Latest News

Squyres New NAC Chair

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 02-Nov-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Steve Squyres, a highly respected planetary scientist, will be the new chair of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC).

NASA announced his appointment today. NAC provides advice to the NASA Administrator on programs and issues affecting the agency. It has a number of committees, subcommittees, and analysis groups.

Squyres is probably best known as the "father" of the two Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. A professor at Cornell University, he also chaired the recent Decadal Survey on planetary science for the National Research Council. He recently took part as an "aquanaut" in the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) simulation of a mission to an asteroid, which had to be terminated prematurely because of Hurricane Rina.

Senate Passes "Minibus" with CJS and T-HUD Approps

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 01-Nov-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

This afternoon the Senate passed the "minibus" appropriations bill (H.R. 2112) that combines three of the regular appropriations bills into one, including funding for NASA, NOAA and the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST).

The Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill includes NASA and NOAA. The Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) includes AST. The third bill in the package is Agriculture.

The vote was 69-30.

The bill now goes to the House where its future is unclear. The most recent reports indicate that the House will, in fact, accede to the Senate's approach to the appropriations bills for FY2012, dealing with them in groups instead of combining all 12 into a single "omnibus" package. Omnibus bills have become common in recent years and initially it appeared the House preferred that method.

The House and Senate appropriations committees were fairly far apart in their recommendations for NASA. The House committee approved $16.8 billion, and, among other things, recommended terminating the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) program. The Senate approved $17.9 billion and recommended increasing JWST funding by $156 million so it could be launched in 2018 instead of years later. The President's request for NASA was $18.7 billion, of which $374 million was for JWST.

The two also were far apart on overall funding for NOAA. The House committee approved $4.5 billion; the Senate approved $5.0 billion. The request was $5.5 billion. However, regarding the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), the two are quite close: $901 million in the House versus $920 million in the Senate, compared to the request of $1.07 billion.

The two also were fairly close in their recommendations for AST, approving about half of what the President requested. The request was $26.6 million, a significant increase from its FY2011 level of $15 million. The House committee approved $13 million, while the Senate approved $15 million.

After the House passes its bill, with whatever amendments are adopted, the two chambers will have to reach a compromise and the President will have to agree with it, so there still are several steps to go. Today's action, however, moves the process closer to providing certainty to at least some federal agencies as to their FY2012 funding levels.

The government is currently operating under a Continuing Resolution that expires on November 18. Congress will need to pass some sort of appropriations bill(s) before then to avoid a full or partial government shutdown.

UPDATE: Jack Townsend, In Memorium

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 31-Oct-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: The Washington Post ran this obituary on November 16, 2011.

John W. (Jack) Townsend, former Director of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and former President of Fairchild's space division died of lung cancer on October 29. He was 87.

His family provided the following biography.

Townsend was a rocket and satellite pioneer. Starting in 1949, he served with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in the V-2, Aerobee, Viking and Vanguard upper air research programs. In 1958, as Assistant Director, he helped form the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Dr. Townsend was one of a three-man Presidential commission charged with negotiating the first peaceful uses of outer space programs with the Soviet Union. He was influential in creating the first meteorological, communications and earth viewing satellite systems. From 1968-1970, he was Deputy Administrator of the Environmental Science Services Agency, the predecessor agency to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). From 1970-1977 he was Associate Administrator of NOAA. Both were Presidential appointments. In 1975 he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering for his work in developing meteorological polar and geostationary satellite systems. He was President of Fairchild Industries space division, and held senior executive positions at Fairchild, including Executive Vice President from 1977-1987. After the Challenger accident, he returned to NASA at the request of then Administrator James Fletcher and served essentially as general manager until the space shuttle safely returned to service. He retired in 1990 after almost three years as Director of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Dr. Townsend chaired the National Research Council's Space Application Board and led many influential studies for the National Academies and other organizations, including the seminal, Low-Altitude Wind Shear and Its Hazard to Aviation. He was a fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the American Meteorological Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He received the Arthur S. Fleming award, NASA's distinguished service award twice and also its outstanding leadership medal, the Edward A. Flinn award of the American Geophysical Union, the Navy Department Meritorious Civilian Service award, and other honors.

He was a WWII veteran and flew radar countermeasures in B-29s in the Pacific. He was a live steam railroader, an orchid hobbyist, sailor, and, for more than 65 years, a ham radio operator.

He is survived by his wife, JoAnn Clayton Townsend; his children, Bruce, Nancy and Megan Townsend; and three grandchildren.

UPDATE 4: Shenzhou 8 is in Orbit

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 31-Oct-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE 4: Shenzhou-8 is in orbit and the solar panels have deployed.

UPDATE 3: Liftoff of Shenzhou-8.

UPDATE 2: Prof. John Lewis of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory is helping CCTV anchor coverage of the SZ-8 launch.

UPDATE: Live coverage of the launch in English is being carried on China's CCTV.

ORIGINAL STORY: China Daily reports today that Shenzhou 8 will indeed be launched at 5:58 am November 1 Beijing time (5:58 pm October 31 EDT) confirming an earlier report by the German Aerospace Center.

Shenzhou 8 will not carry a crew. It will dock with China's Tiangong-1 unoccupied module to form a rudimentary space station. This will be the first rendezvous and docking for China as part of its human spaceflight program. Two more Shenzhou spacecraft will be launched to dock with Tiangong-1 over the next two years; the last of those is expected to carry a crew.

Germany is launching a payload with 17 biological and medical experiments on Shenzhou 8.

The launch is from China's Jiuquan launch facility in the Gobi desert.

UPDATE 3: Progress M-13M Successfully Launched, Operations of ISS Can Return to Normal

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Oct-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE 3: Progress M-13 M (or Progress 45 as NASA calls it) is in orbit and its solar arrays and antennas have deployed. A successful launch. It will dock with the International Space Station on Wednesday.

UPDATE 2: Liftoff!

UPDATE: Countdown is proceeding to launch in 9 minutes.

ORIGINAL STORY: In a few hours, Russia will launch the next cargo spacecraft, Progress M-13M, to the International Space Station (ISS), the first since an August launch failure doomed Progress M-12M. The fate of this launch will determine when the next crew can be sent to the ISS.

Launch is scheduled for 10:11 GMT (6:11 am EDT) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The August 24 launch failure of a Soyuz rocket carrying Progress M-12M threw ISS operations into turmoil and raised the possibility of needing to destaff the ISS. The Soyuz rocket used for launches of the Progress spacecraft is very similar to that used to launch crews to the ISS. It was the first launch failure of a Progress spacecraft since the 1970s.

The Soyuz rocket has been in use since the 1960s. There are several variants, and Russia has successfully conducted launches of two other Soyuz variants since August -- of a GLONASS navigation satellite from Russia's Plesetsk launch site on October 2, and of two European Galileo navigation satellites from the French launch site in Kourou, French Guiana, last week.

If the launch today succeeds, Russia and NASA have agreed to proceed with the launch of the next three-person ISS crew on November 14. The ISS is currently down to a 3-person crew, instead of its usual complement of six, while the Soyuz rocket problems are being resolved (Soyuz is also the name of the spacecraft used to take crews to and from ISS and that serve as "lifeboats" while attached to the ISS).

NASA refers to this as Progress 45 because it is the 45th Progress flight to the ISS. The Progress spacecraft has been in use in 1978, with several upgrades. The Russians refer to this as Progress M-13M, the 13th flight of the current version of the Progress spacecraft.

Ron Greeley, In Memoriam

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Oct-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

Prof. Ronald Greeley, a noted planetary geologist and chairman of the planetary science subcommittee (PSS) of the NASA Advisory Council, passed away on Thursday.

Greeley was notably absent from the "virtual" meeting of the PSS on Thursday and other participants clearly were unaware of what was transpiring. The meeting took place via telecon and WebEx. The other participants decided to proceed despite Greeley's unexpected absence. News of his death came later.

Greeley was a professor of planetary geology at Arizona State University, which released this statement:

Ronald Greeley, a Regents' Professor of Planetary Geology at Arizona State University who was involved in lunar and planetary studies since 1967 and who contributed significantly to our understanding of planetary bodies within our solar system, died Oct. 27, in Tempe. He was 72.

As the son of a military serviceman, Greeley moved around a great deal as child. As a result he saw many different geological landforms and it was no surprise that when he went to college, he majored in geology. Greeley earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from Mississippi State University. After receiving his doctorate in 1966 at the University of Missouri in Rolla he worked for Standard Oil Company of California as a paleontologist.

Through military duty, he was assigned to NASA's Ames Research Center in 1967 where he worked in a civilian capacity in preparation for the Apollo missions to the Moon. He stayed on at NASA to conduct research in planetary geology.

"I had been on sabbatical at NASA Ames Research Center working on the analysis of lunar samples, and I saw Ron and I saw potential," recalls Carleton Moore, founding director of ASU's Center for Meteorite Studies. "When I got the opportunity, I hired him."

Greeley began teaching at ASU in 1977 with a joint professorship in the department of geology and the Center for Meteorite Studies. He studied wind processes on Earth and other planets and conducted photogeological mapping of planets and satellites among other research projects. In 1986, Greeley left the Center for Meteorite Studies to serve as chair of the department of geology.

"It was exciting to have him here; he was a major step in advancing space at ASU. He was the first one that came that did missions and experiments on planetary bodies," says Moore. "He was really the first person to reach out to the other planets. And then he hired Phil Christensen."

"Ron Greeley was indisputably one of the founders of planetary science, and the influence he has had, both through his own work and through the students and colleagues that he guided and mentored, touches virtually all aspects of this field," says Christensen, a Regents' Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

"Ron played a major role in my career," says Christensen. "I came to ASU specifically to work with Ron after receiving my graduate degree, and I have remained at ASU for 30 years largely because of the remarkable environment that Ron created here to foster planetary science as an extension of geology."

Greeley, a pioneer in the planetary geology field, served as the director of the NASA-ASU Regional Planetary Image Facility and principal investigator of the Planetary Aeolian Laboratory at NASA-Ames Research Center. He served on and chaired many NASA and National Academy of Science panels and he was involved in nearly every major space probe mission flown in the solar system since the Apollo Moon landings. Mission projects included the Galileo mission to Jupiter, the Magellan mission to Venus, and the Shuttle Imaging Radar orbiter around Earth. He was also part of the data analysis program for the Voyager 2 mission to Uranus and Neptune. His projects focused on the moons of these distant bodies.

Passionate also about Mars exploration, he was involved with several missions to the Red Planet, including Mariners 6, 7, and 9, Viking, Mars Pathfinder, Mars Global Surveyor, and the Mars Exploration Rovers. He was a co-investigator for the camera system onboard the European Mars Express mission.

Former students scattered throughout the universities and research institutes of this country provide testimony to his influence on planetary geology.

"As I began my research career, Ron reminded me of the old adage: 'A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.' I am fortunate to have had Ron there walking beside me," says Robert Pappalardo, senior research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Greeley served as Pappalardo's advisor. After receiving his doctorate from ASU in 1994, Pappalardo worked with Greeley for a year as a postdoc. Since about 2002, the two worked together on defining the science basis for Europa mission studies.

"Ron was a gentleman, a statesman, a mentor, a scholar," says Pappalardo. "Not a day goes by that I don't think, in some situation, 'What would Ron Greeley do?'"

"Ron was a profoundly influential scientist whose imprint on planetary science will live on through his body of research and the many students he taught and mentored. He was a wonderful friend and colleague. We were fortunate to have known him and will miss him terribly," says Kip Hodges, founding director of the School of Earth and Space Exploration. Greeley served a year as interim director of the school before Hodges joined ASU.

"Ron was a very good friend of mine for many years, an incredible leader in planetary science, and the founder and guiding force for planetary science here at ASU. His leadership, friendship, and vision will be sorely missed," says Christensen.

Greeley's work lives on in proposed missions to Europa (a moon of Jupiter), and in the numerous students he mentored who today play pivotal roles in space science exploration efforts.

Greeley is preceded in death by his daughter, Vanessa. He is survived by his wife Cindy and his son, Randall (Lidiette). He leaves behind three grandchildren.

A Facebook page has been dedicated to Professor Greeley:

NAC Planetary Science Subcommittee Meeting Cancelled

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Oct-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

The meeting of the Planetary Science Subcommittee (PSS) of the Science Committee of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) scheduled for November 2-3 has been cancelled because of the unexpected death of PSS chairman Ron Greeley.

Jim Green, NASA's planetary science division director, made the announcement in a special edition of the Planetary Exploration Newsletter (reproduced below). However, PSS will still make its report to the NAC Science Committee as scheduled on Monday morning, with PSS Vice Chairman Jim Bell filling in.

Volume 5, Number 49 (October 29, 2011)

PEN Website:
Editor: Mark V. Sykes
Co-Editors: Melissa Lane, Susan Benecchi
Email: pen_editor at

o---------------------------SPECIAL EDITION---------------------------o


>From Jim Green, Director, Planetary Science Division, and
Jonathan Rall, Executive Secretary, Planetary Science Subcommittee

Due to the unexpected and tragic loss of Ron Greeley, Chair of the
Planetary Science Subcommittee (PSS), the PSS meeting scheduled for
November 2-3 at NASA Headquarters has been canceled. The meeting will
be rescheduled for a later date and notice of that new date will be
published in the Federal Register.

We apologize for any inconvenience due to these extraordinary
circumstances but felt that the meeting should be canceled since it
would likely conflict with Ron's funeral or memorial service. We
anticipate that many in the planetary science community will pay their
respects to Ron, a pillar of planetary science, and celebrate his
incredible journey.

Events of Interest: Week of October 31-November 4, 2011

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Oct-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The following events may be of interest in the coming week. For more information, see our calendar or click the links below. The House and Senate both are in session this week.

During the Week

On Tuesday, the Senate is expected to vote on a bill, H.R. 2112, that combines three of the regular FY2012 appropriations bills: Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS), and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD). It is referred to as a "minibus" appropriations measure because it has fewer than all 12 appropriations bills, which, when combined, is called an "omnibus." The CJS bill includes NASA and NOAA; the T-HUD bill includes the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation. If the bill passes the Senate, it still must be considered by the House. The government is currently operating under a FY2012 CR that expires on November 18.

China will also be in the news this week. The Chinese have not officially announced a launch date for Shenzhou 8, but the German Aerospace Center (DLR), which has a payload aboard, said that the launch is scheduled for October 31 Central European Time (November 1 local time in China).

Whether or not that launch takes place this week, two House committees coincidentally have scheduled hearings on China-related issues. Though they may not necessarily directly involve space activities, they might be of interest to this readership. The House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) will hold two: "Efforts to Transfer America's Leading Edge Science to China" on November 2, and "Congressional-Executive Commission on China: 2011 Annual Report" on November 3. Media reports last week stated that the Commission's report asserts that China attempted to interfere with two U.S. satellites in 2007 and 2008. Separately, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on November 2 on the "China Democracy Promotion Act" to deny entry into the United States of certain members of the senior leadership of the Government of the People's Republic of China and individuals who have committed humans right abuses there.

Monday-Tuesday, October 31-November 1

Tuesday, November 1

Tuesday-Wednesday, November 1-2

Wednesday, November 2

Thursday, November 3

China Readying for Uncrewed Space Station Launch, Possibly Oct. 31

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Oct-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The much anticipated launch of China's Shenzhou-8 to dock with the Tiangong-1 space station module could take place as early as October 31.

Chinese news reports have not been specific about when the launch will occur, saying only "early November." However, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) has an experiment aboard Shenzhou-8. It revealed that the launch is scheduled for October 31 at 23:00 Central European Time (November 1, 06:00 local time at China's Jiuquan launch center.) That time corresponds to 6:00 pm EDT.

Shenzhou-8 will not carry a crew. It is one of three spacecraft China intends to dock with Tiangong-1 over the next two years; only the last is currently expected to carry a crew.

Germany's 25 kilogram "Science in a Microgravity Box" or SIMBOX contains 17 biological and medical experiments.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this posting mistakenly referred to the launch possibly taking place today, instead of October 31.

UPDATE 4: NPP is in Orbit and On Its Own

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Oct-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE 4: The second burn and spacecraft separation were successful. NPP is on its own now, waiting for its solar panels to open up.

UPDATE 3: NPP is in orbit in a coast phase between the first and second firings of the second stage. The second burn is at 58 minutes 45 seconds.

UPDATE 2: NPP has launched!

UPDATE: They have just come out of the planned 10 minute hold at T-4 minutes.


NASA's NPP satellite is ready for launch is less than 10 minutes from Vandenberg AFB, CA aboard a Delta II rocket.

The National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) Preparatory Project (NPP) satellite was designed to test new technologies for the nation's new weather satellite system. Over the years, the NPOESS program was cancelled, and NPP will be used as an operational weather satellite in NOAA's polar orbiting system as a bridge between current satellites and NOAA's new Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), its successor to NPOESS.

Events of Interest

Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »

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