Monday, July 17, 2006

Attention San Diego Spacers!

San Diego members of the Mars Society, the Planetary Society, National Space Society, and the Space Frontier Foundation are coming together to form a group called the Alliance for Space, "AllSpace."

Our hope is San Diego spacers can use AllSpace to keep in touch with each other and stay informed about space news and events in San Diego and elsewhere.

We're meeting for Chinese dinner this Sunday, July 23, 2006 at 6 pm. We'll be at the Sunrise Buffet, 3860 Convoy Street.

Click here for the AllSpace Blog entry. Also go here to sign up for the AllSpace Yahoo mailgroup.



Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Internet: It's Just Better.

A story at (here) describes a government study that will monitor websites and blogs for information about terrorist activity. An example given in the article is the Danish cartoons controversy.
"In this example, [Dr. Brian] Ulicny said, there might not be much of interest in the blog posting, yet the fact that the blogger called attention to this story can be significant to understanding what matters.

A good example, he said, is the recent furor in the Muslim world over the publication of cartoons of Mohammad in a Danish newspaper. The original publication wasn't much noticed in the West, but bloggers discussed this event that possibly contributed to riots worldwide.

'The fact that the web is a vast source of information is sometimes overlooked by military analysts," [Dr. Mieczyslaw] Kokar said. "Our research goal is to provide the warfighter with a kind of information radar to better understand the information battlespace.'"
The story is interesting in its own right and worth a read. Part of the story has some bearing on the recent COTS funding/no funding controversy and the way in which online journalism, such as blogs, uses hyperlinks.
"Within blogs, hyperlinks act like reference citations in research papers thereby allowing someone to discover the most important events bloggers are writing about in just the same way that one can discover the most important papers in a field by finding which ones are the most cited in research papers."
The superiority of blogs is in the use of hyperlinks. A blog or online article can point the reader to the reference material being discussed. There is no need to trust the writer's reporting as must be done with standard newspaper or magazine articles. Online journals that don't include hyperlinks to their source material are doing their readers a disservice. They are no better than old media who report the news and basically say, "trust us."

At the risk of beating an equine carcass, this brings us back to the COTS funding story that started the furor over whether NASA was reneging on its commitment to commercial flights to the ISS. The original story had no links to anything. (Here.) It made claims about reduced NASA funding without providing links to the NASA budget documents. It included a quote without context from Michael Griffin that suggested NASA was considering pushing back the date for COTS. There was no indication in the story why Griffin said what the story quotes him as saying: whether it was in response to a question about private capabilities rather than funding, part of a longer answer, or what. Moreover, there was no link to a transcript of Griffin's remarks or to a video. So the reader is left not knowing for sure what Griffin's quote means, other than what the article suggested it meant. That NASA is pushing back the date for COTS, cutting funding to the program, and the cuts will make it harder for the companies to perform.

But that's not the real problem with the story. The real problem is that the story relied on anonymous sources described as being "close to the companies" participating in COTS. There was no mention which company or whether it was several or all. There was not even a general description of the sources to establish the credibility of their claims. Were they officers of the companies? Outside consultants? Accountants? The janitors? Regardless, the anonymous sources apparently had a vested interest in continued COTS funding.

It's really beyond time for mainstream media to provide verifiable backup information within their stories, when possible. Even print media could do it by listing online links for more data at the end of articles. There's little excuse for online journals to publish stories without providing their readers with links to more information. It's not that hard to do. Lawyers do it all the time. We have to provide cites to authority or to the factual record to support everything we present to a court. There's no reason in this modern era of networked communication and data that journalists shouldn't be expected to do the same thing.*


* Of course another thing lawyers learn is that rules sometimes must be broken or bent because they don't cover every situation. So there may be times when stories have to rely on anonymous sources or not provide links to supporting data. But the presumption should be in favor of using identified sources and providing raw data and there should be a pretty good reason for doing otherwise.

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Monday, July 03, 2006

COTS Funding Story Error Needs Explaining.

Now Transterrestrial Musings is citing sources in NASA who say that COTS funding is stable. Everybody's breathing a sigh of relief. (Here.) The teapot tempest started over this article. (Here.) We posted about it earlier today and listed the relevant budget numbers. (Here.)

In retrospect, the numbers didn't suggest a reduction in COTS funding. The numbers did show future cuts from what would have been spent under the 2006 NASA budget request. Regardless, the budget numbers still showed sufficient funding for the line item COTS is on to pay for COTS over the next four years with a margin for spending on other services. Unfortunately, the budget didn't show how money was allocated between COTS and other services on the line item. So without a comment from the government all anybody had was the story saying COTS funding was being shortchanged.

We still don't have an on-the-record comment from NASA about the story. The numbers look positive, however, and corroboration for the likelihood that COTS funding is safe is found in a House Appropriations Committee's report on funding for NASA's budget posted on (Here, June 23, 2006.)
"Exploration Systems. - The recommendation includes a total of $3,827,600,000 for Exploration Systems. The recommendation includes the requested funding levels for the Crew Exploration Vehicle, the Crew Launch Vehicle, and International Space Station Cargo Crew Services. The recommendation reduces funding for Constellation Systems program support activities by $16,000,000."
COTS funding is included in "International Space Station Cargo Crew Services."

Which leads us back to the original story on the website. This is how the story described its sources:
"The US space systems companies Andrews Space, Spacehab, Rocketplane-Kistler, SpaceDev, Space Exploration Technologies and Transformational Space are all competing for COTS contracts.
Sources close to the companies have told Flight International that the NASA budget proposal for fiscal year 2007 has a major reduction for COTS, which could make the project's targets unobtainable."
It's important now to know who these sources are. Are they close to all the named companies? Are they close to only one or a few? Why did they pass on the misinformation? Or did the reporter get it wrong? Are the sources really that clueless at how COTS will be funded or were they deliberating trying to create a controversy over COTS funding for some other purpose?

The story is even more mystifying because of this sentence in it:
"Despite the 2007 budget concerns the agency will provide $50 million for COTS, divided between the winners, in its first fiscal year."
Well, $50 million is what NASA intended to spend on COTS in the first fiscal year all along, as our quote from page 12 of the NASA COTS announcement document (here) showed in our first post on this issue.

The more you look at the story the less it seems that an explanation should be forthcoming from NASA about COTS funding. Instead, either the reporter or his sources owe us all an explanation. If the reporter got it wrong, that's one thing. But if the sources misled the reporter, then revealing who these sources are and hearing an explanation from them would go a long way towards clearing up this mess. A lot further than a statement from NASA that might say, "We've been saying we need you since last summer. We need you. We really need you. And when we said before we are going to spend $500 million on COTS, we meant it."


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COTS Funding Controversy.

There's a storm brewing over this story of reduced COTS funding in NASA's 2007 budget. (Here.) Blog commentary is here and here.

The President's NASA budget proposal is available online in PDF form. (Here, at p. 227 of 451, paginated as SAE ESMD 2-14.)

The draft budget shows a huge reduction in the amount of money anticipated to be spent from the 2006 budget to the 2007 budget request. The line item is called ISS Cargo Crew Services and includes more than just the COTS program. Here are the numbers in millions of dollars.

Year...............2007 Request.....Change From 2006 Request
FY2005..................................- 98
FY2006.................... 51.3 ........- 108.7
FY2007................... 191.1 ........- 31.1
FY2008................... 292.5 ........- 132.5
FY2009................... 398.6 ........- 101.4
FY2010................... 403.0 ........- 317.0
FY2011................... 375.0

Here's what those numbers fund:
"The ISS Cargo and Crew Services budget consists of two elements:

-International Partner Purchases: Government-to-government purchases of Russian Soyuz and Progress flights to meet nearterm ISS logistical requirements that cannot be met by the Space Shuttle. NASA may also purchase Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) flights for external cargo delivery.

-Commercial Crew/Cargo Project: Development and demonstration of commercial space transportation services from domestic companies. NASA's Commercial Crew/Cargo project is designed to facilitate U.S. private industry demonstration of cargo and crew space transportation capabilities with the goal of achieving reliable, cost effective access to low-Earth orbit."
It's unclear from the budget document how much of the money goes to COTS and how much to other services. But this is what NASA said about the anticipated funding levels for COTS in millions of dollars:

FY 2006.............$ 50
FY 2007.............$120
FY 2008.............$200
FY 2009.............$130


(Here, p. 12 of 25)

Regardless, there is this advice about funding on the same page.
"In order to maximize capability coverage, participants are expected to secure additional funds to supplement the NASA funding as shown above. ... The Government’s obligation to enter into agreements is contingent upon the availability of appropriated funds. NASA’s contribution will be a fixed amount and will not be increased based on the participant’s ability to obtain private funding."
COTS participants can't say they weren't warned. If NASA is going to spend less than anticipated, the COTS participants might have to raise a bit more money from the private sector to make up the difference.

There's always Robert Bigelow's America's Space Prize if the unreliability of tax dollars from COTS isn't worth the trouble. No government money is allowed in Bigelow's venture, so all the funding would come from the private sector. Of course, the prize is only $50 million as opposed to $500 million from NASA. (Here.) But proving that the new space captains of industry don't need no stinkin' tax dollars would be priceless, wouldn't it?


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Saturday, July 01, 2006

Thanks For Nothing, Planetary Society.

The Planetary Society is trumpeting as a success the House Appropriations Committee's recent endorsement of more funding to space science. (Here.) The committee is restoring $75 million to space science, including money for the Europa robotic mission among others. Aeronautics gets $100 million back.

To achieve this result $151 million was cut from NASA's space exploration budget. Exploration Systems Research and Technology lost $135 million. Constellation Systems lost $16 million. (Here.)

No biggie, though. ESRT just pays for things like Centennial Challenges, Robotic Lunar Exploration, Prometheus, and other "technologies and capabilities that will make the national vision for space exploration possible." (Here, p. SUM 1-9.) Constellation Systems pays for things like development of the Crew Exploration and Crew Launch Vehicles and "the collection of systems that will enable sustained human exploration of the Moon, Mars, and beyond." (Here, p. SUM 1-8.)

So, the Planetary Society's victory restored funding for more robots but at the cost of reduced funding for projects designed to develop the new infrastructure for manned space flights to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

In their defense, Planetary Society members might say that the real problem is that NASA still funds the shuttle to the tune of $4 billion per year. In fact, the Planetary Society came out early in 2006 in favor of discontinuing the shuttle. (Here.)

A campaign truly committed to exploration might fight for restored science funding, increased human exploration funding, and reduced shuttle funding. But that's not what the Planetary Society's so-called Save our Science campaign supports. No, the SOS campaign says nothing about cutting the shuttle and increasing human exploration funding. Instead, it simply concentrates on restoring the status quo ante by increasing funding to the robotic science programs. (Here.)

The flaw in the SOS campaign is that it is backward looking. It looks at NASA's past successes at robotic exploration and believes the future of space exploration should look the same. Congratulations, that's what the Society's preliminary success will give us. More robots. The Same Old Stuff. O, boy. Thanks for nothing, Planetary Society.


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