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Women in Aerospace (WIA) will hold its awards dinner next week to honor women selected for its awards as well as the winners of two college scholarships sponsored by the Women in Aerospace Foundation. The Foundation is raising money for its scholarship fund by selling unique jewelry -- limited edition pins designed by Ann Hand to commemorate space shuttle missions.
The winners of this year's WIA Foundation scholarships are Erin M. Kirchmeier and Samantha B. Rawlins. Each receives a $2,000 scholarship for the 2013-2014 academic year. Kirchmeier is studying aerospace engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology. Rawlins is studying mechanical engineering at the University of California-Los Angeles. The Foundation awards two scholarships each year to encourage young women who are interested in a career in the aerospace field to pursue higher education degrees in engineering, science or math. It is accepting applications for the 2014 awards from now through February 3, 2014.
The Foundation is raising funds through sales of pins by renowned jewelry designer Ann Hand. She made one pin for each of the 135 space shuttle flights. WIA says that all proceeds from the sale of the pins benefit the WIA Foundation and part of the purchase price is tax deductible. An order form and a photograph of the pin is available on WIA's website.
Kirchmeier and Rawlins will be honored along with the winners of seven awards at the WIA awards dinner on October 29, 2013 at the Ritz Carlton Pentagon City in Arlington, VA. The WIA award winners this year are:
NASA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued its long awaited report today on whether NASA or one of its contractors, the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA), allowed inappropriate access to government information and facilities to Bo Jiang, a Chinese national. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) railed against NASA when the case came to light earlier this year, engendering widespread media attention.
The OIG's comprehensive review of how Jiang came to work at NASA's Langley Research Center as an NIA contractor and the complicated process for approval of visits by foreign nationals at NASA and its field centers is a real page-turner for anyone interested in the details of this convoluted episode.
The report focuses on NASA's processes, not whether Jiang did anything wrong. Jiang was arrested at Dulles Airport in March 2013 as he was returning to China for lying to federal agents because he allegedly did not disclose all of the electronic equipment he had in his possession. Today's OIG report says that six weeks later Jiang pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor of using a NASA computer to download copyrighted material, but not to lying to federal agents or possessing sensitive NASA information. The report adds, however, that after the court proceeding, Jiang admitted that the laptop contained "some NASA information" and "the nature of the information on Jiang's computer and how he obtained it remains under investigation."
The upshot of the OIG review appears to be a classic case of an intensely bureaucratic process involving a multitude of individuals and offices at NASA Langley, NASA Headquarters and NIA that did not communicate effectively with each other or with Jiang or his sponsors at the Center regarding restrictions that had been placed on his activities there. Jiang himself apparently was not told.
Jiang initially received approval to work as an NIA contractor at Langley from January 2011 to September 2012, and that was later extended to February 2013. He worked primarily at NIA's facilities off the Center's premises. It was only last fall when Jiang's supervisor at Langley requested that Jiang be allowed to work from an office inside the center that another review was triggered and an "export control professional who was not involved with the earlier requests" became troubled for a number of reasons. One was whether the NASA contract with NIA for Jiang's services violated a congressional prohibition on spending appropriated funds on bilateral space cooperation activities with China. That prohibition was added to NASA's appropriation bill by Wolf, who chairs the House subcommittee that funds NASA.
NIA terminated Jiang's employment in January 2013. Later that month, Langley information technology security personnel issued a report saying they found no evidence Jiang's laptop computer contained any export-controlled information, but in March, Langley's Security Service Branch issued a report calling into question just about every decision that NASA personnel had made for the prior two years that allowed Jiang to work as a contractor.
The OIG report offers six recommendations on how to improve the process. As to whether hiring Jiang as a consultant violated Wolf's prohibition, however, the OIG concludes it did not. "While the provision prohibits the Agency from hosting official Chinese visitors and expending funds to execute bilateral agreements with the Chinese government or Chinese companies, it does not extend to work conducted by individual Chinese citizens like Jiang who are not official representatives of the Chinese government or affiliated with a Chinese company."
Indeed, Wolf himself made that point two weeks ago in a strongly worded letter to NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden criticizing NASA's Ames Research Center for denying Chinese scientists permission to attend a scientific conference on findings from the Kepler Space Telescope that will be held at Ames next month. Bolden replied on October 10, during the government shutdown, saying he would review the requests from the Chinese scientists and invite them to reapply once the government reopened.
Established and entrepreneurial space companies met last week at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS), where innovation was touted as one solution to budgetary constraints both in industry and the government.
NASA was not represented at the symposium because of the government shutdown, but Gwynne Shotwell, President of SpaceX, expressed the constraints on NASA’s budget by comparing it to how much the nation spends yearly on beer -- $18 billion for NASA versus about $100 billion on beer. Industry faces similar funding challenges, but Jon Gertner, Editor-at-Large of the magazine Fast Company, and others said that has one good side-effect: innovation.
In his keynote address, Gertner used a narrative about the development of the transistor at Bell Labs as a metaphor for how innovations are often under-rated at the beginning: “Even when we think we understand the value of a breakthrough, we probably don’t.” During a session entitled “Environments that Foster Innovation,” panelists Cassie Kloberdanz of Sierra Nevada, Makenzie Lystrup of Ball Aerospace, and Chris Boshuizen of Planet Labs discussed various elements of their current and past work environments that led to better innovation. (Planet Labs is a small start-up that is planning to launch a constellation of 28 earth imaging cubesats and provide free, real-time data about the planet.) They include promoting inclusivity, allowing workers to find their passion and grow into their positions, and modeling the business practices and faster turnaround time after other industries that are experiencing success.
Unexpected breakthroughs like the ones Gertner mentioned are a subset of the “unknown unknowns” that were discussed at ISPCS. Failures encountered along the way are another. Safety and reliability are paramount in the commercial and personal spaceflight business, participants emphasized. There seemed to be consensus that human fatalities would be difficult for the industry if they happened relatively early on. Alan Ladwig, who recently retired from NASA and founded To Orbit Productions, spoke of the inherent risks of spaceflight in his keynote address, and recommended that the space tourism industry develop a comprehensive contingency plan in case of an accident. He also wondered aloud why deaths related to spaceflight are perceived so differently from deaths due to automobile accidents or military activities. Perhaps, he suggested, equating space tourism with more commonplace activities would reduce that disparity.
One area of debate at the symposium was whether space is inherently interesting to the average person. Some believe it is. Pat Hynes of the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium mentioned an upcoming reality show where contestants will compete for a ticket to space. Sean Mahoney from Masten Space Systems said that people are excited about space worldwide: “[space] is our new exploration story.”
Others, however, lamented that the public no longer feels the excitement of the space race era. Duane Ratliff of the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) and Shotwell remarked that in the 1960s and 1970s, things were different; the public was much more engaged with the space program. Ratliff noted that in that era, children owned lunchboxes with astronauts on the side. These days, he said, it is harder to generate excitement among the public about the International Space Station, for example, because they cannot see or touch it and therefore it must be made more accessible. CASIS is a non-profit whose purpose is to find non-NASA users for the ISS.
Although “international” is part of the symposium’s title, there was no obvious international showing in attendees or presenters. Even in the dialogue, the American focus was evident: Ratliff talked about how decisions on what experiments will fly on the ISS should benefit U.S. citizens; Paul Guthrie of the Tauri Group discussed how innovation contributes to the U.S. economy; and Bob Allen of Innovation, Design, Entertainment, Art and Storytelling (IDEAS) exclaimed at one point that “We [Americans] own space. Like it or not, we do.” About the only mention of international space activities was by Boeing’s John Elbon, who praised the international partnership that built and operates the International Space Station.
ISPCS 2013 is a familial symposium, and break times certainly hummed with both greetings from friends and acquaintances and networking powwows. Although many attendees were from large, well-known corporations, there was also a strong showing of emerging small startups, eager to find their niche and make their mark on the field.
It is difficult to say whether the tone would have been different if NASA representatives had been present, but perhaps it is symbolic that even with government shut down, the symposium went on and was a success.The symposium agenda can be found on the ISPCS website and videos of the sessions should be uploaded there soon.
International Space Station (ISS) crew members released Orbital Sciences Corporation's Cygnus cargo spacecraft this morning. Cygnus is now maneuvering away from the ISS and will reenter tomorrow. The spacecraft, filled with 3,000 pounds of trash, will burn up in the atmosphere. That will bring to an end not only this demonstration mission, but NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program as Orbital joins SpaceX in providing operational cargo resupply services.
The COTS program, also called "commercial cargo," began in 2006. It is a public-private partnership where NASA and two companies, Orbital and SpaceX, shared the costs of developing space transportation systems to take cargo to the ISS. The two systems, Orbital's Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft and SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft, are now operational and transitioning into the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program.
NASA contracted with Orbital for eight CRS missions and with SpaceX for 12 CRS missions through 2016. Orbital's first CRS mission is scheduled for December 8, just over six weeks from now. SpaceX already has launched two and the next is scheduled for February 2014. The fixed price CRS contracts are for $1.9 billion with Orbital, and $1.6 billion with SpaceX.
These two U.S. systems join Russia's Progress, Japan's HTV and Europe's ATV cargo transportation systems as means to take cargo to the ISS, which typically has six people aboard at any time. Crews rotating on 4-6 month shifts have permanently occupied the ISS since November 2000. The space shuttle was originally intended to be the main transportation system to take crews and cargo back and forth to ISS throughout its lifetime, but the U.S. decision to terminate the shuttle program after construction was completed meant that other systems were needed for the space station's operational period, which will last through at least 2020. (NASA is trying to build support for extending that to 2028, which would be 30 years after the first ISS modules were launched.)
Cygnus, HTV, ATV and Progress are designed only for transporting cargo up to ISS; none of them return to Earth. Only SpaceX's Dragon makes a round trip. Crews are ferried to and from ISS on Russian Soyuz spacecraft. NASA is in the midst of another public-private partnership, the "commercial crew" program, where three companies are competing to build systems to transport crews so that NASA does not need to pay Russia for such services and also to provide redundancy. SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft is one of the contenders in that program. It can be outfitted to carry people as well as cargo. Orbital is not competing in the commercial crew program, however. The other two commercial crew competitors are Boeing and Sierra Nevada.
The COTS program achieved its technical goal; NASA now has two companies competing to provide cargo resupply services for the ISS on a commercial basis. Whether the business case will prove out probably will not be known for many years.
The public may not trust the government as a whole, but it likes many federal agencies, especially NASA. Those are the findings in a new poll by Pew Research conducted in the midst of the shutdown.
Among the questions asked in the October 9-13 poll was whether selected federal agencies are viewed favorably. NASA came in second at 73 percent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was the only agency with a higher score -- 75 percent. DOD was third at 72 percent. The IRS was at the bottom of the list, with just a 44 percent favorable rating.
Federal workers are viewed favorably by 62 percent of those polled.
As for the federal government overall, only 19 percent of those polled trust the government to do what is right just about always or most of the time, according to Pew, and 30 percent are angry at the federal government. Congress has a 23 percent favorable rating, with 73 percent holding an unfavorable view, although individual Members of Congress get the blame, not the institution itself.
Lori Garver may have left her post as NASA Deputy Administrator to be General Manager of the Air Line Pilots Association, but she clearly is not stepping out of the space limelight. On November 15, she will headline a discussion at the National Press Club on "Space Exploration: How and Why?"
Garver departed NASA on September 6 after four years as second-in-command at the space agency. That was her second tour of duty at the agency having served as a top policy advisor to then NASA Administrator Dan Goldin. Before that she headed the National Space Society and in between her NASA posts was a space industry consultant.
She is one seven panelists for the Arizona State University meeting, which will be moderated by Jim Bell, President of the Planetary Society. The session is just 90 minutes (9:00-10:30 am ET) so each person will have only a short time to express his or her views, but it should be interesting.
Garver is credited with pushing for commercial space activities while she was Deputy Administrator, particularly the commercial crew program, as well as for investments in space technology. The panelists include three other former NASA officials, but no one who currently works at the agency.
RSVP instructions are on the emailed announcement.
The following events may be of interest in the week ahead. The House will be in session for part of the week; the Senate is in recess.
During the Week
The government is slowly returning to normal after the 16-day shutdown. The House will be in session beginning Tuesday, while Senators will be back home hearing first hand how voters feel about Washington these days.
House-Senate budget negotiations that were part of the deal to reopen the government and raise the debt limit are due to begin this week. Senate Budget Committee chair Patty Murray (D-WA) and House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) will lead the discussions to reconcile the starkly different budget resolutions passed by the Senate and House earlier this year. The Senate Budget Resolution ignored the sequester and set spending for FY2014 at $1.058 trillion. The House Budget Resolution holds FY2014 spending to $967 billion, $91 billion less than the Senate, and protects defense spending, taking the cuts from elsewhere in the budget. These disparities are why the House and Senate Appropriations Committees recommended such different funding levels for NASA in their FY2014 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bills. The House Appropriations bill would give NASA $16.6 billion, while the Senate bill would provide $18.0 billion. (See SpacePolicyOnline.com's NASA FY2014 Budget Request fact sheet for more details on what the appropriations -- and authorization -- committees recommended.) Murray and Ryan are supposed to complete their negotiations by December 13, presumably allowing for appropriations bills to pass by January 15, the date when the current Continuing Resolution expires.
In other events, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden will speak to the NRC's Committee on Human Spaceflight tomorrow (Monday) at 10:00 am ET and Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaier will update the committee at 2:00 pm ET. For all the Neil DeGrasse Tyson fans out there, he will speak to the committee Wednesday from 9:00-10:00 am ET on "Delusions of Space Enthusiasts." That and other meetings we know about right now are listed below.
Sunday-Friday, October 20-25
Monday-Wednesday, October 21-23
Tuesday, October 22
Thursday, October 24
UPDATE, October 22, 2013: November 5 is the new launch date. Launch time is 14:36 local time at the launch site in Sriharikota, India.
ORIGINAL STORY: India is postponing the launch of its first mission to Mars because two ships outfitted with tracking equipment are not ready to support the mission.
The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), also called Mangalyaan, is India's first interplanetary mission. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) decided to lease two ships, Nalanda and Yamuna, outfit them with tracking equipment, and deploy them to the Pacific Ocean so they can monitor ignition of the PSLV rocket's fourth stage and spacecraft separation. Those events will occur outside the range of India's usual tracking facilities.
Several Indian press accounts say the launch delay is because the Nalanda did not reach Figi on time due to bad weather. However, the Deccan Chronicle reports that the actual problem is with the tracking equipment on at least one of the ships and ISRO engineers need to check it before the ships leave Figi for their operational locations.
A new launch date will be announced on Tuesday, but the delay is expected to be about a week. Launch had been scheduled for October 28. The launch window is open until November 19.
The goals of the mission are primarily technological -- to prove that India can launch a probe and insert it into a Martian orbit -- but it carries five scientific instruments, one of which will search for methane in the Martian atmosphere.
Orbital Sciences Corporation's Cygnus cargo spacecraft will depart from the International Space Station (ISS) on October 22. That will bring to an end this demonstration mission as part of NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program and signal the beginning of Orbital's operational Commercial Resupply Services (CRS).
Cygnus was launched on September 18 by Orbital's Antares rocket from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on the coast of Virginia. It was berthed to ISS on September 29. NASA TV will cover the departure of Cygnus from the ISS beginning at 7:00 am Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) on October 22. Orbital's first operational CRS mission is scheduled for December.
SpaceX is the other U.S. company that provides CRS services for the ISS using its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft.
Cygnus and Dragon are the two U.S. cargo spacecraft for ISS. Russia, Europe and Japan also provide cargo resupply missions as part of the partnership agreement for ISS. Europe's ATV-4 is also currently docked with ISS. It will depart on October 28 and NASA TV will cover that as well. ATV-4 departure coverage begins at 4:45 am EDT on October 28.
Neither Cygnus nor ATV are designed to survive reentry. Both will be filled with trash by the ISS crew and the spacecraft and trash will disintegrate in the Earth's atmosphere.
Of all the cargo spacecraft used to resupply ISS, only SpaceX's Dragon returns to Earth's surface. Cygnus, ATV, Japan's HTV and Russia's Progress all burn up during reentry.
UPDATE, October 17, 2013, 12:37 am ET: The President has signed the bill into law.
ORIGINAL STORY, October 16, 2013, 11:50 pm ET: President Obama is expected to sign the bill that reopens the government and raises the debt limit tonight and the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is telling furloughed federal workers to return to work tomorrow morning, Thursday, October 17.
The FY2014 Continuing Appropriations Act (H.R. 2775 as amended) passed the Senate this evening by a vote of 81-18 and the House by a vote of 285-144. All no votes were Republican. All Democrats who cast a vote, voted yes.
In the Senate, 27 Republicans joined the 52 Democrats and two Independents (who usually vote with Democrats) in voting in favor of the measure. (One Republican Senator did not vote.) A tally of the vote is posted on the Senate's website.
In the House, 187 Republicans joined all 198 Democrats who voted in passing the bill. (There are three vacancies in the House, and one Republican and two Democrats did not vote). A tally of the vote is on the House website.
To recap, the bill:
The bipartisan agreement also calls for a conference committee to be appointed to develop a long range budget agreement to reduce the deficit, although that is not included in the legislation.
The bill ends a 16-day partial government shutdown. Shortly after the House vote, OMB director Sylvia Matthews Burwell issued a statement to federal employees saying "Now that the bill has passed the United States Senate and the House of Representatives, the President plans to sign it tonight and employees should expect to return to work in the morning. Employees should be checking the news and OPM's website for further updates." OPM is the Office of Personnel Management.
Events of Interest