Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Tortoise and the Hare

Click the arrow to watch a Golden Spike promotional video on YouTube.

An article posted May 28 by i4 Business seems at first glance to be a cheery overview for the potential of commercial space, but if you note the quotes from one key person it suggests a new Space Race this decade.

That new Space Race would not be between the United States and the Soviet Union, but between the U.S. government and its economy.

The Golden Spike Company intends to offer commercial lunar space flights by 2020. The article quotes founder Alan Stern, a former NASA Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate:

The company, made up of space program executive veterans, managers, engineers and entrepreneurs has a business plan to offer affordable human expeditions to the moon using American aerospace systems. “We are very likely going to be operating out of the commercial launch sites along the Cape,” Stern said. “Space Florida has been influential in our thinking. We have not yet selected our launch vehicles, but all of the candidate launch vehicles fly out of the Cape.”

The company plans to begin test flights in 2017, with lunar landings to take place in either 2019 or 2020. The expeditions will be marketed to governmental agencies, companies and individuals in the U.S. with a big emphasis on targeting foreign countries for the purposes of science, commerce, tourism, entertainment and education.

“What we’re doing is making it possible for countries that don’t have space programs to have one,” Stern said. “It’s a turnkey service. It’s rather like, in the airline business, most countries don’t build their own airliners, but they can form an airline and buy from Boeing or Airbus.”

I've been skeptical of Golden Spike since their debut last December 6. Talk is cheap. Lunar human space flight is not. The Apollo program, in current dollars, cost the U.S. government about $150 billion.

But Golden Spike has been doing all the things you'd expect of a company making a serious effort to create a commercial lunar program.

On May 8, Golden Spike issued a press release announcing that Northrup Grumman had completed a lunar lander feasibility study for the company.

One week later, they announced that Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell had joined their Board of Advisors. It's no more than symbolic, of course, but adding Lovell's name to their portfolio certain enhances their credibility.

The above quote in i4 Business reveals several clues for Golden Spike's game plan, and for their timeline.

Stern said that Golden Spike is looking at multiple launchers, but all of them “fly out of the Cape.”

That list is pretty short. This would suggest they're looking at super-heavy-lift versions of the Lockheed Martin Atlas V, the Boeing Delta IV, and the SpaceX Falcon Heavy.

An example of a Golden Spike lunar expedition using a SpaceX Falcon Heavy as the launch booster. Image source: The Golden Spike Company. Click the image to view at a larger scale.

The above notional image on the Golden Spike web site suggests the use of two Falcon Heavy rockets — one to launch a lunar lander, the other to launch a crew vehicle.

We learned on May 17 that SpaceX may want to launch the Falcon Heavy from Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center. All six Apollo-era flights that landed astronauts on the Moon launched from 39A.

That vehicle would stack in High Bay 1 of the Vehicle Assembly Building. NASA intends to renovate High Bay 1 for commercial users.

High Bay 3, meanwhile, is being remodelled for the government's Space Launch System, which will launch from Pad 39B.

Stern's timeline for Golden Spike eerily parallels that of the SLS.

Let's assume that Golden Spike uses a Falcon Heavy with the crew version of the Dragon capsule. Although NASA has been forced by Congressional budget cuts to push back to 2017 its estimated start date for commercial crew flights to the International Space Station, SpaceX continues to state publicly that they intend to have their crew demonstration flight in 2015.

NASA hopes to launch its Orion crew capsule in September 2014 atop a Delta IV at the Cape's Launch Pad 37B. That cislunar flight would go 7,000 miles from the Earth and then plunge into the atmosphere to test the heat shield.

So Dragon and Orion will be testing around the same time in mid-decade. But the cargo version of Dragon is flying now, giving SpaceX several years' experience with the vehicle.

The first unmanned test flight of the Space Launch System is scheduled for the end of 2017. The Falcon Heavy, according to the SpaceX manifest, is scheduled for a test flight some time this year at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Two launches with customer payloads are scheduled from Cape Canaveral in 2015.

Stern says his company's test flights would begin in 2017, with lunar landings in 2019 or 2020. Space Launch System, hampered by the constraints of government funding and bureaucratic inefficiencies, is scheduled to have its first crewed test flight in 2021, although earlier this year in a Congressional hearing NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said he hoped to persuade Congress to move that up to 2019.

On April 10, NASA announced the asteroid initiative, which would use a robotic spacecraft to capture and park in lunar orbit a small asteroid. The orbiting rock would serve as a destination for a 2021 crewed SLS flight.

So it's not too hard to imagine SLS and Golden Spike side-by-side in the VAB and out on the Complex 39 pads — each heading in the same direction around the same time, but different endpoints.

This can be viewed from two perspectives.

Administrator Bolden has stated several times that NASA has no plans to land on the Moon. The goal is Mars, and asteroids are the stepping stones to that destination. That decision, ultimately, is up to Congress. The legislative branch has shown no inclination to fund such an expedition. Members of Congress make noise about a lunar landing program, but they've shown no willingness to authorize or fund it.

In any case, the current administration has been quite supportive of opening space to the private sector, so they might point with pride to the brash upstart on the next pad over as proof that we can leave cislunar space to commercial companies while NASA looks further into the solar system.

Another perspective — the one I have — is that this creates a new Space Race.

In the starting gate at High Bay 3 is the SLS, a program larded by Congressional pork, dubbed the Senate Launch System by its critics. Many observers believe that it will one day fall to innate political and bureaucratic flaws, as did Constellation before it.

In the other starting gate at High Bay 1 is Golden Spike — all talk so far, but the pieces seem to be falling into place to make the company a viable lunar option. Add to the mix the May 23 teleconference discussing the NASA agreement that allows Bigelow Aerospace to ally NewSpace companies into a possible commercial cislunar program. The report hasn't been released yet, but it's logical to assume that Golden Spike is one of those companies.

As with all space programs — government or commercial, crewed or unmanned — these timelines should be viewed with the greatest of skepticism.

But we're starting to see all the pieces fall into place for the great Space Race of the 21st Century. To the victor goes access to the Final Frontier.

A related i4 Business article — “What's Next for Florida's Space Program”

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Pretty in Pink

Click the arrow to watch the Delta IV WGS-5 launch on YouTube.

United Launch Alliance launched the Boeing Delta IV yesterday with the WGS-5 communications satellite payload. Florida Today reporter Todd Halvorson writes about the launch.

The launch was at sunset, so the vapor trail lit up colors of pink and orange due to the angle of the sun on the horizon. You'll see the four boosters separate, and near the end the fairings separate from the payload.

I'd hoped to film the launch out on NASA Causeway about four miles from Launch Complex 37, but had another commitment so I didn't make it there in time. I filmed it instead from our neighborhood in north Merritt Island.

You'll notice cars driving along, the drivers oblivious or apathetic to the launch. This happens all the time. Some folks around here don't seem to care. Almost no one comes outside to watch.

When we moved here four years ago, we encountered people who said they wished it would all shut down so there would be less traffic and noise. They didn't seem to realize that their jobs were linked to the success of Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. I've come to realize that some people around here gripe for the sheer joy of griping.

Anyway, enjoy the video, despite the noise.

Friday, May 24, 2013

OldSpace in Check

Click the arrow to watch the KLAS Las Vegas TV report. You may be subjected to an ad first.

UPDATE May 26, 2013Click here to listen to the May 23, 2013 teleconference.

The future of human space flight has changed.

In a teleconference yesterday, NASA Associate Administrator William Gerstenmaier and Bigelow Aerospace founder Robert Bigelow discussed the agreement that could one day turn over U.S. labs aboard the International Space Station to the private sector, and result in commercial colonies on the lunar surface.

KLAS-TV Las Vegas journalist George Knapp broke the story on April 10, writing that Bigelow Aerospace had signed with NASA an unfunded Space Act Agreement to research the interest among private companies to commercialize access to low Earth orbit and beyond.

Knapp wrote in April:

NASA has been coasting for a long time, kept alive by the now-distant memory of the moon landings and less spectacular but more important missions such as the Hubble and unmanned probes to Mars and beyond. Basically, NASA has become a job-protection racket, spending public dollars on programs and ideas that always seem to get cancelled. For instance, we spent tens of billions on the ISS but no longer have a way to get there.

The long-term answer has been well-known to NASA and the private space industry for a long time: Figure out how NASA can get out of the way and help private companies take the next step by commercializing space. Make it profitable for Americans to be up there, doing things that will ultimately benefit Earth. Few individuals in the aerospace world have been more critical of NASA than Bigelow, which makes the pending agreement all the more remarkable.

In a nutshell, NASA has decided that the best way to get Americans and American companies back into space is for the government to partner with private enterprise. To provide technical expertise and legal authority for bright, ambitious entrepreneurs to spend their own money on endeavors that will not only re-establish American supremacy in space but also get started on truly exciting long-range projects, including private space stations, as well as permanent bases on the moon, on Mars and beyond.

A signed copy of the agreement was posted online April 22 by The document had been signed in late March.

Click the arrow to watch on Florida Today a NASA animation of the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module being attached to the ISS. You may be subjected to an ad first.

Florida Today reporter James Dean wrote in today's article about yesterday's teleconference:

As more companies invest in hardware and missions, “isn’t there an opportunity in there for NASA to benefit, so that NASA isn’t having to pay the perpetual heavy burden of research and development costs?” said Bigelow’s founder, Robert Bigelow.

Bigelow spoke to roughly 20 companies and international space agencies to produce the first of two reports promised to NASA under an unfunded Space Act Agreement signed in March ...

Its focus was on near-term opportunities in low Earth orbit, on the moon or at gravitationally stable points around the moon rather than on deeper-space missions that will take longer and cost more.

Bigelow said he solicited input under the understanding that Bigelow Aerospace would act as a general contractor, demanding services for fixed prices on strict timelines.

This idea is a stunning rebuke of how NASA has done business for the last half-century.

For decades, NASA contracts were steered to aerospace companies that funnelled millions of dollars into the campaign coffers of members of Congress. Those members often sat on the space authorization and appropriations subcommittees in both houses of Congress.

A glaring example is the Space Launch System. Called the “Senate Launch System” by its critics, SLS was dictated by Congress in 2010 to assure that Space Shuttle and Constellation contractors continued to receive NASA dollars. The law didn't allow NASA to put SLS out for bid or competition. NASA was required to use those contractors.

Three years later, Congress still hasn't told NASA what it's supposed to do with SLS. NASA is to build the rocket, keeping those workers employed and the contractors compensated. Once it's built ... who knows.

Last month, NASA tried to answer that question itself. On April 10, NASA submitted the asteroid initiative to Congress. The idea is to use new ion propulsion systems and robotic technology to divert an asteroid into a lunar parking orbit, while simultaneously certifying SLS for human space flight. In 2021, a crew of four would use SLS to rendezvous with the asteroid, to study mining and other operations around this difficult target.

Members of Congress have been largely derisive of the proposal. In a May 21 House space subcommittee hearing, most of the members made it clear they want to do Apollo again. One was Space Coast Rep. Bill Posey, who dismissed the asteroid initiative as “unexciting” for him.

(Note to Rep. Posey ... I find it exciting. So do a lot of voters I've spoken with. One told me yesterday, “That's very cool!”)

Click the arrow to watch the May 21 House space subcommittee hearing.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) was a rare exception. He reminded his colleagues that there is no “tooth fairy” who will magically deliver the incredible sums of money necessary to fund an Apollo redux.

In current dollars, Apollo cost roughly $150 billion — and that wasn't in an era of trillion-dollar annual federal deficits.

Rohrabacher challenged his colleagues to explain how an Apollo sequel would be funded. None did.

The NASA-Bigelow agreement essentially proposes to take Congress out of the equation. The private sector would research, develop and fund the vehicles and technology to take NASA and other nations' astronauts into space, as well as commercial interests.

These visionary companies have been nicknamed “NewSpace” for their new and innovative thinking. The corollary is that the space-industrial complex should be labelled “OldSpace.”

Three years ago on April 15, Barack Obama flung down his presidential gauntlet, challenging OldSpace to change its porking ways. In a speech at Kennedy Space Center, Obama said:

But I also know that underlying these concerns is a deeper worry, one that precedes not only this plan but this administration. It stems from the sense that people in Washington — driven sometimes less by vision than by politics — have for years neglected NASA’s mission and undermined the work of the professionals who fulfill it. We’ve seen that in the NASA budget, which has risen and fallen with the political winds.

But we can also see it in other ways: in the reluctance of those who hold office to set clear, achievable objectives; to provide the resources to meet those objectives; and to justify not just these plans but the larger purpose of space exploration in the 21st century.

All that has to change.

OldSpace fought back, dictating the Space Launch System while battling to underfund — if not cancel — the commercial crew program.

The last three years have been a game of political chess between OldSpace and NewSpace, perhaps evocative of the 1972 world chess championship between Soviet champion Boris Spassky and his brash U.S. challenger, Bobby Fischer. Russian players dominated the chess world, while Fischer was a brilliant (if impudent) lone wolf driven to challenge the Soviet machine.

The odds seemed to have been against Fischer ... but in the end, he won.

Yesterday, NewSpace put OldSpace in check. Checkmate is still many years away.

Media reports:

Aviation Week “NASA, Bigelow, Assess Private Interest In Deep-Space Human Exploration”

Bloomberg News “Bigelow Aerospace to Study Moon Base in Deal With NASA”

The Daily Mail “Will Astronauts LIVE on the Moon by 2020?”

Florida Today “NASA, Bigelow Aerospace Partner for Human Space Exploration”

KLAS-TV Las Vegas “I-Team: NASA, NLV Aerospace Co. to Explore Space Together”

Las Vegas Sun “North Las Vegas Company to Test Spacecraft Capable of Moon Landing” “Bigelow to Test Habitat Prototype in Desert near Las Vegas” “Destination Moon: Private Spaceflight Companies Eye Lunar Bases”

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Atlantis Gets a Boost, Part V

Work continues at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on what will be its iconic replica Space Shuttle stack.

The faux solid rocket boosters are in place. The external tank has the current focus; it appears the top of the tank is next.

Below are photos taken today, in the morning and mid-afternoon.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Heavy Future for 39A

Click the arrow to watch on YouTube a SpaceX video promoting the Falcon Heavy. Video source: SpaceX.

On Friday afternoon, I received a tweet reporting that NASA issued an Announcement for Proposals “seeking a qualified lessee who is capable of taking responsibility for the operation and maintenance (O&M) of Launch Complex 39, Pad A (LC-39A) as a commercial launch facility.”

My virtual ears perked up, because in late 2011 I was told by a SpaceX executive they were interested in 39A for the Falcon Heavy. At the time, the general understanding was that NASA had taken 39B back to clean pad so anyone government or commercial could use the pad.

In May 2012, ATK proposed a rocket called Liberty using an abandoned composite capsule design as the crew vehicle for delivering astronauts to the International Space Station. Their concept drawings showed Liberty rolling out to 39B on the Ares 1 mobile launcher. But Liberty was a paper exercise, and after they lost in the commercial crew competition not much more has been said about Liberty.

An artist's concept of Liberty at 39B. Image source: ATK via

Any other Launch Complex 39 user would, theoretically, modify one of the three classic Mobile Launch Platforms to transport their heavy-lift vehicle from the Vehicle Assembly Building to 39B, just as did the Space Shuttle for thirty years, and before that the Apollo missions.

So when the SpaceX executive told me they were interested in 39A, I was surprised, because it still has its Shuttle-era service tower. Who would pay to remove it? At the end of the current federal fiscal year (September 30), NASA intends to move 39A into an "inactive" status, meaning no more money would be spent to maintain it. NASA's thinking is that any future lessee would pay to modify it to their desired configuration.

The executive said SpaceX thought anyone who used 39B would be a "secondary" tenant to NASA's Space Launch System. SpaceX preferred to control its own destiny. They would, theoretically, pay to renovate 39A.

Since then, I've read the tea leaves, looking for evidence of anyone having interest in 39A.

On April 10, Florida Today published an article about how NASA's proposed Fiscal Year 2014 budget would affect Kennedy Space Center. Buried in the article was a statement by center director Bob Cabana, who said that NASA was talking with “an unidentified commercial company” for the use of 39A.

Note the use of the singular.

So when the Announcement for Proposals was issued on Friday, I thought, “Here it is.”

By coincidence, I was in a meeting that afternoon with another SpaceX representative. I mentioned the tweet, and the representative confirmed they were an interested party.

Typical lease agreements in recent years have been between NASA and Space Florida, a state agency that fosters the development and growth of the space industry in Florida. Apparently federal law prohibits NASA from leasing directly to the private sector, but they can lease to another government agency, so Space Florida acts as the middle man to make everything nice and legal.

The proposal states:

NASA contemplates entering into one or more lease agreements under the authority of the Commercial Space Launch Act (CSLA). If a Proposer feels a different contractual relationship is more appropriate, it may so stipulate in its proposal. NASA intends to seek proposals to operate and maintain LC-39A as a commercial launch facility through an agreement or agreement(s) for a minimum of five years. Proposers who are interested in a longer term agreement should be prepared to provide the proposed length of the agreement, and rationale for the required time period beyond five years. Proposers should note that NASA will not act as the site operator for LC-39A under any lease arrangement and, therefore, Proposers will be expected to address site operation, as well as any anticipated launch operations, in their proposals.

The phrase “one or more lease agreements” indicates this is not an exclusive arrangement. It could, however, function similarly to the lease that Space Florida has for the Commercial Cargo and Crew Processing Facility. The C3PF was once a Shuttle orbiter hangar, and has been refurbished for use by Boeing for the CST-100 commercial crew capsule. The C3PF theoretically could be used by other tenants, but Space Florida leased it to Boeing.

Click the arrow to watch on YouTube a time-lapse video of C3PF renovation. Video source: Space Florida.

Just as state money went into renovating the hangar for Boeing, the same might happen if Space Florida leases 39A on behalf of SpaceX or another tenant.

Other than SpaceX, I can't think of anyone else who would need 39A for a super-heavy-lift rocket. Florida Today and speculated about United Launch Alliance and ATK as possible suitors, but neither has a publicly released business case for using 39A as they're not working on a vehicle that would need such massive infrastructure.

Anyone who launches from 39A presumably would use High Bay 1 in the Vehicle Assembly Building. NASA has said they intend to renovate HB-1 for generic commercial users. Since the Announcement for Proposals specifically addresses only the pad, left unsaid is how would NASA be compensated for the use of the VAB, a crawler, a mobile launch platform, the crawlerway, a Launch Control Center firing room, and so on.

Interested parties may respond by this Friday, May 24. The official response date listed at the top of the document is Friday, June 21. I've no idea if NASA will make public who responds, but when they do we will have a much better idea of the heavy future for 39A.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Skylab 40th Anniversary

Click the arrow to watch on YouTube NASA's 40th anniversary of Skylab event.

Forty years ago today, Skylab launched from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center.

Not all went well, as micrometeroid shield was torn off by vibrations during launch. The Skylab team scrambled to come up with an interim solution, delaying the launch of the first crew from May 14 to May 25.

A 40th anniversary event was held yesterday at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. The video of that event is above. Below is ABC News coverage of the Skylab launch; it should be noted that this was the last launch ever of a Saturn V booster.

Click the arrow to watch on YouTube ABC News coverage of the Skylab launch.

ISS: A Space Oddity

Click the arrow to watch on YouTube astronaut Chris Hadfield's rendition of “Space Oddity.”

Before his departure yesterday from the International Space Station, Renaissance Man and Canadian astronaut Chris Hafield posted on YouTube his version of David Bowie's Space Oddity. In two days, it already has over six million views. He has over 900,000 followers on Twitter, sending tweets throughout his work day. Hadfield even uploaded photos during the May 11 spacewalk. He's also recorded sounds on board the ISS and posted them on SoundCloud.

Hadfield is arguably the most accessible astronaut ever while in space.

But lost in all the social media hype was a BBC News interview published May 12 in which Hadfield had blunt words for those who think the ISS is a waste of time and that the world's spacefaring nations immediately should head for the Moon or Mars.

BBC News science correspondent Pallab Ghosh wrote:

His argument is that the construction and utilisation of the ISS will lead to the development of technologies that will eventually enable humanity to leave Earth and settle on other worlds. But that process will be a slow and incremental one.

And he has this to say to those who want things to move much faster: "It's just an uninformed lack of patience and lack of understanding of complexity and a desire to be amused and entertained that builds a false set of expectations."

Read the article for similar impolitic remarks.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Atlantis Unwrapped

Click the arrow to watch on YouTube a video of the shrink wrap being removed from Atlantis.

The Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit continues on schedule to its June 29 opening.

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex offers live views of inside work updated every five minutes at the construction site.

Below are photos recently posted on the KSC media gallery:

Sunday, May 12, 2013

New Photos of an Old Spaceport

Click here for all the articles in the America's Spaceport series.

Reader Mike Jetzer pointed me to these photos he recently found of Kennedy Space Center's visitor facility in the early days.

This photo was posted on the Facebook page of the Retro Space Images web site run by J.L. Pickering. The image is undated, but my guess is it was taken in 1965 after the Tourist Information Center opened on the west side of the Indian River. The original facility was simply a trailer; in this photo, we don't see anything behind the Redstone and the bulletin board.

This next photo comes from the Kennedy Space Center images archive. According to the page, it's dated July 22, 1966. It shows the interim Visitor Information Center, now operational, but still on the west side of the Indian River. Note the guard shack in the middle of NASA Causeway.

This final image shows the permanent Visitor Information Center, which opened in August 1967. The image is also from the KSC images archive, and is dated March 11, 1969. It provides a marvelous detailed overview of the VIC as it looked when completed.

Contrast that with this May 5, 2013 image just posted to the KSC Media Gallery:

If you read through the comments posted on about today's KSCVC, a common complaint is that it's more expensive than what people remember from their childhood. But those were the days when the operation was partially subsidized by taxpayer dollars. Under federal law, today's KSCVC must sustain itself. The complex is much larger than it was in 1969, with many new exhibits including the upcoming Space Shuttle Atlantis which cost $100 million to build. Artifacts that were new in 1969 are almost fifty years old now; the items in the Rocket Garden were not designed to be on display out in the corrosive Florida weather for a half-century.

The VIC has come a long way since 1965. There's still room to grow.

Space and Cancer

Click the arrow to watch the April 12, 2013 conference at Spartanburg, South Carolina. The video runs 5½ hours.

Back in April, the Center for Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) co-sponsored a day-long event in Spartanburg, South Carolina titled, “1st Annual Space, Cancer and Personalized Medicine Conference.” It was hosted by the Gibbs Cancer Center.

CASIS recently posted the video of the entire event on YouTube. Some of it is over my head, but for those of us looking for examples of International Space Station research this is a treasure trove.

If you go to this link, it lists who spoke on what subjects and their start times. You can pick and choose your subjects to watch.

The video demonstrates the incredible research potential of the ISS. They're just getting started. CASIS, based here in the Space Coast, is leading the way.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

I Will Be Back One Day

Click the arrow to watch the video on YouTube.

“I Will Be Back One Day” is my latest NASA music montage.

The song is from a track on the album Lonesome Dreams by the band Lord Huron. I heard it on an FM radio station a few weeks ago and thought, “I can work with that.”

The lyrics refer more to someone pioneering the Old West, the general theme of the album, but certainly it can be interpreted for a space explorer leaving the Earth. The person speaking the lyrics vows to return and meet someone “by the great big lake.” That's easily interpreted as the oceans where Mercury, Gemini and Apollo landed. It could also refer to the dry lake bed at Edwards Air Force Base. The “great big lake” could even refer to space itself.

Anyway, the above video is what my mind conjured by listening to the song.

My earlier NASA music montages:

“Imagine the Fire”

“Dragon Rider”

“Faith of the Heart”

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Crying Wolf

Click the arrow to watch the March 22 oversight hearing on YouTube.

On March 22 I wrote about wild accusations made by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) as he grilled NASA Administrator Charles Bolden during a 2½ hour hearing.

Wolf was the author of 2010 legislation which forbade NASA from having any contact with China. Since then, Wolf and Bolden have sparred over the law's language and intrepretation. According to one online post, Wolf claimed in 1995 that Chinese hospitals were selling human fetuses as health food.

Bolden was grilled about the arrest of a Chinese national who worked for a NASA contractor. Bo Jiang worked for the National Institute of Aerospace. He was arrested at Dulles Airport for not declaring all the electronics he was carrying with him; according to media reports, an affidavit stated Jiang had previously taken to China a laptop with “sensitive information,” although what was “sensitive” was not reported.

Jiang was ordered released by a judge on March 28. According to the Virginian-Pilot:

U.S. Magistrate Judge Lawrence Leonard ordered Jiang released after a federal prosecutor acknowledged there is no evidence so far that he possessed any sensitive, secret or classified material.

But now we know what really was on the laptop in March.

Business Week reports that Jiang “unlawfully downloaded copyrighted movies and sexually explicit films onto his NASA laptop.”

Not exactly the Chinese spy Wolf claimed he was.

Has Wolf apologized to Jiang or Bolden?

According to Business Week, when contacted by the reporter Wolf's representative said the Congressman had no comment.

While Business Week ran its story based on the facts of the case, a partisan paper called the Washington Examiner spun a different tale.

Former NASA contractor employee Bo Jiang, arrested last March by federal agents as he was about to board a flight to Beijing, took vast amounts of sensitive research by a noted colleague to China in 2012, The Washington Examiner has learned.

The source for the Examiner story was anonymous — “A NASA Langley executive with first-hand knowledge of the Jiang case.”

The Examiner did not mention what was really on the laptop when Jiang was arrested in March, or that a plea deal had been reached.

According to Wikipedia, the Examiner is owned by Philip Anschutz and is considered an outlet for his conservative partisan views. The Examiner is published in Springfield, Virginia, about 20 miles from Wolf's district office in Herndon.

I'm registered non-partisan. I've worked part-time in politics for many years, for politicians of both partisan stripes. I know how one goes about planting a story in the media for political purposes (having done it myself).

My guess is that the Examiner story ran with its anonymous source to give Wolf a fig-leaf for his political embarrassment. The Examiner will be cited, quoted and recycled throughout conservative media such as this March 20 Fox News article claiming that “allegations swirled of foreign spies within the space agency,” while in the reality-based world Jiang will take his plea deal for having porn on his government-issue laptop computer, and head home to China.

In the next few months, watch for China-phobes like Wolf, Space Coast Rep. Bill Posey and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) to cite the Examiner article as further proof that Bolden and the Obama administration are “soft” on China.

UPDATE May 2, 2013The Virginian-Pilot reports that Jiang “pled guilty to a single misdemeanor count of misusing government office equipment and was sentenced to time served — about eight weeks.”

Jiang had been in custody since March 16, when he was stopped while preparing to board a China-bound flight at Dulles International Airport outside Washington. He was charged with providing false statements to the investigators who searched his baggage because he failed to fully disclose all of the electronic gear he was carrying with him.

The investigation was prompted by U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Fairfax County, who publicly identified Jiang as a potential security threat after whistleblowers at NASA-Langley told him Jiang had been permitted to take a NASA-owned laptop computer with him on a visit to China last fall.

Taking the NASA computer without prior written approval was a violation of NASA security regulations, according to a statement of facts put into evidence today — a breach that resulted in the termination of Jiang’s employment with the National Institute of Aerospace, a Hampton-based NASA contractor, in January.

However, “the United States has no evidence that Jiang was ever put on notice of that specific prohibition,” according to the statement.

Moreover, analysis of the NASA laptop established that it contained no classified information, nor did any of the electronic equipment Jiang was carrying with him in March.

In his plea agreement, Jiang acknowledged violating a NASA regulation governing use of government office equipment by downloading copyrighted movies, television shows and sexually explicit images onto the NASA-owned laptop.

Bloomberg News reports that Rep. Wolf fingered Jiang as a security risk during a March 13 public hearing, even though no charges had been brought. The same day that Wolf made the allegation, the FBI opened its investigation.

The open question in my mind now is, did the FBI investigate Jiang and arrest him due to political pressure brought by Wolf?

Hopefully an investigative reporter will start digging into this.

UPDATE May 3, 2013 — Today's articles on Bo Jiang's release.

Business Week “Chinese Spy Suspect Pleads Guilty to Violating Computer Porn Ban”

Hampton Roads Daily-Press “Chinese Scientist Pleads Guilty to Misdemeanor”

Huffington Post “Accused Nasa Chinese Spy Bo Jiang's Laptop Full Of Porn But Not Government Secrets”

Washington Examiner “Former NASA Contractor Agrees to Deportation”

WAVY “Court: Chinese National Didn't Lie to Feds”

Click the arrow to watch the WAVY TV news report. You may be subjected to an ad first.

WTKR “Court Documents: Felony Charges Dropped Against Former NASA Contractor”

Click the arrow to watch the WTKR TV news report. You may be subjected to an ad first.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Atlantis Gets a Boost, Part IV

In recent weeks I've been posting photos of the solid rocket booster replica stacking in front of the orbiter Atlantis exhibit under construction at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, most recently at this link.

Today the frustum was added to the left-side booster. (How can you tell it's the left side? It has a black stripe around the top.)

The below photos show you the progress during the day, bad weather not withstanding.