Today’s Tidbits: October 12, 2018

Today’s Tidbits: October 12, 2018

Here are’s tidbits for October 12, 2018:  National Space Council to meet October 23;  Morhard confirmed as Deputy NASA Administrator; National Academies issues astrobiology science strategy.  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

National Space Council to Meet October 23

Vice President Mike Pence tweeted today that the National Space Council will meet on October 23, 2018 to discuss progress in establishing a Space Force as a sixth military service.  Pence chairs the Space Council.

The meeting will take place at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C.   Other details have not been announced yet.

The Space Council’s Users’ Advisory Group will meet on November 15 in Washington, D.C.  Details of that meeting also are pending.

Morhard Confirmed as Deputy NASA Administrator

Jim Morhard testifying at his nomination hearing. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

Yesterday, just before the Senate left town until after the mid-term elections, it confirmed a long list of pending nominations, including that of Jim Morhard to be Deputy NASA Administrator.  He was approved on a voice vote.

Morhard, 62, is a lawyer and long-time congressional staffer who has been serving as Senate Deputy Sergeant at Arms.  He has no NASA or aerospace experience, but was staff director of the Senate Appropriations Committee from 2003-2005 and the committee funds NASA (and all other departments and agencies in the discretionary part of the federal budget).

The committee was chaired at the time by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).  In 2010, after Stevens retired, Morhard joined him and six others on a fishing trip in Alaska.  Their plane crashed.  Stevens was among the five who were killed (including the pilot).  Morhard and three others, including former NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe (who also had been a Senate Appropriations Committee staffer), survived.

He is a close friend of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). McConnell appeared in person at the Senate Commerce Committee’s August 23, 2018 nomination hearing for Morhard to tout his legislative and administrative experience as important for NASA.  The committee approved the nomination on September 5

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who is currently in Russia, issued a statement congratulating Morhard.

“He joins our amazing agency at a crucial time in history. NASA is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, and I look forward to working with him as we look towards NASA’s next 60 years. His legislative and managerial talents will serve NASA well as we accomplish stunning achievements.” — NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine

National Academies Issues Astrobiology Science Strategy

Barbara Sherwood Lollar, University of Toronto. Credit: Sherwood Lollar’s LinkedIn page.

A committee working under the auspices of the Space Studies Board of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine issued a report laying out a science strategy for the field of astrobiology.   The report was required by Sec. 509 of the 2017 NASA Transition Authorization Act.

Committee chair Barbara Sherwood Lollar of the University of Toronto and committee member Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution held a press conference on Wednesday to release the report:  The Astrobiology Science Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe, which is available from the National Academies Press:  []

Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe.  One theme of the report is that our knowledge of life of Earth continues to surprise us, so scientists must be open to different types of life and where it might exist.  Sherwood Lollar pointed out that we have learned just within her lifetime that Earth harbors not only photosynthetic life but chemosynthetic life that can exist without light in the deepest, darkest parts of the ocean.

Therefore the search for life should include “novel ‘agnostic’ biosignatures — signs of life that are not tied to a particular metabolism or molecular ‘blueprint,’ or other characteristics of life as we currently know it.” []

The committee recommended that NASA focus on the possibility of subsurface life.

In particular, the report found that NASA should focus on research and exploration of possible life below the surface of a planet in light of recent advances that have demonstrated the breadth and diversity of life below Earth’s surface, the nature of fluids beneath the surface of Mars, and the likelihood of life-sustaining geological processes in planets and moons with subsurface oceans. A renewed focus on how to seek signs of subsurface life will inform astrobiology investigations of other rocky planets or moons, ocean or icy worlds, and beyond to exoplanets.

More broadly, the report concluded that “NASA should support research on a broader range of biosignatures and environments, and incorporate the field of astrobiology into all stages of future exploratory missions…”

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