Leading the News
NASA Sees Orion Test As First Step Towards Mars.
The New York Times (12/3, Chang, Subscription Publication) reports NASA seeks Thursday’s Orion launch on a Delta IV Heavy rocket, which will be the first time since Apollo 17 it sends an astronaut capsule past low Earth orbit, as “the first step toward human exploration of the solar system,” including a Mars landing. Mark Geyer, Orion’s program manager, said, “Thursday is the beginning of that journey.” The flight will test Orion’s parachutes, heat shield, and other systems; Geyer said, “We expect it to go fine, but you really have to fly it to test it out.” However, “NASA’s progress for future astronaut missions will be slow, hemmed in by tight federal budgets and competing visions of the agency’s future,” with astronauts not expected to launch until at least 2021. Geyer said, “We feel really fortunate to be in the budget plan, a bipartisan agreement on the budget plan, and our job is to execute to that plan,” adding, “Yeah, I wish we could go faster, but I think this is a good plan.”
The Orlando (FL) Sentinel (12/2) reports Jim Green, NASA’s Planetary Science Division director, said, “We are planning to move toward human exploration of Mars.” However, the challenges of developing “human life support, fuel, communication and Martian landing system,” coupled with “budget concerns leave NASA officials saying they hope to reach Mars sometime in the 2030s.” James Reuther, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for space-technology mission programs, said NASA will need to develop high-powered solar-electric engines, laser-based optical-communication technologies, and living quarters for the astronauts.
NBC News (12/2, Boyle) reports NASA spokeswoman Rachel Kraft said in an email, “EM-2 will be the first test of the fully integrated Orion/SLS system with astronauts,” but that doesn’t mean it will be the asteroid redirect mission. Kraft wrote, “We’ll identify which specific mission will first send crews to the relocated asteroid once a target is identified.”
The Florida Today (12/2, Dean) reports, “Mission managers on Tuesday gave a “go” to proceed toward a 7:05 a.m.” Thurday blastoff. Geyer said, “It’s the beginning of exploration; it’s the beginning of actually putting Orion into space.”
SPACE (12/2, Kramer) reported Geyer said, “In a flight test like this, if there are subtleties in how the vehicle behaves with the environments, or subtleties with how systems actually behave with one another during flight, my hope it that we find that on this test flight.” Reuters (12/2, Klotz) reported Geyer said, “On a flight test like this … we want to discover things that are beyond our modeling capability and beyond our expertise so we learn (about) it and fix it.”
The Bloomberg BusinessWeek (12/2, Bachman) reported the launch is “a key initial step toward a human mission to Mars” that also is “designed to excite the public’s imagination for deep-space exploration.”
The Washington Post (12/2, Davenport) reported in its “The Switch” blog that astronaut Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, said, “Today we can’t even put an American in space on American hardware. That’s heartbreaking. It’s disappointing. I cannot believe or imagine that we allowed this happen.” He also called the planned asteroid mission “a dumb idea to start with. It’s nothing but talk,”
SPACE (12/2, Kramer) reported Jeremy Graeber, recovery director for the test flight, said, “Nominally, the vehicle coming down should not pose any threats to the recovery forces, but it’s a test flight, so there are systems that we are not 100 percent sure we know what position they’re in once we’re splashed down.”
Also covering this story are the San Francisco Chronicle (12/2, Gilmer), the Christian Science Monitor (12/2, Wall), CBS News (12/3, Harwood), the Discovery Channel (12/2, Klotz), the WA Today (AUS) (12/3, Davenport), Popular Mechanics (12/2, Belfiore), Popular Science (12/2, Grush), CNET News (12/3, Kooser), and the websties of KCNC-TV Denver (12/2), WAAY-TV Huntsville, AL (12/2, Barrett), and WAFF-TV Huntsville, AL (12/2).
Many Haven’t Heard Of Orion. NPR (12/2) reports that tourist interviewed in the lobby of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum hadn’t heard of Orion. “NASA Administrator Charles Bolden isn’t surprised that nobody has heard about Orion,” comparing it to the Apollo project. He said, “Back in March of 1969, if you asked somebody about America’s space program, they may have said, ‘I think we’ve got this Apollo thing,’ or something like that.” He added, “That’s just the nature of the human beast.”
Orion To Carry Mementos. The Christian Science Monitor (12/2, Pearlman) reported Orion will carry souvenirs and mementos along with senors. The mementos “include a Star Trek action figure, a Marvel challenge coin, a Muppet, a dinosaur fossil, and an Apollo lunar spacesuit part.” Lockheed Martin, NASA’s prime contractor for Orion, “worked with the Entertainment Industries Council (EIC) to recruit items from science fiction-related celebrities.”
California Democrats’ Funding Plan Will Prevent Tuition Increase At UC Schools.
The Sacramento (CA) Bee (12/2, Rosenhall) reports California Democrats unveiled a plan in the state Senate Tuesday that will keep the University of California system’s tuition flat. The plan will provide money to “wipe out the UC tuition hike” as well as increase the number of Cal Grant scholarships, add more classes at universities, and will give checks to students who graduate from the California State University system in four years. The proposal is “the latest move in…a highly political duel” over higher education in California as the governor has recently clashed with the UC governing board over the cost of the system.
The Wall Street Journal (12/3, Korn, Lazo, Subscription Publication) reports the plan will allow UC schools to increase enrollment and that nonresident tuition will be increased by $17,000. The proposal will be considered in upcoming months as the legislature works to balance the plans of the UC Board of Regents, Governor Jerry Brown, and the plan of the senate Democrats.
Poll: Paying For California’s Higher Education Costs A Concern For Voters. The Houston Chronicle (12/1) reports a survey by the Public Policy Institute of California reveals that 59 percent of adults surveyed say that the state of California is underfunding higher education, but 56 percent opposed raising taxes to pay for it and 77 percent were opposed to tuition hikes. The survey also found that 52 percent of adults surveyed say that affording higher education is a “big problem” for students.
Blog Examines Factors Contributing To Low On-Time College Graduation Rates.
The Washington Post (12/2, Douglas-Gabriel) “Wonkblog” investigates why students are taking longer to graduate college with a bachelor’s degree. The article notes that students are accumulating more credits than they need for a bachelor’s degree, and that organizations like Complete College America are recommending ways to streamline curriculum and capping the number of credit hours needed for at 120 hours.
Research and Development
DARPA’s Efforts To Reinvent Internet To Improve Security Highlighted.
In a special section of the Wednesday print edition of the New York Times (12/2, Perlroth) focusing on cybersecurity, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s role in updating the foundations of the Internet, which haven’t changed much since its creation 40 years ago, is profiled. Five years ago, the Times says, Darpa decided to explore a complete reimagination of the Internet, “employing the hard lessons we have learned about security” in a program called Clean Slate. The program “consisted of two separate but related efforts: Crash…a multiyear project aimed at building systems that were much harder to break into, that could continue to fully function when they were breached and that could heal themselves, and MRC…which applied similar thinking to computer networking and cloud computing.” Researchers note that the outdated foundations of the Internet have left holes waiting to be exploited by hackers, highlighting recent exploitations of those vulnerabilities in the form of Heartbleed and Shellshock earlier this year.
SpaceX Expects US Air Force Certification By Year End.
Space News (12/2, Gruss, Subscription Publication) reports that SpaceX expects to earn US Air Force certification to launch national security missions by the end of the year. “SpaceX is working hand in hand with its partners at the Air Force to complete the certification process as soon as possible, with the goal of being completed before the end of the year,” SpaceX spokesman John Taylor said. SpaceX has already submitted required data, finished 19 engineering review boards, and completed three launches as part of the certification process, the article reports.
Engineering and Public Policy
FERC Commissioner Blasts EPA Emission Rule.
The Hill (12/3, Cama) reports FERC Commissioner, Philip Moeller “blasted” the EPA power plan emissions rule stating the rule “will dramatically interfere with America’s competitive market forces,” threatening electrical grids reliability and costing billions of dollars. Moeller called for “a more formal and transparent process involving FERC” that would involve “electric engineering expertise.” Moeller added that the rule’s “biggest challenge” is that it treats compliance through individual states even though “electricity markets are fundamentally interstate in nature.” EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia stated that the EPA has met with representatives of FERC and other agencies throughout the rule-making process.
Blackout In Detroit Said To Reflect Problems With Nation’s Electrical Infrastructure.
USA Today (12/2, Welch) reports that Tuesday’s blackout in Detroit “reflects a larger problem of aging electrical infrastructure around the country.” A report from the American Society of Civil Engineers gave that infrastructure a grade of D+, citing increasing problems with reliability and vulnerability to cyber attacks, but the cost of repairs poses an obstacle, continues the piece. However, Michael Hyland, vice president of engineering and operations for the American Public Power Association, said “I would not label it and say we have a big problem” with aging power lines.
In a piece emphasizing Detroit’s financial woes, the Wall Street Journal (12/3, Barrett, and Kesling, Subscription Publication) reports that the outage began when an underground cable failed for unknown reasons, causing a circuit breaker to trip and shutting down the entire system.
The AP (12/3) also reports.
Firm: Iranian Hackers Infiltrated Top Energy, Infrastructure Companies.
Reuters (12/2, Finkle) reports US cyber security firm Cylance indicated that Iranian hackers tapped into top energy, transport, and infrastructure companies during the past two years. The firm said the goal of the worldwide intrusions was to cause future physical damage.
The New York Times (12/3, Perlroth, Subscription Publication) reports the report said the hackers “were identified…as the source of coordinated attacks against more than 50 targets in 16 countries.” The attacks stole “confidential data from a long list of targets” and sometimes “infiltrated victims’ computers” so they “could take over, manipulate or easily destroy data” on the machines. The company identified the attacks as “Operation Cleaver” because “the word cleaver frequently appeared in the attackers’ malicious code,” the article says. The article says the Times independently corroborated Cylance’s findings with another firm, Crowdstrike, which indicated it tracked the same group of hackers under the alias “Cutting Kitten.” The article says Cylance only identified “a Navy-Marine Corps network in San Diego” as one of the victims, but its report said “hackers showed a penchant for oil and gas companies, compromising ‘no less than nine of these companies around the world,’” including one in the US.
Bloomberg News (12/2, Riley, Robertson) reports that commercial airlines and contractors in Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and South Korea were also targeted. The article says Cylance said the information collected was referred to the FBI, which is “already looking into Iranian hacking, including the Navy breach, according to two people familiar with that probe.” Hamid Babaei, spokesman for the Iranian mission to the United Nations, is quoted saying, “This is a baseless and unfounded allegation fabricated to tarnish the Iranian government image particularly aimed at hampering current nuclear talks.” The article cites the report saying that “the fact that several targets were in South Korea may be” due to “intelligence cooperation between Iran and North Korea, giving Iran something to trade.” The article says the report depicts a “persistent, aggressive operation aimed at undermining vital components of nations’ transportation systems.”
Another Reuters (12/3, Finkle) story quotes from the Cylance report: “We believe that if the operation is left to continue unabated, it is only a matter of time before the team impacts the world’s physical safety.” The article notes Reuters was unable to vet the research independently ahead of the report’s publication.
USA Today (12/2, Winter) cites a source familiar with the research telling Reuters that “U.S. energy producer Calpine Corp. was among” the victims; Saudi Aramco, Petroleos Mexicanos, Qatar Airlines, and Korean Air were listed as other victims “identified but not confirmed.”
The Hill (12/3, Bennett) quotes from the Cylance report: “A new global cyber power has emerged…Iran is the new China.” The article quotes the report saying that “We observed the technical capabilities of the Operation Cleaver team rapidly evolve faster than any previously observed Iranian effort…As Iran’s cyber warfare capabilities continue to morph, the probability of an attack that could impact the physical world at a national or global level is rapidly increasing.”
Over 200 Firms Back Proposed Rules For Power Plants.
USA Today (12/2, Rice) reports on a letter to the EPA signed by 223 companies, “including major brand names and Fortune 500” firms, expressing support for “the principles behind the draft carbon pollution standard for existing power plants.” According to the letter, the companies’ support is “grounded in economic reality,” with executives of some signatories citing economic benefits of enacting the proposal. However, comments to the EPA from 12 organizations expressed the opposite view saying the agency’s plan would “increase electricity prices and raise reliability concerns across the country.”
According to The Hill (12/3, Barron-Lopez), research firm Ceres and the Carbon Disclosure Project circulated the letter, which was also sent to President Obama and “signed by manufacturers, technology firms, apparel makers and more.”
Indiana Leaders Blast EPA Plan. The Indianapolis Star (12/3, Groppe) quotes Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), in a letter to the EPA from officials in his state, that the power plant proposal was “ill-conceived and poorly constructed,” yielding effects that “would be devastating to Indiana.” The letter was accompanied by “official” comments accusing the EPA of not giving Indiana “enough time to comply.”
Forbes Contributor Argues Against Carbon Tax. In an opinion piece for Forbes (12/2), Chris Prandoni, director of energy and environment policy at Americans for Tax Reform, argues against a carbon tax, saying the public and Congress oppose the idea and the EPA’s Clean Power Plan because both are “enormously expensive, kill jobs, increase electricity prices, and decrease economic growth.”
Public Comments On Power Plant Rule Total 1.6 Million. US News & World Report (12/2, Neuhauser) says the public-comment period for the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan drew “roughly 1.6 million remarks” from a wide range of respondents. Opponents included the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, whose president and CEO, Mike Duncan, said the rule’s problems are “manifold and will result in needless harm to Americans’ pocketbooks.”
White House Report Highlights NASA Out-Of-School Education Program.
Kathryn Baron writes at the Education Week (12/2) “Time and Learning” blog, “NASA is doing its bit to keep students’ heads in the clouds—and beyond—with several out-of-school-time programs, highlighted in a new report from the White House Council on Women and Girls, that focus on attracting underrepresented girls to science.” The program, Afterschool Universe, “is an astronomy program developed by the space agency to strengthen middle school students’ natural fascination with the stars and the cosmos, which is often overlooked due to budget and scheduling constraints.”
Judge Dismisses Unspecific Lawsuit Over Kansas Science Standards.
The AP (12/3, Hanna) reports a Federal judge dismissed a lawsuit alleging Kansas public school science standards violated religious freedoms by promoting atheism. The case was dismissed because the nonprofit, parents, and taxpayers did not adequately specify injuries beyond an “abstract stigmatic injury.” Further, local school districts retain control of classroom material despite the guidelines. The plaintiffs’ representation is reviewing the ruling.
Digital Literacy Classes Mandated In Mississippi Elementary School.
The AP (12/3, Ciurczak) reports on digital literacy classes mandated for second through eighth grade students at Petal Upper Elementary School in Petal, Mississippi. The courses are viewed as preparation for college, careers, and Common Core testing; they teach Internet safety and typing. Classes are mandated daily for all fifth and sixth grade students, while offered weekly for second and third grade students.
Nonprofit Awarded $1 Million Grant To Improve K-6 STEM Programs In Atlanta.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (12/3, Stirgus) reports the Goizueta Foundation has given nonprofit Project Lead The Way a $1 million grant to improve K-6 STEM education in 10 metro Atlanta school districts.
Louisiana Tech University Receives $1.45 Million To Support STEM Teacher Prep.
The Monroe (LA) News Star (12/2) reports that the National Math and Science Initiative and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute have awarded Louisiana Tech University a $1.45 million grant to support the preparation of STEM teachers, along with four other universities in the expanding UTeach program. The piece details the initiatives of the 44-university, 21-state program, which is expected to prepare 8,300 teachers to educate 4.8 million students by 2020.
Tuesday’s Lead Stories