Keith Cowing: April 2012 Archives

NASA budget might have less space for JPL's planetary science, LA Times

"U.S. Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) has pledged to fight the cuts, and he grilled NASA Administrator Charles Bolden about the budget request last week at a meeting of a congressional science subcommittee. Schiff was joined by several Republicans, including Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas), who said NASA's planetary science program would not survive the proposed cut. "We're making intriguing progress in identifying the building blocks of life in other places," Schiff said in an interview. "To walk back from that and leave those questions unanswered means that we step back from potentially game-changing revelations about the origins of life in the universe, about our place in the cosmos. It's hard to put a price tag on that."

NASA budget might have less space for JPL's planetary science, Pasadena Sun

"President Obama's $17.7-billion budget request for NASA for the 2013 fiscal year includes a $300-million cut to planetary science, the very work JPL specializes in. That could mean a 20% reduction in NASA's planetary science budget and, at JPL, job losses in the hundreds."

Impact of Delays in Selection and Funding of Research and Data Analysis Program Awards, PSI

"Consequences include: The personal assumption of research expenses by scientists, the potential loss of students, funding instability or inadequacy for postdocs, undermining funded research, general loss of efficiency in programs and research, a sense of overall lack of support for these foundational programs that underpin our solar system exploration efforts, and the potential loss of scientists from planetary science."

NASA Lands $75,000 in Patent Auction, Wired

"The market can be cruel, but it doesn't lie: Software development algorithms are worth more than cool nanotechnology swarming technologies. That's what the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) found out this week when it tried to auction three lots of its Goddard Space Flight Center software patents at an event run by the ICAP Patent brokerage. The software development patents sold for $75,000. With a starting price of $50,000, nobody bid on the nanotechnology stuff. And they also steered clear of a bargain-basement $30,000 NASA patent that covered a fancy way of reporting a broken smoke detector."

Keith's note: Its great that the taxpayer gets some return on its investment in NASA research. But rest assured NASA won't tell you what it spent to generate this research in the first place. Rest assured, it was a lot more than $75,000. Not only does the agency not want you to know what its total investment was, it could not even figure out what it spent to generate this intellectual property that was auctioned, even if it wanted to tell you. As for the patents that did not sell, this does not mean that the initial research was not warranted. But it does blow a hole in the notion that all of the cool stuff NASA does is inherently sexy (i.e. patentable).

Resignation Letter from CASIS Executive Director Jeanne L. Becker

"Unrealistic expectations have been levied collectively by Congressional staffers, by NASA (Mr. Uhran) and by ProOrbis. These pressures have placed unnecessary stress and hardship on CASIS, not only organizationally but also on management, forcing a defensive posture with constant focus on mitigation strategies to fend off political threats of the elimination of CASIS. ... Now, for unknown reasons, following selection of that proposal and stand up of the organization, the Space Florida interim board persists in pursuing engagement of ProOrbis on behalf of CASIS, with CASIS management forced to bear the responsibility of mitigating ensuing organizational risks occurring as a result of the interim board's actions. "

ProOrbis Statement re: CASIS Director Resignation

"However, since taking on this role, [Dr. Becker] has not engaged ProOrbis in the stand-up activities of CASIS as was contemplated. Issues of conflict of interest for all the principal parties were satisfactorily addressed in the Cooperative Agreement and provisions were put in place to mitigate any potential conflicts."

Keith's note: Jeanne DiFrancesco from ProOrbis developed a significant portion of the procurement package for NASA's ISS National Laboratory non-profit partner: the National Laboratory Reference Model. Oddly, DiFrancesco and ProOrbis ended up as a major part of the winning team's bid (CASIS). How is it that a contractor that NASA specifically uses to write part of a solicitation is then allowed to bid for - and win - the contract awarded in response to the very same procurement they helped craft? In Dr. Becker's resignation letter, and ProOrbis' response, this issue of potential conflict of interest was raised. Indeed, the core thrust of Becker's departure, in part, seems to be her frustration in being unable to retain the non-profit status (and Intent) of CASIS against external pressures to engage in overt commercial activities via ProOrbis.

Curiously, NASA's Mark Uhran and Jeanne DiFrancesco (Principal of ProOrbis, LLC and the President and CEO of ProOrbis Ventures, LLC.) are on the advisory board of U.S Rare Earths.. U.S Rare Earths is a for-profit mining company. How is it that one of the main government officials behind the CASIS procurement (still a NASA civil servant a manging various ISS activities) and a senior representative of the company that was part of the team that won the CASIS contract are allowed to participate in a external business activity?

Earlier CASIS postings


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