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Doctors Continue To Be Upbeat about Rep. Giffords

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

Doctors at the University Medical Center in Tucson gave another upbeat briefing today on the condition of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Dr. Peter Rhee, head of trauma, and Dr. Michael Lemole, chief of neurosurgery, were both enthusiastic about the progress Rep. Giffords is making, though also cautious that there is still a long way to go. Four other victims of the shooting are in fair condition at the hospital and one is being discharged today, they reported. Six people were killed in Saturday's attack on Rep. Giffords while she held a constituent event in Tucson.

They confirmed what President Obama announced in his speech in Tucson last night that Rep. Giffords had opened her eyes just after he and Mrs. Obama visited her. Dr. Lemole spoke about it from a medical standpoint. He explained that it demonstrated that not only is her brain functioning in a manner where she can follow commands, which they knew, but that the "arousal center" that tells the body to awaken also is functioning. He was present when she opened her eyes along with family members, including her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, and Members of Congress. (Other reports identified the latter as Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL)).

Lemole said that medically speaking it also indicated that Rep. Giffords is becoming aware of her surroundings. Today they are doing "aggressive physical therapy" and have her sitting up "dangling from the side of the bed," which gives them the opportunity to determine the strength in her legs. They were delighted to see that she is able to lift both legs on command. The bullet tore through the left side of her brain, which controls movement on the right side of her body, so the fact that she could move both legs is very encouraging.

The next major medical milestone will be removing her breathing tube, which will allow doctors to assess her ability to speak. Dr. Rhee said they might remove it in the next few days, but was cautious about the timing. The doctors made it clear they are concerned about the potential for "backsliding" or the development of other medical issues -- such as blood clots -- if they move too quickly.

In response to a question, Dr. Lemole said that miracles happen every day in medicine and doctors sometimes like to think it is their doing, but they know full well that "a lot of medicine is outside our control."

NASA ReportsTo Congress on the HLV and Crew Vehicle Reference Designs

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

As required by section 309 of the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, NASA has submitted a report to Congress on its reference designs for a new Space Launch System (SLS), more commonly known as a Heavy Lift Vehicle, and a new Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV). However, they do not meet the budget and schedule goals of that Act, according to the agency.

Sounding a positive note amid the continuing budget uncertainty, the report begins by stating that "This is a time of opportunity for NASA to shape a promising future for the Nation's space program. Today it is no longer a question of IF we will explore, but how."

Emphasizing that the guidance received from the NASA Administrator is that the systems be "affordable, sustainable, and realistic," the report goes on to say that NASA studies to date have not yet identified "heavy lift and capsule architectures that would both meet all SLS requirements and these goals." Instead, the agency has selected reference designs for both vehicles that they believe most closely align with the requirements of the Act, but "to be clear, neither Reference Vehicle Design currently fits the projected budget profiles nor the schedule goals" provided in the Act.

In particular, a first flight in 2016 does not appear possible within realistic budget assumptions, NASA says.

STS-133 Now Scheduled for February 24

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

At a press conference this afternoon, NASA officials announced that the new launch date for STS-133 (Discovery) is February 24. They also said that the launch date for STS-134 (Endeavour) may slip to April 18, and they are "chatting" about a late August date for the final shuttle mission, STS-135.

The Discovery launch has been delayed since November 5 first because of a gas leak, and then because of cracks that were discovered in "stringers" on the External Tank (ET). Space shuttle program manager John Shannon described in great detail the detective work shuttle engineers undertook to determine the root cause of the stringer problems -- low fracture toughness combined with assembly stresses. They are installing "radial blocks" on the stringers and are confident that it will resolve the issue. He later added that they expect that the ET for the STS-135 mission will have the same problems and require the same fix, but the tank for STS-134 is from an earlier lot and likely is not affected. NASA plans to do a tanking test for STS-134 and then x-ray the side of the ET that is accessible on the launch pad to confirm that it is OK. That would slip the launch date for STS-134 from April 1 to April 18.

STS-134 at one time was expected to be the final shuttle mission, but Congress included language in the 2010 NASA authorization act directing NASA to fly one more flight -- the "launch on need" mission. Outside the agency, that mission has been called STS-135 for many months, but internally, NASA has been referring to it as STS-335 because it was a contingency mission. NASA Associate Administrator for Space Flight Bill Gerstenmaier said at the press conference that NASA now considers that a "real" mission and will refer to it as STS-135 internally, too. NASA is "mentally shifting gears," he said. He responded to a question about how long the shuttle program can continue budgetarily by pointing out that currently the agency has enough funds though April, which would cover STS-133 and STS-134. The agency will have to wait to see how much funding Congress provides after the current Continuing Resolution expires on March 4. June 28 is the nominal launch date for STS-135, but International Space Station (ISS) Program Manager Mike Sufferdini said that he would like to fly late in the fiscal year to allow as many Orbital Replacement Units (ORUs) -- spare parts -- to be ready for launch as possible. He said they had been "chatting" about a late August launch date as a possibility.

Meanwhile the February 24 launch date for STS-133 required considerable flexibility on the part of the other ISS partners. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is getting ready to launch its HTV cargo spacecraft to the ISS and in order for everything to work out, had to agree to extend its on-orbit stay time to 60 days. The European Space Agency (ESA) also is getting ready to launch one of its cargo spacecraft, the ATV, and the Russians are planning a spacewalk for about the same time as the shuttle would arrive at the ISS. The partners worked together to make the February 24 launch date work, according to Mr. Sufferdini.

Mr. Gerstenmaier stated at the outset that they would not address questions today about the status of STS-134, which will be commanded by Mark Kelly. Captain Kelly is the husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords who is in critical condition after being shot in the head in Tuscon, AZ on Saturday during a public meeting with her constituents. Mr. Gerstenmaier said that "out of respect" today was not the time to discuss the matter and "our hearts and prayers go out to the family and we're really thinking about Mark in everything we do."

State of the Union Address Will be On January 25

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

President Obama will deliver the annual State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on January 25, 2011.

Mars Program Update This Thursday in Washington DC

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

NASA and the National Air and Space Museum will host a "Mars Program Update" on Thursday, January 13, 2011 at the museum (on the mall in Washington, D.C.). The event is free and open to the public and also will be carried on NASA TV. It is scheduled for 10:30 am - 12:30 pm. Speakers include Steve Squyres, the "father" of the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity.

President Calls for Moment of Silence at 11:00 am EST Today

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

The President has called for the nation to observe a moment of silence today at 11:00 am EST in honor of the victims of Saturday's shooting in Tucson, AZ. The tragedy took the lives of six people and left many more wounded, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), who was the target the attack according to law enforcement officials. Rep. Giffords remains in critical condition.

This is the text of President Obama's statement yesterday:

"'Tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. eastern standard time, I call on Americans to observe a moment of silence to honor the innocent victims of the senseless tragedy in Tucson, Arizona, including those still fighting for their lives. It will be a time for us to come together as a nation in prayer or reflection, keeping the victims and their families closely at heart.'

"The President will observe the moment of silence with White House staff on the South Lawn. The moment of silence will be pooled press.

"Today, the President has signed a proclamation calling for flags to be flown at half-staff.

"Also, the planned trip by the President to Schenectady, New York, on Tuesday, January 11, to the General Electric energy division is postponed. The trip is expected to be rescheduled."

International Space Station (ISS) Commander Scott Kelly, who is Rep. Gifford's brother-in-law, and the rest of the ISS crew will observe the moment of silence according to a NASA tweet.

NASA Press Conference Tomorrow on STS-133 (Discovery)

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

Despite the tragic events in Tuscon this weekend, life and work must go on. NASA will hold a press conference tomorrow (Tuesday) at 1:00 pm CST (2:00 pm EST) with an update on preparations for the launch of STS-133 (Discovery). The STS-133 launch has been postponed since November due to a gas leak and cracks on its External Tank stringers.

Press conference participants will be Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA Associate Administrator for Space Operations; John Shannon, space shuttle program manager; and Mike Sufferdini, ISS program manager. The event will be covered live on NASA TV.

Editor's Note: This is NOT the mission that Mark Kelly, Gabrielle Giffords' husband, is scheduled to fly. He is the commander of STS-134, currently scheduled for April.

ISS Crew and Moment of Silence for Victims of Tucson Tragedy

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

NASA has posted on its YouTube channel a video of International Space Station (ISS) Commander Scott Kelly's comments leading into the national moment of silence today to honor the victims of the shooting in Tucson, AZ on Saturday. Kelly's sister-in-law, U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, was the primary target of the shooting that killed six and left her in critical condition with a gunshot wound to the head.

Giffords' Neurosurgeon says "No Change," and That's Good News

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

At a press brefiing at University Medical Center (UMC) that just concluded, the neurosurgeon treating Rep. Gabrielle Giffords said there is no change in her condition, and that "at this phase in the game no change is good, she is still following those basic commands."

Dr. Michael Lemole reported that there is no progression of brain swelling and each day there is no increase "we are slightly more optimistic." He and Dr. Peter Rhee, chief of trauma at UMC, explained that brain swelling usually peaks in the third day, and today is day two of her post-operative phase. Dr. Lemole cautioned, however, that it can be as long as 10 days.

Dr. Rhee said that there are eight patients still at UMC: 5 in serious condition, 2 in good condition, and one in critical condition (Rep. Giffords). The other two patients who were brought to UMC have been discharged.

Dr. Rhee emphasized that trauma care is more than just healing physical wounds, that emotional care is also very important. The hospital deals with the patient as a whole. He pointed out that some of the patients had lost loved ones in the shooting and the hospital was providing medical care for depression, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other emotional challenges.

Dr. Lemole declined to go into any specific details about how responsive Rep. Giffords is to commands or what commands she is responding to or other details about her condition. She is on a ventilator and unable to speak; Dr. Rhee said that it normally is 4-5 days before a ventilator would be removed in circumstances like this. The Congresswoman's family is with her.

The next scheduled UMC press briefing on Rep. Giffords is scheduled for 10:00 am local time (noon EST) on Wednesday.

Editor's note: although the statement was made at this press conference on Monday that the next briefing would be on Wednesday, the UMC did hold a briefing on Tuesday, Jan. 11. Most of the briefing was statements by family members of two of the victims. However, the Arizona Daily Star reported that doctors said that Rep. Giffords is able to breathe on her own, but remains connected to a breathing machine to aid in her recovery.

Giffords' Husband, Astronaut Mark Kelly, Issues Statement

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, issued a statement through Rep. Giffords' office expressing appreciation for the "outpouring of support."

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