Today’s Tidbits: June 24, 2019

Today’s Tidbits: June 24, 2019

Here are’s tidbits for June 24, 2019:  three ISS crew members return home; more space personnel changes at DOD; AP poll finds public not enamored with human spaceflight.  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

Three ISS Crew Members Return Home

NASA’s Anne McClain, Russia’s Oleg Kononenko, and Canada’s David Saint-Jacques returned to Earth on June 24 at 10:47 pm  EDT (June 25, 8:47 am local time at the landing site in Kazakhstan) after 204 days aboard the International Space Station (ISS)

Crew of Soyuz MS-11 (L-R): NASA’s Anne McClain, Rissia’s Oleg Kononenko, Canada’s David Saint-Jacques. Credit: NASA

The ISS temporarily now has a crew of three:  NASA’s Christina Koch and Nick Hague and Russia’s Aleksey Ovchinin.  The usual crew complement of six will be restored soon, however.  NASA’s Drew Morgan, ESA’s Luca Parmitano and Russia’s Alexander Skvortsov will launch on Soyuz MS-13 on July 20, which so happens also to be the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon.

Crews have lived aboard the ISS since November 2000, rotating on roughly 4-6 month schedules, though some have stayed much longer.  Koch is about to join that select group.  She was supposed to come back with Hague and Ovchinin on the Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft, but her mission was extended so Russia can fly a “tourist” from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Hazza al-Mansoori, for a short-duration flight.  He will arrive on Soyuz MS-15 in late September, and then use Koch’s seat on Soyuz MS-12 to return in October.  Koch will wait until February 2020 to come back, setting a new record for longest spaceflight by a woman — 328 days.  Peggy Whitson currently holds that record at 288 days.

More Space Personnel Changes at DOD

There are lots of personnel changes underway at the Pentagon from the very top to mid-level officials that could impact military space policy and programs. First and foremost is Acting Secretary of Defense (SecDef) Patrick Shanahan, who spearheaded the effort to reorganize how DOD manages and executes space programs by creating a Space Force and a Space Development Agency (SDA) and reestablishing U.S. Space Command while he was Deputy Secretary of Defense.  He became Acting SecDef on January 1, replacing James Mattis.  Shanahan was expected to permanently replace Mattis, but stepped down as of midnight last night after stories emerged of domestic violence a decade ago, though it is not clear who was at fault.  Secretary of the Army Mark Esper is the new Acting SecDef. President Trump has announced his intent to nominate Esper for the position permanently. Esper has extensive experience in many areas, but not space.

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, who also played a pivotal role in the Space Force/SDA/Space Command debate, left at the end of May.  She is credited with keeping the Space Force as part of the Air Force instead of creating a separate department as Trump had proposed.  She also made no secret of her lack of support for SDA.  Trump has nominated Barbara Barrett to be her replacement.  Barrett does have some background in space, having served as chairman of the Aerospace Corporation’s Board of Trustees and on the board of the Space Foundation, and training in Russia for four months in 2009 as a backup space tourist.

Now Space News reports two other departures. John Stopher, the Principal Assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force for Space is leaving next month.  Fred Kennedy has quit as Director of SDA after just 5 months on the job.  He had been hand-picked for the job by Michael Griffin, Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering.  Griffin also recently parted ways with Chris Shank who had been leading the Strategic Capabilities Office.

It is too early to say what all this will mean for the reorganization. Who will be the champion within DOD for these initiatives as Congress continues to debate the details remains to be seen.

AP Poll Finds Public Not Enamored with Human Spaceflight

A new Associated Press (AP)-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll of public attitudes towards the space program finds that monitoring asteroids that could impact Earth and scientific research about Earth, the solar system and the universe  top the list of where taxpayers want to spend their space money.  Human exploration of the Moon and Mars is close to the bottom, just at a time when NASA is trying to convince Congress to spend billions of dollars to accelerate a return of humans to the surface of the Moon as a steppingstone to Mars.

Here are the AP results in a single chart, but more details are available for those who want to know.

Source: AP.


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