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Hacked Kepler Continues to Amaze

By Keith Cowing on October 21, 2014 11:39 PM.

Sun's stroke keeps Kepler online, Nature

"Wiemer had fashioned a crutch for Kepler using the only resource available: sunlight. Positioned so that its long side faces the Sun, the spacecraft leans against the pressure created by the onslaught of photons and balances using its two good wheels. With this approach, the team hoped to get within a factor of ten of Kepler's original performance -- but with additional software refinements, NASA's Kepler project manager Charlie Sobeck says that it is better than that, more like a factor of two or three. Wiemer thinks that further tweaks will close the gap entirely. One limitation of the K2 mission is that Kepler must keep the Sun side-on as it orbits, forcing the telescope to switch its field of view roughly every 80 days. This is not enough time to hunt for Earth-like planets around Sun-like stars, but it does let K2 track other celestial bodies such as clusters of newly-formed stars."

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NASA Employees Really Like Working at NASA

By Keith Cowing on October 21, 2014 1:44 PM.

NASA maintains lofty worker-satisfaction ratings for 2014, Washington Post

"National Aeronautics and Space Administration employees remained largely satisfied with their agency this year, likely continuing the agency's trend of ranking among the best places to work in the federal government, according to results from a recent survey. Seventy-one percent of NASA staffers who responded to the Office of Personnel Management's federal-employee viewpoints survey gave the agency a positive mark this year when asked about their overall impression of the organization. NASA in 2013 earned the highest composite score among all federal agencies for the second consecutive year."

2014 Annual Employee Survey Results, NASA

"These results indicate some challenges to be addressed by senior leaders, particularly around their continuing efforts to be intentional and authentic when communicating big Agency issues with their employees."

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NASA OIG Report on NASA Travel

By Keith Cowing on October 21, 2014 10:36 AM.

NASA OIG: Audit of NASA's Premium Air Travel

"Generally, the 2 years of NASA premium-class travel we reviewed was properly authorized and complied with Federal and Agency travel policy. However, we identified four instances of premium travel that did not fall within any FTR or Agency exceptions, errors and omissions in some travel authorizations, and inaccuracies in NASA's reporting of its premium travel to GSA. In addition, we found the Agency's travel policy did not include several elements required by GSA."

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Ah, The Revolving Door in Washington

By Keith Cowing on October 21, 2014 12:01 AM.

Key Senate NASA Staffer Moving on to Lockheed Martin, SpacePolicyOnline

"Ann Zulkosky, the top Senate Democratic staffer dealing with NASA issues on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, is leaving to join Lockheed Martin. Zulkosky is a member of the Democratic professional staff of the committee, which is chaired by Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). Rockefeller is retiring at the end of this Congress and committee staff changes are common when the chairperson retires. Zulkosky has been handling a variety of science issues, but is best known in space policy circles for her work on NASA issues with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), who chairs the committee's Science and Space Subcommittee."

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JSC Is Abandoning NASA History

By Keith Cowing on October 20, 2014 9:46 AM.

Keith's note: NASA JSC is shutting down its Media Research Center. The MRC employees, with more than a century of collective service stretching back to the Apollo era, are being laid off effective 22 October. The building that houses this team will be closed. All materials will be put in boxes - and forgotten. This is a stupid, short-sighted decision. All too soon these boxes will get moved again and again as floor/shelf space is needed for more urgent things, labels will come off boxes, people will dig through the boxes looking for souvenirs that will end up on eBay, and the people who originally managed the contents will disappear. In so doing NASA will have lost yet another big chunk of its history.

I have seen the effect of this bad habit on NASA's part with my own eyes. Once you stop maintaing a resource like this it invariably disintegrates. Yet JSC seems to think that hosting longhorns and prairie chickens is a more important use of its limited funds.

Petitioning NASA Johnson Space Center - Please Save the Media Resource Center!, Change.org

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Earth's Comet Hunting Blind Spot

By Keith Cowing on October 20, 2014 9:13 AM.

Earth at risk after cuts close comet-spotting program, scientists warn, The Guardian

"The Earth has been left with a huge blind spot for potentially devastating comet strikes after the only dedicated comet-spotting program in the southern hemisphere lost its funding, leading astronomers have warned. The program, which discovered the Siding Spring comet that narrowly missed Mars on Sunday, was shut down last year after losing funding. "It's a real worry," Bradley Tucker, an astronomer at the Australian National University (ANU) and University of California Berkeley, told Guardian Australia. "There could be something hurtling towards us right now and we wouldn't know about it."

Siding Spring survey

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NASA's Mars Fleet Checks In

By Keith Cowing on October 19, 2014 8:33 PM.

All Three NASA Mars Orbiters Healthy After Comet Flyby

"All three NASA orbiters around Mars confirmed their healthy status Sunday after each took shelter behind Mars during a period of risk from dust released by a passing comet. Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) orbiter all are part of a campaign to study comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring and possible effects on the Martian atmosphere from gases and dust released by the comet. The comet sped past Mars today much closer than any other know comet flyby of a planet."

- NASA's Mars Odyssey Orbiter Watches Comet Fly Near
- NASA's MAVEN Studies Passing Comet and Its Effects
- NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Studies Comet Flyby

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White House Announces Dava Newman Nomination

By Keith Cowing on October 17, 2014 6:05 PM.

President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts (NASA Excerpt)

"Dr. Dava Newman, Nominee for Deputy Administrator, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Dr. Dava Newman is a Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Engineering Systems at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She first joined the MIT faculty in 1993 and has held a number of different faculty positions since then. Dr. Newman is a Harvard-MIT Health, Sciences and Technology faculty member and became a MacVicar Faculty Fellow in 2000. She is also the Director of the MIT Portugal Program, Director of the Technology and Policy Program, and Co-Director of the Man-Vehicle Laboratory at MIT. From 1992 to 1993, she was an Assistant Professor at the University of Houston. Dr. Newman received a B.S. from the University of Notre Dame and two S.M.s and a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology."

Dava Newman nominated for NASA post, MIT

The deputy administrator's specific duties, Newman says, include NASA's legislative and intergovernmental affairs; communications; the Mission Support Directorate; and international relationships, including the multinational partnership that manages the International Space Station. In addition, the post oversees educational programs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics Helping to spur the interest of young people in space, and in engineering in general, will be "a privilege," Newman says. "I'd like to change the conversation with kids about what it means to be an engineer" -- which she calls "the best job in the world, where you get to solve really challenging and extraordinary problems in the service of humankind."

Dava Newman - New Deputy Administrator at NASA, 8 October post

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Sierra Nevada's CCtCap Scorched Earth Policy

By Keith Cowing on October 16, 2014 9:58 AM.

Sierra Nevada Files Suit To Reinstate Hold on Commercial Crew Contracts

"In filings with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, Sierra Nevada filed requests for both a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to overturn a NASA decision Oct. 9 lifting an order stopping work on Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts awarded Sept. 16 to Boeing and Space Exploration Technologies Corp."

- Why Sierra Nevada Did Not Win Any Commercial Crew Funds, earlier post
- NASA Tells Boeing and SpaceX to Proceed Despite SNC Protest, earlier post
- Sierra Nevada Protests Commercial Crew Award, earlier post

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Lockheed Martin Claims To Be in the Fusion Business Now

By Keith Cowing on October 16, 2014 8:52 AM.

Lockheed Martin Pursuing Compact Nuclear Fusion Reactor Concept (with video)

Skunk Works Reveals Compact Fusion Reactor Details, Aviation Week

"I studied this in graduate school where, under a NASA study, I was charged with how we could get to Mars quickly," says McGuire, who earned his Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Scanning the literature for fusion-based space propulsion concepts proved disappointing."

Scientists Are Bashing Lockheed Martin's Nuclear Fusion 'Breakthrough', Business Insider

Although Lockheed Martin issued a press release saying it had several pending patents for its approach, the company has yet to publish any scientific papers on this latest work."

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Shana Dale Lands at FAA AST

By Keith Cowing on October 15, 2014 11:21 AM.

Shana Dale Joins FAA Commercial Space Office as Deputy AA, Space Policy Online

"Shana Dale will become Deputy Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation (AST) at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as of November 3, 2014. She succeeds George Zamka who left AST this summer to join Bigelow Aerospace. Dale has served in a number of positions on Capitol Hill and in the George W. Bush Administration. She is perhaps best known in space policy circles as the first woman to serve as Deputy Administrator of NASA from 2005-2009 while Mike Griffin was Administrator."

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Printing Our Way Across The Solar System

By Keith Cowing on October 14, 2014 1:35 PM.

Bootstrapping a Solar System Civilization, OSTP

"There's interest outside government as well, with various private companies that see a potential business in mining of asteroids and celestial objects for use in space. Recently, I caught up Dr. Phillip Metzger, a former research physicist at NASA's Kennedy Space Center who has recently joined the faculty of the University of Central Florida, to discuss the longer term goal of "bootstrapping a solar system civilization."

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Why Sierra Nevada Did Not Win Any Commercial Crew Funds

By Keith Cowing on October 14, 2014 12:54 PM.

Why NASA Rejected Sierra Nevada's Commercial Crew Vehicle, Aviation Week

"The internal document, signed by NASA Associate Administrator William Gerstenmaier on Sept. 15, the day before the contract awards were announced, says, "I consider SNC's (Sierra Nevada Corp.) design to be the lowest level of maturity, with significantly more technical work and critical design decisions to accomplish. The proposal did not thoroughly address these design challenges and trades." Gerstenmaier goes on to say that Sierra's proposal "has more schedule uncertainty. For example, some of the testing planned after the crewed flight could be required before the crewed flight, and the impact of this movement will greatly stress the schedule."

- SNC Protest Halts NASA Commercial Crew Efforts, earlier post
- NASA Tells Boeing and SpaceX to Proceed Despite SNC Protest, earlier post

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Idiocracy At Work

By Keith Cowing on October 13, 2014 7:26 PM.

Battle between NSF and House science committee escalates: How did it get this bad?, Science Insider

"The Republican aides were looking for anything that Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), their boss as chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, could use to support his ongoing campaign to demonstrate how the $7 billion research agency is "wasting" taxpayer dollars on frivolous or low-priority projects, particularly in the social sciences. The Democratic staffers wanted to make sure that their boss, Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), the panel's senior Democrat, knew enough about each grant to rebut any criticism that Smith might levy against the research."

David Vitter Unhappy With Ebola Aid Strategy Because It 'Focuses On Africa', Huffington Post

"Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) is urging his colleagues to oppose President Barack Obama's request for $1 billion to fight the spread of Ebola, in part because the plan "focuses on Africa" instead of "our own borders."

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Why Space Advisory Panels Are Useless. They Are Always Ignored.

By Keith Cowing on October 13, 2014 11:50 AM.

Smith to Bolden: Why Not Orion for Commercial Crew?, SpaceNews

"If Orion could provide a redundant capability as a fallback for the commercial crew partners, why is it necessary to carry two partners to ensure competition in the constrained budget environment?" Smith asked NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in an Oct. 7 letter co-signed by Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.), chairman of the House Science space subcommittee."

5 Years After Augustine, Florida Today

"The funding still doesn't match the missions," said Norman Augustine, the former Lockheed Martin CEO who headed the Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee, in a recent interview. "We've been there before, we know how that movie ends. I just hope we find a way to avoid that."

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More stories for October.

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