Latest News

Kathy Sullivan Confirmed as NOAA Administrator

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 06-Mar-2014 (Updated: 06-Mar-2014 06:58 PM)

Kathy Sullivan was confirmed by the Senate today as Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and 10th Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  She has been serving as acting NOAA Administrator since Jane Lubchenco left in February 2013.

Sullivan was nominated last August.  She is a former NASA astronaut and the first American woman to make a spacewalk.  An oceanographer by training, this is her second stint as NOAA, having served as its Chief Scientist from 1993-1996 after leaving NASA.   In the intervening years she was director of Ohio's Center of Science and Industry and then director of the Battelle Center for Mathematics and Science Education Policy in the John Glenn School of Public Affairs at Ohio State University.  She rejoined NOAA as Deputy Administrator in 2011.

NOAA announced the news on its website and via Twitter.

Crimea Situation Not Affecting U.S.-Russian Space Relationship So Far

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 05-Mar-2014 (Updated: 06-Mar-2014 07:57 AM)

Russia’s actions in Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula may have chilled geopolitical relationships, but so far there is no apparent impact on space activities.

U.S. dependence on Russia for crew transportation to and from the International Space Station (ISS) as well as ISS “lifeboat” services is well known in the space community (if not by the general public).   Less well known is that two U.S. launch vehicles – Atlas V and Antares – rely on Russian rocket engines.  United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V is used primarily for national security satellites, but also some NASA and commercial spacecraft and two of NASA’s commercial crew competitors plan to use it.  Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares is used to launch cargo to the ISS.

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden was asked about any impacts on ISS operations yesterday in connection with the release of the FY2015 budget request.  He stressed that everything is “normal” with regard to ISS operations.   The ISS crew currently consists of three Russians, two Americans and one Japanese.  Two of the Russians and one American are due to return to Earth in a few days (March 10 EDT) and a new crew – also two Russians and an American – will launch at the end of the month.

A number of international crises have occurred during the past 13 years of ISS operations, Bolden said yesterday, citing the 2008 conflict between Russia and Georgia, another former USSR republic, as an example.  “People in [the ISS] program are focused on how to make the world better,” Bolden insisted, and indicated there has been no impact on the ISS program because of current tensions.

The United States has been dependent on Russia for taking crews to and from the ISS since the space shuttle program was terminated in 2011.   NASA’s commercial crew program is designed to facilitate the development of new U.S. crew space transportation systems by the private sector, but none is expected to be operational before 2017.   The ISS has been dependent on the Russians for lifeboats to escape the ISS in an emergency since the beginning of the program. Some of the commercial crew vehicles might be able to replace that capability.  Under current schedules, however, there is no way to keep crews aboard the ISS without Russia until at least 2017.   (Russia also needs the United States to keep the ISS operating, since the U.S. segment provides electrical power, for example, to the Russian segment.)

Michael Gass, President and CEO of United Launch Alliance, reassured Congress at a hearing this morning that launches of the Atlas V rocket also will not be affected.  Gass and competitor Elon Musk, CEO and Chief Designer of SpaceX, appeared before the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Defense Subcommittee (SAC-D) today to discuss DOD’s procurement of launch services.  SpaceX is trying to break into the DOD market, which is dominated by ULA with its Delta IV and Atlas V rockets that are used to launch virtually all U.S. national security space satellites (as well as a few NASA and commercial missions).

The Atlas V’s RD-180 engines are Russian.  Subcommittee chairman Dick Durbin’s (D-IL) first question was directed at Gass on this topic    Noting that there is talk of sanctions, Durbin asked Gass for his assessment of the reliability of the supply of engines under these circumstances.  Gass replied that ULA has a two-year stockpile of engines and the blueprints for making more themselves if needed.   He added that ULA has produced specific parts from those blueprints to demonstrate that they can, if needed, build that exact engine.   He also noted that the Delta IV could be used.

“We are not at any risk” for supporting the nation’s launch needs, Gass insisted, adding that  “We have always kept our ability” to not be “leveraged in case of any kind of supply interruption.”

Musk, conversely, used ULA’s reliance on Russian and other foreign parts as a rationale for arguing that the Atlas V be discontinued.   He agreed with U.S. space policy, which requires two families of launch vehicles to meet national needs, but said they should be ULA’s Delta and his Falcon.  Musk may have been sincere, but some might view his proposal as disingenuous since his two competitors for NASA’s commercial crew program – Boeing and Sierra Nevada – both plan to use Atlas V to launch their spacecraft (CST-100 and Dream Chaser, respectively).  If it were phased out, that would leave SpaceX as the only option.

Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares rocket also uses Russian engines – NK-33’s, which are refurbished by Aerojet Rocketdyne and redesignated AJ-26.  Antares is currently used only for launching cargo missions to the ISS under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract, although the company is seeking additional customers.  Each Antares uses two NK-33/AJ-26 engines.  Press reports indicate Aerojet acquired 36 of them, so there apparently is a substantial inventory, but Space News recently reported that Orbital is looking at two or three alternatives – all Russian – for future supplies.   A spokesman for Orbital said the company was "watching the situation carefully" and the number of engines is sufficient to meet its entire CRS contract with NASA.  The first stage core of the Antares is made in Ukraine and he said there are three in the United States right now which will take the company through early to mid 2015.  Two more are scheduled for delivery in the second half of this year and "so far, so good" with their suppliers in Ukraine.

Note:  This story was updated with the information from Orbital's spokesman.


President Requests $17.5 Billion FY2015 Base Budget for NASA Plus $886 Million in OGS Initiative

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Mar-2014 (Updated: 18-Mar-2014 11:17 PM)

President Obama's FY2015 budget request for NASA of approximately $17.5 billion could be augmented by another $886 million if Congress goes along with his "Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative."  The chances seem slim, but prognosticating what Congress will do is always a difficult task.

The base budget request is $17.461 billion, a reduction of $186 million from NASA's FY2014 appropriation of $17.647 billion. 

It is essentially a status-quo request.  It funds the President's Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), the Space Launch System/Orion program, commercial crew development, operations of the International Space Station, space and earth science programs, space technology development, and aeronautics.   The request does include funding for a planetary science mission to Jupiter's moon Europa.  Congress added $75 million in FY2013 and $80 million in FY2014 for Europa studies and pre-formulation activities even though NASA did not request any funding for it.  NASA's FY2015 budget request includes Europa for the first time at a comparatively modest level of $15 million, but it signifies the administration's concession that it is a congressional priority, although it is funding only for FY2015.  None is included in the future year projections.

Full details on the budget requests for NASA and other agencies will be published in a week or so, but the documents released today provide a good top level view.  Here are the basics (totals may not add due to rounding).   Keep reading to learn how the $886 million in the OGS initiative would be spent if approved.

  • Science, $4.972 billion, broken down into the following subcategories:
    • Earth Science, $1.770 billion
    • Planetary Science, $1.280 billion
    • Astrophysics, $607 million
    • James Webb Space Telescope, $645 million
    • Heliophysics, $669 million
  • Human Exploration and Operations, $7.881 billion, broken down into the following subcategories   
    • Exploration Systems Development, $2.784 billion (SLS/Orion)
    • Commercial Spaceflight, $848 million (commercial crew)
    • Exploration Research and Development, $343 million
    • International Space Station, $3.051 billion
    • Space and Flight Support, $855 million
  • Space Technology, $706 million
  • Aeronautics, $551 million
  • Education, $89 million
  • Cross Agency Support, $2.779 billion
  • Construction & Environmental Compliance and Restoration (CECR), $446 million
  • Inspector General, $37 million

The Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), like last year, is not identified as a separate budget line.  Its funding is part of the Asteroid Redirect Initiative, which is spread through Science, Space Technology and Exploration.  The FY2015 request for ARM is $133 million, with another $27 million elsewhere in the budget -- for a total of $160 million for the Initiative as a whole.   For FY2014, NASA received $78 million for the mission plus $27 million for the other activities -- a total of $105 million.

The President's OGS Initiative proposes funding above the level of the budget caps that achieved bipartisan agreement in December 2013 after a long and acrimonious debate.  If approved, these additional funds, totaling $885.5 million, would be provided to NASA as part of an overall $56 billion spread across the government.

  • Science, $187.3 million
  • Aeronautics, $43.9 million
  • Space Technology, $100 million
  • Exploration, $350 million
  • Space Operations, $100.6 million
  • Education, $10 million
  • CECR, $93.7 million

Reaction to the President's OGS Initiative by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) was swift and negative.  Noting that just three months ago the President signed those budget caps (for FY2014 and FY2015) into law, Rogers said it "is extremely disappointing that the President's proposal today blatantly disregards the budget limits for FY2015. ... Contrary to the President's wish-list of additional spending, my Committee will abide by the budget caps...."

Correction:  NASA distinguishes between the Asteroid Redirect MISSION (ARM) and the Asteroid Redirect INITIATIVE.   ARM is part of the Initiative.  An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that the FY2014 appropriation for ARM was $105 million, but that is the figure for the Initiative. The FY2014 figure for ARM is $78 million.  That compares to $133 million requested for FY2015.

Also, the original version of this article stated the $15 million for Europa indicated that it was the start of a formal program.  However, when the details of the budget request were released on March 10, it became apparent that is not the case since there is no funding for it in the projection for future years.  This article has been updated accordingly.


President Requests $17.5 Billion for NASA, $2 Billion for NOAA Satellites for FY2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Mar-2014 (Updated: 04-Mar-2014 12:50 PM)

President Obama unveiled his FY2015 budget request this morning.  It includes approximately $17.5 billion for NASA and $2 billion for NOAA's satellite programs.  The budget request also includes an "Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative" that would provide an additional $56 billion spread throughout the government. 

The total budget request for the entire government is $3.9 trillion and most Washington political observers think it has little chance of passage intact.  However, the requests for specific agencies might fare better than some of its other proposals like raising taxes on the wealthy.

The Opportunity, Growth and Security initiative proposes spending above the budget caps that Congress agreed to in December so its chances of passage are iffy, but some of the funds are directed towards NASA according to documents on the White House website, though they are not specific. 

A brief synopsis of NASA's request is on the OMB website.   NASA will post details on its budget website at 1:00 pm ET and NASA Administrator Bolden will present the budget via telecom at 2:00 pm ET (listen at NASA's newsaudio website).

OMB's overview of the request for the Department of Commerce, including NOAA and its satellite programs, is also on the OMB website

Space Policy Events March 2-8, 2014 - UPDATE 2

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 02-Mar-2014 (Updated: 03-Mar-2014 09:31 PM)

UPDATE, March 3, 2014, 9:30 pm ET:  NASA has decided to hold its FY2015 budget briefing as a telecom rather than an event at Goddard Space Flight Center tomorrow (Tuesday) because of the weather.   It will be streamed on NASA's news audio website.  Still at 2:00 pm ET.

UPDATE, MARCH 3, 2014:  Federal government offices in the Washington, DC area are, indeed, closed today, Monday, March 3.  However, the Space Studies Board's (SSB's) Space Science Week will go on according to a tweet from the SSB (@SSB_ASEB).   A limited number of WebEx connections are available to LISTEN to the plenary session this afternoon.  See the meeting agenda (link below) for instructions.

ORIGINAL STORY, MARCH 2, 2014: The following space policy events may be of interest in the week ahead, but be forewarned that Washington D.C. is forecast to get a MAJOR winter storm beginning tonight (Sunday) and lasting throughout the day Monday.  If the forecast holds, the government is very likely to be closed tomorrow with disruptions to government and non-government activities alike.  Be sure to check with the host organization before heading out to any Washington-area meetings on Monday and perhaps even Tuesday.   The House and Senate are scheduled to be in session, but no space-related hearings are scheduled Monday.

During the Week

This is it!  Budget week.   It's a month late, but President Obama is scheduled to submit his FY2015 budget request to Congress on Tuesday.  Many agencies, including NASA, as well as the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) typically hold press briefings the day the budget is released to explain the key issues they foresee.  NASA's is scheduled at 2:00 pm ET Tuesday.  Curiously, it will be held at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center instead of NASA Headquarters.  It will be broadcast on NASA TV.  Some NASA center directors are holding their own briefings later in the afternoon.

The submittal of the budget kicks off budget season in Washington and all the congressional hearings that go with it.   Hearings on the Pentagon's budget begin this week including a posture hearing on U.S. Strategic Command.

Apart from the budget, this week has other notable events, including the National Research Council's Space Studies Board's (SSB's) Space Science Week.   Over three days (Monday-Wednesday), the SSB's four standing committees -- Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics, Committee on Solar and Space Physics, Committee on Earth Science and Applications from Space, and Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Science -- will meet separately as well as in a  particularly interesting plenary session tomorrow (Monday) afternoon.  For the first time, a public lecture on Tuesday night is also planned.  The meetings are at the National Academy of Sciences building on Constitution Avenue (NOT the Keck Center on 5th Street).   The plenary session on Monday includes a panel discussion with representatives from NASA and its counterparts in Japan, Europe and China.  Hopefully that event will be able to take place despite the ice and snow -- be sure to check the SSB's website for up to date information.   A limited number of listen-only WebEx connections will be available for this session and for Sara Seager's public lecture on Tuesday night.  Instructions for how to listen in are on the agenda, which is posted on the SSB's website

Also of great interest, the American Astronautical Society (AAS) will hold its annual Goddard Memorial Symposium Tuesday-Thursday at the Greenbelt Marriott in Greenbelt, MD near Goddard Space Flight Center (Tuesday is an evening reception; sessions are Wed-Thurs).  This perfectly-timed meeting includes talks by NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and the four NASA Mission Directorate Associate Administrators -- Bill Gerstenmaier (Human Exploration and Operations), John Grunsfeld (Science), Jaiwon Shin (Aeronautics) and Mike Gazarik (Space Technology) -- who should be able to shed more light on NASA's FY2015 budget request as well as the status of ongoing activities.  Lots of other interesting speakers are scheduled for the two days as well. 

And last, but certainly not least, the annual "space prom" will be held Friday night -- the National Space Club's Goddard Dinner at the Washington Hilton (as usual).

Here's the complete list of events that we know about as of Sunday morning.   As we said, for events scheduled in Washington, DC on Monday and Tuesday, check with the organization to see if they are still on track.  This storm is supposed to be whopper -- lots of ice overnight and then 8-12 inches of snow on top of it falling throughout the day.

Sunday-Saturday, March 2-8

Monday-Wednesday, March 3-5

Tuesday, March 4

Tuesday-Thursday, March 4-6

Wednesday, March 5

Thursday, March 6

Friday, March 7

China Clarifies Yutu's Problem, But Not Its Future

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 01-Mar-2014 (Updated: 01-Mar-2014 03:10 PM)

China finally added some clarity to the problem that befell its Yutu lunar rover, but not to what its fate will be.

Yutu and its associated Chang'e-3 lander are China's first spacecraft to make a survivable landing on the Moon.   They arrived on December 14, 2013 and Yutu rolled off the lander the next day.  It was designed to work for three lunar cycles -- 14 days of sunlight and 14 days of darkness (the lunar night) -- remaining dormant at nighttime until its solar arrays could be recharged by the Sun.

As it entered the second lunar night, something went wrong.  China promptly announced there was a mechanical problem on January 25, but gave no details.  Western experts speculated that the process of stowing Yutu's mast (with camera and antenna) and one of its solar arrays did not take place as planned, leaving the interior of the rover unprotected from the bitter cold.  

As lunar night turned into lunar day two weeks later, scientists waited with baited breath to see if Yutu awakened.   China announced the good news on February 12 -- yes, Yutu was alive.

Not much has been said about Yutu by the Chinese since then, however, other than a February 23 report that the mechanical problems were not resolved, but the scientific instruments were working normally.  

The rover has now entered another period of dormancy.   Today, China's official Xinhua news agency provided an update.   Yutu's problem, it said, is a malfunctioning control circuit in its driving unit.   Ye Peijian, chief scientist for the Chang'e-3 program, was quoted as saying "Normal dormancy needs Yutu to fold its mast and solar panels" and "The driving unit malfunction prevented" that.  Yutu's awakening on February 12 was "two days behind schedule," Xinhua added.

The Xinhua report is obscure about what is next for Yutu, sounding both optimistic and pessimistic at the same time:  "At present every piece of equipment of Yutu is underdoing another dormancy, is getting back to normal, the state of the rover is not encouraging, Ye said.  'We all wish it would be able to wake up again,' said Ye..."

The issue does not affect the stationary Chang'e-3 lander, which remains where it set down on the Moon in December.   China has said little about the lander since then.  On February 13 It did distribute a photo of the lander taken by Yutu, but did not indicate when the photo was shot.  The proximity of the camera to the lander suggests it was taken soon after Yutu separated from the lander back then.

China's Yutu lunar rover as seen from the Chang'e-3 lander on December 22, 2013.   Credit:  Tweet from Xinhua (@XHNews) December 22, 2013.

Chang'e is China's mythological goddess of the Moon and Yutu is her companion Jade Rabbit.   As its name implies, Chang'e-3 is the third of China's lunar probes and more are planned.

House Hearing Underscores Lack of Consensus on Next Steps in Human Spaceflight

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Feb-2014 (Updated: 28-Feb-2014 02:03 AM)

A House hearing today (February 27) on the concept of sending two people on a flyby mission to Mars – via Venus – in 2021 continued the persistent debate over the future of the human spaceflight program. While there is a general consensus that landing humans on Mars is the long term goal, the steps between now and then remain a matter of controversy.

The House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee’s hearing was entitled “Mars Flyby 2021: The First Deep Space Mission for the Orion and Space Launch System?”   Its focus was a variation of Dennis Tito’s Inspiration Mars (IM) proposal, announced exactly one year ago today, to send two people on a 501-day flyby mission to Mars in 2018.

Tito is a multimillionaire who paid Russia about $20 million to fly to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2001 as the first ISS “space tourist.”   His proposal in February 2013 was for a mission that would be privately funded.  By November 2013, he said it should be primarily (70 percent) funded by NASA.   Also, while initially he left open what launch vehicle would be used, by November he conceded that NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) was the only viable choice in that time frame.

The latest iteration of this concept, discussed at the hearing today, has two more differences from the original version.  First, it now apparently would be entirely funded by the government, and, second, it would launch in 2021 instead of 2018.   Launch windows to go directly to Mars occur every 26 months and there is no such window in 2021.  Instead, the revised concept calls for the crew to first flyby Venus to get a gravity assist from that planet and then go on to Mars.

Doug Cooke, a former NASA official whose last position at the agency was head of the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, showed a video demonstrating the trajectory of the year-and-a-half long mission.  It begins with launch in November 2021, Venus flyby in April 2022, Mars flyby in October 2022, and return to Earth in June 2023.  He and other witnesses referred to this “unique” alignment of Earth, Venus and Mars as the reason for pushing for a 2021 launch.

Some committee members were skeptical about mounting such a mission just seven years from now.   Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) noted that the first crewed launch of SLS is not scheduled until 2021 and “I doubt that Mars will ultimately be considered to be an appropriate first ‘shakedown’ flight.”

None of the witnesses was willing to say how much the mission would cost.  When asked directly, Cooke said that the committee needed to ask NASA that question.   This is not a NASA mission, however, and, as Johnson also pointed out, no one from NASA was invited to testify.

NASA, of course, is focused on meeting President Obama’s goal of sending astronauts to an asteroid as the next step in human spaceflight – the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM).  The President has said that sending people to orbit Mars in the 2030s, and someday to land there, are long term goals, but not the next step.   The ARM mission has won little support from Republicans or Democrats in Congress and this hearing was another indication that the Administration has a lot of work to do to win them over.

Generally, the hearing was very friendly.   Apart from Johnson’s skepticism, the only strong dissenting voice came from Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA).   Noting that he had been a supporter of Tito’s initial proposal for a privately funded mission, he called this new version a “foolhardy” use of limited taxpayer dollars.

Cooke, now a consultant, was joined at the witness table by Scott Pace of George Washington University, Sandy Magnus, a former astronaut who now is Executive Director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), and Gen. Les Lyles (Ret.), a consultant who chairs the National Research Council’s Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board and has served on or chaired a number of studies on the future of human spaceflight.

All the witnesses appeared to support the 2021 Mars flyby concept, though some were more reserved than others.   They also all emphasized the need for a long term strategy and appropriate resources, but Magnus, in particular, stressed those points.   “The Mars flyby can only be discussed in the context of a larger strategy,” she said, and “any plan ... is doomed to failure without the resources to support it.”

Pace, another former NASA official who was deeply involved in developing the Bush-era Constellation program to return humans to the Moon by 2020, and Cooke, who worked on Constellation as well as its Obama-era replacement, each acknowledged that they advocate a human return to the Moon, but see the Mars flyby as a bridge to that goal.  Pace went so far as to argue that it “is a faster and more efficient way of returning to the Moon.”   Cooke said supporting the Mars flyby mission is “not contradictory” because of the unique planetary alignment available in 2021.

Pace said that NASA is not planning a human return to the Moon now because it cannot afford to build a lunar lander, yet this flyby mission also requires additional hardware not currently in NASA’s budget plans.  Pace and Cooke mentioned several required elements including a more capable SLS upper stage, a habitation module with advanced life support systems, and a more effective heat shield for the Orion spacecraft.   It is not clear how anyone envisions NASA affording those elements for the Mars flyby mission when it cannot afford the lunar lander.  The hearing provided no insight into costs or budgets, however.

In the end, all the witnesses agreed that the Mars flyby mission is achievable if the country has the will and commitment to pursue it.  The question is whether it does.  Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) emphasized that his main goal was to “do no harm” and not fall back into the practice of start-and-stop programs.

Though Tito was not cited at the hearing as the originator of this revised version of his IM plan, he did issue a statement after the hearing saying he was “very encouraged” by the discussion and explaining that it had become clear that 2021 was more "practical and beneficial" than 2018.

The opening statements of the Republican and Democratic committee leaders, the prepared statements of the four witnesses, and a webcast of the hearing are on the committee’s Republican and Democratic websites.

NASA Spacesuit Water Incursion Mishap Board Sounds All Too Familiar Themes

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Feb-2014 (Updated: 27-Feb-2014 07:19 AM)

NASA released the report of an independent Mishap Investigation Board (MIB) yesterday that looked into the July 2013 incident when European astronaut Luca Parmitano’s spacesuit helmet filled with water during a spacewalk.  The board’s conclusions sounded familiar themes about schedule and other pressures creating an environment where people did not want to question assumptions or perceptions about matters that could literally make the difference between life and death.  Perhaps most troubling is a determination that this “mishap” could have been avoided if a previous incident a week earlier had been properly investigated.

The technical root cause of the spacesuit failure remains a mystery, but the MIB report listed five organizational root causes that evoke memories of other spaceflight failures that did not have such a happy ending.  In this case, Parmitano lived to tell the tale of feeling like “a goldfish in a fishbowl” as his helmet filled with water while outside the International Space Station (ISS).   NASA now knows that foreign contaminants blocked the spacesuit’s Fan Pump Separator disrupting the flow of water in the suit’s cooling system into the helmet, but is still trying to determine the source of that contamination.

On a spacewalk (officially called Extravehicular Activity or EVA) designated EVA 23 on July 16, 2013, Parmitano began feeling water at the back of his head 44 minutes into the planned 6.5 hour excursion.  The initial assumption was that his drink bag was leaking, but the amount of water steadily increased and the EVA was terminated 23 minutes later.  By the time he was able to return to the airlock, the water covered his eyes, ears and nose impairing his ability to see, communicate and breathe.

Identified as “EV2” in the report (his spacewalk companion, NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, was EV1), Parmitano had a total of 1.5 liters of water in his helmet by the time it was removed by fellow ISS crewmembers inside the airlock.

“EV2’s calm demeanor in the face of his helmet filling with water possibly saved his life,” the MIB concluded.

The investigation determined that this was not the first time such a leak occurred.   In fact, the suit had leaked during the previous spacewalk, EVA 22, a week earlier, and the problem was “misdiagnosed” as a leaking drink bag.

“The MIB could not identify a clear reason why the EVA community has a perception that the EVA drink bags leaked.  When presented with the suggestion that the crew member’s drink bag leaked ... no one in the EVA community ....challenged this determination and investigated further.  Had that conclusion been challenged, the issue would likely have been discovered prior to EVA 23 and the mishap would have been avoided.”

MIB chairman Chris Hansen briefed the media during a teleconference yesterday and said that the incident “evolved” from three causes:

  • Inorganic materials causing blockage of the drum holes in the spacesuit’s water separator, causing water to spill into the vent loop;
  • The NASA team’s lack of knowledge regarding this particular failure mode, which led to a delay in recognizing the severity of the event; and
  • Misdiagnosis of this suit failure when it occurred on EVA 22.

The report lists the following five root causes “at the organizational level”:

  • Program emphasis was to maximize crew time on orbit for utilization;
  • ISS Community perception was that drink bags leak;
  • Flight Control Team’s perception of the anomaly report process as being resource intensive made them reluctant to invoke it;
  • No one applied knowledge of the physics of water behavior in zero-g to water coming from the PLSS vent loop; and
  • The occurrence of minor amounts of water in the helmet was normalized

The MIB made 49 recommendations categorized as Level 1, 2 or 3 in priority.  It said that all 16 Level 1 (highest priority) recommendations should be completed prior to allowing “planned” EVAs.

ISS Program Manager Mike Suffredini said during yesterday’s teleconference that all Level 1 and most Level 2 recommendations would be completed before planned EVAs resume, hopefully in the July/August time frame, and the remainder would be completed by the end of the year.

Planned EVAs are in contrast to “contingency” EVAs necessitated by circumstances.  Astronauts have already conducted two contingency EVAs to repair a malfunctioning ISS coolant loop.  Hansen said those two EVAs, in December 2013, were “planned with full cooperation between the ISS Program and the MIB.”

The MIB report and briefing slides and an audio recording of yesterday's teleconference are available on NASA's space station news website.


SpaceX, ULA to Headline SAC-D Hearing on Launch Systems Next Week

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Feb-2014 (Updated: 26-Feb-2014 05:45 PM)

The Defense Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC-D) will hear from both entrepreneurial and traditional space launch companies next week at a hearing on national security space launch programs.

Elon Musk will represent his entrepreneurial company, SpaceX, which has been striving for years to break into the market for DOD space launches, a market now dominated by the United Launch Alliance (ULA), which launches the Atlas V and Delta IV rockets.   ULA will be represented by its President and CEO Michael Gass. 

Cristina Chaplain from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Scott Pace from George Washington University will also testify.

Congress has essentially forced the Air Force to open up its launch market to "new entrants" like SpaceX, although any company must meet certification criteria before it is allowed to compete.   SpaceX is currently going through the certification process, which requires them to achieve three successful launches of any particular launch vehicle configuration. 

The first of those three for SpaceX took place last September. The failure of that rocket's second stage to reignite has been a source of contention as to whether it met the criteria or not.  The Air Force announced just today that it will count as a successful mission for the purposes of its certification criteria.  SpaceX has had two more successful launches since then -- of the SES-8 satellite on December 3, 2013 and of Thaicom-6 on January 6, 2014.  The Air Force is still assessing their applicability towards meeting the certification criteria.

The hearing is on Wednesday, March 5, at 10:00 am EST in 192 Dirksen Senate Office Building.   The hearing will be webcast at the committee's website

NASA To Hold Media Teleconference This Afternoon on Luca's Spacesuit Mishap

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Feb-2014 (Updated: 26-Feb-2014 10:02 AM)

NASA will hold a media teleconference today, February 26, at 2:00 pm EST to discuss findings from its investigation into the events that caused European astronaut Luca Parmitano's helmet to fill with water during a spacewalk last July.

Audio of the teleconference will be available on NASA's news audio website.   Participants are:

  • Chris Hansen, chairman of the Mishap Investigation Board
  • Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations
  • Mike Suffredini, International Space Station Program Manager

The Mishap Investigation Board was created on July 23, 2013 following the July 16 incident when Parmitano and NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy were outside the space station performing what was intended to be a relatively routine 6.5 hour spacewalk.  The spacewalk was terminated after 1 hour and 32 minutes as Parmitano's helmet filled with water.   He later gave a chilling account of what it was like to be "like a goldfish in a fishbowl."

More details on today's teleconference are available in NASA's press release

Events of Interest   

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


Subscribe to Email Updates:

Enter your email address: