Tuesday, February 28, 2006

SuitSat-1 Completes Successful Mission

A mission to test the effectiveness of using obsolete Russian Orlan spacesuits as mock-satellites has been completed and is being hailed by all involved as an unmitigated success.

Called SuitSat-1, the first test subject was tossed overboard the International Space Station on February 3, 2006 and operated for more than two weeks before the onboard batteries ran dry. During that time amateur radio operators from around the world tuned in to receive its various test messages. The SuitSat-1 tracking Web site received more than 9 million hits from around the world during the mission, keeping detailed records of telemetry information and transmitted data.

Due to the overwhelming success of SuitSat-1 a second test subject, this time with a new power source, possibly an attached solar array, and a better onboard transmitter is already being discussed.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Rocketplane Owner Buys Kistler

Space.com is reporting that Rocketplane Ltd. owner George French has purchased a majority stake in Kistler Aerospace, giving the start-up suborbital company, orbital capability sooner than was expected.

The Kistler K-1, while never launched, promises orbital capability for far less money than it currently costs, providing Rocketplane Ltd. with the potential for providing commercial delivery services to the International Space Station.

The Rocketplane Ltd. Web site claims the company is well on its way to completing work on its first sub-orbital craft, Rocketplane XP. They also say preliminary design work and some hardware fabrication on the Kistler K-1 has also been completed and that both vehicles are a few short years away from test flights.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Falcon 1 Gets New Tentative Launch Window

A virtual poster child for alt.space, the pioneering Falcon 1 has been delayed three times, for various technical and logistical issues. The latest attempt in February was postponed after a pre-launch static fire revealed some problems.

Falcon 1 on Omelek Launch Pad
Credit: Thom Rogers/SpaceX

In an e-mail Friday, SpaceX head man Elon Musk provided some updated launch info for Falcon 1, and a bit more explanation of the issues encountered on the last launch attempt. It appears a small leak was discovered in the 2nd stage fuel tank during the February 10 static test, forcing a postponement at that time.

It looks like March 20 to 25 will be the tentative flight window, pending a new shipment of liquid oxygen (LOX) from Hawaii. There should be another static fire on or about March 17 to get a better idea of where they stand, meantime a systems review with the big-wig clients (The Air Force, DARPA, and NASA) will also be conducted.

Homegrown Synthetic Diesel, Compliments of Montana

Tonight 60 Minutes and CBS News turned the spotlight on Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and his plan to use the Fischer-Tropsch process of gasification to convert his state's vast coal supply into a form of clean burning synthetic diesel which he believes would help wean the U.S. from its dependency on foreign oil.
In the 60 Minutes interview Schweitzer referred to foreign oil producers as "rats" and "dictators" but made little mention of domestic interests in the same field such as Vice President Dick Cheney who has spent years supporting Halliburton (a market leader in the energy sector) or US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, a former Chevron Executive who has a supertanker named in her honor.
Instead Schweitzer pushed his belief strip mining his state for its bountiful coal supply would help move world markets away from oil, and help the US regain control of its economy.
Until crude oil prices sink to around $25 a barrel again, he reasons, synthetic fuel will become not only cost effective, but highly profitable. He also believes the price of crude oil will not sink to $25 a barrel, at least not for any prolonged period of time.

It's true gasification of coal creates a very clean burning diesel fuel ready-made to be pumped into tanks for around a $1 a gallon (that's production costs) but it does nothing to foster a sense of moving beyond the centuries old practice of internal combustion for energy production and motion.
Not to mention the ugliness of strip-mining half of Montana...

Saturday, February 25, 2006

CEV Development Continues Despite Flaws

(Photo Credit: NASA/John Frassanito and Associates)

Work is progressing on the next generation NASA spacecraft, also known as the Crew Exploration Vehicle. Utilizing parts currently in use by the Space Transport System (shuttle program) engineers are developing systems for launching cargo and crew as separate units. A derivative of the shuttle main engines and the solid rocket boosters will also likely be used in the concept.

Wind tunnel testing has been ongoing for weeks and more testing is planned. Unfortunately little effort has been made to create a re-usable launch system. At this time almost all components are disposable, meaning more costs and less efficiency in the space program. A point of contention, and a "built-in flaw" for many space enthusiasts.

It also bears mentioning, it has taken NASA two years to progress to mock-up wind tunnel testing, about the same amount of time Scaled Composites engineers needed to design, build and successfully launch SpaceShip One to win the Ansari X-Prize.

From the Ashes of Columbia: A New Discovery

There is no replacing the seven lives lost in the break-up of the shuttle Columbia over the skies of Texas in February 2003, but a recent unexpected discovery has proven itself a small wonder retrieved from the ashes.
The discovery of microbes which survived the explosion and subsequent re-entry burn has Texas State University-San Marcos biologist Robert McLean (at left in Texas-State photo) claiming more proof of the theory of Panspermia.
These microbes, Microbispora, had actually contaminated an experiment the Texas State team had placed in the shuttle prior to lift-off. It was not expected they would be found in the experiment at all, much less survive the extreme heat of re-entry. This has led McLean to report his findings, and their impact on Panspermia in the May 2006 issue of Icarus, the international journal on solar system studies.
It's not proof of the Panspermia theory, just more evidence for its plausibility.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Revisiting a Great Idea

The Onion, hilarious and satiric as always, often provides great ideas most of us would never conceive of on our own.

Like their story from March 2004, poking fun at a NASA/Coca-Cola funded mission to Mars. It was funny at the time, but given recent budget constraints, now sounds like the only way the embattled space agency will ever get any real funding...

MakeZine Makes Sense

If you have a hankering to build something technical (or not so technical) why not check-out MakeZine.com.

The quarterly publication offers plans for everything from wind turbines that generate electricity to backyard zip lines; jet engines, water-powered rockets and homemade electric vehicles, what you need to do it and how to do it, are explained in detail and in plain English (for those of us less technically inclined.)

If you don't like print publications try their online edition, or even better, check out their Make Your Own Projects section with easy plans for completing an assortment of projects including building a robot from a computer mouse and divining for water.

If you're bored, check it out. If you actually build something, send us a picture and we'll Post it right here.

Aeroscraft to Revolutionize Air Cargo Transportation

Popular Science is running a cool article on the next generation of aircraft: A type of rigid-hull dirigible called an Aeroscraft.

The Popular Science article focuses on the luxury accommodations available for passengers who book a flight on the touring model, but the real money will be in its amazing ability to carry aloft more cargo than any other air transport system available.

A military version dubbed the Walrus will have the capacity to carry around 500 tons of cargo, 12,000 nautical miles in less than a week. A Commuter model could re-open short travel lines long abandoned by commercial airliners for cost reasons.

In all, the new craft represents a whole new way of looking at air transport. And when it comes to present cost effectiveness, the Aeroscraft can not be beat.

United Arab Emirates Invests $30 Million in Future Spaceport

Following Space Adventures, Ltd's recent announcement it will build its own spaceships and launch its own sub-orbital tourist spaceflights, comes word the United Arab Emirates will help finance its $265 million spaceport near the southern end of the Persian Gulf.

Space Adventures is the first company to offer tourists a trip to the International Space Station for around $20 million a pop. So far three paying passengers have forked over the cash, and plenty more have expressed interest.

CNN reports the company will team with Texas-based venture capital firm, Prodea, for financing and use a craft designed and built by the Russian aerospace firm Myasishchev Design Bureau.

Called Explorer, the new craft will seat five people and utilize a lift and launch system similar to the one used by SpaceShip One.

No potential launch dates have been released.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Mercury Shines Bright In The Night Sky

The planet Mercury will be the second brightest object in the night sky on the evenings of February 23 and 24, and will continue to be well visible through the beginning of March.

Mercury is difficult to get a good glimpse of most of the time. It is so close to the Sun compared to Earth (it's roughly 1/3 of the distance from the Sun as we are) that it is usually only visible briefly, if not entirely obscured by the Sun's glare due to the perspective we are viewing from.

However, conditions are optimal for the next few days to get a really nice view of Mercury at its brightest, and also to get a rare view of Mercury framed with our crescent Moon on February 28 and March 1.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

X Prize Lunar Lander Challenge Is Shaping Up

The X Prize Foundation have released the first draft of rules for their Lunar Lander Challenge (LLC) today. They will entertain a week's worth of feedback from the public on the draft.

The $2 million LLC is the latest challenge from the X Prize foundation, who also brought us the now-legendary Ansari X Prize. As most of you probably know SpaceShipOne claimed the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004.

The new LLC prize will require a VTOL (Vertical Takeoff and Landing) rocket to take off from one pad and land on another distant pad, with two difficulty levels involved. The competition is currenlty planned to take place at the 2006 X Prize Cup event on October 21-22 in New Mexico.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Scotty's Ashes To Be Launched Into Space Aboard A Falcon

All eyes are on the still-pending maiden flight of SpaceX's Falcon 1, with good reason. But a subsequent Falcon flight will be interesting in it's own right.

In addition to the government payload on the following launch, SpaceX has a seconday cargo from Space Services, Inc. - the folks who offer "space funeral flight" services. The secondary cargo in question will be the "Explorers Flight", carrying the ashes of (at last count) 188 persons, inluding actor James Doohan (you may have heard of him...) and astronaut Gordon Cooper (another you just may have heard of...)

While the launching of ashes into space in this manner isn't exactly news (SSI has been doing it since 1997), the cooperation between SpaceX and SSI is intriguing and somewhat ironic.

We have Falcon as the "the world’s first fully reusable launch vehicles", and SSI was "the first ever private launch into outer space."

Now about that pesky Falcon maiden flight...

Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Search For ET: Narrowing The Focus

Dr. Margaret Turnbull, a researcher at the Carnegie Institution in Washington DC, has come up with a list of the top 5 "stars most likely to harbor intelligent life."

Topping the list of stars most likely to contain habitable planets in their system is beta CVn, about 26 light years away in the Canes Venatici constellation.

Theoretically, information of this sort will help programs like SETI consiberably increase their chances of "finding ET" by helping to prioritize the search patterns used.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Atlantis Orbiter To Be Retired by 2008

NASA says the Atlantis orbiter will be retired by mid-2008.

Afterward the craft will be used as a parts donor to the Endeavour and Discovery, which will be flying the remaining shuttle missions consisting of 16 to 18 ISS missions and one Hubble service mission.

The plan from NASA at this point is for entire shuttle fleet to be retired in September 2010.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Congress Takes Issue With NASA's 2007 Budget Proposal

In a recent post here at SBA, we reported on some alarming issues in the budget proposal out of NASA for 2007, including a devastating lack of funding for science and research. The Planetary Society alert we highlighted included a letter writing campaign to Sherwood Boehlert, the Republican chairman of the House Science Committee.

During a Thursday hearing before the House Science Committee, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin's budget proposal for 2007 was harshly criticized by both Chairman Boehlert and ranking democrat Bart Gordon.

The most telling quote from the space.com article:

“I am extremely uneasy about this budget, and I am in a quandary at this point about what to do about it,” Boehlert told Griffin. “This budget is bad for space science, worse for Earth science, perhaps worse still for aeronautics. It basically cuts or de-emphasizes every forward looking, truly futuristic program of the agency to fund operational and development programs to enable us to do what we are already doing or have done before."

Wow. Apparently someone up there on Capitol Hill was listening...

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Microchips From Magnets: No Transistors Needed

Researchers at the University of Notre Dame have successfully created a working prototype of a microchip that uses nanoscale magnets in place of transistors.

Expanding on previous research in the field of "spintronics" or magnetoelectronics, professor Wolfgang Porod and his team have refined the process by using microscopic magnets in place of electrons themselves, which should make this kind of chip less vulnerable to outside interference among other benefits.

While devices similar in concept to these nano-magnets have already been used successfully as data storage medium, this is the first time they have been applied constructing a processor or microchip that can perform logical operations.

Potentially, chips of this type could be far more dense and powerful than transistor-based chips, and use a fraction of the power. Less space needed, with less power consumption (thus heat generation) is of course a tremendous boon for all manner of possible processor applications.

One final interesting aspect to this type of magnetic chips is their potential space technology application, since the chips would be inherently hardened against radiation, unlike conventional transistor-based processors.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Get Involved: Help Stop The "Evisceration" Of Science From NASA's Budget

We try to keep it relatively non-political here at SpaceBlog Alpha, but of course we do promote space exploration and science with a fervor. I feel it is our duty to bring you the following breaking news:

The Planetary Society has issued an alert, also reported at the The Planetary Society Weblog.

NASA's 2007 proposed budget is forcing a lot of tough decisions, inluding the scaling back or elimination of numerous projects, mostly in the science and exploration areas. One major point of contention is the dispostion of the Shuttle program, and the need to keep spending so much on a project that is on its way out soon.

Quoted from a February 6th press release at The Planetary Society:

"Using money intended for science programs to fund continued operation of the shuttle is a serious setback to the U.S. space program," said Planetary Society President, Wesley T. Huntress, Jr. "NASA is essentially transferring funds from a popular and highly productive program into one scheduled for termination."

The Shuttle is just one issue out of many causing alarm all around the space exploration community.

The Planetary Society's Executive Director, Louis Friedman, details the "evisceration" in question here, while both he and Huntress, Jr. contributed to the space.com article further explaining their position on the NASA budgetary woes.

Take a read, get informed, and - if you feel so inclined - get involved!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Falcon 1 Static Fire Video

SpaceX has released a short video of last week's Falcon 1 static fire.

There's also a quick tidbit from Elon Musk, with a promise to post a more extensive update next week when the team has had time to determine where they stand at this point.

Rocket science can be so frustrating, but our faith and patience will be rewarded in time.

Again, if you haven't already, perhaps you can take this time to familiarize yourself with the Falcon 1 maiden flight.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Fossett's Ultimate Flight Sets The Record!

Steve Fossett landed his GlobalFlyer in Bournemouth, England, setting the world record for the longest continuous flight by any aircraft.

The flight was fraught with difficulties:
-A 750 pound fuel loss on takeoff put the craft's total range at risk
-A rise in cockpit temperature shortly after takeoff for some time caused dehydration and increased ration usage for the initial part of the journey
-Severe turbulence over India put the plane at risk
-A general weakness of the jet stream caused wide-ranging fuel range concerns throughout the flight

In addition to the above issues, the final part of the journey turned out to be nearly catastrophic...
When nearing the end of the flight and working on his final descent toward the intended Kent International landing spot, the GlobalFlyer experienced a critical generator problem that caused Fossett to call a mayday as the craft lost power. The team decided to divert to Bournemouth due to its downwind location. Since the GlobaFlyer was having power issues, the cockpit de-icing system was not working properly. Fossett was forced to make a one-shot landing while virtually flying blind, bursting two tires on touchdown to make an already treacherous landing even more dangerous.

But all was well in the end, as Fossett landed and claimed the record safely.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Fossett's Ultimate Flight Nears Completion

The GlobalFlyer is almost home, folks. After completing a full circumnavigation of the globe, Fossett decided to go for it and attempt the final leg of his journey and for the big record. Fuel mishap and all, they team chose to stay aloft and try to cross the Atlantic once more to land in England.

It looks very good for the world-record at this point. Fossett has just started his final descent near Strumble on the far westernn tip of Wales. Mission controller Kevin Stass believes the GlobalFlyer should have enough fuel to reach Kent International Airport.

Fossett is scheduled to land at Kent around 17:00 UTC, or 12:00 EST. Follow the conclusion of this historic flight here.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Falcon 1 On Hold Again After Test Firing

It pains me to report it, but Falcon 1's maiden flight has been delayed once more.

An unspecified issue discovered while analyzing data from the static fired countdown has caused the latest setback. Details are slim at the moment, but SpaceX head man Elon Musk promises details and an updatd launch schedule when available. The rough estimate at this point is two to four weeks additonal delay.

Let's keep our chins up and fingers crossed. Hopefully this alt.space pioneer venture will get off the groud soon enough. The whole world is watching, SpaceBlog Alpha inluded of course...

Thursday, February 09, 2006

NASA PR Man Resigns Over "Censorship" Accusations

It appears the The Space Ace's post last week here at SBA exploring the possibililty of NASA censoring or filtering its scientist's data was right on target, and things have now come to a head. NASA public relations appointee George C. Deutsch turned in his resignation Tuesday over the controversy - involving among other things global warming and climatology data - and the agency will be conducting a complete review of its public affairs office.

Administrator Michael Griffin sent an email to all NASA workers on Saturday, quoted here by CNN:

"The job of the Office of Public Affairs, at every level in NASA, is to convey the work done at NASA to our stakeholders in an intelligible way," Griffin wrote. "It is not the job of public affairs officers to alter, filter or adjust engineering or scientific material produced by NASA's technical staff."

A refreshing statement from the man himself at NASA, and it's nice to see he is pushing the good the word to all of the administration's employees. Let's hope this attitude prevails over the long haul...

GlobalFlyer Over China And Looking Good

Steve Fossett's Ultimate Flight is progressing well now, with the Scaled Composites built GlobalFlyer currently more than halfway around the globe, over China, though the flight so far has certainly not been without mishap.

There were extremely high temperatures in the cockpit (130 degrees F) for some time shortly after takeoff, plus an unexpected 750lb fuel dump contributing to the tension in the early stages of the mission. All seems stabilized, and chances look good at this stage for the record-setting flight to land in Manston, England as planned.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

GlobalFlyer's "Ultimate Flight" Is Underway

After a fuel leakage problem caused a scrub of yesterday's lauch, adventurer Steve Fossett finally took off successfully from Kennedy Space Center's main runway just after dawn this morning.

He is now well underway on the "Ultimate Flight" in his Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer, and approaching the western coast of Africa. This flight has the potential to set numerous world records, up to and including the record for the longest flight by any aircraft, powered or not.

You can follow the GlobalFlyer at Virgin Atlantic's awesome Mission Control page, including a full tracking map with lots of telemetry data and additional information.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Falcon 1 News: Test On The 9th - Go On The 10th!

There's new information out of the SpaceX camp on Falcon 1's maiden flight schedule.

Of major note, SpaceX will conduct a full systems test on February 9th, up to and including a short test firing of the main engine on the pad. If all goes well, the launch will go as scheduled February 10th, with a launch window from 1 to 7PM PST.

If you haven't already, now is great time to take a look at the Falcon's Maiden Flight Overview PDF. There's your requisite background on SpaceX and DARPA, and of course the fascinating technical information on the Falcon itself. Last but not least there are many inspiring pictures to get you prepped for this historic launch!

Monday, February 06, 2006

Falcon 1 Third Attempt Moved To February 9th

The latest update out of the SpaceX camp has moved the third attempt for a Falcon 1 launch to February 9th at 1PM PST(4PM EST, with a backup date of February 10th. No mention at this time of the reason for the small schedule change, but everything seems good to go for this latest try.

Of course we will keep you posted on any new Falcon 1 developments, and be providing timely coverage on launch day.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

ESA Developing Self-Healing Spacecraft Skin

Space is a harsh environment. Extreme temperatures, micrometeroid impacts, and other nastiness can weaken and damage spacecraft and satellites over the course of a mission.
So the ESA is developing a type of self-repairing skin that would be able to recover from some of the damage done to spacecraft, without needing to dock or land.

This isn't exactly a new concept. Self-sealing tires and fuel-tanks have been around for a while. However, the folks at the European Space Research and Technology Centre(ESTEC) are attemping to somewhat replicate the human healing process and repair small bits of damage to before they become larger problems.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

SuitSat Signal Fades Away

ISS spacewalk Expedition 12 successfully deployed SuitSat as planned yesterday evening. After "launch" by Flight Engineer Valery Tokarev (pretty much pushing the suit away toward the end of the space station), SuitSat seemed to be operating properly for just a short while, transmitting its recorded greeting messages in six languages over HAM radio frequenices as intended.

The signals were apparently received in Japan, albeit briefly. Unfortunately SuitSat ceased transmission after only two Earth orbits, and speculation is that the batteries became too cold thus it lost power. Suitsat should fall low enough into the atmosphere and burn up quite harmlessly within a few weeks.

Friday, February 03, 2006

What Does Comet Dust Look Like?

Using newly developed nanomanipulation techniques (meaning really, really small tools) a University of California, Berkeley, researcher, Christopher Snead, has isolated and extracted a single particle of comet dust just 10 microns across.

A different UC Berkeley researcher developed the tools and techniques for cutting extremely small pieces of Aerogel (used to capture the particles in space) without disturbing the particles.

Scientists anticipate it will take years to review all the data and particles recovered by the Deep Impact and Stardust spacecraft. In the meantime, an abundance of missions are being proposed to return material from other bodies in our Solar System...

Deep Impact Team Finds Ice on Temple 1

Along with an abundance of organic material discovered hiding within the the folds of comet Temple 1, the Deep Impact research team now reports it has discovered water ice on the surface of the wayward comet.

This means two of the most essential building blocks of life have now been proven to exist in and on comets, meaning the theory that comets carry seeds of life throughout the galaxy is gaining ground.

As scientists begin to comb through the abundance of interstellar material returned in the Stardust sample return capsule, it stands to reason even more amazing comet-discoveries are just over the horizon...

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Mars Scout Program Potential Probe: THOR

NASA's Mars Scout program has barely begin and already they're reviewing several potential probes for exploring the Red Planet.
Among them is a low-cost proposal called THOR: Tracing Habitability, Organics and Resources project.

Conceived by scientists at the Arizona State University, THOR is a two-part spacecraft, with an orbiting module and an impactor. The impactor would crash into the surface of Mars, impacting hard enough to make a crater 30 meters around and 10 meters deep, and kicking up a large cloud of debris. The orbiter will then study the composition of this material, testing for water and organic compounds.

THOR is one of two planned upcoming NASA probes to Mars. A robotic lander/laboratory called Phoenix is the other. Future robotic probes may include aircraft or blimps to cruise the atmosphere and conduct research...

Sony Halts AIBO Program

According to CNN, Sony Corp. has decided to end its mildly successful AIBO robot dog product line. In fact, Sony will discontinue all its robot pet products in an effort to streamline efficiency and increase profits.

No word of this yet on the AIBO site.

Most distressing to AIBO fans, however, is that Sony will only continue to supply replacement parts for an additional seven years (2013). Hacking sites notwithstanding, that leaves the average AIBO owner without a veterinarian, so to speak....

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

NASA Tests Alternative Propulsion Thruster Technology

SpaceRef.com says NASA is testing a new type of thruster that is powered by non-toxic propellants. These thrusters are for in-orbit or floating maneuvering and not for lift-off.

This sudden interest in non-toxic fuels for spacecraft subsystems is in stark contrast to it's perceived lack of interest in alternative propulsion in general.

Of course thruster technology and main propulsion technology are two totally different things....

New Horizons Coasting To Jupiter

The New Horizons Spacecraft is coasting to Jupiter now at 36,000 mph and should arrive sometime in February 2007. Scientists are hoping to catch a gravity assist from the gas giant that will help it set a course for Pluto and arrive there in 2015.

Stay up-to-date at the JPL New Horizons site...or check in here from time to time.

Alcatel Begins 'ExoMars' Design Phase

This SpaceRef.com story concerning Alcatel Alenia Space beginning the design of the ExoMars rover, is nothing more than a dressed-up press release.
But it's still cool news.

The ExoMars mission is an European Space Agency project designed to help pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet. With a budget of about $13 million Euros, Alcatel ( a multi-billion dollar international conglomerate) will design a rover to perform exobiological experiments on the surface of Mars.

It's part of the ESA's program Aurora, a long term approach to developing a sustainable human presence in the Solar System, develop new technology and "inspire young people..."

NASA Silencing Climatologists? You Decide

If you read The New York Times or Washington Post, you may have recently read a few science articles giving the distinct impression Dr. James Hansen, Director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, felt pressure from NASA not to express opinions which might not 'tow the company line', so to speak. Meaning, not to say Global Warming was a scientific fact, not an unproven theory as many in the Bush Administration claim.

Now House Science Committee Chairman, Sherwood Boehlert, (R-NY), prompted by what he read in the Times and Post, has written NASA Chief Administrator Dr. Michael Griffin asking that he immediately review its policies to identify the source of this "misinterpretation of NASA policies."

The House Committee on Science has also been closely following this issue, in and out of the press. Find their documentation here.