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Wayne Hale has a very interesting blog post today on how NASA's human spaceflight safety culture got to where it is today -- the hard way -- and how difficult it will be to get a "staid, grey, old, inflexible bureaucracy [to] approve flying its people on somebody else's rocket? Experience has been a hard teacher...."
The National Research Council (NRC) concluded in a report released today that NASA cannot meet the schedule mandated by Congress in 2005 for identifying 90% of Near Earth Objects (NEOs) 140 meters or more in diameter by 2020. NEOs are asteroids or comets that come close to Earth. The NRC said that inadequate funding was the culprit: "...for the past 5 years, the administration requested no funds, and the Congress appropriated none, for this purpose."
The report, Defending Planet Earth: Near-Earth Object Surveys and Hazard Mitigation Strategies, offers two options for proceeding depending on whether cost or schedule is most important. The earliest the goal could be achieved is 2022 if funding is provided to launch a spacecraft mission to augment searches by ground-based telescopes. If funding is limited and only ground-based telescopes are used, the goal could be reached by 2030. NASA currently spends about $4 million per year looking for NEOs, but that effort is focused on an earlier congressional mandate to catalog larger NEOs -- 1 kilometer or more in diameter -- that are easier to find.
The NRC committee that wrote the report, chaired by Irwin Shapiro of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, warned that objects smaller than 140 meters also could inflict substantial damage on the Earth and recommended that smaller NEOs also be catalogued. The 1908 event near Tunguska in Siberia that leveled 2,000 square kilometers of forest was cited as an example. Current estimates are that an asteroid between 30 and 70 kilometers in diameter exploded above the site, creating devastation with the resulting atmospheric shock wave.
Radars at the National Science Foundation's (NSF's) Arecibo Radio Observatory in Puerto Rico and NASA's tracking station in Goldstone, California are needed to characterize NEOs based on their orbits and physical properties, according to the report. Any attempt to deflect one to protect Earth would be dependent upon having such information. Therefore, the committee recommended that funding for NEO studies at Arecibo and Goldstone be assured. Arecibo's future has been in doubt since a 2006 NSF "senior review" that recommended it be closed by 2011 unless NSF could find other partners to contribute personnel and funds. Some want NASA to be one of those partners and increase its support for Arecibo. NASA argues that ground-based observatories are NSF's responsibility (NASA funds space-based observatories like the Hubble Space Telescope) and NASA's budget for space science already is constrained.
The committee was asked to identify the "optimal approach" to defending the Earth from NEO impacts - called "mitigation" in the report - but concluded that efforts in this area are too new and immature to determine an optimal approach. Instead, it recommended a "peer-reviewed, targeted research program in the area of impact hazard and mitigation of NEOs," stressing that funds for it should not be taken from science programs.
Noting that Congress already directed the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to identify by October 2010 what U.S. agency or agencies should be responsible for protecting the United States from a NEO collision, the report recommends that a standing committee with members from each relevant agency be created to develop a detailed plan for dealing with the NEO threat. This NEO committee would apportion responsibility among the various U.S. agencies and coordinate and collaborate with other nations. One agency would be designated by the Administration as the lead and chair the NEO committee. The report did not comment on what agency should have that role. In addition, the report recommends that the United States "take the lead in organizing and empowering a suitable international entity to participate in developing a detailed plan for dealing with the NEO hazard."
The report was written under the auspices of the NRC's Space Studies Board (SSB) and Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB). Congress directed NASA to request the study in the report accompanying the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008. NASA and NSF jointly sponsored it.
Congress has a full plate of NASA-related issues to confront this year according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS). CRS specialist Daniel Morgan lays out the panoply of issues ranging from broad -- "is there a national consensus for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit, despite the inherent risks and the substantial cost" -- to narrow -- "Are the currently planned Orion and Ares vehicles the best choices for delivering astronauts and cargo into space."
CRS does not make recommendations. Instead, its job is to provide non-partisan, objective research and analysis exclusively for Members and committee of Congress. It identifies issues, provides context, and analyzes possible solutions. By law, its reports are available only to Members of Congress and their staffs and not to the public, though Members may distribute them to anyone. Many CRS reports make their way onto the Web. This one is available via the Federation of American Scientists website.
Dana Johnson, Senior Advisor in the Bureau of Verification, Compliance and Implementation at the State Department, outlined measures for addressing challenges to U. S. space security in the "global commons" in a speech to the Air Education and Training Command (AETC) last week.
Dr. Johnson is a veteran space and national security analyst who recently moved to the State Department from Northrop Grumman's Analysis Center. Previously she was at the RAND Corporation. In her new capacity, she will be working on space, missile defense, and START verification issues.
In her AETC talk, she quoted Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flourney as defining global commons as parts of the world "beyond the control of any state...that constitute the fabric or connective tissue of the international system."
Noting that the Obama Administraton has a review of U.S. national space policy underway, Dr. Johnson said that a key element of the review is how to protect "critical government and commercial space infrastructures against 'all hazards'" natural and intentional. Other aspects of the review are "more effective space acquisition" and the "roles of sectoral and national-level strategies in advancing U.S. national interests in space," she said.
She listed four policy approaches to address challenges to U.S. space security in the global commons:
- "continued adherence to long-standing space policy principles,
- improved protection of critical government and commercial space infrastructures,
- expanded international space cooperation, and
- improved space situational awareness through increased transparency and confidence-building measures"
Marcia S. Smith's presentation today to the seminar on "Space Security Index 2009: The Status of and Future Trends in Space Security" is available on SpacePolicyOnline.com under "Marcia S. Smith's Biography and Recent Publications" on our left menu or by clicking here. Links to the other presentations at the seminar will be available once they are posted on the Web.
Massachusetts voters elected Republican Scott Brown as Senator, defeating Democrat Martha Coakley. In what the Associated Press called a "stunning embarrassment for the White House," the election ended the 60-seat super-majority Democrats held in the Senate that allowed them -- for one year -- to defeat Republican filibusters on a party-line vote. The impact on space-related issues is unclear since they are largely non-partisan, but it is a significant setback for other items on the Democratic agenda such as health care reform. The special election was called after the death of Senator Edward Kennedy last year. Senator Kennedy was the primary champion of health care reform in the Senate. Mr. Brown, a lawyer and former winner of the "America's Sexiest Man" award -- complete with centerfold photo -- from Cosmopolitan magazine, campaigned against health care reform, vowing to be the 41st vote against it (because he will be the 41st Republican in the Senate).
A one-day public symposium on the "state of the agency" will be held on February 12, 2010 at NASA Headquarters. The event is sponsored by the NASA Alumni League, chaired by former NASA Administrator James Beggs, as well as Women in Aerospace, the American Astronautical Society, and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden is one of the speakers along with other NASA officials. The symposium will be held in the auditorium at NASA Headquarters, so seating is limited and an RSVP is required. See the announcement for RSVP and other details.
The review of U.S. export control policies ordered by President Obama in August recently was given a deadline of January 29 according to Space News. The newspaper reports that the President signed Presidential Study Directive (PSD)-8 on December 21 setting that deadline and stating that the review would be used to prepare "comprehensive" statutory and regulatory recommendations "to create a new U.S. export control system."
Matthew Borman, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Export Administration at the Commerce Department made no mention of an upcoming deadline when he testified to the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) last month. His formal testimony referenced only the August announcement and said the review was "well underway" and would "devise an export control system to best address diffuse threats, technology and markets of the 21st century."
The U.S. export control regime splits responsibility between the Commerce Department for "dual-use" technologies that have both military and commercial applications, and the State Department for technologies that might pose a national security threat if they got into the wrong hands. Those technologies are placed on the State Department's "Munitions List" and handled under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). Critics argue that many technologies, including commercial communications satellites, should be on the Commerce Department's "Commerce Control List' and not the Munitions List, and that the United States is only hurting itself by the way it currently implements ITAR. University professors have been especially vocal on the chilling effect on ITAR on science and engineering education because of restrictions on what professors can teach to foreign students. Space scientists have been critical of ITAR's effect on internationally cooperative space science missions; a 2008 report by the National Research Council's Space Studies Board discussed those concerns.
HFAC held a second hearing on export controls last week at Stanford University. The President of Stanford, John Hennessy, was one of the witnesses. He co-chaired a much broader NRC report on the need for export control reform that was released last year. That report recommended an initial focus on changes that could be accomplished by the President without the need for Congress to pass legislation. The President's decision in favor of a comprehensive approach that would require both executive and congressional action is likely to significantly extend the time needed to accomplish change. Congress has a lot on its plate already and in an election year like 2010 issues that more directly affect voters, such as jobs, typically would be the focus of attention.
House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) said today that his committee plans to pass a multi-year NASA authorization bill this spring.
NASA is not his first priority, however. Reauthorizing the America COMPETES Act is at the top of his list and he vowed not just to get the bill out of committee, but passed by the House, before Memorial Day. The committee will hold a hearing on that Act tomorrow.
More details on the committee's agenda for this second session of the 111th Congress are available on the committee's website.
The following events may be of interest this week. For more details, see our calendar on the right menu or click on the links below. Note that dates, times and witnesses for congressional hearings are subject to change. Check the committee's website for up-to-date information.
Wednesday, January 20
Wednesday-Thursday, January 20-21
Thursday, January 21
Events of Interest
- IEEE Aerospace Conference, March 1-8, 2014, Big Sky, Montana
- National Space Club Goddard Dinner, March 7, 2014, Washington Hilton Hotel, Washington, DC, 6:30 pm ET
- Satellite 2014, March 10-13, 2014, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington, DC
- Space Policy & History Forum Featuring Anatoly Zak on Russia's Space Program, March 10, 2014, National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC (RSVP is REQUIRED in advance to enter this area of the museum), 4:00 pm ET
- Soyuz TMA-10M landing, March 10, 2014, Kazakhstan, 11:24 pm ET (NASA TV landing coverage begins at 10:15 pm ET)
- ISU-DC Space Café Featuring Avascent's Royce Dalby, March 11, 2014, The Science Club, Washington, DC, 7:00 pm ET
- NAC Planetary Sci Sbcmte, March 12, 2014, NASA HQ, Washington, DC, 8:30 am - 4:30 pm ET
- SASC Hrg on Military Space Programs, March 12, 2014, 222 Russell Senate Office Building, 2:30 pm ET
- House Approps Defense Sbcmte Hrg on FY2015 DOD Budget Req, March 13, 2014, 2359 Rayburn House Office Building, 10:00 am ET
- HASC Hrg on FY2015 Budget Request for the Air Force, March 14, 2014, 2118 Rayburn House Office Building, 9:00 am ET
Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »
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