Today’s Tidbits: May 29, 2018

Today’s Tidbits: May 29, 2018

Here are’s tidbits for May 29, 2018: astrophysics Decadal Survey to remain on schedule; Jeff Bezos and the Moon; shuttle astronaut Don Peterson dies.  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

Astrophysics Decadal Survey To Remain on Schedule

The head of NASA’s science programs, Thomas Zurbuchen, has agreed with the astrophysics community to proceed with the next astronomy and astrophysics Decadal Survey as scheduled instead of delaying it for two years. After announcing another launch delay and potential cost growth of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) earlier this year and amid questions about the future of its successor, the Wide-Field Survey Telescope (WFIRST), Zurbuchen proposed that the community consider a postponement.  JWST and WFIRST were recommended by earlier Decadal Surveys.

As the name implies, Decadal Surveys are conducted once every 10 years — a decade — by committees organized by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.  The consensus-based Decadal Surveys are written by experts who determine the key scientific questions in the relevant discipline and what missions are needed to answer them.  Decadals are not unique to NASA, but they are conducted for each of NASA’s science disciplines: astronomy and astrophysics, biological and physical sciences in space, earth science and applications from space, heliophysics, and planetary science.

The astronomy and astrophysics Decadal is the oldest of the set, dating back to 1964.  It covers both ground- and space-based programs.  The most recent was finished in 2010 and the Academies have been gearing up for the next.  The scientists, engineers and other experts who form these committees volunteer their time and the studies require about two years of effort.  To stay on schedule, the next should begin quite soon.

The Academies conduct studies under contract primarily to government agencies.  NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Department of Energy (DOE), are all involved in astronomy and astrophysics research and the three share the costs of this Decadal.  Thus, any decision to delay it involves all three agencies and the astrophysics community as a whole.

Zurbuchen indicated last month that he was agnostic about when the Decadal should be conducted and he could make arguments either way.  In a May 29 blog post, Zurbuchen announced that the Decadal will proceed on schedule, but phrased it in terms of having “lost” the argument.  In the end, he said the important point was to have had the discussion “about ambition, about alignment, and about inclusion of the broad community…. That is worth losing for.”

Jeff Bezos and the Moon

Blue Origin (and founder Jeff Bezos was interviewed by GeekWire reporter Alan Boyle at the International Space Development Conference (ISDC) last week.  GeekWire has posted the “(nearly) full transcript” of the event wherein Bezos embraces NASA’s current plan to return humans to the surface of the Moon before heading out to Mars.

Bezos and SpaceX founder Elon Musk both envision humans leaving Earth in large numbers, but while Musk focuses on sending a million people to Mars, Bezos wants a million people living and working in space closer to home. Both believe humans must populate other places in addition to Earth.  Musk fears a planet-wide catastrophe that could make humanity extinct.  Bezos fears “stasis.” (Click the link in the tweet to read the transcript.)

To the delight of the crowd, Bezos also announced that Amazon will take over production of the popular science fiction show The Expanse, which completed a three-year run on the SyFy channel.  It will be a “Prime Original in the coming seasons,” Bezos said.

Shuttle Astronaut Don Peterson Dies

NASA is mourning the passing of another former astronaut today.  Don Peterson died on May 27 at the age of 84.  Peterson was originally chosen as one of 14 astronauts for DOD’s Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) program, a parallel program to NASA’s during the 1960s that was cancelled before the MOL was built.   He and six of the other MOL astronauts transferred to NASA.  He flew on STS-6 in 1983 and, along with Story Musgrave, became the first astronauts to conduct a spacewalk wearing the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU).

Peterson left NASA in 1984 and was a consultant until his retirement.

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