Teresa Gomez shared that they are really "backed up" with processing the recommendation forms right now with a backlog of at least 50. I asked how this affects the selection of interviewees, and she said the references don't matter very much since they're not even required to return the forms in the first place. I guess they see any recommendation forms they receive (and process) as useful but not required information in accesssing an applicant. I inquired when she thought they'd make it through the stack (thinking she'd say a few days), and she suggested that I call back in "a few months" and ask again.
Obviously, I'm concerned because perfectly good recommendations might go unused while the selection panel chooses the interviewees based on incomplete information. Recently, several fellow applicants have discussed the matter of references on the AsHos board. I think my conversation with Ms. Gomez today clears up the question whether an application is in limbo until all references are turn in (No). This explains why some people have been asked to interview without reference contacts.
Ms. Gomez confirmed the interview group dates for all 120 interviewees, which I've listed in the table below. She added that all slots in December are already full and that interviewees could be contacted with as little as one week's notice before being asked to come to Houston for an interview. However, one can request a later interview date if the first available one is not a good time (which is why some slots in January are already taken). In past years, NASA has issued press releases announcing each interview group, but that doesn't seem to be happening during this selection cycle.
Note that at least two other applicants with earth science backgrounds have already been asked to interview (1, 2). I'll just have to be patient a while longer to see if I get to join them.