NASA Communications Update Public Outreach Division

NASA Communications Update

Public Outreach Division

Weekly Update

NOTE: Despite the passing of Neil Armstrong, I’ve decided to go ahead and send this update. After all, the best thing we can do to honor his memory and legacy is to continue to advance the space agenda. And as you will see, NASA continues to be very active.
One of my early mentors, the late Dick Wisniewski, had a sign on his desk that said, “Sometimes the Dragon Wins.” Such was the case for NASA launch attempts this past week. The scheduled early Friday morning launch of RBSP on an Atlas V was scrubbed due to a malfunctioning tracking beacon. The re-launch attempt Saturday morning fared no better with a weather wave off. We’ll try again with RBSP no earlier than Thursday Aug 30.  
Meanwhile up the coast, we had no better luck at Wallops when the Terrier-Improved Malemute suborbital sounding rocket launch was cancelled on Friday because boats strayed into the hazard zone.  Don’t those boats have GPS?  An attempted launch this morning was also scrubbed because of weather. A new launch date is under review.  
As John Grunsfeld overheard in Mission Control after the first RBSP scrub, “better to be on the ground wishing we were in the air then in the air wishing we were on the ground.”
Here’s how the Agency spent its .04% of the Federal budget this past week.



  • Curiosity Update
  • New Discovery-class mission selected
  • SLS Wind Tunnel Tests
  • Orion Drop Test
  • Dinosaur Footprint at Goddard
  • JWST Event at Ball
  • Chemistry Olympiad
  • Smokey Bear in Space
  • 25th Anniversary of Ride Report


  1. RBSP


Let’s face it RBSP (Radiation Belt Storm Probes) didn’t exactly have the same zing to it as did Mars Curiosity. Perhaps that’s why there was not an overwhelming attendance of either VIPs or general public for the launch. Too bad, an Atlas V belches out lots of fire and thunder, especially in the darkness of a 4:00 a.m. launch. It may not be the Space Shuttle, but it puts on a respectable fireworks show. Maybe we should have focused more on the words “Radiation Belt.” I just don’t think the public was able to identify with the mission and didn’t take the time to learn about its purpose. Hopefully our stakeholder community took a little more initiative and read up on the mission.  If you’ve not done so yet, you can educate yourself at the following web site – there will be a test next week:


If you care about GPS signals or satellite communications, you’ll be glad RBSP is going to do its thing.  They were a little more subdued than those wild men in mission control at JPL, but clearly, the RBSP scientists were just as excited about their mission and I felt their disappointment when the first launch attempt was scrubbed. Better luck on Thursday.


  1. Administrator Bolden Highlights Commercial Activities


While waiting for RBSP preparations, Administrator Bolden took the occasion to announce the achievement of significant milestones for some of our commercial partners.

The Administrator announced that SpaceX has completed its Space Act Agreement with NASA for Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS). SpaceX is scheduled to launch the first of its 12 contracted cargo flights to the space station from Cape Canaveral in October, under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services Program.


At another venue, the Administrator announced that NASA partner Sierra Nevada Corp. has conducted its first milestone under the agency’s recently announced Commercial Crew integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative. The milestone, a program implementation plan review, marks an important first step in Sierra Nevada’s efforts to develop a crew transportation system with its Dream Chaser spacecraft.

CCiCap is an initiative of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) and an Obama administration priority. The objective of the CCP is to facilitate the development of a U.S. commercial crew space transportation capability with the goal of achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from the space station and low Earth orbit. After the capability is matured, it is expected to be available to the government and other customers. NASA could contract to purchase commercial services to meet its station crew transportation needs later this decade.

While NASA works with U.S. industry partners to develop commercial spaceflight capabilities, the agency also is developing the Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System (SLS), a crew capsule and heavy-lift rocket to provide an entirely new capability for human exploration. Designed to be flexible for launching spacecraft for crew and cargo missions, SLS and Orion will expand human presence beyond low Earth orbit and enable new missions of exploration across the solar system.


To catch up on other Commercial activities, check out the August edition of NASA’s Return on Investment Report at:


4.  XCOR to Manufacture in Florida


Also during RBSP week at KSC, XCOR Aerospace announced its intent to establish an East Coast U.S. operational base in Florida and as market demand dictates, establish a manufacturing and assembly center for XCOR Lynx Mark II suborbital reusable launch vehicles as well. 

With the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex as a backdrop, dignitaries from the space industry, Florida elected officials, XCOR senior executives and the general public gathered to celebrate XCOR’s plans to bring a Lynx suborbital vehicle to Florida to fly from Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility, the Cecil Field Spaceport, or other suitable Florida locations in the next two years. Should the full business plan of XCOR be realized, they will also commence assembly and factory test of Lynx production models – designed Lynx Mark II – on Florida’s Space Coast, starting with Tail #3. Direct job creation through late 2018 is estimated at just over 150.


NASA Headquarters Chief of Staff David Radzanowski and KSC Center Director Robert Cabana represented NASA at the very well attended event.  The gathering provided an opportunity for me to have a mini Zero Gravity Corporation reunion with XCOR pilot and astronaut Rick Searfoss and Space Florida’s Alison Odyssey who organized the special XCOR event.



  1. KSC Visitor Center Prepares for Atlantis


While at KSC for the RBSP launch (quick, do you remember what that acronym stands for?), I was able to get a behind the scenes peak at the construction site for the new home of the Atlantis Orbiter. With a significant financial investment by Delaware North and a design that highlights high caliber interactivity for the public, you will be blown away when this exhibit opens next spring.  


The Orbiter will be displayed at a 45-degree angle and includes a platform that will enable visitors to look directly into the cargo bay. Visitors will also be allowed to walk directly underneath the belly of the beast. A full-size replica of the Hubble Space Telescope will be on display next to the orbiter and the audience will be able to have hands-on opportunities with a number of Shuttle simulators.


Delaware North’s Director of Project Development & Construction Tim Macy absolutely blew me away in describing the fabulous public engagement and educational tool they are planning to deliver. A photo of the entrance under construction is attached.  In the meantime, there are lots of things to see and experience at the Visitor Center now as it helps KSC celebrate its 50th Anniversary.


  1. White House Blog on STEM


The Office of Science and Technology Policy blogged last week about what the Mars Curiosity Mission means to STEM education. In the piece called “From Mohawks to Making, New Steps to Mobilize the Science Talent in Federal Agencies,” President Obama has calls upon the 200,000 Federal employees working in STEM fields to bring their passion and expertise to their communities and schools in support of STEM education, and help “stoke that same curiosity in students which had perhaps led them to pursue a career in science.”  


To build on the President’s call to action, Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Director John Berry has signed a memo that further encourages the talented men and women serving in the Federal STEM workforce to volunteer their time and expertise towards improving STEM education. The memo encourages federal agencies to develop the policies and procedures to support STEM-related volunteering activities by their employees, and will have OPM working closely with OSTP and others to support federal agencies in this important work.   


The complete blog is at:



 For those of you that support STEM activities, NASA is accepting applications from teams of U.S. and international undergraduate and graduate students for the fourth annual Lunabotics Mining Competition. The event will be held at KSC on May 20-24, 2013.

 Participants in the competition will design and build a remote controlled or autonomous robot. During the competition, the teams’ designs, known as lunabots, will go head-to-head to determine which machine can excavate and deposit the most simulated lunar dirt within 10 minutes.

 Registration is limited to the first 50 teams submitting applications.

 The competition is designed to engage and retain students in the science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, disciplines critical to NASA’s missions.

 For information on the competition and to apply online, visit:


8.  Study Provides New Finding on Protecting Astronauts’ Bones


Just like here on Earth, eating the right diet and exercising hard in space helps protect ISS astronauts’ bones. This finding may help solve one of the key problems facing future explorers heading beyond low Earth orbit.

The study, published this month in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, evaluated the mineral density of specific bones as well as the entire skeleton of astronauts who used the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED), a 2008 addition to the space station that can produce resistance of as much as 600 pounds in microgravity. Resistance exercise allows astronauts to “lift weights” in weightlessness.

Since the 1990s, resistance exercise has been thought to be a key method of protecting astronauts’ bones. Normal, healthy bone constantly breaks down and renews itself, a process called remodeling. As long as these processes are in balance, bone mass and density stay the same. Earlier studies of Russian Mir space station residents found an increased rate of breakdown, but little change in the rate of regrowth that resulted in an overall loss in bone density. In the new study, researchers looked at preflight and postflight images of bone using X-ray densitometry, as well as in-flight blood and urine measurements of chemicals that reflect bone metabolism. In crew members who used the ARED device during spaceflight, bone breakdown still increased, but bone formation also tended to increase, likely resulting in the maintenance of whole bone mineral density. To view the study, visit:


  • 9. Kepler on the Hunt


Two newly submitted studies verify 41 new transiting planets in 20 star systems. These results may increase the number of Kepler’s confirmed planets by more than 50 percent: to 116 planets hosted in 67 systems, over half of which contain more than one planet. The papers are currently under scientific peer-review.


Nineteen of the newly validated planetary systems have two closely spaced transiting planets and one system has three. Five of the systems are common to both of these independent studies.


The planets range from Earth-size to more than seven times the radius of Earth, but generally orbit so close to their parent stars that they are hot, inhospitable worlds. To stay current on Kepler’s findings, go to:


  • 10. What’s on the Public’s Mind?
    1. Here’s a look at what the public was asking us about this past week:
    3. Public Inquiries – 6,000 emails, surface mails, and phone calls
  • Top 5 Inquiry categories:


  • 1,216 Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity/Mars
  • 1,011 Missions (General comments)
  • 982 Global Warming
  • 532 Permission to use NASA images
  • 212 SpaceX


11. Epic Struggle Between Birds and Pigs Goes on with a Martian Twist


I still haven’t gotten the hang of the game, but NASA is helping pigs and birds explore the Martian terrain and shed light on the agency’s missions to the Red Planet in the latest update to the game Angry Birds Space. Rovio Entertainment’s update to Angry Birds Space is complete with a cast of agency rovers and landers.
Earlier this year, millions of gamers were introduced to concepts of microgravity in Angry Birds Space, which was supported through a partnership with NASA and includes links to a variety of education information.


NASA participated with Rovio on Angry Birds Space under a Space Act Agreement to share the excitement of space with the Angry Birds community, educate players about agency projects and programs, and collaboratively create interactive informational experiences for the public. The game will include links to NASA web content about Mars exploration and NASA missions that are represented in the game.


12. Learning from Curiosity


Our former History intern, Tayler Lofquist followed our communications success with Curiosity very closely.  Now working with the Beekeeper Group, a company that specializes in social media issues, she blogged this past week on “Five Things Advocacy Groups Can Learn froom NASA’s Mars Curiosity.”  Read it at:


13. Science Mission Directorate Weekly Update – Attached


14. Upcoming


  • 08/28 – “Reach for the Stars” Event at JPL.

Leland Melvin, Associate Administrator for Education, will be on site for the “Reach for the Stars” playback event at JPL’s Von Karman Auditorium. Singer and producer, has recorded the “Reach for the Stars” song specifically for NASA’s Curiosity rover mission. Melvin is scheduled to participate in press interviews that day and will provide a presentation to students and fans attending the event.  


  • 08/30-31/2012- Presentation to Shades of Blue Participants.  

Leland Melvin, Associate Administrator for Education, will serve as a guest speaker at two schools in Colorado participating in the Shades of Blue program. The first presentation will be given to 700 middle school students and the second one will be given to 600 K-8 students. Melvin will speak to students about his experience with NASA and the importance of pursuing careers in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. Shades of Blue is a non-profit foundation that promotes aviation and aerospace in K-12 schools.


  • 8/23 – Administrator Bolden travels to Ireland to speak at Notre Dame’s “The Future of Energy” conference in Dublin.


  • 09/21 – Space Transportation Association Presentation by Todd May



 The Space Transportation Association lunch in Spetember will feature Todd May, Program Manager, Space Launch System at the Marshall Space Flight Center.  Event runs from 11:30am – 1:00 p.m. 2325 Rayburn House Office Building. Register by Spetember 7 via email to Rich Coleman at or phone Rich at 703-855-3917.  







We are always on the look out for opportunities that may be scheduled at your facilities to highlight significant milestones for equipment tests, technology demonstrations, employee award programs, team-building events, etc., that would benefit from a visit by senior NASA officials, please let me know.

Welcome New Stakeholders

Each week I add new colleagues to our stakeholder mail list.  For those of you who are receiving this for the first time, this is distributed regularly and is designed to keep you up to speed on HQ activities, especially related to communications and public outreach.  The style is candid and irreverent, so if that offends, let me know and we’ll remove you from the list.  Periodically, the White House Office of Public Engagement offers tickets to events such as Garden Tours, lawn receptions for visiting dignitaries, special WH tours, etc.  These opportunities are announced through the stakeholder mail list and offered on a first-come, first-served basis.  Notices are announced when opportunities become available.

For those wanting more insight to legislative information, let us know and you’ll be added to a separate Update distributed by the Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs.  

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