Where science and tech meet creativity.

One of the either high points or low points (emotionally) of every LPSC is the NASA meeting. This year I have some sense that this will be a good experience for all. We have a new administration, we have new NASA HQ staff, and we know a new NASA director is on the way. Life just might be good for all.

The night is starting with Steph Stockman (geosteph on twitter), the nes SMD Lead for Education and Public Outreach. It’s nice to see her up there looking like a geologist instead of the past person who was a bit hard to approach in her expensive suit, expensive hair, and very professional everything, down to make up and nails. Don’t get me wrong, the last person was friendly. She just made me feel like a slob every time I talked to her.

Steph is updating us on what is coming in the future. A new NASA ROSES EPO call will be coming with NOI due May 1 and proposals dues 7/1. Eek! I did this last year (and got one too!) There will also be E/PO supplements available to people with science based ROSES grants. Intriguingly, Outreach supliments are $10k/year and Education are $15k per year. I’m not entirely sure how the separate outreach from education, but I suspect informal education (like Astronomy Cast) is outreach, while K-12 school programs are education, but that projects in science centers are a bit ambiguous.

Next up is IYA: NASA has an Object of the Month, and while this is the year of “Astronomy,” we’re using the general populous term that includes planets, rather then the science term which tends to exclude the solar system.

Quick and to the point, Steph is now done and has been replaced by someone whose name was stated way to fast and was thus missed. He will be talking about missions.

The National Academy has a series of studies going on that effect the direction of NASA. These panels are made up by unpaid (and hopefully unbiased) scientists who work to define the future of our field. Those of interest to planetary science include:
A Radioisotope Power Supply Study: In June Radioisotope Power Supply report finally expected out NEO Survey and Deflection study: There were meetings in January and February about Near Earth Asteroids and how to deflect them. A mitigation Panel has been formed and will be meeting march 3 – April 1 in DC
A Planetary Protection panel for Mars: (um, wow) This panel looks at how should we manage and handle Mars samples and what can we do to not do bad things with Mars by covering it in spacecraft. Report for delivery in May.

Now we’re on to non-Mars, Non-Moon missions. There are a lot: Mercury, Venus, Comets, Asteroids, Jupiter, Saturn and Pluto/Kuiper belt all have missions now or, in the case of Jupiter, in the near future. The most exciting to me is Juno, a mission that will go back to explore Jupiter and that will precede a mission to explore Europa (with its sub-surface water).

Now looking at the Moon, we can see 6 new missions to all occur between now and 2016. Mars has many ongoing missions (Odessey, Phoenix (maybe), Mars Rovers, and Mars Express, and another 5 new missions will be sent between now and 2020, including sample return and the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL).

MSL should be launched in 2011 (Oct or Dec) for a cost of $223 Million + slippage costs (another $400 million!). Launch slip will be funded by the Mars Exploration Program by redistributing funding from other programs (yuck) causing the 2016 mission with ESA to get some money yanked. ESA is making the redistribution possible (thank you ESA). One additional bad thing about this slip. Juno is supposed to launch in Aug of 2011 and MSL needs the same launch pad. Turning the pad around for October is hard, but NASA and military are working together to solve the problem.

Discovery Programs are the most interesting. In the past, they had held off on allowing any applications that required a radioisotope power supply (RPS). Now starting to look at possibilities. These could go anywhere – inner or outer solar system – and found that really good mission ideas and objectives exist that need RPS’s. It is acknowledged that getting these going soon is a priority. The next call will go out with the question: Are RPS stirling engines required, optional, or not necessary. A call is being drafted. Watch the NASA websites…

On the hope that Stirling RPS generators are allowed, there is a briefing Wednesday at this conference (Sadly, I’ll be home teaching thermo very ironically that night).

NASA and ESA are also looking for Outer Planets Flagship missions. They have given priority to a Europa mission fir a 2020 launch, with a Titan mission to follow. (I would like to note, about half the people in this room will be retired by the time data is returned, and I will be very gray. Sometimes timelines are depressing).

Now looking at Astrobiology. A couple years ago the program lost 50% of its funding. Today, NASA is committed to rebuilding the field. rebuilding from FY07 $34.2 Million budget, to a FY09 $49.5 million budget. This isn’t the $60 million of the past, but it is getting there. Specifically looking for small space missions and secondary payloads in other missions. First launch is scheduled for 2010.

And finally – The NASA Conference Travel & Support update. Last year congress lost its mind and capped NASA’s ability to send people and exhibits to conferences and to have its own conferences. As a result, NASA had to cancel all conferences it sponsored! This limited the ability of NASA to communicate results and information to the public. Shortly after Congress opened its 2009 session, the cap was removed on domestic expenses, but there is still a cap on NASA employees traveling to international conferences (which makes ESA collaborations hard). NASA is working to revise its policies to make things make more sense. This is good!

Next person: Mike Orgo (sp????) who will give an impromptu monologue. His goal is to change the NASA mission from “science OR exploration” to “science AND exploration.”

He will update us on LRO and LCROSS. Launch is set to May 21 if the currently prepared launch goes off soon (which it should). Data will get archived in the Planetary Data System and NASA is working with mission scientists to guarantee data is in the most useful form. Additionally, next week it will be announced which hemisphere the LCROSS mission will attack (or at least throw itself at). Mission planning is being done in concert with science missions from Japan and India that are providing data for site selection. Two tiers of 25 targets each have been passed to a panel of scientists to help provide a sanity check of “are all the targets in the correct tier” and “did we miss anything.” Final target will be selected when exact launch and more data is all in hand.

All is good. We could just use one more launch pad…