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During a discussion today at the Library of Congress organized by Women in Aerospace (WIA), panelists compared the Obama Administration's FY2012 budget request with the priorities laid out in the 2010 National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Authorization Act. Most argued that the request represents a mismatch in funding priorities and raises a lot of concern.
One panelist, referring to the "unrest" caused by the FY2011 budget request last year, said that "once again the administration misread the mood of Congress" and that the FY2012 request has "absolutely zero chance of being approved by Congress."
The event, titled "The NASA Authorization Act of 2010: How Did We Get Here? What's Next?" took place under the Chatham House rule that prohibits identifying who said what. Instead, "participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed." The names of the panelists were circulated by WIA, however. All are congressional staff except for one person from NASA.
The Authorization Act was described as a compromise between the Administration and Congress, the culmination of a difficult process that eventually gave NASA "a clear direction." Nevertheless, some panelists believe that the FY2012 request released last month diverges from the Act by proposing a reduction to the authorized funding for development of a new launch vehicle and crew capsule (called Human Space Capabilities in the budget request) for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit, but an increase over the authorized amount for the commercial crew transportation initiative. Participants said that Congress would continue imposing strong oversight to ensure that the priorities laid out in the Act are met. One panelist stated that the Administration should not believe that there is a pathway forward different from what was directed in the Act, adding that there is "no interest in renegotiating that framework."
While Congress will have its say on the FY2012 budget request in the coming months, uncertainty remains about FY2011, which is being funded by a series of short-term Continuing Resolutions (CRs). One participant, while offering no good news with respect to the likelihood of a budget being approved for the balance of the year, said that cuts included in H.R. 1 were prompted by an emphasis on deficit reduction and not by targeting NASA or other agencies specifically. On a cautionary note, though, the panelist added that stakeholders should be well aware of the impacts of these "across-the-board-cuts" on specific programs, as these will probably continue. H.R. 1 was a full-year CR that passed the House last month, but was defeated in the Senate.
With budget constraints the order of the day for the foreseeable future, another panelist agreed that there would be no "major plus-ups" for NASA or any other agency in the coming years, except perhaps the Department of Defense. The way forward, this person suggested, is to implement the direction already agreed upon in the Authorization Act.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) resumed control of its Kibo module and KOUNOTORI cargo spacecraft from the Tsukuba Space Centre at 4:00 pm JST (Japan Standard Time) March 22. Operations were temporarily transferred to NASA after the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
JAXA said the space center had been closed due to "damage and security issues caused the earthquake."
Kibo is Japan's laboratory that is an integrated component of the International Space Station (ISS). KOUNOTORI, more commonly known as HTV-2, is a cargo spacecraft temporarily berthed to the ISS. It is scheduled to unberth on March 29 JST and reenter on March 30 JST. The spacecraft is not designed to survive reentry and will burn up in the atmosphere.
The House Science, Space and Technology Committee's Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics has announced that a hearing on NASA's exploration program will be held next week.
"A Review of NASA's Exploration Program In Transition: Issues for Congress and Industry" will hear testimony from Doug Cooke, NASA's Associate Administrator for Exploration, who has announced plans to retire; Scott Pace, Director of George Washington University's Space Policy Institute and NASA Associate Administrator for Program Analysis and Evaluation during the George W. Bush Administration while Mike Griffin headed the agency; and James Maser, head of the Corporate Membership Committee of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and President of Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, which builds the J-2X engine that was to be used with the Ares-1 launch vehicle. Ares-1 is part of the Constellation program, which is being terminated.
The hearing is scheduled for March 30, 2011 at 10:00 in 2318 Rayburn House Office Building. Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS) is the new chairman of the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee. He represents the 4th district of Mississippi that includes NASA's Stennis Space Center where rocket engines are tested. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) is the ranking member of the subcommittee, but Rep. Jerry Costello (D-IL) is serving as acting ranking member while Rep. Giffords continues her recovery from being shot in the head during an assassination attempt on January 8.
The House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee will hold hearings next week to hear from the President's Science Adviser and the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
John Holdren, President Obama's science adviser and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, will testify to the subcommittee on Thursday, March 31. NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco will testify the next day, April 1. Both hearings are on the FY2012 budget request and start at 10:00 am in H-309 Capitol.
The European Space Agency (ESA) announced today a new set of directors for various ESA offices and directorates. ESA announced a reorganization last fall, creating a new Directorate of Human Spaceflight and Operations and now has named former ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter, from Germany, to be its first head. The reorganization takes effect on April 1.
Reiter's directorate will be responsible for ESA's contribution to the International Space Station (ISS) program, ESA human spaceflight activities in general, and flight operations of ESA human spaceflight missions. Reiter spent almost six months aboard the Soviet space station Mir in the mid-1990s, and more than five months on the ISS in 2006. Currently he is Executive Board Member responsible for Space Research and Technology at the German Aerospace Center (DLR). Simonetta Di Pippo is currently ESA's Director of Human Spaceflight.
Last week, ESA's Council concurred with the proposal of the United States to extend ISS operations until at least 2020. ESA member states that participate in the ISS committed 550 million Euros to cover ISS costs through 2012 when further financial commitments are decided at the next meeting of the ESA Ministerial Council.
Among other ESA appointments are Mr. Alvaro Gim nez Ca ete as head of the Directorate for Science and Robotics, replacing David Southwood; Mr. Didier Faivre as head of the Directorate for ESA's participation in the European Galileo navigation satellite program, for which he is currently Acting Director; and Mr. Franco Ongaro as head of the Directorate for Technical and Quality Management, replacing acting director Philippe Perol.
The appointments coincide with the beginning of ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain's third term, which lasts until 2015. ESA is an international organization with 18 Member States.
NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program took another step forward today with the inauguration of a new facility at NASA's Wallops Island, VA launch facility.
Orbital Sciences Corp., based in Dulles, VA, is one of the two companies vying to provide commercial services to NASA for taking cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of the COTS program. While most media attention has been focused on Orbital's COTS competitor SpaceX, Orbital has been moving along with development of its Taurus II launch vehicle which it plans to launch from Wallops.
Located off the southern portion of the so-called Delmarva (Delaware-Maryland-Virginia) Penisula along the Atlantic Ocean east of Washington, DC, Wallops has been the site of many suborbital and some orbital launches throughout its long history. A portion of the facility is now called the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden presided over a ribbon-cutting ceremony at its new Horizontal Integration Facility that will be used for the Taurus II.
Bolden referred to the "tough mission schedules" facing COTS as the space shuttle program comes to an end and NASA loses the shuttle's significant cargo-carrying capacity. The first Taurus II launch is expected this fall.
Wallops is located in Virginia, but is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski (D), a strong NASA supporter, praised the effort for bringing "jobs, jobs and more jobs to the Lower Shore -- jobs for today and jobs for tomorrow."
The Russians have rescheduled the launch of the next Soyuz to the International Space Station (ISS) to 6:18 pm EDT on April 4 (5:18 pm CDT), which is 4:18 am on April 5 at the launch site in Kazakhstan.
The Soyuz TMA-21 mission was delayed from its original March 30 launch date because of a problem with the command communications system in the Soyuz capsule.
The launch will take place a few days before Russia celebrates the 50th anniversary of the launch of the first man into space, Yuri Gagarin. It will take three crew members to the ISS to join the three already there. The Soyuz TMA-21 crew consists of American Ron Garan and Russians Alexander Samokutyaev and Andrey Borisenko.
The following events may be of interest in the coming week. For more information, see our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. Congress is in recess this week while Members meet with their constituents back home.
Monday-Thursday, March 21-24
- National Research Council (NRC) Propulsion and Power Panel of the Committee on Review of NASA Technology Roadmaps, CalTech, Pasadena, CA
Wednesday, March 23
Wednesday-Thursday, March 23-24
President Obama signed the three-week Continuing Resolution (CR) today, as expected.
The House and Senate both are in recess until the week of March 28 while Members head back to their States and Districts to interact directly with constituents and determine the mood of the electorate. As contentious as the last couple of month have been in Washington, they are merely setting the stage for bigger fights ahead. April 8, as the date when this CR runs out, is the next watershed moment.
As expected, the House and Senate have passed another Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government operating. This one is for three weeks, meaning that agencies can keep the lights on until April 8. The President still must sign it and is expected to do so before midnight tomorrow when the current CR expires.
The CR includes $6 billion in cuts, keeping to a Republican pledge to cut $2 billion per week. The cuts primarily are from earmarks and programs President Obama already decided to cancel. NASA took a $63 million cut, but that amount was designated for earmarks in the FY2010 budget. NASA and most other agencies and departments continue to be funded at their FY2010 level.
While Republicans and Democrats both publicly deplore the use of CRs, reaching agreement on a bill to fund the government for the rest of FY2011 continues to be an uphill battle. What will happen on April 8 remains anyone's guess. Around that time, Congress will have to vote to raise the debt limit or the U.S. will default on its obligations. Republicans are expected to use that as leverage to exact Democratic acquiescence on the deep cuts they want to make to federal spending.
Events of Interest
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