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NASA Does Not Have a Post-Russia ISS Contingency Plan

By Keith Cowing on March 5, 2015 12:22 PM.

Culberson Statement on NASA Budget Hearing

"Administrator Bolden made it clear in his answers that the Obama Administration has no contingency plan in place to send U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station if Russia chooses to end the current agreement that allows our astronauts to travel to the space station on board its Soyuz capsules."

NASA's chief confirms it: Without Russia, space station lost, Houston Chronicle

'If Russia stops flying U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station, the U.S., lacking a backup plan, would have no choice but to abandon the multibillion dollar outpost to its own fate, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said Wednesday. "We would make an orderly evacuation," Bolden said during a U.S. House Appropriations subcommittee hearing."

Keith's note: Culberson is not exaggerating. When asked, Bolden could not give a 'yes' or 'no' answer to rather specific and repeated questions as to whether or not NASA has a post-Russia ISS contingency plan in place. Bolden stumbled for a bit before he started to talk about an orderly evacuation of the ISS. Culberson interrupted at one point and said "please tell me that you do". Bolden also seemed to suggest that the U.S. can operate the ISS without Russian permission/cooperation.

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The Space Twins Are Just Kicking A Can Down The Road to Mars

By Keith Cowing on March 5, 2015 8:58 AM.

A Waste Of Space, Scientific American

"More likely, Kelly's and Kornienko's tests will just confirm in greater detail what we already know from several previous long-duration missions: Our current space habitats are not adequate for voyages to other worlds. The lack of money to build these habitats, more than any lack of medical knowledge, is what keeps humans from Mars and other off-world destinations. ... It would be unfair to blame NASA alone for this shortsightedness. Integrating artificial gravity and better propulsion into its human spaceflight program would require many billions of dollars, and that money is not forthcoming from Congress. So NASA has struck a pragmatic course, tinkering with well-worn technologies instead of spending the financial and political capital to develop new ones."

Keith's note: Will NASA learn anything from the one year space twins study? Yes, of course they will. Will this knowledge help us "go to Mars"? (gotta use that phrase once a day, right NASA?). Who knows. Not likely. The studies are superficial and scattered in their focus. As this article notes NASA will, at best, simply understand their collective lack of capability to semi-safely send humans to Mars slightly better. Meanwhile, NASA will still kick the can down the road to Mars (I used the Mars meme twice, NASA!). NASA does not have the money or the scientific strategy to actually answer the questions it needs to answer. So they grab everything they can slap a Mars label on it and proclaim progress on the road to Mars (three times!).

As was the case with John Glenn's mission to solve aging problems in space we will never see the results of this research - in any form - that NASA uses to justify the hype surrounding this otherwise ho hum stay aboard ISS. And we will still be in Earth - not Mars - orbit. And the news media will still be confused which twin has the moustache.

The ISS still has an amazing untapped potential to actually address these very real issues of human physiology and long duration spaceflight with direct applicability to Mars. But NASA is simply not up to the task of using these resources in a concerted, strategic, long-term fashion - and assembling the resources to do so. They just make it up as they go. And their poorly equipped junior partner CASIS is simply clueless.

- NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly Available for Interviews before One-Year Space Station Mission
- Correcting NASA's Inaccurate Budget Infographic, earlier post

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SpaceX Barge Landing Patent Petition Challenge Denied - and Accepted

By Keith Cowing on March 5, 2015 7:42 AM.

UNITED STATES PATENT AND TRADEMARK OFFICE BEFORE THE PATENT TRIAL AND APPEAL BOARD SPACE EXPLORATION TECHNOLOGIES CORP., Petitioner, v. BLUE ORIGIN LLC, Patent Owner. Case IPR2014-01376 Patent 8,678,321 B2. Paper 6

"Space Exploration Technologies Corp. ("SpaceX") filed a Petition ("Pet.") for inter partes review of U.S. Patent No. 8,678,321 B2 ("the '321 patent"). The Petition challenges the patentability of claims 14 and 15 of the '321 patent on the ground of obviousness under 35 U.S.C. 103.1 Blue Origin LLC, the owner of the '321 patent, did not file a Preliminary Response to the Petition."

"IV. CONCLUSION Because the challenged claims are not amenable to construction, we are unable to reach a determination on the reasonable likelihood of SpaceX prevailing on the prior art ground asserted in the Petition.

V. ORDER For the foregoing reasons, it is ORDERED that the Petition is denied."

Keith's note: The title of this post is taken directly from words and statements used in the USPTO decision. Read the document. As best as I can figure this legal mumbo jumbo out, everyone involved is confused about what the patent claims and whether it can be challenged - and if so, how. Yet the SpaceX Internet fan boys are all over social media chastising non-believers and saying that this is a big win for SpaceX while others are saying that its a win for Blue Origin. Indeed, sources inside SpaceX now say that this decision is good for them.

If SpaceX thinks that this decision is good for them - and they want people to know that this is good for them - then they need to put out a statement that says so. Expecting the Internet to figure it out - clearly and accurately - and then tell the world - is not going to work.

Keith's update: But wait. There's more. There is another USPTO document (see excerpt below) that just fell out of cyberspace into my inbox wherein USPTO agrees with claims made by SpaceX. Taken together these two documents are not a formal decision for - or against - Blue Origin/SpaceX. The patent is still the patent and more lawyers will need to weigh in before anyone changes anything in that patent - if anything is ever changed. My point still stands with regard to letting Internet chatter suffice for statements by the actual parties to this dispute (SpaceX and Blue Origin) and I await their responses/non-responses.

Continue reading: SpaceX Barge Landing Patent Petition Challenge Denied - and Accepted.

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Today's NASA Budget Hearing (with Video)

By Keith Cowing on March 4, 2015 8:11 PM.

Statement by NASA Administrator at House Appropriations Committee Budget Hearing (with video)

"Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, I am pleased to have this opportunity to discuss NASA's FY 2016 budget request. The President is proposing an FY 2016 budget of $18.5 billion for NASA, building on the significant investments the Administration has made in America's space program over the past six years, enabled through the strong and consistent support by this Committee and the Congress."

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Bolden Job Cut Quotes From Today's Budget Hearing

By Keith Cowing on March 4, 2015 2:02 PM.

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Bolden Budget Quotes From Today's Budget Hearing (Update)

By Keith Cowing on March 4, 2015 12:31 PM.

Keith's note: I was watching this hearing on NASA TV. About halfway through the video froze while the audio continued. As such it was often hard to tell who was speaking. After correcting my earlier tweet, I posted some additional comments on Twitter that ended up with a member of Congress responding. See below for that conversation. Continue reading: Bolden Budget Quotes From Today's Budget Hearing (Update).

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Don't Bother Calling CASIS About Contracts

By Keith Cowing on March 4, 2015 10:06 AM.

Reader note: "FYI I tried to reach CASIS by phone. When you call their CASIS Corporate Headquarters listed here i.e. 321.253.5101 and hit 3 for "Contracts" you get a dead end. Your call is eventually disconnected.

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Curt Michel

By Keith Cowing on March 3, 2015 11:30 AM.

Professor Emeritus Curt Michel Dies

"F. Curtis (Curt) Michel, the Andrew Hays Buchanan Professor Emeritus of Space Physics and Astronomy, died Feb. 23 at the age of 80. Although he retired in 2000 after 37 years at Rice, Michel continued to keep an office on campus, where he pursued his studies of solar winds, radio pulsars and numerical methods. He was part of the fourth class of astronauts chosen by NASA in 1965 as the agency ramped up the Apollo moon program. He was one of six scientist-astronauts in the class, the first on a roster that until that point had been largely limited to test pilots."

Curt Michel, Wikipedia

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National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics Turns 100

By Keith Cowing on March 3, 2015 9:28 AM.

Celebrate the Centennial of NASA's Predecessor: The NACA

"Today marks a special anniversary for the NASA family. It was 100 years ago, on March 3, 1915, when Congress created the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the organization from which NASA was created in 1958. The NACA was formed because our nation's leaders were concerned the U.S. was losing its edge in aviation technology to Europe, where World War 1 was raging on. Its mission, in part, was to "supervise and direct the scientific study of the problems of flight with a view to their practical solution." As you all know, we not only regained that edge, but we became the world leaders in civil aviation."

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ULA and SpaceX Are Trash Talking Again

By Keith Cowing on March 3, 2015 9:17 AM.

ULA ready to compete against Elon Musk's space startup, CEO says, Washington Post

"Still, [ULA Chief Executive Tory Bruno] also said that ULA is far more reliable in launching on schedule than SpaceX. When asked if he thought it was risky to rely on SpaceX he said, "I do." "We have a perfect mission success record and our schedule certainty is also substantial," he said. "Launching on time is huge." SpaceX took exception to Bruno's comments. "The Air Force and the taxpayers deserve more from ULA and its latest CEO, whose remarks are purposely misleading, but not unexpected," SpaceX spokesman John Taylor said in a statement. "In anticipation of having to face real competition for the first time, ULA is distorting the facts in an effort to hide its own shortcomings. This is merely the latest example that ULA is realizing that its long-held monopoly is coming to an end."

Keith's note: Then there's this gem: "Bruno said that since ULA's inception, the company "has cut the price of launch in half, and I'm going to cut it in half again." While he declined to provide specific numbers, he vowed to "be competitive with SpaceX's prices."

Hmmm ... with reusable stages SpaceX may do this too - making their cost even harder to beat. At some point Bruno will not be able to turn a profit if he's focused only on cutting prices to chase SpaceX down this path.

Marc's note: Looking at the commercial launch market the last four years, ULA has had 2 launches, both last year for WorldView 3 and NASA's EFT-1. SpaceX on the other hand has had 11 launches and this is before the coming increase in cadence. (All data from the FAA)

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Another Vulcan on ISS

By Keith Cowing on March 2, 2015 7:19 PM.

Keith's update: Wow. Mike and I got retweeted from orbit. How cool.

Keith's note: In space Samantha Cristoforetti honors Leonard Nimoy/Spock by continuing the Vulcan science officer tradition on ISS. Altered imagery by Michael Okuda.

Years ago, when John Grunsfeld left NASA headquarters, Mike Okuda made a "vulcanized" version of John. Everyone loved it - including (so it would seem) the Smithsonian's National Air & Space Museum. For a number for years, there was a copy of this faux picture adjacent to Hubble instruments on display that John had helped to bring back to Earth. It took quite some time for the Smithsonian to notice the details in the photos. Oops.

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Mikulski Has 2 Years Left to Support GSFC, Wallops, and SLS

By Keith Cowing on March 2, 2015 3:32 PM.

NASA Administrator Lauds Senator Mikulski for Championing America's Space Program

"Senator Mikulski has been a tireless champion for NASA, and has helped pave the way for future exploration and our journey to Mars."

Mikulski Announces 5th Term Will Be Her Last, Will Focus on Working for Her Constituents

"Today at Henderson's Wharf Inn in Fells Point, U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) announced she has decided not to run for re-election. Senator Mikulski, who will complete her 5th term in office in January, 2017, says she wants to focus for the next two years on working for her constituents and for the nation."

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Norm Carlson

By Keith Cowing on March 2, 2015 12:35 PM.

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SpaceX Successfully Completes 3rd Mission of 2015

By Marc Boucher on March 2, 2015 8:08 AM.

SpaceX Launches Dual Payload to GTO [With Video], SpaceRef Business

"A SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launched the ABS 3A and EUTELSAT 115 West B satellites towards a supersynchronous transfer orbit. The launch took place on time when the launch window opened at 10:50 p.m. EST on Sunday, March 1, 2015, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida."

Marc's note: With this launch SpaceX has completed three launches so far this year. They completed six last year. By mid-year they should have equalled last years total and probably surpassed it based on the current schedule. Their launch cadence is clearly picking up as you would expect with a rocket and company that is maturing.

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Astronauts Complete Third Spacewalk in 8 Days

By Marc Boucher on March 2, 2015 8:00 AM.

Astronauts Complete Third International Space Station Spacewalk in Eight Days [With Video]

"Outside the International Space Station, Expedition 42 Commander Barry Wilmore and Flight Engineer Terry Virts of NASA conducted their third spacewalk in eight days March 1 to install antennas and communications gear that will be used to provide rendezvous and navigational information to visiting vehicles approaching the complex in the future, including the new U.S. commercial crew vehicles."

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NASA ISS On-Orbit Status 4 March 2015

NASA ISS On-Orbit Status 4 March 2015 Video in Story

Soyuz TMA-14M Commander Alexander Samokutyaev and Flight Engineer Elena Serova are counting to their departure March 11 with Expedition 42 Commander Barry Wilmore.

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