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What's Happening in Space Policy: April 21-27, 2014

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Apr-2014 (Updated: 20-Apr-2014 07:10 PM)

Here is our list of space policy-related events for the upcoming week and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate remain in recess; they will return April 28.

During the Week

The three-day Humans to Mars Summit 2014 at George Washington University has an all-star lineup of speakers including NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA Associate Administrator for Space Technology Mike Gazarik, and NASA Ames Center Director Pete Worden.   NASA put out its own press release about the event to let everyone know Bolden will "outline NASA's human exploration path to Mars" during his keynote address on Tuesday at 9:00 am ET. 

Tuesday is Earth Day.  A chance to celebrate our home planet.   NASA is sponsoring activities all week online and in various locations around the country.  The B612 Foundation chose Earth Day to release "video of data from nuclear-test-ban-organization showing multiple atomic bomb scale asteroid impacts on Earth since 2001."  Their press conference will be livestreamed from the Seattle Museum of Flight at 11:30 am Pacific (2:30 pm Eastern).

Here's a list of all the events we know about as of Sunday afternoon.

Monday-Saturday, April 21-27

Tuesday, April 22

  • Earth Day. Celebrate your home planet!  Check local news outlets for announcements of local events.
  • B612 Press Conference, Seattle Museum of Flight, Seattle, WA, 11:30 am Pacfic Time (2:30 pm ET), will be livestreamed
    • B612 is also co-sponsoring an evening event at the museum, from 6:00 - 7:15 pm PT

Tuesday-Thursday, April 22-24

  • Humans to Mars Summit 2014, George Washington University, Washington, DC, will be livestreamed and broadcast on NASA TV.  (The conference is in different buildings on the various days; consult the agenda for details)

Wednesday, April 23

Holdren to Discuss Administration's Vision for NASA with NAC on April 16

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Apr-2014 (Updated: 15-Apr-2014 01:57 PM)

Presidential Science Adviser John Holdren is scheduled to discuss the Obama Administration's vision for NASA with the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) tomorrow (April 16, 2014).  NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and the head of NASA's human spaceflight program, Bill Gerstenmaier, will also address NAC.  The meeting comes three weeks after a tense exchange between Bolden and House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) over whether NAC Chairman Steve Squyres agrees with NASA's contention that the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) is a step towards someday sending people to Mars.

The Obama Administration is continuing its efforts to convince Congress and the space community in general that ARM should be the next step for the U.S. human spaceflight program.  It has generated little enthusiasm since it was announced almost exactly one year ago when President Obama submitted his FY2014 budget request to Congress.   ARM is an iteration of President Obama's declaration almost exactly three years earlier, on April 15, 2010, that he was directing NASA to send astronauts to an asteroid as the next step in human spaceflight after he cancelled the Bush-era Constellation program to return humans to the lunar surface.

NASA is still developing the mission concept for ARM.  Gerstenmaier briefed NAC's Committee on Human Exploration and Operations yesterday on competing concepts for how to carry out the mission. The two options are to try to redirect a small asteroid into a lunar orbit or to go to a larger asteroid and pluck a large sample (e.g. a boulder) from its surface and move that into lunar orbit.  Once in lunar orbit, astronauts would visit it.  Gerstenmaier focused on the value of using cis-lunar space (between the Earth and the Moon) and lunar orbit as a "proving ground" for human missions beyond low Earth orbit.  He also stressed that although ARM has been characterized as a "one-off" mission, in fact it is part of an integrated plan to get humans to Mars. 

There is little disagreement that the long term goal for the U.S. human spaceflight program -- in partnership with other countries and the commercial sector -- should be landing people on Mars (though it is not unanimous).   For decades, the debate has been over whether or not returning to the lunar surface is a prerequisite.  Intermediate destinations, like asteroids, were rarely discussed until a committee created by President Obama shortly after taking office in 2009 posited a "flexible path" approach as an alternative that included asteroids and Lagrange points.  The committee, chaired by Norm Augustine, did not make recommendations, but laid out "Moon First," "Mars First" and "Flexible Path" options.

Holdren is Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), which is largely blamed or credited, depending on one's point of view, for choosing Flexible Path and cancelling the Constellation program.    He has testified to Congress about ARM enthusiastically, but does not appear to have won many converts.  In one sign of good news for the Administration, however, the 2014 NASA Authorization Act approved by the  House SS&T's Space Subcommittee last week would not prohibit spending money on ARM.  That is an improvement over last year's version of the bill, which would have done so.  That bill was never reported from committee.

Holdren's appearance before NAC tomorrow may be an effort to win over those members of the space community, especially NAC chairman Steve Squyres, at least, about the value of ARM as part of a plan to send people to Mars.

Squyres testified to the House Space Subcommittee last year that he does not consider ARM as necessary to achieve that goal.    At another hearing three weeks ago on NASA's FY2015 budget request, full committee chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) challenged Bolden on that point.  Smith quoted Squyres as testifying that "I see no obvious connection between [ARM] and any of the technologies or capabilities that are required for Martian exploration."   Smith is pushing the Mars 2021 Flyby mission as the next step in human spaceflight instead.

In a tense exchange, Smith reminded Bolden about Squyres's testimony and Bolden replied that if Squyres were asked today, he would not hold the same position.  Smith retorted: "I don't doubt you could put political pressure on him."  Bolden responded:  "I put no pressure, I can't put pressure, on Steve Squyres."  Smith insisted Squyres's testimony stands "unless you have other information."  Bolden said:  "I have other information, which is talking to [him] weekly.  Steve Squyres counseled me  'don't make this seem like you're going to save the planet.  Show us, the NASA Advisory Council, how this is relevant to getting people to Mars.'  We've subsequently done that."   Smith said Squyres's testimony stands until he hears differently from Squyres.

Smith continued his criticism in an April 3 press release after Bolden made comments to two National Research Council panels that Mars Flyby 2021, Smith's preference, is not a steppingstone to landing people on Mars.

As for convincing Squyres and the rest of NAC, Bolden, Holdren and Gerstenmaier will be there to make the case for ARM in person and in public tomorrow morning.  The meeting is at NASA Headquarters and is available remotely via WebEx and telecom.  The detailed agenda, as of today, is posted on the NAC website.  Bolden is scheduled for 9:10 am ET, Holdren for 10:00 am ET, and Gerstenmaier for 11:00 am ET.

NASA-Russia Cooperation: What You Need To Know

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Apr-2014 (Updated: 11-Apr-2014 12:13 AM)

Russia’s official news agency Itar-Tass reported today that Russian President Vladimir Putin will talk with the International Space Station (ISS) crew tomorrow (April 11) by videoconference.  Currently there are three Russians, two Americans and a Japanese aboard ISS.  All seems well in U.S.-Russian space cooperation.  Is it?

Space aficionados in Russia, the United States, and around the globe are preparing to commemorate the anniversary of when Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to orbit the Earth on April 12, 1961.  This year is also the 80th anniversary of Gagarin’s birth (he died in a MIG crash in1968).  As that celebration nears, space cooperation seems to be proceeding smoothly, but what happened to the news last week that NASA is suspending interactions with Russia other than for the ISS program because of Russia’s actions in Ukraine?

Here’s what we know today.

The news that NASA was suspending interactions with Russia – except for operations of ISS – came as quite a surprise and generated a lot of media attention. since has asked many questions of Administration officials (including NASA) and we have been asked many questions by you.   Here are the most often-asked questions and our answers.   It is an evolving situation – things could change at any time --but this is what we can say as of April 10, 2014.

Why did NASA do this?

  • NASA didn’t “do this.”  Administration officials tell us that NASA is following a classified directive from the White House National Security Council that applies to all government agencies.  The directive is not aimed at NASA specifically. NASA is part of the Executive Branch of government and must follow White House directives.

Then why is NASA the only agency in the headlines?

  • Good question.  The best answer we can discern is that NASA is a comparatively transparent agency.   NASA’s Associate Administrator for International and Interagency Relations sent a memo to Headquarters and field center leaders directing them to suspend interactions with Russia except for the ISS.   At least one center director passed that message along to his staff.  Someone shared it with the media.  Other agencies apparently dealt with the directive differently and/or have more control over their personnel.

Are operations of the International Space Station in jeopardy?

  • No.  ISS was exempted from the beginning.

Then why did NASA’s official statement devote most of its text to a rant against Congress for not providing sufficient funding for the commercial crew program?

  • Administrator Bolden is laser-focused on convincing Congress to fully fund NASA’s $848 million FY2015 request for commercial crew this year and uses every opportunity to highlight the issue.   Apparently he decided to use this as one of those opportunities.  It has, however, confused the situation because it makes some people think the ISS *is* affected or commercial crew would not be part of the conversation.

Why did NASA post its official statement on a Google+ page and announce it via Twitter instead of using regular news releases?

  • Good question.  We have no idea.  Definitely odd and not helpful.

What other NASA programs or activities are affected?

  • NASA has not released a list of its other programs and activities that involve Russia, but examples we’ve heard about include:
    • NASA personnel plan to participate in two major conferences that by happenstance are being held in Russia this year – the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) that brings together the world’s space scientists, and the International Council of the Aeronautical Sciences (ICAS), which does the same for aeronautics researchers. Although multilateral meetings in general are exempted from the new policy, meetings held inside Russia are not.
    • A Russian instrument, DAN, is on the Mars Curiosity rover.
    • NASA is building mirrors for instruments on Russia’s Spectrum-Roentgen-Gamma (Spektr-RG) space telescope.
    • NASA scientists are part of a working group discussing Russia’s planned Venera-D mission to Venus. 
    • NASA uses Russian wind tunnels for aeronautics research

Are there exemptions for any of those?

  • Yes.   NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and other NASA officials say that exemptions have been made for COSPAR, Curiosity, and the Spektr-RG mirrors.    The status of ICAS, the Venera-D working group, and use of Russian wind tunnels is unknown.   

So what’s changed in NASA-Russia interactions?

  • From what we’ve been able to ascertain, not much so far.

Since so little has changed, this seems to be a tempest in a teapot.  Is it just a ruse by NASA to get Congress to fund commercial crew?

  • No.  And if anyone had that in mind as a potential benefit, it hasn’t worked out.  The House Science, Space and Technology Committee – Republicans and Democrats alike – continue to insist that funding for the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft are their priorities, not commercial crew.

Is this the first time NASA has been drawn into geopolitical disputes?

  • Absolutely not, starting with the response to Sputnik (which led to creation of NASA) and the Apollo program.  We’re sure you know that story.  Here’s a brief history of what happened in the succeeding decades:
    • U.S.-Soviet relationships improved in the early 1970s and the joint Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) was mounted to demonstrate détente between the two superpowers. A geopolitical decision.  
    • An agreement was signed in 1977 for follow-on space cooperation, but that was terminated (except for biosatellite missions) after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979.  A geopolitical decision.
    • Space relationships were cold during the 1980s as the Reagan Administration focused on the Strategic Defense Initiative (the “Star Wars” program) and initiating the space station program in 1984 partially because the Soviet Union had a space station and we didn’t  (by then the USSR was on its 6th space station, actually).   Yes, the space station program began in 1984, not in 1993 when Russia joined.
    • Only after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 did U.S.-Russian space cooperation resume in a big way.  That was during the George H. W. Bush Administration with a 1992 announcement that a Russian would fly on the U.S. space shuttle and an American would fly on a long duration mission on Russia’s Mir space station (its 7th  space station).  It was a geopolitical response to the USSR’s collapse.
    • The Clinton Administration expanded U.S.-Russian space cooperation in 1993 for geopolitical reasons.   Yes, it was also argued that NASA’s space station effort would benefit (that’s another long story), but essentially the United States wanted Russia to abide by the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and to keep Russian scientists and engineers from going to work for countries that did not have U.S. best interests at heart.  Russia wanted to join the space station program and to be allowed to launch U.S.-built satellites on a commercial basis.  A deal was made.
    • In the late 1990s, some people argued that Russia was not abiding by the MTCR and Congress made the ISS program part of the Iran Nonproliferation Act (INA) whose purpose was to deter Russia from providing certain assistance to Iran.  The INA prohibited the United States (government or industry) from paying Russia for anything related to the ISS program or human spaceflight in general unless the President certified that Russia was abiding by the MTCR.  Presidents have not been willing to do that, which is why NASA must get a waiver from that law (now the Iran, North Korea, Syria Nonproliferation Act – INKSNA) to be able to pay Russia to launch non-Russian astronauts to ISS.
    • Everything has been going well between the two countries on space cooperation since then, with the value of cooperation demonstrated in particular after the U.S. space shuttle Columbia tragedy in 2003 when Russia provided the only access to the ISS.  Similarly, Russia is the only country able to take crews to and from the ISS since the U.S. space shuttle program ended in 2011.  The two counties are co-dependent in operating the ISS.  While one should never say never, it seems very problematical for either country to operate ISS without the other.

Is Russia the only example of geopolitics mixing with the space program?

  • No.   Congress passed laws prohibiting NASA from cooperating with China because of the Chinese government’s human rights abuses and other issues.

What happens next?

  • This is an evolving situation.  Stay tuned!

House Subcommittee Approves New Version of NASA Bill - No Prohibition on ARM

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Apr-2014 (Updated: 11-Apr-2014 06:20 PM)

The Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee (SS&T) this morning approved a revised version of a new NASA authorization bill, H.R. 4412.   The text adopted today contains significant differences from what was posted on the committee's website yesterday.  Among the changes for NASA's human spaceflight program: this version does not prohibit spending on development of the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) and a requirement is added for an independent analysis of the Mars 2021 flyby mission championed by House SS&T committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX).

The version adopted today is called an "amendment in the nature of a substitute" or a "manager's amendment" that replaces the previous text.  Subcommittee Chairman Steve Palazzo (R-MS) and ranking member Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) lauded each other for their ability to reach "true bipartisan agreement" on the text, but both agreed that more work needs to be done to "strengthen" the bill before it takes the next step -- markup before the full committee.  No date was announced for full committee markup.  (Not sure what a "markup" is?  See our fact sheet:  What's a Markup? -- Answer's to That and Other Legislative Mysteries.) 

Two sections Palazzo specifically mentioned as in need of more work concern Space Act Agreements and Advanced Booster Competition.  Edwards noted that she wants a bill that covers more years; the funding recommendations in this bill are only for one year (FY2014, already underway).  She also wants more discussion about NASA's education and Earth science activities "and a range of other topics."

The tone of the markup today was completely different from last year, which took place amid intense partisan discord throughout Capitol Hill.  At that time Palazzo and Edwards had completely different bills.  Edwards' bill was rejected on a party-line vote and Palazzo's bill was approved on a party-line vote.   The bill never moved out of committee, however.   Instead, the process is starting anew this year and bipartisanship is the watchword.   Only one dissenting voice was heard at the subcommittee markup today, that of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who objects to the bill's focus on the goal of landing humans on Mars.   The bill was approved by voice vote, and it did not appear that any "nays" were spoken, so his objections apparently were not sufficient to cause him to vote against the bill.

In their remarks, Palazzo and Edwards highlighted the human spaceflight sections of the bill which require NASA to submit to Congress an "exploration roadmap" that clearly states that the goal of the human spaceflight program is landing people on Mars and outlining the steps to achieve that goal.  Palazzo said the bill "makes absolutely clear that NASA's goal for the human space flight program should be to send humans to Mars.  It is also the Committee's intent to be clear that proposals that cannot be proven essential to a Mars mission be removed from this portfolio."   

That probably is a reference to ARM, which committee Republicans opposed as recently as yesterday's version of this bill.  However, the revised version approved today omits the section that would have prohibited NASA from spending money on developing ARM.  Instead it requires NASA to submit more details about the mission.  Whether or not ARM is essential to sending people to Mars is a matter of opinion.  NASA asserts that ARM is essential to that goal because it will take place in cis-lunar space (between the Earth and Moon), a "proving ground" that is close enough to Earth for astronauts to return in an emergency.

Edwards agreed that Mars is the goal, but her take on the legislation is that it gives NASA the responsibility for "deciding the pathway forward" to get there.   The common denominator is that both Palazzo and Edwards want the exploration roadmap that will define specific capabilities and technologies needed to land people on Mars.  NASA is required to submit the plan within 180 days of when the bill become law.

Rohrabacher disagreed with the goal of landing humans on Mars, at least as it is envisioned in the bill.  He objected to tying the U.S. government space program so closely to such a goal.  He said the odds are that resources will be wasted: "When you try to cross a bridge too far, someone will get soaked" and it will be "the U.S. taxpayer."

Other differences from yesterday's version include the following:

  • The new version requires NASA to contract with an "independent, private systems engineering and technical assistance organization" to provide a technical assessment of the Mars 2021 Flyby mission concept that would send a crew to fly around Mars, after first flying around Venus to get a gravity assist, in 2021 on one of the first SLS flights.  The assessment is due to  NASA and Congress 60 days after the bill is signed into law.  Then, in another 60 days, NASA is required to send Congress an assessment by the NASA Advisory Council whether the mission is in the strategic interests of the United States. 
  • Edwards says in her prepared statement that the termination liability section of the bill no longer protects the four "covered programs" -- SLS. Orion, ISS and JWST -- from termination any differently from other NASA programs:  "These covered programs are no more protected than any other NASA program, nor should they be." [CLARIFICATION:   Edwards was comparing the termination liability section of this bill to what was contained in H.R. 3625, marked up by the committee in December.  The NASA authorization bill considered by the committee last year contained a section on termination liability, but as the year progressed and it became apparent that congressional agreement on a NASA authorization bill would not be achieved soon, the termination liability language was extracted and introduced as a separate bill, H.R. 3625.  Section 2(e) of H.R. 3625 required congressional approval before NASA could terminate a covered program.  H.R. 3625 also did not progress out of committee, however, and now that a new NASA authorization bill is under consideration, the termination liability section has been restored.  The new language is different from what was approved in December.  Among the changes is omission of Section 2(e).]
  • Edwards also says the bill "unequivocally states that safety shall be the highest priority" in selecting and developing commercial crew systems.

Palazzo says in his statement that the bill seeks to limit U.S. dependence on Russia and "allows NASA to better focus its efforts on once more launching American astronauts on American rockers from American soil." He also said it makes clear that SLS and Orion "are top priorities for Congress and the American people" as is the James Webb Space Telescope.



House Hearing Generates Heat, But Bolden Stays on Message -- Fund Commercial Crew - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Apr-2014 (Updated: 14-Apr-2014 05:01 PM)

In a combative hearing today (April 8, 2014)  before the House appropriations subcommittee that funds his agency, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden displayed anger and exasperation, but stayed on message – NASA needs full funding for the commercial crew program this year.

In a break with tradition, the annual hearing before the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee on NASA’s budget request was not solely focused on the budget.   The first hour of today’s three-and-a-half hour hearing was devoted to a report by the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) on security at NASA and its field centers.   CJS subcommittee chairman Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) essentially told NASA to commission the study last year because of his concerns about the access that foreign nationals, especially Chinese, have to NASA facilities.

The NAPA committee was chaired by former Attorney General and former Pennsylvania Governor Richard Thornburgh.  It issued 27 recommendations and, as Thornburgh testified today, NASA agrees with and is implementing all of them.   Nevertheless, Wolf and other subcommittee members used the opportunity to criticize NASA, especially its decision to categorize the report as “Sensitive but Unclassified” (SBU) so that it cannot be made public.  Only a short summary is in the public domain.

Subcommittee member John Culberson (R-TX), rumored to be in line to take over chairmanship of the subcommittee after Wolf retires at the end of the year, charged that NASA gave it an SBU classification because it was “embarrassing.”

When it was Bolden’s turn to testify, he denied that characterization.  He insisted the report revealed potential vulnerabilities at NASA that he did not want made public.   Wolf called the SBU classification a “blunt instrument” and wondered why NASA could not have redacted potentially damaging information and released the rest of the report.  It was a bruising exchange and Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA) made it a point to elaborate on Bolden’s decades of public service as a military pilot, astronaut, and U.S. Marine Corps Major General to make it clear that Bolden is committed to protecting the nation’s security.

The next two-and-a-half hours were no less confrontational, however.   Many, many topics were covered, but by far the most contentious was debate over NASA’s commercial crew program.   Bolden is laser focused on convincing Congress to fund the full $848 million request for commercial crew this year.   The debate has special significance now because of the tense geopolitical relationship between the United States and Russia.   While the International Space Station (ISS) is not affected by last week’s Administration policy decision to limit U.S.-Russian interactions – the ISS is specifically exempted – NASA is using the situation to drive home the need for American systems to take American astronauts to and from the ISS so NASA is not dependent on Russia.

Bolden stated his understanding of how much money Congress has approved for commercial crew in the past several years compared to the request.  Wolf had different numbers and challenged Bolden’s account.  The two threw down the gauntlet to each other to meet, with their staffs, to sort out whose numbers are correct, but the exchange became quite personal.

Wolf accused Bolden of misleading people about Congress’s support for commercial crew.  At that point – after the hour of listening to criticism of how NASA handles foreign access to its centers and now hearing Wolf accuse him of misleading people – Bolden clearly had had enough.  “I’m tired of having my integrity impugned,” he exclaimed.  Though the discussion briefly moved on to another topic, Bolden was still smarting.  After answering an unrelated question about the James Webb Space Telescope he said “If someone’s going to call me a liar, I take that personally.”

Wolf replied that no one had called Bolden a liar.  After a few more minutes of unrelated discussion, Bolden apologized for losing his temper.  [UPDATE:  At a hearing the next day with Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, Wolf also swore her in while assuring her that his decision to do so had nothing to do with her or her Department.  Instead he referenced this hearing, saying that "maybe everything wasn't as accurate as was said... I think it's important that there be integrity when people come up; they just tell ... the truth. .... I'm going to send members information so you can see what I'm talking about and that's why we swear people in...."]

Throughout it all, however, Bolden kept his eye on the ball – insisting on the need for full funding of the request for commercial crew to reduce U.S. dependence on Russia.

Some of the other substantive topics of discussion included the following.

  • Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM).   Wolf asked when NASA would have a final mission concept and associated budget plan for Congress to review.  Bolden said it was still too early.  Wolf commented that ARM has not generated very much excitement, including with potential international partners.  Bolden referred to last year’s Global Exploration Roadmap (GER) produced by 12 countries, including the United States, and to the International Space Exploration Forum (ISEF) at the State Department in January as examples of how everyone is on the same page – Mars is the ultimate destination with a steppingstone approach to get there that could include the asteroid mission.
  • Russia and the ISS.   Culberson pressed Bolden on NASA’s contingency plans for the ISS in case Russia invades more of Ukraine.  Bolden reiterated what he has said in other venues that he does not want to speculate on hypothetical situations, but his contingency plan is commercial crew – restoring America’s ability to launch American astronauts from American soil rather than being dependent on Russia.  This was another confrontational exchange.   Culberson referenced an Aviation Week article that talked about an Air Force estimate that it would take 5 years and $1 billion to build a production facility in the United States to build RD-180 rocket engines for the Atlas V rocket that currently come from Russia.  He wanted to know what NASA’s equivalent contingency plan is for the ISS.  Bolden stressed again and again that his contingency plan is commercial crew.   Culberson said two of the commercial crew competitors plan to use the Atlas V. [Sierra Nevada Corporation and Boeing both plan to use Atlas V for Dream Chaser and CST-100, respectively.]  Bolden clearly did not know that and impatiently responded that Culberson was not accepting his answer that NASA’s ISS contingency plan is commercial crew.
  • Restrictions on NASA's Interactions with Russia.   Bolden announced that two more activities – in addition to ISS -- have been exempted from limits on interactions with Russia:   NASA participation in the COSPAR meeting in August being held in Moscow and operations of a Russian instrument (DAN) on the Mars Curiosity rover.  He said three more requests are pending.    The ISS was never included in the restrictions.
  • ISS Extension to 2024.   Bolden acknowledged that Russia is the only ISS partner that has agreed to extending operations to 2024.   He is confident the other partners eventually will agree, but it will be a multi-year process.
  • Aeronautics.   Everyone agreed that NASA’s aeronautics program is vital to the nation and needs more funding.  Bolden singled out hypersonics and rotary wing research as especially important, but does not know how to fund it within current constraints.
  • SOFIA.  Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA), whose district is near NASA Ames Research Center, which runs the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) program, challenged the decision in the President’s budget request to mothball the airplane-mounted infrared telescope.   Bolden insisted, as did Presidential Science Adviser John Holdren at a House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing on March 26, that it is only a proposal at this point, not a decision: “we are still looking for ways to save SOFIA.” He is anticipating a report at the end of this month from a joint committee between NASA and its German counterpart, DLR, on options for moving forward. NASA also has issued a solicitation for other partners who want to help fund the project.  If SOFIA is as important as scientists say, Bolden asserted, he expects “people will be standing in line to add their funds to maintain SOFIA.”
  • Europa.  Culberson continue to champion funding for a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa.  He has led efforts to add money for it in the past two years ($75 million in FY2013 and $80 million in FY2014).  NASA is requesting $15 million for FY2015, but there is no money planned for future years, so it is not a new program start and Culberson thinks $15 million is too little.   Separately there was a discussion about using the Space Launch System (SLS) to launch a spacecraft to Europa. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) argued for building a “robust” upper stage that would make it useful for such a mission.   Bolden demurred on that part of the discussion (because a choice first needs to be made between developing the upper stage or an advanced booster), but said the scientific community is just warming up to the idea of using SLS for a Europa mission.
  • Mars 2020.   Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), whose district includes the Jet Propulsion Lab, worried about a “disquieting” rumor that the Mars 2020 rover mission might slip to 2022.  Bolden assured him the FY2015 request assumes launch in 2020.
  • Extended Science Missions.  Schiff also is concerned that older operating spacecraft like the Opportunity rover on Mars and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) will not receive funding for extended operations beyond their currently defined cut-off date.  He said he didn’t want to “turn off good science.”  Bolden replied that extended missions are good, but not if they jeopardize initiating new missions because of funding constraints.

It was a rancorous hearing, but Culberson insisted to Bolden that “you’ve got no better group of friends up here than this subcommittee.”   That may well be true – NASA is quite popular on Capitol Hill – but it was not all that obvious today.

Note:  This article was updated with Wolf's comments at the hearing with Department of Commerce Secretary Pritzker on April 9, 2014.

Like Last Year, New House NASA Bill Prohibits Development of Asteroid Redirect Mission

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Apr-2014 (Updated: 09-Apr-2014 01:06 PM)

A copy of the 2014 NASA authorization bill, H.R. 4412, that will be marked up by the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee tomorrow is posted on the committee's website.   From a policy perspective, there seem to be only minor changes from the version approved by the committee last year, but a major sticking point -- funding levels -- seems to be resolved.

Last year's bill was approved by the committee on a party line vote (11-9) on July 10, 2013.  The most contentious issue was the funding level in the bill -- $16.865 billion for FY2014 compared to the $18.1 billion recommended in a Democratic alternative introduced by Rep. Donna Edwards.  NASA's earth science program was particularly targeted for cuts -- about one-third of its request.  The committee's recommendations by budget line item are summarized in our fact sheet on NASA's FY2014 budget request.

Funding recommendations are not likely to be an issue In the new bill.  It recommends funding for only one year, FY2014, which is already in progress and the funding levels are identical to appropriated amounts.  The only difference is that the authorization bill specifies how much of the funding in the Space Operations account is for the International Space Station (ISS) program -- $2.984 billion.  The Consolidated Appropriations Act that includes NASA's FY2014 funding did not break down how the $3.778 billion for Space Operations should be allocated.

This is not a comprehensive analysis, but a quick glance reveals only minor differences from a policy perspective. 

  • Like last year, the new bill would --
    • prohibit spending on development of the Asteroid Redirect (or Retrieval) Mission
    • establish a NASA Advisory Council, with members appointed by Congress, that would review the Administration's proposed budget for NASA for the next fiscal year and provide advice to the President and Congress about it
    • change how NASA deals with termination of and termination liability for major programs
  • Conversely, the new bill -- 
    • omits a provision that would have set a 6-year term for the NASA Administrator
    • adds a section requiring the NASA Administrator to report to Congress on the extent to which he is complying with the advice of the 2012 report of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel

The markup is at 9:00 am ET tomorrow morning, April 9, 2014, in 2318 Rayburn House Office Building.  Committee proceedings usually are webcast on the committee's website.

Space Policy Events for the Week of April 7-11, 2014 - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 06-Apr-2014 (Updated: 08-Apr-2014 07:52 AM)

UPDATE:  The room for Tuesday's House Appropriations CJS subcommittee hearing on NASA has changed.  Now in 2359 Rayburn. 

The following events may be of interest in the week ahead.  The House and Senate are in session.

During the Week

It's a busy week in Congress as they try to make progress on a number of legislative issues before going on their Passover/Easter break next week.  Not only are there a number of interesting congressional hearings on tap, but the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee will mark up a new NASA authorization bill on Wednesday, April 9.  The bill doesn't have a number yet and the draft text is not posted on the committee's website so far, but the true test will come during the markup to see what amendments are offered.  The markup begins at 9:00 am ET and only one hour is scheduled (there's a hearing on a different topic in the same room that begins at 10:00 am), suggesting that little debate is expected.  Later that day, across Capitol Hill, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will mark up H.R. 2140 (Heinrich) at 2:30 pm ET.  Its purpose is to improve the transition between experimental permits and commercial licenses for commercial reusable vehicles.

As for hearings, of special note are the House Appropriations CJS hearing on NASA's FY2015 budget request on Tuesday morning, which will also hear from former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh who chaired a study that looked at security (as in access by foreign nationals) at NASA's centers.  The next day it has a hearing on the budget request for the Department of Commerce, which includes NOAA.  Also on Wednesday, the Senate Commerce Committee's Science and Space subcommittee will hold a hearing on From Here to Mars that includes Susan Eisenhower among the witnesses.   On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations CJS subcommittee will hear from the Department of Commerce, and the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold its annual posture hearing on the Air Force, which probably will include more discussion of U.S. reliance on Russian rocket engines for the Atlas 5.

All of that is happening on Capitol Hill, but tomorrow (Monday, April 7), the action will be out at the University of Maryland conference center where Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) will speak to the Maryland Space Business Roundtable.  One of NASA's biggest supporters in Congress, she is also one of the most powerful Senators as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee in addition to chairing the appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA and NOAA.

Here are the events we know about as of Sunday afternoon.

Monday, April 7

Tuesday, April 8

Wednesday, April 9

Thursday, April 10


House SS&T Subcommittee To Mark Up NASA Authorization Bill on April 9

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Apr-2014 (Updated: 04-Apr-2014 08:02 PM)

The Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee will mark up the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2014 next week.

The committee announced this afternoon that the markup will be at 9:00 am ET on Wednesday, April 9, in 2318 Rayburn House Office Building.  A draft of the bill is not posted on the committee's website yet and no bill number has been assigned.

Last year, the House SS&T Committee and its Senate counterpart, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, each marked up separate and very different versions of a 2013 NASA Authorization Act:  H.R.  2687 and S. 1317.  Approved by committee on partisan lines in each case, neither piece of legislation advanced beyond committee approval (the next step would have been for the bills to be reported from committee; neither was).  Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) introduced a Democratic version of a NASA authorization bill in the House (H.R. 2616) and offered it as an amendment to H.R. 2687 during markup, but it was defeated on party lines.

The major difference between Democrats and Republicans on both sides of the Hill was the amount of funding allocated to NASA.   Republicans wanted a comparatively low figure, while Democrats wanted more.

For the House SS&T committee, the total for NASA in FY2014 would have been $16.865 billion, which would have stayed within House-approved budget caps approved early last year in the House budget resolution.   The Senate budget resolution was based on a different philosophy and would have provided much more money for the government over the next 10 years than the House.  The Senate version of the 2013 NASA authorization bill would have allocated $18.1 billion for NASA for FY2014.  For a summary of funding levels recommended in the House- and Senate-committee approved bills, see our fact sheet on NASA's FY2014 budget request.

Subsequently, in December the House and Senate jointly agreed to budget caps for FY2014 and FY2015 about half way between what each chamber had separately approved.  Now, with the cap for FY2015 already agreed to by both chambers, the chances for agreement on a NASA authorization bill are improved, though far from certain.

Two policy areas of disagreement between the House and Senate were that the House bill would have prohibited spending any money on the Asteroid Redirect Mission (the Senate bill was silent) and the House bill would have cut NASA's earth science budget significantly (about 30 percent) from the request while the Senate bill recommended a much smaller cut.   House committee Republicans argue that other agencies have responsibilities for studying the Earth and therefore this should not a focus of NASA's activities.

Wednesday's markup will be just one step on a path to pass a 2014 NASA authorization act.   Unless it is very noncontroversial and can be taken up by the House under suspension of the rules (like the Weather Forecasting Improvement Act passed last week), getting time for floor debate could be another hurdle.  This is an election year and the number of legislative days is dwindling.   Nonetheless it is a step, assuming that the subcommittee approves it.   Doing so on a bipartisan rather than partisan basis would improve its chances of making it through the rest of the process.  Only one hour has been scheduled for the markup suggesting that there is broad agreement on it already.

Susan Eisenhower Among Witnesses for April 9 Hearing "From Here to Mars"

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Apr-2014 (Updated: 04-Apr-2014 04:11 PM)

Susan Eisenhower is one of four witnesses at a Senate hearing next week on "From Here to Mars."

Eisenhower is the granddaughter of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.  She and her husband, Roald Sagdeev, former director of Russia's Institute for Space Research (IKI, which conducts Russia's space science program), co-authored a book on U.S. - Soviet space cooperation through 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed.   She then authored another book on post-Cold War space cooperation. (She also wrote a book on how she and her husband met and fell in love while the Cold War was still gong on).   On March 20, she was a guest on NPR discussing "what's next for Russia's relations with the West."   Considering the evolving situation with NASA and Russian space cooperation, her testimony could be especially interesting.

Joining her are NASA's Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaier; former astronaut Leroy Chiao; and Jeff Manber, President of Nanoracks.

The hearing before the Science and Space Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee is on Wednesday, April 9, at 10:00 am ET in 253 Russell Senate Office Building.   The description of the hearing provided by the committee suggests that the focus is international cooperation, though it will also cover NASA exploration strategy and commercial space efforts.  It states that space exploration has been a proven model for international cooperation, but "troubled U.S.-Russia relations, alternative mission destinations [for human spaceflight], and a strengthening Chinese space program may complicate international cooperation."

The hearing will be webcast on the committee's website.

White House, NASA Seek to Clarify U.S.-Russian Space Cooperation Status

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 03-Apr-2014 (Updated: 03-Apr-2014 09:55 PM)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, White House science and technology policy official Richard DalBello, and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden all sought to clarify today whether or not NASA is still cooperating with Russia other than in operating the International Space Station (ISS).  At the end of the day, the best answer seems to be that it’s an evolving situation with no clear guidance other than that the ISS is not affected.

Yesterday, a memo from NASA’s Associate Administrator for International and Interagency Relations became public that instructs NASA personnel to suspend contacts with their Russian government counterparts except for activities related to operation of the ISS because of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.  The memo did not explain what stimulated the decision or offer many specifics about how it would impact NASA-Russia cooperation.   Hours later NASA issued an “official” statement that was announced via Twitter with a link to a Google+ webpage that was not helpful in explaining the situation.

The bottom line of the comments today is that the directive applies to all government agencies, not just NASA; that each agency will determine what activities are exempted or not on a case-by-case basis; and it is an evolving situation.  The unambiguous message is that operations of the ISS are not impacted.

Bolden spoke at a long-scheduled joint meeting of the National Research Council’s Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) and Space Studies Board (SSB) this morning.  He opened his remarks by addressing this issue and saying there was a “firestorm in Moscow,” which he blamed on the media and politics.

He said he spoke with his Russian counterpart, Roscosmos Director Oleg Ostapenko, this morning and both agreed that the ISS should be kept out of the political realm. That ISS is not included in this directive has been made clear since the beginning.  The question concerns other NASA activities with Russia.

NASA has not provided a list of non-ISS cooperation, but, for example, NASA uses Russian wind tunnels for aeronautics experiments and a Russian instrument – the Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) – is on the Mars Curiosity rover.  The memo states that NASA personnel can attend multilateral meetings involving Russians as long as they take place outside of Russia, but two major international conferences – the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) and the International Council of the Aeronautical Sciences (ICAS) – both are scheduled to take place in Russia this year.  Whether NASA employees will be able to participate is unclear.

Bolden said this morning that his message to his employees is to keep doing whatever they are doing with Russia unless told to stop, including plans to participate in COSPAR (he did not address ICAS).

DalBello spoke to the ASEB/SSB meeting later in the day.  In response to a question, he stressed three points:  this is an evolving situation, it applies across the government, and the ISS is excluded.  He deferred to White House press spokesman Jay Carney as providing the official Administration guidance on the matter.

At his daily White House press briefing, Carney said the following, putting it in context of other U.S. actions with regard to Russia’s annexation of Crimea:

Given Russia’s ongoing violations of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, the U.S. government has taken a number of actions, to include curtailing official government-to-government contacts and meetings with the Russian Federation on a case-by-case basis consistent with U.S. national interests.  We’ve talked about this previously and as we’ve already said we’ve suspended bilateral discussions with Russia on trade and investment, we’ve suspended other bilateral meetings on a case-by-case basis, and put on hold U.S.- Russia military-to-military engagement including exercises, bilateral meetings, port visits and planning conferences.  We also will not meet with sanctioned individuals.  We have informed the Russian government of those meetings that have been suspended, as you know.  In terms of specific case-by-case decisions that are made in response to this broader directive, I would have to refer you to each agency.   In the case of NASA there are some actions being taken, but obviously with the space station, in particular, that program, and engagement with Russia on that program, continues.

The directive that created this guidance to NASA and other government agencies reportedly was issued by the White House National Security Council and is classified and therefore not in the public domain.

Bolden said that relations with Roscosmos are “good” and “healthy.”  As for the Russian government reaction more broadly, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin oversees Russia’s space sector.  He is one of the Russian individuals sanctioned by the Obama Administration on March 17, 2014 because of his role in the Ukrainian situation.  An English-language Twitter account purportedly belonging to him (@drogozin) carried this rather sarcastic message:

NASA suspends cooperation with Roscosmos (Rus Fed Space Agency) apart from work on the ISS Yet, apart from over the ISS we didn't cooperate with NASA anyway)

That account had a separate tweet about U.S. reliance on Russia’s RD-180 rocket engines:

A Russian broom for an American witch. Still, our engines are better)
Russia&US go to space together for 50th time. Tomorrow US booster vehicle Atlas 5 equipped with Russian RD-180 engine will be launched across the ocean to carry a satellite

Indeed, the United Launch Alliance sent DOD’s 19th Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) weather satellite into orbit today aboard an Atlas V, which uses the RD-180 engines.   DOD officials testified to a House Armed Services Committee (HASC) subcommittee this afternoon that they are conducting a 45-day study on what it would take to build a U.S. designed and produced alternative to the RD-180.  (Check back later for our summary of the hearing; meanwhile, the webcast is posted on the committee’s website.)