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NRC Says NASA Facilities Deferred Maintenance is "Staggering," Affects Safety

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-May-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

A National Research Council (NRC) study committee reports that NASA's basic research facilities are in a state of decline. Committee co-chair John Best says that it is "imperative that NASA restore and maintain its basic research laboratories" or jeopardize its ability to meet major mission goals according to an NRC press release.

"Capabilities for the Future -- An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research," released today, is based on the committee's examination of laboratories at Goddard Space Flight Center, Glenn Research Center, Langley Research Center and Ames Research Center. The committee found that NASA's deferred maintenance budget grew from $1.77 billion in 2004 to $2.6 billion in 2009, a "staggering" bill yet to be paid. "NASA is spending well below accepted industry guidelines on annual maintenance, repairs, and upgrades," with consequent effects on safety, says the NRC.

The report was requested by Congress in the 2008 NASA authorization act. The study was paid for by NASA and conducted under the auspices of the NRC's Laboratory Assessments Board, Space Studies Board, and Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board.

Mollohan Loses Primary

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-May-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

UPDATE: Rep. Mollohan lost the primary. He will remain in Congress for the rest of this year, of course, but the extent to which his lame duck status affects the outcome of the debate on NASA's FY2011 funding and the Obama plan for human space flight is an unknown at this point.

ORIGINAL STORY: Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV) is in a tight primary race today. With anti-incumbent fervor shaping political races this year, Rep. Mollohan's close to 30 years in the House may work against him rather than for him as would be typically true. He chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA. How a loss today would affect the congressional debate over NASA's new plan for human spaceflight is unknown. Even if he wins today, he faces Republican opposition in November. His opponent today, state Senator Mike Oliverio, is quoted as saying that "Congress is broken" and "we need to clean House." Stay tuned.

Who's Who of Space to Testify At Senate Commerce Hearing

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-May-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

In a rare public appearance to talk about the future of the human spaceflight program, Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the Moon, will testify to the Senate Commerce committee on Wednesday. Mr. Armstrong will be joined by fellow Apollo astronaut Gene Cernan -- the last man to walk on the Moon. Armstrong landed on the Moon along with Buzz Aldrin on Apollo 11 in 1969. Cernan and Harrison (Jack) Schmitt (later a U.S. Senator) visited the Moon on Apollo 17 in 1972. Also testifying Wednesday will be Presidential Science Adviser John Holdren, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, and Norm Augustine who chaired the 2009 Augustine Committee that provided options to the Obama Administration on the future of the human space flight program..

Armstrong, Cernan and Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell signed an open letter to President Obama just before his April 15 speech at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) arguing for continuation of the Constellation program. By contrast, Aldrin is a strong supporter of the Obama plan and accompanied the President to KSC.

The hearing is at 2:30 on Wednesday in 253 Russell Senate Office Building.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Schmitt also signed the letter. Schmitt was one of a number of former astronauts and other officials who signed a different letter to the President also supporting the Constellation program. Cernan and Lovell also signed that letter, but not Armstrong.

Lyles, Fisk and Colladay: Pendulum Has Swung Too Far The Other Way

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-May-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

The chair and vice-chairs of the 2009 National Research Council (NRC) study "America's Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program With National Needs" think the Obama plan for NASA makes the NASA program just as unbalanced as its predecessor. "This time the pendulum has swung the other way," write Gen. Lester Lyles (Ret), Dr. Lennard Fisk and Dr. Raymond Colladay in a joint letter to Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA), ranking member of the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee. Rep. Wolf's office is making the letter public.

Gen. Lyles not only chaired the NRC committee, but served as a member of the Augustine Committee. Dr. Colladay is chair of the NRC's Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board and is a former NASA Associate Administrator for Aeronautics and Space Technology and a former Lockheed Martin executive. Dr. Fisk is the immediate past chair of the NRC's Space Studies Board and a former NASA Associate Administrator for Space Science and Applications; he is currently a distinguished university professor of space science at the University of Michigan.

In their letter to Rep. Wolf, the three note that under the Bush Administration, NASA space and earth science programs and technology development efforts were underfunded in order to provide funding for human space flight activities, including Constellation. Today, they write, the Obama Administration is proposing to take money from Constellation in order to fund science and technology development programs.

"It makes no more sense to have a NASA with an under-emphasis on human spaceflight than it did to have a NASA with an over-emphasis. The strategic leadership of the United States in a rapidly evolving globalized world, the economic well-being of our people, and the sense in our society that our future is promising, all require a NASA that has breadth in science and technology, and accomplishments in both robotic and human spaceflight."

They conclude it is up to Congress and NASA to craft a human space flight program that does not "re-inflict damage on the breadth of NASA's activities" and that whatever NASA does "truly befits a great nation."

The 2009 NRC study was internally funded by the National Academies.

Events of Interest: Week of May 10-14, 2010

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-May-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

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

Tuesday, May 11

  • IAA-IISL-SWF-ESPI-Arianespace symposium on "Space Law and Policy 2010," 8:30 am - 4:30 pm, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1779 Massachusetts Ave. N.W., Washington DC
  • US-UK Space Seminar, 11:30 am - 5:45 pm, Lockheed Martin Global Vision Centre, 2121 Crystal Drive, Arlington, VA

Tuesday-Wednesday, May 11-12

Wednesday, May 12

Thursday, May 13

Thursday-Friday, May 13-14

  • NASA Advisory Council Planetary Protection Subcommittee, NASA Headquarters, Washington DC
    • May 13, 9:00 am - 4:30 pm
    • May 14, 9:00 am - 4:00 pm

Orion Pad Abort System Test Successful

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 07-May-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

The much anticipated Pad Abort 1 test of the launch abort system for the Orion spacecraft was successful today. Conducted at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, the test lasted 135 seconds with the crew module landing about one mile away at 16.2 miles per hour according to a press released from NASA.

The fate of Orion is still up in the air, with the latest plan from the Obama Administration calling for Orion technologies to be used only to build a crew rescue module for the International Space Station. That version of Orion would be launched with no one aboard so the launch abort system would not be needed. However, NASA Associate Administrator for Exploration Doug Cooke was quoted in the press release as saying that the test will contribute to NASA's goal of making human spaceflight as safe as possible.

APL's Faulconer Starts New Consulting Business

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 07-May-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

J. Walter ("Walt") Faulconer, the Applied Physics Laboratory's (APL's) business area executive for civilian space, is leaving May 14 to start a consulting business, Strategic Space Solutions, with his wife, Cindy. After 26 years at Lockheed Martin, Mr. Faulconer joined APL five years ago to take charge of APL's work for NASA and NOAA. He successfully led APL's civil space business through somewhat tumultuous times. Today, the civil space business area has a host of missions on the books, including Solar Probe Plus. The Faulconers' new company will focus on effective strategic planning, business development, systems engineering and management.

Next Shuttle Launch Set for May 14; Hutchison and Kosmas Defend Human Spaceflight

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

Following a Flight Readiness Review today, NASA set May 14 as the launch date for the next shuttle mission, STS-132. Space Shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to launch at 2:20 pm EDT on a 12-day flight to the International Space Station to deliver the Russian Mini Research Module-1 and other equipment and supplies.

Only two more missions remain on the shuttle manifest after this flight: STS-133 scheduled for September and STS-134 now expected in November carrying the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS). That flight date is very tentative depending on progress in changing the magnet on the AMS.

Meanwhile, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Representative Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL) co-authored a Letter to the Editor published in today's Washington Post. They challenged the Post's assertion in an April 23 editorial that human spaceflight wins political support because of its "romantic attraction." The two politicians argued that "We send humans into space to advance science and technology, not for vanity," and criticized the current plan to end the space shuttle program and the Constellation program because of the risk it poses to the health of the International Space Station. They say that --

"One problem in the president's proposal is that it does not address the risk to the station that will result from retiring the space shuttle and canceling the Constellation replacement program at the same time. A healthy and viable space station is critical to the emergence of the commercial space industry that the president's proposal relies on. If the space station is lost, the primary reason to send humans into space in the next decade will be lost."

Hutchison and Kosmas have each introduced legislation (S. 3068/H.R. 4804) to tie the date for retiring the shuttle to the availability of a government or commercial alternative.

Giffords Seeking Compromise on Human Space Flight Plan

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

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), chair of the House Science and Technology Committee's Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, believes that there is a "third way" to resolve the dispute between the President's plan for human space flight and the current program. In an op-ed for The Hill, a newspaper focused on happenings on Capitol Hill, Rep. Giffords continued her opposition to the Obama plan, but signaled that she is searching for a compromise not just retaining the Constellation program intact.

Saying that the modified proposal set forth in the President's April 15 speech "seems unworkable within the budget without crippling NASA's other missions," she concludes that "We cannot continue to argue between the president's plan and the status quo. There must be a third way."

What is that third way? Rep. Giffords says that she and her staff are working on it, and it is a challenging task. In her view the basic components must include: American leadership in space, clear timelines and destinations aligned to realistic budget expectations, assured access to the International Space Station on U.S. spacecraft, continued commitment to the aerospace workforce, and encouraging a commercial space sector that will take over spaceflight to low Earth orbit when it is sufficiently mature.

SSB to Look at Grand Philosophical Questions Addressed by NASA; Public Invited

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

The National Research Council's (NRC's) Space Studies Board (SSB) is planning a two-and-a-half day workshop in November to look at how NASA addresses the "grand philosophical questions people care about." Writing in the most recent edition of the SSB newsletter, SSB chair Charlie Kennel invites all who are interested to come to the workshop at the NRC's Beckman Center in Irvine, CA on November 8-10, 2010.

"Originally, we thought we would look at how effectively NASA is using both old and new media in getting its story across to the general public. As time passed, we came to realize that NASA's most convincing story is how its accomplishments speak to the grand philosophical questions people care about: .... We will look back 50 years and look ahead 50 years. We will invite prominent space scientists to take a broad look at these questions. We will invite panels of media professionals to tell us how they would express the same questions and answers. We will allow plenty of time for dialogue with the audience."

Among the grand philosophical questions --

  • Are we alone?
  • How did the universe begin and how are we evolving?
  • Will the earth remain a hospitable home for humanity?
  • What does the future hold for human exploration of space?
  • Do nations aspiring to become great need space programs?

Dr. Kennel was a member of the Augustine Committee on the future of the human space flight program and also spoke to the current controversy in Congress over the President's proposed new path for NASA that stemmed, in part, from that committee's report.

Noting the increase in earth science funding and other parts of NASA included in the FY2011 budget request, Dr. Kennel said he hoped the "dispute can be settled soon lest the other good things in the NASA budget languish." He conceded that he had not anticipated the "firestorm" in Congress, which he attributed to members whose districts are affected by the loss of the space shuttle and Constellation programs. Actually a number of members whose districts could benefit from the new NASA plan, such as Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), and those whose constituents would not be directly affected, such as Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN), chair of the House Science and Technology Committee, also have raised objections to the new plan. The issues are quite complex and not easily divided into political constituencies.

Events of Interest   

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


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