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The text of the Senate Commerce Committee's version of the NASA authorization bill is now available on the committee's website.
UPDATE: A very quick comparison with the Senate version of the bill has been added.
Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN), chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee, has introduced the House version of the NASA authorization bill. Like the Senate bill, it is bipartisan and is cosponsored by Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX), Space and Aeronautics subcommittee chairwoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and Ranking Member Pete Olson (R-TX). It is posted on the Space and Aeronautics subcommittee's website. Full committee markup is scheduled for this Thursday.
A very quick glance through the bill reveals these differences with what is publicly known about the Senate version, the text of which has not yet been posted on the Web. This is not meant to be a comprehensive comparison.
- The House bill creates a direct loan or loan guarantee program for companies trying to develop commercial crew capabilities
- The House bill does not call for any additional space shuttle missions, unlike the Senate bill that would add one more mission (the Launch on Need mission)
- The House bill is a 5-year authorization; the Senate bill is for 3 years
There are similarities, too. Both bills authorize $19 billion for NASA in FY2011, the same as the President's request. Both call for extending the International Space Station to at least 2020. Both require the development of a government-owned crew transportation system in parallel with commercial efforts, which would serve as a backup when commercial capabilities become available. Both require immediate development of a heavy lift launch capability.
As the space community celebrates the 41st anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon today, the perennial question of whether or when American astronauts will return to the lunar surface remains as open as ever.
President Obama said on April 15 at Kennedy Space Center that putting people on the Moon, basically is, like, sooo 20th Century. Instead, asteroids should be the next destination for human spaceflight in his view. The Senate and House each have NASA authorization bills, however, that do not preclude a return to the Moon. In fact, returning to the Moon is already the law of the land. The 2005 NASA authorization act directs NASA to "develop a sustained human presence on the Moon" and the 2008 NASA authorization act reaffirms the 2005 law, as well as broadening it to include other destinations beyond low Earth orbit. Back to the Moon, or not? Which end of Pennsylvania Avenue will win the day this time?
Perhaps the most stressful aspect of this anniversary is that the debate remains unresolved four decades later. Whiplashing from one set of goals to another seems the best that policy-makers can do.
Setting that aside, congratulations to Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins, and all who made the Apollo 11 mission and those that followed it possible. While the policy community seems unable to make a decision that sticks, the engineers and scientists of Apollo turned a dream into reality in just 8 years.
Space News reports today on the mounting costs for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the successor to the Hubble Space Telecope. Amy Klamper writes that the costs for FY2011 alone have grown from $260 million to $470 million and quotes Jon Morse, NASA's Director of Astrophysics, as saying that the cost projections for FY2011 and FY2012 provided by Northrop Gruman Aerospace Systems, JWST's prime contractor, and its subcontractors "'appear to exceed the available reserves." Cost growth in one of the instruments, the Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam), being developed by the University of Arizona in Tucson and Lockheed Martin, was also identified as a problem.
Klamper earlier reported on a June 29, 2010 letter sent to NASA by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), chair of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA and a strong supporter of Goddard Space Flight Center, where the project is managed. The letter reportedly directed NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden to assemble an independent team immediately to make recommendations about the project.
Today's Space News story focuses on a new report from the National Research Council (NRC) on cost growth in space and earth science programs. The newspaper cites NASA's Associate Administrator for Science, Ed Weiler, as indicating at a NASA Advisory Council meeting on July 13 that while he agrees with the NRC report, many of its recommendations were applied to the JWST program "without success."
UPDATE: The House Science and Technology Committee's markup of the House version of the NASA authorization bill on Thursday has been added.
The following events may be of interest in the coming week. See our calendar on the right menu for more information or click the links below. Times and dates for congressional activities are subject to change; check the committee's website for up to date information.
Througout the Week
The Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) of the International Council of Science will hold its biennial meeting in Bremen, Germany from July 18-25. The world's leading space scientists participate in this meeting.
Monday, July 19
Wednesday, July 21
Thursday, July 22
- House Science and Technology Committee markup of the House version of the NASA authorization bill, 10:00 am, 2318 Rayburn
- Senate Appropriations Committee markup of Commerce-Justice-Science FY2011 appropriations bill (including NASA and NOAA), time and place TBD. Not yet posted on the committee's website, but Congress Daily reported that Senator Inouye announced it last week.
- Stimson Center seminar on Obama's National Space Policy, 1111 19th Street, N.W., Washington, DC, 12:30 - 5:00 pm EDT
Friday-Sunday, July 23-25
Thirty-five years ago today, an American Apollo capsule docked with a Soviet Soyuz capsule in Earth orbit. The 1975 Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) was a milestone in international cooperation in space -- the union of the two Cold War superpowers, who used the space program as a symbol of their technological prowess.
Quite a few space enthusiasts paint Apollo-Soyuz as a case study of how the space program can unite disparate countries and contribute to world peace, but it really is the other way around. The era of detente between the United States and Soviet Union in the early 1970s allowed ASTP to happen. It is the fundamental relationship between countries that permits -- or prevents -- space cooperation as evidenced by the fate of U.S.-Soviet space cooperation after ASTP, which all but ended in 1979 when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.
The United States strongly objected to the Soviet invasion. (How times have changed!) One of the casualities was U.S. participation in the Moscow Olympic Games; another was U.S.-Soviet space cooperation. The United States turned a cold shoulder to the Soviets and the "space race" mentality returned full force. By 1984, NASA convinced President Ronald Reagan that the United States and its traditional international partners should build a space station to assure U.S leadership in space versus the Soviets. The Soviets named their third generation space station, launched in 1986, Mir -- "Peace." We named ours "Freedom."
It is indeed ironic that Freedom evolved into a new union of U.S.-Russian space capabilities after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The name "Freedom" was dropped (for a number of reasons) and the "International Space Station" (ISS) emerged with Russia added as additional partner. Today, the United States is about to embark on an era of total reliance on Russia's Soyuz to take its astronauts to and from ISS.
That's an interesting tale still in progress. Meanwhile, several histories of U.S.-Soviet space cooperation -- which predated ASTP, but at a fairly low level -- are available, including an excellent book by Linda and Edward Ezell about ASTP published by NASA in 1978: The Partnership -- a History of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, NASA SP-4209.
According to Congress Daily (subscription required), the full Senate Appropriations Committee will mark up the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill, which includes NASA and NOAA, on Thursday, July 22. It will also consider three other appropriations bills that day. Time and location are yet to be announced.
Although some view the Senate Commerce committee's NASA authorization bill as a sharp divergence from the Obama plan, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver gave an interview to the Houston Chronicle in which she conveyed that NASA thinks it's a good bill. She did not endorse it entirely, saying that "We continue to work with the Congress," but she complimented the committee's leadership and said "What's nice is that this is a collaborative effort now and we think this is a great place to start. It accomplishes the major shifts the President set out to have for the space program."
The comments are somewhat surprising since the bill would:
- delay the commercial crew program -- the centerpiece of the Obama human spaceflight plan -- and build a parallel government-owned, NASA-managed system to serve as a backup to the commercial system(s),
- adds one more shuttle mission (the "Launch on Need" mission) that extends the life of the shuttle program,
- require development of a new heavy-lift launch vehicle (HLLV) beginning in FY2011 instead of FY2015 as in the Obama plan,
- require development of a crew exploration vehicle based on Orion that is capable of taking people to and beyond low Earth orbit as the Orion program was originally designed to do instead of building only a "lifeboat" version of it, and
- taking the money for the HLLV and crew exploration vehicle largely from the "game-changing" technology initiatives in the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate loudly touted by NASA and the White House.
The bill does support parts of the Obama plan, such as extending the International Space Station at least until 2020 and supporting the commercial crew concept, even if not buying into it as the only future route to low Earth orbit for U.S. astronauts. It is a compromise, and it is encouraging that the administration is willing to compromise in order to extract NASA from the chaos in which it has been embroiled since February. Why the Obama Administration chose to startle NASA's friends in Congress and industry with its February 1 budget rollout, why it has done such a poor job of selling it, and why it is so apparently eager to compromise just six months later, will make a good Ph.D. thesis someday.
UPDATE 6: A video of a press conference with Senators Rockefeller, Hutchison, Nelson, Vitter and others is available on Senator Nelson's website.
UPDATE 5: Statement by Senator Vitter from his website.
UPDATE 4: A section-by-section analysis of the bill prepared by committee staff is available here.
UPDATE 3: Senator Hutchison's opening statement can now be viewed on YouTube and a Republican press statement is available on the committee's website.
UPDATE 2: Senator Nelson's press release with a more detailed summary of the bill is now posted on his website.
UPDATE: A link to commitee chairman Senator Jay Rockefeller's opening remarks, including a summary of the key points of the bill, has been added.
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee adopted the NASA authorization bill crafted by Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and other members of the committee on both sides of the aisle. A number of amendments were adopted, but there was little discussion of the bill or the amendments -- just repeated accolades from Democrats and Republicans on how well they worked together and how much better their bill is compared to the Obama proposal. The basic outlines of the legislation have been known for some time, but the committee has not yet publicly released the text. Senator Nelson stated that the Senate Appropriations Committee will mark up the appropriations bill that includes NASA next week.
The opening statement of Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), who chairs the full committee, is available on the committee's website along with a brief summary of the key points of the bill.
Check back here for more details as they become available.
At a meeting of the United Nations Conference on Disarmament (CD) Tuesday, the State Department began implementing President Obama's new U.S. space policy, highlighting its emphasis on stability in space.
Frank Rose of the State Department contrasted the Obama policy with that of the Bush Administration saying "in a departure from the 2006 policy, the new National Space Policy also states that the United States will consider space-related arms control concepts and proposals that meet the criteria of equitability and effective verifiability, and which enhance the national security of the United States and its allies."
Rose added: "let me reaffirm that the United States continues to support the inclusion of a non-negotiating, or discussion, mandate in any CD program of work under the agenda item, 'Prevention of an Arms Race in Space,' known as PAROS. This was the basis of a compromise reached at the CD in May 2009."
The speech outlined for the 65 member countries of the CD the major thrusts of the new Obama policy focusing on its emphasis on international cooperation, debris mitigation and space situational awareness, and its call for transparency and confidence building measures (TCBMs). A major tenet of the Obama policy is that space has become vital to the interests of most countries in the world and all must work together to ensure that space remains a usable environment.
Events of Interest
- American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting, December 15-19, 2014, San Francisco, CA.
- HAPPY NEW YEAR!, January 1, 2015
- American Meteorological Society (AMS) Annual Meeting, January 4-8, 2015, Phoenix, AZ
- American Astronomical Society Winter Meeting, January 4-8, 2015, Seattle, WA
- AIAA SciTech 2015, January 5-9, 2015, Kissimmee, FL
- NEW DATE SpaceX CRS-5 Pre-Launch Briefings, January 5, 2015, Kennedy Space Center, FL, times TBD
- NEW DATE SpaceX CRS-5 Launch, January 6, 2015, Cape Canaveral, FL, 6:12 am EST
- 114th Congress Convenes, January 6, 2015, 12:00 pm EST
- SBAG, January 6-7, 2015, Phoenix, AZ
- NEW DATE SpaceX CRS-5 Arrival at ISS, January 8, 2015 (if launch goes on January 6)
- 2nd annual International Space Conference, January 8-9, 2015, Noida, India
- ASTRORECON 2015, January 8-10, 2015, Phoenix, AZ
- NASA Advisory Council (NAC) Heliophysics Sbcmte, January 9, 2015, NASA HQ, Washington, DC, 2:00-4:00 pm EST
Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »
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