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The Science and Space Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee held a hearing on NASA's FY2011 budget request on February 24, 2010. A SpacePolicyOnline.com summary of the hearing is now available. Look on our left menu under "Our Hearing Summaries" or simply click here.
In 2008, Congress directed NASA to ask the National Research Council (NRC) to conduct a review of NASA's suborbital activities, including balloons, sounding rockets, aircraft, and suborbital reusable rockets. The NRC released its report - Revitalizing NASA's Suborbital Program: Advancing Science, Driving Innovation, and Developing Workforce - on Friday, championing a reinvigoration of the program.
It wasn't so long ago that suborbital space-related research seemed to be on the verge of extinction. For decades, the space and earth science communities considered suborbital research such a fundamental aspect of NASA's science programs that little effort was made to explain or defend the money spent for it. The abrupt cutbacks in NASA's research and analysis (R&A) funding, which includes suborbital programs, proposed in the FY2007 budget set off alarm bells not only for the scientists who rely on the suborbital program for flying experiments but for others who recognize the role of the suborbital program as a training ground for future scientists, systems engineers, and project and program managers. Although NASA began to change course soon thereafter, the interest in justifying and reinvigorating the program took hold.
The NRC's study committee, chaired by Steven Bohlen of Texas A&M, made five recommendations:
NASA's current leadership seems particularly keen on the prospects for purchasing commercial flight services through its Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research (CRuSR) program. NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said on February 18 that NASA is planning to spend $2.5 million in FY2010 for those services and is requesting $15 million per year for FY2011-2014.
Five months into FY2010, the House finally passed the FY2010 Intelligence Authorization bill (H.R. 2701). It was scheduled for floor action last summer, but pulled from consideration because of a threatened presidential veto over who in Congress must be briefed on the most sensitive classified issues.
A compromise was reached and the bill passed through the House Rules Committee last week although a political battle later ensued over language that was added during that process that would have set criminal penalties for CIA interrogators and others who use cruel or inhuman methods. Opponents prevailed and the bill went back to the Rules Committee to have that provision removed. The bill then returned to the floor and was passed Friday morning.
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.
During the Week
Wednesday, March 3
Wednesday-Friday, March 3-5
Thursday, March 4
If you've ever wondered what the view is like from a suborbital launch -- and landing -- this seven minute video from the Swedish Space Corporation (SSC) shows the flight of Maven-11 in May 2008. It reached an altitude of 228 kilometers, providing a stunning view of Earth.
SSC has a sounding rocket center at Esrange, 45 kilometers from Kiruna, Sweden, north of the Arctic Circle. Maser-11 was launched for the European Space Agency and carried microgravity research experiments. Views from cameras on rockets on their way up are commonplace, but not so much from capsules on the way down. That view also is interesting, along with post-landing as the capsule lays askew on the ground waiting for the recovery team, probably not unlike a Soyuz capsule (or any crew spacecraft other than the space shuttle or other winged vehicles like SpaceShipTwo) returning from the International Space Station. That part doesn't look like quite so much fun.
The Senate adjourned today without passing the bill (H.R. 4691) that would have extended for one more month a number of laws that will expire on Sunday, including satellite television legislation. The satellite TV law contains copyright provisions that allow satellite TV companies (Dish Network and DirecTV) to offer certain TV programming to their subscribers under a government-set copyright fee. Other expiring laws bundled together in H.R. 4691 affect unemployment insurance, COBRA benefits, surface transportation programs, medicare payments, flood insurance, and small business loan guarantees.
The House passed H.R. 4691 yesterday, but in the Senate, Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) objected to a unanimous consent request to pass the bill because it does not pay for itself. In comments on the Senate floor, Senator Bunning remarked that every member of the Senate agreed with the contents of the bill, but he could not let it pass without including offsets to pay for it.
Today the House passed H.R. 4691, which includes a one-month extension of the satellite home viewer act along with temporary extensions of several other laws that otherwise will expire on Sunday, February 28. The House passed a new version of the satellite television law last year, but the Senate did not. They agreed on an extension to February 28, but the Senate still has not acted on the legislation. Whether the Senate will agree to the new temporary extension is up in the air. Congress Daily (subscription required) reported late Thursday evening that as the clock ticked down, Senator Bunning (R-KY) was objecting to a unanimous consent agreement to pass the bill.
Presidential Science Adviser John Holdren was busy testifying on Capitol Hill yesterday about the federal R&D budget, including NASA. In the morning he appeared before the House Science and Technology Committee, and in the afternoon before the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee.
The appropriations hearing revealed the positions being taken by NASA's appropriators, the Members of Congress who are most directly involved in deciding how much money NASA will get for FY2011. While many of NASA's authorizers have been quite vocal in reacting to the plan in NASA's FY2011 budget request - almost all somewhere between skeptical and strongly opposed - less has been known publicly about the appropriators. (Not sure of the difference between authorizers and appropriators? See our "What's a Markup?" fact sheet.)
Congressman Frank Wolf Releases Correspondence About Impact of Cancelling NASA's Constellation Program
Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA), ranking member of the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee, has posted the text of correspondence he had about the President's proposal to terminate the Constellation program with Burt Rutan and several former astronauts and NASA officials. He quoted from the letters and emails in his statement to the CJS subcommittee during a hearing on Wednesday with Presidential Science Adviser John Holdren. They are available on the Congressman's website and include correspondence with:
Burt Rutan, the highly respected, outspoken aerospace engineer who designed SpaceShipOne and other innovative aerospace vehicles, wrote a letter to Congressman Frank Wolf (posted on the Congressman's website) widely interpreted as being critical of President Obama's decision to terminate the Constellation program and instead rely on commercial companies to send NASA astronauts to low Earth orbit. Concerned about how the letter is being characterized in the press, Mr. Rutan wrote some clarifying comments that are posted on Rob Coppinger's Hyperbola blog.
It appears that Mr. Rutan wants to avoid upsetting those who advocate commercial crew while at the same time warning against America abandoning its leadership in human space flight by taking NASA out of the picture. His emphasis in both missives is that NASA should focus on research leading to technical breakthroughs (which suggests that he should support the President's proposal), but that the United States needs to remain in the forefront of human space exploration (which it might not under the President's proposal). Mr. Rutan's stature in the aerospace community gives his voice considerable weight, particularly for those advocating commercial space activities. His letter to Congressman Wolf received a lot of attention precisely because it was viewed as supporting a government-run program over a commercial program.
Events of Interest