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UPDATE: Final Shuttle Mission Readies to Undock from ISS

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

UPDATE: NASA has refined the landing time to 5:56 am EDT on Thursday, which is reflected below.

STS-135 (Atlantis), the final space shuttle mission, closed the hatches with the International Space Station (ISS) today as it readies to return home.

The hatches were closed at 10:28 am EDT. The shuttle crew went to sleep at 1:59 pm EDT this afternoon to get ready for an early morning undocking tomorrow, Tuesday, July 19, at 2:28 am EDT.

Landing is currently scheduled for 5:56 am EDT at Kennedy Space Center on Thursday.

Rep. Lamar Smith Calls for Better Space Program

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), vice-chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, is calling for a "better space program."

In an op-ed in today's Space News, Rep. Smith says that "America deserves to be inspired by the heavens again." As others in Congress have done, he criticized the Obama Administration for not complying with the 2010 NASA Authorization Act.

NASA Transitions To Commercial Space

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

Wheel stop for STS-135 (Atlantis) on Thursday will mark the end of the space shuttle program and NASA and its Kennedy Space Center (KSC) are accelerating their transition to the new era of commercial space.

The day before the launch of STS-135, KSC signed a Space Act agreement with Sierra Nevada, which is developing the Dream Chaser spaceplane. The agreement will allow KSC to work with Sierra Nevada to define and execute launch preparations and post-landing activities for Dream Chaser.

Today, three days prior to STS-135's landing, an unfunded Space Act agreement was signed between NASA and the United Launch Alliance (ULA). ULA is a Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture that builds and launches the Delta IV and Atlas V families of launch vehicles. The agreement will pave the way for consideration of using the Atlas V as a launch vehicle for future crew spacecraft. Right now, SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp. are developing new launch vehicles (Falcon 9 and Taurus II) to launch cargo and crews to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of the commercial crew program. Some argue that the Atlas V and Delta IV, which already exist and are used to launch spacecraft for critical national security space missions, could be upgraded for human spaceflight, too.

Mars Rover Landing Site to be Announced Friday

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

NASA is gearing up to launch its next Mars rover -- the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) or "Curiosity." An open question is where on Mars it should land.

That question will be answered on Friday, July 22 in a press conference at the National Air and Space Museum (NASM). The museum has a life-size model of Curiosity on display.

The press conference will be held at 10:00 am EDT and will be shown on NASA TV (

Events of Interest: Week of July 18-22, 2011

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The following events may be of interest in the coming week. For more information, check our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. The House and Senate are in session this week. The House had planned to be in recess, but decided to remain in session because of the debt limit/deficit reduction talks.

Monday, July 18

Tuesday, July 19

Tuesday-Thursday, July 19-21

Thursday, July 21

  • Scheduled landing of the final space shuttle mission, STS-135, at Kennedy Space Center, FL, 5:56 am EDT

House Appropriators Chastise, Cut OSTP Because of China Dealings

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

Among the agencies whose budgets would be cut by the House Appropriations Committee in the FY2012 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill is the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The cut of more than 50 percent of its budget request is the result of congressional unhappiness with OSTP's continued efforts to engage with China despite language in the final FY2011 Continuing Resolution that it refrain from doing so.

The committee's report on the FY2012 CJS bill says the following:

"The Committee recommends $3,000,000 for the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), which is $3,647,000 below fiscal year 2011 and $3,650,000 below the request.

"Coordination with China.-OSTP has chosen to disregard a strong and unambiguous legislative prohibition on bilateral engagement with China or Chinese-owned companies that was included in the Department of Defense and Full Year Continuing Resolution Act, 2011 (Public Law 112-10). OSTP and the White House raised no concerns about this language while it was under consideration. Only after the Committee asked OSTP about its compliance with the provision did OSTP claim that the language infringed on Constitutional prerogatives and acknowledge an intention to proceed with prohibited activities. Even then key information about a scheduled bilateral event was omitted. OSTP's behavior demonstrates a lack of respect for the policy and oversight roles of the Congress."

The report goes on to say that the remaining OSTP funding is to be prioritized to coordinate and improve government programs for STEM education.

The Associated Press ran a story about it yesterday.

Sen. Hutchison: Obama Administration Footdragging Puts Jobs and Industries at Risk

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

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) continues to assail the Obama Administration for "foot-dragging" on its legislated requirement to build a new space launch vehicle.

In her weekly column on her website, Sen. Hutchison again blamed the Obama Administration for failing to implement the 2010 NASA Authorization Act of which she was a primarily author: "Despite overwhelming Congressional support when this legislation was approved, the Obama Administration unfortunately is dragging its feet in implementing the new law. This foot-dragging is more than just failing to carry out the law, as the Constitution requires. The Administration's delays put current and future American jobs and industries at risk, and hand over to competing nations a golden opportunity to take the global lead in technology."

After listing some of benefits of past investments in space activities broadly, not just NASA, she states: "The contributions our space program has made to science, our national security, and our economy illustrate why we can't abdicate our leadership role in the world."

Science Friday on JWST

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

Yesterday, National Public Radio's Science Friday host Ira Flatow interviewed Michael Turner of the University of Chicago and science writer Ron Cowan about the plight of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

The audio of the program is available on Science Friday's website.

Turner defended the program, using the age-old argument that NASA's programs push the envelope of science and technology and that "once in a while" there is an overrun. Not all would agree with Turner on the frequency of cost overruns. A 2004 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report found an average of 45 percent cost growth for the 72 NASA programs it analyzed.

Cowan pointed out that supporters of the project were not forthright about its costs in the beginning, and Turner agreed that was one of the lessons learned from last year's Casani report on JWST -- that one must be upfront about the costs. As for now,Turner argued that the program was about 75 percent done and ending it now would be "penny wise and pound foolish."

Cowan said he is concerned that NASA is not saying how much more JWST will cost if the launch slips to the early 2020's. Turner countered that NASA has come up with a new plan for completing it and is negotiating with the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and some things have to be done behind closed doors.

Updated Fact Sheets Available

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

Updated versions of our fact sheets on NASA's FY2012 Budget Request and on a Legislative Checklist of Major-Space Related Legislation in the 112th Congress are now available.

The NASA FY2012 Budget Request fact sheet includes the funding recommendations adopted by the House Appropriations Committee Wednesday in marking up the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill.

The Legislative Checklist fact sheet shows House passage of the Department of Energy (DOE) appropriations bill today, and committee markup of the Commerce-Justice-Science and the Interior-Environment appropriations bills earlier this week. The CJS bill includes NASA and NOAA; the Interior-Environment bill includes the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which operates the Landsat satellites.

Update on the Debt Limit-Deficit Debate

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

As August 2 gets closer and closer, Republicans and Democrats do not appear to be closing the gap in their ideas on how to reduce the deficit, which at the moment is an integral part of a deal to raise the debt limit. The President held another press conference at 11:00 am EDT today to bring the issue to the American public.

To recap: The U.S. Government has debt --the amount of money it owes creditors, and a deficit -- the difference between the amount of money it collects and how much it spends. The bigger the deficit, the more money needs to be borrowed, increasing the amount of debt.

Congress must pass a law allowing the debt limit to increase above its current $14.3 trillion level. If the debt limit is not raised by August 2, most economists, including the Secretary of the Treasury and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, assert that it will be catastrophic for the United States. The government will not be able to pay all of its bills and will have to choose between paying creditors, like China, or paying for current operations, like salaries for government workers -- including those who work on space programs. It would also affect the govenrment's ability to pay for everything it buys from office supplies to spacecraft.

Republicans are using the need to raise the debt limit as a lever to force Democrats to accept deep spending cuts to reduce the deficit. They will not approve a debt limit increase unless the defict is dealt with at the same time. Democrats agree that the deficit must be reduced, but they want a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. To date, Republicans have not been willing to compromise and accept any tax increases. Democrats insist that both sides must compromise, it cannot be one-sided deal.

Talks have been going on for months, but recently have suffered setbacks. No talks are currently scheduled.

The President reiterated in his press conference today that all the congressional leaders -- Republicans and Democrats -- agree that the United States cannot default on its obligations. He said he wants to "seize the moment" and cut a deal that, over the next 10 years, would take government spending down to the lowest level since Dwight Eisenhower was President in the 1950s. That will require tax increases as well as spending cuts, he said, adding that even a majority of Republicans agree that this "balanced approach" is needed. However, an influential and vocal group of Tea Party Republicans in the House do not. They want only spending cuts.

The President called on Republicans to come to him with a "serious plan" for deficit reduction. For their part, today's news is that House Republicans are pushing a "cut, cap, and balance" plan that would cut spending, put a cap on future spending, and pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. The latter would require ratification by three-quarters of the 50 states. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is proposing a different plan that would essentially let the President raise the debt limit himself for the next year so he would shoulder the blame in the eyes of American voters. Although House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) did not reject the idea, many House Republicans reportedly are strongly opposed to it.

Events of Interest


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