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UPDATE: NASA will air a press conference on NASA TV at noon EDT on Sunday, April 13, with an update on the mission's status.
NASA reported late last night (EDT) that a backup computer on the exterior of the International Space Station (ISS) is malfunctioning. If the problem cannot be overcome by Monday, SpaceX's CRS-3 cargo flight to the ISS could be delayed.
NASA posted on its website that the computer, called a Multiplexer-Demultiplexer (MDM), is not responding to commands. MDMs control some of the systems associated with robotic systems like Canadarm2, which is needed to grapple SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft and move it a docking port. Canadarm2 itself is fine and the primary MDM also is fine. Only the backup MDM is affected.
If NASA cannot get it to work, a spacewalk will be needed to replace it, NASA said. That would mean a delay in the SpaceX launch of its third operational cargo mission to ISS, CRS-3.
The launch was originally scheduled for March 16, but was delayed because of a fire at an Air Force radar tracking site at Cape Canaveral that also delayed a national security space launch.
In the meantime, NASA and SpaceX continue to work toward an on-time launch of SpaceX CRS-3 at 4:58 pm EDT on Monday. If the launch proceeds as planned, SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft would arrive at the ISS early Wednesday morning EDT.
Check back here for updates as they become available.
Russia’s official news agency Itar-Tass reported today that Russian President Vladimir Putin will talk with the International Space Station (ISS) crew tomorrow (April 11) by videoconference. Currently there are three Russians, two Americans and a Japanese aboard ISS. All seems well in U.S.-Russian space cooperation. Is it?
Space aficionados in Russia, the United States, and around the globe are preparing to commemorate the anniversary of when Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to orbit the Earth on April 12, 1961. This year is also the 80th anniversary of Gagarin’s birth (he died in a MIG crash in1968). As that celebration nears, space cooperation seems to be proceeding smoothly, but what happened to the news last week that NASA is suspending interactions with Russia other than for the ISS program because of Russia’s actions in Ukraine?
Here’s what we know today.
The news that NASA was suspending interactions with Russia – except for operations of ISS – came as quite a surprise and generated a lot of media attention. SpacePolicyOnline.com since has asked many questions of Administration officials (including NASA) and we have been asked many questions by you. Here are the most often-asked questions and our answers. It is an evolving situation – things could change at any time --but this is what we can say as of April 10, 2014.
Why did NASA do this?
Then why is NASA the only agency in the headlines?
Are operations of the International Space Station in jeopardy?
Then why did NASA’s official statement devote most of its text to a rant against Congress for not providing sufficient funding for the commercial crew program?
Why did NASA post its official statement on a Google+ page and announce it via Twitter instead of using regular news releases?
What other NASA programs or activities are affected?
Are there exemptions for any of those?
So what’s changed in NASA-Russia interactions?
Since so little has changed, this seems to be a tempest in a teapot. Is it just a ruse by NASA to get Congress to fund commercial crew?
Is this the first time NASA has been drawn into geopolitical disputes?
Is Russia the only example of geopolitics mixing with the space program?
What happens next?
The Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee (SS&T) this morning approved a revised version of a new NASA authorization bill, H.R. 4412. The text adopted today contains significant differences from what was posted on the committee's website yesterday. Among the changes for NASA's human spaceflight program: this version does not prohibit spending on development of the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) and a requirement is added for an independent analysis of the Mars 2021 flyby mission championed by House SS&T committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX).
The version adopted today is called an "amendment in the nature of a substitute" or a "manager's amendment" that replaces the previous text. Subcommittee Chairman Steve Palazzo (R-MS) and ranking member Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) lauded each other for their ability to reach "true bipartisan agreement" on the text, but both agreed that more work needs to be done to "strengthen" the bill before it takes the next step -- markup before the full committee. No date was announced for full committee markup. (Not sure what a "markup" is? See our fact sheet: What's a Markup? -- Answer's to That and Other Legislative Mysteries.)
Two sections Palazzo specifically mentioned as in need of more work concern Space Act Agreements and Advanced Booster Competition. Edwards noted that she wants a bill that covers more years; the funding recommendations in this bill are only for one year (FY2014, already underway). She also wants more discussion about NASA's education and Earth science activities "and a range of other topics."
The tone of the markup today was completely different from last year, which took place amid intense partisan discord throughout Capitol Hill. At that time Palazzo and Edwards had completely different bills. Edwards' bill was rejected on a party-line vote and Palazzo's bill was approved on a party-line vote. The bill never moved out of committee, however. Instead, the process is starting anew this year and bipartisanship is the watchword. Only one dissenting voice was heard at the subcommittee markup today, that of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who objects to the bill's focus on the goal of landing humans on Mars. The bill was approved by voice vote, and it did not appear that any "nays" were spoken, so his objections apparently were not sufficient to cause him to vote against the bill.
In their remarks, Palazzo and Edwards highlighted the human spaceflight sections of the bill which require NASA to submit to Congress an "exploration roadmap" that clearly states that the goal of the human spaceflight program is landing people on Mars and outlining the steps to achieve that goal. Palazzo said the bill "makes absolutely clear that NASA's goal for the human space flight program should be to send humans to Mars. It is also the Committee's intent to be clear that proposals that cannot be proven essential to a Mars mission be removed from this portfolio."
That probably is a reference to ARM, which committee Republicans opposed as recently as yesterday's version of this bill. However, the revised version approved today omits the section that would have prohibited NASA from spending money on developing ARM. Instead it requires NASA to submit more details about the mission. Whether or not ARM is essential to sending people to Mars is a matter of opinion. NASA asserts that ARM is essential to that goal because it will take place in cis-lunar space (between the Earth and Moon), a "proving ground" that is close enough to Earth for astronauts to return in an emergency.
Edwards agreed that Mars is the goal, but her take on the legislation is that it gives NASA the responsibility for "deciding the pathway forward" to get there. The common denominator is that both Palazzo and Edwards want the exploration roadmap that will define specific capabilities and technologies needed to land people on Mars. NASA is required to submit the plan within 180 days of when the bill become law.
Rohrabacher disagreed with the goal of landing humans on Mars, at least as it is envisioned in the bill. He objected to tying the U.S. government space program so closely to such a goal. He said the odds are that resources will be wasted: "When you try to cross a bridge too far, someone will get soaked" and it will be "the U.S. taxpayer."
Other differences from yesterday's version include the following:
Palazzo says in his statement that the bill seeks to limit U.S. dependence on Russia and "allows NASA to better focus its efforts on once more launching American astronauts on American rockers from American soil." He also said it makes clear that SLS and Orion "are top priorities for Congress and the American people" as is the James Webb Space Telescope.
In a combative hearing today (April 8, 2014) before the House appropriations subcommittee that funds his agency, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden displayed anger and exasperation, but stayed on message – NASA needs full funding for the commercial crew program this year.
In a break with tradition, the annual hearing before the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee on NASA’s budget request was not solely focused on the budget. The first hour of today’s three-and-a-half hour hearing was devoted to a report by the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) on security at NASA and its field centers. CJS subcommittee chairman Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) essentially told NASA to commission the study last year because of his concerns about the access that foreign nationals, especially Chinese, have to NASA facilities.
The NAPA committee was chaired by former Attorney General and former Pennsylvania Governor Richard Thornburgh. It issued 27 recommendations and, as Thornburgh testified today, NASA agrees with and is implementing all of them. Nevertheless, Wolf and other subcommittee members used the opportunity to criticize NASA, especially its decision to categorize the report as “Sensitive but Unclassified” (SBU) so that it cannot be made public. Only a short summary is in the public domain.
Subcommittee member John Culberson (R-TX), rumored to be in line to take over chairmanship of the subcommittee after Wolf retires at the end of the year, charged that NASA gave it an SBU classification because it was “embarrassing.”
When it was Bolden’s turn to testify, he denied that characterization. He insisted the report revealed potential vulnerabilities at NASA that he did not want made public. Wolf called the SBU classification a “blunt instrument” and wondered why NASA could not have redacted potentially damaging information and released the rest of the report. It was a bruising exchange and Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA) made it a point to elaborate on Bolden’s decades of public service as a military pilot, astronaut, and U.S. Marine Corps Major General to make it clear that Bolden is committed to protecting the nation’s security.
The next two-and-a-half hours were no less confrontational, however. Many, many topics were covered, but by far the most contentious was debate over NASA’s commercial crew program. Bolden is laser focused on convincing Congress to fund the full $848 million request for commercial crew this year. The debate has special significance now because of the tense geopolitical relationship between the United States and Russia. While the International Space Station (ISS) is not affected by last week’s Administration policy decision to limit U.S.-Russian interactions – the ISS is specifically exempted – NASA is using the situation to drive home the need for American systems to take American astronauts to and from the ISS so NASA is not dependent on Russia.
Bolden stated his understanding of how much money Congress has approved for commercial crew in the past several years compared to the request. Wolf had different numbers and challenged Bolden’s account. The two threw down the gauntlet to each other to meet, with their staffs, to sort out whose numbers are correct, but the exchange became quite personal.
Wolf accused Bolden of misleading people about Congress’s support for commercial crew. At that point – after the hour of listening to criticism of how NASA handles foreign access to its centers and now hearing Wolf accuse him of misleading people – Bolden clearly had had enough. “I’m tired of having my integrity impugned,” he exclaimed. Though the discussion briefly moved on to another topic, Bolden was still smarting. After answering an unrelated question about the James Webb Space Telescope he said “If someone’s going to call me a liar, I take that personally.”
Wolf replied that no one had called Bolden a liar. After a few more minutes of unrelated discussion, Bolden apologized for losing his temper. [UPDATE: At a hearing the next day with Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, Wolf also swore her in while assuring her that his decision to do so had nothing to do with her or her Department. Instead he referenced this hearing, saying that "maybe everything wasn't as accurate as was said... I think it's important that there be integrity when people come up; they just tell ... the truth. .... I'm going to send members information so you can see what I'm talking about and that's why we swear people in...."]
Throughout it all, however, Bolden kept his eye on the ball – insisting on the need for full funding of the request for commercial crew to reduce U.S. dependence on Russia.
Some of the other substantive topics of discussion included the following.
It was a rancorous hearing, but Culberson insisted to Bolden that “you’ve got no better group of friends up here than this subcommittee.” That may well be true – NASA is quite popular on Capitol Hill – but it was not all that obvious today.
Note: This article was updated with Wolf's comments at the hearing with Department of Commerce Secretary Pritzker on April 9, 2014.
A copy of the 2014 NASA authorization bill, H.R. 4412, that will be marked up by the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee tomorrow is posted on the committee's website. From a policy perspective, there seem to be only minor changes from the version approved by the committee last year, but a major sticking point -- funding levels -- seems to be resolved.
Last year's bill was approved by the committee on a party line vote (11-9) on July 10, 2013. The most contentious issue was the funding level in the bill -- $16.865 billion for FY2014 compared to the $18.1 billion recommended in a Democratic alternative introduced by Rep. Donna Edwards. NASA's earth science program was particularly targeted for cuts -- about one-third of its request. The committee's recommendations by budget line item are summarized in our fact sheet on NASA's FY2014 budget request.
Funding recommendations are not likely to be an issue In the new bill. It recommends funding for only one year, FY2014, which is already in progress and the funding levels are identical to appropriated amounts. The only difference is that the authorization bill specifies how much of the funding in the Space Operations account is for the International Space Station (ISS) program -- $2.984 billion. The Consolidated Appropriations Act that includes NASA's FY2014 funding did not break down how the $3.778 billion for Space Operations should be allocated.
This is not a comprehensive analysis, but a quick glance reveals only minor differences from a policy perspective.
Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) vowed today that she will “work her earrings off” for NASA. As for President Obama’s “spartan” FY2015 NASA budget request, she said “it was well intentioned, but I consider it advisory” and will try to get the agency at least as much as it got for FY2014.
Speaking to the Maryland Space Business Roundtable, Mikulski exuded enthusiasm for NASA, as well as NOAA, the civilian space program overall, and innovation and discovery generally. Maryland is home to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, NOAA headquarters, other government science agencies like the National Institutes of Health, and many aerospace businesses, large and small.
She made clear that her interests in science and technology are broad and she wants to promote “an innovation budget, a discovery budget, in space science, in life science, in energy science and in green science, I want America to lead the way.”
As for NASA, she noted that the President’s request for FY2015 is less than the FY2014 appropriations and advised the audience: “don’t panic, help and hope is on the way.” “My goal for NASA is to make sure we’re at least at the 2014 level and if we can find more money I will take you above that.” The President is requesting $17.461 billion for FY2015, $186 million less than the FY2014 appropriation of $17.647 billion.
She singled out a few programs for special mention – including the James Webb Space Telescope, satellite servicing, extension of International Space Station operations to 2024, and launches of cargo missions to ISS from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia just over the border with Maryland – but her passion was boundless.
She had two strong messages – one for the space community and one for Congress.
The space community needs to “tell the story about what great work you do” so the public will be the ones saying these are the agencies that need to be funded. From advances in mammography to creating an astronomy book in Braille so blind children can learn about the universe, she extolled the virtues of investing in NASA for down-to-Earth benefits.
Regarding Congress, she repeated that the key is to “change the tone to change the tide.” She wants civility restored to the process, with negotiations taking place “between each other and not in the press." She cited the work she and her Republican ranking member, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), did with their House counterparts in December and January in reaching agreement on the FY2014 Consolidated Appropriations bill as an example of success.
That bill was signed into law on January 17, 2014, three and a half months into the fiscal year. She has an “ambitious” goal to do better for FY2015 – to complete all 12 regular appropriations bills before FY2015 begins on October 1. She added that 1996 is the last time the appropriations process was completed on schedule. For this year: “No lame duck session,” she exclaimed.
She ended by telling the audience of government, industry, academic, and non-profit aerospace professionals that “I am so proud of you.”
UPDATE: The room for Tuesday's House Appropriations CJS subcommittee hearing on NASA has changed. Now in 2359 Rayburn.
The following events may be of interest in the week ahead. The House and Senate are in session.
During the Week
It's a busy week in Congress as they try to make progress on a number of legislative issues before going on their Passover/Easter break next week. Not only are there a number of interesting congressional hearings on tap, but the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee will mark up a new NASA authorization bill on Wednesday, April 9. The bill doesn't have a number yet and the draft text is not posted on the committee's website so far, but the true test will come during the markup to see what amendments are offered. The markup begins at 9:00 am ET and only one hour is scheduled (there's a hearing on a different topic in the same room that begins at 10:00 am), suggesting that little debate is expected. Later that day, across Capitol Hill, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will mark up H.R. 2140 (Heinrich) at 2:30 pm ET. Its purpose is to improve the transition between experimental permits and commercial licenses for commercial reusable vehicles.
As for hearings, of special note are the House Appropriations CJS hearing on NASA's FY2015 budget request on Tuesday morning, which will also hear from former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh who chaired a study that looked at security (as in access by foreign nationals) at NASA's centers. The next day it has a hearing on the budget request for the Department of Commerce, which includes NOAA. Also on Wednesday, the Senate Commerce Committee's Science and Space subcommittee will hold a hearing on From Here to Mars that includes Susan Eisenhower among the witnesses. On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations CJS subcommittee will hear from the Department of Commerce, and the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold its annual posture hearing on the Air Force, which probably will include more discussion of U.S. reliance on Russian rocket engines for the Atlas 5.
All of that is happening on Capitol Hill, but tomorrow (Monday, April 7), the action will be out at the University of Maryland conference center where Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) will speak to the Maryland Space Business Roundtable. One of NASA's biggest supporters in Congress, she is also one of the most powerful Senators as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee in addition to chairing the appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA and NOAA.
Here are the events we know about as of Sunday afternoon.
Monday, April 7
Tuesday, April 8
Wednesday, April 9
Thursday, April 10
Mary Kicza, NOAA Assistant Administrator for Satellite and Information Services (NESDIS), will retire from government service this summer.
NESDIS is responsible for NOAA's weather/environmental satellite programs. Today that includes the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) system and the Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite (POES) system, though the latter is due to be replaced by the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) beginning in 2017. NOAA is working on a few other satellite programs including Jason-3, DSCOVR, and Cosmic-2.
Kicza has led satellite programs at NOAA through difficult times. NOAA and DOD polar orbiting weather satellite systems were supposed to be combined into the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), but the White House terminated the effort in 2010 after a decade and a half of cost overruns and schedule slippage. The divorce between NOAA and DOD led to the JPSS program, which faced its own cost growth challenges. NOAA since has downscaled the program (partially by shifting responsibility for some sensors to NASA), but at the moment it seems to be an on even keel.
NOAA Administrator Kathy Sullivan said that Kicza will leave "some big shoes to fill" after she retires in July (her last day will be in June). Mark Paese, who recently joined NOAA as NESDIS Deputy Assistant Administrator, will serve in an acting capacity until a replacement is named.
An engineer, Kicza had a long career at NASA before joining NOAA. Among her many positions, she was NASA's Associate Administrator for Biological/Physical Research (when NASA had a separate Office of Biological and Physical Research) and Associate Deputy Administrator for Systems Integration.
Her decision to retire was first reported by Space News and confirmed by NOAA.
The Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee will mark up the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2014 next week.
The committee announced this afternoon that the markup will be at 9:00 am ET on Wednesday, April 9, in 2318 Rayburn House Office Building. A draft of the bill is not posted on the committee's website yet and no bill number has been assigned.
Last year, the House SS&T Committee and its Senate counterpart, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, each marked up separate and very different versions of a 2013 NASA Authorization Act: H.R. 2687 and S. 1317. Approved by committee on partisan lines in each case, neither piece of legislation advanced beyond committee approval (the next step would have been for the bills to be reported from committee; neither was). Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) introduced a Democratic version of a NASA authorization bill in the House (H.R. 2616) and offered it as an amendment to H.R. 2687 during markup, but it was defeated on party lines.
The major difference between Democrats and Republicans on both sides of the Hill was the amount of funding allocated to NASA. Republicans wanted a comparatively low figure, while Democrats wanted more.
For the House SS&T committee, the total for NASA in FY2014 would have been $16.865 billion, which would have stayed within House-approved budget caps approved early last year in the House budget resolution. The Senate budget resolution was based on a different philosophy and would have provided much more money for the government over the next 10 years than the House. The Senate version of the 2013 NASA authorization bill would have allocated $18.1 billion for NASA for FY2014. For a summary of funding levels recommended in the House- and Senate-committee approved bills, see our fact sheet on NASA's FY2014 budget request.
Subsequently, in December the House and Senate jointly agreed to budget caps for FY2014 and FY2015 about half way between what each chamber had separately approved. Now, with the cap for FY2015 already agreed to by both chambers, the chances for agreement on a NASA authorization bill are improved, though far from certain.
Two policy areas of disagreement between the House and Senate were that the House bill would have prohibited spending any money on the Asteroid Redirect Mission (the Senate bill was silent) and the House bill would have cut NASA's earth science budget significantly (about 30 percent) from the request while the Senate bill recommended a much smaller cut. House committee Republicans argue that other agencies have responsibilities for studying the Earth and therefore this should not a focus of NASA's activities.
Wednesday's markup will be just one step on a path to pass a 2014 NASA authorization act. Unless it is very noncontroversial and can be taken up by the House under suspension of the rules (like the Weather Forecasting Improvement Act passed last week), getting time for floor debate could be another hurdle. This is an election year and the number of legislative days is dwindling. Nonetheless it is a step, assuming that the subcommittee approves it. Doing so on a bipartisan rather than partisan basis would improve its chances of making it through the rest of the process. Only one hour has been scheduled for the markup suggesting that there is broad agreement on it already.
Susan Eisenhower is one of four witnesses at a Senate hearing next week on "From Here to Mars."
Eisenhower is the granddaughter of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. She and her husband, Roald Sagdeev, former director of Russia's Institute for Space Research (IKI, which conducts Russia's space science program), co-authored a book on U.S. - Soviet space cooperation through 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed. She then authored another book on post-Cold War space cooperation. (She also wrote a book on how she and her husband met and fell in love while the Cold War was still gong on). On March 20, she was a guest on NPR discussing "what's next for Russia's relations with the West." Considering the evolving situation with NASA and Russian space cooperation, her testimony could be especially interesting.
Joining her are NASA's Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaier; former astronaut Leroy Chiao; and Jeff Manber, President of Nanoracks.
The hearing before the Science and Space Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee is on Wednesday, April 9, at 10:00 am ET in 253 Russell Senate Office Building. The description of the hearing provided by the committee suggests that the focus is international cooperation, though it will also cover NASA exploration strategy and commercial space efforts. It states that space exploration has been a proven model for international cooperation, but "troubled U.S.-Russia relations, alternative mission destinations [for human spaceflight], and a strengthening Chinese space program may complicate international cooperation."
The hearing will be webcast on the committee's website.
Events of Interest