Latest News

NASA Telecon at 4:30 EST Today Re Crew Change for STS-133 (Discovery)

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

NASA is replacing astronaut Tim Kopra with Steve Bowen for the STS-133 (Discovery) mission scheduled for launch next month. As reported earlier, Kopra was injured in a bicycle accident last weekend. NASA will hold a media teleconference today (Wednesday) at 4:30 pm EST to discuss the crew change.

NASA's Associate Administrator for Space Operations, Bill Gerstenmaier, and Peggy Whitson, Chief of the Astronaut Office, will participate in the teleconference. Audio will be streamed at

Kopra was going to be the lead spacewalker for the STS-133 mission. A NASA press release quoted Whitson as saying that Kopra is doing fine and expects a full recovery, but not in time for a February launch.

Rep. Giffords Upgraded from Critical to Serious Condition

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

The University Medical Center (UMC) in Tuscon reported today (Sunday) that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) has been upgraded from critical condition to serious condition because she has been taken off her ventilator and is breathing on her own. A UMC media briefing to update the press on her condition and that of the two other patients who remain at UMC will take place at 11:00 am Tucson time (1:00 pm EST) tomorrow.

Events of Interest: Week of January 17-21, 2011

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The following events may be of interest in the coming week. For more information, see our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. The House will be in session this week; the Senate returns on January 25.

Monday-Tuesday, January 17-18

Tuesday-Thursday, January 18-20

Wednesday, January 19

Thursday, January 20

Thursday-Friday, January 20-21

Friday, January 21

Doctors Looking Toward Third Phase of Rep. Giffords' Recovery -- Rehabilitation

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

University Medical Center (UMC) doctors continued to sound optimistic about the recovery of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) today, though none has speculated on how complete that recovery ultimately will be.

Dr. Rainer Gruessner, chairman of UMC's surgery department, began by reviewing the three phases of treatment: resuscitating, restoring, and rehabilitating. Following Saturday's surgery where her ventilator was replaced with a tracheotomy tube and surgeons repaired "orbital roof fractures" of her right eye, the doctors said that the next milestone would be her release from the hospital into a rehabilitation facility. That could be days or weeks away, they said.

Responding to questions, Dr. Randy Friese, associate medical director, and Dr. Michael Lemole, chief of neurosurgery, gave the following update: they think she may be able to see, but a detailed opthalmologic examination has not been performed; she cannot speak yet because the tracheotomy tube they emplaced does not allow air to pass her vocal cords and she has not tried to speak; and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, told them that he thinks he saw her smile. Dr. Friese also cautioned that there always is a risk of infection after surgery and she just had surgery on Saturday, but overall he painted an optimistic outlook for her release into a rehabilitation facility, the third phase of her treatment.

Dr. Grussener ended the press conference by stressing that they cannot speculate about the future.

Bill Harwood: Discovery Crew Member Injured in Bicycle Accident

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

Veteran space journalist Bill Harwood reports on his CBS News "Space Place" website that astronaut Tim Kopra was injured in a bicycle accident on Saturday. Kopra is a member of the STS-133 (Discovery) crew currently scheduled for launch on February 24. Among his other duties on the mission, he is scheduled to be the "lead spacewalker for a pair of excursions outside the station," Harwood reports.

Senators Lay Down the Law to NASA about HLV, Literally

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) sent a letter to NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden on Thursday in response to the report NASA submitted to Congress this week on its reference designs for a new Space Launch System -- or "heavy lift vehicle" (HLV) -- and multipurpose crew capsule. NASA is required to develop the launch system and crew vehicle as part of the 2010 NASA Authorization Act; the two Senators played a critical role in writing that law. The NASA report includes a cautionary statement that none of the designs it has looked at to date can be executed within the budget and schedule goals enunciated in that Act.

Congress has not reacted positively to NASA's report. In the January 13 letter, Senators Nelson and Hutchison spell out the legal requirements that NASA must follow. For example, it says that one of the criteria NASA is using is whether the system would be affordable. The letter says "If the law directed NASA to start with an entirely new development without the use of existing contracts, technologies, and infrastructure, we can see where affordability may come into question, but this conclusion suggests a misunderstanding of the Congressional intent."

The letter also clarifies Congress' intent when it used the phrase "to the extent practicable" when directing NASA to use space shuttle and Constellation capabilities in that manner. The Senators quote a federal legal precedent that the phrase "does not permit an agency unbridled discretion," and a Government Accountability Office (GAO) determination that an agency must "either provide the preference or articulate a reasoned explanation of why it is impractible to do so."

Jeff Foust at has an interesting analysis of what the argument is all about. Keith Cowing at NASAWatch and Paul Spudis also are weighing in.

Gabrielle Giffords Earth and Space Leadership Fund Established

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

Friends and supporters of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) have established a Gabrielle Giffords Earth and Space Leadership Fund in her honor as she recovers from the attack last Saturday. Tax deductible contributions are being sought through a website and Facebook page. Organizers say the fund will be administered by Rep. Giffords ("Gabby") to help develop leadership in earth and space sciences, and technology innovations and public policy that benefit the nation.

Editor's Note: Everyone hopes that Rep. Giffords will recover sufficiently to return to a normal life and do so many things, such as administering this fund as the organizers pledge. The medical news has been so encouraging that it is easy to forget the gravity of her situation. The doctors at UMC have always been cautious to not make any promises about how she will fare in the long run.

Another Step Forward for Rep. Giffords

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

The University Medical Center in Tucson announced today that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was taken off her ventilator, another step forward in her recovery from the attack last Saturday that left six dead.

Of the 10 victims brought to UMC last Saturday, three remain. The rest have been discharged. Rep. Giffords remains in critical condition; the other two patients are in good condition. Doctors performed a tracheotomy on Rep. Giffords this morning and inserted a tube in her windpipe to protect her airway, freeing her from the ventilator, and also inserted a feeding tube, according to the hospital's report.

Updated Fact Sheets

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

For those who are interested, we have just updated three of our fact sheets. All are available on our left menu under "Our Fact Sheets and Reports" or by clicking the links below.

Hope they are helpful.

NASA IG: Agency Will Spend $215 Million on Unneeded Constellation Program Elements If Congress Does Not Act

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Jan-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

NASA's Inspector General (IG), Paul Martin, wrote to Congress today warning that the agency will spend $215 million by the end of February on unnecessary elements of the Constellation program if Congress does not act quickly to relieve the agency of restrictions in the 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act. That figure could grow to $575 million by the end of FY2011, according to the letter.

Although FY2010 has ended, NASA is being funded by a Continuing Resolution that carries over the language from the Consolidated Appropriations Act. Included is a provision that prohibits NASA from terminating the Constellation program or initiating a replacement until Congress directs it to do so in a future appropriations act. That has not happened even though Congress passed the 2010 NASA authorization act directing NASA to initiate a somewhat different program. NASA is caught between the two laws.

Representative Ralph Hall (R-TX), chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, said in a statement that this is an issue that appropriators must deal with "in an expedient manner, in order to avoid wasteful spending." He added that his committee will provide "strong Congressional oversight" of NASA's human spaceflight program.

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), chairman of the Senate Science and Space subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, has already written legislation to repeal the provision, according to the National Journal (subscription required). It quotes Sen. Nelson as saying that "every dime counts in our space program right now, we can't afford to be wasting money." The Senate is in recess until January 25; presumably the bill will be introduced then.

Events of Interest

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


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