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Today in Space History: Apollo-Soyuz Docking

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Jul-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Thirty-five years ago today, an American Apollo capsule docked with a Soviet Soyuz capsule in Earth orbit. The 1975 Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) was a milestone in international cooperation in space -- the union of the two Cold War superpowers, who used the space program as a symbol of their technological prowess.

Quite a few space enthusiasts paint Apollo-Soyuz as a case study of how the space program can unite disparate countries and contribute to world peace, but it really is the other way around. The era of detente between the United States and Soviet Union in the early 1970s allowed ASTP to happen. It is the fundamental relationship between countries that permits -- or prevents -- space cooperation as evidenced by the fate of U.S.-Soviet space cooperation after ASTP, which all but ended in 1979 when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.

The United States strongly objected to the Soviet invasion. (How times have changed!) One of the casualities was U.S. participation in the Moscow Olympic Games; another was U.S.-Soviet space cooperation. The United States turned a cold shoulder to the Soviets and the "space race" mentality returned full force. By 1984, NASA convinced President Ronald Reagan that the United States and its traditional international partners should build a space station to assure U.S leadership in space versus the Soviets. The Soviets named their third generation space station, launched in 1986, Mir -- "Peace." We named ours "Freedom."

It is indeed ironic that Freedom evolved into a new union of U.S.-Russian space capabilities after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The name "Freedom" was dropped (for a number of reasons) and the "International Space Station" (ISS) emerged with Russia added as additional partner. Today, the United States is about to embark on an era of total reliance on Russia's Soyuz to take its astronauts to and from ISS.

That's an interesting tale still in progress. Meanwhile, several histories of U.S.-Soviet space cooperation -- which predated ASTP, but at a fairly low level -- are available, including an excellent book by Linda and Edward Ezell about ASTP published by NASA in 1978: The Partnership -- a History of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, NASA SP-4209.

Senate Appropriations to Mark Up NASA, NOAA Funding Bill on Thursday

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Jul-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

According to Congress Daily (subscription required), the full Senate Appropriations Committee will mark up the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill, which includes NASA and NOAA, on Thursday, July 22. It will also consider three other appropriations bills that day. Time and location are yet to be announced.

NASA Seems Onboard with Senate Commerce Bill

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Jul-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

Although some view the Senate Commerce committee's NASA authorization bill as a sharp divergence from the Obama plan, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver gave an interview to the Houston Chronicle in which she conveyed that NASA thinks it's a good bill. She did not endorse it entirely, saying that "We continue to work with the Congress," but she complimented the committee's leadership and said "What's nice is that this is a collaborative effort now and we think this is a great place to start. It accomplishes the major shifts the President set out to have for the space program."

The comments are somewhat surprising since the bill would:

  • delay the commercial crew program -- the centerpiece of the Obama human spaceflight plan -- and build a parallel government-owned, NASA-managed system to serve as a backup to the commercial system(s),
  • adds one more shuttle mission (the "Launch on Need" mission) that extends the life of the shuttle program,
  • require development of a new heavy-lift launch vehicle (HLLV) beginning in FY2011 instead of FY2015 as in the Obama plan,
  • require development of a crew exploration vehicle based on Orion that is capable of taking people to and beyond low Earth orbit as the Orion program was originally designed to do instead of building only a "lifeboat" version of it, and
  • taking the money for the HLLV and crew exploration vehicle largely from the "game-changing" technology initiatives in the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate loudly touted by NASA and the White House.

The bill does support parts of the Obama plan, such as extending the International Space Station at least until 2020 and supporting the commercial crew concept, even if not buying into it as the only future route to low Earth orbit for U.S. astronauts. It is a compromise, and it is encouraging that the administration is willing to compromise in order to extract NASA from the chaos in which it has been embroiled since February. Why the Obama Administration chose to startle NASA's friends in Congress and industry with its February 1 budget rollout, why it has done such a poor job of selling it, and why it is so apparently eager to compromise just six months later, will make a good Ph.D. thesis someday.

UPDATE 6: Senate Committee Approves NASA Authorization Bill

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Jul-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE 6: A video of a press conference with Senators Rockefeller, Hutchison, Nelson, Vitter and others is available on Senator Nelson's website.

UPDATE 5: Statement by Senator Vitter from his website.

UPDATE 4: A section-by-section analysis of the bill prepared by committee staff is available here.

UPDATE 3: Senator Hutchison's opening statement can now be viewed on YouTube and a Republican press statement is available on the committee's website.

UPDATE 2: Senator Nelson's press release with a more detailed summary of the bill is now posted on his website.

UPDATE: A link to commitee chairman Senator Jay Rockefeller's opening remarks, including a summary of the key points of the bill, has been added.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee adopted the NASA authorization bill crafted by Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and other members of the committee on both sides of the aisle. A number of amendments were adopted, but there was little discussion of the bill or the amendments -- just repeated accolades from Democrats and Republicans on how well they worked together and how much better their bill is compared to the Obama proposal. The basic outlines of the legislation have been known for some time, but the committee has not yet publicly released the text. Senator Nelson stated that the Senate Appropriations Committee will mark up the appropriations bill that includes NASA next week.

The opening statement of Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), who chairs the full committee, is available on the committee's website along with a brief summary of the key points of the bill.

Check back here for more details as they become available.

U.S. Tells U.N. Conference on Disarmament It Seeks Stability in Space

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Jul-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

At a meeting of the United Nations Conference on Disarmament (CD) Tuesday, the State Department began implementing President Obama's new U.S. space policy, highlighting its emphasis on stability in space.

Frank Rose of the State Department contrasted the Obama policy with that of the Bush Administration saying "in a departure from the 2006 policy, the new National Space Policy also states that the United States will consider space-related arms control concepts and proposals that meet the criteria of equitability and effective verifiability, and which enhance the national security of the United States and its allies."

Rose added: "let me reaffirm that the United States continues to support the inclusion of a non-negotiating, or discussion, mandate in any CD program of work under the agenda item, 'Prevention of an Arms Race in Space,' known as PAROS. This was the basis of a compromise reached at the CD in May 2009."

The speech outlined for the 65 member countries of the CD the major thrusts of the new Obama policy focusing on its emphasis on international cooperation, debris mitigation and space situational awareness, and its call for transparency and confidence building measures (TCBMs). A major tenet of the Obama policy is that space has become vital to the interests of most countries in the world and all must work together to ensure that space remains a usable environment.

Senate Commerce Committee Begins Markup of NASA Authorization Bill

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Jul-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

Markup of the NASA authorization bill is just beginning and can be viewed on the website of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

NRC Calls For Vigilance in Cost Estimating for NASA Space and Earth Science Missions

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Jul-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

A new report from the National Research Council (NRC)'s Space Studies Board (SSB) recommends that NASA do a better job of estimating the costs of its space and Earth science missions. An SSB study committee chaired by Ron Sega, former astronaut and former Undersecretary of the Air Force in charge of its space activities, concludes that:

"Unfortunately, instead of motivating and rewarding vigilance in accurately predicting and controlling costs, the current system incentivizes overly optimistic expectations regarding cost and schedule. For example, competitive pressures encourage (overly) optimistic assessments of the cost and schedule impacts of addressing uncertainties and overcoming potential problems. As a result, initial cost estimates generally are quite optimistic, underestimating final costs by a sizable amount, and that optimism sometimes persists well into the development process."

The committee reviewed 10 existing studies on cost growth in NASA programs and "generally concurs with the consensus viewpoints expressed" in those studies, including the facts that the earlier in a program an initial cost estimate is made, the more it will grow. Also, most cost growth occurs after the program has gone through critical design review, meaning that cost reserves must be maintained into the later stages of development.

The committee complimented NASA on recent changes in how it estimates costs for space and Earth science missions, including the decision to cost projects on a 70% confidence level. It added, however, that it is too early to assess how effective that action is, and recommended that NASA develop a "comprehensive, integrated cost containment strategy."

UPDATED: NRC Workshop Examines Using Remote Sensing Satellites for Disasters

Laura M. Delgado
Posted: 13-Jul-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: A link to Dr. Williamson's presentation has been added.

Everyone needs to look "at the entire disaster cycle" and communities need "to understand the risks they take" according to experts who met at a July 8 National Research Council (NRC) workshop on how to better use remote sensing data in disaster response and recovery. A summary of the meeting is available on our website.

Stuart Gill of the World Bank and Ray Williamson from the Secure World Foundation emphasized those points during a panel discussion at the workshop. Gill added that "a top-down modeling exercise" combined with "bottom-up community risk mapping" is needed to get people involved in understanding their environments and attendant risks.

Panel participants believed the biggest impediment to better use of remote sensing data to deal with disasters when they happen, or perhaps to avoid them, is policy development. Jack Harrald, chair of the NRC's Disasters Roundtable, which sponsored the workshop, concluded that there is a "profound leadership challenge" to develop and implement a vision for 2020. The topic of the workshop was "From Reality 2010 to Vision 2020: Translating Remotely Sensed Data to Assets, Exposure, Damage, and Losses."

Three New Centennial Challenges Announced

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 13-Jul-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Today NASA announced three new prize opportunities through its Centennial Challenges program. The three new challenges are the Nano-Satellite Launch Challenge to stimulate innovations in low-cost launch technology, Night Rover Challenge for energy storage technologies, and Sample Return Robot Challenge for automatic navigation and robotic manipulator technologies. NASA Chief Technologist Bobby Braun said that "there is innovation in this country and we hope to shine it like a laser on our space program and change the way we do business."

The launch challenge carries a prize purse of $2 million; the other two are worth $1.5 million each. Details on what it takes to win will be developed by non-profit organizations that NASA expects to select by early October to manage the competitions.

The three challenges were selected from more than 200 ideas solicited from NASA employees, the public, and the aerospace community. NASA's Office of the Chief Technologist and its Innovative Partnerships Program (IPP) then worked with NASA's Mission Directorates to narrow the list and select the final three. The chosen challenges are meant to fit in with NASA's plans for the future without being on the critical path since the "results are unpredictable," said Centennial Challenges program manager Andy Petro.

The announcement was made as part of a NASA-sponsored Space Techology Industry Forum that began today at the University of Maryland Inn and Conference Center. The forum continues tomorrow.

UPDATE: Events of Interest: Week of July 12-16, 2010

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Jul-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: The Senate Commerce Committee's website now confirms that the markup of the NASA authorization bill is Thursday morning at 10:00 in 253 Russell.


The following events may be of interest in the coming week. For more details, check our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. Congressional activities are subject to change; check the relevant committee's website for up to date information. All times are EDT.

During the Week

Congress returns from its July 4 recess. According to Congress Daily (subscription required), the House currently plans to recess again for the traditional August recess in just three weeks. It is waiting for the Senate to act on many pieces of legislation.

There are strong rumors that the Senate Commerce Committee will mark up a NASA authorization bill on Thursday, but it is not listed on the committee's website or on Congress Daily's Daybook as of Sunday evening.

Monday, July 12

Tuesday-Wednesday, July 13-14

Tuesday-Thursday, July 13-15

Thursday, July 15

Thursday-Friday, July 15-16

Events of Interest 

Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »


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