight is hard, but no breakthroughs are needed
- We have been launching people into orbit for over 45 years

3) Strong and mature industrial base
- Global commercial space industry revenues have doubled from $80B to $160B during the last five years

4) Strong potential for customers other than the U.S. government
- Non-U.S. astronauts, space tourism, research and development

5) Decision to extend the International Space Station to at least 2020
- For the first time in history, we have a long-term, sustainable market for commercial human space transportation services"

TEA Party Space Platform

"TEA Party in Space (TPIS), a non-partisan organization, today publicly released the TEA Party Space Platform "This is our response to the vacuum of leadership in Washington, D.C., for America's national space enterprise," said Andrew Gasser, President of TPIS. "Whether it's timidity from the White House or Congress' earmark-laden 'compromises', our space dreams will be stuck on this planet unless someone articulates a vision based on economic and technical reality, so that's what we've done." This platform, and its specific planks, are grounded in sound science, technology, and the TEA Party's core values. The TEA Party in Space Platform promotes fiscal responsibility, limited government, and stimulation of the free market."

Keith's note: SOMD AA Bill Gerstenmaier made a presentation to the 16 June Space Council meeting. The last slide (larger image) from his presentation (the rest of it is just pretty pictures) titled "Capability Driven Exploration" offers some insight into where a combined SOMD/ESMD exploration plan might be headed. Alas, this chart (and the path it suggests) is "notional" - like just about everything NASA says about its future plans these days. You have to wonder how long the agency can limp along with all this "notional" stuff taking the place of real, concrete, executable plans for exploration.

Senator Mark Kelly?

Retirement from United States Navy and NASA, Mark Kelly

"After some time off, I will look at new opportunities and am hopeful that one day I will again serve our country."

Mark Kelly to retire, generating Senate buzz, The Hill

"Astronaut Mark Kelly, the husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), announced Tuesday he would retire Oct. 1.Kelly, a captain in both NASA and the Navy, has been mentioned as a possible Senate candidate in Arizona next year. Media reports throughout the state have said Kelly would be the leading choice for Democrats if Giffords is unable to run for retiring Sen. Jon Kyl's (R-Ariz.) seat. The space shuttle commander has said nothing to spark this talk, but his retirement announcement will likely increase the speculation."

Astronaut Mark Kelly; Arizona's next senator?, Washington Post

"Senator Mark Kelly? That's the question in political circles this week. The minute Kelly, 47, announced his retirement from the Navy and NASA Tuesday, the behind-the-scenes speculation that's been brewing for weeks went public: Will the husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords run for office himself?"

NASA OIG Final Report: NASA's Hangar One Re-Siding Project

"NASA Inspector General Paul Martin today released a report that examines the $32.8 million re-siding project for Hangar One - one of the world's largest freestanding structures - at NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California. Hangar One, built in the 1930s to house the naval airship the USS Macon, covers approximately 8 acres and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. NASA acquired the hangar in 1994 as a result of the base realignment and closure process that involved Moffett Field, a Navy base adjoining Ames."

NASA Scientist Accused of Using Celeb Status Among Environmental Groups to Enrich Himself. Fox

"In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Washington, D.C., a group claims NASA is withholding documents that show James Hansen failed to comply with ethics rules and financial disclosures regarding substantial compensation he earned outside his $180,000 taxpayer-paid position as director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies. ... Mark Hess, chief of communications for the Goddard Space Center, sent Fox News NASA's response to Horner's FOIA request. It said in many cases the documents Horner requested did not exist. Horner claims they should, if Hansen was complying with the law."

ATI Law Center Asks Court to Force NASA to Produce Ethics and Outside Employment Records of Dr. James Hansen

"NASA argues the release of the records would constitute a "clearly unwarranted violation of Hansen's privacy rights," and says ATI's lengthy explanation of Dr. Hansen's outside work "had not made the requisite showing that the documents requested would contribute to the public's understanding of the activities of the Government, or how it would shed light on NASA's performance of its statutory duties."

Keith's note: I had a rather special guest visit me today at the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) at Building 596 (aka "McMoon's") at NASA Ames Research Center. Dan Goldin. Having Dan visit was really cool. It was great to have him stop by and visit our rebel operation. I really enjoyed showing him around. Dan asked a string of very sharp, cogent questions and offered us some valuable advice. He totally gets the value of such things and the importance of history - and that we have adopted the mantra of "older-better-cheaper". Dan was at Ames as part of the memorial services for the late Baruch "Barry" Blumberg. Barry was a mutual friend of ours. As I mentioned at the memorial ceremony, Barry once told me "you and Dan are a lot alike. I just wish you two could get along". Well, after Barry's passing, we do. Barry's amazing "people skills" continue to work their magic. Larger photo here.

NASA Issues Announcement For Solar Electric Propulsion Studies

"NASA issued a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) seeking proposals for mission concept studies of a solar electric propulsion system demonstration to test and validate key capabilities and technologies for future exploration missions. ... For more information about the announcement, visit:"

Keith's 20 June note: This press release was issued last Friday. The BAA that this release announces is still not online at I asked PAO about it last week and they said there was some sort of procurement disconnect. One would think that a procurement activity announced in a press release as being available would actually be "available" before that release is issued.

Keith's 21 June update: NASA finally got around to actually issuing the BAA that they announced as having been released 4 days ago.

NASA Ames to Host Tribute to Nobel Prize Winner Baruch Blumberg

"Among the speakers scheduled at the tribute celebration are former NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin, Ames Research Center Director S. Pete Worden and members of the Blumberg family. Also featured will be a video tribute and presentations by the Mars Institute, the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, and NASA Ames. The tribute will be webcast at"

Keith's note: I will be making a presentation on Tuesday on behalf of the Challenger Center for Space Science Education.

NASA Exobiology 2010 Update #3, NASA SMD

"I had hoped by now to have selection recommendations complete. However, as I was working through the reviews, a budget reduction to Exobiology was unexpectedly announced. Mary Voytek and I are fighting back and hope to reclaim some of the funding but until I know my budget, I cannot make selection recommendations. It is likely, though, that this year's selections will be fewer than expected."

Transcript of Republican Presidential Debate - NASA Excerpt, CNN

"KING: All right, let's continue the conversation, but we'll come back to this if we have to. Let's go to Jean Mackin in Hancock. She has a question.

MACKIN: Thanks, John. This question goes out to Speaker Gingrich. Next month, the space shuttle program is scheduled to retire after 30 years, and last year, President Obama effectively killed government-run space flight to the International Space Station and wants to turn it over to private companies. In the meantime, U.S. astronauts would ride Russian spacecraft at a cost of $50 million to $63 million a seat. What role should the government play in future space exploration?

GINGRICH: Well, sadly -- and I say this, sadly, because I'm a big fan of going into space and I actually worked to get the shuttle program to survive at one point -- NASA has become an absolute case study in why bureaucracy can't innovate.

If you take all the money we've spent at NASA since we landed on the moon and you had applied that money for incentives to the private sector, we would today probably have a permanent station on the moon, three or four permanent stations in space, a new generation of lift vehicles. And instead, what we've had is bureaucracy after bureaucracy after bureaucracy and failure after failure."

Update: NASA insider: Some truth to Gingrich's barb, CNN

"Why so quiet? Some NASA officials suspect Gingrich may be letting us know that the emperor has no clothes.

Some insiders are wondering if NASA is operating with an outdated management paradigm better suited to the 1960s Apollo era rather than the 21st century."

NASA Announcement of Partnership Opportunity for Notification Tool for International Space Station Sightings, NASA SOMD

"Currently, NASA has several ways the public can learn about ISS sighting opportunities, including NASA SkyWatch. However, NASA's websites do not disseminate this information to the public- the public must seek it out proactively instead. NASA seeks to increase public awareness of the ISS, its visibility, and mission by making ISS sighting information, including personalized notifications, readily available to the general public in an easily accessible and understandable way. To that end, NASA seeks to collaborate with a domestic entity, on an unfunded basis, to support an ISS sighting notification tool."

Keith's note: This is really a great idea. I certainly agree that this information could be more user friendly since "the public must seek [ISS sighting opportunites] out proactively instead." So, keeping that admission on NASA's part in mind, how does SOMD try to reach the public to ask for help? A NASA Procurement Notice. FAIL. How many people other than procurement wonks (and me) ever read these notices?

Why limit this to "a domestic entity" i.e. a single source? Why not engage with lots of them? Why not seek input from individual citizens as well as "domestic entities"? One would hope that someone within the agency sees that this great idea and that press releases and other means are used such that a wide variety of possible contributors to this project can be involved. And even if NASA does not select them all, it is certain that a group of people who never thought they'd have a chance to do this will now be thinking about NASA. One look at this weekend's NASA-sponsored Random Hacks of Kindness will show you what a group of motivated people out in the real world can do in a matter of hours.

If I can teach a Sherpa how to spot satellites in remote Nepalese villages such that he could then teach others, then NASA can certainly spur development of an app that also does that.

'Avatar' director rumored to have bought first ticket to the moon, Newscore

"The first of two $150 million tickets for a pioneering tourist mission to the moon was off the market Sunday, and its owner was rumored to be the world-famous "Avatar" director James Cameron. Space Adventures, the American company offering the trip scheduled for 2015, said only that the buyer of the ticket was a "well-known" personality. The expedition will begin aboard a Soyuz spaceship launched from Kazakhstan."

'Avatar' director targets spaceflight, MSNBC

"Space Adventures says one high-profile client has already made a reservation. And although the identity of that client is a closely held secret, The Sunday Times of London reports that Cameron is "the name said to be in the frame." The Times quotes unnamed associates of Cameron as saying he's been talking with NASA as well as the Russian space agency about mounting a 3-D camera on the space station to shoot a documentary patterned after "Aliens of the Deep," Cameron's film about the deep ocean. "The technology is very similar, and Jim is fascinated by outer space," one source told the Times. "But the cameras have to be made a lot lighter than current models."



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