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The following events may be of interest this week. For more details, see our calendar on the right menu or click on the links below. Note that dates, times and witnesses for congressional hearings are subject to change. Check the committee's website for up-to-date information.
Wednesday, January 20
Wednesday-Thursday, January 20-21
Thursday, January 21
The Department of Defense (DOD) reportedly will be as much as a year late delivering the Space Posture Review (SPR) required by Congress in DOD's FY2009 authorization bill. It was supposed to be submitted to Congress by December 1, 2009. Defense News says that even though the SPR and its siblings, a Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) and Ballistic Missile Defense Review, were intended to inform DOD's Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), neither the SPR nor NPR are ready. The publication says that the QDR nevertheless will be released along with the FY2011 President's budget request, scheduled for February 1.
As we reported earlier, the SPR is one of three recent high-level reviews of U.S. space policy initiated by Congress or the White House. The White House ordered the other two: the Review of Human Space Flight Plans, also known as the Augustine Committee, released in October; and the National Security Council-led review of U.S. space policy required by Presidential Study Directive-3, which has not been released. President Obama also has ordered a review of U.S. export control policy, which could have an impact on commercial space activities in particular.
Last week the House passed H.R. 3237, which would create a new Title of the U.S. Code for the laws that Congress already has passed regarding national and commercial space programs. Currently the space-related laws are in Title 15, Title 42 or Title 49. H.R. 3237 would group them into a new Title 51 as well as tidy them up by repealing obsolete provisions (e.g. a requirement for a report to be submitted a decade ago), correcting technical errors and making other non-substantive changes. As the bill report (H. Rept. 111-325) explains:
"In restating existing law, this bill consolidates various provisions of law which have been enacted separately over a period of many years, reorganizing them, conforming style and terminology, modernizing obsolete language, and correcting drafting errors. These changes are not intended to have substantive effect, or to impair in any way the precedential value of earlier judicial decisions or other interpretations."
The House Judiciary Committee's efforts to create a new Title for space-related laws began in 2005 (the 109th Congress), but the previous bills were never reported from committee.
The science community should advocate for an aggressive human spaceflight program while at the same time defending its programs from being the source of money for it, according to Dr. Lennard Fisk, immediate past Chair of the National Research Council's Space Studies Board (SSB). Dr. Fisk is a Distinguished University Professor of Space Science at the University of Michigan.
Arguing that space and earth science programs as well as human spaceflight programs need to be "transformative" to warrant funding, Dr. Fisk said:
"What posture then should the science community take relative to human spaceflight? The first posture is of course a defensive one. We may recognize that human spaceflight needs more money, but we have transformative goals of our own, and we do not wish to be the source of that money.
The second posture is an offensive one. We need to recognize that the current human spaceflight program is a drag on the reputation of the agency, and therefore on us, and offers little advantage to us. We should thus be advocates for a more aggressive human spaceflight program, which is capable of transforming our society, our economy, and our future. A human spaceflight program that is an essential component of our foreign policy, our economic future, and the inspiration of our people. And if such a program develops, there will be opportunities for synergies, and mutually supportive capabilities, and all this will be advantageous to us."
Space and earth science programs like the Hubble Space Telescope, planetary exploration missions, and studies of the Sun and the Earth have transformed human understanding of our planet and the universe, he said. The Apollo program similarly was transformative, but the current human spaceflight program is not: "It is unlikely that the human spaceflight program will ever rise to the scientific transformational standard that we impose upon our robotic scientific program." But he believes there are transformations that can come from the human spaceflight program that are geopolitical, economic, and inspirational.
Dr. Fisk spoke at a January 14 symposium jointly sponsored by the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) and George Washington University's Space Policy Institute (SPI) entitled Human Spaceflight and the Future of Space Science. These two components - sometimes described as warring factions - of the space community often are at odds.
A decision to reduce space and earth science funding by $3.1 billion over 5 years in the FY2007 budget exacerbated tensions. Many space and earth scientists believed that science programs were being robbed to pay for President George W. Bush's "Vision for Space Exploration" to return humans to the Moon by 2020 and then go on to Mars. In September 2005, then-NASA Administrator Michael Griffin promised that he would not take "one thin dime" from science programs to pay for the Vision, but just a few months later the Bush Administration released NASA's FY2007 budget request with its cut to science funding. Dr. Griffin repeatedly pointed out that he also had to reduce funding for the Exploration program by $1.5 billion, but that did not calm the scientific community.
The reductions for both science and Exploration were necessitated by funding requirements for the existing space shuttle and International Space Station programs, which had been underfunded in NASA's budget forecasts.
Attempts to improve relationships between scientists and human spaceflight advocates have been ongoing by some of the leaders of those communities. The recent selection of Dr. Laurie Leshin - a space scientist - to be Deputy Associate Administrator of NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate may be another step in that direction.
NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) released its 2009 annual report on Friday. From a safety perspective, the panel opposes any "significant" extension of space shuttle flights, worries that commercial providers of crew launch services do not yet meet NASA's Human Rating Requirements, supports the existing Constellation program, and urges NASA to be open-minded about increasing its use of robots instead of or to support astronauts.
Many of its findings and recommendations parallel those in its 2008 report or were expressed by ASAP chair Vice Admiral Joe Dyer (Ret.) in testimony to the House Science and Technology Committee in September (read a SpacePolicyOnline.com summary of the hearing).
As required by the 2005 NASA Authorization Act, the report was submitted not only to NASA Administrator Bolden, but to the President of the Senate (who is also the Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden) and the Speaker of the House (Nancy Pelosi). ASAP was originally created in the 1968 NASA Authorization Act in the wake of the 1967 Apollo 204 fire that killed three astronauts. The 2005 law added other responsibilities and the requirement that ASAP reports be submitted to Congress as well as the NASA Administrator.
The dual reporting requirement could be especially important this year since the debate over the future of the human spaceflight program is shaping up to be the central issue in NASA's FY2011 budget debate. Some of NASA's most vocal overseers in Congress and the White House may not see eye-to-eye on that topic. The timing of the ASAP report's release is noteworthy. It is the earliest in the year that an ASAP report has been published in recent memory and could be timed to ensure that ASAP's concerns are fully in the public eye - including Congress' - as the course of U.S. human spaceflight is set.
- ASAP opposes extending space shuttle flights "significantly" beyond those currently planned unless the shuttle undergoes the recertification called for by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) that found the causes of the 2003 Columbia tragedy in which seven astronauts perished. The panel said that the time to make a decision to extend the shuttle beyond 2010 was several years ago when such a recertification could have been initiated. ASAP said it was particularly concerned about discussions of a "serial extension" of a few flights at a time. The report comments that -
"The Shuttle is a 1970s design system that has operated post-Columbia with an enviable record of both safety and performance, but the Panel believes that its probable decline is upon us. Extension significantly beyond what is planned through the current manifest would be unwise."
Rumors are that the Obama Administration similarly does not want any additional shuttle flights with perhaps the exception of the "launch on need" STS-135 mission. However, some Senate Republicans may make a push to keep flying the space shuttle until a U.S. replacement is available, which would be another five to seven years.
- ASAP is cautious about relying on the commercial sector to provide crew transportation services to the International Space Station - called "commercial crew." It notes that the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) manufacturers do not meet NASA's Human Rating Requirements (HRRs) "despite some claims and beliefs to the contrary." International systems "that would extend beyond that currently in use (Russia) should be evaluated against the same performance standard as COTS," the panel added.
The Obama Administration is rumored to be strongly supportive of commercial crew. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), the top Republican on the Senate subcommittee that funds NASA, however, is sharply critical of the idea, at least for the near-to-mid term future.
- From a safety standpoint, ASAP supports the existing "Program of Record" -- Project Constellation, including its Ares I launch vehicle. The panel lauds the Ares I architecture that "has been designed from the beginning with a clear emphasis on safety" and warns against abandoning it for "an alternative without demonstrated capability nor proven superiority (or even equivalence)," calling that "unwise and probably not cost effective. Adm. Dyer warns in his letter introducing the report that the options to the Program of Record identified by the Augustine committee have not been evaluated for safety:
"The Panel has not yet had the opportunity to evaluate any of these concepts with regard to inherent safety issues, but cautions against abandoning the baseline vehicle for an unproven alternative without demonstrated capability. The inherent safety of any and all approaches must be fully assessed to ensure that a level of safety necessary to support human transport is offered. Additionally, there must be a balance and harmony between the size and scope of the undertaking and the budget provided to design, develop and execute it."
Rumors are that the President's budget request will terminate Ares I and support commercial crew instead, and reorient the human spaceflight program to focus on sending astronauts to interplanetary destinations rather than landing on the Moon or Mars in the immediate future. Democratic and Republican Members of the House Science and Technology Committee, who authorize NASA activities, in particular have been strongly supportive of Constellation, including Ares I. As noted, Senator Shelby also is an avid supporter of Ares I.
House and Senate appropriators made clear in the FY2010 bill that funded NASA (the FY2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act) that they expect to be closely involved in decisions about the future human spaceflight program. They prohibited NASA from spending money to terminate any aspect of Project Constellation or begin an alternative program. ASAP stressed that "NASA must be fully candid with the public and Congress, and those audiences must fully understand what risks are involved."
ASAP also commented on several other issues. For example, it argued for NASA to "take a more open-minded and aggressive view" towards using robots to "replace humans on some missions and to support astronauts on others." The panel had raised this issue in its 2008 report and complimented NASA on how it responded to that finding, but added that "we still find a wide discrepancy between how the Agency views robots" compared with the commercial and military sectors.
It is not about the space program per se, but Thomas Friedman had an interesting op-ed in the New York Times yesterday with some great quotes about the impact of Sputnik on the United States -- like this one:
"'Our response to Sputnik made us better educated, more productive, more technologically advanced and more ingenious,' said the Johns Hopkins foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum. 'Our investments in science and education spread throughout American society, producing the Internet, more students studying math and people genuinely wanting to build the nation.'"
Friedman's theme is that the United States should really think about what its long term plan is, that it can't just be about racing China, fighting terrorists, or political infighting.
"And what does the war on terror give us? Better drones, body scanners and a lot of desultory T.S.A. security jobs at airports. 'Sputnik spurred us to build a highway to the future,' added Mandelbaum. 'The war on terror is prompting us to build bridges to nowhere.'
We just keep thinking we can do it all - be focused, frightened and frivolous. We can't. We don't have the money. We don't have the time."
A SpacePolicyOnline.com summary of the House Science and Technology Committee's December 10, 2009 hearing on "Decisions on the Future Direction and Funding for NASA: What Will They Mean for the U.S. Aerospace Workforce and Industrial Base?" is now available on our left menu under "Our Hearing Summaries" or by clicking here.
A Rasmussen Reports poll of 1,000 adults conducted January 13-14, 2010 showed a drop in public support for space program spending compared to a May 2009 poll by the same organization. In May, 44% of respondents favored cutting back on space spending. The new poll shows that 50% want to cut back. The question did not indicate how much funding NASA receives or how it compares with other government programs, it was simply: "Given the state of the economy, should the United States cut back on space spending?" Of the 1,000 adults polled, 50% said yes, 31% said no, and 19% were not sure.
When asked about their impression of NASA, 18% were very favorable, 46% somewhat favorable, 13% somewhat unfavorable, 7% very unfavorable, and 16% not sure.
Two questions were asked about whether current goals should include sending people to the Moon or Mars. About one quarter of the respondents said yes (27% for Mars, 26% for Moon), about half said no (50% for Mars, 52% for Moon), and the rest were not sure.
Respondents were roughly evenly split on the fifth of the five questions -- whether the space program should be funded by the government or the private sector. On that question, 35% said by the government and 38% said by the private sector. The rest were not sure.
The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. More information is available on Rasmussen Report's website, which describes itself as an electronic media company specializing in polling. The company stresses that it is independent because it "cannot be hired to conduct a poll for anyone," earning money instead from "advertising, title sponsorships, subscriptions and content."
As NASA considers increasing reliance on the commercial launch sector, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently found that in at least one case, it did not work out so well for the Department of Defense (DOD).
In a briefing to the defense subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee on how DOD's space acquisition could benefit from adopting commercial practices, GAO cited the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program as one area where it did not work. "Commercial demand did not materialize" and "The government had to bear most of the cost burden and total program costs nearly doubled (increased by about 96 percent) from first to latest cost baseline."
Wideband global satellite communications was another failed attempt. Once again the commercial demand did not materialize and "initial operational capability took twice as long as planned due largely to manufacturing problems."
More generally, GAO noted that there often are distinct requirements differences between DOD and the commercial sector, and commercial companies prefer to use only mature technologies while DOD often must develop the technologies it needs. However, GAO found that DOD could benefit from adopting some commercial practices to improve cost, schedule and performance outcomes: "... there is a clear need to adopt practices that emphasize attaining knowledge up front, minimize requirements changes late in programs, and provide the right support and accountability for both program managers and contractors."
Senate Commerce Committee staffer Jeff Bingham told a symposium on human spaceflight and the future of space science that legislation is being drafted in the Senate to enable and enhance research on the International Space Station (ISS). Among other things, the legislation would extend the space shuttle program until a U.S. alternative is available.
Bingham stressed the need to extend ISS operations beyond 2015 in order to make effective use of its scientific capabilities, and to have two ways to get crews back and forth to the ISS, not just one as will be true once the shuttle program is terminated. He pointed out that the Columbia disaster proved the wisdom of having a second transportation system - Russia's Soyuz spacecraft. Without it, he said, the ISS would have been lost. If Soyuz becomes the only crew transport system for many years, which is the current plan, ISS astronauts would be vulnerable to a Soyuz mishap. What would happen, he queried, if there was a Soyuz accident while returning some ISS crew members, but other ISS crew members were still aboard the station. Their only way back to Earth would be another Soyuz spacecraft and they would be stranded there until the causes of the accident were known and corrected.
Bingham expressed skepticism about whatever plan is proposed by the Obama Administration because in his view it is being developed by the same mid-level White House staff - particularly at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) - who came up with the Bush policy of terminating the shuttle and the ISS. As for where the money will come from to keep them going, he implored the audience to "not drink the OMB Kool-Aid that we have a zero sum budget."
Bingham explained that when or if the legislation will be introduced is up to Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), for whom he works, and other Senators.
The January 14 symposium was sponsored by George Washington University's Space Policy Institute and the Universities Space Research Association.
Events of Interest
- AGU Fall Meeting, December 9-13, 2013, San Francisco, CA Press conferences on special topics will be webstreamed each day. See our "favorites" list. Note that times are in PST.
- NAC IT Infrastructure Cmte, December 10-11, 2013, Kennedy Space Center, FL
- FAA Commercial Space Trans Adv Cmte, December 10-11, 2013, Washington, DC
- NASA Advisory Council (NAC), December 11-12, 2013, Kennedy Space Center, FL
- Senate Commerce Hrg on Weather Readiness (incl satellites), December 12, 2013, G50 Dirksen Senate Office Building, 10:30 am ET
- America's Space Futures: Defining Goals for Space Expl (Marshall Institute re its new book of that title), December 13, 2013, 2325 Rayburn House Office Building, 2:00-3:30 pm ET
- China's Chang'e-3 spacecraft with Yutu rover lands on Moon, December 14, 2013, 10:35 am EST (15:35 GMT)
Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »
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