Today’s Tidbits: January 21, 2019

Today’s Tidbits: January 21, 2019

Here are’s tidbits for January 21, 2019:  shutdown impacts on NASA; U.S.-China space cooperation; Myers renominated for NOAA. Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

Shutdown Impacts on NASA and Its Contractors

CBS News space reporter Bill Harwood and Politico’s Bryan Bender and Ian Kullgren have recently reported on the partial government shutdown’s impact on some NASA programs.  Operations of ongoing missions like the International Space Station and robotic probes including Mars 2020, the Hubble Space Telescope, the New Frontiers probe and the multitude of other NASA spacecraft in Earth orbit and beyond are exempted from the shutdown, but the development of new programs is another matter.

The bottom line is that the impact so far is uneven, but the longer the shutdown lasts, the broader it will be.

Harwood reports that NASA employees assigned to the commercial crew program are among those working without pay.  SpaceX is readying the first uncrewed test flight of the Crew Dragon for some time in February.  The flight requires NASA to sign off on safety assessments and other pre-flight activities.  He adds that whether NASA would allow SpaceX to proceed with the test flight if the shutdown continues is “not yet clear.”  Boeing is also working toward the first uncrewed test launch of its Starliner system in March.  He says work also continues on building the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which has suffered many delays and cost overruns already.  Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor.

Politico says that Boeing has suspended testing of components of the Space Launch System (SLS) at Marshall Space Flight Center and Stennis Space Center.  Boeing is the SLS prime contractor.

The shutdown began when funding for NASA and many other departments and agencies lapsed on at midnight December 21, 2018 and there is no end in sight.

U.S.-China Space Cooperation

The House is passing appropriations legislation to reopen the government, but so far the Senate has refused to take it up.  This week, the House will debate and likely pass a compromise version of the FY2019 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill that funds NASA. The bill continues to restrict NASA from engaging in bilateral cooperation with China.

The so-called “Wolf amendment,” after former Congressman Frank Wolf who originated it in 2011, is not a complete prohibition, however.  Instead, it requires NASA to make certain certifications and get advance congressional approval.

A case in point is cooperation on China’s Chang’e-4 lunar farside lander/rover.  Several countries provided scientific instruments for the mission.  NASA’s participation is not on that level, but NASA and the China National Space Administration (CNSA) did conduct talks prior to the launch to discuss imaging the Chang’e-4 landing site with NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). LRO has been orbiting the Moon since 2009.

Thomas Zurbuchen, the head of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, tweeted that the discussions took place with “the required approval from Congress.”

The link in the tweet is to a January 19 posting on NASA’s website that says LRO will image the landing site on January 31 when LRO’s orbit can be properly phased to view that part of the surface.  NASA and CNSA agreed that any “significant findings” will be shared at the upcoming meeting of the Scientific and  Technical Subcommittee of the U.N. Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.  “All NASA data associated with this activity are publicly available. In accordance with Administration and Congressional guidance, NASA’s cooperation with China is transparent, reciprocal and mutually beneficial.”

Myers Renominated for NOAA

As expected, President Trump has renominated Barry Lee Myers to be Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Administrator of NOAA.

Barry Lee Myers. Nominee to be NOAA Administrator.

Myers was nominated by Trump in 2017 and again in 2018. The nomination was controversial because he and his brother, Joel, owned AccuWeather, a commercial  weather information company. He had been its CEO since 2007 and held leadership positions in the company before that. Former Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who was the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee at the time, was a vocal opponent of Myers, believing it would be a conflict of interest for Myers to serve as NOAA Administrator. The National Weather Service is part of NOAA.

The nomination was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee on party line votes both times, but never reached the Senate floor.

On January 4, AccuWeather announced that Myers “stepped down as officer and director of AccuWeather and its subsidies and affiliated companies, effective January 1, 2019 and has sold all of his interest in these companies.”  His brother continues to own the company.

Trump renominated him on January 16, 2019.

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