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Transition Team Activities At NASA Are GO.

By Keith Cowing on November 24, 2020 12:33 PM.

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National Space Council Superspreader Series Finale

By Keith Cowing on November 23, 2020 10:19 PM.

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Its Time For More Make Space Great Again Rants

By Keith Cowing on November 23, 2020 9:20 PM.

Lucas Warns of Risk Posed by Chinese Launch to the Moon, Rep. Lucas

"The launch of Chang'e-5 is a significant step by China towards their goal of establishing a long-term presence on the Moon. The nation that leads in space will dictate the rules of the road for future technological development and exploration, and the influence of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) in the CCP's space program makes China a particularly irresponsible and dangerous candidate. Advancements by the CCP also jeopardize American international competitiveness in science and technology. We can no longer take America's leadership in space for granted and must continue supporting the men and women of the American space program aspiring to launch crewed missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond."

Keith's note: And meanwhile back in the U.S. we have the Space Force whose leadership and fanboys have openly talked about sending soldiers into space and to the Moon. They stage military ceremonies and events on the civilian ISS. That certainly doesn't help to calm things down. As for China becoming more competitive with the U.S. in human and robotic space exploration, OK, they are. If we just got off our collective ass here in the U.S. and devoted the resources needed to deliberately stay ahead of the crowd then everyone else would be in our departure screens as we moved outward into the solar system. Unless, that is, we decide that thoughtful cooperation is better than blunt competition for the sake of competition.

This sort of paranoid rhetoric surfaced back in the 1990s when the notion of bringing the Russians into the space station program first surfaced. Everything the Russians did was evil. They could not be trusted. etc. Two decades later and the ISS is a stellar example of how nations can work together in a cooperative fashion in space. Indeed, the U.S. and Russia get along vastly better in space than they do on Earth. There is a powerful lesson there. If only we'd stop to understand it.

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Chang'e-5 Is On Its Way To The Moon

By Keith Cowing on November 23, 2020 8:48 PM.

Keith's note: China has launched its Change'e-5 mission to return samples from the Moon. The launch aboard a Long March 5 rocket went off as planned and the spacecraft is now on its way out of Earth orbit and heading toward the Moon. Change'e-5 will land on 27 November, drill 2 meters into the lunar surface, and collect 2 kg of samples for return to Earth. The landing site is a volcanic feature in the Ocean of Storms. As such these samples could teach us how long the Moon was active after its formation, what its magnetic field was like, and what the interior may be like today. The samples are due to be returned to Earth on 16-17 December. Many nations are participating in the scientific analysis of the samples including U.S. researchers.

I am scheduled to be on Deutsche Welle TV at 4:00 and 6:00 pm and on CGTN at 8:30 Pm today to talk about this mission.


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If You Search For NASA Search Engines You Get NASA Pages That Do Not Search For Anything

By Keith Cowing on November 21, 2020 2:20 PM.

Keith's note: Do a Google search for "NASA search engine". The first search result that comes up is NASA Multimedia Search last updated on 26 February 2006. The second result that comes up is Tools for searching last updated on 21 July 2005. Look on the left hand side of either page. Click on simple search, category search, or Advanced search and you get "404 The cosmic object you are looking for has disappeared beyond the event horizon." Indeed the subsequent 5 or so Google search results point back to the same pages with broken links. But wait - use the search box in the upper right hand corner of either page and enter a term - any term. Guess what you get? "404 The cosmic object you are looking for has disappeared beyond the event horizon."

Summary: if you do a Google search for NASA Search engines you get a bunch of NASA pages with links to NASA search engine pages that are actually a collection of broken links and a search box that does not search. These pages have been sitting atop Google search results without any one at NASA noticing - and the pages were last updated 15 years ago.

Oh yes: go and Google "NASA CIO" and look at the top search result. According to Google Renee Wynn is stili the NASA CIO. This is because of a web page hosted by NASA. They could easily fix this - as I pointed out months ago. But the NASA CIO seems to be utterly uninterested in the accuracy of NASA's websites. But he is interested in making it harder for citizens to contact government employees at NASA.

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Uh Oh: The Space Community Is Writing A White Paper - Again

By Keith Cowing on November 19, 2020 7:32 PM.

Keith's note: Here we go again. Its presidential transition team season and all the space fans are lining up trying to get their ideas in front of the new Administration. As is usually the case someone starts a white paper and looks for supporters who invariably start to edit and nick pick and add wish lists. Space organizations such as the Space Foundation, the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, the Satellite Industry Association, and the Aerospace Industries Association are supporting this particular white paper/position paper effort. There may be other organizations lurking in the shadows. Meanwhile, organizations such as the Commercial Spaceflight Federation and the AIAA are shunning the effort. For now. Other organizations have not been approached. Then there's swarm of space advocacy groups, pundits, and thought influencers, whose views will be all over the map. Welcome to the space community.

Eventually, since these efforts inevitably turn into a circular firing squad with everyone wanting everything they want - but not what anyone else wants, some early participants will walk out in a huff and badmouth the effort. In the end this will be yet another example of choir practice by the usual suspects in an echo chamber. Invariably, since only a subset of the usual suspects are involved, other efforts will pop up and the net result will be a inconsistent bunch of noise from the space community. Surprise surprise.

At one point the white paper says "It is imperative to fully fund the nation's space exploration enterprise in the face of competing policy priorities." Why is that at all imperative? Isn't defeating COVID-19 and bringing our economy back more of an imperative? Space fans seem to not be listening to President-elect Biden or reading the newspapers. It may well be that NASA's budget and the budgets of other agencies will need to take a hit to get us through this. Or maybe NASA can tweak what it does to be more of partner in a whole-of-government effort to solve pressing national challenges.

Oh and then there's the whole climate change issue that the Biden team has listed as one of its top 4 priorities. That is not even mentioned. Nor does this paper even reflect a cognizance of what the Biden team has been saying that it wants to do in other areas - and why it thinks that these things are important. Is NASA Independent of the national priorities that affect the rest of the government? Indeed the word "Biden" appears nowhere in this paper. Nor is there any mention of the pending issues affecting the new Congress. Cluelessness abounds within this paper that purports to represent the consensus of the space community. But space fans know more than the Biden folks do, I guess.

Meanwhile, the Biden Transition Team is having to work with zero cooperation from the Trump Administration while facing a raging pandemic and an economy that is spiraling downward. Yet space people seem to think that there is going to be a lot of interest by the Biden Transition Team in the self-serving wish list of all the space fans who think that all of their things are important because they think that these things are important. Read on and you will see every tired and worn justification for spending piles of money on space stuff in a shopping list meant to make everyone's Christmas stocking full.

And when the Biden Transition Team gives the space fans a look of bewilderment in reaction to a totally self-serving laundry list of "gimmies" the space community will turn and tell everyone that Biden is anti-space. Truth be known, the space community has lived in a little alternate reality bubble for far too long - a bubble inflated to near bursting with fairy dust and unicorns by the Trump Administration and its Make Space Great Again memes. Oh and then there's the Space Force waiting to beam everyone up.

The exploration and utilization of space offers to enable an incredible future full of promise, benefits, and adventure for both our nation and the rest of the world. Yet if we just leave it to the space community to call the shots then all we will get is a disjointed collection of more of the same - and less of the immense potential of what could otherwise come to be.

As such, here is the latest iteration of the space community wish list I have seen. Stay tuned. There will be more ...

"Leading the next generation in space - A vision for the 117th Congress"

"Space impacts every facet of 21st-century life. Business, governance, security, education, manufacturing, healthcare, communication, and many other sectors rely on space-based infrastructure and technologies. The nation's space exploration enterprise is facing unprecedented challenges and demands attention and action from policy makers.

To ensure that the United States continues to prosper and lead in outer space, the incoming 117th Congress will have to:"

Continue reading: Uh Oh: The Space Community Is Writing A White Paper - Again.

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NASA Public Affairs Is Bored With The Whole Space Station Thing

By Keith Cowing on November 19, 2020 1:22 PM.

Keith's note: I was hoping to ask a space biology question to one of the ISS crew today. So, a few days ago I called the number listed in the NASA media release to get on the list but it kept giving me a "this number has been disconnected" message. So I sent an email to NASA PAO. They said that JSC PAO would send me the dial-in information for the media event. Two days later - nothing was ever sent. Last week NASA PAO pulled the same stunt on me at a Crew-1 briefing at KSC. And a few weeks prior they would not let me do a crew interview. Each time I ask why I get a lame excuse from PAO akin to "a dog ate my homework". I am the only actual space biologist (that I know of) who covers NASA. I just wanted to ask the space biologist in orbit an actual sciencey question or two since everyone else was asking about Baby Yoda and sleeping in space. Oh well. No one at NASA PAO takes the space station seriously any more - so why bother, I guess.

Keith's update: OK so JSC PAO says that their process broke down and that I was supposed to be a participant. The question I had planned to ask is being sent up to the ISS. This is what I was going to ask during the press event:

"Question for Kate Rubins: On your first stay on the ISS you became the first person to sequence genomes in space. On that expedition you used standard, known genomes as a proof of concept to test out the sequencing hardware. Now you're back to do more sequencing but this time you are going to do more extensive sampling and preparation activities. From one space biologist to another: Have you done any of this advanced sequencing yet and if so what species have you sequenced? Also - are you going to have the chance to exercise a biologist's inherent curiosity and swab the interior of ISS to see what you can find via sequencing? Follow-up question: Once upon a time NASA used to designate a "Science Officer" on the ISS. Now that you are there, arguably as the first space biologist/astrobiologist-astronaut, don't you think that it is time to resume that practice?"
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Arecibo Observatory Will Be Torn Down

By Keith Cowing on November 19, 2020 12:14 PM.

NSF begins planning for decommissioning of Arecibo Observatory's 305-meter telescope due to safety concerns

"Following a review of engineering assessments that found damage to the Arecibo Observatory cannot be stabilized without risk to construction workers and staff at the facility, the U.S. National Science Foundation will begin plans to decommission the 305-meter telescope, which for 57 years has served as a world-class resource for radio astronomy, planetary, solar system and geospace research."

Keith's note: Having done crowd funding activities that raised ~$100K - LOIRP & ISEE-3 - let me just suggest that if the NSF & UCF people had half a brain they'd sell pieces of Arecibo dish for a GoFundMe. Who wouldn't want to buy a piece of something that amazing to help replace it with something even better?

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While The White House Wallows in Self Pity, We Can Look Up - And Beyond

By Keith Cowing on November 19, 2020 12:04 AM.

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The NASA Worm Is Back. Actually, It Never Really Left.

By Keith Cowing on November 18, 2020 3:31 PM.

The Worm is Back: A Discussion with Designer Richard Danne, NASA

"NASA Worm creator Richard Danne answers your questions in a conversation about the relevance of the Worm in the 1970s and today, and why the Worm continues to be so popular, now available online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLe4lOrj3Ck. Bettina Inclán, Associate Administrator for Communications, hosts this conversation, which includes a presentation from NASA's Worm Working Group on the philosophy of the comeback of the logo, led by David Rager and Bert Ulrich."

LOST IN SPACE; Meatballs Devour Worms!!, NY Times, 10 January 1999.

"For the past six years NASA has been trying to wipe out the tubular red logo (''the worm'') that has symbolized space exploration since 1975. The chief exterminator is Dan Goldin, NASA's administrator, who says that the original 1958 emblem (''the meatball'') better commemorates the program's mission. But wasting the worm, which has adorned everything from welcome mats to wind tunnels, is taking longer than Goldin would like. Keith Cowing, an ex-NASA payload manager who documents worm sightings on the NASA Watch Web site raps Goldin's subordinates for obsessively hiding the worm from the boss."

Keith's note: I sent a note to NASA PAO the other day: "Decades before the current leadership's time at NASA, as you know, I ran "worm watch" on NASAWatch which traced Dan Goldin's attempt to eradicate the worm. I believed in the worm when no one else did. I even ended up in the New York Times as a result. I had many interactions over the years with worm designer Richard Danne. Bettina asked me to submit a question for him to answer in the video but she did not include it. This is the question I submitted to Bettina:"

"The worm logo is on the records carried by the twin Voyagers which are now traversing interstellar space. It adorns the Hubble which has opened the universe to us. Simple question: what is it like to have something so simple in form spring from your mind - something that goes on to become the symbol that adorns humanity's tools for exploring the universe?"

I got this response from Richard Danne today:

Hello Keith! Well it finally happened... and the Worm is Back. Thanks for this great question which I wish had been asked in the Town Hall video. My response: I'm fully aware of your ongoing support of the Logotype over these many years, and I greatly appreciate it. One of the things I'm most proud of is that those extraordinary missions, Voyager and Hubble, still proudly carry our mark through interstellar space. Even when the program was scuttled, I could still point to that profound fact. It's a glorious feeling to have helped create one of the most famous logos of the last half century. "Simplicity" is one of our guiding principles and it played a major role in the development of the NASA worm. We knew back then as we know today, that if a mark is to be useful and successful for decades it must be born of simplicity. I think we got it right... and all has been proven out over some 46 years now. It's thrilling, especially seeing how the younger people have gravitated to it. Very rewarding with great validation! Thanks again Keith for your good work and long-term support. And, as always, Onward! Dick"

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NASA Removes Public Access To Its Online Employee Directory (Update)

By Keith Cowing on November 18, 2020 10:21 AM.

Keith's 18 Nov update: NASA wants to transmit their stuff to you. But they really don't want you to talk to their people about it.

Once upon a time - actually for more than a decade - you could go to people.nasa.gov to find out how to contact a government employee at NASA. Not any more. Here is what the site looked like on 28 October 2020. You used to be able to type in names and find out their email address and phone number. Now all you get is a statement that says "This site and its contents are no longer available. Visitors are encouraged to learn more about space and NASA's mission by visiting the NASA homepage. NASA employees visiting this site should refer to internal directory services for employee information."

I just got another response from NASA PAO to my five follow-up questions regarding the shutdown of NASA's online employee directory. In a nutshell they are afraid that letting people see email and phone numbers of government employees puts the agency at risk so that is now stopping. OK, phishing and scams are on the rise so you cannot fault them with being responsive to that. But many - most - other Federal agencies still let citizens, the media, other government employees, researchers, and congressional staff query their agency's websites to find employees. They will no longer be able to find the people who work on various NASA programs.

Instead, everyone outside of the NASA firewall will now have to go to a "Contact Page" at NASA with high level links to everything except a personnel search. Instead of finding the person you need you will have to hope that these generic links will send you some where where someone will decide that maybe you can contact someone else. Given the glacial speed at which it took CIO to fix simple errors in their own directory takedown you can imagine how slow it will be for NASA to get back to you when you are looking for someone. If they even respond, that is.

But OK, they have their "Contact" page. Is this Contact page mentioned at NASA.gov? Answer: It is a small little link at the lower right at the bottom of the home page where most people will never think to see it. How do you contact NASA if the Contact page itself is more or less hidden from view? Shouldn't it be a prominent link in all of the top menus? Seriously, doesn't NASA want to interact with actual human people while it blasts all the space stuff put on the Internet? NASA complains about not being able to do enough outreach and why people often do not understand what NASA does. So what does NASA do? It continues to shrink the ability for the public - the people who pay for the whole party - to interact with NASA. NASA's big cosmic radio is set on "TRANSMIT". It is never set on "RECEIVE".

We should all be concerned. This is another example of dumbing down NASA's public functionality and reducing overall transparency. Hopefully this will change after 20 January 2021.

NASA PAO Response:

1. Why am I still able to access that database via a rather elementary work around a day after I posted mention that the database is still accessible?

NASA Answer: The Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) database is a service that enables secure email to be exchanged with our partners and other federal agencies. Reconfiguration is being implemented in phases in order to ensure sufficient testing is performed to not disrupt current operational services. You noticed that the main search page for the public directory was disabled. Additional changes are planned that will address other ways of obtaining this information.

2. Why are other Federal agencies not adopting your "industry standard" i.e. why are their employee directories still openly accessible by the public?

NASA Answer: With respect to other federal agencies, it is certainly up to them to determine what risks they face and how they will address those risks.

3. When was the determination made that long-standing publicly available information now presents a risk to NASA?

NASA Answer: When people.nasa.gov was established over 20 years ago, the risks of sharing internal official communication email addresses and phone numbers was significantly lower than it is today. Since then, internet-facing organizations have had to adapt to a vastly different threat environment by changing how they present and protect their services. Examples of these types of infrastructure service changes include transitioning to Secure HTTP servers, replacing passwords with multifactor authentication, and closing down insecure internet-facing services like NFS and telnet.

The NASA CIO team is working to strengthen cybersecurity across the agency, and this is part of that process. Spear phishing attacks, which are targeted email-based social engineering threats to an organization, are a very common form of attack. NASA is simply trying to prevent attackers from easily obtaining the information needed to facilitate these phishing attacks. You noticed that the main search page for the public directory was disabled. Additional changes are planned that will address other ways of obtaining this information. With respect to other organizations, it is certainly up to them to determine what risks they face and how they will address those risks.

4. Can you provide me with the specific "industry best practices" that NASA is using as a basis for this action?

NASA Answer: NASA is simply trying to prevent attackers from easily obtaining the information needed to facilitate these phishing attacks. Keith's note: in other words they actually do not have any standards even though they claim to be following them. I hope someone sends in a FOIA on this)

5. Are members of the media and general public at legal risk if they post information that can be readily accessed from this database or post the way in which this database can still be accessed by the public?

NASA Answer: The public may certainly access information that NASA makes publicly available. While the main search page for the public directory was disabled, additional changes are planned that will address other ways of obtaining this information. The public can find information about contacting NASA at: https://www.nasa.gov/about/contact/index.html

Earlier post

Continue reading: NASA Removes Public Access To Its Online Employee Directory (Update).

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Boeing's Sloppy Procurement Behavior

By Keith Cowing on November 17, 2020 10:44 AM.

A top NASA official asked Boeing if it would protest a major contract it lost. Boeing then tried to profit from the inside information, Washington Post

"Boeing did not protest the award of the lunar lander contract -- which was awarded on April 30 to three bidders for a total of nearly $1 billion: a team led by Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin; the defense contractor Dynetics; and Elon Musk's SpaceX. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.) But it did something that NASA officials found just as alarming: After Loverro told Chilton that Boeing would not win the award, the company attempted to revise and resubmit its bid. That last-ditch effort to win one of the contracts was so unusual, given that the time for bids had passed, that members of the NASA committee considering the award feared it may amount to a violation of procurement regulations. They alerted the agency's inspector general, who in turn referred the matter to the Justice Department. The U.S. attorney's office in the District of Columbia has impaneled a grand jury and is investigating, officials said."

Keith's update: In this well-researched article we learn that former HEOMD AA Doug Loverro was concerned that Boeing would file a protest when it did not win and that the protest would slow down NASA's fast-paced effort to land humans on the Moon by 2024. So Loverro called to see if Boeing was going to protest a loss. In hindsight, not the best action to take - but he was not the selecting official so it did not affect the procurement. It is what Boeing did after that call that is highly problematic - possibly illegal - not what Loverro did.

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Baby Yoda And Crew-1 Arrive At ISS

By Keith Cowing on November 16, 2020 11:53 PM.

Crew-1 Dragon Arrives At the International Space Station

"The SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience successfully docked to the International Space Station at 11:01 p.m. EST Monday, transporting NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi."

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NASA Watch on BBC Talking About Crew-1

By Keith Cowing on November 16, 2020 8:11 PM.

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NASA Watch on France 24 Talking About Crew-1 (Plus Cat)

By Keith Cowing on November 16, 2020 5:37 PM.

A new era for space travel? Space X makes history with first crewed mission (video), France24

Keith's note: I was on France 24 today for a 45 minute segment on the SpaceX Crew-1 mission and space commerce. If you go to 9:15 you will hear my neighbor's cat "Ruby" ask to be on TV. And she was. Welcome to PandemicTV.

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