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In a public teleconference held today, the Augustine Committee discussed updates to the scoring of the exploration strategy options outlined in its Summary Report. After reiterating that ranking the options themselves was beyond their mandate, committee members briefly explained the evaluation method and criteria they used to designate values between the options.
The committee's task today was to assign scoring values to the baseline option (Option 3 - Program of Record with less constrained funding), which it had not done at its last public meeting. Three of the eight criteria in particular required additional discussion in order to ensure that all the options were evaluated on the same basis.
NASA announced today that the likelihood of the Apophis asteroid colliding with Earth in 2036 is significantly less than earlier thought. The new estimate is that the chance of an "encounter" with Earth in 2036 is four in a million instead of one in 45,000. The findings will be presented at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society's Division of Planetary Sciences meeting in Puerto Rico tomorrow.
Most members of the Texas congressional delegation sent a letter to President Obama urging him to spend up to $3 billion more in stimulus funding on NASA for FY2010. Congress already allocated $1 billion for NASA when it passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act ("the stimulus bill") earlier this year.
In the letter, Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn along with 26 of the 32 House members who represent Texas noted that only 15% of the $787 billion in stimulus funds had been spent as of last month. Citing the Augustine committee's summary report, the congressional delegation argued that "a robust space program that enables us to explore new frontiers is critical to maintain America's proud tradition of exploration and its leadership in space." They also highlighted the importance of the NASA civil servant and contractor workforce "in today's global competitive economic environment."
SpaceX's Falcon 9 has passed "acceptance testing" for the first and second stages. The first test flight of the Falcon 9 is scheduled for "one to three months" after it arrives at Cape Canaveral, FL next month, according to a company press release. Considerable attention is focused on the Falcon 9 as both a commercial cargo transport vehicle to the International Space Station, and possibly for taking crews back and forth to ISS as well. The Augustine committee's report on options for the future of human space flight gave the concept of "commercial crew" a boost.
The Senate is scheduled to resume consideration of the FY2010 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill today (Wednesday) at approximately 10:30 am under a unanimous-consent agreement that was reached yesterday. The bill was brought to the floor on Monday, but only two opening statements were made--by Senator Shelby (R-AL), ranking member of the CJS subcommittee, and Senator Conrad (D-ND), who presented the Budget Committee's scoring of the bill.
The Senate passed the FY2010 Department of Defense (DOD) appropriations bill (H.R. 3326) today. The next step is a conference committee. Congress Daily (subscription required) reports that negotiations with the House have been ongoing for several weeks and the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Inouye (D-HI), hopes to have the conference completed by the end of this week.
The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) teamed with The Space Show to host a panel discussion on the Augustine committee report. A podcast of the discussion is available at: http://www.thespaceshow.com/detail.asp?q=1236.
The FY2010 authorization bill for the Intelligence Community (H.R. 2701/S. 1494) remains stuck as negotiators try to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions. One of the sticking points is competing proposals for the country's spy satellites, according to Congress Daily (subscription required).
The bill is under a veto threat because of language concerning which Members of Congress must be notified about the most sensitive intelligence matters, but spy satellites are another bone of contention. As reported from their respective committees, the House version (H. Rept. 111-186) supported the Obama Administration's proposal under which the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) would buy and launch new electro-optical intelligence satellites and buy more data from commercial imagery companies. The Senate version (S. Rept. 111-55) would have NRO buy more satellites that are cheaper and less sophisticated, a plan that critics call "untested and therefore riskier" according to Congress Daily.
The Senate began debating the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill today (H.R. 2847). Regarding the Senate Appropriations Committee's action on NASA's part of the bill, the Obama Administration's Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) cites only the reduction of $18.7 million from the request for the innovation program as a problem.
President and Mrs. Obama will host an event at the White House on Wednesday night, October 7, in celebration of the International Year of Astronomy (IYA). The "White House Star Party" will begin with the President speaking at 8:00 pm EDT (to be streamed live on the White House website -- whitehouse.gov). More than 20 telescopes will be set up on the White House lawn and middle-schoolers will be shown "the beauty and mysteries of the night sky." The event is by invitation only.
Events of Interest