Today’s Tidbits: September 13, 2017

Today’s Tidbits: September 13, 2017

Welcome to’s new feature Today’s Tidbits.  Events and other happenings of interest to space policy aficionados occur frequently that do not lend themselves to full length stories.  We often tweet about them (@SpcPlcyOnline), but not everyone uses Twitter.  Today’s Tidbits will capture those we think are of most interest, and, where appropriate, point you to our Twitter feed just in case you are a tweep, but haven’t had time to look through your timeline.  We may also reference other sources for anyone who wants to get a fuller picture.  We hope you find it useful.

New ISS Crew

Liftoff of Soyuz MS-06 from Baikonur Cosmodrome, September 12, 2017 Eastern Daylight Time. Screengrab.

Three new crew members launched to and docked with the International Space Station yesterday (September 12 Eastern Daylight Time).   NASA astronauts Joe Acaba and Mark Vande Hei, along with Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Mirsukin, lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in the Soyuz MS-06 spacecraft at 5:17 pm EDT and docked at 10:55 pm EDT.  They joined NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik, Roscosmos cosmonaut Sergey Ryazanskiy and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Paolo Nespoli who were already aboard.

Acaba was a late addition to the crew.  His flight was made possible by Russia’s decision to reduce its ISS crew size to two instead of three so there was empty seat and a Russia-Boeing deal that gave the company 5 seats on Soyuz as part of a financial settlement related to the Sea Launch program. NASA is buying those seats from Boeing instead of the Russian government.

Politico’s “New American Space Age” Event

Politico hosted an event last evening, sponsored by DigitalGlobe, on the New American Space Age.  The first panel focused on history — the event marked the 55th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 speech at Rice University where he defended his decision a year earlier (on May 25, 1961 in a speech to Congress) calling on the country to adopt the goal of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth by the end of the decade.  In the 1962 speech he said “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”  Asked about whether a human spaceflight program is needed, George Washington University’s John Logsdon, who has written two books about JFK’s Moon decision (and another about Nixon’s role in the space program), quoted a passage from a 1961 memo to JFK that said “Men, not machines, capture the imagination of the world.”   This is still true today, he said.

A second panel focused on the future.  Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson forecast that when the 100th anniversary of the speech occurs, space will be an “ungoverned” area like the sea, but utilization will take place under common practices and agreement on behavior with countries and allies protecting operations. She and other panelists seemed to agree that some sort of Space Traffic Management (STM) will be needed. Eric Stallmer of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation and Richard DalBello of Virgin Galactic urged that STM be accomplished through a private sector group, not the government.  DalBello, who has a long career in both government and the private sector and was instrumental in setting up the Space Data Association when he was at Intelsat General, said that the Air Force today is the “de facto traffic cop.”  With the plethora of cubesats and other small satellites being launched today and in the future, however,  he said “we have to get serious.” DalBello said whatever entity is put in place for STM should be “born commercial,” not begin as a government agency that is later transferred to the private sector.

Jamie Morin of the Aerospace Corporation said that one challenge today for the new National Space Council and inspirational leadership in space overall is the “invisibility” of space.  The public does not realize the extent to which space programs impact their daily lives.  In the 1960s space was “infatuating” and “exotic,” but not today, although inspiration is needed to attract new talent and to get the political will to work through thorny regulatory issues.

Those thorny regulatory issues were also on the mind of Bob Richards of Moon Express, which is planning to send a very small lander to the Moon.  He lamented that when he decided to “blaze a trail to the Moon” he did not realize it would have to go through Washington.

See more on our Twitter feed (@SpcPlcyOnline).

FY 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)

The Senate is expected to begin debate on the substance of the FY2018 NDAA today. The chamber has been going through the procedural steps to bring the bill to the floor.  Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) demanded that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) allow a vote on an amendment to overturn the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations of Military Use of Force (AUMF) or he would object to votes on any other amendments. McConnell agreed. After that vote, debate is expected to begin on the version of the NDAA approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) as S. 1519.  The House passed its version in July, H.R. 2310, and the Senate is using the House bill as the legislative vehicle for S. 1519.   Once H.R. 2310 is officially on the floor, SASC chairman Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) will introduce an amendment to “strike all after the enacting clause” and substitute the text of S. 1519.  This is a common procedure.  Somewhat oddly, Senator Paul’s father, retired Congressman Ron Paul, wrote an op-ed for Fox News yesterday “Crony Defense Budget Hands SpaceX a Monopoly-Why?,” with a blistering attack on Sen. McCain and his relationship with SpaceX. Former Congressman Paul called for removal of a provision in the bill that he asserts favors SpaceX. That provision is in the House bill, however (Sec. 1615), not the SASC version.

FY2018 Appropriations

The House is debating the FY2018 Make America Secure and Prosperous Appropriations Act, 2018 (H.R. 3354, originally the Interior-Environment bill) which bundles together eight of the 12 regular appropriations bills. It includes the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill that funds NASA and NOAA. The House completed debate on that section yesterday. No amendments were offered that directly affect NASA or NOAA.  H.R. 3354 also incorporates the Transportation-HUD bill that funds FAA’s space office. Debate continues today.

China’s Space Station Program

China’s robotic test space station cargo spacecraft, Tianzhou-1, docked with the unoccupied space station Tiangong-1 for a third time yesterday.  Tianzhou-1 is testing refueling capabilities.   China’s CCTV posted video of the docking on YouTube.  Get more from Andrew Jones at (@AJ_FL).

Hurricane Irma

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center remains closed at least through Thursday as it assesses damage from Hurricane Irma.  As of the latest posting on its website, the center still does not have water.

Patrick Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) are ready for personnel and families to return.  Although it has water, it was under a boil advisory.

Linda Billings, a communications consultant to NASA’s planetary defense coordination office who just moved to Sarasota, FL three months ago and sheltered in place, gives a first-hand account of living through the storm along with an expert’s analysis of how well government at all levels and the media communicated about the storm with the public.  Very interesting perspective since she has worked for many years on how to communicate with the public about the risks from asteroids, for example.

Cassini End of Mission

Three days of events begin today at JPL to mark the end of the Cassini mission to Saturn.  The spacecraft has been making a “Grand Finale” set of dives through Saturn’s rings since April.  It is in its final dive now and will enter Saturn’s atmosphere on Friday where it will be destroyed by atmospheric forces. NASA is ensuring the destruction of the spacecraft so it does not accidentally impact any of Saturn’s moons.  They want the moons to remain pristine for future exploration.  If they find life on Titan, for example, they want to know it is indigenous, not delivered there from Earth.   A news conference at 1:00 pm ET today begins the countdown.  A final press conference will take place on Friday at 9:30 am ET. The press conferences will be livestreamed.

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