Today’s Tidbits: May 24, 2021

Today’s Tidbits: May 24, 2021

Here are’s tidbits for May 24, 2021:  Bernie Sanders goes after HLS; White House calls for a new NASA Earth System Observatory. Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter @SpcPlcyOnline for live-tweeting of events and other up-to-the-minute news.

Bernie Sanders Goes After HLS

The Senate continues to debate the massive U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (S. 1260), which began as the Endless Frontier Act. A great many amendments were made during markup by the Senate Commerce Committee on May 12, including incorporating a 2021 NASA Authorization Act into the bill. Many more changes were made before the bill reached the floor for debate and hundreds of amendments are pending now.

A controversial aspect of the NASA portion of the bill is language added by Commerce Committee chair Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) requiring NASA to have at least two Human Landing System (HLS) contractors for the Artemis program. NASA picked just one, SpaceX, because Congress provided only 25 percent of the funding NASA said it needed for FY2021.

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, headquartered in Cantwell’s state, was one of the losing bidders and the provision is widely regarded as an attempt to get a contract for him. The language approved by committee was modified before the bill reached the Senate floor to protect SpaceX’s contract, but today Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) proposed an amendment to strike that entire section.

Joey Roulette of The Verge first reported the amendment, entitled “to eliminate the multi-billion dollar Bezos bailout.”

Sanders has made no secret of his disdain for billionaires and for spending billions on space programs not focused on earthly concerns. Sanders complained in a March 18, 2021 tweet that “two guys – Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos – own more wealth than the bottom 40% of people in this country. That level of greed and inequality is not only immoral. It is unsustainable.”

Musk replied that his money was being used to help make life multiplanetary and “extend the light of consciousness to the stars.”  Sanders parried that “space travel is an exciting idea, but right now we need to focus on Earth …”

Even if his amendment made it into law, it does not deauthorize the HLS program, it would just eliminate the proposed requirement for at least two contractors.  It would also eliminate the authorization of $10 billion over 5 years for HLS, but funding authorizations are only recommendations in the first place.  Only appropriators have money to spend.

But Sanders’ amendment is an interesting adjunct to the debate.

Separately, Blue Origin and the third bidder, Dynetics, have filed protests with the Government Accountability Office over how NASA made its decision.

White House Calls For a New NASA “Earth System Observatory” (ESO)

Sanders probably would approve of a White House announcement today that it is directing NASA to launch a new Earth System Observatory (ESO) program to provide an “unprecedented understanding of the critical interactions between Earth’s atmosphere, land, ocean and ice processes.”

It is part of a $1 billion package President Biden revealed today for pre-disaster mitigation resources to prepare for severe weather events as hurricane season begins. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson met with Biden and officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) when the plan was announced.

Nelson is first on the left in the C-SPAN photo.

NASA explained the ESO is in the formulation stage, but will follow recommendations from the 2017 earth science Decadal Survey from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The goal is a set of satellites “to provide key information to guide efforts related to climate change, disaster mitigation, fighting forest fires, and improving real-time agricultural processes” and “each satellite will be uniquely designed to complement the others, working in tandem to create a 3D, holistic view of Earth, from bedrock to atmosphere.”

The cost was not mentioned today, but Biden’s top-line FY2022 budget numbers released on April 9 showed a $250 million increase over FY2021 for NASA’s earth science program that could be intended for the ESO.

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