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Possibility of Sabotage Considered During SpaceX Investigation

By Keith Cowing on October 1, 2016 9:49 AM.

Implication of sabotage adds intrigue to SpaceX investigation, Washington Post

"The long-running feud between Elon Musk's space company and its fierce competitor United Launch Alliance took a bizarre twist this month when a SpaceX employee visited its facilities at Cape Canaveral, Fla., and asked for access to the roof of one of ULA's buildings. ... The building, which had been used to refurbish rocket motors known as the SMARF, is just more than a mile away from the launchpad and has a clear line of sight to it. A representative from ULA ultimately denied the SpaceX employee access to the roof and instead called Air Force investigators, who inspected the roof and didn't find anything connecting it to the rocket explosion, the officials said."

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ULA Congressional Delegation Criticizes SpaceX For A Totally Legal Mishap Investigation

By Keith Cowing on September 29, 2016 11:16 PM.

Congress members question whether SpaceX should conduct its own investigation, LA Times

"The letter, dated Thursday, also cited SpaceX's prior explosion in June 2015 while carrying cargo for NASA to the International Space Station. The Hawthorne space company led its own investigation for that launch failure. Under federal law, SpaceX is allowed to conduct its own investigation. SpaceX ... and other companies lobbied successfully to extend the law last year. The FAA oversees such investigations. The Congress members said the investigation responses raised "serious concerns about the authority provided to commercial providers and the protection of national space assets."

"Ten Republican Congress members led by Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) have sent a letter to the heads of the Air Force, NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration questioning whether SpaceX should be allowed to lead its own investigation ... Coffman's congressional district includes United Launch Alliance's headquarters. Many of the congressmen represent states where ULA has operations."

Keith's note: But wait. ULA did their own internal review when the first stage of the Atlas V delivering OA-6 Cygnus shut down early. Oops. H/t to Tim B.

United Launch Alliance Provides Update to OA-6 Cygnus Launch

"Per standard processes when a flight data item such as this has been identified, the ULA engineering team, along with our engine supplier and several government customers, forms a robust review team. The review team assessed all flight and operational data to determine direct and root causes and implemented the appropriate corrective actions for future flights. .. "We would like to thank our customers and supplier partners for their outstanding collaboration in the detailed review of this anomaly."

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SLS Flight Software Safety Issues at MSFC (Update)

By Keith Cowing on September 29, 2016 11:08 PM.

Keith's 29 September note: Sources report that a substantial portion of the contractor staff working for the SLS safety contractor at NASA MSFC QD34 want out and are asking for reassignment to other programs. Many are openly looking for new jobs elsewhere. The prime contractor has been told by NASA MSFC management that if anyone leaves SLS safety support without permission or by other than NASA-directed termination that the incumbent contractor risks not receiving consideration during the contract re-competition next year. SLS safety risks under development are being deleted. People are scared to come forward with issues. SLS management was at Michoud and Stennis for an AOA yesterday and today. This was reportedly a topic for discussion.

Keith's 26 September note: Shortly after this original posting on 9 September Andrew (Andy) Gamble was summoned to MSFC Center Director Todd May's office to talk about QD34 issues. During subsequent closed door meetings MSFC management decided that they did not have any software problems - when in fact they do.

A few days later Steven Pearson, Deputy Director of NASA MSFC's Safety & Mission Assurance Directorate, suddenly announced his retirement after 37.5 years at NASA. MSFC SM&A hired some outside experts in the area of software safety and V&V and asked them to determine if the MSFC QD34 contractor or NASA QD34 was right with regard to the issues under dispute. The outside experts completed their review and agreed 100% with the positions taken by the contractor.

Meanwhile, contractor employees working for QD34 who have surfaced the issues I reported earlier have suddenly found their funding yanked. Moreover, employees who are leaving or thinking of leaving as a result of raising concerns - are being specifically blackballed - by name - by MSFC management. Potential employers are being told by NASA MSFC that they risk wining new contracts - or losing existing contracts - if they hire these individuals.

Continue reading: SLS Flight Software Safety Issues at MSFC (Update).

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You Cannot Explore The Universe When Your Head Is Stuck In The Sand

By Keith Cowing on September 28, 2016 8:34 PM.

Humans to Mars: a deeply disturbing idea, Linda Billings

"I have deep moral qualms about this idea, as it appeals to a small fraction of humankind and proposes what would inevitably be an elitist enterprise. Would it be ethical to enable people with enough money to buy a ticket to leave our troubled Earth behind? Would it be ethical for government(s) to subsidize such an enterprise? In Musk's disturbing "vision" - a nightmare in my mind - how many poverty-stricken Bangladeshis or Congolese, how many permanently displaced Syrian refugees, will come up with $200,000 - or $2,000, for that matter - to "start anew," as the colonization zealots say they want to do? I participated in a conference this past weekend about "social and conceptual issues in astrobiology." Among the questions we 30 attendees were asked to consider in our discussions were: "Should humans seek to exploit and/or colonize space? If so, how should this be done? Are there truly universal principals of biology, psychology, morality, etc. that would apply to extraterrestrial life?" My views on these questions are: No. We should not do it. No."

Keith's note: I have known Linda for 30 years and have a lot of respect for her work. But I thought this whole "but people are starving in [fill in the blank]" or "why spend money in space when we should spend it on Earth" mindset was a thing of the 1960 and 1970s. If you want to go after budgets to fix social inequalities then NASA is not the place to start - there is much more low hanging fruit elsewhere.

Decades of public opinion polls, popular media, and other cultural phenomena strongly point to a public viewpoint on space that is exactly opposite of what Linda claims. Moreover her viewpoint flies in the face of human history. People explore. Then they colonize. Then they move on to explore some more because that is what people do. In particular I am not certain why this tiny group of 30 space people (no doubt the usual suspects at meetings like this) meeting in their little echo chamber is in any way representative of what America's 300+ million - or the billions who live elsewhere think about exploring space.

Look at China and India - countries with vast, pressing social issues - issues that surely could use more money. Yet these countries are dedicating large resources toward exploring space - often times repeating what other countries did decades ago. What is it that they have discovered about exploring space that space people in America seem to have forgotten? Meanwhile, as NASA runs in circles with inadequate budgets driven by plans that they were never going to be capable of implementing, the private sector has amassed the resources to do things on their own in space - for their own reasons.

NASA has been 20 years away from sending humans to Mars for over 40 years. Clearly the NASA approach to sending humans on Mars no longer works. Its time for someone else to do it. If not Elon Musk then some other billionaire(s) will certainly step up to the plate. And if not the U.S. then other countries will.

Keith's personal note: I am eternally fond of Linda. We worked together at NASA Life Science Division in the 80s. She knows her Astrobiology. Much of NASA's Planetary Protection policies are the result of her hard work. That said, I do not agree with her opinions about humans on Mars. That said, she's still a true believer in the exploration of space.

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NASA Information Security Is Still Broken

By Keith Cowing on September 28, 2016 12:30 PM.

Follow-up Evaluation of NASA's Implementation of Executive Order 13526, Classified National Security Information, NASA OIG

"Although NASA has taken steps to implement our prior recommendations, we continued to identify inconsistencies in the Agency's application of CNSI policies and procedures that led to improper marking of classified documents. This occurred because of insufficient identification and training of classifiers. Further, implementation of the Agency's self-inspection program was not fully effective because NASA Centers did not consistently review documents to verify the accuracy of classified markings. Improved identification and training of classification officials and effective self-inspections would help ensure classified information at NASA is managed in accordance with Federal requirements."

Information Security: NASA Needs to Improve Controls over Selected High-Impact Systems. GAO-16-688SU, September 23, GAO (Restricted report)

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Did SpaceX Just Change The Rules?

By Keith Cowing on September 27, 2016 10:31 PM.

Elon Musk's presentation charts (pdf)

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Official Video: SpaceX Interplanetary Transport System

By Keith Cowing on September 27, 2016 2:30 PM.


Elon Musk Outlines his Plan for Colonizing Mars and Why We Should Do It, SpaceRef [Includes the full video of Elon Musk's talk and the presentation slides.]

"In a presentation today at the 67th International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, Elon Musk outlined his ambitious plan to colonize Mars. His personal motivation is to make humanity a multi-planetary species. The reason is to avoid an extinct level event on Earth that would wipe out humanity.

To achieve a self-sustaining society you'll need to send 1 million people to Mars which could take 40-100 years. To get those people there Musk introduced the SpaceX Interplanetary Transport System. The rocket, the largest ever built, could carry 100 plus people per flight and would need 10,000 flights to carry those million people. Musk hopes to be able to eventually carry 200 people per flight which would reduce the number of flights needed."

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DC Think Tankers Testify On That China Space Race Thing

By Keith Cowing on September 27, 2016 2:14 PM.

Updated: Congress Hearing: Are We Losing the Space Race to China [Hearing video]

Subcommittee Examines China's Space Exploration Capabilities and Achievements, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Democrats

"Now, almost 50 years since that historic event, some are asking if we are again in a space race, but this time with China. Two weeks ago, China successfully placed in orbit its Tiangong-2 experimental orbiting space lab. And that accomplishment comes on the heels of China's landing a robotic rover on the Moon, with plans announced to do the same on Mars. So, should we be concerned that China is may be closing the gap in spaceflight capabilities?"

Chairman Smith Opening Statement: Are We Losing the Space Race to China?

"China continues to make progress. We cannot resign ourselves to the remembrance of past achievements. It is time for the United States to reassert its leadership. For over fifty years, the United States has been committed to the peaceful use and exploration of outer space. Our philosophical principles of freedom, the rule of law, and transparency are evident in the actions we take. The United States shares scientific data and findings, promotes international cooperation, and maintains international peace and security in outer space. The world has benefited from U.S. space leadership."

Witness Statements: Dennis Shea, Mark Stokes, Dean Cheng, James Lewis

Earlier China postings

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New Science Mission Directorate Leadership

By Keith Cowing on September 27, 2016 1:46 PM.

Thomas Zurbuchen Named Head of NASA Science Mission Directorate, NASA

"NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has named Thomas Zurbuchen as the new associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington, effective Monday, Oct. 3. Zurbuchen is a professor of space science and aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He also is the university's founding director of the Center for Entrepreneurship in the College of Engineering. Zurbuchen's experience includes research in solar and heliospheric physics, experimental space research, space systems, and innovation and entrepreneurship."

Memo From Acting NASA Science Mission Directorate AA Geoff Yoder, NASA

"My NASA experience has been challenging, exciting, full of new discoveries, and more importantly part of a unique family. I am excited to transition into my next phase of life and plan to retire from NASA December 2016. I don't know what the future holds for me but if history is any indication, I will be blessed with meeting new challenges, opportunities, and making new friends."

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Does SpaceX Have The Right Stuff For Mars? Does NASA?

By Keith Cowing on September 27, 2016 10:23 AM.

Elon Musk has a lot to prove at today's Mars colonization announcement, The Verge

"This isn't a phone, or a new app, or new headphones - it's not a consumer product at all. Rockets are far too expensive; space colonies are more expensive still. If Musk doesn't announce financial backing, it means the presentation is meant to convince someone - probably NASA - to fund him. But this is an extraordinarily awkward time to try to win over money, since one of his rockets blew up earlier this month."

Get Ready, Elon Musk Is About to Outline His Plan to Colonize Mars, Popular Mechanics

"The new Mars shuttle and BFR are only design ideas that have been teased by SpaceX, so it remains to be seen whether a concrete plan to develop one or both of these new spaceflight systems - or something completely unknown to the public at this point - will be revealed during Musk's speech."

Elon Musk to discuss his vision for how he plans to colonize Mars, Washington Post

"Then in 2020, SpaceX would fly multiple Falcon Heavy rockets, he said in an interview with The Post earlier this year. The goal of those missions would be to perfect the difficult art of landing large objects on the Mars surface. If everything goes according to plan, SpaceX would launch a new, more powerful rocket in 2022, and then with crews in 2024."

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What Charlie Bolden Really Said At #IAC2016

By Keith Cowing on September 26, 2016 3:17 PM.

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Water Plumes on Europa

By Keith Cowing on September 26, 2016 2:08 PM.

Evidence of Water Vapor Plumes on Europa, NASA

"Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have imaged what may be water vapor plumes erupting off the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa. This finding bolsters other Hubble observations suggesting the icy moon erupts with high altitude water vapor plumes. The observation increases the possibility that missions to Europa may be able to sample Europa's ocean without having to drill through miles of ice."

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Tectonics on Mercury

By Keith Cowing on September 26, 2016 12:12 PM.

Mercury is Tectonically Active, NASA

"Images obtained by NASA's MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft reveal previously undetected small fault scarps-- cliff-like landforms that resemble stair steps. These scarps are small enough that scientists believe they must be geologically young, which means Mercury is still contracting and that Earth is not the only tectonically active planet in our solar system, as previously thought."

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NASA Headquarters Is For Sale

By Keith Cowing on September 26, 2016 11:15 AM.

NASA's HQ, one of D.C.'s largest federal leases, offered for sale, Washington Business Journal

"Piedmont Office Realty Trust wants to shed one of the largest federally leased office properties in Greater Washington, NASA's Southwest Washington headquarters - another sign that investment sales activity is gaining momentum heading into the fall buying season."

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SpaceX Vs #JourneyToMars - Fighting The Status Quo

By Keith Cowing on September 26, 2016 11:04 AM.

http://images.spaceref.com/news/2016/bolden.spacex.lrg.4.jpg

Elon Musk's dream of going to Mars is SpaceX's biggest strength, and its biggest distraction, Quartz

"Scott Pace, a former NASA official, said that any company attempting to do as much as SpaceX needed to carefully assess whether it was pushing its workers too hard. "It would be ambitious for any company to do a schedule like that," Pace says. "When you look at changes in launch schedule that are increasing over historical norms, you should be worried whether or not schedule pressure is putting unacceptable strains on the workforce." SpaceX rejects out of hand the idea that it is pushing its workers too hard."

Between a rocket and a hard place: Elon Musk to give the speech of his life, Ars Technica

"It also seems likely that NASA won't offer substantial support, either. The space agency is building its own heavy lift rocket, the Space Launch System, and has its own #JourneyToMars. NASA's administrator, Charles Bolden, has wholeheartedly supported SpaceX and commercial space activities in low-Earth orbit, but has been far less effusive about private businesses venturing into deep space on their own. Earlier this month Bolden flatly stated he was not a "big fan" of private companies building heavy-lift rockets. With its Falcon Heavy and BFR, that is exactly what SpaceX is doing."

- Why SpaceX May Get Humans to Mars - First, earlier post
- Yet Another NASA Mars "Plan" Without A Plan - or a Budget, earlier post
- NASA's SpaceX Mars Mission Briefing That NASA Is Not Telling You About, earlier post
- Update on NASA's #JourneyToNowhere, earlier post
- NASA Is Still Kicking The Can Down The Road on the #JourneyToMars, earlier post

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NASA International Space Station On-Orbit Status 29 September 2016

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