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Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) offered President Obama a lot of advice about what he should say at the April 15 "space conference" the White House is planning for April 15 in Florida. In a speech on the Senate floor yesterday (pages S1254-1256), he reiterated many of the concerns he expressed during a Feburary 24 hearing. Basically he feels there are many good elements of the FY2011 budget request, but he faults the roll-out of the request as creating the misperception that President Obama is killing the U.S. human spaceflight program. He sees the April 15 conference as the President's opportunity to clarify and amplify his position, for example by explcitly saying that human exploration of Mars is the goal, perhaps with intermediate stops along the way. He urges the President to:
"Stop listening just to the budget boys and OMB. Listen to the cries of an American people who once again want to be challenged and inspired, as President John F. Kennedy inspired the Nation and the Nation came together and did what was considered to be almost the impossible. It wasn't impossible. It was extraordinary, and it was an American achievement.."
White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) staff told the National Research Council (NRC) today that a 2002 study by Futron is one of three "data points" that the White House used in crafting its commercial crew strategy.
In response to a question as to what market analysis was done to demonstrate that there is a non-government market for sending people into space, OSTP staffer Rich Leshner told a joint meeting of the NRC's Space Studies Board (SSB) and Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) that OSTP had three data points indicating there is "a chance for a market there":
He did not address how relevant the Futron study would be today under the significantly changed economic circumstances since 2002. (Editor's Note: The Futron study forecast that, for orbital flights, by 2021 "60 passengers may be flying annually, representing revenues in excess of US$300 million.")
Traci Watson, a reporter formerly with USA Today and now with AOL News, notes in an article today that April 15 -- tax day -- seems an odd time for the President to hold his "space conference" in Florida and start a campaign to convince taxpayers to spend billions of dollars on the space program. "Obama's proposals may face a climb as steep as a rocket's trajectory to orbit, and that's not just because taxpayers could get surly at the idea of more federal spending."
UPDATE: The text of the White House announcement is now available on the White House website.
ORIGINAL STORY:President Barack Obama will hold a "space summit" in Florida next month to explain his vision for NASA according to a White House statement quoted by the Associated Press today. The summit will be on April 15, probably near Kennedy Space Center, though the specifics have not been formally announced.
The President's new plan for NASA, outlined in his FY2011 budget request, would cancel NASA's Constellation program, which is intended to replace the space shuttle as the U.S. human space transportation system. The President's plan instead would rely on foreign and as-yet-unproven domestic commercial crew launch services to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station. It also would fund technology development for future, undefined human space flight missions beyond low Earth orbit, as opposed to the Constellation program that is aiming to return humans to the Moon by 2020. The White House and NASA call the Constellation program unexecutable without significantly more funding ($5 billion a year more, according to NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver).
The following events may be of interest in the coming week. For more information, check our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. Times, dates and witnesses for congressional hearings are subject to change; check the relevant committee's website for up-to-date information. All meetings are in Washington, DC and all times are EST unless otherwise noted. Closed meetings and hearings are listed for informational purposes only.
Monday-Tuesday, March 8-9
Monday-Thursday, March 8-11, Los Angeles, CA
Tuesday-Thursday, March 9-11, Greenbelt, MD
Tuesday, March 9
Wednesday, March 10
Thursday, March 11
Friday, March 12
Dick Covey, former astronaut and President and CEO of space shuttle operator United Space Alliance (USA), announced yesterday that he will retire from the company in three weeks. His departure on March 26 will be a week and a half before the next shuttle launch on April 5. No reason was given for the timing of his resignation and a replacement was not named. Former astronaut Dan Brandenstein is USA's Chief Operating Officer. After the April 5 launch of STS-131, three more shuttle launches are scheduled before the program is terminated under the existing plan. As reported earlier, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison has introduced legislation to continue shuttle flights after that time.
The next space shuttle mission will carry the first NanoRack to the International Space Station (ISS) for conducting small experiments relatively inexpensively. Developed by a self-financed partnership of the Kentucky space consortium, University of Kentucky, Morehead State University, and Belcan Corp., NanoRack builds on the Cubesat design and interfaces with the ISS power and data grid through a USB plug.
Jeff Manber, one of the earliest advocates of commercial space activities who may be best known in space circles for his work with MirCorp in the 1990s to find commercial opportunities for Russia's Mir space station (which was deorbited in 2001), is one of the founders of NanoRacks. Manber now writes for Aviation Week & Space Technology's blog and the magazine published a story about the upcoming flight. It explained that NanoRacks will fly on each of the remaining four shuttle missions, and is small enough to be taken to the ISS on Progress, ATV or HTV as well. Each NanoRack can accommodate up to 16 experiments with 5 volts of power and data delivery to Earth. According to the article, commercial customers will pay $50,000; educational customers (such as universities), $25,000.
As part of a panel discussion devoted to the health of the global aerospace industrial base, Fred Doyle, Vice President of Ball Aerospace, told the International Commercial Remote Sensing Symposium (ICRSS) Thursday that companies have to "balance labor demands" in order to avoid workforce gaps and that current demand for commercial remote sensing satellites is "not sufficient to maintain [a] stable workforce."
Doyle showed a graph illustrating the labor demand during the multi-year process of design, integration, and testing required to build one of their commercial remote sensing satellites, such as Worldview 1 or Worldview 2. Noticeable in the chart was a marked reduction in demand during project transition, one that Doyle said could be as long as four years for designers. Ball Aerospace has managed to retain workers by assigning them to other programs, but Doyle said the company recognizes that workforce sustainability is an issue.
The Senate finally confirmed Erin Conaton as the new Air Force Under Secretary. Her nomination and those of other Pentagon nominees had been blocked by Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) because of the aerial refueling tanker controversy according to Congress Daily (subscription required). Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) threatened a procedural move that would have required Senator Shelby and other Senators blocking Pentagon nominations to explain their "holds" on the Senate floor so the holds were released, Congress Daily reported. Conaton's was one of several Pentagon nominations approved tonight.
In a statement released late Thursday, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden reaffirmed his commitment to the President's FY2011 budget request following a Wall Street Journal article that publicized an internal NASA email that suggested NASA was developing a "Plan B."
Events of Interest