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Astrobiology Research Season Ends At Lake Untersee, Antarctica

By Keith Cowing on December 15, 2018 1:28 PM.

Astrobiologist Dale Andersen Antarctic Status Report 15 December 2018: Back at Novolazarevskaya Station

"The camp at Lake Untersee is now closed, we pulled the last three tents down early yesterday morning and completed packing our cargo into the sea container with the remainder going onto the other two cargo sleds. The traverse back went well and we are all back at Novolazarevskaya Station, now at the ALCI operated "Oasis Huts" just adjacent to the Russian Station Novolazarevskaya. We have stayed in the Oasis Huts many times over the years so it is like returning to our home away from home - warm beds, good food and hospitality and a place to wash off the last six weeks of wear and tear we have all accumulated. These huts, refurbished a few years ago, were built in the early 1960's by the Russian Antarctic program - the initial Novolazarevskaya Station - so it is always nice to be staying somewhere with an interesting history. ... All in all a great field season and we accomplished most of what we set out to do. Now it is time to head home, relax a bit over the holidays and then begin working on returned samples, analyzing data and planning for future work in this region."

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Bettina Inclán Is NASA's New Office of Communications Associate Administrator

By Keith Cowing on December 14, 2018 6:26 PM.

Keith's note: NASA has a new Associate Administrator for the headquarters Office of Communications: Bettina Inclán. According to her Twitter profile at @BettinaInclan: "Entrepreneur. Storyteller. Political junky. Tired mom of 2 boys. Wife. Wine enthusiast. Proud Latina. Alum of Capitol Hill @GOP @RNCLatinos @NRCC Romney, McCain".

Here's her Linked In profile: Bettina Inclán Agen. Bettina Inclán reports for duty at NASA next week. A quick Google search turned up these interesting stories that mention her:

Miami politician says aliens took her on a spaceship. Now she's running for Congress, Miami Herald (with video)

"A congressional candidate from Miami can go one better: Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera says she's been aboard a spaceship too. But this one was crewed by aliens. As in extraterrestrials. ... Rodriguez Aguilera, 59, a Republican who is running to replace retiring Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, recounted her experience with the ETs during a 2009 television interview." ... Rodriguez Aguilera's daughter is former Republican National Committee Hispanic outreach director Bettina Inclán Agen. Her son-in-law, Jarrod Agen, is Vice President Mike Pence's deputy chief of staff."

RNC ad has own staffer 'breaking up' with Obama cardboard cut-out, MSNBC (with video)

"The video portrays a woman sitting across a restaurant table from a cardboard cut-out of Obama. "You think I didn't see you with Sarah Jessica Parker and George Clooney?" the woman asks. "It's not me, it's you." But perhaps it is the woman. The actor depicting a disillusioned Obama supporter from 2008 is actually the RNC's Director of Hispanic Outreach Bettina Inclan. "You're just not the person I thought you were," Inclan tells cardboard Obama in the ad, while pretending to be someone she is not."

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Virgin Galactic Does The Space Thing Their Own Way

By Keith Cowing on December 14, 2018 12:03 AM.

Keith's note: In September 2004, I was sitting in the auditorium at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California in the final session of the NASA Administrator's Symposium "Risk and Exploration: Earth, Moon and the Stars". I co-chaired this event with Astronaut/NASA Chief Scientist John Grunsfeld. NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe departed the event early so as to fly in and be at Mojave for the attempt at winning the XPrize. We watched a live video feed in the meeting room. There was a scary moment at one point - actual risk, as was the discussion at our event - and then success at 100 km/62 miles - landing - and then celebration.

Yesterday's flight by Virgin Galactic, albeit to a lower altitude, is a milestone of sorts - one that was only won with a lot of hard work and ultimate sacrifices by multiple employees. When one enters "space" is a matter of definitions and opinion. In 2004 it was 62 miles. Yesterday it was 51.4 miles. Whatever. You can call them and ask why they picked the easier goal to strive for.

That said, and numbers not withstanding, a lot has been invested in this. Soon, paying customers will ride close to - or (depending upon your opinion) into "space". The formal definition is somewhat arbitrary but still a matter of formal definition that can always be adjusted. OK, so who cares. From where SpaceShipTwo was poised, Earth's curvature is obvious. There is no air outside. And your blood would boil if you opened the door. Its outer space. Deal with it. NASA is no longer the only way to get there.

A few years ago I completed the Suborbital Astronaut Certification program at NASTAR. I flew several full acceleration profiles in a world class centrifuge based upon data from the original SpaceShipOne flight. I was pumped and tried to bribe the centrifuge operator for a third flight. Anyone in resonable health can do this. You just need several hundred thousand dollars to spare. That is the greater challenge.

FWIW Virgin Galactic is hyper-sensitive to media depictions of their events. Some media outlets have dumped on them relentlessly for reasons that remain obscure. Despite rather positive depictions of their efforts and lots of off-the-record chats with staff over the years about how to do media, NASAWatch was not invited to cover this event.

OK. That's your call George. Nice spaceship.

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Virgin Galactic Reaches "Space"

By Keith Cowing on December 13, 2018 10:53 AM.

Richard Branson Welcomes Astronauts Home from Virgin Galactic's Historic First Spaceflight

"The historic achievement has been recognised by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) who announced today that early next year they will present pilots Mark "Forger" Stucky and Frederick "CJ" Sturckow with FAA Commercial Astronaut Wings at a ceremony in Washington DC. CJ, as a four-time Space Shuttle pilot, will become the only person to have been awarded NASA and FAA wings."

Keith's note: Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo reached an altitude of 51.4 miles today after 15 years of struggles to replicate the performance of SpaceShipOne in 2004. AFter some additional tests commercial passengers will reportedly be carried. But did they go to "space" today?

According to Wikipedia "The Kármán line, or Karman line, lies at an altitude of 100 km (62 mi; 330,000 ft) above Earth's sea level and commonly represents the boundary between Earth's atmosphere and outer space. This definition is accepted by the Fédération aéronautique internationale (FAI), which is an international standard-setting and record-keeping body for aeronautics and astronautics. ... The U.S. Air Force definition of an astronaut is a person who has flown higher than 50 miles (80 kilometres) above mean sea level, approximately the line between the mesosphere and the thermosphere. NASA formerly used the FAI's 100-kilometer (62 mi) figure, though this was changed in 2005, to eliminate any inconsistency between military personnel and civilians flying in the same vehicle."

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip Two only reached 51.4 miles. So that's not "space" if you accept the decades-old internationally-accepted definition. Ironically, all of the hoopla and arm waving in 2004 when SpaceShipOne won the XPrize happened only after it had passed the 100km/62 mile Karman line. It took Virgin 15 years to almost make the same altitude again.

But now there's an effort a foot to lower the internationally-accepted altitude to make it easier to reach "space". But no one has formally adopted that yet, As such it looks like Virgin Galactic jumped the shark to some extent for the purposes of marketing, etc. In some countries and from the perspective of some regulatory agencies, they did not reach "space" - yet. Just sayin'.

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A Teaching Moment For NASA

By Keith Cowing on December 12, 2018 10:11 PM.

NASA Head Jim Bridenstine Claps Back At Curry, TMZ

"Enter Bridenstine ... who says Curry's claim is so outrageous -- the point guard just cannot be serious. "I think it's funny," Jim tells us ... "I can't imagine he really believes that. It's outside the realm of what's possible." In fact ... Jim REALLY set Steph straight, saying, "Here's the thing, we didn't just go to the moon once, we went to the moon six times! And, we did it from 1969 to 1972!!!" Bridenstine also doubled down on NASA's invitation to have Curry come check out all their evidence -- saying he'd LOVE to prove Steph wrong and get him involved in the space program afterward! "My son is a HUGE fan of Steph Curry. So, if we can get him involved in space, I'm for it!"

Warriors' Stephen Curry says he was joking about moon landing, will visit NASA, ESPN

"But in terms of the reaction that I've gotten, I am definitely going to take [NASA] up on their offer. I am going to educate myself firsthand on everything that NASA has done and shine a light on their tremendous work over the years. And hopefully people understand that education is power, informing yourself is power. For kids out there that hang on every word that we say, which is important, understand that you should not believe something just because somebody says it. You should do your homework and understand what you actually believe."

Keith's note: There are a lot of people who did not pay attention in science class when they were growing up. A lot of other people are hit from a hundred different directions by conspiracy theories and fiction portrayed so realistically that they think it is fact. Other people just like to kid around. Some people simply do not care about NASA or space. Its not NASA's fault that people get these ideas in their head - for whatever reason they end up thinking these things.

The easy thing to do is to dismiss instances like this when other people genuinely doubt the Moon landings. But then there's the chance to take a celebrity's incomplete knowledge of the historic achievements of NASA's Apollo program and convert it into a teaching moment. Stephen Curry has quickly admitted that he was kidding but sees the chance to turn a bunch of arm waving by the news media into something far more useful. As former NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe used to say in reference to his Jesuit schooling, "you make converts one at a time".

Suggestion for Jim Bridenstine: your new marketing phrase is to "Go forward to the Moon" Fine. However saying "Go back to the Moon" might help dial back some of the Moon landing hoax stuff. If we are going back it means that we've already been there. Your "forward" thing could leave the question open in some people's minds. Just sayin'

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CASIS Pays Big Bucks For Leadership With No Space Experience

By Keith Cowing on December 11, 2018 8:16 PM.

Keith's note: CASIS, the non-profit created to run the ISS National Laboratory, has been on a hiring spree of late. Three high level executives have been hired at $300K+ annual salaries recently. Meanwhile, existing CASIS staff are not getting cost of living increases and having their vacation benefits cut. It would seem that no one is going to fix the big, lingering problems at CASIS.

Joseph Vockley was recently hired as the new Executive Director of CASIS. He has zero experience with space but he's pulling in a salary close to $400k a year. In addition to Vockley CASIS has hired CASIS Chief Strategy Officer, Richard Leach (an old buddy of Vockley's) and Vice President Christine Kretz. Neither of the positions filled by Leach or Kretz were advertised. Neither Kretz or Leach have any space experience.

When you ask Bill Gertsenmaier and Jim Bridenstine how they will be certain that the ISS will be able to be taken over by commercial funding when NASA pulls out, they point to CASIS as the prime solution to that looming problem. CASIS' response is to hire new leadership with no basic space flight experience. This is not what you'd expect an organization that needs to beef up its space commercialization skill set would be doing to meet that challenge. Indeed, CASIS is still unable to use all of the crew and other resources that NASA offers it on the ISS.

We've been looking into the CASIS mess since its inception. In the past year Bill Gerstenmaier finally seemed to have gotten the message and had his staff tell CASIS to clean up its act after years after year of underperformance. In "Is CASIS Fixing Its Management Problems?" the series of NASA and CASIS interactions on management are examined. Alas, it would seem that CASIS was only paying lip service to NASA's concerns and NASA is utterly disinterested in making CASIS do the job that they are being paid to do.

- CASIS Responds To NASA's List Of Problems With CASIS, earlier post
- CASIS Is Still Broken, earlier post
- Earlier CASIS postings

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About That New Orion Span Space Station ...

By Keith Cowing on December 10, 2018 7:37 PM.

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NASA's Solution To Operating A Human Facility Like Gateway: Droids.

By Keith Cowing on December 10, 2018 2:58 PM.

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Boeing Has No Idea Who Is Buying Their Satellites. Or Do They?

By Keith Cowing on December 9, 2018 6:58 PM.

Boeing Was Going to Build Satellites for a China-Funded Firm. Why It Just Backed Out of the Deal, Fortune

"Boeing has canceled a deal to build a communications satellite -- which it has almost completed -- on the basis that the startup that ordered it has defaulted on payments. The sudden cancellation, however, comes on the heels of a report that detailed how the project was actually financed by a firm owned by the Chinese government. The Wall Street Journal exposed the situation earlier this week. The startup that ordered the satellite is called Global IP, and it wanted to use it for African Internet access. However, the deal was financed by an outfit called China Orient Asset Management, which is owned by the Chinese finance ministry and bankrolls military technology suppliers in the country. According to that report, some national security officials suspected Boeing was trying to bypass a ban on selling satellites directly to China. The ban is in place because of fears over the Chinese military gaining access to sensitive technology."

2 Companies Pay Penalties For Improving China Rockets, NY Times (2003)

"Two leading American aerospace companies have agreed to pay a record $32 million in penalties to settle civil charges that they unlawfully transferred rocket and satellite data to China in the 1990's. The agreement, which was completed on Tuesday and released today, comes two months after the State Department accused the companies, Hughes Electronics Corporation, a unit of General Motors, and Boeing Satellite Systems of 123 violations of export laws in connection with the Chinese data transfers. In a joint statement the companies said they ''express regret for not having obtained licenses that should have been obtained'' in the 1990's by a Hughes unit, the Hughes Space and Communications Company, which was acquired in 2000 by Boeing."

Keith's note: This has happened before. And this time Boeing only discovered the Chinese financing of this satellite in the past few days when the Wall Street Journal figured it out? Really Boeing?

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NASA's Advisors Struggle With Gateway Selling Points

By Keith Cowing on December 9, 2018 6:39 PM.

Keith's note: The NASA Advisory Council's Human Exploration and Operations Committee is having problems trying to explain why NASA needs to build the Gateway. If they can't figure out why it is needed, how is NASA going to sell this whole Gateway thing to Congress and the taxpaying public?

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The Asymptotic Path Back To The Moon

By Keith Cowing on December 7, 2018 12:20 PM.

Keith's note: This comment was posted in response to this NASAWatch post. I hear this a lot - sadly with increasing frequency.

"This (below) was written on FACEBOOK this week. I know the person who wrote it and it speaks volumes on why NASA should no longer develop rockets.

"Thursday will be my last day to work. I don't retire until 3 January, but I will be on leave. I hate to end on such a low note, but it's that or go bonkers. I dared to speak up on a safety issue on the new launch vehicle a couple of years ago and I got shuffled into a useless and meaningless job. I do little to nothing and when I ask for more work, I get nothing. They won't let me transfer either. I've been fighting to move and no manager in my chain of command will lift a finger. So much for speaking up. Certain managers at NASA made my dream job into a nightmare. You can't buck the system even when they tell you that it's your job to do so. I hope that nothing bad comes of the issue but my conscience is clear. I made a safety concern known. Anybody need a slightly used engineer?"
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NASA Doesn't Want To Talk About A Messy Dragon

By Keith Cowing on December 6, 2018 3:27 PM.

A SpaceX Delivery Capsule May Be Contaminating The ISS, Wired

"Part of the problem here, though, is NASA's reluctance to talk about both the problem and the plans to fix it. The presentation, shared during the Payload Operations Integration Working Group meeting back in April, was approved for unclassified and unlimited public release and placed on the NASA Technical Reports Server in early September. I asked for an interview about it on September 25. The next day, the presentation was gone. "The record details page you tried to access cannot be found on this server," the page now says. I inquired about the dead link, and more than three weeks later, I received a response: "The document is under review," wrote Meagan Storey, of the NASA Scientific and Technical Information Program, "and we advise that you make a FOIA request for the item." Statistically, that's probably a losing prospect."

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NASA's Administrator Uses Technology Better Than The Space Industry Does

By Keith Cowing on December 6, 2018 3:06 PM.

Keith's note: There is yet another space policy event in Washington, DC today aimed at another session of choir practice in an echo chamber by the proverbial usual suspects in the space policy clique. Its an event by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launching some sort of commercial space thing. Registration for the even closed a while back and only a few media representatives were allowed in. Of course, as is typical of these events the sponsors did not bother to webcast anything. Who cares. These events are all about talking about doing things instead of actually doing the things that they talk about.

Given that there is a Chamber of Commerce in virtually every community in America this could have been an excellent opportunity for the U.S. Chamber of commerce to go into grass roots mode and educate the remaining 99.999% of the population - the ones who pay taxes or work in companies that build space hardware. But no - these policy wonks are only interested in talking to each other and being quoted in trade publications that only they and their friends read.

But there was an exception to this cloistered event: NASA Administrator Bridenstine had someone on his staff stream his keynote speech live via a streaming account registered to @JimBridenstine on their cellphone. He does things like this a lot. Much of it is spontaneous - and much of it is done on his cellphone by him using his own actual fingers. He gets it. There is no reason why any event anywhere cannot be shared with anyone, anywhere. So long as there is cellphone and/or WiFI access you have a means to reach a vast audience.

Yes, the quality is sometimes shaky. I call this the "Max Headroom effect". If you are not familiar with this then go Google the name. Of course its shaky - its being done via a cellphone. The point is that while the quality may be lacking, it is understandable, and it is live, and it is being done so that you can participate - wherever you are.

In 2009 I spent a month at Everest Base Camp at 17,600 feet doing education and public outreach with the Challenger Center as Astronaut Scott Parazynski climbed Everest. We had a commercially available HS 9210 BGAN satellite unit. I carried it to Everest on my back. With it we did live webcasts almost daily with Miles O'Brien who used his laundry room in New York City as our media command center. The quality was often lacking but, in pure Max Headroom mode, we did live webcasts from an extremely remote place where few had done such things before - because we could.

Now its easy to do things like this from Everest since there are people selling WiFI access and you can use your cellphone - the same access that people in these space policy meetings have. Oddly, a community that hypes the space spinoff benefits to the economy - including space-based communication satellites - is incapable of using the same resources to do a simple webcast from their events - something that kids in junior high school know how to do.

There is also this fetish with costs - and ignorance thereof. Space meeting organizers think that webcasts using cellphones and laptops need to be fancy or cost a lot of money. Yet they spring big bucks for expensive stage props and luncheons for their pals at these events. Its all about appearances - not substance.

People in the space industry are always keen to sniff for hints from NASA leadership as to what they are interested in so as to be able to say the right buzz words back to NASA and offer products and services that NASA seems to be interested in. OK: here's a hint: the Administrator of NASA personally streams live video of his comments on social media. He does so without an army of expensive contractors on the cellphone in his pocket. He is trying to reach people that have heretofore remained beyond the reach of NASA's traditional education and public outreach mechanisms.

When big aerospace companies and associations want to send messages to their audiences they buy full page ads in the Washington Post or blanket Metro stations near Capitol Hill with giant banners. Bridenstine uses his cellphone with the ability to reach a vastly bigger audience.

Bridenstine is also sending a message to traditional aerospace community: they need to adapt to his new mode of communication if they want to remain relevant. He is going directly to taxpayers and other stakeholders and bypassing the long-standing system that trade and advocacy groups have usually held a grip on.

He's already got a head start and he's not looking back.

- Keith Cowing Everest Update: Webcasting from a Foggy Buddhist Monastery, 2009

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SpaceX Places A Dragon In Orbit - And Lands In The Water

By Keith Cowing on December 5, 2018 2:17 PM.

Keith's note: SpaceX successfully placed a Dragon cargo vehicle into orbit today. Alas, as it returned to Earth, the Falcon 9's first stage lost control and it landed in the ocean.

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NASA Is Not Going To Get Many More Chances

By Keith Cowing on December 5, 2018 2:04 PM.

Want to honor George H.W. Bush? Send astronauts to Mars, Washington Post

"The new president was offering NASA, which at the time lacked a clear mission for its human spaceflight program, a lifeline, guaranteeing his support for an assertive Space Exploration Initiative (SEI). But the fiscal realities of the late 1980s, when budget deficits had exploded, required the organization to think in a new way. NASA, however, wasn't up to the job. Rather than thinking innovatively and offering new ideas for reaching the moon and Mars, the agency simply recycled concepts that had been dominant within the space program since its earliest days. Its plan included the construction of a substantial in-orbit infrastructure, where massive spacecraft for lunar and Mars exploration would be assembled before departing for their final destinations. Each alternative pathway identified by a study team required enormous capital expenditures. Over a 30-year implementation period, this initiative would have cost more than $500 billion. This would have required more than doubling the agency's budget. The tone-deafness of NASA's plan shocked the National Space Council. NSC Executive Secretary Mark Albrecht called it "the biggest 'F' flunk, you could ever get in government. . . . It was just so fabulously unaffordable, it showed no imagination." The report quickly turned Capitol Hill against the space agency, with one key congressional aide stating that SEI was dead on arrival."

Keith's note: NASA is heading down this path again. Uninspiring plans that rely on budgets that simply will not be there. Two Presidents named Bush pushed NASA to send humans back to the Moon and then on to Mars. 30 years after the first and 15 years after the second Bush proclamations, we still have not gone to either location. As the old saying goes, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice ..."

Full SEI report

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NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status 12 December 2018 - A Little Extra Sleep Today

NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status 12 December 2018 - A Little Extra Sleep Today Video in Story

The Expedition 57 crew were allowed to catch a few extra hours of sleep today after a lengthy spacewalk Tuesday by the two cosmonauts on board.

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