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NASA Mounts Weed-Inspired Witch Hunt at SpaceX and Boeing

By Keith Cowing on November 20, 2018 6:03 PM.

NASA concerned about culture of "inappropriateness" at SpaceX, Ars Technica

"In addition to spurring problems for the car company Tesla, Elon Musk's puff of marijuana in September will also have consequences for SpaceX. On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that NASA will conduct a "safety review" of both of its commercial crew companies, SpaceX and Boeing. The review was prompted, sources told the paper, because of recent behavior by Musk, including smoking marijuana on a podcast. According to William Gerstenmaier, NASA's chief human spaceflight official, the review will be "pretty invasive" and involve interviews with hundreds of employees at various levels of the companies, across multiple worksites. The review will begin next year, and interviews will examine "everything and anything that could impact safety," Gerstenmaier told the Post."

NASA to launch safety review of SpaceX and Boeing after video of Elon Musk smoking pot rankled agency leaders, Washington Post

"The review was prompted by the recent behavior of SpaceX's founder, Elon Musk, according to three officials with knowledge of the probe, after he took a hit of marijuana and sipped whiskey on a podcast streamed on the Internet. That rankled some at NASA's highest levels and prompted the agency to take a close look at the culture of the companies, the people said."

Keith's note: Its good that NASA wants everyone in the human spaceflight family to be safe and productive. Alas, NASA has run out of things to blame its own internal failures on so they go after two external partners to see if there is anything they can dig up. The net result will probably be a delay to Boeing and SpaceX launches which will make SLS delays look less bad, I guess. Imagine what a similar internal scrutiny of NASA SLS/Orion employees would reveal. Will NASA and SLS/Orion staff at equivalent levels be queried about their on-the-job and off-time habits? It is rather ironic that NASA's human spaceflight program is this uptight about a podcast (one that includes mention of behavior that is legal in California) when the entire NASA senior management has been drinking the Koolaid for decades ("Don't worry - be happy").

SpaceX can reuse rockets and learned how to do so at a fraction of what it would have taken NASA to do so - if they even knew how, that is. NASA has no rockets to reuse and they spent a billion dollars to make reusable shuttle engines disposable. SpaceX needs 7 launches before people can fly. But NASA will launch crews on their second SLS flight and they put crews back on Soyuz months after a booster malfunctioned.

Who cares what SpaceX or Boeing may be smoking. I want to know what NASA has been smoking.


Staff Departure at the National Space Council (Update)

By Keith Cowing on November 20, 2018 12:46 PM.

Pace Announces Departure of Deputy Executive Secretary Stout, Thanks Stout for Service, White House

"Dr. Scott Pace, Executive Secretary of the National Space Council, today released the following statement upon the departure of Jared Stout, Deputy Executive Secretary and Chief of Staff, from the Council staff."


Bill Nye Says Mars Is Not The Place To Raise Your Kids

By Keith Cowing on November 19, 2018 7:43 PM.

Bill Nye: We are not going to live on Mars, let alone turn it into Earth, USA Today

"Sorry, Elon Musk. Bill Nye says the idea of Mars colonization and terraforming - making a planet more Earth-like by modifying its atmosphere - is "science fiction." "This whole idea of terraforming Mars, as respectful as I can be, are you guys high?" Nye said in an interview with USA TODAY. "We can't even take care of this planet where we live, and we're perfectly suited for it, let alone another planet." The famous science educator and CEO of The Planetary Society appears on National Geographic Channel's series "MARS." While the series explores human beings living on the Red Planet and even mining it, that doesn't mean Nye buys into the idea."

Keith's note: If you are interested in the prospect of humans living on other worlds such as Mars it would seem that the Planetary Society is not the organization for you - and its not just Bill Nye who is openly hostile to the notion of humans living on Mars.

- The Planetary Society Is Against Human Spaceflight, earlier post
- What is Good for Pasadena Is Good For The Planetary Society, earlier post
- Planetary Society's Mars Mission Takes Longer To Do Less, earlier post
- The Planetary Society Does Not Want "The Martian" To Happen, earlier post
- Planetary Society Does Not Want Humans on Mars, earlier post
- The Planetary Society Is Against Human Space Flight, earlier post
- Planetary Society is Both For and Against Human Spaceflight, earlier post


NASA Is Already Considering Retirement of SLS (Update)

By Keith Cowing on November 19, 2018 7:10 PM.

NASA will retire its new mega-rocket if SpaceX or Blue Origin can safely launch its own powerful rockets, Business Insider

"I think our view is that if those commercial capabilities come online, we will eventually retire the government system, and just move to a buying launch capacity on those [rockets]," Stephen Jurczyk, NASA's associate administrator, told Business Insider at The Economist Space Summit on November 1. However, NASA may soon find itself in a strange position, since the two private launch systems may beat SLS back to the moon -- and one might be the first to send people to Mars. ... "We haven't really engaged SpaceX on how we'd work together on BFR, and eventually get to a Mars mission -- yet," Jurczyk said of NASA's leadership. "My guess is that it's coming."

Keith's note: Dave Mosher is a solid reporter so I am confident he reported what was said. Either Steve Jurczyk misspoke or was mistaken. Either way the boss just cleared this up. Twitter is handy that way.

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NASA's Semi-Stealth Astrobiology Mission

By Keith Cowing on November 19, 2018 4:02 PM.

Keith's note: According to the official NASA Mars 2020 website: "The Mars 2020 mission addresses high-priority science goals for Mars exploration, including key questions about the potential for life on Mars. The mission takes the next step by not only seeking signs of habitable conditions on Mars in the ancient past, but also searching for signs of past microbial life itself."

That's Astrobiology. Mars 2020 is an Astrobiology mission - the first overt Astrobiology mission since the twin Viking landers in 1976. Why doesn't NASA call it an "Astrobiology mission"? Why doesn't NASA even use the word "Astrobiology" on the Mars 2020 website - or elsewhere - to describe the mission? Yet the word appears in today's Mars 2020 landing site press release.

Jezero Crater Announced As Mars 2020 Rover Landing Site

"The landing site in Jezero Crater offers geologically rich terrain, with landforms reaching as far back as 3.6 billion years old, that could potentially answer important questions in planetary evolution and astrobiology," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "Getting samples from this unique area will revolutionize how we think about Mars and its ability to harbor life."

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In Case You Missed The NASA TV Sketch On SNL

By Keith Cowing on November 18, 2018 5:38 PM.


Is China Looking To Build A Gateway Too?

By Keith Cowing on November 18, 2018 3:16 PM.

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Another Cygnus Leaves Earth

By Keith Cowing on November 17, 2018 1:54 PM.

NASA, Northrop Grumman Launch Space Station, National Lab Cargo

"The spacecraft launched on an Antares 230 Rocket from the Virginia Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport's Pad 0A at Wallops on the company's 10th cargo delivery flight, and is scheduled to arrive at the orbital laboratory Monday, Nov. 19. Expedition 57 astronauts Serena Auñón-Chancellor of NASA and Alexander Gerst of ESA (European Space Agency) will use the space station's robotic arm to grapple Cygnus about 5:20 a.m."

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JPL Employee Complains When People Believe A Website They Developed

By Keith Cowing on November 16, 2018 6:22 PM.

Keith's note: NASA has some pretty amazing websites. Some of the best ones are made by JPL. They are immensely popular. A lot of work goes into making sure that they work, that they are accurate, and, if needed, that caveats are posted explaining why the information depicted may be modified, delayed, or missing. In other words, there's a lot of transparency and honesty that goes with thee websites - as there should be. Sometimes the websites have flaws that only emerge over time. Usually NASa is good about fixing these bugs. But sometimes a few NASA employees decide to get snarky and try to blame inaccuracies on the inability of news media or the public to understad a lot of geeky details that they should not be expected to know. That's not how to behave when it comes to the presentation and maintenance of a "public facing" NASA website.

The other day someone at was sharp enough to notice that there seemed to be a signal coming from a Mars Exploration Rover- specifically via a DSN dish in Madrid, Spain. Their source: the NASA DSN Now website. Since Spirit is dead, Opportunity is the only MER rover left who could do this, right? Indeed on the right hand side of the screen you could see that Opportunity was sending information back to Earth. So, assuming that the NASA website was correct he tweeted his observation. Someone replied to note that the NASA Eyes website showed that there were up and down links from Opportunity. Even the official NASA DSN Twitter account @DSN_Status said that DSN was talking to - and getting data from - Opportunity.

Lots of Twitter traffic ensued. I checked with several NASA sources who said that they were checking to confirm and tweeted that this might be a "false positive". A short while later JPL tweeted "Today showed what looked like a signal from @MarsRovers Opportunity. As much as we'd like to say this was an #OppyPhoneHome moment, further investigation shows these signals were not an Opportunity transmission." And that should have been the end of the story.

But it wasn't. NASA JPL employee Doug Ellison, one of the designers of the NASA DSN website, started to complain on his Twitter account @Doug_Ellison about things he does as part of his day job at NASA JPL. He was whining about how people misunderstood what the website was saying. In essence, it was the public and news media's fault for getting things wrong. Among his tweets he chided people by saying "Willing a spacecraft to phone home is awesome. Misinterpreting data (in a way that's been done before) that has people thinking it HAS phoned home isn't." In other words its our fault for believing NASA.

I have gotten tweets and emails from people lecturing me how this JPL DSN website works with lots of geeky details. I'm sure everyone is correct. Funny thing: none of what they are saying to me appears on the NASA DSN website. All visitors to this website see is a page showing little graphical dishes sending or receiving animated signas rom spacecraft. NASA tels people to go this website to see what is going on across the solar system. Since NASA is showing this happening as if it was happening in real time, visitors naturally assume that what NASA is showing is real since people trust NASA websites. If this is not a true representation of what DSN is doing then why did NASA go to such lengths to make it look real and not tell people that it is not real.

Right now if you go to this website there is no obvious note to people that the data may not be accurate. There is a little "last updated" notation with a time. And there's a little "i" link. If you click on it you get this: "Below is the current state of the Deep Space network as established from available data updated every 5 seconds. Click a dish to learn more about the live connection between the spacecraft and the ground. The legend (below) shows the various connections between spacecraft and the ground. A carrier is a pure radio 'tone' used to establish communications or for navigation. Data is commands, scientific measurements or housekeeping engineering information. Uplink is commands being sent 'up' to a spacecraft. Downlink is data received from a spacecraft."

In other words NASA is saying that this is what is actually going on with their DSN. Since NASA websites tend to have a stellar reputation when they show stuff like this, one would naturally assume that if NASA is showing something like this then it is accurate.

Based on the obvious flaws in this website's depiction of ghost signals from a Mars rover, NASA JPL needs to put a caveat on their website saying that information on the website may not be accurate. Or take the site offline. This is an official NASA website and people tend to believe what NASA posts online. Faulting people for doing like some JPL people and fans have been doing, is silly. If NASA JPL PAO can take the time to add "artist's impression", "Illustration", or "false color" to graphics they post then they can put a notice on this website stating that "the graphics depicted are conceptual and may not represent actual spacecraft communications".

Dialing back the error, what happend? A lot of people were overjoyed to see a NASA website saying that Opportunity had phoned home. They trusted NASA on this. But in the end it was a mistake. Oh well. NASA JPL quickly admitted this. Hopefully JPL will understand that they have engendered an amazing amount of trust among visitors to many of the agency's websites and will adjust this otherwise cool website to inform visitors that glitches happen. They also need to send at least one of their employees to training class for "NASA Public Outreach 101".


NASA Advisory Committee Without Members Is Scheduled To Meet (Update)

By Keith Cowing on November 16, 2018 1:28 PM.

NASA Advisory Council Regulatory and Policy Committee Observations, Findings, and Recommendations, NASA Advisory Council

NASA Advisory Council Regulatory and Policy Committee Meeting

"Date: Friday, November 16, 2018. In accordance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act, as amended, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announces the first meeting of the Regulatory and Policy Committee of the NASA Advisory Council. This Committee reports to the NAC."


Former NASA Administrator Griffin: Gateway Is A "Stupid Architecture"

By Keith Cowing on November 16, 2018 1:21 AM.

NASA's Moon Plan Panned by Space Council Advisers

"Stressing that these are his private views, [Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin] said 2028 "is so late to need as to not be worthy to be on the table." From a systems engineering standpoint, building the Gateway before humans are on the surface is a "stupid architecture" because it will be needed only as a depot for propellant once it is being manufactured on the surface."

Former NASA administrator says Lunar Gateway is "a stupid architecture", Ars Technica

"Prefacing his comments by saying that these were his personal beliefs, Griffin said, "I think 2028 is so late-to-need that it doesn't even need to be on the table. Such a date does not demonstrate that the United States is a leader in anything. This is 2018. It took us eight years to get to the Moon the first time, and you're going to tell me it takes 10 to 12 to 14 to do it again when we know how? I just want to drop a flag on the play."


Space Council Users' Advisory Group Meets Without Any Users

By Keith Cowing on November 15, 2018 8:07 PM.

National Space Council Users' Advisory Group Meeting

"In accordance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act, as amended, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announces a meeting of the National Space Council Users' Advisory Group (UAG). This will be the second meeting of the UAG. DATES: Thursday, November 15, 2018, from 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m., Eastern Time."

Keith's note: Have a look at the National Space Council User's Advisory Group meeting agenda. Not a single person who is speaking is actually a "user" of space - they are either big Aerospace Reps, politicians, government employees, or reps from other advisory bodies. There is no "user" input in evidence. This is not at all surprising when you look at the UAG subcommittee membership. Yet another pointless example of choir practice in a echo chamber by the usual suspects inside the Beltway.


NASA Would Rather Talk About Going To Mars Than Go To Mars

By Keith Cowing on November 15, 2018 12:16 AM.

NASA says it can put humans on Mars within 25 years, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"The cost of solving those means that under current budgets, or slightly expanded budgets, it's going to take about 25 years to solve those," former NASA astronaut Tom Jones told reporters. "We need to get started now on certain key technologies."

NPC Newsmaker: Becoming Martians: NASA's 25-year Plan for Humans to Inhabit the Red Planet

"Humans are on the precipice of becoming an interplanetary species. We earthlings are on our way to becoming Martians. In fact, the future Martians are here on Earth now, training for Mars missions using new technological developments following a strict timeline that will get us there within 25 years."

Keith's note: Blah blah blah. In 2010 NASA started to talk about sending humans to Mars in the early 2030s i.e. approximately 25 years away. 8 years later and its still 25 years away. When I was a boy growing up in the 60s we were going to be on Mars in 1981 when I'd have been 26. Based on this latest 25 year prediction I will be 88. There is something fundamentally wrong with these predictions on the part of NASA. Some astronauts and space pros like participants Tom Jones, James Garvin, and Richard Davis would be perfectly happy if we never went anywhere. They'd rather talk about going somewhere than actually go somewhere. Meetings = action at NASA.

I am a space biologist. When I started working at the NASA Life Science Division at NASA HQ in 1986 we were already working on sending humans to Mars. We never stopped. This has nothing to do with science per se. Yes the risks are real. But they can be dealt with. This has everything to do with using the funding and assets at NASA's disposal for a strategic research plan to methodically reduce risk and flight certify humans for trips to destinations such as Mars. NASA has never had such a strategy and has dabbled in meandering hobby shop science for decades. Now would be a good time to start thinking strategically. Otherwise NASA will never find a way to go to Mars.

Meanwhile SpaceX is building a Mars rocketship and can go to Mars without NASA funding or permission. How will they do it? They'll take the best science at hand, maybe do a little of their own, do informed consent, have their crew sign waivers, and then go to Mars. If NASA won't let their employees take the risk the private sector will. When I lived at Everest Base Camp for a month in 2009 I did so after signing a waiver. People do this risk/benefit calculation all the time. Virtually everyone at Everest signed a waiver. NASA has to WANT to go to Mars and then focus its scattered energies on that end point. In the end someone has to step up and sign off on the increased risk. It will never be zero. Otherwise NASA needs to stand back and let others do it. And they will. Will SpaceX make it? We'll see. Are they trying? Yes. Is NASA trying? No. They just do telecons and Powerpoint.

We're about to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11. Yea. Let's have a big feel-good party to celebrate the fact that we dropped the ball on our Apollo achievements and no longer know how to do something that we once did with style and daring half a century ago.

SpaceX's next big BFR spaceship part finished in Port of LA tent facility, Teslarati

"The first 9-meter (29.5-foot) diameter composite propellant tank dome for SpaceX's full-scale BFR spaceship prototype has been spotted more or less complete at the company's temporary Port of Los Angeles facility, unambiguous evidence that SpaceX is continuing to rapidly fabricate major components of its next-generation rocket."

NASA Is Still Kicking The Can Down the Road to Mars, earlier Post

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Russia's New Starship Looks Very Familiar

By Keith Cowing on November 15, 2018 12:06 AM.

Keith's note: Didn't they do this sort of thing back in the 80s when they copied the U.S. Space Shuttle?


Lunar Exploration Meetings This Week

By Keith Cowing on November 14, 2018 2:11 PM.

Keith's note: The Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG 2018) will be meeting from 14-15 November at USRA and can be followed via the following Adobe Connect website. Online attendees may enter as a guest. Twitter comments have the hashtag #LEAG2018.


More stories for November.


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NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status 16 November 2018 - Russian Resupply Spacecraft Launches

NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status 16 November 2018 - Russian Resupply Spacecraft Launches Video in Story

Carrying almost three tons of food, fuel and supplies for the International Space Station crew, the unpiloted Russian Progress 71 cargo spacecraft launched at 1:14 p.m. EST (12:14 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 17, Baikonur) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

More updates...