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Former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold Challenges NEOWISE Data

By Keith Cowing on May 23, 2016 6:31 PM.

Asteroid thermal modeling in the presence of reflected sunlight with an application to WISE/NEOWISE observational data

"As a result, the new analysis finds asteroid diameter and other physical properties that have large differences from published NEOWISE results, with greatly increased error estimates. NEOWISE results have a claimed ±10% accuracy for diameter estimates, but this is unsupported by any calculations and undermined by irregularities in the NEOWISE results. Diameter estimates from bootstrap calculations appears to be no more than ±29.5% accurate when compared to diameters from radar, stellar occultations and spacecraft. NEOWISE errors for parameters like visible band albedo pv and near-IR albedo pIR1 and pIR2 are even higher, calling into question their utility."

Billionaire technologist accuses NASA asteroid mission of bad statistics, Science

"Amy Mainzer, the principal investigator for NEOWISE at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, points out some of the specific goofs in Myhrvold's study. In one formula, he confuses diameter for radius, she said in a statement. "Our team has seen the paper in various versions for many months now, and we have tried to point out problems to the author," she states. "We have strongly encouraged that the paper be submitted to a journal and peer reviewed. Instead, he released it without peer review." Myhrvold retorts that he is fixing the errors, which he says are cosmetic and do not alter the thrust of his criticism. He says the NEOWISE scientists are defensive because many are involved in a proposal for a future asteroid-hunting telescope called NEOCam, one of five finalists in NASA's Discovery program. "They're up for this NEOCam thing and they're afraid it looks bad. And it does look bad," he says."

Repurposed NEOWISE Spacecraft Observes and Discovers Asteroids, earlier post

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Congress Asks NASA To Consider Interstellar Travel Research

By Keith Cowing on May 23, 2016 6:14 PM.

U.S. lawmaker orders NASA to plan for trip to Alpha Centauri by 100th anniversary of moon landing, Science

"Representative John Culberson (R-TX), a self-professed space fan who chairs the House appropriations subpanel that oversees NASA, included the call for the ambitious voyage in a committee report released today. The report accompanies a bill setting NASA's budget for the 2017 fiscal year, which begins 1 October; the full House appropriations panel is set to consider the bill on Tuesday. In the report, Culberson's panel "encourages NASA to study and develop propulsion concepts that could enable an interstellar scientific probe with the capability of achieving a cruise velocity of 0.1c [10% of the speed of light]." The report language doesn't mandate any additional funding, but calls on NASA to draw up a technology assessment report and conceptual road map within 1 year."

- Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Approriations Bill 2007 (draft report)
- Announcing "Breakthrough Starshot": Building Earth's First Starships, earlier post

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House Appropriators Seek To Defund Asteroid Mission - Push NASA To The Moon & Mars

By Keith Cowing on May 23, 2016 3:32 PM.

Full Committee Markup - FY 2017 Commerce, Justice, and Science Bill, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Bill, and Report on the Revised Interim Suballocation of Budget Allocations

"Tuesday, May 24, 2016 10:30 AM in 2359 Rayburn"

Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Approriations Bill 2007 (draft bill)

Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Approriations Bill 2007 (draft report)

NASA begins on Page 54. On page 61 the report says:

"Mission to Mars. While the Committee recognizes the benefits of some of the technology that is under development as part of the asteroid redirect and retrieval missions, namely advanced propulsion technology research, asteroid deflection, and grappling technologies, the Committee believes that neither a robotic nor a crewed mission to an asteroid appreciably contribute to the over-arching mission to Mars. Further, the long-term costs of launching a robotic craft to the asteroid, followed by a crewed mission, are unknown and will divert scarce resources away from developing technology and equipment necessary for missions to Mars, namely deep space habitats, accessing and utilizing space resources, and developing entry, descent, landing, and ascent technologies.

Toward that end, no funds are included in this bill for NASA to continue planning efforts to conduct either robotic or crewed missions to an asteroid. Instead, NASA is encouraged to develop plans to return to the Moon to test capabilities that will be needed for Mars, including habitation modules, lunar prospecting, and landing and ascent vehicles.

Further, the Committee is supportive of NASA's efforts to use the International Space Station (ISS) to conduct research necessary to enable long-term human spaceflight, or ''Earth-reliant'' technology development; cis-lunar space activities, or ''proving ground'' efforts such as Orion flights on SLS in the vicinity of the Moon, and deployment and testing of deep space habitation modules; and finally, NASA's ''Earth independent'' activities which include using cis-lunar space as a staging area, mapping potential human exploration zones and caching samples on Mars as part of the Mars Rover 2020 mission."

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While U.S. Ponders Closing Arecibo China Builds Something Much Bigger

By Keith Cowing on May 22, 2016 12:08 PM.

Notice of Intent To Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement and Initiate Section 106 Consultation for Proposed Changes to Arecibo Observatory Operations, Arecibo, Puerto Rico and Notice of Public Scoping Meetings and Comment Period, NSF

"Through a series of academic community-based reviews, NSF has identified the need to divest several facilities from its portfolio in order to retain the balance of capabilities needed to deliver the best performance on the key science of the present decade and beyond. In 2012, NSF's Division of Astronomical Sciences' (AST's) portfolio review committee recommended that ``continued AST involvement in Arecibo . . . be re-evaluated later in the decade in light of the science opportunities and budget forecasts at that time.'' In 2016, NSF's Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences' (AGS') portfolio review committee recommended significantly decreasing funding for the Space and Atmospheric Sciences portion of the Arecibo mission. In response to these evolving recommendations, in 2016, NSF completed a feasibility study to inform and define options for the observatory's future disposition that would involve significantly decreasing or eliminating NSF funding of Arecibo."

World's largest radio telescope nears completion

"China's gigantic Five hundred meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) is nearing completion in China's southwestern Guizhou Province and will soon begin searching the skies for phenomena including signs of extraterrestrial life. Construction of 500m diameter, 1.2 billion yuan (US$185mln) radio telescope began in 2011 and is on course to come online in September, when it will become the world's largest and most sensitive radio telescope."

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Yet Another Stunning Promotional Opportunity That NASA Ignores

By Keith Cowing on May 21, 2016 2:23 PM.

NASA misses a chance to promote the best-ever ad for the space station, Ars Technica

"Why doesn't NASA promote the film more? It's impossible to come away from A Beautiful Planet without being impressed by the orbiting laboratory and the international collaboration that constructed it. But where is the audience? My home is Houston - Space City - where astronauts live and the space station program is managed. But when the movie played here, it did so in one theater, on one screen, for a single week. When I attended, just a few astronauts and their friends and families were in the audience. As of last Sunday, A Beautiful Planet had grossed less than $1 million in box office sales across the country."

Keith's note: NASA never even bothered to issue a media advisory here in Washington. NASM did not send out one either. The plan apparently seems to be that word of mouth is the preferred mode of advertising. That said, the film did cost NASA money. Camera upmass, crew time, etc. When you calculate cost per hour of crew time, upmass, downmass, etc. it is not insignificant. You'd think that someone would be mounting a much more intense PR campaign - especially one that enlisted NASA. As best I can tell they had invitation-only premiere parties with lots of blue-suited astronauts (pictures) a few hand-picked media - and that's it. This webpage for A Beautiful Planet has a CASIS logo at the bottom. But there is zero mention of this film on the CASIS website. Nor did CASIS even bother to issue any media advisories or press release. I used to be baffled by this indifference on the part of NASA when it came to things that were clearly worth promoting only to see them do little - or nothing. Now I'm used to seeing missed opportunities for NASA to be relevant and explanatory in terms of public events happening once a week. As for CASIS - they are just clueless - and always have been. So no surprise there.

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Congress Just Ordered NASA To Go To Europa - Twice

By Keith Cowing on May 19, 2016 10:08 PM.

http://images.spaceref.com/news/2016/europa.landing.jpg

House tells NASA to stop messing around, start planning two Europa missions

"As part of the mission to Europa, Culberson would also like to send a lander to the surface of the heaving, ice-encrusted world. This would allow scientists to better characterize the oceans below and, if the lander touches down near a fissure, possibly even sample the ocean. However, there has been some concern that having both an orbital spacecraft and a lander in a single mission would prove too challenging for a single rocket to deliver. So as part of the new House bill, the Europa mission is broken into two parts: an orbiter and, two years later, a lander."

Keith's note: This looks like it would be something like a dual "flagship" mission. Each spacecraft will be on the order of, oh $500 million each, and then, knowing Culberson's preferences, each would require its own SLS launch at $500 million to $1 billion each. Unless NASA's budget is going to get a big plus up on top of what it already needs to do other things that is going to eat into the whole #JourneyToMars thing - an effort that is already utterly underfunded.

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NASA Just Lost Buzz Aldrin on SLS and The #JourneyToMars

By Keith Cowing on May 18, 2016 8:56 PM.

Buzz Aldrin says NASA is going about Mars exploration the wrong way, Ars Technica

"In his remarks, Aldrin said NASA should change the approach it has had in place since the 1960s, that of designing and managing development of its own rockets. He took direct aim at the SLS vehicle, which he reminded listeners was based on 1970s technology and the space shuttle rather than more modern concepts. "It competes with the private sector," Aldrin said. "I thought most of us were in the process of learning that the government shouldn't do that."

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Who Advises Charlie Bolden on All Those Technology Things?

By Keith Cowing on May 18, 2016 6:59 PM.




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NASA Totally Flunks FITARA Scorecard 2 Years In A Row

By Keith Cowing on May 18, 2016 4:32 PM.

Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act, Wikipedia

"One of the requirements would be that the government develop a streamlined plan for its acquisitions. The bill would increase the power of existing Chief Information Officers (CIO) within federal agencies so that they could be more effective. Each agency would also be reduced to having only one CIO in the agency, who is then responsible for the success and failure of all IT projects in that agency. The bill would also require the federal government to make use of private sector best practices. The bill is intended to reduce IT procurement related waste."

http://images.spaceref.com/news/scorecard.2015.jpg

Oversight Committee FITARA Scorecard (2015) Larger image

http://images.spaceref.com/news/scorecard.2016.jpg

Oversight Committee FITARA Scorecard (2016) [Note: NASA is the only agency to get an overall 'F' grade]

Hearing, Federal Information Technology Reform Act Scorecard 2.0, House Oversight Committee

NASA CIO Wynn Testimony

"Admittedly, NASA's scores on the FITARA scorecard are unacceptable. We have work to do, and challenges to overcome. But at the same time, I believe it is also important to reflect on the major strides NASA has already taken in improving the management of and protection of the Agency's IT infrastructure. Thus, the remainder of my testimony today will provide a brief summary of our achievements to date, and other work in progress directed at becoming the best stewards of the Agency's IT resources."

Keith's note: I have to be completely honest: neither this hearing or the FITARA report/scorecard that was released were on my news radar. I need to thank NASA's AA for Legislative Affairs, Seth Statler, for pointing out the hearing - and NASA's 'F' grade. NASA has the distinction in 2016 for being the only agency to get an overall 'F', so congratulations are in order. Of course, in telling everyone about FITARA, it is quite obvious that Statler was doing a little blame shifting as he spoke for NASA CIO Renee Wynn - while throwing her under the bus. You'd expect the @NASACIO Twitter to say something too but they have not tweeted anything since 15 March 2015.

Nor is there any mention of the hearing, the CIO's testimony, the 2016 score card (or last year's), NASA's performance (or lack thereof) and what corrective actions NASA plans to make on the NASA CIO website. Searching for "FITARA" only yields 6 results across all of NASA's websites. This chatty 2016 newsletter from the CIO makes no mention of NASA's abysmal score in 2015 but does say "OCIO has made significant progress in the development of a solid implementation plan." So, as long as they are working on a plan, then everything must be OK.

There is a slightly goofy post at Open.NASA.gov (not findable on the NASA search engine) "NASA's Approach to Implementing FITARA" from 10 March 2016 that opens with "My husband and I are planning a vacation to Disneyworld, an awesome destination for our five year old dreamer. How do we budget for such an grandiose trip?" , and then goes on to spout happy talk - with added IT word salad - about how seriously NASA takes FITARA. If only.

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Deep Space Habitat Hearing

By Keith Cowing on May 18, 2016 3:01 PM.

Space Subcommittee Hearing - Next Steps to Mars: Deep Space Habitats

"On Wednesday, May 18, 2016 at 2:00 p.m. in Room 2318 of the Rayburn House Office Building, the Subcommittee on Space will hold a hearing titled, "Next Steps to Mars: Deep Space Habitats." The hearing will examine Mars exploration, specifically efforts to develop deep space habitation capabilities."

- Statement, Jason Crusan, NASA
- Statement, John Elbon, Boeing
- Statement, Wanda Sigur, Lockheed Martin
-Statement, Frank Culbertson, Orbital ATK
-Statement, Andy Weir, Author, The Martian

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NASA Tried To Recruit People Who Don't Understand Job Announcements

By Keith Cowing on May 18, 2016 2:28 PM.

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The Non-Plan For NASA's #JourneyToMars

By Keith Cowing on May 18, 2016 8:49 AM.

Here's why many in aerospace remain skeptical of the Journey to Mars, Ars Technica

"There's no question that Dava Newman is a very smart person. She is a highly respected scientist who was a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before coming to NASA. She also is not entirely new to the job as deputy administrator, having been with the agency for a year as of May 15. So it's difficult to explain her meandering response to a straightforward, valid question. These are questions NASA ought to be striving to clearly answer, because they're exactly the kinds of things a presidential transition team will be asking about at the end of this year. It is one thing to bluff the media and hold NASA "social" events where space enthusiasts are shown hardware and dazzled by astronauts and senior NASA scientists. Newman also will undoubtedly get a rousing roar of approval after her speech to the Humans to Mars conference today."

Keith's note: After one year at NASA, it would seem that Dava Newman's transformation from a normal person into a NASA bureaucrat is now complete. She is incapable of giving a simple, direct answer when asked important questions about NASA's "plan" to send humans to Mars. But its not really her fault. No one at NASA can give a straight answer about the plan. There is no plan. All NASA has is a Twitter hashtag #JourneyToMars. Anyone at NASA who tries to tell you otherwise is being less than honest with you. Listen to this video from the Humans to Mars meeting yesterday. At one point Newman cuts Frank Morring off and then goes off on a time-wasting diversion to run out her time on stage without getting into details.

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Humans to Mars Symposium Under Way

By Keith Cowing on May 18, 2016 8:00 AM.

Keith's note: This week, from 17-19 May, the annual Humans to Mars Summit will be underway in Washington, DC. Much of the event will be webcast live. We'll be live tweeting the event at @NASAWatch.

The Humans to 2016 Mars Report Released at Humans to Mars Summit

"As highlighted in this year's report, there have been significant developments since the premiere issue was released. Mars has been in the news regularly, and the United States has embraced Mars as the goal for human space flight more than ever before. For example, in October 2015 NASA began the process of assessing potential candidate human landing sites on Mars for the first time."

For more information visit h2m.exploremars.org.

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Is NASA Getting Cold Feet On Commercial Crew?

By Keith Cowing on May 17, 2016 2:53 PM.

NASA to pay Russia $88 mln to deliver astronauts to world's sole orbiter in 2018-2019, TASS

"Russia has signed a contract with the United States to deliver six NASA astronauts aboard Russian-made Soyuz MS spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2018-2019, according to a quarterly report released by Energiya Rocket and Space Corporation on Monday. Energiya Corporation is the producer of Russian spacecraft. According to the document, NASA will pay Russia 5.7 billion rubles ($88 million) for the delivery of NASA astronauts to the ISS and their return to the Earth. The deal was signed on January 27."

Boeing's first crewed Starliner launch slips to 2018, Ars Technica

"NASA has pinpointed next year as the time when its dependence upon Russia to fly its astronauts to the International Space Station will finally end. However, one of the two companies now slated to provide that service, Boeing, has said it will not be able to launch a crewed mission of its Starliner spacecraft until 2018 at the earliest."

Keith's note: That's $88 million per American astronaut.

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Report on SBIR Activities at NASA

By Keith Cowing on May 17, 2016 10:39 AM.

NAS Report: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) at NASA

"The U.S. Congress tasked the National Research Council with undertaking a comprehensive study of how the SBIR program has stimulated technological innovation and used small businesses to meet federal research and development needs, and with recommending further improvements to the program. In the first round of this study, an ad hoc committee prepared a series of reports from 2004 to 2009 on the SBIR program at the five agencies responsible for 96 percent of the program's operations -- including NASA. In a follow-up to the first round, NASA requested from the Academies an assessment focused on operational questions in order to identify further improvements to the program."

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