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Japanese Scientists Begin to Open Hayabusa Sample Return Capsule

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-Jun-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

Japanese scientists are in the process of opening the sample return capsule from the Hayabusa asteroid mission that completed its journey on June 13. The capsule was flown from its landing site in Australia to Japan and is now at a special curation facility at the Sagamihara Campus. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced that it began opening the capsule today and the process will take one week.

Meanwhile, the Japanese government is considering a follow-on mission dubbed Hayabusa-2 that would visit a different kind of asteroid. Hayabusa landed on an "S-Type" asteroid while the new mission would visit a "C-Type" asteroid designated 1999 JU3. (For more on the different types of asteroids, visit The Planetary Society's website.) The proposed Hayabusa-2 would include an impactor.

Meanwhile, everyone is waiting with baited breath to see what this Hayabusa returned. The spacecraft experienced a number of technical problems, one of which was an apparent failure of the mechanism that was intended to grab the sample. Scientists are hoping that at least some dust from the spacecraft's landing managed to find its way into the return capsule. If not, the mission at a minimum was a great success in terms of troubleshooting mission-threatening problems and sending a spacecraft on a seven-year roundtrip journey with a pinpoint landing in the Australian outback.

Senate Event on Commercial Space Today Open to Media

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-Jun-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation announced yesterday that Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) is hosting an event for Senators and their staff today that is open to the media. It features Norm Augustine, chair of last year's Augustine Committee that provided options for the future of human spaceflight. Other participants are Ken Bowersox, SpaceX; George Sowers, United Launch Alliance; William Claybaugh, Orbital Sciences Corp.; and Mark Sirangelo, Sierra Nevada. It will be in room 562 Dirksen Senate Office Building from 10:30-12:00.

Russia, Europe to Discuss Asteroid Deflection Options

Laura M. Delgado
Posted: 24-Jun-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

Officials from the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, will meet with European Commission members on July 7 to discuss options for developing a joint anti-asteroid defense program, RIA Novosti reported today. The initiative comes after Anatoly Perminov, head of the agency, expressed interest to lead an international effort to deal with the risk of a near-Earth object (NEO) collision last December.

According to the article the meeting will include the input of scientists and engineers from Roscosmos, as well as experts from the Russian Academy of Sciences and other institutions. Scientists from the Astronomy Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences have reportedly detected a total of 6,690 NEOs as of April, the majority of which measure between 100 and 1,000 meters in diameter. This is part of what Perminov described as growing international awareness on the threat of NEOs. He was quoted as saying that "in recent years, the attention of scientists, technicians, politicians and the military has become increasingly focused on the asteroid and comet hazard, namely the threat of the Earth's collision with large space bodies."

A recent report by the U.S. National Research Council, Defending Planet Earth: Near-Earth Object Surveys and Hazard Mitigation Strategies, released last January stressed the need to increase research in identifying and mapping NEOs that could pose a potential threat in order to devise effective mitigation strategies. The main finding of the report is that NASA would be unable to meet the deadline of 2020 to map 90% of NEOs 140 meters or more in diameter as Congress mandated in 2005, because of lack of funding.

In response to the NRC report, the proposed FY2011 NASA budget request substantially increases funding for the Near Earth Object Observations (NEOO) program under the Science Mission Directorate, from approximately $4 million to $16 million. The increase will be used to improve use of current and planned observatory missions, including the WISE spacecraft and the ground-based PAN-STARRS and Arecibo facilities. The funding will "significantly" increase NASA's efforts "to find and characterize asteroids and comets ... which may be destinations and resources for our exploration of the solar system, or could become potential impact hazards to the Earth," according to the budget document.

New National Space Policy Ready "Soon" Says Donley

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-Jun-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

Recent rumors were that the President's new national space policy would be released in June, but Air Force Secretary Michael Donley used wording yesterday that indicates it is not that imminent. In response to a question at a National Defense University Foundation breakfast yesterday about when it would be released, he answered in rapid succession "this summer," "soon," and "in the next couple of weeks."

As to what the major differences will be compared with the 2006 Bush Administration policy, Secretary Donley said that the new document would "recognize the changes" in the space "domain" over the last 10-20 years. Using what has become familiar wording in the national security space community, he said that space has become "congested" and "in some cases, contested" and emphasized the need for better space situation awareness and collaboration with industry and allies. He added that the new policy will "reinforce our collective understanding" of the increased economic and strategic importance of space.

House Hearing on Polar Weather Satellites and Earth Observations Next Tuesday, June 29

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

The House Science and Technology Committee's Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee has scheduled a hearing on "Setting New Courses for Polar Weather Satellites and Earth Observations" for next Tuesday, June 29, at 10:00 am in 2318 Rayburn House Office Building. Witnesses are: Shere Abbot, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; Mary Glackin, NOAA; Christopher Scolese, NASA; Gil Klinger, DOD; and David Powner, GAO.

House Expected to Approve Budget Enforcement Resolution Today

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

The House is expected to approve a budget enforcement resolution today to set limits for FY2011 discretionary spending in lieu of the 5-year budget resolution that is normally passed.

The budget enforcement resolution will cut $7 billion from the President's request of $1.121 trillion for discretionary spending according to Congress Daily (subscription required). No word yet on where the $7 billion in reductions will be taken. About 63 percent of discretionary spending is for security (Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security). DOD's request for unclassified space programs is $9.9 billion. NASA's FY2011 budget request is $19 billion, and NOAA's request for the National Environmental Satellite, Data, & Information Service (NESDIS) is $2.2 billion.

UPDATE: Text of Letter to Obama from 62 Members of Congress

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 23-Jun-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: A typed list of the signatories has been added to this article since some of the signatures are a bit hard to decipher.

ORIGINAL STORY: Sixty-two Members of Congress sent a letter to President Obama today expressing concern that the decision to cancel the Constellation program could mean that the United States would cede its leadership in human spaceflight to other countries.

The letter calls for a human mission beyond low Earth orbit in the coming 10 years and immediate development of a heavy lift launch vehicle, saying "we see no need to prolong a decision that will result in the loss of a highly-experienced and motivated workforce." The Members say they look forward to working with the President "to make the necessary changes to support an exploration program that continues our elite astronaut corps, preserves an irreplaceable workforce, protects our defense industrial base and ensures that the U.S. will leave low-Earth orbt within the decade."

The letter is being distributed by the office of Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA), which provided the following typed list of 62 signatories from 18 states:

Trent Franks (R)
Ed Pastor (D)

Steven LaTourette (R)
Michael Turner (R)

Dutch Ruppersberger (D)

New York:
Maurice Hinchey (D)

Lynn Jenkins (R)

Frank Wolf (R)

Ed Perlmutter (D)
John Salazar (D)

Joseph Cao (R)
John Fleming (R)
Charlie Melancon (D)
Steve Scalise (R)
Rodney Alexander (R)

Mike Rogers (R)

Sanford Bishop (D)

Suzanne Kosmas (D)
Bill Posey (R)
Alan Grayson (D)
Adam Putnam (R)
Ander Crenshaw (R)
Jeff Miller (R)
Ron Klein (D)
Corrine Brown (D)
Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D)
C.W. Bill Young (R)
Mario Diaz-Balart (R)
Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R)
Tom Rooney (R)

Laura Richardson (D)
Ken Calvert (R)
John Campbell (R)
Buck McKeon (R)

David Wu (D)

Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R)

Robert Brady (D)

Rhodes Island:
Jim Langevin (D)

Todd Akin (R)

Gene Green (D)
John Culberson (R)
Sheila Jackson-Lee (D)
Henry Cuellar (D)
John Carter (R)
Al Green (D)
Ted Poe (R)
Mac Thornberry (R)
Mike McCaul (R)
Kevin Brady (R)
Ciro Rodriguez (D)
Ruben Hinojosa (D)
Solomon Ortiz (D)
Silvestre Reyes (D)
Joe Barton (R)
Charles Gonzalez (D)
Kay Granger (R)
Pete Sessions (R)
Michael Conoway (R)
Michael Burgess (R)
Louie Gohmert (R)
Kenny Marchant (R)
Lamar Smith (R)

Federal Budget News

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Jun-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

There is news about the federal budget today from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

From the White House end, it is that Peter Orszag is leaving as Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). News reports pointed out that budget directors usually have a short tenure - about two years - though Orszag will not even meet that benchmark. Apparently he wants his replacement on the job as the FY2012 budget is being developed, which begins in earnest at OMB in September. That's the same month Orszag is getting married, perhaps another factor in the timing of his departure. The change in command at the top of OMB is not likely to affect the FY2011 budget requests for NASA, NOAA or DOD.

From the Capitol Hill end of Pennsylvania Avenue, the news is that House Democrats have given up on trying to pass a budget resolution this year. House Majority leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announced today that "it isn't possible to debate and pass a realistic, long-term budget until we've considered" the results of President Obama's bipartisan budget deficit commission. The commission is scheduled to release its report on December 1, after the mid-term congressional elections. Instead, the House will pass what Hoyer called a "budget enforcement resolution" that he said will set limits on discretionary spending that require "further cuts below the President's budget."

Discretionary spending includes everything one usually thinks of as comprising the federal budget - DOD, DHS (Department of Homeland Security), NASA, NOAA, NSF and all the other federal departments and agencies. It actualy is only about one third of the total federal budget. The rest is mandatory spending (Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, etc.) and interest on the national debt.

President Obama put a freeze on most non-security (not DOD or DHS) discretionary spending in his FY2011 budget request, but NASA got a $6 billion plus up over the next five years (FY2011-2015) anyway. Time will tell whether that survives the congressional quest to reduce the deficit. Hoyer pointed out in his remarks today that a recent poll showed that the American people are as worried about the debt as they are about terrorism.

Another Open Letter to Congress - This One Supportive of Obama Plan

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Jun-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

Another open letter about President Obama's plan for NASA has been sent to Congress signed by another set of space luminaries including former astronauts, former NASA and other government officials, scientists, industry leaders -- mostly the "new space" industry, and others.

This one supports the President's plan as long as it not only facilitates the emergence of commercial crew, but includes"acceleration of exploration beyond low Earth orbit" that is "clearly defined." The letter says these should be the two "highest priorities" of the human spaceflight program and are "both essential," with emphasis on "both." It is not obvious whether the clearly defined, accelerated exploration program they are seeking is different from what the President is currently proposing.

"NASA Day on the Hill" Tomorrow, June 23, Rayburn House Office Building

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Jun-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

NASA will hold a "NASA Day on the Hill" tomorrow in the foyer of the Rayburn House Office Building. NASA says the event is open to the public. It will feature Earth and space science programs, aeronautics research, and human space flight. Astronauts Jose Hernandez, Anna Fisher and Pat Forrester will be there. A reception will be held from 5:00-7:00 pm.

Events of Interest  

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