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Vote on Revised Boehner Plan Expected Today

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

For those of you breathlessly following the political wrangling over the debt limit/deficit reduction debate, the latest news is that Speaker John Boehner has revised his proposal to garner more Republican support and a vote will take place later today.

The Hill newspaper reports that agreement was reached this morning to add a balanced budget amendment to what the Speaker previously proposed. The House already passed the "cut-cap-balance" bill last week that included a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, but the Senate rejected it. Some Senators have indicated that they would support a stand-alone balanced budget amendment, but not one that it tied to raising the debt limit or deficit reduction.

If a balanced budget amendment were to pass the House and Senate and be signed into law, it would have to be ratified by three-quarters of the States before taking effect.

Meanwhile, whatever passes the House needs to pass the Senate and get the President's signature. This morning the President once again spoke to the nation and called on Congress to pass something that he can sign by Tuesday. He said that the House bill does not have the support of a majority of Republicans and Democrats in the Senate and whatever passes must be bipartisan. He ended by saying that he is "confident that common sense and cooler heads will prevail."

UPDATED: HSS&T Releases Witness List for LightSquared Hearing

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: This hearing was rescheduled to September 8, 2011 from its original date of August 3. The witness list is the same.

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee today released the witness list for its hearing on LightSquared next week.

The committee's press release says that the following people will testify:

Mr. Anthony Russo, Director, The National Coordination Office for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing

Ms. Mary Glackin, Deputy Under Secretary, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Mr. Badri Younes, Deputy Associate Administrator, Space Communications and Navigation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Mr. Peter Appel, Administrator, Research and Innovative Technology Administration, Department of Transportation

Dr. David Applegate, Associate Director, Natural Hazards, U.S. Geological Survey

Dr. Scott Pace, Director, Space Policy Institute, George Washington University

The topic is Impacts of the LightSquared Network on Federal Science Activities. LightSquared is trying to get permission from the Federal Communications Commission to build a terrestrial system to augment its existing satellite system for mobile broadband communications. Opponents of the terrestrial system assert that it will interefere with Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers. Several technical studies demonstrate that interference will indeed occur in at least part of the spectrum band LightSquared plans to use. The company blames GPS receiver manufacturers rather than its plan, but recently suggested that it initiate operations in only part of the band while a resolution is sought for the rest.

The hearing is on Wednesday, August 3, at 10:00 am in 2318 Rayburn House Office Building.

UPDATE: House Debt Limit Vote Still on Hold

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy has announced that there will be no vote tonight on the bill. Speaker Boehner still has not convinced 216 of his Republican members to vote in favor of it.

Washington is on pins and needles tonight waiting for the House to vote on Speaker John Boehner's debt limit/deficit reduction plan.

The vote was supposed to be taken at 6:00 pm, but has been postponed apparently while the Republican House leadership tries to round up 216 Republican votes to pass it. Senate Democrats have made clear that the Boehner plan will not pass the Senate even if it ultimately passes the House, but that is step two. Everyone is focused now on step one.

Earlier today Speaker Boehner acknowledged that he did not have 216 votes among his Republican colleagues, which is essential since no Democrats are expected to vote in factor of the plan. It would increase the debt limit only for six months, forcing another showdown early next year. Democrats are strongly opposed to leaving the U.S. economy in limbo and fighting this fight again in an election year.

The House Republican leadership is pulling out all the stops to get enough Republican votes in favor, but Tea Party conservative Republicans oppose the plan because the spending cuts it envisions are not deep enough.

Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Boehner Bill Narrowly Passes House, Tabled in Senate

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: More details on the House action and information on Senate action are added.

House Speaker John Boehner's debt limit/deficit reduction bill passed the House by a vote of 218-210. Less than two hours later, the Senate voted to table the bill.

In the House, all Democrats and 22 Republicans voted against the measure. In the Senate, the vote was 59-41 to table the bill. Senate Majority Leader Reid also took steps to bring up his own bill. Votes on that are expected late Saturday or Sunday.

There are two major differences between the House and Senate bills. The House bill would raise the debt limit for only for a few months while the Senate bill would raise it until 2013 -- after the next election cycle. Also, the House bill would make any future increase in the debt limit contingent on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution being signed into law and sent to the States for ratification. The Senate version would require only that the House and Senate have a vote on such an amendment, not ordain its outcome. Both bills would create a congressional commission to make recommendations on how to cut the deficit.

UPDATE: Bush Science Adviser Marburger Dies

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: A link to current Science Adviser John Hodren's statement is added.

Dr. John H. Marburger III passed away yesterday. He served as Science Adviser to President George W. Bush.

Marbuger was the third president of State University of New York Stony Brook and the current president, Samuel Stanley, announced the passing of this "admired scientist and beloved gentleman." Marburger had battled non-Hodgkins lymphona for four years according to the Washington Post. He was 70.

He presided over the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) during the entire Bush presidency. During the Augustine Committee deliberations on the future of the U.S. human spaceflight program, Marbuger gave a frank account of his perspective on President Bush's 2004 Vision for Space Exploration that surprised many.

He was not enthusiastic about how the Vision had been implemented, with its almost single-minded focus on getting astronauts back to the Moon by 2020 and on to Mars. "It would be a mistake to assume that the actual development path for space exploration since 2004 has accurately reflected the overall concept of the Vision," he said.

Dr. John Holdren, the current presidential science adviser, issued a statement praising Marburger's public service and scientific contributions.

Senate Committee Subpoenas NASA SLS Documents

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee subpoenaed NASA documents relating to its design of the Space Launch System (SLS) according to news reports and other sources.

Space News and NASAWatch are among the news sources reporting that the subpoena was issued. Space News says it was sent yesterday.

The bipartisan leadership of the Senate committee and its Science and Space subcommittee sent a letter to NASA in June asking for documents relating to the SLS and warned the agency that it would take further steps if the documents were not produced.

Congress directed NASA to develop a heavy lift launch vehicle (HLLV) or Space Launch System (SLS) in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act. The Obama Administration cancelled the Bush-era HLLV, Ares V, in its FY2011 budget request. It wanted NASA to subsidize private sector companies to build a "commercial crew" transportation system for use in low Earth orbit (LEO) while NASA developed game-changing technologies for new launch vehicles to someday take astronauts beyond LEO. Congress disagreed. The compromise in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act was for NASA to do both, but Congress feels that NASA is dragging its feet on the SLS.

NASA sent an interim report to Congress in January on the SLS, but the date for the final report continues to slip. NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, who until recently indicated that the plan would be released this summer, told the House Science, Space and Technology Committee on July 12 that it may not be ready until the fall because he has asked for independent cost estimates.

Obama Supports Weather Satellites as NOAA's GOES-11 Helps Injured Alaskan Hikers

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

President Obama included weather satellites as an example of the type of program that really does need federal funding in his speech to the nation on Monday. Weather satellites are not just critical to weather forecasting, either. As the survivors of the recent grizzly bear attack in Alaska know, NOAA's satellites are part of the global emergency locator system for people in distress.

In a story that made national headlines, a group of seven students hiking in Alaska were attacked by a mother grizzly bear. Four of the students were injured and two required hospitalization. Other members of the group activated an emergency locator transmitter to get help. NOAA's GOES-11 geostationary satellite picked up the signal and helped identify their location. One of Europe's polar orbiting weather satellites further pinpointed it, allowing rescuers to reach the group about 93 miles north of Anchorage.

The United States, Canada, France and the Soviet Union decided to form the international COSPAS-SARSAT satellite-based search and rescue system in 1979. The transponders are placed on weather satellites. The system has supported more than 28,000 rescues worldwide since 1982 when the first COSPAS-SARSAT equipped satellite was launched.

On Monday, President Obama addressed the nation about the debt limit/deficit reduction stalemate. In his remarks about the need for a balanced approach to resolving those issues he said:

"We all want a government that lives within its means, but there are still things we need to pay for as a country -- things like new roads and bridges; weather satellites and food inspection; services to veterans and medical research."

The House Appropriations Committee approved significant cuts to NOAA's satellite programs in marking up the Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill on July 13. The bill has not passed the House and the Senate has not acted yet.

NASA Chooses First Class of Space Technology Fellows

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

NASA announced the first class of Space Technology research fellows today.

NASA's Office of Chief Technologist chose 81 students to receive grants to pursue master's or doctorate level studies in relevant space technology disciplines. The research will be performed at the student's home institution, NASA centers, or non-profit U.S. research and development laboratories.

Juno Ready for Launch

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Jul-2011 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

The Juno mission to Jupiter is on schedule and on budget according to NASA Planetary Science Division Director Jim Green. The $1.107 billion probe is scheduled for launch next week.

The spacecraft, enclosed in its payload fairing, was mated with its Atlas V rocket this morning. Launch will be from SLC 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on August 5. The launch window remains open through August 26.

Reporters at NASA's press conference today focused on why the spacecraft uses solar power instead of nuclear power. All the spacecraft that have travelled beyond the asteroid belt so far used nuclear Radioisotope Power Systems (RPSs) because the density of sunlight diminishes rapidly as one moves further from the Sun. Juno's three solar arrays are each the length and width of a tractor trailer, said Juno project manager Jan Chodas from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Because solar energy is 25 times less at Jupiter's distance than at Earth, they will generate only 400 watts of power - akin to four 100 watt light bulbs -- despite their size.

The orbit of Juno will go between Jupiter's radiation belts and 5,000 kilometers above the surface of the clouds. Over time the radiation will degrade solar array performance, but principal investigator Scott Bolton from the Southwest Research Institute said that the mission's scientific investigations will be completed in one year, so it is not a mission limiting factor.

Bolton explained scientists' fascination with Jupiter. He said that after the Sun formed, Jupiter got the rest of the "leftovers" and "we want the ingredient list" to learn the "recipe" for making planets.

What is at the center of Jupiter remains unknown. Bolton wants to know if it has a core of heavy elements or if the gas in the atmosphere just keeps getting compressed the further down one goes. The pressure at the center is thought to be 400 megabars (one bar is equivalent to the pressure on the surface of the Earth). Whatever is there is "not like what we have on Earth," he said, which is why he does not like to use the term "rock" to describe what may be there.

Kaelyn Badura, a high school student from Deltona, FL, talked about her involvement in the project along with other high school students. They are using NASA's Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope to make baseline observations of Jupiter. Bolton added that NASA has been working with students in this manner for some years, including for the Galileo and Cassini missions. The students get to "do science first hand," calibrating and analyzing data taken with the radio telescope from their classrooms via the Internet. Badura said that she was learning not only about science, but how to work as part of a team. Her school has been involved since 2006.

Juno will take five years to reach Jupiter, returning to Earth's vicinity in 2013 to get a gravity boost. It will be placed into an 11-day polar orbit around the planet - the first spacecraft to orbit the planet's poles. Italy, Belgium, France and Denmark are participating in the project. Juno is the second of NASA's "New Frontiers" series of competed missions. The New Horizons spacecraft enroute to Pluto was the first. Green said that NASA's goal is to do two New Frontiers missions per decade.

Rep. Wu Announces Intention to Resign

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

Rep. David Wu (D-OR) today announced his intention to resign from Congress.

Wu is a member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee and its Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee.

The announcement comes after allegations that he had an unwanted sexual encounter with the teenage daughter of a donor. News reports state that he says the encounter with the 18 year old was consensual. At first he said that he would not seek reelection next year, but changed his mind and decided to resign reportedly after other members of the Oregon congressional delegation and House leaders urged him to do so.

He was first elected to the House in 1999 and was the first Chinese American to serve in that body according to his website. He was born in Taiwan and moved to the United States when he was six.

His statement said that he would resign "upon resolution of the debt-ceiling crisis."

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