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What's Happening in Space Policy April 10-22, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Apr-2017
Updated: 10-Apr-2017 05:50 AM

Here is our list of space policy events for the next TWO weeks, April 10-22, 2017, and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in recess for two weeks.

During the Weeks

At last!  We're getting a bit of a break.  With Congress in recess until April 24 and most of the big U.S. space conferences over for the first half of the year, the list of events is shorter than it's been recently.  We've decided to combine the next two weeks, taking us through April 22 -- Earth Day and the March for Science.

During this period, three crew members will return from the International Space Station (ISS) and two -- yes, just two -- will launch to the ISS.  Russia is cutting back on how many of its cosmonauts are aboard ISS to reduce requirements to resupply them using Progress cargo spacecraft.  It's a cost cutting move that presents opportunities for NASA astronauts.  First among them is Peggy Whitson who will get to remain aboard ISS for an extra three months. 

The do-si-do of ISS crews is difficult to follow sometimes, but under normal circumstances in the post-shuttle era there are six crew members aboard -- three from Russia and three from the other partners (at least one from NASA and others from ESA, JAXA, and CSA).  The limit is based on how many can get off the ISS in an emergency, which is dictated by how many Soyuz spacecraft are attached since they not only routinely take people back and forth, but serve as lifeboats while there.  Each Soyuz can accommodate three people, so with the usual two Soyuzes docked, six people are OK.   With Russia cutting its crew from three to two, that means there's an extra Soyuz seat for an emergency or a routine return to Earth.

An American (Shane Kimbrough) and two Russians (Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko) will return on April 10 in their Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft, leaving three people on board (NASA's Whitson, ESA's Thomas Pesquet and Russia's Oleg Novitskiy) along with their Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft.  On April 20, an American (Jack Fischer) and a Russian (Fyodor Yurchikhin) will launch on Soyuz MS-04, with an empty seat.  Whitson was supposed to return on Soyuz MS-03 with Pesquet and Novitsky, but now will remain and come back with Fischer and Yurchikhin.  Whitson is setting records for most cumulative time in space for an American (on April 24 she will break Jeff Williams' 534-day record) and the most spacewalks for an American woman (8).  This morning a change of command ceremony took place as the Soyuz MS-02 crew prepares to depart.  She will be the new commander.  This is her second assignment as ISS commander.  She was the first woman commander of ISS on her last trip there in 2008.  (This is her third long duration ISS mission. Her first was in 2002.)

A U.S. cargo mission to the ISS also is coming up during this period.  Orbital ATK-7 (OA-7) is launching on United Launch Alliance's (ULA's) Atlas V rocket this time instead of Orbital ATK's Antares.  The launch therefore is from Cape Canaveral and has been delayed several times in recent weeks because of one technical problem or another.  It is currently scheduled for April 18, though we haven't seen a time posted by ULA or NASA yet.

Staying with the human spaceflight theme, it also is worth noting that April 12 is the 56th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin becoming the first man to orbit the Earth, and the 36th anniversary of the first U.S. space shuttle launch.  We haven't heard of any commemorative events, however,

Other events of particular note include: meetings of the Science Committee of the NASA Advisory Council (April 12-13), NOAA's Advisory Committee on Commercial Remote Sensing (ACCRES, April 12), and the National Academies committee performing a mid-term review of the Decadal Survey of physical and biological sciences in space (April 18-20); a European Conference on Space Debris (April 18-21); and a WSBR panel discussion on defense space priorities for the Trump Administration (April 20).

And on Saturday, April 22, a March for Science rally will take place. Actually, there several hundred taking place around the world according to the Earth Day Network website, which says it is the lead organizer.  Washington, D.C. will be the site of a "rally and teach-in" on the National Mall (north side of the Washington Monument, South of Constitution Ave NW, between 15th and 17th Street, NW) beginning at 9:00 am ET.  No tickets are needed, but organizers hope people will register to attend any of the rallies.  Earth Day itself has been held every year since 1970 to focus attention on the fragility of Earth's environment.  (The iconic Earthrise photo taken by the Apollo 8 crew -- the first crew to orbit the Moon - in 1968 is often cited as a catalyst for the environmental movement and Earth Day.  The Blue Marble photograph taken by the Apollo 17 crew in 1972 has been widely adopted as an emblem for Earth Day.)

Those and other activities we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below.  Check back throughout the week for others we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list.

Monday, April 10

Wednesday, April 12

Wednesday-Thursday, April 12-13

Friday, April 14

  • Space Capabilities (Mitchell Institute), Capitol Hill Club, Washington, DC, 8:00 am ET (pre-registration required)

Tuesday, April 18

Tuesday-Thursday, April 18-20

Tuesday-Friday, April 18-21

Thursday, April 20

Thursday-Friday, April 20-21

Friday, April 21

Saturday, April 22


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