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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.
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.
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.
UPDATE: This article is updated to include the names of the other Members of Congress who signed the letter.
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.
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.
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.
Lori Garver, NASA Deputy Administrator, debuted a set of graphics illustrating the choices between the new plan for NASA proposed by President Obama and the current plan of pursuing the Constellation program during a speech last week at the American Astronautical Society's Goddard Memorial Symposium.
The two Powerpoint slides show NASA's view of its exploration program for the next 20 years (2010-2030) under the Obama proposal versus Constellation. The first slide - with the work NOTIONAL superimposed across the page - is very busy. It shows three sets of activities: commercial cargo and commercial crew flights to the International Space Station (ISS) through 2028, a robust "transformational R&D" effort with technology demonstration flights on the ISS and other "flagship" and "small" technology demonstration flights, and "sustainable exploration" including robotic precursor flights, heavy lift launch capability, in-space propulsion etc. The second slide is almost empty by comparison, showing the ISS and commercial cargo launches ending in 2016, Ares I/Orion beginning in 2015 with a notation that the Augustine committee said 2017, and Ares V beginning in 2024 with a notation that Augustine said 2028.
The following events may be of interest in the coming week. For further details, see our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. All locations are in Washington, DC and all times are Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) unless otherwise noted. Times, dates and witnesses for congressional hearings are subject to change; check with the relevant committee for up to date information.
Tuesday, March 16
Tuesday-Thursday, March 16-18
Wednesday, March 17
Thursday, March 18
Events of Interest