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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.
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.
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..
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.
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
Tuesday-Wednesday, May 11-12
Wednesday, May 12
Thursday, May 13
Thursday-Friday, May 13-14
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.
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.
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.
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."
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."
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.
Events of Interest