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Three members of the International Space Station (ISS) crew are on their way back home at this minute. Soyuz TMA-20 undocked from ISS and the deorbit burn was fired at 9:30 pm EDT. Landing in Kazakhstan is expected at 10:26 pm EDT.
The three returning astronauts are Russian Dmitry Kondratyev, American Cady Coleman, and Italian Paolo Nespoli.
Three other ISS crew members remain aboard the space station, and the space shuttle Endeavour remains docked there.
NASA issued a press release a few minutes ago in advance of the media teleconference announced yesterday where NASA is going to "discuss an agency decision that will define the next transportation system to carry humans into deep space." The press release is only about the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), not the Space Launch System -- or Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle -- that has been so contentious.
The press release reports what has been widely known in space circles for months, that the MPCV will be based on the Orion spacecraft originally envisoned for the Constellation program. That's not particularly newsworthy.
The press conference will be streamed live at http://www.nasa.gov/newsaudio at 3:30 pm EDT. We'll be participating, so check back here after it's over to see if there was anything newsier.
The House Appropriations Committee approved the top-line allocations for each of its 12 subcommittees today. These so-called "302(b) allocations," referring to a section of the law that created this process, are based on the amounts approved by the House in the FY2012 budget resolution for various government functions.
The Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee, which includes NASA, received an allocation of $50.237 billion. That is $3.09 billion less than the subcommittee appropriated for FY2011 and $7.438 billion less than what President Obama requested for FY2012.
In addition to NASA, the subcommittee funds the Department of Commerce, of which NOAA is a part; the Department of Justice; the National Science Foundation; the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP); and several other offices and commissions. The subcommittee is scheduled to markup the CJS appropriations bill on July 7 at which time it will become clearer as to which agencies and programs have to absorb the cuts. Full committee markup is scheduled for July 13.
By contrast, the Defense subcommittee is allocated about 10 times that amount -- $530.025 billion. That figure is $17 billion more than FY2011. However, it is almost $9 billion less than the President requested. The Defense subcommittee is scheduled to markup its bill on June 1, with full committee mark on June 14.
The committee approved the allocations by a vote of 27-21, with all Democrats and one Republican, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), opposing it according to the National Journal (subscription required).
The Senate has not passed a budget resolution yet, and is not expected to do so. Neither chamber passed one last year and a different method was used to determine how much the subcommittees could spend.
For more information on the budget process and the steps involved in passing legislation, see our What's a Markup? fact sheet. The Congressional Research Service also has a handy report that provides more detail on the congressional budget process.
NASA's media teleconference today about its decision on the design of the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle for sending astronauts to deep space destinations in the future provided little new information.
Doug Cooke, NASA's Associate Administration for Exploration, said that the Orion spacecraft has been deemed the best approach to building a spacecraft for human spaceflight beyond low Earth orbit (LEO) and there are no major changes to the contract with Lockheed Martin. Orion was originally designed for President George W. Bush's Constellation program and work has been underway since 2006. He said that NASA had spent about $5 billion on Orion so far, but did not know how much more the program will cost or how much an individual Orion spacecraft will cost. He could provide no details on the schedule for test flights or flights with crews aboard other than agreeing with a questioner that it probably would be after 2016, the date specified in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act.
When asked why it had taken the agency so many months to make this decision to essentially continuing doing what it has been doing, Cooke said that NASA had looked at alternatives and the process took place under funding constraints resulting from the delay in NASA obtaining its FY2011 appropriations. The studies of alternatives, such as whether to use composites for the pressure vessel or a different type of abort system, were done internally, he said.
The Orion spacecraft will land in the ocean, and NASA continues to look at the pros and cons of making the entire vehicle or some of its systems reusable considering the deleterious impact of salt water on them.
Cooke did clarify that the idea of a "lifeboat" version of Orion that was announced by President Obama during his April 15, 2010 speech at Kennedy Space Center is not part of this program. That lifeboat function is associated with crews aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and this vehicle is being designed for deep space missions, he said, adding that it could be used as a backup to commercial systems for transport to or from LEO, but it would be an inefficient use of the system. Russia's Soyuz serves as the lifeboat now, he said, and commercial vehicles will provide additional lifeboat capability in the future.
Emphasizing that decisions have yet to be made on the Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle (HLLV) that presumably would launch Orion, Cooke said that he could not provide schedule information because the schedule had to be determined in an integrated manner within available budgets. "Everyone's interested in schedules, and so are we," he said, but the agency is not at a point to determine them yet.
The audio of the press conference can be heard by calling 866-452-2114, or 203-369-1218 for international callers, one hour after it ended (which would be approximatelly 5:15 pm EDT). It will be available until June 7.
Tomorrow, May 25, is the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's speech to Congress calling on the nation to commit itself to the goal of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth by the end of the decade. The speech kicked off what became the Apollo program of six crews who landed on the Moon between 1969 and 1972. Several celebratory events are planned.
NASA is sponsoring a public concert at 7:00 pm EDT at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC that will feature NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, astronauts, and "special surprise guests." Limited tickets are available on a first come, first served basis. NASA also has a brief "then and now" statement with a link to the video of JFK's speech on its website.
NASA Chief Technologist Bobby Braun will give a public lecture at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab on "Investments in Our Future: Exploring Space Through Innovation and Technology" at 7:45 pm EDT.
The National Air and Space Museum is hosting a lecture at the museum's Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles Airport outside of Washington, DC that is open to members of the National Air and Space Society. It begins at 8:00 pm EDT. The event features Apollo astronaut Gene Cernan and George Washington University's John Logsdon, an expert on JFK's role in the space program. Logsdon's new book, John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon, is available from Amazon.com.
NASA announced today that it will hold a media teleconference tomorrow, May 24, to "discuss a major agency decision that will define the next transportation system to carry humans into deep space."
NASA's plan for a new crew space transportation system has been a point of contention between Congress and the Obama Administration since the President's decision last year to rely on the commercial sector, not NASA, to build whatever systems will be used to get people to and from low Earth orbit (LEO) and the International Space Station (ISS).
Congress grudgingly went along with the Obama plan in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act with the caveat that NASA must build a large launch vehicle capable of taking 130 tons to LEO (a "heavy lift launch vehicle" or HLLV) to enable human exploration to more distant "beyond LEO" destinations. The NASA-developed system also would serve as a backup to the commercial systems for access to LEO if they do not materialize or fail.
The Obama plan was for NASA to spend several years developing technology for an HLLV, but not to decide on a design until 2015. The language in the law directs NASA to proceed immediately on a new HLLV and many members of Congress who are deeply involved in NASA issues have been very critical that NASA is not adhering to the law. NASA Administrator Bolden has made clear that he wants to start with a less capable launch vehicle that could someday evolve into the 130 ton class vehicle Congress desires. How much mass the HLLV can launch is a critical component of planning for whatever destination lies beyond LEO for U.S. human spaceflight.
NASA submitted an interim report to Congress about its plans for the HLLV, or Space Launch System as it is called in the law, and for a Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), or spacecraft, for the astronauts that the law also requires. NASA's report was not well received primarily because it warned that none of the designs it had looked at could be developed and built on the time scale required and for the amount of money authorized by the law.
The media teleconference begins at 3:30 pm EDT. Audio will be streamed at NASA's newsaudio website.
The following events may be of interest in the week ahead. For more information, check our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. Congressional schedules are subject to change; check the relevant committee's website for up to date information.
During the Week
The House and Senate are in session this week. The House is expected to consider the FY2012 National Defense Authorization Act; the House Rules Committee is expected to vote on the rule for the bill on Tuesday.
The House Appropriations Committee is expected to begin marking up FY2012 appropriations bills this week, but the two that fund most of the government's space programs -- Defense and Commerce-Justice-Science -- are not on the docket this week.
May 25 is the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's speech to Congress that set America on the path to land men on the Moon. Various invitation-only events are scheduled; let us know if you know of any public events!
Tuesday, May 24
Wednesday, May 25
Wednesday-Friday, May 25-27
Thursday, May 26
As the Endeavour crew continues its tasks while docked with the International Space Station (ISS), the ISS crew will be executing a crew rotation, with three members of the ISS crew departing the ISS while the shuttle is there.
Russian Dmitry Kondratyev, American Cady Coleman, and Italian Paolo Nespoli will undock and return to Earth on May 23 aboard their Soyuz TMA-20 spacecraft while the shuttle is still docked with the ISS.
This is the first time NASA and its Russian counterparts have approved the use of "Dual Docked Operations" (DDO). The associated challenges are described on NASASpaceflight.com. They range from technical issues involving proximity operations to asynchronous sleep cycles for the ISS and shuttle crews.
Delays in the launch of Endeavour and to the launch of Soyuz TMA-02M with its replacement ISS crew members necessitated the decision to approve this unusual procedure. Soyuz TMA-02M is now scheduled for launch on June 7 EDT (June 8 Moscow Time) with Russian Sergey Volkov, American Michael Fossum, and Japanese Satoshi Furukawa. They will arrive after the shuttle has departed; it is scheduled to land on June 1.
Meanwhile, the Endeavour crew successfully installed the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) particle physics experiment on the ISS starboard truss this morning.
NASA has submitted its market assessment for commercial crew and cargo systems. It was prepared in response to a requirement in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act.
The top Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee sent a letter to NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden today criticizing the agency's implementation of the 2010 NASA Authorization Act.
The chairmen of the full committee and of the Science and Space Subcommittee, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and their Republican counterparts, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Sen. John Boozman (R-AR) charged that NASA "has not made sufficient progress in carrying out the changes" required by the 2010 NASA Authorization Act and "has not adequately complied with a number of reporting requirements" in that Act.
The five-page letter goes on to detail the Senators' concerns about the pace with which NASA is proceeding with the direction in the law to build a new crew transportation system and requests that a senior agency official "who has first hand knowledge of NASA's efforts to implement policy changes" in the law brief them every two weeks beginning the week of May 30, 2011. It then requests specific information about the reports that were required by the law, such as the names of the senior NASA officials(s) responsible for preparing, reviewing and approving them, various related studies that were "purportedly" presented to NASA while the reports were underway, and copies of all documents and communications, including emails, discussing different aspects of the reports.
The Senators also request very specific information about NASA's work on the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Space Launch System required by the Act.
The subcommittee held a hearing today on the relevance of the space program to national imperatives. During the hearing, Sen. Hutchison, in particular, voiced continued concern that NASA is not implementing the law. A SpacePolicyOnline.com summary of the hearing will be posted soon.
Events of Interest
- American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting, December 15-19, 2014, San Francisco, CA.
- HAPPY NEW YEAR!, January 1, 2015
- American Meteorological Society (AMS) Annual Meeting, January 4-8, 2015, Phoenix, AZ
- American Astronomical Society Winter Meeting, January 4-8, 2015, Seattle, WA
- AIAA SciTech 2015, January 5-9, 2015, Kissimmee, FL
- NEW DATE SpaceX CRS-5 Pre-Launch Briefings, January 5, 2015, Kennedy Space Center, FL, times TBD
- NEW DATE SpaceX CRS-5 Launch, January 6, 2015, Cape Canaveral, FL, 6:12 am EST
- 114th Congress Convenes, January 6, 2015, 12:00 pm EST
- SBAG, January 6-7, 2015, Phoenix, AZ
- NEW DATE SpaceX CRS-5 Arrival at ISS, January 8, 2015 (if launch goes on January 6)
- 2nd annual International Space Conference, January 8-9, 2015, Noida, India
- ASTRORECON 2015, January 8-10, 2015, Phoenix, AZ
- NASA Advisory Council (NAC) Heliophysics Sbcmte, January 9, 2015, NASA HQ, Washington, DC, 2:00-4:00 pm EST
Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »
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