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What You Can See From Your Backyard These Days

By Keith Cowing on August 2, 2015 9:53 PM.

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Today's Random Twitter Exchange From Outer Space

By Keith Cowing on August 1, 2015 9:05 PM.

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Congressional Oversight or Congressional Ignorance?

By Keith Cowing on July 31, 2015 10:20 AM.

Congress calls SpaceX Falcon 9 launch certification into question, Denver Post

"The June 28 explosion of a Falcon 9 rocket carrying supplies to the International Space Station has members of Congress asking NASA and the U.S. Air Force for assurance that SpaceX is qualified to carry military payloads to space. A bipartisan group of 14 U.S. representatives sent a letter saying they have "serious reservations" about SpaceX's internal investigation process and question whether the "engineering rigor applied will be sufficient to prevent future military launch mishaps." "We are committed to our nation's leadership in space, but equally believe we must be responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars when it comes to achieving our priorities and goals for spaceflight," reads the letter to NASA administrator Charles Bolden and Air Force secretary Deborah James. The panel asked Bolden and James to outline the oversight responsibilities of NASA and the Air Force, however, some questions raised in the letter have already been addressed in other arenas. On May 28, SpaceX was certified by the Air Force to carry military payloads to space, offering competition to Centennial-based United Launch Alliance for the first time in more than a decade."

Keith's note: Clearly none of these politicians understand the process they are questioning. Why aren't they questioning Orbital ATK's internal review process? FAA already has oversight over both mishap investigations. So ... are they wanting to create new regulations - or are they just ignorant of what regulations are already in place? In addition, SpaceX does its review in a much more rigorous fashion than might otherwise be the case because it is certified by the USAF - as would ULA if/when it loses a rocket. Let's see if @ToryBruno calls B.S. on this - unless (of course) ULA is behind the letter, that is ...

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Finding What You Are Looking For in Space

By Keith Cowing on July 31, 2015 12:35 AM.

Astronomers Discover Planet Identical To Earth With Orbital Space Mirror, The Onion

"In what many are hailing as the most significant development in the history of space exploration, NASA scientists announced Thursday that a planet seemingly identical to Earth has been discovered by the agency's Orbital Space Mirror. According to NASA, the $2.9 billion aluminum glass mirror, which stretches over 180 feet wide and 147 feet tall, has already produced invaluable data suggesting that our solar system may contain a terrestrial planet of the exact same size, shape, and surface composition as Earth."

Powerboats on Mars, earlier post (1998)

"Despite suggestions in various news tabloids, project scientists were quick to dispell any suggestion that the branched structure seen northeast of the dam-like structure is a marina. In making this statement, project scientists point out that there is very little air on Mars and that sailboats would be impractical nor is there enough Oxygen to support the internal or external combustion engines used in powerboats."

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More Planetary Science Trash Talking

By Keith Cowing on July 30, 2015 10:15 PM.

Pluto's dwarf planet status is 'bulls---,' says lead scientist of NASA mission, Business Insider

"The mission to Pluto was meant to complete the exploration of the planets in the Solar System. But scientists reclassified Pluto from a planet to a "dwarf planet" shortly after New Horizons launched in 2006. That reclassification split the space science community. But Stern has a clear opinion about Pluto's demotion: "It's bullsh*t," he told Tech Insider (and said we could quote him on that)."

Keith's note: (Sigh) once again this NASA principal investigator sets a new low standard for public discourse. At a time when NASA is focusing on education and inspiring the next generation of space explorers I find it rather odd that a NASA PI, speaking in an official capacity, would be putting forth such a crude example of how NASA scientists conduct themselves in the public's eye - and that he does so over such a tired and worn-out issue. Pluto is Pluto. Get over it.

- Planetary Science Trash Talking, earlier post
- NASA's Pluto Mission Seeks to Confuse People, earlier post

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NAC Set to Redirect Asteroid Redirect Mission

By Keith Cowing on July 30, 2015 10:26 AM.

NASA Advisory Council Meeting

"29-31 July 2015. Location: Jet Propulsion Laboratory"

Agenda

Keith's note: In April the NAC came within a a vote of adopting a recommendation to NASA that the current Asteroid Redirect Mission be changed - possibly to go to Mars instead. That issue was delayed until the next NAC meeting in Pasadena i.e. this NAC meeting.

- NASA Advisory Council Wants to Cancel Asteroid Redirect Mission and Send it to Phobos Instead, earlier post
- NASA Membership Call for the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) Formulation Assessment and Support Team (FAST), earlier post
- NASA's Boulder Retrieval Mission, earlier post

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NSF's Confusing Stance On Accepting Financial Support

By Keith Cowing on July 29, 2015 12:25 PM.

Search for Alien Life Ignites Battle over Giant Telescope, Scientific American

"The foundation was and still is interested in partnering with Arecibo, Scientific American has learned. But according to Arecibo Director Robert Kerr, that partnership is currently being prevented due to a poison pill inserted by the observatory's owner, the National Science Foundation (NSF). The situation is a startling example of a cash-strapped federal agency seeking to offload an expensive, world-class facility to the private sectorat the potential cost of compromising its ability to perform world-class scientific research. ... The NSF approved Green Bank's Breakthrough Listen partnership, allowing Milner to purchase 15 percent of the telescope's observing time for SETI, although NSF officials say even with that cash infusion Green Bank's continued operations remain in jeopardy."

Smith Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Ensure NSF Research Advances 'National Interest', House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology

"All government employees and their agency heads need to remember they are accountable to the American taxpayer who pays their salaries and funds their projects. It is not the government's money; it's the people's money. The Scientific Research in the National Interest Act is a step toward more accountability."

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Hooray - JSC Warp Drive Confirmed !!!!

By Keith Cowing on July 28, 2015 10:25 PM.

'Impossible' propellantless engine appears to work despite breaking laws of physics, Sydney Morning Herald

"Ridiculed as impossible by the scientific community, the electromagnetic propulsion engine - which could supposedly take a craft from Earth to Pluto in just 18 months without the need for rocket fuel - has apparently been confirmed by an independent scientist as working."

Keith's note: Once again English-language tabloids 1,2,3 with nothing better to do than repeat unfounded rumors - about unconfirmed results of murkily duplicated experiments (that were already murky) - conducted by some guy in Germany - experiments that are not described in any detail or - unpublished and only presented at an AIAA meeting - results that are only discussed in Internet chat rooms - as if they were fact. Normally, this nonsense would appear once or twice and then vanish. The prime reason it does not go away is because NASA JSC actually threw some money at this goofy science project, is too embarrassed to admit it (more than they have to), and never likes to admit that it ever does anything wrong - regardless of how many laws of physics and logic have been violated. Then again the JSC folks were probably a little jealous that LaRC was getting all of that wonderful cold fusion media attention and wanted to get themselves some of that quacky goodness. If this was real then you'd be hearing Charlie Bolden proclaiming that it was another step on the #JourneyToMars - right?

Now Drudge Report is re-blasting links to these stories to hundreds of millions of people because NASA never shoots this goofiness down. If NASA can send pictures back from Pluto and break the Internet, it can write a 5 sentence press statement that shuts this nonsense off once and for all. But it can't - or rather, it won't. They only want you to know what they got right - not what they tried and got wrong.

- Clarifying NASA's Warp Drive Program, earlier post
- NASA: We're Not Working on Warp Drive, earlier post


NTSB SpaceShipTwo Accident Cause Determination

By Keith Cowing on July 28, 2015 7:00 PM.

The end of NTSB's investigation and the future of Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson's blog

"This photo shows pilot Pete Siebold as he parachutes safely down to earth, with his arm up in the air to show everybody that he is alive and well." Larger image

Lack of Consideration for Human Factors Led to Breakup of SpaceShipTwo

"The NTSB determined the cause of the Oct. 31, 2014 in-flight breakup of SpaceShipTwo, was Scaled Composite's failure to consider and protect against human error and the co-pilot's premature unlocking of the spaceship's feather system as a result of time pressure and vibration and loads that he had not recently experienced."

- NTSB Concludes Scaled Composites SpaceShipTwo Flight Test Accident Investigation, Virgin Galactic
- NTSB Executive Summary: In-Flight Breakup During Test Flight Scaled Composites SpaceShipTwo, N339SS, NTSB
- Virgin Galactic Executive Summary: SpaceShipTwo, N339SS Rocket-Powered Flight Test Koehn Dry Lake, California, October 31, 2014, Virgin Galactic
- The end of NTSB's investigation and the future of Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson's blog
- Investigator-in-Charge Presentation - Lorenda Ward, NTSB
- Human Factors and Organizational Issues , Human Performance Presentation - Dr. Katherine Wilson, NTSB
- Hazard Analysis and Waivers, System Safety Presentation - Mike Hauf, NTSB

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New Horizons Victory Lap at Congress

By Keith Cowing on July 28, 2015 8:15 AM.

Hearing on Pluto Flyby

"Tuesday, July 28, 2015: The Science Committee's NASA Authorization Act for FY16 and FY17 restored funds the Obama administration proposed cutting from planetary science budgets. This would bring parity between NASA's science accounts and allow for development of missions like New Horizons to continue at the current pace."

Keith's note: The New Horizons team is now openly talking about a New Horizons-2 mission back to Pluto. It will be interesting to see if this topic is raised given that this committee is on the record about their interest in Europa - not Pluto. Also, given the NASA's budgetary issues, it will be interesting to see how the extra $1 billion-plus needed for New Horizons-2 would be squeezed out of an already constrained budgetary future - one that will inevitably stressed by SLS costs.

- Video
- Hearing charter
- Scientists Advocate for Planetary Funding in Wake of #PlutoFlyby, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
- Committee Discusses New Accomplishments in the Exploration of the Solar System, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Democrats

- Statement of Brian Babin
- Statement of Lamar Smith
- Statement of Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson
- Statement of Rep. Donna Edwards
- Statement of Robert Pappalardo
- Statement of John Grunsfeld
- Statement of Robert Braun
- Statement of Chris Russell
- Alan Stern did not provide a prepared statement - just pictures and the New Horizons Press Kit

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AIAA Panel: Cost and Affordability of Future Systems

By Marc Boucher on July 28, 2015 8:14 AM.

AIAA Propulsion and Energy Conference Panel: Cost and Affordability of Future Systems, with Michael D. Griffin, Frank Culbertson, Mike Hawes, Lee Monson, and Mark Sirangelo

Marc's note: SpaceX, the one company driving costs down now isn't on the panel. Maybe they we're too busy to attend. Also, Blue Origin,a future player, isn't on the panel either. Neither are some of the new unproven entrants like Rocket Labs. I would think a conversation such as this would include more players.

Moderator: Michael D. Griffin,Chairman and CEO, Schafer Corporation (Moderator)

- Frank Culbertson, President Space Systems Group, Orbital ATK
- Michael Hawes, Vice President and Orion Program Manager, Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company
- Lee Monson, Vice President Sales - Middle East and Americas, Boeing Commercial Airplanes (ret.)
- Mark Sirangelo, Corporate Vice President Space Systems, Sierra Nevada Corporation

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More Negative Progress at Vostochny Cosmodrome

By Keith Cowing on July 27, 2015 8:07 PM.

$126 Million Stolen From Russian Vostochny Cosmodrome Project Prosecutor General, The Moscow Times

"Russia's Prosecutor General said Monday that 7.5 billion rubles ($126 million) had been stolen during construction of a new spaceport in Russia's Far East, news agency RIA Novosti reported. Investigators conducted a massive investigation into corruption and mismanagement at the site of the Vostochny Cosmodrome, a $3 billion project seen in Moscow as vital to secure Russia's independent access to space. President Vladimir Putin on a visit to the construction site last year warned contractors that law enforcement agencies were monitoring the use of state funds and that charges would be brought for malpractice. Prosecutor General Yury Chaika said that a probe of 250 organizations working on the project had discovered "theft that caused 7.5 billion rubles in damages," RIA Novosti reported."

- Vostochny Cosmodrome First Launch Slips 3 Years, earlier post
- Man Driving Diamond-encrusted Mercedes Caught Embezzling Cosmodrome Funds, earlier post

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Odd Pluto Social Media Policy at SwRI

By Keith Cowing on July 27, 2015 10:00 AM.

Keith's note: The use of social media during the recent Pluto encounter has been widely hailed. That said, Southwest Research Institute Public affairs continues with its slightly strange media policy - in this case by blocking @NASAWatch from following @NewHorizons2015 on Twitter. Despite the recent "personal" label on this Twitter account, this account is used by a SWRI employee for NASA-funded work-related news and has been mentioned in official SWRI, JHUAPL, and NASA communications for years. You'd think that SWRI would want the biggest audience available - and a retweet by @NASAWatch could add 59,000 Twitter impressions. With all this bragging (justifiably) by NASA PAO about their social media prowess, this effort by SWRI is odd to say the least. I asked SWRI about this several times and they have declined to respond.

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3 Reasons Why Its Is Time to Turbocharge SETI

By Keith Cowing on July 26, 2015 7:55 PM.

Looking for extraterrestrials - The optimistic gamble, Economist

"Mr Milner reckons there are three reasons why the moment is right to go big on SETI. One is that Kepler, a space telescope run by NASA, has shown that there are a lot of potentially habitable planets out there. Geoff Marcy, an astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley, who will run Breakthrough Listen, says Kepler-based studies suggest that perhaps one star in ten has planets that are "Earth-sized and lukewarm" not obviously too massive, too hot or too cold for vaguely Earthlike life. The second reason is the relentless rise of signal-processing power. The ten-billion-channel system Dr Marcy is working on would have been impossible just a few years ago. That all of the resulting data can easily be made available to other scientists and enthusiastic amateurs is another sign of progress. Some 3m people already participate in the SETI@Home project, which lets people use spare computing time to sift through previous SETI data. Since the project has now linked up with Breakthrough Listen, more will surely join it. Free access to data will almost certainly generate false alarms, but Dr Marcy accepts that as part of the price of doing business. A third motive for the push is that an unprecedented amount of time is now available on first-rate radio telescopes. Government-funded research has seen its purse-strings drawn tight recently, and instruments like that at Green Bank need new sources of income."

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ESA's Director General Prefers The Moon Over Mars

By Keith Cowing on July 24, 2015 11:26 PM.

Moon village would host first class research, Nature

"[ESA Director General Johann-Dietrich Wörner]: The Americans are saying Mars is the ultimate goal, but I'm rather convinced that Mars is not the ultimate goal. If we continue on planet Earth, I'm sure humans will go even beyond Mars, but the question is when and how. We need some targets in between. The Moon is a very scientifically interesting body and it's reachable by humans even with today's technology. For Mars and other bodies, we need totally different technologies. Imagine if you send a human to Mars on a two-year return journey and after two months he or she gets difficult health problems. What do you do? We have to have better technology, stronger launchers and other propulsion systems, to go to Mars."

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NASA International Space Station On-Orbit Status 31 July 2015

NASA International Space Station On-Orbit Status 31 July 2015 Video in Story

Today: Human Research Program (HRP) Operations: Today's HRP operations included Lindgren's Flight Day (FD) 7 Body, perspiration, and surface samples for the Microbiome experiment.

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