SpacePolicyOnline.com Latest News

Conflicting Reports about Rep. Giffords' Status

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

WTOP News, an all news radio station in Washington, DC, just reported on the air that Rep. Giffords is in surgery in Tucson, and has not died. We will wait for more definitive information before posting again.

Chairman Hall Comments on the Shooting of Rep. Giffords

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, issued the following statement about the shooting in Tucson, AZ today where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 17 others were shot, at least five fatally.

"I am shocked and saddened by this terrible news, and my prayers are with Gabrielle, her husband Astronaut Mark Kelly, her family, her staff, and all those who were injured and lost their lives and their families. Gabrielle has so many friends in Congress and is an outstanding Congresswoman for her district and for the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. I have been to her district with her to support solar energy and to the Cape with her to support the Shuttle flights. She is a wonderful person, and our prayers are with her, Captain Kelly, and the families of all the victims of this tragedy."

Jack Schmitt to be New Mexico's Secretary of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 07-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

Apollo astronaut Harrison "Jack" Schmitt, who served as a U.S. Senator representing his home state of New Mexico from 1976-1982, has been nominated to head New Mexico's department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources.

Newly inaugurated Governor Susana Martinez announced her nomination of Schmitt yesterday. Schmitt is a Harvard-trained geologist who holds the distinction of being the only scientist to set foot on the Moon. He was part of the Apollo 17 crew, the last Apollo lunar mission, with crewmates Commander Gene Cernan and Command Module Pilot Ron Evans. Schmitt and Cernan spent 75 hours on the lunar surface in December 1972. Schmitt reentered the lunar module first, so Cernan, not Schmitt, was the last man to walk on the Moon.

Schmitt chaired the NASA Advisory Council during most of Mike Griffin's tenure as NASA Administrator. In addition to his public service, he is perhaps best known as a strong advocate for mining helium-3 on the Moon and bringing it to Earth to power nuclear fusion reactors. He wrote a book explaining his concept entitled Return to the Moon: Exploration, Enterprise, and Energy in the Human Settlement of Space.

Schmitt's nomination was not greeted enthusiastically in all circles. The Democratic Party of New Mexico issued a press release referring to him as a "global warming denier." Its Executive Director, Scott Forrester accused the governor of appointing someone who is "at odds with the basic tenets of science and reason." Forrester went on to say that it was a "clear signal to Martinez's big-oil backers that the days of basic protections for New Mexicans' air and drinking water are over."

Book Signing on Jan. 21 for John Logsdon's New Book: John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 06-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

Timed perfectly to coincide with the upcoming 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's "Moon speech," John Logsdon has just published a new book on the Kennedy era of space exploration. "John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon" is available through Amazon.com, and a book signing event will be held at George Washington University (GWU) on January 21 where copies can be purchased and autographed.

Dr. Logsdon is author of the seminal 1970 book "Decision to Go the Moon," required reading for any student of space policy. Now a Professor Emeritus at GWU, Dr. Logsdon is considered the "dean" of space policy in the United States. GWU's Space Policy Institute (SPI), which he established, is the incubator for many of the space policy practitioners in the country today. Currently under the directorship of Dr. Scott Pace, SPI will host the book signing from 5:00-7:00 pm on January 21, 2011 at GWU's Lindner Family Commons, 1957 E Street, N.W. Dr. Logsdon will be introduced by one of his former students, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver.

On May 25, 1961, President Kennedy went before a joint session of Congress and gave a speech on Urgent National Needs. In that speech, he called on the country to commit to the goal of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth by the end of the decade. Dr. Logsdon's first book provided a detailed look at the policy aspects of that decision. The new book takes a fresh look incorporating material from the Kennedy Administration released in recent years.

Please RSVP to spi@gwu.edu by January 18 if you plan to attend.

Bolden: STS-135 Would Be As Safe As Previous Missions, End of Shuttle Era "Bittersweet"

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 06-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden told an American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) audience yesterday that the STS-135 "Launch-on-Need" shuttle mission would be as safe as previous shuttle launches. The 2010 NASA Authorization Act directs NASA to fly STS-135 as the final space shuttle mission as long as it is safe to do so. With the safety aspects settled, the only potential problem now is funding.

Two shuttle missions formally remain on the manifest, STS-133 (Discovery), whose launch has been delayed by a gas leak and external tank cracks, and STS-134 (Endeavour). The current launch dates for those two missions are February and April 2011, respectively.

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and others champion one additional shuttle flight and included direction to fly it in the law. Dubbed the "launch on need" mission or STS-135 (Atlantis), it will be ready to launch to rescue the Endeavour crew if anything goes awry on that flight. If not, advocates argue that it should be used for one last logistics flight to the International Space Station (ISS) before the shuttle era ends.

Since there would be no capability to rescue the Atlantis crew, however, some questioned whether it would be safe to fly. NASA intends to launch it with only four crew members, instead of the usual six or seven. As long as it could get to the ISS, those four could remain there until sufficient Russian Soyuz spacecraft could be launched to bring them home again. That would mean 10 people on the ISS for a period of time instead of its usual crew complement of six, but sufficient supplies would be aboard to accommodate the extra people. According to Bolden's remarks, the agency has determined this plan is sufficiently safe.

Estimates of the cost of flying the mission are rumored to be about $500 million, however, which was not included in the agency's FY2011 budget request. The shuttle request for FY2011 was only $989 million, assuming that the program would end in the first quarter of the fiscal year, that is, by December 31, 2010. That clearly has not happened. As the last flights slip further into the fiscal year, more funds are needed. A full year of shuttle operations cost the agency $3.1 billion in FY2010.

NASA is currently being funded through a Continuing Resolution (CR) at its FY2010 funding level of $18.7 billion, instead of the $19 billion requested by President Obama for FY2011. The CR expires on March 4 and it is anyone's guess as to how much funding the agency will have after that. Where the money will come from to pay for the longer-than-expected shuttle operations is unclear.

Senator Nelson held a hearing on December 1, 2010 where Presidential Science Adviser John Holdren and NASA Chief Financial Officer Beth Robinson pledged to fly STS-135 as long as NASA received roughly the same amount of funding as the President requested for FY2011. They agreed that $18.7 billion would be enough, but warned that if the agency is cut back to its FY2008 level, the agency did not know how it would cope. NASA received $17.4 billion in FY2008. Some Republicans in the House and Senate have vowed to cut all federal spending back to its FY2008 level.

Bolden's AIAA speech also looked back at the shuttle program over its lifetime, including the many technical changes made to a vehicle that "is still ... experimental ... in the purest sense." Bolden flew on the shuttle four times himself, and proudly recounted that he flew on the first space shuttle mission to Russia's Mir space station as well as on the mission that deployed the Hubble Space Telescope. He paid tribute to the crews of Challenger and Columbia who lost their lives, but added that "we must also never forget the accomplishments, the joy, the knowledge and the pride this program has brought our country."

While it is "bittersweet" to see the shuttle program come to an end, Bolden said "we are thrilled to be on the cusp of a whole new era of exploration capabilities." A "true commercial capability for reaching low Earth orbit" responds to a "yearning" for routine access to space, "one of the unfilled promises" of the shuttle program, he said.

"Misconduct" In Outer Space and the Future of the Draft Code of Conduct

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 06-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

Veteran space journalist Leonard David asked several space policy experts what would constitute "misconduct" in outer space at a time when an international effort is underway to reach agreement on a "Code of Coduct for Outer Space Activities." The answers are revealed in Mr. David's Space.com column today.

In summary, Mr. David writes:

"From some experts, you get the sense that there's a quest under way for a Robert's Rules of Order for space, with a shot of Emily Post etiquette mixed in for good measure.

"Meanwhile, other analysts lean toward an approach much like Martha Stewart's outlook for tidiness - a recipe for spacefaring nations to adopt and avoid collective mayhem in the cosmos."

One of the experts interviewed for the article is Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Stimson Center in Washington, D.C. Mr. Krepon just published an essay recounting the roles that he and the Stimson Center played in initiating the idea of a Code of Conduct in lieu of a treaty banning weapons in outer space, as proposed by China and Russia.

The Stimson Center's Space Security Project, which he heads, was created in 2002 and has worked diligently domestically and internationally to find a way to help keep space "as free as possible from destabilizing and dangerous developments," in Mr. Krepon's words. The future of the Code of Conduct is unclear, however, he adds. Noting that it is "gaining adherents," he urges the Obama Administration to "somehow find the energy to add this objective to the very burdensome agenda of senior officials. If this is not possible, a rare opportunity will be missed."

Editor's note: We thank Mr. David for asking us the question, too, and publishing our reply.

The 112th Congress Begins

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 05-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), Dean of the House, swore Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) into office as Speaker of the House minutes ago, and Speaker Boehner then collectively swore in the other members of the House. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was elected as Minority Leader as expected. In the Senate, Vice President Biden (who serves as President of the Senate) administered the oath of office to 31 Senators, 16 of whom are new.

The 112th Congress begins.

Excerpts from Speaker Boehner's remarks as he assumed leadership of the House are available on the Speaker's website.

Minority Leader Pelosi's statement as she handed the gavel over to the new Speaker is available on the Democratic Leader's website. She remarked that this year is the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's inauguration as President and quoted from one of his speeches, unfortunately (for the space policy community in any case) not the one where he committed America to landing a man on the Moon by the end of the decade. This year is also the 50th anniversary of that speech -- May 25.

Budget Cuts Top Priority as 112th Congress Convenes Tomorrow

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

The 112th Congress will convene at noon tomorrow, January 5, 2011. As the House and Senate swear in new members, the House will come under Republican control with John Boehner (R-OH) as Speaker of the House. The Senate remains in Democratic hands with Harry Reid (D-NV) continuing as Majority Leader. Both parties know that reining in the federal deficit is one of the country's top priorities, but the road to agreement on how to do that is expected to be quite rocky.

The Republicans will have 242 seats in the House compared to 193 for the Democrats, roughly a 56 percent to 44 percent majority. The Senate will have 51 Democrats, two Independents who caucus with the Democrats (Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont), and 47 Republicans, essentially a 53-47 split.

While most politicians will privately admit that the only way to reduce the deficit significantly is to cut spending on "mandatory" programs - Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid - those are difficult to cut politically because they affect so many voters. Instead, they are expected to aim first at "discretionary" programs, which include NASA, NOAA, DOD and most of the federal agencies with which people are familiar.

Repealing the health care bill passed last year is another top Republican priority that is expected to pass in the House, but fail in the Senate. House Republicans yesterday released a copy of the repeal bill they plan to bring to the floor of the House for a vote next week, which also calls for writing a new health care bill that reflects Republican priorities. That virtually assures that health care reform will dominate Washington politics for at least another year.

Some Democrats, such as former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who is expected to win election by House Democrats as the Minority Leader tomorrow, believe the real issue in the 2010 elections was jobs, not deficit reduction. President Obama seems to agree and sounded optimistic as he returned from his Christmas vacation back home in Hawaii. News reports today quote the President saying that while the Republicans will "play to their base for a certain period of time," he is "pretty confident that they're going to recognize our job is to govern and make sure that we are delivering jobs for the American people and that we are creating a competitive economy for the 21st century."

Where the space program will play in all of this is anyone's guess. Space program advocates have been trying to make the case that investing in NASA, in particular, is an important element in making America competitive. The termination of the space shuttle program will mean the loss of many high tech jobs, some of which could be salvaged with a robust investment in a new rocket program. Cutting NASA's budget is a comparatively easy political move, however, so it is a toss up as to whether the pro-NASA arguments will sway Congress and the White House. The key for NASA is to get some certainty about its future human spaceflight program, which is currently caught between one law that says not to cancel the Constellation program yet and another that specifies many of the details of the replacement program. That replacement program was not exactly what the Obama Administration wanted, but was close enough to get the President's signature.

DOD and intelligence community space programs are also up in the air. Some news reports say that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will announce program cuts this Thursday. Months ago he directed the services to find $100 billion in savings over the next 5 years. The extent to which that will affect national security space programs is unclear since most of those programs are ongoing rather than being new starts, which are easier to defer or eliminate. One of the few "new starts" is the reconfigured NPOESS program, though it could be argued that it is a restructuring of an existing program rather than a new program. DOD's portion is called the Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS). Senate appropriators took a harsh stand on DWSS in their report on the FY2011 DOD bill, denying any funds for building a spacecraft and providing only $50 million for sensors. That bill never cleared the 111th Congress, but it sends a message that DOD needs to do a better job of convincing Congress that it has a solid plan for moving forward with that program. DOD has two of its legacy weather satellites awaiting launch, so it does not have the same sense of urgency as NOAA in moving forward with the restructured program.

Senate appropriators had many questions about NOAA's part of the restructured NPOESS program, too. While recommending funds for the first of NOAA's satellites, the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), the Senate committee made clear that it was not convinced that NOAA had a good overall plan either. The Continuing Resolution (CR) under which NOAA is currently operating did not provide any of the substantial additional funds requested in FY2011 for JPSS. Like most other federal agencies, NOAA is operating at its FY2010 level. All of NOAA's polar orbiting weather satellites already are in orbit, so the need to proceed quickly in building new satellites is much more pronounced than for DOD. NOAA is not precluded from proceeding with JPSS, but must do so within its existing budget.

Among the critical upcoming deadlines that will shape the debate this year are release of the FY2012 budget request, expected on February 14, a week late; deciding what to do about the FY2011 budget when the current CR expires on March 4; and the need to raise the debt ceiling, with a vote expected this spring.

The current debt limit is $14.3 billion, while U.S. debt is $13.9 billion and rising. A White House aide said it would be "catastrophic" if Congress did not raise the limit, but Republicans are expected to use the debate to force dramatic funding cuts. Republican Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) said on Meet the Press that he would not vote to raise the debt ceiling unless government spending is cut back to 2008 levels, for example. For reference, NASA's FY2008 funding level was $17.4 billion, compared to its current (FY2010) level of $18.7 billion.

Allard Commission Recommendations Still Valid, National Space Council Needed to Fix National Security Space Program

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

The recommendations of the congressionally-mandated "Allard Commission," including the need to reestablish the National Space Council, are still valid two years after they were issued. Dr. Joan Johnson-Freese, Professor of National Security Studies at the Naval War College, draws that conclusion in an article for the Joint Force Quarterly's latest issue.

The commission, named after former Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO) who wrote the legislative language that created it in the FY2007 DOD authorization act, completed its report in 2008. The commission was set up to make an independent assessment of the organization and management of national security space programs.

Chaired by retired aerospace executive A. Thomas Young, the commission made four recommendations:

  • establish and execute a national space strategy and reestablish the National Space Council, under the chairmanship of the National Security Advisor, to implement it;
  • create a senior National Security Space Authority in support of the Secretary of Defense and Director of National Intelligence;
  • establish a National Security Space Organization to consolidate the functions of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, other parts of Air Force Space Command, and the National Reconnaissance Office; and
  • adopt and implement strategies for identifying, selecting, educating, training and managing a core group of government professionals in sufficient numbers to support the nation's space acquisition responsibilities.

Johnson-Freese finds that two years after the report was issued "military space integration is still limited by organizational gridlock and resistance, with few indications of positive change on the horizon. The answer for how to change that dim future outlook remains within the Allard Report."

In particular, Johnson-Freese champions the Allard Commission's recommendation to reestablish the National Space Council under the chairmanship of the National Security Advisor. The original National Aeronautics and Space Council, created as part of the 1958 law that established NASA, was abolished by President Nixon in 1973. A National Space Council was recreated by Congress in the FY1989 NASA authorization act, and President George H.W. Bush established it by Executive Order early in his term under the leadership of Vice President Dan Quayle. The Council still exists in law, but neither President Clinton nor President George W. Bush chose to staff or fund it. President Obama pledged to reinstate it during his campaign, but has not done so. "The ability to stifle such a promised action is a tribute to the power of bureaucratic and organizational politics," says Johnson-Freese.

The Allard Commission and Johnson-Freese want the Space Council to be chaired by the National Security Advisor, instead of being a separate White House entity under the Vice President's purview as it was previously. Johnson-Freese says that putting it under the National Security Advisor "unambiguously signals an attempt to move space policy closer to the inner circle of Presidential advisors and to someone with a strong position in the security communities." If that does not happen, she continues, space issues will be considered as subsets of other issues, never rising beyond "the level of bureaucratic, staff importance. Until somebody close to the President is in charge, we will continue to rearrange deck chairs."

Transformation, not reorganization, is needed to fix the problems with the national security space program, she argues, adding that "While the presence of a National Space Council does not assure that transformation will occur, its absence almost certainly does assure that it will not."

Who Conducted the Most Launches in 2010? See Our New Fact Sheet

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 02-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

Who wins the prize for the most successful launches in 2010? Who had the most failures? See our new fact sheet, Box Score of 2010 Space Launches, to find out! A similar table for last year is also available.

Events of Interest    

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