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NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden is headed to China October 16-21. Aviation Week & Space Technology first publicly reported on the trip two weeks ago, noting that it would include discussions about potential U.S.-China cooperation in human spaceflight. In an exchange of letters with Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), the top Republican on the House appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, Bolden confirmed the dates of the trip and assured the Congressman that the talks are only introductory in nature.
Rep. Wolf has made it clear year after year that he opposes human spaceflight cooperation with China. He wrote a letter to Mr. Bolden on October 5 asking for details on the China visit and reminded the agency that Congress has not approved any such cooperation. Rep. Wolf said in the letter:
"It should go without saying that NASA has no business cooperating with the Chinese regime on human spaceflight. China is taking an increasingly aggressive posture globally, and their interests rarely intersect with ours. The U.S. intelligence community notes that China's attempts to spy on U.S. agencies are the most aggressive of all foreign intelligence organizations. China's aerospace industry for decades has provided missile technologies and equipment to rogue regimes like Iran and North Korea.
"There is no clearer indication of the gulf that exists between our two countries than the Chinese government's treatment of its own people. China routinely imprisons or places under house arrest Catholic bishops, priests and Protestant house church pastors. Their congregations are forced to gather in secret. As of July 2009, there were 689 Tibetan prisoners of conscience, 439 of whom were monks or nuns. Uyghur Muslims face persecution by the Chinese government as well. China maintains an extensive system of slave labor camps as large as that which existed in the former Soviet Union."
Mr. Bolden replied on October 8, assuring Rep. Wolf that the talks on human spaceflight are introductory only "and will not include consideration of any specific proposals for human space flight cooperation or new cooperation in any other areas of NASA's activities." Mr. Bolden went on to say that a reciprocal visit "by Chinese Government officials to NASA facilities" is being planned and such plans "will be guided by the degree of transparency and openness that is displayed during my visit." Finally, the NASA Administrator added that:
"Let me stress again that NASA's interactions with Chinese organizations will continue to be based on the principles of transparency, reciprocity, and mutual benefit and conducted with appropriate interagency coordination. NASA's interaction with Chinese entities will be in accordance with existing law and policy, and any specific future opportunities for potential cooperation will be coordinated through interagency review prior to formalization with Chinese partners. Additionally, NASA will comply with the Congressional certification requirements that pertain to prospective cooperative agreements with Chinese entities, as set forth in section 126(a) of the NASA Authorization Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-391)."
If Republicans take control of the House next month, Rep. Wolf could become the chairman of the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations subcommittee that handles NASA funding next year. U.S.-China space cooperation has been a particularly touchy subject since the late 1990s when a Republican-led House commission concluded that China was gaining militarily useful information by launching U.S.-built satellites. The "Cox Commission" findings led to a ban on exporting satellites with any U.S. components to China for launch. Suspicions about China's motives in wanting to cooperate with the United States in space have not subsided in many circles since that time. Conversely, with China now capable of human spaceflight and launching robotic probes to the Moon -- like the Chang-e 2 spacecraft launched October 1 -- others see U.S.-China space cooperation as an opportunity to be cultivated.
UPDATE: A new version of the agenda shows the starting time for the astrobiology anniversary event on Thursday has been moved forward to 8:00 am from 9:00 am. However, introductory remarks start at 8:45 and the keynote address is at 9:00 (instead of 9:10). Also, the ending time now is 5:00 pm. Click on the link below for more details. Also note that while the event is open to the public you MUST RSVP by tomorrow, October 13, if you plan to attend.
The following events may be of interest during the week. For further information, see our calendar on the right menu or click the links below.
Wednesday, October 13
Wednesday-Friday, October 13-15
Thursday, October 14
Thursday-Friday, October 14-15
Friday, October 15
President Obama signed the NASA authorization bill into law today.
In a NASA media teleconference earlier in the day, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL), and former astronaut Sally Ride commended the bipartisan achievement of passing the bill. Senator Nelson cautioned, however, that the funding still must make it through the appropriations process and repeatedly referenced the difficult financial circumstances facing the country as a substanial hurdle for the agency's FY2011 funding level.
Based on a transcript provided by NASA, in response to a question about whether the bill sufficiently funds a new heavy lift launch vehicle, he replied:
"What is in this bill is $11.5 [b]illion over the next six years anticipated, even though it's a three-year authorization, for the development and the testing of a heavy-lift rocket.
Now, if we can't develop a new rocket for $11.5 [b]illion, building on a lot of the technologies that were already developed in spending $9 [b]illion, if we can't do it for that, then we ought to question whether or not we can build a rocket.
So we are in fiscally austere times, and we have to be realistic about the spending of monies."
(Editor's note: the transcript said "millions" in each case instead of "billions.")
Later, he reminded everyone that when the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the bill that includes NASA (the Commerce-Justice-Science bill), all Republicans voted against it and other bills approved by the committee that day, not because of NASA, but because of the overall amount of spending represented by the bills. Some Senate Republicans are trying to cut government spending back to FY2008 levels, which Senator Nelson said today would be "devastating to NASA." (NASA's FY2008 funding level was $17.3 billion, compared to $19 billion requested for FY2011.) None of the 12 FY2011 regular appropriations bills has made it to the Senate floor for debate yet.
Getting an authorization bill enacted is a step forward in determining NASA's exploration future, but the next step -- getting Congress to approve the funding to implement the policy -- will be at least as difficult.
Soyuz TMA-01M successfully docked with the International Space Station at 8:01 pm EDT tonight.
NASA and Lockheed Martin are sponsoring a day-long symposium next Thursday, October 15, to celebrate 50 years of exobiology and astrobiology -- the search for life elsewhere.
As outlined in a NASA press release, in 1960, NASA established an exobiology program that over the past five decades has expanded into the field of astrobiology that is trying to answer three questions: How does life begin and evolve? Is there life beyond Earth and, if so, how can we detect it? What is the future of life on Earth and in the universe?
NASA's Viking missions to Mars, launched in 1975, were the first devoted to attempting to find life on the Red Planet. At the time, scientists concluded there was no evidence of life there, but recent discoveries by the Mars rovers and other spacecraft are reopening that line of inquiry. Lockheed Martin built the Viking spacecraft and most of the other spacecraft that have visited the planet. The United States, Russia, Europe, and Japan have sent probes to Mars, some successful, some not.
Mars is hardly the only location in our solar system with conditions that might support life: several moons of Jupiter and Saturn are high on the list. Beyond the solar system, astrophysicists are searching for other planets -- exoplanets -- that might support life. Just last week NASA and NSF announced that they found a "potentially habitable" planet orbiting the red dwarf star Gliese 581.
The October 14 symposium features astrobiology luminaries and space historians including Lynn Margulis, Baruch Blumberg, Noel Hinners, Roger Launius, Linda Billings, and Steve Benner. The full agenda and RSVP instructions are available on NASA's website.
President Obama announced today that National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones will leave his post by the end of the month. Some news reports say that while the resignation had been anticipated for some time, it was accelerated because of White House unhappiness at comments Jones made to Bob Woodward for his recent book Obama's Wars. Jones' deputy, Tom Donilon, will be the new National Security Adviser.
Soyuz TMA-01M is set for launch tonight at 7:10 pm EDT. This new version of the Soyuz spacecraft will bring three new crewmembers to the International Space Station (ISS): NASA's Scott Kelly and Russia's Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka. Two days later, they will join the three crew who are already aboard ISS: Doug Wheelock, Shannon Walker, and Fyodor Yurchikhin.
The new Soyuz features a digital upgrade, with new guidance, navigation and control devices, a new data processing device, and an improved avionics cooling system according to a graphic on NASA's website.
Soyuz TMA-01M successfully launched at 7:10 pm EDT.
I have just returned from Brussels and an excellent conference sponsored by the Institut Fran ais des Relations Internationales (IFRI) and the Secure World Foundation (SWF) on "The Continuing Story of Europe and Space Security." I was delighted to be invited to be the keynote speaker on the topic of "U.S. Space Policy: What Has Changed." For anyone who's interested, a copy of my remarks can be found on our left menu under "Marcia S. Smith's Biography and Recent Publications" or simply by clicking here. Hopefully other speakers will provide their remarks for posting on the IFRI or SWF websites and a conference summary -- under Chatham House rules -- will be available on IFRI's website soon.
Events of Interest
- AGU Fall Meeting, December 9-13, 2013, San Francisco, CA Press conferences on special topics will be webstreamed each day. See our "favorites" list. Note that times are in PST.
- NAC Audit, Fin & Analysis Cmte, December 9, 2013, NASA HQ, Washington, DC, 9:00 am - 5:00 pm ET
- Secure World Foundation panel on "Gravity" in Real Life [re the movie Gravity], December 9, 2013, Washington, DC, 12:00-2:00 pm ET
- NAC Human Expl & Ops Cmte, December 9-10, 2013, Kennedy Space Center, FL
- NAC Technology & Innovation Cmte, December 10, 2013, Kennedy Space Center, FL, 8:00 am - 5:00 pm ET
- House SS&T Committee markup of NASA termination liability bill (tentative), December 10, 2013, 2318 Rayburn House Office Building 2:00 pm ET
- NAC IT Infrastructure Cmte, December 10-11, 2013, Kennedy Space Center, FL
- FAA Commercial Space Trans Adv Cmte, December 10-11, 2013, Washington, DC
- House SS&T Sbcmte Hearing on Relationship Between Climate and Weather, December 11, 2013, 2318 Rayburn House Office Building. 10:00 am ET
- NASA Advisory Council (NAC), December 11-12, 2013, Kennedy Space Center, FL
- Senate Commerce Hrg on Weather Readiness (incl satellites), December 12, 2013, G50 Dirksen Senate Office Building, 10:30 am ET
- America's Space Futures: Defining Goals for Space Expl (Marshall Institute re its new book of that title), December 13, 2013, 2325 Rayburn House Office Building, 2:00-3:30 pm ET
Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »
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