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Space Movies Do Not Drive Space Policy

By Keith Cowing on August 31, 2015 8:32 PM.

The Martian message, Eric Sterner, Space Review

"Surely, several interests want to capitalize on the melding of film and speculative reality. Damon recently visited the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he talked about his role, and NASA's website proudly uses the opportunity to explain the real NASA-developed technologies portrayed in the movie. It can only do a space advocate's heart good when Hollywood seems to discover the same sense of excitement in space that we see and experience every day. Sadly, if the space community seeks to turn The Martian into a commercial for sending people to Mars, we will fail miserably. The 2000 movie Castaway was nominated for multiple awards, including an Academy Award for Tom Hanks. It did not increase public support for sending people to deserted islands. Neither will The Martian bring them closer to Mars."

Space Advocacy By Space Advocates Is A Failure, earlier post

"... when several space-themed movie blockbusters really get the public's attention the same space advocates whine when America doesn't rush to embrace their own peculiar space exploration notions and blame the movie's scripts for not being in precise tune with the niche views of the true space believers. ... If all anyone in the space advocacy community can think of doing involves adoring lame PR Mars mission stunts and grabbing the coat tails of sci fi flicks in hope of sniffing the fumes of the film's success, then I fear there is very little of true substance for space advocates to actually be advocating."

Keith's note: Its great that NASA is involved with "The Martian" - as it has been with other movies. To say that there are no potential synergies would be totally incorrect. But for space advocates to expect some detectible shift in space policy as the result of a space movie is naive. I heard all of this expectant hoopla from the space world back when the twin (bad) films "Red Planet" and "Mission to Mars" were set to be released. Nothing happened. For all its prescient majesty, "2001: A Space Odyssey" did not result in a plus-up for the FY 1969 NASA budget. As always, Eric Sterner makes excellent points that echo my earlier rants on this topic. Yet what Eric writes (as with what I rant) will only be read by space advocates. And space advocates are notoriously adept at inbred choir practice inside their own special echo chamber.

Trust me, I would so very, very much like to be proven wrong.

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NASA Needs To Buy 2 Vans in Russia

By Keith Cowing on August 31, 2015 12:48 PM.

NASA JSC Solicitation: Purchase of Two Vehicles for the Human Space Flight Program-Russia

"Delivered to US Embassy Moscow, Russia The contractor must provide with the bid proposal a schematic drawing showing vehicle design and dimension specifications in the form of the sample drawing. Standard manufacturer's pamphlet with the specific vehicle model being offered clearly identified and accompanied by a written statement in English by the manufacturer certifying that all solicitation specifications are met for the vehicle model being offered."

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NASA Pays For Decision Making Advice On A Decision It Already Made

By Keith Cowing on August 28, 2015 8:39 PM.

Innovative Study Supports Asteroid Initiative, Journey To Mars

"NASA employed ECAST to engage in a "participatory technology assessment," an engagement model that seeks to improve the outcomes of science and technology decision-making through dialog with informed citizens. Participatory technology assessment involves engaging a group of non-experts who are representative of the general population but who unlike political, academic, and industry stakeholders who are often under represented in technology-related policymaking. ... During meetings in Phoenix and Boston in November, 2014, participants voiced their thoughts and preferences about asteroids, planetary defense and space exploration."

Informing NASA's Asteroid Initiative - A Citizen's Forum - Full report

Keith's note: According to the report "We at ECAST designed the forums to explore what a diverse group of lay citizens thought about complex issues when provided with unbiased information and offered the opportunity to have a respectful and open conversation about these matters with their peers. Quite different from a poll or survey, forums like the one developed for this project explore the views and values that citizens use in assessing sociotechnical issues. ... ECAST undertook the recruitment of the lay citizen participants, achieving a distribution that aligned with the demographic characteristics of their respective states by taking into account gender, age, education, ethnicity, income, and employment status."

So ... how did these people from nowhere in particular get up to speed on NASA's Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM)? According to the report "Rather than survey people who may have little understanding of the subject, these forums provided the opportunity for participants to learn a great deal about NASA's Asteroid Initiative. In fact, participants were provided with much the same technical information that NASA's administrators and program managers use, but presented in short thematic background papers provided prior to the workshop and four informational videos at the start of each session."

Ah, so they only showed the participants NASA stuff. Did the participants receive materials that were in any way critical of ARM? Seriously. The participants were being asked to weigh all aspects of ARM, asteroid defense etc. Given that Congress, the NASA Advisory Council and a significant portion of the planetary science community doubt the value of ARM and/or are totally against it one would hope that this was factored in. If the participants were not given the full spectrum of viewpoints on this topic then the entire effort was null and void at its very inception.

Continue reading: NASA Pays For Decision Making Advice On A Decision It Already Made.

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Congress Kicks The Commercial Crew Can Down The Road

By Keith Cowing on August 28, 2015 10:58 AM.

Congress, Don't Make Us Hitch Rides With Russia. Love, NASA, Charlie Bolden via Wired

"Saturday will mark 1,500 days since the Space Shuttle touched down for the final time. Grounding human spaceflights was always supposed to be temporary as we made the necessary transition to a new generation of spacecraft, operated by American commercial carriers. Likewise, paying for seats on Russian spacecraft to send our astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) was always intended to be a stopgap. Had Congress adequately funded President Obama's Commercial Crew proposal, we could have been making final preparations this year to once again launch American astronauts to space from American soil aboard American spacecraft. Instead we are faced with uncertaintyand we will continue to be so long as Congress resists fully investing in Commercial Crew."

- Why Is Congress Stalling NASA's Commercial Crew Program?, earlier post
- NASA Buys More Soyuz Flights Since Congress Constantly Cuts Commercial Crew, earlier post
- Mikulski Tries Unsuccessfully To Prevent Commercial Crew Funding Decrease, earlier post

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Precision Product Placement by NASA With Global Reach (Update)

By Keith Cowing on August 28, 2015 12:01 AM.

Keith's note: Released 20 Aug 2015. Lots of NASA logos, hardware, facilities seen by 7,756,789 15,747,636 18,164,860 21,272,171 29,390,085 young viewers so far. Priceless.

NASA just hit a home run in terms of being in front of millions of eyeballs. A tweet was sent to 24,700,000 @OneDirection followers and was subsequently retweeted/favorited 77,000 times. @NASA also sent a tweet to its 11,900,000 followers which was then retweeted/favorited 50,000 times. Since there is likely minor overlap between @OneDirection and @NASA you can safely assume that the reach was additive i.e. more than 36.6 million Twitter followers reached - that's more than the equivalent of 10% of the united States population. Then there's their official One Direction Facebook page (with 38,000,000 likes) which also features the video - more than the combined Twitter reach combined. And so on.

What an opportunity to reach a population demographic that is simply vast in numbers - right? You'd think that space advocacy organizations (who, after all, want the public to share in their fascination with space) would be overjoyed about this and want to make sure that their members know about it - and to use this as an example of the broad appeal of space exploration. Guess again. Is there any mention at the Planetary Society's website or their Twitter @exploreplanets? No. Just pictures of nerds. As for National Space Society, they're sound asleep. And so on. Space advocates are just sleep walking though this whole space advocacy thing. As such they are increasingly irrelevant.

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Future Version of Neil Tyson Promotes "The Martian"

By Keith Cowing on August 27, 2015 10:19 PM.

We Get It Neil Tyson: You Hated "Gravity" (Update), earlier post Categories:

A Novel Way To Track The Space Station

By Keith Cowing on August 26, 2015 11:40 PM.

Point the Way to the International Space Station with This DIY Orbit Tracker, Make

"Given the International Space Station's host of superlatives (i.e. most expensive man made structure, largest artificial body in Earth's orbit, longest functioning habitable satellite, greatest engineering accomplishment of all time, coolest flying space laboratory, etc.), you'd think that it would be on our minds constantly. Yet many of us go hours, even days, without thinking about it once. There's a growing movement of people who believe that our space agencies are underfunded because humanity is just not paying enough attention to our present accomplishments and future plans in space exploration. Well, I know one way to direct attention to something. Point at it."

- Barn door tracker, Wikipedia
- Keith Cowing at Maker Faire: Hacking NASA

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More New Horizons Nomenclature Food Fights

By Keith Cowing on August 26, 2015 10:19 AM.

Pluto, we have a problem: Some geographical names may not fly on official maps, GeekWire

"Some of the best-known names on Pluto ranging from the Sputnik plains to the Hillary and Norgay mountains and the dark Cthulhu Regio may never appear on the International Astronomical Union's maps, due to a tiff over terminology. Those are just a few of the informal names that have raised questions from members of the IAU panel charged with approving the nomenclature for the dwarf planet's geographical features. The names were selected by the team behind NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto after a months-long online naming campaign at OurPluto.org. "Frankly, we would have preferred that the New Horizons team had approached us before putting all these informal names everywhere," said Rosaly Lopes, a senior research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory who is a member of the IAU's Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature."

Bolden Gets EPO Briefing From New Horizons Mission Team, earlier post

"Last week the SETI Institute unilaterally announced an effort whereby the public can suggest names for features discovered within the Pluto-Charon system. The IAU would have the final say as to which names were accepted. One small problem: NASA HQ was not in the loop for this major effort to name things discovered by a NASA spacecraft. It has been several days since SETI Institute made this announcement and there is no mention of this effort at the JHUAPL website, at the NASA mission website, at SwRI, or at NASA.gov. Only the personal Twitter account by the mission's PI mentions this effort. This press release was not distributed by NASA, JHUAPL or SwRI. ... Sources I have spoken with at NASA HQ said that NASA was not aware that this news was being announced or that SETI Institute had decided (seemingly on its own) to do this project on NASA's behalf. Based on previous stunts it is quite clear that the New Horizons mission (again, a NASA mission paid for by NASA) has decided that it will make its own decisions on how the public will be involved - and that it is not up to NASA to coordinate these activities."

- NASA Extends Campaign for Public to Name Features on Pluto, earlier post
- New Horizons Redefines Definition of "Planet" and "Moon", earlier post
- Public Asked to Help Name Features on Pluto, earlier post


Russia's Vostochny Cosmodrome Has Big Problems

By Keith Cowing on August 25, 2015 10:13 PM.

Blow for new cosmodrome as officials say first manned launch is still a decade away, Siberian Times

"A 2007 presidential decree had set 2018 as this target date for manned launched and it was echoed in repeated statements from officials until recently. It was reported that Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin and the head of the Russian Space Agency Igor Komarov managed to persuade Vladimir Putin to adjust the date of manned launches. The reasons were not spelled out, and it was unclear if financial considerations were behind the delay. Space agency spokesman Mikhail Fadeyev made clear the change of plan in stating: 'The first manned flight from the Vostochny Cosmodrome is scheduled for 2025 with an Angara-AV5 rocket, according to the federal space programme.' The move reflected the 'founding principle of Vostochny as an innovative cosmodrome', he claimed. Under the plan, the first test flight of the Angara-A5B is scheduled for 2023, while the rocket's first unmanned flight is slated for 2024."

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

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NASA Responds to Congressional Inquiry on Cargo Losses

By Keith Cowing on August 25, 2015 6:11 PM.

Letter From NASA to Congress Regarding SpaceX and Orbital ATK Launch Failure Reviews

"Dear Chairman Smith: Thank you very much for your letter of August 4, 2015 regarding the recent space launch failures of June 28,2015 and October 28, 2014. I appreciate your sincere commitment to our Nation's leadership in space and NASA has always shared that commitment. I am pleased for the opportunity to address your concerns. I would also mention that on August 3, 2015, Vice Admiral Joe Dyer, Chairman of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) provided a written response related to concerns that we were treating SpaceX differently than Orbital ATK with respect to our oversight of the respective accident investigations to Mr. Chris Shank, Policy Director of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. I think you will find Vice Admiral Dyer's response is in basic agreement with the contents of my letter following."

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Understanding The Value of Dissimilar Redundancy

By Keith Cowing on August 25, 2015 1:01 PM.

U.S. and Russia Can't Even Agree on How to Handle Astronaut Pee, Bloomberg

Keith's note: Too bad this reporter (or his editor) did not really understand what NASA was telling him. This article title is simply wrong. This has nothing to do with a disagreement. Rather it has to do with an agreement made in the 1990s allowing the Russians to use their heritage hardware and the U.S. using its existing systems, and then looking for ways that each approach can complement, supplement, or improve upon the other's systems. If nothing else having more than one approach to things offers dissimilar redundancy - something that has saved the ISS program's butt more times than many people know. In the mean time and engineering and operational synergy has emerged from the ISS program with unexpected wisdom that can be applied to future missions.

Oddly, despite this totally inaccurate title, the author even notes the concept of dissimilar redundancy in his article: "NASA has decided to switch to silver-ionized water on future missions, but Carter says he likes that there's both silver- and iodine-treated water aboard the ISS: "It really makes a lot of sense," he says, "to have dissimilar redundancies in the space station in case one of the systems has problems."

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Smoke and Mirrors and New Horizons 2

By Keith Cowing on August 24, 2015 11:52 PM.

Second Horizon, Space Review

"The New Horizons 2 proposal was an effort to gain approval for a mission that was not recommended by the planetary science decadal survey or any other independent group. But the NASA review panel recommended that any New Horizons 2 proposal should also be reviewed by the National Research Council's Committee on Planetary and Lunar Exploration, or COMPLEX, which was considered to be the "the keeper of the decadal." No such review occurred and New Horizons 2 was soon forgotten."

Keith's note: Interesting how New Horizons supporters hyped the Decadal Survey backing of their mission to get it approved and then turned around and tried to push a mission on NASA that had no Decadal Survey backing or credibility whatsoever. #hypocrites.

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Has The Promise of Space Tourism Started to Fade?

By Keith Cowing on August 23, 2015 12:10 PM.

Virgin Galactic boldly goes into small satellites, telling future astronauts 'you have to wait', Telegraph

"Before the crash in November last year, there were around 750 "future astronauts" signed up to Virgin Galactic's space programme, paying $250,000 (160,000) a pop for a seat on a spacecraft SpaceShipTwo that can reach the edge of space at an altitude of 62 miles before returning to earth. Numbers have already fallen to 700. These steadfast customers, believed to include high-profile ticket holders Ashton Kutcher, Angelina Jolie, Kate Winslet and Stephen Hawking, represent $175m in revenue. Whitesides, a former chief of staff for Nasa, is in a difficult position: it is necessary to keep his future astronauts sweet but with no date for the first space tourism mission, and investors to mollify, there needs to be a short-term moneyspinner or Virgin Galactic will run aground. His answer has been to pivot its business model dramatically away from human space travel, and into a burgeoning new sector: small satellite launches. This is why Virgin Galactic has rolled out the welcome mat for the UK firms they are potential customers, partners and advocates."

Virgin Galactic passenger numbers 'almost recovered' after space craft's fatal accident, Suffield Times

"Over the previous six months, Virgin Galactic has quietly reshaped its enterprise mannequin to give attention to the burgeoning small satellite tv for pc launch market, which it estimates might be equally worthwhile."

Keith's note: On one hand, there is nothing at all unusual about this business decision. Air carriers have been mixing passengers, cargo, mail etc. for the better part of a century - for obvious business reasons. Virgin Galactic is simply being smart in trying to diversify its customer base and product offering - while leveraging one against the other. On the other hand, you have to wonder who is going to write huge deposits for a flight with no clearly-known flight date. After a while more people are going to start asking for their money back - or they're going to Virgin Galactic's competitors (assuming they succeed where Virgin Galactic has not).

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#whyspacematters Does Not Seem to Matter

By Keith Cowing on August 20, 2015 12:51 AM.

Keith's note: NASA used some rather expensive astronaut time to set up this photo, take it, send it back to Earth, and post it online. This project "NASA, UN Photo Competition Highlights Why Space Matters on Earth" announced by NASA on 16 June 2015. The intent was good. Seriously. But looking at the follow-up and popularity of the #whyspacematters hashtag on Twitter ... well, its not so good. Too bad. This is a most noble and desirable effort and is emblematic of the uses of space utilization with an intentional global impact.

Perhaps NASA PAO, UNOOSA, et al can promote this a little better? (Hint).

Too bad that the Planetary Society, National Space Society, Space Frontier Foundation etc. are not doing more to promote this. But then again ... space advocates really do not do well outside of their self-limiting comfort zones. Nor do they care to do so.

What a perfect opportunity to get outside the usual space advocacy comfort zone. Space advocacy needs to be inclusive, intrinsically expansive, but grounded in sociopolitical reality. Alas, space advocacy is currently exclusive, insular, tone deaf, elitist, and inherently inbred. Yea, like that is how we get nations to expend billions to expand outward into our solar system - using someone else's tax dollars.

Caption: "NASA astronaut Scott Kelly is photographed in the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) holding a sign with the hashtag #whyspacematters. NASA and the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) have launched a global photography competition to highlight how the vantage point of space helps us better understand our home planet, improve lives, and safeguard our future by aiding sustainable development on Earth. ISS043E294202 (06/10/2015) - Larger image."

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Space Advocacy By Space Advocates Is A Failure

By Keith Cowing on August 18, 2015 11:07 PM.

Red planet rumble, The Space Review

"If somebody was scoring this debate, giving a point for each well-supported argument, deducting a point for each weak one, and subtracting multiple points every time somebody conceded the other side's argument, then Mars One lost it hands down. Not only did Barry Finger admit that MIT's technical analysis and criticism was mostly right, but Lansdorp also admitted that their 12-year plan for landing humans to Mars by 2027 is mostly fiction. Furthermore, Lansdorp acknowledged that he pretty much twists the truth into a pretzel for potential investors when he tells them he knows how to do it and how much it will cost. He doesn't have a clue."

Harnessing The Martian, The Space Review

".. [The Martian] will soon provide a tremendous opportunity particularly to space advocates to extend that excitement to the general population and to engage broad public support for sending human missions to Mars in the near future. The space advocacy community has tried valiantly to promote that goal through other recent films, such as Interstellar and Gravity. However, while those films were certainly entertaining, neither one aligned very well with our space exploration aspirations."

Keith's note: The space advocacy community - especially the human-oriented subset thereof - seems to be unable to discern bad rocket science from science fiction. On one hand so many of their kind believe in a marketing effort (Mars One) with no real technical plan as if it were real because ... well ... because they believe in anything that has to do with their destiny in space. On the other hand when several space-themed movie blockbusters really get the public's attention the same space advocates whine when America doesn't rush to embrace their own peculiar space exploration notions and blame the movie's scripts for not being in precise tune with the niche views of the true space believers.

Continue reading: Space Advocacy By Space Advocates Is A Failure.

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