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Another open letter about President Obama's plan for NASA has been sent to Congress signed by another set of space luminaries including former astronauts, former NASA and other government officials, scientists, industry leaders -- mostly the "new space" industry, and others.
This one supports the President's plan as long as it not only facilitates the emergence of commercial crew, but includes"acceleration of exploration beyond low Earth orbit" that is "clearly defined." The letter says these should be the two "highest priorities" of the human spaceflight program and are "both essential," with emphasis on "both." It is not obvious whether the clearly defined, accelerated exploration program they are seeking is different from what the President is currently proposing.
NASA will hold a "NASA Day on the Hill" tomorrow in the foyer of the Rayburn House Office Building. NASA says the event is open to the public. It will feature Earth and space science programs, aeronautics research, and human space flight. Astronauts Jose Hernandez, Anna Fisher and Pat Forrester will be there. A reception will be held from 5:00-7:00 pm.
John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth and later a U.S. Senator from Ohio, published an essay on the Ohio State University website giving his views on the future of the human spaceflight program. He agrees with the Obama Administration's decision to extend the International Space Station's timeframe and forgo a Moon base, but wants to keep the shuttle flying and keep NASA focused on sending people to Mars. He is not enthusiastic about commercial crew, and emphasizes the need for NASA to build a heavy lift launch vehicle.
He finds it "hard to accept" that American astronauts will have to rely on Russia to take them into space "probably for the next five to ten years" and does "not believe it has to be this way." He provides a brief background of the history of human spaceflight (with a few factual errors, but they do not undermine his basic points), and explains why he agrees with the President on some parts of the plan and not on others. His major thrust is advocating continuation of the space shuttle program and ensuring a robust program thereafter to ensure the United States does not lose its lead to China and India. Quoting Gus Grissom's famous line "No bucks, no Buck Rogers," Glenn stridently argues for adequate funding from the White House and Congress.
It's a quiet week from a space policy perspective, but the following events may be of interest. For more information, check our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. Times, dates and witnesses for congressional hearings and markups are subject to change. Check the relevant committee's website for up-to-date information.
Wednesday, June 23
President Tells Congress He Would Shift $100 Million from NASA to Commerce and Labor for Workforce Transition
The $40 million President Obama promised on April 15 to help displaced Florida aerospace workers has grown to $100 million and broadened to other communities, and NASA's Exploration program would have to foot the bill if the President gets his way.
In a letter to Congress on Friday, the President requested a number of changes to the FY2011 budget requests for NASA and other agencies. The NASA change does not alter how much is being requested for NASA"s Exploration program, $4.3 billion, but tells Congress that of that amount, $100 million would be transferred to the Departments of Commerce and Labor. The Department of Commerce would get $75 million for economic development assistance in the affected communities, while the Department of Labor would get the remainder for training programs in those areas. The President's message does not say what programs within NASA's Exploration account will be cut to obtain the money. NASA also has to come up with funds for the crew rescue vehicle ("Orion-lite") the President announced in his April 15 speech.
NASA did not meet yesterday's deadline to provide the House Science and Technology (HS&T) Committee with information and analysis about the agency's human spaceflight plans and budget. NASA did send a pro forma response to the committee's June 10 letter, but said only that the information was not yet ready. Today, the committee's leadership sent another letter to NASA Administrator Bolden demanding that the agency provide the documents NASA used to formulate its proposal by June 25, 2010.
"Since NASA has failed to provide the Committee with any detailed supporting materials with which Congress can judge the proposed human spaceflight plan, Congress must insist upon production of all materials NASA relied upon in formulating its proposal.
In February, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), chair of the Senate appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, wrote to her authorization counterpart, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), a letter outlining the principles that she would be using to assess President Obama's new plan for NASA. Yesterday, Senator Nelson wrote back, revealing a possible compromise with the Administration.
The letter, which is available via the Orlando Sentinel's Write Stuff blog, NASAWatch, and Space News, but does not seem to be on Senator Nelson's site or that of the Senate Commerce Committee, describes the key features of the authorization bill Senator Nelson plans to introduce. He chairs the Commerce Committee's subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics that authorizes NASA funding. (Not sure of the difference between an authorization and an appropriation? See our "What's a Markup?" Fact Sheet.)
Soyuz TMA-19 lifted off successfully at 5:35 pm EDT from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan (3:35 am Wednesday local time). Three new crew members for the International Space Station (ISS) are aboard. They will join the three ISS crew already on the station on Thursday.
Responding to Senator Bill Nelson's letter about how he plans to shape a NASA authorization bill, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) said in a statement yesterday that she sees it as "an alternative framework...that could snap us out of the 'stagnant quo'," according to Amy Klamper reporting in Space News. Senator Mikulski added that she would continue to work "with Senator Nelson and our colleagues" as authorization and appropriations bills progress during the summer.
NASA just announced that the new program manager of the Constellation program is Lawrence D. Thomas, who most recently was deputy program manager for Constellation at Marshall Space Flight Center. The new job is at Johnson Space Center (JSC). Charles M. Stegemoeller was appointed as Constellation deputy program manager. He had been director of the program planning and control office for the Constellation program at JSC. NASA "reassigned" Constellation program manager Jeff Hanley on May 26, prompting calls from some Members of Congress for an Inspector General investigation. NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden was quoted as saying that Hanley lost his job because he was too "attached" to the Constellation program, which the Obama Administration wants to terminate.
Events of Interest