Latest News

Do We Need a National Space Strategy?

Laura M. Delgado
Posted: 23-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

On December 13, 2010, the Secure World Foundation sponsored a panel discussion about issues involved in writing a national space strategy and whether the United States needs one. A summary of the meeting is available on our left menu under Our Meeting Summaries or simply by clicking here.

Short Term CR Passes, NASA Still in Limbo

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

The Senate and House passed the short-term Continuing Resolution that funds the government through March 4, 2011.

As far as we can tell, there are no exceptions or special language for NASA, leaving the agency in limbo with regard to the Constellation language in the FY2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act that says it cannot cancel the Constellation program or initiate a replacement until Congress approves such action. The short term CR also funds the agency at last year's level, $18.7 billion.

It's Over -- the 111th Congress Draws to a Close

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

At 6:00 pm today, the House adjourned "sine die" -- without a day to reconvene. The Senate is expected to wrap up its work today as well, bringing the 111th Congress to a close. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is currently on the Senate floor summarizing the past two years.

Among last minute actions were the following:

  • The Senate ratified the New START treaty
  • The Senate passed a stripped down version of the FY2011 National Defense Authorization Act, sending it to the President
  • The House passed the Senate-amended version of the America COMPETES Act, sending it to the President
  • Both chambers passed a bill providing assistance to first responders and survivors of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, sending it to the President
  • Both chambers passed a bill modernizing the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) that requires each government agency to file publlicly an evaluation of its spending on a quarterly basis, sending it to the President

With House passage yesterday of the Senate version of another Continuing Resolution (CR), federal agencies can operate until March 4, 2011 -- most, including NASA, at their FY2010 funding levels. The detailed language about NASA that was in the earlier House-passed year-long CR is defunct, so NASA did not get relief from the prohibition against cancelling the Constellation program or initiating a new effort until Congress approved such plans. It also did not get specific appropriations to begin development of a heavy lift launch vehicle with an initial lift capability of 130 tons as stated in the House-passed year-long CR. Instead, NASA will be guided by the language in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act that the vehicle have an initial launch capability of 70-100 tons, later growing to 130 tons. The difference in language is viewed as signalling whether a vehicle more closely based on the space shuttle should be built (the 70-100 ton language) versus a vehicle more akin to the Ares V (the 130 ton language).

NASA will operate for another three months at its FY2010 funding level of $18.7 billion instead of the $18.9 billion proposed in the year-long CR or the $19.0 billion level requested by the President. While this will complicate NASA's planning for the future, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) did extract a commitment from Presidential Science Adviser John Holdren and NASA Chief Financial Officer Beth Robinson at a December 1 hearing that as long as NASA received close to what the President requested that the "Launch on Need" shuttle mission (STS-135) would take place. Senator Nelson specifically raised the possibility of NASA being held at the $18.7 billion level. Meanwhile, programs like earth sciences that were slated to get a significant increase in FY2011 will have to wait to see if that funding materializes next year.

The forecast is not bright for agencies like NASA that are part of non-defense discretionary spending. Republicans have vowed to cut those programs significantly in an effort to reduce the deficit.

Funding Vote Scheduled Tomorrow, But Congress May Remain

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 21-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

First the Senate and then the House are expected to vote tomorrow on another Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government operating. The current CR expires at midnight tomorrow. Whatever happens with that vote, it may not mean that members can go home for the holidays.

Politico reports that in addition to a vote on the New START treaty, which the Senate has been debating for several days, Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) wants action on a number of other bills before the Congress ends. A post-Christmas session is possible, albeit unlikely. On the Senate's agenda, in addition to the CR and New START, are a defense authorization bill and a bill to pay for health care for first responders affected by the September 11 terrorist attacks. The House must deal with the CR and has an opportunity to pass the America COMPETES Act. The House passed it last summer, but it lingered in the Senate until Friday when it abruptly passed with an amendment. The House would have to reconsider the bill as amended, but it reportedly is high on the House's agenda. The House also might deal with the food safety bill that also passed the Senate, amended, over the weekend.

It remains anyone's guess as to how all of this will turn out. If the latest version of the CR in the Senate is the one that prevails, it is not particularly good news for NASA. Barring last minute amendments, it would fund the agency at FY2010 levels and not release NASA from the restrictions against cancelling the Constellation program. Anything can happen in the waning days of a Congress, however, so hold on to your hat!

Latest CR Proposal Would Fund Government to March 4, 2011

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

Yesterday (Sunday), the newest version of a FY2011 Continuing Resolution (CR) was filed in the Senate as an amendment to H.R. 3082. It would fund the government through March 4, 2011. H.R. 3082 as passed by the House would fund the government through the end of FY2011 (September 30, 2011).

A summary of the amendment's major provisions provided by the Senate Appropriations Committee does not mention NASA and a thorough reading of the amendment (Reid amendment SA 4885, pages S10742-45 of yesterday's Congressional Record) does not uncover any special language with regard to the agency either. That would mean that if this version is enacted, NASA still would be subject to the restrictions imposed by the 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act on not cancelling Constellation or initiating an alternative. The House-passed version of the bill relieves NASA of that constraint and makes specific funding decisions that would conform FY2011 appropriations fairly closely with the provisions of the 2010 NASA Authorization Act.

A cloture vote on the new Senate CR is scheduled for Tuesday. If it garners the requisite 60 votes, then the Senate would vote on the bill and send it back to the House. The House will be in session on Tuesday, the day that the current CR expires. It could vote to accept the Senate amendment, or to reject or amend it. Either of the last two choices would mean more back and forth between the two chambers until they can agree on a final bill in these closing days of the 111th Congress.

House Democrats had not wanted a short-term CR because it will give Republicans more power to shape FY2011 funding as they retake control of the House on January 5.

Events of Interest: December 20-31, 2010

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

Apart from whatever congressional action may occur -- like funding the federal government -- the only space policy-related event that we know of for the next two weeks is a virtual meeting of the NAC astrophysics committee this Wednesday. Therefore this is the final issue of "Events of Interest" for 2010; the next edition will be for the week of January 3-7, 2011. Have a very happy holiday and thanks for visiting!

During the Week

One would hate to refer to these closing days of the 111th Congress as "sputtering to the end," but one does hope that the fate of funding for the federal government will be known in the next couple of days. There is still talk of passing another short term Continuing Resolution (CR) -- perhaps through February -- rather than the year-long CR that already passed the House. The current CR expires on Tuesday.

The Senate has been busy working this weekend. It is debating the New START treaty at the moment (Sunday afternoon) and Senator Kerry (D-MA) just said that the Senate will meet in classified session tomorrow for further debate on the Treaty. Thus it looks like FY2011 funding may wait until Tuesday. The House will back in session that day, if necessary, should the Senate pass something other than the CR that passed the House last week. Both chambers have to agree on whatever passes.

Wednesday, December 22

  • NAC Astrophysics Subcommittee meeting via telecon, 1:00-2:00 pm EST. An update on NASA's Astrophysics Division and the James Webb Space Telescope are on the agenda.

Senate Busy, But FY2011 Funding Still Up in the Air, DOD Auth May Be Debated

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

The Senate has been busy today, though settling what will happen with FY2011 funding was not among its achievements. It did, however, defeat the DREAM Act, and pass a bill repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) law regarding gays in the military. Neither is related to space activities, but both have been much discussed in the media.

The DREAM Act would have granted legal residency to illegal immigrants who came to the United States before the age of 16. The House passed the legislation, but it failed a cloture vote in the Senate today, ending its chances in the 111th Congress.

The House already passed the DADT repeal, so the Senate action sends the bill to the President. One of the President's campaign pledges was to repeal the law, which prohibits homosexuals from serving openly in the military.

Dealing with FY2011 funding for the federal government is on the Senate's agenda for "Sunday and the week ahead." The current CR expires on Tuesday.

The Senate also may debate a revised version of the FY2011 National Defense Authorization Act. The House passed it yesterday. The bill, H.R. 6523, authorizes $725 billion for FY2011 for national defense. To win passage, the revised version omits the most controversial topics, including DADT (which moved through as a separate bill) and a specific authorization for a second engine for the F-35, according to the National Journal (subscription required). The House Armed Services Committee's (HASC's) website has links to a summary of the bill and the text itself. The official title of the bill is the Ike Skelton National Defense Authorization Act for FY2011, in honor of HASC chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) who lost his bid for reelection. Sections 911-917 of H.R. 6523 specifically relate to national security space programs as follows:

Sec. 911. Integrated space architectures.
Sec. 912. Limitation on use of funds for costs of terminating contracts under the National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Program.
Sec. 913. Limitation on use of funds for purchasing Global Positioning System user equipment.
Sec. 914. Plan for integration of space-based nuclear detection sensors.
Sec. 915. Preservation of the solid rocket motor industrial base.
Sec. 916. Implementation plan to sustain solid rocket motor industrial base.
Sec. 917. Review and plan on sustainment of liquid rocket propulsion systems industrial base.

NASA Working on New Strategic Plan

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

NASA is working on an updated strategic plan. The outlines are provided in a draft document distributed by NASA that identifies the agency's vision as follows: "NASA leads scientific and technological advances in aeronautics and space for a Nation on the frontier of discovery."

The document states that NASA's "values" are safety, integrity, teamwork and excellence. Six goals are listed:

  • Extend and sustain human activities across the solar system
  • Expand scientific understanding of the Earth and the universe in which we live
  • Create the innovative new space technologies for our exploration, science, and economic future
  • Advance aeronautics research for societal benefit
  • Enable program and institutional capabilities to conduct NASA's aeronautics and space activities
  • Share NASA with the public, educators, and students to provide opportunities to participate in our mission, foster innovation and contribute to a strong National economy

An accompanying memo from NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden explains that the agency will formally submit the new strategic plan along with its FY2012 budget request. The text of his message is as follows:

"Every year in February, the President submits his budget request for the federal government to Congress. This year, along with the President's budget request for NASA, we will be submitting our new NASA Strategic Plan, which guides the work we will perform.

"The NASA Strategic Plan outlines our long-term goals as an agency and describes how we will accomplish those goals through the outcomes that support each goal over the next decade or more.

"Our Strategic Plan team has been hard at work and we now have a solid new mission statement, vision, and strategic goals and outcomes, all of which will form the basis for the new Strategic Plan. I shared these with you back in October, but wanted to take this opportunity to talk about them in more detail.

"Our goals are just that - our goals. And they are cross cutting, with multiple Centers, Mission Directorates and Mission Support Offices contributing to the success of each. We are all responsible for ensuring that these agency goals are met. I expect you to focus on the new mission, vision, and goals starting now and going forward. Our mission, vision, and goals are who we are as an agency and should encompass all we do.

"Below is an outline of our vision, mission, goals and outcomes. The full plan will include narratives for why we pursue each strategic goal, our strategies for achieving the goals, our performance targets, and the challenges we face achieving our goals.
"This is an exciting time for NASA and we have a solid way forward. Working together, we will continue to make NASA's future better and brighter as we contribute to the welfare of our Nation.

"Thank you for all that you do, Charlie B."

Government Funded Through Tuesday

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

The Senate adopted the House-passed 3-day Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government operating through Tuesday according to C-SPAN.

Senator Inouye (D-HI), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, is currently on the Senate floor explaining why he believes passing the CR was a bad deal for the country and the Senate should have passed the omnibus that came out of his committee instead.

The President still must sign the 3-day CR into law, but is expected to do so.

Soyuz TMA-20 Docks with Space Station

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Dec-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Russia's Soyuz TMA-20 spacecraft docked with the International Space Station (ISS) as scheduled this afternoon, delivering three new ISS crew members. The new crew members again illustrate the international nature of the program, with one from Russia, one from the United States, and one from Italy.

The three join two Russians and an American who have been aboard for several months. NASA hasn't issued a press release about the docking yet or posted a story on the ISS website, but one can read all the news at the European Space Agency's (ESA's) website. Or follow NASA tweets. The docking was at 3:12 pm EST (20:12 GMT).

Events of Interest

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


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