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Medical Press Conference to Update Rep. Giffords's Condition This Morning

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Mar-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

TIRR Memorial Hermann Medical Center in Texas will hold a press conference this morning at 10:00 am CST (11:00 EST) to provide an update on Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ). Rep. Giffords is recovering from a bullet wound to the head suffered in an assassination attempt on January 8 in Tucson, AZ that killed six and wounded 12 others. She is married to astronaut Mark Kelly whose STS-134 shuttle mission is scheduled for launch on April 19; Rep. Giffords reportedly is hoping to attend the launch.

Giffords Doing "Spectacularly Well"

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Mar-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) is doing "spectacularly well" according to her doctors at TIRR Memorial Hermann - Texas Medical Center in Houston.

In a press conference today, they said that her speech is improving and she can now string words together into sentences to let them know, for example, when she is tired. She can also understand everything they tell her, meaning that her primary language areas are intact, they said. Her memory also is OK. The doctors explained that there are two types of memory, memories of the past, such as childhood, and "memories that we make." Both types appear to be fine. She has no memory of the attack itself, but the doctors said that is normal.

Giffords is able to walk with decreasing levels of assistance, and they do not anticipate any vision problems. They said her personality is showing through and she has shown no signs of depression or frustration as happens with some patients in her situation. Instead she is "very upbeat" and "forward looking."

In short, they think she will make an "excellent recovery."

JPSS Delayed, Gap "Highly Likely" if Congress Does Not Act Says Lubchenco

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Mar-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator Jane Lubchenco warned the House Science, Space and Technology Committee today that the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) has already experienced about a 12-month delay and a gap in polar orbit weather satellite services is "highly likely" if the FY2011 funding situation is not resolved soon.

NOAA is operating at its FY2010 funding level under the Continuing Resolution (CR). The decision to terminate the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) and return to separate weather satellite systems for NOAA and DOD was made in concert with the FY2011 budget request so was not reflected in the FY2010 budget. Thus NOAA only has the amount of money that was allocated for NPOESS in FY2010 -- a program whose funding was shared with DOD -- to use for JPSS at the moment.

Lubchenco told Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) that NOAA needs $910 million for FY2011 for JPSS. If Congress does not provide that level of funding, and contracts have to be interrupted, the "consequences will not be pretty." She said several times during the hearing that for every dollar that is not spent this year, it will cost $3-5 dollars in the future.

She added that JPSS already has experienced "around a 12 month" slip and further delays in funding will cause more slips and we will "inevitably have a gap where we will not have the ability to do severe storm warnings as we do today." When asked by Representative Jerry McNerney (D-CA) if it already was inevitable, she clarified that it was "highly likely we will have a gap and the longer we wait the longer that gap gets." There is "great urgency" to resolving the funding issue, she stressed.

She also defended the DSCOVR and Jason-3 programs. DSCOVR started as the Triana program under the Clinton Administration and was opposed by many Republicans because it was championed by Vice President Gore and they felt its main purpose -- to look back at Earth from the L1 Sun-Earth Lagrange point -- was not meritorious. After a review by the National Research Council, additional sensors were added to provide data about space weather and the satellite was built, but it was put in storage during the George W. Bush Administration. NASA, NOAA and DOD now plan to launch it to contribute to space weather observations. Representative Harris (R-MD) asked why NOAA wanted to refurbish an 11-year-old satellite instead of having the private sector build and launch a new satellite to meet its needs. Lubchenco said the agency concluded that DSCOVR was the most cost effective approach.

Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) asked about why funding for Jason-3, a satellite being built jointly with the European Space Agency that will measure sea level, was a priority in these difficult economic times. Lubchenco said that providing data to coastal communities on sea level was "vital."

She also defended NOAA's decision to reorganize and create a NOAA Climate Service, but assured Chairman Hall that the agency would not implement the reorganization until Congress approves. Chairman Hall introduced an amendment to H.R. 1 (the "full year CR") to prohibit NOAA from creating the climate service. The amendment was adopted by the House, but the bill was defeated in the Senate earlier this week.

Endeavour "Go" For Roll Out Tonight

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Mar-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

Space Shuttle Endeavour will roll out to the launch pad tonight at 8:00 pm EST. The event will be covered live on NASA TV. Endeavour's final launch is scheduled for April 19.

UPDATE: Senate Votes on Republican, Democratic Budget Proposals Today

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Mar-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: Both bills were defeated this afternoon as expected. The Republican version fell by a vote of 44-56, with all Democrats, the two Independents, and three Republicans voting against it. The Democratic version fell 42-58, with all Republicans, 10 Democrats and one Independent voting against it. So no Democrats voted for the Republican version, and no Republicans voted for the Democratic version, although some in each party voted against their own party's proposal.

ORIGINAL STORY: The Senate will vote this afternoon on both the Republican and Democratic versions of the full-year Continuing Resolution (CR). The Republican version is H.R. 1 as passed by the House on February 19. The Democratic version was put forward by the Senate Appropriations Committee last week. Our fact sheet shows what the two versions would appropriate for NASA, but both are expected to go down to defeat, opening the door for what pundits are calling "real" negotiations between the parties.

Neither party is expected to be able to muster the 60 votes needed to end debate and bring their version of the bill to a vote. Even if there was party unanimity on their own version of the bill, which there is not, either would need Senators from the opposite party to cross over and vote for their bill to get the 60 votes. There are 47 Republicans, 51 Democrats, and two Independents who caucus with the Democrats in the Senate.

Some Republicans object to the House-passed bill because the cuts are too deep, others because they are not deep enough. The story on the Democratic side about the Democratic version is the same. In total, the Republican version would cut $61.3 billion from FY2010 spending while the Democratic version would cut $8.7 billion, so the chasm is pretty wide.

The votes today are viewed as tests to see where the debate stands, setting the stage for further negotiations. Since the current CR that is funding the government expires on March 18 and it does not appear that agreement will be reached by then, another short-term CR reportedly is being readied to avoid a government shutdown.

Shuttle Discovery Lands; End of Shuttle Program Begins

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Mar-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Space Shuttle Discovery made her final landing at Kennedy Space Center at 11:57 EST today, March 9, 2011. It is a date sure to remembered in space history circles as the first of the remaining space shuttle orbiters is officially retired.

Five spaceflight-worthy orbiters were built. Two, Challenger and Columbia, were destroyed in accidents in 1986 and 2003 respectivelly, killing all aboard in each case. Atlantis and Endeavour will make their final flights in the months ahead. The last flight of Endeavour is STS-134, scheduled for launch on April 19. Atlantis will fly the so-called "Launch on Need" mission, STS-135, and NASA plans to launch it as long as Congress does not cut the agency's FY2011 funding so severely that it is financially impossible to do so. That mission is currently scheduled for June 28, bringing the space shuttle program to a close.

NASA plans to rely on commercial companies to build the next human spaceflight system to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) and hopes those systems may be available in the 2015-2016 time frame. NASA is purchasing crew transportation services from Russia during the "gap" between the end of shuttle and the availability of whatever comes next.

One other orbiter was built -- Enterprise. It was the first, but was designed only for test flights within the atmosphere, not for flights into space. It is on display at the Smithsonian Institution's Udvaar-Hazy faciility near Dulles Airport outside Washington, D.C. NASA is currently deciding where Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour will go. The decision is expected to be announced next month. April 12 is the 30th anniversary of the first flight of the space shuttle (Columbia) as well as the 50th anniversary of the flight of the first man into space (Yuri Gagarin from the Soviet Union).

Our FY2011 Budget Fact Sheet Has Been Updated

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Mar-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

For those of you trying to follow action on the FY2011 Continuing Resolution for the rest of FY2011, we have updated our fact sheet to show the recommendations of the Senate Appropriations Committee as published in the Congressional Record on March 4. The updated fact sheet is available from our left menu under "Our Fact Sheets and Reports" or by clicking here.

Endeavour's Rollout Delayed To Tomorrow

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Mar-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

Looks like Discovery landed just in time today to avoid a weather delay. Discovery's sister space shuttle, Endeavour, was scheduled to be moved out to its launch pad tonight in preparation for its April 19 launch. NASA has postponed the roll out until at least tomorrow, however, because of potential lightning and storms at Kennedy Space Center. A scheduled press conference with Endeavour's STS-134 crew also has been postponed. Mission managers will decide tomorrow whether to roll out tomorrow evening.

Discovery on Track for Landing Just Before Noon Today

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Mar-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The weather looks good for space shuttle Discovery to make her final return from space today. Touchdown is scheduled for 11:57 am EST at Kennedy Space Center, FL. There is one more opportunity at KSC today at 1:33 pm EST should anything go awry, but at the moment everything looks good for 11:57.

Planetary Scientists Need To Make Their Case to Congress

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

Steve Squyres, chair of the National Research Council's (NRC's) Decadal Survey on planetary science, issued a call to arms to the planetary science community to come together and support the Decadal Survey in order to protect their discipline in these constrained budget times. The Decadal Survey was released today.

Squyres, a prominent planetary scientist at Cornell who is best known as the "father" of the two rovers currently on Mars - Spirit and Opportunity - laid out the results of the two-year NRC study at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference being held in Texas. Noting that the key element of the report's conclusions was "science return per dollar," he made it clear that the budget was critical to the fate of its recommendations.

The Decadal Survey lays out priorities for planetary exploration for the next 10 years, but also provides decision rules on what to do if the budget is more or less than what the study committee contemplated. NASA gave the committee a budget "envelope" within which to plan missions and make recommendations, but the situation has changed in the two years since the committee began its work and all pointers are that the budget for planetary science will be less.

Squyres focused on President Obama's FY2012 budget request for NASA. It shows the planetary science budget on a downward slope for the next five years. The request for FY2012 is $1,489 million, declining to $1,366 million in FY2013; $1,326 in FY2014; $1,271 million in FY2015; and $1,189 million in FY2016. That is essentially a going-out-of-business budget for this field of scientific research.

Jim Green, Director of NASA's Planetary Science Division (PSD), said that the President's budget projection does not allow for any new program starts. He then showed a different chart illustrating the budget scenario he had given the study committee based on PSD's expected budget just one year ago that showed a much rosier scenario. Much has changed since then, he stressed. Even if one assumes that NASA's total budget will be level-funded beyond FY2012 (which is not what the President's budget request indicates), the outlook for planetary science is discouraging.

Squyres called on the planetary science community to get behind the recommendations of the Decadal Survey and pointedly urged scientists to contact their Members of Congress to make the case for investing taxpayer dollars in this field. NRC Decadal Surveys traditionally are well respected by Congress and NASA and their recommendations faithfully followed to the extent budgets permit. Planetary scientists need to make their case, Squyres said, explaining that in meetings with Members of Congress last week they asked why their offices were not being inundated with planetary scientists arguing for funding for their research. He reported that they said "We can't walk into our offices without tripping over people" asking for money, but none are scientists.

Green agreed, saying that the Decadal Survey committee had made tough choices and not everyone would concur with them, but the community must find a way to "step up and support the report." He emphasized that Decadal Surveys "transcend" Congresses and Administrations, providing the "guiding light" moving the agency forward year by year. He extolled the committee for providing "an outstanding set of missions and outstanding decision making rules" that will allow NASA to develop a program that "in time will make a significant contribution to planetary science." He lauded cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA), but indicated that NASA will have to renegotiate agreements it already has with ESA because of the changed budget expectations.

Not everyone in the audience was persuaded that the NRC committee made the right recommendations or that the NRC process was best suited to reaching a consensus within the planetary science community. Mark Sykes of the Planetary Science Institute said that it was too early for anyone to ask the community to support the Decadal Survey recommendations since this was the first they knew about them. He complained that the NRC study process does not allow study committees to share their recommendations until the report has completed rigorous peer review out of public view so it is not really a community consensus.

Squyres agreed that building a consensus would be a lengthy process and noted that he will hold a series of Town Hall meetings, as well as discussions with international partners, over the next several weeks to build that support.

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