Congress: January 2020 Archives

Keith's note: In summary, with regard to Artemis, the Democrats do not think NASA has provided enough detail and provided some detail of their own in this bill but today they said that the detail probably does not matter. The Republicans would prefer a bill that says other things but since they are not in charge good enough is good enough. It would seem that no one on this subcommittee is actually all that interested in getting this right.

Chairwoman Horn Opening Statement for Subcommittee Markup of NASA Authorization Act of 2020

"This bill has stimulated considerable debate concerning the opportunities for commercial entities in the Moon to Mars program. And I am glad that the public and stakeholders care so deeply about NASA and our civil space program. But given some of the coverage and questions about the rationale and impact for the contents of the bill, let me be crystal clear: This bill is not about rejecting the Artemis program or delaying humans on the Moon until 2028. NASA can still work to safely get there sooner. This bill is taking the fiscally responsible approach of focusing the Moon efforts on the goal of being the first nation to set foot on Mars. Thus far, NASA has provided little to no details as to what, specifically, it will do on the Moon or how any Moon activities will be extensible to Mars. This bill does not pick favorites, rather it encourages companies and industry to participate in our nation's civil space program, which is led by NASA."

Chairwoman Johnson Opening Statement for Subcommittee Markup of NASA Authorization Act of 2020

"And I would suggest that no one get too focused on the specific milestone dates proposed in the bill. If NASA is able to get to the Moon before 2028, or if it takes longer than 2033 for NASA to orbit Mars, that's okay and is not precluded by this bill. I am more interested in maximizing the odds of success for this bold undertaking and making it as safe as any human journey into deep space can be, than I am in having NASA meet arbitrary deadlines."

Opening Statement of Ranking Member Frank Lucas at Subcommittee Markup of NASA Reauthorization

"The bill before us is not the NASA authorization the Republicans on the committee would have offered if we were in the majority. However, I recognize that we are in the minority and the legislative process offers opportunities to improve the legislation. In the days since this bill's introduction, I have heard from a wide range of advocates representing all aspects of space exploration both praising and raising concerns about the bill. I want to assure them I intend to continue working to ensure that the House-authored NASA authorization bill is the best product we can put forward that balances NASA's priorities and resources."

Opening Statement of Ranking Member Brian Babin at Subcommittee Markup of NASA Reauthorization

"But let me be clear, this is not an ideal bill. It is not the one I would have put forward had we been in the majority, but I can count and the majority would likely have the votes to get a bill out of committee with or without our support. Through working with the majority, I believe we have significantly strengthened their proposal in a way that fully supports the Administration's priority goals laid out in Space Policy Directive 1. I look forward to continuing to work with the majority to incorporate input from all stakeholders, including the Administration, as we move forward."

NASA Authorization Bill Update By NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine

"I am concerned that the bill imposes some significant constraints on our approach to lunar exploration. As you know, NASA has successfully fostered the development of a rapidly expanding commercial economy for access to space. We would like to continue building on this success as we develop the most efficient mission architectures and partnership approaches to accomplish our shared goals.

NASA seeks to expand the sphere of economic activity deeper into space by conducting space exploration and development with commercial and international partners. Without the dynamic participation of commercial partners, our chances of creating a sustainable exploration program are significantly diminished. In particular, we are concerned that the bill's approach to developing a human lander system as fully government-owned and directed would be ineffective. The approach established by the bill would inhibit our ability to develop a flexible architecture that takes advantage of the full array of national capabilities - government and private sector - to accomplish national goals. NASA would appreciate the opportunity to work with the Committee to develop language that would support a broader national and international effort that would maximize progress toward our shared exploration goals through the efficient application of our available resources.

NASA is fully committed to a lunar exploration program that supports and enables human missions to Mars. The Committee should be aware that the exploration of Mars is a very challenging goal both technically and from a resource perspective. If we are going to accomplish this goal, we will need the flexibility to rapidly develop technical expertise using the Moon and to fully engage commercial and international partners. We do think that the bill's concerns for limiting activities on the Moon could be counterproductive. If we are going to explore Mars in a safe and sustainable way, we will require a strong in situ resource utilization capability and significant technology development using the surface of the Moon. NASA would appreciate more flexibility in defining lunar surface activities that may contribute directly to Mars exploration."

AIA's Mike French on House NASA Authorization Act

"The space policy community should be smiling. After record marks last month, we now have bipartisan, bicameral support across Congress and the Executive Branch to return to the Moon this decade and go on to Mars. On the eve of an anticipated strong budget request, I'm looking forward to working as a community to secure and fund this consensus."

Commercial Spaceflight Federation statement on House Space Subcommittee Draft NASA Authorization Bill

"As written, the NASA Authorization bill would not create a sustainable space exploration architecture and would instead set NASA up for failure by eliminating commercial participation and competition in key programs. As NASA and the White House have repeatedly stated, any sustainable space exploration effort must bring together the best of government and commercial industry to achieve a safe and affordable 21st century space enterprise. We look forward to working with members of the House Space Subcommittee to address a number of concerns with the bill."

Letter to Congress From The Commercial Spaceflight Federation Regarding The NASA Authorization Bill

"This Committee should withdraw this bill and engage in a fully transparent process to seek NASA, industry, academic, and public input in a meaningful way. This legislation was apparently drafted with no input from critical stakeholders, the public, or even Members of the Committee, and should be reconsidered."

Coalition for Deep Space Exploration Statement Regarding H.R. 5666

"However the path to executing this goal - including meaningful activity at the Moon - remains a topic of significant discussion, and this bill is helping to spark a robust exchange about the best way to achieve that bipartisan vision."

Keith's note: Vice President Pence put his authority on the line last Spring when he directed NASA to do the Artemis return to the Moon effort by 2024 "by any means necessary". His direction had the implied, implicit backing of the President. And Pence entrusted NASA to make it happen. Jim Bridenstine took that ball and, to his credit, ran long and strong with it. 

Now Congress, in a bipartisan action in the House with new NASA Authorization legislation, delays human landings, deletes hardware and puts a new item in the critical path, and deletes any useful use of capabilities on the lunar surface once we return with humans. Exploration and utilization is now Flags and Footprints 2.0. This action by Congress seeks to kick Pence and Bridenstine in the knees and remove any urgency or sense of purpose. While the 2024 date did have a few people wondering if it was doable, NASA's push to try and make it happen has been admirable - and refreshing - at least in my personal opinion.

The exact means whereby NASA would accomplish this 2024 goal has been lacking and is overdue for delivery. A rebooting of HEOMD management led to a rethinking of the overall game plan thus delaying things further. Congress has expressed doubts too. A new federal budget is due to be dropped by the White House soon wherein their plans for NASA will be revealed. Now this proposed legislation seeks to impose its own, downsized architecture upon NASA, undermine presidential directives, and negate a series of high-level procurements NASA has already put into motion.

Are there other ways to accomplish this 2024 goal? Of course there are. But that is not what this legislation does. It eviscerates the goal itself and shoves it off into an increasingly distant and uncertain future.

There is some discontent on the part of Users Advisory Group (UAG) members to the language in the NASA Authorization bill. Some of that discontent is in the process of being conveyed up to Pence. The bill's mark-up is scheduled 29 January and some NASA briefings to UAG members and others over NASA's Artemis architecture issues. There is also a big FAA Commercial Space Transportation Conference event here in DC this coming week and NASA will pause to mourn the people lost in the exploration of space. Lots of things happening in simultaneity.  

Will Pence say something? Will Jim Bridenstine? I will be watching to see what, if anything bubbles up into the public arena. I am not sure that being optimistic is a useful place to be.

Most of the UAG is composed of big aerospace representatives and political appointees who will still make money anyway or not be affected by any change in course. The Commercial Spaceflight Federation has made their stance clear about this bill which "would not create a sustainable space exploration architecture and would instead set NASA up for failure by eliminating commercial participation and competition in key programs.". Yet AIA's statement and lack of any response from the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration or any other of the big aerospace industry groups suggests that they are fine with whatever happens since their corporate members and supporters will do OK. AIA's Mike French sits inside his bubble inside the Beltway and suggests that everyone is "smiling". In his world that is an expected opinion to promote since big aerospace will get more money to do less exploration. But who cares. The money must flow.

Keith's update : Coalition for Deep Space Exploration has issued a statement. It is wimpy and takes no stance whatsoever - since their member companies stand to benefit the most from the way this bill is written.

Authorization acts do not necessarily affect reality since they have no teeth when it comes to actual funding.  Agencies ignore these authorization acts when they can and embrace them when they need to.  NASA has often operated just fine for years without an authorization act governing their activities. But these authorization bills do reflect congressional thinking that can affect appropriations. And they also reflect the impact of corporate lobbyists on that thinking.

Up until Friday afternoon NASA was embarked on a plan to swiftly return to the Moon - with some urgency, And once NASA returned it had plans to make the most of a renewed human and robotic presence on the lunar surface. Indeed, Jim Bridenstine openly talked of extracting lunar ice. That is not flags and footprints folks. That's advanced exploration and utilization of another world. 

Now the House, bolstered by some aerospace company lobbying, wants to pull back from that urgency and turn the Artemis program into a long-term, level-of-effort endeavour where all of the aerospace companies get guaranteed income while taking forever to actually accomplish the end goal. The lunar landings will now be glorified stunts, and the goal of landing humans on Mars has been replaced with a goal of simply orbiting Mars.

We went to the moon in less than a decade half a century ago - inspiring a generation in the process since it happened in a time scale they could grasp in their daily lives. Half a century later it will take us much, much longer to just do a pale imitation of that earlier effort. Where is the inspiration in that? We used to actually do great things in space. Now our national goal in space is to delay doing mediocre things as long as possible.

When I was growing up in the mid-1960s as a young boy we were all told that we'd be on the Moon by the "end of this decade". My young life was pegged against the regular progress made toward that goal which we as a nation achieved. Jim Bridenstine has been telling young boys and girls and their parents of a similar goal. After more than a decade of development there will be a landing of men and women on the Moon in their immediate future. Now after mere months that 4 years is 8 years unless it changes again. We used to be able to set goals and meet them. Now everything is up for negotiation. Its hard to pin your hopes on something that is constantly changing.

Jim Bridenstine opened his initial presentations about going back to the Moon with a cautionary note that this is not another "Lucy and the Football" effort - one wherein everything is set up - only to have the ball taken away and the goal posts moved. NASA has been through this sort of policy stop-and-go pivoting whiplash far too many times in the half century since we dared to walk on another world.

Alas, in less than 2 years NASA is once again being denied access to the ball that was supposed to be in play. Sitting on the sidelines on the journey to nowhere is now what we aspire to instead. Sad.

More space policy news

Full text

Committee Members Introduce NASA Authorization Legislation

"This afternoon, Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Chairwoman Kendra Horn (D-OK) along with Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Ranking Member Brian Babin (R-TX), Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), and Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) introducedH.R.­­ 5666, the "National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2020." H.R. 5666 reaffirms NASA's foundational authority as a multi-mission agency and emphasizes the importance of balanced exploration, science, aeronautics, technology, and education portfolios. The Act establishes frameworks that put a premium on planning, oversight, transparency, and responsible fiscal and program management."

Markup of: HR 5666, the "National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2020"

Excerpts:

"-- The goal of NASA's Moon to Mars program shall be to land humans on Mars in a sus9 tainable manner as soon as practicable. The Moon to Mars program shall have the interim goal of sending a crewed mission to the lunar surface by 2028 and a goal of sending a crewed mission to orbit Mars by 2033.

-- In order to reduce risk and complexity and make maximum use of taxpayer investments to date, the Administrator shall in the conduct of the Lunar Precursor Initiative employ an architecture that utilizes the Orion vehicle and an integrated lunar landing system carried on an Exploration Upper Stage-enhanced Space Launch System for the human lunar landing missions. The Gateway to Mars shall not be required for the conduct of human lunar landing missions.

- The Administrator shall establish a Moon to Mars Program Office within 60 days of the enactment of this Act to lead and manage the Moon to Mars program.

- The Administrator shall complete development of the Space Launch System and the Space Launch System variant enabled by an Exploration Upper Stage, pursuant to section 302 of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010. The Administrator shall take steps to develop the Block 2 variant to provide the full range of launch capability and performance available to the United States for the Administration's crewed and robotic exploration of deep space. The Administrator shall complete the development and testing of the Exploration Upper Stage for the Space Launch System.

-- Within 120 days of the date of enactment of this Act, the Ad3 ministrator shall develop an overall architecture and plan, consistent with sections 203(c)(1) and 203(c)(2), including-- (A) a list of the minimum set of human and robotic lunar surface activities that must be completed to enable a human mission to Mars, including those to be tested on the Gateway to Mars, along with a plan for completing those tasks within five years after the first human lunar landing; and (B) a list of the capabilities and risk re14 duction measures listed in section 203(f)(3).

- five-year funding estimates and profiles for the Moon to Mars Program. The budget profiles should include estimated funding requirements and profiles for the program elements in section 203(f), and related infrastructure, facilities, and operations that are consistent with the achievement of a crewed mission to Mars orbit by 2033

- Any establishment of a continuously crewed lunar outpost or research station shall not be considered an element of the Moon to Mars Program and shall be budgeted separately from the Moon to Mars program. (b) OTHER CREWED ACTIVITIES.--Crewed activities on or around the surface of the Moon that do not contribute to the goal of landing humans on Mars in as sustainable manner as practical shall not be included in the Moon to Mars Program and shall be budgeted separately from the Moon to Mars Program. (c) LUNAR IN-SITU RESOURCE UTILIZATION.-- Lunar in-situ resource utilization shall not be considered as risk reduction for the initial crewed missions to orbit and land on Mars. Any lunar in-situ resource utilization activities and shall not be included in the Moon to Mars Program and shall be budgeted separately from the Moon to Mars Program."


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