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President Obama Addresses Tucson Tragedy

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

President Obama held a news conference this afternoon to react to the tragedy in Tucson where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and 17 others were shot. Dr. Peter Rhee of the University Medical Center said earlier in the afternoon that he is optimistic about Rep. Gifford's recovery.

The President said that "Gabby" is a friend of his, and her husband, Mark Kelly, is one of "our valiant astronauts." He called it a tragedy for Arizona and for our country and called for everyone to keep all the victims in their prayers and "our hearts go out to the families of those who were slain."

He confirmed that 5 have died, including Federal Judge John Roll and a nine year old girl.

NPR Reports that Rep. Giffords and Six Others Were Killed

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

National Public Radio reports that Rep. Giffords (D-AZ) and six others were killed in the attack today in Tucson, AZ.

More details as they become available.

Update: Reuters also is reporting that Rep. Giffords died.

NASA Administrator Reacts to Giffords Shooting

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden issued the following statement about the Tucson shooting:

"We at NASA are deeply shocked and saddened by the senseless shooting of Representative Giffords and others at Saturday's public event in Tucson. As a long-time supporter of NASA, Representative Giffords not only has made lasting contributions to our country, but is a strong advocate for the nation's space program and a member of the NASA family. She also is a personal friend with whom I have had the great honor of working. We at NASA mourn this tragedy and our thoughts and prayers go out to Congresswoman Giffords, her husband Mark Kelly, their family, and the families and friends of all who perished or were injured in this terrible tragedy."

FY2011 Funding Quagmire Could Delay JPSS

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

Launch of the first two of NOAA's Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) satellites could be delayed by a year if the FY2011 funding situation is not resolved soon, Space News reports.

Like most other government agencies, NOAA is operating at its FY2010 level under the current Continuing Resolution (CR) that lasts until March 4. Congress must pass another CR or some other type of appropriations by then or the government will have to shut down.

At its FY2010 funding level, NOAA has $382 million, instead of the $1.06 billion requested for FY2011, to spend on polar orbiting environmental satellites, according to the report. Citing NOAA spokesman John Leslie, Space News says that progress on JPSS has been slower than planned because of the funding uncertainty and could mean a one-year slip for the first two satellites. The original plan was for JPSS-1 to launch in 2014 and JPSS-2 in 2018. However, Leslie also told Space News that with the outcome of the FY2011 appropriations still in doubt, "it is not practical to speculate what the exact launch dates will be."

Senate appropriators expressed skepticism about the JPSS program in their report (S. Rept. 111-229) on the FY2011 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill. That bill never became law, but does convey congressional concerns about the viability of the program overall. JPSS is NOAA's part of the restructured DOD-NOAA-NASA National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) that was split apart by the White House in the FY2011 budget request after repeated overruns and schedule slips. NOAA is now in charge of the civilian part of the program, with NASA acting as its acquisition agent. The Department of Defense is in charge of the military component of the program, the Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS). Senate appropriators also expressed reservations about the DWSS program.

NOAA's situation is more urgent, since all of its polar orbiting environmental satellites already are in orbit. A NASA spacecraft built to demonstrate new technologies for the NPOESS Program, the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) satellite, is expected to be launched this fall and will be used as an operational satellite instead of a technology demonstrator. After that, there are no other U.S. civil weather satellites. Thus, there is pressure to build JPSS-1 to ensure that the nation continues to have a fully functioning polar orbiting weather satellite system. By contrast, DOD has two of its legacy Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) satellite awaiting launch, so resolving the future of the DWSS program is less critical.

The need for weather satellites is rarely questioned, but at a time when a large number of new members have just been sworn into office, some may need to be briefed on the origin of the data that they see displayed on television and the Internet. The story of the new congressman many years ago who said "I don't need NOAA. I have got weather on my TV" has been recounted many times.

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords Shot in Tucson

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

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was shot in the head during a public event in Tucson today according to the New York Times and other news sources. She has been taken to the University Medical Center. News reports say that she and 11 others were shot by a man who fired indiscriminately.

Rep. Giffords chaired the House Space and Aeronautics subcommittee in the last Congress and was just reelected for a third term. She is married to astronaut Mark Kelly. Kelly is a member of the STS-134 (Endeavour) crew scheduled to be launched in April. Kelly's twin brother, Scott, is currently aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

We will report back here when we have more information on Rep. Giffords' condition.

Conflicting Reports about Rep. Giffords' Status

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

WTOP News, an all news radio station in Washington, DC, just reported on the air that Rep. Giffords is in surgery in Tucson, and has not died. We will wait for more definitive information before posting again.

Chairman Hall Comments on the Shooting of Rep. Giffords

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, issued the following statement about the shooting in Tucson, AZ today where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 17 others were shot, at least five fatally.

"I am shocked and saddened by this terrible news, and my prayers are with Gabrielle, her husband Astronaut Mark Kelly, her family, her staff, and all those who were injured and lost their lives and their families. Gabrielle has so many friends in Congress and is an outstanding Congresswoman for her district and for the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. I have been to her district with her to support solar energy and to the Cape with her to support the Shuttle flights. She is a wonderful person, and our prayers are with her, Captain Kelly, and the families of all the victims of this tragedy."

Jack Schmitt to be New Mexico's Secretary of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 07-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

Apollo astronaut Harrison "Jack" Schmitt, who served as a U.S. Senator representing his home state of New Mexico from 1976-1982, has been nominated to head New Mexico's department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources.

Newly inaugurated Governor Susana Martinez announced her nomination of Schmitt yesterday. Schmitt is a Harvard-trained geologist who holds the distinction of being the only scientist to set foot on the Moon. He was part of the Apollo 17 crew, the last Apollo lunar mission, with crewmates Commander Gene Cernan and Command Module Pilot Ron Evans. Schmitt and Cernan spent 75 hours on the lunar surface in December 1972. Schmitt reentered the lunar module first, so Cernan, not Schmitt, was the last man to walk on the Moon.

Schmitt chaired the NASA Advisory Council during most of Mike Griffin's tenure as NASA Administrator. In addition to his public service, he is perhaps best known as a strong advocate for mining helium-3 on the Moon and bringing it to Earth to power nuclear fusion reactors. He wrote a book explaining his concept entitled Return to the Moon: Exploration, Enterprise, and Energy in the Human Settlement of Space.

Schmitt's nomination was not greeted enthusiastically in all circles. The Democratic Party of New Mexico issued a press release referring to him as a "global warming denier." Its Executive Director, Scott Forrester accused the governor of appointing someone who is "at odds with the basic tenets of science and reason." Forrester went on to say that it was a "clear signal to Martinez's big-oil backers that the days of basic protections for New Mexicans' air and drinking water are over."

Book Signing on Jan. 21 for John Logsdon's New Book: John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon

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

Timed perfectly to coincide with the upcoming 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's "Moon speech," John Logsdon has just published a new book on the Kennedy era of space exploration. "John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon" is available through, and a book signing event will be held at George Washington University (GWU) on January 21 where copies can be purchased and autographed.

Dr. Logsdon is author of the seminal 1970 book "Decision to Go the Moon," required reading for any student of space policy. Now a Professor Emeritus at GWU, Dr. Logsdon is considered the "dean" of space policy in the United States. GWU's Space Policy Institute (SPI), which he established, is the incubator for many of the space policy practitioners in the country today. Currently under the directorship of Dr. Scott Pace, SPI will host the book signing from 5:00-7:00 pm on January 21, 2011 at GWU's Lindner Family Commons, 1957 E Street, N.W. Dr. Logsdon will be introduced by one of his former students, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver.

On May 25, 1961, President Kennedy went before a joint session of Congress and gave a speech on Urgent National Needs. In that speech, he called on the country to commit to the goal of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth by the end of the decade. Dr. Logsdon's first book provided a detailed look at the policy aspects of that decision. The new book takes a fresh look incorporating material from the Kennedy Administration released in recent years.

Please RSVP to by January 18 if you plan to attend.

Bolden: STS-135 Would Be As Safe As Previous Missions, End of Shuttle Era "Bittersweet"

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

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden told an American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) audience yesterday that the STS-135 "Launch-on-Need" shuttle mission would be as safe as previous shuttle launches. The 2010 NASA Authorization Act directs NASA to fly STS-135 as the final space shuttle mission as long as it is safe to do so. With the safety aspects settled, the only potential problem now is funding.

Two shuttle missions formally remain on the manifest, STS-133 (Discovery), whose launch has been delayed by a gas leak and external tank cracks, and STS-134 (Endeavour). The current launch dates for those two missions are February and April 2011, respectively.

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and others champion one additional shuttle flight and included direction to fly it in the law. Dubbed the "launch on need" mission or STS-135 (Atlantis), it will be ready to launch to rescue the Endeavour crew if anything goes awry on that flight. If not, advocates argue that it should be used for one last logistics flight to the International Space Station (ISS) before the shuttle era ends.

Since there would be no capability to rescue the Atlantis crew, however, some questioned whether it would be safe to fly. NASA intends to launch it with only four crew members, instead of the usual six or seven. As long as it could get to the ISS, those four could remain there until sufficient Russian Soyuz spacecraft could be launched to bring them home again. That would mean 10 people on the ISS for a period of time instead of its usual crew complement of six, but sufficient supplies would be aboard to accommodate the extra people. According to Bolden's remarks, the agency has determined this plan is sufficiently safe.

Estimates of the cost of flying the mission are rumored to be about $500 million, however, which was not included in the agency's FY2011 budget request. The shuttle request for FY2011 was only $989 million, assuming that the program would end in the first quarter of the fiscal year, that is, by December 31, 2010. That clearly has not happened. As the last flights slip further into the fiscal year, more funds are needed. A full year of shuttle operations cost the agency $3.1 billion in FY2010.

NASA is currently being funded through a Continuing Resolution (CR) at its FY2010 funding level of $18.7 billion, instead of the $19 billion requested by President Obama for FY2011. The CR expires on March 4 and it is anyone's guess as to how much funding the agency will have after that. Where the money will come from to pay for the longer-than-expected shuttle operations is unclear.

Senator Nelson held a hearing on December 1, 2010 where Presidential Science Adviser John Holdren and NASA Chief Financial Officer Beth Robinson pledged to fly STS-135 as long as NASA received roughly the same amount of funding as the President requested for FY2011. They agreed that $18.7 billion would be enough, but warned that if the agency is cut back to its FY2008 level, the agency did not know how it would cope. NASA received $17.4 billion in FY2008. Some Republicans in the House and Senate have vowed to cut all federal spending back to its FY2008 level.

Bolden's AIAA speech also looked back at the shuttle program over its lifetime, including the many technical changes made to a vehicle that "is still ... experimental ... in the purest sense." Bolden flew on the shuttle four times himself, and proudly recounted that he flew on the first space shuttle mission to Russia's Mir space station as well as on the mission that deployed the Hubble Space Telescope. He paid tribute to the crews of Challenger and Columbia who lost their lives, but added that "we must also never forget the accomplishments, the joy, the knowledge and the pride this program has brought our country."

While it is "bittersweet" to see the shuttle program come to an end, Bolden said "we are thrilled to be on the cusp of a whole new era of exploration capabilities." A "true commercial capability for reaching low Earth orbit" responds to a "yearning" for routine access to space, "one of the unfilled promises" of the shuttle program, he said.

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