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NASA Continues To Hide Its Astrobiology Program

By Keith Cowing on February 25, 2020 1:47 PM.

Keith's note: NASA SMD has an extensive Program Officers list of contact information for all of its research programs. Virtually everything SMD does has a contact listed - except Astrobiology. The word is not mentioned at all - even though many of its sub topics are mentioned. NASA issues research solicitations for "Astrobiology" yet they can't be bothered to tell people who to contact for the programs managed under "Astrobiology" at NASA?

Oh yes - it has been a week and no one from NASA SMD, PAO, JPL, etc. has responded to my inquiry to explain why JPL and GSFC avoid the use of the word "Astrobiology" when referring to missions overtly focused on Astrobiology research. See "NASA's Science Mission Directorate Has An Issue With Certain Words"

While I am on this topic last week NASA issued this release "NASA Adds Return Sample Scientists to Mars 2020 Leadership Team" which says "the Mars 2020 mission will search for signs of past microbial life..." Yes folks, that is "Astrobiology". The JPL and NASA HQ PAO folks just cannot bring themselves to mention NASA's Astrobiology program or the discipline of "Astrobiology". Searching for life on other worlds is what NASA's Astrobiology program is chartered to do. Read the reports from the National Academy of Sciences and NASA ROSES solicitations and you will see. Read NASA's own websites and you will see what the agency defines Astrobiology as being. Indeed, one of the two scientists mentioned, Tanja Bosak, is part of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. But does anyone bother to mention this? No.

And FWIW as an actual former NASA biologist, this stock phrase of NASA JPL's PAO folks "signs of past microbial life" is goofy. Are you only looking for microbial evidence? What if the only biosignatures the Mars 2020 rover finds are chemical in nature with no remaining or obvious structural fossils? How will NASA know if the past life was microbial i.e. unicellular or multi-cellular? This is another planet so what may have once lived there might not even fit the terrestrial classification of "microbial". What if viral forms are what existed - they are acellular (i.e. not composed of cells) and not considered to be "microbes" - even though some of them can be as large as cellular life i.e. "microbes". What if NASA finds bones or exoskeletal remains? Or trails made by larger living things as they moved? They are not "microbial" in nature so will NASA's rover not see them? And what if the rover finds evidence of recent/current life? It does have that ability even if it is indirect. NASA press statements suggest that NASA is not interested in that either.

I would hope that that answer is "of course we're interested in whatever we find on Mars". OK, then say so. I can understand the hesitance to say that the Mars 2020 rover mission has the ability to find extant life when that is not its explicit purpose. Why not just say "evidence of past life?" Why use this odd "past microbial life" phrase? Otherwise it sounds like NASA has already decided what sort of life was on Mars before ever having seen any evidence of it - and that this is all that the agency cares to think about.

Missions searching for evidence of life on another world have the potential to for paradigm-shifting and sociologically explosive repercussions. One would think that the agency could get its act together as to what you call things and not ignore the people who actually do the core research that serves as the purpose of your missions. If NASA is incapable of making internal sense of what it is doing, then how can NASA expect the public to fully grasp what NASA is doing?

Within the next year or so there could be as many as four rovers operating on Mars with overt Astrobiology-related missions: Mars Curiosity, Mars 2020, ExoMars/Rosalind Franklin, and China's rover. Nothing like this has ever happened before on another world. Again, one would think that there'd be some sort of coordinated effort to show the country and the world that we're really dialing up the search for life on Mars - past and/or present - and in so doing, use the globally-accepted name for the the discipline wherein such research is conducted i.e. "Astrobiology".

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NASA Is Worried About Infectious People Returning From China

By Keith Cowing on February 25, 2020 10:43 AM.

Keith's note: The following is being added to all of the NASA advisory group meeting notices such as the one for NASA Advisory Council Human Explorations and Operations Committee Meeting: "Note: As a precaution, individuals returning from China will not allowed into NASA Headquarters until the 14 days of observation and self-care period has expired, and they are determined not to be infectious. Attendees to the NAC Human Explorations and Operations Committee meeting who are returning from China should only participate virtually through the provided dial-in audio and WebEx, until the 14 days of observation and self-care period has expired."

You'd think that NASA would be just a little more explicit as to what "infectious" means i.e. identify the specific reason - like "Coronavirus" or "COVID-19". Reading/refering to the actual CDC guidelines might be useful. NASA is simply treating all persons who have been in China as high risk. Oddly there have been no such warnings issued for other NASA meetings. And the concern amongst experts now is that the threat is no longer limited to people who have been in China. When agencies and organizations are inconsistent on things like this people simply get more confused. Just sayin'



Yet Another Example Of The Global Reach Of The NASA Brand

By Keith Cowing on February 25, 2020 9:40 AM.

- Bridenstine: "The NASA brand is the most valuable brand America has", earlier post

Keith's note: NASA has done a good job - an increasingly good one - at allowing the logo's use - and not discouraging its use when the its is used in a positive and inspiring context. This is a consumate, textbook example of soft power. One would hope that NASA can continue along this path and that legislation that currently hinders NASA's ability to project its message via advertising and other venues - can be lifted by Congress.

- NASA's Global Branding Reach Is Often Under Appreciated, earlier post
- Understanding NASA's Global Reach, earlier post
- NASA is Still A Potent (If Underutilized) Brand, earlier post
- Using NASA's Logo: Expensive T-Shirts Or Global Soft Power?, earlier post
- NASA's Pervasive Brand Recognition, earlier post
- One Major Road Block To Bridenstine's Advertising Ideas, earlier post

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Katherine Johnson

By Keith Cowing on February 24, 2020 10:03 AM.

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This Is Not Your Grandfather's Moon

By Keith Cowing on February 21, 2020 7:10 PM.

Let the moon rush begin, op ed, Homer Hickam, Washington Post

"As these efforts get going, however, it's important to avoid the thinking of a half-century ago and look at the moon in a different way. This is, after all, not your grandfather's moon. After the Apollo moon-landing program of the 1960s and '70s, a series of robotic missions discovered that Luna was a lot more interesting than many had previously thought. It has abundant water and oxygen, as well as helium, platinum, thorium, rare earth metals and other minerals that may well be worth digging up and transporting back for use in thousands of products."

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Mayor Pete Wanted To Be Astronaut Pete

By Keith Cowing on February 20, 2020 7:26 PM.

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Former CASIS Chief Economist Pleads Guilty To Tax Fraud

By Keith Cowing on February 20, 2020 4:39 PM.

Former ISS executive, accused of 'expensing' prostitutes, pleads guilty to tax fraud, Florida Today

"A former economist employed by a Space Coast nonprofit that operates the International Space Station's U.S. laboratory pleaded guilty to one tax fraud-related count in an indictment filed last year, federal prosecutors said Wednesday. Charles Resnick, once the chief economist for the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, or CASIS, was indicted in April by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa on 10 counts. The charges alleged the creation of phony receipts when filing expense reports, as well as hidden spending of government funds on prostitutes and escorts during trips to Europe and New York between 2011 and 2015."

Former exec at International Space Station science lab pleads guilty in tax case involving 'expensing' prostitutes, Orlando Sentinel

"The agreement also states that Resnick improperly deducted business expenses worth about $51,500 even though he had already been reimbursed for some of the expenses and that "some of the deducted expenses were not ordinary and necessary business expenses." The plea agreement does not mention the original indictment references to escorts or prostitutes. Resnick is responsible for total tax loss for the tax years from 2010-2013, according to the agreement, and that amount will be determined at sentencing, a date for which has yet to be determined."

Former CASIS Employee Indicted For Charging For Prostitutes on Travel Reports, earlier post

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NASA Has A New CFO

By Keith Cowing on February 20, 2020 1:08 PM.

Saunders Replaces DeWit As NASA CFO, Space Policy Online

"NASA has a new acting Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Melanie Saunders, replacing Jeff DeWit who resigned last week. Saunders was Deputy Associate Administrator and her replacement on an acting basis is Cathy Mangum, who has been Associate Director of Langley Research Center. Saunders will have to be confirmed by the Senate as well, although the CFO position usually is non-controversial and considered under expedited Senate procedures that do not require a hearing or vote by committee, only a vote by the full Senate."

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Major Themes From VP Pence's NASA Langley Speech

By Keith Cowing on February 19, 2020 3:00 PM.

https://s3.amazonaws.com/images.spaceref.com/news/2020/19feb2020pence.jpg

Remarks by Vice President Pence to NASA Langley Research Center, White House (larger word cloud image)

"The President has directed NASA and the Administrator to accomplish our goal to return to the Moon and then on to Mars not only within five years, but let me be clear: The President has made it clear that we're going to accomplish this goal by any means necessary. In order to succeed, we are going to continue to focus on the mission over the means. We want to challenge each one of you here at Langley: Consider every available option and platform to meet our goals, including industry, government, and the entire American space enterprise. It's the reason why we're cutting out the underbrush of needless regulations and barriers to innovation, because we want you all to be able to reach, to engage, and to draw on the best ideas in America to get us where we're going by the time we set ourselves to get there. Our administration is absolutely committed to this goal and we want you all to have the same determination and resolve to get there. And this President and this administration and the American people are committed to achieving this goal through NASA and through the Langley Research Center. So let me at least give you one word of admonition on behalf of your President and on behalf of the entire National Space Council: More than ever before, we want you to engage your imaginations, your creativity. Challenge one another. You know, there's that old proverb that says, "Iron sharpens iron." So I encourage you to come in every day with that same impatience and energy that, frankly, I heard in the voices of everybody that Director Turner introduced me to today. The enthusiasm as we walked through the Center, the fire in their eyes -- just let that be in your eyes."

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NASA's Science Mission Directorate Has An Issue With Certain Words

By Keith Cowing on February 18, 2020 9:26 PM.

Keith's note: I sent this media request to a list of people at NASA SMD, GSFC, and JPL: "I have a question. Why does this NASA GSFC authored story "How Earth Climate Models Can Help Scientists Search for Life on Other Planets" - posted on 24 January 2020 - on a JPL we site at - and funded by the NASA HQ Science Mission Directorate Astrophysics Division - never use the word "astrobiology"? The story is dripping with Astrobiology themes - things funded by NASA as part of its Astrobiology program?

While I have your attention, why doesn't the JPL Mars 2020 website mention "astrobiology" - the mission is dedicated to searching for life which is what the whole Astrobiology thing is all about. And then there is "NASA's Webb Will Seek Atmospheres around Potentially Habitable Exoplanets" which only has "astrobiology" as a tag at the bottom of the page - but no mention is made in the article itself which, again, is clearly an astrobiology-themed topic. I'd like an answer. Seriously. This is a formal media request."

Continue reading: NASA's Science Mission Directorate Has An Issue With Certain Words.

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Bezos' Blue Origin Replies To Bezos' Washington Post Editorial On Space

By Keith Cowing on February 18, 2020 9:50 AM.

Keith's note: The Washington Post (owned by Jeff Bezos) ran a full page advertisement/op ed by Blue Origin (also owned by Jeff Bezos) in today's Washington Post written in response to a recent editorial about space policy by the Washington Post editorial board.

NASA keeps falling victim to presidential whims, Washington Post (image of full advertisement)

"Mars (of which the Moon is a part)" is either nonsense or exactly what legislators in the House of Representatives seem to have their eye on today: putting humans on the moon only as a jumping-off point to explore the red planet in person. That's different from the plan NASA is envisioning, despite the president's contradictory tweets; the agency looks to Mars in the distant future but treats the moon as an end in itself -- where it can establish bases on the far side and mine lunar ice, ostensibly for life support and rocket fuel. There's a powerful argument that satisfying the human drive to know doesn't actually require humans. Robots can do lots of exploring for lots less money than it costs to put people on (or float people above) celestial bodies; projects from the Curiosity rover to the Cassini spacecraft and beyond have taught us so. There's also an argument that the private companies increasingly interested in low-orbit adventuring should be entrusted with as much as they're able to carry out, to save NASA money and to ensure that exploratory work continues even as the whims of politicians shift. (Disclosure: One of those companies is owned by Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Post.) These shifting whims are the greatest threat to a space program constantly afflicted by whiplash. Preferable as a greater emphasis on robotics might be, leaders are unlikely to stop insisting on going places because we can. These long-term goals are most likely to be achieved if they're guided by thoughtful science and professional planning, rather than the allure of a potential geopolitical coup or the grievances of constituent contractors. The longer the politicians argue back and forth about the moon vs. Mars, the less likely we are to go to either one."

To which Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith responds:

"Recently, the Washington Post editorial board cited presidential whim as being at the heart of today's efforts to push for greater United States leadership and focus in space. That view is representative of uniformed critiques that come from many corners and have helped stymie well-intentioned prior efforts to move our nation forward into space. It fails to recognize the massive shifts in the space industry that allow us to maje greater strides and the emerging threats that require us to re-double our efforts. Last year, the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo landing on the Moon reminded us of the great pioneering capabilities and innovation that the U.S. has always demonstrated. But the first steps of Apollo were just that - the first steps in an unprecedented journey that is just beginning. ... All the forces - economic, political, technological, cultural - are in place for this transformation and we are now participating in an historic moment. This inevitable expansion will not be stopped by those that waiver and merely critique, but will be forged by those across government and industry who are un apologetic in their vision, and who are unafraid to build and to dream."

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Northrop Grumman and Wallops Need To Fix A Few Launch Bugs

By Keith Cowing on February 15, 2020 3:23 PM.

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Yes, NASA Does Actual Science On The Space Station

By Keith Cowing on February 14, 2020 2:35 PM.

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GAO Wants To Remind You That Artemis Is Lacking Detail

By Keith Cowing on February 13, 2020 4:42 PM.

Keith's note: This is interesting. GAO usually just issues its reports and that's that. However, they are now overtly mentioning the recently released FY 2021 budget and are directing people to a report "NASA Lunar Programs: Opportunities Exist to Strengthen Analyses and Plans for Moon Landing" that says:

"In March 2019, the White House directed NASA to accelerate its plans to return humans to the moon by 2024--4 years earlier than NASA had planned. To meet this new goal, NASA made some changes to its approach. But it is still pursuing an array of complex efforts, including a small platform in lunar orbit called the Gateway, where crew could transit to and from the moon. Some have questioned the path NASA is taking and NASA has not fully explained how it arrived at its plans. So we that NASA document its rationale for these decisions. We also recommended that NASA develop an official cost estimate for the 2024 lunar landing mission."
Not very subtle - especially for the GAO. If the GAO is publicly reminding people that NASA needs to provide more details then it is a sure thing that Congress will be asking for the same thing - since the report that GAO is referring to was delivered to Congress on 19 December 2019 in response to a request from the House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies. Categories: ,

NASA Picks 4 Discovery Missions For Concept Studies

By Keith Cowing on February 13, 2020 4:01 PM.

NASA Selects Four Possible DIscovery Program Missions to Study the Secrets of the Solar System

"NASA has selected four Discovery Program investigations to develop concept studies for new missions. Although they're not official missions yet and some ultimately may not be chosen to move forward, the selections focus on compelling targets and science that are not covered by NASA's active missions or recent selections. Final selections will be made next year. NASA's Discovery Program invites scientists and engineers to assemble a team to design exciting planetary science missions that deepen what we know about the solar system and our place in it. These missions will provide frequent flight opportunities for focused planetary science investigations. The goal of the program is to address pressing questions in planetary science and increase our understanding of our solar system."

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More stories for February.

Military Space Situational Awareness – April 29-30 2020, London, UK
The 2020 AAS Goddard Symposium
Military PNT Conference – May 18 - 29 2020, London, UK
Humans to Mars Summit 2020
Small Satellites Conference 2020
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