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Britan's new space agency, U.K. Space Agency (UKSA), will formally open its doors on April 1, according to the BBC. The report says that "Its establishment should bring more coherence to space policy - something critics say has been missing for years."
The BBC noted that creation of the agency is in response to a report from industry and academia, the Space Innovation and Growth Strategy (Space-IGS), that made recommendations last month on how to increase Britain's share of the global market in space products and services. The government reportedly plans to adopt many of the Space-IGS recommendations, but not the one calling on the United Kingdom to double its spending on European Space Agency (ESA) programs over the next decade and "initiate and lead at least three missions between now and 2030." Lord Drayson, Minister for Science and Innovation, said that the goverment could not make such commitments at this time.
At a hearing before the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee this afternoon, Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) said that he knows of only one Member of Congress who supports President Obama's new plan for NASA. He did not identify who that is, but Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) has publicly praised the President's plan to rely on commercial space companies for human trips to low Earth orbit.
As has been true in other congressional hearings on NASA's budget request, the vast majority of questions to NASA Administrator Bolden were about the decision to cancel the Constellation program. Brief mention was made of the $6 billion increase to the NASA budget over 5 years that is projected in the budget request, and there were a couple of questions about space science and aeronautics research, but Constellation and the future of the human space flight program dominated the hearing.
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. Times, dates and witnesses for congressional hearings are subject to change; check the relevant committee's website for up-to-date information. All meetings are in Washington, DC and all times are EDT unless otherwise noted.
Tuesday, March 23
Wednesday, March 24
Thursday, March 25
The Senate had a busy day today, so the Senate hearing on assessing commercial space capabilities was both delayed and interrupted by votes on the floor, and Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) was the only Senator present except for a brief visit by Senator Hutchison (R-TX) to read an opening statement. The prepared testimony of the seven witnesses and the webcast of the hearing are on the committee's website.
Senator Nelson again said that the biggest problem with NASA's new plan for human space flight is the way it was rolled out, and reiterated that President Obama is a strong supporter of human space flight, which he will make clear at his April 15 "space conference" at Kennedy Space Center. The Senator revealed that he is trying to convince the President to launch one more shuttle mission beyond the four remaining on the manifest. NASA will have a "launch on need" mission ready to go in case any problems develop with the last mission and Senator Nelson wants to see that one launched regardless of whether it is needed as a rescue flight. As for more shuttle flights beyond that, he seems convinced that the time has passed for trying to extend the shuttle. As others have stated, it would take two to two-and-a-half years to ready another External Tank, so a gap between the shuttle and whatever comes after it is inevitable.
Seven witnesses are scheduled to testify this afternoon before the Science and Space Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on commercial space activities. It's an unusually large group for a space hearing, and spans a range of government and private sector expertise. Three former astronauts (Stafford, O'Connor and Culbertson) are among them. The hearing is at 2:30 pm in 253 Russell Senate Office Building.
U.S. astronaut Jeffrey Williams and Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev safely returned to Earth this morning, landing in Kazakshtan at 7:24 am EDT. They spent five and a half months aboard the International Space Station. NASA has a great image of the landing in the snow-covered Kazakh steppes.
Two of the five International Space Station crew members, including the current commander, will return to Earth tomorrow, leaving just three aboard the orbiting facility. A change of command ceremony today marked the imminent end of Expedition 22, commanded by American Jeff Williams, and beginning of Expedition 23, to be commanded by Russian Oleg Kotov as soon as Williams departs.
Williams and Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev will return to Earth tomorrow on Soyuz TMA-16. Undocking is scheduled for 4:00 am with a landing in Kazakhstan at 7:23 am. "Frigid weather and gusty winds" are predicted at the landing site according to NASA.
UPDATE: This article is updated to include the names of the other Members of Congress who signed the letter.
According to his press release, Rep. Aderholt is asking GAO to determine if "NASA's actions regarding the Constellation program, as well as the extent to which it is working on a new, unauthorized plan, violates law." The FY2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act prohibits NASA from spending any funds to cancel Constellation or initiate a new program without specific congressional approval in a subsequent appropriations act.
UPDATE: President Obama and Senator Nelson had an "excellent conversation" according to Florida Today, quoting the Senator, who also said that "we'll see the fruits of that conversation" on April 15 when the President holds a space conference in Florida.
At the same time, the Orlando Sentinel reported today that Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL), who represents a district near Kennedy Space Center, was invited to the White House last week so the President could coax her into voting in favor of the health care reform bill, but "she frequently pivoted the conversation to NASA," and has not yet made up her mind on how to vote. The Houston Chronicle reports that the mayor of Houston, Annise Parker, also is on her way to pressure the President.
The Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee of the House Science and Technology Committee has announced a hearing for March 24 on "Proposed Changes to NASA's Exploration Program: What's Known, What's Not, and What Are the Issues for Congress?" NASA Associate Administrator for Exploration Doug Cooke and retired Lockheed Martin executive Tom Young are the scheduled witnesses. The hearing will be at 2:00 pm in 2318 Rayburn House Office Building.
Events of Interest