Latest News

Bolden Urges JSC Workers to Look to the Future, Not the Past

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Apr-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden called on workers at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) to "look to the possibilities and opportunities available as we continue our 21st century march beyond our home planet" in an "all hands" meeting at JSC yesterday.

Insisting that he was not trying to shoot the messenger, he also admonished the media not to misrepresent statements by members of the NASA workforce just to get a headline:

"But you are not a friend of the space program when you misrepresent the statements or actions of our dedicated, loyal workforce for the sake of a headline-winning story. Again, please don't take this as an attempt to blame the messenger for NASA's problems. That is not the case nor my intent. Rather, please realize that this is a major change in trajectory for our Nation's space program, and that such change is bound to be turbulent in the formative stages."

He portrayed President Obama's new plan as the only way to ensure that humans will travel beyond low Earth orbit in the next two generations. The Constellation program, he said, could not do it.

"Over time, due to funding short falls, Constellation Program Management and the NASA Administrator began making trades to preserve our ability to get humans back to the Moon, but the capability to provide lunar landing systems, surface systems, and any real hope of going beyond the Moon evaporated except in the minds of many of us holding on to one last hope."

Bolden expressed confidence that the aerospace community could work together to change the trajectory of the U.S. human spaceflight program, laying out what he believes are the four core values of the "NASA family": safety, excellence, teamwork, and integrity. Summary of Senate Appropriations Hearing Now Available

Laura M. Delgado
Posted: 27-Apr-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

A summary of the Senate Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee hearing last week is now available. Look on our left menu under "Our Hearing Summaries" or simply click here.

New York Times Lauds SDO

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Apr-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

The New York Times praises NASA"s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) in an editorial today. Calling the quality of the images of the Sun produced by SDO "extraordinary," the newspaper says that the spacecraft "creates a new solar effect, which is the ability of humans to peer directly into the most familiar of stars and realize how alien it is."

UPDATE: Events of Interest: Week of April 26-30, 2010

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Apr-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: Adds two meetings on Friday, April 30

ORIGINAL STORY: The following events may be of interest in the coming week. For further information, check our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. Meetings of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) and its committees (in preparation for the NAC meeting at Johnson Space Center in Houston TX on April 28-29) headline the agenda so are grouped together rather than listing them by date.

NASA Advisory Council (NAC) and its committees

  • NAC Education and Public Outreach Committee, April 26, via WebEx
  • NAC Commercial Space Committee, April 26, Houston, TX
  • NAC Exploration Committee, April 26-27, Houston, TX
  • NAC Audit and Finance Committee, April 27, Houston, TX
  • NAC, April 28-29, Houston, TX

Other Meetings

Tuesday, April 27

Tuesday-Wednesday, April 27-28

Tuesday-Friday, April 27-30

Friday, April 30

  • Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), National Security and Commercial Space: Rollout of Draft Report, 10:00-11:30 am, 1800 K Street, NW, Washington DC
  • NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) public meeting, 12:30-2:30 pm, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC

Rep. Wolf Continues Opposition to Obama Plan; Space News DoesToo

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Apr-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) continues his criticism of President Obama's new plan for NASA in an op-ed in today's Space News (subscription required to access some content). Rep. Wolf is the ranking member of the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee, which funds NASA. He also represents the congressional district that is home to Orbital Sciences Corp., which could benefit from the new plan if it decides to pursue the "commercial crew" option. Orbital is one of the two COTS (Commercial Orbital Transportation Services) companies already developing a system to take cargo to the International Space Station; SpaceX is the other.

Rep. Wolf was sharply critical of the Obama plan to cancel the Constellation program and turn crew transport over to the private sector at a recent subcommittee hearing and has published on his website a number of letters from space program luminaries opposing the plan. In his op-ed piece, "Don't Forsake U.S. Leadership in Space," he highlights comments by Chinese and Russian officials boasting of their plans for human spaceflight in contrast to what he sees as the U.S. abandoning its leadership position.

"Manned spaceflight and exploration are one of the last remaining fields in which the United States maintains an undeniable competitive advantage over other nations. To walk away is shortsighted and irresponsible."

Space News itself editorializes that the somewhat revised version of the plan announced by President Obama on April 15 "still falls short." While praising the President for retaining the Orion spacecraft even if in a reduced capacity, the newspaper argues that there is no need to wait until 2015 to decide on a design for a new heavy lift launch vehicle and spend billions instead on research.

"Rocket science has proved remarkably static in the last 50 years in spite of untold billions of dollars of investment. A far more likely prospect is that the money will be spread across a host of propulsion concerns that at best yield marginal improvements to current capabilities."

NASA and the Icelandic Ash

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Apr-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

It may not be space policy, but it is the first A in NASA -- aeronautics. The Space and Aeronautics subcommittee of the House Science and Technology Committee will hold a hearing next week on the impact of volcanic ash on aviation. The hearing follows the havoc wreaked on aviation by ash from the Icelandic volcano. Witnesses include the head of NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, Jaiwon Shin; Jack Kaye from NASA's Earth Science Division in the Science Mission Directorate; Vicki Cox, Senior Vice President of the FAA for NextGen and Operations Planning Air Traffic Organization; and Roger Dinius, Flight Safety Director with GE Aviation. The hearing is May 5, 2010 at 10:00 am in 2318 Rayburn House Office Building. (Since it isn't space policy it's not listed on our calendar, but sounds really interesting.)

Japan Reassessing Its Human Space Flight Goals Too

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-Apr-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

The Obama Administration's decision to extend the life of the International Space Station (ISS) may be welcome news to the space agencies involved in the project, but apparently not everyone in the Japanese government has bought into it. An editorial in Thursday's Yomiuri Shimbum notes that a Japanese panel of experts has recommended that the Japanese government reexamine the benefits from the space program and "did not rule out that Japan might withdraw from the ISS program in the future."

The editorial comments that 40 billon of the country's 200 billion yen non-national security space budget goes to the ISS, "Yet there have been so far only a few space experiments that have eventually led to discoveries that can have an industrial application" and proposals to use Japan's Kibo laboratory module "have only trickled in."

The main thrust of the editorial is criticizing the Japanese government for not paying sufficient attention to the future of the space program, calling it "quite irresponsible" for not having held any meetings of the Strategic Headquarters for Space Policy "which is supposed to be the control tower on the matter." Japan's 2008 Basic Space Law created that body, led by the Prime Minister.

The heads of the space agencies from the countries involved in the ISS program -- the United States, Russia, Japan, Europe, and Canada -- met in Tokyo in March. They released a joint statement expressing "mutual interest in continuing operations and utilization for as long as the benefits of ISS exploitation are demonstrated." The statement added that all would work within their governments "to reach consensus later this year on the continuation of the ISS to the next decade." It also stated that the partnership was working to certify that the panoply of space station modules and other hardware could operate until 2028, 30 years after the first two were launched, a hint of optimism that the governments would agree that ISS is worth the investment.

Last year Japan released a Basic Space Plan to implement to its Basic Space Law. The government recently reviewed all its programs looking for cost savings and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) did fairly well in that evaluation. Japan has been the steadiest partner in the ISS program, delivering just what it promised at the beginning. As was true for the United States, it would be odd for Japan to turn away from the ISS program just as the facility is finally built, but every partner country faces its own challenges in justifying space program expenditures, as underscored by the ongoing debate over the future of the U.S. human space flight program.

AMS Problems Will Delay End of Shuttle Program Beyond FY2010

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-Apr-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

Not many people really expected the remaining shuttle flights to be completed by the end of FY2010, a short five months away, but the extension into FY2011 reportedly is certain now that a scientific instrument due to be launched to the International Space Station (ISS) will not be ready on time. The New York Times reported yesterday that the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) will undergo a change-out of its magnet before launch and will not reach Kennedy Space Center at least until August. It was due for launch in July. NASA is still deciding when the launch will take place.

A $1.5 billion scientific instrument to search for antimatter, dark matter and missing matter in the universe, the AMS was conceived by Nobel prizewinner Sam Ting many years ago. Working outside the traditional National Research Council (NRC) Decadal Survey process for initiating astrophysics missions, Ting put together an international consortium to fund and construct the instrument. Ting worked through the Department of Energy (DOE), which sponsors high energy physics research, rather than NASA. DOE provided only a nominal amount of funding; the bulk came from an international consortium of institutes. It was built at CERN in Switzerland. NASA's only involvement was a promise to launch the instrument to the ISS when it was built.

An initial version of the AMS flew on the space shuttle in 1998. The ISS version was supposed to carry a superconducting magnet, cooled by liquid helium, five times stronger than the magnet flown on the shuttle, according to the newspaper. However, the coolant was only sufficient for three years of operations. Ting was quoted by the New York Times as saying that he had decided that since the ISS will operate until 2020 instead of 2015, he would rather use the less capable magnet that does not require cooling so that it can operate for many more years. However, the Orlando Sentinel reported in March that a potential design flaw in the magnet had been identified that could mean the instrument would not work as expected.

The AMS has been controversial for many reasons -- not the least of which is that it did not undergo peer review by the Decadal Survey process. Its position on the space shuttle manifest often seemed vulnerable and decisions made to truncate the ISS program and reduce the number of space shuttle missions following President Bush's Vision for Space Exploration initiative nearly doomed it. Dr. Ting's relentless lobbying for the mission prevailed, however. In the 2008 NASA Authorization Act (section 611(c)), Congress directed NASA to add a shuttle mission to launch the instrument as long as it was safe to do so and did not significantly increase NASA's costs compared with earlier estimates. AMS supporters argued that not only was the scientific research valuable, but the United States should not renege on its commitment to the international consortium that paid for the instrument.

Congress Unswayed by Obama's Speech

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 23-Apr-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

One week after President Obama's speech at Kennedy Space Center (KSC), it remains difficult to see who in Congress will take the lead in getting his new plan for the country's human spaceflight program enacted into law. On the surface, at least, little has changed.

Congressional reaction immediately after the speech was generally negative. Most of those commenting clearly were not converted into supporters. Events in Congress this week - at the Senate Budget Committee markup and the Senate appropriations hearing -- underscore that the White House still has a lot of work to do.

The much anticipated Senate Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee hearing yesterday did little to clarify where Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) stands. As chair of the Senate subcommittee that funds NASA, she is a key player in NASA's future. She had not shown her hand prior to the speech and many expected that the hearing would be her platform for revealing her position. Instead, she said that she needed to learn more, a clear indication that the KSC speech did not meet its goal of clarifying the President's program and building support for it.

Senator Mikulski was the only Democrat at the hearing. The Republican Senators were just as critical as ever. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), ranking member of the subcommittee, was particularly harsh in his criticism of the proposal and of NASA Administrator Bolden, telling Gen. Bolden that "your destructive actions towards the Constellation program will only ensure that Members cannot trust you." He added that "you are creating an atmosphere where you and your leadership team have become a major impediment to moving forward." Sen. Shelby was pretty harsh last year, too, with regard to the notion that commercial companies could take over transporting NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station instead of building the Ares rockets whose development is underway in Alabama. It's obvious that his position is unchanged.

Anyone who reads the news knows that the Senate as a whole is a highly partisan environment these days, but the space program has been a bipartisan topic throughout the years. It still may be bipartisan, but in opposition to - or at least not supportive of - the President. There are months to go in the congressional appropriations process and plenty of time for the President to put on a full court press to win support at least from members of his own party.

Still, Senator Mikulski and Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) are bellweathers of Democratic views on NASA. Even Senator Nelson, credited as the architect of the President's appearance in Florida, does not yet seem completely sold on it himself. On Wednesday he persuaded the Senate Budget Committee to recommend more funding for NASA in FY2011 in part to enable the agency to continue testing the Ares 1 rocket that the President is determined to cancel.

Other key congressional space leaders have not publicly reacted to the speech, including Senator Mikulski's counterpart in the House, Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV), or the chair of the House Science and Technology Committee, Rep . Bart Gordon (D-TN) or the chair of its space and aeronautics subcommittee, Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ). Gordon raised a number of reservations about the proposal during a hearing in February and Giffords has been openly antagonistic to the idea of terminating the Constellation program at several hearings.

If nothing else, the speech did lay to rest any reservations about whether the President himself is committed to the new plan. Whether he would have staved off some of the critics by giving the speech initially instead of revealing this profound proposed change in the U.S. human spaceflight program as part of the FY2011 budget request is unknown.

The President sought to convince the aerospace community that he personally is committed to NASA and to human spaceflight. He presented destinations and timelines in response to criticism that the original announcement was too vague. But it is clear that he will have to do more to win converts in Congress, at least, to his proposal. Stay tuned.

Senate Budget Committee Recommends Increase for NASA Citing Military Solid Rocket Motor Needs

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Apr-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

The Senate Budget Committee today recommended increasing the amount of funds available to NASA for FY2011 to $19.7 billion, $1 billion more than the agency's FY2010 appropriations or $726 million above the President's request for FY2011. Reading the summary of the committee's intent and listening to a colloquy between the committee's chairman, Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND), and Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), suggests that the motivation is to support terrestrial military requirements at least as much as space program goals, however.

The committee marked up the FY2011 budget resolution today. The budget resolution does not provide funding to agencies, but sets the amount of money that each of the 12 appropriations subcommittees may spend. (Not sure what a markup is? See our "What's a Markup" Fact Sheet.)

An overview of the "chairman's mark" - the recommendation of Chairman Conrad -- explains that it provides funds to continue flying the space shuttle into FY2011 if needed to complete the remaining scheduled missions. The President's FY2011 budget request contains funds for shuttle flights in the first quarter of FY2011 only. The overview also states that "it remains the policy of the United States to possess the capability of continuous access to space" and the chairman's mark supports efforts to reduce the gap between the end of the shuttle program and the availability of a new system whether developed by the commercial sector or the government. It goes on to endorse continued testing of technologies and vehicles for the purpose of developing a new heavy lift launch vehicle (HLLV).

That latter point, in particular, was the subject of a colloquy between Senator Conrad and Senator Nelson. Senator Nelson is an avid supporter of human spaceflight, but the discussion suggests that on a broader level, the committee's interest is supporting the military's need for solid rocket motors, not just NASA's human space flight aspirations. A webcast available on C-SPAN (this colloquy starts at minute 01:08:41) shows Senator Nelson linking the Department of Defense (DOD's) need for solid rocket motors "that protect this country's national security in our submarines and silos" and interest in continued testing of Ares-1X and developing a new HLLV for NASA. Senator Conrad soberly notes that there are classified matters that could not be discussed in that forum, but it is "absolutely essential for the national security that this [provision] go forward." He adds that he hopes it will be retained, but "we are going to have to fight for this."

The House and Senate Budget Committees set the total amount of funding that is available for each of the 12 subcommittees of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to spend. Each chamber is supposed to pass a budget resolution and ultimately compromise on a single budget resolution for both. In some years, however, compromise cannot be reached on a joint resolution.

Events of Interest   

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


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