Today’s Tidbits: November 22, 2017

Today’s Tidbits: November 22, 2017

Here are our tidbits for November 22, 2017:  Senate Appropriations Committee releases FY2018 defense bill; that evidence of flowing water on Mars — never mind; and have a Happy Thanksgiving!  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter for more news and live tweeting of events.

Senate Appropriations Committee Releases FY2018 Defense Bill (corrected)

Senator Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi), Chairman, Senate Appropriations Committee.

The House and Senate may be in recess this week, but their hardworking staff are still on the job.   The Senate Appropriations Committee released its draft FY2018 defense appropriations bill yesterday.

According to the committee’s press release [], the bill provides “$581.3 billion in base [DOD] funding, $15.4 billion above the President’s budget request, and $64.9 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding, roughly equal to the President’s budget request.  In addition to these amounts, the Chairman’s recommendation includes $4.5 billion in emergency funding as requested by the President, for Missile Defeat and Defense Enhancements.”  That totals $650.7 billion.

By comparison, the House Appropriations defense bill provides $584.2  billion for base DOD operations and $73.9 billion for OCO, a total of $658.1  billion.

The only space-related funding highlighted in the Senate committee’s press release is that it provides “$398 million, $100 million above the budget request for space launch vehicle and engine development activities.”  The bill, press release, and explanatory statement are all posted on the committee’s website.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont),Vice Chairman, Senate Appropriations Committee.

The Senate bill still must be approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee.  Ordinarily it then would proceed to the Senate floor, but this late in the year, it is possible they will skip that step and negotiate with the House using the committee-approved bill.

The House and Senate still have a lot of work to do to fund the government for FY2018.   None of the FY2018 appropriations bills has cleared Congress yet.  The government is currently operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR) at FY2017 spending levels through December 8.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has indicated that Congress probably will pass another CR until later in December, but “not into next year.”

The House passed all of its 12 FY2018 appropriations bills in two clusters.  Defense is combined with three others in the Make America Secure Again Act.  The other eight (including NASA and NOAA in the Commerce-Justice-Science bill) are combined into the Make America Secure and Prosperous Act.

Appropriators in both chambers will have to reach agreement on final spending figures for everything — probably combining all 12 appropriations bills into a single “omnibus” bill — as well as on raising the budget caps put in place by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) to accommodate that level of spending without triggering across-the-board cuts called sequestration.  That will be difficult enough, but Democrats also want to resolve immigration issues as part of the must-pass appropriations bill, an issue Republicans want to keep separate.  As has become fairly common in recent years, rumors of a government shutdown over these issues are in the air.  Pushing the debate further into December — around the holidays — as Ryan suggests will add another element of drama.

Flowing Water on Mars?  Never Mind

Seasonal dark streaks on Mars called Recurrent Slope Linae (RSL). Image from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. NASA/JPL-Caltech/UA/USGS

In 2015, NASA announced that imagery from a high resolution camera, HiRISE, on its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter showed evidence of flowing water on Mars.  The finding came from studies of “recurring slope lineae” (RSLs) on Mars, which were first detected in 2011.  At the time, Georgia Tech’s Lujendra Ojha published a paper in Nature concluding that, for the first time, the liquid-water formation hypothesis for RSLs was unambiguous.

Never mind.  JPL said on Monday that further study concludes they are “granular flows, where grains of sand and dust slip downhill to make dark streaks, rather than the ground being darkened by seeping water.”

As scientists will tell you, this analysis and reanalysis with completely opposite results is all part of the scientific process, but one can understand how the public may find it a bit dizzying.

Happy  Thanksgiving!

Many thanks to all of our readers and warm wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow!


Correction:  An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Senate Appropriations Committee’s proposed amount for DOD base operations was $531.3 billion.  It is $581.3 billion.

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