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Garver Praises Bipartisanship of Congress on NASA Bill

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

During a media teleconference this afternoon, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver gushed with gratitude to Congress for setting aside politics and passing the NASA authorization bill (S. 3729) with a bipartisan vote of 304-118 last night.

Asserting that the bill draws on the plans laid out by President Obama in February, she listed key elements of the bill such as extending the International Space Station (ISS) to at least 2020, accelerating development of a heavy lift launch vehicle (HLLV), increasing earth sciences and green aviation, launching a commercial space transportation industry for crew and cargo, and "at least gets us started" on development of "path-breaking" technology that is "critical to the long term economic growth of the nation."

There are, of course, significant differences between the bill and what the Obama Administration wanted. The Administration did not want NASA to develop a space transportation system to take crews to low Earth orbit (LEO), for example, and the bill requires that a government system be developed. The Administration wanted to turn that task over to the private sector with substantial up-front government funding to facilitate their efforts. The bill supports the development of a "commercial crew" capability, but with substantially reduced government funding compared to the request, and a host of requirements.

The Administration did envision NASA developing a new human space transportaiton system to take people beyond LEO, but did not want to commit to a design of a new HLLV until 2015. The bill directs that the agency move out on a new HLLV immediately. Funding for it would come largely from funds NASA wanted to invest in new technologies. A reporter asked if the funding and timeline provided in the bill yielded an executable program, and she hedged by saying there had been many studies and some would conclude yes and others no.

The bill does recommend the total funding level for NASA proposed by the President for FY2011, $19.00 billion. It also recommends the same level of funding for FY2012 and FY2013 projected in the President's FY2011 budget request: $19.45 billion and $19.96 billion respectively. In total, the bill recommends $58 billion for NASA over those three years, which Ms. Garver called "a real show of support for the agency" given today's deficit situation.

She stressed again and again that the appropriations process is not complete so the funds are not yet in hand. Only appropriations bills provide money to agencies; authorization bills set policy, permit new programs to start, and recommend funding levels. For example, while the bill calls for the launch of an additional shuttle mission, STS-135, the funding still needs to be provided by appropriators. She lauded Congress for how closely the authorizers and appropriators, especially in the Senate, were working together this year and predicted that the appropriations bill will not be too different from the authorization, however.

The language in the FY2010 appropriations bill that prohibits NASA from terminating the Constellation program or initiating a new program is still in effect, she said, insisting that the tests and other work that continues to be performed on Constellation elements undoubtedly will be valuable for whatever system the agency now pursues. She said that the trade space is wide open for a new HLLV and includes the potential of using the existing Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELVs). Whether or not to use the EELVs, Delta IV and Atlas V, as part of a new human space flight exploration architecture has been contentious for many years. "The trade space continues to be open," she said.

In response to a question, she defended NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden who is out of the country on travel, assuring the reporter that he spent yesterday making many phone calls to Congress about the bill and is very much engaged in leading the agency. (He was attending the International Astronautical Federation conference in Prague and meeting with the heads of other space agencies yesterday.)

She disputed another reporter's contention the bill means that the Moon no longer is a destination for U.S. human spaceflight. Noting that her first son's first word was "Moon," she emphatically said that "lunar science, lunar exploration is alive and well at NASA." "The fact that the next destination is an asteroid is nothing against the Moon," she said, while pointing to commercial companies that plan robotic or human flights to the Moon.

The bill will be sent to the President in the next 10 days, she said, and he is expected to sign it.

The teleconference was recorded and playback is available for the next two weeks by calling 1-866-363-1835.

Congress Passes Continuing Resolution to Keep Government Operating

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The House also now has passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government through December 3. The legislative vehicle is the State Department appropriations bill (H.R. 3081). It funds NASA, NOAA and DOD at their FY2010 levels. A summary of the bill is available on the House Appropriations Committee's website. The Senate passed it earlier on Wednesday so it now goes to the President for signature. Congress has not passed any other FY2011 appropriations bills, including those for NASA, NOAA or DOD. Only appropriations bills provide money to agencies. Authorization bills may recommend funding levels, but they do not actually provide any funds.

Congress Heads Home for Elections

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The House adjourned early this morning after passing the Continuing Resolution and other legislation. The Senate also adjourned, but scheduled pro forma sessions twice a week to prevent President Obama from making recess appointments according to The Hill newspaper. The elections are on November 2. The two chambers are expected to return November 15.

Charlie Bolden Thanks Congress

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden thanked Congress for passing the NASA Authorization Act in a statement.

IBEX Telecon Postponed to Thursday

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

For anyone who's interested, NASA postponed the IBEX teleconference from today to tomorrow, September 30, at noon.

House Votes on NASA Authorization, Intelligence Authorization and CR Today

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

UPDATE: Thanks to a NASA Tweet we were finally able to find Charlie Bolden's statement posted on a NASA website. Kudos to NASAWatch for making it publicly available earlier.

The House Majority Leader's list of legislation to be voted on today in the House includes, as expected, the Senate version of the NASA authorization bill, as well as the FY2010 intelligence authorization bill, and a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government operating until December 3. Several other bills also will be considered today, and votes on bills debated yesterday also must be taken, so it is difficult to guess when the NASA authorization vote will occur.

The bill is being brought up under a procedure called "suspension of the rules" where the House agrees to suspend the regular rules and pass a bill as long as it can garner a two-thirds vote in favor. It is usually used for non-controversial bills where a two-thirds vote is considered very likely. There is no guarantee that the NASA bill will achieve that threshold, but the Democratic leadership apparently feels sufficiently confident of success. According to NASAWatch, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden issued a statement supporting the Senate bill today.

This is an authorization bill that does not provide any funding to NASA. Rather it sets policy and authorizes (permits) programs to begin. Only appropriations bills give money to agencies to spend. The appropriations bill for fiscal year 2011, which begins on Friday, that includes NASA -- the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) bill -- has not yet been reported from the House Appropriations Committee. The CJS subcommittee marked it up in June, but there has been no further action.

Congress has not passed any of the FY2011 apppropriations bills, thus it will pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) that will fund agencies through December 3, 2010 at their FY2010 funding levels unless an exception is made. The Senate is expected to vote on the CR first today, and then the House. Both chambers are expected to adjourn today or tomorrow until after the November elections, returning on November 15 at last report.

Thus, if the NASA authorization bill passes the House and is signed by the President, NASA will have more clarity about its future direction, but it will not have any additional funds to execute it. That step will await Congress when it returns.

Intelligence Authorization Bill Back on the Docket Again

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

Yet another version of the FY2010 -- yes, 2010 -- Intelligence Authorization bill passed the Senate yesterday and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reportedly has agreed to bring it to the House floor. It would be the first authorization bill for the intelligence community since FY2005 if it passes.

As we reported earlier, the bill has been controversial primarily over who in Congress must be briefed on the most highly classified intelligence matters. The latest version reaches a compromise on the two key issues of concern to Speaker Pelosi. She wanted all members of the House and Senate intelligence committees to be briefed on covert intelligence findings while the White House wanted to continue to restrict such briefings to only the top eight ("Gang of Eight") congressional officials on these matters.

According to Congress Daily (subscription required), the compromise keeps it to the Gang of Eight, but the administration must provide a general description of the finding to all committee members. Also, Speaker Pelosi wanted the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to be able to audit the intelligence agencies. The compromise requires GAO and the Director of National Intelligence to develop a directive on audits by May 1, 2011.

The new language was passed by the Senate as an amendment to the House version of the bill (H.R. 2701). Congress Daily offers that passing the bill before the elections would allow Democrats to "claim an 11th hour victory on a national security measure" to give Democratic candidates "another legislative achievement to point to."

Griffin Urges House to Vote "No" on Senate NASA Authorization Bill

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

Former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin disagrees with Rep. Bart Gordon that a flawed NASA authorization bill is better than no bill at all. In an email, Dr. Griffin argues that although the Senate bill is somewhat better than the Obama Administration's plan for NASA, "it is not enough better to warrant its support in law." His bottom line is that "If we cannot do better than that, then I believe we have reached the point where it is better to allow the damage which has been brought about by the administration's actions to play out to its conclusion than to accept half-measures in an attempt at remediation."

The full text of the email is as follows:

"After considerable reflection, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that NASA and the nation's space program would be best served if the House were to vote against the Senate Authorization Bill in its present form.

"I have the greatest personal and professional respect for Chairman Gordon, and I understand his decision to consider a poor authorization bill rather than to have none at all. However, as Mr. Gordon himself has noted, the Senate Bill has grievous flaws, for which the best hope is now that they can be fixed during the appropriations process. But this is an uncertain path, and while it is true that the Senate Bill offers some improvement over the Obama Administration's ill-advised plan for NASA, in my considered opinion it is not enough better to warrant its support in law.

"As happened after the loss of Space Shuttle Columbia, it is time once again to ask ourselves whether we want to have a real space program, or not. If we do, then the Senate Bill won't get us there. If we cannot do better than that, then I believe we have reached the point where it is better to allow the damage which has been brought about by the administration's actions to play out to its conclusion than to accept half-measures in an attempt at remediation."

UPDATE: What is it Like at the Edge of the Solar System?

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: NASA postponed this from Wednesday to Thursday, September 30, at noon.

NASA will have a media teleconference on Wednesday, September 29, 2010, at 1:00 pm EDT to release new information about conditions at the edge of the solar system from its Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX). The event will be streamed live at Briefers are:

  • Arik Posner, IBEX program scientist, Heliophysics Division, Science Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters in Washington
  • Nathan Schwadron, IBEX science operations lead and associate professor at the University of New Hampshire in Durham
  • David McComas, IBEX principal investigator and assistant vice president of the Space Science and Engineering Division at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio
  • Merav Opher, associate professor, George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

UPDATE: NAC Astrophysicists Take Cautious Stance on U.S. Participation in ESA's Euclid

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE (September 28, 2010): This issue was discussed extensively at the NAC Science Committee meeting today. The committee decided to forward a recommendation to the full NAC, which meets next week in Palmdale, CA, that NASA should keep open the option of a possible partnership with ESA on Euclid, and if ESA does select Euclid to proceed next summer, NASA's goal then should be negotiation of a joint ESA/NASA program that meets the science goals of both Euclid and WFIRST either as a combined mission or two complementary missions.

ORiGINAL STORY (September 27, 2010)

The NASA Advisory Council's (NAC's) astrophysics subcommittee (APS) took a cautious position on the possibility of NASA participating in the European Space Agency's (ESA's) Euclid dark energy mission after two days of intense debate (see our two earlier stories). Euclid is one of three missions competing for two slots in ESA's science mission program; a decision will be made next summer. The National Research Council's Astro2010 Decadal Survey recommended a U.S. mission, WFIRST, that would also study dark energy among other pursuits. NASA asked for input from the U.S. astrophysics community, through APS, on the extent to which the two agencies could work together.

In a report to its parent NAC Science Committee, which meets tomorrow by teleconference, the APS conveyed that it supports NASA's plan to continue discussions with ESA about a possible partnership on Euclid, but it was "primarily to keep the Euclid option open at this time, not endorsement of proceeding to a legally binding Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)." The APS also "indicated a preference that the US share of Euclid be kept at the present 20% level, rather than being raised to 33% as proposed...." (emphasis in original).

The subcommittee was responding to briefings it received from NASA and the NRC about priorities for space-based astrophysics in the next decade. The Astro 2010 Decadal Survey, entitled New Worlds New Horizons (NWNH), recommended the Wide Field InfraRed Survey Telecope (WFIRST) as the top priority for large space-based astrophysics missions in the next 10 years. WFIRST would investigate dark energy, search for exoplanets, and conduct an all-sky infrared survey. Euclid would study only dark energy. The question then is whether the two agencies should work together, with NASA participating in Euclid and ESA participating in WFIRST.

Much is at stake. NASA officials made clear that WFIRST is not likely to launch until at least 2022, while Euclid would launch in 2018 if it is approved by ESA. The APS subcommittee's letter said that meant "Euclid would ... spend 3-4 years making measurements similar to some of those planned for WFIRST, effectively skimming the cream off the dark energy pail."

Money is another issue. NASA estimates that it would cost $260 million over 10 years for NASA to participate in Euclid at the 33 percent level most recently discussed between the two agencies. The subcommittee asked what NASA astrophysics opportunities would be foresaken to pay for that, and whether having two dark energy missions (Euclid and WFIRST) would create an imbalance in the astrophysics portfolio.

Nonetheless, APS noted that if ESA contributed a like amount to WFIRST and the arrangement therefore was revenue neutral, "[p]articipation in Euclid would then be the first element in a US near-infrared space telescope program leading to WFIRST. Continuing this partnership with ESA on the Euclid and potentially WFIRST missions would fulfill a NASA objective of pursuing a new era of international cooperation in space."

Thus, they decided to keep their options open by supporting NASA's plan to proceed with negotiations on U.S. participation in Euclid, but at the lower 20 percent level instead of 33 percent. They also chided NASA for giving them so lilttle time to consider the issues: "In the future, questions to be asked of the APS about such important issues should be provided to the APS in advance of the meeting, so APS members have time to provide thoughtful advice, and, when needed, consult with their colleagues in the community." (emphasis in original)

The NAC Science Committee teleconference meeting tomorrow is open to the public. It begins at 8:30 am EDT. Dial-in information is available in the Federal Register notice.

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