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Events of Interest: Week of April 19-23, 2010

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Apr-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The following events may be of interest in the coming week. For further information, check our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. Times, dates and witnesses for congressional hearings are subject to change; check the relevant committee's website for up to date information.

Monday, Apr. 19

  • STS-131 (Discovery) landing scheduled for 8:48 am EDT at Kennedy Space Center, weather permitting

Tuesday-Wednesday, Apr. 20-21

  • NASA Advisory Council (NAC) Science Committee, NASA/Goddard.
    • Apr. 20, 8:30 am -5:00 pm
    • Apr. 21, 8:30 am -3:00 pm

Wednesday, Apr. 21

Thursday, Apr. 22

  • Senate Appropriations CJS Subcommittee Hearing on NASA's FY2011 Budget Request, 192 Dirksen Senate Office Building, 10:00 am
  • NAC Technology and Innovation Committee, NASA Headquarters, 8:30am -4:30 pm

Shuttle Set to Land Tomorrow Morning, Weather Could be a Problem

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Apr-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Space Shuttle Discovery undocked from the International Space Station (ISS) yesterday and is preparing for landing at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) tomorrow, Monday, at 8:48 am EDT. The seven member crew of STS-131 delivered seven tons of equipment and supplies to the ISS during the 10 days it was docked there. The weather forecast for KSC tomorrow morning is iffy, however. There are two landing opportunities at KSC in the morning, and two more Tuesday morning. The shuttle also could be diverted to Edwards Air Force Base, CA if necessary, with three landing opportunities there on Tuesday.

Only three more shuttle flights are scheduled:

  • STS-132, Atlantis, scheduled for May 14, 2010
  • STS-134, Endeavour, scheduled for July 29, 2010
  • STS-133, Discovery, scheduled for Sept. 16, 2010

STS-134 will launch a scientific experiment called the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS). It is still undergoing final testing in Europe, where it was built, and some issues have arisen that could delay its launch.

NPR's Science Friday and the Obama Speech

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Apr-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

National Public Radio (NPR) devoted its Science Friday show to reaction to the President's speech about NASA's future. The guests were Elon Musk of SpaceX, Bill Adkins of Adkins Strategies, and Howard McCurdy of American University (currently a Visiting Professor at the University of Washington). A tape of the program is available at Science Friday's website.

Reaction to President Obama's Speech

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

Having spent the day returning from covering the President's speech in Florida, we are just catching up on reaction to it. Rather than reinvent the wheel, here are links to Jeff Foust's roundup of congressional and other statements on and to Keith Cowing's on NASAWatch.

Based on a quick read, it looks as though the speech did not change the dynamics of the debate very much among those who have been commenting on it all along. Still to be heard from, though, are key congressional players like the chairs of the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees that fund NASA (Rep. Alan Mollohan and Sen. Barbara Mikulski), the ranking member of the House appropriations subcommittee (Rep. Frank Wolf), and the chair of the House Science and Technology Committee (Rep. Bart Gordon) and its Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee (Rep. Gabrielle Giffords). Sen. Mikulski will hold a hearing on NASA this coming week (April 22).

What the President Will Say Tomorrow About NASA

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

It's been clear for many weeks that some sort of compromise would have to be worked out between Congress and the White House on the future of the human space flight program. The President's plan, revealed as part of the FY2011 budget request, met a cold reception on Capitol Hill. In advance of President Obama's speech at Kennedy Space Center tomorrow at 2:45 pm EDT, an OSTP fact sheet released yesterday provides the outlines of that compromise.

One ingredient is retaining the Orion capsule from the Constellation program instead of cancelling all of Constellation as originally planned. The "new" Orion would be a pale version of itself, though. Instead of a capsule to take people to the Moon and Mars and, incidentally, to the International Space Station for a few years, its new purpose would be only to take crews home from the ISS in an emergency - a capability sometimes referred to as a Crew Return Vehicle (CRV). Russia's Soyuz spacecraft have been the CRVs throughout the decade that crews have occupied the ISS. There has been much talk of building an "Orion-lite" with less capability than originally planned, but this takes that a step or two further. The change does give the White House the opportunity to say that the modified plan "restructures" instead of "cancels" Constellation, an important nuance politically.

Accelerating the choice of a firm design for a heavy lift launch vehicle is also part of the modified plan, and creating more jobs for Florida by 2012 than there would have been under the previous plan, according to OSTP and a NASA fact sheet.

The OSTP fact sheet also says that the President will outline a timetable for human exploration, and it references Mars as the ultimate destination several times. The President's original plan was sharply criticized for lacking those elements.

To the President's credit, it appears as though he is trying to be responsive to the withering criticism from both parties in Congress. Whether it will be enough to win the day remains to be seen.

The schedule for tomorrow is as follows. Everything will be broadcast on NASA TV.

1:30 pm President Obama lands at Kennedy Space Center

2:45 pm President Obama speaks

3:45 pm President Obama departs aboard Air Force One

3:45 pm NASA "conference" begins with NASA Administrator Bolden, Norm Augustine, and Presidential Science Adviser John Holdren providing an overview

4:25 pm Four "breakout" groups will meet concurrently on the following topics:

  • Increasing Access to and Utilization of the International Space Station
  • Jumpstarting the New Technologies to Take Us Beyond
  • Expanding our Reach into the Solar System
  • Harnessing Space to Expand Economic Opportunity

5:40 pm NASA Administrator Bolden will wrap-up the conference

UPDATE 3: At KSC For the Obama Speech

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

UPDATE 3: The President's speech is over and pretty much followed what was in the OSTP fact sheet two days ago. It seems to have been well received by the invitation-only audience. The NASA "conference" has begun as Norm Augustine is reviewing what his report said last year. Check back with in a bit for a report on the President's speech.

UPDATE 2: The President is about to speak.

UPDATE 1: President Obama, followed by Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL), and then followed by NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, just came down the steps from Air Force One.

ORIGINAL STORY: Edtor's Note: I am here at the Operations and Checkout (O&C) building at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) eagerly awaiting the President's speech. He is not due to land for more than half an hour yet, and the speech does not begin until 2:45, but the media are being assembled so we are in place when he gets to this building (and then there are the security considerations that require everyone to be here in advance). Media had a choice of being at the Air Force One landing and takeoff, or being here to cover the speech. Logisitically it was not possible to cover both venues. Naturally, I chose the speech. There are four plasma screens in front of me that appear to be broadcasting NASA TV -- with shots of the International Space Station crew busily at work -- and later will be used to broadcast the breakout sessions. This is a huge building and even with 100 or so media people in it at the moment it would not quite be accurate to call the atmosphere "electric," but I certainly am excited to be here. Follow me on Twitter (SpcPlcyOnline), or check back here for updates. -- Marcia Smith

Obama Promises Continued Leadership in Space

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

Kennedy Space Center, FL - President Obama told an invitation-only audience at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) today that his plan for NASA will assure U.S. leadership in space is stronger in the 21st Century than it was in the last century. Saying that no one is more committed to NASA's human space flight program than he is, the President said humans will land on Mars and "I expect to be around to see it."

The President made no retreat from his conviction that the future of human space flight - at least to and from low Earth orbit - should be in the hands of the private sector. Instead, during his short visit, he found time to pop over to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (adjacent to KSC) to visit SpaceX's Falcon 9 sitting on its launch pad.

Obama reviewed the basics of his plan, which are essentially the same as what was announced in the FY2011 budget request. As presaged in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy press release on Tuesday, however, there is some fine tuning that may ameliorate some of his critics. While Orion is not really continued, the President said that NASA will develop a space station rescue craft using the technology developed in the Orion program.

The President's plan has been heavily criticized for not having a destination or timetable. The President offered some timelines today, but they are not in the near term. He said "early in the next decade, a set of crewed flights will test and prove the systems required for exploration beyond low Earth orbit" and new spacecraft for human missions beyond the Moon would be ready by 2025. As for a destination, he explicitly identified a human mission to an asteroid as the next step. Evoking President John F. Kennedy's famous 1961 speech calling on the nation to send a man to the Moon and return him safely to Earth within a decade, President Obama said that "By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth. And a landing on Mars will follow. And I expect to be around to see it." He eschewed the Moon, saying "We've been there before.... There's a lot more of space to explore."

As expected, he also said that a decision would be made by 2015 on what new heavy lift launch vehicle to develop, which he said was two years earlier than under the previous plan.

Noting that Rep. Suzanne Kosmas keeps reminding him that he promised to help with jobs in the transition from Shuttle to Constellation, he announced that he is proposing a $40 million initiative to develop a plan for regional economic growth and job creation along Florida's Space Coast. The plan is due by August 15. Separately he said that his proposal would add 2,500 more jobs in the next two years in the area than the previous plan, and that 10,000 jobs could be created nationwide over the next few years as companies compete to be part of the "new space transportation industry."

The speech does little to change the nature of the program revealed in February, but indicates that the White House is willing to respond to some of the criticism it has encountered. For those who firmly believe that new spacecraft and launch vehicles should be developed under the traditional government-private sector relationship that has defined the space program for the past 50 years, the speech probably did little to ease their concerns. Nor would those whose worry mostly about jobs be assuaged, since there were few details about how new jobs would be created. But for anyone who wanted to know where the human space flight program is headed and on what schedule, the President offered some answers today and his personal enthusiasm for the human space flight program. The ball is back in Congress' court to decide whether to embrace the President's plan for the future, try to keep the Constellation program in spite of the significant budget implications of that choice, or come up with something else.

Editor's note: The President said that before he went on stage someone told him that the space program was more than Tang and he replied that he really likes Tang. Regrettably that comment may reinforce the urban myth that Tang came out of the space program. It did not. Nor did Velcro or Teflon even though those are the three products that most people seem to think are space program spin-offs.

Schools in Germany, Puerto Rico Win NASA Moonbuggy Contest

Laura M. Delgado
Posted: 14-Apr-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

The International Space Education Institute of Leipzig, Germany and the University of Puerto Rico in Humacao claimed first place of their respective divisions in the 17th Annual Great Moonbuggy Race, NASA announced Saturday.

More than 70 student teams from around the world competed to design, build and race lightweight, human-powered buggies that tackle many of the same engineering challenges NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) encountered in developing the Apollo lunar rover in the 1960s.

The winners are selected based on vehicle assembly and race times in each division. The International Space Education Institute, also known as "Team Germany," won first place in the high school division after finishing the half-mile course that simulates the lunar surface in 3 minutes 37 seconds. The University of Puerto Rico at Humacao won the college division, completing the course in 4 minutes and 18 seconds.

Tammy Rowan, manager of MSFC's Academic Affairs Office, was quoted by NASA as saying: "it's our goal to augment and enrich the classroom experience, and inspire a new generation of scientists, engineers and explorers to carry on NASA's mission of discovery throughout our solar system and deliver untold benefits back home on Earth."

The race, organized by MSFC, took place on April 9-10, 2010 at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL. For more information on these and other winning teams, see the press release or visit

All Eyes on Florida As Obama Space Conference Nears

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Apr-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

Anticipation continues to mount as April 15 and President Obama's major space policy address nears. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and NASA each have issued fact sheets that are available on OSTP's website. According to NASA's instructions to the media, the President will land at Kennedy Space Center at 1:30 pm EDT, and the program will begin at 2:45 pm. Air Force One and the President will depart at 3:45 pm. The conference includes "breakout groups" after the President's address and then a closing ceremony, but details are scarce. The entire event will be streamed on NASA TV.

Tweets from the National Space Symposium: Bolden, Kehler Speak; Space Industry Has Forgotten Past

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

How did we ever get along without Twitter? And Tweeters like Jeff Foust from, Miles O'Brien from This Week in Space, and NASA's own Wayne Hale? Their tweets from the Space Foundation's National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs makes it seem like being there yourself! Here are a few samples from today's events featuring NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, Commander of Air Force Space Command Gen. Robert Kehler, and a space investment industry panel. Check Twitter or these guys' blogs for more of their news and views.

jeff_foust: Bolden: this is a big week for space. More people will be thinking about it than perhaps ever before

jeff_foust: Bolden: the new plan features incremental, measured progress based on heritage and building upon milestones

jeff_foust: Bolden: can't express just how passionate Obama and I are about education, why it's an impt part of the plan

jeff_foust: Bolden ends with call to work together to fully realize NASA's goals. Leaves without taking any questions

jeff_foust: Gen. Kehler: in plans we used to put a big red circle around launch day. Now we put it around the day that capability enters service

jeff_foust: Kehler: we're using the same strategy for milspace programs as we did in Cold War. Have to realize that 1 strategy doesn't fit all.

jeff_foust: Next panel as #nss10 features Wall St analysts talking about space industry. Mass exodus from the room

jeff_foust: Good news for the space industry: investors have short memories and have forgotten the disasters of a decade ago

this_week_in_space: At the space syposium in CO - Charlie Bolden trying to sell skeptical/angry crowd on Obama space plan. Tough crowd

wayne_hale: At the NSS, Gen Kahler is giving a great, thoughtful, heartfelt speech that clearly explains goals and issues. We could learn from him.

wayne_hale: Listening to Charlie Bolden at the National Space Symposium. He's doing his best to make the case.

Events of Interest  

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