Today’s Tidbits: December 17, 2017

Today’s Tidbits: December 17, 2017

Here are our tidbits for December 17, 2017:  DOD, UFOs, and Robert Bigelow; DMSP-20 now on display; National Academies releases mid-term review of Decadal Survey on life and physical sciences in space. Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter for more news and live tweeting of events.

DOD, UFOs, and Robert Bigelow

Bigelow Aerospace founder Robert Bigelow, the billionaire owner of Budget Suites of America, is not shy about sharing his conviction that aliens not only have visited Earth in the past, but are here now.  He made that clear in a 60 Minutes interview earlier this year [].

Robert Bigelow (right) speaks to then-NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver in front of the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module during a media briefing, January 16, 2013. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

What wasn’t known publicly until the New York Times published it yesterday [] is that DOD has been paying Bigelow Aerospace to study reports of UFOs for many years.  Whether the program is still active or not seems to be in dispute, but the Times obtained confirmation from the Pentagon that it did exist from 2007-2012.

It was funded in the DOD budget as the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program and championed by now-retired Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), who is quoted extensively by the Times, and two other influential Senators — Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii).  Both have since passed away.

The story is based on information from the former head of the Pentagon program, Luis Elizondo, who resigned in October “to protest what he characterized as excessive secrecy and internal oppoisition.”  The Times says $22 million taxpayer dollars were appropriated for the program from 2008-2011 and “most” went to Bigelow Aerospace to investigate reports of UFOs.

The government funding apparently ended in 2012 and the Pentagon told the Times that the program was terminated then, but Elizondo insists it continued.  The Times article does not say where the money come from after 2012.  Bigelow did not mention this program during his 60 Minutes interview, but did say that he has spent “millions and millions, I probably spent more as an individual than anybody else in the United States has ever spent on this subject.”

Bigelow Aerospace is, of course, partnered with NASA in building expandable modules for use in space or elsewhere in the solar system (e.g. the lunar surface).  A prototype, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), is currently attached to the International Space Station.

DMSP-20 Now on Display

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson (second from left) and other officials pose with DMSP-20 display at Schreiver Space Complex, Los Angeles Air Force Base, El Segundo, CA. December 14, 2017. U.S. Air Force photo/Sarah Corrice.

As we reported earlier, the last of DOD’s Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) weather satellites, DMSP-20, was dismantled instead of launched.

What remains of it is now on display at the Schriever Space Complex at Los Angeles Air Force Base, CA, home to Air Force Space and Missile System Center.

Not surprisingly, the Air Force press release [] praises the history of the DMSP program rather than discussing how DMSP-20 ended up in a museum rather than in space.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Alabama), chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, which oversees most DOD space programs, publicly chastised the Air Force at a January 7, 2016 hearing on acquisition reform for wasting over $500 million to build and store a satellite for 18 years that now would never be launched.  He told Acting Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Acquisition) Richard Lombardi:

“Mr. Lombardi, we spent $500 million that could’ve been used to support national security. Instead it’s going in the trash. I presume it’s going to be made into razor blades. We could’ve saved the Air Force and the Congress a lot of aggravation if we had 18 years ago put a half billion dollars in a parking lot in a pile and just burned it.”

On display in a museum undoubtedly is a better fate than being turned into razor blades.

Life and Physical Sciences in Space Decadal Survey Mid-Term Review

The mid-term review of the 2011 Decadal Survey on Life and Physical Sciences in Space has been published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.  The Academies conduct Decadal Surveys for NASA’s space and earth sciences disciplines every 10 years (a decade) and performs an assessment of NASA’s progress half way through that decade.  These performance assessments are colloquially called mid-term reviews.

This Decadal Survey and the mid-term review were conducted under the joint aegis of the Academies’ Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) and Space Studies Board (SSB).   The mid-term review was co-chaired by Dan Dumbacher of Purdue University (about to become Executive Director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics — AIAA) and Robert Ferl of the University of Florida.

The mid-term review committee noted how much has changed since the Decadal Survey was published in 2011 — the space shuttle program was terminated, the International Space Station (ISS) is “running near its current capacity to perform research within current cargo and crew constraints,” and NASA is shifting its focus from low Earth orbit (LEO) to the “horizon” goal of sending humans to Mars and planning a Deep Space Gateway in orbit near the Moon.

“This overarching exploration strategy establishes the context for research priorities and programmatic implementation. One key element that remains to be understood is the plan and strategy for the ISS and LEO research beyond 2024 and the current international partnership funding agreements. These unknowns affect how the research necessary for human space exploration will be accomplished.”

NASA and its ISS partners (Russia, Japan, Europe and Canada) have agreed to operate the ISS until 2024, but what happens after that is undecided.

Overall, the committee found that NASA responded to the Decadal Survey “in a strong and positive manner at the programmatic level” especially by establishing the Division of Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications (SLPSRA) within the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.  However, it found that it was difficult to trace research priorities to the Decadal Survey and to NASA technology roadmaps, design reference missions, and exploration strategy.  It also reminded NASA that platforms other than ISS, including drop towers, aircraft, balloons, suborbital vehicles, and orbital free-flyers, can be used for this type of research.

LEO research is needed, though, and will be required beyond 2024.  A change of strategy may be needed “including the use of privately developed research facilities.”

“It is essential that NASA as quickly as possible develop an [ISS] post-2024 strategy. …. This post-2024 strategy should address clear cost allocation among the various research activities and partners.”

Click the link in the tweet above to read the full report.

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