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OIG Is Looking Into NASA's ISS Crew Transport Plans

By Keith Cowing on February 16, 2019 2:44 PM.

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"It is in our nature to explore"

By Keith Cowing on February 15, 2019 6:21 PM.

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Another Head In The Sand Moment For Commercial Space

By Keith Cowing on February 15, 2019 12:10 AM.

Keith's note: Earlier this week the Commercial Spaceflight Federation and the commercial space community held their annual Commercial Space Transportation Conference in Washington, DC. True to form they seemed to be uninterested in letting the rest of the country know what commercial space is all about and nothing was webcast. NASA Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard spoke to the same old commercial space people inside yet another echo chamber.

In contrast, the day before this event, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and 2 staffers used a cellphone to livestream his comments to the World Ag Expo in rural California. Bridenstine told me today that he had 130,000 viewers for his live streamed remarks. Bridenstine has stated that he is overtly reaching out to new audiences. Using simple tools he did that. Meanwhile the usual suspects in Washington, DC would rather just be left alone to their inside-the-beltway choir practice sessions.

Oddly, one of the big things that the commercial space crowd wants to sell you these days is constellations of satellites that will offer communications and imaging to the same rural communities that Bridenstine reached out to. You'd think that these commercial space folks would want the broadest possible customer base to be aware of what is coming their way. Guess again.

Look at the net result of Bridenstine's trip. He's not on CNBC talking about commercial space. He's talking about NASA and agriculture and how space technology aids the production of food and supports farms large and small. At the end of the day his cellphone webcast probably had more real Impact than the commercial space thing in DC.

Watch NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine's full interview with CNBC from CNBC.

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How Open Is NASA's Open Lunar Architecture?

By Keith Cowing on February 14, 2019 5:53 PM.

Keith's note: NASA held a media briefing session today at NASA HQ. The purpose of the briefing was to talk about the various lunar activities NASA is engaged in. Specifically there was discussion by NASA SMD AA Thomas Zurbuchen about the science and technology missions that NASA is planning. Next week 12 payloads will be announced as part of the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. 9 companies are cometing to place these payloads on the Moon. Zurbuchen is off on a race to make these things happen much faster than is usually the case at NASA. This means that there will be more risks taken - but with that comes a greater chance to try new things. Indeed, if the program achieves what it aspires to do, there could be payloads on the surface of the Moon by the end of 2019.

These missions will conduct pure science and applied technology. The applied technology is designed to build up capabilities that will be needed when human landings are attempted at the end of the next decade. Among other things locating resources for fuel generation and lunar base construction will be explored.

A Human Lunar Landing System Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) has been issued by NASA. NASA Administrator Bridenstine and HEOMD AA Bill Gerstenmaier described the approach within this BAA as using an "open architecture". Yet when you read the BAA it refers to a "Reference Architecture" that proposers are supposed to base their ideas on - anything outside of that Reference Architecture would be deemed beyond the scope of this BAA. That sounds a bit contradictory. NASA says they want people's ideas - even if they are different than what NASA wants to do yet the procurement vehicle they use seems to preclude that.

The following is my question to Bridenstine and Gerstenmaier - in essence I asked what NASA would do if SpaceX shows up with a proposal and says that they can do everything NASA wants without the need of a Gateway-based architecture:

In essence NASA wants everyone's ideas - even if they may not match up against what this current BAA solicits. They say that will take ideas that do not conform to the BAA's language and consider them (even though the BAA does not mention this). The real question is whether NASA truly wants to use the engines of creativity that a fully open architecture would instill or whether they want to be seen as trying to be open when in fact they still want to impose agency solutions when all is said and done. This is sort of a "closed openness" approach.

Another analogy is to compare the way that Google leaves its Android architecture rather open to outside developers and hardware manufacturers while Apple has adopted a "walled garden" approach where they control the extent of software operations and hardware implementation. Both approaches work - but one is far more "open" than the other.

It might be a good idea for NASA to put out an amendment to this BAA that explicitly states this since simply reading the BAA could leave a proposer with the (apparently incorrect) impression that only ideas that resonate with the official NASA Reference Architecture as presented in the BAA are sought.

But to be honest NASA is trying to do the whole return to the Moon thing much faster than you'd expect. NASA has made flashy proclamations to this effect 4 or 5 times since humans last walked on the Moon. Yet half a century and many false starts later later we have still not put a human on the Moon again. This time NASA is taking more risks than they are used to taking. With that comes the chance to try more new approaches and get back to the Moon faster than might otherwise be the case.

- Human Landing System Broad Agency Announcement Industry Day presentations

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NASA's Fourth Plan To Return Humans To The Moon

By Keith Cowing on February 13, 2019 7:30 PM.

NASA Administrator Hosts Media, Industry Forum on Lunar Exploration Plans, NASA

"NASA invites media to its headquarters in Washington Thursday, Feb. 14, to learn more about agency partnership opportunities with American companies to develop reusable systems that can land astronauts on the Moon. Events will begin with a media roundtable at 12:30 p.m. EST with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator of the agency's Human Exploration and Operations Missions Directorate, and Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate."

NASA has taken a significant step toward human landings on the Moon, Ars Technica

"For two years, the Trump administration has made various noises about returning humans to the Moon. There have been bill signings with Apollo astronauts such as Buzz Aldrin and Harrison Schmitt. Vice President Mike Pence has traveled to NASA facilities around the country to make speeches. And the president himself has mused about the Moon and Mars. However, beyond talk of returning humans to the Moon, much of the country's civil space policy and budgeting priorities really hadn't changed much until late last week. On Thursday, NASA released a broad agency announcement asking the US aerospace industry for its help to develop large landers that, as early as 2028, would carry astronauts to the surface of the Moon."

Partnerships Between NASA and Industry Can Support Lunar Exploration, Say Two New Reports, NAS

"However, the two reports find that the activities undertaken to date, although aligned with community consensus for lunar science priorities, do not replace missions recommended in the National Academies' most recent planetary science decadal survey and remain subject to many unknowns, such as the ability of standardized commercial lunar landers to interface with complex science payloads."

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O'Keefe And Squyres On Spirit And Opportunity

By Keith Cowing on February 13, 2019 3:19 PM.

Keith's note: I asked former NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe what his thoughts were today as Opportunity ended its mission on Mars:

"The Mars Exploration Rovers - Spirit and Opportunity - missions were stunning achievements that exceeded expectations beyond anyone's imagination. Over the span of 15 years, for a program designed to last no more than six months, the MER team's scientific and engineering achievements have informed our understanding of Mars to pave the way for future exploration. They started operations at a critical moment in the wake of the Columbia shuttle tragedy and after a series of missions to Mars with little success. As the chapters of NASA history continue to be written, the MER program will be remembered as a moment that restored our resolve to explore space beyond our own planet.

Charles Elachi and Steve Squyres are the heroes of MER in my book. Both were routinely deployed to convince dubious decision makers on Capitol Hill that the engineering project was sound, the scientific mission was well considered and the probability for success was higher than the mission failures that preceded. Their credibility and expertise made very Doubting Thomas a convert. After the Rovers landed, Steve proved to be the go-to guy to explain to television audiences around the globe exactly what we were looking for on the Red Planet. Today it's treated as "Truth according to Squyres" thanks to his capacity to bring the science to life for all of us who are pedestrians."

I also had a chance to ask Steve Squyres about the twin rovers and their place in the pantheon of human exploration:

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Opportunity

By Keith Cowing on February 13, 2019 3:02 PM.

NASA's Opportunity Rover Mission on Mars Comes to End

"It is because of trailblazing missions such as Opportunity that there will come a day when our brave astronauts walk on the surface of Mars," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "And when that day arrives, some portion of that first footprint will be owned by the men and women of Opportunity, and a little rover that defied the odds and did so much in the name of exploration."

NASA to Share Results of Effort to Recover Mars Opportunity Rover

"NASA will discuss the status of its Mars Exploration Rover(MER) Opportunity in a media briefing at 2 p.m. EST (11 a.m. PST) Wednesday, Feb. 13, from the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. The briefing will air live on NASA Television, the agency's website and YouTube. The briefing will follow NASA's last planned attempts to communicate with Opportunity late Tuesday evening. The solar-powered rover last communicated with Earth June 10, 2018, as a planet-wide dust storm was blanketing the Red Planet."

Taking In The View From Wharton Ridge, earlier post

"Today I learned that a feature on the surface of Mars has been named after a friend of mine. This was not unexpected since I knew that his name was in the queue waiting for just the right feature to be discovered by the Opportunity rover. "Wharton Ridge" is named after Robert A. Wharton (Bob). Bob was born a few years before me in 1951 and died unexpectedly in 2012. I worked with Bob at the old Life Sciences Division at NASA Headquarters in the late 1980s. ... Bob would have been in his element on Mars. He was perfectly suited for it. When we do send people to Mars they will truly be following in his footsteps. In the tradition of polar explorers Bob's colleagues waited until just the right place revealed itself to them. As Opportunity made its way down into Endeavour Crater via Bitterroot Valley to Spirit Mound it passed Wharton Ridge."

Girl with Dreams Names Mars Rovers 'Spirit' and 'Opportunity'

"Twin robotic geologists NASA is sending to Mars will embody in their newly chosen names -- Spirit and Opportunity -- two cherished attributes that guide humans to explore. NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe and 9-year-old Sofi Collis, who wrote the winning essay in a naming contest, unveiled the names this morning at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. "Now, thanks to Sofi Collis, our third grade explorer-to-be from Scottsdale, Ariz., we have names for the rovers that are extremely worthy of the bold mission they are about to undertake," O'Keefe said."

Keith's note: At a 2003 press event at NASA HQ I asked NASA Science AA Ed Weiler what would happen if some martian wind blew the dust off of the solar panels and the Mars Rovers had some extra time to do things. He thought my question was silly. Silly me.

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Talking About The Other Things NASA Does

By Keith Cowing on February 12, 2019 10:36 AM.

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NASA's Underserved Sectors of America

By Keith Cowing on February 11, 2019 11:55 AM.

Media Invited to Talk Tech with NASA Administrator at World Ag Expo, NASA

"NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine will speak to, and take questions from, media about how technologies originally developed for space exploration now are used to cultivate farms, predict crop yields, manage water resources, and more, during his Tuesday, Feb. 12, visit to World Ag Expo in Tulare, California."

Space Station Flyovers In Flyover Country Are Not All That They Could Be, earlier post

"In 2016 people talked about "flyover country" without giving it too much thought as to what it meant other than that's where Trump voters and/or Hillary haters lived. You've all heard me rant about how I think NASA needs to readjust its education and public outreach efforts so as to reach the large sectors of America that do not usually get NASA's attention. In my mind there is some overlap between the flyover country meme and what I consider to be a chronically underserved portion of America's population when it comes to NASA outreach."

Doing Something Again For The First Time, earlier post

"Take a look at the chart below. More than half of the Americans alive today never saw humans walk on the Moon - as it happened - including the person slated to become the next administrator of NASA and the entire 2013 and 2017 astronaut classes. If/when we go back to the Moon in the next 5-10 years this number will increase. For them these future Moon landings will be THEIR FIRST MOON LANDINGS. That's several hundred million Americans waiting to see what I saw in 1969. Just sayin'

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Cooperating With China In Space

By Keith Cowing on February 11, 2019 11:45 AM.

Farside Politics: The West Eyes Moon Cooperation with China, Scientific American

"The final law Wolf put in place--the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015, which remains in effect today--states no funds may be spent by NASA to "develop, design, plan, promulgate, implement or execute a bilateral policy, program, order or contract of any kind to participate, collaborate or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China or any Chinese-owned company unless such activities are specifically authorized by law after the date of enactment of this act." NASA is able to formally collaborate with China as long as it notifies Congress in advance and gets congressional approval of the specific interaction."

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Wallops Director Wrobel Moves To NASA HQ

By Keith Cowing on February 11, 2019 11:37 AM.

Wallops director moving to NASA HQ; acting director named. Delmarva Now

"NASA Wallops Flight Facility's director is taking a job at the agency's Washington D.C. headquarters, leaving his post after nearly a decade in the role. William Wrobel, known by many as Bill, is serving on a detail with NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. Keith Koehler, a spokesperson for Wallops, confirmed the move Wednesday."

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CASIS Had A Board Meeting Today

By Keith Cowing on February 8, 2019 2:57 PM.

Keith's note: CASIS, sometimes also known as the ISS National Laboratory (depending who you talk to), held a board meeting today in Washington, DC. In a nutshell, while they have spent a lot of money and time erasing "CASIS" from their branding, websites, and publications, they admitted that they are not changing their name - even if they are. They also claimed that there have been no discussions of setting up a commercial entity even though multiple sources tell me that they have had these conversations with and about this topic and CASIS. I had a short exchange with Joe Vockley, the executive director of CASIS.

Some Twitter notes from the event today:

Earlier posts

- CASIS Now Has An Official Fictitious Name
- CASIS Is Changing Its Name But It Missed A Few Things (update)
- CASIS Is Changing Its Name By Pretending That Its Not
- Why Is CASIS Making Itself Disappear?

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Chris Scolese Tapped To Head NRO

By Keith Cowing on February 7, 2019 8:33 PM.

Christopher Scolese Nominated to be the Director of the National Reconnaissance Office

"Mr. Scolese currently serves as the Director of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Previously, he served as the associate administrator at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., and as NASA's chief engineer. Mr. Scolese is the recipient of the Presidential Rank Award of Meritorious Executive, the NASA Distinguished Leadership Medal, the Goddard Outstanding Leadership Medal, two NASA Outstanding Leadership Medals, and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) National Capital Section Young Engineer/Scientist of the Year award."

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Vice President Pence Stops By NASA Event At Arlington

By Keith Cowing on February 7, 2019 7:46 PM.

Keith's note: Vice President Pence made a surprise visit to Arlington National Cemetery today as part of the NASA Remembrance Activities. Those of us in attendance only found out he was going to be there a few minutes before he arrived. I was standing about 15 feet away as I recorded his remarks so you may need to turn up the volume a bit to hear what he had to say.

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Remembrance

By Keith Cowing on February 6, 2019 8:56 PM.

NASA Pays Tribute to Fallen Heroes

"NASA will honor members of the NASA family who lost their lives while furthering the cause of exploration and discovery, including the crews of Apollo 1 and space shuttles Challenger and Columbia, during the agency's annual Day of Remembrance Thursday, Feb. 7. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, and other agency senior officials, will lead an observance at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia starting at 1 p.m. EST. A wreath-laying ceremony will be held at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, followed by observances for the Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia crews."

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More stories for February.

Humans to Mars Summit 2019
The Robert H. Goddard Memorial Symposium
Military Space Situational Awareness April 1 - April 2, 2019, London, UK
Aster Labs - CubeSats
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NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status 12 February 2019 - Daily Exercise and Research

NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status 12 February 2019 - Daily Exercise and Research

The Expedition 58 crew explored space exercise and checked out biology hardware today aboard the International Space Station.

More updates...

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