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Giffords Seeking Compromise on Human Space Flight Plan

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

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), chair of the House Science and Technology Committee's Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, believes that there is a "third way" to resolve the dispute between the President's plan for human space flight and the current program. In an op-ed for The Hill, a newspaper focused on happenings on Capitol Hill, Rep. Giffords continued her opposition to the Obama plan, but signaled that she is searching for a compromise not just retaining the Constellation program intact.

Saying that the modified proposal set forth in the President's April 15 speech "seems unworkable within the budget without crippling NASA's other missions," she concludes that "We cannot continue to argue between the president's plan and the status quo. There must be a third way."

What is that third way? Rep. Giffords says that she and her staff are working on it, and it is a challenging task. In her view the basic components must include: American leadership in space, clear timelines and destinations aligned to realistic budget expectations, assured access to the International Space Station on U.S. spacecraft, continued commitment to the aerospace workforce, and encouraging a commercial space sector that will take over spaceflight to low Earth orbit when it is sufficiently mature.

SSB to Look at Grand Philosophical Questions Addressed by NASA; Public Invited

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

The National Research Council's (NRC's) Space Studies Board (SSB) is planning a two-and-a-half day workshop in November to look at how NASA addresses the "grand philosophical questions people care about." Writing in the most recent edition of the SSB newsletter, SSB chair Charlie Kennel invites all who are interested to come to the workshop at the NRC's Beckman Center in Irvine, CA on November 8-10, 2010.

"Originally, we thought we would look at how effectively NASA is using both old and new media in getting its story across to the general public. As time passed, we came to realize that NASA's most convincing story is how its accomplishments speak to the grand philosophical questions people care about: .... We will look back 50 years and look ahead 50 years. We will invite prominent space scientists to take a broad look at these questions. We will invite panels of media professionals to tell us how they would express the same questions and answers. We will allow plenty of time for dialogue with the audience."

Among the grand philosophical questions --

  • Are we alone?
  • How did the universe begin and how are we evolving?
  • Will the earth remain a hospitable home for humanity?
  • What does the future hold for human exploration of space?
  • Do nations aspiring to become great need space programs?

Dr. Kennel was a member of the Augustine Committee on the future of the human space flight program and also spoke to the current controversy in Congress over the President's proposed new path for NASA that stemmed, in part, from that committee's report.

Noting the increase in earth science funding and other parts of NASA included in the FY2011 budget request, Dr. Kennel said he hoped the "dispute can be settled soon lest the other good things in the NASA budget languish." He conceded that he had not anticipated the "firestorm" in Congress, which he attributed to members whose districts are affected by the loss of the space shuttle and Constellation programs. Actually a number of members whose districts could benefit from the new NASA plan, such as Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), and those whose constituents would not be directly affected, such as Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN), chair of the House Science and Technology Committee, also have raised objections to the new plan. The issues are quite complex and not easily divided into political constituencies.

House Appropriations Chair Obey To Retire

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

Representative David Obey (D-WI) will announce this afternoon that he will retire at the end of this session of Congress according to Congress Daily (subscription required). Obey is one of the most powerful men in Congress as chair of the House Appropriations Committee. A liberal, he is not viewed as a fan of NASA space programs, but it is far too early to tell how much of a difference it might make to the agency to have someone else in that position. No rumors yet on who it will be, and, of course, the November elections first must determine whether Democrats retain control of the House.

President Establishes Task Force on Space Industry Workforce and Economic Development

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-May-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

President Obama today created a Task Force on Space Industry Workforce and Economic Development for Florida's Space Coast as promised in his April 15 speech at Kennedy Space Center, FL.

According to the presidential memorandum establishing the task force, it will "develop, in collaboration with local stakeholders, an interagency action plan to facilitate economic development strategies and plans along the Space Coast and to provide training and other opportunities for affected aerospace workers so they are equipped to contribute to new developments in America's space program and related industries."

The Secretary of Commerce and the Administrator of NASA will co-chair the task force. Other members are the Secretaries of Defense, Labor, Housing and Urban Devleopment, Transportation and Education; the Director of National Intelligence; the Administrator of the Small Business Administration; and a number of White House officials.

The Task Force has until August 15, 2010 to submit a plan to the President on how to best invest the $40 million the President promised in his April speech to help Florida's aerospace workforce.

Events of Interest: Week of May 3-7, 2010

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 02-May-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The following events may be of interest in the coming week. Check our calendar on the right menu for more information or click the links below. Congressional hearings and markups are subject to change; check the committee's website for up to date information.

Wednesday, May 5, Austin, TX

Thursday, May 6, Washington, DC

  • Senate Commerce Committee Hearing "America Wins When America Competes: Building a High-Tech Workforce," 10:00 am, 253 Russell Senate Office Building
  • Senate Judiciary Committee markup of H.R. 3237, to create a new section 51 of the U.S. Code entitled National and Commercial Space Programs, 10:00 am, 226 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Radzanowski Replaces Whitesides as NASA Chief of Staff

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Apr-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

NASA announced this afternoon that Dave Radzanowski will replace George Whitesides as NASA's Chief of Staff. In addition, James Stofan was named acting Associate Administration for Education. The announcement follows:


Administrator Charlie Bolden on Friday announced two changes in his leadership team at Headquarters in Washington. David Radzanowski was selected as the agency's new chief of staff, and James Stofan was named as the acting associate administrator for Education.

Radzanowski, who was NASA's deputy associate administrator for Program Integration in the Space Operations Mission Directorate, succeeds George Whitesides, who is returning to private industry. Whitesides was selected chief of staff after serving on the NASA transition team for the incoming administration of President Barack Obama in November 2008. Radzanowski's new position will be effective May 10, 2010.

"We are deeply grateful to George for his service to the agency and his leadership, and I know the entire NASA family joins me in wishing him the best in the new challenges and successes that await him," Bolden said. "David has been a valued member of the agency's senior leadership team during this critical time of transition, and we are looking forward to his continued contributions as we move forward on this new course in human and scientific exploration."

Radzanowski received a bachelor's degree in astronomy-physics from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1988, and a master's in public policy and management from Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, in 1990.

Stofan was Education's deputy associate administrator before being named as the acting head of the office. He succeeds Dr. Joyce Winterton, who will move to the Suborbital and Special Orbital Projects Directorate as a senior advisor developing student flight programs and other education initiatives.

"I want to thank Joyce for her ongoing contributions to NASA's education efforts, helping us inspire new generations of students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics," added Bolden. "We have a lot of important work ahead of us to ensure our investments in education support the needs of our nation. I know Jim's energy and focus will help us not only meet but exceed our objectives to help educate the engineers and scientists of the future."

Stofan graduated in 1989 from Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, with a bachelor's degree in behavioral biology and sociology, and in 1994 earned a master's degree in instructional technology from the University of Central Florida, Orlando.

Huntress: Constellation Neither Inspirational Nor Challenging, New Plan is "Sensible"

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Apr-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

In an interview with Jim Oberg for IEEE Spectrum, Wes Huntress praised President Obama's new plan for human spaceflight. The Constellation program, he said, was "neither inspirational nor sufficiently challenging for a space program as storied as America's" since it was focused on doing what we already did 40 years ago. As for future human exploration of the Moon, he added: "Others may go there and follow in our footsteps of long ago. Best of luck to them."

Huntress is a highly respected space scientist who served as NASA Associate Administrator for Space Science in the early-mid 1990s and later was Director of the Carnegie Institution's Geophysical Laboratory. He has been involved in a number of efforts to articulate a vision for the future of the space program both domestically and internationally. In the interview, he noted the similarity between the new plan and two studies in which he was involved: "The Next Steps in Exploring Deep Space," published by the International Academy of Astronautics in early 2004, and a 2008 Planetary Society report "Beyond the Moon: A New Roadmap for Human Space Exploration in the 21st Century."

Saying he and others who advocated a step-by-step approach to Mars were "gratified" when the President announced it, arguing that it is "the most sensible option even if it is not the easiest option politically, given Constellation's entrenchment." He did allow, however, regarding commercial crew, that "perhaps we need a government option as well as a commercial one to reduce risk and have backup options...." He also did not rule out an eventual American return to the Moon, as long as it is not "diversionary" from the primary goal of sending humans to Mars.

CSIS Seeks Input -- Quickly -- on National Security and Commercial Space

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

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) released a draft report today and is seeking input from the space community before finalizing its findings and recommendations. "National Security and the Commercial Space Sector" looks at the reliance of the national security space sector on commercial satellites and asks whether U.S. space policy should explicitly include commercial satellites in its "assured access to space" provisions.

This is the first time CSIS has issued a draft report soliciting input from the outside community according to CSIS President John Hamre. CSIS is on a tight schedule, though. Comments are needed in May (which begins tomorrow) so the final report can be released in June. For instructions on how to submit questions or comments, visit CSIS's website.

Astrobiology Central to the Future of Planetary Exploration Says Cornell's Steve Squyres

Laura M. Delgado
Posted: 30-Apr-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

Cornell University's Steve Squyres said at a NASA teleconference yesterday that the future of planetary exploration is "driven" by astrobiology and the search for life on other celestial bodies.

The teleconference focused on NASA-sponsored astrobiology research directed to finding life on other celestial bodies and featured a panel of researchers who are looking for clues by studying the key components and processes that led to the development of life here on Earth. Dr. John Peters of Montana State University explained that his research focuses on understanding the biological reactions that enable organisms to make iron-sulfur compounds associated with iron-sulfur enzymes. These "complicated metal assemblies," he said, reflect reactions that are "innately pre-biotic" and he hopes can help understand the transition that led to life on Earth.

Dr. Bill Schopf from UCLA and Dr. Jack Farmer from Arizona State University lead a team focusing on finding the oldest records of life on Earth. Dr. Schopf, who highlighted that scientific cooperation both nationally and internationally is a feature of the field, said they have been looking for 600 million year old microscopic fossils in the Mediterranean Sea - which was at one time completely dried out. They found a variety of organisms - including cyanobacteria (or pond scum) and phytoplankton - embedded in a sulfate mineral called gypsum. The researchers were stimulated to look for bio-signatures in this mineral because of the orbital mapping of Mars by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which found large traces of gypsum on the surface. Dr. Farmer explained that the landing of one of NASA's Mars rovers, Opportunity, on large sulfate deposits also motivated their research. (Dr. Squyres is considered the "father" of the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity.)

While NASA-funded researchers are looking for evidence of life on other celestial bodies, outside of NASA others are looking for signs of intelligent extraterrestrial life. The possibility of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe - that might someday visit Earth - is also in the news. Last Sunday, renowned physicist Dr. Stephen Hawking was quoted in the London Times with a warning to humans to avoid the dangerous confrontation that he believes would inevitably ensue from contact with intelligent alien life, saying that "if aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn't turn out very well for the Native Americans."

Though the NASA teleconference was not about searching for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, one reporter asked the panelists about Hawking's remarks and if they believed humans should continue broadcasting signals that might be detected by other civilizations that could lead them to Earth, or only listen for radio signals from such civilizations. The privately funded SETI Institute, for example, uses a radio telescope array that searches for radio signals that could be from another civilization. Mary Voytek, astrobiology senior scientist at NASA Headquarters, stressed that SETI research is conducted privately and noted that within NASA there is a "difference of opinions" about transmissions. Dr. Squyres added that "Earth has been broadcasting radio signals for decades...[the] signals are out there."

As for the microbial life on which the NASA-funded research focuses, new data suggests that even asteroids may present such an opportunity. In the April 29 issue of Nature, two teams of scientists report that they found water ice and organic compounds on Asteroid 24 Themis. Water is considered an essential element of life and Dr. Squyres agreed that a mission to an asteroid may be a possibility, saying that objects bearing traces of the necessary conditions for life are "candidate object[s] for study" and said that "we should go where the data lead us."

In the meantime, the National Research Council's Planetary Sciences Decadal Survey Committee is crafting its report on recommendations for the future direction of planetary exploration. Dr. Squyres, chairman of the committee, said they are "halfway through" and noted that one of the lessons emerging from their work is that "astrobiology is really central to what we should be doing next."

According to Squyres, some of the 28 missions under discussion by the Decadal Survey include: exploring Saturn's moon Encedalus to see if its erupting geysers at the south pole are evidence of water under the surface; returning samples from a comet, believed to be rich in organic materials, the "building blocks of life;" and looking for the sources of methane in the Martian atmosphere and determining whether its replenishment is of biological nature.

One potential mission capturing a lot of attention is a complex 3-step sample return mission to Mars, featuring three vehicles: a rover, a lander, and an orbiter. Dr. Squyres said that this multi-step approach to a mission that has been on the minds of researchers for at least 20 years is more cost-effective than sending a single spacecraft to return a sample of Mars. He added that by "string[ing] those out in time...with gaps of potentially years," the mission is more affordable in the long run.

In response to a question about the heated debate over NASA's FY2011 budget request and what should be the future of the human spaceflight program, Dr. Squyres explained that such decisions rarely impact the astrobiology field: "Our program is driven by science...a paradigm that remains unchanged" with respect to architecture decisions for human missions. He said that while some astrobiology researchers do want to see humans on Mars and other destinations, the details over rockets and vehicles "don't really affect our program."

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.

Events of Interest    

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