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House Votes on NASA Authorization, Intelligence Authorization and CR Today

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

UPDATE: Thanks to a NASA Tweet we were finally able to find Charlie Bolden's statement posted on a NASA website. Kudos to NASAWatch for making it publicly available earlier.

The House Majority Leader's list of legislation to be voted on today in the House includes, as expected, the Senate version of the NASA authorization bill, as well as the FY2010 intelligence authorization bill, and a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government operating until December 3. Several other bills also will be considered today, and votes on bills debated yesterday also must be taken, so it is difficult to guess when the NASA authorization vote will occur.

The bill is being brought up under a procedure called "suspension of the rules" where the House agrees to suspend the regular rules and pass a bill as long as it can garner a two-thirds vote in favor. It is usually used for non-controversial bills where a two-thirds vote is considered very likely. There is no guarantee that the NASA bill will achieve that threshold, but the Democratic leadership apparently feels sufficiently confident of success. According to NASAWatch, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden issued a statement supporting the Senate bill today.

This is an authorization bill that does not provide any funding to NASA. Rather it sets policy and authorizes (permits) programs to begin. Only appropriations bills give money to agencies to spend. The appropriations bill for fiscal year 2011, which begins on Friday, that includes NASA -- the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) bill -- has not yet been reported from the House Appropriations Committee. The CJS subcommittee marked it up in June, but there has been no further action.

Congress has not passed any of the FY2011 apppropriations bills, thus it will pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) that will fund agencies through December 3, 2010 at their FY2010 funding levels unless an exception is made. The Senate is expected to vote on the CR first today, and then the House. Both chambers are expected to adjourn today or tomorrow until after the November elections, returning on November 15 at last report.

Thus, if the NASA authorization bill passes the House and is signed by the President, NASA will have more clarity about its future direction, but it will not have any additional funds to execute it. That step will await Congress when it returns.

Intelligence Authorization Bill Back on the Docket Again

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

Yet another version of the FY2010 -- yes, 2010 -- Intelligence Authorization bill passed the Senate yesterday and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reportedly has agreed to bring it to the House floor. It would be the first authorization bill for the intelligence community since FY2005 if it passes.

As we reported earlier, the bill has been controversial primarily over who in Congress must be briefed on the most highly classified intelligence matters. The latest version reaches a compromise on the two key issues of concern to Speaker Pelosi. She wanted all members of the House and Senate intelligence committees to be briefed on covert intelligence findings while the White House wanted to continue to restrict such briefings to only the top eight ("Gang of Eight") congressional officials on these matters.

According to Congress Daily (subscription required), the compromise keeps it to the Gang of Eight, but the administration must provide a general description of the finding to all committee members. Also, Speaker Pelosi wanted the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to be able to audit the intelligence agencies. The compromise requires GAO and the Director of National Intelligence to develop a directive on audits by May 1, 2011.

The new language was passed by the Senate as an amendment to the House version of the bill (H.R. 2701). Congress Daily offers that passing the bill before the elections would allow Democrats to "claim an 11th hour victory on a national security measure" to give Democratic candidates "another legislative achievement to point to."

Griffin Urges House to Vote "No" on Senate NASA Authorization Bill

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

Former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin disagrees with Rep. Bart Gordon that a flawed NASA authorization bill is better than no bill at all. In an email, Dr. Griffin argues that although the Senate bill is somewhat better than the Obama Administration's plan for NASA, "it is not enough better to warrant its support in law." His bottom line is that "If we cannot do better than that, then I believe we have reached the point where it is better to allow the damage which has been brought about by the administration's actions to play out to its conclusion than to accept half-measures in an attempt at remediation."

The full text of the email is as follows:

"After considerable reflection, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that NASA and the nation's space program would be best served if the House were to vote against the Senate Authorization Bill in its present form.

"I have the greatest personal and professional respect for Chairman Gordon, and I understand his decision to consider a poor authorization bill rather than to have none at all. However, as Mr. Gordon himself has noted, the Senate Bill has grievous flaws, for which the best hope is now that they can be fixed during the appropriations process. But this is an uncertain path, and while it is true that the Senate Bill offers some improvement over the Obama Administration's ill-advised plan for NASA, in my considered opinion it is not enough better to warrant its support in law.

"As happened after the loss of Space Shuttle Columbia, it is time once again to ask ourselves whether we want to have a real space program, or not. If we do, then the Senate Bill won't get us there. If we cannot do better than that, then I believe we have reached the point where it is better to allow the damage which has been brought about by the administration's actions to play out to its conclusion than to accept half-measures in an attempt at remediation."

UPDATE: What is it Like at the Edge of the Solar System?

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: NASA postponed this from Wednesday to Thursday, September 30, at noon.

NASA will have a media teleconference on Wednesday, September 29, 2010, at 1:00 pm EDT to release new information about conditions at the edge of the solar system from its Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX). The event will be streamed live at Briefers are:

  • Arik Posner, IBEX program scientist, Heliophysics Division, Science Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters in Washington
  • Nathan Schwadron, IBEX science operations lead and associate professor at the University of New Hampshire in Durham
  • David McComas, IBEX principal investigator and assistant vice president of the Space Science and Engineering Division at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio
  • Merav Opher, associate professor, George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

UPDATE: NAC Astrophysicists Take Cautious Stance on U.S. Participation in ESA's Euclid

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE (September 28, 2010): This issue was discussed extensively at the NAC Science Committee meeting today. The committee decided to forward a recommendation to the full NAC, which meets next week in Palmdale, CA, that NASA should keep open the option of a possible partnership with ESA on Euclid, and if ESA does select Euclid to proceed next summer, NASA's goal then should be negotiation of a joint ESA/NASA program that meets the science goals of both Euclid and WFIRST either as a combined mission or two complementary missions.

ORiGINAL STORY (September 27, 2010)

The NASA Advisory Council's (NAC's) astrophysics subcommittee (APS) took a cautious position on the possibility of NASA participating in the European Space Agency's (ESA's) Euclid dark energy mission after two days of intense debate (see our two earlier stories). Euclid is one of three missions competing for two slots in ESA's science mission program; a decision will be made next summer. The National Research Council's Astro2010 Decadal Survey recommended a U.S. mission, WFIRST, that would also study dark energy among other pursuits. NASA asked for input from the U.S. astrophysics community, through APS, on the extent to which the two agencies could work together.

In a report to its parent NAC Science Committee, which meets tomorrow by teleconference, the APS conveyed that it supports NASA's plan to continue discussions with ESA about a possible partnership on Euclid, but it was "primarily to keep the Euclid option open at this time, not endorsement of proceeding to a legally binding Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)." The APS also "indicated a preference that the US share of Euclid be kept at the present 20% level, rather than being raised to 33% as proposed...." (emphasis in original).

The subcommittee was responding to briefings it received from NASA and the NRC about priorities for space-based astrophysics in the next decade. The Astro 2010 Decadal Survey, entitled New Worlds New Horizons (NWNH), recommended the Wide Field InfraRed Survey Telecope (WFIRST) as the top priority for large space-based astrophysics missions in the next 10 years. WFIRST would investigate dark energy, search for exoplanets, and conduct an all-sky infrared survey. Euclid would study only dark energy. The question then is whether the two agencies should work together, with NASA participating in Euclid and ESA participating in WFIRST.

Much is at stake. NASA officials made clear that WFIRST is not likely to launch until at least 2022, while Euclid would launch in 2018 if it is approved by ESA. The APS subcommittee's letter said that meant "Euclid would ... spend 3-4 years making measurements similar to some of those planned for WFIRST, effectively skimming the cream off the dark energy pail."

Money is another issue. NASA estimates that it would cost $260 million over 10 years for NASA to participate in Euclid at the 33 percent level most recently discussed between the two agencies. The subcommittee asked what NASA astrophysics opportunities would be foresaken to pay for that, and whether having two dark energy missions (Euclid and WFIRST) would create an imbalance in the astrophysics portfolio.

Nonetheless, APS noted that if ESA contributed a like amount to WFIRST and the arrangement therefore was revenue neutral, "[p]articipation in Euclid would then be the first element in a US near-infrared space telescope program leading to WFIRST. Continuing this partnership with ESA on the Euclid and potentially WFIRST missions would fulfill a NASA objective of pursuing a new era of international cooperation in space."

Thus, they decided to keep their options open by supporting NASA's plan to proceed with negotiations on U.S. participation in Euclid, but at the lower 20 percent level instead of 33 percent. They also chided NASA for giving them so lilttle time to consider the issues: "In the future, questions to be asked of the APS about such important issues should be provided to the APS in advance of the meeting, so APS members have time to provide thoughtful advice, and, when needed, consult with their colleagues in the community." (emphasis in original)

The NAC Science Committee teleconference meeting tomorrow is open to the public. It begins at 8:30 am EDT. Dial-in information is available in the Federal Register notice.

Gordon: House to Vote on Senate NASA Authorization Bill Wednesday

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN), chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee, says that the House will vote on the Senate version of the NASA authorization bill on Wednesday.

According to a statement on the committee's website, Rep. Gordon remains concerned about some of the provisions in the Senate bill, but with time running short, it is "better to consider a flawed bill than no bill at all as the new fiscal year begins."

He added that he will continue to push for the provisions in the version of the bill he released last week through the appropriations process. He listed the following as his concerns about the Senate bill:

  • it has an "unfunded mandate" to fund the space shuttle through the end of FY2011 at a cost of $500 million, but does not say where the money will come from "all but ensuring that other important NASA programs will be cannibalized";
  • it is "overly prescriptive" on the design of a rocket "while being silent on the safety of the vehicle"; and
  • it does not "provide a timetable for a government backup" to commercial crew services, and while he is hopeful commercial crew will be available on the time schedule promised, "I am wary of being completely dependent on them, because if they fail, we will be dependent on the Russians for longer than absolutely necessary."

UPDATE 4: Events of Interest: Week of September 27-October 1, 2010

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: This is updated to show that (1) registration for the AIA event tomorrow is closed; (2) NASA will have a science teleconference on Wednesday; (3) the House now is expected to vote on the Senate version of the NASA authorization bill on Wednesday, and (4) the IBEX telecon was postponed from Wednesday to Thursday.

The following events may of interest in the coming week. For more information, see our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. Times, dates and witnesses for congressional hearings are subject to change. Check the committee's website for up to date information.

During the Week

Indications are that Congress will adjourn this week until after the November elections, though the date is uncertain in both chambers pending passage of a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government operating after Thursday at midnight when fiscal year 2010 ends. None of the FY2011 appropriations bills has passed. The House reportedly is waiting for the Senate to act first to make certain that the bill can pass that chamber (usually the House acts first on appropriations measures).

Today (September 27), Rep. Bart Gordon, chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee, released a statement saying that the House will vote on the Senate version of the NASA authorization bill (S. 3729) on Wednesday. Even though he has concerns about the Senate bill, "I felt it was better to consider a flawed bill than no bill at all," he said. See our story.

Monday-Friday (September 27-October 1)

Tuesday (September 28)

Wednesday, September 29

  • House Science and Technology Committee hearing on "Averting the Storm: How Investments in Science Will Secure the Competitiveness and Economic Future of the United States," 2318 Rayburn House Office Building. 10:00 am EDT (All four witnesses were members of both the 2005 National Academies study committee that wrote "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" and its update released last week.)
  • NASA Teleconference (streamed live) on Conditions at the Edge of the Solar System, 1:00 pm EDT (this was postponed to Thursday at the last minute)
  • House of Representatives expected to vote on the Senate version of the NASA authorization bill sometime today (see above).

Wednesday-Friday (September 29-October 1)

Thursday (September 30)

  • Congressional Robotics Caucus meeting on space robotics, 11:45 am - 1:15 pm EDT, Capitol Visitor Center rooms HVC 201 A&C
  • NASA Teleconference (streamed live) on Conditions at the Edge of the Solar System, 12:00 pm EDT (this was originally scheduled for Wednesday)

SBSS Launch Should Mean Better Space Situational Awareness

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

The Space Based Space Surveillance (SBSS) System satellite was successfully launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base last night on a Minotaur 4 rocket.

SBSS is intended to provide space-based data on the locations of satellites and space debris. Knowing exactly where objects in space are -- and where their operators plan to move them if they are active -- is critical to avoid collisions like the 2009 Iridium-Cosmos collision that created a cloud of space debris. That event, and China's intentional destruction of one of its own satellites in a 2007 antisatellite test, added substantially to the amount of "stuff" in Earth orbit and catalyzed governments and commercial satellite operators to pay more attention to Space Situational Awareness (SSA). SSA and the need for nations and companies to behave responsibly in space to ensure it remains a sustainable environment for all to use is a major feature of President Obama's new National Space Policy.

Today, only ground-based sensors are available to locate and track space objects. Approximately 22,000 pieces are tracked by the Joint Space Operations Center (part of U.S. Strategic Command). They are 10 centimeters or more in diameter. Thousands more smaller pieces also are thought to be in orbit. quotes SBSS mission director Col. J. R. Gordon as saying that the satellite will "revolutionize the way we track objects in space by not being constrained by weather, the atmosphere or the time of day."

Second Try's the Charm

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

Soyuz TMA-18 successfully undocked from the International Space Station tonight, after failing to do so last night, according to NASA. Landing is at 1:21 am EDT.

ISS Crew Lands Safely

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

Soyuz TMA-18 landed safely in Kazakhstan at 1:23 am this morning (Saturday) with three ISS crew members: Russians Alexander Skvortsov and Mikhail Kornienko and American Tracy Caldwell Dyson. They spent 176 days in space. The landing was delayed one day after the Soyuz spacecraft failed to undock because of technical issues.

Events of Interest  

Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »


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