Monday, December 31, 2012

In the Beginning

Click the arrow to watch the video on YouTube.

The Air Force Space & Missile Museum has posted on its YouTube channel a video compilation of four silent films depicting the site in the mid-1960s to 1970.

The first film is an overflight of Launch Complex 26 and Launch Complex 5-6 in 1965. This was shortly after the complexes were deactivated. One site or the other would be designated as the U.S. Air Force Space Museum; NASA eventually chose LC 5-6 for their site as it was where Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom launched on the first two Mercury flights. The Air Force converted the LC 26 blockhouse into a museum.

The second film appears to show a walk-through of the new museum shortly after it opened to the public in 1968. You can see Kennedy Space Center Visitor Information Center tour buses driving past the complex.

The third film depicts KSC VIC tourists walking about the grounds, then loading about the tour buses.

The final film is the dedication of the museum's exhibit hall in 1970. It was originally a garage for the fuel trucks.

NASA at Night

With the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex staying open late during the holidays, it's a rare opportunity to see the place after dark.

Here are photos of the new entrance. Note that the JFK fountain changes colors!

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Way In

Click the arrow to watch a Florida Today video of the new entrance. You may be subjected to an ad first.

On December 23 I gave you a preview of the new entrance at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

Florida Today reports that KSCVC held a formal opening yesterday of the new entrance.

The new entryway is the first project completed under a 10-year master plan that aims to “re-modernize and recreate” the Visitor Complex to help it attract customers from theme park competition in Orlando.

“We try to make sure that we’re doing things that speak to what the modern visitor wants and the things they expect when they arrive,” said complex COO Bill Moore of Delaware North Cos. Parks and Resorts, which operates the park without public funding.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Stratolaunch May Fly from KSC in 2017

An artist's concept of the Stratolaunch carrier aircraft. Image source:

Florida Today reports that Stratolaunch is progressing towards a possible test flight from the Kennedy Space Center runway as soon as 2017.

“That is our current thinking, yes, that we intend to come there,” said [CEO Gary] Wentz, a University of Central Florida graduate who began his engineering career at KSC before moving to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., where Stratolaunch is headquartered.

“We’d like to conduct a demo mission from the Cape, so all the planning that we’re doing right now would focus that effort there at Kennedy,” he said.

Kennedy’s wide, three-mile runway and distance from population centers are good fits for Stratolaunch’s early flight operations, though other locations may be considered, Wentz said.

Stratolaunch and SpaceX recently agreed amiably to end their partnership, as SpaceX did not want to retool its Falcon 9 rocket assembly line for horizontal launches. Stratolaunch will now partner with Orbital Sciences, which has horizontal launch experience with its Pegasus rocket.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Preparing for the New Neighbors

Click the arrow to watch the NASA video on YouTube.

NASA uploaded to YouTube on December 21 this video update on the renovation of the former third Space Shuttle orbiter hangar to prepare for next summer's arrival of Boeing's CST-100 commercial crew vehicle.

Christmas Sunrise in Three Acts

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Message from ISS

Click the arrow to watch on YouTube the NASA video, “Further Up Yonder: A Message from ISS to All Humankind.”

“For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.”

— Carl Sagan

Sunrise, Sunset

It's the winter solstice, the time of year when the Sun is at its southernmost point in the sky. It's made for some spectacular sunrises and sunsets here in Merritt Island.

This is the view from our back yard. These photos were shot with my dinky cameraphone.

Sunrise on December 12.

Sunset on December 23.

And this was our Christmas sunrise on December 25, 2011:

Sunrise on December 25, 2011.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Fountainhead

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex has unveiled another segment of their new entrance.

The new entrance opened last September; click here for photos. But work continues on the entrance area, and this weekend KSCVC unveiled a new fountain and NASA “meatball” logo.

It appears that there's some sort of “show” associated with the fountain. At times, it's doing nothing at all. At other times, it's squirting water. And late today, as I left, I heard a very loud recording of the STS-135 Atlantis launch playing as the water shot very high into the sky at T-0.

So until I figure out exactly what is the “show” here are photos from this morning and this afternoon.

UPDATE December 24, 2012 — The fence came down today from around the old KSCVC entrance. Here's what it looks like now:

And here's what it used to look like:

Image source: NASA.

From the Earth to the Moon

I was driving through Cape Canaveral Air Force Station yesterday and noticed the Moon fairly low to the horizon during the afternoon, which made for an impromptu photo opportunity.

I only had my dinky cameraphone, so the below is the best I could get.

The Saturn 1B pedestal at LC-34, site of the Apollo 1 fire. The Moon is at upper right.

The Moon is at lower left, beneath the platform.

The Moon is between the water deluge ring and the platform.

The Moon directly above the Mercury 7 monument at LC-14.

Friday, December 21, 2012

"Don't Assume Anything" from Congress

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on Capitol Hill last March. Image source: NASA.

On December 14, I wrote a column titled, “The More They Stay the Same.” It was about how Congress keeps ordering studies to explain NASA's supposed lack of direction, but when told by these studies that Congress fails to provide the funding for NASA's programs, Congress just blames the White House and does nothing.

The latest study, NASA's Strategic Direction and the Need for a National Consensus, was issued on December 5 by the National Academies.

Appendix C of that report listed seventeen prior reports by various entities delivered to Congress on the subject matter.

The Academies' National Research Council began hearings this week to review their publication. Among the speakers were NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and Deputy Administrator Lori Garver.

Media reports were scarce. I queried Google, trying to find any media reports. Most of what I found were false stories that Bolden had supposedly recorded an emergency message to be broadcast today as the end of the world began. And we wonder why our nation is in a mess. But I digress.

The only “mainstream media” story I found was by the Los Angeles Times, titled, “NASA Will Remain a Leader in Human Spaceflight, Top Official Says.”

Bolden acknowledged the long-lived enthusiasm for the moon, but called it a "generational" gap — many of his colleagues from the days of the Apollo program have expressed their dissatisfaction with the current direction, he said.

When it comes to revisiting our next-door neighbor, other countries may have to step in and take up the challenge, he added.

"We can't do everything," Bolden said. "We can lead through inspiration."

Bolden also said the report writers may have missed certain things because the study was conducted during the generally quieter times just before the presidential election.

But the best reporting came from the space blogger ranks, by Marcia S. Smith at Marcia was a member of the committee that produced the NRC report.

On December 19, she posted an article titled, “Bolden: Don't Have to Travel Far to Asteroid to Meet President's Goal.” Marcia interpreted Bolden's remarks as suggesting that NASA may be giving more serious thought to a proposal by retired astronaut Tom Jones to harvest Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs) for platinum-based mineral groups. Dr. Jones addressed the Air Force Space & Missile Museum docents on the subject here in September; click here for my report.

I found particularly interesting this passage in Marcia's report:

An NRC report released earlier this month concluded that sending people to an asteroid has not won wide support in NASA or the nation. Bolden did not criticize that report directly, but said that NRC committee had only a short time to complete its study and it was done at a time of "relative silence" from NASA because of the election and did not have the benefit of the information he was presenting this morning. The only new material he presented this morning was this information about the asteroid mission and the news that NASA will soon stand up a Space Technology Mission Directorate.

This might lend a bit more credence to a September 23 Orlando Sentinel report that NASA had sent to the White House a proposal to station a deep-space outpost 23,000 miles beyond the Moon, at a Legrangian Point known as L-2. Space advocate web sites have buzzed with rumors that this announcement was being withheld until after the election, because if Mitt Romney won then the new administration would determine the future course of NASA.

Marcia's next report was posted on December 20. Titled, “NRC Human Spaceflight Committee Kicks Off Deliberations,” it was a more thorough analysis of the discussions, and included remarks delivered from Congressional staff representatives in the House and Senate.

I've written here many times that the President does not determine space policy or funding. Congress does. That was the message delivered by these staffers, both Democratic and Republican.

Marcia wrote:

The National Research Council's (NRC's) Committee on Human Spaceflight held its first public meeting yesterday. In addition to hearing from NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, the committee listened to other top NASA officials, congressional staff, and other experts on the past and present of the space program and what NASA and Congress are hoping to get from the report.

Congress requested the report in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, a bill written by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Senate committee staff members Ann Zulkosky (D) and Jeff Bingham (R) and House Science, Space and Technology Commitee staffer Dick Obermann (D) briefed the committee both on what Congress had in mind back in 2010 when the law was written and what they would find most useful today.

The key message from the staffers was that the NRC committee should not assume that Congress will remain as supportive of space exploration in the future as it has been in the past. Zulkosky said "don't assume anything" and explaining the value of the space program to taxpayers is an "important part of the conversation." Bingham agreed, adding that simply because the President's 2010 National Space Policy lays out principles and goals for a strong space program that does not mean Congress is in agreement. "The National Space Policy is an Executive Branch statement of policy and I say 'thanks for sharing,'" but Congress has "a separate and equal responsibility to make policy — we call it law."

Another witness was space historian Roger Launius, who debunked the notion of widespread public support for a government human-based spaceflight exploration program.

Launius presented data showing that contrary to the memories and assumptions of most Americans, the Apollo program was not particularly popular with the public in the 1960s. He traced the factors that led to the Apollo program's approval by President John F. Kennedy and Congress — essentially Cold War politics — and concluded that Apollo was "unique to its time and won't be repeated in our lifetimes." He believes that exploration can be sustained only when it leads to something of value. In the Apollo program "we didn't find anything of value. We sustain exploration only when we do." He showed data from the 2010 General Social Survey of where the public preferred to make cuts in federal spending. Space exploration was second on the list, just behind defense. He pointed out that it is one of only three on the list of 18 types of federal spending where more than 50 percent of Democrats and more than 50 percent of Republicans want to cut (the other two are foreign aid and welfare).

Further illustrating the disconnect between Congress and reality was this morning's Associated Press report about the House passing a pork-laden defense bill that was increased beyond what the President requested, ignoring public sentiment to cut defense spending.

In a speech this week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta criticized the pressure on the Pentagon to keep weapons that it doesn't want. "Aircraft, ships, tanks, bases, even those that have outlived their usefulness, have a natural political constituency. Readiness does not," Panetta said.

"What's more, readiness is too often sacrificed in favor of a larger and less effective force. I am determined to avoid that outcome," he said.

Panetta said members of the House and Senate "diverted about $74 billion of what we asked for in savings in our proposed budget to the Congress, and they diverted them to other areas that, frankly, we don't need."

In my opinion, the ultimate blame — and responsibility — for this mess lies with those who put these people in office. That's you and me.

I did not vote for my House of Representatives incumbent. He has falsely claimed that China plans to build a lunar fortress and proposed that Congress seize management of NASA away from the White House. I voted for his challenger. She didn't win. I did my part.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Where America's Spaceport Began

The interim Visitor Information Center as it appeared in the December 22, 1966 Spaceport News. The site was on the mainland side of the Indian River at the old Gate 3 entrance.

In the December 14 post titled, “America's Spaceport, Part 2” I included the above photo of the original Visitor Information Center in 1966.

Today I went out to the site to see what features might be recognizable from that location, and found quite a few vestiges of the VIC.

Look at the location of the Mercury-Redstone in the original photo, then compare to this one. This is where the Redstone was located.

In the far distance is today's Astronaut Hall of Fame, but notice the row of palm trees. Those are clearly the palm trees that in 1966 ran between the bus loop and the grass parking lot.

So if we look to the south, we see what remains of the foundation of what I'm told was the gift shop. We can also see the rest of the palm trees, still in formation.

Look in the upper-right of the 1966 photo, and you'll see the original badging station. Compare to this photo, and center-left you'll see a square in the parking lot that's been paved over which was the building's location.

The badge, of course, was necessary to enter KSC through Gate 3. The original Gate 3 is at top-center in the 1966 photo, in the center divider.

In today's photo, that location is roughly where the vehicles are parked along the westbound lanes. A small electrical box connection is still in the center divider.

Let's put it all together with this overhead view from Google Maps:

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Космос говорит по-русски

Click the arrow to watch the video on YouTube. It helps if you speak Russian.

When I was in college in the mid-1970s, I had delusions of entering the Foreign Service.

Earth was a different planet then.

The United States and the Soviet Union were in the fourth decade of the Cold War, which had evolved into an institutional bureaucracy on both sides. The Nixon Administration had entered into a period of détente with the USSR. The two nations had agreed to fly a joint rendezvous mission called Apollo-Soyuz — or from the Soviet perspective, Союз-Аполлон — in 1975.

And so it was in that era that I began my freshman year in college at the University of California Riverside. A small university at the time with an enrollment of 6,000, it had a reputation for an excellent political science department and Russian program. I declared my major as Poli Sci, with an interest in foreign policy, specifically the Soviet Union.

But when you're 18, you're fairly clueless about where life will lead you, and so by the time I graduated four years later life was taking me in an opposite direction.

I took two years of Russian, along with a year of Russian history, but all that went on the book shelf as I pursued the next in line of several careers.

More than thirty years later, the United States and Russia are space partners, and I'm 3,000 miles east of California living in the Space Coast.

In my day job, I interact with people from around the world, including Russia and other Russian-speaking countries.

About six months ago, I decided to resurrect my mediocre Russian language skills so I could speak in their native tongue to guests from our space partner.

I began with my first-year college Russian textbook, titled Reading Contemporary Russian.

“Contemporary” in 1975 is hardly what is contemporary today.

No, the language hasn't changed. But the nation did.

For example, here's a sentence to translate from Chapter 6:

Центральный комитет арестовал антипартийную группу.

“The Central Committee arrested the anti-party group.”

Not exactly, “Where is the nearest bathroom?”

To help with accent and casual conversation, I'll listen over the Internet to, a collection of Russian radio stations. Not all of it is in Russian; if you click on Радио онлайн — все станции (Radio Online — All Stations) you'll see stations that favor American and European fare.

(My wife loves the Beatles station.)

For we space geeks, the Russian space agency Roscosmos has a YouTube channel for its version of NASA TV, called tvroscosmos. Most of the videos are in Russian, but occasionally one is in English.

The Roscosmos productions are excellent, and often include historic footage never seen here in the United States.

On October 29, Roscosmos posted a 26-minute documentary titled, Космос говорит по-русски, or Space Speaks Russian. It's about how Russian language is intertwined with the history of spaceflight. The documentary notes how the “-nik” from the word Sputnik became part of other words, such as “flopnik” and ”kaputnik” after the Vanguard failure on December 6, 1957.

In modern times, as the United States and Russia became space partners, each side had to learn the other's language, which is what most of the documentary is about.

Even if you don't know Russian, you'll see familiar faces — several U.S. astronauts as they speak Russian with varying degrees of success. Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov speaks in English as he talks about Apollo-Союз.

Another favorite is a 31-minute documentary about the Soviet-era Space Shuttle Buran. It's titled, Буран еще вернется, roughly translated as Buran Will Return. Most of the film is an interview with Oleg Baklanov, one of the founders of the Buran program. But it does have some rare Buran footage I've never seen before.

Click the arrow to watch the video. It really, really helps if you speak Russian. Or just wait for the cool Buran footage.

Meanwhile, I'm going to return to my Russian translation exercises. Here's the latest one:

Председатели колхозов давно хотели строить новые среднее щколы в нашем районе.

“The chairmen of the collective farms have wanted for a long time to build new middle schools in our region.”

That should help me find my flight at the Moscow airport.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

NASA, Johnson Style

Click the arrow to watch the video on YouTube.

Another NASA music video parody is now on YouTube, with the cooperation of Johnson Space Center.

My guess is they were inspired by “We're NASA and We Know It.”

Friday, December 14, 2012

America's Spaceport, Part 2

The interim Visitor Information Center as it appeared in the December 22, 1966 Spaceport News. The site was on the mainland side of the Indian River at the old Gate 3 entrance.

(Part 2 in a series.)

On January 3, 1965, the first day drive-through tours were permitted, 1,936 people in 575 cars (that's 3.4 per vehicle) passed through Gate 3 on the west side of the Indian River Causeway to visit Kennedy Space Center.

The tours were permitted only on Sundays, so the second tour day was a week later on January 10. 2,107 people drove through, an increase of 171 from the first day. The Center was open for only three hours, from 1 PM to 4 PM.

The April 15, 1965 issue of Spaceport News reported that Sunday tours had averaged about 2,100 per day. “More than a third of the visitors have been from out of the state,” the paper reported. “Representatives of 29 states as well as several foreign countries, including Belgium and Germany, have made the tour.”

The brochure handed these guests included a welcome from Center Director Kurt Debus. It stated that a more permanent guest facility was planned:

While the Sunday tours of the Cape continue, plans are being made to establish a Visitor Information Center on the NASA spaceport. This facility is expected to be ready for use about mid-1966. Escorted bus tours are also planned. In the interim, I solicit your patient understanding and cooperation.

In June, as the center prepared to launch Gemini 4, the Public Affairs Office announced details for what would be known as the Visitor Information Center.

Kennedy Space Center Public Affairs Office Chief Gordon L. Harris briefed Brevard County leaders and members of the press Tuesday on results of the recent National Park Service study on future tourism at the Merritt Island Spaceport.

According to the Park Service's projected figures, Harris said, more than three million tourists would visit the Spaceport annually by 1970, with as many as 15,000 on peak days.

Focal point for the tourists will be the $1.2 million Visitor Information Center (VIC), which will be built on the Island, about a half mile west of the NASA Parkway-Kennedy Parkway intersection.

The Visitor Center will offer basic orientation, information and interpretation of the Kennedy Space Center's mission, as well as provide needed comfort and refreshment facilities. It will also serve as the point of origin and terminus for guided bus tours.

These tours will cover the major points of interest on the Spaceport, including the Vehicle Assembly Building, mobile launchers, crawler-transporter and the industrial area.

The artist's concept for the permanent Visitor Information Center, as it appeared in the January 5, 1967 Spaceport News.

During the summer, five architects submitted design proposals. The October 1, 1965 Spaceport News announced the winner was Welton Becket of New York City.

The design, offering maximum flexibility, is modular and can be expanded without interruption to the visitor program if the attendance requires. Space is provided for exhibits, an auditorium, canteen, administrative offices, mechanical equipment, and rest rooms. A major function of the structure will provide loading facilities for escorted bus tours of the Space Center.

The same issue noted that the interim facility had just recorded its 100,000th visitor. Tours were now offered on Saturdays and holidays from 10 AM to 4 PM, as well as 1 PM to 4 PM on Sundays.

An exhibit at the Cable Storage Building began during the 1965 Christmas holidays. By July 1966, it had moved to the Visitor Information Center on the mainland.

During the Christmas holidays, the tour debuted a new attraction — a stop to look at a number of exhibits depicting future construction at the center. The attraction was housed in the Cable Storage Building.

Featured are 1/96th scale models of the Vehicle Assembly Building, the Mobile Launchers and the Launch Complex 39 pad area. There are also large, colorful panel boards which photographically and artistically depict KSC launch operations.

The May 4, 2007 Spaceport News identifies the Cable Storage Building as one of the center's first buildings, located near the former location of the Orsino township. (Can anyone help with the building's identity today?)

According to the May 4, 2007 Spaceport News, this was the Cable Storage Building, one of the first facilities built at Kennedy Space Center.

The drive-through tours proved so successful that in May 1966 it was announced that bus tours would begin on July 15. According to the May 5, 1966 Spaceport News:

Bus tours will begin at Gate 3, the main approach to the Center. The itinerary on Merritt Island will include at least two stops where passengers may leave the vehicle. One will be a photo stop outside the Vehicle Assembly Building at Launch Complex 39. The other will be a stop inside the VAB.

Bus driver-escorts will receive special training in order to provide accurate space information to patrons while enroute and at stops. Fees for the tours will be announced shortly. These will be set at a moderate level sufficient only to cover operating costs.

The tour bus operation will be conducted by Trans World Airlines. TWA is the base support contractor for KSC.

The June 23, 1966 Spaceport News added, “At Launch Complex 39, visitors will be escorted into the VAB to view the facilities for assembly and checkout of the Apollo/Saturn V. This will be the first time that the general public has been allowed access to the VAB.” Drive-through tours would continue at no charge, but drivers would not be allowed to stop anywhere on the center.

As with most NASA launches, the tour debut was delayed as well, one week to July 22.

The caption from the July 21, 1966 Spaceport News: “Charming Mary Klatt of TWA has the welcome sign out for visitors who will board the first KSC-sponsored bus tours of the Spaceport.”

The August 4, 1966 Spaceport News reported an opening week that overwhelmed available resources.

Visitors flocked to the Kennedy Space Center during the first week of guided bus tours at a rate that would result in nearly a million visitors to the Spaceport by this time next year.

Men, women and children from nearly all the 50 states, several Canadian provinces and at least a dozen countries around the world boarded air-conditioned buses at Gate 3 to see closeup the world-famous launch facilities of the Spaceport and Cape Kennedy.

Additional buses had to be added by the GSA motor pool from the very first day to the original fleet of 15 leased to handle the demand. Departure time for the first bus was advanced from 8:30 to 8 in the morning, and buses continued to leave past the originally planned cutoff time of 3:30 each afternoon to accommodate the flood of tourists.

The first bus tour customers on July 22, 1966 were Mr. and Mrs. Ed Wilkerson of Fayetteville, North Carolina. (Spaceport News did not give Mrs. Wilkerson's first name.)

According to that issue, “An average of about 1,800 persons a day have been taking the bus tours. In addition, more than 4,500 sightseers saw the Spaceport from their own cars the first Sunday after bus tours began.”

Next: The permanent Visitor Information Center opens on Merritt Island.

Previously: A Tourist Information Center trailer opens in 1964 on the mainland side of the Indian River.

UPDATE December 18, 2012 — More information thanks to Malcolm Glenn, a NASA employee who moonlights as an unofficial KSC historian.

Malcolm sends along this photo of the displays that were inside the Cable Storage Building in February 1966.

Image courtesy Malcolm Glenn. Original source: J.L. Pickering.

He also spent some time in the Industrial Area yesterday determining the location of the Cable Storage Building. He believes that today it's known as the Communications Maintenance and Storage Facility, identified as Building M6-791. It's located on the northeast corner of B Avenue SE and 4th Street SE.

Meanwhile, I've ordered off eBay some literature distributed to Visitor Information Center tourists in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Those may appear in a future article.

The More They Stay the Same

Click the arrow to watch the September 16, 2009 hearing on the findings by the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee.

Click the arrow to watch the December 12, 2012 hearing on the Future of NASA.

Earlier this week, the House Science Committee held a hearing to review a National Academies report on the future of NASA. The report, titled NASA's Strategic Direction and the Need for a National Consensus, was issued on December 5.

If you watch the hearing video above, it's eerily similar to the presentation made in September 2009 by Norm Augustine, chair of the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee. The report, titled Seeking a Human Spaceflight Program Worthy of a Great Nation, was submitted to Congress in October 2009. Augustine's appearance before the Senate Space Subcomittee on September 16, 2009 is also above.

Both documents warned that NASA was tasked by Congress to perform too many tasks that were underfunded.

But if you watch both hearings, the members present shifted responsibility and blame to the White House to solve the problem.

It's just more evidence that Congress has no interest in a robust space program beyond protecting jobs and contractors in the states and districts they represent.

Perhaps the most bizarre moment in Wednesday's hearing was Rep. Hansen Clarke pandering for NASA jobs to be sent to Detroit. It wasn't the first time, but it's probably the last as he was defeated in the Democratic primary this year and will leave Congress at the end of this session.

The Space Launch System is a classic example of Congress ignoring funding realities.

Derided by some as the Senate Launch System because it originated with the Senate's space subcommittee in 2010, Congress mandated that NASA use existing Space Shuttle and Constellation contractors to build SLS.

An independent analysis released in August 2011 found that SLS would cost much more than Congress was authorizing for future years' budgets.

Congress didn't care.

According to an August 19, 2011 article on the Aviation Week web site, the Senators behind SLS — primarily Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) — reacted angrily to the review and told NASA to find a way to build SLS on time within the inadequate amount they'd allocated.

“I talked to [Administrator] Charlie Bolden yesterday and told him he has to follow the law, which requires a new rocket by 2016,” says Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). “And . . . within the budget the law requires . . .”

“NASA must use its decades of space know-how and billions of dollars in previous investments to come up with a concept that works,” the senators say in a joint bipartisan statement. “We believe it can be done affordably and efficiently — and, it must be a priority.”

That would be the same Senator Nelson chairing the September 2009 hearing with Mr. Augustine. He listened but, apparently, he did not hear.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Honesty is the Best Policy

“Save Our Science”

That's the banner headline on a Planetary Society web page that for months has urged members to “contact politicians and staffers at the national budget agency to express their support.”

In mid-October, Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye (also known as, “The Science Guy”) posted a video on YouTube urging people to write the President directly. Nye said:

Our people in Washington have studied the situation, and the next step, the key step, is to write to the President himself.


You'd think that sinister forces were gathering to force us back into the caves.

But let's take a moment to look at reality.

Click here to see the proposed Fiscal Year 2013 budget for Planetary Science. The bottom-line total? $1.2 billion, a decrease of about $300 million from FY12.

Most of the reduction, about $225 million, was due to the cancellation of U.S. participation in the ExoMars program. NASA used the savings to help fund the James Webb Space Telescope, which is based at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

ExoMars was a casualty of Congressional warfare. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) is chairwoman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees NASA appropriations. Goddard is in Mikulski's state, so she fiercely protects it as pork for her constituents despite mass cost overruns and mismanagement.

Presidents submit a proposed annual budget, but it's up to Congress to pass a final budget and then separately appropriate the funding for approved projects. The President gets no say, unless he vetoes the budget bill; NASA typically is lumped in with one omnibus bill that covers most non-defense agencies. No President is going to veto much of the federal budget over one line-item.

The message came loud and clear from the Senate Appropriations Committee — JWST is a priority, everything else is secondary.

If the science justifying ExoMars is so critical, fear not, because ExoMars lives.

Last month, the European Space Agency and Russia announced a joint agreement to do ExoMars in 2016 and 2018. That leaves the United States to focus on completing JWST.

But if you read the hysteria coming out of The Planetary Society, you'd think that the entire Planetary Science program had been cancelled.

What bothers me about this rhetoric is that The Planetary Society makes it sound like they're owed a certain amount of money for their pet programs, without having to justify them or be accountable when these programs go way over-budget and fall years behind schedule.

The Webb telescope is a recent classic example. JWST was the subject of a scathing review, issued in October 2010. To quote from the Executive Summary:

The estimate to complete the JWST Project at Confirmation was understated for two reasons. First, the budget presented by the Project at Confirmation was flawed because it was not based upon a current bottoms-up estimate and did not include the known threats. As a result of poor program and cost control practices, the Project failed to develop a reasonable cost and schedule baseline.

Second, the reserves provided were too low because they were established against a baseline budget that was too low, and in addition, because of budget constraints, were too low in the year of Confirmation and the year following (less than 20%) the two highest expenditure years. Leadership at Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) and NASA Headquarters failed to independently analyze the JWST Project’s performance and recognize the flawed baseline.

If programs like JWST are badly managed but survive because they have constituencies to protect them, then where is the incentive for that program to deliver on time and on budget?

In the real world, successful businesses operate based on finite resources. Management defines priorities and budgets for them. Priorities must be justified. If a manager wants more money for a project, then the money has to come from somewhere — either budget cuts or by raising revenue.

But we don't hear any of this coming from The Planetary Society. They want their programs, they want someone else to pay for them, so you should write the President NOW to demand it happen. And while you're at it, make some hysterical baseless accusations just to show you really mean it.

I'm all for exploring the solar system, human and robotic. But I also would expect that I be asked to identify where the funding would come from, and why it's more important than the programs that would be defunded. Equally important, I should expect to be questioned about why NASA should do this when it's failed time and again to deliver on-time and on-budget.

(An excellent read on the subject is this 2010 publication by the National Academies called, Controlling Cost Growth of NASA Earth and Space Science Missions.)

I'd like to see The Planetary Society support an effort to use the successful competition approach pioneered with commercial cargo and crew. Congress isn't a big fan of “NewSpace” because it hasn't figured out a way to control the pork. But if it brings down the cost, and helps assure the program delivers on schedule, then The Planetary Society should support it.

I'm sure Mr. Nye and his members have little interest in my opinion, but if asked my opinion is that instead of trying to frighten people, take a positive approach and explain to Congress what should be our nation's space priorities and why. What's more important — JWST or ExoMars? I suspect Mr. Nye would say both. Congress has ruled otherwise.

So you need to deal with political reality. Carpet-bombing the White House with letters won't solve the problem. Congress controls the purse, and the pork.

One big reason NASA is such a mess these days is that Congress has reduced the agency to a grand porkfest. So find a way to liberate robotic exploration of space from Congress.

Planetary Resources, the asteroid mining company, is one example. You want Mars explored? Find a compelling economic incentive. If there isn't one ... then maybe it's not as urgent as you make it out to be.

Yes, I agree that not all exploration should be based on economic incentives. But that's the world we live in for now.

When the grand and glorious day arrives that scientists comprise the majorities in both houses of Congress, priorities will change.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Lost in Space

The National Academies on December 5 released the report, NASA’s Strategic Direction and the Need for a National Consensus. The report was mandated by Congress; in late 2011 NASA was directed to conduct a “comprehensive independent assessment of NASA’s strategic direction and agency management.”

In my opinion, the report was mandated by Congress in a fit of pique over the Obama administration's proposing the cancellation of the boondoggle Constellation program. Members of Congress were angry that a program that protected jobs in their districts and states was proposed for cancellation. Congress ultimately agreed to cancel Constellation, but replaced it with the Space Launch System, which continues to protect those jobs although Congress has given it no mission or destination. Critics have dubbed it the Senate Launch System.

These members of Congress blamed the Administration for what they claimed was a lack of direction from the administration for NASA, and ordered the report.

April 15, 2010 — President Barack Obama at Kennedy Space Center proposes a new course for NASA. Click the arrow to watch the video.

The President articulated a specific direction for NASA in April 2010, in a speech he delivered at Kennedy Space Center. But it was not a direction Congress wanted to hear, so for the most part it was largely ignored.

Instead the taxpayers funded yet another report which will be delivered to the doorstep of Congress — and ignored.

The report hints at Congress' failure to act. On Page 3, for example, under TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPMENT is this passage:

Because of the unique nature of most of its missions, NASA has had a number of very specific technological requirements in areas ranging from expendable and reusable launch vehicles to deep-space propulsion systems to radiation protection for astronauts, and much more. The recently established Space Technology Program has carried out a roadmapping and priority-setting strategic planning process for such technologies, assisted by the NRC, but the program is yet to be funded at the levels requested by the President’s budget. (Emphasis added.)

In the next section, under BUDGETS AND BALANCE, it states:

Numerous times the agency initiated new programs with the expectation that budgets would increase to support them (a basic requirement for optimizing any development program’s budget), only to have no increases emerge. Taken in aggregate, this situation has been wasteful and inefficient. Even leaving aside the funding requirements for large procurements, it is tempting to assume that if NASA officials knew to expect a flat budget they could plan better, but in several recent cases they were told (even required) to expect funding that never ultimately emerged. (Emphasis added.)

This failure of Congress to provide adequate funding is nothing new.

On January 14, 2004, President George W. Bush gave his Vision for Space Exploration speech in which he proposed what came to be known as the Constellation program.

Two weeks later, on January 28, NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe appeared before the Senate Science Committee to present the details to Congress.

O'Keefe presented the funding request, summed up in what came to be known as the Vision Sand Chart.

The Vision Sand Chart. Click the image to see a larger version.

Click here to view O'Keefe's entire budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2005, which includes the chart.

The proposal showed a very small increase in funding for NASA over the next five years to pay for Constellation. In the next decade, the proposal anticipated shifting funding for most of NASA's other programs to pay for Constellation. In particular, it envisioned defunding the International Space Station by mid-decade to pay for Constellation — even though Constellation's Ares-I was being built to go there. Ares-I was being built to go to a destination that would not exist by the time it was ready for flight.

In their opening remarks, both committee chair John McCain (R-AZ) and member Bill Nelson (D-FL) called out the funding problems in the proposal.

McCain said:

I'm very curious to hear how Administrator O'Keefe thinks we can implement the President's proposal with the very limited resources that have been proposed. Two days go, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the deficit in Fiscal Year 2004 would reach $477 billion. It's been reported that the President's new proposal could cost between $170 billion and $600 billion. Needless to say, the $12 billion that the Adminstration has suggested be spent over the next five years falls far far short of what might actually be required to return to the Moon and reach for Mars and beyond.

McCain said, "A vision without a strategy is just an illusion."

Nelson commented:

Space flight, you can't do it on the cheap. I just don't think that a billion dollar increase over five years, that's $200 million a year, is going to do it. I would love for you to explain on the reprogramming of the $11 billion over that five years how you can do that.

The Senate Science Committee hearing on January 28, 2004. Click the arrow to watch the video.

Congress knew VSE would cost a lot more than being requested — but they approved it anyway.

The National Academies' report recommends on Page 5:

NASA’s new strategic plan, future budget proposals prepared by the administration, and future NASA authorization and appropriation acts passed by Congress should include actions that will eliminate the current mismatch between NASA’s budget and its portfolio of programs, facilities, and staff, while establishing and maintaining a sustainable distribution of resources among human spaceflight, Earth and space science, and aeronautics, through some combination of the kinds of options identified above by the committee. The strategic plan should also address the rationale for resource allocation among the strategic goals in the plan.

Good luck with that.

Appendix C of the report lists seventeen other reports submitted between 1986 and 2010 “concerning NASA's strategic direction.” It would appear that Congress gave those little thought as well.

In August, NASA submitted another report mandated by Congress, this one to suggest potential uses for the Space Launch System. Titled “NASA Exploration Destinations, Goals, and International Collaboration”, this one was ordered in early 2012, once again trying to shift the blame for NASA's perceived drift to the White House:

The conferees believe that NASA needs to better articulate a set of specific, scientifically meritorious exploration goals to focus its program and provide a common vision for future achievements. Consequently, the conferees direct NASA to develop and report to the Committees on Appropriations a set of science-based exploration goals; a target destination or destinations that will enable the achievement of those goals; a schedule for the proposed attainment of these goals; and a plan for any proposed collaboration with international partners. Proposed international collaboration should enhance NASA’s exploration plans rather than replace capabilities NASA is developing with current funds. This report shall be submitted no later than 180 days after the enactment of this Act.”

To date, Congress has failed to act on this one too.

So long as the pork keeps flowing to the states and districts of certain members of Congress, that's all they care about.

UPDATE December 8, 2012MSNBC reporter Erin Delmore has comments by spaceflight operations specialist James Oberg about the National Academies report.

“When you look at NASA’s program today, it’s not nearly as tightly focused” as it was during the Space Race, Oberg explained. “I think that’s a good thing, though, because we’ve gotten to a broader area of capabilities. So when they refer to some problems they see at NASA, to me those are problems not of aging, but of maturing.”

But operating on many fronts has made it harder “to keep the political will focused,” Oberg conceded. NASA’s funding is appropriated by Congress, and with fights over the federal budget, increasing the agency’s funds is probably a political nonstarter.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

America's Spaceport, Part 1

The Tourist Information Center on the west end of the Indian River Causeway in 1965. Click the image to view a larger version. Image source: NASA.

(Part 1 in a series.)

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex documents the history of Kennedy Space Center, but the tourist attraction has its own rich and unique history.

That history was documented by Spaceport News, a publication begun in late 1962 by the center's Public Information Office.

Most, but not all, of the editions have been converted to PDF. 1996 and later are available online. 1962 through 1982 are available upon submission of a Freedom of Information Act request, which is how I obtained copies. 1983 through 1995 await funding for conversion.

The earliest reference I could find to any space center tour was the December 12, 1963 edition.

John F. Kennedy had been assassinated the month before. Cape Canaveral Air Force Station had been renamed Cape Kennedy. On the NASA side, the Launch Operations Center was renamed Kennedy Space Center. The first KSC buildings were under construction; NASA's activities were still at the Air Force station.

Page 1 of the December 12, 1963 Spaceport News announced that drive-through tours of the base were about to begin.

It's likely that many televised pro football games will be missed this Sunday, when the gates of Cape Kennedy will be opened to the public.

Air Force Missile Test Center Commander, Major General L. I. Davis, announced the Cape will be open for a drive through from 1 to 4 p.m. every Sunday, beginning this week.

He emphasized this will be a trial effort at first, but if everything proves workable it will become a weekly event.

Motorists will both enter and depart from the south gate. Their route will take them down pier road past the Polaris sites, northward past the old Redstone and Jupiter pads and the present Delta launch area, to ICBM road, which winds past Centaur, Atlas and Titan complexes.

Turn around point will be near pad 34, which will afford a good view of SA-5, undergoing final tests at 37.

The first mention of a KSC tour appears in the March 26, 1964 issue.

Trans World Airlines was KSC's prime contractor for base support operations. TWA subcontracted fire and security services to the Wackenhut Corporation.

Patrolmen would provide security, while female employees — called “guardettes” — would provide clerical services.

They were also the first tour guides.

Guardettes will also serve as guides on bus tours to NASA areas. Busses will be equipped with loud speaker systems, and the girls will present a general orientation on NASA activities and facilities during the tours.

The guardettes will wear French-blue skirts and jackets with white blouses. They will have red hats, belts, red piping trim, and matching shoes.

Wackenhut “guardette” tour guide Pat Blalock, seen in the March 26, 1964 Spaceport News.

While KSC prepared for tours, the Cape Kennedy side became quite popular. According to the October 22, 1964 Spaceport News, on one Sunday that month, more than 4,000 tourists took the drive-through tour.

Funding for a KSC visitor facility was approved by Congress that year. According to the November 12, 1964 Spaceport News, “Dr. Kurt H. Debus, KSC Director, has approved a site on government-owned land at Merritt Island close to NASA Road connecting with NASA Causeway West over the Indian River and U. S. Highway 1.”

An interim facility called the Tourist Information Center was operational by the end of 1964, in a trailer outside NASA's security gate on the mainland just west of the Indian River Causeway. A photo of that trailer is at the top of this article.

According to the December 10, 1964 Spaceport News, tourists were handed a copy of a letter written by KSC Director Kurt Debus:

Welcome to the John F. Kennedy Space Center!

You are at one of the entrance gates to the nation's spaceport where NASA is building facilities required for heavy launch vehicles. These vehicles will be capable of transporting men to the Moon and return, or placing large space stations in Earth orbit, or propelling unmanned spacecraft into the deeper reaches of the solar system.

The construction work in progress throughout the installation makes it necessary to maintain strict controls on access and movement within the Spaceport. However, Cape Kennedy is open to the public every Sunday afternoon from one to four, EST.

While the Sunday tours of the Cape continue, plans are being made to establish a Visitor Information Center on the NASA spaceport. This facility is expected to be ready for use about mid-1966. Escorted bus tours are also planned. In the interim, I solicit your patient understanding and cooperation.

— Kurt H. Debus

Drive-through tours of KSC began on January 3, 1965. Similar in format to the self-guided tours at Cape Kennedy, guests followed a clearly marked tour route. They were not allowed to exit their vehicles, but they could take photographs from inside their cars.

The caption from the January 7, 1965 Spaceport News: “Guardette Ursula Neill hands Spaceport literature to Russ Lawson of Winter Park, who drove the first car admitted to the Kennedy Space Center at Merritt Island Sunday. More than 1,900 visitors from all over the United States and Canada, viewed NASA facilities.”

According to the January 7, 1965 Spaceport News, more than 1,900 people toured KSC that first day in 575 cars, 144 from outside Florida.

Wayne F. Miller of Adrian, Michigan, who was in the second car that entered the Spaceport said, "I can see now where our tax dollars are going, and it looks like they're being well spent."

Next: An interim Visitor Information Center opens on the mainland west of the Indian River Causeway.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Filming the Cape

Click the arrow to watch “X Minus 80 Days,” about Explorer 1.

The Air Force Space and Missile Museum has begun a YouTube channel, along with a Twitter account @afspacemuseum and a Facebook page.

Eight videos already are on the YouTube page. My favorite is X Minus 80 Days, a 1958 21-minute documentary about Explorer 1, the first U.S. satellite. The documentary was a joint production by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Army Ballistic Missile Agency.

In January 1958, when Explorer 1 launched, NASA did not yet exist; it began on October 1, 1958. JPL and ABMA were Army operations. JPL was transferred to NASA in December 1958, and remnants of ABMA eventually followed in the early 1960s.

Subscribe to the YouTube channel, because lots more historic documentaries will be online soon.

KSCVC Banks on Atlantis

Click the arrow to watch the Florida Today video update on orbiter Atlantis museum construction.

Florida Today has an article and video update on construction of the orbiter Atlantis museum.

The article notes that the final angle for display is 43.21 degrees, as in a 4-3-2-1 countdown.

(The Space Coast area code is 321 for the same reason.)

Click here to see photos I shot on November 21 inside the construction site.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

A Flair for Flare

Before I moved to Florida from Southern California, I had a modest side business doing sports photography.

I always enjoyed playing with lens flare to add an artistic twist to an otherwise standard shot. That means keeping an eye open for sun angles.

Today I was passing through the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex's Rocket Garden near sunset, and noticed a possibility for some lens flare images. Here you go.

UPDATE November 25, 2012 — Here are some more lens flare photos taken this morning:

And these were on November 22: