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At a hearing before the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee this afternoon, Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) said that he knows of only one Member of Congress who supports President Obama's new plan for NASA. He did not identify who that is, but Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) has publicly praised the President's plan to rely on commercial space companies for human trips to low Earth orbit.
As has been true in other congressional hearings on NASA's budget request, the vast majority of questions to NASA Administrator Bolden were about the decision to cancel the Constellation program. Brief mention was made of the $6 billion increase to the NASA budget over 5 years that is projected in the budget request, and there were a couple of questions about space science and aeronautics research, but Constellation and the future of the human space flight program dominated the hearing.
Several members asked about the costs associated with the Ares I and Ares 5 programs, some taking issue with what the Augustine Committee and NASA are now saying. Administrator Bolden said the Ares 1 would cost $4-4.5 billion per year to operate. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) held up a piece of paper that from his description appeared to be a response from NASA last year about how much an Ares 1 launch would cost. He said the answer was $1.3 billion for three flights per year. By contrast, Gen. Bolden said that when he asked how much it would cost for a single Ares 1 launch, he was told $1.6 billion, and that the annual operating costs would be $4-4.5 billion. He promised the Congressman an answer for the record explaining the discrepancies.
Extensive discussion about when a heavy lift launch vehicle (HLLV) would be available permeated the hearing. Gen. Bolden said that he hoped one could be available in 10 years or so.
In answer to questions from subcommittee chairman Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV), Gen. Bolden repeated his answer at other congressional hearings that the destination for human space flight is the Moon and Mars, but he could not put a date on when there would be human trips to Mars. He insisted that the United States is the leader in human space flight and will remain the leader through the International Space Station program. He also assured Chairman Mollohan that he was complying with language in the FY2010 Consolidated Appropropriations Act not to cancel any aspect of the Constellation program until Congress takes further action in a subsequent appropriations bill.
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 EDT unless otherwise noted.
Tuesday, March 23
Wednesday, March 24
Thursday, March 25
The Senate had a busy day today, so the Senate hearing on assessing commercial space capabilities was both delayed and interrupted by votes on the floor, and Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) was the only Senator present except for a brief visit by Senator Hutchison (R-TX) to read an opening statement. The prepared testimony of the seven witnesses and the webcast of the hearing are on the committee's website.
Senator Nelson again said that the biggest problem with NASA's new plan for human space flight is the way it was rolled out, and reiterated that President Obama is a strong supporter of human space flight, which he will make clear at his April 15 "space conference" at Kennedy Space Center. The Senator revealed that he is trying to convince the President to launch one more shuttle mission beyond the four remaining on the manifest. NASA will have a "launch on need" mission ready to go in case any problems develop with the last mission and Senator Nelson wants to see that one launched regardless of whether it is needed as a rescue flight. As for more shuttle flights beyond that, he seems convinced that the time has passed for trying to extend the shuttle. As others have stated, it would take two to two-and-a-half years to ready another External Tank, so a gap between the shuttle and whatever comes after it is inevitable.
In her brief appearance, Senator Hutchison spoke about her bill (S. 3068), which would extend the shuttle. She emphasized the need to assure that the United States can send its own astronauts into space rather than relying on the Russians, and that the commercial sector needs time to prove its capabilities.
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell stuck to the company's guns that SpaceX could launch astronauts to the space station within three years of getting a contract to do so. Michael Gass of United Launch Alliance and Frank Culbertson of Orbital Sciences were a little more reserved. Gass said that that four years is achievable for a human flight (three years for an uncrewed test flight). Culbertson declined to give a firm estimate, emphasizing that his company has not yet seen the requirements it will have to meet. He said it could be three to four years, or even five.
A SpacePolicyOnline.com summary of the hearing will be available soon.
Seven witnesses are scheduled to testify this afternoon before the Science and Space Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on commercial space activities. It's an unusually large group for a space hearing, and spans a range of government and private sector expertise. Three former astronauts (Stafford, O'Connor and Culbertson) are among them. The hearing is at 2:30 pm in 253 Russell Senate Office Building.
- Lt. Gen. Thomas Stafford (USAF, Ret.)
- Bryan O'Connor, NASA Chief of Safety and Mission Assurance
- George Nield, FAA Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transporation
- Malcolm Peterson, former NASA Comptroller
- Michael Gass, President, United Launch Alliance
- Frank Culbertson, Senior Vice President and Deputy General Manager, Advanced Programs Group, Orbital Sciences Corp.
- Gwynne Shotwell, President, SpaceX
U.S. astronaut Jeffrey Williams and Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev safely returned to Earth this morning, landing in Kazakshtan at 7:24 am EDT. They spent five and a half months aboard the International Space Station. NASA has a great image of the landing in the snow-covered Kazakh steppes.
Two of the five International Space Station crew members, including the current commander, will return to Earth tomorrow, leaving just three aboard the orbiting facility. A change of command ceremony today marked the imminent end of Expedition 22, commanded by American Jeff Williams, and beginning of Expedition 23, to be commanded by Russian Oleg Kotov as soon as Williams departs.
Williams and Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev will return to Earth tomorrow on Soyuz TMA-16. Undocking is scheduled for 4:00 am with a landing in Kazakhstan at 7:23 am. "Frigid weather and gusty winds" are predicted at the landing site according to NASA.
Kotov's crewmates Soichi Noguchi from Japan and T.J. Creamer from the United States remain aboard ISS waiting to greet three new colleagues in about three weeks. They are Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Alexander Skvortsov, and American astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson. The three are scheduled to be launched aboard Soyuz TMA-18 on April 2. The next space shuttle flight to the ISS is currently scheduled for launch on April 5. To keep abreast of the comings and goings on the ISS, visit NASA's ISS website.
UPDATE: This article is updated to include the names of the other Members of Congress who signed the letter.
Representative Robert Aderholt (R-AL) sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on Friday asking for an investigation into whether NASA is violating the law regarding the Constellation program according to a press release from his office. Rep. Aderholt is a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA.
According to his press release, Rep. Aderholt is asking GAO to determine if "NASA's actions regarding the Constellation program, as well as the extent to which it is working on a new, unauthorized plan, violates law." The FY2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act prohibits NASA from spending any funds to cancel Constellation or initiate a new program without specific congressional approval in a subsequent appropriations act.
The other 15 Members of Congress who signed the letter are:
Rep. Parker Griffith (R-AL)
Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL)
Rep. Jo Bonner (R-AL)
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL)
Rep. John Culberson (R-TX)
Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL)
Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX)
Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL)
Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX)
Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX)
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT)
Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA)
Rep. Gene Green (D-TX)
Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-OH)
Rep. John Fleming (R-LA)
As was true with a previous letter sent to NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden on the same subject, perhaps what is most telling about this request to GAO is who did NOT sign it -- the chair and ranking member of the appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA (Rep. Alan Mollohan and Rep. Frank Wolf), and the chair of the House Science and Technology Committee (Rep. Bart Gordon) and its Space and Aeronautics subcommittee (Rep, Gabrielle Giffords).
UPDATE: President Obama and Senator Nelson had an "excellent conversation" according to Florida Today, quoting the Senator, who also said that "we'll see the fruits of that conversation" on April 15 when the President holds a space conference in Florida.
Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) tweeted today that he was "Headed to Oval Office for meeting with the president about America's space program. Lots of folks unhappy with newly released plan for NASA." Senator Nelson will chair a hearing on Thursday at 2:30 pm (see our calendar on the right menu) on the state of the commercial space industry. He has been sharply critical of the way the new plan was rolled out because, he says, it gave the impression that the President was killing the human space flight program. President Obama will be holding a "space conference" in Florida on April 15 to elucidate what he has in mind for NASA.
At the same time, the Orlando Sentinel reported today that Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL), who represents a district near Kennedy Space Center, was invited to the White House last week so the President could coax her into voting in favor of the health care reform bill, but "she frequently pivoted the conversation to NASA," and has not yet made up her mind on how to vote. The Houston Chronicle reports that the mayor of Houston, Annise Parker, also is on her way to pressure the President.
The Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee of the House Science and Technology Committee has announced a hearing for March 24 on "Proposed Changes to NASA's Exploration Program: What's Known, What's Not, and What Are the Issues for Congress?" NASA Associate Administrator for Exploration Doug Cooke and retired Lockheed Martin executive Tom Young are the scheduled witnesses. The hearing will be at 2:00 pm in 2318 Rayburn House Office Building.
James Dean at Florida Today wrote an interesting article yesterday weighing the pros and cons of the commercial crew approach to sending people to low Earth orbit.
Events of Interest
- Rescheduled GEOINT 2013 Conference, April 14-17, 2014, Tampa, FL
- NOAA Science Advisory Board, April 15-16, 2014, Sheraton Silver Spring, Silver Spring, MD
- NASA Advisory Council, April 16-17, 2014, NASA HQ, Washington, DC
- NASA Media Telecon re Space Technology, April 16, 2014, 12:00 noon ET, virtual
- WSBR Luncheon Featuring Pam Grayson, MTN Government, April 17, 2014, University Club, Washington, DC, 11:30 am - 1:30 pm ET
- AIAA National Capital Section Luncheon Featuring NASA CFO Beth Robinson, April 17, 2014, SAIC, 400 Virginia Ave. S.W., Ste 800, Washington, DC, 11:30 am - 1:30 pm ET
- NASA Applied Sciences Advisory Committee, April 17, 2014, place not specified, 1:00-4:00 pm (time zone not specified)
- Human Settlement in Space: Bases in Near Space (Marshall Institute), April 17, 2014, 2325 Rayburn House Office Building, 1:00-2:30 pm ET
- NEW NASA Media Teleconference on New Discovery from Kepler Space Telescope, April 17, 2014, 2:00 pm ET, virtual
- Rescheduled SpaceX CRS-3 Launch, April 18, 2014, Cape Canaveral, FL, 3:25 pm ET
- First Contact: Improbable Dream or Worst Nightmare? panel discussion at AwesomeCon, April 19, 2014, Washington Convention Center, 10:15-11:15 am ET
- Dystopian Science Fiction in Popular Culture at AwesomeCon, April 19, 2014, Washington Convention Center, 11:15-12:15 pm ET
- What is "Science Fiction" at AwesomeCon, April 19, 2014, Washington Convention Center, 1:30-2:30 pm ET
- Science Fiction As Inspiration for Space Careers panel discussion at AwesomeCon, April 19, 2014, Washington Convention Center, 2:45-4:00 pm ET
- SpaceX CRS-3 arrival at ISS, April 20, 2014, grapple 7:14 am ET (time is approximate)
Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »
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