NASA's Space Launch System, George W.S. Abbey, Baker Institute for Public Policy
"In view of the current availability of a significant number of commercial launch vehicles with proven payload capabilities, as well as the industry's progress in providing a launch vehicle with significantly greater lift capabilities, the Biden administration should reconsider the need for the SLS during its annual budget review. Its launch costs are much greater than those being quoted for existing rockets, as well as those projected for larger commercial boosters with comparable payload capabilities to the SLS. Affordability must always be considered in view of demanding budgets and in view of the availability and the acceptability of lower-cost alternatives."Categories: Biden Space, SLS and Orion
Gov. Greg Abbott says it is now time to open Texas 100%, end statewide mask mandate, Dallas Morning News
"Texans will no longer be required to wear a face mask in public and all businesses can open at full capacity starting next week, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday. The Republican made the sweeping move -- on Texas Independence Day -- even as public health officials say restrictions are still critical to control the pandemic, which has killed more than 42,500 Texans."
"Today, I signed what I expect will be one of my last executive orders regarding COVID-19. Our hospitalizations have plummeted, and our case numbers have fallen dramatically as well. In fact, our case numbers have fallen to the point where no county meets the original criteria for a mask mandate," said Reeves"
"Accordingly, to protect the Federal workforce and individuals interacting with the Federal workforce, and to ensure the continuity of Government services and activities, on-duty or on-site Federal employees, on-site Federal contractors, and other individuals in Federal buildings and on Federal lands should all wear masks, maintain physical distance, and adhere to other public health measures, as provided in CDC guidelines."Categories: Coronavirus
"Though many in the space community thought the Trump administration's goal to land astronauts on the moon by 2024 was impossible and politically motivated, it gave the program momentum. And many at NASA were worried that the Biden administration, which said virtually nothing about space during the campaign, would change course again, continuing a record often compared with the scene in the cartoon strip "Peanuts" when Lucy pulls the football away just as Charlie Brown is about to kick it. Since coming into office, however, Biden has shown an interest in space. He installed a moon rock in the Oval Office, and the White House published a video of him watching NASA's Perseverance rover landing on Mars last month. Afterward Biden called to congratulate Steve Jurczyk, NASA's acting administrator, who has spent more than 30 years at NASA."Biden Space
Keith's note: Websites are a thing that people have been doing for a quarter of a century. Despite all of the fancy graphics and tricks there are some basic things a good website should do. NASA has lots of websites - more than any other government agency. The agency's Internet reach is truly global. But it gets this global reach in spite of itself. Its web presence is a jumbled mess with endless actors competing with one another to get their message out without any thought to collaboration or strategic intent.
If you go to a website for an organization or company you will see an "about" menu item. If you check the menu underneath you will see "About us"; "Who we are", "What we do", "Where we are", and "How to contact us". You might also see something like "audience" or "product categories". Under "About us" "who we are" explains where the website sponsor came from and who the "management", "Advisors", and other significant personnel are. "What we do" explains what they sell or offer as service. "Where we are" describes factory or sales or operations locations. "How to contact us" offers email addresses, physical addresses, phone numbers, online query forms or other means whereby you can make contact.
NASA tries to do some of this but mostly stumbles into itself, creates dead ends, rabbit holes, and is beset by the stovepipe mentality rampant within the agency wherein everyone does their own thing no matter how redundant it may be. In many cases, as I have noted before, NASA often has 2 or more websites covering the same mission or topic since it is easier to avoid food fights and turf battles by tolerating the status quo.
Jim Bridenstine ordered the agency to fix its website mess in 2019 (see Overhauling NASA's Tangled Internet Presence). The situation existed in 2017 (see Dueling NASA Websites Update) and 2011 (see NASA's Inability To Speak With One Voice Online) and so on. The 2019 action to fix things went to CIO and PAO. They did nothing for a year and then tossed it to the NASA Chief Scientist's office. Supposedly there is something under development but since nothing has changed in the past two years since an action was assigned I am dubious of its imminent arrival or value.
So let's take another swipe at what is broken. If you go to NASA.gov and go to "About" in the top menu and click on leadership all you get is a short bio of Acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk. No one else is mentioned. You have to go to Organization to get that information. Oddly, all of the people listed are indeed the agency's leadership but they are not listed on the leadership page. All of the field centers are listed at the bottom of the leadership page with a one sentence listing of their specialties. But if you go to the org chart from August 2020 many of the locations are not even mentioned - Wallops, White Sands, Michoud, IV&V, Safety etc. Shared services and JPL are shown in different places).
If you go to locations there is also a list of the NASA field centers but no mention is made of what they do (unlike the leadership page which at least gives a few key words for what each center does). Moreover if you visit each of NASA's locations (field centers) they only talk about themselves and rarely (if ever) talk about other NASA field centers. Indeed, they often take NASA HQ press releases and modify them to have a local feel with local contacts. If you land on one of these field center websites you'd be almost certain to not know that there are any other field centers operated by NASA. One would also think that an explanation of what each field center does and what areas it serves would be prudent. But then again, if you read the content on each of the sites, you'd be forgiven for thinking that each field center does everything that NASA as a whole does. As such, a chart showing what they do would be pointless since every field center would fight to have every box checked for every topic - even if they only do a tiny piece of that work.
One extreme example is JPL. If you go to the NASA JPL website and click on the NASA logo you go to ... the site you are already reading. The only place you can find a link to NASA on NASA JPL main page is at the absolute bottom of the page on the left hand side in small type. Talk about burying visibility of NASA outside of JPL.
But back to NASA.gov. If you look at the options under "NASA Audiences" you have 3 to choose from: Media, Educators, Students. There is nothing for "Scientists/Engineers, "Business Interests", or "Policy Makers". There are topical links but they lead you away from most of what the agency has online. Try "Solar System And Beyond". There is no link to the NASA Science Mission Directorate where all of this stuff is done. The "The Search for Life and Exoplanets" page makes mention of the Astrobiology program or the multibillion dollar Mars Perseverance mission and its "mobile astrobiologist". If you go to the Earth page there is zero mention of the major effort by the White House to address climate change. And despite having the word "aeronautics" in its name - there is no obvious link to "aeronautics" at NASA.gov.
Given that the Biden Administration is all about SCIENCE - with the tagline #ScienceIsBack in frequent use, you'd think that there would be more of a focus on helping visitors find all of the science goodness at NASA - both for the general public and for actual scientists and policy makers. Good luck with that. If you use the Search box on the upper right hand side you get results that are a mix of specific and general, and that are old and new. No strategic thought of presenting topics of relevance to current policy discussions is presented in a strategic, prominent fashion.
But NASA does have some amazing only research and search capabilities. You can only find them if you know in advance to look for them. NASA.gov is of no help. NASA.gov and its subsidiary pages make no up front mention of these NASA funded search resources. One example is PubSpace - a NASA partnership with the PubMed Central (PMC) repository, hosted by The National Institutes of Health, to provide public access to peer-reviewed papers resulting from NASA-funded research. One page buried deep inside the website sends you here where only NASA folks seem to be welcome. The public? No mention. But if you know to go to the actual PubSpace site hosted by NIH - well, everyone is welcome.
Then there is the treasure trove of 70-plus years of NASA and NACA information at NASA Technical Reports Server (NTRS) which "provides access to NASA metadata records, full-text online documents, images, and videos. The types of information included are conference papers, journal articles, meeting papers, patents, research reports, images, movies, and technical videos - scientific and technical information created or funded by NASA." You can't find it anywhere prominent via NASA.gov.
NASA JSC posted this the other day: International Space Station Archives Fuel New Scientific Discoveries: "That legacy is evident in a publication by Cell Press, a collection of scientific journals that recently compiled 29 papers on the biology of spaceflight or the study of how space affects the human body. A number of the papers relied on the NASA Life Sciences Data Archive (LSDA) and NASA's Genelab, two repositories that contain decades of biological samples and data from the International Space Station." Cool stuff, eh? Worth telling the world about, don't you think? Go to the Humans In Space page. No mention of either database. Go to the International Space Station link. No mention of either database. Go to Space Station Research and Technology. No mention of either database. Indeed go to Let's Explore Space Station Science with a searchable database. No mention of either database.
Another overlooked resource is extremely comprehensive NASA Spaceline which is "compiled weekly, contain citations to articles from peer-reviewed journals and other recent publications of interest in the space life sciences." It is buried on the NASA Taskbook website which no one in the real world ever hears about. The ISS Program Office and CASIS make no mention of this listing of their own research results. Indeed, the only complete archive is on our SpaceRef website back to 1999. NASA's support for this service has wavered - but we did a diving catch to make sure it was not lost. So ... I could go on - but I have been doing that for decades. Have a look here.
When it comes to stunning imagery and stories of the moment, NASA constantly manages to thrill, awe, and stun the world with its audacious accomplishments. Yet the same agency manages to hide much of its treasures - thus limiting the full impact of its discoveries and limiting its ability to have an impact beyond its comparatively small governmental sandbox. Maybe the Biden folks will fix this once and for all.Categories: IT/Web, Internet Policies
"If and when humankind reaches that next frontier, though, there are reasons to doubt that it will be a U.S. government space project that leads us there. Ironically, the society that put a man on the moon may be just the wrong one to succeed in this next great endeavor, at least through a grand national project like Apollo."
Keith's note: In his OpEd former OMB director Mitch Daniels spends 95% of his time explaining why NASA will probably never send humans to Mars - as if it were an indisputable future - one that is really not open to further discussion. His only bright light in terms of sending humans to Mars is a single paragraph punt to the private sector - with no real elaboration as to how it might happen. In other words government=bad, private sector=good. Details to to follow.
Daniels has had a chance to really get into the issues surrounding human spaceflight a decade ago. But his efforts were widely panned as being a flop. He mentions a report issued by a committee he chaired. Specifically it was the "Committee Reviews Report on Future of Human Spaceflight", issued by the NRC in response to a requirement in the NASA Authorization Act of 2014. NASA paid millions of dollars for this multi-year report generating effort.
As I wrote at the time: "NRC says NASA Is on the wrong path to Mars. That's about the only thing they took a clear position on in their report. In writing their report the committee dodged all of the big questions with the excuse that it was beyond their scope/charter. Trivial mention was made of commercial alternatives or whether the SLS-based model is the right way to get to Mars. In the briefing yesterday Mitch Daniels said that funding for all of this is "the secondary question". So there you go - yet another space policy report - one that cost $3.6 million and is being delivered more than 3 years after it was requested. The White House and NASA will ignore it. Congress will wave it around and then ignore it too. In the end we'll all be where we are now - with incomplete plans, no strategy, a big rocket with no payload, and nothing close to a budget to make any of it happen."
So ... here we are 7 years later and we are still trying to figure out where NASA is going to go - and why. Daniels et al had a chance to try and reset NASA's course but they shied away from a chance to do so - and they overtly told everyone that that they were not going to answer the big, obvious questions this report raised. Now its time for him to pop up and criticize what has/has not happend in the intervening 7 years. Like cicadas I guess we'll have to wait another 7 years for the next Daniels update.
As mentioned above, Daniels has found religion in commercial space. He found it but does not know what to do with it. Daniels is somewhat correct in stating that: "To do so, our commission concluded, would require making the goal a central, single-minded priority of the U.S. space program; a relentless, unswerving multi-decade commitment to a pre-agreed path to reach the goal; and constant investments in amounts well above the rate of inflation. American democracy is not very good at any of those things." Again, as I noted, Daniels et al listed the problems but had no idea what the solutions were. So why have a report if the report does not offer a solution to a problem? Oh wait: I almost forgot; this is Washington. Reports are solutions in and of themselves. Whether they offer anything useful is beside the point.
Daniels concludes his op ed by saying "The new Biden administration's overall agenda is bigger and more expensive than any before it, yet it appears to leave little or no space for space. With a micromanaging Congress resetting budgets on an annual basis, picking out a priority for NASA and sticking to it for 20 years or more is likely not in the cards; we've proved very poor at "perseverance." Plus, our legislators regularly carve out NASA dollars for favored non-exploratory causes such as environmental monitoring, and fiercely protect multiple space centers and resulting costly redundancies."
Again, Daniels does a nice job citing all of the problems and challenges and predicting a post mortem on things yet to come - things that he thinks are immutable and unable to be changed. In many instances he is right. But enough with the problems already.
So Mitch - is there ever going to be a solution forthcoming? The Biden/Harris team - at age 1 month - has already been prompted to respond to the space issue multiple times. Each and every response - many unprompted - has been one of support. Yes, words and empty promises are the prime commodity here in Washington. But at least the Biden/Harris team proceeds from a point of optimism and hope when it comes to space. No doubt the reality of governing post-pandemic America will dampen some of this - but at least they start from a good place. You? Not so much. People tend to accomplish more if they start out thinking that they can. There's a little hope. Let's run with it - while we can. Ad Astra Mitch.
- Why Does Space Policy Always Suck? (2013), earlier post
- Report From Slow Motion Advisory Committee on Human Space Flight (2013), earlier post
- Space Studies Board is (Not Really) Interested In What You Think, (2013), earlier post
- NRC Says NASA Is On The Wrong Path to Mars , (2014), earlier post
- Hearing on NRC Human Spaceflight Report, (2014), earlier post
"In celebration of Black History Month, NASA astronaut Victor Glover welcomed Vice President Kamala Harris to the International Space Station for avirtual chat. In the video recorded Feb. 24 and shared Saturday, the conversation ranged from the legacy of human spaceflight to observing Earth from the vantage of the space station, Glovers history-making stay aboard the orbiting laboratory, and preparing for missions from the Moon to Mars."Categories: Biden Space, ISS News
Excerpt from full text of comments made by President Biden
"But then, last week -- (applause) -- guess what? -- we also landed a rover on Mars. (Applause.) We -- led by a NASA team in Pasadena, California. A rover carries instruments developed by a team here in Houston that will be used in the mission of our time and our dreams. Imagine. We tell -- everybody has been so down the last number of years about what America -- what can we do? Who are -- we can do anything! America can do anything. (Applause.) And now we see the images that are truly stunning: battling COVID, beating cancer, going to Mars."Categories: Biden Space
"Making space exploration a priority though, even during a pandemic, could bode well for Americans' morale, Logsdon said, such as what happened with the first moon landing in 1969 that came on the heels of a decade of domestic and international civil unrest. "It was a counter balance to the negativity of the time," Logsdon said. "If we do inspirational things in space -- go back to the moon or travel beyond land rovers on Mars -- that gives us a sense of future, a sense of positive achievement to counter the pervasive negativity." ."Categories: Biden Space
Scrap the Space Launch System, Bloomberg
"Perhaps predictably, the program has been plagued with problems from the start. A report last year from NASA's inspector general warned of "rising costs and delays," "shortcomings in quality control," "challenges with program management," "technical issues," "development issues," "infrastructure issues," "performance issues" and more. A watchdog report in December found "uncertain plans, unproven cost assumptions, and limited oversight."
"The editorial board at Bloomberg News launched a nonsensical attack on NASA's human spaceflight program last week. It was full of dubious assertions about alternatives to the Space Launch System, the first deep-space rocket NASA has built for human transport since Saturn V lofted Apollo missions to the Moon half a century ago. I don't normally call attention to arguments that I think are wrong, but since Bloomberg's screed was explicitly aimed at the Biden administration, I thought it might be useful to rebut some of the questionable claims advanced by the editorial board."
Keith's note: Forbes is pretty desperate for "news" comment when they print these blatantly biased columns about aerospace companies by Loren Thompson whose think tank employer is funded by the very same companies who get zillions of dollars from NASA to build the SLS. Despite his claim that he's responding to someone else's inaccuracies, what he actually wrote is a collision of contradictory nonsense, self-licking ice cream cones, and recycled Big Aerospace lobbying points.
This is my favorite, by far: "The editorial board complains that SLS is "years behind schedule." If it had bothered to look, it would have realized that every major launch vehicle developed by NASA and by private industry ends up running years behind schedule." So in other words, its OK for NASA to propose schedules and then let the companies walk all over them and stick out their hands to say 'more money please' since everyone overruns. Who needs schedules or budgets, right? It is just taxpayer money anyway.
To be honest though. I'm not sure the Biden folks are giving either of these op eds a whole lot of attention since they are two sides of the same problem.Categories: Commercialization
"NASA's recent solicitation for "International Space Station Seat Exchange," indicated that "NASA has no remaining crew seats on Soyuz." At the January 2018 Committee hearing, the NASA witness testified that "[t]he manufacturing time of a Soyuz of approximately 3 years will not allow additional Soyuz to be manufactured." Given the information and testimony listed above, it appears that NASA may be seeking to procure a Russian Soyuz seat from a third-party, on a noexchange-of-funds-basis, and that a formal agreement between NASA and Russia for seat exchanges may not be in place. In order for the Committee to better understand what NASA intends to use the aforementioned solicitation to procure, and more specifically, how it intends to procure those services, please facilitate a bipartisan briefing for Committee staff. If you have any questions related to this request, please contact Mr. Tom Hammond with the minority Committee staff."
"So ... why is it that NASA is buying a seat from Roscosmos via a third party? Axiom Space has to be making some money off of this, right? So why go through Axiom Space and pay them a fee when NASA can just go directly to Roscosmos - minus the Axiom Space reselling path - as NASA has done for decades? Wouldn't that be cheaper? Does this involve the $140 million deal that Axiom Space has with NASA to study their commercial space station module? Or ... does the use of Axiom Space (an American company) as a middle man provide a way to technically "buy American"?"Categories: Commercialization, Russia
Keith's note: Rumors are starting to bubble up. Bill Nelson wants you to know that he really, really wants to be the next NASA Administrator. There is one small problem however: according to his own previously established criteria for who should - or should not - be NASA administrator, he is not qualified. Oh yes: former NASA Adminstrator Charlie Bolden agreed with Nelson's qualification criteria. Just sayin'
Keith's update: there was mention of this topic at the daily White House Press briefing:
Reporter: There are reports that Presiden Biden is considering former Florida Senator Bill Nelson to be the NASA Administrator. Are those reports accurate? Is he under consideration? And when do you expect an announcement?
Psaki: I do not have any personnel announcements for you or any expectation as to when we will have an announcement on a NASA administrator - or a list of potential people. But that is an interesting one.
"If Joe Biden is elected. I will give a recommendation of a handful of people that I would recommend to be the head of NASA, and my recommendation would not include myself," Nelson explained in August."
"In 2017, Nelson also led the opposition to Jim Bridenstine becoming administrator of NASA. Then serving as the ranking member on the Senate's Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, which oversees NASA, Nelson said Bridenstine was too partisan and political to lead NASA. He also accused Bridenstine of not having the expertise to do so."
What Qualified Bill Nelson To Be An Astronaut? Politics, earlier post (2017)
"Nelson overtly used his political position to force NASA to fly him on a space shuttle mission. His only professional qualification? He was a lawyer."
Bill Nelson: Do As I Say Not As I Do, earlier post (2017)
"The head of NASA ought to be a space professional, not a politician," Mr. Nelson, a Democrat, said in a statement on Friday."
Rubio, Nelson blast Trump's NASA pick, Politico (2017)
"The head of NASA ought to be a space professional, not a politician," Nelson said in a brief written statement to POLITICO."
Trump's nominee for NASA administrator comes under fire at Senate hearing, Washington Post (2017)
"The NASA administrator should be a consummate space professional who is technically and scientifically competent and a skilled executive," said Nelson, who wields great influence over the space agency, in his written opening statement. "More importantly, the administrator must be a leader who has the ability to unite scientists, engineers, commercial space interests, policymakers and the public on a shared vision for future space exploration."
Bolden Throws Bridenstine Some Shade, earlier post (2017)
"He would not have been my first choice because he's a politician. And he is the first person, to my knowledge, ever selected from political office to become the NASA administrator. I don't think it's healthy for the agency to have someone who's a partisan in that position. The position calls for somebody who can carry out the president's agenda to the best of his ability but do it in a nonpartisan way and be able to work across the aisle. And I think his history is such that he may find some difficulty in working across the aisle."Categories: Biden Space
"I know we can do this. We've done it before. Just yesterday -- after a seven-month, 300-million mile journey -- NASA successfully landed the Perseverance Rover on Mars. It's on a mission of exploration, with elements contributed by our European partners to seek evidence of the possibility of life beyond our planet and the mysteries of the universe.
Over the next few years -- "Percy" is (inaudible) call -- but Perseverance will range and collect samples from the Red Planet and pile them up so another mission and rover, envisioned as a joint effort between NASA and the European Space Agency, will retrieve this trove of scientific wonders and bring it home to all of us.
That's what we can do together. If our unbound capacity to carry us to Mars and back don't tell us anything else, they tell us we can meet any challenge we can face on Earth. We have everything we need. And I want you to know the United States will do -- we'll do our part. We'll stand with you. We'll fight for our shared values. We'll meet the challenges of this new moment in history.
America is back. So let's get together and demonstrate to our great, great grandchildren, when they read about us, that democracy -- democracy -- democracy functions and works, and together, there is nothing we can't do. So let's get working."
Categories: Biden Space, Space & Planetary Science
On Thursday, I joined the world and watched in awe as the Perseverance Rover touched down on the surface of Mars. It was a remarkable feat -- one made possible by the hard work and ingenuity of the team at @NASA.— President Biden (@POTUS) February 20, 2021
I called to congratulate them on their historic landing. pic.twitter.com/0Qjs2MDk4J
NASA astronauts Kate Rubins and Victor Glover concluded their spacewalk at 1:16 p.m. EST, after 7 hours and 4 minutes.