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The Future Is Here, Y'all

By Keith Cowing on October 23, 2020 10:40 PM.


Civil Servants Are Going To Lose Protections

By Keith Cowing on October 23, 2020 8:39 PM.

Trump issues sweeping order for tens of thousands of career federal employees to lose civil service protections, Washington Post

"President Trump this week fired his biggest broadside yet against the federal bureaucracy by issuing an executive order that would remove job security from an estimated tens of thousands of civil servants and dramatically remake the government. The directive, issued late Wednesday, strips long-held civil service protections from employees whose work involves policymaking, allowing them to be dismissed with little cause or recourse, much like the political appointees who come and go with each administration. Federal scientists, attorneys, regulators, public health experts and many others in senior roles would lose rights to due process and in some cases, union representation, at agencies across the government. ... the most likely targets would be employees at the highest level of the General Schedule below that, GS-13, -14 and -15. ... The order would not affect the roughly 6,000 senior executives in the government. But experts on the civil service said the most likely targets would be employees at the highest level of the General Schedule below that, GS-13, -14 and -15."

Trump signs executive order that critics warn politicizes federal career civil service, CNN

"Max Stier, the head of the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, which seeks to fix government, argued, "Being able to place any number of existing career positions into this new Schedule F not only blurs the line between politics and the neutral competency of the career civil service, it obliterates it."

'Stunning' Executive Order Would Politicize Civil Service, Government Executive

"The order sets a swift timetable for implementation: Agencies have 90 days to conduct a "preliminary" review of their workforces to determine who should be moved into the new employee classification--a deadline that coincides with Jan. 19, the day before the next presidential inauguration."

Trump's historic assault on the civil service was four years in the making, Washington Post

"President Trump's extraordinary directive allowing his administration to weed out career federal employees viewed as disloyal in a second term is the product of a four-year campaign by conservatives working from a ­little-known West Wing policy shop."

Keith's note: Just when everyone is totally stressed out from trying to hold their agencies together from home - during a global pandemic - the White House drops this little gem on everyone. If you are not loyal to the current regime you now risk being penalized or fired.

OK, now everyone needs to get back to their job of exploring the universe - while everything else falls apart back here on Earth.

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Why Space Always Fares Badly In Presidential Politics

By Keith Cowing on October 23, 2020 4:15 PM.

Keith's note: The best way to ensure that space exploration is allowed to proceed in the way that it should is for everyone to just sit down and shut up. It never fares well when injected into presidential campaigns. When space is put along side something else or emphasized instead of something else invariably you get "what about [insert other issue] instead of space". Oh yes: "manned presence"? "Manned mission to Mars"? So much for the whole "first woman on the Moon" thing.


The Largest Spaceflight Isolation Analog In History Is Underway

By Keith Cowing on October 23, 2020 2:33 PM.

COVID-19--The largest isolation study in history: the value of shared learnings from spaceflight analogs, Nature (Open source)

"The world is currently experiencing the largest isolation experiment in history. In an attempt to slow down the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic numerous countries across the world have been shutting down economies, education, and public life. Governments have mandated strict regulations of quarantine and social distancing in an unprecedented manner. The effects of these measures on brain, behavior, neuro-humoral and immunological responses in humans are largely unknown. Life science research for space exploration has a long history in using high-fidelity spaceflight analogs to better understand the effect of prolonged isolation and confinement on genes, molecules, cells, neural circuits, and physiological systems to behavior. We here propose to leverage the extensive experience and data from these studies and build a bridge between spaceflight research and clinical settings to foster transdisciplinary approaches to characterize the neurobehavioral effects on the immune system and vice versa. These approaches are expected to develop innovative and efficient health screening tools, diagnostic systems, and treatments to mitigate health risks associated with isolation and confinement on Earth and during future exploratory spaceflight missions."

Keith's note: For NASA: This week's NASA Spaceline just came out and this article is listed. DLR and ESA supported it and IBMP and NASA data were used - so this is an international effort. Not that the ISS was just waiting for COVID-19 to happen so as to justify its existence, but there are some real parallels between LEO and deep space exploration and the way that people are currently working in isolation on Earth due to COVID-19. If you want to make the ISS seen as being relevant to real world issues (and vice versa) then making more prominent mention of research space medicine/space biology such as this is an option you might consider.

Everyone on Earth is participating in a long duration space travel isolation analog to some extent. We all wish it would end, but since we're going to be in this situation for quite some time to come perhaps there is something that NASA can offer to foster an understanding of what people in isolation are going through - and that people going through this experience may have something to offer to NASA in response.

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On-orbit Democracy Ops

By Keith Cowing on October 23, 2020 12:33 AM.

Offworld Voting

"From the International Space Station: I voted today

-- Kate Rubins"

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Conservative Think Tank Tries To Imagine Biden Space Policy

By Keith Cowing on October 22, 2020 10:35 AM.

Senior space officials met to "war game" Biden administration space policy, Ars Technica

"On Tuesday about a dozen space officials met virtually to simulate how a National Space Council might operate during a Joe Biden administration, should the Democratic Party nominee win the 2020 presidential election. The American Foreign Policy Council convened what it characterized as a "closed-door" and "scenario-based simulation" to understand how the Biden administration would think through important space events. Invitations were sent to officials in the aerospace industry whom the Biden administration might call upon as advisers or to fill key leadership roles. The event was not organized at the behest of the Biden campaign."

Keith's note: The American Foreign Policy Council is a conservative non-profit with zero influence on Democratic activities. Zero. Newt Gingrich is on its advisory board. Tick tock. Eric Berger's reporting is spot on. As he notes the Biden campaign had nothing to do with this event. As such, anything that emerged from their "war games" amounts to little more than a game of "you sank my battleship". These sort of things always happen in Washington, DC during election times. If no concrete policy emerges on a specific topic, the usual suspects feel compelled to go off and look like they are creating one. That is what is going on here. Also, a few people are also jockeying for jobs (like chairing the National Space Council). When Team Biden has a space policy we'll all hear about it in broad daylight - not cloistered shadows.


Soyuz Crew Returns To Earth

By Keith Cowing on October 22, 2020 12:06 AM.

Chris Cassidy, Ivan Vagner, and Anatoly Ivanishin Return To Earth

"After 196 days living and working in Earth's orbit aboard the International Space Station, NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy returned from his third space mission Wednesday, Oct. 21, with cosmonauts Ivan Vagner and Anatoly Ivanishin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos. The crew departed the station at 7:32 p.m. EDT Wednesday and landed just south of the town of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, at 10:54 p.m. (8:54 a.m. Kazakhstan time)."

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Senate Bill On Space Debris/Situational Awareness Introduced

By Keith Cowing on October 21, 2020 5:07 PM.

Wicker Introduces Space Preservation and Conjunction Emergency Act

"U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today introduced the Space Preservation and Conjunction Emergency (SPACE) Act. The legislation would authorize the Department of Commerce (DOC) to provide space situational awareness (SSA) services to civil, commercial, and international space operators."


"Exciting" Moon News Next Monday. More Water?

By Keith Cowing on October 21, 2020 4:51 PM.

NASA to Announce New Science Results About Moon

"NASA will announce an exciting new discovery about the Moon from the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) at a media teleconference at 12 p.m. EDT Monday, Oct. 26. Audio of the teleconference will stream live on the agency's website."

Keith's note: OK, let's use Google. Look what shows up if you search for some names, Moon, and SOFIA. Gee, I wonder if the "exciting" news has to do with water on the Moon.


"However, we developed a new approach to detect the actual water molecule on the Moon using observations at 6 µm, based on how geologists detect H2O in samples in the lab using infrared spectroscopy. Observations at 6 µm are only possible from an airborne infrared observatory, we were granted time on the Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) to collect data of the Moon. Using data from SOFIA we report the first direct detection of the water molecule on the illuminated lunar surface."

Lunar Observations from SOFIA: Recent Results and Next Plans

"Date: Monday, October 26, 2020 - 12:30pm PDT Speaker: Casey Honniball - Bill Reach Affiliation: NASA Goddard - SOFIA/USRA"

A Clearer Look at Lunar Surface Hydration, AGU

"Using the thermally corrected IRTF data, the authors confirm the temperature-dependent variation of hydration on the lunar surface. The surface appears less hydrated closer to local noon, at which time the surface reaches its maximum temperature. They also observe a latitudinal dependence, with more hydration appearing at higher latitudes, particularly in the southern hemisphere."

Of course, there is the ongoing issue of somewhat underwhelming support for SOFIA - and I guess they could use some good news - hence the hype. ARC, GSFC and USRA are really rolling out the red carpet for this "exciting" news. Stay tuned.

OIG: NASA's Management of the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy Program, earlier post (2020)

"Although responsible for several first-of-its-kind discoveries, SOFIA's 13-year development delay reduced the Program's ability to produce impactful science in a cost-effective manner, particularly when compared to the cost of and science produced by other infrared observatories that launched in the interim. Further, SOFIA has not fully utilized its unique capabilities to serve as an instrument test bed due to high instrument development costs, or to fly anytime anywhere because of a lack of instrument scheduling flexibility, the amount of time necessary to switch out instruments, and the prioritization of observations with greater scientific significance."

NASA OIG: SOFIA: NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, earlier post (2014)

"We found that despite substantial delays in reaching operational capacity, SOFIA remains capable of contributing to the scientific body of knowledge and many in the science community view the observatory as a valuable resource. However, we understand that the SOFIA Program is competing for limited resources and policymakers will have to decide whether other NASA projects are a higher scientific and budgetary priority."

NASA OIG: Final Memorandum on Audit of the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) Program Management Effectiveness, earlier post (2009)

"Costs have exceeded 217 percent of the initial cost estimate and limited scientific operations are approximately 10 years behind the original schedule. As of January 2009, the SOFIA Program's life-cycle cost estimates were approximately $1.1 billion for development and implementation and approximately $3.4 billion including a 20-year operational lifespan. We initiated this audit in light of the Program's historical management issues and aircraft maintenance concerns."

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OSIRIS-REx Completes Sample Collection From Asteroid Bennu

By Keith Cowing on October 20, 2020 6:18 PM.

OSIRIS-REx Samples Asteroid Bennu

"NASA's Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft unfurled its robotic arm Tuesday, and in a first for the agency, briefly touched an asteroid to collect dust and pebbles from the surface for delivery to Earth in 2023. This well-preserved, ancient asteroid, known as Bennu, is currently more than 200 million miles (321 million kilometers) from Earth. Bennu offers scientists a window into the early solar system as it was first taking shape billions of years ago and flinging ingredients that could have helped seed life on Earth. If Tuesday's sample collection event, known as "Touch-And-Go" (TAG), provided enough of a sample, mission teams will command the spacecraft to begin stowing the precious primordial cargo to begin its journey back to Earth in March 2021. Otherwise, they will prepare for another attempt in January."


NASAWatch Talks OSIRISREx on Deutsche Welle

By Keith Cowing on October 20, 2020 4:33 PM.




Brazil Signs Artemis Accords

By Keith Cowing on October 20, 2020 2:53 PM.


Gordon Woodcock

By Keith Cowing on October 20, 2020 2:00 PM.

Keith's note: Sources report that Gordon Woodcock has died. A long time employee of Boeing, Woodcock had a hand in virtually every type of space project you can imagine over the years. Although he retired from Boeing in 1996, he never really retired and became a fixture in the space community. His career spanned many decades and he influenced a lot of people in the space industry. Details to follow. Ad Astra.

Bio, NSS


The NASA CFO Nominee Hearing That May Well Be Pointless

By Keith Cowing on October 19, 2020 8:35 PM.

Keith's note: Depending on the election results a week earlier this could be moot.

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Making Asteroid Exploration Hardware More Openly Available (Update)

By Keith Cowing on October 19, 2020 4:01 PM.

Keith's note: My question to the 1:00 pm Asteroid mission media telecon: "There is a lot of talk these days from NASA about the collection and utilization of resources in the solar system - indeed, the recently signed #Artemis Accords specifically deal with this issue with regard to the Moon, Mars, Asteroids, and comets. Is the OSIRIS-Rex sample collection system open source - can other space agencies or companies use this technology? Is it being considered for use on other missions? Same question about the Lucy, Psyche and DART systems."

With regard to OSIRIS-Rex Lori Glaz said that NASA needs to check. Regarding the Psyche mission Lindy Elkins-Tanton said that it is being done via a partnership with Maxnar who was selected because they have a lot of experience over a hundred spacecraft. The hope is that the design of the mission will be available to future missions. Regarding Lucy, Hal Levison said that a lot of the hardware is proprietary to Lockheed Martin and is based on flown hardware to reduce costs. No mention was made regarding DART technology.

Keith's update: At the 3:00 pm briefing I re-asked the question of SMD AA Thomas Zurbuchen adding: "NASA is going to do something that it has never done before with applicability to many future missions and activities in space - things that have been called out in the Artemis Accords. Many of the missions you are sending out are technology demonstrators. If you are sending a thing to a world with the specific task of demonstrating a way to do something new on that world, then the results - and the way you got them - are of equal importance - and the Artemis Accords would seem to want you to make a lot of that information accessible. Is NASA going to make OSIRIS-Rex technology available in an open source fashion for other agencies - and perhaps companies - to use? I know there is a difference between scientific results and engineering performance and that there are always ITAR issues. How is the dissemination of this new technology going to evolve?"

He replied: "We have been a leader internationally in making things public. We are also making our models public. We believe in the dissemination of science since that speeds up discovery and also broadens it. We think that doing so inspires people to figure out things to do with our science in ways that we would have never thought to do. There were multiple solutions to the technology needed for this mission. In this case the arm was developed by a Lockheed Martin employee - so according to U.S. law the company owns that invention. I talked to Lockheed Martin and asked what they'd do if someone was interested in the design and they said to come on in since they are interested in spreading this technology. There are many different avenues to take regarding intellectual property (IP). IP is an important ingredient of pharmaceutical discovery. If we want to encourage the speed of discovery then we need a IP model that adapts to way that this actually works. Success for us at NASA is not just that the mission is successful. We want any company that can use the technology that we have developed to enhance business base to create more jobs around the country. In that regard I think we are consistent with the Artemis Accords."

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More stories for October.


Battelle Research and Infrastructure.
Von Braun Symposium 2020.

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It is departure day aboard the International Space Station for three Expedition 63 crew members.

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