SpacePolicyOnline.com Latest News
It is ironic that today is both the anniversary of the space shuttle Columbia tragedy that spawned President George W. Bush's Vision for the Space Exploration, and the day that President Obama announces that he wants to cancel it.
America's attempts to go back to the Moon and on to Mars will go back to the drawing board if Congress agrees with the FY2011 budget request for NASA. President Bush's "Vision" will be stopped in its tracks with cancellation of the entire Constellation Program -- the Ares I and Ares V launch vehicles, the Orion spacecraft, and the Altair lunar lander - that were to take astronauts back to the Moon by 2020. Instead, NASA will throw its support to the commercial sector to develop launch vehicles and spacecraft to someday once again take Americans into space from U.S. soil. After the final shuttle launches this year, NASA astronauts will have to ask others for rides into space.
How long it will take for the commercial vehicles is anyone's guess. Advocates of this "commercial crew" approach are confident that private sector companies can develop human-rated launch vehicles (i.e., meeting NASA safety standards for carrying people) within the next few years. Skeptics have heard promises about commercial space too many times to believe it again.
In total, NASA is requesting $19.000 billion for FY2011, a 1.5% increase over FY2010's budget of $18.724 billion. Its 5-year budget plan would see modest increases thereafter, reaching $20.660 billion by FY2014. That is about $1 billion short of the level proposed by the Augustine Committee, which called for a gradual increase by FY2014 to a level $3 billion above the FY2010 NASA budget, with inflation-adjusted budgets thereafter. The NASA budget released today projects funding to FY2015, when NASA's budget would increase by another 1.9% to $20.990 billion.
NASA Administrator Bolden said that the President is increasing the NASA budget by $6 billion over the next 5 years (apparently compared to his FY2010 budget estimate), calling that "an extraordinary show of support."
The Augustine Committee laid out options for the future human space flight program, but did not make recommendations. Still, many read its report as an endorsement of pursuing commercial alternatives to the Ares I launch vehicle for taking astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). The Obama proposal goes well beyond that, relying on the commercial sector for all future U.S. human space flight, with the government investing in technology but not new vehicles. Sally Ride, a member of the Committee, participated in the NASA budget briefing and enthusiastically supported the President's plan, saying that it put NASA on a "sustainable path to the future."
The battle over the role of the government versus the commercial sector in developing new launch vehicles and spacecraft for human exploration is likely to consume congressional debate over NASA's budget this year. Part of the debate may overlap with President Obama's major focus in this election year - jobs. The President's budget asks for a $100 billion jobs package, but NASA supporters may ask whether aerospace jobs are part of his agenda.
NASA has not provided an estimate of how many government and contractor jobs will be lost with the cancellation of Constellation - on top of terminating the shuttle over the next several months - or gained by its new commercial approach. Administrator Bolden provided only vague assurances that since the total NASA budget was going up, he expected to support more not fewer jobs though they may not be "concentrated on a few manufacturing and development contracts," and that an "enhanced commercial space industry will create new high-tech jobs."
The President announced two jobs programs today: "Investing in Innovation to Create the Industries and Jobs of Tomorrow" and "Spur Job Creation and Revitalize Rural America." The fact sheet on the first mentions NASA only in the context of its Summer of Innovation education program, not about the high-tech jobs that might be gained or lost or new technologies that might be developed because of its dramatic change of direction for the space program. The second fact sheet does not mention NASA at all.
In any case, U.S. attempts to send people back to the Moon would return to the back burner. If Congress agrees with President Obama, this will be the third time in three attempts (1969, 1989, 2004) that plans for human Mars exploration have fallen short.
What President Obama wants to substitute is a program that relies on the commercial sector - with substantial taxpayer support - to develop launch vehicles and spacecraft to take U.S. astronauts to space. The first destination will be the International Space Station (ISS) whose operational lifetime will be extended until at least 2020, five years beyond the current U.S. commitment. No decision has been made on destinations beyond that. NASA will focus only on development of new technologies not launch vehicles or spacecraft for human exploration. Deputy Administrator Garver says that NASA is focused on developing capabilities, not choosing destinations, but the Moon, Mars and asteroids all remain possibilities: "NASA is committed to exploring space. We're not canceling the exploration of space, just the Constellation program," and our "ultimate" destination is Mars and the moons of Mars.
Whether or not one believes that sending people to the Moon or Mars is important, this abrupt turnaround may be difficult for NASA's workforce and supporters to absorb. It was only six years ago that NASA was turned topsy-turvey to march down the path of the Vision for Space Exploration. Now the Obama Administration is asking to turn it topsy-turvey again, this time to promised gold at the end of a different rainbow - commercial crew.
NASA and the White House will have their work cut out for them to convince a financially strapped country to believe that this time they've picked the right program.
The Obama Administration announced today its long awaited decision on the future of the troubled National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS). The answer: divorce.
NPOESS was initiated following a 1994 decision to merge the separate weather satellite programs conducted by the Department of Defense (DOD) for national security needs and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for civil needs. DOD and NOAA jointly and equally fund NPOESS, with DOD as the agency responsible for acquiring the satellites. NASA has been a third partner in the program, developing new technologies to be tested on its NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) satellite, currently scheduled for launch in 2011. An Integrated Program Office (IPO) manages the tri-agency program.
Satellites in orbits circling the Earth's poles so that they pass over points on Earth at a certain time of day -- an early morning orbit, a mid-morning orbit, and an afternoon orbit -- provide weather and other environmental observations. Several years ago, the United States and Europe agreed to work together on environmental satellites and Europe provides the satellites for the mid-morning orbit. NPOESS satellites were to be in the early morning (or just "morning") and afternoon orbits.
NPOESS encoutered severe cost overruns and schedule slips. An Independent Review Team chaired by Tom Young concluded last year that the program as then structured had "an extraordinarily low probabily of success."
Under the new plan, DOD will be responsible for building and launching satellites for the morning orbit and NOAA for the afternoon orbit. NASA will acquire the satellites for NOAA as it does now for NOAA's other satellites. Instead of using the large satellites ("platforms") designed for NPOESS, NOAA will use NASA's NPP design. DOD and NOAA will still share ground facilities to obtain data from the satellites. The IPO will be dissolved.
NOAA now will have to shoulder more of the costs and the FY2011 NOAA budget request includes an increase of about $1 billion for this purpose. The implications for DOD's budget and for the prime contractor for the NPOESS satellites, Northrop Grumman Space Technology, were not available at press time.
NASA has cancelled the 3:00 briefing it had scheduled for tomorrow (Monday) to lay out its FY2011 budget request. Instead, NASA Administrator Bolden will hold a teleconference for the media at 12:30 pm. Deputy Administrator Lori Garver will join Presidential Science Adviser John Holdren and others at the 1:00 OSTP briefing at AAAS (see our calendar).
On Tuesday, Holdren and Bolden will hold a press conference at 10:00 am at the National Press Club to "introduce new commercial space pioneers, launching a game-changing way of developing technology to send humans to space." More details on these last minute changes to the NASA budget roll out are available in this NASA press release.
NASA awarded five small contracts today to companies vying a piece of the commercial crew pie. The funding, $50 million, is part of the $1 billion NASA received in the stimulus package, formally known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The five contracts, awarded as Space Act Agreements, went to:
- Blue Origin, $3.7 million
- The Boeing Company, $18 million
- Paragon Space Development Corporation, $1.4 million
- Sierra Nevada Corporation, $20 million
- United Launch Alliance, $6.7 million
NASA's press release said that the agreements are for developing "crew concepts and technology demonstrations for future commercial support of human spaceflight." As evidenced in NASA's FY2011 budget, the agency has decided that commercial human space flight is the best path forward instead of the Constellation program. Congress will have to decide if it agrees.
The Government Accountability Office released a new report today, " NASA: Assessments of Selected Large-Scale Projects," concluding that:
... 9 of the 10 projects that have been in the implementation phase for several years experienced cost growth ranging from 8 to 68 percent, and launch delays of 8 to 33 months, in the past 3 years. These 10 projects had average development cost growth of almost $121.1 million-or 18.7 percent-and schedule growth of 15 months, and a total increase in development cost of over $1.2 billion, with over half of this total-or $706.6 million-occurring in the last year."
GAO added that:
Based, in part, on GAO's previous recommendations, NASA has acted to adopt practices that would ensure programs proceed based on a sound business case and undertaken initiatives aimed at improving program management, cost estimating, and contractor oversight. Continued attention to these efforts and effective, disciplined implementation should help maximize NASA's acquisition investments."
A little known movement has been afoot for many years to find a way to protect the Apollo lunar landing sites and the flags, footprints and everything else left behind by the astronauts from intentional or unintentional destruction. As lunar exploration becomes popular once again - if not by the United States government (we will find out for sure on Monday), then by China, India and other countries and even commercial interests - protecting these sites is becoming a more urgent matter. The State of California took a small step yesterday towards protecting Apollo 11 artifacts.
Since no one owns the Moon - in accordance with Article II of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty - identifying a binding method to protect the sites themselves has been a challenge. "Objects" are somewhat easier to protect because Article VIII of the Treaty says that "Ownership of objects launched into outer space, including objects landed or constructed on a celestial body, and of their component parts, is not affected by their presence in outer space or on a celestial body or by their return to the Earth. Such objects or component parts found beyond the limits of the State Party to the Treaty on whose registry they are carried shall be returned to that State Party, which shall, upon request, furnish identifying data prior to their return."
The California State Historical Resources Commission took a step in the direction of preserving Apollo 11 artifacts on the Moon yesterday, voting unanimously to add what the New York Times derisively called "Moon junk" to its list of protected resources.
Preserving the Apollo landing sites, however, is more difficult. What entity is empowered to designate a location on the Moon as an historical site to be preserved? The late Tom Rogers, well known in space policy circles for, among other things, his early and sustained enthusiasm for space tourism, published an article in Space Policy in February 2004 calling on the United Nations to designate the Apollo 11 landing site as a "U.N. World Heritage Site." The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is responsible for such designations.
According to MSNBC, California's move yesterday was part of a five-state effort to achieve that very goal. The other states, all key players in the Apollo program, are Alabama, Florida, New Mexico and Texas, according to the report. The Lunar Legacy Project at New Mexico State University is trying to preserve Apollo 11 archeological information and get the World Heritage designation for its lunar landing site.
One question sure to be raised is how far this historical preservation on the Moon should go. Perhaps all of the Apollo landing sites, but what about the robotic Lunokhod rovers that the Soviet Union landed there? They also are historic. Or the many other spacecraft that made soft landings. What about debris fields from those that impacted the surface? The debate is likely to intensify when and if trips to the Moon are close at hand.
UPDATE: This article is updated to reflect NASA's changes in its budget roll-out. The 3:00 press briefing on Monday has been canceled; a 12:30 teleconference with the media has been substituted. The briefing at the Press Club on Tuesday at 10:00 will include Presidential Science Adviser Holdren.
The following events may be of interest in the coming week. For more details, see our calendar on the right menu or click on the links below. All meetings are in Washington, D.C. unless otherwise noted and all times are EST. Note that times, dates and witnesses for congressional hearings are subject to change; check with the relevant committee for more information.
Monday, February 1
THIS IS IT!!!! BUDGET DAY
The FY2011 President's Budget Request to Congress will be officially released at 10:00 am. It should be available on the Office of Management and Budget's website about that time.
- 12:30 pm: NASA Administrator Bolden will hold a teleconference with the media. NASA plans to post its budget request on its website (probably here).
- 1:00 pm: White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) press briefing on the budget request for federal research and development (R&D), auditorium of the AAAS building, 1200 New York Ave., NW. NASA Deputy Administrator Garver will participate.
- 1:00 pm: DOD press briefing on its FY2011 budget request at the Pentagon, Briefing Room 2E579
- 3:00 pm: NSF press briefing on its FY2011 budget request, NSF headquarters in Arlington, VA
Tuesday, February 2
- 10:00 am: Press conference at the National Press Club, Washington, DC. with Presidential Science Adviser John Holdren and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden to "introduce new commercial space pioneers, launching a game-changing way of developing technology to send humans to space."
Wednesday, February 3
Thursday, February 4
Not that we aren't just as curious as everyone else, but SpacePolicyOnline.com is exhausted by all the media stories speculating on NASA's FY2011 budget. We will actually know what is in NASA's budget on Monday. That is soon enough. We will be delighted to report any publicly-releasable news that comes out between now and Monday, but will leave the rumors to others.
The KEY POINT is that whatever comes out on Monday is just the opening shot. NASA's budget and its future have a long way to go after the President sends his budget request to Congress. As we have noted before, it is only a request. Congress must decide what to do with it. Readers who have strong points of view about what NASA's future should be -- whatever that viewpoint is -- are well advised to write to their elected representatives to let them know. Congress is where the action will be after Monday.
Members of Congress really do listen to the people who elected them and, for those running for reelection this fall, hopefully will do so again. If you don't know who your Congressperson and Senators are, well, shame on you, but you can find out by going to the websites of the House and Senate where you need only type in your zip code (for the House) or state (for the Senate) to find out. Don't bother writing to anyone else's Congressperson or Senator, just your three (two Senators, one Congressperson).
Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education will be the subject of three House hearings next week: a two-parter by a House Appropriations subcommittee and one by a House Science and Technology subcommittee.
- The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce-Justice-Science will hold a two-part hearing on February 3 and 4.
- Part 1: February 3, 10:00 am, H-309 Capitol. Witnesses are Dr. Oliver Hill, Virginia State University and Dr. Eleanor Miele, Brooklyn College
- Part 2: February 4, 10:00 am, H-309 Capitol. Witnesses are Dr. Julie Luft, Arizona State University and Dr. Craig Strang, Lawrence Hall of Science, University of California-Berkeley
- The House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education will hold a hearing on "Strengthening Undergraduate and Graduate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Education" on February 4 at 10:30 am in 2318 Rayburn House Office Building. Witnesses are:
- Joan Ferrini-Mundy, NSF Directorate for Education and Human Resources
- Noah Finkelstein, University of Colorado, Boulder
- Karen Klomparens, Michigan State University
- Robert Mathieu, University of Wisconsin, Madison
- Rick Stephens, The Boeing Company and chair of the Aerospace Industries Association Workforce Steering Committee
Times, dates and witnesses for congressional hearings are subject to change. Check with the relevant committee for up to date information.
On this day in 1986, seven brave astronauts -- five NASA astronauts, a payload specialist from the private sector, and a school teacher -- lost their lives in the space shuttle Challenger tragedy (STS 51-L).
- NASA Commander Dick Scobee
- NASA Pilot Mike Smith
- NASA Mission Specialist Judy Resnik
- NASA Mission Specialist Ellison Onizuka
- NASA Mission Specialist Ron McNair
- Payload Specialist Greg Jarvis (from Hughes Aircraft)
- "Teacher in Space" Christa McAuliffe
Fate ordained that the three tragedies that have taken the lives of astronauts in mission-related accidents occurred within a few days of each other on the early winter calendar: Apollo 204 on January 27, 1967; the space shuttle Challenger on January 28, 1986; and the space shuttle Columbia on February 1, 2003. NASA has a "Day of Remembrance" for all three jointly on January 29, but it seems fitting to mention each of them individually here.
Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff when a rubber "O-ring" in one of its Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB) failed because of unusually cold temperatures. A Presidential Commission chaired by former Secretary of State William Rogers found that the O-ring failure was the technical cause of the tragedy, but flawed decision-making was a contributing cause:
"The decision to launch the Challenger was flawed. Those who made that decision were unaware of the recent history of problems concerning the O-rings and the joint and were unaware of the initial written recommendation of the contractor advising against the launch at temperatures below 53 degrees Fahrenheit and the continuing opposition of the engineers at Thiokol after the management reversed its position. They did not have a clear understanding of Rockwell's concern that it was not safe to launch because of ice on the pad. If the decisionmakers had known all of the facts, it is highly unlikely that they would have decided to launch 51-L on January 28, 1986."
The tragedy resulted in far reaching changes not only to the shuttle program, but to U.S. space launch policy (see "From Shuttle Only to Mixed Fleet" in this CRS report for a brief synopsis of the policy changes).
The families of the Challenger astronauts created the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, which has 47 Challenger Learning Centers in the United States and other countries.
STS 51-L was the 25th space shuttle launch. Beginning with the 10th shuttle launch, NASA had instituted a numbering system in which the first number designated the fiscal year in which the mission was supposed to launch (in this case FY1985), the second number designated whether the launch was from the east coast ("1") or west coast ("2"), and a letter sequentially in the alphabet. Since launch schedules often changed so the first number sometimes did not match the fiscal year in which the launch actually occured and the letter might not be sequential, and plans to build a west coast launch site for the shuttle were abandoned after this accident, NASA returned to a simple numbering system when flights resumed after Challenger.
Events of Interest
- AGU Fall Meeting, December 9-13, 2013, San Francisco, CA Press conferences on special topics will be webstreamed each day. See our "favorites" list. Note that times are in PST.
- NAC Human Expl & Ops Cmte, December 9-10, 2013, Kennedy Space Center, FL
- NAC Technology & Innovation Cmte, December 10, 2013, Kennedy Space Center, FL, 8:00 am - 5:00 pm ET
- THIS IS STILL ON DESPITE THE SNOW Mars One/Lockheed Martin/Surrey Satellite press conference, December 10, 2013, National Press Club, Washington, DC, 10:30 am ET (will be webcast)
- POSTPONED from DEC 10 TO DEC 11 DUE TO SNOW. House SS&T Committee markup of NASA termination liability bill, December 11, 2013, 2318 Rayburn House Office Building 2:00 pm ET
- NAC IT Infrastructure Cmte, December 10-11, 2013, Kennedy Space Center, FL
- MTG WILL TAKE PLACE DESPITE GOVT CLOSING IN DC DUE TO SNOW, PER COMSTAC CHAIR MIKE GOLD. FAA Commercial Space Trans Adv Cmte, December 10-11, 2013, Washington, DC
- House SS&T Sbcmte Hearing on Relationship Between Climate and Weather, December 11, 2013, 2318 Rayburn House Office Building. 10:00 am ET
- NASA Advisory Council (NAC), December 11-12, 2013, Kennedy Space Center, FL
- Senate Commerce Hrg on Weather Readiness (incl satellites), December 12, 2013, G50 Dirksen Senate Office Building, 10:30 am ET
- America's Space Futures: Defining Goals for Space Expl (Marshall Institute re its new book of that title), December 13, 2013, 2325 Rayburn House Office Building, 2:00-3:30 pm ET
Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »
Subscribe to Email Updates: