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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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Getting Those SciFi Rovers Straight

By Keith Cowing on October 4, 2015 9:00 PM.


Russia Built Its New Cosmodrome Wrong

By Keith Cowing on October 4, 2015 12:38 PM.

Russia's New Rocket Won't Fit in Its New Cosmodrome, Moscow Times

"Work at Russia's new $ 3 billion spaceport in the Far East has ground to a halt after a critical piece of infrastructure was discovered to have been built to the wrong dimensions, and would not fit the latest version of the country's Soyuz rocket, a news report said."

- Russia's Vostochny Cosmodrome Has Big Problems, earlier post
- 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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Film Review of "The Martian"

By Keith Cowing on October 3, 2015 5:08 PM.

Film Review: "The Martian", Keith Cowing

"The Martian is a really good movie. It would be a good movie even if it was not set in outer space. But it does happen in space and does so in superbly flawless fashion. The movie is fast-paced and really doesn't miss a beat. Little time is wasted on things that do not support the story. You are on Mars with Mark Watney and you really want to see him get home."

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ULA's RD-180 Problems Mount

By Keith Cowing on October 2, 2015 7:28 PM.

ULA needs relief on Russian engines before GPS launch bid -CEO, Reuters

"United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, on Friday said it cannot bid in a U.S. Air Force competition to launch a GPS satellite unless it gets some relief from a ban on use of Russian rocket engines. ULA Chief Executive Officer Tory Bruno told reporters in Cape Canaveral, Florida, that the company was seeking a partial waiver on trade sanctions enacted last year that ban U.S. military use of the Russian RD-180 engine that powers ULA's primary workhorse Atlas 5 rocket. The issue is now in the hands of Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Bruno said. Without the waiver, he said, ULA could not compete for that launch or any other new national security launches until a new American-built engine is ready in 2019."That's not a viable business model," he told reporters."

United Launch Alliance under pressure from Elon Musk's SpaceX upstart and Congress, Washington Post

"ULA is facing a challenge from SpaceX, the hard-charging upstart founded by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, which just won certification by the Air Force that would allow it to compete against ULA for the next Pentagon launch contract. And ULA faces an even bigger problem: the Russian-made rocket engine it relies on has been entangled in a messy political fight that could threaten its ability to compete at all."

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Moon Huggers Launch Their Revolt Against The Martians - To No One's Benefit

By Keith Cowing on October 2, 2015 4:14 PM.

NASA = Mars = Delusional, Paul Spudis

"Apparently, NASA believes that as this movie takes off in popularity, a public wound-up about space exploration will demand that the agency be showered with additional money."

Keith's note: No, Paul I have yet to find a single person even remotely involved in PR or EPO efforts at NASA who thinks that this is going to happen and/or have adopted this as a strategy. Indeed a lot of them are a little leery that some space advocates seem to be operating under this delusion. NASA PAO folks are doing the PR for the reasons I cite below in "Growing The Next Generation Of Space Explorers" I do have to pose the question: why are so many movies (viewed by the public) about going to Mars, and so very few about going to the Moon? Hollywood (at least) tries to make movies that large audiences will go and see. The Moon is not sexy right now - hate to burst your balloon. Whose fault is it that the Moon is not hip right now?

That said, if you strip out Paul's barely suppressed hostility about Mars-o-mania, he does touch on some important points in this posting - and you should read it. As Spudis knows, I think the notion of sending humans back to the Moon has been ignored for far too long. So has the notion of sending humans to Mars. We should do both in a coordinated, synergistic, evolutionary way. The fact that prominent space advocates/scientists fight in public like this simply reaffirms my ongoing commentary about how space policy is (rather is not) made and that space advocates need to stop talking to one another and go outside their sandboxes into the real world and see what passes for important.

I suspect that the elusive secret sauce needed to link what NASA and the space sector can do, what they should do, and how they should do it - in a growing fashion - lies outside the agency all together. Space fans just have to accept some humility, adopt a open mind, and look. Its there. Sometimes it lingers just out of reach when a big space movie comes out. Other times its brought on by something interesting in the sky. Its there. Its like dark matter since we can see its influence. But space fans have yet to figure out how to actually detect it.

So long as prominent members of the space science/policy advocacy communities have these stark, incompatible, almost religious disagreements about where to go (and where not to go) they will make no progress. Indeed as costs increase they are going to continue to make negative progress. Absent from all of these intramural squabbles is a lucid explanation as to why NASA should spend billions of "regular" people's tax dollars on things that a lot of regular folks simply do not understand - all while college tuition has become obscene and health care costs are increasing like a runaway train. Given this dysfunctional behavior I remain totally baffled as to how the space community at large (or its various dueling tribes) thinks that they can just turn around and get the public to clamor for more money for ANY of these projects when they are so utterly detached from the real world that pumps money into NASA's lap in the first place.

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Google Lunar X Prize to Verify Moon Express Launch Contract

By Marc Boucher on October 2, 2015 1:12 PM.

Moon Express Launch Contract to be Verified by Google Lunar XPRIZE, SpaceRef Business

"Yesterday Moon Express became the first Google Lunar X PRIZE participant to sign a launch contract with a launch service provider, albeit one who has yet to launch a rocket."

"The contract with Rocket Lab, a New Zealand startup based in Los Angeles but with a launch site in New Zealand, still needs to be verified by the Google Lunar X PRIZE authorities."

Marc's note: For the competition to be extended beyond this year the Google Lunar X PRIZE needs to verify the launch contract signed between Moon Express and Rocket Lab. If Moon Express had signed a contract with SpaceX, I think this would be a formality. However Rocket Lab has yet to launch their Electron rocket. Does that play into the decision process? Or is it just a matter of verifying the legality of the contract? I'm waiting for a response from the Google Lunar X Prize on this question.

Marc's update: Here's what 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)."


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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.

More updates...