Latest News

Gabrielle Giffords Earth and Space Leadership Fund Established

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

Friends and supporters of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) have established a Gabrielle Giffords Earth and Space Leadership Fund in her honor as she recovers from the attack last Saturday. Tax deductible contributions are being sought through a website and Facebook page. Organizers say the fund will be administered by Rep. Giffords ("Gabby") to help develop leadership in earth and space sciences, and technology innovations and public policy that benefit the nation.

Editor's Note: Everyone hopes that Rep. Giffords will recover sufficiently to return to a normal life and do so many things, such as administering this fund as the organizers pledge. The medical news has been so encouraging that it is easy to forget the gravity of her situation. The doctors at UMC have always been cautious to not make any promises about how she will fare in the long run.

Another Step Forward for Rep. Giffords

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

The University Medical Center in Tucson announced today that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was taken off her ventilator, another step forward in her recovery from the attack last Saturday that left six dead.

Of the 10 victims brought to UMC last Saturday, three remain. The rest have been discharged. Rep. Giffords remains in critical condition; the other two patients are in good condition. Doctors performed a tracheotomy on Rep. Giffords this morning and inserted a tube in her windpipe to protect her airway, freeing her from the ventilator, and also inserted a feeding tube, according to the hospital's report.

Updated Fact Sheets

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

For those who are interested, we have just updated three of our fact sheets. All are available on our left menu under "Our Fact Sheets and Reports" or by clicking the links below.

Hope they are helpful.

NASA IG: Agency Will Spend $215 Million on Unneeded Constellation Program Elements If Congress Does Not Act

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

NASA's Inspector General (IG), Paul Martin, wrote to Congress today warning that the agency will spend $215 million by the end of February on unnecessary elements of the Constellation program if Congress does not act quickly to relieve the agency of restrictions in the 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act. That figure could grow to $575 million by the end of FY2011, according to the letter.

Although FY2010 has ended, NASA is being funded by a Continuing Resolution that carries over the language from the Consolidated Appropriations Act. Included is a provision that prohibits NASA from terminating the Constellation program or initiating a replacement until Congress directs it to do so in a future appropriations act. That has not happened even though Congress passed the 2010 NASA authorization act directing NASA to initiate a somewhat different program. NASA is caught between the two laws.

Representative Ralph Hall (R-TX), chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, said in a statement that this is an issue that appropriators must deal with "in an expedient manner, in order to avoid wasteful spending." He added that his committee will provide "strong Congressional oversight" of NASA's human spaceflight program.

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), chairman of the Senate Science and Space subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, has already written legislation to repeal the provision, according to the National Journal (subscription required). It quotes Sen. Nelson as saying that "every dime counts in our space program right now, we can't afford to be wasting money." The Senate is in recess until January 25; presumably the bill will be introduced then.

NAC Exploration Committee Presentations Available

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

The NASA Advisory Council's Exploration Committee met on Tuesday, January 11, and received briefings from Doug Cooke, Associate Administrator for Exploration, and others. The presentations are posted on the Exploration Committee's website. Some of the file sizes are rather large so we reduced the size -- only slightly in some cases, unfortunately -- for convenience and they can be accessed by clicking on the links below. Adobe Acrobat couldn't reduce the size of Doug Cooke's presentation for some reason, so that remains the same as what is posted on NASA's website. Note that Tom Jones' presentation is dated October 2010.

Congressional Reaction to NASA's "Section 309" Report on HLV and Crew Vehicle

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The report NASA delivered to Congress earlier this week in response to section 309 of the 2010 NASA Authorization Act has not gotten a warm welcome. The report informs Congress of the agency's current reference designs for a new Space Launch System (also called a Heavy Lift Vehicle) and a Multi-purpose Crew Vehicle as required by that Act, but cautions that the designs cannot meet the Act's budget and schedule goals.

The bipartisan leadership of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and its Space and Science Subcommittee replied that producing a heavy lift vehicle and a crew capsule is "not optional. It's the law." They go on to say that "NASA must use its decades of space know-how and billions of dollars in previous investments to come up with a concept that works." The statement was made by Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Senator David Vitter (R-LA), the main architects of the law.

Representative Ralph Hall (R-TX), the new chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee and a long-time supporter of the human spaceflight program, called the report "only the beginning of a long conversation" between Congress and NASA over the future of that program. Reiterating a sentiment he expressed during hearings last year on the Obama Administration's "commercial crew" proposal, Rep. Hall said that a U.S. capability to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station must be restored and "I'm not convinced that the commercial market is ready to fill that role."

ASAP Calls Lack of Clarity a Key Safety Concern

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) released its annual report today, saying that "lack of clarity and constancy of purpose among NASA, Congress, and the White House is a key safety concern."

The panel, created by Congress after the 1967 Apollo fire that killed three astronauts, advises NASA on how to improve its safety performance. Chaired by Vice Adm. Joe Dyer (Ret.), the panel concluded that despite the signing into law of the 2010 NASA authorization act, NASA's future human spaceflight program remains "uncertain." The lack of a defined mission, the panel says, "can negatively impact workforce morale and the ability to attract and maintain the necessary skill sets for this high-technology venture." A consensus position on "the Agency's future and our Nation's future in space" is needed quickly, they said.

Other issues identified in the report include the connection between acquisition strategy and safety in human spaceflight systems, knowledge transfer from the Constellation program to whatever replaces it, "how safe is safe enough," the relationship between NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in providing oversight for commercial crew operations, the robustness of NASA's Safety and Mission Assurance workforce, safety implications of aging NASA infrastructure, standardization of approaches to dealing with a variety of issues within the agency, astronaut health and longitudinal health study data, challenges with extending the International Space Station (ISS) to 2020, and the risks inherent in depending on a single source -- Russia -- for crew access to the ISS.

Sturckow Named Backup Commander for STS-134; New Launch Dates for Next Two Shuttle Missions

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

NASA announced today that astronaut Rick Sturckow has been named as backup commander for STS-134. Mark Kelly is the commander of the mission, scheduled for launch in April, but is currently focused on his wife's recovery from an assassination attempt on Saturday. Kelly is married to Representative Gabrielle Giffords.

The NASA press release quotes Kelly as saying that he recommended that NASA take this step even though he is "very hopeful" that he will be able to rejoin his crewmates. NASA astronaut office chief Peggy Whitson reiterated in the press release that Kelly remains commander of the mission.

NASA also announced new launch dates for STS-133 and STS-134: February 24 and April 19, respectively. STS-133 has been delayed since November because of a gas leak and cracks on "stringers" on its External Tank.

STS-133 is now scheduled for launch at 4:50 pm EST on February 24. STS-134 is expected to fly at 7:48 pm EDT on April 19 (the U.S. changes from standard time to daylight savings time on March 13).

Hutchison to Retire from Senate

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 13-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

Politico reports that Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) will not run for reelection to the Senate in 2012.

Senator Hutchison is a strong supporter of NASA's Johnson Space Center and the human spaceflight program. She played a critical role in writing and passing the 2010 NASA authorization act. Among other things, she is credited with convincing her Senate Republican colleagues to allow the bill to come to the Senate floor. The bill passed by unanimous consent.

In a statement quoted by Politico, she says that she intended to leave the Senate "long before now." In fact, she ran for Governor of Texas last year, but was defeated in the primary by the incumbent Governor Rick Perry. Known simply as "KBH" in the Senate, the 67-year old Senator is in her third term.

Doctors Continue To Be Upbeat about Rep. Giffords

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

Doctors at the University Medical Center in Tucson gave another upbeat briefing today on the condition of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Dr. Peter Rhee, head of trauma, and Dr. Michael Lemole, chief of neurosurgery, were both enthusiastic about the progress Rep. Giffords is making, though also cautious that there is still a long way to go. Four other victims of the shooting are in fair condition at the hospital and one is being discharged today, they reported. Six people were killed in Saturday's attack on Rep. Giffords while she held a constituent event in Tucson.

They confirmed what President Obama announced in his speech in Tucson last night that Rep. Giffords had opened her eyes just after he and Mrs. Obama visited her. Dr. Lemole spoke about it from a medical standpoint. He explained that it demonstrated that not only is her brain functioning in a manner where she can follow commands, which they knew, but that the "arousal center" that tells the body to awaken also is functioning. He was present when she opened her eyes along with family members, including her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, and Members of Congress. (Other reports identified the latter as Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL)).

Lemole said that medically speaking it also indicated that Rep. Giffords is becoming aware of her surroundings. Today they are doing "aggressive physical therapy" and have her sitting up "dangling from the side of the bed," which gives them the opportunity to determine the strength in her legs. They were delighted to see that she is able to lift both legs on command. The bullet tore through the left side of her brain, which controls movement on the right side of her body, so the fact that she could move both legs is very encouraging.

The next major medical milestone will be removing her breathing tube, which will allow doctors to assess her ability to speak. Dr. Rhee said they might remove it in the next few days, but was cautious about the timing. The doctors made it clear they are concerned about the potential for "backsliding" or the development of other medical issues -- such as blood clots -- if they move too quickly.

In response to a question, Dr. Lemole said that miracles happen every day in medicine and doctors sometimes like to think it is their doing, but they know full well that "a lot of medicine is outside our control."

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