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CFR Panel: NASA, Congress Need to Embrace New Paradigm for Space Leadership

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Nov-2015 (Updated: 22-Nov-2015 10:45 PM)

A panel of space policy experts told the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Thursday that NASA has an important role to play in the future, but one different from its roots.  They believe NASA, and Congress, must embrace a new paradigm where the agency leads commercial and international partnerships, rather than dominating the program.

The panel -- Lori Garver, John Logsdon and Charles Miller -- covered a broad range of civil space topics, but the focus was human space exploration program, particularly the role of Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) between NASA and the commercial sector, and international cooperation, especially with China.

Garver is General Manager of the Air Line Pilots Association and was NASA Deputy Administrator from 2009-2013. Logsdon is an eminent space policy historian and Professor Emeritus at George Washington University.  Miller has a long history in entrepreneurial space endeavors and held several positions at NASA in support of commercial space; he is now President of NexGen Space, LLC.

The PPP concept was espoused by Garver when she served at NASA and is exemplified by the commercial cargo and commercial crew programs.  The commercial cargo program was initiated by former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin under the George W. Bush Administration.   Commercial crew was a concept at that time, but the Obama Administration took the idea and ran with it.

Garver, Logsdon and Miller see those PPPs as harbingers of a new era of space exploration featuring a much greater role for innovative “new space” companies.  They view Congress and entrenched NASA-industry interests as obstacles that, for example, led to the requirement for NASA to build the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion capsule using “old space” government procurement methods.

Garver recounted the plan the Obama Administration put forward in the FY2011 budget request, released in February 2010.  She is widely viewed as a primary architect of that plan.

The Obama plan called for cancelling the Bush Administration’s Constellation program to return astronauts to the Moon by 2020.   Instead, the NASA budget would get a $6 billion increase over 5 years to facilitate the development of commercial crew systems to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS), with another $3 billion invested in “game changing” rocket technologies to enable human exploration beyond low Earth orbit (LEO).  The U.S. commitment to the ISS was extended for 5 more years (to 2020, later extended again to 2024).  No destination or timetable for human exploration beyond ISS was included, since investment in new technologies was needed before such decisions were made.

Republicans and Democrats in Congress were furious.  They had passed NASA Authorization Acts in 2005 and 2008 under Republican- and Democratic-led Congresses, respectively, endorsing the Constellation program and given little or no forewarning of the dramatic shift the President was about to propose.   Consequently, Obama was forced into a position of making a speech at Kennedy Space Center two and a half months later (April 15, 2010) setting a destination and timetable – send astronauts to an asteroid by 2025 – though it did little to ameliorate the situation.

Those factors in Congress’s reaction to the Obama plan were not mentioned at the CFR event.   Instead, after Garver outlined her efforts at NASA to expand the commercial role, Logsdon said “One thing that’s holding us back is the U.S. Congress... full stop.”

The complaint was that Members of Congress often focus on the needs of their constituents and the jobs in their States and districts created by government programs.  In addition, traditional industry contractors and many inside NASA resist change.  Logsdon called it a “space industrial congressional bureaucratic classic triangle that still has a lot of power over the civil program."

Garver went so far as to say the human spaceflight program “has become largely a jobs program.” She compared the NASA of today to what it was in the early days of the Space Age: “NASA was the very symbol of capitalist ideals … and now what we’re working with is more of a socialist … plan for space exploration, which is just anathema to what this country should be doing.”

Miller added that if the focus is only on making sure the jobs are "in your district," human space exploration can only be accomplished by adding $5-10 billion to NASA’s budget.  Alternatively, “you can let go of control” and still have the same number of jobs by allowing “dynamic innovation” by the commercial sectorHe argued that even though three attempts to provide enough NASA funding to pursue human exploration of Mars failed (during the Nixon, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush administrations), some people are still “grasping” for a “central plan … controlling all the strings.”

While the tone of many of the comments could be construed as negative towards NASA and the government in general, Garver stressed that it is not an either/or situation, government or commercial.  The two must work together:  “we’re not in a race, in a lane in a swimming pool that everybody is racing against each other with our own industry.  We’re in maybe a cycling race, where we should be running point in the government with others drafting behind us, and if someone comes alongside because they can pass us because they found a better way, we don’t get out our tire pump and stick them in the spokes. You know, we take the next hill that will help them go even farther.”

Miller echoed that sentiment:  “We can open space using a partnership between the best of government and the best of private industry.”

Logsdon said he is asked whether NASA is even needed any more and the answer is yes, because the government must take the risks that the private sector will not.

As for international partnerships, in addition to endorsing cooperation with NASA's traditional partners, all three supported cooperation with China.  Logsdon believes China should be made part of the ISS program in the not too distant future.   Garver noted that space cooperation can be used as either a carrot or a stick and believes it should be used as a carrot with China to find a way to “work together peacefully.”  Garver also asserted, however, that China “basically purchased their space program from Russia,” and is not “innovating like we are, but they will get there, and their interest … in going to the Moon will likely inspire us to go back.”

Logsdon and Miller endorsed a human return to the lunar surface.   Logsdon called the Moon “an offshore island” and “I think we should stop at the Moon on the way out” to Mars.

Miller argued that landing on the Moon is a top priority for NASA’s traditional international partners and should involve commercial partnerships, too.  “We could have a strategy to go back to the Moon today that would fit within our budget and establish a permanent base there.  … It would send a great message around the world.”   He led a recently published study for NASA that concluded “we could return humans to the Moon using commercial partnerships by the end of the second term of the next President, and do it within NASA’s existing budget.”

It was the Obama Administration that terminated U.S. plans to return astronauts to the Moon, however.  Garver asserted that it did so only because there was not enough money in the budget to pay for a lunar lander and it was a “budget reality, not a ‘we’ll never go to the Moon again’ policy.”

The President’s words in 2010, though, conveyed exactly that finality: “Now, I understand that some believe that we should attempt a return to the surface of the Moon first, as previously planned.  But I just have to say pretty bluntly here:  We’ve been there before. … There’s a lot more of space to explore, and a lot more to learn when we do.”

Garver argued that NASA now is more interested in Mars than the Moon partially because it needs to justify building the SLS.  She has made no secret of her disdain for the SLS since leaving NASA.  She supports the development of in-space fuel depots instead that would obviate the need for very large rockets.

Although she left no doubt that she sees the need for a dramatic change in how NASA approaches the future, Garver also said that NASA is “doing a lot of amazing things for the nation and the world” and there is “a lot of political support for that.”

What's Happening in Space Policy November 23-December 4, 2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Nov-2015 (Updated: 22-Nov-2015 12:11 PM)

Here is our list of upcoming space policy events.  This edition covers two weeks instead of one since the coming week includes the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday and not much is scheduled.   The House and Senate are in recess for the holiday week.  The Senate returns on November 30; the House on December 1.

During the Weeks

As of Sunday morning, we are not aware of any space policy events on tap for Thanksgiving week, but President Obama has two space-related bills on his desk that could be signed into law once he returns to the States:  the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act.

The following week, Congress gets back to work on, among other things, finalizing a FY2016 budget.  The Continuing Resolution (CR) currently funding the government expires on December 11.   Despite the budget deal agreed to earlier this month, there are enough controversial policy issues at stake that laying odds on getting full-year appropriations passed by then remains risky.

Apart from that, the NASA Advisory Council meets at Johnson Space Center on December 1-3, Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James will speak at the National Press Club on December 2, and Orbital ATK will return its Cygnus capsule (though not its Antares rocket) to flight on December 3.  Cygnus will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V from Cape Canaveral, FL.  Orbital ATK hopes to resume Antares launches from Wallops Island, VA in May 2016.

Also on December 1, NASA's Mars Exploration Program Scientist, Michael Meyer, will give an update on NASA's Mars program at the next Space Policy & History Forum.  This one is being held at the Applied Physics Lab (APL) in Laurel, MD, rather than at the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) in D.C.   APL and NASM co-sponsor this quarterly lecture series. 

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are listed below.   Check back to see any additions to our Events of Interest list that we learn about later.

Thursday, November 26


Tuesday, December 1

Tuesday-Thursday, December 1-3

Wednesday, December 2

Thursday, December 3

Friday, December 4


US-China Commission Wants Review of Export Restrictions

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Nov-2015 (Updated: 18-Nov-2015 10:50 PM)

The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) recommends in its most recent report, released today, that the U.S. government review items on the State Department's Munitions List and the Department of Commerce's Commerce Control List (CCL) to determine which items China could obtain on the open market regardless of U.S. restrictions and which continue to require U.S. protection.

The USCC was created by Congress in the 2001 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to review the national security implications of trade and economic ties between the United States and China.   It is currently chaired by Willilam Reinsch, President of the National Foreign Trade Council and former Under Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration (later named the Bureau of Industry and Security).   Its comprehensive annual report to Congress is among the many reports it produces.

The 631-page report for 2015 presents a summary and analysis of China's space program based on testimony to the Commission by experts and its own research.   On February 18, the Commission took testimony from nine experts on China's space program, including Joan Johnson-Freese of the Naval War College, Dean Cheng of the Heritage Foundation, and Kevin Pollpeter of the University of California-San Diego.

Today's report repeats familiar themes about China's growing capabilities across the broad spectrum of space activities to further its national security, economic and political objectives.  These include direct ascent and co-orbital antisatellite (ASAT) capabilities that threaten U.S. satellites up to geosynchronous orbit, the report says.  "China has become one of the top space powers in the world" and even though its "space capabilities still generally lag behind those of the United States and Russia, its space program is expanding and accelerating rapidly as many other nations' programs proceed with dwindling resources and limited goals."

One of China's goals is to capture 15 percent of the global launch market and it did so in 2011 and 2012, but not in 2013, the last year for which data is available, the report says.  It also wants to export commercial satellites to developing countries, which contributes to demand for use of China's launch services. 

However, citing testimony to the Commission by Tate Nurkin of IHS Jane's Aerospace, and comments by former NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe and former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General James Cartwright (Ret.) at a May 2015 Center for Strategic and International Studies event, the Commission writes that U.S. export restrictions under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) "are not currently in line with the pace of technological innovation and are therefore in need of reform in order to protect the U.S. space industry's global competitiveness."  Europe's development of "ITAR-free" satellites is an example of the challenges to U.S. industry posed by the export restrictions, it says.

Against that backdrop, the Commission recommends that: "Congress direct appropriate jurisdictional entities to undertake a review of (1) the classification of satellites and related articles on the U.S. Munitions List under the International Trafficking in Arms Regulations and (2) the prohibitions on exports of Commerce Control List satellites and related technologies to China under the Export Administration Regulations, in order to determine which systems and technologies China is likely to be able to obtain on the open market regardless of U.S. restrictions and which are critical technologies that merit continued U.S. protection."  

Congress and the Obama Administration have modified export regulations for space products in recent years, but exports to China and certain other countries were excluded.

The report goes on to warn that China may attain greater prestige in human spaceflight because it plans a new space station for launch in 2022, while the International Space Station (ISS) is scheduled for "deorbiting" in 2024.   

ISS is not, in fact, scheduled to be deorbited in 2024.   The U.S. is committed to operate the ISS until 2024, and Russia and Canada have agreed (Japan and the European Space Agency still have not formally done so), but NASA human spaceflight officials have made clear they hope to keep it operating at least until 2028, the 30th anniversary of the launch of the first modules.

Nevertheless, the Commission sees the possibility of China having "the only space station in orbit" as giving it "a diplomatic tool" that it can "leverage to execute its broader foreign policy goals.  Furthermore, given current Congressional restrictions on U.S.-China space cooperation, the United States would not participate in China's space station program barring changes to annual appropriations legislation. For the first time in decades, the United States could be without a constant human presence in space."

The Commission does not have a corresponding conclusion or recommendation, other than to say that "China's rise as a major space power challenges decades of U.S. dominance in space...."

In addition to the export control recommendation, there are three other space-related recommendations in today's report, that Congress --

  • continue to support DOD's efforts to reduce the vulnerability of U.S. space assets;
  • direct DOD, the Air Force, and the Intelligence Community to perform a net assessment of China's counterspace capabilities; and
  • allocate additional funds to the Director of National Intelligence Open Source Center for the translation and analysis of Chinese-language technical and military writings to deepen U.S. understanding of China's defense strategy, particularly related to space.

Compromise Commercial Space Bill Passes House -- Next Stop, the President

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Nov-2015 (Updated: 25-Nov-2015 09:53 PM)

UPDATE, November 25, 2015:  The President signed the bill into law today.

ORIGINAL STORY, November 16, 2015: The compromise version of new commercial space legislation passed the House this evening, clearing the measure for the President.  The bill, H.R. 2262, covers a broad range of commercial space policy issues from third party indemnification to asteroid mining.

The compromise bill, which retains the House number following negotiations on House- and Senate-passed versions of the bill, includes the following provisions:

  • Formally extends operation of the International Space Station from 2020 through 2024.  President Obama announced last year that he was extending it until then, but this will make it law.  Canada and Russia have agreed with the extension; Japan and Europe have not publicly endorsed the extension yet.
  • Extends the "learning period" for commercial human spaceflight through September 30, 2023.  Under current law, the prohibition on the FAA promulgating new regulations for the commercial human spaceflight business expires on March 31, 2016.
  • Extends third party indemnification for launch services companies through September 30, 2025.  Under current law, the authority for the FAA to indemnify commercial space launch companies from certain amounts of claims from the uninvolved public in the event of a launch accident expires on December 31, 2016.
  • Directs the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to assess and recommend approaches for oversight of commercial non-governmental activities in space.  The 1967 Outer Space Treaty requires governments to authorize and continually supervise the activities of their non-governmental entities.
  • Establishes a legal right to resources U.S. citizens obtain from asteroids consistent with current law and international obligations.  Directs the President to facilitate and promote space resource exploration and recovery.
  • Provides a use policy for NASA's Space Launch System (SLS).  SLS may be used for missions to extend human presence beyond low Earth orbit (LEO), for other payloads that can benefit from its unique capabilities, for government or educational payloads consistent with NASA's mission to explore beyond LEO, and for "compelling circumstances" as determined by the NASA Administrator.

The original version of HR. 2262 passed the House in May.  The Senate version, which was quite different, passed in August.  The two chambers have been working out their differences ever since.  This final version passed the Senate last week.

The House version combined four separate pieces of legislation that cleared the House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee in May.  It was collectively named the Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (SPACE) Act when it passed the House.  The Senate bill, S. 1297, was more narrowly cast in some respects, although it included a provision extending operations of the International Space Station until at least 2024.

The bill passed the House today by voice vote under suspension of the rules and now goes to the President for signature.

The lead sponsor of the House version is House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) whose district includes the Mojave Air & Space Port.  He said the bill "ensures America remains the leader in space exploration and innovation in the 21st century."   House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Space Subcommittee chairman Brian Babin (R-TX) echoed those sentiments.

Among the organizations applauding passage of the bill are the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) and Deep Space Industries (DSI).  CSF called the bill "one of the most significant modernizations of commercial space policy and regulatory legislation" since the 1984 Commercial Space Launch Act (CSLA).  DSI, one of two entrepreneurial companies seeking to clarify rights to resources mined from asteroids, also praised passage of the bill.  DSI Chair Rick Tumlinson said it "builds on our national space legacy and will help enable the rapid and sustainable growth of America's space economy."

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who led efforts to obtain Senate approval of the compromise last week, today called it "a new era for our commercial ventures in space, which will likely include the development of new drugs, the possibility of mining asteroids and an explosion of new technology as we advance our outreach in space."

What's Happening in Space Policy November 16-20, 2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Nov-2015 (Updated: 14-Nov-2015 07:18 AM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of November 16-20, 2015 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

The House may take up the compromise commercial space bill (H.R. 2262) on Monday.   It passed the Senate on November 10.   It is a broad bill that deals not only with traditional commercial space issues like third party indemnification (extending the FAA's authority through 2025) and the "learning period" for commercial human spaceflight (extending the prohibition on new FAA regulations until 2023), but new ones like asteroid mining.  This version is a compromise between the bill that passed the House in May and a bill that passed the Senate in August (S. 1297).  The lead sponsor of the House version is House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who represents the district that includes the Mojave Air and Space Port.   Assuming the bill passes the House, it then will go to the President for signature.

The President could sign the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) this week, although the bill has not officially been presented to him yet.  It can take a couple of days for clerks to look through the bill and make any necessary "technical and conforming changes" before sending it on to the White House.  The Senate passed it on November 10 (the House did so on November 5).

On Thursday, United Launch Alliance (ULA) will announce what it calls a "new program that will transform the way our nation's CubeSats are launched."   The announcement (which will be webcast) will take place at the Colorado State Capitol with the State's Lieutenant Governor participating.  Both the President and the Chancellor of the University of Colorado also will join ULA President Tory Bruno on stage.  ULA is headquartered in Colorado.

Those and other events we know about as of Saturday morning are listed below.  Check back throughout the week for updates to our Events of Interest list on our home page.

Tuesday, November 17

Tuesday-Wednesday, November 17-18

Tuesday-Thursday, November 17-19

Wednesday, November 18

Thursday, November 19

Friday, November 20

SecDef Carter Worried About Russian Space Activities

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Nov-2015 (Updated: 08-Nov-2015 06:29 PM)

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter told a defense forum yesterday (Saturday) that he is concerned about Russian activities in space as well as on the sea, in the air, and in cyberspace.  He also alluded to technology investments the United States is making in response to Russia's "provocations," including new systems for space.

Carter spoke at the annual Reagan National Defense Forum held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA after returning from a trip to Asia.   While he also discussed challenges presented by China, his focus was on Russia.  

He worries that Russia has become intent on "flouting" the principles that underlie the "principled international order" that has "served the United States, our many friends and allies -- and yes -- if you think about it, Russia, China, and many other countries, well for decades."

"At sea, in the air, in space and in cyberspace, Russian actors have engaged in challenging activities," and its "nuclear saber-rattling" suggests it is not committed to strategic stability.   "We do not seek a cold, much less a hot war with Russia," but the United States will defend its own interests as well as "our allies, the principled international order, and the positive future it affords us all."

Among the actions the United States is taking is investing in new technologies, Carter said, including "innovation in technologies like electromagnetic railgun, lasers, and new systems for electronic warfare, space and cyberspace, including a few surprising ones that I really can't describe here."

No further details were provided.

Presumably coincidentally, the Navy conducted a test of a submarine-launched unarmed Trident II missile off the California coast last night that lit up the sky as far away as Phoenix, according to Alan Boyle at GeekWire.  The display would have been visible to any participants in the Reagan forum who remained during the evening.  The forum's website says it brings together leaders and key stakeholders in the defense community including Members of Congress, civilian officials and military leaders from DOD and industry.

What's Happening in Space Policy November 9-13, 2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Nov-2015 (Updated: 08-Nov-2015 03:13 PM)

Here is our list of space policy related events for the week of November 9-13, 2015 and any insight we can offer about them.  The Senate is in session this week except for Wednesday (Veterans Day, a federal holiday). The House is in recess all week.

During the Week

NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman will become more widely known in the DC-area space community this week as she speaks at two luncheons -- the Maryland Space Business Roundtable on Tuesday in Greenbelt, MD, and the Washington Space Business Roundtable on Thursday in Washington, DC.   She also will speak to the annual meeting of the American Society for Gravitational and Space Research on Wednesday morning at 8:30 am ET (will be webcast -- h/t to NASAWatch's Keith Cowing for bringing it to our attention).  These are not her first public speeches since being sworn in last May, but she has kept a relatively low profile until now. Should be interesting to hear what she has to say, though it's easy to guess that NASA's "Journey to Mars" and "inspiration" slogans will be repeatedly repeated.

The American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) holds its annual meeting this week at National Harbor, MD, just outside Washington, DC.   DPS is the key event where planetary scientists announce new discoveries and with all that's been going on this year, it should be a treasure trove of news throughout the week.  Press briefings are scheduled Monday-Thursday at lunchtime and although the live webcasts are only available to journalists, they will be archived and then anyone can watch them.   On Friday, DPS chair Bonnie Buratti (JPL) will moderate a lunch-time briefing on Capitol Hill (385 Russell) to highlight key findings, with New Horizons PI Alan Stern, NEOWISE PI Amy Mainzer, and Georgia Tech graduate student Mary Beth Wilhelm who studies biomarkers on Mars and is a science team collaborator for the Curiosity mission.

On Capitol Hill, the House is taking the week off, but the Senate will be hard at work except for Veterans Day (Wednesday).  On Tuesday, it plans to vote on the revised version of the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).   President Obama vetoed the original bill in large part because of a "gimmick" used by Republicans to add money for defense without increasing funds for non-defense activities.  Now that the White House and Congress have agreed to the budget/debt limit bill, the NDAA has been revised to fit within those funding caps by cutting $5 billion.  The new bill, S. 1356, passed the House on Friday.  The policy provisions remain the same and the President objected to two of them in his veto message (that the bill prevented needed reforms and did not allow the closing of Guantanamo), but the White House has not issued a new veto threat on the revised bill.

The NDAA is an authorization bill that sets policy and recommends funding levels.  Only appropriations bills actually give money to agencies, and Senate Democrats blocked consideration of the defense appropriations bill last week because of concern that if that bill moves forward on its own, Republicans might not pass the non-defense appropriations bills and force the rest of the government to operate under a year-long Continuing Resolution (CR) instead.  The current CR expires on December 11, so they have that much time to reach agreement or a new CR, either short- or long-term, will be needed.  The House is scheduled to be in session for only 12 days between now and then.  The Senate plans to be in session throughout that period except for the week of Thanksgiving (November 23-27).

The fate of the Export-Import Bank is now in the hands of conferees on H.R. 22, the surface transportation bill that passed the House last week.  The House has already appointed some conferees, but said more will be appointed in the future.  The Senate has not appointed its conferees yet.  The main purpose of the bill is to fund transportation infrastructure projects (highways, rail, etc) that currently are authorized only through November 20, so there is some urgency to get the bill finalized.  We have reported on the  travails of the Export-Import Bank at length, so will not repeat its tortuous history here.  If you need to catch up on what's been going, type Export-Import Bank into the search box at the top of our main page.

The Senate might also take up the compromise version of the Commercial Space Transportation Competitiveness bill, but Sen. Bill Nelson's optimism a week and a half ago that it would be acted on quickly seems to have run into a snag.

All the events we know about as of Sunday morning for the coming week are listed below.  Check back throughout the week to see any new events that get added to our Events of Interest list.

Sunday-Friday, November 8-13

Monday, November 9

Monday-Friday, November 9-13

Tuesday, November 10

Tuesday-Thursday, November 10-12

Wednesday-Saturday, November 11-14

Thursday, November 12

Thursday-Friday, November 12-13

Friday, November 13

Note:  This article was updated with the information about the ASGSR meeting.

Export-Import Bank Survives More House Votes - UPDATE 2

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 05-Nov-2015 (Updated: 10-Nov-2015 06:48 PM)

UPDATE, November 10, 2015:  The House and Senate now have each appointed conferees on the bill; the House on November 5 and the Senate today.  The House said that it may appoint additional conferees subsequently.

UPDATE, NOVEMBER 5, 2015, 12:01 pm ET:  The House now has passed H.R. 22 (371-54), which includes the Export-Import Bank reauthorization. The Senate now must agree to the House changes to the entire bill or the two sides will set up a conference committee to negotiate a final compromise version.  Each side then would have to approve the compromise.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE, NOVEMBER 5, 2015, 7:45 am ET:  A week after the House voted to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, the issue was back on the House floor last night as opponents tried again to restrict the Bank's activities.  After intense debate, 10 amendments ultimately were defeated, however.

Created in 1934, the Bank needs to be periodically reauthorized, a step taken with little notice until recently.  The Bank helps provide financing for U.S. exports, including communications satellites, for example.  The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) and the Satellite Industry Association are among its supporters.  The Bank has not been able to issue new loans since its authorization expired on June 30, 2015.  AIA reports that U.S. companies have lost three contracts to build satellites since then.

Some very conservative Republicans and very liberal Democrats oppose the Bank because they consider it corporate welfare for a few large companies like Boeing and GE.  Supporters argue it is a critical component in the competitiveness of U.S. companies that compete against foreign companies with access to similar lending organizations in their countries.  Supporters have consistently argued that a large majority of House members support the Bank and its authorization lapsed only because a small group of powerful Republicans were preventing the full House from voting on the issue.  Last week, a group of Republicans who support the Bank, led by Rep. Steve Fincher (R-TN), used a rare parliamentary procedure to move a bill (H.R. 597) out of the Financial Services Committee against the objections of its chairman, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX).  After fractious debate, the House voted decisively 313-118 to put the Bank back in business with support from a majority of Republicans and Democrats.

The Senate still would have to act on that bill, however, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who opposes the Bank, has said he will not move a stand-alone bill.  Instead he will allow the Senate to consider the issue only as part of a larger measure.  Indeed, in July the Senate passed a surface transportation bill that includes reauthorizing the Bank through 2019. 

The Senate action was taken by amending a House-passed Surface Transportation bill, H.R. 22.  The House refused to take up the Senate version of the bill at that time, but now is doing so. 

(The underlying bill addresses issues unrelated to the Export-Import Bank, but they are just as contentious.  Among them is reauthorizing expenditures from the Highway Trust Fund and since legislation to provide a long-term solution to that and other issues has not cleared both chambers, they have been passing short-term extensions instead.  The short-term extensions do not include the Export-Import Bank provisions.  The most recent, passed last week, extends the Highway Trust Fund authorization through November 20.   Congress presumably will try to get work on H.R. 22 completed before then to avoid the need for another short-term extension.)

Opponents of the Bank offered 10 amendments last night to restrict the Bank's activities, reopening the debate supporters thought they had put to rest last week.  The coalition of Republicans and Democrats that supports the Bank held together and defeated those amendments by votes almost as definitive as the one last week.

The House was in session until 1:05 am this morning (Thursday) debating those and other issues.  It will reconvene at 9:00 am this morning to continue debate.  The House is scheduled to recess at the end of today and remain in recess next week.

The bill still must go back to the Senate and unless the Senate agrees with the House-passed text of the entire bill with no changes, the issue could arise again during conference negotiations.

For today, however, efforts to reopen the Bank have survived another round.

First Canadian Astronaut Marc Garneau Appointed Cabinet Minister

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Nov-2015 (Updated: 04-Nov-2015 09:10 PM)

Marc Garneau, the first Canadian astronaut, is now Canada's Transport Minister under new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.  What role he will play in Canada's space policy and programs is unclear.  The Canadian Space Agency has been under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Industry, but the Trudeau government eliminated that ministry.

Garneau was the first Canadian astronaut, flying on the space shuttle STS-41-G mission in 1984.  He flew on two additional shuttle missions, STS-77 in 1996 and STS-97 in 2000.  He became President of the Canadian Space Agency in 2001.

Five years later, he resigned from that position to run for Parliament as a member of the Liberal Party, but lost.  Subsequently, he was elected to Parliament and has served in a number of Liberal Party positions since then. 

As Transport Minister, Garneau is responsible for safe and secure aviation, marine, rail, and road transportation systems. 

Trudeau, 43, was sworn in as Prime Minister today, replacing Stephen Harper, a conservative.  Trudeau is the son of the late Pierre Trudeau, who served as Canada's Prime Minister from 1968-1979 and 1980-1984.

According to the list of cabinet ministers announced today, there no longer is a ministry devoted to industry.  Instead, the ministries of science and technology, and industry, have been combined under the leadership of Navdeep Bains. the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development.

Astronauts becoming politicians is rare, but not unprecedented.  In the United States, John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth, became a U.S. Senator (1974-1999), as did Harrison "Jack" Schmitt (1976-1982), the only scientist to walk on the Moon during his Apollo 17 mission.   Apollo 13 astronaut Jack Swigert was elected to the House of Representatives in 1982, but died of cancer before he could be sworn in.  Two politicians -- Sen. Jake Garn and then-Rep. Bill Nelson (now a Senator) -- became astronauts, flying aboard the space shuttle as payload specialists in 1985 and 1986 respectively.

International Space Station Reaches 15 Year Milestone

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 02-Nov-2015 (Updated: 02-Nov-2015 09:21 PM)

Today marks the 15th anniversary of the first crew's arrival aboard the International Space Station (ISS).  At least two people have been aboard the facility ever since on roughly 6-month shifts -- 15 years of permanent occupancy.   NASA, Russia and Japan heralded the event with a press conference with the six people currently aboard (two Americans, one Japanese and three Russians) and Administration and congressional stakeholders issued congratulatory statements.

In 1973, NASA launched its first space station, Skylab, but it hosted only three crews through 1974.  In 1979, Skylab made an uncontrolled reentry, spreading debris over Western Australia and the Indian Ocean.  During most of the 1970s, NASA was busy building the space shuttle as a "truck" that would go, among other places, to a permanently occupied space station in earth orbit.  Following the first space shuttle flight in 1981, building a permanent space station became the key goal of NASA Administrator James Beggs who took office under President Ronald Reagan.  Beggs convinced Reagan to initiate the program and Reagan announced it in his 1984 State of the Union Address.  The President said it would be built within a decade.  NASA told Congress it would cost $8 billion. 

The President directed NASA to invite other countries to join and Europe, Japan and Canada immediately signaled their interest, although it took three years to negotiate the first Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) that laid out roles and responsibilities.  In 1988, the United States, Canada, Japan and 11 European nations formally joined together to build Space Station Freedom.  By then, the pricetag had more than doubled and NASA was repeatedly redesigning it to reduce costs.

The United States was not quite in a space race with the Soviet Union at the time, but the geopolitical relationship was frosty.  President Reagan called the USSR the "evil empire" and initiated the Star Wars program to develop a layered ballistic missile defense system including space-based weapons platforms to defend the United States and its allies from Soviet missiles.

During that era, the Soviets were operating their seventh space station, Mir (Peace).  The first modular space station, Mir's core module was launched in 1986 and it continued growing (albeit slowly) through the mid-1990s.  It was deorbited in 2001 after 15 years in space, but there were a few periods when no one was aboard, which is why the ISS wins the title for the first space station to boast 15 years of permanent occupancy.

The U.S.-Soviet relationship changed dramatically between 1989 and 1991 with the fall of the Berlin Wall and ultimately the collapse of the Soviet Union. 

President George H.W. Bush used NASA's human spaceflight program as a foreign policy tool during that period to warm relationships with the emerging Russian government.   He established the shuttle-Mir program where a Russian cosmonaut would fly on the U.S. space shuttle and an American astronaut would stay aboard Mir.  The Clinton-Gore Administration expanded that program with additional cosmonauts on the shuttle and Americans on Mir, but most significantly brought Russia in as another space station partner.  The Soviets had extensive experience in building and operating space stations, beginning with Salyut 1 in 1971.  They successfully launched five more Salyuts -- Salyut 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 (Salyut 2 was a failure)  -- of increasing capability before beginning the Mir program.

NASA had announced another space station cost overrun just as President Clinton took office.  The White House directed NASA to conduct yet another redesign and the name Freedom was dropped.  What ultimately emerged from the redesign effort was similar to Freedom, but with the addition of Russian modules.   The new set of partners could not agree on a name and the facility has been known simply as the International Space Station ever since.

The history of the space station program could fill several books. (This editor  testified to the Senate Commerce Committee in 2005 -- when working as a Congressional Research Service specialist -- about the evolution of the space station's rationale and expected uses.  The statement includes a table showing the various redesigns and cost estimates for anyone who wants a simplified account.)   In short, cost overruns and schedule delays turned the 10-year, $8 billion project into one that took 25 years and $60-100 billion (depending on how one counts the costs) to build, not including the costs paid by the other partners.

Currently, ISS consumes about $3 billion of NASA's roughly $18 billion annual budget to operate.  The United States, Russia and Canada have agreed to keep it operating at least until 2024.  Japan and Europe have not officially signed on to that duration yet.  The question that permeates those discussions is whether the value of the ISS is worth the costs.

The ISS is a laboratory in space for conducting research on how the human body reacts to spaceflight conditions in preparation for long duration flights to Mars; technology demonstrations also related to achieving the humans-to-Mars goal; and scientific research that can benefit the people of Earth.  In assessing the value of the ISS, many space station advocates point to it as an incomparable engineering feat and an example of what countries can accomplish in space when they work together even when geopolitical relationships hit bumps in the road.  Taxpayers in the partner countries, however, often want something more tangible to show for their investment.  

After 44 years of performing research in space stations -- from the 1970s to today -- no major scientific breakthrough can be attributed to the ability to conduct experiments in a long-term microgravity environment.  Not that there has not been a great deal of research with interesting results -- NASA maintains a website describing the experiments on ISS and the American Astronautical Society organizes annual ISS Research and Development conferences -- but the "killer app" that compellingly demonstrates its worth remains elusive.

At $3 billion a year, even human spaceflight supporters may begin questioning the need for ISS if it constrains the pace at which new exploration goals, like sending people to Mars, can be achieved.  Some NASA officials including Bill Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, hope the commercial sector will step forward to build future earth orbiting space stations, not on the scale of the ISS, but smaller facilities for specialized purposes. Bigelow Aerospace is offering inflatable modules that could be used in orbit (one will be tested on the ISS next year), but no customers have been announced.  Other stakeholders warn against the United States losing its leadership in space and allowing China to take the lead in earth orbit.  China launched its first space station in 2011.  It is very small compared to even the earliest U.S. and Soviet space stations, but it was visited by two short-duration crews and China has plans for a 60-ton space station early in the next decade.  (ISS weighs approximately 420 tons by comparison.)

For right now, however, the mood is one of heralding the 15-year milestone.  White House Science Adviser John Holdren and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden praised the ISS in a joint statement as a prime example of international cooperation, a laboratory for "groundbreaking research," and "a testament to the ingenuity and boundless imagination of the human spirit."

The top Democrats on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee and its Space Subcommittee, Rep. Eddie Bernie Johnson (D-TX) and Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), called it an "incredible engineering achievement," a "visible demonstration of peaceful cooperation in space," and critical to doing the research that will "make progress toward the long-term goal of sending humans to Mars."

CBS News Space Correspondent Bill Harwood published a four part article today highlighting key points in the history of the ISS and reflections by many observers of and participants in the program, including the first ISS Commander, NASA astronaut Bill Shepherd, and former ISS program manager Mike Suffredini.  Harwood quotes Suffredini as marvelling at how well the program has proceeded so far considering all the challenges: "You're at 900,000-plus pounds of spacecraft with almost an acre's worth of solar arrays out there, and all of it's working.  So you've got to feel pretty good about that." 

For this snapshot in time, setting aside the tortuous history and uncertain future, that is a succinct conclusion.