Today’s Tidbits: March 11, 2020

Today’s Tidbits: March 11, 2020

Here are’s tidbits for March 11, 2020:  COVID-19 cancellations; SpaceX “Gunning for May” for Demo-2; confirmation hearing for Neil Jacobs to head NOAA.  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

COVID-19 Cancellations

The coronavirus COVID-19 is causing meeting cancellations far and wide.  A quick look at our calendar for next week begins to tell the tale. The next two weeks look much the same and more cancellations are expected.

Among the major space policy events already cancelled/postponed are:

  • The Lunar and Planetary Science Conference
  • The AAS Goddard Memorial Symposium
  • The National Space Club’s Goddard Memorial Dinner (the “space prom”)
  • The Legal Subcommittee of the U.N. Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space
  • The Space Technology Industry-Government-University Roundtable (STIGUR) of the National Academies Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board
  • Space Science Week at the National Academies Space Studies Board (the plenary session is completely cancelled; committee meetings will take place virtually)

Everyone is waiting to find out if the Space Foundation will follow suit and cancel the Space Symposium that begins on March 31, but as of today its website says it is still on.

Lots of other smaller meetings and advisory committees are being cancelled or transformed into virtual gatherings.  We are trying to keep up as best we can and post the changes to our calendar, but anyone planning to attend any meeting should check with the organizers first.  These are challenging times.

SpaceX “Gunning for May” for Demo-2

One conference that did take place — or almost all of it anyway — was Satellite 2020 in Washington, DC.  Organizers announced late this afternoon they are ending the conference a day early under instructions from the District of Columbia.

SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell appeared earlier in the week, however.  As reported by Michael Sheetz at CNBC, she said they are “gunning for May” for the first flight of a crew to the International Space Station.  That will be the Demo-2 crew flight test.

The company successfully completed the uncrewed flight test, Demo-1, exactly a year ago.  A lot has happened since then, but a successful In-Flight Abort test in January paved the way for this mission.

Two NASA astronauts, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, will make the trip.  NASA still will not say how long the two will stay at ISS.  Demo-2 has been planned as a short test flight, but staffing shortages on the ISS because Russia cut back the number of Soyuz spacecraft it will launch each year because these U.S. commercial crew systems were supposed to be ready by now, means that NASA is considering whether to extend it to a typical long-duration (4-6 month) mission.

Confirmation Hearing for Neil Jacobs to Head NOAA

Neil Jacobs testifying to the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee at his nomination hearing to be NOAA Administrator, March 11, 2020. Screengrab.

The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee held a confirmation hearing today for Neil Jacobs to be Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Administrator of NOAA.

Jacobs has been doing the job on an acting basis for about a year.  He originally was confirmed by the Senate to be Assistant Secretary for Environmental Prediction and Observation.

Jacobs was sporting a different look today — beards seem to be in fashion these days.

He was one of three nominees under consideration (the other two were for FCC and DOT), so there was only a modest amount of  discussion and it focused mostly on fisheries.  Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) did ask him about ensuring scientific integrity will not be compromised in weather forecasting and weather information.  She did not get into details, but it was clear she was referring to President Trump’s assertions about whether Hurricane Dorian would impact Alabama (“Sharpiegate”).

Jacobs replied there were a lot of lessons learned, but in examining their scientific integrity policy, which he called the “gold standard among government science agencies,” they discovered it was geared to the peer review process and not social media.  “So we’re working closely with the National Academy of Public Administration to reexamine how we can make our scientific integrity policy more robust.”

No opposition to the confirmation was evident.  The next step is for the committee to report the nomination to the full Senate and for the Senate then to vote on it.  There is no schedule for that.

NOAA has been without a permanent Administrator since the Trump Administration began over three years ago.  Trump originally nominated Barry Myers of AccuWeather, but it was very controversial and was never brought before the Senate.  Last fall Myers asked for his nomination to be withdrawn.  Jacobs was nominated in December.

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