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As the 25th anniversary of the Challenger tragedy approaches, USA Today's Traci Watson writes that 25 years after President Ronald Reagan promised that "the legacy of the accident would not be curtailed ambition for the space program," that in fact "Some experts contend that the loss of Challenger gave America's space program a significant push towards its twilight status today."
In an op-ed in today's Orlando Sentinel, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) discourses on the triumphs of exploration even though they entail sacrifices, such as the loss of the Challenger crew 25 years ago today.
He then wonders what the Challenger crew would say to policy-makers today who are "grappling with NASA's budget and saying they can't build a new rocket to replace the shuttle on time." He repeats his admonition, made several times in recent months, that "NASA must stop making excuses and follow this law," referring to the 2010 NASA authorization act of which he was one of the principle architects.
Remembering the crews of Apollo 204 and Columbia as well, he asserts that with all their sacrifices in mind "we must push forward and keep America at the forefront of space exploration."
As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Senator Nelson flew on the space shuttle mission on the flight immediately preceding the Challenger tragedy, STS 61-C. Current NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden was commander of the STS 61-C crew. NASA recently sent Congress an interim report saying that of all the rocket and crew capsule designs they have looked at, none can be built on the time schedule and within the budget constraints of the law. Bolden later emphasized in an interview with Space News that it was an interim report and said NASA is a "can do" agency and he believes they can do it within those constraints..
Colorado Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, both Democrats, wrote a letter to President Obama yesterday calling for him to "keep NASA a priority" despite the difficult budgetary situation.
The letter basically asks the President to include funds in his FY2012 budget request to implement the 2010 NASA Authorization Act. The Senators specifically mention their support for the Orion spacecraft and commercial crew and cargo, but interestingly omit the new Space Launch System (heavy lift launch vehicle) that is also required under the law.
Acknowledging that NASA funding "impacts thousands of Colorado jobs," they say the Act "codifies a plan ... that will help keep America at the forefront of space exploration." Despite the "austere budgetary times," they ask him to "keep NASA a priority so we do not cede our leadership position in space."
The commemoration of the space shuttle Challenger tragedy at Kennedy Space Center will be aired on NASA TV and streamed at Spaceflightnow.com this morning beginning at 9:00 am EST. The Challenger accident occurred 25 years ago today.
UPDATE 2: President Obama's statement has been added.
UPDATE: A link to a statement by Bolden has been added.
NASA's Alan Ladwig tweeted this photo of NASA Admnistrator Charlie Bolden and others laying a wreath at Arlington National Cemetary this morning on NASA's Day of Remembrance. The Day honors the astronaut crews who lost their lives on Apollo 204, Challenger (STS-51L) and Columbia (STS-107).
Bolden also issued a statement, posted on the NASA website. He said, in part:
"NASA has learned hard lessons from each of our tragedies, and they are lessons that we will continue to keep at the forefront of our work as we continuously strive for a culture of safety that will help us avoid our past mistakes and heed warnings while corrective measures are possible. In memory of our colleagues, I ask the NASA Family once again to always make its opinions known and to be unafraid to speak up to those in authority, so that safety can always be our guiding principle and the sacrifices of our friends and colleagues will not be in vain."
President Obama issued a statement . The text follows:
"Fifty years ago, a young President facing mounting pressure at home propelled a fledgling space agency on a bold, new course that would push the frontiers of exploration to new heights. Today, on this Day of Remembrance when NASA reflects on the mighty sacrifices made to push those frontiers, America's space agency is working to achieve even greater goals. NASA's new 21st Century course will foster new industries that create jobs, pioneer technology innovation, and inspire a new generation of explorers through education - all while continuing its fundamental missions of exploring our home planet and the cosmos.
"Throughout history, however, we have seen that achieving great things sometimes comes at great cost and we mourn the brave astronauts who made the ultimate sacrifice in support of NASA missions throughout the agency's storied history. We pause to reflect on the tragic loss of the Apollo 1 crew, those who boarded the space shuttle Challenger in search of a brighter future, and the brave souls who perished on the space shuttle Columbia.
"Through triumph and tragedy, each of us has benefited from their courage and devotion, and we honor their memory by dedicating ourselves to a better tomorrow. Despite the challenges before us today, let us commit ourselves and continue their valiant journey toward a more vibrant and secure future."
Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX). chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, noted that President Obama had little to say about NASA in his State of the Union address, and says that he wants to ensure that "America 'keeps winning' in space exploration and scientfic discovery."
In a press release that is not yet posted on the committee's website (due to technical difficulties with the website according to committee staff), Rep. Hall responded to those parts of the President's speech that addressed issues within the committee's juridiction, including clean energy technologies and basic research. His overall take is that "While appropriate investments in science and technology are important, they must be made prudently within the confines of a disciplined budget."
He said that his committee would conduct oversight of the President's science and technology policies "as well as the broader research and development priorities necessary to advance American competetiveness."
Regarding NASA, he said:
"Absent from the President's speech, apart from mentioning Sputnik as a metaphor, was any vision for our Nation's space agency. NASA's exploration program has been paramount to securing America's lead in the global economy and spurring innovation. So many technological advancements have stemmed from an ambitious, goal-oriented space program. I am disappointed that the President used this moment only to reflect on NASA's history, rather than promoting a strong vision for the future of space exploration. This Thursday is officially designated as A Day of Remembrance' for the space shuttles Columbia and Challenger tragedies; a day to reflect on those national heroes who lost their lives. We should honor them by carrying on their legacy and ensuring that America keeps winning' in space exploration and scientific discovery."
Japan's HTV2 cargo spacecraft successfully berthed to the International Space Station (ISS) today. HTV2 was launched on January 22 and is named Kounotori2 or "white stork." The ISS crew used the station's robotic arm to berth HTV2 to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module, according to NASA's ISS website. They plan to open it tomorrow.
It is the first of three cargo spacecraft from different parts of the world to resupply ISS in the next couple of weeks. Next is a Russian Progress cargo spacecraft that is awaiting launch tonight at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It is scheduled to launch at 8:31 pm EST this evening and dock with the ISS on Saturday.
Europe's cargo spacecraft, the ATV, is scheduled for launch on February 15.
NASA has a good website explaining the similarities and differences of these cargo spacecraft.
Scientists using NASA's Hubble space telescope announced yesterday the discovery of what may be the oldest observed object in the universe: a galaxy that existed around 500 million years after the Big Bang. They also argued that while observations with Hubble would continue, only its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), would allow them to observe even further back in time.
In 2009, during Hubble's last servicing mission, astronauts fitted the telescope with the Wide Field Camera 3, which provided scientists with new opportunities for studying the universe. Garth Illingworth, from the University of California-Santa Cruz, explained that WFC-3 allowed researchers to look back 96% of the 13.7 billion years of the age of the universe. With observations taken over one and a half years, an international team of researchers took the farthest infrared image ever of the universe and found a faint object believed to be a galaxy. Rychard Bouwens, University of Leiden (Netherlands), explained that using the new capabilities researchers found the compact galaxy of blue stars because they were looking for it: "this [was] not a blind search," he said.
Their search revealed something else: missing galaxies. It was "the dog that didn't bark," said Rachel Somerville, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute, which operates Hubble. She explained that observations taken at later time periods led researchers to expect to find many young, blue stars when glimpsing this earlier period. Instead they found at least ten times fewer the number of galaxies expected, which would only account for 12% of the level of radiation at that stage of galaxy evolution. It is a "mystery" that she said the JWST would hopefully help solve once it is launched. Because the number of galaxies found at later periods - at 650 million and 800 million years after the Big Bang, for example- is considerably higher, the Hubble finding suggests that galaxy population was "evolving very rapidly" and that the rate of star birth must have increased dramatically between 500 and 650 million years after the Big Bang, a relatively "short" period.
"[We're] pushing Hubble to its limits here," explained Illingworth, who added that Hubble would be unable to observe the universe at any earlier time. JWST, however, is designed to do just that. He added that the findings announced today were "striking and wonderful," and would be a powerful source for JWST to look at.
An independent review of the JWST program in 2010 revealed that "budgeting and program management" issues had led to significant cost and schedule growth, delaying JWST's launch until at least 2015. NASA is currently performing a more detailed internal analysis of the program to determine what resources are needed to fix the program. Whether JWST will receive those resources and maintain a 2015 launch date remains to be seen. Some astronomers are concerned that money may be diverted from other NASA astrophysics projects in order to pay for the JWST cost growth.
The National Journal has published the text of the President's State of the Union address on its website an hour before the speech is to be delivered.
After a brief mention of GPS as an example of good government investment in research, the President says that "This is our generation's Sputnik moment" and goes on to say that he will propose a budget "to reach a level of research and development we haven't seen since the height of the Space Race." Unfortunately, space research is not among the programs he lists -- biomedical research, information technology, and clean energy technology. The only mention of NASA is that it did not exist when Sputnik was launched, but we went on to beat the Soviets to the Moon.
Among the many other topics covered in the speech, the President proposes a freeze on domestic discretionary funding for the next five years, tackling Medicare and Medicaid costs, and a major reorganization of the federal government in the years ahead.
As some Republicans have been championing for months, the House passed a resolution today calling for the FY2011 budget to hold non-security spending to FY2008 levels. It is the first salvo in what likely will be a long 6-week fight over how to deal with the remainder of FY2011.
The non-binding resolution, H. Res. 38, is very brief and has no budget numbers in it. The full text is as follows:
"Resolved, That pursuant to section 3(b)(1) of House Resolution 5, the Chair of the Committee on the Budget shall include in the Congressional Record an allocation contemplated by section 302(a) for the Committee on Appropriations for the remainder of fiscal year 2011 that assumes non-security spending at fiscal year 2008 levels or less."
It passed by a vote of 256-165. It basically allows the chairman of the Budget Committee, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), to establish the amount of funds the 12 appropriations subcommittees have to spend for the rest of FY2011. No action by the Budget Committee or the House is required. Federal agencies are currently funded through March 4, 2011. Congress must pass another appropriations measure to fund agencies after that date or the government will close down.
The House appropriations subcommittees still would have the flexibility to determine which agencies get what amount of money, but within the threshold set by Rep. Ryan.
"Security" spending traditionally means defense and homeland security, so they would not be subject to this resolution (veterans services also are sometimes included). Nor would mandatory spending on programs such as social security, Medicare or Medicaid. The resolution would affect NASA, NOAA and other federal activities in the "domestic discretionary funding" category.
At the same time, some news reports state that President Obama will propose in his State of the Union Address tonight a freeze on domestic discretionary funding. Exceptions can always be made, so it is not certain that NASA would be included. Other news reports, for example, say that the President will emphasize that investments in high-speed rail, clean energy and scientific research will help create jobs and thus should not be cut.
The State of the Union address will be aired live at 9:00 pm EST, but that is only the beginning of what almost certainly will be a difficult set of negotiations over the FY2011 budget and those that follow.
Events of Interest
- NASA Advisory Council (NAC) Science Cmte, July 27-29, 2015, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, CA
- Multilateral Negotiations on Intl Code of Conduct for Space Activities, July 27-31, 2015, UN HQ, New York
- NAC Institutional Cmte, July 28-29, 2015, JPL, Pasadena, CA
- NASA Advisory Council, July 29-31, 2015, JPL, Pasadena, CA
- NOAA Science Advisory Board, August 3-4, 2015, La Jolla, CA
- NRC Mtg on Global Coordination of Astrophysics & Heliophysics, August 5-6, 2015, Honolulu, HI
- OPAG, August 24-26, 2015, APL, Laurel, MD
- NASA Advisory Council Earth Science Sbcmte, August 28, 2015, virtual, 2:00-4:30 pm ET
- Space 2015 (AIAA), August 31- September 2, 2015, Pasadena Convention Center, Pasadena, CA
Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »
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