Archive for October, 2017

Credit: SpaceX



Two new space reports have been issued by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), one on nuclear power and future spacecraft missions. The other focuses on moving the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation.

DOE Could Improve Planning and Communication Related to Plutonium-238 and Radioisotope Power Systems Production Challenges looks at NASA’s dependency on the Department of Energy to supply Pu-238 for space missions. NASA may not have sufficient Pu-238 to support future missions or will have to delay such missions until more Pu-238 is provided.

Radioisotope Power System for the Curiosity Rover at Kennedy Space Center.
Credit: NASA




Federal Aviation Administration: Stakeholders’ Perspectives on Potentially Moving the Office of Commercial Space Transportation focuses on stakeholder and official perspectives on moving this office and what they perceive could occur as a result of such a move, for example, on communication and coordination, regulations and resources.

For copies of these GAO reports, go to:


Federal Aviation Administration: Stakeholders’ Perspectives on Potentially Moving the Office of Commercial Space Transportation

GAO-18-96, October 5




DOE Could Improve Planning and Communication Related to Plutonium-238 and Radioisotope Power Systems Production Challenges

GAO-17-673, September 8



Credit: CIA

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union successfully launched the Sputnik-1 earth satellite into space—an achievement that stunned the American public and press, but not the U.S. policy and intelligence communities.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported the advancements that led to this landmark launch to President Eisenhower, providing him with the strategic advantage to guide the U.S. response.

Intelligence and analysis

On the 60th anniversary of Sputnik’s first launch, the CIA has released a collection of previously classified documents on the Sputnik program.

Credit: S.P. Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation/Energia

The collection includes CIA’s intelligence and analysis of Sputniks-1, -2, and -3 and the Soviet ballistic missile program from 1955 to the early 1960s.




Encompassing 59 documents and 440 pages, the release provides new information to the public, to include memoranda and reports the CIA provided to President Eisenhower, on the Soviet Union’s early space and missile programs.


The entire collection is available here:


Book Review: International Space Station: Architecture Beyond Earth by David Nixon, CIRCA Press, 2017, 400-pages +, $75.00 hardcover.

This is an incredible gift of a book that tells the history of the International Space Station, through the lens of its architectural design. Written by David Nixon, an architect with a particular interest in designing for space exploration, this impressive volume is the result of seven years of research.

As detailed in the book, In 1984 President Ronald Reagan kick-started the space station effort in 1984. Broken down into time chunks, this work describes the station’s evolution: Diversity and vision (1984-1988; Ambition and grandeur (1984-1988); Crisis and resolution (1989-1993; Anticipation and preparation (1994-1998); and Endurance and achievement (1999-2011).

“The International Space Station is the most ambitious habitat contrived by mankind to support its existence beyond Earth,” Nixon writes. It has become of vital importance to enable humanity’s leap across the solar system.

Credit: David Nixon

While modular infrastructure is one thing, the political, diplomatic, and financial glue needed to hold the facility together is also explained in the book. The author has pieced together an impressive portrait of the inner and outer workings of the ISS. The reader will not go wrong here by reading this volume and gaining a full appreciation of the orbital outpost’s conception, development and then assembly in Earth orbit. ISS is an incredible engineering feat, a story well researched and documented by Nixon.

“This book is a starting point,” the author writes, “and I hope that it will stimulate others into delving more deeply into the station’s fascinating story before the trail begins to grow cold.” While the mega-project’s life may be secure until 2024, the author notes its future after that is murky, perhaps headed for a deep, destructive dive into the Earth’s atmosphere and scattered into ocean waters.

NASA astronaut, Nicole Stott, a resident aboard the sprawling facility, offers her thoughts in a nicely written “A home in space” essay early in the book.

Credit: NASA

There are many fascinating twists and turns in this great book – made that way by a variety of architectures considered over early planning years. All those decision points are nicely detailed by Nixon – adding to the value of this volume.

I’m not aware of any book on the ISS that comes close to what Nixon offers here. After reading his words and eyeing some 250 color and 150 black and white illustrations, you’ll see the ISS in a different light as it crosses the night sky!

By the way, hat’s off to CIRCA for publishing this book. CIRCA is a new press, founded in London by David Jenkins, who over the past twenty-five years has conceived and edited critically acclaimed books on architecture and design for some of the world’s leading publishers.

For more information on this unique book, go to:



Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B image acquired on Sol 1836, October 5, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Deep into Sol 1836, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover ran into uplink issues due to a Deep Space Network technical problem.

Reports Abigail Fraeman, a planetary geologist at NASA/JPL in Pasadena, California, Mars researchers worked hard to generate what they affectionately dubbed a “Frankenplan.”

That plan is defined as a schedule in which one mashes elements that were already prepared (the contact science hoped for on sol 1835) with new elements (a drive).

“We were able to pull this off because we were planning two sols today (1836-1837) instead of the one sol we planned yesterday,” Fraeman adds.

Vertical exposure

The plan on sol 1836 is to start with a remote sensing block that has the rover’s Chemistry and Camera (LIBS) observations of targets “Ecca” and “Lucknow.”

“These are the same targets we had planned to do contact science on yesterday. We are also taking Mastcam mosaics of target “Limpopo” and a nice vertical exposure that we may visit in the future,” Fraeman adds.

Mars scientists additionally managed to fit in a Mastcam tau observation and a Mastcam multispectral observation of an area named “Hotazel.” We will use the multispectral observation to document the spectral properties of the terrain in front of us. 

Curiosity Mastcam Left photo taken on Sol 183, October 3, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Bedrock properties

After finishing the remote sensing science block, researchers will repeat contact science that they had planned. The purpose of these contact science measurements is to document the properties of the bedrock on this middle plateau on Vera Rubin Ridge. “We will also squeeze in one more Mastcam tau measurement and a crater rim extinction image before the sun sets,” Fraeman explains.

“Our main activity on sol 1837,” Fraeman concludes, “is a drive to the east to continue on our exploration of Vera Rubin Ridge. We will collect a Mastcam multispectral observation of the brushed targets Ecca and Lucknow before we drive away. Whew!”


Vice President Pence ✔@VP

At @POTUS’ direction, the Nat’l Space Council will hold first meeting with all aspects of space enterprise for 1st time in a quarter century.

The meeting, titled “Leading the Next Frontier: An Event with the National Space Council,” will be held today.

Credit: White House

This first meeting is to take place at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.

It will be chaired by Vice President Mike Pence and include participation by acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot, as well as a number of Trump Administration cabinet members and senior officials, and aerospace industry leaders.

The council will hear testimonial from expert witnesses who represent the sectors of the space industry: Civil Space, Commercial Space, and National Security Space. President Trump signed an executive order reestablishing the National Space Council on June 30 of this year.

U.S. President Trump signing bring back the National Space Council.
Credit: White House

Pence: return to the moon

Vice President Pence has written a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled “America Will Return to the Moon—and Go Beyond,” in which he said the US space program will establish “a renewed American presence on the Moon, a vital strategic goal.”

The full text of that op-ed reads:

Sixty years ago this week, the Soviet Union launched the world’s first satellite into orbit, changing the course of history. The race for space was on, and the Soviets had taken an early lead. But the sight of Sputnik blinking across the October sky spurred Americans to action. Twelve years later, with “one giant leap for mankind,” the U.S. claimed its rightful place as the undisputed leader in the exploration of the heavens.

That pre-eminence in outer space is now under threat—and once again, America must act. President Trump has revived the National Space Council to assist him in developing and implementing long-range strategic goals for our nation’s space policy. On Thursday the council will hold its first meeting in nearly 25 years, and as its chairman, I will deliver a simple message: America will lead in space again.

More than ever, American prosperity and security depend on U.S. leadership in space. Yet national space policy often has lacked a coherent, cohesive vision. The results not only are disappointing; they endanger the well-being of the American people.

Vice President Mike Pence delivers opening remarks during the National Space Council’s first meeting, Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017 at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va. The National Space Council, chaired by Vice President Mike Pence heard testimony from representatives from civil space, commercial space, and national security space industry representatives.
Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

The U.S. pays Russia more than $76 million a seat to carry American astronauts to the International Space Station, since we have no vehicle capable of performing this task. The intelligence community reports that Russia and China are pursuing a full range of antisatellite technology designed to threaten our military’s effectiveness. These are only two examples of America’s abdication of leadership in space.

The president has charged the National Space Council with restoring that leadership. The council’s objectives are clear.

We will refocus America’s space program toward human exploration and discovery. That means launching American astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit for the first time since 1972. It means establishing a renewed American presence on the moon, a vital strategic goal. And from the foundation of the moon, America will be the first nation to bring mankind to Mars.

Credit: ESA/NASA

We will renew America’s commitment to creating the space technology needed to protect national security. Our adversaries are aggressively developing jamming and hacking capabilities that could cripple critical military surveillance, navigation systems and communication networks. In the face of this threat, America must be as dominant in the heavens as it is on Earth.

We will promote regulatory, technological, and educational reforms to expand opportunities for American citizens and ensure that the U.S. is at the forefront of economic development in outer space. In the years to come, American industry must be the first to maintain a constant commercial human presence in low-Earth orbit, to expand the sphere of the economy beyond this blue marble.

To achieve these goals, the National Space Council will look beyond the halls of government for insight and expertise. In the coming weeks, President Trump and I will assemble a Users’ Advisory Group partly composed of leaders from America’s burgeoning commercial space industry. Business is leading the way on space technology, and we intend to draw from the bottomless well of innovation to solve the challenges ahead.

Above all, the National Space Council will enable our nation to bring American values to this infinite frontier. It will renew the American spirit itself, as we lift our heads and reach our hands toward the heavens, in pursuit of peace and hope for all mankind.

As the National Space Council meets Thursday, our nation can know with confidence: Under President Trump, America will lead in space again.


The meeting begins at 10:00 am ET with welcoming remarks from Pence. The Council then will hear from three panels of experts:

10:20-11:05 am ET: We Will Lead Again — Civil Space

Marillyn Hewson, President and CEO, Lockheed Martin
Dennis Muilenburg, President and CEO, Boeing
David Thompson, President and CEO, Orbital ATK

11:05 – 11:35 am ET: We Will Inspire Again — Commercial Space

Gwynne Shotwell, President and COO, SpaceX
Bob Smith, CEO, Blue Origin
Fatih Ozmen, owner and CEO, Sierra Nevada Corporation

11:35 – 12:05 pm ET: We Will Hold the High Ground Again — National Security Space

Michael Griffin, former NASA Administrator
Adm. James Ellis (Ret.), former Commander, U.S. Strategic Command
Pamela Melroy, former space shuttle commander and former Deputy Director, Tactical Technology Office, DARPA
12:05 pm ET: Concluding Remarks by Vice President Pence

Watch live:

NASA Television and the agency’s website will provide live coverage of the first meeting of the National Space Council starting at 10 a.m. EDT Thursday, Oct. 5.

Live Coverage of Vice President Mike Pence and the first meeting of the National Space Council at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center can be viewed here:

Credit: S.P. Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation/Energia


The roots of space exploration stem back to the launch of the first artificial satellite of Earth – the Soviet Union’s Sputnik 1.

Today, sixty years ago on October 4, 1957, the 184-pound polished sphere rocketed into Earth orbit. Its beep-beep-beeping sent scientific, technological, and political shockwaves around the world.

The dawn of the Space Age, and the start of the space race – the launching of a Soviet Union’s first articficial Earth satellite, Sputnik 1, on 4 October 1957 (5 October local time, Tyuratam)
Credit: ESA/RKK Energiya/Solaris






As American historian Daniel Boorstin noted: “Never before had so small and so harmless an object created such consternation.”


Go to this nicely produced European Space Agency Euronews: 60 years since Sputnik video on the milestone-making event:

For those inclined (or want to be), how about a vodka toast, sit back, and listen to the sounds of Sputnik 1.

Go to:


Credit: Government of Dubai Media Office


The United Arab Emirates have launched the Mars Science City project. The initiative was unveiled at the annual meetings for the UAE government in Abu Dhabi last week.

This city, at 1.9 million square feet, would make it the largest space stimulation city ever built and will provide a viable and realistic model to simulate living on the surface of Mars. It would encompass laboratories for food, energy and water, as well as agricultural testing and studies about food security in the future.

Walls of sand

According to the Government of Dubai’s media office, the science city will also boast a museum that displays humanity’s greatest space achievements, including educational areas meant to engage young citizens with space, and inspire in them a passion for exploration and discovery. The walls of the museum will be 3D printed, using sand from the Emirati desert.

Credit: Government of Dubai Media Office

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid explained that the UAE “seeks to establish international efforts to develop technologies that benefit humankind, and that establish the foundation of a better future for more generations to come. We also want to consolidate the passion for leadership in science in the UAE, contributing to improving life on earth and to developing innovative solutions to many of our global challenges.”

Credit: Government of Dubai Media Office


Settlement on Mars

The Mars Science City project falls within the UAE’s objectives to lead the global scientific race to take people to Mars, and is part of the Mars 2117 Strategy, launched during the fifth World Government Summit, which seeks to build the first settlement on Mars in the next 100 years.

This project will include advanced laboratories that stimulate the Red Planet’s terrain and harsh environment through advanced 3D printing technology and heat and radiation insulation.

Live-in team

The Mars Science City project also includes an experiential element which will involve a team living in the stimulated city for one year. The Mars Science City structure when completed is billed as the most sophisticated building in the world, incorporating a realistic simulation environment replicating the conditions on the surface of Mars.

Credit: Government of Dubai Media Office

The city will consist of several domes, with innovative construction techniques providing support for the structures. A team of Emirati scientists, engineers and designers, led by a team from the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre and Dubai Municipality will carry out the project, in cooperation with internationally renowned architects from the BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group.