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Seven Republican House members sent a letter to NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden yesterday criticizing the agency for not complying with the 2010 NASA Authorization Act.
"We ... strongly request that you stop studying and re-studying NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) ... and report to Congress on NASA's final plan for SLS," they wrote. Signing the letter were Representatives Pete Olson (R-TX), John Culberson (R-TX), Rob Bishop(R-UT), Mo Brooks (R-AL), Lamar Smith (R-TX), Bill Posey (R-FL), and Sandy Adams (R-FL).
Members of both parties have complained over the past several months that NASA is moving too slowly on choosing a design for the congressionally-mandated SLS. The authorization act was a compromise between the Obama Administration's preference for relying on the commercial sector to develop a new crew transportation system for access to low Earth orbit (LEO) and congressional determination to have the government build a larger ("heavy lift") vehicle that enables human exploration beyond LEO. The law directs NASA to do both and to expeditiously move out on building the heavy lift vehicle -- the SLS. Congress required NASA to submit a report on its plans within 90 days of the law's enactment, but the report that was submitted in January was only an interim report. Congress has been waiting for the final report and is becoming impatient. Four key Senators -- two Democrats and two Republicans -- wrote their own letter to Bolden last month.
The seven House members left no doubt about their views on NASA's delay. The current situation is "irresponsible, objectionable, and incompliant with the law," they wrote.
While "home" undoubtedly is her district in Tucson, AZ, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords went home today from TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital to her husband Mark Kelly's home in League City, TX. Kelly is a NASA astronaut. League City is close to NASA's Johnson Space Center where astronauts train.
Giffords will continue to go to TIRR every day for outpatient therapy. The hospital released a statement saying that "her cognitive abilities and physical strength have improved to the poiint where she no longer needs to remain a patient in the hospital."
In an Arizona Republic story republished on the congresswoman's website, her spokesman, CJ Karamargin, is quoted as saying that she is "elated." The newspaper also quotes Kelly as saying that his wife loves to be outside and now, while she will still go to TIRR daily, "when she finishes rehab, she will be with her family."
Ensuring the continuity of data streams from earth observation satellites and changing the framework of the debate over climate change were key messages from yesterday's Forum for Earth Observations V. The Forum was sponsored by the Alliance for Earth Observations and the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies.
Focusing on the need to create a national strategy for environmental intelligence, the day-long meeting brought together business and government representatives to talk about the importance of sustained environmental observations. There was a general understanding that today's economic situation means that everyone must do more with less. Nonetheless, speakers emphasized that such data are needed not only for research into climate change and government intelligence analyses of global changes in supplies of food, water and energy, but also to support businesses like the insurance industry.
Although the meeting's emphasis was on satellite observations, William Vass of Liquid Robotics reminded the audience that the Earth is 70 percent ocean and robotic platforms that can operate autonomously at sea for two years, like those developed by his company, are another method of obtaining data.
One business use of remote sensing data highlighted at the Forum was the insurance industry. Carl Hedde of Munich RE reviewed the worldwide natural disasters that have occurred just in the first five months of 2011 -- from earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan to tornadoes and floods in the United States. Insured losses in the United States alone from these events total more than $11 billion, he said. His company thinks climate change is one factor in the weather-related events and is investing in climate change research itself.
Climate change is an emotional topic. Sharon Hays, Vice President for the Office of Science and Engineering at CSC and a former congressional and White House staffer, called for a new way to communicate about climate change issues. "What we're doing doesn't work," Hays stressed. Too much attention is focused on whether it is human induced or natural instead of what needs to be done to adapt to it, she said.
Another key message was the need for public-private partnerships between businesses and the government to effectively utilize environmental data. Engaging with corporate executives to help them understand the impact climate change could have on their businesses is one step that is needed, Hays pointed out. "Did you know that all of our data centers are located in the same 100 year flood plain?" she asked. What happens when that becomes a 50 year flood plain, or 25 year flood plain is critical to businesses. She challenged the audience to think about "how we shift the debate," and "how do we stimulate the climate service industry?"
Hays was on Capitol Hill in 1996 just after Republicans took control of the House after decades in the minority. She recalled that doubling funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was a big issue at the time. Increasing NIH funding to that extent "seemed like fantasy," but what persuaded the Republican leadership, including then-Speaker and current presidential candidate Newt Gingrich was hearing from biotech and other companies about how that government investment would create jobs. It was not about scientists and the data they needed. The key is appealing to "pocketbook issues," she said, and harnessing non-traditional users of environmental observations to make them advocates for that data -- "Then we start to change the debate."
The meeting was a love fest for the venerable Landsat series of medium resolution land imaging data. The first Landsat was launched by NASA in 1972. The most recent, Landsat 7, has been in orbit since 1999. It and Landsat 5 (1984) continue to operate with partial capabilities well past their design lifetimes. The need to ensure continuity of that data series was stressed throughout the day by speakers both from the public and private sectors. Many also heralded the 2008 U.S. Government decision to make Landsat data freely available to anyone.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), part of the Department of the Interior (DOI), manages distribution and archiving of Landsat data and its role in the program will change dramatically if Congress agrees. David Hayes, Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior (DOI), enthusiastically told the audience that in the FY2012 budget request his department has proposed taking over the Landsat program "lock, stock and barrel" from NASA. The budget request proposes that USGS not only take the primary role for the next in the series, the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) or Landsat 8 - scheduled for launch in 2012 - but also initiate planning for Landsat 9 and 10.
The House Appropriations Committee approved the FY2012 defense appropriations bill today.
The committee adopted 13 amendments during full committee markup, but none affect space programs. The subcommittee recommendations stand.
In total, the bill provides $530 billion in non-emergency spending, $17 billion more than the current fiscal year, but $9 billion less than the President's request for FY2012. It also provides $119 billion in emergency spending for the "global war on terror." That's a total of $649 billion.
Thanks to Jeff Foust over at Spacepolitics.com for watching the Republican presidential debate last night and noting that a question was asked about the space program.
According to Jeff's account, the question to the candidates was what role should the government play in the future of space exploration. Former Rep. Newt Gingrich said he favors more privatization, while former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty called for the space program to be "refocused." Jeff provides a transcipt of the entire exchange on his website.
The House Appropriations Committee will mark up the FY2012 defense appropriations bill tomorrow (Tuesday, June 14) at 10:00 am. If it adopts the recommendations of its defense subcommittee, it will be a mix of good and not so good news -- mostly the latter -- for the department's space programs.
The subcommittee's recommendations are contained in a draft of the committee's report that is already published on the committee's website along with a copy of the draft bill. (The report is not labeled "draft," but full committee markup is not until tomorrow and committee staff confirm that it is the working document that the full committee will use at its meeting. Amendments are possible.)
Examples of the programs recommended for cuts by the subcommittee are the following:
- $225 million for the Defense Weather Satellite System (still entitled NPOESS in the table), $220 million below the President's request
- $351 million for development of the GPS III operational control segment, $48 million less than the request
- $413 million for the GPS III space segment, $50 million below the request
- $1.6 billion for procurement of four EELVs, $174 million below the request
- $355 million for Advanced EHF milsatcom, $67 million below the request
- $29.5 million for Operationally Responsive Space, $57 million below the request
- $221 million for Space Situation Awareness Systems, $53 million below the request (-$40 million from Space Fence and -$12 million from SBSS)
- $79 million for JSPOC mission system, $40 million below the request
- $71 million for space technology, $44.5 million below the request
- $39 million for advanced spacecraft technology, $35 million below the request
- $34 million for Rocket Systems Launch Program, $124.5 million below the request
At least two programs, conversely, would get increases.
- $803.7 million for procurement of two Wideband Global System satellite, $335 million above the request
- $107.7 million for GPS IIF production readiness, $40 million above the request
Many others, like the Space-Based Infrared Satellite (SBIRS) system, would be funded at the same level as requested, in that case $622 million. After many, many years of schedule delays and cost growth, the first geostationary SBIRS satellite was finally launched last month.
In a lengthy section beginning on p. 185, the subcommittee sharply criticized DOD's proposed Evolutionary Acquisition for Space Efficiency (EASE) acquisition approach to satellite systems. EASE assumes the availability of advance appropriations instead of the year-by-year appropriations that are typically provided. The subcommittee said it was "disappointed" that DOD developed EASE without input from Congress and found it "alarming" that DOD based its entire budget request for space programs on Congress accepting EASE. "The Committee does not approve the acquisition plan using the advance appropriations concept," the subcommittee report states.
Pia Carusone, chief of staff to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), told the Arizona Republic on Thursday that the Congresswoman continues her recovery and is not yet ready to return to her congressional duties, but as one more step forward, two new photos of Rep. Giffords were posted on her website this weekend.
Wearing glasses and with very short dark hair, the woman in the photos on the right side of the website may not be immediately recognizable, but the bright smile is clearly the same as in the photo of Rep. Giffords at the top of the site. The Associated Press reported that the photos were taken on May 17 and were being released "amid the possibility that Giffords could be released from the hospital in the coming weeks."
The following events may of interest in the week ahead. For more information, see our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. Times and dates for congressional activities are subject to change; check the relevant committee's website for up to date information.
During the Week
The House and Senate are both in session this week. Both will work on funding for the Department of Defense (DOD). The full House Appropriations Committee will markup the FY2012 Defense Appropriations bill on Tuesday. The Defense Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing on the FY2012 DOD budget request on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, on the authorization front, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) subcommittees and then the full commitee will markup their version of the National Defense Authorization Act during the week. The meeting of the Strategic Forces subcommittee (where most space programs are handled) and the full commitee are closed, so are not listed below, but for those who are interested, that subcommittee markup is on Tuesday at 10:30 am and full committee markup is Wednesday-Thursday, with Friday as an "if needed" date. The House passed the FY2012 National Defense Authorization Act in May, but the Senate version is expected to be quite different.
Monday-Wednesday, June 13-15
Tuesday, June 14
Tuesday-Thursday, June 14-16
Wednesday, June 15
Thursday, June 16
Thursday-Friday, June 16-17
The California Space Authority ceased operations yesterday according to the Santa Maria Times. CSA was headquarted in Santa Maria, CA, which is near Vandenberg Air Force Base. According to its website, CSA's purpose was to "retain, grow and create California space enterprise."
Recently CSA was focussing on building a $220 million California Space Center for educational and tourism purposes. The most recent plan was to build it in nearby Lompoc, CA, and the mayor of Lompoc told the newspaper that he plans to continue that effort without the CSA.
Financial troubles apparently were the root cause of the decision to dissolve the CSA. Many staff had been laid off already, and the Executive Director, former congresswoman Andrea Seastrand, and Deputy Director Janice Dunn, had voluntarily cut their salaries in half, according to the Times.
Although she was able to travel to Florida for husband Mark Kelly's space shuttle launch in May, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) is not yet ready to return to the grueling job of representing Arizona's 8th district according to her chief of staff.
Pia Carusone gave an interview to the Arizona Republic in which she frankly discussed the Congresswoman's recovery from a gunshot wound to the head during an assassination attempt on January 8. Carusone pointed out that the best way for doctors to know the extent of the physical damage to her brain is by using an MRI, but that option is not available to Rep. Giffords because metal bullet fragments remain in her brain.
Rep. Giffords can communicate, but not always with words. "She is borrowing upon other ways of communicating. Her words are back more and more now, but she's still using facial expressions as a way to express," Carusone is quoted as saying.
As for Giffords's future, Carusone said that the only legal timetable for making a decision about whether she will run for her congressional seat again is May 12, 2012 when petitions for re-election are due. "We're about halfway through the process that is the most important for recovery," Carusone said, the first 12-14 months after a brain injury. Doctors remain optimistic that Giffords will make a "tremendously good recovery," but exactly what her condition will be is unknown. "All that we can hope for is that she won't plateau today and that she'll keep going...," Carusone told the newspaper.
Events of Interest
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