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Ad Astra Frank Sietzen

By Keith Cowing on June 25, 2019 2:38 AM.

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NASA Leads The World In Astrobiology. Wow, Who Knew?

By Keith Cowing on June 24, 2019 12:26 PM.

Curiosity Detects Unusually High Methane Levels On Mars

"This week, NASA's Curiosity Mars rover found a surprising result: the largest amount of methane ever measured during the mission -- about 21 parts per billion units by volume (ppbv). One ppbv means that if you take a volume of air on Mars, one billionth of the volume of air is methane. The finding came from the rover's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) tunable laser spectrometer. It's exciting because microbial life is an important source of methane on Earth, but methane can also be created through interactions between rocks and water."

Keith's note: This story on detection of Methane on Mars - a possible biosignature - has been featured on thousands of websites. By coincidence NASA is hosting the largest meeting of Astrobiologists on Earth. I'm attending it. You'd think that NASA PAO would want to link - and then promote - the visibility and synergy of these two events. Guess again. No mention at NASA.gov or NASA's Main Science page.

Look at the official NASA online feature about detection of Methane on Mars - a potentially significant biosignature - the sort of thing NASA Astrobiology program worries about. But does it mention/link to NASA's Astrobiology Program? Of course not.

NASA Can't Figure Out What Astrobiology Is - Or Who Does It, earlier post

"If you go to the main NASA science page (which makes no mention of "Astrobiology") and use the search function to search for "astrobiology" you get a search results page that says "no results found" but has some old Astrobiology press releases from 2008."

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NASA CIO Misses Little Things That Could Cause Big Problems

By Keith Cowing on June 24, 2019 10:35 AM.

Raspberry Pi used to steal data from Nasa lab, BBC

"An audit report reveals the gadget was used to take about 500MB of data. It said two of the files that were taken dealt with the international transfer of restricted military and space technology. The attacker who used the device to hack the network went undetected for about 10 months. The malicious hacker won access to the Jet Propulsion Lab internal network via the Raspberry Pi by hijacking its user account. Although the Pi had been attached to the network by the employee, lax controls over logging meant Nasa administrators did not know it was present, said the report. This oversight left the vulnerable device unmonitored on the network, allowing the attacker to take control of it and use it to steal data."

NASA OIG Finds Pervasive Problems With JPL Cybersecurity, earlier post

"Multiple IT security control weaknesses reduce JPL's ability to prevent, detect, and mitigate attacks targeting its systems and networks, thereby exposing NASA systems and data to exploitation by cyber criminals."

Report: "JPL did not have complete and accurate information about the types, location, and value of NASA system components and assets connected to its network. ... The April 2018 cyberattack exploited this particular weakness when the hacker accessed the JPL network by targeting a Raspberry Pi computer that was not authorized to be attached to the JPL network.32 The device should not have been permitted on the JPL network without the JPL OCIO's review and approval."

NASA Needs A New Chief Information Officer, earlier post

"NASA's CIO has been asleep at the wheel for years. Its time for a reboot."

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If The Current Message Does Not Work Then Get A New Message

By Keith Cowing on June 20, 2019 10:18 PM.

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OMB Has Its Sights Set On Gateway

By Keith Cowing on June 20, 2019 2:54 PM.

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GAO Notes Continued Delays In NASA Commercial Crew

By Keith Cowing on June 20, 2019 11:54 AM.

NASA commercial Crew Program: Schedule Uncertainty Persists for Start of Operational Missions to the International Space

"As of May 2019, both contractors had delayed certification nine times, equating to more than 2 years from their original contracts (see figure). This includes several delays since GAO last reported in July 2018. ... NASA's ability to process certification data packages for its two contractors continues to create uncertainty about the timing of certification. The program has made progress conducting these reviews but much work remains. In addition, the program allowed both contractors to delay submitting evidence that they have met some requirements. This deferral has increased the amount of work remaining for the program prior to certification. In February 2019, NASA acknowledged that delays to certification could continue, and announced plans to extend U.S. access to the ISS through September 2020 by purchasing seats on the Russian Soyuz vehicle."

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Risk And Exploration Go Hand In Hand

By Keith Cowing on June 20, 2019 11:02 AM.

Blood and Money, Wayne Hale

"We must have a clear-eyed appreciation for the risk involved in space exploration. Flying to the moon will not be much safer in 2024 than it was in 1969. Exploration always comes with risk, and with some regularity exploration risk is realized. The real cost of Artemis will be written in blood. Face that fact. This may be considered a poor time to bring this up - at a time when so many folks are actively working toward program approval. Death is hardly a selling point. But if we don't recognize that fact, the program will come apart at the first bad day."

Administrators Symposium on Risk and Exploration: Earth, Sea and the Stars, NASA (2004)

"Challenge fosters excellence, often drawing on previously untapped skills and abilities. Each of us takes and accepts risk as a part of our daily existence. We often go out of our way to seek challenge. However, seeking challenge often means accepting a high level of risk. The dictionary defi nes risk as being exposed to hazard or danger. To accept risk is to accept possible loss or injury, even death. One of the key issues that continues to be debated in the tragedy of the Space Shuttle Columbia is the level of risk NASA accepted. And, ultimately, the entire nation is now engaged in a broader debate over whether or not the exploration of space is worth the risk of human life. While risk can often be reduced or controlled, there comes a point when the removal of all risk is either impossible or so impractical that it completely undermines the very nature of what NASA was created to do--to pioneer the future. Everyone today understands that human space exploration is a risky endeavor. However, the quest for discovery and knowledge, and the risks involved in overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles is not unique to NASA. Whether the challenge is exploring the depths of our oceans or reaching the top of our highest mountains, great feats usually involve great risk."

Fortuna Audaces Juvat, @JimBridenstine, earlier post

"During that time when the VSE was seen as a refreshing recommitment to exploration post-Columbia - there was a momentary alliance between all factions. People thought bold adventurous thoughts again. Back to the Moon and then on to Mars. Craig Steidle was looking to do some branding and meme generation. He hit on one thing that was really ballsy (larger image) . The motto was "Fortuna Audaces Juvat" which is usually translated as a variant of "Fortune favors the bold" - a latin proverb most prominently repeated in Virgil's "Aeneid" at 10.284. You have no doubt seen this phrase before. Its common in the military - for good reasons. It has a Star Trek vibe to it. Craig Steidel drew a line in the sand and provided a motto to wear on one's shoulders as the agency set forth back into space. I thought it was a master stroke. Too bad NASA doesn't do things like this any more."

Keith's note: Wayne Hale's words ring true in a way we seem to be forgetting again. In 2004 John Grunsfeld and I organized a symposium on Risk and Exploration for Sean O'Keefe. At the core of this event was an attempt to compare risks faced - and accepted by NASA and those faced and accepted by other explorers. We held this event barely a year after the loss of Columbia - so these risk evaluations were foremost in everyone's minds. This event had a big effect on people's thinking - including Wayne Hale who ordered a box of copies of the Symposium's proceedings to use to educate his staff at JSC. So now here we are in 2019. We've had several accidents or "mishaps" as we develop commercial crew flights while flying on Soyuz spacecraft. NASA is now talking about skipping a "green test" - and all-up firing of the SLS first stage so that we can meet a rushed deadline - one set with little warning - to land humans on the Moon in 5 years.

Yes fortune does often favor the bold. But it also punishes the ill-prepared.

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The Artemis Generation Doesn't Seem To Be Interested In Artemis

By Keith Cowing on June 20, 2019 10:31 AM.

Space Exploration: Attitudes toward the U.S. Space Program, AP

"There is not overwhelming enthusiasm for returning to the moon. In March, Vice President Mike Pence called for NASA to send astronauts to the moon within five years. Forty-two percent favor that idea, while 20% oppose and 38% neither favor nor oppose. Thirty-seven percent say sending astronauts to Mars should take precedence over going back to the moon, while 18% would rather have NASA send more astronauts to the moon. But 43% do not think either action should be a priority for the country. While about half of Americans would take the opportunity to orbit the Earth, most say they have no interest in traveling to the moon or Mars. Space travel has more appeal for younger adults."

Back To The Moon - By Any Means Necessary, earlier post

"If Jim Bridenstine can craft the proverbial "elevator speech" that gets everyone, everywhere on board with Artemis - whether it is in the Halls of Congress or in a Walmart parking lot in 'Flyover Country' - then there will be no stopping NASA. Right now, PR slogans aside, the only clear reason we have is a directive from the White House with a delivery date that is equal to the length of a second term. Why isn't all of America buzzing about going back to the Moon? If NASA and Jim Bridenstine can answer that question then they will be well along the path of understanding how to find that elusive "Why" that Artemis is currently lacking."

Keith's note: It seems that this poll is answering my question. A lack of overt enthusiasm for Artemis and returning to the Moon may well reflect what the country is thinking right now. That can change - but only if the proponents for space exploration - be they NASA employees - or just regular citizens - need to make a better case for doing things in space. Absent that the polls are going to continue to be showing mediocre support.

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SpaceX Looks At November Launch For Crewed Dragon Mission

By Keith Cowing on June 19, 2019 9:10 PM.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. Application For Special Temporary Authority (FCC)

"This application uses information from previous grant 0068-EX-ST-2019. This STA is necessary for Dragon2 capsule telemetry, tracking, and command, for the upcoming SpaceX Commercial Crew vehicle demonstration mission to the International Space Station. The launch and re-entry licensing authority is the FAA. Launch is also to be coordinated with the Eastern Range. On-orbit rendezvous with the ISS is to be coordinated with the NASA.

Requested Period of Operation
Operation Start Date: 11/01/2019
Operation End Date: 05/01/2020"

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NASA Can't Figure Out What Astrobiology Is - Or Who Does It

By Keith Cowing on June 19, 2019 6:47 PM.

Keith's note: If you visit the NASA Mars 2020 website and go to the Science page it talks about the mission's strategy as being to "Seek Signs of Life" on Mars. That is what NASA's Astrobiology program does, right? Alas, this JPL website does not use the word "astrobiology" - anywhere. Not even in the Instruments page. Nor does this other JPL website on the mission.

Oddly If you go to the NASA Mars Exploration Program page on science there is a link to "Astrobiology" which refers to Mars 2020. If you go to the NASA Astrobiology page on Mars 2020 it describes the Mars 2020 mission as a mission with lots of Astrobiology on it.

If you go to the main NASA science page (which makes no mention of "Astrobiology") and use the search function to search for "astrobiology" you get a search results page that says "no results found" but has some old Astrobiology press releases from 2008.

Oh yes the NASA Mars 2020 website has two different addresses: https://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/mars2020/ and https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/. Then there is another Mars 2020 webpage at NASA HQ which does not point to either of these web links but points to yet another Mars 2020 page at NASA HQ instead.

Why are these parts of NASA incapable of presenting a common description of this mission and/or its relevance to Astrobiology?

- Overhauling NASA's Tangled Internet Presence, earlier post
- NASA's Semi-Stealth Astrobiology Mission, earlier post
- Dueling NASA Websites Update, earlier post
- NASA's Astrobiology Programs Ignore One Another, earlier post

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GAO Anticipates First SLS Launch Date In 2021

By Keith Cowing on June 19, 2019 9:55 AM.

GAO: Human Space Exploration: Persistent Delays and Cost Growth Reinforce Concerns over Management of Programs

"In November 2018, within one year of announcing an up to 19-month delay for the three programs - the Space Launch System (SLS) vehicle, the Orion spacecraft, and supporting ground systems - NASA senior leaders acknowledged the revised date of June 2020 is unlikely. Any issues uncovered during planned integration and testing may push the launch date as late as June 2021. Moreover, while NASA acknowledges about $1 billion in cost growth for the SLS program, it is understated. This is because NASA shifted some planned SLS scope to future missions but did not reduce the program's cost baseline accordingly. When GAO reduced the baseline to account for the reduced scope, the cost growth is about $1.8 billion. In addition, NASA's updated cost estimate for the Orion program reflects 5.6 percent cost growth. The estimate is not complete, however, as it assumes a launch date that is 7 months earlier than Orion's baseline launch date. If the program does not meet the earlier launch date, costs will increase further."

Keith's note: Of course, this report was done according to the program of record which was working toward a 2028 lunar landing - not the new 2024 date. One can only imagine how all of the issues identified by the GAO fare against a rush to place a human on the lunar surface 4 years earlier than planned. It would seem that more money is not going to solve endemic problems in the SLS/Orion program.

NASA is not especially happy with this report. In NASA's response to GAO, HEOMD AA Bill Gerstenmaier says "The GAO report repeatedly projects worst-case schedule outcome. While NASA appreciates GAO's need to be candid in its review, the Agency does take exception to the unnecessary negative language used in the report title and section headings and the lack of acknowledgement of progress the Agency has made."

Some of the report's highlights:

"... The program has no schedule margin between the end of core stage production and the start of the green run test, and is tracking risks that may delay the test schedule. For example, as the NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG) found in its October 2018 report, the Stage Controller--the core stage's command and control hardware and software needed to conduct the green run test--is 18 months behind schedule and may slip further.13 Any additional delays with the development of the core stage and stage controller will further delay the start of the green run test. In addition, the SLS program has no schedule margin between the green run test and delivery of the core stage to Kennedy Space Center for integration to address any issues that may arise during testing.

... Boeing underestimated the staffing levels required to build the core stage in the time available. ... The build plans for the core stage were not adequately mature when the contractor began work on the hardware itself, which led to additional delays. ... Boeing officials explained that they did not anticipate any changes from NASA for the loads--impacts and stresses of mass, pressure, temperature, and vibration that the vehicle will experience--following the program's critical design review, but instead NASA provided three significant updates to those loads. ... Boeing officials stated that it has been challenging to execute NASA's development approach that called for the first set of hardware built to be used for the initial launch. Boeing officials stated that they are more used to an approach in which they use the first hardware built to qualify the design and that hardware is never flown.

... NASA's current approach for reporting cost growth misrepresents the cost performance of the program and thus undermines the usefulness of a baseline as an oversight tool. ... NASA does not have a cost and schedule baseline for SLS beyond the first flight.19 As a result, NASA cannot monitor or track costs shifted beyond EM-1 against a baseline.

... The Orion program is not on schedule to meet the June 2020 launch date for the first mission due to delays with the European Service Module and ongoing component issues with the avionics systems for the crew module, including issues discovered during testing. ... The Orion program has reported development cost growth but is not measuring that growth using a complete cost estimate. ... By not estimating costs through its baseline launch date, the Orion program is limiting the NASA Associate Administrator's insight into how the program is performing against the baseline.

... The Mobile Launcher schedule deteriorated since the December 2017 replan due to problems with finalizing construction work prior to moving it to the Vehicle Assembly Building."

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Will Orbit Beyond's Indian Lander Be Built In Florida or India?

By Keith Cowing on June 18, 2019 3:40 PM.

Bengaluru firm to build moon lander for Nasa 2020 mission, Times of India

"Confirming the development, Team Indus engineer Ananth Ramesh told TOI: "Yes, we will be building the lander. It is most likely to be built in India too." Team Indus CEO Rahul Narayan was in the US to sign the contract documents on Thursday."

America's first private moon lander will be engineered in India, Quartz

"Orbit Beyond, which will assemble the lander and spacecraft in Florida, also includes US firms Honeybee Robotics, Advanced Space, Ceres Robotics, and Apollo Fusion to handle tasks including the installation of scientific payloads, maneuvering from the earth to the moon, and operations on the lunar surface."

Keith's 15 June note: If you read articles about OrbitBeyond in the Indian press they all say that the lander will likely be built in India. If you read stories published in the U.S. they say it will be assembled here. This issue apparently came up in last week's space science hearings. OrbitBeyond is a privately held company that was only recently established and looks to be designed as more of a shell company to coordinate the activities of its various team members. The bulk of the hardware is going to be of Indian design. The lingering question is: where will it actually be built?

Keith's 18 June note: OrbitBeyond has not replied to requests on this issue.

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NASA OIG Finds Pervasive Problems With JPL Cybersecurity

By Keith Cowing on June 18, 2019 12:28 PM.

NASA OIG: Cybersecurity Management and Oversight at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory

"Multiple IT security control weaknesses reduce JPL's ability to prevent, detect, and mitigate attacks targeting its systems and networks, thereby exposing NASA systems and data to exploitation by cyber criminals. ... We also found that security problem log tickets, created in the ITSDB when a potential or actual IT system security vulnerability is identified, were not resolved for extended periods of time - sometimes longer than 180 days. ... Further, we found that multiple JPL incident management and response practices deviate from NASA and recommended industry practices. ... Finally, while the contract between NASA and Caltech requires JPL to report certain types of IT security incidents to the Agency through the NASA SOC incident management system, no controls were in place to ensure JPL compliance with this requirement nor did NASA officials have access to JPL's incident management system. Collectively, these weaknesses leave NASA data and systems at risk. Despite these significant concerns, the contract NASA signed with Caltech in October 2018 to manage JPL for at least the next 5 years left important IT security requirements unresolved and instead both sides agreed to continue negotiating these issues. As of March 2019, the Agency had not approved JPL's plans to implement new IT security policies and requirements NASA included in its October 2018 contract."

NASA Needs A New Chief Information Officer, earlier post

"NASA's CIO has been asleep at the wheel for years. Its time for a reboot."

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Mike Griffin Is Not Making Many Friends at DoD

By Keith Cowing on June 17, 2019 7:22 PM.

Top DoD Official Shank Resigns; SCO Moving To DARPA, Breaking Defense

"My integrity and belief in SCO's mission is more important to me than my friendship over many years with Mike (Griffin)." That is why the head of the Pentagon's vaunted Strategic Capabilities Office, Chris Shank, has resigned rather than see his office transferred to DARPA. Griffin called Shank into his office on Friday and told him the office would be transferred and asked for Shank's resignation. He agreed and immediately resigned. Griffin has pushed hard for the transfer of the SCO but Rep. Mac Thornberry, top HASC Republican, added language calling for more study of the move in the HASC National Defense Authorization Act markup last Wednesday. The Senate Armed Services Committee added similar language. They are not alone in opposing the transfer of SCO."

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The First American Journalist In Space

By Keith Cowing on June 17, 2019 2:49 PM.

Keith's note: Next week a SpaceX Falcon Heavy with be launched. On board will be the Celestis Heritage payload. Inside will be some ashes of my long time friend and collaborator Frank Sietzen. It would seem that Frank is about to become the first American journalist in space. Frank was also the first SpaceX employee in Washington DC.

Ad Astra Frank.

Frank Clark Sietzen, Jr., Celestis

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More stories for June.

AAS Glenn Symposium July 10-12 in Cleveland
49th International Conference on Environmental Systems - ICES 2019
Global MilSatCom, November 5-7, 2019, London, UK
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NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status 24 June 2019 - Expedition 59 Returns Safely to Earth

NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status 24 June 2019 - Expedition 59 Returns Safely to Earth Video in Story

NASA astronaut Anne McClain and two of her Expedition 59 crewmates returned to Earth from the International Space Station Monday, landing safely in Kazakhstan at 10:47 p.m. EDT (8:47 a.m. Tuesday, June 25, local time) after months of science and four spacewalks aboard the microgravity laboratory.

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