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What's Happening in Space Policy January 30 - February 3, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Jan-2017
Updated: 29-Jan-2017 09:59 PM

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of January 30 - February 3, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

Tuesday is NASA's official Day of Remembrance, honoring the crews of Apollo 1, space shuttle Challenger, space shuttle Columbia and other astronauts who lost their lives in connection with spaceflight.  Some events have already taken place, including two at Kennedy Space Center last week to specially honor the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire that killed Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee on January 27, 1967.  Nineteen years and a day later, on January 28, 1986, Challenger's 7-person crew died 73 seconds after launch when an O-ring on a solid rocket booster failed.  Seventeen years and four days after that, on February 1, 2003, Columbia's 7-person crew died during their descent to Earth after a 16-day mission when superheated gases entered a hole in Columbia's wing punctured by a piece of foam that fell from the shuttle's External Tank during launch.  NASA has a special Day of Remembrance webpage honoring all of them.  Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot will lay a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery on Tuesday and other events will take place at various NASA centers around the country.

In Congress this week, a new version of the NASA Transition Authorization Act is being readied for potential consideration by the Senate.  The Senate passed a 2016 bill in the closing days of the 114th Congress, unfortunately after the House already had completed its legislative business so the bill did not clear Congress.   Members and staff have kept working on it and a 2017 version with some modifications is being circulated.  According to a draft we've seen, there are three especially interesting changes.  One clarifies that the primary consideration for the acquisition strategy for the commercial crew program is to carry U.S. astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) "safely, reliably, and affordably."  Another directs NASA to report to Congress on how the Orion spacecraft can fulfill the provision in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act that it be able to serve as a backup to commercial crew, including with use of a launch vehicle other than the Space Launch System.  The third is a finding that NASA has not demonstrated to Congress that the cost of the Asteroid Redirect Mission is commensurate with its benefits, a stronger statement than what was in the 2016 bill.  Discussions are still ongoing, apparently, about potential language regarding best practices for using Space Act Agreements.  The course of legislation is rarely smooth, so there's no guarantee the bill will be introduced and considered this week, but we hear that's the plan.

Also on the Senate side, a vote is scheduled for Tuesday at 12:20 pm ET on the nomination of Elaine Chao to be Secretary of Transportation.  A vote on Wilbur Ross's nomination to be Secretary of Commerce has not been formally scheduled, but is expected this week.

Subject to a rule being granted, the House will take up a completely different piece of legislation this week.  A still unnumbered House Joint Resolution (H. J. Res.) would disapprove of a final rule issued by DOD, NASA and the General Services Administration (GSA) on August 25, 2016 that went into effect on October 25, 2016 to implement Executive Order 13673 regarding Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces.  The resolution is posted on the House Rules Committee's website and states that Congress disapproves of 81 Fed. Reg. 58562 to improve contractor compliance with labor laws.  The House Rules Committee will take it up on Tuesday.  Assuming the rule is granted, the House is scheduled to vote on it on Thursday.

Off the Hill, the American Physical Society is holding its "April Meeting" in January.  It began yesterday and runs through January 31.  Of particular note is a presentation by the Russian Ambassador to the United States, Sergei Kislyak, on Tuesday.  He will talk about "Science and Technology Cooperation as an Effective Bridge for Strengthening Relations Between Russia and the US."   The conference is not focused on space and Kislyak's talk may be quite broad about S&T cooperation, but it would be surprising if the ISS doesn't get mentioned.

Way, way, way off the Hill -- in Vienna, Austria -- the Science and Technology Subcommittee of the United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) holds its annual two-week meeting beginning tomorrow. 

Those and other events 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, January 30

Monday-Tuesday, January 30-31 (actually began on January 28)

Monday, January 30 - Friday, February 10

Tuesday, January 31

  • NASA Day of Remembrance, wreath-laying at Arlington National Cemetery, 11:00 am ET, events also at other locations and times

Thursday, February 2

Friday, February 3


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