Biden Space: April 2021 Archives

Biden-Harris Administration Shows Strong Support for NASA in First 100 Days, NASA

"In the first 100 days of the Biden-Harris Administration, NASA has taken bold steps to expand America's exploration and scientific frontiers, advancing the nation's commitment to build back better through innovation, combat climate change, re-establish America's standing abroad, and inspire the next generation."

Keith's note: Lots of stuff is mentioned in this self-issued report card. Apparently Space Team Biden gives itself an 'A' grade on everything. But some caveats need to be brought up to adjust the rosy glow. For starters, the Mars Perseverance/Ingenuity mission left Earth for Mars before the election or the Inauguration. The SLS stuff was more or less a done deal as well. So ... the new Biden folks mostly kept the lights on and did not break anything. As for the attention paid to NASA by the Biden Administration, there has been quite a lot - right from the onset. Not the rah rah type of semi-campaign rally stuff that the Trump folks seemed to revel in. Rather, the Biden folks have been placing NASA in a larger context of what the nation aspires to be - and do - as we emerge from the economic downturn and the pandemic.

Those big ticket items aside, there are some other accomplishments noted in this update that require a little more transparency - and some actual information - from Space Team Biden. Of course, the logical place to look would be NASA's website which, as I have noted previously, is broken, stale, confusing, and totally inadequate for the tasks it should be accomplishing. Some examples:

"Appointed a diversity and inclusion advisor to advance the administration's commitment to advance racial equity. The advisor will work with NASA leadership to further advance diversity and inclusion in the strategic decision-making of the agency to enhance organizational effectiveness, help achieve mission goals, and meet future challenges."

Who is this person? What is their background? What are their responsibilities? Is this a civil service hiring or a political appointee? The NASA ODEO (Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity) website makes no mention of this person or their responsibilities.

"Established an internal working group on orbital debris to improve the safety and sustainability of the orbital environment, which is a critical component of the space-based activities that our modern society depends on."

Who is on this working group? What is their charter and when will they issue a report? If you use the NASA.gov website to search for this effort all you get are old results. If you go to the Orbital Debris Program Office page there is no mention made of this activity,

"Initiated an internal review of the Artemis program to evaluate the current program budget and timeline, and develop high level plans that include content, schedule, and budgets for the program."

When will this review be made public? Who is on the review team? Is it already complete given that the HLS contract was awarded? There is no mention made on the NASA Artemis or NASA HEOMD websites.

"Established a new position of senior climate advisor to provide NASA leadership critical insights and recommendations for the agency's full spectrum of science, technology, and infrastructure programs related to climate."

When is this person (Gavin Schmidt) going to tell us what he is doing? There is nothing on the GISS or SMD Earth Science pages that mentions what he will be doing. His Twitter account (is this personal or official?) does not seem to mention anything about the job either.

Hopefully NASA PAO and OCOMMS will fix this dilapidated web presence once and for all so that everyone can find out what the agency is actually doing. Right now the NASA website presence is often more of hindrance than an asset.

Keith's note: Congress has consistently appropriated a small fraction of what is needed to continue with Human Lander work. The proposed FY 2022 budget from the Biden Administration still falls far short of what NASA has said that it needs to implement the Artemis program of record. NASA cannot award contracts with money it does not have - or will not get. According to the GAO, who will handle the Blue Origin and Dynetics HLS complaints, the Antideficiency Act provides a rather blunt roadblock to these protests since this law "prohibits federal agencies from obligations or expending federal funds in advance or in excess of an appropriation, and from accepting voluntary services."

Faced with a substantial shortfall in funds, NASA had to take that fact into account as it evaluated HLS proposals. Significant technical merits and issues aside, the numbers from Dynetics and Blue Origin were simply beyond the possible. SpaceX was much cheaper at $2.89 billion and an adjustment in its stated cost was possible. So, NASA went to the lowest bidder and asked if they could adjust their price. They did.

Blue Origin has stated that its bid was $5.99 billion. NASA stated that the Dynetics bid was "significantly higher" than the Blue Origin bid. It seriously stretches the imagination to think that they could match the SpaceX bid. Now they are protesting the decision.

NASA has not said whether they will pause work with SpaceX or on-going work with Blue Origin and Dynetics while GAO examines the two protests. Protests like these rarely succeed. The only real impact these protests will likely have is to delay work on meeting Artemis programmatic goals.

There are other threats too. Many in Congress would rather have NASA own the human lander outright which would cost more. Others think that the budgetary underpinnings of the Artemis program are too uncertain to make such a contract award. As such, even if GAO dismisses these two HLS contract award protests, NASA still faces a lot of resistance as it strives to put Americans back on the lunar surface.

Of course Big Aerospace could dial up their lobbying game and push Congress for billions more to build their systems. NASA Administrator-in-waiting Bill Nelson has been a big SLS fan since Day One, so you know that he'd certainly be listening to that option with some lingering interest.

The real question is where the Biden Administration decides to come down on all of this. Either they can adapt to national fiscal realities, think outside the box as they did with the SpaceX decision, and try to minimize the lingering impact of NASA's perennial delays and overruns -- or they can give in to Big Aerospace and pump more money into a clearly broken process that has yet to show a chance of ever meeting a program deadline.

- Blue Origin Formally Protests NASA HLS Contract Award, earlier post
- NASA Submits A Budget - And Adjusts Its Artemis Aspirations, earlier post
- House FY 2021 Budget Makes 2024 Moon Landing Doubtful, earlier post
- Senators Urge Biden To Fully Fund Artemis Human Landing System, earlier post
- Artemis Human Lander Contract Decision Delayed, earlier post
- NASA OIG: Planned Artemis Launch Dates Are "Highly Unlikely", earlier post
- GAO On Artemis: Behind Schedule, Over Cost, Lacking Clear Direction, earlier post
- OIG On NASA's Challenges: A Moon Landing By 2024 Is Unlikely, earlier post
- Congress Still Wants An Artemis Plan From NASA, earlier post

And so on. More here.

New NASA CFO Nominated

NASA Statement on Nomination of Margaret Vo Schaus for Agency CFO, NASA

"[Margaret Vo] Schaus is a career member of the Senior Executive Service. Over the past decade, she has held numerous leadership roles with responsibility for the financial management and business operations of science and engineering organizations at the Departments of Energy and Defense. She currently serves as the director for business operations in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, where she is responsible for oversight of a multibillion-dollar budget. Schaus has been recognized with awards, including the Office of the Secretary of Defense's Exceptional Civilian Service Award, the Department of Energy's Distinguished Career Service Award, and the Secretary of Energy's Honor Award."

Keith's note: I certainly hope Schaus is ready to shake up the CFO's office. The NASA CFO org chart still shows Nestor Tezna as head of the CFO's Policy and Grants Division. Tezna worked on NASA grants and continued to work for the agency for nearly a year after he fraudulently applied for a PPP grant.

Testimony By Bill Nelson Nominee for Administrator, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

"I also believe NASA plays an important role in inspiring the next generation of inventors and scientists. After the Apollo program, thousands of young people dedicated themselves to studying engineering, science, and computing. Not all of these people joined the space program. Some went into biology or the nascent computer industry. They made this country a technology and economic powerhouse. 60 percent of people alive today weren't alive to see a human walk on the Moon. Imagine who NASA and America inspires when we return to the Moon, and this time include women and people of color.

Finally, the President has highlighted that space investments spur economic growth, improve life on Earth, and keep America competitive. Through all NASA activities, the agency generated more than $64.3 billion in total economic output during fiscal year 2019, supported more than 312,000 jobs nationwide. Every state in the country benefits economically from NASA. Investments in research and technology are our seed corn for future economic growth, and are a key part of the Build Back Better plan."

Keith's note: The hearing got started with a seemingly endless stream of compliments that included the phrase "my good friend Bill Nelson". By the time that ended it was obvious that Nelson was going to be confirmed no matter what he said. Nelson was light on specifics - saying that he was nto allowed to talk to NASA - which is a little strange given how NASA helped him prepare Nelson for this hearing and escorted him around the Hill for office visits.

Sen. Wicker asked a question wherein he stated that NASA was planning a Moon landing on 2024 and a Mars landing in 2029, Nelson did not seek to correct Wicker about the 2029 Mars date. Later in the hearing Sen. Blackburn said that the Mars landing was planned for 2030. Nelson did not correct that. Later he said that the 2024 Lunar landing timetable set by the Trump Administration is still in place and that "space is hard". Nelson later said going to Mars was set to happen in the decade of the 2030s. So it is apparent that Sen. Nelson is somewhat uncertain about exactly what all of NASA's major human spaceflight goals are.

Nelson also tried to pass off some revisionist history wherein he was a staunch supporter of a "dual course" wherein NASA pursued both a government and commercial path do doing things in space. In reality he was a staunch supporter of the government approach (SLS aka "the big rocket") and sought to limit or move funds for commercial space to support SLS. Now he's found religion and claims to be a strong supporter of commercial space. So, stay tuned.

Sen. Cantwell made several comments suggesting that she was not exactly thrilled with the recent decision by NASA to sole source the Human Landing System (HLS) contract to SpaceX. Nelson made several comments saying that he supported competition in such activities but did not go so far as to suggest that he might change the HLS award to SpaceX. Given that the NASA HLS decision was overtly driven by NASA budget shortfalls efforts by Nelson to increase NASA's budget might hint at a revisit to this decision.

As for NASA and China - well, Nelson said that NASA will adhere to the law- specifically that enacted by Rep. Wolf. Regarding the Artemis Accords Nelson said that he hopes to expand the number of signatories to include countries that have yet to sign - with a focus on peaceful uses of space.

When asked what the specific value of the Biden budget for NASA Earth Science and climate change Nelson had no real specific answer other than to support the budget increase and note that NASA observes climate change and that this is (obviously) important.

Nelson was asked about education benefits that can be derived from the space program. He replied that "This is one of the areas I really want to pour the juice to at NASA as requested by the White House." He repeated the 'juice' phrase several more times. One would hope that Nelson is looking to truly overhaul NASA's education office and fix what is broken - and not simply pour money into it.

Again, as far as Nelson's confirmation is concerned, based on the hearing, this is a done deal.

Keith's note: Apparently neither NASA or the White House are inclined to issue a formal press release about the nomination of Pam Melroy to be NASA's new Deputy Administrator. Nothing on NASA.gov. I guess its not a big deal to NASA or the Administration. They just let things dribble out. Oh well, welcome back to NASA, Pam. Nothing has changed.

Keith's 3:20 pm EDT udpate: Today, President Joe Biden announced his intent to nominate eight leaders to key Administration posts (Pam Melroy)
Keith's 4:09 pm EDT udpate: NASA Statement on Nomination of Pam Melroy for Agency Deputy Administrator

-----

Melroy:
It's a great honor to be nominated by President Biden to support Senator Nelson and help lead NASA. The agency is critical in America's fight to combat climate change and maintain leadership in space.

This year, NASA will embark on the first human deep space exploration program since Apollo, launch the James Webb Telescope, test the first all-electric X-Plane, and further technologies to take humans to Mars. And the way to do it is as a team that honors diversity in every dimension!

Nelson:
As a retired USAF Colonel and test pilot, former NASA astronaut and Space Shuttle commander, and a dynamic leader with a wide breadth of experience, I believe that Pam Melroy will be a great partner to help lead NASA.

Pam has the longstanding technical and leadership experience that will help NASA on its mission to explore the cosmos, expand climate change research, and ensure NASA-developed technologies benefit life here on Earth. It's important that NASA has a team leading the agency towards the future - one of partnership and collaboration with commercial providers and committed to advancing equity for all Americans. Together, we will work to help NASA reach its full potential and accomplish the agency's critical missions in the years and decades to come.

Acting NASA Administrator Statement on Agency FY 2022 Discretionary Request

"Keeps NASA on the path to landing the first woman and the first person of color on the Moon under the Artemis program. This goal aligns with President Biden's commitment to pursue a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all. With NASA's Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft, as well as U.S. commercial partnerships with the human landing system and Gateway lunar outpost, we will send astronauts to the Moon and provide learning opportunities for future missions."

NASA's Fiscal Year 2022 Discretionary Request

"The President's 2022 discretionary request includes $24.7 billion for NASA, a $1.5 billion or 6.3-percent increase from the 2021 enacted level."

Keith's note: Note that the Trump era stock phrase "first woman and the next man" has been replaced with "first woman and the first person of color".

Keith's update: I just got this statement from former NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine:

"I am extremely pleased to see that the Biden administration has increased funding for NASA in the FY2022 budget request. This budget continues the bipartisan Moon to Mars effort under the Artemis program. I urge the Senate to quickly confirm Senator Nelson so that he can assess and advocate for NASA requirements."


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This page is an archive of entries in the Biden Space category from April 2021.

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