Congress: April 2014 Archives

Lawmakers seek end to U.S. reliance on Russian rocket engine, Reuters

"U.S. reliance on Russian engines has been a long-time concern for lawmakers, but those worries have been heightened by Russian actions Washington believes are destabilizing Ukraine. Senators also raised concerns about U.S. dependence on Russian rocket engines at a hearing Wednesday and said they would press for work on an alternate engine. Chief Pentagon arms buyer Frank Kendall told the Senate Armed Services Committee the United States has a license to build the Russian engines itself and could do that if necessary. But he said it would require some technical work first and that the license only goes through about 2022."

House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Marks Up NASA Reauthorization

"The Committee on Science, Space, and Technology today approved the NASA Authorization Act of 2014 (H.R. 4412) with unanimous bipartisan support. The bipartisan bill reaffirms Congress's commitment to space exploration, both human and robotic, and makes clear that human spaceflight to Mars is NASA's primary goal."

House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Approves Bipartisan NASA Authorization Act

"The NASA Authorization Act of 2014 continues the consistent guidance Congress has given to NASA for nearly a decade by reaffirming a stepping stone approach to exploration in a go-as-you-can-afford-to-pay manner by developing an exploration roadmap. It supports the development on the Space Launch System and the Orion Crew Vehicle to push the boundaries of human exploration, and focuses NASA's efforts to develop a capability to access low Earth orbit and the International Space Station so that America can once again launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil."

NASA Hearings This Week

Rep. Frank Wolf Comments at Space Policy Institute

"I want America to beat China back to the Moon and be the first to Mars.  I want the international community - countries that share our interests and values - working with the U.S., not the People's Liberation Army, on their exploration programs.  But this requires vision and leadership.  Congress can only do so much without the White House, and unfortunately I don't see that happening under this president."

Sen. McCain Seeks Information on AIr Force's EELV Program

"U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) today sent two letters regarding the Air Force's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program - a vital $70 billion national security space-launch program that, without competition, has been plagued by exponential cost growth and schedule delays. The first letter is to Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James requesting additional information about her recent testimony regarding the EELV program before the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 10, 2014, and conveying concern about the apparently incomplete and incorrect nature of some of that testimony. The second letter is to the Department of Defense Inspector General Jon T. Rymer requesting that his office investigate recent developments regarding the EELV program."

A Good Day at House Science: Subcommittee Approves Bipartisan NASA Authorization Bill, AIP

"In less than a half-hour this morning the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee approved a bipartisan bill that would establish important policy for NASA. In contrast to last year's markup of an authorization bill that stretched over five hours with many party line votes, the action this morning required just two voice votes, setting up this bill for action by the full committee."

House Space Subcommittee Approves Bipartisan NASA Authorization Act

"The Space Subcommittee today approved the NASA Authorization Act of 2014 (H.R. 4412) with unanimous bipartisan support. The bill updates the previously committee-approved bill to reflect the funding agreement reached in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014. The Subcommittee also approved a bipartisan Palazzo-Edwards amendment that ensures sustainability of purpose and budget for high-priority NASA programs."

House Science & Technology Subcommittee on Space Markup: NASA Authorization Act of 2014

9:00 am EDT Live webcast

H.R. 4412

Sec. 701 Asteroid Retrieval Mission: "Consistent with the policy stated in section 201(b), the Administrator may not fund the development of an asteroid retrieval mission to send a robotic spacecraft to a near-Eaerth asteroid for rendezvous, retrieval, and redicrection of that asteroid to lunar orbity for exploration by astronauts."

However a compromise amendment to HR 4412 by Amendment by Rep. Edwards and Palazzo does not include this provision.

Hearing: From Here to Mars, Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Science and Space

10:00 am EDT live webcast

Statement by Charles Bolden Hearing on NASA FY 2015 Budget

Statement by Dick Thornburgh Hearing on NASA FY 2015 Budget

"Due to the fact that the NASA systems lack the necessary controls to protect information, allow foreign nationals access to the networks, and allow remote access, the Panel concludes that the NASA networks are compromised. Publicly available reports on systemic data breaches across the country, NASA's own internal reports, and briefings given to Academy staff leave little doubt that information contained on the NASA IT systems is compromised."

Opening Statement by Rep. Frank Wolf Hearing on NASA FY 2015 Budget

"Our first panel today will focus on issues in NASA's security controls that were brought to light through the work of the National Academy of Public Administration. Governor Thornburgh, a NAPA fellow, led a team of experts in a comprehensive review of NASA security practices, culminating in a report that was issued about two months ago ... To my great frustration, the full contents of those reports are restricted and the publicly available executive summaries are lacking in many of the details and examples that are needed to fully understand the scope of the problem."

Keith's note: What is baffling is how Rep. Wolf, Culberson et al embrace the report findings that NASA's IT systems are flawed and have been compromised - and yet they want to fully release the same report that exposes these faults in great detail (so the people who want to cause problems will have a user guide.)

- OIG: NASA Has No Idea How Many Portable Devices It Has, earlier post
- NASA Admits Antiquated Record Keeping Capabilities, earlier post
- Earlier IT posts

Keith's note: There was a hearing today titled NASA Request and Oversight of NASA Security, Rep, Frank Wolf (R-VA) and John Culberson (R-TX) spent most of their time dumping on NASA and impugning Charlie Bolden's honesty. Culberson also seems to think that North Korea has an ICBM/time machine with which they can send us all back to 1813 (not certain why North Korea picked that year). Lots of snark in the room.

To get an idea of the Twitter stream from the event look at @jeff_foust, @Leone_SN, ‏@b0yle, ‏@Berger_SN, ‏@SpcPlcyOnline, and @NASAWatch. Franck Marchis has created a Storify version of all the Tweets. Here are a few of my NASAWatch favorites.

Mikulski: President's NASA Budget Request Just "Advisory," Will Work to Get More, Space Policy Online

"Regarding Congress, she repeated that the key is to "change the tone to change the tide." She wants civility restored to the process, with negotiations taking place "between each other and not in the press." She cited the work she and her Republican ranking member, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), did with their House counterparts in December and January in reaching agreement on the FY2014 Consolidated Appropriations bill as an example of success."

Space Subcommittee Chairman Says US-Russia Relations Require Tough Decisions

"If we are serious about once more launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil, we must make tough decisions within NASA's budget. Only when the budget has been stripped of costly and complex distractions will it once again reflect the priorities of the sole government agency tasked with space exploration."

Keith's note: There has been a flurry of comments via Twitter and press releases over the past 24 hours about going to Mars - and what things we can do now to help us to get there. It all started with NASA Administrator Bolden telling an advisory group yesterday that "Inspiration Mars is not Inspirational". He was referring the the latest incarnation of the ever-changing mission idea first proposed by Dennis Tito. This is part of a larger discussion regarding the SLS (Space Launch System), destinations in space, the value of commercial space - all of which was turbocharged by NASA's stealthy direction to its staff to cut off all ties with Russia except those involving the International Space Station.

Bolden, the White House, and some Democrats want to do the ARM (Asteroid Retrieval Mission) as a first test of the Orion/SLS system. Republicans and members of Congress from states where SLS/Orion hardware is made want a more robust Mars flyby mission using additional SLS hardware. All of this is fueled behind the scenes by partisan politics and the puppetry by former NASA employees scorned by the cancellation of the Constellation program.

And no one in this food fight can point to a clear, cohesive space policy proposal - one with budgets, milestones, and overall goals. Indeed everyone's notional policy is deeply flawed and wholly out of synch with the realities of using the same old approaches to conduct a program of human exploration mandated by the government. But when has that stopped anyone from having a good argument about what the current Administration's policy is - or is not? Indeed that is what this is all about. No one wants to really explore space any more. They just want to argue about it.

The argument currently finds itself focused on asteroids Vs Mars. So lets start there.

ARM is not without its fiscal problems and fundamental flaws. If the whole idea of ARM is to give Orion/SLS system a test in deep space then they should actually send a crew *to* an asteroid IN DEEP SPACE. Grabbing an asteroid and then bringing it back to a location close to Earth via robot such that Orion can visit it totally undermines the purpose of a deep space test. Its like lowering a basketball hoop to make it easier for you to sink the ball. Your test now becomes a stunt. It would be vastly simpler and less expensive to send a robotic mission to characterize the target asteroid - if asteroid characterization was the main goal.

If a true test of Orion/SLS systems in a risky environment - for a first flight - was the goal, then NASA should do just that. But to suggest that a Mars Flyby is a good way to do this test is to run in the exact opposite direction - for a first mission. Operating much closer to Earth ARM has the virtue of providing a contingency return if any critical systems fail on their first flight. Mars Flyby commits to everything with no way to abort. The crew is along for a 500+ day ride no matter what.

So ARM is too wimpy and Mars Flyby is too risky. How do we test Orion/SLS? And oh yes, everyone is waving their arms as to whether either mission "helps us get to Mars". Well, if you have already decided that Orion/SLS is the only (preferred) way you want to send humans to Mars then ANY flight has to provide some value. Of course some missions provide more bang for the buck than others. So people saying that it doesn't help us get to Mars are simply playing politics with their preferred mission.

The issue as I see it is how you use this absurdly expensive system in a strategic, systematic way that reduces real risk without taking unreasonable risks and demonstrates systems and technologies specifically needed to land people on Mars. You need a firm goal, and a long term plan for what you do once you get to Mars and build backward from what it takes to meet those goals.

Here's the problem: NASA has no firm plan, goals, destinations, and it doesn't even have the slightest hint of any evidence that a budget significant enough to make Mars exploration possible is in the cards. "Some time in the 2030s" is not a policy to send humans to Mars. Its a punchline for policy wonks to use.

Indeed there is not enough money NOW in order to get started. Moreover, we have one singular government solution (Orion/SLS) irreparably mandated by a collision of meandering policies from successive White Houses with overt pork preservation tactics by Congress. No discussion of alternate approaches is possible. And when one private sector alternate approach appeared (the original Inspiration Mars) it was immediately abducted by big aerospace companies and morphed so as to now justify the Orion/SLS - the very thing it originally sought to eclipse.

Have I missed anything?

- Bolden: Inspiration Mars is Not Inspirational, earlier post
- Is Inspiration Mars a "NASA Mission"? It Depends Who You Ask, earlier post



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