NASA Would Receive $4.4 Billion Under House Bill; DOE’s Radioisotope Processing Facility Funding Increased

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA would received an additional $4.4 billion to perform repairs and upgrades on its aging infrastructure, conduct climate change research and development (R&D) and improve cybersecurity under an infrastructure spending bill now under consideration by the House of Representatives.

The funding does not include any money to fund a second human lander for NASA’s Artemis program that would likely have gone to the National Team led by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. The space agency awarded a single source contract to Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

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Statements on Senate Confirmation of Margaret Vo Schaus as NASA CFO

Margaret Vo Schaus

The following are statements from Margaret Vo Schaus, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, and Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy on Friday’s U.S. Senate confirmation of Vo Schaus as NASA’s chief financial officer:

“It’s an honor to be confirmed by the Senate to serve as the chief financial officer at NASA and I am grateful for the opportunity to help carry on this agency’s great legacy both in space and here on Earth,” said Vo Schaus. “I look forward to working with Administrator Nelson and Deputy Administrator Melroy to oversee NASA’s budget to support the workforce and the groundbreaking missions ahead. The budget is not just about enabling us to explore the cosmos – it allows us to create educational opportunities, incredible jobs, and inspire the next generation of astronauts and scientists here on Earth, who continue to raise the standard for scientific excellence around the globe. As we continue to explore the universe, expand critical Earth science research to combat climate change, and maintain the world’s most talented workforce, I am fully committed to helping ensure the president and administrator’s vision is carried out here at NASA.”

“Margaret has demonstrated the ability to lead and manage operations at the Departments of Energy and Defense, and she will bring her expertise to do an outstanding job here at NASA,” said Nelson. “Sending the first woman and person of color to the Moon and preparing for human spaceflight to Mars requires steady management, coordination and planning, and that starts with managing the budget for all of NASA’s assets. Margaret will be integral to determining future missions and help turn program dreams into reality. She brings a wealth of knowledge and a strong commitment to supporting a diverse workforce, and I look forward to working with her on NASA’s budget as we look to the future.”

“The chief financial officer is vital to the success of NASA and its many missions, and Margaret will be paramount to ensuring the agency remains a responsible steward of public funding and trust,” said Melroy. “The complexity of the missions at hand from the Moon to Mars and beyond cannot be understated and Margaret has the many skills required of the job. As a first-generation Vietnamese American, she serves as an inspiration for women of color, immigrant communities, and the next generation of students pursuing their dreams. Margaret has shown exceptional skill and management through her already impressive resume and will undoubtedly ensure the success of NASA’s long-term missions and the agency as a whole.”

For information about NASA’s missions, discoveries, and activities, visit:

https://www.nasa.gov

Sens. Cruz, Rubio, Colleagues Introduce Bipartisan American Space Commerce Act

Sen. Ted Cruz

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Ted Cruz PR) – U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), ranking member of the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Safety, Operations, and Innovation, along with Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), today introduced the bipartisan, bicameral American Space Commerce Act. At a time when the U.S. has steadily decreased its dependence on foreign rockets and launch infrastructure, the American Space Commerce Act would continue to bolster U.S. leadership in the space industry, enhance public-private partnerships with American companies, and further increase U.S. innovation. In addition, U.S. Rep. Bill Posey (R-Fla.) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives. This bill was introduced previously in June 2020.

Upon introduction, Sen. Cruz said:

“America’s ingenuity and leadership in space is crucial, and our commercial partners are continually playing a huge role in expanding access to the final frontier. The American Space Commerce Act allows for full expensing of space launch property, creating a tax environment that empowers this next generation of space explorers rather than holding them back with bureaucratic barriers. I am proud to once again join this bicameral, bipartisan effort to ensure America maintains a competitive edge in space through partnerships that bolster space commerce and civil space exploration.”

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Senate Unanimously Approves Bill Nelson as NASA Administrator

Bill Nelson

The U.S. Senate has unanimously approved the nomination of former Sen. Bill Nelson to be NASA Administrator.

Nelson, 78, served three terms in the U.S. Senate from 2001-2019, where he was a strong backer of NASA and the U.S. space program. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1979-2001. Nelson is considered to be a moderate Democrat.

In January 1986, Nelson flew aboard the space shuttle Columbia as a payload specialist while serving in the House. This was the flight immediately prior to the loss of the space shuttle Challenger later that month.

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Biden Nominates Bill Nelson to be NASA Administrator

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, center, and former astronaut Chris Ferguson survey a mockup of the CST-100 spacecraft under development by The Boeing Company during a ceremony detailing Boeing’s plans to use Orbiter Processing Facility-3 as a manufacturing hub for the capsule-shaped spacecraft. (Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

WASHINGTON (White House PR) – Today, President Joe Biden announced his intent to nominate Bill Nelson to serve as National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Administrator.

Bill Nelson, Nominee for National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Administrator

Senator Bill Nelson, former U. S. Senator, is a fifth generation Floridian whose family came to Florida in 1829.  He has served in public office over four decades, first in the state legislature and U. S. Congress, then as State Treasurer.  He was elected three times to the United States Senate, representing the third largest state for 18 years.  His committees included the breadth of government policy from defense, intelligence and foreign policy to finance, commerce and health care.

Nelson chaired the Space Subcommittee in the U.S. House of Representatives for 6 years and in the Senate was the Chairman or Ranking Member of the Senate Space and Science Subcommittee and Ranking Member of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.  Most every piece of space and science law has had his imprint, including passing the landmark NASA bill of 2010 along with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson.  That law set NASA on its present dual course of both government and commercial missions. In 1986 he flew on the 24th flight of the Space Shuttle. The mission on Columbia, orbited the earth 98 times during six days.  Nelson conducted 12 medical experiments including the first American stress test in space and a cancer research experiment sponsored by university researchers.  In the Senate he was known as the go-to senator for our nation’s space program.  He now serves on the NASA Advisory Council.

Senate Appropriations Committee Sticks a Fork in NASA’s 2024 Moon Landing Plan

Artemis Gateway (Credit: Thales Alenia Space/Briot)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

It looks as if the Trump Administration’s goal of landing astronauts on the moon in 2024 is expiring at about the same time as the administration itself. The fatal blow is being struck by Congress, not the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has released a fiscal year 2021 funding bill that includes $1 billion for NASA to Human Landing System (HLS) that will take astronauts to and from the lunar surface as part of the Artemis program. The amount is far short of the $3.2 billion that NASA has said is needed for HLS to keep the 2024 landing on schedule.

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Bridenstine to Leave NASA Administrator Post

Jim Bridenstine (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In a decision that has disappointed his supporters, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine plans to leave his position even if president-elect Joe Biden asked him to stay.

Irene Klotz broke the news in Aviation Week. The story is behind a paywall, but Klotz did tweet:

“You need somebody who has a close relationship with the president of the U.S. … somebody trusted by the administration…. including OMB, National Space Council, National Security Council. I think I would not be the right person for that in a new administration –Bridenstine

Agency administrators usually change when a new president comes in, particularly if he is from a different party. Bridenstine is a former Republican Congressman from Oklahoma appointed by President Donald Trump, who was defeated by his Democratic opponent Biden last week.

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Former Astronaut Mark Kelly Elected to U.S. Senate

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly has won election to the U.S. Senate from the state of Arizona, joining a small group of space explorers subsequently elected to serve in Congress.

The Associated Press reports that with 83 percent of the votes in, Kelly has 1,444,645 votes (52.6 percent) while Republican Sen. Martha McSally trails with 1,300,119 votes (47.4 percent). Kelly has declared victory and McSally has conceded the race.

Kelly, a Democrat who flew aboard the space shuttle four times, and McSally competed in a special election to fill the last two years of the late Republican Sen. John McCain’s six year term.

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Trump Fills Key NOAA Posts with Global Warming Skeptics

An aircraft drops chemicals on wildfire at Vandenberg Air Force Base. (Credit: USAF)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

With the West Coast ablaze with wildfires and rising seas threatening to flood coastlines, the man who called global warming a Chinese hoax is filling two top jobs at the U.S. government’s premiere weather and climate agency with people who don’t believe warming is a problem.

The Washington Post reported that President Donald Trump has tapped Ryan Maue to fill the post of chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

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House Appropriations Committee Rejects NASA Budget Hike, 2024 Moon Landing Goal

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The House Appropriations Committee has criticized the Trump Administration’s “ominous shift away” from legacy NASA programs in favor of a “politically motivated timeline” aimed at returning astronauts to the lunar surface in 2024 under the Artemis program.

“NASA’s fiscal year 2021 request, much like the 2020 amended budget request, reflected the Administration’s ominous shift away from legacy programs and programs with clear environmental and educational benefits,” the committee in a report on its funding bill.

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Senate Committee Approves Jacobs as NOAA Administrator

Neil Jacobs

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NOAA might finally get a permanent — if that is the right word –administrator more than three years into President Donald Trump’s four-year term.

The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation approved the nomination of Neil Jacobs to become under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, a position that includes serving as NOAA administrator.

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Udall, Kaine Introduce Resolution to Reinforce U.S. Leadership in Peaceful Use of Space & Technology Innovation

Tom Udall

WASHINGTON (Sens. Udall & Kaine PR) —Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.), both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced a resolution to maintain U.S. leadership in protecting satellites and spacecraft in Earth’s orbit from space debris and ensuring that all nations cooperate to promote the peaceful use of space for research and commercial purposes. The resolution prioritizes the implementation of the United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space guidelines negotiated between the U.S. delegation to the United Nations and 92 countries. 

“Peaceful and safe innovation in space is a foundation of today’s interconnected world—and necessary for our future security and prosperity,” Udall said. “From satellites that support our service members and send information to our smartphones at the speed of light, to scientific research that leads to breakthroughs back on earth, as well as a nascent tourist economy, outer space is both a strategic priority and an economic engine for communities around the world. Cooperative use of space is especially important in my home state of New Mexico – where our space economy is thriving. I introduced this resolution with Senator Kaine to maintain U.S. leadership in international space cooperation, prevent collisions which could make space too dangerous to use, and reinforce the United States’ position as a leader of a coalition of nations pushing the bounds of human discovery.”

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Russian Rocket Engines Exempted from Sanctions Bill

RD-180 test firing. (Credit: NASA)

Officials at Orbital ATK and ULA breathed sighs of relief on Thursday as the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly to exempt rocket engines from a sanctions bill targeting Iran and Russia.

The amendment to the sanctions measure exempted RD-180 engines used by ULA in the first stage of its Atlas V booster and the RD-181 engines Orbital ATK uses in the first stage of its Antares launch vehicle. Both engines are produced by NPO Energomash of Russia.

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NASA Budget: New Year, Same Old Senate (and House)

By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and related agencies (CJS) has finished marking up the FY 2013 budget. Looks like much of the same, with money ladled on massively expensive programs and a $305 million reduction in the President’s request for commercial crew:  [Update: The House has weighed in with its own budget, which does the same thing in a more extreme fashion — see below]

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is funded at $19.4 billion, an increase of $1.6 billion over the fiscal year 2012 enacted level. The large increase results from a reorganization of operational weather satellite procurement from NOAA into NASA. Without the funds for weather satellite procurement, this level represents a $41.5 million cut from the fiscal year 2012 enacted level.

Funding for the development of the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle is $1.2 billion, the same as fiscal year 2012. Heavy lift Space Launch System (SLS) development is funded at $1.5 billion, $21 million less than fiscal year 2012. The bill also provides $244 million for construction needed to build, test, and operate Orion and SLS. Commercial crew development is provided $525 million, an increase of $119 million above fiscal year 2012.

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Senators Question NASA Human Spaceflight Transition Plan

U.S. Senators from both sides of the aisle publicly questioned NASA’s strategy of relying on Russian transport to the International Space Station between the end of the shuttle program and the beginning of Orion and Ares, CongressDaily reports.

During a hearing last week, senators complained that President George Bush’s proposed $17.6 billion NASA budget would slow a transition that could already result in a years-long flight gap when the shuttle is retired in 2010. The concerns come amid worsening U.S.-Russian relations.

NASA Administrator Mike Griffin acknowledged that a risk exists but that this is the most reasonable strategy available. The U.S. will spend about $2 billion for Russia to provide Soyuz and Progress transportation vehicles to the station through 2012. Griffin had no estimate on how much four additional years of services might cost.

Meanwhile, there seemed to be general agreement that NASA needs a waiver from a U.S. law that would prevent it from purchasing services from Russia if the Russia government continues its support of Iran’s nuclear program.