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RD-180 Food Fight Continues

By Keith Cowing on October 9, 2015 12:05 AM.

SpaceX raps ULA bid to get U.S. waiver for Russian engines, Reuters

"Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, has slammed a bid by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, to get a waiver from a U.S. ban on Russian rocket engines for military use. Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of Tesla Motors and chief executive of SpaceX, told Defense Secretary Ash Carter that federal law already allowed ULA to use "a substantial number" of engines. ULA's threat to skip an upcoming Air Force competition to launch a GSP satellite unless it got a waiver was "nothing less than deceptive brinkmanship for the sole purpose of thwarting the will of Congress," he wrote in a letter dated Oct. 5. A copy was obtained by Reuters on Thursday."

Previous RD-180 posts

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Friday Hearing on NASA's Budget and Exploration

By Keith Cowing on October 8, 2015 8:02 PM.

Hearing: Impact of President's Budget on Deep Space Exploration

"October 9, 2015 10:15 a.m. ET: The Subcommittee on Space will hold a hearing on the impact of the president's budget on programs being built for a trip to Mars and other deep space destinations. Witnesses will discuss NASA's plans for future major tests and milestones of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion crew vehicle, as well as how the administration's budget request affects these programs."

Hearing charter

"On August 27, 2014, NASA announced a one year slip of EM-1, the first launch of SLS, from 2017 to 2018. This announcement was made despite numerous statements from NASA officials to Congress that the program was on schedule and that no additional funding was needed. Last month, NASA made a similar announcement about the Orion, pushing the launch readiness date for Exploration Mission-2 (EM-2) back two years to no later than 20237 from an original date of 2021."

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Yet Another NASA Mars "Plan" Without A Plan - or a Budget

By Keith Cowing on October 8, 2015 7:17 PM.

NASA Releases Plan Outlining Next Steps in the Journey to Mars

"NASA is leading our nation and the world on a journey to Mars, and Thursday the agency released a detailed outline of that plan in its report, "NASA's Journey to Mars: Pioneering Next Steps in Space Exploration." "NASA is closer to sending American astronauts to Mars than at any point in our history," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "Today, we are publishing additional details about our journey to Mars plan and how we are aligning all of our work in support of this goal. In the coming weeks, I look forward to continuing to discuss the details of our plan with members of Congress, as well as our commercial and our international and partners, many of whom will be attending the International Astronautical Congress next week."

Keith's note: This is just pathetic. There is no "plan" in this "plan". Its a description of a bunch of things what NASA says it needs to do but there is no budget, firm timeline, architecture, or overarching mission goals. This is just another PDF file with pretty pictures and a unorganized shopping list of ideas. This is not how you prepare for a "Journey to Mars" or a journey anywhere else for that matter. And how does this "plan" integrate with NASA's recently issued Strategic Plan? Wouldn't you think that they'd be intimately integrated?

NASA's Strategic Plan Isn't Strategic - or a Plan, earlier post

"This thing reads like an annual report - there is no "plan" in this strategic plan. The authors are utterly confused as to what a "goal", "objective", and "strategy" are and confusingly use the terms interchangeably. It is almost as if they say "it is important that we do what we are doing because we are already doing it".


Lakes on Mars

By Keith Cowing on October 8, 2015 6:57 PM.

Curiosity Rover Team Confirms Ancient Lakes on Mars

"A new study from the team behind NASA's Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity has confirmed that Mars was once, billions of years ago, capable of storing water in lakes over an extended period of time."

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."


Pluto: Mixed Messages and Stunning Imagery

By Keith Cowing on October 8, 2015 4:16 PM.

Blue Skies and Water Ice on Pluto, NASA

"The first color images of Pluto's atmospheric hazes, returned by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft last week, reveal that the hazes are blue."

NASA scientist hints at 'amazing' Pluto finding, NY Post

"NASA won't let me tell you what we're going to tell you on Thursday," Dr. Alan Stern, the mission's lead scientist, told students on Monday at the University of Alberta in Canada, according to The Guardian. "It's amazing." "This world is alive," Stern added. "It has weather, it has hazes in the atmosphere, active geology." But NASA said there's nothing out of this world to announce. "There is a false rumor going around that there will be a BIG New Horizons science announcement tomorrow," according to a tweet from the New Horizons team on Wednesday. "Completely false."

Keith's note: I am not sure Stern was wrong in what he is quoted as saying. I think think this news is a big deal. As for how the "false rumor" started. It should obvious that @NewHorizons2015 was promoting it (by retweeting an excited quote) before it was debunking it.

Commercial Space Fan Drops Out of House Speaker Race

By Keith Cowing on October 8, 2015 12:38 PM.

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What Is NASA's Venture Class Launch Service Announcement?

By Keith Cowing on October 7, 2015 11:47 PM.

NASA to Announce Selections for Small Satellite Launch Contract

"NASA will host a news conference at 1 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, Oct. 14, at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to announce the outcome of the Venture Class Launch Service (VCLS) competition. The news conference will air live on NASA Television and the agency's website."

Keith's note: NASA issued these Venture Class Launch Service contract awards last week. Rocket Lab got $6,950,000, Firefly got $5,500,000, and Virgin Galactic got $4,700,000 (or is there a missing decimal point?). What else is NASA going to announce?

- NASA KSC Contract Award: Venture Class Launch Service - Rocket Lab USA
- NASA KSC Contract Award: Venture Class Launch Service - Firefly Space Systems
- NASA KSC Contract Award: Venture Class Launch Service - Virgin Galactic

"VCLS is a Firm-Fixed Price contract for a dedicated launch service for U-Class satellites with NASA having sole responsibility for the payload on the launch vehicle. NASA Launch Services Program (LSP) supports the CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) by providing launch opportunities for CubeSats that are currently on the manifest back log."


A JSC Reminder Inspired By "The Martian": Proper Potty Etiquette

By Keith Cowing on October 7, 2015 8:42 PM.

Keith's note: The following was sent out by Belansky, Michael J. (JSC-NS231) to a lot of people at JSC yesterday. Given Mark Watney's poo and potato experiments in "The Martian", its seems that this topic is on JSC management's minds these days.

"From: Belansky, Michael J. (JSC-NS231)
Sent: Tuesday, October 06, 2015 10:54 AM
Cc: JSC-WCC-Work-Control-Center
Subject: Need Your Help

Build 20 Residents,

It seems it's time to send out a reminder about proper potty etiquette. Please remember that only toilet paper should be flushed besides human waste. In the event that more than a reasonable amount of toilet paper is needed, please perform a preliminary flush before overwhelming the commode with massive amounts of toilet paper. If by chance you forget these guidelines and do overwhelm the toilet or notice a clogged commode, please be courteous and report the stopped up toilet immediately by writing an email to JSC-WCC-Work-Control-Center ( and .cc both me and David Nayles. This way the problem gets resolved quickly."


People Think Moon Landings Were A Hoax But "The Martian" Is Real

By Keith Cowing on October 7, 2015 6:45 PM.

An Alarming Number Of People Think "The Martian" Is A True Story, BuzzFeed

"The Martian, the new movie by Ridley Scott starring Matt Damon as an astronaut stranded on Mars, is being rightly praised for its fairly accurate portrayal of science. But maybe it was too realistic, because an alarming number of people out there have come away from the film thinking it is based on a true story."

Sheila Jackson Lee

"In 1997, while on a trip to the Mars Pathfinder operations center in California, Jackson Lee confused the planet Mars with Earth's own moon, asking whether the Pathfinder had succeeded in taking a picture of the flag planted on Mars by Neil Armstrong in 1969."


NASA Is In Total Denial Over Humans To Mars Costs

By Keith Cowing on October 7, 2015 12:59 PM.

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Space Community Gathers in Jerusalem for the Annual International Astronautical Congress

By Marc Boucher on October 7, 2015 11:44 AM.

As an Emerging Space Nation Israel Makes a Statement in Hosting the International Astronautical Congress, SpaceRef

"Israel's space program was born out of military need, but in recent years the civil space program has received an infusion of funding and next week it will host the annual International Astronautical Congress in Jerusalem."

Marc's note: Charlie Bolden will take part in the annual Heads of Agencies plenary next Monday.

I will be at Congress covering it with stories to be posted here.

Related: Q&A with Isaac Ben-Israel, Chairman of the Israel Space Agency, SpaceNews

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Israeli Team Books Falcon 9 Launch for Google Lunar XPrize, Competition Deadline Extended

By Marc Boucher on October 7, 2015 8:19 AM.

Israeli Google Lunar XPrize Team is First to Sign Launch Agreement for Private Mission to the Moon on SpaceX Falcon 9

"At a press conference held in Jerusalem today, alongside Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, and Bob Weiss, vice chairman and president of XPRIZE, SpaceIL announced a significant milestone in its race to the moon: securing a "ticket to the moon" on a SpaceX Falcon 9 launcher, with a mission scheduled for the second half of 2017. With this, SpaceIL becomes the first team to produce a verified launch contract in the US$30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE competition, and aims to accomplish not only the first Israeli mission to the moon, but also the world's first private lunar mission."

Marc's note: With this contract SpaceIL now has until December 31, 2017 to win the competition. It is also good news for the remaining teams in the competition. The deadline for teams without a contract is now extended to December 31, 2016. They have to show a verified contract by that date to stay in the competition.

This news comes just over a week after Moon Express announced it had a launch contract. However, unlike SpaceIL, their contract has yet to be verified by the Google Lunar X Prize.


Google Lunar X Prize to Verify Moon Express Launch Contract, SpaceRef Business

Chanda Gonzales, Senior Director, Google Lunar XPRIZE said on the contract issue "Our decision is based on a holistic assessment of whether the launch contract is genuine, whether there are any legal issues that might pop up, whether there are any obvious non-compliances with the rules, and whether a substantial commitment was made by both the team and the launch provider (e.g. non-refundable deposit of some certain minimum value)."


The Planetary Society Does Not Want "The Martian" To Happen

By Keith Cowing on October 7, 2015 12:03 AM.

Keith's note: "The Martian" is doing very well in theaters. Reviews are strong, space advocates love it, and the media has been putting forth some long, often thoughtful, discussions about the value of human exploration and NASA's ability to work with a prominent film to get that message out. That's human exploration by the way - as in humans going to places to explore. But at the Planetary Society, there is ongoing doubt about this exploration paradigm.

Last week senior Planetary Society staffer Emily Lakdawalla referred to humans on Mars as "filthy meatbag bodies" in response to her organization's report on their preferred mission to Mars where humans would be held at bay for years and maybe land on the surface 25 years from now. Maybe. And they have to kill the ISS to make that plan happen.

As I noted last week, it is quite obvious that the Planetary Society would be happy if it took longer to put humans on Mars than NASA and others would like it to take since "Filthy meatbag bodies" don't belong on Mars - if at all possible. An additional tweet from Lakdawalla tonight, coupled with one last year (there have been others) shows that Planetary Society staff are openly hostile to the notion of humans on Mars - or anywhere else in space. These anti-human spaceflight tweets are never deleted. The Planetary Society never disputes or disavows them. The Planetary Society prefers robots to humans - period.

Meanwhile, if you visit the National Space Society's webpage or Twitter feed @nss you will see no mention whatsoever of this space movie with blockbuster potential. How sad. They were once such a forceful advocate for a balanced program of human and robotic exploration of space. A once prominent space advocacy organization is now a corpse that can't even go through the motions of being relevant.

- Planetary Society Does Not Want Humans on Mars, Earlier post
- Planetary Society is Both For and Against Human Spaceflight, Earlier post
- Planetary Society's Mars Mission Takes Longer To Do Less, Earlier post
- Not Everyone Wants To Be The Martian, Earlier post


Asteroid Defense Stupidity at Forbes

By Keith Cowing on October 6, 2015 3:02 PM.

NASA Wakes Up: Saving Earth From Killer Asteroids Is A Waste

"The answer to the first question should we be monitoring what's out there is yes, but not with the urgency so many advocate. And to the second question should we be prepping the defenses the answer is not likely. We may get some very smart, very famous people arguing counter to this, but even smart people fall prey to a common human fallacy: risk estimation when the odds are low but the consequences are great. ... There are real dangers to Earth (and to the humans on it) facing us today, but asteroids aren't one of them. If our species sticks around for another few thousand years, it will be time to make that investment. But until then? We've got a planet to save, and an entire Universe to discover."

Keith's note: This has to be one of the dumbest things I have read in a long time. Forbes doesn't fact check their articles, so it would seem. The author uses lots of numbers in his article. But when you ask the author for the specific sources of his data - data used to make specific risk assessment statements, he won't provide it.


It Takes More Than Movies and Buzz Words To Get To Mars

By Keith Cowing on October 4, 2015 11:41 PM.

Don't worry. Matt Damon won't get stuck on Mars. NASA can't get him there, Washington Post

"We're setting expectations for something that is decades away. The public has a short attention span," said Lori Garver, the former deputy administrator of NASA under President Obama. Doug Cooke, a former NASA associate administrator for exploration, thinks NASA needs to spell out intermediate steps to Mars. There's one obvious stopping point between the third and fourth rocks from the sun: The moon. Cooke says it could be a proving ground for off-world living. "There needs to be more of a plan for actually getting there," Cooke said. "You can't have a flat-line budget indefinitely and think you're going to put all of this together by 2030."

Astronauts again blast off at box office, 'The Martian' lands with $55 million debut, US News & World report

"The 20th Century Fox release, starring Matt Damon as an astronaut left for dead on Mars, exceeded expectations to nearly rank as the top October debut ever. The estimated North American opening of "The Martian" surpassed that of Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar" ($47.5 million) and virtually equaled the debut of Alfonso Cuaron's "Gravity" ($55.8 million)."

Keith's note: Once the feel-good hoopla surrounding "The Martian" fades, NASA will be in the exact same place it was before the film was released: frantically inserting "Journey To Mars" into every public utterance - however tenuous the actual connection - with no clear plan or guaranteed budget to actually make it all happen. And there aren't any more Mars movies in the Hollywood pipeline to keep the buzz going.

The Martian: How NASA Soars - and Stumbles - Simultaneously, earlier post

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NASA International Space Station On-Orbit Status 7 October 2015

NASA International Space Station On-Orbit Status 7 October 2015 Video in Story

The deployment of this week's final two Cubesats from the Kibo lab module is on hold today. Also, the crew is preparing a pair of spacesuits for an Oct. 28 maintenance spacewalk.

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