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Rogers to Chair House Appropriations Committee

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) won the endorsement of the House Republican Steering Committee to chair the House Appropriations Committee in the next Congress according to The Hill newspaper. He beat Jerry Lewis (R-CA), the ranking member of the committee, for the top spot. Rep. Lewis would have needed a term-limit waiver to continue on the committee. Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) also sought the job, but did not succeed.

Press Conference on Falcon 9 and Dragon Mission Expected About 3:30 Today

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

NASA and SpaceX will hold a press conference from NASA's Kennedy Space Center at about 3:30 pm EST according to a tweet from NASA's Bob Jacobs. SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket and its Dragon recoverable capsule earlier today as part of NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. Dragon splashed down in the Pacific 500 miles west of Mexico just after 2:00 pm EST today. The press conference will be covered live on NASA TV.

House of Representatives Adopts New Approach to Scheduling Its Meetings

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

Today the House released its schedule for the 1st session of the 112th Congress, which will begin on January 5. The most interesting development is a new approach to scheduling adopted by the incoming House Republican leadership that will have longer work weeks in Washington, but fewer of them, and time set aside for committees to meet without being interrupted for floor votes.

Incoming Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) explained the changes in a Dear Colleague letter. He said the new approach focuses on the quality not the quantity of legislation considered on the House floor. Noting that 70 percent of the 2,185 bills considered by the House in the 110th Congress were debated under the suspension calendar, Cantor added that more half of those bills "named a post office, congratulated an individual or team, or supported the designation of a particular day, week or month." The Republican leadership is banning congratulatory resolutions, while votes on naming Post Offices will be held less often.

The calender intersperses "D.C. work weeks" and "constituent work weeks." Rep. Cantor said the "guaranteed five-day constituent work weeks" at least once a month will help Members stay in touch with the concerns of their constituents. The result will mean 123 days and 32 weeks in session. The number of weeks is 11 percent less than usual for the 1st session of a Congress, which the Majority Leader-elect said would mean less travel for Members and "potential savings to Members' Representational Allowance."

Other key changes include:

  • making legislation available three days prior to committee markup and three days prior to consideration on the floor;
  • scheduling floor votes to begin no earlier than 1:00 pm and no later than 7:00 pm on the middle days of a D.C. work week, and no earlier than 6:30 pm and no later than 3:00 pm on the first and last days of a D.C. work week, so Members will have more certainty in their schedules and committees can schedule their meetings to be held at times when they will not be interrupted for votes;
  • acknowledging that it has been many years since Congress adjourned in early October -- the typical target date for adjournment that is set at the beginning of a session -- and selecting a more realistic December 8 target adjournment date for the 1st session of the 112th Congress; and
  • posting committee attendance and votes online.

Hall Slated to Chair House Science and Technology Committee

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

Politico reports that Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) has been chosen to chair the House Science and Technology Committee in the next Congress. Rep. Hall, a Democrat turned Republican, is a strong supporter of human spaceflight and NASA in general. The recommendation still must be voted upon by the full Republican caucus, but the vote is considered a formality. The octogenarian is a beloved figure in the aerospace community.

Falcon 9/Dragon Press Conference About To Start

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

Watch the press conference on the successful flight of Space X's Falcon 9 rocket and its Dragon spacecraft live on NASA TV.

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden just issued this statement.

SpaceX To Decide Tonight About Launch Tomorrow

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 07-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

SpaceX released the following statement about the rescheduled Falcon 9 launch tomorrow. The message is that there are two cracks in the engine nozzle of the second stage engine (rather than one as reported yesterday) and they are still deciding on the path forward. They will announce tonight whether the launch will take place tomorrow or not.

Here is the text of the SpaceX announcement:

UPDATE: COTS Demo 1 Launch Activities

SpaceX engineers are analyzing two small cracks in the aft end of the 2nd stage engine nozzle extension. These cracks are in a region near the end of the nozzle extension where there is very little stress and so they would not cause a flight failure by themselves. However, further investigation is warranted to ensure that these cracks are not symptomatic of a more serious problem.

A decision on whether or not to attempt launch on Wednesday will be provided this evening [Tuesday].

The bell shaped Merlin Vacuum nozzle extension is made of niobium sheet alloy, measures 9 feet tall and 8 feet at the base diameter, and thins out to about twice the thickness of a soda can at the end. Although made of an exotic refractory alloy metal with a melting temperature high enough to boil steel, this component is geometrically the simplest part of the engine.

It is important to note that the niobium nozzle extension increases the efficiency of the Merlin engine in vacuum and is installed by default on all upper stage Merlin engines, but that efficiency increase is not required for this mission. The nozzle extension is most helpful when launching very heavy satellites or to maximize throw mass to distant destinations like Mars. The most likely path forward is that we will trim off the thinnest portion of the nozzle extension, which is where the cracks are located, perform a thorough systems check and resume launch preparation.

Patrick Kennedy Wants Commitment to "Inner Space" on 50th Anniversary of His Uncle's Moon Speech

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 06-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

On May 25, 2011, the nation will celebrate the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's famous 1961 speech to Congress on Urgent National Needs that included the call to land a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth before the end of the decade. To commemorate the anniversay of that "Moon speech," JFK's nephew, Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), is proposing a national commitment to researching "inner space" instead of outer space.


In an interview with The Hill newspaper, outgoing Rep. Kennedy explained his reasoning. Rep. Kennedy has battled with addiction problems throughout his life and announced soon after the death of his father, Sen. Edward Kennedy, that he would not run for reelection. Instead, he wants to focus on mental health issues and told The Hill that he is discussing with his cousin, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, the idea of using the anniversary of her father's speech committing the nation to exploring the Moon to call for a similar commitment to research on mental health, or "inner space."

"It's a scientific endeavor of equal significance, if not greater, and of equal if not greater complexity," Rep. Kennedy is quoted as saying.

Falcon 9 Launch Slips to No Earlier Than Wednesday

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 06-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The first COTS launch of SpaceX's Falcon 9 and its Dragon spacecraft will slip to Wednesday at least according to NASA.

The delay is due to discovery of a 3-inch long crack in the engine nozzle on the Falcon 9's second stage. The company is considering its options -- repairing it or getting a replacement from California -- and NASA promised more information about the launch schedule when it's available.

"Sputnik Moment is Back" Says President Obama

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 06-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

It's not a rallying cry for the space program, but President Obama invoked the impact that the 1957 launch of Sputnik had on the United States in a speech today about the U.S. economy and workforce.

"In 1957, just before this college opened, the Soviet Union beat us into space by launching a satellite known as Sputnik. And that was a wake-up call that caused the United States to boost our investment in innovation and education -- particularly in math and science. And as a result, once we put our minds to it, once we got focused, once we got unified, not only did we surpass the Soviets, we developed new American technologies, industries, and jobs.

"So 50 years later, our generation's Sputnik moment is back. This is our moment. If the recession has taught us anything, it's that we cannot go back to an economy that's driven by too much spending, too much borrowing, running up credit cards, taking out a lot of home equity loans, paper profits that are built on financial speculation. We've got to rebuild on a new and stronger foundation for economic growth.

"We need to do what America has always been known for: building, innovating, educating, making things. We don't want to be a nation that simply buys and consumes products from other countries. We want to create and sell products all over the world that are stamped with three simple words: "Made In America." That's our goal."

He made the speech at the Forsyth Technical Community College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The White House said the President chose that venue because Forsyth exemplifies "not just how America came to lead the world in the 20th Century, but how it can regain that status unambiguously," pointing to the community college's success in granting degrees in fields needed for 21st Century industries.

UPDATE: Setback for Russia's GLONASS System

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 05-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: This is updated with further details from RIA Novosti.

Russia's GLONASS navigation satellite system suffered a setback today when three satellites were lost in a failure of their Proton launch vehicle.

The GLONASS satellites are launched in groups of three. What caused the Proton to fail is under investigation, but Russia's Itar-TASS news agency quoted an unnamed Russian aerospace industry official as saying "The rocket's engine gave a much bigger impetus than planned, and the orbiting unit separated at an altitude much higher than the designated one."

The Voice of Russia website downplayed the effect of the loss on the satellite system, which is conceptually analogous to the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS). Like GPS, 24 operational satellites are needed for a fully functioning system. For many years, Russia could not maintain that number, but it recently became a governmental priority. Although Voice of Russia reports that there are 26 GLONASS satellites in orbit including "two in reserve," Aviation Week points out that "two are spares and the other four are not operational." Thus the constellation is still short of the 24 needed for global, three-dimensional coverage.

Russian news agency RIA Novosti added that the satellites fell into the Pacific Ocean 15,000 kilometers north of Honolulu. That news source says that three of the on-orbit GLONASS satellites are not functional, rather than four as reported by Aviation Week. It does confirm that the three lost today were intended to complete the operational network.

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