Monday, February 26, 2007

I so want to join the Order of Science Scouts of Exemplary Respute and Above Average Physique

The O.O.T.S.S.O.E.R.A.A.A.P.

Much like the Girl Scouts, you can earn badges for doing certain things or demonstrating knowledge of certain subjects. As it turns out, I already qualify for several of their badges:

Haven't quite earned that last one yet, but I'm getting dangerously close. Go to their website to check out all of their badges.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

No new money for NASA in the 07 Budget

Because the Republican congress failed to do their job last year and didn't pass the 07 budget, the new congress was forced to deal with that on top of the 08 budget (not to mention learning how to be in charge again, hiring new staff, moving offices, welcoming new members, oh, and there's that whole Iraq War thing happening). So, they decided to punt - rather than carefully considering, debating and passing the budgets from the various approprations committees, or even rolling them together and passing one massive "omnibus" budget bill, they decided to extend the continuing resolution through the end of the year so they can focus on next year's budget. This basically continues the 2006 budget through 2007, which in theory isn't so bad, everybody loses out on inflationary increases, but otherwise it maintains the status quo. The problem is that NASA and NSF and NIST and many other science agencies were due for big increases this year, NASA for the Vision and the rest due to the whole compettitiveness inititive.

Congress had said that they were going to "allow some flexibility" where it was needed, giving us a little hope, and in fact, NSF and NIST both got small increases over the '06 numbers ($335M and $50M, respectively), but unfortunatly, NASA got nothing.

Senator Mikulski said in her press release that it was unfortunate, but it was the best they could do:

“While I would have liked to have increased funding for NASA, there was simply not enough extra funding available for us to do so. Within the limits of NASA’s FY 06 operating plan, we added an extra $460 million to exploration while protecting other critical NASA programs in science and aeronautics. With only seven months left in this fiscal year, I believe NASA will be able to manage their programs in exploration with minimal impact to the overall schedule.

It's going to be a tough year for NASA, and frankly, the '08 budget is not looking that much better.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Oh that poor cat

Ever wonder how a cat would react to microgravity?

Apparently cats have an automatic "righting system" built into them which makes sure they always land on their feet. In the absence of gravity though, the cat feels like it is constantly falling and can't "land", so their righting system puts them into an endless spin. Cool huh?

Also (via NASAwatch), in case you prefer dogs to cats:

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Anousheh Ansari - Positive female astronaut role model

In the wake of the diaper-wearing crazed-astronaut love-triangle ruckus comes news that Anousheh Ansari is going to team up with Homer "October Sky" Hickum to write her memoirs.

You may or may not remember that back in September, Anousheh became the world’s first female space tourist as the fourth paying customer to hitch a ride to the space station. It was a pretty big deal at the time, I read a number of articles on her, she got a soundbite or two on the news, of course that coverage pales in comparison to the kind of overwhelming non-stop coverage that Lisa Nowak garnered last week. But I don't want to talk about Lisa (ever again, please), let's talk about a positive female astronaut/entrepreneur role model:

I was frankly surprised by the attention Ansari received at the time of her flight, after all female astronauts are a pretty common sight these days. Is a space tourist so different?

I remember well the first “space tourist” Dennis Tito. That was a big story, we had entered a new era and all that. I vaguely remember hearing about #2, Mark Shuttleworth, but I had nearly forgotten there was a 3rd tourist, Greg Olsen, he got almost no press. I guess the media had decided by #3 that it was old hat, that is until the Japanese Businessman that was supposed to be #4 bowed out for medical reasons and his backup, Ansari was given the green light. Suddenly space tourism was a big deal again, a woman was going, and I read one article after another detailing her adventures.

I did a quick Google search to try and find some historical perspective. It was only 2 years after Yuri Gargarin’s first spaceflight that Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space. It is now more that 5 years since Dennis Tito’s historic ride as the first space tourist.

Of course the situations are far different. Tereshkova’s flight was a novelty act and nothing more (arguably, she was the first “space tourist”, as she was simply along for the ride and was never allowed to take manual control of the spacecraft). She was sent into space simply to check a box, first women in space – check, one more “first” for the Soviet space program. It wasn’t until Sally Ride’s first flight in 1983, a full twenty years after Gargarin, that women finally became a real part of the space program.

Ansari, on the other hand, is far from a novelty act. A life-long space devotee, she is a commercial space entrepreneur who, along with her husband and brother-in-law, has co-founded the Dallas-based company Prodea which is developing the Explorer line of air-launched suborbital vehicles. She and other members of her family donated a sizable chuck of the money for the Ansari X-Prize competition (hence the name) and she remains involved in the X-Prize Foundation, particularly its educational outreach.

The Iranian-born Ansari does see herself as a role model. In an interview with, she said, “In my work and everything that I have always done, I have tried to be an example. I hope to inspire everyone—especially young people, women, and young girls all over the world, and in Middle Eastern countries that do not provide women with the same opportunities as men—to not give up their dreams and to pursue them.”

In the U.S., little girls may not need Ansari as a role model, they have never lived in a world where women can’t be astronauts or fly in space. But in the Middle East, she will be a powerful symbol of hope for the next generation. For that, I’m grateful that the headline “first woman space tourist” made it around the world.

Will we ever get to a point where “first woman” isn’t a milestone to be recorded? I doubt it. I think we just really likes “firsts”. I wonder, what if the first person to stand on Mars is a woman, will history also made a point to record when the first man hit the ground? Yeah, I think so.

Alan Stern named associate administrator for SMD

NASA has finally announced the replacement for Mary Cleave who is retiring in April as AA for the Science Mission Directorate. Dr. Cleave was trained as a biologist and an engineer, but became an astronaut almost straight out of grad school (her Wikipedia entry). She was never really accepted by the science community, which is likely one, but certainly not the only, reason for the strained relationship between the greater NASA science community and HQs for the last couple of years. She felt we were constantly whining and we felt we weren't being listened too, it was a bad situation all around.

I think that Dr. Cleave did her best in what is a thankless job, especially during tough budget years, but I for one, will not be sad to see her go.

Dr. Stern is an interesting choice for replacement. I don't know a lot about him besides what was in the press release, but he is clearly a scientist and an active member of the planetary community, so he gets points for that. (Although according to his Wikipedia entry, he was very nearly an astronaut, but I won't hold that against him.)

Alan is from Colorado, a graduate of the Univ of Colorado, he is currently executive of the Southwest Research Institute's (SwRI’s) Space Science and Engineering Division. Which, I believe, is in Mark Udall's district. Mark being the chair of the House subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics. So they should get along well.

He is also the PI on the New Horizons mission to Pluto. I know that it's going to be a while before we get to Pluto (July, 2015), but even so, doesn't that seem like a conflict of interest? I wonder if they will make him relinquish that title while he is at HQ.

Can Dr. Stern make a difference at HQ? Can he do anything to improve communication with the science community and erase some of the bitterness that has been built up the last few years? I hope so.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Joss Whedon interview

There's a great 4 part interview with Joss Whedon up at Geek Monthly. He talks mostly about the upcoming Buffy Season 8 comics, which I have to admit I am so excited about.

I don't normally read comics. Nothing personal, it's just never been my thing. But I gotta tell you, I would read the back of a triscuit box if Joss wrote it. And then I would re-read it and look for hidden layers of meaning. And then I would go online and see if I could find others who had read and dissected the layers of depth in the triscuit box and had drawn parallels to works on the back of other snack foods and then I would search out those snack foods and read their backs before re-reading the triscuit box once again to ensure that I could fully appreciate the genius that went into the triscuit box. Yeah, it's kind of a sickness.

Also, some of my other favorite Buffy writers are also going to be writing issues of the comic, including Jane Espenson and Drew Goddard. It's going to be so good.

Anna Nicole's final bow - an act of humanitarianism

I haven't said anything about Lisa Nowak yet, mostly because I haven't had anything either insightful or hilarious to say, but I woke up this morning with a somewhat morbid thought that Lisa and her family, not to mention NASA as a whole, must be so grateful to Anna Nicole Smith for dying. Apparently I'm not the only one who thought that, as I stumbled on this blog entry this morning.

I, for one, won't miss the circling helicopters and stupid news vans hanging out at JSC's entry gates.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

This made me laugh today

A parody of Ron Howard's Apollo 13 that wonders what Thanksgiving might be like at Gene Kranz's (Ed Harris from Apollo 13) house, especially when things go terribly, but familiarly wrong.

It's hilarious:

- "What did you do?"

- "Nothing, I stirred the gravy."

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

NASA's 08 budget announced

NASA announced it's 08 budget yesterday. You can find the transcript of Mike Griffin's comments here and the pdf of the actual budget is here

NASA will receive a 3.1% increase over last year's budget request, which is not terrible, it could be worse, of course, but it's not good, especially considering how NASA got the shaft in the continuing resolution. NSF, by contrast, got a 7% increase. Ever since the President skipped over NASA in his ACI (American Competitiveness Initiative), NASA has become something of the redheaded stepchild of science when it comes to funding.

In a press release, the chair of the House Science and Technology Committee, Bart Gordon said:
"Once again, NASA’s budget request is not sufficient to do all the agency is being asked to do. Exploration and human space flight are important long-term missions for the agency and our country. So are NASA’s core activities in science and aeronautics. Yet this budget request and its five-year funding plan do not provide the funding needed to ensure the future health of any of these initiatives. I fear we may be heading for a train wreck if no corrective actions are taken."

On the other side of the Hill, Sen Mikulski was also disappointed:
“The space program needs presidential leadership, and we expect to see that leadership in the budget. Unfortunately, we don’t see it in this year’s budget yet again. I fought to have NASA included in the American Competitiveness Initiative, but the White House refused. NASA’s work should be the hallmark of any national program to promote America’s competitiveness,” said Senator Mikulski. “I will keep fighting for a balanced space program – science, exploration and aeronautics – all leading the way for innovation and discovery.”

Times are tough, and not just for science; exploration, aeronautics, education, everything NASA does is getting squeezed.

A few good things came out of the budget announcement though:
* GPM (Global Precipitation Measurement mission) is moving forward, thank goodness, because the TRMM satellite that it's replacing is running out of fuel, and those measurements are important for things like accurate hurricane predictions.

* The next-generation LANDSAT is also moving forward after a lot of fits and starts, though to slowly to avoid a data gap, but still.

* A new funding line for Lunar Science is finally being started - this was something I tried to push for when I was on the Hill, but I could never get any traction, everyone said it was too early, we didn't need it yet, but I guess they finally felt it was time.

* For those who care, the SOFIA mission has been reinstated and is back on track.

* The budget runout allows for increases to the previously estimated costs for purchasing commercial cargo and crew services to support the ISS, which I take as a sign that they are really serious about pursuing COTS, which is kinda exciting in the big picture. I really hope that some viable commercial options materialize.

* Finally, one of the best things to come out of yesterday's announcement, in my humble opinion anyway, it sounds like they are going to readjust some of the Full Cost Accounting procedures. - "Our full cost accounting practices created a complex allocation of overhead costs which disproportionately inflated the operating costs for our research centers." - ya think?

So that's a quick look from my perspective, I haven't really had time to comb though the nitty gritty numbers yet. What do you think? Is NASA going to muddle through, or is the "train wreck" just ahead?

Monday, February 5, 2007

What are we going to do on the Moon?

I get that question a lot. Haven't we already been there? Why do we need to go back? Don't we already know everything?

Here is a list of 181 things that NASA has figured out that we can do on the Moon, not that we are necessarily going to do all of these things, but there's 181 of them, we're certainly going to make it through some of them.